Word count: 2100 (5 to 17 minutes) | Rating: T (Referenced child death in the context of the nightmare and intrusive thoughts)| Fire Emblem: Three Houses Fanfiction | Characters: Ferdinand von Aegir and Hubert von Vestra
The war was over. Had been for years. Ferdinand was even better suited to peacetime than he was to war, clad in polished armor and his stately ministerial uniform and charging proudly into battle. Now he spent his days in the latest Adrestian fashions, penning letters to Lorenz and diplomats from territories outside of Fódlan. He championed the educational system he discussed at length with Linhardt and Edelgard, where several of their allies now taught—Hubert included.
He was far less equipped for peace, however. The strongholds of the Agarthans were destroyed, and any useful information was distributed to the person most suited to designing constructive inventions from it. Hubert maintained his network and his vigilance, but that demanded far less from him than active warfare with two nations and a religious power over the course of six years or so.
With less to apply his mind to, his intellect evidently chose to turn on him directly.
He was not the only one, of course. Manuela had opened an institution of healing through words commonly referred to as counseling, which Hubert had determined was a less private version of the advice box. Caspar went regularly, as did Linhardt. Most of the Strike Force, in fact. Even if Hubert wanted to go, and he didn’t, he simply could not bring himself to disclose his most vulnerable moments to either a perfect stranger or someone he knew professionally.
So when the nightmares crept in, he sat in the reading chair in the central room of their house and waited for dawn. This seat was more familiar with their two children, watching him intently as he read through Bernadetta’s latest children’s story. The last stretch of summer sunlight peeked through arched windows and across the ornate rug depicting some legend of old beneath a thin coat of Aegir hound fur.
But tonight, even though smiled faintly in the dark, it was his security post. Only bugs waited outside at present and he knew that as an unmovable fact. In the heart of Enbarr, there was no chance of an attack on the ministers’ estate. That changed nothing. Only when the first staff members came in to see to the first tasks of their day, Hubert would retire for a few hours of sleep. Lately, he’d awakened Ferdinand on his return, and he knew the conversation about where he was all night was not far off.
The candle on the engraved table beside the worn seat flickered weakly as Hubert wove thin traces of dark magic through his fingers. He opened and closed his hand around it, prepared for whatever may come in the night to threaten the peace he’d carved out for himself. There, in the late hours of the evening or early hours of morning, it meant nothing that Hubert did not have any right to the idyllic domesticity of his life. It was his, given to him by the man he loved and the children they adopted who found it in their hearts to see past his many layers to find a suitable father. He fought this far for it, and he would fight again if ever the need arose.
A sensation not unlike nausea roiled in his stomach, but Hubert gradually brought himself to look at Ferdinand waiting at the edge of the candle’s light. His hair was in a loose ponytail, curls falling free to frame his face. He still had a healthy tan and a light dusting of freckles that always intensified in the summer. Perhaps he wasn’t quite as sculpted as he was when he was a general in field rather than a minister at his desk for the majority of his day… But his was a beauty only enhanced by the passage of time. His loose nightgown swept around him while he approached, resting a warm hand on Hubert’s forearm.
“My love, it’s late.” The flames danced in his eyes, melding with the open concern there. Even in Hubert’s peripheral, he could see the furrow of his brow. Even before the gentle, reassuring squeeze on his arm, he sensed that distress as if it were his own. Such was the effect of falling in love, he supposed.
“I’m aware,” Hubert answered.
“And yet you are not in bed.”
“No,” he agreed. Conversations about Hubert’s emotional state always began like this: roundabout and simple statements of fact as Ferdinand endeavored to find his way to the heart of the matter.
Correctly interpreting Hubert’s stillness as permission, Ferdinand moved closer and slid his hand up his arm and around his shoulder to have a seat on the sturdy arm of the chair. They purposefully chose it to support the children plus one of them, and as a result, it supported the two of them at once with ease. And in the gravity of moments such as these, that was invaluable. Hubert shifted closer to lean into Ferdinand’s embrace, take in the scent of him. Tea and sleep and that herbal soap Dorothea introduced him to. Of course, there was the unshakable traces of hay and horses as well. His ponytail rested over his shoulder and between them, the culprit for every stray orange strand he found on his black blazers and cloaks.
“Is there no way I can persuade you to bed, my love?”
Patient as always, Ferdinand waited in the pensive silence Hubert left. It took time to assess his mental state, determine the path he wished to take from there, and gather his words in his mind to communicate that effectively. Hubert spent years training himself to ignore the ghoulish recollections that haunted the chambers of his heart, forging ahead at any cost to himself. The safe path was meaningless to him if it endangered Her Majesty and those who allied themselves with her when she made her stand in the Holy Tomb. It was as though that was a separate lifetime, as distinct and severed from the rest as his childhood before the incident that tore Lady Edelgard from his side.
It could very well be that was where the problem found its origins.
