A rather unnecessary amount of flowers decorated the site of Ferdinand’s soon-to-be grave - so much so that the surrounding area looked more like a damned meadow than a graveyard. Adrestian carnations, Brigian sunflowers, as well as anemones, lavender, and lilies… not to mention the dozens of other varieties that Hubert couldn’t be bothered to recall the names of.
Ferdinand hadn’t been buried yet, but his casket was currently propped above the fertile soil for a small, private service. The casket was open since Ferdinand had been felled by a clean blow - was Hubert supposed to be grateful for such hollow favors? - although, Hubert nevertheless kept a comfortable distance. It would be far easier to make it through this day if he treated it like the accursed annoyance it was, rather than facing what it all… meant.
Prior to the graveyard service, the casket had been hauled through the streets of Enbarr in what could only be considered a theatrical procession, because of course the funeral of Ferdinand von Aegir would be an utterly ridiculous and indulgent affair. The entire event - and yes, Ferdinand’s funeral was no less than an event - was wasteful, garish, and so frightfully loud. Truly, it was the epitome of everything Hubert despised.
And yet, this was exactly how Hubert had painstakingly planned it, because this was what Ferdinand… what he would have…
After Ferdinand’s body had been paraded through the streets, with the masses cheering their dead hero for giving his life in service to the Empire, Her Majesty had given a public eulogy to honor him. Her perfectly deferential yet inspiring words had then been followed by a mournful aria from Dorothea, one that Hubert should have been able to recognize had he cared enough to try. Call him a skeptic, but had Dorothea not looked so surprisingly drained at the news of Ferdinand’s death, Hubert would have thought the moment her voice cracked to be nothing more than a dramatic ploy for her enraptured audience.
For flames’ sake, all of it - every moment of this blasted day - had just felt so completely… tiresome. Even had Hubert’s insides not been scraped empty to the point that he felt like a lifeless husk, it would have been just as unbearable.
“Hubert. We should go.”
Her Majesty’s voice promptly pierced through his thoughts, and so accustomed was he to do as she bid that he found himself turning toward her, readying himself to leave.
But his feet froze and refused to go any farther, as if comprehension had reached them well before his addled mind. This would be his last chance to see Ferdinand - or what remained of him - after all. His last chance to say goodbye…
“I will join you in a moment, Your Majesty. There was some confusion earlier regarding what personal effects Ferdinand is to be buried with. I’d best ensure that the gravediggers not screw it up.”
Hubert was impressed by how he’d sounded. His tone was suffused with the perfect amount of derision, while also oozing with disinterest - and his voice hadn’t even broken or wavered at all.
Even still, Lady Edelgard gave him an odd look, as if she knew that he was lying to her. Of course, his lies were nothing out of the ordinary - he’d lied quite often in his service to Her Majesty, to her face or by emission, so that he could pave the way for her new world in blood while she remained pristine. But this, this was different - he’d never lied to her before about a personal matter. She must have her suspicions about the true nature of his relationship with Ferdinand - maybe they all did - but all anyone knew for certain was that Hubert and Ferdinand had formed an unlikely friendship.
At least Her Majesty was gracious enough not to press him further, perhaps inferring all she needed to know from his failed attempt at deception. Or, maybe he was the fool, and his feelings had been written all over his face all along…
But, in any case, he soon found that everyone else had left, except for the two men who were meant to dig the grave.
One of the men closed the casket, and Hubert swallowed down a cry of protest, causing him to emit a pained but muffled gurgling sound.
He cleared his throat to remove the remnants of such an unrefined noise.
“I would like a moment alone with the deceased,” he stated, amazed at how level his voice yet remained.
For a moment he thought to offer up some kind of explanation, as the panic that someone might realize he actually cared about Ferdinand had been ingrained so deeply within him from the months - no, years - of his own stubborn denial.
But no, he’d already made such admissions to himself, so what did it matter now if anyone else knew? Besides, it’s not as if his enemies could weaponize his feelings against him anymore, now that Ferdinand was…
As it were, the gravediggers didn’t ask any questions - this was likely not the first time they’d abided such a request - and they withdrew in silence, leaving Hubert to his solitude. While their forms were still retreating, Hubert placed his gloved hand on the closed, wooden casket, running his fingers against the smooth oak.
