"So tell me again, Professor," asked Seteth, "why it is that you need an Officers Academy uniform in your size?"
Byleth sighed. If she didn't know better, she'd have sworn that Seteth was dragging this out deliberately to torment her.
"Well, it's kind of a long story, honestly. I guess it all started when Linhardt arrived late to my class about a month ago..."
"Linhardt, you're late. Again," said Byleth.
"Sorry" mumbled Linhardt, "I slept in. Again."
"Again? You only transfered to my class two weeks ago and this is the fifth time you've been late. I'm starting to see why Professor Hanneman was so willing to let you transfer. Are you certain that you're not ill? If you need to go to the infirmary, that can be arranged."
"No, no. It's like I told you before. Not ill, just sleepy."
Byleth shook her head in exasperation. "I still don't understand how anyone can sleep that much. But at least you're here now. Though I also see that you're not wearing your uniform."
"That is correct, Professor," replied Linhardt, matter-of-factly. "The uniform is impractical. With the time it would have taken me to put on, I would have been even later."
"Be that as it may, wearing the uniform is one of the rules for all students here at Garreg Mach. And I note that everyone else in class has theirs on." Byleth paused as she noticed a hand go up across the classroom. "Yes, Dimitri?"
"With respect, Professor, that's not like you at all," said Dimitri. "You've taught us not to just blindly follow rules because they are rules, but to always look for the underlying reasons behind them. Maybe wearing the uniforms would feel less onerous if we knew why we wearing them."
"Onerous? Is that how you feel about them?"
Dimitri nodded. "Yes, Professor."
"And how about the rest of you?" Byleth asked the rest of the class, and was met with a chorus of agreement. "Well, in that case, everyone put your books away, and Linhardt, come take your seat. We're going to be taking a break from studying the light cavalry tactics of King Loog, and look at uniforms instead."
Half an hour later, the blackboard was filled with notes about the positives and negatives of the academy uniforms:
|Identifies students to each other (Annette)||Time consuming (Linhardt)|
|Identifies students to outsiders (Mercedes)||Stifles individuality (Hilda)|
|Everyone is treated the same, regardless of background (Dimitri)||Uncomfortable (Felix)|
|Helps build unity and togetherness (Dedue)||Restricted movement (especially the skirt) makes training harder (Ingrid)|
|Helps build discipline (Ingrid)|
"OK," said Byleth. "I think that covers just about everything. Any questions? Yes, Sylvain?"
"I get it now, Professor. I do. The uniforms give us a sense of unity and help us build discipline. But there's one thing I still don't get. If they're so great and all, why don't you wear one too?"
Byleth nodded. She had figured this question would come up eventually and had been thinking how she was going to answer. "Truthfully? It's because I already possess the required discipline, whereas you lot" – she gestured to the class – "have not. As Linhardt has so ably demonstrated today."
"Oooh, I know!" said Annette. "That means that all we need to do is show that we're as disciplined as you are, Professor, and then we wouldn't have to wear the uniform either! Isn't that right?"
"Better than that," said Sylvain with a wide grin, "if we can show that we're more disciplined than the Professor then she should have to wear a uniform instead. I'd sure like to see her—"
Before he could finish his thought, Ingrid punched him in the arm to shut him up. "Notwithstanding Sylvain's comments, I do think Annette's idea has merit. It could be like a project for us, an extra reason for us to strive towards discipline. What do you say, Professor?"
"Hmmmm." Byleth paused for a moment to consider. This wasn't a direction she'd expected, and now she was on the spot. "I'm not sure. Make me a suggestion, tell me what you're willing to do to prove yourselves, and I'll say if it's acceptable." At least that would give her more time to think.
"OK, everyone!" said Dimitri. "You heard the Professor. How do we demonstrate our discipline?"
"I suppose we would have to commit to not being late to class any more," said Linhardt through a barely-stifled yawn.
"Or late for training either, obviously," added Felix.
"Or anything else," said Dedue. "That would include our chores and duties, as well as all our written assignments."
"Though we'd still have to do them well," said Ashe. "We couldn't just rush things and do them sloppily to make sure we're on time."
"And to show that we're united, we're all in this together," said Mercedes. "Either we all succeed or we all fail. That way we have to support each other and help each other out."
When it was clear that nobody else had anything to add, Dimitri turned back to address Byleth. "That's our proposal, Professor. If we commit to this, will you relax the uniform regulations for us?"
Despite herself, Byleth had to admit that she was impressed. Her students had come up with a sensible set of goals and had done so quickly. She could think of no reason to deny the request. "On month," she said. "If you can keep to those terms for a full month, then I will agree that uniforms are no longer needed. But it has to be all of you. If any of you don't want to participate just come and find me outside of class and I'll cancel the project. Anonymously, and without prejudice. And I hope I don't have to point out that you will only retain your privilege of choosing your own clothes for as long as your discipline in other areas continues. If you fall back into old habits, then normal rules will be reinstated."
"That's very reasonably," said Mercedes. "Thank you, Professor."
