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Lay Down Your Burdens

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You were decidedly glad that Garrag Mach monastery were used to replacing broken weapons (mostly thanks to Prince Dmitri), because right now, you were definitely giving him a run for his money.

You drew back the string on yet another bow, the fletching from the arrow tickling your cheek. You took in a breath and let go-

Only for the string to snap again.

“AGH!” you shrieked, flinging the now-broken training bow across the training room in frustration, which joined an increasingly large pile of them.

Desperation swarmed you as you grabbed another weapon – a lance, this time, and drove it into the straw practise dummy, but you’d been doing this for hours and your arms shook with the effort – you’d skipped out on dinner (and breakfast) in order to get to the Training Grounds before anybody else arrived and then returned after everybody else had left. You didn’t think you could stand the humiliation of someone watching you trying to use every weapon you could get your sweaty hands on and making such a goddamn mess of it.

You really didn’t know what was wrong. You had been just fine before, in fact you would have said you were one of the stronger members of the Golden Deer house (not the strongest, obviously, that went to Byleth and Claude), but you always performed decently well. But now, suddenly, you seemed to be falling behind. It wasn’t you begrudged your allies for performing better and better as time went on, but in your haste to catch up, suddenly it seemed like there were so many areas where you were underperforming in. You couldn’t sleep because you were too busy tossing and turning, worrying over how you’d do on the next mission. What if you got hurt? What if one of your allies got hurt because of you? What if it turned out you weren’t a worthy bearer of your Crest after all?

A tightness squeezed your chest as you turned back to grab something else – at this point you didn’t even care what it was, so long as it could distract you from the urge to cry that was building somewhere between your lungs.

Pathetic.

“Whoa, hey!”

You gasped and dropped the javelin you were holding. It clattered noisily to the floor, rolling along the ground until a booted foot rested gently on it to stop its progression.

“C-Claude!” you blurted out in surprise, cheeks flushing at doing something so dumb in front of the heir to the Leicester Alliance.

But then again, getting flustered and stupid around Claude wasn’t exactly new territory for you.

“Uh-huh, me.” Claude said, glancing down at the javelin, then at you.

His eyes took in the scene, your dischevelled appearance, the late hour, the almost-empty barrel full of lances. You could practically see him putting the pieces together, cogs whirring behind those bottle-green eyes of his. When he looked at you like that, you often got the disconcerting feeling that he could see right through you, as if you were as transparent as glass.

“Have you…been doing this all day?” Claude asked slowly, his tone edging into one of disbelief. “You weren’t at the Mess Hall this morning, or at dinner and it’s almost midnight now.”

You could feel your face burning as Claude frowned, feeling as though a scolding was coming your way, and sure enough;

“Are you crazy? You can’t just spend all day running around training like this! You’ll collapse if you don’t eat. It's not a pleasant sight to see someone sprawled out unconscious when they come to train.”

“Well, that’s-“ you began, awkwardly, but Claude wasn’t quite finished.

“But you already knew that, didn’t you? It’s not like I have to tell you when you went to the trouble of sneaking off in secret so nobody would notice where you were, because you knew somebody would try to give you a good sense-talking. I mean, correct me if I’m wrong, I’m waiting for you to jump in with a decent explanation, if you have one-“

“I don’t know what else to do!” you said – actually, you kind of shouted it – and you cringed as your voice echoed a little in the room.

“Uh…come again?” Claude blinked.

You sighed, wiping your forehead with the back of your wrist.

“I know I shouldn’t train like this, but…goddess-damn it, Claude, I have to do something to try and fix things! If I keep things going the way they have been, then I’ll never catch up to you and the others! I know that you’ve noticed I keep messing up lately and I’m falling behind in my training. What if I don’t just stop improving, but start declining as well and drag everyone down with me? Then what? What will I do then?”

“If you keep this ‘training’ up, the only thing you’ll get out of it is a mental breakdown. I bet you haven’t been sleeping either - those bags under your eyes are a bit of a giveaway. You need to rest. That’s the only way you’ll progress anywhere, in training or…well, anything else.”

His words were imminently sensible, but it’s difficult to accept that it could possibly be so simple as to just take a rest. When you first started struggling to finish off enemies, whether by landing that fatal blow or hitting them hard enough, you attributed it to tiredness or distraction, nothing more. But that couldn’t be the reason when it kept happening, could it? Fear of failure had lodged itself in your chest with its gnarled claws and even Claude wasn’t going to persuade it to let go that easily.

“I guess you’re right…” you conceded reluctantly, because you didn’t want him to think you were a total lunatic, but… “I just need another half an hour…”

After all, you didn’t want to abandon all your attempts at getting stronger just because Claude told you to, even if he was the leader of the Golden Deer. It didn’t matter that your head felt fuzzy or that whenever you blinked it took a couple of minutes for your vision to reorient itself, little black spots dancing in your field of vision.

