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Even the imperial palace in Enbarr is quiet at three in the morning; the staff are not yet up to begin the day's baking, the horses in their stables are all asleep, and the only ones about are the guards. Three is in between shifts, so even they are mostly motionless at their posts, making occasional circles of their rounds on routes that shift every week.

Ferdinand knows this week's pattern, but ignores that knowledge - he does not mind if it is known he is headed to the baths alone. He has been hammering out the finer details of a trade deal to bring the empire closer to Almyra for the better part of eight hours, unable to rest, and after such a long day feels grimy and wants only to relax for a while.

Sleep will not find him for some time yet. He knows this, feels it as an ache in his bones and a dryness in his eyes.

As expected, the baths are empty, lit by one half-dead torch. He draws some water for himself in a bucket, then undresses, sitting on a low wooden stool as he scrubs himself clean before entering the water for a long soak. An old spring, deep below the city, feeds the palace's baths. It is not the only such bath in the city - they are blessed with an abundance of springs, much to the benefit of the public health. Visitors travel from far and wide to luxuriate in Enbarr's hot springs.

Ferdinand had missed the springs, during the war. He is glad he can make use of them whenver he likes now that their battles are done.

Only - he has one foot in the water when he hears a sound. He whirls, grabbing a bucket for want of a better weapon; a dark figure slides through the shadows. Ferdinand stands frozen, something staying his hand.

There is a familiar hum in the air - the after-effects of a long distance warp, bending the air strangely. The hair on Ferdinand's arms stands up.

"Oh, Hubert," he says, softly; for it is indeed Hubert, his dark clothing stained even darker, the smell of blood heavy in the air.

Hubert's eye gleams in the darkness when he catches sight of Ferdinand, catching the light the same way a crocodile's might. Hubert's shoulders slump. "I did not expect anyone to be here."

"My apologies," Ferdinand says pointlessly. He is not really sorry, but manners call for it. "Nor did I."

Hubert looks ready to skulk off, so Ferdinand catches him by the arm. His coat feels damp and somewhat sticky. Blood, then, as Ferdinand suspected. He wipes it off on the towel he has loosely tied around his waist.

"Are you alright?"

Hubert nods, just the once. There is something unsteady about the motion. Something unsteady about Hubert altogether, in fact; he seems weary, and reeks of dark magic. Ferdinand examines his face, then shakes his head.

"No, no, this will not do. Here." Ferdinand lifts his hands to the buckles on Hubert's coat first, undoing them as if he has practiced doing so before. He has, though not outside his dreams. He has spent enough time studying the garment that he knows its construction and just the way to unfasten the straps and buckles and buttons to get Hubert out of it. He is pleased to see his assessments have served him so well, and smiles to himself.

"What are you doing?"

"You need a bath, the same as I," Ferdinand tells him sternly. "I saw you ready to flee, and I will not allow it. You simply must stay."

"I can undress myself, I assure you," Hubert says, batting Ferdinand's hands away. His own hands are trembling as he undoes the last button. He fumbles, and the button snaps off entirely. He casts his gaze downward. "I - you have disconcerted me. I really do assure you that I can -"

"Make all the assurances and promises that you like," Ferdinand decides, "but I am not going to allow it. No, you will let me tend to you, and that is that."

With the coat removed, things are easier - Hubert's shirt is the same as anyone's, and though the buttons are small, Ferdinand is alert now, more than he has been all day. He disposes of them quickly, and helps Hubert out of his shirt.

Hubert must be exhausted, to allow this with so little fuss. There's a vague glow to his eyes, and the air around him has the quality of the air just before a storm. He has been doing quite a bit of dark magic, then. Possibly the most he's done since the war. (Ferdinand remembers Hubert during the war, the way he radiated wickedness, the way his magic wrapped around him like a cloak or a second skin, a tough impenetrable hide separating him from the world.)

The residual magic awakens something in Ferdinand's blood, like the activation of his crest but not - something pulling him in, blood and magic calling out to each other, or just Ferdinand craving closeness all on his own without any need for metaphor or overthinking. Still: this is hardly the time for such thoughts. Hubert is in need, and Ferdinand will provide. Maybe their needs will align; maybe not. Ferdinand has spent years prioritizing others above himself - he will not stop now.

