Time was lost to Byleth. The concept long forgotten and she couldn’t remember if it truly ever existed. No more hours, not days, not months, not years. Not a moment had she considered how long had it been, how much time had passed. Not anymore.
She existed in a limbo of nothingness. Only her own voice greeted her. Her voice was the only solace she truly existed, that she wasn’t a soul lost in purgatory. She remembered. The memories of the time past this. Where time moved, passing and moving. Where she wasn’t alone. But it was so long ago, and long ago could not begin to describe the time that had come to still.
But Byleth listens to her own voice. She thought it was still her in there.
Her own scream jolts her awake. Sometimes, she will dream of a time forgotten. When she dreams, she feels her memories slip away with it. It says goodbye to her one last time before it’s truly gone. And for the little humanity she has left, she refuses. What will she be left with just a shell with no memories? She will scream and scream until she has herself awaken, listen to her scream and know that she still exists. It is her voice. It is her.
This time she does not wake up. She is still there, and she cannot recall ever seeing the place. Has the dream successfully ripped away her memory? It’s a place of ruin, dead soldiers lay a trail throughout the walkway and she’s at the end of it. It is not a pretty sight, but Byleth scrambles to tightly grasp on that memory, no matter how ugly.
And she screams louder, screams until her throat gives away.
She thinks she hears someone running. She dare not see, only screams with much more fervour like a crazed man. She crumples to the ground and her scream starts to mix with anguished sobs. Maybe if she does not hear or see anything, the dream won’t be cruel enough to take more from her.
Time seems to stop when she feels something— someone —clutching her. Ironic, considering her time hasn’t been moving at all. But people of the dream never approached her. They will come and go and leave . Never acknowledged, never touched, certainly never squeezed her so tight like this. She thinks she hears her name chanted. Soothing and yet so, so desperate. It lulls her to a false sense of security, makes her think everything is going to be alright. Even though she knows she will never be alright, that even death could not relieve her of this misery. She has felt so lonely, yet someone is there.
She thinks she would be alright. And there is nothing.
He does not have any particular reason why he came to the monastery. It seemed to call him, but even that he isn’t too sure. He is moving purely on instinct, chasing the Imperial dogs off his trail. Perhaps, in his deepest wretched mind, he remembered it was a place where he was once happy. And he wanted to crush it.
He can barely remember how many days had passed since he found shelter in the monastery. Maybe weeks, or even months. He thinks he heard them called him the One Eyed Demon, before their lives were all lost to him. Fitting, but he does not dwell. He has enough company with the ghosts hounding him, never letting him rest even for a moment.
It was one night when he went out to hunt, a sound he would never forget. The scream sounded so haunted, like it was clawing itself out from its darkest fear. It painfully reminded him of himself, made even his fear seems to pale in comparison. Before he realized it, he was already running. Heard the scream grow increasingly louder, increasingly maddening. Heard the sobs that came through with it, and his heart squeezed. He never heard a sound so terrified. Of what? Who was it?
And he did not expect, not even in his darkest nightmare, the sight that greeted him. It was his professor, or what he thought was left of her. She was crouched in the mess of dead bodies he had left. Eyes shut tight, nails clawing at her own arms and he saw it bled. She was still screaming. Her cheeks were soaked with tears, and she looked so so helpless. So many questions rang through his mind. How was she here? What’s she terrified of? What happened?
His instinct moved before he could fully grasp the situation. His mind told him to stop, that maybe this was a trap. Cause that wasn’t his professor. His professor was stoic and proud, beautiful and mesmerizing. She was a goddess, almost in the most literal sense. She was not that . But it was his professor, and he was weak. He almost thought it was okay to give up, if he was able to touch his professor one last time. The thought sickened him, but he held on. He embraced the woman to his chest, chanting her name like she might wither away otherwise. Or perhaps it was him.
If she was one of the ghosts, his mind did not ponder on the idea.
She thought she was awake, but it isn’t darkness that greets her. She’s in the same place of her last dream, minus the dead bodies. There is a man sitting across her. He looks tired. His long blond hair matted and unkempt, dried blood all over his worn down armour. Then she sees his eye. It was hollow and unmoving. It looks almost cruel, he stares her down like he would a monster. There is anger, and most of all fear. Fear of her, and fear of what he would do to her.
But she remembers that blue eye, a pair that used to gaze her with so much warmth. And then she remembers this is not real. It’s another dream. She had never dreamt of him, and now it’s trying to take her most precious. Dimitri.
Panic hits her like a horse. Her body shakes, the telltale sign of her madness coming. She hears him move, but it doesn’t matter. She will wake herself up even if she has to break her arm.
She thinks she hears him cry.
Everything feels blurry. She wakes up, realize she is still in dreamscape, and she will scream until her body gives away. And it repeats, again and again, and again, and more. He was there every time she awakes. Closer and closer, and now she is buried on his chest.
