It’s Edelgard’s coronation, and he feels like a chicken with his head cut off.
Edelgard had been coronated before, of course, but only of the Empire. Now the war is over, and they have returned to Enbarr, and Ferdinand has been running himself into the ground for weeks to ensure everything was in place. But now Edelgard has been crowned, and this new world they fought for is starting to begin, and Ferdinand is drinking a beer. It’s not very noble, and its room temperature, since he’s been holding it so long, and frankly even when it had been cold it was pretty awful, and he would have killed a person for a nice cup of tea, but this was what he had.
Ferdinand finally passes off his horrible beer to one of the waiters with a smile and a word of thanks and goes off in search of a friendly face, or even just someone who wants to discuss something other than policy. Dorothea is around here somewhere with Petra, and Hubert surely must be around, lurking behind a pillar or something.
He ends up getting waylaid by another member of the old nobility, clamouring for their place back in the spotlight. By the time he makes his excuses and scrambles away, Edelgard has ascended the steps in front of her throne and raises her hand for attention.
It’s a wonderful speech -- Ferdinand and her and spent many sleepless nights trying to perfect it, to figure out just what had to be said after a revolution, after five long years of war, after she had been crowned as the first Emperor of a united Fodlan. Ferdinand has it memorized, and fully plans on mouthing along with her, when he sees movement in the corner of his eye.
It shouldn’t be suspicious; the palace had been opened to everyone following the coronation, so of course there’s movement. But Ferdinand hadn’t lived through a war by ignoring his instincts, so he tunes out Edelgard’s words and focuses instead on the people around her. There is a respectful circle around her where no one steps, staying well away from her throne, but there -- Ferdinand spots him, a man sneaking around to the side, and just as he’s about to circle after him, to try to get a better look at him and stand subtly in his way, the man lunges at the Emperor.
Ferdinand is moving before he even realizes it.
The knife feels like fire, burning through his body as if his blood has been replaced by lava. He screams, loud, guttural, and anguished; he should be embarrassed by it. A noble should die with dignity. But there is no dignity here. His legs give out from under him and he falls. It’s like everything is happening in slow motion; he lifts his hand and only belatedly realizes it’s drenched in blood. It takes him a moment to realize it’s his. His brain is foggy; all he knows is pain.
Someone is saying something; it seems very far away, but he’s fairly certain it’s his name. He doesn’t want to open his eyes to check, but then he feels pressure on his stomach, and the voice is getting louder and louder. He opens his eyes to see Edelgard perched over him, looking more worried than he’s seen. What could have happened to make her this distraught? Surely it wasn’t just him. Maybe she had been hurt, too. Maybe he hadn’t managed to save her.
“Ferdinand,” she says, and even though he can see her there, so close, her voice seems so far away. He hears a scream come from very far away, and then a crack, and then Edelgard grabs his hand. “It’s alright, Ferdinand,” she says, and even though she is using her best Emperor voice he can hear it waver slightly. “A medic is coming. You will be okay.”
He’s pretty sure the hole in his stomach begs to differ, but talking is too difficult a task. Everything is still just fire and pain. He dimly registers that Edelgard’s hands are covered in his blood.
He closes his eyes again and ignores Edelgard when she calls his name again, tunes out the ruckus going on around him. He thinks, for some reason, of the bag of tea in his office. Hubert had just bought it for him; it was expensive stuff, and Ferdinand hadn’t had time to really enjoy it. He hopes Hubert won’t be mad at the waste. Perhaps he can find someone else who will enjoy it.
A low, gravelly voice calls out his name, but Ferdinand barely hears it.
He wakes up. That is the most surprising thing, really. He hadn’t expected to. Unless he is dead, and this is some kind of afterlife.
He opens his eyes. The afterlife looks a lot like the palace infirmary.
He turns his head and sees the Emperor of Fodlan sleeping in a chair at his bedside. He blinks a few times, but Edelgard remains, slumped over and sleeping on her hand. Not a hallucination. Not the afterlife.
“Edelgard,” he says. His voice is hoarse, but she stirs anyway, blinking away her sleep before seeming to realize where she is and who called her. She sits up straight.
“Ferdinand! Let me get the nurse --”
“Wait, wait.” He shifts a bit and lets out a low noise as fire burns through him. He feels Edelgard’s hands on him, pushing him lightly down.
