Dorothea lived for nights such as these. During her time with the Mittelfrank Opera Company, she’d indulged in her fair share of elegant balls and glittering frills. She’d sampled all varietals of wine and mead, had waltzed with all manner of dancers, some refreshingly talented and others laughably clumsy.
The Garreg Mach Ball was no different. She’d come bedecked in a brand new gown the color of dark ivy—a shade deeper than her eyes but still complementary. She’d collected a host of new rings and shiny bangles, including one thick brass wristlet imported from Brigid. She toyed with it idly as she scanned the room, cradling her third goblet of wine.
The girl who’d gifted her that elegant bangle currently stood across the room amidst a sea of people. She wore a soft smile to match the lavender-colored dress that flowed off her like water. It was a frockless floor-length dress that fell off one shoulder, all in the style of her homeland. On anyone else, Dorothea would have thought it a modest number, but on Petra…
The girl turned to address a young officer who bowed and grinned at her, offering his hand. Petra held her wine a bit tighter before relinquishing it with an acquiescing nod.
Dorothea watched them take the floor. Petra appeared amiable as always, but the songstress knew her well enough to detect the undercurrent of nerves just beneath the surface. The princess had expressed some anxiety in the days leading up to the ball. Dancing was very different in her homeland, and she wasn’t confident in her steps. Dorothea had shown her of course—yet another late night lesson they’d shared in their dorms—but the somewhat stiff set to Petra’s shoulders betrayed her surety tonight.
Dorothea took a long pull of her wine. She’d had many dance partners so far this evening, some more enjoyable than others. Some rather engaging, if she was honest, but out of the corner of her eye, she couldn’t help but watch Petra all the while, eager to see her enjoying herself.
She felt her own sort of anxiety watching them dance now. The man towered over Petra, a bit overbearing in the way he led. He was pulling more than he was guiding or dancing with her. His hand, too, rested lower on Petra’s waist than Dorothea thought was entirely appropriate—she was a princess, after all.
“I’m rather surprised to see you off the dance floor.”
Dorothea startled, her wine sloshing up to the rim of the cup. She turned with a hand over her heart, “Professor, I didn’t see you approach.”
The corner of the professor’s lip hitched into a small smile. “My apologies.”
“I hardly think you’re sorry,” Dorothea laughed, taking another sip of her drink to cover her blush.
“You’ve been quite the hit tonight.”
“As have you,” the songstress remarked. In spite of her sometimes aloof nature, there was no denying the magnetism in the young professor’s personality. Those outside of her own house had been vying for her attention all evening. “Claude seems like a rather talented dance partner.”
The professor just barely rolled her eyes. “He’s amusing. I’ll give him that.”
Dorothea glanced sidelong. If Byleth came to converse, her attention already seemed divided. The professor’s gaze scanned the room, somehow drawn to yet unable to stay fixed on their house leader and her current dance partner.
Leaning in with a grin, Dorothea whispered mock conspiratorially, “I don’t think she’d mind if you cut in.”
“Hmm,” Byleth’s eyebrows rose. “Who?”
Dorothea chuckled. “Who else? You know, she seemed equally distracted when you were dancing with Claude.”
Byleth shook her head, though her cheeks had started to color. “Edelgard is the heir to the Imperial throne. I’m sure her concern rests solely on her own suitors tonight.”
Was that a trace of bitterness Dorothea detected? “You sound quite thrilled about that, Professor.”
When Byleth turned to her again, her small smile disappeared, that usual stony mien taking its place. “You’re all free to dance with whomever you please.”
“I don’t care much for dancing.” Dorothea assumed the goblet in the professor’s hand was mostly for show. She’d never seen her drink before. But Byleth suddenly emptied her cup in one pull, immediately setting it down on a nearby table. “If you’ll excuse me, Dorothea.” The professor turned, but stopped herself, that wry little smile appearing again. “Try not to get so distracted yourself, will you?”
Dorothea’s smile never faltered, but something about the professor’s parting comment left her irked. She was not the distractible type, and out of all her classmates, surely she was the most adept in highfalutin party politics. Many of the others could outpace her in noble courts or on the battlefield, but she knew this kind of frippery. Life in the opera had conditioned her for nights just like these.
Dorothea downed the rest of her wine and set the empty goblet on the table next to Byleth’s. The previous song had ended, and across the room, another young man had stepped up to take Petra’s hand. Polite as she was, she would never say no, though she didn’t particularly seem happy about it.
Watching her, the songstress frowned. Petra was a princess. Brigid’s customs were different, but like Edelgard, she’d likely have to accept many less than appealing dances and propositions in her life. That was simply the way of highborn people. Dorothea didn’t suppose there was much she could do about that.
