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all the stars that shine for us

Chapter Text

The Holy Tomb is dark. As its sole occupant, each of his foot falls echoes heavily within the cavernous space. The atmosphere is . . . unexpected. Even though he’d never been a particularly religious man, the few times he had visited this place in the past he had always felt a sense of sanctity around it. Now he sees it for what it is. Little more than a musty, lonely chamber. A place of death.

He sits on the throne.

My, my . . . what an unexpected guest I have this day.

He starts at the sound of the voice, seemingly coming from nowhere but inside his own head. He isn’t sure what he had expected to gain when coming to this place. He knows what he had hoped for, certainly, but he hadn’t dared to expect it. This voice though, it defies both his hopes and his expectations. Still, it is not difficult to puzzle out to whom it belongs.


The goddess laughs, You say my name as if it is a question, yet I know you know it to be true. To come to such a place as this, and not know to whom it is you speak--you are far too clever for that.

Perhaps he should speak with more reverence, given that it is the very goddess of Fodlan to whom he is speaking, but he’s never been one for false propriety. Besides, it’s not like he has anything to lose now, even in the face of a goddess’ potential wrath, “I didn’t realize you were so familiar with me.”

I was always with her, even when she could hear me no longer. In a way, I know you as well as she.

“Ah, so you’ve been eavesdropping on us all of these years, then?”

The change in Sothis’s demeanor is immediate. He cannot see her, does not know her expression or body language, but he doesn’t need to. Her voice conveys her sudden anger all on its own, I was unable to do more than listen, and where she went I had no choice but to go. She was the only one I could converse with, as you already well know.

Maybe he wasn’t quite bereft enough to face the anger of a deity after all, “You’re right, my apologies. In that case, it is nice to finally meet you properly.”

Well, maybe this is not what most would consider “properly.” She is but a voice in his head, after all. But he has learned his lesson, and will not give voice to that thought.

I accept your apology, And just like that, she is back to her calm and genial tone, Besides, you are also correct. It is . . . nice. To be able to speak to another again. I cannot say how long it has been, besides her of course. And to think my first opportunity would be with you. You never seemed to be much of a believer.

He shakes his head. Could she even see him do so? “Oh, I believed plenty. I a--was married to you incarnate, after all. Just doesn’t take a whole lot of faith to believe in something you have proof of, I suppose.”

I cannot deny the truth of your words. My, you have always had such an interesting way of thinking about things, haven’t you? Sothis paused, and when she spoke again her voice was somber, How are you holding up? It must have been terribly hard on you.

Normally he would brush off such direct concern for his well being, but he doesn’t have the energy or the will to deny it anymore, “It’s like I’ve lost a part of myself. The most essential part.”

After he speaks there is silence. It stretches on just long enough that he thinks he will hear Sothis’s voice no longer. But just as he considers the possibility that she is gone, she speaks again, You brought her so much joy these many years. And as her joy was mine, in a way you have done the same for me. I owe you much. I suppose now is as good a time as any to repay that debt. So, King of Unification, tell me what it is you desire, and I shall do all that is in my power to make it so.

He considers her words carefully. He’s never been one to rely blindly on the intervention of gods, but maybe he has a chance to see his hopes come to fruition this day after all. “All I want is to be with her again.”

There is another pregnant pause, but this time he knows it’s just Sothis thinking things over. I should have known that would be your request. For me to grant such a wish . . . it can be done, but it may take many lifetimes, and the sacrifice it will require now is great. 

“A lifetime’s not worth much anyway, not without without her. So those conditions aren’t such a big deal, considering.”

Very well, then. Here upon the throne, make your wish, and someday it shall be granted.

“I wish . . . I wish to be together with Byleth again.”

This time the sudden silence is different than before, and he knows that Sothis is gone. The air around him feels somehow different too, alive with a new sort of energy. He is suddenly tired, so very tired. Unbidden, his eyes slip closed, and he sleeps.

Chapter Text

Claude sat in the dining hall, idly doodling in a notebook.

“Ooooh, fire and brimstone. Somebody’s in a mood today.”

He looked up to see Hilda sitting beside him, peeking over his shoulder as she did so.

“It’s Ailell.” He replied with a shrug of his shoulders, closing the notebook and returning his attention to his lunch.

“Ailell? You mean the canyon?” Hilda sounded incredulous. She wrinkled her nose as she spoke, “I hate to break it to you, but my brother went there on vacation once, and there was no magma to be seen in any of his pictures. There’s no volcano anywhere near there, not even underground.”

“I know that,” Claude answered, tone more clipped than he’d intended, “I also know this is what it used to look like.”

“Ah yeah, in our past lives, right?”

Despite her flippant response, Claude knew that Hilda wasn’t making fun of him, or even disbelieving him. 

“They used to call it the Valley of Torment.”

“And now it’s a tourist trap, so I guess not much has changed. Besides the fire, of course.”

Hilda try to play her comment off as serious, but Claude could see her grinning around her straw as she took a sip of her soda.

Claude laughed, “Wow, taking a real hard stance on that one, eh Hilda?”

“Listen, you have no idea how hard it is for me back home, having to deal with all of the traffic from tourists going to visit the historic fortress at Fodlan’s Locket, when I’m just trying to go to the mall,” She flipped one of her pigtails over her shoulder with a hand as she spoke, “It’s a total pain.”

“Hilda my dear, your self-absorption and lay about nature never fail to astonish.”

Hilda took a fake bow in her seat, waving her hand with a cute little flourish, “I try.”

“Really though, you’re seriously going to sit here and tell me you wouldn’t jump at the chance to go on a vacation and be as touristy as possible?”

“Oh heck no, of course I would! But unlike my weirdo brother I wouldn’t go to some hole in the ground or a boring old fort. I would be planting myself on a white, sandy beach somewhere in Brigid for a week and not moving a muscle.” She sighed dreamily. Then, suddenly, there was an excited glint in her eye, “Oooh, I wonder if there’s still time to plan a trip for winter break. It’s still a few weeks away, right? We should go!”

Claude shook his head. He continued to eat his lunch as Hilda prattled on about their abrupt, imaginary trip to Brigid. Or maybe it wasn’t that imaginary for her, since Hilda could probably call her father right now and convince him to book a trip for her on the spot. Somehow, though, her spoiled nature was part of her charm.

Claude had met Hilda about two years prior, when he’d first moved to Fodlan, and a year before they both began attending Garreg Mach University. At first their friendship had been perfunctory. Claude had been something  of a loner most of his life, and while that had been a matter of circumstance rather than choice, he had long since stopped trying to make new friends. Hilda had been roped into being his requisite only friend by their families, and at the time she’s put about as much effort into it as she did anything else. Which was to say, not a whole lot.

