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Byleth: Peculiar Professor

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“Combat awareness.” Byleth says firmly. “It’s paramount over any other skill. It doesn’t matter how tough you are, or how fast you are, or how many enemies you can take on at once. There is a situation where you can get killed, and it will happen if you’re not actively avoiding it. Good reflexes are particular important for this.”

Without even looking down, he grabs something from under his desk and chucks it at Edelgard. The girl’s arm comes up with lighting speed to block the projectile, causing it to slap onto her arm and fall harmlessly to the floor. It’s a wet sponge, and it already soaked through Edelgard’s sleeve in the one second it had contact with her.

That is an example of good reflexes.” Byleth says calmly, as if chucking something at a student without warning is perfectly normal behavior. “Bad reflexes, however...”

He chucks another sponge. This one slaps a sleeping Linhardt in the face with quite a bit of force, and both soaks his face and shirt and sends him toppling backwards out of his seat.

“...look like that.” The man says while casually wiping his hands on the curtains. Ferdinand is visibly aghast at seeing his teacher show such disregard to their very expensive accommodations. “You’re dead by the way Linhardt.”

“Duly noted.” The boy grumbles as he picks himself up off the floor. His carefully kept hair is wet and in slight disarray. He picks at his wet shirt, grimacing. “Did it have to be wet?”

“Dry sponges suffer too much wind resistance. Can’t throw them very far, or very fast. I’m open to alternatives.” Byleth replies; apparently missing the rhetorical nature of the question. “So, in short. Be like Edelgard. Edelgard is alive. Linhardt is not.”

Someone less familiar with Byleth might assume that’s a snide comment about Linhardt wasting his life away not contributing anything to the world, but of course it’s not. Byleth doesn’t have that deep a sense of sarcasm… or any sense of sarcasm for that matter.

“Professor…” Hubert says with a slight sneer. “I’ll thank you not to throw things at the heir to the throne of the Adrestian Empire.”

“Then hold off your thanks, because I just did that.” Byleth says.

“Yes, that’s- ugh…” The boy sighs deeply. “Don’t do that.”

“Okay.” Byleth picks up a sponge and chucks it Hubert. The boy barely manages to bat it aside and stop the sponge from soaking his notebook. “Everyone, be like Hubert. Not Linhardt. Pretend Edelgard isn’t here.”

While Hubert glares at their teacher, Edelgard glances at the hourglass sitting on Byleth’s desk. It’s not even halfway done.

Still forty more minutes of this. Gods preserve us…

###

“Professor…” Ferdinand sighs.

“Yes?”

“What are you doing?”

“Catching fish.”

“Generally, one uses a pole to catch fish.”

“Generally.” Byleth agrees.

“Professor.”

“Yes?”

“It it most uncouth for you to use a sharpened stick to catch fish.”

“I see.” He responds neutrally, and goes back to looking for fish.

“I don’t think you do see.”

“How not?”

“Professor, you are a member of the church of Seiros. You represent the order in a sense, and therefore it paints a poor image of them for you to be attempting to stab fish in a lake with a sharp branch. At the very least you could use a spear.”

“Too heavy.” Byleth mutters. He’s still not looking at Ferdinand, and is totally focused on the water. “This is just right. Can hold it for a long time, but not too frail. Won’t snap too easy.”

“Do you really care so little for the image of the church?” Ferdinand snaps. His irritation is getting the best of him now. He can’t stand someone with so little care for their position. Even Caspar, with his unphilosophical and impulsive approach to life, upholds the core ideals of being a noble. Byleth seems to pay no mind to what’s expected of him.

“Should I?”

“Yes! You’re a part of them now!”

“Oh.” He blinks. “Do they not like fish?”

“Fish- Forget about the fish! It’s the fact that you’re using a stick ! You look like a barbarian.”

“I’m a mercenary.”

“You’re a teacher , hired by the church . Perhaps you should start acting like it.”

“I do.”

Excuse me?” Ferdinand says, not believing what he just heard. “And how do you figure that?”

“A fisher is someone who fishes, just as a teacher is someone who teaches.” Byleth says simply. “How I act otherwise has nothing to do with it.”

“I- but-” Ferdinand takes a moment to collect himself. He didn’t expect this talk to be such an exercise in patience. “Yes, you are technically correct. However, that does not mean that public image is irrelevant. Again, you represent the church of Seiros, and a poor public image for them reduces their credi-”

The boy is interrupted by a sudden splash, followed by Byleth withdrawing his stick from the water with a large trout on the end. “Dinner.”

Ferdinand sighs. “Are you seriously going to have the chefs cook that?”

“No, I’m going to cook it.”

“I doubt they’ll let you use the kitchen.”

“I use my fireplace.”

Ferdinand blinks once, twice. He can’t be hearing this right. “Professor…”

“Yes?”

“You use the fireplace in your room to cook?”

“Of course.”

“Why don’t you just eat at the mess hall?”

“I can?”

Wait, wait, wait…” Ferdinand shakes his head vigorously for a second. This whole situation is absurd. “Professor, did you think the mess hall was only for students?”

“Of course. It’s called the student’s mess hall.”

“Where do you usually get your food?”

Byleth points at the fish still twitching on the end of his stick, and then to the greenhouse. “I have to buy those.”

Ferdinand can’t believe this. How did this man ever become a teacher? “Professor, you get free meals. It’s included with your being a teacher.”

“Oh.”

“You can order them from the chefs, and have it delivered anywhere. It’s one of the privileges of being a teacher rather than a student.”

“Oh.”

There’s a several second pause as the two of them stare at each other. Then, Byleth tilts the end of the stick towards Ferdinand.

“Want a fish?”

###

“Professor Eisner, while I understand the necessity of teaching combat to your students, and do not disagree that you should spar with them for practical demonstrations, I would remind you that your students don’t share your incredible… worrying… erm… indifference.” Seteth coughs.

“I don’t see the problem.” Byleth says as he casually holds Edelgard in a headlock with one arm while the other is pulling her weapon hand across her body to stop her from actually moving it. It’s a very awkward looking position. Bernadetta, who hasn’t sparred with Byleth yet (and everyone is expected to have a turn), looks like she’s going to pass out from sheer anticipation of her impending humiliation at any moment.

“That’s exactly the problem.” Seteth sighs. “You don’t see the issues at all.”

“They’re visible?”

“Yes, very.”

“Such as?”

“Strangling your students.”

“She has at least a minute left, and can tap out any time.” Byleth replies simply. While Edelgard is still struggling, the man barely looks like he’s paying attention to her anymore. “Next.”

“There is also the issue of you carrying your students around over your shoulder.”

“I think it was perfectly warranted.”

“You broke into her room.”

“I came in through the back entrance.”

“There is no back entrance to the student’s dorm rooms. We’ve been over this several times.”

“If you can step through it, it’s an entrance.”

“While such thinking may be appropriate for military matters, it is not acceptable social behavior.”

“Give me a second.” Byleth says suddenly. He glances at Edelgard, who is growing weak in his grip, then back at the rest of his class. “See? A good grab allowed me to restrain Edelgard despite her superior strength. Keeping my arm straight makes it hard to bend, and therefore hard for Edelgard to use brute force to escape, as it provides conditional strength. Edelgard, your swings have too much follow-through. It leaves you open.”

Byleth releases his student, and she gasps for the fresh air she’s been missing. She coughs once or twice, and sits down on a bench as soon as she reaches it.

“You were saying?”

Seteth sighs deeply. “Don’t break into people’s rooms, don’t do anything to harm the students, and for the goddess’s sake please keep your… weirdness confined to your own quarters, or at the very least just your classroom.”

“Okay.” Byleth says simply, which does not reassure Seteth at all. The professor turns to his class once more. “Bernadetta, you’re next.”

The lavender-haired girl lets out a pitiful whimper. Seteth silently thinks to himself that it seems more likely the poor girl will faint midway than the spar will actually run its course.

###

“Professor…” Dorothea murmurs as she brushes the horse’s mane alongside her teacher. “Really, you shouldn’t have.”

“Shouldn't have what?”

“If you wanted to be alone with me, you didn’t need the excuse of a group task.” She jokes. “Usually I do this with Bernie.”

“She’s not feeling well.”

“Sure she isn’t.” The girl giggles. “Professor, she always ‘isn’t feeling well’ when she has to leave her room.”

“She threw up.”

“Oh.” Dorothea blinks.

“I didn’t want you to have to do this alone.”

“Oh. Well… thank you.” Dorothea says. “You could have just assigned someone else you know, but you chose to come yourself…”

“Yes.”

“Very smooth professor.”

“Indeed. The horse is smooth.”

“I was talking about you sir.”

Byleth pauses, and raises a hand to pat his own hair. “Oily, not smooth.”

Dorothea shakes her head and laughs softly. “Oh professor…”

“Hmm?”

“Nothing. You’re very innocent.” The girl says with a smile.

“I’ve killed over a hundred people. I don’t think I’m innocent.”

“The fact that you think I’m talking about kills is exactly why you’re innocent.” Dorothea giggles.

Byleth pauses for a second as he tries to figure out what his student is talking about. “Were you… complimenting my movements? The ease in which I brush the horse? Was that smooth?”

The girl can barely contain her laughter. “Professor, don’t think too hard about it.”

###

“You’re both holding back.”

“Wha- oh, hey Teach. Didn’t see you there.” Caspar grunts. He struggles to overcome Petra’s strength as the two grapple in the middle of the training grounds. Their hands are locked together, and it’s clear the purple-haired girl has the upper hand by how she’s slowly bending the boy’s wrists backwards. “Don’t know what you mean, I’m fighting pretty hard right now!”

“As I am too!” Petra agrees.

“Is this a spar?” Byleth asks. “Or a wrestling match?”

“Spar! No weapons.” Caspar growls out. He attempts to pull one of his hands free from Petra’s grip, but all it does is tug her forwards a bit so that they’re basically nose-to-nose.

“Bite her.”

“What?!”

“Bite her. You’re close enough.”

“Teach, we’re not trying to injure-”

“Then kick her. Now. Between the legs.”

“No!”

The distraction of Byleth’s suggestions allows Petra to overpower the boy, and soon his hands are pinned behind his back and one of the girl’s arms is tight around his throat. “I win.” She remarks simply.

“Yep.” Caspar gasps. Petra releases him, and the boy rubs his sore wrists. “Damn, you have a strong grip!”

“I thank you.” Petra says proudly.

“Teach, I can’t just bite or kick her.” Caspar says. “That’s, uh, improper so to speak. It’s not right! She’s a classmate.”

“This is preparation for a real fight, correct?” Byleth frowns.

“Yeah?”

“Then you must not be so reserved. Survival is paramount. If you have not practiced such things, you will not be prepared to act on the opportunity in a real fight.”

“Still, I can’t bite her nose off!” Caspar protests. “And kicking her between the legs? That’s just… that’s just playing dirty Teach..”

There’s a long pause as Byleth stares at him. The, he turns to Petra. “Petra, spar with me.”

“Yes!” The girl says enthusiastically. “I accept! I have been much eager to test myself against you professor!”

Byleth grabs the usual protective pads for brawling. He puts on the helmet, the gloves that pad one’s knuckles, a mouth guard, and a groin guard (which Caspar had forgotten they even had here). The teacher glances at Caspar. “Watch. This is the problem with propriety.”

The fight starts simple enough, but the differences between Byleth’s style and Petra’s is instantly obvious. The professor has no qualms about going for the legs, and routinely tries to tangle and trip up Petra’s long legs with tripping attacks. To her credit, the girl is quick to react and dodge all his attempts, and even lands a few solid counter-hits with max-range punches.

Then Byleth pulls out his trump card. He side-steps one of Petra’s punches, and his hand snaps out to grab… her chest.

Petra squawks and freezes for a moment, and Byleth promptly smashes her in the side of the head with a brutal haymaker which sends her sprawling to the floor. Caspar gapes in shock as his teacher calmly turns to face him. “See? If you allow embarrassment to influence you in a fight, it can easily be your end.”

“You- you-” Caspar blinks. “You can’t just… but…”

“Petra, train yourself to punch rather than freeze.” Byleth suggests, turning back to the girl who’s picking herself up off the ground. “Or train to remain unaffected. That works better. There’s no place for embarrassment in a battle.”

“I see. Thank you professor.” Petra nods seriously. Apparently the fact that she just got groped is easily forgiven, which totally boggles Caspar’s mind.

Then again, there’s a chance to Petra didn’t take it too seriously purely because it’s Byleth. Most of his students have realized by now that the man means well, even if he shows it in truly absurd fashion.

“Also, consider incorporating such underhanded tactics in brawling yourself. Aim for the groin and the eyes when you can, although perhaps not the eyes during spars. We don’t have eye protection.” Byleth suggests. “Also consider adding more kicks. You have long legs, make use of them.”

“I understand.” Petra nods again. “I will improve through endeavor! Your tutelage is appreciated.”

Caspar sighs under his breath. Now he’s going to have to worry about Petra kicking him in the groin while brawling. Fantastic. Teach made a few good points though. In a real fight, he can’t afford to be bothered about what’s “proper”. He has a feeling his usual spars with Petra are going to be a lot more brutal from now on though…

###

“Professor, honestly…” Edelgard groans. “I’m fine. It happened once or twice.”

Byleth gives her a neutral look, and then turns to Hubert. “Did she eat?”

“No.”

The teacher’s gaze returns to Edelgard with a slight frown, and Edlgard scowls up at Hubert. Byleth nudges the bowl of food forward with his finger and the princess sighs in defeat.

Sometimes Edelgard spends late nights dealing with matters pertaining to the Empire. Paperwork usually. That sometimes means she sleeps in and misses breakfast just so that she’s rested for class.

Byleth, however, overhead her talking about that to Hubert, and now takes it upon himself to to bring her breakfast every morning directly to her room.

It’s better than it used to be. The first day after he heard, he grabbed her out of her bed (still in her nightclothes) and carried her to the mess hall rather than allow her to miss breakfast. This (him casually picking her lock every morning, shaking her awake at precisely seven thirty, and shoving a plate of fruit, bread, and sausage into her hands) is much more preferable.

Hubert has taken to joining them in the morning, mostly (according to him) to make sure Byleth doesn’t do anything sketchy. Edelgard has told him numerous times it’s not necessary, but Hubert’s concern is not so easily abated.

Edelgard isn’t sure if she’s fortunate to have, or cursed by, the attention and strange care of these two men. 

###

“Today, we’re talking about deception.” Byleth says. He gestures to a very confused, if amused, Mercedes who’s standing next to him. “For example, Marshmallow here may look like an innocent fluffball, but she’s actually capable of magically erasing someone’s life!”

“Erm… I didn’t do that.” Mercedes coughs.

Byleth pauses, the wind is totally ripped from his sail. “Marshmallow, didn’t you say yesterday that you purified someone?”

“Well yes, that’s a religious ritual.” She explains. “I’m not clergy exactly, but the old man was too weak to make it to the church, so I performed confession for them as best I could…”

“Doesn’t that mean you killed them?”

“Of course not, why would you assume that?”

“All the priests I’ve run into who ‘purify’ people involve a ritual that includes dissection, curses, and indiscriminate murder.”

“Professor.” Edelgard coughs. “May I remind you that your experience is not at all reflective of the rest of the world? From what you’ve told us, you’ve never interacted with normal clergy before a month ago. I’m fairly sure your knowledge of religious matters is limited to insane cults.”

There’s a long pause. Byleth glances between Mercedes and Edelgard. Eventually, he says: “so Marshmallow isn’t secretly murdering people?”

“No, she is not.”

“She’s just sugar?”

“If by that you mean ‘sweet’, yes.”

“Oh.”

Another awkward pause. Mercedes smiles patiently as Byleth thinks. The professor then turns back to his class.

“And sometimes, someone can seem suspicious, but they’re actually just fluff. That’s also deception, but it’s just you deceiving yourself. Always double-check your facts and sources.”

“Professor, why do you call Mercedes Marshmallow, and why is she fluff?” Linhardt sigh.

“Because she looks like a marshmallow.” Byleth says simply. “She’s sweet and fluffy.” To prove his point, he reaches over and fluffs the girl’s hair, which she patiently allows. “See? Fluff.”

At some point.” Edelgard thinks as she massages her forehead in exasperation, “he’s going to find someone less patient, and he’s going to get punched or accused of sexual assault.

“Also, she’s really light.” Byleth adds, now completely off-track. Without warning, he scoops Mercedes up in his arms and holds her up over his head. “See?”

“Oh gods…” Bernadetta whines, empathizing with Mercedes embarrassment as the blonde-haired girl blushes and starts stammering. “He’s going to parade her too…”

Either that, or everyone is going to end up traumatized.

Chapter Text

“Does she like cake?”

“Erm…”

“Potatoes?”

“Professor.”

“Salt?”

“When I said I would answer your questions about the goddess, I meant spiritual questions.” Rhea coughs. “I am not privy to the… dietary preferences of our goddess.”

Byleth pauses his questioning, stares for a second, then says. “You said you know this goddess well, right?”

“Indeed.”

“She’s your mother, right?”

“Well, she’s everyone’s mother…”

“Right, so she’s family.” Byleth says simply. “And I’d be a bad son if I didn’t know my mother’s favourite food, right?”

The archbishop takes a long, deep breath, and exhales to steady herself. “She is far too above this world to be bothered with such simple things as food preferences.”

Byleth blinks. “Have you asked her?”

“Pardon?”

“Have you asked her what food she likes?”

“It’s not that simple.” Rhea tries to explain. “She does not answer such base questions.”

“You don’t know.” Byleth insists. “You’ve never asked. What if she likes pancakes, but is too shy to ask for them, and is just waiting for someone to ask?”

The archbishop’s mouth twitches. If this were anyone else she would think she was intentionally being mocked, but she knows Byleth doesn’t mean anything by it.

Probably.

“Well, perhaps you should ask her then.” Rhea says as calmly as possible.

Byleth is again quiet for a moment, then says quietly. “You don’t actually know her at all, do you?”

Unless she’s hearing things, Rhea could swear she hears disappointment in his voice, as if she’s the one doing something wrong. It takes all her patience not to (politely) ask him to leave. “That is not true. I am well acquainted with even the most obscure of our goddess’s legends and commandments.”

“Sure.” Byleth says, unphased. “But that’s her public persona, like me talking about my father’s job. What about her favourite color?”

The archbishop has had quite enough. She stands up, says: “pardon me, I have another arrangement” and leaves as quickly as she can.

###

“Fight me.”

“Pardon?”

