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Chosen Paths

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'What the hell's going on, Jeralt?' Byleth groaned as soon as the door to his new office was closed securely behind them. 'Did you know they were gonna ask me to be a teacher?'

Jeralt grimaced, he'd been expecting this. 'Rhea may have mentioned it last night.'  He admitted with a terse smile. 'I hadn't got round to mentioning it kiddo.'

Byleth stared at him blankly. 'I'm pretty sure you can't agree with this old man.. I reckon we both know it ain't a good idea.'

'Isn't a good idea..' Jeralt corrected mildly. 'You'll be brushing shoulders with royalty, girl, you'll need to give a bit more thought to your mouth and your manner.'

'Why me?' She moaned throwing herself down on his bed. 'What did I do to deserve this?'  She sighed.  'I don't play nice with others.  I don't have much patience. I can think of a whole barrel load of reasons to object to the whole stupid idea.'

'Well I suppose you could look at it as a massive learning experience - for you, as well as the students.'  Jeralt took a seat at the small table by the window and gazed at her thoughtfully. 'In truth kiddo, I'll admit I was startled by the idea too, especially as I'd hoped to get you apprenticed to me with the Knights.'  He turned away, unable to meet her blank eyes. 'The Archbishop was insistent.  Believe me - none of her advisers or staff are exactly happy about it either.'

Byleth's chin rose stubbornly, just as he knew that it would. 'What? You mean they reckon I can't do it?' She snorted derisively. 'I could do it, and do it well.'  She insisted. 'That ain't the issue here. It's more, why the hell would I bloody want to do it in the first place?'

'I dunno lass, you're more than likely right with your first observation. I ain't sure you have the temperament for guiding others either.' Jeralt answered seriously. 'Whenever we get a new recruit in the company - you are always pretty tough on 'em, and they are hard and experienced people.  What damage could you do trying to guide a bunch of overprivileged brats?'

'I expect people to live up to our ideal and our standards. There ain't nothing wrong with that.' Byleth mumbled.

Jeralt shook his head at her. 'I dunno By... maybe it's me that needs to reconsider our options here.'  He averted his eyes again.  'I have an... outstanding debt that I owe to Rhea - and you know me kiddo - I hate owing anyone anything.  Except bartenders, obviously...'  He fell silent for a moment.  'If Rhea is gonna insist on using you in a role that you ain't comfortable with then maybe we should just walk away and be done with it.'

'A debt?'  Byleth sat herself up to stare at him.  'What?  I realised you knew these people somehow, I figured that out when that idiot knight Alois started fawning all over you in the village.  An actual debt though?'  A slight downturn of her lips marked her frown. 'We've never been here before, so this debt you owe has gotta be a really old one.'

'I did have a life before you came along you know.' Jeralt scowled. ' I can hardly remember what it was like but..'

'Stay - if you need to.' Byleth cut in decisively. 'I can.. give this whole shit-pile a try and if it's bad then I can leave. It isn't like I couldn't secure mercenary work on my own nowadays - you don't have to spend your entire life looking out for me.'

'You are willing to leave me behind and cut out on your own then?' Jeralt's brow knotted when she nodded blankly. 'You have the skill kid, can't deny that in the slightest - but being with me and the company has protected you from some of the harsher realities of the long road.'

Byleth found she had no reply.  Her face settled itself into her normal, expressionless stare. Silence fell between them as Jeralt made them both some hot tea and handed her large mug, then sat himself down to stare back at her in their usual and totally familiar quiet insulation.  Despite her calm exterior, Byleth's mind was racing uncomfortably fast - this unwanted intrusion into her normal routine was definitely rocking her equilibrium a lot more than she would care to admit.  When they had first arrived at the monastery there had been something in the air that had riled her senses and put her on edge although she had been completely unable to name the source of her discomfort. That had been when she had assumed that they would only be here for a short time. Her prickle of unease was growing beyond control now. Could she really accept being trapped here for the foreseeable future?

