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My Love Is Unwavering, Darling

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Madeleine hadn't left his home for days.

Though, it came as no surprise. Every month Madeleine had a habit of mysteriously disappearing for days on end. At first, it was an odd occurrence, but eventually, nobody minded it. It was usually from three to seven days, and every time someone was to ask Madeleine about it, he would begin to sweat and spit a variety of excuses. They'd eventually accepted it, seeing as Madeleine was not in any danger.

Typically, this was no issue for Espresso. In fact, he found himself preferring it. Espresso would thank the gods that he was at last able to indulge himself in his studies without such a hindrance interrupting him with needless talks of self-care. Espresso didn't need self-care.

Though, things were different now—different in the sense that the two were now dating. It had only been about two weeks of their relationship before Madeleine went into this hibernation once again. Espresso figured this out upon the lack of Madeleine's morning greeting. Every morning, Madeleine would head down to Espresso's lab to remind him of the time (as Espresso was guilty of losing track of it) and convince him to eat breakfast together. This morning, there was no greeting at all. Not even a knock. In fact, Espresso hadn't even realized morning came until heading outside for a quick midnight stroll. Rather than a cool night breeze, he was met with the radiant heat of a spring afternoon. This was when Espresso's first worries about the habit began to arise. 

Espresso had decided to pick up his phone. Perhaps sending a message would prove fruitful.

ES: Are you alright?

Huh, thought Espresso. The old him would never even think of halting his work to send some soft, concerned little message. It was so simple, and yet, it felt so odd. It seems dating Madeleine has already begun to change him.

This was Espresso's first relationship, after all. All these emotions were strange and new. Infact, he'd never even felt this way until he met Madeleine. He'd never had a childhood crush, celebrity crush, even a casual crush, or anything of the sort. Espresso was actually scared at first, thinking he was struck with some sort of curse or disease. After numerous panics and unnecessary visits to all sorts of doctors and wizards, he'd consulted his best friend. Latte has explained to him that what he was feeling was less of a curse and more so… love.

Espresso stared at his phone, unable to resume work as originally intended. Rather, he scrolled through previous conversations he had with the paladin. Espresso couldn't help but grin at all his boyfriend's messages, which were all over-sweetened with hearts and pet names and emoticons. Each time he read over them, he felt his chest tighten and his stomach flutter. 

After a while of sitting and staring at the screen, Espresso still sat with no response. Espresso wondered if he should simply leave Madeleine alone, but he was worried. Really, really worried. 

Espresso put his phone away, donning his cape and venturing to the outside. The sun hurt his eyes like hell, but he managed. Did anybody else happen to know what Madeleine was doing? He certainly had no motivation or social energy to discuss the matter with others. All he wished to know was if Madeleine was okay or not, and he could find that out by himself. No need for unnecessary interactions.

Espresso approached the knight's house, knocking gently at the door. No response. Espresso braced himself, knocking louder and wincing at such volume. Nothing. Perhaps Espresso would sit on the porch and wait for the other to come out. Or perhaps he should break in like that stupid paladin does at his lab every day– Nono, the former was much more considerate. Yet some part of Espresso still craved sweet revenge after the incident a while back, which entailed Madeleine accidentally intruding just as Espresso had been changing his clothes after a messy magic accident. The moment was utterly embarrassing, and despite their current status together, it still brought a sheepish blush to Espresso's face. 

Though, no matter. Espresso could wait.

Before Espresso could even turn around, the scent of Raspberries filled the air. He turned his head to see none other than Raspberry herself, a Hollyberrian friend of Madeleine's. She seemed to have a basket filled with various goodies and food. She appeared a bit shocked to see Espresso here at the same time as her, and Espresso couldn't help but feel a tad nervous. Interacting with others one-on-one outside of Madeleine or Latte was always awkward. Plus, he didn't really have the social battery today.

"Raspberry? What brings you here?" queried the professor.

Raspberry clutched the basket to her side. "I am here bearing some gifts for my friend. Is that an issue?"

"No, not at all. I was simply wondering if you obtain any knowledge on my boy– on Madeleine's condition."

Raspberry snickered, as she had already known of the two's 'secret' relationship prior. Madeleine was simply not the best at keeping his mouth closed. Especially with topics that make him happy or are about himself. "Er, well– would you like me to ask him if you could come in?"

"Yes. Please."

Raspberry nodded, retrieving a hidden house key from Madeleine's mailbox. She used it to access Madeleine's home and disappeared inside, only leaving Espresso more worried. He felt so sick that he couldn't quite stand still, having taken to fidgeting with the ends of his sleeves. He's never felt so anxious for another person before.

