Web of Love | Claude Edition Ch. 4: Lesson Learned

Word count: 1218 (2 to 10 minutes) | Rating: T | Note: Fire Emblem: Three Houses Spoilers | Characters: Claude, Ferdinand, and Hubert

Read the previous chapter.

On most occasions, Hubert could travel the length of the monastery campus without anyone disrupting him. He was not a friendly individual. Few found him approachable. Therefore, his travels were often more efficient than his peers.

Though not always.

“Hey, Hubert!” Hubert stopped, turning to the voice and unsurprised to see Claude waving him over to the stables. “Come over here.”

Unshockingly, he was with Ferdinand. Hubert clearly expected too much of the Golden Deer House leader when he anticipated he would eventually realize the futility of his latest scheme. It crossed his mind to simply continue on as he had been, but with both Ferdinand and Claude present, his odds of a successful escape were rather slim. Simply turning and approaching, he let that action speak on his behalf.

“So, Ferdinand and I were talking, and we had this fantastic idea,” Claude stated with a grin that guaranteed it was a horrible idea Hubert would despise. “Why don’t you learn horseback riding from Ferdinand?”

“Why?” He leveled a piercing glare at Claude to little effect from either him or Ferdinand. Few people could regard him without fear or even apprehension, and it was notable that they all ranked among those he encountered most often. Any correlation would need to be investigated at another time.

“Hear me out, okay?” Claude met his stare with one of his falsely disarming smiles, discovering as much success as Hubert had prior. Having realized the uselessness of the effort, Claude continued regardless with a rolling gesture of his hand. “You’ve been eyeing that Dark Knight certification, and he’s the best with horses in your house… Makes sense, yeah?”

He didn’t bother to conceal his scoff. “Not in the slightest. We are both too often unwilling to compromise in our assigned tasks when we are assigned with one another.” Any acknowledgement of this shortcoming typically came after they ran out of time for their task and saw it was done less capably than they could have achieved had they not spent quite as much time on bickering. That was less common recently, but that was not a fact Claude required. “Why would training together be any different?”

“Well,” Ferdinand began, an uncertain edge to his smile that troubled Hubert more than it should have, “Because we have learned to be less stubborn during our weekly tasks, or at least only behave stubbornly for good reason.” And there it was, the intelligence that Claude had sought and Hubert preferred to conceal. He was bound to discover it eventually, but that smug look of imitated surprise was insufferable.

Ferdinand found more of his characteristic confidence and kept his attention on Hubert, as though Claude was not there at all. Hubert rarely held anyone’s attention, much less Ferdinand’s. That was notable on its own, although it would have to wait when he wasn’t under observation by the Golden Deer house leader. “Surely, you have noticed that we do not argue nearly as intensely as we used to since your cooking lessons, and our performance has improved greatly.”

“I had,” he agreed, however exasperatedly. He did not want Claude to hear about that agreement either for reasons Ferdinand also could not be allowed to understand.

“Aw, look at you two!” Claude interrupted, pointing that self-satisfied grin to Hubert while he leaned back and folded his hands behind his head. “Like peas in a pod.”

“You are looking too much into it, Claude,” he spoke before Ferdinand could, bearing his sinister smile at an angle that frightened even certain allies. Hubert’s height over Claude was a marked advantage to that end. “That is your greatest weakness, and it is dangerous to let it go unchecked.”

“To be honest, I was hoping you might consider the offer.” Naturally, Ferdinand approached the matter like a territory negotiation between noble houses rather than a training agreement. The confidence that gave him restored his smile and proud posture to their usual radiance, a phrasing presented by Hubert’s traitorous mind. “I have not properly shown my gratitude for those gauntlets you chose for me! And then you were kind enough to teach me that recipe too. I would be honored to assist you as a gesture of my thanks.”

“And while it is also very honorable of you to think of my safety, Hubert,” Claude interjected himself where he was not wanted, earning a scowl from Hubert, “What’s this about free one-on-one cooking lessons?”

Heaving a sigh, Hubert overtly ignored Claude. They were comparable to friends, and he knew well that Claude would distort anything he said to fit his vision for Ferdinand and Hubert regardless of his intended meaning. “Fine. Very well. Since you feel so indebted, I will accept your offer.”

“Perfect!” It served Hubert right to be met with an enthusiastic, beaming grin after assuming that Ferdinand could not be more animated. The topic was equestrian, so it only followed that Ferdinand would embrace it wholeheartedly. “I will begin drawing up the plans for your instruction promptly. Tell me, when was the last time you went horseback riding?”

“When we arrived at Garreg Mach.”

