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troubles of the heart

Chapter Text

It’s strange to have a heartbeat.

You never thought it was particularly strange not to have one before, but it is definitely strange to feel it every moment now, thumping rhythmically in your chest. What’s particularly strange is how it changes. It quickens when you train, slows when you breathe deeply, and skips around erratically—thumping so hard and fast that you were worried you were dying the first time it happened—whenever you’re around Edelgard.

It’s that last thing that kind of concerns you.

Especially when you’re alone together in her bedchambers, after the near-endless onslaught of meetings and tactics and planning during the day, and Edelgard allows herself to relax in your presence.

In times like this, she smiles at you, expression unusually soft as she watches you approach. It’s become something of a nighttime ritual for you to help her undo her hair, always so meticulously styled and done up for the day. She’d told you over tea how she put special effort into her hair, and it certainly shows in the softness of the locks that you comb through your fingers.

She sighs quietly as you work, her own fingers busy with undoing the straps of her armor, and you feel the first of those worrying little stutters in your chest as she lowers her high collar to reveal the pale sweep of her neck. She speaks as she shucks off her armor, grumbling about something Hubert was nagging her about, and you struggle to focus on her words over the distracting thudding of your heartbeart. In times like these, part of you wishes you could just go back to your days as a corpse vessel for the small dragon-goddess in your head.

“At least he doesn’t insist on sitting in on our private moments anymore. Do you remember those first few months at the monastery, Professor? I never told you this, but the first time you invited me to tea, I discovered Hubert hiding in the bushes watching us afterwards,” Edelgard says, and for a moment you’re disturbed enough to temporarily ignore your unpredictable pulse.

“I’m glad the tea wasn’t poisoned,” you reply, standing behind her as you work a brush gently through her long hair. You never did much to care for your own hair, but playing with Edelgard’s is somehow fascinating.

Edelgard chuckles. “He would never. For all his over-protectiveness, Hubert does have my best interests at heart. And even then, he knew how much I—” She stops suddenly, and though you can’t see her face, you blink in curiosity as you watch the tips of her ears turn pink. She clears her throat. “Well. He knew that you would prove to be a valuable ally.”

Reading people’s emotions has never been your strong suit, but something tells you that wasn’t what Edelgard had originally been planning to say. Still, you don’t say anything, and simply move your hands downwards to help Edelgard out of the rest of her armor.

Edelgard is oddly still as you remove the crimson bits of metal, and once you’ve placed the last piece on the floor, she catches your hands in hers before you can begin putting the armor away.

“Professor,” she says quietly, and when you meet her gaze, she’s looking open and vulnerable in the way she only ever did when the two of you were alone. “I…am endeavoring to be more honest with myself and with you regarding my feelings for you. Something like this does not…come naturally to me, as I’m sure you’ve noticed. But I would like to try.”

You nod. You’re not quite sure what you’re agreeing to, but this is Edelgard. You carved a new world for her sake, so there’s very little with which you would strongly disagree with her about.

Edelgard smiles slightly. “What I meant to say was that from the very beginning, you’ve always been someone I admired. Someone I cared about. So Hubert would never have hurt you.”

You’re doubtful, especially as you remember the suspiciously noxious handkerchief you reluctantly returned to Hubert one day at the monastery. But you nod anyway, because Edelgard is smiling at you. And in the silver moonlight streaming in through her windows, she looks beautiful enough for your heart to do something strange again. It doesn’t beat faster, exactly, but it does feel oddly full. Like it’s eaten something nice and is settling contentedly down. You’re a little confused, but it’s a pleasant feeling.

And it stays pleasant, at least until she murmurs your name, and you find your gaze drifting down to her lips. It was part of the nighttime ritual. First you undid her hair, and then you would talk for as long as you could, given time constraints. Then you would kiss her goodnight.

And each time, your heart would always do those somewhat troubling flips or stutters like it did when you had a particularly tough training session with Felix. You anticipate it this time, but it still doesn’t help slow the beat down once you’re leaning closer to her. Your hand moves up to cup her cheek, and your chest feels oddly tight as she nestles into you, smiling.

You still don’t really know what you’re doing when it comes to these things. You’d been kissed once or twice by other mercenaries in the past who’d taken it upon themselves to stir up some kind of passion in you, and they hadn’t been bad experiences, but you hadn’t really enjoyed it, either.

With Edelgard, it’s different, though you’re not sure exactly how or why yet. What you are sure of is that you do enjoy kissing her. So even if you’re not used to the mechanics, your body always had a habit of moving on its own in battle, and in times like these, it has similar quirks. You trust it to carry you forward as you lean down and press your lips to hers.

Her lips are as soft as they always are, warm and yielding under yours, and you move gently against her as you pull her closer to you. Your heart starts to calm, soothed by the sensation, and you relax.

At least until Edelgard’s lips part, and you feel her tongue move lightly against the seal of your lips.

The little jump your heart does doesn’t surprise you. What does surprise you is the sudden hunger that opens up inside you, far more powerful than the erratic beating of your heart. You pull back abruptly, startled, and Edelgard immediately opens her eyes, flushed and looking a mix of guilty and concerned.

“F-forgive me, Professor,” she says quickly. “I know that’s not something we normally do, but it was just an impulse—and something Dorothea suggested made me wonder if maybe you’d enjoy—but that’s not important. I should have asked first. Forgive me.”

You shake your head. “No need to apologize. I liked it.” And you’re pretty sure you did, even if your heart is pounding harder than it ever has before. It feels thunderously loud, and you wonder how Edelgard can’t hear it.

“Oh.” Edelgard swallows, brow knit and cheeks still a faint pink. “Well—that’s good, then.”

“Yes,” you say, and you lean in, stopping once your lips are only a breath away from hers. “I want to do it again.”

And you press your lips to hers, the little gasp that escapes her fading amidst the drumming in your ears. Without thinking, you let your lips part, your tongue delving into the heat of her mouth, and that hunger suddenly becomes an ache. You explore her mouth with a fervor that seems to surprise Edelgard just as much as it surprises you, a soft sound from her throat melting into your mouth as you press your tongue against hers. Threading your fingers through her long hair, you suck on her lower lip, scraping your teeth against the sensitive skin before moving up to lick into her mouth again. Edelgard’s grip on your shirt tightens as you kiss her again and again and again, until she finally pulls away first, breathless.

“P-professor, please wait for just a moment,” she says, between shuddering breaths. “This is—very nice, but I—I do need to breathe. And as powerful an individual as you are, I think you do as well.”

“Maybe,” you say, because it doesn’t really feel like you need to breathe at all right now. You did live without a heartbeat for years, so maybe you secretly don’t need to breathe, either. In any event, right now you just want to be kissing Edelgard. Breathing is overrated.

But she does seem thoroughly out of breath now, and you don’t want to smother her, so you turn your attentions to places other than her mouth. You drop a light kiss to her jaw, and then another below that, and then continue down the long white column of her neck. You feel her swallow and feel her pulse fluttering beneath your lips. It reminds you of your heartbeat, and stokes something oddly possessive inside you. You lick at that pulsepoint, your teeth nipping at the soft flesh, and then suck hard enough to elicit another small sound from Edelgard.

You want to hear more of her. You want to taste more of her. You move up again to kiss her, backing her up against the bed, and when the back of her knees hit the mattress and she falls back, you crawl on top of her to bring your lips together again.

The whole time, your heart just seems to beat faster and faster, and a part of you starts to worry. You’re not sure how normal this is. Your heart rate isn’t ever this high even during battle, and you wonder if maybe this is the result of some magical curse. If maybe Hubert decided that now that the war was over, he could safely dispose of you after all.

But then Edelgard wraps her arms around you, linking them around the back of your neck and pulling you closer. She says your name against your lips, half a moan and half a whisper, and suddenly everything in your chest just seems to stop working altogether.

“Professor?” Edelgard is flushed as you pull away, nearly as red as her armor that lies discarded on the floor, and her eyes gaze up at you, heavy-lidded and hazy. “Are you all right?”

“I don’t think so,” you reply, calmly. “I think I might be having a heart attack.”

In the flurry of panic that follows for the next several minutes, you learn three things: 1. Small as she is, Edelgard is apparently strong enough to throw you over her shoulder and sprint to the medical wing within seconds, 2. Having Physic cast on you when you’re not actually dying makes you feel very queasy, and 3. You weren’t having a heart attack, you were just stupidly in love.

It’s Manuela of all people who helps you figure out that third thing. After the third cast of Physic and the second round of Heal magic, your heart has calmed down, and Manuela frowns down at you as she concludes her examination.

“Well?” Edelgard looks beside herself with worry, her face even paler than usual as she clutches at your hand. You want to reach out and cup her cheek in comfort, but even that thought has your heart thumping faster, and so you decide not to risk it. “Is the professor all right? What happened?”

“The professor is fine,” Manuela responds, smiling reassuringly at Edelgard. “Physically, anyway. There’s nothing physically that should be causing cardiac distress, so it must be mental, or perhaps magical. Mind telling me what was going on right before this all happened?”

Edelgard, who had started to relax at Manuela’s first words, immediately tenses up again. “Th-that…” She glances once at you before immediately averting her gaze. Some of the color returns to her face as she flushes. “Nothing—nothing overtly strenuous.”

“I…see.” Manuela glances between the two of you, a slow smirk curving across her face. “You know, if this is a magical ailment, I think Linhardt has just the right tome for the job. Edelgard, would you mind running down to his room and asking him for it? I’ll keep the professor safe, don’t you worry.”

Edelgard nods gravely, giving your hand a quick, fierce squeeze before turning on her heel and running off towards the guest wing of the castle. You know Lindhart won’t be happy to be awoken, but Manuela seems all too pleased as she closes the door behind Edelgard.

“Well, Professor.” She grins. “I think I’ve figured out what the problem is. And luckily for you, I happen to be an expert on the subject.”

Winking, she settles by your bedside. “So. Let’s talk love.”

Chapter Text

“Love?”

“Yes, Professor, love,” Manuela says, leaning towards you with a slow smile. “And I’ve gotta say, I didn’t think you had it in you. You’re so stern all the time—sometimes I wondered if you were made of stone.” She reaches out and pokes you lightly on the cheek. “Who knew there was a person hidden under there?”

You stare at her, bemused. “A hidden person? You mean Sothis?” Sothis was gone now, but she had always said she would be with you. Though you’re not sure how Manuela would know about that.

Now Manuela looks confused as she frowns back at you. “Sothis? The goddess? No, Professor, I’m discussing very human things here. Purely carnal matters. And speaking of…” Her frown clears as she grins again. “If I’m going to assign you a treatment regimen, I need to understand exactly what I’m dealing with, here. Now that Her Majesty and her strict sensibilities are no longer in the vicinity, mind telling me what was happening before you came here?”

You nod, and describe as best as you can remember what had led up to the breakneck trip to the medical wing.

When you first start talking, Manuela is smirking lazily like a satisfied cat. By the end of the story, she’s outright laughing at you. “Now really, Professor. From Edelgard’s reaction, I was expecting something positively scandalous—but it was just from kissing? How very pure of both of you.”

You only tilt your head to the side in continued confusion, brow furrowed. “Scandalous?” You don’t understand what Manuela is saying, and you feel a small, unusual hint of frustration as you try to decipher her words. When it comes to battle and tactics, everything clicks into place immediately. It feels strange to be so mystified now. “Do you know what’s wrong with me, Manuela?”

Manuela chuckles. “I do. You’re a healthy young woman who didn’t have the chance to actually act like one until now. So you’re confused.” Smiling, she brings a hand to your chest and rests it above your heart. “Let’s test my diagnosis. Can you please imagine yourself kissing Edelgard again? Imagine the passion of it, the intensity, how she felt in your arms…”

As if on cue, your heart immediately starts to pound, and you squirm a little, the images in your mind making you feel oddly warm.

“There we go.” Manuela retracts her hand, looking smug. “I really am a brilliant physician. Your diagnosis, Professor, is that you’re in love.”

You shake your head. “I don’t understand.”

Manuela sighs. “Honestly, what was Jeralt thinking, raising you like this. It’s like I’m talking to a brick wall. A very attractive brick wall, fortunately for Edelgard, but a brick wall all the same,” she mutters. Leaning forward towards you again, she says, “You care about Edelgard, Professor, don’t you? She’s important to you.”

You nod immediately. “Of course.” You turned your back on the world for her sake. You can’t think of anyone who's more important to you than she is.

“She makes you happy?”

You consider the question this time. It takes you a moment to think about what being happy really means. You think about the warmth that you feel whenever you’re around her and the strange fullness you feel. “Yes,” you say, nodding again. “She does.”

Manuela nods encouragingly. “And you’re already in some kind of relationship, aren’t you? I know you gave her a ring—I’ve seen her wear it, and Edelgard never wears jewelry.”

You nod again. “The ring that my father gave my mother.”

“Oh. That’s—that’s surprisingly sweet of you and your father, Professor. I didn’t know that.” Manuela grins. “I suppose fearless mercenaries can be romantics after all. And do you think you feel the same way about Edelgard as your father did about your mother?”

You know that your father loved your mother. He says it he did all the time, and he never talks about his feelings for anyone else. He told you to give the ring to the person who you thought was special to you. And you know Edelgard is special. You’ve known that for a while; it’s why you didn’t even think twice before you gave the ring to her. So if Edelgard is special to you the same way that your mother was special to your father—

“Oh,” you say, blinking. “I love Edelgard.”

There’s a long silence as Manuela stares at you. “Yes…that is what I was getting at, Professor, but…”

You look at her curiously. “But?”

Manuela huffs in exasperation. “But is that it? Your reaction is so very anticlimactic.”

You think about it for a moment before shrugging. “I think I’ve loved her for a long time now,” you say. The moment you turned my sword against Rhea and the church, you had been prepared to die for Edelgard. It was just a matter of putting words to those feelings that drove you through the entire war. “So my heart problem—”

“It’s just a normal reaction to being intimate with the one you love,” Manuela says. “You’re young, you’re healthy, you’re in love, and you’re apparently rather hopelessly virginal…” She chuckles. “And Edelgard is beautiful. It would be more worrisome if your heart wasn’t weak around her.”

“Oh.” You feel a surge of relief. It would’ve been a problem if this were a physical issue that weakened or endangered you. After all, you’d made a promise to stay by Edelgard’s side. “Okay. Edelgard will be relieved to hear—”

“That’s unacceptable, Professor,” Manuela says sharply. She suddenly stands, and you startle as she takes a step closer to your bedside. “Be emotionally stunted all you like, you absolutely cannot let that ruin your experience of first love. Do you know how rare it is to find someone you love? You can’t just blurt out your confession. What are you planning on saying: ‘oh, turns out my heart attack symptoms are actually because I’m in love with you?’”

You nod solemnly. “Yes, that’s it exactly.”

“No,” Manuela says flatly. “Edelgard has spent the majority of her life preparing to fight wars, fighting wars, and changing the world. She deserves a chance at being a normal woman now and experiencing the good things life has to offer. And you deserve some normalcy too, Professor. This is love. You can’t just let it fall by the wayside.”

You listen intently. Because it does make sense. You know that you’re not normal; you don’t experience or express emotions properly. You’re only just learning how to be properly human now. And Edelgard shouldn’t have to be negatively impacted by your flaws. “You’re right,” you say, nodding. “She deserves to be happy. How should I do this?”

Manuela smiles, looking mollified as she returns to her seat. “Thank you, Professor. Though this is as much for you as it is for her, you know. You both deserve happiness, and for this to be done right. The war is over. There’s no need to rush this. And the best way to go about this actually fit quite well with your treatment regimen…”

There’s something suspicious about the gleam in Manuela’s eyes as she leans back in her seat. “I happen to have a very apt solution in mind. Have you ever heard of exposure therapy?”

You shake your head, eyeing her warily. The last time Manuela had that look in her eye, she’d been sneaking around Hanneman’s room after one of their customary squabbles, and his smallclothes were found swinging from the castle courtyard’s flagpole the next day.

Manuela grins. “It’s when you repeatedly expose yourself to a stimulus that causes some kind of undesirable response in an attempt to decrease that response. For instance, if someone is deathly afraid of heights, you might bring them up to the rooftop and have them look down. Through repeated exposure, they’ll learn it’s not so bad after all.”

You understand right away where she’s going with this, and the idea already has your heart pounding.

“So I should kiss her? And then tell her I love her?” you venture.

“Not quite. You can’t just vomit it all out. You need passion. Timing. Romance,” Manuela replies. “You can set the mood with some poetry. Or flowers from the greenhouse.”

“Tea?” you suggest.

“Not tea,” Manuela frowns. “Tea is not romantic.”

You frown, deflated. “I like tea.”

“Be that as it may, tea is for old ladies. It’s not erotic in the least. And you’re looking to bring Edelgard passion, aren’t you?” She nods decisively before you can respond. “Of course you are. Once the mood is set with the flowers and romantic poetry in the privacy of her chambers, you can pounce.” She gets to her feet again, eyes bright with excitement. “Pin her down, Professor. Set her flesh ablaze with carnal pleasure. And during the height of passion, you declare it—the love will only enhance the ecstasy. And vice versa.”

“Oh,” you say. You’re not sure how to respond. You’re not even sure what to think. The tactics of her strategy sound a bit rushed, but your knowledge of this field is murky.

“You’ll do great,” Manuela says, smiling reassuringly. “The plan is foolproof.”

***

You decide to meet Edelgard back in her chambers; partially to show Edelgard that you’re physically fine, and partially to escape from Manuela, whose plan gets progressively longer with each passing moment, and with less clothing involved in each iteration.

Edelgard enters the room shortly after you do, laden with a stack of heavy tomes. “Professor?” she says, dropping the tomes onto a chaise lounge before moving quickly towards you. “Manuela said that you were feeling better, but she wouldn’t tell me what the problem was to begin with, and Linhardt was hardly any more helpful. He wouldn’t give me any tomes without all but interrogating me first, and so I ended up just taking all the books I could hold from his shelves—”

She pauses, stopping in front of you and giving you a quick once-over. “But that’s not important. What’s important is whether you’re really feeling better.”

You nod. “Much better.” Or at least you were. Now that you’re alone together with her again, your heart is being strange again. But you know it’s normal now, at least. Or more normal than what you’re used to.

Edelgard looks relieved, though the concern in her eyes doesn’t fade entirely. “What was the problem, exactly? And did she give you some kind of treatment regimen?” Edelgard gestures to the bed, and sits down on the mattress beside you. “Ever since the trade mission to Almyra, the Empire’s treasury has been significantly bolstered; Claude’s promises came through after all. Whatever you need, we will acquire it.”

“Yes,” you say, nodding. “My treatment is you.”

Edelgard blinks at you, brow furrowed. “Me? I don’t understand.”

“Kissing you,” you clarify. “That’s the treatment Manuela prescribed. I need to kiss you as much as possible.”

It always makes you feel pleasantly warm whenever you see Edelgard flustered. You remember the first time you saw it during the war, when you’d noticed her drawings of you and she’d nearly tripped over herself in her hurry to throw you out of her room. It was the first time you’d ever used the word cute to describe someone, the first time you’d ever really understood the sentiment, and the first time you’d ever teased her, the warmth in your chest blooming when she’d grown increasingly embarrassed by your words.

“You do pick the most inappropriate moments to joke, Professor,” she says. She folds her arms over her chest, her cheeks a faint pink as she frowns down at you. “Please be serious.”

“I’m always serious,” you reply. “There’s nothing wrong with me. Physically. I just got excited because I was kissing you, and I wasn’t used to how a normal person’s heart responds to things like that.”

Edelgard considers that, frowning as she seems to mull it over. “Then it was just because—because you weren’t used to having a heartbeat?”

“Yes,” you say, nodding. “That’s all. I’m fine.”

“Oh.” Edelgard stares at you, momentarily quiet. Her hand finds yours on the mattress, and you’re surprised by the way it trembles. You squeeze, and when her eyes meet yours again, they’re unusually uncertain, similar to how she looked when she'd first told you about her nightmares. 

There’s a long silence before she speaks again. “I was worried about you,” she says quietly. “I thought—” She stops, her throat bobbing as she swallows. “After the battle with Immaculate One, when you collapsed, and I couldn’t feel your heartbeat at all, I…” Her grip on your fingers tightens. “That fear, that horrible, horrible fear—I felt it again.”

You remain quiet, carefully considering your next words. You remember waking up after that battle in Edelgard’s arms. You remember hearing her relieved laughter, but also remember how her face had been wet with tears. The Edelgard who shed tears died a long time ago, she’d told you after Dimitri died. And yet she’d been weeping for you.

The thought makes your chest squeeze, almost like it’s hurting. You reach out with your other hand, gently bringing your fingers to her cheek. “Edelgard,” you say. “I promised you that I would be with you until the end. To walk this path with you until the end. And I meant it. I’m not going anywhere. My place is by your side.”

Edelgard covers your hand with hers, holding it to her cheek with trembling fingers. She always looks younger at night, out of her armor and her Imperial regalia. When she’s not wearing the mask of the untouchable emperor, Edelgard actually looks her age. Yet it still surprises you when she does things befitting her age, like enveloping you in a fierce, tight embrace.

“Thank you,” she whispers. “I’ve told you this before. And I will say it again. I need you. Now and forever. Please don’t ever forget that.”

You nod, and your arms move to wrap around her. “I won’t.” Holding her close like this, your heart has that same comfortably-full feeling as it did before, and you nuzzle in closer.

When you finally pull away some time later, Edelgard is staring curiously at your face. “It’s always nice to see you smiling, my teacher,” she says. “I think it’s happening more often these days.”

You blink. You hadn’t realized you’d been smiling at all. “It must be because of you,” you reply. You only smiled when you were happy, and you were always happy with Edelgard.

Edelgard only looks at you for a moment, her violet eyes wide. “I…see.” She clears her throat, but a small smile tugs at her own lips. “I’m glad.”

You remember what Manuela said, and nod. “Yes. You make me happy, Edelgard. And you make me feel other things, too. Manuela helped me figure it out."

Edelgard chuckles, her gaze unusually gentle. “Figure what out, Professor?”

You open your mouth, but then snap it shut again, remembering the rest of what Manuela said. You can’t just vomit it all out. You need passion. Timing. Romance. So you shake your head. “I can’t tell you yet. I have to make preparations.”

“Preparations?” Edelgard’s brow furrows in obvious bewilderment. She shifts on the bed, and suddenly you’re remembering Manuela’s last bit of advice. Pin her down, Professor. Set her flesh ablaze with pleasure. And during the height of passion, you declare it—the love will only enhance the ecstasy. And vice versa. At the time, you thought it all sounded a little ridiculous. But now, suddenly, when you’re together with Edelgard on her bed in the darkness of the night, you’re not so sure. You think about what it felt like to push her down onto the bed and to climb in after her, and you feel a strange thrill down your spine. Your heart is definitely doing that skipping thing again.

You realize Edelgard is still waiting for a response, and looking increasingly concerned, so you shake your head free of those thoughts and nod. “Yes,” you say. “There are several steps in the process. Like flowers, and poems, and also carnal pleasures.” You think that was the order, anyway. You probably should’ve written it down.

“Carnal—what?” For a moment, Edelgard sits there looking utterly dumbstruck, and you watch in fascination at the pink flush that makes its way up her neck. Then her brows come together, the gentleness in her eyes vanishing entirely as she gets to her feet. Standing above you, she looks as intimidating as she does on the battlefield. “Just what did Manuela say to you, Professor? I think I need to speak with her about the appropriateness of—”

“It was good advice,” you say mildly. “Tactically sound. I think I want to do everything she suggested.”

Edelgard only stares down at you, lips parted and eyes wide. You can’t remember the last time you ever saw her at a loss for words. She looks cute again, and you want to hold her again. So you reach out and wrap your arms around her waist, pulling her back towards you.

Edelgard startles at your touch, and that flush of color is blooming across her face again. Perhaps it’s because she’s so pale, but any sign of a blush is immediately noticeable, and you like the sight of it. “P-Professor, about what you just said—”

“Not right away, of course. I’m good at growing flowers, but I’ve never written a poem before.” You have to remember to make a trip to the greenhouse. You planted carnations there just the other day, and you know Edelgard likes those particularly.

“That’s…flowers and poetry sound lovely, Professor,” Edelgard begins. She looks just about as flustered as she did when you caught her drafting those paintings of you, and this time you can definitely feel the smile tugging at your lips. “But about that last thing…”

It takes you a moment to remember the order. “Carnal pleasures? It’s sex, I think,” you explain, translating in case she was confused. “Sexual activity.”

“I—I know what carnal pleasures are,” Edelgard says, frowning. She’s starting to look almost angry, and for some odd reason you think it just makes her seem cuter. “I just don’t understand—that is, I would like to clarify with you…” She stops abruptly, and takes in a slow, steadying breath. When she speaks again, she stands like she’s delivering one of her state addresses, firm and formal. “I seek to clarify some confusion with you, Professor. And I would like to ask if that…” She falters, eyes flicking away, and swallows. “If…that is something you want, Professor. Or if it’s just something you’re thinking about because of whatever ridiculous chatter Manuela was filling your head with.”

You consider her question, arms still resting on her waist. Your knowledge of the subject has always been foggy. There was much you heard about it over drinks in taverns with other mercenaries, but Jeralt had always steadfastly refused to discuss the topic, and you had never gone any further than kissing with other people yourself.

But you try to puzzle together what you do know about the subject and apply it here, in your mind, to Edelgard. You know it involves the removal of clothing, and—

Your mouth is suddenly cotton-dry, and within seconds your heartbeat has ramped up to the fever-pitch speed it was right before Edelgard had rushed you to Manuela’s. You’re now hyperaware of the contact of your arms around her waist, and of the thin material of the cotton shift Edelgard always wears to bed, only barely separating you from the heat of her skin.

“Professor?”

You look up at Edelgard and picture her underneath you, without her shift, making those soft noises she made while you were kissing her.

“Professor, are you…blushing?” Edelgard is staring at you, looking utterly incredulous.

You stare back at her blankly, still distracted by the image that’s now burned itself in your mind. “I don’t know. I do feel warm.” More than warm. You feel hot, and whatever stuttering that was in your chest has thundered down to your stomach too. “But I have an answer to your question.”

“Oh?” Edelgard is still staring at you, looking shocked, but she seems to regain herself a little as she nods at you. “And what would that be?”

“Maybe Manuela put the idea in my head. But now that I’m thinking about it, I do want it. I want you. Very much,” you say.

Edelgard is very still in your arms, and you watch her lips as they part and then close again. “I…I see.”

There’s a long silence. Neither you nor Edelgard are particularly talkative people, but your silences are usually comfortable. There’s something charged to this one, different from how they normally are, and even you can sense it.

“Do you want it?” You ask partially to break the silence, but partially because you’re genuinely curious. There’s another thrill that goes through you as you ask, but this time it’s not pleasant. It’s similar to the nerves you get before battle, and you realize you’re nervous about her answer.

But you don’t have much time to worry over it before Edelgard reaches out and takes your face in her hands, her touch slow and gentle. She looks down at you, her gaze soft and steady. “Yes,” she says, very quietly. “I do.”

You nod slowly, enjoying the warmth of her skin against yours. “Okay,” you say. You feel yourself smiling again. “It seems our interests are aligned.”

Edelgard laughs softly. Her face is still flushed with color, but she’s smiling too. Her fingers move gently against your cheek, back and forth. “So it does.”

You nod again, decisively this time. “Just wait for a little. I’m already growing carnations. Bernadetta writes stories, so she might be able to help with poetry—”

Edelgard sighs, shaking her head as she looks at you with obvious amusement. “Professor, forget about the poetry, please. It isn’t necessary, believe me.”

You frown. “But Manuela said—”

Your next words vanish in the kiss Edelgard presses to your lips, and the words after that die entirely in your throat as you pull her closer, deciding Edelgard has a much better idea than you do about how to use your mouth for the next few minutes.

Edelgard pushes gently on your shoulders, and in the next moment you find yourself in a position reversed from the one you’d occupied before the trip to the medical wing, with Edelgard positioned over you this time in her bed.

She kisses you again, and this time you part your lips of your own accord, using your hand to pull her closer as you delve back into the welcoming heat of her mouth. Your other hand moves downward, moving from its previous place on her waist down to her hip.

“Edelgard,” you say, in the moment she pulls away to take in a shuddering breath. “Maybe no poetry. But I do need to make preparations before get to the final part.”

Edelgard sits up slowly, still straddling your waist as she blinks down at you in confusion. Her body is hot against yours, and you feel your own body heating up in response to the contact. “What preparations, Professor? And by ‘final part,’ do you mean—”

“Before clothes come off,” you explain, also sitting up. The movement brings your face centimeters away from Edelgard’s, which gives you a very intimate view of her next flush of embarrassment. “I need to learn and train a bit. In preparation.”

Edelgard’s brow furrows in evident bemusement. “While I admittedly am…lacking experience in that regard myself, Professor, I’m fairly certain that training is unnecessary for such…endeavors.”

You nod thoughtfully, your fingers tracing idle patterns against Edelgard’s hip. “Maybe. But I want to prepare anyway. I want to do this well. I want to make you feel good.”

There’s some kind of conflict in Edelgard’s gaze as she stares at you, amusement and exasperation and embarrassment and something else you can’t identify all warring in her eyes. “You already do, Professor,” she says finally. “But if you would prefer to wait, we will wait.”

You nod. Part of you doesn’t want to wait. Part of you wants nothing more than to enact Manuela’s advice now and push her against the headboard of the bed, let your hands delve under the cotton of that dress and feel the heat of her body directly. But more than anything else, you want Edelgard to enjoy it, and the best strategies are worth going over with time.

Edelgard smiles slightly at you, and starts to shift off of you. But then your body moves almost automatically, and you push her against the headboard just like you wanted, your lips moving to her jaw, and then to her ear.

“I thought…” Edelgard shivers, her fingers winding in the cloth of your shirt. “I thought we were waiting?”

“Yes,” you murmur. You let your tongue glide into the shell of her ear, nipping lightly at the tip before moving down to trail hot kisses down the side of her neck. “Clothes stay on. But I still have to abide by the treatment regimen Manuela gave me.”

“Right, of course,” Edelgard says, and tilts your head up to meet your lips again. “Forgive me, Professor. Please allow me to help.” Her lips part for you, and you feel her smiling against your mouth.

You kiss her again and again, and though your heart rate stays as rapid as ever, pounding hard and fast in your chest, you’re feeling far better than you ever have before.

Chapter Text

Edelgard is becoming distracting.

She’s always had the kind of presence that commands attention in a room, including your own. But recently, it’s been as though you can’t focus on anything that isn’t her for more than a few minutes at a time. And it’s becoming a problem.

You first noticed the issue during a sparring match with Felix a week ago; it was only a day after you’d first discovered the the whole heart problem panic that had brought you to the medical wing. You’d spent a long time carefully following Manuela’s treatment regimen, and had spent the night curled up against Edelgard in her bed. She’d fallen asleep with her head nestled against your chest. It’s soothing, she’d murmured, smiling faintly as her eyes fluttered shut. Your heartbeat.

The next morning, Felix had challenged you to one of your regular training sessions, and you’d accepted automatically. The war was over, but there were still many battles to come with both the rebuilding efforts and with the ongoing missions against Those Who Slither in the Dark. You knew that it was important for you to maintain your strength.

But as you had prepared yourself, tightening your wrist wrappings and picking up your training sword, you’d found your mind wandering to Edelgard. Specifically, you found yourself remembering the previous night. The warmth of Edelgard’s body against yours, the softness of her skin, the way her lips yielded beneath yours. You remembered the hitch in her breath as your fingers had brushed against her inner thigh, and remembered the way her body had jolted when you accidentally pushed your knee up between her legs. You remembered her breaths hot against your lips and her fingers tangling in your hair.

The next thing you remembered was Felix smacking you in the face with his wooden training sword. You reeled back, feeling just as stunned as Felix looked. He hadn’t managed to land a hit on you for weeks now, let alone one on your head.

“Apologies, Professor,” Felix had said to you. “I didn’t mean to hit you that hard.”

You shook your head. “No, it was a fair hit. My guard was down.” Distracted as your mind had been with thoughts of Edelgard, your guard had been more than down; your guard had been nonexistent.

In the next few minutes, you’d managed to focus on the match enough to get by. But since then, your mind continued to drift like clockwork back to Edelgard at every idle moment. During training sessions, during teatimes, in the greenhouse. You’d be weeding, tending carefully to the carnations you were specially preparing to give to Edelgard, and you’d remember what your hips had felt like grinding against hers. And you’d be so distracted you’d nearly pull up the flowers alongside the weeds.

At first, you’d wondered if this was another side-effect of the problems Manuela had told you about. And so you tried to treat the problem using the same treatment regimen she’d initially prescribed: at every opportunity you could find, you found and kissed Edelgard. You stole moments between meetings and training sessions, bringing your lips together until both of you were breathless and Edelgard was reluctantly pulling away, shakily reminding you of her next obligation.

Once, you even caught her minutes before she was supposed to convene with Hubert regarding some strategic planning; he had materialized by your side just as you were pushing Edelgard up against the wall, and your heart had skipped several beats in a rather unpleasant way that was very different from the way it normally did around Edelgard. From then on, you were careful to ask Edelgard whether she was expecting Hubert’s presence before trying to kiss her again.

But Manuela’s treatment regimen didn’t help. Instead of making you feel any better, the problem only got worse. Your mind was consumed with thoughts of her, and only her. So you had another trip down to the medical wing, where Manuela had somehow become your unlikely confidante.

After hearing your story, she’d just laughed at you. “Professor, that’s just twenty something years of repressed sexual desires boiling to the surface at once. It’s entirely normal. I suppose the only cure, if you can call it that, is to get right to it and  let your passions run wild. Remember: flowers and poetry.”

You had nodded. Flowers, poetry, and carnal pleasures. The essentials to any love confession, according to Manuela. You remembered. So you began to plan.

Now, you find yourself in the middle of a key diplomatic meeting between the Empire and some squabbling Alliance nobles. You’ve always found political meetings dull, but Hubert tells you that as one of the key forces behind the new face of a united Fodlan, your presence is invaluable. So you sit there in the council room obediently, half-listening to the droning of some duke or other as he squawks about getting his fair share of resources from the Empire soldiers occupying his land.

Part of your attention is on your plan, and your next steps for it. But most of your attention is focused on Edelgard, who sits at the head of the table with a look of cool consideration as she looks over the documents before her.

“Duke von Lear,” she says, cutting off his rambling mid-sentence. “Under your orders, your men raised their swords against the Empire. I fail to see how you could possibly believe you are entitled to anything beyond your life.”

Duke Lear sputters in outrage as he surges to his feet, and for a moment you narrow your eyes, your hand dropping to the Sword of the Creator. But a quick once-over reveals to you how little of a threat the duke is; the man is too rotund to move quickly, his arms are too stubby to be physically powerful, and you can’t sense any magical potential in him whatsoever.

You glance at Edelgard, and find her looking back at you. She nods subtly, and you relax. You can never be too careful, even with Hubert and his ever-watchful eye, but Duke Lear is nothing of a threat at all. Lowering your hand, you return to alternating between watching Edelgard and considering the next steps of your strategy.

The first step of the plan is learning about carnal pleasure themselves. It’s the step that has the most unknown variables; you know a little about poetry, and a lot about flowers, but nearly nothing about carnality.

Even you have enough social awareness to know that asking Edelgard herself is out of the question. Also inadvisable, given Edelgard, by her own admission, has very little experience on this matter herself. So you had decided to turn to Dorothea and Sylvain, two people who Manuela swears are experts in this department. Immediately after the meeting ends, you duck out of the room and head to your chambers, where you’ve invited both of them for some tea.

They’re both waiting by the doors when you arrive. Sylvain greets you with a grin and a little wave, while Dorothea wraps you in a quick, affectionate embrace.

“I always look forward to our little teatimes, Professor,” she says, smiling at you. “You and Edie are both so busy these days, sometimes it feels like I hardly get to see either of you.”

You nod, letting them into your chambers. Shortly after you’d both settled into the palace, Edelgard had given you one of the largest suites in the castle, only a door down from Edelgard’s own chambers. It belonged to my older sister, she had told you, and she had smiled when you solemnly thanked her. The size made it easy for you to set up a separate tea area on the balcony; it’s surrounded by flowers, and reminds you of the little area in the monastery where you used to take your students to tea all those years ago.

You pour the tea—Albinean Berry for Dorothea, and Seiros Tea for Sylvain (you discovered a long time ago that Sylvain liked Bergamot too, but you had found yourself saving that particular blend for the pleased smile on Edelgard’s face during your tea breaks together with her; you had always liked Sylvain, but even back then, Edelgard was special). You set out the pastries, smiling a little when Dorothea exclaims over the honey cakes that are once again possible to acquire now that the war is over.

A quill and parchment lie on the table in front of you, right where you left it. You’ve come prepared this time. You wait a few moments for both Dorothea and Sylvain to settle in before getting right to it.

“Can you teach how to train for sex?” you ask.

You watch with your quill posed above the parchment, ready to take notes, as you wait for them to stop choking on their tea.

Dorothea is first to recover, dabbing at her mouth with a lace handkerchief as she gets over the last of her coughing. “C-come again?” she says. “I…don’t think I heard you correctly, Professor.”

“Sex,” you say. “Sexual intercourse. I want to learn how to prepare for it. I’m adept at most forms of training, but I don’t know where to begin with this. Manuela said you two were experts, so I thought you might be able to help.”

“Manuela said that?” Dorothea says. She looks like she’s unsure whether she wants to be pleased or horrified, while Sylvain immediately perks up and looks entirely the former.

“Professor Manuela has always been perceptive,” Sylvain says, grinning. “Well, Professor, as weird as this is, I’ve gotta say: if it’s an expert you’re looking for, you’ve definitely come to the right guy.”

Dorothea scoffs, momentarily getting over her apparent shock to roll her eyes. “If you’re really looking for advice, Professor, step number one is to ignore anything and everything that comes out of Sylvain’s mouth regarding women. The man has absolutely zero finesse.” Ignoring Sylvain’s protests, she leans forward towards you, curiosity temporarily overcoming any lingering discomfort in her expression. “Step number two is to tell me exactly what’s happening. What’s brought this on, Professor? Don’t tell me there’s trouble in paradise.”

You’ve heard the expression before, and you shake your head. “No trouble. I’m…happy,” you say. It still feels strange for you to be expressing your emotions, and you realize belatedly that you’d kept your expression entirely deadpan as you spoke. But Dorothea looks relieved, so you figure the sincerity of your words made it through anyway. “But I want to be sure Edelgard is happy, and Manuela said one way to make her very happy is through sex.”

Sylvain barks out a laugh. “I mean, she’s not wrong…” He grins widely, something wolfish to his expression. “And I think it’d make you happy too, Professor. It’s definitely getting me happy just thinking about it—”

Sylvain,” Dorothea says, a warning in her voice. While Ingrid is the one who can bring Sylvain to heel the most efficiently, Dorothea works nearly as well, and Sylvain ducks his head apologetically.

“Sorry, Professor. That was inappropriate of me. I’m just impressed is all. Who’d have thought Edelgard had it in her? Nice to hear that the ice queen’s getting steamy,” he says with a little laugh.

Beside him, Dorothea rolls her eyes again, but when she turns back to you, she smiles with a spark of her usual playfulness entering her bright green eyes. “Well, putting aside the impossible awkwardness of this situation, I’d be more than happy to provide whatever assistance I can for our dear professor.”

Sylvain nods, looking enthused. “Same here. Trust me, I’ve got all sorts of tips and tricks you can use. I may have left my philandering days behind since Ingrid made an honest man of me, but I’ve still got a lifetime of knowledge that I’ll bring out just for you, Professor.”

You nod gratefully at both of them. “Any advice you have would be helpful,” you say, scratching carnal pleasures on top of the parchment. “My experience in this area is limited.”

Sylvain cocks his head to the side as he seems to ponder your words. “How limited?”

“Nonexistent,” you reply.

Dorothea smiles at you, her smile less playful now and more genuinely fond. “Professor, the first thing you need to keep in mind is that the most important part of pleasure is the foundation of feelings underlying it. You care for Edelgard, and Edie cares for you. Those feelings in and of themselves will work wonders for you in the bedroom.”

“Right,” Sylvain chimes in. “Since I’ve gotten together with Ingrid, going to bed has become so much more—uh, well. What I’m trying to say is that feelings are definitely important. The more you care about your partner and the better you know them, the more you’ll know about how to make them happy. Communication is key here.”

“Communication,” you repeat. You think you have feelings and understanding down pat—you feel more strongly for Edelgard than you have for anyone else before in your life, and you understand her better than you understand anyone else too. But communication has never been your strong suit. There were many times throughout your childhood when you and Jeralt would spend the entire day without exchanging a word. “I’m going to tell her that I love her, and I’ve already told her that I want to make her feel good. What else do I communicate?”

Sylvain snorts, but Dorothea’s eyes are warm as she smiles at you. “I think you’ve got the important bits down pat, Professor. I suppose you’re just a natural charmer,” she says, winking. “Edie’s a very lucky girl. Though if you are worried about the…training part of all of this, then the key part of communication is just checking in with her. Ask her if she’s liking what you’re doing. What feels good, what doesn’t. Harder, softer, faster, or slower. Those kinds of things.”

You write quickly, brow furrowed in concentration as the quill sweeps across the parchment. “Okay. And what should I be doing?”

Sylvain and Dorothea both blink at you, expressions blank with confusion. “Professor,” Sylvain says slowly. “You do know how to have sex, right?”

You nod. “Roughly. I drew a diagram of what I know.” You pull another parchment out from your bag, laying it out on the table between you. “But I’m not sure what the most efficient plan of attack would be.”

Dorothea stares at your diagram, eyes wide. “Uh. Wow. That’s…really anatomically detailed, Professor. But I’m not sure calling it a plan of ‘attack’ is really the best choice of words here. You’re not exactly going to battle. The war’s over, remember?”

Sylvain peers at the diagram, eyes narrowed in evident concentration. “But if this were a war, then you’d have all the strategic areas nailed, Professor. The areas you’ve circled are prime pleasure points. Just remember that when you’re right here, you want to curl your finger inwards, like this, and I guarantee you’ll have her—”

Okay,” Dorothea interrupts. “It looks like you have the technicalities of this all figured out, Professor, and this is a bit more uncomfortable than I was expecting after all, so maybe we should stop the lesson here?” She folds the diagram up again and hands it back to you. “As far as I can tell, you know mechanically what to do. But there’s no one perfect answer for this kind of thing. People are all different, and Edie will be different too. No amount of studying or training can prepare you.”

You accept the diagram, tucking it away into your coat. “Maybe not, but I prefer to be as prepared for as many potential contingencies as possible.” You imagine for a moment what it might be like if things go wrong, and the low jolt of unease that goes through you is worse than the knots you feel in your stomach before battle. You know you’re skilled in battle. You don’t know anything about your skill level in the bedroom. And more than anything else, you don’t want to disappoint Edelgard.

“Your feelings are what are important, Professor,” Dorothea says, shaking her head in clear amusement. “Trust me. With how much you care for her and how much care you’re putting into this, Edie will be more than happy with your performance. And you’ve always been a quick study.”

“You’re good with your hands, Professor,” Sylvain says, smirking at you. “You’ve got lots of dexterity. And hey—I heard from a buddy back home that knowing magic can actually be really helpful in the bedroom. You know Thunder magic, don’t you, Professor? You can really bring that spark, if you know what I mean.”

You blink at him. “You think I should bolt Edelgard with Thunder?”

“No, let’s definitely not do that,” Dorothea says quickly, glaring at Sylvain. “And maybe we should get the basics down pat before we get to firing off potentially deadly spells in bed.”

Sylvain brightens. “That’s right, the basics. Professor, you can always try these things out on yourself. I mean, you’ve got the same anatomy, right? So you can figure out what feels good or doesn’t that…way…” Sylvain trails off, quailing, as he meets Dorothea’s eyes. “Sorry, never mind. Inappropriate. Forget I said anything.” You don’t forget, since the advice actually sounds somewhat reasonable, and you jot it down as Sylvain continues, “Though to be fair to me, the professor is the one who called us asking for sex advice. I’m just doing my job here.”

“She doesn’t need sex advice,” Dorothea says, shaking her head. “Professor, you really shouldn’t be worried about this.”

You frown, slumping slightly as you twirl your spoon around in your tea. “Okay,” you say reluctantly. Perhaps you’ll have to go in without training after all. The thought worries you.

Dorothea studies your face for a moment, her gaze thoughtful, before she finally sighs. “Honestly, Professor, for someone who doesn’t reveal any emotions at all ninety percent of the time, you have a surprisingly effective puppy dog face.” Leaning forward, she smiles again. “Okay, to put your worries to rest once and for all, let’s think about it this way. What are you thinking about when you’re kissing Edie? Are you planning out strategies and tactics for how to move your tongue or where to put your hands?”

You consider her question for a moment before shaking your head. “No. I’m not really thinking about anything at all. Just that I want to kiss her more, and touch her more, and make her feel good.”

Dorothea laughs a little, her smile widening. “Exactly, Professor. And it’s the same way inside the bedroom. Technique and finesse are all well and good, but don’t stress yourself out over them. If you love the person, it’ll work itself out. Any awkwardness or nerves are natural; as long as both of your feelings are there, and you’re communicating properly, you’ll be golden.”

You mull her words over as you stir your tea.

On your other side, Sylvain munches on a scone and makes some supportive sounds of agreement. “Dorothea’s right. All you really need is love, Professor. Don’t sweat all the other stuff.”

Dorothea raises a brow, smirking at him. “Actually, if what I’ve heard about your performance still holds true, I think you could afford to ‘sweat the other stuff’ just a little more.”

As Sylvain protests, declaring how he’s changed, you nod quietly to yourself. Dorothea’s advice makes sense. Maybe you don’t need to train for carnal pleasures after all.

“Thank you, Dorothea.” You get to your feet. “And Sylvain,” you add. “This has been enlightening.”

“No problem, Professor. You got this,” Sylvain says with a grin, while Dorothea looks curiously up at you.

“It’s always a pleasure, Professor. Are you going somewhere?” she says.

You nod. “You two can stay here to finish your tea, but I have to keep preparing. Carnal pleasures are done. Now it’s time for some poetry. Edelgard said it wasn’t necessary, but it sounds nice and Bernadetta’s agreed to help me with it.” Bernadetta had actually hidden in her room until you’d lured her out with cake, and had fled in a panicked terror at the mere suggestion of writing poetry for Edelgard, but you figure another slice of cake should do the trick.

