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Don Quixote

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Ferdinand was six years old and laying on his back in the fresh grass of his yard. He was panting, perspiration coloring his tan little face under the pleasant shade of a pear tree, and was exhausted after having chased a stray cat.

Tick tock like a metronome; the cat tauntingly swished its tail from a branch so much higher than he could ever reach, and he frowned.

- -

 

“Oh, what a rotten shame. I fear we shall never get it down now…”, His mother sighed and shook her head dramatically. Ferdinand’s tiny face lit up.

“I can get it, ma!” He cried and tugged on her dress, but she had already lost interest, and patted his head before starting conversation with another noblewoman, her tight red hair-knot bouncing as she laughed at whatever joke they were exchanging.

Her nonchalance did not deter her son, who ran away with determination and a passion to show his mother just how capable he was. With confident little steps, he set off to find the most impressive stick his childish mind had the patience to look for, and was pleased to find it just by the creek. He took it with a triumphant shout, and started smacking at the thick tree trunk with all the might he had. The bright leaves barely rustled under his valiant attempts, but he was sure he was on the right track, even as some bugs fell on his shoulder and his hand started to hurt.

Several rather poor attempts later, he lay down, cat-less and quite hungry at this point. He closed his eyes and felt very sad for himself.

“What are you on the ground for?” Another child’s voice came, and he opened his eyes to find a little girl his age. She had short white hair and a voice that made Ferdinand think about his grandfather.

He sniffled and got up on his feet: “Cat.”

She lifted her face to look up and hummed. Then she hugged the tree trunk. Ferdinand felt scared.

“Don’t!” he exclaimed, “it’s much too high!”

But barely had he even begun protesting before she seemed to him turn into a cat herself- all legs and arms scrambling up the thick tree until she suddenly sat perched on top of the branch with the stray in a confident grip. Ferdinand gaped. He could just barely see her with the sun in his eyes.

“Now look what you’ve done!” He blurted, “you’re just stuck too now!”

But her transformation in Ferdinand’s eyes was not yet finished it seemed, and for her final magician’s act she metamorphosed yet again- even more astonishingly this time- into a nimble sparrow, easily jumping down and landing on the ground with one knee like a prince. How majestic she looked!

Ferdinand could only dumbly blink and stood awestruck as the adults, alerted by his shouting, made their way to the two. The girl seemed to pay them no mind as she petted the cat absentmindedly.

“Oh Ferdie- you’re dirty! What ever did I-” His mother stopped in her loud tracks as she spotted the little girl, “Oh! Little Edie. You rescued it. How wonderful, I was just about to alert the guards.”

“Here you go miss”, said the girl and reached it out to Ferdinand’s mom, who immediately recoiled, “is it yours?”

“Heaven’s no! See the color dearie?” She laughed, “that’s a bad omen.”

The girl didn’t answer and Ferdinand noticed that her knee was bleeding through her white socks. He looked down at his own knee, brown and pink and very much unscathed, and felt ashamed. His hands were sweaty and too big all of a sudden, and he was a bit angry. The girl just looked bored.

“Well, you both have worked so hard”, his mother praised, leaning down with her hands on her knees to talk to them, “what to do you say to a big glass of buttermilk? You do so love it Ferdie. Come with your friend.”

They sat down together in the shadow by a large oak table, his mom asking questions of the girl and him not really listening, not even caring enough to even remember her stupid name. He drank his milk, but it felt too sweet and sickly going down his throat. When he looked at the girl’s face, light from the tree was dancing around her serious features and it made her look very pretty.

Ferdinand said to his mother: “I’d like to keep the cat, please.”

- -

 

Perhaps Ferdinand would have given more thought to the girl with the grandpa voice if he were older, but at eight years old now his attention was spread thin and all over the place with new discoveries and interests that seemed to bloom like weeds from wherever he walked. Right now, his attention was square focused on the brush in his little hand, the hot sun on his neck, and the shrill voice of his instructor behind him.

It was alright, he thought. Today was a good day after all. His colors were mixing very nicely, and the paint smelled nice and was soft. He was sure this was going good and so was his instructor, who smiled and wiped his bald head when Ferdinand went up to him and showed off his finished still-life.

“Marvellous! This, dear boy, simply must be the best you’ve ever done. It simply shows off a superior understanding of light and dark. You must allow me to hang it on my wall.”

He collected Ferdinand’s piece in his bony hands and they walked to his office to hang it together, Ferdinand feeling giddy skipping behind the man. The instructor placed it high, and Ferdinand smiled; smug that his piece had much nicer colors than those beside it, that is, until another painting caught his attention. Dark, with incredible finesse, it was as if all other paintings were just there to magnify the impact of the centerpiece. The old brownish wall of the office had become a wedding bouquet, and the painting a gold rose; the light and perspective were as perfect as Ferdinand’s eight year old mind could conceive of.

“Catches your eye, doesn’t it? Simply amazing. It is by another one of my students of course- though I have no doubt she will surpass me in due time- Lady Edelgard. I must say, I believe her skill is unmatched. I don’t mean to discourage you of course, but it would seem that painting truly is Lady Edelgard’s drive in life. You couldn’t do this something like this unless you dedicate yourself fully to the craft.”

Ferdinand hadn’t heard the name Edelgard before, but almost instinctively knew her. In her he found the nebulous presence in his life, that voice telling him he wasn’t good enough and that he sometimes would see in the corner of his father’s eye. He didn’t have a name for it until this very second. Edelgard.

How he didn’t know, but in the meticulous brush strokes before him he saw that girl’s bored eyes and her white hair and her pretty roman nose, and finally her knee matted with blood- and instantly he knew with the certainty only a child could have, that painting was not at all her life’s passion, and as sure as he was of this- he knew it must become his.

- -

 

So, little Ferdinand drew, and drew, and drew. He couldn’t say he enjoyed it much, watching his friends play from inside his big room, but everytime he was close to giving in he imagined the look on Edelgard’s face as she lay eyes on his ultimate masterpiece. How amazed she’d be!

He dipped his brush in water and tried to find fun in how the paint swirled.

- -

 

Today, it was spring, and he stood in the outer hallway trying to paint the white landscape outside. The sky was pink in the evening, and he felt his already lazy brushstrokes begin to grow sloppier with every passing minute. He yawned and tried desperately to keep focus, but was disturbed by the snap of a window shutting behind him. He jumped with a squeak. When he looked back, from the shadow of the curtain he saw a terrible boy sitting and reading on the windowsill.

The boy had unwashed black hair, yellow eyes and nasty white skin. His face was drawn and his hands were ill; he reminded Ferdinand of the spots on spoiled milk. He looked at Ferdinand and then back down to his big book, which irritated Ferdinand a little, who started humming loudly in a bid for recognition. It didn’t work, so he tried a bit louder, and stomped his foot in tune as he dabbed the paintbrush on the canvas, a task that had become secondary to getting the boy’s attention, something which seemed to grow more important by every second the boy looked away.

Finally, as Ferdinand hit a particularly sour note that reverberated through the dusty halls, the boy slammed the book shut and glared directly at him.

“Do you mind? I’m trying to read.” He snapped fiendishly. Ferdinand smiled.

“Well, I’m trying to paint!” He argued, “A painter like me needs inspiration from somewhere, and these dumb halls sure aren’t helping. Gotta create it myself!”

“In that case, I guess I should get going. Wouldn’t want to infringe upon your… inspiration.” The boy said, looking like a pickle. He got up, and Ferdinand was taken by an unbidden anxiety.

“Don’t go!” He shouted, then his face got as red as his cape.

The boy raised his eyebrow like Ferdinand’s uncle used to do, making Ferdinand feel dumb but still prompting him to continue talking: “Would you at least evaluate my painting first?”

“A real painter should paint for their soul’s sake, I hear, not the recognition of others”, the boy shot back sharply.

“Yeah, but…” Ferdinand didn’t really have a comeback.

He knew he wasn’t supposed to ask for attention, but seeing this boy and his crow-hair and eyes that looked to be in another country entirely made him feel a strange apprehension he couldn’t understand. The boy cocked his head and huffed, crossing his twig arms.

“Fine. But only because I’m bored to tears with this book.”

The boy slouched forward with theatrical disinterest. He was taller than Ferdinand and smelled like mold as he made a big show of looking up and down Ferdinand’s painting, examining it like a doctor. Ferdinand thought his mannerisms were very funny, until they made him feel very naked and bad.

Why had he even asked, anyway, he thought, it’s not a very good painting probably. I think the one I did last week was better.

It was quiet, until the other boy at last drawled, “I guess it’s not bad. Kind of nice, but your youth is woefully noticeable. It’s wonky.”

Ferdinand gaped, “You think it’s nice!”

“Yes. It’s very bright. I like that.” The boy said, “Is that surprising?”

“Kinda.”

“Hm”, the boy said, “Well. It’s not as good as El’s, of course. but then again, I wouldn’t expect that of you.”

Ferdinand felt as if someone had dropped a bucket of water on him, and said nothing as the boy left, presumably to read his boring book in silence. His heels clicked loudly through the halls as well as Ferdinand’s brain.

- -

 

And so, Ferdinand’s sunny existence found itself under a dark Edelgard-shaped cloud.

Whatever he did, Edelgard had done it first, or better, or with more grace. It was all the adults ever talked about. When he wrote a letter to his aunt, his mother commented that it was a shame his penmanship wasn’t as flowery as Edelgards’s; when he rode a pony, his riding instructor would sigh and lamented his comparative lack of skill; when he baked a cake, his uncle scolded him not to be concerned with such childish things, shouldn’t he be studying instead, you know Edelgard already knows her trigonometry by now.

One morning he even went out to help the maids milk, and they only commented how good the children were here, and that Edelgard had been such fine help too last month.

During it all, the black haired boy never left her side. Usually they could be found lounging under the sycamore tree, reading together in silence while the other children ran about playing. Ferdinand would once happily been one of these children, but every time he started a game, he glanced over at Edelgard’s face: as small as him but at the same time older than any person he’d ever seen in his life. At once he would feel sheepish and stayed inside to study instead.

He had a list beside him of books he’d seen Edelgard read, and tried his best to keep up, but it seemed every time he was close to finishing it, she had moved on to another interest, the black haired boy always there to guide her and hold her hand through any reading hardship she encountered, while Ferdinand was left to drown.

- -

 

“I just do not understand how one can be so perfect at everything”, Ferdinand confided one evening to a pony in the stable, “you know she says she’s never sung before, yet she was perfect at choir recital this Sunday. I can’t understand it. Maybe she’s lying...”

The pony whinnied and dashed her tail, and Ferdinand sighed, “I bet you wish it was her combing you. Well too bad!” He sniffed, “you know her mean friend? His name is Hubert, mother told me. Hubert! What kind of name is that! Suits his stupid face just fine I suppose. I shall do my best not to remember it, just to spite him!”

- -

 

They all went to the sea once, courtesy of Ferdinand’s uncle. Ferdinand was twelve and the best swimmer of his family. His mother wouldn’t even touch her toes to the water. Edelgard was twelve too, and hadn’t even brought a change of wardrobe. Dimitri, a shy boy of eleven had followed them, and so had Mercedes with kind eyes and Dedue with the lovely face and sad disposition. Hubert was fourteen, and hadn’t brought change either. Ferdinand sat in front of him during the carriage ride, squeezed between Dimitri and Mercedes.

Hubert had fallen asleep, and was drooling a bit on his coat-something Dimitri found very funny and Dedue found very disgusting. Mercedes told them not to tease. Ferdinand thought it was neither, but wasn’t sure what he thought, really. Hubert was the only one of them to have pimples. They were of every color Ferdinand could think of, and covered his entire face like flowers. Ferdinand thought about them during the entire ride.

The seaside was quite grey when they arrived, and the dusty sand crushed between Ferdinand’s toes. Dedue went straight to the water, a bit shaky. Mercedes complained that it was too cold, and Dimitri tried braving in slowly but was visibly uncomfortable. Dedue laughed then, his face lighting up, and splashed him playfully, and Dimitri splashed back. They all started playing, and Ferdinand wanted to join them, but first ran up to Edelgard and Hubert who were trying to avoid the sun under some rocks. Edelgard had her back turned to the water.

“Do you want to join!” He asked, because he was a polite boy, then added, “We can race in swimming, Edelgard. I bet you I can get to open sea.” Because he was also a very excited one.

“No thank you”, Edelgard said, “I hope you have fun, Ferdinand.”

Ferdinand, about to turn his back, saw Hubert looking at him curiously, and asked him: “Do you want to swim?”

“No thank you. Have fun, Ferdinand”, he parroted with his usual wry sense of humor, but Ferdinand saw him glancing bit towards the other children in the grey sea. Ferdinand didn’t comment on it, but looked back at him as he ran into the clear water. Then he dove in.

- -

 

Everyone had fun on their seaside trip it seemed, even Edelgard, when asked over dinner, replied that the fresh breeze had made her feel calm, and so they made plans to go next month also. His father praised Edelgard for her table manners, and Edelgard’s father laughed and was proud of her. Ferdinand stabbed a potato.

- -

 

“Ferdie”, said his mother, “we have all packed. Let’s go home.”

Ferdinand looked at the dark warm water, wavy by now. Then he looked at Edelgard, who, for the first time he could remember, looked straight at him- fearful. He smiled bright and jumped into the stormy sea.