“Since our arrival?” His surprise was obvious in a wide-eyed stare. With his daily horse rides in addition to any taken when he was sufficiently frustrated, that response was to be expected by anyone who knew Ferdinand well. Or, perhaps, had monitored him to isolate proof of seditious intent and came up empty time and again. “I would miss the horses if I went so long without. Still, I will factor that into your lessons.”

“Good luck, you too! Remember to watch where you’re going!”

Claude claimed not to enjoy facing poor odds of success in their mock scenarios in class, but his continual provocation of Hubert suggested otherwise.

“I have a schedule to keep,” Hubert insisted, which Claude only answered by raising his eyebrows and smirking.

“Oh, yes, of course! Until next time, Claude,” Ferdinand dismissed himself as the very model of politeness.

“You got it.”

Ferdinand strode brightly into the stables, heedless to the tension between Claude and Hubert—or respectfully overlooking it, more accurately. He was perceptive in the social sphere and knew about Hubert’s skepticism of Claude’s behavior from their discussion in the monastery kitchens as well. Either way, Hubert was grateful for the opportunity.

“Stop this immediately.”

Tilting his head so his braid swung away from him, Claude kept up his thin innocent act. “Hm? Whatever could you possibly mean?”

“Hubert!” Ferdinand called from inside the stables, somewhere just out of view. Easily done when Hubert held Claude in a withering stare despite its ineffectiveness on someone who came to seek out his company freely. “Come, let us find a horse you get along with!”

Claude nodded to the stables, hands in his pockets and a glint in his eyes. “Aren’t you on a schedule?”

“I can always make time for such a good friend.” He clearly hadn’t meant that literally, but Claude’s faux flattered expression showed he was set on pretending otherwise. “I have not yet thought of a suitable way to repay you, but I assure you I will.” Following Ferdinand at last, Hubert began devising the initial steps of his plan. If Claude enjoyed his little game of matchmaker so much, Hubert was obligated to return the favor.


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Hellfire Ch. 12: The Collar Unseen | DA2 Fanfiction

Read the previous chapter. | Read it on AO3.
Approx. 2100 words (A to B minutes) | Rating: M | Dragon Age 2 Spoilers | Characters: Orsino, Garrett Hawke, Meredith Stannard, Carver Hawke

What with the ‘there is no escape’ angle from the day before, Hawke expected more Templar-themed disaster after patching things up with the Qunari on the Viscount’s orders. But instead of dragging Garrett off to the old cell again for a new round of aggressive silent treatment, his assigned Templar friends led Hawke to the dining hall for breakfast with his fellow mage prisoners. Not that anyone looked too pleased to see him after his latest vanishing spell, but was anyone ever happy in this place? Hawke didn’t see a reason to take that personally.

With Templars posted around the room between thin windows, it wasn’t the most relaxing place to eat. They had lanterns and wrought iron chandeliers to light the room at all hours, on account of its size and having no sunlight, and the gathered mages all ate with their heads down. A few spoke to each other softly, only barely looking up. Not seeming completely crushed on a spiritual level was an invitation for the Templars of the Circle to try harder. The Tranquil mages sat on their own, of course.

“Morning,” Hawke greeted a mage getting food from the Tranquil mage on serving duty, picking up a plate for himself. “Lucky us, we’re just in time for the stale bread.”

Alright, so it was a bit strange that the person he just spoke to walked away without a word, but he was willing to write that off as not being a morning person. The Gallows wasn’t a great place to start with, but imagine being woken up every day at your least favorite hour by people who probably wanted you dead or worse? Anyone’d be crabby. So, breakfast in hand, Hawke tried again with mages already sitting together. No one who sought out a crowd was in a bad mood, right?

“Hello there,” he said, catching the attention of some mages sitting at a table with room for at least one more. Gesturing to an open spot, he went for the polite approach just in case. His luck hadn’t exactly been in good shape lately. “Alright if I join you?”

They looked at each other, then at him. Not a fuzzy warm expression among them. “We were just leaving.”

And like that, they picked up their plates (with plenty of food still on them, he noticed) and sat at another table. Well, something was not right here. He usually had to do something first for people to avoid him so intently. Hawke wasn’t necessarily popular anywhere they lived, being a mage on the run and all, but he made friends pretty easily. Some people hated him because of his smart mouth or natural talent for ending up at the center of a big mess, and of course, the Templars hating him for his magic. But for the mages to join in on it? That was plain rude. Where was the section on that in Anders’ manifesto?

“Good morning, Hawke,” Orsino announced his presence like he was about to bring another awful errand to Garrett, having a seat with the same foreboding gravity. Seemed like having breakfast was the only thing that would go right for Hawke today. “Did you get any rest?”

Well, that phrasing was odd. Hawke gave Orsino a sideways look, smirking.

“I managed. And you, First Enchanter? I figure the perpetual accusations of world-shattering conspiracies make it hard to catch a good night’s sleep.”

