Everything felt… empty.
The darkness was palpable, almost tangible around her as if she were floating in a never-ending sea of nothingness.
How long has she been here?
Out of nowhere a force pushes against her chest. She feels a vibration through her core as if it originated from the emptiness itself and carried all the feeling from her extremities to one singular point beneath her ribcage. Like a repetitive thunder inside her chest the beating feels foreign, yet familiar, and it takes everything within her not to recoil from the feeling. A sharp pain dulls her thoughts, forcing her attention to the strange feelings that overcome her.
A memory peeks from beyond the fog of her mind and she recalls a promise.
…But to whom?
The beating becomes louder; deafening. She struggles to remember what is calling her beyond the void when a singular thought breaks through the dam, flooding her with realization and new feelings she struggles to contain.
The Millennium Festival.
And just like that, the beating stopped. Her eyes grew heavy and her mind silent as her consciousness faded into the dark oblivion.
“Silly girl, I don’t know what to do with you.”
“Honestly, How long do you intend to sleep? It’s been quite a while already and here you are resisting your own desire to awaken.”
Sothis…? But I’m still sleepy…
“You are just like a child, always needing me to hold your hand…” She says impatiently before a solemn note changes her tone, “This will be the last time I can help you. It is time for you to awaken and live the life I denied you before. Let this gift be the manifestation of my thanks for the moments I was able to spend with you. I hope you use it well.”
A warm light filtered through her lids forcing Byleth to wake. She hears something drop and footsteps hurry in her direction as she attempts to fight off the grogginess of her slumber.
“Hey! A-are you awake?!” Someone calls. Even though her body protests, she wills herself up from the edge of the river that she was lying in. She wipes her eyes and the world finally filters into view.
“Where am I?” She asks to stranger who stood before her, likely bearer of the voice she heard before.
“We’re in a village at the base of the monastery.” He replies, still unsure on whether he should be grateful or worried that she seemed unfazed by the state he found her in only moments prior. “I honestly didn’t expect to find someone floating away down the river… Garreg Mach is upstream of here, but that place was abandoned… so where could you have come from?” He continues.
Byleth ignores his question as she observes her current state. She is soaked from head to toe in river water and her body is shivering from the chill of the evening breeze. Did she fall into the river during the battle and get carried to the shore near this town? It was the only answer she could come up with at the moment. But what was that last part he mentioned…
“Abandoned?” Byleth repeats. “Is the battle already over?”
The villager looks at her as if she has grown a second head before responding with similar uncertainty. “The battle? You can't be referring to the battle of Garreg Mach, are you?”
“If that is what you are calling it then yes, we were defending against the Empire.”
His eyes widen even more, if possible, before he stutters, “Y-you must have hit your head in that river lady. That battle has been over for five years. The Empire decimated the monastery.”
“What?” Byleth’s reels from this new information. It’s been five years? What happened to her…
“What year is it?” She asks him.
“It’s the Ethereal Moon of the year 1185. Tomorrow was supposed to be the millennium festival but with the state of the monastery and the church that celebration has gone out the window.” He replies.
‘The Millennium Festival… ‘ She recalls as her breath shortens. An urgency overcomes her and she knows what she must do.
“Thank you.” Byleth responds to the villager as she turns to head to the monastery.
“W-what?! That’s it? I just found you on the side of the river unconscious and you’re spouting nonsense as if you don’t recall the last five years? You shouldn’t be walking away, you need to see a healer!” He called after her.
“I’ll be fine, Thank you for the information.” Byleth didn’t allow for the conversation to continue as she walked away from the incredulous villager and towards the monastery, hearing him sputter in her direction for a few more moments before she was gone from his sight.
Her trek took longer than she expected. Before long the night had passed and evidence of the dawn was quickly approaching. Her clothes had barely managed to dry off during her hike through the woods towards the monastery. However, her hair had not fared quite as well. It's damp edges stuck to her cheeks and neck, irritating her with every step. Once she approached the edges of the monastery proper, she finally saw the state of the buildings and grounds. Everything was overgrown and there were visible signs of wear to the buildings. It had clearly gone unused as the villager had told her. She ducked out of the forest and set her sights on her destination, looming high above Garreg Mach, before she set out on her way.
Before long she crossed the threshold of the goddess tower’s entrance, facing the long staircase to the top. It was dark and musty within the interior of the stairwell as she climbed up the never-ending stairs. Her thoughts raced as she ascended, thinking of everything she missed. What had changed, and how she could even expect any of her students to show up when she had no idea if they even survived the battle against the Empire. Feeling dread at her last thought, she pushed them away. She continued her tedious climb up the tower, acutely aware of every step she took as it tired her unused muscles.
As she reached the top of the stairs she saw a light peek through the darkness that marked the end of her ascent. Once she exited the walkway and looked into the chamber she laid eyes on a man staring out the doors to the open balcony. He stood broad and tall, tanned skin highlighted by the sun as it shone upon his form. As if he knew she would arrive at that very moment he glances in her direction. Once he sees her, a recognition flitters through his face as his eyes widen in surprise. A smile replaces his uncertain frown and her eyes are drawn to his, causing the same unbidden pressure in her chest from her dream; rhythmic and distracting.
“You overslept, Teach! Pretty rude to keep a fella waiting like that. Wouldn’t you say?”
Byleth takes a few steps closer to look at this man fully before she recognizes his term of endearment for her. It’s as if the beating in her chest both stops and begins anew.
“Claude…” She whispers. Suddenly, as if the dam finally gives in, she feels everything and it overwhelms her completely. The restless beating in her chest intensifies and it takes every ounce of her concentration to remember to breathe and stay upright. Claude seems to notice the change in her immediately as a mild concern etches itself in his brow, but he keeps his lighthearted tone as he approaches her slowly.
