It’s never been a question of if, the whole romance part. Really, it’s always been more of a matter of when. For you, anyway.
Your life is full of when’s. When will you see Charlotte again? Because you will see her again, you’re sure of it. When will you become Queen, when will the war end?
(You suspect those last two will most likely come hand-in-hand, but you could have never predicted that all three would.)
So yes, the romance part is also a when. You've always known you've loved her, though as children, you hadn't understood what it was you felt until it was too late. And you're fairly sure she loved you then, too. You two have always been three steps ahead of everyone else, after all.
You'd loved her even then, and that's why it hurt so much when you were ripped apart so cruelly.
Somehow, you survive. Charlotte’s - no, your - parents have been killed in the chaos, but her - your - grandmother the Queen still lives, by the grace of God. And all of your - her - your - siblings are still alive, too. Three of them, all older than you. You live in fear for months that they’ll figure out you’re not their real baby sister, but they never even seem to think something’s wrong. Perhaps it’s normal for royal children to not be close with one another. You'll grow to hate them in time.
You survive, and you decide that you’re going to make Charlotte’s dream a reality. You've already stolen her life - her family. The least you can do for her is work towards her last ambition.
(God, you hope she’s okay. How is she eating? How is she staying warm? You cling religiously to the belief that she’s alive. She has to be - you’d have felt it had she died at some point; you’re sure of it.)
And you work. The royal tutors who survived the attack on the palace are sympathetic towards you, probably because of the supposed family members who’d been killed, but you know it’s only a matter of time before they start to expect things from you again. Things you haven’t learned - couldn’t have learned, before now.
You need to catch up, and fast.
The most pressing subject is your reading and writing. You’ve never learned, but thank God, Charlotte’s taught you enough for a base. She liked to read to you aloud, when you had time, and you know enough to be able to recognize some letters to their sounds. It goes like this: you’re put to bed, you lie there for about an hour or so to make sure everyone in the palace has gone to sleep, and then you get up and study for hours on end. Sometimes it’s only midnight when you decide to go to sleep, and sometimes there’s only enough time to catch an hour or so before your maids are knocking at your door.
You’re constantly exhausted, but it works. Slowly and surely, you teach yourself how to read. How to write. Whenever you have (rare) free time in the day, you’re either practicing on the piano or you’re reading up on courtesy laws. You have to know these things. And every time you feel your eyelids begin to droop, or you realize you’re starting to nod off, you remind yourself why you’re bothering to do this. For Charlotte, you think, a hundred times a day. For Charlotte. For Charlotte. For Charlotte.
But it slowly shifts, the way you view your work, and somewhere along the way, throughout those cold, privileged years, you grow to love the Kingdom of Albion.
Well. That is, love what the Kingdom of Albion could become. If there was no silly civil war, if there was no Wall -
You could do so much good here.
Because you’re not the only one who’s been displaced by the sudden appearance of the Wall. People come to the palace every single day, begging to be given passage to the other side where their families still reside. But as the years go by, those people start to give up. They start to accept that they’ll simply never see their loved ones ever again, and they stop coming.
But you’ll never give up.
Beatrice is assigned to you as your personal maid when you're eleven years old, and she’s only nine, but she’s got a mechanical voice box that tells you she's been through some things. And based on the way she still presents herself so genuinely, so kindly, you can tell that she's a strong soul.
And she adores you.
She’s loyal to you and you alone, which is perhaps the most important thing, and - the most important thing, this is - she’s your friend.
The years go by, and you work and you survive. But now, you find you’re not so lonely.
(You also make sure to send away every suitor that’s sent sniffing in your direction - no, thank you. You suspect your grandmother’s somewhat irritated with you about that, but you can’t quite help that. You’ll do anything that’s asked of you perfectly - except marry. That’s not something you’ll ever back down on. You’re already spoken for.
Thankfully, the Queen doesn't press very hard on that. You're only fourth in line for the throne, after all. For now.)
You keep working. That’s all you can do.
(No matter how little you sleep, you dream of her every single night for ten years.)
And finally, the time comes.
The time comes, and when now-called Ange Le Carré - your darling Charlotte, your Charlotte - crashes a seemingly normal party and reveals to you through a thoughtful note that she’s a spy, it’s all you can do to not jump straight into her arms like you used to. It’s agony to wait, but she has a plan, and you must admit, you’re curious. You force yourself not to look around too much - you don't want to see the back of her head first.
God, you've missed her so much, your heart pounds the entire time you wait, so loudly that you're half-afraid Beatrice will hear.
