Always | FFXV Fanfiction

Word count: 1100 (2 to 9 minutes) | Rating: G | Final Fantasy XV Fanfiction | Characters: Ignis Scientia and Noctis Lucis Caelum


Visiting Noctis’ separate residence on occasion after Ignis had tended to his duties was simply habit. The crown prince expressly stated he wished to live alone for greater independence, but regular visits had revealed that very little self-reliance was taking place. Dishes accrued over Ignis’ absence and on more productive weeks, the clean laundry still sat wrinkling in the basket.

Inside, the lights were off today despite the hour—merely 6 o’clock, a more appropriate time for dinner than resting as Noctis no doubt was. His shoes were present by the entrance, after all. Ignis paused to straighten those after removing his own, walking deeper into the apartment by the light of his cellphone.

Noctis was not quite ready yet perhaps, but Ignis was there to support him. When he was prepared, Ignis was confident that the prince would step into his role as the heir to the Lucian throne. Until then, Ignis himself had duties to uphold and a dear friend to look after. With his spare key, he let himself into the apartment monitored at a respectful distance by the Crownsguard.

The main room was slightly cleaner and more orderly than usual, a sure sign that Prompto had visited recently. Noctis’ newest friend had made both Gladio and Ignis wary until they met the nervous blond in person and taken time to know him, whereupon they had no choice but to acknowledge that he was a good influence on Noct. Up until his friendship, Noctis had no peers that he considered even acquaintances. He went to school, to his part-time job if he had a shift, and traveled directly home only to repeat the process the next day.

Once Prompto reached out to him, Ignis was fortunate enough to see more of the young boy he first served start to return. On several visits, he would arrive to Prompto and Noctis laughing in an apartment not entirely covered in piled up garbage bags and empty bottles, takeout containers, haphazardly stacked books, and scattered clothes or papers. Noctis was recovering, and Ignis could only be grateful.

“Noct?” He whispered into the shadows, grocery bags in each hand. He knew better than to expect any usable ingredients to be in the prince’s fridge. At the silence, Ignis set the bags down on the counter and approached a familiar silhouette on the sofa. His eyes adjusted to distinguish the sight of Noctis asleep beside a history book he likely knew inside and out. At the very least, he grades suggested as much.

Despite the knowledge that Noctis was unlikely to wake easily, Ignis was careful to approach the linen closet quietly to retrieve a blanket. The addition of a pillow would awake even the prince, but surely the simple comfort of a blanket would be welcome when his nap was done with. The dishes would be cleaned, and any trash would be cleared away. His laundry would be complete and put away. All evidence of Ignis’ care and attention for Noctis, a young man he valued as his own family and as his king.

Unfolding the blanket and draping it over the teenager that would one day lead the nation, Ignis smiled to himself in the dark.

Gladio would have lectured him on coddling Noct, though he was just as aware as Ignis that the prince they both served could be resolutely obstinate when he wished to be. In a manner, Ignis supposed there was merit to his claims. But Gladio had not known Noct as long as Ignis had, did not play an integral role in raising him from his toddler years like Ignis—who was a boy himself at the time and yet that bond made all the difference.

Prepping the ingredients for meals designed to conceal vegetables, Ignis began to cook. He would later divide out lunches for easy portioning, but for now, Ignis permitted his mind to wander. Meal preparation came to him instinctively enough by that point that it hardly called for his undivided attention, and there was something of a comfort in reminiscing while still seeing to Noctis’ wellbeing.

Ignis would admit that Noctis was prone to despair and resignation at the most inopportune times, but it was no obligation to serve him in his darkest hours while he sought out the strength Ignis knew he had. When the weight of the crown and the impending passing of his father bore down on Noctis, there was always Ignis at his side. Noct did not need to say a word to communicate to Ignis, and rarely felt inclined to, but it was a given that he could at any time. As it had always been.

If Noctis was not yet ready to face the calling ahead of him, he had Ignis’ support. When he needed someone to listen, he had Ignis’ willing ear. When he required company and silence all at once, he had Ignis’ quiet presence. Whatever the burden or obstacle, Ignis was a safe haven and loyal aide to Noctis.

Perhaps he did enable his less-than-regal behavior from time to time, as Gladio accused him of doing, but there were so few people that a prince could entrust his truest self to. And to Ignis, he would always be the young child who, with a smile, silently took his hand in friendship from the moment he became the prince’s retainer.

Gladio was his Shield and inspired him to push to greater heights. Prompto was his friend and encouraged him to enjoy all the fond memories that a standard high school experience could offer, just as King Regis had hoped for his son.

Each of them was essential to the prince’s contentment, but one fact would never change: Noct could rely on Ignis in all matters. He would indulge his desire to nap while Ignis drove or delegate more tedious tasks to him so Noct might write to Lady Lunafreya or make plans with Prompto. Was that not the sort of unsung sacrifice Ignis was meant to make both as his retainer and his oldest friend?

Ignis did also take the time to remind Noct he would one day have to see to these tasks unaided, which was an equally valuable part of his service. Yet that time would come one day in the future, only when Prince Noctis was prepared to accept his responsibilities as royal heir. The privilege of witnessing Noct rise to all he could be was well worth the possibly lenient service to him now.


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You Will Live Ch. 7: To Ashes | FE3H Fanfiction

Word count: 3275 (7 to 26 minutes) | Rating: M | Note: Fire Emblem: Three Houses Spoilers | Characters: Count Bergliez, Ferdinand, and Hubert

Trigger Warning: Thoughts of an Honorable Death/Martyrdom

Read the previous chapter.

Her Majesty’s cremation had been arranged that same day through the finest of Hubert’s remaining agents—all of whom he’d had to disclose to Shamir, naturally. In the state of Fódlan following the fall on Enbarr, it would be safest for them to be monitored by the allies of King Dimitri. If any rebellious factions existed within the new rule, clear communication between the Empire and the Kingdom would accelerate their demise should they act against one power or the other.

All things considered, Adrestia’s ongoing integration into the surrounding nations of Fódlan led by King Dimitri was sudden but painless. There was none of the rampant violence against the losing party and political plundering that typically marked such shifts in power. Of course, Hubert had been stripped of his title and was effectively penniless and homeless without the current support he was permitted from King Dimitri. His court was not comprised of fools, and that act was no mistake. Hubert was in no position to bite the hand that fed him.

And he was well fed in that hypothetical sense.

The most loyal of Dimitri’s men was assigned to Her Majesty’s travel alongside Hubert’s own agents, a gesture of impressive goodwill. Still, that did not discourage Hubert from going as well. Serving Her Majesty was his sworn purpose and he would oversee her care even now.

Affixing his travelling robe in his quarters for that trip, Hubert was interrupted by a short knock.

“Enter,” he allowed, knowing that regardless of who it was, he likely did not have enough sway in the new regime quite yet to turn them away.

“Good morning, Hubert!” Ferdinand greeted, his smile every bit as bright as it should be, but the faint wrinkle in his brow revealed that he was moderately worried. Years spent watching him and learning his tells rewarded Hubert with near-perfect clarity into Ferdinand’s mental state that was likely not one-sided.

Naturally, or why would Ferdinand be concerned? He chose the side that won the war, achieving his standing both in history and close to the newly established government. Recent events were in his favor. The solitary unpredictable aspect of his life was Hubert himself.

“You are preparing to head out, I take it. Where are you headed so early?”

Hubert was well past trying to confine himself to viewing Ferdinand as a captor or bitter former friend—bawling in front of him like an infant and grasping for his hand to completely expose his fragility saw to that. Now, Ferdinand was only an awkward reminder of Hubert’s own shameful weakness and instability.

He did not look at Ferdinand to respond, checking on clasps on his robe instead that did not particularly need to be checked. “I have been up for hours, Ferdinand. There is business I must attend to.”

“Ah, of course.” The careful pause there essentially guaranteed Ferdinand was acutely aware that Hubert was withholding something. Gracious as ever, he did not mention it but simply stood in the doorway of his room. “If there is anything I can assist you with, I would be more than happy to contribute my support.”

“And I am grateful, but this matter is one I must handle personally.” He turned from the mirror, his black and red cloak sweeping with the motion, and waited for Ferdinand to move aside as he approached. When that did not happen, Hubert frowned and crossed his arms to make his stance on this even clearer. “Urgently.”

“It is for Edelgard, then?”

Tight silence pierced the space between them. Whether from true irritation or grief and the irrational sentiments accompanying it, Hubert did not know and didn’t care to find out when he did have a timeline to keep.