“Poetry?” Dorothea repeats. She raises a hand, half-concealing her smile as she nods at you. “You really are a surprising romantic. Well, best of luck to you, Professor.” Something devious enters her eyes as she twiddles her fingers in a playful farewell. “And Professor…do let me know if you and Edie are ever looking for some extra company.”

You recognize her tone as the one she takes when she’s teasing, but you don’t entirely understand the nuance of her words. So you only nod, glancing once at Sylvain to make sure he’s all right while he coughs violently on his scone.

As you reach the doorway, you glance back once to see Dorothea sipping peacefully at her tea, looking very smug as she pats a still-coughing Sylvain on his back.

***

In the kitchens, you enlist Mercedes’s assistance in baking a cake tempting enough to bribe Bernadetta.

You’re on your way to the guest wing where Bernadetta is staying when you notice Hubert lurking in the shadows to your right.

“About 1.4 seconds,” Hubert says, emerging from the dark corner.

When you tilt your head in confusion, Hubert sighs, his mouth curved in a small, wry smile. “It took you 1.4 seconds longer than usual to notice my presence. Not nearly as significant of a delay as it was that one time you were…busy with Lady Edelgard, but still a delay. You’re distracted, Professor.”

You nod, staring down at the plate of cake in your hands. “It’s why I’m making preparations. To fix it. I know I can’t afford to be distracted right now.”

Hubert folds his arms over his chest, his eyes narrowed as he chuckles darkly. “It’s not just you who’s distracted, Professor. Ever since that day I interrupted your little…rendezvous, I’ve noticed Lady Edelgard slipping as well. Letting documents go unread, staring off into the distance, failing to engage fully during meetings.” Jerking his head towards the direction of the war room, he adds, “Just this morning, I noticed Lady Edelgard staring after you as you left the meeting with Duke von Lear. In her absent-mindedness, she nearly signed papers giving into his demands.”

You look at him in surprise. You’d known full well how much of an issue your own distraction was becoming, but it hadn’t occurred to you that it was affecting Edelgard as well.

You don’t have much time to mull it over before Hubert is suddenly standing very close to you, his proximity bringing with it a sudden chill. “I never commented on your…relationship with Lady Edelgard, Professor, because I know that it makes her…happy. But this? This is becoming a problem. And I’m sure you know full well by now how I handle the sources of problems for Lady Edelgard.”

You’ve never been particularly afraid of Hubert, but you are currently carrying a very important cake, and you’re nervous at how much damage the cake will take if Hubert tries to murder you right now. Mercedes is busy with setting up the new orphanage in Enbarr, and you know she won’t be able to bake you another for a while.

But then Hubert steps back, his expression smoothing over as he pulls a piece of parchment from his robes. “Fortunately for you, I realized that killing you would create far more problems for Lady Edelgard than it would solve. She is very fond of you, after all. And I admit, I have grown…accustomed to having you nearby as well. I’d prefer to keep you alive. So I did some investigative work for a solution, and discovered that the instigator for this whole debacle was none other than Professor Manuela.”

You cast a worried look towards the medical wing, but as if reading your mind, Hubert chuckles again, shaking his head. “No harm befell her. I only asked her a few questions. She filled me in as much as she could given the…private nature of the matter.” He clears his throat quietly, waving the parchment in front of you. “I have little understanding of the sentimentality of your endeavor, Professor, but I do understand that typically, society dictates that matters of this nature should not be rushed. However, given the problems this is currently creating, I suggested Professor Manuela provide a temporary solution for your distraction.”

Since your hands are already occupied with carrying the plate of cake, Hubert tucks the parchment into your coat. “Read it, Professor. And should the advice prove agreeable to you, I’d suggest both of you follow it.” He pauses, and for the briefest moment, something almost resembling discomfort flits across Hubert’s features. “I am in no place to advise Lady Edelgard on such matters, so how she relieves her own…frustrations, I leave to your discretion.”

He dips into a shallow bow; nothing nearly as deep as he gives Edelgard, but minimally respectful all the same. “The war may be over, but I trust you understand the importance of having both you and Lady Edelgard fully focused on our ongoing postwar efforts. Be sure to address this issue, Professor.” With that, he turns and stalks away, vanishing again into the shadows.

You stare after him in confusion. Usually Hubert preferred to hang around, letting his threats marinate as he continued to lurk menacingly only a few feet away from you. It isn’t like him to make such a hasty retreat.

Balancing the cake on one hand, you use the other to pull the parchment out of your coat. Manuela’s messy handwriting covers the page, and you begin to read:

 

Dear Professor,

 

Hubert barged in here breathing murderous threats this afternoon. From what I can understand between his insinuations that he’s going to kill me if I don’t fix the problem, the issue that we talked about seems to be persisting and causing distractions for both you and Edelgard. You absolutely cannot rush the matter because of this, but I understand that a temporary fix is in order.

The most straightforward solution that comes to mind is simply relieving yourself. Self-pleasure is very important, Professor, and something that can help tide you through your frustrations, at least until you and Edelgard are both ready to engage in these activities together. I’m assuming you have some idea of how to do this on your own, but in the event that you don’t, I’ll leave a copy of my Tome of Comely and Not-So-Saintly Saints in your chambers. It provides plenty of instruction on the arts of self-love.

 

All the best,

Manuela

 

You tuck the parchment back into your coat, turning around and moving back towards your chambers. You’re not entirely sure what to make of the letter, and if Edelgard is as distracted as Hubert says, fixing the matter is more important than poetry for now.

After storing the cake in an ice box with an extra dose of Blizzard magic just to be safe, you return to your room and pick up the tome Manuela left you on your desk. There are still a few hours before Edelgard will be done with her meetings for the day. If you read quickly, you should be able to finish the book and be ready to speak with her about it in her room before she goes to sleep.

***

The tome is very poorly written, and you finish it with plenty of time to spare. But its contents haunt you for hours long after the tome has been closed, your mind overloaded with the imagery provided by the book’s instructions.

You pace the length of Edelgard’s room, waiting restlessly for her to return. As you think, you wonder if you even want her to return, with the way you are right now.

The instructions in the book were not entirely surprising, and roughly matched up with the diagram you had created yourself. But the problem lay in your imagination, combined with what Hubert had said to you: I am in no place to advise Lady Edelgard on such matters, so how she relieves her own…frustrations, I leave to your discretion.

You sit down on her bed, mind racing. Manuela told you that your problem and the source of your distraction was years of sexual repression. Hubert seemed to think that whatever was bothering you was similarly bothering Edelgard. He seemed to imply that the solution you undertook should apply to her as well, and that thought triggers the pounding of your heart once more.

The thought of you touching yourself the way the book describes does nothing for you. It’s abstract, and while not repulsive, also does not particularly appeal to you in any way.

But the thought of Edelgard doing the same…

You swallow, throat suddenly dry, and your stomach does several jerky flips inside you. You shift restlessly, and suddenly become aware of the strange, uncomfortable heat pooling low in your abdomen. There’s an odd sort of pressure squeezing between your legs, and you tug at the sheets in agitation.

You can’t help but imagine it. Each thought sends a shock of guilt through you, and yet your mind works all the more feverishly, supplying you with a barrage of images that make you squirm with the increasing heat it provides. You imagine Edelgard here in her bed beside you, hair splayed out on white sheets as she lies back on the mattress. You imagine the pale expanse of her legs as she pulls the hem of her nightdress up. You imagine her winding her fingers in the sheets and gasping into her pillow, her hand slipping between her legs. You imagine her shivers and moans as her fingers work, imagine her back arching—

“Professor!”

You jolt, gasping, as you whip around to find Edelgard herself staring down at you in obvious concern. She’s dressed in the formalwear she wears for meetings, and your first thought is that you wish she were wearing her armor. Right now you very much want as many layers as possible between you and Edelgard, and as modest as the outfit is, the flimsiness of the silk and cotton don’t do anything to help cool the rapid bombardment of thoughts still firing through your mind.

“Professor, are you all right? I called you several times, and you didn’t answer,” Edelgard says, taking another step towards you. You will yourself not to move, staying stock-still on the bed as she reaches out to touch your forehead. “And you’re flushed and perspiring. Are you feeling ill?”

“I’m all right,” you reply. You have enough presence of mind to know that if you don’t respond properly, Edelgard will worry. And you never want to worry her again. “I’m healthy. Too healthy.”

“Too healthy?” Edelgard repeats, smiling slightly. Her fingers brush your cheek as she pulls her hand back, and she notices how you shiver at the contact. “…Professor, is something the matter? You seem…distracted.”

You feel yourself smiling a little in response. “I have been distracted,” you acknowledge. “And that was actually what this book was supposed to fix. But it’s only made things worse.”

“What book?” Edelgard frowns, and you nod at the tome on the dresser.

“You can read it, if you like. It’s as much for you as it is for me. Hubert says we’ve both been distracted lately.” Even these words fire up the images in your mind again, and you shift uncomfortably on the bed.

Edelgard glances at the book, but her eyes snap back to you once she hears Hubert’s name. Her eyes narrow, and you don’t miss the flush of color in her cheeks as she frowns. “Did he come to talk to you? I told him that I was only trying to lure Duke von Lear into a more cooperative mood by acting as though I were about to sign the document. I was not distracted by—by anyone, as Hubert seemed to think.”

You nod. “Okay. That’s good if you don’t need the book. But I do, since I’m distracted by you.”

Edelgard’s frown clears for a moment, her eyes widening slightly in confusion. “Distracted by me?”

“Yes.” You speak quickly, the words tumbling out as the strange, nagging guilt within you swells. “Distracted by thoughts of you. Of kissing you, touching you, wanting you.”

Edelgard shifts on her feet in front of you. “Professor—"

“Just now, I spent a lot of time thinking about you. I shouldn’t have, but I did. I was imagining you on your bed. Imagining you touching yourself.”

Edelgard’s eyes just about double in size, and she makes a faint, choked kind of sound before she stammers, “P-Professor—”

“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t be thinking about you like that without your permission. But my mind feels like it’s on fire, and these images of you keep surfacing, and it’s all very strange and making my body feel really—”

“Professor, please.” Edelgard brings both hands up to your mouth, effectively silencing you, and you blink at her as she huffs out a sigh. “Honestly. I don’t understand how you can so matter-of-factly state half the things that come out of your mouth…” Her face is flushed a bright red, and she takes a moment visibly composing herself before she speaks again. “Forgive me for interrupting you, Professor, but…” She swallows, breaking eye contact to glare at the book on the dresser, as though it’s at fault for everything. “But much of what you’re saying is—is highly embarrassing. I do understand the general idea, so if you could please pause for a moment, I’d like to respond.”

You nod, and Edelgard looks relieved as she lowers her hands from your mouth. They come to rest on your shoulders, one on each side, and you glance down to realize that Edelgard is standing between your legs as they dangle over the side of the bed. This kind of contact with her has always been comforting to you before, but now you just feel even more agitated.

For a moment you both just look at each other. Edelgard is frowning the way she does when she’s thinking carefully about something, and you notice her twirling the ring you gave her around her finger as she thinks. Seeming to notice your line of sight, Edelgard stops. One of her hands leaves your shoulder to rest gently on your chin, tilting your face up to look straight at her.

“It really is a beautiful ring,” she says softly. “But more than its physical beauty, I cherish it because of what it symbolizes. You and I—we’ve gone through this war together. We faced the Immaculate One, dismantled the corruption within the church, and changed the face of Fodlan forever. We accomplished this together, as equals. You’ve always been at my side. And there is no one in the world that I hold dearer to me than you.”

You nod, listening to her intently. The heat in your body doesn’t fade, but it does shift to a slightly more comfortable warmth as Edelgard continues to speak.

“I care about you, Professor. And as we discussed last week, I…I do want you in the same way that you want me.” Her hand moves gently from your chin to your jaw, and her thumb brushes against your lower lip. “Very much,” she adds softly. Her finger lingers there against your lips for another moment.

She then frowns slightly at you. “So please, enough of these apologies. Given the nature of our relationship, I should certainly hope that you find me…desirable.” She clears her throat, looking momentarily uncomfortable, before continuing, “I am not angry. At least, not at you. Hubert and Professor Manuela, on the other hand…” She scowls. “Perhaps with the war over, they’re finding themselves with too much free time on their hands. If Hubert has the time to insert himself into such private matters, then perhaps…”

She trails off as you take her hands into yours. She’s worn gloves for as along as you can remember, either pure white or blood red, and only ever removes them before bed. You peel them off slowly, revealing the pale skin underneath. Edelgard’s hands are rough with calluses from wielding her axe, but more than that, they’re marred with scars. You don’t know how many of them are from the war, and how many of them are from her years of torture and crest experimentation.

But you kiss them all just the same, your lips moving gently against her skin as you caress the curves of her knuckles. Edelgard remains very still in your grip, and you soothe yourself to the sound of her breathing as you press a final kiss to the inside of her wrist. There’s a little hitch in her breath as you do that, and you smile as you look back up to meet her gaze.

“Thank you, Edelgard,” you say. You know that you’re only barely fumbling your way through this, and you think that you must be straining her patience. Yet she remains so unusually gentle with you. The thought calms you further.

And you realize that you’ve calmed almost entirely, the images from before paused inside your head. Without the guilt gnawing at you, you imagine that you might even be able to use them rather productively.

On that thought, you rise to your feet, grabbing the tome from the dresser. “All right. I do want to get rid of my distraction, but I’m not done with the preparations, so I can’t touch you yet.” Nodding at her, you continue, “So if it’s all right with you, Edelgard, can I continue to imagine you while I follow these instructions? I think it’ll really help me get to where I need to go in order to relieve all this pressure.”

Edelgard frowns, looking bemused, and so you clarify: “Can I think about you while I follow the steps in this guide to self-pleasure? I think it would help achieve the climax that’s supposed to relieve sexual frustration.”

Edelgard is utterly silent for a long moment, her head slightly lowered as she rubs at her temples.

“Professor,” she finally replies, her voice strained. “That’s really not something you need to be asking me.”

You nod. “Yes. But I don’t want to do something that will make you uncomfortable. So, can I?”

Edelgard finally looks up again, her face once more flushed with color. Her eyes drop to the tome, looking at it properly for the first time. She opens the book, pausing at a page with a particularly detailed illustration. “…is that what you’re imagining?” she says, her eyes flitting over the woman on the page. “You’re imagining me in that kind of position?”

You snap the book shut, feeling suddenly uncomfortable with showing Edelgard any more of it. You wonder if the warmth in your cheeks is what it means to feel embarrassed. “…yes,” you say.

Edelgard looks up at you, gaze intent as she nods once, slowly. “Will you be returning to your chambers, Professor?”

You nod, and remember that you haven’t yet completed your usual nighttime ritual together. The pattern has changed ever since that night one week ago, with each kiss far longer now than they used to be, but you’ve never skipped it.

So you lower your head now, using one hand to cup the small of Edelgard’s back and bring her closer as you bring your lips together.

It’s some time before you pull away, breathing heavily, and Edelgard’s eyes seem oddly unfocused in the flickering candlelight of her room.

“Professor,” she says, still only a breath away from your lips. “Will you all right with just imagining?” Her fingers shift against the book, pushing against the spine and sending it toppling out of your hand.

You look at her in confusion, and notice how flushed she still is. “I think so. Why?”

Edelgard hesitates, her fingers skimming against your knuckles. “That picture,” she says. She speaks softly, her voice husky with some emotion you can’t immediately identify. Her hand moves upwards to her collar, and you watch, feeling suddenly hypnotized. “If that’s what you would like to see…”

She lets her fingers work slowly, moving on a languorous downward path. The buttons of her shirt fall open one by one, and she meets your gaze directly. “Then you don’t have to only imagine.”

Chapter Text

For a good ten seconds, you forget how to breathe.

Edelgard’s fingers move slowly on their continued downward path, each inch taking with it another undone button. You follow every moment automatically with your eyes, not looking away even for a moment.

It’s not like you can see much. Edelgard’s clothing is always very modest, and you know that she’s wearing a shift underneath. Yet simply the act of her undressing in front of you, no matter how restrained it actually is, sends the strange warmth pooling between your legs bolting up to a feverish heat.

“Edelgard,” you manage to say, and it’s when you have to suck in a breath before you can say more that you realize just how much you’d been neglecting to breathe. First your heart, now your lungs. You wonder if love can accidentally kill someone. “What are you doing?”

Edelgard doesn’t break eye contact, and despite the flush to her cheeks, there’s something of a challenge in her eyes. You recognize the look immediately; it’s one you’ve seen from her since the very first day you met her. She evaluating you. Testing you. Seeing exactly what and how much you can handle.

“I think that should be obvious, Professor,” she responds. She finishes undoing the last button, and the jacket falls open entirely to reveal the shift you knew was hidden underneath. She rolls her shoulders, and you realize she intends to take the jacket off entirely. Her eyes remain on yours the entire time, and you realize now what the challenge is. She thinks you’ll look away. That you’ll be unnerved, tuck tail, and flee.  

You still don’t feel like you can breathe very well. But you’ve never disappointed her before. And you’re not about to start now.

So you keep your gaze fixed on her as she shrugs the jacket off, leaving her only in the thin nightgown that somehow seems only flimsier and flimsier to you with each passing day. You think that if you tugged at it with your hands, it would certainly tear apart, and your fingers alarmingly twitch at the thought.

You watch Edelgard carefully, noticing the bobbing of her throat as she swallows and the slight shiver that seems to roll up her frame under your gaze.

“Are you cold?” you ask, and Edelgard smiles wryly.

“No,” she replies. “If anything, it’s quite the opposite.”

She hesitates, and for a moment she only looks at you, gaze assessing and uncertain. “Professor,” she says slowly. “If I am making you uncomfortable—”

“No,” you immediately, because you always feel an odd clenching in your chest whenever you see Edelgard looking so unusually unsure of herself. But then you think about it for a moment, reconsidering your answer. “Yes,” you amend. “You are. But I like it. Is that strange?”

Edelgard smiles slightly, amusement replacing the uncertainty. “Yes. You’ve always been a strange one, Professor. But…” She chuckles, and suddenly she’s shifting closer to you, climbing up on her knees onto the bed beside you. “…I like it. So I suppose I’m rather strange too.”

She adjusts her position; she had been standing between your legs earlier, but now her knees are on either side of you. If she lowered herself even slightly, she’d be straddling you entirely.  The thought sends another dizzying course of heat through you.

Perched as she is on the edge of the bed, Edelgard looks to be in a somewhat precarious position, and your hands reach out automatically to keep her steady. It takes you a moment to realize that your hands are resting on her hips, gripping them tightly.

“Sorry,” you say, and start to pull back.

But Edelgard’s hands descend onto yours, gentle but firm, and move lightly over your fingers as she holds your hands in place. “Don’t be. This is…for you, after all, Professor.”

You keep your hands there obediently, even if your mouth is now dry and your face feels unnaturally warm. You’d read a little poetry the other day in preparation for your meeting with Bernadetta, and remembered the light, airy, fluffy descriptions of love you’d perused. What you’re feeling now is nothing like that at all. You feel like you’re maybe dying, and the more concerning thing is that you don’t mind it.

Your attention is too focused on Edelgard to be worried about your mortality, and you realize now that Edelgard is assuming the position that the woman in the picture from Manuela’s tome had been in. On her knees, with her dress hiked up—

You freeze. Her dress. You watch with wide eyes as Edelgard pulls her dress up slowly, pausing once the hem has reached about the middle of her thigh.  

When you glance up, wondering about the pause, you find her averting her gaze, her face and ears flushed with color as she opens her mouth to speak. “I…forgive me. As you know, I’m rather new to this whole experience myself, and I find myself somewhat…” She clears her throat lightly. “I suppose I…underestimated exactly how embarrassing this would be.”

You tilt your head slightly, thoughtful. “This was your idea.”

“I know that,” Edelgard says sharply. Her eyes turn steely with determination. “And I fully intend to see this through to the end.” For a moment, the resolve emanating off of her reminds you of being on the battlefield as Edelgard discussed with you her grand plans for securing a better world in Fodlan. But then you remember that this isn’t the battlefield, this is the bedroom. And Edelgard isn’t discussing plans for forging a new world, she’s discussing her attempt to disrobe in front of you. The effective is very different, and you find yourself smiling faintly at the contrast. You know it’s in Edelgard’s nature to commit herself fully to each endeavor she takes on, and the familiarity stirs up an old instinct from your days as an instructor at the monastery.

Reaching up with one hand, you pat her lightly on the head. Her hair is soft under your fingers, and you resist the urge to comb your fingers through it. You need to focus on praising her right now.

Edelgard only stares at you. “Professor,” she says. She stays still while you pat her, though she doesn’t seem to be particularly appreciative of it, either. “What are you doing?” She looks at your hand as though she’s unsure whether she wants to lean into it or bat it away.

“Back at the academy. Whenever you did well, you responded well to praise, and became even more motivated. So I’m motivating you.” You nod in approval. “You’re doing well, Edelgard,” you inform her. You had never been used to giving feedback, and so it had taken time and some scolding from the other professors before you’d become accustomed to providing your students with either praise or critique. “Keep up the good work.”

Edelgard is quiet for a moment, the now-familiar mix of exasperation and amusement flitting across her features. “Professor, we’re not at the academy anymore,” she says. “And I really don’t think axe training is comparable to…this.”

You consider that for a moment. “True. But I figured some strategies still might work. Besides, you still call me Professor.”

Edelgard’s eyes widen slightly before another frown furrows her brow. “That’s…that’s only a matter of habit. I’m unaccustomed to calling you otherwise.” She pauses for a moment as she seems to think about something, and in the interim she lowers herself fully so that she’s seated on your lap, still straddling you. You know it’s just because her legs probably got tired of kneeling, but you can’t ignore the warmth emanating from her body at the point of contact with your thighs. “Professor, would you…would you prefer if I called you by your name?”

You think about your answer. You do like hearing your name from her, but you can count on one hand the number of times Edelgard has ever called you by your name. And one of those times was the moment that brought you to the medical wing a week ago. Tilting your head, you consider her more carefully, wondering if your request will be dangerous to your health.

But then you decide that if it is dangerous, you don’t particularly care. You already feel like you’re half-dying every time you’re near her. Perhaps this is a new state you simply have to grow accustomed to. So you nod. “Yes.” Remembering Edelgard’s own request regarding her name, you add, “You don’t have to do it all the time. Just like I don’t always call you El. But sometimes…” You bring your other hand back down, resting against her shoulder as your thumb idly traces her jawline. “Sometimes I think I’d like to hear it from you.”

Edelgard shifts slightly against you, and you feel that same hot, uncomfortable flipping low in your gut at the movement. “I…I see. If that is what you wish, then I will of course be glad to oblige.” She hesitates, and the silence stretches out as you wait patiently.

Finally, Edelgard clears her throat, glancing away to stare at some point beyond your head. She’s flushed again, only with an embarrassment that seems different from before. “…eventually,” she adds. “Perhaps when you’re not expecting it, like you did with me.”

You sit back, looking at her curiously. Your recognize her embarrassment, though you don’t quite understand the cause. It’s always strange to you how embarrassed Edelgard becomes over things like the drawings, her portrait of you, and now calling you by your name. And just like with the drawings, you find an odd, largely unfamiliar urge bubbling up inside of you. “…do you not like my name?” you ask.

Edelgard’s gaze snaps back to you, her eyes wide. “Of course I like your name. Please don’t jump to such ridiculous conclusions. I only…”

It’s a similar reaction to the first time, when you’d first called her cute. She’d become flustered, almost angry, and you remember how you’d felt the inexplicable urge to call her cute a second time, just to get another reaction out of her.

That urge drives you again. “Then if it’s not my name…do you not like me?”

Edelgard scowls this time, and you feel that same tingle of something almost like laughter inside of you at her increasing agitation. You wonder if this is what it means to want to tease someone. If so, you’re beginning to understand why Dorothea does it so frequently.

“Professor, I’m certain that you know that I care about you,” she says. “It’s just that I’ve called you ‘Professor’ for years now, and change is always difficult.”

You hum thoughtfully. “Maybe. But I thought you were a revolutionary.”

“That kind of change and this kind of change have nothing to do with one another,” Edelgard replies, looking indignant. “You know that. And we are getting terribly distracted from our original task, yet you seem to be intent on infuriating me—”

“Yes,” you say, seriously. “I am. Sorry. You’re cute when you’re infuriated.” You keep your face as expressionless as usual, but you do feel the urge to smile as Edelgard only stares at you in disbelief. “But while I was saying all of that to make you angry, the point still stands. I still want to hear it. My name from your lips.” Your thumb moves from her jaw to her mouth, smoothing against her lower lip, and when Edelgard is opening her mouth to respond, you capture her lips in a kiss.

You’ve never kissed her in this position before, and you realize very quickly that you like it. You pull her close, one hand still on her hip and the other winding into her hair as you deepen the kiss. Edelgard’s mouth is always very hot, and you wonder if that has anything to do with the Crest of Flames; it makes you feel like you’re melting into her, and you grip her hip tighter as you pull her even closer.

Edelgard breaks the kiss for a moment, stammering a breathless Professor, and you let her take in another steadying breath before pressing your lips to hers again. As you lean forward on the bed, you realize that your positions have shifted slightly so that your thigh is positioned between Edelgard’s legs. You remember the previous night when Edelgard had jolted when your knee had accidentally pushed up against her, and you wonder if she had liked it.

You experiment now, pushing your leg up between her legs as you push down with your hand on her hip, guiding her down as you grind your leg against her. And Edelgard’s body jumps as it did before, her breath stuttering. “Professor, th-that’s—” She shivers, and when you do it once more, keeping the friction steady and constant, Edelgard makes a faint, strained sound into your mouth as you kiss her again. Her arms wind around your shoulders, and you feel her fingers trembling as they cling to the back of your shirt.

You can’t stop the pleased hum that vibrates out from your throat. The heat in your body is still there, burning you up, but you welcome it now as you continue to rhythmically move against her. You want to hear more of her, but you realize you’re probably muffling the sounds she’s making by kissing her. So you move downwards, trailing kisses down her neck. When you grind up with your leg harder, more deliberately, and suck tightly at her pulsepoint, you’re finally rewarded with a little cry, almost bordering on a whimper. It’s a restrained kind of noise, the next of which Edelgard immediately swallows down, but you shiver at the sound of it. Moving back up again, you fix your lips together once more.

You fall into a rhythm. Your leg moves back and forth, up and down, and you notice Edelgard’s hips moving with each shift of your leg; jerky at first, and then steadier as the rhythm builds, rocking in tandem with your movements. You pull back slightly to look at Edelgard properly. Her expression has shifted from embarrassment into something else you haven’t seen before, her brow knit and lips parted, her cheeks flushed and her gaze unfocused. She pulls close to you again, her arms tightening around the back of your neck and her head nestled against your shoulder as she lets out a low, shuddery groan into your ear.

You watch her movements, spellbound. The same hunger that brought you to the medical wing a week ago opens up in you again, and you trail hot kisses against her jaw, her neck, and her collar. You tug at her dress, revealing more of her pale skin to you, and let your hands roam up her legs, gripping the soft flesh of her thighs. Your hands move up higher, curving around her backside, continuing to knead and caress every inch of her you can as you continue grinding your leg against her.

Professor, she gasps into your ear, almost in the same rhythm as your movements. Professor, Professor.

You tilt her head back up to kiss her again, swallowing the ragged breaths she lets out. You move faster and faster, harder and harder, and relish the next whimper that escapes Edelgard’s throat. You’re beginning to feel a little lightheaded, and you’re realizing that you should probably let Edelgard breathe when she suddenly breaks the kiss herself.

Byleth,” she whispers against your lips; she burrows her face into the crook of your neck, and you feel her breaths come fast and hot against your collarbone. “P-please wait. For just a moment.”

Your thoughts grind to a halt and you stop all of your movements immediately, holding her carefully as you wait for her to catch her breath. You can use a moment to calm down a bit yourself. Your heart is racing, your thoughts a mess, and as much as you’d teased her about it, the sound of your name had startled you. You want to hear it from her again.

For some time, Edelgard is quiet, her breathing shaky against your skin. You can’t see her face, and so you move your hand through her hair gently, hoping you hadn’t overwhelmed her. You don’t know much about how to properly tease someone, after all. Perhaps you should invite Dorothea over for tea again tomorrow to ask for guidance on this front. You also aren’t sure if what you had done with your leg was something good; you think back to your diagram. None of the pictures you’d seen or drawn featured the use of a leg, and you’re fairly certain it isn’t an erogenous zone. You certainly hadn’t felt any physiological stimulation yourself, but Edelgard had reacted rather strongly to it. You think about where you had been grinding your leg against her, and your thoughts sputter to a stop as you think back to the region you’d circled on your diagram, and the one Sylvain had emphasized earlier today.

“Edelgard,” you say. The tugging in your abdomen gets worse, and you feel yourself warming up again. “I’m sorry if moving my leg against you like that was too much. It didn’t occur to me that I was rubbing against such a sensitive erogenous zone.”

Edelgard doesn’t look up, but her grip on your shirt tightens, and you feel her sigh heavily against your collar. “Professor,” she says, her voice muffled against your neck. “Sometimes your apologies are far worse of a transgression than whatever you did that you’re apologizing for.”

You’re quiet, considering how to respond. Your immediate instinct is to apologize again, but given what she said, you think maybe you shouldn’t. So you press a gentle, contrite kiss to her temple, and wait until she’s ready to speak again.

She stirs at your kiss and finally looks up, pulling herself upright. Her cheeks are still stained crimson, and she frowns slightly as she meets your gaze. “Since when did you enjoy teasing people so much, Professor?”

You shake your head. “I don’t like teasing people. I just like teasing you.” You’re not even sure how you would go about teasing other people. Things just come to you more easily with Edelgard.

Edelgard huffs out something between a laugh and a sigh. “I suppose I should be honored,” she says. She pauses, shifting slightly, and then glances away. “You…don’t have to apologize, Professor. You didn’t do anything wrong. I was feeling a little…overwhelmed. Not by you, but by myself. My feelings. I feared they’d overtake me, and that I’d lose myself to them.”

She looks up again, brow knit. “I…I dislike losing control. And lately, with you, it feels like I’m in danger of that happening.”

As if on cue, a stray strand of hair falls into Edelgard’s face. After the past few minutes’ activities, her hair is slightly messier than its usual immaculate style.

You brush the strand from her face carefully, letting the back of your hand drift gently against her cheek. “I’d never hurt you, El,” you say to her. You can’t imagine a world in which you would. The very thought unnerves you.

Edelgard smiles, bringing her hand up to cup yours. “I know that. Still, I…I believe I had a bit of a kneejerk reaction of something like panic. What you were doing just now, it…” She swallows, her eyes dropping as her flush deepens. “…it felt very good. Perhaps a bit too good; I was worried I’d lose myself to the sensations. For a moment, I…I wanted to give up control entirely. To let you do whatever you wanted to me.” She shivers, leaning into you, and you instinctually pull her closer. “I trust you. More than anyone. But I’ve lived so long with complete control that this kind of feeling is…frightening.”

You nod. You know how rigidly Edelgard has always held everyone and everything; those standards applied doubly to herself. “Let’s take our time,” you say. “There’s no need to rush anything, Edelgard.”

Edelgard shakes her head. “That’s just it. We have taken our time. You’ve waited for me throughout this entire war, and through these difficult months rebuilding the world we envisioned.”

“Yes,” you say. “And you waited for me for five years.”

Edelgard chuckles. “True. But that hardly disproves my point. We’ve both spent so much time waiting. I…I don’t want to wait for much longer.”

You stare at her, a little mystified. “Then what should we do?”

Edelgard tilts her head back, and you see her eyes go back to the book fallen over on the ground. “I…I think you had the right idea of it, Professor. With that book.” Smiling wryly, she continues, “It looks terribly written and crude, but I do think it could serve as…relief until you’re done with whatever preparations you’re undergoing. And in the interim, I can prepare myself as well. To be ready to give up that control.”

You consider pointing out that this was the plan you had originally intended before Edelgard had suggested disrobing and then had stopped midway, but then you think better of it. Somehow, you don’t think this point would be very well-received. So you nod. “Okay. Do you want to borrow it? I think I’ve got the idea down well enough.”

Edelgard laughs quietly, shaking her head. “As…tempting an offer as that is, I must decline.” She pauses, looking mildly uncomfortable for a moment, and then continues, “I do have some more…practical experience on that end, so theoretical knowledge is unnecessary.”

You nod absently, but it takes you about a half a minute to realize exactly what Edelgard is implying. “Oh,” you say. You swallow, your grip on her waist tight, and squirm a little in your seat. It’s strange how even a single sentence from Edelgard can affect you so strongly. “So you’ve done it before?”

Edelgard frowns slightly, gaze lowering to glare down at the bedsheets. “…on account of you, yes.”

“On account of me?” You stare at her blankly.

She looks up, meeting your gaze and narrowing her eyes in determination. “Professor, will you turn around for me, please? If you could just…face the wall, and look away from me, then I think I could…”

She doesn’t finish her sentence, but you nod and obey anyway. As embarrassed as she seems to be, you don’t want to push your luck by teasing her any more than you already have today. So you shift out from under her, turning around on the bed. You’re not sure whether she wants you to sit or lie down, but you opt for the latter, and lie on your side to face the wall.

“Is this all right?” you ask, without looking back.

“Yes. Thank you,” Edelgard says. Her voice is close behind you, and you shiver a little at her unexpected proximity. She must be lying on her side as well, only inches from you. “Please, Professor. No matter what, I’d like to ask that you do not turn around.”

You’re puzzled, but you nod again. “All right.”

You hear her take in a slow, shaky breath before speaking again: “To answer your question, yes, on account of you. You asked me before whether it would be all right for you to…follow the steps in the book while thinking about me. I said yes partially because I didn’t mind, and partially because saying no would prove hypocritical on my part, given that I…that I’ve already done the same.”

You process this information. “You’ve touched yourself while thinking of yourself?”

No.” Edelgard’s reply is sharp and laced with embarrassment. “Honestly, Professor, sometimes I wonder how someone can be so incredibly brilliant and yet—” Taking in another slow, calming breath, Edelgard sighs. Her breath tickles the back of your neck. “I thought of you, Professor. Each and every time I’ve ever…ever engaged in these activities, it’s while I’ve been thinking of you.”

“…oh.” You stare at the wall, letting this new information sink in. You feel swelteringly hot again, but also confused. It made more sense when you thought Edelgard was thinking of herself. Edelgard is beautiful and strong, while you’re just…you. “Why?”

Edelgard laughs softly. “I imagine for similar reasons that you wanted to think about me. I understand that you’ve only recently started feeling these kinds of things, Professor, and for the most part, I simply haven’t had the time to…indulge, either. Still, there were several instances in which you made matters…difficult for me. You say you’ve been distracted by me these past few days. But the truth is that I’ve been distracted by you for years now.”

You feel the mattress shift as she moves closer to you, and feel the warmth of her hand against your back. “When we trained,” she says. “You would place your hands on me. To correct my posture, or adjust my footing.” Her arm drapes lightly over you, and her hand tangles together with one of yours. “The warmth and strength in these hands; it was comforting, and yet also sometimes…distracting.” There’s a rustling of fabric, and Edelgard’s next breath sounds oddly shaky. “And sometimes, when we would be changing our clothing before training—well, you’ve always been very open about disrobing in front of other people, Professor. And that was also distracting.” You feel her press against your back, and feel her warm breaths against the back of your neck. “Even on a day to day basis, sometimes…I don’t mean this as a form of passing judgment, Professor, but your usual outfit is rather…revealing, and that has also been distracting.”

You feel her body tremble against yours, and hear Edelgard shifting behind you. She’s breathing heavily between her words now, one hand wound tightly in the cloth of your shirt, and you frown; the cogs in your mind work furiously as they try to simultaneously process what Edelgard is saying and figure out what she’s doing behind you.

“And just now. What you were doing to me…I wanted more. I know it was vulgar of me to be…rutting against you like that, but I couldn’t bring myself to care. Whenever you’re nearby, it’s as though you take possession of my entire mind. Your stomach, your arms, your lips…every part of you,” she says. You feel the weight of her head thumping against your back, and you hear a faint, low noise escaping her throat; something almost like a moan.

“I wanted you, Byleth. I want you. And some days it feels as though it’s driving me mad.” You can feel her trembling, and the faint rustling sounds are accompanied by a different kind of sound, wet and rhythmic, one that you can’t immediately place—

Until it clicks, and you freeze up entirely. By now you had become somewhat used to your heart behaving erratically, but now that familiarity vanishes entirely as you think you actually are in danger of having a heart attack.

The hunger becomes something ravenous. You don’t want anything more than to turn around and kiss her and touch her, to take her apart. But you did tell her you wouldn’t turn around.

“Edelgard.” Your voice comes out strangely hoarse, tinged with an emotion you currently don’t have the mental space to identify. “I really want to turn around.”

Edelgard’s grip on your shirt tightens. “You said you wouldn’t,” she says, voice unsteady.

You nod. “I know. I’m sorry. And if you really don’t want me to turn, I won’t. But I really want to look at you right now. Can I?”

It feels like an eternity passes. But then you feel her shifting slightly, pulling back to make some room between you. And the moment you hear the faint, breathless yes, you flip over on the bed and turn to face her.

***

“Thank you all for coming on such a short notice, and at this time of night. The situation in Anvil Village is not dire yet, but Your Majesty desired that we report any potential signs of Those Who Slither in the Dark, and we thought it best to send word to you right—er—right away.”

Fleche pauses, staring at you from the head of the war table. “Are…are you all right, Professor? You appear to be soaking wet.”

You shiver, teeth chattering, and open your mouth to respond. But then Edelgard moves in front of you, sparing you from having to answer. “It is a personal matter. If you could please continue the briefing.” Her voice is steady and commanding, utterly different from how it had sounded only ten minutes beforehand in her bed with you.

Fleche bows her head, back to business immediately. “Of course, Your Majesty. As I was saying, there are reports of strange activity in Anvil Village, on the border of what was once the Kingdom. We believe it may be the same dark magic at work as we saw in Remire Village.”

Fleche continues the briefing, and you struggle to concentrate as you glance around the war room. It feels disorienting to be here now after everything that had just transpired, and you wonder how Edelgard can manage it so well.

But as closely as Edelgard appears to be listening, she does look back at you, subtly beckoning you closer with a hand. When you obediently lean in towards her, she shrugs off her red cape. “Honestly, what were you thinking?” she chides softly. Leaning closer to you, she drapes her cape over your shoulders. “We will return to my quarters the moment this briefing is concluded,” she murmurs. Her hand drops to yours in your lap, and she squeezes gently. “And we can get you changed and warmed up again before we leave for Anvil.”

You nod, pulling the cape tight around you. The warmth seeps into you, and you sigh, feeling calmed already. The cape smells faintly of Edelgard—flowers and black tea—and you find your thoughts drifting again to what led up to this point.

Edelgard’s hand on yours is warm, and dredges up thoughts that turn the warmth closer to the heat that had pervaded you previously. Your mind is immediately overloaded the moment you try to recall the memories, so it comes only in snapshots. Of Edelgard beneath you, skin soft and hot under your lips. You remember her splayed out on the bed, her dress rumpled and revealing more of her to you than you’d seen before, making a far more tantalizing picture than anything you had seen in Manuela’s book. You remember her writhing and gasping, her moans as you dragged your tongue against her and nipped at her skin. You hadn’t been able to look away as she had continued what she’d begun while your back had been turned. You had wanted to help her, and wanted your fingers and mouth to replace her fingers where they were working. You knew that you shouldn’t. That doing so would count as carnal pleasures and that you couldn’t go that far yet, not without any of your preparations. But you had desperately wanted to, and had almost done so, your fingers tracing her upper thighs.

Then the knock had come, harsh and hard on the mahogany doors.

“Lady Edelgard.” Hubert’s voice had filtered in through the door, and Edelgard had frozen beneath you, trembling and breathless. “Forgive the intrusion, but you must come at once. Lieutenant Fleche brings urgent news from her patrol of the border towns.” He had coughed then and added, “I’m assuming the professor is with you? If so, please bring her with you. Both of your presences are immediately requested.”

You hadn’t wanted to let her go. More than anything else, you wanted to continue. You wanted to take her then and there. But you knew you had to let her go, and that this matter was important. But your body wasn’t listening to you, and you knew you wouldn’t be able to concentrate at all if you went to the meeting in the state you were in. So on the way to the war room, you had jumped into the pond in the courtyard gardens, soaking yourself in the icy water. Edelgard had stared after you in shock, seeming torn as to whether she wanted to scold you or join you in the water. She had eventually opted for the former, though you remembered the way her fingers still trembled and her cheeks remained flushed throughout the walk.

And the cold water did help bring some clarity, though you’re now still shivering. With this clarity, you think over what transpired. As much as you wanted to finish the job, part of you is glad for the interruption. After all, you hadn’t written the poetry yet. Or gotten the flowers ready.

Most importantly, you still haven’t yet told her you love her.

You sit back in your seat, nestled in Edelgard’s cape and watching her quietly. The hunger in you had been almost frightening, and you know it won’t be fading anytime soon. Bernadetta and the rest of the Black Eagle Strike Force will most likely come with you to Anvil, so you can ask her after the mission for the help on poetry, and the carnations will be in full bloom by the time you return.

And as for the last thing…

Edelgard glances back at you again, seeming to notice your gaze. She quickly returns her attention to Fleche, but you don’t miss the small smile on her lips. Her hand is gentle as she squeezes yours again.

You nod to yourself. You’ll go with her to Anvil. Protect her. Crush whatever threat is lurking there. Write the poetry with Bernadetta. Get the flowers.

And you’ll tell her that you love her. Because you do. More than the poetry or the flowers, you’re surer of that than anything else in the world. So much that your heart seems to almost ache at the thought of her. So you’ll tell her.

Until then, perhaps you’ll just have to take a few more dips into cold waters to tide you over.

Chapter Text

The road to Anvil is long, and the carriage is relatively small so as not to draw unwanted attention. It can’t fit you, Edelgard, Hubert, Ferdinand, and the cake for Bernadetta comfortably. So you kick Ferdinand out and begin the journey to the border.

For the first five or so minutes, you can hear Ferdinand’s loud complaints about the mistreatment of the nobility as he rides on his horse alongside the carriage, and after another ten minutes of his declarations, Hubert abruptly gets to his feet.

“You’re leaving?” Edelgard says from beside you, brow raised as she looks up at Hubert.

“Yes,” Hubert nods. “Either to keep him company or kill him. I haven’t decided yet.” With a smooth bow, he hops out of the carriage, and you hear Ferdinand’s complaints abruptly stop.

You hope he isn’t dead, but you don’t have long to think about this before Edelgard is sighing, rubbing tiredly at her shoulders as she tosses some of her paperwork onto the empty seat across from you.

“I suppose we can’t expect a good night’s rest for some time,” she says, sinking against the seat. “I have difficulty falling asleep as it is; the confines of a carriage or a tent do not particularly aid in this endeavor.”

You tilt your head in thought, considering the options, and then nod decisively. Patting your lap, you nod at Edelgard. “Go ahead.”

Edelgard blinks at you in obvious confusion. “Go ahead with what, Professor?”

You gesture to your lap. “Use my lap as a pillow and rest. My thighs are very soft and comfortable. Dorothea told me.”

“A pillow?” An interesting sequence of emotions plays out on Edelgard’s face as she processes what you said, ranging from embarrassment to surprise to something else you don’t recognize in the slight frown that darkens her expression. Finally, she says, “I…see. And how would Dorothea know that, Professor?” There’s an odd edge to Edelgard’s voice, something like displeasure, and you stare at her curiously.

“She used my lap once to sleep,” you explain. “During the war.” It had been after one particularly grueling battle. Dorothea had taken the war much harder than the other Black Eagles, and she’d all but collapsed afterwards in exhaustion. You’d lent her your shoulder, and then she’d eventually transferred herself into falling asleep with her head in your lap. She’d seemed much more like herself once she woke up again, and had teased you about the apparent softness of your thighs then.

“I see,” Edelgard says again. There’s that edge again, making her voice unusually cold as she frowns down at the papers. It’s a tone she uses often with acquaintances and visiting nobles, but never with you. “Well, if Dorothea says so, then I suppose it must be true.” She picks the papers up again and shuffles them around. She doesn’t appear to be reading them, but her gaze is very sharply focused on them as she adds, “I can’t say I’ve ever had that experience with you, so I’m afraid I can’t comment one way or another.”

You stare at her in puzzlement, wondering at her sudden shift in demeanor. She seems oddly irritated, but you can’t imagine at what. Perhaps she doesn’t like lap pillows. You cock your head slightly to one side, leaning down to make eye contact with Edelgard again. “Did I do something wrong, Edelgard?”

Edelgard meets your gaze, and her eyes immediately soften. “Well, no, but…” The coolness leaves Edelgard’s voice as she frowns again, this time in clear embarrassment. “No, of course you haven’t. Forgive me, Professor. I’m just being ridiculous.” She sighs and shakes her head. “Some days I feel as though I’m not myself around you. Perhaps Hubert is right; I am getting distracted.”

You study her carefully, mystified as you attempt to slot the puzzle together. She seemed somewhat upset starting from when you mentioned Dorothea, and how she had used your lap as a pillow, while Edelgard herself had never—

It clicks, and you nod a few times in understanding. “I see. You’re jealous.”

Edelgard stiffens. “Jealous?” She scowls, face flushing as red as her cape. “I said I was being ridiculous, Professor, not infantile. I’m not some silly little schoolgirl with a crush.”

“It’s okay,” you say, shaking your head. “I wouldn’t like it if anyone else used your lap as a pillow, either.” The thought makes your stomach clench unpleasantly, and you feel yourself frowning too. “I think I’d be jealous.” You reach out and pat Edelgard’s lap, looking at her solemnly. “Please reserve this spot only for me,” you request.

For a moment, Edelgard only looks at you. “Professor,” she finally says. “You’re incredibly embarrassing.”

You nod. “Sorry.”

“…don’t be.” Edelgard is still flushed, but she’s chuckling now, her smile fondly exasperated. “Please stop apologizing to me, Professor. At this point, I think it may be impossible for me to be angry with you.”

You nod, and then pat your lap again. “It’s a long road,” you say. “And you didn’t get much sleep last night because of what we were doing. Rest a little while.”

Edelgard flushes again at your mention of the previous night, and she hesitates as she glances down at your lap. You pat your lap one last time in invitation, and she finally relents, gingerly laying her head down against your thighs.

