Manuela had been saying it for months: she and Byleth desperately needed to have a ladies night. No boys, no students, just them, perhaps Catherine and Shamir if they’d wanted to come, and a barrel full of wine. Catherine had seemed to want to go (if only to prove she could drink Shamir under the table), but of course, circumstances always seemed to get in the way.
The circumstances this time around were decidedly more tragic—Jeralt’s passing was weighing heavily on Byleth. Everyone could see it, especially Byleth’s poor students. Dorothea had approached Manuela with her concerns, and nobody came to Manuela with concerns of any kind. As much as she’d like them to, it just never came to pass. She tried not to think so hard about it.
All of this together meant, of course, that ladies night could no longer be postponed. Manuela would have to insist upon it. She waited what she presumed was an appropriate amount of time, and then a few days more for the weekend. It was Friday night, neither of them had any work to do (and if they had, Hanneman had promised to take care of it. Or, at least, he told Byleth he’d help her, and Manuela’s students would just have to understand that certain things came first, like the needs of a good friend,) and Maneula was ready to help Byleth drown her sorrows. That was the only sensible thing to do with grief—ignore it until it went away. It hadn’t worked for Manuela’s messes yet, but maybe it would soon.
“Byleth,” she said, voice sing song, “Sweetheart, I have a request!” She’d cornered Byleth after her lessons, because she knew that after they were done, Byleth would probably be off to the pond to do some more fishing. That girl was always fishing—Manuela didn’t see the appeal, but to each their own.
Byleth turned to face Manuela, and met her eyes. She didn’t offer any words; but Byleth was a woman of few words in the first place. You always knew Byleth was paying attention to you by the way she first met your gaze. If her eyes wandered, it wasn’t a sign she was ignoring you, far from it—it was more than likely that Byleth was thinking over what you were saying very deeply.
Satisfied that Byleth had heard her, Manuela continued. “Well, I was thinking—you know we had planned to have ladies night with Cat and Shamir ages and ages ago, and, well, they’re out of town and all, but, what I was thinking was that, perhaps, you and I could…?”
Byleth raised an eyebrow. She didn’t say anything, but the question was apparent.
“Have a ladies night, of course! I won’t take no for an answer, darling, I know you need some time to just relax, and if anyone around this monastery knows about relaxing, it’s me. What do you say?”
Byleth took a moment to think. It seemed she was always thinking carefully through her words, trying to figure out the most amiable thing to say, or if she wasn’t saying something that would be agreeable, she’d say the funniest possible thing. It made it hard to keep track of the real Byleth, but Manuela felt, through their months of friendship, that she’d begun to piece it together. Or maybe she hadn’t, and she was just fooling herself, but she still liked Byleth quite a lot.
It didn’t hurt that Byleth had kept flirting with Manuela either. Manuela wasn’t sure when Byleth first showed up how she’d act. Byleth defied all expectations since her first day here, so when Manuela found out that Byleth also had sapphic tendencies, she almost wasn’t surprised. Flirting came naturally to Manuela, and Byleth responding in turn felt nice. It made it easy to be friends.
“Sure,” Byleth said, simply.
“Oh, perfect!” Manuela said. “I’ll bring the wine, if you don’t mind us hanging out in your room? My room is—well.”
“A wreck,” Byleth said.
“Yes,” Manuela agreed. “But I’m working on it.”
“Mm,” Byleth nodded.
“Good, then. I’ll be at your room around 9, does that sound okay?”
Byleth nodded once more. The deal was done, and ladies night was set.
“Alright! See you then, Byleth!” Manuela smiled a winning smile as she headed back to her room. She’d have to get ready, of course, find something comfortable and casual but not her every day wear, and then makeup—she didn’t want to show up looking gaudy, it was ladies night for the goddess’ sake, but she also didn’t want to look haggard. Should she bring a face mask? What exactly was it one did at ladies night? She brought along a revitalizing one she’d gotten from the merchants for good measure, along with a few bottles of wine. Not cheap stuff either, the death of a parent called for something of quality. She tried not to dwell so much on Jeralt’s passing, it’d only bring the mood down. Still there were things about how he died that nagged at her—a physician’s mind never stopped turning.
Ugh, get it together, Manuela, she thought, staring into the mirror. She took off her eyeshadow from the day, but left the mascara. No point in going out if your lashes weren’t reaching to the heavens! For her outfit, she picked something sufficiently casual—certainly not date night wear, but not teacher wear either.
By the time she felt satisfied, it was already 9pm. She was going to be a little late, but she was always late. It was probably fine. She left her room, things in tow, and walked her way to Byleth’s personal dormitory.
