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