She’s very stiff at first, shoulders tight with tension, and you run a hand gently through her hair, rhythmically combing it through as the carriage rocks slowly beneath you. Under your touch, Edelgard slowly relaxes, her breath warm against your legs as she settles against you. “…it seems that Dorothea was right,” she says, and you nod approvingly.

“My thighs are very soft. My stomach isn’t though, so stay away from there. Felix said—” You pause, wondering if you should continue, given Edelgard’s previous reaction, and Edelgard shifts in your lap to stare up at you.

“Felix? Just how many people have been sleeping on you, Professor?” she asks, eyes narrowed.

You shake your head. “Felix punched me in the stomach once. While we were sparring with unarmed strikes. He said it hurt his fist.” You pause again, wondering if this is also something Edelgard will feel jealous about, and you do notice her tense again.

But then she just turns in your lap to face your stomach, her hand coming up to rest on it. “…I understand the need for training, Professor, but please don’t overdo it,” she says.

You shake your head. “It’s important I stay in top form. I need to keep you safe.”

Edelgard’s fingers are gentle as they move along your abdomen. “We protect each other, Professor,” she says. “Which means you must be safe as well. If something were to happen to you, I…”

She hesitates, expression dark, and so you nod, if only to coax that expression off of her face. She falls silent, her fingers lingering against your abdomen as she rests. You notice her eyes flutter shut and her breathing steady, and after a few minutes, you think she’s fallen asleep.

But then you feel her moving again. Her eyes remain closed, but she moves in closer to you in your lap. “Professor,” she says quietly. Her ears are red as she nestles her head against you. “…please don’t lend anyone else your lap again.”

You nod, murmur your assent, and Edelgard’s expression is peaceful as she drifts to sleep against you.

***

You stop by at Blackthorn Village along the way to restock your supplies and rest before nightfall. There are children running around outside, villagers milling about near the well, and you look curiously around the village square as you observe the scene. There are several villagers preparing for what appears to be some kind of festival in the square, but aside from them, everything seems perfectly mundane. The war really is over, and you allow yourself to relax just a little.

The most striking part of the town is actually you, Edelgard, and the rest of the Black Eagle Strike Force. Villagers whisper and stare, eyes following you as you sit near the fountain in the square. People revolve around Edelgard in particular, whispering of the emperor that toppled the Church of Seiros and united all of Fodlan, and only Hubert’s perpetually menacing aura keeps them at bay.

Edelgard remains largely unconcerned with their stares, her attention focused on roving through the village for any signs of suspicious activity. “We are still far from Anvil,” Edelgard says to you in a low voice. She glances around, eyes narrowed. “But we must remain vigilant. We never know what could be lurking in the—Dorothea.”

You turn to see Dorothea chatting merrily with the village people who are setting up decorations in the square, laughing as one of the village girls suddenly breaks out into a little jig.

“Oh, Edie, Professor! Come here, quick. You won’t believe our luck,” she calls out, smiling. She’s been in much better spirits ever since the war ended, and the impish smile on her face now reminds you of her academy days.

You walk over, with Edelgard cautiously following. “Dorothea,” Edelgard says, frowning. “Remember we’re on our way to a mission. We can hope that our presence will deter whatever plans were going to unfold, but we must remain on our guard—”

“Yes, yes, I know, Edie, don’t worry,” Dorothea says, waving a hand carelessly. “But listen to this. We’ve come here right on time for a wedding reception. The village chief’s daughter was just wed to the blacksmith’s son. They had the ceremony already, but the reception is open to all in the town square. I just talked to the bride’s sister, and she said we’re more than welcome to join in.” Beaming, she twirls in a cheery little circle. “Professor, there’s going to be so much dancing! And not those boring dances at the academy for all those stuffy nobles; real, joyous, simple dancing and jigs. I haven’t had the chance to do this in ages.”

Turning to Edelgard, she looks at her with wide, pleading eyes. “Oh, Edie, do say we can attend. There’s still plenty of time until nighttime, and we’ll be staying here to rest for the night anyway. A little merriment couldn’t hurt.”

Edelgard frowns, looking around the village. “Well…” She meets your gaze. “What do you think, Professor?”

You look back to see Hubert glowering around the square, with several other guards and soldiers stationed in more hidden locations throughout the area. “I think a few of us could afford to take it easy so long as there’s always others keeping watch. Perhaps we could take shifts.”

Edelgard nods, turning back to Dorothea. “Very well. But remember to remain vigilant.”

Dorothea smiles brilliantly, throwing her arms around Edelgard in an affectionate embrace. “Thank you, Edie. We’re going to have a wonderful time; I can promise you that.” Turning back to you, Dorothea takes your hands in hers. “And as for you, Professor—you owe me a dance. Out of everyone in our little strike force, you’re the only one besides me who must know how to do these dances. You must’ve learned at one point during your mercenary stints at villages.”

You nod. Jeralt had always steadfastly refused to dance with the other mercenaries, so often they’d rope you into it instead. You had never found it particularly enjoyable, but like with most forms of physical activity, you were always quite skilled.

Dorothea smiles again. “Good. I’m going to steal our dear professor for just a moment, Edie, all right?”

There’s a momentary silence, and you turn back to see Edelgard frowning slightly at the two of you. Her gaze is focused on your joined hands, where Dorothea’s fingers are intertwined with yours, and her expression reminds you of the one she wore in the carriage, when you had mentioned Dorothea’s comments about your lap.

“Edie?” Dorothea is looking at her curiously, and Edelgard’s gaze snaps back up again.

Coloring, Edelgard clears her throat and nods. “Forgive me, Dorothea. I was just…lost in thought. Yes, of course. You’re welcome to. But there’s no need to ask me; the professor is free to do whatever the professor so desires.” There’s that slight chill in her voice again, and you frown slightly in concern.

“Dorothea,” you say. “Maybe we should…”

Dorothea glances between you and Edelgard, and realization lights up her expression before a wicked gleam enters her eyes. “Maybe we should stop wasting time talking and get to dancing right away?” she says, her voice light and teasing. “Excellent idea, Professor. Let’s go.”

She all but drags you to the square, and you glance back at Edelgard to see her frowning after the two of you, conflict evident in her expression.

More people enter the square around you, and you spot the bride and groom moving into the middle. The music starts right as they begin to dance, and Dorothea places her arms on your shoulders as she smiles again. You’re supposed to place your hands on her waist, but something about the weight of Edelgard’s stare on you makes you hesitate.

You hear Dorothea laughing softly, and her hands are warm as she takes yours and places them onto her waist. “Come on, Professor,” she says. “If we’re going to make poor Edie jealous, we might as well go all the way with it.”

You start up into the dance, looking at Dorothea curiously. “How did you know she’s jealous?”

Dorothea smirks, her footwork light and graceful as she twirls with you among the other dancing pairs. “I do have eyes, Professor. Not everyone is quite as…emotionally challenged as the two of you. And speaking of the two of you…” She lets out a breathless noise of mingled surprise and delight as you lower her into a sudden dip, and she’s grinning when you pull her back up again. “You’re surprisingly good at this, Professor. Anyway, tell me everything. How are things going with our dear Edie?”

She asked you to tell her everything, so that’s exactly what you do, starting from when you last saw her for tea the other day. You start with the cake, and then Hubert and Manuela, and then the book, and then everything that happened after that.

You’re starting to relay what had transpired in the bedroom when Dorothea abruptly stops you.

Okay, Professor, let’s maybe stop right there.” She unusually flushed; you can’t remember the last time you’d ever seen Dorothea embarrassed, and her eyes are wide as she stares at you. “Wow. That…that took a turn. I was expecting you to say you maybe held hands or something.” She laughs, shaking her head. “As…riveting as this story is, Professor, I feel like Edie would probably kill us both if she heard you telling it.”

The song ends, and the next one begins; it’s slower, slightly more drawn out, and Dorothea smiles as you shift positions for this new dance. “So that’s why she’s all worked up. After intimacy like that, it’s understandable that she’ll be feeling a little…territorial.”

You nod. “We have to wait. I’m not done with my preparations yet. But the boundaries of where to stop can be confusing.”

Dorothea smirks. “Well, you can always go the old teenager route by drawing very clear physical boundaries. Things like nothing below the waist, or only touching over clothing. A bit juvenile, perhaps, but something tells me you and Edie are going through the excitable teenage phase right now, with all these frustrations overflowing.”

You consider that advice, nodding thoughtfully as you file that advice away for later. “She is frustrated. And tired. And also jealous, now.” You frown, feeling suddenly deflated. “And it’s because of me.” You wanted to make her burdens lighter, but now you’re worried you’ve just made them worse.

Dorothea squeezes your shoulders, looking stern as she shakes her head. “Hold on there, Professor. A little jealousy in a relationship is perfectly healthy. And poor Edie would be tired no matter what you did; it’s one of the many burdens on an emperor’s shoulders. And as for that first thing…” She chuckles. “Well, that’s to be expected, too. If you’re worried, just make some time to sneak away again. Perhaps after dinner tonight, when you go to the river to bathe…” Her eyebrows waggle suggestively, and you smile a little despite your concern.

“Thank you, Dorothea. I just want to be sure I’m…making her happy.”

Dorothea smiles warmly at you. “You are, Professor. Anyone who looks at the two of you can tell that much.”

The second dance winds down, and you feel a tap on your shoulder. You turn to see Petra, who smiles as she lowers into a little bow. “You are very good at this dancing, Professor. I am sorry for my interrupting, but I am hoping Dorothea will provide me teaching of these steps, too,” she says.

Dorothea grins. “I’d be happy to, Petra.” Looking back at you, she says, “I think it’s about time you got back to Edie anyway, Professor. She’s been looking more and more like an angry, neglected kitten with every dance that’s gone by.”

Dorothea and Petra whirl off together, and you turn to see Edelgard indeed looking very cross, her eyes narrowed as she scowls in your general direction. You move quickly towards her, only for Ferdinand to suddenly step into your path.

“Professor,” he exclaims. “Dance with me! Allow me to amaze you with nimble footwork and fine form, truly befitting a noble of House—”

“Sorry, Ferdinand,” you say, side-stepping him. “Maybe later.”

Ferdinand makes an affronted noise, looking like a dejected puppy, and you make a mental note to dance with him later as you move towards Edelgard.

Edelgard seems to perk up a little as you approach, though the frown remains, and she looks past you at the other dancers. “Dorothea said she would only be borrowing you for ‘a moment,’ but that was a fairly long time,” she comments, her arms tightly crossed against her chest. “I hope you’re not tired, Professor.”

“Not tired at all,” you say, and reach out to take her hands into yours. Edelgard makes a soft noise of surprise as you pull her towards you, and her frown clears as she looks up in confusion. “Dance with me, Edelgard,” you say. Your words are impulsive, but suddenly you want nothing more than to spend the next moments together with her amid the music.

“Dance? Right now?” Edelgard’s eyes are wide, and a frown of concern knits her brow.

“Yes,” you say, nodding. “You don’t want to?”

“I do,” Edelgard says quickly. You smile a little at how fast she responds, and she flushes as she glances away. “It’s just that…I don’t know how. I was trained in waltzes and the formal dances of court, of course, but with these sorts of…jigs, I’m afraid I’m lost.”

You shake your head. “It’s easy. Much easier than waltzing. You just move with the music. Come on. I’ll teach you.” You pull at her hands again, and Edelgard takes a few, hesitant steps forward. “I’ve wanted to dance with you since the ball at the academy all those years ago,” you add, frowning slightly at the memory. The students had mobbed you, dragging you from one dance into another, and Edelgard had been in a similar position with all the Imperial courtiers’ sons and daughters entreating her company. The only time you had a moment together had been at the Goddess Tower.

“Please, Edelgard,” you say. “Dance with me.”

Edelgard finally nods, her grip on your hands tightening. “I…I always wanted to dance with you as well, Professor. It was terribly frustrating when we were unable to that night.” She nods again, more decisively this time. “Though I…might step on your feet. Forgive me if I do.”

You feel yourself smiling as you guide her into the square, and the band starts up a lively new melody. You’ve never taught someone how to dance before, but Edelgard is an excellent student, and she learns as quickly with this as she does with every other skill you’ve ever trained her in. Within minutes, you’re moving together seamlessly.

“Nothing to it,” you say to her, your hands firm on her waist. “You’re a natural.”

Edelgard chuckles, her arms looped over your shoulders. “You are an excellent teacher. And…I was especially motivated for this particular lesson.”

This is the third dance you’ve done consecutively, and yet you feel strangely more energized than ever before as you move together with her. Your heart feels full, and you hold her close as the music changes leads to a crescendo.

Like before, the next song that starts is slower than the previous lively one, and you ease into a slower back-and-forth as you twirl together with Edelgard.

“Thank you,” you say, breaking the comfortable silence. “For dancing with me. I’m sorry if I made you jealous.”

Edelgard frowns slightly, her ears red. “As I said before, I was never jealous. I just…” Her grip on you tightens, and she moves in closer to you. “Perhaps I am simply being greedy. We’re so busy as it is, and I want to spend as much time with you as possible. So when other people take away that time, sometimes I end up feeling very…very—”

“…jealous?” you suggest.

Edelgard scowls, letting out a sigh of frustration. “Yes. Very well. I feel jealous, Professor. I know it’s terribly petty and childish, but I can’t help it. They’re terrible feelings, I know. But I care about you very much, and I…sometimes I want to monopolize you.” Her scowl softens into a worried frown. “I want to be by your side at every moment. I want you looking at me, and only me. It’s utterly irrational, and not at all how the ruler of the Empire should be conducting herself, but…” She looks up at you, her gaze conflicted and uncertain. “But with you, I don’t feel like the ruler of the Empire at all. Just Edelgard. And it’s a wonderful feeling, mostly, but it can also lead to…unbecoming behavior.”

You feel yourself smiling, and Edelgard frowns suspiciously at you at the sight of it.

You glance around quickly; there are dozens of couples dancing around you, hiding you from the view of the Empire soldiers, and the dancing villagers are all too focused on their partners to be paying any attention to you.  

So you take the opportunity to press a quick kiss to Edelgard’s lips, enjoying their softness for just a moment before pulling away again. Edelgard is flushed when you’ve pulled back, her brow knit in a bewildered frown.

“Professor—”

“It’s not unbecoming,” you say. “It’s cute.” You don’t know when you realized just how cute Edelgard really is, but now that you’ve noticed, it’s impossible not to comment on it again and again.

Expectedly, Edelgard doesn’t appear to appreciate the remark. Scowling again, she sighs. “Again with this cute nonsense. Please, Professor, ‘unbecoming’ is honestly preferable.”

You shake your head. “But it is cute,” you say very seriously. You sneak another light kiss against her lips.  “Very cute,” you add, and kiss the tip of her nose, and then her forehead.

“Professor,” Edelgard complains, but you notice that she’s visibly fighting back a smile, and her arms tighten around you as you continue to sway to the music.

“Besides, Dorothea said a little jealousy in a relationship is healthy,” you say.

Edelgard glances in Dorothea’s direction, her expression exasperated. “We do know our share of well-meaning busybodies.”

You nod. “She also said that if you’re feeling very frustrated, maybe we could sneak off during bathtime after dinner near the rivers and take care of you.”

For the first time, Edelgard does step on your foot, and the two of you stumble a little before regaining your bearings. “She said—” Edelgard stammers wordlessly for a moment, glaring off into the crowd where Dorothea continues to dance, blissfully unaware. “Th-that’s…entirely unnecessary, Professor. I’ll be fine.”

You look at her in concern. “Are you sure? You never got to finish last time. One of the books Manuela gave me said that keeping it bottled up like that can be unhealthy.”

“You need to stop reading anything and everything Professor Manuela is giving you,” Edelgard replies, turning her glare in search of Manuela next. “This is also a…highly inappropriate conversation to be having in a public setting, Professor.”

You look around. “No one can hear us over the music,” you say. “But we can stop if you’re sure.”

“I’m fine, Professor,” Edelgard insists, face scarlet. “I am not some pubescent boy. I am perfectly capable of controlling myself and my desires.”

“Okay,” you say. “But we should still meet after dinner during bathtime by the rivers.”

“Professor, I just said I was fine—”

“I know,” you say, nodding. “But I’m not. The cold water helped. But not enough. I can’t focus very well, and I think it’ll affect my performance in battle—should it come to that in Anvil—if I don’t address it before then.” Your grip on Edelgard’s waist shifts, hands drifting lower as your fingers idly caress her hips. You remember how they had looked rocking against you, and you can’t stop the shiver that runs up your frame. “So long as you don’t object, I’d like you there.”

Edelgard stares at you, eyes wide. The music stops as the musicians prepare to change into another song, and you both pause in your dancing. “That…” Her eyes drop away from yours. “If…that is what you want, Professor, then…” She meets your gaze again and nods. “Then I will be there. After dinner, by the rivers.”

You nod appreciatively, and the music starts up again.

“Professor!”

Ferdinand waltzes into view, followed closely by Hubert. “Please, Professor, I must have this next dance. Allow me to show you the grace I can bring to you—unmatched even by Edelgard,” he says.

“If this pest is disturbing you, Lady Edelgard, I will be more than happy to swat it away,” Hubert says to Edelgard before you can respond.

Edelgard shakes her head, sighing as she steps away from you. “No, let him have his dance. I think I need to…take a break, anyway.” She’s still a little flushed, and nods at you as she moves away. “I will see you at dinner in the tavern, Professor. And…afterwards.”

You nod, and though Ferdinand sweeps you into the next dance, chattering grandly about his skill and finesse throughout, your mind and your gaze wander constantly back to Edelgard. And whenever you turn to gaze at her, you find that she’s always looking back at you.

You sincerely hope that nothing will interrupt you this time. But as you draw up possible contingency plans, you recognize that should the worst come to pass, there will be a large body of cold water conveniently located very close to the both of you.

It’s a reassuring thought.

Chapter Text

Two hours into the wedding reception, everyone has moved into the tavern, and everything is a mess.

What you had forgotten after years of warfare alternating with fancy noble balls and military meetings was just how rowdy and drunk village parties could become. The villagers crowd around you and the other members of the Black Eagle Strike Force, their earlier awe of you replaced by alcohol-induced overwhelming friendliness and familiarity.

“Come now, Byleth,” one villager says, pushing a tankard of ale into your hands. “Take another, I insist. You’re a hero. All of you are, and you deserve only our best spirits.”

You accept the drink, though it tastes just as awful as all of the other drinks you’ve had so far at this party, and you make sure to keep your face neutral as you force yourself to swallow it down.

“Look at that! A waif of a woman, and she chugs alcohol better than any of you,” the villager says, chortling. “Unlike that poor fellow over there.”

You turn to where Ferdinand is passed out face-down in the dirt, his tankard empty beside him. Once the drinks had started flowing, he’d wasted no time challenging Edelgard to a drinking contest. He had put up a valiant effort, and chugged down about four drinks. Halfway through the fifth, he had fallen off of his stool and faceplanted into the dirt.  

Edelgard, meanwhile, remains upright and composed even now, with only the flush to her cheeks hinting at the amount of alcohol she’s ingested. You frown, a little concerned. For all her strength on the battlefield, Edelgard is one of the smallest members of the army, and you know she shouldn’t be drinking so much. Alcohol had never affected you much, but you can tell that the drinks you’re being served now are significantly stronger than whatever fancy wines Edelgard is used to.

But a crowd of rowdy, drunk villagers separates you from her, and you reluctantly turn away when you feel someone tapping your shoulder.

Bernadetta peers at you over her mountain of cake, brow furrowed in mingled concentration and distress as she scribbles something onto the sheet of paper in front of her. “Professor,” she says, voice pitching up the way it did whenever she started to get increasingly anxious about something (which was most things). “When you said you wanted my help writing poetry for Edelgard, I didn’t expect me to be doing all the writing by myself!”

Throwing down the sheet of paper, she looks up at you, panicked. “I can’t do this; I’m not in love with Edelgard, and it’s just making me feel creepy. Not that Lady Edelgard isn’t wonderful—she is, but—oh come on, Professor, help me out, here. You can’t really be expecting me to write love poetry all by myself for your lover.”

You frown slightly. “But I don’t know how to write poetry.”

Bernadetta returns your frown full-force. “Neither do I! I just write stories—private stories—and somehow you translated that into me being some kind of romantic poet. I’ll help you as much as I can, Professor, but you need to help me brainstorm, here.”

You nod. You want to help as much as you can. It’s for Edelgard, after all. “Okay. What are you working on?”

Bernadetta points to something on the page. “Her eyes. What do her eyes remind you of, Professor?”

“Her eyes?” you repeat. You glance back at Edelgard, befuddled. “…they remind me of eyes. Purple ones.”

“That’s not what they remind you of, that’s what they are,” Bernadetta says, huffing. “Gosh, how can you be worse at this than I am?” Eyes narrowed in focus, she murmurs to herself, jotting things down on the paper. “C’mon, Bernie, this is for the Professor and Lady Edelgard…hmm…how about amethysts? Let’s just put amethysts for now.” Looking back up at you, she says, “Remember, Professor, we’re trying to make artistic comparisons, here. Vivid imagery. What else about her appearance do you immediately notice?”

You look at Edelgard again, an immediately noticeable splash of crimson amid all of the people around her. “Her clothes,” you say.

Bernadetta nods, writing furiously. “Okay, good. What about her clothes? What do they remind you of?”

You frown. Bernadetta had wanted comparisons, so you couldn’t say red clothes. You think of the color red, and conjure up the most vivid image that immediately comes to mind. “The blood of our enemies on the battlefield,” you say.

Bernadetta squeaks in terror, dropping her quill as she frowns up at you. “This isn’t a horror novel, Professor! That’s not romantic at all!”

You sigh, staring down into your empty tankard. “This is hard.”

Bernadetta worries her lip for a moment as she seems to think. “Oh! I know. The best poetry is written in moments of inspiration. Why don’t you spend some time with Edelgard, Professor? She makes you feel all sorts of things, doesn’t she?”

You nod, and Bernadetta smiles. “Bring this quill and a parchment with you, and if inspiration strikes, make sure to write it down! We can work on the poem again once you have some ideas.”

Nodding again, you thank Bernadetta before getting to your feet and squeezing through the crowd of people in Edelgard’s direction. You’ll take any opportunity to be with her, and it’s getting rather close to the time you’d originally planned to meet, anyway. Perhaps you can spend some time being inspired before you go to the rivers to bathe.

The world spins a little as you walk, and you realize you might have drank more than you thought you had. Which makes you even more concerned about Edelgard, given she’d probably drank around as much as you did during her contest with Ferdinand.

You find Edelgard still seated near the bar, reclining elegantly on a barstool as though it were a throne. But then you notice the stiffness in her posture, and how she leans slightly against the table as though she’d lose her balance without it. She turns and smiles slightly as you approach, and you note the glassy quality to her eyes as she gets to her feet.

“Professor,” she says, nodding at you. Her voice seems normal, if only a little bit louder than usual; though that could simply be to be heard over the chaos of the tavern. “I’m glad to see you escaped your legion of fans in one piece.”

Before you can respond, a large, beefy, armored arm swings around you, catching you around the shoulders and pulling into a crushing hug. Boisterous laughter booms around you, and you look up to find Alois beaming back down at you. “Well, here’s one fan who hasn’t had the chance to speak with you yet, Professor! Come, sit, and share a drink with me! You too, Edelgard. Or should I say Your Majesty?” He laughs merrily as he shoves a flagon of ale into both your and Edelgard’s arms.

“Just Edelgard is fine,” Edelgard replies. Her smile is polite but slightly strained, and you realize you can’t remember ever having seen her interact with Alois before. They’re probably two of the most dissimilar people in the army.

Alois laughs again, and you watch in mild concern as he throws his other arm around Edelgard’s slight shoulders and draws her into a tight hug as well. She winces slightly, and then winces again as Alois breaks out into more raucous laughter right by her ear. He seems somehow even louder than usual, and you know it must be the drink. “That’s right! I suppose as Byleth’s big brother, it wouldn’t be right to be calling my future sister-in-law ‘Your Majesty.’ Far too formal for family!” he booms, chuckling as he claps Edelgard on the back. She staggers a little under his weight, but her expression changes from mild irritation to confusion at his words.

“Future sister-in…” Edelgard repeats, trailing off as she meets your gaze.

“That’s right! I was speaking with the blushing bride just a few moments ago, and I was getting all sorts of fantastic ideas for your wedding. I know it’ll have to be grand, since you’re the emperor and all, but I figure some homey touches from the common folk would help keep it closer to earth. Of course…” He turns to you, eyes wide and suddenly glassy. “Of course, it won’t be perfect, without Captain Jeralt there. But I’d be honored if you would allow me to give you away as the bride in his stead, Byleth. And I know…” He sniffles loudly, voice trembling. “I know he’d be so very proud and so very happy to see what a wonderful match of love you’ve made.”

You stare at him blankly as he trumpets into a handkerchief. You’ve become accustomed to zoning out during Alois’s particularly long speeches, and he’s currently not making any sense at all. “I’m not getting married,” you say.

Alois nods, dabbing at his eyes. “Well, not today, I know. But soon. Come to think of it, haven’t you set a date yet? It’s been at least a few months since you became engaged.”

You frown. “I’m not engaged.”

Shaking his head, Alois laughs at you. “Oh, Professor, that deadpan humor strikes again. Nice try, but it’s hard to joke around about something like that when you have evidence clear as day standing a foot away from you.” He turns to Edelgard, who’s gone curiously silent during this entire exchange, and takes her hand with a flourish.

“Your father’s ring,” Alois says, looking at it fondly. “I remember how beautiful it looked on your mother’s finger. It looks just as beautiful on yours, Edelgard.” Looking back at you, Alois grins. “Come to think of it, how did you propose? I heard through the grapevine that it was in the Goddess Tower, but a big brother needs more details than that! I’ve held back because I knew how busy you are, but we’re at a party now. Now’s the time for girl talk,” he says, eyes wide with excitement. “So let’s talk.”

You stare at him in befuddlement; your mind is already slowed because of the alcohol, and the chaos of both the party around you and Alois’s eardrum-shattering voice don’t help matters in the least.

You feel a light tug on your sleeve, and turn to see Edelgard frowning down at her flagon of ale. “He…appears to mistakenly believe that we’re engaged, Professor,” she says quietly to you. Her face is flushed beyond just the results of drink, now. “And that the ring you gave me was for a betrothal.”

You stare at the ring on her finger. “Oh.” You turn to Alois, who’s still beaming. “Alois, we’re not engaged.”

The smile doesn’t leave his face. “Of course you are. You gave her your mother’s ring.”

You nod. “As proof of my feelings for her. But it wasn’t a proposal. Ingrid gave Dorothea a ring, and they’re not engaged.”

The smile on his face falters. He turns to Edelgard. “But you accepted the ring.”

Edelgard clears her throat, nodding. “But I did not take it as a proposal. I accepted the ring because I accepted the strength of her feelings, and returned them.”

“She called me her dearest friend,” you supply helpfully.

“We are more than simply friends,” Edelgard says quickly, when Alois stares at both of you, looking thunderstruck. “But we are not engaged to be wed. In fact, given that I am the emperor, it is preferable that while I maintain my position, we conduct our relationship with a certain degree of—”

“This is preposterous! What do you mean you’re not engaged?” Alois roars, calling the attention of about half the room.

“…subtlety,” Edelgard finishes, jaw clenched as she steadfastly ignores the sudden sea of faces turning towards you.

“Who isn’t engaged?” one of the villagers calls out, peering at Alois. “Today’s a day for weddings, and of romance!”

“We excel at matchmaking,” another villager declares. “Bring the couple forward, and we’ll have them engaged by daybreak.”

As you shift around restlessly, looking uneasily at Edelgard, you feel a sudden, familiar presence materializing behind you.

“Please leave this to me, Lady Edelgard, and make your escape through the back room,” Hubert says in a low voice. He’s supporting a barely conscious Ferdinand on his arm, and he nods at you as well. “Please go with her, Professor. I will handle this buffoon.”

Taking a step forward, Hubert stands before Alois, throwing out his black cloak as he walks and in the process mostly shielding you and Edelgard from view of the rest of the crowd. “It is little business of yours whether or not Ferdinand and I are engaged,” he says coolly. He gives Ferdinand a little shake, making him stand up a little straighter on his own, and Hubert adds, “When two people are in love, they do not require formal ceremony.”

“Huh?” Alois stares at Hubert, perplexed. “I wasn’t talking about you and Ferdinand, I was talking about—”

“In love?” Ferdinand repeats, his words slurred and his expression bemused. “Who is in love?”

“You and I, of course,” Hubert says smoothly, and you make your escape with Edelgard through the back of the tavern just as you see Ferdinand splutter in bewilderment and take another tumble onto the floor.

Outside, the air feels open and crisp, a welcome change from the crowded confines of the tavern. Edelgard grumbles to herself as she stalks quickly through the village, and you stride to keep up with her.

“Honestly, that man is ridiculous,” she says, shaking her head. “Coming to such preposterous assumptions on his own. I know that he means well, but our personal affairs are hardly any of his business.”

You’re quiet and thoughtful, your eyes straying back to the ring on Edelgard’s finger. Marriage. The concept hadn’t entered your mind before now, but now it’s stuck on repeat as you consider the notion. Marriage occurs when two people love one another. You love Edelgard. But you know that with Edelgard, things probably aren’t that simple.

“Professor,” Edelgard says, slowing suddenly. You’re at the outskirts of the village now, nearing the rivers by the trees. She’s still flushed, from what’s likely a mix of anger, embarrassment, and the effects of the drinks she imbibed. “Please disregard what he was saying. There is no reason why we should or should not be at any particular phase of our relationship at this point. We will do things at our pace,” she says firmly, staring up at you.

You nod slowly. “I know.” You pause, thinking, and then say, “During our academy days, Dorothea once told me that you probably had a complicated life when it came to romance. That you probably wouldn’t be able to marry who you loved. That it would have to be political.”

Edelgard stops walking entirely. She turns to you, brow furrowed, and seems to consider your question before responding. “I do recall having a conversation like that with her in the past. And perhaps in the past, when I was still the Imperial princess, and my plans had yet to come to fruition, such a union would have been necessary,” she says. Then she shakes her head. “But no longer.”

You feel a sudden lightness in your chest; you hadn’t realize how concerned you had been about this until it was lifted. “Politics won’t force it?” you ask, to be sure.

“I am the ruler of all of Fodlan,” Edelgard declares, frowning. “I create its politics. And I will firmly strike down whatever ridiculous situation that might demand I marry anyone who I do not wish to marry. As I told you, I intend to abdicate the throne once we have fulfilled our plans, so there is no need for me to produce an heir. If I do wed, it will only be to someone that I wholeheartedly wish to wed.”

You smile a little. Edelgard had a habit of making everything sound so simple. “And what kind of person would you wish to wed?” you ask, genuinely curious. She had such high standards about everything; you imagine it would be even more so for marriage.

Edelgard looks at you, brow knit, and she huffs out a little sigh. “Well. Let’s see. I imagine it would be someone who is intelligent and driven. Compassionate. Patient, but firm. Strong, but kind.”

You nod. A bit standard, but it does sound like someone Edelgard would like.

But then Edelgard looks at you askance and continues, “She would also have to be terribly clueless. The more utterly oblivious, the better. Emotionally underdeveloped and socially unaware. Blunt as a hammer and completely tactless.”

You frown. A person like that sounds awful. “Edelgard,” you say, shaking your head. “You have terrible taste.”

Edelgard surprises you by chuckling. “I almost forgot to add ‘impossibly dense’ to the list.” She steps closer to you, smiling. You don’t know if it’s the drink, but she seems especially beautiful tonight, and her smile is unusually easy and open. “Do you know someone like that, Professor?” she says, listing her head slightly to one side as she stares up at you. There’s a playfulness to her that you don’t normally see; you know it’s likely due at least in part to the alcohol, but you like the sight of it.

Distracted as you are with admiring Edelgard, it takes you another few moments to finally get what she’s saying. “Oh,” you say. You shuffle a little, feeling a sudden warmth spreading through you. But then you frown. “I am all of those things. And I still maintain that you have terrible taste. Those are all flaws, Edelgard.”

“If they are flaws, I do not find them to be particularly troublesome ones,” Edelgard replies, still smiling. “If anything, they are endearing, Professor. If a bit frustrating at times, admittedly.” She hesitates, her fingers toying with the ring.

She looks back up at you, and takes another step closer. Her gaze is serious again, the mirth fading as she places a gentle hand against your chest. “If I were to marry anyone,” she says very quietly, “It would be you. It’s only ever been you, Byleth.”

You open your mouth to respond, but no words come out. You’ve never been particularly good with words, but your chest feels close to bursting and you need to respond somehow. The only words that you desperately want to say are the ones you can’t say—not until you have all the cake and poems and other preparations (they seem oddly insignificant now, but Manuela did insist they were necessary). So you do the next best thing and draw her close into a kiss.

Edelgard sighs softly against your lips, sinking into you, and you feel that familiar tug of want pulling at you as your lips move against hers. Your mind drifts to the river, and Dorothea’s words. But then you pull back, remembering something.

Edelgard stares up at you, cheeks flushed and gaze a little dazed, and that desire inside of you stokes just a bit hotter. “Is something wrong, Professor?” she says.

Firmly tamping down the warmth inside you, you nod. “You drank a lot, Edelgard,” you state, gently easing her back. “So I’m canceling the river rendezvous.”

Edelgard frowns in confusion. “The river rendezvous—” Stopping, she flushes a deeper shade of red. “Th-that—Professor, that meeting was planned for your…relief. My state of inebriation hardly matters. Furthermore, I did not drink that much,” she adds, looking indignant. “I have been perfectly cognizant and capable of coherent thought all night.”

You take a quick step back. “Okay. Then stand on one foot, Edelgard.”

Edelgard opens her mouth to protest, but then closes it again and frowns, gaze narrowed in resolve. “Very well. If you insist on being ridiculous regarding this matter.” She stands on one foot, and manages to balance for a grand total of about two seconds before swaying dangerously to one side.

You move forward immediately, steadying her, and Edelgard grumbles as she straightens back up again. “Honestly, Professor. Perhaps my balance is affected, but my mind is not. If you wish to—”

“No,” you say. “You’re drunk. It wouldn’t be right. We’re going to bathe. And then we’re going to sleep. Maybe I’ll take care of myself during the rest of the carriage ride to Anvil, as long as we’re riding alone.” Edelgard makes a faint, coughing sound, and you continue, “I know you normally bathe alone. I won’t look at you, but I’m going to come with you. I don’t want you to drown.”

Edelgard frowns. “I am inebriated, Professor, not fatally incompetent,” she complains, but she brooks no further argument as you guide her towards the inn.

The army normally bathes in the rivers, but Edelgard has always taken her baths alone, drawn in a basin in her quarters; you have your suspicions for why this is, but you never questioned it, and you know she’s most likely arranged for the same now.

The tavern is close to the inn but thankfully far enough away that you can escape into the inn without being detected. You wonder how poor Ferdinand is faring with Alois and Hubert as you guide Edelgard up the stairs, walking with her into her room.

Hubert paid for the largest room in the inn, but it’s still fairly small; it fits one bed, a washtub in the center, and a small fire blazing at the hearth. You spot the pot of water heated up by the fire, and nod towards it.

“Use it,” you say. “If you need more, I’ll get some for you.” You turn away, facing the door, and bolt it to ensure complete privacy. “If you want, I can also blindfold myself,” you offer.

You hear Edelgard chuckle behind you. “That won’t be unnecessary, Professor. Thank you.”

You nod, and you wait. You hear the clanking of iron and steel as she takes off her armor, the thump of leather as she steps out of her boots. But then there’s a long silence behind you. You listen for the sound of rustling clothing, or footsteps. But there’s nothing else at all.

“…Edelgard?” You’re beginning to worry she’s passed out when you suddenly feel her hand against your back, her fingers winding in the cotton of your tunic. “…what’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” Edelgard replies. Despite the evenness of her tone, you can feel her hand trembling slightly. “It’s just…I was thinking, Professor, that perhaps…perhaps tonight, you could see me.”

“See you?” You process her words and her nervousness, frowning.

“Yes. All of me,” she says, and you understand.

You turn around to face her, and find her looking uncertainly back up at you, still dressed in one of her simple cotton shifts. It’s always the least covered up you’ve ever seen her. Even the other night, you’d only seen her legs. Never anything above her thighs or below her collarbone. “Not in a…carnal way,” Edelgard adds. “You’ve made yourself quite clear on that matter for tonight. But I’ve been considering this for some time now. I’ve been…meaning to show you, for some time now. But I never quite had the courage.”

You look at her quietly. “There’s no rush, El.” You take her hand in yours, and feel her fingers still shaking slightly. It makes your chest ache strangely, and you bring her hand up to your lips. You soothe each finger with a kiss, hoping to will away the shaking, and you gaze seriously down at her. “Not for tonight, or any night. You said it yourself. We move at our own pace.”

Edelgard nods, a small smile crossing her face. “I know. But I trust you, Professor. And I…I want to show you.”

You squeeze her hands. “If you’re sure.” You pause, thinking, and then say, “What can I do to make you more comfortable? I can strip too, if you like.”

Edelgard coughs lightly, turning pink, and she shakes her head. “That’s…kind of you to offer, Professor, but I think that would shift the mood of this endeavor significantly. At least for me.” She hesitates, looking at you. “Though…if you could perhaps remove only some of your clothing. Perhaps remain in your smallclothes. I do think that might help.”

You nod, and make quick work of your clothing, dumping it unceremoniously on the ground until you’re left standing in your smallclothes.

Edelgard sputters out a startled laugh. “You do make it look so easy, Professor,” she says, smiling at the heap of clothing on the floor. Her eyes rise slowly, roaming up your form, and her smile fades as she takes you in.

Her expression is solemn as she stares at you, a gentle sort of admiration in her gaze. “You…are very beautiful, Byleth,” she says. “I do not tell you so nearly as much as I should, but I do hope you know that.”

You tilt your head to one side as you consider the word. “I’m not sure I know what beauty is,” you say honestly. “Aside from you.”

Edelgard breaks your shared gaze as she frowns down at the floor. She really does blush easily, you think. “For someone with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer, you do enjoy spouting these embarrassing lines,” she says. Her gaze moves up again, settling by your chest area. At first you think she’s staring at your heart, but then she says, “Perhaps this isn’t a very appropriate time or question, Professor, but I’ve always wanted to ask…”

She clears her throat, coloring in obvious embarrassment, but continues on, “Those are…exceedingly large. Don’t they ever…get in the way? When you’re fighting, I mean.”

It takes you a moment to realize she’s talking about your breasts, and you glance down at them as you nod. “They did. Sometimes they still do. But a long time ago, a few years after I hit puberty, an older woman in the mercenary troupe taught me how to weaponize them.”

“Weaponize them?” Edelgard repeats, looking baffled.

You nod again. “My regular outfit. The one I wear most of the time. It was a gift from her. She taught me that if people are distracted by these,” –you gesture at your breasts— “then I have a better chance at winning the fight. My outfit pushes them up, you know. Like this.” You demonstrate, and Edelgard coughs, averting her gaze.

“Yes, Professor, I have seen you wear it before, thank you,” she says quickly. “So it’s a distraction technique?”

You nod, looking grave. “It’s deadly.”

For a moment, Edelgard only stares at you, eyes wide. Then she smiles, eyes dropping away as she lets out low, easy laughter. Some of the tension in her shoulders relaxes.

You blink at her. You feel yourself smiling simply because she’s smiling, and it makes you happy to see her happy. But you don’t understand. “You don’t believe me?” you say.

Edelgard shakes her head. “I do believe you. It’s just…it’s rather incredible how at ease I can be with you, talking about such ridiculous things.” She smiles again. “Thank you, Professor. You do have the strangest ways of making my worries fade away.”

She grips your hands tightly. She’s removed her gloves on her own already, and her skin is warm against yours. Her smile fades, but the warmth in her gaze remains as she looks up at you. “…what they did to me during those implantation experiments. You’ve seen a few scars here and there, Professor. On my hands. My arms. My legs. But the worst of it…you haven’t yet seen. Most of it is concentrated around the heart; it’s where implantation is most effective, as you must know better than most.” Her lips twist ruefully. “They made sure to keep most of the damage concentrated to this area. It would not do to have the future emperor scarred and twisted where others could see, after all.”

An anger that you feel mirrored inside you at her words darkens her expression. But then she looks back at you, and it clears. “…but that is in the past. Right now, I’m here with you.” She brings your hands up to her shoulders, settling them by the straps of her dress. “…I am ready, Professor,” she says softly. “When you are ready, please remove it for me.”

You take a moment to wait, preparing yourself as much as you’re giving Edelgard time to stop you, if necessary. Then you begin to move slowly, gently. You work the straps down past her shoulders, easing the dress down her torso, and watch as the dress slides the rest of the way down, pooling at her feet.

And you look at her. Everything she said is true; thick, jagged scars mar the skin of her chest, concentrated heavily around where her heart is. Dozens of other scars run down the rest of her torso, extending down to her hip, and several ropy scars cross her back and shoulders.

For just a moment, a cold anger seeps into you, and you want nothing more than to crush each and every one of the people who had ever laid a hand on her. But then you blink again, and you remember Edelgard is here in front of you. Alive and strong, beyond their reach and anything they did to her.

You have her, and they never will again.

As quickly as it came, your anger fades, and your chest aches with an entirely different emotion.

“El,” you say softly. Your voice comes out strange, unusually heavy with emotion.

You trace the scars over her chest with your hand, keeping each touch slow and gentle. And then you lower your head and press a reverent kiss to the scarring above her heart. You feel her go still under you, and you kiss her again. Your fingers trail each scar carved across her skin, and your lips follow them soon after. You move on a slow downward path, lowering yourself onto your knees as you press a kiss to the scar on her hip. Edelgard shivers under your touch, her gaze penetrating and fixed intently on yours.

When you rise again, you press one last, gentle kiss to her lips.

“Thank you showing me,” you murmur. You wrap your arms around her, drawing her near. You want to say more, but words fail you, and you can only hope that she understands your feelings like she always does as you hold her close.  

Edelgard is quiet in your arms, her own arms tight around you. You feel the fine tremors of her frame, and you wait until she’s ready to speak.

“Despite the agony they resulted from, despite my hatred for those that inflicted them…I would not erase a single one of these scars,” she says finally, her voice soft. Her fingers trace the ragged end of one of them, running across her ribs. “They are proof of what I survived, proof of the atrocities that my siblings were forced to endure, and proof of my convictions to build a world in which no one else will suffer scars like these ever again.”

Looking up at you again, she smiles ruefully. “Still, here I am, once again seeking your approval. I had always known you weren’t the sort of person who would look negatively upon such things, and yet…” She pulls closer to you, her head resting against your shoulder. “I found myself anxious regardless.”

You shake your head, squeezing her. “There was no reason to be. There was never any reason to be.” You press a kiss to her temple. “I meant what I said before. I didn’t understand the concept of beauty until I met you.” Tilting your head, you stare down at her seriously. “So it’s impossible for me to not find you beautiful.”

Edelgard clears her throat, the tips of her ears pink as she resolutely refuses to meet your gaze. “Has writing poetry with Bernadetta affected you, Professor? I am used to your bluntness, but your capacity for saying…these kinds of things seems to have magnified.”

You blink. “Oh. Poetry. I was supposed to be writing things down when I became inspired.” Humming thoughtfully, you trace gentle patterns against Edelgard’s back. “I feel very inspired now, but I don’t suppose I should write about this.”

“It…would be preferable if you didn’t,” Edelgard confirmed, lips twitching into a small smile. “Or else Bernadetta might flee all the way back to her room in Enbarr and never come out again.”

You smile, and meet Edelgard’s lips in one last kiss before you finally break apart and you nod towards the washbasin. “Let me help you wash.”

You help her into the basin, and are in the process of pouring the hot water onto her when you stop and tug her close to you again, pulling her back flush against you.

“Professor,” Edelgard says, chuckling. “You’re going to get wet.”

“I don’t care.” You frown. You feel the overwhelming desire to say those three forbidden words again. You want nothing more than to tell Edelgard that you love her, and this desire is far stronger than even the hungers you’d felt the previous night. “I just wanted to tell you that I…I really do…like you, Edelgard.” The word sounds woefully inadequate, and you can’t hide the sigh of frustration that escapes you. “I care about you. More than anything or anyone. I’m very grateful that you trusted me with this.”

Edelgard turns slightly in your grasp, her expression gentle and warm. “Thank you for waiting for me, Professor. I…care about you, as well. More than anything, or anyone.”

You know that there are words left unspoken, hanging in the air, but you continue the bath and let them remain for now.

You wash up once Edelgard is done, and afterwards you sit on the edge of the bed as Edelgard settles into it. “Hubert booked me the room the next one over,” you say. “I’ll be there if you need me.” You’re beginning to rise when Edelgard catches your arm.

“Both the villagers and our army are either drunk or sleeping by now,” she says. She tugs lightly, and you sit back onto the bed. “No one will notice whether you are in here or in a separate room.” She hesitates for a moment, but then her grip strengthens and she pulls you more firmly back. “Stay with me tonight, Professor. It might be a bit of a tight fit on this bed, but…”

You smile. “That’s fine. It’ll give me more of an excuse to stick close to you.” You wrap your arms around her in demonstration, and Edelgard lets out a little laugh as you fall back onto the bed together.

Pressing your forehead lightly against hers, you lean close over her, nuzzling closer as you kiss her. “This is dangerous,” you state. “I might never want to sleep on my own again.”

Edelgard chuckles, looping her arms around the back of your neck and pulling you down for another kiss. “Perhaps that was my plan all along,” she murmurs against your lips. “You are not the only one who can strategize, Professor.”

It is a tight fit on the bed, but Edelgard is warm against you, and as you pull her closer you know there’s nowhere else in the world you’d rather be. Perhaps you can’t tell her those specific words just yet.

But for now, this much is enough.

Chapter Text

Until recently, your dreams were always the same. Sothis. Seiros. Nemesis and the battlefield. It was interesting enough, if not repetitive.

Throughout the past few years, your dreams have changed. You’ve dreamt of the members of your class, of the war, of death and loss. You’ve dreamt of peacetime and flowers. You’ve dreamt of fishing. Lots of fishing. You like those dreams.

You’ve dreamt of Edelgard. Edelgard at peace, smiling, reaching for your hand. You’ve liked these dreams the most.

At least until tonight.

You know it’s a dream because of how foggy the details are. Normally when you’re with Edelgard, you’re hyperaware of everything she does. Now, you see everything through a mist. Though you normally want to see her as clearly as possible, right now you’re grateful for the mist. Otherwise, you’re fairly certain your heart would implode.

