As soon as she cuts the girl down, Byleth rushes to Rodrigue's side. He's fallen to his knees, and Dimitri has thrown himself to the ground beside him. Neither seems to know she's there; her heart breaks as Dimitri begs the man who'd been like a second father not to leave him.
Byleth crouches and manages to snake her hand between the two men. She holds it over the wound in Rodrigue's chest, and the glow of healing magic illuminates just how gory it is. But even without the diagnosis the spell gives hers, she knows it's futile. His heart has been punctured. He's bleeding out too fast. She can't stem it. He's going to die.
She can feel the power of Divine Pulse thrumming under her skin, waiting to be used. Weakly, though; she's used it many times already, trying desperately to keep her loved ones alive on this horrible field. She wanted so badly to try and keep the other students alive too…but she wasn't all-powerful. She had to make a choice.
And now, it's time for another one. The answer should be obvious. And yet…
Byleth hesitates. Looks at Rodrigue. Looks at Dimitri. Remembers his vehemence at pursuing Edelgard, even in their injured state. Sees now his devastation, his total numbing to his surroundings. And, she thinks, the beginning of understanding at what his vengeance has wrought.
Her stomach is shriveling from the guilt already, but her decision is made. She drops her. Steps back. Rises. Squares her shoulders.
She does not turn back the hands of time. She lets Rodrigue die so that they all might live.
Byleth wakes up.
It takes her a moment to get her bearings. She lifts her upper body to scan the room. It's large and spacious, with a bearskin rug, a lovely landscape painting on one wall, and rich, dark furniture. The bed she lies on is canopied with rich blue drapes and a matching quilt. A giant stone hearth takes up part of the far wall, blazing with a fire; the maid must have just come in. Even though it's still early in the Horsebow Moon, Faerghus's temperatures are already dropping to what would be considered light winter anywhere else.
Ah. Right. This is her guest room at Fhirdiad's palace; Dimitri's coronation had happened yesterday, and her own isn't too far off. As the soon-to-be-archbishop, she's supposed to just stay here for the two coronations before returning to Garreg Mach, but as the new king's new fiancée…well, suffice to say that living arrangements are just one of the many things that will have to be discussed in the days to come. They'll make it work, though. She won't settle for anything else.
The memory of her dream reasserts itself with a friendly knock on the inside of her skull. She leans her head back against her fluffy pillow and sighs. Byleth misses her old dreams. An ancient battlefield of unknowns and a sleeping girl were much more peaceful than nightmares of their war.
She's carried guilt ever since she let Rodrigue die. Byleth knows, of course, people die in war, and their army did have casualties…but none of them someone she personally knew. Much less someone Dimitri knew, and for far longer.
Felix had punched her in the stomach, then refused to speak to her for several days, when she'd confessed her sin to him. She'd deserved it. But though she'd asked Felix to let her be the one to tell Dimitri, she hadn't been able to make herself do so. He'd been getting better. She hadn't wanted to be the one to make him relapse into darkness. Not that she'd doubted his resolve, but the journey…she'd known it would be hard for him.
But that was a convenient excuse. The real truth was, Byleth had been scared. She, the Ashen Demon, who feels nothing when staring Demonic Beasts in the face…had been scared of losing her friendship with Dimitri. No, not friendship. Even then, it had been something else, something new and soft and unspoken.
Now, her eye is drawn towards the brand-new ring on her finger, the emeralds sparkling with a promise. Now, the unnamable thing between them has blossomed into an actual relationship, and the fear of losing it is even stronger. Byleth's hands clench, squeezing the sheets. Maybe if she just pushes those feelings down again…
No. This has gone on long enough. Their courtship is doomed to fail if she goes into it keeping a secret from him. She has to tell him, even if…even if it means losing him. Just the very thought makes the taste of ashes fill her mouth.
She was lucky enough to keep Felix's friendship as it was. She can't be lucky enough to keep Dimitri's love, too.
Goddess. It hasn't even been two whole days, and she's going to lose him.
Pessimism winds through her veins as she begins getting ready for the day, slower than usual. As she dresses, her eyes catch on the Sword of the Creator, resting within arms' reach of her bed. The blade is looking a little worn, the glow a little dull. Perhaps I should meditate first, allow it to recharge.
