You Will Live Ch. 6: Both Monsters | FE3H Fanfiction

Word count: 4200 (10 to 34 minutes) | Rating: M | Note: Fire Emblem: Three Houses Spoilers | Characters: Dimitri and Hubert

Read the previous chapter.

To be sent to bed early with a cup of tea from Ferdinand, who fussed over him the entire way, was merely the second most embarrassing event to occur to Hubert that day. The guards badly pretending not to notice how generally disheveled Hubert was inarguably took first.

After extensive reassuring, Hubert finally persuaded Ferdinand that he was fine on his own and the two people posted outside of his quarters would be more than sufficient if he did require assistance. And it was half-true. Shamir stood guard with Cyril, and they regarded Hubert with starkly differing treatment. Cyril would surely let him meet his end in any manner, he was not particular, but Shamir was more level-headed about their task.

Regardless, there was nothing troubling him that they (or anyone) could assist him with.

Sleep came in fragments, as ill-fated as any cresting wave. When he heard birds overheard as an indication of morning, he left bed with a heavy sigh and readied for the day. The scattered hours he got would have to do. Dressing in his Imperial wear felt wrong somehow, the disquiet settling in as a tightness in his throat, but the lack of a suitable alternative gave him no other choice. Once he had finished, Hubert left his quarters to see the guards had rotated sometime during his rest. Byleth nodded to him, and Alois, of course, had to speak.

“Ah, Hubert! You look positively ghastly.” He looked so fraught with concern that Hubert was nearly offended. Knowing his fear of ghosts as he did, it was possible this fear had more to do with his appearance than any other factors. Alois should want him dead just as all the other Knights of Seiros undoubtedly did. Regardless, it mattered little what a simpleton of the Church saw in him. “Shouldn’t you get more rest?”

“Oh, yes, I hadn’t thought of that. Wherever did you come up with such a brilliant idea,” he deadpanned and went down the hall toward the stairs.

“Let him go,” Byleth stated as he began down the steps and made his way to the kitchen. No doubt the Imperial staff had already been given instruction by the invading forces and they would be preoccupied with breakfast preparations. Even so, he could brew his own coffee unassisted and remain out of their way.

Upon arriving, he discovered he was not the only imposition on them this morning.

King Dimitri leaned against the counter right beside the place Hubert needed to be, naturally, his hands resting against its edge on either side of him. He watched as the Adrestian staff, renowned for their efficiency, went about their business with fresh bread and perfectly carved meats prepared at various degrees of redness to accommodate their guests. Say what you will of them, they would never disgrace the Adrestian name with a poorly prepared breakfast. Even their sworn enemies would leave the table contented.

His arrival and proximity to Dimitri turned only a few heads, and Hubert became acutely aware of the fact that how he conducted himself there would carry to the rest of the nation by nightfall.

He had best set a good example, then.

“Good morning, Your Highness.” He did not bow, as Dimitri was not his king, but he did regard him as Hubert himself would have insisted anyone address Her Majesty—with formal titles and basic respect.

Dimitri tensed, whipping his head to look at the source of the greeting, and recovered with a self-conscious chuckle. “I did not hear you approach. I apologize.”

“Few ever do,” Hubert offered, smirking. “Would you care for some coffee?” He strode past Dimitri to collect the coffee beans, recently ground by the staff in anticipation of his needs. Routine as usual.

“I believe I will take some, since you offered.”

“Bold of you,” Hubert observed, taking out two cups and weighing out the necessary grounds. “Many would not be so readily trusting of me.”

Oddly, Dimitri smiled at that. The king was not nearly as easily read as he was in his academy years, and Hubert was rather certain he didn’t appreciate that change.

“If you were going to poison me, Hubert, I doubt I would be standing here now.”

Still, he chuckled in response. “Best not let Dedue hear you say that.”

“He will worry regardless of what I say. If I will not, he must, or so he says.” Though Dimitri waved it off, that was not a criticism, but an observation… They must have remained close despite Dimitri’s only somewhat exaggerated behavior in his exile. For a time, they were both believed to be dead as well. Lesser men would have given up all hope for a reunion or emotional recovery, he would grant them that.

As Dimitri spoke, Hubert rinsed the coffee filter at the nearby faucet after a few pumps of the handle. He could muddle through the papery aftertaste if that step went overlooked, but why would he willfully do so? Continuing the process of making coffee as Dimitri looked on, Hubert formed his reply.

“He is not wrong.” And that was all he could truthfully think to say on that subject. Pointing to a tin on the counter behind Dimitri, Hubert explained its purpose. “I prefer coffee black, but the sugar is there for you to use. It’s imported from Mach, so there may be a difference in taste than what you are used to in Faerghus. I can also call for cream if you require it.”

“Thank you, but—I admit, I am curious. I had expected you to be angry with me or at least distant.”

The implied question could wait until Hubert was not actively preparing coffee.

He was wise to have acquired a self-heating kettle for the kitchens as well for all the time it saved him in moments like this one. Now there was only to wait as the proper extraction took place from the grounds into the water. As it gradually trickled through the filter, Hubert had nothing more pressing to attend to than Dimitri’s concern.

There could be no doubt the staff were eavesdropping as they attended to their duties now, even without any unnecessary delays in their work. It was apparent in their furtive glances towards the two of them and looks of unspoken concern passing between them if they caught another’s eye. He could hardly blame them. They were with Adrestian, and the people of a nation that lost a war were not often received well by the victorious forces—or vice versa. How the next few weeks unfolded would determine the rest of their lives.

Therefore, Hubert would say the truth of the matter for their benefit. If the gossiping of even the most capable staff could be relied upon, then the Adrestian people’s betterment would be seen to as well. Like it or not, they would have to accept their position in the united Fódlan ruled by His Highness, or they would lose it in exchange for a more miserable lot.

“Why would I? If Her Majesty saw fit to end her reign at your hands rather than surrender as you offered, I will stand by that decision as I have with all her choices.”

Dimitri only blinked, a wisp of blond hair falling into his face as he tilted his head in examination of Hubert.

“You are an odd one.”

“Flattering,” Hubert answered levelly, giving the grounds within the remaining water a gentle stir to ensure the correct flavor of the brew.

“It is not bad, exactly, and I am grateful,” Dimitri amended somewhat hastily, “but I cannot say I understand it in the least.”

He did not look like the feral beast that Imperial soldiers trembled to hear of all while they sought the stories out. A demon wandered the countryside, as the tale went, gruesomely slaughtering any soldiers of Adrestia whether they were fierce warriors or field cooks. That this beast of legend was one and the same as the puzzled man standing beside Hubert was difficult to believe, but no less true for its unlikelihood.

“You do not need to understand.”

He poured one cup, then another, and lifted his own to his lips. Its heat bordered on uncomfortable, but Hubert welcomed the sensation. This moment was not another splinter of a nightmare lying in wait to turn on Hubert with merciless brutality, but a regular morning in which his coffee was somewhat too hot for drinking.

“That seems fair enough,” Dimitri relented.

He left it at that and took his own cup as if it was made of thin glass, not ceramic, moving it closer to the bin of sugar. He heaped in several spoonfuls but made no request for cream. Even so, he grimaced at the first sip. Unwilling to request Hubert’s assistance, was he? The most probable motive was security reasons. King Dimitri had evidently learned something after what the Empire and Cornelia did to him and the stability of Faerghus.

“Thank you for this. I could use the energy,” he said, taking another tentative sip with an equal amount of mild disgust. “Sleep does not come easily to me, and it has not for many years.”

“Rest was never one of my preferred pastimes,” Hubert only agreed, taking in the fragrant aroma of his cup for the time being.

Dimitri’s genuine laughter came as a surprise yet again. Hubert studied him over his mug, watching for some indication of an ulterior motive in his agreeability.

“I shall have to phrase it that way next time someone lectures me about getting more sleep. I may get different results for once.”

“You won’t. Not in any meaningful way,” Hubert advised from personal experience with Her Majesty and especially Linhardt, ending that subject by savoring another drink of his own coffee.

Smooth, even, but full-bodied, this blend was leagues above the readily accessible blends that acted as an average, crowd-pleasing coffee. Even Ferdinand, who compared coffee to mud more than a drinkable substance, had once admitted to its refined flavor.

“Hubert,” Dimitri prompted with a hesitant weight to his words. There was only one topic that could follow such an ominous tone. “Have you given any thought to her funeral?”

Hubert took a weary breath, turning away from Dimitri to stare at the scarred field beyond the windows across the room. Her body could not remain in her quarters indefinitely for Hubert to postpone arranging her funeral service. Yet his mind resolutely sabotaged any to-do list he might mentally compile by summoning up the sprawling implications of any one choice Hubert could make.

“I do not want to rush you,” Dimitri prodded him once more, “but with the upcoming plans and current upheaval, your time to plan is limited.”

“She will be cremated.” That much, he could say without any hesitation. With her enduring fear of rodents and other such creatures, Hubert could never allow her to suffer the slight of being lowered into the earth for an eternity or locked away in a stone casket within a mausoleum.

“I trust you know someone loyal to Adrestia to carry out the task,” Dimitri suggested, almost relieved at what he assumed was the pleasant discovery that Dimitri did not go unheard up until this point. “I will assign Kingdom soldiers to reinforce the guard surrounding her transport.”

“Well, that is a far cry from hanging her head from the gates.”

“Ah. Yes. I—I was beside myself.” Dimitri put it lightly, staring into his coffee with a far-off gaze. Lady Edelgard described him as outright psychotic when he uncovered her identity as the Flame Emperor, felling soldiers faster than she could count their bodies. In short, he had cause to be horrified at the memory. Hubert had more of his drink as the silence continued.

“Hanneman has theorized that my Crest may affect my temper, but there can be no excuse for my conduct back then.” Placing his cup down with far too much care, Dimitri gave his undivided attention to Hubert as a chivalrous knight of Faerghus might when swearing a vow of fealty. “I assure you, I will do no such thing to the remains of someone I have held so dear. What her opinion was of me after so beastly a display, I dare not even begin to guess.”

…This was where someone more adept in social spheres would offer comfort. Not Hubert’s area of expertise by any consideration, but who could offer that information to Dimitri except for Hubert? Her Majesty determined from their meeting before the fall of Enbarr that she and Dimitri would never agree with one another’s methods, but she also thanked him. Hubert could only conclude from that decision that she would want to give him a measure of consolation after her passing.

“She did admire you.”

He sensed Dimitri’s gaze on him, as real and oppressive as a sudden spike in humidity so common at the close of Fódlan summers. If he faced that head-on, Hubert would surely drop the subject and banish it from memory if at all possible. In interest of completing his thought, Hubert looked either at the fields outside or the depths of his coffee, but never the man he spoke to.

“She rarely mentioned you or the professor after the Holy Tomb, but on the few occasions when she did, I perceived a certain… Reluctance.“ He swirled his coffee idly, bringing it up for another sip. The temperature of it now was perfect and that made the situation Hubert found himself in nearly bearable.

“I never confirmed it with her, but I suspect she wished her path could have been beside your own.” And now it was Dimitri keeping Hubert in suspense with his silence. Assuming this answer was giving him the peace of mind he desired, Hubert resolved to say as much about Her Majesty’s regard for him as he was able. She was not present to express the value of her childhood friendship with the king of Faerghus, and it fell to Hubert to do so in her stead.

It was simply another duty for the Minister of the Imperial Household to uphold.

“When she accepted your offer to meet and discuss the war, I told her it was utter madness,” he admitted. They agreed to disagree that day on the condition that he attended with her, since neither one willing to yield to the other beyond that. “In hindsight, I assume she hoped to reach a resolution where you might walk side by side.”

“Years ago, I might have argued that it could have been possible with the right mindset,” Dimitri confessed, and picked up his coffee again. “But in light of the news you shared yesterday, I must believe it was not that simple.”

Hubert would have attributed that understanding to how Her Majesty explained herself to Dimitri during their discussion rather than the news of Shambala and the Tragedy of Duscur, but that was a pointless distinction to make. Whatever Dimitri chose to hold as true that caused him to stand against Those Who Slither in the Dark with Hubert in attendance, he benefitted from it. He would not risk potentially encouraging Dimitri to question his value and support.

“It was not. That aside, your point was not without merit. The path we carved was for the strong, and the strong alone.”

A bitter revelation if Hubert had ever tasted one, and one he never discussed with Lady Edelgard out of respect. She was also correct in that this path encouraged strength in the people to stand without the false goddess and twisted corruption that victimized them all. Every second wasted in suffering its existence only led to more lives claimed in its insatiable hunger for power. The society as it had been made victims of people like Jeritza, whose sanity would never return to him, and Lysithea, whose years of childhood innocence were cut short alongside her life.

But that did not make Dimitri incorrect. There were those who prospered under faith to an imagined deity—or fealty to a beloved liege. Lady Edelgard was exceptional for her strength, and it was perhaps unfair to expect everyone in Fódlan to match that willpower.

“Did she ever tell you that she taught me to dance?” Dimitri brought up the memory abruptly, a wistful smile following the change in subject. Even another drink of his coffee could not displace it.

Hubert recovered from the brief interruption in his thoughts with a curt shake of his head.


“In Fhirdiad, she… Well, she tried. We were close friends by then, but that did not change that I had two left feet with finer arts.” He spoke with a fond lightness, his tone as gently inviting as a well-stocked library lit by the last rays of daylight. Hubert felt distinctly that this was a vulnerable moment he was not meant to witness, but it was no mistake—who else was present? For an unknown reason, Dimitri elected to reminisce with the servant to the woman he killed because she left him no other choice.

“There was little to do for it; I have always had a gift for strength over grace. But she was—” He paused, searching the ceiling for the word with a poignant laugh. “Strict, let’s say. She truly would not let me yield until I had followed her instruction exactly as presented.”

Conveniently, he was willing to speak without a reply. As it was, Hubert was inclined to simply hear about the time she spent in Fhirdiad uninterrupted. Lady Edelgard herself rarely mentioned those memories, and he knew better than to broach the subject. Hubert took her avoidance to mean those years had been difficult for her. Instead, she was dancing and finding kinship when she was far from home—a time too blissful to recall considering its juxtaposition to the darkest days of her past. He could relate, if truth be told.

More importantly, it would seem Hubert owed Dimitri a debt for bringing happiness to Her Majesty while she was held at Arundel’s whim.

“Before our friendship, I found her to be difficult and stubborn. But in a short time, that impression gave way to her true self beneath.” Dimitri returned to the present, turning that mournful smile to Hubert as the faint impression of tears gave his eye a glassy look. “Those memories were the time of my life in many ways.”

Hubert blinked, completely at a loss in this situation. Handling this cathartic revelation with poise was well out of reach for his talents.

Although, thinking on it now, Dimitri had few other options for those who might listen. Most of his closest allies resented Lady Edelgard for her ruthlessness in pursuit of what must be done. Byleth was even less proficient with emotions than Hubert. And Dimitri had never been especially close to the Black Eagle students. Mercedes, having originally been from the Empire, was the only possible candidate who would not reject his grief outright.

And so, perceiving the sorrow in Hubert, he chose him. What an unfortunate decision.

“It’s kind of pathetic that I am still thinking of it after everything that has come to pass since then. I know,” Dimitri excused himself for what he must have assumed Hubert’s lack of response meant. And although Hubert would be considerably more at ease leaving the king to his own misconceptions, he could not leave Her Majesty’s old friend alone with his anguish.

This was not his element, however. Frowning, Hubert forced himself to piece together a sentence that was at least tangentially related to the topic.

“If you would like your dagger back as a keepsake, you may collect it from her nightstand. I cleaned it of your blood last night.”

“I may take you up on that. The blade I gave her does have a lot of meaning for me.” Anticipating an explanation from him, Hubert waited and was not disappointed. “In Faerghus, we’ve long considered blades to be tools of destiny. As a way to cut a path to a better future.”

That phrasing… Hubert’s scowl shifted almost imperceptibly to sincere interest. The thrill of two seemingly disjointed facts coming together at last was not unfamiliar, but something he experienced more often in a library, magic lab, or with his intelligence network. Not in the baring of two hearts over the death of another.

