Word count: 3800 (10 to 30 minutes) | Rating: M (Suicidal Thoughts)| Note: Fire Emblem: Three Houses Spoilers | Characters: Ferdinand and Hubert
Read the previous chapter.
In the hall beyond the war room, Ferdinand followed Hubert towards the staircase to the personal quarters. Passing soldiers with the gathered powers that conquered Enbarr regarded Hubert as if he were invisible or filth. It made no difference to him how he was perceived at present, though it would likely have to be addressed eventually.
For now, Hubert waited at the bottom of the stairs leading to Her Majesty’s room and beyond that, his own. The staircase hugged the wall, acting as a secure vantage point for archers in the event of a sudden siege. Pale sandstone steps framed the rich, deep red carpet like drying blood running down the center. The carpet was the same color as always and the steps were the same in number. And yet, Hubert could not drive the visual of this being her blood out of his mind, could not shake the feeling that this staircase was insurmountable.
“Hubert?” Ferdinand’s hand hovered just out of touch, and his aversion to contact drove Hubert to take the first step. He slid a gloved hand along the smooth railing as he ascended without replying.
This crushing sensation in his chest was nothing in comparison to the suffering Hubert would visit upon her first and final enemies. Her Majesty elected to die at Dimitri’s hands for her cause, and he would honor that however he could manage to. Any rage he might have felt for the King of Faerghus transferred instead to the inhuman filth that ripped Her Majesty from him not once, but twice, by giving her no option but to take the path that ended her life in more than the literal sense. As if her unnaturally shortened life was not agonizing enough on its own.
Hubert hesitated again at the top of the stairs. This was where he typically bid Lady Edelgard good evening, swore he would go straight to bed, then brewed coffee in his room and continued to work. She generally looked tired from the constant effort of the war, so her rest took priority. If that meant a series of late nights for Hubert in exchange, that was a price he gladly paid.
And now, she will never feel the weight of over-exhaustion again.
It was little comfort, staring at the guards before her door and knowing she lay lifeless within. Hubert could not rest without seeing her, and he would not rest if he did.
Fortunate, then, that he was familiar with sleepless nights.
“I will go alone,” Hubert stated, his gaze fixed on the dark double doors to her quarters. They had originally been more elaborate, but Her Majesty had them moved to upgrade the doors to the soldiers’ barracks and changed hers out for a sturdier, more practical design.
“Are you certain?” Ferdinand’s tone was sure but gentle, hardly the one of a captor or begrudging former ally that Hubert adamantly tried to perceive him as. Yes, Her Majesty’s death was simply a result of war and her express orders were for Hubert to build his own life in the aftermath. But he would not become the sort of delicate fool who would immediately throw himself at the compassion of the first old-time companion to walk beside him.
He conjured up imagery of the fight, magic and blood charging the air, to steel his heart against weakness. Hubert clenched his jaw, locking his focus on the sturdy doorway to Her Majesty’s quarters at once so close and separated by a thick smog of dread. How would the memory of her being alive that very morning reconcile with the sight of her corpse? Anticipating her presence only to be met with the cold certainty of death? She was gone to a place Hubert could not follow. Where their paths had forever been side by side, they diverged here, never to cross again. Sweat lined the palms of his gloves and Hubert held his voice steady on force of will.
“There will be two guards posted outside, so your orders will be met. I will be under supervision.”
“I did not mean strategically, Hubert. I think—”
“It does not matter what you think. You have your orders, and that should be enough,” he echoed the remark from Ferdinand at Enbarr’s gates. However much he had to injure the former Prime Minister’s pride or dignity to force him to leave, Hubert would stoop to that level.
“Since you can recall what I said before our fight with such precision, you might also remember what I said to you when I stood as your guard in the great hall.” Ferdinand spoke with conviction, firm but not harsh, the way one might address a promising soldier who had lost his sense of purpose. Infuriatingly perfect for the present situation.
“I will still forgive what you have said because I understand what your true intentions are with such cruel words.” He recognized the beginning of a Ferdinand speech when he heard one and could only hope the posted guards couldn’t overhear the outpouring of sentiment Hubert was about to be faced with. The less that was known about the nearly romantic nature of his connection to Ferdinand, the better.
“Loath as you may be to admit it, you are hurting, Hubert. You may be ill at ease in that role, but you cannot drive me away no matter what you attempt.” A hand rested lightly on Hubert’s back, threatening his emotional guard at the barest pressure. An exaggerated recoil would likewise betray his fragility and so, Hubert remained. “I will only take your pain as my own, so that sharing in it may lessen what you bear.”