- -

 

It was pleasantly warm, was the first thing he thought as he cut the way through the dark with his skinny arms. Soon there was black all around him and he tried his best to keep his head high, but saltwater still got into his nose and mouth. He coughed and turned around to see his mom frantically waving her arms from shore about thirty feet back. Edelgard was beside her, unmoving; she wasn’t cheering him on.

Well, he’d had to change that, he thought. Even as his neck started to ache he tried looking for Hubert, but didn’t see him. He tried crying out, saying look at me, saying she couldn’t do this, could she? But more water got in his throat and he coughed even more. Water got into his eyes too and he couldn’t see anything anymore, but he knew it would just be a little while until he was on open water, and wouldn’t that be impressive.

He tried moving his arms faster, but felt very sluggish and bit down hard. When he looked down at his feet, trying to will them to move against the hard current, all he saw was white. White? It shouldn’t be white, he thought and coughed, gagged and tried to blink away the salt in his eyes only to feel a sudden tremendous burning sensation across his leg, again and again.

He gasped water, and all he saw was suddenly a hundred, or maybe a thousand white and yellow lanterns in the black, and he was floating in ink. Vertigo struck him. His legs, arms and body burned, and every time he brushed against the lanterns, he got weaker. But he was so close, he thought, and swam on through the swarm of jellyfish. He was very close.

Suddenly, he thought about his mother, and her waving arms. He thought about her brothers, who hadn’t come back from the war, and he turned his head around, but she wasn’t there anymore. It was too grey, and his eyes hurt too much. Another jellyfish brushed over his already singed tummy, and he cried out, swallowing a lungful of saltwater- he knew then that he had to turn back, only he wasn’t sure which direction back was. He tried turning around and around but he felt as if he was spinning around in circles, and he screamed again.

In the black, lit up by all of those horrible candles, Ferdinand was very afraid.

“Hel-” he tried to scream, but water got in his throat as he trudged forward, not really knowing where. He couldn’t see, and it hurt so so much.

So he thought,

maybe I can just rest for a bit. His nose stung, and he closed his eyes. And the water was cold, and it all was too much.

Then it was warm.

Eyes still closed, Ferdinand realised the water wasn’t warming him, but something else against him was. Something solid and nice. His nose was suddenly in the air, breathing in cold, and his wet orange head was resting against warm, soft shoulders.

- -

 

His mother was in hysterics.

“Ferdinand! Ferdie, oh- why ever would you do a stupid thing like that? I thought I had raised you better! You knew the sea was stormy today, oh- you stupid boy! Are you alright? Do you feel faint?”

Ferdinand’s voice was very dry, so he nodded. His mother was touching his face and crying, but he wasn’t looking at her. He was transfixed by a puddle of water under Hubert’s feet, dripping from his hair and clothes. He didn’t have any others. He hadn’t brought a change. He had his arm around Edelgard, who looked completely petrified, and despite himself, despite not really hating her at all, rather the opposite-Ferdinand thought: Good.

He was glad. It wasn’t her in that stormy water because she wasn’t as brave as him, he thought with great nastiness.

But then, looking at Hubert, reddening burns on his shins and a look of loss on his face, his nasty feelings vaporized, and he just felt sort of sad.

- -

 

After that, Edelgard talked to him in a long conversation for the first time he could remember. Under the shade of the Aegir gazebo, she told him with a quiet voice, “I can’t swim. So there. I guess you did win, in the end.”

Ferdinand didn’t really feel like a winner.

“Hubert was really worried. He jumped in without even saying anything to me”, she frowned deeply, looking troubled, “it’s not that he doesn’t want to play with you. He just doesn’t want to leave me alone, since I can’t join in.”

“Why don’t you let him? You just hog him to yourself. Maybe he doesn’t wanna be with you that much, maybe he’s just afraid you’ll cry.” Ferdinand spat, he didn’t know why he felt so horrible all of a sudden. It wasn’t his fault, the small way Edelgard looked now, but his stomach hurt and he was dizzy.

“He can do whatever he pleases”, Edelgard snapped, her face filled with more emotion than Fernand had ever seen in her, “but I guess he’s got better things to do than pay attention to some desperate weirdo.”

It was then Ferdinand learned that he couldn’t win against Edelgard in a fistfight, either.

Oh well.

- -

 

Strangely, things more or less calmed down after that.

Ferdinand started training more, and as he learned more about the world, he grew kinder, calmer, and a bit more happy. Edelgard for every year that passed seemed only to grow more distant, though paradoxically she did smile more. When they finally started attending the academy, she became close with many girls. It seemed that the more girls she knew, the happier she became. Hubert meanwhile retreated more and more into the back, until he seemed to walk behind Edelgard like a shadow instead of beside her like when they were small. He had long since stopped calling her anything but her full title. Perhaps Ferdinand would have thought this to be sad if he had the mind for it, but with adolescence came new challenges he was yet unprepared for, and his mind was deeply occupied navigating teenagehood and its many tribulations.

He had long since abandoned the idea of becoming a master painter, or poet, or reader, or anything else that struck his fancy, and instead was growing something that was all his own. Horse riding was his favourite, and he spent a lot of his time together with Dedue and Dimitri in the stables. Winning against Edelgard was always the end goal, but he wasn’t as angry any more, and he found himself enjoying the journey to take him there more than the idea of a victory.

At the academy, away from any expectations except those he had on himself, he was happy, and found himself a freer spirit than he had ever been before. He rode, he laughed, he dreamed, and his mind was at ease.

- -

 

“Ferdinand?” Dedue asked one day absentmindedly (or, as absent-minded as Dedue could get) brushing a brown fowlin the stables, “Do you think horses ever wish they could be something else?”

“What do you mean, like a different profession so that they wouldn’t get ridden?”

“No… I thought, maybe they look up at the sky and see a hawk, and maybe they wish they were that hawk instead. I ask because I had the thought just before getting here.”

”I don’t think horses can look up”, Ferdinand looked at Dedue’s serious expression and cocked his head, “Do you hate it here?”

“No”, said Dedue and dropped down beside him, “but I am a bit sad.”

“Rest your head on my shoulder, then. I am bit sad too.”

“Okay.”

- -

 

Ferdinand didn’t much like being a clown, but it seemed to him whatever he said, Dorothea would just laugh at him. It didn’t really make him sad, though. Her eyes were always sad; her voice heavy with some past burden, and if he could offer up a bit of himself to play the fool for her, he would gladly do it.

The rest of the class seemed to think of him much the same way. It frustrated him at times, especially when he could see Edelgard’s eyes glitter in mirth whenever Lindhardt corrected him on a math formula she of course had aced. He was at least he was grateful that she didn’t look mean.

- -

 

Once when combing through his stallion’s mane, he cast a glance at the passerby Hubert, who walked across the courtyard and seemed immensely annoyed at a fly near his head. Despite himself, Ferdinand straightened up and fixed his hair a bit.

“Maybe it mistakes him for a corpse”, Leonie whispered to him in a conspiratorial fashion and he chuckled, even if he couldn’t bring himself to agree.

General consensus about the monastery’s most eligible bachelors fluctuated like the wind as everyone’s tastes changed from week to week(though he was very pleased to hear he was rather consistently ranked one of the handsomest in school. Less pleased at the often attached “shame he’s so dim, though”).

Hubert somehow always found himself on the bottom, and as such was the target of ridicule. All behind his back, of course. Ferdinand thought this was rather cowardly, and had voiced this thought many times- but Leonie had a way to mock Hubert directly to his face as well as behind his back, and so, Ferdinand couldn’t fault her for it. Just the other day at lunch she had told Hubert he should just give up on the pathetic excuse for pubic hair he was trying to grow on his lip. Hubert had huffed and stormed off, but actually shown up clean-shaven to class the very next day.

Ferdinand secretly was a bit disappointed. He had been somewhat jealous of Hubert’s hair growth, yes, but more than that he had privately(very privately) thought he looked rather dashing in it.

- -

 

“What are you doing?”

Ferdinand paid him no mind and gave another whack of his axe against the tree.

“I said, what are you doing.”

Ferdinand irritably wiped off his forehead, “What’s it to you.”

“You’re disturbing the peace of the whole courtyard.”

“Hmph! Well, I am training for the axe tournament, as you well know it’s being held next week.”

Hubert’s eyes widened, then narrowed. He looked like a bird of prey, but Ferdinand wasn’t scared of his feathers. Never had been.

“You won’t win against lady Edelgard. It’s futile. Save your hands the calluses.”

“Keep telling yourself that”, Ferdinand muttered.

He didn’t win, but it was fine. Dedue and Petra commended him on a job well done, and they ate some apples while tending to each other’s bruises.

- -

 

The classroom was stuffy and cold, and the Professor looked at the class with their usual dead fish stare.

Ferdinand was seventeen, and royally irritated.

“So”, the Professor sighed, as lacking of enthusiasm as ever, “can anyone tell me what they’ve learned from this lecture. What career paths are recommended if you excel in Magic?”

As expected, Hubert didn’t raise his hand, merely giving out a wry chuckle and comment about how droll class was. Caspar jumped up and down in an excitement to answer the question he most likely never heard, and Bernadetta bit her nail with the air of someone who knows the answer better than anyone but is too shy to give it.

What Ferdinand wanted to know as he dragged his eyes across the desks, is how Edelgard is faring. He spotted her stark-white hair in front of him, preparing to answer and lifting her hand, and followed suit.

”Oh. Okay then.” Professor sighed and scratched their head, ”Caspar, give us the answer will you?”

”Brawler!” Caspar exclaimed, and Lindhardt-apparently feigning sleep- laughed from his crossed arms.

”’Fraid not.”, said professor, ”you, Edelgard?”

Ferdinand gritted his teeth when Edelgard flipped her hair back nonchalantly, ”Black Mage, or Bishop are recommended. Follow it through for a career path as a Holy Knight, Dark Knight or Grimoire.”

”Nice. Gold star”, muttered Professor, “okay, next question.”

This time, Ferdinand was ready. He had read the books through and through. He got this one. As soon as the Professor drew their breath, he jumped up with his hand so high he almost smashed it against the ceiling. Smug and ramrod-straight, he looked down to see Edelgard hadn’t even made an attempt to raise hers.

”Oh! Okay then, let’s hear it.”

And Edelgard spoke out the answer before Ferdinand had time to open his mouth, easy as if she were singing.

”Thank you. Yeah.” Professor said and yawned.

Ferdinand gaped, and his face went crimson staring at the back of Edelgard’s head. He didn’t sit down.

Professor raised an eyebrow, ”there a problem?”

There, Hubert turned around to sneer at him, an arm behind his chair, ”Yeah, is there?”

If Ferdinand was more like his young self, he would’ve scrambled over the desk then and there to strangle Hubert’s vile little rat throat once and for all. As was, child of good manners that he strived to be, he smiled beautifully and sat down, dusting his knees off, ”Not at all, professor. Sorry to cause a disturbance!”

His noble upbringing, however, did nothing to stop him from kicking Hubert’s shins from his chair.

- -

 

When Dorothea confessed to Ferdinand that she hated him, he wasn’t surprised. When she told him why, that they had met before, he was. So he told her what he had thought that day, how wonderful he thought she was. Dorothea just looked at him, her eyes almost as sad as Edelgard’s, and she told him she believed him.
- -

 

Sometimes, he would spot Hubert dozing off in class from the corner of his eye. Sometimes, he cared enough to let him sleep, hushing Bernadetta’s shrieks and Caspar’s laughter; sometimes he even provided cover, not letting the professor see the trickle of drool making slowly its way to Hubert’s open textbook.

Most of the time though, he did nothing. Edelgard didn’t either. He had doubts she even noticed, her eyes always on that spot far way Ferdinand never seemed to find.

- -

 

Seeing him sleep while they prepared for the mock battle though made Ferdinand’s chest hurt: something about Hubert’s usually proud chin squished against his lance while Edelgard was outside the tent sharpening her axe-it just wasn’t right. It wasn’t. Ferdinand walked past Bernadetta tinkering with her bow to pat Hubert on the cheek, once lightly, then more of a small slap.

”It won’t work”, Edelgard’s rough voice came from outside, and Ferdinand turned around to see her looking straight at him, ”you’ll have to douse him with water or something.”

Ferdinand became annoyed, ”Isn’t that your responsibility? He is your-”

He didn’t know what word to use, and bit the inside of his cheek. Edelgard narrowed her eyes.

”I’ve tried to talk with him about this”, she muttered, ”all he does is say everything is fine”. Then, extraordinarily, she looked a bit dejected, ”I had hoped maybe you could talk some sense into him.”

Ferdinand blinked, ”Me? Why on earth would I be of any help? What makes you think he should listen to me? I just barely think he knows my name!”

Edelgard rolled her eyes and huffed, ”Let’s just call it gut feeling.”

- -

 

Fat load of good Edelgard’s gut feeling did him: Hubert, as it turned out, did not listen to Ferdinand particularly well either.

”Is this your idea of a joke?” He spluttered, water dripping from the greasy bangs that hanged like a thick curtain over his horrible equally greasy face.

”You tell me. I tried to wake you before.” Ferdinand said, ”you are exhausted. Maybe you should sit this one out, man.”

”I’m perfectly fine. If anything your shrill voice must be what drained my energy in the first place”, Hubert spat sourly.