Instead, the songstress straightened her back, brightened her smile, and set out on the dance floor once again. They all had their parts to play tonight. She could at least enjoy hers.
Dorothea knew exactly when a party had reached its end. These things happened long before the last stumbling few were shooed out the doors, the attendants left to sweep floors and collect discarded goblets from tables. There was a more palpable end that came when the dance floor thinned and patrons began slipping out exits undetected.
The professor left shortly after her conversation with Dorothea. The songstress may have felt guilty about that if she hadn’t noticed Edelgard sneaking out soon after. She’d enjoyed several dances since then, but was seeing more and more of her classmates disappear.
Dorothea had another dance or three left in her, but she was never one to wait until the bitter end of things. Better to leave on a high. And besides, Petra had snuck out two songs ago. Dorothea was dying to know how she’d enjoyed her first proper Fódlan ball.
The nights of the late Ethereal Moon were chill. Not ferociously cold as they’d turn in the coming months, but still cold enough to elicit a shiver from Dorothea as she crept out into the moonlit night. She’d come prepared with a lovely woolen stole colored to match her dress. She pulled it tightly around her shoulders and crept briskly through the grounds of the monastery.
The students’ usual curfew had been suspended as part of the festivities, and many had seen to take advantage of this rare privilege despite the cold. In brazier lit corners, students huddled close in laughter, rubbing their hands and sipping on pilfered wine goblets for warmth.
Dorothea wandered for a time until she spied a group of her Black Eagle classmates sitting on the steps outside of the commoner dorms: Ferdinand, Caspar, and a rather bored looking Linhardt who held an equally bored looking cat in his lap. They were shouting back at Bernadetta’s door, attempting to coax her from her room.
“Dorothea,” Ferdinand called, boisterous as ever at her approach. He was far from her favorite classmate, but the wine was working well within her, and she smiled as she met him. “Maybe you can help us?”
“Help with what?”
In answer, she heard a muffled shout through Bernie’s door. “Harassing me!”
“Harassing!” Caspar called out, affronted. “We just want you to enjoy the party, Bernadetta.”
“Don’t believe them, Dorothea,” Bernadetta called back. “They’re up to no good… I just know it!”
“I’m inclined to believe her,” Linhardt drawled with a yawn.
“Then why are you here?” Caspar asked.
Linhardt shrugged, scritching behind the cat’s ears. “Let’s call it my latest social experiment.”
Dorothea rolled her eyes, though not unkindly. “Bernie doesn’t have to leave her room if she doesn’t want to.”
“Thank you!” Bernadetta called back, relieved.
“And I was hoping you could help me, actually.”
“Of course!” Ferdinand exclaimed, eager as always. “How can we be of assistance?”
“I’m looking for Petra. Have you seen her?”
“Oh,” Ferdinand deflated visibly at the simplicity of her request. “Yes, she stopped by about fifteen minutes ago. I think she was heading to the pond for a bit.”
“The pond,” Dorothea nodded. “That’s where I’ll be heading then. Try not to bother Bernie too badly, will you?”
“I’ll make no promises,” Caspar grinned cheekily. Dorothea shook her head and chuckled. She never could have imagined she’d end up with such a mismatched group of people by her side, yet here she was. On nights like these, she was more than a little grateful for it.
The walk to the pond was a short one, and far quieter the further she got from the dorms. Here, she was free to take in the gentle whistle of the breeze and the glimmering stars overhead. They shone across the water of the monastery’s small fishing pond in a perfect mirror image. Dorothea found Petra sitting upon the dock, bundled in her cloak and gazing out at those same stars with an uncharacteristically contemplative look on her face.
In spite of her pensive demeanor, Petra was impossible to sneak up on. She glanced back almost as soon as the dock’s boards creaked under Dorothea’s feet. Petra smiled as if she’d plucked all the stars out of the sky and the water combined. For a moment, Dorothea was taken by how impossibly bright she was.
“Dorothea,” Petra breathed, a white cloud billowing in the cold, “you found me.”
“I have.” The songstress smiled, shaking off her sudden daze, and walked to the end of the dock. “Though I wasn’t aware that I was supposed to be looking for you.”
“No. I was just hoping,” Petra replied, turning back to face the water.
Dorothea sat down, the dock cold beneath her. She shivered and tried to find the princess’ arm beneath her cloak. “Let’s share,” she suggested. “Those furs look a bit warmer than my shawl.”
“I am hoping so. How can you be walking around without your own cloak?” Petra invited her beneath her fur mantle, Dorothea immediately linking their arms and huddling close. “I am worried you will be getting sick, Dorothea.”
