Hubert knocks on the door to Ferdinand’s suite in the imperial palace, already struggling to smother down his irritation. True, it has been a long day and an even longer evening already sorting through the fine minutiae of the impending summit with Brigid and Dagda. Night has just fallen around the capital, and they have hours more work before them. So he’s still smarting at the gall of the prime minister to blow him off, begging to take an hour for himself before they reconvene to continue their review.
What could the man possibly have to do that is so pressing? Sing to his horses, probably, or attend a fencing lesson, knowing Ferdinand. How truly unprofessional. Although Hubert did appreciate the extra time to attend to other matters for her Majesty, and to chug down a fresh batch of coffee—it only means even later into the night that he and Ferdinand will have to work.
There is a furious clatter from the other side of the door, then Ferdinand appears, his copper hair loose and wavy past his shoulders, and his skin flushed and dewy. As he opens the door wider, he further reveals that he is wearing only his breeches and—in the loosest adherence possible to the concept of wearing—a fresh white dress shirt, unbuttoned and billowing around the cavalryman’s sculpted torso.
Hubert tightens his jaw and forces himself to glance away from that.
“Well! Aren’t you annoyingly punctual.” Ferdinand looks him over, and Hubert now feels overdressed, even though he himself has shed his cloak and outer jacket as the evening has dragged on.
“The sooner we finish this, the sooner you can return to your wine tastings, or whatever it is you do with your free time.”
“What free time?” Ferdinand grumbles, but turns and heads into his rooms. “Might as well come in. Have you eaten?”
“I ate enough,” Hubert elides, watching as Ferdinand grabs a glass of port and a handful of blackberries from a tray on his side table. Popping a few berries in his mouth, he saunters over to his vanity against one wall and chews absently as he perches on the stool there, one foot tucked on the seat while the other steadies him on the floor.
Their gazes brush past each other in the vanity mirror before Hubert looks away. He had been staring, quite unintentionally, at the drip of dark juice clinging to Ferdinand’s lower lip.
“I am sorry again for the delay,” Ferdinand says, after his throat bobs with a swallow, “but I needed a few minutes to myself, and I hadn’t yet had a chance to soak in the bath since my morning ride.”
That explains the fresh glow to his skin, and the near-shirtlessness he seems in no hurry to correct. “Void forfend I keep you from your bath.” Hubert extends the stack of paperwork to him, but Ferdinand pops another blackberry into his mouth instead.
“Why don’t you read it to me while I conclude my evening rituals?”
Hubert’s mind, traitor that it is, fugues on thoughts of said rituals and inserting himself into them—soaking in said tub with Ferdinand, coaxing that blush from his freckled skin, and other things besides—but he only gives an annoyed huff and moves to stand behind Ferdinand at the vanity. “As the prime minister insists,” Hubert says, somewhat venomously.
Ferdinand only smiles at him in the mirror, and picks up a hairbrush.
“Very well. As you can see in this seating chart, we currently have the Dagdan financier seated with the representative from Hrym, which bodes poorly for all parties involved, so unless you were hoping to spark a trade war—”
“I suggested no such thing. Give me that.”
Hubert slaps the stack of papers before him with more force than necessary.
“This is all wrong.” Ferdinand scowls and takes a swig of port. “And the schedule is missing my keynote address—In fact—Here.”
And suddenly, Ferdinand is shoving the hairbrush into Hubert’s gloved hands.
“You brush. I’ll fix this.”
Hubert stares at the silky orange strands of hair in the brush as if they might garotte him. Then stares as that luscious mane of them spilling around Ferdinand’s shoulders. Stares back at the brush. “Do you mistake me for—some kind of valet, or—”
“Well, you spend enough time staring at my hair, so I can’t imagine you mind terribly.” One side of Ferdinand’s lips quirks up in the mirror. “Your choice.”
Then he picks up a fountain pen and hunches over the paperwork.
