This is different from what I have written thus far, but it was always one of the major things I have been wondering about. And I think I have at least hinted at these kind of thoughts within my other stories, I hope you enjoy! I'm not sure whether or not I should make a series of one-shots for this.
Byleth stared at the letter in his hands with widened eyes, not believing its content as he read it over and over again.
Seteth merely huffed beside him before he voiced his thoughts.
"It might as well be an invitation to an open trap, I can't believe that Claude is willing to accept the Empire's request for these supposed 'negotiations'. I highly doubt that the Emperor would ever be willing to commit to something like that without pursuing another goal.", Byleth looked back at Seteth with a thoughtful expression, and despite any hopes or wishes he had for it to be true, he could only agree in the end.
He knew that Edelgard would never even consider to negotiate with either Dimitri or Claude, let alone the Church itself, which, in theory, Byleth himself was organizing as of now. Unless they openly declared that they surrendered to her, she would rather kill herself than to try and talk with those who followed the Church. He simply didn't understand what could have driven her to act like this.
Here he was, regarding the letter from Claude for what felt like an eternity for him. If what he said was true, and Edelgard truly was willing to settle this conflict peacefully, he could not help but wonder…
His mind tormented him with images from the past, reminding him of all the time he had spend with Edelgard during their days at the Monastery… the first person he had ever allowed into his life like no one else before, he treasured these memories forever, even if nobody but herself knew of his thoughts. She was his closest and most cherished friend.
And for once, he actually wondered if these times could return…
The glint in his eyes caused Seteth to sigh heavily, Byleth's hesitation being enough to show the advisor in which direction his thoughts were going.
"Professor, I cannot stress it enough that accepting the Empire's invitation, even if Claude might have faith in it, is going to be your ruin. And if something were to happen to you, I wouldn't want to imagine the consequences. We need to focus on-"
"Forgive me, but I… I have to. I must see it for myself.", Seteth's words died in his throat, holding his hand to his head in disappointment.
"Without you, the Knights would fall apart, everything we have worked for to stand against the Empire, it would be lost. Do you truly want to risk that? Please, I'm begging you to reconsider, we cannot trust the Empire!", Byleth closed his eyes for a long moment, his hands starting to tremble ever so slightly before he took a deep breath.
"Yes, even after everything I have witnessed, I still have faith. And disregarding this opportunity… I couldn't forgive myself.", while his words were not a lie, he was not being entirely honest. He still believed in Edelgard, as much as he wanted to hate her, to despise her, he couldn't… he couldn't bring himself to it… not after everything they have shared.
And for a chance for everyone to meet once again just as they used to all those years ago, he would give everything for it. Even if his rational side was hating him for it, knowing that an agreement in the end would almost be impossible, he still wanted to see it happen. Even if it was most likely going to be the last time…
"... then at least allow me to instruct the Knights to increase the security, just so that I may know that you are not on your own, whatever may happen.", Byleth saw the desperation in Seteth's eyes, and that, he couldn't refuse. Claude has stated that only a few were allowed to accompany them, as Edelgard didn't wish for a gathering of multiple soldiers on any side, as a sign of goodwill.
And that included that she wanted the meeting to be held within the confines of the Monastery, which now so happened to be the main base of operations for the Knights of Seiros once Byleth and Seteth restored it to the best of their abilities. And Edelgard was more than aware of that, making him wonder all the more what she was trying to achieve.
Which is why Claude was hoping for Byleth's cooperation, for if he refused, the meeting would not even be possible. Edelgard had been very… persistent… with her terms, as Claude had put it.
"Then I will send word to the Alliance leader and inform him of your choice, if he should even manage to secure the cooperation from the Kingdom. And I pray to the Goddess that you won't regret your decision.", as Seteth begrudgingly took his leave, Byleth shifted his gaze out of the window once again, regarding the landscape outside of the Monastery with a single thought in his mind.
He couldn't bring himself to regret his decision.
"Teach, it's been so long since I last saw you!", Byleth regarded the Alliance leader with a small but friendly smile as he stepped into the Reception hall within the Monastery, a small group of Alliance soldiers following as well. Seteth's expression remained concerned as he watched the scene in front of him while Byleth was merely surprised to see that Claude's enthusiastic personality hadn't changed a bit over the course of the years.
"Since you have safely arrived here, I believe it is safe to assume that the Kingdom has agreed upon the meeting as well?", Claude glanced at Seteth with a reassuring gesture before he looked back at Byleth, the smile he always wore not faltering in the slightest.
