A Burden Carried | FE3H Fanfiction

Word count: 1600 (3 to 13 minutes) | Rating: T | Note: Fire Emblem: Three Houses Spoilers and Non-Graphic Violence | Characters: Edelgard, Hubert and Hubert’s Father

“You knew the cost when you made the choice,” his father spoke flatly, with no more interest than if he were discussing the price of Noa fruit. Forcibly straightened hair hung close to his neck and disappeared behind a tall collar. He loomed over the two of them even after Hubert’s latest growth spurt. Slices of sunlight broke up their journey through the secluded tower stairway, seemingly reluctant to touch the repugnant excuse for a human being at the head of their procession.

Rupert von Vestra led him by the forearm to the uppermost floor. For once, he was compliant. Any fight Hubert put up now would only distress Lady Edelgard further.

In less than ten short years, the man before him would be a mangled corpse as he deserved and Emperor Ionius IX would carry out her coronation.

Whatever occurred in the meantime was nothing.

Despite her smaller stride, she kept pace with them as her voice echoed through the stairwell. Already, she had a commanding tone suitable of her leadership capacity.

“I’m the one who took the axe to it,” she insisted, and he could guess what she referred to. Some contraption of their unwanted guests, no doubt. Edelgard was no longer confined to the basement of the Enbarr palace, but she knew the general whereabouts of the devices that claimed the lives and sanity of her siblings. How could she be expected not to destroy them? “The punishment is mine to bear.”

“That was not the agreement,” Lord Vestra reminded her, shoving Hubert towards the heavy wooden door at the far side of the landing.

“Because I never agreed to this.” She made an excellent point in the awareness that it fell on deaf ears. Rupert had chosen ignorance and oppression at the Insurrection. He was not moved by his conscience to make the correct choice before the Hresvelgs perished due to his betrayal, and her argument would not sway him now.

Hubert gripped the pitted ring handle and twisted it to open the door in an overwrought routine. This was not his father’s preferred training chamber, although he’d seen it on several occasions. The devices and tools within were no mystery. As such, what was there to fear? His arm ached with an outline of the elder Vestra’s hand while Hubert led them into the room. Without another choice, Edelgard joined them.

The door sat open behind her. At this distance from the main castle, no one would hear what was to come. None but who was intended to witness this all along. Her hardened blue eyes rested on Hubert at last, and those bangs washed white by experimentation framed her knowing gaze.

“You were warned.” His father carried on in the indifference of a man who did not realize or acknowledge that his every act brought him only closer to an agonizing end. His gloved hand closed around the cane in complete ignorance of Hubert’s own machinations. Ones that would far exceed the treachery he crafted with the Prime Minister Ludwig.

“Those are not the same!” Edelgard attempted again to force him to reason, more willing than Hubert was to believe the capacity for that still existed in his predecessor.

“It’s quite alright, Lady Edelgard.” Hubert turned to her with a measured bow. Let Rupert see his resolve and integrity in service to the person he cared about. That would be all the warning he would get of a fate carefully crafted over the course of years. “You’ll find my father is entirely incapable of refraining from targeting those who are unable to defend themselves as of yet.”

The horror that compressed Hubert’s chest when he heard of Lady Edelgard being taken to Fhirdiad was a fraction of what his father would suffer. The ferocity with which he fought the soldiers sent to reclaim Hubert was a mere fragment of what would be brought to bear on this man. He who escorted no less than ten Hresvelg descendants to the grave and readied an early one for the sole survivor… He would know pain beyond description.

“I will add that insolence to your punishment.”

Savage delight took root in his chest so acutely that Hubert did almost grin. A caning was punishment from the uninventive and short-sighted. Oh, how Rupert would yearn for something so innocent. He straightened himself to stare through the fetid wretch he once called father.

“Such is your nature.”

As with all oppressors, he did not even attempt to meet Hubert where he might win. There would be no answer to his cutting mockery. A firm hand shoved him to his knees. He’d barely been there a moment before the first blow struck, signaled by a whipping sound as the thin cane came down.

“Stop! Stop this instant,” Edelgard ordered from where she stood. Good. If she used violence to stop Rupert, she would surely succeed. A fragile ego like his would interpret that as a slight, not the obvious evidence of his ineptitude it truly was.

He did not count. Knowing the quantity had a magnifying effect and, at his lowest, imbued false hope of a finite end to the cruelty. Hubert knew better than to anticipate a limit to what his father might do. He would not be foolish enough to be twice deceived by someone so contemptible. Distantly, the whipping sound blurred with the ringing in his ears. The shallow disassociation he mustered served him well. Hubert could hear his surroundings, in case Rupert revealed something valuable during the beating. The marks already forming under his shirt were far away, however. They did little more than tingle in his willfully removed state of mind.

And when the cane clattered to the stone table, full awareness rushed back to greet Hubert. Its claws dug into his back, raw and aching, but he could not afford to miss anything that may prove useful against Rupert and his inhuman allegiances. His head spun while he breathed through his nose to trick his body into remaining steady and sure. If he were reeling like he felt he was, the beating would have resumed for his display of weakness unfit for a royal guardian and agent of House Vestra.

“Clean up after your lady.” The command from Lord Vestra was cold and empty. Delivered by an imitation of a leader, one who was used to being obeyed by habit as opposed to merit. Furthermore, it was wholly useless. Every Vestra knew that when they were penalized on behalf of their sworn leader, they would also be tasked with restoring the chambers for its next use. Wipe up blood, remove stains, return tools to their proper place, and leave it perfect in every aspect—or risk returning for a repetition of the prior visit.

He was in no rush to respond. As the taut silence drew out, Hubert deigned to offer him yet another thinly veiled promise.

“You may count on it.”

