Word count: 4800 (8 to 30 minutes) | Rating: K+ | Note: Spoilers, Ferdibert, and mentions of Edelgard x Dorothea | Characters: Hubert von Vestra, Edelgard von Hresvelg, Ferdinand von Aegir, and mentions of Dorothea
Part 1: Her Blessing
Never before had Hubert lingered at Edelgard’s door, uncertain and adjusting his gloves needlessly. He stared at her door before he forced himself to knock rather than wasting another moment.
Purposeful steps approached from beyond the door, and she opened it just a bit before her expression softened. Opening the door the rest of the way, Edelgard stood aside in her nightgown that was, of course, still effective for combat. “Ah, Hubert.”
“You must be more cautious, Your Majesty.” He stepped inside at her gesture of invitation all the same, turning over his shoulder to continue. “If all an assassin has to do is knock—”
“The war is over now, Hubert,” she chastised playfully, her smile at him coming readily. They were the only family each other had for years now and their bond had been forged in that timeless fondness, empathy, and understanding. So, of course, it was only natural that she noticed he was not quite himself. “…But something is troubling you. If there is anything I can do to help, you have only to name it, my friend.”
She closed the door behind her, following him further into the room. Hubert was satisfied to hear that she had locked the door as well. Peace time or not, precaution was the difference between life and death in many cases.
“You are too kind,” he praised her both genuinely and partly to postpone what he came here to do. Hubert had planned it out in his mind, readied himself for the simple question he had to pose before he moved ahead with the next steps of his plan. His ridiculous, absurd plan. In a way, it may even be a mercy if Edelgard refused him so Hubert could avoid the embarrassment of rejection. Or worse, and admittedly more likely, acceptance.
Sensing his discomfort again, she took a seat in a well-loved reading chair and gestured to the one opposite her that had a tea table between them. A familiar and fond place where he often passed the time with her over one of various strategy games. Edelgard was one of his few true rivals for strategic thinking, so he took delight in their games whether he won or learned a new tactic.
But that was not why he was here.
Hubert had already lingered too long after her invitation to sit, and he felt especially out of place as he lowered himself into the reading chair across from her and the table.
In silence. He set his palms on his knees, staring at the ornate weavings of the rug before him. Hubert leaned back against the chair but still felt the tension knotted between his shoulder blades. This was ridiculous and he knew it, and yet…
“You can trust me with anything.” Edelgard sat forward, her eyes searching his for the faith she knew he had in her.
“I’ve never had any doubt,” he answered, as sure as the sun would set. Perhaps inspired by such a comfortable state of being, Hubert found himself somewhat calmer. He took advantage of that and began to speak before he could question himself further. “There is something I need to ask you.”
Edelgard only nodded to encourage him without giving him an out in her reply. She knew him too well to provide such an opportunity.
“There is… someone I would like to…” He trailed off into a scowl, his grip tightening on his own knees. Something about the pressure was grounding and forced Hubert out of his own way. Edelgard was one he trusted with his life, including matters of the heart—however laughable that very phrase felt to him as her wicked shadow. If he could not even ask the question, he did not deserve the role or the object of his affections.
“Has someone upset you, Hubert?” Her voice was tender, but there was an edge to it as well, a darkness below the gentleness that instilled pride in Hubert. Just when he thought he could not possibly have any more respect for his Emperor, there was always more to found.
“No,” he chuckled. “I would handle that myself with pride, Your Majesty. In this matter… I must consult you before I act.”
Her eyebrows raised as her eyes widened and she took in a sharp breath. Surprised, was she? Well. At least she was not alone in that sentiment, he thought with a wry smile. “How unlike you, Hubert. What could it possibly take for you to hesitate? I’ve no suitors, I trust.”
“None. Your relationship with Dorothea is well-known at this point, and it would take a fool to challenge it.”
That was diversion enough. Edelgard smiled fondly, her hand going absently to a loose strand of her hair. “Too true. So it’s not a suitor of mine you must handle, but you feel you have to check with me. I can guess all night if I must, Hubert, but wouldn’t it be easier to simply ask?”
“So one would think,” he answered drily and sighed, shoulders relaxing at last—though in resignation. Practiced words, carefully rehearsed for every situation from putting her worries at ease to voicing his own, simply fled at the very sight of her door. At least he could spare himself the foolishness of rehearsing his confession to a certain prime minister. Not that he would. Even the thought of going without a plan entirely, even if that plan were to leave his mind the moment he needed it most, churned his stomach where little else could.
Edelgard blinked pensively for a moment, and then the realization dawned on her like the flare of candlelight in her eyes. A realization, in any case. “Oh! Hubert!”
