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There’s a war. There’s always a war.

First, a woman in white and gold, plunging a dagger in the heart of a man twice her size.

Then a man in black, dripping with furs, eyes shadowed and gaunt.

Then a woman in red, horns curling up to the sky, her axe bared at the dragon that towers above her.

Then a man in soft gold, pointing his arrow at the heavens, eyes steady and unwavering.

Then a woman in white, draped in ceremonial garb, drifting down like a feather from the stars—

The girl in Byleth’s dreams is confused.

“You again?” she asks. Then, looking around, ”Here? What could you have possibly done?” Her wild mane of hair flutters as she shakes her head. “You mortals are truly impossible.”

There’s a sharp lance of longing that plunges through Byleth’s heart. She swallows thickly. “Who—?”

The girl narrows her eyes. “Hurry up and awaken,” she scolds. “The faster you progress, the faster you’ll remember.”

She blinks, and then she’s in her tent, Jeralt ducking under the flap to tell her to get ready to move out.

By the time she’s dressed, the dream is a distant memory.

 


 

She dreams more nights than not. The scenes differ, sometimes. Sometimes they’re younger, eyes soft and warm and unburdened by war, and sometimes they’re older, and Byleth is kissing them—

The girl gets progressively more irritated by Byleth’s lack of recognition.

“Honestly,” she huffs, twirling a lock of hair around her finger. “Abusing my powers like that, and then having the gall to forget me! Who do you think you are!”

“...Sorry,” Byleth murmurs.

She huffs. “I’ll tell you one more time—the last, I swear! My name is—“

“Sothis,” Byleth says. She wakes up.

 


 

The dream again—a battlefield. She has names to the faces this time, whatever the reason. Seiros, the woman in white and gold with fury in her eyes, and Nemesis, the man in chains and fur who reeks of death.

Then it shifts—now it’s Byleth who faces Nemesis, and by her side is the man in gold.

He glances back at her and winks. His are a brilliant green, set aflame by the dying sun. “You trust me, right?”

“Always.” The word is out of her mouth unthinkingly. No doubt, no hesitation.

The turn to Nemesis in tandem, weapons at the ready.

Clau—“

“Kid, it’s time to move out.”

Byleth blinks the sleep away, a name on her lips.

Jeralt has a hand on her shoulder—undoubtedly what roused her. She’s lying on the ground, blankets bundled around her in a makeshift nest. She’s in her tent, not a raging battlefield, and the man next to her is her father, not—

Not who?

She takes a few steadying breathes, closing her eyes to ground herself. Her head is spinning.

Jeralt frowns, leaning forward to press the back of his hand against her forehead. “You okay, kid?”

“...Dizzy,” she manages. “Just a little. I had a strange dream.”

Jeralt makes a low noise, and she looks up at him. His mouth is twisted with concern, the furrow of his brow adding years to his face.

“I’m fine,” Byleth reassures him.

She rises, deliberately slow, and finds her coat where it’s draped over her pack.

“It’s a long road to the Kingdom,” Jeralt says. “If you’re unwell...”

“I’m fine,” Byleth repeats sternly, buckling her sword belt with short, precise movements. “I’ll move out with the rest.”

Her father sighs, then ruffles her hair with a gloved hand. “Stubborn,” he says fondly. “Just like your mother.”

She almost smiles.

“Captain!” a mercenary shouts. “Emergency!”

Jeralt releases a breath. “What?” he says, striding out of the tent. Byleth follows at his heels, a hand falling to the hilt of her sword.

The mercenary outside is flanked by three... children isn’t the right word, even as young as they are. Students, perhaps, judging by their uniforms, but—

She knows them.

She remembers them, remembers loving them and killing them in turns—remembers pressing a kiss to the girl-turned-woman’s mouth in the same breath as bringing a sword down on her head—

The girl tilts her head, lavender eyes cool and calm. She’s looking at Byleth, not Jeralt, but her eyes hold curiosity, not recognition.

Byleth remembers to breathe again.

“...hate to cause trouble,” the golden-haired boy is saying, bowing at the waist, “but your assistance would be highly appreciated.

Jeralt sighs, and the girl’s eyes turn back to him. “If they followed you here, it can’t be helped,” he mutters. “We can’t let bandits take the village. C’mon, kid. There’s work to do.”

Byleth nods.

The third, his hair a tousled mess and green eyes twinkling, winks. “Pleasure working with you,” he chirps.

The motion is so familiar that she’s sure she’s known this boy her whole life, and it takes a moment to collect herself.

The dream.

“Claude,” Byleth murmurs.

The boy’s smile falters for a split second. There’s a long beat of silence. Every pair of eyes is on them.

He—Claude—laughs. “I suppose my name is getting around, huh? New heir and all that.”

Byleth is frozen. Claude, Claude, Claude

He pulls her tight, face buried in the crook of her neck. “I’ll come back for you,” he promises. “We’ll see our dream through together—”

“Sir!” a mercenary calls. “Bandits approaching!”

She jolts out of her stupor, catching the tail-end of Jeralt’s concerned gaze and the narrow-eyed glance of the girl in red.

“Move out!” her father barks. “Set up position at the edge of the forest, use whatever cover you can!” Then, turning to the students, “You three, pull your weight. We’re helping you, but we’re not putting our necks out for nothing.”

Claude offers a lazy salute, grinning crookedly, then scampers off, calling for high ground.

“Young lady, with me, if you will,” Jeralt says. The pale-eyed girl nods, following after him.

Byleth meets her father’s eyes, and they exchange nods.

“With me,” she tells the boy in blue.

“Of course,” he replies. His voice is deep and smooth. He bows, formal but not stiff. “I am Dimitri. Thank you for your help.”

“Byleth,” she replies, then turns to stride across camp. Distantly, she hears Jeralt barking orders to the rest of the mercenaries. “Come,” she orders. “We should set up before the bandits realize you’ve found help.”

He trots after her obediently, half a step behind as she threads though the outskirts of the forest towards the sentries. A few more mercenaries tag along, forming a small squad.

“We came from the north,” Dimitri pipes up. “They’re likely coming from the same direction.” He pauses. “Unless they decided to circle around to cut us off.”

She hums, drawing a mental map. “They won’t circle,” she tells him. “The forest is too thick. They’d slow down too much and you would’ve escaped.”

He nods. “That makes sense,” he agrees. “You’re well-versed in these matters. How long have you been a mercenary?”

“My whole life,” she answers, brief but patient.

“And the leader—Jeralt, was it?—is your father?”

“Yes.”

Dimitri makes a thoughtful sound, then cuts himself up abruptly when Byleth stops in her tracks. She holds a finger to her lips. Quiet.

Distantly, she can hear the clamor of approaching bandits. Jeralt’s sentries had likely retreated already, if they were this close.

She takes off, veering to the side to find the clearing she had scouted the night they made camp, and Dimitri shadows her heels. The remaining mercenaries split off, melting into the forest with a sharp hand gesture from her.

“Across the clearing,” she orders. “We’ll take them by surprise when they run in.”

He nods, dashing across to cover in the foliage as the raucous clamoring of the bandits reaches a crescendo.

She scampers up a tree, crouching on a low-hanging branch just as the first sounds of battle reach her ears—some of her mercenaries engaging early. She unsheathes her sword, blade whispering against oiled leather, and watches Dimitri unsling his lance.

She lets the bandits trickle in, lets them run from their previous scuffle, abandoning their comrades, and waits until the last of them step foot into the clearing—

Then she strikes, dropping down from the boughs and burying her sword in the last straggler.

The others turn, shouting in confusion, and Dimitri leaps into action, running one through with his lance and spinning to deflect a poorly-aimed blow with a sharp clash of metal-on-metal.

Confident in his ability to not get himself killed, Byleth whips around to face her own opponents. Enraged and surprised, the bandits are clumsy and ill-prepared as Byleth falls into a familiar dance, blade flashing between enemies like a silver sprite.

It seems like mere moments before the enemies in blade’s reach are gone, blood pooling on the forest floor. Her eyes turn to Dimitri, who looks to be finishing off the remaining few.

He whirls his lance, dancing between enemies, all cold poise and grace. His strikes are heavy, massive force delivered by a deceptively slight body, eyes narrowed in grim determination.

But Byleth sees what he doesn’t—an archer poised to strike, hidden by the shadows of the forest.

She draws a breath, makes to call a warning—and then she’s struck by a vision so sharp she nearly doubles over with the force of it—

She presses a kiss to his brow, the fur of his cape rough and caked with blood under her fingers, his eyes dull and haunted.

She breathes a promise against his skin, and she thinks she might be crying—

She acts on pure instinct.

She darts forward, grabs a fistful of his cape, and yanks. He stumbles, blue eyes wide, and Byleth pulls him close, twists around him—

The pain is sharp and cold, lancing through her shoulder, and she hisses through her teeth.

The boy makes a shocked sound as she releases her death grip on his cape and deflects a sword strike from an opportunistic bandit, ignoring the fresh wave of pain that blooms from the arrow, then counters with a thrust, and the bandit falls with a gurgle.

“You’re unharmed?” she asks, flicking her blade with twist of her wrist, sending blood splattering onto the grass.

He blinks. “Y-yes,” he manages. Then, “Your shoulder—”

Byleth pauses, assesses the damage. The wound is shallow, the arrow slowed by the thick weave of her coat. With as much as she’s moving around, it would be more of a liability to keep the arrow in.

With one swift movement, she reaches back and yanks it out. He winces.

“I’m fine,” she offers, rolling her shoulder experimentally. The arrow drops from her hand, landing in the grass noiselessly. “I’ll see a healer after the fight.”

He’s still gaping at her, and it’s not until Byleth shoves him out of the way of a descending axe that he shakes himself out of his stupor and finishes off his would-be attacker with thrust of his lance.

She nods, stepping away, and takes off towards the archer that’s begun to flee, location compromised.

She’s faster, though, and the archer falls under her blade, as does one more bandit that decides to try his luck now than she’s wounded.

Dimitri catches back up to her as the last body slumps to the ground.

“That’s all of them on our side,” he says. There’s still the noise of battle echoing around them, and Byleth straightens, wiping her blade on the dead bandit’s clothes before moving to sheathe it.

“We need to meet up with the others,” she says, then sucks in a sharp breath when her movements jostle the wound at her shoulder.

It’s not much, but it’s enough that Dimitri notices. “Shouldn’t you take care of that?”

“I’m fine,” she says. She’s been saying that a lot, she notices idly. “We need to meet up with the others. The fight is still going.”

He looks like he wants to protest, but Byleth takes off before he can so much as draw breath to speak, leaving him with little choice but to follow.

Dimitri stays by her side and she scours the forest, searching for pockets of fighting and swiftly ending any battles they come across. The mercenaries seem to suffer little, if any, losses, and when they finally come across Jeralt and the girl, the two seem no worse for wear other then some dirt on their clothes, finishing off what appears to be the last of the bandits.

“Edelgard!” Dimitri calls, and the girl turns.

Byleth mouths the name noiselessly. Edelgard. The name seems... right, somehow—

Backlit by the dying sun, she curtsies, her smile soft and so, so warm.

“Together,” she says, “we will bring a new dawn to this country. You and I. I love—”

Byleth collapses.

 


 

She’s dreaming again, she thinks.

Sothis is reclined on her stone throne, eyes narrowed and face twisted in consternation.

“You’re infuriating,” she informs Byleth. “Of all the mortals to get saddled with, I get the most impossible, frustrating one in the world.”

“Have I met them before?” Byleth asks. “I keep… remembering. I know them, I think.”

Sothis huffs, crossing her legs and looking away. “Time is difficult. Even moreso for you. There’s a thousand decisions that can be made in every moment, but picking one doesn’t change the flow of time. It only creates a new path. They continue onward, diverging more and more, creating new branches, but never crossing.”

Byleth blinks. “What does that mean for me?”

Sothis turns her eyes down, brilliant green and nearly luminescent, and sighs.

“It means,” she says, “that you’ve broken time. Congratulations.”

Chapter Text

She wakes up to Jeralt crouched over her, fear etched into his features. The three students are hovering behind him, peering down at her with varying levels of concern.

She watches her father’s expression morph into relief, shoulders sagging with his sigh. “Thank the goddess,” he mutters.

Dimitri, the most worried-looking of the three, exhales sharply. “If you were so wounded, you should have gone to see a healer,” he chides. There’s guilt in his eyes, and it ages him a decade.

It takes a moment for her to remember the arrow. She barely notices the wound, a dull throb with sluggish bleeding. “Ah,” she says. “It wasn’t that.”

“Illness?” Edelgard says, the same beat that Claude suggests, “Poison?”

They exchange glances, and Edelgard’s eyes narrow as Claude shrugs helplessly.

“I wasn’t feeling well,” Byleth offers.

Claude’s brows rise. “If you weren’t feeling well to begin with, I can’t imagine what a force you’d be in peak condition.”

Dimitri turns to face him sharply. “You were watching us?”

“Of course! My eyes are always drawn to the brightest stars, battlefield or not.”

“I think,” Edelgard adds dryly, “he means you watched and didn’t help.”

Claude makes an mock-affronted noise. “I helped plenty. Look at my quiver! Practically empty!”

“Enough,” Jeralt says, too tired to sound sharp. Nonetheless, he still catches their attention, all three quieting like chastened puppies.

He offers a hand and pulls her up, his eyes scanning her face like he’s looking for something.

Dimitri clears his throat, bowing. “I apologize for our disrespect,” he says. “We are incredibly grateful for your assistance in this matter.”

Her father looks like he wants to say something, but pauses when a distant bellow echoes through the forest. He grimaces. “That’s… not who I think it is, is it?”

“CAPTAIN JERALT!” comes the voice again.

A man, not particularly tall, but broad in shoulder and chest, practically sprints full-tilt at them.

Jeralt looks rather like he’d rather be pretty much anywhere else, and heaves a long-suffering sigh. “Of course it is.”

“Captain Jeralt!” the man shouts, voice no less loud now that he’s three feet away instead of thirty. “It is I, Alois! Surely you remember me!”

“Right,” her father says. “Good to see you. Also, goodbye.”

Alois protests, vocally, and with great volume, and then three more voices are involved, and suddenly Byleth finds herself being invited to the Garreg Mach Monastery.

She says yes.

 


 

With both leader and second-in-command leaving for the monastery, her father’s mercenaries don't have much in the way of options other than following. Alois seems less than elated, and Jeralt himself just looks tired.

“You’ve been before?” Byleth asks, when she and her father are alone.

He sighs through his nose. “It was… a long time ago. And I left for good reason.”

She cocks her head. “Was it because of me?”

He doesn’t answer, but pats her head. “Come on. We’re keeping them waiting.”

He leaves to instruct the rest of the mercenaries to pack up camp while they go on ahead with the Knights of Seiros. Their scuffle with the bandits only left a few wounded, and even then the injuries are minor. Byleth allows a flash of pride.

You’re not close, but you respect each other,” a familiar voice observes.

Byleth pauses, glancing from side to side. There’s a few mercenaries milling around, but none of them show sighs of hearing anything. Other than them, she’s alone.

Come now, you’re denser than a rock! You’re the only one that can hear me.”

She blinks. “...Sothis.” She barely breathes the name, brow furrowing.

There’s a huff. “Of course! Whom else?”

Byleth sighs softly. “I thought you were a dream.”

Sothis sniffs. “It’s certainly easier to talk to you then. It’s quite tiring, doing this.” Her voice trails off. “Even now, I’m already…” She cuts off with a yawn.

Byleth waits, but the girl quiets.

 


 

Claude catches her eye first, winking and waving.

Jeralt is in a hushed conversation with one of the other knights, but looks up as she approaches. Dimitri and Edelgard follow suit, raising their heads from their own exchange.

“Ready to go?” Alois calls, and Byleth nods.

Claude grins. “I’ve been waiting for a chance to bend your ear,” he chirps. “It’s not every day we meet a warrior of your skill.”

“We won’t be with her for long if you annoy her into leaving,” Edelgard ripostes, and Dimitri quickly covers his laugh with his fist.

Claude covers his heart with his hand like he’s been dealt a fatal blow, turning his gaze back to Byleth. “My charm isn’t enough for you?”

Byleth tilts her head. “...You’re fine,” she offers, and the smile she receives in turn is brilliant.

Edelgard huffs, but she’s smiling. “If you spoil him like that, he’ll never leave you alone.”

“She’ll adore my company before long.” He bows dramatically, golden cape fluttering. “Claude von Riegan, heir to House Riegan, of Alliance fame.” He glances up at her, eyes glittering. “But you seemed to know that already, didn’t you?” His smile is still bright, but there’s a colder edge to it, now. His eyes are calculating.

Ah. Her dream.

“News travels quickly, especially among mercenaries,” Jeralt says, saving her from a reply. He turns to the other students. “Don’t think I don’t know that I’ve got the prince of Faerghus and the Adrestian empress-to-be in my camp.”

The two in question quickly look away, Dimitri clearing his throat awkwardly.

