Chapter 1: Living Ghosts
Her head was killing her.
“Hey, you shouldn’t move just yet.”
Byleth blinked open her eyes, and looked up at the bright sky above her. “Where are we?”
The man was probably no older than thirty, with sandy blond hair and deep brown eyes. “Alliane Village, down the river from Garreg Mach. I found you floating in the river.”
She sat up, and he helped her get to her feet. “My thanks,” she murmured. “Where . . . what happened?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know. Like I said, I just found you in the river.”
“The battle,” she continued. “What happened with the battle?”
“Battle?” he asked incredulously. “The last battle that was around here was five years ago when Garreg Mach fell.”
She gaped at him. “What?”
He nodded. “Yeah, Garreg Mach fell almost five years ago. Tomorrow would have been the Millennium Festival, but Emperor Edelgard put a stop to that. Hells, it’s outlawed just to pray to the goddess, much less follow the teachings of Seiros.”
“She won?” Byleth murmured.
He gave her a look. “How do you not know that?”
“I have to go,” she murmured. “I have to go.”
“Go where?” he called. “You can’t go to the monastery! It’s cursed!”
“My students need me!” she screamed, her voice hoarse and ragged. “They need me!”
“All you’ll find there is death! They sent a squad of soldiers up there a few days ago, and they were never seen of again!” The man watched her stagger back up stream, and shook his head. “She’s going to die.”
It took Byleth the better part of a day to march up to the monastery. The walls that rose out of the hills were cracked and pitted. The village at the foot of the hill the monastery had been built on was completely deserted, and the buildings were beginning to rot. Stray dogs peeked out of alleys and gave her wary stares as she moved through. She kept the Sword of the Creator at the ready, aware that some of them were scrawny enough to be desperate for a meal. When she finally made it to the gates of the monastery, she nearly sighed in relief.
Until she looked up.
If she’d had breath, she would have screamed. If she’d had anything in stomach, she would have vomited. As it was, all she could do was gasp and moan at the sight that hung above the front gate.
It was Catherine.
What was left of Catherine.
The skeleton had already been picked clean, the head and many of the smaller bones gone, but from the shape of the clothes and armor the torso and spine were still there. Catherine’s distinct armor was pinned in place by long nails, and Thunderbrand stabbed through where her heart should have been. And she wasn’t alone - more bodies were pinioned there, but she was the only body that Byleth could identify for sure.
“Oh goddess,” she whispered in horror. “Oh goddess.”
Finally, she managed to force her feet forward. She entered the ruined courtyard, and tears started to track down her face. The walls were decorated with the remnants of more corpses, and she could tell from clothing and size that many of them were students. Nuns and priests. Alois was there, and Shamir. Both bodies on display like Catherine’s had been. She yearned to run to them, to pull them down and give them a decent burial, but something held her back.
A fresh body decorated the ground.
She approached it carefully, wiping her eyes and nose so that she could examine it. The soldier was a young man, probably no older than she was. His face was covered in blood, and when she turned him over, she found that most of it probably came from a puncture wound that went through his eye. However, the poor kid hadn’t died easily. His stomach was a mess, and the stench was enough to make her empty stomach revolt. Gaging, she rose, and gingerly moved on.
Following the bodies seemed like at once a good and bad idea. Good, because she really wanted to know who had killed them, and bad because she had no idea if she was in any state to take on the killers. And she was sure after the third body that there were at least two - the punctures appeared differently, with some of them the smooth cylinders of a lance head, and others the ripped triangles of arrows. At least one archer and one lance-wielder.
Up and up into the monastery she went, until she climbed into one of the highest towers. It was the one that had a large balcony, open so that one could see what seemed like the whole of Fódlan laid out in front of them. In the shadows, she saw a huge figure hunched in on himself. All he held was a steel lance. His head came up, and all she could see was one baleful blue eye framed by long blond hair. “It figures that you would finally return to haunt us too.”
“Dimitri?” she asked softly, taking a step into the room. “Is that you?”
Hands snaked around her waist, and a warm body curled around her. She bucked and jerked for a moment, but one of those strong hands laid an arrow against her throat. She stopped, aware of the implied threat. “I don’t think this is a ghost,” replied the pleasant voice. The familiar voice.
Dimitri rose, and stepped into the light of the dying sun. “All we see now are ghosts, Claude.”
The snort that come from beside her head was pure von Riegan. “Not this shit again, Dimi. I’m telling you that she’s alive. Come feel her yourself.”
“If she’s alive then she’s a spy,” Dimitri growled.
“Are you, Teach?” Claude whispered in her ear. “Are you a spy?”
His breath stank.
Byleth, already getting pissed with the whole ‘terrorize the maiden’ act, went on the verbal offensive. “Claude, when was the last time you bathed? You smell like the ass end of a wyvern.”
He threw his head back and roared with laughter, while Dimitri snarled. “Shut up you insolent witch!”
She just gave him a droll look. “Dimitri Alexander Blaiddyd, if you’re going to act like the big tough warrior, you need to speak the part. Go ahead and call me a bitch.”
He growled again, and Claude settled into measured gaffaws of laughter. “Let me go Claude, or so help me, I will rip your hands off."
Apparently deciding that he’d pushed her far enough, he complied. She stepped away, and looked between them. “What happened?”
Dimitri’s eye glistened. “Are you serious?”
“Yes . . . I . . . I don’t know where I’ve been the past five years. I awoke in a village down the river from here, and all they told me was that the last battle here was five years ago.” She looked to Claude. His hair was longer, shaggier, and his braid had become one long dreadlock down the side of his face. His beard was scruffy and full as opposed to Dimitri’s haphazard stubble. A long scar slashed from his eye down to the corner of his mouth on the right side of his face.
“I’d call bullshit,” Claude murmured, “But you’re always full of surprises Teach.”
Dimitri approached, and the scent of unwashed body, dried gore, and wet dog washed over her like a tidal wave. “For the love of the goddess, please go bathe.”
“Just to be fair, you stink too,” Claude said, a sharp edge in his voice. “You smell like rotting fish and horse shit.”
She threw up her hands, and turned to go back down the stairs. She figured that the magically powered bathing room was probably still somewhat operable, and she could use a bath after this clusterfuck of a day. However, Claude moved to block her access to the stairs. “Ah, ah, ah, Teach. We can’t let you just leave.”
“I’m going to take a bath.”
“Then you’ll come with us,” Claude replied.
Byleth glanced between the two men. She made the quick mental calculations, and decided that even with the Sword of the Creator and her years of experience these two still had longer reaches and more weight to throw around. She gestured for them to lead on.
Dimitri and Claude bracketed Byleth as they led her deeper into the upper floors of the monastery. She had never really been up here as they were domain of the cardinals and Rhea. The two men moved quietly, and she realized that for all of Dimitri’s bulk he moved with the silent grace of a cat. She didn’t even hear him behind her even though she knew he was there. They entered a large set of apartments. The rooms showed use, and Claude pointed to a door inside a bed chamber. “Bathing chamber is in there.”
She nodded, and walked into the room. It looked a lot like a smaller version of a communal bath, with a large pool for soaking and a toilet. A washing station was to the side of the pool. It looked lightly used, as their was no dust, but the washing station was filthy. The floor around the drain was caked with congealed blood and gore. The cake of soap beside it was covered in streaks of dirt and more blood. “Goddess above,” she muttered. “Of course they haven’t washed lately.”
With a sigh, she used the shower head above the washing station to rinse what she could, but there were still dried on spots that would need scrubbing. Grimacing in distaste, she washed quickly, thankful that they’d apparently not found the extra soap beneath the cabinet next to the toilet. It was lightly scented with rose and lavender, and she did revel for a few moments in being clean and smelling nice. While she washed, she made sure that hot water ran in the tub. She needed a good soak after her long day. Finally clean and fresh, she stepped into the steaming water. She’d not added anything from the little pots the sat on the rim of the tub, but she didn’t need any bath salts. Just a few minutes to absorb what had happened. What she had discovered.
None of it was good. She hadn’t done a thorough accounting, but she wouldn’t be surprised if half of the Knights of Seiros weren’t strung up by their own weapons out on the walls. Dimitri and Claude were obviously holding on to sanity by a mere thread. The bodies of the soldiers on the way had been mutilated beyond what was actually needed. She could only assume that Edelgard was the mastermind of all of this. She sighed. Oh to have her father or Sothis to talk to.
The door crashed open, causing her to scramble up. Dimitri stood in the doorway, glaring at her. “What is taking so long!?”
“Get out!” she shrieked.
Claude stuck his head around the door jamb, and his eyes went wide. “Dimi, you sly dog.”
The taller man looked down at the darker man. “What are you talking about?”
“Dimi, you are not actually dead, and there is a beautiful naked woman in front of you,” Claude replied patiently.
Dimitri did the damndest thing. He blushed, slammed the door shut after pulled Claude out of the doorway, and roared, “Hurry up!“
Byleth glared at the door, and screamed, “I will take as long as I damn well please!“
Dimitri was about to stomp right back into the bathing room, but Claude caught his arm. “Leave her be, Dimi.”
The taller man snarled but walked over to their little bed in front of the fire. “It’s a mistake to let her stay.”
Claude sighed. He knew this was coming. He shucked his wolfskin and cloak, and stripped down to his trousers. Dimitri was doing the same, and Claude took his clothing and hung it up on the hooks by the door. However, Dimitri did not take off his leather armor. Claude pitched his voice low and gravelly. “Come on, Dimitri, it’s Teach. Professor Byleth.”
“Who left us,” Dimitri growled.
“You and I both saw her. We thought she was dead too.” His voice was seductive. He took two steps and stood in front of Dimitri. He reached up, and caressed Dimitri’s cheek. The other man usually wasn’t demonstrative, but he leaned down, and touched his forehead to Claude’s, allowing the archer to gentle him down.
“She’s like us,” he finally said, “A living ghost.”
Claude hummed his agreement. “She’s powerful. She can help us.”
Dimitri sat, pulling Claude down with him. In their nest of furs and blankets, Dimitri sat with legs crossed, and Claude sat draped across his lap, using his chest as a backrest. Dimitri began to stroke Claude’s leg absently. The dead duke was used to this treatment. It wasn’t unheard of for Dimi to sit like this for hours, contemplating the horrors of his life while Claude napped or fletched arrows in the safe curve of the larger man’s body. “Alright,” Dimitri growled.
“And,” Claude added, pitching his voice with enough growl and promise, “It’s been awhile since we’ve shared a woman.”
“The last one tried to kill us,” Dimi groused.
“Well,” Claude shrugged, “maybe this time we’ll get lucky.”
Chapter 2: The Supplier
Claude begins to scheme.
Byleth searched high and low, but there were no more towels for her to use to dry off. She knew she’d been in the bath for quite some time, but now it was time to go out and face her two former students. Except, she had no clean clothes and no clean towels.
She had a choice. Either put on her dirty, nasty, smelly clothes, or walk around the apartment buck naked. Well, she mentally backed up. If she could make it to a closet, she might be able to use an old robe or shirt to cover herself - and they’d already seen her nude. With a deep breath, she opened the door and marched into the bed chamber. It was empty save for furniture. Emboldened, she strode over to a dresser, and opened it. The door of it creaked, and she suspected that she would not be alone for very long. Instead of dwelling on it, she searched through the scarves and stoles, realizing that this was obviously Rhea’s set of rooms. They were nicely appointed, but she had kind of expected a few more luxuries for the head of the church.
“I told you she had a nice ass. Didn’t I tell you she had a nice ass?”
With a deep breath, Byleth continued her searching. “You won’t find anything worth wearing,” Claude said. “Most of those are not going to cover anything. Looters took anything worth wearing years ago. They didn’t take the furniture because it was too heavy to get down the stairs.”
She stopped looking, realizing that he was right. “Well, are there any other blankets?”
“Only the ones we use,” Claude answered. Dimitri had been curiously silent the entire time.
“And those probably smell like death,” Byleth muttered. She closed her eyes, and sighed. She turned, ready to deal with this fresh hell. “So, until I can wash my clothes, I have nothing to wear.”
Dimitri was eyeing her bare body dispassionately, but Claude’s gaze was full of interest. “We can keep you warm.”
She wrinkled her nose. “You both smell of feces and dried blood. Maybe I’d let you if you bathe.” She shivered.
Dimitri turned and walked into the other room, but Claude gave her an assessing look. He gestured with his head. “Come out and sit by the fire at least. Nights will be cold.”
She did as he bid, and he followed her. “Dimi, we need to get clean.”
The blond looked up at him. “Why?”
“Because we do actually stink.”
Dimitri threw her an angry look. “Just because you want to get your cock wet -“
“If I wanted my cock wet I’d just ask you to suck it,” Claude said in a deadly tone. “Go. Now.”
With a great deal of grumbling, the lost prince marched past her into the bathing chamber. Byleth looked between the two of them, but gratefully moved to the fire. After a moment, she felt something soft come round her shoulders. It smelled faintly musty, but not bad. As Claude wrapped it around her shoulders, she realized that it was the reddish wolfskin he’d been wearing over his cloak. “Thank you,” she murmured. The skin was large enough to wrap around her torso, but her legs and buttocks were still bare.
Claude looked at her with a soft gaze, but she wasn’t fooled. “What do you want Claude?”
He grinned. “Help. All I want is help.”
Dimitri bathed quickly, not willing to let Byleth and Claude stay alone for too long. Not because he feared Claude fucking her, but that she would try to kill Claude. It had happened on a few occasions when they’d invited women into their bed. Apparently Edelgard was completely aware that they were alive, and she knew of this particular proclivity of theirs. He washed away the grime of at least a week and three Imperial soldiers, and then stalked right back out into the sitting room.
Claude and Byleth looked up at him from their respective perches. Byleth was wrapped in Claude’s wolfskin, and sat on one of the chairs by the fire. Claude sat at her feet, still in nothing but his trousers. “Your turn,” he growled.
The other man smiled. “Get the extra blankets from the chest, and throw the others out.”
Dimitri grunted, but did as he was bid. Byleth stayed on her perch, and just watched him as he remade their bed. He settled down, and stared into the fire. They sat in complete silence, and for the first time in five years, he felt the need to make nice. She had been the professor assigned to his house, after all, and he had felt something for her before the world became broken. When he glanced over at her, she sat with her legs pulled up beneath her hips, the wolfskin gaping over her bare torso. In the firelight the contrast between her creamy skin and the wolfskin was enticing. He wanted to reach out and touch the shadows there, to experience the softness.
“All clean,” Claude said, walking in in all his naked glory. Byleth didn’t bat an eye as Claude sat beside Dimitri on the pallet. “Do we smell a little better now Teach?”
“Amazingly,” she said softly, but something was seething behind her eyes. She rose, and walked back into the bed chamber. Dimitri watched the sway of her toned ass, finally agreeing with Claude’s assessment that it was a good one.
“Should we go get her?” Claude asked softly.
“Let her shiver.” Dimitri slid down, and got under the blankets. After a moment, Claude joined him. They didn’t speak as they curled in on each other, and neither outwardly acknowledged the sound of weeping coming from the other room.
Claude woke early and rose quietly. Dimitri stirred, but seeing that it was only Claude, rolled back over. He’d be up soon, but Dimitri was not the early riser that Claude was. He went to the bathing room and used the toilet, but took a moment to stop by the bed. Beneath his wolfskin Byleth had curled into a tight ball, but the curve of her cheek revealed the tearstained face of a young woman who was utterly out of her depth.
He could use this.
He could manipulate her the way he’d been manipulating people for years. Tricking people out of clothes, supplies, their lives, in order to survive. He could promise her the moon and the stars, and wield her as she wielded the Sword of the Creator. He had half the surrounding villages alternately scared of the rumors of demonic beasts and the other half loyal to the man whose silver tongue had convinced the local lord to allow them to not starve. Didn’t matter that the noble in question was fucking Lorenz who wouldn’t have let them starve anyway.
He could use this, but the part of him that was still a dreamer said no. Byleth had gone through too much, done too much, seen too much. He was dark, his heart blackened by betrayal and hatred, but there were still some lines that he would not cross. He went into the other room, grabbed Dimitri’s wolfskin, and belted it around his hips.
The air was cold outside the nice little nest of their rooms, but he had gotten used to cold. His warm Almyran blood didn’t much like it, but years of living off the land had toughened him to the chilling cold of Fódlan’s winters. Of course, nothing could compare to Dimitri who could run around buck naked on the coldest night of the year and be perfectly okay. And that wasn’t an exaggeration - the Faerghish prince had done that at least twice now. Nimbly he made his way down to the gates of the monastery where a figure bundled tightly against the cold waited.
“Took you longer than usual,” the man said jovially. “I have a couple of bags of provisions for you.” He glanced up to a spot up on the walls, and gazed for a moment at one of the skeletons. Then he looked back down at Claude. Raphael had not changed much in the last five years, but his eyes held traces of the same scars that haunted the monastery. “I wish we could bury them.”
Claude nodded as he took the bag of supplies. “Thanks, Raphael. We are ever in your debt.”
The young merchant knight nodded. After the fall of the Church, Raphael had put his dreams aside to become a traveling merchant to help support his family. He used his knightly skills to protect his caravan, and none of them batted an eye at him visiting the monastery to remember the dead. Of course, none of them knew that part of his purpose on his bi-weekly journey across the middle of Fódlan was to deliver supplies to the living ghosts of Garreg Mach. “It’s my pleasure. How’d Dimitri?”
Claude sighed, putting a little more drama into it. “A little put out,” he said. “There’s a lass down in the village that he fancies, but she won’t give him the time of day.”
Raphael smiled. “You’re just in luck,” the bluff man chuckled. He swung his pack down and sorted through the boxes until he pulled a medium sized one out of his back pack. He opened it to reveal a dress of wine red. “It’s cotton so a village maid would be able to wear it around town. You can have it.”
Grinning, Claude took the box. Raphael had not seen Dimitri since the fall of Garreg Mach, so the poor man didn’t know that half of the stories Claude made up about the lost prince were lies. Better that Raphael imagine them living in sedate if rough exile rather than knowing the truth.
Nodding to the body in the courtyard, Raphael lost his jovial expression. “More Imperial soldiers?”
“Help a friend out?” Claude asked with a smile.
Raphael guffawed. “I’ll let the village know that I saw the soldiers camping out by the Airmid. Edelgard’s demonic beasts have run wild one too many times. Most people think that anyone that disappears now is the victim of one.”
“Thanks,” Claude said with a smile. “Goddess bless you, Raphael.”
“And you too Claude.”
They parted, and Claude watched from the entrance hall as Raphael approached the wall. He reached up, and placed small wreaths over the exposed neck of two of the skeletons. He stood, speaking for a moment with the two bodies, and then with a bow left. He did that every time he visited. He would speak to Claude, and then to Leonie and Ignatz. He turned and walked back into the monastery.
When he arrived, Dimitri was awake, and Byleth had joined him in the outer room. He laid down the pack that Raphael had brought, and quickly walked over to Byleth. She looked pale, and haggard. “Here you go, Teach. This might help you out.”
She took the box, and opened it. “Where did you get this?”
Dimitri’s eyes narrowed. “Did you tell anyone she was here?”
“No, and I got it from our supplier. He comes by every couple of weeks.” Claude gestured for her to go into the other room. “Go put it on.”
She got up and did as he bid.
The two men waited until she left before Dimitri rounded on Claude. “She cannot leave. No one can know besides Raphael that we’re here.”
Claude clucked his tongue. “What do you take me for Dimi? Of course she not leaving. We need her.”
Dimitri sniffed. “Do we?”
Claude moved forward, loosening his limbs and putting a seductive sway into his spine. He reached up, bracketing Dimitri’s neck with arms. “Come on, Dimi. You and I both know that with her by our side we can finally get back at that fucking bitch. Edelgard took everything, everything from us. And now we have the instrument of her demise. You and I both know that she made a martyr of the Knights, and Rhea told everyone to watch for Byleth’s return. We also know that Seteth and Flayn are still at large. Why do you think those soldiers were packing those damned mini-light missiles? They thought they were going up against dragons.”
“And how are we going to convince the Professor to help us?” Dimitri whispered.
“We aren’t going anywhere. We keep her here. Bind her to us. Make her dependent,” Claude explained. The words felt sour on his tongue, because he knew that he was lying to Dimitri about his intentions, but if his scheme worked, then it would be worth it. “It’s how they tame wyverns in Almyra. Keep them dependent and earn their trust. Then, no matter what happens, they will be yours”
The other man bit his lip, but nodded. “Alright. We’ll do it your way.”
Claude kissed him, lips lingering for a moment. Dimi’s good eyes grew heavy lidded. “We need to do laundry today.”
The door to the bed chamber opened, and Byleth stepped through. The red dress was a simple cut, but it looked almost indecent on her between the cut of the neckline and her rather generous breasts. “It’s a bit . . . tight, but thank you.” She offered him the wolfskin.
“You are most welcome,” he replied, taking back the wolfskin. “And you can pay me back by helping us with laundry. I’m assuming you’d like to do some of your own.”
She smiled and nodded.
I'm channeling Dimitri here. Sorry. :)
And whatever could Claude be plotting?
It couldn't have anything to do with getting Byleth and Dimi into bed together . . .
Chapter 3: Shadows That Answer To Their Names
Byleth gets pushed a bit too far.
That first day was spent cleaning. Byleth was at once amazed by the fact that most amenities of the monastery still worked, even though the two men made little use of them. Dimitri had snapped at Claude something about them only doing laundry once a month, and washing their bodies only a bit more regularly. She was practical enough to understand why, but had decided that she would make damn sure that hygiene got a bit better in the future.
