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Chosen Paths

Chapter Text

Byleth was already waiting outside when the dining hall was opened, and her breakfast was scarfed down with double-quick timing.  She had loads to do before class started and reckoned she needed a good fuelling to get through her chores in time.

She checked with the kitchen that everything was in order with them, then she marched around to where the morning traders were just beginning to set up so that she could get refills for her tea-box and pick up a coffee blend that she had been required to order over a week ago.  That done, she made her way to the classroom.

For the next couple of hours, she sat and worked on what she would have completed yesterday - if Jeritza hadn’t taken so much of her time and then later her thoughts.  It was with Jeritza’s request in mind that Byleth made sure that she caught hold of Mercedes just before the girl entered the Blue Lions form room and asked that they meet up after dinner that evening for a private chat.

‘I do hope I haven’t done anything amiss!’  Mercedes said softly, toying nervously at her fawn-coloured shawl.

‘Nothing at all!’  Byleth reassured,   ‘But I do wish to talk something over with you, and I would appreciate it if you could give me some time.  It is likely to be quite a long conversation.’  She added.

‘I have a new book I’d like to lend you anyway.’  Mercedes smiled.  ‘I’ll await you in my room.  Come along whenever you are ready.’

‘Thanks.  I will.’  Byleth promised patting the girl fondly on the arm.

With that particular issue sorted, Byleth waited a short while, loitering alone outside until finally Dimitri and Dedue arrived for their class together.  She quickly advised the house leader that she would be taking over their lessons from the next day and that Ignatz would be joining them.

‘I am so glad that Ashe will have additional support on our mission.’  Dimitri beamed.  ‘Of course, I am also vastly anticipating having the opportunity of your undivided leadership for a few weeks.  I believe we will learn much in that time.’

‘Let’s see how pleased you are after I have worked you all to the point of wishing you were dead – just to get the rest.’  Byleth teased in return with a small smile of her own.

‘The Blue Lions will never shirk at a challenge!’  Dimitri declared happily.

By the time Byleth got back to her classroom, the Black Eagles were all already at their desks, and their nerves were obvious as they all watched her in anticipation – looking for any clue they could gather from her demeanor as to how their exam results had gone.  She walked silently down to her desk at the front, carefully keeping up her best blank and emotionless expression, then she turned to face them slowly.

‘A few things before we begin today.’  Byleth began.  ‘As you are all aware, I will be leading the Blue Lions on their mission this month alongside Catherine.  Her return to the Monastery on Saturday means that our departure is now imminent.  After today I will be attending to the Lion’s preparation until we leave, and due to the journey involved, we will likely be gone for a little over a week.’

‘So we will be without you for at least a fortnight?’  Casper asked mournfully.

‘I expect so yes.’  Byleth nodded.  ‘Hanneman will be taking your lessons from tomorrow up until my return.  Obviously, I will be available until we go if you have any questions or problems that need my attention, except for tonight – when I have a prior commitment.’

‘It’s not going to be the same without you.’  Ferdinand stated loyally.

‘I suspect that after you have been taught by Hanneman for a few weeks, you will have loads of suggestions for me to improve my performance.’  Byleth replied.  ‘He is the most experienced educator at the Academy after all.’

‘No matter how good he is, the aesthetic in the classroom will certainly suffer…’  Dorothea noted wickedly.

‘I will likely have to stay awake through all of the lectures…’  Linhardt moaned.

‘Home-schooling is the best way to go!’  Bernadetta decided.

‘I know that you will all be nothing less than little angels for him.’  Byleth insisted with an edge of threat.

‘Of course!’   Edelgard replied firmly.  ‘We have no desire to have it reported that we were unruly on your return.’

‘Excellent.’  Byleth nodded.  ‘So… our next order of business is your certifications.  I have the results here.’  She held up eight large brown envelopes and motioned Ferdinand forward to hand them out.

‘Do you know how we did?’  Caspar asked fearfully.