Hubert is so unflinchingly selfless that Ferdinand wants to return that devotion, visibly mirror it - show Hubert that someone appreciates all his efforts. (He is sure Edelgard appreciates Hubert, of course, but he cannot imagine her in his place, in this moment, pulling Hubert's bloodied shirt from his body. Hubert would never allow that from her. Ferdinand, though. The two of them are on equal footing, peers, so it is not so foreign or unnatural for Ferdinand to provide for him in this way.)

He folds Hubert's shirt neatly - certain it will need to be thoroughly laundered or else destroyed, but knowing well enough that Hubert wouldn't like it thrown roughly aside - and then kneels down to pull off Hubert's boots, quick and efficient about it. Hubert's socks follow, then - Ferdinand nearly hesitates at the removal of his pants, but he has managed everything admirably so far.

He ducks his head, biting his lip as he undoes the buttons of Hubert's trousers. His hair falls in front of his face in such a way that he hopes it will hide his expression. Though he keeps telling himself his intentions are selfless, it sends something thrilling through him, that same crestlike longing in his blood.

Hubert is so very quiet, staring off somewhere else and only moving when necessary. Ferdinand has seen him like this after battles. He wonders where Hubert went alone that drained him so, but knows not to ask.

One last thing, then, after the coat and shirt and boots and trousers. Hubert's gloves. Ferdinand takes one of Hubert's hands in his, very gentle. Hubert startles, finally, drawn back from wherever his mind has wandered to. He stares down at Ferdinand, who kneels before him, both of them pale and naked in the humidity of the torchlit room. Tonight he wears black leather gloves, instead of the usual white cloth. The leather is smooth and soft to the touch. Ferdinand presses his tongue to the roof of his mouth, inhaling through his teeth. He has dedicated more than a few nights thinking about these same gloves - or ones very like them - against his skin, though in a different context entirely. He closes his eyes for a moment, taking a deep breath in, then out, to steady himself, banishing the thought.

"You can leave them on if you would like, I suppose," Ferdinand says, a gentle touch of teasing in his tone. "But I do not think it would be pleasant. You would get blood in the water, not to mention ruining the leather."

"And it's such a nuisance to clean the baths, I know," Hubert says, rolling his eyes, shoulders relaxing. "I have been scolded by the same workers you have, I'm sure."

"I would scold them right back, if it's - if you aren't willing to take them off."

"No, no, it's fine," Hubert says. He makes no move to remove his gloves himself. So: Ferdinand tugs the first one off himself, gentle and slow, easing each finger off carefully.

Even with the gloves, the branching paths of scars spidering up Hubert's arms are visible, his veins bruised, skin mottled by magic. Underneath, though - Hubert's hands are blackened, like he got in an argument with a particularly belligerent squid. The skin is dry and too-thin, with raised welts snaking across the backs of his hands; his knuckles look raw, cracked open, but the fluid that leaks out is a sticky black instead of the familiar red of blood.

The strange smell of dark magic hovers around Hubert - something slick that clings to the nostrils and the back of the throat, and otherworldly sweetness marred by the charred ozone of a tree struck by lightning and a coppery smell so strong it always makes Ferdinand worry his nose is bleeding. He has always found himself taken by that smell - even in their Academy days, it stirred something in him, though in those days he mistakenly assumed the feeling was anger. Thankfully he has gained some measure of self awareness - and self control - in the years since.

Still. Ferdinand cannot help himself. He already has Hubert's hand in his own; he draws that hand near to him, ghosting his lips above it, not quite touching.

Hubert lets out a tremulous breath. His voice, already rough, is coarser now. "Don't taunt me."

"I do no such thing," Ferdinand says. He kisses one bloody knuckle, and the next. The taste is - not quite like blood, exactly. There's something bitter and strange underpinning it that makes his mouth feel numb. He rubs his thumb against Hubert's wrist. Hubert does not pull away, though he does tremble. Emboldened, Ferdinand allows himself to pull Hubert's thumb into his mouth, careful with his teeth even as he lets hit tongue taste the charred-looking flesh. The taste of it blooms in his mouth like oil, coating his tongue with a sharp taste that's difficult to pin down - sweet and charred and strange, an unearthly combination like Hubert is bleeding magic itself. He withdraws only slightly, reluctant to give up that taste but knowing he is very close to overstepping whatever boundaries remain, and looks up at Hubert through his eyelashes.

