Ferdinand, for the first time, glances across the tea-table at his companion and thinks to himself, My, he’s handsome . The second the thought registers he chokes on his tea, leaving him coughing and sputtering as, across from him, Hubert watches with a raised brow. As soon as Ferdinand finishes expelling the, frankly, still rather delicious drink from his lungs, his companion asks, dryly, “Are you, perhaps, unwell?”
“I’m fine,” Ferdinand gasps, a little less from the tea and a little more from the realization.
Hubert hums as he sips delicately at his coffee. “If you insist,” he says, eyeing him as though unconvinced. Then a small, utterly captivating smile graces his face, and he says, lightly, “You really must work on that drinking problem of yours. Perhaps an intervention is in order?”
Ferdinand can’t help the grin that claims his mouth, nor the blush he can feel blooming in his cheeks and, oh, his ears, though he prays to the goddess that the latter, at least, will not become bright enough to be noteworthy. “I can assure you, that will not be necessary. I suppose I was just… distracted. For a moment.” Before Hubert has the chance to question what the hell could distract a person into forgetting how to swallow properly, he slides, rather smoothly, he thinks, into a subject change. “As I was saying, about the opera–”
And so they continue, for, perhaps, too long for two of the most important men in the army, but Ferdinand revels in the afternoon even as he tries desperately not to think about the reason why.
It is not, exactly, wholly new for Ferdinand to experience attraction to the same sex. At age nine, embarrassingly enough, he’d experienced a brief crush on Caspar’s elder brother, though he thankfully had the good sense not to actually do something about it, except to tell Caspar years later (after a night of celebration at the monastery and perhaps too much drink) and deal with the relentless mocking.
The monastery itself had been a cruel fortress of temptation, with its fair share of handsome young men (he’d perhaps feel a little guilty for his feelings for Claude, given his leadership of a rival house, except everyone in the school found Claude attractive), most of whom made for fine company, as well. Again, nothing had come of it, and none of them had ever really been more than physical attraction, a faint schoolboy crush he had no intention of pursuing (and, thank the goddess and all the saints, these he told not one soul about, even after one too many glasses of wine, which, in all honesty, was no more than two. He really could not hold his drink).
He’s not sure precisely how, now, but he’s certain these feelings will not dissipate so quickly.
Really, he muses over continued tea times, the most alarming part is not the realization, but the hindsight. Perhaps he’d only recently come to his senses, but the attraction had been building for, oh, maybe 4 years, over shared drinks and shared goals. Each late night and early morning, each battle for the fate of the empire and skirmish with a band of brigands, had been building up more than camaraderie but true affection. Still, he decides, it’s hardly a permanent state of affairs. They are at war, working closely together under heavy stress; it is only natural he’d gravitate toward his physically-closest companion for, well, companionship. If these feelings didn’t dissipate by the end of the war–-and they most certainly would–-they would pass once he was out of it, living life as normal and able to demote Hubert from confidant and brother-in-arms to just coworker . Yes, he decides firmly. This attraction, no matter how long it’s been building, will pass before he knows it, before he does anything to utterly embarrass himself.
He contemplates that his attraction may pass, at least, a bit quicker if he didn’t choose to act on it, but rationality had never been his strong suit, which is how he ends up purchasing a gift of fine coffee for Hubert and all but confessing right on the spot. He takes solace in the fact that Hubert was, apparently, also possessed by the need to give him something, and over tea, coffee, and a rousing conversation, Ferdinand’s tumultuous heart settles, but he cannot help the desire to reach across the table and, just once, just gently, take Hubert’s hand. That, at least, he fails to act on, and he believes the afternoon passes without incident.
(Still, lying in bed that night, he buries his face in a pillow and whispers, “ Fancy ? Seiros, did you just suggest you fancied him like a blushing schoolgirl?” The answer to which, it would seem, is yes, and Ferdinand tries not to scream at his own preposterousness. At the very least, Hubert did not seem to notice his slip of the tongue.)
Ferdinand continues to pride himself on his devotion to duty, even with inconvenient emotions, so he meets with Hubert in his office, going over paperwork and battle strategy until his vision blurs, then gulping down some tea and getting back to it. There’s hardly space for conversation that isn’t related to work, which lessens Ferdinand’s odds of saying something inappropriate, and Hubert’s of saying something utterly endearing. As far as the former is concerned, it’s a great arrangement.
He hums, thoughtfully, as he stands over a map of the Alliance and tries to determine their best way through. HIs concentration is so intense that he misses the sounds of Hubert setting down his own papers, standing from his desk chair, crossing the room to take a look at his work. What he most certainly does not miss is the hand at the small of his back, the sudden, overwhelming proximity of his body ( too big!!! his mind fairly screams, far too broad for a mage!! ), and the feeling of Hubert’s breath ghosting his neck, his ear (dratted ears, surely as brilliantly scarlet as his hair) as he peers down at the map.
“Perhaps,” he suggests, and the softness of his voice makes Ferdinand a bit unsteady, “we could make use of this passage, here.”
“Yes,” Ferdinand says, voice strangled, and his clears his throat before he even continues, “yes, I-I believe that would work well. I suspect Claude may see us coming, however. Our scouts will have to be quite thorough, to keep an eye out for an ambush.”
Hubert chuckles, which is more deadly for his proximity and the rumble of his chest that poor Ferdinand can feel , and says, “That can be arranged.” And then, blessedly, the hand leaves his back and the distance between them grows, and Ferdinand barely has a chance to sigh in relief when Hubert pulls out his pocket watch, frowns, and says, “My, look at the time. Perhaps we’d best break for supper.” And then–-then! because the goddess is punishing him for turning against her!--his hand once again finds Ferdinand, this time a ghost of a touch on his arm that still almost takes him out completely, and Hubert’s voice again is soft, almost gentle , as he asks, “Will you do me the pleasure of dining with me?”
As if Ferdinand can even think of saying no. As if that’s even an option . “Of course,” he says, hating how breathless he sounds, how Hubert’s smile, irresistibly, makes him smile back.
As Ferdinand predicted, Claude plans for their march through the pass, and though Hubert’s spies are thorough, they are unprepared for the bait-and-switch, a decoy ambush distracting from the real one on their flank. He tries not to beat himself up about it–-they don’t call Claude the master tactician for nothing, and none of them, no matter how hard they try, have ever reached Byleth’s level of planning.
He also doesn’t beat himself up because the enemy general does that plenty for him.
When the main bulk of Alliance troops arrives to back up the decoy force, Ferdinand so happens to be positioned where he can see the general (not a face he recognizes from his school days, which is all he really hopes for these days), huge axe in tow and barking orders, and he thinks, well, taking out their leader ought to at least weaken the enemy army, and really, why shouldn’t he be able to handle it?
Regardless of what he thinks, he apparently cannot . They trade a few blows, and Ferdinand is just starting to think he may be able to take them out ( unassisted , that proud voice in his head that, at the very least, has gotten quieter as he matured, if not disappeared completely, supplies, unprompted) when he’s knocked from his mount and, very suddenly, on the ground with an axe in his side.
The world kind of blurs at that point. He hears Petra’s war cry, and she’s the one who gets the general off him and the axe away from where it can do any more damage to him, so that, at least, he can be thankful for. He sees Bernadetta’s pegasus swooping overhead, thinks he can hear the song of her bowstring as she covers Petra. Then––
Hubert’s face, swimming into view overhead. He’d smile at him, almost on instinct, if he had the energy, and also if he believed Hubert would smile back. As it is, he looks… angry, perhaps? He’s difficult to read, even when Ferdinand’s not this close to falling into unconsciousness ( possibly for good , no, not that, he’ll be fine , thank you brain). Before Ferdinand can actually say anything, he feels the shock of white magic, just beginning to soothe the pain, and remembers: Byleth had made all of them with any skill in magic study Faith, no matter how little they intended to use it, which, in Hubert’s case, was never , unless Edelgard suffered some sort of near-fatal wound. He’d groaned and groused his way through lessons until he’d learned Recover, then promptly quit his studies to focus on his Reason. To Ferdinand’s knowledge, he’d never actually used white magic before, outside of his exams.
What this means is that he can’t be blamed for his surprise at the feel of Hubert’s Faith. Most mages didn’t realize themselves, as they rarely experienced the effects of another’s magic, much less their own, but even the same spell feels different depending on the caster. Hubert’s white magic is cold and sharp as a knife–-can he really be surprised? It reminds Ferdinand of his childhood, of diving into deep lakes on early-spring days when the water has yet to be warmed by persistent summer sun. The magic does its work, he thinks, because he can’t feel the pain quite so terribly, though perhaps that’s due to the shock hitting and making him numb.
“Hubert,” he manages, finally, and the man shakes his head at him, furiously.
“Quiet,” he snaps, and Ferdinand blinks, oh, he’s very mad. At him.
“‘M sorry,” he says, even as Hubert is still shaking his head, still plunging that cold knife of Faith into his side. “Hubie–” oh, that’s embarrassing. Oh, he will not be pleased when he remembers that –– “sorry, sorry I did that. S-s–” Sorry I rushed into the fight in my own, sorry I’m bleeding all over you, sorry I’m out of the fight and taken you out, as well, sorry I fell in love with you, I’m sorry––
“Shut up ,” Hubert hisses. “You will be fine , do you understand? You will recover from this.”
