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The first time Dedue has greenhouse duty with Bernadetta, she shakes so badly he's almost surprised he can't hear her knees knocking together. Dedue is no stranger to people's fear of him, but this sort of reaction is...unusual, to say the least. He tries to ignore it, because whether she gets used to him or not is none of his concern, really, and the best he can do is refuse to let it affect his work, but when she reaches for the pruning shears with that tremor in her hands he fears she might hurt herself.

"Why don't I do that," he says, "and you can water over here?"

Bernadetta squeaks, and shakes harder, and entirely fails to make eye contact with him, but she nods, and holds out the shears. Dedue takes them as carefully as he can, so no one ends up injured, and then holds the watering can out to her. It goes...poorly. He's barely let go of it before the shakes get the best of her and she drops it right on his foot, splashing cold water all over his uniform and hurting him besides. Dedue is careful, always so careful, to be quiet and appear non-threatening, but he shouts at the shock of it, and regrets it immediately when all the blood drains from her face.

"I'm sorry!" she cries, holding the final syllable as she turns and runs from the greenhouse, wailing the whole way.

Dedue looks out the greenhouse door for a long moment after that, not entirely sure what to make of...all that. There is work to be done, though, and the sooner he does it the sooner he can change out of his wet uniform, so he sets himself to the list of tasks the greenhouse keeper left for the student volunteers. Working with plants and soil, with life and the source of it, is always calming, and though he perhaps needs to be calmed more than usual this is still no exception. The Garreg Mach uniforms are wool, and absorb the water from the dropped watering can well enough, so by the time the sun is beginning to set and the bells are ringing for dinner Dedue has nearly forgotten the whole thing.

Nearly. Many chores are assigned, to ensure necessary work gets done and students contribute weekly, but some of the stable work and most of the greenhouse duties can be volunteered for, and when he checks the sign-up sheet to see who he might be working with in the future he frowns to see Bernadetta's name down, again and again and again. Well. There is nothing for it but to do what he always does in these cases, to keep his head down and his manner polite and give no one anything to find fault with except that one unchangeable attribute Fódlanders seem to care about most.

-

There is a small section of plants native to Duscur in a corner of the greenhouse; Dedue doesn't know how long they've been here, but they certainly weren't planted for his benefit. Like the Morfis plum tree, the brilliant tropical flowers of Brigid, the scrawny Almyran pine with its roots carefully trimmed so it doesn't extend through the roof of the greenhouse, they exist only because it's what Fódlanders know from the places outside their borders, only to make someone somewhere feel as if they've done a service for the cultural education of the students they expect to attend. Still, they are familiar, and somehow thriving in this less than ideal environment, and seeing them sets Dedue at a kind of ease he rarely feels.

Near the Duscur plants sit a number of barrels, and on top of one of those barrels sits a plate of cookies and a scrap of paper.

Dedue,

I'm sorry! I didn't mean to throw water at you and run away and make you do all the gardening yourself. I get terrified frightened nervous. I don't know if you like cookies? If you don't I'm sorry!!!

Sorry,

Bernadetta von Varley

Dedue does, in fact, like cookies, and more than that he appreciates a good apology; there are very few of those in his life, to be honest. The cookies are still warm, soft in the middle and spiced with ginger and cinnamon, but someone recognizing he is a human and it is both possible and regrettable to offend him sits even warmer in his stomach. Nearly all of the plants have been watered, leaves still glistening, and most of the flowers and insectivorous plants that protect them have been pruned, but there is still plenty to do. Dedue spreads fertilizer, thins the fruits and vegetables, carefully checks leaves for signs of pests or disease, and every now and again returns to the barrel to snack on a cookie. It makes work he already enjoys even more pleasant, and he is in such a good mood by the time he packs up his things to head to dinner he cannot keep from smiling - unusual, but certainly not unpleasant. He carefully wraps the rest of the cookies in a clean cloth meant for wiping dirty hands on, and fishes around in his pack until he finds a pen.

Bernadetta,

It is alright; I accept both your apology and the cookies, thank you. I am an early riser, and would be happy to complete my portion of the gardening before lectures begin on days we are assigned together, so you can work by yourself in the evening.