When Lady Edelgard first emerged as the sole survivor from the experimentation done on her in Enbarr, sickly and weakened from confinement, her aspirations were exactly what Dimitri had just described. By extension, they became Hubert’s as well. How many times had he sworn to cut a bloody path for Lady Edelgard without even knowing the origin laid with the king they fought so viciously against?

While it was true that no one knew Her Majesty better than Hubert, this new information shed light on how she came to be the commanding emperor and beloved companion he devoted his life to. Both of their coffees went neglected in favor of the aspects of Lady Edelgard only they could share with one another.

“I saw her being dragged all over Fódlan, unable to live the life she wanted, and I thought the dagger could help her cut a path to the future she dreamed of. I suppose she did.”

There, the conversation turned. This was the danger of nostalgia—the idyllic past one could not reclaim was all too often more desirable than the present. He finished off his coffee, knowing it would only be wasted otherwise, and sighed as he placed the cup in the sink to be cleaned.

“If it gives you any peace, most of the blood painting her path is on my hands. A leader ought to be looked up to as an inspiration,” he said, recalling that he told Her Majesty that shortly after they arrived at Garreg Mach as students. How intriguing, that leaders would benefit most from being reminded of that fact. “I saw to it that she would never again be mired in bloodshed and death by taking her place in that role.”

With a dark chuckle, Hubert relaxed into his habitually menacing demeanor. “There is a reason I am reputed to be Her Majesty’s monster in the night.”

“A man who believes himself a monster… Why is that familiar?”

The hypothetical question and wounded expression were equally unexpected. Hubert was under the impression that the demonic rumors about Dimitri did not bother him, given how he encouraged them with his actions. If one did not want to be seen as a monster, why take out soldiers in such a horrific manner for so many years?

“I’m not certain I follow. What do you mean?”

Dimitri set his cup down too, turning to completely face Hubert now with sharp solemnity. “So many people I love have died to save my life, and I only had less to show for it with each sacrifice. I needed their loss to mean something.”

How he growled that emphasized word said more to Hubert than any lecture could. It spoke to a gnawing feeling in the whole of one’s very being that drove them to commit atrocities in the name of retribution… Yes, that was a matter he knew all too much about. That the Savior King and the Shadow of Enbarr would have anything in common, much less that sinister desire, was the true mystery. Hubert crossed his arms, maintaining a watchful stare to conceal any other sentiment that may seek to rise to the surface. He was apparently not quite finished being emotional, of all things.

“In order to make their deaths worth my existence,” Dimitri continued, not letting up that steadfast gaze, “I let go of my ideals. I became more monstrous with every kill.”

This was certainly in keeping with the reports Hubert received, but he could not see the point Dimitri was trying to make. The journey from man to monster was one Hubert understood perfectly without explanation. When the king’s intensity dissolved into a self-conscious laugh as he rubbed the back of his neck, it only confused Hubert further.

“What I am saying is, even if you are a monster, it doesn’t change my opinion of you. With all that we have done, you and I are both monsters, both stained.” King Dimitri was eager, almost supportive, in offering that observation. Despite his efforts, Hubert eyed him uneasily for it. What was his angle with this?

Oblivious or undaunted, Dimitri persisted. “Perhaps we might find companionship in one another with that knowledge. Even those stained red with blood must find a place to belong.”

“I… Suppose.” He had no other means of answering that, but Dimitri quietly accepted that reply as all Hubert could give. It was acknowledgement enough that he stood beside Hubert with a contented grin and a liveliness from the king he’d yet to see or hear of since the war began, though that may just have been the half-cup of coffee.

Hubert settled for an uneasy smirk in turn.

I hope you are as satisfied as I am uncomfortable, Your Majesty. If the revenge to come does not give you the peace you deserve, may this connection between your oldest friends ease your pain.

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Hellfire Ch. 10: Blackpowder Courtesy | DA2 Fanfiction

Read the previous chapter.
Approx. 2300 words (5 to 26 minutes) | Rating: M | Dragon Age 2 Spoilers | Characters: Carver Hawke, Garrett Hawke, Varric Tethras, Fenris, Meredith Stannard

Waking up the morning following Merrill’s escape felt like any other, really. No one stormed his door, and the guards didn’t harass him any more than usual. Cullen was especially dour in the fleeting moment Hawke spotted him leaving the Gallows—that man could certainly move quickly in a full suit of armor—but he didn’t even look Hawke’s way, never mind lecture him.

It wasn’t until the end of breakfast that her escape came back to bite Garrett like he knew it would. Ser Alrik, the Templar with a frankly disturbing obsession for making mages Tranquil, came to personally collect him. Not a great way to start the day, but at least it wasn’t on an empty stomach. Alrik was rougher than he needed to be, and Hawke was snarkier back. Being on perfect good boy behavior now would just make him look more guilty anyway, from how the Templars saw it, and Garrett figured he was in hot water no matter what. Might as well have fun with it.

“Charming escort you’ve sent, Meredith,” Hawke teased the moment Alrik dragged him into Meredith’s office. “Threatened to make me Tranquil twice on the way over. Really, I can’t imagine why he doesn’t have any friends.”

Alrik answered that by smacking Hawke upside the head, sharp and harsh, but not enough to leave a mark. Got to be careful with the rich one, he guessed, but that was also way more sense than he thought Alrik was capable of.

“Leave us,” Meredith barked, not taking her stern glare off Hawke for even a second. “Close the door behind you.”

By Andraste’s holy knickers, not this again.

Meredith closed in on him like a rogue going into flanking formation, as natural and effortless as a dog barking. Hawke turned to her on instinct and she took that opportunity to press her hand on his throat. Nothing serious, but it could be, and the gauntleted hand with just a hair too much pressure on his neck got that message across just fine. Kind of rude, to be honest. Not very Blessed-be-the-Maker-like at all.

“I know you helped that elf mage escape,” she growled, searching him for even a glimpse of whatever it was power-crazed, paranoid Knight Commanders looked for in their captive victims. In her case, Garrett figured it was her sister and for a painful second, almost felt… bad. For her. While she held him in a chokehold and threatened him. Maker’s breath, Hawke really did have a soft spot for crazy.

“I will prove it, and you will pay for your crimes and hers.”

“Well, I probably should’ve guessed you’d be into punishment.” He could feel his windpipe against her palm, a bit uncomfortable, but nothing he couldn’t work through for the chance to shove his foot in his mouth. Probably, anyway. Hawke did have a talent for that. “I usually go on a date or something before it gets this far, but you don’t seem like a romantic type.”

She grunted, shoving him off as a way of letting go before skulking off behind her desk. Meredith scowled at the papers there like they were personally responsible for the existence of magic. Or of Hawke.

“But first, the Viscount has requested you. Demanded, actually, since he overpowers even the Chantry.” Well, she did not sound happy about that last part. The first part is what had Hawke.

“The Viscount?”

“Yes, I just said that,” she snapped, ready to jump on any chance to yell at him, apparently. “The Arishok mentioned you by name, evidently in connection to a portion of Kirkwall that the city guard has sealed off, and he refuses to speak to any save you.”

“Of course he does,” Hawke answered in a sarcastically chipper tone, as if that was the best news he’d gotten all day. Actually, it was. That did not bode well for the day because he really didn’t get fuzzy warm feelings being so admired by the Arishok. He wasn’t even really sure admiration was the right word, since it was more like he hated Hawke the least out of everyone else in Kirkwall.

“Don’t sound put out. You find your way to the center of everything, just as I know you were key to that blood mage’s breakout.”

Accusing anything that moves of being a blood mage like she does, Meredith had to be right eventually.

Leaning over her desk, pinning him down with a look like he was prized game, Meredith was thoughtful enough to give him one last threat to his health and happiness for the road. Couldn’t have him missing the sense of oppression and objectivation for too long.

“And when this job is done, you will be back in my Circle and I will uncover your involvement in this mess. You are mine.

If those words count leap over that desk and get to Hawke, he was sure he wouldn’t like what they might do. Lucky for Garrett, danger was more or less a constant presence in his life since running from Lothering, so this was just another day. The Arishok dragging him into some mess by order of the Viscount and when that was behind him, a mess at the Circle to mop up.

If Carver was still jealous, Garrett was open to trading places.

“Right, because that’s not unnerving at all.”

“It was not meant to comfort you, mage.” She pointed to the door, giving another order. “You are dismissed. The Templar posted outside will see you to the Viscount.”

“More quality time with Alrik?” Hawke stood, glad to leave but miserable at the thought of dealing with another tirade about how fun life as a husk would be. “I can hardly wait.”

Meredith smirked and sure, it wasn’t an awful look for her—but it definitely was for Hawke. Nothing good ever came from a happy Templar Knight Commander.

“Not quite. But you do know him.”

If Aveline wasn’t up to her eyes in damage control from the saar-qamek gas, she’d put her boot up their collective ass for dropping by The Hanged Man before going back to the Circle. But there was a deadly gas attack on Kirkwall, so the mice got a chance to play. Just a bit, since one mouse was as sourpuss: turned out, Carver was his Templar escort.

“So, she’s on to you already, Hawke?” Varric smiled over a dented tankard, fitting right in at the same time as standing out among drunk regulars and stained walls.

“What can I say? I am irresistibly charming.”

Fenris scoffed, taking a big drink to hide what might’ve been a smile.

“Brother, do you think you could be serious just once? I’m the one she suspects as your inside man.”

True, Hawke didn’t enjoy Carver being under suspicion like that. He had a way of saying just the wrong thing at the right time to make a complete disaster of a minor problem. Like agreeing to visit The Hanged Man only to talk about the reason Garrett needed a stiff drink in the first place.

His little brother was one of the Templars, but that only meant he was surrounded by enemies all the time. Hawke could always chat with a mage in the library or at mealtimes, or even the Circle Chantry if he got desperate, but it was all ‘magic is made to serve man, never to rule over him’ for Carver. With him actually being a mole, that had to get pretty dicey. Maybe it would’ve been better if Hawke had just taken Carver along to the Deep Roads… No going back on it now, though.

“You’re the one who suggested The Hanged Man, Carver,” he teased, nudging him to get the perfect eyeroll from Carver. “Should I look more dour while you shirk off your duties?”

He gave his best forlorn-mage-in-captivity pout, and that dragged a snort from Carver.

“Cut it out,” Carver chastised, scooting away from Garrett in a mock show of irritability. Or maybe it was a show for any Templars that might come through and remember anything after getting blackout drunk? That’d be the day, Carver thinking ahead. Not really a Hawke family trait.

“Come on, one drink before you go,” Varric interrupted, toasting to the untouched cup in front of Carver. “That’s why you’re here, isn’t it?”

There was just enough of a pause from Carver to suggest he was thinking about it, and not a second longer, before he pulled the tankard close. “Just one,” he insisted.

“You’re the best little brother,” Hawke praised, clanking his cup to Carver’s and grinning.

“Thank me by not drawing attention to yourself for once.”

“I can try, but I don’t think I’m very good at it.”

“How is it?” Fenris interrupted, watchful pale hazel eyes peeking out at him through messy white bangs. If Garrett didn’t know better, he’d think he was worried! Especially with him guarding his tankard by holding it close. Body language was a huge tell for Fenris, which was why the poor bastard barely ever won anything during Wicked Grace.

Hawke raised his cup and turned the conversation to a safe, reliable subject: alcohol. “As piss poor as ever, just how I remember it.”

“No. The Circle,” Fenris corrected. A bit impatiently, Garrett noticed.

Well, shit. Even when he wasn’t stored in his cell at the Gallows, there was no escaping the damn place. Hawke set his tankard down and shrugged.

“When did I give you the idea I have the run of the place? Carver sees more of it than I do, ask him.”

“Keeping secrets, Hawke?” Varric made light, but Garrett knew when he was being double-teamed. “Now I want to know the story more.”

“Sorry, Varric, you’ll have to get your next bestseller somewhere else. My life’s early curfews and rotating guards at my door for weeks.”

“Meredith is determined to prove you were behind this last stunt,” Carver added for their benefit more than Garrett’s, or that’d better be what he was thinking. Hawke knew exactly how determined she was to trap him in this scheme. Kind of hard to ignore the Knight Commander’s seething hatred when she half-choked him in her off time. “It will only get worse from here, Brother.”

“Should we break you out sooner?”

“Fenris, I’m honored!”

Fenris scowled, shaking his head. “You are not like other mages, Hawke. This is different.”

“Oh, it’s definitely different.” Varric leapt at the chance to joke with their beloved slayer of slavers, giving his best sage-like nod and sarcastic delivery. He didn’t lose sight of his intended target for long, though. “But I mean it, Hawke—the first sign of trouble, you tell us, and we’ll get you out of there. Whatever it takes.”

That was half-advice and half-warning, and the rare serious edge to his words made it clear that ‘whatever it takes’ really meant they’d actually do anything. Honestly, that made Hawke want to tell them less. Reckless acts of heroism with unpredictable chances for success were his specialty, and they’d just have to get their own.

He leaned on the table and smiled over his tankard at Varric.

“And what should I do if I’m the troublemaker?”

Fenris sighed as a fight broke out at the bar by the entrance in classic Hanged Man style.

“Watch him,” he ordered Carver and downed the rest of his drink rather than going through the trouble of acknowledging Hawke directly.

“When I’m not being watched,” Carver agreed with a grimace, not happy about that particular limitation. Being a double agent in the Templar force was hard, especially when the Maker was always watching. And by the Maker, Hawke meant the particularly unstable Templar leadership spearheaded by a crazy woman.

The bottom of his tankard came too soon, and the farewells went by too quickly. The worst part? Hawke wasn’t even close to drunk enough for his little reunion with Meredith.

He expected Meredith to make good on her threats as soon as her schedule for tormenting mages had an opening, but not the same-night treatment he got. Before he was sent to his cell for an even earlier curfew than before Merrill’s disappearance, she had him report in at her office. As anyone could’ve guessed, she cared less about the dealings of the Arishok than every last scrap of what Hawke himself did that day.

Meredith pressed him for details and tested them time and again for any holes in his story, but that trap was nothing new to Hawke. Any apostate still living had to know how to lie to Templars. Like Varric would’ve said: always tell them a story. It’s more believable than the truth most of the time anyway.

Laying on his slab of a bed, Hawke went over one particularly menacing message she threw at him.

“This is not over, Hawke.” She’d glowered at him like she might choke him for real this time, but barely decided against it. Another not-good sign, like he needed more of those for his life in Kirkwall. “I will organize an extensive interrogation for you in the coming days, weeks, or however long it takes for you to crack and reveal her avenue of escape.”

He’d promised to leave his schedule open, just for her, but she didn’t appreciate his humor. Almost as much as he didn’t appreciate how awful these next weeks or months would turn out to be. With no word from Anders or Isabela yet on when his escape would be, Hawke would just have to figure something out with whatever he had on-hand. And isn’t that what he did best?

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You Will Live Ch. 5: Not Alone | FE3H Fanfiction

Word count: 3800 (10 to 30 minutes) | Rating: M (Suicidal Thoughts)| Note: Fire Emblem: Three Houses Spoilers | Characters: Ferdinand and Hubert

Read the previous chapter.

In the hall beyond the war room, Ferdinand followed Hubert towards the staircase to the personal quarters. Passing soldiers with the gathered powers that conquered Enbarr regarded Hubert as if he were invisible or filth. It made no difference to him how he was perceived at present, though it would likely have to be addressed eventually.

For now, Hubert waited at the bottom of the stairs leading to Her Majesty’s room and beyond that, his own. The staircase hugged the wall, acting as a secure vantage point for archers in the event of a sudden siege. Pale sandstone steps framed the rich, deep red carpet like drying blood running down the center. The carpet was the same color as always and the steps were the same in number. And yet, Hubert could not drive the visual of this being her blood out of his mind, could not shake the feeling that this staircase was insurmountable.

“Hubert?” Ferdinand’s hand hovered just out of touch, and his aversion to contact drove Hubert to take the first step. He slid a gloved hand along the smooth railing as he ascended without replying.

This crushing sensation in his chest was nothing in comparison to the suffering Hubert would visit upon her first and final enemies. Her Majesty elected to die at Dimitri’s hands for her cause, and he would honor that however he could manage to. Any rage he might have felt for the King of Faerghus transferred instead to the inhuman filth that ripped Her Majesty from him not once, but twice, by giving her no option but to take the path that ended her life in more than the literal sense. As if her unnaturally shortened life was not agonizing enough on its own.

