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The thought crossed his mind as he leaned down to the surface of the oasis, dipping his armour into the rippling surface to rid it of the sand that lurked in all its little nook and crannies. 

A bath would be nice, and it was a thought he had often on these weekend expeditions with the Black Eagles Strike Force. The sun only just touched the tip of the mountains in the distance as it began to set.

He had washed himself in this oasis earlier while the sun was still high in the sky, warming the waters and the air around them. They had warded off a pack of colossal wolves in the peninsula of Sreng, successfully so under the guidance of their former professor. They had endured no major injuries, and to Ferdinand it was a monument to their success as a group. While he watched his former classmates dawdle by the shores of the water, the corners of his lips turned upwards.

Caspar had stripped from his gear and was wading into the water in his smallclothes, while Linhardt had lifted the bottom of his robes to dip his feet into the water. Ferdinand heard them splash water at one another as he began to undo his armour. 

He began at his hands, and unfastened his gauntlets from his upper arms before placing them onto the sandy ground, and he moved to his legs without faltering, rehearsed in this particular ritual. His sabatons, then his greaves were pulled off through a series of clasps on the back of his calves. The rest of the armour on his legs were removed, and he continued with his upper arms and pauldrons. The most inconvenient part always came last for Ferdinand, the gorget above the breastplate that protected the area around his collarbone, fastened at the back in a hard-to-reach position. Ferdinand stretched his arm backwards, feeling at the back for the clasp, fiddling at it when he found it. After two, three, then four unsuccessful attempts, he looked to Linhardt and Caspar splashing water at one another while laughing and thought to call out for them. 

Something brushed between his fingers, and the clasp was undone. A pair of hands reached to the straps of leather above his shoulders, which were loosened as his breastplate was taken off him. The person behind him did not say a word, yet Ferdinand knew. The feeling of this person taking off his armour was familiar to him, and the faint and familiar smell of his cologne wafted past him, reminding him of quiet meetings in Seteth’s old office in Garreg Mach.

Ferdinand's chest began to stir. He swallowed and steadied his voice. "Thank you, Hubert." As the weight of armour was lifted, Ferdinand rolled his shoulders and stretched his arms, letting out a deep sigh as his shoulders sagged. 

"Something weighing upon you?" Hubert said from behind him.

Ferdinand smiled. "It is more what has weighed on me. My muscles are already beginning to ache…" 

Hubert’s voice continued to linger behind him. "It is not surprising for the amount of armour you wear." 

"Mmm," Ferdinand hummed. As he began unbuttoning his doublet, from behind him he heard the sound of shuffling until Hubert came in front of him to perch by the side of the pond, dipping his feet in the cool water with his boots placed beside him neatly. 

This was unusual for Hubert. To sit by the lake in the blazing sun, for the sake of it? He had already changed from his dark bishop’s robes to his regular attire, so he had no reason to come here. To tell them to hurry, because everyone else was waiting? He would have told them by now, Ferdinand thought. 

He was sitting only half a dozen feet away, near him, but surely, because he was the only one unoccupied. Ferdinand shook his head, hoping to free himself of this nonsense that was starting to plague his thoughts. His fingers still hovered over the buttons of his doublet. He had undressed near Hubert before, countless times for the sake of changing gear for battle and after. Yet these new feelings that had brewed inside of him rendered his hesitant. Somehow it felt improper and embarrassing, even if Hubert had seen his body maybe dozens of times before.

He looked to Caspar still kicking water onto Linhardt, who waved a subtle spell to the water in response, causing a spout of water to jet Caspar in the face. He tumbled back with a splash, causing a snicker to leave Hubert. Ferdinand watched Hubert as he gazed across the water, opposite from where he was. 

Ferdinand took this opportunity to peel the doublet from his body and remove the rest of his clothes. Collecting his soaps and every morsel of bravery, he waded into the waters to wash himself from the dirt and sweat that had clung onto him. The water was clean and crystalline and pleasant enough, though still cool. For his weariness, it was not quite the warm waters of a bathhouse, nor the hot steam of the sauna at Garreg Mach.

After washing his body and hair, he mentioned this as he perched next to Hubert after calming himself down, teasing the knots out of his damp hair as an offhand comment. He had dried himself sufficiently enough to be wearing his trousers, though his torso was left bare as his wet hair would only soak through any shirt he would don for the sake of modesty. "What I would give for a bath right at this moment..."

The quiet sound of water moving came from where Hubert moved his feet underneath the water. "Is this much different to a normal bath? Only colossal in size?"

"Baths have steaming hot water that soothes the body... Do they not have a spell to conjure up a bath in any of your many tomes?" Ferdinand joked.

Though his attention was fixed on combing his hair, he could hear the smile in Hubert’s voice. "Unfortunately not. Perhaps I could invent the spell and make a small fortune." 

"Mm, teach me first. Even with my lackluster skills, I would still practice long and hard for a bath, however cramped or misshapen it may turn out to be."

The comment eased a chuckle from Hubert, and Ferdinand looked up to see him bring a gloved hand to his mouth as he smiled. Their eyes met briefly, making Ferdinand’s chest skip a beat as his cheeks moved into a grin directed at him. Ferdinand turned away to carry on detangling his hair, smiling down at it. 

The longer his hair grew, the longer he would spend detangling it, and the more effort he would put into it. He ran a wide-toothed comb through it, attempting to ease the knots in it loose. As he glanced upwards, his eyes finding Hubert's once more and he found that Hubert was still watching him. 

He turned back to his hair, with his pulse jumping in his chest. After teasing out the large knots, he began running a brush through it, a gentler one with thick bristles.

Dorothea had once suggested the option of plaiting it, saying that she often slept with it in a braid to prevent tangles. The brush had stopped catching on any remaining tangles, and Ferdinand frowned. With his hair at its current ridiculous length, he had never even known how to braid it, and before he could ask Dorothea how, the topic of the conversation had changed. 

Fiddling with a stray strand of hair, he attempted to figure out how to plait it. Splitting it into a number of smaller strands, he attempted to weave them together.  Hubert called to him after a minute or so when Ferdinand let out a sigh. "Is something bothering you?"

"No, not particularly… I am trying to figure out how to make a braid. It was mentioned to me that putting it in one could help prevent tangling..."

He trailed off, returning to fiddle at a task he was discovering more than incomprehensible to him. A moment passed before Hubert spoke. 

"Turn away for a moment."

"Hm?"

"Your back to me, and lend me your brush."

Ferdinand blinked, then nodded, and turned around so his back was facing Hubert. 

Handing his brush to Hubert, his hand touched his, albeit gloved, though it was detail that his mind could not help but notice. Hubert brought his hands near his shoulders, coaxing all of his hair to be on his back. He began to brush it, despite Ferdinand having just brushed it already, his motions gentle and careful. 

Ferdinand's pulse raced, and he wondered if the tips of his ears had turned red. He looked downwards, not even daring to look up, in case he would meet the gaze of Caspar or Linhardt who would question, why does he look so embarrassed when Hubert touches his hair?

Because, Ferdinand lamented to nobody but himself, surely an action such as this, so close and intimate, is something that two people who were so close would do? Unless, Ferdinand's mind raced, Hubert is used to doing something like this. He was extraordinarily gentle and practiced in his combing, and so Ferdinand could not help but wonder. Edelgard? His Lady Edelgard? Would he brush her hair like this in this manner? He is desperate to know, and yet stopped himself as he knew his voice would come out in nothing but a horrible stutter. 

Against his bare back, he felt hair being split into three strands. His bare back no less, surely he would not braid his lady's hair while she was bare, that would constitute as something wholly inappropriate and ignoble. Ferdinand's head spun. Though perhaps, if they were in a close relationship, they would…? He swallowed. The strands were handled by Hubert with care as they are woven into place. He was practiced at this task, and so he most likely did it every day. Did Edelgard have her hair be handled by Hubert like this every single day? Did he have him put a comb to it, as gentle as he was with him, and then treat it with as much care? No, perhaps, Hubert would even ease the tangles out, just how Ferdinand would struggle to do himself. 

Ferdinand’s hand curled in his lap. The hands lingering past his shoulders left, and Ferdinand stared into the water. 

Hubert cleared his throat, and Ferdinand remained motionless. Looking into their faint and wavering reflection in the waters, Ferdinand’s gaze fixed onto the rippling waters, unfocused and somewhat glazed. Around the water was silent, Linhardt and Caspar having made themselves scarce before the two of them had realised. Reflected on the surface was them alone.

The braid rested on his back. It was fastened with a strap of black fabric, and the tail of it came just past where his shoulder blades ended.

Hubert cleared his throat once more. 

"Oh," Ferdinand's shoulders jerked, and he turned his head. "Finished, are you? Thank you!"

