Coffee Date | FE3H Huleth Fanfiction

Word count: 2300 (4 to 18 minutes) | Rating: G | Fire Emblem: Three Houses Spoilers | Characters: Hubert von Vestra and Byleth Eisner (Huleth)

“Aww, Hubie, you look so dashing!” Dorothea praised his appearance yet again, tucking a scarlet carnation into his vest pocket.

“Dorothea,” he started, glancing to Edelgard seated at the desk in his quarters. How exactly the two of them got involved in his preparations for meeting Byleth for coffee was unclear. He theorized that Dorothea’s close ties with gossip circles allowed her to hear of the invitation Hubert accepted, thereby passing the news on to Her Majesty. “This is hardly necessary. Our professor asks various people to tea every week, myself included.”

It was wholly unnecessary, of course. His Adrestian uniform was sufficient. He doubted the professor would be in different attire. Despite their former roles as teacher and student, they were both generals following Byleth’s return and well beyond dressing to impress for a simple coffee break.

“Yet I believe she has asked you to coffee in a more removed area of gardens,” Edelgard reminded him with a grin he rarely saw on her face. That, admittedly, did him good to witness.

Clearing his throat, Hubert ducked his head. He still disliked emotional displays in a broad sense—no matter how minor. “I don’t see what difference it makes.”

“Oh, plenty,” Dorothea joined in teasing him. Perhaps ‘playfully tormenting’ was the more apt term on account of her wink when she stepped back to appreciate her work on his outfit. It was an understated ensemble, as a sign of her understanding of his preferences. Black shoes and pants added class without distracting from the dark Adrestian gold vest. The burgundy button-down coordinated with the carnation in his vest on a whim of nature. Dorothea seemed delighted, at least. She clasped her hands together with a romantic sigh and already whisked herself off to the opera in her imagination. “It will be just you and her. After five years apart, you must have so much to say to her!”

“Five years and three months,” Hubert steered the conversation, pulling black gloves over his magic-stained hands. “And if you are trying to settle my nerves, it is not working.”

“You have nothing to be nervous about, Hubert.” Ever insightful, Edelgard smiled through the process of mentally walking Hubert to her conclusion. “She invited you, and you planned nothing to intentionally encourage that. Isn’t that correct?”

“Yes,” Hubert reluctantly conceded. He disliked having no influence over any turn of events, perhaps only more so for positive outcomes he wanted solely for his own sake. Byleth’s loyalty was beyond question after she’d disregarded Lady Rhea’s commands in the Holy Tomb to choose Lady Edelgard. The relief he felt went beyond the strictly professional, and it was no different now. Hubert was pleased to have been invited to coffee with only the two of them. He had no strategic gain in mind, only her company.

“Then you have already impressed her just as you are. And why shouldn’t you?” Without her cape, armor, or ornamental wear, Edelgard possessed even more grace than usual as she strode up to Hubert and rested a hand on his arm in reassurance. Effectively so. No one knew him better, to an undefinable extent, than Lady Edelgard. Her smile up at him was almost contagious. “There is no one more loyal and devoted. Please, my friend, follow your heart.”

“Professor,” Hubert announced himself, joining her at the table in the plain wooden chair. The isolated garden was not too distinct from their habitual meeting spot. The decorative stone pillars were worse for wear and the garden needed neatening, but it was rather similar. He was surprised she sought this exact place out from the many spots on the academy grounds where one might stop for tea. Spring was still young, and it was more rain than blossoms, but it was a scenic setting. It could be that Edelgard and Dorothea had the right of it.

The concept was more disquieting with the professor in front of him than safely preparing in his quarters for their coffee break.

“I’m glad you joined me.” She offered him a light smile, a quite conspicuous gesture for her.

“Of course.”

The table’s contents revealed she knew well in advance that he would accept. Fewer treats than usual graced the braided basket on the table, notably ones such as ginger snaps and lemon squares that would appeal to Hubert. A platter of rich eclairs rested beside them and were distinguished from the usual recipe with the dark chocolate pastry and dusting of coffee beans over the top of the cream-filled desserts. The amount of sweets didn’t warrant a tiered tray that sometimes made an appearance at such gatherings, however.

A cup of black coffee sat on the white tablecloth in front of the seat he occupied, and steam rising from its surface suggested it was brewed and poured recently. An unsettling silence persisted as he lifted the cup to take the first sip. He was not suited to carrying a conversation. Neither was she. Perhaps this was… enough.

“Is it brewed right?” With her fingers curled around the handle of her cup, she watched him levelly. As always. That remained consistent regardless of how he no longer sensed the duality he identified in their professor when first they met.

