The first rose Cassandra found was confusing, to say the least. She awoke before the sun, washed her face, and put on her sparring leathers. When she opened the door to her room above the smithy, there it was, lying on the floor. She nearly stepped upon it in the predawn gloom.
How did it get there? Who would put it there? It couldn't have fallen. Nobody ever came up here, and certainly not in the middle of the night.
Taking up the flower, Cassandra considered it. It was freshly cut, obviously from the Chantry garden. It was beautiful, though not perfect. A few petals showed this rose had been here for long enough to get thirsty. Turning, she went back into her room and placed the rose in a mug of water.
Not a very beautiful vase. But it lightened up the room just the same.
Cassandra left her bedroom with the hint of a smile upon her lips, and went about her morning as usual.
She sparred with The Iron Bull, landing him upon his rump only once. But once was enough to put a bounce in Cassandra's step as she left the sparring ring. Placing her sword in the bin with the other practice weapons, she stood back and stretched her fingers up into the heavens. Her gaze followed, and she saw Leliana standing upon her balcony outside the rookery, looking out into the morning sky, likely for one of her birds.
Cassandra took a moment to study her. There had been a change in her fellow Hand of late. Hope restored in Skyhold had restored a piece in Leliana that had been missing since the Conclave. Yes, she still mourned Most Holy, of course. Leliana had been close to the woman Dorothea as a person as well as Justinia's the figure. But in Haven, Leliana had been… cold. Lethal, efficient, and colder than the sleet and snow that fell from the sky. But upon making it to Skyhold and naming the Inquisitor, something had warmed within her.
Cassandra could not quite say what it had been, but Leliana smiled and laughed again. She had missed Leliana's laugh.
Moving her gaze before she could be accused of staring, Cassandra moved to a barrel full of water and drank deeply. Then she went to the baths.
Where she found her second rose. This could most certainly not have been a coincidence. This flower was not dropped. It was lying on top of her preferred spot to place her clean clothing - far off from the water, atop a broken pillar, where they would not get wet. Plucking the bloom up from the stone, she considered it. This one was yellow, like the sun in the sky, rising higher above Skyhold at this very moment.
Shaking her head, utterly bemused, Cassandra placed the rose atop her dry clothing and went to bathe. She nearly forgot about the blossom by the time she was done, but there it was, waiting for her, begging her to consider it once more as she pulled on her leggings, her shirt, her stockings and boots. She washed the clothes she had worn to the baths, taking them to dry in her room, all while contemplating the meaning of this second rose and its placement in a place meant for her to find it.
An admirer? But whom?
The third rose came on a tray of food she picked up at the tavern. She had intended to take the tray back to her rooms, where she could eat and read in peace. But a third flower, clearly meant for her, could not be ignored.
"You. Ser dwarf," she said, addressing the bartender.
"I have a name, Seeker," he said.
"As do I," she shot back.
He almost cracked a smile. "Fair enough. What do you want?"
"Where did this come from?" Cassandra said, gently fingering the rose. This one was also yellow, though paler than the last.
He shrugged. "Chantry garden, I expect. Doesn't the mother keep a rose garden back there?"
Cassandra huffed in frustration. "I am not a simpleton. I know a rose comes from a garden. I meant who, and why. Why is this rose here? Who put it there, if not you?"
The dwarf shrugged again. "The tray was already made, with a little note that had your name on it. I figured you ordered before going to the baths and wanted it ready when you got here. Did you not order the rose, too?"
"I- why would I order a rose with my porridge?!"
A third shrug. If he shrugged again, Cassandra might have to hit him. Or hit something. "I don't know, Seeker. You're the one ordering roses with your breakfast, not me." Then he turned and walked through the door leading to the store room and kitchen.
His indifference was vexing, to say the least.
Utterly discombobulated, Cassandra nevertheless took her tray to her room and added the rose to the mug with the other two. She then ate half her meal before taking up her newest book, plucked from the depths of the library when no one was looking. It was a book of epic poetry in Nevarran, so old that she had to rely on her education as a girl in the ancient dialects. But what she could read was beautiful, and besides, she enjoyed the occasional exercise of her mind. She was not only a wielder of brute force. Though, she thought to herself, thinking of Bull on his arse earlier, I am very good at brute force.
Cassandra tried to concentrate. She really did. But she found herself considering the three roses sitting on her desk without meaning to. Each time, she would double down on her reading, but eventually she admitted defeat, after reading the same complicated sentence five times without truly gleaning its meaning.
