Ferdinand fighting Hubert in Enbarr

You Will Live Ch. 1: Enbarr | Ferdibert FE3H Fanfiction

Word count: 1900 (4 to 16 minutes) | Rating: T | Note: Fire Emblem: Three Houses Spoilers | Main Characters: Ferdinand, Hubert, and former Black Eagle students


Smoldering flame mixed with the tang of magic and turn of summer into autumn in the air. The city had been evacuated, of course, so the only dead within the walls were beasts and willing soldiers ready to defend Her Majesty’s cause no matter their odds. This was, for them, a matter of patriotism or principle in devotion to their Emperor. The soldiers still standing fought with as much spirit as they could muster even as their allies fell.

Hubert’s own magic reserves were dangerously depleted, but he would not yield. His post was the final line of defense between the invading forces and the Enbarr castle. He swallowed and his throat was dry, but he still smiled coldly at the soldiers from the church, Kingdom, and Alliance forcing their way towards the gates. Beyond him was Her Majesty and all the hopes she sacrificed so much for. Hubert would sooner die than relent here, of all places.

Your Majesty.

The calling spell only worked in a certain range, such as the Empire’s capital, at least for Hubert. That was all he needed in this moment.

How goes the battle, Hubert?

She counted on him not for good news, but accurate reports. This would hardly change now.

Poorly, I’m afraid. We will fight to the last.

The distant fizzle of silence was a telltale sign that Hubert was struggling to maintain the spell. The archers breaching the defensive line were taking up his focus instead, an act he knew Her Majesty would approve. It was only sensible.

Withdraw into the castle if you must, Hubert.

Of course, Your Majesty.

He dropped the connection on a lie. To retreat here would be to allow this filth into her castle to take her life. In this number, Hubert had to confess they would almost certainly succeed regardless of where he went. That did not dissuade him from the fight in the least.

He drew on the dark magic he refined in service to Lady Edelgard, bracing for the mounted units charging toward him. Most likely, he’d already been flanked by stealthier classes and this last stand would be over soon enough. But he would be sure they earned their invasion. Clouds of dark purple energy swirled around his arms, wisping away at the edges as the first soldier came through the archway.

In a sweeping gesture, several glowing spears of energy appeared above the soldier and the glyph flashed at Hubert’s feet as the spears pierced the enemy and left them slumped over on their horse. That was the last charge he had for Dark Spikes, and his advantage against cavalrymen was exhausted.

Naturally, it was in that state and when the wear of battle screamed in all of Hubert’s being that none other than Ferdinand himself rode over the hill. His alliance changed at the bridge of Myrddin and what letters he dared send to the Empire following that were swiftly destroyed by Hubert himself. To think he’d respected him, sat with him in the tea gardens like they were friends. Hubert made a fool of himself by going out of his way to purchase tea as a gift for the former Prime Minister, just as Ferdinand had been for purchasing an overpriced imported coffee during a time of war as a gift for Hubert.

He was a sight in battle all the same. Blood clung to the ends of his free-flowing hair, grown long in his adult years. After all this grueling combat, his posture on horseback was as pristine as in his regular training. Ferdinand von Aegir would gloat for ages if he only knew that Hubert would concede in his final moments that he was, in fact, the noblest of nobles in the most respectable sense no matter where his allegiance fell.

What a shame he would not get that insight even in Hubert’s final words.

“Running into you in the capital like this—I have to say, it’s almost sentimental.” How easily the teasing banter came, as if this was just another walk to the gardens or conference hall. For once, Ferdinand did not smile.

“Hubert. She must leave.”

Just who was he trying to convince with such a dry response? Hubert scoffed, the spell brewing in his palm at the ready. No different than Ferdinand’s javelin. He came prepared for the deed, it seemed.

“You really think you can make her?”

All those years trying to best Edelgard with the goal of providing her guidance if she went down the wrong path, and then it was Ferdinand who veered off course. Normally, Ferdinand could be made to realize he was mistaken. But it was far too late for that now. Barely able to stand and still holding the last defense to the castle, Hubert had to believe as much.

“It does not matter what I think. Those are my orders.”

Hubert’s spell was his answer, and the javelin glancing past him was the reply. The blur of spells and Ferdinand’s attacks were impossible to track after that. Hubert’s eyes throbbed with overexertion and he could taste coppery blood. He wouldn’t hold on much longer now. Even the mages stationed to his left had staggered towards his location at some point and collapsed, arrows buried in their backs.

Beyond their corpses, a familiar archer drew back on her bow. She came out of her room for this? Such progress.

“It’s over, Hubert.” Bernadetta kept her arrow trained on him, pointed and intense, but her eyes were soft. Pitying, perhaps. “Please just… Don’t make us hurt you.”

He chuckled and she shivered just a bit. Well, it would appear that her instinctive fear of him didn’t change. “Then surrender.”

“C’mon,” Caspar came up on the other flank, tense but still too relaxed for a battlefield. Was there nothing between shouting like a madman or talking casually for Caspar? It was a miracle that he survived this long. “You’re too smart for this. Beating you up now, it’s… kinda unfair.”

Hubert laughed again, or tried, but it came out as more of a wheeze. If they were going to join forces against him, he’d prefer it was in actual combat. To collapse and die from simple blood loss wasn’t how he imagined his end.

“Come to your senses, Hubert.” Ferdinand spoke from horseback, the tip of his spear red with Hubert’s blood. In fairness, he had his own injuries from the last of Hubert’s spells in turn. The duel had been far from one-sided. “Our forces are inside the castle. Stand down.”

That sentence ran through Hubert like a hot blade. Behind him, soldiers must have slid through the moat to escape Hubert’s attention during their fight. How could he have been so lax? The glyph of the communication spell lit up in his eyes, likely invisible to the others at this distance.

Your Majesty, the enemy

I am aware, Hubert.

I will be there shortly.

But he couldn’t and Her Majesty knew that as well as he did. The forces would not have made it inside if Hubert was at his full strength. Just sustaining this spell was depleting what little reserves he had left. If his former classmates saw the concern on his face, they had the decency not to insult him by saying it.

You will do no such thing. Stand down, Hubert.

Edelgard, no—

Not again. This would not be the same as her time in the Kingdom while he suffered in the Empire: it would be far worse. If he lost Lady Edelgard a second time with no way back from it, Hubert had no concept of what he might come next. Her victory was everything to him, but if she was ordering him to surrender, then…

Please, Hubert, follow this last order from me. You have walked this path with me and made it all that much brighter for it. All I need from you now is to know that although I will fall here today, you will live your own life.

If Edelgard made her mind unavailable for contact through the force of her considerable will or if the worst had already come to pass when the spell broke off, Hubert had no way of knowing. Not yet. The stone bridge almost certainly bruised him as he dropped to his knees, coughing blood up onto the pale surface.

“Uh, Linhardt!” Caspar’s strained, his inflection rising as it did whenever he was excited or stressed. How long had it been, but still Hubert could read them so clearly. As if they never left.

Hubert clenched his hands into fists against the bridge, scraping them on the stone enough to hurt through his gloves.

“What now?” Linhardt’s presence was impossible to pinpoint, even as unmistakable as his sighing tone was. The injuries Hubert sustained were too great for his body to maintain even that simple function.

Ferdinand dropped from his horse with a clank of armored greaves. “Hubert!”

At least when he spoke then, it wasn’t with the empty distance from before. Ferdinand talking without some buoyant emotion was too foreign to tolerate for long. Hubert wouldn’t have much time left to wait either way, he supposed.

Then the cool dispersion of a Physic spell washed over him.

“No, leave me—” He reached up with a stained glove, trying to wave off their assistance. He wanted to fall with Edelgard. It was his purpose, the path he’d chosen. The healing spell did restore him to the point where the taste of blood was fading, but the strength to stand still escaped him. He could still end this with his devotion intact.

“We couldn’t do that to you.” Bernadetta’s timidity was back in full force as she stepped up beside him on the bridge.

Another wave of enemy soldiers rushed by, unstoppable as a flood and leaving him with a weight as heavy as being buried alive. Why did they show him mercy? Didn’t they realize this was the cruelest fate even Hubert could imagine? Another healing spell from Linhardt was joined by Bernadetta’s slender hand hovering on his shoulder. He didn’t have the venom to shirk her off in this state.

“Her Majesty, her victory—” The edge to his voice was less cutting and more desperate than he desired.

“I am sorry, Hubert.” Ferdinand had knelt in front of him at some point. His curling locks swam in Hubert’s vision, blending with the warm tones of his uniform. On the opposite shoulder from Bernadetta, he rested his hand and gave a reaffirming squeeze. How dare they do this to Hubert. How dare Ferdinand show him this compassion here, now. “I wish it hadn’t come to this.”

And yet, through the indignant spite, Hubert reached up to grab onto the front of the former Prime Minister’s shirt. Feebly, even according to his own account.

“Please—” He hoped they were satisfied to be the only ones to hear him beg for Her Majesty’s life. There was nothing they could do, no more than he himself could. Lady Edelgard and Hubert alike knew this end was always a possibility. But when it came, he expected he would meet his death before allowing anyone to even come close to Edelgard. He would sooner die; Hubert swore to himself. But with the actual moment here, Hubert instead held onto Ferdinand, felt the single trail of wetness on his own face, saw the pulsing darkness at the edges of his vision—

“What’s going on, Lin?”

“Oh, he’s passing out. But he’ll survi—”

When the Past Won’t Stay: KH3 Fanfiction

Word count: 2900 (7 to 22 minutes) | Rating: G | Note: Kingdom Hearts Spoilers | Characters: Ienzo, Even, and Aeleus


Recompletion offered various benefits and drawbacks that Ienzo had mostly finished discovering and categorizing after the defeat of the Real Organization XIII. Adjusting to them was another matter.

As Zexion, he had been almost tireless in his studies and lab work, retiring only when he noticed a drop in his performance. Ienzo was far more affected by the whims of his recompleted heart. Some days, he matched his pace as Zexion perfectly. Those were rare. Fortunately, so were the days when everything slipped through his mind like sand in a sieve. Most of his days were like this one: punctuated by a need for breaks that he was reluctant to take. Ienzo could force his way through to the end without stepping back, but he often paid for it mentally—with interest.

To avoid that state, Ienzo left the labs for the faded halls of Radiant Garden’s castle that still managed to appear stately despite its worn condition. He noted proudly that he could find his way around with ease despite his long absence.

It was voices from the kitchen that gave him pause rather than being lost.

“Too much time has passed since the originating incident.” Even’s voice was familiar, holding more depth than his Nobody. There remained a considerable amount of tension between them since everything that had occurred beforehand, no matter how Ienzo tried to put the past behind him. Some deeds were simply hard to let go even when one sorely wanted to. Particularly when they were not necessarily in the past.

“An excuse.” Aeleus. Resolute, matter-of-fact, but never cruel. The remarkable aspect of him was that he seemed to change very little as a Nobody compared to his recompleted self. If anything, his determination to protect had only increased with the loss of his heart. It could be viewed as strength of character or too little, too late. Ienzo knew how he preferred to regard it and, in the end, what else mattered? Aeleus was like family to him, and he wouldn’t lose that over one mistake.

