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when the sun was swallowed by the night

Chapter Text

In hindsight, Ferdinand should’ve known his luck would run out.

Not a year had passed since the war ended, of course there would still be danger on the roads! Those Who Slither in the Dark didn’t care that he was on a mere day trip to visit Caspar and Linhardt before they left to travel Fódlan - they only cared that he was at his most vulnerable.

Better him than catching those two, Ferdinand supposed. Caspar and Linhardt were powerful former generals themselves, but there were only two of them. The professor insisted that he be accompanied by at least a small battalion on his little excursion. Ferdinand shuddered and dared not think of what would happen if the Slitherers chose those two as their targets and not him.

But even so, it was a little frustrating!

“Oh, the roads will be safer at night, Ferdinand! They will not expect it, Ferdinand!” the noble scowled, his voice deep and guttural, mocking a certain dark mage, as he felled three Agarthan footsoldiers with one deadly swing of his lance. “Ferdinand, do not be daft, he said - they will not harm you, he said. Come and tell them that then, von Vestra!”

He was going to strangle Hubert, Ferdinand decided. Of course, in his heart, he knew the man wasn’t to blame for his current situation, but Ferdinand just wanted to visit his friends, Sothis damn it! Evidently, it was too soon for such pleasantries.

A pity, Ferdinand thought. And here he thought things were getting better.

Ferdinand fell back into the habits of war like slipping on a well-worn sweater. Snap the reins, adjust the lance, slash, dart back, rinse, repeat. Hack, slash, readjust - there’s a mage on the left - stab, swing, canter back.

“How many of you are there?!” Ferdinand finally exclaimed as he lost his lance in the chest of a soldier. The soldier just cackled even as blood gushed from his wound and he fell to the ground. But when he fell, he was replaced by more fighters, matching twisted grins on their dry, cracked, bloodless lips.

“We got your back, General!” Ferdinand watched as his men swarmed the Slitherers and took them down with the grace of true soldiers. He made a mental note to personally commend them once they got back to Enbarr. But that was for later - he had to fight to stay alive first. But Ferdinand was a paladin, a fighter on horseback, and Ferdinand could tell that his horse wasn’t going to last much longer.

Giselle, his poor mare, wasn’t made for fighting. Felicity, his warhorse, had been retired to live her life out to pasture once the war ended. Ferdinand had selected Giselle as his next horse, should he ever have to fight again, but it was too soon for her to be in skirmishes. She behaved admirably, like a true Aegir bred horse, but Ferdinand could feel her back muscles flex under his legs, twitching with the strain of the fight. She was going to collapse if he didn’t end the fight soon. “Ah, hells. Cover me!” he called and wheeled Giselle around, galloping into the trees.

He slid out of the saddle with practiced ease and deftly tied the reins to a tree behind a thicket. “There’s a good girl, Giselle,” he soothed, running a gloved hand over her nose. “I’ll be right back, dear.”

With a sigh, he unstrapped his axe from his saddle and turned it over a couple of times in his hands. His expertise was with lances, but he was an Aegir, and an Aegir had to be proficient in all sorts of weaponry. He disliked axes most of all, however. Edelgard was a master with them, which triggered bitter, jealous memories from his childhood. But another, vainer, pettier reason was that he would most definitely be splattered with more gore than he would normally be.

“Of all the days to wear a low collar,” Ferdinand cursed, tugging the collar of his shirt as high as it could go. Instead of his usual high-collared coat, he was dressed in a simple double-breasted coat - no fabric went past the base of his neck and now he felt terribly exposed. To make matters worse, he had opted out of wearing his pauldrons; why would he wear armor for a simple outing? Hubert would scold him for his carelessness when they returned to Enbarr, that much was certain.

There was nothing else to do except to return to the battle, Ferdinand decided and hefted his axe in his hands.

Peacetime had dulled his senses, Ferdinand would think later. Then again, most soldiers would fight with their weapons first, not with their teeth.

Giselle whinnied sharply, a soldier screamed out, and as Ferdinand turned to see what the fuss was about, a Slitherer rushed him barehanded, her mouth wide open, revealing rows and rows of sharp, ghastly looking teeth. Gods, Ferdinand couldn’t even call her mouth a mouth - it was just a gaping hole filled with monstrous fangs. Her lips were stretched tight, cracked and bleeding, struggling to contain the teeth within.

She slammed into his chest, knocking him to the ground, forcing him to release his axe. She was a wiry thing, all limbs, but she had a strength like no other human he had ever faced, which really should’ve been his first warning sign.

Her hands pressed him into the ground, her fingers digging into his shoulders, her knees planted on either side of his torso. If Ferdinand was not concerned with escaping her unnatural grip, he would’ve been scandalized at the position he was in - but propriety was not the focus of his attention at the moment. He kicked and twisted with all of his strength, but to no avail. The Slitherer leered at him, her eyes cloudy with a hazy gleam that Ferdinand had come to recognize as a sign of Agarthan experiments.