Finally, she allowed herself to study the flowers. They had opened further with the water and the sun coming in through the window. How long would they last? They were very beautiful. Cassandra's life didn't often have things in it that only served to be beautiful. Usually it was only books, and that was something private, never on display just for the joy of its beauty.
Who had left them for her? And why? As before, Cassandra's mind went to a possible admirer, but who could it be? She was not very good at detecting flirting, admittedly, but still she did not think anyone had been seriously flirting with her recently. Perhaps Dorian, but Cassandra had never thought he was serious, even if deep down she did find him to be handsome. He was not her type, however, and as he and the Inquisitor were an item, she could guess that she was also not his type.
So who else might admire her? Josephine was kind and patient with her, but Cassandra did not think this the ambassador's style. Cullen would either be far more forward than this, or more awkward - she had seen the evidence whenever the barmaid Flissa walked into the same room as him and he immediately turned red and stammered. He was very handsome, and could certainly sweep her off her feet if he wanted to, but never had he ever been awkward with her.
No, Cassandra decided. It couldn't be Cullen.
The Inquisitor had flirted with her a little, and she had appreciated it. But he was now with Dorian.
Who else might do something so obviously romantic? Who would know her well enough to know she would find it charming?
A thought suddenly leaked into her daydreaming. What if it was not an admirer at all? What if it was a prank?
"Varric," Cassandra said out loud, her brows knit and her tone dark. He knew her romantic proclivities, thanks to the Inquisitor. And he would use it against her. Publicly. Just to get a laugh.
Convinced now, Cassandra got to her feet and pulled her boots on. She had half a mind to go pummel the dwarf right then and there, but something stopped her. She should at least confirm his ill will before committing violence against him.
She would need to be subtle. Cassandra had many skills, but subtlety was most definitely not one of them. Who might be able to help her?
Opening her door, Cassandra stalked out, almost missing the fourth rose. This one was orange, and it sat in a vase, balanced carefully on the handrail of the walkway above the smithy.
Anger and confusion flared within Cassandra. Who had been out here without her knowledge? Taking the vase, she ran down the stairs, looking around wildly. The only person down here at the moment was the smith.
"You!" she called.
He looked up from hammering a broadsword. "Aye?"
"Who came in here? Who left this?" She lifted the rose.
He shrugged. I swear to the Maker I will break the nose of the next man to shrug in answer to me. "Didn't see no one." Then he went back to his hammering.
Pursing her lips, Cassandra stalked back up the stairs. The rose was beautiful, but now that she was convinced this was some prank, it made her blood boil. Varric was not stealthy enough to sneak in unnoticed, but he had many friends here in Skyhold, and plenty of them were.
Who would get a laugh from this without fearing Cassandra's wrath? Perhaps Sera? She was certainly a prankster, but she and Cassandra had a conversation just a week prior about the Seeker keeping the elf safe from magical attacks. She thought they had reached an accord…
Wait. Pranksters prank people they like, and people they do not.
So. It was Varric with Sera as a co-conspirator, then. Or, at least, that was her suspicion. But she could not act without proof. How would she obtain it?
"Of course," Cassandra whispered, and she was out the door, the flame-orange rose and its vase rocking and nearly falling with the swiftness of Cassandra's exit.
Hello! I neglected to introduce you all to this little fic in chapter one, so I'll do so now. Basically, this is my first attempt at writing Cass/Leli. And it is entirely self-indulgent. No drama, no difficult realizations, not much plot to be had. Just fluffy pieces of fluff, what I have dubbed in my own head as 'romance-candy.'
I hope you enjoy.
Ten minutes later, she crested the steps leading up to the rookery. Few ventured up here aside from Leliana's agents, and the Inquisitor himself. Cassandra stopped by every few days, as well, but she was not afraid of the former Left Hand. They were colleagues, complementary Hands to the former Divine, extending her reach beyond the walls of the Grand Cathedral. They were also friends, often traveling together on the Divine's business, whether accompanying Most Holy or venturing on their own to find the information they needed. They spoke of more than just business when out on the road alone together, and by now knew each other quite well.
"Cassandra," Leliana said in greeting. She stood on tiptoe, her arms reaching up toward a raven perched just out of her reach. The bird appeared to not care that she needed its message, just staring down at the short woman with beady eyes.
