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Growing And Going

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Bernadetta held the letter in her hands so tightly, beginning to crinkle up the stationary.  She prepared for this scenario as best as she could.  She drafted the letter several times, making sure that her penmanship was clear enough.  She willed herself to go outside to confirm that this was definitely the room to Dedue’s door.  

Predictably, her conversations with Dedue were minimal at best.  They said hello and goodbye to each other when their time in the greenhouse overlapped, and for the most part, Bernadetta was satisfied with it.  She didn’t get around much, but when she did, she heard what people said about him.  She didn’t know much about the politics of Faerghus, but watching it play out whenever the Blue Lions entered a public space was enough of a review.  As many members of the house seemed to take up as much space as possible through nearly endless squabbling, Dedue kept to the side, hovering behind the house leader, Dimitri, with careful, green eyes.

Many people said that Dedue was scary.  She was inclined to agree, but only because she was terrified of nearly every person she ever interacted with.  Even so, she couldn’t deny that it was difficult to be scared of him in the greenhouse.  He was typically hunched over, his fingers deep in the soil or meticulously preening a plant.  He went through the tasks with precision, the only time he ever spoke being in the form of questions to the staff member who oversaw the space or quiet conversation with Dimitri if he met him there.  He always spoke just above a whisper, as if he was concerned about disturbing someone.

She looked down at her letter again, wondering if she should have put it in an envelope.  She contemplated running back to her room, but she caught herself, knowing that if she went into her room, she would lose all her motivation to return.  She checked the placement of the room, confirming it was certainly Dedue’s before she slipped the letter under his door and all but sprinted toward her room again, her heart pounding.

She entered her room and tossed herself across the bed, glancing at the plants that were on her windowsill.  She brought a large stuffed hedgehog under her chin and sighed, rolling onto her side.

The plants in her room weren’t doing well.  She had attempted several strategies, ranging from preening, replanting, and watering, but nothing was quite working.  She knew that if her plants had any chance of being saved, Dedue would have an answer.  She hoped.

She closed her eyes, wondering if she could just go to bed.  There was work she could focus on, but she had done something that was unprecedented.  She could take the night off.

 

*

 

Bernadetta was walking by her door when she heard paper crinkle under her foot.  She looked down and saw an envelope on the ground.  She leaned forward, grabbing it, reading her name written clearly across it.  She flipped it over, noticing the wax seal that was pressed into it.  It was a beautiful impression of the Blue Lions insignia.  She yelped, throwing it toward her bed and staring at it as it slid underneath it.  She bent down, taking a deep breath before she picked up the envelope again.  She felt it between her hands, her eyes widening when she realized it held multiple pieces of paper.  She cracked the wax seal, watching how it shattered before she opened up the envelope.  She yanked the folded pieces of paper out and realized that she had received three pages from Dedue, complete with headings that were underlined and bullet points.  

She leaned against the bed, allowing herself to read through the letter in short bursts.  Dedue was incredibly humble at the beginning of the letter, saying that he was nowhere near an expert, but appreciated the level of responsibility she was entrusting him with.  He spent most of the letter working from there, providing several hypotheses concerning her plants, along with potential solutions to improve the situation.  She walked toward her plants, turning one of their pots around to inspect the wilting leaves.  She checked the letter, reading Dedue’s potential theory of them receiving too much sunlight.  She moved them away from the windowsill, checking the letter periodically to make sure that she read the recommendation correctly.

 

*

 

It took a combination of Dedue’s suggestions, but Berndetta’s plants were content.  Apparently she was preening them far too much and exposing them to too much sunlight.  She moved them closer to her desk and was pleased with the arrangement.  She sat down, resting her chin on the desk and watching them, as if they would grow in front of her eyes.  

She had been avoiding Dedue.  She was aware of it.  She had resisted going to the greenhouse the same time as him and tried to take seats in the dining hall that were tilted away from him.  She wanted to thank him, but whenever she thought about getting the words just right, she blanked out.  

She took one of her plants, tilting it around.  She wondered if there was a way to thank him that wouldn’t lean on her words.  She grabbed her clippers, bringing it toward the plant., wondering if he would appreciate any clippings.  She wasn’t certain if he had many plants outside of the ones that he tended to in the greenhouse, but it seemed like something that would hold up better than her nerves if she was to go to his room.  

