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Edelgard takes three arrows to her back, stepping in front of Dorothea, as if she did not have the fate of this revolution balanced on her shoulders. 

It happens far too quickly—one moment she’s defending Edelgard’s flank from a short distance, and then the next she’s on the ground with Edelgard shielding her body with hers, their faces smeared with grime and dirt so close to each other. 

“Are you alright, Dorothea?” Edelgard asks, and Dorothea doesn’t realize what she’s done until Monica comes over, tossing the shield Edelgard threw in front of her to protect her before Edelgard jumped in front of Dorothea, with a panicked ‘Your Majesty, your back!’  

Dorothea doesn’t have a chance to respond, not when Dorothea looks away from Edelgard’s piercing, almost-panicked gaze to see past her shoulder; three silver arrows sticking into the thick armor. 

Normal arrows would merely have bounced off Edelgard’s usual metal plates, yet judging by the abject horror on Monica’s face and the way Edelgard’s face twists uncomfortably, tells Dorothea that isn’t the case.

“Edie, you’re unbelievable,” she says, panic settling into her voice. What if Edelgard had perished, because of her? She wouldn’t know what to do with herself. “Don’t move.” 

“It’s not in too deep,” Edelgard says, as if she were discussing a cat she’d seen on her way to the strategy room. She reaches behind her, with some difficulty thanks to her armor, and yanks all three of them out with a grunt. 

Dorothea almost misses the bolt of lightning thrown their way by a gremory thanks to the raw display of strength and selflessness by Edelgard. At the last minute, she extends a hand behind Edelgard and wards it off with her own spell. 

Monica is busy warding off other gremories and archers in a fit of rage for hurting Edelgard, so the healing is unfortunately left to Dorothea. It will be enough just so Edelgard doesn’t hurt for the rest of the battle. 

“Hold still, Your Majesty,” Dorothea says, hand hovering over her Edelgard’s back with a faint white glow. She only needs a good look at Edelgard’s face to get the Faith spell going. 

 

After the mission debrief, Dorothea takes a few pieces of bread from the kitchen to make her hands stop shaking. She has a shift at the medic’s tent in a few. Perfect, Dorothea thinks, she doesn’t eat big meals after battles unlike most of her peers. 

 

Inside the tent, she tends to wounded soldiers. Mostly first aid, leaving most of the Faith healing to Manuela, Linhardt, and Marianne. After most have come and gone, she spots Edelgard and Hubert speaking with each other at the entrance. Edelgard seems cross, for whatever reason, and Hubert looks like he disagrees. 

Still, he leaves, and Edelgard strolls right to her after greeting everyone in the tent and showing her appreciation with a hand to her heart and a bow. 

Dorothea always thought she was dashing whenever she did that. 

The other healers who were more capable let them have their moment. Dorothea takes her to her partition and lets Edelgard sit on the patient bed. Like clockwork, Edelgard sheds her compression shirt with a little difficulty, so Dorothea comes to her aid to help her out of it. 

By Dorothea’s standards, her Faith spell was done well—the three wounds on Edelgard’s back had healed significantly, shy away from scarring. Three more notches to Edelgard’s many others from the Agarthans and the war, after this session. 

She remembers, then, that this had happened because Edelgard had used her body to shield her from those arrows. Had it not been for her, Dorothea would be dead. They would be cleaning her body at the morgue, to be buried in Garegg Mach’s cemetery. 

Dorothea opens her mouth to speak, and despite having her back turned to her, Edelgard speaks first. “I know what you’re thinking.” 

“And what would that be, Edie?” She says, taking some vulneraries from the table to dab it gently on Edelgard’s flesh. Knowing Edelgard, it didn’t matter if she were in pain; she just wanted the wound closed to prevent infections. “I’m not that easy to figure out. I’ll give you three tries.” 