“Shall we get moving?” he suggests, ducking his head to avoid eye contact.

Byleth blinks. Empress and king.

Something tells her that those titles can’t coexist.

 


 

 

Things become more comfortable once they’re on the road. Her father leads, the knights falling into step behind him, with Alois talking more at him than with him.

Claude’s eyes lose that calculating chill, although Byleth doesn’t forget it. He smiles easily and often, chattering almost aimlessly, but somehow always directing questions towards her. While Jeralt had saved her from answering him earlier, it seems like Claude hasn’t forgotten. His queries are lighthearted and innocuous—her lifestyle, her past jobs—but she can’t help but think that he’s using her answers to build a bigger picture.

Byleth answers as honestly—and briefly—as she can. She’s not sure she wants to divulge the fact that she dreams of him—of all of them— and that some of those dreams involve intimacy and others involve death.

Somewhere in the back of her mind, Sothis stirs. “Wise,” she mumbles. “For once.”

The girl falls back into a slumber before Byleth can muster a response, and she nearly misses Claude’s next question for her trouble.

“What’s it like, being a mercenary?” he asks. The question catches the attention of the other two students, and suddenly there are three inquisitive stares aimed at her.

“...Tiring,” she manages. “There’s no room for error when you fight for a living.”

Claude sighs. “Training everyday, huh? Sounds exhausting.”

“You’re supposed to train everyday,” Dimitri points out. “You’re a student.” 

Edelgard rolls her eyes. “Do you truly believe that he follows the regimen?”

“I would,” Claude defends, “if it were any good.”

The three distract themselves with meaningless bickering, and the sight of them bantering and arguing without heat in their words fills Byleth with some sort of nostalgia.

 


 

She remembers being born a man, lying on a grassy plain and dozing. There’s a warm body next to her, and she doesn’t bother opening her eyes to nestle closer—

She remembers storming a city. There’s a knight towering over her, a massive scythe in his grip, the terrible visage of a skull peering down at her. A battle rages around them, but he only has eyes for her.

“Fight me,” he rasps. “Only one of us will move forward.”

She levels her sword at him. The blade in her hands is a terrible thing, carved from bone and burning in her hands.

“I don’t want to kill you,” she says, clear even over the clamor around them.

The knight cocks his head. “You must,” he replies, then charges—

Byleth wakes up, alone, in a cold sweat. The small oil lantern at her side flickers restlessly, casting distorted shadows on the canvas of her tent.

No. She’s not quite alone. “It’s getting worse,” Sothis observes. “How do you feel?”

Her mouth is dry. “Fine,” she cracks out. She fumbles for her pack, grabbing her canteen.

Sothis scoffs. “Lying won’t do you any good.”

She ignores the girl, tipping back the canteen and gulping down the cool water.

Even after the drink, she’s still jittery, nerves alight from a non-existent fight, and she throws off her light blanket, staggering to her feet. She ducks out of her tent, blinking rapidly as her eyes adjust to the meager pre-dawn light.

The sky is just starting to lighten, rich blue tinged with pink. A good time to be alone.

Except she’s not.

Edelgard is standing on the edge of camp, looking to the horizon. Her hair is loose, ribbons wrapped around her hand as she ponders the sky.

It’s not in Byleth’s nature to start a conversation when none needs to be had, so she simply observes for a few moments. The quiet is calming, only the faint rustle of leaves and early birdsong filtering through the air—

She remembers it being quiet, somehow. The battle seems so far away. Edelgard is on her knees, head bowed. Her breaths are terribly loud, broken gasps and choked out shudders of pain.

“Do it,” she rasps. “Please. If it’s anyone, I want it to be you.”

Byleth is raising her sword.

“Ah,” Edelgard says. “I didn’t expect anyone else to be up at this hour.”

Byleth blinks. The girl in front of her is Edelgard the student, in her clean-pressed uniform and straight-brushed hair—not the Edelgard of her dreams, all pained eyes and stalwart blade.

“Are you alright?” Pale eyes glance over her. “You're trembling.”

It takes a moment to find her voice. “I’m fine.”

It’s less believable every time she says it.

Edelgard doesn’t look particularly convinced, but neither is she particularly invested in Byleth’s wellbeing. She turns her cool gaze away, back to the horizon. “It’s nice,” she says, “when it’s like this. Alone, but not… empty.”

Empty. Byleth knows that feeling well. She’s been increasingly less empty of late, though. Her dreams. Sothis. She’s not quite sure she prefers it to her normal blankness.

The girl doesn’t seem to be waiting for a response, so Byleth stays silent, controlling her breathing until she’s certain her shaking has ceased entirely.

The silence is almost companionable, for being what it is. Next to Edelgard, it seems easier to simply… exist.

Eventually, the girl retreats back to her tent with a murmured goodbye, likely to catch an hour of rest before the morning truly comes.

Byleth stays rooted in place, watching the sky melt into gold.

Nothing good comes with the sun, she thinks.

Chapter Text

Stepping into monastery feels like… home.

It’s the closest description she can muster. Byleth never had a house or cottage, a soft bed to return to after a long day’s work. Just camp after camp, always moving, her father her only consistency.

But Garegg Mach is like returning to where she belongs.

Jeralt seems to feel the opposite, stiff and prickly as soon as he crosses the threshold.

His eyes flicker up. “Rhea,” he breathes.

She follows his gaze, up to a balcony. There’s a woman, looking down upon them. The sun behind her headdress makes it look like she’s part of heavens themselves, and—

Byleth remembers her, like so many others. She remembers—

A brilliant flash of light. Soldiers screaming in terror as the shadow descends on them, the earth quaking as the dragon lands.

Rhea.

Her father sighs. “Let’s get this over with,” he mutters, and Byleth sends one more glance to the sky before she follows him in.

The gates shut behind them with a sense of finality.

The students leave them just past the gate, escorted back to their dormitories by Alois. A small contingent of knights lead Byleth and Jeralt to the audience chamber.

Rhea is there, expression soft and warm, flanked by a scowling man in blue and white.

“Jeralt,” she says. “It has been many years.”

Her father bows stiffly. “Archbishop.”

Rhea turns her pale gaze to Byleth, head tilting. “Your child, I presume?”

It is only thanks to a lifetime of his company that Byleth catches the way her father tenses. “Yes,” he says easily. “Born some years after I left the monastery. We lost her mother to illness.

“My condolences,” Rhea replies gravely, face appropriately somber.

Something about her is… off, Byleth thinks. Like her expressions are calculated.

Like something that is simply pretending to be human.

Unbidden, the image of a roaring dragon surfaces in her mind. She restrains a shudder.

Rhea and her father continue talking, but the words slip past her mind. It’s impossible to concentrate; her head is pounding, thrumming like it’s ready to burst.

Oh dear,” Sothis murmurs. “What have you done now?”

Despite everything, Byleth keeps her blank mask in place, staying perfectly still—

There’s… something. Something beneath her feet. It’s calling to her.

Her father sighs gustily, and it’s like the bubble of haze has popped. Suddenly she can think again, and Jeralt has his head tilted, looking exhausted.

“Of course, Archbishop,” he’s saying. “I suppose you’ll want me reinstated right away.”

She’s never heard him with that fatigue of defeat. Perhaps, she thinks, she’s watching her father lose for the first time.

Rhea smiles benevolently. “I’ll leave you two to get settled,” she says. “I hope to see you soon Jeralt. And you as well.” The last sentence she directs toward Byleth, meeting her eyes.

She was right, Byleth thinks. The archbishop’s expression is warm, but her eyes—

Her eyes are like glaciers.

She bows, respectfully deep, with a murmur of, “Archbishop.”

Apparently satisfied, Rhea takes her leave, the man in blue following at her heels. The few remaining knights follow, leaving them alone in the audience chamber.

Her father mutters a curse.

“After all these years…” he says, hands flexing.

Byleth knows what’s coming next. “We’re staying,” she says, less of a question and more of a confirmation.

Jeralt nods tightly. “And you’ll never believe what that blasted Alois told me he was going to do—”

“I’m going to teach here.”

He blinks, meeting her eyes for the first time for this whole exchange. “Yes,” he says slowly. “He… recommended you for a position. Rhea is undoubtedly discussing it with the rest of them right now.”

She nods. “I don’t mind,” she says. “Those three—they were nice.”

Jeralt is looking at her—really looking at her now. “Where did you hear about the Riegan boy?” he finally asks. “Names and nobility aren’t things you usually pay attention to.”

She pauses. “I… don’t remember.”

In the back of her mind, Sothis huffs.

Something flashes in his eyes and he’s quiet for a moment before he sighs, then reaches to pat her head. “Okay,” he says. His voice is soft. “Be careful around here. I know you like those kids but… don’t trust anyone. Not right away.”

She nods, leaning into his hand like a cat asking for affection.

Jeralt smiles, just a little, and gives her hair one last ruffle. “I have to go to the knight’s quarters. Why don’t you take some time to explore? Maybe get something to eat. I’m sure Rhea will call us again soon enough.”

She nods again, then turns to leave.

“Byleth,” he calls, and she glances back. His expression is… wistful, perhaps. He hesitates. “...Your mother is buried here,” he says. “Later we’ll… visit her together.”

She takes a moment to find her voice. “Of course.”

The walk to the dining hall takes her past the home rooms.

She notices Claude first, lingering just outside the door that presumably leads to his class, if the banner that matches his cape in color is any indication. Dimitri is nearby, next to a man with an imposingly large figure.

Briefly, she wonders if she should make herself known, but the decision is made for her as Claude turns his head and catches her eye with a beam.

“Just the woman I wanted to see!” he chirps. His voice catches the attention of the others, and she even sees a couple heads poking out doorways to catch of glimpse of the ruckus.

Apparently caught, she inclines her head in greeting, then trots over with the barest of sighs and Claude beckons to her.

She hears Dimitri say, “Ah, Dedue, this is the mercenary I was telling you about—” before he’s drowned out by the boy in yellow.

“So, how are you liking the monastery?” he asks, posture open and easy.

Byleth starts to answer, “It’s fine,” when a girl with pink twin-tails abruptly barges in on the scene, flanked by a younger, serious-looking girl and a boy with the most horrendous purple bangs she’s ever seen—even including her father’s dreaded rat’s tail braid.

She doesn’t notice how manufactured Claude’s smile is until it melts into something genuine. “Hilda! Just in time! This is the mercenary that we brought back, the one—”

“The one that saved your incompetent life?” the purple-haired boy cuts in dryly. He turns to bow to her. “Apologies for any inconveniences our sorry excuse of a house leader may have caused. I am Lorenz Hellman Gloucester, of the noble house of Gloucester of the Lei—!”

“Oh, enough of that Lorenz, you’re boring her to tears!” Hilda says. She clasps her hands in front of her and displays rounded puppy eyes. “Thank you for saving Claude! It’s so good to know that there’s dependable people like you around!”

“Dependable enough for you ‘delegate’ your work to her, I imagine,” the younger girl replies.

“You should respect your elders, little Lysithea,” Claude teases, and the girl scowls. He looks back up at Byleth, grinning widely.

The sudden wave of affection that blooms in her chest nearly knocks Byleth off her feet, but she keeps her face carefully blank.

“What’s this? A beautiful woman entered the monastery and no one bothered to tell me?” comes a voice, light and boyishly charming, followed by the sound of a smack and a yelp and a, “Do you ever stop—?”

And suddenly the next few minutes are a whirlwind of introductions, more and more students peering out of the classroom. Dimitri, not to be outdone, hastily adds his own house to the mix, a fresh wave of young ones flooding into the courtyard, and eventually even Edelgard appears, bringing with her a veritable battalion of students.

And she remembers all of them. Just… flickers, at first, as they introduce themselves and she sees their faces for the first time. (“Obviously not the first time,” Sothis snorts.) But as they grow comfortable and catch glimpses of their fellow students and fall into painfully familiar banter and smiles, the visions crash down on her like a wave.

Her heart is hurting.

Easy, now,” Sothis whispers. “Don’t get overwhelmed.”

Easier said than done of course.

She keeps… seeing them. Flashes, always so brief—sometimes they’re older, out of uniform and in armor instead, bloodied and hollow-eyed.

Sometimes dead.

It’s good, she thinks distantly, that the students are so distracted by one another. Perhaps they wouldn’t notice that she’d gone near catatonic.

Someone says something to her—Dimitri, perhaps, but she can’t cut through the haze fast enough to respond.

There’s a light touch, a hand on her arm, and she steps back reflexively.

“Wait—everyone, give her some space, you’re suffocating her.”

The chatter ceases.

“Pardon me,” she rasps. Her voice doesn’t sound like her own.

She takes a step back, then another, and then turns and starts walking.

“What’s her deal?” someone mutters behind her.

This is the first time she’s been to the monastery, yet her feet carry her to the dining hall like traveling a well-worn path. The further she gets from the students the more she can breathe, the more her mind clears.

It had been… too much.

There’s scarce few people around the cafeteria, at this odd hour. She grabs a plate without looking to see what it is and sits at an empty table, and swallows without tasting, staring at the grains in the wood of the table. She’s halfway done with her food before she’s interrupted.

“Do you mind if I join you?”

Byleth blinks, looking up. Dimitri is standing by the table, a tray loaded with food in his hands. He shifts his weight, as if bracing for a rejection.

“...Of course,” she murmurs, half a beat late.

He smiles at her as he set his tray down, sliding into the seat across from her. “I apologize for my classmates,” he begins, not even looking at his food. “I understand that they can be a little… overenthusiastic.”

She pauses, fork halfway to her mouth. “It’s fine,” she says. How many times has she said that, these past few days? Too many to count, and none of them true.

He laughs softly. “Still,” he says, “it was rather unfair to unleash them on you with so little warning.”

She hums noncommittally.

There’s a beat of silence before Dimitri clears his throat. “I never properly thanked you,” he says, “for saving my life.”

“It was nothing,” she replies, avoiding his eyes, so blue and earnest. She picks at her food, thick and tasteless on her tongue.

He stares at her steadily even as she refuses to meet his gaze. “Thank you,” he says. “I mean it. Did you ever get the wound checked out?”

“Yes,” she lies. She hadn’t. It had been minor—nothing worth wasting magic or resources over. The wound had long since scabbed over.

As if to spite her, a dull throb burns through her shoulder, and she resists the urge to scratch it.

He glances down. “Forgive my rudeness, but… something has been bothering me.”

She looks up at him and cocks her head, wordlessly prompting him to continue.

Dimitri hesitates. “Did you… save me because you knew I was the prince of Faerghus? I don’t mean to sound ungrateful,” he adds hastily. “I was simply wondering—since you seemed to know Claude’s status already—”

“No,” she replies simply. “It was… instinct.”

He blinks, meeting her eyes. “Really? You are… a much kinder person than I first took you for, to protect someone like that.” He flushes. “Not to say that I thought you were unkind to begin with—“

She’s not kind. But there’s no way to explain to him how she couldn’t stand to see him hurt, refused to let him die, not—not again?

Don’t think too hard,” Sothis comments dryly.

“It was nothing,” she repeats, and continues to eat.

He looks conflicted, like he can’t decide whether to be relieved or concerned by her apathy.

“Right,” he says. “Nonetheless, thank you. Again.”

Apparently done speaking—or too awkward to continue—Dimitri starts to shovel food into his mouth like he’s forgotten that he’s had it until now.

Byleth continues eating at much more reserved pace, observing him between bites. He eats with a single-minded determination, although the speed doesn’t seem to detract from his manners much. She’s seen people finish meals as quickly as Dimitri is doing now, although never in proper company. It’s somehow… comforting, seeing him eat with such enthusiasm.

They finish at the same time, and he offers to take her tray as he stands. She murmurs her thanks, and Dimitri smiles encouragingly.

“Aha! There you are!” comes a familiar bellow. Alois crosses the hall in broad strides, grinning widely. “Getting settled already, eh? Lady Rhea asked me to find you!”

“...I see,” Byleth says. She bows shallowly to Dimitri. “Thank you,” she says, although she’s not quite sure why.

Dimitri blinks, apparently no more certain. “It was… nothing,” he offers. “You are quite welcome.”

She nods, then turns Alois, whose smile hasn’t dimmed the slightest.

“Come now!” he cheers, already halfway out the door. “The Archbishop awaits!”

She feels Dimitri’s gaze on her back until she turns the corner, stepping out of sight.

 


 

“Aw man, I can’t believe you scared her off!” Sylvain grouses, elbowing Felix in the side. “You can turn off that glare of yours, can’t you?”

“Shut up.”

You scared her off with your terrible flirting,” Ingrid says accusingly.

“I honestly thought it was Caspar’s shouting that drove her away,” Lindhardt comments, tilting his head thoughtfully.

Caspar sputters. “Don’t pin this on me!” he bleats, and the groups descends into fresh round of bickering.

Claude glances around. “Did… anyone see where she went?”

“Towards the dining hall,” Raphael reports immediately.

