Word count: 2300 (4 to 18 minutes) | Rating: G | Fire Emblem: Three Houses Spoilers | Characters: Hubert von Vestra and Byleth Eisner (Huleth)
“Aww, Hubie, you look so dashing!” Dorothea praised his appearance yet again, tucking a scarlet carnation into his vest pocket.
“Dorothea,” he started, glancing to Edelgard seated at the desk in his quarters. How exactly the two of them got involved in his preparations for meeting Byleth for coffee was unclear. He theorized that Dorothea’s close ties with gossip circles allowed her to hear of the invitation Hubert accepted, thereby passing the news on to Her Majesty. “This is hardly necessary. Our professor asks various people to tea every week, myself included.”
It was wholly unnecessary, of course. His Adrestian uniform was sufficient. He doubted the professor would be in different attire. Despite their former roles as teacher and student, they were both generals following Byleth’s return and well beyond dressing to impress for a simple coffee break.
“Yet I believe she has asked you to coffee in a more removed area of gardens,” Edelgard reminded him with a grin he rarely saw on her face. That, admittedly, did him good to witness.
Clearing his throat, Hubert ducked his head. He still disliked emotional displays in a broad sense—no matter how minor. “I don’t see what difference it makes.”
“Oh, plenty,” Dorothea joined in teasing him. Perhaps ‘playfully tormenting’ was the more apt term on account of her wink when she stepped back to appreciate her work on his outfit. It was an understated ensemble, as a sign of her understanding of his preferences. Black shoes and pants added class without distracting from the dark Adrestian gold vest. The burgundy button-down coordinated with the carnation in his vest on a whim of nature. Dorothea seemed delighted, at least. She clasped her hands together with a romantic sigh and already whisked herself off to the opera in her imagination. “It will be just you and her. After five years apart, you must have so much to say to her!”
“Five years and three months,” Hubert steered the conversation, pulling black gloves over his magic-stained hands. “And if you are trying to settle my nerves, it is not working.”
“You have nothing to be nervous about, Hubert.” Ever insightful, Edelgard smiled through the process of mentally walking Hubert to her conclusion. “She invited you, and you planned nothing to intentionally encourage that. Isn’t that correct?”
“Yes,” Hubert reluctantly conceded. He disliked having no influence over any turn of events, perhaps only more so for positive outcomes he wanted solely for his own sake. Byleth’s loyalty was beyond question after she’d disregarded Lady Rhea’s commands in the Holy Tomb to choose Lady Edelgard. The relief he felt went beyond the strictly professional, and it was no different now. Hubert was pleased to have been invited to coffee with only the two of them. He had no strategic gain in mind, only her company.
“Then you have already impressed her just as you are. And why shouldn’t you?” Without her cape, armor, or ornamental wear, Edelgard possessed even more grace than usual as she strode up to Hubert and rested a hand on his arm in reassurance. Effectively so. No one knew him better, to an undefinable extent, than Lady Edelgard. Her smile up at him was almost contagious. “There is no one more loyal and devoted. Please, my friend, follow your heart.”
“Professor,” Hubert announced himself, joining her at the table in the plain wooden chair. The isolated garden was not too distinct from their habitual meeting spot. The decorative stone pillars were worse for wear and the garden needed neatening, but it was rather similar. He was surprised she sought this exact place out from the many spots on the academy grounds where one might stop for tea. Spring was still young, and it was more rain than blossoms, but it was a scenic setting. It could be that Edelgard and Dorothea had the right of it.
The concept was more disquieting with the professor in front of him than safely preparing in his quarters for their coffee break.
“I’m glad you joined me.” She offered him a light smile, a quite conspicuous gesture for her.
The table’s contents revealed she knew well in advance that he would accept. Fewer treats than usual graced the braided basket on the table, notably ones such as ginger snaps and lemon squares that would appeal to Hubert. A platter of rich eclairs rested beside them and were distinguished from the usual recipe with the dark chocolate pastry and dusting of coffee beans over the top of the cream-filled desserts. The amount of sweets didn’t warrant a tiered tray that sometimes made an appearance at such gatherings, however.
