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Guard Against the Cold

Chapter Text

The dream always began the same way.

Snow and fire clashed, mixing into black sludge as he stumbled through the wreckage. Flames licked at his arms, but he could no longer feel pain after what he’d just seen. “Mother!” he screamed, fingers fumbling for something solid as he tried to navigate through the thick smoke. “Father!” 

“Di… Dima…” 

“Father!” No fire or wall could stand between him and that soft cry, already laced with the trembling of death. He growled, clawing his way through charred wood and glowing metal as he struggled to breathe. He felt his skin burning, the stench burning his nostrils, but he did not stop. Must find him! Must find Father! And Stepmother… What had happened to her? Where was she? 

“Dima.” The voice was so weak now, but he had to be close. He had to—

Dimitri’s foot struck something soft, and he gasped as he looked down. 

Father lay at his feet, ash staining all white and blue regalia black. Blood seeped from his chest, and Dimitri shivered in revulsion as he saw the burns covering his face. Father… No, please—

“My boy… My beautiful boy.” Father’s lips trembled, stained crimson. “Finally…”

“D-Don’t worry, Father,” he stammered, grasping his large hands with his own. “I’ll save you, I promise! I’ll get you out of here!”

A laugh, choking and guttural, made Dimitri’s blood run cold. 

“Oh, Dima,” Father sighed, and Dimitri yelped in horror as the flesh beneath his fingers turned to ash, crumbling off his bones like soot off stone. “It’s far too late for that.”

He couldn’t escape. No matter how hard he pulled, he couldn’t wrench himself free from his father’s grasp. Flames burned in his eye sockets, searing through the smoke and haze. “Avenge me,” he hissed, and Dimitri gasped as skeletal fingers latched around his tunic, yanking him downward. “Kill the bastards who did this!” 

“Father, no!” He shook his head, fingers scrambling to find something that wasn’t coated in blood or ash. “Y-You’re going to be just fine!” 

“No, my boy,” Father whispered, his voice suddenly very calm, very steady. “That is why you must you must find them. Kill them. Swear to me.” 

Them. The people who had caused this. The ones who had turned the commoners bloodthirsty, the ones who had lit the fires, the ones who had caused the explosion.

Those who crept in the shadows.

“Dimitri!” Father howled, and he cried out as he was tugged down even further, blood smearing onto the front of his shirt. “Promise me!”

“I promise!” he sobbed, grasping the bones of Father’s hand. “I swear, Father, I find them! I’ll make them pay!” 

Father smiled, then was horribly still. 

“Father?” Dimitri whispered.

Find them. Kill them. 

Right. That was what he had to do. For Stepmother, for Father, for Glenn, for Dedue, for Rodrigue—

Go, Dimitri! RUN!

He scrambled away from the flames, gasping as snow stung at his feet; his boots had long ago burned away running through the blaze. His clothes reeked of smoke, of burned flesh and hair, and the cries of the dying around him formed an obscene choir as he ran, urging him forward. 

Never stop running, Your Highness. You must find them.

Kill them, Dimitri! Please, for our sakes—

Goddess, it burns! Oh, please, IT’S BURNING ME— 

FIND THEM! KILL THEM!

And he had. He had found them, found the one responsible — Edelgard, the wolf masquerading as a mere sheep. Soon, he would strip her mask away, crushing it beneath his feet once more. He would carve her flesh from her muscles, then the muscle from bone — slowly, carefully, so that she could feel every second of it. And then, she would burn. Not her head, just her body. The head he would keep and hang from a pike, where he could see it every day. Then Stepmother and Father and Glenn could rest. Then they could—

“Dima.”  

Snow up to his ankles, he ground to a halt. The air around him clouded with his breath as he looked about. No longer was he in the smouldering ruins of Duscar’s capital. Instead of ash, simple snowflakes swirled around him — he stood in a barren snowfield, a lone tree illuminated only by the cold light of the stars above.

Beside that tree in the distance stood a hauntingly familiar figure, hair blowing in the breeze, and his heart leaped into his throat. 

“Is it really you?” she whispered, her voice so soft yet piercing to the very soul. Instinctively, he lurched towards her, snow slowing his steps as he tried to run towards her. 

Byleth. His beloved professor. 

“I… I tried,” she whispered, and he stared transfixed as she walked towards him. Pale green hair whipped around her shoulders as she approached, but she did not wear the worn armor of a mercenary. A white nightgown came down to her knees, the sheer fabric revealing soft curves and strong muscles. Yet all the beauty in the world could not distract him from the blood she left behind in the snow with every footstep. 

“I tried,” she repeated, her voice cracking. “I tried to reach you, Dima.”

To reach me? He didn’t understand, and he gasped in frustration as the snow sapped at his strength, slowing his sprint to a slogging crawl. Growling, he clawed his way forward with his hands. If she could not reach him, then he would reach her. The voices still scalded his ears, hideous knives burrowing their way inside his mind, but looking at her kept them at bay. She could save him. She would—

“I’m sorry,” Byleth whispered, her voice so soft, so fragile in the dark. 

Dimitri froze as she plunged forward, the snow nearly swallowing her body whole. 

Then, he screamed as he saw the blood coating her back, painting her body crimson. 

Embedded there, its harsh glow stark against red skin and white snow, stood Areadbhar. 

No, it can’t— I can’t, I CAN’T—

His mouth was bone dry when his eye opened, unable to scream. Only a choked whimper left his lips, echoing in the darkness of his room. 

His room?

No snow. No burning city. He bolted upright, gaze darting around as he struggled to push back the haze of sleep. Garreg Mach. He was in Garreg Mach, in his old dormitory. The room was clean, the desk in the corner stacked with fresh papers. No dust, no stench of rats. Somehow he managed to swallow, clawing back the sheets clinging to him like the fingers of his father in his dream. 

Why didn’t you die, Dimitri? Why do you do nothing for us—

Gritting his teeth and clamping his hands over his ears, he staggered to his feet and breathed as evenly as he could. Goddess, his head ached. Before, he had simply let the whispers of the dead drown out the voices of the living. But now he pushed back. Though his head ached, he bore that pain gladly. He had to push back, fight to claim whatever humanity he had left for the sake of those around him. Byleth had led him back to the light, and he had to stay in the light. 

Byleth. 

His eye fixed on the glowing spear resting next to his bed, and bile flooded his mouth the same instant panic did his mind. 

A dull crack rang in the air as he forced his bedroom door open, wood splintering beneath his fingers. It was all forgotten in an instant as he raced down the second floor hallway, heart hammering in his chest. Air couldn’t fill his lungs fast enough, his legs couldn’t push him forward fast enough, he couldn’t run fast enough.

His dreams only held the dead. No living person ever encroached into that territory. If he had seen Byleth in his dream, then that meant…

Down the stairs, stone cold beneath his bare feet. Or was that snow? No, no. Stay calm, Dimitri. Focus. His breaths came as choked gasps, the cool night air soothing the flame that scalded his throat. Through the door, metal groaning as he twisted the handle too far to the left. Out into the courtyard, across the way, grass now beneath him. Curses flew from his lips as he stumbled, his foot catching on a tree root or rock, but he caught himself with a hand and launched forward doggedly.

He knew where the professor’s door was. Long ago, when he’d been a student, he’d seen her come and go through that door in preparation for the day’s lectures. More recently, he had stayed away from that door, wary of painful memories that distracted him from the calls of the dead. 

He didn’t knock. Squealing metal broke the night’s silence as he forced the door open, another crack splitting the wood. Finally, the door swung open, and he stumbled inside, his fingers trembling as he searched desperately for Byleth’s figure…

… who was standing just a short distance away at the side of her bed, Sublime Sword of the Creator leveled at him. 

The glowing blade didn’t alarm him. All he cared about was the woman before him, her eyes wide as she stared back at him. 

“Dimitri?” she whispered, and the Sword was lowered, its light revealing her clothing: a white nightgown that came down to her knees. 

Goddess be praised, she was alive. 

With a sob, his legs gave out beneath him and he breathlessly crumpled to the ground, his cheeks already wet with tears. Alive. Alive. She’s alive. Her voice wouldn’t join the others, begging him for revenge. Her eyes wouldn’t stare at him from the corners of his vision, blank and unseeing. His beloved professor would still be at his side. 

“Dimitri…” 

Something small and warm brushed his cheek, pushing back limp hair, and he flinched. 

Byleth knelt in front of him, her hands extended towards him. Her green eyes were soft in the dark, lips parted as if to speak his name again. “I’m sorry,” she murmured instead, her hands moving back to her lap. 

For a split second, he didn’t see the bedroom around them, but a snowy field stained with blood. 

With a desperate cry, he lurched forward, enfolding her in his arms. It couldn’t be real, it shouldn’t be real, he could never harm her, his—

Warm. She was still warm. 

His palms moved to her back, frantically searching, but he only felt the dampness of his own sweat, not the slickness of blood. No wound, no injury. He heard her sharp gasp of breath and he wept, his whole body drooping from relief. Alive.

“Shh…” His eyes flew open as he felt fingers gently brush against his back, and his body reflexively tensed against the motion. But no nails dug into his skin, no teeth bit. It was a caress. A gentle touch.

How long had it been since someone had touched him like that? 

“It’s all right, Dimitri.” Byleth’s voice was soft, just as warm as her hands. “It’s all right.” Her fingers traced his shoulder blade, her breath warm against his neck. “I’m here.” 

Praise the Goddess for that. 

Trembling from cold, pain, and relief, he pressed his face to her shoulder and wept until he remembered no more. 

 


 

When his eye cracked open, a groan slipped past his lips. His knees ached something fierce, his legs and shoulders burning. What the hell—

Blinking a few times to clear the bleariness from his eye, his breath caught in his throat as he realized he was kneeling on the floor. Slowly, his fingers curled into fists as he straightened up, his back creaking in discomfort for holding the position so long. Goddess, why had he fallen asleep kneeling?

