“Well, that was quite the battle, was it not? A story for ages to come!”
When a flock of birds began to chirp, as if to actually cheer on Ferdinand's triumphant boast, Hubert gave them such a withering look that they hastily fled from their nearby perch. Perhaps he was getting used to the full-bodied tenor that carried Ferdinand's endless ramblings - clearly a sign that they were spending all too much time together - but that didn't mean the dogged man needed to be humored for it.
Besides, Hubert was weary from battle and could use a break from Ferdinand's exaggerated preening - or, so he tried to tell himself. In fact, it seemed that he told himself a lot of things lately - that he preferred his solitude to Ferdinand’s ever-gnawing presence; that Ferdinand was like the most cloying of poisons, one for which there was no antidote; that he could think of a thousand things he'd rather be doing than spending time with Ferdinand von Aegir.
Yes, Hubert often told himself such things… and seldom believed them.
“I realize that reality is as fleeting for you as sense, but did you already forget that we nearly died?”
The brusque irritation in Hubert's voice was directed more at himself for indulging in such wayward and fickle thoughts about his companion. Still, unlike Ferdinand’s constant spewing of mindless hyperbole, Hubert spoke only the truth. The fact that they were both currently covered in bandages was evidence enough of his words, bandages which they’d resorted to without a healer present to close their wounds by magic.
“Do not be so glum, Hubert! We did survive, after all. It is a glorious day, and the sun yet shines, kissing our faces with its eternal warmth.”
That careless choice of words led to Hubert's - hopefully unnoticeable - sharp intake of breath, putting an evocative image in his mind that he presumed his companion hadn't intended. Rather, as if to emphasize his platonic intent, Ferdinand closed his eyes and pointed his nose to the sky, holding arms out to his sides like he were embracing the very sun itself.
Hubert couldn't help but swallow hard at the sight of him - it was evident that the sunlight favored Ferdinand as much as he favored it in return. Even covered by bandages and with a patch of gauze on his cheek, he looked like some kind of golden deity, one much more compelling than any of which the Church of Seiros had so distastefully falsified. Yet with the same kind of helplessness as that exhibited by a moth, Hubert found himself continually drawn to the flame. In fact, in that moment, his hands were practically itching to touch the blazing orange tresses before him, and he instinctively tugged at his fingers - forgetting for a moment that he wasn’t wearing his customary gloves due to the bandages on his hands.
“Well, you can enjoy standing here like a fool, if you so please." It was always a folly to try and bury one's emotions - camouflage was much more discreet and effective, and the smoke screen of disdain in Hubert's voice caused Ferdinand to return to his normal state… only this time, with a slight pout. “I, on the other hand, should go and write up a report for Her Majesty.”
As if a cloud had passed and the brief moment of shade was now gone, Ferdinand brightened once more. “Ah, yes! Edelgard will certainly be impressed with us. You will let her know how well I fought, will you not?”
Hubert couldn’t help but tsk. “I suppose I can put it in a footnote… if there’s enough space remaining on the page.”
“You wound me, Hubert.” But, as was often the case with Ferdinand, his words were for dramatic effect only… the telltale glint that burned like a fire in his eyes always gave him away, without fail.
Perhaps it was easy for Ferdinand to put on such a show, knowing that his battle prowess had been impressive. The two of them had been traveling to a nearby merchant to negotiate armor and supply costs when they’d been ambushed by Kingdom soldiers. They may have barely escaped with their lives, but the fact that they had was in large part due to Ferdinand, who was - begrudgingly - more suited than Hubert for fighting in close combat. Even so, there had been a harrowing moment when a sword managed to pierce through Ferdinand’s armor… and while not a fatal wound, the cut was still deeper than Hubert was comfortable with.
“Speaking of wounds… you should go to the infirmary,” Hubert noted, crossing his arms to emphasize the command.
But his order was only met with a soft glow in Ferdinand’s eyes, as if the fool had misinterpreted his logical request and warped it into some idealistic impression of concern.
“And what about you, Hubert?” Ferdinand inquired. “You were injured as well.”
“Not to the same extent.” Hubert then frowned. “That wound to your abdomen should at least be tended to.”