He had no idea how old Orsino was, or how old elves could get, but the stress he was under all the time wasn’t doing Orsino any favors. The only people that haggard were apostates and former Templars left high and dry by the order. Not looking great for Orsino either way.

“You jest about the strangest things,” he answered, definitely not wrong, and sighed down at the table. No platter of breakfast for Orsino, just tea—or maybe he had a fancy First Enchanter’s breakfast earlier. That job had to come with more than office and the scorn of all Templars, or who would keep it? “But I am not the only one accused of deeds I did not do.”

“Oh?” He wanted help with something, Hawke assumed. It was unlikely he’d be able to do much, since Meredith was merrily taking up all his time with one-on-one torment, but Garrett would figure something out. Probably. “Who’s the unlucky bastard?”

His eyes softened as he settled for looking at Garrett, and boy, did that make him want to go back to his holding cell and lock the door himself. “You, I’m afraid.”

“That does sound like something that would happen to me before I’ve even finished breakfast.” Grabbing a piece of what passed as bread when you were magical and wrong, Garrett gestured toward Orsino with it. Wasn’t good for much else, though he’d try to eat it afterwards anyway. “Do I get to know my own juicy gossip?”

“I owe you that much.” He sipped at the cold, over-steeped tea that came with breakfast while Hawke tried to tear a piece off the bread with his teeth. Took a bit of effort, but he got it with a couple extra tugs thrown in. “Word has travelled of your connection to Knight Commander Meredith, and the mages in the Gallows were already wary of the implications.”

Right, so that was trouble. Hawke just figured everyone was shy or had the worst case of indigestion every day. No surprise with food like this, right? Should’ve figured it was actually all his fault instead, that really was a pattern going back for years.

“And then that got worse somehow, yeah?” Dipping the bread into the runny eggs in an attempt to soften it up a bit, Hawke shrugged.

Orsino had to work on that bad omen look of his, but for that, someone had to tell him. Hawke had enough going on for three people at the moment, and a positivity makeover was just one chore too many. Through a somber stare, the First Enchanter finished up the bad news (hopefully). “Once word had spread that she asked you to watch us on her behalf and report anyone suspicious, our people decided with near unanimity that you are not to be trusted.”

“Oh, let me guess,” he joked, letting the soaked bread drip dry for a second, “Telling them I’m not on her side would just confirm their deepest, darkest fears?”

“Regrettably, they have made up their minds.” Orsino just shook his head, the frown he was always sporting firmly in place. Maybe his face was just stuck that way. He loved this mess of a city-state, but Kirkwall could have that effect on someone on its own, never mind the Gallows. “I know you are not against us, Hawke, but even that is not enough to reassure them. Not with your long disappearances and freedom to come and go.”

What could he do to that but snort a laugh? And try to pull off another piece of yolk-sodden bread, that was important. Next to the other mages here, Hawke had to admit that he did have more liberties than they ever would. A scary thought, actually. Since he entered the Circle, he’d left a handful of times when most people held in the Circle didn’t have a single memory of life outside. They came in once, and they’d probably only leave when they were dead.

Not a bad escape plan, now that he thought of it. Maybe he’d pretend to be dead and make this easier on everyone (once they got done being mad that he faked his death with no warning, anyway).

“I could certainly do worse than having a friend in the First Enchanter.”

“I admit, I find your optimism reassuring. And to think I was worried you would be distraught.” He stood, looking down at Hawke with some sort of something, alright. Part forced smile, part pity, part crushing despair. He’d have to remember not to invite Orsino to Wicked Grace night before he sorted out his whole rain cloud of eternal despair bit. “I must return to my office, but please know that I am on your side even if our people cannot see why just yet.”

“You’re very sweet,” Garrett teased.

And with minimal fluster, Orsino dismissed himself so Hawke could finish his breakfast at the gradual pace advised by Aveline. Not much changed for him with the latest ugly news, really. He spent most of his time in one cell or the other under Templar watch. Any time he had out and about was usually cleaning up after someone in Kirkwall. It’s not like he had Circle friends beside Merrill, and he wasn’t going to stick around to make some either.

Hawke only barely decided to go to the library and read one of the books he was halfway to memorizing when Ser Alrik arrived with a different suggestion from Meredith. An order, actually. Leading Hawke down familiar halls and staircases in the irritable silence of a man who hadn’t ripped the soul out of any mages lately, Alrik dropped him off at the much-less-pleasant cell number two.

On the bright side, one thing had gone right so far: Hawke had a proper breakfast.


Mature content available on AO3 only.


Meredith put him back together when she ran out of patience or stamina, and Hawke let her go through the motions. Just enough done to cover her tracks for anyone to witness him. He had no idea how long it was before he heard Templars re-open the cell door, a radiating ache around the cut on his face making itself known as he lifted his head. Pointlessly, since the blindfold stayed on through it all.

