Title: home isn't a place
A/N: For A Lover's Lullaby: A Doropetra Zine! I wanted to write some tender care during the war, with Petra helping Dorothea center herself in the midst of all the tragedy and bloodshed.
Summary: Dorothea had a ritual after battle. She took off her armour, washed the blood from her hands, and found her way to Petra's tent. There was something relaxing about braiding her hair, about letting the fear and sorrow fade away and leaving nothing but the two of them. She might have lost many things in the war, but she refused to let Petra be one of them.
Dorothea had long mastered the art of post-battle self-care. Trapped in a war she'd never wanted, she had to. This wasn't like her academy days, where the worst she'd faced was a menacing brigand, where her faltering attacks only had to maim and not kill. If she had failed then, her housemate or her teacher could pick up the slack. And if she killed, well, it was only a ruffian. There wasn't any need to hold back.
Not that that made it any easier. The ever-stoic Hubert had treated those missions like another duty, just another item in his checklist to help Edelgard, and Felix had the strength to shrug off the blood like water off a duck. Dorothea had done neither of those things, the red staining her clothes too bright for her to ignore. A life was a life, no matter how corrupt. Back then, she would beg Ingrid to take her on a long, lazy flight, or borrow one of Hilda's trashy romances for an extensive hot bath.
Those weren't options for her anymore. The blood on her hands burned like a brand these days. Her enemies were her former schoolmates, old friendships gone wrong. Dorothea's attacks were deadly, living in a kill or be killed situation. Any reprieve she'd find off the battlefield was a solitary one.
No, that wasn't entirely right. Dorothea smiled softly as she stood in front of a plain beige tent, on the outskirts of the battle camp. Five years ago felt like an eternity sometimes, with how everything's changed, but at least one thing remained consistent. No matter where she'd went the past year, Petra had been by her side.
And hopefully, no matter where she went after, that would still ring true. Ducking into the tent, Dorothea smiled automatically as her eyes landed on her paramour. It was hard not to. Petra stood out no matter where she was, and nowhere more than against the drab browns and greys of their standard issued tents and linens. As with all tents, there was a single cot on the side, with barely enough free room for a person to pace, let alone decorate. Despite that, Petra had managed to put her colourful touch on everything—her clothes strewn against her bed, the bags and pillows that covered her floor. Two lanterns hung off center pole, casting long shadows that did little to dim Petra's natural cheerfulness. She sat cross-legged on the floor, her axe to her side. It gleamed in the flicker light. Humming off-key, Petra's focus was entirely on the bow she was restringing.
"I didn't mean to make you wait so long!" Dorothea apologized as she stepped further in, the tent flap closing behind her.
Surprised, Petra's attention snapped to her. It took mere seconds for her serious expression to melt into a softer smile, her eyes lighting up as she took in Dorothea. Setting aside her bow, she leapt to her feet. "Dorothea! You have come much later than I was thinking!"
"Sorry, I had to…" Dorothea clasped her hands. After several rounds of washing, they were practically scrubbed raw but she could still feel the grime in her nails. "Clean up a bit," she finished lamely.
Petra grimaced, no doubt remembering the muddy terrain they'd just crawled through. "I do not want to be experiencing that again. My weapons are very dirty."
"I can tell." Dorothea chuckled, gesturing at the polished weapons and then at Petra. "You still haven't taken your armour off."
"Of course." Petra turned to her axe, her chest puffed slightly with pride. "These weapons are how I am being able to protect you."
Her heart made a funny flip at the casual line, at how matter-of-fact Petra was about it all. Petra always acted like it was common sense, these small trinkets of devotion, these little declarations of love that Dorothea had never experienced before. "Petra…"
"Hmm?" Petra looked back at her and cocked her head. "Is something being the matter?"
"No, not at all," she replied truthfully, her ears burning red. Reaching out, she tugged on Petra's armour. "Here, let me help. It's good to take care of your weapons, but you have to remember to take care of yourself too."
"That is why you are being here," Petra replied, her smile growing broader as she turned around to give Dorothea access to the many straps that kept her leather armour together.
The hide always felt too thin to protect Petra as she fought on the front lines, but it was lithe and flexible, allowing her to move as freely as she wanted. Dorothea would probably never stop worrying about it. Keeping her gaze firmly down, she calmed her beating heart she nimbly pried off the armour with a practiced hand.
It wasn't long before Petra was free of it all and back to her usual bright outfit. She extended her arms above her, her eyes closed as stretched out her muscles. "Thank you! That is much better."
Dorothea giggled as her girlfriend rolled her shoulders. "You wouldn't be half as stiff if you'd just take this off sooner."
"I will be keeping that in mind," Petra agreed amicably, leaning backwards to realign her spine.
"Now the last part." Dorothea sat down on Petra's bed.
