The sky was washed in pink and gold when Cassandra reached the grove. She rode a horse, which she had found tied just outside the smithy, waiting for her. It was well provisioned, with a bedroll tied to the saddle, and clothes and food stashed in the saddlebags.
She would need to remember to thank Josephine for being such a good friend.
As she rode through the last of the trees, the clearing by the stream in sight, Cassandra strained to find Leliana. She could see nothing, making her heart sink. But as the trees thinned, she saw another horse staked out among the rich grasses that grew there. Cassandra's heart was buoyant as she dismounted, tying her horse with the other.
A responsible person would remove both saddles and brush them down for the night, Cassandra thought. But she did not do it. She could not keep Leliana waiting any longer.
The ground was soft underfoot, silent as she carefully walked toward the clearing. "Leliana?" she called softly.
She emerged from the trees, and finally Cassandra saw her. Leliana sat upon a log, looking out over the stream. She held something, though Cassandra could not see what. Off to the side, on a relatively even patch of ground, there were blankets laid out, and maybe a foot away from each corner was a gathering of lit candles. Upon the makeshift bed, laid out under the stars and bathed in candlelight, was a book.
Cassandra couldn't rightly guess what it was, but given her day thus far, she was sure it was perfect.
"Leliana," she said again, and this time the spymaster heard her.
Getting swiftly to her feet, Leliana turned, and her face settled into a relieved smile. Leliana's cowl, ever-present since they arrived in Haven from Val Royeaux, was nowhere to be seen. In its place were long tresses of red hair, longer than Cassandra expected, with the top gathered together in a braid. It had been a long time since Cassandra had seen this much of the redhead's face, and without any shadows to boot.
The rest of her appearance was also arresting, causing Cassandra to hesitate just so she might take in more of the sight: a long, dark green tunic, sleeves just past the elbow and collar open, showing a tantalizing strip of alabaster skin past the collar bone. It was worn over dark brown hose, with a matching brown leather belt cinching the tunic, showing enough of the woman's figure to make Cassandra's hand itch to lay there.
"You came," she said, her eyes shining even from this distance, her soft voice breaking Cassandra's hesitation.
She was at Leliana's side in seconds. She reached for Leliana's hands, only to find them full. She looked into blue eyes instead.
"How could I not?"
Leliana's eyes seemed to swim for a moment, water gathering and trying to fall. She took a breath, blinked, and it was gone.
"So… two more for your collection?"Leliana held up her hands, and Cassandra finally took a close look. In each hand, Leliana held a rose: one white, and one red. Just like her poem. Cassandra reached for them, holding each in a gloved hand.
"Love and passion," Cassandra murmured.
"Yes," Leliana said.
The Seeker looked back up to those piercing blue eyes. They were entrancing, and she could have become lost in them for the rest of time if Leliana's lips were not also begging for her attention.
The Seeker shook her head and shifted her gaze back to Leliana's. "Yes?"
"I love you, Cassandra. I did not realize it at first." Leliana's voice was soft, but it filled Cassandra until there was room for nothing else. "After the Conclave, I was adrift, as were you. Despite your pain, you came to my aid and acted as my rock in a storming sea, something to cling to while the world tried to crash and burn around me. When I lost my faith, yours was there, a beacon in the darkness. As hope was restored, I realized that you left a fire burning deep inside me. I tried to hide it, to deny it, and when I could do so no longer, I kept it to myself. But I cannot any longer, Cassandra.
"I love you. I hoped that you might be able to love me, too, but I knew you had not considered such a thing. So…"
"You planted the suggestion and then gave me time to consider it."
Leliana nodded. "Yes. And now… now you are here."
Cassandra felt warm hands cup her face. "And you have considered it."
"Yes," Cassandra whispered. "I have considered it."
The air of Leliana's words whispered over Cassandra's lips, her scent filling Cassandra and making her head float. "And your conclusion?"
Cassandra released the roses and finally, finally wrapped her hands around Leliana's waist, pulling her close. She closed the distance between them, pressing their lips together at last.