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On a Whim | FE3H Huleth Fanfiction

Word count: 2200 (3 to 17 minutes) | Rating: G | Fire Emblem: Three Houses | Characters: Hubert von Vestra and Byleth Eisner (Huleth)

The professor should have said no. It would have been wise. Someone with more charm would be better suited to represent the Black Eagles in the White Heron Cup. True, he would be in the student uniform for the competition, and he only had to concern himself with the dancer attire in the rare and unlikely event that he won. But it would be ordeal enough to be paraded about a dance floor to demonstrate skills he developed only as much as was strictly necessary. For the courtly duties associated with his rank, Hubert was capable of dancing without injuring his partner inadvertently and little else.

Yet the professor was adamant that he be their representative. If Hubert were to be honest with himself, he didn’t offer much resistance. He even agreed to practice with instruction from the professor in the same sunny field as the other White Heron representatives. Had it been left up to him, he could list at least three secure and private locations where he might make a fool of himself without commentary from his peers at Garreg Mach. Somehow, he recommended not one of them and instead walked from his quarters to the agreed upon location for dance practice as instructed.

“To think I’d be rehearsing dance moves, of all things,” Hubert said in lieu of a more standard greeting, joining Byleth by the small field neighboring the hall where the White Heron Ball would be hosted. He remained unsure how to feel about being witnessed in such a frivolous practice, but… He agreed to shoulder this burden. A shame that the pressure of giving orders in combat did nothing to prepare one for scrutiny, real and imagined, from other students. The one convenience was that the grounds were unseasonably warm for winter.

“You must have some advice, Professor?”

“Slight stretching will help if you’ve been still for a long time.” He had just been studying in his quarters, in a manner of speaking. What he was researching was not for any class Garreg Mach would dare to host, but it was a study session nonetheless. He would call it uncanny insight if it wasn’t so reasonable an assumption for her to make of his habits. “Watch and learn.”

Bending into a partial lunge, she raised her hands palm out and nodded to him.

Ah. He was to mirror her, then. Surely, he could do that much.

Hubert planted one foot behind him as Byleth had and bent his knee somewhat as he did so. More than the professor, of course, given she was shorter than him. His gloved hands met some resistance in hers to mimic the communicative resistance found in partner dancing. Not that any student on the field had someone dancing with them.

She watched him, something unknown hidden in the recesses of her cerulean eyes. He felt strongly that this suggested duality within her nature was one he could not trust, but also one that intrigued him. What did Lady Edelgard see in their professor that he could not place? There had to be value there to encourage her interest. It wouldn’t be the first circumstance where Edelgard sensed something more acutely than Hubert had, and it was the not knowing that was proving to be a source of frustration for him.

“The other foot now,” Byleth noted, and they both stood to switch with innate synchronization.

Irritated though Hubert might be, he had to admit that they coordinated well. That contributed to his unease at times, in fact. Few understood him well no matter how much time they were granted to do so. To be so clearly read in less than a year after their first meeting… Hubert frowned.

“Don’t overthink it.” An absence of expression made his professor rather difficult to read. To make matters worse, an especially unhelpful layer of sweat had gathered in the palm of his glove. The way the human body reacted to social stress for maximum inefficiency both mystified and exasperated Hubert. Did he not have enough to consider as it was? He corrected his expression to neutrality even so.

“I will be sure to reflect on that.”

After a few repetitions, they ended their stretches so as to avoid doing too much before he was limber enough not to risk injury. Hubert aimed to avoid a tragic accident during the contest, not arrange for one during the much-needed lessons. However tempting it might be when he considered dancing in front of the judges alongside Lorenz and Mercedes.

“Very good. Ready to start?”

“I know I agreed to do what I can,” Hubert ventured, suddenly plagued by the old ghosts of self-consciousness more common in his childhood. He looked out at his other practicing classmates and reasoned he could be no worse than any of them. Feasibly. “But I must warn you that my dancing skills are rudimentary. I learned only what was required of me as a noble.”

That extent of knowledge was only right. Lady Edelgard could not be seen with an incompetent servant in any regard.

“I disagree.”

With no notable inflection or shift in her stare once he did glance back to her, Hubert had no way to know what she meant by that. He knew well that her selection of him as the White Heron contestant wasn’t due to no one else desiring the role—Ferdinand was practically making pamphlets to plead for his aspirations—but Hubert never put stock in the idea that she might have true faith in his ability to excel here. With his eyebrows raised, he had no option but to ask for more information from Byleth.

“Excuse me?”

“Mages need dexterity to cast spells. It’s not so different with dance.” The explanation she offered was logically sound. Hubert had no objection to it, and she evidently took that silence as agreement. Stepping back to observe from the stone path beside the field, the professor gestured for him to begin his rehearsal. “Practice the steps you know.”

Hubert took a deep breath and raised his arms to the proper placement: one hand poised as if holding another’s in it and the other, resting at the imaginary shoulder blade of his partner. He felt distinctly ridiculous. Years of training in extracting information from unwilling sources and striking fear into the hearts of adversaries by mere name made for a poor foundation in warding off this brand of anxiety. Drawing up his posture, he stepped out with a solid position for his foot and trailed the other with practiced routine. Not artful, perhaps, but workable. It was all he needed for the time being. Dipping his imagined partner, he bent one knee and straightened the other. All while feeling her gaze on him as surely as if the Luna spell loomed over him.

That smothering stare added to how strangely difficult the mock dance was while staring at patches of grass and gravel. Particularly so as other students also carried out their dance steps to best represent their classes. Or simply to be part of the experience, he supposed, for those students who went through the motions alone. Two nosy children in his peripheral stood by the professor and watched him as well, leaving Hubert with an audience of three that made the hair on his neck stand up from the observation.

When he straightened again, he met Byleth’s eyes and furrowed his brow. She looked as steady as ever—yet he felt an unspoken understanding had been conveyed.

“Would a partner help you get the hang of this, Hubert?”