Jeralt was also probably aware that - in truth - she was reluctant to leave him behind and set out on her own. He had always made all of the decisions about their work and what jobs they took. He made the plans and saw them through successfully. He ensured that she was treated with respect by the rough and dangerous people that they mixed with as part of their role. The reality was she would be lost without him and she wasn't ashamed to admit it - it was good sense after all.

'So kiddo. Are you gonna give this a go then?' Jeralt broke through her anxious contemplation. Neither of them were the talkative sort so their silence had been an easy one but Byleth couldn't help but notice that despite the lightness of his words he looked disturbed - even if he was hiding it well.

'I guess I am.' She gave him a tiny flash of her exceptionally rare lopsided smile.  'What's the worst that can happen anyway? I suppose I could gravely insult one of the future rulers of the land - or maybe get them killed. That would hardly be a problem though eh?'

'Be careful kid.' Jeralt was suddenly deadly serious and she was immediately concerned by the tauntness of his warning. 'I can see that there is a funny side to this whole scenario, knowing you and your winning personality so well..' He smiled genuinely for a second, but then his frown returned.  'What I don't understand however is what the Archbishop's angle is in this and that rattles my nerves. For all that she is the head of the church and a paragon, she got to be the head for a reason. She should not be underestimated and her motives in this are unclear - even to those close to her it seems. Her main adviser, Seteth is very against your appointment and that ain't gonna be helpful to you.'  Jeralt's fists clenched unconsciously.  'I can't help but feel that something ain't quite right here lass so I need be sure that you don't plan on letting your guard down for a moment. You know better than that, I've taught you better than that!'

'I am always wary Jeralt.' Byleth nodded at him stoically.

'That's my girl.' Jeralt grunted and his hands relaxed somewhat. He finished off his tea in a single long gulp. 'So then, what's your plan now? I missed out on your conversation with the other Professors and Rhea.'

This time Byleth's frown was genuinely perplexed.  'I gotta chose which of the three houses I mentor.' She told him slowly. 'Those kids we rescued from the bandit's, they are the respective leaders of those houses.  Dunno why they are making me choose which to go with, I don't know shit about any of them.'

'So you ain't got any idea which you want?'  Jeralt raised a brow at her.

'None.' She admitted sourly. 'I've been told to go and 'speak' with the students and the house leaders so that I can make up my mind.'

'Well then lass,' Jeralt mused thoughtfully. 'To my mind this ain't all that different to mounting a new campaign.  I know I have drilled you those tactics well enough.'

'Hmm.'  Byleth looked up at him blinking in surprise. 'Never thought of it like that. Although to be fair it ain't that often we get to actually chose our comrades.'

'You have seen all of the three leaders in a fight.'  Jeralt added. 'That's gotta help - at least it's some indication of their potential.'

'They were all pretty impressively skilled in honesty but none of them really stood out as better than the others.' Byleth mused. 'The blonde lad, he was strong and had quite good form. The dark boy was very quick and efficient and I reckon the girl had a mix of those skills.  I will need to gauge the rest of their teams to get a better idea.'

'I concur with your assessment on them if it means anything.'  Jeralt grinned suddenly. 'You haven't mentioned personality though. It would help if you got along with the people you'll work with, yeah?'

'I hardly see that as terribly important.' Byleth shook her head. 'They have simply gotta be willing to take orders.'

Jeralt chuckled at that and rose to his feet. 'It's about time you get yourself onto it then lass. The day's wasting away and I have already heard more words from you today than I have in a long time - I could damned well use some quiet time.'

She scowled again but her expression was mixed with concerned worry that was extremely unusual for her, and especially for it to be telegraphed almost plainly on her face.

'Kiddo, I know that you are nervous..' Jeralt let his tone croon soothingly which he knew would annoy her.  It did, she frowned furiously at him.  He chuckled again, amused by how easily he could rile her.  'Like I said By, you have been babbling away your whole time here with me and that really ain't like you at all. Conquer your nerves and just get the mission faced and done. I know my girl isn't a coward.'

'You're right old man. She isn't.' Byleth stood and squared her shoulders firmly, making her way to the door. 'These kid's ain't gonna know what hit 'em.' She promised fiercely.