“Fight me.” Byleth repeats. “You are the fencing instructor. I want to see if my skills are any good. Assess me.”

Jeritza eyes the other man warily. Byleth’s eccentricities are well known to him, as well as his philosophy on combat. “No biting, no groin strikes, no eye gouging. This is a spar.”

“Fine.” Byleth blinks.

Already being in the training pit, the two grab training swords and put on the necessary protective training armor. Jeritza settles into a low stance, while Byleth stands normally with his sword limp by his side.

“Ready when you are.” Byleth says.

Jeritza narrows his eyes. “Begin.”

The way Byleth fights is both normal, but very unusual in its normalness. He uses only the most basic of sword techniques: simple slashes, thrusts, and blocks; but he makes such effective use of those simple moves that he doesn’t need anything more complicated. Jertizta’s swift, complex attacks are often stopped by a few simple shifts of Byleth’s blade.

It’s undeniable, however, that Jeritza has the upper hand. He may be foiled constantly, but he also possesses the constant offensive momentum that never allows Byleth to counterattack. Byleth’s simple movements also mean that any attacks he does manage are effortlessly blocked because of how obvious and predictable they are.

It takes a few minutes of failed attempts, but Jeriza eventually manages to snake a thrust past Byleth’s defence and tap him in the hip. The two men step back from each other, allowing their swords to drop.

“Curious.” Jeritza frowns. “You’re very… basic, but for someone so basic, you’re remarkably skilled in defence. Your unwillingness to string together consecutive attacks, or use any sort of complicated movement, makes for a brute-force style that your lackluster physical strength is ill-suited for.

“Ah.” Byleth blinks.

“Your defence, however, is quite effective. You need not change that.”

“Understood.” Byleth nods. “I am satisfied.”

Jeritza raises an eyebrow. “You are settling for only this?”

“No. I wasn’t able to fight as I normally would.” Byleth says. “Normally, I would have just stabbed you with my dagger while blocking with my sword.” He pats the dagger on his belt. “Or punched you, or tripped you, or kicked you, or headbutted you, or used magic, or-”

“I get it.” Jertiza says sharply. “You would not have beaten me even if you did so.”

“Sure.”

“I mean it!”

“Okay.”

The masked swordsman feels like he’s being mocked. Byleth seems totally uncaring about Jeritza’s insistence that he’s better than the man. He brushes it off as if he has no respect for Jeritza’s skill.

Of course, that’s just Byleth’s usual blank look at work, but Jeritza doesn’t interact with the man enough to realize that. He’s avoided the new teacher just as much as he avoids everyone else.

“Feh.” Jeriza turns away sharply. He tosses his training sword aside, strips out of his padding, and strides out of the area.

###

“Professor.” Seteth sighs.

“Yes?”

“When I said you should lighten up your lessons a bit, I didn’t mean you should hang lanterns all around your classroom.”

“Oh.”

“I meant you should consider not only talking about the numerous ways they can die.”

“But that’s my job.”

“Your job is to teach them tactics, strategy, and how to fight. Not to spend twenty minutes describing the innumerable ways they could die a grisly death on the battlefield.” Seteth says dryly. “Your job is not to traumatize them, it’s to help them prepare for the battlefield. While a discussion of death is inevitable and necessary, there is no need to unduly terrify them.”

“Oh.”

“And, I should repeat, I told you to stop breaking into your students’ rooms. Yet I’ve been hearing rumors of you intruding upon Edelgard in the early hours of the morning, including picking the lock to her door .”

“She wasn’t eating breakfast.” Byleth says simply. “I’m fixing that.”

“By breaking into her room?”

“Yes.”

There’s no explanation. Just “yes”. As much as Seteth doesn’t approve, he also doesn’t doubt Byleth is telling the truth.

“Does Edelgard complain?”

“Yes.”

“Vehemently?”

“No.”

Edelgard doesn’t approve, but she allows her professor to keep up his behavior. If Hubert hasn’t brought it to the attention of anyone else, then it must be relatively fine, as there is almost certainly no way Hubert isn’t aware of this.

Seteth sighs. “Fine. Please just ask her for a spare key though. There’s no need to break into her room every morning.”

“Okay.”

“One last thing…”

“Hmm?”

“I have heard tell that Flayn has been… interacting with some of the young men around here.” Seteth says slowly. “And have also heard tell that some of them may have attempted advances on her. If you see this, I implore you to put a stop to it, and inform the boys of their peril. I shall not have any young man set a finger on my sister.”

Byleth blinks. “Okay.”

“Good.”

###

“Flayn.”

“Professor.” Flayn nods, smiling.

“Come here.” Byleth beckons.

Flayn pauses. Byleth is currently standing in one of the smaller alleyways, shadowed by an overhang above him, and waving her over with small beckons of one hand. His other hand is hidden behind his back.

It looks very creepy to be honest, and if it were anyone but Byleth Flayn would have promptly turned around and run in the other direction. Knowing how peculiar Byleth is, however, she’s confident he had no ill intent, and so walks over to him. “What is it?”

“I got this.” The man shows her what he was hiding behind his back. It’s a massive teautates herring on the end of a sharp stick. “This is the one you wanted, right?”

“Yes! It is!” Flayn says eagerly. “My gratitude Professor! This will be a perfect meal for the feast!”

The green-haired girl removes the herring from the end of the stick, having no aversion to handling the thing with her bare hands. “Did you catch this with only your stick?”

“Yes.”

“That is quite impressive! You never cease to amaze Professor. I wish I were so skilled.”

“It is not hard. I can teach you.”

“Truly?”

“Yes."

“My evermost thanks Professor!” She exclaims. “Incidentally, I have a question.”

“Yes?”

“Why did you beckon me from the alley? Is there some reason for such secrecy?”

“Not secrecy. I am following your brother’s rules.”

Flayn blinks. “Rules?”

“Yes. He said that young men were not allowed to approach you, and being a young man, I could not come up and give you the fish. Instead, I had to make you approach me.” Byleth explains.

The girl’s brow furrows. Her voice is noticeably tense. “Oh really? What else did my brother say?”

“He said to inform any boy that attempted to do so of their peril.” Byleth’s eyes glance up to see a boy, Ashe, happen to walk close to them. “Your shoe is untied!”

The grey-haired boy startles, spots Byleth staring at him, glances at his shoe (seeing that it really is untied) and waves to show his thanks before fixing the problem.

“Like that.” Byleth says with totally honesty. “He approached you, and I told him of what he was in peril of.”

Flayn isn’t sure if she should laugh or groan. “Right. Of course.” She coughs. Her brother chose the worst possible person to ask for help. She doesn’t know if she should tell him what Seteth actually meant, or just let Byleth go one believing he’s literally not allowed to step towards her and has to warn people of their “peril” rather than tell them to stay away from her.

In the end though, she decides it would be rude to let Byleth go on believing the wrong thing.

“Professor, when my brother said not to allow young men to approach me, he did not mean that they were not allowed to walk towards me.”

“He didn’t?”

“No, he was saying that he does not want them to make romantic overtures at myself. Flirting.”

“Ah.” Byleth frowns. “Why?”

Flayn raises an eyebrow. He questions why Seteth doesn’t want her flirted with, but he didn’t question not being allowed to walk in her direction? “He thinks I’m too young.”

“How old are you?”

“It doesn’t matter.”

“Yes it does.” Byleth says flatley. “This is about maturity, age , yes?”

“Well…” He’s not wrong. “I’m old enough.”

“And how old is that?”

“Older than you.”

Byleth pauses, thinks about it, then nods. “Okay.”

“So, do you agree with my brother?”

“I don’t know.”

“Pardon?”

“Flirting is not my expertise.” Byleth says bluntly. “So I don’t know how old you should be.”

“So… just don’t pass judgement then!” Flayn suggests. “If you don’t know, should you really be listening to Seteth?”

Byleth considers this for a moment. “Maybe.”

“Pardon?”

“He is your older brother, he is looking out for your best interests.”

“But he’s overbearing!”

“Perhaps…”

“Look, I want to be allowed to flirt if I want to, alright!?”

“Okay.” Byleth blinks. “Be careful.”

“Of course.”

“So… if men are allowed to lay fingers on you, then I don’t have to avoid touching you?”

“No, you don’t.”

“Okay.” As if just to test that it’s true, he reaches forward and pokes her in the cheek. “Hmm…”

“What?”

“You’re soft.” He says. He moves his hand to her hair. “And fluffy.”

Flayn snorts. “Professor.”

“Yes?”

“What you’re doing right now is exactly what my brother is worried about.” She chuckles. “Creepily fluffing my hair while looming over me.”

Byleth pauses. “I’m… creepy?”

“Not once one knows who you are.” Flayn reassures quickly. “From a distance though… you probably do.”

“Oh.” He says. “So if we just stay close to other people, I won’t look creepy?”

“When I said ‘from a distance’, I meant when people don’t know who you are.”

“Oh.” Byleth stops what he’s doing.

“Don’t stop!” Flayn huffs. “Seteth never does this…”

“He doesn’t?”

“He’s… stiff. Formal. And he always has been.” Flayn huffs. “He never even let me have a piggyback ride!”

Without further prompting, Byleth scoops up the girl and puts her on his shoulders. “Where are we going?”

“To the mess hall! We need to get this fish cooked!”

“Okay.”

###

“Erm… when I said I needed some blood, I just meant a drop.” Hanneman coughs.

“Oh.”

“Really Professor, you must be more sensible about such things.” Manuela huffs as she heals the slash on the man’s arm. “You cannot be so careless!”

“I wasn’t. I’ve suffered worse.” Byleth says neutrally.

“Be that as it may, it is a bad habit to think in such a way.” Manuela berates. “Simply because you can do something, does not mean you should . You are a mercenary, you should know well the price of recklessness.”

Byleth thinks on it, then nods in agreement. “Okay.”

“However, this quantity of blood, excessive as it may be, will be sufficient for my research.” Hanneman hums. “With this I will hopefully be able to get a better grasp on your crest.”

“Okay.”

“There is another matter.” Manuela says as she finishes the healing. “Professor, some of your students are worried about you.”

“I am mentally sound.” Byleth says, as if he expects this.

“Well, there was that…” Manuela coughs. “However, some of your students are noting signs of exhaustion in you professor. I do know you are busy, however you must take time to rest.”

Byleth pauses. “No”

“Pardon?”

“Rest comes when the job allows it. The job comes first. You can’t sleep on guard duty because you’re tired, you sleep after the job is done. This is the same case. You sleep when you’ve done what’s needed for the day.”

“Such a mindset, while perhaps appropriate for mercenary work, is not infinitely sustainable in a school setting.” Hanneman berates. “While during important times, such as marking exams, such a mindset may be necessary, during the normal school week you must pace yourself to avoid burnout.”

Byleth blinks. “That would mean I would have to stop doing things.”

“Well yes.”

“I can’t.”

“Yes, you can. You’re not on a mission. Not all tasks are essential.” Hanneman huffs. “For example, you need not check in on every single student every single day.”

“I don’t?”

“No. While certainly it is our duty to look out for the health and progress of our students, asking such a thing each and every day is wholly unnecessary.”

“Oh.”

“You, I assume, have been personally checking in with everyone every single day, have you not?”

“Yes.”

“Perhaps consider cutting it down to once a week. Unless, of course, there is cause for concern with a particular student.”

“Okay…”

###

“Need a sponge?”

Cyril pauses what he’s doing (cleaning off one of the many statues around the monastery) and stares at the professor. “Do you… just carry those around with you?”

“Not usually.”

“So why are you carrying them around now?”

“I was cleaning them, and getting new water.” He says simply.

“Right.” The boy says slowly. He asks himself if he really wants to know why this guy has a bunch of sponges, and decides he’ll be better off not asking. “Sure, I’ll take a sponge.”

He accepts the offered sponge, and starts using it to scrub. It’s much more effective than the cloth he was using beforehand, cutting his work down by half.

“I’ve got a few more statues to do…” Cyril says slowly after he finishes his current task. “Could I borrow this…?”

“You’re already borrowing it.”

“Can I keep borrowing it?”

“That’s just keeping it.”

“No- ugh…” Cyril sees why so many people call this professor weird. “Just until I’m done with the statues. For the day.”

Byleth stares at the boy for a second, and then nods. “Return it by dusk. I need it for my lesson tomorrow.”

Cyril is thankful he didn’t ask, because that response doesn’t make this man seem any less strange.

###

“Hah- you’re the real deal, huh?” Catherine laughs as she locks training swords with the man.

“Yes, I am not a hallucination.” Byleth responds calmly.

“And just as literal as the others claimed I-” She’s cut off by the man’s leg suddenly snapping up in a kick that almost breaks her nose. She just barely bobs her head out of the way. “-and just as pragmatic as they claimed as well.”

The professor doesn’t respond. He disengages their swords to put some distance between the two of them. He stares blankly at her, giving no emotional response to anything going on.

“Not much for banter, huh?”

“Needless distraction.” He responds curtly. “In combat, speak only to convey orders, information, or other things of key importance.”

“You really are well-trained.” Catherine praises. She lunges back in, battering the man with a series of rapid strikes. He looks like some sort of golem with his total lack of reaction as he precisely blocks each attack.

His response comes in the form of a kick to her shins (which she manages to backstep) followed by an obvious swing of his own (which she blocks) and a sudden body-slam to take advantage of both their swords being slightly off to the side of their bodies.

“But-” Catherine grunts as she regains her footing. Her free hand snaps out to grab his collar, uses her superior strength to pull him forwards and off-balance, and disarms him now that he can’t move his arms easily. “You still have things to learn.”

She was expecting the fight to end there. He’s in no position to fight back. Yet fight back he does. He pulls back his head and slams it forwards, headbutting her. Catherine reels for a moment from the pain, and Byleth capitalizes by kneeing her in the groin and following up with a haymaker straight to the face.

“Speak for yourself.” He says calmly. 

Before Catherine recovers, he knocks her sword from her hands. She brings up her hands and settles into a stance. She can feel blood starting to trickle from her nose, and the beginning of a black eye forming. Byleth is not faster than her nor stronger, but he does have one advantage: technique.

Despite what his primary weapon would suggest, Byleth’s skills lie more in brawling than they do swords. Now the two are in his area of expertise.

Catherine quickly realizes this for herself. Byleth understands the use of momentum in a fight. A punch is stronger when your entire body is moving with it. He never once lets her off the backfoot, and that more than makes up for his relative lack of speed or strength.

He always seems to know where to aim. Usually it’s the face, sometimes it’s the groin, and if it’s not either of those things it’s because she’s done something incredibly stupid that gives him a huge advantage.

In short, because she lost her sword, the fight ends with her pressed up against a wall, her nose bleeding profusely after several haymakers to the face, and her vision going blurry from either blood loss, pain, or probably both.

It’s not even that which ends the fight. It’s Shamir coming in and seeing her Catherine badly beaten, and then calling on the guards and trying to attack Byleth.

###

“So, uh…” Alois says. “You’re certainly not the lot I expected.”

Byleth stares blankly at the man, and Catherine crosses her arms with a frown on her face. A moment later she hisses when Maunela starts the healing.

“Honestly you two…” Manuela sighs. “You take training too seriously.”

“I didn’t know he’d keep fighting.” Catherine huffs defensively.

“She said she wanted to spar. We sparred.” Byleth remarks. “Until one of us could not fight any longer.”

“You beat her within an inch of her life.” Manuela corrects in a scolding tone.

“Exactly. Until she couldn’t fight any longer.” Byleth repeats, as if that’s perfectly normal. “She set the terms.”

“Really?” Maunela says with narrowed eyes.

“I did…” Catherine admits reluctantly. “I didn’t expect him to take it so literally.”

“Yes, well… that’s basically all he does.” Alois coughs. “Did we not tell you about that?”

“I thought you were exaggerating.”

“Oh, that we wish we were…” Manuela mutters.

“I would use exaggeration, but it would go right over Byleth’s head.” Alois jokes. It’s barely a joke, but Byleth glancing up for a moment like he expects something to be there makes the knight snort with barely-contained laughter.

“I see…” Catherine says slowly. Her face is looking a bit less beaten thanks to Manuela’s healing.

“Good. I was worried I may have damaged your eyes.” Byleth says.

“No, I mean that I understand .”

“Oh.”

Alois gives Catherine a look, saying: “ see what I mean? ” Catherine sighs and nods.

Shamir, who has watched this whole thing, just purses her lips and doesn’t comment.

###

“How was your week?”

“Good.”

“Your students?”

“Good.”

“Any problems?”

“I sparred with Catherine. Apparently we were supposed to stop when I lost my sword.”

Ah… that’s where Catherine’s bruises came from. ” Jeralt thinks to himself. “Are you enjoying your time here so far? I know it’s been hard settling in.”

“I’m… busy.” Byleth says with a slow blink. “But it is rewarding to teach.”

“Good.” Jeralt smiles. “Are you getting along with your students?”

“I think so.” Byleth says. “But I think they consider me strange.”

“They’ll get used to you.” Jeralt reassures. “After long enough.”

“I hope so.” The professor mumbles.

Jeralt feels for his son, he really does. The boy has never made a close friend due to his oddities. As much as Jeralt doesn’t feel comfortable being a knight of Seiros again, he was hoping the teaching position for Byleth would be a chance to meet people his age… although, he’ll admit, the power dynamic is a bit off due to Byleth being their professor .

It’s far better than the almost total social isolation (beyond Jeralt’s mercenaries) that Byleth suffered before due to people avoiding him, but Jeralt does wish Byleth could be on more even footing with the people around him. A friendship is what the boy needs.

Still, this is workable. Any positive relationships are better than none.

Jeralt learns forward, and puts a hand on the boy’s shoulder. “I’m happy for you Kid. You’re taking good care of them. I’m sure they’ll return the favor.”

“It is not their job to take care of me. I will have failed as a teacher should that be the case.”

Jeralt snorts. “You’re barely older than them, and as much as you like to think otherwise, you’re not much more mature. You need just as much taking care of as they do.”

Byleth’s silent stare may unnerve other people, but Jeralt recognizes it for what it is: a pout.

“Don’t give me that look. You know I’m right.”

Chapter Text

"Professor…" Felix says slowly.

"Yes?"

"What exactly are you doing?"

"Returning a lost item."

"Usually when people do that, they knock."

"I did. No answer. So I'm going in through the back entrance."

"That's a window."

"Exactly."

"You're not supposed to break into someone's room through the window."

"I'm not breaking anything." Byleth says honestly. "I'm just opening it from the outside."

"With a knife?"

