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I’m your flower, watch me unfold

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A heart is a heavy burden.

***

    When Byleth woke up among the wreckage of Fhirdiad, the first thing she noticed was a pair of arms crushing her in their desperate grip. The second, a familiar, feminine voice crying in pain — a voice she couldn’t quite place in her grogginess, yet it destroyed her to hear that woman’s sobs all the same. And the third was a steady, pulsing sort of movement under her left breast.

    As the world formed itself around her, blackness melting into shape and colour, into the scent of blood and bodies and bergamot, into…oh, into El, she realized what that movement actually was: her own heartbeat.

    Byleth had been as surprised to feel it as Edelgard, considering she’d never had a heartbeat before — in fact, she’d wondered at times whether she even had a heart at all — but it was no matter. The two shared in their elation that Byleth was alive, that Rhea had met her end, that their friends (though some a little worse for wear) had made it out alright. They were alright. 

    They’d won.

    She had felt triumph before, certainly, had felt the satisfaction of ending a hard-fought battle. Then, it had been a quiet sort of buzz, not unlike sharing a glass of wine with good company. But in the aftermath of their final stand, it was different. So different. A tangled ball of emotion — love, joy, anger, sadness, disbelief, love, regret, pity, guilt, triumph, love — smacked her like a wave might topple a fishing schooner. Unable to handle so much of it all, she pitched over into her emperor’s arms and wailed.

    It was quite a sight for her former students to see the notoriously emotionless professor melt into tears, and honestly an embarrassment to Byleth herself. (Shame. Another new feeling.) But they’d all chalked it up to the shock of winning an impossible war against heaven itself, and few took it upon themselves to comment.

    Byleth didn’t anticipate that these overwhelming feelings would become a trend. Perhaps she should have; she was now, after all, merely human.

***

    Just as Byleth had become acquainted with her newfound heartbeat, it threatened to kill her.

    Upon her arrival in Enbarr’s opulent palace, an embarrassingly sparse amount of luggage in hand, Edelgard was too occupied to come and meet Byleth, trapped in one of many meetings to come regarding Fodlan’s future. Though she felt a flush of disappointment, she understood, and instead let one of her fiancée‘s overly-excited ladies-in-waiting lead her to her new rooms. (Rooms, plural? Palace life would certainly take some adjusting.)

    The chamber to which she was led was almost obnoxiously lavish. Minimal accents of red decorated much of the palace, but in her new rooms, the colour lasciviously drenched tables and chaises, drawers and alcoves, in the form of fine velvet cushions and throws. Heavy black curtains were tied back to the window-panes with glimmering gold cord, matching the opulent gilded chandelier that twinkled above them. The door to the bedchamber was open, revealing a four-poster bed draped in a crimson duvet, embroidered with eagles and roses and other shapes that Byleth couldn’t discern from such a distance.

    “This is to be mine?” Byleth said, out of breath.

    “Well, yes!” The lady-in-waiting — whose name was Violet, as Byleth had now learned — seemed tickled by her surprise. “But, if we’re being honest, I don’t see Her Majesty using this sitting room all that often. I anticipate you will mostly find her in your bedchambers, during her few moments of relaxation.”

    “In my bedchambers?!” Byleth coughed, suddenly feeling very hot. When had it gotten so hot? She’d really never felt so hot in her life —

    “Well, you and Her Majesty’s bedchambers. We are in her quarters right now.” Violet cocked her head. “You are...not intending to share? Oh, how presumptuous of me. I had figured, due to the engagement…”

    Of course they’d be sharing their rooms. That made complete sense. They were to be married in five moons’ time, for Cethleann’s sake! Yet each of Byleth’s nerves were set alight at this realization, tingling and numbing her extremities, and a tremor threaded between her fingers. Oh. She’d not felt this before, either.

    “No!” Byleth said. “No, that’s fine! Great, actually! I just, ah — ahaha!” She laughed without intending to and failed to understand why.

    “Oh, you’re nervous,” Violet cooed. I’m nervous. So this was what nervousness truly felt like to someone with normal emotions. Byleth was certain she didn’t like it at all. “That’s so sweet! Don’t be, though. From what I hear, Her Majesty is simply crazy about you.”

    Crazy about me. Her vision swam.

    “You’ll have a great time here, I promise you that. We’re all so excited for — oh!” Violet stopped as she heard the click of a doorknob turning. “And there she is now!”

    “Good evening, Violet,” Edelgard said, then paused as she noticed Byleth. Her petal-pink lips bloomed into a proper smile, one that showed her teeth and crinkled her eyes. “And Byleth! You’re here.”

    Her emperor was adorably rumpled, headpiece slightly askew and loose hairs falling from her buns — signs that it had been a long day and she was ready to lay down. Between that and Edelgard’s besotted grin, Byleth didn’t stand a chance; her heart began a vicious assault against her ribcage, and the tingling spread to her whole body now, causing a ringing in her ears. “El,” she said, her voice humiliatingly weak.