And he was at her mercy.

Maybe it was the adrenaline coursing through his veins that was addling his brain, but all Ferdinand could think of in that moment was the lecture he was going to get from Hubert and Edelgard and maybe even the Professor.

The Slitherer’s lips curled up in a cruel smile that was more of a snarl as flecks of saliva dripped from her fangs onto his cheeks. Ferdinand’s eyes flicked to hers and in that split second, she fell upon his neck and there was only pain, pain, pain-!

-and then she shrieked, a long, drawn-out howl, her knife-like nails piercing through the thick fabric of his coat and puncturing his skin, and now Ferdinand was screaming - or was he already screaming? Then she was gone and a familiar head of light blue hair hovered just above him, shouting, “Lin! I found him!”

Ah, so it was Caspar, Ferdinand managed to think even through the pain that threatened to drag him into the depths of unconsciousness. Linhardt appeared in his view, hands already outstretched and glowing with Faith magic. The familiar sensation of Linhardt’s healing magic washed over him, dousing the fire of his raw pain into a dull ache.

“Goddess above, Ferdinand, what happened?” Linhardt murmured as his hands ghosted over his neck wound. “What was that? Was she even human?”

“Looks like it to me - oh, fuck me, that’s a lot of teeth, what the fuck?!”

A loud squelch and a thud. Caspar must’ve taken his axe out of the body and turned it face up. Graceless as ever, Ferdinand supposed, but that’s what made Caspar Caspar.

“Let me see, Caspar, hold her up,” Linhardt took his hands away from Ferdinand’s throat and turned expectantly to Caspar. The paladin huffed a sigh of relief and pushed himself up into a sitting position.

Caspar was planted in front of the corpse, arms stretched wide to block his partner’s vision. “Lin, you really don’t wanna see this.”

“Caspar, I’ve literally put your guts back in your body-”

“No, I’m serious, this is super gross-”

“-I think I can handle whatever it is you don’t want me to see-”

“-like this is disgusting, Ferdinand, back me up here, will you-”

“-this could be a breakthrough in understanding Agarthan magic-”

“-Linhardt, I know you’ve gotten better with the whole blood thing, but this is a whole other level-”

“-so for Sothis’ sake, let me see-!” Linhardt shoved Caspar to the side and promptly fainted dead away.

Caspar caught Linhardt just before he hit the ground and lifted his eyes to the night sky, sighing deeply. “I tried to tell him,” he groaned. “He’s stubborn when he wants to be.” Ferdinand just shrugged and staggered to his feet. Caspar readjusted Linhardt in his arms and got up easily, much to Ferdinand’s embarrassment. So what if he had just been mauled by some Slitherer experiment? He was an Aegir, for the Goddess’ sake!

Caspar turned to him, Linhardt limp in his arms. “So, uh, can we hitch a ride back with you to Enbarr? Lin’s gonna want to research the hell out of whatever that is once he gets over the shock.”

Ferdinand frowned, reaching up to brush his now horribly messy fringe from his eyes as he began walking towards his battalion. “I thought you were going to travel within a few days?”

“Yeah, but there’s no way I’m taking him with that thing running around Fódlan,” The other man shrugged, gently shifting Linhardt so that his head rested in the curve of Caspar’s neck. Linhardt’s face scrunched up and he curled further into Caspar’s embrace. Caspar smiled down at him. “Besides, I know Linhardt would be restless if we left without him taking a closer look at it. Can’t do that to him when he gave up everything to travel with me.”

Ferdinand blinked. “That was… oddly sweet, coming from you.”

“Hey, what’s that supposed to mean? I’m plenty sweet!”

“Yes, yes, of course you are, Caspar. Come along now, we have a lot of ground to cover if we want to make it back at a decent time - oh,” Ferdinand turned on his heel to glare disdainfully at the limp corpse of his assailant. “We’ll have to find a way to transport the poor thing, won’t we?”

Caspar glanced over his shoulder and made a face. “Yeesh. Well, if you want, we can head back to our place for our wagon.”

Ferdinand sighed and hung his head. “That would be greatly appreciated, Caspar, thank you.”

And then Ferdinand blanched - he had left a sizeable stack of paperwork on his desk that he planned to get to once he returned! Oh, Ferdinand was really in for it now. He had promised to be back before morning, and now with the battle and the detour for the wagon, he was going to be back by midday - and that would be without any breaks!

“Oh, Saints help me,” Ferdinand breathed and followed after Caspar, but not after sparing a glance at the… thing on the ground. Unconsciously, he lifted his hand to cover his wound. His eyes widened slightly as his fingers traced over the marks: two little punctures at the base of his neck.