A nervous smile rose to his lips as he stood, moving to where he had placed his clothing. After buttoning his shirt and vest, he turned to Hubert. "We ought to return, before the others start to worry where we've gotten ourselves to."

Hubert faced him, staring at the top of his jacket. Ferdinand looked down to it, wondering if it was mis-buttoned or stained. He brushed off what he thought was sand that had gotten onto it, then looking back to Hubert with his head tilted as Hubert continued to narrow his eyes at his shirt. 

"Your collar is crooked," Hubert finally said.

"Ah. Thank you,” Ferdinand hummed, straightening where he thought Hubert mentioned, his eyes flickering downwards. Hubert’s brows were still furrowed at him.

"No," Hubert stepped towards him. "Here…"

His breath caught in his throat. Hubert’s hands were by his neck, meticulously neatening his collar of his shirt that had somehow become misshapen and crumpled. He wondered how he had not noticed himself. Yet at the forefront of his mind was how close Hubert was to him, with his hands dangerously close to his neck, and the faint smell of his cologne. 

It was an intimate action, adjusting someone else’s clothing. Ferdinand remained still, and did not dare to even meet his eyes, knowing that his cheeks had already warmed and turned themselves pink.

As Hubert parted, Ferdinand’s words came out in a stutter. “Th – Thank you.”

His response was wordless, and only a small smile. You are handsome when you smile, he wanted to say. 

He felt nauseous, and wanted to expel all the thoughts and feelings towards him that he kept hidden. Hubert was intimate with him like this in these small ways, not only helping him fix his clothing and braid his hair for him, but they would share a pot of whatever hot beverage they fancied under a towering pile of paperwork as they leafed through its pages. Occasionally, underneath the desk, their knees would touch. They even exchanged little notes and letters, purely for the sake of arranging tea and coffee outside of work, for meals, and occasionally for walks on evenings that were particularly clear. 

Hubert was sweet in these unexpected ways, and only because he was someone who liked to take care of his friends with small gestures such as these. Ferdinand dyed these moments rose-coloured in his mind, despite knowing that most likely Hubert was not attracted to men. 

He was unsure of what to do in the present, and for how much longer he could cling onto these feelings in the future. 

Hubert called to him, his tone softer than usual. “Ferdinand?”

“...Yes?”

He wanted to tell him. How carefully he kept their letters and notes, and how often he read them over and over.  

Hubert frowned. “I ought to have asked. My apologies.”

“No, no, no… Not at all,” Ferdinand swallowed. “Erm, thank you. It was a little unexpected and it surprised me, that is all.”

“Right.”

A silence grew between them, and the thundering in Ferdinand’s chest did not cease. The surface of the oasis still shimmered in the early afternoon sun, and nothing surrounded them in the vicinity other than the wildflowers that bloomed around the shore.  “We ought to go,” Ferdinand urged, eager for them to leave.

After a lull, Hubert replied. “...Yes.”

They both rejoined their fellow former classmates for a post-battle meal, and throughout the entire time Ferdinand thought about his plait. He received compliments here and there from his cohort but made no reference that it was Hubert that did it for him.

His flusteredness and affections would surely bleed into his words, where someone would catch on and perhaps even tease him about it in front of Hubert himself. He imagined an awkward and excruciating rejection in a public place, all while they ate.

He remembered the gentle feeling of Hubert running his fingers between his hair, then carefully separating it into strands. He looked to Edelgard, sitting with her hair loose, undone from her usual two buns. Ferdinand wondered if those were Hubert’s work as well.

The thought lingered in his mind all throughout their meal, and remained with him as he excused himself to clean his armour and returned to the oasis alone. Sitting by the shore of the pool of water, he found himself distracted by the tail of his braid. The strap of fabric, only a piece of thin black velvet to fasten the end of the braid, belonging to Hubert. A keepsake, perhaps? When his braid is eventually undone, he would have to ask if he could keep it, nonchalant and not at all like he had thought about it. "Would it be alright if I kept this?" He might ask. "I want to keep hold of this," Was far too forward. "Did you intend for me to keep this?" His head spun. "Perhaps you would let me, as a form of keepsake. The colour reminds me of you. In return, maybe I could offer you a lock of my hair—a keepsake in return… If you would like, of course…"

Rehearsing it in his head brought a heat to his cheeks, the thought of offering a lock of his hair making him particularly embarrassed. He busied himself with the task at hand, a meager attempt to distract himself. 

He dried the water from his now-rinsed armour, all while shaking his head. He was thinking far too deeply about the entire matter. He had only braided his hair out of kindness, and because Ferdinand was struggling with the task himself. Ferdinand would do the same for any of his other friends with any task that they needed help with, if Ferdinand could assist in any way, of course. They were there to help one another, which is what Hubert was to him, an important friend. He reassured himself of this, that the little thoughts he would have as they would exchange notes were stamped out. Other friends would most likely exchange notes in a similar manner, littered with niceties and compliments. 

There was one in particular that he kept tucked in his breast pocket at all times like a good-luck charm, his first letter to him, where Hubert had written to him, is it strange that I find another person so radiant? 

He had written back giddily and with what he perceived as a degree of restraint. Only if it is strange that my heart sings when I read those words from you, Hubert.  

"This, erm," Hubert had told him, with Ferdinand's response in his hands in letter-form, while Hubert was red-faced and unable to look at him. "There isn't any need, really… For this..."

Their letters beyond then were more subdued, but radiant lived on in his head since. So radiant. He stared into space, and wondered to what extent was it friendly to call another radiant

After his armour was dry, he moved to add a small amount of oil to a rag to rub it on his armour, starting on his gauntlets. He wondered when this tendency of his began, where he would find himself fixated on what Hubert did or said. Though previously he could barely stand the man, recently he had found him far more personable and pleasant to spend time around, even finding that he wanted to spend more time with him. He had recently been shown how to brew coffee by him, something he thought he would never do, and something that he thought that he would never do for somebody else.

He continued to polish the rest of his armour. It was a shame that Hubert did not bathe at this pond with the others. He frowned at his own train of thought. Such an idea was unfair for Hubert, but he thought of how he would look underneath his bishops' robes, or his usual attire. Purely for curiosity's sake, for the sake of just knowing, he reassured himself as he felt his cheeks warm.

His fixation and infatuation with Hubert would soon pass, he reassured himself.

For the time being, he would enjoy having Hubert to himself for the rest of the night. Through fate or by just happenstance, they shared a tent once more for this expedition. Since their budding friendship, there was no need to have to settle arrangements for them to be in separate tents, and with that Linhardt and Caspar were quick to say that they would like to be in the same one. It left Ferdinand and Hubert as the only two male former-students in their former-class.

Edelgard had noticed, and surely with respect to Hubert she had asked their professor if it was really necessary to split tents by gender. Byleth crossed her arms and hummed in thought, and it was Ferdinand himself who had argued against the case. Though he personally did not mind, it would be unfair to subject anyone to such rules, especially if they were uncomfortable with the prospect. 

In hindsight, he wondered if his subconscious had already known and wanted them to be together.

Hubert would be at his makeshift desk for the majority of the night, though Ferdinand would bring him a warm drink to accompany him. Ferdinand would wonder that if Hubert sat at his desk for long enough, his shoulders would get stiff and Ferdinand could offer to ease the knots out of it. Despite his idle thoughts, he would always lack the courage to do so, even as Hubert would grimace as his joints would make distasteful clicks as he stretched. 

During their nights together, they would often have a game of chess before they retired to their cots. Instead of the one-sided massacre of the chequerboard that would be commonplace when they were younger, Hubert would be a little more forgiving with him. Hubert would coach Ferdinand more often than playing against him, giving little cues when Ferdinand would play well—or not so well—even giving small words of praise or very occasionally uttering, Are you sure you would like to do that? with the unspoken permission to redo a turn.

Ferdinand would watch him as he would think about his turns, the delicate slope of his nose, how his fingers would slowly stroke at his chin in thought, and how his eyes would dart across the board. A pretty shade of pale green, like the panes of glass in stained-glass windows.

Sometimes, he wondered how he never realised. He had been caught staring on many occasions, and would Hubert not ask him? I have found you staring at me on many occasions, and on every instance you look away. Do you…? 

And at this point, he would turn away with his cheeks darkening. Inside his head, he heard it in his voice, Nevermind… I must have been imagining it. 

Tonight, if he was brave enough, he could confess his feelings to him. He would handle a rejection gracefully, he was sure of that. Yet a part of him questioned if there could be anything that lingered underneath. The letter in his breast pocket haunted him, and he would read Hubert’s rare words of admiration and praise towards him over and over.

He walked back to their tent, hoping that the cool night air would lessen the warmth in his cheeks and calm his loose daydreams that were prone to running wild on this night. Light bled through the tarp, where Hubert had retired after their evening meal.