Ferdinand felt very tired too now, and mumbled: ”I worry about you. Is why I say.”

Hubert’s eyes widened, but he didn’t make a sound. Finally he said: ”I wish you wouldn’t.”

- -

 

”Ferdinand! Ferdie you won’t believe it”, Dorothea exclaimed as she dashed into the stable, ”Leonie told me that Ingrid saw… guess what! Guess what she saw.”

”What? What did she see? You’re going too fast, Dorothea!” He laughed and put down his pail of hay as she ran around him, ”What did she see?”

”Okay, alright. You seriously won’t believe this.” Dorothea said, and her shoulders shook with mirth as she lowered her voice to a whisper, ”okay. okay seriously. So, she saw…”

She interrupted herself by laughing, and Ferdinand rolled his eyes, ”Come now, I was kinda busy here.”

”Alright, alright”, she whispered and took a deep breath, fanning herself: ”she said… she saw what looked like… okay, this is a third hand source so don’t take my word- except y’know, it’s totally plausible, and why would anyone make this up anyway-”

”Dorothea! Please!”

”Alright!” She cried, ”She said she saw Edie and Hubie kissing behind the toolshed on the left wing.”
Ferdinand’s stomach dropped to his feet.

”What? Are. I mean, uh- kissing? Are you sure?” He had never kissed anyone in his life before, he wasn’t sure he really wanted to, all those nasty spits and big tongues. But somehow, the thought of them doing this disturbed him greatly. Before even courting! Unless their whole childhood had been some sort of warped court dance that Ferdinand had been a most unwilling witness to. This thought also disturbed him, ”Was it not… maybe on the cheek or something? Maybe you are misconstruing.”

”No no, I swear! I hear full on the lips!” Dorothea smiled, ”Isn’t it exciting? I don’t think anyone else in class has kissed!”

Ferdinand didn’t think so either. but didn’t say. He nodded, laughed and bit, then went back to his quarters.

- -

 

He was eighteen and didn’t know why he was upset.

As he walked to class, the usual spring in his step was gone. He was happy to see some robins flap by with their usual splendor, and waved hello to them when he passed the rose bushes. Then, with an emotion unfamiliar to him, he saw a caterpillar by the wayside. He crouched down and looked at it, shadowing its little existence with his body.

”You’re in the way.”

He sat up straight, looking at the boy before him. He looked as pestilent as ever, with his small nose turned up in disgust.

“Go around me, then”, Ferdinand muttered, and Hubert turned around and huffed with a dramatic flare of his cape.

- -

 

What bothered Ferdinand the most, all things considered, is how Edelgard and Hubert always acted like it all was beneath them.

Leonie, Dedue, Claude, Raphael and Ferdinand were playing tennis down by the grass when Claude with his eagle-eyes had spotted a familiar dark shadow on the steps. He laughed and waved, and Ferdinand felt sheepish. Edelgard was no doubt conducting business of utmost delicacy and importance, and there he was playing with his friends like a child, something Hubert was no doubt judging him harshly for.

“Hey!” Claude cried, making the shadowy boy flinch, “join in, won’t you! we are one man short.”

“No thank you”, Hubert drawled, his gaze lazily making its way over to Ferdinand and staying there. Poor Ferdinand felt horribly scrutinized: sweaty, warm, and halfway naked. Hardly the image of nobility Edelgard projected from every pore; oh, how Ferdinand regretted throwing away his shirt and binder. He grew so embarrassed he crossed his arms over his chest, a movement which seemed to greatly alarm Hubert, who blinked.


”Well, I must get going. Thank you for your… kind offer.”

”Your loss, mon frere. Have fun sulking!” Claude waved him away.

”Wait”, Ferdinand spoke before he even knew it, and crouched down to retrieve his undershirt and cravat, ”I ought to be going as well.”

”In the middle of a match?” Dedue questioned dubiously.

Ferdinand didn’t quite know what he was doing, but the sun was too hot on his back, and Hubert’s eyes too cold, and he just wanted to go inside.

”A noble must keep his studies afloat”, he spoke brightly from inside his shirt, then emerged, ”It’s been great fun, everyone!” He waved and ran up to the cobblestone path where Hubert looked at him quizzically.

”Why are you joining me?” Hubert asked as they trod forward, seemingly too confused to uphold his usual venom.

”You are... headed to the library, yes? I am too.”

”Hm.”

It was quiet as they walked past loud play-fights. Ferdinand felt deeply out of his element. He thought about Edelgard in her tower.

”What… are you planning to do in the library?”

At this, Ferdinand blinked and looked up at Hubert. The shadow of the courtyard was heavy grey on his already monochromatic features, but there was a certain air of uncomfortable insecurity to him found in the fidgeting of his fingers and corner of his red mouth. This in turn both calmed Ferdinand a bit and made him even more nervous. The crunching of their boots seem all the louder for it.

”I am going to study language. It is a noble’s duty to be able to communicate well, after all.”

”An admirable goal”, Hubert commended, and Ferdinand’s insides did a flip, ”Tell, which are you studying today?”

”Brigidese. I’m working on learning.”

”Ah! I see. Lady Edelgard studied that last month. You’ll be pleased to hear she’s already mastered it- even Petra commented she sounds like a native!”

And there it was. Ferdinand felt sick to his stomach. Hubert’s face for once betrayed no ill-will, and that made Ferdinand even more upset. Hubert’s voice was filled with joy, and every word in that uncharacteristically sunny tone felt like a punch. He grit his teeth.

”Well, in that case”, he spat, ”I guess I’m studying Duscar, or Fodian, hell- I guess Latin!”
With that he stormed off, and did not look back at whatever spoiled fruit face Hubert was presumably making.

- -

 

Ferdinand was nearing nineteen, and the cathedral was abuzz once more with excitement swimming in from every direction. Wherever Ferdinand went, the word on everyone’s lips seemed to be ”winter ball”; If the business with the Flame emperor had dampened anyone’s party spirits, they certainly did not show it, and as Ferdinand wandered around to the dining hall all he heard was sighs and laughter concerning unmarried duchesses or eligible bachelors. Not too concerned about it, he went straight to fetch a tray of pie, and saw Dedue and Dimitri waving at him and gesturing towards an empty seat by them. He sat down by them, and though really not terribly interested, the mirthful air around him compelled him to ask “Well fellas, are you excited for the ball?”

“Oh, stop. Everyone’s asking me that! You too, now.” Dimitri laughed in a very undignified way, chunks of bread spraying from his mouth, “ah. Darn. Well okay: not really. I don’t know why but I am a bit anxious. I have a horrible feeling in my gut.”

“With all what’s happening, I can’t blame you. I guess I sort of am too.” Ferdinand sighed and looked out over the loud mess hall, “It is nice to see everyone so happy over something, though… all we’ve had is misery this past year.”

“I think that’s just it, Ferdinand”, Dedue conceded, “I think everyone’s just decided that it’s enough misery, and tuned it out in favor of dances greener. Can hardly blame them for it. I wish I could do that.”
“Are you anxious too, Dedue?”

“Yes, of course. I would be a fool not to be”, Dedue said seriously, “at the same time…. nothing can really be done about it, I think. Not by us. But I get the sinking feeling that the people who actually have power are turning a blind eye. Sooner or later we’ll have to take some kind of action, whether we want to or not. At least, that is what I suspect.”

Dimitri stabbed at the wooden table with his fork, “I hate feeling so power-less. It feels everyone is up to something.”

“We are still just students”, Ferdinand said nervously, “there’s just no way we can jump into this conflict without knowing anything about it. We barely know these ruffians’ motivations.”

“If. They’re even ruffians.” Dedue interjected sharply, “you know… as a friend of Ashe, I find this whole Lenato business very strange indeed.”

“Indeed”, Dimitri said darkly, “but we shouldn’t talk so loud about it. We do not know who might be listening in.”

Dimitri’s eyes were hard, and Ferdinand shivered at the implications of his words. But it didn’t have to be true, did it? He loved Dimitri, but he was usually very paranoid wasn’t he? It didn’t have to be true, any of what he was implying. Any of it. He kicked the floor softly and bit his lip.

“Well… what should we talk about then?” Ferdinand said uncomfortably and then felt like a clown.

Dimitri’s eyes softened. “I don’t know. Horses. Spear Fighting. Whatever you’d like. Hah. Alois told me some jokes the other day I bet you guys will love!”

“How about”, suggested Dedue with a calm voice and looked at Ferdinand, “we go back to the subject of the ball?”

- -

 

The professor was to choose a house representative for the ball’s dance competition, and Ferdinand jumped up and down at the prospect, excited to show off. He spent nights awake in his room humming and pretending to dance with a splendid prince(tall, brooding, and with hair like a stormy sea).

In the end, the professor choose Bernadetta, and Ferdinand couldn’t even bring himself to be jealous. He was so happy for her he hoisted her up his shoulder, and Dorothea rushed forward to hug her and kiss her cheek. Edelgard patted her back with considerable strength and a boisterous laugh that she seemed to reserve for women and women only. Meek little Bernadetta blushed all the way to Brigid, but even Hubert commented that her skills were simply unparalleled, and even through their great worry, the class was unified in their joy.

- -

 

And if Ferdinand’s distant dreams of a tall prince were getting worryingly more concrete by the night, until he found himself looking into yellow eyes and feeling like had a fever… Well, no one was the wiser.
- -

 

Seemingly always bright and thrumming with energy, the stables were a place Ferdinand always felt he could recuperate his mind in. Dedue felt the same, which is why the two often found themselves just mucking hay or just brushing the horses together in a soft rhythm, without barely saying much. Dimitri would join them, and at first he’s be quiet, then say a very small(and often terrible) joke. Dedue would laugh, then Ferdinand would. He felt he could die for them.
- -

 

It wasn’t as though Ferdinand was a fool. He was anxious too, for the same reason Dedue and Dimitri were, but he just couldn’t let himself indulge in it. Suspicion against the church, against other students, although not unfounded, would no doubt lead him through a route of madness he suspected he didn’t have the strength to pull back from.

So he, like the others, picked up all his attention eggs and put it in one neat ball-shaped basket. Not being a born skirt-chaser like Sylvain or Dorothea, it didn’t really carry that secret forbidden thrill; what excited him most was the dancing. Dancing was something he loved and felt supremely confident of- and he wasn’t ashamed to say he was a bit of a show-off when it came to it. The opportunity seldom came to do so, so naturally he jumped at any and every opportunity.

So excited he was, in fact, that as he walked (more like bounced, according to anyone who saw him) to the library, he couldn’t help but hum a waltz or two as he was lazily fingering through the shelves. Sheepish, he stopped himself and looked around, and was relieved to see it empty of anything other than stacks of books and disorganized parchment. He sighed and began to sway along with his humming, even going so far as spinning when he danced from one shelf to another. Taking his time, he finally landed on the book on Fodlán table etiquette that Petra had been wanting. With a final spinning flourish he turned around and gave a bow to the non-existing audience, his cape falling over his head.

Only, opening his eyes and looking down at his boots, he saw not only did he have an audience, but one that stood right before him. “Oh, I’m so sorry!” He jumped up and cried before clearing his throat and lowering his voice to a hissed whisper, “I thought I was alone I swear!”

“…Evidently.” Came the snide voice of Hubert, who gave a couple of slow claps and was looking up and down at Ferdinand as though he’d discovered a new species of insect. A particularly nasty one, from the looks of it.

Ferdinand’s face grew unbearably hot, “please don’t make fun. I’m terribly embarrassed, I don’t think I could take it.”

At this, Hubert blinked and furrowed his brows. He opened his mouth, then closed it again, before finally settling on: “I take it you too are caught up in the… festivities.”

“Augh! I told you not to make fun!” Ferdinand exclaimed and hid his red face in his hands.

“I-“, Hubert started, then shook his head and frowned, “no! You know, if you want to misconstrue everything I say and do, then feel free to do so. Just don’t presume to know my intentions!”

When Ferdinand heard the sound of steps, his chest was pierced by a sharp arrow of urgency, and he quickly said to Hubert’s back, “I’m sorry- I didn’t mean to insinuate you’re evil.”

“And yet you do little else”, Hubert chewed out, looking... frustrated, for the first time since Ferdinand had known him, “Very well. I accept your apology. Good evening.”

“Are”, Ferdinand blurted, stopping Hubert in his tracks again. His grip was sweaty around the book, and he had no idea where he was heading, “are you excited for the ball?”

Ferdinand could kick himself. All that speech training, and for what- the lousiest conversation he was sure anyone’s ever been a part of. Hubert himself started adjusting his sleeve and looking up at the ceiling, and he sure looked like he’d rather be anywhere else. Ferdinand could relate.

“I am indifferent. Ball or no ball, the dire straits we’re in stay the same.” He conceded at last, then added with supreme discomfort: “however it…. gladdens me to see everyone’s spirits so high.”

“Ah.” Ferdinand breathed.

“Indeed.”

Hubert was looking at him like he was expecting Ferdinand to say more; play the final card in this strange conversation; but Ferdinand was in lands unknown and if there was something he’d learned studying his forefathers’ battles, it’s that sometimes an honorable retreat is preferable to bleeding out in the battlefield. So Ferdinand simply swiped past Hubert and jogged down the stairs with his heart racing, giving Hubert nothing above a small “I really must be going.”