"You ..."

Ferdinand presses one last kiss to the back of his hand before dropping it; Hubert lets it fall, limply, to his side. Ferdinand pulls off the other glove with far less circumstance. "I assure you. That was not my intent."

"Then what was your intent?"

Ferdinand shrugs, and rises to get more water and a clean sponge. He pulls up a stool behind Hubert. First, though: "Here, let me wash you. Then we can take our bath."

"That's not an answer."

"I suppose not," Ferdinand agrees. He does not speak more before wetting the sponge and washing Hubert's shoulders. Hubert goes tense, at first, at the touch, then relaxes again. Hubert hangs his head low, breath slowing. His back, at least, is unbloodied. His shoulderblades, daggerlike, jut out against his thin skin. Ferdinand can feel each vertebra of his spine through the sponge. Water drips down Hubert's back. Ferdinand licks his lips.

It feels - good, in a selfish way, to be able to care for Hubert so. To know he can be relied upon to do this. His motives are pure, inasmuch as he wants what's best for Hubert; less so, as far as what he wants for himself. But Ferdinand can control himself, and he does, even as he memorizes the way it feels to explore the contours of Hubert's body for future reference.

Under Ferdinand's touch, Hubert is so pliant. He has imagined a lot of things about Hubert in the past, but never this. That makes it all the more dear, somehow; the way Ferdinand nudges at Hubert's arm and Hubert merely holds it out for him to clean, how he repeats the gesture for the other side as well.

"Hubert," Ferdinand asks, very quietly. "I know that you have to keep your secrets. But tell me - are you all right, truly? Whatever it is you are doing. It is taking a toll."

"It is, but it needs to be done, and there is no one better suited to the task," Hubert says, calm and polite as ever. "Don't worry yourself over me. My duty comes before all else."

"I will worry myself over whoever I please," Ferdinand scolds. "Especially you! I know you do not think yourself particularly important, but you must believe me when I say that, to me, you are one of the most important people there is. And I do not mean that because of your service to the empire."

"Ah, this again."

"Turn around," Ferdinand says, nudging at Hubert's side. Hubert, ever the loyal servant, obeys. Ferdinand wrings the sponge out before dipping it in the bucket again. He touches a hand to Hubert's chin, tilting his face upward. Hubert looks so vulnerable; tired, drained. Like he has nothing left. Ferdinand has never seen him quite like this. Sometimes, Hubert will disappear for days at a time, and Ferdinand has to wonder how many of his trips have been extended by Hubert working himself until he can't work anymore - how many times when he thought Hubert was gone when Hubert was simply in hiding, licking his wounds.

He wonders how long it would have taken for Hubert to clean himself up, had Ferdinand not intervened - if he'd have been perfunctory about it, already done, or if he would have trudged through it, barely managing to undress himself without assistance. To think, Hubert works himself so hard and with so little recognition or support. Ferdinand feels miserable thinking about it.

Then Hubert chuckles. "Am I that awful to look at?"

"What?"

"The look on your face."

"Ah," Ferdinand says, trying to school his expression out of whatever it's become, to a practiced, neutral smile. "Not at all. It is only that - oh, sometimes, I look at you, and I fear that ... that you will destroy yourself utterly, in service to the empire. Of course, that is your duty; it is mine as well, should it be required. But I find myself wishing it were not. Not that I would betray that duty, only that I ... I wish you had an easier path to walk."

"Who would I be, if my path had been easy? Someone else entirely." Hubert shakes his head.

Ferdinand pushes Hubert's bangs back and washes his face, gently, carefully. There is a trickle of grey-black blood - or something like it - from his nose, and caked at the edge of his mouth. Ferdinand is gentle wiping it away. He watches the way Hubert's eyelashes flutter shut, the way Hubert's lips press closed when Ferdinand wipes the sponge across the lower half of his face. He's gotten rid of most of the dirt and blood, but a stubborn bit of red remains just under Hubert's left eye, so Ferdinand rubs it clean with his callused thumb. At that touch, Hubert's lips part slightly.

"I would not have you any other way, I suppose," Ferdinand says. "And still I find myself burdened with such foolish thoughts."