Cassandra strode forward, ignoring the crunch of dried bird dung under her boots, and reached above her shorter friend's hands to take the message from the bird. Anyone else and the bird would have thrown a fit, but these animals knew Cassandra. She had been around them since they were born.
"Thank you," Leliana said, her voice soft. She smiled up into Cassandra's face, and Cassandra was struck silent with the look the former bard gave her: blue eyes wide open, looking up into Cassandra's face, her lips pulled into a small smile. Red wisps of hair escaped her cowl, framing her face just so. Her lips seemed to pout, and her blue eyes were very dark in the gloom of the room. She was very beautiful. How had Cassandra not noticed just how captivating the redhead could be? She was suddenly - absurdly - overcome, wanting to step closer, to touch, perhaps to hold...
Cassandra murmured, "You're welcome," as she handed Leliana the strip of paper she had pulled from the raven's leg.
Leliana's hand alighted briefly on Cassandra's bicep, squeezing for a moment as the woman smiled up into her face. Cassandra smelled a delicate scent: light, floral, as though she stood near a stream in a clearing in the woods in spring, the sun shining upon her. Leliana exuded warmth, contrary to what she might seem from a distance, and Cassandra felt it now, enveloping her. She felt almost too hot, in fact.
But then Leliana was gone, her hand no longer touching Cassandra, her warmth no longer trying to pull Cassandra in. Just as the scent disappeared, Cassandra identified it: Andraste's Grace. She remembered something about Leliana's mother, but the details would not come.
It was as if a spell lifted, one caused by Leliana's presence. Cassandra was finally able to breathe, to move, and when she did, she felt lighter than air.
"What can I do for you?" the spymaster said, tucking the parchment - now read - into a box and snapping the lock closed.
Cassandra blinked a moment. What did she need? "I… wanted your help with something, if you have the time."
"I can certainly look into something small," Leliana said. "What did you need?"
Suddenly Cassandra felt foolish. They were just roses. But she was here, and she couldn't very well leave with a "nevermind", so she soldiered on. "I think someone is playing a prank on me. I suspect Varric, with a possible accomplice in Sera. I wanted to know if you could prove it."
"I see. And what is the prank?"
Cassandra's face flamed. "Roses. I keep finding them. They are clearly left for me. Two outside my room at different times. One where I usually store my things when bathing. One on my breakfast platter."
Leliana cocked her head to the side. "Roses… as a prank? It sounds more like you have an admirer."
Cassandra pursed her lips. "Now that I voice it aloud, it seems foolish. I should not have bothered you." She turned to go.
"Have you any idea who it might be, this admirer?"
Cassandra stopped, turning on her heel, her face still aflame. "I had considered it, but I can think of no one who has shown any true interest. Fanciful flirting from Dorian, perhaps, but nothing sincere. So I considered other possibilities."
"Like a prank. I see." Leliana clasped her hands in front of her. "I'm sorry, but I just don't think it's a prank. It's not Sera's style." The redhead rolled her eyes. "She is more likely to fling a jar full of bees into a crowded room than to make subtle jibes at your interest in romance novels."
Cassandra nodded. "I see your point."
"And Varric is not in Skyhold at the moment."
That surprised Cassandra. "He is not?" How had she missed that?
Leliana shook her head. "No. He is meeting with a possible dwarven publisher outside Orzammar. He should be back in a week or so."
Cassandra shook her head in wonder. "There is nothing in Skyhold you do not know, is there?"
Leliana's giggle was like the first birdsong of the morning. That is a foolish comparison, Cassandra told herself. Nevertheless, it made her heart flutter. These were very new reactions to be having to an old friend and colleague. It was strange, to say the least. What had changed?
"And much of what goes on outside Skyhold, as well. Though in this case I know not because of my agents, but because I provided the name of the publisher at his request. Orzammar is an untapped market, you see. And perhaps he can convince some Casteless that life on the surface is a wonderful opportunity. I hope so, anyway."
Cassandra blinked, bemused by the explanation, and by the effect Leliana's giggle, of all things, was having on her. "I see. Well. I will not take up any more of your time."
"You might speak with Josie," Leliana suggested.
Again, the giggle sounded. "No, silly! To ferret out your admirer!"
"Oh." Cassandra blinked a few times. She and the ambassador weren't close, not like herself and Leliana, but they got on together well enough. They had shared tea a time or two. Cassandra enjoyed her colorful descriptions of Antiva City. "Perhaps I will. She would not mind?"
"I think she would kill me if I denied her the chance to puzzle this out. And best of all, she is quite discreet."