“Now now, someone would think you saw a ghost with the look you have on your face. If there are any ghosts around here it’s you, my friend, not me.” He chuckles lightly as he continues approaching Byleth with the warmest smile she had ever laid eyes on, but she can still see the undertones of concern in his eyes. The light filtering behind him casts an almost ethereal glow on his form and Byleth can barely take the pounding in her chest anymore.
Words escape her as a rush of unfamiliar feelings crash into her. Her chest aches and her eyes fill with tears she thought she left behind at her father’s grave. In all the chaos that exists inside her, she can only seem to hold her gaze upon his. Claude’s mild concern transforms into full-blown worry as he quickly closes the space between them and gently grabs Byleth’s arms.
“Are you ok? I’ve never seen you like this before.” It was the last thing Byleth remembered before the emotional overload and the persistent hammering in her chest reached such an overwhelming crescendo that she barely felt her body fall limply into his as the welcoming darkness engulfs her mind once more.
When she comes to she feels the rhythm again but this time the tempo is slower and less overbearing. It’s strangeness unsettles her but she ignores it for a moment as her eyes once again adjust to the light that surrounds her.
When her eyes finally focus she finds herself looking dead into the green depts of Claude’s own surprised eyes. Her body is laid out on the grass beneath the shade of a tree and her head is resting upon his lap as he leans up against it. Yet again that damn beating intensifies but she feels less overwhelmed this time. A moment passes as she loses herself in the depths of his green eyes before Claude finally breaks the silence.
“You had me worried for a while there, Teach.”
“Byleth.” She whispers. His confusion was evident as she unabashedly stares up at him before carrying on, “Call me Byleth. I’m not your teacher anymore.” Sadness floods her veins as the loss from the last five years she missed resonates within her in that moment.
“You will never stop being ‘Teach’ to me, but if you insist, then how can I say no.” A coy smile crept upon his face as his eyes softened upon her. From this close Byleth could truly observe how time had changed her former house leader. His eyes were the same vibrant green that she remembered, but there was a tiredness deep within them that simmered just below the surface. His face had grown into that of a man’s, accentuated with the bit of beard that framed his jawline. But what stuck out the most in her eyes was his missing braid that would have laid amongst his longer hair. Her hand reached out and touched the strands of hair that hung before his face, noting how her movements changed his expression to one of mild surprise.
“You don’t have the braid anymore.” She chided lightly.
He chuckled before responding, “It got in the way, I guess.”
“I liked it.” She said suddenly. It was so unlike her, but then again, so was everything she was feeling and experiencing. His reaction made her spontaneity worth it when his eyebrows shot up and his cheeks visibly warmed. Yet again her chest beat against her ribcage so violently that she needed to get away from Claude before it sent her down another spiraling fit of emotions she didn’t know how to control.
Byleth cautiously rose from her prone position to her feet to mitigate the dizzy feeling she had in her gut. She wasn’t sure how much of it was from fainting earlier or her previous proximity to Claude, but she chose not to dwell on it.
“How long was I out for?” She asks.
Claude rises to her side and puts his hands behind his head in a stretch that reminded her so much of how he was five years ago. ‘ Feels like only yesterday…’ She thought.
“Not too long. The sun is still rising so it can’t be past mid morning.” He glanced at her, concern filling out his features, “Are you sure you’re alright to be moving around? You looked like someone stabbed you up in the goddess tower…” He replied.
She tried not to think about the overwhelming emotions she felt then. Even now her body pulsed in time with the incessant beating in her chest and every glance in Claude’s direction sent waves of feelings coursing through her in such a way that she could barely manage.
“I’ll be fine... Thank you, though. For taking care of me.” She replied. He smiled that damn smile at her again before responding.
“It’s no problem, Teac- er, Byleth.” Her name sounded foreign yet just right in his voice and she couldn’t help the way her face warmed up. She looked away before he noticed.
“Should we look around to see if any of the others came for the millennium festival?” Byleth called back to him. He caught up with her as she moved to walk further into the monastery.
“Yeah! I’m sure some of them took the time to come out. Things have been a little crazy since you disappeared. I was meaning to ask you where you’ve been back in the goddess tower but you didn’t really let me get a word in.” He joked. She made to give him a disapproving look but it fell short when she saw that same concern in his eyes from before.
“I’m not sure, honestly. I think I’ve been sleeping all this time.”
“That would make absolutely no sense if it came from anyone other than you.” He sighed, “But I have a hard time doubting you. You’re anything but ordinary.”
She laughed. Genuinely laughed, and it somehow surprised her more than it did Claude, who looked flabbergasted when she glanced at him afterwards.
‘What the hell is happening to me.’ She thought before Claude mirrored her thoughts.
“Damn, color me surprised. I don’t think I have ever seen you laugh like that, not that it’s a bad thing, of course” He quickly admits, incase she gets the wrong idea, “The most I ever got was a dry chuckle from you back when we were at the monastery together. And I was definitely trying to make you laugh back then.” He said in astonishment.
“Something… changed. When I was asleep.” She stopped walking and turned to face Claude directly. Her chest was pounding under his gaze but she continued on. “I don’t know what happened during those five years, but I remember an everlasting darkness… Before I came to, I heard her voice…Sothis...” She trailed off before Claude interjected.
“The goddess?” He asked.
“Yes. She spoke to me frequently before she gave me her powers. I hadn’t heard her voice since then, but before I woke, she spoke of a gift. I think the strange feeling in my chest and all these foreign emotions are the gift she was referencing.” Byleth finished. She looked forlorn as she held her hand to her cheek in thought.
“What feeling in your chest?” Claude asked. He had that face on, one that she recalled from when he was her student. He saw a puzzle and he wanted to solve it.
“A strange thudding, like a beast trying to beat it’s way out of my torso.”
“You’re heartbeat?” Claude asked as if it were the most obvious thing in the world before recognition flooded his facial features. “No, that’s right! You didn’t have a heartbeat, or at least, that’s what Jeralt’s diary mentioned after he got you from Rhea.”
