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