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before we get much older

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Linhardt’s Friday so far had been a precise case study in exactly why they didn’t like to bother.

The one day they actually had the energy to pull themself to class was the same day Professor Byleth was teaching brawling, and as they paired off the students to practice and critique each other’s forms, they stuck Linhardt with Petra. While she was always pleasant conversation and never questioned their advice on her lance form, even though Linhardt never used a lance in battle themself , she was also painfully positive. She spent the entire class trying to cheer them into donning the training gauntlets and throwing a punch or two at the training dummy they shared. What was worse was that it had worked, but all they got to show for it was a sore pair of raw knuckles.

The problem with being the assigned class healer was that no one else was capable of healing even a minor injury. As the Black Eagles filed out of the training grounds for lunch, Linhardt could only grumble at the residual ache every time they moved the fingers on their right hand. That was their writing hand! Taking any notes for their research later would be just as annoying.

They complained as much during lunch. Daphnel Stew was one of their favorite meals the mess hall had to offer, and normally they’d be more than happy to just enjoy it in the company of Caspar and Dorothea as the two bickered like siblings (or so Linhardt assumed, considering they had none).

Dorothea replied to them through that smile she always put on when mocking the men she tried to date. “Oh, poor baby, you just need some more practice,” she teased. “I’m sure if you put your mind to it, you’d be a proper grappler in no time at all.”

“Yeah, Lin!” Caspar seemed to take her advice seriously. “That happens when you hold your hand wrong. I can show you how to throw a real punch!”

“Euch. No thank you,” they replied curtly. “The idea is to be as far away from a fight if it comes to that. Ideally there would be no fight at all.”

Caspar took his turn to protest, heaving a gruff sigh before sticking a spoonful of stew into his mouth and talking around it. "You're just making more work for me, then, if I gotta protect you the whole time."

Dorothea laughed. "Oh, Caspar, would you put me on that list? I'm just as frail as Lin, if not moreso!"

"Linhardt's not frail at all," Caspar shot back. "They're just --"

It was that moment that Professor Byleth stormed into the mess hall, slamming the door open with a flourish and ushering a limping Ferdinand inside. "There they are."

"Linhardt!" Ferdinand called.

Linhardt sank down on the bench. They considered the merits of allowing themself to slide all the way off, curling up into a ball, and pretending as though they weren't there at all. Caspar would most assuredly pull them up by the arm anyway, so ultimately it seemed like a whole lot of uncomfortable moving to be worth it at all.

"Hello, Ferdinand," they replied tersely as he and the professor made their way over to the table.

Linhardt grew paler and paler as the two neared. Who in their right mind would come into a dining hall looking like that ? They closed their eyes tight, covered their mouth politely, and swallowed their lunch for the second time.

"You realize it is lunch time , don't you? None of us signed up to see either of you covered in... Whatever that is." It looked like the sticky, thick ichor that oozed from the wounds of a demonic beast.

"You were the first healer that sprung to mind. I know you’d keep this ordeal discreet," Professor Byleth explained. "Ferdinand became overzealous and attempted to battle two demonic beasts at once."

The redhead cleared his throat. "Yes! Well. It was not my brightest moment, certainly, and my hubris was rewarded with this ankle injury. So, Linhardt, if you would be so kind as to help your fellow classmate out, I will gladly leave you in peace to properly clean this off."

Linhardt opened their eyes in order to fulfill Ferdinand’s request quickly. They never minded healing in the slightest — in a way, it was validating. They much preferred healing their friends than harming their enemies. And if they were feeling particularly down or vain, the argument could be made that they weren't doing anything morally wrong when it came to the Black Eagles seeing battle.

The issue here was that, aside from all the ichor, Ferdinand's leg had clearly been bitten by a demonic beast, with his own blood mixing with the black --

Linhardt felt faint, but they managed to heal his leg without a problem.

"Ah, thank you, Linhardt!" Ferdinand enthused, trying his weight upon it immediately. "I will make sure to give proper thanks tonight. I am sorry for interrupting your lunch!

Linhardt hummed in response. They offered Byleth a cursory glance, an unspoken question if they needed healing as well, but their professor just smiled and excused themself.

Linhardt rested their head on top of the dining table, staring blankly off into the distance. They certainly weren't finishing their lunch today. Caspar and Dorothea had no problem re-starting the conversation without them, and they nearly slipped into a well-deserved (in their opinion) nap, when Caspar roused them and dragged them off to their afternoon lectures.

They strategically chose the seat closest to the wall. Never all the way in the back, and not all the way in the front either, but somewhere in the middle. This meant they'd most likely be in Professor Byleth's periphery, making it harder to notice should Linhardt choose to sleep through another lecture. They'd already opened a book and folded their arms in a way to rest their head (that might convince someone sparing a passing glance that they weren't sleeping) when Bernadetta cautiously stepped up to their seat.