“I apologize,” Ferdinand offered in contrition, shaking his head. From how carefully he was put together today, one never would have guessed he had been in combat with the same man he spoke to only yesterday. Subtle traces of cologne hovered about Ferdinand as though he were a walking garden, pleasant but not overpowering. His hair shone with what Hubert recognized as the hair oil commonly used in Brigid (a gift from Petra, then).

In place of his ornate combat gear was an expertly tailored crimson jacket accompanied by a white silken cravat secured with a black crow pin. Next to Ferdinand’s usual aesthetics, it seemed somewhat out of place, but it hardly came as a surprise that he had to make do during a time of widespread war.

“I did not mean to open any wounds, Hubert. I thought you may wish to talk about it, nothing more.” Awkwardness replaced the tension as Ferdinand stepped aside, continuing the conversation heedlessly. Hubert could have communicated as much by walking away before he was done, but—

It did not matter why he remained, only that he did. He could muster that much.

“To be honest, I came only to invite you to afternoon tea,” his voice lightened, smile widening. “The rain will keep us from the gardens, but there are covered awnings by the dance hall that will serve nicely for privacy and a splendid view.”

“While that is thoughtful of you,” he answered flatly, stepped out into the hall with the confidence Ferdinand would not take advantage of his absence to rifle through his quarters (especially when both the Alliance and Kingdom guards had already done so). Pausing to glance back, he gave Ferdinand advice he would hopefully be wise enough to take. Any affiliation between them was not only uncomfortable for Hubert but unwise for Ferdinand. “I have far too much to consider at present. You might invite Dorothea in my stead. I am certain she would be delighted.”

“Yes. I understand.” The crestfallen falter of his posture and smile indicated otherwise, bearing an unsettling pressure down on Hubert’s chest. That dejection was how Hubert thanked him for his consolation last night when no one else offered. Or even potentially could have—Hubert was a forbidding man on a pleasant day. “Well, if your schedule changes—”

“You will be the first to know.”

By then, the pressing need to be away from that conversation overpowered Hubert, who departed without so much as a goodbye. He descended the staircase and left through the palace foyer entrance, not once turning back. A step in the right direction to his reputed strength of will no matter the crushing darkness surrounding him. The sooner Ferdinand accepted it, the better off both of them would be.


Their destination was at the edge of the capital’s market district, isolated enough to make anyone who should not be there stand out easily, but populated enough as to not leave room for a close-quarters ambush. The woman overseeing the cremation of Her Majesty was a long-time friend of the Hresvelg line, sharing a similar lineage as House Vestra. His agents and the Kingdom’s reinforcements were placed in formation to ensure a swift response in the event of an attack en route.

The recent rain left a metallic trace in the air and made certain pathways slicker than usual, but any damage from combat had been primarily contained to the portion of the city between the invading armies and the palace. Headed in the opposite direction, they had no cause for concern. Enbarr was a resilient city with stout buildings that did not fall easily. As the citizens came back now that the evacuation orders preceding the siege had lifted, the capital’s routine was returning to normal. Whatever else might occur, the Adrestian people would not be severely hindered by their loss.

Strategically, the resulting environment was a challenging one for moving her body. With citizens and foreign powers settling in, it was all too easy for a malicious entity to sneak past unnoticed. Therefore, every aspect of Her Majesty’s transit, down to the carriage transporting her from the palace to the crematorium, had been carefully planned and reviewed to the fullest in the short time Hubert had to prepare it.

Hubert himself took up the rear guard so he could secure their safe passage by delaying pursuers if necessary. His recovery was far enough along that if he didn’t sustain any direct attacks, he would be more than capable of handling several opponents. Linhardt was not awake before he departed, so that was Hubert’s best assessment. The alternative had been to ask Dorothea and he could not risk the chance that she’d want to socialize or question him, refusing to take no for an answer as only the former opera singer could.

There were other healers, of course, but… Hubert would just as soon not speak to anyone who was not of the Black Eagle House if he could avoid it. There was no sense in potentially stirring up animosity at such an uncertain time.

The beginning of their voyage was unremarkable. A glance was sufficient to determine their agenda—what else but funerary plans would bring the Imperial Minister out accompanied by Kingdom guards?—but the residents of Enbarr had their own business to attend to. The city did need repairs, and the Alliance soldiers were lending aid to that end. Shops were re-opening and families returned to their homes. Life continued on.

It wasn’t until they reached the less populated region of the city, nearing the crematory, that Hubert fully realized they were being tailed. He suspected as much before then, since these were hardly professionals with any nation or the Agarthans. But their flanking formation once they reached the outskirts of the market was all the confirmation that they were certainly targeting them.

More accurately, they were looking to isolate one person from the rest: Hubert himself.

Very well. If that is what they want, they will have it.

With a gesture pre-established with his agents, Hubert ordered them to go ahead while he lingered further back. His team coordinated the new formation with Dimitri’s soldiers, as expected, and they obeyed to best represent their king. The quiet that fell as the carriage and entourage went ahead without him was as brief as it was taut.

Seeing their opportunity or realizing they’d been made, the people tailing them closed in on Hubert almost immediately after the carriage was out of view. A close-range cast of Miasma rushed through him, and the first attacker died swiftly in the blast. Seamlessly, he conjured an outwardly aimed Dark Spikes that either wounded or slaughtered a handful of the others drawing close. He was alone, but hardly an easy mark.

Still, other than his magic, Hubert was unarmed. In the magically charged lapse following his initial defense, he stole a spear from the corpse closest to him, turning in time to skewer one of the enemies who survived that attack. Over his shoulder, he blindly cast another charge of Miasma and based on the wailing behind him, he hit his mark.

“Traitor,” the man pierced by spear fought out, grunting. Hubert had missed his lungs, then. “You traitor!”

Hit by a nauseating sense of freefall, crushing despite its distance in his mind, Hubert kept his outward calm. This was a battlefield, city or not. But the very idea that he had betrayed Her Majesty was so widespread a rumor so soon after her passing—

In the short time following the fall of Enbarr, enough like-minded citizens from Adrestia believed Hubert to be a conspirator against Lady Edelgard that they could gather and piece together a plan that made this ambush possible.

“You fool.” Hubert could afford derision when he was dealing with the last enemy currently capable of standing. The remaining were still assessing their injuries or laying deathly still in the dirt or on the stone streets. Did it matter which? Revulsion at their assumption blended with dread at being stripped of his legendary devotion to Her Majesty by her very own people, their people, and Hubert sneered at the pierced man in front of him. “I remain alive on her ord—”

An arrow pierced his left shoulder, killing the rest of his sentence with the sudden pain. The spear remained steady in his hands, but he would have to choose between that and casting a spell at the overlooked archer.

Sloppy.

The assailants previously held back by the magic spikes had recovered, as much as they were going to, and they were advancing once more. The archer, wherever they were, would be nocking another arrow.

Hubert drove the spear through the man before him, pushing his inevitable corpse away to call upon Mire for its greater range. This area was too narrow for a spell broader than that dark magic raining down on them, but it would have to suffice. Hubert would not survive the assault if they all reached him at once. Before he could crush it, the thought occurred to him that a fate such as that might not be so terrible. He could die in Enbarr, defending Her Majesty just as he originally intended.

Regardless, it would not be by surrender.

The next arrow to fly landed in the leg of an enemy, dropping her to the stone street and scattering the others as they tried to identify the source. They only encountered another wave of guards blocking their retreat, whose armor was marked with the sigil of House Bergliez. Hubert barely had time to dismiss the next spell he’d been calling on before the head of that house approached from the opposite direction.

Of course Count Bergliez had known where he would be. He knew that Her Majesty perished in the battle, and he knew where the Imperial crematorium was. And there was no doubting he’d be certain that Hubert would attend. He might have worried that he was present for the same reason as the original attackers if his guards weren’t blocking them in. No, he was here strictly to defend Hubert in an unsurprising moment of foresight (that Hubert was ashamed not to have shared). Much like Caspar, Count Bergliez was not especially intellectual, but he possessed exceptional instincts along with an innate understanding of the people.

“Hubert, my boy,” he began, a chastising lecture waiting in that boisterous greeting. Despite his ranking, Caspar’s father was all too likely to treat Hubert as an honorary son rather than an Imperial minister. “The Empire loses a leader yesterday, and you try to follow her into the dark, is that it? Not sure what else you’re trying for, wounded and fighting alone out here.”

“Count Bergliez,” he answered, winded. “Good morning.”

That booming laugh he got in response really did remind Hubert of Caspar. No wonder the two were on relatively good terms despite the situation that led Caspar to enroll at Garreg Mach monastery. A shame his eldest son was such an indolent, avaricious fool. “Good morning, he says! For a mage, you really know how to work through pain.”