“Hm?” His guard was difficult to get past, but she managed with that elated tone. Edelgard leaned forward even more, resting on the arm of the chair in a most casual manner he didn’t often see now that she was Emperor.
“You are in love!”
Hubert recoiled only slightly but was betrayed by a blush, making a choking sound rather than a comprehensible reply.
“I am so happy for you, my good friend!” Her smile could not get any wider, and he felt his face could not be any warmer.
“I would hold back on your celebration until you hear who it is, Your Majesty.”
“Oh, enough of titles,” she waved that off, settling back into her relaxed posture. “Please, I simply must know who has caught your exacting attention. They must be special indeed.”
Hubert sighed heavily through his nose, feeling the blush recede bit by excruciating bit. What could he tell her? She’d seen him bicker with Ferdinand endlessly over the years, their relationship tempering into a push-and-pull where both had grown. Indeed, continued to grow.
Their courtship was happening in subtle gestures now, no matter how he tried to resist it. There was something captivating about Ferdinand that Hubert ultimately found he could not deny in any regard. And since he could not help but continue rising to his witty, teasing banter and invitations to share coffee and tea together… Hubert straightened his posture and steeled himself. As her closest confidant, he had to get Her Majesty’s approval before their relationship developed too far.
“…Fer…” He sighed again, the embarrassment at the confession overcoming him. The lives he’d claimed, the horrors he unflinchingly committed—and this was where Hubert hesitated, of all things.
“For…?” Edelgard tilted her head, trying once more to catch his attention while he turned away.
“I… Is that right?” He turned back just in time to catch her smile, one of a cat who ate the canary. Hubert sighed again, rolling his eyes.
“Of course it is. Surely, you have noticed by now.”
“I don’t know what you could possibly mean,” she dismissed, resuming her regal posture for the sole purpose of his mockery, it seemed. “The flower he had in his lapel only after his meeting with you paired with an especially radiant smile, perhaps, or the frequent visits you both share in the tea garden, maybe. Oh, or could you mean—”
“You have made my point,” he teased back, though he did feel his heart quicken at her joking. Her observations meant that Ferdinand’s returned feelings were not in his own imagination, since Edelgard herself had perceived his joy at the flower. But if she knew that he had explained its meaning to Ferdinand as well and the glorious blush that blossomed over his freckled cheeks at the revelation… Hubert may very well sink into the floorboards. “And now, I would like your opinion.”
“We are both closely connected to the throne, Your Majesty. If anything were to go wrong between us,” he explained, letting the implication hang for her to continue on her own.
“We will handle that if the time comes.” She reached out across the table to him and in a rare moment of vulnerability, Hubert took her offered hand. Edelgard squeezed his hand gently, sharing a soft smile with him. “But you should follow your heart, Hubert. I am confident he is as in love with you as you are with him.”
“I appreciate the sentiment, but… Why?” He looked at her analytically, studying for a telltale sign of how she could be so certain. “You are not especially close with Ferdinand outside of our obligations to the Empire.”
“No, but Dorothea is. And she is a good friend of yours as well, so it is only natural that Ferdinand should seek advice from his dear friend about his potential lover.” Ah, a mirror of their current situation. How clever of Edelgard to call attention to that so Hubert could not even mock the decision properly. “Is it not?”
“I do wish you wouldn’t phrase it quite like that,” he dodged instead of answering, that damned blush returning.
Edelgard laughed, a bright spot all its own. “You have nothing to be shy about, Hubert. Please, be happy! There is no one who deserves it more.” She clasped her other hand over his and he discovered he could not resist the softening of his smirk. “You have my support in this, as in all you do for yourself. It is high time you did.”
The lamps surrounding them cast a warm glow on everything in the room as a stark contrast to the harsh moonlight washing the landscape beyond her window. In the shadows of flickering light, he spotted traces of a more domestic life in Edelgard’s room. A coat rack held cloaks for herself as well as Dorothea, and her war boots were not left out any longer. Instead, they’d been replaced by riding boots for travelling to nearby towns or anywhere the Emperor was needed by the people.
A vase of Dorothea’s favorite flowers sat on the desk of her room.
Edelgard found someone to share her life that was beyond what Hubert could provide… And seeing her now, spending her scant free time to offer him encouragement, he knew she would not begrudge him doing the same for himself. That alone cut through his skin-crawling discomfort at the notion of allowing himself to aspire for something that was solely for his benefit.
“Thank you, Edelgard.”
She patted his hand gently before returning hers to her lap, a fond smile reaching her eyes. “Anytime, Hubert.”
