Word count: 2200 (3 to 17 minutes) | Rating: G | Fire Emblem: Three Houses | Characters: Hubert von Vestra and Byleth Eisner (Huleth)
The professor should have said no. It would have been wise. Someone with more charm would be better suited to represent the Black Eagles in the White Heron Cup. True, he would be in the student uniform for the competition, and he only had to concern himself with the dancer attire in the rare and unlikely event that he won. But it would be ordeal enough to be paraded about a dance floor to demonstrate skills he developed only as much as was strictly necessary. For the courtly duties associated with his rank, Hubert was capable of dancing without injuring his partner inadvertently and little else.
Yet the professor was adamant that he be their representative. If Hubert were to be honest with himself, he didn’t offer much resistance. He even agreed to practice with instruction from the professor in the same sunny field as the other White Heron representatives. Had it been left up to him, he could list at least three secure and private locations where he might make a fool of himself without commentary from his peers at Garreg Mach. Somehow, he recommended not one of them and instead walked from his quarters to the agreed upon location for dance practice as instructed.
“To think I’d be rehearsing dance moves, of all things,” Hubert said in lieu of a more standard greeting, joining Byleth by the small field neighboring the hall where the White Heron Ball would be hosted. He remained unsure how to feel about being witnessed in such a frivolous practice, but… He agreed to shoulder this burden. A shame that the pressure of giving orders in combat did nothing to prepare one for scrutiny, real and imagined, from other students. The one convenience was that the grounds were unseasonably warm for winter.
“You must have some advice, Professor?”
“Slight stretching will help if you’ve been still for a long time.” He had just been studying in his quarters, in a manner of speaking. What he was researching was not for any class Garreg Mach would dare to host, but it was a study session nonetheless. He would call it uncanny insight if it wasn’t so reasonable an assumption for her to make of his habits. “Watch and learn.”
Bending into a partial lunge, she raised her hands palm out and nodded to him.
Ah. He was to mirror her, then. Surely, he could do that much.
Hubert planted one foot behind him as Byleth had and bent his knee somewhat as he did so. More than the professor, of course, given she was shorter than him. His gloved hands met some resistance in hers to mimic the communicative resistance found in partner dancing. Not that any student on the field had someone dancing with them.
She watched him, something unknown hidden in the recesses of her cerulean eyes. He felt strongly that this suggested duality within her nature was one he could not trust, but also one that intrigued him. What did Lady Edelgard see in their professor that he could not place? There had to be value there to encourage her interest. It wouldn’t be the first circumstance where Edelgard sensed something more acutely than Hubert had, and it was the not knowing that was proving to be a source of frustration for him.
“The other foot now,” Byleth noted, and they both stood to switch with innate synchronization.
Irritated though Hubert might be, he had to admit that they coordinated well. That contributed to his unease at times, in fact. Few understood him well no matter how much time they were granted to do so. To be so clearly read in less than a year after their first meeting… Hubert frowned.
“Don’t overthink it.” An absence of expression made his professor rather difficult to read. To make matters worse, an especially unhelpful layer of sweat had gathered in the palm of his glove. The way the human body reacted to social stress for maximum inefficiency both mystified and exasperated Hubert. Did he not have enough to consider as it was? He corrected his expression to neutrality even so.
“I will be sure to reflect on that.”
After a few repetitions, they ended their stretches so as to avoid doing too much before he was limber enough not to risk injury. Hubert aimed to avoid a tragic accident during the contest, not arrange for one during the much-needed lessons. However tempting it might be when he considered dancing in front of the judges alongside Lorenz and Mercedes.
“Very good. Ready to start?”
“I know I agreed to do what I can,” Hubert ventured, suddenly plagued by the old ghosts of self-consciousness more common in his childhood. He looked out at his other practicing classmates and reasoned he could be no worse than any of them. Feasibly. “But I must warn you that my dancing skills are rudimentary. I learned only what was required of me as a noble.”
That extent of knowledge was only right. Lady Edelgard could not be seen with an incompetent servant in any regard.
With no notable inflection or shift in her stare once he did glance back to her, Hubert had no way to know what she meant by that. He knew well that her selection of him as the White Heron contestant wasn’t due to no one else desiring the role—Ferdinand was practically making pamphlets to plead for his aspirations—but Hubert never put stock in the idea that she might have true faith in his ability to excel here. With his eyebrows raised, he had no option but to ask for more information from Byleth.
“Mages need dexterity to cast spells. It’s not so different with dance.” The explanation she offered was logically sound. Hubert had no objection to it, and she evidently took that silence as agreement. Stepping back to observe from the stone path beside the field, the professor gestured for him to begin his rehearsal. “Practice the steps you know.”
Hubert took a deep breath and raised his arms to the proper placement: one hand poised as if holding another’s in it and the other, resting at the imaginary shoulder blade of his partner. He felt distinctly ridiculous. Years of training in extracting information from unwilling sources and striking fear into the hearts of adversaries by mere name made for a poor foundation in warding off this brand of anxiety. Drawing up his posture, he stepped out with a solid position for his foot and trailed the other with practiced routine. Not artful, perhaps, but workable. It was all he needed for the time being. Dipping his imagined partner, he bent one knee and straightened the other. All while feeling her gaze on him as surely as if the Luna spell loomed over him.
