Dimitri jumps back, avoiding the blade slicing through the air where he stood seconds before. Gears whir in his brain as his eyes scan for even a sliver of an opening—every puff of breath comes out heavy, and sweat clings to his neck and back like a second skin. He doesn’t know how long it’s been exactly, but all signs point to “long enough.” He needs a quick finish.
The chance he needs comes in the form of a split second of hesitation from his opponent as he draws the sword back to his chest. Dimitri dives forward, thrusting his lance at his opponent’s stomach, pointed tip ready to slice through fabric and pierce into flesh—
Until he pulls back, slowing down the momentum of the lance until its tip just barely pokes its target. “Well fought, Claude,” Dimitri says, wiping the sweat from his forehead. “You’ve improved, I see.”
“Thanks for your pity, your Princeliness.” Claude flashes him a trademark grin, sliding the sword back into the sheath at his waist. His hair is equally tousled and slicked with sweat, which he attempts to remedy by haphazardly running his hands through it. “How many times do you have to say “You’ve improved, Claude—” (here, his voice goes down an octave and drips with mockery) “—before I actually manage to beat you?”
“You can’t assume that you haven’t improved merely because you haven’t managed to beat me,” Dimitri protests. “Also, I hope I don’t sound that insincere whenever I offer a compliment.”
“You can make it up to me by going to the shooting range one day and letting me give you some pointers.”
“I’ll have to decline.” He doesn’t doubt Claude’s archery skills—far from it, since he was there to witness Claude’s prowess firsthand the night they met—but the few times he’s picked up an arrow he’s snapped them in half, and they don’t make steel arrows like they do lances or swords.
“You wound me, but alas.” Claude shakes his head. “And speaking of wounding, I’m glad that didn’t happen this time around. You had me for a second, though, at the last second. I was sure it would run straight through me.”
“On a battlefield, it would have.”
“It did last week, and if I remember correctly, we weren’t on a battlefield then.”
Claude, as Dimitri knows, is referring to the injury Dimitri had inflicted on him during their last training session. The fact that he hadn’t had the control and precision to draw back at the right moment hurt Dimitri’s pride more than it had physically hurt Claude. He had waved off Dimitri’s profuse apologies at the time—the wound was fresh and oozing; Claude had been forced to press a hand to the growing bloodstain at his hip—so Dimitri can only assume that his mention of the incident now comes from a place of teasing rather than actual bitterness. Dimitri chooses to respond in turn. “I’d hardly consider a flesh wound to be the equivalent of a fatal injury.”
“An injury to my heart.”
Dimitri’s face immediately begin to burn as he tries to formulate a suitable response, but half the words get stuck in his throat and he instead ends up sounding like a blubbering idiot. The worst thing about these training sessions, ever since they started a few weeks back, is that Claude has figured out that Dimitri is rather easily flustered—especially at offhand, flirtatious comments.
It’s a new discovery, even for Dimitri himself. He would’ve assumed he’d grown accustomed to such things while in Sylvain’s presence, but he realizes being the target of such comments is a rather different experience from being in mere earshot of them. Unfortunately for him, there’s nothing Claude loves more than catching people off-guard.
And, as expected, the corners of the trickster’s mouth twitch upward at Dimitri’s visible distress. “Anyways, what was my slip-up this time?”
Dimitri clears his throat, trying to get his blush back under control. “A lack of seriousness, as usual. But to be specific, your uptake is a little slow after you attack—”
“Oh, wait a sec—Teach!” Claude shouts, waving a hand to the woman dashing towards them at full speed, coat flapping behind her like a cape. She comes to a stop, not a hair out of place—as if she hadn’t just dashed across the whole of the courtyard to reach them—and gives them both an acknowledging nod.
Dimitri hasn’t interacted with Professor Byleth all too much, due to his house being led by Hanneman, but the times she’d stopped to talk to him have been nothing but pleasant. Then again, she’d never approached him at the speed of a rampaging bull before. But Claude—whose house is led by Byleth, and thus has the most interactions with her out of the three house leaders—keeps chattering like nothing is out of the ordinary. Dimitri has no choice but to follow suit.
“So, what brings you here, Teach?”
Byleth digs in her pockets, then pulls out a letter. Intricate edges, a pinkish shade, and a heart stamped at the dead center—can one fault Dimitri for staring? “I have a letter for you.”
With deft hands, Claude swiftly deposits the letter into his pocket. “Thanks, Teach. Off to deliver more goodies to other people, I assume? Well, don’t overdo it.”
Byleth smiles and, with a parting wave, dashes away.
“I’m sure people mistake her for the official Garreg Mach delivery woman instead of a professor.” The fond chuckle that follows is warm, a warmth that leaks into the core of Dimitri’s chest and lingers there. “Sorry Dimitri, you were saying?”
“Oh—um, yes. So, your follow-up—”
Dimitri’s explanation is rushed at best and sloppy at worst, his concentration ricocheting between sword-fighting tactics, the letter in Claude’s pocket, and the chuckle that rings in his ears.