Part 2: His Confession
And now that he had her approval, Hubert had only to face an even greater difficulty. Planning out how to confess his feelings for Ferdinand to the prime minister himself was a snarl of logistics and emotion.
Hubert decided it should be at their typical social call in the gardens for tea and coffee initially, but then that was too public a place where anyone might come along at any moment. If Ferdinand did reject him, he would prefer it to be in private where he could safely pretend the incident never occurred.
But to take him off in a secluded location in broad daylight would introduce rumors. While that never bothered Hubert to any extent, such scandal could potentially affect Ferdinand—who was far more socially connected and attuned and therefore, more susceptible to the impacts of defamation.
And to isolate him in the dead of night would only be a social threat if they were caught without a purpose for being together alone so late into the evening. Therefore, he waited until their last meeting of the day to pull Ferdinand aside and make up some excuse or another about a late-night meeting in the underground areas of the Enbarr palace to seal off compromised secret passages and plan new ones in their stead. This was a task best handled when their concealment in darkness could be seen firsthand, after all.
“Ferdinand,” he simply said his name as greeting, and the prime minister responded with a torturously bright smile followed by a cascade of copper hair as he turned to Hubert. They were underground now with only torches to the light the way, and he somehow managed to be perfectly captivating.
“Hubert,” he answered as if receiving excellent news by his mere presence. “Today was remarkably productive, was it not? With the war behind us, progress has come swiftly.”
“That it has,” Hubert agreed, a distant smile on his face. Suddenly, he felt vulnerable and exposed from the very subject on his mind.
“You know how I adore planning ahead, Hubert,” he answered with his name once again, as if he could not get enough of saying it. Hubert’s imagination, however limited, was determined to be overactive at the most inconvenient time. “But secret passages are admittedly your area of expertise. Before I can coordinate the supplies required, please tell me—what did you have in mind?”
Always in need of an excuse to spend time alongside Ferdinand, Hubert outlined his plans to the prime minister so they could work out the details together at another point. Securing the materials and disguising them among the supplies ordered for other projects, finding workers who could guard the covert nature of their tasks, and so on. Tasks best divided between them with a cohesive understanding.
At the last pathway marked, far from any staff in the castle who might come across them on their evening duties, Hubert turned to Ferdinand. This was the opportunity he had been working toward all night and he could not afford to waste it. Tired as Ferdinand seemed, he did his best to maintain his attentiveness and energy throughout their journey. Truthfully, he was the better suited between them for a march through the corridors of the castle’s basements. Hubert was stronger than he seemed and more so than most would expect of a mage, but he did not even come close to rivaling Ferdinand’s stamina as a horseback rider.
“Are you tired, Hubert? You have been staring at me in silence for some time now,” Ferdinand teased, only a twinge of something undetectable in his tone with his smirk visible even in the low light.
“Not at all,” he confessed. The night was his ally in many regards, and he was more comfortable in the late hours of darkness than the early hours of daylight. “I actually… Have a personal matter to discuss. With you.”
“A… personal matter?” His breath hitched in a way that was either disgusted or hopeful. Those two sentiments should not be as close together as they apparently were, Hubert thought with an exasperated sigh. He brushed his bangs from his face pointlessly, a rare meaningless gesture. It seemed his mind was now at war with itself and determined to sabotage every step.
“That is what I said,” Hubert taunted, though there was no malice to his voice as there might have been in their schooldays. “Unless you are too tired, of course.” Hubert was not so blind to his own flaws that he didn’t realize what he was doing to himself. Here he was, trying to rationalize why Ferdinand was not up for this tonight so he could postpone the question that his blackened heart hinged upon.
“I don’t have your gift for persevering through long nights at work,” Ferdinand admitted and stifled a yawn, demonstrating his own personal growth in an ability to admit that he did not excel in every little thing he did. However unreliable that ability did prove at times, Hubert remarked to himself with an amused smirk. “But for you, Hubert, I can make an exception.”
His tone was bright, welcoming, and yet it seemed so utterly the same as the kindness he showed to every soul that crossed his path off the battlefield. Even on it, at times. He was there when they pardoned Claude and allowed his survival. Ensured it, in fact. Hubert himself would not have shown such mercy, but it turned out to be in their best interest in the end.
“How… Very kind of you,” Hubert answered, resenting the hesitation in his own voice. He had trained nearly his entire life for subterfuge and political strategy, foreseeing assassinations, seeing to it that the right bribes reached the right people (or the wrong ones), and all manner of dark, horrid deeds. Confessing love had never made it into his studies and it had him fumbling over his words with a mind as blank as a new moon. “I had wondered what your plans were for future romantic pursuits.”