"Yes. My fingers can't get under it, and I need to undo the knot."

"That's not the problem, you shouldn't be using the window."

Byleth pauses to think. "...I should use the top entrance?"

"The top- no! Just wait for them to come back like a normal human being." Felix groans.

"I'm not human. I'm a demon."

Felix isn't sure if he's serious or not. The fact that his professor's expression never changes makes it hard to tell.

"Ah, good, it's open." Byleth pops open the window, and steps inside with practiced ease.

"You cut the knot."

"I'll replace it." He pulls some twine out of his coat.

"You just carry around spare twine for this exact situation?" Felix asks in disbelief.

"Well, not just this… but yes." Byleth murmurs. "I also have a few spare knives, in case the first breaks."

"Anything else you have I should know?" Felix asks sarcastically.

"Canteen, gauntlets, twine, knives (normal and throwing), metal spikes, small hammer, sword, two concoctions, various antidotes, bandages, flint and steel, notebook, and a quill and ink case." He lists off as he places a small blue gemstone on a desk. "Also, jerky. Want some?"

"Pass." Felix is sorry he even asked.

Byleth casually replaces the torn string that ties down the window, steps out, and pulls it down. He pulls out something else: a small, fancy-looking feather.

"Is that another lost item?"

"Yes."

"...exactly how many more do you have?"

"A dozen."

That's a lot of window strings he's going to be replacing… and Felix makes a mental note to leave his own window unlocked from now on.

###

"Ack, goddess, poison!" Sylvain coughs as he grabs for his water. "Augh!"

"It's not that bad…" Annette mutters sullenly as the man guzzles down the drink. The two of them are startled by Byleth suddenly rising from his seat with a loud grinding noise and him leaping over the table next to Sylvain.

"What kind? Do you know?" Byleth asks, pulling a number of small vials out of his pockets. "I have a rotberry antidote mix, and some crushed blackleaf-"

"Spice!" Sylvain coughs, slamming down his glass on the table. "How much did you put in that Annette?!"

"Spice? Haven't heard of it..." Byleth mutters rapidly. He stops suddenly, and his head snaps to look at Annette. "You did this?"

"W-Well I didn't mean to add that much-" She's cut off by the man suddenly grabbing her by the collar, and hoisting her up into the air with one arm. "Wha-Wha-Whaaaaaa!"

"Tell me what you used, now." Byleth's voice, usually flat, has a clear hint of steel and obvious threat.

"Bu-But-"

"NOW." Everyone in the mess hall now has their eyes fixed on Byelth, watching with a mixture of confusion and horror.

Annette is visibly shaking. Her trembling hands clutch at Byleth's own, trying to pry it off her collar. "I-I j-just used s-some jalapeno d-dust! J-Just a little!" She whimpers. "F-For seasoning!"

Byleth tilts his head, and blinks slowly. "That's not poison."

"Ah, poison, oh, that was an exaggeration professor!" Sylvain says rapidly. He has a winning smile on now, but the way his eyes dart around makes it clear he's not calm at all. He puts a hand on the arm holding Annette in the air, slowly getting his teacher to lower her. "Not actual poison! A joke! Everything's fine! Put her down… please?"

Byleth does so, slowly. "You're not harmed?" He asks Sylvain.

"Well, my taste buds may be a bit singed, but it's really nothing!" The redhead insists. Byleth releases Annette, and Sylvain gently grabs her under the arm to stop her from collapsing. "It's just a misunderstanding professor. I appreciate your concern, but Annette has done nothing except be a poor judge of how much spice goes on a dish."

"Oh." Byleth says. "You really should be more clear."

"No, you just don't understand hyperbole, or metaphor, or literary devices of any sort." Sylvain sighs. "You must be a riot with the ladies."

"I do not riot. If I want something, I take it… or buy it, or ask for it, or all three. Not necessarily in that order." He pauses. "Why would I supposedly riot only with women? Are they known to be good at it?" He stares at Annette. "Do you riot?"

Annette mutely shakes her head.

"And you made my point." Sylvain sighs. "Professor, perhaps you should just go back to your food."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes, very."

"Okay…" He says slowly. "If you get poisoned again-"

"I wasn't poisoned." Sylvain interrupts firmly.

"If you actually get poisoned-"

"I know who to call, yes, fine, shoo." The man says, uncharacteristically brusk. "Go."

Byleth stares for another minute, eyeing the two of them (Sylvain pointedly positions himself in front of Annette, just to give her a bit of a shield from the professor), before slowly moving back to his seat.

"I-I'm so sorry." Annette says quietly.

"No, it's fine. The professor is just… dramatic." Sylvain sighs, and pats her on the shoulder reassuringly. "Do you want to go somewhere else to recover? Maybe some tea in my room?"

The girl is shaken, but not that shaken. "Nice try." She smiles.

"Tsk…" Sylvain feigns disappointment, but he's inwardly relieved that Annette recovered so quickly.

###

Ingrid isn't sure if she's impressed or disapproving. There's few people who can go toe-to-toe with Dimitri. Usually it takes a two on one to get an even fight with him, but Professor Eisner is managing quite well… however, he's not really fighting fair.

Scratch that, he's pulling out every dirty trick short of eye gouging.

"Gah!" Dimitri sputters as Byleth whips out his canteen around, the top popped off, and splashes water in the boy's eyes. He still manages to raise his spear to block his professor's overhead strike, but he's also forced to back up as he tries to shake the water out of his vision. "Professor!"

"Bandits won't fight fair." The man says flatly. "And you never know when someone will decide to ignore what's supposedly "fair". Better to use everything you have, and expect your foe to do the same."

"There's no honor in that!" Dimitri protests. "We're no better than bandits if we-"

He's cut off by Byleth punching him in the face. It's a move that should never have happened, it's completely reckless and easily punishable, but the boy is so surprised that he doesn't think to counter it until the window of opportunity has passed.

"See?" The teacher says as Dimitri blinks in shock. "I only got away with that because you're thinking in terms of a fair fight. Don't. Be ready to counter anything, and use anything to your advantage."

'I must protest Professor!" Ingrid interrupts. She's sitting on the sidelines along with the rest of the class, but she can't remain silent. "If we fight by that creed, then we are no better than bandits!"

"Bandits are not immoral because of how they fight, they are immoral because of why they fight." Byleth responds curtly. "There is no good or evil in combat, only what works and what doesn't."

Ingrid purses her lips. She doesn't agree with that at all. What sort of teacher encourages their students to splash water in their enemy's eyes? Or to sucker-punch someone when they're not expecting it? "Yes, it's effective, but it's also quite nasty and unbefitting someone as respected as a knight."

"Better unrespected than dead." Byleth responds. He deflects a thrust from Dimitri with his sword and promptly kicks the boy in the shin to punish his recklessness. The follow-up sword swipe smacks Dimitri in the head as he hastily, foolishly, lowers his guard to protect his lower body. "Dead."

Dimitri tenses, and for a second Ingrid thinks he's going to shout at the professor, but he releases the tension a moment later and lets his spear tip drop to the ground. "You're quite the fighter professor."

"I would hope so." The professor states. "As I'm trained and tested mercenary, I'd consider it a failure on my part if I couldn't beat my own students."

Dimitri, and everyone else for that matter, decides not to comment on the fact that he basically just insulted the entire class. Instead they nods mutely and let him continue with the lesson.

###

"..."

"..."

"..."

"I like you."

"Erm… thank you, Professor."

###

"Are you a demon?"

"Um… not that I know of." Ashe says hesitantly. "Why…?"

"I have a title." The man says. "The Ashen Demon. I wondered if you were the same as me, because your name is Ashe, so I asked if you were a demon, because then you would be an Ashe demon."

Ashe considers that a very strange way of thinking, but he doesn't say it aloud. "Well, I'm sorry to disappoint Professor. I'm very human."

"That's fine. Demons are dangerous. I would know."

"You would?"

"I am a demon."

Ashe eyes the man warily. There's no change in expression or inflection, so he doesn't know if Byleth is joking or not. He decides to just not address it and change the subject. "So, what are you doing here professor?"

"Scouting." The man says, and hops up on the short wall that overlooks the cliffside. Ashe resists the urge to reach out and pull him back down. That looks dangerous. "For a lesson."

"What lesson?"

"Scouting, observation, navigating difficult terrain." He responds curtly.

"Aren't we learning how to be knights, not scouts?"

"I am teaching you how to be competent soldiers in any capacity." Byleth corrects. "I teach every aspect of warfare, not just combat. Perhaps, as most of your classmates for nobility of some sort, they will never be sent on scouting missions as they are considered too vital, but it is important to understand the concepts behind it anyways in case you are to ever order a scouting mission yourself. Knowing how scouts can abuse terrain to their advantage is just as important as being able to do it yourself. Information is power just as much as fighting strength is."

Ashe can understand that. It's like a good robbery. You can have all the stealth in the world, but if the homeowner is actually home when you make your attempt, you're in for trouble. Knowing when they're gone is just as, if not more important, than any actually sneaking skills one has. "That makes sense. You can be as good a fighter as you want, but if you don't know you're fighting in a marsh until you actually start fighting, you're in trouble. Even if you aren't doing the scouting, there's value to knowing how it works and its benefits."

"Exactly." He nods. "Do you have experience with this?"

"Well…" Ashe says slowly, reluctantly. "I used to be a thief."

"Ah." Byleth nods. "Scouting is very important for a good theft. Also target selection, blending in, knowing how not to draw attention. Good skills to have."

Ashe wishes he never had to develop those skills at all. "Yes, well… I didn't obtain them through schooling though."

"I assumed not." Byleth says. "Hmm… I have a question."

"Yes?"

"If I wanted to steal from the monastery, how would I do it?"

Ashe raises an eyebrow. "Depends on what you want to steal."

"Something from the archbishop's room."

"Hmm…" Ashe purses his lips and thinks. "I'd have to observe the guard shifts for a few days, and then find a spot to where I can observe Rhea's patterns. Alternatively, I can wait for a ceremony where I know Reah will appear, and attempt to sneak in then, though it's a bit more risky because the guards might have changed shifts for a special occasion."

Byleth nods approvingly. "Very smart. However, you missed one thing."

"What?"

"Your fellow students. You're only paying attention to the guards, but the general crowd or servants can be a danger as well. In a market it's unlikely the crowd will care about one person, but here most students have a measure of combat training, and are more likely to raise the alarm or fight you directly if they see shady behaviour."

"Ah." Ashe nods. "I see… but Professor."

"Yes?"

"Why did you want to know?"

"Simply a mental exercise." Byleth says. "It's good training to make a plan of attack or infiltration for any location, as well as plan how to escape any room they're in or take out any given person, or all people, around them."

Ashe blinks. He understands the idea behind it, but… "That's a scary way to think professor. Have you considered how to eliminate your students as well?"

'Of course." Byleth nods. "I could have slid a knife in your back when you were reading, or any time while we were talking, or I could have grabbed you and thrown you off the cliff, or thrown a knife at you as I'm leaving, or used one of the loose rocks here as a projectile so I could follow up with a knife, or even rushed you for a fistfight considering you don't seem to be armed and aren't particularly strong. I could have waited for you to go back to reading before knifing you, or abused your trust of my by shouting at you to watch out for something behind you and stab you when you're turning around."

A chill runs down Ashe's back. That's half a dozen ways to kill him rattled off like a shopping list.

"Another option would be for me to walk away and wait around a bend, and stab you then. I could get a bow from the armory if you continued to read, and shot you from any one of the windows or roofs around here. I could even find something heavy, go up on the roof behind you, and just drop it on your head. Maybe an anvil. I could just set a trap in your room at the doorway, a crossbow with a string around the trigger that fires when you open your door. Or-"

"I get it! I get it!" Ashe says hastily. He doesn't want to hear about the myriad of ways he could die within the next hour. "That really is scary professor."

"Such is the reality of war. One must see every opportunity, both for them and against them." Byleth replies duly. "I encourage you to look for ways to eliminate anyone you see. It's good practice."

"Professor…"

"Yes?"

"That is not something you should be suggesting to one of your students, or anyone for that matter."

"But it is important for a warrior to know many methods to eliminate-"

"I know! But I don't want to consider ways to kill my friends." Ashe says firmly.

Byleth blinks. "You don't?"

"No!"

"How odd."

"Professor, I hate to tell you this, but you're the odd one."

###

"Why so shy Professor?" Mercedes murmurs as she passes a slice of cake. "It's unlike you."

"I am not shy." Byleth responds bluntly as he accepts the plate. He takes a bite, and then blinks rapidly. "Chocolate?"

"Indeed. Do you like it?"

Byleth nods mutely. His expression is no different, but he's eating notably faster than usual.

"I've noticed that you've been noticeably more distant lately, is something the matter?" Mercedes says in a soft voice.

"I am restraining myself."

"I can see. Why?" Byleth, as strange as it may sound, is usually quite affectionate towards her. He's oddly fascinated with her hair, and usually begins any interaction between the two of them by patting it, or occasionally lying his head on it. Mercedes knows there's no malice behind either action, hence why she is more than happy to allow them despite the general strangeness.

"You told him not to."

"Him?"

"Yes."

"You'll have to be more specific Professor. I speak to many men on a regular basis."

"The one with the hat and the black curls. You spoke with him outside the cathedral two days ago just after midday, off to the side of the main entrance." Byleth recounts.

"Ah." Mercedes smiles grows a bit strained. "Sir Gallberry. What exactly did you hear?"

"I could not hear initially over the noise of the crowd. I saw him place a hand on each of your shoulders, and then you informed him that a man of his station was not allowed to do such a thing."

"I did say that." Mercedes nods. That was an uncomfortable interaction. She really wishes she could do away with suitors entirely sometimes… "What does that have to do with your current behaviour?"

"He was a man of some status, yes?"

"Yes. A wealthy merchant, like my step-father." The lady's mouth purses a bit. "I think my father may have suggested he detour here, hoping I would take a liking to him. He'll be rather disappointed…"

"You said a man of his station could not touch you. It stands to reason then that a man less than his station also could not do such a thing. Such as me." Byleth says. "A simple, logical deduction. I must have been too intimidating to tell off, hence why you never told me to." He pats his hip. "I do carry a sword. Swords can be scary."

Mercedes slowly shakes her head, with a smile re-emerging on her face. "Professor… it is a rare occasion that I would describe you as anywhere close to scary. You are peculiar at worst."

Byleth's eyes squint as he thinks. "So you were tricking me for some unknown benefit… perhaps to gain a favor later? So I would be lenient on you…?"

"Or…" Mercedes says slowly. "Perhaps I don't mind?"

"That can't be right. I am of lower status than Dullberry, your no touching rule should apply to me as well."

"Professor, I told him that because I did not like him." The lady laughs softly. "Why are you so quick to assume I am manipulating to you? Perhaps I simply do not mind."

"Or your plan failed, so you were planning to poison me today with cake."

"Professor… you are quite paranoid."

"Vigilant. Not paranoid."

"I respectfully disagree."

"So the cake isn't poisoned?"

"No. Why would you eat it if you though it was?" She asks curiously.

"Because it's good cake." Byleth says honestly. "And I had several antidotes beforehand as a precautionary measure."

"Please tell me that is a joke Professor."

"No."

"Oh dear…" She sighs, and picks up her tea. "How much will it cost to replace those?"

"Several hundred gold."

Mercedes almost chokes on her tea, and she has to put the cup down before she drops it. "P-Professor, you used a several hundred gold's worth of antidotes simply so you could have cake?"

"Yes." He seems perfectly unabashed about the decision. He's also finished his current slice. "Can I have more?"

"Yes, go ahead." She sighs. On one hand, Mercedes is mildly worried about his man's level of paranoia, but on the other she's flattered that he's willing to waste several hundred dollars just to have some of her cake. It's a compliment to her cooking… although probably the strangest compliment she could possibly imagine.

"So Marshmallow… I can touch your hair?"

The girl resists the urge to roll her eyes. "Yes Professor."

He wipes a hand clean, and reaches out and does so. His expression still doesn't change, but his contentment is still obvious. "Soft…"

Mercedes smiles. It's strange how normal this interaction has become, so much that she noticed it's absence over the last few days. "Thank you Professor. I take special care of it."

"Good. Hair is a dangerous weapon." He says sagely. "You could hide a dagger in here, or a message, or something else of importance… like poison."

Mercedes just shakes her head. "You really are paranoid Professor."

###

"Professor."

"Yes?"

"There are easier ways to get a book."

"There are?"

"You can ask for it."

"I can?"

Annette chuckles in amusement. "Yes, you can."

"But it belongs to the church."

"You're part of the church."

"I am?"

"Yes… now please get off the wall. People are worried you're going to fall." She says. "Also, you probably shouldn't be staring at people through a window."

"But I'm not allowed in the private library."

"Yes, you are. You're part of the church."

"Oh, right." He drops down from where he was perched, grabbing onto the window still, and landing on the pathway next to her.

"Why were you up there anyways?"

"There's a book I want to read. I thought I couldn't get it because I couldn't go in the library, so I waited for someone to take it out so I could read it through the window."

"That's… wow." That has to be the most unlikely-to-work plan she's ever heard, and she's heard Sylvain make some really bad plans concerning women before.

"Because I thought I couldn't go in the library, and therefore take out the book, but there's no rule about being outside the library, or reading the book if someone else took it out…"

Annette shakes her head. "Has anyone actually taken out that specific book?"

"Not yet."

The girl shakes her head. "You're very persistent professor."

"Thank you."

"Would you even be able to read the book from the window?"

"Probably not." He says calmly, as is that isn't another massive flaw in his plan.

"Then why did you bother?"

"I have spare time."

So he spends his spare time peering through a window-still rather than doing a hobby or something? She'll add that to the list of weird things he does (and there is a list, Sylvain makes it).

"I could never spend time doing something like that…" Annette murmurs. "I'd never be able to just sit and wait for that long, I'm not used to doing something so unproductive for that long."

"It wasn't unproductive."

"Why not?"

"Endurance practice for hanging onto ledges."

"And how often do you actually use that skill?" She asks with an amused smile.

"Often, when I had to take back or top entrances on missions." Byleth says honestly. "Sometimes, I had to use just one hand, because I had to open the back entrance with the other."

"Oh." Annette meant that as a joke, she didn't expect he actually had a use for that sort of practice. Another thing for the list she supposes. "Also, professor…"

"Yes?"

"Why do you respect the privacy of the church, but not your own students?"

"Pardon?"

"You break into our rooms, routinely."

"You all keep losing things. I return them." He says simply, completely missing the point. "That is what you're supposed to do when people lose things, right?"