“So you did sleep.”

Breath shuddering, he scrambled away from the voice, his feet skidding across carpet. 

“It’s all right.” And when he could see again, he found himself staring at Byleth. She sat on the ground, dressed in a white nightgown, her back against the doors of a standing wardrobe. Warily he glanced around, his muscles tensing as he realized this wasn’t his room. Judging from the sparse furnishings and the presence of his professor, this could only be… 

The memories of what had happened last night tumbled into his memory, and he unconsciously raised a hand up to his forehead, trembling fingers brushing away matted hair and remnants of sweat. “I…” His voice came out as a feeble croak, and he cringed as he swallowed. 

“It’s okay,” Byleth repeated, her own eyes weary, yet somehow still bright. “I’m glad you were able to get some rest, at least.” His heart sank as he saw the circles under her eyes. Clearly, his rest had come at the expense of her own. “I apologize for not moving you, but considering the circumstances… I didn’t want to frighten you.” Her voice softened at that last bit, her eyes moving down to the floor. Despite the relative lack of emotion on her face, he could sense her discomfort. 

“No, I… I should apologize, Professor,” he rasped, moving to a sitting position. His back fell against something soft, and with a glance he realized he was leaning against her bed. Cheeks flushed, he hastily glanced at the floorboards beneath him. “I never should have come here last night. It was… foolish of me.” He squeezed his eye shut, his hands lying feebly in his lap. “I’m sorry, Professor.”

“It’s all right, Dimitri.” And when he dared glance up at her face, her lips were curved up into a miniscule smile. “Don’t feel bad. You needed help, and you came to the right place. You did nothing wrong.” Slowly, she rose to her feet, and he swallowed thickly as the fabric of her nightgown fell down to her knees. “It’s almost dawn.”

Slowly, joints creaking, he stood as well, then shivered as a gust of wind blew through the room. He blushed as he turned to where Byleth was looking at the source of the frigid gale.

Instead of a door correctly fitted in the doorway, there was only a shattered piece of wood still remaining affixed to the hinges. The rest of the door lay on the courtyard floor, the handle ripped out of its place in the wood. He bit his lip as he turned from the wreckage to face Byleth; in his panic last night, he hadn’t realized that instead of forcing the door open as he’d intended, he’d basically demolished the whole thing. 

Instead of a disapproving glare or even a resigned sigh, Byleth still smiled. Her eyes twinkled in the pale light of the night giving way to morning, almost glowing. She truly looked blessed by the Goddess in that moment. 

Then: “Next time, Dimitri, please knock.” 

Cheeks burning, he nodded, quickly moving to the doorway. “I, um…” He fidgeted nervously, looking at the mess in front of him. “Yes, Professor. As for the door—”

“I’ll send for someone to fix it,” she said calmly, not even looking the slightest bit perturbed as she moved to his side. “If you can, try and get some rest. Sleeping in a bed is better than on your knees.” 

He somehow found it in himself to smile as he crossed the door. “I truly am sorry. I didn’t mean to… well…” He gestured helplessly at the broken door. 

“If you need me, you know where to find me,” she replied softly. “And I’d rather you break a thousand of my doors than suffer alone.” Slowly, carefully, her fingers reached for his hand. His breath caught in his throat as she clasped it gently, giving it a soft squeeze. 

It always caught him off guard how warm her hands were.

“Now, off with you,” she said, her tone good natured as she moved back into her bedroom. “You’re not the only one who needs rest.” 

“Yes, Professor,” he answered, wearily smiling back as he left her room. Despite the shame of his actions last night, he felt… lighter. Not at ease. But less afraid. Less disturbed. The thought of her watching over him, a guardian against the horrific images he’d seen last night, calmed him like a cup of Dedue’s soothing tea.

Next time, please knock.

Despite the kindness of her offer, as he made his way up the stairs leading to the dormitory, he desperately prayed that there would be no next time. 

 

Chapter Text

It was Glenn’s face that stared at him this time. 

“P-Please,” he whispered, blood trickling past his lips as he struggled to move. Dimitri shivered as the knight’s burned face twitched uncontrollably, flame corroding both skin and muscle. “Dimitri, please…” 

A support beam had fallen from one of the houses near the town square, crushing Glenn’s lower half. Dimitri forced his gaze away from the sight, staring at Glenn’s face. Burned though it was, it was a better view than below. 

“Why? Why won’t you help me?” Glenn’s voice was nothing more than a pained whimper as his fingers scrambled across the charred wood, futily trying to push it away. “Dimitri, why?”

He bit his lip so hard it bled, his fingernails digging into his palms. 

“Just… Just say it,” Glenn gasped, his body finally running out of strength to struggle as it collapsed to the snowbank. 

“I’m sorry,” Dimitri whispered. 

Glenn only stared at him. 

“I couldn’t… I couldn’t save you.” Dimitri squeezed his eyes shut, but it did nothing: he could still see the fire eating everything around him, could still smell the acrid stench of burning flesh and hair. If he could taste, he knew his tongue would be covered in iron. “I let…”

“You let me die.”

“I didn’t want to!” Dimitri cried. His feet burned as he tried to step away. “I didn’t want you to die, Glenn!”

The knight laughed, a bizarre choking noise that made Dimitri’s hair stand on end. “I didn’t either, Your Highness. But guess what? I died anyway, and what do you do about it? Nothing!” 

His tears finally fell, carving through the soot on his skin. “Please, I’m trying— I’m trying—”

“Trying isn’t good enough, Dimitri! Now go!” Glenn howled, his whole body convulsing. “Go kill that fucking woman!”

Yes. Edelgard. The one who was responsible for all of this. His fingers grasped snow as he started running. She was his target now, his only goal. If she burned, then the dead would be appeased. Or would they? He had lived, after all. Would they never be pleased until he joined them? 

Kill her! Kill her, Son! 

My boy, oh my sweet boy. Why haven’t you done anything? 

— strong still trample the weak. The cycle goes on and on and on—

He gritted his teeth as he ran. Still their voices clung to his ears. Did Edelgard hear them too? The cries of the dead, desperate for vengeance, for justice? No, of course not. She gloried in her killing. He’d seen the destruction she’d wreaked across Fodlan all these years. He’d repay her for it a thousandfold. Tear her apart, limb from limb, until nothing— 

“Dima!”

Dimitri froze. 

“That’s enough.” Byleth’s voice drifted in the wind, suddenly cold instead of burning hot. “This anger, this rage, it will only destroy you.” 

Snow once more beneath his feet. Wind once more whipping his hair. A tree once more on the horizon. 

But Byleth was not alone at that tree. 

Curiosity, fear, anger, pain: they all drove him forward, despite the soothing chill of the snow on his feet, seeping through the ragged leather of his boots. He could not see the other figure standing before his professor, the dull light of the stars only illuminating her face. But the sound that came from the shadow opposite her…

It was not human. That was the rumbling of a beast. 

“You must let it go,” she murmured, her hand reaching out towards the shadow in supplication. “Live for what you believe in.” 

What I… believe in? His legs stumbled, a hand planted in the snow to prevent his fall. Yes, he remembered those words: whispered in the rain, so softly, so tenderly.

“What I believe in…” The shadow’s growls were guttural, ragged and rough and laced with something that sent chills down Dimitri’s spine. Dangerous. Murderous.

Yet Byleth did not move away from this presence, despite the fear in Dimitri’s heart. She only stepped forward, her small hand extended towards the darkness. “Yes,” she said, her lips curling up into a reassuring smile. “It’s all right, Dima.” 

Dima? 

“What I believe in,” the shadow repeated, and Dimitri’s blood ran cold as he saw a familiar glow shift in its darkness, “has no room for the living.” 

He opened his mouth to scream — a plea, a cry, a warning, something — but he was too late. 

He was always too late. 

Byleth made no sound as Areadbhar plunged into her stomach, her hand still outstretched. 

“No!” 

Fingers clawing in frigid snow, Dimitri sprinted up the hill, feeling more than seeing his way forward. Areadbhar’s glow was far too warm as the shadow — no, the beast — pulled it out with a sharp tug, blood reflecting its unearthly light as it dripped onto the snow. And Dimitri roared as it laughed, a hideous bark that filled his veins with fire instead of ice. “You think that a demon like me can live?!” it hissed, raising Areadbhar for another thrust. 

Byleth said nothing, her hand falling to her stomach. Those hands, so warm, so small, against such a massive wound… 

“I know what I am!” the Beast roared. Dimitri’s eyes stung, tears fighting their way through the blistering cold and his destroyed eyelid, as Areadbhar sunk into Byleth’s side, squealing against armor. “You think to make me a man again? I was never a man!” Another monstrous laugh, and Dimitri wanted to retch at the sickening squelch that splattered more crimson to the white snow. “All I can do is hate, Teacher! All I can do is destroy! And you want me to live!” 

Such tiny hands, trying to stem a flood. 

“You want to save me, is that it?” The Beast dropped Areadbhar to the snow, and though Dimitri could not see its face, the glint of teeth set his own grinding. “So wise, yet so, so very wrong.” A soft gasp escaped Byleth’s lips as it grabbed her by the shoulders, steel screeching as armored fingers dug into her pauldrons. “This is what I am, Teacher. This is what I was, and what I always will be. You simply refused to—”

“Get away from her!” 

Howling filled his ears as Dimitri tackled the Beast to the ground, Areadbhar flying into the air in a brilliant spray of crimson. His screams mixing with the Beast’s, he pushed back clawed armored hands trying to force him off, fists pummeling its face into the snow. “You’ll never—” fingers ripped fur and cloth away from its throat— “touch her—” and he squeezed when he found warm flesh— “ever again!” 