“Romantic pursuits?” A squeak bled through his response; one Hubert struggled not to laugh at. “Hubert, I cannot see what this has to do with our work for the Empire.”
“Very well. I shall explain it to you.” Hubert smirked, piercing him with a challenging stare that turned out fonder than he intended. This was their routine, and he had the upper hand for the time being. “Were your heart to belong to a dubious individual, it would compromise the security of the Empire.”
“And you think that I, Ferdinand von Aegir, would have such ignobly low standards?” Hubert had long since learned that ‘noble’ to Ferdinand had its own definition of decency and propriety rather than titles. And his mock offense was just as hollow as Hubert’s mockery. This dance between them was familiar, even comforting. “I would have you know that any partner of mine would only be dubious in the finest of manners.”
Hubert could not help a laugh at that, catching a look of admiration in Ferdinand’s eyes. Or had he imagined that too?
“And what manners might those be?”
“W-well,” he began shakily, though he did not withdraw from Hubert even as he bowed his head and caused those perfectly burnt golden locks to fall forward over broad shoulders. “They would be devoted, utterly and entirely, to all they held dear. Their protection would know no bounds, and there would be no sacrifice they would not make for those they lo-love.”
The word was a difficult for Ferdinand to say as it was for Hubert to hear. At what point had he begun holding his breath as if this were a covert operation that could be uncovered at the slightest sound?
“And I would be their guardian in return. We could serve as protectors of… One another. Hypothetically, of course.” Ferdinand’s shoulders had risen just enough to be noticeable—in self-consciousness or discomfort?
“I… see.” Was it possible Ferdinand had foreseen his plan already? Dorothea and Edelgard spoke daily. Perhaps Dorothea had given him the information in advance? No, Edelgard would never breach his confidence that way. Hubert cleared his throat, awkwardly pushing forward. “Well, it seems you have a very specific person in mind.” And what if it was not Hubert? What if he read too much into it? He couldn’t go on like this.
“Oh, no, I,” Ferdinand trailed off in a frustrated sigh, his hand running through the comparably short bangs across his forehead. “I suppose I do. But I assure you, this person is someone you and Edelgard trust entirely!”
“Oh?” His mind continued ahead without him unbidden once more. Who could that be? The professor? It must be so. Here he was, heart in hand, and Ferdinand belonged to another. His mouth was dry suddenly, and Hubert felt his pulse in even his fingertips. “And have you made your intentions known?”
“Hubert, I… That is,” Ferdinand began, uncharacteristically stumbling for words. “…I have not.”
“Good,” Hubert answered, his motivation returning to him in one thrumming rush not unlike a second wave during an intense battle. “Then I request you consider my offer.”
“To be frank, I—love you.” There, it was done. Hubert felt a chill worse than the embrace of any dark magic he’d channeled, and he was certain some vital function of his body was about to end or at least suffer a brief, crushing interruption. But it was done, and he could put this behind him at last. No matter the answer or who Hubert would be compared to for Ferdinand’s affections.
“Pardon? You love… me?”
“I am as surprised as you are. I have already spoken to Lady Edelgard, however, and she has encouraged me to pursue my feelings… for you.” As if he has not made that clear enough as it was. He shook his head at his own foolishness and yet continued.
“It would seem you have her outmatched in more ways than I originally anticipated. A flaw in my assessment of you I will not repeat,” he ventured a joke but came across too serious. Gifts and flattery were forever cursed to be his failings, weren’t they? “I swear to you, Ferdinand, should you return these feelings, my devotion to Lady Edelgard will in no way lessen or compare to my affection for you. You will know no want—”
“Hubert,” Ferdinand interrupted with a bubbling laugh like a burst of sun breaking through a dull, overcast morning. “You have not even let me answer!”
“Ah. Forgive me,” Hubert requested, antsy once again. And grateful for his foresight for choosing a secluded area where no one would witness that Hubert von Vestra got emotional and lost control. No one save Ferdinand.
“You are not alone in your feelings, Hubert. In the new world we have built, where crests do not rule our society… We are free to take partners without concern for bloodline. In short,” he almost whispered in hopeful reverence like this was a chapel, closing the distance between him and Hubert to tentatively take a gloved hand in his. “I am free to choose you. And the world is a more a beautiful place than ever for it!”
“I can hardly believe this,” Hubert breathed his answer, alight in this moment. It was so clear now. The description that Ferdinand gave and how he vouched for the person he fancied—that was how he viewed Hubert. Not only did Ferdinand look upon his actions with pride, but with love. For him. Unable to meet his gaze, Hubert stared down at their barely clasped hands. “But I am truly happy in ways I never thought possible.”