She shakes herself. Stop trying to procrastinate. Just get it over with.
Sothis would probably say that, too, if she were still here.
Collecting the sword—she has never been far from a blade since she first learned to swing one, and she won't start now—she walks to her door. Opens it. Steps out. And, immediately, her feet begin to drag like weights are tied to them. All she can think of is Dimitri's face when she confesses, the certainty that she is going to lose him because of this.
That's fine. He's stopped hating himself, stopped being lost. That makes it worth it, even if he hates you.
A shame telling yourself a lie does not make believing it easier.
Far too soon, she's standing in the training ground outside the palace. It's far larger than the one at Garreg Mach, with rows of training dummies, targets, and even obstacle courses to practice cavalry maneuvers. At this time of year, snow is light enough that the servants can clear it from the grounds. The sky is still gray with pre-dawn morning, and the area empty, save for a solitary figure going through the motions of his morning routine.
Even though he has perpetual nightmares, and is undoubtedly worn out by yesterday's ceremony, Dimitri will always wake up early to train. A tiny, fond smile pulls at her mouth. For a moment, she watches him, admiring the fluid grace and power behind each maneuver.
Then she remembers why she came, and the good mood dissipates. Sighing uncharacteristically, she makes her way towards her love.
He's paused in his practice, dragging a hand across his forehead to mop up sweat. His hair is half-tied back; it looks great on him. His sole eye lights up when he sees her. "Byleth! Good morning."
She loves the way her name sounds when he says it. It's so…tender. That almost makes her turn around right then and there. "I have to tell you something, now that we're courting," she forces herself to say instead. Her heart doesn't beat, but if it did, Byleth is certain is would be pounding out of her chest right now.
Concern crosses his face, and he leans Areadhbar against the nearby dummy; he's gotten so good at reading her, he can probably spot the turmoil in those six words immediately. "What is it, beloved?"
She's never going to hear him call her 'beloved' again. The thought sends a javelin of pain through her. "You remember my power, yes?"
Byleth has told very few of it; him, her students. Everyone else thinks she's an exceptional planner, when really, all her strategies come from trial and error. Announcing the power in her veins could make her a target for assassinations—more than she is already-and besides, she doesn't want anyone to think they should start worshiping her. It's Sothis's power, she's just borrowing it.
"The goddess's power," Dimitri nods. His face is open, curious, growing more worried. "What about it? Has some unforeseen side-effect started to manifest? A-Are your days numbered, like Lysithea's?"
Her despicable tongue tries to betray her, sticking to the roof of her mouth. She has to swallow to make it work. "I let Rodrigue die. I could have used Sothis's power to save him, but I didn't." There. Done.
It's a struggle to keep her face composed. Strange. Ordinarily, she has the opposite problem. But right now, all Byleth wants is to hide from him.
She watches a storm of emotions cross Dimitri's face in seconds. Relief, surprise, a flash of hurt—even anger—then…contemplation? "Why?"
Byleth blinks twice. "Pardon?"
"Why didn't you? Save him, I mean."
She hesitates, unsure why he's dragging this out. Just renounce me and get it over with. "You said you wanted to pursue Edelgard, even though you and our army were injured. I was afraid that…if Rodrigue didn't die and shock you into silence, you'd give that order. I was afraid we'd all die, and I wouldn't have the strength to undo it."
Dimitri nods slowly, as if she's just confirmed something he already suspected. "And this power you have…I don't know much about it, but am I correct in presuming it's not infinite? That it costs you?"
She closes her eyes. "Yes." She does not want to talk about the myriad of ways she's watched them all die. The sound of Ingrid's bones breaking as she falls off her pegasus. Ashe's screams as he's burned alive. The blood flying as an axe cleaves Dimitri's skull in two. False-yet-real deaths that haunt her nightmares as much as the actual deaths she's seen.
