Title: courtship, my love
A/N: For the Courage, My Love zine! I wanted to give the Seteth the rom-com he Flayn deserves.
Summary: In his many, many centuries of living, there were a few things that Seteth knew to be true: Flayn was adorable and needed to be protected, Rhea was far more secretive than she ought to be, and he definitely wasn't developing feelings for the new teacher. He was only meeting with her to discuss the students, only giving her gifts as a thank you, and any funny flips of his heart were incidental.
In his many, many centuries of living, there were a few things that Seteth knew to be true: Flayn was adorable and needed to be protected, Rhea was far more secretive than she ought to be, and he definitely wasn't developing feelings for the new teacher. Well, new might not be the right word to apply considering everything, but the point still stood. No matter how much Rhea teased and Flayn blushed, he didn't have one of those so-called 'crushes'.
The only reason he had even started watching her was because Rhea had been so adamantly quiet about why she was even here, and someone had to protect Rhea and Flayn. The world was dangerous. Their foes were hidden in every corner. Fortunately, his extensive research proved that Byleth wasn't evil. Strange and mysterious, certainly, but not evil.
And if his eye was still drawn to her, it was only because he was used to watching her. His ears strained for her every word out of habit. He was so used to his role as investigator that he hadn't adjusted to co-worker. That was all, honestly.
That was also the reason he was sitting right now in the courtyard, strumming his fingers impatiently on the metal table as he glanced around for Byleth. At this point, she was five minutes late for their meeting. Tardiness was a terrible attribute for a professor. Seteth brushed a finger against the teapot; the ceramic still felt warm. That was a relief. After acquiring one of Manuela's finer teas and a spread of snacks from the kitchen, he would be rather put out if Byleth didn't get to enjoy them. It took a lot of effort to ensure the meal complimented the tea.
A shadow fell on him and Seteth looked up as Byleth slid into her seat. Frowning, he crossed his arms. "You are late."
"My students had questions," Byleth explained simply, straight to the fact. It was one of the few traits he admired her for. When one worked with the long-winded Hanneman, the boisterous Alois, and the dramatic Manuela, he was grateful that Byleth was the exact opposite of that. Very few words escaped her mouth, each one carefully picked, and Seteth only hoped that she would be a good influence on the others.
"That is the mark of a good teacher. It is your duty to ensure your students get the best help possible. Do not apologize for it," Seteth praised, giving her an appreciative smile. This was definitely better than certain teachers' propensity to arrive late due to alcohol or obsessive experimenting. "Would you like some tea?"
Byleth shook her head. "I'm fine."
"Are you sure?" She shook her head once more and he felt a little disappointed at that, but it couldn't be helped if she wasn't interested. Still, tea wasn't the only item he'd prepared. "Perhaps a biscuit or a cookie?"
Once more, Byleth shook her head. "What did you call me here for?"
"Well, that is…" Seteth trailed off. There wasn't really any particular reason he called her here, he just wanted to get to know her better. He smiled reassuringly. "I was hoping to spend time with you."
Somehow, she didn't look the least bit reassured. If anything, her back straightened slightly and she was as tense as she was on the battlefield. Perched on the edge of her seat, she wore a determined expression and asked, "Have I done something wrong?"
"What?" Well, now he knew what her enemies must have seen before she defeated them. Perhaps he had said something erroneous. Clearing his throat, he clarified, "No, nothing of the sort. As I previously stated, I merely desire to spend time with you. You have had tea parties with the students; think of this as one of those."
Byleth nodded slowly. She clasped her hands on her lap, looking at him expectantly. "Then I made a mistake with the tea party."
"No, that is not what I intended…" Seteth trailed off, recalling the few times he had spotted (not spied) Byleth in the courtyard. Actually, now that he considered it, there had been a few things that had bothered him. This might be the chance to rectify all that. "Very well then, since you have mentioned it, your hosting etiquette does have a few flaws. We will go over the appropriate manners expected of a professor of your status."
Seteth rubbed his brow as he climbed the stairs to Rhea's chambers. How did everything he did turn into a lecture? That was supposed to be a casual, cheerful meeting. Instead, it had become a two-hour lesson on the art of tea parties. No wonder Manuela tensed up whenever he passed her. If anything, it was a miracle that he was even able to have normal conversations.