“Yes, undoubtedly,” he answered without hesitation or realizing his mistake until she stepped into the place of that imagined person.

He had to adjust his pose. She was 24 centimeters shorter than him, although approximately the same height as the person he imagined. A fact he didn’t care to introspect on too closely. Her hand slipped into his with as much effortlessness as his hand fit against her shoulder blade beneath her cape. Why his hand had guided itself under that layer, he could only wonder at. Meanwhile, the tension in his chest clamped down for entirely separate reasons from beforehand.

Hubert futilely wished those children would be called away to their tasks by whoever they worked for at Garreg Mach.

Before anything so merciful could take place, Byleth put her hand on his shoulder. He had his cue to begin the dance anew. His pulse pounded in his temples but memory through repetition came to his rescue. Having a dance partner did smooth out his process as well. His steps were crisper, and the need to direct his professor with light pressure between their clasped hands and against her back gave him a purpose to center his focus on. One that was not the distinct magnetism of a partner who moved with him more smoothly than any other noble he had been forced to endure at various Imperial celebrations.

“You’re graceful.”

Her voice nearly startled him on account of being so mired in thought himself. And here Hubert was recently warned not to overthink matters. They went into another turn—he decided against the dip in light of his inability to remain unaffected—as he formed his miserable excuse of an answer.

“I deliver better results in my work that way.”

“Stay out of your head,” Byleth cut to the quick of the situation and he scowled once again. What ever became of that legendary ability to conceal his innermost thoughts? They stood in the starting position of the dance by chance with Hubert thinking only of the various places they touched.

Now, at 20 years old, he was fixated on the closeness to someone he found maddeningly compelling. Like he was nothing more than a fickle teenager ruled by his whims. As he let out another impatient sigh, the professor did afford him a shadow of a smile.

“Father once said a dance is a conversation.”

“Did he now?” In his skepticism was the implication that choice of wording was unusual for a seasoned former captain in the Knights of Seiros and hardened mercenary.

“He was drunk.”

“How illuminating.” That did get a smirk from him. It did sound markedly more like the severely indebted Blade Breaker, leaving staggering unpaid balances at taverns in his wake. Alois truly needed to leave this grown man to handle his own issues.

“I think he had a point,” Byleth returned to the subject she had in mind. He may finally have lost any semblance of control of his faculties, but he swore he could see an almost indistinguishable trace of pink to her cheeks. “Talk with me.”

He swallowed thickly and began wordlessly. Hubert could not speak. There was no telling what he might say, if anything, were he to try. Where prolonged eye contact would normally be something to weaponize against an unwanted presence near Lady Edelgard, there was an unplaceable comfort and intimacy to it between himself and the professor. One that stayed his heart at last despite the riots breaking out in his mind.

Every logical argument he’d employed against trusting the professor buckled under the overwhelming strength of their instinctive synergy. He had absolutely no capacity to prevent himself from lowering her into the dip that time, layered hair brushing past her shoulders to give him a clear view of the white buttoned collar against a slender, scarred neck. By archer’s bow or unfortunate mishap, he could not know without confessing to the lingering stare she must have noticed.

The professor’s astute perceptions of him all but guaranteed he had been discovered. Yet she did not object or appear horrified. Hubert did not have the advantage of her insight and therefore, had no knowledge on her reaction whatsoever. The reasons that did not sit well with him were admittedly not what they should have been. He longed to know not solely for greater security or intelligence on their enigmatic professor. No, he wished to know merely because it was her.

In the moment they straightened to their starting pose again, the dance was finished and his opportunity, gone. She removed her hand from his and he suppressed the twinge of regret as he withdrew his own hands to hang uselessly at his side. Leaving her gauntleted hand on his shoulder, Byleth gave it an affirming squeeze Hubert had not expected.

“I enjoyed our chat.”

He blinked. The chat? It was shameful, honestly, how long it took him to realize she referred to the ‘talk’ that was their dance. Worse, to have it sink in what she must have heard from him if her father’s description of a dance was at all accurate.

“Yes. Yes, I—” Hubert stalled, feeling warmth rising to his cheeks as the final curse against him and this entirely unbelievable circumstance he found himself in. Clearing his throat in a failed recovery, he cast his eyes to the grass at their feet and gave one iota of honesty. There would be no disguising it no matter what the tactical choice might be. “As did I.”

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Coffee Date | FE3H Huleth Fanfiction

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.

“Of course.”

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.

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A Union of Kings | FE3H Fanfiction

Word count: 1500 (3 to 12 minutes) | Rating: T | Fire Emblem: Three Houses Spoilers | Characters: Dimitri Alexandre Blaiddyd and Claude von Riegan (Dimiclaude)

Residing at Fódlan’s Locket for the summit with Almyra, it was easy to forget what brought the fortress into being. It was well-regarded as a bulwark, Dimitri knew, yet he could only find beauty in the surrounding landscape. Even the rocky cliffs that added to its natural defenses also contributed to its serene aesthetic. Wooden bridges provided breathtaking views and a calm sway that unnerved some, but soothed Dimitri. As sole king of a newly united nation, he had been told much about what to expect from the Almyran party sent to negotiate peace with Fódlan. Their customs, what they deemed offensive, how they dressed, all down to the tea they liked despite the dining menu not being his to oversee. His advisors and close companions would leave nothing to chance in the name of avoiding more war in their lifetime.

No one, of course, was expecting their old classmate Claude. The last they’d seen of him was in Derdriu. At the close of his particularly optimistic plan, if one could call it that, he had the typical brazen levity to call them soft-hearted suckers for coming to his aid. Then he proceeded to disband the Leicester Alliance with nearly as much aplomb. Dimitri smiled at the memory, crossing a bridge with Claude as a chance to stretch their legs during a rare break in negotiations.