"Well you're supposed to return it to them… not their rooms."

"Why? It's easier to put it in its place rather than track someone down."

"But that's illegal!"

"So is walking across a street in a city while not at a crosswalk, but people do it all the time."

"Professor, breaking into someone's room and jaywalking are two very different things."

"Yes, but they have a similar level of importance."

"That is the exact opposite of what I just said."

"No." Byleth disagrees. "You said they were different, which they are. I said they were of similar importance, which they also are."

"I…" It takes a minute for Annette to understand what on earth he's talking about. "I don't mean they're literally different actions-"

"But they are."

"I know that! I meant to say that they're of different levels of importance."

"Why didn't you just say that?"

"I did!"

"No, you said they were different. That's different."

Annette decides she's had enough of trying to argue linguistics with a madman. "I'm… going to my room to study."

"Okay."

 

Chapter Text

"Hmm… insufficient." Dimitri mutters as he sets down the bag of stones he's using to weight train. It would seem this particular set has outlived its usefulness, it's too light. He's sitting down on a large wooden bench, where more students do weight training.

"What is?"

"Ah, Professor. Hello." The prince says. "My weight bags. I fear I've gotten too strong for them to help me improve anymore. I am in need of something heavier."

"I see." Byleth nods seriously. He glances around at the other people training (of which there are many. The training grounds are oddly packed at the moment). His eyes alight on someone behind Dimitri. "Give me a moment."

Dimitri is afraid to look at what's going on. He hears someone say "oh, hello Professor" followed by a shriek, and then the sound of footsteps as he Bylleth returns. The Prince blinks slowly in confusion at the girl his teacher is now calmly holding under his arm like one would a small crate.

"Annette?" Dimitri says slowly. "Professor, what does she have to do with this?"

"She's your weight."

"Pardon?"

"Your weight." He says simply. "Humans are heavy. Use her."

"Uh…"

Byleth apparently takes his hesitation as him not knowing how this works. "Watch." He hefts the girl over his head, ignoring her shriek of surprise, and proceeds to do a few squats. A frown crosses his face after the fourth repetition. "Hmm… too light…" His eyes search the room again. "Need someone heavier… or another."

"Professor, that's really not-"

"There." He strides off to Dimitri's left, and promptly procures another small girl to drag into his weirdness. His other victim ends up being Bernadetta, who seems like she very much regrets leaving her room today judging by the look of horror on her face. Byleth hefts both girls over his head, one in each arm, and does some squats again. "Much better. Just heavier than rocks."

He promptly offers both girls to Dimitri, holding them by the backs of their shirts like a pair of kittens, and when the prince doesn't immediately take them Byleth instead places them in his lap.

"Here you go."

"Erm… thank you?"

Byleth nods, apparently satisfied with the help he's given out, and moves to "help" someone else. Dimitri and Annette watch the man go, both utterly baffled, while Bernadetta mutters frantically to herself while staring at the sky with hands clasped in prayer.

"The day of judgement has arrived, and I've been found guilty!" The lavender-haired girl whispers. "A demon came, shamed me before all, and delivered me to further punishment by the hands of an angry prince!"

"Calm down, I'm not angry." Dimitri sighs.

"Y-You're lying!" Bernadetta squawks. "Y-You're going to humiliate me in front of everyone even more, aren't you?"

"I-"

"Spare me!" Bernadetta cries before he can get another word out. "Don't hurt me! I surrender! Faerghus wins! Wh-Whatever you want to hear I'll say it!"

"I do not intend to extort a statement out of you Bernadetta." Dimitri sighs. "You are free to go. I do not intend to use you as a weight, despite the Professor's suggestion."

"Oh Goddess I'm spared!" Benadetta breathes. She doesn't hesitate to scramble away from him as soon as permission is given.

"Am I really that scary?" Dimitri asks the other small girl Byleth dropped on him. Annette shakes her head. "Ah, good… and I don't suppose you're volunteering to be a weight?"

"I'd rather not." The girl says with a laugh. "I'll help you find some more though."

"Thank you."

###

"Ah, Professor, hello! I didn't realize you were coming to town. Are you doing some personal shopping?" Ashe asks cheerfully.

"I am watching you." Byleth says flatly.

"Oh, really? Why's that?"

"Petra has informed me that you know how to haggle. I have been told that I am good at it, but I don't understand why. I hope that by watching you I can understand how to haggle and why I am apparently so good at it."

"I see." Ashe is very confused. "Perhaps I can help. I'm supposed to get a replacement iron sword for Felix, so perhaps you'd like to try haggling for it so I can see what you're doing right?"

"Understood." He nods seriously. He accepts the gold pouch, turns on his heel, and makes a straight line for the first weapons vendor he sees. He waits patiently in line, and when he get to the front of the line he says, without preamble, "Iron sword."

"Uh, hello to you too?" The lady says slowly. "An iron sword huh? That's five-hundred and twenty gold."

"Less."

"Excuse you-"

"Less." Byleth repeats, leaning forward slightly. "That's not a problem, is it?"

Ashe can see the shopkeeper wilt in place as Byleth looms over her. All her resolve vanishes under the implied threat of harm (even though Byleth doesn't intend it at all), and she mutely hands over the sword. "T-Two hundred."

Byleth drops that amount of gold on the counter, and walks away without another word. He hands the gold and sword over to Ashe. "So?"

"Uh… maybe you should leave shopping to others…"

###

"Stay still you two." Mercedes murmurs. "You both train too hard! Look at all these bruises, and the tears in your clothes… I'll have to sew those up."

"I'm capable of getting my clothes fixed myself Mercedes. You aren't my mother." Felix says dryly.

"You can sew?" Byleth responds curiously.

"Indeed I can." The girl nods, pointedly ignoring Felix's response. "I'll have your clothes fixed up quick! I may be clumsy otherwise, but when it comes to sewing I'm quite skilled."

"Understood. You need my coat?"

"Yes, I will-"

"Here." Without further prompt, and with no particular shame, he strips out of his cloak and shirt, and hands it to the girl. It leaves his pale skin exposed to the elements… and also shows that he's quite muscled underneath the obscuring coat.

"Oh my, well… alright." Mercedes clearly wasn't expecting to obtain these clothes now, but she won't argue. Byleth's oddities are hardly a surprise to her. "I'll have these fixed by tomorrow, I promise."

"Thanks." Byleth nods. He turns to Felix. "Now you."

"Wha-!? Hey, don't- let go!" Felix growls as Byleth grabs the boy's shirt and starts wrestling it off him. "Stop! Just- ack!"

Thanks to his superior strength, Byleth successfully manages to wrest the shirt and vest off of Felix, and hands them to Mercedes. His expression is flat as always, but Felix would later swear he saw a hint of smugness on the man's face.

"Do you expect me to just walk around shirtless?" Felix snaps. He's trying to feign confidence by crossing his arms sternly in front of his body, but really that's just to make himself feel less exposed. He also isn't looking at Mercedes, not wanting a woman to see him in such a state, but not having a choice.

"Yes." Byleth says flatly. "I will too. You have a change of clothes though, I fail to see the issue."

"That change of clothes is at my room!"

Byleth tilts his head. "So? What is the issue?"

"I have to walk in the open to get to my room."

"And…?" The teacher prompts, still not seeing the problem.

"You wish to make a fool of me?" Felix snaps.

"No." Byleth says, and stands up. "I must go."

"Professor!" Mercedes says quickly. "Do you have a change of clothes yourself?"

"No."

"Then… how do you keep clean?"

"I wash them, at night. I borrow some of my father's wear in the meantime. I have no need of it currently, as a missing shirt is hardly cause for concern."

"I see…" Mercedes says with an amused smile. "Alright. I will see you later professor."

Byleth nods, and walks out of the training yard. Mercedes waits a few seconds, then hands Felix back his own shirt and vest.

"Give them to me after you get changed."

"Fine..."

###

"Professor!" Edelgard says firmly, and stands up at her desk.

"Yes?" The man blinks. He's just about to start teaching.

"Please put on a shirt."

"I don't have one." Byleth responds flatly. "Now, as I was about to say-"

"It's very distracting professor, not to mention highly inappropriate." Edelgard insists.

"It is?" The man blinks. "Is there a rule against it? How is it distracting?"

"I'm…!" Edelgard pauses, then whispers to Hubert. "Is there a rule against that?"

"Not that I'm aware, unfortunately." Hubert sighs. "You could probably report him to Seteth… for all the good it would do."

"That's not going to help…" Edelgard thinks. "W-Well, there is no rule against it, but…"

"I think what our house leader is trying to say, is that you're making everyone a bit flustered Professor." Dorothea offers.

"I am not saying that!" The Princess protests.

"Really? So that dusting of red on your cheeks is anger then?" The performer teases. "And what about the blush on poor Bernie's face?"

Bernadetta whines at attention being drawn to her, and hides her face behind a book. Edelgard's expression promises horrible things if Dorothea continues to poke fun at her.

"You are angry?" Byleth asks Edelgard, totally missing Dorothea's sarcasm.

"No. I'm fine, my teacher." Edelgard says, and stiffly sits down. "Carry on."

"So then you are flustered?" Byleth asks, remembering Dorothea's other statement, and disregarding Edelgard's attempt to end the conversation. "Why so?"

Edelgard refuses to answer, but Dorothea is more than happy to do so. "Because you're very distracting Professor."

"I am?" He looks down at himself, as if expecting to find something new and peculiar. "I fail to see how. Am I… flashy?"

"No Professor, it's something else entirely." Dorothea giggles. "You're… how to put this… easy on the eyes."

"Easy?" Byleth frowns. "I do not understand. I am a highly trained mercenary, I should not be easy on anything. If that is an implication that I am soft, I can assure you I am not. My training ensures that is not so." To prove his point, he pokes himself in the chest, and then the bicep. "See? I am not soft."

"Indeed, I do see." Dorothea grins. "As does everyone else." While her teacher seems oblivious to it, almost everyone in the class is either staring at his body, or fervently trying not to. It's quite amusing watching Edelgard pointedly stare at the wall, trying not to glance to her left at the professor, or see Bernadetta occasionally peek out from the book she's hiding behind only to get embarrassed all over again and hide her face away once more.

Aren't teenage hormones fun?

"But then what do you mean by 'easy on the eyes'?" Byleth asks, confused.

"Professor…"

"Yes?"

"Don't think too hard about it."

"That's what you said last time too."

"Indeed, and I ask that you humor me again."

"Alright…"

"And put on something for the Goddess's sake!" Edelgard barks.

"Fine." Byleth turns around, tears a curtain off the window (prompting a strangled gasp of indignation from Ferdinand) and drapes it over his shoulders. It mostly covers him up, but also looks ridiculous. "Now, as I was saying…"

###

"Professor, I must insist you get out of the lake."

"I'm fishing."

"I can see that." Seteth says flatly. "However, I have already conveyed my disapproval of you fishing with a stick, no matter how much Flayn may find it entertaining, and I also must raise issue with your current lack of clothing."

"Marshmallow is fixing them." Byleth says calmly.

"Be that as it may, I cannot approve of your current dress." Seteth sighs. "It is unbecoming of a representative of the church of Seiros to be seen in such a state."

"It is?" Byleth blinks. "Why?"

"As representatives of the church, we must be embodiments of modesty."

"I am modest. I don't brag."

"I mean modesty as in physical modesty. We must not flaunt ourselves."

"I'm not doing that. I'm fishing."

"Yes, well, others may not see it that way."

"That's their problem." Byleth says. His eyes haven't moved from gazing at the ocean. He quietly tracks a carp that swirls around his legs, and patiently waits for it to approach the tip of the stick (which rests just under the surface of the water). It does so after a second, and he thrusts forward with all his might, and spears the fish through the head. "Hmm… small."

He tosses the fish into a small basket by the side of the lake, dips the tip of the stick back into the water, and sprinkles some more bait around himself.

"Quite to the contrary, it involves the students, so it is your problem as well." Seteth retorts. "Your students are all youths on the cusp of adulthood. They already likely struggle with their baser instincts without you adding to that issue. You provide another unnecessary distraction in your current state."

"Baser instincts…?" Byleth blinks. "They want to kill me?"

"Er, no." Seteth coughs.

"They see me as competition for their spot as alpha?"

"Also no."

A rare frown crosses Byleth's face. He's very confused. "Am I… food?"

"You know what Professor… maybe it is best you simply don't think about it." Seteth says hastily. He does not want to have to explain this. "Simply find clothes when you have a moment.

"Okay…"

Seteth is also very glad Flayn was occupied today. The last thing he needs is for her to see the Professor in such a state. He's already against her interacting with the young men of the officer's academy, he doesn't need her getting dangerous thoughts in her head thanks to Byleth as well… even if Byleth seems totally oblivious to the fact that those sorts of thoughts exist.

###

Ingrid firmly refuses to look at her Professor sitting on the bench near her. She thrusts, slashes, blocks, and repeats the process.

It's not the fact that he lacks a shirt that bothers her, or even his pointed staring. No, what's getting on her nerves is the plate of fresh, juicy, succulent meat in his lap and the way he's slowly eating it, letting the juice seep down his chin.

He knows she loves food. He's toying with her. His flat expression only seems to mock her even more.

The girl turns her back to him, and resolutely keeps training. She ignores the chewing she can hear, and the smell of delicious, well-cooked meat…

Her mouth is watering just thinking about it. She needs to focus though! More training!

"You've been training and sparring all afternoon…" Byleth notes through a mouthful of food. "You need rest, and food." He holds out the plate (not that Ingrid can see it). "Juicy, warm, tasty, succulent-"

"I get it!" Ingrid snaps in frustration. Her mouth is salivating just thinking about it. She spins around, stalks over to the weapon rack, and tosses her spear into place. She shoots a glare at her Professor. She's not actually angry, she's just embarrassed and annoyed that she's so easy to coerce. Food really is her weakness.

Byleth follows her out, still chewing on his food. The smell chases Ingrid all the way to the mess hall, where she can get some of her own. A few people in the cafeteria shoot her knowing looks, like they expected this exact situation. Ingrid huffs, ignoring her slightly red face from embarrassment, and hides away in the corner to consumer her tasty, tasty food.

She glares at her professor when he takes a seat next to her, still chewing on his food. She swallows her current mouthful, and accusingly points a fork at him. "You baited me into doing this."

"Yes, I did." He says calmly. "You are too willful otherwise, so I prayed on your weaknesses. That's basic tactics."

"Are you saying I'm easily manipulated?" She asks indignantly.

Byleth is unbothered. "Yes."

Ingrid wishes fervently she could tell him he's wrong… but then again, her recent actions very much proved him right. She petulantly takes a bite out of her food, and tries not to look at him for the rest of her meal.

Chapter Text

"I swear, every time I turn my back you find some new way to vex me by way of this lake." Seteth groans. "Professor, I never thought I'd have to say this, but it is not acceptable behaviour to throw students in the lake."

Byleth blinks. "They deserved it."

"Do tell…" The green-haired man says sarcastically. "Please, enlighten me, so I know why I'm posting guards specifically to bar you from going to the lake."

"An empty threat." The mercenary responds calmly. "Lorenz would not stop bothering the female students, again, and Leonie would not stop badgering me about Father, nor bragging about how she'll one-up me, again." His expression is flat, but his tone conveys his irritation full well. "So, I made my thoughts clear."

"By throwing them in the lake."

"Yes."

"And you still don't see the problem with that, do you?"

"No."

Seteth lets out a long-suffering sigh. Has it really only been two months? I feels like he's been dealing with this absurdity for much longer. "Just don't do that again Professor."

"Even if they bother me?"

"Especially if they bother you."

"How about the baths then?"

"No Professor."

Byleth's expression could almost be called a pout. "Fine."

"Also… please stop taking Flayn to class."

"Why? She's learning."

"Yes, but it is not proper for her to sit on your shoulders the entire time as you give a lecture." Seteth says dryly. Byleth opens his mouth to speak, and Seteth cuts him off. "Even if she enjoys it… and for the goddess's sake, don't let her throw your sponges for you again…"

###

"Ah! Hello Professor." Ignatz greets. "Do you have a moment?" I'm having trouble with this painting."

Byleth tilts his head and looks at the canvas in front of him. "I do not see the problem."

"That's just it. I know there's something wrong, but I don't know what." The boy sighs. "I was hoping a second opinion would help. Perhaps one of the colors is too strong, too weak? Is the composition too unbalanced…?"

Byleth stares for a moment longer, holds up a finger, says "wait here" and dashes off towards the dormitories.

He comes back a moment later carrying something… someone over his shoulder.

"Wh-What did I do now!? Did I miss a class? Training? Chores? H-Have you finally had enough of me!?" The girl wails. "H-Have mercy!"

Apparently unphased by Bernadetta's panic, Byeth promptly plops her down in front of Ignatz. He spares a moment to say "now art" before walking off to do who-knows what.

Ignatz and Bernadetta stare at each other for a moment, trying to figure out what just happened. Ignatz breaks the silence. "Did he just use 'art' as a verb?"

"I-I think so."

"Does he carry you around often?"

"Yes." Bernadetta whimpers. "It's because I'm small, I know it! He does the same to Annette! He used us as training weights! He hates short people! He's out to humiliate me!"

"I-I'm sure that's an exaggeration." This is not what Ignatz imagined he'd be doing in the afternoon. "I'm sure he likes you, he's just a bit… rough around the edges."

"He paraded me through the streets!" The girl wails. "He wants to destroy my social standing, and then my life!"

"Umm…" Ignatz doesn't know what to say, so he tries to change the topic. "So, erm… you're apparently an artist?" Yes, very smooth, that wasn't flimsy at all.

"Ah, uh, yes, a bit."

"Well perhaps you can help me then." Ignatz says in relief. "See, I have this problem I can't solve…"

###

"I'm fine Professor, really…" Marianne says softly. She bows to the man politely. "S-Sorry to bother you."

Byleth's eyes narrow. He's no fool. He knows something's wrong. He goes through his mind, trying to remember what his Father did when he was feeling down. Then, he remembers.

"U-Um…" Marianne mumbles as the man stiffly wraps his arms around her. "Thank you...?"

"Are you fixed?"

"Fixed…?" The girl murmurs. "Professor, there isn't anything you can do."

That sounds like a challenge to him. He scoops the girl up in his arms (he does this surprisingly frequently ever since he became a teacher… was this in the job description?) and marches over to the golden deer house while ignoring Marianne's quiet protests. Claude will agree with his plan for sure.

"So wait… your plan since one hug doesn't work is… more hugs." Claude says slowly after the man explains the situation to him.