Leonie snickers. “Of course you’d be able to tell,” she ribs affectionately.

Dimitri is already turning away. “I’ll check on her,” he says. “I’m… concerned. I hope she wasn’t too overwhelmed.”

“Mind yourself,” Edelgard warns. “She’s a guest of the monastery. Be sure to treat her with the proper respect.”

Claude mimes fanning himself with his hand. “Is it just me, or is it getting awfully stuffy out here?”

Edelgard pins him with sharp look and he shrugs. By the time she looks back, Dimitri is gone.

Chapter Text

Alois leads her to the audience chamber. The guards at the door let them pass, and Alois steps in just long enough to bow before he winks at her and leaves.

Rhea is waiting for her, calm and collected. The man in robes is also present again, standing straight-backed, arms clasped neatly behind him.

“Welcome, my child,” the archbishop says, voice soft.

Byleth bows, lowering her gaze. Those pale eyes unnerve her, like she’s a caged animal being studied.

The man’s face is marred by a deep frown, fern-green eyes slightly narrowed.

“Allow me to introduce my advisor,” Rhea says. “He is my most trusted confidant and a professor at the academy—”

“Cichol,” Byleth murmurs, barely audible. She blinks. She’s never heard that name before.

Rhea freezes. Next to her, the man draws a sharp breath.

Byleth clears her throat, wondering if she’s committed some faux-pas. “Apologies,” she says. “I’m not sure what came over me.”

There’s a beat of stiff silence before Rhea’s features smooth over to a pleasant smile. “Of course,” she says. “You’ve had a long day.” She's perfectly amicable, expression gentle, but the man next to her is tense enough to snap. “This is Seteth. I trust that he will be able to answer any questions you have about the monastery.”

Byleth bows, and Seteth returns it with a tight incline of his head. His hair shifts with the movement, he reaches up to smooth it back with one hand, careful and meticulous.

Somehow, she remembers his hair being soft.

She’s jerked out of her distraction by the arrival of her father. His face is carefully neutral, matched only by her own.

Seteth straightens, once again stern and impassive.

“I thought we might discuss the matter of your residency here,” Rhea begins, addressing both of them. “As Jeralt is being reinstated as a Knight of Seiros, I thought appropriate that you would be offered a position here as well.” She level her gaze at Byleth, eyes sea-glass pale and just as sharp. “Alois spoke highly of your skills, and thus, we have decided to offer you a position as professor and head of one of the three houses of the academy.”

One of the three houses—she has to choose. An ultimatum.

“You’ve met the house leaders,” Rhea continues. “Edelgard leads the Black Eagles, Dimtri leads the Blue Lions, and Claude the Golden Deer. All are lords of their respective territories—becoming the head of any class would garner a significant amount of influence.”

It’s a pitch, that much Byleth can tell. For some reason, the archbishop is almost desperate to keep her here.

Jeralt glances between her and Rhea, mouth set in a thin line.

“Thank you, archbishop,” Byleth says, slow and level. “I appreciate your offer, and am willing to become a professor. However, I do not believe I am fit to become head of a house.”

Rhea blinks. Byleth has a feeling that the archbishop is rather used to getting her way.

“Truly?” Rhea says.

Byleth breathes in. Words have never been her strong suit. Difficult, even at the best of times. Using them to justify a decision she made on a whim to the most powerful person in the country would be difficult for the most silver-tongued orator.

It would help to know why, exactly, Rhea is so adamant to have her.

“I am a simple mercenary,” she begins cautiously. “I don’t know enough about the intricacies of the politics of this country to adequately attend to the students’ concerns. I would be able to teach them about tactics and battle, but as a confidant, I would be sorely lacking. I believe that someone more experienced and politically-minded would serve as a better head of house.”

She exhales sharply. It’s the most words she’s spoken in one sitting in… perhaps her whole lifetime.

Jeralt looks impressed—Rhea less so.

“I see,” the archbishop says, folding her hands neatly in front of her. “I cannot doubt your measurement of your own abilities. While we must find a new head, I am glad the monastery will not be bereft of your teachings.”

“I am eager to be of service,” Byleth says carefully, bowing.

“Then Seteth will see you to your quarters tonight, after supper. May the goddess be with you.” Rhea inclines her head, which is apparently a dismissal, and her father turns to leave.

She trots after him, sending one final glance at Rhea and Seteth—

The archbishop’s eyes are freezing.

Byleth shivers.

 


 

Claude is… outside of the audience chamber, for some reason, chattering away to the guard at the door. He smiles when he sees her, then winks before turning back to the guard.

She follows her father in silence for a few moments, waiting for a stretch of empty hallway to come up before she mutters, “Rhea is scary.”

Jeralt barks out a startled laugh. “Terrifying,” he agrees. “And she hasn’t changed a bit, either.”

He’s relaxed noticeably, now that they’re out of her sight. He sighs gustily and rubs the back of his neck.

“Saving those brats was more trouble than it was worth,” he grouses.

Byleth pins him with a blank stare—one that she knows he’ll recognize the disapproval in.

He grimaces. “Don’t look at me like that—you know I’m joking.”

She huffs, a tiny puff of air escaping her mouth. “You shouldn’t joke about things like that.”

Her father sighs again, long-suffering and resigned, then nudges her with a shoulder. “Speaking of those kids, are you sure you’re up for teaching?”

She blinks owlishly at him. “Yes.”

He cocks his head. “Really? You’ve never shown interest in this sort of thing. I’m surprised you agreed so readily, even if you rejected the head position.”

“It… felt right,” she says. “And I couldn’t choose.”

Jeralt makes a low sound of acknowledgement, absentmindedly adjusting the shield slung over his shoulder. “As long as your prepared to put in the work,” he concedes, “I’m sure you can manage.”

They reach the courtyard, and Jeralt waves her off as he makes his way towards the knight’s quarters. “I’ll see you at supper. Stay outta trouble.”

 


 

There’s still several hours to kill before supper, so Byleth wanders, no destination in mind. Her feet carry her past the dining hall, down to a deep, rich, blue pond flanked by a greenhouse.

The patter of approaching footsteps makes her glance back. Claude is jogging to catch up to her, waving as she turns. “A fine day, isn’t it, Teach?” Claude says, grinning.

Her stride falters for a moment as she blinks up at him. Surely Rhea hadn’t announced her new position already—?

She remembers Claude outside the audience chamber, chatting with the guard at the door.

Byleth exhales softly. “Eavesdropper.” Her voice comes out fonder than she means to.

He huffs with mock-offense, cocking his head to look down on her. “Any schemer worth their salt should be master of gathering information,” he says. “The basics of which are, admittedly, eavesdropping.”

The breath she releases isn’t quite a laugh, but Claude looks immensely pleased with himself.

“You’re full of surprises, you know,” he informs her. “Far too interesting for your own good. After all, not many would turn down the opportunity to have the ear of the next king or emperor.”

Her expression smoothes over, and she makes a noncommittal noise. “It didn’t seem right,” she offers. “I’m just a mercenary.”

Claude hums thoughtfully, stretching his arms up and tucking his hands behind his head. “Couldn’t even find it in your heart to pick little ol’ me?”

“I’m still teaching you,” she points out, and he pouts.

“It’s not the same,” he says, sighing dramatically. “I wanted to squirrel you away all for myself—if only to see those other two squirm with jealousy.” He smiles brightly. “I bet your skills would come in handy for plenty of my plans.”

“Troublemaker,” she says, the barest hint of exasperation creeping into her voice.

He winks. “Schemer,” he corrects. “Or tactician, if you’re feeling particularly kind.”

She raises her brows the smallest fraction, fixing him with a blank look until he pouts.

She slows her pace as the cobblestone under her feet turns to wood, and finally stops at the edge of the dock. She looks up at the sky, the clouds faintly dappled with gold and pink as the sun begins its descent.

“...I like this place,” she says softly.

Claude blinks. “The monastery? It’s nice—”

She shakes her head. “Here,” she says. “The pond.” She hesitates. “I… like fishing,” she adds.

It seems like she’s stunned him into silence before he huffs a laugh. “Full of surprises,” he says. “Wait here just a moment, would you?”

She cocks her head but nods all the same, watching him as he scampers off to talk to the groundskeeper. When he returns, he’s brandishing two fishing poles, with a small bucket of worms dangling from his arm.

“A welcome gift,” he says with a wink. “Or you could call it buttering up our new professor.”

She takes the offered pole, weighing it in her hands thoughtfully, then plucks a worm from the bucket and hooks it with practiced ease. Claude’s only just wrangled his bait into place as she casts her line, the float bobbing peacefully in the calm waters.

She lowers herself to sit, feet dangling over the edge, the wood of the dock worn comfortably smooth with age. Claude mirrors her, sitting close enough that the edges of their coats brush against each other. He seems content to fish in silence despite his earlier eagerness for chatter.

His nearness is… comfortable. Familiar, like his name was. She glances at him out of the corner of her eye and—

It’s the light, perhaps. Maybe the exhaustion of the day is setting in—but for just a moment, he looks older, his jaw a little broader, his eyes a little more tired.

She blinks and it dissipates, and Claude is once again smooth-faced and bright-eyed.

She turns her attention back to the pond, but the image lingers in her mind.

 


 

They fish until the bell tolls for supper-time, Byleth’s basket significantly more bountiful than Claude’s.

They hand off their catch to the groundskeeper and make their way to the dining hall, Claude restarting his amiable chatter. He tells her about his house members—names that ring with familiarity, flashes of faces flickering in her mind, and she gently rejects his offer to dine with him, intending to meet up with her father.

They part at the door, spotting Jeralt’s distinct orange tunic among the crowd of black uniforms, Alois—who is laughing uproariously— and a few other knights by him. She picks her way through the sea of students, sliding across from him.

Her father grimaces when he sees her. He already looks exhausted.

“Aha! And the lady of the hour!” Alois bellows. “I knew Lady Rhea would agree!”

She blinks. “Ah,” she offers. “...Thank you.”

“Saved you a plate, kid,” Jeralt says, pushing a tray of food towards her. It smells good—rich and a little spicy. “I’ll admit, it’s better than field rations.”

She hadn’t been paying attention the last time she’d eaten, too overwhelmed to care, then too focused on Dimitri to notice. But the food is… good. Hot and savory, a far cry from the bland, dry rations the mercenaries eat on the road.

She takes her time, focusing diligently on the plate in front of her, occasionally glancing up at her father, who makes a wry face everytime Alois makes a joke.

The chatter of the hall starts to dim, and Byleth pauses in her meal, looking to the door.

Seteth is striding purposefully towards her, expression flat and cold.

Oh my,” Sothis sighs. “He looks awfully irritated. Whatever did you do to him?”

He bows shortly as he reaches the table. “My apologies for the interruption,” he says stiffly, “but I’ve come to escort the professor to her quarters.”

Jeralt’s brows inch up. “Evening’s pretty young for a curfew,” he says dryly.

“It is simply a matter of making sure the professor has an opportunity to get settled,” Seteth replies coolly. “There’s also the topic of reviewing the curriculum and her responsibilities as a professor.”

Her father catches her eye and shrugs. ‘I tried,’ he mouths, which Seteth catches, if the twitch of the man’s brow is anything to go by.

“If you would, Professor,” he says, hands folded neatly at the small of his back.

Byleth sends a final, forlorn glance at her half-finished food and sadly slides the remains back towards her father before she rises. She bows. “Father. Alois. Thank you for the meal.”

Alois waves her off with a beaming grin, Jeralt signing ‘good luck,’ with a two-fingered salute, and then she’s trotting at Seteth’s heels as the man leads her out of the dining hall.

The spring evening air is cool and brisk compared to the crowded hall, and she inhales deeply, adjusting the loose sleeves of her coat.

“Your responsibilities are great in number and importance,” Seteth says. “I acknowledge that your circumstances are… unique, to say the least, but I expect you to uphold the standards of Garreg Mach.” He’s not looking at her, staring straight ahead with a furrowed brow and tense jaw.

She cocks her head. “Have I done something wrong?” she asks, and Seteth flinches like her words are a physical blow.

There’s a beat of silence. “I don’t understand your meaning,” he says. The way his words are clipped short and the rigid set of his shoulders says otherwise.

“You’re wary of me,” she continues. “I understand why. But I don’t understand the—” She struggles for a moment— “animosity you have for me.”

Seteth halts in his tracks, and she nearly runs into his back.

He’s looking at her now, finally, and the coldness in his expression is exchanged for what seems to be complete bafflement.

“You—” he starts, then cuts himself off. He exhales sharply, rubbing the bridge of his nose. “You don’t believe that you’ve done anything to concern me?”

She blinks. “No.”

Sothis snickers.

“...I see,” he says. He’s silent for a few moments, mouth pressed in a line of concentration. “I suppose the fault is mine, then.” He makes a low, frustrated sound in the back of his throat. “I apologize for my shortness. Please understand your situation is particularly… vexing for me. However, I will make an effort to be more welcoming.”

She inclines her head, not sure if thanking him would be the proper response.

Seteth frowns, but it’s less harsh. “If you would,” he says, and turns and continues walking.

 


 

Her new quarters are… cozy. Just large enough to comfortably fit the bed, desk, and dresser, the carpet plush under her feet.

Seteth is explaining, at length, her duties and the topics she is expected to cover. She winces when she hears the date of her first seminar—closer than she’d expected. It’s Friday, and her first class is Sunday.

“Seminars are not mandatory participation,” Seteth says when he sees her reaction. “However, it will be many students first impression of you. I expect you to prepare your materials thoroughly.”

She huffs out a soft breath. “I understand.”

His gaze flickers down to her before promptly avoiding her eyes. “As advisor to the archbishop and a fellow professor, you may come to me with your questions or concerns. Your fellow professors will also be available to you, should you need it.”

“...Thank you,” she says.

He nods, bowing at the waist. “I’ll leave you for the evening. Please use your time wisely.”

She bows shallowly in return, eyes following his back as he leaves. The heavy door swings shut behind him.

She exhales gustily, glancing at the desk. There’s a sheaf of parchment lying on top, a quill and a bottle of ink right beside.

“Right,” she murmurs. “Might as well get to work.”

Chapter Text

A sharp rap against her door startles her out of her work.

She cocks her head. “Come in.”

Her father peeks into her room. The sky is dark behind him, evening long melted into night. “Burning the midnight oil, eh kid?”

She blinks, rubbing her eyes. “How late is it?”

“Sun went down a few hours ago. Most of the students are in their dorms.”

His eyes flicker down to her ink-stained hands and messy scrawl, arching a brow.

“Are you sure you’re up for this?” Jeralt asks. “You’ll be stuck with a room full of brats for at least an hour, and you’ll be talking for most of it.”

Her head drops. “Help,” she says.

Jeralt snorts, leaning his hip against the desk to look down at her notes. “Remember,” he says, “at the end of the day, you’re teaching them how to survive. A lot of them are nobles, so they’ll all have a decent amount of training. Probably got taught fancy tactics and sword polishing techniques, but I’d bet they never stepped a foot out of the castle grounds before they came here. Those commoner kids probably didn’t get out too much either, even if they’re more used to labor. So what separates us from them?”

She pauses, outwardly blank but mind scrambling, then puts her quill to paper, scratching out near-illegible notes.

Her father chuckles, reaching to ruffle her hair. “It’s been a long time since you’ve relied on me like this. The last time you asked for help was before you could lift a sword properly.”

She glances up at him.

Words are difficult. They were difficult with the archbishop, and they’re difficult with her father, but… he’s worth the effort.

She doesn’t so much as pick her words as sift through them, like burying her hands in sand. “I’ve… always relied on you,” she manages. “I don’t ask often, but you’re always there when I need you.”

Jeralt’s expression isn’t quite surprised, but it’s close. He sighs, face softening. “I’m your father,” he says, painfully fond. “It’s my job.”

She shifts in her chair so she’s leaning into his side, soaking up his warmth. His arm rests over her shoulders, a comforting, familiar weight.

“Don’t work yourself too hard,” he says, drawing back reluctantly. “I have to head back to the barracks before Alois takes it upon himself to come find me. Get some sleep soon, okay?”

She nods and watches as he leaves, sending one final smile back at her before the door shuts.

 


 

She remembers molding children in her image, breathing life into them. They share her features, hair like the forests and eyes like the gems buried in the earth, their ears pointed and teeth sharp.

The eldest is a girl, with hair like starlight and eyes like polished jade.

She is perfect. She is immaculate.

She remembers naming her—

Rhea.

 


 

Her quarters are quiet.

Byleth takes a deep breath, pulse fluttering, rapid and unsteady, like a suffocating bird. The sheets are tangled around her legs, her back damp with sweat as she pushes herself up. “Sothis,” she whispers, weak and shaky. Then, slightly more composed, “Sothis, are you there?”

The girl shimmers into existence, perched on the edge of the desk, her brilliant green eyes avoiding her gaze.

It takes a moment for Byleth to fight through her dizzy haze and find the right words. “How much do you know about this?” she manages, rubbing at her eyes.