Hubert hesitated again at the top of the stairs. This was where he typically bid Lady Edelgard good evening, swore he would go straight to bed, then brewed coffee in his room and continued to work. She generally looked tired from the constant effort of the war, so her rest took priority. If that meant a series of late nights for Hubert in exchange, that was a price he gladly paid.

And now, she will never feel the weight of over-exhaustion again.

It was little comfort, staring at the guards before her door and knowing she lay lifeless within. Hubert could not rest without seeing her, and he would not rest if he did.

Fortunate, then, that he was familiar with sleepless nights.

“I will go alone,” Hubert stated, his gaze fixed on the dark double doors to her quarters. They had originally been more elaborate, but Her Majesty had them moved to upgrade the doors to the soldiers’ barracks and changed hers out for a sturdier, more practical design.

“Are you certain?” Ferdinand’s tone was sure but gentle, hardly the one of a captor or begrudging former ally that Hubert adamantly tried to perceive him as. Yes, Her Majesty’s death was simply a result of war and her express orders were for Hubert to build his own life in the aftermath. But he would not become the sort of delicate fool who would immediately throw himself at the compassion of the first old-time companion to walk beside him.

He conjured up imagery of the fight, magic and blood charging the air, to steel his heart against weakness. Hubert clenched his jaw, locking his focus on the sturdy doorway to Her Majesty’s quarters at once so close and separated by a thick smog of dread. How would the memory of her being alive that very morning reconcile with the sight of her corpse? Anticipating her presence only to be met with the cold certainty of death? She was gone to a place Hubert could not follow. Where their paths had forever been side by side, they diverged here, never to cross again. Sweat lined the palms of his gloves and Hubert held his voice steady on force of will.

“There will be two guards posted outside, so your orders will be met. I will be under supervision.”

“I did not mean strategically, Hubert. I think—”

“It does not matter what you think. You have your orders, and that should be enough,” he echoed the remark from Ferdinand at Enbarr’s gates. However much he had to injure the former Prime Minister’s pride or dignity to force him to leave, Hubert would stoop to that level.

“Since you can recall what I said before our fight with such precision, you might also remember what I said to you when I stood as your guard in the great hall.” Ferdinand spoke with conviction, firm but not harsh, the way one might address a promising soldier who had lost his sense of purpose. Infuriatingly perfect for the present situation.

“I will still forgive what you have said because I understand what your true intentions are with such cruel words.” He recognized the beginning of a Ferdinand speech when he heard one and could only hope the posted guards couldn’t overhear the outpouring of sentiment Hubert was about to be faced with. The less that was known about the nearly romantic nature of his connection to Ferdinand, the better.

“Loath as you may be to admit it, you are hurting, Hubert. You may be ill at ease in that role, but you cannot drive me away no matter what you attempt.” A hand rested lightly on Hubert’s back, threatening his emotional guard at the barest pressure. An exaggerated recoil would likewise betray his fragility and so, Hubert remained. “I will only take your pain as my own, so that sharing in it may lessen what you bear.”

The words washed over him, a rushing tide of so many things Hubert had been denied and denied himself in turn. The moment all the Black Eagles abandoned them, Hubert resolved to shut his heart on any attachment he had to them. Without their presence, it was a simple task with only a rare reminder of their companionship.

Now… How easy it would be to sink into the depths of this offered kindness and let Ferdinand shield him from the pain. It was a mercy Hubert did not deserve. If he could not keep his vow to secure Her Majesty’s victory at any cost, the penance of his suffering would have to suffice.

“As a compromise,” Ferdinand continued, ever willing to fill the silence presented by Hubert. “I will wait outside her door. If you find yourself in need, you can simply call and I will enter.”

Hubert scoffed but did not decline. If that would give Ferdinand peace of mind, he could indulge it. He stepped away from the hand against his back and just behind, Ferdinand followed his approach to the guards stationed at the entrance to Her Majesty’s room.

The guards deferred to Ferdinand, stepping aside with a nod to him alone. They let Hubert in as wordless and imperceptible as a shadow. The doors shut behind him on Ferdinand’s companionable chatter to the guards (who he no doubt knew by name).

The room was lightless, of course. In the shadows, Hubert could make out all the untouched elements of her quarters just as they always were. A cushioned bench sat at the end of her bed where she typically rested to read or sat before a specialized easel to draw in private. The easel was currently folded in a corner of the room below a mounted sigil from the Adrestian flag. Books on governmental history and flowery poetry lined a shelf beside her bed. A modest vase of fresh carnations sat on the opposite end table.

In the center of the bed waited Her Majesty. A sheet in the color of Adrestian gold rested over her form, an unnervingly still silhouette that filled the room. Her commanding presence persisted even in death. Hubert expected no less.

Calling on a fire spell with just a finger, Hubert lit a lantern on the corner table where she might call on Hubert to challenge her in a strategic board game.

The light revealed a dagger beside the vase, the wrapped handle confirming it was the one gifted to her upon her departure from Fhirdiad. Later, they came upon the knowledge that it was from Dimitri himself, but that did not discourage her from carrying it even as the war continued. He walked to the nightstand, his steps inaudible due to the carpet and Hubert’s own skill for stealth, and picked up the humble blade. The metal was stained with what Hubert assumed was Dimitri’s blood.

To the last, Your Majesty.

Hubert smiled weakly at the sight of it. King Dimitri had told the truth, then. If she resorted to this, that was as an effective refusal to surrender as any.

Still, they ought to be more careful with such a precious substance as the blood of someone bearing such a powerful Crest.

“Fortunately for me, there is always a use for my capacity to plan for the dangers no one else can see,” he remarked to Her Majesty and brought the dagger to the vanity in her room. As a gift, he’d had a magical washbasin installed on it so she could freshen up every morning in the privacy and comfort of her own quarters.

It also served to clean the dagger of Dimitri’s dried blood. He rested a hand against the sigil carved into the side, activating it with a whisper of magic in his hand. Water filled the bowl and Hubert submersed the knife, flaking away blood with studious efficiency. The water swirled into a thinned red shade as his work came to its end. Flicking droplets from the blade, Hubert emptied the water by deactivating the sigil and the removed blood disappeared with it.

He returned the dagger to its place beside the vase, and again, he was left alone with her shadowed form beneath the sheet.

Hubert pressed a hand to his chest and lowered into a formal bow. “Good evening, Your Majesty.”

Their daily routine drew him in and with no one to guard himself from, Hubert allowed himself that weakness. He straightened, striding to her armoire and opening one of the doors. Uniforms for combat hung beside lavish ballgowns and practical equestrian wear, all in the striking crimson Her Majesty looked best in. Not quite the exact color from the Adrestian flag, but it hearkened to it enough to encourage patriotism at the sight of her.

“What outfit would you like set out for tomorrow?” The Adrestian farmers’ guild reported recently that this fall would likely be wet and windy rather than the mild, comparably dry spell they’d hoped for. “Equestrian gear is a wise choice. Our unlikely allies will need firsthand experience on riding horseback across the terrain of Adrestia if we are to reach Shambala swiftly and without incident.”

Their travels would not be limited to the lands of Adrestia, but considering that it was their starting point, the guidance would be welcome. Tomorrow, Hubert would give the pertinent details to whoever seemed the most capable of relaying it to the strike team making for Shambala. He laid her riding clothes out in their usual place by her armoire for easy access come morning. Saving her even one extra step made her day more convenient from the outset. On occasion, that spare time permitted Her Majesty to indulge in simple pleasures as she often wanted to. Perhaps he discouraged her from that too often. His hands lingered on the hangers of her clothing, trembling despite himself.

“I’ll put on a pot of Hresvelg Blend.” That was all he needed. One last distraction. Hubert reached for the familiar corner table and picked up the enchanted self-heating kettle—another gift of convenience.

“After such a trying battle, a small indulgence should ready you for the day to come.” Hresvelg tea was a favored blend for them both, and Her Majesty seemed to better enjoy a warm cup with company. At the end of the day, seated at the quaint table in her room, Lady Edelgard could speak to him as not only an Emperor but a friend.

Now, of course, she could not sit at the table where the teapot began to heat the fresh water gathered from the basin. To accommodate as any good vassal would, he pulled a chair over to her bedside and took a seat where she waited now.

“I admit, it is jarring to see Dimitri in such condition but still insistent on his chivalrous ideals. You are better acquainted with him than I, of course.” He waited a pause where she might speak if she could, and he chuckled at what would have surely been a clever reply.

“The Black Eagles do appear to be in good health, at least. Perhaps they did listen to our advisements after all.” His wry smile did not break the illusion but contributed to it, even. Lady Edelgard would encourage him to have greater respect for their peers. They chose their path and their resulting strength was earned on their own merit.

“I suppose you are correct,” he relented to his imagined dialogue with Edelgard. “Bernadetta even approached me herself to fight. I find it difficult to not take pride in their successes, even when they are at my loss.”

The conversation would turn here. She would talk of the smell of autumn leaves, the latest ballroom adornments or heavy armor designs, a pastry she has been longing for that he could send agents across Adrestia to track down… And Hubert would listen dutifully. He was not one to speak socially unless prompted, and she could give him ample opportunity to talk as much or as little as he liked. About whatever he required.

He leaned forward to put his hands on his knees, examining the matter he needed to address.

“…And yet, now I find myself in need of your direction. You asked that I live my own life with the knowledge that you would sacrifice your own.” He swallowed thickly, tears yet to fall pricking at his eyes already. Hubert was disappointed in his own vulnerability.

“Beyond revenge against those who murdered your family and led to your eventual death, I do not have the slightest idea what that means. You are my purpose, my reason to exist. All I have done, I have done for you.” Words tumbled out of him now, instinctive and unfiltered. Hubert looked at his hands as if they had anything to offer either of them. In this moment, there were no strings to pull or daggers to position against her enemies in the shadows where he thrived. No dark spell or sinister scheme could alter this path. Hubert lifted his gaze to stare at the ghostly form of her face below the sheet. Outlines of her nose and the indents of her eyes remained all too clear in the lantern’s light.

Hubert rested a single hand on the bed beside her as he moved closer, imploring and desperate.

“You may wonder what my life could have been without you, but I never have. Not even once. Faced with that prospect, I am at a total loss. Your Majesty, I…” Too soon, he cried and blinked as the first few tears dropped and disappeared into the sheet. “Edelgard, I cannot do this without you. I have prepared for every eventuality but this, this horrific—”

His words fell off with the next wave of teardrops, and he was not far behind. Hubert folded onto the bed to bury his face in his forearms, seated at the edge of the chair as his fingers twisted in the sheets. Some part of his brain warned against disturbing her rest, a concern that was not even possible. Would that he could.

At some point, the teapot had begun to whistle on the table, but Hubert did not move. The door opened, the whistling stopped, and he did not move.

The door clicked shut and Hubert lifted his head, expecting to be alone with Her Majesty once again. Instead, cast in a halo of lantern light, Ferdinand stood by the table where the tea waited.

“I know I am fond of tea, Hubert,” Ferdinand began, stilted but affectionate as he tried to imitate their typical banter. “But I had not expected you to call for help with a kettle.”

“There is enough for two,” Hubert advised and sat back in the chair. He kept a single hand on the sheet now damp with his tears, staring blankly at the white against gold. “Cups are in the cabinet.”

“I did not come in here for tea.” Ferdinand brought the other chair over, feigning ignorance of the tears that he could undoubtedly see even in the lantern’s distant light. His arrival brought them to a stop as some means of preserving his image, if that could be managed.

The government of Adrestia reunited at last, Her Majesty and her two Ministers. They were carrying out her orders by ensuring the defeat of Those Who Slither in the Dark just as they were intended to. By sitting with him in his grief, Ferdinand was once more stepping in to serve her will where Hubert himself could not.

She wanted him to live but in his heart, Hubert wished he had died at the gates. That was the sinister truth, another secret burden he would take to his grave. Somehow, Ferdinand knew of the weight on him regardless and helped Hubert carry it without compromising his privacy.

“I will only take your pain as my own, so that sharing in it may lessen what you bear.”

Where Hubert could not meet Her Majesty’s demands, Ferdinand supplied the inexhaustible positivity to transform her wishes into reality. A world where she had failed but Hubert still took breath. Someday, he would acquire a new profession. Reform prior connections. And in the end, move on from her death. It was unthinkable.

“She means everything to me, Ferdinand,” Hubert ventured to explain the mire of despair consuming him. “I planned my every action to support Her Majesty. Once Shambala falls, I will have nothing.”

The rustle of his cloak prefaced Ferdinand’s hand on his shoulder again.

“You will have a choice, Hubert. Based on Edelgard’s cause for this war, that is what she wanted for you: to choose for yourself what your life will be now that we are here.” Few moments were as surreal and enlightening as discovering Ferdinand had a point Hubert did not uncover first. The former Prime Minister could speak of principles and ideals from Edelgard with irritating ease because, as painful as it had originally been to admit, Ferdinand did understand her vision. The methods to achieve them were just too much for him.

“Under her reign, people who would otherwise be overlooked were elevated to positions of power by their own skills, not their lineage or birthright.” The crisp buoyancy to his voice brightened the room. Even now, having chosen to stand against Her Majesty, Ferdinand was proud of her accomplishments. The sentiment shined in his every word.

“If she wished that for the citizens who had not always been at her side as you have, does it not make sense that you would deserve the same in her eyes?”

“Deserving it is not enough,” Hubert deflected. “If I cannot find out how to deliver the results she desired, it is pointless.”

“Hubert, please look at me,” he requested, and Hubert turned his head only enough to see the soothing smile from Ferdinand. “This is not a battle strategy to serve Edelgard. You are always planning three steps ahead, but that is not how matters of the heart are.”

Not content to merely say the word, Ferdinand brought his other hand up to rest on Hubert’s chest. The warmth of the palm over his beating heart changed the atmosphere of the room as if by an unknown magic. The effect could not be measured, categorized, or defined, but he could detect it in the instant that they made contact. The air was lighter, easier to breathe, and it somehow led him to feel more present in the room than he had been beforehand. If the change remained after Ferdinand had to take his leave, perhaps Hubert could yet find a path beyond Shambala.

That speculation was only the pathetic hope of a simpleton that found its roots in the reliability of another, something Hubert had absolutely no control over. And still, he longed to reach for it. The task was as straightforward as mounting a Pegasus and taking flight, a skill he could master if only he could overcome the fear that seized him at the very notion.

“You must begin with the present. Assess yourself with emotion, and you may decide where to go from there.” Ferdinand took his hand back and piece by piece, the difference it made eroded. “But you do not need that answer now. Now, you must allow yourself to grieve.”

“I am lost without her, Ferdinand.”

Hubert had not sounded so small in years. Not since he was a boy and the soldiers wrestled him back to Enbarr, and finally, acceptance of his defeat hit him. He was just a child then and made no effort to conceal his spiteful despondency. To think applying that effort made next to no difference in his voice was almost laughable.

“Then we will come to find you.” When his hand reached for Hubert this time, it found Hubert’s own. And it was Hubert who laced their fingers together and found peace in it. “Wherever you may be, Hubert, you will not be alone.”

The time they spent in that position was interminable. When his spirits were restored enough, Hubert stood and folded the sheet down to see her face. The serenity came as a surprise, especially next to the lingering disfiguration from her transformation that he’d heard whispered among the soldiers: a brown-grey smear down her left cheek. He smoothed her hair back, placing a kiss to her forehead as he did when she was feverish or frightened as a child.

“Edelgard, I would never have chosen this life without you in it. But now that it is here and you have given my orders to live it for myself, I will—” He fought back even more tears; Hubert had more than enough of that as it was. “I will try.”

When the sheet covered her face again and they were both seated, Hubert himself sought out Ferdinand’s hand in the dark.

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You Will Live Ch. 4: Negotiations | FE3H Fanfiction

Word count: 4400 (11 to 36 minutes) | Rating: T | Note: Fire Emblem: Three Houses Spoilers | Characters: Ferdinand, Dorothea, Linhardt, Caspar, Hubert, Seteth, Shamir, Catherine, Alois, Dimitri, Dedue, Felix, Claude, and Hilda

Read the previous chapter.