“Byleth, darling, it’s Manuela,” she said, with a dainty knock on Byleth’s door. Byleth opened it, and waved her in. Manuela grinned as she entered her room, and handed a glass to her. She took in the surroundings—fairly standard. Byleth didn’t keep too many personal effects around, but that was alright. Manuela’s personal effects were strewn about all over the damned place, so who was she to judge? The quarters were awfully tight too. Did they really only give her a twin bed? How unfair. Manuela spent a few moments lamenting the fact that she hadn’t bothered to clean her room, still, even though she had time to do it and should have done it. At least her bed was roomy, they could sit on it together reading trashy magazines or something.
But there was no time for that. Byleth looked a little nervous—did she not share this space often? Manuela worried that she was intruding.
“Well, here,” she said, breaking the little silence that was pooling between them. “Wine. And good stuff, too, I brought a few reds and a few whites because I wasn’t sure what you preferred.”
“Red,” Byleth answered easily.
“A woman of sophistication! I’m a white wine girl myself, but we can start with red.” Manuela cracked the bottle open, and poured Byleth a healthy glass. “I brought a face mask too. We can gossip and chat about whatever you want!”
“Mm,” Byleth said. She took a sip of the wine.
“No, please, drink more! There’s plenty where that came from, I assure you.” Manuela poured her own glass, and gave it a hearty gulp. Perhaps it was unladylike, but they were both women, so at least she didn’t have to worry about Byleth judging her for things like that. Judgement wasn’t Byleth’s style. Byleth had even once told Manuela about something Hanneman had told her—a direct quote about the five second rule. Hanneman had found it gross, but Byleth was on her side on the issue. The five second rule was very real, as a physician she had determined it to be so. Plus it prevented food waste, so all in all, it was a win. The point being, that Byleth didn’t judge, and so she didn’t have to worry so much.
Byleth gave her a look, but sipped more, until they were at an even amount of wine. Manuela snorted. “Trying to keep up with me? Good luck, Byleth.”
Byleth took her glass, and gulped down even more.
“...You know what? I like your spirit.” Manuela mirrored her actions. They were caught in this loop, each one mirroring the other, until their glasses were both empty. Manuela refilled them, laughing all the while. It really wasn’t as bad as she worried it might be. She was worried that perhaps Byleth would want to talk about Jeralt, or wallow in her sadness, but instead she was content to just indulge in the usual gossip. The courtyard couple, the last few dates Manuela had gone on, which of their students were dating, the usual stuff.
“You know, ” Manuela said. She’d lost track of the number of glasses the either of them had, but they had already gone through at least two bottles. “I’m a physician, right?”
“Right,” Byleth responded.
“Right. Well, the thing about it is that—until I met you, I had never ever experienced someone without a heartbeat.”
Byleth laughs at that. “I’m an oddity, Professor.”
“Goddess, just call me Manuela.” She reaches for the bottle, pours a little more into either of their glasses. “Anyways. I was so shocked I didn’t believe it. I’d half considered just asking to listen to your heartbeat when I found out!”
Byleth looked at her, head tilted to the side. Manuela knew her faces well enough to know that this one meant why didn’t you?
“Well, you can’t just ask your new coworker if you can try to listen to their non-existent heartbeat.”
“Why not now,” Byleth asked.
“Why not now!” Manuela said. “You know? Why not now? ...I didn’t bring my equipment.”
“You have ears, you know.” Byleth teased.
“I do have ears. Would you mind terribly if I listened? I love medical mysteries.” Manuela looked at Byleth.
Byleth shrugged. She got into a comfortable position, leaning against the wall her bed was next to. “If you don’t mind just using your ears, I don’t mind you trying to listen.”
“Good. Okay, well, keep in mind I’m a doctor and this is all very professional and such and I’m not trying to do anything untoward,” Manuela said, with a little giggle.
“I do have to lean in and press my ear against your chest, Byleth.” Manuela moved closer to her. “You can tell me no! I just want to confirm it.”
“It doesn’t make me uncomfortable,” Byleth said. She made the same face she always makes. Manuela took that as a good sign, and moved close to Byleth. She leaned down, and pressed her ear to Byleth’s chest.
It wasn’t as if she hadn’t noticed before. You’d have to be blind not to, really. Everyone knew that Byleth’s chest was a little more than ample. It was inappropriate to think about it too hard, which Manuela tried not to—she did wonder, distantly, how she managed to pull off all of those spectacular sword moves with that kind of weight on her chest; but she carried herself so well despite of it, or perhaps even because of it. Manuela didn’t bother running while she was in school because of her own breasts, so she admired Byleth for sticking to it. That was besides the point—now, face to face with Byleth’s breasts, she was noticing something within herself. Manuela had to come to terms with the fact that, yes, she did actually find Byleth quite attractive, and yes, the thought was crossing her mind that it might feel very good to kiss her right now.