“I am fine, I can assure you,” Ferdinand insisted, although Hubert could have sworn he noticed a slight wince as Ferdinand turned his torso. “In fact, before you run off to write your report, should we not take a well deserved tea break? The sun is just setting, after all. We could watch it together on one of these benches, while enjoying the delicious and comforting warmth of a cup of tea - well, coffee, in your case.”
Hubert paused, unable - or perhaps unwilling - to find a reason to refute the request. “I suppose that wouldn’t be… terrible.”
“Yes! Magnificent!” Ferdinand cried out, with so much enthusiasm that Hubert had to turn his head away to conceal his blush.
They settled into a routine that had become almost nauseatingly normal for them at this point - that is, Ferdinand making Hubert’s coffee, while he made Ferdinand’s tea in return - only this time, instead of sitting at a table in the grounds outside of the dining hall, they found a private bench where they could sit side by side.
“The sun looks enchanting today, does it not?” Ferdinand breathed, the wonder in his voice like a constant drug for Hubert's long-jaded ears.
“Hmph. I prefer the stars,” Hubert drolled in return, letting his lips form into the slightest of smirks. “Although, I suppose the sun is… growing on me.”
They shared a long look, and he could see the surprise written all over Ferdinand’s face as his companion tried to decipher whether or not Hubert was speaking in code.
As it turned out, he was, although he had no plans to admit it.
“I, um, agree that the stars are quite wonderful as well." Ferdinand then shyly brushed a stray strand of hair behind his ear. “After all, they are like beautiful green specks within a sea of darkness, ones I find I can never truly look away from.”
“Green?” Hubert asked, watching as Ferdinand’s cheeks started redden. “Tell me - are we still talking about stars, Ferdinand?”
“Y-yes, are they not green?" Ferdinand stammered. "Well, I suppose it is quite difficult to assign them a color, anyway.”
Hubert bit back a smile.
Ferdinand continued on with his seemingly endless prattle - this time with a nervous energy layered on top of his normally buoyancy - and although Hubert pretended to brood at his side, it was somehow becoming easier and easier to forget the problems that wore at him, the slight aches of his injuries, the dreariness of this long and unending war.
He then heard a slight gasp of breath, and turned his head to see that Ferdinand was shivering.
“Forgive me, but it… it has grown quite cold this evening…”
Hubert’s frown deepened as he suddenly noticed Ferdinand's ashen pallor.
“Well, I suppose if you’re going to whine about it…” Hubert set down his coffee and stood, removing his woolen cape and draping it over Ferdinand’s back and shoulders. Perhaps in the process he let his hands linger on Ferdinand’s upper arms more than what was strictly necessary… perhaps.
“Why, thank you Hubert!” Ferdinand beamed as Hubert sat down once more, recollecting his cup and tipping the bitter drink into his mouth to get another taste. “But this will not do… now you will be cold.”
Hubert scoffed. “I’m perfectly comfortable. I suppose I must just be more resilient than you.”
The words had been too harsh, naturally triggering Ferdinand's competitive nature, and Hubert would come to regret them later. And maybe had he not said them, then Ferdinand would have let him know how ill he was feeling. But as it were, Hubert’s snippy retort only served to quiet Ferdinand, while Hubert in turn stubbornly refused to break the silence.
After several minutes - really, had Ferdinand ever gone this long without talking? - it took all of Hubert’s self control not to glance over at his companion. Yet just when he thought he might finally give in to the urge that he safely labeled as curiosity, he heard the sound of a tea cup shattering into pieces as it collided with the ground.
Hubert looked over with alarm to see that Ferdinand’s head was drooping while he gripped the edge of the bench tightly, as if he were struggling to hold himself upright.
And that’s when he saw it… a large red blot soiling Ferdinand’s shirt. It was difficult to notice - red on red surely would be - but Hubert cursed himself all the same. Without any care for decorum, he yanked Ferdinand’s shirt upward - pulling him closer in the process - and dread seemed to grab his chest in a vice grip, squeezing without remorse.
The bandage…it was soaked straight through… how much blood had Ferdinand lost?
“Oh, dear heavens, my tunic… these terrible stains will never come out.”