"That is right, and believe me, convincing Dimitri not to barge in here to try and murder Edelgard the first chance he gets was not an easy one, trust me.", Byleth tilted his head slightly at the attempt to lighten the mood while Claude merely gave him a wink in return.
"So it is true that she wants to…", Byleth's paused while glancing at the ground, the unconscious gesture being enough for him to speak in a more gentle way.
"I couldn't believe it myself when I first laid eyes upon the message, I'm surprised that you learned it from me and not any sooner, really. But I guess to be sure we'll have to sit here for a while and wait for their highnesses to arrive, won't we?", at that, the humorous glint in his eyes returned and for once, Byleth couldn't help but to share in his comforting words, if only slightly. Seteth merely sighed in response before he voiced his thoughts again.
"Then I shall give word to the Knights to be prepared for anything, I don't expect much to come out of this. However, until then, Byleth has very much insisted upon preparing the hall for your arrival so that you may make yourself more comfortable.", Claude shot Byleth a small grin, however, not making any attempt to hide the gratefulness in his eyes at all.
"Always thinking about others first, aren't you? With all jokes aside, I'm really grateful for the Chance to see you in good health, teach.", Byleth lowered his gaze to the ground again, his words reminding him of the time that was stolen from him. It hurt all the more once he remembered how exactly it ended five years ago, and how he lost everything he once held dear…
He shook his head slightly, banishing the thoughts about a certain someone into the back of his mind. It would never be the same again, he knew that.
Suddenly, a knight approached them with haste, causing the both of them to shift their attention to the messenger.
"Sir, King Dimitri has arrived as well.", upon that, Claude heaved a comical sigh before he grinned slightly.
"Well then, I guess I'll have to make sure that he keeps to his word before her Highness arrives as well."
"Let's hope that everything goes well in the end.", Claude paused for a moment upon hearing this, glancing to the ground slightly before he looked back at Byleth with a glint in his eyes.
"With you here, I'm sure that even Edelgard won't try anything", before he could question what he meant, Claude had already taken his leave.
Shifting his attention to the many tables filled with various dishes, the entirety of the inhabitants within the Monastery were welcome to enjoy the treats for the occasion, and the hall was slowly filling with life and activity. The scene almost reminded him of the Night of the Ball, if it weren't for the circumstances…
And somehow he couldn't shake the small but growing feeling of excitement within himself, despite the anxiety that was coursing through him. Here he was, feeling for once happy at the thought of them all gathering here again without the intent to harm one another… it was a foolish wish, knowing that it would never last, and yet…
Being lost within his own mind, he failed to notice a figure approaching him from behind, a pair of eyes constantly being trained upon him while even the voices of the Knights around them slowly became silent upon witnessing the strong presence of the last person they had been waiting for.
"Well, long time no see, my teacher.", his mind snapped immediately out of its trance as he heard the familiar voice behind him, seeing Edelgard standing a few inches away from himself. And despite her unreadable expression, she regarded him with a small smile. Byleth glanced past her for the briefest of moments, not seeing a single Imperial guard or soldier being with her as an escort.
Noticing the look on his face, she continued calmly.
"I arrived here a short moment ago. I have refrained myself from meeting the others for now, they should learn of it shortly, but I simply wanted to see you again before that.", not knowing what to make out of her words, remembering their last encounter clearly, he shifted his gaze to the ground. However, Edelgard remained unfazed, not once diverting her eyes from him.
Any words he might have had died in his throat as Byleth struggled to ignore the memories coursing through his mind as Edelgard stood in front of him once again, and he couldn't stop the emotional turmoil that began to stir within him. Feelings of hatred, betrayal, fear even… and yet, there was a small part of him that was simply… happy.
Unbeknownst to him, Edelgard was not oblivious to the feelings crossing his eyes, and the fact that he was still unsure of his own feelings, even after everything that happened…
… it caused her to smile ever so slightly, a glint appearing in her eyes.
"I… appreciate the gesture, but you have come here for another purpose, haven't you? I'll inform Claude-"
"I merely wished to delay the inevitable tension that is bound to arise once I meet them. How have you been all this time, my teacher?", Byleth warily regarded Edelgard upon her sudden change of the topic.
"Good enough to endure.", Byleth's words were cold, failing to notice the hurt within her eyes.