“Alrik, my good friend,” he rasped.

“Not exactly,” Carver answered flatly. Hawke’s heart sank and the bile rose in his throat again.

No, not like this.

There were two sets of footsteps, so they weren’t alone together either. His little brother had to see him like this and pretend not to care while they undid the restraints—it had to be pretending, even Carver didn’t hate him that much, right?—and Garrett lowered his head back down. He really screwed this up now. How could he let Carver see this? There had to be a choice he could’ve made differently, something to learn for next time. Hawke should’ve fought off Alrik sooner or put up a fight right in the cafeteria. Whatever it was, Hawke had no one to blame for it but himself.

The other Templar grumbled through the process of lifting Hawke from the chair—so that wasn’t Cullen—and soon, Carver pulled Garrett’s arm over his shoulder. “Right, let’s get you on your feet.”

Carver didn’t have to hold Hawke’s hand once his arm was over his back and on the opposite side of his little brother’s neck. His wrist would have been just fine to support him, if he needed anything at all. Garrett closed his hand around his brother’s, hissing at the pain that ran down his arm. Must’ve been a bad angle for his shoulder while Meredith went about her business. Leaning forward to push himself up clued him in that his legs didn’t feel much better about it.

Standing sounded downright miserable. “Sounds fun,” he tried to joke. “Why not?”

The trip back to his room was a bit touch and go, but they made it, and Hawke was probably asleep before they even put him on the bed. If they passed anyone else, he didn’t remember them. And judging by the birds that woke him up, he slept through until dawn or close enough to it.

Stiffly and very aware of every sore spot, Garrett turned on his side and slipped his hand beneath the pillow for the illusion of fluff. Imagine his surprise when he found a half-crumpled, half-folded note there. Resting his back against the wall, Hawke read the message by the low flame in his other hand.

The others warned me about what happened in the tavern, but nothing as bad as this. We’re moving faster now. Hang in there.

At the bottom, another line had been scrawled on at a rushed angle.

I’m sorry.

Same as last time, he burned it up without a trace.

Slumped into the corner, Hawke dropped his hands to his lap and just sat there listening to birds. He was sorry too. Carver never should have had to see him in that state, half out of it with fresh injuries on his face and Maker knew what else. Hawke never wanted this weight on his younger brother’s shoulders. And next time, it’d be different.


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Always | FFXV Fanfiction

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Trigger Warning: Thoughts of an Honorable Death/Martyrdom

Read the previous chapter.

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

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

And he was well fed in that hypothetical sense.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It is for Edelgard, then?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You will be the first to know.”

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sloppy.

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

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

Regardless, it would not be by surrender.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No, I—”

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

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

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

“By all means.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Read the previous chapter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Ferdinand, how are you with seasoning?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, the spices! Of course.”


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Hellfire Ch. 11: Offered and Lost | DA2 Fanfiction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All this friendly questioning might be driving him insane.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Be careful, Sirrah Hawke.”


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hiding is such a nasty word for it.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beside him, Aveline heaved a sigh.


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

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

Mostly everyone.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hm.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“A secret present, you say?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I will pay you back for that.”

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

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

Anyway, that was his secret.

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I very much doubt that.”

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

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

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

Got him again.

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

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

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

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

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


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You Will Live Ch. 6: Both Monsters | FE3H Fanfiction

Word count: 4200 (10 to 34 minutes) | Rating: M | Note: Fire Emblem: Three Houses Spoilers | Characters: Dimitri and Hubert

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To be sent to bed early with a cup of tea from Ferdinand, who fussed over him the entire way, was merely the second most embarrassing event to occur to Hubert that day. The guards badly pretending not to notice how generally disheveled Hubert was inarguably took first.

After extensive reassuring, Hubert finally persuaded Ferdinand that he was fine on his own and the two people posted outside of his quarters would be more than sufficient if he did require assistance. And it was half-true. Shamir stood guard with Cyril, and they regarded Hubert with starkly differing treatment. Cyril would surely let him meet his end in any manner, he was not particular, but Shamir was more level-headed about their task.

Regardless, there was nothing troubling him that they (or anyone) could assist him with.

Sleep came in fragments, as ill-fated as any cresting wave. When he heard birds overheard as an indication of morning, he left bed with a heavy sigh and readied for the day. The scattered hours he got would have to do. Dressing in his Imperial wear felt wrong somehow, the disquiet settling in as a tightness in his throat, but the lack of a suitable alternative gave him no other choice. Once he had finished, Hubert left his quarters to see the guards had rotated sometime during his rest. Byleth nodded to him, and Alois, of course, had to speak.

