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When Edelgard is seven, her father is still strong enough to seat her atop a black, beautiful pony. It’s coat was like the night sky, speckled with spots of white and almost indigo in the right angle. Edelgard longs to keep the gentle pony, eyes bright and mane thick and wild.

 

When she is thirteen, a dagger is passed into her palm. A hope, a wish that it may guide and protect her. 

 

But the earliest—happiest—birthday Edelgard can recall was her fifth year. One of her older sisters, tall and doe-eyed, had scooped her up and lifted her up to the white-frosted chocolate cake. 

 

Exclaiming, “Make a wish El,” and laughing when Edelgard had failed to blow out all the candles. A wish for more cake is readily granted.

 

It’s one of her most precious memories and one she refuses to let go, no matter how cold the dungeons grow or how heavy the chains become.

 

Edelgard can still hear her sister’s confused, broken cries in the dark.

 

No longer a child, Edelgard can’t find it in her to celebrate her day of birth. Everything is too raw in her mind and in her soul.

 

So when Dorothea holds out a small, red box, emerald eyes shining, Edelgard is unsure how to respond.

 

“Happy Birthday Edie!” she squeals, pushing the box into Edelgard’s hands.

 

The “thank you” on Edelgard’s lips barely makes it out before Petra places a woven band of flowers around her neck.

 

“It is being from me and Bernadetta,” she says. Her hands are light and gentle enough that Edelgard barely trembled as her fingertips brush bare skin.

 

Petra steps back and grins. “To watch over you on your day of birth.”

 

Edelgard dips her head and mumbles, “You’re too kind.”

 

The rolling, twisting feeling in her stomach only grows as Ferdinand presents her with an amethyst brooch, Caspar a pair of sturdy boots, Lindgardt a downy-soft pillow, and Hubert a set of ebony gloves.

 

Edelgard half-expects the Professor to materialize by her door at the end of the day, another gift in their arms and a customary “Happy Birthday Edelgard,” on their lips.

 

But after lessons, Byleth disappears, in that phantom way of theirs.

 

The Imperial Princess refuses to let it hurt her. Her teacher’s eyes are like the sea, easy to get lost in and drown.

 

Edelgard wishes—

 

The door opens and shuts, bringing her back to reality.

 

“You did not have to,” Edelgard says to Hubert as they enter her dorm.

 

Hubert bows to her. “I know. But we all agreed to it.”

 

We , he says. Does that include the woman that brightens her day?

 

Edelgard swallows the lump in her throat, covers the cracks in her walls, and wishes him a goodnight.

 

He leaves, but not before making sure the flower band Petra and Bernadetta made her is lightly misted and hung safely.

 

Alone, Edelgard puts everything else away. The crag in her heart is impossible to ignore in the dark, throwing out silly, useless thoughts such as: Byleth forgot, Byleth did not care, and wishes were for children and fools.

 

All—save the last—are preposterous. Edelgard can see it in the way Byleth touches her hand to correct her form, ask her opinion in House matters, and how they do not ask when Edelgard happens upon them on patrol in the middle of the night.

 

A thud from the hallway makes Edelgard jump. Nerves tight, she cracks open her door and peers down the hallway.

 

At first, she sees nothing. The candles are dim, the hallway empty. The doors of her fellow students are shut and the wind outside is soft. Edelgard frowns, lips pursed.

 

Perhaps I have avoided sleep for too long, she muses to herself. A voice whispers in her ear that night terrors and rats were the only things that awaited her.

 

A wave of exhaustion, muddy and iron-heavy, sweeps over her. Edelgard lets out a scoff, a dry smile curling at the edge of her lips.

 

“I suppose using my birthday wish on the hopes for a goodnight’s rest is too much…”

 

In the distance, a dog barks and howls at the crescent moon in the sky. Edelgard sighs and moves to shut her door.

 

A shadow moves at the end of the hallway.

 

A shiver runs down Edelgard’s spine and the hairs on the nape of her neck rise. Images of cloaked men and hungry rats flicker in her mind. She grips the doorknob tighter.

 

Then, like a prowling wolf’s amber eyes, two blue lights glow in the darkness.

 

Edelgard stares, mouth dropping open.

 

The Professor walks up the stairs of the second floor dormitory, balancing a slice of cake in one hand and tea kettle in another. Under the crook of their arm, crushed awkwardly, is a simple box, a bow wrapped hazardous around it. Their gaze is trained on the plate of cake, the delicacy teetering every step they take.