But then it turned out that it didn’t take much effort for them to get along well. Claude found himself trusting Hilda more than he had trusted anyone in a long time. Then the dreams had started, and he’d realized how deep his connection to his friend ran.

When he’d bit the bullet and decided to tell Hilda about his dreams—the only person he had ever told—and she hadn’t laughed at him, or told him he was crazy, but had believed him, he’d known his trust was correctly placed.

Hilda took a french fry off his plate and ate it, despite the fact that she had a pile of her own. She must have noticed he was lost in his thoughts, because almost as if she could read them she softly asked, “Been seeing a lot of your mystery dream girl lately?”

“Pretty much every time I sleep at this point.” Which, given that he was an avid napper, was really saying something.

It was one of the reasons he knew these dreams, which had started shortly after he’d come to Fodlan, weren’t normal dreams. Like most people, Claude had dreamed his whole life. But now it was different than before. Normal dreams were illogical and inconsistent, often impossible. They didn’t happen so regularly, or tell the same continuous story. They were hard to remember, tended to slip away the harder he thought about them, rather than settle into his brain like proper memories. 

Not to mention, he’d never been in love with a woman who was just a dream.

It wasn’t exactly hard to figure out what it all meant. The idea of reincarnation was hardly foreign to Almyran culture, although most people from Fodlan were more likely to believe in an afterlife. Even still, growing up in Almyra he’d never met or heard of a person who remembered any of their past lives, not this vividly.

“Wow, then you two must be getting pretty cozy, huh?”

Again, Claude knew the teasing wasn’t meant to put him down. It was Hilda’s way of keeping the mood light, and keeping him out of the darkness of his thoughts. He appreciated it.

“As cozy as one can get in the middle of a war, at any rate,” Claude chuckled.

“Right,” Hilda replied, sighing heavily, “You know, of all the crazy and unbelievable stories you’ve told me, the one thing I have a hard time believing is that I ever, in any lifetime, willingly took part in some war.”

“She was just that inspiring.” The tiniest of grins settled onto Claude’s face, as it always did when he had the chance to talk about his professor.

“She does sound pretty amazing, assuming you’re not just totally biased,” Hilda said coyly, “You’re a lucky guy, Claude.”

Claude was absolutely biased. He was also certain of the veracity of their former professor’s inspiring nature, of the way she made the impossible seem possible. As for whether she was actually any more than a figment of his imagination, well, he had distinctly less hard evidence to back that belief up, but he believed it none-the-less. It had always been easy to put his faith in her.

He really wished he could remember her name.

Claude shook his head sadly. It was a good thing, he supposed, that he had so much faith in Teach. Wasn’t it ironic, that she would be one of the only people from his past he had never encountered, despite being the one he wanted to meet more desperately than anything? He’d waited for her for years before, he knew, with nothing to keep him going but the sheer force of his own belief. He didn’t doubt for a moment that he was willing to do it again, but that didn’t stop it from aching sometimes. “I was lucky, at any rate.”

One of the greatest things about Hilda was that she was never one to offer pity when she could instead offer a solution. She looked sad to see his sadness for only a moment, before she grinned mischievously instead, “Well, if you’re feeling down about it, you could always try your luck with Dimitri again.”

Claude rolled his eyes, the sound that escaped his mouth somewhere between a laugh and a huff. On the one hand, that wasn’t a bad idea. On the other hand, that was definitely a bad idea.

“Hilda, I can’t just booty call Dimitri every time I feel a little sad,” Hilda gave him A Look for that, so he amended, “Okay, fine, I totally could do that, and it would probably be a great strategy for solving my problems, but I do kind of have to think about his feelings, too. I’m not going to do that to him, he’s a good guy.”

“Okay, fine,” Hilda said, sound blasé. “Just don’t forget that you are also a good guy who’s feelings matter.”

“Eh, that’s debatable.” Claude answered, grinning again.

Hilda let out the most long-suffering sigh he had ever heard. She obviously realized this topic of conversation was going nowhere but in circles, “Well, as much as I would love to sit here and stroke your ego for you some more, unfortunately my next class is on the other side of campus and I am not about to run. But please, text me before you spiral into depression alone? Or better yet, text me when you decide whatever shenanigans you’re going to get up to to avoid spiraling. Whatever your crazy plan is, I want in.”

Claude smiled as Hilda stood up from the table and gathered her things, feeling reaffirmed once again in his knowledge that she was a better friend than most, “Don’t worry, I will.”

“You’d better.”

Returning to Almyra is bittersweet. While he certainly has some unpleasant memories from the place, he cannot deny that he has missed his homeland. Still, it has been the hardest thing he’s ever done to leave Teach behind. After waiting so long to reunite with her, separating again feels like losing a limb; he is living without something he knows should be there and is constantly feeling the absence of.

They exchange letters regularly, at least. It’s a far cry from before, when he’d had nothing but hope to hold on to while he waited for her to return. Now her words keep him going through his loneliest days, and his most difficult duties.

He is surprised when his ascendance to the throne is not met with more resistance. Apparently the Almyran army had returned home from supporting on the war front singing his praises, celebrating both his skills on the battlefield and his leadership prowess. The endorsement of many of the strongest warriors in Almyra, including Nader the Undefeated himself, had been enough to win over most of the citizens. He certainly still has his retractors, but none dare oppose him or challenge his birthright now that he has the strength of the army at his back.

Teach’s ascendance in Fodlan has been similarly well received, not that it is nearly as much of a surprise. While he has had to rely on military might to take the throne, she was given her power along with the trust and support of her people. He knows he still has a ways to go before he properly earns those things.

He is sitting at his desk reviewing documents about the upcoming harvest season when he receives a letter from her. It is unexpected, because he’d sent his last letter not a week before, so hardly enough time has passed for her to have received it and gotten a reply back to him. So this letter is not a response to his, then, but something else.

He opens the letter and reads it quickly. When he suddenly leaps to his feet he nearly sends the young page boy who had delivered it jumping out of his skin. “Sorry, you’re dismissed.” He says hurriedly, already on his way out of the room himself.

He finds Nader in the wyvern stable, polishing and taking stock of the tack. He looks up when Claude enters and smiles, although it quickly fades to a frown as he must see Claude’s grim expression, “Hey Kiddo . . . what’s the matter?”

“I need you to ready the main forces of your troops,” Claude replies without preamble. There will be time to explain further as they travel, and for now there is none to waste, “We’re moving out.”

Nader does not protest, but his tone belies his surprise, and he shakes his head, “Where are we going, exactly?”

“Fodlan,” Claude answers, “I’ll explain on the way, they need our help.”