A pleasant aroma wafted towards him, and it hit Ferdinand before he even entered. He flipped the opening of the tent, and ducked under it. “I did not know that you cared for incense, Hube…”

His voice trailed off as he saw the inside of his tent. Nothing struck him as unusual at first, Hubert was sitting at his makeshift desk, their beds were made and tidy, and the lanterns by them were lit. Hubert had an additional one with him by his desk.

In the centre, however, was a metal basin, about as long as a rake in length, and past his knee in height. A watering trough, he realised, but it had been cleaned to unrecognition on first glance and was filled with the source of the scent: steaming water. Hot water filled around half of it, with salts dissolved into it, turning it cloudy, as well as the smell of flowers infused into it, which was most likely the floating bag made of muslin, tied up with a piece of string.

Ferdinand blinked. “This is…?”

Hubert spoke without turning away from his work. “Crude, but your bath.”

He looked to Hubert’s back, and then to the bath. “This, how…?”

“The trough I obtained quite easily. A freeze spell for the water, fire to heat the basin to heat the ice.”

“I… see,” Ferdinand stared at the water. “And the… salts and the…”

“Just scavenged from here and there. See that you do not burn yourself on the sides.”

The delight bled into his voice “Thank you, Hubert! This was very thoughtful—”

Hubert cut him off. “—I need you in good form tomorrow, for when we take down this tent and begin our return to Garreg Mach. It is for my own benefit as well, so I do not have you bedridden for tomorrow morning.”

It was for his own benefit , was what he would utter when he did small favours for him. When he would loan him his spare pair of gloves, when he would review paperwork with him, and when Hubert helped him tidy the clutter in the weapons storage. Looking at the back of head, the tips of his ears were pink. 

Ferdinand smiled shyly. “Still, it is appreciated.”

Hubert did not respond. The only sound that came from him was the faint scratches of a quill writing against paper. 

Ferdinand watched him for a moment, hoping to catch a glance of his cheeks to see if they were pink as well. He gave up. “Am I all right to get in…?”

“Of course.”

Hubert did not look up from his work, as Ferdinand fiddled with the linen of his cravat.

The prospect of undressing once more in Hubert’s presence crossed his mind, and he tried his hardest to not let his mind linger on that very thought. 

He undid his cravat, folding it with care and putting it to his bedside. Unfastening the clasps at the front of his vest, it was put next to it. As he felt his braid against his back, only clothed by a shirt, he called to Hubert. "You wouldn't happen to have any pins, would you? So I can tie my braid up so it will not get wet." 

Hubert's quill stilled as the faint scratching stopped, but he did not turn around. "I left some by your bedside." 

Glancing to his bedside, there were half a dozen metal hair grips, made of thin pieces of metal that were bent in half, utilitarian and undecorated in design. "Oh… Thank you."

Twisting the plait, he pinned the tail of it to the back of his head, with a few more pins to support it. After he was satisfied, he moved onto the rest of his preparations. He undid the buttons of his shirt one by one, glancing at the back of Hubert's head every now and again. For whatever reason, he wanted him to look this way, for him to turn from his desk just to see what Ferdinand was doing. Or to see how he was doing, to check if he was undressing already. 

Or that Ferdinand wanted Hubert to take an interest in him? Physically? He had grown taller, and had become more broad and had gained more muscle. His back, he especially feels had become more defined, with years of wielding a spear and maintaining and training his physical capabilities. If Hubert were to notice and comment, Ferdinand would most likely melt from joy. 

His heart pounded in his chest as he slid his shirt past his shoulders, glancing at him once more. He felt his cheeks warm, folding his shirt with a degree of haste. His boots and then his socks and trousers came off easily, and with his smallclothes removed he was completely bare. 

As turned to the basin of water, the cold air surrounding him nipped at his skin. With one hand, he tested the temperature of the water with one hand before stepping in.

The difference in temperature to the air around him and the water made his skin tingle. Little by little, he lowered his body into the water until he was sat on the floor of the makeshift bathtub. The water came to his waist and past his navel; the sight of his lower body was obscured in the water, clouded by the salts dissolved in it. The hot water could almost be scalding, but it was the appropriate heat for it to work on his muscles, the fatigue that had remained in his thighs from hours on horseback began to be eased from him.

The water sloshed and rippled around him as he leaned back, eager to have his back soak in the hot water. He stared into the space above him, the pointed top of the tent, the aches in his body being replaced with a pleasant warmth, a sigh escaped him. 

"Is it to your liking?" Hubert asked him.

"Mm," he hummed, his head already going hazy from the heat. 

For minutes he remained still, letting the hot water work at all the tired parts of his body, focusing only on the sound of water moving if he shifted slightly, the faint sound of the wind outside their tent, and the quiet scratch of a quill writing on parchment. 

He glanced at Hubert, still with his back to him and working away at his desk. He sat upright once more, and the sound of water sloshing around in the tub did not even draw his attention. Moving to sit at the side of the basin where he could face Hubert, his arms were folded on top of one another neatly as he rested them on the side of the trough. "What are you working on tonight?" he asked.

"Nothing that is work, per say. I am filling today's entry for my journal."

Ferdinand smiled. "You keep a journal?"

"Of sorts. It helps me keep track of the days. Would you like to see?"

His heart leapt as Hubert turned around at last, holding a leather bound journal. In hindsight he ought to have held back his excitement that Hubert would let him read his personal journal, and thought with a little more care. The pages open were written in it in careful script and in a series of symbols unfamiliar to Ferdinand. Although not out of the realm of possibility when it came to Hubert, it still was anticlimactic.

Ferdinand pouted. "Do you always write this in a cipher…?"

"Just so that it cannot be read at first glance." He kept it open, and Ferdinand continued to observe it. 

Looking at the pages he had spread, Ferdinand looked at the series of symbols carefully, with some appearing more often than others as he began to count them in his head. "It seems like a simple substitution cipher. Given some time, I most likely could decipher it—no. Perhaps an entry, but I doubt you would use one key for the entire journal. I'm sure you have a lot of interesting secrets tucked away, even just from one entry.”

Hubert hummed. "Very good. Perhaps we could exchange journals and read them back to back. An analysis on what we observe day-by-day could be interesting."

His tone was light and joking, but Ferdinand still bristled at the concept. His personal journal would be horrifying for anyone to read, and was under lock and key in a hidden compartment for his own comfort. Especially Hubert, who he had written about in great detail. 

Hubert noticed his adverse reaction with a grin. "Something sensitive in those?” Hubert teased. “I doubt it would be nothing too alarming, from yours at least."

"Not sensitive, only… embarrassing."

Hubert’s lips had formed a smile. “How so?”

Ferdinand looked down as goose pimples started to form on his arms. "There are things best said in person than stolen from the pages of journals."

An audible smirk came from him "How sentimental of you."

Ferdinand smiled. "...You can be too. Sentimental, that is."

Hubert chuckled, a pleasant sound that made Ferdinand want to kiss him there and then. The feeling lingered underneath his chest, and words were ready to be spun in the moment. He wanted to say everything he had tucked away in his journal. I have these… intense feelings for you, Hubert, if you would permit it, would you allow me to...? 

Instead he looked to him, his head resting on his arms at the side of the makeshift bathtub. A slight draft had entered their tent, making Ferdinand's hairs stand on end as it passed him. A shiver ran through him, and Hubert's smile fell. "It is hot enough?"

"Oh, yes! The water is lovely."

Hubert's eyes narrowed. "Only because you shivered."

Ferdinand rubbed his arms, his hair now standing up. "Only because I am sitting upright."

Hubert's gaze fixed onto his body, then down to the water that reached his abdomen. Ferdinand pulled back only slightly, with his hands travelling up his arms, acutely aware of the attention that was drawn to him. Hubert was staring at the tub with his eyes narrowed, with his gloved hand against his mouth in a loose fist, with his thumb stroking his chin. 

"I found it difficult to judge the volume of water that would melt from the ice, and exercised a degree of caution so it could not overflow. I ought to have filled it higher."

"Oh, it's no problem, really." 

Hubert shook his head. "If I were to fill it with more water, I would have to ask you to get out once…"

"No, no. It's fine. Really. I'm sitting like this," Because I want to talk to you. "Just because I wanted to."

Hubert’s eyes narrowed. "Lying down would let you soak your back and shoulders."

"Yes, well," Ferdiand said quickly. "I wanted to face you so I could talk to you." 

He turned away, embarrassed by his own admission. When he glanced back, Hubert's hand had lowered from his face, and instead of staring at the basin he was sitting in, his gaze was unfocused. 

Ferdinand stared at Hubert until he spoke. "I lack the confidence that it would not cause you any discomfort."

"Hm?"

"Adding ice would lower the temperature by a small amount, perhaps not unbearably, but with the entire receptacle as a heating element…"

"No, really. This is fine. This in itself was very thoughtful and kind and," he swallowed. "The thought alone that you would go even further to make me comfortable is much appreciated."

