In Water, Their Reflection
Somewhere, in a place of endless spring, a young girl awoke. She opened her eyes, lashes fluttering as the sun bore down in a wreath of gold. The girl sat up on her hands, fingers sliding across a bed of moss. It was warm, she recognized dimly; the breeze plentiful. The sky was cast in an even sheet of blue; pale and clear. Her eyes roved.
She was in a vast clearing. To her back, a copse of trees swayed in the wind; a playful dance of leaves and shaking limbs. At her feet, a large pond beckoned. The water was still and bore nothing in the way of debris. How odd, the girl thought, to find herself in such a place. A sound came from the right, stealing her attention away.
“About time you got up.” It was a man, his words rough and amused. The timbre of his voice was a low rasp; drawn from deep in his chest. Like distant thunder. “I thought I would be fishing alone.”
The girl observed the man for a time. He was tall, broad; made of sharp edges and fair colors. There was something familiar about him. Something she could not rightly recall. Her eyes drifted to his hands. They were as large as they were worn; crossed with pale lines of silver. The sight stirred something within; close, yet just out of reach.
She blinked as his hands moved, and the girl realized he was holding a long pole. The man flicked his wrists, and the pole swung. The pond made an answering plop as a hook hit the water.
“ Weather is nice today,” He commented plainly. “Great for fishing.”
The man twisted his head and turned eyes made of weathered timber in her direction.
“Well? Aren’t you going to join me?”
The girl stared at him, uncertain.
“I don’t have a fishing pole," She replied at last. The man’s face pulled into a wry smile.
“Ha! You got one in your hands already. Can’t you see it?”
The girl looked down, and realized he was correct. She gripped it tight. Then the girl moved to his side before slowly sitting. The man nodded, approving, and they both lapsed into silence. The girl swung back, wooden rod creaking, loosing the hook far into the pond. It hit the water with a soft dip, ripples cascading out from the center.
“Brings back memories.” The man mused after a time. He used a free hand to scratch the side of his jaw. The girl blinked as his face appeared to ripple, just as the water did. Fingers brushed against a grizzled cheek, and that same spark of familiarity loomed.
“Does it?” She asked, shifting her attention to the cloudless sky. The man made a noise, perhaps of amusement.
“Sure. Plenty of times.” He paused, as if lost in thought. Then his voice lowered in pitch. “You used to watch me for hours. Never said a word, but I could see you observing my every move. It used to spook me, but only because I wasn’t sure what you were thinking.”
“I’m sorry.” The girl felt her throat tighten, but she didn't know why. It was a curious sensation. The man shook his head.
“Don’t get that way, kid. That wasn’t my point.”
She heard him cast his line again.
“Never been great with words. You get that from me, I think," The man drawled; and she could hear a smile in his gravelly voice. “Anyway, you used to watch me fish. Sitting like a bump on a log with no discernible emotion. But your eyes would inspect what I was doing, like you were trying to understand it. Other than fighting, it was the most interest you ever showed...anything really.”
The girl breathed in as a memory came. She turned to face him, drinking in the gold cast to his features.
“I wanted to understand it. Why you did things for seemingly no reason.” She rolled the rod’s handle between her fingers. Her nails plucked at the wood. “But especially fishing. I wanted to know how to do it too.”
“Wasn’t any great mystery, kid. I just liked it. Fishing, drinking...and other things I made sure you weren’t privy to.” The man shrugged mightily. “Hmph. Of course, maybe I should have done better to explain things. Made many mistakes just because I didn’t say enough.”
“It was never your fault.” The girl denied. “It was always mine. From the very beginning.”
“Kids only know what they’re taught. Whatever mistakes you made were mine as well." The man waved his hand, chest rising with a snort. “Ha! We’re getting off track again. Look, kid, I just want to say it was never on you. Anything you did...well, I’ve been pretty content with blaming certain other people.”
“Even so...” The girl bowed her head. “I was a great burden on you.”
“I won’t lie, you gave me trouble more than a few times. Truthfully, I didn't quite know how to handle you." The man chuckled, a wry and wistful thing. “It was worth it. Each time you looked at me with those big eyes of yours.”
The girl felt her hands tremble.
“You should have let me go. Either to wander off in the wood, or just placed me somewhere else. You knew how I was; how I could be. The things I was capable of doing; the things I did do. Yet you kept me. Why?”