He knows it’s the thought of the letter that’s the culprit behind his inability to sleep. Its golden lining, twirling against the envelope’s edges, the laughably obvious symbolism of its light pink hue, and the heart. The stupid heart. He is almost certain that there was a hint of lavender wafting from it—or perhaps that’s the construction of his own sleep-muddled brain. But if it’s true— lavender. How dastardly.
But while the concept of a love letter is rather unfamiliar to Dimitri (not that he doesn’t or hasn’t had admirers in the past, but there’s a stark contrast between the formal requests of courting in the guise of a love letter and the amateur, emotional, over-dramatic outpouring of words he’s witnessed Sylvain compose), he’s certain that Claude’s no stranger to the idea. He must have received more than a couple by now. There’s no denying the charm that he commands with his warm, teasing nature, helped by his silver tongue and quick wit. Of course, his good looks may also play a part. Dimitri’s not blind.
A familiarity with love letters explains why Claude pocketed the letter without a single bat of his eye. Rather quick to do it, as well. He must be getting sick of them.
The thought comforts Dimitri. Weirdly. It’s unsettling. He’s unsettling himself.
The fact that this letter is bothering him as much as it is contains disturbing implications. Dimitri’s not so emotionally inept that he’s unable to identify the specific emotion that’s on his mind: it’s jealousy.
But of what? Claude’s popularity? His charm? His easy way of drawing out smiles from those around him? But Dimitri’s never been one to vie for popularity, approval, or attention—so what is it?
“Your Highness,” Dedue says, cutting off his thoughts. “You’ve barely touched your food, and you seem to be suffering from a lack of sleep. Is something the matter?”
“Ah.” Dimitri glances down at the omelette in front of him. It might as well be plastic for how little it tempts his appetite (or his lack of one). “Hunger is not tempting me much this morning, is all. Thank you for your concern, but there’s no need to worry.”
Dedue frowns, clearly worrying. “Could it be a coming sickness? Shall I escort you to Manuela?”
“There’s no need.” Dimitri’s attention is drawn away from the conversation as he spies a flash of yellow out of the corner of his eye. Sure enough, it’s Claude entering the dining hall with his usual entourage of Golden Deer, every bit his normal, jovial self. No indication of lost sleep whatsoever.
It strikes Dimitri, then, how ridiculous it is that he should be obsessing over someone else’s love letter. He feels his ears burn.
Sylvain, who had been engaged in animated conversation with a less-than-animated Felix, chooses that moment to glance in his direction. “Oh Dedue, I think Our Highness is a little sick. A little lovesick.”
Dedue remains stony-faced, brow creased with worry, clearly having dismissed Sylvain’s comment in search of a more practical answer.
Dimitri finds it hard to share his vassal’s indifference. “S-Sylvain!” he hisses, eyes glancing to Claude to ensure he hadn’t caught Sylvain’s comment (despite Claude’s seat being situated at the opposite end of the dining hall). “How could you say something so—so preposterous?”
“It’s not a completely ridiculous idea, you two have had a lot of ‘training sessions’ together—”
“At Claude’s suggestion!” Dimitri says, indignant. “That’s a public space, we couldn’t possibly—” He feels his cheeks heating up, and knows that he’s digging himself into a deeper hole, one Sylvain seems to take great joy in watching him fall into. Why do people like to tease him so. “A-and we’re set to be leaders of two different countries—”
“Who says love is logical? The heart does what it wants.” Sylvain shrugs. “No need to get so defensive, Your Highness, I was just having a bit of fun—”
“I am not being defensive!”
Despite the obvious paradox there, Sylvain raises his hands in surrender. “Yes, not defensive, certainly not. I apologize, Your Highness, and I humbly ask that you forget about this whole conversation— oh, is that Annette? Gotta go catch up to her, I’ll see you two later in class!”
After Sylvain rushes off, despite Annette being nowhere in sight, Dimitri turns to Dedue. “Did I seem defensive to you?”
Dedue, like the good friend he is, just shrugs. “I’ve heard Professor Byleth is adept at handling personal matters between students. Perhaps you should consider consulting her?”
Dimitri does not have feelings for—anyway, he doesn’t. But he is curious about the volume of love letters Claude has received in the past, whether or not such a thing is common between students, and if such love letters lead to anything significant. (The last two questions are for the sake of educating himself on the nature of this letter culture, nothing more, he tells himself.) And there seems to be no one better to answer him than the deliverer of these letters herself.
“Brilliant idea. I’ll do that this afternoon, if the Professor is free.”
Dedue nods. “Please be sure to not let your health decline any further. No matter what lingers on your heart.”
Dimitri sighs and shovels the tasteless omelette into his mouth, defeated. “I can promise you that, Dedue. It is not as big of an affair as my physical state makes it out to be, I assure you.” His eyes drift back to Claude, energetically chatting with his classmates over breakfast. How big of a headache he’s become.
Dedue glances to the side, following Dimitri’s line of sight. “If he poses any threat to you, emotional or otherwise—”
“That will definitely not be necessary!” Dimitri sputters. But he’s oddly touched. To have protection against something as trivial as (heartbreak, he almost thinks, except it hasn’t escalated to that yet, and never will) this. “But—Thank you, Dedue.”
Dedue nods, and they finish the rest of their meal in comfortable silence.