Because Edelgard is writhing beneath you, her moans and gasps drifting through you, and you feel the phantom touch of her skin, hot and soft against yours. Her sounds are wordless, yet you recognize the pitch of them, breathless and pleading. You touch her, your own movements rough with desire, and you feel your fingers enveloped in a wet heat. She cries out, hips rocking into you, and everything moves faster, melting into your own moans as you push in deeper, each thrust of your fingers fast and merciless—

Ow.

A sharp pain jolts you awake, and you staring up at a spinning ceiling and the corner of the bed’s headboard near your arm; you must’ve banged against the corner in your sleep. Your mouth is dry and your head aches slightly. It seems you really did drink more than you anticipated after all. You spend about a second being thankful you’re still a full day and a half’s journey from Anvil to give you time to recuperate before you’re jumping again in surprise when you notice Edelgard shifting beside you.

“…Professor?” She blinks up at you sleepily, still burrowed in the sheets. “Are you all right?” The banging sound must’ve woken her up, and you’re opening your mouth to apologize when your words suddenly catch in your throat.

You stare at her for a moment, remembering the dream, and a strange wave of heat suddenly hits you. Embarrassment, you remember. This is what embarrassment feels like. Embarrassment mingling with the still simmering heat inside you from the dream.

The dream is over, but you still feel feverish; if anything, it’s worse now. Because while dream-Edelgard was hazy and distant, actual Edelgard is right here in front of you. Her hair is tousled from the night, her gaze hooded with sleepiness, and her nightdress is a rumpled mess. Not-dream Edelgard is very real and very beautiful, and you feel the heat inside you bubbling up again.

Before you can really think about it, your body is moving, tugging her close to you and bringing your lips together. You hear the hitch of surprise in her breath at your sudden kiss, and you feel the softness of her lips as she yields to you, slow and gentle. You feel the warmth of her body against yours, the hard cords of muscle and softness of curves, and you pull her closer as you deepen the kiss.

Your hands roam restlessly, one curving down by her backside and the other moving up her leg, fingers digging into the soft flesh of her thigh.

Edelgard pulls back slightly and breaks the kiss for a moment, looking more awake now as her eyes widen with confusion. “P-Professor? What’s gotten into you, so early in the morning?” she says, her voice still husky with sleep.

You pause, even as your body urges you to continue. “You don’t like it?”

Edelgard flushes red as she frowns at you. “You know I do. I just—I’m a little confused, is all. Did something happen?” She doesn’t sound displeased, but you know you should still probably stop anyway. The army will be picking up camp to depart soon, and they can’t go anywhere without the two of you.

Still, you can’t resist kissing her again—one last time, you tell yourself. But your hunger that’s been building up for the past several days pours into the kiss, hard and demanding, and you delve into the heat of her mouth with a ravenous appetite that almost alarms you. Your control is slipping. Which is definitely a problem. Dangerous, you think. This is dangerous. You have to stop.

Yet you find your body moving as you push her into the mattress, lips and tongue still plundering greedily as your hands continue to roam. You grip at the curve of her backside, the dip of her waist, squeezing and caressing as you listen for the little stutters in Edelgard’s breath; you want to leave her breathless, leave her gasping, and your hand moves up, tracing the swell of her breast over the thin cotton of her dress. The motion draws out exactly the kind of hitch in her breath you wanted to hear, the upward pitch of her voice straining out. Byleth, she stammers, before you cover her mouth with yours again, your tongue entangling with hers.

The heat inside you boils over. You want her. You want to hear your name from her lips, spilling out in desperation and desire. You want to pin her against the mattress, see her fingers tangling helplessly in the white sheets. You want to kiss every part of her body, to map out every inch of her skin with your lips and drive her to the brink with your tongue. You want to have her utterly, again and again until she’s writhing and breaking apart from the sensation of it. You want to ruin her.

And so you stop.

You rear back, hands trembling with the exertion of it and body bemoaning the sudden loss of her warmth against you. Edelgard stares up at you, wide-eyed and flushed, her breathing coming in short gasps and her expression entirely bewildered.

“Professor—”

“That was dangerous,” you say, getting rapidly to your feet. You fling the covers back and you pace the length of the room, looking around for your clothes. “Very dangerous.”

“W-what—”

“Sorry, Edelgard,” you tell her, your voice unsteady. “I need to go somewhere. Maybe find the rivers or the ocean. Or a rock.” Maybe you can hit yourself with it. At present, only blunt force trauma seems like it would be capable of stopping the thoughts racing through your mind. “I’ll meet you at the carriage when it’s time for departure.”

You find your clothes and shimmy into them, working as quickly as you can. For the first time ever, you regret your choice of clothing; the top squeezes at you, the friction only adding to the heat of your skin, while the ripped tights suddenly feel far too exposed.

Your hand is on the doorknob when you suddenly feel Edelgard’s fingers wrapping around your wrist and whirling you back around again.

She’s scowling when you turn to face her, but the naked worry in her eyes is what stops you in your tracks. “Professor, please stop for just a moment and tell me what on earth is going on. I will let you go to wherever you need to go, and will gladly assist however I can, but I need to know what’s happening, first.” She looks up at you, brow knit in concern even as she still visibly struggles to catch her breath. “Are you all right? Since the moment you woke up, you’ve seemed…agitated.”

You will yourself to relax, taking in your own deep, steadying breaths. “Yes,” you say finally. “Or no. I’m healthy, but I’m not all right. I…had a dream. About you. A nice one.” You pause, frown, and then amend, “A sexual one.” You notice Edelgard shifting back in embarrassment, her hand falling away from your wrist, but you continue, “Like I said, it was a nice dream. But also bad, because I’m wound up enough as it is.”

You shake your head, your body still trembling. “And when I woke up, I felt out of control.” You struggle to think of a comparison. “Like…a hungry wild animal.” You remember watching jackals circling their prey once when you were younger, and remember the voracious look in those black eyes. “I still kind of feel that way. And what I really want to eat is you.”

“E-eat?”

“Yes.” You nod. “Devour,” you say, to be more specific. “So I have to leave before I do. It’s dangerous. I’ll see you later, Edelgard.” You turn back to the door and open it.

“Professor,” she calls out, sounding a mix of exasperated and still-confused, but you hurry out of the room before she can say anything else, all but fleeing the inn.

As you walk through the village, bracing against the cool morning winds, you make a mental note to apologize to Edelgard later. It wasn’t polite to run away like that. But it was the only thing you could think to do. A moment longer in the room alone with her and your control might’ve broken entirely.

You stride quickly through the square, slowing only when you spot members of the army and strike force preparing the wagons and carriages for departure at the edge of the village.

You see Ferdinand first, gingerly cradling his head as he sits near a pile of vulneries and concoctions. He looks up as you approach, and his eyes widen as he shoots to his feet.

“Professor!” His voice is even louder than usual, and he winces at the sound of it, still cradling his head. He continues in a slightly quieter voice: “It is good to see you up and about so early in the morning. Industriousness is the true mark of nobility, no?” Though his words seem familiar enough, he seems oddly restless as he glances around, as though he’s on the lookout for someone.

“Yes,” you say, nodding. You’re feeling restless yourself, and his nervous energy only further agitates you. “Did you have a good night?”

“A good night?” Ferdinand repeats, looking oddly panicked by the question. “No! I had a perfectly uneventful night. Perfectly boring. Nothing happened. Nothing at all, Professor. In fact, so much nothing happened, it was excellent. I hope your night was as utterly uneventful as mine.”

You stare at him blankly. “Okay. I’m glad your night was peaceful.”

“Yes, peaceful,” Ferdinand agrees, nodding frantically. “It was, very much so. Nothing happened,” he reminds you.

“And by nothing, he means that after you and Edie escaped, he and Hubie drunkenly argued until they were suddenly making out in the corner of the tavern all night,” a voice says from behind you, and you turn to see Dorothea smirking at you just as you hear Ferdinand yelping in horror over your shoulder.

“I would never,” Ferdinand protests, nearly tripping over a vulnerary by his feet.

Dorothea sidles up to you, giving you a conspiratorial wink as she frowns at Ferdinand. “Oh? And why not? Is there something you don’t like about Hubie? I think he’s rather handsome, in that tall, dark, kind-of-creepy way.”

Ferdinand shakes his head, cheeks bright pink. “It is nothing against Hubert. He is…quite agreeable to look at, yes,” he says, running a fidgety hand through his long hair. “Excellent bone structure. And his eyes are quite striking. And—” Coughing abruptly, Ferdinand continues, “But that is not relevant. A noble would not display such public affection and drunkenness. It must have been a trick of the evening light, Dorothea.”

Dorothea tilts her head, eyes sparkling with mischief. “Oh, really? Hubie would be so sad to hear you say that. He seemed so happy about the whole thing last night…”

You watch as Ferdinand perks up, eyes wide and hopeful. “H-he did? Are you certain? I thought it was merely a drunken encounter, but perhaps…” He breaks off again and coughs once more into his fist. “Anyway! Dorothea, Professor, you are both looking radiant with beauty this morning. Did you have pleasant nights as well?”

“So your night was pleasant after all?” Dorothea says, chuckling. When Ferdinand splutters, she continues, “But yes, thank you, my night was lovely.” Her smirk becomes a smile, broad and warm as she turns to you. “In fact, it was wonderful. Professor, look at this beautiful bracelet Petra made for me.” Dorothea holds up her wrist, showing off a finely woven bracelet inlaid with precious stones. “She’s been working on it since the war ended. She said it was thanks for the ‘warmth you are making in my heart.’ Isn’t it lovely? Isn’t she lovely?”

You nod, staring curiously from the bracelet to the open joy on Dorothea’s face. “It looks very well-made.” You wonder if Edelgard would like it if you made some jewelry for her.

Dorothea beams. “Of course I couldn’t help but just kiss her silly after that. I daresay we gave Hubie and Ferdie over there a run for their money.”

As Ferdinand sputters helplessly, you hear the tramp of boots behind you and three more familiar voices.

“Yes, yes, you’re all young and in love,” Manuela grumbles, scowling as she nurses some kind of concoction in her hand. “And so loud for so early in the morning. My goodness, what I would give to have the hangover-resistance of my twenties once more.” She takes a swig from the concoction, wincing as she knocks it back. “Meanwhile, the handsome blacksmith I was chatting with seems to have mysteriously vanished into thin air. Like they all do.”

“That’s probably because you knocked him out, Professor Manuela,” Sylvain says, grinning. “Gotta say, you’ve got a mean right hook. Poor guy never saw it coming.”

“Well he was getting awfully inappropriate,” Lysithea chimes in, arms laden with elixirs for the pile of supplies. “I would’ve fried him long before Professor Manuela did.”

“You’d take any excuse to fry anyone,” Sylvain says, chuckling.

“Only people that deserve it,” Lysithea replies, with a pointed scowl, and Sylvain stops laughing. Turning to you, Lysithea smiles and nods. “Good morning, Professor. I’m glad to see you up and about. I’m eager to set out for Anvil and see what exactly it is we’re dealing with there.”

You nod, feeling some relief at a topic that feels familiar to you. Battle isn’t something you enjoy, but it is something you’re good at and know how to navigate. “We’re about a day and half’s ride away. It would be best to make camp nearby, and then begin our investigation under the cover of night. We don’t want them to know when exactly we’ve arrived.”

“Yeah, yeah, sounds like a plan,” Sylvain says, waving a hand around carelessly. “Probably just some stragglers trying to put up a token resistance. Nothing to worry about. Back to more interesting topics: how was your night, Professor?” He grins, head cocked as he looks down at you. “Don’t think I didn’t notice you and Edelgard sneaking out through the back.”

“Um, maybe we shouldn’t talk about this right now?” Dorothea says, glancing worriedly at Lysithea. “There are children around.”

Lysithea immediately scowls. “I’m not a child—I’m twenty years old,” she says, looking indignant. “And I want to hear how the professor’s night was, too.”

Dorothea looks unconvinced, but Manuela also turns to you, eyes wide and curious. “I want to know as well, Professor. At least one of the monastery’s former professors should be having some success in the world of carnality. Though not too much fun; you still haven’t finished preparations, after all.”

As Lysithea frowns in confusion, quietly mouthing world of carnality to herself as she seems to puzzle it out, you shake your head, feeling unsettled all over again.

“Nothing like that happened. Last night, anyway. But I woke up this morning because of a dream I had about her. And then my control slipped.” You pause; even you know that Edelgard likely wouldn’t appreciate you spilling all of the details of your private moments in front of a group of people. You try to think of a way to express what happened as vaguely as possible. You’re reminded of the hunger you felt, and nod decisively. “I wanted to devour her,” you tell them. “I almost did, before I ran away.”

“Why, Professor,” Manuela says, grinning at you. “How much you’ve matured. To think you’d come running down to the infirmary after some open-mouthed kissing only a little while ago.”

“Devour?” Lysithea says, looking alarmed. “Why would you want to do that?” 

“One day, when you’re older,” Dorothea says to her, “you’ll meet someone who you like just as much as those cakes you’re always eating, Lysithea.”

Sylvain chuckles, letting out a low whistle as he winks at you. “I know that feeling, Professor. Felt it just last night with the looks Ingrid was throwing my way. It’s like a beast is raging inside you, right? Thankfully, I didn’t have to hold myself back once we got back to our room. You’re a strong woman for being able to do so.”

“A beast?” Ferdinand says, looking startled. “I do not know this feeling. I do not think I have ever experienced it before.”

“That’s because you’re a bottom, Ferdie,” Dorothea says dismissively.

Manuela chuckles as Ferdinand makes an odd, strangled kind of noise. “True. And I have to say, Professor, I thought you would be the same. Between the commanding emperor and the clueless professor, I didn’t quite think you’d be the one with the beast inside you.” She grins. “I’m impressed.”

“Bottom? Beast?” Lysithea looks increasingly confused and frustrated. “I don’t understand. What are you talking about?”

Everyone hesitates until Sylvain shrugs and says, “The professor and Edelgard are getting frisky. But the professor—and Edelgard too, probably—is really new to this whole sex thing, and so now she’s getting all freaked out by how much she wants Edelgard and how hard those desires are to control. That right, Professor?”

You nod. “More or less.” You stare at Lysithea in concern as she makes a strange sound, her face bright red.

“Wha—what—” For a moment, Lysithea just gapes wordlessly, her face getting increasingly scarlet. Then, rearing back, she whirls and kicks Sylvain in the shin. “Why would you tell me that?”

Sylvain yelps, hopping back. “You asked,” he protests.

Lysithea shakes her head, pressing the heels of her hands against her eyes. “Augh. No. This is like hearing inappropriate things about your parents. I did not ever want to know this.”

You stare at her curiously. “Do you think of Edelgard and me as your parents, Lysithea?”

Her gaze snapping back up again, Lysithea flushes an even deeper red. “Of course not! I—I just—”

“Professor! There you are.” You hear Edelgard’s voice behind you, and you feel a spike of panic even as Lysithea sighs in relief at the interruption. Edelgard appears beside you, brow furrowed in mingled concern and irritation as she gazes up at you. “Honestly, please don’t ever run off like that again.”

“Well, speak of the devil,” Manuela says, grinning. “How are you, Edelgard?”

There’s a slyness to her voice and her expression that even you notice, which means Edelgard is sure to detect it as well. Edelgard stares warily at Manuela nodding once. “I’m well, thank you, Professor Manuela.”

Manuela nods, still grinning. “Well and unfortunately un-devoured, I see.”

Edelgard frowns in confusion while Dorothea giggles and Lysithea covers up her ears. “I can’t take this,” Lysithea complains, looking distressed. “I need to leave right now.”

“Oh, Lysithea,” Edelgard says before Lysithea can run off. “I ran into one of the village bakers on the way out here, and she said she’s made some extra apple cobbler, if you would like some. It’s important to have a large breakfast before setting out for the road.”

Lysithea hesitates, her obvious desire to flee clearly conflicting with her desire for sweets. “I’m perfectly capable of acquiring breakfast on my own,” she says, finally. “But if you insist, I will stop by and pick some up. Thank you.”

Chuckling, Edelgard nods. “Good girl,” she says, and Lysithea grimaces. “If you go now, they should still be warm.”

“You know I hate it when you call me that,” Lysithea grumbles, but she obediently turns to march off all the same. But then, pausing again, she turns to you. “Perhaps it is not my place to say this, but please don’t devour her, Professor,” she says, eyes narrowed and face still crimson. “That sort of thing is supposed to be done gently. With love.”

You nod solemnly. “I know,” you tell her, and Lysithea returns your grave nod before running off.

Edelgard looks after her in confusion before turning to you. “Devour?” she repeats. She shifts her gaze to Manuela. “What on earth were you talking about before I arrived?”

“You,” Dorothea replies, looking impish. “About how utterly adorable you are, Edie, and how our dear professor is having a terribly difficult time resisting you.”

Edelgard stares at her for a moment, eyes wide, before she whirls on you. “Professor,” she says, her voice low and her face nearly as red as Lysithea’s was a moment ago. “You told them?”

You blink at her. “They asked.”

“Oh come now, Edelgard, we’re all adults here, and more importantly, all friends tested by time,” Manuela says, chuckling. “No need for modesty. Besides, the professor has been confiding in me for weeks now. I was the one who gave her that handy book, remember? I think we’re well past the point of propriety now.”

“Yeah. Besides, the professor’s only been asking around for your sake, Edelgard.” Sylvain leans his head back against his fingers locked behind his head, and grins. “She wants to do right by you, and she’s doing her best, here. You ought to cut her some slack.”

Edelgard pauses, glancing at you with a worried frown. “I know the professor is trying her best; I didn’t mean to imply otherwise.” When you nod, she smiles slightly at you before turning back to the others with another scowl. “I just see little reason why all of you should be included in our private affairs.”

“Wait,” Ferdinand says suddenly. “If I am a ‘bottom,’ and Edelgard is also a bottom, that means we are at a stalemate.” He snaps his fingers, looking triumphant. “Which means all I need to do is become a ‘top’ for me to be the victor of this competition.”

He laughs in delight while Edelgard sighs, the muscles in her jaw working in clear irritation. “I don’t even know what that means, Ferdinand,” she says impatiently. “But regardless, I have little interest in starting up yet another meaningless competition with you. I thought you had tired of this nonsense. Now, if you are quite done with whatever ridiculousness you’ve been feeding the professor, I need to speak with her privately—”

“A bottom is the submissive partner during sexual activity,” Manuela clarifies helpfully. She smiles, wide and teasing. “Sorry to interrupt, Your Majesty. Please do continue whatever it was you were saying. You wanted to have a private moment with the professor? By all means, don’t let us keep you.”

Edelgard is frozen, her lips parted.

“Submissive partner during—” She meets your eyes, and her face suddenly flares with color. “Th-that’s…I’m not—” Stopping, the embarrassment flooding her expression morphs into anger, and she averts her gaze from you to glare at the other four. And, with a grand sweeping gesture of her arm, Edelgard assumes her stance as emperor of all of Fodlan, somehow towering above all of you despite her short stature. Still, the effect is a bit ruined by the crimson flush of color in her cheeks and the context of her words. “You are all a terrible influence on the professor,” she declares, eyes blazing. “Henceforth, you are all forbidden from speaking to her ever again.”

Manuela grins, nodding in approval. “Ooh, now there’s the dominance I was talking about. Well done, Edelgard. Perhaps there’s hope for you yet.”

Dorothea only giggles into her hand, looking highly entertained. “Now, that’s no fair, Edie. I know you want the professor all to yourself, but I’ll miss her far too much if you take up all her time.”

“Was it the bottom thing?” Sylvain asks, chuckling. “Sorry, Edelgard. I told Dorothea you wouldn’t like it if we called you out on it. I mean, I’m sure with absolutely anyone else, you’d absolutely be the dominant one. All ‘I bow to no one’ and all. But we see how you get with the professor, and, you know. It’s pretty obvious.”

They start chattering amongst themselves, and for a while, Edelgard doesn’t respond to any of them. “Professor,” she finally says, her voice strained. She’s rubbing her temples, looking suddenly exhausted, and you feel a pang of concern. “We’re leaving. Immediately.” Snagging your wrist, she drags you off in the direction of the waiting carriages and wagons.

“I see you are already hoping to get a head start on this competition, Edelgard,” Ferdinand calls out after both of you. “But it will not work! The professor is too strong of an opponent. I will be the victor of this match!”

Edelgard doesn’t stop walking, her strides long and quick as she all but races towards the carriage. She ushers you inside, and doesn’t look at you until you’re both inside the carriage and she’s shut the door behind her.

Leaning back against the plush seat, Edelgard heaves a sigh, sinking down in evident fatigue. She’s utterly silent for a full ten seconds, and you lean towards her in concern. “Professor,” she finally says, her face buried in her hands. “Please never talk to any of them ever again.”

You hesitate. “But they’re our friends.”

“For supposed friends, they seem to be doing everything in their power to antagonize me and corrupt you,” Edelgard replies. You recognize from her grumpy tone that she’s more embarrassed and annoyed than genuinely angry, and you relax slightly.

At least until you realize that you’re alone with Edelgard in this carriage. You stiffen, shifting back in your seat slightly, and Edelgard seems to notice your movement.

She looks up, frowning. Before you can pull back to the seat across from her, Edelgard catches your hands, intertwining your fingers with hers in her lap. “Putting them and their absurdity aside,” she says. “I wish to speak with you about what happened this morning, Professor.” Her fingers trace idle patterns against the back of your hand, and you relax a little more, soothed by the contact. “You said you were agitated because of the dream, but I told you before that I…am glad to have you desire me,” she says, coloring slightly. “So I don’t understand why you were so upset this morning.”

You hesitate for a moment, because you’re feeling strangely uneasy about this subject with Edelgard. But you’ve always been honest with her before, and you’re not about to stop now. Considering your words carefully, you nod. “I’m not used to feeling things,” you tell her. “Everything’s always been muted. And now, all of a sudden, it’s as though I’m feeling everything at once. I’m worried it might get to be too much, and that I might do something bad.”

“Something bad?” Edelgard repeats, looking skeptical. “I can’t imagine you doing anything truly bad, Professor, or having the desire to do so.”

You frown, staring down at your joined hands. “…back in the room,” you say. “I wanted you, Edelgard. But it wasn’t just the usual thoughts I have about you. It was overwhelming; almost uncontrolled. I wanted to take you entirely.” You shiver a little at the memory. “I forgot about the flowers, or the poetry, or telling you—” You stop yourself in time. “…or anything and everything important. I just wanted you. I felt like…” You remember Sylvain’s words. “I felt like a beast. A beast that wanted to pin you to the bed and take you over and over until you were utterly wrecked.”

Edelgard doesn’t reply right away, and your nerves are too frayed for you to look up at her. “I…I see,” she says finally, her voice very quiet. “Th-that’s…well. That’s certainly…” She pauses again; you can’t remember the last time you’ve seen her flounder so much for words. “…that is certainly a wealth of emotions to sort through.”

You nod. “I don’t dislike losing control in the same way you do,” you tell her. “But I don’t want to hurt you, Edelgard. Just the thought of it…”

You feel the tremor in your fingers, and Edelgard squeezes gently in response.

“Professor.” Edelgard moves one of her hands up to your jaw, tilting your face up to meet her gaze. You’re startled by the gentleness in her gaze, of the trust and calm. “You would never hurt me,” she says quietly.

“Not on purpose,” you say. Never on purpose. Just the thought causes an almost physical pain clenching in your chest. “But if I lost control—”

“It doesn’t matter.” Edelgard’s voice is calm, and her utter sureness lulls you a little deeper from the worry nagging at you.

You frown up at her. “How can you be so sure? I don’t know what I’m doing half the time, Edelgard. If I ended up breaking you…”

Edelgard’s lips twitch into a small smile. “I’m not so fragile that I would break, Professor. You should know that better than anyone.” She pauses, taking your hand, and brings it up to rest against her cheek. “But…even if you did. It wouldn’t matter, Professor. Because it’s you.”

She pulls you closer, bringing your lips together in a slow kiss. “If you took me,” she says, her breath warm against your lips. “If you broke me.” She kisses you again, fingers running gently through your long hair. “Whatever you wanted to do to me, Professor, it wouldn’t truly hurt me.” She hesitates for a moment, forehead resting against yours, before her eyes rise to meet yours.

“I’ve been thinking, Professor. About my desire for control, and my reluctance to relinquish it,” she says, looking thoughtful. “And I think…so long as it’s you, I will be able to let it go. I’ll be willing to do it.” She smiles, fingers tightening around yours. “So long as it’s you, I’ll be willing to do anything.”

With every word Edelgard says, you feel an odd mix of emotions swelling inside of you, causing a strange constricting feeling in your chest. You do want her. Desperately. But you also love her, more than anything.

The overwhelming sensation makes your chest ache, and you sigh as you lean forward, letting your head rest against Edelgard’s shoulder.

“…Professor?” Edelgard fingers remain gentle as they comb through your hair, and you nestle closer.

“Maybe I’ll be the one who’s going to break,” you mumble against her shoulder. It feels that way now. Your feelings for her are going to crush you.

Around you, the carriage suddenly jolts, and you realize that you’ve started moving. Edelgard shifts in her seat, her hand reaching out to grab the blankets on the seat across from the two of you. “It’ll be another day at least before we reach Anvil,” she says. “Why don’t you rest some more, Professor? We had an early start to the morning, and sleeping on the way will help in recuperating from whatever leftover effects of the alcohol that might be lingering.”

You take one of the blankets, swaddling yourself in it while keeping yourself nestled close to Edelgard. “I can’t,” you state. “I’m still too wound up. I’ll take a nap after I take care of myself.” You pause, glancing at her. “So long as you don’t mind.”

Edelgard looks at you, her previous calm giving way to a startled embarrassment as she wraps her own blanket around herself. “By take care of yourself, you mean…”

“Climax,” you confirm, nodding, and Edelgard coughs. “I couldn’t do it last night, and I want to have it done and over with before we reach Anvil, so my mind is entirely clear for any battles we might face. Since we’re alone in the carriage, now’s a good a time as any. I can do it under the blanket, so you can’t see. But if it would still make you uncomfortable, I won’t.”

You watch as Edelgard pulls the blanket more tightly around herself, her gaze flitting away from yours. “…I don’t entirely understand how you can be so hesitant about some things and so utterly brazen about others, Professor,” she says, staring down at her blanket. It’s red, like most of the things she owns, and emblazoned with the sigil of the empire. She hesitates for a moment before turning in her seat so that she’s facing away from you. “You may of course do whatever it is you need to…relieve yourself,” she says. She’s burrowed deeper into the blanket, swaddled like a cocoon as she huddles in the corner of the carriage. You can still see the tips of her ears, nearly as red as her blanket. “I will attempt to sleep, and thus provide as much privacy as I am able.”

You shift to the opposite side of the carriage, keeping yourself covered with the blanket as you promised. “Thank you, Edelgard.”

It takes you a little time to get started. You’ve never done this before, and while you know the basic mechanics of it, getting it to work properly feels like a challenge. You slip out of your shorts, letting them hit the carriage floor while keeping your tights on. And you let your fingers begin to work underneath them, slow and experimental.

The feeling is nice enough, though nothing particularly earth-shattering. At least until you think of Edelgard. You think of the dream, think of kissing her, and touching her, and suddenly an electric thrill of pleasure is running through you, accompanying each movement of your fingers. You remember how she’d felt rocking against your leg, you remember her voice as she’d touched herself behind you, you remember her expression as you kissed her this morning.

The pleasure and heat inside you crests, and you can’t help the soft moan that spills out from your lips. You notice Edelgard shifting in the corner of the carriage, huddling deeper into the corner, and you hope you’re not keeping her from sleep. But even those worries fade away as the pleasure builds inside you, your fingers moving faster and harder.

You feel something building up, and yet you can’t quite find yourself there yet. It feels good; each thought and memory of Edelgard brings you a bit closer to the peak you’re searching for. But right as you’re there, teetering at the precipice, you can’t quite make the jump.

You groan in frustration, ceasing your movements. Your body is trembling, your mind racing, and yet you’re not there.

After a beat, Edelgard chances a peek over her shoulder. “Are…are you finished, Professor?” she asks, voice unsteady. Her face is bright red, and something tells you that she hadn’t even come close to falling asleep.

You shake your head. “I can’t,” you tell her. Your mind whirs as you try to puzzle out why.

“You…can’t?” Edelgard turns towards you, frowning, and as you look at her, it clicks.

It’s like it was with the dream. The dream was pleasant, but it couldn’t hold a candle to actually being with Edelgard. Your memories are nice, but they’re just phantoms compared to the present, where Edelgard sits only an armspan away from you.

“I can’t finish,” you tell her, your breathing shaky. You realize the blanket you’ve been holding around you has fallen away slightly, and you notice Edelgard looking at you, her eyes drifting down before quickly flicking up to your face again. “I’m thinking about you, but it’s not enough. Not when you’re right here with me.”

Edelgard is quiet, still tucked into her protective blanket-cocoon, and the small, still-coherent part of your mind notes how cute she looks before immediately being subsumed by the hunger occupying the rest of your mental resources.

“I…see.” Edelgard shifts slightly closer to you, watching you carefully. “How…” She looks at you, the flush to her face noticeable even in the dim light of the early morning filtering into the carriage. She swallows. “How can I help, Professor?”

You stare at her intently, mind racing. There are a million different things you could say. And you remember what Edelgard said; if you asked her to do anything right now, she would likely do any one of them for you. The thought overwhelms you. No matter what, you can’t abuse the trust she’s placed in you. So you think, wondering just where you should set the boundary.

“…let me see you,” you say finally. “If you’re okay with that. I want to look at you, El.”

Edelgard’s brow lift in surprise before crinkling in clear embarrassment. “See me as in…”

“Without your clothing,” you clarify, nodding. Even saying it sends another thrill down your spine, and your fingers move lazily against yourself, almost of their own accord. You shiver, leaning your head against the cool window of the carriage. “I won’t touch you. Not yet. But I want to look at you. That should be enough.” More than enough, you think.

Edelgard hesitates, and you’re considering retracting your words when she tugs at her jacket, her fingers moving slowly as she undoes the fastenings. She meets your gaze for a moment before averting her eyes again; you see the fine trembling of her hands, and you feel your own body shuddering in anticipation.

“If you don’t want to, El…” You remind her, just in case, but Edelgard shakes her head.

“I told you I’d be willing to do anything if it’s you, Professor,” she says, her voice firm despite her clear embarrassment. “And I meant it.”

She undoes her hair, and her clothing comes off piece by piece, each article draped on the seat across from her; you watch in rapt attention. You’ve seen her naked before, yet it’s strange how different the mood is now compared to the previous night. She’s beginning to tug at the straps of the last piece of clothing—her cotton shift—when you stop her.

“Wait,” you say, and reach out with your other hand. “Come here. I want to do it.”

Edelgard stares at you, eyes wide with surprise, and you realize your words came out like a command. You’re not used to giving her commands off of the battlefield, and you’re wondering if you should add a please when Edelgard finally moves forward, obeying your order.

She stops when she’s only a small distance from you, close enough that you could touch her if you reached out. You pause when you realize one of your hands is somewhat messy with your unsuccessful attempts under the blanket, and so you reach out with only your other hand instead. It thankfully looks to be an easy enough article of clothing to remove, even with just one hand, and you bring it up to brush against one of the straps.

Edelgard shivers at the contact, and you look up to meet her gaze. There’s the embarrassment that you expected from her, yes, but also a dark, molten heat that reminds you of the hunger gnawing at you from inside. You move slowly, pulling her dress down, and keep your gaze fixed on hers. You hear the soft rustling of fabric as the dress hits the floor of the carriage, and it’s only then that you break your gaze, eyes drifting down to take her in.

“You really are beautiful,” you say softly, your hand ghosting down her side to rest on her hip. Leaning closer, you brush your lips against hers. “Thank you, El.” And, grip tightening against her hip, you tug her closer to you, guiding her forward onto your lap.

“P-Professor?” She lets herself be moved, but her face flames with color once you’ve adjusted her right where you want here, straddling your lap. Her eyes drop down to the blanket, now the only barrier separating you from her. That and your tights, you suppose. “I—this—are you certain you want me this close to you?”

You nod. “I need you as close as possible.” You remove your hand from her hip—the continued contact would be tempting, otherwise—and you slowly begin to resume your movements under the blanket.

Instantly, the sensation is utterly different. You feel your hips rocking forward into your hand and you shudder, gaze drifting up and down her frame as you feel the pressure building much faster and stronger than before.

Reaching up with your other hand, you pull Edelgard down into another kiss, the feeling searing from your lips down throughout your body.

Edelgard says your name shakily when you part; her eyes roam restlessly, moving down and then up again as if she doesn’t quite know where to look. Her hands come to rest on your shoulders, and you watch the movement of her throat as she swallows. “Is it…working?” she asks. Each word sends another shiver of pleasure down your frame.  

You manage a nod. “Yes,” you say, the word coming out as a gasp. You kiss her again, and then again, trailing down the column of her throat and her collar. “Yes,” you repeat, your breath hot and quick against her skin. “It feels good.”

The blanket slips as your movements become faster, and you’re dropping one hand down to pull it back up when Edelgard catches your fingers around hers. “No,” she says quietly. Her hand shakes, her cheeks flushed as her gaze trails down your body. “I…I want to see you as well, Professor.”

You nod, letting the blanket fall, but then you startle when you feel her hands behind you, pulling lightly at your top. “Edelgard—”

“May I?” she says. You haven’t touched her, and yet her breathing is nearly as shaky as yours as she meets your eyes. “Please, Byleth. Let me see you, too.”

You nod again, and temporarily still your movements as Edelgard pulls off your shirt. You’ve never been embarrassed by your body; your regular outfit is revealing enough as it is. Yet there’s something different about being unclothed now that heats your body even further. You swallow hard as Edelgard drops your top and remaining smallclothes to the floor, leaving you only in your tights.

Edelgard spends a long time staring at you, and you feel the heat of her gaze almost as intensely as a touch. Her face remains flushed, and yet her eyes are penetrating as they take you in. “You’re truly lovely, Professor,” she says softly. She leans in, kissing you once. It’s surprisingly gentle, and she does it once more before murmuring, “Please continue.”

So you do, your fingers resuming between your legs and beneath your tights. You’re suddenly hyperaware of each movement now, knowing that Edelgard can see it too, and you struggle against the low groan that escapes your throat. It feels good, amazingly good, and you let your head fall back against the wall of the carriage as the sensation threads through you.

Edelgard shifts forward with you. Her hands remain on your shoulders, but her mouth descends to your throat, her lips trailing down in a mimicry of what you had been doing to her only moments beforehand. Her kisses are harder than yours, the touch of her lips and tongue hotter; it felt good before, but now it feels like every movement is a touch of fire, burning you up. It’s nearly overwhelming, and yet you don’t want it to stop.

You jerk a little when she bites; not hard enough to hurt, but definitely hard enough to bruise. “You’re…going to leave a mark,” you say, your words coming to you slower than they usually do. Your mind is awash with pleasure, and you struggle to even string a thought together.

Edelgard responds with another kiss to your neck, her teeth nipping before her tongue soothes the area. “I want to leave a mark,” she replies, continuing her winding path downwards. “I want people to see them. I want them to know that you’re mine.” The small part of your brain that’s still capable of coherent thought puzzles at this, remembering her desire for subtlety in your relationship, but then Edelgard sucks hard at your skin and that train of thought instantly fizzles out.

She reaches your chest, and her lips pause over the quick, erratic thumping of her heartbeat. “Because you are mine, Byleth,” she says, and her hand comes down to rest over your heart. She moves back up to your lips and kisses you. “This, and every part of you.” She deepens her next kiss, tongue hot against yours, and you feel like you’re melting. She kisses you again and again, and you’re feeling lightheaded, your breath coming in short gasps; you need to breathe, but you don’t want her to stop. Your fingers move rapidly, and you feel dizzy with the pleasure of it all.

She pulls back a bare inch, eyes blazing. “And I’m yours,” she whispers.

It’s her words that send you over the edge. She’s yours, you think, and suddenly everything is going white, the tension in your body snapping and the pleasure cresting to a white-hot wave that sends you spiraling over into a blissful nothingness.

You don’t know how much time passes before you come back to yourself, struggling for breath, and you blink rapidly as you realize you’d collapsed into Edelgard, your head resting against her chest. Your own heartbeat has begun to steady, but you can hear hers stuttering as rapidly as before, getting even faster as you tilt your head up to kiss her again.

“Professor…did you…” Her voice trails off in an unspoken question, and you nod.

“Yes,” you murmur. You feel like you’re floating on a cloud, soft and idyllic. “It felt…very nice.”

Edelgard gazes quietly down at you, her fingers running a hand through your hair. “It was a wonder to watch,” she tells you softly. “You were very beautiful.”

You hum wordlessly in response, feeling contented. But as your senses return to you, you become aware of Edelgard’s body still on top of yours, straddling your lap, and your eyes drift down to the juncture of her thighs.

The evidence of her arousal that you see there shoots you out of your blissful daze, and you straighten as you look up to meet her gaze. You’re now aware of her body, trembling slightly against you, and of the quick rise and fall of her chest. Her frame is taut with tension and her skin is flushed with color, and you’re startled by how affected Edelgard seems to have been by what just transpired. You hadn’t even touched her.

“Edelgard,” you say, peering up at her. “Are you going to be all right?”

Edelgard’s hand stills in your hair, and her brow knits in a faint, uncertain frown. “I…I don’t know,” she says. You shift slightly in your seat, and that motion alone draws a shiver from her on top of you. “I don’t think so,” she admits, the color in her cheeks heightening. “Forgive me, Professor. This was supposed to be about you, and yet…”

You shake your head, drawing her in for another kiss. “I like it,” you tell her. “The fact that you became like this because of me.” You look intently up at her. “Do whatever you need to find relief. Do you want me to turn around? Or—”

“No,” Edelgard says. “I…want you to look at me.” She hesitates, gaze searching yours. “Professor,” she says. “I want you to touch me.”

The calm that had settled over you only moments beforehand instantly shatters from just those words alone. “I can’t,” you reply immediately, trying to ignore the heat that bubbles up inside you again. You’re both amazed and a little frustrated at how quick your body is to respond to her; you’d only just found relief, and yet you find that desire building again. “The preparations aren’t complete.”

Edelgard shakes her head. “You don’t need those preparations, Professor. I told you before. You never needed them.” Her body shifts against you, and you groan at the heat you feel sliding against your thigh. She holds tight to you, and you want to melt into her.

You hesitate, feeling a little lost as to what to do. “But the flowers—”

“I don’t want flowers.” Edelgard kisses you, fingers trembling.

“The poetry,” you mumble, trying to stifle the surge of heat inside you. “I haven’t…”

“I don’t want poetry,” she says. Another kiss, her eyes dark with desire. She takes your hand, sliding it against her waist.

Her breath comes hot against you, and her voice shakes with need. “I just want you.”

With every word, another piece of your self-control snaps, until only tatters remain by a tenuous thread. You feel your hand shaking against her hip, and for a moment, you feel like you did back in the inn, the hunger in you gaping. You struggle for control, remembering why you’re holding yourself back. More than the flowers or poetry, you need to tell her how you feel about her, and Manuela said that moment has to be perfect. It can’t be here, during a haphazard meeting in a carriage on the way to a mission.

As your mind gropes for an excuse you can tell Edelgard without revealing the truth, you remember Dorothea’s advice from when you had danced together. Setting boundaries, you remember.

“Above the waist,” you say, your words quick and impulsive. You’re eager to nail those boundaries down before your control snaps and you cross them. You stare up at Edelgard, your eyes narrowed in determination. “I’ll touch you. But only above the waist.”

Edelgard stares at you for a moment, looking startled. Her brow furrows slightly. “That…Professor, we are not teenagers who need to set such rules,” she says. She sounds more confused than resistant, though, and you seize on this opportunity.

“Yes,” you say. “But I’m not ready for anything beyond that.” Which is true enough, at least in a technical sense. You’re emotionally prepared, but you won’t be fully prepared until you’ve told her how you feel.

The surprise in Edelgard’s expression shifts to guilt, and she nods. “O-of course. Forgive me, Professor, I didn’t mean to place pressure on you. I’m rather…wound up, and wasn’t thinking clearly—”

You kiss her hard, stilling any further apologies, and don’t pull away until you’re both breathless. “No pressure,” you pant, shifting back slightly. “None that wasn’t there already from myself, anyway. I want to touch you, El. I really, really do.” Your hand slides up, resting on her ribs, and you pause. “I need you to tell me if I do anything too rough, or too fast, or too anything in a way that you don’t like, all right?”

Edelgard nods, and you feel her shiver against you. “I will.”

You kiss her again, and as you do, you reverse your positions, using your arm to flip Edelgard around and down onto the seat of the carriage as you climb on top of her. Edelgard jolts in surprise at the reversal, but she doesn’t protest, and you adjust so that she’s splayed out along the length of the carriage seat beneath you.

For a moment you only look at her, stretched out under you, naked and vulnerable and yours. She squirms a little under your stare, her body still tight with tension, and you remember how in need she must be at this point. You chance a glance downwards, at the juncture of her thighs, and swallow hard when you confirm that yes, she is still very much in a state of physical arousal.

So you lower yourself to meet her, kissing her as your hand wanders downward. You reach the swell of her breast and squeeze gently, listening for the sharp intake of her breath as you deepen the kiss. You bring your fingers up slowly; you read extensively about the most pleasurable points on women’s bodies, and experimented with a few of them on yourself. You trace one of those points now, bringing your hand to the peak of her breast and rolling the tip between your fingers, slow and teasing.

Edelgard jolts at your touch, and you hear the faint noise at the back of her throat as she shivers. You know Edelgard isn’t a particularly loud person, but you also know she’s holding the sounds she’s making back, purposely restraining them. You consider asking her to let you hear them, but as you continue to tease with light, phantom touches, bringing your hand to her other breast and tweaking at the tip there, you watch as Edelgard trembles, biting down on her lower lip as she shudders. Perhaps it’ll be more rewarding to coax those noises out of her.

She whispers your name against your lips as you continue your teasing, and you note the hint of pleading in her voice. You’re being unfair, you know. She’s on edge as it is, and yet you’re only teasing her with feather-light touches. Still, you want to draw this out for as long as possible. You’re not even close to having had your fill of her yet.

Especially those sounds. You want to hear more. Your hand continues its teasing, tweaking and rubbing at the peak of her breast with quick, light movements. You hear the soft hitches in her breath as you continue to work, the shaky exhalations, the upwards pitching of her breath as you keep your fingers dancing away before they can provide any genuine relief; you want to chase these noises.

So you begin to work in earnest, rolling the tip between your fingers faster now, tugging hard and relishing the short, breathless sound it elicits from her beneath you. You tweak and tug at the sensitive nub, watching in fascination as you tease it to stiffness and as Edelgard squirms and gasps beneath you. You glance down at your other hand, still slightly sticky from your previous activities, and you look up at her lips; the image your mind conjures up is utterly inappropriate, and you give an abortive shake of your head even as it sends heat shooting through you.

You notice Edelgard’s hands drifting downwards, and without thinking, your other hand snaps out to grip her wrist.

“P-Professor?” She stares at you, startled and confused, and you notice the way she continues to tremble with need. You really are being unfair; she had allowed you to find your relief as quickly as possible. But you still finding yourself shaking your head.

“Not yet,” you tell her. “Don’t touch yourself yet.”

For a moment, Edelgard looks as though she might protest, but then she slowly lets her arm fall by her side; her expression is almost pained, and you know her levels of frustration must be at their boiling point.

“Sorry,” you mumble against her skin. “Hang in there for just a bit longer.” And you reward her patience with your mouth, descending to suck the peak of her breast between your lips.

The movement finally earns you the cry you wanted to hear, high and breathless, and the sound sends another bolt of warmth shooting straight downward inside you. You let your tongue flick over the tip before you apply a hot, steady suction, and Edelgard whimpers, her fingers winding in your hair. The warmth becomes a molten heat, and you suck hard as she writhes beneath you; you can tell she’s still trying to stifle her noises, but choked gasps and helpless panting escape her throat as you continue your ministrations. Each sound sends you spiraling deeper into that hunger, and your mind is thoroughly clouded with desire.

So you’re not thinking clearly when you bring your other hand up to her mouth. You push your fingers against her lips, tracing their softness as you move up to press open-mouthed kisses to her neck and shoulder. It takes you a moment to realize exactly which hand it is, and you freeze just as Edelgard seems to come to the same realization, her eyes widening and her flush darkening.

You should pull your hand away. Apologize, and move it down, wiping it clean on the blanket before doing anything else. Instead, you find yourself bringing your lips up to her ear, sucking at the tip and letting your tongue glide against the sensitive skin as you feel her shiver against you. “Edelgard, open your mouth,” you say. Another command, you realize, and for a moment, Edelgard hesitates.  

But then you feel her tremble in your grasp as she obeys, her lips parting from under your fingers and taking them into the heat of her mouth. It feels good, and you hear yourself groan against her skin.

“Good,” you say, your voice coming out rough with pleasure. You don’t sound quite like yourself, but you suppose you’re not feeling entirely like yourself, either. It’s as though this hunger is taking control of you entirely. “Good girl. You’re doing well,” you say, remembering how she’s always responded well to praise.

Edelgard responds with a soft noise; another wordless plea. You feel her tongue gliding around each digit, sucking it clean, and you let out a shuddery breath as you pull her closer to you. You push your fingers deeper into her mouth, your mouth dropping to press hard, bruising kisses to her neck.

You pull your fingers free, bringing your hand down to tease her breast as you take the other into your mouth again. You tease them both to an even greater stiffness, and Edelgard lets out a low, pained groan.

Byleth,” she says, shaking in your arms. You know she would never beg. Not even for you. But the pleading in her voice is near desperate now, and you relent at the sound of it.

“Okay,” you say, nodding. You pull back slightly. “Sit up, Edelgard.”

You see the confusion in her gaze, but she obeys, and you pull her into your lap, her back flush against your chest. You don’t think you’d be able to keep yourself from wanting to touch her if you saw her touching herself under you. Like this, your view is obstructed, and you can still touch her as much as you like. “Go ahead,” you murmur, pressing a kiss to her temple.

Edelgard’s hand moves down, and you feel her shudder against you as it slips down between her legs. “Professor,” she gasps, and you bring your hands up to tweak and tease the peaks of her breasts again. Professor, she says again, whimpering as you tug hard and as her fingers move faster.

You touch her jaw, tilting her head back into a searing kiss.

