The impending war weighed upon the Black Eagles’ shoulders, especially on their leader’s, but that day was rather calm, despite the back and forth of soldiers around the buildings that formed the Garreg Mach, or what remained of the monastery nowadays.
Doing her usual parade lap, Byleth was walking down the courtyard next to the Knight’s Hall, coming from the stables, when something, or better someone caught her attention.
Hubert was sitting in furthest corner at the edge of the colonnade that leaded into the Reception Hall, darkness surrounded him as a tree hid him with its thick trunk and bushes with their flourishing branches, a bored look scrunched up his grim features as he stared in front of himself and not at the notebook opened on his lap.
“He fully knows there’s a place where he can practise, and yet he shows off here. Pathetic.” Byleth heard him murmur under his breath before that creepy chuckle of his left his lips writhed in a sneer.
Driven by a sudden curiosity, Byleth walked over to him and, as soon as she was close, leant next to his left ear to ask “What are you doing, Hubert?”.
A shiver shook the imperial tactician’s body, his back stiffened at once as he swung his head around so quickly he felt dizzy for a moment.
“Oh, it’s you, Professor.” he sighed in what sounded much like relief to Byleth, rolling his eyes. Then, as if he’d only just remembered what good manners were, he greeted her with a stern bow of his head, although he didn’t spare her a suspicious glance for the intrusion.
Hubert didn’t hear her coming? That was very strange of him.
The corners of Byleth’s mouth quirked up in a amused grin.
“Yeah, Hubert. It’s just me.” she reassured him with a careful wave of her hand. “I’ve asked you what are you doing here.” she repeated while sitting down by his side.
Hubert quickly darted his gaze back to where he had been staring previously, then huffed annoyed at the question.
“Doing research.” he replied simply, making more space between them by scooting some inches away from the young woman.
“Here?” Byleth blinked confused, before adding “What kind of research are you… doing, exactly?” her eyebrows met in a frown.
“For Lady Edelgard, of course.” he drew out a vexed breath as if that brief conversation sucked his energies dry, energies that he would have rather spent in other activities.
Byleth had always had the feeling that Hubert didn’t like her, he.. tolerated her presence just because Edelgard happened to enjoy her company, so her faithful servant had to accept that fact and swallowed his jabs reserved for his former professor, no matter how hard it was for him at times.
Actually, she was still studying that oddly interesting guy, even after all the months she stayed at the Officers Academy. But she was glad that nothing had changed after her momentary departure. She had found herself missing all her students, even Hubert, with his dark humor and beady eyes.
Lost in her thoughts, she hadn’t initially noticed Hubert hadn’t answered her question, so she soldiered on and tried her luck one more time, out of spite or pure curiosity she couldn’t tell by now.
“Not what I’ve meant, Hubert.” she scolded him with a small smile curving up her lips.
She saw Hubert’s fingers wrapped around the charcoal twitch as well as his left eye, and bit down her bottom lip to suppress a chuckle.
“Do you need something in particular from me, Professor?” he immediately cut every possible response with a strict “Because I’m very busy, as you can see.”.
He shifted his position, eyes staring straight ahead.
“Right.” her voice quivered a bit from the effort of not bursting out laughing at him. “But I think-” she took a deep breath, “I think Ferdinand’s nose is a little softer on the tip”.
An audible gasp left Hubert’s lips at the accusation her words implied, and turned to glare daggers at her, closing the notebook in a rush.
“It’s rude to pry in other people’s properties, I thought someone like you would have known that.“ he commented, his voice laced with poison, as he acknowledged only in that moment how much closer his professor was now, enough to take a good look at his notebook, at least.
Before Byleth could reply properly, a noise echoed around the empty yard.
Empty except for one person.
She immediately looked towards the source of that loud moan of strain and was surprised to find Ferdinand in the middle of it, bare chested although the clouds in the sky threatened rain, his hair gathered up in a messy bun on his head, some stray locks framing his face crumpled in concentration as he gripped hard on a lance he was using for training.
Sweat ran down his regal neck and glistened under the weak light of the sun, his cheeks wearing a scarlet shade that highlighted the golden amber of his eyes.
Muscles bulging out from tightening around the wooden shaft, his abdomen taut.
Byleth gaped for a moment at that sight, not because it elicited some kind of inner reaction out of her, but because the pieces of the puzzle were finally clicking in the right place.
One, two, three seconds passed before her mouth literally slacked open as soon as realization washed over her like cold water.
She ever-so-slowly turned her head, her eyes round and wide as she looked at the guy next to her who was watching very intently the scene displayed before his eyes that shone of a wicked gleam.
And his face was literally burning, from his chin to the very tips of his ears, of shame, embarrassment or other feelings Byleth was too stunned at the moment to guess which.
That was the last straw.
Byleth could feel the imminent, roaring laugh swelling her lungs and wanting to escape from her throat.
But before she could loosen up for the very first time since she woke up from her five years nap, or perhaps since forever, before she could burst into a cackling laughter, Hubert abruptly stood up, grabbed her by an arm, clapped a hand hard on her mouth and dragged her behind the nearest pillar, the notebook and the charcoal falling on the floor in the process.
All that happened so quickly that Ferdinand didn’t have enough time to find out what caused that sudden hustle, stopping in his movements to look around himself quizzically.
Pinning Byleth against the stone surface, Hubert looked her dead in the eyes, his hand pressing harder on her trembling lips.
