It's raining. It's raining, and your father is dying, dying, dead. The only warmth in your life for so long, the only comfort, the only person you've ever been able to feel something for is gone.
Your father is dead and your heart is breaking.
Something warm streams down your face, and you wonder if it's actual tears, or just the head wound you received earlier making a bleeding comeback. You don't care which it is. But your father had. There had been joy on his face, open and raw on a face normally unused to expressing emotions. He had been happy for your tears, to know that you love- loved him deeply enough to cry for him. He had been happy in his dying moments, to see proof that you cared. That you felt something for him.
The rain continues to fall, and his body is cooling, slowly growing stiff. You hear the shuffle of your worn and tired students behind you, but you don't move.
You want to scream.
How dare he leave?
How dare he?
The tumbling emotions within you are so very foreign, and your sudden desire to have an outburst even more so. You can't remember a time where your feelings weren't numbed, if they were even there at all. Making connections with people is hard, feeling things towards them even more so, but your father is different.
He loved you, looked after you, raised you to the best of his ability, even with your strangeness. You know he was often unnerved by your stillness, the blankness of your face, but it never stopped him from loving you. He was a good man, and an even better father, and now he's gone.
(When you find her, you're going to gut her and leave her to the mud for the worms to feast on until she dies a ragged, torturous death. You will not rest until her blood splatters your sword and she screams for a mercy that you will never give.)
Tears spill over once more as you rest your head on his battered chest. There is silence amongst the rain, your own heart as still as ever.
Just like his.
Except unlike you, he will not continue, will not rise like you do every morning.
One could mistake the both of you as corpses, and a part of you wishes it was so. Wishes that your quiet heart would act like a normal heart that doesn't beat. Wishes that you had been caught by the knife instead. Maybe you could have done it enough times that even Sothis couldn't bring you back.
(But never would he have wanted that. You imagine his own grief-stricken face at the sight of your corpse, and swallow a sob.)
He was your father.
Death is familiar to you. You've both killed and watched men, good men, be killed. But it's always different when it's someone close. The grief doesn't change, the dull ache doesn't fade with the next one who falls. But he was your father and you loved him, and you will never be able to tell him. Your hands dig into his bloodied shirt and you let out a silent scream, your voice unwilling to let your students see the extent of your grief, even now, even here. You let out another two, three ragged breaths, clench his bloodied shirt tightly in your equally bloody fingers, before you force yourself to let go. You don't stop the tears, because no-one can take this grief, this sorrow away from you, not even your students, but you won't let them see you fully undone. Instead, you press a soft kiss to your father's forehead, and lift his quiet body up, hefting it onto your back.
"Teacher..." Edelgard steps forward, tries to stop you, but you ignore her. She will not stop you here, not now, not ever. Not with this. It isn't healthy to do this, you know this logically, but...
He is your father. You trust no-one else with his body, not until you get back to Garegg Mach, until you watch his body be lowered into the same earth and soil where your mother lies.
(The mother you never knew and will never know now. Your father has left you with a legacy of secrets that may never come into the light, but you would let yourself stay blind and ignorant for the rest of your days if it meant having him back.)
You carry him in stony silence, the tears continuing to fall as you trek back to the monastery. Sothis remains quiet in your mind, and you are grateful for that. Each Divine Pulse had been useless, and you know that the bitter and hurt part of you will just lash out at her if she tries to talk now. That the grief will cause you to blame her, to view her at fault rather than the bitch who shoved that dagger into him, than the bastard who stopped you from tearing her to shreds. Sothis was just as powerless as you, and the thought rankles deep in your soul. You've long suspected her true identity, even if she herself does not know it. To think that your father's death was so set into the stone of fate that even-
You bite your lip as harshly as possible, uncaring of the blood that begins to trickle down from the gash you've created. The unbeating heart that sits quietly in your chest clenches, and a fresh wave of tears fall down your cheeks. Not even the Goddess was able to help your father, and you want to scream into the heavens at the unfairness of it all. How could it be that a man as wonderful as Jeralt Eisner was doomed to die, while those who killed him were allowed to escape?
No. No, you refuse to allow that, to let that be the truth, because they will not escape from you again. The next time you see them, Monica, the being who protected her, the fucking Flame Emperor, you will strike them down until their flesh becomes one with the earth.