“Yes, thank you,” Hubert answered honestly, raising the cup slightly in reference to it. Her smile grew. Closed mouth as it was, his heart still quickened just so when he saw that reaction from his encouragement. Hubert’s service to Edelgard rendered him a source of fright to many.  To far fewer, he evidently brought a smile. He was truthfully unsure how to feel about that discovery. ‘Hopeful’ didn’t quite fit the sentiment coiling around his chest and disturbing the various organs merely trying to continue their basic functions. Maybe ‘apprehensively optimistic’ was better.

“Been a long time, huh?”

The impossibly rich green of her eyes dwelled on him, and Hubert resorted again to drinking his coffee. It wouldn’t settle his nerves, of course. That was never its intent. Yet it outranked the alternative of discovering what he might see or find by meeting that stare in a prolonged way.

“It certainly has. Are you well?” Inversely, he’d implied that she seemed unwell. As in insane. He’d done so before on occasion as a student, that was an immovable fact. But he had aspired to conduct himself more fairly after five years to learn from his prior mistakes. Scowling, Hubert corrected his course. “Rather, it must have been uncomfortable wherever you slept undisturbed for five years. All only to reappear in a river, of all places.”

With a one-sided shrug that shifted her neckpiece, she mentioned, “I’ve slept in worse places.”

“The life of a mercenary would do that,” Hubert noted in return with faint amusement. It was no prized childhood to wander the land with Jeralt on the run from the Church of Seiros after having faked his death in the wake of rightful suspicion of Lady Rhea. But, he had to confess, it was strangely heartwarming to think of a young Byleth on adventures with her father. They had clearly been quite close despite her unique metaphysical circumstances. In that sense, Jeralt acted as proof that unconditional love for your child was indeed a reality, no matter how flawed that love may ultimately be.

Quiet fell between them once more. The professor brought her porcelain cup to her lips, which glistened with the thin layer of gloss she was partial to. An obvious fact anyone would have noticed after nearly a year in her class, naturally.

Setting her cup down with an utter lack of decorum that would leave any common noble completely aghast, she was perfectly at ease. Hubert smirked. All part of her inextricable charm.

“How did you know I would follow Edelgard in the Holy Tomb?”

Where once they might have discussed previous close calls or books they’d recently finished, Hubert and Byleth had apparently reached the level of closeness where there were heavier matters they might be forthright about. On the one hand, he appreciated the direct nature of their conversation. It saved him the guesswork of social maneuvering that he might not fare well with. On the other, Hubert had no means to stall her until he had the ideal response ready.

As with any delicate procedure, particularly one that was relatively new to him, some improvisation was required.

“I didn’t.” Hubert could be sincere about that. The more honesty he shared now, the easier it would be to withhold information later if necessary. Theoretically. Idly browsing the pastries in the basket to give the impression of calm, Hubert finished his explanation. “Lacking your borderline precognition, I simply hoped.”

“Hubert von Vestra, hoping for the best?” Byleth picked up a ginger snap and reached over to put it on the plain white plate set before him. Abominably rude, and Ferdinand or Lorenz would have endless apologies if they’d done it, but he chuckled. It was—thoughtful. Sweet, one could say. He was unused to having his needs and interests anticipated by another. But the professor had taken his casual browsing of the basket to be meaningful and went out of her way to fulfill what she perceived as an unspoken desire for a ginger snap. Doing so for him was sweet and somewhat cheeky, if her own playful smile was any evidence. “I don’t believe it.”

Hubert laughed at her conclusion, trailing off into a satisfied sigh. She knew his methods even after many years spent slumbering away in rubble or rivers. He supposed they hadn’t changed drastically overall, in fairness. However, not many got so far as comprehending his process to begin with. Therefore, the credit to her intellect was well-earned.

“I admit, I did try to lead you to the ideal conclusion. Why else would I ask you to speculate on the motives of Tomas and his ilk or to wonder at Flayn’s significance?” Hubert remarked in hindsight, not positive of when precisely he made the comment. The month had been a hectic one—but which hadn’t? That didn’t eliminate much. “The answers were there for those who pursued what we already knew to be fact. I had confidence you would see that.”

“For Edelgard’s sake?”

“Yes,” he said haltingly, brushing a stray fallen leaf from the table to keep it clear as well as occupying himself for a moment. Thinking again of the earlier advice from his unsolicited helpers, Hubert had to yield to it. He ought to follow his heart as Lady Edelgard so poetically advised. In so doing, he could ensure that the professor’s interest in him was authentic. “Although not hers alone.”