    “How was your journey?” Edelgard rushed forward to grasp Byleth’s wrists, which didn’t help the heartbeat situation much at all. Surviving this would prove to be difficult. “I hope you didn’t meet any rain.”

    “It was fine,” she said, still focused on Edelgard’s impossibly perfect mouth. “I, um.”

    “I’ll leave you two alone, now,” Violet said, hoisting her skirts and scuttling to the door. “You’ll call me if you need anything, yes?”

    “That will do, my friend,” Edelgard said, warmth in her tone. The door fell shut behind Violet, and finally, the future brides were alone together.

    A brief silence passed before Byleth could not contain her urge to speak. “My chambers. Our chambers.”

    “Yes,” Edelgard said, a striking hue of scarlet painting her cheeks. “Is it...to your liking, my teacher?”

    “You really have to stop calling me that,” Byleth groaned. “It’s been five years. More than.” 

    Edelgard shrugged. “It’s simply a pet name at this point.”

    “If you insist…” Byleth shook her head, then freed her wrists from Edelgard’s grasp to pull her into an embrace. “But to answer your question, the arrangement is very much to my liking.”

    Edelgard hummed with contentment. “I can feel it,” she said, leaning her head on Byleth’s chest. “Your heartbeat.”

    “I can too, believe me,” Byleth huffed.

    “Most of us have one, you know. You ought to adjust.”

    “Well, it’s harder when you drive my heart wild every five minutes.”

    “Oh, you try to make me blush on purpose!” Edelgard lightly hit her on the arm.

    Byleth laughed and squeezed her love tighter. “Only because it works.”

***

    “Profes — er, Lady Byleth.”

    Byleth had half the mind to draw her dagger at the sudden voice from behind her, then relaxed as she turned and confirmed her suspicions: Hubert. Did he purposely wear such silent footwear as he stalked the hallways of the palace? Or, she thought, perhaps he slithers across the floor like a snake. Mirth bubbled in her chest, and she couldn’t restrain a giggle, halfheartedly hidden by a sleeve in front of her mouth.

    “What? Is something funny?” Hubert demanded, though the hint of amusement in his own voice reassured Byleth that he wasn’t actually angry.

    “It’s nothing, Hubert,” she said. “You know, you can simply call me Byleth if you wish. We are friends, are we not?”

    “Are we?” He quirked a brow in genuine surprise.

    “I’d consider us as such.”

    Hubert’s smile was barely detectable, but Byleth knew better than to expect a grand display from him. “That is a pleasant surprise. But, considering your position as My Lady’s betrothed, I’d feel…” He cleared his throat. “I will call you Lady Byleth. It is only appropriate.”

    Byleth suppressed a roll of her eyes. Funny — she’d never really felt the urge to do that before. “Oh, fine,” she said. “Anyway, did you need something?”

    “Not particularly,” Hubert said. “I’m sorry to have wasted your time—“

    “Please, Hubert. I am...not used to being treated as an empress. Or emperor’s consort. Whatever the hell my title is now.”

    “I certainly don’t know,” Hubert said with a small chuckle. “Your arrangement with Her Ladyship is atypical for the empire. But, I suppose Lady Edelgard is no typical emperor, either.”

    Byleth couldn’t resist the smile that bloomed across her face, hearing the pride in Hubert’s voice for Edelgard. “She isn’t,” Byleth said. “I’m...very happy she chose me, despite our inability to...well.” She cleared her throat, a familiar heat crawling up to her face for the umpteenth time that week. Oh, she was terribly easy to read now.

    “Continue the bloodline?” Byleth flushed harder still at Hubert’s gentle teasing. “You are embarrassed. I don’t believe I’ve seen that before.”

    “Be quiet,” she grumbled.

    Hubert laughed openly at that — and she didn’t believe she had seen that before, either. The influence of their new Prime Minister? The thought warmed her as she realized that, perhaps, she and Hubert were not so different in exploring their recently opened hearts.

    “Anyhow, I shall let you go. I merely — hm.” Hubert paused. “I wanted to make sure you are adjusting to the palace. You are Lady Edelgard’s beloved, and…well. I want to make sure…” He trailed off.

    “You want to make sure no one is giving us trouble,” Byleth finished, gently. “That is kind of you.” Hubert shuffled and adjusted his dark jacket, seemingly unsure of how to handle the compliment. “I assure you, everyone has been exceptionally warm. I’ve never felt so pampered in my life.” She giggled again, giddy as a schoolgirl.

    “Good,” Hubert said. “But if they do...you will let me know. Anyone who questions Her Ladyship’s choice of partner shall not remain in Enbarr, I assure you that.”