The tears continue to fall, even as you reach the Monastery, your grief overpowering any other feelings of anger or revenge. It is strange to feel so deeply, so harshly, and every wave of emotion shakes your body to its very core. You barely look at the others as you walk through the gates, ignoring the friendly gatekeeper's cry of shock as you pass by. More guards come close to you, hands fluttering as they try to approach you to take your father away, and you let them this time. A weight lifts off from your back, but your heart is heavier than ever. You catch a glimpse of his face one last time, your throat constricting into a choke, and the dam breaks even further.
Without hesitating, you bolt. Your students call out after you, but you don't care. Rhea herself will have to pry you out of your room, and even then you will refuse.
They cannot stop you now. You reach your room in no time, uncaring of the other students that watch you with worry, that try to flag you down. The door slams heavily behind you, and just like that, the shoddy barrier keeping the grief locked away shatters, and you scream long and loud. Someone is pounding on the door, and you can hear Dimitri's worried voice, but it's easy to ignore him in favour of the void swirling in your chest. Your father is gone, gone, gone, and your heart shrieks in pain.
Your father is dead.
Your father is dead.
Your father is dead.
It pounds in your mind like the heartbeat you do not have, and you let out a heaving sob, body collapsing to the floor as you grab the corner of your bed and weep. The wood creaks dangerously in your hand and you hold it tighter. You are drowning, choking on the loss of a man who loved you so unconditionally. The banging on your door grows louder, heavy with the promise of intrusion. Dimitri has most likely retrieved Dedue, and you know that if you don't give some confirmation back, he will break the door down.
"Professor!" Dimitri calls out, and you can hear the worry in his voice. You're reminded that despite being the professor of the Black Eagles, all of these students are your students as well. You had made sure to teach them all together, to talk to and nurture each and every one of them, no matter their house.
"Leave," you shout hoarsely, voice tight and strangled with sorrow, and for a moment, the banging stops.
"Professor, please," he practically pleads, "are you alright? Are you hurt?"
Another sob claws its way through your throat, because no, no you aren't alright. You will never be alright again.
"Dimitri, I beg of you, leave me be!" Another scream builds up in your mouth, and you desperately hope he'll leave before you can't hold it back again. If he comes in, if any of them comes in, you will never be able to face them fully again. This is your grief, your sorrow alone. Your students do not need to see you like this. You do not want them to see you like this.
"You heard the professor, Dimitri. Let her alone." Edelgard's voice cuts through the wood, and relief cools your boiling veins for a brief moment. There is a hushed conversation that you cannot hear, before Dimitri speaks again.
"Forgive me, professor, I had... I did not..." His voice drifts away, and there is silence for a brief moment.
"My condolences for your loss, professor," Dedue offers quietly through the door, and you claw at your face, agony bursting through seam of your very soul. You can feel Sothis' gentle hands against your back, pulling you close for a hug. She lets you weep against her for hours as your grief consumes you hungrily, an encompassing emptiness slowly devouring your heart.
Your father is dead, and nothing will ever be the same.
Seteth knocks on your door in the evening, voice gentle as he tells you that Archbishop Rhea wishes to speak to you whenever you'd be ready, and that you have been excused from teaching until the end of the month. You do not respond, even as he requests to come in. Eventually he leaves, and despite your silence, he offers you a few kind words. Raphael comes around dinner time, a heavy plate clinking against the door as he tries to coax you out to eat, before he softly tells you about his own grief when he lost his parents. His voice remains compassionate throughout his story, even lilting up in joy whenever he speaks of his sister.
You are... grateful for it, though his overwhelming kindness and cheerfulness despite his sad tale makes you want to weep further. He parts with a few sentences of courage, but your aching heart cannot accept them. Not now.
Not ever, it feels like.
Petra also stops by, voice trembling with words she wishes to say but cannot due to a language barrier. She tries to talk about her own father but grows frustrated with a language that does not bend to her will as well as her mother tongue does. However, she remains steadfast that you will find the strength to continue someday. You bury your face into your hands and feel the tears leak down your cheeks. Her unwavering belief in you only makes you feel further shattered. What was strength in the hands of someone unable to yield it? You had the power of time at your very fingertips and it was inadequate. In the end, you stay silent as she sings a Brigid funeral dirge in honour of a man she barely knew. When she leaves, you let yourself sob again, body curled up tightly beneath your bed covers.