Why did that not work for Even?

“I beg your pardon—” The sharp inhale that prefaced Even’s indignant response drew Ienzo closer to the doorframe to conceal himself just around the corner.

He should not do this. If there was something he needed to hear that Even was ready to share, the proper choice was for Ienzo to have patience and wait for Even to be prepared to disclose it on his own. But he held his place out of view all the same.

This decision didn’t come with the steadying feeling of choosing to do something against your better judgment for a greater cause, but entrapment as horrifying as if Ienzo had lost control of his limbs. Could he choose not to do this, or was he compelled to stay out of selfish interest? Ienzo didn’t know for certain. A numb chill seeped into his core that had little to do with the subpar insulation of the castle.

Sometimes, Ienzo could swear there was more Zexion to him than his original self… And how could there not be? He developed psychologically into a young adult while he was a Nobody. Perhaps there truly was no chance for improving himself after all. At least he might know the truth of Even’s return after masquerading as a member of the Real Organization, however dubiously gained. And so, he listened in secret.

“It is, and you know it.” Aeleus insisted, level-headed as ever. Based on the way their voices carried, Even had his back to the door and Aeleus stood beyond him facing the entrance. In that case, only one of them could potentially realize his presence if he moved. How convenient for Ienzo’s new moral low.

Even huffed in enduring offense, but it was the true sign that he’d yielded on a point of disagreement. The telling habit was as close as Even would ever get to admitting he was in the wrong.

“My apprehensions aside, there is validity to Ienzo’s perspective. He was only a boy and I was entrusted with his care.”

Ah, of course. They were discussing their collective deaths again. Ienzo had come across the discussion before several times, but he never could stay through it or step in. The pulse-pounding need to be as far from the conversation as possible usually overpowered him and eventually left him panting in a far-off hall to work through his borderline panic alone. As it should be—there was enough on everyone else’s plate that handling this unassisted was the least he could do. Perhaps through exposure and the supposed healing power of time, Ienzo felt steadier in this instance. He took a quiet, controlled breath through his nose and focused on listening.

“By allowing my curiosity to get the better of me, I as much as formed this rift between us myself.”

Ah. Even had sensed it. And here Ienzo thought that with his own second recompletion to process, his adoptive father figure would be too preoccupied to notice the façade Ienzo leaned on when he found bitterness far closer to the surface than forgiveness.

In truth, the divide between them troubled Ienzo as well. He tried to focus on memories of Even’s concerned irritability in hunting him down when he was only a boy, wandering off as he so enjoyed doing. To escape the overwhelming indignance lurking in his heart, Ienzo would dive so deeply into their more familial memories as to distinctly recall how large Even’s hands were in relation to his own being gingerly held for emotional comfort as much as physical security. He could remember tracing the wandering, geometric pattern of his favorite blanket as Even read him a bedtime story of some book well above the average reading level for his age.

None of it warded away the feeling of betrayal, so Ienzo kept a civil distance when he had to and gave it no more thought than that.

Until that moment eavesdropping in the hall, of course.

“It’s not always there.” Of course Aeleus saw his emotions whether Ienzo meant him to or not. He could sense Ienzo’s mental state with the accuracy of a barometer. As irritating as that sometimes was, it did have its benefits for Even’s guidance as well as Ienzo’s, apparently.

“That much is true,” Even relented, though not with any confidence. How odd it was, to hear his voice without the characteristic certainty. “But I would attribute that to the boy’s better nature rather than—”

“The boy?” He spoke without a thought as to if he wanted to or should, the words tearing from him almost as an accusation. When had his hands clenched into fists? Relaxing them open, Ienzo stepped into the warm light of the kitchen and still felt the same chill. Aeleus turned to him with a patient, open expression. He neither smiled nor frowned, simply waited for Ienzo to decide what he wanted. The unreasonable voice of his inner thoughts rebelled at even that, but thankfully for everyone involved, Aeleus wasn’t who Ienzo was concentrated on.

Even’s green eyes widened, his mouth contorting into a nervous grimace of someone who’d been caught at the worst possible moment. The steaming tea pot in the center of the kitchen island suggested he’d just been making tea when Aeleus came across him, so this could very well be the second time today he was caught by surprise.

Good.

He drew his hands up, rolling into a gesture as if he was going to speak. To explain it all away. Ienzo didn’t give him that chance and felt a surge of ravenous satisfaction at cutting Even off.

“I’m not a child anymore.”

Aeleus and Ienzo were used to the silence that followed, but it had to be unbearable for Even. Strands of pale blond hair fell forward as he angled his head toward a far-off point in the kitchen wall. He wouldn’t be speechless for long, but Ienzo didn’t know what he hoped to hear. Maybe it was nothing. An apology? A reason for everything? His own mind didn’t make any sense to him and Ienzo resented that too.

“Ah. Ienzo.” An obvious remark to stall for time in his search for the words to make this situation disappear. Ienzo scoffed on instinct. This was off to a horrid start. He logically knew he should be easy on Even. The time had come to see past their mistakes and heal, moving into the future with a clean slate. Especially Even, who tried to level the scales when he put himself in harm’s way as a double agent within the Real Organization.

Without as much as a note, leaving them all to belief he’d turned his back on their family for his own scientific aspirations until he deigned to alert them of the truth. Secondhand.

“Even.” Aeleus, ever the mediator, cautioned Even to proceed honestly using his intonation more than anything else. The level cadence pitched down at the end to warn Even that Ienzo was coiled tight and ready to snap. Any attempt at evasion would end in hurt feelings for everyone and only serve to widen the fissure between them. All that remained for Even to take the hint.

“What is that tone for?”

“To answer your question,” Ienzo spoke down to Even like he was the child here, taking pleasure in that insult as well. He did force Ienzo’s hand by making him voice the concern Even was still trying to avoid. Hardly the behavior of the adult in this situation. Then again, petty aggression wasn’t either. “I heard enough to understand you are making decisions for me yet again.”

Even’s hands went up again instantly, readying to speak with his hands as he tended to. “Ienzo, you must understand, I—”

“ I understand more than you believe me to, evidently.” A thin frown set on his face, Ienzo felt caught up in the flood of his own repressed anger. The very act of speaking out of irritation opened the way and now it was too late to stop. “Despite your concerted efforts to make key choices that will impact me without the courtesy of including me in your plans, I can actually evaluate situations for myself.”

Even winced, just slightly deepening his grimace, but it felt good to see it. And that concerned Ienzo. He was going too far and soon, he would be unable to hold back at all. This wasn’t how he wanted to act or who he wanted to be. This was the past—why wouldn’t it stay gone?

“If this is about my sudden departure to the true Organization, I assure you, I only did so to shield you from suspicion.” The shield, his weapon… Subconsciously, had Even been guilty all that time? On his own momentum, Even continued as Ienzo’s frown dissolved to neutrality. “Primarily, you would be forced to feign ignorance and concern, and with your recent recompletion, the last situation you needed was additional strain on your heart.”

His one dark, sharp laugh didn’t register as his own at first. This conversation was taking its toll on Ienzo and it had only just started. “What, did you think I could not feign emotion?”

The implication weighed heavily between them. How could illusion and manipulation work if he could not maintain intricate lies convincingly? It was a skill so intrinsic to Ienzo that becoming a Nobody manifested that as his power.

“No, I—”

“I would have preferred to know you chose to be over there for us, not against us.” The breathless twinge to his words was a warning to Ienzo if not the two men in front of him: it was a matter of time before his guard dropped completely. How were emotions this volatile?

“When I went to the Organization the first time,” he pushed on, saying it as if he’d had a choice about going, “I focused on how we were tied together. Without my heart, I still considered us a family. And when I returned, I was… Uncertain.”

Ienzo’s breaths came in uneven tremors, however faintly. Perhaps it was subconsciously that he smoothed a hand over his ascot while he attempted to steady his breathing. One insecurity to poorly conceal the other.

“And you abandoned us. That was all I knew.” Again, someone he respected and cared deeply for had vanished without notice. The time spent in the dark about Even’s true motives was nothing short of perpetual raw vulnerability buried under the diversion of the more pressing tasks at hand. He felt certain everyone he spoke with could see his fragility under the patient benevolence he expressed and the shared wisdom that was beyond his years.

He struggled more in that span of time than he ever had as a Nobody.

“Ienzo, I did not—” A reason or an explanation or even a half-hearted excuse, it didn’t matter. Ienzo didn’t want to hear it.

“If you were concerned with how I felt, you should have told me the truth.” The anger completely gave way to what was evidently the true heart of the matter: Ienzo was afraid and it hurt to know that fear came from Even’s actions. Like the winding maze a heart always was, those feelings that Ienzo suppressed simply found another way out to be expressed as irritability and keeping his distance. Pushing those off led him here, to a kitchen in the heart of the castle having an argument over something he couldn’t properly define.

Aeleus was the first to respond, approaching Ienzo to place a hand on his back. He didn’t dare look at Aeleus in such a precarious state as this. But his presence did help and Ienzo’s next breath felt more level than the last.

“I… I have no excuse for my behavior. All I can say is that after my initial error in judgment,” Even phrased it carefully, his pride still a barrier to saying the word ‘mistake’ even when he clearly knew it for what it was. Fortunately for him, Ienzo appreciated the unspoken nuance more than an upfront declaration—it was another trait he and Even had in common. It did him good to know there was someone he knew that would understand why saying something outright was not always an option.

“I have done all I can to protect you now, Ienzo. I am your guardian, however inadequately so in the past, and I am proud of being trusted with that honor after I failed to appreciate it properly.” Properly, like there was a procedure… Ienzo caught himself smiling by just a small margin.

“Beyond advancing my scientific studies or advancements, beyond even my own attempts to restore balance after the chaos I’ve caused—” For the second time, Even struggled to find words. His gaze caught Aeleus’ and perhaps finding an answer there, he continued while his hands worried over one another just the same. “I have a responsibility to you, Ienzo. As—a father.”

An uncertain glance from Even signaled that his defense had concluded, and now it was up to Ienzo to decide if the argument was sound or not. The smell of over-steeped tea filled the kitchen, warm and bitter, a quiet calm settling in with it while Ienzo reflected on what transpired between them. A soft rattle of the pipes in the walls the only sound, and that was a comfort in its own way. The castle hummed with energy that reminded Ienzo how precious the life in this restored world truly was.

“…I can’t forgive you right away. I can’t even promise that forgiving you will be painless.” Stepping away from Aeleus towards Even, Ienzo stopped within arm’s reach and offered a sincere smile—long overdue on many accounts. “But I do want to forgive you. What kind of family would I be if didn’t at least give it my best?”

“…You have always been such a smart boy.”

“Even.” Aeleus had apparently followed him, his voice a close reassurance.

Ienzo glanced back to Aeleus, his bangs swaying with his nod. “It’s alright. For now.”