 

It’s such an odd sight that Edelgard feels her tension melt away. When Byleth is within ten feet of her, Edelgard clears her throat.

 

“Professor?”

 

Byleth jerks their head up, eyes widening a fraction of an inch. “Oh. Edelgard. Hello.”

 

With an embarrassing lack of effort, Edelgard feels a smile curling upon her lips. “Hello to you too Professor. Forgive my prying, but what are you doing here so late at night?”

 

In truth, it is obvious what Byleth is doing on the second dormitory floor. They have a piece of cake on hand and a gift under their arm. Edelgard is not blind. But she can be arrogant and the last thing she wants is false hope.

 

Byleth’s lips thin and their brow furrows. It is the closest thing to a frown Edelgard has ever witnessed on their face. The Professor glances out the window, to the hanging moon, and then to Edelgard’s door. Their shoulders drop.

 

“I wanted to surprise you.”

 

Byleth’s words are a whisper, almost as if they were speaking to themself. Perhaps they are. It isn’t impossible. The Black Eagles instructor has been caught muttering to no one or nodding to themself more than once.

 

Still, the words light a flame in Edelgard’s chest, fanning the silly, vulnerable longing in the recess of her heart. Edelgard pushes the door to her room open, ignores the trembling in her hands and gestures inside.

 

“Would you have tea with me tonight Professor?”

 

The Professor nods, entering Edelgard’s room with as much grace as a shaky plate and tea kettle will allow her. Edelgard casts a quick look up and down the hallway. There is no one—not even Hubert—in sight. A small blessing. 

 

She shuts the door behind her, a buzzing growing under her skin as the darkness envelopes just the two of them.

 

Edelgard fights back a chuckle as Byleth, relieved, sets their cargo down on the princess’s desk.

 

“I’m sorry I couldn’t congratulate you sooner,” the Professor says.

 

Edelgard shakes her head. Finds her smile comes easily again.

 

“I’m not one for celebrating my teacher, so please. Don’t trouble yourself.” She moves to Byleth’s side, peering down at the slice of cake. Red with white frosting. “Strawberry?”

 

“Yes. Not too sweet.”

 

The tips of Edelgard’s ears redden. Her chest is tight. Warm.

 

“You shouldn’t have,” she murmurs.

 

The Professor stops putting the tea kettle to warm. A frown marrs their stoic facade. “You don’t like it?”

 

Edelgard shakes her head. “No, quite the opposite Professor. I—I’m very happy.” She trails a finger along the wrapped box, eyes dark with longing. “I only meant that you shouldn’t have gone to the trouble of getting me a gift.”

 

She can feel the Professor’s gaze burning a hole into her being. Those intense blue eyes. Like the deep, dark ocean of Edelgard’s dreams, they threaten to swallow her whole.

 

And more importantly, Edelgard finds herself entertaining the horrible, silly idea of wishing those eyes would never leave her.

 

“Um.”

 

The note of uncertainty in Byleth’s voice is enough to drag Edelgard from her thoughts. 

 

The Professor clutches a cup of tea, half of their face framed in shadow and the other bathed in moonlight. The medallion hanging from their neck shimmers and Edelgard suddenly longs to brush it away. Touch the skin underneath, feel the heat of Byleth’s heart, and see what lies beneath. Her eyes travel up, following the bob of Byleth’s throat. A faint scar lies beneath the Professor’s lips. Edelgard’s fingers twitch. How would it feel to run her hands through that wild hair?

 

Dimly, she’s aware of Byleth speaking, prepping the tea.

 

“I’m still learning about birthdays,” the Professor starts, jaw hard. “But the others told me I should—I should get you something. Something more than flowers.”

 

Byleth’s face falls at the last bit of their admission. Edelgard swallows the lump in her throat. The urge to close her walls is overwhelming. She wishes— she wishes!

 

“I adore your carnations Professor.”

 

The words slip from her and Edelgard feels bare; weak and open. When Byleth meets her gaze, their eyes are wide. Something fragile and small hangs within them.

 

“So, this is acceptable?”

 

Edelgard is hard as steel and twice as sharp. But, her touch is featherlight when she strides forward and takes the tea cup from calloused, armored hands.

 

“Yes, this is.” 

 

Byleth sighs, a sound brimming with relief and tinged with joy Edelgard hopes. They gesture to the untouched cake.

