Hubert opens the ornate box and makes no effort to hide his disappointment.
“Oh,” he says, and accordingly decreases his opinion of Ferdinand’s attentiveness. He shifts his weight, standing centered in the doorway to his bedroom. “Chocolates. At the scent, I had assumed…”
“Coffee again?” Ferdinand suggests, as if the scent doesn’t cling to the lacquered box with its crisp paper lining. “Go on, please.”
“I detest sweets. You know this.”
Hands on his hips, Ferdinand throws back his head in a heartfelt but otherwise cultured laugh. His hair shifts across his shoulders in sunset-tinged waves. “My dear, these are anything but sweet. I would never subject you to run of the mill confections.”
Eyeing Ferdinand with clear doubt, Hubert selects the smallest of the chocolates, dark and solid and oblong. Preparing himself for a shudder, he bites it hard only to experience something bitter and low and strangely gritty.
Ferdinand’s widening smile is a willing echo of Hubert’s involuntary response. “Ah-ha! You do like them!”
“Chocolate covered coffee beans,” Hubert realizes. He closes the box, how holding it with more care. “I hadn’t encountered them before.”
“The chocolate is dark, the bitter kind used by bakers, I hear,” Ferdinand explains. “And the beans are the strong sort. Espresso, I believe they’re called.”
“That is the correct name.” Hubert steps back and to the side: not a retreat into his room, but an invitation.
Beaming, Ferdinand follows him inside and closes the door to the dormitory hallway behind him. His hands rise as if he means to sweep Hubert up into a waltz, but he pauses dutifully as Hubert holds up a finger.
The lacquered box goes upon Hubert’s desk. This allows Hubert to sort his papers quickly in the guise of tidying. He turns over the top sheet, leaving the short pile blank on top.
“You were saying,” Hubert prompts. He closes the renewed distance between them, but only halfway.
“You are a very difficult man to shop for,” Ferdinand tells him. “Still, the challenge will hardly deter me.”
“Deter you from what?”
“You, of course.” Ferdinand steps forward. He attempts no further touches.
Arms crossed, Hubert nods, faux-knowingly. “I see. Bribery.”
With a hearty chuckle, Ferdinand sways closer. “Hardly. I simply know how highly you value effort.”
Hubert considers leaning back, but dislikes the connotation of retreat. “Do I, now?”
“But of course. Otherwise, you would have never been impressed by my most indomitable of spirits.”
“Indomitable, you say.”
“I do say. And so did you, if not quite in that phrasing.”
“I’d hate to think a single compliment had gone so strongly to your head,” Hubert warns.
“A compliment from you is the rarest—and most disconcerting—of jewels,” Ferdinand replies. “Any compliment not to Edelgard, that is. That much goes without saying.”
“Then you’ve come in search of that prize.”
“Not at all,” Ferdinand answers with a shake of the head. “I am after a prize far, far more rare. What’s more, a prize that I would treasure all the more, were it to become commonplace.”
Hubert adjusts the angle of his head, swaying his hair out from in front of his right eye. “Am I meant to puzzle through your flowery speech all evening? I have far better uses for my intellect.” And far too much dignity to risk on an incorrect guess.
“I would like a kiss,” Ferdinand tells him plainly, his voice remaining steady despite his rising blush.
“Would you,” Hubert says. His voice doesn’t fare half so well.
“I would. I would like one, but I would adore several. By many, I imagine I might even be overwhelmed.”
Hubert’s hip hits against the side of his deck chair.
Ferdinand steadies the chair with one hand, stepping to the side to do so. The sudden gap between them looms, a chasm of the seemingly inconsequential. Ferdinand looks to him in clear expectation of a response.
For once, Hubert can find none.
Ferdinand pushes the chair into the desk, and the smile on his face is as polite as the gesture. “But enough of my wants. What is it you’d care for, Hubert?”
“Beyond coffee and chocolates, you mean,” Hubert replies, aiming for one of his more typical, biting tones.
“That is exactly what I mean,” Ferdinand confirms.
