Never before had Hubert lingered at Edelgard's door, uncertain and adjusting his gloves needlessly. He stared at her door before he forced himself to knock before wasting another moment.
Purposeful steps approached from beyond the door, and she opened it just a bit before her expression softened. Opening the door the rest of the way, Edelgard stood aside in her nightgown that was, of course, still effective for combat. "Ah, Hubert."
"You must be more cautious, Your Majesty." He stepped inside at her gesture of invitation all the same, turning over his shoulder to continue. "If all an assassin has to do is knock—"
"The war is over now, Hubert," she chastised playfully, her smile at him coming readily. They were the only family each other had for years now and their bond had been forged in that timeless fondness, empathy, and understanding. So, of course, it was only natural that she noticed he was not quite himself. "…But something is troubling you. If there is anything I can do to help, you have only to name it, my friend."
She closed the door behind her, following him further into the room. Hubert was satisfied to hear that she had locked the door as well. Peace time or not, precaution was the difference between life and death in many cases.
"You are too kind," he praised her both genuinely and partly to postpone what he came here to do. Hubert had planned it out in his mind, readied himself for the simple question he had to pose before he moved ahead with the next steps of his plan. His ridiculous, absurd plan. In a way, it may even be a mercy if Edelgard refused him so Hubert could avoid the embarrassment of rejection. Or worse, and admittedly more likely, acceptance.
Sensing his discomfort again, she took a seat in a well-loved reading chair and gestured to the one opposite her that had a tea table between them. A familiar and fond place where he often passed the time with her over one of various strategy games. Edelgard was one of his few true rivals for strategic thinking, so he took delight in their games whether he won or learned a new tactic.
But that was not why he was here.
Hubert had already lingered too long after her invitation to sit, and he felt especially out of place as he lowered himself into the reading chair across from her and the table.
In silence. He set his palms on his knees, staring at the ornate weavings of the rug before him. Hubert leaned back against the chair but still felt the tension knotted between his shoulder blades. This was ridiculous and he knew it, and yet…
"You can trust me with anything." Edelgard sat forward, her eyes searching his for the faith she knew he had in her.
"I've never had any doubt," he answered, as sure as the sun would set. Perhaps inspired by such a comfortable state of being, Hubert found himself somewhat calmer. He took advantage of that and began to speak before he could question himself further. "There is something I need to ask you."
Edelgard only nodded to encourage him without giving him an out in her reply. She knew him too well to provide such an opportunity.
"There is… someone I would like to…" He trailed off into a scowl, his grip tightening on his own knees. Something about the pressure was grounding and forced Hubert out of his own way. Edelgard was one he trusted with his life, including matters of the heart—however laughable that very phrase felt to him as her wicked shadow. If he could not even ask the question, he did not deserve the role or the object of his affections.
"Has someone upset you, Hubert?" Her voice was tender, but there was an edge to it as well, a darkness below the gentleness that instilled pride in Hubert. Just when he thought he could not possibly have any more respect for his Emperor, there was always more to found.
"No," he chuckled. "I would handle that myself with pride, Your Majesty. In this matter… I must consult you before I act."
Her eyebrows raised as her eyes widened and she took in a sharp breath. Surprised, was she? Well. At least she was not alone in that sentiment, he thought with a wry smile. "How unlike you, Hubert. What could it possibly take for you to hesitate? I've no suitors, I trust."
"None. Your relationship with Dorothea is well-known at this point, and it would take a fool to challenge it."
That was diversion enough. Edelgard smiled fondly, her hand going absently to a loose strand of her hair. "Too true. So it's not a suitor of mine you must handle, but you feel you have to check with me. I can guess all night if I must, Hubert, but wouldn't it be easier to simply ask?"
"So one would think," he answered drily and sighed, shoulders relaxing at last—though in resignation. Practiced words, carefully rehearsed for every situation from putting her worries at ease to voicing his own, simply fled at the very sight of her door. At least he could spare himself the foolishness of rehearsing his confession to a certain prime minister. Not that he would. Even the thought of going without a plan entirely, even if that plan were to leave his mind the moment he needed it most, churned his stomach where little else could.
Edelgard blinked pensively for a moment, and then the realization dawned on her like the flare of candlelight in her eyes. A realization, in any case. "Oh! Hubert!"
"Hm?" His guard was difficult to get past, but she managed with that elated tone. Edelgard leaned forward even more, resting on the arm of the chair in a most casual manner he didn't often see now that she was Emperor.