Byleth, she says against your lips, her hips beginning to rock into her hand. Byleth, Byleth, I need—

You kiss her again, cutting off her next words as your hands roam over her body, caressing and stroking as she trembles. She’s close to the edge; you can tell from the jerkiness of her movements, the way she bucks and moans, the noises coming with each movement of her fingers getting harder and harder to ignore.

She moves faster, and you speed your movements up to match her. She’s gasping with each breath now, agonizingly close, and you watch as she climbs higher and higher up the peak—

Until you feel the carriage suddenly coming to a stop, and hear a sharp rapping against the carriage window along with a loud, cheerful, and very familiar: “Greetings, Professor! Today I actually have something to report!”

You both freeze; Edelgard’s entire body is rigid with tension, fine tremors shaking her frame as she stares in disbelief at the window.

Maybe it was a mistake, you think. But then you hear that voice again, sounding right outside the carriage.

“Professor? I have something to report!”

The shock on Edelgard’s face shifts into a boiling frustration, and for a moment she looks downright murderous. With a light, placating kiss, you slip out from under her and hasten to the door. Cracking open the curtain only a sliver, you peer out to see a familiar, smiling face.

“Gatekeeper,” you greet, as evenly as you can. You never learned his name; you don’t think anyone in the army actually knows it. “What is it?”

The gatekeeper salutes smartly, his smile bright and cheery. “Greetings, Professor! A procession from a neighboring village has come out to meet our army! They somehow heard from the villagers in Blackthorn that we were passing through this way, and wanted to offer us supplies and gifts. They really want to see you and Her Majesty the emperor. Apparently, they were being oppressed by some really bad crest-bearing nobles until Emperor Edelgard stripped those nobles of their ranks. They want to thank her personally!”

You can almost feel the mingled outrage and misery radiating off of Edelgard behind you, and you can’t help but wince. “Right now?” you ask.

The gatekeeper nods. “Yes! They’re waiting as we speak!”

You nod slowly. You know that no matter how close Edelgard is, she’d never place her duty second to her own physical desires. And you know that she certainly won’t be able to finish with the knowledge that everyone is waiting for her outside. “Okay,” you tell him. “We’ll be right out. Thank you for letting me know.”

The gatekeeper salutes again, and you shut the curtain. You hear a low groan from behind you, and you frown in sympathy as you turn around.

Edelgard is leaning against the wall of the carriage, her eyes shut and her body still rigid and trembling.

“Professor,” she says. Her voice is hoarse, almost ragged with desperation. “Do you think the goddess hates me for dismantling the church?”

You hesitate. “Well.”

“Is that why this keeps happening?” Edelgard is still shaking, her voice low so that the gatekeeper won’t hear, but her face is flushed and her expression is downright despondent.

Unable to answer, you can only press a gentle, apologetic kiss to her temple. Somehow, you wouldn’t put it past Sothis to tease you like this.

In fact, as you sit back on the seat, reluctantly sliding back into your clothing, you swear you can almost hear her laughter, bright and mocking in the morning breeze.

Chapter Text

You’re about three steps out of the carriage before you feel a sudden shadow descending upon you. “Professor,” a low, familiar voice says to you. “This way, immediately.” Hubert swoops in, his cloak billowing as he tosses it around you and drags you back behind the carriage.

“Hubert?” Edelgard follows you, brows raised in mingled concern and confusion. She walks more stiffly than usual, her posture rigid with lingering tension, but her voice comes out as cool and even; she had managed to compose herself adequately within minutes, and not for the first time, you find yourself admiring how well Edelgard wears the crown and all of its burdens. “What’s wrong?”

Hubert pulls a black silk scarf from his cloak, nodding at you. “Forgive me, Your Majesty, but it is ill-advised for the professor to be seen by the army and the villagers like this. I’m afraid she lacks the high collar your attire provides you.”

It takes you a moment to realize what he’s talking about. And when Edelgard’s gaze falls on your neck, her face flaming with color, you realize she’s understood as well.

“I…I see. Of course. Thank you, Hubert,” she says, clearing her throat as she avoids both of your gazes. “That would be wise.”

You remain still while Hubert begins winding the scarf around your neck, but you can’t help but glance at Edelgard with some curiosity. “You said you wanted people to see the marks,” you say, remembering her words in the carriage as she had made them.

Edelgard stiffens, coloring further as she glances at Hubert, but he remains as professional and unperturbed as ever as he continues winding the scarf around your neck. Still, Edelgard takes a step closer to you and murmurs into your ear, presumably so he can’t hear: “I also said I wanted to take days off to lie around and gorge myself on cakes all day, Professor. There are a number of things I want very much in this world…some of them desperately.” She pauses, and you see the heat in her gaze as she looks up at you. Then, dropping her gaze, she sighs and steps away. “Unfortunately, being emperor means forgoing many of those pleasures.”

Turning to Hubert, Edelgard frowns slightly. “I appreciate your quick thinking, Hubert, but a scarf is rather ill-suited for this climate. People will doubtless notice.”

Hubert nods. “There are magic spells that can erase such marks. I’ve arranged for a healer to take a look,” he says. “You’ll find Marianne waiting for you by the supply cart, Professor. I predict she should be capable of handling the situation with more…discretion than Professor Manuela.”

You nod. You know that if it had been Manuela, half the strike force would’ve known what transpired by nightfall.

“I am also switching your carriage driver,” Hubert says, tying the scarf securely.

“The carriage driver?” you repeat, head tilted in confusion.

“Yes. I’m afraid he’s suddenly come down with a case of auditory hallucinations,” Hubert says smoothly. “Spouting lies about hearing…untoward noises coming from the carriage. He appears to be under the deluded impression that the emperor was being ravished by her former professor.”

Edelgard freezes, and you feel a rumbling of unease; you don’t remember either of you having been particularly loud, but the carriage wasn’t particularly well-insulated against noise, either.

For his part, Hubert looks entirely unruffled. “He was uttering nonsense, of course; no one would believe such drivel. Still, he’s clearly ill, and so I’ve arranged to have him treated by healers. In the meantime, another one will take his place.” He pauses and turns to Edelgard, head slightly bowed and eyes averted in respect. “This replacement is a little deaf in one ear, Your Majesty,” he tells her in a low voice. “I would still advise caution, but his placement there should provide you and the professor…opportunities. Should the need arise.”

For a moment, Edelgard only stares at him, her eyes wide with a turbulent mix of mortification and shock. “Th-that—that won’t be necessary, Hubert,” she says finally, clearing her voice. She tugs at her collar, meticulously straightening it as she pointedly avoids looking at you. “Now, I must be going to see the procession from the village. Professor, I suppose I will see you shortly, once you’ve returned from Marianne.”

You nod, watching as Edelgard turns to go. You know you’ll be reunited very soon, yet you feel oddly bereft at the thought of separating from her. Before you can think about it, you find yourself reaching out to grab Edelgard’s hand, tugging her back towards you.

Edelgard turns to you with a mix of surprise and bemusement. “Professor?” Her fingers squeeze yours gently. “Is something wrong?”

You shake your head. “No. I’m just going to miss you,” you say honestly.

Edelgard chuckles, some of the tension leaving her body as she smiles. “We will only be apart for a moment.”

You nod again, and quickly glance around. Positioned as you are behind the carriage, you’re hidden from the rest of the army. So you seize the moment to step closer, pulling Edelgard close to you and pressing a single, warm kiss to her lips. “You’ll be all right?” you ask softly as you pull back. You feel a pang of guilt, knowing full well that a large part of Edelgard’s current state of frustration is entirely your fault; had you spent less time teasing her as you did, she would have found her release long before the gatekeeper’s interruption.

Edelgard smiles wryly in response, though her body relaxes further in your arms. “I’ve faced worse,” she says. After a brief hesitation, she tilts her head up to kiss you, lingering a bit longer than you had. “But I appreciate your concern, Professor.”

You nod, feeling yourself smile and feeling a now-familiar warmth blooming in your chest as you gaze down at her.

“…as heartwarming as this is, Your Majesty, the villagers are waiting.” Hubert’s voice makes you both jump, and you hastily separate. You’d nearly forgotten he was there. “I assure you that you will see her again soon, so please allow the professor to go see Marianne before she joins you again.”

Edelgard nods, her cheeks tinted pink. “Of course. I will see you soon, Professor.” She turns to walk off towards the waiting procession, with Hubert bowing once before following after her like a shadow.

Holding back a sigh, you turn to go and find Marianne. The sooner you heal these marks, the sooner you can return to Edelgard’s side.  

It takes you a moment to find the supply crates, but eventually you spot Marianne rifling through a pile of concoctions as she speaks softly with a woman with her back turned to you. The woman turns as you approach, and you stare in surprise as Hilda flashes you a disarming smile.

“Professor! So good to see you again,” she says casually, as though the last time you’d seen her hadn’t been facing off over the battlefield during your final battle with Claude. “Hope you don’t mind that I tagged along for this mission. I’ve been so bored since Claude left Fodlan; I’d probably have died of boredom by now if it hadn’t been for Marianne.” She turns her smile on Marianne. “We’re starting our own artisan academy. Nothing nearly as fancy as the monastery—or as dramatic and war-ravaged, hopefully—but it’s going to be so much fun. Cute little Marianne here has been my muse while I’ve been crafting some special accessory designs.”  

Marianne flushes a little as both you and Hilda turn to her, shrinking slightly under the attention. “Oh, um, it’s nothing. It’s really all because of Hilda’s talent. She makes such beautiful work, Professor. You should watch her sometime.”

Hilda smiles dazzlingly. “Aww, Marianne,” she coos. “You’re just too sweet.”

As they smile and gaze at one another, you feel more and more oddly bereft, missing Edelgard now more than ever.

As if sensing your longing, Marianne turns back to you. “Anyway, um. Good morning, Professor,” she says. She’s been smiling more and more often with each passing day, and it always makes you feel pleasantly warm to see her happy; she seems especially cheered today, and you wonder if that has anything to do with Hilda’s presence. “Hubert said you had some kind of bruising problem?”

You nod, reaching up for your scarf. The supply crates are a good distance from the rest of the temporarily stopped army, and you realize Hubert must’ve arranged this purposefully. So you pull your scarf down. “He said you know how to get rid of these marks.”

Marianne flushes pink, her eyes widening, and Hilda breaks out into merry laughter.

“Wow, Edelgard. Good to know the emperor has had some time for pleasure in between all of this business,” Hilda says, leaning back against one of the crates.

You frown slightly, because unlike with Dorothea or Hubert, you never told Hilda directly about your relationship with Edelgard. “How did you know it was Edelgard?” you ask, puzzled.

Marianne and Hilda exchange a brief look. “I may not have been in your class, Professor, but I do have eyes, you know,” Hilda says. “What, is it supposed to be like a secret, or something?”

You pause. You’re not entirely sure yourself. “Since she’s the emperor, she wants our relationship to be subtle,” you tell them, remembering what she had said to Alois.

Hilda scoffs. “Then she should’ve stopped with the longing looks and obvious pining five years ago,” she says. “The hickeys are honestly just the cherry on top, at this point.”

“Um,” Marianne interjects, still looking highly embarrassed. “It’s not very complicated magic. I can teach you the spell if you’d like, Professor. For, um. Future reference.”

You nod. “Please.” Though Edelgard always wears clothing that covers up almost all of her body, particularly high collars are getting conspicuous for the summer. You’ll likely want to heal her marks too, just in case.

Marianne nods, getting to work as her hands glow with white magic. As she says, the spell itself is quite simple; just a modification of the Restore spell.

Once you’ve mastered the spell and cast it on yourself to make the marks fade, you stare up at Marianne in curiosity. “How did you learn this spell? We never learned this kind of modification in lecture.”

Hilda lets out a short, amused little laugh. “That’s right. How did you learn this, Marianne?”

Marianne turns nearly as pink as the other girl’s hair. “U-um. That’s. I’ve read many books,” she tells you, her fingers fumbling with the tome in her hand. In recent years, she’d become much better at making eye contact with people, but that eye contact is conspicuously absent now. “It was just a matter of applying the theory.”

“’Course, books can only go so far,” Hilda drawls, lounging casually against the back of Marianne’s seat on the crate. You don’t miss the slow, catlike smile that spreads across her lips or the way her fingers trace idle patterns against Marianne’s waist. “Personal experience always helps, don’t you think, Marianne?” she says, smiling sweetly.

“Well. I-I, um. You’re okay now, Professor,” Marianne says, quickly getting to her feet. “If you want to head back now, you can.”

Even you can recognize a polite request to leave when you hear it, and you nod as you get to your feet. “Thank you, Marianne. See you both later.”

Marianne gives you a small, embarrassed smile while Hilda sing-songs a cheerful goodbye, Professor. As you turn to leave, you hear Marianne whispering to the other girl, and Hilda’s responding laughter. “Sorry, sorry. You’re just so cute when you’re embarrassed…”

You stride back to the front of the army quickly, eager to return to Edelgard, and you find her standing amid the procession of villagers from the nearby town. You realize that she didn’t bother to put her hair back up into her usual crown and regalia ensemble, instead opting to tie it up in the side-ponytail style she’s been wearing while traveling more often these days. She looks younger that way, less like the untouchable emperor, and you watch in fascination at the children that run around her nearby. They readily tug at her hands and her clothes, babbling freely and cheerfully at her. You don’t think you’ve ever seen anyone who wasn’t at least mildly intimidated by Edelgard when they first met her, and it’s strange to find children among those very few that utterly lack this fear.

As you get closer, you notice the uncommon gentleness in Edelgard’s expression as she speaks with them, a slight, fond smile on her face as she listens to one of the boys hopping about around her.

“I heard you fought a dragon! Was it a very big dragon?” he asks, staring up at her in fascination. “And I heard your axe is a hero’s axe! And I heard it’s as big as you are! How come you can use an axe that big? My pa can’t use an axe that big, and he’s much bigger than you.”

Edelgard smiles at you as she notices you approaching, but her attention remains on the boy as she responds seriously, almost like she would to an adult: “It was a very large dragon, yes. The size of multiple houses, at least. It took my strength combined with Professor Byleth’s to deal the finishing blow. And yes, I often wielded Aymr. It is about as large as I am, but I could use it because of the crests I had.”

A girl steps forward, brow furrowed. “Mama says you think crests are bad. She thinks they’re bad, too. The nobles who killed my grandpa had crests, she said.”

Edelgard is silent for a moment before she nods. “Yes,” she says quietly. “I do believe crests are bad. I’m very sorry your grandfather was taken from you. Bad people who wanted crests took some important people from me, too.”

“Was it your grandfather?” the boy says, looking at her curiously.

Edelgard shakes her head. “No,” she says. “It was…” She pauses, her gaze flicking away, and you notice the shadow that crosses over her face; the same shadow that descends whenever she wakes from a nightmare about her siblings. Then, blinking, the shadow is gone, and she straightens up again. “But enough of that. Would you like to see a sword? The gatekeeper standing right over there can show you one.”

The children cheer, their earlier question entirely forgotten as they storm over to swarm the startled and hapless gatekeeper. Edelgard watches them with a faint smile, and you can’t help but wonder if her singling out the gatekeeper specifically had anything to do with his previous interruption.

You step beside her quietly. You know better than to try and console her now—to put her vulnerabilities on display in full view of everyone. So you only smile at her, letting your fingers brush against hers and squeeze very briefly. “You’re good with children,” you state, somewhat surprised. You’d never been any good with children yourself; you’d accidentally made more than a few of them cry in the past. You remember how some of the village mothers had scared their children with stories of the Ashen Demon who would steal them away if they didn’t finish their meals.

Edelgard chuckles. “It’s more that I’m used to children; I had younger siblings. And some older siblings that often acted like younger ones.”

You nod. “Two younger. Eight older.”

Edelgard turns to you, the surprise in her gaze giving way to gratitude. “You remember. Yes.” She falls momentarily quiet as she watches the children jumping around the gatekeeper and demanding to see a sword. “I’ll always remember them at that age. Because they were never allowed to grow older.”

You watch as that shadow crosses over her features again, her eyes darkening, and you take a quick step forward.

“Edelgard.” Your voice is quiet but firm, and at the sound of it she looks up to meet your gaze. “You strove to make a new world for them. So that children like them would always be able to grow older.” You very much want to pull her into your arms, but with the villagers and army nearby, you can only nod solemnly at her. “And you did it. You created this world.”

Edelgard returns your gaze quietly, and you watch in relief as the darkness recedes from her expression. Nodding at you, she smiles. “We created this world,” she corrects gently, and you nod.  

Another villager comes over to speak with Edelgard, and you turn away to watch the children, feeling peaceful once more. As you gaze at them thoughtfully, you glance back at Edelgard.

Once the villager has moved away, you turn back to her. “Would you want children, Edelgard?” you ask.

Edelgard looks startled by the question. “That’s…only something I’ve considered in the practical sense,” she replies, frowning. “I have no intention of handing the empire over to a child I might have, so I never thought of having children for the sake of producing heirs.”

You nod. “Yes. But how about just for the sake of having them?”

Edelgard hesitates, her expression thoughtful as she considers your question. “I…would not be opposed to it,” she says. “If it was with—” She stops, coloring slightly, and then glances away. “If it was with someone I cared about,” she says. She turns back to you, looking up at you curiously. “What about you, Professor?”

You stare out at the gaggle of children. You’ve never particularly liked or disliked children; like with most things, you were largely apathetic. But like with most things, having Edelgard involved changed everything. After watching her interacting with children just now, you can’t help but imagine what it might be like to see something like that every day. To have that everyday together with her.

You’re so distracted by the pleasant image that you respond without thinking. “Yes,” you say. “If it were with you.”

Edelgard stares at you, eyes wide, and you realized belatedly that you’ve gone terribly out of order. Children and talk of children usually come after carnal affairs, and after confessions of love. You hesitate, considering what to do. Manuela had said a confession of love needed to be grand and perfect, but she had never said anything about a confession of wanting children with someone.

So you only nod a few times. “I think our children would be cute,” you state, and imagine a solemn little girl with your hair and Edelgard’s eyes. “Though I hope they smile more than we do.”  

You watch as a flush rises in Edelgard’s pale cheeks. “I…I see,” she says, after a beat. “…yes. I do suppose such a child would be…pleasant.” She clears her throat, looking away with a slight frown. “Biologically speaking, I’m afraid it would be an impossibility, but—”

“Not impossible,” you say. You keep your voice low, aware of the nearby villagers and members of the army. “There are potions and such. Elixirs that can create temporary bodily changes that allow for two women to have biological children together. Anna has sisters who specialize in these kinds of rare magic items.” Manuela had told you about them, though her focus had been more on the (many, very creative) recreational uses of these bodily changes than on their practical ones.

The flush in Edelgard’s cheeks heightens. “Th-that’s…” She coughs, looking away. “That is helpful information to know. Though perhaps it’s a little early to be thinking of such matters, Professor.”

You nod again. Maybe you’ll bring it up later, after you tell her about your feelings. “Okay. But if that’s something you’d be interested in someday, I’d want to do it with you.”

Edelgard looks at you quietly, and there’s a strange, searching quality to her gaze as she stares at you. You’re not sure what she’s looking for, but she seems to find it; smiling, she nods at you, and her fingers brush against yours. “Yes,” she says softly. “Someday, yes. With you.”

You feel yourself smiling, and your mind is filled with idle imaginings. A child from you and Edelgard. A girl is easy enough to imagine since you’re both women, but a boy is more difficult. Each time you attempt to picture a male version of you and Edelgard mixed together, Jeralt with Edelgard’s hair keeps popping into your head, and it disturbs you. As you attempt to banish those images from your mind, Lysithea strides into view, arms laden with two boxes.

“Professor. Edelgard,” she says, nodding at both of you. “The baker was very kind, and packed me some cakes on top of gifting me the extra apple cobbler. Since there’s so many of them, I thought I’d give a few to you,” she says, with the aura and tone of someone granting a great favor.

As you accept the box, you reach out and pat Lysithea’s head. “It would be nice if they turned out like you,” you tell her.

Lysithea frowns at you in mingled confusion at your words and displeasure over the head-pat. “If who did?”

Edelgard’s lips twitch, and you can tell she’s fighting a smile as she accepts her own box. “True. If nothing else, I suppose we already have you, Lysithea.”

As Lysithea scowls, staring at both of you suspiciously, you meet Edelgard’s gaze and smile. The warmth in your chest permeates your body, and you realize that you very much need to finish your preparations as soon as possible. The physical impatience is one thing, but the need to tell her just how much you feel for her tugs more and more strongly at you by the moment.

You’ll do it after Anvil. No matter what, you’ll tell her soon.

***

Once you’ve returned to the carriage, Edelgard surprises you by sitting as far away from you possible, taking up the distant corner of the seat across from yours.

You frown a little, that bereft feeling nagging at your chest as you look at her questioningly. You’re not used to sitting so far away from her. “Is something wrong, Edelgard?”

Edelgard looks at you apologetically as she shakes her head. “Forgive me, Professor, but I believe it would be best if I stayed physically as far away from you as possible.” She pauses, frowning slightly. “At this point, I do not trust that we will not be interrupted again, and I…” She looks away, gaze fixed out the window as she continues in a quieter voice, “Your proximity to me can sometimes be…troublesome.”

“Troublesome?” you repeat. You deflate, and the feeling yawning inside your chest aches slightly. You never meant to be troublesome for Edelgard; the thought saddens you.

At the sound of your tone, Edelgard turns back to look at you, and her eyes widen as she meets your gaze. “I don’t mean troublesome in a negative way, Professor, I just…” Trailing off, she chuckles, her brow creased in a fond kind of exasperation. “Honestly, Professor. Have I ever told you that you look like a scolded puppy when you’re unhappy?”

She reaches out to you with one hand, and you quickly go to her, taking her hand and sticking yourself firmly to her side, where you belong.

“I don’t like being separated from you,” you say, frowning. You pull her closer to you, pulling her back between your legs until her back is pressed firmly against your chest.

Edelgard stiffens slightly, and you loosen your grip. “Sorry,” you say. “Was that too tight?”

“No,” she replies. You can’t see her face like this, but her ears are pink. “It’s just that your chest was…” She pauses and then sighs, turning slightly to look back at you. “Professor, sometimes your obliviousness reaches almost dangerous levels.” She narrows her eyes. “It’s all right around me, but I certainly hope you’re more guarded around other people.”

You nod, leaning your chin comfortably against her shoulder. “I don’t trust anyone like I trust you, El,” you tell her honestly. You’re close to her ear, your voice soft, and you notice the shiver that runs down her frame as you speak. You tilt your head slightly. “Your ears are pretty sensitive, aren’t they?” you ask. It’s something you’d noticed about her earlier.  

“…quite sensitive, yes,” Edelgard responds after a brief pause. Her voice is slightly less steady than before, and you note how the color of her ears has deepened from pink to a bright red. “Professor,” she says, clearing her throat softly. “When I said your proximity could be troublesome earlier, this is along the lines of what I was referring to.”

You blink, processing her words. You take in her unsteady voice, the color of her ears, her shiver, and her comment in response to you pressing close to her. The main point of contact are your breasts pressing against her back, and you finally piece it together. “Oh,” you say, finally understanding. “You’re getting aroused?”

“No,” Edelgard responds too quickly. She hesitates, and then continues, “That’s…a bit too strong of a word. I do have better control of myself than that, Professor.” Sighing, she shifts around slightly in your arms. “I am simply…overly aware of your presence.” She frowns slightly, and you’re suddenly aware of how close her face is to yours. You can count the number of snowy lashes veiling her gaze, can see the slight dilation of her pupils as she looks at you.

“I think I’m overly aware of your presence too,” you tell her. You move closer, letting your forehead rest against hers. “But I don’t think that’s a bad thing.” You lean in just a bit closer, only a breath away. “In fact, I like it.”

You don’t know who closes the gap, but in the next moment you’re kissing, your lips moving against one another; perhaps it’s because you’ve been interrupted twice already, but there’s a sense of urgency in your movements and in the heat between both of you.

“Professor,” Edelgard murmurs, her voice shaky as she pulls away. “I…I don’t know if this is a wise course of action. We seem to attract constant interruptions, and there’s the matter of the carriage driver…”

“We can stop if you really want to,” you mumble, trailing kisses against her jaw and up to her ear. You feel her shiver as you let your tongue glide into the shell of her ear, your teeth grazing the tip. “But Hubert said this carriage driver can’t hear very well. We should still be quiet. But you’re good at that anyway, Edelgard.” You murmur into her ear, gratified by the way she trembles as the heat of your breath tickles the sensitive skin there.

You pause for just a moment to draw the curtains of the window tightly shut, leaving the interior in only a very dim light filtering through the cracks. As your eyes adjust to the darkness, you let your hands roam downwards. Her current outfit reminds you a little of what she used to wear at the monastery, with its tights and black jacket. Your hand moves up and down her thigh, tracing the seam of her tights, and Edelgard shifts slightly against you.

“If we get interrupted again…” she says. Her voice is noticeably unsteady now, and you feel yourself smiling as you trail kisses behind her ear.

“We won’t,” you promise her. “Even if someone comes, I won’t stop. I’ll Warp them away if I have to.”

Edelgard chuckles, but the sound wobbles as you gently palm at her breast over her clothing. “You don’t know that spell, Professor,” she points out.

“I’ll get Lysithea to do it, then,” you reply, your other hand working to undo the buttons of her jacket.

“I think you’ve all traumatized her enough for one day.” Edelgard squirms slightly as your thumb traces the peak of her breast, brushing insistently over the cotton of her clothes. “…you’re certainly eager, Professor,” she says quietly, her breathing shallow but her tone amused. “I must admit, up until a few weeks ago I was unsure whether you would ever have any interest in progressing beyond kissing.”  

You nod, your fingers quick and dexterous as they finish undoing her buttons and begin to pull her jacket off of her. “I didn’t ever have any interest before,” you say. “But everything’s different with you, El.” You drape her jacket on the seat across from you, leaving her in her undershirt and tights. You move one hand up, letting it dip under her shirt as you let your fingers dance lightly over her abdomen and navel.  

The other hand moves down, tracing the waistband of her tights. You remember Dorothea’s other suggestion of keeping your hands over her clothes, and you decide combining the two options sounds particularly helpful right about now.

“I’ll only touch you under your clothing above the waist,” you tell Edelgard. “Under your waist, I’ll stay above your clothing.”

“That…a-ah. That sounds…” Edelgard seems distracted by your hand as it moves teasingly over the peak of her breast, and you pause long enough for your words to sink in. “…yes,” she says, a little breathless. “Yes, Professor. That sounds…agreeable.” She twists slightly to look back at you, brow furrowed. “Though I would request that you refrain from teasing me like you did last time. I can become angry even with you, you know.”

You press kisses to the back of her neck, smiling against her skin. “All right,” you agree. “I won’t tease you.” You bring your hands up, moving to knead her breasts gently between your fingers. “Not like I did last time, anyway.”

Edelgard stiffens. “Professor—” Her indignant next words die in a sharp intake of breath as you tug at the tips of her breasts, rolling the sensitive peaks between the pads of your thumb and index finger.

As promised, you don’t spend too much time teasing her this time the way you had last time. You’d learned last time what she’d seemed to enjoy, and you get straight to that right away; you tug and tweak, coaxing soft noises from Edelgard and quickly bringing the tips to hardened peaks between your fingers.

“Byleth,” she pants, and you feel a familiar heat throbbing between your legs at the sound of her voice. It’s almost frightening how quickly your body reacts to her.

You let your other hand glide down the expanse of her stomach, smoothing over her waist and stopping midway down her thigh. You trace over her tights again, only moving upwards this time. And you don’t stop until you reach the juncture of her thighs.

With both your index and middle finger, you experiment, pressing down as you rub against the seam of her tights between her legs. Her body reacts immediately, jolting, and Edelgard’s breathing is quick and short as she turns her head back to look at you.

“P-Professor, that…” She sounds uncertain, and you pause.

“Do you want me to stop?” you ask, and Edelgard shakes her head.

Her face flames with color that you can see even in the dim light of the carriage. “No. I was just surprised. It…” She swallows. “It felt nice.”  

You nod, pressing a kiss to her temple. “Tell me if you don’t like anything that I do.” You bring your lips to her ear again, licking and sucking lightly at the shell, and then the lobe, and Edelgard shivers as your fingers resume their movements, rubbing at the rigid seam of her tights between her legs. Your other hand continues to tease her breasts, and you relish each strained sound that escapes Edelgard’s throat as your movements pick up speed.

As you continue to work, your fingers firm and rhythmic, you notice the heat emanating from her beneath your fingers; and as you press into this heat with a steady friction, you feel the fabric of her tights growing damp against your fingers.

It takes you a moment to recognize the source of this wetness, and you freeze when the realization comes to you. Edelgard’s frame is trembling slightly now, and she turns in confusion at your sudden stop.

“Professor? Is everything all right?” She sounds genuinely concerned, and a part of you feels warmed at the knowledge that she can bring herself to care so much for your well-being even in her current state.

The other part of you can only hyperfixate on the wetness you feel against your fingers, and how only the material of her tights and her smallclothes are separating you from the heat underneath. “Yes,” you say, and tilt her head back to bring her lips to yours. “It’s just,” you mumble against her lips as your fingers resume their movements. “I can feel you.” The evidence of her arousal dampens the cloth, and a part of you wants nothing more than to tear the fabric open and plunge into her heat directly.

“Feel me?” Edelgard repeats your words breathlessly, dazed and uncomprehending as you continue to rub your fingers over the fabric. You press the calloused pad of your thumb against one particular point that tears a gasp from Edelgard’s chest and brings her hips jerking forward, and you kiss her hard as you mercilessly target that spot again.

Your tongue plunders the heat of her mouth as you rub your fingers over that one point, moving over it again and again as Edelgard whimpers into your mouth, her hips rocking into your hand. You pause for just a moment, pulling back to question her. “Do you want to touch yourself?” You know your touching her over her tights can’t be nearly as satisfying as direct contact, and that only the friction provided by the seam of her tights is sparking the physical aspects of her pleasure.

But Edelgard shakes her head, her fingers shaking as she covers your hand with hers. “It feels good,” she breathes, her gaze hooded as she turns to look up at you. “It’s your hand. So it feels good.”

You’re not quite sure what exactly happens in the next few moments, but her words trigger something deep inside of you; the next thing you know, you’ve flipped her onto her back against the seat and you’ve flung her undershirt off somewhere. You press wet, hot kisses down her body, sucking the peak of her breast into your mouth and swirling your tongue over the tip as your fingers press roughly between her legs, rubbing hard against the seam of her tights.

“P-Professor—” Edelgard brings the back of her hand up to her mouth, muffling the gasps and moans that threaten to spill out. The fabric grows wetter against your hand, and you can’t stop the soft moan that escapes from your own mouth as you continue sucking and nipping at her breasts.

“You’re amazing, El,” you murmur against her skin. You suck hard, your teeth grazing the hardened tip in your mouth, and a low whine escapes through Edelgard’s fingers. “And you really are sensitive.” You pull back slightly to toy with the peak of one of her breasts. “These always get so hard so quickly,” you remark, staring in fascination.

Edelgard flushes an even deeper red, and she turns her head slightly as she averts her gaze from yours. “P-please don’t tell me things like that, Professor,” she says, her voice coming soft and hoarse; you’re not sure if it’s from the pleasure or the embarrassment, but you like the sound of her voice like that.

“Sorry,” you say, trailing kisses down her body. “It just makes me happy. How much you’re enjoying this.” You pull your hand back for a moment, watching as Edelgard’s hips involuntarily jerk forward to chase the sensation. And, rubbing your fingers together, you stare at the slickness coating them. “It’s so wet down here, too. I can feel it through your clothes.”

Edelgard groans softly, and you can hear that same mix of embarrassment and pleasure in the sound as you resume your steady friction between her legs. She looks up at you with a slight frown, but it fades as her gaze drifts slowly over you. “This is hardly fair,” she says, her words coming out between each ragged breath. “You’re still fully clothed.”

You pause. “This is for you. I already had my release,” you point out, and Edelgard nods.

“Yes,” she pants. “But I want to see you. It’ll help.”

You shift back a little in surprise as Edelgard pulls herself upright so that she’s sitting up, her hands on your shoulders as she tugs firmly at your jacket. “I’ve never quite understood this jacket,” she murmurs, brow furrowed as she attempts to pull it off of you. “Or is it a cape?”

You feel yourself smiling as she struggles to figure out how to take it off. “It’s both. Jackets look cool. Capes look cool. Jackets and capes combined look twice as cool.” You nod seriously, giving it a little toss as you let it flare out behind you. “You don’t think it looks cool?”

“It looks ridiculous, Professor,” Edelgard says, her lips twitching into a smile as she chuckles. Tilting her head up, she kisses you gently. “But it does manage to suit you, somehow.” She finally succeeds in pulling the jacket off of you, and you let it drop onto the carriage floor. She pauses, gaze drifting up and down as her hands move next to your top. “This top is also somewhat confusing—I know you mentioned it served as a…distraction, but it looks exceedingly tight.” With your help, she pulls it off, and you do feel a small sense of relief as your breasts are freed of their tight confines. Edelgard stares a little, and you begin to wiggle out of your shorts to help her continued progress.

Edelgard watches as you drop your shorts to the floor, leaving you in your tights. There’s the heat you expected in her gaze, but also a slight, thoughtful frown on her expression. “Professor,” she says. “Would you be opposed to letting an Imperial tailor fashion you a few new outfits?”

You blink at her. “You don’t like my outfit?” you ask, a little confused. It’s something you’ve worn for years now; you have several copies so you can rotate through them during the week.

“It’s not that I dislike it,” Edelgard replies, shaking her head. “It’s just that it’s somewhat…mismatched. Furthermore…” Her frown sharpens, and she glances down at your patterned tights. “It really is very revealing. You are certainly free to dress however you would like, but…” She hesitates. “You truly are troublingly oblivious about certain matters sometimes, Professor, and at times I do worry.”

You stare at her in bemusement, a little thrown by the sudden shift in conversation; you certainly hadn’t expected Edelgard to become distracted by your wardrobe decisions, given her current state and your previous activities up to this point.

“There have been many times that people have outright ogled you, and you never seemed to notice,” Edelgard continues, still frowning. “Both at Garreg Mach and now.”

You look at her curiously. “People?” you repeat. “Does that include you?”

Edelgard’s eyes widen, and the flush rises again in her cheeks. “Me?” she says, looking indignant. “Professor, I would never—”

“Really?” You feel that now-familiar urge to tease her tickling you again, and you smile as you pull her closer to you. “You seem to have put a lot of thought into my outfit, for someone who never looked.”

“It’s not that I never looked,” Edelgard replies, scowling. “It’s simply that I—” She pauses as you kiss her, her words muffled against your lips and tongue. “I never ogled,” she manages breathlessly once you pull back.

“Never?” you ask, dropping kisses against her neck and collar. You palm her breast, rolling the peak between your fingers, and listen for the hitch in her breath as she shudders. “I think I do remember one time. After training.”

“Th-that—Professor, that was simply because it was cold outside, and I was worried. Your outfit didn’t look like it was keeping you sufficiently covered for the weather,” she says, and you feel a little laugh building in your chest.

“I was making it up. I don’t remember anything like that,” you admit, before letting your tongue swirl around the peak of her breast. Edelgard was right; you hadn’t actually ever paid much attention to whether people looked at you or not, unless it was as a potential threat related to battle. “But it’s nice to know you were looking at me after all.”

Edelgard inhales sharply; whether it’s because of what you’re doing with your tongue or because she’s affronted due to what you had said, you’re not sure. But her next words die in a strained moan as you continue to drop kisses down her body, letting your tongue dip into her navel.

“It makes me happy,” you tell her matter-of-factly, your fingers dropping again to the juncture of her thighs and resuming their steady friction. “I want you looking at me, El. I want you wanting me.” You push her back against the wall of the carriage, covering her lips with yours and moving your fingers faster against her. She gasps into your mouth, and you chase the sound, delving into her mouth and sliding your tongue against hers.

Pressed up against her like this, you can feel the warmth of her entire upper body against yours, and you shiver at the softness of it. You feel Edelgard’s fingers tracing the lines of your body, her hand coming up to brush against your breasts, and you catch her wrist.

“Later,” you murmur, pressing a kiss to her fingers. “Right now, just focus on yourself.”

For a moment it looks as though she might argue, but then Edelgard nods and drops her hands down again. Her fingers clutch at the seat below her as you lean in to press open-mouthed kisses to her body again. She rocks unsteadily against you, her breathing ragged and shaky, and you feel the fabric growing wetter beneath your fingers.

You can tell she’s starting to get close, and yet you feel a prickle of unease at the back of your neck. As if on cue, you feel the carriage start to slow, and Edelgard immediately tenses beneath you.

But you only shake your head calmly, continuing your movements between her legs. “It’s okay,” you murmur, bringing your other hand up to press gently over her lips. “I promised, remember? Just keep quiet.”

“W-what?” Edelgard’s eyes widen in shock, and she jolts as your fingers push insistently against her. “Professor, I thought you were joking—” You feel the heat of her breath against your hand as she exhales shakily.  

At the same time, you hear the trotting of a horse outside the carriage, quickly followed by a sharp rapping on the window. “Professor? Are you there?” You recognize Ferdinand’s voice, eager and curious.

You shake your head, though you know he can’t see you with the curtain in the way. “No,” you state. “Go away.” You curl your fingers, rubbing them insistently against the spot that had made Edelgard jump before, and you watch as her body goes taut; a small sound escapes her, and you press your hand more firmly to her mouth. She’s trembling with need, and you promised you wouldn’t allow yet another interruption to keep her from her relief.

“You aren’t? But you just answered me.” Ferdinand sounds baffled. “Are you an imposter?”

“An imposter,” you confirm, nodding. Your fingers move faster, and Edelgard gasps against your hand as she squirms beneath you. “Yes. The real professor is in another carriage. Go find her, Ferdinand.”  

“Yes, of course,” Ferdinand says, snapping to your orders as eagerly as he does on the battlefield. But then he pauses, and you can hear the puzzled frown in his voice as he says, “But if you’re an imposter, where is Edelgard?”

Edelgard doesn’t even seem to hear him; her eyes are unfocused and her face is flushed, her every breath a gasp against your palm as she writhes under your touch.

You get a bit distracted, sucking hard at the tip of her breast and hearing her whimper. So you’re a little startled when you hear Ferdinand’s voice again: “Professor? Was that Edelgard just now? Is she all right?”

You release your hold, watching the tip fall free from your mouth and bringing your hand down to knead and massage at the stiff little nub instead. With your hand covering her mouth gone, she only barely stifles a choked moan as your fingers slide mercilessly against her body. “Yes,” you say. “She’s all right. She’s just a little busy right now.” You move your other hand back up again, pressing your fingers to her lips.

“You need to stay quiet,” you remind her, whispering gently into her ear. You push your fingers into her mouth, curling them against the slickness of her tongue, and you nip lightly at the lobe of her ear. “Perhaps it’ll help to have your mouth otherwise occupied.” You pause, noting the shiver that passes through the both of you as you push your fingers in deeper. “So suck them, Edelgard.”

Her hesitation before obeying your commands gets shorter with each time you give a new one, and you only barely suppress your own moan as you feel the heat of her tongue begin working against your fingers. “Good,” you breathe into her ear, and you feel the faint vibrations of a whimper from her throat as you speak. The fabric under your fingers grows impossibly wetter. “Well done, El.”

“Busy?” Ferdinand repeats. “Did she go somewhere? She is always charging fearlessly ahead. I must join her in the fray, of course, as a noble of House Aegir. Will she coming back soon?”

“Yes,” you say, your own voice shaky now. She’s close, her body rigid with tension and her hips rolling rhythmically against your fingers. Her expression is wracked with desire, almost bordering on pained, and you feel the need for her to reach her release almost as acutely as you did your own. “Coming soon, probably.”  

Ferdinand starts to say something else, but then you hear the pounding of another horse’s trot fast approaching.

“That is enough, you fool.” The new voice that cuts across Ferdinand’s is a low hiss, and you recognize Hubert’s menacing tones right outside. “I thought I was clear that you were not to disturb either Lady Edelgard or the professor.”

“Hubert!” Ferdinand sounds slightly panicked. “I just wanted to ask them—”

“Irrelevant. Come with me, immediately.”

“But—”

There’s a yelp, a shuffling sound, and then the pounding of horses again that slowly retreats.

The instant you no longer hear their voices, you take the moment to redouble your efforts, your fingers moving quick and hard against her as your other hand caresses and teases at every part of her that you can reach.

Edelgard’s voice is broken with gasping, her body trembling, and she pulls you into a hard, demanding kiss as she moves jerkily against your hand.

“Byleth,” she breathes, her lips still brushing against yours and her eyes fluttering shut. “Byleth, I-I—I’m going to—” There’s a sudden edge to her voice, and you recognize the undercurrent of tension there. You remember what she had told you about her desire for control, and you know being so close to losing it now must make her uneasy, despite her willingness to let go of it for you.

So you nod, soothing her with gentle kisses to her temple, to her lips. “Yes,” you say, and kiss her again, searing hot. “Yes. It’s all right. I have you, El.”

She trembles at the sound of her name from your voice, and in the next moment she cries out, lips parting and body going rigid beneath you.

She looks beautiful enough to catch your breath in your throat and for a moment you stare, transfixed. You continue moving against her to draw out the moment as long as possible, watching her ride out the cresting waves of pleasure as she moans and rocks into you.

The moment is over far too quickly, and in the next Edelgard is crumpling bonelessly against you, her breaths hot against your skin as she rests her head against the crook of your neck. You slow your movements between her legs, stopping entirely when you hear her whimper softly in discomfort; you’d read a bit about hypersensitivity after climax, and though the thoughts intrigues you, you know it’s far too early to be experimenting with such things just yet. So instead you press more careful kisses to her, letting your fingers run slowly through her hair.

“Are you all right?” you ask her. Your voice is soft, and yet Edelgard jolts slightly upon hearing it, as though stirring from sleep.

“…yes,” she says quietly. “Yes, Professor. I’m…quite all right. Thank you.” She’s still not looking at you, and you notice the lingering flush to her cheeks as she burrows into the crook of your neck.

You recognize her embarrassment, and smile as you press another kiss to her temple, damp with sweat. “You were beautiful, El. It really was amazing to watch.” You pause, squeezing gently as you pull her closer into your arms. “Thank you for trusting me with that.”

Edelgard finally straightens up then, and though the flush of embarrassment remains on her cheeks, her eyes are warm and grateful as they meets yours. “I should be thanking you, Professor,” she says softly. Leaning closer, she brushes her lips against yours. “That was…quite pleasant. Thank you.”

Then, pulling back, she frowns slightly. “Though I hope you will not stop me from throwing Ferdinand off of his horse the next time I see him.”

You smile a little. “It’s a good thing Hubert came by. And you did finish despite the interruption, as we planned.” You glance down at her tights. “I know it wasn’t as satisfying as it could’ve been,” you say apologetically. You’d only touched her over her tights, after all; the barriers of both her tights and her smallclothes had prevented real contact, and you wonder if your heart will be able to handle touching her directly. Even the thought sends a thrill down your spine. “Once preparations are finally complete, I promise I’ll satisfy you properly.”

The flush in her cheeks heightens, but Edelgard chuckles. “I…appreciate the thought, Professor. But you don’t need to concern yourself too much with that.” She smiles slightly. “I am happy simply being with you.”

You nod solemnly, leaning in to kiss her again. Her lips are swollen now from how much you’ve kissed her, yet you never seem to be able to satisfy the craving of wanting the warmth of them against your own. “Me too,” you tell her. “This kind of happiness is something I’ve only ever felt it with you, El.” You pull back slightly. “There are many emotions I’ve only ever felt because of you.”

She pauses, and an odd expression passes over her face. There’s a heat to her gaze as she stares at you, only it doesn’t resemble the desire you’d seen only moments before. It seems strangely familiar to you, and yet you can’t put a name to it right away, either.

A silence falls, and you suddenly became hyperaware of the beating of your heart. It thumps steadily, aching in your chest, and you reach out to touch her cheek.

“Professor,” Edelgard says. Her hand raises to cover yours, holding it against her cheek, and her eyes fill with that same, inscrutable emotion. “I…” Her grip tightens.

But then she stops, her gaze dropping, and she clears her throat as she shakes her head. “It is nothing. For now, we should focus on what awaits us at Anvil. We can speak more of personal matters once we return to Enbarr.”

You nod slowly. There’s much you need to say to her as well, but it can wait until you return to the capital. She does have her duty, after all, and you stand with her every step of the way. You can speak with her once you return.

You settle against one another comfortably, and you drape the blankets over your bodies as you nestle closer to her on the seat. Yet you feel a strange prickle of unease settling over you as you think about Anvil.

You only need to stomp out whatever is lurking in Anvil before you can return to Enbarr and tell her everything. Yet something nags at you; a sense of urgency that tells you to tell her now, before—

Before what, you’re not sure. But the sense of unease doesn’t dissipate.

“Professor,” Edelgard mumbles. Her head rests on your shoulder, and her eyelids droop with fatigue as she drifts on the edge of sleep. “You should rest, too. Based on Fleche’s report, I do not anticipate we will find significant trouble at Anvil, but it is always wise to be cautious.”

She squeezes your hand as her eyes close. “You need to stay safe, Professor. As I told you before, if something were to ever happen to you…” She trails off, and you listen as her breathing steadies.

Leaning gently against her, you nod to yourself. You need to stay safe. Because you need to tell her the truth of your feelings. Yet the unease lingers, and you wonder if this worry is centered on your own well-being after all. You glance at Edelgard. The thought of her being hurt causes a sharp, almost physical ache in your chest.

You’ll keep her safe. You promise yourself that. All that matters is Edelgard, you tell yourself. Everything else—including yourself—comes second.

With that promise in mind, you hold her close, and close your eyes as you continue on to Anvil.

Chapter Text

You stop a short distance from Anvil, setting up camp in a hidden glade Fleche’s scouts had identified during their reconnaissance mission. If the activity in Anvil had indeed been due to Those Who Slither in the Dark, they’d likely have learned of your impending arrival by now; the exact day and time you’d come in, however, could be kept a secret.

You arrive a bit earlier than expected, with a few hours to go before nightfall—the time Fleche had mentioned the strange activity started to pick up. People mill around, preparing to depart for the investigation once the sun begins to set; as Edelgard begins to put on her armor in preparation for possible battle (“it is best to remain cautious,” she reminds you), you stride towards the merchant convoy, intent on picking up some extra elixirs just in case.

The feeling of unease hasn’t allayed, and you want to be as prepared as possible.