Claude awoke from an afternoon nap, stretching groggily. The dreams were a basic expectation by now, so the fact he’d had one wasn’t much of a surprise. But they always carried new information with them, and so he always took a moment after waking up to take stock of what he had learned. 

He didn’t see her at all this time, though, which was too bad.

Hopping out of bed, Claude grabbed a nearby shirt and pulled it over his head. He liked a good nap as much as the next guy, but it wouldn’t do to waste his whole day away in bed. Time to see what Hilda was up to.

He stepped out of his dorm room--kicking a few books and other odds and ends out of the way as he went--onto an unusually quiet floor. He supposed finals week had that effect; today was their reading day, so everyone was probably busy getting papers written and studying. The quiet was still rather eerie on their normally boisterous floor. 

They were definitely an odd bunch, but in Claude’s opinion that was part of their charm. The room next to his was occupied by Raphael and Ignatz, who were childhood friends who’d decided to up the ante by becoming roommates. They were probably as different as could be--Claude was pretty sure Raphael spent more time at the gym than in class, and Ignatz was an art major. On the other side of them were Lorenz and Ferdinand, who’d moved in together this year after both of their freshman roommates had found them completely insufferable. They were both actually pretty good guys, not that Claude would ever let them hear him say so; the joke was on everyone else anyway, because they were somehow even more insufferable when they were together.

Across the hall were the girls. The single across from his own was home to a freshman named Lysithea who landed her spot in the sophomore dorm because she was in the honors program. Next to her were Leonie and Petra, both of whom had just transferred to the school this year--Leonie from a community college and Petra had come from Brigid. And at the end was Hilda’s room, which she shared with her girlfriend Marianne. That was his destination now. 

Claude knocked, but the door was unlocked and he did not wait for a response to enter. Both girls were sitting on their respective beds. Even if they hadn’t been it was easy to identify which side of the room belonged to whom; there was an invisible line of demarcation down the middle of the room where Hilda’s side was tidy and covered in pink, and Marianne’s looked like a tiny, localized tornado had torn through it. Normally Hilda got fed up and cleaned Marianne’s space as well, so this was evidence that she too was feeling the stress of finals week. Even Hilda’s bed had portfolio pieces strewn about it, with Hilda herself sitting cross-legged in the middle of them and looking frazzled.

“Okay, please tell me you are here to distract me from all of this work. I’m not sure how much more I can take.” Hilda moaned as he walked through the door. 

Claude grinned cheekily at her, “I don’t know . . . it looks like you’re real busy, I’d hate to interrupt.”

“At this point I am literally begging you to interrupt,” Hilda answered desperately, “Besides, I’ve earned a break. I’ve been working hard all day so far. Haven’t I, Marianne?”

Marianne, who was sitting beneath the covers with her back against the wall scribbling notes out of a biology textbook, looked surprised to have been addressed. She started and said, “Oh, yes. Hilda has been working very hard today.”

“See? So obviously I deserve a reward.”

Claude shook his head, slightly mystified, “Going to Brigid over break seems like it would be reward enough to me, but sure.”

“This coming from the guy who doesn’t even want to come with us,” Hilda replied with a frown. “To think the International Relations major would turn down a chance to visit a foreign country with his friends.”

“Oh, I would love to visit Brigid, don’t get me wrong. But I would probably want to go see all of those boring old forts you’re specifically trying to avoid, so I don’t think this is the trip for me.”

Hilda rolled her eyes, “Whatever, but when you’re sitting bored and alone in the cold next month, just remember you could have been enjoying yourself on the beach with us.”

Claude glanced at Marianne after Hilda’s proclamation. She was wearing the same oversized sweatshirt with her hood up that she wore every day as far as he could tell, and for that among other reasons she did not strike him as the sort who would particularly enjoy herself at the beach. Then again, she was probably happy going anywhere as long as she was going with Hilda. They were disgustingly adorable like that. He was a little jealous.

But only a little. He had such a person too, after all. He just didn’t have her at the moment.

“I’ll be sure to keep you apprised of my misery,” Claude replied, “In the meantime, if you’re so desperate for a break, want to go to the cafe? I’ve still got another paper to write, and that is not happening without some caffeine.”

Hilda squealed gleefully and jumped off her bed, setting about dressing herself more appropriately for a winter stroll. “I’ll take that as a 'yes’,” Claude chuckled, “How about you, Marianne?”

Marianne shook her head without looking up from her textbook, “Oh, um, no thank you.”

“No worries, I’ll bring you back something yummy, okay?” Hilda answered, planting a kiss on Marianne’s forehead before heading out the door.

They stopped back at Claude’s room so he could get a jacket and shoes on. On their way out they bumped into Lorenz, who took a jab at Claude for slacking off on his reading day. Which was supremely unfair in Claude’s opinion, considering he was with Hilda, and if that alone was not enough, he had it on record that Lorenz was definitely doing at least one of Hilda’s final assignments on her behalf.

That was how Lorenz had always been, though, transcending lifetimes. If he wasn’t riding Claude for one reason or another, something was seriously wrong.

Claude and Hilda tried to make their way quickly across campus. It was winter, after all, and while central Fodlan was decently temperate compared to the north, it was still plenty cold.

“I found out I was a king today,” Claude told Hilda idly as they walked.

“Fancy,” Hilda replied, although she only sounded mildly impressed, “And what about your queen?”

“Well, she was a queen,” Claude answered. Not his technically, at least not as far as his memories had supplied thus far. He was getting there, he was sure. “And we’re engaged, as of a few nights ago.”

Hilda waggled her eyebrows at him as they reached the Humanities building, which housed the campus cafe on its bottom floor. When they opened the door to enter, the sudden blast of hot air was a welcome change on Claude’s cold cheeks. They were clearly on the same page as most of the student body about needing a coffee break, though, because the line was very long.

While they waited, Claude’s eyes wandered around the Humanities common space. It was a habit born out of curiosity, always looking to see and figure out more about the people and places around him. Today his gaze fell upon a pair of faculty members talking by the elevators. Particularly he noticed one of the two, a tall, broad-shouldered man with familiar dark green hair.

His eyes widened. 

“Hilda,” Claude said excitedly, tapping her arm and pointing in the man’s direction to guide her attention to him, “Hilda, that’s Seteth.”

“Who?” Hilda asked, looking over at Seteth bemusedly. It was a reasonable question, considering Claude didn’t think he’d ever mentioned Seteth to her before. There was no time to explain now, however, because the elevator door had opened and Seteth was stepping into it. 

Claude remembered Seteth from his past, of course. But he was different that the others that Claude remembered, like Hilda and Marianne.  He’d been different then--older than he appeared, much older. He’d probably continued to grow older still, despite not having physically changed at all. He probably remembered.

