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The sound of an armored horse running filled the tomb. Ferdinand shot his head up from where he pressed his forehead against the flank of his horse. The movement made his vision spin, and something pressed in on his chest. Still, he managed to pant out the words. “He is fleeing like a coward!”

Then, he swiped at his mouth when something heavy collected on his lips. When he pulled away, crimson shone on his sleeve. He started to push away from his horse, started to grab his lance from where he leant it against his hind legs, but the world spun once more. His knees gave out, and he winced as he crashed against the ground.

His vision cleared enough to see Linhardt scowling down at him. “Let him.”

“He attacked us. He’s certainly still a threat!” Ferdinand knew he could stand up and go after the Death Knight. At the very least, he could block the exit until the Knights of Seiros came back to fend him off.

When he tried, his body trembled under the weight. His arms gave up, and he groaned as his cheek pressed against the slick ground. Spreading across the stone, he could vaguely make out the streaks of crimson. Not many of them walked away unscathed from this battle. 

Something black slid into his view, and he barely managed to lift his head this time. Dorothea, with trembling arms and wheezing breaths, shifted him to lay in her lap. Pillowed in her legs, a blush started to form, but before he could complain about the impropriety, and she hummed louder than him and spoke. “Ferdie, shut up.”

“Duly… Duly noted,” he said at last. 

For a second, he let himself be content with Dorothea’s hand carding its way through his hair. His eyes drift shut, and the pain started to ebb out. Then, Dorothea gripped his hair tighter, and he yelped quietly. “No sleeping. I might not be… Good at faith magic, but I know the basics of healing.”

“Aren’t you injured too?” he mumbled, trying to stir up his energy.

She laughed softly. “You, Caspar, and Petra exhausted him first. I barely got grazed.”

“But you should take care of yourself—” 

Before he could get very far from her, Dorothea raised her voice. “Linhardt, am I well enough to let Ferdinand lie in my lap?”

“I honestly couldn’t care less. I have more dire patients,” Linhardt called. 

Dorothea laughed before wincing. “See? Ferdie, if you don’t trust my expertise, you can trust his. Stop… Stop buzzing around.”

“But… He hurt you.”

“And it’s very noble you want to go avenge me, but honestly, you couldn’t hurt a fly right now.” Taking a deep breath, her whole body shuddered with the effort. “Someone else will stop the Death Knight. I’m sure of it.”

“Catherine will return soon. Or, she won’t because she’s busy persecuting this so-called Death Knight.” Edelgard walked down from the steps, deliberately commanding the room by letting her armor clink. She swept her gaze around.

Ferdinand tried to follow it with the best of his abilities. While some of the class still huddled around the platform, trembling and shaking from the blows they dealt with the last dark mage, the others went after the Death Knight. More accurately, Caspar went after the Death Knight, and Ferdinand felt it right to back him up. And then Petra felt it right to help. And then Dorothea.

And then Lysithea put a pin in it by destroying the remainder of the Death Knight’s strength.

Ferdinand maneuvered around in Dorothea’s lap. “And if she does not?”

“Then they will hunt him down, and we will seek proper medical attention for everyone.” She swept her hand around. Then, her gaze found Ferdinand’s, and he almost saw a flicker of softness. It faded just as fast. “Tell me, Ferdinand, do you really think we’re in any position to continue fighting?”

“I think the townsfolk won’t be able to handle him any better—” He gagged, and something started whistling through his body. He coughed, syrupy trails of blood falling down his neck and chest. Dorothea gasped, ragged and disgusted, and Ferdinand tried to croak out an apology. “We have to…”

“I agree with Edelgard.” Byleth raised the Sword of the Creator to the sky, analyzing the curve of the blade. Ferdinand wanted to do the same. Then, she pulled out the steel sword she used prior and handed it to Hubert. The Sword of the Creator glowed from the placement on her hip. 

Edelgard smiled, a private kind he cannot decipher right now. “Thank you, my teacher.”

“Linhardt, give me a rundown of their injuries.” Byleth ignored Edelgard’s comment, and Ferdinand wheezed out a laugh. He supposed kissing up to Byleth does not yield good results. “I need to tell Manuela what to prepare for.”

“Every one of them is idiots,” Linhardt started. When Edelgard gave him an unamused look, he tried again. “Ferdinand received a, urgh, stab wound under his ribs… Might’ve punctured something. And, ew, Petra got a hit in her leg… She can’t walk. And Dorothea got thrown back into one of the columns… Seems mostly okay. And Caspar got hit in the head. Ugh. Sorry, there’s a lot of… Blood.

“Bernadetta, you heard all of that?” Byleth turned.

The small archer startled and launched herself backwards. She almost tripped over Caspar’s prone body, and Linhardt threw out a hand to keep her from falling. “What? I didn’t do anything!”

“You’re about to… I’m sorry, but you’re the fastest sprinter here. You could even take Ferdinand’s horse if you want greater speed. I apologize, but nobody else would get there soon enough to warn Manuela.” At that, Byleth stopped paying attention to Bernadetta. The girl shuffled her feet for a few seconds before starting to run. “Dorothea, can you walk?”

“I can… Certainly try. I can make it to Manuela’s office.” She cupped Ferdinand’s head, and his eyes drifted to hers. She offered the kindest smile and then sighed. “I’m going to have to move you.”