“Sometimes more, sometimes less,” comes the reply. “You have a tendency to complicate things. And I have a feeling that I’m… not as strong as I once was, bound to you like this.”

Sothis hops off the desk but never touches the floor, floating a few inches above the ground. “I know that events were not supposed to proceed in this way,” she continues. “You’ve lived this life dozens of times. Hundreds, perhaps. Little things change, but they follow the same stories. But this time…” She sighs. “The Divine Pulse… cracked, perhaps. Things are slipping through.”

“My dreams,” Byleth murmurs.

Sothis hums. “I imagine,” she says, “that if you remembered everything all at once, you would go mad with it.”

She’s already going mad, Byleth doesn’t say. She’s fracturing at the edges, pieces snapping off whenever she so much as looks at one of the students in the eye. There’s no solace in sleep anymore.

Her head hangs low, her breathing shaky. “Sothis,” she says. Her voice is very small. “I’m tired.”

The girl’s eyes are soft with sympathy. “I know.”

Almost hesitant, she drifts closer, until she’s at her bedside. She raises a cautious hand to pet Byleth’s hair, intangible but faintly warm.

“You should sleep,” she says. “I will… stay with you, and do my best to keep the dreams at bay.”

Byleth exhales sharply, falling back onto her pillows. Exhaustion pulls her under quickly, but in the brief moments before unconsciousness, she hears Sothis humming.

 


 

Saturday passes in a blur. Byleth holes herself up in her room, leaving only for meals. She throws herself into her work, half because of the impending date of her seminar and half for the distraction. Sothis is her only company, the girl hovering behind her and commenting on her poor handwriting at every opportunity.

She learns during lunch that her father’s mercenaries arrived at the church, and that Seteth is scrambling to get them accommodated. She feels a brief pang of sympathy for the man, thinks, he’s always been so overworked, and then banishes the train of thought before she can wonder where it came from.

Jeralt makes a brief appearance late in the evening, just to make sure that she hadn’t already lost her mind from the work, before telling her that he’d been gone for the rest of the week on a training excursion with the other knights.

She wilts visibly at the news, and he huffs fondly.

“I’ll be back before you know it,” he reassures her. “And you’ll be fine.”

Had she been anyone else, she might have pouted, but instead she nods.

The corner of his mouth quirks up, and he ruffles her hair. “Take care of yourself,” he says. “Don’t let those brats run you down.”

Her expression softens and she nods again. “...Come back safe,” she says.

He smiles crookedly. “I always do.”

She sees him off to the stables and watches as he rides away.

When she retires for the night, something in her heart hurts.

 


 

Her sleep is dreamless, for once. When she wakes, Sothis is exhausted, barely stirring as she prepares for her class.

She shuffles through her notes as she walks through the halls, trying to find the room that Seteth had assigned her. When she finds it, there's barely minutes before the seminar is set to start, and the students had already found their way to their seats.

Her first seminar is surprisingly full. She spots the irritable amber-eyed boy from the Blue Lions, alongside his red-haired friend, and Claude is shepherding in a blue-haired girl with bags under her eyes. There’s a boy she recognizes from the Black Eagles who seems to be already dozing off, accompanied by a girl with long waves of oak-brown hair. Seteth is leaning against the wall near the back, arms crossed and brow furrowed, apparently listening in.

She breathes in, then clears her throat. Immediately, the room quiets, half a dozen pairs of eyes focused on her—the boy from the Black Eagles is still sleeping, apparently.

“Welcome,” she manages, and nearly winces. Her voice sounds flat and rehearsed. “I am Byleth Eisner. I will be your tactics professor.”

She swallows, steadying her breathing. “I am not a knight,” she says, low and even. “I cannot teach you codes of chivalry, or honorable battle. I’m here to teach you how to survive a conflict at any cost.”

She’s caught their interest, if only a little—Seteth in particular, judging by the way his eyes narrow.

“In any war, there are opposing ideals. There is no such thing as the right side—only yours. War does not discriminate against your nobility or your ambitions. That is why you learn to fight.”

“You were a mercenary, weren’t you?” comes a voice. “Kinda bold to lecture about nobility and ideals.”

She blinks. So the boy hadn’t been sleeping.

“I was,” she answers. “Which is exactly why I know how war functions. I have fought battles under every banner, on every side, with no stakes other than my own life, and there is a single consistency—the strong survive. The weak fall.”

Claude leans forward, eyes glittering. She truly has their attention now.

“There is no such thing as a noble war,” she continues. “The battlefield is a terrible place. When you fight, you do not fight to further your cause. You fight to survive it.”

The amber-eyed boy—names, namesFelix looks approving. The terrified girl looks… more terrified. Seteth’s narrow-eyed glare couldn’t look more reproachful if he tried.

“So are we to cast aside any pretense of dignity and fight like animals?” Dorothea is the one to speak now, mouth set in a tight line.

Byleth exhales slowly. “No,” she says. “You simply need to… re-evaluate.

“People do not give their lives for noble causes. They don’t fight for the good of the world, for nameless masses. They fight for their family, their loved ones, themselves—they fight for selfish reasons.” She pauses, eyes flickering over each students’ face. “Selfishness,” she says, “is not necessarily a sin.”

The silence is enraptured.

Her glances at the clock and she restrains a sigh. Time is passing sluggishly.

She glances down at her notes and prays she wrote enough to fill the time.

 


 

She does. Apparently, she underestimated how many times she would have to pause for questions, even if not all of them were particularly relevant.

She doesn’t fault them for it—it’s natural for them to be curious about the mysterious mercenary that arrived not even days prior and was suddenly filling the position of professor. She’s answering the final question—her favorite food (she doesn’t have one), asked by Sylvain— when the bell tolls and the room fills with chatter.

“Ah,” she says. “Claude, would you stay a moment?”

Sylvain crows out a mocking, “Oooh,” only to receive a swift kick to his shins for his troubles, delivered by a scowling Felix.

“Of course, Teach,” Claude chirps back, unfazed, and flashes a reassuring smile to Marianne when she sends him a worried glance.

The classroom empties out quickly, and Claude leans his hip against the desk, head tilted to the side.

Byleth hesitates. “Do you happen to know,” she begins slowly, “who were assigned as the heads of the houses?”

She doesn’t know why, but something about that had been… bothering her, eating away at the corner of her mind. Like her balance had been thrown off.

Claude blinks, apparently not expecting gossip. “Well,” he says, “Hanneman is ours—he hasn’t stopped bothering Lysithea and Marianne since Friday. Dorothea mentioned something about seeing Manuela more often, so it’s safe to say the Black Eagles are covered.”

“And the Blue Lions?” she prompts.

He pulls a dramatically thoughtful expression, folding his hands behind his head as he looks skyward. “Last I heard, Felix was awfully excited to be sparring with Jeritza.”

She blinks. “Jeritza,” she echoes.

Claude makes a low, affirmative sound. “Jeritza von Hrym. He’s the fencing instructor—I’ve heard he’s one of the best. Might even give you a run for your money.” He winks. “But don’t worry. I have faith that you’d prevail.”

She only half hears him, preoccupied by the way something seems to slot itself into place in her mind. “Do you know where he is?”

He cocks his head. “I’ve only ever seen him at the training grounds,” he replies, “but I think he has a fencing seminar before supper.”

“I see,” she says, staring down at the desk. “Thank you, Claude. You may go.”

He raises a brow but leaves with a dainty, shallow bow.

As soon as the doors shut behind him, she mouths the name again—Jeritza—and—

A woman is crying, on her knees and head lowered. There’s a man cradled in her lap, pale hair strewn about, gray eyes glassy.

“Emile,” she whispers, tears glittering as they drip off her jaw and fall onto his cheeks.

Byleth sucks in a sharp breath, fingers digging into the wood of her desk until she feels the ache in her bones from the pressure.

“All it took was a name, this time,” Sothis observes, materializing at her shoulder. “Normally they only come with the person, or in your sleep.”

Byleth nods, closing her eyes. Her forehead is damp with sweat, hands clammy and shaking.

Sothis makes a soft sympathetic noise, lingering a breath away until her grip finally relaxes, and she wipes the sweat from her brow.

“This Jeritza must be awfully important,” the girl muses, chin perched in one hand.

Byleth is silent for a moment. Her tongue feels heavy in her mouth. “I killed him, I think,” she rasps. “Will kill. Have killed. I don’t know.”

Sothis sighs, draping herself over the desk like a cat. “Honestly,” she complains, even though there’s no bite to her words, “you are the most troublesome mortal I’ve ever come across.”

It takes longer than she’d like to admit to gather her bearings and steady herself.

She collects her sparse notes, tucking the folder under her arm, and leaves the room.

“Where are you going?” Sothis asks.

“Training grounds,” Byleth replies shortly. “I’m going to see him.”

The girl sighs.

Chapter Text

She does not, in fact, find Jeritza at the training grounds. She does find two extremely enthusiastic boys trading blows with bare fists, hollering gleefully at each other while a couple onlookers cheer, and she takes a moment to identify them—Raphael and Caspar, observed by Leonie and Hilda, the latter of which appears to be, oddly, cheering for Caspar—before beating a hasty retreat before anyone notices her.

She sighs through her nose, hands flexing at her sides. Sothis had drifted not long after she left the classroom, apparently still worn from fending off the dreams, so she’s well and truly alone.

She doesn’t want to be.

She rubs the back of her neck and heads back to the training grounds.

She lingers at the gate, watching the boys spar.

‘Spar’ might be generous. Tussling, maybe. In the time that she hadn’t been watching, Raphael had managed to wrestle Caspar to the ground and is currently sitting on his back as the smaller boy flounders uselessly, the girls howling with laughter behind them.

Hilda sees her first, if her bright call of, “Oh, Professor!” is anything to go by.

Raphael lumbers to his feet and Caspar springs up, bristling like an offended cat, before he notices her as well, and his face splits into an excited grin.

“Yo, Professor! Here to spar?”

She shakes her head, and the boy deflates.

“I’m just… here to wait for Jeritza’s seminar,” she says. “Please, continue.”

She skirts around the edge of the arena, finding a bench to sit on as she observers the students. She catches Leonie sending her dubious glances from across the grounds, brow furrowed and frowning, until Hilda elbows her in the side and she returns her attention to the fight.

Caspar seems rather… ineffective against Raphael, by virtue of the latter being about three times his size.

Hilda hollers, “His knees, go for his knees, Linhardt covered this!” and the boy kicks out sharply—just a little too low. The blow lands on Raphael’s shins instead, who winces, and then promptly picks up Caspar and slings him over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes.

Caspar flails wildly, and Raphael spins with childish glee, whirling around until the smaller boy wheezes out a plea for mercy.

Caspar is dumped onto the ground in an undignified sprawl, groaning. Hilda boos from the sideline as Leonie cackles.

Their easy camaraderie makes Byleth warm, somehow. Just by watching them, she feels equal parts fond and… lonely. Like something’s missing.

Caspar rolls onto his back, eagle-spread in the dirt, and sighs gustily. “I lost,” he groans. “Again.”

“We’re well aware,” Hilda sniffs.

Byleth watches as Caspar scrambles to his feet to start another round, listens to the girls jeer from the sidelines. She feels like an outsider looking in, and it feels wrong.

Students begin to trickle in in preparation for Jeritza’s seminar, and Hilda wrinkles her nose before herding her classmates out of the training grounds, leaving Caspar to scramble after them.

Dimitri arrives first, shadowed by Dedue. He catches her eye and smiles, and Dedue gives her a nod of acknowledgement. The rest of the Blue Lions filter in—Mercedes and Annette stumble through the gates, heads bowed as they giggle in a whispered conversation; Ingrid drags Felix and Sylvain, the latter looking significantly less enthused to be attending his second seminar of the day; Ashe hurries in, nearly tripping in his haste. There are a few more students she only vaguely recognizes, faces blurred into the crowd.

She knows Jeritza when she sees him—he arrives last, striding through the gates just as the bell begins to toll, perfectly purposeful, unlike her own clumsy urgency. Any lingering chatter quiets immediately.

He’s… young. Not much older than the students, if that—maybe even younger than she is. He’s tall and broad shouldered under his many layers of clothing, and what little of his face that is uncovered by his porcelain mask smooth and youthful.

“I am Jeritza von Hrym, head of the Blue Lions and the fencing instructor.” He begins without preamble, tone flat in a way that almost mirrors her own. But where Byleth is awkward, Jeritza is cold.

“The first rule of swordsmanship,” he continues, “is to not get hit. The second is to hit your opponent.”

There’s a twitter of laughter, but Jeritza doesn’t pause. “The longer a bout goes on, the more time there is for you to make a mistake. You’re goal is always to kill the enemy as quickly and efficiently as possible.”

The laughter stops.

“Can’t we just disarm them?” someone pipes up nervously. The boy, silver-haired and freckled—Ashe, she recognizes—shrinks back when all eyes turn to him.

“What will you do when the enemy picks up their sword again?” Jeritza says. His voice is completely devoid of emotion—even disdain would be easier to hear. “How many times would you disarm them until you make a mistake? Until they kill you? I doubt they will do you the same kindness as to return the favor.”

Ashe flushes and looks away ashamedly, lacking a response.

“Your purpose,” Jeritza says, “is to finish the battle. No more, and no less.”

He turns his pale gaze towards her, and something flickers in his eyes.

“You,” he says. “You are the new professor.” His eyes narrow. “And the mercenary known as the Ashen Demon.”

It’s more of a statement than a question, but she nods all the same.

There’s a rush of murmurs through the crowd. Apparently her epithet is news to many.

Jeritza’s mouth twists into something that is almost a smile. “Good,” he says. “You will be my first demonstration.”

The wooden sword he tosses her way is thin and light, more delicate than her preferred blades. Closer to a rapier than a longsword. It’s not her first choice of a weapon, but she is… proficient.

Her feet instinctively slide into a ready stance, and Jeritza mirrors her.

“To the first blood,” he says flatly, and she nods.

It’s almost impossible to tell who moves first, the wooden swords flashing out like a pair of vipers. Their blades clash, and she flicks her wrist to disengage, circling to his right.

He pivots, his eyes cool and calculating as he tracks her path. He strikes, once, twice, and she deftly deflects both, twisting his sword off-course then stepping in with a thrust.

The blow slides off the flat of his blade, and Jeritza retaliates with a broad sweep, and—

The scythe cuts the air between them and she throws herself back, hitting the dirt as she ducks beneath a second swing and rolls into a crouch.

The Death Knight cocks his head, leveling the curved blade at her, as if contemplating how to best separate her head from her shoulders.

Her eyes narrow and she lunges, twisting around another slash, the scythe close enough that she feels the breeze from the blow stir her hair, and she sweeps his legs out from under him. He falls with a grunt and a heavy thud, and she holds her sword not even an inch from his throat, straddling the expanse of his cuirass.

Her teeth are bared and her eyes are cold and she snarls, “Yield.”

She can feel the low rumble of his laughter reverberating through his chest. “Good,” he murmurs. “You will be my final challenge.”

And she readies her blade to plunge it into his neck—

Jeritza is pinned underneath her, pale eyes wide behind his mask. The students are deathly silent.

“...I yield,” he forces out.

There is a full beat of stunned silence before she stumbles off of him, nearly ending back on the ground in her haste, and the sword falls from her numb hands.

He winces as pushes himself up, hair in disarray, but his eyes never leave her. His gaze is searching.

She can’t meet the stare he levels at her, her eyes boring blankly into the ground as she forces a stiff bow, and turns to flee. She only barely manages not to run.

 


 

She’s halfway across the monastery before her mind catches up to her legs. She’s… in front of the dorms, breath leaving her in shaky puffs as she stares blankly towards the pond. The water mirrors the sky, still bright and blue in the early evening.

Sothis is still silent, dozing in the peripherals of her consciousness, and, even asleep, the girl’s presence is enough to soothe her, if only a little.

She stares across the pond for a few moments longer before ducking into the greenhouse for some semblance of privacy. Something inside of her relaxes as she steps past the threshold, the air sweet and warm around her. She breathes deeply, lets the distant murmur of water and the faint rustle of leaves ease the tension in her chest.

The greenhouse is filled with herbs and flowers, the fragrances mingling into something so cloyingly rich it’s almost dizzying. She recognizes a few kinds—the roses are obvious, as are the clusters of carnations. There are a few stalks of sunflowers that tower over the rest of the plants, comically tall.

She catches a whorl of lavender between her fingers, the colors soft and muted in comparison to the other flowers, and she plucks a sprig before she thinks about it, tucking it into the sleeve of her coat.

With the flower pocketed, she turns to head to the dining hall. It’s a bit early for supper, but the alternative is returning to her room. Jeritza’s seminar isn’t over yet, so she can likely avoid the entirety of the Blue Lions if she plans carefully enough.

There’s a few students already eating, and she’s about to take the first tray she can find when a call of, “Professor!” draws her attention.

Dorothea is waving her over, seated next to a dark-haired, rather gloomy looking boy.