"Yes." Byleth says with absolute sincerity. He holds Marianne out to Claude. "You first."

Marianne gives her house leader a pleading look, asking for help. The boy embraces her instead. "Have fun." He whispers in her ear with an evil grin. "Hey Teach, don't forget the other houses, teachers, and staff. The more the better, right?"

Marianne gapes in horror at this suggestion, followed quickly by hiding her face in her hands from embarrassment when Byleth nods in agreement. "Oh Goddess, please no, I don't deserve this…" She whimpers.

"You do, that's the whole point." Byleth responds curtly. He glances to Claude. "Where's Hilda?"

"Her room."

"Understood." The man turns on his heel, and marches out of the room. Claude waits until he's out of earshot before leaning against a desk and letting out a long laugh. This is going to be a good day, he can tell. There has to be some way he can exploit this…

###

"Professor, you're going to embarrass her to death with this plan." Hilda sighs as she absently squeezes the blue-haired girl. "But… I won't say you're wrong. Poor Marianne could use a bit of affection now and again, hmm?"

"I-I'm fine!" The girl protests weakly. "R-Really..."

"Everyone could some hugs now and again now that I think of it…"Hilda says with a coy smile. "What do you think Professor?"

His response is the single most stiff, awkward hug Hilda has ever had in her entire life. It's almost painful how awkward Byleth is about it. It's like he's never given hugs before.

Actually… considering his upbringing and general weirdness, there's a chance he actually hasn't before today. Hilda almost feels bad for him. He's going to have one hell of a time getting into a relationship ever if he can't even do basic things like give hugs.

Then again… maybe he doesn't care. This is the Professor after all. He wouldn't know flirtation if it punched him in the face. It would surprise her if he'd even considered romance of any sort at any point.

"I would like to stay, but we must go. You are only the first on the list." Byleth says. He picks up Marianne again, ignoring her protests, and steps out the window. "I expect you to have finished your assignment before class tonight."

Hilda's eyes snap to her unfinished work lying on her desk. Of course he noticed that. "Ugh… I guess I actually have to do that now…"

###

"Well gee Marianne, if you needed a cheer-up, you shoulda just asked! I'da come running!" Raphael laughs as he squeezes the girl. "We should go get some food too! I know that always cheers me up!"

"I-It's really not-" Marianne starts, but she's cut off.

"Good idea." Byleth nods seriously. "Marianne, what foods do you like?"

"You really don't-"

"Won't say, huh? I know! We should ask Annette! She knows what everyone likes!" Raphael says excitedly. "Maybe she'll join us! Heck, we should just invite others to come along! It'll be like a party, for Marianne!"

"Oh Goddess, please, I don't need-"

"I approve." Byleth says instantly. "You go alert the cooks and grab Annette. Take Marianne with you. I'll go collect everyone else."

"Got it Professor! C'mon Marianne, it'll be great!"

Marianne whimpers and hides her face in the boy's shirt. Is this some divine punishment from the Goddess? Her curse of bad luck? She just hopes this will be over quickly.

###

"I have no time for such frivolities!" Lysithea huffs. "You and the other children can have your little party. I need to study."

"You need food, and company." Byleth responds calmly. "Come."

"No."

"This is mandatory for the class."

"The Marianne hug party is mandatory?" The albino girl asks dryly. "Please tell me this is a joke."

"It's a joke."

"Good."

"Now come."

"But you said it was a joke!"

"You told me to say that. It isn't actually."

"Ugh…" The girl groans. "Come on Professor! What does that have to do with helping us improve our skills in warfare?"

"It has to do with helping Marianne, and as her classmate you are required to come… as is everyone else."

"You dragged the other Deer into this?"

"Everyone. The Eagles, the Lions, the Deer, some staff, and whoever else I could find." Byleth says honestly. "That includes you, because I have found you, even though you are small, because your hair stands out."

The girl's eyes narrow. "Are you trying to anger me?"

"No. I am stating facts. You are small." Byleth responds flatly. "Are you angry?"

"Slightly."

"Do you need a hug too?"

"No!"

Byleth's eyes narrow for a moment. "Maybe this party needs to be for you too…"

"No!"

"Yes. Now come."

Lysithea is about to turn away and just ignore the man. He doesn't give her the chance though, and grabs her by the collar. He carries her like one would a cat over to the dining hall, ignoring her protests the entire time. Lysithea is astonished to see at least a dozen people already present, with more slowly trickling in even as she watches.

A steady stream of people are also coming up to Marianne and embracing her. Even without Byleth there to enforce it, it seems people have embraced (pun very intended) the point of this impromptu party. Marianne seems be halfway between mortal embarrassment and breaking down in tears… or maybe just both at the same time.

Even the anti-social students have come out for this… or maybe they were the first ones dragged here. Felix is brooding in a corner, Bernadetta is hiding under a table, and Linhardt is resting on a bench.

Mercedes has taken up a position at Marianne's side. Lysithea has been aware she's sort of the mother figure to the rest of the Blue Lions, but those traits are very much on display here as well. She allows the girl to lean against her and massages Marianne's back with slow circles from her hand, all while murmuring soft reassurance to her as people come by to give their affection.

Maybe assuming Lysithea is too small to see, Byleth points to Marianne and Mercedes and says "Marianne is over there in the center, next to Marshmallow. Tell them I almost have everyone."

"I'm not your errand… and he's gone." The girl growls. "I suppose I have no choice then…"

###

"This is simply barbaric." Lorenz mutters. "Does the professor honestly think this is the proper way to treat a noblewoman?"

"Marianne looks like she's about to cry." Leonie adds. "I mean, I think that's a good thing this time though…"

"How could you say such a thing!?" The purple-haired man scoffs. "You wish to see her break down?"

"I mean… yeah." The girl replies. "She's always so distant and depressed-looking. If she's crying because she's not used to people caring so much, that's a good thing, right?"

"Well, when you put it that way, I suppose that could be true…"

"You two."

"Ah-!"

"Oh my-!"

The two deer quickly turn around to see the Professor standing behind them with his arms crossed. His expression is flat as usual, but the two students remember him throwing them in the lake just that morning, and it lends him a slight air of intimidation.

"Have you two given hugs yet?" He asks seriously.

"No, and why should we? The others have given her enough." Lorenz argues.

"It's mandatory." Byleth responds firmly. "You can't eat anything until you do it."

"You're joking." Leonie snorts. The man stares at her, and she murmurs. "Oh… you're not."

"Go, now." Byleth instructs. Then he pauses, and asks. "Do you know how to hug?"

"Of all the foolish questions… of course we do." Lorenz sighs. "Professor, have you ever met a person who doesn't know how?"

"Myself." The man says instantly.

"But you hug Mercedes all the time." Leonie interrupts.

"No, I indulge in her hair." The teacher says flatly. "That is not a hug."

Lorenz's eye twitches. How does this man function on a daily basis if he's lacking such basic social skills? How can he possibly be qualified to teach nobles such as himself? How does Mercedes handle this man on a daily basis?

"Well, better Mercedes than the rest of us…" He sighs. "Fine then. We will abide by your rule, arbitrary as it may be. Come Leonie."

"Come? I'm not a dog Lorenz."

"And yet you bark at Captain Jeralt's feet all day…"

"Excuse you!?"

###

The first tears are subtle, trailing down her cheeks almost invisibly. The tears don't stay that way for very long though. Soon they're streaming down Marianne's cheeks accompanied by sniffling, which swiftly devolves into outright sobbing. The girl hides her face in her hands, helpless to hide herself from the dozens of people in the room. She doesn't want to burden them more than she already has, but here she is bawling like an infant in the midst of all of them.

She's somewhat aware of the girl who's been sitting next to her, Mercedes she thinks, patting her on the back and stroking her hair and murmuring reassurances in her ear. She's also aware that the rest of the dining hall, which was abuzz with noise a moment ago, is now extremely quiet with nary a whisper to be heard. Marianne can feel all the eyes on her, even if she's covering her own eyes so she can't see them in return.

It stays that way for a few minutes as she tries desperately to get herself under control. She's sure she's soaked Mercedes' shirt by now with her tears, and made an absolute fool of herself in front of the entire school.

Eventually her sobbing becomes hiccups and her tears dry up, if only because she physically can't cry anymore. She opens her eyes and moves her hands to wipe her face, and when she does she can finally see the rest of the room, and can see everyone else's eyes on her. The entirety of the main classes from each house are here, as well as some of the teachers like Hanneman and Manuela and Byleth, and some miscellaneous people like Flayn, Cyril, and Alois. They're all looking at her with various levels of concern, sympathy, reassurance.

"Feeling better?" Mercedes asks softly.

"I-I'm s-so sorry." Marianne starts to babble hoarsely. Her eyes are red and puffy, and her hands shake slightly as she speaks. "I-I didn't mean to-"

"We won't take apologies for caring for you." A voice interrupts firmly. Marianne stares in surprise at Hilda pushing herself to the front of the crowd. "That's why we're here Marianne, for you. We wouldn't have come here if we didn't care."

"Of course." Another voice agrees. This one is Edelgard. Marianne doesn't recall ever actually talking to the girl, so her speaking up is surprising. "Miss Von Edmund. You need not ever apologize for being loved. Is it not up to you how much others are willing to risk for your presence… and if others have deemed your so-called curse not enough to deter them, it is not your place to feel guilty for that. Understood"

Marianne can't respond to that. She doesn't know if there's a good response to give. She doesn't feel like she's supposed to answer. All she can do is nod meekly.

"Good." Hilda smirks. "Now, let's have some food and some fun! At least until class starts in a few hours."

"At least until class starts? Are you saying my classes aren't fun?" Byleth frowns.

"Professor… there's only so much fun to be had with having sponges thrown at your face."

###

Byleth blinks owlishly. "Sick?"

"Marianne came in contact with a few dozen people in a short span of time while under emotional strain. I would be more surprised if she didn't get sick." Seteth sighs. "Incidentally, please give us an advance warning if you intend to hold such an event in the future. You cut into our food stores quite a bit."

"Okay."

There's silence for a moment. Byleth stares as if he expects Seteth to say something else, but when the green haired man doesn't continue, Byelth speaks again.

"Is she better now?"

"Pardon?"

"Is Marianne better, mentally?"

"Professor… such an issue as Marianne's cannot be solved with a few hugs." Seteth frowns. "That is not to say you did not help. Though next time you wish to help someone I suggest something less… public. People do not generally enjoy having their issues aired publicly, and results will generally be less positive than this time."

"Oh."

"Still, I applaud your dedication to the welfare of your students, crude as your methods may sometimes be." Seteth sighs. "Next time, do ask someone else for a second opinion before you organize such an event."

"I did. I asked Raphael."

"Ask someone aside from a student, before doing such a thing."

"Oh, okay."

Chapter Text

"Would you listen already?"

"..."

"Hey! I'm talking here! Listen to me!"

"Go away."

"I can't! I'm in your head."

"You're a ghost. Go away."

"A ghost!? How rude! I may be in your head, but I am no ghost! At worst I am a spirit conjoined to yourself!"

"That sounds like a ghost."

"And you sound like a child! Do you hear yourself? A ghost, really. You offend me."

"If I offend you enough, will you leave?"

"I can't. I've said this already."

"Maybe I've been poisoned, and you're a hallucination. It would have to be someone in the mercenary company who's responsible, since I've been hearing you before I got to the monastery." Byleth mutters to himself. "Acrim maybe? Or Laurence…"

Sothis sighs in defeat. This isn't the first time she's failed to convince Byleth of what she is, and it probably won't be the last.

###

"You work too much."

"Says the pot to the kettle." Edelgard responds evenly. "I am to be emperor eventually Professor. It would reflect badly on the Hresvelg line for me to not overwork myself. Besides, there is far too much to do, and too little time. A lack of sleep is a small price to pay. You do the same yourself, do you not?"

"Maybe." Byelth blinks. "But that doesn't mean I'm wrong. You work to much. You need to relax."

"With all due respect Professor, I don't have time for that."

"You have free time this afternoon."

"I do not. I have paperwork-"

"Ferdinand has paperwork, and will report to you tomorrow morning." Byleth cuts in. He raises his voice a bit. "Right Hubert?"

"Indeed." The boy says, and steps into the doorframe from where he was hiding just outside.

"Don't tell me you're in on this plot too Hubert…" Edelgard sighs.

"Of course I am Lady Edelgard. Your health is paramount, and you are overworking yourself." Hubert says in a tone that almost sounds smug. "Do not worry, I've sorted more sensitive documents out of the pile."

"Surely Ferdinand did not agree to-"

"He did." Byleth interrupts.

"He practically jumped at the chance to help… after I suggested it might be a way to upstage you, your Highness." Hubert smirks. "Such an easy man to manipulate…"

Edelgard sighs deeply. These two… "I thank you for your concern, but I am not going to waste my time-"

"It's not optional." Byelth interrupts again. He glances at the window. "In fact, it's time to go. Come."

Without waiting for her to even finish her current work, he grabs her around the waist and throws her over his shoulder like he has so many others… usually ones named Bernadetta, but other people too. Usually women for whatever reason.

Edelgard shoots Hubert a pleading look, but the boy just bows and says "enjoy your night off, your Highness."

The girl processes her situation as Byleth carries her down the stairs, and eventually resigns herself to the fact that she's not going to be allowed to work tonight. "So, I presume you have a plan Professor? Or were you just planning to carry me around the monastery until something occurred to you?"

"I… do."

"You don't sound certain."

"I was informed earlier by Marshmallow that my idea of relaxation is apparently not appropriate for students."

Edelgard is afraid to ask, but she does. "And what was that idea, pray tell?"

"Beer, cards, and sex."

If the princess had a drink, she would have spit it out. "Pardon!?" That was not what she expected from the professor.

"That's how the mercenaries of Father's company always relaxed. Apparently that's not appropriate for students."

"I dare say it's not…" Edelgard says in disbelief. "How did that conversation even come about?"

"Marshmallow asked me what I do to relax, I said I don't. She asked me if I knew how to relax, and I said yes, and that to relax you go to a pub, get drunk, play cards, and have sex." Byelth says with a totally straight face. "She informed me that those things are not the only way to relax. I was not aware of that."

Edelgard can hardly believe he had that conversation with a student. Thank the stars it was Mercedes, who is extremely level-headed and tolerant of the professor's weirdness. If the professor had that conversation with someone like Flayn… or really just anyone that's not Mercedes, Edelgard, Hubert, or Claude, it might have reflected very poorly on him.

"Have you ever relaxed before?" Edelgard asks slowly.

"No. I never had the time. I just knew that's how you were supposed to relax, because that's how everyone else relaxed." Byleth says flatly. "At least, that's what they told me they did. I never went, so I didn't know."

Something occurs to Edelgard. "Professor… you weren't, by chance, planning to take me to a pub tonight before you had that conversation, were you?"

"Maybe."

"Has that plan changed?"

"...maybe not."

"Oh dear. The professor might need this as much as I do, if just for instructional purposes." Edelgard sighs. "Alright Professor, put me down. We'll find something else to do… together."

###

"Professor…" Seteth says through gritted teeth. "I thought I told you not let Flayn into the lake."

"She's not in the lake. She's above it." Byleth replies calmly. He's not looking away from the bait surrounding him in the water. "We're fishing."

"I can see that… usually one stands on the docks for such a thing Professor, or uses a boat."

"Usually." Byleth agrees. He doesn't comment further.

"Professor."

"Yes?"

"Why is Flayn stabbing fish with a stick while sitting on your shoulders, and why are you standing shirtless while waist-deep in the water?"

"Because I can see the fish better here, and I was warm." Byleth says as if it's the most obvious thing in the world. "And Flayn didn't want to fish from the dock."

"I was thinking of a boat myself, but this is a very enjoyable means of fishing as well." The girl says happily. "You should try this Brother! It is most fun!"

"I must decline…" The man says dryly. He watches as Flayn suddenly thrusts the stick forwards, but she just narrowly misses the fish that was was nibbling at the bait on the surface of the water. "Would not a fishing rod be more practical?"

"If you learn to fish with a sharpened stick, you'll never be at a loss for how to get food in a survival situation." Byleth replies bluntly.

"Need I remind you this is not a survival situation? Unless you have forgotten that the student's mess hall is not just for students again."

"I didn't. This is how I fish. Flayn wanted to learn. So I'm teaching, because I am a teacher."

Seteth sighs again. There's no arguing with this man. There's no way the professor can be a good influence on Flayn… which makes it all the more frustrating that Flayn is so fond of him. Still, there are worse people she could spend time with, like a boy

His blood boils just thinking about such a thing.

###

"Why are the songs so boring?" Byelth asks.

Rhea's eye twitches. "They are hymns, meant to give praise to the goddess. They are not mere songs."

"That doesn't explain why they're boring. You could sin- hymn about the goddess in a more entertaining manner. Like rock, or swing, or maybe disco..."

"No." The Archbishop says instantly. "And hymn is not a verb professor. One does not hymn."

"But you sing a song, so wouldn't you hymn a hymn? Or maybe you'd hum a hymn… hmm…"

Rhea honestly wishes she could be anywhere else in the world right now, or, better yet, that the Professor was anywhere else in the world. Why does every meeting with him devolve into him asking annoying questions?

"Why do we hum to the goddess if she's in the sky? How can she hear us? Is she using magic? Doesn't she have better things to do than listen to people hum? How does she have free time to listen to people humming if she's supposed to be watching over the world?"

Why does only she get these questions? Why doesn't Seteth have to deal with this?

###

"O-Oh no! I'm not letting you get me again! Get back y-you demon!" Bernadetta yelps.

Byleth keeps walking towards her menacingly, with a hand extended to grab her. His neutral expression looks calculating to her, and Bernadetta feels like she's being cornered when she steps back and her heel hits the stone wall.

"Stay back! I'm w-warning you!"

The professor isn't listening. Bernadetta glances to each side, checking her escape routes. One side leads to the dining hall, which is bad. There's a lot of people in the dining hall, and if they see her rush in, they'll stare at her, judgingly, and then she'll always be known as the girl who barged into the main hall, and people will talk about her behind her back, and some of them will be mad because she surprised them, and they'll decide to remove that annoyance! By barging into the dining hall, she'll die!

So clearly she needs to go the other way. She slowly slides down the wall, and when Byleth is only an arm's length away, she bolts. She springs as quickly as she can, flying past the graveyard, the training pit, and the stables. She glances over her shoulder and shrieks upon seeing Byleth chasing her in a dead sprint.

