Dorothea had been told she was loved more times than she could possibly count.
The first few instances had been jarring. It took some time for Dorothea the Orphan to adjust to grown men towering over her with dubious affections and praise oozing past their lips. From then on, it was as routine as her performances. Her teens had been filled with such claims, from grandiose professions of love on the opera house stairs to lavish dinners at the finest restaurants in Enbarr. After the war against the Church ended she had received no less than six different marriage proposals. The words seemed to ring hollow after becoming so predictable.
Yet of all the times she had heard the words "I love you", she had never expected to hear them while pressed against her dressing room door by the Emperor of Adrestia.
Dorothea froze and pressed a palm firmly into her companion's shoulder. "Edie, stop," she said, her breath hot on the monarch's ear.
The pale-haired woman immediately pulled back and removed her hands from their places on Dorothea's breast and hip. Worry danced across her lavender gaze. "Is something wrong? Did I hurt you?"
Dorothea shook her head, taking a few moments to catch her breath. "What...what did you just say?" She very much hoped the heat of the moment had been catching up with her, that she was merely imagining things. Nothing about their situation had been abnormal up to that point. The end of the war had sent Edelgard back to covert operations against Those Who Slither in the Dark and Dorothea back to the opera. The Emperor's visits to Mittelfrank had started oh-so-formal, with all the poise and grandeur of a new ruler tending to the arts of her empire. That facade only lasted so long. She would never admit it herself, but Edelgard was lonely. She had kept all of her friends and trusted allies after the war close; she kept them so close that she had entrusted them to positions as ambassadors and ministers that sent them far, far away from the capitol on a regular basis. Hubert could only provide so much, especially when it came to more...intimate companionship.
Dorothea had been happy to fill the gaps in affection for her dear friend. But love? That was another matter entirely.
Edelgard blinked. A look of confusion crossed her features, flushed from the events prior. Goddess above, she was beautiful that way. Hair mussed all to hell, breathless, beads of sweat across a brow creased in concern. It took conscious effort for Dorothea to keep her mind on the very new topic at hand. "I said that I love you," she repeated.
Dorothea felt her heart clench in fear and excitement alike. She shifted nervously under the weight of the Emperor's gaze, suddenly very uncomfortable in her own skin. "Edie, you can't just say that."
Edelgard practically bristled at the statement, pulling away in full to smooth her ruffled regalia. "Do you think me so reckless that I would say such a thing without thinking it over?" She put up a valiant front, but was evident that the confession had been a bit of a surprise to her, as well. It would be an understatement to call Edelgard an emotionally-repressed individual. Although there was no way something as serious as “I love you” would dare to escape her lips without prior conscious thought, Dorothea couldn’t help but suspect she had been caught in the feelings of the moment. That frustrated her to no end.
“I thought— I just thought we were...” Edelgard trailed off, her defiant expression faltering when she returned her gaze to the brunette before her once more. “Why do you look so upset?”
"Because you don't know what you're talking about." The accusation fell from Dorothea’s lips before she could even think twice. Deep down, a strange feeling of jealously tightened her chest. How could she throw such words around without even thinking? How could she decide something like that without looking at the consequences that came along? Only a noble could afford such rash logic. "You're the Emperor, Edelgard. I know you’re very enthusiastic about turning old traditions on their head, but I’m no noblewoman. This is not supposed to be about love."
In the time it took Dorothea to speak, the Emperor before her had already regained her composure. It was both frustrating and impressive how quickly she could gather herself. Edelgard gave no response, instead choosing to listen. She regarded her companion with a level gaze, and it made Dorothea all the more upset.
"How could you possibly even love someone like me?" She bit back the "when I hate myself" that tried its best to follow. No need in being too dramatic, after all.
Oh, what a jaded old woman she had become. There was a time where Dorothea would have been overjoyed at a proclamation of love falling from a good noble's lips. But war had been hard. Incredibly so. After five grueling years she found herself thankful to just be alive with each passing day. Her spouse-hunting days at the academy were long past and she had since come to terms with the fact that Dorothea, the orphan from the streets of Enbarr, would never be loved.
Why Edelgard thought it was appropriate to overthrow the status quo, as always, was beyond her.
The monarch said nothing for a while, her eyes locked on the floor as she thought very carefully on her next words. She slowly lowered herself to sit in the chair next to the diva's lavish dressing mirror before she finally spoke again. "You are a dear friend-- no, you are very dear to me, Dorothea. I've known that much since long before the war even began. Back then, everything was moving too fast. But now--" Edelgard's nose wrinkled in frustration at herself and her inability to convey her feelings. Dorothea said nothing, instead letting her work through her thoughts just as the Emperor had done for her.
"I don't care that you're not a noblewoman. I don't care that you're a famous opera star, either. I care about you, Dorothea. I care about the person I grew up with who's been by my side through thick and thin." The sound of Edelgard speaking so freely was almost jarring, and yet Dorothea never wanted it to end. "I may be the Emperor, but in a way that is why I love being with you. You look beyond all the crusty titles and ancient regalia. You make me feel like I can just be a normal person, like I can love and have a normal life. I meant it when I told you my story wasn't complete without you."