Hubert stands motionless for a minute, trying and failing to conjure a plausible excuse, but try as he might, he cannot link Ferdinand’s locks to any significant threat to the Empire’s security. So instead, he waits until the moment Ferdinand first glances up in the mirror, and then very carefully peels off one satiny white glove, exposing the slender fingers beneath.
And there is only the faintest whisper of breath as Ferdinand inhales and his eyes widen by a mere fraction, but Hubert will take his victory.
Hubert carefully removes the second glove, watching from the corner of his eye as Ferdinand forces his attention back down to the stack of papers before him. “Um. Let us see here, Minister von Vestra . . .” He scribbles something out, then pauses as Hubert snaps the shed gloves together and drapes them on the edge of the vanity. “I—think it would be better if I delivered my keynote address before the champagne toast—”
“Interesting,” Hubert murmurs, and makes the first pass of the brush down the length of Ferdinand’s mane.
Ferdinand closes his eyes in the mirror, and his head tips back the slightest bit, as if to chase the path of Hubert’s hand. But he returns his attention to his work as Hubert repeats the motion. With each lift of the brush, however, and fresh scrape of the bristles along Ferdinand’s scalp, there is a barely perceptible tremor that runs through him.
So naturally, once Hubert’s done working through the top layer of Ferdinand’s hair, he gathers it all into one hand and begins attacking the resulting tail more assiduously.
Ferdinand stops writing entirely now, ink pooling beneath the pen nib where it rests against the paper. A glance in the mirror confirms his eyes are closed again, and Hubert grins. Yet as his knuckles graze against the back of Ferdinand’s neck, it’s Hubert who has to suppress a shiver.
He’s long been aware of the effect Prime Minister von Aegir has on him—from their days at the Academy through Her Majesty’s war to now, though the timbre of that effect has changed significantly over time. And there have been ample hints that at least some of those effects might be matched within Ferdinand by himself, as distrustful as he is to believe such a thing. Gazes that overstay their welcome; blushes that spread on those lovely sun-dappled cheeks. Fond murmurs when they dine together, or share a break for tea. But crossing that final divide—skin on skin, hands in lovely hair that tangles around Hubert in his fantasies—has always felt insurmountable.
And now he is crossing it, almost as if by accident. Almost as if he could still pretend . . .
But he doesn’t want to pretend anymore.
“I’m sorry, von Aegir.” His knuckles drag along the nape of Ferdinand’s neck again, firmer now. “Am I distracting you?”
Ferdinand jolts forward with an inhale of breath, and the pen lifts from its blot. “N-no! Of course not.”
Hubert only allows himself a slender smile, but inside, he is smirking. “Good.”
As Ferdinand continues shuffling through the paperwork and draining his port, Hubert sets the brush aside, and—flames, but he is brazen—lets his fingers trace the outside of Ferdinand’s ear. Hubert’s action could almost, but not quite, be mistaken for merely tucking back a strand of hair, after all.
Ferdinand’s jaw clenches—he feels it do so beneath his fingers. But Ferdinand insisted he was not distracted.
And so it cannot be a distraction, then, to trail those same fingers down the sturdy cord of Ferdinand’s neck.
It cannot be a distraction to skim those fingers along the edge of that unbuttoned shirt, over the hard line of Ferdinand’s collarbone.
And it cannot possibly be a distraction for his thumb to chase that line, find the hollow at the base of his throat—
Hubert has been watching his own hand in the mirror, as if watching it inside his own imaginings—something wholly separate from himself, something he can never truly do. But then he catches Ferdinand watching, too. Watching himself be touched. And his lips are parted, his breathing shallow—chest rising and falling under Hubert’s palm—
Hubert withdraws his hand and returns his attention to Ferdinand’s hair, as if it had never left.
With only a slight stutter of his pen, Ferdinand resumes his work.
Hubert sections that coppery hair into three parts now, his pulse a feral drumbeat in his ears. Ferdinand knows damn well what he is doing—but neither of them is willing to break. Ferdinand will not admit to distraction. And Hubert will not admit to—anything.