Ferdinand laughs weakly. “Is that an order?”
Hubert stills for a half a moment, then heaves a sigh. “ Yes ,” he grits out, “that’s an order. Now lie still.”
Ferdinand doesn’t answer for a moment, then, “I’ll try not to die, Hubert. I’m very sorry. I’ll try not to die.” At least, that’s what he thinks he says. He’s not… actually sure how coherent he is at the moment.
He’s shocked by the feeling of Hubert’s hand, taking his, squeezing it. “You won’t die. You simply aren’t allowed to die.” Ferdinand barely registers the words–-once again he is, uselessly, shut down by Hubert’s touch. “Ferdinand,” he says, and the sound of his name in Hubert’s voice–-cracking, a bit, distraught , if Ferdinand didn’t know better–-grabs his attention and won’t let it go. “You aren’t going to die here. I don’t know what I would do with myself. So don’t leave me.”
Ferdinand is certain he’s hallucinating, at that point, but still he nods, as much as he can, and he’s saved from needing to respond by the arrival of Linhardt, the feeling of his Faith–-warm, soft, all-encompassing, like a lazy summer day. With the more experienced healer present, Hubert drops his hand and then withdraws, casts one last glance at him, and turns his attention back to the fight. And then, perhaps unsurprisingly, Linhardt’s magic draws Ferdinand into sleep.
Ferdinand makes a full recovery in Garreg Mach’s infirmary, or at least, he’s nearly made a full recovery and will be released tomorrow or maybe the next day, when Bernadetta comes running into the room, catching herself on the doorjamb to halt her momentum.
“Pr-professor,” she pants out between gulps of air.
Ferdinand frowns. “Manuela? She’s out. Why, has something happened? Is everyone alright?”
Bernadetta shakes her head, takes a few more deep breaths, then says, “The-the professor is back.” Ferdinand blinks in shock, certain he’s misinterpreting. “Professor Byleth,” Bernadetta says, with more urgency, “they’re back .”
Ferdinand all but leaps from the bed, swallowing his disbelief and letting hope, hope, hope bloom in his chest, and he follows Bernadetta, who kindly slows her pace a bit for him so he won’t exacerbate his injury, down the stairs and over, over to–-he almost laughs–-the Black Eagle classroom. The pair burst in the door, and there, yes, there they are, surrounded already by most of the strike force, hair ethereal and (Ferdinand tries not shudder) inhuman , eyes pale, searching, glittering, like a cat in the dark. Those same eyes find him, at the door, and they smile in the soft, nearly imperceptible way they do and nod, just once, for him, and it’s enough to make Ferdinand’s face split into a grin so wide it hurts his cheeks as pure elation soars in his chest. This changes everything. They’re back. Their professor is back .
They all gather close around them, listening to Byleth’s soft, all-too-short explanation of where, exactly, they’d been all this time, but almost more important to Ferdinand than the professor is the reactions of his classmates, his friends –-how relaxed Bernadetta is, the tension gone from her shoulders; Petra talking a mile a minute, still managing near-complete clarity even at such a speed in her second tongue; Linhardt, smiling a bit and shaking his head like he can’t quite believe it; Edelgard, oh, Edelgard, looking the lightest she’s been in months–-years, maybe–-smiling wider than he thinks he’s ever seen her smile before, so, so happy and secure––
Ferdinand’s chest aches, with love for her, for all of them. With joy for their joy. With gratitude to whatever force out there brought their professor back to them, with the knowledge that this, this might turn the tides in the war, this might change everything . He turns, looking to share that ache with someone, and lays eyes on Hubert who, like him, is carefully observing their classmates but, unlike him, does not seem so celebratory. He’s smiling, yes, but there’s almost a sadness, or so Ferdinand thinks–-reading him as hard as ever, though he likes to imagine he has some ability now. More than anything, Hubert’s looking at Edelgard, seeing, no doubt, everything Ferdinand saw, probably more. Ferdinand’s heart aches for a different reason now, but even so––
He catches Hubert’s eye and offers up a small smile, sympathetic, to communicate I know. I know precisely how you feel because, in truth, he does. He knows the burn of jealousy, the fear of inadequacy, the desire to be useful when, sometimes, people simply have no use for you. He knows, because he’s felt in a dozen times, at least, in Hubert and Edelgard’s presence–-the memory of them planning their invasion of the monastery, their turn against the Church, Edelgard’s ascension to the throne, still burns a bit, even if he believes, must believe for the sake of his own sanity, that now they would trust him with such essential plans. Hubert meets his gaze and softens just a bit. Then, with a slight bow, he excuses himself from the room.
Ferdinand waits around the classroom for a while as everyone gets out their greetings, and as soon as he feels sufficiently re-introduced–-Byleth meets his gaze and inclines their head toward the door, just slightly, and he’s not sure if his intentions are that obvious or if their professor is, as ever, scarily good at picking up on emotion for one who hardly seems to experience it themself–-he politely says his goodbyes and ducks out.
The first thing he does is not look for Hubert. That is because the first thing he does is set a pot of coffee to brew–-he decides, for simplicity’s sake, to drink the stuff himself, since the taste is growing on him, slowly but surely. The next thing he does is look for Hubert, two cups of coffee in hand and praying that he’s somewhere easy to find, because otherwise he’s almost certain he’ll either spill the coffee or carry it until it goes cold. He’s not in the gardens–-really, why would he be, but they’re near the dining hall so it can’t hurt to check–-and several places he can rule out without checking–-the greenhouse, the market, the cathedral, and probably not the knight’s hall, either. That leaves either his quarters or his office, or thereabouts–-the library and the war room are about as close, anyway. If Ferdinand knows Hubert–-and at this point, he better–-he’s the type to sulk by throwing himself into his work and continuing without ceasing until he drops from exhaustion, likely completing tasks along that way that are either unnecessary or could have been delegated to someone else. He heads to the upper offices.
His hunch is close–-Hubert is settled in the war room with a stack of papers, though judging by the general dishevelment of both his office and his person, neither of which is prone to disorder, he suspects the move to the more spacious war room was a spontaneous decision. He knows the feeling, that frustration of perceived uselessness that makes every room too small, too stuffy, unable to contain one’s piling insecurities.
“There you are,” he says briskly, as if the two cups of Hubert’s preferred beverage don’t communicate well enough that he’d been looking for him. For good measure, he adds, “I’ve been looking for you everywhere.” An exaggeration, but again: in moods like these, one wants to feel needed.
“Well,” Hubert mutters, barely sparing him a glance. “Here I am.”
Ferdinand hums, refusing to diminish his cheery disposition, and sits next to him. He pushes the coffee in Hubert’s direction, and is inordinately pleased when he accepts it and takes a few gulps. They sit in silence a few moments, as Hubert stares down the same page of the document he’d been on when Ferdinand arrived and Ferdinand takes tiny sips of coffee. Just because he’s becoming accustomed to the taste doesn’t mean it’s his new favorite drink. He’s still figuring out how to naturally start a conversation about the thing Hubert possibly hates most–-feelings, his especially–-when Hubert speaks first.
“You’re out of the infirmary.”
“I was under the impression you were meant to remain for another day, at least.”
Ferdinand forces his smile to remain sunny, even though he’s uncertain he likes the direction this conversation is headed. “Extenuating circumstances. I’m sure you understand.”
Hubert, if possible, shrinks further into himself, just as it strikes him how terribly wrong that response is. “Yes, I can assure you I understand completely.”
There’s another beat or two of silence as Ferdinand fumbles for something to say until he blurts out, “Well, it’s not like you were visiting me.”
That shocks Hubert out of his own head. He spins to look at him. “What?”
“I mean.” He doesn’t know what he means. He doesn’t know what relevance this has to the conversation they were having, or his attempts to cheer Hubert up. He hasn’t the faintest idea how it’d come up at all. Seiros, he’s dreadful at this. “Well, you didn’t, I-I’ve been there for weeks and you never came to–” He stops himself from finishing. To what? Weep at his bedside? Spoonfeed him meals? The image of Hubert doing anything of the sort is so comically out of character he could laugh, only he’s suddenly not in the mood.
Hubert’s staring him down, expression, as always, unreadable. “I was otherwise occupied,” he says, at last. “With that avenue of attack effectively shut off, I had to search for another way to approach the Alliance. And with you on strict orders to rest –” Ferdinand juts his chin, defiantly. As if Hubert has any right to talk. “-I had to take on some of your duties, as well.”
“I could have helped! Would it have been so difficult to bring papers to me? To confer with me on where we can make our next move? We even could have taken tea together! Surely I needn’t be able to walk to do so little as that!” Hubert shifts, uncomfortably, and glances away for half a second. Ferdinand’s stomach drops like a stone. “I believed,” he says, and hesitates, because the admission is nearly too much to bear, “that you were-upset with me. That I’d done something wrong.”
“You nearly died,” Hubert snaps, but then he sighs, pinching the bridge of his nose. Then, without looking at Ferdinand, his hand inches across the table, just brushes his own. When Ferdinand, in a state of absolute shock, fails to pull away, Hubert–-ever so gently–-locks their pinkies together, like a child swearing an oath. “I was not angry at you. Rather, I was not entirely angry at you. You did still choose to face the enemy commander alone. However,” he clears his throat, “I suppose I was more so… angry with myself.” Ferdinand tears his gaze away from their hands just as Hubert lifts his head to meet his gaze. “I suggested the pass, despite the risks. And it was my scouts who failed to notice the second wave of troops. If anyone is to blame for your injury–-for any injuries suffered in our last skirmish–-it is I, and I alone.”