Byleth tipped her head at an almost imperceptible angle for an inquisitive look at Hubert. It was incredible, really, how no stretch of time apart lessened the effect that had on him. He trained since he was a boy to guard his true thoughts whenever necessary, and that became an exponentially greater priority after the Insurrection. With but a glance, the professor made him feel as though his thoughts were laid bare for easy review and worse, not found wanting or lesser. Acceptance and understanding did not agree with Hubert’s disposition as readily as rejection and distrust. It was safer that way. The fewer people he allowed in, the more secure his defense of Her Majesty would be.

Then, he attended Garreg Mach, where he met the Black Eagles and Byleth became their professor by an unexpected twist of fate.

“Heh.” Hubert paused to find the words he needed, feeling foolish for requiring so much as a spare second to organize his thoughts into a comprehensible sentence. The war was not yet at its end, and there was one behind it as well. He couldn’t afford to be so disorderly. “In my days at the academy, I treated you with such overt hostility. I never once relented in my skepticism of your intent.”

He flicked his gaze down to the black depths of his coffee as he lowered it to the table and proceeded as best as he was able.

“Just as you never dismissed me as merely what I made myself out to be. You understood me when I was at my most difficult. I never got to thank you properly for that.”

In a new wave of emotional bravery, he looked to his professor, companion, general, and colleague to gauge how well he fared thus far. She knew not to believe he would amaze her with social prowess. That was exactly why he hadn’t expected her to smile more brightly than before at what was inarguably a reserved and unexceptional explanation. If nothing else, she would be in good spirits for his less appealing truths.

“It is inconceivable to leave Her Majesty’s side. Not for you or anyone.” Hubert meant it as a firm statement of fact. The tenderness of the atmosphere had surprisingly affected that too, softening the edges of his words to meaningless fringe for decoration and comfort. Highly uncharacteristic behavior that should worry him far more than it did. “But if you were to join our side in the war, then perhaps… We might support her together as equals. In doing so, I would have the chance to express my gratitude.”

The silence that ensued then was comforting, punctuated with bites of his gifted ginger snap and the professor’s absent sips of tea or approving nods.

“What do you think you’ll do now? Since your plan has come together.”

“I spent five years believing you to be dead or worse, Byleth.” Reaching for her hand was at once deeply unnerving and irresistibly natural. Glove over gauntlet, Hubert looked to her with a serenity more rehearsed than felt. “I’m not in the habit of letting opportunities pass me by twice.”

Byleth turned her hand over to hold his, stood from her seat, and with her other hand cupping his face, she drew him into a kiss tasting of coffee and ginger.

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If you enjoyed this story, you might also like the bittersweet fluff of The Boy Forgotten short story.

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Saving Ourselves: Ch. 6: Escape

Dira Bae

The rest of the trip didn’t amount to much. Dira studiously kept himself from hitting his head again by sitting in the middle of the cart, tail curled around his legs where he had them crossed. He started to whistle before Noyo told him to cut it out. Since they were the ones exposed to any threats out in the smog, he did as he was told to shake things up for a change. Frankly, it was dull. He should be happy about that. No creatures in the smoke went after the carriages, meaning they were out of the path of any crystals that drew them in. That kind of luck on their exit would make this trek a fireside tale to boast about to the littles in Genoa. With some parts cleaned up for young ears, of course.

He conveniently forgot that fortune wasn’t one to smile his way.

First, it was in the whistle carried through the smoke. Noyo directed the horse towards it so sharply, even for the cart, that he moved closer to the slit.

“What? What is it?”

“Stay,” they commanded, hopping down from the driver’s spot and joining Loren—probably the whistler. That explained why he was banned from it or at least gave him a reason not to have his pride wounded.

“I’m tied up!” The reminder was senseless, maybe even eaten up in the heavy smog. His aura had pressed in close to the point where it barely covered his body. When he tested the door at the back, it rattled and stayed shut. So, locked. He could burn it open, then have Noyo mad at him and still nowhere to go. Dira settled back down facing the door and grumbled. “Stay, they say. It’s locked.”

They couldn’t stay still long. Not in conditions like this, no visibility and the risk of beasts anywhere. They could leave a carriage behind if it turned out they didn’t need it, though. It or the tied-up prisoner in the back. Voices outside got muffled in the smoke, so Dira couldn’t make out words. He pieced together that there weren’t many survivors, at least from who was talking, over the course of ten or so minutes. The situation didn’t sound sunny based on hissed whispers and people interrupting each other. What was bad for them probably wound up worse for Dira.

He exhaled and put his forehead against the wall of the cart. This time, he’d outdone himself.