He would have to repent and correct his ways. Later, though, for now he stood in front of Rhea's doors. Rapping firmly, he waited for Rhea to call him in before entering the massive chamber. The afternoon sunlight flooded through her ceiling to floor windows, casting a warm glow in the room. As expected, the archbishop was out on the terrace. She liked to tend to her flowers at this time, claiming it was a form of meditation.
"Seteth." Crouched next to a flower, she gently lifted its bloom and admired it as she greeted him. "As punctual as ever. I do not know what I would do without you."
"Many things, I imagine," Seteth responded succinctly, coming to a stop next to her.
Without her headpiece on, she looked younger. It was only when they were alone, away from prying eyes, that he could see the woman he had met all those centuries ago and not the archbishop she'd become. Her eyes crinkled as she stood up and she laughed. "Seteth, are you still sore over Byleth?"
"There is nothing to be sore about." He crossed his arms, trying to keep the irritation out of his voice. "While I still think you should have at least informed me first, if not consulted, I do not mind that anymore."
"You do not mind?" Rhea's lips quirked as she studied him. He wasn't sure what she was looking for, only she had found it when she smiled teasingly, "I thought I noticed a change in your demeanor."
He stopped cold at that. Giving her a bemused look, he asked, "What do you mean?"
"I heard about your date with the professor," she replied easily, mirth colouring her tone. "You are moving faster than I expected."
"A d-date?" Seteth sputtered, his neck burning at the very suggestion. "Preposterous! Of all the things to suggest—we were not on a date or anything of the sort."
"Really?" A finely shaped brow rose and she pressed, "Even though you had tea together in the garden?"
"That was merely a formality to know her better!" Seteth tried to keep his cool and not hiss. This was clearly a mistake. After all, Rhea had lived a long time and most of it alone. Perhaps she had forgotten about courtship entirely. "After all this time spent distrusting her, I wanted to improve our relationship."
"Is that so?" Rhea answered, in a tone that suggested she did not believe a word of it.
"It is," he replied firmly.
Rhea squeezed his shoulder before heading back to her bedroom. "It is cute to see you smitten so. Now come, we have to get through those reports."
It was childish to continue the argument. It was childish and that was the only reason he wasn't retorting as he followed her in.
"That is a date!"
Of all the responses he expected his daughter to utter, those hadn't been on the list. Seteth stared at Flayn, jaw slightly open as he struggled to understand just what was happening. How did both Rhea and Flayn get such a simple thing wrong? "It is not."
Flayn wasn't listening to him. Hands clasped, a faraway look in her eyes, and a dreamy tone in her voice, she continued to ramble as though he hadn't spoken. "Oh, this is the most delightful of news! I did not think the professor had caught your eye."
Well, he couldn't entirely argue that. "That was only to ensure your safety."
"Love blooming from adversity—it is like one of my favourite books." Flayn turned to him, a gentle smile on her face. "If you are concerned about Mother, do not fret. I am sure she would approve of this too."
"That wasn't—I wasn't…" Seteth trailed off, not sure how he had ended up in this mess. Flayn must have been reading too many romance books recently; it was eating away at her brain and casting everything in a similar light. "While that is reassuring, that is simply not the case here. I was only trying to create a sense of camaraderie between Byleth and myself."
"The best romances are a slow burn." Flayn nodded her agreement. He had a feeling she hadn't heard a word he said. "For your next step, might I suggest a gift? It is always heartwarming to receive one."
"Why would I—" Seteth paused. Actually, now that he thought about it, a gift was a great suggestion. A well-picked one could deepen their bond and show Byleth how he intended to change their relationship. It could even serve as an apology for all the mistrust he had shown her. "A gift is perfect. Thank you, Flayn."
"No problem." She smiled brightly at him. "I will root for you!"
It would be a headache to correct her, so he didn't bother.
"A gift?" Standing near the docks, Byleth looked at the long, thin package in Seteth's hands and then back at him. Her brow furrowed as she tried to understand. "For me?"