Which meant he could answer Claude’s questions.

“Sorry, Hilda, I gotta go. I’ll meet you back at the dorm later.”

Hilda protested being abruptly ditched, but Claude barely heard her. He was already dashing across the room, attention focused on the elevators. He would make it up to her later.

Claude paused by the elevators just long enough to watch the light above it and see that it stopped at the third floor. He headed quickly for the stairs.

Claude flew up the stairs as quickly as his feet could carry him, and got to the third floor just in time to see Seteth turning a corner into another hallway. Claude followed after him and walked right behind him into what must have been his office.

“Excuse me,” Seteth spoke in a clipped tone, rounding to face his unexpected visitor. When his eyes fell on Claude they widened almost imperceptibly, just for the briefest instant before he trained his face back into a neutral expression. But Claude saw it, and it was enough to confirm his suspicion that Seteth would recognize him. 

Seteth arched an accusatory eyebrow, “Can I help you with something, young man?”

Claude crossed his arms in front of his chest, “Don’t play dumb, Seteth, I know you recognize me.”

The surprise flitted across Seteth’s face again, this time to be replaced by an appraising look, considering Claude carefully. Still, he did not give himself up, “I’m sorry, but have we met somewhere before?”

“Yeah, at Garreg Mach Monastery, about a thousand years ago. Do I need to break out the secret, personal information I know about you to prove it? Something about Flayn, maybe?”

“Claude.” Seteth finally said, and it was a statement, not a question. He sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose, “Shut the door, please.”

Claude did, and Seteth motioned for him to sit in a chair across from his desk. Seteth was looking at him appraisingly again, staring at him like that alone would solve the mystery he had been faced with, “Claude, you haven’t actually been alive all this time, have you?”

“Uhhh, no?” Claude answered, caught off guard by the question. It wasn’t the conclusion he would have expected Seteth to draw, “Only the past 19 years, as far as I know.”

“No, of course not, I know that isn’t the case. You appear younger again, as well.” Seteth was muttering, staring off as he spoke, and Claude got the impression the words were not meant for him. Then Seteth looked him in the eye again and said, “But you remember everything?”

“Well, I’m still working towards ‘everything,’ I think, but I remember more every day. I dream about it.”

“How curious,” Seteth said, sounding and looking far away again. He paused for a long, thoughtful moment. When he spoke again, his tone was somber, "Claude do you . . . do you remember how you died?” 

That was another question Claude was not expecting. In fact, Claude had been expecting to be the one asking the questions here, not fielding them. This one in particular, he was not prepared for. He objectively knew that he had died at some point in the past, it was a rather essential part of being reborn, but he’d never thought about it before and he didn’t care to. He laughed nervously, “Nope, haven’t uh, haven’t gotten there yet. The dreams are pretty much in chronological order, as far as I can tell.”

Seteth nodded thoughtfully. Claude was tired of being grilled where he was the one who should be asking the questions, so he jumped it with one of his own before the older man had the chance, “And what about you? After a few hundred years you decided on a career change and became a teacher?”

Seteth frowned at him, “For your information, I’m the dean of the History department.”

“Oh, I see. So same as before then, controlling what information about the past people are or aren’t allowed to learn here.” Claude replied. It wasn’t exactly a joke, as they both well knew, but he was grinning and there was a mischievous twinkle in his eyes, showing he didn’t really mean anything by it. 

“Our curriculum is nationally aligned and based upon reliable sources. We do not support censorship here.” Seteth answered curtly, “However, I will admit to having played a part in crafting many of those sources, in some cases with some slight modifications to the truth. But that was a long time ago now.”

When Claude didn’t say anything, just stared at him judgmentally, Seteth sighed and added, “Claude, you have to understand that people like us . . . people who make history like you did, are meant to stay in history. I did what I did not to deceive anyone, or to forward any agenda, but to protect the people who matter to me. And, while it might sound a little odd to you to hear me say this now, that includes you.”

Claude didn’t understand, not fully, and it did feel surprising to hear Seteth speak so fondly of him. They obviously had a lot more history between them he had yet to recall. But more than all of that, Seteth’s words had brought another question to the forefront of Claude’s mind, the question he needed answered most of all. “And her too, right?”

Claude didn’t have a name to offer, but Seteth seemed to understand all the same. “Perhaps her most of all.”

“Do you know where she is?”

Seteth said nothing, and his silence was more telling than if he had spoken. But it didn’t tell Claude what he really needed to know.

“I still don’t remember her name.”

Still Seteth remained silent, and Claude found himself growing frustrated. “Please, you know, I can tell you do. For two years now I’ve been waiting, desperately, for something, anything. You can’t just keep her from me.”

Seteth looked downcast, and that was enough for Claude to know he would not budge before he even explained himself. “Again, you must understand, Claude. I’ve lived for a long time, as you know, a very long time. I’ve seen countless friends and loved ones come and go, and some come again, reborn as you have been. However, in all of my many years, never has a single one of them remembered their past the way you do. Your situation is unlike any I’ve encountered before.”

“So? What does that have to do with Teach?”

“It could have everything to do with her, or perhaps nothing at all,” Seteth continued, “What I am certain of is this: there is a reason this is happening to you. There is a reason for the things you have remembered, and for the things that you have not. And without knowing what the reason is, or what power has allowed you to remember these things, it would be remiss of me to direct you off of this path you’ve been sent down. When it’s time for you to know, you will.”

Claude hated that he saw the logic behind Seteth’s decision so clearly, that it was so hard to argue against. He wanted to argue, wanted to insist that it was unfair and inexcusable that Seteth keep such a secret from him, after he and Teach and worked so hard to ensure there would be no more secrets.

Seteth must have seen the conflict and sadness on his face. He looked thoughtful again, like his own mind was racing, debating the benefits of telling Claude the truth or keeping it from him. Finally he sighed again, deeper and much more weary, “I’m sorry that I cannot tell you what you want to hear. But what I can do is perhaps offer you a bit of assurance. That I expect the time will come for the two of you to meet again sooner rather than later.”

It was not as reassuring at Seteth probably wanted it to be, but Claude had the sense that Seteth was speaking from a place of knowledge rather than conjecture, so it was reassuring enough for now. “I hope so. And thank you.”

“Of course,” Seteth was smiling, a warm sort of smile Claude had rarely ever seen, and usually seen reserved for Flayn or the professor, “If you ever need anything Claude, and I mean that very sincerely--not just school related troubles, but anything at all--please do not hesitate to come to me. I will do all that I can. In the meantime you have a lot to think about, and I suggest you take some time to do so.”

Claude nodded, “Right, I’ll do that. Thanks again.”