Edelgard lets out a huff, then a hiss when Dorothea swipes a sterile cloth on the wounds. In a matter of seconds, the wounds have healed completely, and Edelgard puts her shirt back on. “I did what I had to do,” she explains, her expression closed off and Dorothea doesn’t understand why she was being so defensive about it. “Those arrows were quieter than the usual ones. Had I not stepped in—” she clenches her gloved hand in a fist, looking away. “These wounds are inconsequential.” 

Dorothea has much to say to all of those. And yet: “Guess I’m not much of a challenge.” 

“Not at all,” Edelgard gives her a small smile. “Let’s just say that getting to know you all these years granted me a few privileges.” 

Dorothea screws the vulnerary closed and tosses the cloth into a metal bowl. She sits in front of Edelgard, meeting her gaze. “I don’t think I could ever forgive myself if anything happened to you because of me,” she looks away, to the entrance of the tent. “It’s really not worth it, Edie. If you’re gone, that’s pulling the stops on all our efforts. And, well, for myself, I’ll just be another casualty. The Empire loses a finger at most.”

Edelgard, thankfully, doesn’t dare contest that. But she looks uncomfortable about it, which Dorothea understands. Even if Dorothea had made peace with imminent death and Edelgard understood the costs of her war, it didn’t mean that any of them had to like it. 

“You have to accept that I want you to enjoy the fruit of our labor,” she holds Dorothea’s hand through her glove. The room that had been chilly is suddenly warm. “If it meant that I could stand by you until the end, I would foolishly take more arrows for you.” 

These words coming from Edelgard’s mouth… if all these years staying by Edelgard’s side taught her anything, that had been an admission of love that’s very much like her. A little morbid, callous, and terribly romantic. Edelgard simply made it all work. 

Dorothea feels as if the wind had been stolen from her lungs. While a part of her has always known, with the way Edelgard treats her so differently from all of them, there was the overpowering doubt that Edelgard could have anyone she wanted in this world, and Dorothea doesn’t make the cut. Or even if she did, she probably wouldn’t be able to keep up. 

“Then you’ll have to accept that I would do the same for you,” Dorothea replies and Edelgard should know this, should know that this is far from the life Dorothea has imagined for herself, that she hadn’t thought anyone or anything would be worth her life until the fateful day she’d joined Edelgard in Enbarr for her coronation. 

“Thank you, Dorothea,” Edelgard says, so sincere and genuine. It’s maddening, in a good way, that her gratitude is the same regardless of what Dorothea does for her: handing her freshly brewed tea when she was too busy to do so, or swearing fealty to her, to this cause. “Though, if I may trouble you with one last request.” 

“Go ahead.”

Edelgard looks up at her with a gaze like steel, caring, but fierce. “If ever you are in a position to choose between your life or this cause,” she says, removing her gloves and setting them on the bed. “Don’t hesitate to choose yourself. Run. Go. Do whatever it takes.” 

Dorothea laughs as if the terrifying feeling of being discarded doesn’t crawl up her throat. She pushes it back down in favor of trying not to make an absolute fool of herself in front of Edelgard, and because of it, her walls come up. “Edie, you sure know what to say to make a girl feel special…”

Edelgard’s hand meets hers, this time without gloves. Dorothea feels as if she’d just conjured thunder from her fingertips—seems like Edelgard isn’t in the mood to let herself be swayed from this uncomfortable topic. 

Scarred skin on scarred skin; Edelgard’s was one of her reasons to start this war, while Dorothea’s was one of its consequences. 

“Promise me, Dorothea. I ask not as the emperor but as your…” She trails off. If Dorothea’s heart doesn’t ache at what the conversation implies—her capture, Edelgard’s defeat, among other things—she would have teased her about that pause, would have steered the conversation about what they were , about Edelgard essentially having proclaimed her love for her in this humble tent. 

Sadly, this isn’t the time. Edelgard seems to think so, as well. 

“As your dearest friend.” 

Dorothea doesn’t realize she’s tearing up until Edelgard reaches up to wipe a stubborn tear away. She laughs, wiping it herself, thinking back to their little chat in the Tactics room while everyone slept.