Hubert’s eyes dart around his bedroom, but he can see only that: the bed. Reaching for composure, he walks around Ferdinand, failing to give the man a wide berth, and goes to the windows. From the shelves there, he takes up his gaming set.
“Do you play?” he asks.
“Not in years,” Ferdinand admits, “but for you, I would gladly change that.”
“I only have the one chair… I don’t suppose you’d mind sitting on the bed?”
“Not in the least,” Ferdinand assures him. “And although I already know the answer: would you consider going easy on me while I relearn the moves?”
“For one match only,” Hubert allows, and Ferdinand nearly trips on the rug.
“Provided you learn quickly. There is nothing so tedious as a lack of challenge.”
Ferdinand hums thoughtfully. They each sit on the bed with one leg drawn up and folded, together framing the playing board with their shins. They set up the pieces, Ferdinand following Hubert’s lead.
“Having considered it, I find myself disagreeing,” Ferdinand remarks, three moves in.
“Disagreeing to what?”
“Equating the lack of a challenge to the lack of enjoyment. Surely you’d agree there is no challenge in viewing a sunset, and yet the sight is still one of most enjoyable beauty?”
“I was speaking of games, Ferdinand,” Hubert replies. He makes his point clear with a move across the board, piercing through Ferdinand’s half-formed defenses. A risky gambit, but then, Hubert is going easy on the man.
“Have you never played for enjoyment? Though it is surely noble to hone one’s intellect and talents, it is essential to nourish motivation and morale.”
“My motivation increases at an incomplete challenge, and my morale at a completed one. Have no worries on that account.”
“Hm. Perhaps I will worry anyway.” After making his move, Ferdinand rests his hand upon the knee of his folded leg. He sits with the one leg crossed over the other, and the position forces his thighs wide, left he knock the board with his shin.
“A needless worry..”
“Far from needless,” Ferdinand replies, looking directly at Hubert rather than the board.
Eyes lowered to the game, Hubert considers his next five moves carefully.
Once he focuses, he finds he requires only three.
“Was that your idea of adequate mercy?” Ferdinand asks with a wide smile and a surprisingly sincere laugh. “Your opinion of my skill must be very high indeed.”
“High enough to endure another match, perhaps,” Hubert allows.
Ferdinand’s smile grows. “Shall I fetch hot water? I see your coffee press in the corner.”
Hubert shakes his head. If Ferdinand exits, Hubert may not permit him entry again tonight. “The hour is far too late for coffee.”
“Ah, of course,” Ferdinand replies. “I had wondered why you’d so quickly set the chocolate-covered beans aside. Now, my berry blend is very restful…”
“A strange way to describe sickly sweetness.”
“What of something tart, instead?”
Hubert finishes setting up his side of the board before Ferdinand has placed even a quarter so many, and not simply because Hubert has yet to hand back their last game’s captured pieces.
“With such a fixation, one must wonder: did you come here with the sole intention of feeding me?”
“In a way,” Ferdinand replies.
They look at each other across the board, atop Hubert’s bed, and as one, they blush.
“That is, I meant to say,” Ferdinand resumes. He clears his throat. “It was only my intention to see if I could satisfy you.”
As Ferdinand speaks, his eyes continue to widen. His cheeks fight to match the flame of his hair. Hubert watches and listens with a matching and likewise growing sense of horrified dismay.
This time, Ferdinand coughs. “Satisfy your standards. Which, which is truly to say-”
Hubert holds out one of Ferdinand’s pieces. “I understand your meaning.”
“Yes, thank you,” Ferdinand replies, and in taking the piece, he momentarily wraps his hand around Hubert’s thumb and forefinger.
Hubert permits it, but he also sets up the remainder of board himself.
The next match takes longer, and the one after that, longer still.
Ferdinand covers a yawn with his hand, and the moment of weakness vanishes in the simple yet elegant flourish of his wrist. “Pardon me.”