“Call it a gift,” he dismissed, not sharing in his good humor. Count Bergliez was a good man—there was a reason he had not been displaced during Her Majesty’s reign—but Hubert was short on patience. “Now, I must attend to Her Majesty’s—”

“Oh no,” Count Bergliez essentially forbid, pressing a hand to Hubert’s lower back to steer him while staying well clear of the arrow buried in his shoulder. “We’re going to heal you up, then send you back to the palace.”

“No, I—”

“If any of you are Adrestian,” a wounded woman interrupted hoarsely from the blood-stained street, “you’ll kill that bloody traitor!”

“Wait your damn turn,” Count Bergliez ordered as if she was just another of his many children being demanding. Waving someone over from beyond his line of guards, he went ahead with his own agenda. “Healer! Get over here.”

Placing another hand in front of Hubert’s shoulder, framing the site of the injury from the arrow, Count Bergliez looked Hubert in the eye. The worst was yet to come. The initial shock of the wound had passed to an aching throb, but that would change shortly. “Ready?”

“By all means.”

He grimaced as the shaft of the arrow shifted with the force Count Bergliez had to exert in breaking off the fletching. The easiest way for the arrow to be removed was the way it was intended to work in the first place—the point leading out. Splinters would be minimal and work themselves out over the course of a few days.

“One more to go,” Count Bergliez needlessly pointed out, polite in his own gruff manner. With a swift yank, he pulled the arrow out with a small grunt from Hubert, and the healer was on him in instant to cast faith magic and close the wound. He would be sore, but still operable for their journey to Shambhala.

“Well done,” Caspar’s father praised, a hearty smack to his back that caused Hubert to stagger in catching himself. “Now let’s see what this young lady has to say, hm?”

Of course, that is when the injured women on the ground chose to shrink away and fall silent. She tried and failed to pull herself up, a hopeless effort with an arrow in her leg and the rush of battle long behind them. “I won’t give you any names.”

“What the hell would I want names for?” Count Bergliez laughed, kneeling down to the woman. She was certainly Adrestian, light brown hair matted to her face with blood from her fall after that arrow pierced her thigh. If she got help soon, she’d recover within a week. “I just want you to finish your little speech. And don’t get smart about it, no one wants this to get messy. So, what’ll it be?”

Hubert barely glanced her way, feigning disinterest even as he direly needed her insight to piece together how far this perception of him betraying Her Majesty had spread. If it had taken root in the whole nation or spread swiftly enough, it may as well be an official exile. But to where? Adrestia was his home and where Her Majesty would be laid to rest. The sooner Hubert discovered the severity of this rumor, the sooner he could devise a strategy to counter it.

Keeping her attention on the count, she bit her lip and weighed her options. “He… he’s a turncoat and an impostor. House Vestra protects the emperor, but the moment she died, he’s working with the Beast King,” she spat through a snarl, finding her courage again despite the tremble in her hands. “He doesn’t deserve to live!”

In combat, Hubert had internally all but agreed with her. He glanced away from her, staring instead at her peers in shackles provided by the Bergliez Guard. They covered a range of people within the Empire, although some were in better condition than others. The degree of their tans or scarring helped Hubert place if they worked indoors or out, primarily with their hands or with their minds. Most of them stared straight ahead, an unyielding resolve in the face of failure that pointed to a powerful belief in their cause.

The thought sickened him once again, and Hubert scowled on instinct. There were a few who glared back at him, but that made no difference to him. Him, Hubert von Vestra, betraying Lady Edelgard? It was difficult to distinguish the indignant rage at the accusation from the genuine fear that the rumor was strong enough to be viewed as fact. He did not care that he lost his title and all his holdings, but to lose his reputation as her unwaveringly devoted minister? That was the one part of him that mattered most to Hubert. If she were alive to stand beside him, it would not have mattered nearly as much. All he needed was for her to believe.

But she was not here. Only he was. That was what she wanted for him. He was following her will. That consolation next to such a loss was as far-removed as seeing light from the bottom of a well.

“Right,” Count Bergliez dismissed her behind him, his disbelief obvious. “Acting fast only works if you think, you know that?” Standing up to the sound of his armor plates moving together, he strode forward to appear in Hubert’s vision and gesture to his available guards. “Round up the wounded and take them to the cells of the palace. We’ll sort this blasted mess out once we clean up the street.”

Putting a guiding hand on Hubert’s ‘good’ shoulder, Count Bergliez pulled him in. “And you stick with me until you’re inside palace walls. You always did get a little stupid without Lady Edelgard around.”

Hubert scoffed, but there was no effective method to telling Caspar’s father no. Besides, he would know all too well what Hubert became without Lady Edelgard. As one of few who got through to Hubert during Her Majesty’s absence in their youth, Count Bergliez was uniquely qualified.


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Celebrating Content on Ko-Fi & Patreon | Support Artists

With the difficult times (but smart move) of the quarantine to help flatten the curve, I knew I wanted to do my part. Stay at home, sure, but what else? This was a rare opportunity to create even more content than usual at a time when everyone was going to need something inexpensive and entertaining to get them through being at home for way longer than anyone expected to be.

And I was met with a warm, supportive community that has been as grateful for my fanfiction as they are attentive to my well-being (you guys catch on quick when I stay up too late to write).

Unexpectedly, you went one step further to support my work with actual, real life money. Let me tell you, this is the dream. As I got my degree, I was regularly lectured about how impractical creative writing was in the obligatory “well, what are you going to do with that?” conversation.

And smack dab in the middle of a crisis, I got my answer: find a community and after a long, long time, get paid for my work. Thank you so much for helping me reach this point for my original fiction—the best is yet to come!

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Web of Love | Claude Edition Ch. 3: Cooking Duty

Word count: 2450 (6 to 20 minutes) | Rating: T | Note: Fire Emblem: Three Houses Spoilers | Characters: Claude, Petra, Caspar, Linhardt, Petra, Edelgard, Dorothea, Ferdinand, and Hubert

Read the previous chapter.

Cooking duties in the dining hall were scheduled on rotation, as most tasks delegated to the students were, and shared among the houses to encourage inter-house companionship. Hubert was not convinced that was the true reason, as that goal was rarely met with such half-hearted efforts.

But that is what caused Claude to receive an assignment for cooking alongside Ferdinand, only to feign illness well enough to have someone stand in his stead. And who did he recommend, of course, but Hubert? He could have declined if his pride would allow it, a fact Claude clearly considered when devising this scheme.

Setting foot into the kitchen where Ferdinand was already waiting, there was no debating it: Claude was determined to put Hubert and Ferdinand alone in the same space wherever possible. He labored under the impression that an irritating degree of persistence would make his romantic visions for Hubert materialize.

“Hubert?” The cooking had not even begun yet, and Ferdinand’s smile was tight with the pressure he put on himself to be perfect at every little task. Ingredients sat on the counter beside the stovetop and a recipe book sat out on the opposite side. He arrived ahead of time as demanded of his station and had nothing to show for it. Unless having stressed himself out counted as getting results, Hubert supposed.

“I thought I was to cook with Claude today.”

“He claims he is ill,” Hubert explained, glancing to the recipe book and gathered ingredients. Tomatoes, cabbage, other vegetables, some assorted seasonings and bottles, a block of cheese, and chicken. There were a few recipes that combination could be for.

“Claims?” Ferdinand frowned, winding up for some speech on nobility, no doubt. “You ought to be more trusting of your classmates. It is only noble to lead by example of having faith in your peers where it is due, and Claude has never given us reason to doubt him.”

As predicted, his fixation on the proper course of actions due to his standing endured. His expectations of himself were not wrong, although excessive, but the principles he built them around were absurd. As if a title had ever determined the quality of a man.

“Anyone deserving of doubt will not give you a reason to, Ferdinand. Therefore, my opinion is unchanged: his ailment is a fabrication and nothing more.”

With that advice given, Hubert walked over to the open recipe book only for Ferdinand to rush over and pick it up. He clutched it to his chest like a rare treasure, not a worn book, and Hubert’s brief surprise turned to a sharp smirk. Did the young noble Aegir wish to prove himself superior by cooking? Hubert was the vassal here, not Ferdinand, and his skills would vastly outpace anything the Prime Minister’s son had ever been required to do.

“And how would Claude benefit from lying about sickness to avoid such a simple task, and one he takes to so passionately at that?”

Hubert grimaced. It was far too easy to forget that Ferdinand was more intelligent than his tactlessness conveyed, and he let that get his guard down on more than one occasion.