“I just told you I’d give my life for you,” she laughs instead. She finds it incredibly funny in a miserable way that she, someone who had enrolled in Garegg Mach to preserve herself and valued peace and diplomacy to keep herself and others safe, now has her hands stained with blood; all for someone who hadn’t even promised her a warm home or endless riches—only to burn down a diabolic system that had hurt both of them, uncaring if it cost everything.

“And I told you that I wished for you to see this war through with me.” Edelgard chuckles, upping the mood with her rare but infectious laugh. Her thumb swipes against the skin of Dorothea’s hand. “I suppose we are at a stalemate of our own doing.” 

She can’t lie and say she doesn’t understand where Edelgard is coming from. If there was anyone who was well aware of how Dorothea saw herself, it would be Edelgard, who knew that Dorothea hates this war and hates what it’s done to her. A cruel part of her mind tells her maybe Edelgard understood her base desires more than she did. 

“I’m sorry, Edie, you’re not the only one with a stubborn streak.” 

Dorothea misses the way Edelgard’s eyes don’t leave their joined hands. They’ve had a long day and Dorothea doesn’t suppose they’ll see eye to eye about each other’s safety anytime soon. “I don’t mind.” 

-

I should have spent more time studying tactics, thinks Dorothea, as she’s backed into a wall with an arrow sticking into her arm. She bleeds out against the stark white pavement of the Silver Maiden. 

“Dorothea, give it up,” Sylvain says, and for the first time since she’s known him, he sounds genuine. Sad. Tired. Dorothea had half a mind he would take her life for Ingrid’s. “Stop this madness. We’ve lost too much, haven’t we? I don’t want you to bleed to your death.”  

Dorothea looks down at her hands, underneath the blood that’s hers and someone else’s, she sees the scars from casting Thunder. 

When Dorothea gives him no response, makes no move to take his hand, Sylvain spares Edelgard a glance, then he sighs. “Come with us and we’ll spare her, for now.” 

She’s tired and dying and she doesn’t know what Faerghus has planned; Dorothea has never trusted a word that has come out of Sylvain’s mouth, but something about this moment on the battlefield tells her he means it. 

Dorothea thinks about Edelgard, thinks about their stalemate. She laughs, bitterly, when she realizes that if she takes Sylvain’s hand, she wins—Edelgard is spared, for now, and Dorothea fulfills her promise that she stays alive. 

You want to stay alive, too, Dorothea thinks, as she takes Sylvain’s hand. Though in the haze of it all she realizes she isn’t sure. She doesn’t know. All she can think of as she bleeds on Sylvain’s armor is if Edelgard was able to drink the tea Dorothea had set for her on her desk. 

-

Faerghus is frigid, and it barely helps the case that Dorothea is absolutely fucking miserable. 

She doesn’t know if she feels better or worse that Sylvain, aside from Mercedes, is the only one who treats her as a friend. 

“You've got to eat something,” he says, pushing a bowl of hot Fhirdiad venison soup. It helps with warming her, and she’s told it’s for foreigners who are trying to get acclimated with the cold. 

She doesn’t want that. She misses Enbarr’s tepid, almost humid temperature. She misses her friends. She misses having something to fight for. 

To claim lives for nothing makes Dorothea empty her stomach after every battle. 

“Thanks, Sylv,” she says, doing her best to be polite. It feels odd, considering the person in front of her is Sylvain. “Not eating?” 

“I’m good, thanks.” There’s a pause, and then Sylvain asks. “How are you… feeling about all of this.” 

Dorothea shrugs. “You beat me fair and square and carried your part of the deal. I’m just doing what I need to do and nothing more than that.” 

He nods. Dorothea knows his story. Sylvain had every reason to join them, but also had every reason to stay. This was his family as much as the Eagles were hers. 

If there was anyone who could understand giving their life for the people they loved, it would be Sylvain.

She imagines telling Edelgard about this, in some future where they meet again. Me! Having something in common with Sylvain! Edelgard would shake her head and tell her to expect cattle to fall from the sky instead of rain.