Ferdinand’s shaking his head before he even finishes speaking. “Absolutely not. Perhaps you suggested the path, but I certainly didn’t disagree. And, as you said, I chose to fight their general with no immediate support. That was my decision, no one else’s, and I will not accept you taking credit for my work.” There, a ghost of a smile on Hubert’s face, and (surely Ferdinand’s overactive imagination) a faint tinge of a blush. “So, it was guilt that drove you away? Or fear that I’d blame you? How preposterous. I would’ve been elated to see you.”
Hubert’s going soft all over, he thinks, a bit of open–-not affection, heavens no, but something akin to it–-shining through his usually closed features. And yet, as swiftly as it came, it is gone, shuttered away again, and then Hubert’s hand is gone from his own as he uses both to cradle his head. “Still,” he mumbles. “Between my failures on the battlefront and my distraction in my work–” Ferdinand frowns. What distraction could he possibly be referring to? “-the arrival of our professor feels like–-oh, fate. A message from the goddess. Perhaps I’ve outlived my usefulness, to Her Majesty and this army.”
“Oh, nonsense,” Ferdinand says. Sometimes, he’s learned, gentle coaxing out of a downward spiral is not enough to do the trick, and more forcefulness is required. “You run this army near-single-handedly. You work tirelessly as Edelgard’s trusted confidant. You are fighting a second war most of us barely even know about! And did you not just say you assumed my duties with me out of commission? That does not sound like the work of a layabout, nor does it call to mind the image of a child who mopes when they do not get their way! Are you not Marquis Vestra, Minister of the Imperial Household? Do you not work, without respite, for the glory of the Emperor? Explain to me how that could possibly be perceived as useless. It seems to me that you are the cornerstone of this army.”
Impassioned speech over with, he turns his gaze to Hubert, who is, against all odds, smiling. Rather openly, at that; it’s an expression Ferdinand’s seen on his face, oh, maybe a handful of occasions. Yet there it is, for him , his traitorous brain thinks, and his heart leaps into his throat.
“I-suppose you may be right,” he says cautiously. And then, his smile turning the slightest bit wicked, “Thank you ever so much for your kind words, Duke Aegir.”
Ferdinand huffs, without any sort of anger. It’s an old joke, mocking the formalities and flattery of the nobles in Enbarr. Mocking, to a lesser, friendlier extent, Ferdinand’s previous blind concession to these values. Perhaps his speech had made him sound a bit like–-ugh–-his father, buttering up some minor lord for a favor, but at the very least he’d meant every word. Anyway, Hubert’s comment served to lighten the mood. “Well of course , Lord Vestra,” he says, affecting the courtly drawl he was all too familiar with. “What are friends for?”
Hubert snorts (Ferdinand falls more in love) and, on instinct, reaches for his coffee, only to recoil when he touches it. “Ah,” he murmurs, “it’s gone cold.”
Ferdinand claps a hand to his forehead. “Ah, drat. I forgot it completely. Perhaps we can have it warmed–-though at the very least, I’m pleased I didn’t use the good stuff, what a waste that would have been–”
“Wait,” Hubert says. He takes Ferdinand’s cup and stares into it suspiciously. Ferdinand wonders, nervously, if he suspects poison, and what on earth he is to do if there’s any present. “Were you… drinking coffee?”
“Ah!” he says, relieved. “Yes, I thought it easier than brewing two pots.”
“I thought you hated coffee.”
He’s not sure why, but he feels the tingle of a blush rising to his cheeks. “Ah, well-it’s growing on me. Like mold,” he jokes, lamely. “I think, perhaps, I’ll someday grow to truly appreciate it.”
Hubert’s studying him, as carefully as he inspected the coffee. “Quite.”
“Though I’d prefer not to drink this cold.”
“Certainly not. I can’t imagine the idea,” Hubert sniffs. Outside, the clock chimes, and Hubert starts. “My, time does fly,” he murmurs as he begins collecting his papers. “I’m afraid I’ll have to cut this short. I have a meeting planned with Lady Edelgard–” he barely hesitates “-and the professor that I simply can’t be late to.” The pair stands, and Ferdinand stops Hubert’s frantic packing.
“Leave it,” he says. “I’ve had a rather lengthy leave. I can get to work on these.”
Hubert’s smile is miniscule as ever and yet utterly radiant. “Thank you,” he says, and he heads toward the door only to turn and, without warning, scoop up Ferdinand’s hand with his own. He bows and his lips gently, just barely , brush the back of his hand. “Until next time, Duke Aegir,” he says with all the formality of a gentleman at court. Ferdinand swears he can feel his breath, even through the gloves. “This has been lovely .”
Without further adieu, Hubert hurries out, and Ferdinand just manages to squeak, “Quite!” before he’s out of earshot. The moment he’s gone, he all but collapses into his chair, cradling the hand so briefly graced by Hubert’s touch.
It’s all part of their game, he knows, and he repeats it in his head to get the images of courtly romances out of his head, and yet. It was, he thinks, a kiss all the same.
Ferdinand works the rest of the day and, perhaps, a bit too late into the evening; when he stands, his wound aches sharply, and he remembers abruptly that he is, technically, meant to be resting today, and that the day’s physical exertions had been a bit more than he was meant to perform. In any case, he thinks, sudden wave of exhaustion hitting him, it had been nice , to get back into the swing of things, to actually contribute something to the army instead of lounging around like-like-oh, metaphors escaped him. Or similes, at any rate.
He takes it nice and slow down the stairs, wanders past the dormitories, waves goodnight to Bernadetta, who stares at him like a deer staring down its hunter before scrambling back into her room and slamming the door with an “eep!”. It is on the stairs up, back to his room, that he sags against the wall to breathe, in-out-in-out, until he’s caught his breath and can move up the rest of the flight for blessed, blessed sleep.
Yet the sight of his room draws him up short, makes him gape in shock. It’s cleaner than he’d left it–-he’s neat by nature, yes, but packing always leaves his room looking like a storm had blown through, and he’d hardly had the chance to tidy up since their return from battle–-but what catches his eye is not the gleam of his desk in the candlelight nor the inviting softness of his bed (well. That does catch his eye for a moment–-he’s very tired, and only human), but the vase of flowers on his dresser. It’s a beautiful bouquet, made up of flowers he recognizes from the greenhouse, if he’s unfamiliar with their names. He walks to them as if magnetically pulled, and can’t help but smile at the pleasant smell of them.
“I was wondering when you’d return,” says an all-too-familiar voice from behind him, and he all but jumps out of his skin. He whirls around, already red-faced ( Seiros . He’s like a child, to be so inconvenienced by the sound of his voice), and there he is, leaning against the doorjamb, arms crossed. He’s smiling, and there’s an openness about him that makes Ferdinand’s heart seize up.
“It’s hardly that late. I still have much to catch up on, so longer hours are only to be expected.” There’s a question streaming through his brain and hammering away in his chest–- Did you do this? Was it you? You? You? --but to put a voice to it would be too humiliating, and so–-he deflects.
A raised brow. “I do believe you were meant to be resting today. Wearing yourself out now, before you’ve fully recovered, will only weaken you later.”
“Didn’t seem to bother you when you abandoned me with your work.” Hubert frowns, opens his mouth to protest, so he hurries to add, “No, no, I jest, my friend. I quite literally asked for it. And I’d prefer it to sitting around doing nothing.” As I’m sure you know , he thinks, and he thinks Hubert understands.
“Of course. I intended to return, but I was… otherwise occupied.” Ferdinand’s traitorous heart skips a beat–- Here? Doing this? The flowers are certainly fresh.
“Well,” he says, and it comes out so- warbly that he flinches. “I can hardly complain about returning to such an inviting room.” The closest he’ll allow himself to come to asking. Hubert can confess, if it was him–-if he doesn’t, Ferdinand will spend the rest of his life wondering if his hope was right or if he was fooled by blind optimism.
Hubert coughs, and his gaze wanders away from his face. Surely not , he thinks, but the way he’s acting– “A thank-you, I suppose. For–” He hesitates, and Ferdinand can’t be imagining the blush on his cheeks, “-for the coffee. And,” he sighs, “everything else.”
“Ah,” he says, intelligently, faint for reasons other than his injury, now. “Well. I should be thanking you–-I hardly would have had the energy to clean in here.” Hubert nods curtly, satisfied, and before he can stop himself, Ferdinand blurts, “And the flowers. They-they’re lovely.” Hubert’s watching him, wide-eyed, which makes Ferdinand all the more terrified that he’s about to say something colosally stupid. “I like them. Very much.”
Hubert’s smiling, making Ferdinand even more likely to buckle at the knees. “Ah. Good. You-ahem. I believe you’ve mentioned your room required, as you put it, ‘brightening up’.”
He had. He had , at tea, but that was weeks ago, and he’d only mentioned it once, off-handedly. Goddess . “I didn’t realize you had any knowledge of floristry,” he manages.
Hubert snorts. “Of course not. My plant-based knowledge is all a bit more… practical .” Yes, that checked out. “But there are those around who do, and it was hardly a challenge, convincing them to use that knowledge for your sake.”