Following the pleasant impulse his heart finally offered, Ienzo reached out to Even and drew himself into a hug. A faint trace of earthy cologne clung to him, and simply wearing it was the return of a habit from the old life. It carried memories of lessons from Even in the labs, being woken up in the study to a lecture of how he should be in bed if he’s going to sleep, and hard candy passed to Ienzo in secret before dinner as a gesture of apology for some slight mistake Even made earlier that day.

Even gently returned the hug, tilting his head ever so slightly to rest on Ienzo’s. With a barely audible shuffle, Aeleus stepped up behind him to wrap them both in his embrace as the first tears fell onto the white of Even’s lab coat.

“I love you beyond measure, my son,” Even whispered, tender or perhaps afraid to break the magic of the moment. Ienzo took in a shaky breath, more tears coming with the exhale. He tightened his grip on Even and bit his lip to maintain some manner of dignity. Even’s arm came away to bring his hand to brush through Ienzo’s hair. “It is alright.”

 

Hellfire Ch. 8: Reporting In — Dragon Age 2 Fanfiction

Read the previous chapter. | Read it on AO3. | Read it on FanFiction.net
Approx. 2670 words (7 to 22 minutes)

Night had already fallen in Kirkwall, but Varric spoke at the same volume as always. He had to if he wanted to be heard over the street brawls and drunken songs that made up the city-state’s lullaby. When you couldn’t just step out into the streets whenever you wanted, it was strangely uplifting to be out in the city. That crawling sensation settled into your very bones in the Gallows, but you got used to it. As natural as the stars Hawke could make out more clearly than the piss puddles he had to avoid in the roads. The idea of going back to it when he walked between Varric and Aveline? Hawke buried the discomfort behind a smirk, letting his dwarven friend fill the silence.

“This whole fiasco is Kirkwall in a nutshell. Stolen money, Coterie infighting, wrongful accusations, killing someone to prove you didn’t kill someone, impulsive business deals,” Varric trailed off into a chuckle, gesturing to Hawke and flashing a grin. “All we’re missing is a political scandal.”

“It’s not too late,” Hawke taunted back, the banter like a balm. “I’m sure we can come across something disgraceful.”

“It could have ended much worse than it did. And those miners will be better off now with the raise Hawke promised.” A good deed lifted Aveline’s spirits as well as alcohol lifted Hawke’s and Varric’s. Not that Hawke didn’t notice her pace slowing as their path escorting Hawke back to the Circle and Templars reached its end.

So he laughed to keep their minds off that ugly business. “Oh, Hubert was not happy with that.”

“Frankly?” Ah, perfect, Aveline’s rare playful smile graced her face. “Hubert be damned.”

Varric put his hand to his chest in mock surprise, eyes glinting at Hawke mischievously for a second before focusing on Aveline. “Guard Captain Aveline, having fun? You really are magical, Hawke.”

“I am the only mage in Thedas that can be in the Circle and run a business.” Maker’s breath, that was a blunder. The time he lost strip poker to Isabela in the Hanged Man—for the third time—was less embarrassing. He’d be damned if he wouldn’t try to salvage it anyway. “What? There something on my face?”

“No, just—” Aveline sighed, marching ahead at a regular pace now. Hawke could sense Varric holding back on saying something like the metallic, weighty feeling that came before rain. “How are you doing at the Gallows?”

“With a name like that, it’s about what you’d expect.” He couldn’t go into it with her or Varric. Meredith kept him busy on errands and somehow, his outside life still managed to worm its way in. Like handling the business with Hubert, actually. Then there was Merrill’s escape that Anders coordinated for a few days from now. Yes, Garrett had enough to deal with already. The worried, pitying stares would just have to wait. Maybe they could perfect it in the meantime. Wouldn’t that be nice?

“Told you he wouldn’t give a straight answer.”

“Hawke—” Never missed a hint, that Aveline. It was rare that Varric and Aveline were teaming up against him, though, so maybe Hawke should feel special.

“Yes, mother?”

She leveled her best guard captain stare at him and added a dash of nurturing concern for good measure. Somewhere in a nearby alley, a stranger puked up tonight’s drink as their friend slurred through comforting them. “I know you, Hawke. You have to be careful in there in ways you aren’t out here. If ever. I’m right to be worried about you.”

“And she’s not alone.” Varric joined in with his own thoughtful stare and Garrett felt guilt like a stone hit the pit of his stomach. He knew he’d figure it out somehow or another, but the idea behind that was to get Merrill out and… Alright, there was no real plan for the part that saved his skin.

“Oh, you guys are so thoughtful! I’ll put in a good word for you in my letter to Mother tonight.”

Aveline sighed more heavily than all that armor she lugged around, shaking her head at him. In the corner of his eyes, he saw Varric’s trademark ‘you’re really in it now’ smile. “Can’t you take this seriously? Your life could be in danger. Again.”

“I couldn’t be safer, Aveline.” More accurately, he was unsafe as ever but in a different way, so at least Hawke could handle whatever came. Probably. ”I’m useful to the Circle, so Meredith isn’t any more suspicious of me than she already was.”

Right now, that was a win and good enough for Hawke. He led the way toward the Gallows to keep his friends moving and maybe spare himself a lengthy discussion about exactly what kind of idea this was. Not when it was too late to change course anyway. And it was a long ways better than outrunning darkspawn.

“Cullen’s backed me up as a good little mage and everything. I’m ready for the big event so I can keep suspicion off me—see? There’s a plan in all this.”

“That’s a pretty generous use of the word ‘plan’.” Varric kept his smirk up, but it was only partially a joke. At least he wasn’t trying to drag the walk on for more time to lecture him. Aveline.

Writers.”

“Just—” Aveline resigned herself with a sigh, catching up to their pace in a few strides. “Be careful, Hawke. I mean it.”

“Don’t do anything you wouldn’t invite us to,” Varric agreed, chuckling.

“I wouldn’t dream of it.”


“Another successful report.” Meredith set aside the physical report, or he assumed it was, and looked at him with an appraising smile over gauntleted hands. “Nicely done, Hawke.”

Andraste’s holy knickers, was that genuine praise from Knight Commander Meredith? He couldn’t decide what was more discomforting—that she could even mean it or that he was being given a once-over like a fine magical artifact worth purchasing. Or was it that he’d started to think of their one-on-one meetings like any other day instead of risky?

“But when I tell you that armor is flattering, it’s too much?” Hawke smirked, settling down into his usual chair. “Please, you’ll make me blush.”

“I’ve only just begun.” Wait. Garrett was still catching up to the first comment and—was that a threat? Or what, a promise for more flattery? Bad news no matter how he looked at it. Once Merrill was out, he doubted those warm, fuzzy feelings would last. “You are an example to other Circle mages, Hawke—and not in the way I first imagined.”

Wasn’t that barely audible laugh of hers just ominous as she stood and circled her desk. Templars going through his room almost daily while he wasn’t there, that rotating guard as promised, and the feeling of eyes always on him wherever he went… And there was more she’d imagined but not acted on. Maker’s breath. Meredith walked past him without a glance, and he heard the door to the office shut.

“If only they understood as well as you do how vital our work is here.”

Garrett knew very well what being backed into a corner looked like. The narrow escape from Lothering. Scraping together a plan to leave Ferelden. Persuading Mother to leave Bethany behind. Selling himself into servitude to buy his way into Kirkwall. Selling himself again to get into the Deep Roads, of all places. He thanked his luck for getting out every time, but somehow, Hawke just kept finding himself in corners of all shapes and sizes. This one just happened to be a worn armchair in the Templar Knight Commander’s office. And he did the same thing he did every time: put on a good show of having it all under control. The rest usually followed. Usually.

“That’s me. Templar sympathizer and model mage.”

“There is a great deal of work that must be done for the Circle and society at large that Templars themselves cannot do.” She found her way back to her desk without anything else weird happening, coming back into view on his right and taking a seat with that same steady expression. Hawke could feel the closed door behind him like it was charged with magic. He knew it wasn’t, but that didn’t change a damn thing. “With such a record for success and promising behavior, I would be negligent not to entrust more responsibilities to you.”

This had to be a test of some kind. A trick to burn him out and get him to rat out Merrill by mistake. Andraste’s ass, why was it always Hawke? Was it something he said or did? Perhaps that pumpkin he stole once from a farmer in Lothering. Or was it because he told that Chantry sister who spat at Bethany as a child that she had the face of a toad and a heart full of warts? Maybe the Maker just hated him that much? Damn it all, he really should’ve gone to the Chantry more.

“Oh, I don’t know about that.” He shrugged it off, propping one leg up on his knee like this was his den back at home. Just getting ready for a round of cards with Varric so he could part with coin on his terms. “I am still a mage. How much responsibility can I possibly handle?”

“Don’t play the fool.” That was an order if he’d ever heard one. She set one fist on the table, that smile dropping to her usual stern stonewall look. Somehow, that didn’t get rid of the tension. “I know you’ve seen the atrocities in the dark underbelly of the world that so many others shut out.”

That sentence alone was like a bucket of cold water, or—no, like a sheet of snow dropping on him unceremoniously from the trees of Ferelden. Even Carver laughed with Bethany at the yelp Garrett made, rushing to get his coat off as if that would make any difference then. They were just kids; he was barely in his teenage years. Father had died only a few years back, though they felt long and yet—like it had just happened. Their laughter was uncommon to hear those days and Hawke would do anything to make it continue.

But happiness never lasted.

The same feeling hit him when he saw Mother sobbing over Bethany’s body, begging her to get up against all reason. Even if her body wasn’t completely still and lifeless, she never would have been able to walk in that condition. Or ever again, most likely. Maker, the vacant look on her face still woke Hawke up with a choking gasp some nights.

After a lifetime as the family with no father and passing the silent desperation of other families with mages in them, seeing what they could be brought to when the Templars sometimes came for them… Yes, Hawke knew what life could do to a person. He just had the good sense not to talk about it to someone he had imprisoned and at his will.

Garrett felt the smile falter just a hair and no doubt, Meredith saw it too. The smile didn’t reach his eyes anymore, not even if he faked it like he often did. “And what would make you think that? Usually, I hear about my roguish good looks or clever wit.”

“It is your resilience in the face of hardship.” She sat back, keeping one hand palm down on the desk as if to keep it in place despite her relatively relaxed posture. “My older sister was a mage too. Amelia was gentle, a tender soul, and she was not ready for the rigorous standards that the Circle upholds.”

Garrett found his expression softening along with her tone. Whatever her opinion of mages or freedom or common human decency… The Meredith in front of him was a younger sister living with a mage in the family who saw her as sibling she didn’t want to lose.

“…You hid her.”

Meredith nodded sharply. “Not well. The Templars were called, and when they came, my sister entered a deal with a demon and became an abomination.” She said it with a level voice but the tension in the air gave away that this was still raw. And always would be, if Hawke’s own losses meant anything. “I watched as she cut my family down and before she was put to rest by the Templars, she had taken 70 other souls with her. I barely escaped with my life.”

Of course, Hawke had heard plenty of stories like this. Told tearfully or angrily, over tankards or corpses in rain-battered coastlines, hugging people he’d just met and never see again because it just felt like he had to. Nothing made him ready to hear it from Knight Commander Meredith, who turned a blind eye to the Templars under her that wanted to make mages Tranquil for the smallest suspicion and never let up on Orsino or any Circle mage.