The carriage door opened, and it didn’t get any brighter.

Loren’s aura kept most of the smog away, but hers didn’t even reach his. It stopped short of it—maybe two hand lengths away from one shimmering border to the next and shrinking. Her absent mask proved they’d only barely made it in time for that to run out, leaving only her charged tattoos to keep her safe from the smoke.

Anyone else leaning towards him with a dagger drawn wouldn’t catch Dira being still, and that wasn’t saying he wasn’t nervous. The elven fighter in her hid it well if she felt a fraction of the betrayal Noyo did. She had him free in two quick cuts and stepped back to give him space to get out.

“It’s Fekhi.”

“Who?” Dira shuffled out the open carriage, dropping to the packed dirt. A main street, it had to be. This was their city-state, and they knew where to find it even in the dark. Side streets wouldn’t have been so easy.

“Our mayor,” Loren kept her voice taut like a bow and led him with purposeful steps. For someone barely up to his shoulder, she had a way of looking in control. “She’s not well.”

Dira followed her, stretching his four arms out. Having them tied left an uneasy feeling with the stiffness and that took care of both. He could make out people in the aura of two ward generators, one glowing brighter than the other. Made sense, since a human Union mage was transferring the energy they’d harvested earlier into it. It moved in a slow, lazy arc with the usual orderliness that Union casting fostered. Why have beauty coursing through your magic when you could have predictable structure?

…Not that it was really the place or time to nitpick.

Noyo sat maskless with a couple townspeople, he figured, maybe farmers or builders. The human and elf on their right looked familiar with long days in the sun, based on hallmark weathered skin. There wasn’t much else to tell about two strangers lit only by the wards. He pulled his own useless mask off, then glanced where Noyo glared and found who he had to believe was Fekhi laying down on a battered bench.

Stepping closer, he saw midnight violet markings on her arms through the blood drying on her skin. Her own blood—he could see that with it also seeping through her shirt. Red hair clung to her clammy face, mostly serene from her being unconscious. Loren stood with him and looked down at their injured mayor with her shoulders squared. She was like Stefan that way, he guessed. Nothing determination couldn’t solve in that perspective of theirs. At least until you stood over someone bleeding out when help was all the way past the smog settled in over their city-state.

“Underplayed that, don’t you think?” Dira wouldn’t just describe her as ‘not well’. He’d need to learn what Loren actually meant with things like that, assuming Noyo decided later on that Dira deserved a speck of trust. He leaned in for a better look and didn’t like any of it. The worst of the damage was across her torso, and he spotted some grazed scrapes on her arms for good measure. “Whatever made you think I can help her, it’s not true.”

Dwarves were strong, not fast. Most of them leaned on endurance too much because of it. Fekhi got caught by surprise with a creature sometime in all this and she didn’t die right away, but she didn’t have good odds of living either. He shook his head, flicking his tail impatiently, and the handful of townspeople there took that for what it was: Their mayor wasn’t likely to make it. If they stayed much longer, no one would.

“You can sense the energy.” Noyo spoke up, standing and challenging him to lie with a firm glare. Everyone huddled in the aura—except for Loren and the Union mage—were briefly more concerned about them than the crushing smoke. “How bad is it?”

In other words, should Fekhi be left behind? Dira examined her again and frowned. Abandoned, she would die. There were better ways to be shuffled off this plane and not many worse. His connection to the crystal energy afforded him some privileges, he’d say. Immunity from the blatantly eavesdropping mage didn’t feature on the list. If he gave Noyo an honest answer, he’d be inviting extra attention from a group of people who just captured him earlier that day and had a presence in every city-state within their sphere of toxic smog.

Then again, they’d done the same to Noyo and Loren.

Dira took a short breath in, held it, and let it out with a nod. Moving red hair aside to her forehead, he checked the markings encroaching on her temple. Stage one became stage two in the mind. Those wisping stains on her skin, disappearing past her hairline, put Fekhi right in the middle of that part of a three-stage transformation. He could blame the dense smoke for a very rushed infection that would make her into one of those monsters, but even that couldn’t make a weeklong process into a matter of hours.

“Wait, it—” He stepped aside to let the glow of the energy transfer shine better on her. The first tank had filled up, so the Union mage moved onto the other one loaded into a wheelbarrow at an unsettling angle. Dira had no idea if that affected how it worked. It did, however, point the light of that glowing magic right where it was needed. The marks branched out towards her eye and down her cheek. “It’s still spreading.”

“It can’t. She’s not in the smoke,” Loren observed for anyone who couldn’t see that much on their own. Ah, to be young.