He levels a Look. “You’re popular.”
“Ah,” he says, blushing all over. It still feels strange , to think that he is so well-liked. He supposes his upbringing had been a bit… demoralizing. “Well. I’m very grateful. To you and your assistants. You didn’t need to thank me.”
Hubert’s looking at him, looking, looking. “Think nothing of it,” he says, softly. Ferdinand suppresses the urge to shudder. They’re talking here, in his bedroom , he realizes all at once. “I should leave you to your rest.” He turns, and the weight of this conversation hits Ferdinand all at once.
“Hubert,” he says. The other stops, but doesn’t turn to face him. Very well, then; this may be easier without eye contact. “You don’t need to apologize, either.”
He can hear Hubert’s sharp intake of breath. Rather than reply, he simply says, “Good night, Ferdinand.” And then he is gone.
He collapses on the bed. He is exhausted, after all, even without… whatever that was. He is nearly captured by sleep when his brain whispers He got you flowers and he’s forced to bury his face in his pillow and screech .
To the surprise of probably no one, Byleth’s presence does turn the war around. With them at their side, the Black Eagle strike force blazes through the Alliance, capturing Derdriu and driving Claude out of Fódlan, quite possibly forever. Such as major victory, of course, warrants a celebration.
They meet on the lawn outside the set of classrooms, hauling out tables and chairs and picnic blankets, fruit and meat and drinks of all kinds. Dorothea lights lanterns; Petra lights up a bonfire to cook the fish she’d caught, and Bernadetta tends it. Linhardt lies on one of the picnic blankets pointing out constellations and telling the myths behind them, but he laughs and nods as he humors Caspar’s made-up shapes and stories.
They eat, and drink–-most of them, anyway. Ferdinand decides to let the others get a head start. He doesn’t touch wine, beer, ale, or anything of the sort until Byleth excuses themself after precisely one drink and a bit of Petra’s fish, and Edelgard stands and follows–-the last thing he wants is to embarrass himself in front of those two. He sits at table with Petra and Dorothea and has just started in on his first glass when Hubert settles in, almost silently, next to him. He tries not to choke.
“Hubie!” Dorothea cries warmly. “So glad you made it. Although, you know, you just missed Edie and the professor.”
“That’s fine,” he says, a bit stiffly. Ferdinand frowns–-he’d been under the impression that Hubert and Byleth had come to an understanding. Perhaps, he thinks, that understanding is unsatisfactory to him. Hubert takes notice of the drink in his hand and says, “Please, don’t stop on my account. Everyone’s worked hard; a break certainly won’t hurt anyone.”
“Perhaps Hubert is not feeling well?” Petra pipes up. Her eyes are shining with mirth. “I am having surprise to hear you be saying that. I am not certain you have ever been taking a break.”
“Hilarious,” he says. His knee brushes Ferdinand’s, and Ferdinand starts drinking to stop any embarrassing sound from coming out of his mouth. “I can take a break every now and again.”
“Mm. Sure,” Dorothea says. She leans forward, eyes sparkling as she studies him. “When’s the last time you weren’t working?” Before Hubert can respond, she holds up a finger. “Sleeping and meals don’t count, if you ever enjoy either of those things.”
Hubert sniffs. “I enjoy both, thank you. And I believe I take breaks quite frequently, thank you.” He turns his gaze on Ferdinand, who’s probably bright red at this point and only getting worse the longer Hubert’s in his general vicinity. “Wouldn’t you say so, Ferdinand? I feel we have tea together often enough.”
“Yes,” he says, very meekly. Dorothea turns her mischievous Look on him and he tries not to wilt. “Yes, we-we make time for tea, when we can. I’d say that constitutes a break, yes?”
“Hm, I do not have certainty,” Petra says, as Dorothea nods. “If you are still making plans and discussing busyness–-no, business –-it is not exactly counting as relaxing.”
“Exactly. Talking about military matters over tea hardly counts as a break. If that is what you two are doing.” Dorothea leans even further over the table, with the specific goal of making him more uncomfortable, he’s sure. “So which is it, you two? Business or–” she waggles her eyebrows as Petra hides a giggle behind her hand, “-pleasure?”
Ferdinand could fully die. He buries his face in his hands and groans as Hubert delicately clears his throat. “Well,” he says primly, “we certainly don’t discuss matters of state, if that’s what you intend to ask.”
“Gossip!” Dorothea cries. She sounds delighted–-Ferdinand refuses to look up and see whatever embarrassing thing she’ll do next. “Why, Hubie, I didn’t know you had it in you!”
“I hardly see why,” he says. Is his–-his elbow is now up against Ferdinand’s. Oh, fate is cruel . Surely there cannot be so little room at the table to necessitate this! Ferdinand tries to shift, subtly, into a position that both hides his flaming ears and appears natural. The movement pushes them just the slightest bit closer together. Goddess . He downs the rest of his drink. “I am a spymaster, after all. It is only natural that I would collect information about the members of this army, as well.”
“Aha! Look at that, Ferdie, you’ve been recruited. Isn’t that lovely?”
“Quite,” he says, too quickly. “Excuse me, I’m going to fetch another drink.”
He hears, as he hurries away, Petra protesting that using tea for information-gathering would also count as work, and whatever Hubert’s response is makes them laugh. Ferdinand tries desperately to shake the feeling that they laugh at his expense.
Ferdinand is three drinks in, and thinking back to conversation he had with Hubert months ago. That part’s hardly new. The conversation is what matters–-Ferdinand choking on tea and Hubert, teasing, expressing concern over his drinking problem. What a laugh, only–-Ferdinand decides Hubert’s jest might have a ring of truth, and that he really must stop drinking.
Point being: he’s three drinks in, and he’s a mess.
He’s hardly the only one–-Linhardt’s passed out on Caspar’s shoulder, Caspar is talking too loud, even for him, Dorothea is laughing more than she ever has, Petra’s use of the language slips a bit. Problem being, they’re all further along than he is–-he’s not sure how much, but certainly more than three–-while being just as drunk, which means, he accepts, he is the lightweight.
They’re not all so sloppy–-Bernadetta is, he thinks, nursing the same drink she had at the start of the evening, and Hubert, of course, of course , is nearly completely composed, having had two drinks. The only thing marking him as human , and not some sort of device capable of turning whatever it consumes into raw energy (“that’s a human,” Linhardt had mumbled sleepily when Ferdinand had voiced the same complaint a bit earlier in the evening, “ humans turn whatever they eat to energy”), the only thing that convinces him that Hubert actually feels anything is the barest hint of pink across his cheeks.
Of course, that might be Ferdinand’s fault. In the midst of telling some exaggerated tale he’d slung an arm around Hubert’s shoulders, and he has yet to move it. Whatever, he’s drunk, he can act as he pleases, thank you .
By this point, they’ve all relocated to the picnic blanket, and as embarrassing as it will be if Ferdie manages to remember anything from tonight, he’s all but snuggled into Hubert’s side. Not that he seems to mind–-Hubert’s shoulders are relaxed, his smile is easy, and he seems perfectly content to support both his own weight and half of Ferdinand’s. So cuddle he will, until he is pushed away or sobers up enough to be shy. He suspects the former is the more likely option–-Hubert is far, far more put together than he is.
“Alright, Ferdie,” Dorothea says, drawing his attention back to their game and not Hubert’s smell, which he hopes he hasn’t been overly obvious in sniffing. Saints, he’s a wreck . “I confessed to Hilda, now it’s your turn. Your most embarrassing crush.”
“Hmmm,” he muses. “How am I to choose? I’ve had so many.”
“Don’t say my brother this time,” Caspar butts in. “I’ve heard it before, and the last thing I need is to consider it again.”
“Hush, you.” He thinks for a long moment. “Oh, I don’t know. Does Saint Cichol count?”
Dorothea cackles, Caspar yells “What?” so loudly it probably wakes half the monastery, and even Hubert’s chest rumbles with laughter. “Surely you can’t be serious,” he says. “You had a crush on a historical figure?”
“Don’t you have the crest of Cichol?” Bernadetta frets. “Isn’t that a bit… weird?”
“N’t really,” Linhardt mumbles, and Caspar nearly jumps out of his skin. “Crests don’t correlate to… blood relashun…” Just like that, he is asleep again, and Caspar grumbles a complaint about how “of course, he’ll wake up enough to correct someone”.
“Still weird,” Petra says sagely, which is honestly kind of true.
“I had some weird ideas as a child. Give me a break.”
“In any case,” Dorothea interrupts, “I’m not counting that one. Ferdie, please, I’m trying to hear about your little schoolboy crushes. Officer’s Academy students only, please.”
“I must continue to recount my embarrassing affairs of the heart?” He flops dramatically onto Hubert, who huffs but quickly adjusts to support even more of his weight. Good. He’s not moving. “Can I just say Claude and get it over with?”
“Goodness no!” Dorothea cries. “That’s hardly fair. We all had a crush on Claude.”
“Surely you exaggerate.”
Dorothea raises a brow in challenge, then declares, “Everyone here who’s had a crush on Claude, raise your hand.”
Nearly every hand in the circle raises. Linhardt is, apparently, back in deep sleep. Hubert, on the other hand, has no such excuse. They all turn to gawk at him.
“You can’t be serious.”
“I told you! I told you he has no feelings! Thea, you owe me 25 gold.”