She wasn’t stupid. She’d heard their conversation and known from the moment Claude had escorted her to Rhea’s apartments that she was not leaving this place. At least, not without them. So as they plotted to tame her like one of Claude’s Almyran wyverns, she plotted to do the same. Step one - cleanliness. Life as a mercenary had taught Byleth to be flexible and adaptable, but if she was going to live however long in the monastery with these two they were going to be clean while doing it.
One of the amenities that still worked was the laundry. It had fascinated her when she’d first seen it. Large vats were filled with the thermal and magically heated water of the monastery, and soap was added in one barrel, clean water to another. The clothes were first run through the soap, then the rinse, then squeezed of all the water they could, and then hung to dry. She was more than happy to manhandle the heavy linens in order to get clean sheets and blankets. Claude and Dimitri worked along side her, both curiously silent. She had expected Claude’s usual jocularity to resurface by now, but not one joke had been cracked. She thought back to the night before, and realized that he hadn’t said very much last night either.
They were done with laundry before their lunch of jerky and hardtack. Apparently the mysterious supplier - the name had been said too low for her to truly hear - provided food in addition to clothing and other materials. Byleth spent the afternoon cleaning the bathroom, determined that daily baths were not going to be taken from her by their lack of good hygiene. After she was done, she bathed, enjoying the process now that the facilities were clean and she had a blanket and some towels that while not completely dry, would be better than complete nudity. She’d had no choice the night before, but she’d also not missed the obvious interest both men had in her body. Five years ago, she might have been flattered.
Now, not so much. It wasn’t because they weren’t attractive - beneath the scruff and too long hair, both of them still had the smooth lines and handsome features that had made them two young ladykillers in their teens - but because she had a sense that if she gave in now, all would be lost. She wouldn’t be bedding Claude or Dimitri, but instead shadows that answered to their names.
Thus the gentling.
Claude was still there. She could tell from the way he held himself and spoke to her. It hit all the cadences of his old patterns of speech, had the same general tone. She’d known full well thanks to a drunken Manuela that Claude von Riegan had developed a crush on her back in those far off school days, and she suspected that she could use that to her advantage.
“Utterly gone on you,” Manuela had giggled on that night of the ball. “Do you see how he looks at you? That’s a young stallion in rut if ever I saw one.“
Dimitri was going to be harder. His voice was empty of everything save rage, and his treatment of her had been clinical and detached. When she’d woken, he’d not said a word about her leaving the warm fire the night before, nor had he offered any of his food at lunch. Claude had given him a disgusted look before pressing some of his own jerky and hard tack into Byleth’s hands. Dimitri might want to fuck her, but he didn’t care if she lived or died. It hadn’t been that way once, but these five years had deepened the scars he’d already carried.
“I love when you make that expression,” he’d once said to her smiling face, softly, reverently.
Byleth was determined to bring him back. To bring both of them back. Not because they had been well on their way to loving her five years ago, but because no one should have to live in this misery and pain.
She sighed, and got out of the bath. She decided to not put her dress back on, but instead just wrapped herself in a towel. She returned to the fire side, and Claude smiled while handing her a persimmon, some hard tack, and more jerky. He and Dimitri had taken their usual seats on the floor. “Is this what we will be surviving on?” she asked softly.
“You can chose not to eat,” Dimitri growled.
Claude rolled his eyes. “Come off it, Dimi. To answer your question, yes, this is what we have for the time being.”
She frowned. “Is the greenhouse destroyed?”
The two men shared a look. “We honestly haven’t looked,” Dimitri muttered.
“Neither of us are good anglers or gardners, so we haven’t really even gone down there,” Claude admitted.
The urge to roll her eyes and ask them how they’d survived this long was strong, but she reminded herself that they were not trained for survival like she was. “I’ll check them out tomorrow.”
Claude nodded, and pulled out a wine skin. “Come on, he left us some of the good stuff.”
The two men stared each other down for a moment before Dimitri handed her his cup. “Thank you,” she murmured as Claude poured her some wine. She took a sip, and watched as the two men shared a cup between them. Dimitri took a sip first, and then Claude, and then back to Dimitri. The fire crackled merrily in the background, and Byleth found herself drifting. The wine was at once warm and bitter in her mouth, mellowing her. “What happened?” she asked softly.
Dimitri downed the wine. “Everything,” he muttered.
“Edelgard won.” was all Claude said.
She let it be, knowing that to push would not get her anything.
Far away from the monastery at Garreg Mach, Sylvain Jose Gautier looked out over his lands from the back of his destrier with a heavy heart. “Today would have been the Millennium Festival,” he said to the woman at his side.
Ingrid sighed. “You’re right.”
They rode companionably for a few more minutes. The people in the fields hailed them, calling to them warmly but with respect. The people loved their lord and lady, and were especially excited because of Ingrid’s pregnancy. In the aftermath of the Empire’s hegemony, the marriage of the wild Sylvain to the dutiful Ingrid had heartened the people of northern Faerghus. The fact that they had married for love heartened the people even more. It was hope and love that the people craved in these new dark days.
“I wish we could have gone to the monastery,” Sylvain continued. He eyed her large belly. “Though it’s probably a good thing we didn’t.”
She smiled. “If you’re worried about my giving birth soon, I’ve been informed that the women of my mother’s line tend to birth late. Our little one has two more months at least.” Her smile turned wistful. “But I know what you mean. I just . . . I don’t know if I could stand to be there. Have they . . . Has the Emperor allowed the bodies to be buried?”
His lips thinned. “No.”
Tears glistened in Ingrid’s eyes. “Then no, I’m glad we haven’t gone.”
“We’re breaking our promise,” Sylvain murmured. “We promised him. We promised her.”
“And she promised that we’d be safe. All of us. She died, and Annette, and Mercedes, and . . .” Ingrid took a deep, shuddering breath. “ I don’t think us breaking our promise really matters now. There’s so much hurt and pain… I don’t think I ever want to go back.”
Sylvain reached out, and took her hand. “I know. It’s just . . . there’s this part of me that hopes, you know? You saw her, she cut the sky. She came back from what should have been her complete annihilation once. Maybe . . .”
Ingrid sighed. “Sylvain, love, our hope lies in our child. Not in that horrible place.” She kneed her mare into a trot, breaking her connection to him. He glanced back into the distance, toward the monastery.
The morning was cold, but Byleth didn’t let that stop her. She was back in her usual clothes, and picked her way down to the greenhouse. She was not really hoping to find anything edible, but perhaps she could get ahold of seeds. If the infrastructure was still intact, even here in the depths of winter she’d be able to grow some winter crops. She wasn’t entirely sure where Claude and Dimitri were, but she figured that if they really wanted to stalk her through the monastery they were welcome to.
The huge double doors were still there, and as she walked the perimeter of the house, it looked completely intact. Some of the panes appeared cracked, but there weren’t any that were broken through. Her heart lifting, she went back to the doors. When she stepped inside, she had to check the need to squeal. She’d have to check, but apparently the watering was on some sort of mechanism that still worked, because the greenhouse was lush and green. The beds were in disarray, but several of them were full of edible plants. There was one side of the house that was almost completely mint plants.
Byleth took several steps in, her grin absolutely huge. She walked around the first couple of beds, but stopped as soon as she saw what lay behind the first row of overgrown plants. The body had fallen half in, half out of the bed with one arm thrown out in front of them as if they had been about to break their fall. The gardener lay exactly where they had fallen, their blood staining the pavers rust brown. Flesh was gone, but the skull was staring right at her. She swallowed, but nodded to the remains. “I’m sorry,” she murmured.
After searching the rest of the house, she found no more bodies. She did find at least three vegetables, and several types of herbs that had run wild. Rosemary had taken over one of the boxes out front, as had thyme, oregano, and the aforementioned mint. Lavander was also in abundance. She picked several winter squash, and cut a few heads of lettuce. She would have chortled with glee if she had not found another body. She might soon get tired of the strange pumpkin-butternut squash hybrids, but at least she was no long reliant on Claude’s mystery supplier for food. She trimmed a few sprigs of rosemary too, and began to make plans for dinner. The rosemary would be best with chicken, but would be sufficient with the squash.
When she got back to the apartment, she cleared the desk on the other side of the front room and laid out her bounty. “What have you got there?”
She glanced up at Claude, and gave him a small smile. He was casually leaning against doorjamb, his arms crossed over his chest. He was wearing his cloak and wolkskin, and his bow was over his shoulder. “Look what I found!” She gestured to her discovery. “I thought I would roast the squash for our supper.”
He pushed off the jamb, and came over to the desk. “To think that we’ve been living here almost a year and neither one of us thought to check the greenhouse.” He gave her a small smile, one that she found odd. His smiles before had not always reached his eyes, but right before the battle he’d given her a heartbreaking grin that had shown out from behind his eyes. She missed that expression facing his old insincere smirk.
“Dimi is out hunting. I pointed out that we’d need to supplement our supplies quicker than usual.”
Byleth couldn’t stop her eye roll. “Let me guess, he was all for letting me starve.”
“Actually, I think he’s starting to warm up to you,” Claude teased.
Byleth put down the dagger she’d drawn to start cutting into the squash. It was on the tip of her tongue to snap at him, to tell him that his faux charm was grating and obvious, but she held her peace. She needed him to believe that she was falling for his bull shit. Claude would react badly to the realization that he wasn’t the almighty schemer everyone thought he was, and he would be resistant to her input on how to proceed. The three of them were just marking time, waiting for the moment when they were all able to get what they desired most.
“Well,” she finally said with as light a tone as she could muster, “we’ll have a feast tonight.”
Claude stepped closer to her, his body curving in around hers. She stilled, waiting for him to make his move. His face hovered near hers, but she kept her eyes down. His fingers skated over the back of her hand. “Promises, promises,” he murmured into her ear.
“Claude,” she said, and damn her, her voice was far to breathy for her liking. She kept her eyes down, resolutely refusing to look into his eyes. His hand skimmed up her arm to rest at her elbow.
His lips skimmed along her jaw. “Yes?”
“What about Dimitri?” she finally asked, her voice strangled. She hadn’t missed all the subtle - and not so subtle - signs that the two of them were in at least a physical relationship.
She could feel his lips moving into a grin against the skin of her neck. Back up to her ear they went, and then, “He loves to watch. He loves to see me sink balls deep in a woman’s pretty pink cunt.”
The muscles of her core clenched as she felt wetness seeping into her loin cloth. She was more or less untouched by anyone, though thanks to romance novels and plain exposure she knew what was involved. The thought of Claude moving over her, putting his cock inside her made her squeeze her thighs together. He didn’t miss the movement, and the hand on her elbow pulled her closer into his body. “Come on, Teach. Let me fuck you.”
It was so tempting. Her nipples were hard beneath her shift and stays, and her breasts felt hard and full. She wanted to be touched. Wanted to forget this hell. She wanted to fuck. “No.”
He froze. “Why not?” he growled.
She finally turned to him, her pale eyes burning into his. Hot anger bubbled up from her gut. He was trying to use sex to gentle her, and his practiced seduction pissed her off. “Is this how Almyrans gentle wyverns?” she snarled. “Fucking them?”
His eyes widened, and then they hardened. Deliberately, he let go of her, stepping away and straightening up. He didn’t say anything, just turned away and walked out the door.
Neither Dimitri nor Claude returned to the apartment that night. Byleth sat in front of the fire, staring at the flames. She knew they were still in the monastery - one of them had left a haunch of venison just inside the door for her - but it was obvious that Claude was pissed at her. She didn’t blame him, but she wasn’t going to be strung along, enter a physical relationship, and end up with a shattered heart at the end of it all. She'd overplayed her hand, but ultimately it was going to pay off in the long run. It was better this way.
Next chapter is going to be buck wild y'all.
Chapter 4: Beautiful Creatures
Sweet dreams are made of this . . .
Please be advised
- This chapter contains smut with a harder edge. There is mild blood play and teratophilic (monster sex) elements.
- The second part of the chapter has a scene where Byleth is threatened with sexual assault by secondary characters. However, she is a badass.
- The second part of the chapter does deal with the non-graphic rape of a secondary character. It is also a memory, not happening 'on screen' as it were.
- The second part of the chapter also deals with a main character's post-traumatic stress.
Please read responsibly fam.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Byleth lounged in her nest of pillows with a glass of wine lazily twirling in her hand. She glanced over into her mirror. Her lips were painted black, her eyes lined with kohl, and her hair cascaded down her back in a mint green river. She was dressed in a black open fronted skirt, black corset with white chemise, black shorts, and white open-footed stockings. She knew there were other details, but they didn’t seem important.
What was important was that a man was stripping at the foot of her bed. A young man with skin of dark olive was divesting himself of pale yellow garments with green accents. She took a sip of wine, and smiled at him. The young man had a neatly trimmed beard, slicked back hair, and the prettiest green eyes. And a rack of antlers that should belong to a mature buck. “Claude,” she said, her voice sultry and warm.
Behind him, Dimitri lounged on a couch, his hair shaggy and surrounding his head like a mane. His eyepatch was gone and he was still dressed as he sat. He was rubbing between his legs, his eyes trained on them. “Try not to block my view,” he said, his rough voice completely different from what she was used to. His grimace flashed carnivorous teeth.
Claude turned to him, his grin showing sharp teeth more at home in a wyvern’s maw. One graceful hand tipped in claws came up, giving Dimitri a rude gesture. Wings of blinding white opened from his back. “You’ll just have to move the couch.”
Dimitri grumbled, while Claude turned back to her. He was gloriously naked now, his body solid and strong. His pectorals were two slabs of muscle tipped in small pink nipples, and covered with dark, wiry hair. His stomach was flat, and bisected by a trail of hair that went right down to the nest of hair that surrounded his cock. He was erect, and one hand came down while she was examining him to circle his girth. “Like what you see Teach?”
“Do you have to call her that?” Dimi asked grumpily.
Claude laughed. “Sorry, like what you see, my goddess?“
“Very much,” she murmured.
He grinned and reached out to grasp her ankle. She answered his grin with her own as he pulled her to the edge of the bed. She was still holding her glass of wine. Claude took it, handing it off to Dimitri as he pulled her to her feet. His body was warm, his hands strong as he pulled her against him. Her skirt was the first thing to go beneath his clever fingers. He wasn’t kissing her yet, just running his nose across her cheek. “Ready to give Dimi a show?"
“Yes,” she murmured, as his hands went to her corset. He unhooked the busks right as his mouth finally closed over hers. His lips were warm, hot, and her core was liquid and needy as his tongue stroked against hers. Her corset was gone, then her chemise. His warm hands closed over her breasts, and she moaned. She carefully slid her tongue into his mouth, mindful of his sharp teeth.
His hands massaged her breasts, working his thumbs over her nipples, teasing them into points. He broke the kiss, but his lips rained kisses down her décolletage to her breasts. Down he went, until he had her bent back, and his lips on her nipples. He licked and sucked on them, and she bucked her hips against his. “Claude,” she whined.
His teeth pricked at her nipples with savage promise. She gasped. “Will there be blood?” Dimitri asked lazily. When she looked over, Dimitri had his pants undone, and was stroking his cock.
Claude gave her left nipple one last lick before looking up at her. “Will there be blood?”
Byleth looked down at him, and reached up to stroke his hair. “Blood like wine.”
His green eyes sparkled, and traced a line down from her neck to her breast with one of his clawed fingers. The sharp sensation caused goosebumps to break out along her arms. He traced arcane patterns on the tops of her breasts, kissing her neck and her jaw. Then, an exquisite agony as one claw slid deep into the flesh above her right breast. She hissed, but the pain went away as soon as Claude’s tongue began to lap at the wound. She slid her hands into his hair, massaging his scalp at the base of his antlers as her pussy wept and clenched with need.
With one last swipe of his tongue, Claude stood tall. His green eyes were glowing as he picked her up and tossed her back onto the bed. She landed with a gasp and laugh, and didn’t stop him when he yanked down her shorts, garter belt, and stockings. Sometimes he left the last two on, enjoying the feel of the silk against his skin as he rode her, but apparently today he had other plans. Byleth rose up on her elbows, and threw her head back in invitation. She ran one of her own fingers over the seam of her neck, shivering as her nail sliced through the surface of her skin. In this state, he would be drunk on her blood, and sure enough he pounced on her. Up her body he crawled, and his mouth latched onto the cut she had on her neck. The one on her breast had already healed.
Her core clenched again, and she writhed as his lips moved over her skin. His tongue danced over the cut, and it sent shocks of sensation to her very center. She gasped and moaned as his mouth traveled back down her body, and she moaned loudly when he made it to her navel. “Claude!”
He chuckled darkly, as he settled between her legs, pushing her thighs apart so that he could get at what he was seeking. He kissed her thighs, causing her to shake and writhe. Then, he finally put his mouth right where she wanted it. His tongue licked up the seem of her pussy, and she cried out. On the second pass, he opened her lips, and his tongue went right for the pearl at the top of her mons. He used first the flat of his tongue, and then the tip to tease her. He suckled and licked her for what felt like an eternity as she began to buck her hips and wrapped her hands around his antlers. She used them to guide him and hold him so that she could ride his face more easily.
Claude began to thrash his head back and forth, and the coil of tension grew. Her right hand slipped, and the sharp point of the tine she was holding cut deep into her palm. She cried out as the mix of pain and one really good swipe of Claude’s tongue on her clit made the tension in her core snap and break. She screamed, and felt hard fingers wrap around her cut hand. Warm lips covered the gash, and two tongues danced on her skin heightening her already intense climax. She clamped her thighs hard on Claude’s head, gasping and panting. Getting the hint, Claude pulled back, licking his lips with a smile.
Byleth looked over to Dimitri who was still feasting on her cut hand. His tongue took one last lick as her skin knit itself back together. His blue eyes blazed as he looked down to Claude, who was moving up her body. “Ready?” he asked.
She moaned, and with his cock in hand, he teased her slit with the head of it. Up and down he dragged it through her folds, and she gasped and cried out when he finally rammed it home. He groaned, and Dimitri groaned too as he laid beside Byleth and returned to jacking himself off. “Dammit,” Claude growled, “I’m not going to last.”
He leaned back, pulling her legs up so that her feet were set over his shoulders. He reached around her thighs, rubbing her clit as he pistoned into her. It did not take long at all for her, still sensitive and on edge after her first climax, to come again. He followed her a few pumps later, and Dimitri was mere seconds behind. He pumped into her a moment more, and then slowed. Leaning down, he placed a sweet kiss on her lips. “I love you, my goddess.”
Remembering how skeptical he’d been of Sothis, Byleth smiled softly. “As I love you, my Barbarossa.” She glanced over at the man eyeing them both with a fond expression on his face. “And you, my Great Lord.”
Byleth catapulted awake, her heart hammering and her legs trembling. She bit her lip, working through the strange dream that had plagued her night. She’d gone to bed in the lonely apartment late, after discovering that the looters and the boys had left Rhea’s stash of novels alone. One epic adventure later, and she’d been ready for sleep. Then, she’d dreamed something so wildly out of character that she was blushing just thinking about it.
She’d been putting on a brave face over the last three days, not being bothered about her nudity or the advances Claude insisted on, but she was definitely out of her depth. She’d contemplated sex before, but never had she so vividly dreamed a sex act that savage and filthy. “Blood like wine,” she whispered, the words echoing through her mind.
She shook her head, and got up for the day. It was dawn, and she decided that it was time to go back to the greenhouse and do some gardening. The plants had adapted pretty well to their circumstances, but she could maximize their production if she got rid of some of the undergrowth. Plus, she could probably see about catching some fish too. And when the boys decided to speak to her again . . . she’d be gracious. She wouldn’t apologize to Claude because he kind of deserved it, but she’d be gracious. She decided to dress in the red dress to help sooth the sting of her words the day before.
She ate some leftover squash and venison from the night before, and then made her way down to the greenhouse. The rubble from the battle made certain routes around the monastery impassable, so she couldn’t access the courtyard from the greenhouse area nor could one go through the old dining hall. She didn’t mind having to go through the dormitories to get there, and when she did, she took a moment to enjoy the plants. “Blood like wine,” she murmured again, her mind going back to the image of the Claude-chimera lowering his mouth to her bleeding breast. “Blood like wine.”
“What do we have here?”
Byleth froze. “Looks like a pretty piece of ass, boss.”
Moving slowly, she turned. Five rangy men stood spread out before her. In the center, a man with brown hair and a brown beard leered at her. “Her tits are about to spill out of that dress,” one of the men to the side said with a chuckle.
One of the others grabbed his crotch and rubbed. “I love a woman with big bubbies.”
The man in the center grinned. She recognized his voice as the first man who spoke. “She must be the woman of the two bastards that live here.”
The urge to snap was great, but she had to be careful. If she acted meek, it would be even more of surprise to them when she showed her teeth. “Please,” she said. “I . . . I don’t know who you’re talking about.”
“Come off it sweet cheeks,” one of the other men said, “We saw you come out of the tower. You’re the bastards’ tart.”
The man in the center’s grin turned dark. “And I’m sure they won’t mind if we have a taste.” He began to unlace his pants. The others followed suit.
Claude sat on the front steps of the courtyard, staring at the body that was quickly rotting. It wasn’t something he particularly wanted to do, but he’d been kicked out of the pallet early after Dimitri had awoken with a disgusted snarl. They’d bedded down in the entrance hall, his temper unwilling to let him stay in the same room as Byleth after she’d ripped into him. He didn’t want to admit it, but she had hurt his feelings. Yes, he had a scheme to get her to help them, but he did really want to fuck her. Dimitri had been disgusted by that, but not enough to kick him out of bed so early. No, that was because he’d had a wet dream - though he was pretty sure that Dimi had had one too - so here he was earlier than he wanted sitting outside, staring at the body of a dead man.
