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Letters Never Sent

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Hubert lay down on his back and exhaled a mouthful of smoke, watching its spirals wind their way up to the sunlight. The grass beneath him was bright with the sweetness of spring and sun and dew but he could feel the cold still held in the ground. Even in Adrestria, it would be Harpstring Moon before the land really gave up the last breaths of winter.

He closed his eyes and focused on the warmth in the air and not the chill in the earth. The noise of birds, trees, and the wind in the grass muted in his ears to all but silence.

He inhaled the smoke deep into his lungs, savoring the burn of it in his chest and the scratch of it in his throat. He exhaled, opened his eyes, watched. 

Beside him on the grass lay a half-finished draft of a letter he had written and scratched out and rewritten so many times already.

Dearest Ferdinand ,

My dear Ferdinand ,

‘Ferdinand. I have received your letters. Thank you for sending them. You have oft spoken of the liveliness of the countryside but I confess I find it all too quiet. Even when written your words are loud and help fill the silence. Your stories amused me as well. I would however prefer more news of the capitol and less pointless personal anecdotes. Please send word at once as to the state of the Brigid independence negotiations. I wish I could be there in person to monitor them. My confinement in this accursed hospital is making me miss my work fiercely. Almost as much as I miss you .’

Hubert picked up the page and read it over then crumpled it in his fist and burnt it to ash with a small burst of fire magic.

“Hubert?” Marianne’s voice called and he bolted up into a sitting position and extinguished his cigarette into the dirt, hoping she hadn’t noticed it. She stepped around a blackberry thicket and caught sight of him on the grass. “There you are.”

“I have been instructed to rest,” he said. “I am resting.”

Marianne sat down next to him, not seeming to mind in the slightest that the damp grass would mess up her pristinely clean skirt.

“You are smoking,” she said matter-of-factly.

Hubert glanced at her quickly then looked away with a huff, staring out into the forest at nothing just to avoid any expression of judgment from her. He dared not disobey the physician’s orders lest he be forced to stay in this place longer to recover . How he loathed recovery! What was the difference sitting here and smoking or sitting in his office and smoking? Why could he get potions prescribed to him and exams done in Enbarr? 

“Clean country air makes a world of difference!” Ferdinand had said. “ You deserve a rest!” Dorothea had said. 

Only Edelgard had forgone annoying platitudes to be frank with him. The day he left she had told him, “ You know as well as I that the injuries you suffered in our long war are as much injuries of the mind as of the body. Marianne can help you in a way that the finest doctors in Enbarr can’t. Go and listen and work hard to get better so that you can come back to us whole again. That’s an order, Hubert. I will not have you neglect your health. I need you too much to allow such recklessness.”

“I didn’t come here to lecture you,” Marianne said gently. “I was wondering if you would spare me a cigarette. I don’t have any anymore because I can’t bear to be a bad influence on the people under my care.”

“But I am too far gone to worry about?” Hubert replied, pulling a fresh cigarette from his pocket and lighting it with a tiny fire spell. He handed it to Marianne and she took a long drag. Closing her eyes, she exhaled with a blissful sigh.

“Thank you,” she said, ignoring his goading question.

“Anytime.”

Hubert lit another for himself and they smoked in comfortable silence for a few minutes. He liked that about Marianne: her silence. She had let go of many of her old insecurities and weaknesses and follies over the years, but her silence she had kept, only now it was of a peaceful kind and not a fearful one. It strengthened her manner instead of diminishing it. He had a lot of admiration for her command of quiet, of softness and stillness. 

Marianne did not require speech or explanation from him and Hubert did not offer it. Together they sat in the little glade until their cigarettes were finished and the chill in the ground had seeped up into Hubert’s bones enough that he knew he should return inside.

Slowly, he hauled his aching body up then held out his hand to Marianne. She took it and got to her feet, giving him a smile. He smiled back faintly then turned away and set off towards the hospital building.

Falling into step beside him, Marianne finally spoke. “You received another letter from Ferdinand this afternoon.”

“Good gods, how the postal service must be exhausted by that man’s long-windedness. I cannot imagine what his fellow legislators must feel having to endure it in person,” Hubert grumbled. “I at least have the luxury of depositing his letters in the wastebasket should I not be in the mood to listen to him blather on.”

Marianne gave a small giggle and shook her head. “It’s funny – the footman said you asked him to inform you straight away if we received any letters from Ferdinand.”