 

“Enjoy.”

 

They move to sit down and silence follows afterwards, broken only by the clink of porcelain. The cake is heavenly, moist and tart before the sweetness melts over Edelgard’s taste buds. The frosting is airy with a hint of vanilla. More than likely, Mercedes had a hand in baking the cake, but Edelgard enjoys the image of her dear teacher covered in flour and working out dough too much to ask.

 

Edelgard lets out a moan of delight, eyes closed in bliss. When she opens them, it’s to find the Professor staring at her, eyes hooded and glowing by moonlight.

 

The Imperial Princess is once more reminded of wolves watching carefully from the shadows. For a brief, heat-curling moment, Edelgard is tempted to close the distance between them.

 

But before her mind continues to taunt her, the Professor pushes their gift forward.

 

“I hope you like it as much as my flowers.” 

 

Edelgard quirks an eyebrow, a smile growing in her face. “Was that a jest Professor?”

 

Byleth’s brow furrows. “No. Should it have been?”

 

Edelgard giggles; giggles at the confusion in Byleth’s eyes. Perish the idea of a hungry, stalking wolf. Sometimes, Byleth reminds Edelgard of a puppy, a newborn stumbling as it tries to absorb everything about the world.

 

A voice at the back of her mind whispers that likely, Byleth learned how to bleed before anything else. 

 

In an effort to chase away the sobering thoughts, Edelgard tears open the box. Inside rests a black eagle quill. She picks it up by tip, running a finger along the spine. Edelgard’s chest feels tight again. The feather, held up and twirled in the moonlight, shines a dark violet-blue. 

 

“My teacher, I don’t know what to say,” she whispers, awed. Black eagles weren’t exactly common. The Professor must have paid a nice sum.

 

To Edelgard’s confusion, Byleth squirms in their seat. “Is that a good thing?”

 

Edelgard lets out a surprised laugh, but stops short when Byleth averts their gaze, staring hard at the table.

 

The moonlight coming in from her dorm room window highlights her teacher’s face once more.

 

A pained look haunts them.

 

Edelgard sucks in a breath. Carefully, she places her gift aside. Then, she purses her lip, studying her teacher.

 

Byleth doesn’t lift their face. Their eyes are far away—wide and glassy—the slightest frown marring their features. Whatever she is thinking or seeing, Edelgard cannot stand to cause her more pain.

 

It is her day of birth. At least this once, Edelgard decides to be selfish.

 

A gloved hand encloses upon calloused knuckles.

 

Byleth jerks. Their hands almost come apart before recognition dawns on them. 

 

Edelgard gives a tight-lipped smile. “Professor, do you know what a birthday wish is?”

 

Something like guilt flickers in Byleth’s eyes and they shake their head slowly.

 

Edelgard offers what she hoped is a reassuring smile, squeezing the Professor’s hand in hers. “It’s a silly tradition really. Every birthday, it’s customary to have candles decorating the cake. Then, someone tells you to make a wish and you close your eyes, wish , and blow the candles out.”

 

Byleth tilts their head. “That’s a strange thing to do. Is it some type of magic?”

 

Edelgard giggles, trying to hide the airy sound with a gloved hand. There’s something almost comical about the Professor calling something strange when they are the epitome of oddity. 

 

“I’m afraid not my teacher. It’s merely meant to excite children on their birthdays.” 

 

“Would you like to do it?”

 

Edelgard blinks. “Pardon?”

 

Byleth gestures to the slice of cake. “Why not make a wish?”

 

A bemused expression falls over Edelgard’s face and she shakes her head. “Professor, I don’t care for such a tradition and besides—“ she casts a rueful smile at the plate, “—we don’t have any candles.”

 

There’s a long period of silence between them. Edelgard thinks of horses, older sisters, and happy, teasing voices. In front of her, Byleth’s eyes darken then dull. The same haunted, painful, and lonely—it’s lonely—stare descends.

 

Edelgard clenches her fists. She wonders, not for the first time, what it must have been like for Byleth growing up? Were they similar, if not the same?

 

Surrounded by blood and death.

 

If they are, then—

 

“Oh!” 

 

Edelgard jumps a little, brought back to the present by her teacher’s sudden jerk to the side. They look over their shoulder, almost as if they’re listening for something.

 

“Professor…?”

 

Byleth nods and turns around to face her. A smile plays at the edge of their lips. They snap their fingers, then light sparks and a tiny ember dances in the palm of their hand. Edelgard gasps and a hopeful tenderness flickers in Byleth’s stare.