Raspberry returned with a pained expression. 

"What is it?" asked Espresso.

"He's… not in the best conditions. Quite weak. Certainly no conditions for work. You should not shout at him or push him. Though, he said he wants you to come in." 

Espresso nodded. "I give you my thanks."

Raspberry hummed, turning her back to Espresso and promptly walking away without another word. Well, that was easier than anticipated.

Espresso entered the paladin's home, shutting and locking the door behind himself. He took his shoes off on the wooden floor, as he was obviously planning on staying a while. He then took his cape off and placed it on the coat rack. Afterward, he made his way up the stairs, slowly and carefully as to not create sudden noise. The door had been left open just a crack, assumingly from Raspberry's previous entry. The mage set foot into the bedroom, pursing his lips and pushing the door closed. "Madeleine?" 

Espresso had found Madeleine face-down on the bed wearing nothing but a short-sleeved T-shirt, shorts, and his socks. Strands of hair were sprawled across the bed, threaded with knots and tangles. His pillows and blankets were scattered chaotically about the floor, not even remotely near his body. 

"Oh goodness–" was Espresso's initial reaction upon the sight, alerting Madeleine's attention.

Madeleine promptly sat up, clutching his stomach and looking at Espresso with an evidently distressed look. "Oh, Esso! It's you!" he called out.

"Ma… Madeleine? Are you alright?" said Espresso, taking a seat beside Madeleine.

"Esso, Essy– 'Spresso–" the paladin abruptly began to plead. "I'm sorry." 

"Hm? What is there to be apologetic for?" Espresso cooed, scooting closer so that their thighs were touching. After not receiving a response, Espresso brought his fingers to the back of Madeleine's head. He began to knead through what was normally silky hair, and, as suspected, it felt as though it had not touched shampoo in days. "Oh, my. Mind if I brush your hair?"

Madeleine nodded meekly. "That would be nice, Esso…" 

Espresso got up, grabbed the necessary items from the bathroom, and quickly returned. Espresso then sat at the edge of the bed and motioned for Madeleine to come. Madeleine did so, sitting on the floor between the mage's legs, though ensuring there was enough space so that Espresso could properly brush. 

"Now, tell me what ails you, if you so wish," the mage crooned, spraying a strawberry-scented detangler into his boyfriend's hair. 

Madeleine winced at the sudden coldness on his scalp. "I feel guilty about it…" 

"Nonsense. It is not as though you've killed someone, no? To me, it seems you are ill. Are you in pain?" 

"A lot of pain, actually. I don't have a liking for admitting things that make me feel… vulnerable. Or weak."

"I understand. Though it is no good to bottle up your insecurities. I assure you that you are great nonetheless."

"It's… I do not know how to explain it. I don't know how to tell you I'm– It hurts, and it makes me feel… not masculine enough."  

Espresso brushed through knots and tangles, ever-so careful as not to tug. "What do you mean by that? You do know masculinity isn't defined by how well you can withstand pain, right?"

"No, it's not that. Espresso, my dearest, my love, I feel as though I owe you an apology for withholding such an important secret from you." 

Madeleine was quivering. Espresso stopped brushing momentarily. "Madeleine?"

"Essy, don't tell anyone I told you. I'm not– I mean, Espresso, I wasn't actually born a male. I apologize for not informing you before. I was– um– I used to be a girl. I'm sort of… to be frank, it's that time of the month for me. I'm ashamed of it and thought you'd view me differently or not even want to be with me… or take advantage of me…" 

Espresso had to pause for a moment. Madeleiene's narcissism was crumbling in front of his very eyes, the knight's inner shell truly beginning to expose itself. 

Madeleine shifted uncomfortably, repositioning himself so that he was now sitting with his legs bent in front of him. The man pressed his knees together, his heart rattling in his chest. 

"Why would you think that?" Espresso asked softly, resuming with brushing. "I would never harm you."

"I– I'm anxious to admit it to people in fear of being perceived that way again. The way my body used to make me feel was disgusting. Everyone called me 'she' and I could just feel their eyes staring at my chest and curves– ergh. Everybody around me made me feel disgusted. Going into women's restrooms made me feel disgusted. Everyone around me… Oh, heavens– I apologize for the rambling, Ess. I shouldn't have–"

"Nonsense. Go on." 