Hubert shot her a withering look. “The footman is mistaken.”

They walked on in quiet for a few moments until Hubert’s leg began to cramp, which was an inconvenient side-effect of the severe muscle spasms caused by being hit with too many Thoron spells. Marianne noticed the hitch in his step and held out her arm to him. He hesitated at first, his pride bristling a bit, then he reprimanded his own vanity and took her arm, leaning on her a little as they walked.

“Are you going to write him back?” Marianne asked.

“I have no news to offer him. Life here is hardly eventful and updates on my recovery are already being sent to Edelgard who will pass any relevant information on to him.”

“He misses you.”

Hubert scoffed. “My presence was always a shadow cast across his days. I am sure he is breathing easier now that he is temporarily free of it.”

“Do you really believe that?” Marianne asked.

Hubert glanced at her and she stared back at him firmly. He sighed and looked away. “I would rather you lecture me about my tobacco habit than about my antipathy towards returning pointless letters.”

Outside the hospital built within the walls of an old noble manor house, Marianne paused and clasped Hubert’s hand in both of hers. “Please return his letters. If you won’t he will continue to keep writing to me asking for answers as to how you are doing.”

“He has been pestering you?” Hubert asked in astonishment.

Marianne smiled. “It is no bother to write him back. I just know he would much rather hear from you.”

Hubert thought of the disintegrated letter mixed among their cigarette ash in the dirt. He thought of the ten other iterations that burnt to dust in the fireplace in his room just this morning.

‘Dearest Ferdinand, I never knew the isolation of my own soul until I have been parted from you for the first time in years. I had no idea that you would come to inhabit the emptiness I had carried within myself for so long and how it feels like the very warmth of my own blood has faded with your absence…'

‘Ferdinand, stop your ridiculous ceaseless letters, you nuisance. Surely you have work to do! If you are shirking the duties that come with the position you so relentlessly pursued I will limp all the way back to Enbarr on crutches just to curse you to your face…’

‘Prime Minister von Aegir, I have no news to report in response to your queries as to my health. I am neither recovering yet with any significance nor worsening. It will be a long process so I am told. It would behoove you to focus your concern on matters of more immediate import. Attached are my thoughts on the current legislative efforts you mentioned… ‘

‘My dear Ferdinand, your letters bring me more comfort than I could ever express. I have never felt so cared for as when subjected to your insufferable hounding. Please continue to write to me. You are my lifeline to a future it is easy to lose sight of when it feels like my life has been put on hold as I lay here trapped within the limitations of my damaged body. I cherish the words you write, wish I could hear them spoken by you in person. How I regret all the time I have spent not listening! What I would give to sit here for hours and listen to you now…’

‘Von Aegir, for god’s sake stop inundating me with letters, you awful braying ass!’

Hubert yanked himself out of his reflections on the many foolish letters he had attempted to pen and said off-handedly, “I am sure I will get around to it one of these days.”

Marianne gave him a knowing look but tempered it with a small smile and opened the gate in the garden wall, holding it for him as he walked inside with unsteady steps. Together they walked through the garden to the front doors of the hospital.

Marianne paused with her hand on the doorknob and said, “You really should have written him back.”

Before Hubert could ask what precisely she meant by that, she opened the door. A flash of brilliant gold was the first thing that registered in Hubert’s mind and for a second he struggled to believe what he was seeing. Then all at once, the reality of the moment hit him and emotion rose up so strongly in his throat it choked all possible words from it.

“Hubert!” Ferdinand cried joyfully, bounding across the tiled foyer towards him.

He hardly had a moment to brace himself before Ferdinand was flinging his arms around him, pulling him close to his chest, holding him with the excitement and carefulness of something very precious and very missed.

“What are you doing here?” Hubert said, voice barely louder than a whisper.

“You would not answer my letters, you aggravating man!” Ferdinand exclaimed. He squeezed Hubert tightly then let go of him and stepped back to look him in the eyes and smile.

Hubert’s chest tightened painfully at that smile, the ache of the many nights he had lain awake thinking of it striking him.

“I have nothing to say,” he replied.

“I do not care!” Ferdinand said. “I have missed you. Even a single line of greeting would have sufficed.”

“If you insist,” Hubert said, mustering his composure and giving Ferdinand a polite, formal nod. “Good afternoon, Prime Minister. How are you?”

Ferdinand gave him a small, fond smile that was faint on his lips but warm in his eyes. “I am better now. How are you?”