Strange.

It wasn’t that deep of a wound, now that Ferdinand thought about it. Linhardt’s magic should’ve wiped his skin clean.

Perhaps it was the excitement, the anxiousness of being back on the battlefield after nearly a year of peace that caused him to err. Yes, that must be it, Ferdinand thought. He didn’t dare allow himself to think of another reason as to why the small wounds still remained. He would just have to ask Linhardt to reexamine him once he woke up.

Chapter Text

They arrived at Enbarr around late afternoon the next day - Linhardt had woken up and demanded that the company take a break. “Don’t argue with me, von Aegir, I’m a healer,” he had snapped with an irritated fire in his eyes. Who was Ferdinand to contradict the man who almost single-handedly kept the Black Eagle Strike Force alive during the war? 

At the time, Ferdinand thought that listening to Linhardt was in his best interests if he wanted to return alive. He was quickly proven wrong, however, when he saw who was waiting for him at the palace entrance. 

Hubert glared down at him from the top of the stairs, arms crossed over his chest, his jet black cloak billowing in the wind, making him seem even larger than he really was. Hubert, Ferdinand expected, but his blood turned to ice when he saw who was standing just behind him. 

Emperor Edelgard von Hresvelg, First of Her Name, the Slayer of Dragons in all of her crimson glory stepped out into the setting sun, light glinting off of her gold headpiece. And beside her, Byleth appeared, silent as death, peering at Ferdinand’s approaching figure with eyes that pierced his soul. Ferdinand swallowed a lump in his throat and gripped the reins of his horse tightly, stamping down the urge to turn tail and run from the three most powerful people in the land. 

But he was the Prime Minister Ferdinand von Aegir. It wouldn’t do for him to flee from the only other people in the country who were of his rank or outranked him entirely. So he squared his shoulders and slid out of his saddle, holding his chin high and raising a hand in greeting, a smile on his lips. “My apologies for the late return, Your Majesty, there was a bit of an incident on the way back!” he called. 

Byleth was the first to move, gliding down the stairs in a whirl of dark fabric before coming to a stop in front of Ferdinand. Her sharp eyes were even more intimidating up close, but Ferdinand held their gaze. Then she nodded and patted Ferdinand on the shoulder. “You had us worried, Ferdinand. Being late is… uncharacteristic of you,” she said plainly. 

Ferdinand nodded. The professor no longer had the Crest Stone in her chest (which was a shock to hear, once she told him about it), and was still getting used to expressing the feelings that she now felt so strongly. But Ferdinand, contrary to popular belief, was quite adept at picking up other people’s feelings - Byleth truly was worried for him and was trying to express her relief. He would gladly accept her attempt at communication, even if it did frighten him a little. 

He pressed a hand to his heart and dipped into a shallow bow. “Were it up to me, I would have been back precisely at the time I had promised to return. However-,” Ferdinand gestured to the large wagon that had not been with him when he set off and raised his voice so that the two on top of the stairs could hear him. “-I am not always beset by bandits on the way to the capital, Professor.”

Byleth’s eyes narrowed. Out of the corner of his eye, Ferdinand saw Hubert sigh deeply and pinch the bridge of his nose. Edelgard was the picture of the perfect emperor, calm and poised - but Ferdinand had known them long enough to know that each movement outside of certain rooms was carefully choreographed for the public eye. He knew the war they were waging behind the scenes; he was a part of it, after all. It really wouldn’t do if Ferdinand, as one of the Emperor’s closest advisors, did not even know of Those Who Slither in the Dark. 

It truly pained him when Edelgard and Hubert finally told the Black Eagles of their secret war against the remnants of the once prosperous Agarthans. It hurt him, of course, to know that he wasn’t trusted to be a part of those plans, but he had matured enough to realize that they acted according to what they thought would be best. What hurt even more was when the realization sunk in that two of the people that he held closest to his heart had been fighting a whole other war, completely unbeknownst to their allies all for the sake of their future. 

It made him think back to their days as students at the Officers’ Academy and even to the days of the war. The abrupt ends to hushed conversations whenever he approached, the days where every emotion on Edelgard’s face was strained, the way Hubert was eternally on edge, gloved hands always twitching minutely at his side, as if he was moments away from firing a spell - and Ferdinand supposed he was. The poor man was always the first around every corner, eyes darting every which way, searching for goddess knows what.

Yes, Ferdinand knew better now. He knew just how dangerous their enemy could be, and even if he didn’t, he could at least guess by the way Hubert rushed down the stairs to inspect the wagon.

Well. Hubert walked almost briskly down the stairs, which was practically sprinting for him in Ferdinand’s eyes. 