This… it just seemed so… so entirely wrong. A creature like Ferdinand was meant to bask in the sunlight, not be swallowed by the darkness.
With an annoyed grunt, he opened the casket.
“There, that’s better, isn’t it?”
But of course there was no response, no boisterous thanks or shouts, only more silence. And now, seeing Ferdinand’s corpse up close, Hubert swallowed hard.
The way his hair glowed in the sunlight like halo, and how his deliberate nose pointed so haughtily upwards to the heavens, he looked no less than a fallen angel.
“And perhaps you were one,” Hubert mused, although he scoffed slightly afterwards at the ridiculous thought. Apparently, sentiment turned him into quite the simpering fool.
Still, Ferdinand had been… special, in that way, ethereal in the sense that he never did quite fit into this world. Hubert knew all too well of the greed and corruption of the church, of the desires of men to conquer and kill - like Those Who Slither in the Dark. Humanity, for the most part, was nothing more than a scourge, a plague. Yet, then there was Ferdinand… so earnest in his desire to make a better world, so full of passion. And even in his tactless arrogance, he was always considerate toward the wants and needs of others, always striving to please with a relentless - and unmatched - optimism.
Yes, someone like Ferdinand was never meant for this dark and dreary world. No wonder the goddess had sought to snuff him out.
Despite himself, the thought made Hubert wince, his chest suddenly tightening as if he were being squeezed from behind by an unseen assassin. And even though the sun was shining more brightly today than it ever had before, with a plethora of flowers peppered around him like a terrestrial rainbow, it seemed as if everything was only gray and muted, that a world once so colorful was now a bland, somber sepia. Even Ferdinand, always so vibrant and bursting with life, was merely pale, still, and silent - smelling faintly of formaldehyde rather than his musky cologne, while his fiery eyes remained forever closed
It was entirely contradictory to everything Ferdinand… and yet, even still, he was a sight to behold. The white, form-fitting tunic and black trousers that he’d been dressed in accentuated his muscular figure, and his hands had been carefully folded together over his abdomen, making him look… at peace. At one point during the service, Bernadetta had stuck a red rose in his grip, which almost gave him the appearance of a character in a fairy tale, simply waiting to be awoken by a kiss from a prince.
Only, life wasn’t a fairy tale, and Hubert was far from a prince.
Frankly, it was all so very surreal, as if Ferdinand were going to open his eyes at any moment and taunt him for believing such an elaborate ruse. The way his copper hair was pillowing his delicate face certainly didn't help matters, as it reminded Hubert of the morning after their first - and last - night together.
A flash of memory - of the morning before Ferdinand had left for Myrddin. His hair was splayed out around him in a similar manner to its current state, only this time his eyes were open and alight with their usual flame - a most mischievous but welcoming look.
Accepting such a willing invitation, Hubert propped himself above him and brought his hand to Ferdinand’s hair, trailing his long fingers deliberately through the wavy locks.
“You don’t have to go to Myrddin, you know.” His matter of fact voice betrayed nothing of his longing, nor his concern. “It wasn’t necessary for you to volunteer for such a mission, as it were. General Ladislava should already have all she needs to amply defend the bridge.”
“Is this your roundabout way of telling me that you will miss me?” Ferdinand inquired, his cocksure smile as annoying - and endearing - as ever. “It is not like you to be so sentimental, you know.”
“I’m suggesting nothing of the kind,” Hubert scoffed, but his harsh tone was contradicted by the gentle way he began to stroke Ferdinand’s cheek.
“Well, you need not worry about me in any case,” Ferdinand assured him. “The chances of the Kingdom army actually reaching the Great Bridge of Myrddin are rather remote. And even if they do manage thus, then I will finally have my chance to prove myself to Edelgard on the battlefield!”
Hubert couldn’t help but roll his eyes skyward.
“You have nothing to prove to Her Majesty at this point, you cretinous peacock.” His stern scolding seemed to have no effect, though, since it was apparent that Ferdinand actually appreciated being compared to such a flamboyant bird.
“You do, however, have more to prove to me… much more…”
Hubert then trailed a suggestive finger down Ferdinand’s abdomen, navigating a careful path between his taut muscles - pausing for a minute with indecision as his finger reached the sheet covering his waist. There really wasn’t time for them to partake in such pleasure once more… was there?