And just as your patience is wearing thin, it happens, and she finally comes up to greet you, wine glass in hand, and-
She’s only grown more gorgeous. Her hair is cut even shorter than it had been ten years ago, and it’s not quite the same color as yours anymore. Her eyes, too, are slightly different, though not quite as noticeably. They’re the same steel-blue color, but they’re darker now, you think. It’s so subtle that you’re not even sure - had they always been that way? Or had they darkened like her hair as she grew? You itch to know. You itch to hold her, to take her face in your hands and study every inch of her.
But you remember your restraint. There will be time for that later, when you’re not both in the middle of a deadly - yet thrilling - dance.
She comes to you with an air of untamed nervousness, and if you hadn’t already known she was a spy, this act would have thrown you for a loop. Your Charlotte’s always been a shy one, but never like this. Never with you. She’s playing a game, it seems, and you ache to play it with her.
Maybe this game ends up being a little cruel to her friend - Dorothy - because she certainly doesn’t see the fun in it, but beggars can’t be choosers. You threaten to expose them both unless they comply and allow you to join them, and there’s an amused glint in Ange’s eye when you say it.
It’s that easy, isn’t it, slipping back into code with her. You really shouldn't be so surprised. After all, you both have always been three steps ahead of everyone else.
A thrilling game of chance - will her superiors give you the answer you want before your - technically her - uncle finds out she’s his enemy? Will she falter in her charade - let it slip that she knows you? Doubtful. You both have always been good at playing a part, and time seems to have only strengthened those skills.
“If the answer is ‘yes’, the bell will chime,” Ange tells you in a deadpan. Her eyes tell you, They’d better.
You don’t let your smile widen any further, though you’re sure Ange can pick out the laughter in it anyways. “And if the answer is ‘no’?”
Of course, you have no intention of exposing her to the Duke - then you’d really never get her back. And if she’s truly partners with this other woman, well, you’ll be kind to her as well. But you’ll have to come up with something tricky if the Commonwealth government decides not to support you, and you’d really rather not do that.
“The bell will ring, Princess,” Ange says without batting an eye and God you’ve missed her.
(The bell rings.)
It’s not even an hour before you’re allowed to be alone with her, though is it tricky getting Beatrice to leave you alone for ten minutes at a time. “I’ll be fine without you for one night,” you tell her, itching for the balcony, where you know she’s waiting. “And you can wake me up in the morning.”
She relents, though not quickly, and you take care not to show your excitement as you’re finally - finally - left alone.
Charlotte, your dear, dear Charlotte, is waiting for you, just like she’d said she would. She makes some pointless small-talk first, because she’s always been of a nervous sort, but you’re so happy to see her, you don’t even care.
Except - except she wants to run, and every bone in your body wants to run with her, go to that little white house in Casablanca that you know she must’ve worked herself raw to acquire, but you can’t. You could be so close to your goal, now that she’s here.
And It hurts to turn her down, but. You've grown to love her old dream, have come to believe in it before anything else, and you cannot allow all you've worked for to go to waste. She still stays with you, though, just like you knew she would. It’s what you would do, if your places were swapped (haha, get it-) and you two have always been the same in dealing with each other.
So, no; the romance has never been a question. Not to you, anyway - Ange is more nervous about it than you are; more likely to turn red and stumble whenever you tease her. Which is fine - more than fine. That just proves to you she’s still the same person you’d met ten years ago, the person you’d fallen for.
She’s the same, but she’s different, too. There’s new facets to her that you can discover now - pieces of her that sprouted during those long ten years you’d been apart. Now, there’s the girl you remember and adore, and there’s also Ange the Spy.
And oh, you fall for Ange the Spy just as quickly as you’d fallen for Charlotte the Princess back then.
Ange the Spy is who would kill someone in order to protect you. Ange the Spy is who spouts ridiculous lies without a single tell, who is the first person to ever master a C-ball like she has, who looks at you under that attractive black hat and whose eyes declare You are the only thing that matters. It’s Ange the Spy who you get to know deeply, slowly, in the presence of other people. It’s a dance of your own making - an entirely new code that sprang into existence when you met again. It’s exhilarating.
(She wears your old name far better than you ever had, you think.)
But your Charlotte’s still there, too; if only when you two are alone. It’s your Charlotte who begs you to go and live with her in a safe little house in Casablanca, and who then yields to your own plans instead. It’s your beloved Charlotte who hugs you - tightly, for the first time in ten years. It’s your Charlotte who still loves you just as much as you still adore her. Oh, she's a guilt-ridden crybaby, your Charlotte, and she's still the kindest soul you've ever met.
And you love her - God, you love her. You love the way her eyes follow you as Ange, tracking your every move. Perhaps it should feel somewhat invasive, but you think you could face an entire army on your own if her eyes were on you. You love how she blushes when you tease her, shy and nervous even still.