“If you are bored, you are welcome to go.” Expected to go, even. Ferdinand von Aegir is a man of many interests and prospects. The hour will stretch from long into small, and still Hubert will offer him no rewards. The man will see there is no reward to be found in Hubert, none at all, and he will move on, their mutual distraction acknowledged and thus finally able to be set aside. Even in this new world where the hold of Crests will lessen, Hubert cannot imagine any male Crest-bearer would truly content himself with another man, or barren woman.
“I would much rather stay, if my host is willing,” Ferdinand replies instead, clearly not understanding the inevitabilities of practicality. “In fact, if my host would allow it, might I remove my boots?”
“What,” Hubert says.
“My boots,” Ferdinand repeats. “I would hate to dirty your bed.”
Ferdinand shifts, putting both feet on the floor, and lets out a small, surprised hiss. “Oh! I sat twisted far too long.”
Grimacing, Hubert stretches as well. “We’ve been here longer than expected.”
“Oh?” Ferdinand asks, head rising from where it was bent over his laces. His hair raises a rare rebellion against him, blocking his face no matter how Ferdinand tosses his head to see. Straightening, brushing his hair back over his shoulders, Ferdinand asks, “What was expected, Hubert?”
A tiny smile tugs at the corner of Ferdinand’s mouth. “I have never known you to value impatience. Has that recently changed?”
“It has not,” Hubert replies, and yet something beneath him twists like a misstep, like a loose stone in the path.
Ferdinand nods along, his half-closed eyes giving him the appearance of a man nodding off. He sets aside his boots neatly.
It is with a strange sort of vindictiveness and surreal glee that Hubert observes the faded gray of Ferdinand’s socks. The evidence of wear and tear upon this most pristine of men. The proof of vulnerability.
Hubert removes his boots as well. His socks are black and always have been. For some reason, Ferdinand smiles at them.
Their next match goes slowly, the pair of them sitting cross-legged on the bed as children might. They regard each other as children cannot. Ferdinand droops, increasingly propping himself up with his elbows upon his knees. His hair forms a pair of swaying curtains framing the fading concentration upon his face.
Hubert gives him more time. Makes simple mistakes that Ferdinand doesn’t catch, or perhaps politely pretends not to see.
As the match stretches, so do they. It’s Ferdinand who goes first, asking permission to recline. Hubert nods absently, only to discover that Ferdinand did not simply intend to lean back against the wall with his legs stretching across the bed. No, when Ferdinand moved back toward the wall, it was to lie down there. He folds one arm beneath his head, the other hand still poised over the board.
“The game looks very different from this angle,” Ferdinand reflects while Hubert stares.
Ferdinand hums in the affirmative.
Slowly, with the same heavy consideration as a lowering drawbridge, Hubert takes up a mirroring position across from him. They look directly at one another, as they have done a thousand, million times, and it is strange, how unfamiliar the accustomed can become. Why should horizontal seeing horizontal observe something so different than vertical seeing vertical?
It must be the late hour. Ferdinand’s heavy eyelids. The long waves of hair pooling on Hubert’s sheets. It must be many things.
“We seem to have left the board behind,” Hubert remarks.
With his eyes closed, wearing his faintest smile yet, Ferdinand murmurs, “Would you rather keep playing?”
“I see no reason to exhaust you entirely.”
Between them, Ferdinand rests his hand upon the bed. The motion passes the invisible border down the middle of the bed. A bed already very narrow for two.
Hubert inhales deeply. Faintly, the touch of Ferdinand’s hand registers through layers of fabric against his chest.
Ferdinand’s smile grows. His eyes remain shut. By all appearances, from his relaxed breathing to the softness of his face, a less observant man than Hubert might think Ferdinand happily dreaming.
Hubert rises from the bed.
Ferdinand startles to awareness. He stares up at Hubert, mouth bent with betrayal, but his protests stifle themselves as Hubert clears away the board and returns it to its spot by the window. The distance each step puts between them is far greater than Hubert’s legs should allow, and yet the fact remains.
Face turned toward the window, Hubert unfastens his coat. He hangs it upon his chair. He strips methodically down to his final undershirt and undergarments. Each item, folded, finds its place upon the chair.
