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It hurt in a way that he was very unfamiliar with. For one thing, he knew the pain that came with a wound from a blade too close to his skin. The burn of magic gone awry. The ache of poison and toxins as they attacked what you could not see. He knew the deep pain of loss and loneliness. Yet when he thought of the pain he felt each time he sat down in class to listen on the lecture of leadership and authority, was so alien, so foriegn to him he worried he’d fallen ill with something unknown to his position, (and his position required to know of pain and ills).

“Hubert?” Her voice was something he would call lamb-like. The way the wool was warm and clean- soft and comforting. If words had a taste it would be warm honey and milk with a side of freshly baked bread; a dollop of clotted cream and jam on top. The sorts of things you hold dear in memory, to give aid when none might be found.
“Would you mind scooting a bit to the left? I can’t see the board very well.” Blue eyes held not a drop of annoyance or fear, only that compassion she wore on her sleeve like a fool. In every way, he knew she was one- after all, only a fool would accept the loss of their nobility and not seek recompense or to regain that power for themselves.
“Hubert?” Her head tilted waiting for him to reply and it served its purpose, rousing him from his thoughts long enough to react.
“My apologies Mercedes.” A shift to his left, he heard her smile, (as if such a thing were possible- yet with her, it was. Her expressions bled into her voice painting her face in his mind brighter than any oil or ink). “Is that enough?”
“Yes! Thank you very much.” He made no other comment, but now the heat and pain in his chest was more intense. It reached deeper and had him work to swallow it down lest it show on his face, betray his weakness.

She had afflicted him, in a way he knew not.
And that vexed him to no end.

---

He could not avoid her, though, he was not doing so if anyone would ask him. He usually had no business with Mercedes after all- she had been called to join the Empire’s cause because of her bloodline, that was the sole reason she had been recruited. It had nothing to do with his youthful curiosity with her. It had absolutely nothing to do with how after the assault at Garreg Mach he worried over her fate, (he’d worried, tangentially, about other as well didn’t he?). Mercedes was another body in the army. One of many who would serve the empire and it’s Empress who would change the world. A world that bore the pain of crests.

Crests they both bore with the gravity of knowing how it had determined and ruined their lives in ways they wished not.

Yet when they marched into the Kingdom, he saw her hesitation, the reluctance to face those she once called friends. And Hubert was left after their first battle to contend with the strange feelings in his chest, so much like the ones he was afflicted with years ago. Her face twisting into a sorrowful frown, her brow tight as she cast her magic and ordered troops to advance. By all rights, she commanded gracefully from her position, aiding the infantry and healing the shock troops so they might break the defensive line. Yet the worry in her eyes as she saw others in the distance, those she knew... and it hurt. Not that he questioned her loyalty -no, her loyalty was won with her brother firmly allied with Edelgard and his service to the empire- but rather with her expression.
He hated it. It hurt him to look upon her so.

How ugly it made her look, repulsive and disgusting. The pursed lips, that wrinkle in her forehead, the tightness in her muscles and hands white from gripping her staff so tightly. Wretched and deplorable- she wasn’t fit to stand in any company with such an expression. She wasn’t doing justice to the beauty of Edelgard’s vision. And it burned like fire in his lungs when he looked to her and saw her with such eyes mired in their silent sadness.
He wanted to drag her off the battlefield, send her back to the capital, away from the blood and mires of war. Her pristine white hands not caked in dirt and filth but clean and soft- not a single callus from toil or trouble. But if he did so, he’d be robbing the empire of one of it’s most capable battle mages.
And the idea of sending her away hurt just as much as keeping her on their field. There was no solution for the pain and agony in his chest so it would abate. No cure for the affliction she caused him. None such except removing her from existence.

Yet that thought made him want to wretch. A world without her seemed one lacking. She alone smiled even when all seemed grim. Her voice carried the sooth of the milk and sweetness of honey when all he had to know was the taste of cold commands and vicious battlecries. She touched wounds with a gentleness not suited for a medic’s tent, soaked with rain and the stench of burning corpses from magefire lingering on the wind.
Mercedes von Martritz was a blight upon existence.

