Class starts as usual. Byleth reads the entirety of her lecture off a single index card. After a while, she grows bored of her lecture and starts talking about swords instead. Petra has no problem with this. Bernadetta pays attention as best she can. She idly doodles along the margins of her notebook while she listens. Linhardt sits beside her, half asleep. His head bobs as he fights off sleep. He is not winning.
“You’ll be working in groups for this project,” Byleth says, reading off her notes.
“We’re what?” Bernadetta quivers, nearly snapping her pencil in half.
“Working in groups.” Linhardt clarifies for her.
“I don’t wanna do that. No one wants to work with me.”
“I mean, I will.” Linhardt shrugs. “Don’t worry about it.”
Bernadetta feels a brief moment of solace. She lets out a sigh of relief.
“I’ll be choosing the groups for you.” Byleth states.
All hope is lost. Bernadetta freezes in fear as her mind goes through everything that will go wrong. What if she gets Caspar? He’s so loud. Or Ferdinand. He’s nice, but also loud and enthusiastic to the point it’s scary. Hubert is… Hubert. Bernadetta gets a shiver down her spine just thinking about him. The possibility of pairing with Edelgard is equally terrifying. This is what hell feels like. Why did she allow herself to leave her room today?
Byleth pulls her from her nightmare. “Bernadetta, you’ll be paired with Marianne.”
“Marianne?” Bernadetta was not expecting that.
“Marianne?” Linhardt has a confused look on his face. He turns around to search for the mysterious girl. “Isn’t she in Golden Deer?”
Bernadetta spots a timid Marianne sitting in the back of the classroom. When did she get here? No one seems to question it further. They continue class as normal. Byleth names off more pairings.
After everyone is paired off, they move to sit next to their respective partner. Marianne walks over to Bernadetta’s table quietly.
“Hello, Bernadetta.” Her voice is so quiet, the girl can barely hear it. “I believe we are partners for this project. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry. I’m just surprised. I didn’t know you were in my class.” Bernadetta pulls a chair out for the girl. “You can sit down.”
“Oh. Yes. Sorry.” Marianne quickly takes a seat. She grips tight to the fabric of her dress. “I joined the Black Eagles about a month ago. Byleth asked me to join. I should have told you.”
“A month?” Bernadetta blinks at her. She never noticed. Did anyone notice? “I’m sorry. I should’ve welcomed you earlier.”
“It’s okay. I’m not very noticeable. It’s for the best.”
Bernadetta has no idea what to say. This conversation has been a trainwreck from the beginning. “Well, let’s, uh, do some work. It’ll be fun maybe.”
Anything to distract from the awkwardness between them.
Marianne nods. “That’s a good idea.”
They work quietly. Few words pass between them. Occasionally, one asks a question for clarification, then they return to their silence. Bernadetta works extra hard. It distracts her from the awkwardness between them, and she would hate to slack on a group project and make Marianne hate her forever. She wants to say something, but words fail her. Maybe Marianne already hates her. It only makes sense. They’re gonna fail this project.
Much to her relief, the bell rings, and class is over. A group of students surround Byleth’s desk to ask questions. The rest quickly file out, having better things to do. The weekend is finally upon them. Bernadetta slips out unnoticed. Marianne does the same.
“I’ll see you later.” Bernadetta bids the girl goodbye.
“Oh, uh. I wouldn’t suggest it, but I can’t stop you. Goodbye.” Marianne rushes off in a hurry.
Linhardt lets out a loud yawn. “Finally, class is over. What’s up with Marianne? Usually you’re the one running away scared.”
“I didn’t scare her!”
“Bernie, I’m sorry to say it, but you’re the least scary person I know, and that includes Edelgard. However, it seems something has her bothered. I doubt it’s your fault.”
“I think it is my fault. I mess up everything I touch.”
“What did you do while I was gone?”
“I tried talking to her, and she didn’t seem to like me.” The girl sighs. “I don’t know what to do.”
“Try finding an interesting subject.” He taps his chin in thought. “Ask her about her crest. That’s what I would do. In fact, I don’t believe I know what her crest is. I would be curious to find out.”
“I would rather talk about something like baking or cute cats.”
“Then do that.” He shrugs. It’s good advice, but hard to put into practice. Talking is… difficult to say the least.
“But that’s hard!”
“Then don’t do that.”
“But I wanna talk to her.”
“I’m sure you’ll figure something out,” Linhardt says, “If anything, you’ll have to talk about the project.”
Class, as usual, is nerve-racking. Bernadetta uses all her strength to show up. Of course, Linhardt did not. He is probably asleep in the library. Bernadetta panics when she sees him missing. She looks for an isolated seat toward the back. Her gaze falls to Marianne. Bernadetta takes a deep breath and sits next to her. The girl jumps in surprise when she sits down.
“Oh, hi, Bernadetta.”
“Hello, Marianne.” Bernadetta tries to smile, but her nervousness gets the better of her. Her heart beats out of her chest. This is much harder than it seems.
“You don’t have to sit with me if you don’t want to.” Marianne mumbles. “Go sit with your friends.”