Madeleine stopped for a moment, looking over at Espresso for an affirmation. Espresso gave an encouraging nod. Madeleine then turned his head back around and took a deep breath before starting again. "Before I transitioned, men used to put their hands on me. They… well, they sexually harassed me. And I just had to put up with it. If I snapped or made a big deal out of it, I would no longer be the perfect knight. My parent's perfect, obedient girl. I know you wouldn't do that to me, but my mind constantly whispers for me to run. This whole time I've held this internalized fear of you hurting me. I'm scared, Esso– I really love you but I'm scared." Madeleine was forced into a pause as a particularly painful cramp hit him, causing him to clench his teeth and stifle a grunt. 

Espresso was stunned into silence, uncertain how to react to this heavy information just set atop his brain. Madeleine was... afraid of him. His Madeleine– his perfect, lovable Madeleine, had been made to feel afraid? Insecure about his body? It didn't sound right– not right at all. Espresso had been helping Madeleine work on his narcissistic tendencies but had never wished Madeleine to feel insecure. And worst of all, somebody had laid their hands on his beloved. For a moment, rage bubbled in his stomach. He wanted to punch the wall, slap himself, anything to get this emotion out of his chest. Yet, he didn't. He only continued to brush, taking a long, deep breath in hopes not to scream. He must remain calm, he reminded himself.

"Who are they? " Espresso asked gently.

"Some of the… older male knights I used to train with. I… I went to a group training camp for a while and, well, many things happened there. I never really told anyone except for Raspberry. She was there with me at the camp at the time and… Dear Celestials, I do not know what I would've done without her. I never told my parents because I didn't wish to make them feel bad for sending me there. It wasn't their fault, Ess. They shouldn't have to feel bad because of something that happened to me." 

"You do not owe anybody your body, understood? Not even me. It's no matter to me what you have down there, as you are still my Madeleine either way. Don't be afraid to reach out to me, Maddie. I am proud of you." 

Madeleine smiled, almost purring at the way Espresso seemed to reassure him almost instantly. "Thank you, Esso…"

"Mhm."

Once thoroughly brushing through all the curls and knots, Espresso set the tools aside and pressed a kiss to the back of the paladin's head. "I will not allow anyone else to lay a finger on you. I'm devastated that somebody would take advantage of you in those ways, and I assure you that I could never even fathom doing so to you. You are undeserving of those horrid, disgusting things. Whether you're a man, a woman, or anything else." Espresso shuffled his way off the bed, returning the items to where they rightfully belonged. It would be quite a shame if such things were to be out of order and so carelessly lying about. When Espresso returned, he found that his knight was slouched weakly against the bed, seeming far paler than before he left. 

Espresso approached his boyfriend, kneeling down and wrapping an arm around his torso in a feeble attempt to lift the larger male. "Get up. I'm putting you back in bed. The sooner, the better." 

And so Madeleine complied, painfully lifting himself from the floor so Espresso could assist him back to the bed. Once back on his disorganized mattress, he sat against the bed frame, groaning softly in pain. To his misfortune, it had only grown worse. A sharp pain had hit him in the abdomen and hadn't worn off, causing the man to wince and curl up helplessly. He clenched his eyes shut, trying not to muse on what felt like his spine shattering into a million pieces. On top of that, he felt like puking, although he had not eaten from the moment he woke up. 

"Oh, love," Espresso murmured, his rare use of pet names catching Madeleine's attention. Espresso desired so badly to help yet was unsure where to start. He's never dealt with periods, for witches' sake! Where does he even begin? "What hurts? Would you like medicine?"

Madeleine feverishly nodded, whimpering and clutching his stomach. "My stomach and my back ache…"

"Have you eaten today?" asked Espresso.

"N-no… stomach hurts too much… I wanna throw up."

"You must eat in order to receive the full effects of the medication. Especially if you do not wish for aversive side effects. I'll bring you something light, okay, darling?" 

Madeleine nodded, curling further up into himself.

Espresso exited the room, heading into the kitchen to see what sort of viands the man kept around. Upon entering the kitchen, he noted the basket he'd seen Raspberry holding earlier. It sat at the kitchen table, untouched. 

Madeleine's kitchen wasn't unlike any other kitchen aside from one teensy observation: there were sweets. Everywhere. His kitchen smelt like a bakery, for goodness sake. Despite the muffins and cakes lying around, there was no way Espresso would give such confection to the man. It would certainly serve to make Madeleine more ill. 

Espresso was quite the expert on what foods were harmful and whatnot, as he has an overly sensitive stomach. You see, Espresso was not only an extremely picky eater but also a frequent victim of stomach aches and texture sensitivity. Oftentimes people looked at him like he was crazy for treating food in such specific ways, and he wondered what it was like having the privilege of being so oblivious.

