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never quite the subtlest girl

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Antonia catches the Warden in the main hall. Lady Surana has a wide grin on her face and a smear of peach at her lips; she has met with the spymaster. 

 

"Lady Inquisitor," says the Warden, tucking stray curls into a failing ponytail, "always a pleasure." 

 

"Likewise, Warden," smiles Antonia, meaning it. Surana's joy is infectious.

 

"Are you heading into the library?"

 

"I am."

 

"Tell Leli- Leliana hi from me, would you?"

 

"You seem to have had ample opportunity to do so in person." Antonia blushes at her own audacity, but the Warden only smiles wider. 

 

"I can't help it. You've seen her, haven't you? To be apart from such beauty for so long. . ." Surana stops and looks very briefly appalled with herself. "Oh, but now I'm sounding like my old friend. He was a terrible influence."

 

"Your friend's a romantic?"

 

"And an Antivan at that!cries Surana. "I was so silly during the Blight. My approach was: befriend every man, woman and child who tried to kill me. And perhaps their hound for good measure. I miss him so," she adds, shaking her head. "Well, my lady, I won't keep you."

 

"Oh, it's no trouble. I enjoy your stories." That one, especially, Antonia resolves to ask about later.

 

"I'll regale you another time." The Warden plays with one of numerous hoops in her ear. "I think I have a letter or two to write." With a small wave, she leaves, the silver-blue drapes of her uniform fluttering through the castle hall.

Antonia stares down the door to the spiraling library chamber, steels herself. This is nothing. Just a friendly meeting with an advisor. She pushes through before she has time to reconsider—the door opens too far and slams into the doorframe with a resounding bang. Antonia stiffens.

 

Solas jolts, looking up from his scattered notes. "A good afternoon to you as well, Inquisitor," he says, lightly, but making no effort to conceal his irritation.

 

"Pardon me. My thoughts are elsewhere," Antonia mutters—no—doesn't mutter, a well-bred woman does not mutter. She raises her voice a little and speaks with an air of confidence. Solas is unimpressed. He excuses her with a short nod and returns to his work.

Antonia winds up the staircase, tensely, with her shoulders drawn back. Her pace is brisk, no-time-to-waste, and she breezes unthinkingly past Dorian, who must now be making an overly affected expression of betrayal. She smiles at the thought, resolving to greet him properly on her way out.

Leliana is poring over something on her desk, gloved fingers drumming against the polished mahogany. She startles a little when Antonia approaches, smoothing out her cloak and smiling politely. "Inquisitor. Something I can help with?"

 

"I. . ." Antonia becomes uncomfortably aware of the heat building in her cheeks, a dark blush across her face. "I wanted to ask you about something. Spymaster."

 

"Are you directing this question to the Spymaster?" asks Leliana slyly. "If not, if this is a personal call, 'Leliana' will be just fine. Would you like to sit down, Inquisitor?"

 

"If you'll insist on 'Leliana', I should insist on 'Antonia'." Antonia laughs, half out of friendliness, half out of nerves.

 

Leliana smirks and pulls up a chair. "As you like. So," she leans forward across the desk and folds her hands, "what would you ask of me?"

 

"I. . .I wanted to inquire about your. . .friendship with the Warden." Antonia looks away, noticing a light circular bruise on Leliana's jaw. Leliana repositions her pinky finger to obscure it.

 

"Should I be more affronted that you ask for information you have no right to, or that you refer to my Warden as a mere friend?" asks Leliana, with a staccato laugh. Her tone is polite, but brittle: you are toeing a fine line. "I already receive far too much in this line of questioning from Cullen. Why on earth would it concern you?"

 

"I'm sorry. I really don't know how to approach this." Hot, embarrassed tears well up, and Antonia cannot brush them away before Leliana notices.

 

"Why are you truly asking, Antonia?" she says, trying out the name with surprising gentleness. "I cannot imagine your reasons are the Commander's reasons, Maker preserve me." Antonia tries at a chuckle, but manages a wet sob; tears roll freely down her cheeks. Leliana's face softens and she places a reassuring hand on Antonia's.

 

"It's just. . .I've never seen two women so open about it, and so happy. . ."

 

Leliana lets out a soundless 'oh' of understanding. "Let me assure you, it is not only possible but as natural and as rewarding as love between a man and a woman." She runs a thumb along the back of Antonia's hand, her brow creasing. "Doubt and fear are your enemies. They kept Sumia and I apart when we needed one another most."

Antonia meets her gaze with shining, curious eyes. Leliana sighs.

 

"During the Fifth Blight—she was with another Warden. They were close and trusting friends, but he loved her, and, well. She willed herself to love him in return."

 

"What happened?"

 

"Suffice to say it did not end well. She visited  Denerim some time after the end of the Blight. I was staying in the local Chantry, though she did not know I was there, and I did not know she had returned. Our reunion was pure luck."

 

"And. . ." begins Antonia shakily, wiping at her eyes, "you've been together since then?"

