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.