“Perhaps he is avoiding you.” Removing his gloves and rolling up his sleeves to a rapt audience of one orange-haired classmate with the worst emotional guard in Fódlan, Hubert brought the subject back to their assigned task. “Regardless, we have more important matters to attend to. What is the recipe?”

Clearing his throat, Ferdinand lowered the book to look at the recipe he left it on. “Garreg Mach meat pie. The recipe is a tough one, but I believe I can do it.”

“Don’t trouble yourself,” Hubert stated, gathering a knife and a cutting board. This meal was a staple, even in Enbarr, and a personal favorite of his. Though Hubert was not at the same caliber of the palace’s cooking staff, this recipe was one he was confident in preparing. “You can leave this to me.”

“Hubert, that is unnecessarily dismissive. I am assigned to this task as well, and I have every intention of doing my part.” Pointedly placing the book on the opposite side of the stove from Hubert, Ferdinand beamed with pride. Hubert clenched his jaw at the surge of warmth he felt at that reaction—a desire to impress Hubert, or so he deluded himself into thinking. They had work to do. “Why don’t you step back and allow me to show you how a proper Adrestian noble gets this done?”

“They would call on their servants, I imagine.” He moved the chicken to the cutting board, chopping it into cubes with a soothing familiarity. “Do you even know where to begin?”

“As we are companions, I will graciously pretend not to have heard the doubt in your tone.” And not doing an especially good job of it by calling attention to the remark, Hubert thought of commenting. But again—they had work to do. Their combined tasks often suffered in performance due to mutual stubbornness, acting as further evidence that Claude was delusional if he believed Hubert and Ferdinand spending time together would lead to anything but an argument.

“And just as I have demonstrated the appropriate manners, I will prove my cooking ability to you as well. I may not look it, but I do know how to cook!” Ferdinand was adamant in his overeager grinning, and Hubert resolved simply not to look. Yes, that ought to be a simple task. “I am inexperienced, but the only remedy to that is hard work.”

“Your determination is admirable, and I have no doubt you would cook the recipe over and over, heedless to failure, until it was perfect or the chefs tossed you out.” Praise like that tended to silence Ferdinand, which is why he resorted to it then. He would need him to listen for once if they were to produce an edible meal for their classmates.

“But since we are on a timeline, might I suggest the more experienced cook between us cook the meal?” That was not a true question, a fact Ferdinand realized a second too late and closed his mouth rather than answering Hubert’s jab. “Unlike you, I am practiced with cooking meats. That prior knowledge means I am better suited to the task.”

“Whereas I would benefit most from learning,” he insisted, undaunted as Hubert should have known he would be. When did Ferdinand ever merely give up? “As such, I propose that I cook while you instruct me in how the recipe should be prepared.”

“Fine, if that will get us started sooner.” Dinner would be shortly, and they had wasted enough time already. Putting the cutting board aside for Ferdinand, Hubert outlined the first step. “Heat some oil in the pan and begin cooking the chicken as the recipe instructs.”

In truth, that included seasoning and that did not play to Hubert’s strengths. The vagueness of his direction was intentional in that regard, but the other steps were defined with far more precision. Still, Ferdinand struggled. Monitoring the vegetables while cooking the meat for efficiency’s sake proved to be a challenge, but still he did not ask for Hubert to step in.

The recipe would not be too diminished by that oversight, and so Hubert allowed himself the opportunity to observe Ferdinand’s tells. For intelligence purposes, of course. He had an endearing habit of worrying at his lower lip when the simultaneous steps overwhelmed him. Routinely, he referred to the book in place of requesting clarification from the man beside him, his eyebrows furrowing with obvious concern.

“Ah, this is a difficult recipe,” he mumbled, perhaps as an indirect request. Hubert would not yield so easily to that. Then Ferdinand added the cooking wine, jumping and overpouring at the resulting sizzling noise. “Whoa! Oh, rats…”

Stepping closer, reaching for the bottle, Hubert could no longer resist the urge to offer aid. “If you would allow me—”

“No, I can do it!” The tightness in his voice, rising from his duress, spoke to his mindset more than any words or gestures ever could. Ever eager to please, Ferdinand was unwilling to admit defeat.

It fell to Hubert to provide him with an out that did not wound his pride, a creature that somehow managed to be delicate and unshakable. Letting out a terse sigh, Hubert did what he could to extend that opportunity.

“Ferdinand, how are you with seasoning?”

“Hm?” His glance flicked up to Hubert for but a second, darting back to the two pans before him. “I am proficient. Why do you ask?”

“If I might trade places with you, I am more comfortable at the stove than I am with spices.” The true intent behind the offer did not escape Ferdinand, whose shoulders sank alongside his expression. “There is nothing wrong with doing what we are already good at, Ferdinand.”

“But if I do not work at what I am not good at, I will never improve.” Staring dejectedly at the vegetables swirling about in too much white wine, Ferdinand appeared more as someone who had been asked to surrender their lands to an invading force.

“You never quit, do you?” The question was hypothetical; they both knew the truth. Pausing to consider other options, Hubert settled on the one most likely to succeed. “As a compromise, I will teach you to cook this recipe another time. With dinner for our peers on the line, now is not the time to be adventurous.”

Swinging to the opposite end of that emotional spectrum, Ferdinand brightened intensely. His grin threatened to overtake them both while the cooking wine bubbled ominously. “You will give me lessons? Is that a promise?”

Keeping his eye on both pans rather than his colleague, Hubert give an impatient reply. “If you need me to pledge it to you, then yes. I swear on my honor as Lady Edelgard’s vassal that I will teach you this one recipe. Later.”

“Thank you, Hubert! I was getting very overwh—oh no,” he struggled to reduce the heat on the vegetable pan, flipping the chicken over in the other, and Hubert deftly stepped in to take his place.

“Spices, Ferdinand.” Skillfully handling the meal, he issued a reminder for Ferdinand to remain on task. The temptation to watch and learn would be great, but they were short on time as it was. Fortunately, this meal was second nature to Hubert from his time supporting the kitchen staff while Edelgard was in Faerghus. Not a fond memory, of course, but a very useful ability.

“Yes, the spices! Of course.”


“I am enjoying this dish,” Petra commented, cutting through another portion of golden crust. The egg wash Ferdinand prepared under Hubert’s guidance helped it reach the perfect golden brown without darkening the thinner crust at the edges too much.

They did make a passable team when urgency pushed them, Hubert thought with a very faint smile.

“Yeah, this is amazing!” Caspar seemed to find it difficult to stay in his seat with such a discovery, despite being halfway through his second pie. “Why aren’t you guys on cooking duty more often?!”

“Caspar, slow down. How can you even taste it when you shovel it down like that?” Linhardt wasted his breath in the same manner at nearly every meal, somehow always finding the energy to try again at the next one. Hubert shook his head, wishing he could draw on that persistence in more important matters as well. Such as getting to class on time and staying awake through the lecture.

Ferdinand, of course, was basking in the praise. Chatting excitedly to Petra, he had hardly touched the food himself in favor of responding to every compliment. “The meal is that much more rewarding for the assistance I had in its making. Hubert is quite capable as a cook, and I learned a great deal by watching him work!”

Focusing his attention on cutting into the pie in front of him, Hubert delayed in replying to that. Clearly, he was expected to say something, but the question was what? It was not often that Hubert was the subject of overt praise and least of all by Ferdinand. Feeling the pressure to speak increasing, Hubert resigned himself to deflection back to Ferdinand.

“It would simply have been cooked without your aid. A spice rack is something of a mystery to me, so your extensive knowledge of seasonings was invaluable.”

“What’s this now?” Dorothea teased, a song-like quality to her voice even when she only spoke. Resting her arms on the table and presenting an inquisitive smile, she pressed on. “Ferdinand and Hubert praising one another?”

“It was only an observation,” Hubert discouraged her with a scowl, or tried to. Her need for gossip was insatiable, likely an effect of her life in the opera. “Don’t read into it.”

“That was kind of you to say, even so. Truthfully, I had worried I was only in your way with you at the stove doing the actual cooking.” Ferdinand trailed off with a sheepish laugh, reaching for his glass as if he might leap out of his seat otherwise.

“You have nothing to worry about.” Truly, Ferdinand concerned himself too much with approval of others. Himself and Dorothea counting highest among them, in fact, so it seemed that he only dug his heels in more the more he was disliked. A foolish, idealistic habit to have. If someone did not watch him carefully, Ferdinand might even be taken advantage of as a result. “If you were in the way, I would have told you to leave.”