On this night, Ferdinand felt too bashful to even look at him when complimenting him. Ferdinand reached for a strand of hair that would have gone past his collarbone to fiddle with, only to realise that his hair had been fastened all at the back.

Hubert’s mouth remained shut, staring at Ferdinand’s arms until their eyes met. "Well, if you have any other solutions…"

"Of course. Thank you."

Out of the corner of his eye, Hubert had not moved, still sitting sideways on his stool and having abandoned his work for the time being. 

Ferdinand looked down to the water. The surface of the water rippled with each little movement and just came to his navel now that he was kneeling at the side of the makeshift tub. It was more than warm enough in the water, but the coolness of the air around him bit at his skin as the moisture evaporated from it.

From the way he was sitting, the bath could be considered as a little shallow, and he watched the bag of dried flowers bob on its surface. Ferdinand was fully immersed in his thoughts, with his eyes glazed over as he stared at the water he was sitting in. Small dots littered his arms and shoulders which Hubert looked at more closely, now he had the opportunity. The water sloshed as Ferdinand's posture straightened. Under his breath he let out a strangled gasp. "Ah…"

Hubert blinked, recognising the noise as one of realisation. "A solution, perhaps?"

"Erm," Ferdinand faltered, then shook his head. "No, it's not… err."

"Not what?"

"Viable," His gaze was fixed on his own arms. "I mean, it isn't really a solution at all, really."

"...It seemed like you had some kind of an epiphany."

Ferdinand attempted to backpedal. "It… erm." 

Hubert raised a thin brow. Ferdinand laughed, strained and nervous. 

His pulse hammered in his ears as Hubert spoke. "If it is a solution I have not thought of, I would like to hear it."

"Well. It's. I suppose it's viable. I suppose,” Ferdinand glanced to Hubert, and then back to the water. “Erm, I don't suppose you remember that one childrens' tale, with the sparrow and the basin of water, and how it added marbles to…"

"Displacing the water in order to raise the water level."

Ferdinand nodded and Hubert stroked his chin in thought, scanning the items across the room. Ferdinand continued to avoid Hubert's gaze completely. 

"Weights were an obvious option, but would require an amount of work to clean and dry them afterwards to prevent rusting, anything wooden is out of the question, anything else in mind seems… Unwieldy for a bath." Ferdinand could hear the frown in his voice as Hubert struggled to come up with a similar solution. Ferdinand remained still. "What did you initially have in mind to displace the water?"

Ferdinand did not dare to even look up. "Ah, well," he played with his hands, causing the water to ripple around him. "It doesn't matter." 

"You're defensive," Hubert commented, crossing his arms. "No, embarrassed…?"

Ferdinand glanced at him for a moment, red-faced, only to look away immediately. “It’s, well…” 

As Ferdinand trailed off, Hubert blinked. It was enough for him to understand. "Oh. Well." The arms that were crossed against his chest loosened. "I suppose… There would be enough room." 

"I did not want to suggest it. To cause you to be uncomfortable in any way."

Bathing with someone was in no way unusual. Public baths are commonplace, and they would bathe together at Garreg Mach, though the last time was in their days in the Academy, they offered nothing but looks of contempt from opposite sides of a large bath which could easily fit all the members of their house, quadrupled. In comparison, this small basin that could fit two grown adults and no more.

"Not at all," Hubert said.

His heart leapt to his throat, with the idea of him and Hubert bathing together coming to the forefront of his mind. Ferdinand steadied his voice. "Then perhaps you could join me? The water is nice. Perhaps it could ease some of your tiredness as well. Are your shoulders not stiff from sitting at that desk for so long?"

He shut his mouth before he can babble on for any longer, and Hubert responded with a composedness that Ferdinand could never muster in the same situation. "Yes. Perhaps." 

Hubert pushed his stool out and rose to his feet. Ferdinand watched him as he walked beside his bed with his back still to him, fiddling at his chest. He removed his waistcoat, and the sight alone of him taking it off was enough to make Ferdinand swallow. 

When he slipped off his shirt, it revealed the planes of his bare back, and Ferdinand drank in the sight. Catching sight of him when they dressed in proximity in the days of the academy on weekend expeditions, he remembered Hubert being as tall but bony. Over the years he had put on a degree of muscle and perhaps the war that waged on had urged him to improve himself physically as well as with his studies in magic. 

It was admirable. Ferdinand continued to watch him as he undressed. He knew that the noble and proper thing was to avert his eyes, but he was unable to tear his eyes away at the rare opportunity that had presented itself. He observed Hubert in silence, the curve of his spine, the space between his shoulder blades, and his bare arms, making Ferdinand feel faint. When Hubert began to remove his trousers, Ferdinand averted his gaze, with his heart pounding wildly in his chest. This is where he drew the line of being completely out of line and simply curious, fixing his attention to the surface of the water as he waited. 

The soft sound of footsteps padded towards him, and the water rose at once as Hubert entered the water, now reaching above his midsection. Hubert let out a quiet sigh as he sank into the water, yet Ferdinand was hesitant to meet his eyes. 

He was bathing, with Hubert, and alone. Through his suggestion no less, and it was something he would have only imagined in an idle daydream. His eyes glanced up at Hubert, with the water reaching just under his chest as he sat in the water. His arms were relaxed, elbows disappearing under the water, but the upper arms were bare, just like his shoulders, collar and neck. It was a rare sight, and one that Ferdinand had never seen. 

"Is something the matter?"

“You’re… pale," Ferdinand said, without thinking. “Like alabaster, it’s very…” he trailed off, bordering on being lost for words. “Striking. It isn’t a bad thing, by any means”

His pale skin quickly turned pink in the warm water. Ferdinand looked to his torso.

“I always forget how broad you are in your shoulders, I forget that it isn’t all your clothing... I wish I had your build.”

Hubert faced away from him, and Ferdinand filled the silence. “I think you were right to have your hair cut. It suits you, having less hair on your face. You have nice cheekbones, so you ought to have it so people can see, but what about your other eye –”

“Ferdinand?”

“Yes?”

Hubert did not say anything else, only narrowing his eyes at him. Ferdinand frowned. “What is it?"

Hubert's eyes flickered to the surface of the water, and then back to Ferdinand. “Not at all. Just… Questioning your intentions.”

Ferdinand frowned. “My intentions?”

Hubert looked away. “My apologies. I do not take compliments well." 

Ferdinand swallowed back the anxiousness that rose in his throat. "I... was just commenting that you have a striking appearance." 

Hubert let out a light chuckle. "Striking, yes. Perhaps bizarre would be more appropriate."

"I would not be so sure about bizarre . How about lovely ?"

A laugh left Hubert in a wheeze. " Lovely ," he repeated, as if the compliment had amused him, until he froze as his eyes met with Ferdinand's. A silence grew between them, and Hubert avoided his gaze. "Err…"

The dead air between them began to sink into an awkwardness. Ferdinand felt embarrassed "...My apologies, if I made you feel uncomfortable."

"I am only unsure how to respond. Not many people call me that. Lovely."

"Perhaps if they were a little braver," Ferdinand mumbled. 

The lull between them grew. Ferdinand pulled his attention away from Hubert, and drew his eyes to the rippling surface of the water he was submerged in. 

Hubert broke the air between them, although his tone was hesitant. "Do you find many people lovely?"

It was unexpected from him, and it left Ferdinand speechless for a moment. Only you, he wanted to say. It would be too forward, and far too unnecessary. He had already told him that he found him lovely, and there was no need to repeat it. "Not many people, no. What about yourself?"

Hubert looked away. "...Perhaps I could say the same." 

Ferdinand’s posture straightened, causing the water to ripple around him. "Do I know of her?"

Hubert did not react. Ferdinand bit his tongue, before mustering any scrap of bravery he had within him. "Or perhaps, er, him?"

This made Hubert bristle, and a glimmer of hope flickered within Ferdinand. "Oh?"

"Perhaps not lovely, per say. With men, I wonder if I am unable to… distinguish admiration from attraction."

Ferdinand blinked. "Well, that isn't unusual in any regard. I for certain often find myself attracted to men who I admire."

As he let this little detail slip, Hubert’s eyes widened. "You're attracted to men."

His comment was deadpan, and the straightforwardness of his statement made him stutter. "Err, yes…" He fiddled with his hands underneath the water. Thrown off-guard, he thought nothing of his response. "And are you?"

"I... cannot say for certain. I have never been involved physically with a man."