Dedue Molinaro

-

Mornings can be difficult for Dedue, much as he prefers them to late nights. His Highness sleeps poorly, and if Dedue doesn't have to rouse him from the sort of sleep that so frequently escapes him after only a few hours, he has to help soothe his frazzled nerves after a night of tossing and turning. The greenhouse sits in the brief window between Dedue rising and His Highness needing attention like a gift from the gods themselves, an opportunity to shake off the last of sleep's feeble grasp and center himself before the first challenge of the day. There is a joy in labor, in putting one's body to use to make the world more beautiful, and the air perfumed by flowers and herbs alike fills Dedue's lungs like a good cup of tea fills the belly, warm and comforting. Dedue fills a basket with plump tomatoes for the day's meals, and stops in the dining hall to get some chamomile tea to bring His Highness. He spreads fresh mulch to keep pests away, and quietly helps His Highness dress after a night of no sleep leads to clumsy fingers. He carefully selects flowers to adorn Rhea's desk, and sits quiet and still in class like he cannot feel Felix's eyes boring into the back of his head after yet another perceived slight. He digs a series of holes in the unforgiving ground for new trees to line one of the walkways, and pretends he does not see Ingrid quietly ask Annette to switch partners when they are paired for sparring.

And sometimes, he finds a new gift on the barrel near the Duscur plants. There are more cookies, sometimes the spiced ones from that first day, sometimes others, with bits of candy or nuts like he would make with his mother for special occasions. A small cactus in a decorative pot, rescued from the greenhouse keeper's otherwise ruthless thinning of the weak to allow the stronger plants to thrive. A selection of knitted cloths, for wiping his grimy hands after a day of collecting dirt under his fingernails, so finely made they will be a pleasure to use.

Dedue takes the cookies to class more often than not, to share them with Ashe and Mercedes who will appreciate them for the skill that went into their baking, and Annette and Sylvain who will appreciate them simply for tasting good, and though he is not sure they believe him when he insists he didn't make them he makes sure to remember their enthusiastic praise and write it down to leave for Bernadetta in notes she never responds to. He leaves the cactus in His Highness' room, as it receives better sunlight on the second floor and needs no care so it can simply sit there and be green and alive in the corner of his vision while he paces, and gives one of the soft knitted cloths to Mercedes after he overhears her complain about the rough washcloths provided by the monastery. Each exchange warms him as thoroughly as receiving the gifts himself, and for quite some time it is enough to quiet the nagging, persistent feeling he should be reciprocating.

-

Dedue steps into Sylvain's path as he crosses the courtyard towards a group of young ladies; whatever poor decision he is about to make can surely wait, if Dedue does not manage to sufficiently distract him. One moon has come and gone since Miklan's death, a second growing ever rounder in the sky, and though Dedue has been trying not to bother him he cannot think of anyone else able to help with this particular matter.

"Sylvain," Dedue says. "You're friendly with Bernadetta von Varley, correct?"

"She threatens to kill me on a near-weekly basis," he says, with a pride that does not quite match the words; that would not be especially clarifying from anyone else, but Sylvain's dearest friend is Felix so it is entirely possible he struggles with the difference between threats and affection (when there is a difference at all).

"I would like to give her a gift," Dedue says, "but I'm not sure what she might like, and I would prefer not to ask."

"Can't go wrong with flowers," Sylvain says, and Dedue only barely manages to keep from rolling his eyes.

"Something more personal," he says. "I want her to know it comes from me."

Sylvain perks up at that. "Something personal, huh? It's going to be tricky, she's a tough nut to crack."

Dedue sighs and pulls the latest gift from his bag to show Sylvain. A knit hat, worked in a fine yarn that must have taken forever to make progress with, especially as it's lined with another knit layer for extra warmth. Most of it is a rich Faerghus blue, more suited to His Highness' wardrobe than Dedue’s own but beautiful nonetheless, with a band of golden yellow in a clever pattern that echoes the shape of his earring. It is a work of incredible skill, and though it is unlikely to get cold enough at Garreg Mach to need it much it will serve him well through the winters in Fhirdiad quite possibly for the rest of his life. In truth he was almost angry looking at it this morning, a brief flash of misplaced guilt about a debt he has been remiss in repaying.

Sylvain whistles long and low, turning the hat over in his hands and raising his eyebrows.