Byleth sighed and turned to watch as the ends of Hubert’s cloak disappeared behind the wagon. “Do I want to know what’s back there?” she asked. 

A shrill shriek pierced the air and Caspar stumbled out of the wagon. Caspar turned right back around, hands on his hips. “Hey! How come Linhardt gets to stay?” 

Linhardt’s head poked out above the walls of the wagon, one eyebrow quirked as he just gave Caspar a look . “Do you really want to spend more time looking at this thing?”

Caspar sighed. “Man, I guess not. Oh, hey, Edelgard, didn’t see you there.”

Ferdinand jolted as Edelgard swept past him to follow Hubert. She raised an elegant hand and patted Caspar on the back as she passed him. “Good to see you, Caspar. I thought you two were leaving in a few days?”

“Yeah, but then this happened and I figured dealing with this would take a while.”

“Surely it shouldn’t take that long - oh. I see.”

Ferdinand and Byleth exchanged a glance and then they too were walking over to inspect the body lying in the bed of the wagon. Ferdinand had to suppress a gag. The cloth they had used to cover the corpse had been tossed away, revealing what was left of the Slitherer in all of its bloody glory. 

Rigor mortis had set in nearly immediately after death and despite his lack of medical knowledge, Ferdinand knew that wasn’t normal. Its hands were curled up into its chest - Ferdinand shuddered as the sunlight flashed against the knife-like nails. (Or were they actually knives implanted into the nail bed…?) Its jaws hung open, revealing multiple rows of unnaturally sharp fangs. 

Ferdinand’s hand came up to brush against his neck. He had told Linhardt of the remaining marks and Linhardt had tried to heal it again, but they still lingered. They would have to take another look at it in the lab, Linhardt had told him. 

He felt a burning gaze and he glanced down to meet Byleth’s blue eyes. Her eyes darted to his hand over his neck and then back up to his eyes. 

Ah, damn. He was caught. Nothing could get past the professor. 

He turned his attention back to the grisly scene before him. Hubert knelt by the Slitherer’s head, gingerly inspecting the gaping maws of the once human creature. In one hand he held its jaws open and in the other, a small magnifying glass. 

Linhardt was on the opposite end, gently prodding the side of its leg. “Hubert, look at this,” he called and poked it again, this time leaving his finger pressed against its skin. A deep purple color bloomed around his finger and Hubert hummed thoughtfully. Linhardt nodded and stood up, allowing himself to be helped down by Caspar, who had also made his way over. 

Hubert followed suit and moved to stand by Ferdinand, brushing against his shoulder before leaning down to dust off the legs of his jodhpurs. Ferdinand chuckled and plucked a bit of grass from Hubert’s hair. “Hello to you too, Hubert,” he said, grinning as Hubert straightened up to his full height. 

Hubert gave him a small smile - more of a smirk, really - and dipped his head in greeting. “Hello, Ferdinand. I am glad to see that you have not died.”

Ferdinand laughed and shook his head. “One does not go against the Immaculate One and live only to be taken down by mere bandits,” Ferdinand’s smile slid off of his face as he turned again to the thing in the wagon. “Although, I do have to say that I have never seen a bandit quite like this.”

“Yes, I think this calls for further inspection,” Edelgard sighed, leaning ever so slightly against Byleth, who supported her without even a blink. “Shall we take this inside, my friends?”

“I will bring tea to your office, Your Majesty,” Hubert bowed lowly, one hand to his heart and the other folded politely behind him. He straightened up and the fondness that was in his eyes when Ferdinand first rode in was gone, replaced by a dark, stormy frustration. “Ferdinand, if you would please assist me.”

Ferdinand had no choice, really, but to follow after Hubert, feeling quite like a lamb being led to slaughter. Edelgard and the Professor both gave him amused smiles as he passed - the Professor even waved. 

Oh, Ferdinand was really in for it now.


Hubert prepared the tea in silence while Ferdinand worked diligently to find a set of china that had enough cups and saucers for the six of them. Ferdinand moved gingerly around Hubert, as if one wrong move would trigger the anger Ferdinand could practically feel radiating off of the other man. 

“...you could’ve died today, Ferdinand,” Hubert finally growled out, low and dangerous. “Not bringing your armor with you - I thought you had grown out of such foolishness. Or perhaps you have grown soft during this time of peace.”

Ferdinand sighed and began arranging the saucers on a simple carrying tray. “It was meant to be a simple day trip, Hubert. There hadn’t been a single report of-,” Ferdinand’s eyes darted about the kitchen, tensing a bit as he scanned over a few servants. “-bandits in weeks. It was foolish to think I was safe, but I don’t recall you saying anything when you saw me off that morning.”

