“Where do you think you’re going?” Mercedes has a smile in her voice, but Hubert’s eyes widen nonetheless. It isn’t as though her sweet exterior is false, more that it’s a soft layer shielding the steel beneath.
“The infirmary?” Hubert suggests. It comes out tentatively, the lilt of his voice a question, not the demand he intends. He clears his throat and tries again. “When the Prime Minister has been injured in the course of his duties, it is within my purview to—”
Mercedes holds up her hand, stopping his speech before it really gets going. “Hubert,” she says, “he isn’t going to die.”
Hubert can’t help it — his shoulders sag with relief and he has to swallow down the lump rising in his throat. The night has been long; Hubert has been so preoccupied with Ferdinand’s safety that he doesn’t know if the celebrations in Enbarr continued or if the Prime Minister’s condition threw months of planning into chaos. Frankly, he doesn’t care.
“You can visit as soon as you’re washed up and dressed for the sterile ward,” Mercedes says. “It’s always good for our patients when friends visit.”
Friends. Friends? Is that what they are? Hubert lets out his breath in a ragged sigh. He supposes that is close enough, at least as far as Ferdinand knows.
Fifteen minutes later, Hubert is dressed in a ridiculous borrowed get-up, his hands scrubbed to a ruddy red. It is part of Manuela’s new protocol; Hubert knows the Empire suffered fewer losses than expected in the war due to her innovations, but he still feels silly. Vulnerable, too, with the loss of his gloves, but he could not admit that to the infirmary staff. Showing weakness is unacceptable, a fact he nearly forgets when he sees Ferdinand.
“Oh,” Hubert says, out loud. Ferdinand — strong, boasting, force-of-nature Ferdinand — looks small on his infirmary cot. He is sleeping, no doubt recovering from the attack, his face so pale that the dusting of freckles across his face stands out even more than usual. The blankets are pulled up over his chest, his arms above the covers with his hands upturned in supplication. It reminds Hubert of religious iconography, but unlike the paintings and stained glass from the forced worship of his childhood, this truly makes him want to fall to his knees. “Is he…?”
“Just sleeping. Not comatose,” Mercedes assures him. “Manuela said his prognosis is excellent.”
Hubert nods, that damned lump back again and preventing him from a proper response.
“I’ll give you some time,” Mercedes says kindly, shutting the door behind her.
Once she is gone, Hubert paces the floor for a moment before pulling a chair up to Ferdinand’s bedside. Up close, he can make out the dark circles underneath Ferdinand’s eyes, and he takes some relief from the Ferdinand's steady breathing. He wants to move the covers aside and examine the wound on Ferdinand’s stomach himself. He wants to place his hands over Ferdinand’s chest to feel a strong heartbeat beneath his fingers. He wants to touch his own bare and sterile hand to Ferdinand’s, but he doesn’t dare.
What could possibly give him that right? A few kind words over cups of coffee and tea? Late nights in Ferdinand’s office, hammering out policy? Ferdinand jumping in front of a knife intended for Hubert, without a thought for his own safety?
No. Hubert has earned no right to Ferdinand, no matter how much he desires it.
The atmosphere in Enbarr is celebratory, everyone gathered to see their own emperor crowned the Emperor of all of Fódlan. There are feasts and balls planned throughout the city, all following a glorious processional parade through the streets. Hubert is more cautious than elated, but still he can’t help the pride in his heart for his triumphant lady.
He also can’t help smiling to himself, thinking of the late nights working with Ferdinand. The entire day is planned like a beautiful machine, each cog turning to benefit the next, and much of it is due to the skill of the Prime Minister. Hubert and Ferdinand also work like well-oiled machinery, fitting together in ways that never would have occurred to him back at the monastery.
Instead of being at one another’s throats, they complement each other, strengthening the other’s weaknesses. That meant many late nights planning together, Ferdinand trading his endless cups of tea for Hubert’s lightest roast, until Hubert had to cut him off for fear of his trembling hands. It meant Ferdinand leaning over Hubert’s back to get a better look at blueprints of Enbarr, tucking an errant strand of wavy ginger hair behind his ear as Hubert turned his head just enough to admire his profile. It meant Hubert dozing off at his desk and waking later, alone but with Ferdinand’s garish jacket draped over his shoulders. It also meant breathing deep while still wearing that same jacket because even if Ferdinand wasn’t physically there, in this way Hubert still felt like he was.
He’s glad that Ferdinand has grown. He’s glad they both have.
“Why are you so happy?” someone asks, making Hubert nearly jump out of his own skin. Some spymaster he is. He turns in the voice’s direction, and it takes far more self-control than it should to stop his little smile from turning into an all-out grin. Ridiculous. “Ah, let me guess,” Ferdinand says. “You are pleased to see Edelgard’s blissful moment in the spotlight.”
Ferdinand is dressed to the nines, of course, wearing formalwear far more intricate than even his fussy everyday wear. Hubert knows Ferdinand’s tailor and though the man has many clients, he would go out of business if Ferdinand took his exacting demands elsewhere. The coat is decorated with brocade, all a beautiful blue close to the color of the old Faerghus flag. It might have been a sly joke on someone with more guile, but this is Ferdinand, so Hubert knows it’s merely because he looks so good in blue. It’s also cut to emphasize his broad shoulders without the tightness that would indicate a poor fit, making Hubert focus strictly on Ferdinand’s face.
“Of course,” Hubert confirms. “I’m also happy that after today I won’t be expected to spend my evenings wondering which shade of crimson best flatters Her Majesty’s complexion.”
At that, Ferdinand’s face falls — just a little, but Hubert is very good at catching the small details that betray a man’s words — though he pulls it together nearly as quickly. “All of them, of course,” Ferdinand says. “But I cannot say I will miss passing the witching hour in my office. I hardly know what my own bed looks like anymore.”