She quietly snipped the clippings, placing them in a small bag she saw lying on her desk.  She fished them into the bag and pulled it, taking several breaths before she walked outside, gripping it tightly as she walked toward Dedue’s dorm room.  It was late enough in the day that it was possible that he was in his room, though she supposed it was a potential risk that she didn’t quite factor in.  An issue with staying in her room as much as possible meant that she rarely, if ever, knew people’s typical locations.  

She spotted Dedue’s door, standing in front of it.  She gripped the bag in her hands, tangling her fingers along the drawstring.  She took a shaky breath before she knocked on the door, wondering if she was loud enough.  She contemplated leaving for the several seconds until the door opened, half of Dedue’s face appearing in the gap between the door and its frame.  

“Oh, hello, Bernadetta,” he said, opening the door wider.  “Is everything all right?”

Bernadetta brought a hand to her face, realizing that she was sweating.  She cleared her throat and said, “Oh, well!  Yes!  Sorry I… I ran over.”  She looked down, staring at the bag.

“Would you like to come in?” Dedue asked.

Bernadetta thought about dropping the clippings and running, but she knew she couldn’t.  Even if she wanted to, Dedue deserved better than that.  She slowly nodded her head.  “Y-yes,” she said, “I… I would appreciate that.”

Dedue nodded in return, opening the door all the way before letting her inside.  Bernadetta stepped inside, noticing the shoes neatly placed near the doorway.  She slipped out of them, putting them on the mat the others were placed before she shuffled into the room.

Bernadetta had not been in Dedue’s room before, but there was something strangely familiar about the space.  There were potted plants spread out across the room, along with a collection of gardening supplies organized near them.  Each plant was carefully labeled with Dedue’s precise handwriting.  Many of them appeared to be herbs, which made sense, considering what she knew about his cooking skills.  His desk had an unfinished embroidery project resting on it, appearing to be an experiment in three dimensional flowered plants.

“You like embroidery,” she noted.  She covered her mouth, waiting for his reaction.

Dedue brought a chair toward her, leaving her space quickly to take a seat on the edge of his bed.  “Yes,” he said, “My mother taught me how to do it.”

Bernadetta brought her hand down from her face, her lips pressed together.  She was not an expert in the politics of the north, but she knew enough that Dedue’s family was killed in the midst of political violence.  She hadn’t explored much concerning the accusations of regicide, but she found it impossible to believe that the prince whose family was killed would not have one of his closest friends be from the group of people who was blamed for it if he did not see them as innocent.

She sighed.  She knew that Adrestian politics were messy in their own way, but at least they weren’t like that of Faerghus.  

Dedue folded his hands.  “So what brings you here?” he asked.

Bernadetta raised the bag of clippings up.  “I wanted to thank you!” she exclaimed, “I followed your suggestions with the plants in my room and they’re doing so much better.  So… I mean, I’m not sure if you have any use for these, but I decided to just… give you some clippings, if you would like.”  

The corners of Dedue’s lips pulled back.  It looked like as much of a smile as he was comfortable to spare.  Bernadetta realized she never saw him emote even that much.  “I’m glad to hear that your plants are doing better,” he said, “I would be honored to accept the clippings.”

Bernadetta stretched out her arm, closing the gap between the two of them.  Dedue reached over and took the bag, opening it up and inspecting the clippings.  “I greatly appreciate this, Bernadetta,” he said, “Thank you so much.  I will start planting them later tonight.”

“You could do it now,” Bernadetta suggested, “I don’t mind.”

Dedue raised his eyebrows.  “Are you certain?” he asked, “I do not want to be rude…”

“It’s fine!  It’ll be nice to see how you prep them.”

“Why don’t you help me, then?” he asked, “As this is your plant.”

Bernadetta opened her mouth, ready to remind him that he was the expert, as he was able to save her plants, but she resisted.  She was happy to be isolated most of the time, but she rarely interacted with someone who seemed to have such a similar interest set to her.  She was nervous, but not in a way that she typically felt.  She got up, standing near him and crossing her arms nervously.  “Sure!” she replied, “Let’s do it!”  She gave him a nervous smile.