Was it really only a day ago that Hubert had helped Ferdinand into Giselle’s saddle, even though Ferdinand was very much capable of getting himself up? It was early morning when he departed, the sun’s rays just barely peeking out from behind the mountains. Hubert was already up - Ferdinand personally thought that Hubert hadn’t actually gone to bed the night before - and decided to leave his office and personally send Ferdinand off. 

“You would create quite a fuss if no one came to see you,” Hubert had sniffed, but they had been doing this song and dance for too long for Ferdinand not to pick up on the affection tinging his voice. Ferdinand smiled down at him from atop his horse and reached out for Hubert. Hubert’s cheeks turned a pretty pink as he took Ferdinand’s hand. They stayed there for a moment, enjoying the stillness of the breaking dawn. 

Hubert chuckled and turned Ferdinand’s hand over, palm down, and brought it up to brush a feather light kiss to his knuckles. Now it was Ferdinand’s turn to pink - he could already feel the tips of his ears grow warm as Hubert pulled away, affection shining bright in his one visible eye.

“Safe travels, Ferdinand,” he murmured, and Ferdinand was off. As he made his way to his destination, the image of Hubert’s flushed, embarrassed face lingered in his thoughts. 

But the Hubert in front of him now was dark and intimidating, a stormy mix of emotions cast across his face. Hubert whirled around, skillfully balancing the steaming hot kettle in his gloved hands. The other man glared at him as he sidled past to place the kettle down on a coaster. “It was hard enough to convince you to take a battalion, if you recall. I didn’t think it would be wise to push my luck and ask you if you were bringing proper armor.”

Ferdinand rolled his eyes, feeling a little petulant, and moved to open the tea cabinet. Byleth had personally stocked this particular cabinet full of her former students’ favorite teas and even handwrote little labels to separate them. “I had everything under control, Hubert,” he said as he pulled one bundle of tea leaves from the packages labeled for Edelgard, Caspar, Linhardt, Hubert, Ferdinand, and the Professor herself. 

A hand gently tugged his chin to the side and there Hubert stood, looking fiercely at Ferdinand. Ferdinand could only stare open mouthed, gaping like a fish out of water as Hubert’s other hand came up to move Ferdinand’s hair over his shoulder, revealing the puncture marks on his neck. Hubert’s eyes darkened, a scowl curving his thin lips. 

“Do you call this under control, Ferdinand?” Hubert’s voice was little more than a whisper. 

Ferdinand stared back with wide eyes. “How did you…?”

Hubert glowered at him. “You really should learn how to control your emotions and your movements in public. You were constantly touching your neck - even a child could see that you were hiding something there.”

Then Hubert’s eyes softened. His hand dropped from Ferdinand’s hair to his neck, tracing his thumb over the two marks and Ferdinand couldn’t help but shiver under his touch. Hubert’s other hand moved from Ferdinand’s chin to cradle his face. “Who knows what this could do to you…”

The last sentence was quiet; so quiet that Ferdinand wasn’t sure if it was meant for his ears. But Ferdinand leaned into his hand and covered it with his own, giving Hubert a soft smile. “Nothing that can’t be solved by you, I’m sure.”

Hubert blinked at him - ah, so he wasn’t supposed to hear it. But then he chuckled and his hands fell away. Ferdinand missed it already. 

“You give me too much credit, Ferdinand,” Hubert took the tea leaves from Ferdinand’s hands and placed each one into their own cup. Ferdinand followed close behind and began to pour the hot water into the cup after Hubert put a bundle in. “My expertise is in subterfuge - I will leave the research to my spies and Linhardt.”

“Assuming he can stay awake long enough to do it,” Ferdinand joked, a little relieved. Perhaps he had truly worried Hubert - he didn’t scold Ferdinand nearly as much as he had been expecting. So he decided to appeal even more to Hubert’s rare mercy and replaced the bundle of cinnamon blend with a coffee blend from Dagda that he kept especially for Hubert. Ferdinand beamed at Hubert as he poured the water over the coffee grounds. 

Hubert chuckled and picked up the tray after Ferdinand put the kettle back in its place. “Judging by the look in his eyes, he’ll keep himself awake long enough to examine your wound out of sheer will.”

And with that, the two of them walked out of the kitchen side by side, never straying more than a few steps apart, as if they were tethered by an invisible line. No one batted an eye as they made their way to Edelgard’s personal office. The sight of the two men together had become a common sight to see, whether they were bantering, or arguing, or even just enjoying each other’s company. 

There were rumors about their relationship, Ferdinand was well aware of it, but none could deny that Ferdinand and Hubert were a set. Just as Edelgard and Byleth were a pair, so were they. Romantic or not, servants would whisper as they passed, there was no denying that they made each other happy - even though it did terrify the newer additions to the staff to see the fearsome Hubert von Vestra smile at the Prime Minister.

