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 one is immediately forthcoming, so stay tuned! More notes will follow it
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.”
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.
some things of note . . .
1. This concept has already been done to death I'm sure but I was feeling self-indulgent with this fic so please bear with me as I give my spin on it regardless
2. The dimilaude is NOT end game, and also isn't going to play out with many typical love triangle tropes if you are concerned about that sort of thing. Claude is self-aware enough to realize he's totally emotionally unavailable to anyone who's not Byleth at this point, but that doesn't stop him from feeling attraction and wanting affection from other people in her absence
3. pokemon sword and shield are coming out in a little over 24 hours...so I will probably get distracted and updates will probably be slow as a result, sorry in advanced! They also will not generally come two at a time, I just stylistically wanted the prologue to be its own chapter, but it wasn't really enough to justify posting on its own, so I made sure chapter 1 was ready right away as well.
I hope you enjoyed so far, thanks for reading!
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, “Khalid 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 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.
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.”
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.”
“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.”
I have no idea how to describe dancing ngl
also Jeralt is 100% that professor who cancels class who cancels class just because he's hung over and/or doesn't feel like it today and does not hesitate to tell you so in his email about it
I have casually amended this chapter to reflect the fact that we now know Claude's real name is Khalid, those I still chose to keep the middle and surname I invented for him for now
Claude headed to the dining hall after he left Seteth’s office. He had a lot of thinking to do, needed to formulate a plan to help Byleth remember him again. But it had been a long afternoon, taxing both mentally and emotionally. For now, he just wanted something to eat.
He was happy to find Hilda sitting in the dining hall, although he was less happy to see she was sitting with Sylvain. Sylvain was cool enough, and he was fun at parties, but he could also be a lot, and after class today Claude was really not in the mood to deal with him. He took a deep breath and sat at the table with them regardless. When he did, he noticed they were both mostly finished eating already.
“Where have you been?” Hilda asked him, “Sylvain said your class got out early this afternoon.”
“I was catching up with someone.”
The answer was intentionally cryptic. He could hardly explain himself in front of Sylvain, after all, and even Hilda didn’t really know the details about Seteth. He’d filled her in a little after disappearing on her to seek out Seteth before break. But Seteth’s secrets didn’t seem like his business to share, so he hadn’t told her much. Even she was sure to think it was weird that he was going out of his way to spend time with a faculty member.
“Well, I texted you but you didn’t answer, so we didn’t wait for you. Sorry.”
Claude shrugged. His phone was in his bag and he honestly hadn’t even thought to look at it in hours.
Unfortunately, Sylvain decided to pipe in to the conversation. He winked, “Hey, I saw you checking out the professor in class today.”
Hilda wrinkled her nose in disgust, “Isn’t your professor some old dude who Leonie idolizes?”
“Yeah, but he’s got a teaching assistant. Looks like she’s only a little older than us and she’s a total babe.”
“I wasn’t checking her out.” Claude stabbed a piece of pasta onto his fork with much more force than was probably necessary as he spoke.
Claude knew he had been staring at Byleth. Of course he had. Apparently he’d been more obvious about it than he’d realized, but he’d been so shellshocked he hadn’t really been thinking about hiding it. Regardless, he didn’t care for the comparison to the sort of looks Sylvain had been giving her. He hated that he couldn’t explain how completely different it was.
Hilda looked carefully between the two of them. She must be sensing the tension, and he was sure before long she would put two and two together. People gave him a lot of credit for being the clever one, but Hilda was as sharp as a tack when she wanted to be.
“Dude, no need to be ashamed about it. You were hardly the only one. She’s hot!”
Claude could feel his face growing hot. He stared at his food, not trusting himself to respond or even look at Sylvain without snapping or saying something nasty.
Hilda seemed to figure it out. Her eyes widened. She looked at Claude and asked, “Wait, are we talking about the professor?”
It was the perfect question, since Claude and Hilda understood its true meaning, but Sylvain would not. Claude nodded. He could see in her face that she wanted to react, to freak out and ask him more about it, but she couldn’t do so without alerting Sylvain that something was up. She kept it to herself for the moment, but her body language grew distinctly more fidgety.
“Um, yeah, we already said that, didn’t we?” As predicted, Claude and Hilda’s quick exchange had gone over Sylain’s head. He sounded perplexed, and a bit annoyed to be repeating himself, but he brushed it off easily. “She’s a tough egg to crack, though, that’s for sure. I pulled out some of my best lines after class and she wasn’t having any of it.”
Claude continued to stiffly eat his dinner, avoiding eye contact with Sylvain. Hilda was watching him again. Between his bad attitude toward Sylvain, his body language, and his generally negative demeanor despite the fact that he’d finally gotten what he was waiting for all of this time, she must have sensed that something was not right. She waited until Sylvain looked away for a moment, and silently mouthed to him, “you okay?”
Claude shrugged again. He wasn’t okay really, but they would have to talk about it later. In the meantime he just needed Sylvain to go away before he lost it.
Leave it to Hilda to read all of that from a single shrug of his shoulders. She leaned back in her seat, scoffed a little, and said, “No offense, Sylvain, but I’ve heard some of your ‘best lines’ and I can see why she blew you off. They kind of suck.”
Sylvain looked affronted. “Hey, come on, that’s low! You’re not a fair judge of how good my flirting is anyway. You like girls.”
“Sure. But I also know what I like girls to say to me when they’re being flirty.” Hilda was examining her nail beds as if she were bored or unimpressed, “And it’s definitely not the crap you spew.”
“Whatever, that doesn’t change the fact that I get girls all the time.”
“Prove it.” Hilda grinned devilishly, and the trap she had set was sprung. Her eyes scanned across the dining hall until she stopped and pointed at a girl a few tables away. “That one over there. Have at it.”
“Watch me.” Sylvain replied cockily. He immediately stood up from their table and swaggered his way over to her.
Claude let out a sigh of relief. “Thank you.”
“That’s what friends are for, silly.”
“He should probably be thanking you, too. One more rude comment about Byleth and I was going to lose control and deck him.”
Hilda put her elbows on the table and rested her chin in her hands, “So it’s Byleth now, huh?”
Her tone was a little suggestive, and a lot curious. Claude frowned. He’d been hoping to have good news to tell her after class.
When Hilda saw his expression she frowned herself. “What happened?”
So he finally told her everything. About realizing Jeralt was the new professor, how he’d been anxious the past three days expecting to meet her again, how it had really happened but then Byleth had glanced over him without a second thought. He even told her about going to Seteth to blow off steam, and how it had made him realize he needed to find a way to make Byleth remember him.
“Wait, you told some random old professor about all of this?”
“He’s the dean of the History department,” Claude corrected, then internally groaned at himself. He could hear Seteth’s snootiness echoing in his own words, “And it’s complicated, but basically he’s someone really important to Teach, and he already knew. He denies it, but I know he switched the class around for me so we would meet each other again.”
“Wow, so you’ve got the big wigs backing you up now, huh?”
Claude looked back down at his plate. Not that he didn’t appreciate Seteth’s help, he very much did, but it also wasn’t like it had done him much good.
Yet again, it was like Hilda could read his mind. “I mean, you must have known this might happen, right?”
“I think I knew, but I hadn’t acknowledged it.”
“Right. And how do you plan to, as you say, ‘make her remember’?”
“Haven’t exactly come up with a plan yet, so I’m going to have to get back to you on that.”
Hilda laughed, “you know, you could just try flirting with her like a normal person.”
Claude scoffed, “You mean like Sylvain? I’m sure she’ll already be getting more than enough of that. No, this is definitely the better strategy.”
“If you say so.” Hilda answered, frowning. She didn’t sound very convinced.
“Speaking of Sylvain’s flirting, I feel a little bad for that girl you just tossed him at.”
“Don’t. She was in my design class yesterday, and I heard her talking to her friend about how dreamy Sylvain is,” Hilda rolled her eyes, “I just did her a favor. This is probably the best day of her life.”
“Sure, until three days from now when he gets bored of her and dumps her. Then it’s the worst.”
Hilda shrugged, seemingly unaffected by the inevitability of her classmate getting her feelings hurt, “Maybe. But that’s the risk you take when it comes to matters of the heart. If you can’t take it, best not to put yourself out there in the first place.”
Her answer left Claude feeling uneasy. He knew she was not talking about him, but he couldn’t help but think of his own situation regardless. Was he also taking such a risk in trying to win back Byleth? Was there a chance that, even with their past connection, he would be putting himself out there just to have his heart broken?
Surely there couldn’t be. They were meant for each other, he was certain. He had to be. Any other possibility was too painful to consider.
They’re already engaged, of course, but that’s not exactly public knowledge, and there’s no reason not to take advantage of the political benefits of their relationship. So the brand new treaty between Fodlan and Almyra is ratified by the marriage of their king and queen.
It is a showy affair. It’s probably more over the top than she would have preferred, but this is for the people as much as it is for either of them. As for him, he doesn’t care much for the particulars. There is only one thing, one person, he cares about this night.
He is stunned when he sees her, walking down the aisle with Alois. She’s always been beautiful, of course, and he knew she would be all dolled up today, but nothing could have prepared him for the sight of her. Her hair is left down, cascading behind her, and topped with a crown of flowers. She rarely wears dresses, even when in full regalia, but she has acquiesced for this occasion. The one she wears flows airily around her with each step, wraps her arms in soft lace, and stretches behind her into an impossibly long train accented with similar lace. She is more radiant than she has ever been.
Beside him, Hilda elbows him in the ribcage and grins. It’s probably for the best, because he’s fairly certain he’s forgotten to breathe since he saw Byleth, and he might have passed out right there in front of everyone if not for her bringing him back to his senses.
“Look at you.” Byleth whispers softly once she’s joined him at the altar, her tone and expression conveying her own approval of his appearance.
“Trust me,” He answers in a whisper of his own, “No one here is looking at me right now.”
He smiles. After all, there’s no one else that really matters, is there?
By the time the Thursday evening session of his Military History class rolled around, Claude was still lacking a plan for how to make Byleth remember.
This time she strolled into class without Jeralt. It must have been routine for her to run things on her own by now, because she got started easily even without his presence.
Byleth launched into a lecture about the importance of the invention of steel for weapons development. It was a testament to how engaging she was, because the topic could not have been less interesting, but she held everyone’s rapt attention regardless. It came as a surprise to the whole class when their time for the evening was up.
This time Claude did not quickly sneak away. He took his time and approached the teaching podium to speak to Byleth. He was in luck, as it seemed any of the other students who cared to introduce themselves personally to her took the opportunity to do so on Tuesday. Today everyone else filed out of the classroom straight away.
“Hey, Teach.” He said casually as he approached her.
She looked up at him, quirking an eyebrow at the nickname, but her small grin suggested she accepted it just as casually as he had used it, “Hello . . . um . . .”
“Claude.” He offered, doing his best to maintain his amicable tone and expression, despite the fact that her lack of recognition still made him feel like someone was twisting a knife in his gut.
“Right. Well, it’s nice to meet you, Claude. I’m glad to have you in class. Are you a History major?”
She was being so friendly. But it was the sort of friendliness one reserved for any casual acquaintance, or even a stranger. The sort of way you might talk to someone while you were stuck waiting in a long line beside them in the grocery store. He felt the twist of the knife again.
“IR. This class is for my concentration.” Well, while they were having this totally perfunctory, surface level conversation, he might as well try to gather some information. It would give him something to think about other than how miserable he was, at least. “What about you? Since you’re a TA, you must be working on your dissertation or something, right?”
She shook her head. “Master’s thesis.”
“Still impressive. What’s your topic?”
“The Reunification War.”
Interesting. And it couldn’t be a coincidence, right? That in all of the vast history of the world, this was the subject that most captured her attention? It definitely supported his belief that somewhere, deep down, she remembered. Hope bloomed, easing the pain in his gut.
“Wow, how’s the big guy on campus feel about you digging into that one?”
Byleth wrinkled her nose, the way he knew she did when she was confused. He could see in her eyes that she was trying to puzzle out what he meant. To his glee, she quickly figured it out. “You mean Seteth? He doesn’t have a problem at all. He’s actually been incredibly supportive of me transferring here so late into my degree. I only have to redo a few credits thanks to him.”
Also very interesting. Seteth sure had been doing a lot of scheming behind the scenes, on both of their behalf. Claude couldn’t help but feel a little proud.
He was definitely going to rub it in with Seteth later.
“Sounds about right. He’s a pretty cool guy, despite the fact he comes across as uncool as possible most of the time.”
Byleth looked confused again. “I’m surprised you know him so well.”
Oops. He’d gotten so caught up in talking to her he’d forgotten himself. He was supposed to be pretending not to be so familiar with Seteth.
“It’s not from school. He’s an old family friend.”
And in Claude’s defense, that wasn’t technically a lie.
“Oh. You must be glad to have him here, then.” Byleth paused and briefly pulled her phone out of her pocket to check it. “I’m sorry, Claude, but I have a meeting with my advisor. It was nice talking with you.”
Nice was the word to sum up this whole conversation, that was for sure. Byleth was being so nice to him, just like she would be to anyone, because she was a nice person. It was completely superficial.
And yet, he couldn’t deny that he enjoyed even this. It wasn’t anywhere near where they’d once been, they way they used to confide in each other. But just being able to talk to her, to have her here, real and tangible, before him . . . well, it wasn’t enough, not really. But it was something, for now.
“Sure, don’t let me keep you. I just wanted to. You know. Introduce myself.”
Okay, it also still kind of sucked.
Byleth thanked him, offered to talk to him again soon, all of the generic good-bye stuff, and was on her way. The students from the next class were entering the room, and Claude hardly had any reason to stay, so he left as well.
Remembering Hilda’s complaint from the other day, Claude checked his phone on his way out of the building. But he hadn’t heard from her at all, and he wasn’t feeling particularly hungry himself, so he decided to head right back to his dorm.
Someone was sitting in the common area when he arrived. This in itself was not particularly unusual, but the person himself was unexpected.
“Claude, hello! I’m . . . sorry we keep meeting like this.”
This was in fact exactly how Claude and Dimitri had first met at the beginning of the previous semester. It wasn’t hard to assume Dimitri was sitting here again now for the same reason he had then.
“Sylvain leave the good old sock on the door again?”
“I’m afraid so.”