When Hubert turns back to the bed, Ferdinand lies propped up on one arm, regarding Hubert with a considering look even longer and softer than his hair. Candlelight suits him, though not as well as sunlight.
“You’ll wrinkle your clothes,” Hubert chastises.
Slowly, much like a cat, Ferdinand blinks without concern. “How very right,” he murmurs, and pushes himself up entirely. “How unbecoming of me.”
Ferdinand begins with cuffs. More buttons. The pin from his cravat, tucked into a wide brocade pocket. Layers and layers, all removed to be laid flat upon Hubert’s bed until it’s as if Ferdinand lies upon the space in triplicate.
“Hardly fit to be lounging in,” Ferdinand scolds himself, his back to Hubert. His body, presented as a willing target. His hair, a waving flag of bloodstained defeat.
Hubert’s hands find Ferdinand’s waist.
Ferdinand’s motions pause.
There is a smile in the bowing of his head. Foolish, foolish trust.
Hubert parts Ferdinand’s hair at the nape with a single finger. He presses his mouth there, a bite restrained behind his lips.
Ferdinand shivers with something wholly unlike cold, or fear.
“Get your things off my bed,” Hubert commands.
“Yes, dear,” Ferdinand responds with far too little sarcasm.
Side by side, garment by garment, they lift and fold and place. Ferdinand’s coat fits snugly over Hubert’s on his chair, the differences in their builds made plain even without inspecting the hard curves of Ferdinand’s shoulders. While far from the ridiculous proportions of the Alliance merchant they’d attended school with, Ferdinand’s muscles nevertheless stand out more than they have any right to, as if the artist sketching them had pressed too firmly with their charcoal.
Ferdinand sees him looking. Hubert refuses to avert his eyes in weakness. Instead, he returns the challenge, only for Ferdinand to answer with a sleep-tinged smile.
“Shall I get the light?” Ferdinand offers.
“And lock the door,” Hubert commands.
Ferdinand fully grins, and he sways forward with the need for more than sleep.
Hubert turns to the side, redirecting Ferdinand with a tap to the cheek. “Now, von Aegir.”
“Yes, dear,” Ferdinand again answers.
Hubert climbs into bed, all the way to the wall. He rolls onto his side and watches:
Ferdinand locking the door.
Ferdinand blowing out each lamp, save the last.
Ferdinand lifting the last, and turning.
The shift in his face, seeing Hubert in bed.
The shift inside Hubert himself, being seen.
“Come here,” Hubert orders.
A knight entirely devoid of armor, Ferdinand approaches with an easy, reflexive smile. He sets the lamp upon Hubert’s bedside table. He lifts the sheets, ushering in cold, and he slides beneath, bringing heat.
“Hubert,” he says, and slowly, allowing Hubert every chance to withdraw back against the wall, Ferdinand touches Hubert’s cheek. A fingertip. Two. Fingers, then palm. Fully cupping the side of his face. The last remaining flicker of golden light shines through his hair.
Hubert clears his throat. “I said, come here.”
Ferdinand fits his mouth to Hubert’s. The kiss is as hot and stationary as a wax seal, and when Ferdinand pulls back, they are both sealed letters, words prettily contained inside.
Hubert makes the second attempt. The last person he kissed was, of course, Lady Edelgard: the side of her crown as she held to him, tearful after burying her father. And before that, of course, Lady Edelgard: the bloody scrapes of a misused child refusing to cry. And before that, of course, Lady Edelgard: the wispy brown hair of an infant, immediately and utterly captivating a toddler.
This is nothing at all like that.
Because, for one traitorous moment, Hubert’s lips declare Ferdinand von Aegir to be Lady Edelgard’s superior.
Then Ferdinand opens his mouth to Hubert, and there are no declarations. No thinking. Merely warmth and welcome, and a pale throat beneath Hubert’s hand, sunset hair tangled in his fingers. Beneath the sheets, their knees touch. The kiss stutters with wet noises utterly unlike language. Their legs twine. Their arms. Body set against body, wrapping together in one dark, overwhelming burst, a crest stone creating a beast where once stood a man.