“I’m sure it’s an ostentatious mess that no one could ever forget,” Hubert says, trying to will away the mental image of Ferdinand spread out on an opulent bed. He entertains those thoughts from time-to-time, but only late at night and when alone. It’s certainly unbecoming to do the same with Ferdinand standing right next to him, while Lady Edelgard’s parade is almost underway.
Ferdinand hums thoughtfully. “Is that what you think?” he asks, tilting his head to one side like one of the clever Aegir Hounds that guard the stables. “Hmm,” he hums again.
Hubert feels his ears heating up and curses himself once again for his lack of self-control. He forces himself to look away from Ferdinand’s handsome face.
They stand in silence for a few moments, perhaps a bit awkwardly, but in a pleasant sort of way. Hubert doesn’t really have the right words to describe it; his feelings for Ferdinand are new and complicated, bordering on something that he never thought he’d experience. He knows it’s a crush, but the shadow of the emperor isn’t meant to feel things so basic, so childish, so… human, and so he does not know how to act. He also isn’t sure what action to take, so he has waited and waited, thinking the impulse to confess would pass as quickly as the moons do. Instead, Ferdinand has only grown more lovely, more interesting, and his demands on Hubert’s time are soft and welcome.
As Dorothea might say, Hubert has it bad. It’s hell. Delicious hell, but hell nonetheless.
“Ferdinand, I—” he says, just as Ferdinand says, “Hubert, would you—?” Then they both laugh; Ferdinand runs his gloved fingers through his long hair and Hubert clears his throat.
“You go first,” Ferdinand says.
“No, you,” Hubert says. “I insist.”
Distantly, the horns sound, signaling the start of the procession, and suddenly everything gets loud. Ferdinand and Hubert exchange sheepish looks. Then, Hubert peers out into the street, seeing that the Mittelfrank’s float has already begun the preview of their new production with trained horses piaffing behind them. Acrobats and other street performers line the streets with still more floats and animals and spectacle to follow; the finale is the Emperor herself, accompanied by some of her retinue, if not her two closest advisors, who both declined a place anywhere but behind the scenes. Hubert finds every bit of this absurd and excessive, but Edelgard insisted that the people deserved a moment’s respite after so many years of fighting. There are many years of hard work still ahead of them, but even Hubert understands the necessity of escape. His tends to take the shape of two people having a lively conversation over a nice hot beverage, but he supposes fancy dancing ponies can be all right, too.
Hubert chances a sidelong glance at Ferdinand, his bright smile making Hubert’s fingers twitch. He longs to reach out and clasp Ferdinand’s hand in his own, but doing so without speaking to Ferdinand first is unacceptable. It’s also impossible to picture himself opening up his mouth and just asking, however, which leaves Hubert at an impasse. Instead, he turns his head again and watches the parade.
As Lady Edelgard draws closer, Hubert’s attention is drawn her way. He gets lost in the crowd’s excitement, and it’s not the worst feeling ever. They’re proud of Lady Edelgard, supportive of her actions in a way that Hubert never expected when they secretly set their plans into motion back at Garreg Mach.
Hubert feels his attention drawn toward the Emperor and only her, letting his guard down, just a little, just for a moment. His smile grows wider, genuine, and he decides taking Ferdinand’s hand wouldn’t be too improper. Surely he has earned a small bit of happiness, even if his usual self would chastise him for even entertaining the thought.
Hubert looks over at Ferdinand; Ferdinand looks back. Hubert reaches for Ferdinand’s hand; the color drains from Ferdinand’s face as soon as their gloved fingers brush. Ferdinand’s mouth shapes into a perfect round O; Hubert goes tumbling to the ground as Ferdinand shoves him down there.
Ferdinand lunges; the knife slices through Ferdinand’s beautiful blue suit, a crimson stain spreading through the material in the exact shade that so flatters Her Majesty.
“Fuck!” Hubert shouts, drawing the attention of several nearby children who have just learnt a new favorite word. He scrambles to his feet, drawing out his tome, and knocks back Ferdinand’s attacker in one shot as members of Hubert’s team swarm out of the crowd and pin the man down.
Hubert falls to his knees again; the impact is so hard that he should wince, but all he can think to do is gather Ferdinand up into his arms and try to staunch the blood while the nearest healer shoves through the crowd to get to them. The healer begins doing the useful work, while Hubert struggles not to fall apart.
“Ferdinand,” Hubert says, more broken than he ever remembers sounding. “Please,” he begs, cupping Ferdinand’s jaw in bloody gloves.
Ferdinand’s lovely eyes flutter open. “Hubert, you’re all right,” he mumbles. “Thank the goddess.” His eyes slide shut again.
Edelgard’s float passes then and Hubert, lost, looks up and meets her eyes. Her face is pale and horrified, a mirror of his own, and only Petra’s steadying hand prevents her from leaping into the crowd.
Hubert visits every day, and every day he is told that Ferdinand responds to stimuli — his breathing is regular, his heartbeat is strong. In all ways, he is alive. Manuela and Mercedes assure him often that Ferdinand is sometimes awake for short periods, if not yet speaking. They also both start threatening to take away his visitor privileges if he asks again.
It isn’t his fault that he needs to see a thing to believe in it. Some people are just like that, and Hubert is one of them.
Hubert settles down at Ferdinand’s side for the third afternoon. He would stay there all day, but Manuela won’t allow him his paperwork and he is now doing his own work and a large percentage of Ferdinand’s, even though Ferdinand’s staff has assured him time and time again that it’s not necessary. It is necessary, though — necessary for him. He feels useless and responsible and wants to believe that taking on new burdens will alleviate those feelings.
They don’t, but he pretends like they do.
“Prime Minister, I must commend you for hiring a competent staff,” Hubert says. He sounds almost normal, like Ferdinand is merely across a tea table and not a sleeping angel with his hair fanned out around him. “You read people excellently, and they’re all such hard workers.”
Ferdinand’s chest rises. It falls. A ray of sunlight peeks through the infirmary curtains and douses his hair in sunlight; he is radiant even through this trauma.
