First, sorry for the long wait fellas. Decided to take an extended break for the holidays. Needed to take a healthy break after the coronation arc. Those chapters seriously drained my fighting spirit, they were very difficult to conjure up and write.
But! I'm back, and the itch has returned.
Figured I'd add one more to the Moments Lost in Time saga before the big showdown, and it had the added bonus of dipping my toes back in, as I am a bit rusty. This particular chapter I had originally planned to do later on as a flashback, or have it happen off-screen since I had trouble fitting it in, so it felt like a perfect chance for one more Moments chapter.
Hope you enjoy!
It was like that of thunder rolling in the distance.
Like the beating of a drum.
Fingers tapping on a desk.
Or a hammer banging in a nail.
It was constant. It was rhythmic. Almost like… a melody.
Unlike most songs, however, this one never ended. Edelgard couldn't hear it here in the tower. It was a song meant only for his ears… A song meant only for him. It wasn't particularly pretty or intricate. It was a song with only one note, after all.
Byleth found it himself enchanted by it all the same.
It was beating so steadily. So loudly. So naturally. It was as if it had always been there, as if it had always been alive.
"When I'm at your side…"
As wondrous as it was, it was a little too loud. Slightly too distracting. He could barely organize his thoughts. Everything was drowned out by constant percussions. It was like that of a deaf man hearing a sprawling city for the very first time. It was all encompassing, overriding everything but his mouth and his eyes.
All that he could see were Edelgard's impossibly purple eyes. Her soft, pale skin. The brilliant, white hair.
And all that he could hear was that beating of a heart.
Staring at her now, there were so many things he wanted to say… So many things he wanted to tell her. How she made him feel, how she changed his life, just how truly beautiful she was…
When he studied her in the past, it was almost scientific in nature. His eyes would follow the contours of her jaw, study the slight glint on her pink lips, linger in the purple pools above her nose. He would study her like some complex equation. His mind would deduce that yes, her facial symmetry was quite captivating.
As he stared at her now, the light of a tired sun reflecting off her brilliant eyes, it was his heart telling him just how beautiful, gorgeous, and lovely she truly was. Like some finely crafted sculpture or a masterfully drawn painting, he could not break away.
Byleth did not want to look away. He wanted to spend an eternity here, within the walls of the Goddess Tower, staring into her eyes. The monastery around them no longer mattered. The outside world barely registered.
At this moment in time, his entire world consisted of the woman standing before him-
And the steady beating of his atrophied heart.
For a second, Byleth was okay with that. He realized how easy it was to be okay with it. How easy it would be to leave it all behind and devote the rest of his days to the woman he loved. To just… run away from everything.
That thought was dangerous. It was a drug that was far too addicting. It reminded him of those tales his father used to tell him, about sirens that lured sailors to their demise. All Byleth had to do was abandon everything, abandon everyone, and he could take her and run away…
Byleth's head twitched.
He wasn't sure if perhaps he did it subconsciously, or if it was just an effect of standing there in complete silence for so long, but his head twitched.
In its slight, almost nonexistent movement, his eyes caught the mountain tops in the distant horizon. The mountain's peaks, so very, very far away.
Byleth closed his eyes, and the sight disappeared. That small, temptatious daydream faded and the reality of his situation returned.
He… he could never do such a thing. Not to them, and not to Edelgard…
The professor flinched as he felt Edelgard's bare hand rest against his cheek. It was so… warm. A stark contrast to the frost he felt within the silent cavern his chest had become.
"My love… you are crying."
Byleth hadn't even noticed until he felt El's thumb brush away a stray tear.
"What is it?"
Edelgard persisted, her voice soft.
Byleth took hold of her hand, lightly pressing it against his cheek.
If only things could be different…
This was never the life he had envisioned for himself. Truthfully, there was very little he had envisioned for himself other than mercenary work, but this fantasy novel his life had become was like nothing he could have ever predicted. Every day seemed to pose a new challenge. Every day a new threat to the happiness he had found.
It was not the dying that frightened Byleth… He had already come to terms with that. Should the need arise, he would put Edelgard and the others before himself. Without hesitation. It was not their destiny to die, but to live to see the end of their own paths.
No, it was realizing that none of his own dreams would reach a conclusion. That he wouldn't live to see Edelgard's future. That he would not get to see his students grow, fall in love, and start lives of their own.
That he could not intertwine his life to El's… That he would never see that field of dandelions or have the chance to stare into the beautiful eyes of their daughter.
Once he died, those things died with him. That beautiful, little girl… died with him.
That weight was almost too heavy to bear.
What he wanted, what he needed, was it truly too much to ask for?
