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Let Me Not Name It To You, You Chaste Stars

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Hubert lingered at the side of the reception hall, obscured from the golden candlelight by the black shadow of the drapes. He ate nothing, and drank nothing. He hadn’t even intended to appear at the Officer Academy’s grand ball. There was far too much work to be done on Lady Edelgard’s behalf, and much of the monastery would be mercifully empty with the festivities as a distraction.

But with Monica, or rather, with Kronya around…

As temporarily necessary as he and Lady Edelgard considered their allies from beneath the earth to be, Hubert suspected that they were each waiting for the moment their goals were achieved to destroy the other. Given that neither he nor Lady Edelgard knew what Kronya was here to achieve, it would have been remiss of him to leave Lady Edelgard without his protection on a night when she was so exposed. The incident at Remire had made it clear just how much of their so-called allies’ plans were outside of even Hubert’s knowledge or control.

But tonight, Kronya was nowhere to be seen.

The Black Eagles had been taking turns dancing with each other. Byleth, their begrudging chaperone, filled the unevenness in their numbers that Hubert’s absence from the ballroom floor caused. He had danced only once, with Lady Edelgard, during the single dance Byleth had shared with her father. The rest of the evening, Hubert spent in observation. Watching the doorways, the rest of the crowd, searching for suspicious movements.

As always, the most suspicious movements that Hubert found himself drawn to were those of their own Professor.

Byleth did not dance as he might have anticipated. He had expected her to have to rely on her mercenary pragmatism to guide her through a tradition of movement she had no reason to have been familiar with before this month. But her movements on the dancefloor were more than precise. As rich and fluid as her movements with a blade, an able match for Dorothea’s years of experience.

Hubert thought he had almost gotten used to her in their daily lives at the Officer’s Academy. Almost. Pragmatic discussions of strategy in the classroom, surrounded by his peers. Silently sparring in the training grounds long into the evening, and passing each other in the library at midnight. Hubert wouldn’t have described that illusion of familiarity as comforting, necessarily, but... after months of studying her, Byleth’s ability to continue to defy his assumptions was as frustrating as ever. There was always more to discover, and the part of him that Hubert called curiosity would not rest until he knew her entirely, until he had autopsied every obscurity of her mind.

Especially after Remire.

He was intimately familiar with her deadly dispassion, the mercenary pragmatism that spoke to his own life as a servant, a shadow-dweller. But he hadn’t considered just how much more dangerous a foe she could be when her heart beat in time with a cause. If she were to turn that passion for justice and revenge towards Lady Edelgard’s cause, if he and Byleth could work in tandem as Lady Edelgard’s ruthless champions...

No. The Professor would make a perfect ally, indeed. But she was not his ally, and he should not let down his guard in regards to her until Lady Edelgard had lain her cause bare to the world, and Byleth had let her allegiance be known. It irritated him, the capability for complacency he had discovered within himself. The flights of wistfulness regarding her, their most dangerous ambiguity, that he was finding it easier and easier to fall into. It took effort to keep his mind strong against the threat of her trust, in a way that he need not persuade himself with others. He told himself it was because she was a mystery. He knew the precise ways in which any of their classmates might choose to betray them, but her

In the tiring endlessness of his work, he could not afford to stop watching.

He turned his mind, his attentions, back to Lady Edelgard. Presently, she was dancing badly with Ferdinand von Aegir, the obnoxious noble attempting to outmanoeuvre his future Emperor in a manner that swung them out of time with the rest of the pairs.

Lady Edelgard did not look particularly impressed.

Hubert allowed himself a private chuckle from his hiding spot. The cluster of students loitering by the nearest food-laden table turned their heads in alarm, and found an excuse to move away from him.

Mercifully for Lady Edelgard, the song came to an end. The band laid up their instruments, calling a brief break. The night was half way through. He spotted Linhardt and Bernadetta taking the opportunity to leave, and suspected they wouldn’t be the only ones. In the Empire, whether under his father’s guidance or on Lady Edelgard’s behalf, Hubert did not attend balls without some secondary goal. Without such a purpose, he found that celebrations such as these tended to drag on.