Lorenz and Ferdinand knock on your door just before the night fully settles, asking if you would like to join them for a cup of tea tomorrow afternoon, or whenever you so wished. Ferdinand explains he recently got an excellent blend that he was sure you'd love, while Lorenz offers up some of the best treats his house would have during tea. You do not respond to either of them, but they keep their invitation open, offering up a time and place for whenever you wish, before they leave.
No more students come, but you are thankful for it. You cannot handle more of their kind words and understanding gestures, not when the sorrow grips you so tightly you can barely breathe. As darkness fills your room, you force yourself to stand up and get out of bed. You change out of the still damp and bloody garb you were wearing and pull on fresh clothes. Grabbing the cold plate of food Raphael left for you, you make yourself eat a small portion of it. The tears have dried on your cheeks, but you are certain they will flow again soon. With a still mostly full plate in your hand and a dimly lit lantern in the other, you quietly move out of your room and to the kitchens, dumping the remains in the trash while quickly washing up your dish. Your very bones feel as heavy as iron, but you have to do this, have to force yourself up. As much as you wish leaving the Monastery was an option, you cannot leave your students as they are yet.
Maybe once they graduate.
Without warning your chest seizes, and you drop to your knees, tears tearing through your eyes as you realise you will never travel with your father again. You will never have him wake you up after sleeping too late. You will never feel his fingers ruffling your hair in a rare moment of affection again. You will never spar with him again, will never hear his grumbling over the way you hold a lance again, will never spend a few moments in solitude with him again.
A strangled cry escapes your lips, even as you do your best to muffle it. He's gone, truly gone, and it feels like you've been struck by a horse. You let yourself sit on the kitchen tiles for a few moments, trying to hide your heaving sobs into the palm of your hand. But you cannot allow yourself to linger for too long. You forced yourself out of your room for a reason, and that was to look through your father's study before other people went rummaging. In the grainy light of your lantern, you make your way to your father's study, the hallways silent from the lack of people rushing around to fulfil their duties. The audience chamber and most offices are shut, and when you try to open your father's room, it is unsurprisingly locked.
As someone who grew up with a band of mercenaries however, most locks are no match to you. You shut your eyes tightly at the thought of your old band of mercenaries, a reminder that things will never be the same again. A part of you desperately wonders if you could use Divine Pulse to hurtle yourself back that far, if you could choose to go back and convince your father to stay far, far away from the Monastery and its ever changing dangers. But the moment passes in another wave of grief and the brittle understanding that things are never that simple. Swallowing harshly, you quickly pick open the lock and force yourself into your father's study. As soon as the door shuts behind you, you double over in pain at the smell and sight of it.
Nothing is disturbed. Nothing is changed. You could practically pretend that your father will return here tomorrow to go over more knight formations and missions. You let out a choked breath, hands reaching up to cover your mouth as another sob pushes its way out of your lips.
He's truly gone.
This study will most likely be converted into another room for another professor or the new captain. Your father will never grace this room again, and by the Goddess it hurts.
"Byleth?" A soft voice asks, and you turn to face the floating Sothis, a steadying presence in this time of turmoil. "We can do this another day, if you need to stop."
You shake your head.
"No. This has to be done now," you croak out. Too much rides on this visit. She hesitates for a moment, before nodding gently.
"Very well. But do not push yourself too far. You have been dealt a dreadful blow. Weep for as long as you need, Byleth, and let yourself rest."
Even as salty tears grace your face again as you search, you diligently continue your rummaging through the weak light of the lantern. The journal you stumble upon behind the bookcase is immediately pocketed, as is the ring your father had shown you a scant few months before. Something rises in your chest at the sight of it. He had wanted to give you this.
Now he never will.
You press a fist to your chest to try to ease the throbbing pain that bursts out at that thought, but the agony doesn't cease. Perhaps, you think, it never will.
"Oh Byleth," Sothis whispers in the grim light, and you wheeze out a silent sob. "We can return tomorrow. Please, let us head back to your quarters."