“True, you are nothing if not honest! That is one of your many admirable traits.”

Hubert hesitated in his next bite of the meal, blinking quickly as he regained his composure. If Dorothea saw that reaction, he’d pay for it with hearing her ballads to unrequited love for a month. Still, he would prefer that to Claude witnessing it.

“I am quite pleased to see you two getting along. Should I assume we have Claude to thank for this?” Lady Edelgard, astute as ever, cut straight to the heart of Hubert’s concerns. “He seems awfully energetic for someone feeling too sick for kitchen duty.”

“As I heard it, he even recommended Hubert for his turn.” And with that remark from Dorothea, he could be certain about having to endure that thinly veiled ballad.

As the final nail in the currently proverbial coffin, Hubert glanced away from his classmates for a moment’s reprieve only to catch Claude’s eye. Without even a hint of remorse, he winked at Hubert from across the hall.


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Hellfire Ch. 11: Offered and Lost | DA2 Fanfiction

Read the previous chapter. | Read it on AO3.
Approx. 3900 words (9 to 30 minutes) | Rating: M | Dragon Age 2 Spoilers | Characters: Cullen Rutherford, Anders, Garrett Hawke, Varric Tethras, Meredith Stannard

That settled it, Circle life was every bit as awful as he’d heard it would be. Meredith kept her promise about the interrogation being extensive, but she didn’t make it clear how much waiting featured in her schemes. On the odd nights that he was actually in his room and not the interrogation cell, Hawke waited to fall asleep only to be woken up every couple hours by the guards posted outside.

That was his best guess for a timeline, at least. Not like he had any way to tell time when he was either in his room or in an even worse cell, bound to a chair and blindfolded in almost total silence. He could hear people outside the cell, others shuffling in the room above, whatever it was, and that was it. Didn’t seem like torture until he started imagining full-on conversations in his head to stave off the boredom.

He’d resorted to singing a couple times, one very inappropriate song and then a misremembered hymn. Both ended up with beatings, so Hawke could only assume that all his Lothering friends lied when they said he had a good singing voice.

Hawke chuckled to no one. Was it a bad sign to laugh at jokes made to yourself?

Guards also came to feed him once in a while, but not often enough—plus, it was pretty tricky to eat off a spoon you couldn’t see held by someone who didn’t like you very much. Other times, they were just there to wear him down.

Garrett underestimated just how smart they were about this; he’d have to admit that. The beatings were careful, and since he couldn’t see or move, there was no risk they’d hit him in a way they didn’t mean to. Any bruises that did turn up were planned out so they wouldn’t show if anyone did see him that shouldn’t. That hadn’t happened since this whole mess started, though. A few other mages saw him, but it was always on purpose so no one would report not seeing him and kicking off an inconvenient investigation.

Not that they had much love for Hawke anyway. Word traveled fast that he was in Meredith’s pocket as her favorite mage, so the other mages avoided him at pretty much any cost.

But there was no Orsino, no Cullen, and no Carver either. Basically, no one saw him who wouldn’t approve or might snitch.

Hawke was a tool of the Circle too, so they did have to be ready if he was called on by anyone who needed something done and wanted Hawke to do it.

Knowing Kirkwall like he did, he was sure that’d be any day now. It was just that kind of thinking that helped him keep quiet about the escape route. It was always just one more day, one more hour, one more beating, and he’d get a break. The Templars couldn’t go forever, but Hawke? Hawke could keep this up for as long as he had to. Would be a bit easier if he could stretch his legs, though.

The point was that if he gave up the escape route, it’d trap him here along with every other mage who didn’t want to be in the same spot. Whatever happened to these mages if Garrett ratted them out, it would be his fault. He had more than his share of guilt these days, thank you very much.

Besides, he was actually getting good at this not seeing thing.

The cell door slammed open with just a hair too much force, scraping against the stone floor, and armored footsteps got closer to him with intent precision. Only one person was that aggressive and obsessed.

“Meredith, I’ve missed you,” Hawke greeted, clearing his throat. Been a while since the last round of water. “I’m not much of a host at the moment, but—”

“Quiet.” She tore the blindfold off, not giving him even a moment to adjust before kicking the chair back and catching the front of his shirt to spare his head slamming into the stone ground. A bleeding skull was hard to hide.

Pulling him toward her, Meredith straddled the chair and scowled at him. Maker, how he must look up close… Worse, smell. He’d been rinsed off like cattle last night, but that was hardly a thorough bathing. Then again, a sponge bath by Templars would probably be worse somehow.

For a second, with her honey-gold hair and piercing glower taking up all he could see, Hawke swore his ears were ringing. That couldn’t be right. His smartass grin dropped to confusion, not that Meredith cared about the difference.

Hawke didn’t hit his head, and it hadn’t been that long without food or water. Long enough to be uncomfortable, not faint. Maybe the sudden falling back, but would that rush of dizziness typically sound like a distant orchestra…?

All this friendly questioning might be driving him insane.

“The Viscount calls for you again, mage.” One-handed, she hauled him and the chair upright, clattering to settle in place as she skulked off to circle behind him where, once again, he couldn’t see. Seemed she enjoyed denying him that. “And he won’t even explain what it’s for. Political matters, or so he claims.”

He felt her hand in his hair before he could react to her closing in, yanking his head back to meet her gaze one more time. The back of the chair pressed against the back of his neck as she examined him. For signs of treachery, blood magic, having opinions she didn’t like. Who even knew anymore?

Garrett wondered what her sister, Amelia, might’ve thought about all this. What Bethany might’ve. Proud and worried for him, maybe. Or maybe she’d think he was an idiot for coming up with this plan in to begin with. Well, who was she to point fingers about quick solutions involving major and irreversible sacrifice?

Hawke’s grimace had absolutely nothing to do with Meredith tugging sharply on his hair to get his attention.

“Do you have ties to him too? Are you and your blood mages corrupting every corner of this city?!”

“You know what,” he rasped, smirking at the thought of a certain Rivaini pirate who would enjoy this particular diversion far too much. “You have pretty eyes.”

“Your charms will not work on me,” she growled, tossing his head forward. He was an awkward mix of uneasy and very faintly flattered at that accusation. Or was it a compliment? A threat? Hostile flirting? He could never tell with Knight Commander Crazy.

“And though I must release you at his demand, his power can only exceed my own for a short time.” She undid his shackles, wrists and ankles, as her lecture wore on. “Then you will be back with me, where you belong. There is no escape from me, Hawke.”

By Andraste’s dirty socks, she resorted to his name. He really was in trouble.

“Even if there was, my darling Meredith,” he started, pushing himself up on the arms of the chair and stretching out carefully once he stood, “I don’t think I’d get far like this. You’re really holding up the Templars’ calling here; I feel very protected from the outside world.”

“Don’t even think of using this punishment as an excuse to slack off. You will serve this city as the Viscount commands,” she ordered as if she hadn’t just trash talked the man a moment ago. “And you will accept the fitting penalty for your crimes in the Circle when you return.”

Turning around to lead him out personally, he guessed, she tossed another nasty remark in for the fun of it. “You have no one to blame for this treatment but yourself. Had you been loyal and behaved, I could have made your time here worthwhile.”

Worthwhile… What could that mean in her twisted world? He’d be shackled no matter how he acted in this place. Probably literally. She was on a roll, though, and Maker, he really did not want to ask for details. Just following after her down the narrow halls and upward-sloping stairwells was enough of a chore.

“Never forget that the fault for this torment lies only with you.” Her voice echoed down the stairwell leading to civilization within the Circle. It was kind of mocking him when he thought about it.

“I hear that a lot,” he half-joked, knowing too well she’d never care enough to realize there was some truth to that. “Well, not that exactly. But it’s close enough that you’re probably right.”

Somehow, that kept her quiet all the way to meeting up with Cullen. He spared the Knight Captain a smile and got a look back that went straight through Hawke to see bruises and interrupted rest. Based on the positively lackadaisical pace he set for escorting Hawke to Aveline, it was possible that Cullen had finally figured out that mages were people like him after all.

Like all people everywhere, Hawke would just have to grin through the pain, make the most of the hand he was dealt this round, and hope that relative strangers like Cullen took it easy on him in the meantime. What else could either of them do?

Unless there was a city-wide uprising against Templars, both their hands were tied. Hawke was a mage in the Circle under suspicion, and that summed his situation up neatly. And if Cullen spoke up, he could be kicked out of the Order and cut off from lyrium, ending up begging on the streets like Samson. That would leave Hawke in the same bind but down one friendly face. The setup now wasn’t great, but it was much better than that disaster.