“Don’t move,” she says. “There was some kind of magic on the blade. You’re still very weak.”
“In that case, would it be terribly impertinent of me to ask you for another pillow?”
Edelgard huffs. “Don’t speak like that, Ferdinand. I am here as your friend, not as your Emperor. And regardless -- I owe you a great debt.” She smiles at him, relief evident on her face. “One moment.”
She comes back a few minutes later with a few extra pillows and another blanket. She helps him sit up so she can slide the second pillow under his head, leaving the others beside him on the bed before, and this is really the only way to describe it, tucking him in with the other blanket.
“If Hubert could see you waiting on me,” he says weakly. “He might kill me where I stand.”
Edelgard laughs. “I doubt that very much,” she says, somewhat cryptically. “The nurse will be in soon to check in, but you should rest some more, Ferdinand. You need it.”
He closes his eyes, but before he lets himself drift off he says, “The assassin. What happened to him.”
If his eyes were open, he would have seen something complicated pass over Edelgard’s face. As it is, he only hears her say, “He’s dead.”
He wants to ask how, but more than that he wants to go back to sleep. So that is what he does.
Edelgard is not there when he wakes up next; no one is, although the chair is still drawn up to his bedside, and he can see a cup on the table, still giving off heat. He closes his eyes again.
He has no idea how long he has been out for, but the next time he awakens, he is horribly, horribly thirsty, and when he turns his head, he sees Dorothea sitting beside him, a book in her lap.
“A visit from the Queen Consort of Brigid herself,” he says. His voice is stronger but slightly hoarser from the dryness of his throat. “I am a lucky man.”
Dorothea’s head snaps up, and when she sees him a smile spreads across her face. “Ferdie,” she says, moving so she is sitting beside him on the bed and taking his hand. The smile drops off her face and she turns stern as she says, “That was quite some stunt you pulled. It isn’t like you to be so reckless.”
He smiles. “You may scold me as much as you’d like, but is there any water first?”
“Oh! Of course. I’m sorry,” she says, sounding chastened as she disappears from his line of sight. When she returns she helps him sit up, grabbing some of the extra pillows Edelgard had brought and propping them up behind his back. She keeps a hold on the glass as he drinks, and even though he wants to finish every last drop she pulls it away after only a few sips. “You have to be careful,” she says. “You really don’t want to be sick, not with the wound on your stomach. I promise you it won’t be pretty.”
“Nonsense,” he says, putting on airs. “Everything I do, I do with poise and elegance --”
“Befitting a noble?” Dorothea laughs. “You’re feeling better, I see. I’m glad. You’ve caused all of us quite a bit of worry.”
“I’m sorry,” he says, but Dorothea shakes her head and squeezes his hand.
“Don’t be,” she says softly. “You only did what any one of us would have, given the chance.”
“You make it sound like I did nothing special,” he teases lightly. Dorothea smiles and gently brushes the hair out of his face.
“No one is saying that, I assure you,” she says.
“What happened?” He asks. “Edelgard did not get to tell me much, but she said the assassin was dead.”
Dorothea makes a strange face. “Oh, he’s definitely dead. Hubie saw to that.”
Ferdinand perks up. “Hubert? What did Hubert do?”
“He killed the man. Strongest magic I’ve ever felt. I always knew Hubie was powerful, but…” she shivers. “He cracked the floor.”
Ferdinand frowns. “That is… unlike Hubert. We should have interrogated him. What if he was part of a group?”
“Yes, I know. But what can you do?” She shrugs. “Edie wasn’t very happy, of course, but --” And then, absurdly, she smiles. “People sometimes get a little crazy when something happens to someone they love.”
Ferdinand looks at her sharply. She winks at him, and he feels his heart drop into his stomach.
It makes sense, of course. He should not have been surprised that Hubert loved Edelgard in all ways. With how deeply his devotion ran, it made perfect sense that seeing an assassin try to murder Edelgard on the day of her coronation would make him angry enough to act without thinking.
It made sense. It makes sense.
So why does he feel disappointed?
“Actually, Dorothea,” he says, removing some of the pillows behind him and lying back down, “I’m starting to feel very tired again.”
“Of course, Ferdie. I’m sorry. I’ll leave the water right here, okay? And the nurse is right next door in her office.” She kisses him on the forehead and then gives him one last smile before leaving.