“I am not believing that.”
“Don’t lie, Hubert, that ruins the game!”
“I’m not lying,” he says, primly. He glances quickly at Ferdinand, who’s staring up intently at him and, most certainly, imagining the blush on his face deepening. “I suppose he’s attractive enough. I just never appreciated his constant scheming.”
Caspar snorts. “Coming from you.”
“I appreciate the irony.” He sighs. “I suppose my attention was focused elsewhere.”
That, Ferdinand understands. While the Hubert he knows today could, he supposes, feel some romantic interest in another–-and has demonstrably maintained close, platonic bonds–-he struggles to imagine the Hubert of their academy days caring for anything other than Edelgard and her goals. No time for romance in a mind like that.
“Is that so?” Dorothea asks, challenging. “Tell me, Hubie, what’s your most embarrassing crush?”
He sniffs. “I believe we ruled that Ferdinand has yet to give a satisfactory answer.”
“Ah, yes, how could I forget. Ferdie?”
He groans. “Fine. Fine . I’ll tell you and let you all spend the next 15 years mocking me for it, at least.”
“Sounds promising,” Bernadetta says. Oh, they’d been dreadful influences on her.
“Okay! It was Lorenz. Happy?”
The reaction is instantaneous, everyone talking or laughing or fairly shrieking at once. Ferdinand closes his eyes against it all, accepting it as penance for having drunk far more than he should have. Hubert wheezes against him, gasping for breath, and Ferdinand generously leans off him a bit to let him catch his breath.
“Lorenz,” Petra gasps when all the racket has died down. “You cannot be meaning it.”
“It was a particular low point for me.”
“No kidding. With the bowl cut and everything?”
Ferdinand hides his head in his hands. “I had a certain impression of him-I thought I could. Look past it.”
“Oh, saints,” Dorothea gasps. “ Did you ?”
“Are you asking if Lorenz and I- heavens no. Could you imagine? I came to my senses long before things could escalate.”
“Thank goddess for small miracles,” Hubert murmurs.
“You demanded the most embarrassing. There you have it.”
“Indeed we did.” Dorothea lifts her glass in a toast. “Much obliged, Ferdie. Now , Hubie, it’s your turn.”
“Certainly not.” At that, Hubert draws a way, his warmth and steadiness leaving Ferdinand drifting in an ocean of cold, dark night. “I will have much work to do in the morning. I should turn in now.”
Everyone else protests, except the still-snoozing Linhardt, even as Hubert clambers to his feet. “I expect to see you all tomorrow, ready to work. The war is far from over.”
“Yes, yes,” Dorothea says, waving a hand. “Spoilsport.”
Hubert looks at Bernadetta. “Do try to keep them out of trouble.”
She nods, and actually salutes . “I should be able to handle that.”
“Excellent. Ferdinand,” he says.
He looks up at the sound of his name. Hubert is practically glowing under the light of the stars.
“I’d advise against drinking anymore. You may say something you regret.”
“More than the Lorenz thing?” Caspar heckles, and Ferdinand sends him a rude gesture without turning his attention away from Hubert.
“Get some rest,” Hubert says seriously. “All of you.” And then, and then, he leans down and plants a kiss on the crown of Ferdinand’s head. “Good night,” he says, and then walks away like he hadn’t single-handedly turned Ferdinand all-over red, from head to toe.
The others didn’t notice, or perhaps didn’t care, and now turn their attention to Bernie, who is far too sober for this, but Ferdinand feels–-out of place. Floating, even with the feel of the ground beneath them and the chill night air. It hadn’t meant anything, he’s sure; he’d been drinking, they all had, and Hubert had gotten confused. That was all. A kiss goodnight–-Ferdinand feels the hot flash of jealousy he’s worked so hard to abandon to his teenage years. Perhaps he’d thought for a moment it was Edelgard he was sending to bed? No, no, preposterous–-the two were close, but such a gesture hardly fit their relationship at all. No, Ferdinand is utterly perplexed by the moment, brief as it was. What could it mean? Tired, and maybe the tiniest bit spiteful, he pours himself another drink.
It’s getting late, and Ferdinand is drunk . He may have been drunk already, he thinks, but now he’s absurdly drunk. Hubert did say, didn’t he, to stop drinking, but Ferdinand is nothing if not rebellious, yes, and so: he’s had two more. The rest have had more–-Dorothea can do little more than giggle madly as Petra and Caspar, apparently, compete to see who can talk the loudest, and Linhardt’s past the point of offering anything to the conversation, well and truly unconscious on the grass, limbs splayed like a starfish. Bernadetta’s finished her one drink and had no more–-she looks, uncharacteristically, annoyed.
“Quiet,” she says, “please, people are trying to sleep.” As if she has any chance of being heard over the racket that is Caspar’s story about–-Ferdie hasn’t been following, honestly. Some fight or other; the words have stopped registering.
“Impossible!” Petra cries. “That is-no, you cannot have–”
“I did! I actually did!”
“Caspar.” The voice does wonders to sober the lot of them up–-they turn to face Edelgard, looking up at her like children caught with their hands in the cookie jar. Her hair is loose, and she’s dressed–-not for bed, but less formally than they’re used to. “Petra. Dorothea ,” she adds, annoyed, at the giggling songstress. “All of you. Celebration is well and good, but I believe it’s time you all got some sleep.”
“S-sorry, Edelgard,” Bernie pipes up. “I-I tried to keep them under control.”
“Seems like trying to keep a herd of cats under control. You’re alright, Bernie.” She surveys the lawn, as if she’s looking over all of Adrestia. “We can get this cleaned up tomorrow, if any of you are up to it. In the meantime, you all need sleep.” Her gaze falls on him, and he stiffens reflexively. “Oh, Ferdie. I thought Hubert was keeping you out of the alcohol?”
Did she tell him to do that? Through the fog in his mind, he’s ashamed of himself–-of course, that would be why he’d seemed so concerned for his well-being. Not-anything else. “He went to bed,” he says primly. “So there.”
“Indeed,” she says dryly. “Caspar, do you need a hand getting Linhardt to bed?”
“I’ve got it,” he says, lifting him bridal-style. “He weighs basically nothing.”
“I am keeping telling him to eat!”
“Hush, Petra. Quiet voices.”
“Alright, then,” Edelgard says. “I will see you all–-well, at some point tomorrow. Perhaps morning would be a bit ambitious. Come, Ferdinand, I’ll give you a hand.”
“No, no.” He’s standing, and the world tilts but he doesn’t fall, so. “I’m–-I need to walk. To clear my head.”
“Oh, of all times to let your pride get the best of you. You can hardly stand.”
He’s already walking away. “I don’t need your assistance, Lady Edelgard !”
“Oh–! Fine then, but I won’t be the one fishing you out of the pond in the morning.”
“I bet Hubie would –” Dorothea starts, before she is silenced by her own giggles, but no matter–-Ferdinand’s almost out of earshot, anyway.
He wanders a bit, through the gardens, to the stables (says hi to the horses, who seem less than pleased to see him, probably because they were sleeping) and makes his way to the fishing pond, where he stops. It’s not Edelgard’s (or, goddess forbid, Dorothea’s ) quip getting to him, really, just–-the pond never fails to bring him a sense of peace.
He doesn’t feel like dealing with his boots and socks, so rather than dip his feet in he sits cross-legged by the edge, staring into the water and the reflection of the stars. Distantly, he’s aware of the sounds of Edelgard, still corralling his classmates to bed, but he doesn’t really care. His mood is all over the place, changeable as the water in the pond–-irritated, peaceful, embarrassed, thoughtful, jealous (of what, he doesn’t know, but the feeling’s familiar enough that he can’t mistake it), tired . Fine, he’s mostly tired. He lies back to look at the stars properly.
He’s there for some time, thoughts flowing and jumbling until he’s lost in them, alone by the pond, and he’s nearly sleeping when he hears the approach of footsteps. He sits up and feels his heart in his throat, heavy as stone: it’s Hubert.
“There you are,” he’s saying, as if the look of him underneath the moon and stars isn’t enough to make Ferdinand believe in the goddess. “It’s a wonder you didn’t fall in.”
“I’m not that drunk,” he says, not really thinking about his words. Instead, he’s thinking about how Hubert complained about the sun–-the harsh light of it, the way it burned his skin and turned every inch of it red. He understands, now. In the moonlight, Hubert is radiant, silvery and ethereal. No wonder he hated the sun–-he belongs among the stars.
Hubert chuckles. “I do believe I mentioned you’d embarrass yourself, my dear.”
Ah. Good. He’s experiencing auditory hallucinations. He squints–-Hubert, he’s almost certain, is real. “I’m not embarrassed . Edelgard should be embarrassed. She thought I’d fall in, and I didn’t. So.”
“The night’s still young. Come, let’s get you to bed.”
Ferdie doesn’t have the energy to fight. Hubert helps him to his feet, and this time, the combination of exhaustion and alcohol is enough to make him unsteady. He stumbles, but Hubert is solid, ready to catch him. He shivers at the touch, and Hubert frowns at him.
“Cold? There is a bit of a chill.”
And before Ferdinand can react, Hubert’s shrugging off his jacket and securing it around his shoulders.
