When Claude asked to borrow Jeralt's diary, he was sure that Byleth would readily accept. After all, she had been open to everything he had talked to her about so far, and if the diary did contain relevant information about the church's secrets, it would benefit all of them in the end.
Claude was wrong.
"What? I can't allow that," Byleth said instead, hand tightening around the diary. Claude was unable to hide his surprise, his mouth opening for a second before he composed himself.
"Don't make me sneak in here in the dead of night to read it," Claude implored, hoping to make his professor see his point. "I know it's important to you, but I'm not asking you lightly. Please allow me to borrow it." Claude bowed, for the second time, to show his sincerity. He was sure that there would be something in Jeralt's diary, having heard the story of his departure twenty years ago. However, Claude could see that his repeated request was not well-received, her eyes narrowing at him.
"I said no!" Claude flinched as Byleth's voice rose, never having heard her speak in anything but a neutral tone before now. Claude's reaction seemed to bring her to her senses, as her face softened a bit, but her voice was still laced with hurt and anger when she continued. "How dare you. My father died not even a week ago, this diary being all that I really have left of him, filled with information about my mother that I have never heard before and here you are, trying to take it from me? Are you serious?"
Claude was stunned speechless, unable to conjure any sort of explanation when his actions were put in that context. He could barely meet her now fiery eyes, his own averting to look behind her. Byleth sighed, shaking her head.
"I see. I'm sorry that I can't help you, but I need this. Oh, and don't worry about coming here in the night to read it; I'm taking it back to my room." Claude looked back at her, and true to her word, Byleth was tucking it under her arm, ready to walk out with it. "And if I see any hints of you entering my room without my permission to read or take it, I'm going straight to Lady Rhea." Claude gulped. This was certainly a turn that he never expected in this conversation. There was clearly no reasoning with her, so Claude decided to give it up, instead looking at her respectfully.
"I respect your decision, Teach. I won't ask about it anymore. Before I go, I have something else to say to you," Claude said, and Byleth nodded slowly, and it stung Claude to see the distrust in her eyes. "Rhea's sent the knights out to find the enemy, and I've heard that she's already secured some information. I just wanted to say… If you wanted to go after them, even against Rhea's wishes, then I, and I'm sure all of the Golden Deer, would gladly follow you. I mean that."
Claude watched silently as Byleth considered his words before looking at him and nodding, her face having returned to a neutral expression. "Thanks." Without a second word, Byleth turned and left Jeralt's office, diary in hand, leaving Claude to watch her go. Once she was gone, a feeling that Claude hadn't felt in a long time washed over him: shame.
By the end of the week, Claude was at a loss at how to reconnect with his teacher. He had tried to apologise to her multiple times, but each time was met with her ignoring him. She had even stopped coming to the library simply to read together and sometimes indulging him in his ramblings if he was reading about something particularly fascinating, offering her own input. He sorely missed being able to bounce his theories off her.
This also extended to classes, where their lack of interaction was very obvious to the rest of his classmates. Hilda, Lorenz and even Lysithea a couple of times had urged him to make up with Byleth once they found out what had happened, but he was unable to satisfy them.
"I'm trying, I swear…" Claude muttered as he watched the retreating form of Leonie, who had decided to tell him off about his strained relationship with their professor this time. The guilty look in her eye had Claude thinking she might have ulterior motivations in talking to him about her, though. As he walked away, off to find a good place to nap, he wondered, unlikely as it was, when he would be approached by Raphael, Ignatz or even Marianne about it. Hell, at this point he wouldn't be surprised if Flayn, having only been a part of their class and seen their interactions for a couple months, caught on and got on his case about it, too.
Another concern that had been driving him to patch things with his professor was the looming threat of Monica, Solon and their allies, who Claude knew the Knights of Seiros were searching for. He was anxious for his class to be the ones to confront them for multiple reasons. Primarily, he didn't want to know how things would be covered up if it was Rhea and the knights who went out to face them, and he wanted to know as much about their enemy as he could, but he felt that his professor deserved the chance to avenge her father as well. Monica had mercilessly slain him right in front of her, and Claude knew that as the wielder of the Sword of the Creator, he could convince Rhea that she was their best bet at seeing their enemy brought to justice. However, with their relationship in shambles as it was, it would be impossible to convince Rhea that their going would be more than a plot to seek revenge.
It was in the middle of the night, Claude huddled up with a book in the library, distracted from reading about Heroes' Relics by thoughts of whether Byleth would fail him on his Sniper exam out of spite the next day, that he realised that he was going about this completely wrong.
Without his confidant, Claude had reverted to his outsider persona, satisfied only with schemes to get his way, and obtaining as much information as possible. He had forgotten a very valuable lesson that he had learned while attending the academy: he didn't need to do things alone because he could trust his classmates and his professor, and they would help him out when he was struggling.
He realised that he had been thinking solely of how to repair his friendship with his professor for his own benefit, completely neglecting to think about her thoughts and feelings, which seemed to be slowly arising and must be scary to deal with. And she was mourning the loss of her father alone! He felt ashamed all over again thinking about how he had gone about things. Instead of offering her a friend to lean on and share her pain with, he had gone and tried to take away a comfort for his own selfish purposes, then tried to make things go back to how they were with a snap of his fingers.
Closing the book because there was no way he was going to be able to focus on it any more tonight, Claude headed back to his room with a new perspective on how to fix his mistake.
It started with class the next day. He arrived nice and early, before anyone else had arrived, surprising Byleth who was setting up her lesson for the day on the blackboard. He was usually one of the last people to arrive to class, barely making it on time. As Claude expected, she narrowed her eyes at him and quickly turned her focus back to the board, content to ignore him. But Claude was not dissuaded, not when he was so confident in what he needed to do.