It was subtle, but Ferdinand caught onto it, the ever so slight emphasis on with a man . What was stitched underneath with care at the very end, invisible but implied was, I have never been involved physically with a man, but I have with a woman

It threw him once more. He had assumed that much like himself, Hubert would be far too buried in his work to be pursuing frivolous activities such as wooing and courting a woman, as far as being involved with her physically. Hubert had noticed that Ferdinand had noticed in turn, glancing away as Ferdinand looked to him in shocked

Unless? Ferdinand thought, unless this partner of his was already close to him? "E –?"

Hubert shot him a scowl, not even letting him finish the first syllable. He clamped his mouth shut. So he was wrong, but then he furrowed his brow. "But in that case, who…?"

"None worth mentioning."

Ferdinand stared at him. None worth mentioning , not nobody worth mentioning , as in there were multiple. Ferdinand’s mouth gaped. "I… did not even know, or… how could I have not known?” His mouth quivered before they formed syllables. ”Tha – That you were even… courting…"

"I was not. It was a series of physical engagements." 

Ferdinand's jaw hung slack. A series of physical altercations, he ran in his head, unbeknownst to him, and right under his nose. Hubert was a libertine, a philanderer, a smell-smock, all while Ferdinand would write at length in his journals at how their fingers brushed when they passed notes to one another. He thought of the letters they exchanged, and the one that rested in his breast-pocket above his heart. Ferdinand's voice shook. "I…"

When their eyes met, he was met with a sharp glare and a sneer. "Have I disappointed you?"

Ferdinand’s mouth had gone dry. "I am, err… struggling to process..."

Hubert let out a noise, a short almost-laugh and a smirk, shaking his head. It was a familiar sight of when something that had annoyed him. His silence was painful, and so Ferdinand stumbled to fill it."Sh—Surely if you had a... long string of women to your name, you would have come across a man. That would be interested in someone like yourself. Even if you were just a little curious." 

Hubert's head was tilted slightly, and his words were sharp as a lopsided smile graced his lips. His tone was light and coated in venom. "Are you offering?"

His eyes widened. "I—?" He suddenly became acutely aware of the situation, the two of them, unclothed in close proximity, and where Hubert had been involved physically in the past. And so was Ferdinand his next conquest? His first conquest with a man? Dizziness consumed him, and all that could come from his lips was an incoherent stutter. "I—well? Well, I—?"

Hubert cut in. "My apologies. It… I spoke without thinking."

Ferdinand stared at him, how with his mouth clamped shut once more. Hubert’s expression was pained. "A pathetic excuse of some kind of jest. Amusing to only myself. Excuse my rudeness, I am unsure of… Of what I was even thinking."

Ferdinand bowed his head, avoiding his eyes as Hubert looked up. "If you could elaborate. Please." Ferdinand mumbled. 

Hubert sighed, looking away and spoke with a degree of hesitance. "The… appointments I partook in. It was all for the sake of intel and gathering information.”

He spoke quietly, and Ferdinand drew a little closer as Hubert continued. "The implication that you would be the enemy I would have to coerce, physically, to have them speak, or give me a mere scrap of something that I needed. It was amusing to me. You would do so the opposite. Give me more than I needed, and freely at that without a second thought." Hubert shook his head, grimacing. "My apologies. It was insensitive."

Ferdinand watched him. “It's quite alright. It just threw me off. When you asked if I was, erm, offering.”

Hubert hummed. “An unpleasant experience.”

Unwittingly, Ferdinand’s voice came out as strained. “For you?”

Hubert blinked, leaving a pause before he spoke. “I was thinking more for yourself.”

“I never implied anything of the sort," He said far too quickly. He tried to recover, attempting to bury his mistake. "Only that it was strange, or, perhaps strange isn’t the word, perhaps just… peculiar.”

“Because…?”

Because it existed in a guilt-ridden realm of fantasy. Ferdinand scrambled for an out. “You aren’t attracted to men.”

“…I said that I did not know. I had never had any experiences with men.”

Are you offering?

Now with his mind clearer, he would. He would want to offer. If it was Hubert, then he could by all means be offering, and he would not mind offering if it meant Hubert would partake in him. Intimately. Ferdinand’s cheeks reddened. Closely, skin-to-skin, like Hubert had embraced someone else before, except…

He looked up. In his letters, Hubert said that he had admired him. His positivity, and that he was radiant. If Hubert conflated admiration with attraction then perhaps… Ferdinand swallowed. Perhaps Ferdinand was attractive to Hubert in some way? 

Consumed with a strange boldness, Ferdinand did not stop the words that tumbled from his lips. “I would not mind. If you wanted to test that.”

Hubert looked to the water. Ferdinand continued in a hurry. “Only – Only with your express permission, that is,” Hubert did not move. “I – it was only a suggestion, it was just something that came to mind, I –” 

Their eyes met, stopping Ferdinand mid-sentence. Hubert’s eyes were wide, and his mouth was slightly parted. He stared at Ferdinand, with his cheeks just as red as the skin warmed by the water they sat in. Ferdinand stumbled over his words. 

"My – my apologies, I am not sure why I even –"

It was uttered under Hubert’s breath, and in any other instance Ferdinand may have missed it. “You may.”

The space between his chest and stomach burned and somersaulted. He had not misheard. You may. Ferdinand swallowed. “…Then may I come closer? So I could kiss you?”

Hubert nodded, prompting Ferdinand to move forward, not too quick as to seem as eager as he was. The water settled around them, with Ferdinand kneeling between Hubert's legs as he stopped. All he could hear was the pounding in his ears. Ferdinand drew closer to him, leaning forwards, and brought a hand to brush against his cheek. 

Hubert looked to him with an uncharacteristic expression from him, eyes wide and his jaw slightly slack. Surely this was not an unusual experience for him, with his long line of individuals he had taken part in, but perhaps it was different for his first experience with a man. Perhaps kissing men and women were wholly different, perhaps they acted in a different manner, or their skin felt different. Ferdinand would not have known, as in his twenty-three years of living Hubert would be his first. 

As if to reassure him, Ferdinand stroked the pad of his thumb against his cheek, and then reached to comb his hair backwards, pushing back the inky locks that covered his right eye. Hubert glanced at his hand. 

"I want to see you properly," Ferdinand explained, combing his fringe back from his face. When their eyes met, Ferdinand smiled. Hubert blinked at him. "You have such beautiful eyes."

Hubert faltered in his reply after a brief pause. "I—Err. Thank you." 

"The most wonderful shade of green… like pale jade. You must hear it often, no?"

"I… do not?" Hubert’s throat bobbed.

Ferdinand's chest tightened. "...Really?"

Hubert nodded, while Ferdinand combed his fingers through his hair.

"Then you should hear it more often," he whispered, "Tall, dark, handsome with beautiful eyes… I understand how you were able to bewitch so many people…" Ferdinand stared at his lips. "And enchanted me also…"

He drew closer, tilting his head, and Hubert's breath hitched as their lips were not even an inch apart. Ferdinand stopped, looking to him for any signs of reluctance.

For Hubert, this was his opportunity to push him away. It did not come, and instead Hubert only looked back at him, wide-eyed. "May I?" Ferdinand asked, one last time to make sure. Hubert could pull away, and Ferdinand could handle that rejection with grace. 

His response was whispered, in the softest voice Ferdinand had ever heard from him. "Please..."

His heart sang. He leaned forward, closing his eyes as well as the gap between their lips. They met briefly in the middle, and when Ferdinand opened his eyes when he parted, Hubert met his gaze.

Ferdinand lingered close to him, reluctant to part. At last, he retreated to his end of the tub. Hubert still had his eyes fixed on him. Ferdinand eyes flickered to and from him. "Err, was that sufficient?"

Hubert gave a slow nod, and otherwise remained silent. When he broke his gaze, he leant back in the tub, he tilted his head up and stared at the top of their tent. 

Not a word was spoken by him. Ferdinand fidgeted with his hands. "How was it?"

"Chaste," Hubert spoke without hesitation, with his eyes fixed to whatever was on the roof of their tent.

"Chaste…?" Ferdinand frowned. "Chaste, how so?" Both unclothed, sharing a bath, outside of any formal relationship, to Ferdinand there was nothing chaste about the ordeal. He had even touched his face with his bare hands, combing it through his hair. Something chaste wouldn't have had Ferdinand's heart racing in his chest. "Was it… bad? That it was chaste?"

Hubert remained still, his attention still fixed to the roof. "No."

"But it was less than the usual," he pressed further, "Insufficient."

"That doesn't matter."

Jealousy came over him in a wave. "It matters to me."

His own inexperience was circumstantial. He had suitors planned for him but had never courted anyone, so his experience was limited to innocent letters that were exchanged, and would not draw shame if they were shown to other people. So, yes, perhaps his conduct was chaste. Hot envy flared within him. He could be more for Hubert. He knew that he could be capable of more and rivalling Hubert's former partners, whatever they did and whatever they were like. If it was for Hubert, he would do it. However uncouth or unchaste, if it was with Hubert…

The water had shifted around him, rippling even though Ferdinand remained still, stewing in his own thoughts. Hubert had moved closer, looking at him with his eyes wide with shock. Ferdinand froze. 