He arches a thin brow as she grabs a tray and sits across from them. She recognizes him vaguely from the whirlwind of introductions—Hubert, her mind supplies.

“So,” he says, “this is the famed professor? Dorothea spoke highly of your lecture—I would have attended, had I not my own duties to attend to.” His voice is soothing—faintly raspy, but deliberate and level.

“Stop teasing, Hubie,” Dorothea scolds. “Don’t mind him, Professor. I wanted to apologize for behavior today.”

Byleth blinks. “Apologize?”

“I was rather rude, wasn’t I?” Dorothea frowns, a dainty thing so composed it's like she’s trading one mask for another. “I simply loathe the idea of wars and battles. Ironic for someone attending the Officer’s Academy, no?”

Byleth takes a bite of her food to burn some time. Right. Her seminar. It already seems like years since then.

“There’s nothing to apologize for,” she replies, looking down to study her plate. “You’re still young. It’s natural to want to avoid conflict.”

“You can’t be much older than us,” Hubert observes, like he’s evaluating her.

“I don’t doubt our upbringings were different,” she replies, but when she meets his eyes she hesitates. “I also don’t doubt that your values are different than hers.”

He looks amused. “Perhaps,” he allows.

Dorothea glances between the two of them, expression thoughtful. “Anyway,” she says, “how have you been holding up, Professor? Your first day and all that.” She leans forward, cheek in hand as she smiles. “I know I’m just a student, but I’m happy to help out if you need it.”

Byleth pauses, wondering if she should speak. She bites the inside of her cheek before opening her mouth. “Could you tell me about Jeritza?”

Dorothea blinks. “Jeritza von Hrym?” she says. “He’s the Blue Lions’ professor, isn’t he?”

Hubert hums thoughtfully. “House Hrym is an Imperial line,” he says. “Quite honestly, I am surprised that he was not assigned the Black Eagles, considering his lineage. I believe he is the current Viscount despite his age.”

Dorothea scoffs lightly, leaning towards Byleth. “Whenever Hubie says he ‘believes’ something, it’s probably backed up by the information of a dozen spies,” she says, sounding like she’s only half-joking.

Hubert huffs through his nose, narrowing his eyes, but doesn’t disagree.

“As far as I’m aware,” he continues, ignoring his classmate’s responding snicker, “he is incredibly proficient at swordplay. Although…” He pauses contemplatively, studying her with cat-like focus. “...it seems you are superior to him.”

Byleth freezes, her fork halfway to her mouth. “I did beat him in a spar earlier,” she offers.

“I’ve heard,” he comments, offhanded and agreeable. His lips are curled at the corners, almost unbearably smug, and she wants to ask how, considering the event had happened barely minutes ago.

“Oh, but this is the first I’ve heard of this,” Dorothea says. “Do tell, Professor!”

Byleth ducks her head. “I… attended Jeritza’s seminar,” she says slowly, “and he asked me to spar as a demonstration. And I beat him,” she adds, almost as an afterthought.

Dorothea smiles and tosses her hair over her shoulder. “Ah, I do love this song,” she says. “A stuffy aristocrat beat by a mercenary without a drop of noble blood.”

“Easily amused, are you?” Hubert says dryly, and she huffs, rich green eyes narrowed.

Hubie,” she croons, so saccharine and sweet that he winces, “tell me, what duties kept you from attending the seminar, hm?”

He sends her a telling look, sipping from a plain cup. “Quite frankly, none of your business.”

She pouts, batting her long lashes at him, and sighs when the only reaction it provokes is a twitch of his brow.

If she concentrated, Byleth thinks, she would be able to pick apart Dorothea’s mask—which of her emotions are genuine and which and performed. The teasing tone in her voice when talking to Hubert—most of that was real, she thinks. The apology was perhaps half-genuine—the intent was real, but the execution entirely constructed.

Two-faced is too cruel a descriptor to define her, but it’s close.

The bell tolls for the new hour and Byleth winces. “Apologies,” she murmurs as she stands. “I have… matters to attend to.”

Dorothea tilts her head curiously, and Hubert arches a knowing brow.

“Until next time, Professor,” he says mildly, and his classmate offers a flutter of her fingers as a wave goodbye.

If she’s quick, she can avoid the incoming flood of Blue Lions.

Chapter Text

Up until this exact moment, Byleth has had no strong feelings about the location of her room. She didn’t care that she was on the ground floor rather than the second, and had no qualms being the furthest from the dining hall.

But now, when every step takes her closer to the training grounds and the students that are pouring through the gates, she feels like having a dorm at the bottom of the pond would be a more pleasant alternative.

She weaves behind the columns, avoiding their line of sight whenever possible. She recognizes Dedue’s massive frame and Sylvain’s vibrant shock of hair instantly, and winces when she catches a glimpse of the white porcelain of Jeritza’s mask.

She’s only scant feet from her door, and she quickens her pace, the safety of solitude nearly in reach.

She has the doorknob in her hand when a soft call of, “Professor?” stops her in her tracks.

She exhales a long, deliberate breath through her nose and turns.

Mercedes tilts her head, a few wayward strands of hair falling over her face. “I was hoping to catch you,” she says. Her smile is softer than the petals of lavender tucked in her coat and a dozen times as sweet, and Byleth finds herself relaxing minutely.

“...Mercedes,” she greets. “May I help you?”

“Ah, I was actually hoping that I could help you?” Mercedes smooths out the front of her skirt before meeting her eyes, almost bashful. “You seemed like… you were having a hard time earlier. I have some tea that helps with nerves, if you’d like?”

Byleth considers politely declining, cool and short, and then retreating to the privacy of her room. What leaves her mouth is, “I wouldn’t want to impose.”

Mercedes‘ expression softens. “It would be no trouble at all,” she says reassuringly. “I would love to have you.”

Byleth nods, short and hesitant, and the smile that she’s graced with in return is so lovely that she has to stop and blink.

Mercedes leads her to a room just a few doors down, draped in blue. It’s cozy, already decorated in ways that Byleth’s own room is not—a small painting, stacks of books for leisure reading, a spool of yarn.

She reaches into a drawer for a satchel of tea and a set of cups, then moves to the desk for the pot and pitcher of water. She holds the teapot in one hand and brings the other to its base, and a small flame lights up her palm, flickering against the bottom of the pot.

“Perhaps it’s a bit childish, using a gift like magic to do something as mundane as this,” she says, catching Byleth’s curious gaze for a just a moment before turning her attention back to the tea.

Byleth cocks her head. “You have excellent control,” she observes. “It’s very difficult to maintain a small stream of magic. You must be very skilled.”

Mercedes blushes very faintly at the praise and smiles. “Thank you. I studied at the Royal School of Sorcery for a time before transferring here. I would hope my skills would have refined somewhat.” She laughs a little. “I’m actually a bit older than most of the students here, so having a professor my age is a little odd. I do hope we’ll get along well.”

Byleth inclines her head, watching as Mercedes extinguishes the flame and checks the pot, then sprinkles the tea leaves in. The steam turns sweet and fragrant, wafting through the room as she sets the pot on her desk to brew and meanders to another drawer, retrieving a small jar. She glances at Byleth, a small, surprised, ‘oh,’ leaving her lips.

“Ah, we… aren’t supposed to keep food in our rooms,” she says, looking chastened, even though Byleth hasn’t shown any indication of judgement.

Byleth shrugs. “I won’t tell,” she says simply.

Mercedes hides a giggle behind her hand and opens the jar. The contents are golden and syrupy—honey, Byleth recognizes as the student adds several spoonfuls to the pot, spoon clinking pleasantly against the side as she stirs.

“There we go—all done,” Mercedes chirps, pouring the tea into a delicate porcelain cup.

Byleth murmurs a thank you, accepting the cup and taking a tentative sip. It’s sweet—much sweeter than what she’s used to, but it’s not bad.

“If we had some lavender it would be perfect,” Mercedes sighs wistfully, seating herself on the edge of her bed. Byleth follows suit, pulling out the chair at the desk to sit.

Then she blinks. “Lavender,” she echoes, and pulls the flower from her sleeve. “Like this?”

Mercedes’ eyes widen a little. “Why, yes.”

Byleth wordlessly passes the stalk to her, and the student accepts it with gentle hands, plucking some of the buds to add to their cups.

When she takes enough sip, there’s a fresh, floral tinge, and across from her, Mercedes hums happily. “Now, if only we had some cookies,” she says, sending a glance at Byleth like she might produce some pastries from the depths of her coat as well.

“Maybe next time,” Byleth offers instead.

Mercedes wilts and somehow it’s the most distressing thing she’s ever seen. Luckily, the student brightens before anything drastic happens to her heart.

“So there will be a next time?” Mercedes says, smiling up at her.

Byleth ducks her head. “If you’d like,” she answers, and takes another draft of her tea to avoid eye contact.

Mercedes laughs softly. “I would like that very much.”

Byleth quietly nurses her cup, breathing in the fragrant steam between sips.

Mercedes seems to be… doting on her, almost, refilling her cup and smiling with a tenderness that’s almost unbearable. The quiet is warm and comfortable, filled with the scent of lavender and honey.

The tea in the pot rapidly dwindles, shared between the two of them. The tension in muscles starts to ease, although she has a hard time telling if it’s from the tea or the company.

“Mercie!” a familiar voice chirps. “Are you coming for dinner?”

Annette peeks into the room, blue eyes wide, Ashe peering over her head just behind her.

“Oh! Sorry, sorry, didn’t mean to interrupt!” she squeaks.

“It’s okay, Annie,” Mercedes soothes. “We were just about done.”

Byleth sends a mournful glance to the last sip of tea in her cup before downing it.

“Thank you, Mercedes,” she says, setting the cup aside and standing. “I… hope you will have me again.”

Mercedes beams. “Of course, Professor,” she replies. “Have a wonderful evening.”

She nods as she passes Annette and Ashe, both of them staring back at her owlishly, and beelines back to her room. Closing the door behind releases a flood of instant relief, and she sinks into her bed without a second thought, coat carelessly rumpled beneath her.

Admittedly, while she's much more relaxed than she had been before seeing Mercedes, she's still exhausted. She considers simply falling asleep then and there, idly teasing out a knot in her hair with her fingers. It’s a bit early—the sun is barely below the horizon—but she’s tired enough to warrant an early retirement.

Of course, that is the moment when a sharp knock rings through her room.

She blinks. It’s not her father—Jeralt isn’t due to return until the end of the week. Other than him, she can’t think of anyone who would want to see her at this hour.

She rises to answer the door, cracking it open just enough to peer though before swinging it wide when she recognizes the tousled green hair.

“Seteth,” she greets cautiously.

“Good evening, Professor,” he says, posture as impeccable as ever. “I trust you are settling in well.”

“I am,” she replies. She’s also wishing that she could be settling in her bed right now.

“You should familiarize yourself with your fellow professors and faculty,” he says, shepherding her out like she’s an unruly puppy. “There is a faculty meeting soon. I will escort you there.”

She mutely allows herself to be marshalled in the general direction of the audience chambers until Seteth seems to realize he’s barely shy of manhandling her, cheeks reddening and taking a full step back from her.

“Apologies,” he mumbles, then clears his throat, back straightening. “Your seminar today was… enlightening, albeit unexpected.”

She pauses. Right. Seteth had been there, silent and judgemental through the whole hour.

“Thank you,” she offers, for lack of a better response.

He nods shortly and continues to lead the way to the offices, as she has to half-jog to keep up with his much longer stride.

She can hear the bustle of voices long before they reach the offices—so can Seteth, if his wince is anything to go by. She barely catches his mutter of, “Not again.”

He takes the stairs two at a time, quickening his pace, and Byleth scrambles to keep up. The voices are much clearer now, clearly engaged in an argument, and she catches a distinct cry of, “You horrid, shriveled, old man!” immediately followed by a scandalized shout of, “Old?!” Then, “Shriveled?!”

“Manuela! Hanneman!” Seteth barks, storming into the room, and Byleth marvels for a moment that, despite knowing the man for a scant handful of days, how it’s already so refreshing to see his ire directed at somebody else.

The two in question freeze immediately. The woman—presumably Manuela— clears her throat. “Seteth! I did not think you would be so… early.”

“I am on time,” Seteth corrects, voice clipped.

Byleth glances around and catches sight of Jeritza, seated in an armchair in front of the hearth and steadfastly ignoring the ruckus around him, and she immediately averts her gaze.

Another man sits across from him, equally quiet, his auburn hair pulled back in a long plait. There’s also Alois, who seems to have been attempting to placate the two of them before Seteth’s arrival, as well as two other women conversing by themselves in the corner.

“Please,” Seteth says, pinching the bridge of his nose, “you two must learn to get along. Consider the example you’re setting for the students.”

“Leave it, Seteth,” one of the women calls, looking amused. Her eyes are a sharp, electric blue, her fair hair stark against her tanned skin. “They’ll never change and you know it. Like an old married couple, those two.” She laughs at her own joke, and her companion heaves a long-suffering sigh.

“I expect you to setting an example as well, Catherine,” Seteth retorts, brow furrowed. “It is important to leave a good impression on both the students and your fellow knights—”

Catherine laughs again, shifting her weight to one leg and resting a hand on her hip. “The only person I’m interested in impressing is Lady Rhea.”

Her companion, pale and clad in dark leathers where Catherine is in bright armor, snorts. “Only Seteth could turn a welcoming meeting into a lecture,” she says dryly.

Byleth cocks her head, then glances up at him. “Welcoming meeting?”

The man flushes very faintly and coughs into his hand. “Shamir,” he says like a warning, but the woman merely shrugs. “An… introductory meeting would be more accurate,” he continues, apparently attempting to salvage the situation. “I thought it appropriate, as your circumstances are rather unique, and you wouldn’t have the familiarity we do.”

“So considerate, our Seteth!” Alois boasts, clapping the other man on the back, and Seteth physically reels from the force.

“Thank you, Alois,” he manages, looking rather like he is on the verge of losing his composure.

Jeritza scoffs, barely audible, and it takes a formidable effort for Byleth not to look his way.

“As I was saying,” Seteth says, his brow twitching as Catherine sighs, “this is an introductory meeting. I have little doubt that most of you are aware that the archbishop has appointed Byleth as an instructor. I trust you will treat her with grace and respect.”

“Of course, of course!” Manuela says. “As if anything but kindness would be fit for a newcomer as lovely as her!” She sends a wink Byleth’s way.

At a loss, Byleth manages a slight nod, and—

She remembers, very distinctly, this woman lying on the ground, blood pooling around her, Jeritza’s mask clutched in a crimson hand.

Manuela frowns. “Are you quite alright, dear? You’ve grown awfully pale.”

“...Ah,” Byleth says. “...Apologies. The stress of the day seems to be catching up to me.”

She can feel Jeritza’s gaze boring into her, cool and steady, and she restrains a flinch.

“A crest!” Hanneman exclaims suddenly, and she does flinch at that. “It appears you have one, Profoessor. Fascinating indeed!”

“Hanneman,” Seteth warns. “Not now, please.”

“Nonsense, Seteth,” Hanneman says blithely. “It would only take a moment—”

“Hanneman,” the auburn-haired man interrupts. “Perhaps it would be wise to wait for a better opportunity.”

The professor flounders for a moment, accosted on all sides, before heaving a miserable sigh. “If you insist, Sir Gilbert,” he concedes, before turning back to her. “I would greatly appreciate it if you would stop by my office in the near future—I believe we would have much to discuss, both as a co-worker and a researcher."

She hesitates before she nods, much to Manuela’s apparent amusement.

“Professor Byleth, this is Hanneman,” Seteth says, sounding equal parts exhausted and exasperated, “head of the Golden Deer. Manuela is our resident physician and head of the Black Eagles, and there is Jeritza, head of the Blue Lions.”

‘I’m well aware,’ is on the tip of her tongue, but she bites it instead, bowing politely.

“You’re familiar with Alois, of course," he continues, "and Catherine, Shamir, and Gilbert are all part of the Knights of Seiros as well—you may expect to see them around the monastery quite frequently.”

“I hope to work with you soon!” Alois exclaims, grinning widely. “To think Jeralt’s own child would work side-by-side with me—it is like reuniting with a long-lost sibling!”

“Is it?” Catherine asks.

He puffs out his chest. “Of course! I was Jeralt’s own squire, back in the day—”

“We know,” Shamir says dryly. “You’ve told us. At length.”

Gilbert settles more comfortably into his chair, seemingly resigning himself to a fresh wave of bickering. Jeritza does the opposite and stands, halfway out the door before Seteth can call him back.

“I’m leaving,” he says shortly. “My time is better spent training.” And then he’s gone.

Seteth releases a long breath, and Byleth tries not to do the same, albeit from relief rather than irritation.

“I suppose,” he says, “as introductions have been made, you are… free to leave, if you wish.”

“Hah? You called us all here for just this much?” Catherine says, grimacing. “I’m leaving, too, then. Nice to meet you, Professor.”