And so ended one of the more bizarre encounters of Ferdinand’s life.

- -

 

“You look at him a lot”, Lindhardt commented one time in class. Ferdinand pretended not to know who he was referring to. His neck became hot.

“It doesn’t become you to play dumb Ferdinand”, Lindhardt said and yawned, “Hubert. You are staring at him.”

“His seat is in front of mine. I can hardly help it.”

“You stare at him outside of class, too.”

Ferdinand looked down and fiddled with a splinter. Lindhardt shook his head and lay down on the desk again, “He stares at you too.”

“He better”, Ferdinand said, his voice trembling trying to hide the feeling of this revelation, “I hear I am very handsome!”

- -

 

Of course he would dance with her and her only. There was simply no space for anyone else. Hubert and Edelgard stood by the blackboard with barely room for a fly between them. Certainly not for Ferdinand, he knew it in how Hubert’s eyes shone with admiration, while Edelgard stood turned away with her hand never wavering on his shoulder. An ugly feeling rose in Ferdinand.

His hand wouldn’t waver either, he thought, and he’d at the very least meet Hubert’s eyes; where Edelgard’s gaze was distant, Ferdinand’s gaze was right there, fixed on Hubert who was smiling now, and pressed her waist closer to him. She reacted then: gasped and laughed, and Ferdinand knew then how Hubert could love her so. A laughter uncouth and snorting, and so unlike the clear sound he’d practised in the mirror since he was a child. It seemed even in this area he was bested, as Hubert laughed with her and spun her once. She shrieked and seemed to stumble on her cape, telling him something that he only seemed to find even funnier, mesmerised as he was. Under her spell he had transformed into a sun before Ferdinand’s eyes. Ferdinand himself seemed to have become stone, or sludge, or something so ugly it wasn’t even to be spoken of in polite company. So crucified he felt, with movements so sluggish. that he didn’t even notice stumbling forward.

He heard the snap of the pen under his boot, and instantly the spell was broken- Hubert and Edelgard jumped apart instantly with a gasp; their faces red.

No one said anything, the trio just staring at one another.

“I”, Ferdinand said, his tongue dry and thick and sluggish, “Anyway, have a good day.”

Edelgard nodded and weakly waved good-bye. Hubert said nothing and Ferdinand, somewhere behind the turmoil, was happy for that.

- -

 

The ball came almost unbidden one day when Ferdinand had managed to pushed its looming existence to the back of his mind. Nevertheless, he put on his best hair oil, painted his lips red, and bound his chest. It was fine. It was good. It would be fun. He was the greatest dancer in the county, after all, and by god he was going to show it.
- -

 

“How strange”, remarked Dorothea, glass of wine in hand, “look, Ferdie.”

“At what”, he muttered and sipped on his mead. It was kind of gross. The music wasn’t very good, either. At least the decorations were pretty.

”Who d’ya think?” Dorothea rolled her eyes, grabbing his face and twisting it uncomfortably to face the corner, ”Look! He’s just a wallflower. I figured him and Edie would’ve snuck away to make out on the balcony by now.”

The visual, needless to say, did not brighten Ferdinand’s mood any, ”I guess she’s away powdering her nose. What of it.”

Just as Dorothea was about to reply, however, she and Ferdinand both startled as a slender hand reached out from behind and clasped her shoulder.

”Dorothea!” Cried Edelgard, seemingly in a sparkling mood, ”dance with me, won’t you!”

Dorothea stared at her, ”Uh…”

Edelgard’s face was flushed red; whether from exertion, embarrassment or alcohol, Ferdinand couldn’t tell- but he knew her well enough to say her drawn brow was indication she was not backing down from this challenge.

He chuckled and patted Dorothea’s free shoulder, ”seems you’ve got no choice, my friend. If I know anything about my good rival here, it’s that she’s serious.”

Edelgard then surprised Ferdinand for the second time that evening and laughed, her stylish diamond necklace sparkling as she tipped her head back to bathe in the exquisite lights, ”Yes, I am. No- of course I jest Dorothea, but I would very much like it if you danced with me.” She bowed down, as princely as Ferdinand ever remembered her.

Dorothea laughed too, ”well, seems I mustn’t say no, then. If you very much like to.” she took Edelgard’s hand and adjusted her dress strap, looking back once and waving with a grin before leaving Ferdinand in the sorl of people conversing.

He leaned back against a pillar with a sigh, staying there long enough for his back to grow uncomfortably warm. Lazily he let his gaze wander across the room as he drank. Dedue was dancing with Lorenz good-humouredly; Claude had his hands on Dimitri’s waist; Petra and Sylvain were arguing in the corner; Then he stopped on a familiar black figure again.

Poor sod, Ferdinand thought and smacked his lips. An unbidden thrill made its way up his spine, and he tapped his fingers on his goblet. Hubert’s shoulders were broad in his bottle-green coat. It was quite a shame, to tailor a nice coat like that and not have it be seen.

No, he was not nearly brave enough to entertain such a foolhardy idea just yet, and went to the sidelines for another drink. It was hot in the hall despite its massive size, and the laughter and music was a bit too loud. His stomach was in a knot.

”Hi Ferdinand”, Lindhart drawled as he poured some red wine for himself, ”oh. Hullo, Hubert.”

Ferdinand’s head snapped up to see the offending boy on the opposite side of the table.

”Pour some for me Lindhart, would you kindly.” He said with a very tired voice. No wonder, Ferdinand thought and glanced at Dorothea and Edelgard’s tight embrace.

”Me too, Lindhardt”, Ferdinand said and exchanged a passing look with Hubert.

Lindhardt put his hands on his hips, ”I’m not a bartender, y’know. Ah. Whatever, you both look like you need it.”

”What do you mean by that”, Hubert growled, and Ferdinand was equally surprised and excited to see his thorns out after so long. Lindhardt looked severely uncomfortable, glancing very deliberately to the side.

”He means the fact that you look awfully tired.” Ferdinand told him as pleasantly as he had energy for, that is to say, not pleasant at all. Lindhardt just gaped.

Hubert looked surprised for a second, then shifted back to being on the warpath, ”Oh?”

”Yes. Dreadful. Like death itself dragged through mud.” Ferdinand sneered.

Lindhardt looked between them, ”Uh, I don’t know what’s going on here, but-”

SLAM! Hubert’s now empty metal goblet smashed against the table with enough force to make it tremble, his face ugly and blotchy red. Lindhardt let out a weak ”eep!” before running away, and Hubert breathed out heavily through flared nostrils. Ferdinand felt tall. Then, to both Ferdinand’s shock and his own, Hubert spat out:

”Dance with me, Ferdinand.”

The hall spun around, and the adorned roof felt close, then far away, then almost suffocating, and Ferdinand answered a mute ”yes.”

- -

 

For all Ferdinand had done with Hubert, he’d never held his hand before. Somewhere in his mind he supposed he’d fabled it to be cold, but it wasn’t. It was warm, and Ferdinand’s own against it felt sticky. He inhaled. Hubert was opposite him, then around him, and his hand was on Ferdinand’s shoulder. Ferdinand closed his eyes.

“Put your other hand on my waist”, murmured Hubert in the small moments before the song had properly started.

“I know how to dance, you know”, came Ferdinand’s snide reply, “it is part of a noble’s upbringing. Which, as you know, I have had. I will have you know my dancing skills are the talk of the county.”

“Ever so sorry to have implied anything else...” Hubert murmured, then gave a small hum as Ferdinand laid a hand on his side.

- -

 

Even as Ferdinand was the one with his hand on Hubert’s waist, he certainly wasn’t the one leading.

Only, looking at Hubert’s face, open and confused, it didn’t look like he was in control either- it felt like they were both pulled by a force greater than both of them. Every step in tune made their legs brush together, and Ferdinand felt a current through him like he was stranded amongst the jellyfish again. He almost felt lost, but met Hubert’s eyes and was pulled back, pulled closer.

Without thinking, he squeezed Hubert’s waist, who stuttered a bit with his feet, but then with renewed vigor squeezed back at Ferdinand’s hand and looked him square in the eye. He leaned in a little, Ferdinand following his chin with his own.

“You’re a good dancer. I should not have doubted.” He rumbles into Ferdinand’s temple, “it seems all that talk of a noble upbringing wasn’t just fable.”

“You were there the whole time. You saw me”, Ferdinand breathed.

Hubert‘s lips twitched, “You know, I don’t know if I did.” He shook his head, “spin me, won’t you.”

“What?”

He leaned back, and his face was so beautiful it made Ferdinand want to cry, “I know you like showing off. So show off, then. I know you haven’t done a spin this night.”

“And you are fine with being my prop?” Ferdinand asked, incredulous. His fingers were drumming on Hubert’s waist, blood pumping wild.

“Suffice to say my pride can take it, just this once.” He smiled wryly and let go of Ferdinand’s shoulder, who had to physically stop himself from reeling him back in. His hair shone black in the orange light like a halo, and his eyes glittered, and Ferdinand suddenly understood it all.

He was so tall, and his shoulders so wide, and Ferdinand’s chest ached so much it was hard to breathe.

Ferdinand took him and spun him perfectly, just once. He vaguely heard applause behind them, and laughed. Hubert didn’t speak, but his face shone when Ferdinand spun him back. Then they were dancing again, but Ferdinand wanted to spin him again like he wanted his next breath, so he did. Again, and again, and again, until all they were doing was spinning around the floor with no regard for anyone else, both of them laughing now.

- -

 

Once they’d started laughing, it was difficult to stop. Eventually, the song came to an end but their good mood did not. They went together to get another drink; Ferdinand proposing a toast to friendship, and Hubert to Edelgard’s future reign.

Not even this spoiled Ferdinand’s spirit, who laughed and asked for another drink in honor of his good friend Lady Edelgard.

Then Hubert cut in, “To her future children, as well”, and Ferdinand asked for another round. Soon they were suggesting toasts left and right, just to get a chuckle from the other. Ferdinand asked if Hubert was sure he had toasted for her eyes yet, so that they may keep working in her old age, and Hubert blessed every single one of Ferdinand’s siblings and then his toes.

The more they drank, the sweatier Ferdinand felt, until it ended up unbearable. They stumbled outside, and the night was cold and black above them. It was hard to stand straight, even with Hubert’s side supporting him, and they dropped like bricks on the icy grass.

Laying down with the stars above him and music very much behind him, Ferdinand could grasp for the first time how dizzy and tired he was, but also how light. He became annoyed at his boots for restricting his feet, and threw them off. Then he spotted a small pond with some orange beautiful fish in, and with the mix of excitement and sluggishness only present when a person is properly shitfaced, he shook Hubert- who by now had curled down on himself- and insisted they should go for a swim to clear their minds.

“Tired”, Hubert offered by way of rejection, then irritably swapped Ferdinand’s hand away when he tried to pull him up.

“Nah, come on”, Ferdinand said, “This’ll cheer you up, you’ll see. It’s so fresh.”

“Let me rest. You were the one who said I look like death”, Hubert muttered.

“Did I say that?”

“You did.”

“I can’t have meant it”, Ferdinand laughed and pulled Hubert on his wobbly feet with two hands, “you’re very, very handsome.”

Hubert looked very doubtful and sloppily brushed off his coat, “Never been accused of that before.”

“What? No way. That can’t be. I can-I can write you a sonnet, if you’d like. I’ve never written a sonnet before… I can do it, right on this spot, just let me. Let’s just go for a swim first.”

“You’re the heartbreaker here.” Hubert mumbled into his cravat as Ferdinand was trying his best with to loosen his knot, “In that aspect, you’ve surely won… Yes, there can be no doubt... “

“Won what”, Ferdinand was only half-listening, irritated that Hubert wasn’t compliant.

“Like those lights… in there. Orange, so orange and bright”, Hubert snorted, “and pretty.”

It took Ferdinand a while to process what came out of Hubert’s mouth. When he did, he just looked up at Hubert. Hubert whose eyes were uncharacteristically mellow, whose cheekbones were beautiful red, and whose lips looked like a heart. Ferdinand knew every thought he had at that moment was going to get him in deep, deep trouble.

And so, never let it be said that he wasn’t a problem-solver, he did the only rational thing a man in his position would, and instantly jumped into the pond.

- -

 

He woke up the next afternoon with a cold, a horrible headache, and the news that Knight Jeralt had died.
- -

 

There was not much cause for celebration, after that.
- -

 

Blood on his hands, Ferdinand desperately searched for Dedue and Dimitri on the other side of the battlefield, his heart almost bursting from panic.

He began running to the other side when he saw a flash of blonde being struck down by Edelgard’s axe, but was stopped by a pair of big hands. He kicked uselessly against Hubert, who held him to his chest and shushed him like a child.
- -

 

“You would have killed us all”, Ferdinand whispered meekly one night when him and Hubert were alone tending to Petra’s wounds, “you would have killed us and you would not even have felt regret. You’ve known us half a life and you would have us all dead.”

Hubert looked down at him in the dark, and his yellow eyes glittered so much Ferdinand was afraid they would pour out from his sockets like wax.

- -

 

The war too came to an end, as all things must.

People were dead. Lady Rhea’s awful screams echoed through the burning castle, and everything carried the stench of blood, excrement and hatred.