“I’ll be fine,” Dorothea waved her off. “I’m far more used to the cold than you are, trust me.” And not just because Fódlan was of a cooler clime. Years of street living had hardened her against bitter winters.
“I have many furs if you need them.”
Dorothea smiled. Petra was always so concerned. “I’ll let you know if I need warming up. Now,” she began, sitting up a bit straighter. “Tell me about your night. We barely had a chance to speak!”
“I know,” Petra replied, the frown apparent in her voice. “You were very busy.”
“It’s very rare that I have an opportunity to dance like that. I couldn’t let it pass me by. Though I did see you dancing a bit yourself, and I have to say, my lessons paid off.”
“Are you certain? I could not stop looking at my feet.”
“You looked like a natural.” The next observation seemed the obvious one, but there was something about it that made Dorothea’s stomach clench. “You had some rather dashing dance partners, too.”
“Dashing?” Petra looked down at her, brow furrowed.
“Handsome,” Dorothea clarified.
“Oh, yes,” Petra agreed, though she sounded less than enthused.
“What?” Dorothea chuckled, “You disagree?”
Petra seemed to stiffen for a moment, but attempted to shrug it off. “I was not thinking much about it.”
Dorothea wondered about the distant tone of her voice. “You don’t have a betrothed waiting for you in Brigid, do you?” She meant it as a joke, of course. She was sure that if Petra was promised to someone back home, she would have heard about it by now. They told each other almost everything.
“Do you mean… is a partner waiting for me? No,” Petra shook her head emphatically. “We do not… marriage is not working like that in Brigid.”
“What, no betrothals?”
“No. You are not making a promise to spend a life with someone unless you are desiring to.” She sounded almost appalled by the alternative. “This is true whether you are from a royal house or a remote clan.”
Dorothea sat up straighter, meeting Petra’s gaze. She always knew Brigidian customs were different, but she did not think their ruling class operated quite so differently. “So, you can choose to be with whoever you want?”
Petra nodded and gave her a look so suddenly resolute that Dorothea had to avert her eyes. It was a very Byleth sort of look, as if she were seeing into or through the songstress.
“All the more reason to start looking then, right? You never know when you might find someone.”
Petra hummed and looked away. Out of the corner of her eye, Dorothea could see that pensive look had returned. It was not often that the princess appeared so serious. The knot in Dorothea’s stomach tightened.
“Are you all right?” she asked, reaching for Petra’s hand. It was cold, even hidden under her cloak as it was. Dorothea wrapped it in both of her own, warming it between her palms. “Did you not have a good time tonight?”
Petra turned to her suddenly. “What if I have already been finding… have already found someone?”
“A… a suitor?” Petra didn’t say anything, but she swallowed visibly, gaze bright and open. The stars were back, as if they’d leapt out of the sky, out of the water, and into Petra’s eyes. Dorothea’s mouth went dry, the tightness in her stomach spreading into her chest. She forced herself to ask, barely above a whisper, “Who?”
Their faces were so close together that Dorothea could see every trembling constellation in Petra’s gaze. She was so blinded, it took her a moment to realize that Petra’s eyes had closed, that she was moving closer. That Petra’s lips were on hers. She registered only the warmth—no, the flame-like heat—as their mouths moved, tentative at first, and then with growing conviction.
For a brief moment, the chill of the Ethereal Moon melted around them. To say she’d never imagined such a thing before would be a lie, but Dorothea was still unprepared for the sudden swelter of it, for the undeniable familiarity.
It was like instinct, or like magic. It was Petra.
It was Petra.
Dorothea pulled away with a quiet gasp, eyes wide in surprise. It was Petra—Petra had kissed her, had suffused her entire body with heat—and now the princess’ hand was falling away from her cheek, that same surprise mirrored in her gaze. Had she meant to kiss her like that?
A nervous chuckle bubbled out of Dorothea as she stood, her stole falling to the dock. She and Petra bent to pick it up at the same time, and when their hands brushed, Dorothea jumped back like she’d been burned. A little confused and a little frantic, Petra handed the stole to her. She appeared as flushed as Dorothea felt.
“I am having apologies. Should I have—”
“Apologies? No,” Dorothea shook her head, stepping backwards. “No, don’t apologize. I’m… I’m sorry. It’s quite late. I should really… I should go.”
Even with some distance between them now, Dorothea couldn’t seem to school the erratic tattoo of her heartbeat. Petra stared at her with her mouth open, as if willing the words to come. One by one, the stars were winking out of her gaze.
Dorothea’s throat constricted. “I’ll see you tomorrow,” she sputtered, turning. She didn’t stop to hear Petra calling after her. Instead, she sped back to her dorm, head bent down and turned away from the starry sky.