At age six, Byleth’s mother parts from the rest of the congregation and carries her down some steps. “You’re old enough now to join the other kids,” she tells her. Byleth only yawns, still sleepy from having to wake up so early. Usually, she sleeps right through church services while her mother pets her head, but it seems that simple reality is beginning to change. “You’ll get to do all sorts of fun things while you learn about Seiros and Cichol and Macuil...”
She continues to speak softly to Byleth until they come into a loud room. Other kids, some Byleth’s age and many older, running around or playing with toys. Byleth piques her head up in curiosity and examines the room. It’s brightly colored, with colored tiles lining the floor, just like her playroom at home. There are lots of tables with papers and pencils and crayons. There are even bookshelves and so many books. Byleth’s mother chuckles when she wiggles out of her arms and makes her way right over to a shelf.
“Sephia,” one of the other mothers, Byleth doesn’t remember, admonishes. “You’re still carrying her? She’s six!”
Byleth picks out a book she thinks looks interesting, something about saint Cichol, and walks back to her mother. Sephia puts a hand on Byleth’s head and pulls her close. “I’ll hold her as long as I’m able, Michelle. Is your Miklan joining the Sunday school this year as well?”
Byleth’s mother chats for a bit while Byleth reads. It’s a cute picture book, and she likes the way the artist drew Cichol. Lots of people portray him as older, but in this book he’s very young. Maybe this story takes place before he has Cethleann. Byleth is still a little too young to understand that the saints were real people who did real things and not just characters in stories who always have the same appearance.
“Hello, Mrs. Eisner,” a new voice calls. Byleth doesn’t pick her head up from her book.
“Ah, Seteth, hello. How have you been?”
“Very well. Will your daughter be joining us this year?”
That gets Byleth’s attention. She keeps the book open but raises her gaze. Sephia’s fingers run through Byleth’s hair. “She is! I’ve tried to get her excited, but I’m not certain she understands... Ah, well, you can see she loves to read. Perhaps if she doesn’t enjoy the lesson of the day, she can pick up a book.”
Byleth smiles, at least what constitutes a smile for her, and nods. The other figure, a boy much older than Byleth, chuckles. “If that’s what she’d prefer, we can work something out. As long as she’s learning.”
The man turns to her and smiles. He must be a full-grown adult, Byleth thinks. He’s like two Byleths tall probably. “Hello, Miss. My name is Seteth. I’m one of the assistant teachers. I’m very pleased to meet you. What’s your name?”
Byleth holds her book to her chest, as if to use it as a shield from the stranger. “Byleth.”
Sephia smiles. “She’s not much for talking, Seteth. Actually, she doesn’t usually introduce herself. That was very good, By-By.” Byleth hides her smile in her book and Sephia ruffles her hair. “By-By, I’m going to go rejoin the congregation, okay? Will you be alright if I leave you with Seteth?” Byleth nods and Sephia bends down to leave a kiss on the top of her head before leaving.
Byleth steps forward and grasps the edge of Seteth’s sleeve. He seems a bit perturbed at first but then smiles at her. “You may stay at my side, Miss Byleth, but I may need to reach for things, so please do not grab my sleeve.” She lets go and he nods at her. “Thank you.”
She follows him for the rest of the morning. Someone else would be annoyed, and maybe Seteth is, but he puts up with it well. If Byleth gets in his way, he gently guides her away or asks her to move. When she gets distracted from the activity, he guides her back or lets her read for a few moments before returning. This isn’t his first time working with children after all. Byleth finds that she enjoys his company quite a bit.
When Sephia comes to pick her back up, Byleth is drawing a picture while Seteth describes a story to her.
“—and Mother Hen shared her bread with all the other animals, in the end. Oh, Miss Byleth, your mother is back.”
Byleth quickly finishes coloring her drawing before running to her mother, paper and crayons in hand. She thrusts the paper up, and Sephia happily takes it. “What’s this?”
Blobs of color, mostly, but Sephia knows her daughter’s artwork. Those are animals and a barn. “From the story,” Byleth says. “Mother Hen needed help with her bread.”
“Ah.” Sephia smiles at Seteth and brings Byleth back to the table. “Put the crayons back, baby, they belong to the church.” Byleth does, and then Sephia hums as she looks at the picture. “I think this belongs on our fridge, though. Your father will be quite pleased with it.”