The older staff members suspected Hubert smiled just to unnerve them and keep them on their toes. (And perhaps that was true; Hubert was always a bit unpredictable that way.)

But only the oldest, most trusted servants knew that it wasn’t just because of that. Ferdinand and Hubert passed by one such servant - the head maid, Cynthia - and Ferdinand gave her a small wave. Cynthia just smiled knowingly as she curtsied. Cynthia and a few others had watched as their relationship had turned from rivals to tentative allies to friends to… whatever they were now.

It was never said aloud, but Ferdinand didn’t need words to know that he trusted Hubert with his entire being - just as he didn’t need words to know that Hubert felt the same for him. 

And Ferdinand wouldn’t have it any other way. 

Chapter Text

Edelgard sighed and placed her cup of bergamot tea onto its saucer with a quiet dink. “Well, now that we’ve all caught up, Hubert, if you would please…”

Hubert stood and moved to the large oak doors, his hand glowing a deep purple as he traced a sigil into the wood. “It is done, Your Majesty,” he said, and returned to his seat next to Ferdinand. 

Edelgard’s personal office was a great deal homier than her official office. Instead of the slightly uncomfortable chairs that were present in the official office, there were generously cushioned armchairs that Ferdinand could most definitely see himself falling asleep on. There was even a dreadfully comfortable chaise in the corner that was currently occupied by a lounging Linhardt, who was using Caspar’s thighs as a pillow. 

Ferdinand and Hubert were using the armchairs and had dragged them in front of Edelgard’s desk. Edelgard herself was in her custom-made chair - one of the few luxuries she allowed herself - and Byleth was perched on the armrest. Ferdinand had once asked Byleth why she chose that as her place and Byleth had shrugged. “Comfier,” she said plainly. 

As Hubert settled in, Edelgard leaned back in her chair. “Now no one can listen in, but all that is discussed here cannot leave this room, understood?”

“Crystal clear, Edelgard,” Caspar said. Linhardt just grunted, but in a way that Ferdinand recognized as his positive, affirming grunt. 

“Yes, Your Majesty,” Hubert said. 

“Of course,” Ferdinand nodded. 

Edelgard smiled. “I do wish we could have gathered here under more positive circumstances, but these are the cards life has dealt us. Ferdinand-,” Edelgard’s eyes narrowed sharply. “These bandits… were not bandits, yes?”

Ferdinand shook his head and put down his tea as well, his cheer replaced with a sobering seriousness. “Yes, Your Majesty. It was undoubtedly the work of Those Who Slither in the Dark, but it was like nothing I had ever seen during the war.” Ferdinand shuddered, memories of a husk of something that was once human rushing to the forefront of his mind. “She - it - I don’t know if I can even call the thing that attacked me a human.”

“It had half the might of a Demonic Beast, but in the body of a woman. Had it not been for the purpling skin and the fangs, I might not have realized the true extent of peril that I was in,” Ferdinand confessed. 

“If I were to draw a conclusion from what I saw that night, I would say that this was an unfinished experiment,” Linhardt noted, his voice serious despite still lying in Caspar’s lap. “I hypothesize that the Slitherers - the full name is much too long, Hubert, really - are trying to put the full power of Demonic Beasts into hosts and pass them off as humans to infiltrate the population.”

“If they could sneak enough experiments into a city...” Edelgard murmured. 

Byleth scowled. “Then they could easily take it down and we wouldn’t have a clue how to catch them.”

A disturbed hush fell over the room. Ferdinand’s eyes fell on Byleth, who was staring blankly at the wall, her sword hand flexing restlessly at her side as if itching for a weapon. 

Ferdinand cleared his throat, a bit uneasily. “Ah, I should probably mention something…” He pulled back his hair and shifted so that everyone could see his neck. “The Slitherer managed to pin me down and bite me. Caspar killed it. Linhardt healed me almost immediately, but these marks still remain.” 

Edelgard was on her feet and at his neck in a flash, almost frantically, Ferdinand dared to think. Her hands trembled as she reached out to ghost her fingers over the wound. Ferdinand laughed a bit nervously. “That worried for me, dear Emperor?”

“Hush, you - and it’s Edelgard, Ferdinand, we are all equals in this room,” Edelgard scolded. “And of course I’m worried. It is as you said - the body you brought back was the first of its kind. Linhardt, what are your thoughts?”

“Some sort of venom was injected into his neck through the bite; he was convulsing when I got to him. Some sort of Agarthan experimentation, I presume,” Linhardt extracted himself from the comforts of the chaise to stand next to Edelgard. “I’m not sure why the wounds aren’t closing, I would have to take a closer look at him in the lab, if that is alright with you, Hubert. I know you two usually take tea together around this time.”

“Lab first, I would think. It would not do to have Ferdinand keel over in a hallway somewhere,” Hubert sighed and took a sip of coffee. 