"She made this?"

"She did."

"Forget flowers, then," Sylvain says. "Get her a whole greenhouse."

Dedue laughs. "That is in fact the problem. She prefers to work alone in the greenhouse, so I do my portion of the chores early and leave the rest to her on her own time. She gave me a gift to apologize for a misunderstanding before we started that arrangement, and has since given me quite a few to thank me for honoring her wish to be alone. I am - there have been too many, and I would like her to know both that I appreciate them and that no more are necessary."

"Bernie doesn't eat," Sylvain says. "Or, she does, obviously, just not in the dining hall. Too loud, too many people. It's probably been a while since she had a hot meal she didn't have to make herself, since she either sneaks food back to her room or sneaks into the kitchen at night to cook."

Dedue frowns. "That does not seem sustainable."

"She's working on it," Sylvain says, and glances towards the girls he was about to approach, and then beyond to the training grounds where either Felix or Dimitri or both are almost certainly working their bodies to the limit. "We all have our stuff. Your food's better than most of what we get in the dining hall anyway, she'll like it."

"Thank you," Dedue says. Sylvain shrugs and hands the hat back, rocking a little on his feet and looking once more at the girls. "Would you like to help?"

"Only if you tell her I did so she makes me a fancy hat," Sylvain says, with a wink, but there is something to the slump of his shoulders, the tilt of his head, that seems almost relieved to Dedue, and he sets off for the dining hall without waiting for Dedue to follow.

-

Dedue,

The hand pies were delicious!! Thank you so much. I don't think I recognized the spices you used, they were delicious! Sometimes I forget I don't always I usually eat my dinner late so it was really nice to have something to munch on while I worked. I even saved a few for breakfast! I bet they'll be just as good cold. I didn't know you like to cook. Or maybe you don't like it and you're just good at it anyway? I hope you like it if you went to the trouble for me, please don't ever do something you don't like just for my benefit!!

If you don't mind sharing the recipe with me I'd really appreciate it! Unless it's a secret or something, then don't worry about it. I like to make my own dinner sometimes, when the dining hall is loud, and I'd like to try making these. If that's okay!

I had some extra fabric after I finished making something else so I wrapped the handles of the pruning shears you use; I noticed they keep getting splintery.

Thank you!!

Bernadetta

-

Bernadetta,

The improvement to the shears was unnecessary but much appreciated, thank you. They are much more pleasant to work with now, and to look at. I enjoy when tools are beautiful and not just useful.

Enclosed is the recipe for the hand pies; they are not much different from the ones the dining hall normally serves, but for the spices and the dried fruit I like to include. The spices can be a little difficult to find, though Professor Byleth seems to have a knack for seeking them out so I am leaving you some of those as well. Please enjoy.

Dedue

-

Dedue,

Fruit! That's why the texture was so interesting. Thank you for the spices!! I keep opening the jar just to smell them; are they from Duscur? I really look forward to trying them out! I have my own spice blend I came up with but it isn't very interesting. It feels interesting to call it my secret spice blend, though! I didn't have a pretty jar like the one yours came in but I painted this plain one because I like it when useful things are pretty, too.

I just want to say again how much I appreciate you letting me work alone in the greenhouse. Sometimes it's hard to be around people and I'm trying really hard to be better at it but there are so many people here! All the time! Everywhere! It feels like my room is the only place I can take a break from trying so hard, but then I remember I get to come to the greenhouse and be alone here, too. If you ever don't like it I'm happy to switch times so you don't have to get up so early!

I hope you like Bernie's Secret Spices! Thank you again for the recipes and the pies and the alone time.

Bernadetta

-

Bernadetta,

I enjoyed the spices very much, thank you. You should try adding more black pepper, or perhaps something spicier to the mix, I find that is often what sets my cooking apart from others in Fódlan.

The greenhouse keeper asked me to thin out the pitcher plants a little, so I have potted one for you in thanks for the spice blend. I do not wish to make judgments about the cleanliness of your room but when I asked the greenhouse keeper if she thought it would be able to find sufficient sustenance away from the greenhouse she said she is not sure she's ever seen a student keep their room clean enough for that to be a concern. I briefly considered showing her my own room to prove her wrong, but it seemed beside the point.