 

*

 

Bernadetta wasn’t certain when spending time with Dedue became part of her routine, but she appreciated it.  Dedue didn’t focus on speaking like most of the people at the school.  He was content to sit in her presence, quietly working on whatever project he had in front of him.  Today they were in her room, Dedue appearing to be mending some sort of clothing.  He had a pair of pants in front of him that appeared too short to be his own.  She wondered if it was Dimitri’s.  Dimitri was someone that loomed largely in their conversations.  It made sense.  Dedue did not seem to have many friends, but his bond with Dimitri appeared to be entirely sincere.  It made Bernadetta grow irritated when the few rumors that made it toward her suggested that Dedue was some manipulative mastermind.  It just didn’t seem to match up to the candid conversations they had about Dedue and Dimitri’s time before they were at the academy or the way that they were talking when Bernadetta walked in on the two of them in conversation.

Bernadetta focused on the doodles that had filled up her sketchbook.  Dedue had expressed that he didn’t mind that he was sketched, but she couldn’t deny that her stomach flipped when she looked down at the careful recreations of Dedue’s face, his precise posture, the way that his hands held fabric.

“Bernadetta,” Dedue said, his eyes still on his sewing, “May I ask you something?”

Bernadetta looked up, her mouth hanging open for a long moment.  “Uh, sure,” she replied.

“I was wondering if I could invite Mercedes to join us one of these days.  She has similar interests to us, if it helps.  We could go somewhere outside of your room…”

Bernadetta gripped the pencil tightly in her hand.  Having Mercedes be in on their plans was an invasion that she wasn’t certain she was comfortable subjecting herself to, but her mind was more hung up on the suggestion that they left her room.  Up until this point, he appeared relatively at ease with the fact that they spent most of their interactions in her bedroom, but she should have known that he was going to eventually want something different.  

“Uh, do we have to leave my room?” she asks, “I mean… I can invite her over, I just…”  She looked down, unable to bring herself to see how Dedue would react to her stammering.

“Is there any particular reason why you fear leaving your room?” Dedue asked.  Bernadetta looked up, catching Dedue wincing and bringing his hand to his face.  “My apologies,” he said, “That was out of line.”

Bernadetta shook her head, putting her sketchbook down, drumming her pencil against it.  “Oh, I mean… I…”  She cleared her throat.  “P-people scare me… me being with people scares me…”  She began pressing the back of her pencil against the sketchbook.  “My father… he would have… he would be furious if he saw us together.”

Dedue remained quiet.  

“H-he… he didn’t want me to associate with commoners.  He beat a boy up who tried to befriend me once.  All… all I had was my bedroom.  It’s the only place I’ve ever felt safe, even here.”  She felt her eyes begin to prick from tears and she rubbed her face, unable to conceal her sniffling.

Dedue continued his silence, folding up the pair of pants and placing it in his lap.

“I must sound ridiculous,” Bernadetta said, punctuating it with a loud sniff.

“I do not see how any of that is ridiculous,” Dedue replied, “There have been times that I’ve been unable to leave my room, myself.”

“Really?” Bernadetta asked.  “How did you… get out of it?”

Dedue pressed his lips together.  “I am unsure how useful this will be for you,” he said, “But… I began to realize that carrying my pain elsewhere as opposed to sitting in it seemed to be a lot more bearable.”  

Bernadetta allowed herself to look into Dedue’s eyes.  They were a shade of green she never really saw before him.  As much as she struggled to determine the color, there was always a sincerity in his eyes.

“It’s just scary,” Bernadetta mumbled.  She grabbed her sketchbook and opened it up to a blank page, staring at it.

“Would me coming with you help at all?” Dedue asked.

Bernadetta continued to drum the pencil on her sketchbook.  “I… I don’t know,” she admitted, “I guess… I’m just worried that if I freak out you’ll have to… deal with all that…”

“What helps you when you feel that way?” Dedue asked.