Yet he found in her the balm to travesties of war all around him. She looked forward and with hope of tomorrow being better than today. How long had it been since he’d felt much the same? Long enough to know he could not feel such. She was his antithesis. A contradiction of her very being against the backdrop of bloodshed.

How he loathed her. How he hated the way she looked to him after battle, a light glimmering in those forget-me-not blue eyes that were warm and happy to look upon him, as if glad he had survived another battle, another campaign, another conquest. She made his entire being burn and throb in agony and suffering. She was not suited to war.
He was not suited for her.

---

“Excuse me?” The light of the lamps were low- oil needing to be replenished and the glass dirty with residue. It didn’t matter that they remained dirty he figured- he was supposed to be sleeping anyway, all the maps of the final plans carefully hidden away, all the details ironed out for their final march before they’d be back in the capital again. Before lady Edelgard would face destiny and cleave it in twain.
Still the voice outside his tent begged his attention. It was too late for a casual question, and she was no messenger, so something about troops or an attack was out of the question.

His mind went to darker purposes of her visit so late. The ache in his chest flaring up with each idea and notion in his head as he walked to the entry, pulling back the flap to look at the woman who had vexed him since his youth.
“And what do I owe the pleasure Mercedes?” He did his best to lean over her, to impose upon her how he would never look at her as an equal, but only as the rank she desired, blood or not- Commoner. Lower. Not worth his attention or his time outside of issuing her her orders from their Empress.
As the rain dripped onto both their heads, cold and leaving their clothes to stick to their skin, he felt perhaps he’d been foolish in his choice of tactics. She did not yield or wither under his gaze, but looked up at him. Not with defiance- but playfulness. It irked him greatly. Silence prevailed between them.
“Are you done trying to intimidate me?” He blinked at her, caught momentarily off guard.
“I wasn’t trying to.” A lie. He opened the tent to her, inviting her as was the proper gentlemanly thing to do for lady caught in the rain.
But this was war, and Mercedes walked into enemy territory willingly, making herself at home sitting on a chair by the drawing table.
“You always try to. Glares, veiled threats, I think once you said you’d poison my tea?” She made it a question, yet her voice did not waiver. No judgements, no condemnations. She only ever accepted what was thrown at her, as if she were above it all. She didn’t understand her station, and Hubert guessed she never had, and never did. She sorely needed to be put in her place. Reminded she belonged under him, to serve the empire and her people.
“And yet none seem to work. I cannot help but wonder why that is.” He sat across from her, wondering still why she’d come. Not for idle small talk surely.
“Because I know you don’t mean it.”
“Oh, but I assure you I do. The moment you would cease to be of use I would have no trouble killing you.”
“And see, that is why you lack friends Hubert.” She sighed, shaking her head at him, disappointment finally showing itself. It was salt in a gaping wound, thumbs pressed in and twisted while the blood ran dark and deep. He loathed the feeling that rose from her tone. From the knowledge she found him wanting.
“I hardly need such- this is the middle of a war. I didn’t come here to make friends.”
“I suppose that is true enough.” In the soft glow of the lanterns, her eyes took on an almost ethereal glow. No longer that forget-me-not blue, but the blue of the sky just after morning’s dawn. “You’re a very difficult man you know. Not just with friends.” He tilted his head back, doing his best to seem dismissive of her. He didn’t want her advice or opinions.
“Does this little midnight social call have a purpose?”

Mercedes looked at him, eyes now focused on him in a way he’d never seen before. It was like she was undressing his very being, looking past his facade and seeing all his secrets and all his thoughts. His heart thundered in his chest, his palms grew hot and wet. Every part of him was alight. What spell had she cast over him? What manner of curse had been set upon him?

“I wanted to ask how your wound was- but I can tell it’s healed. I assume you did it yourself?”
“I did.” How he hated her eyes, half lidded. Her lips, parted just so, bottom lip lush and pink from being worried by her teeth. He hated her hands, clean and holding the fabric of her dress so softly between fingertips. Oh, how did he loathe her.
“I also wanted you to know- that you can stop pretending with me.” Everything felt like it was frozen. It was hard to breathe, to speak. Stone weight formed in his gut, his blood did not pump, cold washed over him in a wave. With the grace not of a commoner but a noble woman, Mercedes stood, her eyes still half lidded, a sort of mischief in them as they glittered in the low lamplight.
“When you’re ready, just know I will be waiting Hubert.”