‘I do.’  Byleth said blandly.  ‘I have taken it upon myself to include some notes on your individual performances.  You will find them along with your papers.’

There was a tense hush as Ferdinand darted around the class speedily, handing out the packages.  Once everyone had theirs, and Ferdinand has retaken his seat, all eyes returned to Byleth.

‘Well, open them!’  She commanded.

There was only the sound of rustling paper for a full twenty seconds, then the noise level erupted as everyone all started talking at the same time.  Byleth sat behind her desk, smiling at the excitement and enthusiasm as the students celebrated, even the more reserved of them jubilant in the moment.

Eventually, Byleth put up a hand and called her class to order.

‘You did great.’  She told them happily. 

‘Thanks for the note, Professor!’  Caspar called out.  ‘No-ones ever called me “wonderfully enthusiastic” before!’

‘I can’t think why.’  Hubert mumbled.

‘It should have been us writing letters of thanks, really.’  Dorothea mused warmly.  ‘Your support made a whole lot of difference, you know.’

‘Obviously!’  Byleth nodded seriously.  ‘That is why I am awarding myself the rest of the day off.’

‘You are cancelling the class?’  Edelgard asked in surprise.

‘Aww, Prof, it’s our last day with you…’  Caspar added.

‘I am wanting to continue lessons too.’  Petra agreed.  ‘I have excitement to learn more and more right now.’

Class is most certainly not cancelled!’  Byleth replied severely.  ‘However, I believe I have earned a rest – so I am expecting you all to teach me instead today.’

‘Um…’  Bernadetta raised her hand.  ‘Did you say you want us to teach?’

‘Mhmm.’  Byleth nodded.

‘Bernie is not a teacher.’  The girl said warily.

‘Technically, nor am I.’  Byleth pointed out.

‘I admit, I’m not sure what you are saying, Professor.’  Ferdinand said, perplexed.

‘It’s very simple, Ferdie.’  Byleth stood.  ‘You are all going to get together now for a short while and decide on what you wish to teach today.  It can be anything you want, but you all have to take a turn.’

‘I don’t know anything to teach!’  Bernie wailed.

‘Shame.’  Byleth looked sadly at the girl.  ‘I was hoping for a session on carnivorous plants.  I was so sure that would be what you…’

‘Oh!  Oh yes!  Bernie can do that!’  Bernadetta burst out excitedly.  ‘I will go and get Archie!’  She took to her heels and ran out of the door before anyone was able to respond.

‘Archie?’  Edelgard said in confusion.

‘That’s the name of the potted specimen she keeps in her room.’  Byleth explained with a chuckle.

‘I think it is probably a fifty/fifty chance as to whether she actually returns or not.’  Hubert mused.  ‘I wager that she does, though.’  He added.

‘We have a special lunch coming at midday when we will break for an hour – but otherwise, the day is over to you now.  You have thirty minutes to organise things between yourselves.’  Byleth went to Bernadetta’s vacated seat and settled herself in.  ‘Off you go!’  She encouraged.

A very lively debate followed, which included several arguments and Bernadetta’s return struggling under the weight of a five-foot-tall potted plant. 

Once the schedule was agreed and written up on the board in Hubert's elegant hand, Bernadetta took the first slot enthusiastically.  The highlight of her enjoyable session was when she lamented the fact that she didn’t have anything on hand to actually feed her plant so that they could all witness it in action.  That prompted a furious game of ‘catch the fly.’  There were some very curious looks from the windows of the other classrooms when the normally disciplined Eagles chased up and down outside in pursuit of unsuspecting insects although the game was won, to nobodies surprise by Byleth.

Dorothea took to the class with singing practice, her own voice soaring beautifully for the majority of the lesson.  Ferdinand’s lovely tone was something of a revelation, and literally, no-one was surprised when Hubert sat with his mouth firmly closed, refusing to join in.

‘I only sing sombrely.’  He said.  ‘If I must.’