He twists Ferdinand’s hair into a loose, leisurely braid. He will not admit to how fervently he wishes to continue stroking that damp, gorgeously freckled skin; how desperately he wants to chase his fingers with his lips.
And he will certainly never admit to how very long he’s wanted it.
When at last Hubert finishes the loose braid, he plucks a crimson velvet ribbon from the tray on Ferdinand’s vanity. Slowly, he ties it at the braid’s end and then brushes the braid over one of Ferdinand’s shoulders.
And then finds himself staring at that bronzed expense of neck, only now exposed, so warm and soft, with a powdery fresh scent . . .
And since Ferdinand is so assured in his immunity to distraction, Hubert does that which he has craved the most—he leans forward, nose burying in silken hair, and presses his lips to the nape of Ferdinand’s neck.
Eyes closed, he savors that dewy skin, still warm from the bath, and runs the back of one finger down the side of Ferdinand’s exposed neck.
“Oh,” Ferdinand says, under his breath.
Hubert pulls his lips back, but only by a hair, and flicks his gaze to Ferdinand’s in the mirror. “Distracting?” He asks, mouth moving over Ferdinand’s skin as it hovers there.
Ferdinand swallows. “Perhaps not the word I would use.”
Hubert’s hand at Ferdinand’s neck follows the collar of the unbuttoned shirt down his chest, this time traversing over the hard, curved muscle of his pectorals. It is taking all of his own self-control not to dig his nails in or bite at that beautiful flesh, but he’ll be damned if he’s going to lose this game now. “What word would you prefer?”
Ferdinand catches his lower lip in his teeth, his eyes following in the mirror as Hubert peels back the shirt like a theater curtain being raised, and draws a slow circle around the firm, dark nipple he has exposed. “Teasing,” Ferdinand says, and the fountain pen droops from his hand. “It is not nice to tease, minister.”
“And why is that?” He spreads his fingers wide, gripping at Ferdinand’s breast, and flicks his bare thumb over the stiff peak of his nipple. Eyes still open, watching in the mirror, he kisses the base of his neck again, mouth parted this time, and swirls his tongue against sweet, honeyed flesh.
“Because you don’t intend to follow through.” Ferdinand shudders when Hubert’s thumbnail catches on his nipple. He drops the pen entirely now, hands tightening on the top of the vanity.
Hubert sucks at the flesh of his neck, just enough for a whisper of teeth, before releasing him. “Do I not?”
Quite abruptly, Ferdinand spins on the vanity stool to face him directly. Their gazes lock, and Ferdinand seizes Hubert’s collar in his fists. Drags his face down so they are eye level. Hubert can taste his warm breath, so close to his lips. He can hear how heavy it is.
“Prove it,” Ferdinand says.
Hubert’s mouth weighs down on his, and it’s crude and artless, lips crushing together, bitter coffee and syrupy port and the sweet tang of Ferdinand’s sigh pouring straight into Hubert’s soul. He’s greedy, but Ferdinand is greedier, one hand pawing at Hubert’s shirt while the other seizes the back of his head, nails raking Hubert’s scalp as his tongue pushes Hubert’s mouth open and laps into him.
And Hubert doesn’t even care that he’s stooped over at an awkward angle, not for this, not for everything he’s coveted in secret for so long. He’d do anything for Ferdinand’s mouth that never knows how to stop moving—and it’s moving now, devouring him, sucking at his lower lip until the blaze low in Hubert’s belly threatens to consume him.
“Now I think you’re starting to convince me,” Hubert breathes, when they finally part for air. He brushes his bare hands down Ferdinand’s chest, taking his time to swish his thumbs against peaked nipples, to sweep against carved muscle and supple flesh. His hands land at Ferdinand’s hips and he grips him, hard.
“I’m not finished yet.” Ferdinand rests his forehead to Hubert’s, grinning wickedly.
“Good. Neither am I.”