 

“Make a wish?” 

 

Heat—surely from the flame—blooms across Edelgard’s cheeks. “Professor, really, there’s no need for you to do this.”

 

Byleth’s hand falters. They blink and frown in confusion at the ember dancing in their palm. “Am I not doing it right?” 

 

The hurt in their voice is Edelgard’s undoing.

 

Gloved hands reach over the table, gently grasping a calloused palm. Edelgard feels Byleth tense under her fingertips. She flashes a shaky smile and understanding flickers in those endless sea eyes.

 

Byleth smiles—a curl of their lips, from cheek to cheek—as Edelgard brings their hand closer to her face. It’s warm and genuine and magnificent . It sends Edelgard’s heart racing as she cups Byleth’s hand and blows.

 

Please, stay by my side.

 

The ember dies out and darkness envelops them in its intimate embrace.

 

Edelgard closes her eyes, taking advantage of the lack of light to feel the heat of Byleth’s palm; memorize every scar and cracked knuckle under her fingertips.

 

Her mind flashes back to the glow of Byleth’s eyes in the dark and she prays nocturnal sight isn’t another of her teacher’s unusual gifts.

 

The chair opposite of her creaks. Then, a thumb delicately, hesitantly, brushes against one of her hands.

 

Edelgard’s stomach flips. She lets go of Byleth’s hand, opening her eyes to see Byleth staring at her.

 

Their eyes are wide, as if taking in every inch of Edelgard they can.

 

It’s arrogant to do so, but Edelgard wonders if Byleth is captivated .

 

Watching her wreathed in moonlight.

 

“What did you wish for?”

 

The spell breaks.

 

Edelgard chuckles at the innocent question and straightens in her chair. Carefully reconstructs her walls.

 

That was dangerous of her.

 

“My apologies Professor, but I can’t tell you,” Edelgard teases, a finger upon her lips. 

 

“What?” Byleth frowns and all traces of their kind smile vanish. Edelgard’s heart aches. “Why not?”

 

“Then it wouldn’t come true,” the Imperial Princess explains gently.

 

“Oh.” The Professor’s frown deepens. They stare at their own hand, lying dropped between them. Slowly, it tightens into a fist. “Is that how it works?”

 

“Supposedly,” Edelgard says. She purses her lips. Byleth’s tense form is unsettling.

 

“Then, it’s better that you don’t tell me.” Byleth nods, almost to themself. They sound faraway again. “I wouldn’t want to ruin your wish.”

 

Now, it’s Edelgard’s turn to stiffen. Comforting people is not one of her strengths and there is still too much hidden between them. There’s a cold touch to the Professor’s words. And the way they are staring at their own hand…

 

Edelgard recognizes it.

 

But, tonight, maybe she can keep being selfish.

 

Edelgard reaches over the table and clasps Byleth’s hand once more. The light returns to those eyes and the Princess can feel her heart quicken.

 

She wets her lips and lets her heart speak for itself. “My teacher, you have given me so much already. You have led my House with patience and ingenuity. Taught my fellow students and I how to fight battles in ways we would not have from other Professors. And helped me more than I can say.”

 

The cries of her siblings ring in her ears, but a gentle voice—

 

“You can trust me with anything.”

 

—is just as strong.

 

Byleth looks at her with wide eyes. The silver light of the moon dapples their face and Edelgard swears her teacher’s eyes are almost misty.

 

There is a sea of emotion playing across Byleth’s face and Edelgard wishes they could see it themself.

 

“You’re very kind Edelgard,” Byleth mumbles. Edelgard wants to laugh at the prospect, but the Professor’s soft voice is distracting. “Thank you.”

 

A comfortable weight settles over them. Byleth gestures to their tea and Edelgard’s cake.

 

“You should finish it.”

 

Edelgard doesn’t want to let go, but knows she must. She has been greedy enough. Letting go of the Professor’s hand, ignoring how much she misses that warmth, she settles back into propriety.

 

The tea and cake are almost finished when her teacher finally speaks.

 

“I hope you get your wish Edelgard.”

 

Edelgard flashes a polite smile over the rim of her tea cup. “Thank you my teacher.”

 

Byleth’s lips twitch. That small measure of magnificence makes Edelgard’s heart flutter.

 

Please, she wishes, do not take back your kind hand.