But the Beast simply laughed, the stars shining in its one icy eye. “R-Really, Dima?”

Dimitri’s fingers fell slack as he stared at the monster beneath him. A monster with his face.

That single moment of hesitation was his downfall: with a savage kick, the Beast tossed him into the air and Dimitri gasped as his back crashed into the snowbank. A mere toss of its fur-lined cloak and it was gone, leaving nothing but a bloody trail behind. Chest heaving, Dimitri clawed his way out of the snow, gasping for breath as he fought to stand upright. 

A few steps took him to where he needed to go: his beloved’s side.

Byleth’s lips trembled as he knelt beside her, his bloodied hands sliding to her stomach to cover her wounds. Yet as her eyes met his, they both knew it was no use. Her chest shuddered as it rose and fell, her breathing becoming a slow rattle he’d heard countless times in battle. 

“I… I tried,” she whispered, and he stared transfixed as her hands moved, limply resting atop his own. “I tried to reach you, Dima.” 

He could say nothing, his throat scalded by tears. Yes, she had tried to reach him. And he could not reach her. Despite her lying before him, in his arms, she felt an eternity away. 

“I’m sorry,” Byleth breathed, her voice so soft, so fragile in the dark. 

Her eyelids drifted closed, and with a final breath she was gone. 

This was not new to Dimitri. He’d seen countless die before him, from his own father to a lowly thief. Death and he were well acquainted, so much so that he wondered sometimes if he was living at all.

But a dead man’s heart could not ache this much, could it? 

Wordless sobs escaped his lips as he crumpled, his face pressed atop Byleth’s hands. They’d been so warm once, when she’d pressed them to his cheeks in the rain. They were so small, so fragile despite their calluses. She… She was so small. So small, yet so warm, filled with life even if she had no heartbeat.

So why was she so cold?

His tears were warm when he opened his eye, unable to be restrained. A cold breeze washed over him, and he whimpered as he turned. Yet there was no snow, no solitary tree against a pitch black sky. Where…? 

The crackling fire in the hearth told him: Fhirdiad. The Academy, despite it being nestled in the mountains, never grew so cold that hearths were in every room. Even in the warmth of summer, however, Faergus always clung to a chill, determined to at least remind everyone of winter if not remain in it. 

Struggling to push back the heavy blankets and furs, his aching body shivered as he tumbled out of bed. The firelight illuminated the path to the door, and he staggered towards it like a drunken man, injury and soreness corroding his movements instead of wine. Despite his slowness, his heart raced, pounding a frenetic beat as he opened his door. 

The hallway outside of his room was familiar and strange all at once. He’d walked these halls as a child, calling this castle home, but now he felt nothing but cold as he looked at marble tiles and flickering torches along the wall. The chill only added to his numb panic as he limped down the hallway, his hand running along the stone wall as his pace increased from a staggering walk to a lumbering jog as his muscles warmed up. 

Byleth. He had to find Byleth. 

Weak sobs still escaped him as he ran, rough fingertips brushing the stone walls as his throat swelled. Oh goddess, where was she? He hadn’t paid attention when she’d been assigned quarters, she could be anywhere—

I tried to reach you, Dima.

A hideous cry rang in the hallways as he came to a crossroads, eye frantically looking down each corridor. Oh, she spoke so often of reaching him, but he couldn’t ever reach her. Panic overwhelmed him as he stared at the junction in terror, and he whimpered as he sank to the floor, the cold of the castle walls seeping through his shirt to his back. “Where,” he gasped, fingers tugging at his hair, “where are you—” 

“I’m here.” 

He jerked to attention with a gasp, his eye wide as green ones stared back at him. 

Somehow, impossibly, Byleth knelt before him, her jacket wrapped around her shoulders to shield her from the frigid night air. Beneath was that same nightgown he’d seen once before, in both dream and reality. 

“It’s okay,” she whispered, her hands extended towards him in offering. Instantly he took them, shivering in relief as he felt the warmth of her palms. “I’m here now, Dimitri. I’m sorry.” 

“H-How?” He stared at her in a mixture of awe and confusion. “How did you find me?”

“You were calling my name,” she said, her voice even, measured, as if she were describing the weather instead of a raving lunatic shouting in the halls. “I followed.” Her hands gently tugged his forward as she rose to her feet. “Come with me.” 

Wordlessly he followed, one of her hands slipping out of his own as she turned to lead him down the hallway. He clung to the other like a lifeline, his breaths coming in sharp gasps. Was this even real? Or was it just a cruel fantasy, one that his mind had conjured up to try and relieve him from the voices that begged for judgement? 

The only thing that kept him from fully throwing him down that path of thought was Byleth’s fingers clasping his own. 

In the silence of the palace, the soft click of her door opening sounded deafening. A fire flickered in the hearth as they made their way into the small room — a part of him noted with distaste that her quarters were more akin to a servant’s than a friend of the king’s. A woman of her standing deserved better than this. 

“Here,” she murmured, closing the door quietly and crossing the thin carpet. Slowly she eased herself onto the edge of the bed, gesturing for Dimitri to follow her. Yet he only took a few steps before sinking to his knees, his face pressing into the side of the mattress. His tears quickly soaked through the sheets, his hands trembling uselessly in his lap.

The face of the Beast in his dream stared back at him, laughing even as his hands closed around its throat. 

You dare touch her with those hands, “Dima?” The hands of a murderer? Oh, but you said I would never touch her ever again. How noble of you. Will you keep your word? 

After all, I am what you tried so long to hide. 

I am all you can ever be.

“Dimitri…”

He froze as her fingers brushed his hair, parting strands and locks easily. It was washed for once, in a proper bath instead of a dip into the river. But now he only felt filthy. The blood on his hands could not be washed away with water, nor could the scars he bore be soothed by balm or ointment. He trembled, fingers digging into the mattress, hearing the cloth stretch and groan, ready to tear. 

I am all you can ever be. 

Why do you do nothing for us? 

You waste your time with this woman, nothing more than a petty distraction…

You swore you’d avenge us! You swore, and you go back on your word!

“P-Please,” he begged, his hands releasing the bed to clamp over his ears. “Please, no more, I—” He choked on his words. “I can’t…” I can’t listen to you anymore.

“Live for what you believe in.”

“You still hear them?”

He lifted his head, staring in shock at Byleth’s face. Despite her lack of emotion, he was surprised to see no sign of hesitance or disturbance. Instead, she just looked… tired. Weary. Her hand shifted from his scalp to his shoulder, and he shivered at the warmth of her palm. 

“Always,” he whispered, his voice breaking. “I… It gets worse when… When I…”

When I dream of you.

Somehow, Byleth seemed to understand, despite his incomplete sentences. His eye widened as her knuckle brushed his cheek, wiping away the moisture that had gathered there. “Then come here,” she murmured, patting her thighs. “Rest your head here.”

A lump rose in his throat as he looked at her, his beloved professor. Instead of pulling away from him, from his diseased mind and rambling, she pulled him closer. Biting his lip, he hesitated. The Beast was right; he was nothing more than a monster pretending to be a man. A wolf in sheep’s clothing. Did he have the right to seek healing in her arms?

“Dimitri,” she sighed, her voice heavy. “Please.” 

The churning guilt he’d gathered up shattered at the look she gave him: weary, yet pleading. 

How could he refuse her?

Shifting his body, he leaned against her legs and rested his head in her lap, another sob ripping through his chest and throat, bubbling from his lips. He quivered against her thighs, his tears running fresh as her fingers once more parted his hair. 

Why? Why was she doing this? Why was she so determined to give him kindness he didn’t deserve?

“Concentrate on my voice,” she said, her fingernails tracing soothing circles on his scalp. Had anyone done this for him before? He tried to conjure up images of Stepmother soothing him in this way, his head in her lap. But all he could see or hear was Cornelia’s vicious words from before, and he pushed the thought away. Dangerous, for now. 

And then, Byleth hummed, and any thoughts of his stepmother were instantly forgotten. 

Her voice was unsteady, unsure. Whether it was from fatigue or lack of experience, he didn’t know. But she continued with the tune anyway, her fingers moving up and down through his hair in time with the melody. It was a slow song, so reminiscent of a lullaby that his heart slowed, his limbs slowly relaxing in her hold.

When her voice trailed off to a close, the song clearly over, his throat constricted as he swallowed thickly. Would the voices return now that silence filled the air? 

As if she could read his thoughts, she began the song again, her voice a little more sure this time. It still cracked and warped on the higher notes, and if they were in choir practice at Garreg Mach’s cathedral, he would have had to hide a laugh behind his sleeve. A trained songstress his beloved professor was not. 

Yet there was beauty to her voice, a raw realness that filled his ears and soothed his burning eyes. His breathing slowed, his fingers releasing their grip on the sheets as he listened intently to the melody. Every warbled pitch, every breath Byleth took in, he clung to as if they were symphonies. 

He had lost count of how many times the song had repeated when his sight began to darken. As he let sleep overcome him, the thought came to mind that he truly wouldn’t mind listening to Byleth’s voice forever, her warm fingers in his hair. 

It was her fingers and her voice that had brought him back to the light, after all. 

 


 

When he woke, stretching his limbs, the first thing Dimitri noticed was that he wasn’t nearly as sore as he should be. 

The second thing he noticed was that he wasn’t kneeling at Byleth’s bedside. 

He was in her bed. 

Quickly, he shoved aside blankets and sheets, heat filling his face as he sat on the edge of the mattress. How had he gotten here? Had he somehow climbed into the sheets in his sleep? He’d wandered sometimes in his sleep, Dedue had told him; his faithful friend had led him back to bed every time, but all he’d done had been walking around his room. To think that he’d forced himself into his professor’s bed…

Warily, he turned around to look at the other side of the mattress, lips open to apologize to Byleth for his horrifying breach of propriety. Then, he blinked. 