She’d kissed her fair share of women. She’d even played the male lead in a few plays growing up—that nets you plenty of experience kissing women. But she hit a certain age and all of a sudden her life just revolved around men; when was she going to date a man, find a man to settle down with, pick someone who could provide for her and take care of her, and how she had better do it soon because her biological clock was ticking. Girls weren’t part of the picture, even if she had wanted them to be, because there were just things a woman was expected to do in modern society. But here, now, this close to Byleth, the heat of her skin next to her face, all of those old wants and desires resurfaced.
Byleth was pretty. Byleth was nice. She didn’t mind that Manuela was messy. She was even handsome, really, in her own way. She didn’t go running like all of her last dates, no, in fact she stuck by Manuela despite seeing her at her worst. She was chivalrous, caring, smart… and if Byleth were a man, Manuela probably would have already asked her out on a proper date.
All of these thoughts, however, were distracting her from the task at hand. Get a grip, Manuela, she thought, for all you know, you could be twice her age!
She certainly didn’t feel like she was. Byleth was, what, 25? And Manuela was barely in her 30s. That wouldn’t be inappropriate, really. They were colleagues, after all, kissing your colleague is probably fine. Manuela thought that should have asked Jeralt how old Byleth was, and now it was too late, and she was already doing this.
Justifications weren’t going to help her right now. Task at hand, she thought urgently, Listen for her heartbeat! She pressed her ear against Byleth’s chest. She waited. Byleth was warm, living and breathing, but her heart—her heart…
“Well I’ll be damned,” Manuela said. “No heartbeat.”
“How in the world…” Manuela murmured.
“You’re asking the wrong person,” Byleth said.
“You’re just full of mysteries, aren’t you, Byleth?” Manuela, with great hesitation, pulled away from Byleth’s chest. This seemed to Manuela to be a mistake, however, because now the two of them were face to face, on Byleth’s bed, each of them full of wine.
Manuela knew herself. When she drank a lot, she wanted nothing more than to kiss someone else. This is why most of her dates went really well, until the point where they got to her room or Manuela said something stupid, and then her dates would run away. But Byleth was different. For one thing, they weren’t in Manuela’s room. They were in Byleth’s room. And Byleth had heard Manuela say every stupid thing in the book! She wasn’t the type to run screaming from anything, not demonic beasts, and certainly not a beautiful woman. At least, Manuela hoped not.
A tense silence was yet again growing between the two of them. Was Byleth feeling the same? Manuela searched her face to find purchase, anything to hold onto that would tell her what she was thinking.
“I might be a little drunk,” Manuela said, in an attempt to stop this from happening.
“Me too,” Byleth said. And then, most surprisingly of all, Byleth reached out to touch Manuela’s shoulder. She placed her hand firmly there. “You look like you’re going to tip over any second.”
“Do I?” Manuela asked. “Suppose that’s why they call it tipsy, then.”
And Byleth did something unexpected. She laughed. Manuela was always trying to get Byleth to laugh—she had a wonderful laugh, the kind of laugh that made other people start giggling despite themselves. It was always hard fought, but when Manuela managed to get Byleth laughing, she felt a deep sense of accomplishment. She’d done what few could do, she was skilled in her own right! She hadn’t even been trying that time, and Byleth still laughed. Manuela couldn’t help herself, she began laughing too.
“Byleth,” she said, mouth moving faster than her brain, “You have the most wonderful laugh. Have I ever told you that?”
Byleth shook her head, still at the tail end of her giggles.
“Well it’s true. Some day, some lucky knight is going to sweep you off your feet and hear that wonderful laugh for the rest of their life!” Manuela reached out and tapped the tip of Byleth’s nose.
“Oh, I don’t know about that,” Byleth said.
“What do you mean?” Manuela said. “You’re plenty attractive, I mean, you’d have to be blind not to notice. Men or women, they all think you’re gorgeous. Plus; you have a great personality, you’re cleanly, you can cook and fish and fight? You’re the complete package!”
Byleth snorted, then shook her head.
“Don’t be modest,” Manuela said. She readjusted her position so she was no longer just staring directly at Byleth. That position was dangerous. Instead she moved so she could be shoulder to shoulder with the woman, the both of them leaning against the wall together.
“I’m not… trying to be modest,” she said. Byleth needed some time to think out what she was going to say, but Manuela assumed the wine was making it a slog. Still, she waited patiently for Byleth to finish her thought. “It’s more like… I haven’t…”
Manuela’s eyes widened. “You haven’t dated anyone?”
“I’m a mercenary, and I’ve only ever lived with my dad. We mostly fought, and beyond that…”
Manuela grimaced. “Oh, no. Oh, Byleth, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to be insensitive, this night was supposed to help you forget your troubles, I—”
“It’s okay,” Byleth said, and she patted Manuela’s leg, which was pressed up next to hers. “I think lack of experience doesn’t translate to expertise in the field. Especially not with romance.”