Hubert is trembling under his touch as Ferdinand washes him clean, as he pays careful attention to his throat - bruised - and the juncture of his neck and shoulder, which is spattered with someone else's blood.

"May I continue?" Ferdinand asks.

"Yes."

So, despite the trembling, Ferdinand does; cleans the flat panes of Hubert's chest, the jut of his ribs, his hollow stomach. It's not that Hubert is weak - no, he has trained himself well enough, especially for a mage, and there's lean muscle on him. Just that his exhaustion has caught up to him and his magic has drained him and he seems emptier than usual, somehow. Ferdinand's touch can at least bring some color to his cheeks to prove he's alive. He keeps his touch gentle, lest he snap Hubert in two.

The occasional sharp intake of breath or slight sigh are gratifying to hear, too; Ferdinand will not lie and say they do not move something in him. He can feel his own arousal stirring, but he will wait as long as he needs to.

Even washed clean, Hubert reeks of dark magic. Ferdinand licks his lips. He can almost taste the scent, oozing through him, and he swallows hard. He realizes, as he washes Hubert's left leg, that Hubert is staring at him. Or - at his half-hard cock, rather. Ferdinand feels his face flush, and he shrugs apologetically, with a lopsided smile. "I apologize. If you are uncomfortable -"

"No," Hubert says. "No, it's quite alright."

"I see." Ferdinand is not sure what to do with that, so he simply nods, and carries on.

"Ferdinand," Hubert says, when Ferdinand is finished - as Ferdinand rises, and offers a hand to help him to his feet.

Hubert does not often say his name. The sound of it on his lips, in that tone - Ferdinand cannot help that his body reacts. "Yes?"

"Would that I could offer you more," Hubert says. He sounds so, so tired. He takes Ferdinand's hand, standing upright. They are very close. "Tonight, I have nothing."

"Well." Ferdinand closes his eyes, worrying at his lower lip with his teeth. "Do not worry yourself over that. You have given enough of yourself away. I would not ask for anything you were not able to provide. If you will only let me give you what I can."

"It seems selfish of me."

"Not at all," Ferdinand assures him, leading him to the bath. The hot spring is channeled up into a tiled bath, the water always warm without any additional work for those who maintain this place. He offers his arm, helping Hubert step into the bath, and then pauses for a moment to tie his hair up in a loose bun before slipping into the water himself.

The natural minerals of the spring relax him immediately, as does the soothing warmth. He sinks down to his neck, his hands on his knees under the water, and sighs contentedly. He had planned to be in the water a long time ago, but other things took precedence. It's pleasant to finally relax, even if he is simultaneously ignoring his own arousal.

So he's been turned down. Fine, then. He had thought Hubert had already accepted his feelings when they exchanged gifts those months ago, that their regular meetings for tea were done with a certain intention. If he was wrong - well. He will survive this. He survived his father being deposed, survived loss of his family's wealth and status. He survived a war and has kept surviving after the deaths of so many people he once counted as friends. He has always found a way to push forward with optimism and surety.

He can survive wanting Hubert without Hubert wanting him in return.

He closes his eyes, enjoying the silence of the baths late at night. The only sounds he can hear are his and Hubert's breathing and the bathing of his own heart, and the occasional ripple of water as one or the other of them shifts ever-so-slightly.

"Ferdinand," Hubert says again after a long time. And then he is very close indeed, and Ferdinand feels a momentary flash of anger at being taunted so that nearly boils over when Hubert, ever-so-tentatively, with his damaged, broken hands, touches Ferdinand's cheek - but he opens his eyes again and looks at Hubert, at the softness of his expression, and any anger dies away. "I have realized that it sounded like I was ... as if I did not return your interest, when what I meant was that - it is only tonight that I cannot offer you anything, not - not forever. I would like to. When I am rested."

"Ah," Ferdinand says.

"I ... I do appreciate it. Knowing that I am wanted, despite ... this." He holds up his hands, and Ferdinand already misses the touch of fingers to cheek. "Despite my bloody work."

"Oh. Oh, it is not despite your work," Ferdinand says, leaning forward, rising somewhat out of the water as he puts his hands on Hubert's shoulders. He stares at him, wide-eyed, yearning to make himself understood. "It is exactly because of it. Not that I relish what you do, or that I am glad you have to do it, but - even so. You are skilled and capable and you are willing to sacrifice yourself for your ideals and those of Lady Edelgard's, and that is. Impressive. To me. Your devotion to others, your - you are quite noble, though I doubt you would describe yourself as such, and it is - it is very attractive. You are very attractive. To me. Of course I want you."