Dedue

-

Dedue,

Oh, thank you so much! I always wanted to take one for my room but wasn't sure if it was okay to ask. I've always been so fascinated with these but wasn't allowed to have one growing up, just flowers and sometimes herbs. It is - thank you! It lives next to my window and seems to be quite happy, though I might have to find a messy person I can loan it to in case it isn't getting enough to eat. I try not to make too much of a mess, a girl has to know how to keep things tidy or she'll never find a h.

I added some dried pepper with the rest of my spices and wow! You're right, it makes a big difference. I don't usually cook for anyone but myself unless I'm on kitchen duty but I might have to make an exception! I can always tell when you've had kitchen duty because the food is better than usual, I'm sure this isn't your only secret but thank you for sharing it with me!

There was a traveling merchant in the marketplace this weekend selling these watering cans with padded handles. I usually keep the can half-full to keep the handle from digging into my hands and have to refill it twice as often, I thought you might have the same problem. Or you don't fill it halfway and just deal with how uncomfortable the handle is? Either way, it's bigger than the cans that belong to the greenhouse so I thought you might like one. Thank you again for the advice and the plant and the spices and the pies and the greenhouse to myself!!

Bernadetta

-

Bernadetta

Thank you for the watering can; you are right, the handles of the old ones were less than ideal. I hadn't thought to fill it halfway, rather, I was using my off hand so any lingering discomfort would not affect my grip when training, and would often spill. I suppose I would get better at using my off hand if I used it more often, but with a finer handle I can still do that as I choose. It was kind of you to think of me.

I often cook up the hand pies I made you for His Highness, as he, like you, prefers to keep to his own schedule where dining is concerned. It is easy enough to double the recipe so here are more for you. The basket is yours as well, I believe I visited the same traveling merchant and was quite impressed by the craftsmanship. I hope you do not often get people giving you things merely because they are purple - I find people who do not know me well tend to assume I must like silver jewelry because of my hair, and I am not especially fond. More than the purple, though, the way the handle is twisted made me think of vines, and I suppose when I think of plants I think of you. The napkins are part of a set given to me by Mercedes, who is responsible for the clever embroidery; she gave me far too many, and I thought you might also enjoy her work.

Dedue

-

Dedue,

Please tell Mercedes I think her work is beautiful! I gave myself a little bit of a headache trying to work out how she did those tiny little stitches in the leaves too late at night. Don't tell her that part! I wouldn't want her to feel bad. Are you sure you want to share something this special with me? I won't blame you if you change your mind and ask for them back! But if you do really want me to have them I appreciate it a lot, they're beautiful, and usually I'm the person who makes beautiful handmade things so I don't usually get them as gifts.

I've been put on stable duty for the next couple of weeks; Professor Manuela says it isn't a punishment, it's to help me be prepared for my Paladin exam - I asked if I could focus on learning to ride so I could run away better, and now I'm taking the Paladin exam? She made me compete in the lance tournament last weekend - Dimitri was very nice and didn't gloat at all about how he hit me four times before I even finished panicking and I lost without getting a single hit in. I think making me fight in tournaments is the opposite of making it easier for me to run away! Anyway, she says it isn't a punishment but she's assigned Ferdinand to work with me and Ferdinand is very bad at not talking when I ask him if we can be quiet for a little while. It's not his fault, he tries really hard! I don't want to make him sound bad. But if I threw a watering can at him he'd want me to talk about what I was so afraid of and tell me he forgives me for half an hour and then try to make me less nervous by being very cheerful which for him means very loud, and it's hard to concentrate.

I haven't made you cookies for a while! You never told me you didn't like sweets and I never found them in the greenhouse trash so I assume you didn't mind them. I've been using lots of cinnamon when I bake lately because I'm trying more spicy things. Not that cinnamon is very spicy, but for a sweet thing it kind of is. They're nice as it gets colder, I think. This is an extra-big batch since it will be a little while before I give you more! And when I was thinking about how much I don't want to do stable duty even though it's good for me to practice being around people more I just kept thinking about how nice it's been to have so much alone time. Thank you, again, a thousand times, for being so nice about it (and for the napkins, the basket, the pies, the plant, the spices, the other pies...!