“Ah, Hubert! You look positively ghastly.” He looked so fraught with concern that Hubert was nearly offended. Knowing his fear of ghosts as he did, it was possible this fear had more to do with his appearance than any other factors. Alois should want him dead just as all the other Knights of Seiros undoubtedly did. Regardless, it mattered little what a simpleton of the Church saw in him. “Shouldn’t you get more rest?”

“Oh, yes, I hadn’t thought of that. Wherever did you come up with such a brilliant idea,” he deadpanned and went down the hall toward the stairs.

“Let him go,” Byleth stated as he began down the steps and made his way to the kitchen. No doubt the Imperial staff had already been given instruction by the invading forces and they would be preoccupied with breakfast preparations. Even so, he could brew his own coffee unassisted and remain out of their way.

Upon arriving, he discovered he was not the only imposition on them this morning.

King Dimitri leaned against the counter right beside the place Hubert needed to be, naturally, his hands resting against its edge on either side of him. He watched as the Adrestian staff, renowned for their efficiency, went about their business with fresh bread and perfectly carved meats prepared at various degrees of redness to accommodate their guests. Say what you will of them, they would never disgrace the Adrestian name with a poorly prepared breakfast. Even their sworn enemies would leave the table contented.

His arrival and proximity to Dimitri turned only a few heads, and Hubert became acutely aware of the fact that how he conducted himself there would carry to the rest of the nation by nightfall.

He had best set a good example, then.

“Good morning, Your Highness.” He did not bow, as Dimitri was not his king, but he did regard him as Hubert himself would have insisted anyone address Her Majesty—with formal titles and basic respect.

Dimitri tensed, whipping his head to look at the source of the greeting, and recovered with a self-conscious chuckle. “I did not hear you approach. I apologize.”

“Few ever do,” Hubert offered, smirking. “Would you care for some coffee?” He strode past Dimitri to collect the coffee beans, recently ground by the staff in anticipation of his needs. Routine as usual.

“I believe I will take some, since you offered.”

“Bold of you,” Hubert observed, taking out two cups and weighing out the necessary grounds. “Many would not be so readily trusting of me.”

Oddly, Dimitri smiled at that. The king was not nearly as easily read as he was in his academy years, and Hubert was rather certain he didn’t appreciate that change.

“If you were going to poison me, Hubert, I doubt I would be standing here now.”

Still, he chuckled in response. “Best not let Dedue hear you say that.”

“He will worry regardless of what I say. If I will not, he must, or so he says.” Though Dimitri waved it off, that was not a criticism, but an observation… They must have remained close despite Dimitri’s only somewhat exaggerated behavior in his exile. For a time, they were both believed to be dead as well. Lesser men would have given up all hope for a reunion or emotional recovery, he would grant them that.

As Dimitri spoke, Hubert rinsed the coffee filter at the nearby faucet after a few pumps of the handle. He could muddle through the papery aftertaste if that step went overlooked, but why would he willfully do so? Continuing the process of making coffee as Dimitri looked on, Hubert formed his reply.

“He is not wrong.” And that was all he could truthfully think to say on that subject. Pointing to a tin on the counter behind Dimitri, Hubert explained its purpose. “I prefer coffee black, but the sugar is there for you to use. It’s imported from Mach, so there may be a difference in taste than what you are used to in Faerghus. I can also call for cream if you require it.”

“Thank you, but—I admit, I am curious. I had expected you to be angry with me or at least distant.”

The implied question could wait until Hubert was not actively preparing coffee.

He was wise to have acquired a self-heating kettle for the kitchens as well for all the time it saved him in moments like this one. Now there was only to wait as the proper extraction took place from the grounds into the water. As it gradually trickled through the filter, Hubert had nothing more pressing to attend to than Dimitri’s concern.

There could be no doubt the staff were eavesdropping as they attended to their duties now, even without any unnecessary delays in their work. It was apparent in their furtive glances towards the two of them and looks of unspoken concern passing between them if they caught another’s eye. He could hardly blame them. They were with Adrestian, and the people of a nation that lost a war were not often received well by the victorious forces—or vice versa. How the next few weeks unfolded would determine the rest of their lives.

Therefore, Hubert would say the truth of the matter for their benefit. If the gossiping of even the most capable staff could be relied upon, then the Adrestian people’s betterment would be seen to as well. Like it or not, they would have to accept their position in the united Fódlan ruled by His Highness, or they would lose it in exchange for a more miserable lot.

“Why would I? If Her Majesty saw fit to end her reign at your hands rather than surrender as you offered. I will stand by that decision as I have with all her choices.”

Dimitri only blinked, a wisp of blond hair falling into his face as he tilted his head in examination of Hubert.

“You are an odd one.”