“Is that the gift she gave me?” Byleth wondered.
“Why not just ask her? Can’t you speak to her now, like you did before?” Claude asked.
“No. She said this would be the last time... “ Byleth felt the thudding… her heartbeat she wondered... speed up at the thought and it distracted her from her musings. “Is it supposed to feel this aggressive?” She looked to Claude. ‘He always had a functioning heart. He should know better than I do.’ She thought.
“Um, I’m not sure. It shouldn’t be painful if that’s what you’re asking.” He ran his hand through his hair and her pulse heightened yet again. When his eyes settled on her own she moved towards him on impulse and did something she never would have done before.
Her hand wrapped around his wrist and she brought his hand to her chest, above where she recalled the heart was supposed to be. His face lit up like a bonfire and he seemed about to protest before she cut his attempts off.
“Do you feel it? Is this normal?” She asked, caught in the whirlwind of emotions every part of this was filling her with. Her heart pounded in her ribcage and the pulse in her ears was deafening. She tried not to focus on how warm his hand was against her and instead focused on his bewildered eyes.
“I-I, um. Well, It’s not--” Claude was cut off by a faint sound and his instincts kicked in as he sobered. “Get down!” He yelled as an arrow came ripping through the air in the space where they just were. Like a switch was flipped they regained composure and ran to cover, readying their weapons. Claude nocked an arrow and aimed for the location the enemy arrow originated before letting it fly towards its target. A pained cry was heard before his body fell from the bushes he hid in. Sighing, Claude looked for Byleth, scanning the area for any sign of her before finding her surrounded by bandits, mowing them down.
Another arrow flew from their left, away from where the bandits were pooling in from and found its place in the temples of one of the bandits facing Byleth. Claude looked for its owner before laying eyes on Ignatz standing yards away preparing to fire another shot. Byleth caught on soon after and continued to cut down her enemies as more help poured in.
“I can’t believe how little you’ve aged, Professor!” Hilda swooned. Byleth felt nearly overwhelmed by the extreme emotion at seeing all her former students both alive and grown past her own youthful appearance.
“Please, Hilda. Call me Byleth. The same goes for all of you. I’m clearly not your Professor anymore.” Byleth sighed. The emotions were beginning to exhaust her, and after such a heated battle she was already feeling tired.
“Aww, fine. If you say so.” Hilda admitted dejectedly.
“But you’re definitely still as strong as you used to be!” Raphael boasted as he clapped Byleth on her shoulder with much more force than was particularly necessary.
“I still can’t believe you’ve just been sleeping this whole time.” Lorenz muttered. His skepticism wasn’t nearly as bad as she expected it to be.
As her former students chatted on she noticed Claude off to the side looking intently at her. When their eyes met she felt her pulse quicken yet again.
‘Why does he do this to me? And this feeling…’ She thought. Her emotions were a mess ever since she awoke but it was never as bad as it was when Claude was involved. She recalled the fondness she had for him when she was his professor, but he was her student and while she may admit he was always handsome, she never imagined the situation she found herself in now.
Everyone had grown so much in her time away. They had matured both physically and mentally. She could barely see the youthful qualities they had before, even though it felt like only a short while ago that they all looked upon her during her lecture with eager and youthful eyes. But everything was different now and she could see the fatigue and tiredness in their eyes.
Even so, she tried to focus on the positive. Their appearances had changed so much more than she could have imagined. Even Lorenz had grown into a more fetching man than he was back at the academy. But more so than anyone, it was Claude whom she felt her eyes fall on the most. His skin practically glowed in the sun and his eyes were so piercing she felt like he could see into her very soul. She didn’t miss the broadness of his shoulders and the loss of his boyish features. He was a man, through and through and it brought Byleth’s thoughts to a halt every time their eyes met.
He smiled at her again and she could feel her cheeks warm. This man would be her undoing, she could feel it.
Weeks passed by at the monastery that eventually turned into months in the blink of an eye. Byleth felt the changes her new heart bestowed upon her at every turn. Her newfound emotions and humanity, as Claude liked to call it, gave her so many new experiences, both good and bad. She felt the heartache of loss when they were forced to cut down familiar faces and the emotional stress of keeping her former students-- no, her friends , from the grips of death with the divine pulse. She had seen so much suffering that her friends would never know that it drained on her so much more than when she was just their professor.
Everything had changed. Her heart gave her the capacity to see more than just familiar faces; to come to know them more deeply and trust them more readily. Her reliance on her ragtag Golden Deer and those of the church have given her a plethora of feelings to sort through. However, no matter how overwhelmed she might feel, there was always one person there to guide her through the maze of her own feelings...
‘Claude.’ She thought as she spotted him heading towards her as she sits in her favorite spot to relax after intense meetings and battles. He walked beneath the shadow of the tree and smiled down at her as she sat against the tree’s base, in a similar spot as he once sat when she first found him all those months ago.
“How’s it going?” Claude asked. He was always in touch with her wild emotions and seemed to always know when she was in need of someone to help her navigate through them.
“Horrible.” She admitted solemnly. They had only recently returned from the battle at Grounder field and the faces of her former classmates haunted her every thought. It took everything in her to avoid turning back the hands of time to take it all back every time she saw their empty eyes staring back at her. She hesitated every single time; a side effect of the increased threshold of emotions Sothis gifted to her along with her ever beating heart when she awoke from her slumber.
And in the back of her mind she still couldn’t stop thinking about Edelgard’s words when Byleth first attacked her…
“I knew when next we met, one of our paths would have to come to an end.” Byleth took in a shuddering breath at the likelihood of that premonition coming to pass one day. She dreaded that eventuality.
“Well I’m here to lend an ear, as usual.” Claude said as he sat next to her beside the tree. It had become almost a ritual for them to meet there and go over everything together. She had to admit that while he was the cause of many of her emotional influxes, he seemed to be the only one she could fully open up to about everything that was happening to her.
