Word count: 2000 (4 to 16 minutes) | Rating: T | Note: Fire Emblem: Three Houses Spoilers | Characters: Claude, Ferdinand, Lorenz, and Hubert
Read the previous chapter.
Sitting on the grass close enough to a bench to seem ridiculous, Ferdinand and Claude took advantage of the winter weather to lounge by the gazebo and chat when not many people were around. Piling up what remained of the pink flower petals in various shades, Claude smirked at Ferdinand. He’d been happier than usual ever since he started getting closer to Hubert all on his own with only some nudging from Claude. But nothing touched how thrilled he was after their little horse ride. Or almost nothing.
Word of Ferdinand being chosen to compete in the White Heron Cup carried on the breeze, and if that wasn’t enough, he danced whenever he could from that moment on.
“Congratulations are in order, from what I hear.” He topped the flower tower off with another pinch of petals and a bit of grass. For garnish. “You’re in the running to be the official Garreg Mach dancer!”
With a grin from Ferdinand blooming like that, it was good the flowers weren’t at their peak. Wouldn’t want nature getting envious! Ferdinand didn’t pay any heed to his white gloves as he plucked up some petals to add to the stack. Waves of bright orange hair fell into his face while he looked over the results of their teamwork and once again, Claude had to give it to Hubert—his crush made sense. He had such a discerning eye, just like the heir to House Aegir himself said those moons ago.
“Truth be told, I am quite nervous. I talked myself up to the professor, and I attended practice with them, but still,” He sat up to sigh, being considerate to the heap of petals. “I cannot shake this feeling.”
“Huh.” Claude leaned on one knee to prop his head on a hand more easily. Not like Lorenz was around to get flustered and correct him in that endearingly nagging way of his. “Did you try dancing with someone?”
“Oh, no,” he admitted in a hurry, “we are to be tested on our own skill.”
“Ferdinand, Ferdinand,” Claude teased, straightening up and brushing his gold cape off to the side again. Lying around wasn’t as easy as he wished it was. “It’s not cheating when leading someone in a dance is all part of the art.” With a half-shrug, he added, “Besides, what can you focus on when you’ve got no one in your arms? Probably just how worried you are.”
Ferdinand gave it a moment and stared thoughtfully at him. Before long, that trademark cheeriness was back in full force. If Ferdinand wasn’t such an overachiever making everyone else look downright lazy, his expressiveness would be his real claim to greatness.
“You present a good argument, Claude.”
Perfectly timed, if he thought so himself, Claude answered that compliment with a wink. “Of course I do. What you need is a partner!” He might’ve been too ready to look to the arched entrance by the gazebo, though. It helped that he knew what was coming. More accurately, who. “And who should wander over but just the man we need? Hubert!”
Hubert never believed in coincidences, but that squint as Claude waved him and Lorenz over showed exactly how skeptical he was of this one in particular. Didn’t help that Claude only called out to him either. The time to be subtle was long gone now that the academy’s latest couple shared their first kiss. Lorenz swore himself to secrecy on any details from Ferdinand outside of that, sure, but he knew better than to bother trying to hide the kiss from Claude. A match well-made like that? He’d never have rested until he knew how it panned out.
They walked up to join them and for a second, Ferdinand glanced bashfully to the flowers. A fact Hubert missed by quirking an eyebrow at Claude. Which he ignored, true to form. If he let every grumpy or off-putting thing Hubert did bother him, well, Claude couldn’t be his friend. That wasn’t worth missing out on. Gesturing to Ferdinand, he put his idea out there.
“You up for a dance with our dashing Ferdinand? He’s got a case of the nerves before the White Heron Cup.”
“Isn’t that to your benefit? We are competing, after all.”
Oh, Hubert and his natural pessimism. He worried about the guy living like that. Before he could say that, Ferdinand stood and took matters into his own hands.
“All the same, I—” He stopped, clearing his throat when he really didn’t need to, proving that poor Ferdinand wasn’t immune to nervousness. Even if it didn’t do much more than stall him at best. “I would very much enjoy a dance with you, I think. If you are as well, of course! It would be ungentlemanly to—”
Hubert forgot himself long enough to chuckle, softening his frown. “Take a breath, Ferdinand.”
What a world it was when Ferdinand did just that on nothing but Hubert’s advice. He took a careful breath in, letting that exhale out slowly—after which Hubert offered his hand. Claude gave a not-so-subtle thumbs up to Lorenz when he saw that happen. He expected the Empire’s scariest shadow to make an attempt to boss them both out of the gazebo area, but he had his priorities straight. Lorenz, of course, was too much of a romantic to do anything other than beam at Claude over the suave display. To think how far he’d come from how he reacted to the gauntlet present!
“I would be delighted,” Hubert assured Ferdinand like not another soul was there.
“Perfect!” Leaping to his feet, Claude ducked behind the nearly barren tree to produce a lute. He skipped back out in no time to ask Lorenz, “Did you bring the piccolo?”