Tears gathered on her eyelashes that she flickered once, twice as she stared up to her student.
“I’ll let you go only if you assure me you can control your childish instincts.” he hushed through gritted teeth. He looked intimidating even though he was still blushing.
Hubert was blushing. Byleth’s mind couldn't wrap around that fact.
“Are you able to control yourself, Professor?”
A single nod.
Then, she breathed in and out for a few moments through her nose before getting a grip, the hilarity that had possessed her earlier now fading away.
When Hubert was sure enough that she wouldn’t have started laughing again, he let Byleth go and cleared his throat lowly, hiding himself behind a clenched fist.
An awkward silence lingered between them afterwards.
The imperial tactician then carded his fingers through the dark tuft in front of his eye, before shaking his head and straightening his back up.
“So, you can laugh, Professor. Good for you.” he offered in his poised tone, although Byleth could hear his distress for being caught in what she presumed was one of his secrets.
She had been a professor. No, she was still a professor, her former students saw a guide in her, they looked upon her as a leader. And what did she just do? Laugh at one of them because he felt human emotions such as infatuation?
She flinched a bit and briefly lowered her eyes, then met his gaze again, guilt showing now all over her face.
“I’m- I’m sorry, Hubert, I didn’t mean to make fun of you.“ she uttered out in the most honest voice, her shoulders slumping down as she leant back against the pillar.
“You won’t breathe a word of this to anyone, especially Lady Edelgard.” Byleth could swear she saw terror shadowing his face for a split second at the mention of their mutual friend, “Or I’ll have to cut your tongue off with my bare hands, Professor.” the smile that he was wearing sent chills to her guts, her throat closing up as he punctuated the epithet with a squint of his bright but gloomy eyes.
She swallowed around the lump that didn’t let her speak, and nodded again in understanding.
She didn’t want to face his true anger, not since she well knew what he was capable of with his magic.
“I-” she started, then bit the inside of her cheek. “I thought you- you hated him.” she spoke her thoughts out loud in the end, levelling him with a skeptical gaze.
Different emotions ran across Hubert’s features then, though the guy didn’t seem willing to answer any time soon.
In fact, it took some painfully long seconds before Byleth’s curiosity finally could find peace.
“I do.” Hubert folded his arms on his chest, his voice hoarse and his face impassive as ever, but his eyes betrayed him, those eyes that could instill dread in the bravest soldiers, those very same eyes now softened somehow, as if the mere thought of von Aegir’s eldest son was enough to breach his defenses and let his guard down even only for a while.
His professor cocked an eyebrow at him, her mouth twisting in a displeased grimace at that obvious lie.
“You hate him so much you have a notebook full of drawings of him?” she asked while tilting her head to the side.
Against her best intentions to help him out and confront his feelings, those words just worsened her already precarious position.
Hubert was once again in her personal space, threatening his professor by pointing a finger at her face.
“I’ve warned you to shut up-”.
“Why don’t you ask him out?”
That simple suggestion definitely struck some deeper chords within the imperial tactician because he reared back, his eyes widened then immediately narrowed in two slits filled with venom, even if Byleth noticed his ears turning pink again.
His mouth was a thin line, but the muscles of his neck grew tense and his shoulders were tighter than before.
The air around them heaved with electricity, like a storm coming to wipe everything in its wake.
She could feel anticipation tickle under her skin.
Then Hubert grunted, a guttural noise that quickly faded into an actual yet humorless laugh, that sinister sound that made the hairs on the back of Byleth’s neck stand on end every time, despite having heard it more than once by now.
“I should do what?” he asked as laughters still shook his words. “You’re ridiculous.” he spat then as he tossed his head to the side, breaking the staring contest they had previously engaged.
Byleth couldn't understand why he was being so obtuse when it was as clear as a summer morning that he felt something for Ferdinand, ‘research’ bullshit aside.
“Edelgard doesn’t need someone who can’t even admit his feeling towards a fellow companion at her side.” she spoke loud and clear now, trying to knock some sense into that thick skull of his.
Apparently, that single statement was the key to win the ongoing dispute because the broody man fell silent, looking at Byleth bewildered by the frankness of her words.
But then Hubert did something she didn’t expect.
He just sighed, as if resigned of his evident defeat against his professor’s determination, then turned his back to her.
“I should go back to Lady Edelgard now.” he announced in a harsh tone, but something was off to Byleth, something didn’t seem right, though she couldn’t say what exactly.
And with that, Hubert took his leave, Byleth still standing by the pillar.
She followed him with her eyes until he disappeared completely out of her sight.
Shaking hopelessly her head, she resumed her strolling, trying to not think about her former student’s love life and miserably failing.
She wanted to speak about what had happened with Edelgard. Even though she acted like she didn’t care about that kind of frivolous arguments, in that case Hubert was involved, her servant, but most importantly, her best friend.
She couldn’t let it slide that easily, but, for the sake of Hubert’s privacy, ultimately decided to say nothing to her, the imperial tactician’s words still ringing in her ears eased her final decision.
Meanwhile, Hubert had been halfway to his room when suddenly a thought crossed his mind.
If he still had his eyebrows they would surely have shot up to his hairline.
He immediately turned tail and started walking straight back to the yard, his pace fast enough to reach the place in a short time but not too hurried to raise suspects.
Once there, he went back to where he had been sitting to retrieve his notebook.
But the worst of fears quickly clutched at his stomach when he realized that his precious collection of research was nowhere to be found.