“I… I can’t take the pain I feel when I think of their faces…” She pauses. Her thoughts go in a dangerous direction before Claude pulls them back to the moment.
“You can’t dwell on them, Byleth.” His hand finds hers and her breath hitches. Amongst the sorrow her heart beats wildly against her chest as she fights to maintain composure. She had never felt quite this overwhelmed since she first awoke.
“But I just wonder… was there something I could have done. I… I should have tried to convince them to join us. Or done something before the war! I could have gotten them to join our house… Our side!” Her voice was hitched, growing more and more exaggerated as she continued. She felt her chest constrict as the faces of all the students she watched die flooded her mind.
Bernadetta’s strangled gasps as Claude’s arrow found her throat, the blood suffocating her feeble attempts to breathe her last breaths.
Ingrid’s face as Leonie struck her from above; the spear sticking out of her back spraying blood onto her mount.
Felix, bloody and wounded in his desperate attempts to cut down Hilda before her axe came crashing down on his head.
And Mercedes. Sweet, kind Mercedes. Her death haunted Byleth the most of all because it was by Byleth’s own sword that the life drained from her eyes as quickly as the tears that spilled from them in her final moments. Byleth heard her pained cries the loudest in her nightmares.
She didn’t even notice the tears falling down her cheeks or how she rocked back and forth, arms wrapped around her stomach. She only registered the warmth of Claude as he wrapped his arms around her and pulled her to him so tight she felt like she was in a human vice. Slowly, his whispers and comforting words brought her back to reality and away from the dark hole she fell into when she thought of their lifeless eyes staring up at the sky.
“I’m here. I’m here.” Claude whispered into her ear as she silently cried into his chest, overcome with emotions that felt like both a gift and a curse.
These new feelings brought a lot of stress to Byleth’s day-to-day life but in the little moments she shared with her friends gave her immeasurable joy.
Time was often a luxury that Byleth had in small doses, so when she was free she made a point to seek out and spend that time with everyone she could. The more people she could get to join in, the better as her free moments wore thin and the battles grew longer. Hilda always seemed the most eager to help Byleth make her gatherings grand
Today, Hilda sat across from Byleth as they worked over their latest plan.
“So I was thinking we could have Lysithea make some snacks! Raphael would love that, of course.” Hilda muses. She scribbles something down on her parchment, visibly crossing something else off shortly after. “And we can’t let Lorenz know ahead of time because he can’t keep a secret to save his life.” Hilda sighed.
Byleth laughed at that, as it was entirely too true. Hilda looked up and smiled at her, looking pleased at the sight of Byleth’s happiness. Her former students had quickly noticed her changes after her awakening and Byleth gave up trying to hide everything from them. Their unwavering support and faith in her never changed even after she showed such telltale signs of weakness in their presence and she was always grateful for that.
“Maybe we can get the dining hall to cook a steak just for him.” Byleth added.
“Of course! Why didn’t I think of that…” Hilda went back to scribbling her plans for Raphael’s upcoming birthday party. It was never something that they bothered with before the war, but with the escalating intensity of battles as they planned their approach towards the Empire, came battle fatigue. These little parties served to help boost morale and keep everyone’s spirits up, along with celebrating the lives of the soldiers and commanders who put their lives on the line for this war.
“Ok. That seems like everything. I’ll let you know if anything falls through, but with my excellent delegation skills I can have this party set up in no time!” Hilda clapped her hands together in her giddy excitement. She never bored of event planning which was a welcome change from her usual laziness. It served to deepen Byleth’s bond with the woman exponentially.
“I’m sure it will be perfect. Honestly, as long as we have a lot of food, I’m sure Raphael will enjoy it either way.” Byleth replied.
“I’ll hop to it then!” Hilda waved as she skipped off to make her plans happen. With only a day to plan since getting back from a small mission in the mountains that morning Byleth was thankful that Hilda was willing to take care of everything without her this time. The warmth of the fireplace was wonderful and before Byleth knew it, she had slowly fallen asleep in her chair, the fatigue from the morning battle overcoming her.
“I can’t imagine that’s comfortable.”
Byleth awoke to familiar green eyes looking down at her before the fireplace, the fire having long burnt out.
“Damn, was I here all night?” Byleth went to move her neck, feeling the stiffness of uncomfortable sleep.
“Actually you’ve been sleeping all day if what Hilda told me was true. I guess yesterday’s battle wore you out?” He asked.
“All day…” Byleth ignored his question, instead focusing on the time of day. Raphael’s party was supposed to begin at dusk and here she had slept through all the preparations. “The party.” She said bluntly.
“Yeah, I figured I’d find you before the festivities started. Leonie’s been keeping Raphael busy for most of the day down at the training grounds so I’m sure she is ready to get this party started. You know how Raphael can be when it comes to training.” Claude laughed. Byleth could only imagine how hard Raphael was pushing Leonie if they had been training all morning. She admired her for being such a team player.
Byleth rose from her chair and followed Claude out towards the Cardinal’s room. They arrived to the sounds of chatter and preparation as Hilda stood amongst the crowd shouting instructions to everyone else. When she finally saw Claude and Byleth her face lit up and she hurried over to them at the entrance to the room.
“Byleth! I’m so glad you’re here. Everything is going according to plan and we’re just waiting on the dining hall to deliver the food. They should actually be here any moment…” She trailed off before walking past them and out into the hall to check.
Almost everyone was present even including Lorenz. All her former Golden deer with the exception of Leonie and Raphael were sitting together at the end of the table. Manuela and Hanneman were tucked away in the corner of the room, deep in conversation and Alois, Shamir and Seteth sat at the other end of the table waiting for the festivities to start.
“No Flayn?” Claude asked Seteth as they drew two seats in the middle of the long table.