Dorothea and Ferdinand joined him at the newly-vacated table, Caspar and Petra not far behind. Lady Edelgard and Byleth both remained out in the crowd. Hubert looked past his chattering classmates to watch them. Prince Dimitri was speaking to Lady Edelgard, bowing stiffly. Byleth seemed to stare into space. He wondered, was she looking for the same disturbances as him?

“It is a noble’s duty to dance, you know,” Ferdinand said. He gestured behind him with a gloved hand. “If Edelgard is to dance with the Prince of Faerghus, our numbers will be uneven. You would be denying one of our fair companions a partner.”

“I rarely dance,” Hubert replied tersely, eyes snapping to Ferdinand.

“Poor Hubie,” Dorothea sighed, joining Hubert against the wall. “What agonies you must be suffering. No partner in the room handsome enough to gift with your presence.”

She sighed again, her eyes indicating towards Byleth. The idea that he had a lovesick schoolboy’s interest in her had been a refrain of their classmates ever since the unfortunate escapade where he had attempted to use Byleth’s birthday as an excuse to interrogate them for information on her.

They considered it their expertly unearthed secret, Hubert’s one weakness.

He had no desire to encourage them, but if they were willing to pry at such falsehoods rather than his underhanded work on Lady Edelgard’s behalf… he had decided it would do less harm to ignore them than to inflame their suspicions with denials, however truthful.

“You mistake me, Dorothea,” Hubert replied. “I simply do not enjoy it.”

“What will you do when you marry, Hubie?” Dorothea asked. “Will your betrothed be refused a dance with their husband?”

At the table nearby, Petra was showing Caspar how to crack the shell from a crab with her bare hands.

“I do not intend to marry unless Lady Edelgard deems it politically useful,” Hubert replied. It was a truth he didn’t regret revealing. His classmates were less irritating when he occasionally threw them a clue to an imagined mystery, and it should be no surprise to them that he would put Lady Edelgard’s needs above all else.

“How charming, that you get to choose,” Dorothea commented.

“So, would you dance if Edelgard deemed it useful?” Ferdinand asked.

Hubert grimaced as Ferdinand, without waiting for his answer, turned to call Lady Edelgard over.

She seemed relieved to be freed from Prince Dimitri’s attempts at cordial conversation. Hubert could see that something about it had distressed her. Was it the Prince of Faerghus that Hubert should have been watching…? It had been foolish, perhaps, to dismiss him, this man who seemed to Hubert as if his greatest achievement would be to become the guileless puppet of someone who possessed a vision of their own. Prince Dimitri had disturbed Lady Edelgard before. He called me El, Hubert. Nobody has called me that, not for a long time. Perhaps he was capable of more.

“Edelgard, do you not agree that the future Count Vestra would be abandoning his duty if he were to refuse to partake in the ball this evening?” Ferdinand asked.

Lady Edelgard turned her exasperated eyes towards him.

“You need not answer him, Lady Edelgard,” Hubert said. “It is a petty concern, and far beneath you.”

“Do you as you please, Hubert,” Lady Edelgard replied. “But remember that after we leave the Academy, we will have less opportunity for truly peaceful events. I can handle this evening without your supervision. Perhaps it would be best for you to make pleasant memories, while you can.”

The band began to stir again. Lady Edelgard returned to Prince Dimitri. Dorothea took Caspar’s hand, and Ferdinand took Petra’s.

Across the hall, Hubert met Byleth’s dark, glassy eyes as she stood alone.

He did nothing. And she did nothing.

Byleth only turned away when Claude von Riegan, of all people, interrupted to offer his hand. She shook her head politely, and after he walked away, she turned and left the room.

Lady Edelgard had insisted she could handle this evening on her own. Of all people apart from himself, she was the only one Hubert would trust to know her own safety. With no sign of suspicious movement, there was nothing else that needed his attention here.

But their Professor. Where she might be going and who she might be meeting with… now, that was worth knowing.

Hubert left the ballroom, a silent shadow slinking along the walls, and followed her outside.