Sylvain had a habit of bringing girls back to his dorm to hook up, and locking his roommates out in the process. Dimitri had previously admitted to being uncomfortable waiting in his own common area when this happened, since he could sometimes still hear what was going on. That was how he had first found himself outside Claude’s room, despite living another floor up. And it was why he was here now, apparently.
Dimitri blushed suddenly and continued, “I don’t think I will be requiring any, ah, revenge this time, however. It seems our last attempt only succeeded in amusing Sylvain. He was very impressed that I had finally . . . I believe his words were ‘gotten some’.”
Claude snorted. He shrugged his shoulders, “Alas, my plans do boast a pretty impressive success rate, but nobody’s perfect.”
Given that Claude was still standing here, dealing with the fallout of that particular scheme himself, it definitely hadn’t been one of his best.
“I promise not to hold it against you, if I am ever looking for someone to plot with in the future.”
Claude grinned, he couldn’t help it, despite the awkward situation he was in. Maybe it was because Dimitri looked so sullen sitting there alone. Or maybe because Claude knew Sylvain was likely with the girl who Hilda had set him upon in the dining hall the other day, and therefore this was partially, obscurely, his own fault. Whatever the reason, against his better judgement he found himself opening his mouth, unbidden, and saying, “You could hang out in my room while you’re waiting, if you want.”
Claude sighed as soon as he had said it. But Dimitri’s eyes lit up. “Are you sure you don’t mind?”
He should mind. Surely Dimitri would mind if he knew how committed Claude was to Byleth, even as he stood here and continued to mess with Dimitri’s feelings. But Claude just couldn’t bring himself to flat out reject him and turn him away. “'Course not. Wanna play smash?”
Dimitri’s eyes widened, and his blush returned.
Somehow, Claude managed to hold himself together and not laugh, “You know, Super Smash Bros.? The video game? On my Nintendo?”
Dimitri was at least not afraid to laugh at himself, “Right, of course. That sounds fun.”
Claude let them in, then unceremoniously shoved all of the clutter covering his bed to the floor. Dimitri winced slightly as it all clattered to the ground, but he kept any judgement he might be feeling to himself. Claude shrugged and muttered something about cleaning it up later. Which he probably would not do, if he was being honest, but that was his problem.
Claude flopped onto his bed. Dimitri attempted to sit in his desk chair, found it was also buried under a stack of books and games, and climbed up to sit on the bed as well.
Claude was hardly a pro, but Dimitri had never played before and it showed in their first few rounds. But he picked it up quickly and before long they were on more or less equal footing. They were so caught up in laughing, shouting, and button mashing, that a few hours had passed without their notice.
It felt so simple, Claude could almost forget how complicated everything was. Dimitri, to whom he could hardly explain he was already in love with someone who barely knew his name. And Byleth, just talking to whom was a befuddling mix of wonderful and painful.
Why did everything have to be so complicated?
Hilda is Claude's Best Man okay this is a hill I will die on
Also, apologies for the short chapter. It wasn't coming easy, and at this point I preferred to at least get something posted.
Claude is working in his study in the Royal Estate. He’s moved back into the room that had been his back when this had been the Riegan Estate, which Byleth had only willingly relinquished now that he was living here again as king consort. He doesn’t understand why she didn’t take the master suite in the first place, though she insists it was because this room reminded her of him. He still doesn’t really get it. He’d barely lived here a year before going to the monastery, which had hardly been enough time to settle in. And during the war he’d been far too busy, things far too chaotic, to even move himself into the master suite after his grandfather died, let alone decorate with any sort of personal effects. Her reasoning makes him feel warm all the same.
He glances across his desk and supposes he’s left his mark on this space, at the very least. It looks like a disaster area. Byleth chastises him for it often, claims that one of these days he’s going to lose something important and they’ll both be in trouble. But Claude maintains that it is an organized mess. He knows exactly where everything is, even if he has to dig a little to get to it. A few times he has even received a frantic or frustrated letter from his father inquiring after some document or other he’d left behind in Almyra, and every time he’s been able to identify exactly where he’d left it in perfect detail. No sweat.
This is a problem that would never even arise if he was in Almyra, of course, but it had been one of the challenges of figuring out how to navigate ruling two countries at once. Technically Byleth still has all of the authority in Fodlan and he in Almyra, but since they’re committed to staying together from here on out it’s complicated at first. They’ve settled into a routine of spending a few months at a time in each country, spreading their time evenly between the two barring any emergencies they need to address.
Claude’s father becomes acting king in Almyra when he is away, but the system in Fodlan is much more interesting. Byleth has a council that works with her on important decision making, with two members each representing the three territories, and she passes authority to them when she leaves. It’s a lot like the roundtable conferences they’d had in the Alliance, except the members of Byleth’s council are all elected representatives, chosen directly by the people in their territories. Claude is beyond proud of her for coming up with that one.
They’ve talked about setting up such a system in both Fodlan and Almyra, making them proper democratic republics, but change like that doesn’t happen overnight. Fodlan is still too delicate, and in need of a strong central government while it recovers from all of the turmoil and political upheaval its experienced in the last few years. And the respect Claude maintains in Almyra is still too tenuous for him to risk doing anything too radical. So for now they’ll both keep serving as justly as they can.
The candle on Claude’s desk is running low. It must be late, and he’s been so lost in thought the paperwork he was doing sits largely forgotten. He’s just considering it may be time to call it quits for the night when he hears the door open.
Separate chambers aside, they sleep together most nights--and usually in here--so Claude doesn’t even have to look up to know it is Byleth entering. He stands up and crosses the room to greet her.
She is smiling brightly, which is a good sign, and when he reaches her she wraps her arms around him and leans her head against his chest.
“How are you feeling?”
She’s been sick recently, and so much so this morning that they’d cancelled all of her meetings and other obligations today. On the bright side, that had been enough to finally convince her to go see Manuela. Claude’s been trying to keep up with her work as best he can, not wanting her to be too overwhelmed when she’s ready to get back to it, so this is the first time he’s seen her since then.
“Mmh, much better.” She’s still leaning against him, so the sound of her voice is muffled.
Byleth leans back to look at him again, and it dawns on Claude that something is happening. She’s awfully cuddly and in an incredibly good mood for someone who could barely get out of bed that morning. Still, nothing could have prepared him for her to say, “Claude, I’m pregnant.”
Claude doesn’t respond right away. He can’t; he is too stunned. Even when he gathers himself, all he manages is, “Wait, really?”
She nods, still smiling. “Really.”
Maybe he shouldn’t be so surprised. He understands, obviously, that this has been a possibility for some time. But now that it is a reality it hits him differently. He pulls her into an embrace again, buries his face in the crook of her neck. He doesn’t even realize he is crying until he feels his shoulders shaking. He’s not even sure why he is crying, but so many emotions are welling up inside of him so quickly he has no choice but to let them out somehow.
“Claude, what’s wrong?” Byleth asks. She sounds concerned, and Claude realizes she has misinterpreted his reaction. “Are you . . . unhappy?”
He stands up straight again, a little more composed, although there are still tears pooling in his eyes. “Not at all, I’m thrilled. I’m just . . . thank you, Byleth.”
Byleth grins at him, “Well, I can hardly take all the credit for this.”
Claude chuckles. He appreciates the jab, which helps him calm down a bit more, but that’s still not what he’s getting at. “No, what I mean is: my whole life I was always alone. I pretended like that was fine, like I didn’t care, but I was so lonely. Sometimes the loneliness was so bad I thought it would swallow me whole. But then I met you and for the first time, I didn’t feel alone anymore. And now--”
Now his family is growing even more. His heart already feels so full of love for her, he’s not sure how it could fit anymore, but he can already feel it growing.
Byleth reaches up and wipes a single stray tear from his cheek with her thumb. Her eyes are shining with unshed tears now as well, but still her smile remains. “I understand. And I promise you won’t ever have to be alone anymore. We’ll always be together now. All of us.”
Claude spent the weekend strategizing his approach with Byleth. Although it had been difficult to stomach at times, overall he had decided he was feeling optimistic.
There had definitely been a connection between him and Byleth. Even through their totally basic conversation he had been able to feel it. There were other things, too, like the way she’d taken to his nickname for her so easily and the way she’d picked right up on his joke about Seteth. She could feel it too, even if she didn’t realize it. He was sure.
At had occurred to Claude that Hilda might have been onto something when she’d suggested that he just try flirting with Byleth. He would do exactly that, and he was sure the more they interacted, the more likely it was to spark the sense of familiarity within her. In the meantime, he would also be able to gather more information and potentially discover a more concrete way to make her remember.
Besides, he had a fairly colossal advantage in winning her over, didn’t he? He knew all of her likes and dislikes, her favorite things. He knew that she loved animals, especially cats and dogs. He knew that her favorite flowers were gladiolus. He knew her favorite flavor of tea, and her penchant for sweets. He knew that she loved to fish.
He knew her , more deeply than he knew anything else.
With all of that in mind, he had formulated what he felt was a very solid plan heading into Tuesday. At the end of class he approached her again.
“Hello again, Claude.” Byleth greeted him, not pausing packing up her materials as she did.
“Hey.” Claude fidgeted, confidence faltering slightly now that he was actually in front of her. “I had a question for you, actually.”
Byleth stopped shuffling her papers and looked up at him. He grinned, feeling better now that he had her attention.
“Ever been to a cat cafe?”
Byleth’s eyes lit up, and Claude knew he was on to something. However, she quickly steeled her expression.
“Listen, I already said this to Sylvain, but if you’re trying to flirt your way into and easy A in this class, you’re barking up the wrong tree.”
Claude was too stunned to react at first, taken aback by both the total misunderstanding of his intentions and the rather unfortunate comparison to Sylvain. “What? No. I’m not trying to flirt. I just--”
Byleth arched an eyebrow, and Claude realized that even without her memory there was no point in bullshitting her. She still saw right through him. He smiled sheepishly instead, “Okay fine. I’m kind of flirting. But not ulterior motives here, honest. Just trying to get to know you.”
Byleth crossed her arms in front of her chest. Her expression still suggested she wasn’t quite buying it, “Why?”
How did Claude even begin to answer that question? There weren’t enough hours in the day to list all the reasons why, beside the fact she would think he was crazy. So he settled on, “For starters, because you seem like the type of person who would also enjoy hanging out in the company of a bunch of adorable cats.”
“And what makes you say that?”
Claude grinned and gestured towards the binder she used to keep all of her materials for class, the front of which was peppered with several cutesy cat decals.
Byleth blushed, picking up the binder and clutching it to her chest as if hiding the evidence would make him forget he ever saw it. Her voice was quieter when she admitted, “I haven’t ever been to a cat cafe.”
“Do you have any plans this weekend?”
Byleth didn’t answer him right away. For a long moment she just looked at him, really looked at him. He felt a little scrutinized, and he wasn’t sure exactly what she was looking for. But she must have found it, because finally she sighed and said, “I guess I do now. With a friend .”
The urge to pump his fist was difficult to resist, but Claude managed somehow. The smile though? There was no way he would be able to wipe that off his face. Maybe this wasn’t going exactly the way he’d wanted it to, but he could live with being a friend for now. It was certainly more than she’d thought of him a few minutes prior.
“Great! I already have your number from the syllabus. So, I’ll text you?”
“That would be fine.”
“Cool.” It was strange, not knowing what to say. Byleth had always been easy to talk to for Claude, the one person he could be himself around and never had to carefully craft his words for. The uncertainty, combined with her lukewarm reception, had him feeling a little awkward, “I’ll, uh, see you Thursday then.”
The stage was set, at least. He could worry about what to say to her when they had proper time together.
“Claude?” He’d already been on his way out the door when Byleth called out to him again. He paused and turned to face her. She offered him a tiny smile, “I’m looking forward to it.”
At least that was one thing that hadn’t changed. Whenever he felt like he was losing hope, she was always there to pull him back from the brink.
Their son is five years old, and Claude cannot believe how quickly time is passing. The little one is changing and growing so quickly Claude can hardly keep up.
But he is not the only one. Claude feels acutely aware of how he himself has changed as well. Being king could be incredibly stressful, and it has left him with more than a few premature gray hairs. Every time he looks in the mirror he notices a new crease in his forehead, or beneath his eyes.
It’s a sharp contrast to Byleth, who looks exactly the same as she did the day she cut through the darkness, the same as the day she had returned to him after her five year nap. At the time they’d been too busy fighting a war to realize the gravity of her static appearance. Now it is impossible to ignore the way he grows older every day while she remained unchanged.
Claude is still young, healthy and thriving, but it is hard not to dwell on his own mortality in the face of Byleth’s eternity.
He climbs into bed with her, settles in and wraps his arms around her. She begins to card her fingers through his hair.
Byleth must have caught on to what he’d been observing in the mirror, because she tugs lightly on one of his grays and says, “I think they make you look sophisticated.”
Claude sighs, “I don’t care about how they look. It’s what they mean.”
Byleth lets out a sigh of her own. Her hand stills atop his head, and she is silent for a long, thoughtful moment. When she finally speaks, her voice is uncharacteristically hesistant, “What if they didn’t have to mean anything?”
The air is heavy between them, Claude is no fool, and it's not hard to guess what she’s getting at, but he needs to hear her actually say it, “What do you mean?”
“What if you didn’t have to get older? We could stay just like this. Together.”
There it is. He’s considered it before, of course, thought about it countless times if he is being completely honest with himself. Obviously she’s been thinking about it too. But now she’s said it out loud. They’ve turned a corner now, one they will not be able to backtrack from for better or worse.
Byleth must sense that too, and must be interpreting his silence as a negative reaction.She’s started running her fingers through his hair again, but now the movement feels nervous and fidgety.
“Can you do that?”
The question seems to reassure Byleth that he is considering her offer, and her hand calms again. “Rhea can. I believe I can too.”
Claude pauses again. It’s a lot to think about after all. Inmortality is nothing to sneeze at. But for now he just wants to ease the tension, so he says, “Well if that’s what we’re going to do, we’d better hurry and do it, before I’m so old and gray you don’t even want me around anymore.”
Byleth actually looks a little angry at first, a frown darkening her features. But it softens before long, and she shakes her head, “Never. Even if you said no, if you decided to grow old, I would stay by your side. Always.”
Claude braces his arms on either side of her, lifts himself up so he can gaze down at her, expression reverent. He’d been half joking when he’d spoken, and he’s caught off guard by her sincere response.
“After all,” She continues, grinning up at him mischievously, “I love you, Claude Von Riegan. More than all of the stars in the sky.”