The slurred words were so stupidly idiotic that Hubert wanted to cry out in frustration - in fear. Except there wasn't even time for him to berate his companion, as Ferdinand’s head promptly slumped onto Hubert's shoulder.
Hubert cursed while simultaneously blushing at the unintentional intimacy. But it was panic that dominated his thoughts - an emotion he wasn't used to feeling, as he was usually able to remain calm and collected even in the worst of situations - and he had to struggle to concentrate. At least it was apparent enough that he had to get Ferdinand to the infirmary and treated by a healer… yet, perhaps he could alleviate some of the urgency with his own magic first. He had little skill in faith, being the flagrant apostate that he was, but surely he had sung enough blasted hymns as a student to perform a simple heal incantation…
Recalling the spell - and hating how desperate he was to do so - his own hands started to glow, which Hubert supposed was promising. With a shaky hand, he then drew a careful sigil onto Ferdinand’s chest that he could only (ironically) pray he remembered correctly. Hubert couldn't be sure that he'd done it right - blast, what if he'd accidentally warded Ferdinand instead? - but a slight moan from his senseless companion caused Hubert's throat to bob erratically.
Wrapping his arms around Ferdinand, Hubert shook him lightly, trying to bring him back to consciousness.
“Ferdinand?” Hubert tried, hoping he would wake - or show any signs of life. “Ferdinand, damn it!”
To his relief Ferdinand’s eyes started to flutter open, and Hubert let out a breath he didn’t know he’d been holding as Ferdinand’s large, bright flames stared tiredly up at him.
“… Hubert?” He seemed confused - no doubt by the intimacy of their position, and Hubert stumbled to provide an explanation.
Yet before he could, Ferdinand whispered, “Ah… I am dreaming, then…”
For a moment Hubert was stunned, although he soon smirked, starting to conjure a teasing retort. But the unformed words - as well as every other thought in Hubert's mind - disappeared the moment Ferdinand inched his head upward, closing his eyes and parting his lips like a delectable treat, all so ready - and willing - to be sampled.
Still, Hubert remained frozen until Ferdinand’s hand slipped to the back of his head, urging him forward so that their lips pressed together without further hesitation. And the very moment that Hubert could taste the hints of dried fruit on the most tantalizing and eager mouth ever known, his own eyes fluttered shut as a want - no, a need he didn’t even know he'd had burned within him, taking over completely. Without even fully realizing what was happening, he was then prying the pliant lips beneath his open with his tongue to get a full taste of the man he craved damn well more than he should - more than he’d ever admit. Even still it didn't seem like enough, and as if one of his hands had a mind of its own, it then coiled into Ferdinand’s hair like a snake. For once Hubert was grateful to this blasted injury for leaving him gloveless so that he could feel the loose silk within his fingers, the softness of which was rivaled only by that of the lips he never wished to release.
His air-starved lungs refused to indulge him, however, and when Hubert finally pulled away, the burn within him remained. It certainly couldn't be quieted while their breaths were puffing against each other’s cheeks as they remained in such close proximity… But with his senses still starving for Ferdinand while his mouth was yet preoccupied, he dragged his nose across the uninjured side of Ferdinand’s face, taking in all that he could.
Damnation, the way that Ferdinand shuddered slightly when Hubert’s breath hit his ear made Hubert want to taste the man before him once more - …and having now caught his breath, he considered doing exactly that.
But as Ferdinand’s head then drooped onto Hubert's chest, clarity finally returned as he recalled why they were even in such a suggestive position to begin with.
“Ah… so that is what it would be like,” Ferdinand murmured, his contentedness apparent from the wide smile on his face, even while his eyes were closed. As he then fell asleep, Hubert could feel Ferdinand leaning more leadenly against him, and although his panic was starting to return, Hubert suddenly found he couldn’t move a single muscle. Even his heart seemed to hold completely still until it transitioned into a strange sputter, before finally settling on a relentless slam.
Cursing himself for such folly now of all times, Hubert slipped one arm below Ferdinand’s knees while the other cradled his back, taking a breath to brace himself as he stood and lifted the unconscious man. Although Hubert was a mage and not a physical fighter, he was still wiry and much stronger than he looked - after all, when the situation called for it, he might have a need to assassinate someone by holding them still before dragging his dagger across their deserving neck.