“I vowed I would not let you die that day in the Aquatic Capital,” Dimitri interrupted their silence, speech being every bit as comfortable as quiet between them. Claude glanced his way, a new helix hoop piercing catching waning sunlight as he turned. “And as I recall, you chastised me for my lateness. Yet I was so relieved to find you were safe.”

“Hey, no one made you drag your feet to snatch me from the jaws of death! Hilda really let me have it for leaving her to defend the bridge,” Claude shook his head and answered in plainly false despair. Their unbreakable bond was legend in the former Alliance. He was very likely to be the only individual in all of Fódlan and beyond who could get Hilda Valentine Goneril to stand as a second to last line of defense in a risky battle.

He stopped on the bridge and Dimitri did as well, looking over the lush valley as Claude raised a hand to hold the rope at the bridge’s edge.

“When you left that day…” He sighed, stepping forward to be at Claude’s side. Perhaps it was strange, but the edge of that sentence brought more apprehension to him than the precipice so close to his feet. “I thought I might never see you again.”

Another rarity graced Dimitri as he faced Claude, watching him as he came forward. His smile warmed and reached all the way to his eyes at last. He’d been grinning, smirking, smiling, and trading out expressions in that vein all meeting long without exhaustion, and not one had been sincere until then. The light of it was more of a comfort than any cloudless afternoon he ever encountered.

“Oh, come on, Your Majesty! Like I could leave you to run Fódlan all by yourself.” Almost together, Claude and Dimitri looked out past the mossy stones and dirt paths winding through the grounds of Fódlan’s Locket. Much like the two of them, the people of Fódlan’s party and that of Almyra mingled to mixed effect. Peace took time. The others present did not share the understanding Dimitri and Claude did as former classmates. Here, on the bridge together, there were no princes or kings present. All that was missing was Claude’s braid from his youth, although there was no polite way to mention that he missed it. “And you have my loyalty. No matter what happens in our future.”

“Our future?”

Royalty often referred to themselves in the plural first person, representing their nation in the very pronoun “we”. Claude had never done so before. It struck him as unusual to begin the tradition during their time alone together. But what else could he mean?

“I’d like to unite Almyra with Fódlan.” He rested another hand on the rope, bringing that smile to bear on Dimitri once more. Claude gave no sign that he knew how impactful that expression was. But who ever could say what the Master Tactician chose to show or not? “For that, I need you.”

“You are—” This must be it for his mind. After hours of debate and negotiation and returning to debate to re-negotiate, Dimitri was obviously burnt out beyond reason. But he could not dismiss the idea that Claude was recommending a unification of a whole new kind. “You can’t be proposing…?”

“Even I can’t answer a question that doesn’t have an end.” That wink broke through his defenses as accurately as Failnaught itself. Wherever he went, there were aspects of Claude that did not change, at least. It was very hard on Dimitri that it happened to be the habits that melted his knees outright.

“Ah, no. Never mind.”

“Oh? Oh,” he pitched that second one higher in recognition. Dimitri hoped vainly that his fluster was invisible to the man beside him, an impossible wish. Claude rested a hand on his hip and gave an appraising stare in his direction. “Huh. That would be the fastest way to go about it. I didn’t think you’d be interested.”

“I apologize, Claude, I read into your meaning and I should not have. Please, you are under no obligation.”

The insistence might have been firmer if Dimitri weren’t straining to look as though he were pitiable enough to show mercy to. Truly, he did not know if he could take it should anyone but them at the negotiation table became aware of this moment. All he could hope for was that Claude would forget this talk altogether and never mention it to anyone. Why did this keep happening to Dimitri, no matter how he grew?

“I’m glad you did. How else would I know that you’re interested in marrying me?”

“Claude,” he pleaded, embarrassed already. Burying his face in his hands would not remedy that and that was the only reason he didn’t resort to it.

“There’s nothing to be shy about, Dimitri.” Strategic as always, Claude knew precisely what to say to restore his confidence in the exchange. He had wanted the titles and formality gone long ago, he supposed. But it meant more that his companion chose this exact time to do away with all the forms of address that came with the throne. “In fact, you should be proud! You’re realizing two of my dreams in one fell swoop.”

Taking his hand from the rope, Claude offered it instead to Dimitri. The hearth-like glow of the late afternoon sun caught the richer browns in his hair, lighting the depths of green eyes more precious than jade with greater life in them than entire valleys and glades.

“If that could prove true,” he began, resting his gloved hand in Claude’s own. Secretly, Dimitri hoped he may one day do so more directly. “It would be my pleasure.”

“And speaking of pleasure,” Claude started and summoned an impish smirk that Dimitri recognized only too much. His shock was at the eagerness he felt at the sight rather than nervousness over what was to come. He reached up with his other hand to cup Dimitri’s face, brushing a thumb over the cheek below his eyepatch. A twinge of regret twisted in his stomach only to be drowned out in elation. “Might I have this kiss?”

In a peaceful oasis so vast, Dimitri truly believed he would never find its limits, he discovered the strength to speak his honest feelings.

“Yes. Of course.”

A new side to Claude appeared again, fond and almost fragile in his hope, as he closed the distance between them until their lips were only just out of reach. Suddenly, all of Sylvain’s silly romance novels carried renewed meaning. Those scant centimeters were impossibly large and entranced him utterly.

“I’ll need you to lean down, Dimitri.”

As surely as he’d been struck, Dimitri jumped. How could he be so foolish? At least Sylvain would never come to hear of it. He had his ammunition with the dagger incident.

“Ah! Yes. My apol—”

Once he’d done as he agreed to, Claude pressed a tender kiss to his lips. He felt his own scars across Claude’s and closed his eyes to cling to this new terrain. Perhaps… The remainder of these negotiations would not need as much of his undivided attention. Dimitri suspected a certain Almyran king would be distracting him periodically when they reconvened—whether he meant to or not.