Byleth nodded and hopped off the armrest. “Caspar, shall we go and choose your rooms? I have a feeling they’ll be in the lab for a while.”

Caspar got to his feet and walked over to Linhardt. “Hey, window or no window?”

“No window, I have a feeling I’m going to be needing my sleep after all of this,” Linhardt replied, still fixated on Ferdinand’s neck. 

“Got it,” Caspar nonchalantly pressed a kiss to Linhardt’s cheek. “Make sure to eat at some point, ‘kay?”

Linhardt hummed in assent, reaching up to gently pat Caspar’s cheek while he pressed around the wounds. Caspar seemed pleased and bounded to the door with the Professor following closely behind. “Hey, after I pick out the rooms, can we go spar? For old times sake, Professor!”

Caspar’s voice could still be heard long after the pair had left the room - Byleth must’ve agreed to a spar, judging by the way Caspar’s yells increased in volume. Edelgard just shook her head and sighed, a smile on her lips. “Ah, Caspar. Still the same as always.”

Ferdinand watched delightedly as the corner of Linhardt’s mouth turned up. “He is a fool, but an endearing one,” Linhardt agreed. Then he shook his head and focused his eyes on Ferdinand. “Let’s get you to the lab, Ferdinand. We can’t have you dying on us now.”

 


 

Hours later, Ferdinand found himself lying on a cot in the lab under the palace, utterly exhausted. Hubert had pulled up a chair next to him and was rifling through some paperwork. Ferdinand turned his head to look at Hubert. “What time is it?” he asked weakly. 

“Past your bedtime, dear,” Hubert said softly. “You haven’t rested since you left, have you?”

Ferdinand thought back: he left early in the morning and ended up riding through the night after the ambush, and then he had to stay awake for Linhardt’s experiments. “Ah, you’ve caught me,” Ferdinand chuckled and reached out for Hubert, who gently placed his hand in Ferdinand’s. “But strangely, I am not tired.”

Hubert scoffed, squeezing Ferdinand’s hand lightly. “Your boundless energy never ceases to amaze me. A normal man would be passed out if he had drawn half the amount of blood that Lindhardt took from you.”

“Well, I’ve always said that an Aegir must go beyond the expectations of the people,” Ferdinand joked, then huffed. “Do you think Linhardt will let me go soon? We still haven’t had tea.”

“We had tea with the others.”

Ferdinand shook his head and tightened his grip on Hubert’s hand. “Yes, but we have not had the chance to have tea.” 

Hubert’s cheeks flushed red - adorably, Ferdinand thought - and turned away, but not fast enough to hide the smile forming on his lips. Ferdinand decided to up the ante. “Oh, but if you do not wish to have tea or coffee, I would be happy just to make conversation with you.”

The mage scoffed, but turned back to Ferdinand with affectionate eyes. “You really are an impossible man, Ferdinand von Aegir,” he murmured. 

“Hubert, you are twice as impossible as I and we are still friends, you really cannot complain here.”

Friends. That’s all Hubert would ever admit that they were. Ferdinand knew, however, that Hubert’s actions and words masked intentions that were more than platonic. At least, he truly hoped he did. 

Ferdinand knew his exuberance could be a bit… much for some people - it was really a miracle that Hubert hadn’t killed him in their youth. He also knew for a fact that he was much more in tune with his emotions than his partner, which was why Ferdinand would not press the subject of their relationship. 

He would not risk the comfort of having Hubert at his side for the sake of putting a label on what they were - he valued the other man far too much for that. But that didn’t mean Ferdinand would stop rocking the boat. Ferdinand enjoyed teasing Hubert and that oh-so-rare blush of his far too much to give it up. 

So he drew his hand back to rest it on his chest, interlacing his fingers with his other hand, and settled back into the mountain of pillows on the cot. For a laboratory cot, it was surprisingly well furnished. Ferdinand suspected that it was the work of Linhardt and his tendency to wander into random rooms for naps. 

Edelgard had ordered the construction of the lab almost immediately after the war’s end. At first, it was mainly for Hubert and his spies’ use, but Linhardt made his own little corner for Crest research soon enough. Eventually, Linhardt expanded his territory, requiring more and more rooms for his tests. Now, the lab was as much Linhardt’s as it was Hubert’s. 

The more Ferdinand thought about it, the more he realized that Linhardt’s growing ownership explained so many things - the comfier beds, the fluffy pillows - the fact that there were any beds at all, really. 

Linhardt’s work was for sustainability and life, while Hubert’s work… did not call for comfort. 

Yet the hands that carried out such grisly tasks gave Ferdinand much comfort and he adored Hubert despite it all. Ferdinand smiled and shifted onto his side - and if he just so happened to move in such a way that his hair fell away from the smooth expanse of his neck, Ferdinand wasn’t going to admit it.