Edelgard swallowed thickly, gathering her resolve and meeting Dorothea's gaze head on. "I know we might have, ah, skipped a few steps along the way. I know that I haven’t had much of a chance to experience a genuine romance my entire life. But...I also know that I do love you, Dorothea. Truly, I do.”
A long silence stretched between them as Dorothea tried her best to process both her words and the situation at hand. She couldn’t help the nervous laugh that rumbled through her chest. "I can't believe I managed to make you talk about your feelings for more than thirty seconds."
The Emperor pursed her lips to a frown, her cheeks reddening once more. "You know how susceptible I am to monologues. I've certainly been thinking on this for some time, now," she admitted, hiding her mouth behind a gloved hand and avoiding her companion’s eyes. "Someday I'm going to throw away my axe and crown and titles. The thought of you being by my side when that happens as my..." Edelgard stopped herself short of saying something too committal, it seemed, and tried again. "The thought of you being by my side has been stuck in my mind as of late."
The ever-growing sincerity in Edelgard’s tone as she spoke replaced the tightness in Dorothea's chest with a newfound warmth. Her instinctive reaction had been disbelief, and that hadn't been fair to Edelgard. Of all the people, Dorothea should have known that Edelgard would be the one to look past arbitrary titles and social status. Indeed, if there was one thing the Emperor had always been to her, it had been straightforward. "I'm...I’m sorry,” she relented, feeling shame burn across her cheeks in a flush. “For my outburst before. You caught me off guard." Now that Edelgard had given her plenty to think on, it was her turn to monologue.
"I don't know if I can tell you that I love you, Edie. I know I care for you, I know I enjoy what we're doing now, and I know it means the world to me that you are opening up like this. The rest is just a lot to take in at once." She came to kneel before the monarch, gently laying a hand on either knee and gazing up at her companion. "Give me some time?"
"Of course,” Edelgard answered without hesitation, reaching down to cup the diva's cheek. Dorothea placed her own fingers across the gloved hand, closing her eyes for a moment and relishing in the loving touch. Pure, raw affection from Edelgard von Hresvelg was certainly a change of pace. Dorothea wouldn’t complain.
But she also knew where they had left off, and though the mood had faltered the diva saw no reason to leave the night empty. Dorothea gently turned her lover’s palm upwards, pressing her lips to the skin at the small space where the Emperor’s gloves broke with the hem of her jacket sleeve.
The corner of Edelgard’s mouth twitched up in amusement at the action. “What was that you mentioned about enjoying what we have now?” she teased.
Dorothea beamed up at her in response, releasing the monarch’s arm and instead trailing her hands up riding boots of fine leather. "Hush, you've talked enough for one night," she said with a tug on the seated woman's ornate sword belt. She untucked the bottom the Emperor’s dress shirt with careful care not to wrinkle it and ran her hands across Edelgard’s stomach, the muscles underneath the pads of her fingers taut with desire.
"Don't." Dorothea immediately pulled away at her request, relief filling her as she glanced up at her companion and found an expression of confidence instead of worry. Edelgard reached out to draw her finger across the bottom of her companion's chin, tilting the brunette's head upwards to look her directly in the eye.
"Let me show you what you mean to me."
The statement sent a shiver down Dorothea's spine. So it was one of those nights. "As you wish, Your Majesty.” Dorothea had meant to tease with the title, but instead found herself noting the intense gleam surfacing in Edelgard's eyes. She would most definitely have to remember that later.
"Come up here," the Emperor ordered. Dorothea complied, moving to straddle the the seated monarch and craning her head downwards to meet her lips in a searing kiss. Edelgard pulled the laces of her performance outfit undone as if it had become second nature. Already disheveled from their earlier antics, it was all too easy to shrug off the top of the garment.
Dorothea let her own hands roam across her companion's ceremonial wear. She wouldn't dare undress Edelgard without asking to do so. As much as the young Emperor tried to hide it, Dorothea knew there was a reason why she hesitated when the outer layers came off, why she insisted on covering herself until all the lights were extinguished. It wasn’t as if the diva didn’t know. Sometimes the moonlight or the flicker of a remaining candle would illuminate the mess of scars across her body, but Dorothea knew that was a story that she could only wait patiently for Edelgard to tell.
Edelgard gripped the brunette’s thighs and rose to her feet, hoisting her into the air as if the action took no effort at all. Dorothea’s breath caught in her throat. She was constantly forgetting how muscular Edelgard was, her strength hidden behind layers of armor and her tiny stature. Dorothea wrapped her legs firmly around her waist, giving a satisfied purr as her back made contact with the door once more.
Part of her hoped no one was walking by to hear the moan that Edelgard drew from her lips when she bit at the soft skin of the diva’s neck. The other part of her was too consumed with lust to care.
“Edie,” she sighed, almost forgetting to even finish her sentence for a moment. The teeth she could feel against her pulse were far, far too distracting. “You’re determined to drain me dry of makeup, aren’t you?”