His face was schooled. He had been trained to withstand torture. To never let an enemy know his weakness. To never show vulnerability.
Yet as she left his tent, Hubert von Vestra felt that she’d managed to somehow rip away every layer of protection he had, and leave him there, naked and bare as he’d never felt before.
He wanted her off the battlefield, and as far as possible if just to make the curse of her be less in it’s effects.
Even if he knew, it would only make things worse.

---

The war was over, and the dust had finally begun to settle. What had never settled was the damnable curse that Mercedes had placed upon him. Not a day went by it felt like that she did not enter his thoughts, drawing up that dull ache in his chest and the feeling of loss he wanted to bury deep and never experience again. It should have been a matter settled when the war was over and she left his command. It should have been doubly over when she was given the barony of her father and left the capital. Yet day in and day out her name danced on his tongue. A letter was half formed in his hands yet never reaching paper. Every shade of blue seemed to rankle and draw his disgust in how dull they appeared.

It reached culmination when Lady Edelgard handed him a letter, instructing him to deliver it to Mercedes.
“I am trusting you with a delicate matter. This letter is for her eyes alone- not even you can know it’s contents.” The look his empress gave him was stern. He knew his place and he bowed to her, sincere in his actions. She was the only one he’d ever bow to, the only one worth serving. The letter itself was sealed in red wax, the black ink inside faint if one held it to the light. Yet Hubert did not glace at it further than that. He had a task and he would complete it.

Yet the entire time, since he was handed the letter to arriving at the Martritz estate, he felt that pain again, that ache and burning in his chest. He cursed Mercedes under his breath. Thought of the ways to depart her presence the moment he arrived. He had dozens of excuses, all manner of ways to avoid lingering. Yet when he stepped through the door, when he saw the woman who had vexed him, plagued him, tormented him even in his youth, Hubert stood shock still as she drew near, the scent of wildflowers around her, and the sound of her voice that milk and honey on his tongue.
“Hubert- It’s so good to see you.”
Not a drop of dishonestly, only truth in her words.
“Lady Edelgard had me tasked with delivering a letter to you personally. It was, is, of the utmost importance that you and you alone know it’s contents.” He handed it to her, reciting everything he’d planned for, memorized in his head. “My task complete I shall not linger.”
“Oh but won’t you? I have many spare rooms, and you must be tired.”
His throat was tight, his plans accounted for this, for her kindness, her open honest sincerity. He spoke the words he planned for.
“I must decline. I am needed in the capital.”
“Please, it is already so late, and I would rather know you had a decent night’s rest and a safe travel in daylight than risking the roads so late.” He planned such a insistance too.
“You doubt my abilities to defend myself? I would think you of all people would know what I am capable of.”
“Oh I know what you can do.” A hand on his bicep, he didn’t plan for contact, for her touch. It was like fire, burning past clothes and charring his skin without contact, without mark. “But please stay the night- if just for my sake?”
How easy to say no. To refuse. But the worry in her eyes hurt. The honest concern choked his words as he leaned to her gentle pull deeper into her manor.
“If I must.” He had to, if just to remove the look in her eyes that made such pain bloom in his person.

The guest room was clean, decent, and smelled of freshly laundered sheets. He inspected every inch and found no guile or trap. At dinner, the food was warm and inviting, rich yet simple. She spoke and he listened- yet no matter what she said, he couldn’t focus. They ran out his ears like water, and he wanted to scream at her to stop the spell she’d cast. To undo the vile curse upon him.

 

Dinner ended cordially. Not a single insult, not a single instance of his facade breaking and letting his ire and hate bloom. He was representing Edelgard here- that was all.