Claude collapses gently on top of her again, tucks his face into the crook of her neck. He’s smiling so wide she can probably feel it. “And here I thought all of those years of Alymran lessons had amounted to nothing."
“I’ve been keeping that one in my back pocket for a while now.” Byleth answers smugly.
He thinks this about three times a day on average, but Claude is certain he’s never been more in love than in this moment.
“Yes,” He says suddenly.
“Yes, I want to do it. I want to spend the rest of forever with you.”
Claude was vibrating with nervous energy by Saturday. Hilda had weaseled the news out of him on Wednesday night during dinner, and had been relentlessly teasing him ever since.
Claude wasn’t the sort to lose his cool easily. Generally he could take things in stride, and when that was a challenge he made up for it by being an impressive planner. He knew he was nervous about his upcoming outing with Byleth, because he spent every spare moment over the week brainstorming conversation topics and planning the course of them out in his head. It was largely futile, since their conversation wasn’t likely to follow his plan at all, but it at least gave him something more productive to think about.
He’d also had to turn down invitations from Dimitri three times over the course of the week. He was running out of excuses that were sufficient but not completely horrible. Another thing he would have to brainstorm.
Now he was standing outside the cafe, embarrassingly fidgety. Fortunately, before he had time to overthink the situation any more than he already had, he saw Byleth approaching.
“Hi, I hope I didn’t keep you waiting too long.”
"Nah, I just got here. Shall we?"
This was a first time experience for Claude as well as he knew it was for Byleth. But he wasn't all that interested in taking in the cat cafe. He was too busy watching her take it in. Her eyes were shining as she looked at all of the cats lounging about in the cozy room, her smile bright. As far as Claude was concerned, the whole day was already worth it just to see the look on her face now.
He offered to get her a drink, but she was apparently determined to hold a hard line on this not being a date, so she declined. He just got himself a black coffee instead, and found a table in the corner so they could have some space from the other people in the cafe.
When she joined him a few moments later with a tea of her own he smiles, "Almyran blend, nice choice. That's a personal fave."
"It's very good," Byleth agreed, "I hope you don't mind me making an assumption, but you're Almyran yourself, aren't you?"
Claude shook his head, "it's a pretty obvious assumption to make. I'm half, actually, but I did live in Almyra most of my life. I basically moved here to come to school."
"That must have been a big change."
"I mean, my mom's from Fodlan, so I've always known the language and the food, some of the customs, that sort of stuff. But in some ways, yeah, it's definitely been a lot. Like having to start all over, you know?"
Byleth took a sip of her tea, looking thoughtful. Her thoughts were rather abruptly distracted, however, when an orange cat suddenly jumped into her lap, vying for her attention. She laughed happily, putting her cup down so she could pet the cat properly. Claude watched, again getting his own happiness just from seeing her smile. This time he could see in her eyes that their conversation was still heavy on her mind though.
"I know what that's like," Byleth looked up to meet his eyes again as she spoke, even as she continued to absentmindedly stroke the cat, "Dad's an adjunct, and he's changed schools often because of it. We never really went more than a year or two without moving."
"Dad?" Claude asked, doing his best to sound curious. He knew she meant Jerslt, of course, but she didn't know he knew that.
"Ah, right. Professor Eisner is my father. It's not a secret or anything, we just don't go out of our way to share it with students."
"I see. Don't worry, Teach, your non-secret is safe with me."
Byleth grinned, "Thanks. And, I don't mean to sound ungrateful to him. Being an adjunct doesn't pay much, and he was always looking to get the best job he could to provide for me. I appreciate everything he's done. Being uprooted so often didn't make it very easy to make friends, though."
"I know what that's like. Being mixed doesn't make it very easy to make friends in Almyra, either. And for what it's worth, you don't sound ungrateful at all."
This was maybe not the tone one would want their conversation to take when on not-quite-a-date. But Claude couldn't help but be glad that they were finding this common ground again. This was easily the most meaningful conversation they'd had since she'd walked into his class that day.
Besides, Byleth was smiling that bright, genuine smile again, the way she had looked when they first walked into the cafe. But now she was smiling at him .
She'd looked at him like this countless times before, of course, but it was the first time this Byleth had done so. Claude felt warmth spreading through his chest. She must have caught him looking at her looking at him, because she quickly averted her gaze down to the cat in her lap.
It was quiet for a long moment after that. Tension buzzed in the air, but it wasn't awkward or uncomfortable. It felt more like something was shifting between them, although for her part Byleth seemed determined to ignore it. She had turned her attention fully back to the cat now. Claude let her have a moment, quietly sipping his coffee and observing.
He himself was feeling conflicted. On the one hand, even in this short time together he felt they had grown much closer. On the other hand, even with such a connection she didn't seem to be showing the slightest hint of recognition. It was definitely progress, but maybe not the sort he was hoping for.
Byleth looked at him again, "I can't believe I've never been here before. This was a really good idea, Claude, thank you for inviting me."
Maybe it wasn't exactly what Claude was hoping for, but Byleth was happy, and that was enough. For now he would enjoy the moment.
"What can I say, Teach? I'm known to have the occasional good idea." He winked, then his eyes quickly scanned the room before he returned his gaze to her and grinned, "Looks like they have some toys to play with the cats over there."
Those seemed to be the magic words. Byleth's eyes lit up, and she hurried to retrieve a feather toy. Apparently as much an animal whisperer as she ever was, before long she had a small herd of cats milling around her and playing as she dangled the toy over them.
Claude smiled as he watched her, the woman he was supposed to have spent an eternity with. He wondered what could have gone so wrong to have pulled them apart. He wondered what he had to do to truly bring them together again.
But then, when it was time to leave and it was Byleth who said, "That was nice, we should do it again some time," he couldn't help but feel he was moving in the right direction.
I looked up the plural form of gladiolus and got three different answers so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Sorry I've slowed down but I promise I am still working. Things are really going to heat up from here, so stay tuned!
"The council seems ready to vote in favor of ratifying the new constitution, which would dissolve the monarchy and officially establish a democratically elected executive power."
There is a long pause as everyone absorbs Byleth's words. They are not news to anyone in the room. But they represent the culmination of decades of work, finally about to come to fruition. The finality of her words is powerful. As is the new sense of uncertainty they carry with them.
It is Flayn who gives voice to the question on all of their minds, "What will you do now?"
Byleth looks down for a long moment, gaze distant as she thinks the question over. When she looks back up her eyes meet Claude's. Her face communicates to him as clearly as if she spoke aloud. She is deferring the question to him.
Claude thinks it over himself. What will he do now? Most of their friends have passed on, besides Seteth and Flayn. Their children grown and gone as well. And their responsibility to Fodlan, after all of this time, is finally coming to an end.
He smiles at her, "I don't know about you, but I could really use a break."
Byleth nods, "That does sound nice."
"You'll be leaving then?" Flayn's voice has taken a sad tone.
It is Seteth who answers her, "As much as it pains me as well, I think it is probably for the best. We want to avoid a repeat of Rhea's situation, after all."
"That's true," Claude agrees. "And you know if you stay, they'll just vote you right in again. Whether you want it or not."
If the look on her face is any indication, that possibility has not even occurred to Byleth. He isn't sure how she could miss it. Even as years, decades passed, as they grew further from the war that had marked her a hero, as new generations had come into their own, the people of Fodlan's love for Byleth never wavered. She is probably the most beloved ruler in the continent's history, and has been for longer than most people even live.
But not unlike Seteth had said, this is all the more reason that it is time to pass the torch.
"besides, I think it's safe to say you've both more than earned it, at this point." Seteth concludes.
Flayn still wears a sad expression, "I cannot argue with that. We will miss you terribly though."
"I'm sure this won't be the last we see of each other." Byleth reassures.
There is no doubt that it is a bittersweet moment. There had been a time long ago in his days at Garreg Mach--when Flayn had been little more than another mystery to solve, Seteth a roadblock between him and the answers he sought--that Claude would have been hard pressed to believe it. But now there is no denying: they are like family to him. This change has been a long time coming, but it is not without its sacrifices.
And yet, ever the pragmatist, that is not the first thing on Claude's mind.
"So, how exactly does one disappear from the public eye after over 100 years?"
Seteth grins, "You can leave the disappearing act to me, I've become rather adept at it after all these years. You two go, live your lives. I'll take care of the particulars here, and then I suspect it is time for Flayn and I to move on as well."
Claude takes a deep breath. He is feeling some anxiety about closing the book on this chapter after so long, as anyone would. But more than anything, he's looking forward to his new beginning with Byleth.
Claude and Byleth did in fact go out again sometimes, and before long that had turned into many times. A few short weeks into the semester it had become their habit to join each other in the dining hall after class at least once a week.
"I don't know how you did it, man," Sylvain commented one day after class. Byleth had a meeting about her thesis this evening, and so had declined Claude's dinner invitation. Sylvain had quickly jogged to catch up with him on his way out the door. "She was a total ice queen when I talked to her on the first day of class. I'm pretty sure I'm still defrosting."
"It's because you've got the wrong idea. She doesn't turn me down because I'm not hitting on her. We're just friends."
Claude wasn't just blowing Sylvain off, either. As much as it pained him to admit it, that was the truth. Byleth had continued to maintain a hard line when it came to romance. The more time they spent together the more Claude found himself absentmindedly starting to do things like take her hand, or reach out to tuck her hair behind her ear. Luckily he'd caught himself before he'd done it every time so far, because Byleth was sure not to take kindly to the unexpected affection. But the closer they grew now, the harder it was for Claude to keep in mind that they weren't as close as his memories suggested.
She still had no memories of how close they truly were, despite his best efforts.
"Nah, there's gotta be more to it than that. She still barely talks to me at all."
"That's probably because you are incapable of talking to a woman without hitting on her." Felix, who had followed along after Sylvain, quipped. The two of them came and went from class together every day, and apparently Sylvain tagging after Claude didn't change that.
Sylvain looked like he wanted to argue, but he was distracted before he had the chance. They had reached the foyer of the Humanities building, and yet another person was approaching their little group.
"Ah, Claude, will you be joining us this evening?"
It was Dimitri.
Claude had no idea what Dimitri was talking about. He hadn't intentionally joined anyone, after all; he'd been followed without invitation. As far as he knew they'd just been headed back to the dorms. His confusion must have shown on his face, because Felix sighed impatiently and said, "We're just going to the dining hall."
Dimitri was smiling warmly. What business did he have being so hopeful, when Claude had let his hopes down so many times already? This was a pretty harmless opportunity for him to not reject Dimitri's invitation, though. His friends would be there too after all.
"I wasn't planning on it, but if that's cool I don't see why not."
"Excellent!" Dimitri replied. Claude felt a pang of guilt at his enthusiasm.
"Fine by me, but you've got to let me in on your secret for winning over Byleth." Sylvain added, apparently still unwilling to let it go.
Claude held his breath, turning his attention back to Dimitri, who looked confused as expected. "Who's Byleth?"
"She's the teacher for our class, and she and Claude are totally a thing."
"She's a teaching assistant and we're not a thing. You could get her in a lot of trouble just saying things like that."
Dimitri was looking between them bemusedly, probably trying to discern whose version of the story was more accurate. Claude could hear how defensive he sounded and knew it was not helping his case at all. The words may be true, but even that could not easily disguise the truth of his feelings now.
"It is pretty scandalous, isn't it?" Sylvain continued in an impressive if unfortunate display of tenacity, "you're kind of into that, huh? First you hooked up with Dimitri when he was basically a total stranger and now you're going for the professor."
The silence was immediate and deafening. Claude felt his face grow hot. Dimitri's jaw slackened. Felix rolled his eyes. And Sylvain looked between them all as if he had no idea what he's said to garner such a reaction.
". . . You know, I'm actually not that hungry, so I think I'll just head back to my room. But, uh, thanks for the invite."
Claude did not wait for any of them to respond before he turned and hurried for the door. Behind him he heard Sylvain yelp, "Ouch! You didn't have to hit me so hard!" Dimitri was calling after him, too, but he did not stop or turn around.
His cheeks were still burning. It wasn't Claude's habit to let the things people said about him bother him. He wasn't sure what it was about Sylvain's words that affected him so much. Maybe it was because, in a way, he was right. Or maybe because in other ways he was completely wrong, but Claude couldn't explain why or defend himself with the truth. Maybe it was just because Sylvain had said it all in front of Dimitri.
The fresh air on his walk back to the dorms helped to clear his head, and by the time he stepped on to his floor he was much calmer. Perhaps Sylvain's gaffe had been for the best. It was all out in the open for Dimitri now, that which Claude had been avoiding saying. This was obviously not Claude's ideal way for him to find out, but at least now he could move on.
Claude should probably still apologize to Dimitri, now both for blowing him off and for being dishonest about it. He would have to think about how to do so later, though, because he had come back to find Hilda, Marianne, and Lorenz sitting in their common area. They had various study materials scattered across the coffee table in front of them.
"Do my eyes deceive me? Or is that Hilda I see, actually looking at a textbook?"
Hilda did in fact have a textbook in her lap, although she looked positively miserable to be reading it, "trust me when I say I would rather be doing literally anything else. But it's not like I have much of a choice, with midterms next week."
Claude scoffed, "It's not midterms next week."
Three pairs of eyes looked up at him, expressions ranging from sympathetic to judgmental.
Claude paled, "it's not really midterms next week?"
"Sorry to break it to you, but yeah, it is."
Lorenz looked like he was loving every second of Claude's rude awakening. He wore a superior expression, "What's the matter, Claude? Feeling underprepared after shirking your studies all semester?"
Normally Claude was loathe to admit Lorenz's criticisms of him were correct. But he had definitely been shirking his studies. He'd been so caught up on figuring out his situation with Byleth the testing week had really snuck up on him. He was not the least bit ready.
"A certain someone been a little too distracting for you perhaps?" Hilda added coyly.
Claude gave her a withering look. She wasn't wrong, obviously, but that was entirely more information than he wanted to give Lorenz of all people.
He groaned, "Well, if any of you need me in the next week, I will be holed up in my room, studying around the clock and hating my life."
Claude can only admit that fishing is not his favorite pastime.
He's never been one for sitting still, always needing to be working on something, moving forward. When he does relax, it usually comes in the form of a nap. There is no relaxation when he is awake, really, because even when his body stops his mind never does. It all comes together to make him absolutely disastrous at fishing. He's either so lost in his own thoughts that he gets distracted and loses the fish, or he's properly focused on his task but he gets impatient and reels the line in too fast.