Professor carried Anette’s small lifeless body to lay to rest beside her father, and Hubert held Edelgard’s hand, both trembling, and Ferdinand could only commend them for being brave enough to be kind here in hell.

Ferdinand didn’t know what was left of him, really, but he looked at the faces around him and he knew that together they would make it out. He kissed Dedue, who kissed him back and cried.

- -

 

”Oh. Fancy seeing you here.”

Ferdinand was twenty-four, and things were finally calm. He was one leg short, but still happy. A replacement worked just fine for him. He had gone for a walk in the palace gardens to take in some air; walking through the rows of almost cloying flower scents and hedges, he had found a nice spot in the shade to sit in, but also found something less expected- Hubert’s large form crouching down by the daisies, scribbling something down in a leather journal.

He flinched and got up on his feet when hearing Ferdinand approach, and coughed. Ferdinand smiled, ”My friend, it is not bad seeing you here. Just unusual. I know you don’t much like it outside.”

”It is tolerable”, Hubert mumbled and put his journal inside his breast pocket, ”but ah... I must be going now.”

”Shame”, said Ferdinand, ”Here I was hoping to convince you we could have a nice tea time.”

At this, Hubert’s lips twitched with mirth, ”You’d have to come up with something better than tea if your motive is tempting me out of my duties.”

Ferdinand felt a pang of old excitement, and bit his lip, ”Come, man. Give me at least some days to do that. Man like you can’t be easy to tempt into anything.”

Ferdinand would know, he thought, and somewhat entertained by it. The thought didn't taste as horribly as it had, once.

- -

 

“I wouldn't”, Hubert had gasped wetly against Ferdinand’s neck, his ragged breath warm even in the inferno of the burning castle: “I wouldn’t, I wouldn’t. Stay, please. I wouldn’t. Ferdinand. Ferdinand.”

Ferdinand stretched out a trembling hand and placed it on Hubert’s cheek, smearing it with ugly blood from his stump: “I know. I know. I know. Don’t cry.”

- -

 

The sun was low in autumn, and it was more often than not he saw Hubert in the garden. It made him happy, but somewhat confused. Whenever he tried waving, the man slithered away very much like the snake his opponents knew him as, and Ferdinand wondered if he should ever understand him.
- -

 

When his eyes met Hubert’s over the conference table as he made a bold political remark, Hubert’s mouth turning upward in a small smile just for him, he thought he maybe already did.
- -

 

One noon before lunch Ferdinand was pleasantly conversing with Dorothea in the garden pavilion when a black cloud suddenly flew past them, blowing both of their hair in their eyes.

Dorothea spluttered, shouting out an annoyed “hey!” but Hubert, briskly walking with his face thunderous and hands clenched tight behind his hunched back, seemed to pay her no mind. She huffed and turned around to continue speaking to Ferdinand, though he had in truth forgotten what they even were talking about, when Hubert made a sharp turn at the end of the corridor and began moving back towards them with great purpose.

“Good morning!” He barked like an order.

“Hubie are you well? You don’t looks so hot.”

“Perfectly fine”, Hubert seemed to be contemplating something very troubling indeed, furrowing his thin brows before turning to Ferdinand, “Ferdinand.”

“How d’ye do.”

“Will you join me for a walk in the garden?” Hubert asked.

Ferdinand blinked. He’d been trying to convince Hubert to join him the gardens for quite some time to no avail. Passing such a chance up did not sit well with him, however...

“Hubert! I would love to, but I was just talking with Do-“

“Oh don’t worry about little old me”, Dorothea smoothly interrupted, patting Ferdinand and the shoulder and nudging him forward teasingly.

“It seems I am all but forced to comply. Oh! I jest, I jest”, Ferdinand hurried to add when seeing Hubert open his mouth, “I would love to, of course, my friend.”

They bid Dorothea(who seemed to be in a sudden joking mood) goodbye and made their way down to the walkway. For all of his apparent urgency, Hubert became quiet as a clam as soon as the first ray of sunshine kissed his forehead, becoming intently preoccupied with staring down at a colony of ants by the wayside. The entire walk was like so; silent-but yet pleasant in the mind of Ferdinand, who found joy in the crunch of his boots against rubble and the safe cocooning of larva by the bushes. Once in a while he cast a shy glance towards Hubert, who looked somewhat worse for wear: his handsome chin was turned to his chest, and he was almost compulsively tugging on his gloves every two minutes. If Ferdinand caught his gaze(and what an oddly insecure gaze it was!) he would nod, and Ferdinand would nod back at him with humor. What an odd joke they seemed to have!

At the end of their walk they made it back to the castle, and Ferdinand thanked Hubert for his good company.

“Then you.. would not be adverse to continuing meeting like this.” Hubert said, lifting his jaw in defiance to some invisible foe.

“Of course not!” Ferdinand exclaimed, “in fact, I better see you starting to accept my invitations from now on. The weather is so good lately, it would be a shame not to enjoy it in good company.”

Hubert looked faint, “I’ll remember that. Thank you, Ferdinand.”

- -

 

So, where Hubert had once fled any invitation from Ferdinand, lately, he was beginning to accept and Ferdinand felt very happy. Hubert was the most changed of the two, mellow and pleasant but still with that rancid air of arrogance and irony that Ferdinand found so charming. It was like adding milk and sugar to coffee, an experience Ferdinand found wonderful.

“I thought you would like it”, Hubert mused, and brushed a leaf from Ferdinand’s shirt, “Can’t say I care for it myself.”

- -

 

Peace suited Hubert like nothing Ferdinand had ever seen. Of course, it was hardly so peaceful for them as Edelgard’s trusted right hand men, operating from the shadows, dealing with her enemies in any way they could think of(more often than not in a less than chivalrous manner, in Ferdinand’s opinion, but he could hardly complain about the results. Still, their lives certainly had less of an edge to them too as Edelgard had begun to see people as less of political opponents and more as assets, and help in a co-reign.)

But in the afternoons in the garden, surrounded by tall rose bushes in green, white and red; those afternoons when he was all Ferdinand’s, looking right at him and listening to his ramblings with rapt attention, Hubert was a star, or a moon. His hair, jet-black and silky, was beautifully curled; his skin still sported that rather tragic sour milk nuance, but seemed now to shine with health and vigour. It was polish on his high cheekbones that seemed to Ferdinand to glitter like marble. Gone was the awkward haircut of his teenage years and too-big clothes, as he wore only smartly tailored tunics and a sensible short cut- though the tip of his bangs were still long and covering one eye, ending with a flourish just above his lip. And oh, his lips- Ferdinand could write them verses. Heart-shaped and just plump enough to drive a man insane whenever Hubert darted out his snake tongue to catch a wayward drop of coffee. It had become more common now, too, for people to praise Hubert on his looks and not only his sharp mind, something that Hubert himself seemed to find endlessly irritating.

Ferdinand told himself to pay it no mind, but every time Hubert shook hands with a minister- Ferdinand could not stop himself from inserting himself in the conversation, touching Hubert’s shoulder with his hand in a friendly gesture that masked a lifetime of yearning in a sweaty palm.

- -

 

“Maybe you should cut it”, Hubert had told him over the campfire one night when the war had still been raging, and the Professor had not yet returned to turn it around. They were in an unknown outskirt of Garreg-Marsh, the air cold and the grass ink. Petra and Dorothea where asleep in their tent, and in the dead of night Hubert’s yellow eyes were the brightest thing Ferdinand ever saw, sparking technicolor with the lazy rhythm of the flame, “it’s getting quite long.”

“So is Edelgard’s, and I don’t hear you complaining”, Ferdinand argued half-heartedly. Hubert sighed and massaged the bridge of his nose.

“Tie it up and I would not have anything to say about yours either”, Hubert muttered and poked at the fire with a stick.

“D’you reckon it looks bad?”

“Ferdinand, I was rather obviously referring to its impracticality in combat. Whether I like it or not is not of any relevance.”

It is to me, Ferdinand was about to say but quickly swallowed his words with the expertise of someone who was very much used to thinking these awful thoughts.

“Besides, I thought you grew it out of laziness, not vanity”, Hubert continued. Once it might have held bite, but to Ferdinand, the words sounded almost playful. Sweet. Like even if Hubert’s mouth was a thin line, Ferdinand could hear a smile in his voice.

“I did”, Ferdinand mused, then teasingly cocked his head to the side, batting his eyelashes, “still, your avoidance is making me almost dying of curiosity- Tell! Do you like it?”

Hubert averted his gaze, “Ferdinand, I know you are already annoyingly aware of your ridiculously good looks. The whole army knows you as the finest thing on two legs, I doubt you need me of all people to butter your ego up too.”

With a final forceful prod at the coals, Hubert got up to gather more sticks, leaving Ferdinand gaping like a fish, and about as confused as one too.

- -

 

Large meeting halls and important political meetings were a part of everyone’s life, now. Edelgard, Claude and Dimitri were all together again, more hurt and sadder than before, but with nothing to hide from each other anymore their bonds had only grown stronger. They’d seen the ugliest of each other. But, Ferdinand mused as he saw Dimitri kiss Claude gently from the corner of his eye, also the most beautiful. He grinned and stretched his arms.
- -

 

Now, Ferdinand brushed his hair in front of his vanity and wondered.

- -

 

”It’s nice to be able to-oh, geez, that stuff really is terrible”, Ferdinand made a grimace and put Hubert’s cup down, smacking his lips, ”god! I don’t know how you do it, I must say!”

”You get used to it”, Hubert chuckled, and Ferdinand shifted closer to the sound like a sunflower, ”I hated it, at first.”

His bony finger tapped the rim of the cup, Ferdinand’s eyes following it intently.

”Well, why on earth did you keep drinking then?” Ferdinand swayed his foot against the grass.

”You know what? I don’t think I can recall”, Hubert snorted, and Ferdinand laughed, ”I think it was some fancy that took me. Wanted to be an adult very badly.”

”I could tell”, Ferdinand said, ”you made a stellar job of it I thought. Large words and larger attitude.”

Hubert hummed amusedly over the rim of the cup and looked over at a spot somewhere over Ferdinand’s wild hair, ”Looking back on it now, I think I was just very small boy in very big boots.”

”How about now?” Ferdinand dared, ”fancy yourself a big boy?”

Hubert spat out his coffee.

- -

 

”’Big boy’!” Ferdinand cried into his pillow, ”Lord, please let the earth swallow me whole.”
- -

 

”You know”, he said one day to his washing room mirror. Vocalizing made it easier, he’s heard, ”I had the stupidest, most ridiculous crush on you as a kid.”

It didn’t. And neither did it make the truth go away he discovered, when he met Hubert for breakfast that day and felt his heart skip a beat as their fingers touched over a jug of milk.

- -

 

As things were finally rather mellow at the palace. Ferdinand’s days consisted mostly of fulfilling his duties to Edelgard as a prime minister and advisor, appraising rivals and allies the same.

If he had time over he would ride, then write letters first to Dedue and Dimitri, then to whatever relatives were still on speaking terms with him. At the end of the day he would look out of his large window, and if the weather allowed, he’d take a little walk through the garden and pick some flowers for pressing.

Today. he felt so bold as to button off his coat and cape, removed his pauldrons, and went to sit in the terrace with only an undershirt. A little nagging voice in his mind that sounded suspiciously like his grandfather badgered him that this was hardly nobleman behavior, but looking over at the wet bushes, he thought, ”what has nobility led us to, anyway?” and he popped a red raspberry into his mouth.

He was reading his book happily when Hubert walked past, hands behind his back and with a bewildered expression.

“Good evening, Hubert!”, He cried out and waved at him. Hubert looked startled.

He looked down at Ferdinand’s shirt, then turned his head away.

“I hope I’m not making uncomfortable. I was very tired and thought I was alone.” Ferdinand grimaced. He wasn’t aware Hubert was so much a traditional man.

Hubert just shook his head and bowed good-bye.

- -

 

That night, Ferdinand found his head spinning away from him, thinking about Hubert’s eyes on his naked collarbone, imagining how it would be if those eyes were just a tad greedier. If they had looker lower. If he had asked about it.

It couldn’t hurt, Ferdinand thought, just thinking about it.

- -

 

Even though Hubert was an expert of slipping into the shadow, Ferdinand had watched him for more than half his life now, and his gaze was almost magnetically drawn to him. Not that spotting was hard right now, pacing back and forth with a by now usual unrest before crouching down, scribbling something, then getting up to leave before Ferdinand had properly said hello.
- -

 

“Good eve-“, Hubert stopped dead in his tracks in the large corridor, almost bumping into Ferdinand with unprecedented bad coordination.

“Nice, right?” Ferdinand cheered brightly and shook his head a bit, showing off his new braids, loose but neat and pinned up in a circle, “I woke up this morning thinking about a conversation we had, a real long time ago. I doubt you even remember.”

Hubert only stared until Ferdinand was almost uncomfortable and started fidgeting, looking around the hallway.

“I didn’t want to be accused of trying to copy Edelgard’s style, but I think they don’t really look like hers? I hope, or I shall be very embarrassed.”

“You don’t”, Hubert blurted, then coughed into his knuckles, “look like her. Like Lady Edelgard, at all.”

“Thank god”, Ferdinand said and gave a little showman’s twirl, “well what say you, my friend! Should I change my look permanently? It feels rather fresh on the neck.”

“No”, Hubert said and turned extraordinarily, wonderfully, beet-red, “I... don’t know that I could take it.”