At the professor’s summons, the various leaders of victorious forces gathered in the Imperial council room. There was minimal damage from the battle in this area of the castle, given its distance from the throne room. Conveniently so for Hubert—he was not sure he could handle seeing her body as of yet. And that was on the assumption that they left her where she fell, a comparably merciful act next to what typically happened to the corpses of fallen enemy leaders.

He didn’t linger on that thought long.

Dimitri and Dedue stood across from him, surrounded by the King’s friends on either side, and the former Black Eagles seemed to naturally gravitate to Hubert (save for Petra, who he knew from his network to be attending to business in Brigid). They stood alongside him as a barrier separating him from the more resentful people present, whether they did so intentionally or not.

The Church and Alliance allies filed into the conference hall until every chair was spoken for, although few had taken a seat. From the Church of Seiros supporters, only Rhea and Flayn were absent, with one resting and the other seeing to the archbishop’s recovery. The doors to the room were closed to keep passerby from overhearing, given the sensitivity of the subject at hand. On that, Hubert and the Church agreed: no one could discover the Agarthans or their abhorrent experiments.

It was courteous of them to remove his cuffs, a promising gesture, even if it was on the condition of a magic-disabling silence spell being cast on him. He would have done the same. Speaking to the professor, Hubert laid out the foundation of his proposal for an alliance.

“I am sure you must recall Monica and Tomas. Their allies yet live.”

And if they were in that room, Byleth’s focused glare would have turned their bones to ash. Unfortunately for them, that particular occurrence was inevitable, and the world would be better off for it. Five years did nothing to lessen the pain of her father’s death, it seemed. Perhaps retribution would alleviate both of their suffering… Doubtful, but Hubert would concede that there was a sliver of a chance.

Her continued anguish at the loss of one she held dear and found solace in like no other was not an omen in favor of that chance. The probable outcome was that the wound would never heal, only dull to an eternal ache forever in the back of their minds and forefront of their hearts (however blackened his own might be).

“They bear deep resentment against the children of the Goddess and the people of the world, and they are biding their time until they can exact revenge.”

The contents of the letter came back to him easily, which was helpful since the agent he entrusted it to would almost certainly be destroying it now. Everyone present focused on him without a shred of skepticism or even resentment, so they must all have a piece of the puzzle he completed that led to his credibility. All the better for his chances of success.

“If left to their own devices, it is certain they will eventually bring unimaginable calamity and suffering to the world.”

“How did you come to know about them?” Seteth was not the first person he expected to speak, but his stern attentiveness indicated that he was more concerned with the task before them than revenge. As he should be, in light of the fact that the Agarthans were exceptionally spiteful toward the Nabateans.

“Initially, it was because Her Majesty allied with them for their strength to stand against the Church. We shared an enemy, nothing more.” Hubert let a fraction of his contempt bleed into his tone at that as an assurance that his target had already shifted to suit current events. He was no threat to the people who won against Her Majesty, that was simply war. This new objective was righteous vengeance.

“That introduces another question. I have not forgotten that you placed Flayn in danger during her kidnapping, and I cannot forgive you for that,” Seteth warned, accompanying it with his most evaluating stare that he once used with errant students at the academy. It was a laughable thought if Seteth believed that would have any effect on him, but Hubert had more critical objectives to pursue. “Do you still wish to destroy the Church of Seiros?”

He could provide the detailed context surrounding her kidnapping, but it was simply too much work to explain with very little reward. True, Hubert and Her Majesty knew about the kidnapping, but the original plan devised by the Agarthans was markedly worse.

They were only convinced to keep her alive for her blood and hold her at the monastery due to Hubert’s strategy to test how extensively the Knights of Seiros knew the monastery grounds. Their search would reveal any gaps in their knowledge effectively, he reasoned, and they agreed to adjust their plans.

Or so it seemed. There was no way to know if they had devised the illness for Remire Village before or after Hubert hastily made his suggestion to spare Flayn from becoming a Hero’s Relic. Though she wasn’t human, neither Hubert nor Her Majesty were willing to stand idly by for her needless death and worse, desecration into a weapon turned on her own family.

“You have a right to your grudge, so I will not justify my choices to you. I find your false church to be a contemptable institution designed only to subjugate humanity,” Hubert answered honestly in part because he didn’t care if they were offended by his poor opinion of their ‘goddess’, but also as further evidence that Hubert would be truthful even with facts they did not wish to hear. Every bread crumb he left for them brought his plan closer to realization. It was not enough to send them after the Agarthans, he had to be present.

“But as it stands now, you must reform or risk losing what power you have left. Dismantling the Church of Seiros is not my purpose any longer.”

Although socializing was not Hubert’s specialty by any extent, he was especially capable of reading people and assessing their next actions. Unexpectedly, Seteth appeared to accept his testament more willingly than Catherine. Alois was as absent from the neck up as always, and Shamir’s loyalty had never been to the Church to begin with. The Alliance and Kingdom parties alike seemed to share in Shamir’s stance.

Intriguing. Even their direct allies are in doubt of the Church.

But Hubert’s work was not yet finished. Neutral acceptance would not secure his position on the battlefield against the Agarthans.

“I aim to avenge Her Majesty against those who first set her on the path that claimed her life by destroying Those Who Slither in the Dark.” To say nothing of the cure for Lysithea that had to dwell within their base of operations. Though Her Majesty could no longer benefit from it, she would still want that to go to Lysithea. Hubert turned his attention back to Byleth, who he believed would be instrumental in convincing anyone left in doubt after he said his piece.

“This is my final service to Her Majesty, and I will have no cause to return to any war once this last threat has been addressed.”

“You say that,” Shamir deadpanned, idly spinning an arrow as she tended to. They were not on especially good terms before the war, when he respected her skill but believed her to be a threat to Her Majesty. He had been right, of course, but Shamir was more interested in delivering threatening advice and talking down to him as a child. She called him fragile, unstable, and humored him more than anything. It appeared her perspective on him changed little over the years. “But revenge has a way of feeding into itself.”

“Right on target,” Claude pitched in without hesitation. “So, how do we know you won’t decide His Royal Highness is to blame next and go after him?”

That came as a surprise. Claude and Dimitri were companionable at the academy, but not particularly close. But since the Kingdom was the greatest political power at the table and therefore, the source of stability in Fódlan, Hubert had to admit it made sense to be protective over him.

“It’s simple,” he answered, his mind wandering absently to the final message he received from Her Majesty before blacking out. “That would go against her last wishes.”

“Which would be?”

Hubert lapsed into silence and scowled, loathe to disclose her private last words to this group. It felt like a defilement to her memory.

“My, what a scary expression! Touch a nerve?”

“Hardly.” How Hubert felt about it was irrelevant, ultimately. If this was what Claude asked of him to secure his support, so be it. “To keep the message simple for you, Her Majesty’s orders were to surrender in the event that she fell and I survived.”

A subtle yet palpable shift in the atmosphere suggested a change to their outlook on him. Mixed contempt and sympathy, if Hubert had to guess, but he could work with that.

“While I normally would not object to disobeying in favor of her best interests, her last command is one I must follow without question.” Wherever Her Majesty was, if there was such a thing as an afterlife and souls, he hoped she could hear this. Still in recovery, recently unshackled, Hubert delivered this speech to the victors as if Edelgard were among them to see he was still devoted to her. “There is no better interest to serve, no greater outcome to be achieved. All that remains is to destroy Those Who Slither in the Dark as she intended from the start. This is a matter of paying my respects.”

The former Blue Lions exchanged looks behind King Dimitri, who leveled an intent gaze at Hubert no less powerful for his eyepatch. Unlike others at the table, his transformation was so complete that Hubert could hardly rely on any past knowledge to theorize on his mindset. All he had was the generally tolerant reception he experienced so far that he previously attributed to His Highness.

“Oh, Hubie,” Dorothea pulled him from his thoughts, and Hubert glanced over his shoulder to see her delicate hand on his arm. “That’s sweet of you, but… Please tell me you didn’t make nice with those horrible people all this time.”

A change of subject. Deliberately done or not, he was grateful to be back on the proper topic.

“Far from it. I made no secret of my hatred for them, and they were rather fond of answering that with a portion of their abilities demonstrated in such a way as to cause me harm. An inefficient form of intimidation, as each of their displays yielded new information.”

Among the more dangerous and insightful had been when Lord Arundel sent Hubert and a battalion to fend off beasts that he claimed resulted from an experiment gone awry in the Sealed Forest. Had he any reinforcements to take along, he would have, but they were all spread thin across the front lines as it was. The mages in the employ of Lord Arundel perished in his scheme that day, which he had the nerve to feign disappointment at, and nearly all of Hubert’s battalion had gone the same way. But he had learned more about his mysterious benefactors all the same, and Hubert could make good on their sacrifice at last.

“They tried to kill you, and you remained their ally?” King Dimitri finally spoke, incredulous at the very notion he described. Given the rumors of a merciless murderer haunting the Imperial countryside close to the monastery and single-handedly slaughtering entire outposts, he supposed that made sense. He was unfamiliar with holding on to dangerous allies rather than ending their lives. There was not much room for grey in his view on the world, after all. Whatever space there was for it, Hubert seemed to reside there based on the sincerity in His Highness’ surprised expression. Few people had cause to hate him more than the new king of united Fódlan, but even so… Hm.

“We both knew our allegiance was one of convenience,” Hubert reminded him. “Once our shared opponent was defeated, we would have immediately set upon one another. They were only attempting to get a head start.”

“If I may,” Seteth interjected, “you have said you aim to defeat them, but where do we begin? I believe the likes of Monica and Tomas have plagued our people for generations, and we were never able to uncover a central base of any kind.”

Their people? Such transparency in front of all the ruling leaders of Fódlan and yet not one responded. Hubert’s intelligence network informed him that in Rhea’s absence, Seteth took charge of the Church and any Knights still true to goddess. They were not enough in number to confirm that he had evidently adopted a policy of greater honesty than his predecessor.

Hubert chuckled over his concern regardless. Of course they never managed to find anything before he came along. Even as victors, they had no plan beyond what sat directly before them.

“You can learn a great deal by sinking into the dark beside your enemy,” he explained. “Their various attempts to keep me in line with the threat of physical danger gave me ample opportunity to study their magic.”

Reaching into his cloak, Hubert retrieved a scroll and laid it out on the center of the table. Picking up the paper weights always awaiting the latest map, he placed one in each corner so most people could get a clear view. Their audiences were not typically this large before now.

“When you took Fort Merceus, I detected their sorcery.” As a reference, he indicated where the fort once stood on the map. Tracing from there, he continued, “I have deduced the location of their stronghold, Shambhala, using that as a trail.” His fingertip rested at the marked location on the map he lost several agents acquiring and transporting in secret.

The network of Those Who Slither in the Dark was vast and escaping their detection had been impossible. To their credit, his agents never went dark alone and were always found near the corpse of their killer. The allies of Lord Arundel still believed he was unaware of their base thanks to their vigilance.

“Incredible,” Seteth said, leaning to look at the spot as if he could see through time. Hubert had to wonder all that Seteth has lost to these people and for a moment, felt a distant pang of remorse. It passed soon enough. “We have searched for so long to no avail, and you managed to find the heart of their society within only five years.”

“It had to be done,” he emphasized. The fact that his investigations began well over five years ago was beside the point when the bulk of his progress occurred within that timeframe. “There is no question that they are the enemies of everyone in Fódlan. Whatever you think of me or Her Majesty, I must implore you all not to allow yourselves to forget that.”

“Hubert, you sly little devil!” Claude took the opportunity to weigh in before the others, hardly a surprise. The leader of the Alliance certainly did love to hear his own voice. “Are you suggesting we all team up with you to bring these guys down?”

“Exactly. I see you live up to your newfound title.” Oddly enough, the exchange did remind him of Claude’s fearless approach to him when they were students. They’d hardly been considered friends, but he made a fine adversary for the strategy games Hubert was so fond of and enjoyed taunting banter almost as much as Hubert himself. The memories were distant but not altogether bad.

“The Master Tactician? Such high praise,” Claude teased, but that was no acceptance of his offer. He could be noncommittal for an exceedingly long time, having refined that ability in keeping the Alliance together as long as he had.

“I am not convinced you don’t wish His Highness harm,” Dedue cut off any potential reply from Hubert or Claude at that point. The diligent silence from before was quickly eroding into a free-for-all.

“I doubt it,” Linhardt answered for Hubert, stifling a yawn. “This is all for Edelgard, and he wouldn’t risk something so important to him just to get even with anyone. Especially not for actions they only took because of the war he helped start. Right, Hubert?”

What had the world come to when Linhardt was giving him thinly veiled commands? Still, Hubert nodded.

“Not how I would have phrased it, but it’s accurate enough. This was our plan after the war ended regardless, and the war is indeed at its end.” Hubert gave them all that he had, and there was only to hear their decisions. “Am I to understand that we have an agreement?”

“You have our support,” Seteth agreed somewhat coolly. The Knights beside him raised no objections, at least not out loud. With the most challenging alliance secured, Hubert had ample reason to believe the rest would follow.

“Alright, Hubert,” Claude grinned and winked, as nonchalant as he remembered. More accurately, he was presumably pushing Hubert’s boundaries to see if he could find a spot of weakness. “I’m on board.”

Everyone had turned to Dimitri then, who only stared at the map at the center of the table. His slightly off-balance stance pointed towards the existence of a recent injury on his left side, and Hubert nearly smiled at the thought that Her Majesty fought through to the last.

“Hubert,” Dimitri said, finally making eye contact. “No matter your answer to my next question, I have every intention of seeing El’s wishes through. I want you to know that I offered her a chance at surrender, and she stood by her cause until the very end.”

A likely subconscious roll of his left shoulder confirmed that His Highness was probably injured there, the healing magic restoring it to the point where it was not serious but may still scar. More urgently, Hubert did not expect the conversation to take this turn. He presumed he was the only one who would genuinely mourn Her Majesty, not simply wish it had been different. As a result, Hubert was woefully unprepared for anyone to offer their condolences in a tasteful description of her death taking place on her terms.

He felt his taciturn frown sliding into a softer, worried look he vehemently did not want to be seen with here.

“I have ensured that her body has been properly guarded as well, so she won’t suffer anything further now that she is at peace.” This compassion was unduly cruel. Hubert clenched his jaw and did his best to present at least an air of calm indifference if he could not manage his typical harsh image. “When you are ready, we can discuss how to handle her funeral.”

No. Too soon.

Hubert felt stripped bare and beaten bloody with every word that left King Dimitri’s mouth. Her Majesty’s funeral plans. She was proud in her final moments, never accepting surrender just as Hubert knew she wouldn’t. Every beat of his heart wounded him further as he tried time and again to wrap his mind around the uncompromising truth: Edelgard was dead and he had survived. He said as much himself moments ago, but to hear it said to him reached a very different result.

The map in front of him was nothing more than the last act of a desperate servant trying to make amends to the Emperor he had failed. All her work, all her sacrifice, and this was all Hubert had to show for it. What first felt like a renewed sense of purpose in the face of devasting loss was revealed to him for what it truly was—pathetic grasping at a fleeting sensation of serving Her Majesty.

“But I must know: are these people responsible for the Tragedy of Duscur?”

Grateful again for a new distraction, and the implication that the crisis in his head was not apparent to those in the room, Hubert forced his grief down one last time. He instead latched onto that diversion to dedicate his efforts to a reply that would rally King Dimitri and his allies to his cause.

“Yes, Your Highness.”

A familiar darkness swam into view within the king’s eyes, but it was a controlled shift in his demeanor. Willful and decisive. This insidiousness was not the unbridled madness he witnessed in the Holy Tomb, but the determination of a man who sought to level the scales. Hubert could see why he and Lady Edelgard had gotten along in their youth.

“Then it’s decided,” Dimitri nodded. “We will seek out this threat together and put an end to them once and for all.”

“That’s it?” Hilda skimmed the group for anyone else still not convinced and no doubt, she saw others who agreed. “He just gives us a map and we’re all friends now?”