Bernadetta brought the hood of her uniform over her head and yanked on the pullstrings.  She let herself be consumed by the fabric, allowing herself to take in the darkness for a long moment.  “I need to be able to hide, I guess.”

Dedue rustled near her, but she resisted looking.  She felt something draped across her shoulders and she opened her eyes, seeing that she was engulfed by his uniform jacket.  She looked up, staring at him.  The sleeves of his shirt were rolled up, exposing his toned arms and patches of what appeared to be burn marks.

“Would this work?” he asked.

She held herself, watching the fabric splash across her.  The jacket smelled like him.  It was an indescribable scent, one that was pleasant, but slightly metallic.  “If… if you wouldn’t mind sparing it, yes.”

“I am offering it to you,” he said.

She smiled at him, unsure how she could ever repay him.

 

*

 

Dedue’s return was what it took for Bernadetta to realize how much she missed him.  It was as if her mind was not willing to acknowledge the gap he left until he was able to fill it in.

She didn’t get to speak with him since then.  The logistics made sense.  Arriving on the battlefield moments before the conflict starts is not exactly the best place to begin conversation. As much as she wanted to speak with him afterwards, his mind was focused on Dimitri.  She had spotted them speaking, Dimitri’s lone blue eye staring Dedue down as they had a conversation she couldn’t make out.  When they made their way back to Garreg Mach, Dedue remained at Dimitri’s side, even though Dimitri didn’t appear lucid enough to have conversations like the one Bernadetta had seen earlier.

She held out that they would see each other.  After all, Dedue was a major reason for her joining the Blue Lions so long ago.  She enjoyed Professor Byleth’s teachings and their relentlessness to coax her outside, but most importantly, she enjoyed sitting in lecture with Dedue, the quiet walks to their respective dorms, the times she felt brave enough to walk outside of her room with him.  She eventually grew to enjoy the rest of her fellow students, but it was undeniable that Dedue was the first one she became close to, and he had her deepest affection.

As soon as they reached Garreg Mach, Bernadetta walked toward the greenhouse.  The woman who tended to the greenhouse was notably absent, but Bernadetta was certain she maintained her plants when she was gone.  She grabbed a watering can, about to tend to them when she heard the softest sob.  

Bernadetta scoped the area, her eyebrows furrowed.  Conflict did not frighten her as much as it used to, but knowing that anyone needed to hide out here to cry was upsetting.  She followed the general direction of the sound, nearly dropping her watering can when she located it.

Crouched down and half out of his armor was Dedue, running his hands anxiously through his hair.  He was shaking, his eyes watery with several tears already trailing down his cheeks.  Bernadetta’s eyes widened.  She didn’t remember a time that she saw Dedue cry.  There were certainly moments that it would have made sense.  Though she was certain that she had only scratched the surface of his pain, what she did find out was so tragic she wouldn’t have blamed him if he cried every night.  Perhaps he was just overloaded with pain.

She bent down, grabbing her knees for balance.  “H-hi.  Sorry… I just… I saw you and I wanted to check in…”

Dedue took a deep breath, wiping his eyes.  “My apologies,” he said, his voice stilted, “I do not mean to worry you.”

“I’m sure you don’t.  But I’m worried now,” she said.  His fingernails were still dirty from the grime of battle and his boots were caked with mud from their journey.

“I assure you, I will be fine, I just… needed a moment…” Dedue started.  He wiped at his eyes again, wincing when it appeared to coax more tears, “I have no intentions on burdening you, Bernadetta…”

Bernadetta shook her head.  “You’re not burdening me!” she exclaimed, “I’ve been wanting to spend time with you!  I don’t mind having that time be me supporting you.”

She reached out, remembering it had been five years.  They were never exactly ones to touch each other often, but there was a time that she probably could have placed her hand on his shoulder with little fanfare.  She brought her hand back, resting it against her chest.  “Come on.  My room is all set up, so we can stay in there for a little bit.”

Dedue sniffed.  He smirked the slightest bit as he asked, “Do you still have most of your bed covered in stuffed animals?” 

“Some from the places I’ve been able to travel!” Bernadetta bragged, “Come with me.”  She reached out again, relieved when he grabbed it.  She tried her best to pull him up, though he seemed to take the cue to stand without her assistance.  They walked together, Dedue’s eyes still glassy as they made their way toward the dorms.  