“Oh”, Ferdinand frowned, disappointed, but did his best not to show it, “yeah, I guess it’d look quite silly in meetings. I doubt I should have time to do it every morning too. As usual, though I loathe to admit it, you are a voice of reason, Hubert.”

“Silly...”, Hubert repeated lamely, “Yes...Best not to.”

“Best not to”, Ferdinand agreed and scratched at his bare neck, feeling very naked and very silly indeed.

- -

 

Sometimes they would read together. In the start, they had read separate books with Hubert reading some stormy drama; Ferdinand political theory, and then they would discuss it. Soon however, they found pleasure reading out loud to each other, and their preferred reading was swapped out for witty philosophy and colourful poetry. Ferdinand marvelled at how familiar passages seemed to find new meaning in Hubert’s deep voice, phrases coming to light under his eyelids richer than he’d thought he could imagine; and Hubert would smile and clap at the enthusiasm with which Ferdinand recited.

Once he commented that with story-telling like that, he was sure Ferdinand would make an excellent father. Ferdinand had felt so light he could float away.

Another time, Hubert had brought out a small book which he proclaimed held his favourites, and had requested to read it in full to Ferdinand.

Ferdinand had accepted of course, excited to learn more about Hubert’s tastes, but quickly found himself apprehensive. The prose was very good, and very much without flowery language. It spoke of love, a longing kind, and it spoke of touch, and Hubert had his eyes on him, knowing it by heart.

Ferdinand held back a gasp, and by the end he was close to tears. Hubert closed the book and asked him if he’d enjoyed it. All Ferdinand could do was nod, hoping his face didn’t betray the absolute storm he felt inside.

- -

 

Dedue came to visit one moon, bringing good cheer and a bittersweet nostalgia along with his home made rice cakes. He smiled, showing off a missing tooth and a scar on his mouth from the last battle, and Ferdinand guided him to the gardens where he poured him some wine.

“This is good with fish”, Dedue commented and scratched his pant leg, and Ferdinand looked up at the sky. If he closed his eyes, it almost felt as though they were children again, back at the monastery. Ferdinand gripped at the ridge between his stump and his prosthetic.

“How do you feel now?” Ferdinand asked.

“You know I don’t think I properly know”, Dedue said quietly, swirling the clear drink in his glass. He looked up at Ferdinand, “I think I’ll be okay, maybe.”

“You almost lost yourself.”

“I know”, Dedue’s eyes were dark and beautiful, “I think I need to be apart from him for a while.”

“What will you do?” Ferdinand asked.

“I’m not sure. I think I want to travel. Maybe you could come with, sometime. But I think I want to be by myself a little. I was thinking of going back to Duscur, maybe, if I can handle it.”

“I understand”, Ferdinand said, “I’ll miss you, though.”

“You write letters every week already, and I have a hawk, I promise you don’t have to stop”, Dedue squinted, “do you remember what I asked you, all those years ago?”

“Maybe. Depends on what it is.”

“I see”, Dedue put his glass down and smiled, “I was just thinking, right now, I don’t think I ever want to be anything other than myself.”

- -

 

”Edelgard!”

Ferdinand jogged through the hall, his steps tapping and echoing across the room. She turned around to him, and smiled a small smile. These days, with more on her shoulders but less inside her, she smiled easy, and she was happy to see him.

”Hullo, Ferdinand”, she said. It was strange how huge ornamental horns suited her, ”what brings you here?”

”Hey! Can a man not simply say hi to a friend nowadays?” Ferdinand laughed, ”How are you?”

”Oh I’m good, Ferdinand. Yeah”, she smiled, ”I think I’m finally good.

He smiled back, and then her face turned wicked.

She said: ”Oh, don’t think I don’t see that envelope you’re trying to hide. You’re not as good as spy as you think, Minister.”

”Drat! You got me again. Nothing goes past those lavender eyes”, Ferdinand woed theatrically and procured the letter, ”I promise you, it is nothing quite so saucy as a spy affair- just a treaty I should like to go over with you and Hubert. But I must say I haven’t seen him around the castle at all! Has our ghastly friend finally been spirited away?”

”That is not so strange”, Edelgard said trying to stifle a smile, ”seeing as he has been out on horseback for two days or so!”

”What? You jest! Hubert?” Ferdinand’s eyes were saucers, ”He hates riding! Is his family sick?”

”No, but suffice to say he found the matter to be a pressing one indeed”, Edelgard was almost grinning now, and let out a small laugh disguised as a cough behind her hand, ”well, we can just go over it without him.”

Ferdinand didn’t mind being with Edelgard, but he couldn’t help but feel a bit disappointed.

- -

 

”He’s acting quite strange lately, don’t you think?”

Ferdinand and Edelgard were playing chess in her room. Edelgard had the advantage as always, but Ferdinand still had the feeling she was going easy on him. The thought didn't bother him like it used to.

”Who is?”

”Hubert!” Ferdinand exclaimed, ”I only ever find him in the garden lately. And now this horseback adventure. I was beginning to think I understood him. To tell you the truth, I feel a bit hurt he won’t tell me anything.”

Edelgard looked sympathetic, ”Oh Ferdinand…. I’m sure he will soon. He values you a lot, you know.”
Ferdinand wasn’t very sure, but tried to go up against Edelgard’s rook anyway.

- -

 

Outside, it was sunny and hot without a single cloud in sight, and he felt ridiculous laying in his bed in the greying light of the room and its milky walls.

He felt even more ridiculous going outside to the garden though, not being able to concentrate on his novel because of the folly of looking around for a black shadow who’d never come.

- -

 

“What if something happened to him?” He asked Lindhardt over breakfast, “Fòdlan is more peaceful than before, certainly, but I am sure there’s still bound to be bandits around- and, and a handsome rich unmarried man as him- Have you heard he is traveling alone?”

“You’ve told me so, Ferdinand, today and yesterday”, Lindhardt muttered, “can you please keep your voice down? I promise you nothing has happened, and you’re giving me a headache.”

“How do you know?”

Lindhardt just looked at him incredulously, and then went back to his oatmeal.

- -

 

When Hubert finally did come back, Ferdinand was about ready to check himself into an asylum. He was pacing back and forth in the hall, waiting for news, any kind of news on the situation.

It had been four days. It was simply unheard of for Hubert to leave Edelgard’s side for so long. Yes, it was irresponsible for her so-called right hand man to behave like this. When he came back home, Ferdinand would be sure to scold him. He was steadfast. He was certain.

His resolve shattered like glass as soon as the hallway lit up once more. Ferdinand had already spent jumping up at every sound of a door opening- this time, it was unmistakably the shape of his old friend, wrapped in so many capes you’d think he was in a desert. Ferdinand gasped.

”Hubert!”, he shouted, smile so wide it looked like his face would crack. Without any thought, he ran forward tripping over his feet to hug him hard and tight. Hubert was warm, solid and incredibly sweaty, Ferdinand’s hands grabbing hold of his broad back.

“You’re back”, he sighed. The need to bury his nose in the exposed ashy vastness of Hubert’s neck was almost overwhelming. He was unreasonably proud of himself for managing to draw back.

Hubert’s face was pink, flushed from riding, and illuminated from behind by the large castle windows. And oh, Ferdinand must’ve forgotten how handsome he was, and his heart beat faster than he could think. Hubert clasped Ferdinand’s shoulder.

”I am.” He confirmed rather uselessly, then seemed to struggle greatly to grind out the next phrase, ”I’ve... missed you.”

Ferdinand’s heart leapt through his chest. He hadn’t known this was allowed between them now, having somehow missed this wondrous transfiguration. He almost felt afraid about what else he’d missed.

”My friend”, he said with a thick voice, “my friend, I missed you too. It’s been odd not having you in the garden. Or to argue with.”

Hubert’s fingers massaged Ferdinand’s shoulder lightly before letting go, and he took a step back and nodded properly this time. Ferdinand wanted to kiss him, he wanted to pull his hair, wanted him pressed against the door behind him.

”Ferdinand, I…” he started, but was interrupted by Lindhardt, friendly as ever walking up to give him a quick hug and pat on the back. Ferdinand smiled and felt so weak in the knees he almost thought he’d faint.

- -

 

The weather was ugly today, and Ferdinand sighed. He had been looking forward to going out today, with just a chapter of his book left and Hubert back to boot.

Sighing, he lay down on his bed and crossed his legs, resigned to nap before a knock on the door alerted him.

”Come in”, he said, somewhat confused as to why the maids were coming at this late time, only to see Hubert’s tall figure filter in through the door like smoke.

”Ferdinand- oh. I see I’m catching you at an inopportune time.”, Hubert asked, looking up and down at Ferdinand’s loungewear somewhat bewildered.

”Not at all”, Ferdinand blushed, hurrying to grab a gown ”how, how are you, my friend?”

”Well enough”, Hubert said, ”may I sit down?”

”Of course. How was your trip? I realise I have not yet asked. I know how little you care for horseback.”

”Mhm. I still don’t. I can't possibly fathom what folly would drive a man to dedicate his life to it.”

”You tease, Hubert”, Ferdinand laughed, ”but I don’t think I shall bite today. I’m feeling much too soft and relaxed. This rain is making me feel boneless.”

”You dislike it, I take.”

”Yes, and of course you don’t”, Ferdinand smiled, ”it’s good we know each other. And I’m happy for you, I am- but I wish I could’ve gone to the garden. Or the stable.”

Hubert didn’t reply, then, looking distracted by something.

”Ferd-”, Hubert did something Ferdinand never had seen before and stumbled on his words, ”Ferdinand.”

”Yes? Is something wrong?” Ferdinand asked, his brows furrowing in concern.

”No- no, I.” Hubert swallowed, ”I thought about your garden, actually… I may have...” He drummed his fingers on his knee, ”I have something I wanted to give you.”

”Hubert! Don’t hesitate. You know I love gifts.”

”Whether it is a gift or not is… oh well”, Hubert mumbled, then stood up ”Very well, Ferdinand.”

”Yeah?”

He opened his mouth, then looked at Ferdinand, and looked away again. ”Wait.” He walked to the window, then paced back.

”I’m waiting”, Ferdinand laughed, his heart beating happily.

Hubert ran his hands through his hair, ”I- wait, I should-”, he sat down on the chair again, then half a second later, stood up, seemingly dissatisfied, ”No. No I should- okay. Okay.”

”Okay?”

”Ferdinand”, Hubert spoke too loud for the small room, ”h-here.” he said significantly quieter and shoved a very small book in Ferdinand’s hands.

“Hubert, what on earth-”, he began, then opened it. The first page showed a beautifully pressed flower. He stared at it with baited breath. Then, fingers shaking, he tenderly flipped pages to see a meticulously pressed Daisy, a small dandelion (Ferdinand guessed Hubert didn't care enough about flowers to identify it as a weed- but he didn't mind, seeing as it was his favourite), a lily, a tulip. It was just a regular notebook, but every page filled Ferdinand with wonder more than any thousand-page novel ever had.

At the second to last page, he stopped.

”Hubert, this is…”

”I hope I am not being presumptuous”, Hubert almost whispered.

It was a flower Ferdinand knew very well. It only grew in the Aegir estate. It was a blue rose especially bred for his family, adorning even their family crest. He hadn’t seen one since he last visited, years ago.

”Oh this… Hubert, this is...”

”There’s another page.” Hubert mumbled, reaching down to place a trembling hand on top of Ferdinand’s like a feather, and with the other, he turned to the last page.

It was another pressed flower, yes, and Ferdinand’s chest constricted identifying which one it was: Hubert’s own Vestran violet, smaller than the rose and taking less space, but still very beautiful. Ferdinand’s heart hurt.

”Hubert”, he said, ”it’s… it’s too much. You did this yourself? How did you even find these?”

”I was… on the way to Vestra, in a way. And I stopped by Aegir on business. Your uncle sends his regards.”

”You were there! Hubert. Is this why you’ve been in the garden so much? It’s not even close to my birthday..”

”...In a sense”, Hubert said with his head low and his yellow eyes concealed by his long black lashes. He knelt down in front of Ferdinand, whose self control was fighting the battle of its life, ”I confess I could not do it alone. I had Lindhardt and Petra help me. My hands are not made out for delicate business, it seems.”

”It’s still-” Ferdinand felt tears in the corner of his eyes, ”Ah- and I haven’t even trimmed my brows yet. It’s the nicest thing I’ve ever gotten, I think. But Hubert, I don’t-”

”You don’t”, Hubert looked struck.

”How could I ever, it’s too much! I- I haven’t made anything for you in return.”

”I’m not asking that of you”, Hubert assured hotly, almost savagely and grabbed Ferdinand’s hand, ”all I ask is that you accept it. If you can’t, don’t. But know I made it for you, because of all we’ve been through together. And all that we… will. Live through together.”

”Hubert…” Ferdinand couldn’t help it, and his tears spilled over, ”Of course. You’re my dearest friend Hubert, you know this. Of course I will accept. It’s a wonderful present.”

Then, Hubert almost collapsed, his knees bucking in on themselves, and he gasped, ”Ferdinand!”

”It’s the best gift I’ve ever gotten”, Ferdinand laughed and squeezed Hubert’s hand, ”I don’t think I shall miss the garden quite so much anymore.”