Pressing the tips of his fingers to his chest, Lorenz radiated that principled pride he loved to reach for. “But of course!”
A full 13 centimeters taller than Ferdinand, his dance partner stood over him at the ideal height. It was not that he required a taller partner or that it made leading him particularly easy… But Ferdinand found he had an appreciation for those green eyes looking down at him so much more warmly than he ever would have believed before. All that was behind them. In place of that tension and bickering were new memories of kisses in that cozy clearing.
“Hubert,” he tried to speak only to him as Claude and Lorenz coordinated their song for what they quite clearly knew to expect. “Did you plan this?”
“Our musicians did, I believe.” They got situated with an ease Ferdinand did and did not feel. His right hand rested on the lower part of Hubert’s pronounced shoulder blade as though it belonged there. Their hands clasped with a balanced give that would permit them to communicate without speaking as dancers were expected to. They had not taken a single step and already, Ferdinand’s heart began beating somewhat faster!
“Lorenz lured me here by saying you had asked for me at the gazebo,” Hubert began, that hushed quality to his voice striking him as intimate all of a sudden, “which didn’t appear overly suspicious. Meanwhile, Claude kept you here for our arrival.” Unsurprisingly, it was easier to collect himself when Hubert faced away to their companions. “Either one could have kept you company, but I would be notably less suspicious of your childhood friend relaying a message than this trickster masquerading as house leader.”
Claude waved, indifferent to having been there all along. “You’re welcome, Hubert!”
That gold bead in his hair caught a glimmer of late sunlight while he grinned. Ferdinand had to confess, a surge of gratitude swelled in his chest at all the effort he must have put into this. For their benefit! He would have to bake him some sweet treats to express how thankful he was.
The music started especially for the two of them, and more innately than he thought he might, Ferdinand led his partner in the dance. Hubert complied with his silent directions smoothly. A gentle pressure against his back encouraged him to move into the turn with Ferdinand as the gazebo garden colored the world behind them. It could have been a grand ballroom for all the warmth and light burning his heart! More than all his precious, fragile daydreams as a boy of one day having a love no house of nobility would approve felt entirely within reach. He had to repeat a mantra in his mind that this was an altogether inappropriate time to tear up over a dream realized.
At the final stage, he did hesitate. “I—I am not certain I can dip you.”
“Not yet,” Hubert encouraged him in two simple words. When had that become so natural and right? “I’ve a substitute until then.”
Taking his hand from Ferdinand’s arm, he guided him to tilt his head back with only a single finger bent beneath his chin. It was Ferdinand who then let himself be led to what he had longed for since that one teatime kiss. Hubert’s lips were precisely as warm as he recalled them being. No opera or hopeless dreaming could ever live up to an experience so tender and magical as Hubert, who once was his harshest critic, choosing to share this beautiful wonder with him. With the approval of their friends, no less! Their clasped hands naturally came apart so they could hold one another, and another kiss followed with a whistle from Claude.
They took this as a reasonable sign to stop the music. Ferdinand didn’t know if this practice dance would soothe him at the competition or make him blush. Frankly, he did not care in the slightest when it meant he could feasibly share kisses with Hubert more often! An eternal moment passed with only smiles shared between them and still, he could not convince his heart to do anything less than flutter and soar.
“I love you,” he said on a breath and instantly felt a heat rise in his cheeks. “Oh! I had not intended… That was too soon, was it not?”
“No.” Hubert brushed his hand through the shorter side of Ferdinand’s hair and kept his heart in the balance of that silence. “I love you as well.”
“Lorenz,” Claude questioned from where they sat together, “are you crying?”
As one, they turned to their friends and held hands with fingers intertwined so lightly as to feel imagined. Ferdinand was there with Hubert’s hand in his, and he could barely believe it! The change did allow him to see firsthand that his childhood friend from the Alliance was moved to tears. For easily the hundredth time, he did wonder why Lorenz felt compelled to conceal his poetic pastimes when he was so in tune with the finer moments of the heart.
“What else could be expected of me? They are so affectionate and doting,” Lorenz explained with a dignified sniff and dabbed his eyes with a rose embroidered kerchief.
“We benefitted very much from the involvement of our beloved friends,” Ferdinand said from the bottom of his heart. Their devotion to bringing them together was unnoticed in certain aspects, that was true, but he would never suffer them thinking it went unappreciated!
“Hear that, Hubert?” Unconventional in most regards, Claude sat on the back of the bench beside Lorenz and planted his feet on the seat of it. “I did good work.”
As a close second to their first semi-public kiss, the noticeable smile that got from Hubert would remain captured for all eternity in Ferdinand’s soul. That emotional honesty, so novel and meaningful, had more value than any and all secrets his role as Imperial minister contained.
“That you did,” he agreed with such impact as only Hubert could deliver in so few words.