“I can see it in your eyes even now. You understand where no one else does how important it is to protect mages from themselves.”

That wasn’t what he did. Sending Feynriel to the Dalish was because he needed guidance to understand his abilities. There was a damn good reason he never once considered sending him to the Circle to be shackled like an animal. The half-elf mage didn’t have the benefit of noble standing and something of a reputation to protect him. What Hawke wanted to shield him from was ignorant people, not himself. But how could a woman like Meredith understand? She saw the tragedy of magic as a child, and now it was the only thing she could see.

“Not all of them have your resolve, Hawke. Those that don’t will inevitably end up hurting others—or worse.”

Where was he supposed to begin? Hawke couldn’t talk about this, not with her. It didn’t matter that she was wrong, and most mages he knew about whose lives ended in tragedy only went that way because they felt trapped. All he could think of right then was how his entire family stayed on the move to keep Bethany and Garrett from being found out and taken away only to have Bethany die unburied. What did her freedom do for her when she died young anyway? Would she have been happier in the Circle, not like tender Amelia Stannard? Or would she have withered in there and met an early death in one of the grim, horrific ways that so many Circle mages did?

Neither side was right or wrong. The Templars shackled the mages and the Chantry collared the Templars. Like everything else Hawke just had to stick his nose in, it was a bloody mess. And he wasn’t here about that anyway. This was all for Merrill. Whatever he did to protect her, Hawke could manage.

“It’s a harsh truth. Never goes over well at parties.”

That seemed to do it for Meredith. Her analytical smile was back, and she leaned towards him over the desk.

“In the coming weeks, your tasks will be to watch over your fellow mages. Report anyone you find suspicious.” Oh, was that all? Hawke knew that if he came up empty, she’d start to suspect him. Just peachy. “And if work outside the Gallows needs a covert approach to track down dangerous mages, I will call on you. Be prepared.” He endured another assessing look, weighing him for Maker-knew-what. “You are dismissed.”

Led by the new watch of Templars to his cell, Garrett stared up at the ceiling that night as his mind whirled to think of answers. Well, Garrett, you got yourself here. Merrill would escape in just a couple days now, technically, and he couldn’t risk it all now. He could try to covertly talk to Orsino or contact Anders somehow to ask after which mages he should put under Meredith’s scrutiny, but… Well, shit. Now what?


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Burning Light of Infatuation: Gladnis FFXV Fanfic

Word count: 1700 (4 to 14 minutes) | Rating: T | Note: Brotherhood Spoilers, Gladnis | Characters: Gladiolus Amicitia, Ignis Scientia, and mentions of Noctis Lucis Caelum


Physical training came later in Ignis’ employ with the crown, considering the priority for his position was placed on political knowledge, administrative support, and general caregiving for the future king. The reverse was true of his colleague, Gladiolus, and Ignis was immensely grateful for it.

Initially, it was from a practical standpoint. Gladio would act as his counterbalance in Noctis’ life while their duties would be firmly aligned. Ignis focused on his daily needs and the larger picture with exacting attention while Gladio ensured his physical safety and readiness to protect himself if needed. Either one could be entrusted with the duties of the other to an extent, but their specialization improved their combined performance.

And then Ignis reached puberty.

Gladio had always been handsome, of course, but Ignis had never realized quite how handsome until he spotted the Shield training with Glaives in the summer sun. Late afternoon would have been the practical time to train, but they sought to build their resistance to unbearable circumstances and went out in the hottest point of the day with full sunlight.

Ignis simply happened to be passing by at the time. Gladio’s tank top highlighted defined muscles working through a rigorous routine that he met with a self-assured smile. He hadn’t grown in his stubble quite yet, as this was in their early teenage years, but he was still rather easy to look at. As sweat soaked through the front of his shirt and clung to his form, Ignis did indeed look. Stared, you could say. Then he cleared his throat as he freed himself from the hypnotic display. He had duties to attend to and did his best to put those thoughts from his mind for that purpose.

An ongoing task that Gladio made all the more difficult as their work brought them together more and more often over the years, bringing to light a shared understanding of the honor and burden of their duties. Whether they needed to take pride in their responsibilities with a likeminded peer or have an outlet for frustration at Noctis’ sporadic and immovable stubbornness, they needed only to find each other. This evolved into having odd-hours meals together, the pleasant discovery that they read much of the same literature, and then a professional respect became friendship. A driven man in all regards, Gladio seemed determined to be attractive to Ignis on several levels.

His appeal had only grown over time, and those thoughts followed Ignis to yet another routine sparring match against his partner in service to Noctis. In their late teenage years, Gladio’s trimmed stubble emphasized his strong jawline that became especially evident as he matured. His brown eyes had taken on a warmer quality and although he was not as openly expressive as he had been in his youth, those expressions were refined tools of his innate charm. Now, he turned a honed version of that very same self-certain look to Ignis with training greatsword in hand.

Ignis held rounded twin daggers meant only for sparring, finding them his preferred weapons against Gladio for their maneuverability. He circled in the opposite direction of his training partner’s strides to maintain distance while planning his strategy.

“This isn’t chess, Iggy,” Gladio began to lecture him, a habit which Ignis had noted Noctis never mentioned occurring during his own training. After, of course, but not once during. “In a fight, you’ve got to keep what motivates you in mind so when it gets ugly, you don’t dare back down.”

With a speed belied by his musculature, Gladio swiped towards Ignis, who kicked himself back in turn with experienced grace. Too much of that in conjunction with the circling, though, and his reflexes would suffer for it.

“As Shield, my duty is to protect the king. That’s what drives me to fight no matter the odds.” That fact was hardly news to Ignis, who communicated as much with a slight narrowing of his stare. The smirk he received in return suggested Gladio knew he was wasting this information on him—and yet he continued. Their wordless understanding had been cultivated over the course of their work for Prince Noctis, but it was clearly not above being entirely disregarded in favor of Gladio’s own motives. “You just gotta do the same, Iggy.”

Ignis sighed and nearly considered calling the match if this was to go on. Only he knew well how that ended: Gladio would take advantage of the break in his guard, pin him down, and restart the match at best 3 of 5 rather than 2 of 3. With the direction his thoughts were currently headed, Ignis dared not risk that. “I’ll thank you to give practical advice.”

“Alright, how’s this? Training with you isn’t about protecting Noctis. You’re the one learning from me right now,” Gladio taunted, an effortless confidence layering the rumbling bass of his voice. Ignis insisted internally that he was not irritated at catching himself distracted, but at the fact that his colleague was correct. While his progress was remarkable since they began training, if Ignis did say so himself, he was a far cry from the Shield himself in terms of skill. “That means I need a new reason to stay motivated.”

“Is that right? Duly noted.” Gladio was familiar with the crisp, terse enunciation that Ignis used when offended, and he utilized that familiarity well here. He didn’t have the sheer strength to compete with Gladio, but Ignis was not one so easily dismissed. Their circling continued all the while, though the distance between them was closing. That could be to Ignis’ advantage if he planned his attacks carefully. At a closer range, that greatsword could not adapt like daggers could. All it would take for the strategy to work was letting Gladio talk a moment longer and perhaps even relax just so.

“Don’t be like that,” he teased, nodding companionably at Ignis despite his guard never dropping for a second. “Tell you what, I’ll think of something to get you fired up too. Like…”

Gladio had the same strategy, it seemed. He attacked with a downward slash and Ignis deflected the blow to redirect that momentum into his own evasion. Smoothly, he used that window of opportunity to throw a dagger at Gladio and narrowly missed. Close enough would not suffice in battle, however. “If I win this round, I take you out on a date.”

The stutter in his mind evidenced itself in a slight waver of his remaining dagger before he regained his composure. Very clever, Gladio—if a bit underhanded. There was no possibility Gladio that was aware of Ignis’ attraction to him, given the efforts he’d taken to conceal it. Ignis reviewed their recent interactions in his mind and could think of nothing that would betray what could be called a crush if he bothered to give those feelings a name. Balancing that analysis with his combat strategy was soon proven to be too much and Ignis pushed it aside for the time being.

“Very well.” It was too late to take it back once he’d said it. Ignis felt a flicker of anxiety, but it was dwarfed completely by his ambition. If there was even an ounce of seriousness to Gladio’s proposal, then Ignis fully intended to make him earn the right to his scarce free time. He didn’t often smile during training, but Ignis made an exception in this case. “Your terms are fair.”


The training greatsword dropped to the ground with a dull thud, Ignis standing breathless and proud over a fallen Gladio. He held the innocuous dagger point in the face of his defeated partner purely for the theatrics of it and pushed his glasses up with his other hand. This was his chance. Though the tables had turned on the original deal, Ignis had already committed to what was possibly his first spontaneous decision in years.

“I will still,” he paused to catch a spare breath, “Take you up on that date, I believe.”

“Those weren’t the rules, Iggy.” Gladio’s smile was patient, perhaps a touch self-conscious. What a rarity that was indeed. He offered a hand instead of the dagger and helped Gladio to his feet—another gesture made mainly for the principle of it. “I’ve got to earn it.”

The sudden wave of courage continued on its own momentum, as instinctive as the combat tactics Ignis had ingrained in his mind. He kept Gladio’s hand in his after he stood and held eye contact as well.

“Then consider it my reward instead.”

“Your reward, huh?” The smug aura radiating off Gladio was unmistakable in the easy grin and examining once-over he gave, but Ignis would not easily relent in this new arena of combat either.

“Now, Gladio,” he chastised and closed in, kissing Gladio as he had shamelessly imagined at the end of especially trying days. Ignis lost himself in the coarseness of beard hair under his touch, the tension dissolving from them both as the kiss deepened and Gladio’s hand found its way to the small of Ignis’ back. There was too much inexperience to live up to the fantasy, but the intimate honesty of reality outstripped the daydream. With some reluctance, Ignis broke the kiss and met Gladio’s gaze. “The loser is not allowed to gloat.”

“Tastes like coffee.” Absent-minded and unfocused—two traits Gladio never displayed before this moment to the best of his knowledge. That was a new discovery shared between them, another area where their lives intersected. In Ignis’ case, that commonality was where his feelings for Gladio had taken root to begin with.

A distant part of his mind shouted for him to consider his actions: what would happen if the date went poorly, if a romantic relationship grew between them but did not last, if Noctis did not approve, plus the great number of other hypothetical scenarios that held Ignis back before the adrenaline rush of victory apparently seized control.

Yet with the warmth of Gladio’s softened smile and loving gaze lingering on him while the hand on his back pulled Ignis in as surely as gravity… He could tune it out. If only for the one idyllic moment.

“I suggest you acquire a taste for it.”

You are in Love: Fire Emblem 3H Fanfiction (Ferdibert)

Word count: 4800 (8 to 30 minutes) | Rating: K+ | Note: Spoilers, Ferdibert, and mentions of Edelgard x Dorothea | Characters: Hubert von Vestra, Edelgard von Hresvelg, Ferdinand von Aegir, and mentions of Dorothea


Part 1: Her Blessing

Never before had Hubert lingered at Edelgard’s door, uncertain and adjusting his gloves needlessly. He stared at her door before he forced himself to knock rather than wasting another moment.