“They all speak so highly of you and miss you very much.” Hubert places his hand on the bedding, close to Ferdinand’s hand once again. He has done this every day and not once has he indulged in brushing their fingers together. Hubert sighs as he imagines Ferdinand responding; he is not good at filling in the spaces in their conversation, another spot where Ferdinand outstrips him. Ferdinand is so skilled at putting people at ease, and Hubert does not know what he will do if the goddess they overthrew decides to take revenge on him in this specific way. “I miss you very much,” he continues haltingly. “I know you told me not to compliment you out loud, so if you wish for me to stop, then you will simply have to wake up and tell me so yourself.”
Hubert pauses, imagining Ferdinand’s laugh. He presses his lips together when he gets nothing but more quiet. It’s unbearable, this silence.
He returns the next day.
“The healers told me your prognosis is good. Your wound has closed even more quickly than they expected; leave it to you to even heal faster than average. Is everything a competition to you?”
Ferdinand’s head lolls to one side, in Hubert’s direction, and Hubert freezes from the movement, but all that happens is a strand of hair falling across Ferdinand’s face and his nose. It must be uncomfortable there. Hubert knows Ferdinand doesn’t like his hair falling in his face; he has often witnessed Ferdinand tucking errant locks behind his ears in Hubert’s presence. He watches the hair intently, willing it back into place with his mind, but it does not obey.
Typical. So like Ferdinand, annoying even when asleep.
Hubert’s eyes dart from one side to the other, expecting someone to walk in, guilty like a child caught swiping sweets from the kitchens. He can’t simply leave him like that, can he?
Hesitantly, he stands and leans over Ferdinand, brushing the strand away again. Ferdinand’s skin is surprisingly warm and surprisingly soft beneath Hubert’s fingertips, and from this angle it is easier to see how red his lips are when parted in sleep. It would take nothing at all for Hubert to lean down and press their mouths together.
At that thought, Hubert stumbles back and throws himself back into his chair. His eyes are wide and his breathing erratic, the blood rushing so quickly through his veins that it roars inside his ears. He can’t believe what he almost just did; is his desperation so great that he can’t wait for Ferdinand to wake? Or is he harboring notions of the power of true love’s kiss, remembering fairy tales from his childhood, notions he thought he smothered before he even left the nursery? He scoffs. Like Ferdinand would ever consider Hubert his knight in shining armor. Like Ferdinand even needs one.
Hubert takes several deep breaths. He straightens his spine and sets his shoulders as he remembers where he is. He is not here for himself; he is here for Ferdinand.
As he gathers his thoughts, he lets himself take in Ferdinand’s room. All of the rooms in the infirmary are small, designed to accommodate a large number of wounded soldiers, ones well enough to survive a trip back to Enbarr following a campaign. Even so, Ferdinand’s tables are covered in flowers; the infirmary staff have tacked up so many cards scrawled with well-wishes that in some places the wallpaper is completely hidden. It all points to one thing: Ferdinand is popular. Ferdinand is loved. Hubert hasn’t yet read every card, but he is sure that a hearty percentage contain confessions, the heartfelt outpourings of would-be romantic partners outlining the things that Ferdinand deserves to hear — the same things that Hubert cannot bear to say.
Hubert rubs at his face with his hands. He is a terrible man who has done terrible things, and no amount of time spent at Ferdinand’s bedside can erase that. He shakes his head and gets up, leaving the room that day with no further preamble.
“Have I told you that we’ve uncovered the plot of my would-be assailant?” Hubert says, back the next afternoon, unable to stay away. “Of course I had members of my corps throughout the crowd on the day of the procession.”
More flowers have replaced the ones that have wilted. Stubble a shade darker than the hair on his head has overtaken Ferdinand’s jaw. Even asleep, this is a good look for him, though Ferdinand would surely hate the state of his eyebrows. He’s rugged, masculine; Hubert has spent far too much time considering the lean muscle of Ferdinand’s biceps and this isn’t helping. Mages have a certain physical power about them, but muscle mass doesn’t go with the territory. It’s not an exaggeration to say that Ferdinand could throw Hubert over one shoulder and have his way with him.
Hubert’s face heats up at the thought while his twisted mind that supplied that thought in the first place reminds him that Ferdinand can’t do much of anything right now. He really hates the inside of his own head some days.
“We captured the man who stabbed you immediately,” Hubert goes on, remembering that Mercedes said that the sound of familiar voices could only aid Ferdinand’s recovery. “Knowing the role I played in assuring Her Majesty her rightful place on the throne, the man thought taking out the Emperor’s right-hand man would destabilize the entire nation. I mean, I’m flattered, but —”
It might be Hubert’s imagination, but he thinks Ferdinand’s expression changes, perhaps a twitch of his lips. In the past few days, his heart has soared with every flutter of Ferdinand’s eyelid, every involuntary spasm of his limbs. After, Hubert chastises himself for his foolish heart, but it does not stop him from doing the same the next time it occurs.
“Either way, he was still delighted that he injured the Prime Minister accidentally and managed to throw months of careful planning into chaos, so please remember that the next time your heroics take you in the path of a blade meant for me. He admitted that under some duress, however, so you’re welcome for that little tidbit.” Hubert, of course, spares Ferdinand the details. “The man fought with the Kingdom, a minor noble who hasn’t been as accepting as you at losing much of the nobility’s power. He aligned himself with a small cell who believed throwing the capital into chaos would destabilize the Emperor’s reign. My people were able to flush out all of the perpetrators.”
He smiles to himself, a true moment’s pleasure as he recalls taking down another of Lady Edelgard’s enemies. The man wasn’t aligned with the ones that hide underground, a very small relief all things considered, and the group causing the chaos had very little in the way of resources.
“When you collapsed, I thought — well,” Hubert says, folding his hands in his lap and staring down at his scrubbed clean hands, “needless to say, you don’t have to worry about them anymore.”
