Byleth’s personal quarters hadn’t changed much from their academy days. It was still surprisingly neat for a mercenary, almost spartan. Her desk was still covered in sorted stacks of paperwork, albeit military reports instead of student essays. But there were personal touches. The Blue Lions brooch Dimitri had gotten her for her birthday gleamed on her nightstand. Some flowers she’d grown in the greenhouse added a splash of color. And of course, there was the table set up in the middle, covered in a gleaming white cloth and holding an assortment of snacks in preparation for tea time.
The room hadn’t changed, but Dimitri had. He wasn’t a young man clinging to ideals any longer, but a monster only just relearning how to be human. He felt too large for his chair, legs too long and shoulders too broad. His mantle spilled onto the floor. He was taking up all the space, and he didn’t understand why Byleth didn’t seem bothered by it.
“Because I wanted you to come over,” she said when he asked. She was going through the motions of brewing the tea, setting down the kettle, bringing the vase of flowers over for a touch of the aesthetic. Her hands were steady and sure. Dimitri couldn’t stop staring at them. They’d been so warm, so gentle, as they held him in the rain. Even now, his fingers twitched against his thighs with the urge to take them.
Goddess, he felt like a teenager again. A memory resurfaced, of the first time Byleth had invited him to tea. He hadn’t yet realized how hard he’d fallen for her—that wouldn’t come until he first saw her smile—but the foundations of his feelings had certainly been present. All he’d known was that he was going to be alone with her in a social setting, and that had made his nerves so strong he’d broken his teacup. He’d been mortified. But all she’d done was hand him a towel and tell him to clean up while she replaced it.
Those feelings paled in comparison to the depths of the ones he felt now. She was no longer just the pretty, talented mercenary-turned-professor. She was his trusted friend, his bastion, his light. She was beautiful inside and out. She supported him and understood him, and he would fight the eternal flames themselves if it meant protecting her.
Byleth finished pouring the tea and slipped into the opposite seat. Dimitri’s hands carefully cradled his teacup. An old spike of fear at handling delicate things stabbed him; then, half-forgotten memories of how to hold it without breaking it returned. His grip became marginally more relaxed. Sniffing, he detected the familiar scent of chamomile. The corners of his mouth tilted up. She remembered my favorite…
Dimitri raised it to his lips, taking a long drink. Though he couldn’t taste it, the tea was hot against his tongue. He relished it. He’d had nothing but cold and darkness for too long. He caught a glimpse of Byleth’s smile as she watched him. There was something infinitely soft and new about it, and his breath caught. Still as mesmerizing as ever…
He took a breath to speak, held it, held it longer. Let it out without words. It had been years since Dimitri had enjoyed basic human interaction. He’d developed bad habits in eating, hadn’t exercised self-care, and forgotten how to hold a civil conversation. He was trying so desperately to recall his table manners and whether he’d combed his hair that his brain simply couldn’t think of anything to say.
Byleth finished her pastry, took a sip of tea, and leaned back in her chair. Her eyes bored into his, and though Dimitri thought himself to be good at reading her face, this time her expression was inscrutable. Finally, she said, “I’ve been reading reports on the training of our newest recruits. Would you like to hear about the gambit they’ve developed?”
“Yes, please,” he said, relieved.
She’d chosen her topic well. Combat training would always interest him, and in no time at all they’d fallen into their old teatime banter. His table manners returned naturally as his body remembered what to do. Dimitri felt the tension drain out of him. Attending a social event was like getting back on a horse; the knowledge could fade, but it never really left.
Time slipped by as Dimitri sank into the feeling of happiness that came with being in Byleth’s presence. Their cups emptied, refilled. He snuck glances at her when she wasn’t looking. She even pulled a laugh or two from him with her disarmingly dry sense of humor. If he hadn’t already been in love with her, he would have fallen just for that.