This was not about him. It was about Hubert testing the waters, and the reason why Ferdinand had offered in the first place. A flimsy reason for Ferdinand to steal a kiss from him. He had embarrassed himself, caught up in his own little selfish thoughts, and the envy within him turned to shame. "My apologies," Ferdinand mumbled. "I am unsure of what came over me..." He shook his head, trailing off. "Forgive me, for acting strangely…"

Around them it was comfortably warm. A hand came to his upper arm, rubbing as if to comfort him. Ferdinand smiled, looking to his hand. It was a rare sight of it being ungloved and bare. At this point it was a familiar sight to him, his hand scarred by over more than a decade of practicing dark magic. 

Hubert had admitted to him in passing that he regarded it as not only unusual but unsightly and so preferred to keep them hidden. At the time Ferdinand was struck speechless by the sight. A darkness that stained his fingertips that travelled across his arms in black veins that faded as they reached the joint of his elbow. Ferdinand placed his hand on top of his, rubbing his thumb across Hubert’s fingers and knuckles. 

Their eyes met, with Hubert's brows knitted close in worry, looking straight to him while he touched his arm, as if to ask him wordlessly, what's the matter with you? Ferdinand shook his head to dismiss it. 

Hubert shifted closer. Ferdinand's pulse quickened, watching the water swirl around them as his arms came around his torso. They embraced, his skin against his, and Hubert’s head rested on his shoulder and his arms circled his back. Turning his head, he looked to the tent around him while pressing the side of his face to his shoulder, where he could faintly hear his heartbeat. 

It was devastatingly pleasant, and the closest they had been in a physical sense. The sound of his heartbeat relaxed him. He matched their breathing, steady and slow, while his mind went blank, comforted by his presence. His inner thoughts wandered from his lips."How does one kiss unchastely?" He bit his tongue, immediately regretting those words. "Just. Out of curiosity."

Hubert said nothing. With their current situation, warmed by the water that surrounded them as they embraced, there was a subtext that he needed to clear. Ferdinand quickly filled the silence. "An, an explanation would suffice, really. I just thought that our current, err. That it was already unchaste…" 

"Would you dislike it?" The whisper beside his ear made it burn. "If we kissed unchastely…"

"N-not strongly, no. But. But you've already put yourself out…" Hubert drew his head closer to his. Ferdinand stuttered. "Put yourself out. For me." The hand on his arm travelled upwards to his shoulder. "You don't have to, really," It went up further, to his shoulder and then to his neck. Ferdinand’s chest tightened. "It's only…"

Hubert's face was inches apart from his, his head tilted ever so slightly. His hand rested at the top of his neck, caressing his jaw as his other moved into the water, until something brushed his waist, making him jump. Hubert’s hand settled on his hip. "Is this alright?" 

"Yes—Yes. That's fine," Ferdinand rushed out, and as he did the hand had begun to caress his skin underneath the water.

Water dripped from where Hubert touched his jaw, and the wet pad of his thumb brushed against his cheekbone. Ferdinand brought his hand to his wrist, carefully guiding it to his face, to press his lips to the inner side of his wrist where an especially dark line travelled down it. Hubert drew in a quick breath, and their eyes met as Ferdinand returned his hand. His eyes flitted to his lips, and then to his eyes once more.

Surely, Ferdinand thought, surely he must be dreaming. A pretty shade of green, almost seemed transparent in how pale in how it appeared. Hubert said something to it, missed completely by the haze Ferdinand had put himself in. 

Hubert was frowning at him, expecting a response. Ferdinand’s eyelids fluttered. "Hm? What…"

A careful whisper left him. "You'll push me away if this is in any way unpleasant to you."

"Mm, alright…" 

Their lips met once more. Instead of parting after a brief moment, Hubert's lips moved against his. Ferdinand blinked, perplexed but receptive to Hubert, attempting to kiss him back by mimicking his actions.

The hand on his waist caressed his skin, all while Hubert's other hand cradled the side of his face as they kissed. Ferdinand's head spun. The tension and nervousness that threatened to boil over had lessened from Hubert moving against him, lulling him into a trance. 

He kissed him back, wondering how kissing alone could feel so pleasant. 

Hubert pulled back, sooner than Ferdinand wanted. He leaned forward, pressing light kisses onto the corners of Hubert’s lips as if to urge him to continue. Hubert chuckled against him, and the hand on his waist left suddenly, only to have it brush his arm. 

Ferdinand pulled away only to look at Hubert's hand that curled against his wrist and held it. Ferdinand's heart leapt. "Here," Hubert whispered, guiding his hand towards his chest, then sliding it down past his ribcage, and then his waist. "Touch me here..."

Ferdinand nodded, with an audible gulp as his hand rested on his bare skin, his bare waist, no less. It was invisible underneath the cloudy water, but he felt solid flesh underneath his hand. Bravely, he moved his other hand to the opposite side, glancing up to Hubert when he had. "Good," Hubert murmured, leaning in for another kiss. Ferdinand's chest fluttered. This time it was deeper, with his lips moving against his with more vigour. Ferdinand was eager to match his pace, though distracted by the hand that held his waist bringing him closer, as well as the hand that rested at the back of his head, with Hubert’s fingers beginning to toy with his hair. 

Hubert laced his fingers through his scalp, feeling through his hair until he pulled at something, the pins holding his plait in place, pulling them out and allowing them to fall into the water and hit the bottom of the metal basin dully. As his hair fell free, the strap of fabric that fastened it at the bottom was undone and Hubert ran his fingers through it to undo it. His hair fell in thick strands, tickling the sides of his shoulders and down his back as it was finally loose, free for Hubert to play with. 

He had never had someone touch it in such a manner, let alone at this length. The feeling was pleasant, and amassed with the other sensations it was nothing short exhilarating. As Hubert's hand tangled into it, Ferdinand’s breath hitched. With his mouth now unoccupied, Hubert asked him, "Do you like having it pulled?" 

Pulled , Ferdinand thought, growing dizzy. He murmured between breaths. "I—I would not know."

Hubert let out a short chuckle, and as he gathered strands of hair between his hands, he curled his fingers and pulled. "Ah," Ferdinand gasped. "Yes, please..." 

His head was angled upwards as his hair was pulled; Hubert kissed at his jaw, moving to his neck and lavishing it with attention. Ferdinand let out a groan as Hubert lightly nipped at his skin, making him jolt. He never thought that he would be so sensitive in such a place—nor so receptive to someone else’s touch, shivering as Hubert kissed it.

Ferdiand's hands moved lower, skirting from his waist to his hips. Hubert's breath hitched against his neck. Ferdinand rubbed slow circles with his thumb, working at his hips and then slowly traveling to the top of his thighs. Hubert's lips had stopped, and Ferdinand felt his warm breath fan against his skin. 

Ferdinand gauged his response with care. Hubert's breath would hitch when he moved down his thighs, tracing shapes onto his skin, with the hand in his hair tightening. Hubert leant in further, resting his head against the crook of his neck. Ferdinand spread his hands against his thighs, feeling Hubert’s breath travel across his neck in a sigh. 

The experience was exhilarating. Hubert was reacting to his actions, in full, in real time. It was more wonderful than anything else he had experienced with him, more so than when they kissed, to his surprise. He slowly slipped his hands inwards, tracing against his skin and his hands slipped to the inner part of his thighs.

With a gasp, Hubert's thighs parted ever so slightly with his touch. "Ah…"

Ferdinand grinned, and his heart pounded at the sound. He edged his hands to stroke the inside of his thighs, and very slowly had his fingers trace up his legs. 

At a point, near where the leg met his groin, Hubert flinched, making the water lap at the sides of the tub. "Not, ah." Hubert stuttered, his voice quiet and pitched up. "Not. Not there, please…"

Ferdinand pulled his hands back, placing them back onto his waist, safe territory that Hubert himself had outlined. He looked up to meet his eyes, with Hubert looking back to him with furrowed brows.

Ferdinand murmured. “My apologies. My excitement got the better of me...”

Hubert cleared his throat. "It’s quite alright."

The water surrounding them had settled to an almost lukewarm temperature. The light from the lanterns flickered, bathing them both in a warm light. Ferdinand moved his hands against his waist, caressing the skin with his thumb. “May we continue?”

Hubert frowned. “Even if we do not…?"

"It doesn't matter," Ferdinand hummed, pressing a kiss to the corner of his lips. "Tell me what else you like or, show me…"

Ferdinand kissed him once, then twice, and then on their third kissed him properly, deeply and unchastely like he had been shown. Their lips parted, and Hubert's hands covered Ferdinand's once more, guiding them upwards from his waist, up to his torso and rested on his chest. Ferdinand pursed his lips. "Here?" 