“We left your room the same,” Bernadetta added, “I don’t know if there’s anything there that you would want to salvage, but… it’s there whenever you’re ready.”  A part of her wanted to ask why Dedue was crying, but she knew that she would most likely not get the answer she wanted.  Even if she considered herself a closer friend of Dedue than most, she knew that he was not that forthcoming with information.  He could evade questions and directives far better than anyone ever realized.  

“I will check on my room soon enough,” Dedue said.  “I don’t think I’m ready just yet.”

Bernadetta nodded , closing the gap to her room and opening up the door.  He removed his boots and she led him to her bed.

Dedue shook his head.  “I couldn’t possibly.  I haven’t even bathed yet…”

Bernadetta shook her head.  “I don’t mind,” she said, “It’s not like I’ve had time to take a bath, either!”  She moved aside some of her stuffed animals, keeping a larger teddy bear under her arm as she loosened up the quilt that was on top of it.  “Please, Dedue,” she said, “If you feel so bad about it, you can keep me company when I clean it later.” 

Dedue’s eyes wandered around the room for an agonizingly long moment before he shuffled toward the bed.  Bernadetta went on it first, keeping her arms open as Dedue fit against her.  She brought the teddy bear toward him, more surprised by the fact that he accepted it than the way that they were so close.

At this point she accepted that the limits of her personal bubble had shrank significantly during wartime.  She had grown to accept, even enjoy, the feeling of someone’s shoulder bumping into hers in the dining hall or curling up close next to someone for warmth when there was a fire on the nights they were camped out.  In a way it was her way of acknowledging that she wasn’t certain if these were the fleeting moments of intimacy before she was soundly taken down by an enemy army.  To have Dedue in her arms was an entirely different form of release.  To know that he was safe, but that she could feel him, was an entirely new way to anchor herself to the living world.

She rested her cheek against his back, bringing her arm as best as she could across his chest.  She was able to place her hand against the teddy bear, unable to resist a smile, even if Dedue was sniffing periodically.

“Is that my jacket?” Dedue asked.

Bernadetta looked up, staring at what was indeed Dedue’s jacket from his school uniform, which was currently hanging off of a chair near her desk.  

Oh !” she exclaimed, “Yes!  I… hung onto it.  I hope that was all right.”

They both went quiet, Bernadetta remembering the last time Dedue threw it at her with haste as the battle started, telling her that she couldn’t hide from what was happening.  She kept it, a way to stay anchored when she had to face her travels alone.

“I didn’t think… you would keep it…” Dedue murmured.

The two of them became quiet again.  Bernadetta held him tighter, pressing her face between his shoulderblades.  Dedue relaxed against her, moving his arm.  He sniffed again and she frowned against him.

“You don’t have to say anything, but if you think that speaking will help…” Bernadetta started.

Dedue took a deep breath, pressing himself closer to her before he said in the softest voice.  “I didn’t… I didn’t realize how much pain he’s in.”

Bernadetta frowned.  Dimitri.  She knew that if anyone was going to have something to say about the prince’s declining mental health, it was going to be him.  It was a topic that Bernadetta tried her best to stay out of, if only because she was tired of listening to how people were trying to pretend that it wasn’t as bad as it appeared.  The topic made her so upset that she nearly snapped at Felix, someone she was relatively fond of, when he had the nerve to call Dimitri a monster during a strategy meeting.

 “You had no way of knowing,” Bernadetta reminded him, “You were trying to make your way to us… how could you expect yourself to know exactly where he was when you haven’t seen him in five years?”

“It was my duty to protect him…” he started.

“Which you did as long as you could,” she pointed out, “Dimitri said it himself.  You had sacrificed yourself.  Was gravely injured.  I know that he knows you came back as soon as you could.”

Dedue grew quiet.  She wondered if she had said something wrong.  She tried to remind herself that he could leave if he wanted to.  

