With nothing better to do whilst listening to the sound of water sloshing in the rusted bucket he’s lugged through the monastery halls, Byleth ruminated on his poor life decisions. Because those are the sorts of things you do when you’ve lived far too many lives.
He was getting awfully sick of all these failed runs. “Runs” he dubbed them, as it felt like a marathon every time. Awful marathons, the kind where you’re sweating buckets and puking blood and cursing the name of the idiot that signed you up for it, only the idiot is technically a major religious figure who may or may not have stuck a god in you.
His second run was with the Golden Deer, naturally. It went well enough, and he was thankful for Claude’s penchant for getting people to talk. The true identities and history of the Church of Seiros, managing to weed out Those Who Slither In The Dark—a mouthful that never ceased to irritate Byleth when forced to say it—and even some choice details about Crest fuckery courtesy of Lysithea, all of it would have gone unmentioned in his life before. And he admired the uplifting nature those little gilded fawns provided, all things considered.
He did another two runs after that, both failed quite spectacularly.
As did his four Black Eagle runs.
Boy, he hated those. There was something sickening about it, even if his students were kind enough. He tried everything he could think of at first; Siding with Edelgard, siding with Rhea. Trying to sabotage Edelgard from the inside, and then the same for Seiros. The only benefit was the gained knowledge, the new perspectives. The absolutely infuriating perspectives. He could never quite make it to the end, either. Not because he was unable, he just knew the end would never be the one he could be content with. Just another failure.
He went back to the Golden Deer one more time after that. That one didn’t last long. There’s a cruel irony that one can only remember their time travel after using it for the first time each run. Honestly, imagine throwing yourself in front of an axe to save a girl, and that’s when you remember everything about that girl trying to kill you. And about how that girl just will not talk about her feelings, something Byleth is fairly certain would solve everything.
What didn’t solve everything was when he just kind of… killed her himself. Turns out when you’re technically a representative of the church and you kill the future empress, Adrestia doesn’t really need to wait around for Edelgard to declare war against your employer.
All things considered that wasn’t his most brilliant tactical move, but emotions are confusing and he was getting desperate. Either way, that run was cut pretty short.
At this point, Byleth knew the only way to succeed in stopping the war and defeating Those Who Have An Unnecessarily Pretentious Name, was to do so before he took a swan dive off a cliff. There’s no way to do both without the knowledge of all three sides of Fódlan, but getting those three sides to cooperate… Well, therein lies the challenge.
It probably would have been easier if he’d even been able to talk to any of the Blue Lions his first few re-do’s.
The Blue Lions were his first run. His life, so to speak; He had built a relatively happy one. Sure, there was heartbreak and loss, but Fódlan had been brought to peace. Everyone’s lives were wrapped in a neat little bow, and he’d made quite a pleasant life for himself with a particularly sleepy crest scholar. But there was always something nagging at him. Maybe it was Sothis, maybe it was just his own conscious. Maybe it was the way his best friend looked at him. He would without fail turn back time for his students if they fell in battle, yet for some reason he failed to do so when they fell into something worse.
Byleth kicked aside a piece of fallen masonry as he crossed the bridge, huffing softly. He was still guilty for ripping away those storybook endings. So much so he could hardly look any younger, bright and bushy tailed Faerghus kid in the eye the next time they met. Which made the day when he wandered into the Blue Lion’s classroom out of force of habit particularly odd, confusing them and the poor Golden Deer leader as he had to awkwardly shuffle his disoriented professor into the correct classroom.
Seeing them on school grounds wasn’t exactly the hard part, though. It was an odd feeling, meeting them in real battle for the first time. Byleth recalled a bit of twisted pride, watching his own soldiers struggle against the Faerghus forces, and he was always curious to see what new classes they would master in a new run. Of course, by the time he met them in battle at Gronder, it marked his own failure. The loss of one of his three integral puzzle pieces.
Cutting down the Prince of Faerghus was never fun, but he would meet him in battle himself every time. It always felt like he owed him that level of respect, at least. Divine Pulses were a rare thing for Byleth to rely on, yet in those moments he often found himself frantically rewinding time at the request of a lance pierced body part. Dimitri was always quite special that way.