"Then we're agreed," said Dimitri. "We won't let you down."
"And what about you, Professor?" asked Hilda. "Are you going to commit to being more disciplined as well?"
"I already told you," replied Byleth. "I've already demonstrated my discipline. I have nothing to prove."
"But if we have something to lose if we slack off, shouldn't you as well? For solidarity?"
"I'm sorry, Hilda, but I fail to see the point. I have never been late to class. I never will be late to class. To imagine otherwise seems counterproductive."
"Oooh, that's great!" said Hilda, with a look on her face like butter wouldn't melt in her mouth. "If you're so confident, then you won't mind making a bet on it. If you are late to class, then you should have to wear our uniform as well. That way you're following the same rules as us."
Byleth sighed. "Fine. It's pointless, and it won't happen, but if it will make you drop it then I agree. If I'm ever late to class – which I won't be – then I'll adhere to the student uniform regulations for the rest of the year. Now, if that's everything, then I believe it's almost lunchtime. Have a good meal, everyone, and we'll meet back up here afterwards to carry on with King Loog."
To Byleth's great surprise, student discipline saw a vast improvement in the following month. Linhardt learned to schedule his sleep around classes, rather than in the middle of them, Hilda actually started to apply herself and proved to be remarkably insightful and quick witted, and Annette... well, Annette was still terribly clumsy, but she would always have a friend to help clear up any mess she made in good time. It was quickly becoming apparent that they were going to be able to meet their side of the bargain.
As for Byleth, she didn't even think about her side of things. Punctuality was so ingrained in her that it was a non-issue. And then her dizzy spells started.
"Please, Manuela, I'm fine," she tried to convince her colleague. "I just got a little woozy, that's all. I feel absolutely fine again now, and I have a class to teach."
"I'm sorry, but the answer is still no. You may feel fine, but I need you to stay in the infirmary and lie down for the rest of the day. Doctor's orders."
"I said 'doctor's orders'. Don't make me lock you in as well, because you know that I would."
Byleth sighed. She hated having being treated like an invalid, but there was no point arguing. In the infirmary, Manuela was undisputed master of her own domain, and not even Rhea would question her on matters of health-care and medicine. Her word was law, and if she said Byleth was staying put, then Byleth was staying put. Which meant she was going to miss teaching her class. Which meant that... well, shit.
She kept her face neutral, simply saying, "Fine, I'll comply. But can you go find Seteth for me? I have something I need to speak with him about."
"And that pretty much covers everything. Which is why I'm going to need an Officers Academy uniform. Two, if possible, so I have a spare for when one is being washed."
"I see," replied Seteth, stroking his beard in thought. "That is quite the pickle you've found yourself in. Although, you may not be aware of the depths of nuance of our uniform policy. While the Officers Academy itself is only about two hundred years old, the uniforms worn by the students are actually based on the much older traditional garb for supplicants at the monastery. We also have a bad habit of adding in new exceptions and sub-clauses to our policies when they are needed, but never removing them, so there are a vast range of uniform styles that are technically permissible. Why, a little over a century ago, there was an ascetic monk from Sreng who studied here and... I'm sorry, I can see that you are not interested in such details.
"Very well. We shall restrict ourselves to the most traditional form of the uniform. Your students would probably not be satisfied otherwise. I believe we should have at least one spare uniform in our stores that would be of your size. I shall see it delivered to your quarters before nightfall."
The following morning, Byleth dutifully found herself dressing in the uniform that Seteth had provided. The double-breasted top, short pleated skirt and knee-high white socks were not, she had to admit, what she would have chosen for herself, but they were the new reality of her life at the Academy. There was nothing to be gained by wishing it were not so, and she had every intention of making the outfit her own. She strode with purpose through the monastery to the classroom, where all her students were already waiting for her.
"OK, class!" she proclaimed, before anyone could comment. "I have three quick announcements before we get started today.
"First and foremost, you may all have heard by now that I collapsed while walking in the cloisters yesterday. This much is true, and I'd like to thank Hilda for carrying me to the infirmary. Thank you. However, you may also have heard that this is a symptom of some wider health issue and that I may be unable to continue teaching. This is entirely the work of the rumour mill, and I trust I have taught you all well enough to know not to listen to rumour. Professor Manuela found nothing wrong with me, and other than the one incident I am in perfect health.
"Secondly, you have doubtless all noticed what I am wearing. Despite it being through no fault of my own, I was not only late to yesterday's class, but I missed it entirely. I am a woman of my word, and I believe that is all I need to say on the issue.
"Third and finally, I want to commend you all for being good to your words as well, and making great strides forward in your responsibility and discipline. You should all be proud of yourselves, and from today until further notice, uniform regulations are lifted for all members of the Blue Lion house, and you are all permitted to wear loungewear throughout the monastery. Please remember this privilege can be rescinded at any time, should you fail to live up to the new standards you have set for yourselves.
"Now, with that out of the way, let's get class started. Today we're going to be covering the dangers of overconfidence."