‘There must be some songs that you know, Professor.’  Dorothea urged when Byleth also failed to join in.

‘No, I can’t think of anything.’  Byleth replied.

‘Maybe a lullaby?’  Dorothea added.  ‘Everyone knows those.’

‘Do you actually see Jeralt as the kind of man who sings lullaby’s to kids?’  Byleth asked, then she grinned.  ‘Hmm, I do know a song or two, but I very much doubt that any of you will know them.’ 

‘Well, why don’t you share?’  Dorothea encouraged.

‘If you insist.’  Byleth smirked.

The ditty she regaled them with recounted the tale of a large-chested lady and her romantic conquests - a song that was popular among the mercenaries she had worked with once they were well into their cups. Byleth’s deeply resonant voice and perfect pitch were completely at odds with the crude words which had Ferdinand and Edelgard both blushing and hiding their faces.

‘I think we need to teach you some other songs.’  Dorothea choked when Byleth had finished, wiping tears of laughter from her cheeks.  ‘You have an exceptional voice… but oh my!’

The last slot before lunch was taken by Hubert who surprised everyone except Edelgard with an exceptionally competent array of sleight-of-hand magic tricks all performed in a rather sinister manner.  He had Bernadetta squealing in outright fear in a very short time, much to his own amusement.   Luckily the lunch that the dining staff wheeled round to the classroom soon after included several varieties of cake, so they were able to entice the scared girl out from under the table to join in the meal, although she stayed close to Byleth for the entire time.

Directly after lunch, Petra gave a long presentation about her homeland and Linhardt gave a talk about something that absolutely no-one understood at all.  Ironically, Both Bernadetta and Dorothea fell asleep during it.

Caspar woke everyone up with his exuberant exhibition of battle cries.  He was supposed to have been talking about famous historical calls to war but had chosen demonstration over description.  Loudly.  Repeatedly.

The last session of the day was covered by Edelgard and Ferdinand working together.  Ferdinand brought out a stringed instrument that Byleth was unable to put a name to and played while Edelgard gave instruction in dance.  It was Linhardt who partnered her as she went through a practical demonstration, the two of them gliding around the room effortlessly and gracefully.

‘There is some merit to dancing.’  Byleth said in surprise once their first routine had been completed.  ‘I can see how the training could lend itself to weaponry.’

‘Do you not dance professor?’  Edelgard asked.

‘Never had a chance to learn to.’  Byleth shrugged.  ‘Doubt I will ever need it either.’  She added when Edelgard suggested that she try out a few.

‘Come now, Professor.’  Hubert taunted.  ‘Is not all learning applicable?’

‘Are you asking me to dance Hubert?’  She challenged.

‘Absolutely not.’

‘I’ll dance with you!’  Casper went and dragged Byleth to her feet, as the others, except Hubert, also paired up after pushing the tables to the side of the room. 

Dancing wasn’t all that bad, Byleth decided, although she felt terribly sorry for the state of Caspar’s feet, given how much she ended up stepping on them and stumbling over them.  She gave up fairly quickly to give the poor lad a rest and made her way to where Hubert was sat watching the merriment.

‘You don’t sing; you don’t dance…’  She began.

‘I couldn’t possibly.’  He agreed.  ‘I might actually have fun or something.’  He pulled out his certification envelope from his pocket and opened it up.

‘Your comment on this was rather... inventive.’  He said, smoothing out the short letter she had written and placed in with his results.  ‘I quote…”Good job, arsehole.”  Very moving, indeed.’ 

‘Had I written something sweet, you would have questioned my motivation and been suspicious.’  She pointed out with a smile.

‘Yes.’  He agreed.

‘Oh, here…’  She whipped the paper from his hand and reached behind him for a quill on the desk, scrawling an extra line at the bottom.’

Your hugs are nice.’  Hubert chuckled at the postscript.  ‘Well, that’s not something I ever expected to be accused of.’