Bernadetta burrowed her face against him for a long moment before she pulled away to say, “I just… I know that it must hurt right now, but… I’m so happy you’re back.  There’s so much I want to tell you about.  Did you know that I can go to the marketplace alone now?  I talk to the merchants, too.  I don’t even freak out like I used to… I just… I would remind myself that even though you weren’t there, you would be so glad and… it helped.”

Dedue tilted himself over toward her.  His eyes were wide, smiling the slightest bit.  “Is that so?” he asked, his voice full of affection.

Bernadetta rested her chin on his shoulder, nodding her head.  “Yup,” she replied, “It’s not the worst.”  She braved a smile, even though she knew he probably couldn’t see it.  “But I think I prefer wanting to go to the market with someone, because I like having them around as opposed to needing someone to go with me.”

Dedue tried to tilt his face closer to her.  She held her breath, unsure how to proceed.  A part of her wondered what it would be like to close the gap between them.  It wasn’t the first time she thought about kissing someone, let alone thought about kissing someone during an inappropriate time.  Even then, the temptation was still there, lurking in the corners of her mind and slowly closing in.

“Thank you, Bernadetta,” Dedue said before he turned his body forward again.  He brought the teddy bear under his chin and hugged it tightly.

Bernadetta tightened her grip on him and wondered when the thought of her lips against his would come to pass.

 

*

 

As upsetting as it was to have Rodrigue pass, Bernadetta was relieved that Dimitri appeared to be far more present.  Dedue hadn’t said it, but she knew him well enough to see the tension seemingly ever present in his shoulders.  

His attention was focused on Dimitri, but it was inevitable.  Bernadetta knew better than to be jealous.  It was a complicated dynamic that she would never fit in and was fairly certain that she wouldn’t want to, anyway.  

Their relationship would never quite make sense to her, but she understood that it wasn’t supposed to.  The problem was that while she was at ease with this fact, there were plenty of people who appeared at odds with it.

By now, it appeared pretty consistent that their closest friends and allies respected Dedue.  From what Bernadetta could tell, it was not always the case, and she had even heard rumblings of suspicion regarding his loyalty after failing to show up until precisely when he did.  It angered Bernadetta, though she never knew what to do with the feeling.  Most people were not privy to certain sides of Dedue that she had access to.  They didn’t see the twisted scar tissue that raced across his torso, appearing to nearly split him in two, the result of an injury she could only imagine was gruesome.  

The last wave of people appeared to be the Knights of Seiros, many of which were still saying cruel things.  It was not surprising.  Whatever prejudice the kingdom held toward people from Duscur was still very much alive and well.  It was still upsetting to hear it, which made Bernadetta wonder just how much it was spoken about if she was able to walk in on it.

Today she was stopping by the cathedral, hoping to spot Dedue before making her way toward the market.  She wasn’t expecting him to be able to tag along with her, but she was hoping that he would be willing to give her a list of any items he needed.  When she arrived, she found him, sitting on the crumpled pulpit with Dimitri, who appeared to be in the middle of some stirring monologue.  Bernadetta had learned very quickly that Dimitri, when he was unencumbered, was prone to these speeches.  He wasn’t quite a master orator, but he was earnest.  He was someone that she would want to follow, even if she felt that she was strung along on a bizarre cross country journey for a lot of the war.  Dedue appeared to feel similar, listening intently before he spoke, Dimitri bringing his undivided attention toward him.  

Bernadetta wondered if she didn’t understand their dynamic because she had never had someone that close.  There was Yuri, but their relationship was complicated, even if she didn’t blame him for it.  Other than that, the only person who appeared to give her boundless patience and had a presence that gave her enough serenity to feel comfortable near them was Dedue.  But to have someone understand every part of her like Dedue and Dimitri did seemed impossible.

She stayed toward the edge, overhearing two knights speaking with each other.

“I still think it’s ridiculous that the prince took that man back with open arms.  He must truly be mad,” one of the knights whispered.

Bernadetta held her breath, wishing she could hide.  For whatever reason she couldn’t bring herself to.  

“Well, don’t you know the whole story?  He’s been at this since they were children.  I’m sure Prince Dimitri has no idea he’s been manipulated for years,” the other knight said, bringing their hand under their chin.

“Dedue would never do that,” Bernadetta hissed, her eyes wide when she realized what she did.