“Ho the castle!”
Claude glanced over at the man coming around the building. He reached for his bow, his instincts going on red alert. “Well, well, if it isn’t one of Pallardo’s dogs.”
The man sneered. “So says another dog.” Then, he cocked his head. “Boss wants to know how much?”
“How much for what?” They used to trade with Pallardo’s band of bandits, but lately they were running out of monastery items that they were willing to trade. What Claude had not told Byleth about the looters was that the looters were Claude and Dimitri. No one else was willing to enter the monastery proper. Pallardo’s men only did because they knew Claude and Dimitri were here.
“For the bitch. Pallardo’s already gone after a turn, but he told me to come see how much the whore was.”
Claude’s mind froze. Everything came to a halt as the implication slammed into him. Another beautiful woman’s face floated in front of his as he relived one of the worst moments of his first flight from the monastery. As the Deer and Lions had fled, he had fallen behind to help Sylvain carry Ingrid. The three of them had stumbled upon a squad of Imperial soldiers and Manuela. The vivid memory of Manuela’s blood stained and bruised face mouthing “run” filled his eyes. He couldn’t think, couldn’t move, could only whine as he tried not to lose his breakfast.
He snapped back into the present, Pallardo’s henchman falling into a bloody heap at his feet. Dimitri stood over him, and Claude sighed in relief. “Come on,” Dimi said, and the two took off running. Through the entrance hall they went, around the wild hedges that were once well-manicured hedge-rows, and out into the student dorms. Dimitri was able to outpace him, so Claude kept his eyes trained on Dimitri’s back. He wouldn’t be able to take seeing Byleth being brutalized . . .
He nearly ran into Dimi’s back when the other man suddenly stopped. Claude whipped around him, about to berate him for stopping when he saw the figure at the entrance of the greenhouse. Bodies littered the ground, and a man was crawling away, blood covering his face. He was clutching his crotch, and Claude could see the spreading blood stain. “Stop, please!” the man cried, and Claude recognized the voice of none other than Pallardo.
Byleth stepped forward, twirling an iron sword. Her dress was torn, the bodice ripped to her navel, and one breast on full display. “But sweet cheeks,” she said impassively, “You’ll love what I’m going to do to you.”
Pallardo burst into noisy tears. They didn’t last long.
Then Byleth looked up at them. Her light eyes were hard, and in the early morning light they seemed to glow. She was a war goddess made flesh, her beauty unmarred by the blood on her dress and the dead bodies at her feet. “Good morning.”
Claude’s legs moved without his conscious thought. He stepped over Pallardo’s corpse, and didn’t stop until he had Byleth in his arms. “I’m sorry,” he whispered. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay,” she murmured to him, dropping the iron sword and wrapping her arms around him. Her voice became soft and gentle. “It’s okay. They didn’t touch me.”
But he didn’t stop saying it, and she didn’t respond again. She just held him, understanding that he wasn’t apologizing to her.
I told y'all it was going to be buck wild. I always intended the fun way. The not fun way, well . . .
So, if you managed to get through all of that, the smut scene took me forever to write because I'm a dirty monster fucker and there was an entire subplot added to this thing just so I could write Wyvern-Buck Claude and Werecat Dimi getting it on with Byleth, okay? I admit it.
And because I know the last part was probably hard to read . . . take comfort in the fact that next chapter will feature Claude and Byleth in the big ole bathtub. Shenanigans may or may not ensue.
The battle was over.
Edelgard had won.
The last dregs of the defenders of Garreg Mach were herded together at the foot of the monastery. Priests, nuns, students, and knights huddled together, wild-eyed and fearful. The beasts that surrounded them were not fully human, and the demonic beasts were almost as bad as the soldiers. Dimitri stayed close to Claude. “Do you think she’ll try to kill us?” he murmured.
Claude squinted at the figure in red. “It’s what I would do.”
Grimly, he turned to look over the Golden Deer and Blue Lions. No one had been killed, but Ingrid had injured her leg, and Lysithea was pale from exertion. In front of him, Raphael turned and began tearing off his cloak. “Raphael what are you doing!?”
“You and Claude need to take off your officer’s cloaks,” he said with a low tone. “Now.“
“He’s right,” Felix hissed. He frantically pulled over a body that was laying near where they had stopped. “Here, put it on this body.”
The student was a nameless commoner, but he did have pale hair. Dimitri looked on with horror as Felix purposely mutilated the face of the dead man while Leonie and Ignatz blocked the view of the Imperial soldiers who were keeping them corralled. “We can’t do anything for Claude, his skin’s too dark,” Hilda said softly.
“Hide him, make him look dead,” Lorenz answered. “Blood, we need to cover him in blood.”
Marianne shrugged off her jacket. As a healer, she’d gotten her share of blood stains. “It’s too small, but curl up. Huddle. Look like you’re hurting,” she whispered furiously.
Claude did as he was bid, shedding his bright yellow cloak as well. “This will only buy us time.”
“That’s all we need,” Sylvain replied, pushing him to lay out on the ground. Claude laid down, putting his head in Marianne’s lap. She covered him with the jacket, and Leonie smeared the congealed mess of blood from the dead body on his face. Dimitri found himself being pushed to sit with a group of other students, commoners who quickly pulled him into their group. He didn’t know their names, but the younger students - future priests of Seiros all - added to his disguise by rubbing bloody mud into his wheat blond hair. They all settled, but he saw Dedue pick up the dead body now dressed in his cloak, and cradle it. Ashe grabbed the dead man’s hand, and bowed his head. Mercedes and Annette completed their little illusion, weeping noisily.
When Edelgard came for them, she found their little tableaux just as they’d intended. “I know that’s Claude,” she said of the figure curled around Marianne.
The timid heir of Margrave Edmund looked up, tears cascading down her face. “He’s dying,” she choked out, and Dimitri was impressed with her acting ability.
Edelgard approached, and Dimitri tensed. He would have jumped up to attack, but the girl sitting next to him, threw her arms around him, keeping him in place. “You are our only hope,” she whispered into his ear. “You cannot win right now.”
It rankled, but the girl was right. So he clung to her as she had to him, and watched as Edelgard pulled back the jacket over Claude’s face. Claude had his eyes closed, and the gore smeared all over him made it look like he’d sustained a head wound. Edelgard regarded him impassively, and took out her dagger. He tensed again, realizing that it wasn’t the dagger he’d given her, but afraid for Claude all the same. Edelgard laid the edge of the dagger against Claude’s right eye, and then carved a deep gash from his eye to the corner of his mouth. Raphael and Lorenz lunged forward, but the soldiers caught them before they could stop her.
Amazingly, Claude did not move. He barely breathed. He looked all the world like a man who was already dead.
“He’ll be gone soon,” she murmured, before looking over to Dedue. “And Dimitri?”
Dedue and Mercedes glared at her. “Dead,” the Duscurian man answered, his voice shaking in rage. “Because of you.”
Now, Edelgard smiled. “For your loyalty, Dedue, I will spare you what is to come. Cut out the nobles. ”
Lorenz, Hilda, Lysithea, Felix, Sylvain, Mercedes, Marianne, and Ingrid were pulled away by the soldiers. Raphael crouched next to Claude as Dedue also was led away, holding the body Edelgard thought was his. The girl let go of Dimitri as Edelgard moved away, and Dimitri crawled over to Claude with the rest of the little group. The common students shielded the two lords, and all of them looked down to Claude. They young man opened his eyes, and pain made them glassy. “Shit that hurt.”
Dimitri found himself grinning. “How did you do that?”
“Srengi meditation technique my friend Nader taught me.” He winced. “Fuck, she cut me deep.” The blood was gushing down his face, and was getting into his mouth.
“What do we do now?” Ignatz asked.
“Whatever she’s up to,” Annette muttered, “It’s not good.” Ashe nodded in agreement.
However, it was Claude that held the answer. “She’s about to make an example of us. We need to move, and move fast. Right now she’s counting on all of these people to be horrified and unable to function. She’s removed the nobles because it would be political suicide to kill them. She can get away with this because it’s okay to weaken the church, but to kill a bunch of noble heirs? The others would pull support in the blink of an eye. Commoners on the other hand . . . we’re fair game.”
“What?” Leonie asked.
But Dimitri had caught on. “She’s going to slaughter the commoners. We have to go, now.”
“Make a break for the woods on the other side of the monastery,” Claude said. “Then head towards Faerghus. We need to stick together. I’m only confirmed half dead, so the Alliance won’t fall if I’m dead for a little while. We need to make sure you get home Dimitri.”
He nodded just as Edelgard called out, “Cull them!”
“Go!” Raphael cried. The group of students sprinted, Dimitri leading with his long legs and Crest-heightened muscles. Raphael and Claude were next, but Annette, Ashe, Leonie, and Ignatz were falling behind quickly. From behind him, Dimitri heard Raphael cry out, “Ignatz!”
“Go! Get Claude and Dimitri to safety! I’ve got him!” Leonie screamed. Chaos had broken out, screaming filling the air as the Knights fought back as best they could to protect their students. The noble born students were screaming and fighting as well, and Dedue had thrown the dead body he’d been forced to carry at the soldiers that were guarding them. Dimitri could see Ferdinand and Dorothea running towards them.
“This way!” Dorothea screamed, her eyes wide with terror.
“Come on!” Ferdinand cried. They managed to lead the noble born away form the fighting, and the little group of fleeing commoners managed to met up with them. Dimitri turned back one last time, as did Claude. There, not far from where Ignatz had fallen, he and Leonie were huddled together. Two spearmen stood over them, and though he was too far away to see it, Dimitri thought he saw Leonie smile down at Ignatz.
Claude screamed their names.
“We don’t have time!” Bernadetta shouted, her voice made authoritative by her terror. “You have to go now!”
“We’ve set free who we could,” Linhardt said. “But Hubert and Petra can only keep Edelgard occupied for so long.”
“Go down to the trees on the other side of the monastery, keep below the ridge line,” Caspar said quickly. “There are patrols there, but we’ve sent Manuela and Hanneman down ahead of you.”
“We’re sorry,” Dorothea whispered.
Dimitri wanted to scream at them, but he had more important things to do. “You’re still monsters,” he snarled.
Caspar, Bernadetta, and Dorothea looked stricken. Ferdinand and Linhardt looked resigned. “Go,” Ferdinand said coldly. “Just get out of here.”
Dimitri turned and led what remained of the Blue Lions, Golden Deer, and students of Garreg Mach away.
The first night was the worst. They had no food, no blankets, and they dared not light any fires. The chill of winter had not truly left the land, so they were cold and exhausted. For a time, Sylvain and Ingrid had fallen behind and Claude had gone back to help them. When they caught back up to the group, all three had been crying. Dimitri had not asked, but they’d stumbled upon Professor Hanneman’s mutilated corpse hung from a tree.
He could imagine what had become of Manuela.
The little group had broken up into pairs and trios, all desperately huddling to stay warm. Dedue had curled around Mercedes and Annette, while Ingrid and Sylvain shared their warmth. Ashe had piled in with several of the other other commoners as well as Raphael, Lysithea, Hilda, and Lorenz. Felix was sitting up on watch, but he would probably end up with the others soon. Dimitri sat beside Claude, the two of them shivering in the night.
“They were raping her,” Claude finally said.
Dimitri glanced over at him. “I’m sorry you saw that.”
Claude looked over at him, his eyes wide and haunted. “I wanted to help her, but there were ten of them. She . . . she told us to run.”
There wasn’t really anything Dimitri could say to that. So he did what he had yearned for someone to do for him after the Tragedy. He pulled Claude into his arms. The other young man heaved a sob, and Dimitri began to pet his hair. “I won’t lie and say it’ll be okay . . . But we can fix this. We can stop this. We can stop her.”
Claude returned the embrace, his fingers digging into the cloth of Dimitri’s soiled coat. His head was buried into Dimitri’s chest, and the taller boy didn’t stop petting his hair. They stayed like that for a long time.
The little group marched for days. They managed to get supplies at a small village they stumbled on the second day, but they dared not stay. When Dimitri tried to tell some of the common students to stay, their leader - the girl who had held him back that first day who went by the name Sara - had told him they were not going to leave until they’d safely delivered Dimitri and Claude to Fhirdiad. So on they went, though now they were supplied with all that they needed.
They were about two weeks from the capital by foot, but were hoping to make Galatea territory in a little over five days. Claude and Dimitri stuck close together, and spirits were beginning to rise. Sylvain was starting to charm the ladies again, and Ashe was smiling. Lorenz was doting on the ladies, though the only one who appreciated it was Marianne, who blushed with every compliment he gave her. Claude himself was also starting to crack jokes and flirt with everything that moved.
Of course, that’s when things went completely wrong.
It was mid-afternoon, and an ominous rumble sounded from behind the party. The band spread out, melting into the trees. Out onto the trail, right where they’d been, a demonic beast crashed into view. It was a great wolf creature, and it growled as it scented the air. Claude and Dimitri had ducked behind the trunks of two trees, and shared a look. This was bad. The creature would not take a particularly long time to find any of them. Before the two could even think, a voice rang out. “Luna!“
From her hiding place, Lysithea cast one of her spells. The creature dodged, but she flew out into the road. “Everyone run!”
“Lysithea!” Claude shrieked. “No!”
She turned to him, and gave him a hard look. “I can take him! Go!”
“No, I’m not leaving you!” he cried, but Dimitri grabbed his hand and yanked him along.
“Don’t worry!” Ashe yelled, pulling out his bow, “I’ll help her. Go!”
This time Dimitri stopped. “Dammit,” he growled, nodding to Claude.
They ran back the way they had come, while the other students doubled back too. They drew the simple iron weapons they had managed to find, but in the end, they were too late. The creature lunged at Lysithea, but she leapt out of the way. Instead, it crashed into a tree, and then turned on Ashe. The young man didn’t move quickly enough, and its great paw caught him in the middle. He went flying, and while Lysithea was distracted trying to track where he would fall, the thing got her. She screamed as blood poured from her torso, and all of the others froze. It held her there in the air for a moment, and she locked eyes with Claude.
Lysithea smiled, the curve of lips sad and gentle. “Go.” Her one free hand went to the beast’s muzzle. “Seraphim.“
The light that flashed was blinding, and when it was over, the beast was dead.
But so was Lysithea.
Claude ducked his head into Dimitri’s shoulder. “Ashe?” Dimitri asked dully. The old guilt started to rise up, and he fervently prayed that he wouldn’t add Ashe’s voice to the ghosts in his mind.
Marianne was the first to the young archer. She looked up and shook her head. “His neck . . . he went quickly.”
Guilt crashed through Dimitri. He wrapped an arm around Claude’s shoulders as the others hung their heads in sorrow. “Too many,” Felix said out loud. “There’s been goddess damned too many.” Coming from him, the sentiment meant something.
They made it to Galatea’s holdings without further incident. The little group was solemn and silent though, almost the entire way. The jokes left again, and Dimitri kept hearing Ashe and Lysithea talking behind him. At first it was just the distinct murmur of their voices, then their plaintive cries to be listened to. He tried to shake them off, but they were there, just like his father and all the others. The only thing that kept them all at bay was Claude.
The young lord was quiet again, but he stayed near Dimitri as well. They walked at the head of the line, and when Dimitri focused on Claude, the voices behind him ceased. During the nights, being near Claude helped keep the dreams at bay too. They had gotten bedrolls from another village they’d stumbled onto, but everyone still slept close to one another. The two lordlings went as far as to share one pallet, using one roll as the top and the other as the bottom. Dimitri had no idea what Claude got from their arrangement, but neither young man was ever willing to sleep apart. None of the others commented on it either, though sometimes Felix would send them speculative glances, and Marianne and Hilda would share looks.
When they arrived, Lord Galatea was there to greet them. He stood outside the village nearest his keep, a battalion of soldiers at his back. He embraced his daughter tightly. “I’m so glad you’re alright.”
“Thank you, Father,” Ingrid murmured. Sylvain hovered near her, and it was not lost on anyone how much he cared for the young woman.
Lord Galatea turned his gaze to Dimitri and Claude. “I hate that I have two future leaders of Fódlan here under such circumstances, but please, come rest in my home.”
“My thanks, Lord Galatea,” Dimitri said.
“Your kindness is much appreciated,” Claude added.
“This way, Prince Dimitri, Lord von Riegan.” He led the motley group of refugees into his home. “I’m afraid that as a smaller house we do not possess enough facilities for all of you to have individual rooms -“
“Lord von Riegan and I can share,” Dimitri said. “And please, keep your personal quarters. I know the custom would be for us to take the master suite, but we will be fine with a guest room.”
Ingrid took a deep breath, and looked to Sylvain. “And I can stay with Ingrid.” Before Lord Galatea could completely blow his temper, Sylvain continued, “Ingrid has done me the honor of consenting to be my wife. If you would fetch your village priest, we can make it official with a hand fasting.”
Lord Galatea’s round face was completely immobile. Dimitri imagined that the man warred with two opposing feelings - triumph because a marriage into the Gautiers would bring the Galateas status, and worry because of Sylvain’s reputation. “I can vouch for it,” Claude said, but only Lord Galatea didn’t know the young lord was lying through his teeth. “I heard them discussing their plans.”
Felix rolled his eyes, but no one disputed Claude’s claim, even though this was just as much a surprise to all of them as it had been to Lord Galatea. The lord nodded, and sent for a priest. “Be that as it may, we still will be short rooms.”
The room situation was sorted, and the refugees witnessed two of their own join in the first step towards holy matrimony. Lorenz spoke to Claude, and revealed that he was planning on asking for Marianne’s hand as well. In all, it was a strange and yet wonderful evening that laid a balm on many souls. After an impromptu feast, the group retired to bed, determined to move on to Fhirdiad in the morning. Claude and Dimitri found themselves in the best guest room.
“You know, I didn’t fight this,” Claude said, “but I guess now would be the time to admit that I normally sleep in the nude.”
Dimitri, who had been pulling off his filthy traveling clothes, froze. “I . . . didn’t even consider that.”
Claude grinned, a bit of his old self peeking through the gloom. “Yeah, I got that.”
The young prince bit his lip, blushing furiously. “Well, I, uh, . . . we have to bathe first, and then I guess I could ask . . . I can go sleep with Dedue.”
Claude rolled his eyes. “Firstly, that made no sense. Secondly, Dedue is currently squished into a room with all of the commoner boys. Thirdly, Lord Galatea would have a fit if you did that.”
“Well, I could let you get into bed first, and well, I usually sleep in the nude too, but I can -“ Dimitri was not entirely sure what he was trying to say. When he’d proposed them staying in the same room, it had been with the thought that it would be like sleeping together on the road. He didn’t think about the fact that in a building, they may both want to wear more comfortable clothes to bed. Which apparently in both of their cases meant wearing nothing at all.
However, Claude stopped him by putting a finger to his lips. “You are completely oblivious, you know that?”
“I . . . I’m sorry.” Dimitri curled a little bit, unhappy with himself.
Claude rolled his eyes. “Dimi. Just wash your ass and get in bed.”
Completely confused, Dimitri did as he was bid. They had been provided a hip bath and screen, so he bathed quickly and dried himself after hurriedly undressing behind the screen. He kept the towel wrapped around his hips as he got into bed. Claude shook his head and started stripping. Dimitri tried to look away, but curiosity kept his eyes on Claude. He had never told anyone, but he had nursed a bit of a physical attraction to Claude since the beginning of the year. He found the other young lord fascinating, but was confused by the fact. He’d been falling in love with the Professor, but at the same time had found himself wondering what Claude looked like naked.
Well, now he knew.
Claude didn’t seem bothered at all about his nudity, striding around like he owned the place. He bathed, dried off, and then walked over to the bed in all his naked glory. He was sleek and slim like Dimitri, still too young to have the true breadth of muscle that would come with later maturity. He was also much hairier than Dimitri was. He slid into the bed, and the two of them laid on their backs, staring at the ceiling. It was an awkward kind of silence, but neither one of them shattered it as Dimitri finally succumbed to sleep.
But he didn’t stay that way long. The dreams started immediately. His father, his step-mother, Ashe . . . Leonie . . . All crying out to him. “Help us! Save us! Why did you fail us?“
Warm hands on his shoulders brought him back to consciousness. “Dimitri,” Claude said softly, “It’s okay.”
Dimitri didn’t even think, he just lunged forward, rolling until he had Claude firmly in his embrace. Claude didn’t fight back, he just wrapped his arms around the other young man. “I was wondering when you’d finally break,” Claude murmured. “It’s okay. I’m here.”
“I failed them.” Dimitri wheezed. “I failed them all.”
“Dimi,” Claude said, putting his hand beneath the blond’s chin. “Look at me.”
Dimitri looked up, and found nothing but compassion and something else burning in Claude’s eyes. “I’m here,” he said, laying a kiss on Dimitri’s forehead. “I’m here.”
Letting out a deep, shuddering breath, Dimitri leaned down until his forehead touched Claude’s. “Thank you.”
Claude smiled. “My pleasure.” He stroked Dimitri’s back, petting him down his spine, his fingers pleasantly stroking across his skin. The lovely feeling calmed Dimitri back to sleep.
If I have not killed one of your precious babies by now, I've done my job poorly.
Chapter 6: To Innocents Lost
A toast for all we've lost.
“We have to move the bodies.”