Hubert is startled to find Ferdinand’s room occupied when he visits the next day, a package clutched tightly in one hand. Furthermore, the guest is Lady Edelgard herself, and he berates himself for not knowing she’d adjusted her schedule in this manner. He has been distracted — too distracted, it seems.
“Your Majesty,” he says and begins to bow low at the waist.
“Please don’t, Hubert,” she says, standing from the chair at Ferdinand’s bedside. “I only came out of concern for a dear friend, the same as yourself. I hope you’ll forgive me for not letting you know I’d be visiting the Prime Minister today.”
“I’m sure your royal guard can handle the intricacies of your itinerary better than I can,” he says.
Edelgard looks amused. “You mean the guard you personally interviewed, hired, and trained?” she asks. “Still, it is a relief hearing those words coming out of your mouth.” Her eyes travel to the colorful merchant bag Hubert is holding. “I’m also sorry for intruding on your time.”
Hubert shakes his head. “Please don’t apologize, Your Majesty,” he says. “I have been here so often that Ferdinand is likely sick of me. I’m sure your presence was a welcome change.”
Edelgard hums to herself. “If you say so.” She starts to leave, patting Hubert on the shoulder as she goes by. “For the record,” she says, smiling up at him, “I’m quite sure Ferdinand is thrilled by the frequency of your visits.”
Hubert wants to say, if he even realizes I’ve been here, but that would be improper and, frankly, he has never been good at arguing with Her Majesty even in the rare times when they truly disagree. Instead, he says, “It is always good to see you outside of our official duties, even if in this case the circumstances aren’t ideal.”
“Definitely not ideal,” Edelgard agrees. She glances over her shoulder at Ferdinand’s bed. “When we’re all back in good health, the three of us shall have tea.”
“Yes, Your Majesty,” Hubert says, watching as she sweeps out of the room. Everything seems emptier once Edelgard leaves, without the vitality she injects into any room she graces — and without the energy Ferdinand brings to a room. Hubert alone is a poor substitute for their oversized personalities. Still, he settles down in the chair that Edelgard just vacated. He places the merchant’s bag amongst the fresh wave of flowers on Ferdinand’s bedside table. “I’ve brought you a gift,” he says.
He hadn’t been planning on it when he left his quarters for the day. But one of his tasks took him through the marketplace, and he passed a stall where the scent of southern fruits wafted his way. It made him think of simpler days, of the first gift Ferdinand bought him, coincidentally on the same day he planned on giving Ferdinand a gift as well. He thinks back to the day and winces, even though it turned out well. But even now he can still recall the inky muck of jealousy settling deep in his belly when he thought Ferdinand was courting someone.
One would think buying spontaneous gifts for a former rival would hint at deeper feelings, but no, Hubert did not realize the depth of his feelings for Ferdinand until the very moment where he thought he was lost to him forever. If Hubert didn’t have so many enemies, he would be his own worst one.
“It is tea,” Hubert continues, “the terrible sweet blends you favor, as though one drop of bitterness on your tongue would mar your entire being. Still, it occurred to me that when you wake for longer stretches, you will almost certainly crave a cup of your favorite swill.”
Ferdinand’s head turns in Hubert’s direction and his mouth twitches. Hubert’s eyes widen and he waits. And waits. Nothing.
“If I cannot be here to prepare it for you, then at least it is here so you can annoy the infirmary staff, you wretched man.”
He picks up the bag again, unrolling the top and opening it up. Despite his complaints, Hubert breathes in deep because the leaves so remind him of Ferdinand. Instantly, some of the strain across his shoulders melts away and he sinks a bit lower in his seat. It is absurd how fond Hubert has become of tea, and there is only one person to blame.
Hubert jolts, nearly upturning the bag of tea all over Ferdinand’s bed. He slowly turns his head, hope making his heart leap into his throat, and sees Ferdinand’s beautiful eyes for the first time in days. He swallows because, hell, he has missed them so much.
“Hubert,” Ferdinand says, his voice an unused rasp, and he smiles. “Hi.”
Then Ferdinand is suddenly blurry and Hubert’s cheeks are wet. He manages to get the tea back to Ferdinand’s table before leaping from his seat, grabbing Ferdinand’s bare hand and squeezing, just barely perceiving Ferdinand squeezing back before Hubert runs from the room, shouting for the healers to come in because Ferdinand is speaking. Ferdinand is awake.
Ferdinand is awake, Ferdinand is awake, Ferdinand is awake.
The healers drive Hubert from the room as they throw Ferdinand into a battery of tests, but he is incapable of simply waiting around and doing nothing. As soon as Manuela confirms that Ferdinand is fully conscious and he may return later on to speak with Ferdinand again, Hubert travels back to the palace to inform Ferdinand’s staff. He then goes to see Lady Edelgard and the wide smile that spreads across her face at the news is nothing short of radiant.
Later, when he returns, Manuela is indulgent. Hubert isn’t surprised; Ferdinand has always been one of her favorites. “You can see him for a short time,” she says. “A short time.”
“All right,” Hubert agrees.
“He was asking for you and seemed disappointed that we’d run you off,” Manuela adds. She sighs. “Wish I could get a man to talk about me like that.”
Hubert reddens and clears his throat. “Yes. Quite. Thank you.” He washes up and changes into the infirmary-approved visitorwear. He rushes through that routine, but that doesn’t stop him from pausing just outside Ferdinand’s room.
Inside his head, Edelgard is again telling him that Ferdinand is thrilled with the frequency of his visits. Manuela is there, too, saying that Ferdinand has been asking for him. He remembers the look they shared just before Ferdinand was hurt and all their late nights working together, and thinks maybe. Maybe it isn’t just him.
Hubert takes a deep breath and opens the door.
“You’re back,” Ferdinand says. He looks better already; the stubble is gone and his hair shines with a recent brushing. Hubert wonders which staff member got that particular honor. Ferdinand is also sitting up and color has already returned to his cheeks. It is so good to see him whole and happy that Hubert has to bite the inside of his cheek to stop from grinning. He knows how that makes him look and he doesn’t wish to scare Ferdinand. “I hope to the heavens that you have brought me some hot water.”
