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This Is Your Night

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Linhardt stood at the docks of the pond, watching the fish as they swam around, unknowing or uncaring of their eventual fate as someone's dinner. They almost felt jealous; the fish were unburdened by the fears and worries of humanity, the question of the bounds of acceptable and ethical research and what that meant for their current and future projects, the eternal question of existence and where one fit into it, the part one was supposed to play, only to discover that the script called for a Count and yet one wished to be--

Their musings were interrupted by the feeling of a hand landing on their shoulder. "Oh, Professor," Linhardt drawled, surprised they were back so soon. The Professor had come by earlier to say hello and catch up, and it was at that point that Linhardt had confided in them about their new perspective on ethical research. It was a bloody lesson to be sure, one that revealed the worst side of human nature, yet it was also one that they supposed was worth learning and considering such that they had never even thought that someone could value "progress" over a human's right to… well, be human. It was a somewhat sobering thought.

Such thoughts were dismissed from their mind, however, at the Professor's next words. "Linhardt, would you like to be the class representative in the White Heron Cup?"

All other thoughts screeched to a halt. "...Me?" came the eloquent response. "I know how to dance in theory, but…" the sentence trailed off, but what went unspoken still rang loud and clear: Why me?

The Professor sighed, shifting in place. "Well, for starters, it's another magic class that will allow you to apply yourself on the battlefield in ways that don't involve direct contact with an enemy." Linhardt appreciated that the words "wholesale murder" were not used, despite being a bit more accurate. The Professor continued, a little softer and quieter this time, "Additionally, I can't process your Certification Override Request to take the Gremory exam until you are qualified for it, but I hope that being a Dancer will be more… comfortable for you. Of course, you'll have to win the competition first, but..." This time it was the Professor's turn to let the words lie. Linhardt stared at them, parsing through the subtext. Caspar and the Professor were the only ones that Linhardt had discussed their gender identity with, and it was clear that the Professor thought this new role would fit Linhardt better than any of the other gender-neutral classes between Priest and Gremory. If nothing else, the sentiment was appreciated; there was nothing inherently wrong with the other classes, but none of them piqued Linhardt's interest and suited their skillset more than the exquisitely beautiful yet deadly powerful class of Gremory. If the Professor thought that Dancer, despite being a class that required (ugh) movement, would be best, then Linhardt was inclined to take their advice.

"I see," they replied, finally answering their Professor's request. "I accept. It may take some effort, but if I am going to enter, I may as well win."

The Professor smiled, a tiny little upturn of their mouth, but it was there. "Knowing you, I'm sure that you'll succeed. Now let's get some practice in."

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Practice went well enough, and Linhardt found that their body actually remembered most of the graceful, flowing moves borne from several years of mandatory dance classes, even if their mind could barely be bothered to supply the memories of their mentor's advice. Linhardt had probably slept through most of it, if they were being honest, but that seemed to not matter too much as it was all coming back to them. How strange it was; they'd used to abhor dancing, seeing it as a waste of precious energy, but practicing it now, Linhardt almost felt… energized. They compared it to running in fear from Ferdinand the other day; perhaps the occasional spot of exercise was good for one's health after all. Step, two three, step, two three… the simple waltz was a mindless godsend as Linhardt tuned out the music being provided in the background and let their feet wander, mind sharpening and honing in on the steps of the dance in twirling infinitium, only to be collected by a rather worried Caspar after the sun had gone down and they'd almost missed dinner entirely.

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How the dancing competition went so smoothly Linhardt would never know. All they knew was that it was their turn, and then it was over. Apparently, they had done spectacularly well; so well, in fact, that it had attracted the attention of just about everyone who had been watching the competition or milling about the hall. When their name was called, Linhardt allowed a rare smile to grace their face, the pride of a job well done bubbling up inside their stomach. What a good feeling it was to see things through! Perhaps they should thank the Professor for this opportunity; it was rare that any hobby or project kept Linhardt's interest for too long, but dance… well, dance seemed to resonate far more than expected. They would have to note the efficacy of their dances on the battlefield, to see how it correlated with personal satisfaction, teamwork, and overall effectiveness using their Priest experience as a baseline for observation--

"YO, that was great!" Caspar shouted in their ear, irrevocably shattering that train of thought. Linhardt sighed.

"Thank you, Caspar, although I would appreciate it more if you had just told me so instead of shouting at me."

"Oh, sorry. But hey, let's go! The ball's starting soon!"

Linhardt smiled again, shaking their head. They might be a Dancer now, but their energy still couldn't compete with Caspar's. "Go on ahead. The Professor needs to give me my Certificate and uniform."

"Gotcha! Don't take too long!" With that, Caspar sprinted away, leaving Linhardt to their lonesome as students and teachers filed out. Finally, the clack of boots on the polished wood floors heralded the arrival of the Professor, who was holding a neatly folded outfit (with accessories) and an elegant piece of paper.

"Here you are, Linhardt," they said, that elusive smile on their lips once again. "Take a look." Carefully, Linhardt unfolded the garment and couldn't hold back a gasp. It had clearly been custom made and fitted, tailored to their size, and even more than that, the look was sensually androgynous in a way that Linhardt had always desired but never felt able to obtain before coming to Garreg Mach. The color scheme wasn't great, but even so, it had boots and a slit and a scarf and dangly bits and--

"It's perfect," they whispered, words almost unheard in the immense stillness of the room but the Professor's nod revealed that they'd heard.

"I had hoped you would like it."

Linhardt clutched the outfit close. "I do. Very much so. Finally, I…" No more words came out, but none needed to be said. The Professor gently patted Linhardt's shoulder, handing them the rest of the items.

"Well done." With that, they walked away, presumably toward the ball, where they had already been warned that they were going to have several dance partners.

Linhardt continued standing there for a few more moments, slightly overwhelmed by the outfit and everything that came with it, until the breathless feeling finally loosened in their chest and they gave a great sigh. "Perhaps with this, even I can find my footing in a dance I thought everyone knew the steps to but me." With that, they refolded the outfit carefully, walking over to their room with a noticeable spring in their step. They hung it up in a place of honor in the closet of their room, actually bothering to organize the accessories, and headed for the ball, newly energized to see what the future had in store.