“As a child,” he began, snaking an arm around Ferdinand as well to rest on his waist. “I dreaded the notion that the goddess would punish me for any misdeed. Failing to better protect Lady Edelgard. Disappointing my father and all the Vestras who served before me.” The very mention of such an abhorrent creature as the late Lord Vestra set him on edge. With a bracing breath, Hubert did manage to continue regardless. “Even when that was behind me in the later portion of my childhood, I feared what grudges the dead might hold.” There was no need to elaborate from there. Ferdinand knew well that Hubert was quite young when he claimed his first life.
“But now, when there are few situations to speak of that could strike noteworthy fear in me, I encounter it merely by existing.” Hubert had done nothing exceptional that day to invite that nightmare into his dreams. There was no cloaked assignment to stir up memories of contacts and agents murdered in service to Hubert, or the lives he’d cruelly cut short in the name of Her Majesty.
All those who survived them may bear him ill will and the easiest, most sensible target was his family. It would be very tactical and efficiently done. They had a routine, like most families, and discovering it was an effortless task. Hubert ordered his favorite coffee from the same merchant as always, their preferred housekeeping staff had been the same since the war ended, the children had school nearly every day of the week with schedules that were readily accessible simply by pretending to be a parent. With no warning or reason to it, all Hubert could see on certain days was the various ways he could one day come home to their dead bodies—or worse.
Ferdinand would die defending their children. Against the right soldiers or simply outnumbered, he would fall. They were all out of practice and for the sake of their happiness, they should remain so. But that meant leaving an obvious risk of being outmatched by even a single well-trained assassin striking from the shadows. The children would never stand a chance.
All in all, that horrific possibility distorted to a certain, inevitable reality on those occasions when Hubert could not clear the weighted fog from his thoughts.
“Zealots and grudges of the living. If those led to my death, it would simply be reaping what I have sown.” He wouldn’t lay down and accept it, not with his family waiting for him to return safely each day, but Hubert would prefer it to the cursed visions his sleeping mind conjured for him. Tightening his grip on Ferdinand, his voice strained taut while tears pricked at his eyes. Fatherhood had made him soft. “But if anything were to happen to you or the children, I—”
He brought a hand stained by dark magic to his mouth reflexively, biting back tears as Ferdinand gently shushed him.
“My dear, it’s alright to be afraid.” This was a reminder he was familiar with. Hubert had found Ferdinand furiously maintaining retired weapons on more than one occasion, or having tea go cold in his hands as a far-off look took hold of his normally sunny husband. They all had ghosts left behind from the war, but Hubert could not just choose to see himself in the same light as the others. As if reading his thoughts, Ferdinand offered another practiced reminder with as much affection as the first time he shared it. “You don’t need to bear this burden alone any longer.”
He placed a delicate kiss to the top of his head, the curls of his ponytail brushing against Hubert’s shoulder as he did. He closed his eyes in an effort to center all his attention on only Ferdinand there alongside him. “We shall check on our little ones and the defenses of our home, and we can retire to bed when you’ve seen all is well for yourself.”
Drifting his eyes open once more, he was greeted by Ferdinand smiling down at him. Even weary from partial rest, the man was a beacon of light and warmth. That smile reached his eyes as visibly as the reflected candlelight from the table opposite him.
“Well? It’s a promising plan, is it not?”
“It is,” Hubert relented. He’d done as much himself twice that night already, but together, it may be different. There was certainly nothing better he could be doing with his evening. His eyes seared with exhaustion and now, remnants of tears that didn’t quite fall. “I’m very tired.”
“I know,” he acknowledged, sympathetic as ever while he smoothed his hair. Hubert chose to grow it out somewhat after the war and parted it to show both of his eyes at the behest of Ferdinand and Edelgard. Or more of his face, at least. Progress was progress, and they accepted his compromise gladly. “Tomorrow, we can discuss arranging a meeting with Manuela. She can help you find a counselor you can trust if you so choose.”
He almost laughed. Trust was eternally a battle for Hubert. But Ferdinand simply wanted to help him and if nothing else, he could humor the chance that such a task was possible. “Perhaps.”
“Thank you, Hubert.” He stood, drawing his arm away to trail his hand back down to Hubert’s with the goal of leading him to stand. A rather successful method, considering he took Ferdinand’s hand in his and essentially guaranteed that outcome with that gesture.
“Shouldn’t I be thanking you?”
Gently, Ferdinand pulled Hubert to his feet and bestowed another kiss onto Hubert with soft lips on the back of his marred hand. With enough repetition, the sight inspired a sense of peace in Hubert at last instead of the previous crawling apprehension.
“The highest form of gratitude I could ever hope for is your presence beside me throughout the night, side by side as we are in our hearts.”
That did earn him a breathed chuckle from Hubert. “So dramatic. But if you wish it, then… For you, I will do it gladly.”