Bernadetta

-

Bernadetta,

I was pleased to see your name on the greenhouse duty roster again; I took some time to volunteer with His Highness for weeding, which is somewhat less relaxing than tending the plants, and have otherwise been working quite a bit with Ashe. He is pleasant to work with, and more knowledgeable about plants than most people I've met, but he would surely be offended if I suggested we work separately, and I had not realized how much I valued my quiet time in the greenhouse in the morning until I saw I would be able to have it once again. I do not know how much you know of what happened in Remire; suffice it to say it was stressful, and I welcome the respite.

If you are returning to the greenhouse, does that mean you passed your exam? I am sure you make a fine Paladin, unless of course you have simply changed your mind and decided to pursue another path. I briefly considered pursuing mounted combat myself, to more easily keep up with His Highness, but Professor Byleth has me focusing on hand-to-hand combat instead. I know you find it difficult to speak with people, but perhaps if your ultimate goal is a Bow Knight certification you should speak to Ashe about training together, as I believe he is working towards the same end.

Your cookies were, as ever, delicious, and as ever the rest of the Blue Lions pass on their enthusiastic compliments. If there were some way to magically prevent staleness, I might not bother to share them at all. I asked Annette if such a thing existed, but as I have frequently caught her stuffing extra cookies into her bag, her insistence it was impossible may be suspect. I have been holding on to these plant pots for some time now - the vendor informed me they were from Brigid, though the painting technique reminded me a little of traditional Duscur pottery - in hope of finding the correct use for them, and I believe they will bring you as much joy as they have brought me. You spend so much time in your room, it is important it be a beautiful and restful sanctuary.

I am very pleased to be working "with" you again.

Dedue

-

Dedue checks the barrel by the native plants of Duscur every day as a matter of habit, though there is only a gift once a week or so. Every now and again, between the baked goods and the little paintings, there is something to make his chores easier, so it only makes sense to look after he changes but before he begins work with an old watering can only to find a new one waiting for him, with twice the capacity and a padded handle, or pruning only to find a new set of shears. Today's gift, though, stops him in his tracks as surely as if its clever maker had pierced him with an arrow instead, and he is not sure how he is supposed to get any work done with his heart in his throat, pounding as if it's trying to make an escape.

The symbol of the Duscur goddess of nature sits on the barrel as if it belongs there, worked in wheat-gold thread on a rich blue background. The cushion it's embroidered so lovingly on is big enough it extends past the edges of the barrel, flatter and more dense than the average pillow. Dedue runs his fingers over it, half-expecting to find his hand passes right through and he's only imagined it; how could this be here, this symbol of all things, this place of all places? But it is real, the texture of the embroidery a little rough beneath his fingers compared to the soft wool of the backing. Dedue does not often include her in his prayers, specific as they are to the various gods and goddesses whose domains are more relevant to his daily life, but he prays to her now, a quick and silent thanks for appearing to him.

There is a note pinned to the cushion, as long and in as harried a hand as ever.

Dedue,

A friend helped me find a book on the gods of Duscur, and I thought you might like this. It's supposed to be for kneeling on while you garden, to help your back, but I realized when I was finished it might not be okay to kneel on things that represent your gods? So I added a little strap so you can hang it on the wall! If you want. Or use it as a cushion, but only on a chair you don't use? I'm sorry! I hope you like it anyway.

You really, really don't need to thank me for this one! I don't know what to do after this, I had to find the book and then the embroidery took forever and I'm not complaining! I really liked learning about your gods, and it was a very interesting project! But I don't think I can top it, so you have to stop giving me thank you gifts for the thank you gifts I give you so I stop owing you more gifts! My fingers are tired. This is a final thank you for every gift you've given me and also letting me have the greenhouse to myself and you don't need to thank me for thanking you!!!

Gratefully,

Bernadetta

Dedue runs his fingers over a section of the embroidery again and smiles; no wonder her fingers are tired. It would help if she knew only a little more about the gods - nature is the easiest Fódlan translation of her particular domain, but it isn't quite accurate. The goddess of birth and growth is responsible for plants, and while she is represented by a much more intricate symbol there are fewer blocks of solid color than in this, the symbol of the goddess of...wildlife, Dedue supposes, is close enough. Animals and insects and man's baser nature - were Felix a man of Duscur, he would pray to her for His Highness, she who takes charge of men when they are little better than beasts. Dedue's gods are forgiving, though, and endlessly understanding, and he is sure neither would mind the well-meant mistake nor the act of kneeling upon the cushion to use it for its intended purpose.