Ferdinand throws the blankets over his head and sulks in silence.
The next time he wakes up, Edelgard is there again, filling out paperwork in her lap as she sits by his bed. He sits up and grabs the water from the bedside table.
“Ferdinand! How are you feeling? Here, let me.” Edelgard grabs the glass and helps him drink, refilling it when it’s empty and leaving it on the table again.
“A little better,” he says. “You do not have to sit vigil at my bedside, Edelgard. I am sure you have many other things to do.”
She smiles and then looks down at her lap. “I know. But I -- well.” She looks up and then takes his hand. “I wanted to thank you. For what you did. For taking a hit for me. I am…” She swallows, surprisingly emotional. “I am eternally grateful for you, Ferdinand.”
“You do not need to thank me,” he says. “And you do not need to be emotional. You are my Emperor and my friend.” It’s only when he says that that he realizes that Edelgard is his friend. After so long thinking of her only as a rival, it feels a little like vertigo.
“I do,” she says. “And I need to apologize.”
She sighs. “When Hubert and I were discussing what we were going to do -- turning against the church, waging war, trying to create this new world -- we wrote you off. I thought you were… well, it doesn’t matter. I was wrong. But when I think about where I would be without you, not just because of this, but for all that you have done, throughout the war and now… we would have been lost without you, Ferdinand. So I am sorry for underestimating you. I’m sorry for not seeing you for who you are.”
He squeezes her hand. “You need not mention it,” he says with a smile. “Although, if we are keeping count, this is one more thing that I have done that you have not.”
Edelgard laughs. “Always keeping score.”
“Not anymore,” he says solemnly. Edelgard just smiles.
It takes a fair amount of time before he is released. By the time the nurse finally lets him go he has only a thin bandage wrapped around his stomach, all of the magical effects have been purged from his system, and he has a stack of paperwork waiting for him in his office, accompanied by a note from Hubert: wouldn’t want you to get behind.
Ferdinand laughs. It’s an asshole move, but he knows Hubert hadn’t done it to be an asshole. It’s completely genuine, and Ferdinand appreciates it. At least it meant that Hubert had been thinking of him.
Ferdinand had had many visitors during his stay in the infirmary -- Edelgard had come many times, and Dorothea and Petra had refused to go back to Brigid until he was completely in the clear. He’d even gotten numerous get well cards from the citizens of the capital and beyond.
But not Hubert. Hubert had not come once.
Ferdinand tries not to be too upset about it. Hubert was busy, perhaps busier than any of them. And certainly they were -- well, Ferdinand had always thought them friends, but perhaps it was too strong a word. But they were fairly close acquaintances, at least, but that didn’t mean that Hubert would… well. Hubert had better things to do. He shouldn’t take it personally. And surely, now that he was out, Hubert would come see him again. They had often taken afternoon tea together, after all.
But days pass by, and Hubert does not come. They see each other during meetings and occasionally at dinner, but Hubert exchanges pleasantries with him and nothing more. And Ferdinand reaches the end of the mountain of paperwork and makes a decision.
It is well past midnight, but he heads to Hubert’s office first. Sure enough, a few moments after his knock, the door opens to reveal Hubert, fully dressed and looking less than pleased to see him.
“Ferdinand,” he says. “I wasn’t expecting you. Shouldn’t you be taking it easy?”
Ferdinand finds that he isn’t entirely sure what to say. Hubert is looking at him the way he used to at Garreg Mach, like Ferdinand is some bug on his shoe. Ferdinand might be angry if he weren’t so confused.
“Yes, well. I finished all the paperwork you were kind enough to leave me, and I thought, if you were awake, that we could perhaps take tea together before we call it a night.”
Hubert narrows his eyes. “I’m afraid I’m far too busy tonight. I recommend you not push yourself, either. You are… too valuable to lose. Goodnight.” And then he shuts the door in Ferdinand’s face.
The walk to his bedroom feels more like a walk of shame, after that.
Hubert continues to ignore him, and Ferdinand finds himself quite miserable. He tries not to let it interrupt his work, but after nearly a fortnight of it he finally breaks during one of his meetings with Edelgard.
“Hubert is ignoring me,” he says, completely cutting her off. She looks up from the latest report on imports from Brigid and sighs.