Yet, Ferdinand was also much heavier than he looked - and as his limp companion's muscled thighs rubbed against Hubert’s straining forearms, it was more than clear why. Had it been anyone else, Hubert might have put them down and found assistance, but the sight of Ferdinand - the feel of him - coupled with his utter panic was more than enough motivation to trudge on. As it were, Hubert somehow managed to get Ferdinand up the stairs and to the infirmary, kicking open the door for entry since his hands were otherwise occupied.
“Well, what is the meaning of-!” Manuela started, but Hubert could read the shift in her eyes - first dark with anger, then light with teasing, and finally settling on concern.
“Put him on the bed,” she ordered, and as much as Hubert’s straining muscles were happy to oblige, he also felt a strange sense of loss when his arms were no longer wrapped around the man he'd come to care for against all odds.
“We recently came back from a mission,” Hubert told the former professor, too preoccupied by Ferdinand's condition to even be angry with himself for the slight shaking of his voice. “These injuries - they occurred hours ago. Neither of us even realized how heavily he was… bleeding.”
Manuela tsked once she saw the blood-soaked bandage covering Ferdinand’s torso, carefully cutting it away with a pair of shears. But her brow crinkled with confusion when Ferdinand's chest was bare before her, leading her to gently prod at him with her fingers.
Hubert couldn’t help but swallow as he watched, annoyed at how much he envied her clinical but intimate strokes, even at a time like this.
“I don’t see any wound,” she then noted, looking to Hubert for an explanation.
“I used a heal spell earlier. But I’m not sure if it did much. He still… fell unconscious again.”
Had it not be enough? …Or worse, had it been too late?
However, Manuela's soft smile was reassuring. “You did well, Hubert," she promised. "Ferdinand just needs time to recover from all the blood loss. He's going to be just fine.”
“I see…” There was an uncomfortable beat, and Hubert idly twiddled his fingers. “Well, in that case, I suppose I should-”
“Oh, cut the shit, Hubert.”
It wasn't often that someone was able to catch him off guard, but Hubert wouldn't have been surprised if his eyes were as large as saucers in that very moment.
“I… I beg your pardon?”
“Believe me," she practically wailed. "I've only longed for a man to look at me the way you look at-”
Hubert's hiss was enough to cut her off.
“I would warn you not to finish that sentence.”
Manuela rolled her eyes and mouthed a word that looked suspiciously like 'men'.
“Well, in any case, I need to grab some herbs from the greenhouse," she noted, although Hubert was quite certain that she was lying. "Perhaps you'd better stay with Ferdinand?"
“You're leaving? Now? How… irresponsible.”
Manuela gave him a scathing look that almost unnerved even him before leaving the infirmary, slamming the door in her wake. Hubert could do little more than sneer at the closed door, but his expression softened once he returned his gaze to Ferdinand.
Even so, what was he supposed to do now - sit and mewl at Ferdinand’s side while waiting for him to awaken?
Sighing, Hubert first headed over to the shelves containing Manuela’s tinctures - going so far as to pocket a few that might serve useful in some of his poisons. Surely, she wouldn’t miss them - if they were bottles of alcohol, perhaps…
Then he found a pen, an inkwell, and some paper, before pulling a chair up to Ferdinand’s side and awkwardly scrawling his report to Lady Edelgard on a nearby nightstand.
… Maybe he did leave a sentence or two in his report about how well Ferdinand had fought, although he certainly would never admit it if Ferdinand were to ask.
Of course, drafting the report was taking far longer than it damn well should have, because his eyes kept finding themselves drawn to the man before him as he wrote. It was simply too tempting not to - he'd never had the chance to stare at Ferdinand so unabashedly before, after all. Besides, surely there was no amount of reconnaissance that was too insignificant? Maybe one day Lady Edelgard might need to know how many nearly hidden freckles Ferdinand had, or of the way his lips formed into a pout while he slept, or how his-
A slight groan cut off his thoughts, indicating that Ferdinand was finally starting to wake. But even now, Hubert found he couldn't look away, instead watching intently as Ferdinand's opulent, orange eyes became visible once again. There was confusion in them at first, but no fear - as if by just seeing Hubert, he knew he was somewhere safe. And that thought made an uncomfortable lump rise in Hubert's throat, one which seemed rather impossible to swallow down.