“Unfortunately, she pushed herself a little too hard in the last battle so I apologize for her absence. She will be resting tonight.” He replied. The bags under Setheth’s eyes were no less prevalent than her own as the burdens of war have taken their toll on even the ever stoic Seteth. Byleth couldn’t imagine the stress that worrying over Flayn’s safety put on him, but it resonated with her so much more now that she felt so many more emotions than before.
“I’m sure Raphael will understand.” Byleth replied. “I wonder where Catherine is… someone let her know the party was starting soon right?” She looked to Shamir in hopes of an answer but was met with a similarly inquisitive look.
“I’m not sure. She knows the party is soon. Alois told us both this morning.” Shamir sighed.
“Indeed! I made sure to get the word out as soon as Hilda asked me to! I couldn’t stand idly by as a maiden who felt the tendrils of illness was tasked with running the monastery to deliver the invitations!” Alois boomed. She could almost feel Claude’s eyes roll at the mention of Hilda’s supposed ‘illness.’
Before they could wonder further, Hilda walked back into the room followed by the catering. Before long, everything was set up and ready to go; the only thing left to do was wait for Leonie and Raphael to show up.
“Shh, guys. There they are!” Hilda says in hushed tones as she waits next to the door.
Once Raphael’s broad form is seen in the doorway everyone simultaneously shouts, “Happy Birthday!” Applause roars from everyone in attendance and Raphael’s brilliant smile and laugh makes it all worth it.
“Aww, thanks guys!” Raphael says bashfully, hand behind his neck in slight embarrassment. He looks around and the moment he spots the food his eyes widen and he makes a beeline to the table set up in the back. “This is amazing! Is this really all for me?” He says, bewildered at the feast before him.
“All yours big guy! I have more on the way for everyone else.” Hilda said with a giggle.
Raphael wasted no time eating and nearly a half hour passed as everyone ate and chatted together, enjoying the company. However, Byleth was moderately distracted by the absence of Catherine, who would normally be a massive presence at these parties. Not long after her thought, as of the goddess willed her there, Catherine busted through the door carrying a large box.
“Sorry I’m late, everyone! I just had to run into town to grab some special provisions!” She places the box on the table and begins removing large bottles of what Byleth can only assume is liquor. “Happy Birthday Raphael! Drinks on me tonight!” She laughs as she begins to pass the bottles down the tables to share.
“Now this is what I’m talking about! These parties are always nice, but I knew they were missing something.” Manuela comments as she takes an entire bottle and pours herself an unhealthy amount of alcohol. Setheth’s eyes nearly fall out of his head as she proceeds to chug the entire glass in one go. Hanneman only sighs, pouring himself a much more reserved amount and sipping it lightly.
“Goddess save me.” Setheth prays under his breath before serving himself.
“Here you go.” Claude hands Byleth a glass before filling his own. He stands at the table and without a word commands everyone’s attention. It’s in that moment Byleth sees how he managed to hold everything together in the five years of war and chaos she missed. “To Raphael! And to Victory over the Empire!” He toasts. Her eyes linger on him longer than necessary.
An enthusiastic yell fills the room as everyone downs their glasses.
Byleth made a face at the taste of the alcohol, unsure of how people like Manuela could drink it like water. Claude sat back down next to her and poured himself another glass before offering her another. She shook her head, smiling at his gesture.
“Thanks, but I think I’ll pass. This stuff just isn’t for me.” She said.
“Well then I’ll just have to drink your portion!” Manuela laughs as she reaches for her bottle, pouring herself another generous amount.
The party lasts much longer than it usually does, in part due to the alcohol that warmed everyone’s stomachs. They played card games, sang songs, and even had an arm wrestling tournament. Raphael obviously won, but Byleth went easy on him when they were the last two left. She was endlessly entertained watching all her friends fall into their drunken stupors, happy to have stopped after her first cup. She still felt a warmth and comfort from the booze in her belly but she fared much better than everyone else who was on their third or fourth cup at that point.
“...and I, Lorenz Hellman Gloucester, of the noble House Gloucester shall bring down our enemi- ah Leonie, don’t yank on my tailcoat, it is very expensive!” Lorenz yells as he half stands on the table, attempting to giving a speech for the fourth time that hour. Leonie struggles to pull him down and back into his seat as they bicker back and forth.
“No one wants to hear your bullshit, Lorenz. Please, just knock it off for once in your life!” Leonie cries.
To their right Lysithea sits patiently as Hilda braids her hair in a grandiose fashion, humming to the music that fills the room. Shamir sits across from Byleth with her head in her hands trying not to murder Alois and Catherine to either side of her who have taken to shouting their conversations even though they are a foot apart. Raphael had long fallen asleep on the table after eating far more than any human should consume before challenging Manuela to a drinking competition and promptly losing. Manuela was beyond gone, dancing and singing in the corner of the room with an extremely unwilling Seteth who has been trapped in her shenanigans for over an hour now.
Everyone was happier than she had seen them in months and Byleth couldn’t restrain the smile that brought her. Claude looked over to her with a much more goofy smile before grabbing her hand and pulling her up out of her seat. He had been carried away with the rest of them and had long lost his normal composure. It was unexpected, but Byleth couldn’t help but enjoy his drunkenness as it increased his already playful personality exponentially.
“Dance with me!” It wasn’t a question and she supposed she couldn’t really deny him at this point. He led her to the makeshift dance floor in the corner of the room where the table was pushed askew and the chairs moved. Along with Manuela and Seteth, Marianne and Ignatz attempted a dance together, both far past their limit and clumsy as they stepped on one another’s feet before apologizing every five seconds.
Claude pulled her close, one arm wrapped around her waist as the other kept the hold on her hand and he stumbled into an uncoordinated waltz. It reminds her of the ball at the academy before the war when Claude led her into the dance floor as all the students danced around them. Time had changed so much, but nothing felt more prevalent than the way her heart fought the music’s tempo, speeding to a beat all its own. Her cheeks flushed due to more than just the drink in her belly and Claude offered her a wink and a smile that made her stomach flip. He led her in his messy dance, laughing and pulling her along a beat ahead of the music.