”If it were up to me you’d never be without it”, Hubert said, seemingly seized by the enthusiasm of a madman, ”we do not have a greenhouse, do we? We should remedy that.”

”Hubert what on earth are you talking about-”

”Let’s build a greenhouse”, Hubert suggested, smiling so wide Ferdinand’s head was spinning, ”let’s do it, how hard can it be?”

”Hubert, god-” Ferdinand laughed, ”Okay. Okay. Let’s build a greenhouse.”

- -

 

It turns out it could be very hard, but it did not deter them. Hubert seemed a new man all of a sudden, a transformation that didn’t so much to alarm Ferdinand than delight him.

”Which glass do you think is best?” Hubert asked at the marketplace, looking through merchant’s wares.

”Hm…” Tell the truth, Ferdinand didn’t know much about glass. Not for the first time he wished he had Edelgard’s seemingly endless expertise.

”We can just ask”, Hubert assured hurriedly. And they did.

- -

 

“It is so good to see you two in such high spirits”, Edelgard remarked when the three of them had tea, once. She was smiling..

“Why, I could say the same to you!” Ferdinand said and raised his cup in a mock-toast. Hubert rested his hand in the crook of his elbow, looking at him while Edelgard was right in front of them, and Ferdinand felt like he had run a marathon.

- -

 

Today, Ferdinand saw some clouds start marring the castle skies when he was walking down the patio. Paying it no mind, he walked into the dining hall to have breakfast, where some new faces waited him.
- -

 

”We can keep building some other day.” Ferdinand reassured, ”you go have your reunion, I have to ride to the south to see the ambassadors anyway. You’ll still be here when I’m back, I wager.”

”If I do not die of boredom before then”, Hubert sighed, ”It shall be rather colourless without you.”

”You seemed to be doing just fine as a child.”

”Hmph. Child me was a fool, then. He did not know what he was missing out on, clearly.”

Hubert then bowed and turned around to walk away as Ferdinand was to mount his horse, but seemed to suddenly change his mind, grabbing Ferdinand’s hand and- to Ferdinand’s great surprise, kissed it softly.

”Have a safe journey, my dearest friend”, Hubert mumbled with his breath hot and wet even through Ferdinand’s glove. How he cursed himself for even thinking to wear those damned things.

He replied something inane, no doubt, and rode off, hardly minding which direction.

- -

 

In the weeks he was gone he couldn’t stop thinking about it. When meetings or strategy boards became too droll, or he drifted off, his eyes would wander to the spot on his hand Hubert’s lips had touched, and with no small amount of shame, he’d sometimes press his own face against his hand, kissing it where Hubert had. As if some lingering feeling, or taste, was left.
- -

 

He couldn’t stop thinking about it for the entire time south, and found it was hard to even sleep at night with something like anticipation coiled deep in his gut. What a horrible parting gift, thought Ferdinand, what a cruel thing to do to a man.
- -

 

One meeting, Ferdinand’s mind flew back to a day long ago, when they had still been at the monastery. They were all training with lances, and Hubert had pricked his finger.

Ferdinand had looked up just then, and as Hubert put his red finger to his lips to suck the blood from it, they mantained a strange eye contact.

Thinking back with some embarrassment, Ferdinand recalls the nights after: what he felt, what he did, the feverish thrill of it all.

Feeling the same thrill now, coupled with an unfamiliar strange new hope, he opened a window in his guest bedroom and sighed theatrically.

- -

 

Eventually, he was done, and he set off in riding back sooner than might be considered polite. It would take a day, probably, maybe even two- but the excitement of meeting Hubert again was too great for him to contain. his feet wiggled on his steed before setting off.

Hubert had kissed him. That’s a fact. Of course, Ferdinand had seen him kiss Edelgard too. On the hand, cheek and forehead. But that was different. If he could kiss Ferdinand on the hand, too… If he would keep his eyes on Ferdinand while even Edelgard was in the room…

His heart beat too fast to even think about it, and he smiled so hard it hurt. If he could dream, if he could indulge himself to a wish, he’d dream of Hubert’s face pressed against his, inhaling him and everything he was.

- -

 

He came home, and all was dark grey except his humour.

Hubert stood in the great hall talking to the group of politicians he vaguely remembered Edelgard introducing to him. He waved, and Hubert didn’t see him, instead dropping to one knee and quickly pressed a woman’s hand to his mouth before getting up.

And at once, Ferdinand’s mood was punched out of him so fast he felt he was going to be sick. People were very loud around him and Hubert didn't see him, engrossed in conversation with another man Ferdinand had never met.

”Hey!” Ferdinand was startled by the melodious voice of Lindhardt behind him, ”how are you, man. You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

”Oh-oh do I? I must be thirsty from the trip”, Ferdinand laughed, and fiddled with the clasp of his cape.

”Sch. You should take better care of yourself. Drink more water, what I always say”, Lindhardt shook his head.

”Hubert shall be glad to see you anyway. I swear he’s been restless for weeks. Heard he’s even been playing chess with Duchess Embla to pass the time.”

”Who.. who is that?” Ferdinand asked, looking straight at who his gut said was her, thinking only of her hand naked and Hubert’s mouth against it.

”She’s there, with Bernadetta now… Hey! Hubert! Look who’s-” Lindhardt started, but Ferdinand shushed him as politely as he could.

”I.. think I’m feeling unwell. I’ll just go directly to my quarters if you don’t mind.”

”Of course I don’t”, Lindhardt said, ”do you want me to tell-”

”No need!”

- -

 

”You came back yesterday.” Hubert said glumly, “you did not tell.”

”No, I suppose I didn’t”, Ferdinand said quietly.

He saw Huberts pink lips, and thought about them on his hand, on her hand, on Edelgard, then his head hurt.

- -

 

One day, Ferdinand walked past some of the kitchen staff on his way to the stables.

“It’s so nice to see Marquis Vestra so happy.”

“Yes… He’s always been a sweet man, I always said. Always, since he was a boy he always asks if he can help with anything! You know he helps me setting tables, many times!”

“One cannot deny he’s a bit frigid… even so, these days, he’s practically prancing.”

“You know I think I heard him sing the other day.”

“Ah…. love really changes a person, doesn’t it?”

“Oh, yes. Don’t tell… I heard from his chamber maid- he’s planning to propose soon.”

- -

 

Somehow, it hadn’t even occurred to Ferdinand that Hubert might marry.

He’d just sort of pictured Hubert always there, as a presence, behind Edelgard and in front of him. The thought of him going away wasn’t one he’d ever had reason to even consider before. He looked at Hubert, having a pleasant conversation with Dorothea over dinner, and he thought about who would be there instead, to take his place. The thought grew so ugly and large it was almost unbearable.

- -

 

It felt ugly, and it felt stupid. He wishes he could tell Hubert, ask him about it; ask him what they were, and what Hubert was, but his throat was in knots, and his heart in mud. All his thoughts from before felt childish in their hopefulness. He thought he’d grown out of it, but apparently he hadn’t, and the disappointment of reality seemed to become heavier with the years.
- -

 

As he was brushing his hair that night, his maid was drawing him a bath.

“The talk of the town is how this all has changed Marquis Vestra”, she commented, “I must say, I didn’t expect it. But I’m happy to see it so. I hope he will behave as a husband.”

Ferdinand ripped a strand of hair.

- -

 

Ferdinand was a bit drunk, and very sad.

“Come, Ferdinand, you can’t lounge around like that”, Dorothea scolded, “what would poor Hubie think if he saw you in that state?”

“Hubert, Hubert!” Ferdinand exclaimed, “Can you talk about anything else! What do I have to do with it? Find another gossip!”

- -

 

“How goes things with the Brigid gang? I must say, you’re doing a better host job than I expected of you.” Lindhardt commented over a dinner Ferdinand was just barely tasting.

“All well”, Hubert replied, “tomorrow, we are going for an excursion.”

“Oh”, Ferdinand meekly said, sinking into his seat “I ...did not know. Will you be back soon?”

“It is only over the day”, he answered and bit a piece of carrot, “Petra is going too.”

“It is so very fun to meet other people from Brigid! I really love to meet her, the duchess.” Petra said dreamily.

Dorothea winked across the table, “oh just don’t forget about me.”

Petra laughed and grabbed her hand, “I won’t, love.”

Ferdinand looked at Hubert’s veiny hand alone on the table and felt envious.

- -

 

After pacing back and forth outside for half an hour under a very judgemental moon, Ferdinand made up his mind. He knocked on Hubert’s door. It was a very, very bad idea. He was also very drunk.

Hubert, ridden with sleep, opened his door with a bleary: “Yes?”

He blinked, “Ferdinand? Are you unwell?”

“What? I’m great. I’m great.” Ferdinand blurted.

“I am… glad to hear”, Hubert said.

It was quiet. Hubert was only in his nightshirt, and Ferdinand, gone as he was, couldn’t stop himself from glancing at his bare legs, still marred by Hubert’s nasty milk complexion, but sprinkled with coarse, black, curly hair. Ferdinand thought he wanted to bite his shin. Ferdinand thought a lot of things.

“Ferdinand, did you… want something?” Hubert crossed his arms over his chest.

“No”, Ferdinand said, then shook his head, “Yes- yeah I do, I’m. I want. Uhm.”

It was quiet again. Ferdinand scratched his furrowed brow.

“Perhaps… I should help you to bed, my-”, Hubert began, and Ferdinand interrupted by exclaiming:

“Tomorrow. The excursion. With… the duchess.”

“She’ll hardly be the only one there. But yes?”

“I wanna go”, Ferdinand blurted, “can I?”

Hubert frowned, “Why… there’s no need. I hardly think it necessary-”

“Hubert, I wanna go.”

“I… see”, Hubert said with an air of not understanding at all, and it made Ferdinand all the more frustrated, “well, there should be no problem. I will… inform the rest of the party. ”

“No problem”, Ferdinand repeated and nodded, licking his teeth, “Good.” He turned around clumsily to lunk away.

“Ferdinand”, echoed through the halls by Hubert, but Ferdinand didn’t turn around, “Are you… alright?”

“No problem”, Ferdinand said and went back to his room to promptly drop in bed.

- -

 

The next morning, his retainer woke him earlier than usual, and he was severely less clean than usual too, with more of a headache.

“Wha…?” He asked with a mouth like cotton as she tore open his window to let frigid air in. It wasn’t a sunny day.

“Young master, it was you yourself who volunteered to go on the expedition.” She said, tired, “they’re all waiting for you.”

“Expedition? What in blazes- oh”, Ferdinand blinked and sat up straight, the action making his head hurt, “Ouch! oh.”

“Yes, oh.” she shook her head, “I prepared your face-wash. Please do make haste, I hear Duchess Embla is more than a little stressed, and I can’t blame her.”

She left the room, and Ferdinand panicked- with not enough time for his entire morning routine, he made an executive decision only to shave as it was so novel to him.

Glancing at himself in the hall mirror he realised he may have made a mistake. He looked a little too much like Bernadetta in her first year of school to be comfortable, but it was fine. It was all fine. He sighed, adjusted his cravat, and made his way down in a watered-down version of his usual swagger.

Lindhardt, Petra, Hubert and the duchess were all staring at him, looking slightly tired. Hubert was tapping his foot, and he suddenly felt twelve years old again, resisting an urge to stick his tongue out.

- -

 

The weather wasn’t really pleasant. As they all stepped into the carriage, it rather looked like it was building up a storm, in the east over the moors.

Hubert helped Embla up the carriage step, and she laughed, and Ferdinand was fine. As they were all seated, she turned to Ferdinand, ”I did not know you took such an interest in archeology, Sir Ferdinand.”

Ferdinand blinked one, twice. Lindhardt looked over at him, then swiftly interjected: ”Neither did I, but Ferdinand here actually expressed to me some weeks ago a curiosity to investigate these runes, yes, Ferdinand?”

”Yes, of course”, Ferdinand said brightly, cursing his drunken self more than ever, ”I always wanted to see them with my own eyes, just once. I hear they are splendid indeed!”

”How curious”, Hubert said suddenly, and looked critically at Ferdinand, ”I can’t recall you mentioning it before.”

Ferdinand looked straight at him, ”Well, Hubert, it’s a bit presumptuous to think you know everything about a person, is it not?”

At this, Petra hurried to exclaim: ”Look, look! The clouds in the west are not looking so terrible. It seems we maybe are having good weather after all.”

”Joyous”, Hubert said.

”Oh come, I know you were excited to come too!” Embla said, ”you told me so.”

”I suppose I may have mentioned something of the sort.” Hubert smiled wryly, ”’excited’ however may be a bit of a hyperbole.”

”Ugh!”, she laughed, ”Don’t you hate it when he uses big words for no reason other than to impress?”

Lindhardt laughed with her, Ferdinand couldn’t really bring himself to, and Petra looked over at them all and sighed.

- -

 

It was a miserable ride. Embla was perfectly pleasant, awaking something in Ferdinand he hadn’t felt since he was a child, and he couldn’t resist to bring up his own accomplishments. She was excitedly discussing some kind of food with Petra, and apropo of nothing, he interrupted: ”Duchess, do you happen to enjoy fishing?”

Embla blinked, ”I can’t say I excel at it”, she laughed and coughed, ”I guess I’m alright?”

”Ah. Shame.” Ferdinand said, ”I would have loved to go fishing with you someday. I’m quite skilled at it!”