“Flattering,” Hubert answered levelly, giving the grounds within the remaining water a gentle stir to ensure the correct flavor of the brew.

“It is not bad, exactly, and I am grateful,” Dimitri amended somewhat hastily, “but I cannot say I understand it in the least.”

He did not look like the feral beast that Imperial soldiers trembled to hear of all while they sought the stories out. A demon wandered the countryside, as the tale went, gruesomely slaughtering any soldiers of Adrestia whether they were fierce warriors or field cooks. That this beast of legend was one and the same as the puzzled man standing beside Hubert was difficult to believe, but no less true for its unlikelihood.

“You do not need to understand.”

He poured one cup, then another, and lifted his own to his lips. Its heat bordered on uncomfortable, but Hubert welcomed the sensation. This moment was not another splinter of a nightmare lying in wait to turn on Hubert with merciless brutality, but a regular morning in which his coffee was somewhat too hot for drinking.

“That seems fair enough,” Dimitri relented.

He left it at that and took his own cup as if it was made of thin glass, not ceramic, moving it closer to the bin of sugar. He heaped in several spoonfuls but made no request for cream. Even so, he grimaced at the first sip. Unwilling to request Hubert’s assistance, was he? The most probable motive was security reasons. King Dimitri had evidently learned something after what the Empire and Cornelia did to him and the stability of Faerghus.

“Thank you for this. I could use the energy,” he said, taking another tentative sip with an equal amount of mild disgust. “Sleep does not come easily to me, and it has not for many years.”

“Rest was never one of my preferred pastimes,” Hubert only agreed, taking in the fragrant aroma of his cup for the time being.

Dimitri’s genuine laughter came as a surprise yet again. Hubert studied him over his mug, watching for some indication of an ulterior motive in his agreeability.

“I shall have to phrase it that way next time someone lectures me about getting more sleep. I may get different results for once.”

“You won’t. Not in any meaningful way,” Hubert advised from personal experience with Her Majesty and especially Linhardt, ending that subject by savoring another drink of his own coffee.

Smooth, even, but full-bodied, this blend was leagues above the readily accessible blends that acted as an average, crowd-pleasing coffee. Even Ferdinand, who compared coffee to mud more than a drinkable substance, had once admitted to its refined flavor.

“Hubert,” Dimitri prompted with a hesitant weight to his words. There was only one topic that could follow such an ominous tone. “Have you given any thought to her funeral?”

Hubert took a weary breath, turning away from Dimitri to stare at the scarred field beyond the windows across the room. Her body could not remain in her quarters indefinitely for Hubert to postpone arranging her funeral service. Yet his mind resolutely sabotaged any to-do list he might mentally compile by summoning up the sprawling implications of any one choice Hubert could make.

“I do not want to rush you,” Dimitri prodded him once more, “but with the upcoming plans and current upheaval, your time to plan is limited.”

“She will be cremated.” That much, he could say without any hesitation. With her enduring fear of rodents and other such creatures, Hubert could never allow her to suffer the slight of being lowered into the earth for an eternity or locked away in a stone casket within a mausoleum.

“I trust you know someone loyal to Adrestia to carry out the task,” Dimitri suggested, almost relieved at what he assumed was the pleasant discovery that Dimitri did not go unheard up until this point. “I will assign Kingdom soldiers to reinforce the guard surrounding her transport.”

“Well, that is a far cry from hanging her head from the gates.”

“Ah. Yes. I—I was beside myself.” Dimitri put it lightly, staring into his coffee with a far-off gaze. Lady Edelgard described him as outright psychotic when he uncovered her identity as the Flame Emperor, felling soldiers faster than she could count their bodies. In short, he had cause to be horrified at the memory. Hubert had more of his drink as the silence continued.

“Hanneman has theorized that my Crest may affect my temper, but there can be no excuse for my conduct back then.” Placing his cup down with far too much care, Dimitri gave his undivided attention to Hubert as a chivalrous knight of Faerghus might when swearing a vow of fealty. “I assure you, I will do no such thing to the remains of someone I have held so dear. What her opinion was of me after so beastly a display, I dare not even begin to guess.”

…This was where someone more adept in social spheres would offer comfort. Not Hubert’s area of expertise by any consideration, but who could offer that information to Dimitri except for Hubert? Her Majesty determined from their meeting before the fall of Enbarr that she and Dimitri would never agree with one another’s methods, but she also thanked him. Hubert could only conclude from that decision that she would want to give him a measure of consolation after her passing.

“She did admire you.”

He sensed Dimitri’s gaze on him, as real and oppressive as a sudden spike in humidity so common at the close of Fódlan summers. If he faced that head-on, Hubert would surely drop the subject and banish it from memory if at all possible. In interest of completing his thought, Hubert looked either at the fields outside or the depths of his coffee, but never the man he spoke to.