Purposeful steps approached from beyond the door, and she opened it just a bit before her expression softened. Opening the door the rest of the way, Edelgard stood aside in her nightgown that was, of course, still effective for combat. “Ah, Hubert.”

“You must be more cautious, Your Majesty.” He stepped inside at her gesture of invitation all the same, turning over his shoulder to continue. “If all an assassin has to do is knock—”

“The war is over now, Hubert,” she chastised playfully, her smile at him coming readily. They were the only family each other had for years now and their bond had been forged in that timeless fondness, empathy, and understanding. So, of course, it was only natural that she noticed he was not quite himself. “…But something is troubling you. If there is anything I can do to help, you have only to name it, my friend.”

She closed the door behind her, following him further into the room. Hubert was satisfied to hear that she had locked the door as well. Peace time or not, precaution was the difference between life and death in many cases.

“You are too kind,” he praised her both genuinely and partly to postpone what he came here to do. Hubert had planned it out in his mind, readied himself for the simple question he had to pose before he moved ahead with the next steps of his plan. His ridiculous, absurd plan. In a way, it may even be a mercy if Edelgard refused him so Hubert could avoid the embarrassment of rejection. Or worse, and admittedly more likely, acceptance.

Sensing his discomfort again, she took a seat in a well-loved reading chair and gestured to the one opposite her that had a tea table between them. A familiar and fond place where he often passed the time with her over one of various strategy games. Edelgard was one of his few true rivals for strategic thinking, so he took delight in their games whether he won or learned a new tactic.

But that was not why he was here.

Hubert had already lingered too long after her invitation to sit, and he felt especially out of place as he lowered himself into the reading chair across from her and the table.

In silence. He set his palms on his knees, staring at the ornate weavings of the rug before him. Hubert leaned back against the chair but still felt the tension knotted between his shoulder blades. This was ridiculous and he knew it, and yet…

“You can trust me with anything.” Edelgard sat forward, her eyes searching his for the faith she knew he had in her.

“I’ve never had any doubt,” he answered, as sure as the sun would set. Perhaps inspired by such a comfortable state of being, Hubert found himself somewhat calmer. He took advantage of that and began to speak before he could question himself further. “There is something I need to ask you.”

Edelgard only nodded to encourage him without giving him an out in her reply. She knew him too well to provide such an opportunity.

“There is… someone I would like to…” He trailed off into a scowl, his grip tightening on his own knees. Something about the pressure was grounding and forced Hubert out of his own way. Edelgard was one he trusted with his life, including matters of the heart—however laughable that very phrase felt to him as her wicked shadow. If he could not even ask the question, he did not deserve the role or the object of his affections.

“Has someone upset you, Hubert?” Her voice was tender, but there was an edge to it as well, a darkness below the gentleness that instilled pride in Hubert. Just when he thought he could not possibly have any more respect for his Emperor, there was always more to found.

“No,” he chuckled. “I would handle that myself with pride, Your Majesty. In this matter… I must consult you before I act.”

Her eyebrows raised as her eyes widened and she took in a sharp breath. Surprised, was she? Well. At least she was not alone in that sentiment, he thought with a wry smile. “How unlike you, Hubert. What could it possibly take for you to hesitate? I’ve no suitors, I trust.”

“None. Your relationship with Dorothea is well-known at this point, and it would take a fool to challenge it.”

That was diversion enough. Edelgard smiled fondly, her hand going absently to a loose strand of her hair. “Too true. So it’s not a suitor of mine you must handle, but you feel you have to check with me. I can guess all night if I must, Hubert, but wouldn’t it be easier to simply ask?”

“So one would think,” he answered drily and sighed, shoulders relaxing at last—though in resignation. Practiced words, carefully rehearsed for every situation from putting her worries at ease to voicing his own, simply fled at the very sight of her door. At least he could spare himself the foolishness of rehearsing his confession to a certain prime minister. Not that he would. Even the thought of going without a plan entirely, even if that plan were to leave his mind the moment he needed it most, churned his stomach where little else could.

Edelgard blinked pensively for a moment, and then the realization dawned on her like the flare of candlelight in her eyes. A realization, in any case. “Oh! Hubert!”

“Hm?” His guard was difficult to get past, but she managed with that elated tone. Edelgard leaned forward even more, resting on the arm of the chair in a most casual manner he didn’t often see now that she was Emperor.

“You are in love!”

Hubert recoiled only slightly but was betrayed by a blush, making a choking sound rather than a comprehensible reply.

“I am so happy for you, my good friend!” Her smile could not get any wider, and he felt his face could not be any warmer.

“I would hold back on your celebration until you hear who it is, Your Majesty.”

“Oh, enough of titles,” she waved that off, settling back into her relaxed posture. “Please, I simply must know who has caught your exacting attention. They must be special indeed.”

Hubert sighed heavily through his nose, feeling the blush recede bit by excruciating bit. What could he tell her? She’d seen him bicker with Ferdinand endlessly over the years, their relationship tempering into a push-and-pull where both had grown. Indeed, continued to grow.

Their courtship was happening in subtle gestures now, no matter how he tried to resist it. There was something captivating about Ferdinand that Hubert ultimately found he could not deny in any regard. And since he could not help but continue rising to his witty, teasing banter and invitations to share coffee and tea together… Hubert straightened his posture and steeled himself. As her closest confidant, he had to get Her Majesty’s approval before their relationship developed too far.

“…Fer…” He sighed again, the embarrassment at the confession overcoming him. The lives he’d claimed, the horrors he unflinchingly committed—and this was where Hubert hesitated, of all things.

“For…?” Edelgard tilted her head, trying once more to catch his attention while he turned away.

“Ferdinand.”

“I… Is that right?” He turned back just in time to catch her smile, one of a cat who ate the canary. Hubert sighed again, rolling his eyes.

“Of course it is. Surely, you have noticed by now.”

“I don’t know what you could possibly mean,” she dismissed, resuming her regal posture for the sole purpose of his mockery, it seemed. “The flower he had in his lapel only after his meeting with you paired with an especially radiant smile, perhaps, or the frequent visits you both share in the tea garden, maybe. Oh, or could you mean—”

“You have made my point,” he teased back, though he did feel his heart quicken at her joking. Her observations meant that Ferdinand’s returned feelings were not in his own imagination, since Edelgard herself had perceived his joy at the flower. But if she knew that he had explained its meaning to Ferdinand as well and the glorious blush that blossomed over his freckled cheeks at the revelation… Hubert may very well sink into the floorboards. “And now, I would like your opinion.”

“My opinion?”

“We are both closely connected to the throne, Your Majesty. If anything were to go wrong between us,” he explained, letting the implication hang for her to continue on her own.

“We will handle that if the time comes.” She reached out across the table to him and in a rare moment of vulnerability, Hubert took her offered hand. Edelgard squeezed his hand gently, sharing a soft smile with him. “But you should follow your heart, Hubert. I am confident he is as in love with you as you are with him.”

“I appreciate the sentiment, but… Why?” He looked at her analytically, studying for a telltale sign of how she could be so certain. “You are not especially close with Ferdinand outside of our obligations to the Empire.”

“No, but Dorothea is. And she is a good friend of yours as well, so it is only natural that Ferdinand should seek advice from his dear friend about his potential lover.” Ah, a mirror of their current situation. How clever of Edelgard to call attention to that so Hubert could not even mock the decision properly. “Is it not?”

“I do wish you wouldn’t phrase it quite like that,” he dodged instead of answering, that damned blush returning.

Edelgard laughed, a bright spot all its own. “You have nothing to be shy about, Hubert. Please, be happy! There is no one who deserves it more.” She clasped her other hand over his and he discovered he could not resist the softening of his smirk. “You have my support in this, as in all you do for yourself. It is high time you did.”

The lamps surrounding them cast a warm glow on everything in the room as a stark contrast to the harsh moonlight washing the landscape beyond her window. In the shadows of flickering light, he spotted traces of a more domestic life in Edelgard’s room. A coat rack held cloaks for herself as well as Dorothea, and her war boots were not left out any longer. Instead, they’d been replaced by riding boots for travelling to nearby towns or anywhere the Emperor was needed by the people.

A vase of Dorothea’s favorite flowers on the desk of her room.

Edelgard found someone to share her life that was beyond what Hubert could provide… And seeing her now, spending her scant free time to offer him encouragement, he knew she would not begrudge him doing the same for himself. That alone cut through his skin-crawling discomfort at the notion of allowing himself to aspire for something that was solely for his benefit.

“Thank you, Edelgard.”

She patted his hand gently before returning hers to her lap, a fond smile reaching her eyes. “Anytime, Hubert.”


Part 2: His Confession

And now that he had her approval, Hubert had only to face an even greater difficulty. Planning out how to confess his feelings for Ferdinand to the prime minister himself was a snarl of logistics and emotion.

Hubert decided it should be at their typical social call in the gardens for tea and coffee initially, but then that was too public a place where anyone might come along at any moment. If Ferdinand did reject him, he would prefer it to be in private where he could safely pretend the incident never occurred.

But to take him off in a secluded location in broad daylight would introduce rumors. While that never bothered Hubert to any extent, such scandal could potentially affect Ferdinand—who was far more socially connected and attuned and therefore, more susceptible to the impacts of defamation.

And to isolate him in the dead of night would only be a social threat if they were caught without a purpose for being together alone so late into the evening. Therefore, he waited until their last meeting of the day to pull Ferdinand aside and make up some excuse or another about a late-night meeting in the underground areas of the Enbarr palace to seal off compromised secret passages and plan new ones in their stead. This was a task best handled when their concealment in darkness could be seen firsthand, after all.

“Ferdinand,” he simply said his name as greeting, and the prime minister responded with a torturously bright smile followed by a cascade of copper hair as he turned to Hubert. They were underground now with only torches to the light the way, and he somehow managed to be perfectly captivating.

“Hubert,” he answered as if receiving excellent news by his mere presence. “Today was remarkably productive, was it not? With the war behind us, progress has come swiftly.”

“That it has,” Hubert agreed, a distant smile on his face. Suddenly, he felt vulnerable and exposed from the very subject on his mind.

“You know how I adore planning ahead, Hubert,” he answered with his name once again, as if he could not get enough of saying it. Hubert’s imagination, however limited, was determined to be overactive at the most inconvenient time. “But secret passages are admittedly your area of expertise. Before I can coordinate the supplies required, please tell me—what did you have in mind?”

Always in need of an excuse to spend time alongside Ferdinand, Hubert outlined his plans to the prime minister so they could work out the details together at another point. Securing the materials and disguising them among the supplies ordered for other projects, finding workers who could guard the covert nature of their tasks, and so on. Tasks best divided between them with a cohesive understanding.