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A Dark Duty Upheld | FE3H Fanfiction

Word count: 4800 (10 to 38 minutes) | Rating: T | Fire Emblem: Three Houses Spoilers| Characters: Hubert von Vestra and the Black Eagles Students (and minor OCs)

Alister had always been among the slighter boys of the Hresvelg line. His twin, Armida, shared more of Lady Edelgard’s constitution than he did. Their comparison was only made simpler by the one year between the twins and the younger Edelgard. Somehow, Alister had outlasted his twin sister in the experiments regardless. Hubert waited by the cell door, watching his diminished, pale form asleep on the cot. His hair was nearly indistinguishable from his skin even in the dim cell.

The inhuman creatures who invaded the Enbarr palace undercroft and warped it for their sinister ends had decreed that Alister was no longer useful for experimentation. His identity had eroded way to a meaningless swirl of his own recollections and the past evidently stored within the Crest they forced upon him. They told Hubert very little directly, but he had excelled in espionage for many years by then. He rarely required telling to know.

Therefore, when he uncovered their plans to dispose of Alister as indifferently as one would with expired supplies, Hubert inserted himself into the plan. His father refused the very thought but was outmatched by Solon. His conclusion was that it would be beneficial for Hubert to execute a child of House Hresvelg. Whether for mockery, leverage, or simply to cause him pain, Hubert couldn’t say. Neither did it much matter. He achieved what he aimed to: a merciful passing for a descendent of the Imperial throne from someone who knew him well.

Alister’s sleep was not restful if his breathing was any indication, yet it was better than none at all. Hubert could afford to allow him that much. For what must be done next, any amount of waiting was acceptable.

And wait he did. The poison had already dissolved into the warm Hresvelg blend tea, and cooling would not reverse that. Beside that plain porcelain teacup was a sweet bun, which Hubert had been careful to instruct the palace cooks in making for Lady Edelgard. The recipe came from Faerghus through Hubert’s burgeoning network. Knowing Alister’s sweet tooth as he did and being confident it was unchanged, he was certain he would enjoy the light meal as his last. No sense in making him nauseous from overeating in his final moments.

“Ngh,” Alister groaned, tensing in his sleep. There was no pillow and merely a sparse sheet beneath him to clutch in the thralls of whatever plagued his dreams. Illness claimed Armida; madness had come for Alister. Twisting to face Hubert and drawing his legs in, he forced out a breath as if he’d been kicked. “No, ah—”

He startled awake, panting for a while until his breathing steadied. Only then did he squint into the shadows beyond the bars and see Hubert with the silver serving tray.

“Who…? Ah, yes.” Alister’s shoulders gradually fell, and he took a minute to get himself seated at the cot’s edge. He lifted his head to examine him as a familiar stranger. “Hu…bert…?” He was unsure. Inquiring. Still, it was the most lucid he’d been in days. A fortunate state of mind for the arbitrary day of execution chosen by his captors.

“Yes. You must be hungry,” he ventured, lifting the tray as a gesture. There was little chance he wasn’t, but that wasn’t the true question. Hubert had to be sure his clarity was lasting before he entered the cell with him. In his bouts of madness, Alister was inhumanly strong and blindly aggressive. Hubert could manage that but preferred a comfortable end for him. Failing in his defense of Lady Edelgard’s family… The least he could deliver was a peaceful and painless death.

“And you snuck food down here for me? You must be very quiet.” Alister was quiet himself, lowering his gaze to the floor. “Did you get some to the others?”

“Of course.” He had, in some cases. At least recently, although not tonight.

“How is she? That girl who shared my birthday?” Armida’s name was lost to him while her connection to him endured in the barest sense. Considering their closeness as twins, that lapse in memory proved the devastation that blood reconstruction surgery could visit upon the psyche. Not for Lady Edelgard, of course. She retained perfect awareness throughout this depraved cruelty. That outcome being the better of the two was telling.

“As well as could be expected.” He’d been informed of Armida’s passing twice before to unmatched despair, at which time Hubert resolved to omit that fact in future inquiries. Twice was too many as it was.

“I don’t suppose you have the keys?”

“I do.” Hubert held open his cloak to reveal the black keys on his belt. Normally, they were not so accessible. It scarcely mattered when he was visiting the cells of the undercroft. He was the sole person there with restricted access.

Kronya meant to make his acquisition of the keys into a game of some sort, as she derived the most amusement from tormenting him, but Thales had strictly forbid it. Not that the vile creature himself was present at the time. Solon enforced the decree more from impatience than any true loyalty. Even slight devotion couldn’t be expected from these twisted beasts.

“You do?” Raising his head again at last, Alister appeared almost hopeful. An ache stirred distantly in the depths of Hubert’s heart at the sight. With a deliberate breath, he quelled that sentiment. There would be time for remorse when the deed was done. It was one matter to wait so Alister could rest and another to give Solon a chance to reverse his decision while Hubert labored over his feelings. “No point in escaping, is there?”

“…I’m afraid not.” The disorientation and lapses in his own memories caused by the experimentation did not lend him strong stability even within his own cell. Alister would likely be overcome by madness in this very hallway even if he were released. Or worse, slaughtered in his escape attempt by the very same despicable creatures that Hubert shielded him from.

His thoughtful pause was brief, and he held his gaze on Hubert by coincidence alone. He may as well have been a stretch of wall for the exhaustion in Alister’s eyes.

“Could you come in with me? Stay while I eat?”

“Gladly.” He steadied the tray with practiced skill as he turned the key in the lock. It moved smoothly, well-maintained in its misuse against the Hresvelg heirs. There was no table in the cell, not with the lone overturned crate acting as a seat for Alister’s impromptu guest. Even necessities such as that were at the silent insistence of Hubert. There was no one else with access to these cells that would move any semblance of furniture into them.