Hubert hoists him into the air and kicks the vanity stool out of the way, then seats Ferdinand on the vanity’s edge. Yes, he much prefers him at this height, Ferdinand’s face just above his now, and the perfect angle for him to run his hands up Ferdinand’s spine as he kisses down his chin and jaw to the hard knot of his throat. Ferdinand whimpers, back arching, as Hubert scrapes teeth and lips and tongue down that elegant curve, as his fingers knead at dense shoulderblades and as he fits himself into the space between Ferdinand’s thighs.
His thumbs graze at Ferdinand’s ribs as he sucks that tender, thin flesh at the base of his throat into his mouth, and it’s almost as if he can taste the sunshine, the warmth of him, and it’s so much more than he dared to imagine, and he never wants to let it go.
“Please, goddess, please.” Ferdinand’s voice rumbles in Hubert’s mouth.
Hubert laughs softly against him and presses a tender kiss against the mark he’s just left. “What is it you’re begging me for, you lovely thing?”
Ferdinand whimpers and runs his hand along the side of Hubert’s face. “Anything.”
“Anything.” Hubert kisses the underside of his jaw; his cheek; his ear. “That’s quite an opening you have left me, Prime Minister. I thought you were a master of negotiations?”
Ferdinand laces his fingers on top of Hubert’s hand and guides it away from his side, down his stomach, over the waistband of his breeches. Locking eyes with Hubert, he lets his palm hover just over the undeniable hardness there. “I think it will be mutually beneficial. Minister.”
“Ah. There’s the bossy Ferdinand I know.”
Hubert pulls him in for another hungry kiss, and captures Ferdinand’s tongue with his own, sucking on it until Ferdinand cries out. He palms at Ferdinand’s shaft through the fabric, and Ferdinand’s thighs tighten around Hubert’s slender hips.
When he releases him, it’s with a raw and puffy mouth, but all he craves is more. “I think I have a new proposal for you instead.”
Ferdinand rolls his eyes at that, but kisses him again anyway, setting off a strange flutter in Hubert’s heart. Suddenly he feels as though he can’t even look upon Ferdinand’s face anymore; it’s dizzying, and if he stops to think for a minute, to recall that this is truly Ferdinand he’s doing this with, real and open to him, he feels lightheaded.
So he mouths his way down Ferdinand’s chest instead, tongue lapping at the grooves of solid muscle along his abdomen, until he reaches the waistband of Ferdinand’s breeches and sinks to his knees before the vanity. His hands dig into the dense muscles of Ferdinand’s thighs, then he trails them up to bracket the outline of his cock with the blade of both hands.
Gaze flicking up at Ferdinand, he reaches for the buttons of his breeches, and arches one eyebrow.
Ferdinand’s chest is heaving now; his lips are a glorious shade of crimson. Slowly, he nods, looking right at Hubert.
Smile spreading, Hubert eases the first button open, and then the next, working his way down until he’s freed Ferdinand’s cock. And it’s very bit as glorious as he hoped—flushed a deep scarlet, thick in his bare hand—and even better is the way Ferdinand cries out the moment he darts out his tongue to lick away a silky thread of precome.
Hubert closes his eyes as he runs his lips down the length of his cock, then laps his way back up. He pushes Ferdinand’s thighs wider apart, thumbs digging into muscle, then gazes toward Ferdinand once more. Waits for their eyes to meet.
Then slowly, slowly sinks his mouth down around that sturdy shaft.
“F-fuck,” Ferdinand breathes, and it might be the first time Hubert’s ever heard the prime minister utter that word, and that alone is enough to wrench a shudder out of Hubert as well.
He begins to work his mouth along the length of Ferdinand’s shaft, committing every ridge, every twitch and sigh of Ferdinand’s to memory, savoring the clean, salty taste of him. Ferdinand tangles his hands in Hubert’s hair, pushing his bangs back, leaving Hubert feeling oddly exposed—but it’s only fair, he supposes, as he sinks his lips down nearly to the base of Ferdinand’s cock.