She couldn’t help the smile and laughs she let loose as she followed his example.
Before long, the party had died down and most everyone had either found a spot to fall into an uninterruptible sleep or stumbled their way back to their rooms. Catherine, Alois and Manuela were the only ones left, back to playing cards in the corner and still in the thick of their drinking. Byleth sighs as she looks back to Claude who looks as if he is only a moment away from smacking his head on the table and falling into the abyss of sleep. Byleth takes this moment to attempt an escape.
“Come on, Claude. Let’s head to bed.” Byleth asks as she pulls his arm up. He slowly follows her up as she bids goodnight to the rest of her friends who are still awake. “Were heading to bed, guys. Don’t poison yourselves with all that alcohol.” Byleth calls to them before leading Claude slowly towards the door.
She hears them call back in farewell to her along with Manuela giving an unidentifiable cat call that makes the rest of them laugh.
“That woman is something else.” Claude slurs. His footsteps are staggered and Byleth moves to take on more of his weight by putting his arm around her shoulders. Claude grins and holds on to her tighter as she wraps her arm around his midsection.
“You are something else.” Byleth returns. Her smile gives away her playfulness and he chuckles in reply.
They take their time heading back to the dorms as Claude makes attempts at lighthearted banter. Byleth dutifully ignores him as he continues to go on about the night.
“...and can you believe Hilda! How could she beat us at cards? I bet it was Lysethia’s brains that helped her win, because Hilda - hic - couldn’t have done that on her own… She doesn’t do anything on her own.” He babbled on. Once they finally reached his room, Byleth made to pull his arm from her shoulder, but Claude only held on tighter.
“What, are we here already?” He whined as he reached his hand to the wall to brace himself. Byleth opened the door and led him in, pushing the door closed behind her. She made to move him to his bed but he suddenly stumbled and Byleth could feel their bodies falling before she had a chance to recognize what was happening. A loud groan filled the room as Claude laid on his back, one hand cradling the back of his head and the other firmly around her waist. Impressively, he was functional enough to take the brunt of the fall and cushion it for her with his own body. She looked down at him as his eyes bore deep into her own.
A moment of silence passed as her face crept with an impossible heat. She attempted to say something but any words she had planned fell away as his arm tightened around her more.
“Your eyes…” He muttered under his breath, a smile forming on his lips.
Byleth couldn’t take it anymore. Her heart was hammering through her chest and they were entirely too close. His words sent her over the edge and all she could do was move to get away from him before she did something stupid.
“Claude, It’s time for bed.” She said as she made to move off of him. His arm around her torso held firm while his other arm snaked around her back, running into her hair as he pushed her head down to his chest. Her surprised gasp was lost on him as he held her impossibly close.
“Just a few… more minutes…” he sighed. Her body was on fire and her mind was racing with unbidden thoughts that she couldn’t decipher, the alcohol serving to enhance every sensation. Their bodies were so close that she could feel every definition of his chest against her own and she found herself fighting the desire to stay on that floor with him for the rest of the night. He pulled her along with him as he turned on his side, her body sliding onto the cold ground as his arms finally loosened. When she looked up at him, his eyes were closed and he was already asleep.
She couldn’t help but take a selfish moment to watch him sleep so peacefully, as if the stresses of war couldn’t touch him here.
She finally moved his arms from her and pulled herself up, sobered by the events that had transpired. She grabbed his arm and lifted him up to attempt to place him on his bed. He was heavier than she thought but she managed to lay him on the pillow and cover him with the blanket that sat on the floor near the bed. The room was a mess, but she recalled it being that way before the war in the few times she checked for him here. She smiled as she looked down at his prone form before she turned to leave.
“Goodnight, Claude.” She whispered.
She wasn’t sure if she heard right, but she could have sworn she heard him mutter a soft “G’night” from his bed.
The pace ramped up after they took Fort Merceus and Byleth was forced to come to terms with the unspoken companionship she held with the leader of the Alliance. She feared to put words anything she was feeling because it all felt so incredibly intense when she was around him. He was her reprieve from the worst of her painful emotions and her tormentor in the worst of the good emotions. Byleth was finding it harder and harder to deny the tempo her heart hammered along to when he was near her, and his every touch took her breath away. She long gave up on trying to hide her blush at his perfect attention on her as they spoke and stopped trying to force herself not to look at him every moment she was able to. She didn’t fully understand her feelings for him, but she felt a connection with him unlike anything she had ever felt before.
Even though she confided in Claude every possible thing she felt or thought since that day she reunited with him, there was still one secret she held close to her heart that she couldn’t bring herself to share even with him.
At the end of another exhausting battle Byleth retired to her room once again, locking the door. She had already cleaned off the blood and grit of battle and changed into her nightgown before retiring and her body had no more energy left in it to keep up her façade.
She fell to her knees before her bed and grabbed her pillow, burying her face in its soft comforts before letting her tears and cries fall freely into its downy depths.
The Divine Pulse destroyed her from the inside out, and unlike the enemies she once knew from the academy that she was forced to cut down in battle, she was unable to confide this part of her agony to Claude.
She had seen them die so many times, in so many ways. Before she received these damned emotions it was easier to use the Divine Pulse in a more calculating way, as the deaths of her allies were nothing more than an inconvenience that needed to be reversed. Now, her relationships with her friends and her newfound emotional reliance on them has made every death personal; painful. But none more so than Claude’s.
It was only the second time she had to use the Pulse to save Claude since her awakening and it was somehow more devastating than the first. At least then she didn’t have to directly witness his death before turning back the hands of time to save him. She recalls the chilling despair from those moments consuming her completely.
