Title: homesick

A/N: For the Goddess Messenger zine! I wanted to write a smattering of pairings I haven't explored as much as I'd like.

Summary: Claude hadn't realized just how homesick he was until spring rolled around and Fódlan still looked dreary, unlike the bright colours of Almyra. Still, he knew how to adapt, whether it was recruiting Hilda to help him with some fun, telling stories with Lorenz, or eventually just returning to Almyra with Byleth.

i.

Everywhere Claude looked, it was white. The grounds, the roofs, even the sky were this dreary shade of eggshell, as though even nature couldn't muster up any energy. It was Great Tree Moon, the starting of spring, and yet Fódlan still felt like it was in the throes of winter. He shouldn't have been surprised; even his textbooks had told him that Fódlan's winters lasted longer, were colder, and were gloomier than anything he'd experienced in Almyra.

Still, it was one thing to read about it, another to experience it. Claude laced his hands behind his head as he strolled through the interconnecting passages between the academy buildings. All in all, it wouldn't have been too bad if the buildings were just a little festive. At this point, Almyra was in the middle of spring preparations, the buildings decorated in bright papers and the people in even brighter clothes. The academy? Even the new year decorations were down now, leaving this depressing sight.

Claude hadn't expected to feel homesick over something as trivial as this. He hadn't expected to feel homesick at all.

"Hey, Claude!" Hilda waved as she fell in step beside him. Her pink hair bobbed as she walked. Clasping her hands behind her back, she leaned forward and asked, "So, what's your take on the new professor?"

"Byleth?" Claude raised a brow, looking at his right-hand woman. Another thing he hadn't expected: finding a partner in Hilda. Her slothful attitude hid a brilliant mind, one almost on par with his for mischief making, and he had plans.

"Who else?" Hilda laughed, shaking her head. "Gosh, you're so silly sometimes."

He didn't bother to reply to that. Instead he hummed thoughtfully as he considered her question. "Byleth…huh…"

"I mean, she must have really impressed you if you asked her to be our teacher." Hilda straightened up. Tapping her chin, she mused, "I don't think I could handle Hanneman-levels of strictness. It'd be nice if she was relaxed like Manuela."

"Neither, I think." Claude shrugged. Even now he remembered the ease with which she'd protected Edelgard, her confidence as she fought—it put her head and shoulders above the other two teachers. Add in her ridiculously blank face and he had found entertainment for the rest of the year. "She's real quick on her feet. Strong too. And unlike Hanneman and Manuela, she has a lot of experience."

A mercenary who'd seen the continent, who'd travelled from town to town, untouched by the church…part of him wondered just what change she could bring to the academy. To his classmates. To himself. What was her view on things?

"Well, that's good and all, but…" Hilda groaned. Her long pigtails brushed against him as she hunched over. "She's totally going to give us a lot of work."

"Probably," Claude agreed, patting Hilda on the back. "Especially considering the Battle of Eagle and Lion are coming up. I wonder if she'll be ready for it."

Hilda groaned again, leaning against him. He wrapped an arm around her to steady her as she dramatically sighed. "You should have just let us take Manuela."

"Nah, Teach is perfect for us. Trust me." Their pace was slower now, his arm still wrapped around Hilda's waist. Oddly, he didn't mind. "Though…."

"Though?" Hilda glanced up at him, raising a brow. He didn't miss the spark of interest in her eyes.

"Well, maybe we could give her a test of our own." Claude grinned, eyeing the endless snow. This would solve both of his problems. "Something to make sure she's ready for the Battle of Eagle and Lion, and maybe have a little fun while we're at it."

Hilda furrowed her brow, her expression distrustful. "Fun?"

"Back in…" Claude caught himself. "Back at home, my family has this fun tradition every spring. We throw colourful powders at each other."

Her distrust turned into confusion. "You threw powder at each other?"

"Well, we usually wait till it's a little warmer too. Trust me, it's better than it sounds. It's kinda like a free-for-all tag." Claude shrugged. If there was one good thing about the border situation with Almyra, it was that no one in Fódlan knew what he was describing. As far as they were concerned, he was just describing an event from a backwater town. "We'll make it a mock battle. Maybe we could do it with snowballs? Or fill thin waterskins with coloured water?"

The more he spoke, the more enamoured with the idea he became. Their class, just barely acquainted, could properly learn about each other. More importantly, it'd be the first Almyran thing he'd done in a year and he tried to hide his rising enthusiasm. "Maybe it can be all of us against Teach."

Hilda, however, was on the opposite side of the spectrum. She grimaced. "That sounds like a lotta work."