Hubert’s eyes darkened and Ferdinand inwardly cursed; he had exposed the side of his neck with the bite marks. An amateur mistake. 

“They still haven’t disappeared…” Hubert raised an eyebrow.

Ferdinand shrugged and moved his hair back over his shoulder. “The Slitherers must have improved their technology more than we anticipated,” he said. “And one more scar will not hurt me - the war left me with too many to be self-conscious about them.”

The other man rolled his eyes. “I was a bit more concerned with the possible side effects of the venom than your vanity, von Aegir,” he said flatly. “It’s been just over a day since you were bitten, so it’s either a slow-acting, debilitating poison, or you’re fine.”

“Thank you for the vote of confidence, Hubert.”

“Sarcasm does not become you, Ferdinand.”

“It sounds as if you almost wish it was poison so you could research it!”

“Fool of a man, why in hell’s name would I-?”

“As wonderful as listening to your lovers’ quarrel is, I do have the results of your tests back, Ferdinand, if you wish to know,” Linhardt drawled from where he leaned against the doorframe. 

Ferdinand rolled over to face the sage. “Am I dying, dear Linhardt?”

Linhardt rolled his eyes and walked up to his bedside, rifling through his papers. “Unfortunately, it seems that you will live yet another day,” Linhardt handed the papers to Hubert, who began scanning the lines of Linhardt’s loopy scrawl immediately. “No trace of any toxins in your blood and no sign of any Agarthan magic we’re familiar with.”

Ferdinand pushed himself up and swung his legs over to dangle off the bed. He stared Linhardt firmly in the eyes, grinning. “So what you, the most senior medical officer and lead researcher on Agarthan magic effects on the body, are saying is that I, Ferdinand von Aegir, have a clean bill of health?”

“Goddess above, even when you’ve been awake for nearly two days, you never stop talking,” Linhardt groaned. “ Yes , you’re free to go.”

Ferdinand triumphantly leaped to his feet and whirled around, beaming expectantly at Hubert, who was still perusing Linhardt’s notes. Hubert glanced up at him over the papers, sighed, and turned his attention to Linhardt. “And what of the marks on his neck? They have not faded.”

Linhardt shrugged, his eyes downcast, yet Ferdinand when chanced a look over his shoulder, he practically saw the cogs of Linhardt’s brain whirring. “Beats me, but so far, it doesn’t appear to have any effect on Ferdinand’s health. We will monitor it, of course.”

Hubert stood from his chair and moved to hand the papers back to Linhardt. He straightened the lapels of his coat and nodded solemnly. “Please alert me to anything you deem… out of the ordinary.”

“Your spies will tell you even if I don’t, Hubert, we all know that.”

A fearsome smirk spread across Hubert’s face and he dipped into a shallow bow. “I am glad we understand each other, Linhardt.”

Linhardt just waved a hand, stifling a yawn with his other. “Yes, yes, go on already. I need to take a nap. ” And with that, he collapsed face first into the cot Ferdinand had just vacated. 

Ferdinand stared for a moment. “Shall I notify Caspar of your whereabouts?” 

Linhardt grunted. 

“I will take that as a yes. Goodnight, Linhardt.” Hubert was already out the door and Ferdinand hurried after him, slowing his pace once he reached the other man to walk side by side. “Your quarters or mine?”

Hubert chuckled lowly, his arms folded over his chest. “Is your need for tea a higher priority than sleep?”

Ferdinand shrugged. “Perhaps it is the adrenaline, but I do not feel tired in the slightest. I am energized, even.” They had reached the long staircase that led back up to the main palace. Even on his best days, Ferdinand found the walk up to be tiresome. He frowned. “Well. Maybe not energized enough for this.”

The mage at his side rolled his eyes - they were going to get stuck up there one day, Ferdinand swore - and reached out to take Ferdinand’s hand. “Hold on,” he said, and Ferdinand felt a pull in his gut and then they were standing in the middle of Hubert’s office. 

“Ah,” Ferdinand blinked. “I see you have chosen your quarters.”

“I keep my coffee in here, as well as a stash of tea,” Hubert left his side in a whirl of black and stooped down to reach into a cabinet and pull out the aforementioned drinks, as well as a set of china. “My office is closer to the kitchens, if you wish to have a different blend.”

Ferdinand could not help but laugh fondly. “Hubert! I did not even have to convince you to have a drink with me! Careful, if people overhear, they might think - Saints forgive - that you have-,” Ferdinand made quite a show of looking around, even poking his head out the door. “- feelings!

Hubert scowled at him, setting the tea set on his table hardly a sound. “Go and get the kettle, von Aegir.”

“Do not worry, I shall not tell a soul of your secret emotions!” 

Ferdinand.”