Dimitri glanced over to the pair still embracing. He was examining Pallardo, interested in how Byleth had managed to take out five men at once. He was also concerned about Claude. He hadn’t seen Claude break like this since they’d lost Hilda at Fódlan’s Locket. “Why? The rest of this place is a corpse riddled mess. Why should we care about a few more?”
The look Byleth gave him was absolutely venomous. When he’d first met her, she had been stone cold and unemotional. The difference between that Byleth he’d met nearly six years ago and the steely-eyed harridan in front of him was striking. “I cannot decide if you’re simply a fool or actually blinded in both eyes.”
He growled but Claude snorted from his spot buried in her neck.
“If we leave them to rot here they’ll foul the fishing pond and the greenhouse,” she snapped. “It’s a miracle you two haven’t given yourselves typhoid.”
Dimitri scowled. “Fine. We can throw them in the ravine.” He stomped forward and gathered up the bodies. With his Crest, their weight was more or less negligible. They were more ungainly than anything else. “Did you have to behead him?” he muttered as the last body’s head went rolling on the ground.
She swooped down and grabbed the dismembered body part by the greasy hair. “Disgusting,” she murmured with a sneer. “And excuse me for deciding I’d really rather not be raped. Next time I’ll just politely ask.”
Claude took the head from her, and looked at the face of the bandit. The man had been in his twenties, his skin tan from long hours outdoors. His face was stuck in an expression of dull surprise. Claude looked at it impassively, and then began pressing his thumbs into the dead man’s eyes. There was a wet squishing sound, and then Claude smiled coldly. “Bastard should have never even looked at you.”
Dimitri turned away. Ever since Manuela, Claude had had a special hard on for sexual predators. They’d been run out of a village just because he’d had the gall to castrate the mayor. Dimitri wondered if those people had ever figured out that it had been the mayor who was raping and killing the dead girls being attributed to demonic beasts in the woods. “Claude, come on.”
The two men hiked back to the drop off near the old cathedral and tossed the bodies into the air. “They could have hurt her,” Claude murmured.
“Yes, they could have.” Dimitri said. “Did you see the wounds?”
Claude nodded. “Headless was the first victim. He was probably the one who ripped her bodice. She took his sword in recompense, and then his head.”
“All the others had stab wounds to the heart.” He shook his head. “She is insanely skilled. Not only did she defeat five men in a dress, she took them out cleanly. Got their hearts right through their ribs. One had a wound to the kidney. Pallardo was the only one she stabbed in the crotch, but then again, his pants were open.”
Claude spit over the edge. “Is that why you’re not more upset? She’s not an innocent?”
Dimitri cackled. It was not a pleasant sound, but instead the grating noise of a soul made of broken glass. It was a hair-raising sound that had left even Claude chilled more than once. “Byleth is a monster just like us. She just never hid it.”
When they returned to the greenhouse, Byleth was still there. She was pulling weeds from a few of the outdoor boxes. Her dress was still filthy with blood, and her breast still hung for all to see. “You aren’t going to go change?” Claude asked gently.
She turned to look at them with a blank expression. “My dress is already dirty, and I have work to do.”
Claude reared back. “But you -“
She smiled at him. “Do you actually think that’s the first time I’ve ever had to fight off rapists?”
The words were stark in the morning light. “What?”
“When I was ten years old,” she said, “one of the new recruits snuck into my father’s tent. When I asked what he wanted, he told me that if I told anyone what he was about to do, he’d kill me. I threw a dagger into his neck.”
Dimitri froze. “Ten?”
“When I was twelve, my breasts had budded. On a job in Adrestia, my father left me behind to help protect the village. Three of the bandits tried to bum rush me. They did manage to hold me down, but I got them each in the femoral artery.”
Both men shared a look. “When I was sixteen, I realized that bandit men would always attack me first because they thought I was weaker, thought they could have my body. So I started wearing my short pants and my patterned stockings. Thrust my breasts up enticingly.” Her voice turned scornful. “You’d be surprised how many experienced fighters’ brains turn to mush when confronted with big breasts and long legs on a battle field.”
Claude chuckled. “Yeah.”
Dimitri gave him a speculative look. Claude grinned. “How do you think she managed to get one over on me during the Battle of the Eagle and Lion? She thrust her tits up at me, and it was all over.”
Byleth gave them an arch smile. “Your face was kind of funny. Poor thing. Hilda asked me how I did it.”
“Did what?” Dimitri asked.
Claude was blushing. “I, uh, might have tripped over my own feet on the field.”
For the first time in a long time, Dimitri laughed. A genuine laugh, not a crazed cackle. It was only one huffed “ha,” but it was something. He leaned over, and began to pull weeds as he completely ignored Claude’s wide-eyed expression. “So why didn’t you skin Claude when he started making advances?”
Her arch smile turned shy, and she didn’t answer immediately. She put her head down, and licked her lips. “Because I’m not actually opposed to . . . to sex with you. Just, I object to being manipulated into it.”
“Fair,” Claude said evenly, though Dimitri had looked up and saw his predatory look.
“Claude,” he said evenly.
“What?” Claude said with a wide-eyed expression.
Byleth threw a weed at him. “Don’t start again.”
“/What?/“ he said with a whine. “You can’t just tell me that and not expect a scheme or two!”
And then the most magical thing happened. Byleth laughed. Her eyes closed and her smile was wide. “Incorrigible. That hasn’t changed.”
Dimitri continued pulling weeds, allowing them to banter over his head.
Far from Garreg Mach, deep in the center of Enbarr, a meeting was taking place. It had taken place once a week for five years, and always at the same time, but never the same place. Sometimes it was in the castle proper, sometimes a nice coffeehouse in the nicer part of town. Sometimes it was in one of their homes, and sometimes out in the open air. The make up of the meeting also never changed.
Noblemen all, the members of this strange committee had one mission - to protect the last hope of Fódlan.
Every other week, they did welcome one more member to their group. A young merchant with a jovial smile and muscles hard as granite. Raphael walked into the meeting room, delighted that this time dinner would be served as well. They were in a public house, and the leader of the little committee had bought the private dining room for the evening. The food was said to be excellent here. “Evening all!”
The committee numbered four, two noblemen and their two noble wives. Hubert and Petra, Marquis and Marchioness Vestra sat on one side of the table as the Duke and Duchess of Aegir, Ferdinand and Dorothea, sat on the other. “Raphael,” Hubert murmured with a blank smile. “Sit. Eat.”
The little group tucked into their food. “How are things?” Ferdinand asked.
Raphael nodded. “Good, good. The wolves are bit restless though. One of em was sniffing around a female.”
Dorothea’s lips pursed. “Are they now?”
“How are Leonie and Ignatz?” Petra asked, giving Dorothea a sharp look.
Raphael stopped eating for a moment. “The same.”
With a nod, the conversation lapsed back into small talk. They spoke of children - Raphael had not married, but the Vestras had a two-year old and the Aegirs a three-year old. Dorothea wanted another child, but Petra wanted to wait another year or two. They gossiped about the Gautiers and the Gloucesters, how Bernie and Caspar were getting on. Apparently Bernie so liked children that in the four years the two had been married they were already on their third one. Edelgard was not discussed.
Raphael departed, and the other four got down to business.
“So the wolf is venturing out, eh?” Petra murmured.
Hubert shook his head. “I’ve long suspected that the wyvern is lying through his teeth to Raphael, but this proves it. I doubt anything could induce the wolf to play nice long enough to find himself in a village girl’s bed.”
“Not after the last assassin you sent their way,” Ferdinand agreed.
Hubert shrugged. “Better to have them scarred than dead. If they’d continued as they had been, Edelgard would have found out that they were really alive. As it is, we have a job ahead of us making sure that she doesn’t find them.”
“And our friends in Duscur? How do they fare?” Ferdinand pressed.
“Well, from what I hear,” Hubert replied. He sipped his wine and smiled at his wife. “Another little one on the way to one couple, from what I gathered. What of our friend out at the Locket?”
“The locals still say that demonic beasts roam too close to risk it,” Dorothea answered, “But I suspect it’s dragons we must contend with there. One, a deep verdant green, likes to nest in the towers from what I’m told.” She grinned. “A little baby dragon is also seen roaming nearby.”
“No sign of the blazing blade?” Petra asked softly.
The other three shook their heads. “Rhea said she would return,” Hubert said softly. “We must have faith that she will.”
“To Leonie, Ignatz, Lysithea, Ashe,” Dorothea whispered.
“To innocents lost,” Ferdinand agreed softly.
They all drank to that.
That night, Byleth sat in her bath, contemplating the past day. She was not particularly traumatized by what had happened to her. It might have been strange for others, and terrifying, but she had been raised as a mercenary. Jeralt had been shocked after the incident when she was ten, but she’d looked at him and said clearly, “I’m a warrior.”
He’d taken her at her word.
The door to the bathing room opened, and she watched as Claude entered, naked as the day he was born. “Getting a bit uppity aren’t we?” she asked softly.
He grinned. “Aw, come on Teach. You were the one who bitched about our hygiene.”
She rolled her eyes as he quietly washed at the station next to her. Dimitri also entered, and he sat on the stone floor. He was naked from the waist up, but still wore his black linen britches. He curled into himself not unlike the way she’d first seen him. Claude finished up, and slid into the hot bath with her. Rhea’s bedchamber and sitting room had been sparse, but her bathing room had been where she’d spent extra care. The bath tub was a large circular bowl that was more than large enough for three or four people to comfortable lounge. Byleth looked to him. “Uppity.”
He grinned at her. For a flash, she saw the man who had mutilated a corpse, and then the boy who had smiled brightly whenever he saw her. She still wasn’t completely sure why he was the way he was. “What happened?” she asked softly.
This time, Claude didn’t shy away from the question. He reached up and touched the scar that slashed across his right cheek. “Edelgard did this. She was making sure I was on death’s door. Marianne and the others were trying their best to keep me alive, and they tried to make me look like I was dying already. She decided to test it by cutting into my cheek.”
Her hands itched to touch the scar, to soothe it. She’d been undemonstrative for so long, but something about coming to Garreg Mach had changed all of that. She ached to comfort him, to let him know it would be alright. “Keep going,” she murmured, knowing that there was more to the story.
So Claude did. He told her about the slaughter of the commoner students. He told her about Hanneman and Manuela. About Lysithea and Ashe. “We lost too many.”
She felt tears on her cheeks. “Oh, Claude.” She gave in to the urge to reach out. He let her cup his cheek, and he closed his eyes. She looked over to see Dimitri looking up at them. She reached out to him. “I’m sorry I left you.”
He looked from her face to her hand, and then got up and went back into the other rooms.
Betcha didn't see some of THAT coming, huh?
Chapter 7: The Stars Speak
Claude makes a realization.
Deep in the forests of Fódlan’s Throat, the Locket stood in all its ruined glory, a testament to times long past. Out beyond it, just on the border with Almyra, a long line of magic fire kept anyone from crossing in or out of what the rest of the world now called the Cursed Continent. Both Sreng and Almyra’s borders with it had been closed by fiery walls of magic, and ports had been closed by evil looking ironclads that belched strange beams of light. Only Brigid continued to trade with the mainland, but that was because the woman who should have been queen was married to a well-connected Marquis.
The villages that lay down in the lower elevations around the Throat told stories of demonic beasts unleashed in the area, prowling the higher foothills, but they only told these tales to outsiders. These old citizens of the Leicester Alliance knew what really lived up there, and they were bound and determined to protect it. Rather than be fearful of the dragons who swooped through the peaks, they loved them. There was a lady dragon the color of morning sunlight, and a set of imposing males, one the dusky brown of desert sand, the other the steel blue of a stormy lake. Then there was the male of verdant green who shepherded a tiny baby dragon the soft white of new fallen snow.
It was the green one - the one the locals had taken to calling the Stern One - who liked to nest in the ruined fortress of Fódlan’s Locket. It was there that he was dreaming now, dreaming deeply from his comfortable nest curled around his mate and his young child.
Dreaming of a familiar face made unfamiliar by goddess-like power.
He saw her, the Professor, standing in front of the Imperial Army. She faced them defiantly, her face cloaked in tears. Mint green eyes and mint green hair began to shine with inner light as she continued to weep. At her feet, two bodies lay on the ground, two familiar men that should have already been dead. “You monsters,” she hissed to three figures standing at the head of the other army. Two of them were hatefully familiar to the verdant dragon. The third was new, but had the look of the Agarthan menace about him.
“Monsters we may be,” Edelgard replied, her voice cold and clear. Her eyes red and her skin being overtaken by black scales. “But we’re no more monstrous than you, Sothis.”
The Professor’s eyes glowed even brighter, her lips curling back from sharp white teeth even as those lips bled to black. Her eyes were lined with kohl now, and her hair lengthened, whipping in the wind. “I am not Sothis.” Her voice lowered, went guttural, bestial. “I. Am. Byleth.“
“But what are you goddess of?” the verdant dragon asked. Sothis had been guardian goddess of Fódlan, her main aspects those of creation and time. He did not actually expect an answer, but those glowing eyes full of rage and hatred turned to him.
“I am a warrior,” this new goddess said. “I will always fight.”
Byleth returned to the greenhouse the next morning, and began to work on the planters inside the house. Claude returned with her, unwilling since the night before to let her full out of his sight. He had not slept in the bed room with her, but he had pulled his and Dimitri’s pallet over to be able to look in to where she was in bed. She had not truly minded, knowing that much of his damage was linked to witnessing Manuela’s horrible fate and the loss of so many of the Golden Deer. It was hard to blame him for being a little clingy. Instead, she put him to work in the greenhouse.
Dimitri, however, kept his distance. He came down to that portion of the monastery, but he didn’t enter the greenhouse. Instead, he stationed himself in the shadows of one of the walls, keeping watch for a threat that was probably only in his head. Claude admitted that they were the reason that many of the smaller items of value around the monastery had gone missing, and that only Pallardo’s gang and their mysterious supplier came around. He still didn’t share a name, and Byleth figured it was too soon to ask.
They worked, and that evening, they bathed together. She was quickly losing her shyness around the two men, becoming comfortable enough that she thought nothing of relieving herself in front of them. It wasn’t until she was cleaning herself that she fully realized just how intimate this all was. She hadn’t felt comfortable using the toilet in front of anyone since she had to toddle to an outhouse with her father. But after she rinsed herself and slid into the tub, Dimitri took his turn on the porcelain throne, so she accepted that this was her life now. Dimitri still didn’t bathe with her and Claude, but they spent almost half an hour sitting in the tub, chatting about Byleth’s plans for the greenhouse.
After their bath, she prepared their dinner of pumpkin and winter greens. Outside, it started to snow. “The snows are starting late this year,” Claude observed. “Must be because the fall was warmer than usual.”
Byleth smiled. “At least that meant we still have usable squash. We’ll need to hurry and store some of the ones in contact with the ground. If they get wet they’ll start to rot.”
“We can do that tomorrow,” he replied, handing a goblet to Dimitri. The blond eyed him, and Claude stared right back. “Problem?” he growled quietly.
“Awfully homey aren’t we?” Dimitri muttered, finally looking away.
“Revenge can wait until I have a proper lay of the land outside the monastery,” Byleth said, “And I’d prefer to make this a better home base.”
Both men had turned to her, surprised. “What? Do you think I don’t know what you want to use me for?”
“Other than sex?” Claude murmured with a small smile. He poked the fire, and added a log carefully to avoid the soup bubbling away over the fire.
“No, we can’t forget the sex,” she said, deadpan. “Perish the thought.”
“I’ll get you into bed sooner or later,” Claude replied playfully.
“Yes, as soon as Dimitri smiles,” she returned. Both of them turned to the man in question. He sneered at them.
“Okay, using Dimitri as a metric of when it would be acceptable for me to shag you silly is unfair,” he said.
“If you need to get your cock wet,” Dimitri snarled, “I’ll do it.”
The other two looked at him. “Not the point Dimi,” Claude said softly.
Dimitri rose, and stomped out. Claude sighed. “Sorry.”
“For his foul temper. He’s not actually mad . . .”
She snorted. “Please, I’m well aware that he still has issues accepting me.” She went to the hearth and stirred the soup. “Is he jealous? Does he not want us to be intimate?”
Claude scratched his beard. “Honestly? I don’t know. He and I have been together ever since the monastery fell, but I don’t think he even realizes the complete ramifications of our relationship.”
She gave him a questioning look, so he continued. “Dimitri and I started sleeping together - literally, not sexually - on our flight from the monastery. We didn’t start fucking until we were on the run from Fhirdiad. I . . . I don’t think he fully ever realized that we’re in a relationship.” He walked over to where she stood and put his arms around her waist, bringing their hips together while looking down at her with a smile. “We used to talk about how much we loved you.”
“Oh really?” she said.
He nodded. “I still do.”
Byleth’s heart squeezed. She knew what he was fishing for, but also knew that she couldn’t lie to him. “I’m flattered, but I don’t love you. How could I? I don’t know you. You’re not the Claude von Riegan I knew five years ago. You smile and you flirt and you joke, but you also gouge out eyes and live covered in blood and muck.”
Claude had frozen, and she could see the man inside shriveling and curling in on himself in pain. “I wasn’t even in love with you five years ago. How could I be? You were my student, and I was never destined to be the wife of a duke. Yes, I was flattered by your attentions - what young woman wouldn’t be? But love? The love like my father had for my mother? Neither of us ever got anywhere near that.”
“So,” he said with a strangled voice, “All the talk of sex was just about fucking. Nothing else there.”
She sighed. “No, because I could have fallen in love with you five years ago. I can still fall in love with you now.” She reached up and cupped his cheek. “You’re not the Claude you were five years ago, but that’s okay. Even if none of this had happened, none of the pain or the rage or the war, you still wouldn’t be the same young man who tripped over his feet on the battlefield. You would always be someone else, a new Claude with new experiences. That’s what’s happened to you. It’s up to you to decide who this new Claude is, and I’m sorry, but the one I’ve lived with for the past four days is not one that I can love easily.”
“Why?” he asked harshly, pulling her hand away from his face.
“What do you dream?” she asked softly, “When you look up at the stars at night, do they bring you comfort?”
“Revenge,” he said. “And the stars stopped talking to me long ago.”
“That’s why,” she replied. “Because you’ve forgotten what used to be important to you.”
He snarled. “So, revenge is suddenly bad,” he cried, pushing her away. “But it was perfectly okay for you?”
“I never had dreams of my own!“ she shrieked. “I was an empty shell of a human being! I had nothing but my father, nothing but someone else’s fight! I never had anything worth fighting for! But you did! You and Dimitri both! You had dreams and desires and hopes that I never dreamed of! And all of your dreams are still there! Still achievable!” She felt tears running down her face. “And getting my revenge didn’t bring my father back. It didn’t give me a new purpose. It just took even more from me. I lost the only other being that I could even come close to calling a parent. Then I thought that I could make Garreg Mach my dream . . . and now it’s gone too.”
She turned away from him. “And here I am, five years later, still fighting someone else’s fight. The monastery’s gone. Rhea’s gone. My father’s gone. Sothis is gone. There’s just me, and you, and Dimitri. So here I am again, trying desperately to find something worth fighting for. And I can help you get your revenge, but I can’t fall in love with you if revenge is all you want because it will consume you and I can’t lose another person I love.“
“And you think I want to lose anyone else?“ he bellowed in response. “I’m terrified that if I close my eyes, you’ll be gone. Dimitri will be gone. What use to me are dreams when I am just fighting to protect what I have left?”
She didn’t respond, just walked into the bedroom and slammed shut the door.
Claude stood alone in the sitting room, his shoulders slumped. He was angry, so angry, but he also understood where she was coming from. That was the sticking point - he could tell exactly what she was thinking and why. He had pushed everyone but Dimitri away over the last five years. “Dammit,” he muttered. “Just dammit.”
He pulled the soup off the fire, and stomped out himself. He wandered aimlessly around the monastery grounds. The sun was setting in the west, and he found himself sitting on the dock over the fishing pond. He could see them lazily swimming beneath him, and then he saw his own face reflected in the water. His hair was cleanish, but long, shaggy, and unkept. He’d been washing his hair, but he hadn’t combed it in . . . goddess knew. He had several matts, including his old braid that had never been groomed since they’d left Fhirdiad four years before. His beard was long and bushy, and he had to admit that he didn’t blame Byleth or Dimitri for not wanting to kiss him.
But more than that, he couldn’t blame either one of them for being disgusted with him for other reasons either. Claude put his head in his hands. He was an absolute disaster. He was furiously trying to keep both Dimitri and Byleth, but the problem was he had neither. Dimitri was so closed off and depressed that he couldn’t love anyone, and Byleth was so afraid to lose that she was afraid to love. She’d help them get their revenge, but what would he lose? Dimi would absolutely sacrifice his life in order to kill Edelgard, and Byleth would disappear as soon as she felt that she wasn’t needed anymore. As things were, he’d quickly lose them both.
That was unacceptable.
He looked up to the rapidly darkening sky, up to the first stars of the evening. He stared up at the sky, and tears came to his eyes. “When did I really stop talking to you?” he asked them. “When did I lose my way? I should have never let what happened to me kill my dream. I wanted a world without borders. Wanted a world where ideas and knowledge could be exchanged freely.” He looked down at his hands. “Has it really changed? Don’t I want those things still?”
He pondered for a few moments before looking back up at the stars. “No, I want more. I want a world where no woman or child fears abuse. Where everyone is free to live their lives how they see fit.”
Claude took out his dagger, and grabbed on to his old braid. He sawed through his hair, and threw it into the pond. Then, he began sawing at the other matts in his hair. Soon, he was working on his beard, hacking and sawing. The final product was rough, but he smiled at his reflection.