The words washed over him, a rushing tide of so many things Hubert had been denied and denied himself in turn. The moment all the Black Eagles abandoned them, Hubert resolved to shut his heart on any attachment he had to them. Without their presence, it was a simple task with only a rare reminder of their companionship.
Now… How easy it would be to sink into the depths of this offered kindness and let Ferdinand shield him from the pain. It was a mercy Hubert did not deserve. If he could not keep his vow to secure Her Majesty’s victory at any cost, the penance of his suffering would have to suffice.
“As a compromise,” Ferdinand continued, ever willing to fill the silence presented by Hubert. “I will wait outside her door. If you find yourself in need, you can simply call and I will enter.”
Hubert scoffed but did not decline. If that would give Ferdinand peace of mind, he could indulge it. He stepped away from the hand against his back and just behind, Ferdinand followed his approach to the guards stationed at the entrance to Her Majesty’s room.
The guards deferred to Ferdinand, stepping aside with a nod to him alone. They let Hubert in as wordless and imperceptible as a shadow. The doors shut behind him on Ferdinand’s companionable chatter to the guards (who he no doubt knew by name).
The room was lightless, of course. In the shadows, Hubert could make out all the untouched elements of her quarters just as they always were. A cushioned bench sat at the end of her bed where she typically rested to read or sat before a specialized easel to draw in private. The easel was currently folded in a corner of the room below a mounted sigil from the Adrestian flag. Books on governmental history and flowery poetry lined a shelf beside her bed. A modest vase of fresh carnations sat on the opposite end table.
In the center of the bed waited Her Majesty. A sheet in the color of Adrestian gold rested over her form, an unnervingly still silhouette that filled the room. Her commanding presence persisted even in death. Hubert expected no less.
Calling on a fire spell with just a finger, Hubert lit a lantern on the corner table where she might call on Hubert to challenge her in a strategic board game.
The light revealed a dagger beside the vase, the wrapped handle confirming it was the one gifted to her upon her departure from Fhirdiad. Later, they came upon the knowledge that it was from Dimitri himself, but that did not discourage her from carrying it even as the war continued. He walked to the nightstand, his steps inaudible due to the carpet and Hubert’s own skill for stealth, and picked up the humble blade. The metal was stained with what Hubert assumed was Dimitri’s blood.
To the last, Your Majesty.
Hubert smiled weakly at the sight of it. King Dimitri had told the truth, then. If she resorted to this, that was as an effective refusal to surrender as any.
Still, they ought to be more careful with such a precious substance as the blood of someone bearing such a powerful Crest.
“Fortunately for me, there is always a use for my capacity to plan for the dangers no one else can see,” he remarked to Her Majesty and brought the dagger to the vanity in her room. As a gift, he’d had a magical washbasin installed on it so she could freshen up every morning in the privacy and comfort of her own quarters.
It also served to clean the dagger of Dimitri’s dried blood. He rested a hand against the sigil carved into the side, activating it with a whisper of magic in his hand. Water filled the bowl and Hubert submersed the knife, flaking away blood with studious efficiency. The water swirled into a thinned red shade as his work came to its end. Flicking droplets from the blade, Hubert emptied the water by deactivating the sigil and the removed blood disappeared with it.
He returned the dagger to its place beside the vase, and again, he was left alone with her shadowed form beneath the sheet.
Hubert pressed a hand to his chest and lowered into a formal bow. “Good evening, Your Majesty.”
Their daily routine drew him in and with no one to guard himself from, Hubert allowed himself that weakness. He straightened, striding to her armoire and opening one of the doors. Uniforms for combat hung beside lavish ballgowns and practical equestrian wear, all in the striking crimson Her Majesty looked best in. Not quite the exact color from the Adrestian flag, but it hearkened to it enough to encourage patriotism at the sight of her.
“What outfit would you like set out for tomorrow?” The Adrestian farmers’ guild reported recently that this fall would likely be wet and windy rather than the mild, comparably dry spell they’d hoped for. “Equestrian gear is a wise choice. Our unlikely allies will need firsthand experience on riding horseback across the terrain of Adrestia if we are to reach Shambala swiftly and without incident.”