Byleth loves to fish, though, and that is more than enough for Claude to acquiesce to spending a day lakeside. He can’t remember the last time she properly had the chance. Not to mention she was a masterful fisher, so much so that she could even make it interesting to watch. Claude remembers sitting beside her on the dock at Garreg Mach for hours at a time when he had been enrolled in the academy, watching her work, listening as she told him about the different types of fish she caught, talking about anything from upcoming missions to that day's meal at the dining hall in between. Today he’d started with the intention to join in the sport along with her, although it hadn’t taken long for him to abandon his own rod in favor of observing her.
Well, he’s mostly observing her. He’s also chattering away at her.
“You’re scaring all the fish away.” Byleth chastises. There may be some truth to her words, too, because her bucket is still largely empty. It's a much smaller haul than she would normally have amassed by now.
“You’re ignoring me,” Claude whines, plastering on the most impressive pout he can muster. But she gives him a look, and he’s mostly joking anyway, so he relents, “Alright, alright. I’ll be quiet.”
His efforts are for naught, though, because at the end of the day she’s still caught almost nothing. Byleth admits to being disappointed, but assures him she enjoyed herself regardless. Still, they both cannot help but wonder what went wrong. Claude does his best to ignore the uneasy feeling in his gut.
Maybe the fish just aren’t biting.
Claude hastily avoided eye contact with Sylvain when he entered their Military History class. He wasn’t really even mad at Sylvain, he just didn’t want to think about it. A few hours after the whole debacle Dimitri had texted him apologizing for Sylvain and asking if they could talk. Days later Claude still had not replied. It left a bad taste in his mouth to see Dimitri saying sorry when Claude was the one who should be apologizing. And truthfully he was avoiding the conversation he knew as well as Dimitri they needed to have.
Not to mention, he couldn’t afford to let his drama with Dimitri be the focus of his attention right now.
At the end of class he slinked sheepishly up to Byleth’s podium, “Hey, Teach? I need a favor.”
Byleth crossed her arms in front of her chest and arched an accusatory eyebrow, “Oh, I’m looking forward to this. What could it possibly be?”
Claude held his arms up in front of him as if in surrender, “Okay, I totally understand and deserve your negative assumption, but I’m really not up to anything this time. Just an honest request, from student to teacher.”
Byleth’s expression instantly softened. She was obviously still listening, so Claude continued, “I, uh, I’m seriously not prepared for the test next week. I could really use some help.”
Byleth frowned, “Claude, if you aren’t understanding things in class I hope you know you can always speak up.”
“Oh no, it’s not that at all. You’re always crystal clear in class.” The last thing Claude wanted was for Byleth to think this was a reflection of her. She was an excellent teacher as he well knew. “I haven’t been as focused as I should have. Definitely one hundred percent my bad. So if you can’t or won’t I understand, but I could really use your help studying.”
“Of course I’m happy to help. Even if you should have been more focused before, it’s good you’re taking the initiative to do something about it.”
Claude let out a deep breath, “Thank you! I owe you big time. Want to meet at the library?”
Byleth’s reaction to the suggestion was unexpected, her expression almost one of mild disgust, “Maybe not the library. There’s . . . a lot of background noise. It’s too distracting for me.”
That was curious. Especially considering that Claude regularly saw Byleth working at a table by the campus cafe downstairs, objectively a much noisier space than the library. He took a moment to try to puzzle out what she might mean, but he was unable to figure it out. He supposed that would just have to be a mystery to solve another day.
Meanwhile, Byleth seemed to be thoughtfully considering something herself. “Since I don’t have an office on campus I keep most of my materials at my apartment. It might be easier if you just come over tomorrow afternoon, if that’s alright with you. It’s only a few minutes off campus.”
The implications of being invited to Byleth’s apartment were not lost on Claude; he took another deep breath and reminded himself she almost certainly didn’t intend them. “It’s fine with me. As long as I’m not imposing.”
Byleth smiled, “Not at all. Why don’t you come around seven?”
She had packed up her things and gathered them to leave, motioning for him to follow. He did so, and affirmed that her plan worked for him.
“Great, then I’ll see you tomorrow. Enjoy your evening, Claude.”
She waved and was on her way. Claude remained rooted to the spot outside the classroom for a moment, trying to regulate his racing heart and his rising hope. He had asked for a completely platonic study session, and she had agreed to his request. He was setting himself up for disappointed by reading any more into it than that.
He was still standing there agonizing over it when Seteth rounded the corner from a nearby corridor.
“Claude, how fortunate that we’ve run into each other here. I was hoping to have a word, do you have a moment?”
Claude nodded and allowed Seteth to lead the way up to his office on the third floor. He entered and took a seat in the chair across from the desk. Seteth shut the door behind them and took a seat himself.
“So, what’s up?”
“I simply wanted to check in. It has been a while since we last spoke, after all.”
Claude looked at him, a disbelieving expression on his face. The more he remembered about Seteth the more he understood how much he meant it when he said he cared about Claude. But he still wasn’t the sort to casually check in on someone just to catch up.
Seteth seemed to realize he would not be getting away with that approach. He sighed, “I had a meeting with Byleth the other day. She seemed to be in especially good spirits. I take that to mean you two have been growing close recently?”
The idea of Byleth going about her day, happier just for having spent time with Claude was enough to set his heart hammering again. He took a deep breath, reminding himself yet again not to get carried away by his hopes. “We have, but I don’t think that’s what’s got her in such a good mood. She’s been keeping me at arms length at best.”
“Well, even though she is officially only a student herself, she is still your teacher. I think it’s perfectly natural for her to be reticent about any budding feelings she may have for you. She could hardly expect myself to take kindly to such a relationship, for example.”
“If I could figure out how to restore her memories she would know she doesn’t have to worry about that. But she still remembers nothing.” Seteth definitely had something to say to that, as Claude knew he would. He opened his mouth to do so, but Claude didn’t give him the chance, “Save your 'I told you so.' I haven’t even thought about giving up yet. I know there’s a way.”
Seteth pinched the bridge of his nose, “I know better than to waste my breath trying to talk you out of something you’ve set your mind to. But I do ask you to consider reflecting on whether or not that is the best course of action for you or for Byleth.”
Claude wondered what seteth could mean by that. He was curious enough that he had no choice but to consider the words, although he couldn’t imagine how anything could possibly be better for them than being together as they were before. Seteth clearly recognized that Claude was thinking it over, because he allowed the silence to go on for a moment. When he finally spoke again, he blessedly kept his word and did not lecture any further.
“You’re still reclaiming your memories, I presume?”
Claude nodded, “I dream constantly about it, every time I sleep.”
Seteth hesitated, possibly trying to determine how to ask his next question tactfully, “Have you remembered anything . . . noteworthy recently?”
Claude considered this as well. To him it was all noteworthy. But Seteth was obviously fishing for something, checking to see if Claude remembered a particular event without giving too much away. Claude didn’t think he’d encountered anything that would stand out to Seteth in such a way, and yet . . . “Maybe not, but the dreams have felt different lately. They’re moving faster; in the last few weeks I’ve seen more than a lifetime go by. It’s like they’re really focused on specific moments, like they’re building up to something. But I don’t know what yet. Obviously.”
Seteth’s expression was grim. Claude desperately wished he had the benefit of his insight. He also realized Seteth wasn’t going to give up his knowledge easily. After thousands of years he was nothing if not stuck in his ways.
“Well, I can’t very well suggest you stop remembering, even if I thought that best, since you clearly have no control over it,” Seteth’s facial expression remained as ominous as his words, “Furthermore, as we’ve already agreed there must be a reason you’re remembering these things.”
“Right.” Claude replied uncertainly. Seteth must have had a point he was trying to make, but he didn’t seem to be in a hurry to let Claude in on what it was, “No offense, but are you going somewhere with this? Other than restating the obvious, I mean.”
Seteth grimaced, displaying his offense regardless. But then he let out a long sigh, and when he responded his eyes looked sad, “Just . . . to remind you. That if at any point you need help making sense of the things you remember, I’ll be here.”
Claude still didn’t feel he truly understood what Seteth was trying to tell him.
He hoped he was ready to find out.
lol I mentioned the characters playing smash in this fic and now Byleth is going to be in smash. Who knew!
Another shorter chapter, but it was a lot of necessary transition before things start to really heat up next chapter. Look forward to some big twists soon.
They spend some time traveling, seeing the world. But when they are ready to settle down they return to Almyra. Claude had relinquished his power in Almyra far earlier, having passed it on to their son, and so their faces are more of a distant memory to the people there. It was much easier to remain anonymous here than in Fodlan, where most people still knew what they looked like, and those who didn't could probably still recognize Byleth on her hair color alone.
They make a home for themselves in relative isolation not far from the border at Fodlan's Throat. It's the perfect location in that it is both far from Almyra's capital, the one place they're still somewhat likely to be recognized, and not far from Fodlan, which is comforting to Byleth. She never has to be too far from the first place she called home, the one she had made it her life's work to protect.
Today Byleth heads into the nearby village to do some shopping. When she returns, she looks pensive.
"How was your trip?" Claude asks. He can tell she has something to say about it, and he's curious to discover what.
"There were a few merchants from Fodlan in town today."
"So, what's the news from the homefront?" Claude asks, a little more cautious. He has a pretty good feeling from Byleth's demeanor that he knows where this conversation is going.
"There's a famine in the Adrestia territory."
She looks personally devastated by this news. Claude understands why. She spent so long being responsible for the safety and well being of the people of Fodlan, it has not been easy for her to let it go. She can't stand to hear about their misfortune or watch it from a distance.
Claude offers her a reassuring smile, "Byleth, my love, you instituted what is easily the most comprehensive aid system in the entire world in Fodlan. While I'm sorry to hear they're struggling, I'm also confident they will survive it just fine."
She does not look the least bit placated. Claude is hardly surprised. This is not the first conversation if this nature they've had recently. Fodlan has been experiencing a string of bad luck recently, ranging from a drought along the west coast, to a rather nasty smallpox outbreak in and around Derdriu, and now this. Byleth seems to grow more anxious with each piece of bad news.
"You know I can't help but worry."
Claude closes the the distance between them. He holds her head in his hands, presses their foreheads together, "I do know, and your compassion is one of the most incredible things about you. But they have to learn to live without you, By. Unless you want to go back and be in charge forever.”
Dinner is a little tense that evening. Byleth knows he is right, Claude knows, as well as he knows that she is happy to have left her role as queen behind. But he also understands it is not so easy to change her mindset.
Afterwards he wraps his arms around her and hugs her from behind, “You know if you really wanted to go back I would support you, right?”
Byleth leans her head back to rest against him, “I know. And I understand why I can’t. I just hate doing nothing.”
Claude tucks his chin over her head. Finally he can feel the tension in the room dissipating. They don’t argue often, it is perhaps a stretch to even call this an argument, but they are usually so on the same page that even minor disagreements feel all wrong. He is ready to get back to normalcy.
The normalcy doesn’t last long, however. They are interrupted by a knock at the door.
Byleth pulls away from him, looks at him bemusedly. Claude can only shrug his shoulders in response. They keep to themselves for the most part, and that is intentional. He can’t imagine who would be calling on them unexpectedly.
Curiosity piqued, Byleth heads for the door. Claude watches the exchange, but he doesn’t recognize their caller, and it doesn’t seem like she does either. Whoever it is only stays for a moment or two before Byleth is left shutting the door behind him, still looking perplexed and now holding a rolled up document in her hand, “It’s a message,” she says uncertainly, “but who could have possible found us to have it delivered?”
“Who would even be looking?” Claude considers possible answers to his own question. Seteth would never risk communicating so soon, and while Flayn might be more tempted certainly she still knew better. As far as the rest of the world was concerned they were gone beyond contact, written out of their own lives by a fabrication of Seteth’s design. Not just anyone would have been able to see through that easily.
Byleth shrugs her shoulders, “There’s only one way to find out.”
She opens the enigmatic missive. Claude watches with a degree of impatience as her eyes skim across the words, taking in its contents. When she looks up to meet his eyes again, his stomach drops upon seeing the look on her face. He knows immediately that something is not right, though he is still entirely unprepared for what she tells him.
“It’s from Rhea.”
Claude hesitated outside the door to Byleth’s apartment. Every nerve in his body was buzzing. He wasn’t sure what he was worked up about. He knew Byleth only had innocent intentions for their study session after all.
He only hoped he could keep his own expectations in check.
Taking a final deep breath, he knocked three times resolutely. There was a brief pause and then he heard her footsteps approaching the door. She undid the bolt lock and opened the door for him.
Byleth stood in the doorway before him. That was obviously expected, but Claude was momentarily stunned regardless. She was wearing a pair of leggings and a black tank top not unlike the one she used to wear beneath her armor, with a high neckline and a cut out in the front. It took every ounce of willpower he possessed to keep his gaze up and staunchly directed back at hers.
“Come on in, Claude.” She offered with a warm smile, stepping aside so he had space to cross the threshold. Judging by her demeanor she was either completely unaware of the effect she was having on him or she was choosing to ignore it. Knowing her, Claude couldn’t help but suspect it was the latter.
And yet, even as worked up as he was, it was hard to stay anxious in Byleth’s presence. With the help of her calming influence, whether she knew she was exerting it or not, he felt himself relax as his focus shifted from avoiding staring to taking in the details of her home.
It was a nice place. He’d entered into a combined kitchen and dining room space. This seemed to be where she intended for them to work, as the table was already piled with her books and materials. Through a large, open doorway he could see a cozy looking living room, and offset from there was a hallway that looked to contain several more rooms. It was much bigger than he’d expected.
“Thanks again for having me, Teach. Should I just leave my stuff here?” He motioned toward the table, not wanting to get too comfortable without permission. But once Byleth gave him the okay he dropped his backpack into a chair and immediately set the looking around again, unable to curb his curiosity.
There were several photos on the fridge, which naturally became the next target for Claude’s attention. He leaned in to take a closer look; they all turned out to be of Byleth at various stages of childhood, which was adorable but a curious decorating decision on her part. At least it seemed curious at first, until Claude combined this new information with his previous observation that this was a very nice, very large apartment for a college student to afford, and it all clicked into place. He turned away from the fridge to face her, “Wait, does Jer--Professor Eisner live here too?”