He stood up and marched all the way back to the apartments. Dimitri was not back, but Byleth had come back out and was eating soup. She looked up, and then frowned. “What did you do?”
“A really bad haircut,” he replied. “And I do have a dream other than revenge.” He sat next to her, taking the chair that neither he nor Dimitri had ever sat in. “I want to make a world where everyone is free. Free from fear.”
“That’s a lot to dream,” she said with a small smile.
He reached out and took her hand. “And I want you to help me. I need you to help me.”
He smiled at her, a genuine smile, a smile that reached his eyes. “You reminded me of my dreams. And I want to achieve them.”
She nodded. “Okay, but no more mutilating corpses. It’s creepy.”
He grinned. “I make no promises.”
Not gonna lie, I tried to hold out, but LKS's head canon Claude refuses to be feral-feral for too long.
But he never did completely promise to stop mutilating people . . . and Claude would totally abuse loop holes . . .
Chapter 8: Prodigal Son
Judith takes a page from Claude's book.
Byleth took Claude into the bathing room, and sat him down on the washing stool. “First, let’s clean you up a bit.”
He allowed her to cut his hair and shave him properly. It was much easier for her to wield the dagger to smooth out his beard and hair. She ended up cutting his hair a little long still, and she gave him a chin-strap beard. He had to admit that he looked pretty good now. “Thanks,” he murmured when she was done.
She smiled down at him, and ran her fingers over the thing line of hair on the blade of his jaw. “No problem.” She turned to the door. “Now, come. Our food is getting cold.”
He followed her back out, and rather than sitting on the pallet on the floor, he took the chair again. “Has Dimitri come back?” he asked softly as she handed him his bowl.
Byleth shook her head. “No.”
He sighed. “I’m going to worry about him all night then. Neither of us sleeps well alone.”
She nodded, and sipped her soup. “Claude?”
“I . . . I just need you to know something. I do love you. Not romantically, that’s true, but . . . you’re my friend.” She didn’t look at him.
He was well aware that for her, this was a wild admission. He also couldn’t help the huge smile that wreathed his face. “It’s so funny to me that you are such a badass on the battle field, but emotions make you jumpier then a cow in a stable full of wyverns.”
She chuckled. “I know,” she said, finally looking up at him. “I’m aware. I just wanted you to know.”
“Do you mind that I love you romantically?” he asked baldly.
She bit her lip, then shook her head. “No. I don’t mind at all.”
“And you actually don’t mind me courting you?” he pressed, needing to have her permission now. “I know that before I made a lot of assumptions and pressed you hard, and that was not well done of me.”
She cocked a brow. “What the hell did the stars tell you?”
“They just reminded me of who I actually am,” he answered honestly. “I’m not going to be the old Claude like you said, but at my core, I am a dreamer, and I refuse to let the bitch take that from me. And like I said before, I want you by my side.”
“And Dimitri?” she asked softly.
He sighed. “I want him too, but . . .” He shook his head. “He’s going to take some work. Would you . . . would you be okay?”
“Okay with what?” she asked.
He decided that he could beat around the bush, or he could cut straight to the point and save everyone heartache. “I want a romantic relationship with you and Dimitri. I want us to be a trio. I want the homey shit that Dimitri got mad at. I want to ride Dimi’s cock while you ride mine, and then wake up next to the two of you the next morning with a smile on my face. I want enough children to fill this entire monastery, and I don’t care if they’re mine or his, because they will be ours. I want to spend the rest of my life with the two of you.”
Byleth just blinked at him, her eyes as wide as an owl’s. “And Edelgard? Fódlan?”
He shook his head. “I agree with you. We need to solidify our position here, but we do need to take out Edelgard. I want my revenge, but she’s done so much, condoned so much, that she needs to meet her maker. Fódlan deserves better than to live in fear.”
“We may never get there,” Byleth admitted baldly her eyes turning downward. “Will that bother you? If we just spend our lives here, quiet and peaceful?”
He grinned. “It would be paradise. Is that your dream, then? To live peacefully?”
She didn’t say anything for a long minute, and then looked up at him. “Who is left?”
He blinked at her, the meaning of her question taking a moment to sink in. “Ingrid and Sylvain are married and expecting their first child from what I know. Lorenz and Marianne are on their second. Flayn, Cyril, and Seteth haven’t been seen since the fall of Garreg Mach, and Rhea was taken to Enbarr. Some reports say she was executed, others say she’s still a prisoner there.”
She had not been told about many of the dead yet, so the small number of possible survivors stunned her. “No one else? What of the Black Eagles? You mentioned them at the Battle.”
He snarled. “What use would they be to us? They serve her.”
Byleth shook her head. “I may have been the professor for the Blue Lions, but I got to know everyone. Can you honestly, honestly, say that Dorothea would condone what you’ve seen? That Ferdinand and Caspar would relish watching demonic beasts ravage the countryside? Could you see Bernadetta being so cruel? I will acknowledge that Hubert and Edelgard may be lost causes, but the rest of them would never be this evil.”
He looked to his hands. He didn’t want to admit it, but she had a point. “Caspar and Bernadetta got married around the same time as Lorenz and Marianne. They’re raising a bunch of kids on the von Varley lands. Ferdinand shocked the hell out of everyone when he married Dorothea. Petra is probably also a lost cause - she married Hubert.”
“So, we have allies.” Byleth got up, and put her bowl in the small bucket she used to wash dishes. She’d started bringing up supplies so that the little apartment was becoming more and more homey. He liked the changes.
“I guess.” He cocked his head, squinting at her. “You never answered my question, Teach.”
She stopped, and then turned to look him right in the eye. “We will regroup. We will find allies. We will stop Edelgard, and when it is done, and we’ve given Fódlan a new chance, we will return here. If by then you’ve managed to win my heart, I promise I won’t mind filling the halls with laughing children.” She blushed and looked down. “Maybe some with blond hair, maybe some with brown.”
For the first time in five years, joy burst through Claude like a wave. “It’s a start,” he said softly, “it’s a start.”
“But what are we going to do about Dimitri? He may not agree to this,” Byleth murmured.
Claude sighed. “Yeah, he’s going to be a problem, but I think we can handle him. Together.”
Lorenz Hellman Gloucester was not a young man to cross. Though he came off as a dandy with nary a thought in his head beyond fashion and the appearance of nobility, Judith Daphnel had long ago learned that much of that attitude was an act. The boy had a keen eye and mind, and he did not hesitate to act if he felt the need. After the fall of the Leicester Alliance, he had quietly forced his father - that traitorous snake - out of his office. The elder Gloucester now resided on a small country estate near the Airmid River. Young Lorenz had taken over the main estate, and ruled his lands with surprising kindness and wisdom. His cute little wife apparently helped quite a bit, and had inherited her own title of Margrave Edmund.
Judith would have had a hard time trusting the young lord if not for his reaction to the deaths of Claude von Riegan and Hilda Goneril. When the council had seen Claude’s blood-stained clothes, Lorenz had punched the table and held his wife as they’d wept. She’d also been around him when they’d discovered the suspicious death of the young Goneril girl, and he’d also reacted as if a loved one had died. As she and Nader continued to ferment plans to take on Adrestia and the Flame Emperor, they kept the Lord of Gloucester in their plans.
However, she would never have guessed that he would be the one coming to her. “Good evening, Lady Daphnel.”
His manners were always impeccable. Her’s, not so much. “What do you want, young pup?”
However, rather than be offended, he just smiled. “Would you mind walking with me?” his asked, his eyes sliding to the other men and women in the council chamber. Even though they no longer governed the Alliance, the nobility still liked to meet once a month. They all understood that another young lord, Acheron, answered directly to the Flame Emperor and her consort.
“Of course,” she murmured, but did not take the arm offered. Again, the boy took no offense, and instead gave his other arm to his wife. Young Marianne was quiet, and serene. After they left the chamber and went out on the promenade, she pressed again. “What do you want?”
“An interesting bit of information came to me a day ago,” Lorenz answered softly. “A villager not far from Garreg Mach rescued a woman from the river. Poor dear was apparently traumatized. Thought she was a teacher and didn’t know that the Battle of Garreg Mach happened years ago.”
Judith’s insides froze, but years of practice kept her outside facade intact. “Interesting.”
“Indeed?” he answered with a titter. “Can you imagine? He also said this girl had the strangest hair and eyes he’d ever seen. Green is not uncommon, but mint green? With mint green eyes?”
Byleth. The pup had found Byleth Eisner. “Cut the bull shit.”
Lorenz smiled, but it didn’t quite reach his eyes. Marianne sighed. “Lorenz, please stop playing with her.”
“Ah, to have Hilda and Claude to match wits against again,” he sighed. “Even Ferdinand would be acceptable, or Sylvain. Well, I will cut the shit, as you say, and get to the point. We’ve found her, Judith. The woman Rhea told us to look for has magically appeared back under our noses.”
“Have you verified that it’s her?”
He shook his head. “Too dangerous. The local villages report too many demonic beasts in the area, even though small merchants haven’t reported any sightings. However, I did find out from a source in Adrestia that the area is under surveillance by von Vestra. He also cites beasts as the reason, but rumors say its because they suspect dragon activity in the area.”
“And we both know that the dragons haven’t left the Locket,” Judith muttered.
“Indeed,” he replied. “More likely is that von Vestra knows just as we do what is really hiding there.”
Judith stopped dead in the middle of the cobblestone path. “What are you talking about?” She felt her heart rate speeding. She’d held out hope for four years, hoping and praying that that stupid boy was out there some where, and she swore to the goddess that if this foppish brat was just playing with her . . .
He leaned close, his eyes smiling with true mirth. “Why, Claude von Riegan of course. He’s a little rough around the edges, but he’s there.”
This time, when he offered his arm, she took it because her knees had given out on her. Her godson was alive, and he was at Garreg Mach. She barely registered that the Gloucesters had swept her off the path and into a private alcove. There had not been many brave enough to face the evening chill, but they were still being cautious. Lord Acheron had been deep in conversation, but it would reach him quickly if anyone saw Judith, the Hero of Daphnel, collapsing like a maiden at her first cotillion. “He’s alive?”
Lorenz’s face took on a gentle, apologetic cast. “He came to see me a few months ago. Apparently he’s been living out of the monastery for the past two years. He escaped the hangman’s noose in Fhirdiad, and tried to make it to Almyra, but lost Hilda at the border. That was right as the first fire walls were going up. The clothing they sent us was his, and the blood was too, but he’d stripped as soon as he made it out of the castle.”
“He’s a survivor,” she murmured, “I made sure of that.” Her eyes filled with tears, but she refused to let them fall. Not until she was home and could tell Nader the good news.
“We need to make sure he’s protected,” Marianne murmured. “That’s why we came to you. If Claude and Byleth are there, we need to draw attention away from the monastery. If Edel - the Emperor should find out . . .”
“All hope would be lost,” Lorenz finished.
Judith nodded. “I will help you,” she replied, as a plan formed in her mind. “I’ve got an interesting set of friends who got stuck here when the flame walls went up.”
“Would these friends happen to include a certain manservant that gossips have seen you with?” Lorenz pressed, his smile still genuine and warm. It was his attitude that kept her from snapping at him.
“Yes, it would,” she said gently. “Though he’s not a manservant. Did Claude ever get around to telling you what his actual status in Almyra was?”
Lorenz and Marianne both shook their heads. “No, he never even confirmed that he was half-Almyran.”
Judith smiled. “Well, let us just say that those flame walls aren’t just to keep the Fódlish in, they’re also to keep the Almyrans out. I don’t think our dear Emperor actually knew that she’d ordered the death of Prince Mehr Al’Myra, second son of the King.”
Marianne covered her mouth while Lorenz’s jaw dropped. “Claude is a prince?!”
She scratched her chin, enjoying this just as much as Nader had enjoyed blowing her mind three years before when he’d finally admitted to why exactly one of Almyra’s top generals was acting as vassal to a supposedly Fódlish duke-to-be. “Yes, Prince Mehr Claude von Riegan Al’Myra.”
“So, if we found a way to take down the fire walls . . .” Marianne began.
Judith smiled evilly. “Oh, King Darius, Queen Marguerite, and Prince Selim would jump at the chance to get revenge.”
“The wards,” Lorenz said. “We attack the wards. If it works, we have allies in Almyra. If it doesn’t, we’ve at least drawn attention away from the monastery. Rumors are one thing, concrete facts will be another.”
“First, we gather more allies,” Judith said.
“Of course,” Lorenze agreed, his jovial smile returning. “Of course.”
Look at me, adding lore!
Anyway, I apologize for going from updating everyday to nothing for a couple of days. I am a mom of five with a full time job, so updates are always going to be erratic depending on what I'm doing. I'm going to try to keep it somewhere around once every couple of days, but I actually write a lot during the week, so it might be weekends where there aren't any updates at all.
And thank you all so much for continuing to read this. It's kind of become my baby, and I'm having a blast writing it.
Chapter 9: Darkest Before Dawn
Revelations are not always good things.
A week passed in gentle routine. Dimitri rarely showed his face, only showing up during the day as if to check on his two fellow denizens of the dead monastery. Claude and Byleth were left totally to themselves, but they didn’t try to push the other man. He was skittish already, and after the first day, prone to sleeping in the middle of the sunny patches of cleared ground around the graveyard. Byleth had discovered this at the end of that week, along with something else.
She had gone into the cathedral, curious to see what had become of it. Claude had gone out hunting since they’d eaten through most of the small deer Dimitri had brought in at the beginning of the week. The downside to Dimitri and Byleth’s Crests were that they ate a great deal, and so a deer that should have lasted several weeks only went for one. It was also the dead of winter, and snow had been falling on and off for the last few days, so his chances of finding anything larger than a rabbit were slim. She had decided not to disturb Dimitri’s nap, but instead to enter the cathedral proper.
The wood had begun to rot in some places due to the massive hole in the ceiling, and rubble covered a large portion of the floor in front of the altar. She almost didn’t hear the soft growling as she went to check out the Saint’s room, but a barking roar alerted her to the fact that she wasn’t alone. Slowly, she turned to face the creature that had been nesting amongst the rubble of the ceiling. The weak midwinter’s sunlight fell on a massive wyvern, at least half again the size of the biggest one Byleth had ever ridden. Its scales were lily white, and its eyes were blood red. Its muzzle was stained rust red, and she remembered the name for this particular breed. “Barbarossa,” she whispered.
So named because their jaws got stained with the blood of their kills. They were notoriously stubborn and touchy, and very, very few even tried to tame them. Common wyverns were already dangerous enough, prone to fits and starts especially when they were young. Domesticated ones were only slightly less prone to this behavior. But Barbarossas were always as mean as vipers. They didn’t like people getting near them.
Byleth was far too close.
“It’s okay,” she soothed, making herself appear small and unthreatening. “I won’t hurt you.”
The creature’s eyes blazed as it huffed another irritated roar. It stomped towards her, and that’s when she realized that it was favoring its left leg.
“Shit,” she whispered.
An injured wyvern was ten times more dangerous than any other.
She was fucked.
The creature approached, and she braced herself. She could possibly try to run, but even an injured wyvern was going to be fast as hell. The rubble that might slow it down would also slow her as well. She was still trying to figure out what to do when the creature stopped a mere foot in front of her. The Barbarossa sniffed her, cocking its head to the side. Then its growl changed from menacing to almost questioning. It stretched out its neck, nuzzling her breast.
“He smells Claude.”
Byleth started, as did the wyvern. The creature growled, and then lumbered off back to the little nest it had made in the rubble. Dimitri approached, but she noticed that he carefully picked his way in an arc that left plenty of space between him and the wyvern. “Claude found him about a month ago, and freed him from a beast trap. His name is Farid.”
“Oh,” she said inanely. What else could she say? “I . . . I’m sorry I disturbed him.”
Farid lifted his head and snorted. “Excuse me,” she said, “I’m sorry I disturbed you.”
Dimitri shook his head. Byleth looked up at him now that he towered over her. He looked awful. Claude was not sleeping well either, and she was thinking of asking him to share the bed with her if it would mean him actually getting some rest. “Thank you,” she said finally.
He looked down at her, his eyes cold and dead. “For what?”
“For coming to make sure I was alright.” She smiled at him sweetly. “I know that you were sleeping out near the graveyard. I appreciate that you came in to make sure that Farid didn’t object to my presence too much.”
He turned away. “I would hate to listen to Claude’s whining.”
“Come to dinner tonight,” she continued, doggedly ignoring his blatant rudeness. “Come back to the apartment. We need to discuss a few things about our campaign.”
He stopped, and then turned to her with a sneer. “Our campaign?”
There was a moment where Byleth considered being gentle. Sweet. Then she remembered how Claude had been crying out in the night, and observed how deep the bags beneath Dimitri’s eyes had grown. “Unless you’d rather rot here in the monastery and let Edelgard get away with what she’s done? You can stay here and wallow in your self-pity, Claude and I will take care of her downfall.”
The bigger man turned abruptly, and she tensed. Nothing she had seen so far would indicate that Dimitri would hurt her, but then again, he was far more broken than Claude ever was. There had been a light inside of Claude that Dimitri lacked. “What game are you playing?”
“No games,” she said, “All I’m doing is staring down a broken man in the middle of a broken cathedral with a dangerous beast not ten yards away. All I’m doing is trying my level best to make things right in a world where everything is wrong.” She took a deep breath, the words gaining momentum as they tumbled from her lips. “All I’m trying to do is to soothe three savage beasts.”
The cathedral went black, silent, cold.
Byleth gasped, but there was no sound, only the dark and cold. For a heart stopping moment she thought she was back in the shadow realm that Solon had tried to exile her to. But after a few breaths, she saw something burning away the darkness. Three flames burned, growing larger and larger as she looked on. Blue. Red. Yellow. When they had grown to human size, they shifted, twisting and writhing until humanoid shapes looked to her. The blue flame was huge, clawed hands reaching for her in supplication. The red flame opened great feathered wings, raising an axe to the heavens. The yellow flame cocked its head adorned with the rack of a buck, gesturing for her to come to it. “Soothe three savage beasts,” she said, taking a step forward.
She looked down at her hands, the fingers now tipped with vicious claws. Without thought, she slashed open her wrists, and held them out to the three flames. The red flame turned away, and flew into the darkness, towards a light that had only started to glow brightly in the distance. The blue flame and yellow flames came forward, laying their heads into her palms. “Blood like wine,” she murmured as both took small licks from her wrist.
A feminine sigh sounded from behind her. “Do that, and they will never be free.”
She turned to face . . . Sothis. The two flames flanked her, but she only had eyes for her beloved friend. “Is it really you?”
The goddess who looked like a girl nodded. “I can speak to you here, because time moves differently. It’s . . . a bit complicated.”
“What . . . what is all of this?”
Sothis shrugged. “Honestly, I don’t know. I never had visions like this. It could be a glimpse of the future, or a warning.”
“I’ve never had either one before,” Byleth replied.
Sothis smiled. “You’ve also never been turning into a goddess before.”
Everything stopped, even the subtle crackle of the flame creatures. “What?”
“When you and I bound ourselves together, I gave you the power of a goddess,” she explained patiently. “I had known that this could happen, but I am amazed at the quickness of it. Then again, these are extraordinary times are they not?”
Byleth looked down at her wrists. They had stopped bleeding. “What did you mean that they would never be free?”
Sothis nodded to the two flames. “If you allow them to drink of you, they are bound to you. The blood grants long life, but it also distorts, changes. Sometimes the blood confers Crests . . . sometimes it does other things. Nemesis was given his first sip of divine dragon blood willingly, but something in him twisted like looking in a dark mirror. I still don’t know if it was anger or jealousy or something else that caused the distortion.”
“So, I may end up destroying them is what you’re saying,” Byleth murmured, looking down at the flames. The flames that had started gaining faces.
“Yes,” Sothis answered calmly. “Our blood can do marvelous things, Byleth. It can heal, it can extend life, and it can gift power to those we care about. But never forget that being a goddess does not mean that you will always be able to be gentle and sweet. Sometimes, the world needs our wrath.” She nodded to the creatures made of flame. “Sometimes, you need the distortion.”
“I won’t sacrifice them.”
Sothis’s face suddenly matured, turned from the soft curves of girlhood to the sharpness of a matron at the height of her power. Her eyes glowed, shining with a knowing that Byleth was only partially able to understand. “Is getting what you want ever a sacrifice?”
Before she could ask what the goddess meant, Byleth heard a voice calling to her. “Teach, Teach!“
Sothis stood by herself, simultaneously the goddess asleep centuries before and the goddess awakened and imprisoned within another soul. In that heart stopping moment she knew everything, saw everything, and she laughed with pure joy.
She loved Byleth. Loved her as a daughter, as a sister, as a mother. Loved the girl as she loved the land she had claimed as her own for the Nabeteans. As she looked out and saw what was becoming, what was going to happen, she couldn’t help but feel a spike of pleasure.
Her children in the mountains would soon venture forth, and parley with the army forming in the old Leicester Alliance, driven by visions of a future that both frightened them and filled them with hope. Led by the young Lorenz Gloucester and his wife, as well as the Hero of Daphnel and her Almyran lover, this army would be on the move soon. The Almyrans, angered at the perceived loss of their prince, would join the battle readily.
The remnants of the Blue Lions, scattered across what was once Faerghus, would soon unite, deciding the time was right to throw off the yoke of their oppressor. Hope was not lost, she was about to be born to the Gautiers.
The Black Eagles, disenchanted with their leader, stealthily watched everything from afar, waiting for their moment. Protecting all the other chess pieces on the move, they played a dangerous game with forces that were beyond their ken.