You can barely speak and settle for nodding instead. Opening your mouth, you fear, will simply allow more sounds to escape. Breaking the silence at this hour would only send people rushing to you and right now... you cannot face anyone apart from Sothis. Not Rhea, not Seteth, not any of your students.
But as you turn to leave, you catch a figure standing in the doorway.
Alois looks as ragged as you feel, dark circles beneath his eyes as he smiles sadly at you.
"I figured it was you," he says quietly. "He told me there were things here you would wish to see."
You can barely look at him. He is yet another reminder of your father.
"Captain...- Jeralt was a won-" Alois starts to say, but you can't hear this.
"Please. Please don't," you beg softly and his face crumples.
"Forgive me, Byleth. You must have heard enough well-wishes to last a life-time. Ha..." He scrubs his face with a hand, voice ragged with unshed tears as he sighs. "I hope... I hope you know how much you meant to him. You... were the most important thing in the world to him."
You bury your face in your hands, unable to keep yourself from crying any longer, and Alois lets out a strangled sound.
"Oh child, I am so sorry," he weeps out openly, warm arms pulling you into a hug. You are unable to bring yourself to break out of his loose grip, instead muffling your sobs into his chest.
"He loved you very dearly, I hope you know that. While he wasn't the most emotional man, he held you close to his heart. I cannot replace your father, Byleth, and would never wish to do so, but allow me to protect and look after you in his stead," he offers hoarsely, and your cries grow louder.
This man will never be able to replace your father, but the comfort he offers is kind, and you cannot stop yourself from subtly accepting it. You can protect yourself with ease, but a part of you understands that Alois does not merely mean physical protection. He offers you emotional support, and in this moment of vulnerability, it is so easy to cling to him like a child.
The two of you sit at the floor of your father's study until the darkness of the night slowly begins to lighten up. You both sniffle and hiccup as he leads you back to your room, squeezing your shoulder one last time before he sets off for his duties. Even as the sun continues to rise, you let yourself crawl into bed and sleep until early afternoon, the weariness of grieving forcing you into lethargy. You wake up to the sound of knocking, and the cheerful voice of Raphael calling out to you for lunch. Barely moving from your sheets, you wait until he has left before crawling out of bed.
Today you feel hollow, a gasping void churning within your heart as you sit blankly on the edge of your bed. Empty tears slide down your face, your mind unable to focus on Sothis' worried calls and prompts. Students come by your door between classes, calling out condolences and offering support, but you are unable to respond. You do not come out of the darkness of your room for the rest of the day, mindlessly moving about the small expanse until you finally collapse to the floor and curl up. The stone is uncomfortable, but you can't bring yourself to care. Caspar and Hilda come by, both threatening to break open the door, before their threats turn into pleas, or bribes in Hilda's case.
Eventually Claude shoos them away, though he doesn't leave until he offers you a few words of comfort and gentle incentives for you to come out. You do not listen, and he leaves as well. You remain in your room for another few days, only stepping out to eat the bare minimum of the food Raphael leaves for you. Mercedes has started to accompany him, softy telling you of the things she and Ashe cooked and added in there for you. Bernadetta follows soon after, adding in small treats and stuffed toys she made. More and more of your students come to visit, quietly offering their support and belief in you. Alois stops by as much as he can as well, though he is often called away to his other duties. The hollowness remains, even as the grief gnaws at your heart and causes more tears to spill. You should not be worrying your students like this, and yet, you can barely move. You only leave once, and that is to attend your father's burial. You bolt back to your room immediately after it's finished, dodging anyone that tries to flag you down to speak.
Most of your days are spent poring over your father's journal, the pristine pages gradually becoming stained by your tears as you weep over the words written within. The handwriting is so familiar that you closed it the moment you first cracked it open, the sorrow it caused too great for you to continue. Gradually however, you manage to go through it, confusion and grief mixing together as you read your father's thoughts over the years, his distrust of the Church and Rhea, your strangeness as a child. It leaves you with much to think about, and you find the void lessening slightly.
However, it is only when Edelgard comes by that you move, and even then, it is out of anger.
"I keep on hearing you crying," she begins quietly, a wry smile in her voice. "I did not think it was possible...- Oh. I apologise, that was... thoughtless of me."
You say nothing, and she sighs deeply.
