Elena was an intensely introverted person. Her training under Zilva had effectively killed her expression, and whether it was through pure discipline or something else no one had ever asked. Whatever her true nature was, few were privy to it.
Unless you were Emilia. Emilia baffled everyone, but especially her. It wasn't just her awesome strength or her spitfire personality-though that was part of it-but it was just her, in general.
Emilia cared about three things, in this order: Gulcasa, herself, and fashion. Of a gothic lolita sort, because that was more interesting than any other fashions circulating around Bronquia. She had learned about it from Eater, who had given her some clothes to start out with, and then she'd started to come up with designs of her own. Sometimes she'd get the Imperial tailors to make them; sometimes she'd make sew herself. They almost always came out the way she wanted them to, no matter who did them. She was expecting this latest dress to look wonderful.
What she did not expect was the knock on her bedroom door at approximately two in the afternoon. Interruptions were generally rare, except when Nessiah came by sometimes to see her latest designs and critique on them. She would've never guessed the man had an eye for fashion, though she was happy that he did. He was a fantastic craftsman in his own right.
"Who is it?"
"Elena," said the muffled voice behind the door.
Emilia walked to the door from her workbench and opened it. She beamed. "Hi! What's up?"
She shrugged. "You said you were expecting me...?"
She shook her head. "Um, no, I wasn't. But that's OK! Don't just stand there; come in."
Elena looked around at the bonnets and dresses and frills and lace scattered all around Emilia's room. It looked more like a workshop than someplace she would go to sleep. She stood tentatively in the middle of the room, unsure of what to do.
"You didn't ask for me?"
"No. Who told you that?"
She groaned. "Luciana."
"Luciana?" Emilia giggled. "You know better than to trust anything she says. But I wonder why she'd do something like that. It's not like I was planning to do anything today."
"What are you doing, though?"
She picked up a half-finished, black blouse from the table. The sleeves and collar were done up in lace, and the buttons were finished with a shiny, dark veneer. "This! Do you like it so far?"
"It reminds me of the type of clothing I wore before I joined the army."
"Doesn't it? I wish you could still wear nice clothes." Emilia pressed it to her chest. "It might cheer you up a little."
"Ah... Why do you say that?"
"Because. You're surrounded by sad-looking people all the time. Zilva's a statue, and Leon's angry all the time. It's been like that since Siskier died, but..." Emilia frowned. "They should learn to cheer up and treat you better. It's not like they can bring her back from the dead."
"I don't mind..."
"Well, you should! Even Gulcasa-nii-sama gets on my nerves sometimes. All he thinks about anymore is conquering land. He's going to run out of land, and then what? Then he has to take care of all of it! What a dumb brother."
"But... What would you do about it?"
Emilia tilted her head and shrugged. "I'm not sure. My only wish...is for Nii-sama to be happy. And he doesn't seem all that happy right now." She sighed. "Well, whatever. Since you're here, want to try on some clothes?"
"Of course you do! C'mon, it'll make you feel better. If you keep frowning, your face is going to get stuck like that." Emilia yanked her by the hand and pulled her over to her closet.
"Your clothes aren't going to fit me."
"I know. That's why I'm going to take your measurements. I'll make something for you... H-hey, why are you walking away?"
Elena, like the shadows she had learned to imitate, had been creeping across the room to Emilia's door. "I don't think I have the time for this."
"Yes you do!" Emilia dragged her back. "It'll only a take a minute..."
It took longer than a minute, of course. Elena had not thought Emilia to be such an exacting designer. She paid attention to the minutest details-her body shape, the color of her hair, her awkward teenage proportions-with the discernment of a sculptor and the mania of a genius. She drafted designs, and then threw them away, and she wouldn't let Elena leave until her design was just perfect.
Elena probably could have left anyway, barring the possibility of Emilia somehow hampering her retreat, but she stayed, and began to wonder if anyone else even cared where she was right now. Leon was off on the Emperor's newest campaign, and though Zilva would notice her absence right away, she would never acknowledge it.
It felt strange to be doted on, but Emilia was clearly enjoying herself, and she supposed she ought to try it as well.
"Your proportions are kinda weird."
"What does that mean?"
"I mean..." Emilia pinched her chin. "Well, it's not like I've really made clothes for anyone else... Gulcasa-nii-sama doesn't want to wear his, and Aegina and Luciana say it's too embarrassing. You're going to try it on, right?"
"I guess I could. I mean, at least to see if it fits."
"Well if it doesn't fit then we just have to figure out what's wrong. But you'll still wear it, right?"
"When I can. I can't wear a dress while I'm fighting, but..."
"But you're going to wear it," Emilia affirmed, her eyes growing as big and pleading as a puppy's. "Tell me you'll wear it!"
She sighed, frustrated. "Fine, I'll wear it."
Emilia grinned and hugged her. "Yay! No one's ever told me that before."
It was a matter of taste, Elena supposed. Though, she had to admit she'd liked wearing dresses. The clothes she wore as part of the Special Forces were boring and utilitarian, and the uniform scarves seemed more obstructive than anything else; they tended to get caught in branches and armor and any other possible pointy thing that she walked past. Zilva insisted on them, and Elena never understood why.
It probably had to do with Siskier, she thought, and then Emilia made her pick between two sets of similar-looking buttons.
"I don't see a difference."
"What? Can't you tell that this one is a darker shade of black!"
"Hey Elena." Emilia turned around from her workbench, muttering through the thread in her mouth. The assassin-maybe that wasn't the right word to describe her right now-had been seated on her bed for a while in complete silence. It was a little worrisome.