And goddess, the way the light caught in her mint hair just now…
He stole another peek at her, just in time to see her glance down. Almost as if—
No. Surely not. He had no right to expect anything to come of his feelings. It was enough that she had looked at the monster he’d been and still seen someone worth saving.
To distract himself from such wishful thinking, Dimitri began to pour himself another cup. When he filled it to the brim, the kettle felt suspiciously light. With a frown, he checked inside. There was only a little left at the bottom. He’d have to make this his last cup.
“Go ahead and drink as much as you like,” Byleth said, guessing his thoughts in that uncanny way of hers. “I can make more.”
Dimitri didn’t believe that. Byleth was an avid tea drinker; it wasn’t uncommon for her to have tea with at least one of her former students once a week, if not more often. And with the war going on... “That’s kind of you, but we should be frugal. I’m sure getting your hands on more tea leaves can’t be easy in these times.”
“It isn’t, but I’ve been saving chamomile for a while. It’s your favorite; I didn’t want to run out.”
The implications of that hit Dimitri in the gut, solid as a gauntleted punch. He paused, cup halfway to his mouth.
Not only had she invited him back for their tea times, she’d been storing his favorite flavor, just for him. She hadn’t just wanted him to come back; she’d waited for him to come back. Believed he would.
The cup clanked a little too loudly when he set it back down, his hand trembling.
He didn’t deserve this. He already knew that, of course, but he hadn’t seen the scale of how much she cared for him. Just being near her was more than he deserved, never mind all this.
Byleth’s brow furrowed slightly. “Dimitri?”
“Professor…” He grabbed the old title, hid behind it like a shield. All the things he wanted to say pressed against his lips, yearning to escape. And yet, he couldn’t speak from sheer emotion. To his horror, Dimitri felt his eye grow a little wet.
Her eyes widened slightly—she was alarmed. “Something’s wrong. Do you feel unwell?”
“No, no. I, it’s just, this is too much…” And now he was rambling. He closed his eye to hide the tears building up, took a deep breath, shoved everything back down. “I don’t deserve such kindness.”
“Don’t say that. You’ve suffered enough, Dimitri.”
She rested her hand on top of his, and his heart leapt into his throat. He longed to take his glove off and press his palm to hers. Her hands looked so much smaller than his, but he couldn’t imagine them as delicate. Not when she was so strong.
“But, to sit here and drink tea with you again…when my hands drip with blood…when you offered me nothing but kindness, and I treated you so poorly…”
“Dimitri.” His name was said in her ‘look at me this instant’ tone of voice. He obeyed it. Her mint eyes were warm, open, pleading. “I would go through all of it again if it meant I could have this moment, here and now.”
And once again, the air was knocked out of him. Dimitri didn’t think he’d ever heard Byleth make such a bold declaration. It could even be construed as--
No, no. Stop.
“You’re truly a blessing,” he said, after taking a moment to swallow the lump in his throat. She was too kind, by the goddess. “I don’t have the words to express how grateful I am to have you in my life.”
Something flickered in her gaze, though he couldn’t say what. Then shutters clapped over her eyes, and it was gone. “Every one of us cares about you. I’m hardly special.”
No, you don’t understand. He choked the words down. He couldn’t imagine she’d be happy to know a monster loved her. It would surely make her uncomfortable. Perhaps someday, when he’d made some progress on his atonement, he could tell her his true feelings without disgusting her. But now—no.
The warmth of her hand retreated, and Dimitri blinked, pulled out of his head. Byleth was rising, taking the kettle and moving away to brew another pot. She shot him a stern look to preemptively silence any protests he may have made. He exhaled, long and slow. His hand still tingled from her touch.
By chance or by choice, Byleth took long enough for Dimitri to regain his composure and calm his churning emotions. So, when she returned with the kettle, his vision was clear and his racing heart had slowed. She poured and handed a second cup to him. Their fingers brushed, and though he longed for more, Dimitri still felt at peace.
Yes. This was enough.