Upon noticing what Claude was looking at Byleth hastily moved to position herself between him and the fridge. Claude was reminded of the time she tried to cover up her cat stickers from his notice, as if he would somehow forget the sight of the things he had already seen. He was loathe to tell her that his sense of object permanence was not so easily swayed, but any teasing on the subject was going to have to wait as he was far more curious to hear her answer to his question, “He does. Sorry, I suppose I should have given you the heads up about that. But don’t worry; he’s out drinking with his friend Alois, which means he won’t be back until much later.”
Claude smiled fondly. It made him happy to think of Byleth and Jeralt having this casual, domestic life, something they had never gotten but so desperately deserved. Not to mention the humor in seeing the things that hadn’t changed at all, if Byleth’s comment about Jeralt’s time at the bar was anything to go by.
He must have made his amusement more transparent than he’d intended, because Byleth wrinkled her nose and said, “What?”
“Nothing. You two are obviously really close, is all.”
Byleth shrugged her shoulders, “It must seem strange, that I basically live in a bachelor pad with my father, right? But that’s just sort of the way things are with us. He’s always treated me more like an equal than his kid. Like we’re partners, sort of.”
Byleth was flushing lightly, clearly having embarrassed herself with that moment of vulnerability. Claude smiled wider, “It’s not strange. Sounds really nice, actually. My parents just treat me like a pain in the ass, mostly. To be fair, that’s because I am a pain in the ass. But still.”
The joke worked, if the way the corners of her mouth upturned into the tiniest of grins was any indication. Byleth proved eager to move on from the topic regardless. “Anyway, while we’re standing here, would you like something to drink before we get started?”
Byleth turned around and held open the refrigerator door. Claude glanced past her to view its contents, noting a bottom shelf filled almost entirely with amber bottles. He grinned slyly, “Why Teach, not trying to loosen me up with alcohol in order to seduce me are you? How scandalous.”
Byleth shut the door before looking back at him. With a roll of her eyes she held out a bottle of water, “I’m not. But if you want to steal one of my father’s beers be my guest. I promise he’ll notice.”
“Water’s great, thanks.” Claude replied with a nervous chuckle. He might not be a famed mercenary anymore, but Jeralt remained firmly at the top of the list of people Claude did not want to make an enemy of. “Let’s get studying, then.”
They settled down at the kitchen table. Byleth asked him, “Where should we start?” When claude only looked at her sheepishly, she let out a tiny sigh and opened up the textbook to the beginning of the first chapter.
They worked their way jovially through the content. They chatted lightly, occasionally joking as Byleth reviewed the material and quizzed him. Claude felt like he’d barely had time to blink when Byleth paused, but a glance at the clock on the wall revealed hours had passed.
When Byleth had remained silent for longer than expected Claude looked at her to see what was the matter. She was already looking at him, really looking, a soul-searching sort of stare. Claude felt scrutinized. He found he couldn’t stand to hold her eye contact for long, and looking elsewhere on her person was hardly an option; his eyes fell to the floor instead.
“Claude, I just don’t understand,” Byleth began slowly, revealing the question she’d been searching for the answer to in his face, “You’re picking all of this up so quickly. You’ve never missed a class, and I’m not explaining anything differently. What was the disconnect?”
Claude lifted his eyes to her again. He briefly weighed the pros and cons of telling her the truth versus lying before settling on a mostly neutral, “I was distracted in class.”
He wondered how she could possibly not notice how desperately in love with her he was, how much she consumed his thoughts. Or maybe he was underestimating her, maybe she had noticed and she was trying to open the door for him to admit it. Knowing her and seeing that contemplative look she was giving him again made him suspect he might be right. But if he misjudged that, if he opened up to her when she wasn’t expecting it and wasn’t ready to hear it, he could do irreparable damage to their relationship. Which presented the greater risk--missing his chance or jumping the gun?
He allowed himself to be distracted again. The silence was weighing heavily and Byleth was still waiting for a response, but she seemed content to wait him out for now. She didn’t brush off his staring this time either, although there was no chance she didn’t notice. He was drinking her in.
Her top left little to the imagination, but that was of little consequence when Claude didn’t need to use his imagination; he was already intimately familiar with the curves that lay beneath. He wasn’t sure if that knowledge was helping or hurting him, as his need for her grew increasingly more desperate. She was flushing right down to the hemline of her shirt, probably beyond, despite remaining stoic. It was a strong indicator that she was feeling it too.
But he must have waited too long, because Byleth shrugged off his gaze and turned her attention to shuffling the materials on the table. “Well, we already went over everything I’ve covered in class so far. I think you’re more than ready for the midterm now.”
“Right.” Regret bubbled in the pit of Claude’s stomach, rose like bile in his throat, but it was too late now. He pushed his chair back and stood up. “Guess I better head out then. Don’t want to keep you up.”
Byleth stood up as well, followed behind him to see him out. The silence was so awkward it was painful. He couldn’t even stand to look back at her, didn’t want to see her looking as disappointed as he felt or worse, not looking all that disappointed at all.
His left hand was on the doorknob when he felt her hand wrap around his right wrist.
He turned back to her, took in the fervid look on her face, and this time he did not hesitate.
Their lips crashed together. Claude had been holding back so much for so long that he didn’t have the restraint to go slow. But Byleth didn’t seem to be possessed of much patience either. She quickly took the lead, setting the pace and forcing her tongue past his lips. Byleth pressed against him, her arms between them, hands fisting in his shirt at his shoulders. Claude had no complaints, until she moved to push him up against the wall and his lower back connected directly with the doorknob.
“Ouch!” He hissed, pulling away and rubbing gingerly at the small of his back. Then he winced, holding his breath, terrified that the moment was broken and she was going to regret it.
But Byleth, breathing heavily and eyes still hungry, just huffed out, “Bedroom. Door on the left.”
Claude didn’t think he’d ever been in more of a hurry to get somewhere. They were barely through the door when Byleth was on him again. Her hands went to his hair this time, nails scraping lightly against his scalp as she gripped him by his curls. Claude groaned. This time when Byleth began pushing him backwards again she was moving towards the bed instead of the wall.
When his knees hit the edge of the bed Claude let himself fall backwards. Byleth climbed on top of him, straddling him and leaning forward to kiss him desperately again. He brought his hands to her hips, but when he began ghosting his fingers under the hem of her shirt she sat back up and quickly pulled it over her head. Claude sat back up as well, removing his own shirt as quickly as he could manage, desperate to get his hands back on her.
Byleth was sitting in his lap, grinding against him as Claude ran his hands up the plane of her stomach. Her hands were cupping his face as she continued to make out with him, much more languidly no but no less desperate. He paused his movements when he reached the edge of her bra, hesitating on his side of the line he was about to cross, but when running his fingers lightly along the curve of her breasts earned him a tiny little moan he took that as all the permission he needed, cupping at her with renewed vigor.
They continued at that pace for a few minutes more, making out and groping at each other. Vaguely, Claude wondered if this was really happening, reflected that it might be the luckiest, happiest moment of his life this time around, but the room in his brain for thoughts about anything other than Byleth’s perfect body was shrinking rapidly.
Suddenly, Byleth pulled away from him enough to push her right hand against his chest and send him flopping back against the pillows. When she swung her leg over him and climbee off the bed the whine that escaped him might be the most embarrassing sound he’s ever made, but then she grinned at him wolfishly and began to slowly shimmy out of her leggings.
“Top drawer,” She said coyly as she reached behind herself to unclasp her bra.
He didn’t dare take his eyes off her as he reached to his side, fumbled the drawer open, and began groping around inside. When his hand landed on the box of condoms, he hesitated for the second time. If he could look past how long he’d been waiting for this moment to come, they were moving awfully fast.
Then again, Byleth had climbed back onto the bed and was running her hands up his legs ever closer to his fly, and if she was willing to fly so far past the boundary she had so carefully maintained all this time then who was he to slow her down now. He took a packet in his hand and shut the drawer.
Byleth was laying atop him eye-to-eye again. They kissed once more. When they broke apart Claude said, “Byleth, I--” but she chose that moment to cup him through his jeans and the rest of his sentence was forgotten as he groaned. That was probably for the best, as he was fairly certain he’d been about to tell her he loved her, and even with the direction their evening was taking he didn’t think she was ready to hear that confession just yet.
Byleth smirked at him, kissed him lightly, plucked the packet from his hand and moved to unzip his jeans. He lifted his hips just enough for her to pull them down.
Claude buried his face in the crook of Byleth’s neck, sighing happily. Byleth was laying against the pillows, scratching lightly along his scalp again. Finally, finally they were here. Together.
He turned his head to look up at her, but she was staring off into the darkness of her room. She must have sensed his eyes on her, because her hand stilled and she looked down at him as well. She gave him a tiny smile, before her face returned to a more neutral expression, “Claude, you should go.”
Right. Jeralt did also live here, after all, and he wasn’t going to be out all night. Claude did not want to be here when he got back. “Yeah, you’re probably right.”
Claude fumbled in the dark to find his clothes scattered about the room. Once he had managed to dress himself again he returned to the bed and kissed her. “See you Monday?”
Byleth paused before she said, “Yeah, see you.”
Claude quickly snuck away to return to campus. Byleth didn’t follow him to the door this time.
“Byleth, I can’t let you do this.”
“It’s my decision, not yours.”
Claude sighs, coming to stand beside his wife, leaning on the rail of the Goddess Tower’s balcony. When Byleth had quickly disappeared after their conversation with Rhea, Seteth, and Flayn it hadn’t been hard to guess where to look for her.
He doesn’t respond right away, instead gazes thoughtfully across the grounds of Garreg Mach. This place has always been a source of hope for him, although he suspects that has more to do with the people who he met here than the place itself. It looks as beautiful and resplendent as ever, long since restored from the destruction it faced during the war. But the beauty feels somewhat tainted now, a thin veil for something more sinister hidden just beneath the surface.
“There’s got to be another way.” He finally continues, turning to face her and placing his hand on top of hers on the rail. “We’ve never encountered a problem we couldn’t solve by working together. We can solve this one too.”
When Byleth turns to face him her eyes are sad. It feels like the sort of look she would have given him when he was just a student and she the teacher. He doesn’t care for it, even though he understands it. He knows full well how naive he is being, but it feels like his only remaining course of action. Unable to hold her gaze, he looks away again.
“And in the meantime? Too many people will suffer and die while we try to find another way. Rhea doesn’t think there is one.”
Claude grimaces, but keeps his mouth shut. He knows he doesn’t need to say anything to make his opinion on what Rhea thinks perfectly clear.
Byleth fixes him with another one of her old teacher looks, this one more scolding. But she too avoids taking the conversation about Rhea any further. She looks and sounds much more sympathetic when she continues, “Claude, it’s already getting chaotic. Things are starting to fall apart. Everything we worked for, your dream--our dream--will be lost if we don’t act.”
Claude rounds on her, takes hold of her by the shoulders with both hands. The mask that was hiding his desperation has slipped off, but he no longer cares to maintain it, “You are a part of my dream too, Byleth. The most important part. If saving the rest means losing you, then I don’t care!”
“I care,” Byleth answers softly. It is her turn to look away, although her eyes find the floor instead of the view, “I’m sorry. I know how selfish this decision is from your perspective. But I can’t sit back and do nothing while people suffer. Not if it’s in my power to end it. I couldn’t live with myself.”
As if she’s the selfish one here, Claude thinks. His arms drop helplessly back to his sides. He’s fully aware of how selfish he’s being. Byleth, on the other hand, continues to prove herself the most selfless person he’s ever met.
It’s ironic, he thinks, that they are having this conversation here atop the Goddess Tower. How many times has she stood in this very place and provided him the hope and determination he needed to press on? The night of the ball, when they’d prayed for his dreams to come true. The day she’d finally returned to him on what would have been the day of the Millenium Festival. The night she’d agreed to be his wife.
Now he has his chance to return the favor, to be her source of encouragement, and he’s utterly blowing it.
“I’ll do it.” He says abruptly, surprising himself with the conviction in his own voice.
He takes hold of her again, this time gently holding her hands in his, “If this is your decision--it it’s really what you want to do and not just what you feel like you have to do--then I support you. So, I’ll do it.”
Byleth definitely realizes what he means this time, but she looks fearful rather than grateful, “Claude, no.”
“We promised to stick together, didn’t we? Always. I have no intention of breaking my promise, so I’m sticking with you. Even in this.”
I know it's all but stated in Verdant Wind that Rhea dies, but hey I say if it's possible for her to survive Silver Snow it's possible for her to have survived VW too
I've been struggling with the pacing a little bit particularly with this chapter. It feels like things are dragging out a bit, but every scene is significant. I hope you're still enjoying it even if it's moving a little slow!
Claude had to give Byleth credit--he was very prepared for his midterm exam in Military History.
The biggest surprise the test presented was Jeralt’s presence in front of their class. He’d only attended maybe two classes since the first night, and he’d still left the majority of the teaching to Byleth when he did. Claude couldn’t help but feel that was for the best; he was sure Jeralt was a good professor in his own right, but he didn’t seem to give a shit about this class. He was probably required to administer the midterm. Byleth was here as well, although today it was her turn to sit off to the side doing her own work.
And maybe it was just Claude’s imagination, but it seemed like Jeralt was really fixing him with a death glare today. He kept feeling eyes on him while he was working, and every time he looked up from his test it was Jeralt he found looking back. He knew Jeralt wasn’t a smiley guy to begin with, but he definitely wasn’t showing Claude his friendly face today.
It was making Claude a little paranoid. Jeralt didn’t know what had happened Friday night. He couldn’t possibly know. But the longer it went on, the more certain Claude became that he knew. Could Jeralt read his mind somehow? Was Claude showing some kind of tell, somehow wearing it all over his face, projecting to Jeralt ‘I slept with your daughter this weekend’?
Or, possibly the worst thought of all, had Byleth actually told him?
Claude knew she was closer with him than most people were with their parents. But he didn’t think she was tell her dad about her hookups close.
Altogether, Claude had never been more relieved to finish a test, and it hadn’t even been difficult.
Handing his paper in to Jeralt involved a very long, very intimidating bought of eye contact. That confirmed Claude wasn’t imagining Jeralt’s glaring, although he still lacked an explanation for it.
Then Byleth followed him out of the room when he left.
“Claude, we should talk.”