“I would not say—”

“Hold on, Hubert, I’ll take care of this.” Claude held up a hand like he was nothing more than a courier, and on the grounds that he was actually less than one, Hubert allowed it. “What’d you have us to do him? He didn’t commit any war crimes.”

Hilda tried to play off her indecision as lightly as she could, playfully tapping her chin like she was giving Claude’s answer some thought. He did give her a chance to form an answer before finishing up his own point. One that Hubert had to agree was well-explained and thought out.

“Look, I don’t like what he and Edelgard did any more than you do, but he’s not a criminal. We’re just as bad if we use our power as the winners to punish him for picking the losing side.”

“I agree,” His Highness stepped in to provide his support once more. He looked to his allies rather than Hubert himself, but that was to be expected. His fate was in their hands, not his own. Hubert recalled that he was once a friend of Lady Edelgard’s, of course he did, but the pervasive kindness from King Dimitri still unnerved him. “Hubert is not inherently worthy of distrust. He has shown tremendous fealty, even when the odds of success were slim. That is an increasingly uncommon trait. Is that not deserving of our respect?”

“You guys are way too quick to forgive,” Hilda admonished, but she shook her head and accepted it. “But it’s too much work to change your minds. Guess we’re all in this together now.”

“The Church will not pursue you either, even after the deed is done,” Seteth insisted, eager to solve a concern Hubert had not even bothered with. “I will see to that myself.”

Begrudging acceptance, he anticipated. Threats of execution after the fact, that was almost a given. This unwavering support and understanding were far from Hubert’s list of possible outcomes of this proposal. His head throbbed, knees buckling, and he braced himself against the table as Caspar and Ferdinand rushed to spot him.

“—bert, are you unwell?”

“A near-death experience is very tiring, Ferdinand,” Linhardt explained flatly, casting another healing spell over him to only minor effect. Small enough that it could even be considered a placebo effect on his part. “He shouldn’t even be awake now, but that’s Hubert for you. What did I tell you?” That remark was directed at him, but Hubert had enough to do without contending with a conversation on top of it. “You need to rest more.”

“Ugh,” he groaned back instead, his voice echoing painfully in his head. That would only encourage him to talk more if left as-is, so Hubert cast him a cursory glance and answered in actuality that time. “It would seem I have no other choice.”

“You can rest as we regroup. No shackles,” King Dimitri advised, his voice taking on his traditional comforting tone in its deeper qualities. The second remark was not entirely well-received by the group, but it was not a request from him either. “There is more work to do before we are ready to lay siege to Shambala besides.”

“Your room will be guarded,” Dedue warned, glaring at Hubert without any heat behind it. A logical assessment of him as a threat, was it? A wise guard for a trusting king. Hubert chuckled.

“I would consider you a fool if it wasn’t.”

“And you’d still have a higher opinion of us than we do for you,” Felix shot back, his scorn etched into his frown.

“Felix,” King Dimitri called him off, at least for the time being. Felix scoffed but yielded, stalking out of the room. That act left Hubert for Dimitri to focus on next. “If you would like to say your farewells to El in private, she is also under guard in her quarters. The guards posted there will let you in.”

He pointedly avoided referring to her as dead or a corpse while still addressing that he may wish to say goodbye. Dimitri was a bizarre man.

“Very gracious of you, Your Highness. I will take my leave.”

“And I am right behind you!” Ferdinand stepped up to get the door ahead of Hubert. His familiarity with the Enbarr castle layout led him to the exit closest to the private quarters of the Emperor and the Minister of the Imperial Household on instinct. “You are still under watch, and I believe it will be more comfortable to be guarded by someone you know.”

“You’re not the only one here that I know,” Hubert reminded him, stepping through the door regardless. He would much rather be alone on his visit to Her Majesty, but it was something of a miracle he managed to coordinate that treaty as deftly as he had. He knew better than to demand solitude on top of that. And so it was that Ferdinand accompanied Hubert on the long walk to where Her Majesty’s corpse had been temporarily laid to rest.

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Intention to Court: Ferdibert FE3H Fanfiction

Word count: 3300 (7 to 25 minutes) | Rating: T | Fire Emblem: Three Houses Spoilers | Characters: Ferdinand, Hubert, Bernadetta, and Petra | Inspired by this art

The monastery staff set the scene for the night of the ball with exacting precision. Full bowls of roses sat in the center of each immaculate table lining the edges of the great hall. Flutes of sparkling juice were readily available as well, though champagne was promised for later in the evening in limited amounts. The stone floor gleamed as if it were marble, and once the orchestra began, students took to the floor in smitten droves. Hand in hand with wide-eyed admiration, the couples of Garreg Mach began their evening of ideal romance.

Some average student, a fourth son to a minor noble house, had taken Lady Edelgard’s hand for a dance. The other Black Eagle students had varying degrees of dread or excitement for this event, and they made no mystery of either. For example, Bernadetta was adamant about spending the evening outside the hall and refused to even approach the door.

Periodically, Hubert would check on her and deliver a fresh glass of juice to replace one she had emptied if Petra had not already done so. Disinterested as she was in the tamer dances of Fódlan, she chose to keep Bernadetta company. Meanwhile, Dorothea had an extensive list of prospective partners and Linhardt could only be bothered to dance with a select few people, Caspar being the most energetic among them.

Despite having talked to nearly everyone in the room at least once, Ferdinand remained conspicuously absent from the dancefloor itself. Hubert took his eyes off Edelgard for a moment to see if he couldn’t locate the future Prime Minister and see how he fared in securing a dance. He felt a sinister twinge of jealousy at the thought of another indulging in a dance with the vibrant, admittedly handsome Ferdinand—but that was not his place as a von Vestra.

Hubert’s purpose was to stand watch over Edelgard, as devoted and loyal as ever. She did encourage him to dance if he felt so inclined but said she would not force him. And he was grateful for her leniency in both regards. Dances were not meant for men like him. If he did grant himself a dance, there could be no doubt that many students and some staff would be so caught by surprise that they would gawk from the sheer incredulity. Hubert doubted he could stomach having that much social attention even partially on him for an entire song.

Certainly not for a dance with someone Hubert had made such a production about loathing when the truth was that he found the son of House Aegir worming his way into his fonder thoughts over time.

From how Ferdinand continuously sought him out for one debate or another and seemed to encourage the professor to partner them up for their weekly duties, he either suspected as much or subconsciously endeavored to annoy him to death with it. Perhaps both.

Beyond a cluster of conversing students Hubert didn’t recognize, Ferdinand caught his eye and waved immediately. Hubert could not stop the faint smile before it was already present and resigned himself to it, nodding in greeting. That would be enough, he reasoned, and Ferdinand would flit about his social evening of romance.

That did not occur.

Ferdinand held his gaze and made purposeful strides to where Hubert had positioned himself for the perfect vantage point to see as much of the ballroom as possible. That was the case until every scrap of his focus was centered on amber eyes and an infuriatingly confident smile of one Ferdinand von Aegir.

There was no earthly reason he could fathom for Ferdinand to seek out Hubert now, of all times. They had no obligation to fulfill, no argument to engage in, and he had his choice of partners for dance and conversation. Having recently won the White Heron Cup, Ferdinand was the center of attention and several amorous designs of the student body at Garreg Mach.

What could he possibly want from Hubert on such a night?

He came to a stop at a slightly-less-than-respectful distance from Hubert, decidedly in far too familiar territory for his noble standards. Hubert found himself frozen and unsure what that could mean. The champagne had not come out already, had it? As the newest dancer of Garreg Mach, he may have been able to sneak a glass early and that compromised his judgment. But this was pure speculation and only delaying Hubert in reaching a logical conclusion for his closeness.

“Hubert von Vestra.” He bowed politely, hand seeking out Hubert’s in what had to be a prank or an alcohol-fueled moment of fancy. Given his disbelief, Hubert permitted his hand to be lifted to Ferdinand’s lips and felt their pressure on the back of his hand through his gloves. Their warmth persisted after Ferdinand straightened and held Hubert to the spot with a glowing smile.

Hubert’s other hand covered his own mouth in a meager attempt to conceal the contorted expression there. Shock. A touch of dread for where this development may lead. Worse: hope. A feeling Hubert was certain was far, far behind him. It was a fruitless effort, however. Hubert felt the blush spread across his face like an unchecked flame, reaching even his ears due to his accursedly pale skin. Normally, that ghastly pallor furthered his intimidating image, but now…

“I am announcing my intention to court you.” He declared it with conviction in the face of Hubert’s uncertainty, ostensibly immune to the hundreds of eyes on them that felt like brambles against his own skin. “It would be an honor if you would say yes to a dance with me.”

Damn Ferdinand for making such a public proclamation. The undivided attention of those within sight rendered Hubert powerless to form any response beyond standing there, as inarticulate and vacant as the training dummies of the monastery. The time it took to collect himself dragged on mercilessly.

“Is this some sort of joke?”

“Not at all! A noble is true to his word. Don’t tell me someone else has already captured your attention?” A worried edge to his voice carried over into an uneasy tension in shoulders as his eyes and smile alike dimmed. Ferdinand was not as resistant to doubt as he projected, but to see it all that openly suggested there was sincerity to his announcement.

A more terrifying prospect than Hubert had encountered in years.

He was sorely tempted to look at Edelgard for guidance. This was a matter they had already discussed when Hubert first realized his feelings for Ferdinand may be beyond simple tolerance or respect. She might have insight here that went beyond the sentimental but unhelpful ‘follow your heart’ she originally gave Hubert.

When he did inevitably look up to seek out Lady Edelgard, he saw only an ocean of eyes to the tune of stifled laughter. Half-hidden faces, piercing gazes over ornate fans. Hubert tried to swallow and found his mouth dry. His mind unhelpfully provided a mantra from his father that he heard more often in his youth than any lullaby or childhood limerick: von Vestras are meant to remain unseen in shadow to protect the Emperor wherever their path may take them.

And no matter how he rehearsed and trained and studied, Hubert never outgrew the paralytic dread of the public eye focusing its intensity on him and him alone.

Rumors could fly and he would hardly spare it a thought. If needed, Hubert could give an impromptu speech to a crowded room. He could command battalions of any size or relay orders to hidden agents with secret codes and signals. But catching the notice of a swarm of gossiping teenagers wiped Hubert’s mind of all but one impulse—to make a tactical retreat.

“I… Please excuse me.”

Abruptly departing, Hubert took his hand from Ferdinand’s and followed his tunnel vision to the nearest exit. Through the chatter of the crowd, he heard Ferdinand calling his name behind him, but Hubert pressed on and opened the door out with an open palm. He doubted he could stop if he wanted to—and he did not. He was drawn to the outdoors like a drowning man sought the shore and similarly took a deep breath of the chilled air once he located Bernadetta and Petra. Suddenly feeling imbalanced, Hubert took a seat beside Bernadetta in what he imagined was a fairly comedic example of their height difference.

“Hubert? Are you not feeling well?” Petra leaned forward, a glimpse of her braid falling into his view. Due to her perceptive nature and relatively short time in Adrestia before arriving at the Garreg Mach monastery, Petra was well aware that Hubert did not find touch comforting and restricted her concern to her tone. Mercifully.

“There are a lot of people in there.” Bernadetta spoke from personal experience, so she naturally maintained the distance between the two of them. “Maybe you should take a break?”

“Perhaps.” He was reluctant to admit to such a trivial weakness, but it was preferable to do so in the present company than in a dance hall containing the whole of the student body.

For a while, that is how the three of them remained. A new song started up from within the hall, muffled but audible from their spot just beyond the peaked windows. Bernadetta sometimes hummed a tune before catching herself and cutting it short. They could not see the Blue Sea Star at present, but the others dotted the sky among the thin clouds of their breath. There was a chill, but nothing uncomfortable enough to merit going back to the hall.

Lady Edelgard told him to do as he pleased tonight, and it pleased him to be away from the raucous festivities at present. Soon, Hubert would grow impatient and feel compelled to watch over Lady Edelgard for the rest of the ball. But not yet.

“Hubert,” Ferdinand appeared, voice coiled tight with worry. When Hubert did not respond, he slowed his approach to wait for some indication to come closer. “Dorothea said you may be on this side of the building.”

“Good evening, Ferdinand,” Petra greeted, not letting the atmosphere interfere with her manners.

Bernadetta was not so focused on social propriety and apparently feeling brave at the opportunity to come to Hubert’s aid. “I, um, I don’t think now is a good time for Hubert?”

“If I remain at this distance, can I at least explain?”

“Oh. Um.” He felt Bernadetta turn to him like a shift in barometric pressure. This was at the upper limit of attention Hubert could handle at the moment, in the relative dark of the open garden area between the dance hall and the house’s common rooms. “Hubert?”

“On the condition provided, you may.” One of his hands rubbed the back of the other, the ghost of that kiss felt again with the presence of Ferdinand.

Ferdinand sat where he was with no regard for his likely tailor-made outfit specifically for the White Heron Cup dance. Just like him to make a grand gesture of prioritizing Hubert over any expense simply by taking a seat.

“While I admire your unseen devotion, I can be somewhat out of touch with it at times.” The admittance of shortcoming came to him with as much ease as a jovial smile or declaring his name for all enemies to hear. How pride and humility could co-exist in one man was an enticing, exasperating puzzle. “In my excitement to announce my intent to court you, I am embarrassed to say this was one such occasion.”

Hubert could sense Petra and Bernadetta’s withheld desire to ask for more details. Thankfully, they kept their silence. He would have to properly thank them later. In a few weeks’ time, he may even manage to acquire gifts they would enjoy. Ferdinand continued on where they held their tongues, more than content to speak enough for everyone present.

“In light of that mistake, I would like to ask you once more if you will consider my offer now that we are in your element. No dance required; you have my word,” he vowed.


“Yes, Hubert?” His tone brightened that instant, evidently pleased at the progress of having gotten any response at all.

“This courtship.” The word felt foreign to him in this context, as a term in application to himself that he never fathomed choosing. If anything, he expected a political marriage in his future on behalf of Lady Edelgard if she needed his eligibility as leverage. “I trust you understand fully now that I am not one to be in the limelight.”

“If you are asking for moderation, please put your mind at ease. I will be moderate.”

“Moderate.” He followed the repetition with disbelieving scoff, happening to turn and face Ferdinand at last. Of course, he’d been watching Hubert in wait for that very moment. A thrill ran through Hubert at the delicate anticipation in that widened smile on his face. Because of Hubert. For him, even. He pushed that feeling down and held his own expression steady. “By your definition or mine?”

“Ours, of course. My courtship is to show you what you can expect from me as a romantic partner.” Ferdinand was too satisfied with that presentation, practically shining in the dark winter night as if the sun had never set. A hand to his chest, Ferdinand squared his shoulders and gave Hubert a new promise. “I will give you nothing short of the full Ferdinand von Aegir experience at a pace that respects your preferences!”

“I suppose—” Through the window nearest him, Hubert glimpsed Edelgard at the dance. She appeared to be taking a break from dancing and standing beside Byleth and beaming, not the least bit worried. Both were a rarity in the years since her return from Fhirdiad.

There was no chance she did not see that debacle between him and Ferdinand, and if she held such care-free confidence in his capability to address this matter, Hubert had to believe she was correct.

“I suppose I can live with that.” Giving his attention back to Ferdinand, Hubert forged ahead with newfound resolve. “If you are certain you can handle the life I’ve chosen to lead, that is.”

“You mean with Edelgard, I assume?” The loving, nearly reverent gaze he was met with came entirely by surprise. Searching his memory as he tried and failed to steady the fluttering in his chest, Hubert could not recall a time when he had felt so positively embraced with merely a look. “I would not have you any other way, Hubert. Your sworn service to her is all part of your charm: your unwavering fealty.”

So Ferdinand did understand. Through all the arguing and endless prodding, he managed to see Hubert for what he aimed to be. Perhaps even more than Hubert himself envisioned. He considered his duty to be everything for Her Majesty, but… There just may be room for one more. Hubert was transfixed by the fondness in Ferdinand’s eyes, a welcoming ray of sunlight warm enough to burn but soothing enough to lose himself in.