“Thank you,” Alister sighed, scooting back to rest against the wall. His haggard state left him with little energy when he was consumed by the power of the Crest rewritten in his blood. Unlike his twin sister, his symptoms were understated aside from his colorless hair. Closer examination showed he struggled to keep his eyes open, and his nails were especially brittle. He was less fit than he had been — hardly a surprise on account of the twins never keeping still for long — but he retained some of his usual bearing as he crossed his legs and smirked.

“The honor is mine.” Hubert knew his company didn’t have enough memory of him to recognize that as stiffly formal, even by his standards. That presented him the opportunity to express anything to Alister he might wish to say before there was no other chance to. Hubert sat on the crate and set the tray down on his legs for convenience. Barely into his teenage years, his height was more awkward than useful as of yet. It had its moments, such as long legs serving for a stable surface. The bun from the platter was sticky to the touch from its honeyed glaze as he passed it to Alister with instructions. “Eat this slowly.”

“What is it?” True to his core nature, Alister accepted the offering anyway, seeming to test the spongy texture not typical of denser Adrestian pastries.

“It’s sweet. I don’t care for it.”

“I can take it off your hands, then,” he flashed a weak grin and took a small bite. “Mm. It’s a light flavor.” Encouraged by that, Alister bit off more.

“You’ll make yourself sick.”

He wouldn’t be able to come back another time to lay Alister to rest. Solon gave him this date, and Hubert knew better than to expect an extension in light of their wrongful prisoner’s sensitive stomach.

Alister rolled his eyes despite doing as he was told and picking off a smaller bite. He rolled the piece between his fingers for a time, slipping into another distant stare.

“I keep seeing these memories… over and over when I sleep. There’s a canyon, red and rich with life until it just rips apart with blood. People are screaming. When it’s quiet, I hear the echoes.” He brought the denser bit of bun to his mouth as though it were bitter. Hubert held his tongue, although he was one of few who knew of the event. “And it just—it breaks me. They’re people I know. My people, I can feel it.” Pushing the flat of his palm against his chest, Alister grimaced. He and Armida alike had been ruled by their hearts. Even corrupted by experimentation, that remained.

By happenstance, Alister returned to the present to dwell on Hubert with glassy eyes and a trembling sigh.

“I get these other visions, and they feel real, but they’re not mine. They’re not me.” This time, he broke to tear off another piece of the bun and ate it almost from spite. This pace was better for him, even if he’d finished nearly half already. “I can half see their faces, catch a few words… I’d have dinner at this—”

With a frown, he glanced to the ceiling to remember his dreams. Hubert was well aware of what he was going to describe. He knew the table and family dinners better than he knew the various methods to kill an enemy in the dark.

Marius and Verona, the youngest and with common interests if contrasting personalities, talked among themselves when they failed to assert themselves in conversations of the older Hresvelg children. Edelgard was not so content to be overlooked and devotedly spoke with the two eldest, Laverna and Edmund. The twins riled up Berwyn and Reynard, who scarcely needed the provocation to act out in tandem. Lady Anselma and Emperor Ionius IX took turns reigning in whoever required it. Henrietta, the most inclined to maternal instinct, occasionally intervened where her parents did not. Margaretta reliably kept out of the mess altogether, however, she could be persuaded to converse now and again.

Hubert sat near Edelgard as always. The Hresvelg family was vast and loving, full of character without an ounce of seditious ambition.

He would never see them all gathered there again.

Hubert set his jaw and gripped the tray ever so slightly tighter as his permissible tell in Alister’s company. He noticed nothing, naturally. Gesturing with his hands to show the size of the table they both envisioned, he continued.

“This long table, and every seat was full. At least ten people all gathered around for a meal. It feels like—that was home too. It can’t be, it just can’t.”

Alister groaned, pressing the knuckles of his free hand to his forehead as his legs bent closer to his chest from primitive fear. Conflicting identities warred in his skull, and he was inevitably the victim of their feud. That fate could only be staved off with fleeting distraction.

“No need to trouble yourself with them, then.” Hubert kept his voice measured in his reply. He’d trained in doing so for years, and the earlier leniency afforded him more discipline where he needed it most. It would be a disgrace if he couldn’t speak with the necessary finality to imply there was no other choice but that which he gave.

“How…” Alister stalled by eating another piece, larger than the last but still of a suitable size. Equally tenuous and distraught, his brow staying furrowed while he chewed. Pain flickered across his eyes with a wince when he did elect to look at Hubert once more. “How can you be so sure?”

“Do you have any doubt the canyon is your home?”

Biting his lip, he turned the bun over in his hands and carefully examined it—a random inquisitive habit that influenced Hubert’s prior decision not to lace the bun with poison.

“…No.” Hesitation aside, he spoke with conviction and appeared to relax. Enough to take a small bite directly from the bun without comment from Hubert, even.

“Then it is.”

“But why can’t I remember it all?” He took out his aggression on the bun with a fierce bite, however aptly sized. Again, Hubert did not advise him to slow down. There wasn’t much bun left to prevent him from eating and to do so would only be stalling for his own benefit. “I can feel something hidden in my mind. I’m not imagining it.”

Alister had no way to know the missing information wasn’t in his mind, but his forced Crest, and it was rapidly driving him insane. Unstable. Hubert looked to the innocent-looking tea on the tray set on his lap. The surface was steady. It did not reflect the insidious tremor of regret and remorse already laying siege to his resolve. But there was no way to save Alister. No cure for his ailment. None but what lurked in the depths of that plain porcelain teacup. Hubert would do what he must to support the Hresvelg line, however abhorrent or deplorable. He swore that in the cell his father had hurled him into when he was captured after his attempt to flee to Fhirdiad. Regardless of if he wished there were another course of action, Hubert von Vestra would take on any task to best serve this family he held as his own.

“You’ve been through an ordeal, and you’re not finished with it yet.” He lifted the teacup and saucer from the tray, calm and sympathetic to the fracture in Alister’s psyche. The reassurance was vaguely worded so as to prevent another metaphorical collision in his brain. “It’s expected for there to be consequences.”