Hubert bowed his head downwards, mimicking a nod. His arms came over his shoulders, lacing his fingers between strands of his hair. Ferdinand began feeling at his chest with caution, unsure of how to continue, his eyes flickering between Hubert's eyes and his chest for any guidance. Hubert only looked back at him with no signs of whether what he was doing was pleasurable. 

His chest was mostly bare, with only a meagre amount of hair that grew at the space between his pectorals. Unsure, he kissed his collarbone, spreading the palm of his hands against his chest, attempting to massage it. "Is this alright?" Ferdinand asked, this time completely uncertain with what he was doing. Hubert hummed and nodded, and so Ferdinand continued to touch him.

As his hands skimmed across the plane of his chest, Hubert’s breath caught as Ferdinand’s fingers unwittingly brushed against the protruding nub of his nipple. Ferdinand blinked. "Here," Ferdinand ran his thumb across the areola of his nipple, with Hubert tensing under him. "This is…?"

Hubert dipped his head and Ferdinand swallowed. Repeating the action granted him a similar response, and he felt a rush as Hubert tensed and shifted underneath his touch. It left Ferdinand heady, similar to how touching his thighs had stirred them both in a similar manner, and Hubert’s responsiveness egged him on even further.

As Hubert bit back little gasps, a thought meandered into Ferdinand’s mind, along the lines of who else had seen him like this? He remembered Hubert’s words from only minutes ago, that doesn't matter, yet the others, the nameless others that Ferdinand envied, would they have had him underneath them, responding to their every touch so sweetly?

He leaned down, pressing a kiss to his areola before flattening his tongue against the nub, tracing the tip around it slowly. Hubert's breath hitched, and his fingers combed through his hair. As Hubert continued to play with it, Ferdinand was consumed with the thought that their hair was long, too, the others, and he must have played with theirs in a similar manner. Jealousy settled at the bottom of his stomach, but greed threatened to bubble up to the surface. He brought his mouth around the areola and sucked lightly. 

A high keen escaped him, and Ferdinand's heart thumped in his chest. Hubert had never made sounds like this before, a raw sound of desperation and pleasure as he pulled on the hair that was wrapped around his fingers. The jealous part of him wondered if he made those same sounds with the others. 

The others, his mind struggled to part with the concept, the others that had been involved with Hubert in a physical sense. The others had partaken in Hubert in a similar manner, beckoning these sounds and mannerisms from him that he would not dare to exhibit elsewhere. These others had gone further, most likely, more so that Hubert allowed him to. An unease began to torment him. Perhaps Ferdinand was insufficient in some manner. Lacking? Was it because he was a man, and the others were women? Was it his preference, he would happily be pleasured and kissed by him, but no further because it was with a man? The thoughts swam in his head, all while he sucked against Hubert's chest, forcing a groan out of him. 

Ferdinand traced his teeth across his skin, making Hubert shiver. Hubert gasped. "Ferdinand…"

Ferdinand’s mouth parted from his chest. "Is this sufficient?"

"Yes," he sighed. "Very good,” Hubert’s voice was close to his ear. "And are you enjoying yourself?"

His tone was light and teasing, but Ferdinand replied in earnest. “Yes…”

“Then you could do the same to the other,” Hubert, tilting his head downwards to one side, gesturing to the other half of his chest.

He moved to the other, abandoning the one now glistening with his saliva, hard and sensitive from the attention that had been lavished at it. Drawing his lips to it, his tongue traced against the areola, teasing it before giving it his full attention

His thumb played with the other, the pad of it going back and forth in circles over the hardened nub. Hubert moaned underneath him. “Very good…" He sighed, while Ferdinand wondered who else he had murmured that to in the throes of pleasure.

Ferdinand continued to indulge in him, and eventually Hubert tugged on his hair lightly, muttering “That’s enough…” prompting him to stop, his lips pulled away from his chest. Hubert’s hands behind his head continued to fiddle with his hair, and Hubert leaned forwards. Ferdinand met him in the middle, kissing him with vigour, fueled by the emotions that were threatening to boil over. Hubert yielded, letting him take the lead. 

As Ferdinand’s lips parted from Hubert’s, they moved to his jaw, pressing a kiss underneath it, travelling down his neck, just as Hubert had done to him before. He chuckled, with his breath catching as their skin met. As Ferdinand’s mouth reached where his neck met his shoulder, Hubert tugged at his hair. "You may leave marks," he whispered into his ear, "If you would like…" 

Ferdinand drew in a quick breath. "How would I do that?"

Hubert murmured, "Would you like me to show you?" and Ferdinand could hear the grin that bled through it.

"It would be appreciated."

"Here," Hubert brushed his fingers across a spot on his shoulder, at the space just before his collarbone met it. "Is here an agreeable spot? Covered by your clothing?"

Ferdinand looked at him. Hubert stared at the spot while rubbing at it, then glanced at him. “Yes, that’ll do nicely.”

Hubert drew closer to it, pressing his lips to his skin lightly, then open mouth-kissed it before sucking. Ferdinand gasped for air.

Hubert exhaled, fanning hot air to where his mouth had just been. Ferdinand quivered, and looking down to it he could only just glimpse a reddish-purple spot that was left. Hubert traced his thumb against it, looking at it with a degree of accomplishment in his eyes. "The capillaries are broken underneath the skin, leaving something that resembles a bruise. Would you like to try it?"

Ferdinand swallowed and nodded. Hubert’s arms came underneath his, resting on his back once more as Ferdinand moved closer, craning his head to meet his neck. Ferdinand bit down lightly, forcing a gasp out of Hubert. Lapping at where he had just bitten, he copied what Hubert did, aiming to leave a mark. It would be a sign to anyone else that was with him after that someone was there before them, someone else who was allowed to leave a mark on him. He kissed the spot, moving downwards to mark another place on his pale skin.

As he pressed his third mark into his skin, Hubert chuckled. Ferdinand’s mouth left his skin. "You said I could leave marks," Ferdinand looked to the love-bites that littered his neck. "Marks, plural." 

Hubert chortled as Ferdinand's hands rested on his shoulders. Hubert's fingers combed through his hair, twirling a strand around one finger. "Go on…"

Pressing his mouth to his neck, he went to leave more. He thought that maybe, leaving enough would leave an impression big enough to his next conquest, that his previous partner let him mark him this many times. After all, Hubert had arrived to him pristine and unmarked. Hubert rubbed his back, and Ferdinand felt the rumble of a laugh against his lips. Ferdinand pouted. "Is something amusing?"

"I did not think you would want to mark me like that."

"...And that is because?"

"I was expecting you to stutter and to claim it was ignoble."

Ferdinand frowned. "Then why did you…"

"To bring about a response of some sort,” Hubert craned his head to his, and their lips almost touched. “You have surprised me quite pleasantly…”

Ferdinand froze, and his eyes met Hubert's as he felt Hubert's breath against his lips. His chest rose and fell close to Ferdinand’s own, and his hand wandered to it once more, tracing his thumb across his nipple. Hubert smiled coquettishly. As he leaned forward, the kiss was languid and slow, as Ferdinand continued to toy with his chest. 

"You seem to, ah," Hubert's breath hitched, "Enjoy touching me there..."

"...I like to see you enjoying yourself."

"Mmm, is that so," He hummed. "How sweet of you…"

Ferdinand’s heart ached. How sweet . He could be sweet for him, for every waking moment of his day. He could spoil him like how he wished to in his journals, draw baths for him, just like he had kindly done for him, and even do this to him if Hubert wished for it.

His hands travelled down his torso to rest on his waist, tilting his head forward so it bumped against his. "What's the matter, hm?" Hubert’s fingers threaded through his locks. His gaze on him was gentle, and more gentle than he had ever looked at him. More so than their tea times in the rare moments of their shared off-times, or when they would play chess together. Hubert raised his brow with a smile. "Hm?" 

"I…" Ferdinand's voice trembled. "I want to kiss you..."

"Go on then," Hubert purred. "I shan't stop you."

This kiss was much like their first, lacking the passion of their previous, and more brief and chaste. It lingered, and Hubert's jaw was slack, as he stared when Ferdinand parted. He rested his forehead against his, a quiet sigh escaping his lips. The water around them was cool, and Hubert's fingers lingered in his hair as they looked at one another, motionless. "We ought to call it quits." 

Ferdinand froze, bringing his head forwards to rest on his shoulder. His hands circled his waist as he embraced him. Hubert's hands untangled themselves from his hair and rested on his back. This would stop as soon as they left the bath, in this strange space where they could act like almost-lovers. Ferdinand scrambled. "Could we not… for a little longer?" 

Hubert’s response was deadpan. "The water is cold."

Ferdinand buried his head into his shoulder. "It does not bother me."