As you stride among the waiting carriages and horses, searching for the shopkeepers, you notice Ferdinand, Dorothea, and Ingrid all crowded around Anna’s merchant convoy. Dorothea catches your eye as you pass, and she grins widely as she flags you down.

You pause, rerouting towards them, and catch the tail end of Anna’s words as she speaks to Ferdinand: “…two vulneraries should do the trick. However, preventative care is the best care. So in the future, I’d highly recommend this lotion before you get up to anything quite so rough. You just need to apply liberally to—”

“I don’t think we need to hear the details,” Ingrid cuts in, looking mildly perturbed. “But thank you.” Taking the lotion from Anna, she hands it to Ferdinand and frowns. “I don’t think you’ll be able to ride until you take those vulneraries. Do you have any extras?”

“I do,” you offer, opening up your pack as you approach. You hand two vulneraries to Ferdinand, who nods in gratitude even as he winces. “What happened?”

Taking the vulneraries, Ferdinand clears his throat loudly. “It is nothing I cannot overcome, Professor. I will be fully capable of returning to the fray immediately after taking these.” Pausing, he tugs at the vulnerary pouch and continues in a quieter voice, “As usual, I suppose I was overeager and overconfident in my abilities to best Edelgard. I took on more than I could handle.”

His words seem subdued and reflective, and he gazes soulfully off into the distance, looking contemplative. “I was a fool,” he says. “But a true noble learns from his mistakes and rises to surmount them.”

You stare at him blankly. “Did something happen?” You worry there was some skirmish or battle that had somehow occurred while you and Edelgard were occupied with one another in the carriage.

Ingrid stares down at Ferdinand with a frown, looking thoroughly disappointed in him. “It really isn’t nearly as serious or important as Ferdinand is making it out to be, Professor,” she tells you.   

Dorothea giggles into her hand, looking just as amused as Ingrid is unamused by the situation. “After Hubie dragged Ferdie away from your carriage, Professor, it seems that Ferdie finally pieced together just what you and Edie were up to in there.”

She speaks nonchalantly, and you frown a little, wondering how—and how many—members of the strike force knew what you and Edelgard had been doing. And whether Edelgard knew that they knew. Somehow, you don’t think she’d like knowing that they know.

“And of course Mr. Noble here just had to jump at the chance to win his little competition. He said that if Edelgard was ready to challenge you so quickly, he was ready, too.” Dorothea’s smile is wicked, her eyes dancing with laughter. “And since Hubie was right there, Ferdie quite loudly challenged him to a similar kind of…battle.”

You nod slowly, staring down at Ferdinand. Hubert had seemed slightly less grim and slightly more smug than he usually did as he had helped Edelgard out of the carriage earlier, and you wonder if that was due to Ferdinand. “Did you win?” you ask.

Dorothea laughs; a short, derisive exhalation. “If he won, he’d be able to walk,” she says, and Ferdinand flushes a deep red.

“He couldn’t even ride his horse without toppling over,” Ingrid says, frowning at him. “He ended up falling off; he had to fly the rest of the way here with me.”

“I have to say, Ferdie: you move fast. I’m impressed,” Dorothea says. Despite her words, her gaze remains distinctly unimpressed as she looks down at him. “Weren’t you and Hubie only just starting up with your first kiss at the tavern last night? And now you’re already jumping into your first time on the road?”

Ferdinand mumbles something indistinctly, unusually subdued, and though you can’t hear what he says, Dorothea and Ingrid both stare at him in clear shock.

“Not your first? Then the first time was when you were both utterly drunk in the tavern?” Dorothea says, her look of surprise slowly morphing into amusement.  

“A noble would not do such intimate acts in a public venue like a tavern,” Ferdinand protests, looking dismayed. “It was in the stables.”

“The stables?” Ingrid stares in consternation, looking deeply troubled. “I kept my pegasus there, Ferdinand. That’s not something she needed to witness.”

“No wonder she tried to throw him off the first time you tried to give him a ride,” Dorothea says, laughing. “Poor thing was traumatized.”

Ferdinand gets to his feet, wincing as he does. “Regardless of my previous history, this most recent time was an important and valuable learning experience,” he insists. “I now know a little bit more about how to go about coming up with a winning strategy for this competition.” He looks at you, wide-eyed. “I must know, Professor—how did Edelgard fare? I find it difficult to imagine that she triumphed over you, yet I have underestimated her countless times before.”

As you pause, considering your answer, Ingrid interjects: “You know, this really isn’t something I want to be learning about any of you.” She shifts on her feet, looking highly uncomfortable. “If we’re all done here, I think I’m going to head back. Goodbye Professor, Dorothea.” She pauses to give Ferdinand a commiserative look. “Take those vulneraries, Ferdinand. And for the sake of the army, please keep your private affairs private from now on; and far away from stables.”

Ingrid is too dignified to flee, exactly, but you watch as she speed-walks away.

Laughing into her hand, Dorothea sidles up to you, eyes bright and curious. “Speaking of private affairs—carriages seem like they’d be more fun than stables, Professor,” she says, her tone teasing. As she looks at you, taking in your expression, the mirth gives way to concern, and she turns more fully to face you. “I thought you’d be looking a lot happier, given recent events. Is everything all right?”

You nod. “Nothing bad has happened. Not yet, anyway. But I have a bad feeling.” Something about the air feels heavy, like it did at the Red Canyon or the abandoned chapel near the monastery all those years ago. There’s a sense of foreboding prickling at your skin, and you can’t shake it. “We should be on our guard.”

Dorothea’s expression grows serious, and she nods as she seems to consider your words. “The war is over,” she says. “But you and Edie still have work left to do, don’t you? It’s what Hubie is always scheming about these days, isn’t it?”

You nod. Hubert has constantly been drawing resources and information about Those Who Slither in the Dark, and you know he’s been preparing for an eventual assault on their hidden stronghold once the army is ready and research is completed.

Dorothea sighs, brows drawing together as she shakes her head. “I wish you two could enjoy some peace. But I suppose your enemies won’t allow for that, will they?” Turning back to you, she smiles slightly. “Still, Edie has you, Professor. Together, you two changed the world. What’s a few more battles, tiresome as they may be?”

You let your hand drop down to the Sword of the Creator; while you can still use it, it doesn’t react to you the same way that it used to when you’d still had the crest stone. “I’m not as strong as I used to be,” you say, and for the first time since the war ended, you feel a pang of regret at having lost Sothis and the crest stone. You never realized how much you’d miss the security of having the power of the Divine Pulse at your fingertips.

Dorothea nudges you gently, and she smiles when you look back up at her. “Why don’t you go see Edie, Professor? We can never be sure of anything in the world, so it’s good to take advantage of these moments when we can.”

You nod, grip tightening around the hilt of your sword. “Thank you, Dorothea. You should, too. Tell Petra hello for me.” You and Dorothea split up, both abandoning Ferdinand by the stalls. You walk quickly, stopping by the merchant convoy only to pick up the extra elixirs before speeding back to where Edelgard waits.

You find her listening to Fleche and an Imperial scout, both of whom brief her with further details as they point out significant points of interest in the surrounding area. Edelgard smiles when she sees you, and you feel your heart stuttering in your chest. You really do love her, and as the feeling swells inside you, you want nothing more than to draw her close to you and hold her tight. But her attention remains largely focused on Fleche’s words, so you remain a small distance behind her, gripped with a sudden impatience as Fleche’s report goes on. You’d already studied their report as Edelgard had been changing into her armor, and you resist the urge to squirm restlessly on your feet as you wait.

The minute Fleche’s report concludes, you take a quick step forward, wrapping your arms around Edelgard’s waist and drawing her tightly back against you. She startles in your grasp, eyes wide and confused as she peers back at you. “P-Professor, what—”

Both Fleche and the scout cough as they politely avert their gazes. “We’ll continue preparations for our move tonight, Your Majesty. We await your command,” Fleche says, and they both subtlety slip away within moments.

Edelgard squirms slightly in your arms, ears flushed red as she cranes her neck back to frown at you. Embarrassment and affection war in her eyes as she looks at you questioningly. “Byleth, I hope you remember that we are striving for subtlety in our relationship,” she reminds you in a low voice. “At least while I am emperor.”

You nod, but you don’t let her go. “I know.” You rest your head against her shoulder. It’s somewhat uncomfortable with all of her armor on, but you burrow against her neck and take in a slow, steadying breath. The scent of bergamot tea and flowers clings to her, as usual, and soothes your nerves as you rest against her. “Sorry,” you add quietly. “I’m just feeling restless.”

She turns in your arms to face you, her gaze concerned as she looks up at you. “Is something on your mind?” she says. “It seems like more than simple restlessness—you seem troubled.”

You take a moment to stare down at her, and your heart thumps quickly in your chest as you take her in. No matter what she’s wearing, Edelgard is always beautiful, and you can’t resist leaning in to press a gentle kiss to her lips.

Her lips yield to yours, but she still frowns, flushed, when you pull back slightly. “Professor,” she reprimands you. “Were you listening to anything I was just saying?”

You nod, but you pull her close again anyway, mind clouded with continued concern. “Be safe, El,” you murmur, interrupting her embarrassed admonishment. “You said yourself that it’s wise to be cautious. So be very careful, all right?”

Edelgard looks at you curiously, brow knit as she seems to consider your words. “Are you really so worried about Anvil, Professor? This is far from the most dangerous mission we’ve undertaken,” she points out, looking puzzled.  

She’s right, and you’re not sure why you’re so concerned now. Your heart beats painfully inside your chest as you think, and it’s that irregular beat that tips you off to the answer.

You’re feeling more and more these days. You know you still don’t feel and think about things the way most human beings do, and you think you never fully will. But with the crest stone gone and your heart beating for the first time, the emotions that you started to feel over these past few years have intensified with each day.

The strongest of these emotions, you know, is the warmth and tightness in your chest every time you look at Edelgard. And it’s because of this emotion that you find yourself so concerned now. It’s the first real mission you’ve had since you’ve realized you love her; you can’t help but be worried.

Of course, you can’t say any of that to her now. And so instead you frown and reply, “I’m assigning an extra battalion to you for this mission. And take these elixirs.”

Edelgard takes the elixirs from your pack, though she pauses at your words. “An extra battalion? We don’t have any extra men to spare for that.”

You nod. Too many men would make any kind of covert movement near-impossible, and so you’d brought only the exact number of soldiers necessary; you find yourself regretting that decision now. “You’re taking my battalion,” you tell her. It’s made up of the best of Jeralt’s mercenaries who had remained with you, and you can trust them to keep her safe.

But Edelgard immediately shakes her head. “Absolutely not,” she says shortly, eyes narrowed. “I have no need of two battalions, and you work best with the support of those mercenaries in your battalion, Professor.”

“You allow me free reign to devise tactics for battle,” you point out. “This is one of those tactics.”

“When you are devising tactics, yes. But this is not the result of tactical thinking, Professor. It’s sentimentality,” Edelgard says. Her voice is stern, and you feel a strange twinge of heat rumbling inside you in response. You realize with some surprise that you’re getting angry, and you wonder if this is the first time you’ve ever become angry with Edelgard.

Only you aren’t exactly angry with Edelgard—not really. Because you know that she’s right; you are being sentimental. You’re allowing feelings to cloud your judgment, which has almost never happened before. Still, you feel a wave of stubbornness rooting inside you. “If you don’t take them, I’m leaving them here,” you say, shoulders tight with tension.  

“Professor, please stop being ridiculous,” Edelgard says, anger sparking in her eyes as well. “When I said it’s wise to be cautious, I meant that this caution should extend to everyone, not just me—”

“I don’t want you to be hurt—”

“You have been hurt,” Edelgard interrupts, the anger in her eyes flashing into pain. You freeze at the sight of it, your own anger rapidly cooling; Edelgard’s grip is like iron around your fingers, and yet her hand trembles as she speaks. “Once so badly that you vanished from my life for five years, and another to the point that I thought you were truly gone.” She pauses, her eyes dropping, and her voice shakes as she tightens her grip on your hand. “I almost lost you,” she breathes, and the fear in her voice makes your chest ache.

When she looks up at you again, her gaze is resolute. “The concern that you feel for me, Byleth—I feel it for you, too,” she says quietly. “So please don’t ask me to take protections away from you. An attack on you would be felt as acutely as though it were my own body.”

You fall silent, guilt gnawing at your insides at her words. Your own anger has faded away entirely, and only uncertainty remains.

Because she’s right. You were being selfish, prioritizing your own feelings without considering hers. You know you’ve never been good at recognizing others’ emotions, but having these flaws affect Edelgard is the last thing you’d wanted. So you nod quietly, bringing her hands to her mouth and pressing a penitent kiss to her fingers. “Okay,” you murmur, letting your thumb run over the gloved skin. “You’re right.”

Edelgard tilts her head slightly, still frowning as she looks at you questioningly. “You’ll take the battalion with you?” she asks, and you nod.

“I will.” You notice how some of the tension of her frame leaves her body as she relaxes slightly, and the guilt tugs at you even harder. You bow your head slightly. “I’m sorry, Edelgard. I wasn’t thinking about how you felt.”

Edelgard is silent for a moment, and when you look back up at her again, her gaze has softened once more. “Yes,” she says quietly. “I’m sorry too, Professor.”

You shake your head. “You didn’t do anything wrong.”

Edelgard smiles faintly. “That should be my line. I find myself frequently thinking irrationally when it comes to you. So I should hardly have become angry with you for doing the same.” She reaches up to touch your cheek, the motion slow and gentle, and you lean into it.

The tension slowly seeps from your body, and you watch as Edelgard similarly relaxes before you. For some time, you stand there quietly, taking in the moment as Dorothea had suggested and enjoying a moment of relative peace.

As you do, you consider the moment thoughtfully. “I think this is the first time we’ve fought,” you remark. Since you’d entered into a relationship together, anyway; you suppose you could count facing off against her in the Holy Tomb five years ago as fighting (though you somehow doubt that’s the sort of fighting ordinary couples engage in), but that had been long before your relationship with her had begun.

Edelgard’s brows raise in surprise, and she chuckles. “I suppose it is. They do say every healthy relationship should have its share of disagreements—it’s a sign of open communication. So long as it’s kept in moderation, of course.”

You nod, your stomach twisting uncomfortably at the thought of fighting with her again. Even as brief as this moment was, you’d disliked every second of it. “I don’t like fighting with you,” you state. “If we ever disagree again, let’s settle it another way.”

Edelgard blinks at you. “Oh? And what way would you suggest?”

You consider the question, thinking about all of the possible solutions and running multiple potential scenarios in your mind before settling on the ideal one.

“In bed,” you finally say, and Edelgard’s hand freezes against your cheek. You nod decisively, satisfied with your answer. “I think it’d be a healthy way to release tension. And it’d feel good. And by the end of several hours, we probably wouldn’t remember why we were fighting to begin with.” You gesture with your hand as you used to when you taught lessons at the monastery. “Tactically speaking, it’s a sound strategy, with optimal outcomes.”

Edelgard stares at you, an interesting mix of emotions playing out on her face as the color rises in it. “Several hours?” she repeats, eyes wide with incredulity.

You nod, expression entirely serious. “At the very least three or four.” You frown a little, glancing at the army waiting a small distance away. “If we didn’t have the mission, we could start now.” You squeeze her hand, pulling her closer to you.

Edelgard stumbles slightly as you tug her against you, the flush in her cheeks deepening. “Th-that’s—we’re not even fighting anymore,” she points out.

“Yes,” you agree. “But we could start at any moment.” You pause, considering your options before saying, “For instance, I could tell you that I think the Black Eagle Strike Force is kind of a silly name.”

In the next moment, Edelgard looks so genuinely offended by that comment that you hasten to retract it. “I don’t actually think that,” you say, squeezing her hand apologetically. “I like it a lot. Almost as much as I like fishing. But if I didn’t, we could fight.”

“We would indeed fight,” Edelgard replies. She’s still frowning, but there’s no actual displeasure in it, and in the next moment it clears entirely as she takes her own step closer to you. “Fortunately, you have better taste than that. In multiple respects.” Her lips twitch upwards into a slight, almost teasing smile, and when you lean in to kiss her again, this time she pulls you closer.

“Sorry,” you mumble, pulling back slightly only once you’re both breathless. You brush a stray strand of hair from her face, curling it around your finger. “I know you want subtlety.”

Edelgard makes a soft sound that’s somewhere between a laugh and sigh. “The main army is too far to see us, and the busybodies nearby appear to have known far more than I’d care for them to for quite some time now already.” As if on cue, you hear Manuela’s laughter ringing out somewhere nearby, and you reluctantly separate as Edelgard pulls back. “Speaking of, it will be time to move out shortly.”

She hesitates, looking up at you, and when she speaks again her words are careful and soft. “I do hope you remember to value yourself more, Professor. You have a very long and very happy life to look forward to.”

You look solemnly back at her. “You do too, El.”  

The responding look she gives you is similar to the one she gave earlier that day, after you’d spoke about children, as well as the day before, when you’d spoken of marriage and weddings. A strange, searching, almost wistful look. And once again, she seems to find what she’s looking for in your eyes, because she smiles and nods.

“With you, and with our resolve, I think that may be possible, Byleth,” she says, and there’s something about the way she phrases the sentence that gives you pause.

“El, wait—” You frown, intending to ask her about what she’d meant, but Edelgard shakes her head and gestures to the rest of the army.

“We can speak of personal matters in greater detail later, Professor. For now, we have a mission that awaits us,” she says.

There’s much you want to say to her, but as always, her duty comes first, before anything else. She reaches out her hand, waiting for you.

And as always, you take it.

***

There is a battle waiting for you in Anvil, but it’s short and quick and far too easy.

“Thank you,” one of the villagers says to you, panting heavily and covered in scratches but otherwise unharmed. “I don’t know what we would’ve done if you hadn’t arrived right when you did.”

You nod, glad that he’s fine, but otherwise preoccupied.

From the moment you’d arrived at Anvil, it had become apparent what the problem was. It had been similar magic to the type you’d seen in Remire Village, only on a much smaller scale. Villagers attacking one another, driven mad by some dark spells. You’d taken down the small number of affected villagers while saving the unaffected ones, and the whole of the battle had taken barely any time at all, with minimal casualties.

The battle is over, and yet your feeling of disquiet only amplifies.

Edelgard stands with Aymr only a small distance away from you; her own gaze is sharp and alert, and you know she must feel uneasy, too.

“This can’t have been it,” you say, and Edelgard turns to you with a frown.

“It’s possible they were experimenting here again, like they were in Remire,” she says. “But it seems unlikely, given there doesn’t appear to be anything new here with the magic they were using.”

Hubert hovers nearby, magic flickering between his fingers as he surveys the village surroundings. The forests are dense and dark around you, and he watches the swaying trees warily. “Please leave the rest of this investigation to me and Professor Byleth, Lady Edelgard,” he says. “It is dangerous for you to be out here in the open.”

Edelgard frowns, opening her mouth in clear readiness to protest, and you take a quick step towards her.

“Hubert’s right,” you agree. “This isn’t like the war, El, where you had to be leading the front lines. We’ve saved the villagers. Go help them, and Hubert and I will search in the forest with the strike force. And take my battalion with you, this time. They’ll just be cumbersome marching around in the forest with me.”

Edelgard is quiet for a moment, clearly mulling over your instructions. You know your decision is still impacted by your emotions, but this time it remains logical, too. As a heavily armored infantry soldier, it’s ill-advised for her to be trudging about in the forest; as emperor of all of Fodlan, putting herself in uncharted enemy territory is an even less advisable idea.

She nods slowly, with clear reluctance. “I will be aiding the villagers,” she confirms. Pausing, she looks up at you. “Please be careful, Professor.”

You nod, smiling at her, and as you watch your battalion begin to move towards her, you feel some measure of relief returning to you.

Like this, she’ll at least be safe.

And it’s at that moment when you hear the strange, high-pitched whistling sound coming from the forest. You whirl, bringing up your sword; you keep your attention split between Edelgard and the forest, instantly on guard.

Hubert brings his hands up as he stands in front of Edelgard, magic flickering, and the battalions mobilize around her. Everyone’s attention focuses immediately on her, their protection focused on her alone.

Everyone except Edelgard herself, who you find staring back at you. And it’s only because of this that you see her eyes widen in fear, in a vast, consuming dread.

Byleth—

You see a blur of red, of Aymr arcing up into the air, and in the next breath Edelgard is in front of you, pushing you roughly away.

You stumble to the side, and you turn just as you see the javelin of light that pierces her body.

For a moment of hideous, nauseating irony, time seems to stop entirely—only you don’t have any control of it this time. You watch as Aymr falls to the ground, utterly ineffective at deflecting the light that lances right through the weapon, that lances right through her—that would’ve lanced right through you, had she not pushed you out of the way.

The javelin was meant for you.

It doesn’t make any sense, but you were the target. Not Edelgard. And because you didn’t realize this, because you were so slow, so thoughtless, so useless, you’d left yourself open, and she—

“Lady Edelgard!”

Hubert’s hoarse cry snaps your body into action, even as your mind stutters and swirls with nothing but stark terror. Edelgard’s body sways, and you catch her as she falls.

You notice the blood first. There’s much of it, too much, and you feel the magic surging desperately in your veins as you cast the strongest healing spells you know.

You’re dimly aware of shouts, of the pounding of footsteps, of Lindhardt and Marianne beside you, of the glow of magic as they immediately begin healing, but all you can really see in that moment is Edelgard.

Her face is paper-white with agony, and the wound in her side is gaping—too large, too dangerous. Something twists inside you at the sight, and you shake with pain.

But her eyes meet yours, and it’s the relief and recognition that you see in them that shakes you more than anything else. She had to have known it was dangerous, foolish, irrational to risk herself to save you, and yet—

“Professor.” Hubert’s voice is rough with fear and anger, and you turn to see him glaring into the forest. “I saw movement in there. Whoever shot this magic is in the forest, and if they escape—”

Every desire in you screams for you to stay, to remain at Edelgard’s side, but you know that now, of all times, you can’t afford to let your emotions cloud your judgment. Not again. As long as the attacker is out there, Edelgard is in danger (she’s already in danger, your mind whispers to you, and that terror opens up inside you again. She’s already in danger because of you).

So you gently transfer Edelgard into Marianne’s care, your hand squeezing Edelgard’s for one last, brief, desperate moment before you get to your feet. Tearing your hand away from hers causes an almost physical pain, and it aches to turn away from her to run into the forest.

Your body moves automatically, and you move rapidly through the trees, catching a sign of movement among the leaves far ahead. It’s a man, hooded and running; he’s fast, but you’re faster, and you blast him with a bolt of Thunder that sends him toppling to the ground.

You yank his hood off once you’ve caught him, but you don’t recognize him. He coughs out laughter even as you sink your sword into his arm.

“Who sent you? Why were you targeting me?” Your voice comes out as a rasp, the anger in it roughening the sound until it’s nearly unrecognizable even to your own ears.

“Agartha will rise,” he whispers, his slow smile glinting white in the darkness. He grunts in pain as you slice into his arm with your sword, repeating your question, and he hisses out his next words through gritted teeth: “Thales is wiser than the puppet you serve; he knew targeting you would work. The puppet has always had weaknesses for the ones she loves. And so there were only two possible outcomes. Either we’d kill you, digging directly into that weakness, or she’d fall into that weakness herself and take the blow.”

His hand jerks, glowing with magic, and without thinking, you cut it off. The man howls in pain as you take the other too, just in case. The movements come to you naturally, but the brutality of it comes as a dull surprise. You hadn’t done things like this since your days long before the monastery.

“What magic did you use? How can the wound be healed?” you say, digging your sword deeper into his arm. He screams, and you repeat your question again.  

His laughter, hoarse and ragged, echoes throughout the forest. “This is a magic far beyond your time; your healing has no hope of mending that wound.”

You pull back slightly, staring at him. You want to hurt him. You want to hurt him as badly as he hurt her. You want to utterly crush his heart. You want to shatter it, make it break even half as much as yours aches inside you. 

But you need him alive. Hubert had said that Those Who Slither in the Dark had highly advanced magic and technology. If he’s right, then the only one who might know how to heal Edelgard is this man. You’ve taken his hands, so he can’t cast whatever magic he used to summon that javelin of light. You drag him behind you as you return to the clearing.

You find Hubert kneeling beside Edelgard, while Marianne still works unceasingly above her. Hubert turns when he sees you, and the unadulterated fear in his expression worsens the mounting sense of panic inside you.

“It’s a dark magic, Professor,” he says. “Our healing isn’t working—Linhardt has run to get his tomes and to return with Professor Hanneman. Our best hope…” He stops, looking at the man you’ve dragged behind you. “…this is the creature that did it?” he says, and you manage to nod.

Hubert nods, and some of the fear in his face morphs into a dark, carefully controlled anger. “Then if he knows anything at all, I will force it out of him.” He gestures to the Imperial guard, who drag him away, before turning back to you. “…Professor,” he says quietly. “Lady Edelgard, she…” His voice stops abruptly, and he momentarily closes his eyes. When he opens them again, he nods at you. “Please stay with her. I will return with answers that will help her. I swear it.”

You say nothing, your throat closed as you turn back to Edelgard.

In that moment, everything feels wrong. Her eyes are closed, her face a sickly gray, and she looks so utterly weak and unlike herself that the world feels like it’s spiraled into some twisted nightmare.

You drop to your knees beside her, and your hands shake as they glow with magic once again. You can tell the healing isn’t doing anything, just as Hubert had said; blood seeps steadily from the wound, and Marianne’s face is drawn and fearful. “Go and help Linhardt,” you tell her, the words only barely falling from your lips. “Please, Marianne. Please find something.”

Marianne obeys, whispering prayers and apologies as she turns and runs back towards the other healers.

And you move Edelgard gently, pulling her into your arms as you let the magic flow from your fingers. It doesn’t do anything, you know, but the motion makes you feel even slightly less useless. Her eyelids flutter at your touch, and as she opens her eyes, your name falls weakly from her lips.

“Don’t speak,” you tell her. “Save your energy. The healers are researching, and Hubert is interrogating the one who did this—” Your voice breaks, and your throat aches as you attempt to keep talking.

But Edelgard’s lips part again, and as weak as it is, her voice doesn’t tremble as she speaks. “My uncle…” she breathes, and even with your mind fractured as it is, you understand.

“We’ll kill him,” you state. You know Hubert had been waiting to gather more information before mounting any assaults on his stronghold, but you never should’ve waited. “We’ll kill him, and all of his followers, and stomp them out until there’s nothing left at all.”

Edelgard nods slowly, the movement heavy with fatigue. “If it’s you…I can trust you,” she says, each word slow and quiet. “With protecting this world we’ve created.”

Her goal. You know it’s what comes first, it’s what’s always come first, before anything else, and yet in that moment you don’t care about any of it. She’s created this world, changed it for its sake, and yet you realize in that moment that you don’t want this world if she isn’t in it. But you’d let your emotions ruin things already when you hadn’t listened to her; Edelgard had only just asked you to put more thought into guarding yourself, but because of your emotions, you’d hyperfixated on her, and now—

So you force yourself to listen. You know it’s her vision first, her goal that she’s lived for, and when she opens her mouth again you try to stifle the tearing feeling in your chest and focus on what she’s saying.

But she doesn’t speak further of it. Instead, she looks at you, eyes intent on your face, and when she raises trembling fingers to your face, her smile is small and sad. 

“I hadn’t wanted to see you cry…ever again.” Her hand brushes your cheek, and you hold it there, clinging desperately to her. “But now…I’m the cause.”

You hadn’t realized you were crying. Your mind feels vast, blank; utterly empty and yet crushingly overloaded at the same time. You can’t think at all.

Because it hurts. For the first time you wish you didn’t have a heart at all, because it hurts, and you wish desperately that Sothis had never separated from you.

“El,” you rasp, clutching at her. “El, please.” Your words come shakily, a stream that you barely even understand yourself. You’re desperate to keep talking, to keep her listening and awake and alive. “Listen to me. Stay with me. You need…” You shake your head. Your hands tremble violently; you’ve never lost such control over your body before. You want to ask why she risked herself like that. You want to apologize. But you know neither is something you can say. 

Because you know why; she’d told you the reason herself, only moments earlier today. She’d behaved irrationally because you were involved, just as you’d have done the same. Your feelings made you weak, and hurt her too.

You think of everything that had happened in the several weeks leading up to this moment. Of all the time you’d wasted. You’d grown careless. Complacent. It was this way all those years ago, when Jeralt had died in front of you. You’d been content with your position at the monastery, allowing yourself dances and parties, listening to the laughter of your students and those around you. You’d grown weak.

And because of that weakness, you hadn’t been able to predict it when everything had changed in an instant.

You hadn’t been able to stop the one you loved most from dying in your arms.

It’s the same thing now. You’d been too distracted. You should’ve helped Hubert more with his research on Shambhala, should’ve prepared more for an attack on it, should’ve taken more defensive measures in preparation for a possible attack from them, should’ve—

“Professor.” Edelgard’s breaths are labored, and her voice grows weaker, and yet there’s urgency in her tone, as though she’s rushing to get the words out in time. “I…forgive me…there was much I wanted to say to you…but I wasn’t sure how much time I had with…the crests…”

She shudders, expression wracked with pain, and you shake your head. “Please, El. Stop speaking. Hubert’s interrogating the assassin. He’ll be back soon with help. Just wait a bit longer.” In your fear, your sentence are short, terse—you’re speaking like you used to, clipped and short, as you did in the mercenary troupe before you ever went to the monastery. You don’t understand what she’s saying, your broken mind incapable of piecing her scattered words together, and you don’t want her to waste any more of her breath.

You look up, scanning the area for any sign of Hubert, but he’s still nowhere to be found. The fear deepens inside you, cold and writhing.

Edelgard’s fingers move against your cheek. “Byleth, please…listen to me.” You turn back to look down at her, your fingers tightening around hers against your cheek. Her eyes grow foggy, and you hear the regret in her voice as she whispers your name again. “I wanted…to wait…but if I don’t have time…I need to tell you…”

For just a moment, her eyes refocus, staring softly into yours, and fill with that same emotion you’d seen from her just earlier that day; the same emotion you’d seen from her so many times before, and it’s only now, when it’s too late, that you recognize that emotion for what it might be.

Her mouth moves, and the sounds from the rest of the world fade as you listen to the words falling from her lips.

I love you.

Her hand is gentle against your cheek, her words soft, and yet they break you.  

This is wrong, all wrong, so far from the perfect you’d wanted to give her, and you feel your eyes stinging as the world blurs around you. Because she shouldn’t love you. Not when you’ve messed everything up so thoroughly, so wretchedly. You feel your other regrets falling to pieces in the face of the one you hold above all else. You shake, holding her close, your throat aching and closed against the words you desperately want to say in return. More than anything else you should’ve done, of all of the time you wasted, there was that. You never should’ve waited. Never should’ve bothered with flowers or poetry or anything so insignificant.

Because you love her. You love her, and now you might lose her, and the feeling that had once filled your heart is ripping it apart. You feel Edelgard’s grip on you weakening by the moment.

You want to respond, and yet saying those words feel far too much like a goodbye. And so you can only press your forehead to hers and plead. “I should’ve told you earlier. I need to tell you. So please stay with me. You have to stay with me.”

For just a moment, Edelgard’s grip tightens around your fingers. You don’t even know if she’s heard you, let alone understood what you meant, but she looks at you gently with that same emotion, as she always did. She opens her mouth, but only a faint whistling sound escapes her lungs. When she finally manages to speak again, it’s a weak rasp.

“I…too,” she breathes out, her voice barely audible now. “I wanted…to stay with…”

Her eyes close, and when her hand falls from your cheek, you feel as though your heart has stopped—frozen and unbeating once again.

Chapter Text

Hubert had heard of the so-called Ashen Demon long before he ever met the professor. The stories terrified local bandits and lowlives, whispered in the corners of taverns and alleys where his less-than-savory dealings sometimes took him.

When he’d finally met the legend herself, he had nearly scoffed. The impassive young woman who tended to carnations in the greenhouse and went quietly fishing on the docks every weekend had seemed nothing like the stories. He’d remained wary of the professor, but because of her power and the strange fixation Lady Edelgard seemed to have on her, not because of some ridiculous moniker that never seemed appropriate for its owner.

It’s only now, over five years later, that Hubert begins to understand where these stores originated.

It’s called Shambhala, he had told her just one week ago, as she’d sat still and expressionless across from him. But we are not near ready to attack it yet. It’s a fortress. If we even attempt it, we’ll be wiped out. There are several strategic points we must capture to first better understand their technology and layout—

Tell me, Byleth had said to him. She looked up, but she wasn’t looking at him. She wasn’t looking at anything at all. Her eyes were empty. Dark and lifeless, as though she were a walking corpse. Just tell me where to go.

The first point to capture had been Gyffes. Hubert had learned there were mages there associated with Thales. They were powerful, carefully defended within their fortress hidden in the mountains near Anvil. After the events of Anvil, the army and the strike force had been consumed with an anger and grief he knew would be effective in battle. These forces certainly helped in the swiftness of the victory they achieved at Gyffes.

But none compared to the professor herself. Hubert had watched silently as she had mowed their enemies down almost like one of those mechanical dolls Cornelia had used. There hadn’t been any trace of emotion in her eyes as the mages screamed and fell before her. And Hubert had finally seen the face of the Ashen Demon that had haunted those terrified whispers.

Now, as he sits in a private room of the medical wing of Enbarr’s castle a week later, he finds his mind drifting back to more old memories. It’s a foolish, sentimental notion, and yet he sees some worth in further reflection as he waits for Professor Byleth’s return. At any rate, he needs to keep his mind busy these days, or it will automatically divert to the gaping chasm inside him; the pain he feels as acutely as he did all those years ago, when Lady Edelgard had been taken by her uncle.

He remembers speaking of Byleth to Edelgard herself during their days at the academy a few months after her arrival. He had been muttering about the difficulty of discerning the true intentions of such an emotionless creature when Edelgard had interrupted him.

“She’s not emotionless,” she said, without looking up from the document she was reading. Hubert paused. He hadn’t even realized she was listening. (He should’ve known better, of course. Lady Edelgard was always listening).

“If she does feel emotions, she certainly does a remarkable job at hiding them,” he had said.

Edelgard had nodded, the majority of her attention still clearly focused on the document as she carefully penned in notes on the bottom. “No one would ever call her dramatic, but she does display slight tells and signs that indicate what she might be feeling. Her eyes light up when she’s pleased, for instance. Her shoulders slump a little when she’s bored. And when she’s upset…”

Hubert had watched, stunned, as a small, fond smile temporarily softened her expression. “She has a surprisingly expressive frown,” Edelgard continued. "It almost reminds me of—” She stopped abruptly, seeming to remember herself, and coughed quietly into her gloved hand. Her ears were slightly pink as she returned to her document. “Anyway. You’d do well to pay more attention to these small signs, Hubert. They are vital tools in aiding analysis of an individual and their potential motivations.”

Hubert still remembered the rumbling of disquiet he had felt at the temporary gentling of her expression in that moment. He had thought Lady Edelgard was potentially opening herself up to sentimentality, and to weakness. He had thought this strange young professor would put his lady in danger. When Byleth had unexpectedly chosen to remain by her side in the Holy Tomb, Hubert had thought his fears were perhaps mistaken.

But now he’s been proven right, and he has never more strongly wished he could have been wrong.

Lady Edelgard had been sentimental. Inconceivably so, risking her life to protect the professor like that. He supposes that it was in some part calculated risk—she had raised Aymr, after all, and if the attack hadn’t been that damnably advanced magic, she would’ve managed to deflect the blow and keep both herself and the professor from harm. He also knows that if anyone can prove to be a worthy successor to Lady Edelgard, it is the professor.

And yet he somehow doubts that this logic was flowing through Lady Edelgard’s mind when she had acted as she did. He’d noticed the feelings growing between her and the professor, and he’d chosen to allow it. Sentimental foolishness on his part that he regrets more than anything.

“Forgive me,” he says quietly. “My guidance was…sorely lacking.”

There’s no response, of course. But Hubert finds himself bowing anyway as he stares down at Edelgard’s body, lying still on the bed. It feels entirely wrong to see her so weak and defenseless, her eyes sunken and her face wan.

With the information he’d managed to pry from Thales’s assassin, Hubert had learned enough to stop the bleeding from the wound itself, and it heals with an excruciating slowness day by day. But Lady Edelgard herself hadn’t woken up.

It had taken many hours before Byleth could be stirred from Edelgard’s side. And when she had finally stood, there hadn’t been anything left in her expression at all. Since then, she’d been moving mechanically from target to target, eliminating everyone that Hubert pointed out.

At this point, their only hope was that whatever advanced magic and technology they could take from Those Who Slither in the Dark could be used to rouse Edelgard from her comatose state.

Under any other circumstances, Hubert would consider the current state of the war against Thales favorable. Byleth was crushing their secret strongholds one by one, the strike force galvanized to action behind her, and the assault on Shambhala seems far more imminent than he ever would have imagined.

But Lady Edelgard is in this state. Even if Hubert were to place his personal feelings on the matter aside to consider the situation coldly, it still looked grim; Professor Byleth was the logical successor to leading Fodlan, and perhaps a week ago, she might’ve proven a worthy one.

But now? Hubert wonders if even Lady Edelgard would be able to discern any emotions in those blank blue eyes. The Ashen Demon is hardly fit to lead Fodlan.

The sound of footsteps rouses Hubert from his brooding, and he looks up to see Lysithea walking into the room, her arms laden with carnations. The flowers in the gardens had gone unattended by the professor since their return, and he knows now who’s picked up their maintenance and care.

Lysithea’s skin is pale, her face drawn, and she doesn’t say anything as she stops by Edelgard’s bedside to stare down at her. Hubert watches as she places the flowers in a vase by the bed before settling into the chair on her other side.

“…the professor?” he says. If Lysithea is here, it means the strike force has returned successfully from their latest mission. He hardly has the capacity to worry about others currently, but on the chance that Lady Edelgard wakes up (more than a chance, he reminds himself; he’ll do anything and everything to ensure it happens), he knows she’ll want nothing more than to see Professor Byleth, safe and sound—what she had risked her life for.

“Bringing the prisoners to the dungeons for interrogation,” Lysithea says, and Hubert nods. More work for him, then; he’d never shrunk from his darker duties before, but now he found himself almost looking forward to those moments. At best, they’d have information that could help Lady Edelgard. At worst, members of the group responsible for her current state would suffer needlessly; neither were particularly unfavorable situations in his eyes.

“Petra is with her,” Lysithea adds. Since one week ago, the strike force had seemed to come to an unspoken agreement to never leave either Lady Edelgard or the professor alone. Edelgard’s current room was filled with flowers and stuffed toys and cards that the members of the strike force would leave each day.

Hubert had only swapped places with Dorothea, who was in here as frequently as he was. He had walked in on her singing softly to Lady Edelgard as she had combed through Edelgard’s long hair, and he had pretended not to see the tears in her eyes as she’d left the room.

“…Hubert. How much time did Edelgard have left?”

Hubert turns to see Lysithea staring intently back at him. The grief in her gaze is stark, and yet her gaze is penetrating.

“Please don’t bother lying to me,” Lysithea adds, before he can respond. “I know she went through what I did, and so I know her lifespan must be shortened like mine is. How much time did she have left to live, before this all happened?”

Hubert is quiet, the heaviness inside him deepening. “Longer than you,” he finally says.

Lysithea shakes her head. “That’s not saying much.” Her words are blunt, without a trace of self-pity or wallowing, and for a moment Hubert sees a spark of something that reminds him of Lady Edelgard in her. “How much time exactly? How many years?”

Hubert shakes his head. “We didn’t know. Her implantation procedure was less…experimental than yours, so her lifespan was not as dramatically affected. It could have been fifteen more years. It could have been ten. It could have been less. But it didn’t appear to matter to Lady Edelgard one way or another.”

Lysithea frowns slightly. “Because she’d accomplished her goal?”

“Yes. That, and…” Hubert stares down at Edelgard, his mouth twisting ruefully. “Sentimentality. She believed that she could find a way to reverse the effects. For both you and for her.”

Lysithea’s eyes widen. “Reverse them? How?” She hesitates, looking down at Edelgard. “…did Professor Byleth know?”

Hubert shakes his head. “It was because of the professor that Lady Edelgard believed the effects could be reversible. She appeared to believe she and the professor could accomplish anything together. So she was waiting to tell her. She didn’t wish to worry her needlessly.” He knew Lady Edelgard had recently been allowing herself to entertain thoughts like marriage. Thoughts like children. The resolve in her eyes had almost made Hubert believe it was possible, too. And what a fool hope had made of both of them.

“…you don’t believe that?”

Hubert looks up again to see Lysithea frowning at him, a steely glint her eyes. “…it is difficult to believe it, when one member of this pair lies comatose, and the other appears barely human anymore,” he says.

Lysithea’s frown deepens into a scowl, and Hubert notes with faint surprise the determination he sees in her eyes. Aside from Byleth herself, Lysithea had seemed to be one of the most strongly affected by Edelgard’s injury; he hadn’t expected to see any trace of spirit left in her.

But as she opens her mouth to say something else, she suddenly glances out the window, frowning at something that seemingly catches her eye.

Hubert glances out the window himself to find Byleth moving slowly through the castle grounds, Petra trailing her a short distance away. Byleth drags something behind her, and it takes Hubert a moment to realize it’s not something at all, but rather someone. A limp figure, bloodied to the point of looking more like a butcher’s side of meat than a human being. A prisoner from Those Who Slither in the Dark, he assumes.

These days, the professor notices his presence and his gaze instantly. He thinks back to how her senses had slowed only a few days ago as she’d found herself distracted with Lady Edelgard, and he wonders if this change is truly for the better. Even now, when Byleth looks up to meet his eyes, he expects to see anger there. Rage, frustration, impatience—any trace of human emotion. But only a yawning emptiness stares back at him.

Some days, he thinks he sees flickers of something; shadows simmering in her eyes, dark and turbulent, but then the professor will blink and they’ll be gone.

“She still hasn’t visited?”

Hubert shakes his head, though he keeps his gaze on Professor Byleth below. “No. When the professor isn’t out on missions, she’s training in the grounds with Felix or aiding me in my preparations for our attack on Shambhala.”

Lysithea is quiet, the frown on her face darkening. Hubert’s own feelings on Byleth’s apparent avoidance of Edelgard’s room are mixed—but irrelevant. He is not so naïve that he believes her presence will aid in waking Lady Edelgard up sooner. The most useful place the professor can be is out on the battlefield, and that’s where she spends most of her time.

Still.

He watches as Byleth continues on to the dungeons below, dragging the man behind her. The emptiness in her gaze is disquieting, and Hubert feels the chasm inside of him deepening even further.

Even if Lady Edelgard does wake up, he wonders whether she’ll recognize the Byleth that stands by her side.

***

For as long as you could remember, the world had seemed muted. You saw things. Heard things. Felt things. But they were all gray, devoid of color.

This hadn’t changed when you’d met Edelgard. It wasn’t anything so dramatic. The world didn’t burst into color, and your senses hadn’t changed.

But something had. Without thinking, you’d flung yourself into the line of a bandit’s axe to save her life. It was something profoundly illogical, entirely counter to everything you’d ever done in your life. And yet you’d done it. Because it was her.

And since then, little by little, things had sharpened from gray into something brighter.

The bloom of carnations in the greenhouse. The ringing of laughter over tea. The warmth of her hand against yours.

The beating of your heart as you’d kissed her for the first time, bathed in the light of the setting sun atop the Goddess Tower.

But these memories all crumple away under the weight of the most recent one. Of Edelgard in your arms, the light fading from her eyes as her life seeps away.

And with her gone, the color went too.

There’s traces of it left; you can feel it there, hidden and bubbling beneath the surface. Only it isn’t the type of color you want. They’re not the reds of a scarlet cape or the violet of an intent gaze; they’re not the soft white of her hair or the dusting of pink to the flush that always rose so noticeably in her cheeks.

The only colors are dark and overwhelming—colors you’ve never seen before; they’re a twisting in your gut and a persistent stinging of your eyes. A tearing feeling in your chest.

They’re distracting. And so you ignore them, forcing them down until your chest feels leaden and cold, and until you can’t see anything but what’s ahead of you in battle. Or in this case, on the training grounds.

You bring your sword down again and again. The dummy splinters, falling off of its stand, and you hear someone step forward behind you.

“That’s the fifth one today, Professor,” Felix says, wrapping his wrists as he stares at you. He’s the only one who will train with you these days; with the strike force leaving on mission after mission, no one seems to have any energy left for training except Felix. Though even he seems to be tiring recently.

“Are you done with your break?” you ask, turning to face him.

Felix is quiet, his gaze fixed on your face as he seems to consider something. “We’ve been training for hours,” he says. “Ever since we returned from the mission. You haven’t had a single break.”

They’re simple observations, and yet Felix seems to be expecting a response from you. So you nod. “Yes. It’s important I maintain my training. I don’t need a break.” You don’t feel tired. You don’t feel much of anything these days.

Felix is frowning slightly, brow furrowed as he studies your face. “A doll,” he says. “You’re like a doll, not an animal. It’s what separates you from the boar.” He pauses, tightening his wrist wrappings. “But some days, it seems you’re beginning to walk a similar path.”

You stare at him quietly. You understand his words well enough. He’s comparing you to Dimitri. You feel a faint pang of something inside you at the memory of Felix’s final confrontation with his childhood friend, but you push that down too. You don’t know why Felix is bringing this up now, and you wait for him to continue.

“Professor,” Felix says. “I turned my back on my father and my country so that I could forge my own path.” His voice is cool, his eyes narrowed. But when he turns to you, he lowers his training sword, placing it down on the bench beside him. “I have not looked back. And I don’t plan to look back. So I will not watch as you fall like the beast did,” he says quietly. Taking off his gauntlets, he jerks his head towards the castle. “Go, Professor. Take a break. Clear your head. And when you’re ready, Dorothea told me to ask you if you’d join her in visiting Edelgard in her sickroom.”

You consider his words, focusing on their pragmatic outcomes while ignoring the twisting in your chest that they elicit. You need to keep training, but training by yourself is not nearly as effective as training with Felix. If you listen to Felix, the probability is high that he will be satisfied and resume training with you tomorrow.

So you nod, stiff and jerky. “I’ll take a break.” You won’t go join Dorothea, but you don’t tell him that. “I’ll see you tomorrow, then.”

You feel his gaze on you as you leave the training grounds; all the members of the strike force are looking at you these days. You recognize the emotions in their eyes as concern, or sadness, and it stirs something deep inside you that you determinedly ignore.