Yet just like what felt a lifetime ago, she appeared at his door after dark, expression beguiling and almost amused.
“Up late at night still?” The lit in her words were mirthful, and he wanted them to be filled with anything but.
“Still prowling in the dark?” Was his reply, enjoying the flare and flash of annoyance in her.
“Your light was shining and one of the guards took notice. I thought it best to check in. Is everything alright?”
“As can be expected Mercedes.” He felt himself boiling over. How dare she act so innocent to her spellwork. “The room is cozy and inviting. The linens clean and washed, the food simple but delicious, and your abilities as hostess leaving nothing for want.”
Her eyes blinked up at him. “Then what is the problem?”
How dare she act ignorant, innocent. She was the source of his years long suffering. His entire being mired in pain and unending agony.
“You.”
“I don’t quite follow.” Her brows furrowed, and he wanted to yell at her for making him suffer such a sight.
“You have vexed me for years- always pleasant, always understanding. Your anger at the injustice of the world, yet never at its people- never at me a man who has done nothing but order you around and treat you as the insignificant blight you are.” He hissed, knowing he’d gone too far.
Yet her expression yielded, a smile played at the corner of her lips. “Oh, is that all?”
“Is that-” His rage came forth. “-You have cursed me Mercedes- and for years have made me suffer it. What did I do to earn your hatred so? What arcane act did you do to craft such a spell? Why-”

“Hubert.” Her hand held his, gentle but firm. His words stopped, and she looked at him with eyes the softest blue he’d ever known.
“You are lucky Lady Edelgard knows you so well.”

Soft. It was the first thought in his head as their lips met. It was not just the softness of her lips- but her hands holding his own- callused fingers from holding a staff and drudgery in youth leaning finally to the soft nature of gentry women. Soft breasts pushed to his chest, their swells molding against him and yielding against muscle and cloth. Soft hair brushing his face. Soft scent of chamomile and a fragrance that was all her.

She was soft- and he relished the way she molded to cover his sharpness, to blunt the daggers of his words and eyes as they sank away into nothing.
Hot breath, a soft blue to gold, she said nothing as they linger in the hall where any might see, where they were entwined in ways unbecoming for two heads of house from two different families is such a drastic difference in rank. Yet she helped him, pushing him back into the room, closing the door behind them both before she covered him again. Drowned him in her softness, in her sweetness. How it burned and pained him. It was nothing like he could have imagined. Nothing like he ever expected.

Her hands ran over his body leaving fire in their wake. Vaguely, he knew he’d fallen backwards onto the bed, grabbing her foolishly for support just to have her gasp against his mouth as she fell atop him, the weight perfectly laid across his body. How long was it they were like that, laid half on the bed, tangled and moving against each other, lips eating words unable to be spoken and sounds he’d never made for her leaving him. Sounds he’d never heard from her yet wanting to hear more of in her honey sweet tones.

“Mercedes-” He gasped as she moved her face, nose pressed behind his ear as her lips and teeth found his neck. “-what are you doing?” His hands held her hips as they swirled above him a heat pressed between their legs growing in it’s intensity and making his back arch when she pressed soft thighs between his firm legs.
“What you won’t do.” Her voice was light, a feather dancing over the skin of his ear. “The thing only I can do.” He moaned as teeth worried the lobe, as her hand found his shirt, slipping under to dance across his torso, tracing hip bones and the muscle coiled tight. Hubert could not fight the magic she wove over him, and he raged against it’s lure. How weak he was to fall victim to her curse. To this weakness.

Yet it did not stop him from pulling her astride his lap as he sat upright. It did not stop him from pulling pins from her hair, long like it had been when they first met. Nothing stopped him as he ran his mouth over her pulse, biting down on creamy skin to feel it flutter between his teeth.
Nothing could stop the magic that blanketed them both.

He groaned when she held him in her hands, swirling their grip and moving the sticky fluid over the engorged top before sliding down, cradling him in her palm as she licked her way up his neck just to eat his voice and leave him unable to protest.
How could he fight her when she parted her thighs for him, exposing the ruby and pink space he sank his fingers into, scissoring them and watching in fascination as they were pulled in, as he felt her body arch with a gentle coaxing. Her lips softly parted, his name chanted as her spell grew stronger,
What use was there to struggle, her breasts cupped and used to stroke his length, the picture of her face so flush with desire as he painted her lips and chest in a thick white. As she licked the fluid away, taking in his essence and asking him for more, eyes aglow with her magic while the curse reached a fever pitch.