“You’ll see her soon,” is all he says in response to her doing the bare minimum to survive. Perhaps she still had a little self-preservation from her teenage years left. 

The rest of the meal—hers, anyway—is spent in silence after that. 

-

“Something on your mind, dear?” 

Dorothea looks up to the familiar, comforting voice. “Mercie, hi,” she says as she pats the space beside her, overlooking a lake in Gautier territory that has frozen over, just a short distance away from base. 

Mercedes takes the seat. “I could feel you worrying all the way from the infirmary.” 

Dorothea laughs. She regrets that she’s only ever gotten closer to the older woman in the throes of war. “Just thinking about our next battle. I’m seeing the Eagles for the first time since…” It’s been seven months since her surrender. 

The other woman nods, catching on. She places a hand on Dorothea’s shoulder.  “I understand the feeling,” she says gently. Dorothea can infer that she means Professor Jeritza, who was Mercedes’ little brother. It would be Mercedes’ first time in the front lines, and to face her own flesh and blood? Dorothea can’t imagine the discomfort. 

“I don’t know how I should carry myself around her, when I do face her,” Dorothea admits. Something about Mercedes makes it easy to say as if she wouldn’t be considered a traitor two-fold by the rest of the Lions. “I don’t even know how she’ll react to seeing me again. I don’t know if I have a face to show to all of them.”

Choose yourself. Run. Go. Do whatever it takes. 

People were fickle, and Dorothea knows what it feels like to be discarded. Even if her heart hoped Edelgard wouldn’t change her mind about her, that she wasn’t someone who would do that so easily, these were not normal conditions. 

Surely Edelgard would think her a lost cause and would not hesitate to strike her down. She hasn’t requested a rescue, and hasn't attempted to contact them. Surely, Edelgard knew she was alive through Hubert’s network of spies. 

Mercedes doesn’t say anything to that, thankfully. There’s little comfort in the situation. Still, she brandishes a cream puff she’d made earlier and hands it to Dorothea with the reverence Mercedes has for everything and everyone.  

-

It’s terrible enough to be recognized on the battlefield by the Imperial army in minor scuffles, but nothing could ever parallel the way her heart aches when she hears a familiar clink of armor and a firm, awe-struck, disbelieving: “ Dorothea.”  

Dorothea can’t ever put her finger on it, but the way Edelgard says her name is always so painfully intimate. She has never figured if she wanted Edelgard to stop saying her name entirely or to keep doing it for the rest of their lives. 

“Edie,” she finds herself saying, and against her will, her hands stop conjuring Agnea’s arrow. She can’t even bring it in herself to hurt her. “I won’t make excuses; I fought them and I lost.” 

Dorothea can’t read the expression that crosses Edelgard’s bloodstained face - fondness? Anger? Single-minded determination? Dorothea dares to recognize understanding. “Then say no more and prepare to lose once again,” her voice booms across the field. “I’ll drag you back to the Empire myself!” 

Edelgard raises her ax, but not at Dorothea; she directs it at the stronghold captain instead, slamming it down to create fire around her. 

In one fell swoop, the stronghold becomes the Empire’s, and Edelgard emerges from the flames. 

Of course, Dorothea thinks, the way Edelgard comes to save her is by razing the path towards her. Dorothea’s dress catches some of the embers, and some land on her skin and burn right through a layer, but Dorothea couldn’t care less. 

Edelgard walks up to her, and the tenderness in her eyes has no place in the battlefield. She extends her hand for Dorothea to take. “Here to drag me home?” Dorothea asks, giving Edelgard a small, tired, but relieved smile. “You know how to make a girl feel special.” 

“Only you,” Edelgard replies, and Dorothea takes Edelgard’s bloody hand in her own bloody one. 

-

To her surprise, everyone is happy to see her and they throw a small get-together for her return. Dorothea could cry when Caspar crushes her into a hug and says, “we were so worried about you!” In a secluded corner of the dining hall, she sees Mercedes and Professor Jeritza talking. 