At first, the statement raised no alarm bells for Claude. He just nodded pleasantly and said, “Yeah, probably should.” Sex is something that is generally best talked about, particularly if his ongoing debacle with Dimitri was anything to go by. That ship may well have already sailed, beyond where he could ever catch it; he couldn’t make the same mistake with Byleth.
But then he really got a good look at her, at her face. He saw her sadness, and if he wasn’t mistaken, a little pity as well. His stomach dropped.
“I need to apologize. I was . . . far too forward the other night. I hope you didn’t feel pressured at all.”
Claude forced a chuckled, tried to make himself sound casual, but he couldn’t fully hide his creeping nerves, “No worries, Teach, I was all good. If I wanted you to stop I would have said something. Trust me, I didn’t want you to.”
The smile on Byleth’s lips did nothing to counteract the pitying look in her eyes, “I’m glad you weren’t uncomfortable at all, but I think we both realize what happened was inappropriate. You’re my student.”
Desperation continued to edge its way into Claude’s voice, “But that’s okay, right? I totally respect your teaching in class, and I think you’re really great at it. But I don’t think of you as a professor.”
“Claude, you literally call me ‘Teach’.” Byleth deadpanned, “What do you consider me if not your teacher?”
Claude looked to the floor, not trusting himself to answer that question without giving his whole heart away.
Byleth sighed. Claude wasn’t sure how she planned for this conversation to go, but it was obviously not meeting her expectations, “I’m sorry. I really like you--”
“Don’t apologize. Sounds like we’re on the same page about that.”
Byleth did not let his interruption deter her, “I enjoy hanging out with you. I just think we should leave it at that for now.”
If it were possible, Claude’s stare would have bore holes into the floor. He tried to calm his breathing, even as he felt a mix of panic, devastation, anger--so many emotions welling up inside of him all at once. But he couldn’t let her see how upset he was. Besides his own need to defend his pride, he could tell this wasn’t exactly easy for her either. He didn’t want to make it worse by letting her see how hurt he was.
He still couldn’t do that to her.
Claude met her eyes again, plastering on his most convincing smile. He could feel tears heating up his eyes and clouding his vision and he knew he wouldn’t hold them back for long. He shook his head, laughed it off as best he could, and said, “I don’t know, Teach. I’m a pretty charming guy. I doubt you’d be able to resist falling for me if we kept hanging around each other all the time, so maybe we’d better not.”
He impressed himself with how even he was able to keep his voice, how flippant and light-hearted his tone was despite his inner emotional turmoil. But he knew it sounded hollow, and he was sure Byleth could hear it, too.
That was as much as Claude trusted himself to hold it together, so he quickly removed himself from the situation. He walked calmly just long enough to be sure he was out of Byleth’s sight and she hadn’t followed him before he took off running. Unencumbered by his self-control, his emotions all but burst out of him. He didn’t bother holding back his tears, unconcerned with how ridiculous he must look. At one point he crashed directly into someone but he didn’t apologize, didn’t stop and look back as he heard a concerned voice call out, “Claude?” behind him. He was singularly focused on getting back to his dorm.
When he arrived in his room Claude slammed the door shut and threw himself on to the bed. The redistribution of weight caused a few books to go crashing to the floor, but he did not move to pick them up. He sat against the wall with his knees pulled to his chest and his head resting atop them. His tears had been a brief release and they’d already stopped, but his emotions were still churning.
It was stupid of him to have blown Byleth off like that, unfair to refuse her friendship just because she didn’t want anything more of him. But the thought of it alone was more than Claude could stand, spending time around her as the cavernous distance between them grew wider and wider.
She was so much more than a friend to him; he simply couldn’t deny it, but he couldn’t explain himself either.
He sat there for a while, unmoving, wallowing in his grief and self-loathing. Eventually there was a knock on his door.
“Claude? I’m coming in.”
It was Hilda. She sat gingerly beside him, but didn’t do or say anything else for a few moments. She must have been waiting for Claude to speak up for himself, but once it was obvious he wasn’t going to she spoke softly, “Dimitri found me in the dining hall. He said he bumped into you on campus and you seemed really upset about something. What happened?”
Claude finally picked his head up. Be briefly considered avoiding her gaze, but he suspected there was no hiding the fact that he’d been crying, “Of course that was Dimitri.” Claude replied, opting to at least avoid her question for the moment.
But Hilda wouldn’t be letting him off that easily, not in regards to spilling the tea or the way he’d been avoiding Dimitri lately. She arched a perfectly manicured, accusatory eyebrow, “He was really worried about you, you know. I am, too. So tell me what’s going on already.”
“I slept with Byleth on Friday.”
“Ooo . . . kay. Well that sounds like a good thing from where I’m sitting, so I’m assuming there’s more to the story than that.”
Claude nodded sullenly, “After the midterm today she pulled me aside, told me it was a mistake, and said she would rather just be friends.”
“Ouch.” Hilda winced.
“Yeah. Ouch.” Claude agreed. It was a colossal understatement compared against the actual pain he was feeling, but what else was there to say?
Hilda reached out to run a hand soothingly through his hair, “Not really sure I should ask but uh, how did you handle that?”
Now it was Claude’s turn to wince, “I basically rejected her friendship and ran away.”
“. . . Yikes.”
Claude put his head back down. His reaction had been just as cruel, if not worse, than her rejection. In his effort to spare both of their feelings he had royally screwed up. “Now she probably thinks I’m just some jerk who never even wanted to be her friend in the first place.”
Hilda continued to stroke Claude’s hair. He probably deserved to get called out and was prepared for it, but Hilda was unwavering in her support, “Well, I know you’re not a jerk. Besides, she hooked up with you, too. She had to have been prepared for you to get upset when she suddenly walked back on that. I bet she understands better than you think.”
Claude didn’t know what to think, which was somehow the most upsetting part of all of this. He no longer had any choice but to admit he didn’t understand how Byleth was thinking or feeling. Looking back, he should have seen this coming Friday night, but it had never occurred to him that Byleth might be sending him away because she didn’t want him there.
He’d wanted to believe that he knew Byleth’s heart and mind as intimately as he always had. But he couldn’t even deny the truth anymore; this was not the Byleth he knew.
“Not to mention,” Hilda continued thoughtfully, “She’s probably also interested in a little more than friendship too, considering. Maybe it was just the wrong time.”
“I just hope this wrong time didn’t take away our chance of having a right time.”
Hilda frowned at him, “I’m surprised to hear you say that. Usually I’m worrying about you because you have what seems like a crazy amount of faith in her, not because you’re giving up.”
That was true. Always, above all else, Claude’s faith in Byleth had been unflinching. Maybe Hilda was right. It was foolish of him to give up so easily.
Finally the tiniest of smiles graced Claude’s lips, “You’re right. I’m sure we’ll work it out somehow.”
“I usually am,” Hilda preened, grinning at him and causing him to smile wider. Then she turned serious again. “So now that I’ve cheered you up, ready for some tough love?”
“Lay it on me,” Claude answered. After all, whatever it was he was sure he more than deserved it today.
Hilda narrowed her eyes at him, “Think about how crummy this is making you feel, and use that at your motivation to talk to Dimitri.”
Claude groaned. That was maybe a little tougher than he was ready for.
The air is heavy around them. They ride the lift down to the Holy Tomb in uncomfortable silence. Claude can feel his pulse in his throat, can hear it buzzing in his ears.
At one point, Byleth reaches out and takes his hand in hers, although she continues looking resolutely ahead. He gives her hand a comforting squeeze.
The lift lurches into place, a large, deep clang breaking through the silence. For a moment, neither of them moves. Eventually Claude takes a deep breath and walks forward into the tomb.
The dagger on his hip weighs heavily on him with each step.
Claude can hear Byleth’s soft, steady steps behind him. He doesn’t dare look back at her, certain he will lose his nerve if he does. He does glance towards one of the sarcophagi as he passes, the one in which he had laid to rest Failnaught years before. They had decided to return all of the heroes relics to the tomb, in memory of the Nabateans that had died for their creation. Only Byleth kept the Sword of the Creator; they were confident that was what Sothis would have wanted. Although, Claude supposes the Sword of the Creator would probably join the rest soon.
When he reaches Sothis’s throne he finally turns around to face Byleth, but he looks more at her mouth, still afraid to meet her eyes.
He motions his arms toward the throne, “Your seat, my love.”
It is an attempt to add some levity to the situation, but Claude can only admit it’s a pathetic one. His words sound hollow and disingenuous.
“I don’t think I want that seat today.” Byleth responds, and he is amazed by how confident and certain she sounds in spite of everything.
Instead she sits atop the sarcophagus at the front and center of the tomb, directly parallel to the throne. It’s the one meant for Sothis, though they both know that no remains actually lay within. She waits.
They are across from each other, no more than a few yards apart, but the distance feels vast. Claude is afraid to close it.
But Byleth is waiting, calm and determined. He had promised, insisted even, that he would do this for her, and she was counting on him. He couldn’t let her down.
Claude walks up and kneels in front of her. Sensing his chance is running short, he finally looks into her eyes again. For the first time it allows him to see through the confidence Byleth is projecting. But it’s not doubt that he sees in Byleth’s eyes looking back at him. It’s something sadder, more like regret. It only reassures him that she is committed to her decision, despite how difficult it is.
“Claude . . . I . . .” Byleth falters. There is so much to say, and no time left to say it. Claude is sure she doesn’t know where to begin.
“It’s okay. I know.” Claude answers. Byleth reaches out and rubs her thumb across his cheek, which is what alerts him to the fact that he is crying. So much for holding it together for her.
They were supposed to have all of the time in the world. Now suddenly their time is almost up. It wasn’t enough. It would never be enough. He wants more, but if he waits any longer he is sure to lose his nerve.
“Byleth. . . I’m so sorry . . . I love you. More than all the stars in the sky.”
He lifts the dagger up, and plunges it directly into her heart.
Claude woke up with a jolt, sitting suddenly upright in bed. He was hyperventilating, and for a moment the dark scenery of his dorm room felt unfamiliar and confusing. He pushed the heels of his palms into his eyes, attempted to still his ragged breathing.
It wasn’t real. It couldn’t be real.
Claude had never doubted the veracity of his memories before, and this one hadn’t felt any different than the others. But it had to be a mistake. He would never, could never hurt Byleth, Let alone . . . let alone . . .
Suddenly antsy, Claude flung the covers off of himself and jumped out of bed. Pacing the room did nothing to ease his racing thoughts or his racing heart. He laced his fingers into his hair and yanked; the sting was neither a distraction nor a relief.
A glance at the clock revealed it was barely after four in the morning. Going back to sleep was not an option. The rest of campus was certainly still in a state of slumber, but Claude was itchy all over, ready to jump out of his own skin, and staying in his room didn’t really feel like an option either.
He grabbed his key card and hurried out the door without even putting his shoes on.
His feet carried him to the Humanities building. The cafe must have been gearing up to open for the morning because the door was unlocked. Still largely moving on autopilot, Claude entered and made his way to the third floor. The lights were off and the faculty offices were all empty, unsurprisingly.
Claude stood against the wall outside Seteth’s office. He let out a deep breath, the nervous energy that had driven him here draining out of him as fast as it had arrived. He slid down the wall and slumped onto the floor. He pulled his knees up to his chest.
He wasn’t sure how long he sat there in the dark. At one point he put his head down. He’d spent a lot of time in this position lately, but Claude didn’t have the energy to think about how pathetic it was. Honestly he didn’t want to think about anything at all.
Eventually, he heard footsteps approaching. He didn’t look up, but it sounded like they stopped right in front of him.
“. . . Claude?”
It was Seteth. He sounded concerned, which was probably reasonable.
“I killed Byleth.” Claude croaked, looking up at Seteth through red-rimmed eyes.
Seteth sighed, looking at him sympathetically. Quickly he shuffled around his coffee and his briefcase in his arms, unlocked and opened his office door, and said, “Come on in, Claude.”
Claude nodded, gathered himself up off the floor, and followed Seteth into his office.
As he collapsed into a chair it occurred to Claude that he was lucky Seteth was an early bird. What might have happened if another staff member had arrived first and found him there: barefoot, wearing his pajamas, and crying in the fetal position on the floor of the faculty space. Claude could talk his way out of almost anything, but this would have been a tough one to pull off, especially in his current state.
Seteth held out his coffee cup in front of Claude, “Here, you probably need this more than me.”
Claude accepted it gratefully, feeling even more grateful when he took a sip and found that Seteth also took his coffee black. He sighed contentedly--he really did need that.
Seteth let him have a moment to himself before he spoke again. “I suppose it would be a waste of breath to ask how you are feeling.”
Abruptly, Claude realized that Seteth had known this was coming. Irrationally, that made him furious, “Why didn’t you warn me?!” He demanded.
Of course, Claude never would have believed Seteth even if he had tried to warn him. He hadn’t even believed himself at first.
“You know full well why I didn’t.” Seteth reminded him sternly. But his voice and expression quickly softened. “Claude, I’m sorry, truly I am. If I thought there were anything I could have done to prepare you for this, some way I could have spared you this altogether, I would have done anything to make it so.”
“I just don’t understand . . . why . . .”
Seteth seemed to understand that Claude was not talking about him anymore. Maybe it was the way his voice had gone from angry to soft and desperate.
“Surely you must have seen.”
Claude shook his head, “Maybe. But it’s all gotten so confusing lately. Things are moving so fast; it feels like I’m missing important puzzle pieces.”
Seteth paused a moment before answering, probably considering the best way to explain, “Fodlan relies on Sothis’s influence to maintain peace and stability. After so much time with her being tied to Byleth, chaos was beginning to reign. Byleth needed to release her, which meant she needed to give back the Crest Stone of Flames.”
Claude nodded, “I think I understood that much. But I don’t get why all of a sudden. Sothis must have been fused with Byleth for over a hundred years without it ever being a problem.”
“We believe that while Byleth was ruling over Fodlan she was able to indirectly continue exerting Sothis’s influence, as it was only after she stepped down that we started seeing the effects of the goddess’ absence.”
“And there really was no other way?”
“Well, she could have resumed her reign as queen, but it would have had to have been permanent, or until she was ready for the alternative. She didn’t want the burden, and she didn’t want the people beholden to her in such a way. So she decided she was ready then.”