"Oh, of course," Hubert says, laughing, seeming taken aback at the barrage of compliments. "Yes, of course, who wouldn't long for a man willing to ruin himself with dark magic? A man willing to set aside anything society deems just or moral in pursuit of his emperor's goals?"

"Hush, hush," Ferdinand says, hands rising from Hubert's shoulders, up his neck, to the sides of his face. "Have I not just said that I admire those very traits? I know that you are, ah. Not inerested, tonight, but - may I kiss you anyway?"

Hubert chuckles again before his expression shifts to a sort of bewildered awe, and he says, "Well, I - yes, alright."

"Thank you," Ferdinand says, and so he does, kissing Hubert as tenderly and gently as he can - trying to convey his sentiments physically, as well as with his fumbling words from before. And Hubert, though unmoving for a moment, soon returns it.

While Hubert's exhaustion is clear, so is his careful nature, and a tenderness that Ferdinand would never have expected him capable of when they first met. He is so careful, his hands hovering near Ferdinand but never quite touching, as if he fears sullying Ferdinand with his touch. If only he knew that Ferdinand is more than capable - more than willing, more than wanting - of absorbing that darkness. If Hubert exists as the emperor's blade in the dark, then Ferdinand will serve as a whetstone. If Hubert is a shadow, Ferdinand will be a candle to guide him back to the waking world.

They don't open their mouths to each other, but Ferdinand finds himself breathless. He rests his head against Hubert's shoulder for a moment, before remembering himself; it would not do to be a burden on Hubert, tonight of all nights.

"Thank you," he repeats, kissing the corner of Hubert's mouth - and then, because he cannot restrain himself, he kisses Hubert's nose, his cheek, his eyelids, every touch brief and quickly gone. "Hubert, thank you. For everything, not just this. I imagine you are not thanked very often."

"I don't expect to be, for what I do."

"Still," Ferdinand says, kissing his forehead. "Still, even so. I thank you."

Hubert sits down next to Ferdinand, and Ferdinand, reassured and daring, wraps an arm around his waist, supporting him. Lets Hubert rest against him. They are both quiet for a long time, soaking in the waters. There are stories that claim they have restorative properties, and though Ferdinand does not know if these claims have any merit, he does always feel better after a good bath. Better still, knowing that it's brought Hubert some peace and assurance.

Eventually, he feels Hubert start to fall asleep, and - regretfully - wakes him instead, and despite Hubert's protests he cannot be stayed from his goal of helping Hubert dress again, nor from escorting Hubert to his rooms. He leaves him there, though he is loathe to do so.

The trip to his own room feels longer than usual, but Ferdinand's heart is full, and he nearly runs into a few early-rising servants because he's so distracted. The faint grey light of dawn has begun to creep through the windows, and though it is nearly morning Ferdinand does not feel tired anymore at all. He'll regret it by afternoon, he's sure, this lack of sleep, but for now - for now, he feels aglow. Would that Lorenz were here in Enbarr, for Ferdinand would demand the other noble help him write poetry about this moment. He will have to make do alone, or pen a letter.

One or the other. He stops in his study, lighting the candles, and sits down to write.

-

Ferdinand does not see Hubert for two days, but, considering the toll his work has taken on him, he does not expect to. Hubert has vanished like this in the past, only to reappear; Ferdinand wonders how many times those disappearances were for work, and how many for overwork and the recovery time required afterward.

Part of him wants to go to Hubert's rooms and fuss over him, but he does not want to push, either, nor distract Hubert from his rest - which, hopefully, is what Hubert is doing. (Ferdinand fears that even now, Hubert is probably plotting and planning and working himself ragged while suffering the aftereffects of whatever vast and incomprehensible spellwork he'd done to wreck himself so. But. He refrains. He does send some pastries from his favorite baker in all of Enbarr, though.)

On the third day, Hubert appears at the morning meeting with Edelgard as if nothing has changed. Ferdinand smiles at him, and Hubert smiles back. Normal.