“Hubert, I know that you would follow her into the embrace of death itself and face any danger in her name. To see such dedication given so freely with nothing requested in exchange, well,” Ferdinand trailed off and tore his gaze away first, a loss and an act of mercy, since it gave Hubert a glance at the blush dusting across his cheeks.

So expressive, Ferdinand. You would never last in the shadows. There is nothing for it, then… I will have to protect you also.

“It makes me want to devote myself to you in return, Hubert.” Words may have temporarily failed him, but at least Ferdinand managed to face Hubert once again. “Someone must, and I intend to claim the honor before anyone else sees what a fine husband you will be.”

“F-Ferdinand,” Hubert fumbled, cursing his own flustered stutter.

Bernadetta saved him making a greater fool of himself by squeaking in delight, turning to exchange elated whispers with Petra. Most likely on the romantic aspects of this exchange for her anonymously published stories… At least Dorothea did not bear witness to this, or he would truly never hear the end of it.

“Hubert! I don’t believe I have ever heard you stumble over your words before. It is quite endearing.”

“Receiving unabashed flattery is unusual for me,” Hubert half-heartedly explained, his gaze wandering to the celebration again. The dance would end soon, and he was sure everyone in the hall was talking about them to some extent. Half the students in attendance had to have seen their exchange firsthand, spreading the news to the remainder in record time. After all, everyone knew the two of them better for their harsh disputes rather than—this.

“I shall see to that as well, then.” Still so proud of himself, Ferdinand grinned as the song from inside ended. Another would be shortly behind. It may be the last one of the night to preface the mass exodus to the Goddess Tower for the lovers’ legend.

Alerted by the motion, Hubert turned to see Ferdinand offering his hand across a divide greater than either of them could reach without moving.

“I did say a dance was not required, but if you would please you, Hubert, I would be delighted to share one with you here in these gardens.”

He could decline if he wanted. Ferdinand would be content to recite him poetry or tell him the meaning behind every frosted flower in the gardens or whatever distant courtship entailed for a von Aegir. But he had been obstinate enough tonight, and—truthfully, it could be pleasant to dance just once as if he was any other student. As if there was nothing more to concern himself with than courtship and ridiculous flights of fancy.

Hubert chuckled, standing and taking his offered hand. “I suspect we have already become the talk of the evening for the dance we didn’t have. We may as well actually take part in it.”

Hubert was a decent dancer. Just another skill for the Emperor’s vassal and shadow, primarily to be certain he could maintain a vigilant watch and fight directly from a dance if needed. Given the volatility of Adrestian nobility, preparedness for such an event could only help Hubert.

Those dark musings meant nothing to Ferdinand, brimming with delight as he pulled himself to his feet from Hubert’s hand and leading them to the makeshift dancefloor that was the expanse of grass framed in moonlight-washed winter blooms of the monastery.

Hubert knew the steps as familiarly as the hidden dagger on his belt and the sigils burned into the insides of his gloves. But the routine was transformed by sharing it with someone he—loved was the word, he supposed. Their communication transcended words or glances as the weight of a hand on Hubert’s back gently guided them away from unseen obstacles. He followed that direction simply on the good faith that Ferdinand would watch out for him.

Hubert was nearly always in a place of guidance to others. Caspar needed him to advise him to be cautious on the battlefield, Bernadetta required someone to remind her of potential risks in her actions, Linhardt needed regular lecturing, and the list continued on. Relinquishing that role over to another, even in the course of one dance, was dissonant—but freeing. Trust did not come easily to Hubert, but he could deny it no longer.

He trusted Ferdinand. After what would likely be an unusually confrontational, somewhat moderate courtship ordeal, it was possible Hubert may even admit that he loved him.

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You Will Live Ch. 3: Rhea | Ferdibert FE3H Fanfiction

Word count: 2600 (6 to 21 minutes) | Rating: T | Note: Fire Emblem: Three Houses Spoilers | Characters: Ferdinand, Hubert, Caspar, Catherine, Rhea, Seteth, Flayn, and Byleth

Read the previous chapter.

The secret underground halls of Enbarr’s capital were more a home to Hubert than his own quarters, but he was unused to having company when he travelled them. Caspar and Ferdinand flanked him in a spear formation as Catherine stood a wary distance behind them—not so close as to be attacked, but not so far as to be separated. She summoned Seteth, Flayn, and the professor before they descended, and so they walked behind her as well. It was convenient for his goals to have so many witness his compliance with their wishes, but still unusual for Hubert regardless.

The narrow confines of the passage and worn floor muffled their footsteps, and the hiss of the professor’s fire spells lighting wall-mounted torches added a smoky tinge to the earthy scent permeating the tunnels. The air was tight with anticipation and words unsaid, but even Ferdinand and Caspar remained silent as they pressed on.

For the most part.

“Okay, well…” Caspar began, rolling his shoulders and keeping his voice down by his standards. Words meant only for the former Black Eagles, then. “Catherine definitely crossed a line.”

So he didn’t want his role model to hear he didn’t approve of her conduct earlier. Upon finding that the energy to sneer escaped him, Hubert left his expression flat and disinterested.

“She cannot hear you, Caspar. It means as little to her as it does to me.”

The potential double meaning struck him as a sudden plunge into icy water: she as in Catherine or Lady Edelgard? The wounded quietude that followed, with Caspar sulking to one side while Ferdinand gave him a warning look on the other, was worse than being yelled at, hated, or feared. Anything was preferable to this coddling sympathy like a blanket smothering him.

Worse, Hubert was all too aware that his mental state was alternating between precarious and detached without warning. Years had passed since he was away from Her Majesty for an extended period of time, and now it would be for the rest of his days—however long that proved to be. This was unmapped territory Hubert hoped to never acquaint himself with.

He stopped short by a dark area of the passage, and the nearest torch flared to life to reveal the recessed door he sought: humble, pitted, but effective. The iron across the wooden slats bore sigils that, if focused on for too long, would appear to shift. Resting a hand on them would reveal that they were as motionless as the door itself, but the illusion would remain.

“The archbishop,” he exhaled, feeling somewhat winded from the walk so soon after his near-death recovery, “is residing here.”

“Rhea!” Seteth brushed past him first with more urgency than malice, pulling the door open seconds after Hubert lowered the protective spells on it.

Catherine was on his heels, her expression set into a scowl as her eyes betrayed her worries. Next came Flayn, whose pace and gaze lingered by Hubert, wide with fear and sympathy in equal measure. For a non-human entity, she was remarkably emotional. Once she concluded her business staring at the prisoner, Flayn followed into the chambers that held Rhea.

Odd, how he had come to this cell as a warden for years and in one night, the opposite was true. Such was the power in the wicked tides of war, he supposed.

Next came the professor. Her expressiveness was always rather limited, but her unpredictable nature with something looming underneath had all but vanished. Her eyebrows drew together ever so slightly in the dark as she looked at him or perhaps through him. A firm hand on his shoulder carried with it a healing spell, and she left to Rhea’s side as well.

Hubert glared at the ground, enduring a sickening pitch to his stomach as the faith magic stitched together any reopened injuries. The residual soreness remained untouched, naturally. But why did mercy always tear into him worse than overt resentment? The floor certainly didn’t have the answers or anything to get him closer to the next steps for his orders. To move towards laying Her Majesty’s soul to rest, Hubert required an audience with King Dimitri.

“Hubert?” Ferdinand implored for an explanation to his stillness or grimace, maybe. It hardly mattered.

“They have who they came for.” Hubert gave him a fleeting glance, turning back the way they came with a hand to brace him against the wall. “I need a word with His Highness.”

“Hold on,” Caspar interrupted, putting an arm out in front of Hubert and standing his ground in the face of the withering look he earned for his efforts. “Shouldn’t you rest or something?”

“I will get my rest when I meet my end.” Were he in better condition, he may have pushed past Caspar to begin travelling back to the main levels of the Imperial castle. Instead, he stood between Ferdinand and Caspar with no means of forging ahead despite his limitations.

“There is no need to rush, Hubert.” Ferdinand’s hand against his upper back was an insult, as if he could not support himself on his own. Hubert’s own hand steadying him against the wall was beside the point. “You can have a short break here before we return to the great hall to avoid jeopardizing your recovery.”

“Hubert? Is that Hubert?” Rhea’s voice was thin and raspy with disuse—she had long since given up trying to provoke Hubert and passed the majority of his visits without a word—but still, he recognized her as she spoke from within her chambers.

He wanted nothing to do with her. Hubert had important matters to attend to for Her Majesty, and listening to this morally devoid, inhuman beast preach about his part in their path was not beneficial to his ends whatsoever. Worse, Hubert could not predict how he might react in this state of mind and he had to act carefully if he was going to secure the alliance necessary to see Her Majesty’s plan through.

“Hubert.” The quickening pulse of his heart, cornered and defensive, quelled somewhat at the sound of Byleth’s voice. Prodding, but not forceful, her tone was a reassurance that he may enter and know it would not be the callous slaughter it was almost guaranteed to be if Rhea faced him with solely her followers present.

He sighed through his nose, eyes falling shut as he gathered himself. Turning again and brushing Ferdinand’s hand from his path to the open doorway, Hubert answered. “It is.”

He stepped inside and lingered just past the entrance. The room was not the lavish palace she was no doubt used to and indeed, preferred, but it was hardly a prison cell. The bed had fresh linens and a patterned duvet to ward out the chill of the undercroft and give a semblance of hominess to the quarters.

Her Majesty’s orders, of course. While she resented Rhea’s brutal rule over Fódlan, Lady Edelgard had also spent an immeasurable time in a bleak, unfurnished cell as her siblings fell to death or madness from Crest experimentation. She could not bring herself to allow anyone else to suffer in such conditions.

And so, more decorations made their way into Rhea’s chambers. If she disliked them or plainly destroyed them, Hubert acquired others to replace them—even a specific landscape painting at request. When she asked that they be changed with the season, he honored that. There was a rotating selection of books as well, a modest vanity, and fresh flowers delivered every week.

These gestures did not make her comfortable in her imprisonment by any consideration, but Her Majesty at least did offer better living arrangements than she would have received if the roles were reversed.

“I see you have been weakened by the battle.” Her mouth in a thin line, Rhea attempted to pin him with a cold stare. Where that failed, she reached for statements of fact delivered as accusations. “You withheld food during my imprisonment. I was brought only one meal a day.”

The reactions to that were mixed, some turning their attention to him for denial and finding none, and others accepting this knowledge immediately for the purpose of deepening their rage with him.

At last, Rhea found success with a practiced look of remorseful sympathy one might see on the canvas of a novice painter: aesthetically correct, but barren of any true emotion. “What lies did that wicked girl feed you?”

He shuddered from the sheer offense of it all, that condescending question piercing him like a well-aimed cast of Fimbulvetr. Hubert heard the waver in his voice as if it were someone else’s. While rage contributed to it, that was not all, and he was not alone in his awareness of that.

“I swore my life to Lady Edelgard, and the loss of Her Majesty pains me beyond description. Knowing that as you must, you would slander her name and belittle her sacrifice on the very day of her death,” he returned her list of truthful allegations and cared not a whit if anyone present believed him. Hubert clenched his fists and did what he could to suppress the enraged trembling that threatened his stability.

“After such a blatant display of cruelty, who here can truly be called wicked?” He had said more than he should, but with no sense to stop himself, Hubert continued. “That you can even accuse her of deceit from your position of power within a false religion is further evidence that you are as monstrous as they come.”

Catherine came forward and shouted at Hubert as he apparently so wanted to hear. “You starved her—”

Think for once in your cursed life. We had to weaken her for our safety.” Here, Hubert was at ease. Let them argue and debate with him; he could volley back their criticisms for ages. “We couldn’t very well have the Immaculate One manifest in the undercroft.”

That got their attention. To her credit, Catherine only showed a brief lapse in blind faith before her dogma reasserted itself in a watchful frown. Flayn and Seteth’s shared concern behind Rhea’s back was far more telling and suggested that Hubert was correct to believe their confidence in Rhea had been badly shaken.

“Do you think for a moment that she would spare a thought to the innocents within our walls? The serving staff? Their children?” The frigid edge came back to Hubert’s voice, his trademark disdain taking hold of his expression on its own. He hadn’t expected to be soothed by its familiarity rather than thrilled at a point well made. “To defend them from her indifferent hostility, yes, I decided to ration Rhea’s meals. Consider what may have happened to her had we turned her over to our mutual enemy as they demanded.”

His resentment cooled to a logical contempt while the present supporters of the Church responded with varying degrees of offense—with Catherine as the most and Byleth as the least. Each piece acted as a balm to the internal unrest he’d suffered through so far. Better still, that outburst served as part of the plan, since his last sentence would get the more analytical among them considering the context.

“What enemy is this?” Byleth, focused as ever, spoke before the more irate of her peers could make fools of themselves.

“The threat that slithers in the dark.” Strange, how explanations asked for more of his attention when he was unable to gesture. He thought little of his habit of crossing his arms or putting his hand to his chin before being kept in cuffs. “Rhea will know them well from her kind’s history. This opponent resents their people and all who live above ground—but I will not say another word without His Highness. Even as the victors, you don’t have the luxury of forcing me to repeat myself.”

“You really think you get to make demands?” Catherine must have missed Rhea profoundly to be so eager to come to her defense at every chance. Jealous of the professor, perhaps? An interesting consideration to file away for later review.

“Alright, Catherine, cut it out.” Caspar, of all people, stepped between Hubert and Catherine. At that distance, his marked increase in height over the past five years was rather notable. “Hubert’s one of us.”

“Well said, Caspar!” With how Ferdinand replied, one might believe Caspar had made an especially keen observation rather than a mostly inaccurate statement. Hubert had been their classmate years ago, but few of them took the side of Lady Edelgard in the war against the Church of Seiros. Those that did, later left to join their enemy.

And yet, they came to his defense of their own will when the odds were against him worse than ever. Hubert could not help but wonder what Her Majesty would think of this display. Would she be moved by their unwavering faith in Hubert? Or would she be disappointed that a part of him, however small and vulnerable, wanted to believe in their fealty once again?

He knew the answer. She gave it to him with her last breaths for occasions such as this. It did not make trusting them any easier. As a poor substitute, Hubert permitted them to speak on his behalf.

“I sympathize with Rhea’s suffering, of course, but Hubert is an ally of ours.” Ferdinand paused to consider his claim, wisely making a minor addendum with as much certainty and sincerity as any other proclamation the would-be Prime Minister might make. “Formerly, that much is true. But this room is hardly designed for torment and neglect. I have faith that he would not resort to rationing unless he felt it was absolutely necessary just as he described. We should grant him an audience to make his case.”

Hubert’s attention fell once more to the floor at the unsolicited rush of pride at being held in such esteem, made even more treasured by its moderation. Ferdinand had taken the side of the enemy against Her Majesty, but that sentence alone assured Hubert that it was done with a heavy heart. That fact was supported by Ferdinand’s forced calm at the gates of Enbarr as well.

If he could understand Hubert’s perspective in this even now, then perhaps…

“Seriously, you’re going to defend this lapdog over—”

“Catherine, please.” Rhea interceded, her elegant arm extended to crush the argument before it began. “It is alright. As the victors, we can allow him the mercy his lost soul could not provide.”

Hubert scoffed, rolling his eyes at the heavy-handed distortion of his prior cutting remark. Having to contend with the endless drivel from Rhea rather than deposing her would be among the more difficult aspects of complying with Her Majesty’s hopes for Hubert’s future.

“Hearing the same report at once will keep us on the same page,” Byleth steered the conversation to more practical matters. “I’ll call a meeting in the war room.”

“Thank you, Professor.” Ferdinand expressed open relief, bowing politely as his noble bearing demanded.

And with that, Hubert was one step closer to securing revenge for Her Majesty against the Agarthans as recompense for failing to guarantee her victory against the Church. He would claw his way through to this tenuous alliance if he must, and there was no demand they could make that he would not meet personally (although they need not know that much before they even began negotiations). Hubert would not fail her twice.

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You Will Live Ch. 2: Wonder | Ferdibert FE3H Fanfiction

Word count: 2920 (6 to 24 minutes) | Rating: T | Note: Fire Emblem: Three Houses Spoilers | Main Characters: Ferdinand, Hubert, and former Black Eagle students

Read the previous chapter.