The girl takes a sharp turn and dashes past the front entrance and the marketplace and moves into the pond area. She thinks the gatekeeper calls out a greeting, but she moves too fast to properly hear. Bernadetta nearly bowls over Ashe in her rush, and when she glances back again she sees Byleth just flat-out jump over the boy.

"Where do I go, where do I go?" Bernadetta asks herself in a panic. "My room? My room!"

She pulls out her keys and skids to a stop in front of her door. The girl frantically jams her keys into the lock, twists it, opens the door, and slams it behind her. She twists the lock as soon as she's inside to stop Byleth from opening it up. She slumps against the door and breathes a shaky sigh of relief.

Then the window slides open.

Byleth slips into the room like some sort of demon through a hell portal. Bernadetta scrambles to open her lock and her door, but Byleth grabs her arm, stopping her. The girl quails when he reaches out his other hand towards her and…

...fixes a button that had come undone. Then he leaves.

Bernadetta stares at his retreating form, then the button, decides now would be a good time for a nap, and collapses on her bed, emotionally and physically exhausted.

###

Caspar yelps as Felix is sent flying into him, and the two boys sprawl out on the floor for a moment before scrambling back to their feet. They try to rush back at their foe, but he trips their other ally, Leonie, causing them all to stumble over themselves.

"You're not working together." The professor says flatly. "You're literally tripping over each other."

"We're from different classes Professor!" Caspar protests. He moves to the left, trying to cut off the man's escape and box him into a corner. Byleth instead slips through the middle, because both Leonie and Felix both went left, leaving a hole in their line. "We're not used to fighting together."

"That is true, but soldiers of different groups should be able to at least use basic tactics alongside each other, even if there was a language barrier." Byleth responds flatly. His sword licks out to swat Leonie's lance aside when the girl steps towards him, and it intimidates her into not trying again.

Felix and Caspar go on the offensive, rushing the professor's flanks. Rather than outdo them with his tactics like he was before, the professor outskills them with good swordplay, managing to keep his weapon moving quickly enough to block both of their attacks. Even when Leonie joins, they're having trouble landing a hit.

Suddenly Byleth ducks low and sweeps his leg, catching Caspar and tripping him. While still in a squat he pushes off the ground and launches himself at Leonie, who didn't manage to get her spear in the way in time. He tackles her, bringing them both to the ground, but he them tightly wraps an arm around her neck and hauls her to her feet, and uses her as a shield to stop Felix from attacking him.

"A human shield?" Felix growls. "Have you no shame?"

"There's no place for shame in a battle." Byleth responds evenly. "Use every advantage you can get. Bring a meteor to a fist fight if you can spare the resources. Only a fool, or a dead man, thinks of chivalry in combat."

The fight goes downhill from there. Leonie gets eliminated when Byleth throws her on Felix's sword, Caspar falls next to a well-placed thrust, and Felix eventually gets defeated when Byleth manages to grab his arm, shoulder him in the face, and then slash his stomach.

"You three are individually good fighters, but your coordination could use work." Byleth remarks calmly. "Alright, next."

Edelgard, Dimitri, and Ferdinand all glance at each other. This isn't looking good for them already.

Chapter Text

"I need your help."

"With what Professor? Do you need something explained again?" Mercedes asks with a smile. "Did Dorothea say something again?"

"She informed me that I was naive, which I am clearly not as I am used to killing things." Byleth says with a straight face. "That is not what I came for."

"What then?"

"I require cake."

The older girl raises an eyebrow. "Cake? Why? Is there a party happening? Are you planning to have tea with someone?"

"No. I need bait."

"For what?"

"Bernadetta."

There's a pause as Mercedes processes this. "Why?"

"Seteth, and Edelgard, have insisted I cannot carry her to class anymore." Byleth says neutrally. "So I must find an alternative means of getting her there. I know she occasionally sneaks cake from the kitchen, so I wish to use cake to bait her to class."

"You're going to bribe her?"

"No. I will bait her, like a cat."

Mercedes sighs in amusement. "Professor."

"Yes?"

"You will not manage to get her to class by dangling a cake in front of her nose. I'm fairly sure she would be mortified by that."

A sliver of a frown crosses the man's face. "But why? I would follow a cake."

"Somehow I'm not surprised..." Mercedes shakes her head. "I think we've established multiple times that what applies to you does not apply to everyone."

"Hmm… how about cupcakes then?"

"Professor. Food isn't going to work."

"...new thread for her needlework?"

"Dangling anything in front of her nose won't work." Mercedes clarifies. She sees him open his mouth to respond, and she cuts him off. "No, holding it in front of her face, using magic to levitate it, or any other way of holding it won't work. The problem isn't the 'dangling it' part, professor."

The man's mouth clicks shut.

"Perhaps consider a more social approach?" The girl suggests. "I'm sure her classmates could get her to come to class."

Byleth nods seriously. "Understood. I will enlist their help in this mission."

"Please don't treat this like a military operation professor…"

###

Mercedes lets out a long sigh when she sees Bernadetta being carried across the monastery grounds. Not by Byleth, but by Petra… and with Byelth following behind.

That is not what Mercedes meant by getting Bernadetta's classmates to help. Oh dear.

The older girl quickly moves to intercept the three of them. "Professor! Petra!"

"Marshmallow." Byleth nods. "I took your advice."

"I can see that." She sighs. "Petra, if you don't mind, please put Bernadetta down. I'll handle the situation from here."

"You wish to transport the target instead?" Petra asks.

"Transport the-? Oh dear…" She mumbles. The professor is treating this like a mission, and Petra just went along with it. "Erm, yes, I will deal with her."

Petra puts the small, panicked girl in front of Mercedes. She then salutes the professor, and marches off to class.

"What has the Professor done to that girl?" Mercedes sighs. She glances at Bernadetta. "And this girl too…" She gently puts a hand on the girl's back and rubs circles into it. "There there, you're fine. He means well."

The girl squawks something unintelligible and cowers behind her, away from Byleth. Normally she's be wary of strangers, but a fear of Byleth has overridden that.

"Oh dear." Mercedes murmurs, and pats Bernadetta on the head. She looks to the man standing in front of her. "Professor…"

"What?"

"When I said her teammates could get her to class, I didn't mean you should get Petra to carry her instead of yourself."

"Ah." The man blinks. "Would Edelgard have been better?"

"No."

"Caspar?"

"I wasn't implying anyone should carry her." Mercedes clarifies. "I was suggesting you get help from her teammates to convince her to come to class."

"Oh."

Mercedes turns back to Bernadetta and ushers her along. "I'll talk to him alright? You go on ahead."

"O-Okay." Bernadetta replies. As soon as she's a few steps away she bolts and doesn't look back. Mercedes shakes her head.

"Professor, you're traumatizing the poor girl." Mercedes scolds. "I know you don't mean to, but you are. She's a shy girl. You can't carry her around with consequence like you can other people."

"Oh." Byleth blinks. "Should I bring the class to her then?"

"No." Mercedes says instantly. "Please don't."

"Oh."

"Just use a gentle touch, Professor." Mercedes murmurs. "You can't solve every problem by breaking into someone's room."

"I don't only solve problems through that."

Mercedes sighs. "And not by punching things, carrying people, and throwing sponges."

Byleth falls quiet. That's a fairly telling response.

"You need to learn to talk through problems Professor." Mercedes scolds.

"Oh." He blinks. "I'm not good at that."

"I know." She soothes. "But you can learn."

"How?"

"Do what I do."

"Make cake?"

"No…"

"Cupcakes?"

"Not baking."

"Sewing?"

"Not sewing."

"Have nice hair?"

"Professor, please tell me I'm not just 'the girl who sews, makes sweets, and has nice hair' to you."

"Of course not. You also make tea sometimes."

Mercedes sighs. "Anyways.. I meant that you should try to be patient like me. When you're confused about something, I listen, then explain, and repeat those steps until everything is cleared up, right? You can do the same Professor."

"Ah, I see." He nods. "So I should talk to Bernadetta, and explain that she's wrong if she tries to make excuses."

"No." Mercedes says quickly. "Oh dear, this might take some effort to explain…"

###

"Professor." Mercedes murmurs. "You look… tired."

"Perhaps, but I am not." Byleth denies.

"With all due respect Professor, I think you're lying." The girl frowns.

"You can think what you want. You're wrong."

"Am I now…?" Mercedes thinks as she sips her tea. "Hmm…"

The girl doesn't bring the subject back up for the rest of their meal, but she puts into a plan for their next tea party. She makes sure the man has nothing to do for a few hours, procures some lavender tea, finds some lightly scented lavender candles, and makes sure the treats she makes/obtains are (for once) light on sugar.

Their regular meeting starts as normal. Byleth walks in through the front door (Mercedes has learned to just leave it unlocked when she's expecting him or else he comes through the window), and they sit down to eat.

If Byleth notices the change in food or tea, he doesn't comment. The only sweet Mercedes did make was her usual cake, which is what he likes the most, so he probably just doesn't care.

She also watches his movements like a hawk… or at least, as best she can. It's fruitful though, as she notices some definitive hints of exhaustion in how he moves. There's a slowness to his reactions when she speaks to him, sometimes his fork doesn't quite hit the mark and he has to stab again, and other small details like that.

"Not tired indeed…" Mercedes thinks, and hides her frown behind a sip of tea. "I am not oblivious Professor. Luckily for you." She sets down her cup and folds her hands in her lap. "Professor, I have a question."

"Mmm?" Byleth says through a mouthful of cake. He swallows. "What is it Marshmallow?"

"Last time you told me you were not tired, but I have spotted a number of signs to the contrary." Mercedes says calmly. "Professor… I don't appreciate being lied to. I understand you are shy-"

"I am not shy." The man insists with a visible frown.

"Perhaps you are right. Insecure is a more appropriate term." Mercedes nods. "You vehemently resist showing any sort of weakness."

"That's strength." Byleth disagrees. "If you show weakness, people can and will take advantage of you. You do not tell a brigand where you are weakest so he can stab you there."

"Are you suggesting I am a brigand Professor?" Mercedes huffs.

"No." Byleth says. His eyes narrow. "Are you?"

"Of course not." She denies. "Professor… what makes you assume I will metaphorically stab you if you show weakness?"

"Maybe you want me eliminated so you can become a professor, or to help someone else become a professor, or because I've worked against you in the past even if I don't realize it, or maybe you just want to steal my money, or maybe you've been hired to kill me, or-"

"Professor. Those are all foolish reasons, and you know it."

"There is no such thing as a foolish reason. People are petty. Murders happen for far less all the time."

"And you think I will kill you?"

"Maybe." He says flatly. His eyes narrow as he scrutinizes her hair. "You might keep poison in your hair…"

"I thought we were over that Professor." Mercedes sighs. "Do you honestly think I'm going to poison you, or stab you in your sleep?"

"...maybe."

"Professor…" She doesn't bother to hide the disapproval in her tone.

"A mercenary cannot be too cautious." He insists. "I cannot be careless, even around students. You are adults, or almost so, and therefore you are potentially dangerous."

"What happened to me being just sugar?"

"...poisoned sugar."

The girl clicks her tongue. "Professor, now you're just being absurd."

Byleth doesn't argue with that, but he doesn't seem to be backing down either. Mercedes is frustrated. The fundamental problem here is that Byleth deals very poorly with emotional appeals, and apparently never learned what trust was.

She needs to have a talk with Captain Jeralt at some point.

"Professor." She says firmly. "Please stop this foolishness. I am not looking for means to kill you. I promise."

Byleth frowns. "I cannot appear weak." He repeats. "I am a mercenary."

"No, you are a teacher, and more importantly, human." Mercedes insists.

"I'm a demon." He corrects.

"Even so, you cannot be stoic all the time professor. And you need sleep." Mercedes insists. "In fact, you will not leave here today until you sleep!"

His eyes narrow instantly. "How will you enforce that?"

"Professor, I'm not going to fight you if that's what you're implying." Mercedes sighs. "I'm concerned. You are clearly exhausted. I will report you to Seteth and your father if you fail to take care of yourself."

Byleth's expression can only be called a sulk.

"I'll take that as a 'yes Mercedes'." The girl says triumphantly.

"Marshmallow." He mumbles. "I wouldn't say your name."

So she's noticed. It's curious to hear him say so though. She assumed it was subconscious that he always used a nickname for her. Apparently not. She has to wonder why, but that's a conversation for some other time.

"Well Professor, if I've made my point…" She gestures to the bed. "Sleep. You need it, and I know you don't have anything to do until dinner, so don't try to wiggle out of it."

"I can do that in my own room."

"Oh no, I'm not giving you a chance to get away. If I'm not here to make sure you rest, I know you're going to ignore me." Mercedes huffs. She points to the bed again. "Sleep."

Byleth reluctantly complies, scowling at her the entire time. He removes his heavy coat, armor, boots, and weapons. He actually looks a lot smaller without them on. He was never bulky to begin with, but the loose coat and armor added an inch or two on his shoulders and upper body. He's not skinny, but he's certainly on the thinner side.

Before he lies down, he stares at Mercedes and says. "Can I at least…?"

Mercedes doesn't understand for a moment, then laughs. Sometimes he's a stoic mercenary, and sometimes he's surprisingly childish. She leans forwards and allows him to weave his fingers into her hair. This time he even leans forward to rest his head against it for a second. The joy of simple pleasures, Mercedes supposes.

Finally, Byleth lies down in the bed. Mercedes draws the curtains over the window, leaving just a sliver of light in the corner of the room where a chair sits so she can do some sewing.

Yes, she is going to sit here until she's positive he's actually sleeping. Yes, she does think this is an appropriate course of action considering who she's dealing with.

###

"Professor, you may want to consider getting a second outfit." Mercedes says as she sews up the tears in his coat. "You can't very well go shirtless every time you get a tear or your coat gets wet."

"I don't see the problem." The man says.

"Well that's not a surprise." The girl chuckles. "But other people are not as ambivalent to appearances as you."

Byleth frowns. "Is this what Dorothea keeps mentioning?"

"Hmm?"

"Dorothea keeps mentioning that I am naive, smooth, and other such things." He says. "But she always fails to explain what she means."

"I see…" Mercedes says slowly. How does she approach this? It's no secret that Byleth has the romantic and sexual awareness of a smarter-than-average log. Is it really her place to tell him? It seems like something better left to Captain Jeralt… then again, maybe the reason Byleth has that total lack of awareness is because Captain Jeralt couldn't explain things so well, or was too embarrassed to do so.

Well, he's an adult. He should know, and has a right to… and to be honest, if anyone is going to explain it, it's probably going to be her.

Taking a deep breath, Mercedes steels herself for what might end up being an awkward conversation.

###

Mercedes may have broken him.

"So Dorothea was… flirting."

"Yes."

"Which means she was either expressing a sexual or romantic interest."

"Or teasing." Mercedes reminds him. "But yes."

Byleth stares at the wall. "Sex is not just for reproduction."

"Yes." That was by far the most surprising thing Mercedes had to clarify. Somehow Byleth was under the impression that sex only served the purpose of making children. He had never been told that pleasure was a thing. She actually has some major concerns now about what his plan for taking Edelgard out to a bar entailed now if that was something he thought. More likely he just didn't think it through. For all his paranoia, he doesn't always put enough thought into things that aren't fighting.

"And love is… romance is…" He makes some stilted hand gestures, and his brow furrows. "A connection… more than friendship?"

Mercedes feels quite bad actually. She'd always had her suspicions, but this seems to confirm her suspicions that Byleth is a bit emotionally immature. Maybe Jeralt is to blame, or maybe it's just his generally odd personality, but either way her heart goes out to him. "Yes Professor."

"How do you know the difference?"

She smiles at that question. It's a childish question in a way, but an important one. "It's just something you know Professor. A different feeling in your gut. A different connection. It's not something describable. Think of it like… the difference between red and blue. You can't describe it, it just is."

"Right." He frowns. "Right…"

"You don't have to understand it now professor. You'll start to understand when you feel it."

"Okay." He takes a deep breath. "And the problem with me having my shirt off all the time is because other people think it too revealing, and things are too revealing when they look too sexual?"

"It's a bit more complicated than that, but for your case, yes."

"And when Seteth wanted me to stop people approaching Flayn, he was attempting to stop romantic advances?"

"Yes."

"Because he thinks she is too young?"

"Yes."

Byleth nods, but his brow is still deeply furrowed. He's clearly still trying to process everything he's learned. It's a good thing this is the weekend, when they both have time off. That's probably a good thing. Byleth just learned in fifteen minutes what most people slowly assimilate over multiple years.

"Professor." Mercedes murmurs. "By the way, it may be a good idea to not mention this discussion to others."

"Why not?"

"Mentioning that you had a discussion about sex with a student may not go over so well."

"That isn't the only thing we talked about."

"Others won't care Professor. They also won't care that I was the one teaching you and that nothing physical happened." Mercedes murmurs. A smile creeps onto her face. "There are many people fond of gossip Professor, and the church likely won't appreciate the bad light it will cast them in."

"Ah." He nods in understanding. Rumors. Those he can understand. After all, his title, the Ashen Demon, started with one of those.

"By the way… I was hoping to talk to your father. Do you know a time when he would be free?"

"Jeralt?" Byleth blinks. "He usually has some free time just before dinner."

"Alright."

"You need to talk with him? Is something wrong?"

"Not exactly. I simply want to discuss a few things with him."

"Okay."

"I've finished you coat by the way." She holds out the patched coat, which he takes. "I'll see you tomorrow for our usual teatime Professor. If you have anymore questions I'll gladly answer them then. Don't stress too much in the meantime, alright?"

"Okay."

"And get enough sleep! Or I will make you sleep here again."

"Fine…"

###

"Ah… you're Marshmallow, right? Byleth tells me about you."

"Mercedes. Yes." The girl says, and gives the man a polite bow. "I need to speak with you Captain, do you have a few minutes to spare? I was told you were likely free during this time."

"As long as it's not too long. I'm going to have dinner with Alois."

"It won't be more than fifteen minutes at most, I promise. I just have a few questions and concerns pertaining to your son."

"Ah." Jeralt's expression becomes more serious. "Alright then, come inside."

Mercedes gracefully steps into the room. Sets of armor adorn one of the walls, though Jeralt's own armor is kept on an armor stand just next to his desk. A bookshelf lines another, and a showcase of various trophies another. Mercedes doubts most of the things here are actually Jeralt's.

"Sorry if I don't have a tea table here." Jeralt says as he drags his chair out from behind his desk so they can be properly face-to-face without the huge table in the way. They're talking as equals here, not as the Captain and a student after all. "Erm… so what is it? Is there something wrong with the Kid?"