Byleth was not in the bed with him. 

Panic ate at his insides again as he whirled around, looking at the room. Where—

A soft sigh caught his ear, and he glanced down in surprise.

There, curled up on the rug beside the bed, lay Byleth wrapped in her overcoat. 

His heart pricked as he saw his professor sleeping at his feet, her knees tucked to her chest for warmth. She… She must have helped me into bed. And instead of embarrassing him, she’d slept on the floor, giving him the privacy and warmth she deserved. 

Him, the man who had pushed her away countless times when she’d first appeared, her hand outstretched in compassion. 

Goddess, he didn’t even deserve to be in her presence. 

He swallowed, fingers grasping the edge of the mattress as he considered what to do next. Clearly he couldn’t leave her just lying there, but he didn’t want to wake her either. She had circles of her own beneath her eyes, no doubt from staying up and watching over him. 

So, as silently as he could manage, he eased out of the warmth of the blankets and knelt at Byleth’s side. He winced as the floorboards creaked beneath his weight. Now for the next bit. Delicately as he could, he slipped a hand behind her shoulders, the other beneath her knees. Her breathing stuttered a bit at the touch, and his heart nearly broke out of his chest. Then she let out another sigh, a shiver passing through her limbs, and he watched over her for a moment. 

Dimitri knew that his strength was, in a word, immense. Due to both his divine crest and the training he’d undergone in childhood, lifting a human body was not a difficult task in the slightest. 

Yet that didn’t prepare him for how small Byleth felt in his arms. 

It reminded him of a bird his father had managed to catch when he was just a boy, playing in the gardens. Father had beckoned him over silently, his eyes twinkling as he had gestured for Dimitri to touch the small creature trapped in his hold. It had been so warm but so fragile, and Dimitri had snatched his hand back at first, terrified he’d break the bird as easily as he broke his own toys. 

He felt that same fear now, holding Byleth in his grasp. With just his hands, he could crush bones, rip apart limbs, even split wood. His cheeks burned as he remembered staring down at the demolished ruins of her door at the academy. It was so easy for him to break things.

Now more than ever, he did not want to break what he held in his arms now.

Byleth stirred, and the moment passed. Carefully, he lowered her to the sheets, pulling the blankets over her shivering form, coat and all. Her form stilled as he tucked the thick wool coverlet beneath her chin, and he couldn’t help but smile as her breaths came deeper now. His professor would get the warmth and rest she needed now. 

“Thank you, professor,” he whispered, readjusting the blanket one last time before he slipped out of the room, leaving her to sleep in peace.  

  

Chapter Text

He could never find his stepmother.

Numbly, Dimitri searched the wreckage. Snow mixed with soot, flooding his scorched boots as he moved slowly through the gutted remains of the city. Fire blazed, yes, but weakly — dying embers instead of a raging inferno. The heat still baked into his skin, his clothes soaked with sweat, but he paid it no heed. She was never here in the dying city. All that remained of her was her voice, begging for vengeance same as the others. 

My dear child… Oh, why do you delay? 

“I-I’m not,” he mumbled back, the dry wind sucking the moisture from his tongue. He could barely speak, as if ashes stuffed his throat. “I’m trying. I promise…” 

Promises mean little. They only tie you down to sorrow.

“But I—” 

Stepmother’s voice pricked his ears once more as he came to rest on a crumbling building: You saw what promises did to Rodrigue.

Rodrigue?

He ran.

The crunching under his feet was not from stone, but charred grass. Smoke blinded him, and he coughed as he took in a lungful. Rodrigue, have to find—

A sharp, burning pain pierced his side, and he gasped as he tumbled to the ground, waving his arms blindly to clear the smoke. Goddess, he just couldn’t see

“Have I caught you off guard, Your Highness?”

Sputtering for breath, he froze as he saw the silhouette of a girl looming over him, the dying flames glowing behind her. “Aw, does it hurt?” she crooned, her voice trembling even as she mocked him. “I bet it hurts so bad, doesn’t it? But it’s nothing compared to what my brother felt!” He stared helplessly as her shadowy arm raised her bloody dagger high again, unable, unwilling, to move.

“You’ll never be forgiven!” the girl shrieked, and he said nothing as the knife plunged into his arm, his chest, his thigh. “Never! I’ll never forgive you! Die! D—”

A sudden shout, a shove, a shuddering gasp.

When Dimitri’s eyes caught up with his ears, he froze.

The girl was gone, her bloodied dagger now buried in Rodrigue’s heart. No. No, this can’t be happening, I’ve seen this before, I can’t, I can’t—

“A-Ah. Your… Highness,” Rodrigue gasped. Dimitri trembled as he crawled towards the man, tears leaking from his eye as he grasped his cloak. “Are you… safe? Tell me… it wasn’t in vain.” 

“Of course it was!” Dimitri shouted, shaking the man. “She was supposed to kill me, Rodrigue! And you took the blow like a fool! D-Don’t you… Don’t you see?” He choked back a sob, looking at the ruins around him. “This is no hero’s end! This… This is just how Glenn died, and all for nothing!” 

“N-Nothing?” Rodrigue’s lips were lined with blood as he spoke, grasping Dimitri’s hand. “Oh, my boy… Not for nothing. N- Never for nothing.” And Dimitri’s eyes widened as Rodrigue grinned, his mouth splitting open almost freakishly wide. “I am the fuel to your fire now. My hatred, my anger, it is now yours. I gave you my body in life, and now I give you my soul.”

“I don’t want it!” This wasn’t what Rodrigue should be saying — this wasn’t right. “I don’t want your soul, Rodrigue! I don’t want any of it, I didn’t want—”

“But you got it, boy!” Rodrigue barked, his grin replaced with a howling scream that rattled Dimitri to his bones. “You got my soul, my regrets, my rage! You have it, and you’ll always carry it with you, because you were too weak to save us!” 

You should have died with the rest of us.

Why did you live, Dimitri? Why do you still live? 

You should be dead.

Do you not love us? Or do you still love her more?

Her. 

“Find her,” Rodrigue growled, his hands shoving Dimitri back. “Find her, and kill her, boy.”

Find her. 

Shakily, he stood. Blood ran in rivers down his side, each wound burning like a coal had been stuffed inside, but he didn’t care. His eye darted about in the smoke, fingers groping blindly as he wheezed in smoky breaths.

Find her. 

Yes. This would all be fixed once he killed Edelgard. That would sate the dead and their constant calls for blood, would it not? To kill the transgressor, blotting away her sin with his own, was the only way to bring balance to the world. An eye for an eye. A soul for a soul. 

One soul could not pay for hundreds of thousands, but it would bring a stop to the bloodshed. 

Something shifted in the smoke, and he grinned as he caught sight of his prey. 

Finally, she would pay. 

He lunged forward, heedless of the smoke as he chased the shadowy figure. It didn’t even move, as if unaware of his presence. The smoke must mask his form, the crackling of the fire his footsteps. Excellent. 

The figure let out a soft gasp as he tackled her to the ground, and he grunted as hands lashed out at his face, trying to push him back. With a growl he pinned her hands above her head with one of his own, struggling as Edelgard writhed under his grip. “You should know better than to struggle,” he breathed, the fingers of his free hand digging into flesh. “You can’t escape me now, Flame Emperor.”

Another soft exhale, but that would be the last she would breathe out. His hand fumbled in the smoke as he searched for her throat, but it was easy to find. With a grin, he squeezed, feeling the warm skin give way beneath his fingers. “Finally, I’ve found you!” He released her hands — she could struggle, but not escape, with his weight pinning her down — and struck her face, punching her so hard his knuckles ached. “You took everything from me!” Another punch, and his hand came back red. “Everyone I ever loved!” A dull crack ran out in the air as a bone shattered beneath his blow — jaw or nose, he didn’t know and didn’t care. He’d break every bone eventually. 

He would crush everything inside of her, just as Glenn had been crushed by the burning rubble. He would stab her over and over again, just as Rodrigue had been stabbed. He would beat her until she was crushed, just as his beloved had been crushed by her fall. And then, finally, he would separate her head from her shoulders, just as his father had been beheaded. 

The voices would cease, and he would rest. And it would be glorious.

Fist raised to deliver another blow, he froze as he heard a sound erupt behind him, jarring him out of his frenzy.

Laughter. Pure, unbridled, ugly laughter. 

And when he turned, he was face to face with the Beast.

“I knew,” the Beast growled, its face split with a manic grin of utter delight. “I knew you’d come around. You’d see.”

See?

“Di… ma?”

Horror filled his veins like ice water as he turned around, looking at the woman pinned beneath his body. Her lips were bloodied yet blue, her face pale and smeared red, her eyes wide as she stared up at him, fingers wrapped around his hand in a vain effort to stop him from crushing her throat.

No. No, it can’t be— 

Her: Byleth, his professor, his goddess, his beloved.

He should have torn his fingers away. He should have leapt from her body and sobbed apologies, begging her for forgiveness. He should have stayed over her, wrapped her in his cloak, shielding her from the mad eye of the Beast. 

But he could not move. He could only stare at his beloved as she tried to breathe, covered in bruises and cuts and blood: the ghastly work of his own hands. 

“What are you waiting for?” the Beast hissed, its breath misting on his neck as he stared speechlessly at Byleth. “Finish it!”

His hand loosened around her neck, his lips trembling. This was wrong, it was all wrong: first Rodrigue with his talk of vengeance and hatred, now Byleth battered and bruised from his hands… 

She’s why Rodrigue is dead!” the Beast roared, and he cried out as he felt wet fingers slick with blood grasp his face. “She let him die!”

“No, no, she couldn’t—” 

“She let him!” 