Claude flew ahead regardless of Byleth’s cries for him to stay in formation. After loosing an arrow into his targeted enemy he turned back and winked at Byleth, grinning down at her from his wyvern mount in celebration. She sighs in relief before she sees the arrow flying through the sky towards him. She doesn’t even have the chance to open her mouth to warn him before it pierces him in the center of his collarbone. His hands fly to his neck in an attempt to pull the arrow out before he is slammed off his mount by a javelin to the chest. Byleth’s scream is nearly deafening as all reason pours from her mind. She barely registers Lysithea as she casts swarm at the sniper and Raphael’s war cry as he rushes the knight who threw the javelin.
Her feet don’t carry her fast enough to Claude as he hits the ground with a sickening crunch. When she finally reaches him, her knees give out once she sees the pool of blood he lies in, hands clutching at his neck where he ripped the arrow out, gasping for air. His eyes find Byleth’s and the fear she sees in them is so prevalent she looses her breath. Tears spill out of her eyes as she holds him, his crimson blood covering every inch of her. He struggles to say something that she never hears before his eyes dull and his last struggled breath leaves his lips.
In that moment, Byleth’s heart truly breaks.
In the moment after, she is back on the battlefield, minutes earlier grasping her chest and forcing herself to scream as loudly as she can to get Claude’s attention. The urgency and fear Claude hears forces him to stop, flabbergasted that a sound like that could ever come from her. When he jumps off his wyvern before her, everything else crumbles and she collides with him, arms wrapping around his torso so tightly she can hear him wince. Raphiel and Lysithea still end the foes that threatened Claude’s life and the battle goes on around them.
But she still can’t let go.
It baffled her how a human could cry so many tears. She felt like they were indefinite; never ending. Her sobs wracked her body as her cries were muffled by the pillow she cried into. She could feel his blood on her arms and legs and face. She could smell the death on his body as it laid limply in her arms and the moment replayed itself in her mind over and over again, torturing her endlessly.
And then there was a knock on her door. Her heart jumped into her throat, and she tried fruitlessly to regain a modicum of composure to tell whomever it was that she was busy, but she couldn’t muster anything.
The knocking continued, ironically followed by the last voice that she wanted to hear right now.
“Byleth, open the door! I can hear you crying, so please just let me in.” His voice was strained with emotion as he pleaded with her.
It unraveled her so completely she couldn’t even protest as her body rose and moved to unlock the door. The moment the latch unhooked Claude barged in eyes wide and mouth agape. He slammed the door and locked the latch before engulfing her trembling form in his arms. Her arms wrapped around him in turn and every last barrier she held up came tumbling down as she sobbed into him. She could hear his heartbeat as it raced in his chest and it was the most comforting thing she could imagine in that moment.
Byleth let her flood of tears fall until she had nothing left. Her soft hiccups faded and finally it was just her and Claude, embracing in silence. She felt her legs give out in exhaustion and Claude’s arms lift her and carry her towards her bed. Once she sat on the edge, he sat beside her, finally letting go of their embrace after what felt like an eternity.
“Talk to me, By.” He whispered to her in the most endearing way that she had to take a moment to regain her composure before finally telling him the truth.
“I… I can turn back time.” She says plainly. It almost sounds like a joke, and Claude may have considered it to be a poor one if he didn’t recognize the circumstances he found her in moments ago.
“What do you mean?” He asks gently. His hand finds her own upon the bed and he laces his fingers through hers giving her a squeeze of encouragement.
“Sothis’ power is far beyond just battle prowess and the ability to wield the Sword of the Creator. The first taste of her power she gifted to me was long before I ever merged my soul with hers, back when I first met you and the others.” She began.
Claude gave her an inquisitive look before interjecting, “When those bandits were chasing us?”
“Yes. I nearly died that day, but Sothis saved me, showing me how to use a power she called the Divine Pulse to turn back the hands of time to an earlier moment and change the outcome.” She closed her eyes, remembering that day when she saved Edelgard. If only she would have just let that bandit kill her, then none of this would have happened. Guilt floods her at her cowardice, wishing someone else the ultimate responsibility of cutting her down at some point.
She looks back to Claude, seeing the gears turning as he attempts to understand everything she is saying. She continues, “Ever since then, I have been able to… rewind time, in a way, to change the outcomes of our battles and save our allies lives.” Her breath hitches once again as she finishes. “Including our friends lives… And even yours.” Her last tear falls from her eyes while she stares into his own as he finally puts all the pieces together.
“You have watched us all die… time and time again?” It wasn’t a question so much as an incredulous statement. His eyebrows furrowed in his worry and his arms found their place around her yet again. “I’m so, so sorry Byleth.” He whispered.
His words calmed her, taking the pain away as they always do. She felt so reassured in his arms and against his warm body. He was alive and here with her. Her heart warmed at the knowledge and the intimacy of the embrace and before long she pulled away if only because she knew they would never let go if she didn’t.
“Thank you.” Her voice was soft and quiet, but she knew he heard her as he smiled brilliantly before responding.
“Anything for you.” Byleth’s blush must have been record breaking at his words and sincerity. She wonders if even a piece of her was still the hardened mercenary she once was before Sothis revealed herself.
‘My father wouldn't believe me now, overcome with emotion at every turn and relying on someone else to get me through it.’ She thought. The surprise he felt upon seeing her tears for him in his dying hour was still fresh in her mind.
Pushing those thoughts away for now, Byleth looked down to where their hands were clasped and finally seemed to notice her state of undress. A new layer of red creeped up her ears and she couldn’t contain her embarrassed gasp. Claude’s eyes seem to follow her own as recognition fills his features. He quickly pulls away from her hand and stands from the bedside. His cheeks flush with a rosy hue as he rubs the back of his neck almost aggressively.
“I’m s-sorry! I heard you crying from the hallway and I didn’t really think about what you would be wearing when I came in…” He apologized. Byleth stared at him and she couldn’t help the way her heart sped up at just the sight of him. A chuckle escaped her lips that devolved into a full on laugh, light and airy. Claude looked down at her like she had truly lost her mind and Byleth struggled to draw a breath and compose herself.
“Are you alright?” He asked sincerely.