Reaching for the cup and leaving the saucer behind, Alister thought nothing of taking a sip straight away. The bun was light but doubtless better with a beverage to wash it down.

His mouth twisted into a disappointed pout. “Mm. A bit cold.”

“Forgive me.” Whether for the temperature of the tea or the present circumstances, the necessity of what he’d done… Hubert alone knew. He would bring that to his grave with the same tenacity that he upheld his fealty to the Hresvelgs in all matters. To include the courtesy of a humane death the survivors need never know the cause of.

Polishing off the bun, Alister examined the hall beyond Hubert thoughtfully. He seemed most like his former self with a renewed glimmer to his eyes. Truth be told, Hubert was glad for the parting glimpse. He didn’t want to remember another Hresvelg as he did Armida and the others claimed by these atrocities.

“It’s strange. Not the tea,” he added, fortunately not realizing how incorrect that addition was, “but these memories that aren’t mine and those that are missing.”

“Did you want to discuss it?” Hubert was all too aware that he would be at eternal rest before he finished. It was, as they said, the thought that counted. Whatever Alister wished to do, he would assent.

“No. I feel like I shouldn’t.” He offered an empty smile, washing that away with tea. A hard stare took its place and Hubert braced in preparation. The shift was subtle yet informative.

This was not how the memory of that evening went. Alister had drifted off with ease, his head falling against his chest mid-sentence. Hubert caught the cup before it shattered and returned everything where it belonged in the kitchen to leave no trace of what he’d done. What he’d been forced to do. He contained his grief to his quarters, long since capable of silencing his sorrow.

“I should be asking why you would kill me.”

“Hm?” An insipid chill entwined with his ribs, seeping into his chest, but he refused to let it show on his face. This was where the dream would turn to nightmare; Hubert knew that. None of this was real. He could exert his will on it by extension. That tactic hadn’t worked to date, and still, he never failed to reach for it.

The smooth stone cell warped as its edges, consumed by invasive clouds of a nameless black entity one could dismiss as shadows. Not Hubert, feeling his head begin to spin from the precognitive panic, but surely someone could.

Alister’s irises vanished to solid white eyes reminiscent of Thales, and black sludge bled jaggedly from the corners like scars. Hubert tried to command his legs to move, to stand and take him away from this cell to anywhere else in the confines of this familiar nightmare. It would change nothing. That Hubert refused to surrender to his fate acted a testimony to his character rather than any effective undertaking. Despite it all, he stayed locked in his seat on that crate with a useless tray in his frozen hands.

Why? I barely knew your name,” Alister’s voice layered with one that was assuredly not his own, an experience as horrific as watching Tomas dissolve into Solon in Remire. Yet a nightmare remembered within a nightmare was still not enough to free Hubert from his own mind. “But I trusted you. You made me feel safe, and you used that to murder me.”

He clutched at Hubert’s collar, dissolving any reasonable chance at evasion. The faint scent of sweet buns lingered on those hands and churned his stomach.

“They would have—”

“Killed me anyway? Is that what you’ve told yourself?” He threw the teacup at the unforgiving floor, scattering porcelain among dirt and who knew what else. A recognizable dark energy swirled around him to engulf them both and further trap Hubert. His breath came in short bursts of harsh gasps or thin mockeries of air. This lack of discipline was doubtless reflected in real life as he continued to sleep within heinous dream he deserved. “You enjoyed it. To defeat the monsters in the shadows, you made yourself even worse than them.”

“You don’t understand.” Fear, so foreign and distant to Hubert, fringed the edges of his words in whispers. He felt the tears on his skin in the dream—nothing more—as his heart was pincered between dread and remorse. He had to wake up. There were Dagdan techniques to simply will it and wake. It had been done. Hubert just swallowed hard and found himself talking to this false vision of Alister against his better judgment. “I had to.”

With a sharp, distorted laugh, the nightmare’s Alister began to fall apart. Hubert could hear his teeth creaking as they extended to fangs in his mouth, and strips of human skin fell away with sickeningly wet sounds as they hit the floor. Taut black sinew and hard bone plating sat exposed beneath that layer of shed humanity. Viscous strings of inky substance hung from his new form. Hubert could do nothing as he was reduced to nothing but a demonic beast in the shape of a teenage boy he once knew as well as his every breath. Alister, who loved the turn of spring to summer most of all, who feared water and little else, who favored angelica tea, mocked by this travesty that his mind conjured for Hubert’s warranted anguish.

He blinked away another tear and felt his equilibrium reeling in spite of his remaining immobile.

“Had to, he says!” Alister hissed in his face with the cloying sick smell of poison and decay. “You may fool everyone else, but we know the truth, you and I.”

Releasing his collar to smack the tray aside, smashing the cup saucer and empty plate that sat on it, Alister grabbed onto Hubert’s arms. Only then did he come to his senses and try to wrench free—too late though it was. Slick black essence bubbled down Alister’s arms and up Hubert’s own, carrying abject horror with them. In the span of a blink, it spread under his rolled-up sleeves and out of sight. Hubert knew best that honest fear was at its strongest when unseen. His training as the heir to House Vestra rendered him resistant rather than immune to its effects.

He pulled his arms inward and twisted to break his grasp, even pushing back with his feet for additional leverage. Alister held firm. The monstrous procedures gave him a strength betrayed by his relatively frail stature. It was simply a matter of seconds before that toxin reached Hubert’s chest and corroded its way into his heart.

“You call them wicked and wretched when you didthis to us.”


Hubert woke sharply, panic spilling over into consciousness. He laid with a thin sheet coiled around his legs, effectively trapping his sleeping self. He rested his head back onto the pillow and exhaled in disappointment. Points to his subconscious for creativity, then.

“Finally,” Linhardt drawled, yawning. “You had me worried.”