“I, uh, don’t really have friends.” The other girl admits. “It would be nice to have another.”
Marianne looks at her confused. “You do not want to be friends with me.”
“I do.” Bernadetta fumbles for the right words. She grows more nervous. “We’re partners right? We can be friends too. If y-you want to of course. I’m not gonna force you.”
“That could be nice, I guess.”
Bernadetta searches for anything else to say. What did she talk about with Linhardt yesterday? Oh. Of course. “Do you like cats?”
This peaks Marianne’s interest. Her shoulders relax a bit. “I do. I love cats. Actually, I like all animals.”
Finally, something to talk about. “What about bunnies?”
“Bunnies are cute.”
“I like to draw them in my sketchbook if you wanna see.” Bernadetta pulls her sketchbook out of her bag to show her.
Right as they’re getting somewhere, Byleth walks in, shattering any progress they just made. Both girls snap to attention. The lecture begins.
After class, the two leave together. Bernadetta gathers the courage to say anything. She misses her chance. Marianne is already gone. Bernadetta walks back to her dorm alone.
Bernadetta enjoys the weekends. It means she has no obligations to leave her room. She sleeps in until her eyes cannot stand to be closed any longer. With nothing better to do, she decides to stay in bed and write. She lies on her stomach and scribbles in an empty notebook.
Hours pass by. Soon, the sun starts to set. Shadows start to stretch across her room. Bernadetta suddenly realizes how much time has passed. Her stomach growls from lack of attention. She forgot to eat again. She really needs to get out of the habit. However, eating requires leaving her room. That is terrifying. Bernadetta spends half an hour weighing the benefits of eating versus staying in her room. Her love of food eventually drags her out for a brief moment.
A long line stands in the way of her goal. She can barely find the strength to place herself at the end. Her mind runs through every scenario of obtaining food. It should be easy, just walk up, ask for the main dish, eat, and leave. Of course, it is never that easy. Anything could go wrong. She plays through the scenario over and over in her mind. She recites exactly what she is going to say as the line shrinks in front of her.
Nothing goes wrong. She gets her food and huddles in the back away from everyone else. As much as she loves food, she has trouble enjoying it. Her stomach grumbles. She idly pokes at her meal.
Bernadetta jumps. She looks up to see Marianne.
“Oh, hi, Marianne. What are you doing here?”
“Me too.” She tries to laugh it off. Of course, she’s eating. Why did she ask that? She scolds herself in her head.
“Do you mind if I sit here?”
“Not at all!” Bernadetta scooches over to make sure the girl has enough room to sit down.
As soon as the girl takes a seat, neither of them speak. An awkward silence hangs between them. Bernadetta tries to think of anything to say. She wants to talk, but cannot bring herself to say anything. She finishes her meal quickly and heads back to her room. Marianne does the same.
The rest of the weekend goes by as normal. Bernadetta hides in her room. Occasionally, someone knocks at the door, leaving either a glass of water or a baked treat. She knows the professor likes to do this to lure her out of her room, but she does need to remember to eat. She finishes off her muffin and goes back to sleep.
As the weekend comes to an end, Bernadetta regrets wasting it sleeping. Yet, at the same time, she has nothing better to do. Maybe working on the project would’ve been a good idea. Whoops.
The morning sun glares at her through the window. Bernadetta opens her eyes and lets out a sigh. She does not want to go to class; she never does. However, she has an obligation to Marianne. She refuses to let the girl fail because she has no energy to attend class.
To her surprise, Bernadetta spots Linhardt already in class. He lies face down at the table. Bernadetta slips into the seat next to him.
“Huh? What?” Linhardt suddenly sits up. “Oh, it’s just you. Good morning, Bernadetta.”
“Were you asleep?” She asks.
“Maybe. I’m not quite sure.”
“Did you sleep at all last night?”
“Why would I do that?”
“So you… nevermind. I’m just glad you’re here.”
His eyes focus on something behind him. “Ah, what a surprise.”
Bernadetta turns around to come face to face with Marianne. The girl looks about as tired as Linhardt, if not more. Dark circles hang under her eyes. She looks like a ghost.
“A-are you okay?”
“I’m fine. Just couldn’t sleep.” She slumps into her seat.
Byleth walks in soon after, and class begins. Today, she keeps the lecture short so they can all go straight to the training room. They separate into sparring partners. One by one, everyone pairs off. Bernadetta finds herself too scared to ask anyone at all. Of course, the obvious choice is Linhardt, but he magically disappeared on the way to the training room.
“Uh, Bernadetta, could we be partners please?” Marianne asks, her voice almost a whisper. “It’s okay if you don’t want to be.”
Bernadetta almost does not hear her. “You want to be my partner? I’m not good to train with. I have weak arms.”
“I have weak everything.”
“There’s nothing wrong with that. It means you’re stronger in other places.”
Before more self-depreciation bounces between the two of them, Byleth walks over holding a training bow. She holds it out to Marianne. “Here. Use this.”
“What?” The bow sits awkwardly in Marianne’s hands.
“Try learning bow today. Bernadetta is one of the strongest archers I know. Full of potential.”