”I don’t doubt it”, she said, ”Hubert told me a lot about your accomplishments.”

”Hardly all of them”, Hubert said, ”for they are many indeed, and I doubt I should have the time in a day.”

”Well, take as long as you want. I’m happy to listen.” She said, and Hubert hummed pleasantly.

”Oh, gee”, Lindhardt commented lamely, ”it seems we’re here.”

“Seems we are”, Petra agreed forcefully.

Ferdinand was so quick to exit the carriage he almost tripped on his feet.

- -

 

It wasn’t that the old runes were uninteresting, rather the opposite, but Ferdinand’s head hammered and his tongue was sour and his mood was getting progressively worse by the minute.

The weather was quite grey and miserable, with a few spots of sun here and there that Lindhardt did not miss pointing out to him. Ferdinand rather uncharacteristically found himself drawn to the shadows instead the center spot, sitting on a stone fence under some trees, some three meters from the runestones.

He didn’t really know why he had even come. If Hubert was planning a proposal, or something of the like as the maids suggested, Ferdinand wasn’t actually going to stop him. All he had wanted for half a lifetime was seeing Hubert happy, after all. He wasn’t about to squander that. Who knows? Maybe it was the tactical thing to do. Maybe Edelgard wanted to improve relations with Brigid. The duchess was perfectly friendly, excitedly putting her greaseproof paper over the stone carvings. Windy as it was, it flew from the corners in all directions.

What Ferdinand couldn’t understand was how Hubert could be so cruel as to leave him like this, feelings burning brighter than ever but completely lost as to where to put them. He yearned so much, and he wish Hubert had never even given him those small scraps of hope to begin with.

As the wind blew up to a gust, Hubert and Petra hurried to place their hands over the parchment to steady it and Ferdinand felt, rather than saw, their fingers touch.

He had enough.

- -

 

It was quite shameful, storming off like a brat, and he could hear his grandfather scold him about it. It seems all that polish doesn’t matter. He’ll still always behave line a ruffian, all else is just shiny polish on a rotted ground. He walked briskly over the grassy plain until he found a bunch of ruins, and promptly sat down under them, on white stone rubble, grateful to be alone.

He looked up at the ruin ceilings. There were depictions of two women riding a pegasus and kissing, and it had started to rumble and rain outside.

- -

 

He lost track on how long he’d been there just thinking, but it must’ve been a while, because he had time to examine every single carving and mural on the dilapidated walls. He thought it was quite a shame, really. They were really nice. Perhaps he should put it to mind to have them restored.

”-Nand!

He flinched. Instantly, the little light seeping in from the ruins’ entrance was blocked by the absolute last person Ferdinand wanted to see right now.

Hubert’s eyes were wild and his hair was a storm, cheekbones flushed high and looking properly deranged. They stared into each other’s eyes, and Ferdinand felt himself shrink.

”…Ferdinand”, Hubert hissed, and stepped down, ”Where. In. Hell itself. Why- You- What-”

Hubert blubbered out some curses, and Ferdinand, not wanting to appear any more pathetic than he already did, got up and dusted his knees, and leaned against a pillar, ”Ah! Hubert. I just wanted to get some fresh air is all.”

”We were already outside!” Hubert yelled so high Ferdinand was afraid he’d make the roof collapse, ”And you know, that is not even the point- What are you doing? What on earth- What is all of this?”

”What’s what?”

”Don’t do that to me!” Hubert shouted, then lowered his voice, ”this morning too, and yesterday- this whole week you’ve been acting strange, and you won’t tell me anything, so how am I supposed to know, Ferdinand! I can't read your thoughts! I’ve been searching- We’ve been searching for at least-” He gave up and threw his arms up in the air.

Ferdinand saw his face, and he looked so tired. So very old and so tired, and Ferdinand felt old too.

”I can’t say what’s wrong, I don’t well know it myself”, Ferdinand sighed, “but I don’t want to look at you right now.”

Hubert looked as though Ferdinand had struck him, ”You…”

”I’m leaving.” Ferdinand said, and pushed past Hubert with more force than strictly necessary. But Hubert wasn’t giving way.

“Ferdinand please tell me what is wrong.”

“Nothing is wrong!” Ferdinand shouted, “I’m feeling ridiculous. I don’t know why I came here. I thought maybe we…. then I heard you were planning a proposal to the duchess, and I felt I oughta see it at least, though- though I don’t understand why you haven’t told me. I don’t understand anything right now so please, Hubert, I’m very tired and very confused and for the love of God will you just move.”

Hubert, momentarily stunned, let Ferdinand walk out into the storm, before turning around almost like an owl, “WHAT!?”’

“I just do not understand why you didn’t tell me you were marrying her! You lead me to believe-”, Ferdinand ran a hand through his wild hair, eyes looking anywhere but at Hubert, “Oh I don’t know what I believed- and now I’m back to where I started, but it all is too much, and I’m the fool for it.”

“Ferdinand-” Hubert looked torn between laughing and screaming, his face contorted, ”Ferdinand, of course I’m not marrying her.”

”What do you mean ’of course’!” Ferdinand exclaimed, hair wild and flowing with the wind on top of the ledge, ”I don’t know what you mean with anything. You tell me one thing, then do another completely different.”

”What do I- I mean of course I’m not!” Shouted Hubert through the wind, ”Why would you think I want to?”

”Why wouldn’t you?” Ferdinand screamed, “It’s all anyone’s talking about! And it’s politics, right? It’s all politics.”

”Wh-” Hubert spat out hair in his mouth, ”What the hell are you talking about? Are you insane?”

”You’re insane!” Screamed Ferdinand, very undignified right now, and feeling very much like the child he swore to leave behind.

”Ferd- Ferdinand!” Hubert exclaimed, ”don’t you- where are you going!”

”I don’t know. I don’t want to be with you right now!” Ferdinand cries and jumps over the fence in as handsome an arc as a man having a temper tantrum could.

”Oh you-” Hubert swore and set off running after him, but if Ferdinand knew something, it’s that he's a great runner, even with one leg, and that Hubert’s stamina is close to zero.

He didn’t count on his persistence, though.

”Stop following me!” Ferdinand shouted behind him, legs tangling in the tall grass as he was swishing wildly, Hubert putting up an admirable fight:

”If I don’t”, he shouted back, ”you’ll just run away -like always-!”

At this, Ferdinand slowed down, panting ”What do you mean ’always’”. He didn’t turn around.

”You always do this”, Hubert gasped. ”I don’t know why- since we were children- you always ran from me.”

”Maybe I didn’t want to spend time with you!” Ferdinand sneered, just to be a contrarian.

”Ferdinand.” Hubert gasped, ”Ferdinand just please, and stop to look at me.”

And Ferdinand did, at last.

”I don’t know what I did to upset you.”, Hubert breathed, ”but I’m through with all of this back-and forth. Do talk to me Ferdinand.”

”Hardly a noble thing you do”, Ferdinand got out through gritted teeth, ”being so cruel, flaunting your- yes, your conquests! I knew- I knew I couldn’t get in the way of you and Edelgard of course I knew but I still-!” His voice cracked, but he soldiered on, ”I tried, and you never saw me, but now you act like you do, and then you go and find some- some new and expect me to… I don’t know what you want Hubert, I don’t. I’ve been here all along and all you do is rip me open.” he took a shaky breath, ”and now you tell me to stop running. Well then, what can I do? You won’t let me run and I can hardly fight you- I’ll die if I stay, what do you want me to do?”

Hubert stood very still. ”What, Ferdinand, what, are you saying.”

”Oh come, are you going to drag this from me too?! Are you so cruel as to leave me with no dignity left? Have it your way, kill me then. I love-”

Ferdinand wasn’t to finish his sentence before he was pressed slick to the stone ruin behind him, shirt bunched up hard in Hubert’s hands and with Hubert’s face and mouth pressed warm against his. Breathing deep with his nose, Hubert held as close as he could to Ferdinand until his hands started to tremble.

”Please tell me I’m not wrong”, Hubert breathed on Ferdinand’s lips, ”not about this.”

Ferdinand followed his mouth with his own, nuzzling into his face. He thought he couldn’t live with being the other person in Huberts life, but so close to him, so warm, all he could do was soak up the light. He snaked his hands around Hubert’s neck almost with vengeance and pulled him so close his ribs hurt.

”Ferdinand”, Hubert sighed, ”if you don’t speak I fear I shall die.”

Ferdinand disengaged, ”your cruelty remains unsurpassed”, he mumbled wryly, an ironic smile on his lips, ”will you take all I have to give?”

”Ferdinand I beg you not to play games. Not now.” Hubert gasped and kissed him again, opening his lips and tasting him deep. Ferdinand whined.

”I will give it to you, I can’t help it. I love you, of course I love you.” Ferdinand almost sobbed when they broke apart, ”I loved you before I even knew what love was. I can’t stand it. Just take it all from me, I don’t even have my pride left.”

”Oh, Ferdinand.” Hubert kissed him again, on the neck, mouthing behind the ear now and his breath seemed to melt Ferdinand’s skin, who pulled Hubert’s hair and moved against him like an animal: ”I love you, Ferdinand. I love you. I love you.”

”What.” Ferdinand spoke out loud, and untangled as best as he could.

Hubert winced when Ferdinand snatched away his hand, some strands of Hubert’s hair getting caught in his fingers. His face was blotchy and his lips swollen, ”I love you too.”

Ferdinand blinked, ”What?”

”Ferdinand, what on earth do you mean by ”what”?”

Ferdinand’s brain was sluggish, ”you can’t.”

”Excuse me?”

”But- you-” Ferdinand babbled, ”Edelgard- You and her- and - the duchess- You-Me-”

”WHAT.”

”They told me- the maids told me, and- and you and Edelgard-”

”Ferdinand.” Hubert said, and for the first time looked genuinely angry, “I’ve been courting you for at least three months, do you really think me so fickle-”

”WHAT?”

Hubert just stared at him, now. Openly. ”...you accepted.”

”Huh?”

”Th— those books you always read on chivalry”, Hubert spat, ”I- it said to begin courtship… and I did. I swear, you accepted.”

And looking back, of course he did.

Of course he had. Hubert, with eyes full of wonder, with books full of prose and heart full of pressed flowers.


”Do you think me so fickle as to have- Ferdinand truly I don’t know how I seem to you in this unfavorable light-”

”You’re not interested in… You aren’t…”

”No!” Hubert shouted.

Ferdinand looked up at him, and he looked so handsome with his hair mussed and disheveled. Ferdinand had made him look like that: ”and Edelgard?”

Hubert shook his head, ”Ferdinand…” he said incredulously, ”Ferdinand I don't know why I ever let you believe there was someone else.” Then, with big, warm, gentle hands, he cupped Ferdinand’s face, ”my whole life, I only ever had eyes for you.”

”I…” Ferdinand said, smiling faintly, ”I don’t think I can believe it. I cannot.”

“The fault is mine for not telling you clearly enough”, Hubert sighed, “I shall endeavor to let you know the extent of my affections as best as I can in the future.”

“Affections”, Ferdinand giggled like a madman, “Hubert I spent our entire childhood thinking of you. I had resigned myself to pine, I think. Still it seems I couldn’t very well stand the thought of you with someone else.”

Hubert laughed with him, then kissed him on the nose. Then on his cupid’s bow. Then opened his lips with his own, melting Ferdinand’s mouth and his brain wet and soft with his tongue, and Ferdinand moaned.

”Oh!” Ferdinand gasped suddenly and pushed Hubert back, ”this is hardly appropriate courtship, or chivalrous for that matter.”

Hubert hummed, looking amused, ”You were just fine with it before.”

Ferdinand blushed to the roots of his ginger hair, ”That's b-because I thought I was… I thought you were… I thought it was an affair. It’s different.”

”You thought-” Hubert started but Ferdinand put his hands over Hubert’s mouth to stop it, terribly, terribly embarrassed. Hubert just took them in his, and Ferdinand giggled, begging him to stop between peels of laughter.


”You thought I was about to just have you there like some sort of...”, Hubert marvelled, ”and...you wanted me to. You wanted me to. Ferdinand! You-”

”Stop. I can’t hear this!”

”You were always wild at heart, I knew, underneath all that talk of nobility”, Hubert smiled. ”I love you.”
Ferdinand sighed and leaned his head on Hubert’s shoulder, pressing his nose against Hubert’s collar. Hubert put his arms around him and pressed him closer, closer, swaying a bit as Ferdinand nuzzled his neck.

”I’m the only one”, Ferdinand breathed.

”Yes.”

”You never kissed Edelgard.”

”Ferdinand I swear I do not know where you get these fables from. It seems to me all you see is giants.”

He grinned and looked up at Hubert, ”won’t you show me, again?”

Hubert raised a brow, “I thought it wasn’t noble. What, pray tell, would your dear old mother say.”

“What she doesn’t know doesn’t hurt her”, Ferdinand said and pulled Hubert in again.

- -

 

Ferdinand is twenty-six, and wakes up with his heart tangled somewhere in Hubert’s black hair, and his leg brushing Hubert’s bare soles. Hubert is softly snoring and has his arm draped over Ferdinand’s waist. Ferdinand is more than happy to be trapped like this, with the open window letting a nice breeze in and a butterfly fluttering outside.

And he’s content.