Espresso opened the fridge, finding precisely what he was seeking: fruit. Perfect, he thought, grabbing a bowl and filling it with an assortment of strawberries, grapes, and raspberries. After washing the fruit off and pouring a glass of water, he went to Madeleine's medicine cabinet, reading over the labels before grabbing the appropriate container with what little room he had left in his full hands.

Espresso returned quietly, not wishing to further irritate the already upset Madeleine. He sat at the bedside, nudging his boyfriend with his leg. "I am here. Sit up."

Madeleine slowly sat up, rubbing his head and whimpering. Espresso frowned in response, as he would never be able to understand the pain his boyfriend was currently going through. He so desperately cursed his unenlightenment and would surely savor some time researching ways he could better help his partner.

Espresso placed the food bowl on Madeleine's lap and the medicine and water on the bedside table. He then scooted as close as possible and wrapped his arm around Madeleine. Espresso rubbed Madeleine's side, listening solemnly to the pained noises of his lover. 

"I know, I know," Espresso whispered. "But you must eat. At least try and eat a bit. It will do you good." 

"Ess… it's getting worse now." Madeleine leaned his head against Espresso's shoulder, his body shaking. "I feel dysphoric. I want it to go away."

Espresso raised an eyebrow. He… didn't know what that meant. He's never had to deal with something like this before. "Elaborate."

Madeleine popped a grape into his mouth, chewing it slowly and then swallowing. He took a deep breath, trying to ease the anxiety out of his system. "It makes me feel like a girl, Ess. I want to be a real man. Men aren't supposed to have periods. It's an imperfection, and I cannot get over it. I detest seeing flaws within myself. I'm supposed to be perfect. I feel the need to perfect myself even on aspects I have no control over. I feel disgusted with my body, 'Spresso." Madeleine choked out the last sentence, his voice hoarse and threatening to crack.

Espresso spent a moment thinking, watching the other leisurely eat the fruits he had so carefully picked out. "Mads, you are far from disgusting. I apologize for being so ignorant of this situation but just know I am here for you. You are my boyfriend, Madelle, and you always will be. If there is anything else I can do to assist you, do not be afraid to tell me."

"Just the medicine," Madeleine rasped weakly, reaching out towards the bedside table. 

"Of course," replied Espresso, taking the half-empty bowl from Madeleine's hands and retrieving the water and pill bottle. The mage handed the glass to his lover before shaking two pills out onto his palm and handing that over as well.

"Thank you," said Madeleine before attempting to take the two pills. Espresso watched as Madeleine struggled with the small caplets for a moment, but eventually, the man managed to swallow. Swallowing pills had always been a struggle for Madeleine. Madeleine doesn't quite know why, but the feeling of such a weird shape hitting his throat tended to make him gag. Though, Espresso didn't judge him for it.

The medicine container and water soon made their way back to the bedside table. 

"Lay down, please," Espresso implored, using one of his thin hands against Madeleine's chest to push him down. Madeleine had little protest to this, trusting his boyfriend to take care of him. 

Espresso gathered the mess of pillows and blankets, organizing them neatly and comfortably around Madeleine. Espresso then tucked Madeleine in and gave him a kiss on the forehead. 

"Will you lay here with me…?" Madeleine asked, his tone quiet and somewhat hoarse. 

"Certainly," Espresso responded at an instant. He had much work to do back at home but… sparing a moment for his aching partner wouldn't hurt, no?

Setting his glasses aside, Espresso crawled beneath the covers, slithering an arm around Madeleine's side and nuzzling his head beneath the paladin's chin.

Madeleine, in return, held Espresso closely, protectively, almost as though Espresso were a treasure bound to be stolen. Espresso had become used to this coddling from his lover. Perhaps it was only natural for a knight to protect his 'princess.' Though, either way, Espresso enjoyed it. It made him feel warm, safe, and, well, loved.

"I love you, Ess," Madeleine whispered, closing his eyes and clutching Espresso tighter.

"As do I," Espresso whispered in reply.

Madeleine whined, entwining his legs with Espresso's. "Say it back."

"Hmph. I– love you too, you fool." The word rolled almost awkwardly off his tongue. Espresso wasn't as nearly used to the term as Madeleine was, obviously. Though, that is why Madeleine only encouraged Espresso to say it more. 

Madeleine whimpered quietly. "My body hurts. It seems I take battle wounds better than this monthly curse… hngh–"

"Shh, hush, I know. The medication should kick in soon, so just hang in there."

"Esso…"

"Darling."