At the last pathway marked, far from any staff in the castle who might come across them on their evening duties, Hubert turned to Ferdinand. This was the opportunity he had been working toward all night and he could not afford to waste it. Tired as Ferdinand seemed, he did his best to maintain his attentiveness and energy throughout their journey. Truthfully, he was the better suited between them for a march through the corridors of the castle’s basements. Hubert was stronger than he seemed and more so than most would expect of a mage, but he did not even come close to rivaling Ferdinand’s stamina as a horseback rider.

“Are you tired, Hubert? You have been staring at me in silence for some time now,” Ferdinand teased, only a twinge of something undetectable in his tone with his smirk visible even in the low light.

“Not at all,” he confessed. The night was his ally in many regards, and he was more comfortable in the late hours of darkness than the early hours of daylight. “I actually… Have a personal matter to discuss. With you.”

“A… personal matter?” His breath hitched in a way that was either disgusted or hopeful. Those two sentiments should not be as close together as they apparently were, Hubert thought with an exasperated sigh. He brushed his bangs from his face pointlessly, a rare meaningless gesture. It seemed his mind was now at war with itself and determined to sabotage every step.

“That is what I said,” Hubert taunted, though there was no malice to his voice as there might have been in their schooldays. “Unless you are too tired, of course.” Hubert was not so blind to his own flaws that he didn’t realize what he was doing to himself. Here he was, trying to rationalize why Ferdinand was not up for this tonight so he could postpone the question that his blackened heart hinged upon.

“I don’t have your gift for persevering through long nights at work,” Ferdinand admitted and stifled a yawn, demonstrating his own personal growth in an ability to admit that he did not excel in every little thing he did. However unreliable that ability did prove at times, Hubert remarked to himself with an amused smirk. “But for you, Hubert, I can make an exception.”

His tone was bright, welcoming, and yet it seemed so utterly the same as the kindness he showed to every soul that crossed his path off the battlefield. Even on it, at times. He was there when they pardoned Claude and allowed his survival. Ensured it, in fact. Hubert himself would not have shown such mercy, but it turned out to be in their best interest in the end.

“How… Very kind of you,” Hubert answered, resenting the hesitation in his own voice. He had trained nearly his entire life for subterfuge and political strategy, foreseeing assassinations, seeing to it that the right bribes reached the right people (or the wrong ones), and all manner of dark, horrid deeds. Confessing love had never made it into his studies and it had him fumbling over his words with a mind as blank as a new moon. “I had wondered what your plans were for future romantic pursuits.”

“Romantic pursuits?” A squeak bled through his response; one Hubert struggled not to laugh at. “Hubert, I cannot see what this has to do with our work for the Empire.”

“Very well. I shall explain it to you.” Hubert smirked, piercing him with a challenging stare that turned out fonder than he intended. This was their routine, and he had the upper hand for the time being. “Were your heart to belong to a dubious individual, it would compromise the security of the Empire.”

“And you think that I, Ferdinand von Aegir, would have such ignobly low standards?” Hubert had long since learned that ‘noble’ to Ferdinand had its own definition of decency and propriety rather than titles. And his mock offense was just as hollow as Hubert’s mockery. This dance between them was familiar, even comforting. “I would have you know that any partner of mine would only be dubious in the finest of manners.”

Hubert could not help a laugh at that, catching a look of admiration in Ferdinand’s eyes. Or had he imagined that too?

“And what manners might those be?”

“W-well,” he began shakily, though he did not withdraw from Hubert even as he bowed his head and caused those perfectly burnt golden locks to fall forward over broad shoulders. “They would be devoted, utterly and entirely, to all they held dear. Their protection would know no bounds, and there would be no sacrifice they would not make for those they lo-love.”

The word was a difficult for Ferdinand to say as it was for Hubert to hear. At what point had he begun holding his breath as if this were a covert operation that could be uncovered at the slightest sound?

“And I would be their guardian in return. We could serve as protectors of… One another. Hypothetically, of course.” Ferdinand’s shoulders had risen just enough to be noticeable—in self-consciousness or discomfort?

“I… see.” Was it possible Ferdinand had foreseen his plan already? Dorothea and Edelgard spoke daily. Perhaps Dorothea had given him the information in advance? No, Edelgard would never breach his confidence that way. Hubert cleared his throat, awkwardly pushing forward. “Well, it seems you have a very specific person in mind.” And what if it was not Hubert? What if he read too much into it? He couldn’t go on like this.

“Oh, no, I,” Ferdinand trailed off in a frustrated sigh, his hand running through the comparably short bangs across his forehead. “I suppose I do. But I assure you, this person is someone you and Edelgard trust entirely!”

“Oh?” His mind continued ahead without him unbidden once more. Who could that be? The professor? It must be so. Here he was, heart in hand, and Ferdinand belonged to another. His mouth was dry suddenly, and Hubert felt his pulse in even his fingertips. “And have you made your intentions known?”

“Hubert, I… That is,” Ferdinand began, uncharacteristically stumbling for words. “…I have not.”

“Good,” Hubert answered, his motivation returning to him in one thrumming rush not unlike a second wave during an intense battle. “Then I request you consider my offer.”

“Offer? What—”

“To be frank, I—love you.” There, it was done. Hubert felt a chill worse than the embrace of any dark magic he’d channeled, and he was certain some vital function of his body was about to end or at least suffer a brief, crushing interruption. But it was done, and he could put this behind him at last. No matter the answer or who Hubert would be compared to for Ferdinand’s affections.

“Pardon? You love… me?”

“I am as surprised as you are. I have already spoken to Lady Edelgard, however, and she has encouraged me to pursue my feelings… for you.” As if he has not made that clear enough as it was. He shook his head at his own foolishness and yet continued.

“It would seem you have her outmatched in more ways than I originally anticipated. A flaw in my assessment of you I will not repeat,” he ventured a joke but came across too serious. Gifts and flattery were forever cursed to be his failings, weren’t they? “I swear to you, Ferdinand, should you return these feelings, my devotion to Lady Edelgard will in no way lessen or compare to my affection for you. You will know no want—”

“Hubert,” Ferdinand interrupted with a bubbling laugh like a burst of sun breaking through a dull, overcast morning. “You have not even let me answer!”

“Ah. Forgive me,” Hubert requested, antsy once again. And grateful for his foresight for choosing a secluded area where no one would witness that Hubert von Vestra got emotional and lost control. No one save Ferdinand.

“You are not alone in your feelings, Hubert. In the new world we have built, where crests do not rule our society… We are free to take partners without concern for bloodline. In short,” he almost whispered in hopeful reverence like this was a chapel, closing the distance between him and Hubert to tentatively take a gloved hand in his. “I am free to choose you. And the world is a more a beautiful place than ever for it!”

“I can hardly believe this,” Hubert breathed his answer, alight in this moment. It was so clear now. The description that Ferdinand gave and how he vouched for the person he fancied—that was how he viewed Hubert. Not only did Ferdinand look upon his actions with pride, but with love. For him. Unable to meet his gaze, Hubert stared down at their barely clasped hands. “But I am truly happy in ways I never thought possible.”

“And I am happy to be the reason.”

Hubert chuckled, finding his steely resolve back in its proper place at the opportunity to tease Ferdinand. “Eager to jump to that conclusion, are we?”

“Is there competition I should be aware of, my love?” Already reaching for pet names? He would not be Ferdinand if he didn’t. Hubert was embarrassed to admit to even himself the surge of joy that gave him now, in a private moment between them. At tomorrow’s meeting hall may be another story entirely. Hubert would simply have to make do. Ferdinand lived in the light of the world. Center stage was where he belonged, and now he had Hubert beside him.

“None at all,” he promised, taking Ferdinand’s hand up to his lips and placing a firm, tender kiss to the back. “Thank you, Ferdinand.”

“Do not go thanking me just yet! Our courtship has only begun,” Ferdinand said, thinking this to be a cause for celebration. Though he helped forged a new future, Ferdinand was a true romantic and would want to follow every last fanciful dream he’d envisioned over his many years of reading poetry and romantic novels. For Hubert, that led to mixed feelings of elated anticipation and beneath that, a thin but poisonous layer of dread.

“I can only imagine how excessive this process will be with you at the helm,” Hubert drawled, sighing as he lowered their hands. Ferdinand led them back to the main castle area, a smile evident in his voice alone.

“You will not have to imagine for long, Hubert,” he boasted. “You are a man who deserves to be properly loved and courted beyond measure, so excess is simply not possible. I shall see to it that everyone knows the depth of my love for you. It shall ring across the land like a thousand bells!”

“Ferdinand, that is a bit dramatic,” Hubert stuttered, led along like the shadow he was while his newly titled boyfriend continued undaunted. The hallways sloped upward and indicated their return to the main body of the capital palace. Against all odds, Hubert hoped Ferdinand could contain his excitement for decent waking hours if nothing else.

“None of that, Hubert. You do your finest work where none can witness your efforts, and I love you for it. But I will declare my feelings in a way that will leave you with not a single trace of doubt.”

“Who said I had any doubts?” He managed to capture guarded skepticism only once tonight, and this timing was perfect.

Ferdinand stopped at that. He set the lamp down in a convenient alcove recessed into the stone wall and reached for Hubert’s other hand. The intimacy and tenderness of even that had Hubert on a razor-thin edge of overwhelming emotion. He was, perhaps, not as prepared to be romanced as he anticipated.

“I have come to know you very well, Hubert. The meaning behind every incisive stare, every discontented hum. You may not feel doubt now, but there will come a time that you do.” Ferdinand kept his eyes locked on Hubert’s, steady and open and trusting. It was like witnessing his own vivisection even as Hubert cherished that such a look was directed at him from the man he had come to love. “And I will chase that feeling away before it has any chance to take root in your heart!”

His hand found its way to Hubert’s chest as emphasis. Or an expression of his sentiments. Hubert could not place the feelings of himself, much less Ferdinand.

“Ferdinand,” he sighed so warmly, he scarcely recognized his own voice. “Only you would say such a foolish, innocent thing with certainty and not be subject to my most cutting observations.”

Loathe as he was to admit it, Ferdinand did know him. And he was not immune to self-doubt as he led so many to believe. How he could have his heart and soul laid bare before Ferdinand and feel loved rather than at great risk… That was a mystery in itself. “I will give my all to you. I will be worthy of such unwavering support from none other than Ferdinand von Aegir.”

Through the emotional state of his confession, Hubert reached for Ferdinand’s hands to earn himself some distance to recharge for the next onslaught of affection—only to discover that Ferdinand was trembling. “You are… shaking.”

“Yes! Yes, I am.” He nodded, eager as ever, almost as if Hubert had simply observed the state of his cloak or the color of his eyes. “With joy, of course!” The uneven laugh did Ferdinand in completely, his words elated and breathy. “I am overcome with it, even. I… may faint.”

“Please don’t. I could carry you, but I would rather not.” A facetious lie in the face of the very real possibility that the prime minister and he supposed, his boyfriend, might actually fall unconscious in the paths to the lower levels of the Enbarr castle and force Hubert to explain what caused it.