To say that Claude had a lot to think about was a colossal understatement, really. Unfortunately, despite having sought out Seteth for answers, he mostly felt like it was more questions he had walked away with.

And he was so distracted thinking about them that on his way back to his dorm he walked right into someone.

“Oof, shit, sorry about that, wasn’t paying attention to where I was going.” He said quickly, before he’d even taken a step back to see the person he collided with.

“Ah, no need for apologies, the fault is mine, truly . . . Oh, Claude!”

Double shit, Claude thought as he realized he recognized both that voice and that face. “Dimitri, hi. Imagining bumping into you here. Literally.”

It was probably the lamest joke he’d ever made, but Dimitri laughed genuinely all the same, “It is a small world here at Garreg Mach, isn’t it? I was just on my way to the dining hall, would you care to join me?”

Claude did his best to steel his expression and hide the grimace he felt coming on. He felt bad for blowing off Dimitri, he really did, but leading him on would be worse, right? “Sorry . . . I’ve got a paper due and it’s not going to write itself, unfortunately.”

“Ah, of course, I wouldn’t want to keep you away from your studies,” Dimitri said, as understanding as ever, but damn if he didn’t look like a kicked puppy as he said it, and if that didn’t make Claude feel even worse. “But perhaps we can talk again soon?”

“Perhaps,” Claude replied, smiling in spite of himself. He was teasing, because who seriously spoke so formally, especially to someone who had already seen him naked, but Dimitri smiled back all the same.

“Excellent! Well, in case it does not happen soon enough, I hope you enjoy your break, Claude.”

“Yeah, you too.”

Claude would certainly be keeping busy during his break, if nothing else. He had a lot to consider, after all.

Chapter Text

When the fighting in Derdriu has finally ended, Claude leaves Nader in charge of overseeing the troops at their camp on the outskirts of the city. He mounts his wyvern and sets out to find her.

She is in the heart of the city, engaged in what looks to be an informal war council with Lorenz, Hilda, and Seteth. There are assessing the damages, probably, and tallying their losses. They earned a resounding victory with the support of the Almyran forces, but no war is without its costs, especially when fighting reaches big, metropolitan cities like Derdriu.

He lands a little ways away from them, sees the others’ eyes widened in surprise as they catch sight of him. He hardly wore his full regalia into battle, that would just be impractical, but it would have been cowardly to hide his status from his enemies, and so now it is on display for his allies as well. If they haven’t already figured it out, it must be dawning on them now.

She just smirks at him and says, “you were late.”

Claude grins right back at her, “Sorry, Teach, guess you’re going to have to give me a detention.”

Claude dismounts. He can only admit he gets way too much satisfaction out of the way Lorenz is spluttering as he approaches them. He gives his old classmate an extra cheeky smile, “Hey, long time no see.”

“What is the meaning of this?” Lorenz demands, even though Claude feels the meaning is pretty evident by now. Still, he’s more than happy to play along.

“Right, I guess proper introductions are finally in order, aren’t they?” Claude bows deeply, “Claude Arash Babakzaden Von Riegan, King of Almyra, at your service.”

“Why am I not surprised?” Hilda asks coyly, as Lorenz endeavors to pick his jaw up off of the ground. “Now I understand why the professor was so confident that the king of Almyra would just show up to help us fight.”

“I’m surprised you all didn’t figure it out sooner,” Teach responds, “You didn’t really think I would put so much faith in a random stranger, did you?”

Her eyes meet his and she smiles at him. It’s probably foolish that it still gives him butterflies to hear her say she has faith in him, but his stomach flutters all the same.

“As much as I hate to interrupt such a warm reunion,” Seteth cuts in, “We have much to discuss, and some of it pressing. Perhaps this conversation would be better moved to the Royal Estate?”

“Yes, that would probably be for the best.” Teach agrees.

“Will the vaunted king of Almyra be joining us?” Hilda asks, regarding him with a smirk.

Claude shakes his head, “In the coming days for sure. But we’ve got a victory to celebrate tonight. It wouldn’t do for the king to miss the feast.”

Lorenz makes a deadpan expression, “Is that really important right now? A party, when there’s so much to consider regarding Fodlan’s tenuous situation?”

“It’s important for Almyrans. It’s not just a party, it’s part of our culture. And it’s how we honor our dead. It wouldn’t be right to deny a proper send off to the people who died defending Fodlan in this battle, would it?”

“No, I suppose it would not.” Lorenz replies, humbled.

“You should all join us, when you can. We’ll probably still be going by the time your business is done. And if you think we used to have victory feasts back at Garreg Mach, you haven’t seen anything yet.”

“I think I will. And I’ll arrange for some food to be sent to your encampment as well, it’s the least we can do.” Teach offers, “I’m looking forward to it."

Claude smiles.

Claude would never admit it to Hilda, but his break had turned out to be pretty quiet without her. It caught him off guard, truthfully. Claude had spent most of his life alone, after all, and it had never really bothered him before. It was surprising how quickly  he’d gotten used to having friends around, and even more so how he’d come to feel lonely in their absence.

Hilda wasn’t the only one who’d been distinctly absent during his month off. He’d also rarely seen Teach, or anyone else for that matter, in his dreams while he’d been away from Garreg Mach. It was strange, the way he’d gone from dreaming every time he’d slept to only a handful of times in an entire month. Then his first night back he’d dreamed again. There was no way that could be a coincidence, in his opinion, but he had no idea what it might mean either.

Regardless, without Hilda around, and without Teach--however abstract her presence in his life may be--Claude had been pretty lonely over break, and pretty bored. And being lonely and bored meant he’d been responding to Dimitri’s texts way more than he should have been.

He emerged from his room and found many of his floormates sitting in their common space, catching up on what they did over break. Hilda, who was sporting quite the tan after her tropical vacation, flagged him over to them with an excited wave of her hand.

“My, Hilda, aren’t you looking sun-kissed.” Claude said as he took the last remaining seat on the couch, which was next to Raphael. Raphael playfully punched his arm in greeting, and Claude mustered all of his pride to stop himself from rubbing the spot gingerly. That was going to leave a bruise.

“Why thank you.” Hilda preened. Next to her Marianne was looking distinctly no more tan than she had before they’d parted ways the month before, adding credence to Claude’s theory that she had kept her hoodie on for the entire trip. 

Hilda’s joyful demeanor at being paid a compliment did not last long, to Claude’s surprise. She quickly turned serious and asked, “Claude, have you looked at your schedule for this semester?” 

It was a strange question made even stranger by Hilda’s aggravated tone. He didn’t know what she was on about, but he was definitely curious, “I have not, to be honest. Why do you ask?”

“They switched the professor for our Military History class. To some Professor Eisner, or something.” 