“Yes, I know. He’s been utterly miserable lately. Don’t tell him I said this, but he’s been awful to be around.” She pinches the bridge of her nose and then puts the report away in her desk. “Ferdinand. May I speak to you as a friend?”
“He’s embarrassed,” Edelgard says plainly. “He’d kill me if I knew I was talking to you about this, but he’s been insufferable. I'm nearly at my limit.”
“What does he have to be embarrassed about?” Ferdinand asks, confused. Edelgard raises an eyebrow.
“Have you seen the throne room?”
He has. A crack nearly down to the foundation, caused by a spell that onlookers said held more power than anything they had ever felt, that had left behind only the smoking bones of the assassin.
Ferdinand deflates. “Yes, Dorothea mentioned that.”
“Then knowing Dorothea, she also mentioned something about acting crazy for love.”
He nods, his throat tight. “I do not see why he should be embarrassed. We have all made mistakes, and no one --” he clears his throat. “I am sure no one was surprised, the lengths he would go to for you.”
Edelgard cocks her head. “For me?”
“That is what Dorothea said,” he says. “That he acted out of love.”
Edelgard stares at him for an uncomfortably long time before she laughs. Ferdinand doesn’t quite understand the joke. “Incredible,” she says, rubbing her eyes. “Do you know, every day brings me closer to retirement. I’m beginning to count them down.” Ferdinand doesn’t quite know what to say to that, but she doesn’t seem to want him to speak. She just pulls the report back out and spreads it out on the desk. “If Hubert doesn’t stop lurking about I am going to lock you both in a closet until it’s sorted.” She says it like a real order, and Ferdinand believes her. He nods slowly.
“Er -- yes, okay. I will talk to him.”
“Thank you,” she says. “Now, let’s finish this up.”
It takes him a few days before he works up the courage to approach Hubert once more. He finds him once again in his office, bent over some paper that he immediately hides in his desk when Ferdinand enters. His face turns unreadable, but he doesn’t object when Ferdinand sits down across from him.
“You are avoiding me,” Ferdinand says, no beating around the bush. Hubert does not deny this. “Edelgard told me that if we do not fix this she is going to lock us in a closet.”
Hubert seems very distressed over this. “Lady Edelgard said that?”
“Apparently you have been lurking,” Ferdinand says, trying not to laugh at the look on Hubert’s face. “And I think -- well, I think you owe me an explanation, at least.”
Hubert drums his fingers on the wood before sighing. “I owe you much more than that,” he says, sounding as if he were being marched to the guillotine. “I owe you an apology.”
Ferdinand waits. Hubert does not continue, until eventually Ferdinand says, “Was… was that the apology?”
“No, no,” Hubert says. “I’m… trying to think of what to say.”
Ferdinand finds himself softening. “Edelgard said you were embarrassed,” he says, trying to get Hubert started. Hubert leans back in his chair and stares somewhere in the vicinity of Ferdinand’s left shoulder.
“Yes,” he says. “I acted rashly, and I… I let my emotions get the better of me, and I put the very future of the Emperor and of Fodlan as a whole at stake.”
“Hubert,” Ferdinand interjects. “You are being too hard on yourself. Certainly it would have been to our benefit to question the assailant, but I do not think one dead assassin is going to destroy this new world we have fought so hard for.”
“What if he was working with a group? What are their plans? What was their goal -- did they want to create a power vacuum or did they want to place one of their own agents on the throne? There are so many questions that we do not have the answers to, because I lost control.”
“If it is a group, they will move to strike again,” Ferdinand says. “And we will deal with it then. Together. The way we always have.”
“We could have been a step ahead --”
“Hubert,” Ferdinand says, stern this time. “You must not blame yourself to this extent. I --” He takes a breath. “I know why you did what you did. I understand.”
Hubert startles at this; he looks at Ferdinand with a look on his face that is almost horrified before he settles himself and smooths his features again. “I see,” he says slowly. “That is not exactly ideal. I had hoped… well.” He laughs slightly. “I had hoped I wouldn’t have to face this. I preferred being a coward.”
“You are not a coward,” Ferdinand says. His next words taste bitter in his mouth. “I understand what it can be like to see someone you love in danger.”
