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
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.