Leliana had always been a mess of paradoxes. She was unfeeling with people, even dismissive, yet also had her own line of nugs she bred, many of whom were named Schmooples, of all things. She did not suffer nonsense, and yet could be the most playful of people with her closest friends. She was deadly serious, and yet nothing was beyond being made the subject of some jest. She was ice in her role as Spymaster, yet was warm and caring with those she had let into her heart.
Cassandra found that the paradoxes did not end with Leliana's demeanor. Leliana's lips were soft and warm, molding to Cassandra's own. But her body stiffened in Cassandra's arms, pressing into the Seeker, small but hard, heat suffusing through their clothes and warming Cassandra in the rapidly chilling evening air.
Leliana's hands moved from Cassandra's face, clutching the leather over her shoulders, pulling the Seeker as close as she could. Responding to an instinct that was too deep to name, Cassandra swiped out her tongue, seeking permission into Leliana's mouth. It was granted with a small whimper, and Cassandra's knees nearly buckled with the addition of the last sense – taste – to her knowledge of the smaller woman.
Leliana tasted light and heavy at once, like coffee with cream, or a dark chocolate cake with a garnish of fruit. It was heaven, and Cassandra needed more. She needed to partake of this taste, this feeling, as much as possible.
She had a lot of time to make up for.
Leliana seemed to need, as well. Truly, the Seeker felt as though Leliana drank her in like one dying of thirst.
That is a good description for it, she thought. I thirst for her.
Eventually, the need for air overpowered their need for each other's mouths, and they parted, panting. Foreheads together, they breathed each other's air for a moment, eyes locked in the growing twilight.
"My conclusion," Cassandra murmured, remembering Leliana's words.
"Yes?" Leliana's voice was barely a whisper.
"I love you," the Seeker said, her voice low, seeming to exist only in the scant space between them. "You are an essential part of me."
A hand on her cheek once more. "You are an essential part of me," she echoed.
The trees and the stars were their audience as they rushed to rid each other of their clothing, learning this new side of each other in the thundering quiet of the night.
Early the next morning, Leliana and Cassandra rode through the gates of Skyhold, hand-in-hand. They had decided that while they were both naturally private people, they had no wish to keep this a secret. Too many secrets were kept and used in their line of work. No, this they would not have be turned and twisted by those why managed to find out.
They each took their horse to the stable, handing the animal to one of the teenagers who helped the horse master. Hand-in-hand, they walked to the great hall, where finally they parted with a kiss, not caring who might see them, knowing the news would be upon everyone's lips in Skyhold by the midday meal.
Leliana walked up the steps to the great hall, still in her tunic, no cowl upon her head. Cassandra continued on, walking past the sparring rings toward the smithy. She could not keep the small smile from her lips, and had a terrible time preventing it from overtaking her entire countenance. She had made love under the stars to Leliana. She had slept all night under a wool blanket with her lover in her arms. She felt agile and light, well rested in a way she had not experienced since before Haven fell, before the Conclave, before Kirkwall.
Leliana loved her. She loved Leliana. In this, they could be blunt together, and it was beautiful.
Ascending the stairs to her room, Cassandra felt everything looked different. No, no, that was not right. Nothing was different. But Cassandra saw it all through new eyes. The world had given her much heartache, but this was good, a kind of good she had not experienced in a very long time. Amidst tragedy, hope and love could spring. She had read it many times, but only now did she truly believe it.
Coming to a halt in her bedchamber, Cassandra looked around, smiling at her wardrobe, still open from the night before; her bed, tidy and perfect, unused the night before; her writing table, upon which still sat her vase and mug, three roses in each. Taking a deep breath, Cassandra crossed the room to the table. She had something to add to it.
When she withdrew her hands, there were eight roses, the white and red roses completing her collection, complementing the others perfectly.
Smiling to herself, Cassandra turned and undressed, pulling on her sparring leathers so she might start her day.
When she left her room, a spring in her step, she found her progress halted by a scroll bound in string upon the ground. Taking it up, she opened it, smiling like child at the message within:
"Do not think for a moment that I am done courting you, my dear, dear heart.
I love you.