Hubert stopped fighting.
He succumbed to the magic, let it finally do what it had intended.

“Hubert.” She was astride him, so close yet so achingly far. She took his hand, lifted it and kissed his palm. How easy it would be to kill her, to end their suffering both. “You don’t have to pretend anymore.”
He gasped as she enveloped him. The burning in his chest gone. The pain and ache finally ended. All her could feel was her. The way she lifted her hips and came down so slowly, letting the slick cool for just a moment on his cock before she let him feel her scorching heat once more. Her weight on his body, not heavy, not light, but so comforting in how it yielded yet suppressed him at once. Velvet heat- such poetic prose in books did not do justice to the magic she had under her skin. She was fire, bruning him up and turning him into a husk as she ran hands over his chest, over his heart. Holding him down as she gasped his name, as he guided her hips where they needed to be, his own moving with her’s, focused to reaching one another’s very core and their release. Deft fingers swirling circles over the red clit, as she cried out his name, shaking, collapsing on top of him as he watched, pleased as she fell from grace. As she no longer could rise above him.

He moved, her legs around his hips, her body twisted so she could not fight him or his magic. Pressed into sheets as he drove himself to his own end. This was where he belonged. Above her, commanding her, teaching her her place. His orders followed to the letter, he relished it when she came, crying out his name tears beading on her lashes as she followed his directions. This was a battlefield, their bodies at war. He would not relent, not until she gave up, until she understood what was, what they were. He would not stop until she begged him to.

And oh, how she begged. Face flush, tears running down her face as he rubbed her clit hard, smiling as she whimpered and shook, tremors of her body’s betrayal to his determined assault. Red thighs spread wide, the wet opaque white coating her sex and the soft blonde hairs there. The sounds of wet flesh squishing under his hand, of her unable to look away, blue eyes shining as she begged him to stop, to let her rest. How could he? This was her due for the years he’d suffered.
Filling her once more, releasing heat to scorch her from the inside out was the gentlest of mercies- it was nothing to compare to the feelings she illicit in him for so long. A mess of sweat, tears, and sex. He smiled as she looked to him, eyes hazy in the afterglow, lips smiling as she reached out, licking his hand clean. How wonderful it felt to discipline her, reprimand her after years of restraint.

As the stars faded to daylight, he held her against him, savoring the feeling of having her subject to his whims, of the rule of dominance once more affirmed. The warmth of sunlight bathed them both and the golden glow in her hair, tangled and curled at the tips gave her magic a new strength he’d never known it to possess. She used it well, drawing him up and into the bath with her, her hands running across his body in a way void of any burn- yet healing wounds he couldn’t see.

“Hubert.” Her voice, that same sweet honey milk lingered now on his lips. The water around them scented like flowers and amber.
“Do you want to know what the letter said?” He hummed, looking at the woman who half lay over his naked body, the water not hiding anything from his gaze. Not the scars, the marks he’d left on her skin, the redness of his hand prints on her backside or the bite marks on her neck.
“She told me stop waiting for you.” He felt suddenly cold, and looked down at the woman who’d bewitched him.
“Yet… I don’t want to give up.” Her fingers traced the line of his jaw, and the sadness in her eyes was worse than an arrow in his throat. “Please-”

He ended his own pain, devouring honey and milk like a man starved.

---

He did not return the the capital.
Not until the Empress called him back.

 

---

How strange it was, to live, cursed. To never know rest, to forget what it felt like to be free from the yoke of another's magic. For years to live in agony, and then to eventually come to accept it as a part of one’s life. It was a weakness of the highest order, and one which damned him every moment he was forced to endure it’s effects.

“Hubert.” She wrapped her hand in his, the gold ring glittering as it hit his own. The gem like in color to forget me not, her own the color of amber and citrine. “You shouldn’t stay up so late.” Her other hand ran over his jaw and cupped his face, concern in her features and making his willpower vanish in the face of her spells.
“I know.” He stood, kissing the ring on her finger before walking out of his office. She did not let his hand go, and he found he did not mind.

Once he would have pulled away to escape the magic Mercedes had cast. He flee it’s grasp and fight it’s effects.
But he’d come to find that falling in love was a spell even he would forever be powerless to fight.