Could he truly not accomplish any of it?
Byleth wanted more.
He… he needed more. Just… Just something…
Byleth's hand fell from hers, dropping to the ring he wore around his neck- the only memento of his father and mother's shared love.
Would… Would it be wrong to…
"When I'm at your side…"
…Reach out his hand this one, last time? Would it be wrong to reach for hers?
He pulled the chain up and over his head. Such a light thing, yet it felt so heavy in his palm.
"I feel… human. You have given my life meaning. My still, worthless heart… it beats when you are near, and aches when you are not," Byleth whispered, opening his eyes and staring into hers. "These things you have given me, I never want to relinquish them. I… want to spend the rest of my life loving you, El."
By the look on her face, he knew his words registered, yet her gaze had not left the ring in his hand.
Finally, Edelgard met his eyes. Her own were wide and disbelieving. Her mouth agape, as if her mind was having trouble processing what would happen next.
"Edelgard, will you-"
Byleth frowned, lowering his head. His strained voice, despite being just a whisper, shattered the silence that emanated from his parents' graves. A silence Byleth used to find comfort in, as if his mother and father were quietly listening, but on this night, it felt hollow.
The daydream reached its abrupt end, as it always did. Those words he had wanted to say in the Goddess Tower vanished, blown away with the ever present wind.
It was one thing to picture their lives together, it was another to do so realizing that it may never be possible. But, as long as his daydream never reached an end… Then, maybe there was still hope. Maybe there was still hope that he could be the one saying those things and asking that question.
He… He could still cling to the hope of hearing El saying that one, lovely word. An answer he longed to hear from her lips.
Byleth didn't want to let go of that hope just yet.
"If that makes any sense," he whispered.
He lifted his head slightly, his eyes traversing the length of Jeralt and Sitri's graves. As Byleth's thoughts lingered on the remnants of his dream, his fingers brushed against his chest. He traced the area where the chain used to sit around his neck.
Byleth was suddenly quite cold. The wind didn't help matters, either.
"…If what made any sense, Professor."
A sharp statement rather than a question. Given who Byleth had asked to accompany him here, he expected nothing else.
"Nothing, Hubert." Byleth shook his head, composing himself.
Grinding his palms into his bloodshot, weary eyes, the professor turned to face his student. Byleth could feel Hubert's gaze crawl across his skin.
"It's almost midnight…" Hubert murmured, his eyes moving to the graves behind Byleth. "Why did you call me here?"
Byleth opened his mouth to speak, suddenly realizing he nearly forgot one, crucial step.
Reaching into his jacket pocket, he delicately pulled out two flowers. Purple hyacinths, to be exact.
He placed both on his mother's grave- one from himself, and one from Jeralt. He hoped they both would appreciate the gesture.
With that done, Byleth turned back to face Hubert.
"I need a favor."
For some reason, this seemed to catch the usually stone-faced Hubert off guard.
"A favor?" He repeated with a raised brow. "Pray tell."
Byleth reached into his other pocket. This time, he pulled out a small, leather bag.
"I need you to hold onto this for me."
Hubert stared at the offered bag for a moment, his brows scrunching together. Curiosity getting the better of the man, he lifted it out of Byleth's hand.
"Is there some reason that you cannot?" Hubert asked, examining the pouch in his hands.
"See for yourself."
Edelgard's aide sighed, tugging on the drawstrings.
"Or you could simply tell me what it is that you-"
Hubert froze, his eyes widening as he peered at its contents. Carefully, as if to not disturb it, Hubert retrieved the note that Byleth had placed inside. Unfolding it, Hubert began to read.
His eyes widened further, his lips slightly agape as he read the words on the page.
"Byleth…" Hubert glanced up at him. "What the hell is this?"
"It is exactly what it looks like." Byleth nodded at the bag. "If things go south, I am entrusting you to deliver that."
"Deliver it yourself."
Byleth could understand his anger.
"I have considered that, but you do realize why I can't."
Hubert scowled, returning the note and tightening the drawstrings.
"Consider it some more."
He forced the pouch back into Byleth's hands.
"I am not your errand boy," Hubert hissed. "Besides… it is not my place. It is yours."
Byleth shoved the bag back into his hands.
"I will not. Do it your-"
Byleth took his hand by force, crushing Hubert's fingers around the bag.
"Do as I say," Byleth growled. Realizing the severe change in his tone, Byleth cleared his throat and tried to calm himself. "…Please."
Hubert blinked, taking several seconds to register the series of events. Once he had, he slapped Byleth's hand away, but not the pouch.