“Oh, and you think you’re an expert?” the first knight asked, “We’ve all seen you walking around with him at your side.”

She slowly turned her head toward him, trying to process what that meant.  Were Dedue and her that peculiar?  She felt her chest pound.  She knew that it had to make sense that leaving her room put her in a public eye of sorts.  People were going to see what she was doing and catalogue it.  It confused her and unsettled her.  

“He’s my friend,” Bernadetta declared, “S-so…”  She winced when she heard her voice warble.  “So, yes!  I’m more of an expert than you!”

“Bernadetta.”

She saw Dedue and Dimitri standing nearby, Dimitri’s eye blazing and Dedue’s face twisted into a grimace.  She realized that she had no idea which one of them said her name.  She turned back toward the knights and crossed her arms, feeling overwhelmingly exposed.  

“Bernadetta, perhaps we can go for a walk,” Dedue suggested, “Dimitri, could you…”  His eyes darted in the knight’s direction.

 

Dimitri nodded his head, his lips pulling back into a grin before he turned on his heel and faced the knights, greeting them.

Dedue walked toward the exit, Bernadetta rushing to stay at his side.  “I’m sorry!” she started, “I hope I didn’t cause any problems, I just… I was so angry!”

“I noticed,” Dedue reply wryly.  He sighed and said, “I appreciate your desire to stand up for me, but I would prefer if you let me decide how to handle situations like that.”

Bernadetta nodded.  “I’m sorry,” she apologized, “You’re right, I just got so… frustrated.  You don’t deserve it.”

Dedue nodded.  “I don’t disagree.”

They were quiet as they continued to walk, nearly aimless.  She reached out toward him, unprepared for him to offer his arm to her.  She tentatively grabbed it, unable to resist leaning against him.

“Admittedly, I didn’t think I was ever going to have to have this conversation with you,” he pointed out.  

“I’m so sorry, Dedue, I just… I care about you.”

She looked away, curious as to what face Dedue was making, but far too terrified to turn her head.  

“I care about you, too,” he said.  

Bernadetta turned around again, so startled she let go of Dedue’s arm.  “Oh!” she exclaimed.  She could feel her cheek warm up.  “Wow… I… it’s nice to hear.”

Dedue watched her, his face entirely unreadable.  He turned his head forward, bringing his arms behind his back in a pose so similar to the one he used to favor back when they were students.  

“I haven’t properly thanked you for the night I returned,” Dedue said.

Bernadetta found herself mirroring his pose, tangling her own fingers together behind herself.  “Oh, there… there’s no need.  I know you would do the same for me.”

“You do?” Dedue asked.

“Well, yeah,” she said, “I mean… you showed me so much patience when we were younger I just…”  She shifted her weight between her two feet.  “I guess I just… I don’t trust many people, but I’ve never had a reason to not trust you.”

Dedue turned toward her again, his eyes wide, even if his lips appeared pressed together.  “I appreciate hearing that,” he finally said, “Thank you, Bernadetta.”

Bernadetta smiled, trying to deny an ache that seemed to form in her chest.  With Dimitri able to truly lead again, she realized that this war had an end in sight.  Optimistically, there was going to be a time that all these people she learned to care about would be scattered across Fodlan. Dedue, presumably, would continue to be at Dimitri’s side.  

Bernadetta wasn’t sure where she would end up, but she knew that unless she asked people to stay, she would get lost in the shifting tide that was the new world they were attempting to build.

“When this is over…” Bernadetta started.

Dedue nodded.

Bernadetta bit the inside of her lip before she said, “...I… I would like to continue to be close with you.”

Dedue smiled.  Bernadetta realized how beautiful it was.  His face seemed to glow in a way that she never saw before.  “I would enjoy that, as well,” he said, “It’s just… I have to stay in Fhirdiad, I hope you understand…”

“I don’t mind,” she said, “I mean, I would want to travel, but… I don’t mind if you are fixed to a spot.”

“Then it’s settled,” he said.  He reached out his hand toward her again.  Bernadetta grabbed it, trying her best to give it a squeeze.  She decided that they should resume their walk, leading them toward wherever she pleased.