Hubert leans forward and rests his face in his hands. Ferdinand has never seen him so discomposed. “I felt more helpless than I ever have,” he says.
“There was nothing you could have done.”
“I couldn’t get there in time,” Hubert continues.
“You will not always be able to be there,” Ferdinand says.
“When you screamed… all I could focus on was making the bastard pay.”
“But you need not be embarrassed at how strong your love for Edelgard is.”
“There was so much blood --” Hubert suddenly cuts off and looks up, and Ferdinand, too, begins to think about what Hubert had been saying.
“What?” He asks, as Hubert says, “My love for Lady Edelgard?”
They both stare at each other for a few uncomfortable moments, before Ferdinand finally says, “Dorothea said that you acted out of love.”
Hubert shifts the slightest bit, but he nods. “Yes.”
Ferdinand waits. Hubert waits. Ferdinand wonders if maybe Hubert had gotten hit on the head. “Your love…” he prompts, and when Hubert continues to stare, he lets out an irritated huff and says, “For Edelgard. You lost control because of how you feel for her.”
Hubert raises an eyebrow. It’s the only movement he makes. “Did I?”
Ferdinand is beginning to realize that he had said something wrong. “That is certainly what I was led to believe!”
“Did you tell Lady Edelgard about this theory of yours?”
“Well, yes,” Ferdinand admits. “She seemed… rather amused by it, actually.”
“I’ll bet she did,” Hubert mutters. “Given that it is an entirely inaccurate theory.”
Ferdinand’s eyebrows furrow. He feels as if he’s missing something right in front of his nose. “It appears I have come to the wrong conclusion.”
“It seems that way, yes.”
“I do not understand,” Ferdinand says. “The only other person in danger was me.”
Hubert does not answer. He waits. Ferdinand waits.
And then, all at once, he understands.
“ Oh, ” he says. Hubert mutters something that sounds a lot like it’s a good thing you have your looks. “Oh. Oh.”
“Oh, indeed,” Hubert says dryly.
“You -- it was because of me.”
Hubert simply nods. Ferdinand swallows.
“You cracked the floor, Hubert,” he says, slightly in awe. Hubert’s jaw clenches and he looks away.
“Like I said,” he says tightly. “I lost control.”
Ferdinand feels like the world has shifted underneath his feet. “I didn’t know,” he says softly. Hubert does not meet his eyes.
“Yes. That was rather the point.”
“You didn’t come see me in the infirmary,” he says, and it is only then that he fully understands how hurt he is. Hubert looks appropriately ashamed of himself.
“I know,” Hubert says. “I’m sorry. I was afraid.”
Hubert finally looks at him. Had his eyes always been so green?
“I do not know the lengths I would go to for you,” he says. Ferdinand’s breath catches in his throat, but Hubert does not elaborate.
“Do you know what the last thing I thought of was, before I lost consciousness?” Hubert shakes his head, and Ferdinand continues. “I thought about the tea you brought me the other day. I hadn’t had any, yet. I was too busy. I thought about that tea sitting in my office and I -- I hoped you would not be upset at the waste.” He laughs slightly, watching Hubert across the desk from him. His cheeks are pink, and Ferdinand gives thought to something he has been hiding from for quite a while: I love him.
“Ferdinand,” Hubert says, so softly Ferdinand can barely hear him. He shakes his head, a small smile on his face.
“Where do we go from here?” Ferdinand asks. The smile drops off Hubert’s face and he sighs.
“There is nowhere to go, Ferdinand,” he says. “I have dedicated my life to Lady Edelgard. There is nothing left of me to give.”
“I don’t believe that.”
“That doesn’t make it any less true.”
“There is a large crack in the floor of the throne room that says very differently.”
Hubert flushes red. “It doesn’t matter, Ferdinand,” and he sounds almost angry. “In our position, what we want doesn’t matter.”
“And what do you want?” Hubert doesn’t answer, so Ferdinand asks again. “Hubert. What do you want?”
“I want to serve my country and my emperor to the best of my ability.”
Ferdinand is standing up before he even realizes, crossing behind the desk and putting his hands on the arms of Hubert’s chair, leaning in close to him. Hubert’s eyes widen the slightest bit; they are so close together that their breaths mingle. “What do you want?” He repeats.