"Yes." Seteth held the package uncertainly. It had been hard to pick something for Byleth. The more he had thought about it, the more he had realized that he knew very little about her despite his watchful gaze. Certainly, he knew her habits in the school—how hard she worked to teach her students, the skill she showed with a weapon, the soft way she would look at the students sometimes. Yet those were habits, nothing more, and one couldn't buy a gift based on that. While he had finally figured out what to do, it was still mostly guesswork. He hated this level of ambiguity.
"What is it for?" She still didn't take the gift. Instead, her frown deepened.
This really wasn't going how he had planned. Seteth held out the package insistently. "There is no particular reason. I merely thought it would suit you. Now please, accept it."
Byleth quietly studied his face for a long moment before nodding and taking it. "Thank you." Without another word, she tore through his meticulously folded wrapping paper.
"You could unwrap it late—" Seteth sighed, giving up when she showed no signs of stopping. Well, this was embarrassing. His cheeks warmed and he clasped his hands behind his back.
It took her a total of two minutes to remove the wrapping paper. He hoped that eagerness meant she was warming up to him. Now holding a fishing rod in her hands, Byleth gave him a puzzled look. "A fishing rod?"
The very situation he had been dreading: explaining himself. Clearing his throat, he resisted the urge to mutter. "You won the fishing tournament, a feat of skill that indicated you spend a lot of time fishing. I had inspected your rod earlier and noticed it was a little worn. It would be terrible if a fish escaped due to your gear breaking at the wrong time." He tried to smile again. "I thought you could use this. It is a good model. I have used its like before."
Still looking bemused, she nodded. "Thank you."
Well, it wasn't the joyous response he had hoped for, but it wasn't the scared reaction she had given at the tea party either. A step forward, at least. "If you need any help with it, just ask."
She didn't reply, her focus already on the rod. Byleth wasn't quite smiling, but her lips turned up as she examined the hook keeper. That was a good sign, right? That had to mean she was pleased.
Hopefully she wasn't laughing at him.
"A fishing rod?" Flayn glared at him, her hands balling into fists as she paced in his bedroom. "Fa—Brother, that is not a romantic gift at all! It does not tell your loved one that you are thinking of them!"
Seteth crossed his arms defensively. "We have gone through this already, Flayn. There is nothing between the professor and I."
"A fishing rod is too practical for a courtship gift!" Once again, she wasn't listening to him. Maybe he should block her access to the library for a while, or sneak in some proper books into her reading. At this rate, she was going to think his every interaction with another was a sign of love. "No wonder she looked confused!"
Byleth hadn't only looked confused. He was certain he hadn't imagined it, the curve of her lips, the amused look on her face. It was an expression entirely unlike her usual ones, and he would know, having watched her as he had. Even her students hadn't provoked such a reaction. The thought sent a rush through him. Perhaps he was the only one so far who had seen it.
"There is only one way to correct this mistake." Flayn was in his face now, an earnest expression in her face as she grabbed his hands. "You must give her an even bigger gift. I have heard that serenading a lover at dawn is the purest form of love."
"Serenading?" It was an idea he ought to reject immediately and in its entirety. Yet Flayn's last suggestion had given him the gift of Byleth's almost-smile. Perhaps this one could generate another smile. What would she look like, radiant and glowing, unable to hide her happiness?
He didn't hesitate before nodding.
Standing in front of Byleth's door, a lute in hand, Seteth silently cursed himself. This was a terrible idea. An utterly terrible idea. Not only was a serenade a romantic thing, he was also disturbing someone in the middle of the night. Just because he often rose at dawn to attend to his duties didn't that mean Byleth did.
What had he been thinking, agreeing to this? Seteth knew the answer to that. He hadn't been thinking at all, distracted as he had been by Byleth's expression. Instead of smiling now, the moment she laid eyes on him, she would glare. Their relationship would go back to what it had been. This was a mistake. The only good thing was that he had come to his senses before he started playing. There was still time to turn around and leave.
There was still time—the door in front of him slowly opened and Seteth froze.
A very drunk Manuela stepped out, her hair disheveled, her dress crumpled. She stared at him for a long minute, then at the lute in his hands. "My, I must be drunker than I thought," she mumbled, shaking her head and stumbling back into her room. "That's it, I am not drinking for a week."
Not only had this been a mistake, but he had gotten the wrong room. Seteth walked (not ran; he was definitely not running) away in an undignified manner.