“No!” He screamed as those horrible slick hands clawed at his face, fingernails tearing into his skin as he was thrown back. For a moment the world went horribly dark and numb, and he cried out as he reached for his left eye socket, fingers searching for the crushed remains of an eyeball. Instead, he found a whole eyelid.

That was no consolation. The sounds he heard were more torturous than losing his other eye. 

“I’ll finish what you started,” the Beast rasped, and he heard the wet sounds of choking, the scritch scritch scritch of fingers scrabbling against stone. “I’ll finish it for you, Dima. I always must finish things for you. Soldiers and spies and this one too—” 

Dimitri roared, launching himself towards the sound of the Beast’s voice. His fingers bashed against cold steel and wet fur, and with a shout he shoved the monster to the ground. Metal cut at his skin as he pried away its armor, stripping it bare until his nails dug into flesh. Wordless bellows filled the air as he lashed out at the Beast, tearing and punching and clawing and biting until his mouth was filled with blood and it caked beneath his fingernails. 

Yet the damned Beast wouldn’t die.

“You can’t get rid of me, Dimitri,” it whispered, and Dimitri screamed as he grabbed its head, trying to break its filthy neck. Yet it wouldn’t snap, wouldn’t budge an inch , and tears streamed down his face as he picked up its head, slamming it into the ground over and over again. “You can’t get rid of yourself.” 

“Silence!” he screamed. There should be blood on those stones beneath it, brain matter speckled below.

But the Beast just laughed, that sickening noise that paralyzed him with fear. “Don’t you remember, Dima?” And Dimitri shivered as it rose up beneath him, bloodstained lips moving by his ear. “I am all you can ever be.”

And when Dimitri howled, the Beast dissolved into ashes. 

Dimitri.

He whirled around, looking at the trembling woman lying on the seared stones, listening to her ragged breath.

Dimitri, you need to wake up.

His hands ached, his chest ached, his side ached, as he crawled towards her, weeping. “P-Please,” he breathed, reaching out a hand. “Please, I… I’m coming.” 

It’s just a dream, Dimitri.

“I’ll reach you,” he choked out, his leg dragging against the charred ground. “I’ll reach you, I promise—”

Wake up.

“Don’t go, don’t die, don’t go—”

“Wake up!”

It felt like falling: his stomach rising into his throat, his body pitching backwards, his heart pounding like how he’d beaten the Beast’s head against the ground in his frenzy. Something pressed against his chest, crushing him, and he screamed as he smashed it away. He couldn’t breathe, couldn’t see, couldn’t—

“Dimitri…”

When his vision cleared and he could finally breathe, he looked about in confusion.

Moonlight filtered through the rough canvas of a tent, illuminating its humble furnishings: a cot in the corner, its blankets tossed aside; a portable desk strewn with papers; and his own cot, creaking under his weight as he trembled, cold sweat soaking through his clothes.

And in front of him, doubled over in pain as she clutched her arm, stood Byleth. 

“Professor?” he whispered, his voice hoarse. “What…?”

And then he understood, and it felt like the blood in his veins had turned to ice water.

She was the weight on his chest. Trying to wake him from his nightmare, no doubt. And he’d struck her. Just as he had in— oh holy Seiros, he’d struck her in his sleep. Consciously, he broke bones with ease; unconsciously…

“You’re awake,” she breathed out, and though her voice was steady, his mouth filled with bile as he saw how she cradled her arm. Was it broken? Mangled? He’d done so much worse, and the thought of his knuckles stained with her blood — he frantically felt at them, but they were dry. 

“It’s okay,” she whispered soothingly, drawing close to him, and he whimpered as she released her arm to reach out a hand to him. “It’s okay, Dimitri. It’s over. It’s done now; you’re awake.” His heart almost eased at her voice, so soft yet warm against the chill of the night and his dreams.

And then her fingertips brushed against his hands. His large, dangerous, violent hands.

“No!” 

Byleth flinched back as he fled from her touch, the canvas of the tent soaking up the sweat from his back as he pressed himself against it. He had to put as much space between her and the threat as possible. “Don’t… Don’t touch me,” he gasped, his voice breaking as hot tears slid down his cheeks. 

“I’m sorry.” 

Goddess, she apologized so much, and for what? Affection? Kindness? He wanted to retch. 

“N-No.” His voice shook so much, his throat so raw he had to fight to get words out. “No, please…” He was torn between fleeing and prostrating himself before her. Sharing a tent was a mistake. Neither of them would get peaceful rest like this, not with him around. “You… You shouldn’t touch me. I’ll… I’ll hurt you.” That was all he could do: hurt people closest to him, drive them to danger and harm and death. And Byleth, goddess protect her, she was so close to him. So incredibly close, as if she had been with him since birth and he simply hadn’t known it for the longest time.

Which was why she had to stay away from him, him and his murderous hands and his rage that could hurt people even when he didn’t want to, when he didn’t mean to.

He expected her to protest, to say that he wasn’t dangerous, you’re not a wild animal, Dimitri. Yet, mercifully, she stayed silent, simply standing there as he tried to push back his tears. 

Then: “It will only bruise.” 

His breath hitched.

Byleth returned her hand to where she’d been nursing her arm, but instead of cradling it, soft white light glowed beneath her fingers. It burned his eye, but it was over blessedly quick. And when she raised her skin and his eye could see in the darkness again, there was no mark. Her flesh was whole again.

“Did you mean it?” she asked softly, taking a step towards him. “To strike me?”

He swallowed painfully. “No… No.” Never, not in a thousand years would I ever want to hurt you.  

A soft smile graced her lips. “Then there is nothing to forgive.” She stood there for a moment, then gestured to the far end of the cot, opposite where he sat in a jumbled heap of sweaty limbs. “May I sit?”

His heart still throbbed, his skin tingling with weakened adrenaline. But… No, it was safe. So he nodded, making sure to scoot to the very end of the cot.

Carefully, with the grace of a trained warrior, Byleth sat opposite him, her legs crossed as she balanced on the end of the cot. For a moment, they were still, and Dimitri felt oddly as if they were cat and mouse, each one waiting for the other to make their move. But who was the cat and who was the mouse?

Then: “Would it help if I sang for you?”

He froze. Byleth had hummed for him, that awful night in Fhirdiad when he’d knelt at her feet and sobbed into her lap. Twice more he’d sought for that same healing, but she’d only hummed. Never sang. 

“I…” He swallowed, sniffled, then nodded. “I would like that very much.” 

Byleth nodded herself, closed her eyes. Then paused. He stared at her in confusion — was she nervous? Embarrassed about singing to a man like a mother soothing her child?

And then — hesitantly, her voice wobbling — she sang, and it was as if someone had reached out and wrapped a blanket around his shoulders. 

“Here, a goddess of happiness cries, and in this timeless lullaby…” Her eyes closed as she began, her fingers drumming the slow beat against her thighs. “Sings her song of the dreams she has — the sadness fills her eyes.”

Fresh tears fell down his cheeks, though he didn’t know if it was from the dream or her voice anymore. Yet, he could feel the tension in his muscles fading away, his legs stretching out along the cot as he listened.

“End of life, time is gone; no more dreams to dream about, so life is done. If it’s so, cut the thread: it’s time to let it go.” And softly, she hummed the tune once more, a quiet interlude. Dimitri felt as if there should be a harp playing somewhere, accompanying her voice. His arms sagged down, his head soon following suit.

“Tears, they flow to the thirst of the gods, the ocean’s roars drowned out by rain…” Strangely, Byleth hesitated, and when she continued, her voice cracked. “Blameless child carries on alone… the silence now surrounds her.”

Somehow, she was so close to him now. He could feel the warmth radiating from her, and her lips curled up into a weary smile as she patted her thighs once. An invitation.

A part of him still whispered dangerous, dangerous Dimitri, you know what you are. But when he looked at how her lips wobbled, at how her hands clenched and unclenched into fists, he couldn’t refuse her. Slowly — well, as slowly as he could, considering how tired he was — he lowered his head into her lap, a shaking sigh bleeding from his lips.

“Sooner than sleeping ends, glowing rays of dawn will bring another day—” Gently, her fingers stroked his hair, and his heart eased as he settled against her legs, his own tucked up so that they didn’t fall off the edge of the cot. His eyelids felt so heavy as he listened, her voice growing steadier now.

“Turn around, and you have found a different place to dream…”

 


 

When he woke, it was to the sound of pen scratching paper. 

Slowly, his joints creaking, Dimitri sat up on the edge of the cot, blinking his good eye a few times to clear away the sleep.

“Ah, you’re awake.”

Byleth sat on the far side of the tent at a foldable table, ostensibly used as her desk. Along with quills and an inkwell were scattered sheets of paper — scouting reports, most likely. Her voice was alert, but he could sense the weariness seeping through, even without glimpsing the bags under her eyes. Yet she greeted him with a smile, and he couldn’t help but return it. Well, as best as he could, anyhow. His smiles never were quite as strong as everyone else’s — well, save for Felix, who never smiled as far as he knew. 

“I’m glad you got some sleep,” she continued, rising from her chair. “Are you feeling all right?”

“Well enough,” he rasped, running a hand through his hair to try and tame it. It flopped back down into his face, and Byleth’s lips quirked up again in amusement.

“Our strategy conference is in an hour. According to scout reports, Derdriu is heavily surrounded by Imperial forces.” Byleth’s lips pursed. “We could be facing an engagement size similar to what we encountered at Gronder Field.”

The mention of that place made the hairs on Dimitri’s neck stand on end. 

“... be at the commissary in case you need anything.” Her voice drifted back into his attention, and a lump rose in his throat as he watched her cross to the tent flap.

“She’s why Rodrigue is dead.”

No. Those were idle words from a dream, from a beastly version of himself, no less. They meant nothing.