"Oh my teacher, you're so blinded by grief that you can barely see what is going on around you," she says gently, disappointment clear in her words, and something within you stirs. "Will you wait for time to heal your wounds? Or will you remain curled up in a corner and lose your resolve to continue?"
Your fists tighten, and Sothis gasps in fury, but Edelgard continues.
"You've lost yourself, my teacher. Only you can understand your sadness, and while others will sympathise, maybe even empathise, all they can offer are the tears of an outsider watching your own grief. And I have no intention of crying for you, or of standing still with you-!"
You wrench the door open and look at her. She steps back in surprise, before a small smile takes over her face, though it quickly dies down at your expression.
"It is a good thing," you begin hoarsely, "that I did not ask for either of those things from you then. I did not realise I required your permission to grieve, your Imperial Highness." Your voice is full of anger and derision, and her face widens in shock.
"No, that is not-" You cut her off again.
"Do you realise, Edelgard, that is has been a scant few days since I watched my father be killed?"
She swallows heavily, eyes still locked on yours even as she nods.
"The man who raised me, who looked after me for over twenty years, Edelgard, is dead. My grief is not something that can be so easily thrown away for the sake of continuing. And while you are unwilling to stand still for a moment, others are certainly able. And I am grateful to them. Their support is what lets me know that there is a future worth continuing for. Their tears, their words of strength and courage help lift my spirits when I feel my knees grow weak. You are a dear student of mine, Edelgard, but please understand, you cannot control my grief."
She doesn't quite look close to tears, but there is a ragged vulnerability in her eyes that makes you pause, watching her usual composure sag beneath your stare.
"I know that, professor, I just... I wished to encourage you to come out sooner. Nor did I wish for your tears to continue. I realise now that I have misstepped. Your grief is certainly not something that can easily be cast aside. Forgive me, my teacher." Her voice is sincere, but there is still something that makes you hesitate. But you've admonished her enough. There is still a weariness to your bones and body, a heavy weight that rests inside your chest, but maybe it is time for you to come out.
"I apologise for making you worry Edelgard, but please understand that some people overcome grief in different ways. I have still certainly not overcome mine. But I'm making steps towards it." You let out another sigh, closing your eyes for a brief moment before opening them to look at her.
"I'll be returning to class on Monday anyway. But maybe I'll see you in the Mess Hall this evening." It is an olive branch, a gesture of forgiveness and Edelgard smiles in relief.
"I hope so, professor. But... do not feel pressured." She says the words awkwardly, and despite yourself, a small smile graces your face as well.
"Thank you. I will see you soon, then. Goodbye, Edelgard."
You close the door gently behind you, and collapse to the floor, body shaking. Truth be told, you are not fully ready to return to your teaching position. But you've let your students down enough, haven't you? Letting out a shuddering breath, you cover your face with your hands as the tears start up again. How silly of you to start crying again, you think. Sothis is by your side immediately, and she tries to distract you by talking about Edelgard's rudeness, but you can barely listen.
You start to wonder, if maybe... you shouldn't just leave instead. If perhaps you could pack up your things and just... run. You have enough skills to survive by yourself, could pick out various jobs to keep you fed and clothed for a long time. What is really tying you here? The grave of your mother and father? A stone cannot offer you the comfort your father did, and you never knew your mother. Your students? A new professor could easily take your place, and while you... liked them very much, those ties would break so, so easily. Rhea? No. No, you trusted her less and less these days.
Breathing in deeply, you reach out to grab onto Sothis' hand, and she lets you.
"I understand your turmoil, Byleth. But you should not run. Do not delude yourself into thinking you have no ties. You will not escape your grief by leaving. Rather, you should face the day beyond this room, whenever that may be. I will support you in your endeavours, but I firmly believe that it is in your best interests to stay. If only to defeat those who have caused you this turmoil," she explains strongly, hand gripping yours tightly, and you squeeze back.
She's right, of course. You cannot escape this place now, cannot fool yourself into believing you have no connections here.
"Very well," you whisper out into the darkness of your room. "Very well."
And with that, you force yourself to stand up again, and open the curtains.
For the first time in days, sunlight spills into your room and lights it up in a warm glow.
It will be a long journey, and maybe a part of you will always stay grieving.
But it is a step.
And for now, that is all you need.