Not once did they think she was a traitor, Petra assures her, and Dorothea is torn by an insurmountable amount of love and unworthiness to receive it from them. The ale and wine splash against her face when they raise their glasses to celebrate her return, and it’s hard to tell if it’s her tears or the drinks. 

Despite all of it, she sees Edelgard watching her quietly the entire night from across the table. 

 

It feels surreal to be back, and before Dorothea can even think of heading to her own room — which they had readied today upon her arrival — Edelgard pulls her to the side with a fleeting touch to her elbow and an almost-pleading look in her eyes. 

“Dorothea,” she says, and the way Edelgard says it makes the hair at the back of her neck stand—though in a good way. Her body just reacts to Edelgard that way. If it weren’t for the magnitude of her feelings for Edelgard, it would be annoying how it hasn’t changed after months. “Would you mind if I borrow a few minutes of your time?”

So dashing, still. Dorothea loves her. 

“How could I find it in myself to deny Her Majesty,” Dorothea teases, and Edelgard pulls an adorable face. “What? Do I sound like Hubie? Or Monnie?”

“Monica, actually,” Edelgard chuckles, her voice a little distant, as if she’s forgotten about her two devoted retainers already, focusing on Dorothea right in front of her—a little dazed, as if the Dorothea in front of her was a figment of her dreams. Dorothea squeezes her hand, in a silent I’m here . “I’d like to have you for myself, just for a short while.” 

She could never have imagined the leader of the new world would ever tell her these things and yet here she is, thrilled under the attention of the Emperor. 

“All yours, Edie,” Dorothea says, in more ways than one. She, again, takes the hand Edelgard offers. “Lead the way.”

 

Surprisingly, Edelgard takes her to a watch point, overlooking the territory. For the most part, the place is intact. Dorothea supposes this area had not resisted the imperial forces.

“I come here often to think and be alone,” Edelgard explains once she’s climbed up completely. She helps Dorothea onto the landing with a tug. 

“I can see why.” Dorothea says, looking around. It’s spacious, for a lookout spot. “I’m sorry.” 

Edelgard’s brows knit together. “What for?” 

“Surrendering, choosing myself,” Dorothea enumerates. “Worrying everyone. I don’t know. Many things.” 

Edelgard is quiet for a bit before she steps in closer to Dorothea, taking her hand with hesitance Dorothea didn’t know she had. At one point she’d removed her glove and Dorothea feels as if she were on fire. “Quite the contrary, actually,” she starts. “You did as I requested and I’m grateful for it.” 

Dorothea doesn’t tell her about that conversation with Sylvain, and what had pushed her to join. Come with us and we’ll spare her, for now.

“You don’t hate me? For choosing myself?” Somehow, to her, making herself out as a selfish and self-preserving person is more acceptable than making Edelgard worry about her poor spirit. 

“I could never,” Edelgard’s hand comes up to play with a stray lock of brown hair. “How could I ever blame you for making the best out of any situation?” 

“You wouldn’t do that.” 

“I would, if it meant to achieve my goals,” she smiles sadly. “If I hadn’t worked up the courage to ask our friends to come with me to Enbarr, I would have done many more terrible things to get my uncle to cooperate. That’s just one instance of many more.” 

Dorothea squeezes Edelgard’s hand. They were rough from the war and her childhood. Strangely, she feels better. She knew better than anyone Edelgard was just as human as all of them but somehow, there are times she forgets, but Edelgard is more than willing to remind her. 

“I missed you, Edie,” Dorothea says, Edelgard’s honesty infectious. “When I was fighting for them… I’ve never felt so empty in my life.”

The hand playing with her hair makes it to her cheek, wiping tears that have started falling. “Dorothea…” she says. “I’m sorry. We should have come for you.” 

She shakes her head. Dorothea had considered sending a letter, but surely it would be intercepted by Faerghus officials - even ones sent with magic. Though even if she could, what would she even say? Edie, come save me , like a damsel?

Dorothea knew how much time and resources the Empire didn’t have to come and rescue one person. This is what Dorothea means when Edelgard understands the costs of her war. Having fought it for a few long years, she understands it too and she tells Edelgard exactly that. 