Hubert’s eyes widen. “Oh, I—”
“Why bring a gift of tea if you won’t provide a method for drinking it?” Ferdinand asks. “Is this one of your famed methods of torture?”
“I see you’ve gotten your voice back,” Hubert says. “And of course I’m already subjected to your drivel. It was so peaceful around here.”
Ferdinand raises his now-smooth eyebrows. “You would know.”
Now Ferdinand looks amused. “The staff told me you were here every day,” he says. “So there’s no need to hide that particular peccadillo.”
Hubert covers his mouth with his fist, trying to formulate a response for that.
“I’m glad,” Ferdinand says. Then because he’s the type of person who just says whatever pops into his head, he adds, “There is no one else I’d be gladder about visiting.” Then he smiles.
“Ah,” Hubert says and clears his throat, blinking as he stares at Ferdinand’s mouth. The smile widens. “I’ll see about some hot water and a cup for you.”
“Two cups,” Ferdinand says.
“Two,” Hubert agrees. “If you insist.”
“How are you feeling?” Hubert asks, staring down at the steaming cup in his hands. Ridiculous how hot tea feels against his bare palms. He puts the cup down on the saucer and places it on Ferdinand’s table.
Ferdinand, by contrast, is in his element, breathing in deeply and making a sound that can only be rightly described as a moan as he finally drinks. “Hubert, for someone who does not drink it, your taste in tea is impeccable.”
It isn’t that Hubert’s taste is impeccable; it is only that he pays attention. The more interested in something Hubert is, the more his attention to detail grows. He lives for the moments when someone he respects praises his taste — before, that used to only be Her Majesty, but in recent years that circle has grown. There is no doubt Ferdinand is included in that number.
“To answer your question, I feel odd.”
Hubert’s eyes widen. “Should I get a healer?”
“No, no,” Ferdinand says, “nothing like that. My side is sore, but Manuela told me that that is just my body going about the business of healing. I only mean it is strange for me to be bedridden, for the whole world to keep moving without me. Even my injuries during the war were minor; I never missed a battle. I haven’t even been ill for more than a day or two since my childhood.”
“I suppose this must be an adjustment.” Hubert has always expected the world to go on without him once he’s gone, but Ferdinand lives in the moment and probably hasn’t let himself devote much time to his own mortality. Well, he supposes that is the sort of mentality that lends itself to jumping in front of a knife intended for one’s fellow minister.
“Also, I miss my horse,” Ferdinand complains. “How is she? Does she miss me?”
“You are a fool,” Hubert says. He pauses for a moment. “She misses you very much.”
Ferdinand takes a long sip of his tea and then places cup and saucer next to Hubert’s. “I knew you’d visit the stables for me,” he says. “I knew it.”
Hubert looks down at his lap again. “Ferdinand…”
“Don’t look down,” Ferdinand says. “I know you have been here every day, but it’s been so long since I have seen your face. Would you deny me that?”
It seems rather obvious at this point that there is possibly nothing Hubert would deny Ferdinand; he looks up again, just in time to see Ferdinand wince as he sits up further. Hubert opens his mouth to protest, but shuts it again as Ferdinand reaches over to take Hubert’s hand in both of his.
If brushing an errant curl from his forehead gave away how warm Ferdinand’s skin is, it is nothing compared to the furnace of being trapped between his big hands. But in contrast to the smooth softness of his brow, Ferdinand’s hands are rough with work, calluses formed by holding a lance for years. Hubert bites his lip and looks down to see his own hand engulfed by both of Ferdinand’s.
“I know what you are thinking, Hubert,” Ferdinand says. “And I wish for you to stop. I know you want to shout at me for jumping in front of a knife for you, but I would do it again and again.”
Hubert shakes his head. “Don’t,” he says, still looking at their hands. “I have done nothing to deserve that.”
“Says the wretched man who spent every afternoon at my bedside, and probably spends every morning and night doing all of my work along with his own.”
“Not all of it,” Hubert protests. “Your staff is very competent and —-”
“Shut up, Hubert.”
Hubert shuts up.
“Look at me,” says Ferdinand, a soft request.
At that, Hubert lifts his chin to obey. For a man who has slept for the better part of a week, Ferdinand looks alarmingly awake now. His cheeks are pink, like whatever he is about to say is not easy for him, but it’s accompanied by the determined set of his jaw.
“The day of my injury,” Ferdinand says. “I had been waiting for that day. I thought that perhaps with the war behind us, with a reason to celebrate, I could finally say the thoughts that have been locked inside my head for so long.”
He shimmies down the bed and stretches his long-unused muscles until he’s kneeling on the cot; Hubert wants to tell Ferdinand this is a bad idea, but his hand is still clasped between both of Ferdinand’s and he finds it impossible to speak.
“So many people have lauded me for my bravery,” Ferdinand continues.
“That is because you are brave,” says Hubert, finding his voice. “If your many accomplishments in the war mean nothing, then isn’t the wound on your side not proof enough?”
“Who cares if I can take on physical punishment if I cannot speak my feelings?” Ferdinand says. “Of course I do what is necessary, but not being able to speak my mind shows that I am a coward.”
Hubert lifts his chin, stretching toward Ferdinand like a flower does in the presence of the sun. “I am the coward, not you.”
Ferdinand shakes his head. “No,” he says. “Hubert, you were here every day, seeing to my recovery. No one could misinterpret that action. Who would do that for a mere colleague, a brother-in-arms? You must know that coming here, day after day, has made your intentions very clear.” Ferdinand shifts his grip to one hand to more firmly hold onto Hubert’s, while lifting the other to press against the side of Hubert’s face. “You are a brave man, far braver than me. For your actions tell a greater story than any words I might choose to convey the depth of my affection.”
“Ferdinand,” Hubert breathes.
“And now it is my turn to do the same.”