“I believe I proved myself to you quite sufficiently last night,” Ferdinand noted, crossing his arms behind his head and puffing out his chest while he leaned against the headboard.
That damnable man. The worst part was, Hubert couldn’t even deny it.
“Still, I can agree that it would be entirely a shame if we were to never do this again,” Ferdinand noted, his eyes turning tender in an instant. Hubert couldn’t help but watch as the muscles on Ferdinand’s stomach contracted as he sat upright, how the sheet covering his waist started to fall so dangerously low. His attention shifted, though, the moment Ferdinand’s lips were on his, both amused and appreciative of how his lover was always so passionate, so needy, so… hungry. And oh, did Hubert ever want to be devoured…
“You can rest assured that I will come back to you,” Ferdinand then added, his bicep curled so delectably within reach as his hand cupped Hubert’s ear, holding Hubert more intimately than anyone else had ever dared - or wanted - to before.
Finding himself unable to even speak, Hubert released the most indignant ‘humph’ that he was able to muster, wondering if the liquid flames that were Ferdinand’s eyes might melt him alive. How easily his large, burning eyes contrasted with Hubert’s own narrow and calculating flecks, as if fire and ice were constantly battling for dominance.
“Quite sure of yourself, aren’t you?” Hubert chastised. But once again, the bite in his words was dulled by his actions as he nestled his head further into Ferdinand’s touch, leaving a delicate kiss at the pulse point of Ferdinand’s wrist.
“As much as I hate to admit it, you are far too tempting of a treat for me to never indulge in again,” Ferdinand replied, his lips turning upward in an all-to-roguish smile. “I will return to you, Hubert. Do not doubt me.”
But Hubert was so attuned to the man before him, that beyond all the haughtiness and bravado, he could see the truth lying in Ferdinand’s eyes. Fear… apprehension… uncertainty. And as bold as his words were, they lacked the one thing that Hubert desired above all else - a promise.
“Perhaps all your years of posturing have finally made me dull in the head, but I somehow find myself unable to disbelieve you.” Normally Hubert hated to gratify Ferdinand in such conceit, but the last thing he wanted was for his lover to start to second guess himself on the battlefield. “Yet, you should know it is not doubt that makes me fear for you, my sweet. Rather, it is… something else entirely.”
The unsaid notion was an almost painful tether between them - love - and even alluding to it gnawed at Hubert in a way that was entirely uncomfortable. Uncomfortable, and yet… completely and utterly intoxicating.
From the way Ferdinand’s cheeks turned the most enchanting shade of red, it was evident he knew exactly what Hubert had meant. But Hubert still had far too many walls up to say the blasted word, and Ferdinand far too much pride.
Hubert’s heart seemed to lodge in his throat as Ferdinand’s hand moved from his ear to the back of his neck, the firm grip made even more intimate once Ferdinand used the leverage to propel Hubert forward, pressing his forehead gently against his own.
Maybe his assessment had been wrong, then. Maybe Ferdinand would tell him-
“I will come back,” he said instead, and Hubert found his eyes closing tightly shut, his disappointment completely hypocritical, and yet still so potent that he could practically taste it.
And that was the last time Hubert saw Ferdinand alive.
Hubert almost hissed at the memory. If Ferdinand were here, Hubert would lord those last words over him like a weapon…
“I told you so, you stupid, thickheaded worm,” Hubert would seethe. “I told you not to go.”
“Ah, but I did come back, did I not?” Ferdinand would then gesture to the casket, knowing full well that coming back in a fucking box was not nearly the same thing at all, but claiming the victory as his nonetheless.
Damn him! Damn that insufferable man!
And that’s when it all suddenly hit him. Never would he hear Ferdinand’s boastful voice again… never would he watch as Ferdinand so cockily placed his hand on his hip, nor bask in his rich and boisterous laugh. Neither would he ever again burn within the stare of Ferdinand’s fiery eyes, nor be able to marvel at the slight red blushes staining his cheeks whenever Hubert caught him off guard.
It was over, all of it was gone forever… Ferdinand was gone - … dead. And as if he’d just been asked to haul a thousand bricks at once, Hubert abruptly sank to his knees, the weight of it all far too great to bear.