Behind you, you heard Claude give a sigh of exasperation that somehow seemed…almost fond. The very sound sent a flurry of butterflies taking wing in the pit of your stomach.

“The ‘just five more minutes’ delaying tactic, eh? Heh, I know it well. But as much as I admire your diligence, I know leaving you alone here will only result in two headaches – one for you and one for me. So, with that being said…”

And suddenly, a firm arm wrapped around your back and another hooked beneath your knees and before you could get out of it, you were hoisted off the ground.

“Ah-!” you yelped, squirming in surprise, heat rushing from your cheeks to rush all the way down to your neck. “CLAUDE!”

“Some people just won’t be told,” he chuckled as he effortlessly carried you out of the Training Room, as if he regularly just swept up women and carted them off somewhere. “Sorry, but we’re just gonna have to do this the hard way.”

“But, uh, what about the weapons?” you asked, flailing a bit as you pointed to the pile of busted equipment that no doubt the knights would be most displeased to find in the morning. Claude was unrepentant.

“Eh. Blame it on Dmitri.”

“This is so embarrassing!” you moaned, hiding your face in your hands. Despite how solid and nice Claude felt, you couldn’t stop the feeling of shame engulfing any pleasant sensations you might have otherwise noticed. “I knew it! I’m just making everyone else work harder and being a total burden!”

“Only because you’re so scared of being judged that you can’t improve,” Claude replied easily, like the answer was just resting on the tip of his tongue and you glanced up at him, astonished. “Look, take it from me, you’ll never unlock your true potential by worrying so much about what everyone else thinks of you. And besides, we’re your allies, remember? You don’t have to panic about not impressing us. The fact you’re working so hard to improve is proof enough that you’re a valuable part of our house, not becoming a nervous wreck from a temporary setback.”

You resisted the urge to pout in defeat. Claude was a cunning son of a bitch – hitting you with a pincer movement of both reasonable points made from a lifetime of experience and a place of genuine concern, and because it was very difficult to avoid the issue when you was literally being carried in his arms.

His warm, muscular arms…

Stop that!

Oh, why bother lying to yourself? If it wasn’t for the circumstances that had led up to this, this would be like something out of your classroom daydreams. Of course you had a crush on Claude, who wouldn’t have a crush on him? He was charming and witty and handsome and-

Okay, yeah, you had it bad.

Which, of course, made everything worse because you knew Claude didn’t think about you the way you thought about him. He was the heir to the Leicester Alliance, after all. Even if he had the time to be daydreaming about girls, any future bride of his would need to be an impressive individual to rule alongside him. Certainly not the likes of you, that was for sure.

Which only served to make him even more irresistible, of course. You couldn’t help the inevitable appeal of forbidden fruit.

But perhaps the gods had decided that you’d suffered enough embarrassment for one day, because you didn’t see anybody as Claude took you back to the dormitories, presumably because of the late hour. You could only imagine what Hilda or Dorothea would say if they saw this little scene, carried like a princess by Claude von Riegen, of all people...

“Alrighty,” Claude said as he reached your room, nudging the door with his shoulder and stepping inside, carefully avoiding trampling over any clothes or paper scattered on the floor that you’d simply been too tired to put away. He set you carefully down on the bed, like you were made of porcelain. “Get some rest, okay? Don’t make me get Teach to order you to – I’ll do it!”

Despite the fact you wanted to be annoyed with Claude for stepping in and making decisions for you, your mouth twitched in response. Damn it, did he have to be so cute?

“That’s just devious.”

“Hey, needs must!” he quipped back, with a soft laugh.

A small silence settled and you watched as his face settled into an expression that was a lot less flippant. Not unfriendly by any means, merely watchful.

“Really, though. We’ve been worried about you, y’know? Thinking that you’re a burden to us isn’t something that will go away in such a short time, but…well, I hope that you know that you have more friends than you realise. Nobody is going to begrudge you for needing a little time to improve, or would mind being asked for help. I realise I’ve been a little heavy on the lectures tonight, so I’ll stop before I start sounding too much like Seteth, but you’re not a burden. Okay?”

You had to bite your lip for a moment to hold onto your composure, since you’re tired enough that getting kind words from the guy who makes your heart race might just make you burst into tears. You don’t, but your voice shook just a little, just enough to lend a solemnity to your words.

“Thanks, Claude,” you said, softly.

Those green eyes flitted to you as he looked back from the doorway and you realised with a faint jolt that you were right – he does see through people. Maybe it’s just his nature to be able to separate the truth from a lie, cut through the facades people like to throw up to get to the heart of the matter, like expertly prying the stone from a cherry, but you understand that Claude can see something in you that others might miss. You’d missed it and you thought that you knew yourself well enough by now. But life at Garrag Mach was showing you with each passing month that nothing was quite as straightforward as it seemed to be. But Claude’s voice was honest and clear as he answered, the smile on his face reaching his eyes for once as he said simply;

“Anytime.”