"Just a little." When she still shot him a baleful stare, he tightened his grip on her waist and rested his head on her chin. "Come on, it'll be fun. You'll like it. Besides…you can always rope in the others to do the work."

"I'd do that anyways," she replied bluntly, though she didn't pull away or object further.

Claude chuckled. He should have expected that answer. "Fine, you can watch during the game?"

"Let's just say you owe me one," Hilda replied, smiling cunningly as she pulled out of his arms.

"Blackmail?" He clutched his heart. "To think you'd stoop so low."

"Please, like you wouldn't do the same to me," Hilda retorted before breaking into laughter.

"True." Claude shrugged. There was no point in denying it. "Let's see if Anna's willing to cut us a deal on some supplies."

Hilda snorted, hooking an arm through his. "Like she'd let you have a penny."

"Oh, she'll give me more." When Hilda turned to him, bemused, Claude winked. "Blackmail material, remember?"

ii.

The library was quiet. Not in the way Claude was used to, where you could still hear rustling paper and erasers hitting the floor, or the soft groans of students as they tried to finish exams. No, this was the silence of the uninhabited, where only the wind blowing in through the cracks broke the silence.

It had been a long five years since the library had last been used. Holding up his lamp, Claude slowly slung it from side to side, checking the cobweb-covered shelves for intruders. Not even a rat scurried out of his sight. "I guess I can't tease Lysithea about it now."

Lorenz didn't reply as he checked the other half of the dark library. The light flickered, casting shadows on his face and Claude couldn't read his expression.

Curious, Claude tried again. "Even I feel like a ghost can pop out at any moment."

"Yes," Lorenz muttered non-committedly, falling in step with Claude as they exited the room. Everything about him was unnaturally stiff, from his shoulders to the way he jerked at every sound. Grinning, Claude leaned closer and blew in his ear.

Lorenz yelped, jumping. Covering his ear, he glared at Claude. "What is wrong with you?"

"Just thought you needed some help relaxing." Claude held his hands up in surrender. He hadn't expected this much of a reaction. "Scared?"

"It is not fear." Lorenz rubbed his arm, looking away. "It's just…"

They were passing the courtyard now. Half it was still covered in rubble. "It's not?" he asked as he stepped over a pothole.

"This place…it's a graveyard," Lorenz whispered.

"Oh." There really wasn't anything else he could say to that. It was. He hadn't thought of it that way, but it was.

They rounded the corner to the great hall, where they'd temporarily set up the patrol camp. It was the best place to keep an eye on everything. Lorenz added, "You don't think my father…our lands and people, will end up like this?"

"What're you talking about?" Baffled, Claude raised a brow. "We're fighting this war to prevent that."

"I know, I know, it is just…the Empire will know my father's decisions. If we fail…" Lorenz gestured around them. "They will not let us off lightly. Everything could disappear."

"Oh." Maybe he should have expected this, considering how they were planning to visit Lord Gloucester. Lorenz's homeland straddled the border of the battlefield, and while his father had managed to balance its duties to the Leicester Alliance with treaties to the Empire, it couldn't last much longer.

In the dark night, it was easy for old fears to resurface. They were surrounded by ghosts and the silence only made them louder. Even the few merchants that had returned didn't make enough sound to echo through the great hall.

Lorenz almost seemed to shrink into himself. "I know it is a little late to say all of this."

Claude studied Lorenz, taking note of how pale he looked in the faint light and how his fingers shook as he held the lantern. If Lorenz couldn't convince himself, how could he convince his father? Donning a reassuring smile, he shook his head. "It'll work out."

While he didn't pull away, Lorenz looked at him doubtfully. "How?"

"Because we're here!" Claude squeezed Lorenz's shoulder, winking. "A Reigan and a Gloucester? You think anyone can stand up to this combo?"

"I…" Lorenz bit his lip as he slowly nodded, looking utterly unconvinced. "I suppose."

This wasn't the Lorenz he was used to; he hadn't even considered it a chance to best him. Claude sat down on a bench as they exited Great Hall and patted the spot beside him. "Come on. Sit."

"We haven't finished our patrol," Lorenz pointed out, eyeing the bench.

"We can have a little break." He set down the lantern at his feet. "Come on, it won't harm us."

"Until we're attacked." Despite his grumbling, Lorenz sat down beside him.

"You can keep me warm till then." Claude slung his arm around Lorenz. He squawked, his ears a bright red, but he didn't move away.

As usual, a Lone Moon night was a chilly one. On nights like this in Almyra, Claude's family would gather, telling stories as they warded off the cold. Winter's claws desperately dug into spring, but a warm night was enough to chase it away.