"Are you sure?" Petra asked, stepping closer. She leaned down slightly, her hand cupping Dorothea's cheek as she studied her face. "You are looking tired."
Reaching up, she covered Petra's hand with her own. It felt like touching the sun. "Aww, you don't want me to fix your hair?"
"That is not what I am meaning," Petra replied softly.
"I know." Dorothea lowered her eyes, leaning into Petra's touch. "I know, I just…I need to fix your hair."
It was her aftercare, though she hadn't told a soul about it. She wasn't sure she could even admit it to herself yet, just how much Petra had ingrained herself into Dorothea's daily routine.
Petra frowned before pulling away. Dorothea immediately missed the warmth. "After this, you must be resting. You are tired, even your laugh is tired."
Dorothea had appeared in several major productions, acted since she was little, and made it a point of pride that no one could tell when she was faking it. Somehow, Petra always saw through that. It was something she both loved and hated about her. Nodding, she agreed. "I will. Just after this."
Satisfied, however reluctantly, Petra plopped on the ground in front of Dorothea. She leaned back slightly. "You could get hurt if you are tired."
"I'll be careful," she promised, already reaching for one of Petra's braids. It didn't take long for her to unravel it, to take the thick strands and split them apart. Petra had spent weeks teaching her Brigid's braiding styles and Dorothea's hands had long memorized the steps.
For a second, she was transported to another time, another place, when the hair in her hands had been golden and the room they were in made of stone. Five years ago, she had carefully brushed Ingrid's hair while Annette had worked on her nails. Hilda had gone through her closet, searching for something, anything, that could work for a ballgown. It had been a gossip-filled day, enhanced only by Ingrid's constant flustered state. "We can't do that again," she muttered.
"Do what?" Petra asked, curious.
She hadn't meant to say it aloud and Dorothea smiled ruefully. "Silly classmate things. If the war hadn't started…we could have worried about balls." Distracted, she stopped braiding. "If the only battle we'd faced was the Battle of the Eagle and Lion…I wonder what could have happened."
Petra didn't say anything, and Dorothea chuckled awkwardly. This was supposed to be her relaxing session, not deep, dark thoughts session. Trying to dispel the heavy mood, she went back to Petra's hair. "Sorry, that was a silly question."
For a while, there was only quiet. Her dress rustled slightly as she shifted in her seat. Petra's long soft locks bound together easily, unlike her own silken mane. Outside, the sun might have set, people had their dinner, patrols walked the camp. Outside, a war raged on but here, in this tent, there was only peace. Only her hands and purple hair and more colours than she could ever name. The candles flickered, casting long shadows over them, and Dorothea wished she could see Petra's expression right now.
"I am glad," Petra finally uttered. Despite how quiet her voice, her tone was unerringly confident.
Dorothea blinked, not sure she understood. "You're glad?"
"That even though war is happening, we are being together." Even without seeing Petra's face, Dorothea could picture the gentle expression on it. "I do not think I could be fighting you. Not ever."
"Me neither," Dorothea replied immediately. It hurt to imagine Petra on the battlefield, under the banner of a different army. Of them facing each other on opposite sides of the war. To have lost love before it could have even started, a world without these quiet evenings—she would have been infinitely poorer for that.
Petra turned back now, her eyes shining in the dim light. "No matter what will be happening, I am happy. You are my home."
Dorothea swallowed and maybe it had been better when she couldn't see Petra's expression, couldn't see the naked love that shown brightly for all to see. All those years ago, when she had worried about marrying for money, when she had pictured her future as an empty one as some noble's consort, she could never have imagined she'd be here. Flustered, she reached into her purse, pulling out a small seashell. If there was ever a time to give her gift it was now. Pressing it into Petra's hand, she murmured, "For you."
"A shell?" It was Petra's turn to be surprised and she held it up, admiring how the light reflected off the reddish-brown shell. "It is very pretty, but I am not understanding."
"You can't go ho—" You're my home and Dorothea faltered, her skin too hot. Me too, lingered on her tongue, too heavy to say. "To Brigid for a while, right?" She held a hand to her ear, motioning for Petra to do the same. "It sounds like the sea. It's a lot clearer than other shells, and I know it's not the same but—"
"It is beautiful," Petra interrupted, closing her eyes as she listened. "Thank you."
"No, thank you for, for…everything." It had been a silly crush all those years ago. Now it was something far deeper than that. She tucked a lock behind her ear, her cheeks still flushed red. "You…you're my home too. I'm glad I'm marrying love."
At that, Petra opened her eyes, indignant. "It is better to be marrying love, but you are to be marrying me."
Dorothea couldn't help it, she laughed. She leaned forward, wrapping her arms around Petra and burying her face in her neck. Pressing a chaste kiss against her brown skin, she murmured, "You're right, I'm marrying you."