Shamir follows the knight out, offering Byleth a short nod of acknowledgement, and Manuela twitters. “I suppose I’ll take my leave as well—”

“A moment of your time, if you would,” Seteth says, eyes narrowing. “I would like to discuss something with you.”

The physician sighs, following him to the other corner of the room as Seteth wears a stern expression that Byleth is rapidly becoming familiar with.

She takes a step back, attempting to plan her retreat before Alois considers regaling her with a tale or a dozen of Jeralt’s exploits.

“Oh, Professor Byleth, just a moment?”

She freezes in her tracks like a guilty child. “Professor Hanneman.”

The older man smiles, smoothing the collar of his coat. “Do you happen to be free tomorrow afternoon?”

“...I am,” she replies cautiously. True, mostly. The only things she’s planning are sleeping in and drafting out her next seminar.

His eyes crinkle behind his monocle. “Wonderful! Then would you be able to assist me in my upcoming lecture, perhaps?” He pauses, stroking his mustache with gloved fingers. “Well, more of a training practice than anything.”

“Assist?” she echoes.

Hanneman nods. “We have quite the crop of potential archers in this class. However, this year’s students are proving to be—” he pauses delicately— “rather eccentric. Some assistance, at least for this first practical, would be much appreciated.”

She blinks. “I… could.”

Hanneman beams. “Wonderful! Then I’ll see you at the practice grounds at the third bell tomorrow, yes?”

She nods, and Hanneman thanks her profusely, looking rather satisfied with himself.

“Already hoarding our professor for yourself, Hanneman?” Manuela calls, peering around Seteth’s broad frame. “Do save some of her for the rest of us, won’t you? Or at least don’t scare her off.”

Hanneman huffs but doesn’t dignify her with a response, instead offering a brief good night before he retires, and Byleth sends a final glance back into the room, offering a nod to Gilbert when he catches her eye, and leaves as quietly as she can manage.

She feels Sothis rouse, humming sleepily.

An odd bunch,’ she murmurs contemplatively. ‘Just as odd as the students.’

Byleth allows herself a faint smile. “They seem like good people,” she offers.

To say nothing of their eccentricities,’ Sothis sniffs. The girl’s presence curls around her mind like cat draping itself across her shoulders, comforting and warm. ‘Now hurry and return to your quarters. I wish to rest.’

A tiny puff of laughter escapes her. “Of course.”

Chapter Text

“How are you doing?” she asks.

Dimitri’s face is gaunt, lone eye bruised and shadowed. “Leave.”

“I brought food,” she continues, setting the plate on the pew. “You need to eat.”

He slams the butt of his spear into the nearest bench. The aged wood cracks down the middle, splintering like ply.

Leave,” he spits again, rounding on her. He looms over her, even hunched as he is. She is fully cast in his shadow.

“I am not afraid of you,” she tells him, meeting his gaze, unwavering. “I never have been.”

For a moment, he falters, stooping so low that his breath fans over her face, and then he tenses, teeth baring in a sneer.

“Leave,” he snarls, “before I show you exactly what kind of monster I’ve become—”

She awakes with an arm outstretched, reaching to cup a face that isn’t there.

The breath in her lungs escapes in a rush, and her hand falls limply onto the mattress beside her.

‘...Apologies,’ Sothis murmurs. ‘I couldn’t them all at bay. I hope you are not too distressed.’

“‘M fine,” Byleth mumbles back, voice thick with sleep.

She yawns, paws her bangs away from her eyes with a slow hand. Judging by the light streaming in from the bottom of her door, she’s up far later than usual. Dressing quickly, she leaves her room just as the bells begin to ring—with a wince, she realizes it’s only an hour until noon.

Lazy,’ Sothis teases, and promptly drifts off.

Byleth runs a hand through her hair with a sigh. There’s a dull ache in her stomach—a reminder that she apparently slept through breakfast, and she makes her way to the dining hall.

A good chunk of the Blue Lions have congregated at one table, cheerfully conversing as they eat—Dimitri’s plate is, somehow concerningly, extremely yellow.

The prince raises his head, catching her and smiling. “Good day, Professor,” Dimitri says, pleasant and polite. “I hope you’re feeling well.” Beside him, Dedue grants her a nod of acknowledgement.

Sylvain smiles up at her, winking cheekily, and promptly winces as Ingrid elbows him in the ribs. Felix glances up, eyes narrowing, then turns back to his food.

“...Good day,” she says. She risks a second glance at Dimitri’s plate. It seems to be… piled with exclusively cheese. “I am well, thank you.”

“Why not have lunch with us, Professor?” Sylvain wheedles, grinning with boyish charm. “It might be a bit cramped, but you can always sit in my lap if there’s not enough space—” He cuts off with a yelp and cradles his stomach. Ingrid calmly withdraws her fist.

“We understand if you’re busy,” Ingrid says with a placid smile, ignoring Sylvain’s rattling wheeze and Felix’s derisive snort.

“Thank you for the offer,” Byleth says slowly, “but I don’t plan on staying long.”

“Of course,” Dimitri says. “I wouldn’t want to keep you from your duties.” His eyes are blue and bright and earnest, but for a moment the image of him, shadowed and cold, resurfaces sharp enough that it almost makes her flinch.

She bows shallowly as she leaves, grabbing a tray—a simple meat and vegetable mix, unlike Dimitri’s cheesy mass—and finds a quiet corner to scarf down her food, eating as quickly as socially acceptable, in the hopes of retreating before anyone else notices her.

Distantly, she hears Ingrid say, “Oh, Felix, are you done already?” and it’s the only warning she gets before she is immediately accosted by the boy.

Felix approaches her, stony and narrow-eyed. “Spar with me,” he demands. He’s practically cornering her, blocking her path to door and keeping her back to the wall.

She cocks her head. “Now?”

“Of course,” he says, barely not sneering. “When else?”

She considers rejecting the request, but then considers the surliness that will undoubtedly occur as a consequence.

“...Alright,” she concedes. “Training grounds, then.”

He nods shortly, apparently satisfied, before stalking out of the dining hall. She follows close behind.

He shoulders his way past the gates, not bothering to so much as glance behind him, and beelines for the weapons rack.

He tosses a sword her way and grabs one for himself, feet sliding into a ready stance. She glances at the sword, then him.

“Why not ask Jeritza?” she asks, and then Felix is rushing her.

Despite what she assumes is an attempt at a surprise attack—or a testament to his impatience—she sidesteps his first thrust neatly, then trips him with a foot as he hurtles past her. He hits the dirt, face-first and hard.

She hums. “Sloppy,” she informs him.

He scowls, scrambling to his feet. “Again.”

She wordlessly acquiesces, pivoting as Felix begins to circle her.

She strikes first this time, simple and easily parried, but fast enough that he doesn’t have time to retaliate, and falls into a familiar rhythm.

He grits his teeth and blocks every blow, but it’s taking most of his concentration—she can tell that he’s quickly becoming frustrated.

Patience, she remembers, has never been his strong suit.

He waits for exactly three more swings before he darts in, heedless of the blunted sword pointed at his chest.

Unwilling to skewer him on his own momentum, she drops her sword, twisting the side and catching his own swordhand at the wrist. He yelps, startled, and she twists his arm and spins him around, pinning his wrist behind his back, and his weapon clatters harmlessly to the ground.

Point sufficiently made, she releases her hold and steps back, and blinks in surprise when Felix wheels around, fist driving towards her face.

She ducks under the blow, blocks the second punch with an open palm. Felix wrenches back his hand before he lashes his leg out in a low sweep, and she braces. The kicks lands and she grimaces, but it doesn’t knock her off her feet, and she counters with a sweep of her own. Unbalanced from his own attack, he stumbles with a curse, and from there it is a simple matter to knock him to the ground with a simple kick to his knees.

“Better,” she grants him. “Still too aggressive.”

He scowls and sits upright, drawing up a knee to rest his arm on. “You fight differently from every other opponent I’ve faced,” he says. Then, gruffly, “You’re better.”

She tilts her head, waiting for him to elaborate.

Felix stews in silence for a moment before looking away. “I’ve only ever trained with knights,” he says. “That’s why I wanted to spar with you, not Professor Jeritza. Even though he’s a professor, he’s still a knight” Then, mumbled, “They don’t fight… dirty.”

“You certainly do,” she replies, a hint of dryness entering her tone.

“I’m not a knight,” he bites back. “And I don’t intend to become one.”

She hums contemplatively.

What he is,’ Sothis complains crossly, ‘is a brat.’

The comment is so unexpected that Byleth has to bite her tongue to restrain the snort of laughter that threatens to bubble up in her chest. Sothis preens at her joke.

“What do you want, then?” Byleth continues. “Why come to the academy?”

He answers immediately. “I want to grow stronger,” he says. “I want to face worthy opponents.”

Stronger. That’s a familiar word. A sad one, somehow.

“There’s more to life than war,” she says.

Felix’s mouth twists into a grimace. “Odd sentiment from a mercenary.”

She shrugs. “Even mercenaries need rest.”

He opens his mouth, undoubtedly for another cutting comment, but the bells begin to toll.

“You have classes to attend,” she says, picking up the swords to return them to the weapons rack. “Run along now.”

He scowls, easing back onto his feet with a wince, and makes his way out.

“Felix,” she calls, and he pauses, glancing back. “I expect to see improvement by the time we next spar.”

There’s a glint in his eyes. “Of course,” he says. “How else will I beat you?”

The faint smile that quirks her mouth as he leaves might be fond, but it fades too quickly to tell.

 


 

With only so much time to kill before the Golden Deer’s practicals, she stays at the training grounds, running through her forms with practiced ease. Swords first—her first choice, as always—then axes, which are much more cumbersome but useful in their force. The hours fly by,and she’s just just picked out a lance to continue when Hanneman bustles in, followed by a crowd of students—predictably led by Claude.

“Aha! Professor, glad to see you,” Hanneman says, already looking harried. He attempts to adjust his monocle, glancing behind him at the class. “If we could start right away, perhaps—the bows, if you please.”

She nods and obliges readily, collecting bows and bushels of arrows as the professor attempts to corral the students into something resembling a standard formation.

With the weapons distributed, she falls into step behind Hanneman as he rambles—his explanation of her role as assistant was over within the first fifteen seconds, and the rest has been something or another about crests—specifically, what hers might be.

She’s starting to devise an escape when they pass by Lysithea, and the man immediately diverts his attention, dismissing her politely, if not hastily.

Hanneman busies himself talking to Lysithea, who seems to be enduring the man’s questions with an air of long-suffering, and Byleth decides to move on, weaving between practicing students.

Claude draws her eye first, head cocked as he lowers his bow to study his target. The center is bristling with arrows. He looks rather proud of himself as he notches another, his posture loose.

“Elbow up,” she says, guiding up his arm with a finger. “Wrist straight. Your aim is good, but don’t forget your form.” She uses her foot to widen his stance, nudging his ankle.

He grins at her, looking like he might quip something at her, but she’s moving on to observe Ignatz’s technique before he gets the chance—she catches him pouting in the corner of her eye.

Ignatz, while nervous, has few errors to correct. She offers him some praise in hopes of raising his confidence and suggests increasing his draw strength before she heads towards Leonie.

The girl’s eyes are narrowed in concentration, and she looses an arrow. It lands in the center of the target, just shy of a bullseye, and she hums in satisfaction.

There’s something off about her stance, and it takes Byleth a moment to recognize it.

“Did Jeralt teach you?” she asks.

Leonie puffs out her chest. “He did,” she says. “Some of it, at least. The rest I learned from hunting.”

Byleth huffs. “He doesn’t know how to use a bow,” she says dryly. “Trust me.”

Leonie cocks her head. “And you do?” Her tone is more curious than accusatory—even if the latter is still obvious in her voice. She holds out the bow and quiver. “Show me.”

Byleth takes the bow wordlessly. They’ve attracted some attention—Claude and Ignatz have paused in their practice, and even Hanneman glances over.

She weighs the weapon in her hand and levels her eyes at the target. The bow had never been her first choice of a weapon, but she’s proficient enough to give a decent demonstration in form.

She inhales deeply, unthinkingly grabbing three arrows and notching the first, the other two loose in her drawing hand. Her muscles flex, and she sets her gaze on the bullseye—

“What, you’re asking me for advice?” Claude preens, slicking back his hair with a gloved hand.

“I would hope you would have improved in the five years I’ve been gone,” she replies dryly.

He laughs softly, stepping around her so he’s at her back. “Guess the student has become the teacher, hm?”

His arms are warm when they encircle her, guiding her hands. “The trick,” he says, voice murmured at her ear, “is to—”

“Professor?” Leonie says cautiously.

Byleth blinks. The bowstring is slack in her fingers. “...Ah.”

Another breath. She lifts the bow, draws, releases. The second arrow is notched before the first even hits the target, the third readied just behind it. Thunk. Thunk. Thunk.

The first arrow lands dead center, the second splits it down the middle—as does the third.

Claude whistles lowly.

Leonie’s brows rise, and she mutely accepts the bow back, apparently conceding the point.

It takes Byleth the rest of the lesson to shake off the phantom warmth that lingers around her shoulders.

 


 

The students file out of the training grounds as the bells toll, chattering all the while, but Claude glances back at her, waving off a conversation with a classmate to hang back.

"Hey Teach," he says. "Have time to talk?"

She nods, albeit hesitantly.

“I couldn’t help but notice your form was rather… unique,” he says, easy and conversational. “Actually, I recognized it. That low draw and arrow-in-hand shooting is an Almyran technique, isn’t it?”

It’s more of a statement than a question, and his eyes are cool as he observes her from beneath his lashes.

“...Ah,” she says, which is neither a confirmation nor a denial.

He cocks his head, eyes narrowing with his smile. “I’m curious—where’d you learn something like that?”

Her mind stalls. From you, is the first thing that she thinks, but that can’t be right.

“...Picked it up from another mercenary,” she says instead, half a beat too late.

“Really? Must be quite the archer.” The static smile on his face says that he’s not convinced in the slightest.

She makes a noncommittal noise. “Did you need more assistance?” she asks, ham-fistedly changing the subject.

“You mean ‘private tutoring?’” he ripostes with a wink. “I wouldn’t be averse to that.”

She allows the minuscule arch of a brow.

Claude sighs as his attempt makes no traction, and tucks his hands behind his head.

“I dunno,” he says, gazing at the sky, “just wanted to say that if you’re trying to hide your secrets, you shouldn’t make yourself so interesting.”

“What makes you think I’m hiding something?” she asks before she can stop herself.

“Oh, this and that.” The corners of his mouth curl up. “You’re very mysterious—it’s quite intriguing.”

“I was a simple mercenary,” she replies, shifting her weight. “Nothing mysterious about it.”

He lets out a breath of laughter. “Perhaps,” he concedes. “Maybe I’m reading too much into things.”

“Perhaps,” she echoes.

A faint call of Claude’s name—Lysithea, she recognizes—makes him sigh. “Looks like we have to cut our conversation short, Teach,” he laments. “My classmates can’t be without me, it seems.”

She huffs as he flicks a two-fingered salute and scampers off, laughing off a scolding delivered by a prickly and thoroughly unamused Lysithea.

You seem to attract an awful lot of brats,’ Sothis observes.

“First eccentrics, now brats,” Byleth murmurs, amusement warm in her chest. “What next?”

Chapter Text

What’s next, it seems, is work.

The next couple days flow rather smoothly, all things considered. She delivers another seminar, this one on battalion positioning and tactics (which Felix seems thoroughly disgusted by), and spends much of her free time scrawling new notes or practicing her swordwork (less disgusted).

Seteth approaches her as she’s returning from the training grounds on Thursday evening, walking with that purposeful stride she’s come to recognize as business.

“Professor,” he calls, short and formal as always. “A moment?”

“Of course,” she says, halting in her tracks.

He draws himself up, clearing his throat and setting his hands at the small of his back.

“As you may know,” Seteth says, “all three houses are participating in a mock battle at the end of the month in order to gauge their abilities.”

She most certainly did not know, but nods all the same.

“The archbishop has requested you join as an observer,” he continues. “I suggest you plan your schedule accordingly. I’ve made a time table to accommodate all your courses, and I recommend you take it into consideration.”

He hands her a slip of parchment covered in writing cramped enough that the ink bleeds together. If she squints she can make out the words, if only barely.

Sothis makes a disgusted noise. ‘His handwriting is awful enough to rival yours.’

Byleth coughs to cover the snort that escapes her mouth. “I will certainly take it into account,” she manages.

Seteth’s mouth takes a faintly displeased curve, but he nods. “Thank you for your cooperation,” he says. He bows, stiff and formal, and turns to leave.

Sothis is quiet for a moment, and Byleth cocks her head, half-expecting another quip. ‘He’s… familiar, somehow,’ the girl murmurs instead, distant and thoughtful. ‘I knew him, I think.’

“From my memories?” Byleth asks.

No,’ Sothis says. ‘No. I knew him before you.’