Edelgard looks away. “Seeing you, then… the relief I felt, I couldn’t possibly put it into words.” 

“Drag me back to the empire you did, Your Majesty,” she can’t help but tease. Under the dim light of the watch tower, there’s a pretty blush on Edelgard’s face. It couldn’t possibly be alcohol—Edelgard never drank after battles. “Of course the emperor knows how to treat a girl right.” 

Edelgard laughs, the blush spreading. “I don’t think it’s clear to you how much I missed you,” Somehow they’re pressed much closer together. “Every day I worried about your safety, and to have heard reports that you were alive was one of the few things keeping me afloat. The war is maddening. I don’t know what I would have had you…” she doesn’t finish the thought. For someone who took lives for her cause, Edelgard shied around the possibility of Dorothea’s death. 

Dorothea rolls up her sleeve to show her where the arrow had pierced her skin. Even under the dim light, it’s visible. Edelgard’s hand touches around it and Dorothea feels faint from the sensation. “I almost did, that’s why I surrendered. You’ll never guess who spared me,” she murmurs, as if speaking any louder would break the moment. “A certain redhead from Faerghus.” 

“The Dominic girl?” 

She wishes. She hadn’t had a chance to meet the girl, though Mercedes speaks so highly of her. “The Gautier boy.” 

“Impossible.” 

“War makes you do impossible things,” Dorothea shrugs, pulling down her sleeve. “He and Mercie were my only friends while I was there.” 

Once the initial shock has passed, Edelgard tilts her head. “He must have changed significantly for you to even breathe in the same room as him.” 

“He didn’t offer me anything, and neither did I,” she stipulates, though Dorothea doesn’t know why she feels as if she has to clear up that nothing happened between the two of them. Edelgard hadn’t asked, though she does feel as if her curiosity has been piqued. “I think he was rather scared of me. Or Mercie, who threatened him if he even tried anything funny.” 

That makes Edelgard laugh. “Well, I’m relieved. Who would have thought? This war has no reason to fail, then. Or cattle would rain from the sky. The odds are higher for both.” When Dorothea laughs, having thought Edelgard would say exactly that months ago, Edelgard raises a brow, but follows suit. “Something funny? Statistically, I would be correct. Numbers don’t lie, you know this.” 

It’s so easy to be with Edelgard like this, when she dryly jokes about something and thinks she’s being funny, as if a moment ago she had wordlessly admitted that while it would upset her if anything happened to Dorothea, it would be a known cost of the war, as everyone’s deaths would be. 

Dorothea has missed her so much she could cry. 

“Numbers? You would usually let Monica handle those,” she says, leaning against the wooden wall of the watchtower. “We could ask for her right now. She’d come at your beck and call.” 

There’s a flush that settles on Edelgard’s cheeks when Dorothea brings up Monica’s massive crush on her. “Yours, too,” she counters, though they know Dorothea isn’t phased or affected by it. Thinks she’s adorable, even. “Though I would rather not.” 

“Keeping me all to yourself, Your Majesty?” 

Edelgard shyly presses into her, and Dorothea doesn’t know how their faces are so close. She supposes she’s always needed to be close to Edelgard, and tonight is no different. “If I could trouble you to be kept, just for tonight.” 

Dorothea never wants to be parted from her ever again. So she leans down and presses her lips on Edelgard’s like she’s always dreamed, like she’s always wanted. There is fire from where her heart used to be, and when Edelgard presses closer to place her hands on Dorothea’s back, it consumes her from the inside and turns her into liquid, to take whatever shape Edelgard wanted her to take. 

Thankfully, Edelgard doesn’t ask anything else from her, only pulls her in closer for a longer, sweeter kiss, full of promise and hope that Edelgard manages to inspire in everyone. 

“I promise you,” Edelgard whispers fiercely into her mouth. Still powerful, commanding. “We will see this war through. You’ll never have to take up arms after it.”

Dorothea believes her. She always will.