"This coming battle is everything. It will dictate how we live the rest of our lives. It will dictate our very futures," Byleth whispered. "I know that you, Edelgard, and everyone else will fight with all that you have to ensure that we emerge victorious."
Hubert was silent, allowing Byleth to continue.
"I am no different. I will fight with all that I am. I will hold nothing back… no matter the enemy." Byleth winced as dozens of bright, smiling faces filled his mind. "But I also realize the truth of our situation."
Given that somber look in his eyes, Byleth had a hunch that Hubert knew what he was alluding to.
"Rhea… 'The Immaculate One…' It is I that must face her. No one else."
Hubert's lips curved downward. Byleth could see the conflict behind those dark eyes. A conflict between realism and faith. Not faith in some higher entity, of course, but in his liege.
"Do you not believe in Lady Edelgard's capabilities?"
"That is not what I am saying," Byleth sighed. "El is one of the strongest people I've ever known… I truly believe that a day will come where her strength will far surpass mine. A day where she can stand toe-to-toe with Rhea and come out on top."
Byleth exhaled slowly, turning his head up to the starry sky above.
"But it is not this day. It is not this week. It is not this year…" Byleth paused, meeting Hubert's eyes once more. "You are no fool, Hubert. I know you know this, just as she does. In this coming battle, I am the only one that can face Rhea."
Hubert's frown deepened, but he did not voice any rebuttals. In the dim moonlight, Byleth could see him nod just once.
"That may be," Hubert admitted, albeit softly. "Even so, you playing the part of hero is hardly necessary. There are other ways we can go about this. Other strategies we can-"
"Hubert," Byleth cut him off. "When it comes to her safety, you are as obsessive as anyone. I know you have played this out in your head over and over again. This is the best way."
"'Best?'" Hubert scoffed, crossing his arms. "How could you possibly know that? Until we see with our own eyes the power Rhea is capable of, we have no way of knowing what strategies to employ."
Byleth had seen it.
"Perhaps you are the one that is wrong," Hubert countered. "You are thinking with that defective heart of yours and not your seasoned wits."
Hubert sighed, snaking a hand through his black hair.
"I… I dread even uttering this, but I understand where you are coming from, Professor. I do. I have considered the same scenarios." Hubert's cold, yellow eyes met Byleth's. "But it is far too premature to consider martyrdom."
This was more difficult than he expected. He didn't anticipate Hubert to object so stubbornly to his plan.
Perhaps he should be thankful that his student had possibly warmed up to him, but Byleth wouldn't allow himself to suspect that was the reason behind Hubert's actions just yet. He found it far more likely that he was simply doing what he always did: protecting Edelgard.
Could he not understand that Byleth was trying to do the same? Byleth's method, should it boil down to that, would likely hurt El considerably… but she would live. She would live to see the end of her dream. Byleth would never dare to strip that away from her.
"Hubert, allow me to paint you a picture of what could happen."
Byleth stepped towards his student.
"With our combined strengths, it is possible that we might best Rhea. If we fought as one, it is true that we might have enough to defeat her."
He stopped just a few feet away. Byleth's face hardened, his eyes narrow and sharp.
"But it will not be without sacrifice. Many will die, I cannot hope to save them all. If I allow you and the others to stand at my side when we face the Immaculate One, many won't make it. Edelgard… would fight until her dying breath. She would die with the others before she gave in. Edelgard, you, the Eagles, you would all sacrifice yourselves just for the slightest chance of ridding the world of the cages Rhea has constructed around it."
Byleth grabbed Hubert by the arm, pulling him closer. So close that their noses were nearly touching, but Byleth did not look away. He held Hubert's gaze without blinking.
"I will not allow such a thing, Hubert. Ferdinand, Bernadetta, Petra, Dorothea, Linhardt, Caspar, Felix, Lysithea, Flayn, El… They are young. Their hearts still pure. They have far too much to live for. A painful, agonizing death should not be the fate of a hopeful, bright-eyed student… But of a demon."
Byleth dropped Hubert's arm. Hubert stared at that vacant space for a few moments, his eyes cloudy as he took in Byleth's impromptu monologue.
"I preferred it when you were not so sentimental and idealistic," Hubert muttered, rubbing his arm. "However, your judgement of their character is not unsubstantiated. Lady Edelgard will not kneel, and neither would the Eagles, should they choose to follow. I do realize this."
"So… if something were to happen to me, you'll give that to her?"
Hubert looked at the bag in his hand, his expression souring. He closed his weary eyes, his head jostling back and forth.
"Just answer me this: why me, Professor? I understand that your options of help are limited, but surely there is another you trust more with something of this nature."