Something in Ferdinand's heart sinks. His heart still yearns, his blood still cries out for nearness, but he fears that maybe it was exhaustion that compelled Hubert to kiss him in return and that he had been too bold, too forward. He tries to be forthright and earnest and honest in all his dealings with other people, but maybe Hubert needed more time or a more indirect approach. Maybe he misinterpreted, somehow, or had come on too strong and scared Hubert off.

They have a meeting, though, and there are important matters to discuss, and Ferdinand has to shake off the pall of his thoughts and throw himself headlong into the work of being Prime Minister and assisting Edelgard in keeping the unified Fodlan unified.

After the meeting, Ferdinand lingers uncertainly until Edelgard shoos him away, though Hubert remains. Ferdinand goes to the stables - not just to visit his horses, but because he does have actual business there, talking to the stablehands about the week's training schedules for the mounts and for the cavalry that remain under Ferdinand's command in peacetime.

He is halfway there when he realizes someone is following him.

Hubert falls into step beside him. His shoulders are stiff, his hands clasped together behind his back. He seems - nervous, somehow, in a way that charms Ferdinand rather than worrying him. Other than the nerves, he looks much improved from a few nights ago - his eyes less sunken, skin less sallow. "Here you are. Would you do me the honor of joining me for dinner tonight, if you're not already engaged?"

"I am not, and I'd be glad to," Ferdinand says, grinning brightly.

Hubert nods, and warps away. Ferdinand starts, looking at the empty space, then shakes his head and laughs.

-

After dinner, Hubert makes some excuse to invite Ferdinand to his chambers; Ferdinand immediately forgets what the pretense was when they arrive, because Hubert pins him to the door and kisses him, and oh, he looks so much more alive now. Hubert is not precisely energetic at the best of times, but he is so much more vital now than that night in the baths.

There is a predatory tinge to Hubert's motions, and Ferdinand is willing to be the prey. Their tongues meet; their teeth scrape and nip at each others' lips. Both of them are desperate; both of them are eager. Ferdinand feels rather as if he's stumbled across a tile that has transported him somewhere else entirely. For all his confidence, he had worried that perhaps Hubert would change his mind, yet here they are, and Hubert is making it very clear that his mind is settled.

Hubert fists a hand in Ferdinand's hair, and Ferdinand stifles a groan. At the sound, Hubert tightens his grip, and Ferdinand cannot quite muffle himself this time. He finds he quite likes being pressed against the wall with Hubert looming over him and pulling at his hair.

Ferdinand lifts his hands, not quite sure where he wants to touch first - Hubert's chest, his sides, his back. He lets his hands wander aimlessly, then thinks better of it, going to remove Hubert's coat once more. He feels somehow less practiced, the second time around, his thoughts more inward-focused and distracting him, and can't figure out where to start.

So - he takes a deep breath and recenters himself. His chest rises and falls heavily. Hubert watches him, lips scant centimeters from Ferdinand's own.

"This is all right, I trust?"

"Yes, yes, of course," Ferdinand says, laughing, because it is not what Hubert meant but he is still gratified by the accidental reminder that Hubert trusts him - him, a von Aegir, of all people! - and somehow this is what has become of their old rivalry. He wonders how his past self would react, if Ferdinand could go back to tell himself the future. How much worse his fixation with Hubert would have been if he'd known how lovely it was to have Hubert pull at his hair.

Here, then, is what he does: he unbuckles the straps at Hubert's shoulder. He undoes each button on his coat. He tugs at it, and Hubert goes along with it, letting Ferdinand help slip it off.

"To think, I've already undressed you once before," Ferdinand says, voice low, amused with himself. "What a strange courtship."

"You know I admire unusual strategies, on and off the battlefield," Hubert says. And, oh, he tugs at Ferdinand's cravat, guiding him through the study. He walks backwards but does not have to glance over his shoulder even once, the room's layout perfectly memorized. Ferdinand follows along, transfixed.

They go from the study to Hubert's private chambers, and Hubert unknots the cravat, setting it aside on an old walnut dresser whose surface is covered with carvings of curving vines and leaves and hunting hounds. Such an elaborate piece, not Hubert's style at all, has probably been here for decades at least, handed down through the Vestra line. Ferdinand's wandering attention is quickly drawn back as Hubert starts to undo Ferdinand's buttons.