A cup of black coffee sat on the white tablecloth in front of the seat he occupied, and steam rising from its surface suggested it was brewed and poured recently. An unsettling silence persisted as he lifted the cup to take the first sip. He was not suited to carrying a conversation. Neither was she. Perhaps this was… enough.
“Is it brewed right?” With her fingers curled around the handle of her cup, she watched him levelly. As always. That remained consistent regardless of how he no longer sensed the duality he identified in their professor when first they met.
“Yes, thank you,” Hubert answered honestly, raising the cup slightly in reference to it. Her smile grew. Closed mouth as it was, his heart still quickened just so when he saw that reaction from his encouragement. Hubert’s service to Edelgard rendered him a source of fright to many. To far fewer, he evidently brought a smile. He was truthfully unsure how to feel about that discovery. ‘Hopeful’ didn’t quite fit the sentiment coiling around his chest and disturbing the various organs merely trying to continue their basic functions. Maybe ‘apprehensively optimistic’ was better.
“Been a long time, huh?”
The impossibly rich green of her eyes dwelled on him, and Hubert resorted again to drinking his coffee. It wouldn’t settle his nerves, of course. That was never its intent. Yet it outranked the alternative of discovering what he might see or find by meeting that stare in a prolonged way.
“It certainly has. Are you well?” Inversely, he’d implied that she seemed unwell. As in insane. He’d done so before on occasion as a student, that was an immovable fact. But he had aspired to conduct himself more fairly after five years to learn from his prior mistakes. Scowling, Hubert corrected his course. “Rather, it must have been uncomfortable wherever you slept undisturbed for five years. All only to reappear in a river, of all places.”
With a one-sided shrug that shifted her neckpiece, she mentioned, “I’ve slept in worse places.”
“The life of a mercenary would do that,” Hubert noted in return with faint amusement. It was no prized childhood to wander the land with Jeralt on the run from the Church of Seiros after having faked his death in the wake of rightful suspicion of Lady Rhea. But, he had to confess, it was strangely heartwarming to think of a young Byleth on adventures with her father. They had clearly been quite close despite her unique metaphysical circumstances. In that sense, Jeralt acted as proof that unconditional love for your child was indeed a reality, no matter how flawed that love may ultimately be.
Quiet fell between them once more. The professor brought her porcelain cup to her lips, which glistened with the thin layer of gloss she was partial to. An obvious fact anyone would have noticed after nearly a year in her class, naturally.
Setting her cup down with an utter lack of decorum that would leave any common noble completely aghast, she was perfectly at ease. Hubert smirked. All part of her inextricable charm.
“How did you know I would follow Edelgard in the Holy Tomb?”
Where once they might have discussed previous close calls or books they’d recently finished, Hubert and Byleth had apparently reached the level of closeness where there were heavier matters they might be forthright about. On the one hand, he appreciated the direct nature of their conversation. It saved him the guesswork of social maneuvering that he might not fare well with. On the other, Hubert had no means to stall her until he had the ideal response ready.
As with any delicate procedure, particularly one that was relatively new to him, some improvisation was required.
“I didn’t.” Hubert could be sincere about that. The more honesty he shared now, the easier it would be to withhold information later if necessary. Theoretically. Idly browsing the pastries in the basket to give the impression of calm, Hubert finished his explanation. “Lacking your borderline precognition, I simply hoped.”
“Hubert von Vestra, hoping for the best?” Byleth picked up a ginger snap and reached over to put it on the plain white plate set before him. Abominably rude, and Ferdinand or Lorenz would have endless apologies if they’d done it, but he chuckled. It was—thoughtful. Sweet, one could say. He was unused to having his needs and interests anticipated by another. But the professor had taken his casual browsing of the basket to be meaningful and went out of her way to fulfill what she perceived as an unspoken desire for a ginger snap. Doing so for him was sweet and somewhat cheeky, if her own playful smile was any evidence. “I don’t believe it.”