Manuela blinked. She had an idea. A really good idea. “We could practice.”
“Hmm?” Byleth tilted her head to the side, quizzical.
“No, hear me out. You need romance experience, I need someone to tell me what I’m doing wrong with my dates. It’s a win-win for both of us! Please say yes, it’ll be so much fun.”
An amused smile began to grow on Byleth’s face, and after a little bit, she nodded. “Yes,” she said, emphatically.
Manuela clapped, giddy. “Oh, it’s going to be so fun, Byleth. We could even try double dating with Catherine and Shamir when they come back! As practice, of course. Those kinds of situations can be so tough, it’s best to get your training done early.”
Byleth nodded. “Does this count as our first date?”
“ Does this count?” Manuela furrowed her eyebrows. Now that was a thinker. If anything it felt more like a third date, an invitation to the other’s home to have some drinks, relax and—well. Manuela looked over to Byleth, who hadn’t yet moved her hand from Manuela’s leg.
Now wait a goddess damned minute, she thought, is Byleth flirting with me?
She turned her head to look more closely at Byleth, who turned at the exact same time. They met eyes—Byleth had that unreadable half smile on her face, the one that was always so distractingly cute. Maybe this was just some kind of joke, one that Manuela didn’t understand.
“Maybe?” Manuela said. “If it were, I probably would have kissed you by now.”
Too honest, Manuela, dial it back, she thought.
“Should we practice that, too?”
Practice kissing. Goddess help me, we’re really in it now. Her thoughts were as slow as molasses, so she just started talking.
“Should we? I mean, if you want to… It might be helpful.”
Byleth grinned. Manuela was hyper aware of Byleth’s hand on her leg—no, her thigh, really. She didn’t move, so Manuela didn’t either.
“...Are you teasing me?” Manuela asked, finally.
Byleth tilted her head to the side. “Maybe.”
“Teasing your senior colleague isn’t right,” Manuela said. She bit her lip. She knew her eyes were going to wander; they were already wandering across Byleth’s outfit, her legs in those stupid tights that she somehow managed to pull off. Nobody but Byleth could do that; she could probably wear a big stupid oversized collar and would still look like the most gorgeous thing in the room.
“You aren’t senior,” said Byleth. “Aren’t you 28?”
“Stop flattering me,” Manuela said.
“It’s not flattery, it’s a guess.” Byleth squeezed the hand resting on Manuela’s thigh. This was absolutely flirting, it had to be. Unless Manuela was misreading the signs and everything that was happening was just a platonic girl friends kind of thing. It had happened to Manuela before. She’d have to tread lightly.
“We should… decide what we’re going to do for our actual first pretend date,” Manuela said, a little quickly. “This probably isn’t one, since we just now came up with the idea.”
“True,” Byleth said. “What do you usually do for dates?”
“Mm,” Manuela hummed, thinking. It was very, very hard to think. “I go to town, typically, have dinner… Usually the knights pay, but if it’s us, we should split it.”
“I could pay first, and then you could pay for the next one.”
Manuela nodded. “Whatever you think is fair, Byleth, I’m not picky.”
Byleth giggled a little. She leaned over, resting her head on Manuela’s shoulder.
“...This is fun,” she finally said, after a tiny moment of silence.
“It is, isn’t it? I like spending time with you,” Manuela said.
“Dates should be fun too,” Byleth said. She was humming, softly, rubbing her cheek against the bare skin of Manuela’s shoulder. “You’re so soft.”
“And you’re drunk,” Manuela said, with a snort.
“You too,” Byleth said. “Can we hold hands?”
Manuela smiled, fondly. “You’ll have to let go of my thigh if you want to hold my hand, you know.”
Byleth thought it over, until she finally let go and intertwined her fingers with Manuela’s. “There,” she said.
Somehow this felt more intimate. The monastery was quiet at night, Manuela could hear crickets chirping outside but not much else. They stayed like this for a little while, until Manuela could hear Byleth’s breathing slow and become more and more rhythmic. She’d fallen asleep on Manuela. She looked Byleth over—she had a tiny smile on, fingers still laced with Manuela’s.
I should leave, she thought. I definitely should leave. But she didn’t want to. She sat there, debating with herself, listing the pros and cons. She felt frozen. It was hard, when her brain decided it didn’t want to do something. Often times it would be something arbitrary; but this felt pointed. Her brain slowed and slowed, the wine weighing heavily, until—
Ding, ding, ding. The monastery’s bells were chiming, birds were chirping, it seemed to be quite a lovely day outside. Manuela only woke up because the sunlight was directly in her eyes, streaming into the room with no thought for those who might be currently very hungover.
This isn’t my room, she thought, and then noticed the weight of Byleth’s arms around her, and the fact that Byleth was resting her head on Manuela’s chest. Oh dear Goddess. You’re in big trouble now, Manuela.