Byleth glanced at the leather pouch. It did not seem fitting for the importance of what it carried. It was not sturdy. It would not offer much protection- any blade would likely cut through it like butter. Honestly, it was nothing but a… well, a small, leather bag.
It was no sternum, it was no ribcage, yet it held his heart all the same.
"When it comes to Edelgard, there is no one I trust more than you, Hubert."
He lifted his head, catching Hubert's shadowy eyes.
"Don't get me wrong- I have no plans on dying." He smiled ruefully. "Should this be the end to my story… It will not be without regret. There are many things I still wish to accomplish in this lifetime. There are still many things I wish to experience with you all. Many things that I…"
Byleth stopped himself.
"Though, if I should fall, I can at least ensure that Rhea falls with me-"
Byleth motioned to the bag Hubert was holding.
"And that Edelgard receives what belongs to her."
He met Hubert's eyes once more, silently pleading with him.
His student frowned, but he was buckling. Hubert was biting his lip, examining the bag with a furrowed brow. His thumb and forefinger were pinching the leather, feeling it beneath his glove.
"Lady Edelgard has already lost everything once, yet here you are…" Hubert whispered, his fingers coiling around the leather. "Do you truly understand what you are asking of me?"
Byleth's brows raised.
The professor had known Hubert for a while now, and was aware of the dynamic between he and El. There had been quite a few shady things he had done in his pursuits of Edelgard's good health and the fulfillment of her goals.
Yet, this was the first time that he had seen Hubert make such a vulnerable expression.
"It would be better for her to never know this existed," Hubert stated underneath his breath. "Better for us all."
Byleth could not deny that.
What he was doing was selfish.
If the events played out as they had in his visions… Byleth would simply be taking a freshly made wound and tearing it wider. He would only be adding gasoline to a raging fire.
"But, if I were in her place, I would want what she left for me," Byleth said, nodding to the pouch. "I… would need to know. Wouldn't you?"
Hubert closed his eyes, shoving Byleth's most treasured belonging deep into the confines of his pocket.
"As I said, I have no need for sentimentality," Hubert grumbled, his expression softening- somewhat, at least. "However, Lady Edelgard is not I… I will do as you ask."
Hubert stepped forward, his hostile demeanor returning once again.
"Let me make one thing clear."
He snatched Byleth by the collar, yanking him closer.
"You did not claw yourself into my lady's heart only to get yourself killed."
Byleth blinked, but he did not look away.
"With your Goddess as my witness," he spat. "You will live. Not for my sake, not for your own, but for Lady Edelgard's. Then, you will take this… this thing back."
Hubert growled, dropping Byleth's collar. He wiped his hand against his pantleg as he shot Byleth another glare.
"You have made yourself far too important to die now… And should you fall, it would be in your best interest to remain dead. Not even the flames of hell could protect you from me, understood?"
"I understand." Byleth nodded, rubbing his neck.
"It is good that you do."
Hubert straightened out his uniform and composed himself.
"If that is all, I will excuse myself. There is much still to do. It is a school night, after all."
His voice was dripping with sarcasm. If it were not for the mood tonight or the conversation they just shared, Byleth might have cracked a smile.
Hubert gave Byleth a curt nod before turning to leave. Rather sudden, but the man had a way of coming and going as he pleased.
The student's shoulders drooped as his name, his head slightly turning over his shoulder.
"Thank you. Truly."
Hubert held Byleth's eyes for what felt like an eternity, his expression hidden by the dark of the night. Byleth could not tell what he was thinking behind those eyes.
After another few seconds of silence, Hubert spoke.
"Until next time, Professor."
And with that, Hubert turned and left, leaving Byleth alone once again.
Byleth simply stood there, alone with his parents' graves, beneath the full moon. The sky had grown overcast, but the great, white moon was still shining through.
Byleth watched Hubert leave until he was well out of sight, then turned to his parents.
He was drained, both physically and emotionally. All he wanted was to curl up in bed and sleep for hours on end. Beneath the protective bedding, underneath those warm, snuggly covers, and just… sleep.
Things weren't that simple. They never were.
So, Byleth sat down on the cold grass, opposite his parents. He sat with Jeralt and Sitri, replaying his prior conversation over and over again within his mind. Byleth did not know if he what he did was right, or even kind. It was just… something he had to do.
Occasionally he'd open his mouth to ask his mother and father a question. Most of the time, he realized there would be no response. A few times, however… He expected to hear Jeralt's voice. To hear Sothis's.
One day that force of habit would leave Byleth, and he would no longer wait for a response. That thought made his chest ache.
Byleth reached for his neck on impulse.
"…Right," Byleth whispered, his hand falling back down to his lap.