“Y-yes. My Gods, I just can’t believe how incredible this whole situation is!” She fought her laughter as she attempted to continue, “Why would we dwell on something so silly as my nightclothes after everything that has happened and all I shared.” She said.
A heavy sigh fell from Claude’s lips as he finally donned a smile. She welcomed the sight, overcome with joy and an emotion exclusive to him, it seemed. In an impulsive moment, she rose from the bed and wrapped her arms around Claude’s neck, burying her face in his collar.
She can hear his gasp of surprise as he stands there with his arms up, his mind trying to catch up to what she did. But before long, she can feel the warmth of his arms gently wrap around her and a long drawn out sigh escape his lips as he buries his face into her hair. Her heart feels like it may truly claw its way out of her chest and a part of her wishes this moment would never end.
But eventually she pulls away, looking up into his bright green eyes and it’s in that moment that she realizes something she can’t yet put to words. Her dependence on him is so much more than emotional support and her heart gives her away every time he is near. She wants to open her lips and just say it but he breaks the moment with a wink and a graceful bow.
“I believe I have taken up more than enough of your time, my fair lady.” He says in the most proper voice he can muster. When he rises his smile matches her own and he makes to leave the room.
“Really, Claude. Thank you. I would have already drowned in all these emotions if you hadn’t been there for me all this time.” She says honestly.
He pauses in his retreat and without looking back, sincerely responds, “Like I said, Byleth. Anything for you.” The way he says those words melts her so completely and she silently thanks the goddess that he is faced away from her.
“Goodnight, Claude.” She responds.
“G’night.” He responds as he finally exits the room.
The war had changed everything and Byleth found it hard to keep up with the pace. Edelgard was dead, cut down by the very blade that rests limply in her hands. And like moments, flashing before her eyes, so too were those who slither in the dark, and now, Nemesis. His reanimated body lay before her and for once, she struggles to feel anything .
‘It’s over…” She thinks. She wonders what happens next, when the build up was so sudden just to come crashing down on her all at once.
Before she has a chance to really dwell on it, Claude walks up to her, dusting the dirt from his clothes.
“That was a battle for the history books! They will one day call this the start of the new Dawn of Fódlan.” Byleth was lost for words as she took his hand in hers and squeezed. For once, her heart didn’t feel like a burden within her chest as it swole in appreciation for the man beside her and all they accomplished together.
The festivities in celebration of peacetime and the end of the war raged on around Byleth as she looked for her friends in the crowd. Food was everywhere and where it was, she found Raphael. His boisterous laugh sounded above the cacophony of joy resounding from everyone near him. Everyone had a cup of wine as they toasted to everything they could think of. Manuela seemed to have already had too much. Even Seteth had found a reason to smile, which was surprising considering Rhea’s current health.
Everything was so big and loud that Byleth found it hard to think amongst the cheering and congratulations everyone gave her as she walked around the monastery. She was still reeling from everything that happened and fought against herself in a feeble attempt to join in the festivities. However, she eventually found herself away from the hustle and bustle, and before she knew it, she had arrived at the stairwell she climbed all those months ago when she first awoke. The irony was not lost on her.
She began the ever tedious climb to the top of the goddess tower, intent to fully escape the overwhelming loudness below. When she reached the top of the tower, she should have known he would be there, standing in the same spot she found him in after her awakening. The light pouring through the balcony door fell upon him so gracefully she nearly thought she was just imagining it all until his eyes found hers once again.
There would never be a smile that could stop her heart quite like his did.
She walked further into the room, gravitating towards Claude as he matched her stride. They stopped before one another, wordlessly meeting each other's gazes. Byleth felt her heart pounding in her chest, similar to that first day, and she couldn’t help but remember how overwhelming it was then.
“I guess now’s as good a time as any…” Claude broke the silence. She didn’t understand, but waited for him to continue.
But he never did.
Words fell to the wayside as he closed the gap between them and embraced her in a way he had few times before. Sure, Claude was always there to comfort her in her worst moments, but the way his arm snaked around her waist and his fingers weaved through her hair reminded her of their drunken embrace after Raphael’s party. She found her arms responding in kind, wrapping around his torso and pulling him as close as she could.
“Everything is over, and yet all I could think about was you.” He whispered into her hair. Her cheeks burned hot at his words and she buried her face in his neck in response.
After what felt like an eternity tangled in each other's arms, Claude pulls back and Byleth feels an intense sorrow at the loss of his presence so close to hers. He looks down at her with a gaze she can’t decipher before he takes her hand in his and places a single ring in it. Her mind and heart race at the implications of that ring before his hand reaches for her chin and pulls her lips to his in a soft kiss.
All at once, her heart finally stops beating.
After she had awoken that day, nearly a year ago, she felt so burdened by the feelings and emotions Sothis gave her. It was so much more than a functioning heart and this moment was a testament to that. Sothis gave her life, and the ability to truly enjoy it. Byleth’s eyes closed and she leaned into his lips, wishing that this moment would never end as she felt her heart start up again, roaring within her chest. All too soon, Claude pulls away and rests his forehead to hers, eyes piercing deep into her soul.
“I love you, Byleth. … I think I always have.” He confesses. Her mind races as her emotions flood through every nerve in her body all at once. “You are all I want in this world and I would give anything to spend the rest of my life by your side.”
She can barely breathe as her hand closes around the ring that rests within it. She thinks to the ring her father left her and his instructions. She moves her other hand to her pockets, finding his ring instantly and pulling it out. She digs deep within her to find the words she so desperately wants to say.
“I love you too…” She holds the ring for him to take and his eyes give away his surprise, like they always do. “Marry me, Claude.” She whispers to him. His smile is all the answer she really needs but he gives her the proper one she deserves after he wraps his arms around her, lifting her feet from the ground in the biggest embrace she has ever been in. His lips crash upon hers and for a moment, she thinks she can feel their hearts beating in tandem, against one another.