Claude didn’t respond for a long time. He wanted to find some hole in Seteth’s explanation. He wanted to be angry still, even though he didn’t know who or what he should be angry at. The truth was, he understood what Seteth was saying. It felt right, like he had known it in his heart all along, even though he hadn’t properly remembered it himself.
None of that made him feel better, though. Mostly he just felt empty.
“I accepted her decision . . . but even so . . . how could I . . .”
He couldn’t get it out of his head, the image of what he had done. He could feel the weight of the dagger in his hand, the force of it piercing her chest. It didn’t matter why he had done it. It was too horrible. He didn’t know how he was supposed to live with it.
Seteth didn’t say anything, probably knew there was nothing that could be said. After hesitating briefly, he laid a hand on Claude’s shoulder, gave it a small squeeze.
It didn’t make sense. Claude had always agreed with Seteth’s belief that he was remembering for a reason. But what reason could there be for this? What purpose could it serve for him to know, other than to haunt him?
Maybe there were still more puzzle pieces he was missing. It brought to mind another question, one that Seteth had first asked him weeks ago now.
“Seteth . . . how did I die?”
Seteth blinked at him. The question seemed to have surprised him as much as it had previously surprised Claude. “Pardon?”
“Before you asked me if I remembered how I died. You made it sound like it was important. So, how did I die?”
“I’m sorry, Claude, I’m afraid I can’t answer that question.” Seteth answered sadly.
Claude wasn’t accepting that answer this time, “Please, does it really matter that much? If it could help me make sense of--”
Seteth held up a hand for him to stop, and Claude obeyed. “You misunderstand me. I promise you this time if I could answer you I would, especially if you believe it would help ease your mind now. But I cannot. Because I don’t know how you died.”
“You are correct in your assumption that I believe it is important. It is a mystery I’ve long wished to be able to solve. And when you walked into my office that day, my thought was that if I could solve the mystery of your death, it may illuminate the nature of your unusual situation now. Alas, it seems we can only continue waiting until you learn it for yourself.”
Claude frowned. It must have revealed his dissatisfaction with the answer, because Seteth sighed and pinched the bridge if his nose, “I can tell you what I do know, if you feel that would help.”
“It sure would.” Claude nodded.
Seteth’s face suggested he might regret his offer slightly, but he didn’t backtrack, “A few days after Byleth’s death, you disappeared on us. I assumed you just needed some alone time, but Flayn was very worried, and I could only agree that it wasn’t like you to leave without saying anything at all. So after you’d been gone for a day, we searched for you. Unfortunately, by the time we found you, we were already too late.”
The explanation gave Claude an uneasy feeling, “You don’t think I . . .”
He didn’t really care to finish the sentence. Fortunately Seteth seemed to understand him all the same. He shook his head.
“I do not. The possibility was certainly raised at the time. But besides the fact that I do not believe you would have taken your own life, if I did there was no evidence--you had no external injuries, and there was no trace of poison in your system.”
Claude wrinkled his nose, “Then what happened?”
“As I said, it is a mystery. No injury, no illness, no poison. It was as if you just went to sleep on the Holy Throne and never woke up.”
Claude’s eyes widened. Briefly he considered that he’d misheard. The information seemed so significant, he couldn’t understand why Seteth hadn’t revealed it instantly. He jumped out of his chair, “Wait a minute, you’re telling me I died in the Holy Tomb?!”
Seteth looked alarmed. It did not seem like he had realized the effect his reveal would have on Claude. He was probably regretting it now. “Well, yes, but--”
“You realize there’s no way that’s a coincidence, right? All of the answers I’m looking for--how I died, why this is happening, how to make Byleth remember--I bet if I go to the Holy Tomb I will find them.”
But Seteth’s interjection was lost on Claude. His mind was running a mile a minute now, his sadness forgotten in the face of his newfound drive to find the truth.
“The Holy Tomb hasn’t moved, obviously, which means it must be below campus. I could go today even.”
“It’s not that simple.”
“You must know where the entrance is now, right? You can take me there.”
That was enough to make Claude’s racing thoughts and words come screeching to a halt, “What?”
“I’m not going to take you to the Holy Tomb.”
Claude’s brow furrowed in confusion, “You mean you don’t know where the entrance is?”
“No, I mean I know where the entrance is, but I’ve no intention of revealing it to anyone, not even you.”
“. . . you can’t be serious.”
“I’m being very serious. Byleth sacrificed everything to keep Fodlan safe. I promised I would never let that sacrifice be in vain, which means protecting the sanctity of the Holy Tomb. I would expect you of all people to understand that.”
Claude could feel his temper rising. He took a deep breath to keep it in check, “It’s not like I’m trying to break in and steal the crest stone. And if I manage to restore Byleth’s memories then in a way her sacrifice is undone, right? Byleth goes back to normal and Fodlan is still safe. It’s a win-win.”
“I’m sorry. Not only will I not budge on this, but if need be I will do what I must to stop you. For Byleth’s sake.”
This time Claude could not reel in his temper, “Bullshit. You say this is for Byleth, but I’m trying to help Byleth. So why are you holding her back?”
Seteth arched an eyebrow at Claude’s foul language, but otherwise remained calm and collected, “It’s interesting that you should say I am holding Byleth back. I disagree.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“Byleth is on the verge of a graduate degree, and probably an official job with the university once she has it. She still has Jeralt in her life. She is unburdened by her past. And now, on top of all of that, she has you again. Tell me, how does any of that sound like she is being held back?”
Claude looked down at the desk between them. He didn’t have much defense against Seteth’s claim. It was the truth, after all; Byleth was thriving in her new life.
But what about Claude? It was true that Byleth had him; his heart, his mind, all of him. But she didn’t want him. And maybe Seteth was right about Byleth being better off unburdened by the past. But then, what was the purpose of Claude being burdened in such a way? Why was he meant to love Byleth so desperately when she may never remember that she loved him in return? What did he get out of remembering their past suffering, other than more suffering now?
He couldn’t accept that there was nothing more to it than that. There had to be a reason why this was happening to him. Maybe he couldn’t help Byleth, or maybe Seteth was right and he shouldn’t. Claude would have to do some soul-searching to find the answer to that question. But for better or worse, he needed to solve this mystery. For himself.
And he was certain he needed to find the Holy Tomb to do it.
“I know this is what I need to do,” Claude told Seteth, his voice and heart both full of conviction, “If you won’t help me, then I’ll just figure it out myself.”
He paid no mind to his bare feet as he stormed out of the office and back to his dorm.
I HAVE NOTHING TO SAY FOR MYSELF EXCEPT I'M SORRY
next chapter is that last one and might be more of an epilogue than a full length chapter, but I'm known to get a bit carried away with myself so who knows lol. Coming your way soon!
Claude didn't bother trying to entreat further help from Seteth in his quest to locate the Holy Tomb. Seteth had spent nearly a thousand years digging his heels in on the subject, and Claude knew better than to expect he could change his mind in a few days.
Besides, Claude knew that what he was looking for was somewhere on campus. The university has been built on the grounds of the former monastery, and the monastery had been built on top of the Holy Tomb. That much was a no brainer. Unfortunately, his advantage essentially stopped there. The university campus was by no means small, and plenty of it inaccessible to him under normal circumstances.
And if he'd been hoping his dreams would help him out, that hope had died quickly. His dreams had abruptly stopped, the last one having been his final moments with Byleth in the Holy Tomb. It made sense, he supposed. Byleth had always been the focus of his dreams, after all, and now there was nothing left of her for him to see. But it also reaffirmed that if he wanted answers to his remaining questions, he was going to have to find them for himself.
He remembered where the entrance to the Holy Tomb from the monastery had been, of course. Logistically, the entrance itself probably had not been moved--he doubted anyone would have had access to the technology to do so. But what he did not know was the equivalent location in the university. He wished he had blueprints of the two places to compare. The blueprints of the university were publicly available in the library. But if any such documents had ever even existed for the monastery they were sure to be long since lost, if not to time then to Seteth’s meddling.
So once again, the truth that Claude was on his own was clear. He was hardly a novice when it came to sneaking and investigating, and given time he was confident he would find what he was looking for. His concern was whether or not he had the time he needed.
Unsurprisingly, things had grown awkward between him and Byleth. Despite Claude brushing off her offer to keep being friends, they had attempted to resume their friendship in the days that followed, but it wasn’t the same. Claude’s latest memory wasn’t helping matters at all; at one point when Byleth had reached out to put a hand on his shoulder Claude had suddenly been assaulted by the memory of stabbing her. When he’d flinched away from her touch she seemed to misinterpret, pulling her hand back like she’d been shocked. She hadn’t tried to talk to him much since then.
He had one more week before spring break was upon him. Claude couldn’t help but feel that if they separated for a week without working things out the distance between them would grow insurmountable. Whatever he planned to do to fix things, he was running out of time to do it.
If he did discover a means to restore her memories in the Holy Tomb it might not matter, of course. But he couldn’t help but second guess his conviction on the subject ever since his conversation with Seteth. Was it wrong of him to want such a thing for her when she couldn’t want it for herself?
Claude’s mind kept returning to Rhea, to the way anger had risen like bile inside of him when he had learned of her intention to replace Byleth’s consciousness with Sothis. But what he wanted was different, because no matter what Byleth would still be Byleth . . . right? He wasn’t so sure anymore, but for now all he could do was focus on finding the Holy Tomb and hope that was one of the answers it was hiding.
He closed the final book on the history of Garreg Mach Monastery in his pile with a defeated sigh. He was certain that wherever the entrance to the Holy Tomb was hidden, Seteth would not have allowed it to be easy to access. With that in mind Claude felt it best to start his investigation by arming himself with as much information as possible. He’d been looking for any diagrams or recreations, any information that might give him a clue about how the structures of the monastery aligned with the university, but he’d come up empty so far.
Feeling like his efforts weren’t going to bear fruit this time, Claude packed himself up, dropped his books in the book return, and exited the library.
He couldn’t even find it in himself to be surprised when he promptly crossed paths with Dimitri.
“Claude, it’s been a while!” Dimitri’s voice was as hopeful as ever, although his body language revealed a degree of hesitation.
Claude’s first instinct was to babble out the first excuse that came to mind, turn tail, and run from the situation. But he remembered Hilda’s words from the other day. He owed Dimitri closure, and he wouldn’t keep it from him anymore.
“Hey, it sure has. Uh, I should probably apologize for that, actually.”
Dimitri shook his head, “There’s no need to apologize. I could sense there was something else on your mind.”
“You can say that again.” Claude sighed.
“I do hope everything is alright. But Claude . . . do you think we could talk now?”
Claude held his breath. There was no backing out now, and he didn’t want to anymore, but his stomach roiled with anxiety regardless. “Yeah, sure.”
"I just wanted to tell you that I regret our, um, earlier interactions." Dimitri coughed awkwardly as he said it, then continued hurriedly, "Not because what happened between us was at all regrettable! But because I can't help but feel it's led you to believe that I am expecting something from you when I am not."
"Wait . . . What?"
"I like you, Claude. I won't pretend I never considered or even hoped for something more romantic to develop between us, but I would never pressure you into such a thing if it's not what you want. But I do still remain hopeful that we can be friends?"
Claude was stunned speechless. He'd braced himself, prepared for Dimitri to be upset or even angry with him. He hadn't been prepared for him to be so understanding. He certainly deserved the anger more; if he'd just stopped being a coward and talked to Dimitri like he should have they could have sorted this out months ago.
". . .Claude?"
Claude shook himself, "Sorry, just caught me a little off guard there. Yeah, of course I still want to be friends . . . I'm just kind of surprised you do. As far as friends go I haven't exactly been a great one lately."
"Not at all. I didn't want to push you if you weren't ready. But if you're ready now, perhaps we could go get something to eat at the dining hall? As friends. We could talk about whatever is on your mind. . . Or about literally anything else, if you'd rather not."
"Yeah, I'd like that. As friends." They both grinned. He knew Dimitri didn't need the reminder, but for Claude it felt good, almost a relief, to say it aloud. The sinking feeling of needing to reject Dimitri even when it hurt both of them was an incredible weight to be free of.
They chatted easily as they made their way to the dining hall, got their food, and found a table. All of the tension he had been feeling around Dimitri for weeks now had melted away. Claude couldn’t help but notice the irony; hearing “just friends” from Byleth had been devastating, but the same words from Dimitri were probably the best thing that had happened to him in quite a while.
“If you don’t mind my noticing, it seems like you are lost in your thoughts again.” Dimitri said. Claude blinked; he had been in his own head.
“Ah. Yeah, sorry.”
“. . . Are you sure you don’t want to talk about it?” Dimitri offered patiently.
Claude considered it for a moment. He didn’t think he was ready to talk about Byleth with Dimitri, nor did he think it was really wise to do so this soon. But there was no denying that he owed Dimitri something, at least a little vulnerability after shutting him out for so long. He really could use someone to bounce thoughts off of about the Holy Tomb too, but the question was how to explain it to Dimitri without actually explaining it. “You’re going to think I’m crazy.”
“I promise to keep an open mind.”
That would be easier said than done, Claude knew, because what he was about to say definitely sounded crazy. But Dimitri had proven himself to be saintly as far as being understanding was concerned. “Okay. So. Hypothetically, say you had a really rare, really valuable treasure. A so rare people think it’s just a myth kind of thing. And now, say you were going to hide it underground somewhere beneath this campus and--what?”
Dimitri was laughing. He tried to hide it by covering his mouth, but couldn’t quite hide the shaking of his shoulders. He shook his head, “I’m sorry. It’s just . . . you sound like one of those programs that plays in the middle of the night on the history channel. You know, the ones where they claim the ruins in Zanado were built by aliens.”
“Hey, you have no proof those ruins in Zanado weren’t built by aliens.” Claude replied cheekily. He didn’t mind the jab; even though Dimitri was laughing at him his tone was not at all mean spirited. Claude knew how ridiculous he sounded, he could hardly blame Dimitri for reacting. “And you promised to have an open mind.”
“You’re right, my apologies. Please continue.” There was still an amused glint in Dimitri’s eyes, but his laughter had stopped.
“Okay--hypothetically again--you need an entrance to your secret underground crypt in case you need to get to it. But you want it to be well-hidden and hard to access, because you don’t want anyone else to find it. So, where do you hide it?”
Dimitri was smiling despite looking mystified, “You’ve really put a lot of thought into this hypothetical situation, haven’t you?”
“You have no idea. So just humor me here.”