Hilda was in quite a huff about the change, which didn’t seem like all that big a deal. Claude was still confused as to why she was so upset, but that was not the focus of his attention anymore. Now he was trying to place why their new professor’s name sounded so familiar to him.

While Claude was lost in thought, trying to figure out where he had heard the name Eisner before, Leonie joined in on their conversation. 

“You should feel lucky to have Professor Eisner, Hilda. He was my academic advisor at my old school; he’s pretty much the reason I was able to get the credits and scholarships I needed to transfer here this year. He’s amazing! I’m so glad he came to work here at Garreg Mach.”

Leonie’s enthusiasm was the spark Claude needed to reignite his memory. Jeralt. Eisner was Jeralt’s last name.

His new professor was Teach’s father. 

Hilda sighed deeply. “But the only reason I even took that class was because Linhardt said Professor Rangeld only assigns one paper and makes all of the other homework optional. If I’m going to have to do actual work for my history requisite, I would have at least taken something basic like Fódlan History 101.”

“Professor Eisner is really knowledgeable. You’ll be able to learn a lot from him.”

The roll of Hilda’s eyes suggested she was not impressed by Jeralt’s knowledge, “that’s great and all, but I’m pretty sure I’ll be switching out of the class. What about you, Claude?” 

Claude was barely paying attention any longer, but he engaged just enough to say, “I need it for my degree,” as Leonie muttered something under her breath about them not appreciating their new professor.

What were the chances that it would be Jeralt? Then again, maybe it wasn’t chance at all. Seteth had said he thought Claude would see Teach again soon, and it had seemed like he’d had a reason for thinking so. Did Seteth make this change happen just for him? Did it even have anything to do with Teach at all? Jeralt’s presence didn’t guarantee Teach’s, he supposed, but they had always stuck together in the past. 

Clause really owed Seteth immensely, if his suspicions were correct. 

“Hello . . . earth to Claude? You still in there?” 

Hilda took hold of his braid and flicked it in his face to get his attention. Claude blinked at her, re-emerging from his thoughts. 

“Yeah, sorry, spaced out for a minute there.”

Hilda was looking at him through narrowed eyes, the fact that there was something else on his mind obviously not escaping her notice. 

Leonie and Raphael excused themselves to go to the gym. Marianne seemed to sense the lingering tension between Hilda and Claude, because she too excused herself and returned to her room down the hall. 

“So, want to tell me what’s on your mind?” Hilda asked once she heard the door shut behind Marianne. 

“It’s nothing.”

Hilda’s expression made it abundantly clear she would not be accepting that excuse. Claude sighed.

“Fine, it’s something, obviously. It’s just . . . Something I need to think about myself for now.”

Normally he didn’t hesitate to confide in Hilda anymore. But something left him wanting to keep this realization to himself for now. The possibility he might meet teach again felt tenuous, like he could ruin it by saying it aloud. And it wasn’t like he had any proof she was close, just a hunch.

“Alright, if you’re sure.” Hilda did not sound like she was satisfied with his decision despite accepting it. “But if you change your mind . . .”

“You will be the first person to hear about it.” And maybe he would change his mind. Military History was a Tuesday/Thursday class, so he had several days to agonize over it before he would have any closure on the subject.

“Good.” Hilda still looked concerned, but her face eventually gave way to a mischievous expression. “Anyway, while we’re talking about you, on my way back up from breakfast this morning I had the pleasure of sharing an elevator with a certain Dimitri Blaiddyd.”

Claude groaned.

Judging by the glint in Hilda’s eye, and the way her lips quirked in the tiniest of smirks, that was the reaction she had been expecting, “so we were discussing what we did over break, and he told me you two did an awful lot of talking.”

Claude ran a hair through his hair, a nervous habit. “Against my better judgement, yeah. I’m going to have some serious damage control to do.” 

Hilda didn’t answer right away. Her expression shifted, smirk fading to a frown, and eyes growing softer, sadder, “Claude, I know you probably don’t want to hear this, but . . . you know you can’t cheat on someone who’s not real, right?” 

Claude bristled. His body language must have communicated his feelings clearly enough, because Hilda didn’t wait for him to respond before she continued, “I know, I know. She was real, she existed. But she’s not really here, now, with you. It’s silly to deny yourself happiness just to wait for her. There’s a chance she’ll never come, you know.” 

And there’s a chance I’m just a few days away from meeting her. But instead of voicing that hope he said, “she’ll come.”

He felt every bit of confidence his voice projected.

“Besides,” he continued, “I already know I love her, so what’s the point of trying with anyone else?”

Hilda’s sigh was long-suffering. But whatever her opinion was on Claude’s answer, she kept it to herself. There was still a hint of concern in her eyes. Claude knew that even though she was right and he really didn’t care for her words, she was just looking out for him.

Claude stood up. Before returning to his room, he turned to Hilda and said, “I appreciate it, Hilda, but you don’t have to worry about me. I’m not sad, or lonely, because I believe in her.

And maybe that wasn’t entirely true, maybe he was a little sad and even a little lonely, but his belief in her truly was as unflinching as it had always been.

The stars are out and the fire is roaring when she joins them. Claude smiles ear to ear as he sees her approaching. Nader must see the look on his face, and elbows him playfully in the ribs; Claude tries to mask it in response, to maintain a neutral expression, but he can’t help but radiate joy whenever he’s in Teach’s presence.

As she comes to stand beside him, the soldiers begin noticing her as well. Rumors of Teach’s prowess on the battlefield had made their way back to Almyra along with the troops who had taken part in the war, as had her reputation as the Ashen Demon. Now that she’s here they’re all clamoring to see her in action, but despite the murmurs about it amongst the crowd, nobody seems to want to be the first to challenge her.

Nader is the obvious choice, of course, but when someone suggests as much he laughs out loud and shakes his head, “You want me to take on that woman? No thanks, I enjoy being the Undefeated a little too much for that.”

Nader’s refusal to take her on is enough to silence the majority of them. But there are a few who are enthused by the opportunity to seize glory by defeating the opponent Nader himself is not brave enough to face. These men, spurred on by false courage instilled in them by too much drink, have only been encouraged.

Since all of this is happening in Almyran, she looks at him with an eyebrow raised and asks, “Okay, what did I miss?” When he tells her, her eyes dance with laughter.

"Furthermore, I am afraid they are unlikely to relent unless you actually agree to spar with them.”

He says it apologetically, certain she must be tired--and tired of fighting--after such a long and hard fought battle had only just concluded. But she promptly grabs her sword by the hilt, and there’s a competitive glint in her eyes. “Who’s first, then?”