“She rarely mentioned you or the professor after the Holy Tomb, but on the few occasions when she did, I perceived a certain… Reluctance.“ He swirled his coffee idly, bringing it up for another sip. The temperature of it now was perfect and that made the situation Hubert found himself in nearly bearable.

“I never confirmed it with her, but I suspect she wished her path could have been beside your own.” And now it was Dimitri keeping Hubert in suspense with his silence. Assuming this answer was giving him the peace of mind he desired, Hubert resolved to say as much about Her Majesty’s regard for him as he was able. She was not present to express the value of her childhood friendship with the king of Faerghus, and it fell to Hubert to do so in her stead.

It was simply another duty for the Minister of the Imperial Household to uphold.

“When she accepted your offer to meet and discuss the war, I told her it was utter madness,” he admitted. They agreed to disagree that day on the condition that he attended with her, since neither one willing to yield to the other beyond that. “In hindsight, I assume she hoped to reach a resolution where you might walk side by side.”

“Years ago, I might have argued that it could have been possible with the right mindset,” Dimitri confessed, and picked up his coffee again. “But in light of the news you shared yesterday, I must believe it was not that simple.”

Hubert would have attributed that understanding to how Her Majesty explained herself to Dimitri during their discussion rather than the news of Shambala and the Tragedy of Duscur, but that was a pointless distinction to make. Whatever Dimitri chose to hold as true that caused him to stand against Those Who Slither in the Dark with Hubert in attendance, he benefitted from it. He would not risk potentially encouraging Dimitri to question his value and support.

“It was not. That aside, your point was not without merit. The path we carved was for the strong, and the strong alone.”

A bitter revelation if Hubert had ever tasted one, and one he never discussed with Lady Edelgard out of respect. She was also correct in that this path encouraged strength in the people to stand without the false goddess and twisted corruption that victimized them all. Every second wasted in suffering its existence only led to more lives claimed in its insatiable hunger for power. The society as it had been made victims of people like Jeritza, whose sanity would never return to him, and Lysithea, whose years of childhood innocence were cut short alongside her life.

But that did not make Dimitri incorrect. There were those who prospered under faith to an imagined deity—or fealty to a beloved liege. Lady Edelgard was exceptional for her strength, and it was perhaps unfair to expect everyone in Fódlan to match that willpower.

“Did she ever tell you that she taught me to dance?” Dimitri brought up the memory abruptly, a wistful smile following the change in subject. Even another drink of his coffee could not displace it.

Hubert recovered from the brief interruption in his thoughts with a curt shake of his head.

“Pardon?”

“In Fhirdiad, she… Well, she tried. We were close friends by then, but that did not change that I had two left feet with finer arts.” He spoke with a fond lightness, his tone as gently inviting as a well-stocked library lit by the last rays of daylight. Hubert felt distinctly that this was a vulnerable moment he was not meant to witness, but it was no mistake—who else was present? For an unknown reason, Dimitri elected to reminisce with the servant to the woman he killed because she left him no other choice.

“There was little to do for it; I have always had a gift for strength over grace. But she was—” He paused, searching the ceiling for the word with a poignant laugh. “Strict, let’s say. She truly would not let me yield until I had followed her instruction exactly as presented.”

Conveniently, he was willing to speak without a reply. As it was, Hubert was inclined to simply hear about the time she spent in Fhirdiad uninterrupted. Lady Edelgard herself rarely mentioned those memories, and he knew better than to broach the subject. Hubert took her avoidance to mean those years had been difficult for her. Instead, she was dancing and finding kinship when she was far from home—a time too blissful to recall considering its juxtaposition to the darkest days of her past. He could relate, if truth be told.

More importantly, it would seem Hubert owed Dimitri a debt for bringing happiness to Her Majesty while she was held at Arundel’s whim.

“Before our friendship, I found her to be difficult and stubborn. But in a short time, that impression gave way to her true self beneath.” Dimitri returned to the present, turning that mournful smile to Hubert as the faint impression of tears gave his eye a glassy look. “Those memories were the time of my life in many ways.”

Hubert blinked, completely at a loss in this situation. Handling this cathartic revelation with poise was well out of reach for his talents.

Although, thinking on it now, Dimitri had few other options for those who might listen. Most of his closest allies resented Lady Edelgard for her ruthlessness in pursuit of what must be done. Byleth was even less proficient with emotions than Hubert. And Dimitri had never been especially close to the Black Eagle students. Mercedes, having originally been from the Empire, was the only possible candidate who would not reject his grief outright.

And so, perceiving the sorrow in Hubert, he chose him. What an unfortunate decision.