    Or on this mortal plane, his cold stare seemed to say. Byleth gulped — then smirked, realizing her opportunity to tease him back for his earlier remark.

    “Thank you, Hubert. And do let me know if you, yourself, are given any hardship for your relations with Duke Aegir.” Hubert’s face dropped as his hollowed cheeks turned to the colour of ripe tomatoes. “In a new world free of our past prejudices, the two of you should feel free to —“

    “My Lady, who — who told you?!” Hubert sputtered, gesturing frantically at no one in particular. “Was it that idiot? Goddess above — that is to say, we are not — who said this —“

    “Hush, Hubert,” Byleth said through bursts of giggles, “El and I figured it out. We aren’t stupid.”

    Hubert merely choked out a series of strangled noises, and Byleth dissolved into hearty laughter — the kind that emanates from deep in the gut, brings tears to one’s eyes. She had never laughed so hard in her life, and Saints, it felt amazing. 

    As Byleth clutched her belly, which honestly hurt at this point, Hubert swept his cape over his cherried face. “I will permit this,” he hissed, “only because Lady Edelgard loves you.”

    She loves me, Byleth thought, and everyone knows she loves me, and the tears that pricked her eyes were no longer borne solely from laughter.

***

    She wanted to go back. She didn’t want to go back.

    Had it not been for Leonie at her side — an unexpected ally in their rebellion against the church — Byleth wasn’t sure whether she’d have been able to go through with it. But Leonie had wanted to visit Jeralt again. It was, Byleth agreed, only right.

    If there were such a thing as an idyllic day to visit a gravesite, then they had chosen one. It was around six years since Byleth had begun teaching at Garreg Mach, and the promising warmth of springtime had coaxed the surrounding foliage out of its sleep and into a tentative bloom. 

    Jeralt had said that Byleth’s mother loved spring the most out of the seasons. As it happened, so did El.

    Byleth told her parents that, kneeling before their shared tombstone and placing a wreath of lilies upon the soil. Edelgard hadn’t been able to come with her, but she had prepared the rather elaborate offering with her own hands, as a show of respect for her bride-to-be’s parents. “And,” she had said, before Byleth parted, “as an apology.”

    Byleth wondered if it was true that Edelgard could not attend due to inescapable meetings, or if it was guilt that kept her chained to Enbarr. While she did not blame Edelgard for anything — never could, knowing how Those Who Slither in the Dark had irreparably hurt them both — she understood all the same, and decided not to press the issue.

    “We’re all so excited for the wedding,” Leonie said with a smile and a friendly rub of Byleth’s arm. Byleth smiled back, something which had grown more natural for her as of late. “Alois’ daughter is gonna be the flower girl! Isn’t that just perfect?” She wiped conspicuously at her nose, then said, “We wish you could be there, Captain. But I know you’re gonna be watching over your little girl. Right?”

    Byleth was getting married without her father. It wasn’t something she’d contemplated before. For most of her life, she’d assumed she would never marry at all. No one, regardless of gender or noble status, would take such a stony-faced, unfeeling bride. To her, that was simply fact.

    There was a time when she was seven and she had been playing with other children in the village, and she fell down a ravine when trying to kick an interesting rock. The landing snapped her left leg in two, and the others screamed.

    She felt the agony of a broken bone shoot through her nerves like an arrow. She saw the inorganic angle at which her shin had bent. Anyone would have been terrified, would have cried out, would have sobbed for their mother. She thought she could use the opportunity to try summoning tears or simulate the full-body trembles of fear. 

    She tried. She honestly tried. But nothing came.

    Instead, she waited quietly for her father to arrive. He scooped her up and, in a visible panic, asked if she was alright. Byleth nodded wordlessly, eyes dry, and her father bit his lip. He turned away, then muttered, “What did she do to you?”

    Byleth hadn’t understood who she was. What she did understand was that she was different, that the other villagers now pointed and stared and whispered when they saw the rumored emotionless child. “Are you human?” One of her playmates had asked, before being dragged away by his angry mother, insisting that he couldn’t say that aloud.

    Was she human? She didn’t know. It almost made her want to weep. Well, if she could.

    The first time she ever cried had been for her father, and she assumed it would be the last. A few gentle tears, and that was that; her stunted, useless heart wouldn’t feel anything more. It was a strange regret for a mercenary to have, that her emotions were dulled. Certainly, it made killing easier. But it was hard to ignore the emptiness constantly eating at her mind. She was so tired of the grey when everyone else lived their lives in colour. At least when Jeralt had died, there had been something — but oh, what an awful thought to have. What an awful daughter she was.

    Then her world plunged into darkness for five years. And when she awoke, and she returned to Garreg Mach, Edelgard swept Byleth into her arms without a second thought.