“I,” he says, all brain functions shutting down. “No, it’s–”
Hubert’s hands freeze, still on his shoulders (well. Still on the jacket. Which is on his shoulders). “Ah-should I–”
“No, no, it’s–” He’s looking at him, looking, looking. They’re standing so close. “It’s very kind of you. Thank you.” His voice barely rises above a whisper. He’s being found out, he’s sure of it. Hubert’s reading his every emotion as easily as he reads his reports, and any moment now he’ll recoil in disgust.
He does draw back, but just barely, moving his hands from his shoulders to take some of his weight and begin the walk back to his room. Oh, if Ferdie had been cold–-Hubert’s hand at his waist, his jacket around his shoulders, they would not leave him cold for long.
“The stars,” he says, desperate to fill the silence, or even just to hear Hubert’s voice again (and again and again and–). “They’re beautiful, wouldn’t you say?”
He’s staring at Hubert’s face, openly, intently, not particularly caring if he stumbles, so he doesn’t miss the look he shoots him, the shine in his eyes, the smile on his lips. “It’s a lovely evening,” he agrees. You’re beautiful , Ferdinand wants to say, but. It’s best to not, even as the curve of his lips entices him.
“I’m drunk,” he says abruptly.
“I know, dear.”
“I-think I’m hallucinating.”
Hubert raises a brow at him. “That’s no good. Does that mean I’m not real?”
“And why would you be hallucinating me?”
“I want to be with you,” he says earnestly, before he can stop himself.
Hallucinating, yes, that’s it–-that’s why Hubert’s face goes pink as he helps him up the stairs. “My,” he murmurs, and nothing more, and Ferdie, embarrassed beyond belief, makes no further attempt at making conversation.
They make it down the hall and to his room, and Ferdinand expects to be left here to take care of himself, but instead he lets them both in. Ferdie, tired and out of it and not sure he can trust his senses, sits heavily on the edge of his bed, and Hubert–
Hubert bends, and helps him out of his boots. He reclaims his jacket–-this time, when Ferdie shivers, it is the cold–-then helps him out of his own. He’s more comfortable, now, but he’s certain he’s red all over, his ears most of all. He watches Hubert hang his coat in his wardrobe warily, like he’s some sort of unpredictable wild animal. The next thing he does isn’t too shocking, at least–-he returns to the bedside, helping Ferdinand under the covers. “On you side, please,” he mutters, and Ferdie huffs but complies. With him tucked in, Hubert withdraws. “There. Get some rest. You’ll feel terrible in the morning.”
“Very encouraging,” he mutters.
“Good night, my dear.”
“Ah-good night.” He clears his throat–-it’s suddenly dry. “Good night, Hubie.”
“I mean it this time,” Hubert says, smiling. “Don’t wander off again, because I certainly won’t help you next time.”
“You always do,” Ferdie whispers, unable to help the easy smile.
“I always do.” Hubert takes his hand and squeezes it, once, then lets go.
“So you’ve said. Until tomorrow, Ferdie.”
Until tomorrow , he thinks as Hubert slips out of the room, closing the door softly behind him. The weight of the kiss Hubert had planted on the top of his head, the ghost of his touch on his hip, the lingering feeling of their hands, however briefly, locked together. Tomorrow. They will all still be there tomorrow.
The monastery is safe. That’s what matters–-the monastery is protected, and they’re together, and yet–
The last battle had held too many familiar faces. Teachers, classmates–-too much. All of it, too much.
Ferdinand is outside the cathedral, tucked into a corner and leaning heavily on the wall to look across the valley below. He’d tried to go inside–-to pray for those lost, though he rarely prayed at all–-but the depictions of the saints stared him down, like they knew his crimes, and so. Here he is, wallowing.
“May I join you?” Hubert asks. He hadn’t heard him come up, but that’s nothing new. He nods, mutely, and there he is, at his elbow, looking–-thoughtful. Not like he carries regrets, the way Ferdinand does. No surprise there, either. Hubert, and Edelgard, had always had stronger wills than he could manage. They aren’t ones for looking back.
“I won’t protest.”
“I understand if you wish to be alone.”
Ferdinand gazes at the valley without seeing it. “I don’t. I really don’t.”
Hubert sighs, then tucks himself up against him. The presence is comforting, to say the least. “We won,” he says. “Before everything else, you must remember–-they aimed to take back the monastery, to kill Her Majesty, and they failed. We prevented that.”
“We did,” Ferdinand replies softly. “We did, and-and we did. That is. Heartening.”
Hubert hums doubtfully. He supposes he doesn’t sound very heartened.
“We’ve fought old friends before. I know that. I knew that, back when I chose this path, that I’d face people I once called friends. Classmates. Companions. But this was…”
“You don’t,” Ferdinand says, squeezing his eyes shut. “You really don’t.”
Hubert is silent for a long moment. “You’re right. I don’t. I chose to follow Lady Edelgard, and I will do so again and again, no matter what it takes. I have no time for remorse, or regret. I can’t understand.” His touch at Ferdinand’s elbow, taking it, squeezing it, grounding him. “But I do know. I know you, and I know what you’re feeling, and I know that this isn’t easy.”
“It isn’t.” Ferdinand thinks, thinks, tries desperately to connect disjointed thoughts. “I… I suppose I always had a bit of a soft spot for Flayn. We all did, I know, but… something about her just made me want to protect her. To keep her safe . And Seteth–-I truly admired him. Today, I watched them fight our friends. Our family . And we had no choice but to turn my lance on them, to keep the people I love safe .” He inhales shakily. “It’s always been–-I mean, of course I’ve wanted to protect everyone but this––protecting them from people I once wanted to protect. Maybe that doesn’t make any sense.”
“It does,” Hubert says softly. “I don’t–-well. You know I don’t. But I understand what you’re saying.”
“Of course you do. You’re the most protective person I know.”
Hubert’s grip on his elbow tightens, and when Ferdinand looks at him, his eyes are screwed shut. “Yes,” he says at length. “There are people I must protect, and all else is secondary.”
“I know.” He’s silent, mulling it over, when something Hubert said strikes him. “I don’t–”
“I don’t regret this.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“I don’t regret choosing this path.” He’s looking into Hubert’s eyes, searching frantically for understanding. “I don’t. I’d choose this, time and again. Always.” He would, because as painful as it felt to turn his lance on Seteth, and Flayn, the idea of turning it on Edelgard, on Hubert is-unimaginable. “I fight for what I believe in, and to regret what I must do to see my goals realized–-it’s the most ignoble thing I can imagine.”
Hubert nods. “I understand.” He does. Ferdinand can see it in his face. “I suppose that doesn’t necessarily make it any easier, does it?”
“No,” he says flatly. “It never does.”
They stand in silence, and Ferdinand–-exhausted, bone-tired–-leans his head on Hubert’s shoulder. Hubert, for his part, is content to hold him up.
He’s on his way to the infirmary when he bumps into Edelgard. “Ah, Ferdinand,” she says. “Just who I was hoping to see. I’ve got this report I’d like to go over with you, and–” She stops abruptly, staring at the tray in his hands. “Is that coffee?”
“Yes, but-oh, it can wait. Let’s see that report.”
She holds up a hand. “Nonsense. Heaven forbid you let it go cold.”
“Really, Edelgard, I can just have it reheated–-these documents sound important, perhaps we should–”
“Ferdie.” She’s dropped her formal posture, and she’s smiling at him. “You are otherwise occupied . Now go. He’ll be happy to see you.”
“Ah,” he says, flushing all the way to his goddess-damned ears. “Yes. Well. Perhaps I’ll.”
She laughs. “You’d best. He’s getting antsy.”
“Already?” He frowns. “It’s hardly been a day.”
“That’s our Hubert for you. Hurry along, now, we can talk later.”
“Yes, yes–-oh, I’m going!”
Hubert is sitting up in bed, looking out the window across the monastery grounds. His hands fidget with nothing to do–-Ferdinand can’t help but notice he’s gloveless, then kicks himself for noticing. Well then. Best give him something to occupy himself with.
When Hubert turns to see him, it is like the sun coming out from behind a cloud. His smile’s as small as ever, but still–-it lights up his face, makes him glow. “Ah,” he says, casually, like Ferdinand’s heart isn’t somersaulting at the sight of him. “Another visitor.”
“I take it Edelgard’s been by?”
“Just checking in on me.” He sighs. “Rubbing work in my face, then refusing to let me do it.”
“I believe you need rest ,” Ferdinand reminds him, setting the tray down and settling into the chair beside his cot.
“I can read in bed.” He takes a sip of coffee and sighs appreciatively. Ferdinand preens–-he’d made his favorite. “I hardly see why one little injury means I’ll be useless for the next week.”
“ Two weeks , if you don’t give it time to heal. What happened, anyway? I thought you were only dealing with bandits.”
Hubert frowns fiercely. “I was . It seems I… foolishly underestimated them. One of their swordmasters got me.” At Ferdinand’s concerned frown, he hastens to say, “Nothing serious. Fairly shallow, but,” he sighs, resigned, “if I’m too active, I’ll reopen the wound and only prolong my stay here. So bedrest it is.”
“As you should! We can’t have our second-in-command out for too long, you know. With me as your replacement it’s only a matter of time until I run this army into the ground.”
Hubert sniffs. “The professor would hardly let that happen.”
“I don’t report to them.”
Something unexpected–-a wide smile, stretching across Hubert’s face. “Goddess,” he murmurs. “Well, give them hell for me.”