“What’s that mean?” Noyo refocused the conversation for Dira since he was busy scooping Fekhi into his arms and moving her closer to the light.

“You were at the capital when it fell,” he pointed out to Noyo as the two of them walked on opposite sides of him. “No number of years makes you forget what this means.”

“Who said I—”

“I was too, so,” Dira cut the latest bad evasion off and ignored the Union mage squinting at their combined intrusion on his workspace. “One alike is one recognized.”

“I wasn’t!” Loren insisted on an explanation. She really was a kid of the Howards. Distantly, Dira wondered if they were all so adamant on being in the mix.

“She’s becoming one of those creatures,” Noyo said, wasting not one second on doing away with the widely accepted social standard of not talking about that. Everyone knew but who wanted to chat about it? Yes, most missing people from the capital were now trying to kill anyone who survived the first appearance of the smoke. Plus a few unlucky additions from runners caught in the smog with compromised barriers—which turned to none if you weren’t careful. The subject was unpopular and touchy.

Unless you were Noyo in an emergency. They did the hard part for him, that was a start.

“And these are making her change faster, smoke or not.” In the glow, he pointed to the black-violet substance in the cuts on Fekhi’s arms. “A safe Union outpost could save her. Maybe,” he corrected in the seconds-too-late hindsight that this was their mayor in his arms, “if they know anything about this.”

“You are very well-informed,” the mage interrupted, flicking off a few sparks of magical energy after the transfer had finished. Dira had to admit he looked ominous that way as the dark closed back in.

“Everyone,” Noyo started and stepped between him and the mage, “get into the carriages. Loren, get the other tank.” They lifted the one from the wheelbarrow and met Dira with a look that didn’t suggest a sprawling distrust. “Get Fekhi into a carriage.”

He followed Loren to her cart, passing the Brooks Mills mayor to one of the townspeople who’d been sitting with Noyo before. The elf was stronger than his cut build looked. They shared a nod before Dira doubled back to Noyo’s carriage, where he was captive before, and joined them at the front. Unfortunately, he knew from who wasn’t with Loren’s group that the Union mage decided to keep close by climbing into this one. With the extra weight of four arms and a tail, Dira didn’t have a choice but to go with Noyo or slow down the other carriage—a death sentence to everyone on it.

“Keyah!” Noyo gave the command, and the horse broke into a canter. Faster could hurt it and lose Loren, possibly, all while drawing attention. Slower would mean Fekhi died for certain (or worse).

They weren’t moving long before he felt it: a sensation of being watched blended with the impulse to duck or hide. Neither would help. Dira curled his tail around himself, winding down his leg as an empty comfort. The denser smog behind them roiled deep in its mottled violet shroud.

“Out of time again.” The warning came across different then as opposed to saving Loren from their first attackers. Probably because these ones often had talons and no problem using them on less sturdy folks than Fekhi.

“How can you see—” The man inside the cart had reached incredulity at last, almost shouting from behind the barred window behind the driver’s bench.

“I don’t see it,” Noyo agreed, never mind that they could only risk a scant glance. Not being able to see too far ahead into the thinner smoke was no excuse not to look at all.

“We’re not missing much.” A beast of the smog was fascinating from a distance and in a scholarly way, what with most of them being distinct from each other in the little touches. Not so interesting was when it had every intent to infect your person to become one of its kind. Sensing it in the smoke by the same way crystals resonated with him, Dira could tell it was drawing up in the center. Whichever cart was a better mark first would catch its claws.

“Can it catch us?”

“It’ll try,” Raising all four hands, Dira cast the spell to cloak their carriage and followed his ability to focus on Fekhi’s infection to aim when he cloaked Loren’s cart too. Her spreading contamination was dulled next to the creatures and crystals, but it was enough to direct his concealing spell. One set of palms faced their friends out in the dark while the other was angled a tad awkwardly back at their own carriage.

“You can hold that?”

“Long enough.” He regretted that headache from fainting and hitting his head earlier. Twice. Chiali had larger reservoirs of magic to draw on, yes. Everything had a cost anyway. They weren’t any different from other mages like that. He’d be hungry and tired with sore arms, and in for a questioning with Noyo and Loren no matter what spells he held for however long.

They only needed to clear the thicker smoke trapped into the mountain range’s valley before he could drop the protective spellcasting. Then, in a runners’ haven with charged sigils engraved into the stones underfoot, they could wear him down with endless interrogation.

“I will take over if you fall.” The mage from the carriage decided to contribute to the escape from Brook Mills, however backhandedly.

Dira rolled his eyes for his own sake.

“Astoundingly generous of you.”

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