She doesn’t remember this Dimitri. Long hair covering his face, an eyepatch over his right eye. Most of all, he looks older. So somber and sorrowful. She almost doesn’t recognize him, and she was scared. Had the dream taken so much she can no longer remember what she’s lost? But every time, she will remember the dream she had last. And it doesn’t make sense. She should not remember. She doesn’t remember this Dimitri, but she remembers this Dimitri that always embraces her when she’s awake.
For once, she doesn’t scream. Panic doesn’t consume her, and she let herself think.
She realizes she’s at the monastery, but everything is different. It was left in shambles, rubble covering most of its part. Then there is Dimitri. He is Dimitri, but he isn’t the Dimitri she remembers. Neither is the monastery. She thought it was the dreams that left her with a gap in her memory. Usually, she’ll remember when the dream has taken something away. She’ll remember blurry pictures, of memories already lost. Yet this time, there is none. This is the first time she’s met Dimitri in her dream, if this is a dream at all.
She thought the dream has finally taken everything, nothing she can do to wake herself up. Every time she awakes, she’s back to the same place. And it’s odd that she recognizes it’s the same place at all. She shouldn’t. The dream had never given her mercy. It always took, and took, and took . She shouldn’t remember. But she does. And maybe, maybe this is not a dream. Neither is it the darkness that always take her company. Then she looks to her side. There’s Dimitri, sleeping as he clutches her safe. Somehow, she’s not alone.
She lets herself believe. Maybe, this is real.
When he woke up, it was not to the scream of his professor. Surprisingly, she was already awake. She had his hand in her hold, tracing the veins on the back of his hand mindlessly. She was humming something, her voice reverberates throughout the silent tower. It was oddly peaceful, unlike her anguished screams. He had cried for her, when he never did so for himself. It was torture watching his dear professor succumb to her fear. She looked so broken, like nothing can ever mend her. Her screams louder than the ghosts behind him. For once, he did not hear them.
“Professor.” he felt her fingers stop. She did not answer. So he tried again. “Professor.”
He heard her exhale. She tightened her hold on his hand.
“Dimitri?” she called. But the word came out like a question, unsure and fearful.
“Yes?” he answered in a whisper, like she might fall into pieces if he was any louder.
It took a second, and she called his name again. This time, it was more resolute. “Dimitri.”
“Yes.” he answered again, less apprehensive that she’d wither away.
“Dimitri.” and again.
“Dimitri.” and again.
“Dimitri.” and again.
Until she fell asleep.
He didn’t ask her what happened. Where she came from. Where did she go . Frankly, he was scared. It was not a feeling he welcomed. Yet, he wasn’t ready to confront it. His cowardice had refrained him to pry the truth. He wasn’t ready to see his professor once again hysterical in his arms with terror unknown. Some nights, she would jolt awake and scream. Some days, she would look at him and hurt herself. But never like before, where nothing he did could ever appease her and he would wait until she tires herself out, helpless. Now, she would listen to his murmurs, soothe her and assure her he was real. And he would not go away, not when she yelled him to, not when she begged him to. Sometimes, he thought she really believed his words. Most of the time, she believed so she could wash the pain away.
He had not heard the dead ever since.
For the first time since he’d seen her again, Byleth smiled. She had cried with all the happiness radiating off her entire body. The other Blue Lions had found them, embraced her, cried with her. She hugged each and every single one of them, took her time to feel their heartbeats and felt none of it slip away. Anette had wailed the loudest. Ingrid had tried to contain her joy, but she broke down when she saw the tears gushing off her professor’s eyes. Even Felix had soothed Byleth gently when she turned to hug him. No one voiced the oddity of their professor’s behaviour. If Dimitri ignores the terror behind her immense relief, he thought that for once everything was going to be alright.
He didn’t realize how much he had missed her smile, and it bothered him how far he thought he would go to see that smile always. It bothered him even more when the ghosts did not voice their protest.
They headed back to the monastery, regrouping with the survivors against the Empire. Wary eyes flitted over to Dimitri. They had heard what he had done in the past years, what he had become. The only words coming out of his mouth were the confirmation of Dedue’s death, still bitter in his own tongue. Dimitri had felt nothing but rage after his death, not grieve nor sorrow. He was given no time to mourn with the dogs chasing him for his life. Survival was the one thing in his mind, as he swore he would severe her head with his own bare hands. Even death could not relieve him of this fire, cause death would be too merciful for a beast like him.
And yet, he did not reject his professor’s hand. She was beside him instead of the students that brought a smile on her face. In the short time they had spent together, not once had she smiled. But there was Byleth, catching up to him to walk by his side with his hand in her hold. There was no pity in her eyes, of what he had become or what he could have been. There was no expectation, no hope or belief that she could fix him. He realized, she was not there to comfort him. She wasn’t there for him at all. She was only there for herself, holding onto his hand like she’s trying to hold onto her reality. Like Dimitri was her pillar, and she could not stand without it. So he grasped her hand tighter in return.