“Could I do any different? I’ve been told I am a nuisance.”
“By you. You said that.”
“Ah. I’d nearly forgotten.”
Ferdinand bites back a grin. “That you said it, or that I am?”
Hubert’s looking at him, looking, looking. Thoughtful. “I’m sorry to report,” he says, almost reverently, “that I still find you rather inconvenient.”
Ferdinand gulps his tea to push down the lump in his throat. “Ah. Well, at least I’m consistent.”
They sit in companionable silence for a few moments, tea and coffee slowly but surely disappearing. At length, Ferdinand says, “I’m glad you’re feeling alright. When I heard you’d been injured, I was worried.”
“I’m more concerned about my mind going, at this rate,” he grouses.
“Oh, hush. You’ll be inventing vile schemes until the day you die.”
Hubert tilts his head. “You think so? I’m flattered.”
“You’d best be. That, or you’ll be out of a job, and I’ll have to take on your duties.” He shudders at the thought.
“Exactly which duties are you so concerned about?”
Hubert’s yelp of a laugh startles him. “I don’t–” He’s interrupted by his own wheezing laughter. “I don’t bathe her. Saints, Aegir, she is a grown woman!”
“Well! Good! In that case, go ahead and stop scheming. The rest of it I’m certain I can handle.” He’s immensely satisfied with himself, for getting a laugh out of him. For taking him out of his moping.
Hubert’s laughter slowly peters out. “Yes, yes,” he says, “I’m certain you could.” They’re joking around, but still–-a burst of pride in Ferdinand’s chest. He’s capable .
Their discussion is interrupted by a loud yawn from Hubert. At Ferdinand’s glance, he sighs. “The medicine. Manuela wants me to sleep.”
“And I brought you coffee !” he exclaims, horrified.
“Come, it’s hardly keeping me awake.” He lies back against the pillows, closes his eyes, sighs. “I suppose,” he says, “the sooner I get better, the sooner I can get back to work.”
“Yes,” Ferdinand says. “I should leave you to it–”
“Ferdinand,” Hubert says, stopping him in his tracks, before he even has the chance to stand. “You don’t have to go.”
Oh. “But-you need rest-and I–”
He cracks an eye open. “If you have prior arrangements, I understand. But if you have the time…” His hand reaches across the bedspread and finds Ferdinands. Their fingers enlace. Ferdinand, in between not breathing, curses himself for wearing gloves. “I’d like you to stay. Please.”
Oh . Of course he would. How could he refuse? “I’ll be here,” he whispers. “If not when you wake up, then as long as I can be.”
“Good,” Hubert says, and then he’s drifting away into sleep.
As soon as he’s out, Ferdinand studies the hand he’s grasped in his own. Old scars, light bruising, wear and tear from years of Reason crackling over his skin. Beautiful. If he could be certain it would not disturb him, he’d kiss it. He settles instead for rubbing his thumb in soothing circles, pleased when Hubert sighs gently in his sleep.
He isn’t there when he awakens. No one, he decides, needs to know any more than that.
“So,” Dorothea asks over lunch one day, “what are your plans for when the war is over?”
Ferdinand blinks. It’s not an out-of-left-field question–-with the Alliance out of the way, they can finally turn their full attention to the Kingdom, and it’s only a matter of time until it falls. Once they have Fhirdiad, Fódlan will, finally, be unified. Still, making plans now feels a bit much like… like counting chickens before they’ve hatched. Optimism, Ferdinand can do, but it’s been, perhaps, tempered somewhat. “I suppose I haven’t thought much about it.”
“Boring,” Caspar announces as he takes his seat across from Dorothea. “I,” he begins, with the air of one making an Important Announcement, “am going to elope.”
Dorothea raises a brow and asks, “Don’t you need to elope with someone? Who precisely do you plan on running off with?”
Caspar slurps his water and stares Dorothea down in a you-should-know-who fashion.
“Goodness,” she remarks. “Does he know that you’re eloping together?”
Caspar grins, wiping his mouth. “Probably. He’s a lot smarter than me. He probably figured it out before I did. Besides,” he continues over Dorothea’s unladylike snort, “it’s not like he has any interest in inheriting his family’s lands or titles.”
“Well, that I can certainly see. Though it does seem a bit presumptuous, wouldn’t you say?”
“Eh, we’ll see. Anyway, what are you planning?”
Dorothea blinks, as if surprised to have her own question turned on her. “Oh-I don’t know. I was thinking of restarting the old opera company. Or,” she muses for a bit, like she’s trying to find the right words. “Well, maybe I’ll travel abroad. Outside Fódlan. Perhaps establish an opera company abroad. I’ve heard it hasn’t spread much, you know, outside of the continent.”
“Saintly Dorothea,” Caspar teases, “spreading opera to the less fortunate.” She pouts at him, and he sticks his tongue out at her in response.
“Oh, nothing of the sort. There’s different styles of performance all around the world, and opera is only one of them. I’d like to learn some more, and perhaps inspire an interest in opera abroad, that’s all. There’s a dance style in Brigid I’d love to learn more about–” Ferdinand’s not quick enough to cover his laugh with a cough, and she shoots him a Look. “Anyway, you asked, and that’s my answer. Ferdie? Your turn, now, surely you’ve thought of something.”
He has, though it’s really the same thing he’s planning for since, oh, age 12. “Well, I suppose I’ll do as I always planned. Take my position as Prime Minister and Duke Aegir. Serve Edelgard for as long as she wants me around.”
“Boring,” Linhardt declares as he arrives and plops down next to Caspar with his lunch. “I’ll have you know, I have no intention of doing what my family expects of me. I can imagine nothing more tedious than becoming
Minister of Domestic Affairs
. I’ll pass.” Caspar gives Dorothea a look that says,
told you so
, and Dorothea spreads her hands in a gesture that communicates,
wait and see
. “I like your idea of travelling, though, Dorothea, at least in theory. Goddess knows what sort of unknown treasures exist in realms abroad.” Caspar sticks his tongue out again, then mutters “ow” as Dorothea, presumably, kicks him under the table. “Though I hope you don’t intend on travelling alone.
certainly don’t–-I’d hate to have to carry my own pack.”
“Yes,” Dorothea says with an air of dignified disgrace, clearly accepting Caspar as the winner of this round. “Well.”
“Gee, Linhardt,” Caspar says pointedly, “that all sure sounds great .”
Linhardt blinks, as if surprised, and a slow smile blooms on his face. “Oh? Well, I rather thought so.”
Ferdinand coughs, deciding he’s had quite enough of watching the two lovebirds. He can only take so much of the universe rubbing it in. “Well. I think continuing my duties as a noble would be splendid. Assuming, of course, that Edelgard will have me.”
“She’ll have you,” Dorothea says breezily, and the certainty in her tone makes his chest swell with pride. “I’m just… oh, worried about you, Ferdie. It sounds awfully lonely.”
Does it? He considers it. Certainly it’s no more lonely than Dorothea’s plans to see distant lands, without so much as a traveling companion. “I fail to see how. I’ll have Edelgard, and Hubert.”
“Yes, they make for wonderful company,” Linhardt drawls, and Ferdinand frowns at him.
“Linhardt, I believe we’ve discussed your manners.”
“Hm, yes. Lick my balls.”
Ferdinand’s affronted cry is covered by Dorothea’s peal of laughter. “Oh, Lin, wouldn’t you say that’s Caspar’s –-OW!” she cries, levelling a glare across the table at Caspar, who delicately sips his drink and hums innocently.
“Well,” Ferdinand says stiffly, “in any case, I think the company’s fine.”
“Mm. You would,” Linhardt says, and all Ferdinand’s blood runs cold as the warmth rushes to his face.
“What, exactly, is that supposed to mean?” he demands, then mentally smacks his forehead because good going, Ferdie!! Way to immediately go on the defensive! Not suspicious at all!
“Why, I only mean that you and Hubert seem to get along rather well with each other.” His smile is wicked, even as he keeps his tone detached, nonchalant.
“Come to think of it,” Dorothea says, oh goddess, take me to your side . He turns to face her and is, unsurprisingly, met with the wide eyes and innocent smile she takes on whenever she knows she’s pushing buttons. “You and Hubert do get on much better than you did in our academy days! You take tea together, what, every day?”
“ Not every day!” Very smooth. “Just-whenever we have the time, and neither of us are needed elsewhere.”
“I think that’s wonderful,” Linhardt drawls. “Isn’t it so wonderful to see our Ferdie making friends?”
“He and Hubie certainly make quite the pair, I’d say.”
“Are you two done?” Ferdinand groans, ducking his head down, as if that will hide the redness of his damned ears.
“Oh!” Caspar says suddenly. “You and Hubert are–”
“Nothing!” he cries, perhaps too loudly even for a crowded dining hall, and he drops his voice. “We are nothing . Co-workers, friends, compatriots–- nothing more.”
Dorothea hums and pats his hand sympathetically. “Don’t worry, Ferdie. You’ll get there.”
Ferdinand has to cover his mouth to muffle his strangled screech.
Ferdinand is contemplating, which is never a good position for him to find himself in.
This, in specific, is what he’s contemplating:
His feelings for Hubert that he once foolishly thought would disappear have only grown more potent. He should not be surprised, he thinks.