How could he have already forgotten?
Sighing, Byleth fell backwards. The world turned upside down, and his vision was filled with nothing but the midnight sky.
As he subconsciously searched the clouds for stars, Byleth pictured what El would look like wearing his parents' engagement ring.
It was a lovely picture.
Byleth smiled, allowing himself that small pleasure.
Hubert sat at his desk, his chin resting on his fist. A candle's light danced across his eyes. In the center of his desk sat the bag that Byleth had entrusted to him.
His mind was elsewhere, focused on the conversation he had just an hour ago. Hubert kept replaying it over and over again, confused on how it was that it ended with him agreeing to Byleth's sickeningly romantic notion.
It was not romantic. It was… It was cruel. What he said earlier was right. Everyone would be better off knowing that this conversation never transpired, and that this worthless piece of jewelry never existed.
Lady Edelgard would be better off remaining woefully ignorant. In the event of the professor's unfortunate demise, it would be better to never deliver this pouch to her. To tear apart the note and hide the ring away.
It would be better that way.
Of course, this was all hypothetically speaking, but Hubert had to prepare for every outcome. Byleth… made things difficult, as he had a habit of doing. His hypothetical demise would deal a great blow to Lady Edelgard, and more importantly, to their cause. Byleth's death would hurt her enough as is. Giving this to her would only be pouring salt into a fresh wound.
She would be inconsolable… All of the Eagles would be. They would lose sight of their goal. A war to overthrow an oppressive, corrupt regime would turn into a quest for vengeance… At least, that is what he feared. Revenge was all well and good, Hubert had no qualms with it, but these things usually came at a price. Those who seek it are often burnt in return. They have narrow vision; they are unable to view the bigger picture. Byleth's recent escapades in the Sealed Forest were evident enough of that.
Besides, this war was never about vengeance. It was about freedom. The thought of corrupting Edelgard's vision into something so…
Hubert grimaced. The professor's sentimental views were rubbing off on him.
He tipped the bag over. The chain slithered out, followed by Byleth's note.
Hubert pinched the chain with his thumb and forefinger, lifting the ring up to his eye level.
It was a finely crafted silver band with amethyst gemstones decorating the center. Their formation almost reminded Hubert of a star. Their shade of purple was reminiscent of Edelgard's eyes.
He scoffed, letting the chain fall back to his desk.
Knowing Lady Edelgard, she would no doubt be smitten with such a ring. He could only imagine the beaming expression she would make if Byleth was the one giving this to her. Laughter, hugs, love… All of those warm things. He was already getting prematurely uncomfortable. There would probably even be tears.
…There would be tears either way, he supposed.
Hubert's frown returned as he pictured the alternative. He could already see that devastated look in her eyes if she received this from Hubert. That lifeless expression he was far too familiar with. Those impossibly bright eyes becoming nothing but two, bottomless caverns.
Returning the ring and the note to the bag, he stuffed it into his desk drawer and slammed it shut. As far as Hubert was concerned, there it would remain for all of eternity. Byleth would either live long enough to retrieve it… or no one would.
Hubert exhaled, his gaze moving to the lit candle before him. The flame danced upon the wick, somehow bright enough to illuminate his entire room. Perhaps an exaggeration, but it felt that way. For some reason, it felt as though it was… silently judging him.
He must really be tired. It was an inanimate object.
"Lady Edelgard cannot be hurt by what she is not aware of."
Hubert pinched the lit wick with his fingers, snuffing the flame out.
And that's that! Thanks for reading, everyone. The resolution to this little chapter will happen later on, obviously. Also, if it wasn't clear, that first part was a daydream. I don't do bait and switches often (or it'll be italicized), but it felt evil and fun for this chapter.
In the wise words of Aang, "when we reach our lowest points, we are open to the greatest change." I felt like it was very important to really shine a light on Byleth and his mental state in the chapters after the ball, as the game doesn't really go deep on it, but I was beginning to feel like a broken record repeating myself. Hopefully, this will be the last of the melodrama for a little while as the focus begins to shift. Of course, as you know, there's sure to be more bad vibes coming up, but it'll involve other points of interest. Other things than Byleth and his fears, at least.
Don't quote me on this, but I envision the next two chapters to be leading up to the holy tomb and the holy tomb itself. I don't plan on dragging it out for much longer. There were many more things I wanted to do before the end of the academy phase, but I feel that a few scenes will need to be sacrificed to keep the ball rolling.
Anyhow, thanks again everyone! Again, do not fear about any droppings or hiatuses. There will only be breaks!
See you all next time! Hope everyone had the best holiday season they could this year. Stay safe, and stay healthy!