Hubert laughed at her conclusion, trailing off into a satisfied sigh. She knew his methods even after many years spent slumbering away in rubble or rivers. He supposed they hadn’t changed drastically overall, in fairness. However, not many got so far as comprehending his process to begin with. Therefore, the credit to her intellect was well-earned.
“I admit, I did try to lead you to the ideal conclusion. Why else would I ask you to speculate on the motives of Tomas and his ilk or to wonder at Flayn’s significance?” Hubert remarked in hindsight, not positive of when precisely he made the comment. The month had been a hectic one—but which hadn’t? That didn’t eliminate much. “The answers were there for those who pursued what we already knew to be fact. I had confidence you would see that.”
“For Edelgard’s sake?”
“Yes,” he said haltingly, brushing a stray fallen leaf from the table to keep it clear as well as occupying himself for a moment. Thinking again of the earlier advice from his unsolicited helpers, Hubert had to yield to it. He ought to follow his heart as Lady Edelgard so poetically advised. In so doing, he could ensure that the professor’s interest in him was authentic. “Although not hers alone.”
Byleth tipped her head at an almost imperceptible angle for an inquisitive look at Hubert. It was incredible, really, how no stretch of time apart lessened the effect that had on him. He trained since he was a boy to guard his true thoughts whenever necessary, and that became an exponentially greater priority after the Insurrection. With but a glance, the professor made him feel as though his thoughts were laid bare for easy review and worse, not found wanting or lesser. Acceptance and understanding did not agree with Hubert’s disposition as readily as rejection and distrust. It was safer that way. The fewer people he allowed in, the more secure his defense of Her Majesty would be.
Then, he attended Garreg Mach, where he met the Black Eagles and Byleth became their professor by an unexpected twist of fate.
“Heh.” Hubert paused to find the words he needed, feeling foolish for requiring so much as a spare second to organize his thoughts into a comprehensible sentence. The war was not yet at its end, and there was one behind it as well. He couldn’t afford to be so disorderly. “In my days at the academy, I treated you with such overt hostility. I never once relented in my skepticism of your intent.”
He flicked his gaze down to the black depths of his coffee as he lowered it to the table and proceeded as best as he was able.
“Just as you never dismissed me as merely what I made myself out to be. You understood me when I was at my most difficult. I never got to thank you properly for that.”
In a new wave of emotional bravery, he looked to his professor, companion, general, and colleague to gauge how well he fared thus far. She knew not to believe he would amaze her with social prowess. That was exactly why he hadn’t expected her to smile more brightly than before at what was inarguably a reserved and unexceptional explanation. If nothing else, she would be in good spirits for his less appealing truths.
“It is inconceivable to leave Her Majesty’s side. Not for you or anyone.” Hubert meant it as a firm statement of fact. The tenderness of the atmosphere had surprisingly affected that too, softening the edges of his words to meaningless fringe for decoration and comfort. Highly uncharacteristic behavior that should worry him far more than it did. “But if you were to join our side in the war, then perhaps… We might support her together as equals. In doing so, I would have the chance to express my gratitude.”
The silence that ensued then was comforting, punctuated with bites of his gifted ginger snap and the professor’s absent sips of tea or approving nods.
“What do you think you’ll do now? Since your plan has come together.”
“I spent five years believing you to be dead or worse, Byleth.” Reaching for her hand was at once deeply unnerving and irresistibly natural. Glove over gauntlet, Hubert looked to her with a serenity more rehearsed than felt. “I’m not in the habit of letting opportunities pass me by twice.”
Byleth turned her hand over to hold his, stood from her seat, and with her other hand cupping his face, she drew him into a kiss tasting of coffee and ginger.
If you enjoyed this story, you might also like the bittersweet fluff of The Boy Forgotten short story.