“Hubert?" Ferdinand then spoke. "Where…? Am I in the infirmary?”
It took a moment before Hubert could even answer, and when he did, his voice was more hoarse than it should have been.
“Yes - where you should have gone to begin with, you blasted fool.”
Ferdinand smirked broadly, and Hubert hated how he abruptly felt as solid as a melting puddle. Was Ferdinand perhaps thinking of their kiss? Flames knew that Hubert had thought of little else since.
… Would he speak of it?
“Must I always need to remind you to cheer up?" Ferdinand said instead. "All is well that ends well, do you not think? Besides, we did get to spend quality time together, time that we would have missed out on had I come here right away. Not to mention-”
Hubert’s hand reached for Ferdinand’s jaw in the span of a heartbeat, holding it closed so that he could talk no more. The shock in Ferdinand’s eyes turned into something much more intimate, more raw, as Hubert released his hold and ran his hand down Ferdinand’s neck - and he could feel the blush rising into his companion's face far before he even saw it.
"Just because you're a cavalier does not mean you should act so cavalier… not when it comes to your life. You will never again treat your life so glibly, especially when you're injured - is that clear?"
For once Ferdinand didn't argue with him, simply nodding instead, his gaze locked onto Hubert's long after he withdrew his hand from Ferdinand's neck.
There was a charged silence between them, but then Ferdinand emitted an awkward laugh.
"Y-you know… while I was unconscious, I had the most wonderful dream…"
Hubert could feel Ferdinand's eyes prying into him as if they were trying to glean the information he needed, and Hubert forced himself to take a breath, then another, before answering.
"Oh? What was it about?"
This was starting to turn into a chess match between them, with Ferdinand unsure whether or not Hubert had the upper hand… and having been the last to speak, Hubert longed to whisper, "Your turn."
“Well, I…" Ferdinand trailed off into a blush, and Hubert almost tsked at how easy he was making this. "I… tasted coffee for the first time.”
Hubert's mouth seemed to go completely dry, and it took another beat before he could speak again.
“Oh? How strange… but haven’t you had coffee before?”
There it was - the soft but frustrated glow in Ferdinand's eyes as he struggled to determine whether their kiss was, in fact, just a dream.
“W-well, I suppose so. But in my dream, it was a… unique blend. And I was quite surprised by how much I… by how much I rather enjoyed it. In fact, it was far sweeter than I was expecting.”
Hubert could feel his face starting to warm, and Ferdinand suddenly looked triumphant, as if he'd finally solved the puzzle.
Well, that wouldn't do at all.
"Ferdinand…" Hubert breathed, leaning in close, and closer still, until it appeared that he was seeking a kiss. The potent desire written all over Ferdinand's face almost made him succumb, and he longed to take this beautiful man in his arms and let him know that - for better or worse - no one else drove him so blissfully out of his mind… that no one else ever could.
But no, not yet - not quite yet. Perhaps he was the spider, while Ferdinand was the fly longing to be consumed - or maybe, even, it was the other way around - but one of them had to first get trapped within the web. And Hubert shivered with a delighted anticipation, wondering which one of them it would be.
"Ferdinand," he whispered again, watching hungrily as the man's eyes shut closed at the word this time. But now that he'd garnered the reaction he'd wanted, Hubert's mouth veered past Ferdinand's, instead pressing close to his ear.
“I hope you get to taste coffee again very, very soon.”
Ferdinand shuddered - Hubert would have to remember how enticingly sensitive he was near his ears - but without gauging any further reaction, Hubert stood and grabbed his abandoned report from the nightstand, hurriedly turning and leaving the infirmary without another word.
How soon would it be, then, before one of them finally succumbed? Hubert hoped it would be tonight, wondering if he might find himself in Ferdinand's room later should Ferdinand not take his bait. And even though he often preferred the cool night air to all the irritations of daylight, this time when he returned outside and looked up at the stars, he suddenly found himself missing the blinding radiance of the sun.