---

The Goddess Tower stood, silver stone and black ivy in the moonlight. Byleth wasn’t in the cathedral, only Marianne. The tower remained the last place she could have gone, from seeing that she had crossed the bridge.

Perhaps she had come here as a professor, to deter foolish pairs of students from eloping to the tower. Or perhaps she was here for some other purpose entirely. If he hadn’t seen Kronya at the ball… from the fact that Byleth also carried the Crest of Flames, he couldn’t discount that they could be working together. That Byleth and Jeralt might be of their kind… it was a possibility he couldn’t ignore.

Regardless of the danger he may find, Hubert crept into the shadowed doorway, the barred gate already ajar. Byleth wasn’t in the entranceway, and nor was any other interloper. Hubert began to climb the stairs.

And as he climbed, it occurred to him that perhaps she wasn’t here to deter foolish lovers at all. Perhaps she was here for a rendezvous of her own.

Hubert recognised that it was irrational to find himself feeling them both equal in the horror, the idea that he would catch Byleth conspiring with Kronya and the idea that he would catch her in some salacious entanglement, but... he did. It disturbed him, somehow.

The idea that Byleth was involved in the calamity at Remire, that her flash of righteous anger had been just as much an act as her friendships with her students… that would be one of the worst outcomes Hubert could conceive of. Worse than her simply being a mortal who would be loyal to the church. But it was the kind of evil he was prepared to deal with. The idea that this other side of hers was merely mundane…

He had truly thought they were similar. A pair of undercurrents, slipping beneath the illusions of Fódlan’s glistening surface. If her deepest passions were something so ordinary, and yet so unknown to him…

It was the slight to his pride that made that idea painful to him, perhaps. The idea that for all he had been searching for schemes and secrets, for all he had been unable to find any confidante of hers amongst the students, it was a simple knight or merchant from the adjoining village that she was concealing from them. One with whom she opened her heart and complained about her student’s strange foibles.

A life apart from Lady Edelgard’s world, and from his.

It would make sense. She was certainly… not without admirers. He found himself straining to listen whenever her name passed the lips of even the most unremarkable student. For every fledgling noble dubious of her dishevelled appearance and strange manner, there was another swearing a shallow declaration of devotion to her. Both strands of gossips withered beneath Hubert’s cold glare.

To love was not within the realm of possibility for Hubert. He lived only for Lady Edelgard. And beyond that… he knew what he was. His appearance was repulsive, and his deeds even more so. If mundane romance was possible for Byleth Eisner, if she was offered some pleasure and took it, unaware that the world was on the brink of Lady Edelgard’s revolution… well, it would not be unusual for someone to do such a thing.

Hubert peered through the doorway. He would satisfy his need for knowledge, whatever the answer was. But there was no Kronya, and no knightly lover either.

Her face sickly pale against her dark hair in this moonlight, Byleth stood alone. The room at the top of the Goddess Tower seemed vast around her, the creeping plants and crumbling stonework enveloping her in lonely decay.

And Hubert had not been quiet enough.

She turned with silent grace, her hand alighting on the black and red lacquer hilt of the knife she wore at her waist. Even on a night such as tonight, she carried a blade. Hubert did too, of course.

“Oh, it’s you,” Byleth said evenly. To his surprise, her grip on the knife relaxed. A foolish decision, frankly. “Do you need something?”

“Your disappearance from the ball did not go unnoticed,” Hubert said. “I thought it best to ensure that you were not up to anything… troublesome.”

“I came here because it’s quiet,” she replied. “I found the ball… tiring.”

“Really,” Hubert said flatly. An explanation so simple, so plausible...

He strode towards the arched stone window, still refusing to turn his back on Byleth, and leaned against the grate. From her manner… she was almost at ease, unless this was some further act. She may still be working with Kronya. He could not yet rule that out. But he suspected that was not why she was here tonight.

“I’m not sure what you find so unbelievable, Hubert,” Byleth replied, peering up at him. Even so close, he was no more able to read her.

If she was not here for Kronya… unless he was to take her at her word, it must have been for that other reason. He could not let himself fall into the trap of believing her.