Once they’d finally met up with Aveline in the entrance to the Gallows, Cullen traded a farewell out for generic advice that didn’t quite fit the situation.

“Be careful, Sirrah Hawke.”


Nothing ever came easy in this place, Hawke swore. Why wouldn’t his first trip out of the Circle after intense questioning under duress with Meredith’s goons be a wild goose chase? A visit to Seneschal Bran turned up that this was about a missing Qunari delegation that the Viscount was trying to keep quiet, and that meant Hawke had to tell the Arishok himself straight away unless they wanted to piss him off. Aveline praised him for that judgment call, probably the first time in a year or maybe more, so that was a highlight.

And next came a visit to The Hanged Man, just like they all knew it would be. Seneschal Bran could pretend to be ignorant of the place all he wanted; everyone knew this would be the spot to start. So there he was again, in his favorite haunt from before the Circle with Anders, Aveline, and Varric as company this time. Really was too damned easy to pretend he didn’t have to go back when he was in this place.

“Think we can get food while we wait for—what was his name?”

“Orwald,” Aveline reminded him, quirking an eyebrow at him at the same time. “You hate the food here.”

“I said it tasted like a wet dog smells, not that I hated it,” Hawke corrected, falling right into old habits. Did him good, to be honest, seeing that the Circle wasn’t taking as much out of him as he thought it was. “I say that about the ale too, but it doesn’t stop me.”

“It really doesn’t,” Varric complimented him, setting his arms on the table with that roguish grin he did. “The real question is what’re they doing to you in there that you’d actually want the food in this place?”

“What? Nothing.” He dismissed the idea too quickly, Hawke could tell that just from their faces. Which said something if Varric couldn’t or didn’t bother hiding his concern. The piercing chill to his core threw him off, that was it. Varric was only joking and he didn’t realize it until he’d put his Circle-issued boot in his mouth.

“Nothing they don’t do to anyone else, anyway,” Garrett shrugged it off. And it was true, though that wasn’t really a comfort. “Hey, if I’m the only one that’s hungry, I’ll spring for it.”

“Spring for it with what?” Aveline smiled with her voice, not her face. There was something else lurking beneath the playful side to her that felt distinctly ‘big sister Aveline knows you’re up to something’-like, and he did not like where that was headed. “You don’t have money when you’re in the Circle.”

“You’re focused on the wrong part of that, Aveline,” Anders came in with his serious Manifesto tone, squinting at Hawke. Yeah, this was definitely not going how Hawke pictured it. He was only winding up on a speech, which Hawke usually could sift through for the truth among the enraged bitterness. As the subject of it? He wouldn’t bet on himself if this was a gambling thing.

“The things they do to anyone in the Gallows are horrific and inhumane, Hawke. If they are torturing you—”

And now Garrett knew, he hated being the center of his latest tirade.

“Right, so that’s a no from Anders. Varric, what’s a good friend have to do to eat around here?”

Varric chuckled, raising a hand to Corff across the bar to wordlessly summon some kind of food, and Hawke wasn’t about to question what he’d even asked for. Hardly mattered what it was. “Third time’s the charm.”

“Carver’s worried sick about you, you know,” Aveline pulled him right back on topic while Anders seemed to think if he just stared hard enough, he could read Hawke’s mind for answers. Actually, with Justice, maybe he could sneak into his dreams or something. Spirits never played fair and deflecting with humor usually went clear over their heads. “Last time we talked, he said he hadn’t seen you in a while.”

“Tell him not to worry about me,” Hawke dismissed, or tried to, but he eased up on that insistence just a hair too late. In Hawke’s defense, it was more important that Carver paid attention to watching his back than Garrett’s. He had a plan to get himself out (sort of), but Carver didn’t. “The suspicion will die down eventually, and I can handle whatever comes ‘til then. You’ve all seen it for yourselves, you know.”

“I’ve seen you grit your teeth and dig in your heels, if that’s what you mean,” Aveline answered drily, sounding suspiciously like she wasn’t going to let this drop. If Orwald could show himself in the group of people at the Hanged Man now to give her someone else to direct her mom stare to, Hawke would be very grateful for the distraction.

“You forgot making light of it, so no one pays attention,” Varric chimed in unhelpfully. Being on his home ground only made him more himself, but that was usually fun. Hawke would rather walk in on one of his exaggerated tales about him to the tavern’s regulars than keep running into this ‘truth’ thing.

“There he goes, pot calling the kettle black,” Anders said just what Hawke was thinking, and they shared a smirk over that line.

True, part of that smile was because the food was here, a platter of rather sad-looking sandwiches dropped between them before the waitress was off again in a blur. Still, Garrett was glad at least Anders was willing to toss him a bone.

“Now, now, this isn’t about my irresistibly secretive ways, Blondie.”

“Varric, you find secretiveness irresistible?” Plucking a soggy sandwich off the platter, Hawke cracked a grin at him. “I knew you had a thing for me.”

He barely tasted it, and what he did told him that was a rare spot of luck.

“And there you go,” Anders chastised, watching him reach for another sandwich. “However you’re being mistreated by Templars, we need to know.”

“He’s here,” Aveline interrupted, nodding to Orwald. Getting up from her seat at the table, she stopped on her way to the guy ordering a whole bottle of whatever to put a hand on Hawke’s shoulder. “Slow down, Hawke. If you eat too quickly on an empty stomach, you’ll make yourself sick.”

Then she was off, shoulders squared as she went to give her man the worst talking to he’s ever had. Varric had Aveline on that point—she could scare good behavior into anyone.

Meanwhile, Hawke swallowed his third sandwich past some tightness in his throat. Alright, he did make it obvious shoveling food in his face like that. He took the hint to slow down, not making eye contact with the two friends still at the table. The pitying look was very much not a thing Hawke wanted to see. Rather have the sexy, tortured look over that any day.

“You don’t deserve this,” Anders soothed, trying to catch Garrett’s eye. Maker’s breath, this was what he wanted to avoid: the worried glances, the desperate reworking of their hardly-a-plan-to-begin-with plan, all topped off with that sinking realization they could only watch for now.

He joked about everyone in Kirkwall going Hawke this, Hawke that, but that was his better than—this. They were counting on Garrett and he wouldn’t disappoint. He couldn’t, really. They were too far into it now, and the important step was already behind them. Merrill was the actual blood mage; she was the one in real danger until she got out. The aftermath of her freedom was Hawke’s to deal with. Once that was done, Anders would whip up a rescue for Hawke too. Why worry anyone else about how he took care of the messy middle part?

Anders, that stubborn harbinger of righteousness, just wouldn’t let it go.

“It’s bad enough that they’re hurting you for being a mage, you don’t have to do the work of hiding it for them too.”

“Come on, we knew when this started that they’d pick on me once Merrill got out.” Taking one bite from the sandwich, finally learning his lesson, Hawke talked around the food anyway. With Aveline’s track record, they didn’t have a lot of time before she was back with results, and manners would just have to wait. “I’m a big boy, so try not to worry or you’ll go grey. Just think, what will Varric use for your nickname after that?”

“I’d think of something,” Varric promised, waving that away with natural ease. “But in a rare moment of honesty for me, I have to tell you: I won’t be hiding this from Junior.”

“Hiding is such a nasty word for it.”

“Call it what you want, Hawke,” Anders refused to let the topic wander, but at least he’d dropped the sympathetic bit. “Your brother is the only one on your side in there with any power to help you. He needs to know what’s happening.”

So that’s how he saw it? Carver didn’t have any more power than either of them did, just better access to watching. It was their call if they wanted to know how bad the situation was when no one could change it, but Hawke’d like it if they’d leave his baby brother out of it.

The real pressing question Hawke had on his mind was whether either of them wanted that last sandwich. Tossing his glance between them staring at him, he was going to guess no, but Garrett was still on good(ish) behavior and pacing himself like Aveline instructed. Odds were, he already pushed it and scarfing that down now really would make him sick. Nothing new to the tables in this bar, but he’d just as soon not add to the stains.

Varric caught on to his train of thought, probably, because he nudged the platter Hawke’s way.

“All I’ve got now is speculation, and I am known to wildly embellish when a story is left to my imagination.” That dirty, caring blackmailing con artist with a heart of gold… Damn, his best friend was good. “How’s about it, Hawke? I went first, so now it’s your turn to tell the truth.”

Aveline came to save him, knowing it or not, resting a gauntlet on the table beside Anders. “I didn’t get a name, but they convinced Orwald to leave his post using The Grand Cleric’s seal.”