"What're you looking forward to?" Claude asked, staring at the lantern. It didn't take much imagination to see a bigger flame in its stead, to imagine blankets and hot drinks in their hands. In the last several years, he had learned how to sneak in his customs into life, to keep his Almyran memories alive.

"What do you mean?" Lorenz asked, hesitantly leaning closer.

Claude laughed, pulling him close enough so Lorenz could lean on his shoulder comfortably. This time there wasn't even a squeak, though Lorenz's ears were an even darker red. "Well, we're going to your home, right? Tell me about it."

He didn't so much see Lorenz's frown as much as he felt it. "I suspect your intentions."

"Completely honest and pure," he replied easily. Resting his chin on Lorenz's head, he added, "Just think of it as a way to pass the time."

For a long moment, Lorenz was silent. Then, slowly, he replied, "There's a rose garden that I've hand-planted. It won't be much in the spring but come summer…you won't find bigger blooms anywhere else."

Claude hummed encouragingly, letting Lorenz's voice chase away the ghosts.

iii.

Byleth's hand was in his. There were many things Khalid could have been focusing on, like the fact that they were strolling through an Almyran marketplace together. After the war, he hadn't thought it'd only take a year for him to return to her side, that he'd make it all the way to king so quickly. Absence didn't only make the heart fonder, it seemed, but his ambitions stronger too.

Or he could focus on what he was saying. Ever since she'd rode into Almyra's capital, Khalid had taken it onto himself to guide her through his home. Everything was new to her, and while her expression was still hard to read, it wasn't impossible anymore. Her eyes widened at the brightly coloured stalls, her lips parted at the scent of sizzling meat and fried vegetables, and her grip tightened every time some new, strange sight caught her attention.

Yet, it was hard to care about anything except for the fact that she was here, next to him, her fingers intertwined in his. He wasn't even sure what he was saying right now, his normally fast mind frozen as he drank in the sight of her. Her hand was just as rough as he'd remembered. Even months as the ruler of Fódlan hadn't changed that. Calluses and small cuts littered her palm, and his thumb unconsciously brushed a scar on her thumb.

"Why are there so many?" Byleth asked.

"Because—" Khalid stared at her blankly before realizing he had no idea what she was talking about. Or even where they were. At some point they'd passed through the market and reached the start of the residential section. "…sorry, so many what?"

Byleth glanced at him curiously. "Is something wrong?"

"No," he replied immediately, squeezing her hand. "The exact opposite."

She raised a brow, not buying it for a second. Serious as she was, she more often than not saw right through him and Khalid wasn't sure how to feel about that. Especially when she was still a mystery to him, one he had yet to unravel. He'd probably spend the rest of his life figuring her out.

He oddly enough didn't mind.

"The kites," Byleth finally asked, pointing above them. "There weren't nearly as many yesterday."

He followed her hand to the bright blue sky, speckled with dozens of colourful kites. There had been a few in the marketplace as well, but now that they were near the homes, the kites were everywhere. Children laughed and shouted as they stood on the flat rooftops, tugging the strings of their kites as they tried not to tangle one another. Their parents kept a watchful eye, ensuring no one fell off as they played along as well.

Khalid had been so busy planning everything, he'd actually forgotten that spring started today. For once, he wasn't going to spend it in the cold snows of Fódlan, or their dreary hallways. He wouldn't have to make up a story on old family customs as he convinced his fellow deer to bring his traditions to life and ease his homesickness a little.

No, it was all right here in front of him.

And yet, he couldn't help but turn to Byleth. It was the first time he'd seen kites dance in several years and all he wanted to see was her expression as she studied their ribbon tails.

"It's to celebrate spring," Khalid replied softly, watching her quiet awe. "Nothing as stuffy as Fódlan's customs."

"It is different," she agreed, turning her head slightly to follow a bright red one as it swooped through the air.

"It's more fun to join in than to watch." He let go of her hand, scanning their surroundings for a vendor. They weren't hard to find; almost every shop was selling kites today.

The closest vendor held out two kites, one teal green and the other golden them. Shaking them, he called out, "For you and your consort, Badshah."

His people were nosy busybodies. Khalid missed the anonymity of his youth, a time when no one cared about who he was or where he went. Still, he was the king now. It wasn't surprising they were all watching him now.

"I'll send payment after," he replied, resisting the urge to sigh as he gently grabbed the two kites.

"No, there is no need—"

"I'm not that cheap," Khalid replied, grinning as he returned to Byleth's side. She cocked her head curiously at the kites. "Now let's—"

"You can fly them here, Badshah!"

Khalid did sigh now. Busybodies, the entire lot of them. Oh well, it was a nice spring day, with a constant, gentle breeze, and Byleth was at his side. He'd save the complaints for later.