The man who is first is easily twice her size, but it makes little difference when in less than a minute he finds himself on his back with the Sword of the Creator pointed at his throat. Two more fair about as well as he before the rest of them concede that the rumors about her strength are true and relent in their attempts to challenge her. She looks slightly disappointed for it to be over so quickly.

“Well, Teach, I have to say, if your goal in coming here tonight was to win over the Almyrans, you definitely succeeded with that little stunt.”

She still wears the satisfaction of victory on her face, the corner of her lips upturned ever so slightly, but when she speaks her voice is soft and warm. “My only goal tonight is to spend time with you, Claude.”

He has to remind himself to breathe, no small feat considering it feels as if his heart has suddenly jump straight up to his throat. “G-geez, you sure know how to put the pressure on a guy. Guess I better make sure to deliver a good time.”

“I’m sure you’ll manage.”

Someone brings them both a drink, and Claude’s be abstaining so far this evening, so he sits and enjoys this one with her. They just talk for a while, catching up on the things they haven’t included in their letters. She fills him in on the meeting she just left, and the plans to restore Derdriu and other affected towns now that the fighting has ended. Apparently someone has used it as an excuse to once again attempt to convince her to approve the construction of a castle in the newly united kingdom’s capital. But Teach continues to insist that the former Riegan E state is more than sufficient.

“I understand their thinking, it would be symbolic, but there are areas of much greater need we could better dedicate those resources to. Besides, who actually needs an entire castle?”

“I rather enjoy my palace, personally,” Claude admits, “Although, I suppose it would be a stretch to argue that I need it.”

That silly remark earns him a smile, and for a moment the whole rest of the world disappears, and he’s left with nothing but her smiling at him. As he slowly returns to reality he becomes aware of the celebration around them again, and particularly the music. He stands up, straightens himself out, and offers a hand to help her to her feet as well. “We should dance.”

She takes his hand. He pulls her up, and maybe pulls her slightly closer to himself than is necessary in the process. Even once she is fully standing on her own two feet, she does not remove her hand from his.

Teach shakes her head, her expression playful if a little exasperated, “How can I dance when I don’t know the steps?”

“Ah, but that’s the best part about this sort of dancing. You don’t have to know anything, you just do it.” He is already leading her to where others are dancing by the fire, and despite her protests she walks with him without hesitation, “This is my chance to finally prove that I’m quite the dancer, when I’m not stuck doing some silly waltz.”

They fall into step, guided by the upbeat rhythm of the music. She mostly sticks to following his lead at first, and he is happy to take the responsibility. He twirls her around until she is laughing and begging him to stop, too dizzy to continue. He slows, tones it down to give her the opportunity to regain her bearings. She seems to find her confidence along with them, and before long she is the one leading him.

As the song comes to an end they are both a little breathless, but both smiling. He forgets himself for a moment and leans forward just enough to touch their foreheads together. It is only for an instant, but they have gained an audience while dancing and the intimate gesture surely doesn’t go unnoticed. Several soldiers come up and clap him on the shoulder, offer him congratulations or other sly remarks.

Teach stands beside him with her arms crossed in front of her chest, looking amused. She still does not understand their words, but their meaning seems to have gotten across to her this time all the same.

They are the center of attention now. Teach has gone from a worthy challenger, to an untouchable opponent, to a curiosity. Many of them want to speak to her, have questions to ask, but few of them speak the language of Fodlan, so Claude is left translating. It is a different sort of dizzying than the dancing was and after a while he finds himself sputtering, turning to her only to continue speaking Almyran, or some combination of the two languages that makes even less sense.

She is patient through it all, and doesn’t laugh at him, even if he can still see the hint of mirth on her face. “Maybe we should find somewhere a bit more private now?”

The suggestion sounds like a welcome relief and Claude nods, tired of talking for the moment. A few of the men are brave enough, or perhaps just drunk enough, to hoot and holler as he takes her hand and they walk away together. He takes a deep breath and does not indulge the behavior with a response.

He might have taken her to his tent, which is plenty large, where they could have had a cup of tea together. But that’s out of the question now, he doesn’t even want to think of the spectacle it would cause, so instead they just head to the outskirts of the camp to at least get some quiet. There’s still a faint glow from the fire, but most of their light is coming from the night sky. 

He looks up at the blanket of stars above him. He’s done it countless times before, but it’s different now, with their hands intertwined, together instead of alone. 

He leans over to rest his head on her shoulder and whispers in her ear. This time, removed of their audience, she chuckles lightly, “You spoke Almyran again.”

“I know.”

“So I have no idea what you said.”

He lifts his head up so he can face her properly, grinning mischievously, “I guess you’d better start studying then.”

She rolls her eyes, shoving him lightly with her shoulder. But she can’t manage to hide her smile.

He looks back up at the sky again. It’s always made his dreams feel possible, but now it feels like they’re already happening.

Monday and Tuesday crawled by as Claude anticipated his Military History class on Tuesday afternoon. Hilda had been watching him like a hawk the entire time, obviously still aware that there was something on his mind. But she did not bring up their conversation again.

He was so anxious he found himself waiting around in the building an hour before his class was supposed to start. Hilda had followed through on her conviction to drop the class, so he was on his own for now, at least. If she was here now, he didn’t think he would be able to keep his thoughts about Teach to himself.

Soon, though, he might not have to. Soon he might be reunited with her again.

I love you more than all the stars in the sky.

He thought about the words he’d spoken to her in his dream the night before, still a mystery to her but now weighing so heavily on his mind. He wondered how it was possible to love someone so completely without ever having met her in person, or even seen her with his own eyes. As a lifelong skeptic he had a hard time believing how readily he believed it, but there was little point denying his own feelings.

It seemed like the further and further he fell down the rabbit hole of his own memories, the deeper he fell in love with her. He could only hope that his suspicions were correct and she was close, because he wasn’t sure how much more of this he could stand without her.

The class before his finished, and students began filing out of the room. Once it was empty he entered himself. He took a seat in the back, not trusting himself to hold it together enough to sit up front. Just a few minutes now.

His classmates were steadily joining him, a few familiar faces amongst them, but none as close to him as Hilda. He saw Sylvain and Felix, Dimitri’s roommates, and quickly turned his body away to avoid eye contact. Most were talking about the last minute change to the class, theorizing why it might have occurred. Others hadn’t even noticed the difference on their schedules and were bemusedly asking their classmates what the fuss was all about.

But they all stopped talking quickly when Jeralt walked into the room, his presence as commanding as ever. Claude felt a pang of satisfaction that this much of his theory was correct, even though there had been little reason to doubt it. But that paled in comparison to the feeling that overcame him at the sight of the young woman who walked in behind Jeralt.