 

"Not only together." Leliana's steel-blue eyes sparkle, and slowly, ceremoniously, she removes her left glove to reveal a golden wedding band.

 

"Andraste's flaming ashes," breathes Antonia, fresh tears falling. "I didn't think that was—!"

 

"It was simple. The Revered Mother owed me a favor, and Sumia did not come back from her travels a poor woman. Enough coin in the right hand, you know, it works wonders." Leliana is grinning now, the mark on her jaw forgotten, Antonia's hands in hers. "Oh, but even if she had braided me a ring from elfroot fibers, and our ceremony was presided by a nug! Do not be discouraged. When you find the woman you love, she is worth anything." 

". . .Thank you, Leliana. I have no words." 

 

"You can always come to me if you need any advice—I imagine the Warden would be happy to help, as well, but do not expect her to be subtle."

 

"She doesn't seem the subtle type," Antonia agrees, laughing.

 

Leliana's lip quirks. "We must have a similar. . .taste in women."

 

"We—? I'm sure I don't see what you mean."

 

"Oh, you have heard it, have you not?" says Leliana impishly. "That little tavern song? Sera was never quite the subtlest girl. . . "

 

Antonia flusters. "I- That's not—!"

 

"I am only teasing. Though the poor girl is head over heels for you."

 

"Is she? Really?"

 

Leliana laughs. "You've incriminated yourself!" When her giggling subsides, Antonia uncovers her heated face to find a hand on her shoulder; an ungloved hand with a plain gold ring. "Do not push her away. Truly. You will regret it."

 

Antonia sighs. "I know."

 

"Bien. Now, it simply will not do for the Inquisitor to leave with her eyes red from weeping. Would you like a drink while we wait?"

 


 

Something both empty and impossibly, unbearably great swells in the hollow of Antonia's chest as she descends the staircase again. She almost fails to notice Dorian a second time, but he calls to her sharply.

"Float past me again, will you?"

 

"Wh—oh! Please accept my deepest and most humble apologies for my lack of decorum, Lord Pavus." Antonia performs an exaggerated bow. 

"Once, and only once will I tolerate this infringement, Lady Trevelyan, because of your influence," replies Dorian in a similarly puffy-sleeved voice. Then his tone becomes genuine, a small, asymmetrical smile that almost disappears beneath his mustache. "Toni. My congratulations." 

 

"Maker, does the whole room know?"

 

"Yes, well, one might have chosen a more discreet place to talk. Luckily for you, there are ways to mask that sort of sensitive conversation."

 

"Magical ways?"

 

"Mystical and terrifying ways. Here, see for yourself." He gestures proudly at his handiwork. Sure enough, a dreamlike film lies over the room around them, and everyone in it is frozen in place, or—no—moving almost too slowly to discern. Together, they watch Helisma lower her book the tiniest fraction of an inch toward her desk. 

 

Antonia embraces him, tightly. Dorian squawks in protest, but swiftly resigns himself to patting her awkwardly on the back.

 

"I know, I know—my consideration for my fellow man knows no bounds. But release me, I implore you, that I might bestow more kindnesses upon the world."

 

"Wait," says Antonia, obliging his strangled request and stepping back. "If you don't know what Leliana and I were talking about, then—?"

 

"I didn't say that. I said the room didn't know." 

 

"So you eavesdropped!" 

 

"Hardly. I only put two and two together. And let me be the first–" Dorian claps his hands together, "--to present you with an official membership to the Order of Sexual Deviants. Or, alternatively, the Order of Disappointments To Noble Family. You'll find there's a lot of overlap." 

 

"You. . .um, prefer—"

 

"Men, yes. Scandalous, isn't it?" Dorian runs a hand through his hair, carefree enough that Antonia checks around to verify that time is still slowed. "It isn't such a solitary life."

 

"Unless you’re Dorian Pavus, and you like cooping yourself up in the same corner of the same building all day with a book and a drink."

 

"Oho! Lady Trevelyan fancies herself a relationship expert now, does she? Never mind you're barely five minutes out of denial?"

 

"At least I've got an option."

 

"And it's Sera!" Dorian stresses, with mock indignation. "Honestly, if I went around making moony eyes at every uppity elf with bowstrings for brains. . ."

 

"Not that you do."

 

"Ha. Tempting as I find her, she's yours."

 

"Bother. I was hoping to duel you for the privelege."

 

"That's a fool's gambit! I'd be executed regardless for murdering the Inquisitor!" Dorian chuckles. "If Sera didn't get me first. Now be on your way, Lady Trevelyan. I expect your coveted blonde goddess is in the tavern. Speaking of 'cooped up with a book and a drink'."

Antonia huffs, to disguise a giggle, and descends the staircase, feeling a hundred times lighter. She tries not to break into a run—but gives up outside the castle stairs, tearing off at full speed toward the Herald's Rest. Music and the chatter of voices sound through the courtyard, and floating above them, the minstrel Maryden's high, clear alto.

 

". . .why change the past when you can own this day. . ."

 

Oh, Maker's blood. It would be this song.