As for the rest - well. If Dedue were pushy enough to talk to Bernadetta when she has made it clear she would prefer people not, he could explain to her how it eats at him to allow a gesture like this to go unanswered. They could come to an agreement then, perhaps, an understanding that so long as her gifts are so much more generous than the act she is thanking him for he will wish to make up the difference, and then perhaps he could make her a meal and they would agree to call it even. It would be nice to have dinner with Bernadetta, he thinks, if she weren't so frightened, to have someone besides Ashe he could talk about both cooking and gardening with, perhaps even to make her laugh and shake the image of her trembling with fear from his mind once and for all.

For now, all he can do is decide to sit, for as long as he can, with the discomfort of owing someone something, and write a hasty thanks on the back of her note to leave on the barrels by her pitcher plants, and set about his chores, carrying his new cushion and thinking fondly of the care it must have taken.

-

The moon hangs so heavy and bright in the sky Dedue has no need of a lantern, though the light it casts is odd and silvery, turning the familiar grounds into something more like an illustration from a particularly fanciful children's book than the rather plain space he is used to. Whoever it was, whichever ancient Fódlander with the poet's soul who named the moons to mark the passage of time, certainly had the right of it. As happens so often these days, an idle word in an idle thought brings his own gentle poet to mind - his, an absurd way to think of a person he's exchanged no more than ten words with - and rather than turn towards his room Dedue heads for the greenhouse. It will bring him no more clarity than any other time he's tried to make sense of the twist and the flutter in his chest, his newfound talent for thinking of her at the slightest provocation, the stark reality of her aversion to - people in general, she says, but would it remain so general if he stopped maintaining his careful distance?

Still, he would like to see the greenhouse in this almost magical light, and he has certainly never regretted attempting to garden his cares away, even when they inevitably find him again.

Dedue, of course, is not the only one who would rather see the greenhouse by moonlight than attend the ball, though it takes him a moment to realize he is not alone. Bernadetta is well-hidden, tucked away in a corner, bundled up in a pile of knit blankets as if she's been here for some time. Her hair is pushed messily back from her face with a thick headband, her uniform jacket is now pulled over what looks to be a nightgown rather than her usual hooded shirt, and she is surrounded by papers and quills and sketching materials. Dedue would have noticed if she lived in the greenhouse, though she looks so thoroughly settled in for a moment it does not seem impossible he just missed something.

Bernadetta looks at him with her eyes as wide as a prey animal caught in a hunter's torchlight, holding a pot of tea partway between the tray she must have brought it in on and her half-empty cup, and Dedue waits for the screaming that so often indicates someone, somewhere at the Academy, is speaking to Bernadetta when she does not wish to be spoken to, but it doesn't come. Instead she simply smiles at him and pours herself some tea.

"Would you like some?" she asks. "It's cinnamon."

"If you have another cup," he says, and she nods.

"I had to ask one of the cooks if I could have some tea instead of sneaking in and getting it myself, since they were busy getting ready for the ball," Bernadetta says. "She must have thought I was meeting someone."

"And now you have," Dedue says, "Met someone, I mean."

Bernadetta pours him one, then scoots around a little, arranging the blankets in her lap to reveal one on the ground, as well, and space for Dedue to join her. He had expected to come away from the greenhouse no less confused about an appropriate course of action, not to end up more confused by this openness from a person he's been so steadily avoiding for so long; then again, Bernadetta initiating this contact, inviting him to some sort of time together, does solve a number of the problems at hand. So he sits, and takes the offered cup, and tries not to laugh when Bernadetta produces yet another blanket from somewhere.

"How many of those do you have?" he asks.

"There are two more in my room," she says, cheeks a little pink but still smiling. She reaches into the satchel at her side and produces another piece of fabric, too squat to be a scarf, with a ball of yarn hanging from the end. "And this one. I don't - I don't sit still very well. I get anxious, and then I fidget, and then people tell me to stop doing that, Bernie, and then I get upset they're yelling at me even though I don't want to sit next to someone tapping their leg all the time either. Um."