Their travels would not be limited to the lands of Adrestia, but considering that it was their starting point, the guidance would be welcome. Tomorrow, Hubert would give the pertinent details to whoever seemed the most capable of relaying it to the strike team making for Shambala. He laid her riding clothes out in their usual place by her armoire for easy access come morning. Saving her even one extra step made her day more convenient from the outset. On occasion, that spare time permitted Her Majesty to indulge in simple pleasures as she often wanted to. Perhaps he discouraged her from that too often. His hands lingered on the hangers of her clothing, trembling despite himself.
“I’ll put on a pot of Hresvelg Blend.” That was all he needed. One last distraction. Hubert reached for the familiar corner table and picked up the enchanted self-heating kettle—another gift of convenience.
“After such a trying battle, a small indulgence should ready you for the day to come.” Hresvelg tea was a favored blend for them both, and Her Majesty seemed to better enjoy a warm cup with company. At the end of the day, seated at the quaint table in her room, Lady Edelgard could speak to him as not only an Emperor but a friend.
Now, of course, she could not sit at the table where the teapot began to heat the fresh water gathered from the basin. To accommodate as any good vassal would, he pulled a chair over to her bedside and took a seat where she waited now.
“I admit, it is jarring to see Dimitri in such condition but still insistent on his chivalrous ideals. You are better acquainted with him than I, of course.” He waited a pause where she might speak if she could, and he chuckled at what would have surely been a clever reply.
“The Black Eagles do appear to be in good health, at least. Perhaps they did listen to our advisements after all.” His wry smile did not break the illusion but contributed to it, even. Lady Edelgard would encourage him to have greater respect for their peers. They chose their path and their resulting strength was earned on their own merit.
“I suppose you are correct,” he relented to his imagined dialogue with Edelgard. “Bernadetta even approached me herself to fight. I find it difficult to not take pride in their successes, even when they are at my loss.”
The conversation would turn here. She would talk of the smell of autumn leaves, the latest ballroom adornments or heavy armor designs, a pastry she has been longing for that he could send agents across Adrestia to track down… And Hubert would listen dutifully. He was not one to speak socially unless prompted, and she could give him ample opportunity to talk as much or as little as he liked. About whatever he required.
He leaned forward to put his hands on his knees, examining the matter he needed to address.
“…And yet, now I find myself in need of your direction. You asked that I live my own life with the knowledge that you would sacrifice your own.” He swallowed thickly, tears yet to fall pricking at his eyes already. Hubert was disappointed in his own vulnerability.
“Beyond revenge against those who murdered your family and led to your eventual death, I do not have the slightest idea what that means. You are my purpose, my reason to exist. All I have done, I have done for you.” Words tumbled out of him now, instinctive and unfiltered. Hubert looked at his hands as if they had anything to offer either of them. In this moment, there were no strings to pull or daggers to position against her enemies in the shadows where he thrived. No dark spell or sinister scheme could alter this path. Hubert lifted his gaze to stare at the ghostly form of her face below the sheet. Outlines of her nose and the indents of her eyes remained all too clear in the lantern’s light.
Hubert rested a single hand on the bed beside her as he moved closer, imploring and desperate.
“You may wonder what my life could have been without you, but I never have. Not even once. Faced with that prospect, I am at a total loss. Your Majesty, I…” Too soon, he cried and blinked as the first few tears dropped and disappeared into the sheet. “Edelgard, I cannot do this without you. I have prepared for every eventuality but this, this horrific—”
His words fell off with the next wave of teardrops, and he was not far behind. Hubert folded onto the bed to bury his face in his forearms, seated at the edge of the chair as his fingers twisted in the sheets. Some part of his brain warned against disturbing her rest, a concern that was not even possible. Would that he could.
At some point, the teapot had begun to whistle on the table, but Hubert did not move. The door opened, the whistling stopped, and he did not move.
The door clicked shut and Hubert lifted his head, expecting to be alone with Her Majesty once again. Instead, cast in a halo of lantern light, Ferdinand stood by the table where the tea waited.
“I know I am fond of tea, Hubert,” Ferdinand began, stilted but affectionate as he tried to imitate their typical banter. “But I had not expected you to call for help with a kettle.”
“There is enough for two,” Hubert advised and sat back in the chair. He kept a single hand on the sheet now damp with his tears, staring blankly at the white against gold. “Cups are in the cabinet.”
“I did not come in here for tea.” Ferdinand brought the other chair over, feigning ignorance of the tears that he could undoubtedly see even in the lantern’s distant light. His arrival brought them to a stop as some means of preserving his image, if that could be managed.