It’s the same kind of stirring that you’d been feeling more and more often these past few weeks. And so it’s a waste of time, you remind yourself. A weakness.

You find yourself wandering through the gardens and making your way to the chapel located by the castle. You remember the surprise the citizens of Enbarr had expressed when the chapel had remained untouched after the dismantling of the church.

I am not an enemy of the faith—only of the corruption and manipulation of its followers through the false church. Now that the church is gone, if the presence of a chapel like this gives my people comfort, I see no reason why it shouldn’t remain.

You remember her voice as she had explained her reasoning, firm and even, and even the memory alone sends a storm swirling inside of you.

You move faster, walking rapidly into the chapel and pushing firmly down at the swell of tumult inside you. And you don’t stop until you’re deep inside the chapel, standing before a statue of Sothis herself.

She looks graceful and distant, nothing at all like the miniature version of her that had lived inside your head. You reach out with one hand, letting your palm connect firmly with the cool stone of the statue. You remember the last time you’d made contact with her—fusing with her completely and receiving her powers.

You wish desperately that you could do that again. To use her powers to turn back the hands of time. You’d first received those powers because you’d saved Edelgard’s life. You wish you could do the same once more.

Sothis had told you she’d always be with you. You haven’t heard from her since the slumber you’d fallen into for those five years. But now, you can’t help but wonder.

“Please come here.” You speak quietly, whispering into the air as you stare up at the statue. There are only a handful of people in the chapel, but Hubert has already warned you against the worried rumors that were apparently being spread about you; concerns over your health of mind. They don’t bother you, but you know that if you’re to protect this world as you’d promised, you need the trust of its people.

You don’t know how long you wait. The few people who were in the chapel trickle out, and you’re left alone.

You hear the rustling of wind behind you, but nothing else. You stare blankly down at your feet. You don’t really know what you’d expected.

You sit down by the statue; you’re not quite tired, but you decide to rest for just a moment. Closing your eyes, you sink down against the statue.  

When you open them again, you’re staring up at Sothis once more. But instead of the marble likeness of the goddess, you find yourself staring up at the same version you’d seen for all these years of your life. She doesn’t move—she remains motionless, like the statue itself, and the world around you is hazy. You think you must be dreaming.

“If you are going to cry for me like a spoiled child, you should at least have the decency to wait for some time before expecting my presence.” The voice that drifts in the wind around you is familiar, haughty yet fond. “I am not so idle that I can fly to be with you at your every whim.”

You whirl, and yet there’s no one there. Only the statue looming over you, and the ghost of a voice in the wind.

“Though I suppose it is not whim that brings me here, is it?” the voice continues. “You are sad. Broken. I felt it acutely as it happened. The pain that filled your heart.”

It feels like what you had woken up from after those five years of slumber. A voice in your head and around you. Like something from a dream. And yet you know it must be her. Her voice is unmistakable.

So you take a step towards the statue. “I need your power again, Sothis.”

Her responding laugh is short and incredulous. “You need my power!” she repeats, sounding deeply affronted. “As though it is a trifle to be so freely given!”

You shake your head. “I know it’s not a trifle. But I need it. Please, Sothis.” You feel a familiar twisting sensation in your chest, and you desperately push it down as you reach out to the statue. You can’t break now. You have too much you need to do. “It’s for El.” Your voice trembles as you say her name. “I’ll do anything.”

Sothis’s voice is silent for a moment before drifting back to you, softer this time. “Has it ever occurred to you that Edelgard, like Jeralt, was fated to die at a certain time?”

The twisting in your chest sharpens, and you feel your eyes sting. “No,” you say, your voice hoarse. “I haven’t tried turning back time. There’s more I could do. She isn’t dead yet.”

“Not yet,” Sothis agrees. “But I have seen many worlds like this one. Many paths of time. And in every one except yours, Edelgard von Hresvelg died young. Her dream of a new world never came to pass. Her ideals fell unfulfilled. She died in vain. She died alone.”

There’s a brief silence, and then the voice continues. “And in many of these worlds, she died at the hands of one she might have loved.”

You feel your hands shaking by your sides. You can’t imagine such worlds. You don’t want to imagine them.

“A cruel fate,” Sothis continues with a faint sigh. “Compared to that, her existence here was a blessing. She accomplished her goal. Her friends remained by her side. And she had you. She was quite happy, you know. Even in those final moments.”

“Sothis,” you say quietly. Your chest aches and your vision blurs. “Please stop. Just tell me if you can help me.”

There’s a brief pause, and the wind moves gently around you in something almost like a caress. “And what manner of help are you hoping to receive from me?”

“The pulse,” you say. “To turn back the hands of time to before this happened.”

Sothis responds again with a laugh, but it’s more rueful and less condescending than before. “So quick to jump without thinking at all! For all that you’ve transformed over the years, your recklessness when it comes to that girl hasn’t changed in the least.” She pauses, her silence thoughtful, before she continues, “Assuming that granting this power once more were possible, you must consider the consequences of this action. It would require my presence in your heart once more—a crest stone sealing me and my power within you.”

You nod. “Yes.”

“Try to use that mind of yours to think before responding,” Sothis says, a familiar irritation entering her tone. “Should such a thing be possible—and should I permit a part of myself to be sealed inside your fragile human body once more—you understand that it would revert you to how you were. Do you recall how others described you after you and I became as one? I believe your little songstress friend put it best.”

You think back, remembering Dorothea’s words. Distant, she’d called you. And it was something Edelgard herself had echoed. As though you were floating above them all.

“I have little way of knowing how your capacity for emotion would be impacted,” Sothis says. “Jeralt said you were a baby that neither laughed nor cried. And so I must wonder: would you be capable of love?”

You stare up at the statue, a sudden fear crawling through the cracks of your defenses. “I’ve loved her for a very long time. Since before the crest stone broke,” you say, and Sothis hums tunelessly.

“So you say,” she replies. “And yet why is it that you never realized this until recently? Until after the crest stone shattered, and until after your heart started to beat for the first time?”

You clench your jaw against the rising fear, giving a quick, abortive shake of your head. “Sothis—”

“If you are so determined to do this, then by all means try,” Sothis says. “It has been done before, after all. I am only here to remind you of the details you so conveniently forget in your haste. Perhaps you might turn back the hands of time to save her. But consider what you might lose in the process.”

You stare at the statue, body tight with tension. “I need to save her,” you say, almost like a mantra. “If what you say is true, and fate itself is working against Edelgard, I need the power of a goddess to save her.”

Sothis is quiet for a long time, and you feel the world around you start to blur, as though you’re drifting away.

“Perhaps,” she finally says. “But fate has always been working against Edelgard. And yet you managed to find the one world in which you could walk by her side. I will not inflate your ego with meaningless praise. But this is an accomplishment to consider as you continue to walk this path—that you’ve defied fate before.”

You blink, and suddenly you’re sitting in the chapel, staring up at the adult form of Sothis once more.

You get up slowly, the aching in your chest worse now than it was before. You need to go to sleep. Resume training tomorrow. And start researching crest stones. You know Edelgard wouldn’t approve, but—

You stop suddenly, the ache in your chest sharpening. You want to see her. More than anything else, you want desperately to see her. You’d been avoiding it ever since that day one week ago, knowing full well that this pain in your chest would burst the moment you did, but it’s already coming close to that, and so at this point there’s nothing keeping you at all.

Edelgard’s room in the infirmary is crowded with people when you arrive. They all fall silent when they see you, and one by one, they begin to trickle out. You hear them murmuring to you as they pass, feel their touches on your shoulder and arm, but you can only focus on Edelgard.

You sit by her bedside, staring down at her face. You’ve never seen her looking so weak, and the thought alone brings that tearing feeling up again in your chest.

“Professor.”

You look up automatically, and find Lysithea frowning down at you. She, Hubert and Dorothea are the only ones left in the room, and Dorothea pauses in the doorway as Lysithea speaks.

“Professor,” she says again. “What took you so long to visit?”

“Lysithea,” Dorothea says quietly, but Lysithea ignores her.

“You haven’t visited since she was injured, not even once,” Lysithea continues. Her stare is sharp, almost accusing. “Why?”

You stare back at her, trying to draw your scattered thoughts. “I couldn’t,” you say finally.

Lysithea is glaring at you now, brows drawn together. “’Couldn’t?’ Did someone hold a knife to your throat and keep you from it?”

“Lysithea,” Dorothea says again, putting a hand on her shoulder, but Lysithea only shakes her off.

“You’re acting like she’s dead, Professor,” Lysithea says. “But Edelgard isn’t dead. She’s still alive, and she just needs to wake up. Isn’t that what you’re fighting for?”

You feel yourself nodding automatically, because what she’s saying is objectively true. You watch as Lysithea takes a step towards you, her eyes narrowing.

“Then why haven’t you visited? Do you have such little faith in Edelgard, that you believe she won’t be able to wake up? Or is it that you lack faith in yourself?”

You stare up at her. There’s something strangely familiar about her words, about the way she delivers them. And you remember five years ago, after Jeralt’s death. When Edelgard herself had come to your room to find you.

You remember her advice to you then. Sothis had called her arrogant, and yet it had been what you needed to hear. To move forward.

But that’s what you’re doing now. Moving. One step in front of the other, one foe and then the next. That’s all you’ve been doing, again and again.

“I’m doing what I can,” you say, your voice hoarse. “I’m trying.” You stop, remembering your dream, and look back up at Lysithea. “I’m trying to find a way. And I think I have an idea. But—” You pause again, eyes dropping down. You stare at the Sword of the Creator hanging from your waist, and think of how worthless it really is now. It’s reminds you of yourself; a shell of something had had once been useful, and suddenly you want to throw it somewhere far away.

“Lysithea,” you say quietly, once your voice is steady again. “If I could undo all of this, if I could bring Edelgard back, anything would be worth the sacrifice, wouldn’t it?”

Lysithea is quiet for a moment, and when you look back up at her again, her gaze has softened slightly. “What would you be sacrificing, Professor?” she asks, and you let your gaze drop back down again.

You consider how to answer her—how best to describe everything you’d potentially lose within only a few words. “My humanity,” you finally say.

Dorothea takes a step towards you, her brow furrowed in concern. “What do you mean by that, Professor?” she says.

Besides her, Hubert frowns down at you, eyes dark with thought as he seems to process your words. “The power of the progenitor god?” he asks.

Before you can answer either of them, Lysithea makes a short, scoffing sound. “Your humanity? Why are you so torn up about potentially losing something you clearly have been trying to bury for the past week?”

“Lysithea, that’s enough,” Dorothea says, her reprimand firmer this time; Lysithea bristles in response.

“You know it’s true, Dorothea,” she responds, once again scowling down at you. “Have you seen yourself at all this week, Professor? The way you’ve been going from place to place and mission to mission without any rest? How you’ve been killing people without even a trace of emotion?” She turns towards the bed, and for the first time, you notice the pain in her eyes as she gestures towards Edelgard. “You haven’t visited, Professor. Not even once. You haven’t cried. If you really are human right now, you’re not showing any sign of it.”

You’re quiet for a long time, your gaze fixed on Edelgard’s face as the pain in your chest swells up once again. “I am human,” you say quietly. “And I did act human before. Bit by bit. More and more. And so I became distracted. I became weak. I couldn’t predict what happened at Anvil.”

And you realize what the trap here is. You are human now. Thoroughly human, with all of the weaknesses and failings associated with humanity and emotion. Yet you don’t want to be. You’re trying not to be, to return to how you were before, and so you’re stuck.

Because humanity was what kept you from protecting Edelgard properly.

Lysithea is quiet for a moment, her eyes fixed on the ground. But in the next, she looks up again, and the anger has faded from her eyes. A steely resolve replaces it, and the determination in them is familiar to you. “The only way you wouldn’t be human right now was if you hadn’t joined Edelgard, Professor. If you’d joined Dimitri, or Claude, or sided with Archibishop Rhea and the church, you’d still be fused together with the progenitor goddess. You’d still have all of those powers and that might. Would you want that?”

You remember Sothis’s words then. Across many other worlds and times, Edelgard had walked alone. You hadn’t been there for her. Perhaps in some, you’d even hurt her. The thought wrenches at your gut, and you shake your head. You’d made your choice long ago, and you’d never once regretted it.

Some of the disapproval leaves Lysithea’s gaze as she nods at you. “Maybe you were weak because of your humanity, Professor. Maybe you made a mistake. And maybe becoming fully human was a sacrifice you had to make. But there are no paths in life that don’t come without its share of mistakes and pain and sacrifices. It’s just a matter of deciding which path is worth the sacrifices that are made.” 

Lysithea straightens up, squaring her shoulders and suddenly looking much older than she usually does. “What you feel for Edelgard is a result of your humanity, Professor. And becoming human is a result of the path you chose. I made my choice, and I’ve never looked back. If you feel the same, Professor, I believe it’s time you stopped faltering like some lost child.”

You gaze up at her in silence, but Lysithea’s gaze never once wavers from yours.

You feel the warmth of a hand on your shoulder, and you turn to see Dorothea staring quietly back at you. “I don’t know what plan you were considering, Professor,” she says softly. “But I do know that despite all the pain you’re in right now, not feeling anything at all is much scarier. Because then you’d be alone.” Her grip on your shoulder tightens. “And if you went away—became distant again, like you were before—then you’d be leaving Edie alone, too.”

You turn to look at Edelgard, lying motionless on the bed. And even as your heart twists inside you, you know that they’re right; even that feeling is a result of how you feel for her. To get rid of it would be to get rid of how you feel entirely.

And that thought scares you almost as much as the thought of losing her.

Hubert clears his throat. “I am…not one for sentimental encouragements,” he says quietly. “But I do have the logic that I reasoned out to offer you, Professor. With your efforts, we are ready to mount our attack on Shambhala. Our best hope of finding some way to wake Lady Edelgard lies in the technology we might be able to find within that fortress.” He pauses, gaze steady as he stares at you. “It will be difficult. But you and Lady Edelgard have done even more difficult things before.”

You sit in silence, gaze fixed on the Sword of the Creator.

But even as you sit there, turning their words over in your head, you know you’ve made your decision already. You made your decision five years ago, when you’d first taken Edelgard’s hand. You walked with her on that path. You’d told her you’d remain by her side. You’d chosen her.

You’re not going to deviate from that path now. 

So you turn back to Edelgard and lean down, brushing her hair gently from her face. It’s still soft, still well-cared for, and you vaguely remember Dorothea brushing it every time during her daily visits. It’s something you should’ve been doing.

You press a gentle kiss to her forehead, feeling that increasingly familiar pain inside you as you do. And this time, you don’t attempt to ignore it, don’t attempt to push it down again. You allow the weakness squeezing at your heart, and you hold her close to you, listening to the gentle sound of her breathing. “I’m sorry, El,” you say, very softly. And you lower your head to her chest, listening for the steady beat of her heart. As long as that sound is there, you haven’t lost her yet. “Wait for me just a little longer.”

You pull away, and as you turn back to the others, you feel a sudden wave of exhaustion. As you sway on your feet, your eyes suddenly sting and your vision blurs.

For a moment, Lysithea stares at you, conflict in her gaze. And then, huffing, she drops down into the seat beside you. Her gaze is averted, but her grip is firm as she squeezes your hand. “It’s about time,” she says, sounding disgruntled. “As I said. If you’re going to accept being human, act like one. So cry all you’d like, Professor.” Despite her tone, there’s a ghost of a small tugging at her lips as she turns back to you. “And when you’re done, we’re going to move forward. We’ll go to Shambhala, and we’ll find the way to wake Edelgard up again.”

You sit down slowly, letting yourself rest against Lysithea’s shoulder.

For a moment, nothing happens. You simply rest, letting your body sag against her. But when you feel a sudden wetness on your cheeks, tears rolling down your face, you feel your breath hitch. You feel your body tremble, you feel your face twist, and you lean into her as a sob breaks its way out from your chest.

Your nose runs, your tears flow messily, and the sobs that follow are harsh and trembling. You don’t cry silently as you did when Jeralt had fallen before you, or when Edelgard herself had faded away in your arms. For the first time you know, you cry aloud, like a child, like a human being.

The three of them stay with you the entire time. Lysithea holds tightly onto your hand, her fingers shaking and her eyes glassy and red. And they all remain until you’re ready to rise.

Until you’re moving forward, and until Hubert quietly tells you the location of Shambhala.

***

That night, you fall into a deep, bone-tired sleep. You sleep in the bed beside Edelgard’s, and your dreams are filled with visions of her. Alive, awake, and walking by your side once more.

You don’t dream of Sothis again, but as you wake from your dreams, you think you heart the faint sound of her voice in the morning breeze.

You press a gentle kiss to Edelgard’s cheek, placing the armored bear stuffy you’d given her five years ago—and that you’d found once more in her room—by her side. And then, fastening the Sword of the Creator to your waist, you leave the room to join the strike force waiting for you outside.

Shambhala itself is a labyrinth. 

You run with the strike force deep underground, finding towering golems and strange devices at every turn. You cast a wave of Bolganone, and despite the difficulty of taking each contraption down, they stir up some hope within you. The more complex they are, the better their technology really is, and the better chance they have something that can help Edelgard.

The battle goes by in a blur. You feel the pounding of your heart in your ears as you tear your sword from the shell of another doll-like creature, ripping the key from its body and climbing the steps to where you know Thales is waiting.

The battle continues to rage behind you as the rest of the strike force holds off the encroaching golems and waves of reinforcements, and yet the sounds fade as you step into the room and see Thales standing before you.

It’s his fault. Everything that had been done to Edelgard to hurt her is his fault. Your pulse roars in your ears, quick and erratic now, and you take another step forward.

Thales is saying something to you, something you only now begin to register.

“And with all the children of the goddess gone, the world will begin anew. Agartha will rise. We shall rise together, as one, as the dawn of a new era—

You punch him in the face, interrupting his manifesto and sending him staggering backwards. As he stumbles, his arm glowing with magic, you rip the Sword of the Creator from its sheath and swing. Something bursts inside your chest, white-hot and overpowering, and the slash of your sword cleaves Thales’s arm off entirely. Anger, you realize. You’re angry. You’re furious, and the strength of that feeling fuels your next blow as you drive your gauntleted fist into Thales’s gut.

Emotions, as you discover, aren’t entirely weakness after all.

You think of the javelin of light piercing Edelgard’s side. You think of her clutching at you as blood seeped from the wound. You think of the scars marring her body. You think of her nightmares. You think of her weeping for her siblings in the loneliness of a cell. You think of the worlds besides this one where she died all alone.

And as these thoughts finally begin to fade, you come back to yourself, standing in the room over Thales’s beaten and broken body.

You’re suddenly aware of the silence around you, only broken when someone coughs behind you.

You turn to find the strike force filtering into the room; the golems had depowered once you’d beaten Thales, and the reinforcements had broken to flee.

"...well," Linhardt mumbles, sinking heavily down onto the floor. The other members of the strike force are all bruised and bloody, but they're alive. "That was anticlimactic." 

Dorothea stares down at Thales’s limp form, her brows raised. “Somehow,” she says, “I don’t think this particular fight will make it into the songs.”

You only shrug. “He doesn’t deserve to be sung about.”

And when you turn back to him, the anger in your veins beginning to cool, you consider what to do. You want to kill him. But you know that there’s someone who would want to do this even more than you do.

And that someone needs to wake up for that to happen. If anyone knows how to help Edelgard, it’ll be him.

And if anyone can get this information out of him, it’ll be Hubert.

The assault on Shambhala takes approximately five hours; half of that time is because your army ransacks the underground citadel, raiding for technology and tools that might be able to help. As Hubert tells you once you return to Enbarr, it was supposed to have taken at least five weeks.

“Our first war took over five years to end,” he says to you with a faint, wry smile, “Our second took five hours. As we stamp out all remaining stragglers, let us hope we narrow the span of the next battles to minutes. I should think that that will be a world Lady Edelgard will be glad to awaken to.”

***

But the waiting is much longer afterwards.

Hubert takes Thales into the dungeons every day, flanked by his team of interrogators. And each day he emerges, his eyes dark with anger. It's an anger you feel reflected within yourself, and the anger that had allowed you to defeat Thales so quickly. You can only hope that this anger allows Hubert to do his job just as well. 

It takes several days before he finally enters Edelgard’s sick room once more, holding nothing but a small, thin, needle-like instrument with a pump and some liquid contents in the barrel of it.

You look up from Edelgard’s side. You’ve spent each day here since you’ve returned. You hardly speak, and you spend your days uselessly, but unlike before, you do find yourself crying and sleeping often; and perhaps that’s why Lysithea no longer scowls at you when you see her, why Dorothea always smiles warmly when she comes to visit, and why Felix no longer gives you those narrow, accusing stares.

“It's called a syringe," Hubert says, holding up the strange needle in his hand. “Made with the technology we took from Shambhala, and filled with contents extracted from the knowledge in the depths of Thales's unwilling mind."

You look at the device carefully. "Could he be lying to you?"

Hubert chuckles mirthlessly. "He is in no state to be capable of lying to me. I have ensured that much." Staring into the clear contents, he continues, "And I confirmed what he told me with some of the medical tomes we found in their stronghold. Supposedly, it will do something to stimulate her brain. If anything can rouse her from her state, it is this. It must be injected directly into her bloodstream.” He pauses, and then holds it out to you.

“Please use it, Professor,” he says, and you note the slightest, almost imperceptible tremor in his hand as he places the device in yours.

Your own hands are steady as you turn to Edelgard, settling quietly by her side. Even now, she looks like she’s simply sleeping. Like at any moment she could open her eyes and meet yours once more.

There’s much you want to say to her. Much you want to tell her; questions you want to ask, feelings you want to confess, pleas you want to voice. And yet you know all of those can only be given to her once she’s awake.

And so when you lean down, brushing your lips against her forehead, you keep your words brief. “I want to walk with you,” you say quietly, your thumb moving gently over her cheek. “Please come back to me, El.”  

You bring the needlepoint to her arm. And, taking in a slow, steadying breath, you push it in, watching the barrel as the contents empty into her veins.

And you watch her.

For a long time, nothing happens. You hear Hubert exhale shakily behind you, a huff of something that sounds almost like despair, but you keep watching.

You listen for the beating of your heart, quick and stumbling in your chest. The fear there. The desperation. Human sounds, and the results of the path you chose. The path you need to believe in. 

In the next breath, something shifts. Like the first time all those years ago, it’s barely perceptible; nothing dramatic at all. No fanfare or bursting of color. But something changes, like it has been for every day since you first met her. Bit by bit.

And as you watch her eyelids flutter open, seeing the flash of color in those violet eyes, it’s like you can breathe again.

You’re dimly aware of Hubert speaking hoarsely behind you, of the pounding of feet as someone runs from the room, but you can only see Edelgard in front of you.

Her gaze is unfocused, her breathing shallow, and for a brief, terrifying moment, her eyes settle on you without recognition.

But then they refocus, and your name falls from her lips once more. It’s a sound you thought you might never hear again, and the world blurs around you as you collapse at her bedside.

And you cling to the hand that reaches out for yours.

For a time, you can’t do anything but hold desperately onto her hand, repeating her name again and again as you squeeze the warmth of her between your fingers.

“El,” you say, your voice broken with tears. You press your lips to her fingers, wishing for nothing more than to hold onto her forever. You almost lost her, you think. You almost lost her and now you’ll never let her go again.

Edelgard’s voice is weak, and yet the sound of it shakes you. “Professor,” she murmurs, and her other hand comes to brush gently against your cheek. Her smile faint but her eyes are warm, filled with that same emotion you’d seen before they’d closed one week ago. “I wasn’t sure…if I’d wake up again. But if I did, I had wanted to see you smiling.” Her thumb moves against your skin, and the warmth of it sends a wave of relief coursing through you. “But you’re crying again.”

And you realize you are, only you’re not sad. Your heart is fit to burst inside your chest, but it’s not painful, and you’re shaking violently, but it’s not in grief. You don’t know any way to explain any of this to Edelgard—don’t have any explanation except one.

You nod, and you feel your lips tilting upwards as you press another kiss to her hand. “Yes,” you breathe, your voice raw. “Yes. It’s because I love you.”

The words come to you clumsily, graceless and sudden and not at all like you’d planned it; there are no flowers, no poetry, and none of the painstaking preparations you’d been going through. And yet you feel your heart swell as you whisper those words again and again, clutching her hand like a lifeline.

Edelgard stares at you, eyes widening, and you notice the fine trembling of her fingers as you press another kiss to the back of her hand. “I love you, El,” you whisper, intertwining your fingers with hers. “From the very beginning, it was always you.” You bring her hand to your chest, resting over the pounding of your heart. “It started with you. This beat, this warmth—it’s only ever been because of you.” You pull her close, hands shaking. “And it’s only ever been for you. But then I lost you, and—”

You don’t think you’ve ever talked so much in all your life, but the words bubble out of you like you’re a child, frightened and weeping. You shake your head. “I wanted to tell you then. But it felt like too much of a goodbye—I thought I might lose you for good.”

“You haven’t.” Edelgard’s voice is still soft, but it’s steady, and her grip is stronger now around your fingers. “I’m here. I don’t know what you did, Professor, or how I’m alive, but I know it’s because of you.”

You swallow hard, still holding her hand to your chest. “I’m sorry,” you say. “All of those times, I wanted to tell you. The flowers, the poetry—it was all in preparation to tell you this properly. I messed it up. But I wanted to make it right. Because I wanted it to be perfect for you.”

You see the comprehension beginning to dawn on Edelgard’s face, and her fingers tighten around yours. “It is perfect,” she breathes, her voice hoarse. Her smile is weak but beautiful. “If it’s from you, Byleth, it’s perfect.”

You bring your lips to hers, pressing them very gently against hers. And despite the softness of it, the way your lips only barely brush together, it leaves you breathless. You whisper those words again until your heart is pounding and your chest aches; you feel her trembling in your arms, feel the wetness of her tears, but you feel her smiling against your skin and her lips are warm.

“I love you,” you say, firmly this time, even if your hands won’t stop shaking. “I love you, El. Please stay with me. Walk with me.” Your lips dip down to her finger, where the ring you’d given her had never left her hand. Pressing another kiss to the cool metal, you look up at her. “I chose you before, and I’ll choose you again for as long as I live.” You lift your lips to hers, once again gentle and careful. “So please don’t ever leave me.”

Edelgard gazes at you quietly, and you know you must be overwhelming her when she’s only just woken up, but you can’t help yourself. This too, you realize, is a weakness. Selfishness and fear—the desire to have her forever, and the terror of losing that.

So before she can respond, you know you have to admit to her: “I’m weaker now. I’m not as strong as I was, not as talented. I’m just human.” Your eyes stray to the Sword of the Creator lying in its sheath by the door. And when you turn back to Edelgard, you run your finger gently over the metal of her ring. “But I love you, El. I want to be with you. And so if you’ll have me despite my weakness—”

You stop, suddenly winded. You really haven’t ever spoken this much before, and your reserve of words abruptly appears to dry up. You’ve never been good at talking, and suddenly you’re not sure how to end it. “If you would,” you say, searching for just a few more words, “I’d…appreciate it.”

Edelgard lets out a little laugh; it’s weak, barely a puff of air, but it relieves you to hear it. To know that she can still laugh after all of this. “A very formal end to an otherwise surprisingly impassioned speech, Professor,” she says, smiling at you.

There isn’t an answer there in her response, and you frown a little. You know Edelgard has always preferred logic and talent, and so you weren’t exactly doing a very good job of pitching the idea of staying with you to her just now; but as you droop in your seat, beginning to feel the stirrings of worry, Edelgard squeezes your hands.

“Honestly, Professor,” she says, that familiar mix of affection and exasperation once more in her smile. “That obliviousness of yours…have you entirely forgotten what I said to you before I lost consciousness? I would have thought deathbed confessions would carry more weight.”

Before you can respond, she pulls her hands up to cup your face gently between them. And, tilting her head up, she presses her lips to yours.

“I told you I loved you, Byleth. And regardless of how much time has passed—” She stops suddenly, looking mildly alarmed. “How much time has passed, Professor? Please don’t tell me it’s been another five years.”

You shake your head quickly. “A little over one week,” you say, and she relaxes.

“Well, regardless,” she continues, clearing her throat. “No matter how much time might have passed, my feelings would not have changed.” She pauses, looking at you quietly, and then continues in a softer voice, “And no matter how much time passes in the future, or whatever else may come our way…my feelings for you still will remain the same. That I promise you.”

You nod shakily, the fear in you receding as you hold to the warmth of her hands. “You’ll stay with me?” you ask.

And Edelgard nods. “Yes,” she says quietly. “I will stay with you. At this point, we’ve both been brought back from the very brink of death.” She smiles slightly. “No matter what may come next, we can find a way to overcome it, Professor. So long as we’re walking together.”

You nod, trembling, and you feel a wave of confusion wash over you as your vision blurs again. As you swipe at your eyes in puzzlement, you feel Edelgard’s hand moving gently against your cheek.

“You’re becoming quite the crybaby, Professor,” she says, a hint of teasing to her voice that mingles with the concern. “What troubles you now?”

You shake your head. “I’m not troubled. I’m happy.” Your heart is filled with an overflowing warmth, and you feel your lips tugging upwards in a smile. “Is it possible to cry because you’re really happy?”

Edelgard nods slowly, her eyes wide with curiosity as she studies your expression. “Yes,” she says. “Though I certainly never expected to see you do so.”

You stare at the tears dripping down to hands, and feel a small, bemused little laugh bubbling up out of you. “Being human is very confusing,” you say, and Edelgard looks at you in clear surprise.

“Happy tears, a smile, and now a laugh,” she murmurs, staring at you with an open warmth in her eyes. “Such rarities from you, and in such quick succession. What a pleasant world you’ve woken me up to, Professor.”

You remember Sothis’s words then, and you nod. “Our world,” you say, pulling her close to you. “Our world that we’ve created, and the only one that matters.”

Edelgard smiles, and when you lean in to kiss her again, you finally allow yourself to relax in her arms. Because this is your world, regardless of what happened in all of the others that Sothis saw. You chose her, and you saved her, and now she’s here by your side once more.

As you sink into the warmth of her body, moving your lips gently against hers, you hear the sudden pounding of footsteps as the door slams open. You break the kiss, turning to the door to find Lysithea standing in the doorway.

An interesting sequence of emotions plays out on her face, shifting from panicked worry to open relief to a red-faced embarrassment. Her mouth moves wordlessly for a moment before she finally sputters out an indignant, “Really, Professor? Edelgard only just woke up!”

It takes you a moment to realize how you’re pressed against Edelgard on the bed, and how you’d been kissing her when Lysithea walked in.

Edelgard clears her throat, reddening, and shakes her head. “That’s not—she wasn’t doing anything like that,” she says, and when Lysithea turns to face her, her expression shifts again.

Lysithea takes a few quick steps forward before stopping by the bedside. And, staring down at Edelgard, she blinks rapidly. “Edelgard,” she says. “I—I’m glad that you’re—” Sniffling, she swipes quickly at her eyes, and Edelgard smiles.

“It’s good to see you, Lysithea,” she says, and Lysithea drops abruptly down into the seat beside you, burying her face into Edegard’s shoulder. You don’t see her cry, but her body shakes and you hear hiccupping sounds, so you pat her head a few times.

Lysithea gives a few halfhearted swipes at your arm, but the relief in her gaze is stark when she finally rises again to look at both of you. And you hear the pounding of several more footsteps as the door opens once more.

“Edelgard! You have awoken!” Ferdinand’s shout is filled with unadulterated joy and relief as he bounds up to the bed with Hubert close behind him. “It is to expected, of course. My rival would never allow herself to succumb to such wounds when we have yet to decide who will emerge victorious from—”

“Oh, Edie!” Dorothea pushes past Ferdinand to envelop Edelgard in a tight hug, tears flowing freely down her cheeks as she squeezes. “You have no idea how worried we were—how worried the professor was—how worried was,” she says, shaking her head. “Don’t you ever do anything so stupidly heroic like that again.”

Edelgard chuckles, and is only beginning to respond when Hubert sinks into a low bow on her other side. “Lady Edelgard,” he says, his voice hoarse. “I couldn’t help but overhear what you were just saying to the professor. Please know that you have now promised to live a long and peaceful life. You are a woman of your word; you cannot go back on this.”

The door slams open again, and within moments Sylvain and Manuela and all of the other members of the strike force are pouring into the room, bringing with them utter chaos. Healers attempt to squeeze by the throng, their staves at the ready as they examine Edelgard to ensure her safety and health.

You remain quietly by Edelgard’s side the entire time, your fingers tightly interwoven with hers. You know she still needs to recover. You know there are still things she hasn’t yet told you. And you know that even with Thales chained in the bowels of the dungeons below, the reforms of the world you’ve made have only just started.

But the warmth in your chest doesn’t abate, and for the first time in over a week, you allow yourself to fully rest, leaning gently against her.

Because regardless of whatever else awaits you, you love her, and she loves you. And this is the path you’ll continue to walk together.

Chapter Text

Several hours of faith magic pass, with the healers running a battery of tests on the state of Edelgard’s muscle function, heart rate, breathing, and a dozen other things that you patiently sit and wait through. It’s only by evening that the healers finally pronounce Edelgard well enough to be moved back to her bedchambers, though they set up supplies and equipment by her bed and keep a medic on constant call in the adjacent room.

You help with the moving, guiding Edelgard gently back to her chambers. She walks slowly and unsteadily, leaning heavily against you, but the warmth of her body pressed to your side and of her arm around your shoulders as you help her along bring a pleasant tingling in your chest. Because she’s back here with you. She’s alive and awake, and suddenly you’re filled with a burst of energy and the sudden desire to hold her as closely as possible.

So without thinking, you reach down and sweep Edelgard’s off of her feet; you enjoy the startled little breathless sound she makes, and enjoy even more the feeling of her against you as you lift her carefully up into your arms.

“P-Professor—” Edelgard loops her arms around the back of your neck reflexively, then pulls slightly back as her face flushes with color. It’s a sight you’d very much missed (she’d been pale this past week, far too pale), and you resolve to bring that dusting of pink out as frequently as possible. “Professor, I am perfectly capable of walking on my own,” she says, tone colored with clear embarrassment. “There’s no need for you to carry me.”

“I don’t need to,” you agree. “But I want to.” The healers said Edelgard should begin exercising her muscles, but that she should be eased into this process. You don’t want her to strain herself. And you don’t want to let her go.

There isn’t anyone else in the hallway with you besides the guards far down the hall; it’s a short walk to her chambers, and the healers are already waiting for her there, while Hubert and Lysithea are organizing all of the gifts left in Edelgard’s medical room before following after you. Still, you can see the mental debate that wars on Edelgard’s expression as she pauses, looking torn between the indignity of being carried to her chambers versus the indignity of unsuccessfully attempting to wriggle out of your grasp.

So to help her decide, you lean your head down and kiss her. She very quickly settles down, and you feel yourself smiling against her lips as you let your lips move gently against hers.

Ever since she woke up, you’ve found yourself wanting to kiss her at every possible opportunity. You didn’t realize how much you’d missed this. You’d missed her, more than anything, and you can’t help the constant desire to feel the warmth of her lips against yours.

Edelgard huffs in mingled embarrassment and exasperation as you part—but her eyes are fond as she looks up at you and that color has heightened in her cheeks; you feel the warmth buzzing pleasantly in your chest heating up in response.

“Honestly, Professor,” she says softly. One of those slight, subtle smiles tugs at her lips, and she shakes her head. “I’m not planning on going anywhere.”

You nod. “I know. You promised, and you don’t break your promises.” You sink into those words for a moment, enjoying the security the sentiment brings. Then, shaking your head, you frown a little. “But we lost a week together,” you tell her solemnly. “We have to make it up.”

And you press your lips to hers again. Edelgard hesitates for a moment, but as you start to pull back, you feel her arms suddenly tugging from their place behind your neck and bringing your head back down again. You sink into her warmth, deepening the kiss, and move your tongue languidly against the heat of hers.

You’re debating whether you should put her down so you can kiss her elsewhere when you hear the sudden stumbling of footsteps, as well as a short, agitated sound from behind you. You feel Edelgard stiffening in your arms, and you reluctantly break the kiss as you turn around.  

Both Manuela and Lysithea stand behind you, their arms laden with the flowers and gifts that had been accumulating in Edelgard’s sickroom. After several hours, the strike force finally dispersed to allow Edelgard some rest. Only Hubert and Lysithea had remained, so you’re surprised to see Manuela here instead of Hubert.

Though the sound, you know, had come from Lysithea. “This,” Lysithea says, her face scarlet as she gives Manuela a very pointed stare. “This is exactly what I was telling you about.”

For her part, Manuela looks highly entertained, her eyes bright with laughter as she smirks at you. “I do see your point, Lysithea,” she says, slow and amused. “Don’t you worry—I’ll give our lovebirds here a good talking-to.”

You blink in confusion, staring at Lysithea; she reddens slightly as you make eye contact, but only hurries past you as she flees to drop Edelgard’s items off in her chambers.

With Manuela trailing you, you know you have to keep yourself from kissing Edelgard again. So you restrain a sigh and bring Edelgard the rest of the way to her room without incident, though the flush to her cheeks and the way she steadfastly avoids your gaze very much tempt you.

As you settle her against the plushness of her bed, fluffing the pillows up, you glance at Manuela, who consults with her team of healers as she seems to write something down a parchment.

“Now, Professor,” she says, turning around to face you once more. “The healers will be taking care of the bulk of Edelgard’s recovery process. There are just two factors I’d like to assign you responsibility of.”

You nod, straightening as you turn from your position on the bed to face her.

“The first is bathing,” Manuela says. “I know Edelgard takes her baths alone, but she shouldn’t ever be alone while she’s recovering. Considering what other activities the two of you have engaged in together, I would assume that staying with her while she bathes is not an unreasonable task to ask of you, Professor.”

The way she words it is vague enough, but you still notice Edelgard going rigid beside you on the bed. Patting her hand soothingly, you nod at Manuela.

“I’ll help with baths,” you agree.

Manuela nods. “The second thing is an issue related to those other activities.” She pauses, turning to the healers, and dismisses them to the adjacent room before turning back to you and continuing on. “Lysithea voiced some…concerns that she had regarding your ability to control yourself, Professor. And how that might impact Edelgard’s recovery process.” She chuckles. “I don’t think the poor girl ever did get over the whole ‘devour’ thing. But she does raise an important point: sexual activity must be restricted during Edelgard’s period of recovery.”

“Professor Manuela, this discussion is highly unnecessary,” Edelgard says before you can respond, her eyes narrowing and her face flaring with color.

You frown, looking curiously up at Manuela as you wait for her explanation. “We should listen,” you say. “If it’s about your health, El, it’s important.”

Nodding, Manuela settles on a chair by the bed and blithely ignores Edelgard’s indignant objections. “That’s right. Thanks to your efforts, Professor, Edelgard is no longer in any immediate danger. But she only just woke up from a week-long comatose state, and she’s still healing from a serious injury; all in all, she’s still a convalescent, and must be treated as such.” The hint of professionalism to her demeanor surprises you, and you wonder whether Edelgard’s injury had impacted her more than you’d thought. From what little you could remember of others throughout this past week, she had seemed very grave and withdrawn, and you wonder if she’d changed and matured from the experience. You try to imagine a mature, thoughtful Manuela, and the thought disorients you.  

But then she rips a parchment covered in a long list out from her writing pad and hands it to you, saying, “So I made you a list of sex acts you can perform, given the circumstances,” and all is as it should be.  

You take the parchment from her, idly squeezing Edelgard’s hand as she makes a strained, incredulous noise of protest. The list is really quite long, and there are a number of words and phrases you’ve never even heard of.

“Feel free to let me know if you’re confused by any of the terminology, Professor,” Manuela says, smiling at you. “I only had a few minutes to draft it after Lysithea voiced her concerns, so it’s not comprehensive. But the gist of the matter is twofold: one, Edelgard shouldn’t be straining herself by being the active partner—though it sounds like this isn’t usually an issue anyway.”

“Professor Manuela,” Edelgard interjects again, face bright red and tone indignant.

Manuela looks unperturbed. “Professional opinion, dear,” she says placidly.

“There is absolutely nothing professional about this—”

“On the contrary,” Manuela interrupts. “With two people as inexperienced as you are, and with one partner convalescing, sexual activity can pose quite a risk. It’s my duty as a physician to ensure this risk is minimized.” Despite the glint in her eyes, Manuela indeed maintains a professional, almost clinical tone and expression as she speaks; you think this is probably the only reason why Edelgard hasn’t thrown her out yet.

“Now,” Manuela goes on. “If I may continue. Rule number two: no penetration. Meaning no fingers and no toys—at least not inside. Outside stimulation is acceptable.”

“Toys?” you repeat blankly. You stare at the stuffed animal on the dresser; you hadn’t realized they held erotic appeal.

“In a week or two from now, sure. But not just yet. Anna sells quite the selection—I can recommend guidelines for safe sex practices when you get to that. For now, no penetration of orifices.”

You nod, committing everything she says and that you read on the list to your own mental inventory. “Which orifices?”

“Professor,” Edelgard hisses. She both looks and sounds almost pained, and you turn to her in concern. “Please don’t encourage her with questions.”

But Manuela barrels on, nodding as she responds: “Any orifice in which penetration might cause tearing or bleeding. Vaginal, anal—"

“Anal?” Despite Edelgard’s request, you can’t help but repeat Manuela’s words in bemusement. “Would that feel good?

“That depends on the woman. Ask Edelgard,” Manuela replies.

“Please don’t,” Edelgard says to you before you can. So you don’t.

“Well, you can have that conversation later,” Manuela says (We will not be having that conversation later, Professor, Edelgard assures you, scarlet-faced). “For now, this will do as a guide. There’s some wiggle room here and there. Oral penetration, for instance, is acceptable, given how pliant the tongue is. I’ve written the specifics down on the list.”

Flashing a small, sly smile, Manuela rises to her feet. “I’d also like to speak with you privately, Professor, if you don’t mind. I believe Hubert wanted to speak to Her Majesty separately anyway, so I hope you two won’t mind a temporary separation. I promise you can return to be all wrapped up in one another again shortly—kissing is entirely fine, by the way. In case you were concerned you wouldn’t be able to finish your little display in the hallway.”

With a little wave, Manuela breezes out the door, throwing a “Do rest up, Edelgard,” over her shoulder.

For a moment, you and Edelgard stare after her in silence.

“As a child,” Edelgard finally says, “I had highly admired Professor Manuela.” She frowns. “It was perhaps a simpler time.”

You hum thoughtfully. “I still admire her,” you say. “She was looking out for your safety, El.” And you believe anyone who does so is someone to be admired.

“I hesitate to believe her motives were entirely altruistic,” Edelgard replies, still frowning, and it deepens as she turns to you. “In any event, there’s no need to pay attention to what she said. I am feeling more than well, and—”

“No,” you say, shaking your head. “You were comatose for a week, and you need to recover. I’ve memorized the list, and we won’t do anything beyond it until you’re one hundred-percent restored to full health.”

“Memorized?” Edelgard scowls at the parchment, looking likely to burn the entire thing at first opportunity. “That is a very profound waste of your keen mind, Professor.”

“It’s helpful.” You bring your hand to Edelgard’s cheek, savoring the softness and warmth of her skin beneath yours. She still looks decidedly displeased, and you feel yourself smiling a little as you pat her cheek. “Be good and wait for me here, El. I’ll be back after I talk to Manuela.”

Edelgard turns her scowl on you, her face reddening further. “I’m not some sick and disobedient child, Professor,” she protests, and while you nod and apologize, you also notice how cute Edelgard looks burrowed as she is amid the pillows you fluffed up and the blankets you buried her in.

“No, you’re not,” you agree. “You’re very good, El.” You pat her head, carding the soft locks between your fingers. “So wait patiently here and rest. I’ll be back soon.”

For a moment Edelgard only stares at you, the frown on her face shifting between indignation and perplexity, as though she isn’t quite sure how she wants to respond. Remembering the strategy that had worked so effectively in the hallway in settling her down, you lean in and press your lips to hers again. And just as she had before, Edelgard relaxes in your arms; when you finally pull away again, her frown has dissolved and the flush to her cheeks no longer seems to be from anger.

Still, the flush deepens as you pull away, getting to your feet and squeezing her hand one last time. “I am not so oblivious as you are, Professor, and know full well what you’re doing,” she says, huffing out a sigh as she sinks down into the pillows. She shakes her head, and her voice is rueful as she murmurs, half to herself, “The emperor of Adrestia, rendered pliant and malleable by a single kiss.” Her brow furrows as she looks up at you sternly. “It’s quite disgraceful. Know that I am allowing it now, but do not think I will be quite so easily manipulated in the future.”

You smile a little as you nod agreeably, leaning down for one last kiss before turning towards the door.

“If you must go,” Edelgard calls out from behind you, “please do not listen to whatever nonsense she tries to fill your mind with this time, Professor.”

You glance over your shoulder to nod again, and commit the pleasant sight of her to memory to last you through the next few minutes before you can go back to her again.

Manuela is waiting for you out in the antechamber, her legs crossed as she pours herself a goblet of some drink she’d managed to acquire within the two minutes you hadn’t seen her. She smiles when she sees you, and hands the goblet she’s filling out to you as she fills a second one on the end table beside her. “The one thing the whole ‘Edelgard’s awake’ celebration was missing was a stiff drink. Honestly, after such a week of misery, we really ought to be having a grand party,” she says, before throwing her head back to empty the contents of her goblet into her mouth. “Help yourself, Professor. They’re some of the finest spirits I’ve ever tasted; the regular stuff just doesn’t quite pack the same punch anymore. What do you think?”

You take a cautious sip, and feel the burning sensation of what’s possibly the strongest and most unpleasant drink you’ve ever tasted in your life. “It’s disgusting,” you say calmly, and take another sip. “Thank you.” Unpleasant as it is, she did gift it to you, and one of the few manners Jeralt had bothered to instill within you was finishing whatever food or drink that others offered to you.

“I know,” Manuela says, looking pleased. “It’s why I love it. Like liquid fire.” Tossing back another swig, she turns fully to face you. “Now, to get straight to the point of why I called you out here. I know it’s not really any of my business, but as the instigator of your whole quest of love, I have to ask: what are your intentions with Edelgard, Professor?”

You blink at her, head canted slightly to the side in confusion. “Intentions?”