“Do you really want to know?” Hubert asks, the barest hint of a threat in his words. Ferdinand nods, and quick as a snake Hubert stands up and backs him up against the wall, pushing their bodies together, his hands on either side of Ferdinand’s head, caging him in. He leans in and noses at Ferdinand’s hair, and his breath on Ferdinand’s ear makes him shiver. “I want to take you apart,” he says, a hand sliding down to Ferdinand’s hip. Ferdinand’s eyes close. “I want every wretched part of you, Ferdinand.” That by itself is enough to send Ferdinand reeling, but then he says, voice still pitched low, body pressing Ferdinand against the wall, “I want to come home to you every night and wake up with your hair in my goddamn mouth,” and Ferdinand can’t take anymore. He surges up to kiss him.
Hubert kisses back, slides his hands up Ferdinand’s back and holds him tight, and Ferdinand pushes forward, walking them backward and pushing Hubert back into his chair, climbing into his lap. Hubert’s lips are softer than Ferdinand would have ever expected, holding onto Hubert’s shoulders as one of Hubert’s hands tangles in Ferdinand’s long hair. He does not know if he ever would have stopped, but as he shifts in Hubert’s lap, trying to get impossibly closer, something twinges in his gut and he pulls away with a groan of pain.
“You’re hurt,” Hubert says, pulling back and lifting up Ferdinand’s shirt to check on the bandaging. He runs his fingers lightly around the edging, head down so Ferdinand can’t see his eyes. “I’m sorry. I should have been more careful.”
“I do not want you to be careful,” Ferdinand says. Hubert looks up at him then, eyes dark and pupils blown wide, lips wet with kissing, and it takes every ounce of self-control that Ferdinand has not to tear his clothes off with his teeth.
“I know you have a list of reasons why this will not work in your head,” Ferdinand says, cutting him off and pushing their foreheads together. “Tell me what they are so I can tell you that you’re wrong.”
A hint of a smile plays at Hubert’s lips, and Ferdinand can’t help himself this time, pressing their lips together again. When they pull away again Hubert presses kisses to Ferdinand’s jaw before speaking.
“Is this position hurting you?”
“No,” Ferdinand lies. It’s not the most comfortable way to sit with an abdominal wound, but he’d rather be stabbed again then willingly climb off of Hubert’s lap. “Talk to me.”
But Hubert doesn’t; he ducks his head down, pushing it against Ferdinand’s shoulder, and keeps rubbing his thumb along the edges of the bandage wrapped around Ferdinand’s stomach. “There was so much blood,” he says. His voice is calm and controlled, and it is this forced neutrality that proves more than anything how affected he is. “I have watched countless people bleed out before my eyes. I thought you were… I didn’t even mean to kill him,” Hubert says with a small, humourless laugh. “I just meant to stop him. Apparently I was a little stronger than I had intended.”
Ferdinand runs his fingers through Hubert’s hair. “I already know what you will say,” he says, as Hubert wraps an arm around him. “You will say… that it is dangerous for us to be involved in a relationship that can be used against us.”
“And you will say that we can keep it quiet,” Hubert says.
“And then you will say that it does not matter, anyway, because you have devoted your life to Edelgard.” Hubert does not answer, and Ferdinand hopes that it is because he is waiting to see how Ferdinand disproves this point. “To which I say…” and he grabs Hubert’s hand, the one that has been tracing the edges of the bandage, and presses it flat against his stomach. “As have I.” Hubert lifts his head and opens his mouth to say something but Ferdinand presses a finger to his lips. “Please, save your breath. I know every excuse you are going to give. I have said them to myself a thousand times.”
Hubert twirls a strand of Ferdinand’s hair around his finger. “You’re very irritating when you’re right,” he says. Ferdinand grins and leans in for another kiss.
“I would think you would be used to it by now,” he says. Hubert uses the arm he has around him and hauls Ferdinand somehow closer, the hand that was on his stomach moving to his hip.
“We’re going to have to talk about this later,” Hubert mutters. Ferdinand hums. “I mean it, Ferdinand.”
“Yes, yes,” he says, as Hubert nips not so gently at his lip.
They will talk about it -- there are still so many things to discuss, so many questions and fears swirling around both of their heads. They will have to sit down and truly discuss this, put everything on the table all at once.
But not now. For right now, Ferdinand is quite happy where he is.