"It's a good skill to have," Dedue says, arranging the blanket over his legs. He knows why Bernadetta chose this corner to settle in - her favorite pitcher plants are clustered here, odd and alien among the sweet-smelling flowers they protect from pests, but there isn't much space and he can't quite sit without bumping his leg against hers. She doesn't seem to mind, or at least she doesn't try to move away. "My mother and sister knew how to weave, I never thought to have them teach me."

"I'd offer to teach you knitting," she says, "but I'm not a very good teacher, I don't think. Sylvain wanted to try and he made the worst hat I've ever seen."

"Perhaps the problem was with the student, not the teacher," Dedue says. He takes a sip of his tea, sweetened more than he prefers but warm and spicy and perfect for a night like tonight, when the cold kisses rather than bites. Bernadetta looks at him like he's said something absurd, or in a language she doesn't recognize, like he's slipped into the Duscur tongue and tried to tell her up is down. "The tea is good, thank you."

She nods and smiles, and the pink in her cheeks deepens a little, but other than that her face is a mask of concentration and her fingers move across the yarn bunched on the needles in a steady, even rhythm as she counts something. Dedue leaves her to it, never one to mind silence, and leans his head back against the worn wood of the planter behind him while he sips his tea. The tips of his ears are cold, and he wishes he had the hat Bernadetta made him so much earlier in the year; the ground beneath him is hard and cold even through the blanket, and he wishes he had the embroidered cushion. It is only since coming to Garreg Mach Dedue has allowed himself to become quite so protective of his own comfort, because it is only here he has managed to recapture the feeling he thought lost to his youth of being offered a token of someone else's desire to provide that comfort. Dimitri has been kind, of course, unfailingly kind, but he has so many of his own concerns, and Dedue is so uncomfortable taking gifts from him, owing him further. Gestures from Dimitri, however generous, add on to a debt he is unsure he will ever repay, but he can eat a meal Ashe cooked him with flavors reminiscent of Duscur and wipe his fingers clean on Mercedes' embroidered napkins and refer to notes taken for him by Annette while he was in the infirmary seeing to a training injury and feel nothing but cared for, because he will cook for Ashe in turn and find a pair of earrings in the market that will set off Mercedes' eyes and wheat-gold hair and show Annette how to hold an axe that weighs nearly as much as she does without straining her shoulders.

It is perhaps foolish to yearn so for the many tokens of Bernadetta's care she has offered when she herself is sitting there, to think of comforting himself with objects when for the first time since she soaked him in this very spot he can be comforted by her presence itself. Dedue takes a long, slow sip of his tea, lets it warm him, bolster him against the cold of the ground beneath him and the wind at his ears. He sighs, content, and only then notices that though her needles are moving again, Bernadetta is looking at him rather than her knitting.

"Was, um, was the cushion alright?" Bernadetta asks, cheeks going pink again; Dedue never responded, couldn't quite find the right words or the right gesture to repay her. "Petra said she would have liked something like that, but I shouldn't assume you would feel the same just because you're both from outside Fódlan, even if you might miss home the way she does, because a reminder might upset you instead of make you feel better? But I thought, I mean I hoped - it just seemed - I hope you liked it."

"I did," Dedue says, "very much. It - I cannot imagine where you found such a book. There are none in Faerghus, of course, and when I checked the library here out of curiosity I found a single volume on world religions that did not, as I am sure you can imagine, go into much detail on any but the Church of Seiros."

"I have a friend in Abyss," Bernadetta says, and reaches into her bag to fish out a slim, leather-bound book. It is a little difficult to believe - not that she has friends, of course, he is well aware there are people less wary of her boundaries than he is who have managed to charm their way in, but that among their number is one of the mysterious students from beneath the monastery, or that whoever it is would have thought to offer her a book on Duscur if she spoke about Dedue to them, or that she would want so much to do something of this magnitude she would ask. But the book is real and solid in his hands, in the Fódlan language though Dedue cannot think of a time there was peace enough to produce something like this here, with a pressed flower marking the page with the wildlife goddess' sigil illustrated in stark black ink. Dedue's breath catches on a lump forming in his throat, and he has put a great deal of energy into never letting anyone see him falter but there are tears gathering in the corners of his eyes.