Pleasant as it was to take care of Hubert in the baths, it is just as pleasant to have his attention returned, and for this reason. "Here, allow me," Ferdinand says, though, pulling his shirt off himself, a little too flustered under the attention. Hubert smirks at him.

It is only a few more steps to Hubert's bed, and Hubert backs into it, and Ferdinand climbs atop him, pushing him down. He finds a certain pleasure in the viewpoint, looking down on Hubert as he so rarely gets to, with Hubert looking up at him in anticipation. Ferdinand is eager to at least meet Hubert's expectations, if not exceed them. He laughs, under his breath, still astonished that this is happening at all, then bends down to capture Hubert's mouth in another kiss.

If he settles himself over Hubert just so, he can feel Hubert's erection against his own, through the layers of fabric - and how foolish they were to leave their trousers on, what absolute fools. Ferdinand lets one hand sink further into the mattress, bearing more weight on his left side as he hovers over Ferdinand, undoing his trousers one-handed then trying to shove them off. He gets them halfway off one leg, then tries to push the other down as well, and ends up with his face mashed against Hubert's chest for a moment before he loses his balance entirely and falls over onto his side. The straw mattress crunches loudly under his weight.

"What are you doing?" Hubert asks, his laughter unrestrained again. How rare to get such delight from him. And yet - how lovely to have Hubert rolled over onto his side, watching as Ferdinand struggles out of his trousers. (His arms are greyed all the way to the elbows, with traces of scarring running all the way up to his shoulders. It had been hard to see the full extent of it in the dim torchlight of the baths, but in his room, better lit, it's clear how much of a toll dark magic has taken on Hubert over the years. The way it stains his skin has faded somewhat in the intervening days, but Ferdinand thinks there will always be traces of it, scarring that will never quite abate.)

"I made a tactical error," Ferdinand says with a sigh. At least the offending garment is removed. He kicks it to the end of the bed, then squints as he watches his pants slowly fall off the edge. He can't help but snort, and then, at the undignified noise, laughs at himself.

"You absolute disaster of a man." Ferdinand does not think he has ever heard Hubert sound quite so fond of anything before. "How do you stay on a moving horse if you cannot even take off your own pants without falling over?"

"I am usually standing when I remove them." Never in his life has Ferdinand tried to take his pants off while hunched over someone on all fours, let alone the awkward lean he'd forced himself into. There have been times he's fallen into bed and only pushed his clothes off later, lying on his back and raising his hips, but that has always been a lot easier than tonight's maneuver. "Listen, are you going to keep mocking me, or are you going to let me touch you?"

"I'd thought I would touch you, honestly, since you were so eager to undress," Hubert says, and does just that, reaching between them, taking hold of Ferdinand's cock and earning a startled gasp in the process.

"Really, I insist -"

"Do you," Hubert says, sliding his hand along Ferdinand, rubbing his thumb against the head. "Really."

With a huff, Ferdinand says, "Fine, fine, if you must."

"I must." His hands are rough and dry and the friction, as he slides the one up and down Ferdinand's cock, stroking his side with the other, has Ferdinand biting his lip and leaning in closer again. His hip digs into the mattress as he leans in. His knees knock against Hubert's, and he lets his forehead press against Hubert's, closing his eyes. Initially his plan had been to kiss Hubert, maybe, but he is content just to be this bit closer and to let Hubert pull him off.

Though he does take some initiative - he reaches down, pawing distractedly at Hubert through his pants, pleased to hear Hubert curse under his breath. Ferdinand squints one eye open, not sure when he shut them, and grins at Hubert, whose returning glance is wry.

No one else has ever touched Ferdinand before, and the difference from how he would do it is overwhelming. The lack of control, the inability to control or change the pace, means he has to give himself over entirely to Hubert's whims. Fortunately, Hubert has a good instinct for it - how he's deciding when to quick his pace or tighten his grip, Ferdinand has no idea. It could be how Hubert gets himself off when he's alone, or he could be gauging from Ferdinand's reactions, or he could simply have practice with others and maybe there are not so many different ways to get off after all.

Whatever the case, Ferdinand's heartbeat sounds loud in his ears and his cock twitches in Hubert's hand as his balls tighten, his whole body alight with anticipation. And he has no control over the timing of it, entirely at Hubert's mercy. (If he were cruel, Hubert could stop touching him right now, forcing Ferdinand to finish the job himself - or not at all - and isn't that a thought.)