“And now we walk to the Chantry. Lucky me, I’ll get a grand tour of Kirkwall all in one day.” Hawke snagged the last sandwich, not leaving that behind if he was paid to, and stood up. Once they got moving, they could drop this ugly business in favor of helping people by killing people. Only until next time if the pattern Garrett was seeing in his friends meant anything.

“Don’t think you’re off the hook for whatever they asked you,” Aveline warned, falling in step with him and Anders as Hawke headed for the door. A clank of coin on the table behind him suggested Varric paid for the food. Living there like he did, he couldn’t exactly get away with stiffing them on a bill.

“You’re in trouble now,” Varric teased, not too far behind.

Looking over his shoulder with a grin, Hawke answered the only way he could. “When am I not?”

Beside him, Aveline heaved a sigh.


Night had fallen once Hawke buttoned up the last of the cleanup for the Viscount. The whole debacle packed every bit of something that could go wrong in Kirkwall, just like last time. Another heavy dose of nostalgia before the next crisis that only Hawke could solve, he figured.

Armed with self-righteous racism, Petrice denied any and all involvement with the Qunari incident, sending Hawke after Varnell to do her dirty work. She had that in common with the general population of Kirkwall, at least, what with being unable to muster having a heart, soul, or any common decency like the rest of everyone.

Mostly everyone.

Next, Hawke and his merry band alerted Grand Cleric Elthina to the abuse of her seal. That part went better than he thought, which should’ve warned him that things were about to get much, much worse. All that fighting to find the Qunari, and they were being tortured in the undercity. The Viscount didn’t mean anything by it when he suggested burning their bodies; he couldn’t have known Hawke was in the same position as them. Even if he found out, the man believed in Hawke enough to call on him for this. There was no chance he’d believe such an allegation or however fancy politicians denied reports on bad news. Hawke wasn’t fast enough to save the Qunari, but at least he convinced Viscount Dumar to let their bodies be returned as they were. They deserved that much.

Anders and Aveline were so proud of striking down Varnell as retribution for the Qunari, but that was something they could do. If any of his friends knew the gritty details of the bind he was in with Meredith, that wouldn’t change that they were powerless to stop it. He’d been in that spot before, and it was not pretty, so he kept quiet. They told the Arishok the truth, anyway. Surely one honest deed cancelled out the lie?

Back in the Circle and in his room for a change, Garrett fell asleep way too fast to spare any time thinking about the answer to that question.


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Web of Love | Claude Edition Ch. 2: Double-Surprise Gift

Word count: 2140 (5 to 18 minutes) | Rating: T | Note: Fire Emblem: Three Houses Spoilers | Characters: Claude, Ferdinand, and Hubert

Read the previous chapter.

After Raphael’s little helper-to-all stunt that caused him to eat all their newly purchased food supplies, Claude figured it was only right to volunteer to go with the next student to do the monastery’s supply run. As fortune would have it, that was Hubert. Shrewd and intimidating, even to seasoned old merchants, Hubert managed to get their double portions to catch up at a steal. Their luck carried over into the weather, which wasn’t stormy or about to be. Yet, anyway.

It stopped there, though. Everyone else in the Garreg Mach town had the same idea and packed into the streets for their much-needed wares. Claude brought a horse to help carry the load, but having her along slowed them down as they fought their way through the swarms of people. For Hubert, who didn’t like people when they were all out of arm’s reach, being sandwiched between a crowd and a horse was probably not fun.

“One would think you had prepared to actually help rather than hinder when you offered to come along.” A mind reader, that Hubert. His one showing eye glared over his shoulder and down at Claude.

“Ouch! You wound me.” The dramatic hand to his chest was all for show, and Claude laughed off his bad mood. He gave the horse a couple firm pats on the saddle and smiled to Hubert’s scowl. “This wonderful horse is doing all she can.”

“Yes, well, when she reaches her limits, you will pick up the slack.” Like that, Hubert looked away and back out to the crowd. If he was giving anyone out there the look he gave Claude, he was seriously going to ruin someone’s day. Random strangers had no way to know his menacing expressions were just the prickly outside of Hubert. Granted, most acquaintances didn’t either. Some friends too.

“What did I do to earn such callous treatment?”

And he just kept staring out into the crowd. Following his gaze as it seemed to be locked on something, Claude came up empty. Just a couple shops in a sea of faces, and he could be looking at either shop. But being ignored by Hubert was kind of a curious thing to happen. If he wanted quiet, he just said so.

“Oh, the agony! To be spurned so by a friend so dear!” He amped up the volume to shake Hubert loose from whatever trance he was in. If that didn’t work, next up was “tripping” into him. A risky move, but so worth it if he found out what had him so captivated.

“Hm.”

“That’s it? That’s all you have for me?” He clicked his tongue in mock offense, looking further into those two shops. They weren’t going anywhere fast with the group here and he had time to spend staring into shops. Looked like a bakery and an armory side by side, and knowing how Hubert detested sugary sweets like he did, that left the armory.

Not that he was a weapons and armor guy either. The lance was his backup at best, and he focused his efforts on magic studies. Some of which the Church definitely did not approve of, but who was Claude to judge about that? Heck, he was just as bad in his research.

“Pardon? I was reviewing—something.” Ooh, that stall spoke volumes. He didn’t even look at Claude that long before turning his attention back to the shop.

“Something, hm? What something?” Finally, a few mercenary types stepped away from the armory and he saw what Hubert’s height let him see in the first place: two gauntlets, shiny and new, as practical as they were ornate. Two things about them were suspiciously not Hubert. For one, they were not his colors at all, and for two, he was indeed not an armor guy. Magic and gauntlets didn’t really mix.

“I hate to bring bad news, but I think those are too much for you. Can you even lift those gauntlets, Hubert?”

“They are not for me,” Hubert corrected, his mind clearly on who or what they were for since his tone wasn’t as scathing as it could’ve been. “Ferdinand has been studying heavy armor as of late, and he lacks the proper equipment to excel in the field.”

“Oh? And when did you get so invested in the success of Ferdinand von Aegir?” Claude chuckled again, noting the tension in Hubert’s shoulders. A sensitive subject? There weren’t many of those for young Lord Vestra. “Could it be that you care?”

“Ugh, this again,” he complained, but he couldn’t glare back at Claude this time since they finally got to move forward more than a couple steps. The coveted gauntlets for Ferdinand were still within view, but guess who wouldn’t even spare them a glance now? Claude grinned at how equally obvious and oblivious Hubert could be about things like this. “His success reflects well on Lady Edelgard as house leader, that is all.”

“True, you’ve got a point,” he had to agree there. Hubert usually picked good defenses and deflections to keep people guessing—but only people who didn’t know better. “But would that be enough to break the focus of the ever-perceptive Hubert of the Shadows?”

“I have merely learned to tune out your meaningless prattle. Speaking of which, enough is enough. The crowd has thinned. We ought to return to the monastery swiftly.”

“Oh, sure thing. I’ll be right behind you.”

The horse gave an impatient huff, and someone more attuned to the feelings of animals might’ve been suspicious. She knew Claude was lying, but Hubert stayed just as suspicious as always—no more, no less—and that meant Claude was in the clear as long as he didn’t dally.

Hubert sighed. “Do keep your curious nature in check.”


“Phew!” Claude stretched, rolling his shoulders in turn. The stacked supplies sat just inside the foyer on the way to the dining hall. Even getting that far had been a hassle with the stairs. Getting the horse back to stables so she could rest was the quickest part of the trip, and that struck Claude as just wrong. “I thought we’d never get these supplies in before the skies opened up for no reason.”

“See to it that your house doesn’t cause more trouble if you wish to avoid such a nuisance in the future.”

Shaking his head, Claude gave him an exaggerated shrug. Hubert didn’t go around provoking people because he didn’t want a show, he figured.

“You’re really never going to let that go, are you? Oh, hey, would you look at that—” Behind Hubert came a certain bright-haired noble of House Aegir, cravat swaying with his descent down the stairs to join them.

And if Hubert’s guard went up any faster, he might be wearing actual armor. His expression settled somewhere between ‘I don’t hate you’ and ‘I’m chronically annoyed’, and he crossed his arms as Ferdinand approached.

“Claude! Hubert,” he added on a touch less warmly, giving a polite nod to his classmate. No surprise there, since the entire monastery knew how these two fought like cats and dogs over a scrap of meat. If that scrap was the value and role of Adrestian nobility.

He glanced to Claude to continue, but he couldn’t help but realize that Ferdinand’s eyes drifted back to Hubert as if by their own will.

Well, well. Maybe all that fighting finds its home in certain unresolved tensions.