“Edelgard, you support Dorothea. Linhardt and I will help Petra, and Hubert shall help Ferdinand. We’ll get Caspar up on the horse because he’s the only one truly dead weight.” Byleth nodded as the students started to shuffle around them.

Ferdinand blinked and furrowed his brow. “But… What if Bernadetta took my horse?”

“She wouldn’t have.” And Byleth left it at that.

As he crossed the room, Hubert brought darkness swarming all around him. Magic crackled off him into the open air, and the air smelled vaguely… Burnt. Ferdinand recoiled from it. The other man smiled down at him. “Do I scare you, Ferdinand?”

“Of course not…” Underneath him, Dorothea started to help prop him up. Ferdinand shook his head and tried to get to his feet for what felt like the fifth time that day. “I have got this, Dorothea, but I thank you for the assist.”

“If you’re sure,” Dorothea said with a bit of a laugh as she got up.

Ferdinand almost tumbled over himself, but he managed to get a semblance of balance. Hubert helped him up the rest of the way by dragging him upwards, hands gripped under his armpits. Ferdinand gaped and…

Whatever retort died on his lips as his breath escaped from him. He whimpered and gasped, trying desperately to get any oxygen back into his lungs. What changed? He felt fine a few moments ago. Sure, he had a few… Cognitive issues, and he felt a little disconnected from the rest of the world. 

“Ferdinand? Ferdinand!” snapped Hubert, trying to get his attention back.

Ferdinand was too busy falling into darkness.

-

“I never thought you’d be fussing over Ferdinand. Here I thought you two were polar opposites.” Edelgard stood in the doorway. Someone blew out the candles to the infirmary, but someone relit the one beside Ferdinand’s bedside. While visiting hours were over, Linhardt remained curled up with Caspar (some may argue too close). Hubert remained sitting beside Ferdinand’s bedside with a book open in his lap.

When Edelgard walked in, careful to close the door behind her, she inspected the book. “Is that a diagram of faith healing?” 

“I realized, after the disaster of our last mission, we don’t have enough faith healers on the team. In fact, the only reason we survived so long was with Lysithea’s help, and she’s still a Golden Deer.” He placed the ribbon between the pages and closed the book. Placing it on the nightstand beside the bed, he got to his feet. “And while I know we have figured out ways to convince her to switch, Claude is using counter methods to keep her—”

“Hubert. You’re concerned for Ferdinand.” She sat on the edge of Ferdinand’s bed. When Hubert raised an eyebrow, she smiled down at her hands. “I’m also concerned for Ferdinand. For as… Troublesome he is, I can sense a long and prosperous friendship between the three of us.”

“Truly?” Hubert huffed. “You find something charming about his incessant rambling about nobility and constant attempts to challenge you? Personally, I have never met someone as insufferable as—”

“You don’t have to pretend with me.” Edelgard reached over and placed a hand on his knee.

He stared at her for a few seconds. “How?”

“How did I figure it out? You have always been good with your secrets, Hubert, but your loyalties never falter. I noticed how after the battle, you only fussed over me after we returned from giving over the injured to Manuela.” She held up a hand as he started to protest. “I don’t fault you. You knew I was uninjured… But once upon a time, you would’ve let the house bleed out just to care for a scrape on my knee. I’m...  I know you will never regret your loyalty to me. You said as much. But I worry you still deprive yourself of some luxuries.”

“Luxuries? I don’t require time to date around if that’s what you suggest.” He sniffed. “Besides, I have no intention of dating such a stubborn boy.”

“You have an intention to date a stubborn man, though.” She grinned when Hubert gave her a dirty look. “Give it time, Hubert. One day, our house will have to choose their loyalties, truthfully. Perhaps we will even gain others to join our cause. Perhaps Lysithea will abandon her house, and perhaps we can sway a Blue Lion to us. Nevertheless, I have a feeling Ferdinand’s loyalties lie with us as well.”

“Is that so?” Hubert lifted a hand and muttered a Silence to encapture the room. While he never mastered the art of Silencing mages, he repurposed it to make sure no sound escaped a room. Manuela would have to teach him the rest of the tricks of the trade. Now, only Linhardt, Caspar, and Ferdinand could possibly hear the secrets. He checked all of their steady breathing with a quick glance. “You saw how he reacted to the Death Knight. Even with a punctured lung, he was ready to fight once more.”

“He was operating with little knowledge. Hubert…” Edelgard reached for his hands. “Give yourself this. Become friends with him. Go for tea. You don’t have to date, you don’t have to give too much of yourself… But you already gave a lot of yourself to me. I’d like you to find pieces of yourself you never could have given to me.”

“Lady Edelgard, I would give you everything I have.”

“I know. I don’t need this part of you.” She kissed his forehead, a strange act of affection from the soon-to-be queen. Then, she stood and started to exit the room. She did hesitate in the doorway though, turning around. “I know you have a thing for redheads anyway. I caught you staring at Sylvain once.”

Hubert spluttered as she laughed, exiting the room.

Still, as he settled down to start reading again, he felt the ghost of a smile starting to form. He couldn’t remember the last time Edelgard laughed so carelessly, so happily. And he couldn’t remember the last time he could sit in silence, in peace, without having to plot the next move. She gave him the night off, and he rarely took advantage of it.

He started to read the textbook once more. Perhaps he could master the basics of faith magic.

And he missed the way Linhardt’s eyes pierced into him, thoughts circling on the implications of the discussion.