Coming from another's touch feels revelatory as Ferdinand realizes that, oh, that's how good it can be. Much better than when he does it alone, and he has done it alone many, many times over the years - even imagining Hubert was not enough to match up to this result. Even wearing gloves and pretending it was Hubert touching him was not enough.

He comes into Hubert's fist, trying not to be too loud, lest all of the palace know, but he can't help a muffled whine, pressing a fist to his mouth as he spills his last. His teeth dig into the side of his index finger as he pants through his nose, eyes shut tight.

The whole of his body relaxes, muscles he didn't even know were tense easing, and Ferdinand smiles at Hubert, unselfconscious about how besotted he must seem. Then he remembers himself, realizing his feeble, mindless pawing at Hubert's cock through his trousers did not actually count as reciprocation.

"So," Hubert begins, but Ferdinand pounces on him, wrestling him onto his back and reaching into his pants. "Ah."

"Did I not say I wanted to touch you?" Ferdinand asks, his voice low against Hubert's throat. He can feel Hubert's pulse beneath his lips. Hubert is thick and warm in his hand, and Ferdinand goes about taking care of him the same way he would himself, with long, quick strokes.

Hearing Hubert react rewards him with plenty of new fodder for his idle dreaming, though hopefully he won't need to rely on that quite so much anymore, now that they've crossed this threshold in their long, ungainly courtship. Under Ferdinand's attention, Hubert sighs and growls, and is ever-so-restrained. Some other time, when they've learned each others bodies better, Ferdinand will have to see if he can't make Hubert cry out. For now, these subtle sounds are more than enough, and Ferdinand is utterly charmed that Hubert remains polite even in debauchery and dishabille.

He claims Hubert's mouth with his own, his hair falling around them like a curtain. Hubert curls a hand at the base of his skull, fingers tangled in Ferdinand's hair, their lips crushed together greedy and clumsy. Ferdinand finds himself wanting to bite, so he does, and Hubert tightens his grip and jerks into his hand, which only encourages Ferdinand to do it again.

He bites at Hubert's lip, and his ear, and the side of his neck. He lets his teeth catch against Hubert's shoulder and his clavicle. Each spot his teeth scrape against gets revisited with just his lips, tender, caring but unapologetic. Though several inches taller, Hubert always seems so fragile, and Ferdinand is careful with him, aware of his own strength in comparison to the mage's build.

Making Hubert come does not take long at all, which Ferdinand is proud of; next time, though, he wants to see if he can draw it out a little longer, make Hubert feel even better for longer. For now, he's happy to lick the come from his fingers, and even more pleased at the reaction that draws from Hubert. Hubert stares at him, stunned and hungry, and Ferdinand just grins coyly as he swipes his tongue against his own fingers, catching every last drop. It doesn't taste especially good but that expression is worth it. He feels possessive and possessed, all at once, his heart pounding against his ribs as he pants for breath and watches Hubert watching him.

Something moves Ferdinand to take hold of Hubert's wrist and pull his hand up so he can kiss his knuckles again, softly, still meeting Hubert's eyes. "Minister von Vestra, if I might make a formal request."

Hubert chuckles, incredulous. "Alright, then. What is it?"

"Next time you find yourself overworked or exhausted, or you have overdrawn yourself," Ferdinand says, shy but still meeting Hubert's gaze steadily and refusing to look down or away. "Call on me. Allow me to take care of you again. Whenever you need; so long as I am around."

"I am used to taking care of myself, you realize."

"Yes," Ferdinand says, more intensely, "and I am sure you are quite capable; you have managed this long, after all, but you need not do it alone. Allow me to do this for you. Allow yourself this. I want you to know how appreciated you are."

"I see," Hubert says, cheeks red, more flustered than he was during any of their earlier tumbling. "Then I suppose I will take it under consideration."

"Good." Ferdinand grins, showing teeth. "See that you do! Else I will have to remind you. Constantly."

Hubert pulls his hand out of Ferdinand's grip at last, but only to rest it on the side of Ferdinand's face. "Anything but that."

Ferdinand presses his cheek into Hubert's touch, eyes slipping shut as he savors the feeling of that rough and callused touch. "I am relieved that you, oh great student of reason, can see reason when it looks you in the face."