He snapped his eyes open once again, and the dark surroundings dawned on him. Linhardt looked perfectly prepared for sleep aside from watching Hubert with a surprisingly attentive stare. An evening chill hung in the air, neither close to dusk nor dawn. Canvas walls hung around him over sturdy posts. They were stationed in the field, and a nearby river unexpectedly flooded their intended camping site. Not all of the tents could be put up as a result. In light of that, the generals of the Strike Force agreed to sleep in the same one that night. Linhardt chose to set up his bedroll near him because Hubert was quiet and still. Tonight notwithstanding.

And if he was awake… Hubert sat up and scanned the tent to see his former Black Eagle classmates, now generals, in various states of alertness and all with concern on their expressions.

“You—” He began unwinding the sheets from his legs to preoccupy his attention. Anything not to see the pity in their eyes. “Should have woken me.”

“We tried,” Dorothea answered from her place by the tent’s opening with Petra. Perhaps it was habit or exhaustion that gave her words a vaguely melodic lilt. “Your nightmares are even more stubborn than you are.”

She’d intended to tease him in their usual way, but it made a poor mask for her worry. Over him. Hubert waited in tense silence and frowned at the wrinkled sheet now laid flat across his legs. Briefly, the was reminded of the tray and the sweet bun. That smell associated with the end of the dream. By sheer willpower, Hubert buried that nauseated sensation in response.

“Hey, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. We all get ‘em sometimes.” Caspar chimed in and stretched, no different in tone than if he’d gotten a full night’s rest. Nothing short of an ambush boxing in their forces could feasibly exhaust Caspar. Naturally, he set up his spot on the opposite side of Linhardt.

“It—it’s true.” Resolute regardless of her volume or lack thereof, Bernadetta contributed to his defense as well from her comparatively secluded bedroll.

An addition to a process he despised entirely. None of it was necessary. All of his allies should have been sleeping for the journey ahead and battles to come, not waiting in the night for his moment of weakness to pass. He curled his hands into fists against his legs. Hubert never should have permitted them to be burdened in such a way.

“No one thinks less of you, Hubert.” Edelgard reached out gently for his hand, blackened by sustained use of dark magic. Not so far as to travel up his arms, mercifully. Her hand over his was admittedly calming. He relaxed somewhat and unfurled his hands.

“In Brigid, it is common to be keeping bad dreams far away by… Your people aren’t having a word for it.” Petra stopped to consider her options in the limited lexicon of Fódlan, tapping her chin. “With togetherness.”

“Ah, an excellent suggestion!” Ferdinand maintained enthusiasm at impressive levels, as ever. His place of choice was with Petra and Dorothea, no doubt in an attempt to provide reinforcements by the tent’s entrance if need be. His eagerness to be of use in all possible circumstances had only amplified with time. “We are already in one tent. There is space yet to sleep closer together.”

“I’m—not sure what to make of that.” He’d never even slept in his parents’ bed as a child. Starting that with his fellow generals now as an adult… Hubert meant no offense to her customs, but he couldn’t be sure how effective that proposed strategy might be. Although the thought didn’t unsettle him as much as he estimated that it could. Looking to her, he finished his explanation. “I don’t typically permit others to be close.”

“Come on, Hubert, it’s just us!” As usual, Caspar made an excellent point Hubert hadn’t considered. There wasn’t anyone else he would even entertain testing this particular theory with. His grin was palpable in the atmosphere more than seen and some motion in the dark suggested he was pointing to Linhardt. “When I can’t sleep, I always go to Lin’s room and end up sleeping like a baby.”

“Mm,” Linhardt agreed, already dragging his bedroll closer to Hubert’s with as little effort as possible. His hair was in a loose bun to keep it out of his way while he slept and made the unplanned journey simpler, to his credit. Hubert found he was marginally uneasy with the closeness for reasons he couldn’t define. A greater portion of his thoughts were on Edelgard’s hand on his while Linhardt settled into his newfound spot. They weren’t touching, but his presence was close enough to sense and distinguish from the others on instinct. There was an aspect of that familiarity that Hubert confessed to himself was something of a consolation.

“You don’t have to, but…” Bernadetta trailed off, staying put for her own comfort. She had matured enough to establish her own boundaries while acknowledging that others’ laid elsewhere. He could not see her clearly at that distance but would be willing to guess that she had a timid smile for him. “Maybe it’ll help?”

“There is only one way to be sure,” Ferdinand encouraged, his ponytail thrown over his shoulder as he brought his roll closer as well. If Linhardt could do so, Hubert certainly wasn’t stopping any of the rest.

“You are always ready to be protecting us, Hubert.” Petra added as she made her trek across the tent’s floor to the circle swiftly forming around Hubert. “Now, will you let us be keeping you safe?”

There was nothing to be gained from denying the unspoken decision he’d made. Any apprehension he may have felt could be attributed to a lack of experience, as any uncertainty tended not to agree with him. But the predominant sentiment towards their togetherness, as Petra phrased it, was one of comfort. These were people he knew since their time at the monastery. They had saved his life, and he had done the same as well. Any one of them would fight to the very end for the better life they dreamed of. Most of all, for one another.

Hubert took a bracing breath and laid back down on his roll in the midst of his closest companions. “I suppose it’s worth the attempt.”

“There’s our Hubie,” Dorothea half-sang, settling into her bedroll within their new formation.

“Sweet dreams, Hubert.” With that wish, Edelgard gave his hand a soft pat and withdrew it to her own space.

The mixture of their combined presence and some extent of personal space did have a soothing influence. He felt the hazy draw of sleep resurfacing, and this time, without the customary threat of another nightmare lurking beneath.

“Thank you.” The gratitude he felt was beyond the scope of those paltry words. If he was fortunate, the next dream would grant him a chance to devise suitable means of expressing that appreciation to his colleagues in turn.

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