The government of Adrestia reunited at last, Her Majesty and her two Ministers. They were carrying out her orders by ensuring the defeat of Those Who Slither in the Dark just as they were intended to. By sitting with him in his grief, Ferdinand was once more stepping in to serve her will where Hubert himself could not.
She wanted him to live but in his heart, Hubert wished he had died at the gates. That was the sinister truth, another secret burden he would take to his grave. Somehow, Ferdinand knew of the weight on him regardless and helped Hubert carry it without compromising his privacy.
“I will only take your pain as my own, so that sharing in it may lessen what you bear.”
Where Hubert could not meet Her Majesty’s demands, Ferdinand supplied the inexhaustible positivity to transform her wishes into reality. A world where she had failed but Hubert still took breath. Someday, he would acquire a new profession. Reform prior connections. And in the end, move on from her death. It was unthinkable.
“She means everything to me, Ferdinand,” Hubert ventured to explain the mire of despair consuming him. “I planned my every action to support Her Majesty. Once Shambala falls, I will have nothing.”
The rustle of his cloak prefaced Ferdinand’s hand on his shoulder again.
“You will have a choice, Hubert. Based on Edelgard’s cause for this war, that is what she wanted for you: to choose for yourself what your life will be now that we are here.” Few moments were as surreal and enlightening as discovering Ferdinand had a point Hubert did not uncover first. The former Prime Minister could speak of principles and ideals from Edelgard with irritating ease because, as painful as it had originally been to admit, Ferdinand did understand her vision. The methods to achieve them were just too much for him.
“Under her reign, people who would otherwise be overlooked were elevated to positions of power by their own skills, not their lineage or birthright.” The crisp buoyancy to his voice brightened the room. Even now, having chosen to stand against Her Majesty, Ferdinand was proud of her accomplishments. The sentiment shined in his every word.
“If she wished that for the citizens who had not always been at her side as you have, does it not make sense that you would deserve the same in her eyes?”
“Deserving it is not enough,” Hubert deflected. “If I cannot find out how to deliver the results she desired, it is pointless.”
“Hubert, please look at me,” he requested, and Hubert turned his head only enough to see the soothing smile from Ferdinand. “This is not a battle strategy to serve Edelgard. You are always planning three steps ahead, but that is not how matters of the heart are.”
Not content to merely say the word, Ferdinand brought his other hand up to rest on Hubert’s chest. The warmth of the palm over his beating heart changed the atmosphere of the room as if by an unknown magic. The effect could not be measured, categorized, or defined, but he could detect it in the instant that they made contact. The air was lighter, easier to breathe, and it somehow led him to feel more present in the room than he had been beforehand. If the change remained after Ferdinand had to take his leave, perhaps Hubert could yet find a path beyond Shambala.
That speculation was only the pathetic hope of a simpleton that found its roots in the reliability of another, something Hubert had absolutely no control over. And still, he longed to reach for it. The task was as straightforward as mounting a Pegasus and taking flight, a skill he could master if only he could overcome the fear that seized him at the very notion.
“You must begin with the present. Assess yourself with emotion, and you may decide where to go from there.” Ferdinand took his hand back and piece by piece, the difference it made eroded. “But you do not need that answer now. Now, you must allow yourself to grieve.”
“I am lost without her, Ferdinand.”
Hubert had not sounded so small in years. Not since he was a boy and the soldiers wrestled him back to Enbarr, and finally, acceptance of his defeat hit him. He was just a child then and made no effort to conceal his spiteful despondency. To think applying that effort made next to no difference in his voice was almost laughable.
“Then we will come to find you.” When his hand reached for Hubert this time, it found Hubert’s own. And it was Hubert who laced their fingers together and found peace in it. “Wherever you may be, Hubert, you will not be alone.”
The time they spent in that position was interminable. When his spirits were restored enough, Hubert stood and folded the sheet down to see her face. The serenity came as a surprise, especially next to the lingering disfiguration from her transformation that he’d heard whispered among the soldiers: a brown-grey smear down her left cheek. He smoothed her hair back, placing a kiss to her forehead as he did when she was feverish or frightened as a child.
“Edelgard, I would never have chosen this life without you in it. But now that it is here and you have given my orders to live it for myself, I will—” He fought back even more tears; Hubert had more than enough of that as it was. “I will try.”
When the sheet covered her face again and they were both seated, Hubert himself sought out Ferdinand’s hand in the dark.
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