Dimitri had always liked being relied on. But not anymore, not after he himself did not dare to rely on himself. Somehow, his professor was fine.
Somehow, his professor silenced the deads.
When Ashe asked her where she had been for the past five years, her throat seized up. Frankly, she had no idea that five years had passed. Her mind flitted back to the darkness that used to be her sole company. In there, she had laid to waste, wondering if time had passed. In all truth, it did not feel like five years. Perhaps, it was. Perhaps, it was just a day. Or maybe, several hundred years. The moment she fell to that chasm, time might as well have stopped. Her body did not decay, it need not any sort of sustenance. She had tried strangling her own neck, cut her veins with the very sword resting on her hips. None of it worked, and she would wake up in the same void like nothing ever happened. No scar, no sign of anything. Her memory of the agonizing pain was the only trace it was real. Sometimes, she would hurt herself to remind her of the only thing she can feel. She never grew numb to it.
Byleth did not have the heart to tell her student all of that.
“I have been sleeping, I think.” she answered instead.
“Sleeping? You can’t mean you’ve been sleeping for five long years.” Sylvain chirped in.
Byleth turned her gaze to Sylvain. Yes, there’s no way anyone can sleep for that long , as she in fact did not. “I was. Or, I think I did. Honestly, I’m not too sure,” she paused. “I did not know five years have passed.”
Behind her, she felt Dimitri’s stare boring a hole through her head. She knew he did not believe her lie one bit. Not with how he’d seen her. He remained silent.
“For real?” this time Anettte said. “Well, it would only be our professor to attempt something so bizarre.”
“Now we have to check if your skill has rusted at all. Spar with me.” Felix challenged, ready to charge to the training ground.
“Stop now, Felix! How can you challenge our professor to a spar when she’s just arrived?” said Ingrid, punching Felix on the arm rather hard. She seemed quite angry at his brashness.
“Well, we can’t have her dying in the battlefield instead, can’t we?” Felix gruffly defended. He did not think his request was all that odd. After all, it would be stranger if nothing had changed to his professor after slumbering for that long.
“It’s fine, Ingrid.” Byleth interjected, a small smile gracing her face. She was happy that her students cared so much for her, in their own way. “I would happily accept your offer, Felix. I am curious myself.”
“I’ll be here if either of them get hurt. Don’t worry, Ingrid.” said Mercedes, trying to placate Ingrid’s concern.
“Fine,” Ingrid relented indignantly. “Just, don’t push yourself too hard, Professor.”
“I won’t.” Byleth assured.
For some reason, that small happiness Byleth had before turned sour. She could not explain why. As they arrived at the training ground, the feeling had not disappeared. She looked around, observing that the area had not changed much despite the other part of the monastery looking more wrecked. Everything looks familiar , she thought. The unease in her heart only grew tenfolds.
Felix handed her a training sword. She took the Sword of Creator off her belt and prepared herself. It had been a while since she’s fought, but her body remembered. Her stance ready, her grip tight on the handle. From the corner of her eyes, she noticed Dimitri watching from behind one of the pillars. She tried to concentrate on the opponent in front of her instead.
“Ready?” asked Felix, his own stance ready with the same training sword in his grip.
Byleth nodded. Before she could think about it, Felix charged forward. She quickly defended against the incoming attack.
The fight did not go very long. The five years she spent had in fact taken its damage on her body, and the past few days she spent without proper sleep and nourishment did not help. Her body could not keep up. She was easily pushed forward by Felix’s might.
“Looks like I notched another win against you.” Felix said good naturedly. He referred to that time he finally managed a victory against her, albeit narrowly.
“You crushed me.” Byleth said. She remembered she said the exact same thing back then. Only this time, it was honest.
“Oh, please. I scraped by.” Felix teased, knowing he in fact did crushed her. He also answered with the exact same words he said last time.
Byleth remembered. She remembered sparring with Felix like she did now, remembered the conversation they had after, remembered that after this he would talk about his brother. She remembered. This had happened. Felix and Ingrid’s constant argument. She remembered. Ingrid’s incessant worry. She remembered. The training ground, her students, the feeling of sword in her hand, the taste of defeat. She remembered them all so vividly like she was walking through her memories. Like the dreams. Byleth lost her breath. Her mind started spinning. Everything came to a blur. She fooled herself thinking she had escaped.
This time, the dreams will consume her for good.