"Not exactly, though I'm hoping you'll tell me if there is." Mercedes says calmly. "I had a conversation with him today."

"Really?"

"Yes. A very special conversation, actually."

"Really?" Jeralt raises an eyebrow. "How so? Don't tell me he proposed."

"Oh heavens no." Mercedes shakes her head. "I'm not sure he would have properly understood the weight of a proposal before today anyways."

"Before today?" The Blade Breaker frowns. He leans forwards. "What exactly did you two talk about?"

"It came to my attention…" She murmurs. "That your son was woefully uneducated in matters of romance and sexuality, and so I took it upon myself to explain things to him."

Jeralt blinks once, twice, three times. "You… ah, shit." He leans back and stares at the ceiling. "Well, I suppose an apology on my part is in order."

"Maybe." Mercedes murmurs. "I am quite concerned at how little he knew. Did you never explain things to him?"

"I didn't think I needed to." Jeralt says honestly. "I gave him 'the talk' and all that, but he never seemed to care one way or another for romance and all that, so I never brought it up. No need to make his life more complicated unnecessarily, you know?"

"He thought sex was only for making children."

Jeralt grimaces. "That bad?"

She nods silently.

"Well, uh… geeze, sorry." Jeralt sighs. "I guess I took for granted how much I knew. Kid always seemed so smart and never asked questions, so it never occurred to me to explain that sort of stuff. I thought he figured it out on his own from listening to the other mercs."

Mercedes debates bringing up that Byleth tried to take Edelgard to a bar precisely because he paid attention to other mercenaries, but decides against it. That's a topic for another time.

"I suppose I owe you some thanks for taking care of my kid then." Jeralt says sheepishly. "So, uh, thanks."

Mercedes sighs. She should probably be a bit more frustrated or indignant on Byleth's behalf at Jeralt's less-than-adequate teaching… but to be fair, she doesn't know his whole situation, and by all accounts Byleth must have been a weird kid. Jeralt certainly could have done better, but it's not like Byleth is a total mess, and more than half of his quirks aren't even Jeralt's fault.

"I'll accept your thanks." Mercedes sighs. "Though please, if there is anything else you might have forgotten to tell him about or clear up… please do."

"Noted." The man coughs in embarrassment. "Uh, thanks Marshmallow."

"Mercedes."

"Pardon?"

"My name is Mercedes."

"Oh. My kid always refers to you as Marshmallow."

"I am aware, though I don't know why."

"Nickname huh? Unusual for him to give out one of those."

"I'll take your word for it." Mercedes murmurs, and stands up from her seat. "That will be all. It was a pleasure speaking with you."

###

"Oh my, this is quite high…" Mercedes murmurs. "Are you quite sure this is safe?"

"I haven't fallen off."

"You also have much better balance than me Professor."

"It's flat. Mostly." His expression, which has become much less rigidly flat of late, changes just a bit to concern. "We can go back."

"No, this will be fine." Mercedes decides. He put in some effort to set this up after all. It's nice and sunny, not windy, and he was the one to procure the food this time. Sure, they're on the roof of the cathedral, which is not what she would usually consider safe, but Byleth won't let her fall. They are on a flat part of the roof too, the view is nice, and getting up here was a bit of a trial in itself, so it would be a shame to waste this. She had to get piggybacked as Byleth climbed up wall (which apparently he can do. Mercedes was not aware of that. It makes sense in retrospect though, he has mentioned getting into places through the chimney before).

The spread of food is more limited than what they would usually have because Byleth provided the food this time, and it's a more barebones meal: cheese, salted meat, a few pastries, bread, fruit, and tea. Mercedes can't complain though. It's not like the food doesn't taste good (even if she bemoans the lack of sweets), and the view is fantastic.

"Oh my, it seems the sky watch has noticed us." Mercedes giggles. She waves cheerily to Ingrid and Claude who fly above them on pegasus and wyvern respectively. Ingrid seems bewildered, and Claude is highly amused. The boy gives Mercedes a cheeky, encouraging thumbs up and ushers his chore partner off to patrol elsewhere.

Mercedes can already predict the rumors that will be going around tomorrow. Oh dear. She may as well enjoy this while she can then.

Chapter Text

Wakefulness comes slowly to Bernadetta. For once she feels rested and calm, and ready to face the day.

Then she actually opens her eyes.

Byleth's own dull green eyes bore into hers. They look huge, in no small part because his face is currently hovering less than an inch above hers. Bernadetta freezes in place. If Byleth were to breath out, she'd be able to feel it, though he isn't… somehow. Does he not breath?

"Bernadetta." He says calmly. "Class is in five minutes."

The girl is too paralyzed to actually say anything. Her hands grip her sheets and she shrinks into them, trying to pull them up to protect herself.

"You must get up." Byleth says. "Move. Now. You will be late."

When Bernadetta doesn't immediately move, Byleth moves so close that their noses bump. The girl feels like she's going to pass out.

"Move."

"D-Don't kill me!" She yelps.

"Move."

"Move or he'll kill me!? Oh gods!" Bernadetta scrambles out of her bed and starts grabbing her things. Everywhere she moves Byleth stays inches behind her, staring at the back of her head the entire time. She grabs her notes and her quill case and runs out the door.

She can hear the professor's footsteps behind her, and Bernadetta fears that if she looks back she'll see the man running after her, still staring.

The girl runs into the classroom, panting, to the surprise of her classmates. Bernadetta can feel their judging eyes on her as she sits in the back of the class and hides behind a pillar.

Byleth, apparently satisfied, moves to the front of the classroom to start teaching. Through his expression doesn't change, Bernadetta can swear he looks smug.

"Professor!" Ferdinand shouts, holding up a hand. "I must protest to you chasing Bernadetta around in her nightwear! Even if it is to get her to class!"

Bernadetta blinks, and glances at her outfit. Her cheeks burn red and her limbs start to tremble as she realizes that she is indeed still her in her nightclothes. She was in such a panic to get to class with the professor staring at her that she forgot to change.

"She is in class, that is what matters." Byleth responds flatly. "Appearances are not relevant."

"I beg to differ!" Ferdinand protests.

"Noted and ignored." The professor replies. "Now-"

"Professor." Edelgard says sharply. "I agree with Ferdinand, for once. You may not care about modesty, but the rest of us, and Bernadetta, do."

"Fine." He turns around, tears off a curtain, marches over to Bernadetta, and wraps it around her. "There. We can work now."

"Do you know how many times we've had to replace those in the last few months?" Ferdinand groans.

"Several." Byleth says without remorse. "They are useful tools."

"They are decorations Professor."

"Everything is a tool waiting to be used. Usually to smash someone's head in, but in this case for modesty."

Edelgard shakes her head as Ferdinand continues to argue. She knows he won't win this fight.

###

"Marshmallow."

"Professor!" Mercedes blinks. "Erm, hello."

"I did as you suggested." Byleth reports. "I did not carry her, nor did I get someone else to carry her."

"Bernadetta I presume? Good."

"I employed social skills instead." Byleth says. Mercedes can hear a bit of pride in his voice.

"Wonderful." She smiles, and then glances around. "Erm…"

"I used intimidation. I stared at her, intensely, until she did what I wanted."

"Oh dear…" The older girl sighs. "We must talk about that later Professor."

He tilts his head. "Why not now?"

"In case you haven't noticed, I'm in the sauna."

"As am I."

"It's the ladies' time Professor."

He visibly frowns, just a little bit. "There are certain times?"

"Yes, did you not see the schedule?"

"There's a schedule?" He blinks again. "It's separated by gender?"

Mercedes sighs deeply, albeit fondly. She can't even say she finds this unusual anymore. "Yes Professor. It's attached to the board out front."

"I see... or, I will see. When I check. In a moment."

"Good." The girl nods. "Now, erm... You should leave Professor, preferably without being seen."

"Is being seen bad?"

"In this case, yes."

"Okay." He moves towards the window, pulling something out of his pocket.

"Do not break the window."

He frowns again. "How do I get out then?"

"Use the front entrance, like everyone else."

"But then I might get seen. You said not to be seen."

"I said preferably without being seen. To be honest, I don't think most of the students will do more than raise an eyebrow. I'm only really worried about Seteth." Mercedes explains. "Just leave Professor."

"You sound tense."

"I happen to have a man standing before me while I'm dressed only in a towel."

"Oh… is that bad?"

"Less bad and more extremely uncomfortable."

"I see." He blinks. "Who is the intruder?"

"You Professor."

"Oh." He blinks again. "I see." He turns around. "I will leave."

"Good. I will see you later Professor."

"The same time as usual?"

"Yes Professor."

"Should I bring food or are you-?"

"I'll bring the snacks as usual Professor."

"Okay. Should-"

"Professor." Mercedes interrupts. "Leave please."

"Okay…"

Byleth marches out of the sauna. He nods to Annette, who was just entering, and ignores her startled "Eep!" as she makes sure her towel is covering her.

Annette steps tentatively inside the sauna, glancing over her shoulder to make sure Byleth didn't follow her back. She hears a long, drawn-out sigh from inside and notices Mercedes.

"Mercie, was he…?"

"Yes, don't worry about it." The older girl says. "It's fine."

Annette shakes her head. "I don't see how you put up with him."

Mercedes smiles. "Oh, he's not so bad. Strange, perhaps, but nice; or at least well-intentioned."

"If you say so…" The smaller girl says doubtfully.

###

"The Professor's been holding back on us." Sylvain mutters, clenching the shaft of his spear. He drives it roughly into the archer in front of him, killing him.

"Shut up and fight." Felix growls.

"It's true though!"

"I know, but we have bigger concerns."

You would almost think the battle was staged from how it looked. The bulk of the fighting took place in a circle around the central pathway, between the Blue Lions and an unknown force among coffins of unknown contents. The center of the room is avoided by everyone except the two people already fighting there.

The Death Knight cut an imposing figure, standing tall with the help of his horse. That lasted all of one minute before he was knocked off, and is now fighting on foot in his dramatically spiked armor against Byleth, who is showing a level of competence much higher than he ever showed while sparring.

"Always keep an ace in your sleeve, that's what you told us." Dimitri mutters as he cuts down a mage and glances at his teacher. "You held back on us teacher, so no one would know what you can really do. Clever."

The incident of him beating Catherine into submission crosses his mind. That was holding back. A demon indeed…

It's not that Byleth is particularly fast or strong, but he's flexible to an unprecedented degree, and apparently quite the improvisational acrobat. His pinpoint accuracy with dagger throws, forcing the Death Knight to constantly twist his head to avoid a dagger sliding through the eye slits on his helmet, are quite impressive too.

So while the Death Knight is using brute strength and speed to make massive, swift swings of his scythe, Byleth is leaping over or ducking under the attacks entirely, throwing daggers or swinging his sword in spare moments, and occasionally pulling out stupidly impractical, extremely flashy, nearly impossible moves, and doing them flawlessly, leaving no doubt he must have practiced these an incredible number of times to make them even possible, much less usable in a combat scenario.

For one such move he shouts to Felix for spare sword, which the boy obliges by tossing it in the man's direction. Byleth leaps up, kicks the Death Knight in the face to distract him, and uses that force to push off and gain distance so he can snatch the sword.

That's not the impractical part.

Holding the extra sword's hilt in a loose grip, he flicks it up in the air in front of him, spins himself in place, and sharply kicks the sword. His foot must have hit the hint, because instead of impaling him the blade goes spinning end-over-end at the Death Knight at high speed. The knight manages to move aside, but the spinning projectile still clips his shoulder and leaves a deep gouge in the metal pauldron.

"What the fuck Professor!?" Sylvain shouts from across the room. "Since when could you do that!?"

"Always!"

"What didn't you tell us, or show us!?"

"You never asked!" He barks. "Mage on your left! Ingrid, cover him! Mercedes, to Dedue!"

The battle eventually ends when the Blue Lions cut their way through all the other invaders, and the Death Knight, battered and dented and gouged from everything Byleth has thrown at him (literally, in many cases, up to and including the lid of a coffin or two), snarls and teleports away, warning of vengeance to come.

"Hey Professor!" Ashe calls. "One of the intruders pulled a weird sword out of a coffin!"

"Put it back. Not our problem." Byleth says curtly. "I'll report it to Rhea. She can deal with it."

"Professor!" Sylvain shouts, running up to the man. "You have to show me how to kick a sword."

"That's not hard. You take a sword, and kick it."

"No, I mean kick it through the air like you did."

"Oh. No."

"No!?"

"No." Byleth affirms. "Too hard, not worth it, unless you have a lot of extra time."

"Then why do you know how to do it?"

"I had a lot of extra time. Five years ago. Now I don't." He stares at Sylvain. "If you had enough time to learn to do that you wouldn't be doing your homework, which is unacceptable."

"Killjoy…"

###

"Feel better, now."

"Professor, that's not going to work." Claude says, clearly amused. "I mean, it might help, but that's not going to solve the problem."

Marianne gives her house leader a look that's clearly asking for help. The boy grins and gives her a thumbs up. That's not what she was hoping for. She wants Byleth to stop hugging her. Not get encouragement for it to continue.

The man stares down at her. "It's an order. I'm your teacher. Do it."

"It's not that simple…"

"Yes, it is." Byleth insists. "Do we need to have another party?"

"Oh goddess no."

Claude shrugs. "Hey, I wouldn't mind."

"No." Marianne repeats as firmly as she can. "Please, no."

"Are you sure?" Byleth asks.

"Yes."

"Do you need food? Food makes some people happy."

"I'm fine Professor."

"Do you need me to get a friend? Who are you friends with?"

"Really, I'm okay."

Byleth stares down at her and doesn't release his hug. "How about fishing. Do you like fishing? Do you want to fish?"

"Not particularly…"

His eyes narrow a bit. "There has to be something. I will find out."

"You're going to be disappointed Professor…"

"I disagree. Happiness is mandatory, and you will follow the rules."

###

"Professor." Mercedes murmurs sympathetically. "I don't think Marianne's problem can be solved with a few hugs and some good food."

"What else does she need?"

"It's not a matter of just giving her things Professor. It's more of an emotional issue." The girl explains. "Which, unfortunately, is much harder to solve."

Byleth frowns. "Ah. Emotions."

"Professor, don't talk about them like you don't have any."

"I never said that. It's just that they tend to be more problematic than helpful."

"That's a very depressing way of looking at the world."

"It's true though."

Mercedes purses her lips. "I see them less as a problem or helpful and more as just who we are. To say your emotions are problematic would be like saying your hands are problematic."

"Depends on the situation then." Byleth says with total sincerity. "Sometimes hands get in the way. Usually the fingers. They can get caught on things."

That's not quite what Mercedes was going for, but she'd also be lying to say that emotions are never problematic, because sometimes they just aren't just your way of dealing with the world. Sometimes they are irrational, or not representative of what someone knows or thinks.

"I suppose that definition works." Mercedes agrees reluctantly. "Sometimes emotions are a problem. Sometimes."

"Sometimes." Byleth nods.

"And In Marianne's case, they aren't, because the problem is not the emotions but what's causing the emotions."

"If you say so."

"I do."

Chapter Text

"Fists up in front of your face." Byleth instructs. "Dominant foot forward."

The short girl in front of him does so slowly, needing to glance down to make sure she's doing it right. Her lack of physical training is obvious. That's part of the point of this training though: to show her some moves that can be used even when you lack strength (and to get her building that strength).

"Make sure your thumbs are on the outside of your fists." The man says. "If they're inside, you're likely to injure your thumbs when you punch."

The girl had indeed been doing that, and adjusts accordingly.

"There's a trick to punching." Byleth continues. "Several actually, but this is one of the most important. You are not punching at your target, you are punching at a space behind them. For example…" He walks up to the dummy, and punches it so that he's just barely meeting it with knuckles. It barely makes an impact despite his strength. "That did nothing, right? But if I do this.." He takes a half-step closer and repeats the same punch. His fist meets the rough cloth when his arm is still somewhat bent and the momentum and remaining power behind his fist as he fully extends it leaves a visible dent in the cloth and makes the dummy rock in place from the force. "You can't get too close or you won't be able to even start the punch, but too far and you won't have enough force behind it. There's a sweet spot. You'll discover naturally how close you need to be."

"Understood Professor!"

"Good." The man stoops down and grabs a pillow from the ground, squats down in front of her, and holds it up in front of his chest. "Now, aim for this. Find that sweet spot. You'll see what I mean."

The girl does so. Her punches are awkward and poorly aimed, as expected of someone who's never practiced brawling before. Still, she finds that sweet spot after a minute. Her hits aren't strong, but understanding that one core principle adds a bit of extra power that she would otherwise not have, which is the entire point of the principle.

Byleth nods his approval, even though the girl is clearly out of breath after only a minute or two. "Well done, take a break for a second as I explain more." He stands up straight again as the girl's shoulders droop. She's going to ache tomorrow probably. "With your current strength, trying to hit anyone probably won't do much if you're not aiming for the right part. These targets are usually considered 'fighting dirty' by others, and you wouldn't be able to use them in tournaments, but in a real fight they can be invaluable."

He uses a hand to indicate his eyes, his neck, the side of his stomach, then gestures to his groin for just a second. "Eyes, throat, kidney, groin. Use a gouge, two fingers, if you're going for the eyes, otherwise even a weak punch or kick will cause some pain if you hit these parts. Especially the groin."

His eyes bore into his student. She looks back at him and tilts her head in confusion. "Why do you stare Professor?"

"I have been informed…" Byleth says slowly, "that you are considered 'cute' by others, so you may have need to defend yourself if someone takes an inappropriate interest. I suggest you go for the groin in such cases, it is generally the most effective without causing permanent damage."

A smile crosses Flayn's face. "You have a strange way of giving compliments Professor."

The man blinks owlishly, signalling that was very much not his intent. "I did not do such a thing. I said others see you as cute."

The small girl gasps in pretend offence and brings a hand up in front of her chest. "And you do not?"

"No comment." Byleth replies with a blank expression. "I have been told that people who compliment you tend to get extra chores."

"Brother…" Flayn scowls. "First I could not be approached, and now I cannot be complimented?" She looks at the teacher in determination. "You must help me Professor! This cannot stand! At this rate, I will be all but ignored by others at my brother's insistence!"

"That is bad?" Byleth asks.

"Yes!" The girl nods. "I am not a ghost Professor! Nor a ninja!"

"You could be a ninja."

"But I am not!" Flayn insists. "I wish to be seen, and wish to talk with people, and wish to be complimented!"