“And I am happy to be the reason.”
Hubert chuckled, finding his steely resolve back in its proper place at the opportunity to tease Ferdinand. “Eager to jump to that conclusion, are we?”
“Is there competition I should be aware of, my love?” Already reaching for pet names? He would not be Ferdinand if he didn’t. Hubert was embarrassed to admit to even himself the surge of joy that gave him now, in a private moment between them. At tomorrow’s meeting hall may be another story entirely. Hubert would simply have to make do. Ferdinand lived in the light of the world. Center stage was where he belonged, and now he had Hubert beside him.
“None at all,” he promised, taking Ferdinand’s hand up to his lips and placing a firm, tender kiss to the back. “Thank you, Ferdinand.”
“Do not go thanking me just yet! Our courtship has only begun,” Ferdinand said, thinking this to be a cause for celebration. Though he helped forged a new future, Ferdinand was a true romantic and would want to follow every last fanciful dream he’d envisioned over his many years of reading poetry and romantic novels. For Hubert, that led to mixed feelings of elated anticipation and beneath that, a thin but poisonous layer of dread.
“I can only imagine how excessive this process will be with you at the helm,” Hubert drawled, sighing as he lowered their hands. Ferdinand led them back to the main castle area, a smile evident in his voice alone.
“You will not have to imagine for long, Hubert,” he boasted. “You are a man who deserves to be properly loved and courted beyond measure, so excess is simply not possible. I shall see to it that everyone knows the depth of my love for you. It shall ring across the land like a thousand bells!”
“Ferdinand, that is a bit dramatic,” Hubert stuttered, led along like the shadow he was while his newly titled boyfriend continued undaunted. The hallways sloped upward and indicated their return to the main body of the capital palace. Against all odds, Hubert hoped Ferdinand could contain his excitement for decent waking hours if nothing else.
“None of that, Hubert. You do your finest work where none can witness your efforts, and I love you for it. But I will declare my feelings in a way that will leave you with not a single trace of doubt.”
“Who said I had any doubts?” He managed to capture guarded skepticism only once tonight, and this timing was perfect.
Ferdinand stopped at that. He set the lamp down in a convenient alcove recessed into the stone wall and reached for Hubert’s other hand. The intimacy and tenderness of even that had Hubert on a razor-thin edge of overwhelming emotion. He was, perhaps, not as prepared to be romanced as he anticipated.
“I have come to know you very well, Hubert. The meaning behind every incisive stare, every discontented hum. You may not feel doubt now, but there will come a time that you do.” Ferdinand kept his eyes locked on Hubert’s, steady and open and trusting. It was like witnessing his own vivisection even as Hubert cherished that such a look was directed at him from the man he had come to love. “And I will chase that feeling away before it has any chance to take root in your heart!”
His hand found its way to Hubert’s chest as emphasis. Or an expression of his sentiments. Hubert could not place the feelings of himself, much less Ferdinand.
“Ferdinand,” he sighed so warmly, he scarcely recognized his own voice. “Only you would say such a foolish, innocent thing with certainty and not be subject to my most cutting observations.”
Loathe as he was to admit it, Ferdinand did know him. And he was not immune to self-doubt as he led so many to believe. How he could have his heart and soul laid bare before Ferdinand and feel loved rather than at great risk… That was a mystery in itself. “I will give my all to you. I will be worthy of such unwavering support from none other than Ferdinand von Aegir.”
Through the emotional state of his confession, Hubert reached for Ferdinand’s hands to earn himself some distance to recharge for the next onslaught of affection—only to discover that Ferdinand was trembling. “You are… shaking.”
“Yes! Yes, I am.” He nodded, eager as ever, almost as if Hubert had simply observed the state of his cloak or the color of his eyes. “With joy, of course!” The uneven laugh did Ferdinand in completely, his words elated and breathy. “I am overcome with it, even. I… may faint.”
“Please don’t. I could carry you, but I would rather not.” A facetious lie in the face of the very real possibility that the prime minister and he supposed, his boyfriend, might actually fall unconscious in the paths to the lower levels of the Enbarr castle and force Hubert to explain what caused it.
“And you will not have to! From now on, we walk together, Hubert. I simply… need a moment to catch my breath. You had me holding it for much of your roundabout confession.” He rested his forehead against Hubert’s chest with a shaky breath, relaxing into him. Hubert took advantage of his height and their solitude to place an arm around Ferdinand in a loose hug. It was all either could withstand at the moment, he suspected.
“Take all the time you need. I will be here.”