Edelgard fusses over the tea table in her chambers. The tea’s fruity scent hardly makes up for her oddly shaped cookies. At least Mercedes contributed blueberry muffins while Edelgard wrestled with her own dough.
Even without the erratic knock, she would know her company; Hubert knows she is not to be interrupted this evening. Bernadetta enters, her face lighting up at Edelgard’s offering. Lovely, Edelgard lets herself think.
She’s barely aware of her pleasantries as they sit. Bernadetta peeks around the centerpiece of violets and carnations, which Constance’s magic has grown with unnecessary vigor. Though Bernadetta would undoubtedly like to hide behind it, Edelgard sets the vase aside to watch her sample the cookies. Her approval pokes a tiny hole in the canvas of Edelgard’s nerves.
Edelgard clears her throat. “I’ve been reviewing our book. We’ve made quite a few memories together, haven’t we?”
“Yeah, I guess we have. Um, you haven’t been looking too closely at my old stuff, have you?”
“Perhaps. But with no judgment, I assure you,” Edelgard says. Bernadetta slumps back in her chair just as Edelgard leans forward. “Actually, I have a proposal for you. After I step down as emperor, I plan to disappear from the public eye.”
“You do? That’s a big change. Oh! Do you want me to teach you how to hide?”
“Possibly, but I had something more in mind.” Edelgard twists the napkin in her lap and tries to recall her rehearsal. “Petra tells me you wish to see more of the world. These dreams you’ve shared—I would like to make them reality. I could escort you to the tallest mountain and the farthest sea. Wherever you wished to go, I would keep you safe.”
“You’d do that for me? Oh, no, I could never burden you with my silly dreams! It’s bad enough—it’s enough that you took the time to read them.”
“Don’t worry. I’m actually being quite selfish. To be honest, I have no grasp on life outside of war and politics. You devote your time to numerous other pursuits, and… you are gentle. Like me, you see enemies everywhere, yet you never jump to wipe them out. If I were with you, I might learn to live in peace.”
Bernadetta picks apart a cookie, scattering the crumbs of Edelgard’s efforts. “I’m not exactly the best guide to living a normal life.”
“If you were, we wouldn’t understand each other. But maybe we can find an answer together.”
“That… that sounds nice.” Though she doesn’t return Edelgard’s smile, Bernadetta sounds genuine. Every inch of her face displays her exploration of the idea. “But I’d hate to take up so much of your life. Wouldn’t you rather find a real partner?”
With all their boldness in battle, and all their hesitation at things others take for granted, Edelgard reaches for Bernadetta’s crumb-covered hand. Her thumb traces the scar where arrows rested again and again. She holds it there in Bernadetta’s space, making no move to bring her to her side.
“I was hoping you would be that partner. That you would share all of my life, not just part of it.”
“Oh. Oh!” Bernadetta’s grip seems more reflexive than accepting. “With… with me?”
“If you would have me. You only get one life, and I understand if you don’t wish—”
“I will! I mean, I would! But this is… a lot. I need to think about it. And maybe find somewhere to scream.”
“Of course. Take all the time you need.” Edelgard releases her, folding her hands in her lap to restrain them. Bernadetta stands and stares down over the vase of flowers. Her lips move wordlessly before she bends to press a wet kiss to Edelgard’s cheek. She scampers off before Edelgard can react.
After the door closes, Edelgard sits there, letting the warmth remain.
Years later, Edelgard wakes to frying pancakes and her wife’s song harmonizing with the birds.
Her wife. They had no wedding, but the word snuck in somewhere between building the cabin and referring to it, not as their base, but as home.
She kicks away the quilt she half threw off in the night. Even at summer’s end, the sun blazes too hot for it, but she can’t resist the weight of anything Bernadetta makes. Rising, she admires the paintings on the wall, the most prominent a sunset from a mountaintop. Bernadetta tried many drafts from many mountains before displaying one. The shelf by their bed holds books and presents from their friends, who they contact and visit in secret, thanks to Hubert. Edelgard pulls on a robe and leaves the small bedroom.
Though she shouldn’t risk surprising Bernadetta, she can’t resist leaning against the doorframe, letting Bernadetta sing a moment longer. The morning light frames her soft smile as she gets out a jar of berry compote. Lovely. Another word Edelgard thinks often, and says freely.
Her greeting makes Bernadetta jump. It’s not long before she smiles again, this time against Edelgard’s mouth. Edelgard holds her as carefully as ever, skating a hand over her warm, muscled back.
“So,” Bernadetta says when she’s recovered her breath, “what do you want to do today?”
It is still odd to be asked. The sleepy part of her wants to say nothing, other than compote-flavored kisses; another part supplies her with chores, wood to cut and food to preserve if they decide to stay until spring. But they have been leaning toward heading south. They can find another vista for Bernadetta to paint, and more places for Edelgard to help rebuild. She can never let herself forget the need, or her role in it. When she begrudges herself this home of her own, the life others never got to live, she can at least give it to Bernadetta.
“We should narrow down our next destination. Would you like to cross another item off your list?” Edelgard asks.
Even though the cabin fits more mementos, they kept their book. Its full pages have room to press flowers from countless more places and seasons.
“Maybe, if I can do one at the beach,” Bernadetta says. Edelgard shivers, and Bernadetta is quick to add, “I promise none of them are in the water.”
“That’s fine, then.”
Edelgard leaves the subject there and eats, with only her wife’s hums joining the birds. Perhaps they will fly south with the couple, and adapt to the coast until spring. Or perhaps they will be happy where they are.