"So I see… frankly, I'm jealous…", his eyes widened upon hearing that, yet, suddenly the large double doors towards the Reception hall were opened, revealing both Claude and Dimitri along with an escort of his own Knights. Byleth knew that he couldn't allow himself to be swayed by mere memories, and they were all here for a reason that was far more important than anything else.
Byleth witnessed how Dimitri was seemingly scanning the entirety of the hall, disregarding any of the assembled inhabitants and Knights. For a moment he feared that he would do something reckless, but upon seeing Claude taking the attention of Dimitri away from his search, he mentally heaved a sigh in relief. And yet, he failed to notice Edelgard narrowing her eyes upon catching sight of the two of them, slowly taking another step into his direction.
Byleth stiffened when a gloved hand suddenly took hold of his own, causing him to look behind himself, but only to be met with a pair of violet eyes gazing back into his own. Edelgard didn't utter a word, a silent plea reflecting within her eyes as she subtly but noticeably pulled him towards her, beckoning him to follow her and away from the crowd.
Feeling the urge to refuse her, as well as a sense of uneasiness dwelling within his mind, it was silenced the moment she gazed back at him with an emotion he had never witnessed before, wordlessly conveying her wish to be alone with him for a moment. He couldn't explain why he didn't refuse her in that moment, and yet, despite everything he had told himself…
… he still trusted her.
Once they slipped away from the crowd unnoticed and arrived within the small garden outside of the hall, Edelgard heaved a long sigh before she faced him again, the strong sense of authority with which she had regarded him the first time having seemingly lessened now that there was not a single soul other than themselves around.
And yet, before Byleth could question her, she gestured towards one of the benches. Despite his hesitation, he slowly obeyed and took a seat before she joined him shortly afterwards, wordlessly gazing upon the night sky above.
"You don't trust me, do you…?", when she finally broke the silence, she turned to look into his eyes, seemingly searching for something… anything, that would ease her mind.
"Tell me that you really proposed this meeting to end this war peacefully, tell me that my hopes were not for nothing…", Edelgard gazed at him for a long moment, regarding him with an emotion that he couldn't place.
"If I told you that I did, would you believe me?", silence hang in the air once again as Byleth refused to meet her gaze.
He heard a small sigh escaping her before he could suddenly feel her placing a hand onto his own, causing him to look back at her with narrowed eyes before he pulled away, hurt reflecting in her eyes once again. However, she merely closed her eyes for a moment before she calmly heaved a sigh.
Byleth regarded her closely as he only now witnessed two small glasses standing on top of a small wooden table in front of them, filled with clear water.
Had she prepared for this…?
Reaching out for one of the small glasses, she still smiled at him as she offered it to him.
"It is alright if you don't trust me, or if you even despise me for the path I have chosen, but I have proposed all of this in good faith, this, I promise. Despite what you may feel, I can't describe how happy it makes me that I have a chance to at least share this moment with you… just like we used to back then.", Byleth gasped at the honesty within her words, glancing at the offered glass before he hesitantly accepted it.
Unbeknownst to him, Edelgard glanced at him out of the corner of her eye as Byleth took a sip from the water before she reached for her own, feeling the cold surface on her gloved fingers. Her expression turned more serene as she gazed at the reflection of the moonlight shining upon the clear liquid.
"You know as well as I do that if the war simply continued as it does now, it would be inevitable for us to cross blades sooner or later…"
"You chose to follow this path."
"I did, and I will see it through to the end. Whatever may happen, my resolve will never falter, I swore to destroy that false Goddess along with those who blindly follow her, no matter how many enemies I amass. And yet…", Byleth seemingly stared into nothingness as she said those words, not realizing what was hiding behind the Emperor's gaze as she regarded him deeply.
"... do you remember when I told you that all I wanted was for you to return to the Empire with me? It was not merely a whim, I meant every word back then, all these years I have wished for nothing else than that… and yet, you hesitated…", before Byleth could utter a single word, his focus seemed to lessen somehow, his mind feeling more slow all of a sudden.
"My teacher, do you now realize why I proposed all of this? In a way, I was not lying… I wanted to end it peacefully… you are the only one I did not wish to make an enemy of…", realizing too late what she had done, she suddenly placed a hand over his mouth, silencing any word that he could have mustered before she slowly embraced him, not allowing him to resist her as his strength faded away. Instead, all he could feel was sleep slowly overcoming him before he heard a last whisper within his ear.
"You will… come with me…"