“Me?” Bernadetta squeaks. She cannot believe her ears.
“When you put your mind to it, you can rival Claude.” The professor nods. “And you still have so much potential.”
Byleth nods and walks away. The two girls look at each other in confusion.
Bernadetta clears her throat. “Well, I guess we should, uh, practice.”
“I don’t know anything about bows,” Marianne says quietly.
“I’ll teach you. I think.” The girl positions her bow to set an example. “It’s not too hard. Just hold your arm straight like this.”
Marianne tries to copy her.
“Maybe we should put an arrow in first.” Bernadetta pulls one from her quiver. “You just put the arrow on the shelf. That’s this part sticking out right here.”
After a few minutes of instruction, it comes time to actually shoot. Bernadetta shoots first. She squints at her target, slightly tilting her bow to the side. She releases, and the arrow shoots into the target in front of her. It lands close to the middle.
“That was a good shot.”
Bernadetta smiles. “Thank you. You can try next.”
Marianne looks visibly nervous. Her hands shake slightly as she nocks her arrow. She lets out a squeal as she lets go of the string. The arrow shoots forward, landing in the wall behind the target.
She sighs. “I’m terrible at this. I should stop now.”
“No. Just try it again.” Bernadetta attempts to encourage her. “If we stop, the professor will come over and talk to us.”
“You’re right. I suppose it’s better than getting talked to.”
“Try keeping your eyes open when you’re shooting. It makes it easier to aim.”
“Oh, sorry. I’ll try..”
They practice for a while longer. Luckily for them, Byleth stays away from them. Occasionally, she wanders past. Bernadetta can feel her eyes on her, but she never says anything. Marianne loads her bow again. This time, she manages to hit the target.
“Woah.” She does a double-take. Her bow falls to the floor.
“That was really good.” Bernadetta smiles at her.
“Really? It’s not even close to the center.”
“It's an improvement from what I’ve been seeing today.” Byleth sneaks up behind them. She manages to catch both girls by surprise. “I don’t know if the wall can handle many more critical hits like that.”
“I’m sorry. I’ll clean them up.” Marianne apologizes profusely.
“Don’t worry about it. This is all a part of training,” Byleth says, “But I still do expect you to clean up after yourselves when you’re done here.”
“We will, professor.” Marianne squeaks.
Bernadetta leaves class exhausted. She feels overwhelmed from all the activity with her classmates. Lectures are fine; she can comfortably sit in the back where no one looks and quietly take notes. Training is different. Training period means exercise and loud noises and people. Bernadetta does not enjoy any of those. Neither does Marianne. She seems just as anxious as her. Bernadetta searches for anything to say. She wishes Linhardt was there to help her. She lets out a deep breath. At least it is over.
“Thank you for helping me earlier,” Marianne says suddenly.
“Oh, uh, you’re welcome.” Bernadetta answers, thrown off by the girl even talking to her.
“Will I see you tomorrow?”
“Probably not.” The girl turns and walks away.
“Wait, Marianne!” Bernadetta won’t let her run away again.
Marianne stops and looks back. “What is it?”
“Do you have any plans for later?” Bernadetta asks timidly.
The other girl shakes her head. “I’m just going to sit in my room and stare at the wall. Maybe read a book.”
“I was gonna do the same thing. Would you like to do that… together maybe?” Bernadetta plays with the sleeves of her hoodie. “It’s okay if you don’t want to, I’m not fun to hang out with.”
“We could walk together to the dorms.”
“Really?” The answer comes as a surprise.
“Yes. I like to detour to see my favorite cats.”
“Who’s your favorite?” Bernadetta wonders. “I like the fat calico who hangs out in the merchant area. She always purrs when I pet her.”
“I like the black one who hangs out by the docks. I think he’s taken a liking to Byleth. I often see them sitting at the edge of the dock fishing together.”
They wander about campus together, looking for their cat friends. They find themselves in the stables. Marianne lights up when she sees a familiar face.
“I see Lulu took a trip to the stables today.” She runs over excitedly to a grey striped cat. It meows at her.
“You give them names?” Bernadetta asks.
“Yes. I gave all of them names.”
“And you remember them all?”
“Of course I do.”
Bernadetta points to a fat orange cat. “What did you name him?”
“Garfield? What kind of name is that?”
Marianne shrugs. “It just felt right for him.”
“I like it.”
After a long detour, they finally arrive at their destination. Marianne stands awkwardly in the doorway.
“That was fun, Bernadetta. We should do that again sometime,” she says quietly, She plays with the fabric of her dress.
“Well, we should probably work on our project before it’s due. Maybe we could go to the library tomorrow? Unless you’re busy, of course. I would understand.” Bernadetta suggests.
“That would be nice.” A fleeting smile appears on Marianne’s face. Bernadetta almost misses it. “I’m never busy anyway.”
“I’ll see you tomorrow, then?”
As soon as the door closes, Bernadetta squeals with joy. She can barely contain her excitement as she skips down the hallway toward her own dorm. She jumps onto her bed and hugs her pillow.
“I have a friend!” She cheers for herself. “And she wants to hang out with me!”