As she began to fade back into her now eternal slumber, Sothis was still laughing.
Claude’s eyes were wide with terror when Byleth finally blinked open hers. “Teach!”
She tried to tell him she was okay, but her mouth refused to work. She reached for him instead, and he pulled her to him, his hug crushing her pleasantly. She needed the contact after the frightening vision she’d had. “I’m okay,” she finally managed to say. “I’m okay.”
“What happened?” Dimitri asked, and she turned her head to see him kneeling next to her. Farid the Barbarossa was also looking on, his red eyes curious and bright.
“I . . . I saw something,” she murmured. “I . . . I need to go back to the apartment.”
“I need to go back to the apartment,“ she growled. Unbeknownst to her, her eyes glowed bright as she said it. Claude let her scramble up and run away.
“She’s hiding something,” Dimitri said steadily.
“Of course she is,” Claude murmured, petting his wyvern friend on the nose. He looked to his erstwhile lover. “Are you ready to come back to me?”
“Are you continuing to live a lie?”
The two men eyed each other. “It’s not a lie,” Claude grated out.
Dimitri’s eye flashed. “Two monsters playing house in a dead monastery?”
“Two warriors planning their next move over the winter,” Claude shot back. “That’s what we are. There aren’t any monsters here Dimitri.”
“When did you lose your desire for revenge, Claude?” Dimitri snarled, his entire body vibrating, his hands clenched tight at his sides.
The shorter man’s face morphed from mild annoyance to disgust. His lips curled back into a sneer, and his eyebrows rose. “When did you lose your humanity, Dimitri?”
“Better to lose my humanity than to lose myself over some whore we knew years ago.”
Claude reared back, his jaw dropping in shock. “If she’s a whore,” he asked softly, so softly, “then what am I?”
Dimitri, scarred, scarred Dimitri, said the only thing that made sense in his broken soul. “My ally.”
Claude shook his head, his eyes wet. “No. No.”
“So you admit it?” Dimitri rasped.
The other man’s sneer turned into a true snarl. His nostrils flared and his teeth were white against his dark skin. He pointed right at Dimitri, his back ramrod straight, and his body a coil of tension. “I followed you from the ashes of Garreg Mach when I could have left your ass in the dust. I followed you to Fhirdiad to make sure that you were safe! What the fuck did I get for all of that?”
Claude threw out both arms wide, his voice climbing to a bellow. “I got thrown into the dungeons of your castle! I got starved half to death while the bitch your people fell in love with convinced them that I was a dirty Almyran dog too uncivilized to even speak proper Fódlish! I got convicted and sentenced to death! I got to watch more innocent, loving people die as they busted me out of that prison and tried to get me home! I got to find out that my grandfather had died thinking I was a murderous dog six months after the fact! I got to live on the run for four gods-damned years!”
Farid slunk away from Claude’s anger as he pointed to Dimitri again. “Why in all the hells of the world do you think I did all of that?!”
It was here that Dimitri faltered. “I . . .”
“I protected you! I fucking played nursemaid to keep the damn phantom voices in your head away! I made love to you with all my broken soul! Why in all the hells of the world do you think. I. Did. That?!“
The truth stared Dimitri in the face, and he couldn’t deny it even if he couldn’t believe it. However, it frightened him. Frightened him enough to lie baldly. “Because you had no other choice.”
Claude took a deep breath, puffing himself up with an intensity that was actually quite impressive. “Because I love you. At any point in all of this madness I could have left your depressed ass, but I didn’t.” He turned away, stomping through the rubble. He turned back and delivered one last parting shot. “And I am a fool!”
He left Dimitri there, staring into space, desperately trying to understand what had just happened.
That night, the three denizens of the monastery licked their wounds in their private hiding spots. Byleth did not leave the bedroom, too busy trying to work through the revelations Sothis had made to her to notice the attitude of her beau and his prodigal lover. Claude brooded in front of the fire in the sitting room, adamantly refusing to admit to himself that he was not brooding, but crying from a broken heart. Dimitri sat in the cathedral, staring at the broken stained glass, the black cloak of depression whispering to him with his father’s voice.
I'm so mean.
Chapter 10: Then
The fall of the two young lords.
Claude stared at the dank walls of his cell with a skeptical sniff. They’d been promptly thrown in here this morning, accused of murdering Dimitri’s uncle in his sleep. He curled his lip when he thought of that bitch, Cornelia, claiming that they did it because Dimi’s uncle had objected to their relationship. Not because they were together - which they weren’t even though Claude had wanted to let the inhumanly strong Prince of Faerghus ride him like an Almyran wyvern - but because Claude was a half-breed. Never mind that for the past two months, Rufus had not said one word about the sleeping arrangements his nephew had insisted on. All he’d done was thank Claude for being there for Dimitri. Neither young lord would ever harm a hair on Lord Rufus’s head.
Of course, their only alibi was each other, and when they’d tried to claim it, no one believed them. Sylvain and Felix had both tried to object to the arrest, arguing that Cornelia’s claim was nowhere near strong enough to justify it. Rufus had been ripped apart, and only someone or something with incredible strength could have done it, she argued. “Such bullshit,” Claude muttered out loud.
“I’m sorry,” Dimitri said quietly from the other side of the wall.
“It’s okay, Dimi,” Claude replied. “You didn’t know this would happen.”
“Cornelia is a holy woman,” Dimitri continued. “Why would she think that I could do something like this?”
“I don’t know. Her excuse for accusing us is stupidly thin though. Your uncle didn’t care that we were sleeping together. Hells of my fathers, he even asked me if I needed any oil,” Claude groused with false flippancy.
“Oil? Why would you need oil?”
Claude sat heavily on the basic cot. “Dimi, really?”
Claude opened his mouth. “Lubricant? For sex?”
Dimitri’s blush was audible. “Oh.”
Chuckling, he laid down on the surprisingly clean mattress. It was lumpy, and more then likely it was stuffed with straw. “Dimitri, don’t give up. We’ll get through this.”
“I wish I had your optimism, Claude,” he said softly.
They both fell silent then, and the day dragged by. The guards were courteous to Dimitri, but treated Claude with contempt. He didn’t let it bother him, their dirty looks and harsh words just rolled off his back. The two prisoners were fed two meals, and the first night fell gently. Claude was starting to worry about Dimitri. At first the silence had been comfortable, companionable. Now it was tinged with a tension that Claude didn’t like. Tonight would be the first night in almost two months that they would be sleeping apart, and he was starting to get nervous.
Three sets of footsteps marched down the hallway, and Claude looked up to see three new guards staring in at him. “So this is the little bastard, hunh?” said the tallest. He was a blond with mean, watery blue eyes.
Uh-oh. Claude was more than aware of where this was probably going. He’d had people come after him physically before, and he knew that the climate here was probably one where he wouldn’t get off lightly. He doubted they’d kill him - they’d leave that pleasure for a public spectacle sometime in the future - but it didn’t mean that they wouldn’t make sure to hurt him badly. Eyeing the three, he made swift calculations. The tallest wouldn’t be easy to take down, but the other two didn’t move like well-trained soldiers, so he might be able to deal with them.
The door to his cell opened, and he leapt to his feet. “Gentlemen, to what do I owe this honor?”
The shortest one, a swarthy looking brunet that probably had some Duscuran heritage back in his own family tree, snarled. “Cocky bastard.”
Claude grinned, holding his body purposely loose. “Only when I have reason to be.”
“Claude?!” Dimitri called out, his voice panicked.
“It’s okay,” Claude replied.
The middle one, a pale skinned brunet that looked like Raphael’s shorter sibling, sneered. “You should have never been allowed anywhere near His Highness.”
The tallest lunged, and Claude was able to dodge, but the middle one was fast. They scuffled, but the three guards were able to finally hold him down. The tallest one kicked him in the stomach, and Claude couldn’t control his cry of pain. “Claude? Claude!“
The world was nothing but pain for a few moments as the three guards rained blows on Claude’s head, face, and upper body. He felt his lip burst against his teeth, and the still healing gash on his cheek opened back up with another sharp burst of pain. A rhythmic pounding began to enter his world, and at first he thought it was the sound of his heart beating. The blows began to fade away, and Claude cracked open his eyes to look into the horrified faces of the guards. They weren’t looking at him, but instead to the wall that he shared with Dimitri. Carefully, his head pounding, Claude turned to look.
There was a hand sticking through the wall. Dimitri’s hand.
“The Blaiddyd Crest,” the middle guard murmured.
The hand pulled back until it could grip the stone of the wall surrounding it. “I hope that’s not a load bearing wall,” Claude managed to croak. He could feel himself quickly losing his grip on consciousness.
Dimitri pulled, and the brick wall, weakened by what had to have been his repeated blows, broke easily. He widened it enough for him to pass through, and he snarled at the three guards with a wild, crazed look in his eye. “Monsters!” he roared.
Claude faded to black.
When he woke, Claude still felt like shit. His head was pounding, and his face just hurt. He knew that he was probably a mass of bruises. However, he was resting against something warm and solid. There had been nothing like that in his cell. He cracked open his eyes, and realized that he was no longer inside of his cell. The light looked different, and the cot was facing the wrong way.
The rumble of his name from beside his cheek was lovely. “Hey Dimi.”
A cup was pressed against his lips, and he drank carefully. The cool water felt heavenly on his parched throat. The cup went away, and he gingerly tried to sit up. Dimitri’s hands kept him pressed against the taller teen’s chest. “You’re hurt. Stay still.”
It was at this point that Claude realized that he couldn’t actually open his eyes any wider than what they were, but he still tried to sit up. “Why am I in here with you?”
The silence was deafening. “They were hurting you,” Dimitri answered quietly.
Claude reached up, and touched the hand on his head. It was tacky. “How long was I out?”
“Half an hour?” Dimitri answered, sounding unsure.
When he brought his hand down, Claude could see the red now smeared all over his hand. “What did you do?” he asked gently.
Dimitri did not answer, but did finally let Claude sit up. He was a bit woozy, and swayed as he looked over to the hole in the wall. The far wall of his old cell was spattered with blood, and a heap of . . . something . . . lay on the floor. Unable to help himself, he grabbed Dimitri’s chamber pot just in time as the meager dinner he’d eaten a few hours before came right back up.
“Sorry,” he murmured as Dimitri brought the cup of water back to his lips. He sipped slowly, knowing that if he drank quickly it was going to come right back up. He allowed Dimitri to pull him back into his lap. “Head wounds stink.”
Dimitri curled around him. He didn’t say anything, and the two of them sat quietly for a few moments. A hand began to comb through Claude’s hair, and he closed his eyes. The sensation was pleasant, reminding him of when he’d fallen ill as a child and his mother had petted him as she sang him to sleep. “I’m sorry, Claude. I . . . lost my temper.”
“Yeah, I saw that,” Claude retorted. “Thanks.”
The tap of feet caused Dimitri to stiffen, but Claude didn’t open his eyes. “Hey, what - oh goddess!“ The footsteps took off back the other way.
“Guess someone finally found our friends,” Claude muttered. Dimitri didn’t speak, but his arms tightened around Claude’s waist.
A few minutes later, footsteps approached again. They stopped in front of the cell the two young lords were in, but again, Claude chose not to open his eyes. “Well, well,” said a feminine voice. “The Prince again shows his true colors.”
Through his haze of pain, Claude cursed. He had not thought about the effects of Dimitri’s actions, but he should have realized that the Faerghish prince had just played right into Cornelia’s hands. Before, they’d had some hope. Dimitri was beloved by the Faerghish people, and even though Claude was a half-breed Almyran, he was also an heir to an allied power. With very thin evidence to go on, any judge worth their salt would find it insufficient cause to put a prince and a lord to death. However, now Dimitri had shown his instability flagrantly, and to make matters worse, he’d done it to protect Claude. The young Almyran lord gave Cornelia a venomous glare. “Did you send them down here?”
She gave him a droll look. “Why ever would I do that?” her voice said, but her eyes said, Of course I did, fool.
“Why?” Dimitri asked brokenly, “Why are you doing this? You know I would never hurt my uncle. I love him.”
She cut him a look full of false sympathy. “But Prince Dimitri, if you loved him so, why did you kill him?”
Claude put his hand on Dimitri’s. He didn’t miss the looks of disgust the guards that accompanied Cornelia threw his way. “Dimi, she’s setting this up. She’s not going to have mercy.”
“No, I’m not.” She turned to the guards. “The trial will be in a week. They get water, no food.”
The guards saluted, and she gracefully waltz back down the hall. Soon, Claude and Dimitri were left alone.
The week leading up to the trial was hard. Claude’s wounds healed, but Cornelia’s punishment meant that they were not fed at all. Dimitri especially was weak, his Crest already putting him into starvation mode. Claude was a little better off, but he was starting to feel the hunger pains. Cornelia also refused to have the bodies of the three guards cleaned up, so the smell of rotting flesh added another dimension of horror to the whole ordeal. After the first three days, Claude and Dimitri took to sleeping most of the day to escape the hell they were living in.
The trail itself was an obvious sham. Cornelia allowed the nobles of Faerghus to listen in, but try as they might, Sylvain and Felix weren’t able to raise any defense of the two young lords. When they’d tried to dispute Cornelia’s assessment of Dimitri’s sanity, she’d revealed the pulverized remains that had laid rotting in Claude’s old cell for a week. “Excuse the smell,” she’d said with false apology. “I’m afraid they did not fare well in storage.”
Claude had held back the urge to scoff. The woman was working the room, heightening the horror of it all. Claude had refused to dwell on what Dimitri had done, deciding instead to focus on why he’d beaten the three guards into a complete bloody pulp. However, no one else in the room - even their allies - saw it in the semi-sweet way that Claude did. Sylvain and Ingrid looked horrified. Felix had shaken his head angrily. “Stupid boar,” he’d muttered loud enough for most of the room to hear in the shocked silence.
“I think this is proof enough that Prince Dimitri is quite unhinged,” Cornelia said delicately.
“But even if he is ill of mind,” a noble that Claude didn’t know called out, “What do you propose we do with them? Lord von Riegan is of the Leicester Alliance, and as far as we can prove had nothing to do with Lord Rufus’s death.”
Cornelia looked right at him, and he glared in return. What was she going to do? The nobles there had easily been convinced of Dimitri’s unsound mind, but Claude was another matter entirely. “I will not lie to you,” she began slowly, “we face war with Adrestia. The Flame Emperor has already made her intentions known. If Faerghus is to survive, we must have a ruler of sound mind and leverage.”
Claude’s eyes widened, as did every other pair in the judgement hall. “What you propose is madness!” Rodrigue Fraldarius bellowed from beside his son. Claude rather liked him. In the two months they’d been in Fhirdiad, the man had been nothing but welcoming, and had not fallen to gossip like so many others had. He accepted Dimitri and Claude’s odd relationship, and seemed to think it was actually a good thing for the young prince. “I will acknowledge that Prince Dimitri is not a candidate for king, but what you are back-handedly saying is that we depose him and hand over an ally to Edelgard.”
“We must prioritize our survival!” Cornelia retorted. “You all know what she did to Garreg Mach! Do you wish for Fhirdiad to be next?”
“So selfishness is how we will win this war?” Claude burst out. He’d been good about staying quiet, but couldn’t stop himself. The room fell silent. “The Flame Emperor is too powerful for you to defeat in a head on battle alone! The only way to stop Edelgard is to work together. And Dimitri is not unhinged! He’s shell shocked. He witnessed the violent deaths of his entire family, his classmates, and his professors, and you blame him when he inevitably reacts badly to someone beating his friend? Who is only imprisoned for the sin of being his friend?”
He knew he’d won points in their favor when he saw heads turning towards each other, whispering. Cornelia’s eyes hardened. “The reason for his madness doesn’t matter.” She pointed to the mutilated bodies. “Not when he’s a danger to everyone around him.”
Uncomfortable expressions passed between the nobles. It was the one argument that Claude couldn’t fight. No matter the reason, Dimitri’s Crest made him dangerous if he couldn’t control himself.
Weeks passed. Cornelia allowed them one meal a day, but Dimitri continue to wither. She continued to let them sleep in the same cell, and they spent most of their time curled around each other. They’d dragged Claude’s cot in too, and they slept side by side on the floor. The nobles met every other day, but after the first day, they weren’t allowed back in the court room. Claude suspected that Cornelia didn’t let them back in because she didn’t want the nobles to see how thin and gaunt the two young lords had become.
Finally, finally, the verdict was handed down.
Dimitri and Claude listened to Cornelia’s smug announcement with dull acceptance. “We’re never getting out of here, are we?” Dimitri asked.
Claude shrugged. “I don’t know.”
That night, they were awoken by hushed voices. “Prince Dimitri, Lord Claude.”
They had been curled around each other as was their wont, but they looked up to see Mercedes, Annette, and Dedue peering through the bars. “Dedue?” Dimitri croaked.
The door opened, and Claude felt hope start to blossom beneath his heart. “You’re getting us out of here?”
“Yes, but be quiet!” Annette whispered. “We’re going to get you out. Hilda and Raphael are waiting for you in the city.”
Mercedes laid hands on the two of them, murmuring a spell. Almost instantly, Claude felt energy flowing through him. “Thank you,” he murmured. She smiled gently. “Come on!”
The trio led the two lords out, and they crept through the darkened hallways of the castle. Guards were easy to avoid, and Claude suspected that some palms had been greased. They were almost out when a shout brought them up short. “Escape! The Prince and Lord von Riegan have escaped!”
“Run!” Dedue cried.
They made it out into the courtyard, but between them and the gate was none other than Cornelia. “Going somewhere? Bolganone!“
“Wind!“ Annette cried in return. The two spells clashed as Dedue pushed Dimitri and Claude forward.
“Go!” Mercedes cried as she called her own spell. “Nemesis!“
Claude pulled Dimitri along, the two lords able to lose themselves in the dark confusion caused by Annette’s initial spell colliding with Cornelia’s. Hilda and Raphael found them just outside the gate, and they ran and ran and ran and did not stop until they’d gotten out of the city. Dimitri looked back once. “Dedue. Mercedes.”
“We can’t stop!” Hilda cried.
They disappeared into the forest.
As they rested in a village outside of the capital, they found out that the prince and his villainous lover had died in the castle courtyard, along with their co-conspirators. Charred bodies had been found. Dimitri went silent for an entire week.
“How much farther?” Hilda asked wearily.
“Maybe two or three hours to the border,” Claude answered. They’d been making their way to the border with Almyra for well over a month now, but it had taken so long because Dimitri and Claude were still recovering from their near starvation. Raphael and Hilda had stayed with them the entire way, and Claude appreciated his friends’ loyalty.
“What will we do once we’re over the border?” Dimitri asked quietly.
Claude turned to look at him with a small smile. Dimitri stayed close, and not long before they’d finally consummated their relationship. Claude still felt warm inside when he thought of the night two weeks before when they’d sprung for a room in an inn. Dimitri had been reticent, but had eventually started to enjoy himself. Claude hoped that they would have more chances to explore each other once they arrived at their eventual destination. “We go to my family. They’ll welcome us.”
“Are you sure?” Dimitri asked.
Claude gave him a look, but refrained from challenging him. They’d both had an awful time of it, and quite frankly, there was a small part of Claude that wondered if he was running into another trap or not. He wouldn’t be terribly surprised.
“Hey!” Raphael called from in front of them. “What’s that?”
They all looked up to see a glow on the horizon. “What the?”
“Is that fire?” Hilda asked, panic creeping into her voice. “Is the Locket on fire?!”
They hurried their pace, and when they got closer, realized that the Locket wasn’t on fire. The border was. A wall at least twenty feet high stretched as far as the eye could see. “The bitch,” Claude cried. “The bitch. She closed the border.”
“Uh, we have other problems!” Raphael said quietly, pointing to their left.
The little group looked over, and there staring at them from the trees was a massive beast. It was dusty brown, and its head was vaguely bird like. “Shit,” Claude muttered.
Hilda hefted her ax, and nodded to the men. “We can take him.”
“Possibly,” Dimitri muttered, “but he’s not alone.” He gestured to their left.
Another creature, this one steel grey, growled. “We’re flanked,” Raphael said.
“We’re fucked,” Claude agreed.
Hilda looked between the two creatures, and then down to her ax. “Claude, Dimitri, I need the two of you to make a me a promise. Kill Edelgard for me.”
Before either young man could call for her to stop, Hilda charged forward, screaming shrilly. “Run!”
“No!” Claude screamed, Lysithea’s face playing across his vision. “No!”
Dimitri’s arms wrapped around his mid-section like bands of steel as he watched the brown creature strike. However, before it could land a blow to the running girl, a verdant green reptilian creature burst from the trees, slamming into it. The green creature snatched up Hilda with its strong hand, choking off her scream. “Hilda!” Claude cried weakly, his voice clogged by tears. “Hilda.”
Raphael went home.
Claude and Dimitri wandered, hunted and haunted across Fódlan until they finally settled at the monastery. Two years passed with them going through the motions of living. They bathed once a week, washing their bodies though they did not groom their hair or beards. They washed their clothing once a month, and sometimes went into the surrounding villages. Claude even went to see Lorenz once.
But they did not hope. They hated. They hated Edelgard and Cornelia and the beasts at the border, but most of all they hated themselves deep down. Dimitri loathed his weakness, his inability to save his friends. Claude hated his helplessness, and he stopped talking to the stars. The world was dark, and their souls withered beneath the weight of their trauma.
Until one day when Claude heard the familiar tapping of heeled boots on the stairs.
Until deep down, a spark of hope lit again in Claude’s chest.
Ooo, long chapter.