"You are in love!"
Hubert recoiled only slightly but was betrayed by a blush, making a choking sound rather than a comprehensible reply.
"I am so happy for you, my good friend!" Her smile could not get any wider, and he felt his face could not be any warmer.
"I would hold back on your celebration until you hear who it is, Your Majesty."
"Oh, enough of titles," she waved that off, settling back into her relaxed posture. "Please, I simply must know who has caught your exacting attention. They must be special indeed."
Hubert sighed heavily through his nose, feeling the blush recede bit by excruciating bit. What could he tell her? She'd seen him bicker with Ferdinand endlessly over the years, their relationship tempering into a push-and-pull where both had grown. Indeed, continued to grow.
Their courtship was happening in subtle gestures now, no matter how he tried to resist it. There was something captivating about Ferdinand that Hubert ultimately found he could not deny in any regard. And since he could not help but continue rising to his witty, teasing banter and invitations to share coffee and tea together… Hubert straightened his posture and steeled himself. As her closest confidant, he had to get Her Majesty's approval before their relationship developed too far.
"…Fer…" He sighed again, the embarrassment at the confession overcoming him. The lives he'd claimed, the horrors he unflinchingly committed—and this was where Hubert hesitated, of all things.
"For…?" Edelgard tilted her head, trying once more to catch his attention while he turned away.
"I… Is that right?" He turned back just in time to catch her smile, one of a cat who ate the canary. Hubert sighed again, rolling his eyes.
"Of course it is. Surely, you have noticed by now."
"I don't know what you could possibly mean," she dismissed, resuming her regal posture for the sole purpose of his mockery, it seemed. "The flower he had in his lapel only after his meeting with you paired with an especially radiant smile, perhaps, or the frequent visits you both share in the tea garden, maybe. Oh, or could you mean—"
"You have made my point," he teased back, though he did feel his heart quicken at her joking. Her observations meant that Ferdinand's returned feelings were not in his own imagination, since Edelgard herself had perceived his joy at the flower. But if she knew that he had explained its meaning to Ferdinand as well and the glorious blush that blossomed over his freckled cheeks at the revelation… Hubert may very well sink into the floorboards. "And now, I would like your opinion."
"We are both closely connected to the throne, Your Majesty. If anything were to go wrong between us," he explained, letting the implication hang for her to continue on her own.
"We will handle that if the time comes." She reached out across the table to him and in a rare moment of vulnerability, Hubert took her offered hand. Edelgard squeezed his hand gently, sharing a soft smile with him. "But you should follow your heart, Hubert. I am confident he is as in love with you as you are with him."
"I appreciate the sentiment, but… Why?" He looked at her analytically, studying for a telltale sign of how she could be so certain. "You are not especially close with Ferdinand outside of our obligations to the Empire."
"No, but Dorothea is. And she is a good friend of yours as well, so it is only natural that Ferdinand should seek advice from his dear friend about his potential lover." Ah, a mirror of their current situation. How clever of Edelgard to call attention to that so Hubert could not even mock the decision properly. "Is it not?"
"I do wish you wouldn't phrase it quite like that," he dodged instead of answering, that damned blush returning.
Edelgard laughed, a bright spot all its own. "You have nothing to be shy about, Hubert. Please, be happy! There is no one who deserves it more." She clasped her other hand over his and he discovered he could not resist the softening of his smirk. "You have my support in this, as in all you do for yourself. It is high time you did."
The lamps surrounding them cast a warm glow on everything in the room as a stark contrast to the harsh moonlight washing the landscape beyond her window. In the shadows of flickering light, he spotted traces of a more domestic life in Edelgard's room. A coat rack held cloaks for herself as well as Dorothea, and her war boots were not left out any longer. Instead, they'd been replaced by riding boots for travelling to nearby towns or anywhere the Emperor was needed by the people.
A vase of Dorothea's favorite flowers on the desk of her room.
Edelgard found someone to share her life that was beyond what Hubert could provide… And seeing her now, spending her scant free time to offer him encouragement, he knew she would not begrudge him doing the same for himself. That alone cut through his skin-crawling discomfort at the notion of allowing himself to aspire for something that was solely for his benefit.
"Thank you, Edelgard."
She patted his hand gently before returning hers to her lap, a fond smile reaching her eyes. "Anytime, Hubert."