Her brow furrows. “Before?” she presses, but Sothis is silent. Not sleeping, but lost in thought.

Byleth sighs, watching the flutter of Seteth’s cape as he turns the corner and disappears.

She studies the parchment again and grimaces. She’ll have to adjust a few of her plans—and, more importantly, give up some of her free days—in order to accommodate everything Seteth has written for her.

She retreats back to the comfort of her room, flopping onto the bed as soon as the door shuts behind her.

She yawns, stretching out on the mattress. The repetitiveness of monastery life is starting to get to her. Even during the slowest months of mercenary work, they had been constantly on the road, travelling from village to village for jobs. Coming back to the same bed, day after day, is a new experience.

She rolls onto her stomach, staring at the stone walls. Even so, it’s not a terrible one. Familiar, somehow, and comforting, even if it seems a little dull.

She likes it here.

Friday brings a new set of trials.

Her father is set to return in the evening, and the prospect alone is enough to put a little energy into her steps as she makes her way down the corridor. Sothis dozes in the back of her mind, exhausted from keeping the dreams at bay.

Seteth, upon discovering her nonexistent knowledge of the Goddess, had less suggested and more required that she take the time to study the teachings of the Church of Seiros, so she makes her way to the library after breakfast, passing by the offices of the other professors. It’s early enough that there aren’t many people in yet—but, surprisingly, Manuela is there, humming as she takes inventory in the infirmary.

“Oh, Professor!” Manuela sing-songs as she catches her eye, setting down a roll of bandages.

Byleth inclines her head. “How may I help you, Professor Manuela?”

“So formal,” Manuela sighs, even as she smiles, almost indulgently. “Just Manuela is fine—I’m not your professor, after all.” Then, before Byleth can respond, “I’m hosting a swordsmanship seminar today and I was hoping you could join. Rather light, all things considered—I’d simply hate it if that boorish Hanneman monopolized your time.”

First Jeritza, then Hanneman, now Manuela. She’s beginning to feel rather like a rag doll being pulled in all directions, splitting at the seams. “Yes,” she says, despite her better judgement. At least she might be able to familiarize herself with the students more before the mock battle. “Of course. What time?”

The physician beams, and she can’t help but think that despite their bickering, Manuela and Hanneman are awfully similar.

“It's in the afternoon—most of our practicals are—just at the second bell. I’ll be waiting, Professor!” Manuela waves farewell with a flutter of her fingers, and Byleth nods, continuing to make her way to the library.

The library is… cozy, the candlelight low and warm, all dark wood and deep red fabrics. Books line the walls, high above her head.

She begins the tedious task of searching for the book that Seteth had recommended, squinting in the dimness. There’s a great deal of history and even more religious texts, beginning from the ages of the founder Seiros. Many of the tomes are old and weathered, and, she notes, there is a distinct lack of fiction.

Eventually she finds the book she’s looking for, a thick volume bound in cracked leather, and she pulls it from the bookshelf and settles at a table to read.

It’s a dry, humorless text, beginning with the tale of the King of Liberation and his descent into madness and corruption, then the first accounts of Seiros, forty-some years before the founding of the empire.

‘The Elites,’ she reads, ‘Blaiddyd, Riegan, Gloucester, Lamine…’

Oh,’ Sothis observes. ‘They are the ancestors of your students.’

“They aren’t ‘my’ anything,” Byleth mutters, earning a snicker, and skips ahead in the text.

“The Ten Elites stood by Seiros,” she murmurs, “and defeated the Fell King at the Tailtean Plains. Seiros honored them with noble titles for their faithfulness…” She trails off, brow furrowed.

Sothis shudders.

Something is wrong,’ the girl mumbles, her presence fluttering uneasily like a pacing wolf.

She stares at the words like they might rearrange themselves on the page.

Wrong, something whispers. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

“Ah, The Extended History of Fódlan,” someone says, faint and wispy. “Not the most riveting read, but it is the most-endorsed by the church.”

She jolts, looking up. The librarian smiles at her warmly. “I have my own preferences, of course,” he continues, “but if you are looking to research the church, it does the job well.”

Tomas, her mind supplies. He seems to be waiting for a response, staring at her expectantly.

“...I see,” she offers. “May I borrow this book?”

“Of course,” Tomas replies amicably, and the back of her neck prickles. “It’s always a pleasure to see people reading.”

She swallows thickly. “Thank you,” she manages, voice steady.

She closes the book and tucks it under her arm as she rises, bowing shallowly. The librarian smiles in return, and she ducks out the door, pulse thundering in her ears.

She’d spent more time in the library than she’d realized, and she drops off the book in her room before she makes her way to the training grounds.

The Black Eagles are settling in as she pushes through the gates, catching Manuela’s eye as she lingers at the back of the group.

The professor claps her hands together, and the students quiet.

“Welcome everyone!” Manuela begins, smiling. “I hope if you’re here, you know what you’re here for, so let’s get started, shall we?”

She dives into the lecture with that minimal preamble, walking through a specific style of swordplay that is apparently gaining popularity in the capital.

Even during the early spring, the sun shines harsh and bright down on the training grounds. It’s uncomfortably warm, so Byleth sheds her coat and drops it by a pillar just out of the dirt, leaving her in her shirt and gauntlets. She’s unexpectedly grateful for the cutout over her chest as she fans herself, a droplet of sweat dripping down her sternum.

Manuela pauses, brows raising slightly.

The abrupt silence draws the attention of the rest of the students, and some follow Manuela’s line of sight and land on Byleth.

Edelgard turns pink. Dorothea begins to look very interested.

Byleth blinks. “Is… something the matter?”

“Oh, nothing at all!” Manuela twitters. “Just a… brief distraction.”

Ferdinand makes a noise between a cough and a sputter.

Bemused, Byleth nods, waiting for the instruction to continue. Sothis snickers in the back of her mind.

There’s another beat of silence before Manuela starts her lecture up again, sword in hand as she demonstrates a twirl.

Manuela’s style of swordplay is, in a word, flamboyant. It has utility in its flowing strikes and misdirection, but it’s far different for the sharp, straightforward style of her father’s mercenaries.

She takes a few steps back, away from the students, and adjusts her grip on her practice sword. She makes a few experimental swings, light on her feet and posture loose, and mimics Manuela’s spin. It takes her a few tries before the twist of her wrist comes more naturally and she’s confident enough that she thinks she’ll be able to correct the students when it comes to it.

Edelgard glances back at her, attention seemingly caught by the flurry of movement. Her face is still a little flushed, but there’s something more discerning in her pale eyes.

She turns back to Manuela before Byleth can identify it, the students breaking off into pairs to practice on their own.

The groups, she thinks, are not particularly surprising. Edelgard practices under Hubert’s watchful eye, and Linhardt sighs as Caspar butchers the twirl and has to spit out a mouthful of dirt for his troubles. Ferdinand catches Petra’s attention, Dorothea fawning over Manuela as the professor hides a laugh behind her hand.

It takes her a moment to find Bernadetta—the girl is, rather unsuccessfully, hiding behind a pillar, and squeaks when Byleth makes eye contact.

She doesn’t run away when Byleth approaches, at least.

“Bernadetta,” she says, making an effort to soften her voice.

“Y-yes, Professor?” the student forces out, hunched over and holding her practice sword with a white-knuckled grip.

“Would you like to practice with your classmates?” she asks, quiet and mild.

Bernadetta lowers her gaze, scuffing her feet. “I’d… rather not,” she says. “I don’t really know them that well—not that I think that they’re bad people or anything, but they’re kind of scary and I don’t think I’d be very good at it anyway and I’d probably just mess up—!” She pauses to inhale deeply, blushing pink. “I mean. I don’t think I’d be of help.”

Byleth takes a moment to process her words. “Would you like to practice with me?” she tries. “We can stay back here, if you want.”

Bernadetta looks up at her with wide, gray eyes.

Byleth thinks that she might reject her for a moment, but blinks as the girl squeaks a quiet, “Okay.”

Bernadetta hefts up her sword, lips pursed and brow furrowed, and faces her. “L-like this, right?”

Byleth mirrors her, then shifts her stance. “Loosen your wrist a little,” she says. “Left hand lowered—this is supposed to leave a hand open for casting.”

The girl stares at the blade for a moment before she makes an attempt at adjustment.

“I think I prefer bows,” she says, apparently at a loss.

Byleth huffs, half a breath, half a laugh, and reaches to correct her posture. “These lessons aren't really meant for you to master the weapon,” she says, gently tilting the student’s sword up. “They’re so you can understand how your allies and your enemies fight.” She leads the simple twirl, slow and deliberate. “Different styles require different strategies to fight either with or against. What do you think the weaknesses of something like this is?”

Bernadetta hesitates, glancing between her sword and Byleth. “It… leaves you open?” she suggests, and receives an encouraging nod. “And it’s hard to use both at once, so it might slow you down.”

“Good,” Byleth praises. “Exactly.” She doesn’t quite manage a smile, but she thinks her expression must be approving enough, if the girl’s brightening countenance is anything to go by. “Then if your ally uses this style, what is your role as an archer?”

“Covering them,” Bernadetta says, marginally more confident. “Weakening the enemy so that they’re easy to finish off and don’t have a chance to retaliate.”

She raises a hand to ruffle the girl’s hair, like her father always had. Bernadetta blinks up at her as she pats her head gently, soft despite its unruly curls.

“Good job,” she says, a little awkward, but warm and genuine, and Bernadetta beams.

“Oh, Professor!” Dorothea calls. “Do you mind terribly if I steal Bernie away? I’d love to have her as my partner.”

Byleth looks back at Bernadetta. “Do you want to?” she asks simply.

The girl hesitates, stealing a glance at her classmate. “I could,” she says. “I-if she really wants to practice with me.”

“She does,” Byleth replies. “She asked first, after all.”

Bernadetta wiffles for a moment longer before she nods. “Okay,” she says, a little steadier. She picks her way to Dorothea, who smiles encouragingly.

The songstress strikes up an easy conversation, and Bernadetta nods along, cautiously at first, then more enthusiastically, and a warm wave of affection blooms in Byleth’s chest.

She watches them a moment longer as Dorothea twirls, light on her feet and sword flourishing, and Bernadetta mimics her.

Byleth circles around the training grounds, observing the other students. Caspar and Linhardt are being scolded by Manuela, so she skips over them, making her way towards Edelgard and Hubert.

“Professor,” Edelgard greets, adjusting her collar, and Hubert offers a slight incline of his head.

The girl’s eyes are keen and measuring, even as her gaze flickers down and she flushes pink.

“Ah—could you offer some critique?” she says, lifting her sword. “I seem to be struggling with the application.”

“Of course,” Byleth says.

Hubert arches a brow, but takes a step back to make way for her.

Edelgard faces her and levels the practice sword, and Byleth mirrors her.

“Ready?” she prompts, and the student nods.

Edelgard steps into the twirl, sword arcing wide, and Byleth deflects the blow neatly. The girl recovers quickly, pivoting into another swing, flowing from one strike to another.

Byleth falls into the familiar rhythm of parrying and dodging, letting the student practice each form. The blows are strong despite Edelgard’s small frame, pale eyes narrowed in concentration.

“Close,” Byleth says, sidestepping a vertical slice. “A little heavy. You’re used to axes, but this is a lighter style.”

Edelgard exhales, wiping a line of sweat from her brow. “I see,” she replies, catching her breath. “I’ve been meaning to practice my swordwork more. There’s a blade I’ve had my eye on for some time now.”

Byleth cocks her head. “What kind?” she asks, genuinely curious. “A rapier?” The slender swords are becoming more popular among the nobility, and she wonders if Edelgard is following the fashion.

There’s a beat. “No,” comes the reply, her mouth quirked in a faint smile. “A flamberge.”

Chapter Text

She’s tired and terribly sweaty by the time dinner rolls around, less from the strain and more from the heat. Even Caspar is run ragged, drooping enough to match Linhardt as the pair meander out of the training grounds. It’s only cooled down slightly, a breeze rolling in from the pond as the sun wanders westward.

She ambles into the dining hall with her coat bundled under her arm, intending on slumping into the first open seat she sees—

“What,” comes a voice, instantly recognizable, “not even going to greet your old man?”

She blinks. “Welcome back,” she says.

Jeralt huffs, mouth crooked in a fond smile.

“Come on,” he says. “I’m famished. Had to rush to make it back in time for dinner.”

She follows him to an empty table away from the bustle of students, tray in hand, and plops down across from him. He hadn’t been lying when he said he’d been rushing, it seems—dust is caught in the fur trim of his tunic, his eyes tired and hair mussed.

She’s only taken a couple bites of her food before Jeralt withdraws the flask from its place at his belt, uncorking it and bringing it to his lips.

She arches a brow.

“Cut me some slack,” he grouses, even though she hasn’t said anything yet. “I spent a week trying to whip those fools into shape. I swear, you had more sense than them when you were a toddler.”

“At least Alois didn’t go with you,” she points out, and he grimaces, taking another long drought from his flask like the thought alone is enough to drive him to drink.

She picks at her food, glancing at her father between bites. He really does look tired, weary and sluggish in a way that he rarely is.

She can’t help but think that this place is bad for him.

He sighs, leaning against the table. “How’re you doing?” he asks, setting his canteen on the wood with a hollow clink. “Settling in? Those kids drive you to the ground yet?”

Almost,’ Sothis quips.

“I’m fine,” Byleth says instead. “I like them. They’re…” She pauses. “...Energetic.”

Jeralt snorts, staring at his half-empty plate and idly pushing around the remains of his food, despite his earlier claim of hunger.

He looks up. “Hey,” he says softly. “Why don’t we visit your mother?”

She looks at him. Really looks at him, meets his warm gaze and feels something in her chest ache. “...Okay.”

Jeralt pushes away from the table and she follows suit, trailing after him out the door like a child.

The heat isn’t as oppressing as earlier, dampened by the evening breeze. She follows him past the knight’s quarters, looping around to the terrace overlooking the cliffs. There’s a short set of steps that lead to a small, grassy cemetery. They’re alone, at this hour, the sun beginning to dip below the horizon, the sky painted crimson and gold.

“This place is reserved for nuns and the Knights of Seiros,” he tells her, picking his way down the stairs. “Your mother…” He pauses. “She was devout. Close to the archbishop.”

They stop by a grave, the name weathered away by time and the stone worn and smooth, and Jeralt looks at it like it had been erected yesterday, the grief fresh in his eyes.

“It’s been too long since I’ve visited,” he murmurs, half to himself. “I didn’t want to come back here. The monastery. But I never wanted to leave her like this.”

Byleth glances at him, but he’s not looking at her.

“You have your mother’s eyes,” he says quietly. “Her hair, too. Her everything, pretty much.” He huffs softly. “Didn’t get a lick of your old man’s looks, thank the Goddess.”

“You loved her,” she says.

Her father laughs. “Like she was the moon. Like she was the sun.” He’s silent for a moment, gaze distant. “I wish you had a chance to meet her.”

She leans against him, shoulder to shoulder, and he presses back, radiating warmth.

“I have you,” she says. “I’ve never…” She hesitates, eyes flickering up to his face. “I’ve never been lonely.”

He blinks, stunned, then exhales shakily, bringing a hand to his brow. “Knock it off, kid,” he says. “You’re going to bring your poor old man to tears.”

And she remembers crying, holding her father’s limp hand, cold rain falling on a cold body—

“I love you,” she says, voice wavering. “I love you, Father.”

The breath leaves her in a rush as he wraps his arms around her tightly. She buries her face in his tunic, head tucked under his chin. He smells like the road, like dust and sweat and metal. He smells like home.

“I love you, too,” he rasps. “And I won’t be leaving you anytime soon.”

She doesn’t cry, but it’s a near thing.

 


 

They don’t separate for a long while. If her father notices that her breath hitches when he pulls away, he doesn’t say anything.

He takes a long, shaky breath, running a hand through the mess of his hair.

“Sorry,” he says, voice rough. “I know you don’t really like this sort of stuff.”

She shakes her head. “It’s fine,” she says, and it's the first time she’s meant it.

He huffs a soft laugh, his hand dropping to his side. “You sure? I just about suffocated you.”

“I am,” she replies solemnly.

His eyes soften. “...Okay,” he says. “I believe you.”

Jeralt heaves a sigh, glancing back at her mother’s grave. “I’ve taken enough of your time,” he says. “I’m sure those kids are keeping you plenty busy. Seteth wanted a report by tonight, anyway.”

He takes a step back and she catches his hand in her own, and he pauses.

“I meant it,” she says. “I missed you. I’m glad you’re back.”

A smile tugs at his mouth, soft and affectionate. “I missed you, too.”

Slowly, she releases his hand, and he ruffles her hair, familiar and mundane and somehow terribly significant.

“I’ll let you get back to work,” he says. “Last thing we need is Seteth breathing down both our necks.”

She nods, frowning and Jeralt sighs, swatting her head gently. “Go on,” he says. “You’re the one who wanted the job.”