"You've been kinda sitting there and zoning out. Are you OK?"
No, she wanted to respond, but thank you for asking. "I'm fine."
"No, you're not. Stop lying."
"Then... You're right, I'm not. But what does it matter to you?"
What did it matter? Emilia felt kind of stupid for not being able to answer straightaway; Elena had always had this kind of mopey look to her, like, she was thinking about something all the time even if it upset her. She recognized the look pretty well. Three years ago, everyone was wearing it even as Gulcasa defeated the old emperor, Soltier, and became emperor of the new Bronquian Empire. But for Elena-it was glued to her face.
Emilia chewed her lip, examining her friend rather closely.
Despite the distance between them, Elena felt the need to lean back. "Wh-what?"
"Will this make you happy?"
"Then what will?"
Elena stared mutely at her. "I...don't know."
"That's not a good answer."
"Because it's always been that way."
Emilia grumbled in frustration. "But why? I'm putting in all this effort for something you don't even want. I don't want to do that!"
"I thought all you wanted to do was make a dress."
"Well the person I'm making it for kinda matters. You said you would wear it! Was that a lie too?"
"...Yes," she replied belatedly.
"Then why sit around and be miserable? Go do something that makes you happy." Emilia frowned at her, and Elena faced her with a dead glower. She tensed a little. What was wrong with everyone these days? Was she the only one happy with the way things were right now? "What's wrong? Why won't you tell anyone?"
"What would you do about it?"
She didn't know, to be honest. But if Elena could lie, then so could she! "Something. I can do something, at least. Do you want me to beat someone up? I can do that."
"You want a scarf?"
"No thank you."
"Wanna learn how to ride a gryphon?"
"Gah..." She was running out of options. "Well, I can't just keep guessing! What's wrong? We can figure something out together."
"No. I don't want you to get involved."
"I don't want you to get hurt."
"That's dumb! I'm stronger than everyone other than Nii-san; you've seen me. I'm not going to get hurt."
"I mean..." She sounded frustrated. "I mean not physically... I just..."
"Just whaaat?" Emilia whined. "What is it? Just tell me. It's not like I'm going to tell anyone; I can keep secrets too!"
She gaped. "You can't?"
"I can't. I'm sorry."
"And there's nothing I can do?"
"Even if I want to help?"
"There's nothing you can do."
Emilia huffed. "Fine then. Be that way. But if that's the way you feel, then... I guess there's no point trying to making this anymore." She picked up the fabric she'd meant to use, and then dropped it back onto her workbench.
Elena slid off the bed, and slammed the door shut so hard the tea set sitting on Emilia's bookshelf rattled.
How was she supposed to solve a problem without using her club?
The next day, Emilia angrily accosted Luciana in a fortuitous hallway of the keep. "She got mad at me! What do I do!"
"Well, you were the one who wanted to talk to her-"
"But why did you do that when she was...when she was like thaaat?"
She shrugged. "I didn't know."
"I wasn't even expecting her! And now she's all depressed and stuff-what am I supposed to do?"
Luciana blinked. "You know, now that I think about it, she isn't very talkative, huh...?"
"That's because she's really depressed. I didn't know that before!"
"And you want my advice?"
"It's your fault."
"Oh, well, um..." Luciana touched the back of her neck. "I guess she's not the best target for a practical joke... Uh, hey, why don't you give her something?"
"She doesn't want anything."
"She's lying. Everyone likes getting stuff."
"Why, is her birthday coming up or something?"
"No, I mean, like a, uh, a make-up present. Like flowers or chocolate, or...I don't know. But what girl doesn't like getting flowers or chocolate?"
"Make-up?" Emilia blinked. "We didn't break up or anything."
"Well, say that you were dating..."
"But we're not."
"It's a hypothetical situation."
"Why would I get her something for a hypothetical situation?"
"But you did upset her."
"But..." Emilia paused. "Wait... What were we talking about again?"
"See? Clearly you don't know what to do, so you should follow your advice."
"You're not making any sense."
"Neither are you."
Emilia exhaled. "Fine! I'll pretend we're dating. Maybe she'll even be happy that we're pretend-dating; then she won't wander around looking like she's going to strangle something!" She rushed out toward the front gates in a hyperactive delirium.
Luciana stood still for a moment, stupefied. Then she broke out into helpless laughter. "What just happened!"
Elena was lying on the bed, staring at the ceiling.
"Do not come to training today. Return once you regain control of your emotions," Zilva told her. She wore the same face. Everyday. All the time. The last time she saw her genuinely smile, Siskier was alive. That had been three years.
Three years since Gulcasa had become emperor. Leon was promoted to captain; he started devoting more and more time to the campaign. Dragon Generals. Conquering territory. War and killing left and right. And she had made Emilia upset yesterday. She hadn't meant to. She was anxious. She didn't know how to handle it; it wasn't her fault. She couldn't blame Emilia either. She didn't know who to blame. She was tired. Zilva was right. She wouldn't be able to focus today. She'd misaim and accidentally shoot someone.
She was tired. She didn't want to get out of bed. There was knocking on the door, and she didn't get up. She didn't want to get up, but the knocking grew progressively louder, and then there was a high-pitched, barking voice that sounded a lot like Emilia's.
"Elena? I'm sorry for making you upset. Really...! C-can you open the door? I have something to give you."
Elena forced herself out of bed. She undid the lock and open the door.
When she finally noticed Emilia, she blinked, as if to clear her eyes. Something about Emilia seemed a little...unusual today. "Are those...flowers?"
A/N: For Feral Phoenix, who requested it...! Needs a second part or something idek; this is so unfinished.