"Hey Teach," Claude started, leaning on her desk instead of going to his own. She didn't turn to face him, though she did hesitate in her writing for a second. "I just wanted to say that I'm sorry about your father." She stopped writing completely, half-turning to look at him. "It was a terrible thing to happen, and he was a great man." Claude had been on said man's bad side more than his good before his passing, but Claude had great respect for his abilities. Seeing that Byleth wasn't going to stop him from speaking, he pressed on. "And I also want to apologise for failing to be there for you the way you needed me this past week. I was selfish, and you deserved better. I hope, eventually, that you can forgive me." With a deep sigh, Claude straightened up, meeting the eyes of his professor, who had fully turned to look at him. After a couple of tense seconds, she nodded at him, expression unreadable.
"I appreciate that, Claude. Why don't you take a seat?" Byleth gestured to his desk before returning to her lesson plan. As he complied, sitting down, Claude felt a bit disappointed that there hadn't been more, but he knew that he shouldn't expect to be forgiven all at once. After all, he probably wouldn't if he was in her shoes.
However, their dynamic did change, as Byleth shot a few questions his way instead of completely overlooking him, and by the end of the day he left class with his Sniper qualification and in high spirits. The ball had finally started rolling and the healing had begun.
Once Claude had gotten his foot in the door, he was willing to make up for his mistakes by doing what he should have done from the start. He sat with her at meals, contributed in the classroom to make things easier for her and offered to spend time with her after class so that she wasn't alone with her thoughts. He found himself getting nods of approval from Hilda and Lorenz, and slowly but surely she was opening back up to him, and Claude found that he felt warm inside.
Near the end of the month, as Claude was deciding how to share the news that he had learned that day as he read in the library, his thoughts were interrupted by the sound of heels clicking on the wooden floor and he looked up, beaming when he saw Byleth approaching him, a book in hand. She offered him a shy wave, and he waved back at her, gesturing to the seat next to him. She graciously took the seat, smoothing her skirt as she crossed her legs, placing the book she had with her on her lap away from his eyes. There was silence for a while as Claude thought about what to say, and out of the corner of his eye he saw that she was looking down at the table, evidently not sure of what to say either.
"It's good to see you here, Teach," Claude said, turning to face her with a smile, and she looked at him, mouth slightly open as she considered how to respond.
"You too. Are you still reading about the relics?" Byleth asked, taking a look at the book he had open in front of him. He showed her the cover to confirm her suspicions.
"You know me, Teach. But enough about that, how are you doing? I saw you helping Marianne today," Claude said, deflecting the conversation away from him. He was sure he would drive her away if he went straight into talking about himself.
"Today was good, I'm pleased by how everyone's doing in class. And Marianne's preparing to take the Bishop exam soon so I'm making sure she's ready," Byleth replied. Claude nodded in reply to that and silence fell between them once more. Watching her fidget with her hands for a while, Claude turned to his book to continue reading when she called his name, bringing his attention back to her. "I wanted to say thank you."
"Oh? You're welcome, but what for?" Claude asked, trying to hide his surprise. He tried to think about if any of his gestures had been well-received by her recently.
"For making the effort to be a friend," Byleth replied, putting a stop to his thoughts and bringing his attention to her. "I know it probably wasn't easy for you, and things got bad between us, but I want you to know that I appreciate you looking out for me this week. And…" Byleth paused, looking away for a second before bringing her eyes up to meet his, a small smile on her face. "I forgive you. I know you meant well when you wanted to see the diary, and I'm sorry for snapping at you. I can tell you're sincere in your apology because you haven't asked about it once since then." Seeing her smile, Claude couldn't help the smile that reached his own lips.
"You don't need to apologise to me, Teach. I overstepped, and you were right to reprimand me. You need that diary a lot more than I do," Claude said, and Byleth nodded.
"It's been a great help in allowing me to process things, but it still hurts because now I can't ask him about any of it because he's gone." Byleth's voice became a bit choked up as she spoke and Claude put an arm around her as comfort, which she responded to by looking at him gratefully, blinking back tears. "Thanks, I'll be okay." After another bout of silence, Byleth turned to face him, prompting him to remove his arm. "Do you still want to read it?"
"I can't deny being curious about it, but I don't want to if it goes against your wishes," Claude replied, and the smile returned to Byleth's face as she nodded, looking like she expected that answer.
"I've done some thinking, and I can agree to a compromise." Byleth reached down and grabbed the book that was on her lap, placing it on the table in front of her, and Claude realised that it was Jeralt's diary. "Let's read it together. A lot of it is stories about him and my mother, but there are some passages that I think you'd be interested in." Mouth opening in surprise, Claude looked between her and the diary, silently asking permission. With a quiet laugh, she nodded, pushing the diary closer to him so that it sat between them. Claude gladly closed his book and opened up the diary, flipping through a few pages before he realised he had no idea where to start. Sensing his hesitation, Byleth laughed again. "Flip to Horsebow Moon, Year 1159…"
As they began reading the diary, Claude's news pushed to the back of his mind for tomorrow, he found himself feeling that this is how it should have been in the first place. Just as they tackled the mysteries of the monastery and faced their enemies, they should have been reading the diary together. And as he snuck glances at her, seeing her smiling at the memories written upon the pages, Claude found himself wishing that he could always have her by his side.
So I'm sure a lot of us were annoyed by this scene in Verdant Wind, right? My thoughts in writing this were 1) what if Byleth was allowed to say no to giving the diary to him, and 2) what would it mean for her relationship with Claude? And so this fic was born. I hope you enjoyed it!