“And you will not have to! From now on, we walk together, Hubert. I simply… need a moment to catch my breath. You had me holding it for much of your roundabout confession.” He rested his forehead against Hubert’s chest with a shaky breath, relaxing into him. Hubert took advantage of his height and their solitude to place an arm around Ferdinand in a loose hug. It was all either could withstand at the moment, he suspected.

“Take all the time you need. I will be here.”


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Hellfire Chapter 7: Good Graces — Dragon Age Fanfiction

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Approx. 1360 words (2 to 10 minutes)

The next week in the Circle was uneventful. Truly, it had to be. Merrill’s escape was in a few weeks and Hawke needed to keep just enough attention on him to have it off her—same as since he walked into the Gallows, but it was hard work to not draw attention when he was… himself.

Mother wrote him about the stress of running the estate and how she couldn’t trust Gamlen to help considering how poorly he’d managed last time. Of course, she was worried about how this affecting Carver and his relationship to Garrett too. And naturally, she chastised him for his recklessness and wasting the effort they put into protecting him all those years. The most surprising thing about the letter was that it reached him at all. Really, that was just more proof for Hawke that being from Hightown did give him the advantage even inside the Circle.

As long as that kept up after his good friend mysteriously vanished from the Circle before she was discovered as a blood mage, Hawke would be very grateful for his rare good luck.

“Hawke,” Merrill’s chipper tone drew his attention from the book in front of him. He got more reading done locked away than he ever did at home, what were the odds of that? He flashed Merrill a smile, less warmly than he normally would thanks to all the blasted Templars posted in the library, of all places. Not like someone was going to use blood magic to turn a page. “Sorry, I should really keep my distance, but,” she trailed off to sit down and opened up a book on Kirkwall’s magic history. A bloody mess, that book. “You just look so lonely, is all.”

Hawke had gone back to reading, but that earned her a wry smile and raised eyebrows. “Can’t see how I’d be lonely with friends assigned to watch over me all night.”

She hummed, her distinct accent shining through even without words. And in that second, he hated that she wasn’t wrong. Reading together casually like this brought Hawke back to the estate, muttering her name in mock disapproval as he stared at bare footprints on the second floor handrail, getting a note that she’d watered his plants again, and of course reading together in the library with that creepy wall art Fenris resented so much.

But she’d be leaving soon, she had to. And Hawke would get out eventually somehow. Even if he was lonely, and Garrett wasn’t thinking he was, what good would that do? He’d be back out in the fresh, free air soon enough one way or another.

“Oh, that’s not the same, Hawke,” she half-reprimanded and half-teased. “They’re not actually your friends… Oh. You knew that. Right.” Jokes were always on the difficult side for her, but she did figure that one out without Hawke dropping hints. Isabela would be proud! “Do you think you’ll be alright?”

She snuck a peek at him as another couple mages slunk by them for new books, though they were probably old to them. Everything was old to them by the looks of things. Both strangers moved like the air was water and seemed permanently afflicted by a desire to be much, much smaller than they really were. Right, they definitely weren’t being beaten by Templars at least once a week. Anders had that part right too, as extreme as he could be: if a mage was being hurt, everyone else turned a blind eye.

“Relax, Merrill,” he brushed off her worries with a wave. “You’ve seen for yourself what I can deal with. If spirits, the Blight, and the undead didn’t get me, a few Templars won’t stand a chance.”

Whatever she was going to say dropped off once the sound of clanking armor got closer. Merrill stared at her book, shoulders tense in defiance more than fear. Come to think of it, Hawke wasn’t even sure what Merrill looked like afraid—only cripplingly nervous or guilty. He turned his attention to the Templar, probably because he recognized those footsteps anywhere.

“Carver,” he greeted far too fondly, which was really just right. Closing the book, Garrett rested forward on the table with a smirk. “My dear brother! Should I assume that dour look on your face is for me?”

“You’ve been called by the Knight-Commander,” he informed him. “On your feet.”

“Anything for you, baby brother.” Out of spite, Hawke left the book behind on the table. More likely, Merrill would pick it up to put away before any Templar did, but he could pretend it inconvenienced one of them.

Talking on the way was out of the question now. Templars were out in droves during the day and from how Carver stared straight ahead the entire time, apparently even looking at Garrett was a risk he couldn’t take. That’s what he was choosing to think, anyway. Carver stopped outside Meredith’s door and nodded him in.

“Go on, mage.”

“Mage?” He scoffed but went with it and walked into Meredith’s office. It was all an act… And a very convincing one. Was it luck that he had bigger issues to think about than the strained relationship with his little brother? “Knight-Commander, what a pleasure.”

And for a moment, he thought he caught a smirk from Meredith. A wry one, yes, but still. He had to have imagined it from being overworked and sleep deprived off and on since he landed in his Circle cell.

“Sirrah Hawke. The Knight-Captain tells me you’ve been doing great work on behalf of the Circle.” Ah, so that was her motive. He’d been shown the stick and now it was time for the carrot. Should be an uplifting change of pace, not that it would change much for Hawke. “And his praise is not easily earned.”

Maybe there was something weighing on Cullen’s conscious from the Circle in Fereldan after all… Or maybe it was guilt from telling Hawke mages weren’t people. Whatever he said to Meredith would’ve decided Hawke’s life from then on out. Well, more like his quality of life. Being Tranquil was technically not murder as far as the Chantry or anyone cared, but—there were better thoughts to have. More relevant ones too. Garrett quirked a smile to Meredith too, figuring that one simple gesture like that couldn’t hurt his odds in the long run. Every bit of leverage counted towards Merrill’s escape just a few weeks out.

“Oh, he’s certainly a tough one. I’ll have to remember to write him a thank you letter later.”

“As a reward for this model behavior,” she began and stood, cutting an intimidating figure looming over her staunch desk. “I’ll allow you to assist your business partner in the mines.”

The mines? It took a moment for Hawke to remember the Hightown market hawkers and the one who talked down about Fereldans. Hubert, if he guessed right. Always something with him, wasn’t it? The more pressing observation was that he hadn’t taken a seat yet and wasn’t being forced into one this time. Could it be that the heartless Knight Commander actually saw worth in a measly mage? Maker’s breath, that’d be his finest achievement yet.

“To be clear—” Meredith interrupted, her familiar hard expression returning, “This is only being offered to you as a condition of your cooperation and high standing in Kirkwall.”

“Those high society types sure know how to whine, don’t they?” Garrett leaned on the back of one of the chairs, pushing his luck to see how far it would go. Whatever this discovery was with Meredith, he’d need it when Meredith was out safe and sound. He flashed her an easy smile, letting his hands hang loosely over the chair. “Tell me, was it the neighbors to the south or the northeast?”

“Both,” she answered drily, but with a slight, almost imperceptible bright edge to her voice. And Hawke knew he had to have gone mad by then. Meredith, returning his sarcasm at even a fragment of its strength? Maybe he was too good at getting her guard down; this was uncanny.


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The Distraction: Ignis’ Birthday FFXV Fanfiction

Prompto’s in on a surprise party for Ignis, and he’s been tasked with being the distraction. It’s harder than he thought, but he won’t let the guys down!
(Forgive the Promnis vibes, I’m trash for them.)

Words: 3073 words (10-25 minutes) | Chocobros

cplCF7B


This was it, the big day for their surprise party for Specs… Prompto was in charge of being a distraction, probably the hardest job of the whole thing. He tried telling the others that, but they swore up and down that he could do it, no problem. Riding in the passenger seat next to Iggy like usual, Prompto figured out that was probably because they didn’t wanna do it. Not ‘cause hanging with Iggy was bad or anything, but keeping him distracted when he was designed for laser-like focus was gonna be the hardest thing he’s ever done in his life.

He convinced Ignis to take him along to the Crown City mall half by saying he wanted to check out some places and half by saying he should learn what Ignis does for Noct, so he could be a backup if he needs it. And that only worked by stocking up Iggy points with little favors to make his job easier. Y’know, to prove he could be a good backup!

Which was kinda part of his day-to-day anyway. Iggy worked so hard doing stuff for them all the time, and Gladio and Noct didn’t really do that whole ‘helping with dinner’ thing. But hey, that’s what made it such a good cover story!

“We’ve arrived,” Ignis announced and the doors automatically locked once he put the car in park. The morning sun gave a little extra warmth to the winter air, but he couldn’t complain about the cold when it meant Ignis broke out his sharp, double-breasted wool peacoat. All his friends were supermodels, but he had to give it to Ig, he looked extra good dressed for cold weather. Like the Six knew it when they set his birthday in stone.

“Gotcha,” Prompto answered, springing out of the car with his camera around his neck. Just in case! Never know when you’ll see a shot you just got to take, and it was a great reason to draw out their trip if he had to. Ignis always stopped to wait when Prompto wanted to take pictures, and he was pretty patient about it too.

And really, Prompto was banking on that. They still had to decorate, put the gifts together, make a cake… And they hadn’t even started wrapping yet. Leaving all that to Noct and the big guy felt like a recipe for disaster, but all he could do now was his part. Going at a light jog to keep up with Iggy’s longer, purposeful stride, Prompto followed him into the Crown City mall.

“So! What’s our first stop?” There wasn’t much of a crowd, since it was mid-week. No luck there. Just made Prompto think about how he wished there was more color in their uniform.

“We’ll be visiting just the one shop: a specialty dining store,” Ignis answered and led the way. “There are certain cooking instruments designed for the road that will prove essential on our journey.”

“Hey, Iggy!” Prompto raced ahead of him, eager to get started ‘cause this was gonna eat up hours. …Okay, maybe one hour. For his first distraction, Prompto picked up a cup-like thing with a little curve for pouring, some weird plunger thing, and measuring lines on the side. Turning around with a bounce in his step, he showed the tool to Ignis. “What’s this gadget do?”

“Hm?” Ignis strode over to the table Prompto picked out. Even here, he did the driving and pushed the cart along too. There was a lotta stuff here he didn’t recognize, so Prompto had plenty of ammo to keep his attention. “Ah, that is a milk frother, primarily used for lattes and other such beverages where foam is a key part of the experience.”

“Right, right. Y’know, I’ve never had a latte.” He put the frother down by the others, twisting it so it’d match its family of frothers before he took off after Ignis. “Think you could use it in hot chocolate?”

“You certainly can. I’ll show you sometime.” Ignis had a hint of a smile as he wound artfully through the rows and rows of cooking stuff that was either high-end normal stuff or specialty stuff.

“That’d be real sweet of you,” Prompto shot back a pun, giggling while he followed after Ignis.

Maybe if he wasn’t so caught up looking at grills, Iggy might’ve given as good as he got. Probably better, he did a lot more reading than Prom and that gave him more material to work with. Comparing little portable grills to each other with wordless hums and silent notetaking on his phone, Prompto was pretty sure he could do a dance and get nothing from the royal advisor. Or just a quick glance, anyway.

“Hey, uh, Igster,” Prompto ventured an interruption when he looked just about done. “Isn’t this thing just a slab of salt?” He held up a swirled dark and light pink rectangle about two or three inches thick labelled with just ‘mineral salt block’ on the side.