And here marks where we may just start to see the creeping edge of dawn . . .
me and my stupid puns.
Chapter 11: God Has Healed
Raphael was a simple man, but more importantly, he was a good man.
Claude trudged down to the courtyard, aware by his internal count that it was the day that Raphael would arrive with more supplies. He came every two weeks, like clockwork. So much had happened in that space of time.
“Claude,” Raphael greeted solemnly, “You look like hell.”
He grinned with a wane expression. “Yeah, things have been . . . upsetting here recently.”
“How so?” Raphael asked gently, pulling out his pack.
Claude sighed and shook his head. Raphael observed him for a moment before nodding. “I know that you lie to me.”
The candidness caught Claude off-guard. “What?”
“I know that you lie,” Raphael repeated. “All the time. I know that there’s things that you refuse to tell me. I was there when we ran from the battle. I was there when they threw you in the dungeons. I was there when we lost Hilda. I can’t decide if you’re trying to protect me or you don’t trust me, and that’s fair either way. I know I got off easy in all this. I got to go back to a simple life with my sister and grandfather. If I wanted to, I could forget all about this mess and live my life. Yeah, there’s no church, taxes are insane, and demonic beasts are getting to be an issue out in the rural areas, but I don’t have to worry about ruling or the fates of nations. I’m just a simple merchant.”
“But you aren’t involved,” Claude muttered.
Raphael laughed. “Lorenz and Hubert pay me to keep tabs on you.”
Claude’s heart plunged to his ankles, and his hand went to his bow, but Raphael grabbed both wrists. He was a strong motherfucker. “I don’t tell them half of what you tell me, and neither one of em wants to hurt you.”
“Lorenz, maybe. Hubert? He’s Edelgard’s creature!” Claude hissed.
Raphael cocked his head. “Don’t tell me that the great schemer himself, Claude von Riegan, who preached about not judging books by their covers, would say such a thing.”
“It’s not judging a book by its cover if you’re judging on a person’s past actions!”
“True, but Hubert has known you’ve been out here for two years. He came to me because he wanted to protect you. If he really wished you harm, you’d be dead.”
“Squads of soldiers come out here every six months!” Claude snarled.
Raphael gave him a droll look that Claude had never seen on the other man’s face. “Maybe because a certain somebody keeps spreading rumors in the local villages about demonic beasts?”
Claude had nothing to say to that.
“And think about it,” Raphael pressed, “none of the Black Eagles tried to stop us from getting away. Hubert was distracting Edelgard the whole time.”
Shaking his head, Claude said, “You can let me go now.”
Raphael smiled as he turned the shorter man loose. “I told you all of this because I do want you to trust me. You were my house leader, but more importantly, you were my friend. Ignatz, Lysithea, Hilda, and Leonie are gone, but you’re still here. You, and Lorenz, and Marianne. I love you, and even though I know you’re going through a rough time, I’m here for you.”
Emotion built in Claude’s chest, squeezing his heart. “Thank you,” he whispered. “You’re my friend too.”
Raphael stretched out his arms, and Claude did not refuse the invitation. The hug was warm, and strong, and Claude nearly broke realizing that this was what he needed. He needed someone he was not in romantic love with to just . . . love him. The embrace lasted a long time, until a snarling voice rang out. “So, are you going to try to fuck Raphael too?”
Claude tensed, but Raphael raised one hand up and made a very rude gesture towards the entrance hall. “Hi, Prince Dimitri. I assume he’s the reason you’re upset?”
The shorter man nodded, and Raphael grinned. “Need me to beat him up for you?”
Swallowing a laugh, Claude shook his head. “I don’t think that will go well.”
Turning his attention back to the tall man stalking out of the entrance hall, Raphael’s face went hard like the granite he’d loved to train with. “Long time no see, Prince Dimitri. I’d ask how you’re doing, but based on your behavior, I already know the answer is bad.”
A snarl wreathed Dimitri’s face. Raphael stared him down. “Fuck off, Raphael.”
The stare down continued.
“Leave our supplies, and get out of the monastery before I get pissed.”
“I dunno, you seem like you were born pissy.”
Dimitri broke first, moving to take a swing at Raphael. However, he’d forgotten one important thing. He might have been stronger than Raphael, but the other man had trained as a brawler and power lifter. He was bulky and looked like he had a beer belly, but it was all muscle. He was fast.
Dimitri went flying, landing in the old merchant’s stall with a jarring crash and the sound of splintering wood. Raphael wasn’t particularly worried about hurting the other man, and was happy to have a sparring partner that could keep up with him. He turned and gave Claude a grin.
For his part, the other man was grinning too. “You know, I always wondered why girls wanted to have men fighting over them. I’ve got to say, the feeling is really nice.”
“By the way, I like your hair and beard. It’s suits you.”
“Aw! Thanks, Raphael.”
Dimitri roared as he got up and charged again. Raphael turned back to him, ready for it. However, as they fought, Raphael noticed one crucial thing. Dimitri was throwing himself at his opponent with no thought to strategy. Raphael himself was not well known for cunning in a battle, but it was obvious that Dimitri was being driven purely by rage. While the bastard hit hard, he wasn’t able to land hits often because he telegraphed his moves like a rank amateur.
The battle went on for a few moments, the two men circling and dodging each other’s powerful blows. Raphael was loving every moment of it, up until Dimitri screamed again and charged blindly. Raphael countered him, but knew that he didn’t have a whole lot left. While he still trained daily and could probably take on most Imperial soldiers just fine, Dimitri had a Crest and rage on his side. The lost prince lined up one more charge, but a figure stepped between the two warriors. “Enough.”
Shock rippled through Raphael. Mint green hair, and pale porcelain skin filled his vision. “Professor?” he whispered.
She turned to him once she was sure that Dimitri would not make good on his attack. She smiled at him, so sweet and gentle, and just how he remembered her. “Hello Raphael. I was wondering who the mysterious supplier was.”
“You’re alive,” he said softly.
She stepped up to him and gave him a hug. “Yes, yes I am.”
He returned the embrace. She let go first, and though he was unwilling, he forced himself to let her face Dimitri. The other man was panting, his face flushed and hard. “That’s why we have to wait, Dimitri. Your rage would ruin our plans and get you killed.”
He looked at her and then looked at Claude. The other man was unsympathetic. “Aw, come on Teach. I was enjoying the show. Not often I get to see Dimitri get his ass beat by a Crest-less commoner. No offense Raph.”
He chuckled. “None taken.”
A flash of emotion crossed Dimitri’s face. Raphael could swear that it was hurt, but before he could say anything, the blond stomped off. “That was mean Claude.”
“I feel mean,” Claude muttered. The Professor gave him a look. “What? It’s not like you were available to talk.”
“Hey,” Raphael said harshly, “I’m not above kicking your ass too. Stop taking your temper out on everyone else.”
Claude shrugged, and the Professor smiled at him. “Would you like to sit with us for awhile?”
“Sure,” Raphael answered, “that’d be dandy.”
Dimitri had retreated to the stables. The stalls had long since fallen to ruin, and the hay had rotted away, but the solitude served him well. That is, until he heard heavy footsteps. “What do you want?”
Raphael leaned against the door of the stall that Dimitri was curled up in. “So, this is where you’ve been sleeping, huh? The Professor and Claude told me you hadn’t been living in the apartment lately.”
“I repeat, what do you want?”
The big man sighed. “I want to understand why the three of you are at each other’s throats. I know things have changed, but Claude was pretty far gone on both you and the Professor back in our school days. The Deer all had a running bet on who he’d proposition first. All of us pretty much agreed that he’d go after both of you eventually.”
Dimitri was silent for a moment. “How did you know?”
“Hm? Know what?”
“That Claude was ‘gone on me’ as you put it. He doesn’t give much away unless he wants to.”
Raphael laughed. “Well, it wasn’t until we were about six months in that we really noticed it. It was the little things, and all of us Deer were big ole gossips! Just . . . he always would talk about you two in this admiring tone that he never got for anyone else. He also flirted differently with you two. He did all but tell Lysithea one day when he made a comment about how he wanted to mess with Seteth by calling him ‘Father’ and then he eyed you and said something like ‘but there’s someone I’d like to call ‘Master.’ He also told Ignatz that he thought the Professor was more beautiful than the goddess.”
Dimitri’s heart squeezed. He was surly and rough on the outside, but it was all a suit of armor. Inside, he wept and he cried and he screamed at himself. Words began to form deep in his throat, regrets and recriminations roiling just below the surface, but most of all - he missed his friends. Raphael had spent his morning doing his level best to continue being Claude’s friend to the point that he actually picked a fight with a Crest-bearer to do it. That level of devotion and platonic love shook Dimitri to his already shaken core. “Oh.”
Raphael snorted, and Dimitri gave him a hard look. Understanding what the other man wanted, Raphael obliged him. “You remind me of Ignatz.”
“High praise,” Dimitri murmured.
“Actually, you remind me of when he was still trying to apologize to me every time he saw me. My parents died eight years ago, and Ignatz blamed himself because they were killed on a job that his parents refused.” He grinned and looked down, his eyes far away and five years ago. “He kept beating himself up about it, but the thing is, I didn’t blame him at all. What happened was between our parents. We had nothing to do with it. He had to learn to forgive himself because I sure as hell didn’t blame him.”
Dimitri cocked his head. “What does that have to do with me?”
“Because I don’t know what you feel guilty about,” Raphael said, “but you need to forgive yourself.”
The words pierced Dimitri’s heart. “What?”
“Like I said, I don’t know what has been bothering you - I mean, I could guess, but I respect you too much to pry - but if it’s what I think . . . it’s not your fault. None of this was ever your fault. I mean, you’re my hero, Prince Dimitri. You kept us together, kept us alive at a time when everything was falling apart. I had to give up my dream of being a knight, but if I ever get the chance . . . I want to be like you.”
His face crumpling, Dimitri shook his head. “No you don’t.”
“You are honorable. You are chivalrous. You are a good man.”
“No I’m not!” Dimitri bellowed, gripping his skull, trying to block out the words. “I’m not! I’m a monster! I kill everything I touch!” His breaths were fast and loud, and he felt like his chest was being squeezed by rings of iron.
Strong hands grasped his shoulders, and Dimitri’s head snapped up as he was drawn into a tight hug. He tried to push away, tried to fight his way out of the embrace, but Raphael held on. Patiently he waited for Dimitri to calm down, and he didn’t pet him or anything, just held steady crooning an old lullaby his mother used to sing.
“Why?” Dimitri cried weakly through his panic, “Why have all of you come to me now? Why do this to me now?”
“Because it’s time you started healing,” Raphael said. “I know sorrow. I’ve lived with it for eight years. Sometimes I get afraid. Sometimes I get sad. But I always remember the people I love, and what they mean to me. We can’t live in the past. We have to move forward.”
Dimitri felt tears streak down his face. “Just leave me, I’m not worth this. I can’t do this.”
“Yes, you can,” Raphael said.
Yes, you can, echoed his father’s voice.
You’re amazing, Ashe added.
The tears fell faster. The voices kept speaking to him, speaking encouraging words that he’d never heard from them before until he realized that these were memories. All these people had loved him and had faith in him. And he’d failed them all. Like he was failing Claude. Byleth. Raphael. Because he couldn’t be the man that they needed. He -
Another set of arms wrapped around him. “Dimi.”
Even if he hadn’t spoken, Dimitri recognized the scent of him. Musky and spicy from the soap he used. Claude. He did the first thing that came to mind, turning in the embrace and grabbing Claude’s head. He had to do this, needed to do this, to apologize, to just be.
He kissed Claude.
The other man froze, shocked not because of the kiss - they’d kissed many times in the past five years - but because Dimitri had initiated it. He was always passive, never actually engaging in the act unless they’d gotten to the point of penetration. Claude made love to Dimitri, but all Dimitri ever did was fuck Claude. And the realization tumbling down with Raphael’s kind words, and the buried longing for the home that he could see with Byleth and Claude ripped open the scar tissue around Dimitri’s tender heart. The feral, gruff man of the last five years, that armor constructed to protect a broken soul, sloughed off under the pressure of all the emotion he felt.
“I’m sorry,” he finally said into Claude’s lips, “I’m sorry.“
He didn’t notice Raphael take his leave, didn’t see the small smile on Raphael’s face, because he was too busy letting Claude wipe the tears away from his cheeks. “Dimi, what happened?”
“I . . . I . . . I can’t.” He buried his head into the curve of Claude’s shoulder. “I need you. Please don’t leave me.”
“Never,” Claude crooned. He looked up, and Dimitri felt a small hand on his shoulder. “Neither one of us will.”
“No,” Byleth agreed softly. “If you want me here, I’ll stay.”
Remembering how much this woman had meant to him before the complete destruction of his life, Dimitri wanted to reach out, but fear kept him from doing so. Claude was solid, steady, ever-present. Byleth was still transient. Her promises might still be hollow. She he didn’t reach out to her, but he did allow her to stroke his hair as she began singing the same lullaby that Raphael had hummed. They stayed that way, the three of them, until Dimitri’s tears had finally run their course.
Raphael left that day, but he left with a smile on his face and a new mission.
He was a simple man, with simple needs and desires, and he’d been a lackluster student in school. However, simple and unintellectual did not mean stupid. In this vast tapestry of conflicting and congruent motives and motivations, he was the one man who could actually see the full design.
Hubert wanted him to keep tabs on Claude and Dimitri, but he did not know about Byleth. Plus, Raphael had revealed the existence of the dragons, but not a certain someone who was there with them.
Lorenz wanted him to keep tabs on Claude - Raphael had refrained from mentioning Dimitri out of deference to what he’d thought Claude would want him to do - and knew about the dragons, but didn’t know that Hubert and company were on his side.
Merchants gossiped, and in these days tended to only gossip amongst other trusted merchants. Raphael knew - and had shared with both men- that there was a group of former Garreg Mach students hiding out in the wastes of what had once been Duscur. Among their number were several that were supposed to be dead. Further, there were reports of a mysterious pair of travelers roaming the southern shores of Adrestia. They were ever polite and sweet to merchants they met on the road, but hunted the demonic beasts with a fervor that no other could match. One man had even described them to Raphael, and the big man had chuckled. He’d decided not to reveal their existence, not wanting either Hubert or Lorenz to act against them.
Soon, all the various groups would be ready to come together. As far as Raphael could tell, all of them had one goal - to stop the Emperor and free Fódlan from the clutches of the Emperor and her Agarthan allies. The trio in the monastery needed some more time to heal and become the leaders they needed to be. So, he decided that he would give them the time they needed.
Before he left, he told them he’d not be back for a month, and had left them with as many supplies as he could. The deep of winter was upon the land, so scavenging would be scarce for the next few days, but Raphael knew that he could go a few days without eating and be just fine. Byleth had also told him about the greenhouse being a lucky bit of stored food, and he’d spent an hour helping her haul up pumpkins, and had gone down to several local villages, claiming to be a little off course, but in need of more supplies. He took none for himself, deciding that he would be fine for the next few days.
His mission now? To go to the remnants of the Blue Lions. The Gautiers and Felix were the only ones who had not slid into one of the various groups forming across the continent, and he wanted to make sure that they were in on this. Plus, he could swing by and visit the exiles in Duscur, and maybe after coming back by his family’s place and the monastery, go on down to the Adrestian coast and see if he couldn’t find a couple of ghosts in the woods. From there, maybe he’d skedaddle up to the Locket to see the dragons, and the one person absolutely no one else knew was alive. Once he was done, he would go to Hubert and Lorenz, and let them know that the time would be nigh.
War would come again during the Lone Moon.
I love Raphael, and I realized when I was writing chapter 9 that if there was anyone who could have actually talked Dimitri out of his depression, it was Raphael. If you look at their backstories, they have very similar tales to tell.
And also, I just love Raphael.
The evening rolled in with gentle snow. Byleth and Claude had managed to get Dimitri to come back to the apartment, and for the first time in weeks the three of them sat before the fire. Dimitri was numb, but it was a strangely good kind of numb. For the first time in so long he could think without rage and depression clouding his mind. “I’m sorry,” he murmured, “about the things I’ve said to both of you.”
Claude leaned over and gave him a peck on the cheek. “Hey, all three of us have been having a tough time.”
Dimitri turned to look to Byleth. The Professor nodded, and gave him an unexpected kiss on the cheek. At his questioning look, she replied, “You looked like you needed it.”
“So,” Claude said slowly, “I might have made a proposal to Byleth that I need to make to you Dimi-“
“I’m alright if you want both me and the Professor.”
Claude stopped, his mouth still hanging open. “How did you know?”
Dimitri looked at Byleth, who returned his skeptical expression. “Claude. You’ve been trying to get Byleth in bed since she got here.”
The other man’s skin filled with a dusky blush. “I . . . forgot.”
However, Byleth was not done with the matter. “It’s . . . more than that. Claude wants us to be a trio.”
The lost prince smiled at her. “And are you okay with it?”
She nodded with a blush. “I, well, I . . . This is hard.”
“Talking to Raphael made me realize a lot of things,” Dimitri said softly. “One of those things was that . . . I’ve cared for both of you. Professor . . . Byleth. I was half way in love with you before the fall. And I care for you Claude. Deeply. I’m sorry I never told you before, but I do. I want to be a trio too.”
Byleth smiled. “How about we agree to just . . . be. Together. For a little while.”
“That sounds good,” Claude said. The three sat in silence for a moment. “What’s for dinner?”
“Well, we still have a little rabbit,” Byleth answered. “I figured I’d make rabbit stew to stretch it. With a side of -“
“Don’t say it,” Claude muttered.
“- Pumpkin.” She gave him a dirty look. “It is not my fault that squash grows so well.”
Dimitri just gave Byleth a mournful, “I like pumpkin.” Claude snorted, but Dimitri continued, “Cook used to make pies out of it when I was little. She’d add Almyran cinnamon and nutmeg to it.”
Byleth’s eyes lit up. She went to the supplies Raphael had left in the little make-shift pantry she’d begun to build in one of the book shelves. She pulled down a satchel, and rummaged through it. Triumphantly she held up a small bottle and a small nut-like object. “I think I can oblige the spices for you, Dimitri.”
“You didn’t indulge me with spices,” Claude muttered.
“One, I didn’t have them. Two, you haven’t been crying your eyes out a good portion of the afternoon. Three, you’re about to have nothing but pumpkin for a week if you continue to complain.”
Claude made a sound of annoyance, but Dimitri opened his arms wide. Taking the invitation, Claude slid into his lap, taking up his old spot. He crossed his arms as Dimitri wrapped his around the shorter man. Byleth rolled her eyes. “Fine. Pout.”
“You,” Claude said imperiously, “are just jealous that I get to sit in Dimi’s lap.”
She shook her head. “Someone has to cook. I don’t see you two jumping up to do it.”
“You’re a better cook than either one of us,” Dimitri said.
“Dimitri could burn water,” Claude muttered.
“I can imagine,” Byleth retorted. “I made the mistake of inviting him to cook with me once. I think Head Cook Giselle was ready to fillet me and serve my innards for dinner that night.”
Claude sat up suddenly, leaning away from Dimitri. “That was you?! You were the one who set the kitchens on fire?!”
The repressive look Dimitri gave him was not enough to stop Claude’s peals of laughter. Byleth smiled into the fire. This was already looking like a lovely evening.
After they ate, they adjourned to the bathing room as was their won’t. Claude and Byleth stripped and bathed, but Dimitri held back. Byleth thought that he was going to do what he had used to do - observe quietly, but not participate and only wash himself after everyone else was asleep - but after Claude was done, he stepped into the washing area. “Professor?” he asked quietly.
“You can call me by my name, you know.”
“Byleth,” he said again. “Can you . . . do my hair?”
Her eyebrows rose. “What do you want done?”
He pointed to it. “Can you cut it?”
“Oh,” she said. She got back out of the bath, water sluicing over her body. “Claude, grab the stool and the scissors.”
He did as he was bid, and she sat Dimitri down over the drain. He had stripped completely naked, and she looked over what she had to deal with. Though he bathed at least weekly, like Claude his hair had rarely been combed or properly washed. However, Dimitri’s thicker hair was not as prone to tangling as Claude’s, so he didn’t have any matts, but it was greasy and lank. She touched the straps of the eyepatch. “We need to take this off.”
“Alright,” he said. He tried to take it off, but had some trouble. She helped him, gingerly peeling the piece of cloth away from a cut that he’d gotten on his eyebrow. They hadn’t taken care of it before because it had been so minor, but now Byleth cursed it. The lower edge of the cut lined up with the upper edge of his eye patch. They took a few moments to deal with it, and Byleth got to show off her minor healing magic.
After that, she got around to washing his hair. She made absolutely sure to rinse all of the shampoo out of his hair, and then combed it carefully. “I don’t know,” she said to Claude, who had returned to the bath. “I like his hair long. What do you think?”
“Maybe pull it back in a queue?” he posited. “I mean, your hair is nice, Dimi.”
“But you cut yours.”
“Because it was full of matts,” Claude admitted. “You should have seen the floor in here when Leth was done. It looked like I’d killed a bunch of rats.”
“It wasn’t that bad,” Byleth said as she pulled the comb back through Dimitri’s hair. He almost purred with delight. “And Leth?”
“Well, I can’t keep calling you Teach.” He paused. “Well, I could, but it would probably make people uncomfortable.”
“We’re three scarred up monsters,” Dimitri muttered. “I think calling her Teach is the least of our worries.”
“We’re not monsters,” Byleth said, but her voice wavered. She had still not told them about what Sothis had revealed to her. Maybe she was a monster, after all. “And anyway, I like Leth.”