The Kingdom and Alliance troops were celebrating their victory over the Empire. The somber work of collecting bodies and identifying them was likely left to Shamir and her agents while lackeys for the Church of Seiros searched for Rhea. Meanwhile, Hubert stood shackled in the great hall of the capital’s castle under the guard of Caspar and Ferdinand, waiting for anyone in power to remember he existed.

Until then, he removed himself from his grief. He could sense it behind the dam built up in his mind, bleak and roiling and vast. But Hubert would suffer endless torture before he gave the combined enemy armies the satisfaction of seeing him broken down in the castle where Her Majesty made her last stand. It was injury enough that several of the Black Eagles who turned on Lady Edelgard had witnessed the break in his armor.

To preoccupy him instead, Hubert had Her Majesty’s agenda to consider. The final step in her vision for Fódlan: to defeat Those Who Slither in the Dark once and for all. He would require substantially powerful allies to achieve that goal, though there were not many in the wake of such an extensive war. In fact, the only forces of that caliber were also his captors.

He examined the metal cuffs around his wrists, a thick chain dangling between them. Too short to be used for effective strangulation, and a sure sign that their distrust of him would be his greatest obstacle in joining with them against the final threat they weren’t even aware of.

But the fact that Ferdinand and Caspar were assigned to watch over him rather than someone impartial or even openly hostile suggested there was someone in a position of political clout who looked on him with compassion.

Whoever it was, they outranked Ferdinand as a general in the enemy forces, a fact that reduced the possibilities greatly. Perhaps subconsciously, Hubert’s gaze drifted to the very man beside him. Ferdinand stood watchful and resolute, but there was a tension in his posture that betrayed his mental state: he was thinking tirelessly on a matter that vexed him.

You and I both. A shame neither of us have someone to turn to.

Once, they may have turned to each other.

Hubert looked back to the cuffs with an especially foul grimace. His line of reasoning led him to believe his sympathizer was one of few people with enough power: Seteth, Byleth, Claude, or Dimitri. Seteth was a ridiculous prospect, considering that the Death Knight kidnapped Flayn on behalf of Those Who Slither in the Dark. That act guaranteed he would never view Hubert with any honest compassion.

Well-informed rumors had it that Byleth did believe the Flame Emperor about their lack of involvement in Remire Village and by indirect extension, the death of Jeralt, but that still only left her in neutral territory at best. Claude likely held moral quandaries with their methods combined with a healthy skepticism of Hubert that contributed to the restraints. But that perspective would certainly not have any role in allowing his former classmates who just saved his life to stand as his guards.

Lastly, there was Dimitri. Chivalrous Dimitri, who had become rather shrewd over his five years in exile, but remained a long-time friend of Edelgard’s in his sentiments (if nothing further). He had been forgotten in name alone as she treasured the dagger that he gifted to her and all it represented.

Dimitri’s meeting with her to discuss their options aside from warfare felt as removed as Hubert’s report to Her Majesty earlier that morning, but it did serve as confirmation that His Highness was the source of the perceived kindness extended to Hubert. If there was anyone he would speak to about the Agarthans, it had to be King Dimitri in order to improve his odds of successful negotiation. But in truth, His Highness’ most probable intentions in allowing Ferdinand and Caspar to guard their previous classmate was simply to provide some measure of comfort in an especially trying time.

Yet all three of them stood in a weighty silence. Even Caspar’s brow wrinkled with worry as he restlessly shifted weight from one leg to the other, crossing and uncrossing his arms without reason. It was almost as if thinking generated even more energy that forced Caspar to channel it into any motion whatsoever.

Hubert knew they were not responsible for Her Majesty’s death. She accepted that her chosen path could claim her life and made her peace with that before even first appearing as the Flame Emperor. In war, there were no murderers. If anyone was to blame, it would be the fool who swore to protect her with his life and failed.

Even so, standing beside two people he once considered friends, Hubert was completely without anything to say. He did not hate them or long to return to their time bickering in hallways or at the training grounds. Hubert felt nothing, in fact. He reached into the dark well of insidious disdain in his heart and came up empty. He would have settled for what they had previously referred to as his persistent nagging, but still, there was nothing.

In their absence, her voice rang clear with another final order for him as if the communication spell remained in an echo:

All I need from you now is to know that although I will fall here today, you will live your own life.

How? Hubert could not even muster a word to two people who knew him—well enough, he supposed. Better than most andamong the few who could claim to be anything of a friend to Hubert. The iron against his wrists faintly warmed from contact with his skin and grounded him in a manner that nothing else in the din of the great hall could.

Their new allies seemed to view them as invisible for standing beside Hubert. Every soldier and servant in the great hall moved past the three men as efficiently and indifferently as ants around a pebble. Supplies and the wounded had to be ferried into the castle before nightfall, beginning its repurposing into their fortress.


Of course Caspar would yield first; it was in his nature to being completely unable to read the atmosphere. Pale blue eyes peered at him from the edge of his vision, his overthinking expression still very much the same despite having grown otherwise. Count Bergliez was a fearsome warrior that must be intimidating to be compared to, but Caspar was well on his way to standing on equal footing.

“I’m glad you made it, you know.”

“That would make one of us.” Hubert’s typical clipped delivery, dripping with venom, was apparently instinctive even as it came across somewhat hollow. He was not alone in noticing it lacked credibility, since Caspar appeared more concerned than offended. The conflicted, sorrowful gaze that had lingered on Petra and Shamir in his academy days now directed itself at Hubert. It made his skin crawl, forcing him to worry his fingers against his own palms in the hopes of ridding himself of the first sensation. To even consider Caspar might feel compelled to look after Hubert filled him with disgust at being so pitied.

Ferdinand’s sympathetic sigh failed to be a suitable diversion. His stern, tender look with those damned amber eyes threatened to crack the dam Hubert constructed. He must hold the despair back until he was alone, where no one could gain more emotional blackmail against him. Never mind that they had enough to go on already and never used it, not once; Hubert had to keep his guard up. That was a critical aspect of his sworn duty. “Hubert, you—”

“If you truly felt as much, would I be restrained?”

Whatever sentence he intended to say, it would end poorly for Hubert. Few could get under his skin and make him say more than he meant to like Ferdinand von Aegir. Better that he interrupted him and preserve what remained of his dignity.

“Hey,” Caspar stepped in, the ideal diversion where Ferdinand fell short. “If anybody saw you just standing around, they’d probably just attack you even with us here. You’re in no shape for that.”

Hubert chuckled, low and dark, and discovered he hit that familiar tone precisely. What else was there to say to that?

“The restraints will not be forever, Hubert.” Ferdinand appeared to have taken the hint or perhaps reconsidered his first remark to return to at another time. The latter was the far more probable of the two scenarios. He did try to look at Hubert directly, searching for—who knew what? But Hubert levelled his cold stare at a point somewhere beyond him as the noble continued. “I promise that we will sort this out properly once our forces are settled and the wounded have been treated.”

…And that pierced him as well as any blade. However quietly, Hubert’s next breath wavered. Easily dismissed as residual pain from the injury and that was the excuse Hubert chose to believe for himself as well. To complete the next task he assigned to himself in the name of Her Majesty, Hubert would need to deceive his own mind for as long as he was able.

Do not give me your promises and look at me with devotion, Ferdinand. I cannot bear it.

“Yes, I remember the fickle nature of your promises.” Still, Hubert could not draw on the full strength of his cutting words—he merely sounded exhausted to his own ears—but even a dull edge to his voice could land some damage and keep Ferdinand at a manageable distance. “They are easily broken when it serves you to do so.”

When Hubert became close to someone, he memorized the finer details about them. And so, when he grew closer to Ferdinand, he took great care to remember every important fact. His favorite tea. The name of his first beloved Aegir hound. The time of day he preferred to go on a leisurely ride on horseback. Which flowers he preferred over others. And of course, what every single expression written all over his face indicated for his state of mind. Because while Ferdinand did ever try to present a strong front, he had his vulnerabilities like anyone else.

He flinched back, a curled strand of hair falling forward with the motion, but the flicker of hurt feelings dissipated almost instantly into flaring, prideful indignance that turned those amber eyes into a fiery bronze. “I swore to serve the ideals that Edelgard said she would uphold, and when that was no longer the case—”

Too soon, the realization that he was bickering with Hubert while their Emperor lay cold in another room dawned on Ferdinand and like that, the fire was out. His shoulders dropped and he sighed once again.

And Hubert laughed, wordlessly urging him to finish the counterargument he had prepared.

“Are you pretending that holding back is another noble display of mercy?” That was closer to the right inflection, but still not quite. Hubert sneered down at Ferdinand regardless. Let this be like old times when he could provoke them with just a few short words, let Ferdinand hurt him in return, and it would make this so much easier to endure—or so he imagined. “First, you preserve my life so that I might have the privilege of living with Her Majesty’s death, and now you hope to conceal your obvious disdain for everything she stood for? I suppose it serves me right for expecting better of you, Ferdinand.”

“I understand you well, Hubert.” He kept calm, more certain now than when he first appeared on the battlefield. Hubert’s sneer fell to a heatless scowl that held more from habit than any true disdain. “And because I do, I will forgive what you have just said since I know you are only trying to keep me from coming to your aid now that you need it most. You never were one to accept support with any manner of ease, as you prefer to be in the role of providing rather than being cared for.”

Hubert scoffed and pried his attention away from the absurdity going on beside him. Naturally, Ferdinand continued undaunted while Caspar pretended badly with a half-stifled smirk not to notice Hubert’s discomfort. He, of course, could not know the reason as well Ferdinand claimed to.

‘When I see you at the monastery, studying with the others… It makes me wonder what kind of life you might’ve had without me.’

It was Edelgard’s idle thought, not his own, and from their first year at Garreg Mach. Hubert might pretend he had no notion as to why that memory came to him now, unbidden and fraught with conflicted sentiments, but he knew better than that. Attempting to deceive himself had been a fool’s errand. He was without her now and there were two former Black Eagle students with him at present. This was the foundation of the life she saw for Hubert that made her wonder what could have been.

“Truly, you ought to know better by now.” Ferdinand’s playful wit bled into his false chastising. “An exceptionally harsh critic once confirmed that my relentless optimism is my greatest attribute. Where others may become discouraged and abandon their path, I never yield. Ferdinand von Aegir is, indeed, unmatched in that particular quality.”

Assured pride practically radiated off Ferdinand as surely and powerfully as summer sunlight, all with him grinning and drawing himself up. Always so sure of his success on the grounds that he would never quit… But there was no time to form a response to Ferdinand quoting Hubert to himself, not when Catherine stormed over to their group and stopped short in front of Hubert. “Enough is enough. Where is Lady Rhea.”

He squared his shoulders, piercing her with an aloof smile. “I wondered when you would overcome your pride and seek my help.” Strategically, Hubert should seize this opportunity to prove that he can be trusted not to slight them, at least, and lead her to Rhea without delay. But while grief could be withheld, spite was another matter entirely. “She is here. Perhaps you simply aren’t looking hard enough. Would you like a hint?”

“You—” She scowled, closing the distance with a fist in his collar, yanking him down and pulling a sharp breath from him in the same motion. He endured worse pain than that in his initial resilience training as Her Majesty’s vassal. That reaction should be the last she saw from him.

“Enough,” Ferdinand implored, a firm hand on Catherine’s arm as the true warning that this was not a request but an order. “We are above resorting to aggression to have our way, Catherine.”

“I don’t have to.” She released his collar and shook off Ferdinand’s hand, stepping back. How unusual for a Knight of Seiros to pass down the chance to beat the defenseless… Her immediate aversion to using more force could have been due to Caspar’s presence, given how he so admired her. “Taunt us however you like, you sick bastard. Lady Rhea is alive, and we will find her.”

Ah. Another blow directly to the dam. To her, Hubert betrayed nothing of the sort. “I suppose with enough hours wasted, you will eventually have no choice but to succeed.” He trailed off into an exasperated sigh. “Truth be told, Rhea may not have that kind of time. Very well, I will show you the way.”

That had her attention and that of a few nearby soldiers for the Church as well. Traffic in the great hall had slowed marginally, but they were far from alone.

“You stay here. Tell me where I can find her.”

Hubert chuckled again, this time feeling it in his ribs more than he ought to. Evidently, Catherine didn’t need to beat him—merely shoving him would be enough to aggravate his recently healed wounds. “This isn’t a matter of turning in the correct direction at a conveniently placed statue. You are asking for a spoken guide to winding, secret passageways meant to mislead any who enter.”

“Caspar and I will accompany you, Catherine,” Ferdinand offered, moving his hand to rest on Hubert’s upper arm as if to guide him. Hubert glanced to his hand, then to Ferdinand, but he was fully a general at the moment and spared not even a glance to the prisoner. “Hubert will pose no threat.”

Ah, that was Hubert’s order. An easy one to follow considering he had to if he was to convince the victors of his reliability as an ally so soon after his defeat.

“Of course. I have no reason left to fight.” The tension returned at that remark more than Catherine’s mild display of force, and Hubert let it stand. Those who despised Hubert most, like the wielder of Thunderbrand, had to hear the literal words from his mouth that he would not harm them. One step further, he would help them. “More pressingly, I have valuable intel to secure the future of Fódlan. But first, we must attend to Rhea.”

Her scowl softened to hopeful skepticism, a narrowed glare that suggested she was turning over his phrase in her mind. Catherine was as intelligent as she was capable—she would eventually piece together that he was leveraging a treaty of sorts. ”…Fine.” She nodded down to the other end of the great hall where the main passage to the undercroft waited. “Let’s go.”

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Hellfire Ch. 9: The Big Night | Dragon Age 2 Fanfiction

Read the previous chapter. | Read it on AO3.
Approx. 1500 words (3 to 9 minutes)

The days leading up to Merrill’s escape went by in a jarring combination of a thrilling blur—she would be free and safe any day now—and excruciatingly slow. Hawke had read all the worthwhile books in the Circle at least once, and now he was halfway through the history of parchment instead. Maker’s breath, if the Templars didn’t get you in this place, the boredom surely would. Sitting by and waiting while someone else did the dirty work was not Hawke’s usual either. If he strained, he could hear the Gallows market from the library to help fill the maddening silence of the place.

And he turned a page without even reading it. Why would he, when the weathered sheet of parchment did more to capture his attention than the words on it?

“Hello there, Hawke,” a familiar Dalish accent interrupted, her characteristic lilt brightening Garrett’s mood instantly. “Alright if I sit here?”

“I would be forever in your debt. You’ve saved me from this awful book,” he said, smirking and closing the dreadful thing. For good, he hoped. “The stuff of true heroics.”

“Oh, I do like heroics,” she played along and took a seat. The Templars would be suspicious of Hawke after her escape whether Merrill avoided him, sought him out, or had a row with him in the foyer, so—well, he would rather see her before she went. “Carver does too, you know. He’s not like the other guards here, he’s so nice to everyone. And still very good at swording. Swords? I don’t know, but he’s got talent.”

Oh, if Carver could hear all this… The rambling was a sure sign Merrill was nervous and Hawke knew he’d have to say something to put her at ease. But just listening to her talk, Garrett could pretend this was his house or something and they’d be back together tomorrow. Odd, how the little things gave you comfort in the Circle. His plants would be happy to have her back on the outside, at least. Anyone could water them, but no one talked to them like Merrill did.

“He always did like adventure books.” Bethany too, but Hawke was pointedly trying not to depress himself, thank you very much.

“I worry about him sometimes, but… It’s good, you know? That he’s found his path here.” She fidgeted in her seat, her normal boundless energy bubbling up. “In time, he’ll realize that what happened before, it wasn’t your fault.”

Knock the wind out of my lungs, why don’t you.

Hawke breathed a laugh, shaking his head at how this started out of nowhere like that. Merrill did always have an odd way of thinking, but it wasn’t typically so jarring. Or maybe it was and Hawke didn’t notice until now.

“Why bring that up all of a sudden?”

“He was just so angry with you, and I can’t stand to think that you—” She sighed, trying to find a good place for her hands to settle as she clasped and unclasped them, weaving her fingers together in new and interesting ways as if that would somehow clear the way to the rest of her sentence. “One day, he’ll see you were trying to protect him.”