    It was such a subtle sensation, Byleth could have sworn she imagined it. But it was truly there: as Edelgard’s gloved hands enveloped Byleth, one squeezing her waist and one threaded in her hair, she felt a warm tingle in her cheeks.

    She had never in her life experienced such a thing. It was like a high. 

    So Byleth chased Edelgard for that absolutely addictive feeling, which she realized far too late was an honest-to-Goddess crush. The hits were negligible: a brief shiver in her shoulders, an involuntary quirk of her mouth, a quick pang of regret when they parted ways. To another, these sensations would have been mere sparks, but to Byleth, they were a brilliant display of fireworks. She did whatever she could to see Edelgard more, to feel more — and somewhere along the way, between late-night talks and tea breaks, she had courted the Adrestian emperor.

    Of course, none of that would compare to what she felt now, with an unobstructed heart. But to the Byleth who didn’t know, Edelgard had been everything. She was still everything. And they were to be married!

    Without her father.

    She remembered where she was, now, perched atop the dirt where Jeralt Eisner lay six feet under. He would never walk her down the aisle. She wondered if he would have been happy for them, seeing what Edelgard had done for his daughter.

    A dam broke somewhere inside, and fat tears rolled down Byleth’s face. She was still getting used to real crying. Her breaths heaved, and snot dribbled from her nose, and her eyes pinched shut and her mouth twisted out of shape and her chin wobbled up and down.

    It was so ugly, she mused, as Leonie hugged her and stroked her back. And it was so human.

    She hoped that her father could see it.

***

    If cuddling with El was a luxury, then Byleth was spoiled rotten.

    Neither had any idea what time it was, and neither particularly cared. Ferdinand insisted that the two of them were to take the day off together, lounging in bed until the sun peaked in the sky. Edelgard had been combative at first, pacing and rattling off all the work they had to do that day, until Byleth rolled her eyes and practically tossed her fiancée back on the bed. 

    Edelgard had started to complain about that, but Byleth knew by now how to get her to stop talking and make other noises instead.

    An hour onward, they still lay naked and entangled atop the sheets. It was honestly a little sweaty where their legs were hooked together, but Byleth wouldn’t move for anything. Not when she finally had El all to herself for the morning — or was it afternoon now? Ah, it was a rare joy not to know.

    “I can feel your heartbeat,” Edelgard murmured, and Byleth jumped a bit. She had assumed Edelgard was asleep; she had been breathing so gently, head leaning on Byleth’s chest.

    “You keep saying that,” Byleth said, raising a hand from the sheets to play with Edelgard’s hair.

    “I know,” Edelgard said, “but I just...like it. It’s strong and steady. Like you!” She giggled.

    “That’s so cheesy…” Byleth huffed, but she felt her face flush.

    “Yes, it is. You must never tell anyone the emperor is like this.”

    “Or?”

    “Or...oh, nothing. I could never be mad at you.”

    It was Byleth’s turn to giggle, and the two settled back into a comfortable silence, before a sudden worry tugged at her mind.

    “You said my heart is...steady?” Byleth said. “Isn’t that unusual?”

    “It shouldn’t be,” Edelgard said. She sat up on her elbows, now, peering into Byleth’s eyes with a hint of concern. “Is your heartbeat usually unsteady? That would be alarming. Should I call for a —“

    “No, no, it’s just…” Byleth scratched at her cheek. “Normally, when I’m around you, it...speeds up.” Edelgard raised a hand to her face to poorly hide her blush. “But right now, it’s very calm. Does that mean…” Byleth felt her face droop. “I know I love you! So...why is my heart not complying?”

    Edelgard dropped her hand and linked her fingers with Byleth’s own. “A heart doesn’t always pound out of control with someone you love,” she said. “It might when they say something sweet, or do something unexpected, or when you’re first falling in love...but you and I, we’ve been together a while, and right now, we are simply relaxing.” She squeezed Byleth’s hand tighter, smiled wide. “Your heart is calm because you’re content. As am I. And that’s a good thing.”

    Content. She realized that it was like that quiet buzz she felt before, when her heart was still useless. She remembered feeling this contentedness when her father kissed her good night, or when she opened birthday presents, or when one of her students aced an exam. She had always thought it was a stunted kind of happiness, an inferior kind, for her and no one else. For the girl who saw the world in grey.

    Perhaps Byleth did feel, before, in her own way. Perhaps there was nothing wrong with her, but her heart had still been budding among a field of brilliant flowers; small and fragile, but bound to join the others someday, with proper care.

    Perhaps Edelgard had understood that. And that’s why she was here now.

    “Lay your head back down,” Byleth said, and Edelgard complied before she could see the tears prick Byleth’s eyes.

    It would still take some adjustments, this whole “having a heartbeat” thing. But with El at her side, Byleth couldn’t wait to experience life in full bloom.