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Fields of Duscur


Chapter 1


The day after Dedue’s return to Garreg Mach, he went to the greenhouse to clear his mind. Dimitri’s state was worse than he’d expected. He shouldn’t have stayed away so long. Now he had to figure out what to do next, how best to help.

Dedue opened the greenhouse door. Gone were the vast majority of the flowers, replaced by crops and medicinal herbs. His gut clenched. Were the flowers from Duscur…?

He hurried over to the corner where the plants from his homeland grew. Still there, and well-tended. A small miracle, considering few people knew how to care for them. Thank the gods and goddesses. They were one of the few things that remained of Duscur, now that it was gone.

He nodded to himself and removed his jacket, having left his armor back in his room. The watering cans and tools were where he remembered. Soon, he was tending the crops and the herbs. He would save the Duscur vegetation for last.

Dedue was so absorbed in his work that he almost startled when Mercedes appeared next to him and began to stir compost into the soil.

“Hello.” Mercedes gave him a soft smile. “It’s good to have you back. I’ve missed you.”

“Thank you.” In truth, he’d missed her, too. He’d enjoyed their conversations before the war, the way it was easy to work and relax around her.

The scent of damp soil comforted him, and he lost himself in the task. Gardening took him away from his worries and transported him someplace peaceful. It was similar to how he felt when cooking, mending clothes, or doing housework.

“I love baking and sewing, but there’s something meditative about gardening,” Mercedes said. “I suppose it’s because it connects me to nature and grounds me the way those other things don’t.”

Dedue glanced at her and nodded. It was strange to hear his thoughts echoed so perfectly by another. As usual, she seemed content with his response.

He moved to the Duscur plants at last. Mercedes accompanied him, smiling down at the little patch.

“When I returned to the monastery and saw these had lived,” she said, “it gave me hope that you had survived, too.”

Something clicked inside Dedue’s head. “You were the one who preserved these plants?”

Mercedes blushed.

“Thank you,” he said.

“I know how much they mean to you.” Her mouth curved in a sweet smile. “And you were the one who showed me how to care for them, after all. Please, don’t let me get in the way.”

Dedue nodded and set down the watering can. One of his sleeves slid over his forearm, and he rolled it up again. Tiny weed sprouts appeared between the plants. It always baffled him how weeds could find their way into the building despite no open windows.

Mercedes sat on the stone ledge a few feet away, hands folded in her lap. “I can’t tell you how happy I am you’re all right. I’ve missed our talks.”

Dedue grunted. She’d always done most of the talking. But he was content to listen. When he had something to say, she always paid rapt attention. He wasn’t sure what about him fascinated her—she didn’t exoticize him, and her interest in his culture seemed genuine.

“The way you move…” A crease formed between her brows. “Are you in pain?”

He closed his eyes for a moment, banishing the memory of how he sustained his injuries. “Sometimes. My countrymen did the best they could.”

Dedue stood and brushed off his knees. A muscle in his hip spasmed, but he suppressed the wince. When he turned, Mercedes stood next to him. She always seemed so dainty in his memory he was surprised to find she came up to his shoulder.

“I could try to ease your pain,” she said.

“Thank you, but I have a liniment.”

“Let me try. Please?”

“Very well.”

Dedue sat on the stone ledge. Mercedes drew near, the scent of lavender wafting toward him as she moved. She placed her hand on his shoulder. Her skin was cool through the fabric of his shirt.

“Your hand.” He covered it with his own before he realized what he was doing.

Color flooded Mercedes’s cheeks. “I’m sorry my hands are cold.”

He shook his head. That was not his objection at all. Despite the chill of her fingers, a warmth spread through him, as if he had stepped from shadow into sunlight. Being around Mercedes calmed his worries.

Mercedes cast a healing spell. His people were not adept in magic like those of Fódlan, but they had done the best they could with his injuries. Old wounds knit as her magic flowed through him, and the pain in his back, hips, and knees vanished. He closed his eyes and let out a sigh of relief.

“Thank you. For the healing and for protecting the plants,” he said.

“It was the least I could do.” Her hand remained on his shoulder. “I truly did miss you. I prayed every day that you were all right. I even prayed to the Duscur gods you and I talked about.”

“Hmm.” The corner of his mouth curled up.

The pink in Mercedes’s cheeks deepened. “Now that you’ve returned to us, do you think we could spend a little more time together?”

“I would like that.” Dimitri was his first priority, but he recognized that His Highness had gone someplace so deep he could not be reached. The best Dedue could do was stand by his side until he regained his senses. Perhaps once Dedue would have been alone in his task, but now Dimitri was surrounded by those who loved him. Dedue had learned that in order to care for Dimitri, he needed to care for himself, at least a little.

“Excellent,” Mercedes began, beaming.

Gods and goddesses, she was beautiful, even more so when she smiled.

Thunder split the air, making her jump. She stumbled, and he leaped to his feet and caught her before she could fall. Her body pressed the length of him, warm and soft and feminine. Heat raced through him at the feel of her bosom against his chest.

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” Mercedes said, hands resting on his shoulders. His arms had encircled her. She was steady on her feet, but he did not let go. Did not want to.

She blinked up at him, violet eyes wide. Slowly, she raised her hand and traced the scars on his face. He closed his eyes, a shiver running through him as her fingers caressed the remains of old wounds.

“I wish I could have been there to help you,” she murmured.

“You have helped me greatly.”

She hesitated before stroking the scar crossing his lip. Dedue had a sudden urge to catch her finger in his mouth but managed to refrain. They stood like that as the rain pelted the roof of the building, silent, gazing into each other’s eyes. Her waist felt very small in his arms. It was difficult not to hold her tighter.

Dedue clenched his jaw. Had he no shame, taking advantage of one who had helped him? Here he stood, thinking about her lips and breasts when all she’d ever been was kind to him.

He released her and began to put the gardening implements away. Mercedes assisted in silence, but she kept stealing glances at him. When they were finished, he picked up his jacket and held it over her head.

Mercedes tried to wave it away. “Oh, don’t worry about me. My room is nearby.”

“Even so,” he replied.

He opened the door and revealed a downpour.

“Should we just stay here?” she asked, eyeing the rain.

“I must attend Dimitri.”

“Oh! Of course. Don’t let me keep you.”

Dedue held his jacket over her head as they sprinted for her room. As she had mentioned, the distance was short, but he was soaked by the time they reached her door. His shirt stuck to him like a second skin. Mercedes paused in front of her room, her gaze lingering on his torso.

“Your hair,” he said.

Her hand went to the nape of her neck.

“Short hair suits you,” he said.

Mercedes beamed. “Thank you. I like your hair, too. It shows off your handsome features.”

His ears heated. No one had ever called him handsome before. He had never expected anyone to, especially now he was so scarred.

“You’re adorable when you blush,” she said with a giggle.

“I am accustomed to people seeing me as a man of Duscur rather than just a man.”

“I see you as a man. A strong, gentle, kind man.”

He wondered how she would react if he put his arm around her waist again and pulled her close. If she would let him kiss her.

“Don’t forget,” Mercedes said as she opened her door and handed him his jacket. “You said we’d spend time together.”

The opportunity to reach for her had passed. It was just as well. He enjoyed her company, and that was enough. Better to focus on helping Dimitri.

“I promise,” Dedue said. He never broke his promises.