Hubert presses Ferdinand onto his back, but Ferdinand easily counters in a motion more play than fight. Hubert gasps—from the impact, nothing more—and Ferdinand invades him thoroughly, a conqueror too determined to be precious or fussy. Once the stronghold of his mouth is secured, Ferdinand presses south, seizing the neck en route to the heart.
The ceiling flickers in candlelight, in the hazy flutters of Hubert’s eyelids. He pulls one hand free of Ferdinand’s hair, all of the sake of biting his own knuckle. Ferdinand’s lips pay wet tribute to the side of his throat. Ferdinand’s body atop his pins him with more weight than intent, and yet Hubert is pinned all the same.
He seizes Ferdinand once more by the hair, pulls him off in a sharp, moan-inducing yank, and returns the onslaught in full.
“Hubert,” Ferdinand gasps, undone by pain. Hubert bites his neck, and Ferdinand moans all the louder. No sweet kisses for this neck. No nips or nibbling where the blood pulses close to the surface, where air already struggles to fill Ferdinand’s lungs as Hubert doubtlessly fills Ferdinand’s mind. There is no sweetness here, only bitterness, and Ferdinand will learn to enjoy the taste. To crave it.
The sheets pull around them, a confusion of cloth. They reach beneath undershirts only to discover their hands trapped in tangles. In a haphazard coordination of frustration, Ferdinand’s voiced, Hubert’s silent, they throw off the sheets together. Hubert takes Ferdinand by the hips, and Ferdinand moves where bid, the strong muscles of his thighs framing Hubert’s lap, turning Hubert’s undergarments into a profane saddle for him to ride.
Ferdinand pulls free of his own undershirt, the motion of it rocking him into Hubert’s lap. Hubert’s fingers viciously dig in to muscle too hard to bruise, to thighs too thick for him to grasp. “Oh, darling,” Ferdinand gasps. Praise bubbles and drips from his lips like blood from a cut throat. “My darling, look at you.”
Their rhythm begins poorly, but Ferdinand takes to riding with an alacrity Hubert has always lacked. Ferdinand’s hands, first planted on Hubert’s chest, later fisted in his black undershirt as makeshift reins. The bed rocks with their motions, their breathing, with all the showy language that makes a von Aegir a von Aegir, even while reddened with lust.
Though their initial position had placed them as close to manhood to manhood as possible, Hubert’s erection the pommel of that saddle, Ferdinand shifts higher in his ride, grinding down upon Hubert with the toned muscles of his rear. Ferdinand’s passion bounces tauntingly, strangely compelling to the mouth, absolutely fascinating to the eyes. The hands once tugging up on Hubert’s undershirt now press down instead, splayed across Hubert’s chest in blatant appreciation.
“Hubert, darling, please,” Ferdinand begs him. His hair sways and swings with his every motion, a flowing hyperbole of passion.
“Say it,” Hubert demands rather than admit ignorance: thrusting his cock up against the scant boundaries between them has left him uncertain of all else. Surely, like him, Ferdinand von Aegir is fumbling his way forward.
“Darling…” Ferdinand groans.
Finding this a new and delightfully vicious game, Hubert grips Ferdinand’s hips as hard as he can and slows their joint motion to a torturous standstill. “Say it.”
“I want you naked, my dear,” Ferdinand answers, the flush of his face and neck darker than his sweat-damp hair. “I want to feel your skin, your manhood. Put your hand around me, I beg of you!”
“You are ridiculous,” Hubert grits out around his lust. Nevertheless, he grips Ferdinand’s surprising heat through cloth damp from far more than sweat.
Ferdinand cries out, and there is nothing ridiculous in this sound.
A flurry of motion results: a careful dismount and a clumsy pull of Hubert’s undershirt. A mutual squirming, side-by-side, as they strip entirely. Ferdinand climbs upon him once more, no longer an aristocrat in a leisurely ride but a jockey, pitched forward with straining legs and a tight ass. This sets a hard, rutting tease, Ferdinand evidently unable to decide where Hubert feels best against him.