Her mouth twists into something that’s almost a pout, and he laughs, nudging her with his shoulder as he passes.

Her eyes linger on the grave for a moment longer before she follows him out.

 


 

She rubs her eyes with the heel of her palm, squinting at her papers in the dim light of her candle.

 ‘Perhaps it is time to retire,’ Sothis suggests. ‘You have made little progress in the last hour.

“...Perhaps,” Byleth grants, pushing her chair back from the desk. She leans back to stretch, rolling her shoulders, but pauses when the book on her nightstand catches her eye. The Extended History of Fódlan stares back at her, the old leather of its binding glinting dully.

She reaches for it, flipping through the pages until she finds where she had left off at the library. Sothis prickles like a disturbed cat, sending fresh waves of unease down her spine.

She tamps down the welling anxiety, focusing on the text in front of her, where the newly-formed Imperial army clashes with the forces of the King of Liberation. Armed with the crests and relics granted by the Goddess herself, the former emerge victorious at the Tailtean Plains. The heroes then unite Fódlan under the banner of the Adrestian Empire, Seiros devoting her life to spread her teachings and eventually forming the church under her name.

Her fingers drum an uneven tattoo against her desk, teeth biting into the inside of her cheek. From there, it’s largely a history of the Empire—the eventual War of the Eagle and Lion and the Kingdom’s rise to independence through Loog, the annexation of Leicester territory by Faerghus and the subsequent war that leads to the founding of the Alliance—yet nothing gnaws at her like the beginning did.

She rereads the tale of Nemesis and Seiros, over and over, until the words blur on the pages and the ache thrumming in her head is too grating to ignore.

She shuts the book with a snap, massaging her temples. Her head drops, a groan escaping her chest.

“I dreamed of them,” she murmurs, “didn’t I? Nemesis and Seiros and—” Her hands ball into fists. “...Claude—?”

His arrow, brilliant red, arcing into the sky, golden cape caked in dirt, her sword cracking through the air like a whip, Nemesis, eyes blackened, snarling—

Go to bed,’ Sothis demands, uncharacteristically sharp. ‘Before you pass out on the spot.’

Byleth sighs, running a hand through her hair. “Fine,” she mumbles, too exhausted to argue.

She slumps bonelessly onto her bed, sprawling out on the sheets. Sleep claims her quickly, the clash of steel ringing in her ears.

 


 

She dreams of a canyon, painted red with the blood of her children. The murderers monsters men defile the bodies, carving out their spines and ribs, dripping with their blood and baying like wolves in a drunken fervor.

She dreams of Nemesis, teeth bared in a feral smile, and in his hand—

Her bones, her heart, forged into a weapon of her family’s massacre.

She wakes up screaming.

No—not her.

Her pulse pounds like thunder in her head, her breath leaving her in ragged gasps, and Sothis is wailing.

“Sothis,” she chokes out, desperate and reeling. “Sothis—!”

‘It’s too much,’ the girl howls. ‘I can’t—!

Byleth claws at the sheets, biting into her cheek until all she tastes is hot copper. It’s impossible to brace against the waves of grief and terror roll that roll through her, heavy and suffocating until she might break with it.

It feels like an eternity before Sothis’ screams wane into trembling whimpers. Byleth’s throat is rough and hoarse.

She stumbles out of bed, fumbling for the pitcher of water on her desk and nearly overturning it from the jolt of her arm. She pours it into her hand and brings it to her mouth, drinking greedily, her movements jerky and uncoordinated.

I’m sorry,’ Sothis gasps. ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry—”

“It’s okay,” Byleth says, voice cracking behind her palm. “Sothis, calm down—”

There’s a knock at her door and she freezes.

“Professor?” someone calls, low and even. Dedue, she recognizes.

She stumbles to the door, trying to straighten herself out as best she can before she opens it.

The student’s large frame fills the doorway. Behind him, the sky is dark and spotted with stars, the halls cast in murky shadows.

“Apologies for my interruption,” Dedue says formally. “I heard a… commotion.”

Maybe it hadn’t just been Sothis. She must be a sight, breathing ragged, water dripping down her jaw. “I—yes, I’m fine. It was just a nightmare. Did I wake you?”

“You did not,” he replies. “I was already up.”

She looks up at him. There are shadows under his eyes, fatigue pulling his shoulders down. He certainly looks like he hasn’t been sleeping.

“I—” she rasps, and has to stop. Sothis’ sobs make her dizzy, and her grip on the doorframe tightens as her legs threaten to give out from beneath her. “I’m sorry for the disruption. Thank you for your concern.”

He looks over her, her ragged breathing and tense frame, and recognition flashes in his eyes. He nods shortly, starting to leave, but he hesitates after a step, lingering at her door.

“I have found,” he says slowly, “that the greenhouse is particularly calming. I have gone, myself, some nights.”

He meets her eyes, and she recognizes the exhaustion there, solemn and mourning.

“I see,” she manages.

He bows deeply and turns to leave.

“Dedue,” she calls, and he pauses, glancing back.

She swallows thickly. “Thank you.”

The line of his brow softens. “Of course,” he says.

He retires to his dorm, just a room down, and it’s not until she hears the click of his lock that she collects herself enough to stagger forward and shut the door.

She makes her way towards the pond, half-stumbling in the dark, and pushes her way past the entrance of the greenhouse. She slumps against the doors as soon as the close behind her, leaning against the wood.

A cracked, jagged sob tears its way past her throat and she grits her teeth. Her hands ball into fists, nails biting into her palms until blood drips from her fingers.

“Sothis,” she tries again.

There’s a beat of haunting silence, breath catching in her chest.

I’m here,’ comes the reply, weak and trembling.

“Sothis,” Byleth breathes. “Oh, Sothis. What happened to you?”

I don’t know,’ the girl whispers. ‘I don’t know.’

Chapter Text

She’s not sure if she actually falls asleep, but when she next opens her eyes, the sky is beginning to lighten, the soft glow of the early morning streaming through the windows of the greenhouse.

She eases herself up, wincing as her legs protest against the movement, stiff from the lack of movement.

Sothis twitches fitfully, restless and overstrung. ‘You look terrible,’ she says.

Byleth releases a breath, running a rough hand through her hair and hissing through her teeth when her fingers catch a tangled knot. Her skin is clammy with sweat, cold even in the warmth of the greenhouse.

“...I’ll wash up,” she says.

Sothis makes a low noise, quieting as she pushes her way past the doors and makes her way towards the bathhouse.

Predictably, this early, no one is out and about. The halls are entirely deserted—something she’s grateful for, given her state. She slips into the washroom quietly, stripping quickly and shucking her clothes into a basket.

Without her clothes, she’s struck by how grimy she is, both from the exertion from the day before and the cold sweat from her nightmares. She grabs and bucket, filling it hot water from one of the faucets along the walls, pours the whole thing over her head.

It’s scaldingly hot, and it’s exactly what she needs.

She scrubs herself down with a washcloth until every inch of her is pink and clean, and dunks another bucket of water over her head for good measure. She feels lighter, now that she’s not cold and clammy, if only a little.

She wraps the towel around herself and pads into the next room, to the bathing pools. The steam obscures her vision, but she doesn’t miss the splashes that echo around the pool.

She freezes, wondering if she should back out, but a figure emerges from the haze.

“Wha—?!” comes the yelp. Dimitri jolts, wet hair falling over his eyes.“O-oh, Professor. You startled me—I’ll—ah—get out of your way—”

“You don’t have to trouble yourself,” she says. She might as well commit, now that she’s been caught, and eases herself into the water, hissing at the heat. “You’re here quite early.”

Dimitri is flushed red, steadfastly focusing his gaze at some point slightly above her. “Hot water is good for the muscles,” he says. “I woke early for training, and thought it might be nice to come here.”

She makes a low noise of acknowledgement, submerging herself to her chin.

“And you, Professor?” he asks. “I mean—well, you’re also here rather early.”

She pauses. “Couldn’t sleep.” It comes out more clipped than she means, and she bites her tongue. “I… thought that coming here would help me collect my thoughts.”

Dimitri’s expression is… odd. “I see,” he says.

She hums, pressing her fingers into the tense cord of her shoulders. She rolls her neck, sighing as the water soothes the stiffness deep in her muscles.

There’s an ache in her shoulder blade that throbs dully. The old arrow wound, she thinks, from protecting Dimitri. It had mostly healed over the course of several days, but the heat draws out its tenderness.

Barely more than a week had passed since she’d come here, she realizes suddenly. A week since something inside her had changed, irrevocably.

Dimitri lifts a hand, pushing his dripping bangs away from his face, and the motion catches her eye and—

Byleth stares.

She’s never seen his hands ungloved like this. Ragged, reddened burns mar his palms, striped with silvery webs of old scar tissue.

He follows her gaze and flinches, his hand dropping below the water. “Apologies,” he says. “It’s unsightly, I know.”

She reaches for him without thinking, drawing his arm back up. She holds his wrist in her hand and turns his palm up, gentle and careful.

“How did it happen?” she asks.

She can feel his eyes on her. “I… tried to pull aside flaming wreckage,” he says. “My friend was trapped beneath it.” His fingers twitch. “I didn’t make it in time.”

She’s quiet, mulling over his words. “The Tragedy of Duscur,” she murmurs.

“It wasn’t—” he starts, sharp, then stops himself. “I saw,” he says, less harshly. “It wasn’t them. The people of Duscur had nothing to do with it.” He releases a long, shuddering breath, his hand balling into a fist. “Nobody believed me. And I’m still too young to take the throne, so I can’t do anything about it—” He breaks off.

She doesn’t say anything—she can’t. The pain in his eyes is raw, a mirror of her dreams, and she remembers his creaking grip on a terrible lance, teeth bared and face gaunt, and she’s filled with a certainty that she never wants to let him fall that far.

“How long?” she asks, finally.

He pauses. “What?”

“Until you can do something about it,” she clarifies.

He blinks owlishly. “I—when I graduate from the Officer’s Academy,” he answers, half-stuttering.

“A year, then,” she says. “Make the most of it. Prepare yourself. Learn what you will be able to do.”

Dimitri’s mouth is slightly parted, jaw working like he means to say something.

She meets his eyes. “Well?”

“Of course,” he says. “Yes, of course I will.”

She exhales slowly. “Good.”

He looks back at their intertwined fingers, seemingly registering their environment all at once, and reddens from his ears to his chest. He hastily withdraws his hand. “I—” he squeaks more than says, then clears his throat. “I apologise. I didn’t mean to subject you to my responsibilities.”

“I am your professor,” she says simply. “You can always come to me with your concerns.”

Dimitri exhales, half a laugh. “That is quite a heavy burden to bear, to be sure. Even so…” He hesitates. “Even so, I am grateful. My responsibilities have been gnawing at me for some time. Speaking of them is relieving, if only a little.”

Red-faced, he ducks his head. “Apologies, Professor,” he says before she can reply. “The heat seems to be getting to me. I should take my leave.” He makes his way out of the water, a hand clutching the towel around his hips, but he hesitates at the door. He turns abruptly, bowing at the waist. “Thank you,” he says.

She inclines her head. “Of course.”

The haze of steam makes it difficult to tell, but she thinks something in Dimitri’s eyes might be a little softer than before.

She lingers in the pool a while longer, soaking in the warmth to ease the deep ache from sitting on the ground overnight, only forcing herself out when drowsiness threatens to overtake her.

The sky is bright by the time she leaves, stopping briefly by her room to change into fresh clothes. Sothis has long since dozed off, entirely worn down.

Byleth feels marginally better than she had been, and while the lack of sleep has its effect on her, she’s suffered through enough long nights to manage it, pressing the palms of her hands against her eyes.

She ducks into the dining hall and winces. The chatter is louder than usual, the students buzzing with excitement.

She catches a glimpse of Jeralt, seated at the far end of the hall and apparently enduring a particularly bad joke from Alois. Her father looks up, catching her eye, and mouths, ‘Save me,’ and she huffs and starts to make her way over, grabbing a plate.

“Good morning, Teach!” comes a call, and she blinks.

“Claude,” she greets, pausing by his table, where he’s flanked by Hilda. “It seems… busy today.”

“We’re all excited for the mock battle, is all,” he says. “It’s the first major event of the year, just a few days away.”

“Too few,” Hilda groans. “Professor Hanneman is a slave driver, I swear!”

Claude laughs and props his chin in his hand, beaming up at her. “Are you planning on participating?”

“...I don’t think so,” Byleth answers slowly. “Seteth has asked me to…” She hesitates. “Chaperone.”

He pouts. “A shame,” he says. “I was looking forward to seeing you in action again.”

“I’m always available to spar,” she offers.

“It’s not the same,” he sighs, mock-despondent, “although I might take you up on that offer.”

She nods absentmindedly, resisting the urge to rub her eyes.

“You alright, Professor?” Hilda chirps, eyes wide. “You seem kinda tired—”

Her round eyes are blank and lifeless, pink hair dark with dirt and blood, Claude hunched over her fallen body. His bow is a snapped mess on the ground, his clothes ragged.

“Well?” he says. He looks up at her. “What will you do now, Teach?”

Her sword is heavy in her hands. She raises it—

She twitches, lets out a shaky breath. “Just a long night,” she brushes off, like her knuckles aren’t bleached white from her grip on her tray. “Pardon—I should leave you to your meal.” She bows shallowly.

Claude raises a brow at her abrupt absconding. “See you around, Teach,” he says, waving, and Hilda flutters her fingers.

She leaves with a final nod, heading towards her father.

Jeralt arches a brow as she sits, eyes flickering back to Claude, and she shrugs wordlessly, spearing a piece of meat on her fork and bringing it to her mouth.

“Good morning, Professor!” Alois cheers. “A pleasure to see you!”

“Alois,” she acknowledges, significantly more subdued. Her head is throbbing, and her hand flexes against the table.

Her father leans forward a little. “You good, kid?” he asks softly.

She stares at her plate. “...Just some bad dreams,” she answers, quiet.

He sighs, patting her hand as he turns to distract Alois to let her eat in peace.

She’s grateful for his intervention, her mind a fluttering, uneasy mess. She eats as quickly as is polite and excuses herself from the table, barely acknowledging her father’s concerned gaze as she leaves.

She holes herself in her room for the rest of the day, working single mindedly on the notes for her next seminar. Sothis is silent throughout all of it, either sleeping or lost in thought.

She’s filled several sheets by the time the girl rouses, hands stained with ink and muscles stiff.

How are you doing?’ Sothis asks, slow.

“Fine,” she answers. Her vision swims, words blurring on the page, and she blinks rapidly,

Liar.’

Byleth huffs, pressing the heel of her hand against her eyes. “I’m fine,” she says again.

A knock at her door interrupts whatever the girl has to say next, and she rises wearily to answer.

Jeralt is on the other side, and she opens the door wider to let him in.

“Thanks,” he says, stepping through the threshold. He catches sight of the mess of notes on her table. “Burst of inspiration?”

“You could say that,” she mumbles. “Did you need something, Father?”

He hesitates. “I noticed,” he says, slowly, cautiously, “that you seemed… off, earlier. If it’s because of yesterday…”

Yesterday. Her mother’s grave—

Her family, dead and gone, children slaughtered like cattle—

Sothis shivers.

“It wasn’t,” Byleth manages. “It was just some dreams.”

Jeralt sighs. “That’s… good.” He rubs the back of his neck awkwardly. “You’re not usually… like that. I figured you might have been overwhelmed.”

Overwhelmed is certainly one way to put it.

“It’s just hard,” she says, “adjusting to life here. I missed you.”

He smiles a little. “I missed you, too,” he says. He lets out a breath. “I’m just… I’m just worried that this place isn’t good for you.”

“I’ll manage,” she replies simply. “It’s not like we can leave.”

His mouth twists in a wry smile. “Probably not,” he agrees.

He’s quiet for a moment, as if mulling over what he wants to say next, and Byleth looks up at him.

“You know you can talk to me about anything, right?” he says finally. “I’m here for you.”

She wants to. She wants to tell him everything, every petrifying dream, every crippling vision—

“Okay,” she says instead.

She can’t. This burden is hers alone. She won’t subject her father to it.

Hypocrite,’ something whispers.

Her father looks at her like he wanted her to say something else, but nods. “Okay,” he echoes gently. “I’ll leave you to it, kid. Don’t stay up too late.”

She stares at her bed.

Well?’ Sothis prompts.

Byleth swallows. “I—” she starts. Her hands flex uneasily at her sides. “Not yet,” she says finally, pushing away from her desk. “I’m going to… take a walk.”

Sothis hums doubtfully. ‘Suit yourself,’ she murmurs, drifting off to the corner of her mind.

Byleth slips out of her room, coat fluttering behind her in the late night breeze, and makes her way to the pond.

This late, the fishkeeper has long retired, the bait and rods stored away, so she makes her way down the dock. She eases down to sit at the edge, feet dangling a scant few inches over the water.

She takes a deep breath, staring out across the water.

She stays there until morning.