That smothering stare added to how strangely difficult the mock dance was while staring at patches of grass and gravel. Particularly so as other students also carried out their dance steps to best represent their classes. Or simply to be part of the experience, he supposed, for those students who went through the motions alone. Two nosy children in his peripheral stood by the professor and watched him as well, leaving Hubert with an audience of three that made the hair on his neck stand up from the observation.
When he straightened again, he met Byleth’s eyes and furrowed his brow. She looked as steady as ever—yet he felt an unspoken understanding had been conveyed.
“Would a partner help you get the hang of this, Hubert?”
“Yes, undoubtedly,” he answered without hesitation or realizing his mistake until she stepped into the place of that imagined person.
He had to adjust his pose. She was 24 centimeters shorter than him, although approximately the same height as the person he imagined. A fact he didn’t care to introspect on too closely. Her hand slipped into his with as much effortlessness as his hand fit against her shoulder blade beneath her cape. Why his hand had guided itself under that layer, he could only wonder at. Meanwhile, the tension in his chest clamped down for entirely separate reasons from beforehand.
Hubert futilely wished those children would be called away to their tasks by whoever they worked for at Garreg Mach.
Before anything so merciful could take place, Byleth put her hand on his shoulder. He had his cue to begin the dance anew. His pulse pounded in his temples but memory through repetition came to his rescue. Having a dance partner did smooth out his process as well. His steps were crisper, and the need to direct his professor with light pressure between their clasped hands and against her back gave him a purpose to center his focus on. One that was not the distinct magnetism of a partner who moved with him more smoothly than any other noble he had been forced to endure at various Imperial celebrations.
Her voice nearly startled him on account of being so mired in thought himself. And here Hubert was recently warned not to overthink matters. They went into another turn—he decided against the dip in light of his inability to remain unaffected—as he formed his miserable excuse of an answer.
“I deliver better results in my work that way.”
“Stay out of your head,” Byleth cut to the quick of the situation and he scowled once again. What ever became of that legendary ability to conceal his innermost thoughts? They stood in the starting position of the dance by chance with Hubert thinking only of the various places they touched.
Now, at 20 years old, he was fixated on the closeness to someone he found maddeningly compelling. Like he was nothing more than a fickle teenager ruled by his whims. As he let out another impatient sigh, the professor did afford him a shadow of a smile.
“Father once said a dance is a conversation.”
“Did he now?” In his skepticism was the implication that choice of wording was unusual for a seasoned former captain in the Knights of Seiros and hardened mercenary.
“He was drunk.”
“How illuminating.” That did get a smirk from him. It did sound markedly more like the severely indebted Blade Breaker, leaving staggering unpaid balances at taverns in his wake. Alois truly needed to leave this grown man to handle his own issues.
“I think he had a point,” Byleth returned to the subject she had in mind. He may finally have lost any semblance of control of his faculties, but he swore he could see an almost indistinguishable trace of pink to her cheeks. “Talk with me.”
He swallowed thickly and began wordlessly. Hubert could not speak. There was no telling what he might say, if anything, were he to try. Where prolonged eye contact would normally be something to weaponize against an unwanted presence near Lady Edelgard, there was an unplaceable comfort and intimacy to it between himself and the professor. One that stayed his heart at last despite the riots breaking out in his mind.
Every logical argument he’d employed against trusting the professor buckled under the overwhelming strength of their instinctive synergy. He had absolutely no capacity to prevent himself from lowering her into the dip that time, layered hair brushing past her shoulders to give him a clear view of the white buttoned collar against a slender, scarred neck. By archer’s bow or unfortunate mishap, he could not know without confessing to the lingering stare she must have noticed.
The professor’s astute perceptions of him all but guaranteed he had been discovered. Yet she did not object or appear horrified. Hubert did not have the advantage of her insight and therefore, had no knowledge on her reaction whatsoever. The reasons that did not sit well with him were admittedly not what they should have been. He longed to know not solely for greater security or intelligence on their enigmatic professor. No, he wished to know merely because it was her.
In the moment they straightened to their starting pose again, the dance was finished and his opportunity, gone. She removed her hand from his and he suppressed the twinge of regret as he withdrew his own hands to hang uselessly at his side. Leaving her gauntleted hand on his shoulder, Byleth gave it an affirming squeeze Hubert had not expected.
“I enjoyed our chat.”
He blinked. The chat? It was shameful, honestly, how long it took him to realize she referred to the ‘talk’ that was their dance. Worse, to have it sink in what she must have heard from him if her father’s description of a dance was at all accurate.
“Yes. Yes, I—” Hubert stalled, feeling warmth rising to his cheeks as the final curse against him and this entirely unbelievable circumstance he found himself in. Clearing his throat in a failed recovery, he cast his eyes to the grass at their feet and gave one iota of honesty. There would be no disguising it no matter what the tactical choice might be. “As did I.”
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