Edelgard laughed, and Dorothea could feel her lips upturn in a satisfied grin against her neck. “Perhaps you should just stop covering them up, then," she suggested innocently.
“It would hardly be proper for me to perform looking like I just walked out of a brothel,” Dorothea countered.
“In that case, I can buy you all the makeup you could ever want." Edelgard punctuated her offer with another bite to the diva's shoulder, and Dorothea found herself arching against her involuntarily. The Emperor pulled away to briefly admire her handiwork before resting her forehead against her lover's own.
"Have you noticed that your solutions seem to be avoiding the root of the problem?" Dorothea teased, dragging a thumb across the pale-haired woman's lips.
Edelgard arched an eyebrow, countering her question with a challenge. "Is it really that much of a problem for you, Dorothea?"
"No, not at all," the diva murmured, leaning in to kiss her once more.
It was in that very moment that a heavy knock on the door sent both women jumping out of their skin. “Your majesty!” Dorothea felt Edelgard's hold loosen in surprise at the voice that boomed from the hallway, and she scrambled to keep her grip around the Emperor's neck. The smaller woman gave strangled noise, struggling herself to keep her partner from tumbling to the floor.
The stream of curses that came from under Edelgard’s breath was almost impressive. “Dorian,” she began, pink dusting her cheeks at the absolute absurdity of their situation when the two had finally settled into their original position, “I told you that I was not to be disturbed while visiting with Ms. Arnault."
Dorothea couldn’t help the ridiculous grin that crossed her face. Here she was, plastered against a door in only her small clothes and skirt while the Emperor of all Fódlan tried to talk past her to a very, very unaware footman on the other side. Absolutely absurd indeed.
If the man had put two and two together, he didn’t let on in the slightest. “My apologies, your majesty. Lord Vestra has requested your input on a matter of strategy."
Dorothea craned her head forward while the footman spoke, nipping at her partner’s earlobe. Edelgard inhaled sharply and visibly struggled to steel herself. “T-Tell Lord Vestra that he can find me in the morning. You are dismissed," she said, shooting a silent warning glare at the diva in her arms.
There was a long pause on the other side of the door. It took everything in Dorothea's willpower to keep from bursting into laughter as the poor footman obviously did mental gymnastics to try and to piece together the situation at hand. "Very well, your majesty."
As soon as his footsteps could be heard fading down the stairwell, Dorothea began to giggle uncontrollably. Edelgard rolled her eyes, leaning to press softer kisses at the blooming marks on her neck that she had made minutes before. "For as clever as he is, sometimes Hubert can't seem to take a hint," she murmured.
“Oh, I think he knows exactly what he's doing, Edie. People talk about us, you know," Dorothea said when Edelgard pulled away to look at the taller woman once more. "The Emperor and her scandalous love affair with the prima donna of Mittelfrank."
“Let them. Those people know nothing of how much I care for you.” Her lips curled into a devious smile as she leaned further against Dorothea, coming nose to nose with the brunette before her. “Or of how amazing you feel underneath me,” she whispered, sending another shiver up the diva’s spine.
Dorothea grabbed the hair at the nape of her Emperor’s neck, positively relishing in the gasp that fell from her lips in response. “Let’s find ourselves a proper bed then, Emperor.”
For the first time in many years, Dorothea did not wake alone the next morning. The pale, scarred arm draped over her side brought an unbridled warmth to her chest.
The diva raised her head to squint at the daylight streaming through the curtains of her private quarters in the opera house. She scarcely remembered falling asleep, but the high sun outside seemed to suggest it had been far, far into the night.
The small form pressed into her back was a far cry from the towering Emperor that normally graced her sheets for mere hours then vanished to the streets of Enbarr before daybreak to avoid prying eyes. Dorothea smiled, carefully turning onto her other side to come face to face with the sleeping monarch.
Love, hm? It had been far too long since she had ever even given the topic a second thought. As an adult, the very notion had come to seem childish. After all, how could the Dorothea who had been flitting from suitor to suitor in her youth ever have been in love with any of them? Her younger self had thought she was in love. She had told herself she was in love. Her older self knew better.
It was almost as if they had switched places, really. Dorothea had been so intent on falling in love during her youth, while Edelgard had accepted that such a thing would never happen for herself. To hear a profession from her old friend's lips was a surprise, and after having the night to think on it Dorothea decided that it was indeed a welcome one. She felt something in her chest that hadn't been there for a long, long time. Perhaps it hadn't ever been there at all.
It would have been an understatement to say that there were a mess of feelings in Dorothea's mind and heart alike to work through. There was no way anything that bloomed from what they had would be simple or easy; and yet, the diva couldn't help but feel her heart beat a little bit faster when she regarded the Emperor's sleeping form. Had Edelgard always made her heart beat like that?
She had once told Edelgard that anybody who had feelings for the Emperor was in for a complicated life. Dorothea pressed a gentle kiss to the crown of her companion's head, rubbing slow circles with her thumb across an old scar from a spearhead just behind her ear.
"What a beautiful complication you are, Edie."