Said feelings are, apparently, evident to all those around him. Well. All those who matter, anyway. Dorothea and Linhardt clearly know, and now Caspar, and Edelgard’s certainly been implying… certain things, and honestly, Byleth knows everything about this army. If they don’t know, at this point, he thinks maybe they shouldn’t be trusted with quite so many key operations. But surely, they do, just as everyone else does. Which means hiding it from them is a moot point, so.
So if he’s not hiding it from them, who is hiding it from?
The answer looms large in his mind. Hubert. Of course, he is hiding it from Hubert, the one person whose disapproval would ruin him forever.
There is a third thing he contemplates, which is this: he fully intends to accept the position of Prime Minister, assuming Edelgard offers it, which Dorothea, at least, seems to think she will. This means a lifetime of working alongside Hubert as right and left hand to the Emperor of Adrestia.
He can’t take it, he thinks. He can’t take years and years of this , a dance in which he does not know his part or if his partner is taking the same steps. He cannot take a lifetime of casual touches, of unasked-for compliments, of tea and coffee, of acts of kindness that he simply does not know what to do with.
The other day, he’d complained about the heat, and Hubert had offered to do his hair, brushing it up off his neck into a lovely up-do. The feel of his hands in his hair was almost more than he could bear, and when it was over, the breeze tickled his neck, and he felt no cooler than before.
He can’t do it. He can’t stand not knowing , uncertain if Hubert meant to make his stomach flutter and his heart stop, or if he only did it out of kindness for a friend. A close friend, he concedes. But still, just a friend .
No, he decides. No, certainly he will not stand for this anymore. He will tell Hubert the depths of his feelings, and he will communicate his intentions, and (he balks but forces himself to stand tall) he will find out what Hubert’s intentions toward him are. He will not spend the rest of his life not knowing, not when they could die any day, or his name isn’t Ferdinand von Aegir!
(He takes another few days to work up the nerve. Then: to Hubert.)
He brings flowers, plucked from the greenhouse. He thinks, perhaps, it may be stupid, but if he’s dedicating himself to this he has to go all in. He’s been avoiding Hubert for days now–-now here he stands, hand poised to knock on his door, and he cannot hesitate any longer.
He hesitates, and Hubert opens the door before he gets the chance to knock. “Ah,” he says, blinking. “Ferdinand.”
“Yes,” he says, heart pounding away in his chest. He’s trying desperately not to think about how good he looks right now. He’s failing, miserably. “Hello, Hubert.”
“You missed coffee,” he comments dryly. His gaze falls on the flowers he’s holding, and stays there. He knew those were a bad idea. “The past few days, now.”
“I was preoccupied,” he says. True! Very true. “But I’m here now, and I’d like to talk to you. May I come in?”
Hubert squints at him. He tries not to fidget. “Very well. Come on in.”
He does, and Hubert sits expectantly on the bed while he starts, nervously, pacing. The words he’d rehearsed time and again won’t come now, and the pressure of getting all of this off his chest is overwhelming.
“Would you like me to take those?” Hubert asks. Ferdinand whirls to face him, and he nods to the flowers.
“Oh, y-YES!” he all but shouts, shoving them toward him. “They’re for you!”
“Ah,” he says, blinking at them. “Thank you?”
“You’re welcome!” Goddess, he’s a wreck . He needs to get himself under control. “Hubert!”
Hubert raises an eyebrow at him. “You have my attention.”
Ferdinand groans. “Well, stop. Stop paying attention to me. This is horrible.”
“Yes! Uh, no, don’t be. Oh, this is dreadful .”
“Ferdinand,” he says, and his eyes are drawn over like a moth to the flame. Even in his confusion, sitting there, holding flowers–- his flowers! that Ferdinand picked!--he’s the most gorgeous thing on this earth. “Ferdinand, whatever is bothering you, you can say it.”
“I know,” he whispers. Except. “I can’t.”
“ Please , don’t make me sit here and try to guess what’s the matter with you. I’m certain there are better uses for both our times.” Ferdinand shrinks. This is going so, so horribly wrong, and now Hubert is annoyed with him, and he’s still so beautiful, so so beautiful, it hurts. “Unless you’ve done something truly terrible, I’m sure I won’t be angry, so please–”
“I have,” he says, breathlessly, thoughtlessly. Hubert freezes and searches his face, almost-fearful. “Oh, Hubert, I’ve done something terrible, and I’m afraid you’ll never want to see me again.”
He can see the calculations running through his head, the million worst-case scenarios he invents and prepares for every day. “What.” His voice is shaking, and Ferdinand shakes his head, no, it’s terrible, but nothing like that . “What have you done?”
“I didn’t–-Hubert, I told you, I don’t have any regrets–-I wouldn’t turn my back on this. You know that.” He visibly relaxes. “No, this is rather-a different sort of matter, entirely, and I–”
Everything he’s been practicing, the speech he’d prepared, they all go flying out the window. It’s already going disastrously enough, anyway. “Hubert, I’m in love with you.”
Hubert gapes at him. “What.”
“I know, it’s-it’s foolish, and rather unprofessional, and–-really, we have much more important matters to concern ourselves with, what with the war going on, than love and marriage–”
Hubert chokes. “ Marriage ?”
“Forget I said that! Point being that I-I’m in love with you, and have been, and likely always will be, and I’d like you to say something now, before I say anything else foolish and disgrace myself completely–”
“Ferdinand.” Hubert has stood, and he crosses to him. Ferdinand refuses to meet his gaze. “Ferdinand, look at me.”
“I said you’d be angry.”
“I’m not-goddess, I’m not angry, just- look at me, Ferdinand.”
He does. Hubert’s face is redder than he’s ever seen it, and screwed up with a mess of emotions he couldn’t even begin to parse.
“Ferdinand, I’m not-angry at you. Exactly. I’m–” He sucks in a deep breath, exhales slowly. “It’s-well. You see. I’ve been trying to court you for the past four or five months now.”
It’s Ferdinand’s turn to gape. “You–”
“Saints, what a mess,” Hubert mutters, pinching the bridge of his nose.
“You what ?”
“I don’t-I thought my intentions were rather obvious.”
They were. Oh, Sothis, they were , they’d been crystal clear–-the tea, and the flowers, and the braiding, and the touches–-Hubert had sought him out after nearly every battle, and found excuses to lean on him, and–-
“I’m an idiot,” Ferdinand groans, face buried in his hands.
“You are,” Hubert confirms, with the tone of one who’s just learned that his picnic plans have been ruined by unexpected stormy weather–-disappointed, yet resigned to it.
“Oh, Hubie, I’m so sorry, I–” He shakes his head, roughly. “Oh, this is so stupid .”
“I, er. Did try rather hard, to ensure you could not mistake–”
“I called you dear .”
Ferdinand tries to shrink further into his hands. “While I was drunk,” he squeaks. “I thought I was hallucinating.”
“Is that–?” Hubert starts incredulously. “I didn’t have the courage to do so otherwise. I… thought you liked it, but it was so hard to be sure–”
“I did!” he cries, lifting his head to face Hubert head-on. “Very much! I thought perhaps I shouldn’t!”
“I wanted you to!”
“I know! I realize that now.”
Hubert laughs, lowly. “We-we’ve done horrible work here, haven’t we?”
Ferdinand can’t help it. He smiles back. “Yes,” he says. “I think we rather have.”
“Here I was worried I was too obvious .”
“Oh!” Ferdinand cries. Red ears, red, red, red. “I’m sure to everyone else you were, but I’ve been told I’m dense.”
“ You told me that.”
“Perhaps it bears repeating,” he drawls.
“Oh–! Quiet, you. Horrible man.” He covers his cheeks with his hands, willing himself not to blush any deeper. “Oh, I spent days agonizing when you kissed me–-on the head, remember–”
“Saints, that was ages ago–”
“Well, you haven’t done it again! I’ve had to work with what I was given!”
Hubert’s eyes flash, wickedly. “Oh? Perhaps I should give you more to work with.”
Ferdinand feels rather faint. He’s felt as such most of the conversation honestly. “If you’re going to kiss me,” he whispers, “I wish you’d hurry up and do it.”
“No sense waiting anymore, I suppose,” he murmurs, and then: his hands covering Ferdinand’s, cupping his face, and then–-his lips. Ferdinand sighs and all but collapses. It’s everything he’d imagined. It’s better.
“Hubert,” he sighs when they break apart, maybe hours later, but more likely seconds. Hubert huffs and kisses him again, on the corner of his mouth, and then on his cheek, then his jaw, then–
He pulls away abruptly. “Ferdinand,” he says urgently, and Ferdie hums dreamily in reply. “You said you were in love with me.”
“I did. I am!” He shakes himself out of it. “Why-I’m sorry, was that–”
“I love you too,” Hubert says, voice shaking with emotion. Ferdinand could cry. He probably is crying. “I love you, I love you, I–”
“Hubert, oh, I’m already-look at me, I’m a mess.”
“You are!” he says, laughing. “You are. You’re- beautiful .” The way he says it, it’s like Ferdinand’s the very air he breathes. “I love you.”
“I love you too.”
“You’re an idiot.”
“I am!” He laughs, and laughs, and Hubert holds him, and he laughs.
“I’m your idiot,” he whispers into his neck. “For the rest of time. Until the sun burns out.”
Hubert squeezes him close. “ My idiot,” he sighs. “Forever.”
Forever. Ferdinand decides he rather likes the sound of that.