So why were his lips parting anyway, the question already on his tongue?

“Professor?”

Byleth paused, turning to look at him. He swallowed thickly as their eyes met. “Yes?” she asked, her face relaxed, calm. It only made what he was about to ask more difficult to voice.

“The battle of Gronder Field…” He sucked in a deep breath, his hands balling into fists on his thighs. “When… Rodrigue was killed. Could you… Could you have saved him?”

A part of him wanted Byleth to not react at all, to continue to hold the cool, calm air she was so famous for. He wanted to prove the Beast wrong, to go on believing that the tragedy was his fault alone, his guilt to bear. 

When pain twinged across Byleth’s face, his heart nearly stopped. 

He expected to feel anger. Rage, perhaps, or grief. Yet he only felt numb as Byleth sat down next to him on the cot, her hands folded together in her lap. “It… isn’t a simple yes or no answer, Dimitri.” Her emerald eyes met his, and he was surprised to find fear lingering there. “Will you listen to all I have to say?”

“Yes,” he breathed. How could he not? 

For a moment, Byleth was still, her eyes closed. He wondered if he would have to prod her to begin, but then her lips parted. “I… I have a special ability, Dimitri, gifted to me by the goddess. What I am about to tell you, you will never speak of to anyone else. Not even Dedue. Can you promise me this?” 

The weight of her words stunned him for a moment, but he nodded. 

“Okay.” Her breath left her in a rush, her fingers lacing together in her lap. “I can… reverse time. In battle, I use this to save the lives of our friends and allies. When I see a situation where they could be mortally wounded or killed, I use this power to go back, to stop such things from happening.” 

A thousand questions roared in Dimitri’s mind at this revelation, the numbness of shock settling into his bones. Byleth did not look at him, but he could see the anxiety in the tension of her shoulders, the way she touched each knuckle of her hand with her index finger in a steady rhythm. She knows. She know what I’m going to ask her. 

“Then why did you not save Rodrigue?” he asked quietly. 

“I couldn’t.” 

His eyes narrowed. “But you just said that you had the power to reverse time. You could have stopped that girl from attacking us both in the first place.” 

“Yes,” Byleth murmured. “I could have. But I couldn’t.” 

He pressed his lips together, taking a steadying breath through his nose. 

“My power, it… it can only be used so much in a short span of time,” she explained, and her eyes finally met his again as she looked at him. “The battle at Gronder Field… Dimitri, it was vicious. While you were making your way towards Edelgard, we were surrounded by Imperial forces and the Alliance. Before I could talk to Claude and his forces pulled out, we suffered heavy losses. I… I used all of my pulses — my powers,” she explained when Dimitri’s brow furrowed in confusion, “to save us. When Rodrigue was attacked, I was completely drained. I couldn’t do anything.”

A lump rose in his throat at the weary look in her eyes. He hadn’t seen much of his army at Gronder Field, because he’d been so focused on finally destroying Edelgard. Yet he recognized the haunted shadows in Byleth’s face, the way her fingers laced and unlaced over and over. What she had seen was brutal enough to affect her even now. 

Could he have stopped such memories from forming if he hadn’t been so consumed with hatred?

“I wish that I could have saved him,” she continued, rising from the cot. “I truly do, Dimitri. I… I am sorry that I failed you.” She paused, as if she were about to say more, then turned to leave. 

“No.” His fingers wrapped around her wrist, and she turned at the sudden contact. His cheeks burned, but he still clung to her hand, careful to keep his grip loose. “No, Professor, I… I did not mean to make you feel as though I doubted you.” He swallowed, looking up at her from the cot. Her mint hair framed her face in soft waves, no doubt from the humidity of Alliance Territory. Despite the unkempt look she had from their long marches and camping, she was breathtaking. 

“I will admit,” he murmured, his eye flitting down from her face, “that I would have been angry if you could have saved Rodrigue. But I know that you would have a reason for not doing so. And… I trust you wholly, Byleth. With everything that I am.” Summoning up a bit of frail courage, he looked back up at her. 

To his surprise and utter delight, she was smiling. A small, weary smile. But that was enough to set his spirits soaring. 

“Nothing could change that,” he said softly, his hand giving her own a soft squeeze. “You brought me back into the light, showed me what it meant to be human again. You have never failed me, not when it most matters.” 

Was he simply imagining it, or did a flash of pink sweep across her cheeks? 

“Thank you,” she replied simply, but the warmth in her voice could have melted the thickest snowfall in Fhirdiad. “I… trust you as well, Dimitri. With everything that I am.”

Yes, he realized, staring up at her. She does. Her words from before, her furtive glances and guarded posture, told him that what she had spoken about the goddess’s power was something she had carried alone for a long time. 

“I won’t tell anyone what you told me here,” he reaffirmed to her, rising from the cot. “I promise, Professor.” 

“Thank you,” she repeated, her eyes crinkling a bit, and he swore that his heart fluttered — goddess, but she just looked so radiant when she smiled. “I appreciate that greatly.” Then, pulling her hand from his grasp, she moved to the temporary desk on the free side of the tent, picking up a stack of papers. “I’ll allow you to prepare for the day. See you at breakfast?” 

“Of course,” he replied, watching as she departed through the tent flap. Rays of the morning sun cut through the darkness as it opened, then closed. For a moment he simply stood there, thinking back on her words — both about her divine powers and Rodrigue. 

It certainly explains much, he mused as he moved back to his cot to change into his arming doublet and leggings. His professor always had a knack on the battlefield, and he had attributed that to her time as a mercenary and her practical experience — but sometimes she had acted like she knew exactly what the enemy would do: what tactics they would use, what weapons, even their more minute movements. It had unnerved him sometimes, and rumors had spread that somehow their professor was clairvoyant. 

In a way, that was true. After all, she could see the future. 

His back creaked as he sat down to pull on his boots, unlacing the tops, and he grimaced at the twinge of pain. Sleeping on a cot wasn’t good for his back, and it couldn’t be good for Byleth’s either — especially with her time spent caring for him after his nightmares. He hummed out a few notes as he thought back to the night before, her fingers in his hair as she sang. A sad song, he thought, buckling on greaves and gauntlets. But it fit him, he supposed. 

At her side, he had found another place to dream. 

Chapter Text

Avenge us, son. Save us.

We still ache. We still bleed. 

Your Highness! Please!

We need you…

When his eyes cracked open, Dimitri felt his head ache. 

It was not an unfamiliar feeling. He’d dealt with the headaches ever since Duscur, and only Dedue knew of how severe they were. Oftentimes his friend begged him for rest, but even he did not understand that the dead would not leave him be. Rest was impossible when the voices whispered, begging him for relief, for retribution. As long as he heard their cries, his head would ache and sleep would escape him.

Somehow, his beloved professor knew that. 

He let out a heavy breath, raising a hand to his forehead to push back his hair. She hadn’t appeared in his dreams tonight. The Beast had decided to leave him be, it seemed. It would return, but for now, Dimitri welcomed the respite. His hands still trembled and his head still ached, but he wasn’t overwhelmed with the horrible fear of losing someone still alive. Someone so dear to him, so precious—

A soft, yet sharp, shuddering breath made his heart freeze in his chest. 

Slowly, he sat up on his bed, awkwardly wedged to the side of Byleth’s room. They’d continued the same arrangement on their military excursions here in the monastery. Dedue slept in his dormitory room now, despite his protests. Rumors had spread, as they were wont to do, but when friends who came to visit Byleth for tea found two beds instead of just one, most of them seemed to be appeased. Sylvain was the lone — and most teasing — exception. 

It had flustered him, hearing the whispers of soldiers wondering whether relations between the heir apparent of Faerghus and the former professor were intimate or not. He’d nearly gone back to sleeping in his own chambers, if only to spare Byleth the shame and scorn of those with closed minds. 

“It doesn’t matter,” she had said one afternoon as battle drills had finished, her hands closed around a mug of tea. “We both know why you stay with me. The others can think how they wish.” 

“I suppose,” he had agreed feebly at the time, sipping his own mug. But, his heart had whispered, you deserve so much better than side-eyed glances and crass whisperings from soldiers. It angered him to see how her kindness and compassion was rewarded. 

Yet he stayed with her. 

And as he looked up, his heart leapt into his throat. 

Byleth sat on the edge of her bed, her body bent over as if she were in pain. Trembling fingers grasped the blankets at her sides, her shoulders quivering. 

“Byleth,” he breathed, shoving aside his own blanket. In half a moment he knelt in front of her, his hands hesitantly reaching for… what, he didn’t know. “What’s wrong? Are you in pain?” Had she hidden some wound from a skirmish? Had some bandit snuck in and poisoned her food? Had she fallen ill? Mercedes had to be available at this hour, or Professor Manuela — he could be at either of their rooms in a few minutes, but would that be too much time? 

“Oh.” His heart pounded as Byleth lifted her head, and when he caught sight of her face, his breath left him in a rush. 

Tears shone on her cheeks, reflecting the cold light of the stars. 

“I’m sorry, Dimitri,” she murmured, her voice hitching as she lifted her hand. His chest ached as her fingers ran through his hair reflexively, a comforting gesture. Yet it was painfully clear that she had no comfort to give. “I didn’t mean to wake you.” 

“Never mind that,” he said, shaking his head as he grasped her hand in his own. “Is it an illness? Or a wound? I can get Mercedes—”

“No, nothing like that.” Her free hand reached up to her cheeks, hastily wiping away the tears. “Just… Just a bad dream is all.” 

A bad dream? His eye widened at the words. Somehow, he’d simply figured that Byleth was immune to such things. A trained mercenary, a capable warrior, she…

She was human. Just like him.

And the sight of her tears tore at his heart. 