Manuela nods. “Yes. I heard through the grapevine that you’ve already confessed your love; sans the flowers and poetry, I might add, but I suppose the sacrificial near-death experiences and life-saving recoveries make up for that. And I suppose you did have at least some of the carnal pleasures checked off the list.” She smiles, but something about her gaze seems uncharacteristically serious as she continues, “But what are you planning on doing with her now, Professor? I know you’re not a one-and-done type of woman, and yet you’re also somewhat…unconventional in the way you think. So I’m wondering what your plans are with Edelgard moving forward.”

You nod, taking another sip and ignoring the feeling of it searing your esophagus as you respond: “I’m going to stay with her. Walk by her side forever, regardless of what she does or where she goes.” You look at Manuela curiously, wondering about her sudden interrogation. “Why?”

Manuela doesn’t answer your question right away. “Forever? You’re thinking long-term commitment, then.” She looks pensive for a few moments, and you force a few more sips of the drink down. By the time you finish, Manuela looks back up at you.

“I noticed something odd,” Manuela says finally. “About Edelgard’s body during her daily examinations. She’s young and strong and should theoretically be in excellent health. And yet there were parts of her body that seemed…strained. As if there was a significant amount of physical burden on them.”

You frown, feeling your own body tense as you process this information. “What do you mean? Is she all right?”

“For now, yes. But as for the future…” Manuela pauses for a moment before shaking her head. “I think you should ask Edelgard herself about this,” she says. “For my part, I simply wanted to revise my earlier advice to you, Professor. Carnal pleasures are well and good, but there’s nothing more deliciously attractive than lifetime commitment. The two of you have been to the deepest depths and back together; I simply wanted to be sure you’re planning on always being there for her.”  

You nod slowly, letting her words sink in. You feel a sense of unease, and yet it’s not nearly as overpowering as it could be; after all, you’d only just pulled her back from near-death. No matter what comes next, you aren’t going to ever let anything separate you. “Thank you, Manuela. For caring for her.”

Winking, Manuela gets to her feet. “I may have a few minor faults, but no one ever said I wasn’t a stellar teacher. I care for my students. And for my friends,” she adds, smiling at you. “That’s all from me, Professor. Feel free to return to your emperor like a lovesick puppy.”

You nod, fully intending to do just that. But as you move back into the bedchamber, you find Hubert standing by Edelgard’s bedside and the two of them engaged in quiet conversation. They stop abruptly when you enter, and you glance between them as you settle beside Edelgard on the bed.

“Then, I will be taking my leave, Lady Edelgard,” Hubert says, bowing. “Please consider what I said.”

Edelgard nods, but her eyes are focused on you as Hubert bows slightly in your direction before leaving. Her gaze is thoughtful as she stares; not quite as evaluative as it had been when you’d first met her, but clearly studying you carefully.

“Edelgard,” you say, shifting forward on the bed towards her. “Manuela said something that I wanted to ask you about.”

Edelgard nods, but her attention is still very clearly focused on your face rather than your words. And she reaches out suddenly with both hands. One traces the line of your jaw, slow and gentle, while she reaches out with the index finger of the other to poke your cheek.

You stare at her blankly as she squishes your cheek, her gaze still pensive. “El?”

Edelgard smiles slightly, her poking shifting into a gentler stroke against your cheek as she hums her acknowledgment. “I wonder when it was that I became so attuned to reading your emotions, Professor,” she muses, eyes still staring intently into yours. “This face hardly ever moves, and yet your feelings seem clearer to me by the day. I wonder why.”

You pause, considering her words thoughtfully. “The power of love,” you suggest with a solemn nod.

Edelgard clears her throat, finally breaking her gaze from yours as the tips of her ears flush pink. “If that’s true, it’s apparently limited, given even with that power I can never predict when you’re going to say something like that,” she says, shaking her head. Despite her embarrassment, she seems preoccupied, and you wonder if Hubert had told her something as concerning as Manuela had told you.

“Professor,” she says quietly, looking back up at you. Her hands are warm against your cheeks. “I have always thought that you and I were quite similar in a number of ways. Do you remember what I had told you about what your presence had granted me in my life? How I might have been affected had you not been by my side?”

You nod. “’A harsh leader with a heart of ice,’” you quote, and Edelgard nods.

“Yes. And I maintain I would have become just that had you not been there.” One of her hands drops down to yours, and runs over the callouses and scars covering them.

And you realize what Hubert must have been talking to her about: the way you yourself had changed while Edelgard hadn’t be there for you.

“I’m the same way,” you say, nodding. “Though even worse than a heart of ice. Without you, my heart wouldn’t be beating at all, El.”

Edelgard smiles, but she shakes her head with a surety that surprises you. “I disagree,” she says. “Hubert told me you were much changed during this past week. Yet he also told me that even within that week, you began to move forward. That you still felt emotions, still cared deeply for those around you.”

You frown, Manuela’s words suddenly looming over you at the way Edelgard is speaking. “I felt feelings,” you acknowledge, nodding. “But they weren’t the depth of feelings I had for you. And I moved forward. But without the confidence I might’ve had if you were with me.” Feeling the concern gnawing at you, you shift forward. “Edelgard—”

Squeezing your hand, Edelgard shakes her head again. “As I said before, I have no intention of leaving you.” She speaks quietly but with certainty. “I simply wanted to remind you that you are very strong, Byleth.” She pauses for a moment, seeming to consider her words carefully. “There are still difficulties that remain in the days ahead. I hope that you will remember that strength as we face them together.”

It’s the last word that you find security in, and you nod. “So long as it’s together,” you say.

She smiles again, and her eyes flicker over to the antechamber. “I’m assuming Professor Manuela brought up what she noticed about my body over this past week.” When you nod, her smile becomes rueful. “I had hoped to solve the matter before you ever had to know about it. As we begin preparations to address it, I will inform you of all you need to know, Professor. But that’s for three days from now.”

You tilt your head in puzzlement. “Three days?”

Edelgard nods resolutely. “As the healers said, I am recovering. For just three days, I would like for us to lay aside our obligations and indulge in those joys of idling we’ve so long put off.” Her smile widens slightly as she runs her fingers over the back of your hand. “As a convalescent, I have a very valid excuse to avoid the paperwork Hubert normally hounds me with. And as the convalescent’s helper, you have one too, Professor.”

Despite your lingering concern, you feel your lips tugging upwards in response to Edelgard’s smile. “Almost dying probably qualifies you for some vacation days,” you agree.

Edelgard chuckles. “Only a few. I know we must continue solidifying the unity of Fodlan. I know I must address what to do with the Agarthan technology, and with Thales.” Her expression darkens as she says her uncle’s name, but then the cloud clears as she turns back to you. “And I know that I must tell you what it is you wish to know about my body. But we have gone through much these past few days. You have ended yet another war, Professor, this time from the shadows. I think we deserve at least a few days of respite. And until then…”

She meets your gaze directly, and the resolve in them allays the unease in your chest. “I am asking you to trust me, Professor. I will not leave you. We will face what comes next together, as we have, and solve the problems that we face. With this in mind, I’d like you to put any remaining worries from your mind.”

You stare back at her quietly, drinking your fill from the determination in her gaze and using it to fuel your own resolve. “Okay,” you say, nodding. You squeeze her hand, and smile slightly. “Vacation it is, then.”

Edelgard’s look of relief lightens the weight in your chest as well, and you feel your smile widening as you move closer to her on the bed. “It’s already evening,” you say. “But we can start right away. What do you normally do on vacation?” You realize you’d never really taken any kind of holiday yourself.

Edelgard blinks at you, looking equally at a loss. “Well,” she says, sinking back against the pillows. “I suppose we rest. Starting with tomorrow, we can begin planning an itinerary for what else we can do. If you have any ideas for what you would like to do together—”

“A lot,” you say, nodding. If it’s just a matter of finding things you’d like to do with Edelgard, the list is too long for you to go through. You rattle off the first few that come to mind. “Playing board games. Fishing. Walking through the gardens—there are new carnations blooming that Lysithea’s been helping me with. Cooking; you’re not very good at it, El, but it’s cute to watch you.”

Scoffing, Edelgard furrows her brow in a slight frown. “I simply lack experience. And if I were allowed to use my own cooking implements…”

“Cooking with an axe is dangerous,” you state, before continuing on with your list. “I want to stargaze. Go down to the shores and swim in the ocean.” Edelgard stiffens slightly at this, but she doesn’t say anything when you look at her questioningly, so you continue on: “Bake cakes and also eat them together. Drink tea. And also go shopping. There’s a flea market in town tomorrow, and a gaggle of Annas that will be there with all sorts of exotic wares.” Perhaps you can acquire some of the toys Manuela had mentioned to you for use in the future. And thinking of Manuela makes you think of a whole new part of your list. “Also kissing you, and lots of sexual activity.” Edelgard coughs, flushing a bright red, and you pat her on the back as you continue, “Nothing that’s not on the list, of course. And none of it tonight, since you just woke up this morning. But there’s a lot on it that we can do, so long as you feel ready for it.”

As you reach into your jacket to fish out the list, the world around you suddenly starts to spin. The drink, you realize; you’d consumed an entire goblet’s worth of something that tasted like death.

“Professor?” Edelgard has stopped coughing, though she looks at you with concern now. “Are you feeling all right?”

You nod. “Just a little drunk,” you inform her.

Edelgard looks at you incredulously. “How on earth did Professor Manuela manage to get you drunk? You’d been gone for ten minutes.” 

You shrug, the moment feeling looser and easier than usual. “She has lots of experience with it, I think.” Pulling the list out, you take a steadying breath as you allow your eyes to drift down the page. “Like she said, kissing is fine, which is good. Because I’m very low on my quota.”

“You have a quota?” Edelgard stares at you in bewilderment as you nod gravely.

“I need at least a few minutes of kissing you every day or I feel tired and unhappy. It’s been a week. Like I said before, I need to catch up and recharge. We can do a bit tonight, before we sleep.” You pause, and then toss the list to the side as you turn back to Edelgard. The paper is interesting enough, but Edelgard is right there and far more warm and inviting. “Actually, we can start now. If you’re all right with it.”

You pull off your jacket, draping it on the end table, and then begin to wiggle out of your top and shorts.

Edelgard startles, eyes wide and face coloring. Her eyes drift up and then down before rapidly coming up again. “What—Byleth, what are you doing?”

You stare at her in surprise. “I want to get in the bed, but my clothes are dirty. Should I not?”

“You intend on sleeping here?” Edelgard sounds surprised, but not displeased, and so you nod.

“So long as you don’t mind, I will be until you recover. I’d prefer to be here for you when you sleep. And…” You pause, frowning slightly. “And when you wake up.” You feel a small twitch of apprehension at the thought of her falling asleep again, when you’d spent so long watching her sleeping without knowing whether or not she’d wake again.  

Edelgard gazes at you for moment, and you know from her expression that she’s immediately understood your feelings, as she always does. Smiling slightly, she beckons to you with one hand. “Very well. Then please come here, Professor.”

So you do, sticking to her immediately and burying the both of you under the plush covers. Edelgard chuckles as you tangle yourself together, nuzzling against her, and the sound sends another pulse of warmth through; while she had been laughing and smiling with greater and greater frequency these days, for a time you’d thought you might never hear the sound again.

Like everything about her, it’s precious to you, and you chase the sound as you press your lips against hers.

Under the cover of the blankets piled on top of you, you feel as though you’ve sealed off the rest of the world and created a temporary little blanket haven for the both of you. You stare down at her in the dim light filtering through the blankets, and your chest swells with warmth as your head spins with something you know isn’t entirely due to the drink.

“I love you,” you say, pressing another kiss to her lips. Edelgard’s gaze softens as she looks up at you, and she murmurs your name as her arms come up to pull you closer. You comply with alacrity, pressing your forehead to hers. “I love you, El.” You continue to whisper those words as you kiss her again and again, each one growing deeper and wetter until she’s breathless beneath you, her lips red and swollen. You don’t want to strain her, and so to let her catch her breath you press kisses to her ear, sucking at the shell and drawing out those little shivers before you move down to trail hot kisses down her neck; you bite and suck, nibbling at a spot that sends her pulse stuttering under your lips as your hands drift downwards.

As your hands roam over her breasts, kneading gently at the soft mounds as you listen to her shaky exhalations, you remember what one of the healers had said. “You need to be massaged each day, right? To stimulate your muscles?” Your mind works foggily now, which you know is because of the drink, but you vaguely recall something along those lines.

“My—my muscles, yes,” Edelgard replies, her voice strained. She squirms as your thumb moves back and forth over the peak, your fingers squeezing absently at the tip. “Not my breasts.”

You stop, blinking. “Oh.” You nod, and then continue your downward path as you bring your hands down to her legs. You let them dip under her cotton shift, drifting over each scar on her skin as you trace the length of her legs. And, lowering your head, you kiss a slow path up her right leg, pushing the cotton of her dress further and further up as you do. With your hands, you massage her legs, working rhythmically at her calves first. “Is this fine?” you ask. “It’s not too hard?”

Edelgard’s breathing is unsteady, and her voice wobbles slightly as she responds. “I—that’s fine, but didn’t you say we weren’t planning on doing anything tonight, Professor?”

“Doing anything?” you repeat, glancing up at her.

“Anything…” She frowns, letting out a soft sigh. “Anything on that ridiculous list.”

“Oh.” You nod. “No, we’re not,” you say, before continuing to press kisses up her leg. You rub gently at the sensitive skin behind her knee, your tongue tracing the ridge of a scar along her thigh, and you feel her shudder in response.

“So you say, and yet…” Edelgard shifts slightly below you as you move your legs up to her thighs, massaging steadily there. “If we’re not, then these are—” You press a kiss to her inner thigh, letting your tongue trail a hot path up to the seam of her smallclothes. “—a-are extremely mixed signals, Byleth,” she finishes, and takes in a sharp, ragged breath as your tongue traces the line where her thigh meets the seams of her underwear. “Are…are you listening to me?”

“Yes,” you say, nodding a little. “Don’t worry. I’m not going to do anything on the list.”

“It’s not that I’m worried,” Edelgard replies; her words are broken up with soft panting, and each unsteady breath sends a pulse of heat pooling between your legs. “It’s more that I’m confused—” She jolts as you suck gently at her inner thighs, leaving a trail of marks, and as your hands move up her thighs to continue massaging, it brushes briefly against the cloth of her smallclothes.

The wetness you feel even from that contact alone startles you, cutting through the current fogginess of your brain, and you blink dazedly up at Edelgard. “Oh,” you say quietly. “Sorry, El. I didn’t realize.” If she’s getting this aroused, of course she’ll think you’re trying to do something on the list. You need to stop.

Edelgard stares down at you in confusion, brow knit. “Realize what?”

“How wet you are,” you say, nodding as she gives some agitated, semi-coherent reply. “And I forgot how sensitive you are. If you’re that worked up, you’ll want more. And we can’t. You just woke up today. You were badly wounded, and you need to rest as much as possible.” Suddenly, you’re feeling very sleepy, and you crawl up the bed to curl up beside her. “So let’s sleep.”

“W-what—” Edelgard is trembling slightly, and you pull her back flush against your chest as you curl onto your side. “Byleth—”

“Mm. We can continue tomorrow. Get some rest,” you mumble, pressing one last kiss to her shoulder. “Goodnight, El.”

You’re dimly aware of her stammering some response, of the confusion in her tone mixing with disbelief and indignation, but the heaviness of your eyelids and the fogginess of your mind overpower your senses, and you drift off into a warm, comfortable sleep.

***

The next morning, Edelgard is awake before you. The sight warms you immediately, despite the throbbing headache between your temples, and you feel a keen sense of relief.

She returns your smile as she notices you staring at her, but you’ve barely even said anything beyond good-morning before the healers come in early. They immediately begin their daily checkups and physical therapy to facilitate full recovery of her faculties, ushering you out as they set up their materials and tomes.  

You’re reluctant to leave, but you know you can’t slow down the recovery process. So while Edelgard is busy with the healers you head out into the town, seeking out both a hangover cure for your aching head and a gift for Edelgard that might help create a nice start for your vacation together.

As you enter the crowded marketplace, you feel memories stirring of the times you’d visited the bustling streets near the monastery. It was a place you’d been often, especially after you’d first discovered how effective gifts were in gaining the trust of your students.

You’d first made this discovery purely by coincidence. Since the moment you met her, Lysithea had reminded you of one of the cats wandering the monastery, small and proud. You liked those cats, and you liked feeding them the fish you caught every weekend.

Lysithea, as you discovered early on, did not appreciate being thrown fish like the cats did, but when you’d experimented with cakes instead, the process had gone much more favorably. While she still complained about being pandered to and treated like a child, she had been much more motivated for your lectures, had opened up to you more frequently, and within a few weeks, had asked to join your class.

A similar process had worked with just about every student that joined your class. And it had been this process that you had explained to Edelgard when she had asked you one day why you spent so much time in the marketplace.

She’d listened to your explanation attentively, expression increasingly incredulous.

“Ingrid’s been a bit more difficult, since she doesn’t like sweets,” you’d continued as you’d described your latest intended addition. The next mission would require greater mobility on the battlefield, and your class didn’t have any Pegasus Knights. “But it’s been easy to get her to eat meals with us, since she comes by often to see Sylvain.” Sylvain had been the very first one to join your class, though it hadn’t required any food gifts; he’d only stared at your tights and then your chest before striding up to you and asking to transfer in.

“That’s how you’ve been getting all of these people to transfer into our class? With food?” Edelgard had said, staring in disbelief.

You nodded. “And tea,” you added. And talking too, you supposed, though you thought that part was secondary.

“I…see,” Edelgard had replied, fingers raised to her chin in thought. “Well, as an odd a strategy as it is, I suppose I can hardly criticize if it works.” She paused, brow slightly furrowed in a frown as she stared up at you. “Though you’re using your own money to pay for these gifts, aren’t you, Professor? I do hope you’re not spending it all. Important a strategy as this is, your living expenses are more essential than purchasing gifts for people in other classes.”

There was a hint of disapproval in her voice, and you’d looked at her curiously, wondering if she was upset that the money was going to people who weren’t originally in the Black Eagles. “I give gifts to the Black Eagles too,” you said. “Dorothea likes hair clips, and Hubert likes coffee beans.”

Edelgard had frowned slightly. “How many people are you buying gifts for, Professor? And exactly how much money are you spending?” The disapproval was stronger now, and you recognized now that she was concerned. There was no need to be; you had little need for money given that the church was paying for your room and board, and you liked buying gifts for your students as much as you liked giving fish to the cats and dogs.

You had paused, considering your answer. Because you couldn’t respond truthfully without admitting that you were actually spending the most money on Edelgard herself. All of the money you set aside for Edelgard each month went straight into purchasing bergamot tea and red flowers seeds, which were considerably more expensive than any of the gifts or teas you purchased for others. But you didn’t think she’d like it if you told her this—for all her sternness, you’d discovered early on that Edelgard thought frequently of others before herself—and you didn’t want her to tell you to stop spending money on her or your other students, so you turned to face the stalls again.

“Since you’re here, I should get you something too,” you said, surveying what they had to offer. “What would you like, Edelgard?”

Edelgard had quickly stepped beside you, her earlier question fortunately forgotten as she frowned up at you. “That wasn’t intended as a request for you to purchase anything for me, Professor. I am only concerned that your expenses are being used without consideration for—”

“How about this?” You had spotted a stuffed bear, heavily armored in bright red colors, and picked it up. It was holding a little toy axe, and you turned back to Edelgard. “It kind of looks like you.”

Edelgard had eyed the bear dubiously. “Like me?” she repeated, a small frown wrinkling her brow. “I fail to see any resemblance whatsoever.”

You waved the arm with the axe around. “It has an axe,” you explain. You consider the expression on its face: fierce, with downward turned eyebrows. “Also, it’s small and stern and red. Like you.” You had stared at the bear, somewhat impressed by the resemblance, before turning to the vendor and handing him the gold for the purchase.

Edelgard, whose face had gone faintly pink after your explanation—from anger or embarrassment, you weren’t sure—stared up at you in bewilderment when you had held the bear out to her. “Professor, I’m not a child—”

“I know,” you said, nodding. “But I know you like stuffed animals. I see you staring at them whenever you’re in the market.”

The flush in her cheeks had heightened, definitely in embarrassment this time, and you had taken a step closer to her, lowering your voice as you added, “Also, they could be helpful to take to bed with you. For nightmares.” When you were very young, you vaguely remember telling Jeralt about your recurring dreams. He’d thought you were having nightmares and had bought you several stuffed animals. You hadn’t minded the dreams, but you liked the stuffed animals, and you figured it might help Edelgard, too.

Edelgard had stared at you in surprise; conflict between several different emotions had warred on Edelgard face as she glanced at the stuffed bear. And eventually, a kind of fond exasperation that you would eventually become very familiar with had won; she had reached out, smiling slightly, and took the bear from you.

“Very well,” she had said, taking the plushie from you. “I maintain that I see little resemblance to myself in the stuffy, and that I have no need for such toys, but as you thought to gift it to me, Professor, I will gratefully accept.” She had stared down at the toy, and you still remembered the way she’d held it, with a surprising gentleness between her gloved hands.

You hadn’t seen the stuffy at all for the next several years, and you’d assumed Edelgard had thrown it out at some point until you had found it in her room recently. It’s still sitting perched on her dresser now, and you think it looks a little lonely.

You stop by one of the stalls, noticing several rows of stuffed animals of different kinds. Your eyes browse the toys, but none catch your eye the same way that the red one had.

As you continue to browse, you notice a sudden movement in your peripheral vision. And, turning, you find yourself staring down at a box filled with tumbling balls of fluff. You crouch down, fascinated, as one of these fluffballs unfurls a fuzzy head with two wide blue eyes and mewls softly.

“Do you like ‘em? The whole litter was just born recently to our housecat.” The shopkeeper grins down at you from his stall, which is largely covered with food items that have nothing at all to do with animals or animal products. “We didn’t even realize she was pregnant. Don’t got enough money to care for all these little ones, and so we’re selling them for cheap.”

You reach out with a hand and watch as the kittens sniff and paw at your fingers in curiosity. The box is almost entirely full, and you glance up at the shopkeeper. “How many have you sold so far?”

The shopkeeper frowns. “Very few. It’s a shame. Would’ve liked them to find homes.”

One of the kittens—the first one that had looked up at you, with snow-white fur and big blue eyes—nudges at your palm, and you scratch gently behind its ear. “What will happen to them if you don’t sell them?” you ask.

The shopkeeper shrugs, looking apologetic. “Gotta leave ‘em in the streets, I suppose. Hopefully some kind souls will give ‘em food once in a while.”

You frown a little, staring down at the kittens. You remember the stray cats and dogs wandering the monastery, and wondered how they might’ve survived if you hadn’t fed them.

And, straightening up again, you grab your coin pouch. It’s always bulging with gold which Edelgard ensures is constantly restocked; you don’t spend much money, but she seems to enjoy making sure you’re well-provided for, and so you’ve grown accustomed to lugging an increasingly heavy purse of coins around. 

Undoing your coin pouch, you empty about half the contents out onto the counter of the stall. “I’ll buy them all,” you tell him, and nudge the coins towards him. “You can keep the change.”

The shopkeeper stares in astonishment as you pick the box up, moving it gently into your arms to avoid jostling the mewling contents as you begin to move back towards the castle. You stop only to pick up a draught for your headache and swallow it down before heading back onto castle grounds.

As you walk and as your headache recedes, you wonder what exactly you’re going to do with all of the kittens. You’d keep them all if you could, and yet a part of you wonders how Edelgard might react to you dumping the contents of the box out onto her bed.

You frown a little. You think kittens would probably be helpful for her health, but you also know they’d take up a lot of time. And with her recovering, you need to devote the majority of your time to helping her.

As you’re mulling it over, you come across Ferdinand and Hubert speaking together in the castle gardens over some coffee and tea. Ferdinand stands abruptly when he sees you, his face going pink, and he takes a few strides forward and away from the table.

“Professor,” he says, smiling. You notice that he’s limping again, and you try not to think about why. “What is it that you are holding? It looks cumbersome to carry. Allow me to help you with—” He stops when he peers into the box, his eyes going wide. “Kittens?” he says, and the joy that fills his voice gives you an idea.

“Yes,” you say, as your eyes browse the box’s contents. You find a sleek black kitten skulking in the corner, and pick it up by the scruff before gently depositing it in Ferdinand’s arms. “For you and Hubert to raise together.”

“What?” Hubert materializes by Ferdinand’s side, consternation coloring his tone. “Professor, I have little desire to care for some mewling animal—”

“Hubert, look! She appears to like you,” Ferdinand says, holding the kitten up as she nuzzles against Hubert’s crossed arms. “And she matches your consistently dreary outfits, too. What a wonderful creature,” he continues, sounding delighted. “Thank you, Professor. I promise to raise her with the utmost respect and care.”

You nod, leaving Hubert staring at the kitten dubiously while Ferdinand speaks softly and seriously to her.

And so you drift around the castle grounds finding people to adopt kitten after kitten.

You find Marianne and Hilda together next, and deposit a particularly fluffy little orange kitten into Marianne’s lap. As you expected, she takes to it immediately, eyes wide and voice gentle as she murmurs softly at the kitten purring in her lap.

“I can’t say I’m all too fond of taking care of animals myself,” Hilda says to you quietly, as she watches Marianne and the kitten. “Far too much work. But Marianne’s been pretty sad lately since Dorte’s getting old, so I think this is the perfect little pick-me-up. Thanks, Professor.”

Petra and Dorothea are unable to decide between the one that pounces on Petra’s hand (“He is a great warrior,” Petra declares solemnly) and the one that industriously grooms herself in Dorothea’s lap (“Look how pretty this budding diva is,” Dorothea coos), so they take both of them.

Ingrid and Sylvain are more hesitant at first. Sylvain looks at you with amusement, saying, “You got a cat to make Edelgard happy?” Then, snapping his fingers, his eyes light up. “Oh, I get it. Pretty clever, Professor. You’re gifting pussies in order to get p—” The look Ingrid gives him kills whatever word he was planning on saying next, and she turns to you apologetically.

“As an apology, I’ll gladly take one off your hands, Professor,” she says, and picks a small gray one from the box. She ruffles his head affectionately and names him Loog.

“That seems disrespectful,” Sylvain says, and you hear them falling into their usual back-and-forth as you move on to your next target.

At first, Felix refuses outright. “Why would I want some weakling animal taking up time I could use for training?” he says, frowning at you. But then one of the kittens jumps out onto his lap, batting at his hand and nuzzling against him. And after a few moments of staring down at her, Felix turns to you with a slightly less severe frown. “Perhaps I can help it train,” he says to you, and picks her up by the scruff with surprising gentleness. “I thank you, Professor.”

Linhardt and Caspar choose a particularly sleepy kitten, while Annette and Mercedes choose one that gorges himself on the sweets they give him.

The whole time, you’re sure to stop people from taking one particular kitten; the white kitten with the blue eyes, which remains placidly in the corner of the box as you go from place to place. There’s something about the way she stares blankly up at you that feels comforting to you, and the color reminds you of Edelgard’s hair. You decide that this one will be yours.

By the time you’ve circled through the grounds, nearly every member of the strike force has adopted a kitten, and the box is empty save for the one you saved for yourself. Taking the kitten out gently, you throw the box away and start back up to Edelgard’s chambers.

The kitten relaxes in your arms, batting languidly at the little pink tassel of your top, and you feel a small smile on your lips as you walk past the guards stationed in front of Edelgard’s room.

You find the healers packing up their tomes and other equipment, with Edelgard herself once again nestled in the bed. She smiles when she sees you, though it gives way to a startled confusion at the kitten you drop into her lap as you sit down beside her. “A companion,” you state, scratching the kitten behind the ears and listening to her satisfied purring. “For your bear.”

“My bear?” Edelgard looks at you in confusion until you reach out and take the stuffed animal from the dresser, holding it between your hands. It looks a little worse for wear after all these years, and you like it; it means she must’ve been using it after all.

Holding it up, you nod at Edelgard. “I still think it looks like you,” you say.  

Edelgard still seems distracted by the presence of the kitten in her lap, but she looks up at you as her eyes flash with recognition. “I remember. ‘Small and stern and red,’” she says, smiling wryly. “It was hardly the most flattering comparison I’d ever received.”

You nod, but as you look at the bear thoughtfully, you find yourself frowning. “Small and stern and red is still part of the comparison,” you say. “But I never noticed the most important piece of resemblance until recently.” Patting the top of its head, you nod approvingly. “It’s cute,” you say. It’d been the reason why you’d first noticed the bear standing out amid the shelves in the market; yet the idea of cute wasn’t a concept you’d really understood at the time.

And you’d never realized how well the word fit Edelgard until that first time a few months ago, when you’d first teased her shortly before discovering her paintings of you.

The bear was very cute, like Edelgard was very cute. “Only you’re even cuter than the bear, El,” you inform her, nodding seriously.

You hear one of the healers giggle behind you, only to poorly disguise it as a cough a moment later, and Edelgard flushes a red a few shades lighter than the armor of the bear as she frowns up at you. “Putting that aside,” she says, “about this kitten, Professor…”

She looks flustered, and you feel the impulse to kiss her, only you know she wouldn’t want you to while the healers are still in the room. And so you bring your lips down to the bear instead, pressing your lips to the stitched lips and button nose. “Very cute,” you say, nodding, and then place the bear down by the kitten.

Edelgard looks at you strangely, a heat flickering in her gaze, and the moment you hear the healers leaving the room, the door shutting behind them, she suddenly pulls you forward and presses a kiss to your lips. Her lips are hot and somewhat clumsy against yours—you realize that it’s very rare that Edelgard herself initiates any kissing like this—but you yield to it gladly, winding your fingers in her hair and deepening it with your tongue.

You break away when you hear the kitten mewling between you, and Edelgard sighs softly as you do, her gaze flicking up to meet yours. “If you’re going to be embarrassing,” she grumbles, brow furrowed, “you might as well go all the way with it, Professor.”

You perk up slightly at this. There are lots of things you’ve always wanted to do with Edelgard, but that you’d held back because you weren’t sure if she’d find them too embarrassing. “Really?” you say, and Edelgard frowns slightly in evident concern at your tone of voice.

“Well,” she says, looking at you warily. “Within reason, of course.” Then, before you can begin to test what exactly the limits of this reason are, she quickly holds the kitten up between the two of you almost like a barrier. “Now, please explain this to me, Byleth. Where did this little one come from? And why is she here?”

You blink at her. “I told you. I wanted to find a companion for your bear. But none of the stuffed animals in the market were what I was looking for. And then I found a box with her in it.” You tell Edelgard about the kittens and what the shopkeeper had said, and by the end of your story Edelgard is smiling at you in that exasperated way you’ve become so familiar with.

“I suppose I should be grateful you didn’t come in here with an entire zoo,” she says, but her gaze is amused and warm. “You have a kind heart, Professor. And…”  She looks down at the kitten, and her eyes soften further as she scratches the kitten gently behind her ear. “I’ve always liked cats.”

You feel yourself smiling as you watch her petting the kitten, and as the kitten purrs contentedly under her touch. “Then we can keep her?”

Edelgard chuckles. “Of course.” As she looks down at the cat, a hint of curiosity enters her gaze. “There’s something about this kitten in particular that is especially endearing, somehow.”

You nod. “I thought so too. Its fur is snow-white and very soft, just like your hair.”

For a moment, Edelgard looks surprised, but then her smile widens slightly as she shakes her head. “I was actually thinking about her big blue eyes. Usually so blank, and yet surprisingly expressive if you pay close enough attention.”

You feel your chest warm pleasantly as you realize the comparison Edelgard is drawing, and you nod thoughtfully. A snow-white kitten with big blue eyes. “It’s kind of like it’s our child,” you say, and Edelgard sputters with startled laughter, momentarily stopping her petting of the kitten.

“A hairier firstborn than I would have anticipated,” she says, smiling wryly. But her smile softens as she nods at you. “But if that’s the case, she needs a name.”

You frown in thought. You’d never been very good at naming things. And, as you know from The Black Eagle Strike Force, Edelgard isn’t much better than you are. Still, you have to try. “Edel…eth?” you suggest tentatively, and Edelgard frowns.

“Did you just combine our names?” she says, looking puzzled. “In any event, that’s somewhat of a mouthful for a cat,” she says, and so you try again.

“How about Bylard?” you say.

“Please stop combining our names, Professor,” Edelgard replies, and so you tilt your head in deeper thought.  

“Lysithea,” you say, struck with an idea.

Edelgard blinks at you. “What about her?”

“For the kitten’s name,” you say. As you’d said, the kitten is kind of like your and Edelgard’s child, and you feel a similar kind of kinship with Lysithea, whether that feeling is reciprocated or not.

Edelgard shakes her head, though her lips twitch upwards in an amused smile. “I would prefer if you weren’t blasted with dark magic anytime soon. Only one of us needs to be recuperating from near-death at a time.”

You frown, suddenly drained of ideas. “You don’t like Bylard?”

“It’s not that I dislike it. But do you really want her to have ‘lard’ in her name?” Edelgard replies, looking doubtful.

You think about it for a moment before shaking your head. “Maybe not,” you say. “Do you have any preferences, Edelgard?”

Edelgard looks thoughtful, brow furrowed. “Perhaps. I would have to spend at least a full night thinking about it,” she replies, and you shake your head.

“No. You can’t spend an entire night without sleep like you did when you were thinking up of a name for the Black Eagle Strike Force,” you say. “You have to rest. We can name the kitten Sothis.” You speak without thinking, but the moment you say it, you realize it’s rather fitting. Sothis has also always reminded you of a kitten, smug and tiny as she is.

“Sothis?” Edelgard repeats, looking startled. She frowns slightly, looking uncertain. “While I admit I am not particularly devout, it still feels somewhat sacrilegious.”

You shake your head. “I mean it as a compliment. A tribute. She’s helped me a lot, so we’re naming our kitten after her.”

Edelgard nods slowly, seeming to process your words. “I…see. Yes, I suppose joining with the goddess herself does allow certain privileges of familiarity.” She looks down at the kitten. “Do you like the name? Sothis?” The kitten mewls, nuzzling against her fingers, and Edelgard smiles. “It looks like we have our approval, Professor.”

You nod, nudging the kitten’s head and drawing out another content purring sound. She’s a bit nicer than Sothis, but you suppose she doesn’t have to be identical to her namesake. You like them both, anyway, and you feeling yourself smiling as you scratch Sothis’s belly. And as you do, you glance back up at Edelgard.

She’s smiling softly down at the kitten, her eyes glinting with amusement, and you feel that familiar warmth in your chest swelling up inside you. “El,” you say, and the moment Edelgard looks up at you, you tilt her jaw up to press your lips to hers. She responds gently, lips soft and yielding beneath yours, and you hum contentedly into it.

Pulling back slightly, you cover her hands with yours over Sothis, who mewls and nuzzles at your interlinked fingers. “It’s the start of our vacation,” you remind her, smiling slightly. “How do you want to start it? If you’re feeling well enough, we can take a short walk in the gardens or the market. We can sample some of the food from the stalls, and bring Sothis.”

Edelgard smiles at you, but there’s still some of that unusual heat in her gaze as she meets yours. “That sounds quite nice, Professor,” she says.

You feel something squeezing in your chest, and suddenly you’re leaning in to kiss her; you don’t stop until you hear Sothis mewling between you again, and you glance down to find the kitten batting at you. “Oh,” you say. “Sorry, Sothis. Hold on for just a second, and then we’ll be taking you out.” You scoop her up gently and then deposit her on a plush chaise lounge nearby along with Edelgard’s stuffed bear, which she pounces on immediately.

But as you move to rise, Edelgard suddenly catches your sleeve and prevents you from standing. “Though, at some point,” she continues, “I’d appreciate it if we could…finish what we started last night.”

You stare at her for a moment as you puzzle together what she means. She’s suddenly not looking at you, her ears pink, and the nuance of her words seem fairly obvious. You remember her state last night, and how you’d abruptly left her as she was when you’d fallen asleep. And yet Edelgard never really initiates any of these encounters.

“By finish what we started…” you prompt, just to be sure.

Edelgard frowns up at you, looking cross. “You know full well what I mean, Byleth.”

You feel a smile tugging at your lips, and you find yourself shaking your head. “I’m not sure I do.” You know you shouldn’t tease her, and yet it’s a craving you find harder and harder to resist with each passing day.

You get the blush you wanted from her, along with the added bonus of one of her very cute—though you’re careful not to point this out to her—scowls. “Is that so?” Edelgard says. “That silly grin of yours tells me otherwise.”

You suppress your smile, and when you shake your head again, you school your features into a mask of grave inquiry. “I don’t want to be mistaken,” you say. “So can you clarify for me, El? What do you want me to do to you?”

Edelgard meets your gaze, and though she’s still flushed, there’s a glint of challenge in her eyes too, now. “I observed before,” she says, “that you seemed determined to discover what happens when you anger the emperor.” Though her eyes are still warm as she gazes at you, her tone hardens into the one of command that she uses in the throne room and the battlefield. “Perhaps it is time that I showed you.”

She moves quickly—perhaps a bit too quickly, given she should still be resting as much as possible, and you have half a mind to catch her and push her back into bed—and suddenly she’s straddling you, hands pushing on your shoulders until you’re braced back against the wall beside the bed. The flush of red hasn’t faded at all from her cheeks, but there’s that unusual heat and a steely determination to her gaze as she pushes you against the wall.

You return her gaze mildly, curiosity sparking inside you. It isn’t often that Edelgard attempts to take charge within this domain, and though you very much cherish having her vulnerable and pliant below you, this is certainly an interesting change of pace.

She leans in closer to you, but pauses for a moment before her lips meet yours. “Is this…is this all right, Byleth?” she says, looking momentarily uncertain. “I know it’s somewhat different from what normally transpires.”

You smile a little as you nod. “I just don’t want you to strain yourself. Remember Manuela’s advice about being the passive partner while recovering.” When Edelgard frowns slightly, you reach out to stroke her hair gently. “It’s fine. I’ll stop you when it looks like things might get too strenuous. You’re doing well, El.”

Immediately, the flush on Edelgard’s face heightens. “Professor, don’t—” She breaks off, the determination in her expression flagging as she averts her gaze. “Please don’t say things like that, Byleth. Not right now.”

You stare at her blankly. “Don’t you like praise?”

Edelgard frowns up at you. “I…don’t know what gave you that impression. I’ve always told you it isn’t necessary. And regardless—”

“Well,” you say, in way of explanation. “Whenever I do praise you, it always gets really wet down here.” You push up with your knee, pushing between her legs, and smile a little at the stutter in Edelgard’s breath and the way her body jolts as your knee meets the warmth between her thighs.

“Byleth,” she says, flushing an even deeper red. “I’m trying to…” She huffs in exasperation before taking in a slow breath. “Please allow me to remain in charge for now, Professor,” she says, a hint of pleading to her voice.

You blink at her once before nodding. “Okay,” you say, relaxing against the wall. “If you’d like.”

Edelgard looks relieved as she leans in towards you again. “Thank you,” she says, and then brings her lips to yours. The mechanics of it are a little different when you’re not the dominant partner, but you always enjoy kissing Edelgard. You feel her hands moving downwards as she deepens the kiss, and you startle a little when you feel her squeezing your breasts.

Edelgard jerks back in evident alarm, eyes wide as she breaks the kiss. “I—forgive me, I hope that wasn’t too hard—”

“It was fine,” you interrupt placidly, shaking your head. “I was just surprised.” You smile a little, feeling a stirring of what you now recognize as amusement tingling inside of you. “You don’t need to be so nervous, El. I’m not made of glass.”

Edelgard clears her throat, face flaring with color again as she nods. “I…I know that,” she says, avoiding your gaze. “I just…have very little experience in this domain, and so I find myself a bit uncertain on how to best proceed.” She pauses, brow furrowed as she looks up at you. “Come to think of it, how is it that you always act with such surety, Professor? I thought you had the same level of experience—or lack thereof—that I did, but…” She frowns, looking suddenly uneasy. “Or is it that you’ve done this before after all? With other people, that is.”

You shake your head, and don’t miss the way Edelgard relaxes slightly, looking relieved. “Never. It’s just that I make sure to study you really carefully to figure out what you like and dislike.” You reach out, resting your hands on her hips and squeezing gently. “When you get wet. When these—” You brush one hand over her breast, tweaking the peak with your fingers. “—get hard, when you shiver, when you whimper and moan. Then I know you’re feeling good, and I do the things that get these reactions more. It helps that you’re really sensitive.” You wonder if that has anything to do with how rarely she allows anyone to touch her at all, let alone intimately, and feel another pleasant surge of warmth for her.

Edelgard listens to you attentively, though her face is still quite pink, and she nods as you finish your explanation. “I see,” she says quietly. “It certainly sounds simple enough.” The resolve in her gaze sharpens, and she brings her hands up to your breasts again. “May I take your shirt off, Byleth?”

You nod, and watch as she pulls your top and smallclothes off, leaving your torso entirely bare. Edelgard stares for a bit, the pink in her cheeks darkening to red. But her hands are steady as she reaches out, and you feel the slightest tingle as her thumb brushes over the peak of one of your breasts.

Edelgard kneads your breasts gently, her brow furrowed in concentration, and you hear her murmuring something about their softness before she suddenly looks back up at you again. “I…Byleth, when you…used your mouth here, it…” She breaks off, gaze dropping for a moment as she swallows. “…it felt very good,” she says quietly, staring down at the mattress as she avoids your gaze. She only looks up when she speaks again: “If it’s all right with you, I would like to do the same for you.”

You nod agreeably. The physical sensation of her actions so far are nice enough, but you’re sure you’d be happy with anything Edelgard did. She seems to be enjoying herself, as embarrassed as she is, and it’s fascinating to watch her.

So you watch, quiet and curious, as Edelgard leans down and captures the peak of your breast between her lips. And you jolt, startled, at the sudden wet heat you feel swirling around the tip.

You squirm a little, and when Edelgard’s eyes rise to meet yours, you feel a tingle shooting down your spine. It does feel good, you realize. She begins to suck, and you shiver. Better than good. You’re not entirely sure how to describe it, but you find you like it. Edelgard sucks harder, teasing the already hard nub with her tongue, and you feel the heat between your legs pooling into something molten. The inside of her mouth is hot, and the velvety feel of her tongue coupled with the insistent suction makes you shudder as you take in an unsteady breath.

Edelgard seems to notice your reaction, her eyes widening, but she doesn’t stop, and when you feel the graze of her teeth against the sensitive skin, you can’t stop a soft moan from spilling out of your mouth.

Edelgard does abruptly stop then, her cheeks flushed, and her gaze is fixed intently on your face as she reaches up to touch your jaw. “…I never thought I’d see such an expression on your face,” she says softly. There’s that heat in her gaze again, coupled with a spark of possessiveness you’d seen before at the dance with Dorothea and inside the carriage on your way to Anvil. Her lips meet yours, and the hunger in them is unexpected from her. “Show me more,” she says, breathing shakily against your lips. Her next kiss is hard and demanding, her hands moving down as her fingers tweak and knead at your breasts, and you feel another wave of pleasure wash over you.

It’s entirely different to have Edelgard touching you as opposed to your own fingers. Though the physical stimulation is the same, the pleasure is far greater now, at her hands, than it had been with yours. You shiver, feeling the pleasure mounting as she continues to kiss and touch you. Your mind works more slowly than usual, dazed with want.

And so it takes you a moment longer than usual to register the sound of knocking on the bedchamber doors.

“Oh Edie, Professor! One of Anna’s sisters is here in the marketplace, and Ferdinand says she has an extensive selection of kitten toys on sale. Ingrid and I are going to take a look. Do you want to come too?” Dorothea’s voice filters through the doors, lilting and cheerful.

Edelgard is frowning slightly as she stares at the door, and for a moment she opens her mouth as though to respond. But then she suddenly closes it again, glancing at you with a thoughtful, assessing look as you shiver. “I did tell you that you would know the consequences of angering the emperor,” she says quietly, a slight smile tugging at her lips. “Perhaps I ought to repay you for leaving me as you did last night, Byleth.”

You stare, a little astonished, as Edelgard shifts off of you and rises to her feet, bending over only to scoop Sothis off of the chaise lounge. She looks rather smug as she glances back at you, and you realize it’s a look you’ve only seen on her when directed to other people, like Claude or Dimitri during the monastery days. “Well?” she says, her smile small and satisfied. “Shall we, Professor?”

You blink, a bit dazed.

But when Edelgard makes no move to return, you slowly pull your top back on, mind working as you consider your options. While you certainly hadn’t expected this from her, and while your body aches at the loss of her touch, you find yourself intrigued at the possibilities this opportunity opens up.

Because Edelgard’s challenged you to a battle of sorts, and you never do back down from those.

“Edelgard,” you say, rising to your feet and pulling on your jacket. “Are you sure you want to do this?”

Edelgard looks up at you with another slight smile. “Are you saying you’d prefer to decline Dorothea’s invitation and stay inside? If there’s something you’d me to do to you, Professor, you’ll have to tell me directly.”

You feel yourself smiling, slow and amused. It seems she’s determined to reverse your earlier teasing on you, and while you find it endearing, you also can’t allow yourself to lose.

So you shake your head and take a step towards her. “No,” you say. “Let’s go, El.” You pause to pet Sothis in her arms, scratching the kitten behind the ears with one hand while you grip Edelgard’s hand in the other.

If this is a game, then the winner is whoever manages to get the other to give in and ask to go to bed first. Which means you can’t let your defenses down even for a moment. And which also means this next hour or so in the marketplace and the gardens will provide you plenty of opportunities to tip the scales in your favor.

Your mind races with ideas of how you might surreptitiously tease her, bring her to the brink and back, and you smile a little as you pick Sothis up again. If this game is how Edelgard wants to start your vacation, then you’re very much looking forward to playing.

Though you catch her hand before she reaches the door, leaning in to press a gentle kiss to her temple. “Remember, El,” you murmur. “This is supposed to be our vacation. If you’d prefer to stay in and relax…”

Edelgard hesitates for moment, conflict evident in her eyes, but then shakes her head. “The healers said it would be a good idea for me to walk around as much as possible without straining myself. And Sothis does need some toys.” She rubs at the kitten’s head, eliciting a pleased mewl, before glancing up at you. “What about you, Professor? Is this an acceptable start to our vacation?”

You smile. “I’m okay with anything,” you say honestly, “so long as you’re with me.”

Edelgard smiles, and when you kiss her this time, it’s soft and chaste. Because you are starting your vacation together, and regardless of whatever games you might be playing, you feel a low buzz of excitement at the thought of the coming days as you squeeze her hand.

Because as long as you’re together, you know you’ll enjoy every moment, whatever it may be.