She smiles at Seteth and ruffles Byleth’s hair. “Thank you for watching her, Seteth. I hope she was good for you.”
He nods. “She was very well behaved.” Especially compared to some of the other children. There are always troublemakers, and there are always children like Byleth, content to go with the flow. Seteth looks at her and gives Byleth a soft smile. “Will I be seeing you again next Sunday, Miss Byleth?”
She nods, and they leave. Next Sunday, she does see him again. She sees him every Sunday for two years.
The day grad school feels really real is when she wakes up and realizes that she has to teach a class that morning. She isn’t just grading a test or random assignments. She has an entire class of freshmen all to herself. Sure, it’s just an introduction class, but it’s her introduction class. These students are calling her ‘Professor’. Relying on her to guide them through this class.
Her nerves die a little when her phone pings and she sees a dumb dad meme her father sends her. You’re gonna do great, he tells her. He’s always been her rock. She doesn’t know what she’d do without him.
She packs up her laptop, makes some quick toast, and heads out. She lives close to campus and even with the cloud cover, the weather is nice. So she walks her way to her first lecture of the day. It’s early. Nine in the morning, then she has her own class to attend at ten, then office hours until noon, and then finishing the day with one last grad class. Since she’s still the graduate student equivalent of a baby, she’s only teaching one class. The fact that she’s teaching a class at all is miraculous because she really shouldn’t be. The only reason she is is that she did so many grad classes early. That’s one of the perks of doing your undergraduate and your graduate degrees at the same school. She’s a bit of an enigma.
When she steps into her lecture hall, there’s already someone at the front. She’s afraid she’s gotten the room wrong, but as she double-checks the room number she remembers Hanneman telling her there was a class the hour before hers. Ah, well.
She makes her way to the podium to set her things up after the other professor leaves, but she stops in her tracks. She curses herself because her damned heart skips a beat and she doesn’t know why at first. The other professor is young, probably a few years older than her, and certainly she doesn’t think he’s attractive. That can’t be why.
A glance at the room’s whiteboard gives Byleth her answer. She recognizes him, that’s all. “Seteth?”
The man — and now he is truly, actually a man — looks up at her. Goddess, his hair is long and he’s got a beard. “Yes?”
Oh, no. He doesn’t recognize her, does he? Well, that’s to be expected. She was basically a baby when he last saw her.
“Ah,” She stutters. She’s never stuttered. She’s embarrassed. He must think she’s one of his students.
He blinks at her, then cocks his head to the side and offers a smile. “You’re... Sephia Eisner’s daughter, aren’t you? I’m sorry, I didn’t recognize you there for a moment.”
She shakes her head, her panic washed away with relief. “Byleth Eisner, yes. And I was eight when you last saw me so I’m surprised you remember me even with a moment to think about it.”
He chuckles and Byleth’s heart flutters again. “Well, you left a fair impression on me. Are you a student here? I didn’t see your name on my roster.”
“Yes,” she says. “But I’m actually teaching my own class here in a few minutes. I’m Dr. Essar’s graduate student, and I was approved to do an intro to physical anthropology class this semester.”
He slings his laptop bag over his shoulder and hums. “That’s impressive. Hanneman doesn’t usually take on graduate students.”
Byleth shrugs. “My dad put in a good word for me.”
“Ah, he did teach here, didn’t he?” Seteth reaches up to grasp the strap of his bag, and Byleth notices something gleam on his finger. A wedding ring.
Her heart drops, and she’s more ashamed of that than of when it skipped a beat earlier.
“I won’t keep you from your students,” Seteth says. He nods to her and heads to the door. “We should keep in touch, though. Perhaps Hanneman will allow you to join our faculty game nights.” He waves to her, and she waves back.
“He’s told me about them. I don’t know if I want to come.” That makes him laugh, which makes Byleth feel better. He’s always had a nice laugh. “Have a good day, Seteth.”
“You as well, Miss Eisner."
It doesn’t occur to her until after she’s set up her laptop to begin class that she didn’t even realize Seteth taught at this university. She’s been here for four years, attended classes in multiple schools. Surely at some point she would have bumped into him, heard about him? Unless he only teaches graduate classes? She has no idea, and suddenly she has never been less interested in physical anthropology in her entire life.