With those words, hardly ones of a coward, Ferdinand ducks his head and kisses Hubert. Earlier that day, Hubert’s only wishes had been to see Ferdinand’s eyes open and that they could speak to each other again. He missed Ferdinand’s eyes, his voice, his whole presence shining light upon Hubert’s shadowy existence, and now not only did those wishes come true, but he has Ferdinand’s hand upon his cheek, his sweet mouth on Hubert’s mouth. And, oh, that is definitely Ferdinand von Aegir’s tongue.
Hubert makes a sound of desperation, one of longing, one of a dam breaking as the crest of emotion threatens to overtake him. It would be such wonderful surrender, he thinks, raising the hand not entwined with Ferdinand’s to thread through Ferdinand’s hair, a desperate attempt to draw him closer. He wants more, he wants all of Ferdinand — he has already gotten more of him than he ever could have dreamt, but he still wants anything that Ferdinand is willing to give.
“Oh, for the love of —”
A new voice interjects, interrupts, causing them both to reel back as though they’d been burned. Manuela stands in the middle of the room, hands on her hips, her exasperated teacher expression bringing Hubert back to himself.
“Stop that right now,” she chastises, shoving between them so she can push Ferdinand onto his pillow. “You’re going to open up something vital, and I don’t mean that in the fun way.”
Ferdinand makes a sound suspiciously like a laugh, cut off in a choked strangle by Manuela’s shoving. She fluffs up his pillow and examines the side his wound is on, nodding to herself before checking his vital signs. Once Ferdinand is primped to Manuela’s satisfaction, she rounds on Hubert, and he nearly forgets he is a grown man, a war veteran, and a spy. Hubert winces and holds up his hands.
“I’m sorry, I allowed my emotions to get the better of me,” he says. He clenches his hand into a fist, still warm from Ferdinand’s skin. “I can control my emotions, I promise.”
“Good.” Manuela sighs and softens a bit. “Not too much control, though, Minister. Just enough to allow your paramour finish healing.”
His paramour. Oh, judging by the way his heart speeds up at the word, Hubert certainly likes the sound of that.
“You both have plenty of time,” Manuela says. “Trust me on that.” She spins on her heel and leaves them alone again.
Ferdinand’s smile is wide, large enough that corners of his eyes crinkle up. It is utterly charming and Hubert is completely head over heels for him. And, apparently, Ferdinand feels the same. In a way, it’s good that Manuela interrupted them because otherwise, he would have convinced himself that he is dreaming.
“My apologies, Hubert,” says Ferdinand. “I did not intend to get you into trouble. I— I hope that hasn’t soured anything between—”
Hubert holds up his hand. “Ferdinand, you have no idea how long I’ve waited for you,” he says.
“I might have some idea.”
“Well.” Hubert looks down as he feels a blush spread across his cheeks. “If that is the case, then you know I’ve waited this long. I can certainly wait a bit longer, especially knowing the outcome is in my favor.”
He finally takes Ferdinand’s hand of his own volition, lifting it to his lips to kiss Ferdinand’s knuckles. Ferdinand visibly swallows at Hubert’s gesture, and it’s a joy and thrill knowing that he can have such an effect on him.
A few days later, Ferdinand’s progress has been quick enough that he is declared fit to leave the infirmary and go home. Hubert is there, of course; the only way he wouldn’t be is if Ferdinand asked him to stay away, but in reality the exact opposite occurred. Yesterday evening, as they exchanged long goodbyes, Ferdinand grabbed Hubert’s hand and asked specifically if Hubert could accompany him home. And how could Hubert say no to that?
So on the morning that Ferdinand leaves, Hubert fortifies himself with his strongest coffee, and sets out to the infirmary with a carriage intended to take them both back to Ferdinand’s home. He is determined to stay with Ferdinand for as long as he needs. He owes him that much, at least. And, since Hubert has been trying to be honest with himself, it is something he wants, as well.
Ferdinand’s house is in one of the busiest parts of Enbarr, something that Hubert remembers discouraging when he’d moved there. But Ferdinand insisted, saying that he spent most of his childhood isolated in the Aegir family manor. All of his brightest memories were from Adrestia’s capital, when he was allowed to accompany his father on his journeys to and from Enbarr.
It made sense; Hubert could see that, even through the myriad security risks. Ferdinand thrived amongst the people, after all, and even though Lady Edelgard had been willing to let Ferdinand have his home back after the duke’s passing, Aegir County had not been his home in a very long time.
“You’ve never been here before, have you?” Ferdinand asks, allowing it when Hubert offers his elbow so they can climb the stairs to his front door.
“I have,” Hubert says.
Ferdinand rolls his eyes. “I mean by my invitation and while I am present, you overgrown bat.”
“I am disappointed in myself that this has taken so long, then. Truly, a mistake on my part.” Ferdinand leans heavily into Hubert for the second half of the stairs.
“Are you all right?” Hubert asks, concerned.
Ferdinand nods. “I believe so,” he says. “Will you stay with me, once I am settled?”
It takes a great deal of restraint to control himself at that. “If that is what you wish,” Hubert says.
“I do,” Ferdinand says as he lets them both into his home. “But only if it is what you wish.”
“Of course it is,” Hubert says. “If you haven’t worked that out by now, then I need to tell you so and often.”
The flowers and cards from Ferdinand’s well-wishers have arrived before them, already displayed in Ferdinand’s parlor as they pass by. Ferdinand has no live-in staff, but he does have a servants who carry out the day-to-day tasks necessary for the management of a household, and Hubert suspects they are responsible for the welcome home display. No one seems to be there at the moment, something that Hubert cannot say he minds.
“I promise to give you the full tour once I am feeling more peppy,” Ferdinand says, half an apology. It is so like him to try to play host and still cling to noble ideals, even an hour after leaving an infirmary.
“You are plenty peppy,” Hubert assures him, a bit of exasperation in his tone.