"Ergh. I think I'm going to explode. It feels like I just broke all the bones in my body– dear heavens… I… I cannot hold myself back–" Madeleine began to shake, unable to mask his pain any longer. Heavens, it only seemed to get worse and worse. From that point forth, Madeleine began to silently cry. Despite being unable to see his partner's face, Espresso knew so. He knew because he could feel the warm wetness pooling on the mattress beneath them. 

"Maddie," Espresso moved his position upward. He pressed his forehead to Madeleine's and cupped one the knight's cheeks in his hand. "Deep breaths. It may lessen the pain." 

Madeleine did as told, breathing deeply as Espresso slowly thumbed circles on his cheek. The two did this wordlessly for around twelve minutes before Madeleine's body began to numb, the medication, at last, doing some good. 

"There we go." Espresso gave a warm smile. "Are we feeling better?"

"Mhm," Madeleine mumbled before immediately moving back to the protective position they had been in prior, the position being a comforting instinct for the knight. 

Espresso purred, pressing a kiss to Madeleine's neck. "Good boy."

Madeleine mewled, melting into Espresso in what had become the comfort of his bed. Espresso never failed to make him feel oh-so safe. Oh, how sweet his boyfriend was. Espresso may have a cold exterior, but Madeleine always knew deep down he was such a sweetheart. That was one of many reasons why Madeleine was so adamant about protecting him. 

"I'm glad… Esso… you do not view me as a girl. I've faced quite a bit of issues regarding what I am around others. I fail to understand why others care so much about what I am, really. Nobody else in this kingdom knows besides Raspberry because the truth is, I'm afraid of facing the same discrimination and abuse I've faced from others before."

"I understand. You are not required to come out to anybody you do not wish to. Just know that everybody in this kingdom will support you if you do."

Madeleine smiled. "Thank you… er– on the topic of coming out– mind if I tell you a secret? Well, another one, I suppose. I'm not too fond of hiding things from you. I really trust you, Essy."

"Of course." 

"My apologies for not informing you prior, my dear. I've been thinking for quite a long time on this but I've come to terms with the fact that I'm asexual. I was worried I was flawed for a while but I've discovered others feel this way as well."

Espresso hummed, pressing another kiss to Madeleine's neck. "That is just fine by me."

"You don't mind?"

"Why, certainly not. It doesn't change the fact that you're still my Madeleine, no?"

Madeleine chuckled. "Well, I suppose you are right. I just thought– well– that I wouldn't be capable of meeting any needs you have, well, sexually." 

"Hm, well, in that sense, I'm quite low maintenance. In fact, very low maintenance. I'm far too focused on other things to pay any mind to such activities. There's no need for qualms over if you'll satisfy me or not. Now that I think about it, I was worried about the same thing up until now. I'm not too interested in doing those sorts of things either."

"Really?"

"Mhm. So I suppose it works out, no?"

Madeleine smiled. "I suppose so."

"Good. Is there anything else you'd like to get off your chest now?" 

"Not that I can think of. Thank you, Ess. Truly. The Divine has blessed me with somebody as good as you."

Espresso began to comb his fingers through the blond's hair, ever-so delicate. "Do not thank me."

Madeleine responded by pecking Espresso on the forehead. "I must. It is my duty as your personal knight and boyfriend," he said before pulling Espresso out from his chest and peppering his face with kisses. "Oh, Mon Chéri…" 

Espresso blushed deeply, his stomach dissolving to a mess of mush and butterflies. "Oh… goodness… don't get me all flustered now." 

"Apologies. I adore you far too much. I only wish to express my endearment for you," Madeleine murmured, kissing the side of Espresso's mouth. "You're the only one I tell these things to—the only one whom I can entrust these secrets with."

"I am glad you're open to me, then."

Madeleine ceased his affection, his arms still lazily hanging onto Espresso. It felt nice; the pain and dysphoria having (for now) faded through talking with Espresso. Oh, what would Madeleine do without him? He may have just laid there wallowing in his own pain once again if not for him. For the first time since moving away from his family, he felt… taken care of. He made a mental note to make a trip back to the Republic at some point. Oh, how great it would be to introduce his future husband to his family! It hasn't been much more than a month, yes, but Espresso felt just right. Espresso felt different than the others—different from the suitors at his doorstep or the girls who only used him for his status. Not a single one of them ever cared about how he felt.

Which is why Espresso is the light of his life. Perfection. Espresso was the very first time being in a relationship didn't feel like hard work, and it was the first time Madeleine hadn't stressed and sobbed over a relationship. Espresso was safe. Espresso wasn't going to harm him. Espresso accepted him. 

Which is why he could do as he did now: laying in the comfort his boyfriend brought upon him while sharing conversations that took the shape of mid-day whispers. 

Everything was okay.

He was alright.