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