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just gravity and me

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Byleth is an uncanny child.

Everyone says this, so it must be true. Fortunately, Byleth is not overly concerned with such things yet, being only three and having no idea what it means. Their papa is really the only person in their world, and he is always there when Byleth needs him, so there's not much reason to pay attention to anyone else.

Privately, however, Jeralt agrees.

At three years old, Byleth has still never laughed or cried. In fact, the number of vocalizations Jeralt has heard them make is exceedingly few, as they are not yet talking either. They watch the world silently, with round, unblinking indigo eyes, and Jeralt cannot blame other people for being unnerved.

It is not that he does not love his child; he does. He is helpless not to. He would not have had the fortitude to make it through the first few years as a single father if he did not.

It's just - he worries. He has no idea what Rhea has done to the child. Will they ever speak? Are they able to? And how much are they capable of feeling, really? Are they able to return his affection? Will they ever show interest in other people? They consistently prefer to observe, sucking idly on a thumb, wispy dark hair falling over their eyes - and when approached by anyone other than Jeralt, they invariably turn away and retreat to a corner, or behind Jeralt's legs, or beneath whatever piece of furniture may happen to be nearby.

It is not, either, that Byleth isn't smart. He knows they are. They communicate well enough without words, tugging on Jeralt's sleeve to get his attention and pointing to whatever is the current object of their curiosity or desire. They cock their head in consideration when Jeralt speaks, and they follow commands - usually. They are, after all, a toddler. He has nearly taken to tying them to his waist with a length of rope after the number of instances he turned to find they had wriggled their little hand out of his and wandered away to inspect something or other.

Most people don't seem to appreciate this fact about Byleth, and it makes Jeralt bristle. "Poor thing," he's heard people murmur an uncountable amount of times, and some are even bold enough to ask, "What's wrong with the dear?"

"Nothing," Jeralt will always grit out, "is wrong with my kid."

And, Jeralt tries to remind himself, there isn't. Whatever peculiarities were born into them, whatever peculiarities are because of what Rhea did, these are just things that make Byleth different, not things that are wrong with them. Sometimes Jeralt has to remind himself of that. Because Jeralt loves his child. But he worries.

And so: when Byleth speaks their first words as they're nearing their fourth birthday, Jeralt is immeasurably relieved.

*

Byleth is bored. Papa won't let them explore very far, and he won't take them with him when he goes on adventures. Byleth has thought of lots of different ways to amuse themself but these ideas have limits as they are always confined to either A) the tent or B) a field, or maybe C) Jeralt's shoulders whenever he needs to venture into town.

Out of the three the fields are their favorite. They've spent lots of lovely hours in fields. Byleth likes turning over rocks in their chubby little fingers. They like lining up the rocks in neat little rows, then starting all over to arrange them a different way. Byleth likes laying on their belly in the grass, watching ants scurry to and fro, watching ladybugs and praying mantises and aphids crawl up and down the blades, watching the little paths made by snakes and field mice when they pass. Byleth likes creeks and streams; they can spend entire afternoons fetching different things to set on the water and watch how they float away or listen how they plop.

The problem is: Byleth is getting big now. They know there are all sorts of things outside of the tents and the fields and even the glimpses they catch of the towns. But whenever Byleth tries to follow Jeralt when he goes away, he fixes them with a stern look and says it's too dangerous, and Byleth has to stay with whatever person he has paid to watch them this time (or, when times were really desperate and there was no one to watch them, to stay inside the tent to which they have been tethered by a rope to a tentpole).

This, Byleth has decided, is not fair.

But Jeralt has been decidedly unimpressed by their efforts to prove they can protect themself. When he caught them attempting to lift his sword, he shouted out in alarm, causing them to drop the one-third of the blade they had managed to raise and nearly slice off their toe. After that Byleth turned to smaller objects, as long as they were pointy, and began to seize upon very opportunity to snatch up a knife and wave it around in the air, tiny brows furrowed in concentration. In response, Jeralt has started wearing a pinched expression a lot of the time, and has had to keep finding more secure hiding places for the knives. Byleth, doggedly, became better and better at ferreting them out until Jeralt had had enough and solved the problem by keeping all knives on his person at all times.

Byleth feels very much like having a temper tantrum, which for them manifests as lying silently face down on the ground and refusing to move. It's a tactic which has caused many a caretaker to briefly panic in conviction they were dead. Their very clear communication simply is not working: no matter how many times they point insistently at a knife, then at themself, their papa just does not get the memo.

Byleth will have to be more precise.

Nearly four, as solemn and unblinking as ever, they wait until Jeralt is solidly asleep before running about the tent, unearthing their favorite knife (its handle is very smooth), and papping Jeralt awake with a small hand on his cheek. He starts; there is a knife an inch and a half from his nose; his small child is hovering dispassionately over him in the dark.

"Papa," Byleth squeaks out sternly, the first words they have ever spoken: "Teach me."