“You’ll understand when you got your own brats.” The man stated firmly. He pulled a flask of something from his coat, biting the stop. She watched him drink deep, and the motion was colored with nostalgia. Finally he halted, beard soaked and mouth quirked. “Family...you don’t give them up. And you are mine, aren’t you? My kid. My brat to take care of.”
“I’m sorry," The girl repeated. She felt an ache in her chest, and the pain grew as he shot her a measured stare.
“No more apologies, kid. I’m too old for that nonsense.” The man took another sip. “You learned well after a time, and you never had hate in you. I could tell the difference. Seen plenty of it back in the Church.”
“I read your journal,” The girl revealed. She watched him pause, flask stilling midair. Then, the man's chest heaved as he let loose a great sigh.
“Yeah. Thought you would.” Shadows flew from the trees, and curtained his face in momentary darkness. “Must have questions for me, right?”
“Only the one.”
The girl drew back her pole and cast the line again. The water shimmered, breaking like liquid glass.
“Why did you make us stay? You took me away from there...made sure to cut all ties...” She gave him a level look, searching his patient gaze. “So why serve the Church again? Why keep me there, when you knew what they were capable of?”
“Pretty simple reason.” The man’s mouth twisted, and his jaw tensed. His expression hardened to granite. “Before we stayed in Remire, do you remember how you were?”
“Of course.” The girl whispered, averting her eyes to mossy ground. “I can’t forget.”
“Sure, but I bet you don’t realize that you were already changing.” The man looked up into the sky. “I think it was a few months before everything happened. You began having those strange dreams. War and an empty throne.”
He stilled. The light caught his eyes, but he did not shy away from it. It turned the color from umber to honey.
“Then suddenly...you were meeting my gaze more often. Talking back even when I spoke idly. I think I nearly had a heart attack when you repeated one of my terrible jokes.”
“They weren’t terrible.” The girl frowned. The man just laughed, deep and long.
“Oh they were. I don’t blame you for not knowing the difference.” He cleared his throat. “I was stunned by the change, but I didn’t question it. Why should I, when it was what I wanted for years?”
The man pursed his lips.
“Then Remire happened. After that, there was the Academy and...Rhea. Honestly, I had every intention of clearing out of there as fast as possible. But she offered you that job, and I saw it as an opportunity.”
“For what?” The girl pressed, inordinately curious. He clicked his tongue, and dragged his fishing line close. It bent as he tested it.
“Answers. I had been running for years, but It never gave me any closure. I wanted to know everything that happened back then; even more so after I saw how interested that woman was in you.” He ran a hand through the burnt gold of his hair. “So I did as she bid. Made my skin crawl, but I needed to do it. For you, if nothing else.”
“I didn’t realize...” She bit her cheek, and her heart ached again. “You never said anything to me."
“You were having fun with those brats of yours.” The man’s mouth pulled into a fond grin. “And suddenly you were changing even more. As if they were bringing you to life. Something I could never do.”
“You did.” The girl stared at him. Her eyes felt strange. As if they were burning and drowning all at once. “You are my father. You gave me everything.”
“Not everything, kid. Some things you found yourself.” A stray breeze tossed his shaggy mane. His eyes were kind; staring at her with all of this world’s light. “Love, friends; and even a family. Maybe more in the future. You did good.”
The girl blinked, and something wet trailed down her face.
“I wish you were still here.” She muttered. Her voice was strained, breaking upon each word. “I wish this was real. I wish you weren’t gone. I wish I had told you––”
She stopped, and the man reached over to cup her cheek.
“This world is as real as you want it to be. And who is to say it isn’t? Maybe that old Goddess you know is kinder than you think.” Calloused fingers brushed aside her tears. “You got things to say, kid; say them now. I’m listening.”
“...I miss you.” She husked.
“Yeah. I miss you too,” He said gently. The girl sniffed and wiped her face.
“I loved you. I did.”
“I never doubted that, kid. Saw it, too.”
She looked up at him, shaking like the child she was.
“I tried to save you. But I couldn’t––”
“You can’t linger in the past,” The man cut in abruptly. He granted her a lopsided smile, and the girl realized it was something she shared with him. A behavior learned by observation, but never forgotten. A reflection of him upon her. “Gleaned that little pearl of wisdom too late, I'm afraid. I let the past ruin me. Hid away from it for years. Don’t be like me, kid.”
“But...” She protested weakly. His hand fell, but not before ruffling her hair.