“Very well,” Dimitri’s hand came to his chin. He really did seem to be taking the request seriously, and was silent for a thoughtful moment or two while he considered his response, “I suppose, if it were me, I would want it to be well concealed, but in an area with a lot of foot traffic. Somewhere it would be hard to even search for it without being in the way, or attracting attention. Like right here in the dining hall. Or the library, perhaps.”
Claude’s eyes widened.
The library. It was so immediately obvious Claude couldn’t believe he hadn’t thought of it sooner. Dimitri’s logic was flawed, but his suggestion was the inspiration Claude was missing. The library proper was too easy, and too publicly accessible; Seteth would never risk it. But Garreg Mach University had the distinction of being home to an impressive collection of primary source documents, many of which had been here since it was still the monastery. They were housed in their own separate room in the library; it was climate controlled, and the documents needed to be handled with a lot of care, so the room was always locked and access was restricted to those who needed it. It required a special permission to be added to one’s university key card to get in.
Permission which was granted by the Dean of the History Department.
Claude stood up so fast that his chair clattered to the ground behind him. "Dimitri, you're a genius!"
Dimitri looked absolutely bewildered.
Claude had no time to slow down and explain himself now. "I'm really sorry, I'm digging this whole friends thing and hope we can do a lot more of it soon, but I just remembered something very important and I need to deal with it right away."
Claude dashed out of the dining hall, a man on a mission. He didn't have access to the document preservation room himself. And if he was right, which he was feeling confident he was, there was zero chance Seteth would give it to him now. But he knew a certain history major working on her thesis who definitely could get in.
Byleth usually worked at a table by the cafe in the Humanities building. If she didn't have a class that's where she should be now. Luck seemed to be on Claude's side today, because as he approached the door he caught sight of her blue hair.
Byleth was hunched over a textbook, her hair cascading into her face. Claude came to a screeching halt in front of her table, but she was so engrossed in her work she didn't notice him right away.
"Byleth. Hey." She looked up at him, her eyes wide. Claude could only imagine how unhinged he looked. He was winded from sprinting across campus, and his expression was probably as frantic as his emotions.
"Claude, is everything okay?"
"Yes. Well. Maybe." Claude took a deep breath, gathered his thoughts, and tried again, "Look, I know things have been super weird between us lately, and I probably have no business asking, but I could really use your help."
"Of course. I'll help if I can. What's going on?"
He took another brief pause to determine how to approach his request, "I'm in a bit of a bind. I need something out of the climate control room in the library for an assignment, but I can't get in with my key card. If I ask Seteth he'll just tell me to apply for access on the website like I'm supposed to, but I waited until the last minute and I don't have time for that. You must have access, right? Can you let me in?"
He tried to make himself look as desperate and pathetic as possible. The lie had flowed out of him as smoothly as breathing out air, but any guilt he might feel about it was going to have to wait. Byleth was looking at him through narrowed eyes, no doubt remembering the last time he had procrastinated and then come crawling to her for help, debating whether or not it was worth it to make the same mistake again. He held his hands out in front of him, clasped together in a begging motion.
Finally, Byleth sighed. She was fixing him with the disappointed teacher look that she had so perfected, but she stood up and began to pack her things, "You really need to work on your study skills."
"I'll be a changed man after this. The most studious you've ever met. Promise."
Byleth's face suggested she did not believe him.
The walk to the library was tense, as most of their interactions since the midterm had been. For most of it neither of them said anything. Until Byleth abruptly said, "I'm sorry "
"You're right, about how weird things have been between us. I know it's my fault. I really screwed up."
"Screwed up how? By sleeping with me, or by turning me away after?"
It was maybe a little harsher than Claude intended. But it was the question they both needed answered. Where they went from here depended on which of those choices Byleth actually regretted.
Byleth didn't answer. That was fine. Claude could hardly expect her to give him an answer before she'd had time to decide on one for herself. But there wasn't much else to be said in the meantime. Now they were back to uncomfortable silence.
"Here we are," Byleth said when they arrived. She swiped her key card in front of the sensor and the door clicked open, "do you know how to handle the documents?"
"No worries, Teach, I'll be careful." Not that he was actually paying attention to the documents. His eyes were scanning the room itself, looking for something that was clearly out of place, or any other signs of where the entrance to the Holy Tomb might be hidden.
Byleth was watching him curiously. Claude wasn't even sure if he'd been expecting her to stay. He supposed she didn't have much of a choice; if he messed anything up in here the blame would end up falling to her. He certainly wasn't planning on damaging anything, but she was sure to be unhappy with the way he was rummaging around.
What would she do if he actually found what he was looking for?
Claude was past the point of concerning himself with any of that now. Byleth grew impatient as he felt his way across shelves and looked in cabinets, crossing her arms in front of her chest.
He leaned on one of the podiums for examining documents and found that it tipped slightly, unlike the others. The floor beneath it was uneven. He began to slide it out of the way, which seemed to be the last straw for Byleth.
"Claude, what are you doing?"
He was crouching down to examine the floor where the podium had been. There was little point in maintaining pretense at this point, so he said, "Okay fine. I lied about why I needed to come in here. But I swear it's really important."
Byleth did not look impressed, "We need to go."
“No! Please. Just give me five minutes. I’ll leave everything exactly the way I found it. But I’ll never get another chance at this.”
“I don’t even know what this is.”
Byleth was crossing the room towards him, probably with the intention of stopping him. But Claude had no intention of being stopped. Fortunately for him, something caused Byleth to hesitate halfway to him. He did not bother wasting time wondering why she had paused. He looked at the uneven portion of the floor. There was a crack in the floor; it was long, and far too thin for his fingers. He took his key card from his pocket and forced it into the crack and under the flooring. He was able to lift the entire panel of flooring up and away. And there it was. The entrance to the Holy Tomb.
Byleth stopped short, eyes wide. “Is that . . . how . . . how did you know that was there?”
“I didn’t for sure, but I had a pretty good hunch. It’s kind of a long story.” Claude told her as he began to lift open the door. “I don’t suppose you care to stay and watch the door?”
“You’re joking, right? You just found a secret trap door beneath the library and you really think I’m going to stand around here while you go and investigate?” Byleth asked incredulously.
Claude began to descend, winking at Byleth, “No, I really don’t think that at all.”
This was it. Suddenly, it was as if Claude had stepped into the memories he had seen so many times, but never actually lived through. They were in the lift to the Holy Tomb. It looked exactly how Claude remembered it. There was just one problem.
Claude didn’t know how to activate it.
He stared at the panel of Nabatean technology. He must have known how to use it at one time, but in his dreams every time he’d come here someone else had been the one to do it. He didn’t remember. And it was so ancient that even now, knowing modern technology as he did, it was completely foreign to him.
Byleth had gone silent since entering the lift. She stood beside him, but her eyes looked far away. Then, out of nowhere, she looked down at the panel, pressed the buttons in rapidly and seemingly random succession, and placed her hand upon it. It glowed to life.
Claude turned to her, completely stunned, “How did you know how to do that?”
Byleth’s eyes found the floor, “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”
“I just dug up the entrance to a hidden underground lair beneath our school and now I’m standing in an ancient, glowing elevator. Try me.”
Byleth paused a moment longer before offering a cryptic, “Someone told me.”
That didn’t make any sense. Claude arched an eyebrow in confusion, “Who? When?”
“I don’t know. And just now.”
By her tone and expression, Claude could tell Byleth was being completely sincere. At first, it just confused him more. But then it dawned on him. Byleth had told him before that she didn’t care for going to the library. What had been her complaint . . . background noise? His eyes widened.
“Oh. You can hear her when you come here, can’t you?”
Byleth looked desperate to ask him what he meant. But before she could the lift lurched to a stop. They were both so caught up in their conversation that they weren’t prepared for it, and they had to reach out and hold on to each other so they didn’t fall over.
They were in the Holy Tomb.
Once again, Claude felt as if he had been here many times before. But he didn’t seem to be the only one feeling the sense of familiarity now.
Byleth was looking around, eyes drinking it all in, expression confused. “I feel like . . . I’ve been here before . . .”
Claude didn’t answer, but Byleth had gone silent again, back in her own head, and she didn’t seem to be waiting for a response. They had both reached the center of the chamber. They stopped, just a few yards away from the dais, looking up at the throne.
“Honestly, it’s about time you made it here.”
Claude nearly jumped out of his skin. The voice had suddenly spoken as if out of nowhere. He looked around wildly, but they were alone. Byleth was looking directly at him.
“Did you just hear that too?” She asked frantically.
“Not only does he hear me, but he’s not ignoring me unlike a certain someone does.”
Claude looked upward; even though he couldn’t see where the voice was coming from, it seemed like the appropriate thing to do. “Sothis?”
“You really ought to stop asking that question when you already know the answer to it.” The goddess chastised.
Claude wrinkled his nose, uncertain what she meant. It caused a strange sense of familiarity though, almost like deja vu. He’d never been able to hear Sothis like Byleth, but this felt like one of the puzzle pieces he was missing.
“And you,” They still couldn’t see Sothis, but it was like they could feel her rounding on Byleth all the same. Byleth withered. “What am I going to do with you? Can’t you do anything right without my help? I practically hand you this boy on a silver platter, and you still managed to mess it up.”
Byleth and Claude exchanged a curious glance. She didn’t seem to have any clue what Sothis meant, unsurprisingly, but neither did he. Could Sothis have something to do with his memories of the past?
Byleth still looked bewildered. She didn’t know how to defend herself against the onslaught, “I. What--”
But Sothis didn’t seem to be done with her just yet, “I suppose I have no choice but to save you from yourself yet again. I have a promise to fulfill, after all.”
For the first time, Claude remembered while he was awake. He recalled his last visit to the Holy Tomb, his conversation with Sothis. It made sense now, why all of this had happened to him. Finally, the puzzle he’d been trying to work out for months was almost complete.
The only thing missing was Byleth.
“I don’t understand.” Byleth answered. She sounded confused and overwhelmed. For her, the mystery had only just begun to unfold.
“We can’t exactly blame you for that. In a way, it is my fault you’ve forgotten,” Sothis’s tone had softened considerably, “But perhaps I can make that right again. I have something here that belongs to you. It is yours to reclaim, if you choose to do so. Over there.”
Once again, even though they couldn’t see Sothis, it felt as if she was guiding their gazes all the same. They both turned and looked to her sarcophagus in the center of the chamber. Then they looked at each other; Byleth held his gaze for a moment before taking a step toward it. He followed her.
It took the two of them together to push the stone lid of the sarcophagus back enough to reveal its contents. There before them lay the Sword of the Creator and the Crest Stone of Flames. It was hardly a surprise, Claude had known they’d both been laid to rest here, but to see them for himself carried a surprisingly powerful sort of weight.
It also brought the uncertainty he’d felt about bringing Byleth here swelling to the forefront of his emotions, “Byleth, if you’re not sure about this--”
“Honestly, I have no idea what’s happening right now.” Byleth admitted. She was trying to sound casual, but Claude could hear the nervousness disguised beneath that. “But somehow, despite that, I am sure about this.”
She reached out and touched the crest stone. It began to glow, and then the whole space seemed to fill with a near blinding light, forcing Claude to shield his eyes with his arm. But when it stopped and Claude was able to pull his arm away from his face again nothing had changed.
The crest stone still lay in its place in the sarcophagus. Byleth, too, remained unchanged, eyes and hair as blue as they ever were. But she wore a new expression on her face, that Claude couldn’t even begin to read it.
Her voice quavered when she said, “Claude . . . oh, Claude. . .”
Claude thought he recognized what was happening, but he’d been so hopeful for it for so long it was hard not to question his own judgement, “Byleth, do you--”
Before he could even ask the question she had thrown her arms arounds him and pulled him into an embrace. She was holding him so tight and his emotions were so overwhelming he could barely breathe, but oxygen hardly seemed important when he had her. Byleth had buried her face in his chest, so when she spoke again her voice was muffled, “Claude, I’m so sorry. I don’t know how I could have ever forgotten.”
“It’s okay. It’s not your fault.” He answered, stroking a hand soothingly through her hair, “I’m just so glad. I missed you so much.”
She looked up at him, and as if of one mind they both leaned forward to kiss. It was nothing at all like their frantic encounter in Byleth’s apartment. It was languid, lingering, and full of all of the passion and desperation of both of them having waited nearly a thousand years for this moment, even if they didn’t always know it.
It was Claude who pulled away. He looked at Byleth apologetically, “I’m sorry, but as much as this is amazing and I never want it to end, I’m having a very hard time moving past the fact that Sothis is watching us right now.”
Byleth grinned at him, “Then I hate to be the one to tell you this, but Sothis was always able to watch us.”
“You act as if I am some sort of peeping Tom. Surely you know that I was always respectful of your privacy when you truly needed it.”
“And yet you were clearly at least listening now.”
Sothis harrumphed with all of the attitude of a petulant child, not that Claude would have the courage to say such a thing out loud.
“Come on,” Byleth said to him, “I think we have some catching up to do.”
“Very well, go if you must.” Sothis began flippantly, although her voice quickly grew somber, “But do come back and visit from time to time. It can get terribly lonely down here, you know.”
“We will. We promise.”
“Though we might have to get Seteth’s permission.” Claude added. He gave Byleth a sheepish smile, “And you might have to do some damage control with him first. I was pretty explicitly told not to do any of what we just did but, uh, here we are.”
“I’m sure I can convince him,” Byleth answered with a grin.
Byleth reached out her hand to him and Claude took it happily. Nothing had ever felt more right.
As they walked back to the lift hand in hand, Claude reflected on everything that had happened over the last few months to bring them here to this moment. Finally, he realized what both Hilda and Seteth had been trying to tell him all along. He’d been struggling to let go of a past that he could never get back, trying to recreate a life that was long since out of his reach. But with their help, with Dimitri’s, and even with some divine intervention from the goddess herself, he’d reached the crossroads of his future.
Now he and Byleth could move forward together towards something even greater.
And that's all she wrote, folks!
Thank you so much for coming along for this ride with me, and I hope you enjoyed it :). It was definitely the biggest writing undertaking for me in quite a while...I have to say I'm pretty proud of it, and I appreciate your feedback and support along the way.
I do have another ongoing three houses work coming soon, it is also claudeleth because I'm absolute trash for this pairing, but otherwise it's something completely different. If you enjoyed this consider checking it out, I do have the first chapter already written so it should be coming soon.