With no warning, Byleth fell onto her knee. She shut her eyes tightly, covered her ears with the palm of her hands. She did not let herself see, hear, or feel. She hoped to feel numb, see the darkness that she was so familiar with. Her fingers started to claw at her head like everything would go wrong if she stops even for a moment. It wasn’t enough. Everything was wrong. She made a mistake. She had really done it. There’s no fixing it. Everything was wrong. She couldn’t take it. She’s drowning. Everything was wrong. Please. Everything was wrong. Help—
“Mercedes!” she heard Dimitri’s voice rang. “make her sleep.”
There wasn’t any response to his command. Everybody were too stunned to react.
“Mercedes, now!” Dimitri yelled, he sounded angry.
This time, Mercedes heard him. Without question, she quickly moved closer to Byleth and casted a spell that made her sleep. Instantly, Byleth laid unconscious in Dimitri’s hands. Her face serene, like everything that happened was just a figment of everyone’s imagination. But it was not. Not with the stain of blood covering her nails. Not with how much it affected everyone present. They had seen their professor, their strong beautiful professor, fell into such a state of helplessness. No one dared to break the tense air.
Without a word, Dimitri stood up with Byleth in his arm. He carried her in his embrace and left the hall. Nobody stopped him.
When Byleth opened her eyes, she found Dimitri sitting beside her. He was polishing Areadbhar mindlessly. She noticed she was in her old room.
“Dimitri.” she called him, wary he might not answer.
Her voice immediately grabbed his attention. He stopped moving his hand and promptly focused on her. “Yes?” he answered.
His response calmed her a bit. Dimitri had never appeared in her dreams before. She believed this time as well he would not be a figment of her dream. He was real.
“I had a dream.” Byleth said.
“What was the dream about?” he asked. Dimitri noticed her brows furrowed at his question.
“I was with the other Blue Lions, but they looked different.” she started, confused with her own words. “Felix asked me to spar with him. I lost.”
“It was not a dream.” Dimitri said carefully. He did not know what might trigger her, but something before definitely did.
Byleth went quiet. She thought it had been a dream, with the spar, her conversation with Felix, the familiarity of it all. But that Felix was not the same Felix in her memory. This Felix looked older, as everyone were. As she had been told, five years had passed. During those five years, she had been missing. There was no way she could have remembered their grownup figure, when she had never seen them in the first place. There was no way her memory vanished, when it did not exist to begin with. She looked at Dimitri, at his face that had changed since she had seen him last. He was real. This was real. It was not a dream.
She seemed to have murmured her last thoughts unknowingly, and Dimitri heard her.
“Why do you think it was a dream?” he asked, curious of the dreams that had been incessantly haunting her.
“I often had dreams,” she started. Dimitri waited for her to continue. “I dreamt of past memories, all sorts of memories. Happy memories, painful memories, uneventful memories, everything. When I was in that void, it was all I could rely on.”
“However, I soon realized. Good things do not come without a price. Those memories come to me in farewell. It disguised itself as a dream. As the dream went, my memory went away with it. It vanished. I felt something missing, I know I did. But I can’t remember, cause it was gone. It’s gone forever. Even now, I have gaps in my memories I can never recall. I will never get them back. And what if I am left with nothing? How am I supposed to live knowing I had lost everything that made myself who I am?”
“But sometimes, I was weak. In that dark bleak place, I was alone. I had been there all alone, nowhere to run to, no one for company. I tried ending my life, but it did not work. I’ve tried everything, and I could not escape. It was so scary, Dimitri. So, so scary. And I was weak. The dreams were my only solace. I know I would lose them, but I gave in. I was so weak, that I was okay with losing pieces of myself. I would lose myself in those dreams, and hope I never wake up. But I always do. And everytime, I would lose those memories for good. Still, I would fall into their trap once more. I hate myself so much. I wish I can just disappear.”
Dimitri was quiet the whole time. He listened to her every word and felt his heart break each time. He could not begin to imagine her pain, did not know what to say. He watched his professor, the one touched by the goddess herself, the one he thought was untouchable, fell from her grace to the deepest pit of despair. The person in front of him was nothing but a feeble, pitiful girl. She was defeated, left broken and helpless. He did not know how to feel.
“But Dimitri,” she continued. “You were the only one who never appeared in those dreams. You never came to visit me. I thought it was sad.”
Dimitri held his breath. “I—”
“You were the only one who has not left me,” Byleth cut in. “I’ve had at least few memories missing with everyone I know. But not you, Dimitri. You never came into my dreams. I never had to watch you go away. When I saw you before, I was devastated that you finally came to leave me. I thought the dreams would finally consume me.”
“I’m real. I’m here.” Dimitri quickly said. He rushed to hold Byleth’s hand in his palm, let her know that he was not a dream. He was very much real.
“I know,” she said. For the first time, she smiled in his presence. Her smile was small, tentative, like if she were to revel in her joy, everything would crumble. “I know now, because of you. Thank you, Dimitri.”
That night, they fell asleep with each other’s body keeping both warm.
They did not dream.