“Thank you. But I assure you, I’ve been told the full tour is nothing short of a marvel.” Ferdinand lets go of Hubert’s elbow and looks around his home. “Now, though, I only wish for my own bed.”
Hubert nods. “I will help you settle in, then find some other way to amuse myself while you get your rest.”
Ferdinand shakes his head. “Enough of that,” he says. He leans in and presses his mouth against the edge of Hubert’s jaw. “Please stay there with me.”
Hubert lets out a shuddery breath and wets his suddenly dry lips. “All right.”
It is not a long walk to Ferdinand’s bedroom, but Hubert feels every footstep as he walks down the hall. The room is surprisingly modest, no ostentatious monster of a bed as he’d once insinuated. It is, however, comfortable-looking and thankfully larger than the beds they were subjected to at the monastery and will accommodate them both with ease. This is a bed made for two; Hubert wonders if Ferdinand was ever as lonely in his as Hubert often is in his own.
Hubert watches as Ferdinand sits to pull off his overcoat and boots, looking comfortable and unconstrained in the loose shirt and soft black trousers he’d worn home from the infirmary. It is such a change from his usual ornate tailoring that Hubert wonders for the first time if those are meant as a kind of armor. Perhaps this is the true Ferdinand, one that very few get to see; if so, it is an honor that Hubert is included in that number.
“Go on,” Ferdinand says as Hubert stands in the middle of the room, feeling at a loss. “I confess, I will make many concessions for you, but I draw the line at your dirty boots in my bed. And for your own comfort, I recommend taking off your jacket as well.”
“Yes,” Hubert says, clearing his throat. “Of course.” He unbuttons his jacket slowly, watching Ferdinand watch him. As Hubert shrugs it off and folds it over a chair, Ferdinand removes his own gloves, unbuttoning the bottom and slipping them off by each finger, tugging one after the other until Ferdinand’s hands are bare. Hubert sits on the chair his jacket occupies and loosens the laces on his boots, pulling them off and dropping them to Ferdinand’s floor with a thump-thump while Ferdinand rolls his shirtsleeves to the elbow, exposing his forearms. He stalks over to Hubert as he does so; Hubert has seen a lot of prey animals, but has never considered himself one before. It seems as though he may need to reconsider, a shiver running down his spine.
“These have to go,” Ferdinand says, rolling Hubert’s gloves off for him, and he is already shuddering when Ferdinand skims his fingertips along the backs of Hubert’s hands.
There are very few things Hubert considers himself inexperienced with, but has to admit this is one of them. Ferdinand lifts up on his toes, bringing them to nearly the same height, and kisses him again. One of these times, Hubert will need to do that first; for now, though, he lets his eyes shut as he wraps his arms around Ferdinand, allowed to do that without fear of interruption. Chest-to-chest, he can feel Ferdinand’s warmth seeping through his thin shirt and he lets himself relax at the thought of Ferdinand so human and alive. It is only because he feels Ferdinand sagging in his arms that he decides to break the kiss, though the loss of Ferdinand’s mouth is nearly unbearable. But Hubert manages, turning down the bedding and helping Ferdinand slip between the cool sheets.
“You, too,” Ferdinand says, clutching at Hubert’s wrist.
“Of course,” Hubert says, biting back his nervousness. He lies down next to Ferdinand, who pulls the covers over them as he maneuvers Hubert into lying on his side so he might curl up behind him. “Demanding, aren’t you?” he asks over his shoulder as Ferdinand sneaks his arm around Hubert’s waist. His grumbling does not stop him from placing his own hand over Ferdinand’s.
“You don’t know the half of it,” Ferdinand murmurs, and Hubert laughs. He then sighs as Ferdinand slides closer, fitting them tightly together. Like this, they are puzzle pieces, designed to slot together, senseless without the other half. The feeling of Ferdinand’s mouth against the back of Hubert’s neck draws a gasp out of him, melting into a sigh as he tilts his head forward and Ferdinand does it again.
Hubert closes his eyes as Ferdinand’s hand begins to wander, along his arm, down his chest, across his stomach before dancing just above Hubert’s waistband. The stirring beneath it tells Hubert his own feelings about the matter, but still, he worries about Ferdinand. He clears his throat.
“Is this all right?” he asks. “Are you—?”
“It’s fine. I’m fine. We should stop if I feel any strain, and I promise to let you know if that is the case,” Ferdinand assures him. He pauses for a moment and Hubert senses the hesitance in it. “I asked before you arrived this morning.”
Hubert has to lift his hand to his face to stifle a laugh, picturing Ferdinand’s eagerness in the face of Manuela’s exasperation. Oh well. It’s nothing she didn’t suspect of them anyway.
“Do not laugh, Hubert!” Ferdinand says. Hubert expects a swat to his side, but instead gets a vicious bite to the side of his neck instead; Hubert gasps and arches his back, but it is not out of displeasure. Ah. That’s interesting.
Ferdinand continues his exploration, soothing the bite with his tongue as his hand runs the length of Hubert’s chest and stomach again. His breathing quickens when Ferdinand tugs his shirt loose so he might press his warm, broad palm directly to Hubert’s skin. It’s so quiet in Ferdinand’s bedroom that their breathing stands out, which means the moan Hubert makes when Ferdinand scrapes a fingernail across his nipple echoes loudly — too loudly to his own ears, a thought quickly forgotten when Ferdinand does it again, then again, seemingly fascinated with the noises he can get Hubert to make.
“I did not think you would be so receptive,” Ferdinand murmurs into Hubert’s shoulder, his clever fingers traveling lower again. “I must confess my experience in this area is rather limited,” he says, and surprise washes over Hubert at those words. They will be fumbling toward ecstasy together, it seems, a lovely thought. “I wonder how receptive I will be,” Ferdinand adds, his hips fitting snug against Hubert’s backside, the evidence of his arousal evident in his actions.