“I’m sure someone so… close to her students as yourself cannot have missed the rumours,” Hubert replied. “The ridiculous superstition that this tower is a place where lovers make wishes that fate will not allow to be broken.”

“Is that why you’re here?” Byleth asked.

Hubert scoffed. “I am not the type to attract admirers. You, however, are another matter.” He leaned closer. She was, as always, unmoved by intimidation.

“You are mistaken,” she replied, her eyes darting back to the window. “I am not so admired as you seem to think.”

Hubert found it difficult to believe her words. Her talents were obvious. Surely someone with a more romantic disposition than he would have expressed some admiration of them.

He found himself wondering how she would behave. With an admirer, a confessor, a lover.

“I concede that I can imagine a scenario where none would be brave enough to approach you, irrespective of their regard for you,” Hubert muttered. “It is not flattery with which I suggest that few here consider themselves your equal.”

He thought he saw the shadow of something. An emotion, or the pretence of one. He imagined he had been noticing them more, as of late. As if her anger at Remire had been so great that it had cracked her still mask.

Would she be so vulnerable, with a lover? A killer’s knowledge of his body’s weak and sensitive lines, her fingers gently precise, a quivering kiss as soft as death. Or would she move as she did when she was fighting for her life? Pinning him as easily as when they sparred; shoving, grabbing, twisting. Her grip firm, her hungry breath panting against his throat.

Hubert could feel the beat of his heart quickening, as if he’d been poisoned. Hubert was not sure at what point his imagination decided to insert himself as her object in these scenarios. He did not find the images... unpleasant. He truly, truly wished that he did.

“I am used to being difficult to approach,” Byleth said distantly.

He did not imagine that she looked lonely. He did not imagine that he might feel the same. That she was not the only one lacking in confidantes. That perhaps it would be… beneficial, to have an ally with whom to share the plans that Lady Edelgard need not be burdened with. A right hand, where he was her left. An equal.

“Indeed, the only people who have no trouble approaching me are the ones who consider me a threat.”

Hubert allowed himself to smirk at that.

She was more of a threat than she could imagine. The Sword of the Creator and its wielder, cunning strategist and brilliant warrior, would be a threat to Lady Edelgard’s ambitions if they faced her as a general of their enemy, yes. But the way he was drawn towards her… it could be he who ruined everything, if he didn’t take care to push her away. He could not afford to trust her, not as so crucial a point. There was a reason that House Vestra laboured alone.

“Then their cowardice is my gain,” Hubert said. “Though I suspect I am a poor substitute for a visitor with a more romantic disposition.”

A hint of a smile threatened at the edge of Byleth’s mouth. “If you were here with one of your classmates, I know what you would wish for. Or for who.” And then her expression fell serious. She turned to face him, hand against the edge of the window. “There is little trust between us. You have reminded me of that enough. But the way you look for threats to Edelgard in every shadow…”

Hubert’s expression fell still. Byleth’s studying eyes would find no crack.

“I ask as her teacher, Hubert. I want all of my students to be safe. Is there some reason, beyond the normal risks of her position, that you think she is in danger?”

The muscles in Hubert’s neck tensed as he swallowed. His wistful opportunity presented itself, free of the… mistaken emotions that had intruded upon his imagination. An ally that he could enlist against Kronya’s people, and any moves they might make on Lady Edelgard, if he chose to trust her.

But trust, he reminded himself, was not in his nature. Or, presently, in his interests. He could not yet rule out that she could be working with them, or that she wouldn’t simply run straight to Rhea.

“I have already told you about Lord Arundel’s betrayal of Lady Edelgard’s father,” Hubert said carefully. “I think it is only natural that I be wary of any further action from those who may be displeased with the little power the Emperor retains.”

“I suppose not,” Byleth replied, apparently satisfied. If she was indeed a true ally, then he would lose nothing from turning her upon Ludwig von Aegir for a few weeks.

Hubert took a step back towards the door, and dropped into a bow. He would leave, then, before he changed his mind.

“Until tomorrow, Professor.”

As she turned from the starlit window, her face turned to shadow. “Until tomorrow, then.”