Back then, she had to consider each move, each order, with infinite care. Because—and this had perhaps been the worst part—she does not know when the Divine Pulses will run out. She only has a vague sense of them, a child's grasp on a power to large for her to comprehend. Each time she reached for it, there was always a single second where she feared it wouldn't respond or that fate couldn't be changed, and the person she'd just lost would stay dead, just like Father had.
Large, warm hands grasp her own, twining their fingers together. She can't stop the small, sharp intake of breath. "Beloved…are you afraid I'll hate you?"
She looks at their hands because it's easier than looking in his eye. One of hers has a long, silvery scar on the back, from a not-quite successful dodge. Some of his fingers are slightly crooked, from being broken and amateurishly patched up during his exile. "Dimitri—I let your father figure die, for my goals. How is that any different than what Edelgard did?"
Dimitri ponders that for several moments, each as long as an eternity. She holds her breath, not sure whether she's hoping for comfort or condemnation. When he finally speaks, it's as one choosing their words with great care. "I don't believe that's a fair comparison to make. Edelgard weighed thousands of lives against each other in a time of peace. You weighed one life against thousands in a time of war. The context of those decisions is, frankly, very different."
A shadow crosses his face. "I know all too well the same struggle as you; the struggle of balancing the act of taking lives to preserve more. Of reconciling the evil of killing with the necessity of it."
Overcome with love and compassion for him, Byleth squeezes his hands. He gives her a faint smile, then continues, "It's unfortunate, but…war often reduces the number of good choices we can make. In that situation, all we can do is our best. So, my beloved, I'm going to tell you something you told me: forgive yourself."
She blinks twice. "Forgive myself?" Was that it? Was that really what this had been about, all along? That she couldn't…
"Yes. Of course, I'm grieved you let Rodrigue die…even a little angry. But I understand why you made that decision. You were thinking of me and our friends when I wasn't. I never could hate you for that."
"It was cold of me to think that way, though." Why is she still arguing? Does she want him to hate her?
In response, Dimitri lifts their twined hands and kisses each of her fingers, one by one. Byleth inhales sharply. "Neither of us have clean hands, beloved. You can be cold; I can be bloodthirsty. Do you hate me for how the bodies I needlessly piled up, or how I treated you and all our friends for months?"
"No. Never." How could she? He'd been going through so much anguish. All because she'd failed him.
"Then trust me when I say I don't hate you for this. Just as you pulled me from my darkest parts, trust that I will pull you from yours. Byleth, you're the logic that gives my lance direction, the light that shines on my path. Nothing will change that, not in this life or the next."
It's a bold, earnest statement. The kind she doesn't know how to make. The sheer emotion in it, the weight of his love, drapes over her like the fur mantle she secretly wants to snuggle into. Byleth feels blood rush to her cheeks. Oh. Goddess, she doesn't think she's blushed before.
Dimitri looks awed by the sight. He blinks rapidly, clears his throat. "You have no idea how beautiful you look right now."
This man is going to be the death of her, with all his sweet words. "Well. Thank you."
Eloquent much, Byleth? She can practically hear Sothis's laugher, light and tinkling like bells. Bittersweet nostalgia bursts through Byleth's chest. She misses her.
"You're welcome." And now he's amused. But she looks up, sees the carefree curve of his lips, and decides his smile makes being teased worth it. "Have I cleared up your fears, beloved?"
"Quite masterfully." She can't quite forgive herself on the spot, too caught up in a maelstrom of relief that Dimitri still loves her…but she'll try later.
His smile broadens. "Excellent. Now, shall we begin our day together? I would like to steal as much time with you as possible, before the call of my kingly duties grow too strong."
Byleth just nods and smiles slightly, in lieu of actually responding. As they walk back towards the palace, still hand in hand, she wonders:
How could she have doubted him?
A/N: So this came about entirely as a result of a "why didn't Byleth just Divine Pulse to save Rodrigue?" discussion on reddit. My own personal theory is that it was a deliberate gamble to save Dimitri's life/soul, as well as everyone else's. It makes more sense than just "the plot needed them not to", and I like the thought of Byleth having some moral ambiguity themselves since everyone else does. That led to "I wonder how Dimitri and Felix would react to that" which led to Dimileth fic because I am super in love with that ship. Hope y'all enjoyed!