Hubert chuckled against him. “I undid your braid,” he said, out of nowhere.

Ferdinand felt him play with his hair, fiddling with a loose strand of his hair and playing with it between his fingers. “…So you did.”

“I could redo it once we are out of this bath.”

Ferdinand moved his head from his shoulder and kissed him once more. The desperation that was laced within it was blatant, but Ferdinand did not care. Ferdinand wanted him, and he longed for Hubert to realise this. As his lips parted from his, he pressed more kisses to them. "Stay a little longer, please…" 

Hubert shook his head with a smile. "You may not mind, but I intend to stay warm tonight."

He broke away from Ferdinand’s embrace to step out of basin. Ferdinand watched him dry himself, and Hubert caught him on more than one occasion, smirking over his shoulder as he met his gaze each time.

Eventually Ferdinand rose to his feet, equal parts forlorn and puzzled, the cold air unforgiving to the moisture that clung to his skin, and was quick to towel it off. When he had changed into his bedclothes, he glanced at Hubert, already changed and sitting on his cot, patting the space next to him. Ferdinand moved to sit next to him, handing him his brush and turned so his back was to him once more. His fingers ran through his hair once more, this time untangling the knots that had formed instead of running his hands through it leisurely. 

The cold night air came against where his skin was bare, and the moisture on his skin remained unhelpfully. Ferdinand shivered. "It's cold tonight," Hubert remarked, passing the brush through his hair.

Ferdinand looked down to his hands. The tension urged him to fill the silence. “It surprises me how cold it gets at night in these parts,” The brush began to pass through his hair with ease. “With how warm it is during the day.”

The brush was placed next to him. "It would be warmer if we layered our bedclothes." Hubert said, while he began to weave the strands of his hair together.

Ferdinand froze, and wondered if he had misheard. "How…"

"If we slept two to a cot,” a pause, and then he began plaiting his hair again. “Unless you did not…”

“No, erm.” His pulse jumped, and he began to fiddle with his hands. “That’s a very reasonable suggestion. In the current circumstances.”

Ferdinand bit the inside of his cheek. In the current circumstances. He wanted to kick himself in the shins. Hubert did not comment, and only patted his back, a nonverbal cue for Ferdinand's hair being finished. At once he went to his own cot to move the bedclothes, and his quilts and furs were placed onto Hubert's. 

Lying down next to him, their shoulders touched. The joints of his fingers brushed against his knuckles, and Ferdinand was all too aware of it. Ferdinand tried to ignore it. “It's a little cramped," he said instead.

"Turn around, away from me."

Ferdinand obeyed, and lying on their sides would save room for the two of them. As he shifted into a comfortable position, Hubert moved closer. His chest was against his back, and over his waist rested his arm. In such close proximity and with the thundering in his chest, Ferdinand wondered how he was going to get a wink of sleep.

He matched his own breaths with Hubert's steady breathing, and the warmth against his back comforted him. Hubert shifted, his arm moving higher, and his head being buried into the crook of his neck. 

Hubert had invited Ferdinand to sleep with him like this. It swirled in his mind, puzzling him senseless. His past altercations came across as impersonal when Hubert’s mentioned them, yet after their altercation he would braid his hair, and go as far as to sleep beside him. They huddled close together and bundled under their combined blankets, cosy as Hubert spooned him from behind, yet he thought back to when they bathed. He turned the events over in his head, and uneasiness clung to him until it forced him to finally speak.

"Was I insufficient in any way?"

Hubert's voice rumbled from behind him, pressed into his neck. "Hm?"

"You stopped me during –" He tripped over his words. "Er – When – While we were bathing."

"I had thought that you would want us to conduct our relationship in a more… traditional manner," Hubert’s hand stroked his side, with the thin piece of fabric of his nightshirt separating their skin. "Rather than rush headlong into it. Unless I was mistaken." 

Ferdinand tensed. Even as he tried to level his voice, a quiver lied underneath it. “By a traditional manner, what did you mean?”

Hubert paused, and the hand on Ferdinand’s waist stilled. “I mean that exactly. A traditional relationship.”

His voice wavered. “...Akin to a courtship?"

"Well, yes. If you would have me."

“Of course,” Ferdinand breathed, “Oh, of course I would, Hubert…” A sigh escaped him "Oh, I ought to have asked you properly instead of..." He trailed off, growing shy when he thought to voice what they did. 

Hubert chuckled. "I had thought that you had asked me enough when you called me lovely." 

Ferdinand’s hand found Hubert’s again, lacing his fingers between his. "You are lovely."

Hubert nuzzled his neck. "Apparently so."

With his hand, he found Hubert's resting against his abdomen and placed his on top of Hubert’s, lacing his fingers between his. He remained still, the thought of a courtship still fresh in his mind. Ferdinand drew in a sharp breath in realisation. "Traditionally, and yet you had me touch your chest in an improper manner…"

"I had suggested nothing below the belt, as is…” Hubert trailed off in thought before he continued, “...Customary. I only suggested you touch it, and it was you who brought your mouth to it. And it was you who traced their hands up my legs until I stopped you." 

Ferdinand’s cheeks reddened as he was reminded. Embarrassment flared, and settled in his stomach hotly. Hubert smiled against the back of Ferdinand's neck. "I did not mind, of course..."

Hubert buried his head into his nape, kissing his neck and hair. A warmth flooded Ferdinand, wearing him sincere now knowing that their feelings were mutual.

"I was jealous,” Ferdinand confessed, “Of your previous partners." 

"They were very different," Hubert hummed, still pressing his lips to his skin."You were far gentler."

"Was I?" The memory of his brazen actions came to mind, of him touching his legs and chest. "Gentle…"

Hubert chuckled. "Would you like me to demonstrate otherwise? Perhaps when we are in a larger bed…"

Ferdinand's mouth went dry as his imagination ran wild. "If—If you would be willing to." 

"Good. I shall try to keep it decent when the time comes," he pressed a kiss to the shell of his ear. 

Ferdinand swallowed, consumed with the thought of what could be ungentle, and how it could be made decent. He calmed himself down, focusing on Hubert’s steady breaths behind him. He was reminded yet again of their formal relationship and courtship, and his chest felt full. "...May I turn around?" Ferdinand asked.

"Are you uncomfortable?"

"Not at all. I just wanted to kiss you goodnight."

Hubert’s arm shifted from where it rested on Ferdinand’s body, and a novel kind of nervousness bubbled away at his insides as he turned to face him. Their new proximity and intimacy was enthralling, and swallowed Ferdinand whole. He gave him a peck on the lips, and as Hubert smiled against his mouth, Ferdinand was filled with a newfound courage. "I have some coffee beans stashed away at Garreg Mach. When we return, we could share a pot together."

His brows raised. "You bought coffee?"

"Of course," Ferdinand's hand rested on his hip, and caressed it with his thumb. "I was eager to impress you. Perhaps I still am."

"There is no need to impress me," Hubert smiled. "But I would happily join you for coffee." 

He kissed him one more time before turning to his other side, shifting so he was comfortable and until his back met Hubert's chest. As they wished one another goodnight, Ferdinand fell into a deep and dreamless sleep, comforted by Hubert’s presence behind him.

 

——

 

"I never knew you could braid hair," Dorothea hummed, her breakfast growing cold as it sat abandoned. 

A braid was woven into his hair, from the temple of his head until it was tied at the back in a ponytail, neatly away from his face. He touched the side of his head without noticing, tracing the bumps of the braid with his fingertips. His eyes travelled to Hubert, sitting across from them and next to Edelgard. Their eyes met briefly, and Ferdinand looked away with a bashful smile. "It was Hubert who did it for me."

"Oh?" She turned to Hubert. "You braided his hair? Was that your work yesterday as well?"

And the night before, Ferdinand added internally. Hubert's response was a simple comment. "I am quite used to it."

Dorothea's eyes widened, and Hubert's response was cool. "I was accustomed to working with longer hair when Lady Edelgard was in her younger years."

Dorothea turned to Edelgard, who was delicately eating a slice of bread covered in jam. "Is that true?"

"Hm," she chewed and swallowed. "Yes, it was a long time ago, however," she turned to Hubert. "I am surprised that you still remember how…"

Edelgard smiled at Hubert, who gave a brief nod in response. 

"He did it quite nicely for me. It looks… neat." Ferdinand played with a strand of his hair, smiling at it. Hubert said nothing in response. Dorothea tilted her head as a grin crept up her lips. 

"I remember how I used to resent having to sit next to you when the two of you would bicker endlessly," Dorothea gestured with her knife, waving it between the two of them. "And now you have him braiding your hair. Isn't that nice," she crooned.

"Yes," Ferdinand smiled back at her, as Hubert hid a grin behind a steaming mug of tea at the same time. "I suppose it is."