You especially love the way she shivers every time you call her Charlotte, like she can’t help it. You try not to invoke her old name too often - for her sake.
She's been through so much, and she's still the same. She's the strongest person you know.
And the first time you kiss her, everything seems to slot into place.
It's just a normal day at Queen’s Mayfair, really. You went to classes, ate lunch with the team, went to more classes, and then had tea with the daughters of other nobles in the evening. It had been uneventful. For you, anyway. There's no telling what's always happening just out of your sight - behind the scenes. You are working with spies.
But it's evening now, and Beatrice has only just left you alone for the night. Such a frantic girl; you worry sometimes that she’ll develop a heart problem from all her concern.
There’s a noise at the window-
Another thing you’ve gotten used to: assassination attempts. You’ve always had people to protect you, of course, but throughout the years, there have been some… close calls. But there's a safe green glow shining in through your curtains. Even now, your heart speeds up whenever you see that color. You don’t know if you’ll ever get over being able to see her on a regular basis.
“Ange? Is that you?” You ask, because even though there’s not really anyone else it could be, she’d insisted on having a code. Sure enough, there comes four swift knocks, and you open the window to let her in.
“Has Beatrice gone to bed?” She asks as she swings inside, disabling the C-ball and letting it hit the floor. You blink; she’s not usually so careless.
“...Yes, she has,” you say slowly. “Ange, is everything alright?”
You always know whenever she's had a bad day, because the first thing she’ll do as soon as you’re alone is bury her face in your neck. Which is exactly what she does now, dropping her hat on the bed as she goes. It barely even surprises you anymore. What a silly girl, you think with all the fondness in the world, hiding herself from the world like a little bird.
Accepting the new position with grace, you wrap your arms around her and stroke delicately through her hair, scratching lightly at the nape of her neck. “My darling,” you say, after a moment, “what's the matter?”
A puff of air against your throat. So she's irritated, rather than distressed. There's that, at least.
“Control doesn't trust you,” she says finally.
“Oh,” you say. “Well. They shouldn't.” It's true; you both know that if things ever turn south, you'll abandon Control without a second thought. They're just… convenient, really. It'll be so much harder uniting Albion without their support.
Ange huffs again; a noise that shouldn't be as cute as it is. “I know that,” she grumbles into your neck, “but I’m getting sick and tired of constantly receiving orders to ‘watch you’.”
“You do that already,” you tease, trying to get her to smile. It doesn't work, so this must have been eating at her for a while. Serious, then. “Don’t worry, dear. It won’t be like this forever. That’s the whole plan, isn’t it?” You sigh sadly, rubbing the small of her back. “I hate seeing you like this. It'll be okay, Charlotte. I just know it.” You don't say Because we’re together, but you think it’s implied well enough.
“...Yeah,” she says after a long moment, sighing deeply. The slope of shoulders soften until they don’t look painful anymore, and she finally pulls away from your embrace. She stays close, though, looking up at you with those same eyes you'd fallen for ten years ago.
And you realize, vaguely, that you want to kiss her so badly it hurts.
You've been letting her set the pace - you'd never want to rush her, not ever - but surely it's nearly time, yes? You know she feels the same way. But will she ever have the courage to act on it? Maybe, or maybe not. But you definitely do.
“Ange,” you say delicately, “would you do something for me?”
“Anything,” she responds instantly, and you think, I know.
There’s that adoration that always makes your heart skip a beat. God, you love the way she looks at you when you're alone. She can't bear to let down her guard whenever anybody else is around, but with you, there's no point to having a guard anyway. You always see right through her, and she wants you to.
So you say, gently, “Close your eyes?” It’s still a question; you will not move unless she agrees.
A hint of red creeps into Ange’s cheeks, not because she’s guessed what your plan is, but because she always gets a little flustered whenever she’s forced to be vulnerable, even around you. But above all, she trusts you, and so, with one last wary glance around the room, she closes her eyes without a single word of protest.
And you kiss her.
She stiffens, having somehow not expected it (she’s so cute), but melts into you almost immediately. And God, you think you could stay in this moment for the rest of your life and die happy, even if you never achieve your dream.
You kiss her, and it’s everything like you’ve imagined it’d be.
What could be minutes, hours, or decades later, you finally pull back to breathe. Her face is red and shocked, and a small smile tugs at the corner of your lips. You reach up and curl an unruly lock of hair behind her ear, delighting in the way she shivers under your touch.
“Princess?” Ange asks, voice wobbly. You shake your head.
“Call me by my name, Charlotte.” You don't mean to let it, but a hint of something cold and desperate drips from your tone. Ah, well. It's not like she doesn't know how much she means to you.