It felt like the breath had been sucked out of his lungs. There she was, standing just a few feet away from him. Her hair and eyes were deep blue, her hair a little longer, her eyes bright and warm the way they had been once she’d learned to properly express her emotions. There was a small almost-smile pulling at her lips. She was as captivating as ever.

And she was finally here.

Jeralt checked his roster then scanned the room to eyeball his attendance. “Okay. Thanks for coming today. I’m Professor Eisner, and I’ll be running your Military History class this semester.”

There were a few stray nods around the room, but mostly everyone’s attention was focused on the thing Claude’s was: the girl still standing beside Jeralt at the front of the room. Jeralt sighed, “However, this class was assigned to me unexpectedly, and I don’t really have the time to teach it adequately, so it’s mostly going to be handled by my teaching assistant.”

He gestured toward her. She smiled properly, “My name is Byleth. I’m looking forward to working with you all.”

Claude might have been bothered by the intrigued and appreciative murmurs around the room, or by the way Sylvain nudged Felix with his elbow and wagged his eyebrows suggestively, if he’d even been able to notice those things. His gaze was fixed on her, on Byleth. Her name was Byleth. He couldn’t believe he had ever forgotten. He wanted to whisper it, sing it, shout it. Anything so he could feel it on his tongue again and again.

Byleth was scanning the classroom. Her gaze reached the back corner of the room where Claude was sitting, and their eyes locked.

She passed over him as quickly as she had the other students, not the slightest hint of recognition on her face.

He felt like he couldn’t breathe again, but this time it was different. Wrong. This was all wrong. He’d known, of course, that there was a chance she didn’t remember like he did. He’d known it was a good chance, even, considering his conversation with Seteth. But he’d been so sure that no matter what they would still be connected, that she would see something, feel something, when she looked at him. Never, not in a million years, would he have been prepared to be regarded like a total stranger.

Jeralt passed out a syllabus, assigned a chapter of reading for the next class, and dismissed them. Several students looked triumphant, happy for the chance to leave 20 minutes into a 90 minute class, and dashed for the door. Byleth stayed behind, and a few students approached the podium to speak to her. Watching Sylvain lean flirtatiously on the podium, right into her personal space, was more than Claude could stand. He hurried out the door, swallowing back the bile rising in his throat.

But he didn’t go back to his dorm. He went straight to the third floor offices.

Claude didn’t knock, didn’t even check to make sure Seteth was alone, before he burst into his office.

“Byleth doesn’t even remember me!”

His voice sounded angry, Claude noticed. Seteth certainly did not deserve his anger. Claude wasn’t even sure he was angry, but there was a storm of so many emotions brewing inside of him, needing to be unleashed. Unfortunately for Seteth, he was the most direct target.

Seteth’s tone remained calm and even. “My apologies, I rather thought I had sufficiently prepared you for that when I told you you were the only one I’ve ever known to remember.”

“I know.” Claude snapped. He didn’t need to be reminded his surprise was irrational, he was already perfectly aware, and perfectly frustrated about it, “I just . . . I guess I thought . . .”

“That she would be different?” Seteth finished for him.

“Well, yeah. Of course I thought so.”

Because she was different, wasn’t she? She was the one who had always defied the odds, who had made the impossible seem possible. It had never even occurred to him to worry about the part that came after finding her. It was supposed to just work out, the way things always did when she was involved.

Claude didn’t care for the sad look on Seteth’s face, especially when he considered how often people seemed to be looking at him like that lately. “I suspect you may be right, although in this case I’m afraid the difference may only make it less likely that she ever remember.”

Claude narrowed his eyes. What could Seteth mean by that? He considered the words carefully, along with everything else he had learned so far.

“You mean, because she doesn’t have the Crest Stone of Flames inside of her anymore?”

Seteth had maintained his composure through Claude’s anger, being yelled at when he didn’t deserve it, but he lost it now. His eyes widened, he gripped his desk tightly, and Claude could tell he had to resist the urge to jump out of his seat. “How did you know that?”

Claude tried to hide his smugness, he really did, but he could not stop the grin from creeping onto his face. “I didn’t, actually. Guess I do now.”

If looks could kill, Claude would be in trouble now. He held up his hands in front of him as if in surrender, “It was an educated guess. Her hair is blue again.”

Seteth rubbed at his temples gingerly with his fingers, “Of course. Leave it to you to figure it out on that alone. But yes, it is the case that Byleth was separated from the crest stone a long time ago. Given how closely it was connected to her heart, as far as matters of the heart are concerned . . . well, I suspect there are some things she has lost that she may never be able to get back.”

There was a long pause as Claude thought this all over carefully. The news should have been devastating but he found somehow it was not. His faith in Byleth was proving yet again that it was not a force to be trifled with. “But she may be able to?”

Seteth, who looked like he had been quite ready to console Claude, was obviously not expecting that reaction. He looked flummoxed, “Excuse me, what?”

“You said it was ‘less likely’ that she would remember the past, but less likely doesn’t mean impossible. So there’s a chance she might still be able to remember, right?”

Seteth frowned. The look on his face made it obvious he did not like where this was going, but there was no stopping Claude now. “I don’t know. Considering the very nature of your situation, I can no longer say with certainty that it would be impossible for a person to reclaim their former memories. However, as I’ve already stated, in Byleth’s case in particular, I would say it is highly unlikely."

That was fine. Claude could work with highly unlikely. What were such odds to his beloved Teach, after all, the woman who could cut holes through time and space, sleep for five years only to be none the worse for the wear, and single-handedly turn the tide of a war? Claude was sure she would be able to reclaim what she had lost. He just had to figure out how to help her do it.

“Claude, I’m not sure what scheme you’re cooking up in that mind of yours, but I feel I am obligated to suggest that you drop it.”

“Don’t worry, no scheme yet,” Claude reassured as he reopened the office door. Seteth did not look the least bit reassured. “But I promise to fill you in as soon as I figure it out. Gunna need someone to run my ideas by, after all, and this time I’m pretty sure you’re my guy.”

Seteth had offered to help Claude out with anything he needed, after all. He was simply taking him up on that promise.

That thought reminded Claude of the other way in which Seteth had helped him out recently. In the chaos of his emotions this afternoon, he had almost forgotten. Claude paused in the doorway. “Thanks, by the way.”

Seteth looked bemused, not ready for Claude to suddenly turn so sincere. “Whatever for?”

“Switching the professors around for my class. You did that on purpose, right? So that I would meet her again?”

Seteth quickly busied himself with straightening out some papers on his desk. “That was a purely logistical decision. Professor Eisner just joined us this semester and needed courses to teach. Yours simply happened to align with his expertise well.”

That sounded a little different than the version of the story Jeralt had told them in class today, but Claude would let Seteth keep his pride. 

“Right. Well, thank you anyway.”