"H-hey, Linhardt?" she asked.

"I'm awake," they answered.

"Oh no, did I wake you up? I-I didn't mean to wake you up!"

They didn't reply. They preferred not to expend the effort required to address her anxieties directly, and usually Bernadetta calmed down faster if they didn’t.

"A-anyway," she tried again. "I won't really be at the thing tonight, since the whole class will be there. I'd really rather just stay in my room, especially after dark, so I wanted to give this to you now."

With quick, stiff motions, Bernadetta quickly produced a small handkerchief from her pocket, all but throwing it directly at Linhardt before darting back to her seat in the back corner.

Her gift wasn't a plain white handkerchief. It was embroidered with thread matching Linhardt’s hair color — light green — with curls and twists around each edge and the Crest of Ceathleann sewn into one corner. As always, Bernadetta's handiwork was remarkable and tasteful. 

They had no idea what had prompted her to give them this.

They glanced over at her, but she was already huddled in that odd book fort she preferred to sit inside of during class, and Byleth was beginning their lecture.

They considered asking her about it once class finished for the day, but by the time that rolled around it had left their mind almost entirely. They'd just awoken from an excellent nap and Edelgard was hovering over them with one of her trademark disappointed stares.

"I was dreaming of the ocean," they supplied sardonically, already fully convinced that she had come to chastise them for sleeping through class.

"No," she said instead. "I just wanted to remind you to come back to the classroom tonight at eight. We're having a meeting, and we can't start until you arrive, so don't be late."

Linhardt hummed They expected their class leader to go on about how important the meeting was going to be, or to find another way to annoy them, but she just returned to her desk, collected her things, and began exiting the classroom.

A meeting with the Black Eagles at eight. It sounded precisely like something they'd want to avoid entirely. All they could think of doing was returning to their room, crawling into bed, and taking an evening nap before they inevitably spent the rest of night reading. In fact, Edelgard had to be bluffing. They couldn't start without Linhardt? Laughable. Linhardt would have little to nothing to contribute to any serious discussion on anything that wasn't an area of their interest. They would more likely sleep through the whole thing. If it were really so important, she could just get Caspar to tell them everything come tomorrow. He was normally more than happy to.

That made Linhardt’s decision easy. A nap awaited them. Their blankets were warm and welcoming, their pillow was soft, and the comforting smell of books permeating their room helped lull them into a wonderful drowsiness.

But then there was a sharp rapping on their dormitory door.

They squeezed their eyes shut, determined to actually nap, but the knocking continued.  A moment later, Hubert’s voice accompanied it. “Linhardt, if you don’t give me a sign you’re awake in the next thirty seconds, I’m letting myself in.”

“I’m awake,” they groaned. “What do you want?”

“I believe Lady Edelgard informed you of a meeting you’re meant to attend tonight. As you’re late, I’ve been sent to retrieve you.” When Linhardt didn’t respond within twenty seconds, Hubert added, “I don’t intend to return empty handed, but I’d rather not drag you there by hand.”

“I’m coming.”

They certainly weren’t happy about it. The whole day they’d just repeated in their head: “I should have stayed in bed.” Their displeasure manifested in the way they opened the door — no longer dressed in their uniform, but in rather comfortable pajamas — and strolled right past Hubert towards the Officer’s Academy. They didn’t look, but they assumed he shadowed them the entire walk there.

If their poor luck continued, this meeting would be insufferably boring and eat up most of the time they hoped to spend napping and reading tonight.

To their surprise, the moment Linhardt stepped back inside the Black Eagles’ classroom, all of their classmates shouted in tandem:

“Happy birthday, Linhardt!”

They froze, having completely forgotten it was their birthday at all. Between all of the boring classes and minor inconveniences, they’d only thought about how poorly the day had gone. In retrospect, they now understood and could properly appreciate Bernadetta’s gift, at least.

“I… forgot.” They were at a loss for any more words than that. They never really knew what to say on these kinds of occasions.

“Yeah, I know,” Caspar said like it was obvious. He broke away from the group to pull Linhardt inside the room and drag them over to a birthday cake topped with a handful of burning candles. “But we didn’t!”

You didn’t,” Linhardt corrected.

“Hey, give the rest of us some credit,” Dorothea interjected. “You can’t blame us for wanting to show our healer some appreciation.”

“And our dear friend, no matter how frustrating they may be at times,” Edelgard added.

Linhardt smiled despite themself. “Well, I normally despise parties… but I suppose I can allow myself to enjoy one .”

“Only cause it’s about you, right?” Caspar had that fed-up tone he took whenever he was getting impatient. “Just blow out the candles so you can see all the cool stuff we got you!”

So, without another word, they did.