What… what was this… it was as if he suddenly couldn’t breathe, as if both his lungs and his face were begging for some kind of release that he didn’t know how to grant them, so long had it been since he’d cried - … had he even ever cried? Instead, he found his gloved fingers gripping frantically at the dirt beneath him until there were large clumps of soil in his hands, the same soil that Ferdinand would soon be forever buried in.
“So, what now?” he then growled, hardly even recognizing his own voice. “What would you have me do? Shall I tell myself that all we had together was a simple indulgence, and cling to the lie as my lifeline? Or do I instead face the truth of what you meant to me and risk that I might cease to function completely, at a time when Her Majesty needs me the most?"
"You’ve never been able to resist inserting your opinion, even when it wasn’t wanted - so answer me now, you blasted wretch of a man!”
The only response, though, was the whistle of the wind, which pushed the tuft of hair covering his right eye away from his face.
Taking a deep breath - or several - to try and regain his composure, Hubert forced himself to stand, carefully brushing away the blades of grass that had clung to his trousers.
“How very like you, to vex me to the last.” At that, Hubert couldn’t help but twitch his mouth upward into an affectionate smirk for the man lying before him. Truthfully, Hubert wasn't even sure how he managed it, considering that his withered heart had only recently awoken from its sustained slumber, just for it to be subsequently broken and battered into unidentifiable bits.
“May I tell you something? But you must promise to keep it between us, of course.”
His words had been meant as a simple jest, but nevertheless, they stung like acid.
“I… I fear we may lose this war,” he then added, sighing at the thought. “We will be confronting the Kingdom army at Gronder, and are anticipating that they may join forces with the Alliance. Lady Edelgard is… well, she tries to hide her worry, but I’ve never seen her quite like this. So, perhaps I’ll be lying beside you very soon, my sweet.”
Gronder… what a place to have such a battle, the place where they had once sparred as schoolmates all those years ago…
“Those times at the monastery… you know, everything was much simpler back then. Everything was infinitely easier when I hated you than when I lo-”
Catching himself, he swallowed the word like a bitter pill.
“Still, I wouldn’t want you to get the wrong idea of things, lest you whine forever in the eternal flame. As difficult as you’ve made things for me by running off and getting yourself killed like the fool you are, I… I don’t regret a thing, you know. That night we spent together… it is the only time in my life that I remember being truly…"
Truly what? Happy? Content? Complete? All the words he thought to conjure seemed far too trite to describe such a profound sense of fulfillment. Always, always, he'd felt such isolation in this world, with no purpose but as a rock to prop up Lady Edelgard, while no one braced him in return.
To have someone by his side like that, even if for just one night…
Out of the corner of his eye, Hubert could see the gravediggers returning, and he found himself panicking. This… this couldn’t be it, their final goodbye. He wasn’t ready just yet, he couldn't-
But, would he ever be ready? Would any amount of time be enough to truly let Ferdinand go?
Blast… blast it all!
Putting his hand on the opened lid of the casket, he still couldn’t bring himself to close it.
“You want me to say it before I go, don’t you?” he asked the silent corpse before him, forcing himself to sport another twisted smile. “How very greedy of you, to demand a gift that you can never return. Or, perhaps such words will only make you turn in your grave, as you writhe in eternity knowing that you never said them back. Is it cruel of me, to hope that is the case?”
He then emitted a humorless laugh.
“Fine, if you insist - I will indulge you thus. I-”
He paused, scoffing as he felt his cheeks starting to redden. Well, this was absolutely ridiculous, wasn’t it?
Trying once more, he cleared his throat.
“I suppose I… love you.”
The words sounded so unnatural coming from him, as if a - how had Ferdinand put it that one time? - as if a snake had been singing an aria. Still, had Ferdinand been alive to hear them, he knew that the stupid, sentimental fool would have treasured them nonetheless. And in a way, that made him feel… warm.
“Goodbye, my sweet. And when I soon follow you to the grave, I have no doubt that I’ll be able to find you in the darkness - that you’ll be burning even more brightly than the eternal flame itself.”
With that, Hubert forced himself to close the casket, turning abruptly to quell any desires to reopen it and take one last look at his beloved. And as his heart burned with a torment that he’d never imagined was even possible, he suddenly found himself - strangely, and for perhaps the first time in his life - craving the comforts of a soothing cup of tea.