“Stop that,” Hubert hisses, slapping Ferdinand hard upon the flank.
Ferdinand moans over him, practically into Hubert’s mouth, his long hair tickling Hubert’s shoulders.
“Here,” Hubert orders. Only his facade of ire keeps him intact as he fits his hand around them both. Presses them tight together. “Pleasure me properly.”
Flushed and lust-addled and petulant, Ferdinand actually, legitimately pouts down at him. “But, Hubert, you feel so exquisite between my legs!”
Completion grips Hubert tight beneath his shaft, and then, by the flames, and then, oh, the sight. Half-glimpsed between eyes involuntary closing of his eyes, that sight:
Ferdinand, as abruptly lost as Hubert himself.
The sounds of panting and nonsense fill his ears even after the bed creases creaking. The rustling of cloth, followed by the feel of it, immensely soft. Ferdinand’s delicate ministrations, dabbing his undershirt against dirtied skin while Hubert simply lies beneath him.
“Oh, my darling,” Ferdinand murmurs, as he can’t seem to stop murmuring, before falling back against him. He presses countless kisses to Hubert’s slackening mouth. His palm rubs firm circles against Hubert’s bare chest. “Tell me when we may do this again.”
“Sooner, if you sleep,” Hubert replies, his face flushed only from exertion.
“Yes, yes, of course.” Ferdinand fusses about him some moments longer before rolling over, rolling away the tiny distance to the edge of the bed.
Hubert catches his shoulder. “Stop.” His composure, forgotten until the second afterward, berates him.
Ferdinand looks back over his shoulder, over the appetizing tangle of his hair. “You would prefer to leave the lamp lit?”
Hubert blinks at him slowly.
Ferdinand’s brow furrows and, to Hubert’s immense and immediate chagrin, realizes Hubert’s true meaning. The lamplight shines off Ferdinand’s wide grin before Ferdinand blows out the light. The resulting darkness takes on a blue tinge, tinted by starlight beyond the windows.
“I wish to touch you all night,” Ferdinand tells him with a shamelessness that has nothing to do with the cover of dark. “How shall we lie? If you held me from behind, I fear my hair might choke you.”
“If that is your way of asking to hold me instead, your subtlety is lacking.”
“I would prefer to have you instead of subtlety.”
Hubert turns his burning face away, and Ferdinand takes the opportunity to fit his body against Hubert’s back. His fingers play across Hubert’s chest. They simultaneously discover that a scratch across Hubert’s nipple will cause him to jerk, just so.
Ferdinand chuckles into his nape, a low sound all the richer for being muffled.
“Rest assured, I will find your weaknesses as well,” Hubert swears.
This time, a kiss, pressed over the line of his spine. “Rest assured, you already have.”
Hubert closes his eyes to the wall. Behind him, as warm as a well-tended furnace, Ferdinand breathes slowly, his rhythm interrupted only by the occasional nuzzle. He tugs Hubert closer, then looser, then sleeps with his hand resting upon the blankets where he’s pulled them higher.
Unobtrusively, Hubert shifts blankets and hands both. The blanket does well pulled over their shoulders. Ferdinand’s hand understands its place soon enough as well, gravitating to a spot just above Hubert’s navel. Still Hubert does not sleep.
Instead, he observes.
Then and only then, does he rest.
There comes a knock at the door, and Hubert is instantly awake.
“Hm?” Ferdinand hums, groggy and yet hopeful as Hubert climbs over him.
Hubert raises a finger to his lips in warning—a warning which would have been more effective had Ferdinand’s eyes been open—and pulls on enough layers to claim disheveled decency. “Yes, Lady Edelgard?” he calls the moment he has pulled his shirt over his head.
“Hubert, unlock the door,” Lady Edelgard responds, her tone calm and authoritative.
“My apologies, Lady Edelgard, but I fear I have yet to shave, and you know how I abhor-”
“Ferdinand, open the door,” Lady Edelgard commands, her tone calm, authoritative, and louder than before.
Hubert unlocks the door.