The offered roof was two stories off the ground. From here, he could make out the maze of buildings that made the capital, the rooftops he used to dash across as a mischievous child. Byleth brushed back a stray lock as the wind blew. "We fly them up here?"

"Yeah, best spot in the city is one of these rooftops." Khalid grinned as he handed her the teal kite. Busying himself with unwinding thread for his kite, he added. "There's a lot of kites here, so you'll have to keep a tight hold of yours."

"Why kites?" Byleth stared at her kite, rotating it in her hands. Noticing what he was doing, she imitated him and started to unravel her thread.

"They're colourful? Fun?" Khalid shrugged. Almost all of his childhood was filled with mundane things that amounted to just cause. He'd spent so much time looking at Fódlan, that he'd never really considered Almyra. Maybe it was time he changed that.

Byleth held her kite awkwardly in one hand, her string in the other. Tossing the kite in the air, she watched as it immediately crashed in front of her. "Huh."

Immediately, Khalid burst into laughter. "What was that?"

"Flying a kite," Byleth replied evenly, picking up the kite. Once more, she tossed it in the air. Once more, it crashed right in front of her.

It was even funnier the second time and Khalid wrapped his arms around his belly as he guffawed. "That's not flying."

"How do you do it?" she asked, giving him a baleful look.

"You've never flown a kite?" He straightened slightly, rubbing the tears out of his eyes.

"No." Byleth turned the kite in her hands one more time, but her bemused expression didn't change.

"I don't know how you always manage to surprise me." Khalid shook his head, still laughing as he put down his kite and picked up hers. He held it up, waiting for the wind to push against it. Once it did, he grabbed the line, slowly releasing it into the air. As he moved toward Byleth, he released more and more wire, sending the kite high into the sky. "There you go, one flying kite."

Byleth scrunched her nose as she observed. "I see."

Unable to help himself, he broke into laughter. "You don't have to concentrate that hard. It's easy."

Her expression didn't change as she gingerly took the kite. She looked like a wooden doll, square shoulders, tense arms, stony expression as she glared up at the kite, daring it to fall.

"Seriously?" Khalid snorted. There'd come a day when Byleth ceased to either impress him or amuse him, but it wouldn't be today. "Here, let me show you."

Standing behind her, he pressed his palms on her shoulders and forced them down. "Relax." He leaned forward now, his dark hair mixing with her green locks as he guided her arms into a more neutral position. "The wind does most of the work, you just have to guide it."

"This is harder than it looks," Byleth muttered, still looking like the kite had personally wronged her.

"Only for you." Khalid grinned, tugging on the string slightly so the kite swooped. "If you get really good at it, you can even cut other kite strings with your kite."

Byleth frowned. "Why would you do that?"

"Kite battles. Though, with your stance, you'll lose every time. Didn't think you could be bad at something." Khalid sighed blissfully, feeling utterly content and warm. He couldn't remember the last time he'd felt so complete, without something he needed to strive for, without pushing for yet another destination. They could just stay here for the rest of their lives. "You know, I really missed this in Fódlan."

Byleth didn't say anything, but he could feel her lean back into him, encouraging him to continue.

"I didn't think I'd get homesick of all things." Khalid chuckled, feeling soft at the memories over the years. "I'd find excuses to worm in traditions into whatever we were doing."

Byleth stiffened slightly. "Is that why you attacked me with coloured water back then?"

"That…yeah." Khalid had almost forgotten about that incident—it'd been almost six years ago for him, but for Byleth it had only been last year. "You had fun."

"Fun…" she trailed off doubtfully.

"Well, everyone else did at least." Khalid grinned. "The actual festival's going to come up in a few weeks—you can see what the real thing's like. That is, if you aren't homesick by then."

"…I don't think I'll be," Byleth replied easily.

Somehow, that answer didn't surprise him. "I bet you've never felt homesick, huh?"

"No, I have." Byleth tugged on the kite string, pulling it lower before releasing it back up. "When you were gone."

Of all the answers he'd expected, that wasn't one of them. His voice cracked. "Did you now?"

"Yeah." Byleth concentrated on the kite, as though this were just an idle observation, as though she hadn't said anything important.

Khalid wrapped his arms around her waist, burying his face in her neck. Despite how stoic she was, she saw everything so clearly. Suddenly, everything clicked into place for him—he'd been feeling homesick too. It didn't matter if he was in Almyra or in Fódlan, the sights around him meant nothing if she wasn't by his side. "I'm glad you're here."

Byleth hummed, pressing her cheek on his head. "Me too."