She did not sob, but they still flowed nonetheless. It was an eerie sight, seeing her just sitting there in silence. Despite his presence, she looked so alone, sitting on the edge of her bed.

So, his movements slow as to not startle her, he sat with her. 

The mattress creaked under their combined weight, dipping down. Dimitri looked at her furtively, unsure of what to do. What in the world could he say to comfort her? Unlike her, he was not a naturally affectionate man. His hands were thick and scarred, not small and warm like her own. Comforting words didn’t come to him so easily. And the sight of Byleth crying… it was starting to scare him. Such a strong display of emotion from her belied a pain he wasn’t sure he knew the depth of. 

Seiros, let me help her, he prayed silently, his stomach knotting itself.

“The first time I cried in my life was when I lost my father,” Byleth whispered suddenly, breaking the silence. 

Dimitri stared down at her, though he could only see the top of her head from his perspective. For the first time in his life, he cursed his height; he wanted to see her face clearly, try and catch a glimpse of the emotions undoubtedly playing out on her face. Everyone whispered and called her the Ashen Demon for having no emotions, but Dimitri knew better. His beloved professor possessed emotions, she just… displayed them differently. 

“I never cried before then. Not from pain, not from loneliness or grief or anything like that. I suppose I never felt an emotion so deeply before that moment in time. It… caught me off guard.” She swallowed, and he heard a sniffle as she moved her hand to wipe at her nose. “It still does. I… I miss him, Dimitri. He… He understood me so well. Even when we had our disagreements, even when I tried to tell a joke and it fell flat on its face, he… he never stopped caring about me. Somehow, I always knew he loved me. And he knew that I cared.”

“You did,” he murmured, his hand stretching out to her own. His fingers wrapped around her own, and his heart trembled. Goddess, it was just so small in his grasp. “And of course he knew, Professor. We all did.”

A bitter chuckle escaped her. “Not all. Leonie—” She cut herself off strangely, though Dimitri knew of the young girl’s ire towards Byleth. It was no secret the conversation the two had shortly after Jeralt’s death, with Leonie accusing his professor of not caring enough for her father. 

At the time, he’d wanted to shove the girl against the wall and scream at her for her foolishness. As it was now, he swallowed down such feelings. His role was not to feel anger for Byleth, but to listen, as she had listened to him. 

“I still wonder,” she whispered, her voice trembling now, and his grasp around her hand tightened. “Did he… Did he die wondering if I loved him?”

Oh, Professor.

He always wondered why Byleth had tried so hard to sway him from his self-destructive course when she’d first returned. For so long, she’d tried to drag him back to the light, never giving up no matter his threats or his rampages or his sickening behavior. She’d never stopped trying, and at first he thought it simple compassion and determination. It hadn’t mattered to him at that moment — after all, she could not understand the pressures of the dead, the way they clawed at him and screamed their dying regrets. 

Now he realized: she had understood. She’d been tied to the dead as well. She knew that pain of words unsaid, of moments cruelly cut short. She knew the guilt of continuing to live while those closest loved ones could not.

“Prof—” He cut himself off. “Byleth.” His heart ached when she looked up at him, her green eyes nearly glowing in the dark with their brilliant shine. Her tears still flowed, but even without them he could see the grief etched into her face: her lips pressed together firmly, her brows slanted upwards, her nose blotchy red, her gaze unable to stay in one place. An impulse took over him in that moment, and he released her hand to brush her cheeks with his knuckles. They came back wet, but he continued the motion, drying her face. 

“You once told me to live for what I believed in,” he said softly, a lump rising in his throat as he looked down at her. “That the dead should hold no more sway over me. I… I know firsthand how hard it is to carry that burden. I do not wish for you to carry it as well.” Gently, he finished wiping her tears. Then, in a moment of boldness, he pressed his hand to her cheek, cupping the side of her face. “I believe,” he said softly, “that Jeralt knew that you loved him. And even if he did not then, he knows it now.” 

Byleth simply stared at him for a long moment, and his cheeks flushed as he stared back down at the ground. Who was he to lecture her? A brutish monster who had lost himself in hatred, parroting her own lessons back to her like a self-righteous child?

“Thank you, Dimitri.”

The warmth of her hand wrapping around his caught him off guard, and he lifted his gaze to see a tiny smile on her lips. “You’re right,” she whispered, and though her voice was unsteady, she shed no more tears. “I suppose the student has become the teacher.”

“N-No,” he protested, his blush burning brighter as he looked at her. “No, Professor, I— I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have presumed—”

“It’s all right,” she said, giving his hand a little squeeze, and he swore his heart stopped beating. “Honestly, Dimitri. What you said was true. I can forget my own lessons sometimes.” Her smile faded as her gaze turned to her lap. “Your words… mean a great deal to me.”

“If there is anything I can do to lessen your burden, I will do it,” he promised fervently. “You out of all of us deserve true happiness, Byleth.” He bit his lip, sliding his hand from her face to his lap. “I… I know that I’ve done little to relieve you of stress.”

“No,” she said softly. “You’re not a burden to me, Dimitri.” Her weak smile was back. “I’m just glad that you’re able to get some sleep.” 

“And you?” he murmured. 

Strangely enough, she did not answer right away, and the mood in the room darkened as she hunched over again, her hair falling in a curtain over her shoulders to cover her face. Dimitri froze, unsure of what to do. 

“I can’t sleep,” Byleth whispered. “Sometimes.”

The lump in his throat returned. “What keeps you from sleeping?” he asked — then chided himself for his thoughtlessness. 

Yet Byleth didn’t pull away from his hold, tentative as it was. “You remember,” she asked, her voice shaking again, “when you asked me about if I could stop Rodrigue’s death?”

“Yes,” he replied. He blinked — was it that memory that kept her awake at night? 

“My power to reverse time… it only works so much,” she continued, her fingers lacing together in her lap. “That day… That was the first time that my abilities ran out. The feeling… Dimitri, I panicked.” Her voice thickened, her shoulders shaking. “It… It was horrible of me, but I… I was relieved that it was Rodrigue who took the knife for you. Rodrigue instead of Ashe or Sylvain or Ingrid. Because I… I’d already seen them die.” 

A horrible chill ran down his spine at the words. “When you reversed time to save them,” he realized. 

Byleth nodded quickly. “I… I try to keep you safe. All of you. But I make mistakes, Dimitri, horrible mistakes, and—” She fell silent. “My father, when he died, I tried to save him. I turned back time, but it didn’t work. I was blocked, and he died regardless. I failed.” And when she looked up at him, he wanted to weep for her. Her sorrow before was simply sorrow: this now was fear, pain, guilt, all mixed in a portrait of pure grief upon her face. “I saw him die twice. I’ve seen all of you fall, in so many ways that it would take hours to describe them all. And each time I try to turn back the seconds, I wonder if I’m too late. If I’ve run out of pulses, or if something else will sprout up and kill you again. And again. And again.”

How long? he wondered as he stared at her, the strongest woman he knew, shaking from cold and pain and fear. How long have you been suffering this weight, alone?

Swallowing, he made up his mind. It didn’t matter how long; it would go on no longer. 

Shifting his weight, he wrapped his arm around her trembling frame, his hand pressing against the small of her back. Byleth, to his surprise, complied easily, and with a gentle motion he entwined his arms around her completely, applying the faintest pressure. A shield.

An embrace. 

“Byleth,” he breathed, and the name on his tongue was warm against the chill of the night. “I… cannot pretend to know what you’ve seen. But you have stayed by my side for so long, even when I didn’t deserve such kindness.” He swallowed as Byleth’s face pressed against his chest, her arms still limp at her sides. “I promised you, six years ago… I promised that I would stay with you to the end. I intend to keep that promise. Both here and on the battlefield.” 

She did not move, but he could tell somehow that she was listening. 

“This power from the goddess… I know it’s saved my life — our lives — multiple times. And perhaps it will continue to do so. But I… I swear to you,” and his voice thickened as his hand splayed against her back, drawing her an inch closer, “I will train harder than before. I will help lead the others. I will do everything in my power so that you do not have to see another one of us fall.” 

Byleth’s breath suddenly hitched in her throat, an audible loss of air, and Dimitri froze. Had he said something wrong? Was there truly an illness she was suffering, a wound she—

With a choked gasp, her arms were around his waist, and his eye shot wide open as she collapsed against him, crying into his chest. 

“Thank—” She sniffled, and his chest ached at the sound. “Thank you…”

“Always,” he whispered, his own arms wrapping around her snugly. With a faint blush on his cheeks, he realized how intimate their position was: Byleth in his lap, both of them intwined in a firm embrace. The feeling of her tears seeping through the thin material of his shirt was enough to stop that train of thought; she needed him, just as he had needed her. 

A lump in his throat rose as he stared down at his professor — no, Byleth. She was the one who comforted him, not the other way around. What could he do? Simply holding her didn’t seem enough. 

So, carefully and with more than a little hesitation, he placed a hand on the crown of her hair and began to slide it down towards her neck. It was an awkward motion, and he cringed as Byleth’s figure stiffened in his arms. “I’m sorry,” he whispered, moving to pull away.

“N-No.” And he blinked as she lifted his hand back up to her head again, resting it on top. “I… It helps.” 

“Very well,” he murmured, repeating the motion. This time, his fingers parted her hair, feeling the separate strands slip past. A puff of air hit his chest, and he smiled as he recognized it as a sigh. “I, um…” His hand continued to stroke her hair as he spoke. “I’m afraid I can’t sing very well.” 

Something bubbled out of Byleth’s mouth against his sternum, and he froze at the sound. It was barely more than a huff of air, but… 

A laugh. She’d laughed. His own eyes pricked with tears at the thought. 

“This is enough,” she whispered, her voice still thick and wet, and he tightened his hold reflexively. “Thank you.” 