And so she corrects her mistake. “Ange,” she breathes, and oh, tears fill your eyes for one silly moment. You wipe them away, slightly frustrated with yourself. This isn't the time for your own mushiness - this is the time to comfort the person you love the most in the world.
“Do you have a question for me?” You ask, once it's clear she's not planning on saying anything else. She's still wearing that disbelieving expression, which kind of hurts your heart a little.
Had she truly never thought you'd love her back?
Ange swallows, eyes meeting yours briefly before darting away once more. “What did-” she cuts herself off. Tries again, “does that mean you-” she's beginning to lose the battle; her face is reddening at a rapid pace. “I mean, I would go along with whatever you want, but there’s no need to push yourself to my pace!”
You blink. “Pardon my rudeness,” you say, “but what on earth are you talking about?”
“I just-” she sighs, finally looking at you again. Her eyes are wholly Charlotte’s then; full of fear and warmth and everything in between. “You’ve always known me better than I know myself. You also know I love you, even if I’ve never said it. But if you're only advancing because you think I need it…”
It finally clicks, and you want to go through her past and punch everyone who’d ever had a hand in making her this way, so sure that no one would ever love her.
So you’re going to make sure she damn well knows you do. With a huff, you fix your hands to her jaw, holding her in place. “Ange le Carré,” you say fiercely, “I would appreciate it if you would speak more kindly about the person I love.” A beat, and then you continue, “Charlotte. I have loved you for ten years, and believe me when I say - I will love you forevermore.”
Distressingly enough, something is still furrowing her brows even now. You wait patiently for her to ask whatever question she has, and she does so quickly, if not hesitantly.
“....Even though I'm different now?”
You think you feel your heart break a little, and you pull away without thinking, arms drooping at your sides. “Oh, my darling turtledove. How could you ever think that? I love every inch of you, every side of you that you’re willing to give me. How could I not?”
There’s that smile. Ange smiles so rarely these days (real ones, at least; not the shy, fake fake fake ones she gives when she's playing her schoolgirl part), and though you understand why, you still ache to see one every once in a while. The time between just makes her real smiles even more precious to witness, though, and you believe you fall deeper with every single one you’re allowed to see. You find yourself wanting to touch her and so you do, reaching up to once again cradle her face in your hands. Softer, this time.
She flushes, but doesn't break your gaze. Nor does her smile dim. “I know I can be frightening sometimes, during missions. Dorothy has told me as much to my face.”
“Dorothy is a big meanie who doesn't know what she's talking about,” you declare passionately, if only to make her laugh. It works, and your own smile blooms under the precious sound. “I could never be frightened of you. Charlotte, you don't have to worry at all about this, my love. Please don't think you could ever chase me away.” You smile at her, as softly as you can. “I'm afraid you’re quite stuck with me, love.”
She hugs you, then, and she’s still the warmest person you've ever touched. Honestly - someone would almost be able to tell you apart from her by body heat alone!
“Thank you,” she murmurs into your ear, and then, surprising you both, “thank you, Ange.”
She says it so rarely; twice in one conversation is a real treat.
“Besides,” you say once your speech returns to you, feeling your ears light up in a blush. “I think you look positively gallant in that cloak and hat you've found for yourself.”
Truthfully, this is something you'd have preferred to take to your grave - it’s slightly humiliating, after all - but you find you’re weaker to nothing more than her voice whispering the name you were born into. You'd conquer the world for her, if she'd let you.
Her eyes widen as she pulls back, looking even more embarrassed by your admission than you are. “Really?”
What a silly girl. Doesn't she understand, how many girls would swoon if she so much as even looked at them from under that black-tipped hat?
Disbelievingly, you shake your head at her. “Really, Ange. I cannot fathom how you do not know. If not for your profession, I know you would be swallowed up by admirers. You're such a gentleman, and you’ve got those alluring mysterious qualities of yours that people would love to try and figure out.” Hmm. You might've shown a bit too much of your hand just then. For damage control, you continue teasingly, “And come now. Don't tell me you've never once not been proud of the way your cape fits around your shoulders.”
The diversion - cheap as it is - works. You've flustered her now, and the tips of her ears redden cutely, which tells you you’re right about that last bit. Everyone’s a sucker for capes, it seems.
“You are - very biased,” she croaks finally, eyes struggling to meet yours for an extended period. “I- I do not think-”
And oh, you can’t resist kissing her again, just to shut her up. She makes a soft sound of surprise that makes your heart melt, and you slide your hand to her chin in order to guide her into the best angle. Technically, it's only your second, but you feel like you've been doing this forever.
This may be your new favorite way of getting her to stop her self-deprecating rants.
(It definitely is.)