“It seems fairly so,” Hubert says, able to form words again for the moment, a skill nearly lost when Ferdinand’s knuckles brush against the front of his trousers. He lets out a choked moan as Ferdinand grips him through the fabric, coaxing him into more feeling when he was already feeling quite a lot. “Ferdinand,” he groans, pressing his face into the pillow, “I want to see you. Please let me touch you.”
“Well, since you asked so nicely,” Ferdinand says, sounding more affected than his words might indicate, “I suppose I cannot deny your request.”
Hubert nearly hurts himself in his hurry to roll over, throwing the covers aside and ending any attempt at propriety. Their mouths meet before Hubert has changed position with their kissing now desperate, messy, as Ferdinand’s tongue plunders his mouth. Hubert welcomes it gladly, their hands tugging at their shirts and running through each other’s hair. Hubert hooks one leg over Ferdinand’s hip and they both cry out as they rut together; it is simply indescribable how this feels. It’s nothing like the dark, lonely nights when Hubert does this for himself, desperate to take off the edge as quickly as possible, a futile attempt at driving thoughts of Ferdinand from his head for even a moment. This, he wants to go on and on forever, even knowing that it’s unlikely he’ll last.
Ferdinand’s hands are the quicker ones again, pushing between their bodies to pull open Hubert’s trousers and draw him out; he breaks their kiss to look down between them. Any embarrassment Hubert feels is overridden by the air Ferdinand sucks between his teeth as he wraps his hand around Hubert’s cock. “Lovely,” Ferdinand breathes; it seems Hubert isn’t the only one at a loss for words.
It only takes a few strokes to realize if Ferdinand keeps this up, this will end far too quickly. He leans in to take Ferdinand’s bottom lip between his teeth, dragging a moan and a jolt from Ferdinand as he bites down. “Slow down, sweetheart,” Hubert says, making Ferdinand huff out a breath at the term of endearment. Another note to make. “I wish to see you, too, and your hands are very talented.”
“All that lance work,” Ferdinand says and Hubert laughs, pressing their foreheads together. Those talented hands leave Hubert to begin undoing the laces on his soft trousers. “There is some oil in the drawer nearest you. It may help to ease the way.”
Hubert inhales sharply as his mind supplies the image of Ferdinand alone in this very bed easing the way, and he turns away both to do as Ferdinand says and to hide the sudden heat that floods his face. When he returns, vial in hand and open, Ferdinand has pushed his trousers off, exposing his glorious thighs and what is in between, and Hubert’s mouth actually waters at the sight.
There is no time wasted then, Hubert pours out a generous handful and tosses the oil aside again. Ferdinand shifts close so they might press together, and it is with joined hands, slick around both of their cocks, that they begin to move. It is slow and light at first, teasing, testing, slowly ramping up to a stronger grip and an increased pace. The friction is unlike anything Hubert has ever experienced alone, Ferdinand’s mouth finding Hubert’s so they can share breath, their hips moving and knees knocking as their kisses melt into helpless open mouths.
Ferdinand is beautiful like this — cheeks pink, forehead sweaty, eyes bright and elated. The sounds he makes — every sigh, every moan, every sweet exhale of Hubert’s name — are the most beautiful aria to ever grace Hubert’s ears. If Hubert is permitted, he will have Ferdinand like this every day, and that thought makes his belly tighten, a warning for the taut coil that is about to unravel.
Just as he is about to say so, Ferdinand lets out a long moan as his hips stutter forward. “Oh, Hubert, I’m—”
“So am I,” Hubert interrupts, gritting out the words between his teeth.
“Ah,” Ferdinand says. “Together then.”
Their mouths find one another again, and it is with that, Hubert comes undone, spending all over their joined hands at the same moment as Ferdinand.
Later, after Hubert has cleaned them both up and Ferdinand has lost his shirt, Hubert manages to distract himself from Ferdinand’s everything by examining the wound at his side.
It is long, an angry red and jagged; it stands out less than Hubert might have guessed. There are scars from the war, faded and smaller, all along Ferdinand’s torso, but Hubert still resents the new addition. He channels that into kissing along its length, reclaiming that spot for himself, until Ferdinand squirms and protests.
“Hubert, you can’t keep that up indefinitely. I’m still recovering and not yet ready for another round, as much as some parts of my body might think otherwise.”
Hubert smirks but he lets go of Ferdinand’s hips. Later, he will let Ferdinand lie back while Hubert does all the work, but for now, he pulls the bedding up over them and rests his head against Ferdinand’s firm chest. He even allows it as Ferdinand’s fingers thread through his hair, digging into his scalp. The path here was not the ideal one, but still, he cannot hate that they are now here.
The next morning, Hubert wakes in Ferdinand’s bed, alone, but the spot next to him is still warm. The sun is streaming through the windows and he wants to groan and cover his head with Ferdinand's pillow again. Hubert is not a morning person, as much as necessity makes it so he must be. He blinks blearily and sits up, running a hand through his bedhead as a delicious scent wafts into the room.
His mind lights up with recognition at the aroma and the promise of caffeine, and even if new muscles ache and he wants to sink into the mattress, he cannot resist that. He climbs out of bed and back into his rumpled clothes, wincing at the wrinkled state of them. Ah, he thinks, smiling to himself, at least it was for a good cause.
He stumbles to the kitchen, finding Ferdinand awake and whistling and, unfortunately, dressed.
Hubert blinks. “Weren’t you just stabbed?”
“Yes,” Ferdinand says, shoving a cup of coffee underneath Hubert’s nose, “but I feel so much better today. I am in my own home, and you are here with me. How can I be mad at my injury when it brought you to me?”
“Because you were stabbed,” Hubert says dryly.
Ferdinand laughs, somehow even more delighted.
“Please be mad, you smiley weirdo,” Hubert says. He takes a big gulp of his coffee, nearly groaning from it, then places the cup on Ferdinand’s counter so he can wrap his arms around Ferdinand’s middle. Ferdinand turns around and loops his arms around Hubert’s neck.
“I will be mad if you promise to kiss me,” Ferdinand says, tilting up his chin.
And Hubert can’t resist that.