"You want compliments? You are..." Byleth searches for the word. "An 'attention whore'? Like Sylvain?"

Her cheeks puff out in a pout. "I am not that desperate Professor, I simply wish to be acknowledged!"

"Understood."

"...and some compliments. Who does not like compliments?" She adds cheekily.

"Jeritza."

Flayn opens her mouth to refute, pauses, then nods. "Perhaps you are correct, but that is a special case… and Professor?"

"Yes?"

"Perhaps do not let others hear you accusing me of being an 'attention whore'. That is quite a rude term."

"Ah." Byleth blinks. "Understood, my apologies."

"So, will you help me Professor?" Flayn presses. "I cannot allow my brother to restrain me so!"

"How would I help?"

"By ignoring his orders pertaining to me! You have never cared much for them before anyhow."

Byleth considers this, then nods. "Alright."

"Good!" Flayn smiles widely. "Then you can admit I am cute, yes?"

Byleth knows he's not very good at understanding how social situations work, but… "did you go through all that just so I would compliment you?"

"Why Professor, do you think someone as innocent as me would do such a thing?" She gasps.

"Yes." He responds bluntly.

"But you will do so anyways, won't you?" Flayn asks cheekily. "Because you are quite fond of me, no?"

Byleth stares hard at her, then nods. "Yes, I suppose I am." He kneels down in front of her, reaches out a hand, and ruffles her hair. "You are cute."

"Thank-"

"-and sweet, and kind, and friendly…" He continues, bringing up the other hand to move her hair drills out of the way of her face. "...and I am happy to teach you."

"Th-Thank you Professor." Flayn stammers, now blushing profusely. "When did you become so smooth?"

"Smooth?" He frowns. "You said you wanted compliments. Was I wrong to give them?"

"No, no!" Flayn says hastily, smiling, and bows to him. "Truly, thank you Professor."

###

"Professor, you are staring."

"I always do that."

"Yes, but it is particularly noticeable today."

"Is it?"

"Yes."

"Why?"

"Because you are staring at me."

"I've done that before."

"Indeed, but… usually you are not so close."

"I see."

"Why are you staring at me anyways Professor?"

"Your hair."

"Pardon?"

"Your hair. It looks… complicated."

"Not so! It is naturally curly, I simply guide it into the proper shape." Flayn explains. "I simply divide my hair in half, then half again, and wrap two quarters around each other on either side after taking a bath. A bit of gel does the rest. 'Tis quite easy, if a bit time-consuming."

"I see." Byleth nods. "You could hide a vial of poison in there quite well…"

Flayn pauses and glances at him. "I feel as if I am missing a joke."

"I tell the same thing to Marshmallow often."

"Ah, I see." The girl giggles. "You have a preference for a large head of hair."

Byleth tilts his head. "I do?"

"It would seem so." Flayn smiles. She strokes her hair for a moment. "I have quite a bit, as does Mercedes. Petra as well. It would seem you have a type Professor."

"A type?"

"A preference."

"That would be unprofessional of me."

"Professor, everyone is aware of your preference for Mercedes." Flayn chuckles. "You lie."

Byleth doesn't comment. His expression, subtle as it is, could be considered a pout.

"Oh, don't act so, Professor." Flayn giggles. "No one minds, except maybe my brother."

###

"I'm surprised at you Seteth." Rhea chuckles. "I did not think you would allow such a thing, especially from your sister."

The man lets out a long-suffering sigh as he gazes at the fishing dock. A small dinghy is out on the water, holding two people within. "I have given up trying to talk sense into the Professor… and yet, of all people, I think I have the least to fear from him."

Rhea smiles and doesn't comment further. Seteth phases this like he had a revelation, but the woman is fairly sure he's just resigned at this point.

The dinghy really isn't meant for more than one person. Flayn is sitting in Byleth's lap, holding his sharpened fishing stick while the man instructs her and keeps the small boat steady. They have a small bucket of bait sitting to their left, and a larger bucket for fish on their right.

At least the Professor has his shirt on this time, because he's not actually going in the water.

"I heard a rumor that the Professor has started teaching Flayn hand-to-hand, is that true?"

"Indeed." Seteth nods. "I approved of it. It is good for Flayn to learn to defend herself, though I dearly hope such skills will never be necessary."

"Of course." Rhea nods. "Incidentally… Flayn has approached me about being allowed to join the Professor's class, has she mentioned it to you Seteth?"

"Indeed…" The man frowns. "As much as I may have accepted that the Professor helps her, I am not comfortable with Flayn being around other students. The students are at the stage in life where they can be… easily swayed by sinful thoughts, and I do not with Flayn targeted for such thoughts or corrupted by their influence."

The archbishop nods sympathetically. "I understand your fears, but it is important for a young girl to socialize as well, is it not?"

"Yes." Seteth grimaces. "I do not enjoy my decision, but I must place her safety first."

"Surely the Professor would be adequate protection though, yes? And while there are indeed some students who are… less than perfect, there are many more who would eagerly protect Flayn."

The man appears pained. "I am aware, but…"

Rhea shakes her head. "I mean not to pressure you. 'Tis your choice."

From down on the lake there's a loud shout. Flayn nearly falls out of the boat as she struggles to pull up the stick from something she stabbed it into. Byleth's reactions are quick though, and he wraps one arm around her chest to anchor her and grabs the stick with the other and helps her pull it up. The teutates pike on the end of the spike is certainly a large catch, too large for the bucket in fact.

Seteth has a vague feeling he knows what is going to be served at dinner today.

###

"Professor."

"Yes?"

"Need I remind you that I am a person and not a training weight… or a backpack."

"I know."

"Then why are you climbing the cathedral with me on your back? You said you were taking me to a nice view."

"I am. It's on the cathedral."

"On top of the cathedral?" Flayn gasps. "I thought you meant a high room!"

"Nope."

"Are you sure this is safe?"

"Yes. I have had lunch here before with Marshmallow."

"Ahh…" Flayn smiles. "I see. Of course you would show Mercedes first."

"I don't know what you mean."

"That's fine Professor. I'm sure you'll realize it eventually."

"That sounds patronizing."

"It is I suppose." Flayn agrees. "How about this? If you do not figure it out by the end of the year, I will tell you what I mean."

"Or you could tell me now." Byleth retorts.

"I could." Flayn nods. "But, better for you to figure it out yourself if possible, yes? I have given you clues enough to work with."

Byleth frowns. He doesn't continue the argument though, and instead lets Flayn off his back onto the flat surface of the roof. The orange and red hues of the sunset make for a nice view indeed. Flayn doesn't even mind the panic attack Seteth is going to have when he hears she came up here.

Perhaps it would be a good idea not to mention he took Mercedes up here either, then he'd get scolded for bringing a student into to 'potential danger' as well.

Chapter Text

The grey-haired boy will sadly admit he's gotten used to the Professor appearing out of nowhere, or speaking from directly behind him without any sign of his approach.

So when he suddenly hears the man say "Ashe" from directly behind him, he doesn't jump or yelp. He takes a sudden breath, but that's the extent of his surprise. He turns around to face the blank-faced man.

"Professor, hello. Did you need something? What are you doing out here in the first place?"

"Do you like rope?"

"Er- rope?"

"Rope." Byleth confirms. "Do you like it?"

"Uh… I don't mind it?" Ashe says uncertainly. Where in the goddess's name is this going?

"Good." The man nods. "You may need that."

"Need what?"

"Not minding rope."

Ashe is completely lost. "Uh… of course Professor."

Byleth nods seriously and turns away. "Good luck."

"Right." Good luck with what? What's going on? Why did the professor come all the way out of the monastery and down the path towards the town just to ask him that?

###

"You are responsible for this, aren't you?"

"Hello to you too Princess." Claude grins. "You're going to have to be more specific. I'm responsible for a lot of things."

"The Professor." Edelgard says with a severe frown. "He's been going on about rope-"

"Wait, really?" Claude interrupts. A massive smile crosses his face and he sits up. "Holy shit, who has he talked to?"

"Myself, Ashe, and Flayn at the very least." The princess says. "Although we have no idea what he's actually referring to because he's incredibly vague about it. He asked Ashe if he likes rope, asked me if students have access to rope, and asked Flayn if she knew where to find some rope."

"That's hilarious." Claude looks immensely pleased. "Wow, that is not what I intended him to focus on. Did he do anything else?"

"Yes." Another voice says, holding some faint disappointment. Claude glances at them and waves.

"Well, if it ain't Teach's favourite pupil. Marshmallow is what he calls you, right Mercie?"

"Mercedes to you." The girl says calmly.

"Ouch, cold! Have I offended thee somehow?" Claude asks somewhat sarcastically, clearly enjoying this. Mercedes, polite as ever, doesn't scowl or frown, but she does look down her nose at him a bit. "I get you're the 'mom' of the Lions, but you're not Teach's mom too."

The older girl sighs. "Claude, you know very well the professor is naive. Please do not feed him old rumors and stereotypes."

"Ah, so you know what this is about." The boy smirks. "Has he talked to Petra yet?"

"No. Thankfully he talked to me first, though only after speaking with several other people." Mercedes says.

"Aww, that would have been funny." Claude huffs.

Now Mercedes frowns at him. "You think it amusing for him to believe an incredibly racist stereotype that you taught him? I see."

"Hey, give me some slack! I didn't even think he'd pay attention to that little tidbit!" Claude protests. "And I didn't think he'd talk to anyone outside of whom it concerned!" Well, them and Mercedes of course.

The older girl is still frowning at him by the way.

"Look, I'll go clear up the misunderstanding, all right?"

"I've already done that." Mercedes informs him. She crosses her arms.

"What? What do you want me to do?"

"I expect an apology." She says firmly. "To Byleth."

"Fine mom."

"Mercedes." The girl corrects.

"You don't make Teach call you Mercedes."

"He doesn't go around telling lies, now does he?" Mercedes says calmly.

"Okay, yeah, she's mad." Claude winces.

Edelgard, meanwhile, regards Mercedes with a newfound respect. There are not many people who can scold Claude and actually have him care that he's being scolded.

###

"-is for basic ringlets. Drills require a bit more effort, because it is not simply a matter of curling the hair and letting it fall as it may." Flayn explains. "They also require gel more oft than not."

"Right." Byleth nods. He does this while rolling the girl's hair around small wooden spools which he then carefully ties off. "You look old like this."

"An old maid with curlers in her hair? I assure you professor, 'tis not just the elderly who use such things, they are just the only ones who are actually seen with them in." Flayn giggles. "I shan't stay like this for long Professor, there are other styles still to show."

"Understood."

"Should I intend to actually have ringlets, t'would require me to sleep with these overnight." She gestures to the makeshift curlers (empty spools) in her hair. "Else my hair will not keep shape."

"That seems inconvenient."

"Indeed it is." Flayn agrees. "Nice hair can require great effort Professor." She unrolls the curlers that Byleth rolled up and sets them aside. "Now, have you seen Felix's hair?"

"Yes."

"A bun. Or, at least, a small bun." Flayn says. "Now, the bun is a style with manymany variants. One could probably teach a class only on bun variants! However, for the sake of not getting distracted, I will demonstrate a simple bun."

Flayn does so. It takes barely a minute, and only uses a small band of fabric to keep the style in place. She allows the man to study it for a moment before undoing the style and letting Byleth try.

These quick tutorials on how to style hair stemmed from Byleth's interest in her hairstyle before. While Flayn is fairly sure he was initially interested in learning how to hide weapons in hair (he really is obsessed with that idea for some reason) he is now showing genuine interest in the various styles for hopefully no ulterior motive.

They are conducting this lesson in Byleth's room. Seteth allowed it after a stern warning to Byleth not to let anything happen to her (it seems her brother has finally accepted that the Professor is no danger himself).

The Professor's room is quite barren. His desk has several textbooks and reference books on it, but other than that the room has only the basic furniture of any student room. There is absolutely no customization whatsoever.

Byleth finishes the bun in thrice the time it took Flayn to do it herself, which is expected. While not nearly as elegant, his attempt was by no means a disaster. It's perfectly functional.

"Well done Professor!" She praises. "Next…"

###

You could mistake the scene for something out of a book. The duo of brawlers, one giant and one rather short, facing off against a hyper-competent hero.

By that, of course, Ingrid means Raphael and Caspar are sparring against the Professor in a tag-team. It's funny seeing two highly muscled young men get demolished by the comparatively wispy Professor.

Not that he actually is wispy. Ingrid remembers when he spent nearly an entire day without his shirt. He just looks it with his outfit on because the loose fabric hides his body rather well.

The Professor just finished beating Felix (again) in a duel… after beating Dimitri, and Edelgard, and Lysithea, and-

He's fought a lot of people today, but he's yet to take a proper hit. Ingrid already had her turn, fighting alongside Sylvain, and they lost easily. Ingrid doesn't know why everyone decided today was the day they'd all fight the Professor, but it doesn't seem to be helping them all that much.

Byleth deftly weaves around Raphael, grabs Caspar's arm as he throws a punch, throws the smaller boy over his head, then haymakers Rapahel in the face when the larger boy turns around.

Thankfully he's wearing padded gloves, but that still has to sting.

The only person in the long chain of challengers that actually seems to pose a threat to Byleth is Petra, which isn't surprising considering she has more personal training from him than anyone else. Their fight is done with all the weapons on their person, so it runs the gamut from swords, daggers, hand-to-hand, and any combination of the two. Petra seems to favor a dagger and sword setup, while Byleth goes with double dagger or dagger and freehand.

Petra still loses, but she's slightly more impressive than the others.

###

"You might consider talking to your father first, or Seteth, or Mercedes, or literally anyone else before you do this."

"I thought you were finally gone."

"Rude!"

"Then leave. Go haunt someone else."

"I am not a ghost!"

"But you don't have a body, and you talk directly into my head. So you're a ghost. Either that, or you're a telepath. If you are a telepath… then still go away."

"How do you know I'm not something else? Like… an angel."

"Angels have platinum skin, and they're still solid. You look more like an elf, which are also solid by the way."

"What. Have you met them before?" Sothis huffs. "Angels and elves?"

"Yes."

"Oh."

"The angel could glow, and the elf… had pointy ears."

"What a ringing endorsement of their uniqueness."

"They were both normal. I think." Byleth says calmly as he steps up onto the wall and glances down the nearly sheer cliff face. "I don't know what normal is exactly, but they did not strike me as too unusual."

"Okay, whatever, just get down from the wall. Please?"

"I need to find some sleep root and rot berries."

"You can buy those."

"But why would I spend money when I can just get them myself?" He points a few dozen meters down. "There's some right there."

"It's dangerous!"

"No it's not." Byleth casually hops off the wall onto a small ledge a meter below him. Sothis hisses in fear, and the mercenary blinks. "If you don't like it, leave."

"I can't!"

"Then go back to sleep."

"Just- noooo don't! Oh my stars, stop!"

"I'm busy."

"Stop being busy and get back up! I'm sur- AAAH! "

"I do this all the time. I do not see the problem this time." Byleth says flatly as he makes a nimble leap from his current ledge to land on a rock about the side of a large dinner plate. He's about five or six meters down the cliff face now, and there's a least a few dozen meters to go. "Please stop yelling. I'm listening for assassins."

"Assassins!? You have bigger problems then-"

"Hmm, that's probably big enough to land on…"

"-your paranoid delu- STOOOOOP!"

Byleth lands without a problem on the small rock. Sothis holds back a shriek as he takes aim for an even smaller rock next.

###

"Professor."

"Yes?"

"What are you doing?"

"Staring at math questions."

"I see…" Mercedes murmurs. "Do you plan on doing the math question?"

"No."

"And why not?"

"Hilda made a good suggestion that I should 'train my brain' by staring at some math questions."

"Hilda?" Mercedes murmurs to herself. She's guessing that the actual conversation was more like Hilda making slight fun of Byleth being oblivious to a fault, and him, again, taking a joke way too literally.

"Mercedes?"

"Yes?"

"How long should I stare at these?"

"You can stop Professor." Mercedes murmurs. "Incidentally… how long have you been doing that?"

"When was breakfast?"

It's almost dinner time. "Oh dear…"

###

"I don't want to know, I don't want to know, I don't want to know." Ferdinand chants to himself when he sees the Professor pinning Ignatz to the floor. "I don't want to know, but I should intervene."

Reluctantly, he approaches the two.

"Professor, I must protest such treatment of a student." Ferdinand says loudly. "You cannot simply shove Ignatz to the ground without a good reason!"

"I have a good reason." Byelth responds flatly. "I was told to 'pin him down' because no one can find him by Seteth."

"I was just painting!" Ignatz yelps.

"Professor, 'pin him down' just means 'find him'." Ferdinand coughs. "Not literally pinning him down."

"I see." He turns his gaze to the boy and pokes him in the forehead. "Found you."

Ignatz swallows thickly and Ferdinand sighs. This went about as well as he expected.

###

"I am fine." Byleth insists. He sounds absolutely unconvincing with his hoarse voice and red eyes.

"No, you are sick." Mercedes corrects. She's currently pulling him by the arms back to his room.

"I have to teach."

"You have to sleep." Mercedes corrects. "Everyone else agrees Professor."

"Seteth will complain."

"Once he is told that you are sick, he won't mind Professor."

"Showing that you are weakened puts you at risk… I cannot rest. I must continue my work so as to dissuade assailants."

"What assailants?" She asks patiently.

"Assassins." Byleth says with conviction.

"Professor…" Mercedes sighs. "What assassins would go after you rather than the archbishop?"

"Ones that don't like me."

The older girl sighs. "Honestly Professor, unless the assassin in your father's company- Acrim, correct? -suddenly develops a hatred of you, I think you are safe."

Byleth pouts, not agreeing, but he doesn't argue any further.

"How did you get sick so suddenly anyhow?" Mercedes murmurs. "What have you been doing the last few days?"

"I sparred with everyone yesterday and then stared at math questions, I went down the cliff to get some sleep root and rot berries the day before that, Flayn taught me hairstyles the same day, and I also fished in the lake-"

"So he exhausted himself several times in two days while still having to teach, spending time likely in a lake and climbing rocks where there are plenty of germs, and not getting enough sleep as usual." Mercedes surmises silently. "It's a wonder he didn't get sick sooner."

"-and I also fished the day before, and spent the day before that in the forest finding some herbs…" Byleth continues to recount.

"I get the idea Professor." Mercedes sighs. "I think we need to have a talk after you get better..."

"We always talk."

"I mean a discussion about your scheduling habits." Mercedes sighs. "But that will be later. For now, sleep."