“I heard that you had arrived with supplies for our food stores, and I am here to assist with their delivery to the kitchen. I am not too late, am I?”

“Not at all!” He thumbed to the gathered food beside him. “We were just getting started. First things first, though.”

He had both of their undivided attention as he dug into his stealthy satchel and drew out a secret package wrapped up at an armory Hubert might have recognized. If he wasn’t going to make a move on his own, and there was zero chance an overthinker like Hubert would, Claude would help get him started.

“Hubert here got you a little something for the trouble he knew you’d go to for us.”

“I—Is that so?” Oh no, he was cute! Ferdinand’s eyes lit up with his smile, hands clasped hopefully in front of him, but there was still this layer of insecurity in ever so faintly raised shoulders. Bold and self-assured Ferdinand, not-so-subtly needing someone to reaffirm what he was so confident in all the time? Yep, it’s no wonder Hubert warmed up to him whether he wanted to or not.

“Claude—” And there he was, ready to expose the scheme if Claude let him.

“I know, I know,” Claude brushed it off, easy grin at the ready. “You wanted to wait. But I just love to uncover secrets, and secret presents are my favorite.”

“A secret present, you say?”

He could practically hear Hubert mentally noting that Ferdinand liked surprise presents. Also planning out Claude’s sudden murder and/or disappearance, but what are friends for?

“Yep! Spotted through a crowd just for you.” He held the gift out to Ferdinand, who almost started unwrapping it before Claude took his hands off.

Hubert couldn’t seem to make up his mind if he was going to glare at Claude, watch Ferdinand, or scan the few people in the area to see if any of them were witnessing this exchange. Can’t have anyone spreading rumors that Hubert von Vestra got Ferdinand von Aegir a present! Never mind that he’d probably wear the gauntlets anywhere he could and even end up flaunting them. Claude smirked the whole way through and let himself take pride in a double-surprise like this one.

“Ah, they are so artfully crafted!” Ferdinand turned the gauntlets over, wide eyes taking in each and every detail that held Hubert’s attention through a packed marketplace. From arm guard to hand guards, he examined it a few times over and almost beamed at Hubert. “I should not be surprised that such a discerning eye would settle for no less.”

Hubert, dear Hubert, nodded numbly. Undaunted, Ferdinand pulled the gauntlets on and looked them over again, this time in their proper place just as Claude predicted he would. Sort of. He didn’t think he’d put them on right away, but he really should’ve.

“My current course of study with the professor will benefit greatly from this, although I assume you knew as much already.”

Ferdinand was really laying it on thick, but Claude turned to see Hubert just nodding at him one more time for good measure. That praise would have to get some kind of sentence to form in Hubert’s brain, and he was running out of time to say it.

“I had not expected a gift, but I am deeply grateful that you thought of me, Hubert.”

“Of course. Your success reflects well on the Black Eagle House.” Right, Hubert was going to snub a perfectly good opportunity instead. Claude sighed before he even finished, kicking himself for not guessing that would happen too. “If you are quite finished, our task here is not yet done.”

“And I will work with twice the fervor with my spirits lifted by such a considerate surprise!”

And he was not kidding. Ferdinand scooped up almost as much as Raphael could carry and marched off like it was a feather pillow. Heavy armor training really did pay off, huh.

“Wow. He sure is enthusiastic,” Claude commented, trying to get Hubert to come out of that shell of his while they picked up what they could of the supplies.

“I will pay you back for that.”

“Perish the thought!” He chuckled, having already made up his mind on that when he bought the gauntlets. “I had the money, and you seemed to need the push.”

“I did not mean strictly in the monetary sense.” The bone-chilling grin he was so known for had no right to be as effective as it was when Hubert was carrying a watermelon, but there it was, making Claude think of the few moments of peace before being dragged along by his father’s horse. He knew the trick to it, yeah, but still.

Anyway, that was his secret.

“Ooh, spooky! I’ll have to be extra careful at night.”

It was Hubert’s turn to chuckle, startling a few students in the dining hall as they followed where Ferdinand had dashed off.

“Just because House Vestra is at its most dangerous in the shadow does not mean you are safe in the light.” Hubert’s grin fell to his watchful resting glare, searching the hall for any sign of the Black Eagles’ obligatory helpful-to-everyone student. “But we should catch up to him.”

“Setting the bar high, aren’t you? Worth a try, I guess.”


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Web of Love | Claude Edition Ch. 1: So it Begins

Word count: 840 (2 to 7 minutes) | Rating: T | Note: Fire Emblem: Three Houses Spoilers | Characters: Hubert and Claude


“Hubert, my friend,” Claude greeted, striding into the makeshift poisons lab he and Hubert carved out of one of the abandoned ruins dotting the vast Garreg Mach monastery grounds. Getting supplies from the greenhouse and making poisons in his room just wasn’t cutting it anymore… Seteth almost caught him last time, and that’d be a big mess to pick up, even for Claude.

The self-sacrificing servant to Edelgard barely glanced up from his workstation, where he was mixing some elements or another together at a safe distance.

“Claude,” Hubert acknowledged, returning to the task before him. He ran a tight ship, that Vestra. Compared to Claude’s intuitive chaos system, Hubert kept everything in order even in the neglected remains of a modest chapel. All supplies were sorted, labelled in code, and stored for easy concealment from wild animals and nosy explorers alike. Never knew when Ignatz would pick this place as the site of his next painting for the divine goddess herself, after all.

The ride by horseback to the workshop wasn’t long, sadly, so that was all the more reason to be cautious. Claude would just have to set aside time for leisurely rides on his own later. Really, he should be grateful for how close it was since the summer rains of Fódlan were just getting started at the turn of the Verdant Rain moon.

And because it would have to rain fire before Hubert considered not concocting new poisons for his sinister inventory, Claude had to make it out there somehow.

“Dutiful as ever, I’ll give you that.” He took off his cloak and after a couple good shakes, he hung it from an outcropping in the wall to dry for his ride back. Who knows what it used to be in its glory, but it made a good coat hanger in the present!

“So, how do you manage to get here before me when I never see your tracks on the way or a horse of yours nearby?”

“I am certain you would love to know,” Hubert taunted and gave not a hint or a clue, as usual of Edelgard’s most devoted.

“Oh, come on!” Claude went over to his table opposite Hubert’s, set up a good distance away for safety. Even guys as familiar with poisons as them had to be careful. “Our regular retreats for whipping up poisons have gone on for weeks now—your brews being quite a bit more deadly than mine most days, I might add—and we’ve even taken breaks for those board games you’re so fond of. Don’t I get a little hint?”

Claude grinned across the gap, packed with uneven rocks, stragglers from cleared rubble, and warm torchlight. And on the other side of the divide, a certain pale-eyed shadow peered at him, of course.

“Not a chance. You will simply have to employ that strategic mind of yours if you want to find out so badly.”

“Testing the limits of my skills, huh? I’m on to you,” Claude teased, picking out the bottles of mushrooms and crushed plants he needed for the mildly debilitating mixtures he had in mind. Hubert barely touched the low-grade stuff like that, and if it bothered him that Claude was hogging it, he didn’t say anything. And if he wanted to, Hubert would volley his absolute worst criticisms at Claude. He did, in fact. Often. So, anyway, it was probably fine.

“I very much doubt that.”

“Said like someone who doesn’t know just how close I am!”

“Is that so?” Ah, that got a rise out of him. Hubert stood back from his work, crossing his arms and sneering in that way he did when an argument struck his fancy. Or an appealing target, that too. “Tell me, what have you uncovered about me?”

“For starters, I can tell from your chats with Ferdinand outside the Officer’s Academy classrooms that your sour view of him is starting to turn sweet. Or is it spicy?”

Got him again.

Hubert fumbled his practiced scornful smirk, barely covering it with a scoff.

“What a ridiculous suggestion,” Hubert tried to recover, but it was too late. Claude was just as perceptive as Vestra himself, and his guard wasn’t as perfect as he thought. Supposed that was true of both them now, since they’d been cataloguing each other’s tells anytime they were together.

“Right, of course,” Claude agreed mockingly. He measured out the right amount of ingredients as easily as always, getting to work as he kept taunting Hubert. “How silly of me! I’ll drop the notion straight away, sir.”

“Be quiet,” Hubert hissed, digging back into his work too. The smell was foul, even at that distance, and Claude had to wonder how Hubert managed not to even cough a little.

Yeah, he was going to need help if he was ever going to capture the attention of the unstoppable sunbeam that was Ferdinand von Aegir. Lucky for Hubert that he had such a caring and invested friend in Claude!


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