“Merrill, I’m pretty sure that’s what offended him,” Garrett teased. That was the truth of it, though. Carver didn’t want to be protected by his big brother anymore, but Hawke wasn’t about to just stop looking out for him whether Carver liked it or not. Better alive and hating him than dead.

“He doesn’t show it very well, but he does love you.” Ah, Merrill. Ever the peacekeeper. She gestured off to her right as if he was standing there and not too grumpy, tired-looking Templars. Come to think of it, Hawke hadn’t caught a glimpse of Carver all day.

He was probably laying the groundwork for her escape with Anders’ plan and Isabela’s help. Someone had to ‘lose’ her phylactery and it couldn’t look like Carver did it, or they’d both go down for the escape.

“I think books had less to do with his need for heroics than his big brother.”

“Well, don’t let him know you told me that.” Garrett leaned in conspiratorially, which he would probably regret later since Templars could actually see him. Nothing he couldn’t fix later. “It’ll ruin his brooding image.”

“The poor boy.” She giggled, a smile lighting up in her eyes instead of the worried pout she’d started with. “I do mean it, though. That he’ll forgive you someday. I just know he will.”

“He’ll talk to me now, at least.” Not his favorite subject in the world, but Merrill wasn’t going to let anything go once she set her heart on it. Hawke shrugged, turning the book over for an excuse to keep himself busy. “Usually to boss me around, since he’s a Templar and I’m a mage, but I guess It’s a start.”

“See? No one can stay angry forever, not even Carver. Being here is hard, but,” she put her hand on his over the book, offering him a soft smile. “I do hope it will bring you closer to your brother.”

That was just like her. On the night that she’d make a daring escape, Merrill came by to make sure Hawke was alright and lift his spirits. Maker, that girl was too nice. When all he had for company was sour Templars, dusty old books, and whichever letters the Templars decided to let through, this moment would make a good reminder of what would come after his grand exit from the Circle.

“Thanks, Merrill.”


And speaking of letters, he actually got one before curfew that night. Dinner was nothing noteworthy, but better than the rations they scraped by with in the Deep Roads. Hawke couldn’t forget those if he tried. All in all, a good day for where he was.

The envelope had been opened, of course, but the front had Mother’s neat handwriting. How unlucky for the Templar who read the letter; it was almost entirely town gossip and worried questions. How was he sleeping, was he making friends, did he remember to change his smallclothes, and so on.

When Hawke found another note inside with her letter, that changed things. The letters were rushed, feathered, and harsh, but he still recognized it as Carver’s:

We’re ready for tonight.

Thought you’d like to know.

Be safe.

Hawke chuckled. With eloquently abrupt prose like that, it definitely had to be Carver. Anybody else might let on they cared about more than his physical safety. Still, it looked like Merrill was on to something after all. With his back to the cell door and his newly posted guards, Hawke called a bit of fire into his hands to burn the note from his brother. Last thing they needed was two Hawkes locked up.

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A Note to Treasure: Promnis FFXV Fanfiction

Word count: 2900 (7 to 22 minutes) | Rating: G | Note: Prompto x Ignis (Promnis) | Characters: Prompto, ignis, Noctis, and Gladio

The haven campsite had to be tidied before they could finish packing to leave, and naturally, the task fell to Ignis with Prompto as his aid. Gladio and Noctis were off to bring the car a bit closer from the shoulder where it was originally parked, which was just as likely to be an excuse for them to spend time on the rowdier activities they found enjoyable. Gladio would keep him in check and safe, if nothing else.

Ignis did not have to worry, but part of him always would.

To Prompto’s credit, the jumpy blonde was eager to help and followed directions well, provided they were not too complex to remember. He managed organizing the outdoor supplies easily on his own. It was no small feat, either—Ignis wouldn’t entrust his camping kitchen tools to just anyone.

The task of cleaning up after Noctis inside the tent was another matter entirely. Yesterday’s clothes sat unfolded in a heap, and Ignis spotted a tear in the sleeve of his jacket as he gathered them up. He sighed, shaking his head to the benefit of no one but himself. Gladio would lecture him for coddling, but Noct would surely forget to mend the sleeve for months if left to his own devices. Ignis would take care of it with the laundry.

As he stood to put the clothing with the rest of the dirty laundry, a poorly folded sheet of paper fell out, writing on display. Even as it fell, Ignis knew the handwriting was not Noctis’, but Prompto’s. Closer examination while he picked it up revealed that the message was incomplete—but the typical saccharine prose made its purpose all too apparent. Just as Ignis expected of a love letter from Prompto.

Parts were scratched out, even unreadable in some cases, but the ones he could read brought a fond smile to Ignis’ face. He did have a way of making any action endearing. Such as having Noctis, of all people, review a love note for any areas of improvement. Ignis’ devotion to Noctis had no limits, but he could be honest about the prince—he was not the kind of individual you would turn to for advice in matters of the heart.

And to think that Ignis suspected Prompto’s motives when he first entered Noctis’ life as the habitually nervous friend from school. Now, Ignis would trust him with that very life.

“Prompto,” he called to his friend, who paused in folding up the camping chairs to wipe some sweat from his forehead onto his wristband.

“Sup?” If he realized he held the note as well as the clothes yet, he was incredibly calm about the matter.

Ignis strode over to him and held the note out. “You ought to be more careful with your correspondence.”


His gaze fell on the note, and he flushed a soft pink. “O-oh, right. That’s, I was just—uh—sorry.” Prompto leaned over to get the paper, one foot firmly planted as he did, and crumpled the paper slightly in his rush to get it into his pocket.

“Do be cautious,” Ignis advised, almost saddened to see such affectionate words handled so indelicately. As if Prompto were ashamed. He had always struggled with self-confidence, but it was precisely that uncertainty that was his undoing in many cases. Not that he had much room to talk. Ignis was well aware that his feelings on Prompto were becoming deeper than mere friendship, but he had told not a soul. “The sentiment was rather sweet, and I’m sure the intended recipient would like to treasure the note.”

“What? You… you really think so?”

“I do indeed.” Ignis had said too much, perhaps. To pass that misstep off as a joke, he added in some light teasing so common among the four of them. ”If you can muster the strength to send it, of course.”

Based on the surprised, almost touched, wide-eyed expression from Prompto, Ignis nearly turned over his shoulder to see what might’ve caught his photographer’s interest. The sheepish smile that followed stopped him at the realization that something he himself had said led to Prompto’s response.

“Aw, shucks, Iggy. Just hearing that gives me courage.” Never one to be still for long, Prompto scuffed at the dirt with his boot and nodded to Ignis.

That appeared to have lifted the blonde’s spirits over his recent embarrassment. Perhaps he truly would send the note off and perhaps this time, he hadn’t set his sights on someone unattainable—such as Cindy, who focused on her work above all other matters. Ignis swore his taste in crushes was deliberately constructed at times. For Prompto’s sake, he hoped that was not the case with his most recent crush. It would be pleasant if he were to enter into a contented relationship, or so Ignis told himself as a vice gradually closed in on his heart.

He smiled, turning his attention to adding the clothes his hands to the dirty laundry already packed away for cleaning during their next hotel stay. “And who is the lucky lady?”

“Oh, uh. It’s not anyone like that, I mean,” he trailed into an awkward laugh, busying himself similarly with gathering the remaining camping supplies, “I dunno if I’d say lucky, dude.”

That lack of confidence returned swiftly, Ignis noted. Ah, it was likely that the object of his affections was out of his reach, then. Still, it could not hurt to encourage him to put himself out there more often. He could not succeed if he did not make the attempt, after all. And they would all be there to support him in their own ways should she turn him down. “I believe that would be up to her discretion. You ought to give her the chance to decide, Prompto.”

The hypocrisy of the statement was not lost on him. While Noctis was often too immersed in his own conflicted emotions to perceive the feelings of others, he had been giving hints to Ignis regarding Prompto over the past few weeks (though his sentiments on Prompto became more romantic in nature several months prior). It was only the occasional idle comment or hypothetical question on the gunman’s attractiveness or charming qualities, but the message was clear to Ignis, if no one else. And yet he had decided it was best not to act on his feelings for Prompto given their shared service to Noctis.

And in a way, Ignis had still gotten the note first. His petty side was appeased with that notion.

“Yeah?” There was a choked, wavering quality to his normally chipper voice that suggested he had not taken this reassurance to heart. “Guess you’re right. You always are!”

Prompto was consistent, at least: always ready to avoid a subject he did not wish to discuss by offering praise and a ready smile, however uncertain.

Noctis was off for an early morning run with Gladio in an uncharacteristic moment of initiative—before 11:00 am and something for his health, no less. Ignis had no pressing tasks to address in the next hour or so, since they had decided to have breakfast at the Crow’s Nest. A bit of a personal slight to Ignis’ cooking that he had the courtesy to keep to himself, since he knew that was not their intention (or it had best not be). Instead, he had settled down with a book of poetry he’d meant to catch up on for some time now to keep his mind preoccupied.

“Oh, uh, hey, Ignis.” Prompto trotted over and slipped one hand into his pocket, the other giving a restless wave. A lopsided smile suggested this was not a simple greeting but leading up to another matter. Ignis closed his poetry book and stood from his chair in anticipation of what required his assistance.

“Good morning, Prompto. Did you sleep well?”

“Nothing much.” Prompto answered with a shrug, the realization sinking in and drawing a nervous laugh from him. “I mean good. Wait, no, I meant yes.”

Ignis only chuckled, adjusting his glasses out of habit. “Glad to hear.”

“Um. Here.” From his pocket came a note in a cream-colored envelope, neatly labelled in Prompto’s handwriting and a small smile drawn in the corner where it ought to be stamped. His thumb lightly creased it at the center where he held it a bit too tightly. “For you.”

“From?” The question left his mouth without as much thought as he would have normally given it, especially considering he knew the answer already. On the outside, he imagined he looked fairly level-headed, but that was not so in his mind. The very notion that Prompto had gone to the lengths of drafting a love note for him had interfered with his every mental faculty. Now his request that Noctis reviewed it made far more sense, since his taciturn nature made it easy work to conceal the matter from Ignis until Prompto was prepared. Beyond that connection, Ignis’ typically keen attentiveness felt incredibly dulled in the realization that this was indeed a note from Prompto for himself.

If not for the new blush spread across Prompto’s freckled face, Ignis may have rationalized it was just a fond note between friends. But there it was—the fresh rush of warmth to a familiar face, a blossoming red simply begging to be chased a tender touch (or a kiss, if he felt emboldened by such a truly adorable response).

“Ah. I see.” He took the envelope, turning it over to see a small, somewhat misshapen heart at the center where one was meant to open it.

A message in itself: I’m letting you into my heart with this note.

“Hey, I’m just gonna,” he trailed off, thumbing over his shoulder to nowhere in particular.

“I would rather you remain here.”

“Huh?” Crystalline blue eyes locked on his, wide and surprised. Yet trustful, ever so trustful. Ignis’ heart swelled with it. As much as his anxiousness drove him to bounce his foot in place since he could not retreat, likely to disappear for as long as he could get away with, Prompto remained. Because Ignis wanted him to. “Oh. Um. Okay.” His hands found their home back in the pockets, and he stared out over the woods beyond their haven as Ignis began to read.


I don’t know how to say it the way I want it to be, so here it is: I really, really like you. A lot. You’re a solid 11 and I’m more of a rounded-up 4, but what you said got me thinking you deserve to choose for yourself if I get to call you boyfriend.

I just love spending time with you, you know? You always give it everything you’ve got, and you never get tired of all that giving. So, I wanna try hard and be there for you too. I may not be much, but you’ll get my all every day. I promise.

The only approximation of a signature was a cartoon-ish drawing of a blushing chocobo at the bottom. In the end, the second draft of the note had very select elements in common with the first (but markedly fewer apologies). Ignis returned the note to its envelope carefully, tucking the message into his chest pocket and felt a brightness in his heart beneath. He did not believe in lucky charms, but if ever there was one, he was certain it belonged to him now.

“Prompto,” he said levelly. It would do no good to answer his nervousness with more of the same, after all.

“That’s me,” he answered weakly and faced Ignis once more.

And yet there was nothing weak about him. Prompto rarely spoke about his life or experiences, but it was clear in how he carried himself that every accomplishment he achieved was a battle hard won—and yet scarcely rewarded. To Prompto, he was never quite enough, and insecurity tinged under every interaction. Yet he persevered. Never once did his worries, so clear and tangible in his mind, ever stop him from rising to the occasion time and again. It weighed heavily on Ignis to see him shortchanged by his own hand so often when all praise, no matter how nonchalant, moved him so completely. The result was an endless temptation to offer praise too often to go unremarked.

To run a hand gently through his soft, styled blonde hair—rather rare in the Crown City and always a welcome sight because of who it had to be—as unspoken congratulations on a job well done. To take it one step further and kiss him whenever the opportunity arose, because few deserved love like Prompto Argentum and yet, he would never ask for it. One some level, perhaps he did not believe he should or could. Like any grievous misconception, Ignis wanted nothing more than to correct it.

“Kinda killing me here, dude.”

“Ah, I apologize. I was taking a moment to appreciate how far you have come.” He stepped closer to Prompto, hoping against reason that Gladio and Noctis had taken a long route. “Your feelings are returned, of course. I only hope you realize what this means for you.”

“Huh? Me?” A smile overtook Prompto’s expression regardless, nervousness dissolving into a palpable level of excitement that simply radiated off him. The anxiety would return, as it was wont to, but this time, Ignis would be there to chase it away again. It only took the thought to brighten Ignis’ smile in return.

“Indeed. I am not known for doing anything halfway, and my courtship of you will be no different.”

“C-courtship?” His voice broke, a darling squeak to it that Ignis fancied as a hopeful one.

“Of course. And with this love note finally delivered, I must catch up to your romantic gesture, in fact.” He reached for Prompto’s hand at his side, the bare skin of his thumb brushing over the open expanse of skin on the back of his hand. Fingers loosely intertwined as Ignis leaned in to press a kiss to his lips.

Soft, warm, and lightly scarred in some places where he may have bitten it anxiously in his younger days—every inch entirely his own, perfectly Prompto’s. By extension, the sensation of them was special, something to be treasured. Ignis dared not close his eyes and miss the opportunity to thoroughly examine his reaction to their first kiss. While Ignis was inarguably a practical individual, he was just as devoted as a romantic. And this memory was one he would want to endure for an eternity.

Prompto held still, the pink still high on his cheeks but the signature freckles of his face visible all the same. His eyes nearly fluttered shut, fine lashes over a deeper blue in his eyes cast by Ignis’ shadow. “Best be prepared.”

Noctis whistled, making Prompto jump at the interruption. Ignis was graced with his grin alongside Gladio’s when he did turn his attention to them.

“About damn time,” Gladio commented, sharing a knowing look with Noctis.

“I dunno. I might miss them dancing around each other.”

“Noct!” Prompto whined, finding his voice at what amounted to harmless teasing. Unfortunately for Noctis, he was not the only one with a quip at the ready. Ignis smirked before delivering his response as an added effect.

“Hm. On the subject of romance, Noct, how fares Lady Lunafreya? You seemed to be in particularly good spirits after her most recent message.”

“…Not fair, Specs.” It was his turn to blush, however faintly, and Noctis avoided the subject by pulling a water bottle from their stores and having a drink.

“Ha! Good one.” Prompto chimed in, patting Ignis on the back and flashing a bright grin. Interesting, how these little gestures took on new meaning on account of a single sheet of paper in his pocket.

“He got you there.” Gladio joined in the teasing of Noctis now with a gentle shove that nearly spilled water from the bottle down the front of his shirt.

“Whatever. Let’s pack up the car before we miss breakfast at the Crow’s Nest.” His previous plan having failed, Noctis set his sights on diverting them with the promise of food. Predictably, that was a successful strategy.

Before that was set into motion, Prompto rushed to get another kiss in, this one to Ignis’ cheek. Though the kiss was light as a breeze and over almost as soon as Ignis had noticed it was happening, it lingered as if an electric spell had recently dissipated in the shape of his lips on his skin. He would have to thank Noctis for being so careless with the first note when he reminded him once again to place his dirty laundry in the correct basket of his own accord.

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