“It’s kind of pathetic that I am still thinking of it after everything that has come to pass since then. I know,” Dimitri excused himself for what he must have assumed Hubert’s lack of response meant. And although Hubert would be considerably more at ease leaving the king to his own misconceptions, he could not leave Her Majesty’s old friend alone with his anguish.

This was not his element, however. Frowning, Hubert forced himself to piece together a sentence that was at least tangentially related to the topic.

“If you would like your dagger back as a keepsake, you may collect it from her nightstand. I cleaned it of your blood last night.”

“I may take you up on that. The blade I gave her does have a lot of meaning for me.” Anticipating an explanation from him, Hubert waited and was not disappointed. “In Faerghus, we’ve long considered blades to be tools of destiny. As a way to cut a path to a better future.”

That phrasing… Hubert’s scowl shifted almost imperceptibly to sincere interest. The thrill of two seemingly disjointed facts coming together at last was not unfamiliar, but something he experienced more often in a library, magic lab, or with his intelligence network. Not in the baring of two hearts over the death of another.

When Lady Edelgard first emerged as the sole survivor from the experimentation done on her in Enbarr, sickly and weakened from confinement, her aspirations were exactly what Dimitri had just described. By extension, they became Hubert’s as well. How many times had he sworn to cut a bloody path for Lady Edelgard without even knowing the origin laid with the king they fought so viciously against?

While it was true that no one knew Her Majesty better than Hubert, this new information shed light on how she came to be the commanding emperor and beloved companion he devoted his life to. Both of their coffees went neglected in favor of the aspects of Lady Edelgard only they could share with one another.

“I saw her being dragged all over Fódlan, unable to live the life she wanted, and I thought the dagger could help her cut a path to the future she dreamed of. I suppose she did.”

There, the conversation turned. This was the danger of nostalgia—the idyllic past one could not reclaim was all too often more desirable than the present. He finished off his coffee, knowing it would only be wasted otherwise, and sighed as he placed the cup in the sink to be cleaned.

“If it gives you any peace, most of the blood painting her path is on my hands. A leader ought to be looked up to as an inspiration,” he said, recalling that he told Her Majesty that shortly after they arrived at Garreg Mach as students. How intriguing, that leaders would benefit most from being reminded of that fact. “I saw to it that she would never again be mired in bloodshed and death by taking her place in that role.”

With a dark chuckle, Hubert relaxed into his habitually menacing demeanor. “There is a reason I am reputed to be Her Majesty’s monster in the night.”

“A man who believes himself a monster… Why is that familiar?”

The hypothetical question and wounded expression were equally unexpected. Hubert was under the impression that the demonic rumors about Dimitri did not bother him, given how he encouraged them with his actions. If one did not want to be seen as a monster, why take out soldiers in such a horrific manner for so many years?

“I’m not certain I follow. What do you mean?”

Dimitri set his cup down too, turning to completely face Hubert now with sharp solemnity. “So many people I love have died to save my life, and I only had less to show for it with each sacrifice. I needed their loss to mean something.”

How he growled that emphasized word said more to Hubert than any lecture could. It spoke to a gnawing feeling in the whole of one’s very being that drove them to commit atrocities in the name of retribution… Yes, that was a matter he knew all too much about. That the Savior King and the Shadow of Enbarr would have anything in common, much less that sinister desire, was the true mystery. Hubert crossed his arms, maintaining a watchful stare to conceal any other sentiment that may seek to rise to the surface. He was apparently not quite finished being emotional, of all things.

“In order to make their deaths worth my existence,” Dimitri continued, not letting up that steadfast gaze, “I let go of my ideals. I became more monstrous with every kill.”

This was certainly in keeping with the reports Hubert received, but he could not see the point Dimitri was trying to make. The journey from man to monster was one Hubert understood perfectly without explanation. When the king’s intensity dissolved into a self-conscious laugh as he rubbed the back of his neck, it only confused Hubert further.

“What I am saying is, even if you are a monster, it doesn’t change my opinion of you. With all that we have done, you and I are both monsters, both stained.” King Dimitri was eager, almost supportive, in offering that observation. Despite his efforts, Hubert eyed him uneasily for it. What was his angle with this?

Oblivious or undaunted, Dimitri persisted. “Perhaps we might find companionship in one another with that knowledge. Even those stained red with blood must find a place to belong.”

“I… Suppose.” He had no other means of answering that, but Dimitri quietly accepted that reply as all Hubert could give. It was acknowledgement enough that he stood beside Hubert with a contented grin and a liveliness from the king he’d yet to see or hear of since the war began, though that may just have been the half-cup of coffee.

Hubert settled for an uneasy smirk in turn.

I hope you are as satisfied as I am uncomfortable, Your Majesty. If the revenge to come does not give you the peace you deserve, may this connection between your oldest friends ease your pain.


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