He made no reply except to rest his chin on her head. With that small motion, he realized as he looked down that Byleth was practically gone, enfolded in a cage of limbs. Has she always been this small? he thought, his other hand running up and down her spine, fingers tracing the bumps of her vertebrae. Byleth always held herself tall, her presence almost larger than life as she directed war meetings and discussed weapons and strategy. It was such a contrast to the woman he held in his arms now, still trembling against him. 

He adored them both. 

As the minutes passed, Byleth’s shoulders grew more and more steady, her breathing evening out. Dimitri’s own eyelid drooped as he pressed his cheek to her hair, fingers still combing through the soft pale strands. The words to a lullaby his nursemaid had crooned in childhood ran through his mind as he felt Byleth’s soft exhales against his chest: Hush, my darling, dry your tears. There’s no need for lonesome fears. The day is done, the night has come…

You’re in my arms where you belong.

 


 

When morning did come, Dimitri did not wake alone. 

Somehow, sleep had managed to push the two of them down to rest on the mattress instead of remain sitting. He was glad for that — his back wasn’t aching from the strain — but his heart pounded as he realized what was going on.

He was in his professor’s bed, holding her in his arms as she slept. 

His whole face felt on fire as he watched her shoulders rise and fall beneath his arm with each breath. This was a thousand times worse than what had happened in Fhirdiad, and even that memory still singed his cheeks red. Goddess, what have I done? What… What am I going to do? Clearly, the correct answer was to escape from his professor’s bed and leave her to sleep in peace. But when he tried to move, Byleth’s eyes cracked open, and he froze in terror. 

“P-Professor,” he stammered, feeling very much like a rabbit trapped in a hutch. 

Yet Byleth only blinked a few times, her emerald eyes growing clear as she focused on his face. “Oh. Good morning, Dimitri,” she said softly. 

The moment felt so uncannily natural that Dimitri almost relaxed. Almost.

Wordlessly, Byleth sat up, scooting to the edge of the bed to sit and give him room to breathe. He followed suit, his back pressed against the wall. A thousand words hovered on the tip of his tongue, but he had no idea what to say. An apology? An explanation?

Instead, Byleth spoke first. “Dimitri, thank you. For last night.” 

Silently, he nodded. 

And then, softly, she smiled. “I didn’t mean to cause you distress. Did you sleep?”

“Y-Yes,” he stuttered. “And y-you, Professor?”

Her smile only widened. “I am no longer your professor, Dimitri.” 

For some reason, that fact struck him in the face like an open-handed slap. He simply nodded dumbly. Then: “Did you… sleep? Byleth?”

Slowly, she nodded, and he felt an odd sense of pride at how relaxed her posture was. No tense shoulders, no fingers fidgeting. “Thanks to you, yes. I haven’t slept so well in… a very long time.” Rising from the bed, she stretched her arms out in front of her. “Perhaps we should do this again sometime.”

Dimitri could only describe the sound that came out of his mouth as a whimper. 

Byleth simply grinned, shaking her head. “I was joking, Dimitri. After all, we know how badly the rumors would spread.”

“Of course.” Goddess, could he flush any deeper? 

“But in all seriousness, thank you,” Byleth said, bowing her head. “I… deeply appreciate how you’ve been by my side.” 

“As you have been by mine,” he replied softly. 

Her smile was small, but he felt as if it could match the sun in its radiance. “I’ll leave you to prepare for the day.” Carefully, she gathered up a bundle of clothes, stacking them on top of a towel — he swallowed hard as he realized she was heading for the sauna. “I’ll see you at breakfast, Dimitri.”

“Dima.” 

Byleth blinked, turning to look back at him. Her brilliant emerald eyes reflected confusion, but also warmth. He thought in that moment that if he stared too long, he could get lost in them forever. 

“It was… what my closest family members called me,” he explained softly. “If it wouldn’t be inappropriate… I would like it if you chose to call me by that name.”

Byleth blinked twice, and he flushed again, staring down at his lap. What are you doing?

“Dima.” And the way she said it made his heart flutter. When he looked up, she was already to the door. But she turned to look back at him, giving him a little nod of her head. “I’ll see you at breakfast, Dima.” 

When he sat down in the dining hall a few minutes later, he was still smiling.

Chapter Text

The wind bit at his face, but Dimitri stood firm, unmoving. 

He could see the Beast prowling in the dark, its form silhouetted by the burning ruins of Duscur. It lurked just out of throwing range of a spear, shuffling back and forth in the snow. Now more than ever, he cursed his half-sight: with the limited field of vision, he feared that somehow the Beast would slip past his defenses. His grip on Areadbhar tightened, his eye narrowing. 

Within the folds of his cloak, warmth shifted at his side, and his heart slowed. Safe.

Then, the Beast growled, and he hissed in a cold breath, his left arm pressing the warmth wrapped in his cloak close. His instincts told him to run, at least back away to put more space between him and it. But he stood his ground. Did love or terror root him there? He didn’t know. 

The Beast let out another growl, a whine of frustration as its cloak trailed blood behind it. Red snow, once white. It didn’t carry Areadbhar this time, just a broken spear that bore bloody stains. Always bloody, always full of fury. Hovering in the distance, Dimitri could barely make out the details of its figure, though he already knew them. Still, he could sense the rage it carried like a foul stench, wafting between them. And despite himself, he trembled. Not from the cold. He had been this thing, this warped shadow, and it was as if he stared at himself through a cracked mirror. If it were not for the person sheltered in his cloak, he would still be only that thing: a corpse haunted by ghosts, a true Beast. 

“It’s all right, Dima.” 

Warmth wrapped around his hand, strong yet fragile fingers clasping his own. As he looked down, glowing green eyes met his own, her soft smile radiant against the dark. He couldn’t help but tug his cloak tighter around her, shielding her from the cold and the Beast’s gaze. 

“Together,” she whispered, her arm moving beside his, bracing his grip on Areadbhar.

He smiled wanly, then lifted his gaze back up to the Beast. 

“You…” It growled, an inhuman sound, and Dimitri’s skin prickled at the noise. “You think you can destroy me?” 

Her fingers rested over his own, and the fear in his stomach settled. 

“No,” he answered truthfully. “I cannot.” 

It was the answer he had never wanted to hear, but the only one that was true. He could not kill the Beast. It would always be inside of him, clawing at the dark matter of his brain, howling for release. His younger self had wished to cut it out entirely, like poison festering inside of a wound.

The warmth at his side had taught him otherwise: not to cut out, but to temper, to tame. 

The Beast laughed, drawing closer, and Dimitri’s breath caught despite himself. “You are afraid,” it hissed, its bloody trail painting a swath across the snow. “You fear me.” 

He had. 

“No,” he breathed, and the warmth at his side smiled once more. “I am more than you ever can be.” 

And the Beast howled, a vicious cry that rattled Dimitri’s bones and threw back his cloak, exposing her to the elements and its savagery. But she stayed still, green eyes aflame against the frigid wind. “Get ready,” she whispered. 

Screaming and snarling, the Beast charged towards them, and he closed his eye, bracing for the attack. Warmth tingled up his arm from his hand straight to his heart, and when he heard the footsteps drawing close, his eye snapped open, his teeth bared.

The Beast jumped.

Dimitri shifted, planting one foot behind the other. 

And it screamed as Areadbhar tore through flesh, muscle, and bone. 

Blood ran down the shaft, and Dimitri squeezed his eye shut at the scent. Once, he drowned himself in blood, like the Beast. No more. He could feel its body slide down the shaft, its own weight pulling it down, down, down to death.

But when he opened his eye, the Beast did not stare back at him. 

“I… knew you would… end me one day,” Edelgard rasped, her hands grasping his own. Bile rose in his throat as she stared at him, her violet eyes boring into his own. “B-But I… I wanted us to… to live together…” 

Tears built in his eye as he watched his stepsister take a final breath, then shudder into his arms. 

Dima…

“I…” He swallowed thickly, his gloved fingers brushing against Edelgard’s face. “I tried to reach you, El. I tried…” 

Dima, wake up.

"I'm sorry."

Wake up.

When he opened his eye for good, he stared up at the ceiling, tears trailing down his cheeks. 

“Shh…” Warm fingers danced across his cheeks, wiping them gently, and he shifted his head to see Byleth at his side. Her hair framed her face in a soft curtain of mint, her nightgown’s sleeve slipped down her arm to reveal one shoulder. Despite the pain in his chest, he smiled as the ring he’d given her two years ago shone in the moonlight. His own fingers caught that hand, bringing it to his lips. 

“Did I wake you?” he whispered, his voice hoarse as he rolled on his side. His hand fell to her hip, the material of her nightgown soft beneath his palm. 

She nodded, but her lips were curved up in a benevolent smile. “It’s all right.” Her fingers returned to his face, pushing back limp strands of hair. He sighed in relief as she started to stroke his scalp, chasing away the headache looming behind his eyes. “I’m here, love,” she murmured, and he couldn’t help but draw closer to her, his nose brushing against her breast as she curled around his body. “I’m here.” 

He nodded, savoring the feeling of her ministrations, grounding himself in the moment as best he could. The voices still picked at his ears, whispering. Edelgard’s joined them now, asking why, why, why did you do it Dimitri, why couldn’t you save me—

Byleth’s lips pressed to his forehead, dispelling their cries, and Dimitri smiled weakly as she began to hum. Her chest vibrated with the sound, and he pressed his ear to the place where her heart would beat. Despite no pulse thrumming against him, her warmth seeped into his cheek, whispering alive alive alive, I am here, Dima. His eye fluttered closed, and he pressed a kiss to the whole skin there, running his hand up and down her side.

She was the greatest treasure that the goddess had chosen to bless him with: his professor, his savior, his wife, his beloved. 

His guard against the cold.