“Goddess. You are incredible.” Ferdinand’s hips buck, seemingly of their own accord, and he moans so sweetly Hubert wants to carve it into his mind. “Who knew that venomous tongue of yours could be put to such good use . . .”
Hubert retaliates by hollowing out his cheeks with a forceful suck, and relishes the way it makes Ferdinand squirm and grip his hair tighter. Laughing around his cock, he hoists one of Ferdinand’s thighs up and hooks his leg over one shoulder so he can press in deeper.
“Careful,” Ferdinand whispers, as Hubert works his mouth faster now. “I’m—I’m close, von Vestra—”
Hubert answers him by increasing the press of his tongue; gliding with greater force. He feels as Ferdinand’s cock swells, and his nails claw at Hubert’s scalp. Sturdy thighs close in on Hubert’s face, locking him in place as Ferdinand’s cries ratchet ever higher—
And Ferdinand tastes every bit as bright and sweet and salty as Hubert expects, filling his mouth quickly until he has to pull back, coughing and smiling. Ferdinand’s back is arched and his head tossed back, panting and sighing. Swallowing what he can, Hubert stands again, and wraps his hand around Ferdinand’s head to draw him into another kiss. Let him taste himself. Their mouths slur together as Ferdinand stumbles out of the other side of his climax, and Hubert licks up the slick mess of spit and come smeared on Ferdinand’s mouth.
“Goddess,” Ferdinand moans against him, and this, too, Hubert wants to lick away. “If I had known you would treat me like that . . .”
“Mm?” Hubert kisses his temple as he twines his hand around Ferdinand’s braid.
Ferdinand laughs wearily. “Well. Maybe I would have invited you to—distract me sooner.” He trails one hand down Hubert’s shirt and hooks his fingers at his waistband. “Please . . .”
“Maybe later, von Aegir. You’re in no state.”
Ferdinand’s lower lip juts out. “But I want to.”
Hubert slips one arm under Ferdinand’s knees, and cradles his back with the other arm. “Do you know what I want?”
Ferdinand shakes his head.
With a grunt, Hubert hoists him into the air—the cavalier heavier than he appears—and hauls him over to his bed, then flings him down onto his back. Ferdinand’s eyes widen as his shirt falls open, revealing that gorgeous stretch of skin he craves. So Hubert hastily unfastens his own breeches, shoves them down, and then kneels over Ferdinand on the mattress as he grasps his own aching cock.
“Oh,” Ferdinand says, eyes widening—fixing on the steady pump of Hubert’s hand. Propping himself on his other palm, Hubert leans over him and kisses him, slow and lazy for now, his bangs feathering against Ferdinand’s face. It feels so . . . indulgent, in a way he never permits himself to indulge. But Ferdinand von Aegir—this is something he wishes to indulge, again and again.
And then he feels himself edging closer, his whole body coiling, and he bites at Ferdinand’s lip, snarling as he comes on that sculpted chest, shuddering as his vision blackens, and his limbs threaten to give out and he tastes blood—
He blinks back into himself where he’s slumped beside Ferdinand, who’s draped one arm around Hubert’s shoulders and is watching him with bright, amused eyes. “There you are,” Ferdinand murmurs, holding Hubert’s attention—and as Hubert watches, he drags one finger through the mess on his chest and brings it to his mouth to suck Hubert’s spend away.
“O-oh.” Hubert lets out a shaky breath. “Aren’t you a welcome sight.”
“And aren’t you a welcome distraction.” Ferdinand glances back toward the vanity. That’s when Hubert sees the crumpled pile of papers that have been thoroughly ravaged under the prime minister’s delectable ass. “I suppose we will have to be up half the night dealing with that.”
“Only half the night?” Hubert asks, cupping his hand to Ferdinand’s face.
Ferdinand smiles; leans in to kiss the tip of his nose. “So if you have ideas for the other half . . .”
Hubert scoops his finger along Ferdinand’s chest before pushing it against that plush lower lip. “I’m sure we’ll think of things yet.”