Lady Edelgard enters.
Ferdinand sits up in bed, absolutely nude beneath the blanket held high against his chest.
Hubert shuts the door.
Arms folded, Lady Edelgard states, “We share a wall, Hubert.”
“I… am aware,” Hubert replies. He had somehow… forgotten. But as of this moment, he is very, very aware.
“Ferdinand most certainly forgot,” Lady Edelgard continues.
“Ah, ha, well,” Ferdinand attempts to bluster. He quickly trails off, unable to feign ignorance of the toothy markings on his bare chest.
“Going forward, you will use Ferdinand’s room.”
“Going forward,” Ferdinand and Hubert both echo, albeit in very different tones. Ferdinand delighted, Hubert cautious.
Lady Edelgard simply looks at Hubert, and Hubert, being seen, looks away. “You will use Ferdinand’s room,” she repeats.
“Of course, Lady Edelgard.”
Lady Edelgard nods at both of them. “I had wondered why the professor insisted on pairing you two for stable duty this week. That’s one mystery solved, at least.”
“Oh?” Ferdinand asks. “I thought we weren’t getting our weekly assignments until tomorrow.”
Lady Edelgard sighs. “Try not to distract each other too much, won’t you? Don’t make me order you to wait.”
“I, for one, will keep a clear head,” Hubert promises.
Lady Edelgard eyes him again.
Hubert stands his ground.
“Of course you will,” Lady Edelgard says, and she is smiling. Then she looks at Ferdinand. Her own color begins to change. “And please. Please, Ferdinand. Try to keep the noise down.”
As Lady Edelgard reddens, Ferdinand blanches. “How, um. How much might you have heard? Per chance?”
With another sigh, she replies, “I took a late night stroll. So did Caspar, by the way.” She indicates the wall beside the bed. “He’s currently taking advantage of Linhardt’s extra bedding.”
Deep in Hubert’s soul, he buries his face in his hands. Physically present, however, he says, “Ferdinand’s room also shares a wall with Caspar’s.”
“But not mine,” Lady Edelgard replies firmly.
“Of course,” Hubert answers, and bows. In his undergarments and wrinkled shirt, with stubble yet upon his cheeks.
“I’m going to have a lie-in,” she continues. “But first, I had to make sure I wouldn’t be woken up by any further… noises.”
Yet deeper inside Hubert’s soul, he curls up beneath the bed and pretends to be absent from the situation entirely. He has never once actually indulged himself in this way, not even as a child, and yet this morning, the course of action is strangely compelling.
“You will hear nothing,” Hubert promises.
“Absolutely nothing,” Ferdinand quickly agrees. “You have my word as a von Aegir.”
“Ferdinand, I don’t want to think about any part of your family right now,” Lady Edelgard says, a shielding hand over her eyes, clearly pained by the concept.
“Ah. Yes. Um.”
“Perhaps you should cease speaking,” Hubert suggests.
Ferdinand eyes him with a show of put-upon fondness, but nevertheless closes his mouth and keeps it closed.
“Thank you,” Lady Edelgard says to them both in clear dismissal. “Please stay focused around everyone else. I don’t want to have to talk to either of you about this ever again.”
“Agreed,” Hubert replies, clearing his throat. He opens the door as Lady Edelgard leaves. “Sleep well.”
“Ensure that I do,” she answers, departing.
Hubert closes the door.
Ferdinand sits up all the way. The blanket falls from him.
Hubert nearly locks the door unthinkingly. He shakes his head. “Gather your things.”
“Come to my room,” Ferdinand counters.
“I’ve yet to shave.”
“Allow me to perform the task for you,” Ferdinand replies, more invitation than request, as if he was already aware how Hubert would respond to the notion of Ferdinand holding a blade to his throat.
“Didn’t you hear what Edelgard said?”
Hubert gives in to rare childishness and permits himself to roll his eyes. “Of course I did.”
“Then you know Caspar’s out of his room, and my other wall has no one on the other side of it.”
Hubert’s eyes widen.
Glowing like the sunrise, Ferdinand grins.