"Thank you," he says, voice a little rough. "May I - "

"Keep it," she says, watching him carefully - not the way someone does when they are afraid and trying to avoid being taken by surprise, but her eyes warm and brow soft with concern, or kindness, or something like what Dedue feels when he walks into the greenhouse to find yet another gift waiting for him. "They won't miss it."

Dedue nods, and closes his eyes, takes a deep breath, reigns his emotions in once again. The leather is warming in his hands, the pages worn with age, and for just a moment Dedue is so homesick he thinks he might be physically ill before it passes, and he takes another deep breath and opens his eyes to smile at Bernadetta.

"Thank you," he says, and slips the book into his coat pocket. "For that, and for, well, everything."

"Everybody treats me like I need fixing," Bernadetta says. "And they're not - they're right, I know, I can't just stay in my room and hide forever. Or, I could, maybe, but it wouldn't be - I know I need it. Or they - goddess, I know it isn't any fun to try to talk to me when I'm scared, the way I - nobody likes it when I get loud, I don't like it when I get loud, but I get so - and then people are careful, they're so careful, and I can't relax, and it gets worse, and - there isn't really anybody who's seen me be afraid and decided to just...let me. And I don't know if - of course I'll never get better if everyone just, but - being here is hard. And you made it less hard. I don't - I was, um. I wasn't going to hide in here, I was going to go to the ball, and be brave, and talk to you, and then it was loud, and I thought - and I didn't. But I'm glad you're here. I - oh! You didn't come here because you wanted to be alone, did you? I didn't think - "

"I wanted to see how it looked in the moonlight," Dedue says, cutting her off; her voice is rising in speed and pitch at a somewhat alarming rate, and she looks almost relieved when he stops her. "Much nicer, with your company."

Her blush this time is so deep it is more red than pink, disappearing under her headband and down the collar of her jacket, and it is a shame her smile is so rare because it lights up her whole face, so she shines nearly as bright as the moon that has so captivated Dedue this evening. He can only hope she doesn't mind him staring, as he seems quite unable to look away. Dedue does not - it isn't that he never wants things for himself, exactly, it is only that the things he wants are so large and so far away (and in some cases, so impossible) he does not often have to contend with the reality of that wanting. Now, though, and here in this quiet place that has given him so much, what he wants is so small and so near it seems absurd he is merely sitting here wanting it, that he isn't doing anything about it.

"Would you," Bernadetta begins, and then stops to take a deep, steadying breath. "This might be a little silly, I just - I was going to ask to dance with you, when I was planning on going to the ball. Would you like to, maybe, here, though?"

"I would love to," Dedue says; at this rate, her blush is going to permanently stain her face, but she looks so surprised and so pleased perhaps that is a risk worth taking. It takes a moment to drink the rest of his tea, and to find a safe place to put the cup, to disentangle himself from the blankets and push to his feet without encroaching on Bernadetta's space, to push a few things out of the way and ensure they have ample room to move. And when it is done and he holds his hand out, she looks surprised all over again, as if she had watched all that and still thought Dedue might simply change his mind and walk out of the greenhouse. He waits, and she shakes her head, laughs at herself a little, and begins her own process of putting things aside so she can join him. The teacup, and the knitting, and two layers of blankets, and he waits with his hand extended the whole time, until she is free to take it be led a few steps away.

Bernadetta's nightgown, worn thin, clings to her legs rather attractively, but Dedue is gentleman enough to look away from the fall of fabric at her calf and the silhouette it fails to conceal. Far more important is the heat of her as she steps close, the way her waist fits in his hand as if sized for him alone, the softness of her hand in his. She has callouses, from her bow and lance and likely her handicrafts, but the skin between is soft as silk; she is shaking a little, but Dedue has seen the way she runs from things that frighten her and trusts she won't do anything she truly does not wish to. There is no music, but it is easy enough for Dedue to count a simple rhythm in his head, and Bernadetta follows his lead as if they are one mind. How foolish, all the time they have spent so carefully avoiding each other, when this is how it feels to be together.

The moon is bright and beautiful overhead, the greenhouse fragrant with their beloved plants and just a hint of cinnamon tea, and as Bernadetta stops trembling everything else falls away.