“Leth it is,” Dimitri agreed softly. “What are we going to call Claude?”
The two glanced over at him. He sat with his arms propped on the rim of the bath, staring back at them. “Well, my brother called me Mehr-Mehr when I was little,” he said.
“Mehr-Mehr?” Dimitri asked.
“You have a brother?” Byleth echoed.
Claude smiled. “Yeah, Selim. He’s older than me by about two years.”
“You never mentioned him,” Byleth replied.
“Well . . . I never saw the need. I left my Almyran family behind when I came here to become Duke von Riegan’s heir. I . . . I had originally dreamed about going back to them one day, but after the last few years . . .” His eyes were sad. “It didn’t seem worth it.”
“Well, we’ll get you back to them,” Byleth said.
“It would be nice to have family again,” Dimitri said hollowly. He glanced up at Byleth, showing her the damage to his right eye. She couldn’t help but grimace. The orb was milky and discolored. There was no scarring around his eye, so there was no obvious reason for the injury.
“What happened?” she asked softly.
“A demonic beast caught me in the face. Didn’t claw me, but according to the village healer it must have knocked pieces of my eye loose. Couple days later, it started filling up with blood. I haven’t been able to use it since.”
She hissed. “One of Papa’s mercenaries had something similar happen. He learned to compensate, but he mourned his sight.” She paused. “I wonder how they’re doing. Did they . . . Do you know if they survived?”
Dimitri looked to Claude, who shook his head. “We don’t know. I didn’t see them with the other students. They might have escaped.”
“You’re not lying to me?” she asked softly as she began pulling Dimitri’s hair back into the proposed queue.
“Not this time,” Claude said with a grin.
Byleth rolled her eyes as she took out the shaving kit that Raphael had helpfully left them. She expertly lathered up Dimitri’s face. “Groomed beard or no beard?” she asked.
“No beard,” Dimitri answered.
She obliged him, shaving away the thick beard that he’d grown. She took great care not to nick him, and smiled at her handiwork once she was done. “Not bad if I do say so myself,” she murmured.
He nodded, and they both entered the bath. Byleth realized that when it was just her and Claude, the tub was spacious and roomy. Adding Dimitri - who was a head and a half taller than both her and Claude - made it much cozier. They sat on three sides, facing inward towards one another, their legs tangled. Dimitri was so tall that his feet touched the far wall of the tub, so Claude and Byleth weaved their legs through his. It was nice, being able to sit quietly with one another. “So, what are we doing tomorrow?” Claude asked.
“Well, it’s snowing,” Byleth said. “Raphael was nice enough to leave me with enough fabric to fix the red dress, so I was going to do that. Maybe you two could do some laundry?”
When it was time for bed, Claude was surprised to see Dimitri making another pallet on the floor. “What are you doing?” he asked, trying not to sound hurt. He had missed sleeping beside Dimitri.
The other man stopped. “I . . . I need to do this.”
Claude didn’t push, but he did ask, “Would you get mad if I went in and slept with Byleth tonight?”
“No.” Dimitri looked up at him. He didn’t smile reassuringly, but he also didn’t indicate any displeasure. “I just . . . I need to sleep alone one more night.”
Claude nodded, and got up to knock on the door to the bed chamber. “Come in.”
He walked in, seeing Byleth curled up with a book. She had a globe of light hanging above her head to help her see. “Do you mind if I sleep in here with you?” Claude asked quietly.
“You’re not sleeping with Dimitri?” she asked.
He shook his head, and Byleth stared at him for a moment. “Okay.”
He turned to go out to fetch his pallet - he planned to sleep on the floor still - but Byleth stopped him. “Claude. Get in the bed.”
He turned back to her, eyebrows raised half to his hairline. “Stop it,” she muttered. “If we’re doing this, I want to know what it’s like to share a bed. Platonically.”
Claude was not a man to look a gift horse in the mouth. He shed his clothes, and crawled into bed beside her. She was reading a novel. “Where’d you get that?”
“Apparently Rhea enjoyed fiction.”
“Oh,” he murmured. He settled down, wrapping his arms around her waist and snuggling into her bosom. “Do you mind this?”
It took her a moment to resettle around his arms and head, but she smiled. “It’s . . . nice.”
For the first time in a week, Claude dropped off to sleep quickly.
Out in the sitting room, Dimitri stared into the fire. He’d taken Claude’s pallet after peeking in to see the other man in bed with Byleth. The blankets smelled vaguely of him. It was small comfort as the voices pressed in on all sides. They chanted his name, tormenting him with their moans and cries. He closed his eyes, desperately willing himself to sleep. Try as he might to block them out, they kept coming back. He was drowning in the voices of the dead, breathing hard, panic rising from his stomach to his throat. He couldn’t do this, he couldn’t do this he couldn’t - it was too dark - he needed - he needed-
“You’re amazing,“ Raphael’s voice murmured.
“We’re not monsters,“ Byleth whispered.
“I love you!” Claude snapped.
Dimitri’s eyes flew open. Claude loved him. Byleth cared for him. Raphael looked up to him. The voices faded a bit. Realizing his advantage, Dimitri concentrated on all the good memories he had. As embarrassing as it was, the time he nearly burned down the kitchen played across his mind. Byleth’s beautiful but exasperated face when she surveyed the damage. “Dimitri,“ she’d moaned, “how could you mess up a boiled egg?“
The White Heron Competition flitted up as well. Flayn had represented the Blue Lions versus Hilda and Hubert. Her face had glowed with pride when the judges had awarded her the title of champion. She’d had great fun presenting the trophy to her house leader, her pomp and ceremony charming. And then there was the time Sylvain and Ashe had accidentally - on purpose - set off a chemistry experiment that belonged Linhardt. It had bubbled over and ruined Hanneman’s lab. They’d also managed to get away with it - he only knew about it because Ashe had tearfully admitted to it.
More memories beat back the voices, happy memories of his loved ones and friends. Again, it did not take long for Dimitri to drop off into sleep. For the first time in five years, he slept through the night alone.
Byleth had admittedly been the only one of the trio to have difficulty falling asleep. Her problem was that she was not used to sleeping with another person, and instincts honed by years as a mercenary woke her every time Claude rolled over and wrapped his arms around her. Which was often. However, she chose to be pleased and flattered by the attention rather than offended by the lost sleep. His arms were warm and strong, corded with muscle sheathed in soft skin and wiry hair. They made her feel safe, and secure.
When dawn broke, she tried to get up only to be dragged back under the covers by one half asleep, but very strong Almyran. “No,” he muttered. “Not yet.”
“Claude, it’s daybreak.”
“And we have nothing to do. Stay in bed.” He tightened his arms, and curled around her. They were both naked, and Byleth tried not to shudder at the feeling of his body against hers. It was . . . distracting. Especially the hard rod poking into her ass.
Claude fell back asleep quickly, but she stayed awake again. She had contemplated telling her men about the vision she’d had and the dream, but decided against it. Sothis’s words about distortion haunted her. What had made Nemesis go evil? Would her two lords do the same?
If Claude and Dimitri became real demons . . . . would she be able to fight them?
Couple of chapters of fluff. Because we need it.
Chapter 13: Chamomile Shenanigans
Let the affectionate bickering begin.
They ended up staying abed quite late that first morning. It was probably nearer to noon than dawn when Byleth finally convinced Claude to roll out of bed, and they’d come into the sitting room to find Dimitri sprawled out in front of the banked fire. He was also gloriously naked, splayed out in front of the two chairs. Byleth had set to work cooking breakfast while Claude cuddled Dimitri and cooed at him until the other man woke up. Dimitri took this chicanery gracefully, and even shared a long suffering look with Byleth.
“How did you sleep?” she asked him quietly.
He looked up at her, and wonder of wonders, a small smile played out across his lips. “Best sleep I’ve had in awhile.”
“Good.” She handed him breakfast - spiced pumpkin and a few strips of venison jerky - and sat down beside him on the floor. Claude flanked Dimitri on the other side. They ate quickly, and then got dressed. “I want to check the greenhouse.”
“Of course,” Dimitri said, swinging his cloak and wolfskin on his shoulders. Claude followed his lead. Dimitri frowned at her. “We need to find you a wolf skin.”
“There’s a pack out near the base of the mountains,” Claude murmured. “Maybe we can see if there are any old or sick wolves we could cull.”
They went out, and Byleth discovered why Dimitri had been contemplating a fur for her. So far, the winter had been mild enough to bear, but now true winter had fallen on Fódlan. It was absolutely freezing. Her teeth began to chatter in moments, and Dimitri whisked his cloak off and wrapped it around her shoulders. Full of his body heat, it was cozy and warm.
Claude, however, looked outraged. “You never let me have your cloak!”
For a moment, Byleth wondered if their trio wasn’t going to work because of jealousy and indignation, but then she saw the twinkle in Claude’s eye. He was joking. “Did you ask?” she retorted.
“Yes! Many times!”
“You needed to toughen up,” Dimitri answered. His face was completely blank, but Byleth had been a stoic. She knew that beneath his impassive face, he was grinning.
Claude opened and closed his mouth like a fish. It actually took him a moment to formulate a response. “Why doesn’t she need to toughen up?”
“She’s tough enough,” Dimitri replied.
“So am I!”
Byleth giggled. “Just get in.” She held open the cloak, and Claude gratefully hurried to huddle under it with her. They looked silly, both of them wearing Dimitri’s cloak like children playing in their parents’ clothes. He finally let his mouth curl up at the corners, and there were a couple of suspicious sounds as the two in the cloak figured out how to move together. “Dimitri, you’re not bothered by the cold?”
He shrugged. “This is a brisk day in Fhirdiad, true, but it’s not bad.”
Claude muttered something that sounded like, “thick blooded jerk” but decided not to comment. “So, greenhouse.”
They made their way to the greenhouse through the snow. However, the snow was deep, and the two in the cloak were taking a long time, especially on the treacherous stairs. After five minutes of watching them flail around trying to navigate with the cloak that was about six inches too long for Claude and almost a foot too long for Byleth, Dimitri acted. Striding forward, he picked the two of them up one armed, and carried them down the first set of stairs like they were two wayward cats. They giggled, and when he got to the bottom, they forced Dimitri to allow them to resettle into a more comfortable position.
That was how Dimitri ended up carrying a bundle of swaddled up adorable across the back lawns down to their destination. Claude had curled up around Byleth, and the two of them were wrapped up tightly in the cloak as the tallest member of their trio strode easily through the snow. “Now this is the way to travel,” Claude piped up.
“Both of you are so warm,” Byleth muttered, snuggling closer to Dimitri and back into Claude. “Claude, is Dimitri always a furnace?”
“Always,” Claude replied. “High summer is hard because he doesn’t know the meaning of the word boundaries.”
Dimitri snorted. “That is quite rich coming from you, Claude.”
“Yeah,” Byleth agreed. “You aren’t exactly known for boundaries yourself.”
“Hey, you’re supposed to be on my side,” Claude joked.
“I’m on both your sides,” Byleth said. “But right now Dimitri is keeping me warm and dry. A girl has her priorities.”
“I could cart you around if you really wanted me to,” Claude pouted.
“Yes, to keep yourself warm,” she shot back. Dimitri let out another snort.
Claude would have normally taken this opportunity to flounce off in faux indignation, but it was hard to do when one was essentially ensconced in a pita pocket. So, he opted for his snootiest, duke-in-training voice. “I should have married Hilda like my grandfather wanted.”
“You and Hilda?” Byleth murmured. Dimitri’s face took on an annoyed expression.
“Gramps thought we’d make a good couple.”
She cocked her head, and Dimitri growled. “Well, you would actually have made a good couple. From what I understand the two of you kept Manuela on her toes.”
“Actually,” Claude replied, “Manuela mostly had issues with me. Hilda’s bane was Seteth.”
“Really,” Byleth said slowly. “Did she complain about him?”
“All the time,” Claude replied. He nuzzled Byleth’s hair. “Why?”
There was a moment where Byleth contemplated not sharing the conversations she’d had with Hilda before the Fall. Hilda, Lysithea, Marianne, and Leonie had often come to her to vent their frustrations and gossip. Manuela was well and good for a professor, but she actually had not meshed as well with the younger Golden Deer ladies. They liked her, but she was almost twice their age. While Hilda and Marianne might have had enough in common to bridge the age gap, Leonie and Lysithea were not interested in romance the way that the other two were.
That was why it was on days where Marianne and Hilda came to see her alone that they’d ended up gossiping about eligible bachelors around the monastery. Marianne had been quite taken with Claude and Dimitri at first, but as the months had gone on, she slowly warmed to Lorenz. Hilda had admired all of the young male students with varying degrees of sexual interest. However, she’d always included Seteth in that as well, arguing that even though he was the Archbishop’s right hand, he didn’t look much older than thirty. At the other side of twenty from the younger woman, Byleth had agreed with her. While she wasn’t as attracted to him as she had been Dimitri and Claude, Seteth did have certain charms. To use Dorothea’s words, he was the marrying kind.
“It’s just,” she began, “Hilda used to talk about Seteth to me. She was quite taken with him.” They’d finally arrived at the greenhouse, and Dimitri set them down.
Claude looked a bit goggle-eyed. “Taken? As in she had a crush?”
“Yes, but Hilda spoke of many young men in admiring tones. Sometimes not so young.”
A grin wreathed Claude’s face. “Did she ever admire your father in your presence?”
Byleth shuddered. “Thankfully, only once.”
Dimitri cocked his head. “You must have never been in the dining hall with both of them at the same time. Didn’t Hilda loudly wax poetic about Jeralt’s -“
“No!” Byleth cried, throwing her hands up over Dimtiri’s face. She was well acquainted with what areas Hilda tended to like in a man. “No! I do not want to know what she admired about my father, thank you.”
“It was his ass,” Claude said matter-of-factly.
He shrugged. “Your dad did have a nice ass. Her name was Byleth.”
He accepted the punch to his arm as his due.
“If it makes you feel any better,” Dimitri said quietly, pointing to Claude, “he’s our ass.”
Both Claude and Byleth turned to gape at Dimitri. He’d shown flashes of humor all morning, but this was the first time he’d made a full on joke. They gave each other a look, and Claude decided not to even argue about being the trio’s ass. “And what does that make him?” he asked instead.
Byleth looked up. And up. “Our brawn.”
“And you’re our heart,” Dimitri finished.
It was on the tip of Claude’s tongue to tease him about being smooth, but he decided against it. Dimitri wasn’t wrong. Byleth had brought the light back to them, showing them a way out of the mire of despair and agony they’d been living in for the last five years. She was their star, and even if she ultimately decided that she did not want to be with them, he knew that both of them would love her for the rest of their lives. Dimitri wasn’t ready to admit it, but Claude was sure that they felt the same.
After checking the greenhouse to make sure that everything was okay, the trio returned to their apartment. Byleth fetched her red dress, which had been laundered to remove the blood and dirt, and the sewing supplies that Raphael had given them. He’d left her some fabric too, but he’d only been able to find green. Apparently, with trade closed, it was much harder to get red dyed items because the bugs they used to make the dye were scarce in Fódlan. Green, yellow, and blue dyes were easier to come by. Raphael had given her enough to patch her dress, so she decided to make a new panel in the bodice. As she sat in one of the chairs, she realized that there was a problem. One of them would always have to sit on the floor since there were only two chairs.
Claude sat down in the other chair, holding the novel that she had been reading the night before. She had already cast a couple of light spells to light the lamps, but she was worried about Dimitri, who had just exited the bathing room. He looked at the two of them, and then at the pile of blankets still on the floor. He sighed, and then stomped out. That had Claude looking up, a little confused. “We may need to get some more chairs, Claude.”
He shrugged. “I didn’t think about Dimi needing a seat, honestly. He’s usually content to curl up on the floor.”
Further conversation was halted by the door banging open, and Dimitri entering the room again. He hauled in a sofa that was built of dark mahogany and upholstered in a dark blue satin. It was lightly worn, so she guessed it was from another private suite and not one of the common areas. “Move,” he said.
Claude and Byleth jumped up, and pulled their chairs out of the way. Dimitri set the sofa in front of the fire, and pulled the pallet out of the way haphazardly to make room for this new piece of furniture. He then, unceremoniously, sat down right in the middle. After a moment where Claude and Byleth stood a little speechless - they had not been expecting Dimitri’s sudden desire to redecorate at all - he looked up at them and gestured to the open seats on either side of him. Claude laughed and sat down to Dimitri’s left. Byleth followed suit.
The three sat companionably. Claude read the novel, Byleth repaired her dress, and Dimitri sat rubbing shoulders with them, content to just be. The fire crackled merrily in the silence, and the wind howled as a storm started to roll in. Stretching her cramping fingers, Byleth finally looked up and said, “Who wants tea?”
“Tea sounds delicious,” Claude declared. “Gods of my fathers, when did we last have tea?”
“Six months ago,” Dimitri said. “Didn’t Raphael mention something about it becoming quite dear?”
Tea came from other areas of the world, and very little could be grown in Fódlan. Most tea was imported. “I think Raphael left us some plain black tea. There’s also a herbal tea as well.”
“Chamomile?” the two men chorused.
She laughed. “Yes, I believe it is chamomile.”
The looks of sheer joy on their faces made her laugh. She set about boiling water and steeping the fragrant herbal tisane. She was grateful that Raphael had included it, not just because it was her men’s favorite, but also because it was a soothing drink. She was not so foolish as to believe that all of their demons were dead. There would be relapses, harsh words, and bad days ahead. “Ready,” she murmured, handing them their cups. “I’m sorry, there’s no cream for either of you.”
“Chamomile tastes great with or without cream,” Claude murmured. Their mugs were rough hewn clay ware, and the warmth felt good on his hands. He took in a huge breath of air, loving the scent of soothing chamomile. “Thank you, Leth.”
She smiled at him, taking her cup back to her seat. After taking a hearty sip, she wedged her mug between her leg and the seat. Taking her needle back up, she finished repairing her dress. Holding it up, she examined it critically. Her stitches were neat, but while she excelled at cooking, she was not as good at sewing. When she looked up, she realized that Dimitri was watching her with interest. She smiled at him. “I think this will do for wearing around the monastery, don’t you think?”
He nodded, reaching out to stroke a lock of her hair. “You will certainly look . . . interesting.”
“How so?” she asked.
Dimitri blushed a little bit. “Well, uh, you . . . um, . . . I -“
There was a loud slurp from Claude. “That dress pushes your breasts up to your ears and now has a green stripe to highlight your cleavage,” he said matter of factly.
Now she was blushing too. Biting her lip she asked, “Is that a bad thing? I mean, I . . . I thought . . .”
“No!” Dimitri cried just as Claude chuckled, “It’s a good thing.”
Dimitri looked away, muttering. “Of course I would ruin this. Stupid.”
“Hey, stop it,” Claude said, rubbing his elbow against Dimitri. “You just go a little shy around Leth. Nothing to be ashamed of.”
“Please, Dimi,” she said, using Claude’s affectionate nickname, “don’t take it the wrong way. I just . . . I wanted to make sure that it was a good thing. I want . . .” She trailed off. What did she want? She knew that she wanted a peaceful life, and was seriously considering Claude’s proposal, but what did she want in this moment? She wanted to reassure Dimitri, to express that her purpose in asking was not because she was offended, but because she wanted him to . . . like the look of her. “I just wanted to make sure that you’d think I’d look good in it.”
“Didn’t you hear me?” Claude teased. “That dress does great things for your breasts. It could be green with purple polka dots and I’d love it.”
“That’s . . . not what I needed to hear,” Byleth muttered.
“You’d look beautiful in anything,” Dimitri said softly, sincerely.
Deciding to reward his chivalry, she leaned up, and brushed her lips against his. It was impulsive, quick, and over before she had any time to really think about what she was doing, but the look on Dimitri’s face was priceless. She smiled at him, but he didn’t return it. Instead, he kissed her.
This kiss wasn’t her unpracticed peck, but a deep, openmouthed affair. His tongue teased open her lips, and she followed his lead. Her hands were useless in her lap as his cup her cheeks. He had not worn his gloves all day, and his callused fingers skated over her suddenly sensitive skin, making her shiver. She felt her nipples tighten, and the muscles low in her groin clenched. It seemed to go on forever, but when Dimitri pulled away, she realized it had been mere moments.
She could only watch as Dimitri leaned away from her to give Claude a kiss as well. The sight of the two of them kissing caused her muscles to clench again. She thought of the strange dream she’d had weeks ago, the phantom sensations of a thick cock plowing into her now modified by the fact that she knew for real what a cock felt like. She was breathing hard, her breasts heaving as she watched the two men disengage. Claude looked at her, and smiled. “Would you like a kiss too?”
She nodded, and Claude leaned across Dimitri’s lap to capture her lips. Where Dimitri had been firm and commanding, Claude was playful and teasing. Instead of one long embrace, he gave her a series of short kisses that varied in length. It was frustrating because she wanted the same sensation as Dimitri’s kiss, but Claude refused to give her that one deep kiss she needed. Growling, she grabbed his skull, holding him still as she took what she wanted. Claude chuckled as she finally let him lean back.
“That was . . .” She took a deep breath. “That was wonderful."
“Do you want to do more?” Claude asked.
Her thighs clenched. “Please.”
Not gonna lie, as much as this is supposed to be 90% Cacao Dark Fic . . . I can't keep that shit up for long. Don't get me wrong, the horrors of war are not going away, but we have more or less turned the corner when it comes to the depths of the darkness for this particular fic. We've still got quite a long way to go story wise, but the tone will be getting lighter along the way.
And, ya know, next chapter is going to be a lot of smut.