“Look forward to the future you’ve forged. Hold that woman you love close. Laugh with your friends, hell, make more!” The man chuckled and the surrounding trees seemed to shake in response. “Most of all, live your life with all your heart. Can you do that for me?”
The girl nodded, holding his gaze.
“Yes. I’ll try.”
“Good. Then I got nothing to worry about.” The man’s head swiveled suddenly, and his eyes narrowed. Then he huffed, before rising to his feet. “Got to go, kid. Think I hear someone calling me.”
The girl opened her mouth to protest, but something caught her attention. A sweet scent; both familiar and wonderful. Roses and something that might have been love.
“I think I do as well,” She replied instead. The man looked down at her then; knowing.
“Yeah. Love’s funny like that.” His head tilted up, and he rubbed his chin. “By the way, tell that woman of yours to stop putting those blue flowers on the grave. It’s far too sad a color.”
“What color would you like?”
“Don’t know. Maybe pink. Your mother always liked pink.” The man...the father, turned around. He shouldered his pole, the empty hook bobbing. The sun wreathed his form, changing the solid edge of his body into something more. “I’ll see you around, kid. Another night. Another place in time.”
He began to walk away. The girl, the daughter turned woman, stood up quickly. She took a step forward. In the water, their reflections gleamed sapphire and gold. Then she called for him one last time.
He stopped, just at the end of the dense copse. His head craned to the side, face just barely visible. The daughter smiled; a lopsided thing of family and new beginnings.
“Can we go fishing again?”
The father threw back his head and laughed.
“Ha! As many times as you want.” He lifted his arm. A goodbye, but only for now. “Also, tell that fool Alois to stop talking so much. He keeps jabbering on by that stone of mine, and I’m sick of it.”
“I’ll tell him.” The woman nodded. His features softened before he turned back to the shadows.
“I love you, kid. Be good.” Then the father was gone. She stood there for a moment, taking in the gilded sky and pristine water. The smell of roses grew and she knew what it meant. The woman closed her eyes, letting herself be taken from this land of endless spring.
* * *
Blue eyes opened, slow and hesitating. The pale rays of morning were filtering through the window. Byleth sat up on the bed, only to still as she touched warm skin. She looked down at her side where a certain young woman lay sleeping. Edelgard was curled up on her chest, silver locks splayed behind her in a luminescent curtain. Love and devotion flooded the older woman. She reached out her hand, fingers lingering upon a soft cheek. Her lover’s breath fanned across her wrist, and she smiled.
A deep purr came from behind her. Byleth shifted in response, turning her head. She quirked a brow as Tiny Professor leaped up on the covers. The cat stared at her with eyes the same color as her own; questioning. Byleth tilted her chin, glancing pointedly towards the royal pet bedding that had been procured. The Emperor adored her cat; but too many stray clumps of fur, and other dubious objects, had made their way into the sheets of late. The animal twitched her nose, ear flicking. They held each other’s gaze, before she chuckled in amusement.
“Alright. You can be on the bed.” The former professor looked back down at her love. “But try not to wake El. She will be rather cross with us, I think.”
The cat meowed in acknowledgment, fiercely intelligent creature that she was. Then she padded to Edelgard’s side of the bed, before curling up into a furry ball by her feet. Byleth chuckled. She looked back out the window. It was still early, not quite time to attend to their various duties. Perhaps a little lay in would not be noticed. She blinked as Edelgard suddenly stirred.
“Hmm...Byleth?” The Emperor murmured suddenly. Her voice was faint, still lost within the muddled in-between of dream and reality. Byleth leaned back down and placed a soft kiss to her lover’s brow.
“It’s nothing, El.” She brushed aside a few strands of ashen hair. “It’s not time to wake just yet. Go back to sleep.”
“Mn...” The younger woman quieted, sinking into the peaceful drift of slumber. Byleth settled as well, letting her head fall back onto the pillows. She looked up at the ceiling, pondering over the images her mind had conjured. Strange and disjointed, but coherent all the same. A thought came to her, and the woman asked a question to a silent friend.
Was it truly him, Sothis?
The Goddess did not answer, as was Her wont. And in the end, maybe it did not truly matter. Byleth closed her eyes; and for once, the thought of her father did not fill her with agony. Instead, there was only a pleasant warmth. One borne of promises made and a past finally mended. She leaned her head atop her lover’s own. At her heel, Tiny Professor’s tail curled around her leg. Another sort of family, but one just the same. There she rested, calmed by the sound of purring and the scent of roses.