A weaker huff escaped Byleth’s lips, his unbalanced steps echoing around the dilapidated cathedral, clumsily letting water spill out onto the dusty floor. It was Dimitri’s fault that he even started this stupid game. It’s his fault that he avoided choosing the Blue Lions again for this long, too. No matter how many runs he does, Byleth can always remember that laugh in the Holy Tomb. It’s not often you get to watch someone descend into madness in real time, especially not someone you care about enough to put up with five years later as he attempts to do a solo speed-run of war. Not something you want to personally experience for a second time.
Dammit, Dimitri. It’s your fault. If you could just swallow your pride for a second and get Edelgard to open up we wouldn’t be in this mess at all. Might be nice to save my dad’s life, for once.
Dammit, it’s your fault. If you still didn't look so sad for all those years maybe you all could have just died of old age in peace and I wouldn’t have gotten so obsessed with stopping this war.
Dammit Dimitri, if you had just opened up to me earlier this run might not have failed too.
Dammit, Dimitri. Dammit dammit dammit. If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t still be here wasting my time.
“Dammit, Dimitri!” Byleth shouted, foisting his bucket of cold spring water onto the brooding blue figure. “I told you if you didn’t take a bath by the end of the month I was bringing the bath to you!”
Alright, so maybe the surprise bucket bath wasn’t the most mature way to handle the situation, Byleth mused as he hid from the rabid (and slightly soggy) roaming lion in one of the vacant dorm rooms.
He was so thrilled that this was his reward for figuring out how to wake himself up a few years earlier. Playing caretaker for his catatonic ex-student.
Not like Byleth was certain waking himself up any earlier had much of a benefit at all, even if it took him a few runs to even figure out why his five year cat nap even happened. Similar to his father’s death (no that does not get any easier to watch, by the way) and Sothis’ disappearance, falling into the river was another instance of “fate”, Byleth’s new least favorite thing in the universe. No time shenanigans could keep him from tripping face first into the abyss. However, it turns out the “coma” was never a coma at all. In an instinctual panic, he’s able to freeze time on just his body state and nothing else, including the acceleration acting on it. By the time his time resumes, all that force is long gone and his body simply ragdolls itself back down. Unfortunately, stopping time on just one thing causes a few more hiccups than briefly turning everything back if you’re not paying attention, and that’s how you end up paused above an abandoned riverbank for five years.
But if you’re really focusing, you too can end up only three years into the future instead.
It’s a pretty useless skill, Byleth figured. But it might be useful if he finds himself about to die, and he doesn’t have time to work the days of energy into turning back time to a mercenary encampment about to be accosted by three oblivious noble children. God, turning back time that far sucks.
Maybe that’s why he hasn’t done it yet, Byleth lied to himself.
He poked his head out the dorm room window enough that his luminescent green hair shouldn’t attract attention. From there he could observe the boar prince in his natural habitat, brandishing a rusty spear and spewing death threats Byleth is somewhat sure he wouldn’t actually act on. With his blonde hair sticking to his face and the fur on his cloak matted down with water, his resemblance to an angry post-bath cat was striking.
Byleth’s eyes lit up, just a little. It’s the liveliest he’s seen Dimitri in weeks.
He didn’t like to latch on to unlikely hopes, and the hope that this run is at all salvageable now that Garreg Mach has fallen is practically childish to hold on to. Byleth supposed he still has until Gronder, before shy little Bernadetta is felled on that center podium, to turn it around. Before any students are killed. And yes, he does have an extra two years to work with before the Blue Lions’ unhappy reunion. So logically there’s no reason to restart too early, and deal with all that nasty guilt and the innocent eyes looking to you for guidance you’ve failed to give time and time again.
Byleth wonders if guilt is the only emotion he’s allowed to feel nowadays. Because all of that war-ending logic is bullshit. He hasn’t restarted because he finally has a chance to make up for the mistake he’s made on every single damned run.
To be there for the student who needed him the most.
Even when that student sends a spear through the window two inches above his professor’s head.
...But hey, he has better aim than that. He missed on purpose. Probably.