“It is far more than that.” Ignis finished up a note on his phone, picking up a boxed version of the grill he settled on and putting it in the cart. “That is for grilling or stovetop cooking for the right stove, and it imparts a lightly salty flavor with the various health benefits of its mineral composition to—” Ignis sighed, picking up on the overwhelmed look on Prompto’s face. Probably. “It’s good for the food and for those who eat it.”

“Ah, gotcha. So Noct’d hate it, huh? Too healthy.” He put the block down, smiling at Ignis’ laugh.

“It doesn’t feature the same textural concerns Noct has with beans, but… I suspect you may be correct.”

Of course Prom got a text right then, and he hoped it was Gladio or Noct saying everything was fine and ready to go. Pulling his phone out of his pocket with only a little extra flair, he brought up the message from Noctis.

Need more time.

Only one way to answer that. Tossing in an exasperated emoji, he sent back just what he thought of that.

y tho

And the picture he got from Noct was so depressing, it was truly a loss for mankind. What was once gold cake was a bit more brown-and-black-ish, and big chunks of it were still stuck on the pan while the rest was somewhere off-frame. Uh, he hoped.

Noooooct

Thank Gladio.

smh how much time u need

A few seconds turned to a minute and Prompto kept checking his screen every few minutes before Ignis finally spoke up.

“Prompto, do pay attention,” he advised.

“Right, gotcha.” He pocketed his phone for the last time. Maybe. Still, left on read by Noct! If it wasn’t for Iggy’s birthday, he’d be in for a parade of emojis until Prompto got an answer. Or maybe not, but it sounded kinda fun to do. Trotting to catch up to Ignis again, he started up conversation. “So, you do all this by yourself?”

“Typically, yes,” he answered, though he sounded pleased rather than put out. Even looked the part smirking like that when he pushed up his glasses. “Gladio has little patience for it and Noctis has other responsibilities. It’s only natural this should be entrusted to me.”

“Yeah, but on your birthday?” Oops. He was so not supposed to say that, and Prompto’s stilted laugh when he figured out his slip-up didn’t do anything to throw Ignis off his scent. He even stopped to look at Prompto, examining him for answers. Or maybe it just felt like that and Prompto was worrying too much! He just to chill like Noct said to. Yeah, just… chill.

“I didn’t realize you knew.”

“Yeah, well, y’know.” Crap, he was very un-chill right now. Prompto shrugged, eyeing the shelves next to him for a way out of this conversation. “Noct brought it up, and I guess it stuck.” Gotta find a distraction and quick. It’d just buy time, Iggy’d never forget a slip-up like that, but time was all he needed. Prompto snatched up a waffle iron at the end of a really long stick from a display by the camping stuff. “Oh em gee, check this out! Waffles at camp, can you imagine?”

“If you’re willing to make them one at a time,” he teased with that slight smile, turning back to push the cart ahead. That’s right, Iggy, focus on the to-do list and forget that little blunder from Prompto.

“Aw, I’d never keep up with the big guy,” he mourned, dejectedly returning the specialty cookware to its box and catching up to the birthday guy again.

“Indeed not.”

After gathering the rest of their supplies in preparation for the coming trip in the warmer weather, Ignis checked off the final item in his phone.

“And that concludes our shopping for the time being.” The cart was expertly packed just so everything fit in and was even sorted for putting on the belt in an orderly fashion at checkout. Seriously, Ignis’ brain should be melting from all the stuff he thought ahead on. But Prompto was keeping up with him for now, anyway—maybe he really could be halfway-decent at this back-up thing.

“Really? You do a ton, but you really make it look easy. And that’s not just flattery to distract you, I mean it!” Dammit, he was getting bad at this. Thankfully, Ignis pretended not to notice it. Probably. He doubted he really didn’t realize. Ignis, miss something? Next, it’d rain ice cream!

“I should thank you.” With the last item rung through checkout (Prompto didn’t even dare to look at the total), it was as good a time as any, but so weird. Yeah, Prompto got it, he’d do the same if he were Iggy, but… He laughed, shrugging it off. Like always, Ignis kept going undaunted. “As much as I don’t anticipate I’ll need a substitute for my duty to Noctis, it never hurts to be prepared.”

“Hey, uh. No problem! Least I can do, really.” Prompto was spared being even more awkward somehow when Ignis gave his attention to checkout. Plus, it got him a second to text Noct without spectacles maybe seeing what he was up to if he didn’t figure it out yet.

omw home

Not yet.

Prompto let out a groan, slumping in defeat. The shopping trip was over, Noct! What now?

“Stocking the cart might go more smoothly if your hands were free.” Uh oh, that was the informative warning tone. Ignis was audio-coded to hint at what he was thinking and Prompto was getting a code yellow.

“Uh, right.” Putting his phone away, he helped moved the grill and cooking stuff he didn’t exactly recognize into the cart. They were almost done and Prompto blurted out his only idea before he had a chance to think about it enough to stop. “Actually, wanna go someplace cool after this?”

“Pardon?”

“Y’know, ‘cause it’s your birthday! There’s guys who can take this stuff back to the castle, yeah?” He really hoped Ignis would buy this. He couldn’t be the one who screwed up and ruined the surprise, the guys were counting on him! “Isn’t there a place you’ve always wanted to check out, but never got to?”

“Not especially,” Ignis answered after a brief pause. That mildly wide-eyed look was way too caught off guard… Could it be Iggy never thought about stuff he wanted to do before? Seriously? Prompto wanted to not believe it, but with all the stuff he’s always doing for everyone else under the sun, it’s, y’know… Possible. If not super likely.

“Then I’ll show you around. C’mon, it’s just one day, not even. Two hours.” Ignis pulled the cart to the side and out of the way, which wasn’t a yes but it wasn’t a no yet either. He could still get away with this! Prompto flashed the smile that usually worked on Noct, tossing in an eager bounce to cover his bases. “Birthday trip? Birthday trip!”

“There’s snow outside, Prompto.” This answer was just a little bit weaker, not reinforced with the typical Ignis brand crisp certainty that came with every sentence. And what kinda sharpshooter would he be if he didn’t take this opening?

“So? We’ve got boots.” Prompto bent his knee and held one foot up like he needed to demonstrate. Paired with the grin, he could tell—he was winning this round.

“I have to return to the castle for dinner preparation.” Ignis’ gaze darted to the shop windows and the city guard posted outside. The ones that could take all this back to the castle for them and buy the guys some time before Iggy came back.

“How’s this—you go on the birthday trip you so deserve, let me take a couple cool shoots to remember it by, and I’ll help make dinner.” He offered his hand to Ignis, leaning into his field of vision to get his attention. “Deal?”

With a sigh and a signal the guards outside, Ignis gave in. “Very well.”

“Woohoo! You’re not gonna regret it.”


After their side trip, they had to get someone to give them a ride and man, was it weird to have Ignis riding in the back seat of a car next to Prompto in calm quiet. Not a bad, awkward quiet—he was so used to those—but chill. He was usually in front too so Gladio could get the extra leg room, so at least being next to Iggy was just like always. Prompto dug out his phone again, sending one last warning text. They’d gotten another hour or hour and a half outta this, he hoped they figured it out.

omw 4 real

“When you said cool pictures, I hadn’t thought you meant literally on the ice.” Ignis only just glanced his way, his face still slightly red from spending time in the cold February air.

“Hey, that pond is a prime photo op!” He slipped his phone into his pocket, swapping it out for his camera. “Check it out,” he offered, bringing up a photo of Ignis in the light, warm glow of the late afternoon winter sun glittering off the ice, a faint plume of his breath in front of him and a delicate blush to his cheeks. Say what you want about the royal advisor, but it’d better be a compliment—he was gorgeous. “My best one yet.”

“Oh, so you collect them?”

“Ah, well, y’see, I—” Shoot. The car was slowing down and he caught a peek of the castle entrance. Thank the Six! “I take pictures of all you guys, yeah? Hey, look, we’re here!” Shuffling out his side, half-stumbling out, Prompto fled to safety. Almost over, this was the home stretch!


“They keep falling!”

“And whose fault is that?” Familiar voices reached Ignis and Prompto as they worked their way back to one of the smaller, casual family dining rooms in the castle.

“The tape.” Ah, classic Noct. Ignis turned to Prompto with a questioning brow and he just smiled back, nodding him to go first. Nothing left to hide now! Ignis pulled the door open and stepped into the room, which… kinda looked like elementary schoolers decorated it, but hey. Not everyone was a perfect party coordinator like Iggy.

“Gladio? Noctis.” Was that disbelief or patient warnings at the sight of lopsided streamers hanging all the way over to Noctis, who stood on a chair taping the last corner up. For the millionth time, from the sounds of it. Mostly decently wrapped presents sat on one end of the elegant dining table and at the other were three whole separate two-layer cakes and enough fancy takeout for a family of six. “What is…?”

“Happy birthday, Specs,” Noctis said, smiling as he stepped down from the chair and came over with Gladio.

“Didn’t think we forgot, did you?” Gladio clapped his hand on Ignis’ shoulder, his too-perfect smile coming as naturally as ever. Maybe a little more, even.

“I… Suppose this was what the escapades were all about,” he remarked, glancing back at Prompto.

“Whoa, three cakes?!” Gotta change that subject, Ignis, they didn’t know about any escapades! It was just supposed to be errands. But it was their fault he had to draw it out, wasn’t it? Chill, Prompto—chill. “All this food… I’m just gonna have to run more tomorrow.”

“After running around all day today too,” Gladio joked, thankfully getting the hint. Probably.

“What’s this about escapades?” Noct was not so merciful, and that is why Gladio got all the ladies, Prompto thought to himself. Okay, yeah, it was always great to see him smile, just—not at Prompto’s expense!

“Hey, you guys told me to keep him busy!”

“And you did very well. I haven’t been ice skating since Noctis was a boy and that pond was rather scenic.” Ignis to the rescue even on his birthday, what a saint. He did fall into a thoughtful silence, looking like he was trying to find life’s answers in the present pile. “Though I had figured you out by then, of course. I am curious why you kept me preoccupied for so much longer than necessary.”

“Gladio wrecked the cake.”

“Okay, Princess,” he dismissed. “Told you to set the timer.”

“And I told you I was busy.”

“Never heard you.”

“Getting old already,” Noctis said like he was in mourning, giving as good as he got and ducking out of a headlock from Gladio by just a hair. He’d better be faster than Gladio after all that childhood of training with him.

“Regardless of the kitchen mishaps I’ll contend with later,” Ignis got their attention back. “Thank you. I admit, I am at a loss for what else I might say.”

“No big deal,” Noctis answered, obviously proud of himself. “You could start by having dinner. I’m dying to try these skewers,” he suggested, leading the way to the meal.

“Speaking of that, I do believe Prompto owes me a standing offer to help with dinner.” Ignis picked up his own plate and shot Prompto a smile. “An awfully easy suggestion when you know there’s takeout on the table, hm?”

“You don’t have to resort to birthday blackmail, dude. I got your back,” Prompto promised. And snagged a plate of his own, he had to get to this food before the big guy got it all. “Still, though. Uh, happy birthday, Ignis.”