Cassandra pursed her lips, but nodded. "All right. I may seek her out. This is puzzling, and distracting. Whoever it is should just tell me, or stop. I have things to do."
Leliana smiled a knowing smile. "Ah, but where is the fun in that? Besides, I know you, Cassandra. You wish to be wooed. With flowers, wine, and candles and poetry, and all the other things you never allow yourself. If this person merely came out and told you how they felt… Well. I'm not sure you would take their desire seriously."
Cassandra had no answer for that. She merely grunted, turned, and marched down the stairs. It wasn't until she reached the great hall that she realized that she had never actually told Leliana of her proclivity for reading romance novels, or of her desire to be courted like in the stories.
Chalking it up to the spymaster knowing everything, Cassandra continued on her way.
In the end, Cassandra decided to go to Josephine afterall, if not for advice, then at least for a distraction. Her mind could work on the problem in the background for a while. Perhaps she would leave the ambassador's office with more insight than she had now?
Cassandra found a servant about to enter the ambassador's office with a lunch tray, laden with meat and vegetable pastries and cut fruit. "I will take it," she said, strong-arming the thing away from the servant, giving the young man no choice but to accept. "Bring us a decanter of wine and two glasses, as well, please."
"Yes, Seeker," he said, and hurried away. Cassandra entered Josephine's office.
"Oh!" Josephine said upon looking up from her desk. "When I ordered my meal, I did not expect you to deliver it!" She got to her feet and hurried to take the tray from Cassandra. "To what do I owe the pleasure?"
"I… needed some company. I thought perhaps you could use some, as well."
"Oh! I see. Well, I suppose I can take a break while I eat. Nothing on my desk is so pressing I cannot sit with a friend. But, tell me," Josephine said, cocking her head to the side as she considered Cassandra. "Was there anything in particular you wished to discuss? You seem troubled."
Cassandra huffed, her brows knit as she took a pastry. "It is foolish. But Leliana suggested you might be able to help me."
"I would love to help you, if I can. But what did you need help with?"
"I… seem to have an admirer."
"Oh!" Josephine's excitement was immediate, her hands clapping and everything. "A secret admirer?! You do not know who it is? Tell me everything!"
Taking a deep breath, Cassandra related the events of the morning, hesitating when she reached Leliana. She decided against sharing her reactions while in Leliana's presence just yet. She needed time to think on them. They bore a striking resemblance to attraction, and that in addition to a secret admirer was just too much for Cassandra to unpack at the moment.
Taking a sip of her wine, which had arrived in the middle of her tale, Cassandra finished. "Leliana said you might be able to help me sort out who in Skyhold might harbor feelings for me."
"They would also need to be someone who thinks you feel similarly. And no one faint of heart, either," Josephine added. "You are a formidable woman, Lady Pentaghast. It would not be some poncy man who could not stand his ground around you."
"As you say," Cassandra said. "I have been told I am intimidating."
Josephine fixed her with a sardonic look. "Come, Cassandra. You know you are intimidating. You have used it to your advantage as a Seeker and as the Right Hand as often as necessary, I am told."
"True," Cassandra conceded. "I do not approach romance in the same way, however."
"No, I would hope not. But this man - or woman, perhaps? - would need to know you would not bully your paramore in the same way that you do your adversaries. An adversarial love can be a thrill, of course. But you do not appear to desire such a thrill."
"I have enough adversaries on the battlefield."
"So what do you want, then?"
Cassandra hesitated. Should she tell all? Leliana says she is discreet. "I… I want a romance like in the tales. I wish to be courted."
"You desire candies and fine dresses and to be told you are beautiful?"
"No!" Cassandra scowled. "I do not care for such things. Perhaps to be told I am beautiful, but not the rest. No, I wish…" Pushing herself to her feet, Cassandra walked over to the window. "I want a man who will bring me flowers, who will read me poetry by candlelight, who-" She turned to Josephine. "I want a man who will sweep me off my feet!"
Josephine regarded her with a small smile. "Don't we all." The ambassador's expression changed, her brows gathering, forming an indentation between them. "A man specifically? Do you have someone in mind?"
"I…" Cassandra wilted. "No. There is no one who flirts, no one who speaks casually with me."
Cassandra frowned. "No man…"
"But you have friends with whom you speak easily enough, yes? Myself, The Iron Bull, Dorian, Leliana…"
"Are you suggesting Bull is sneaking into the smithy and leaving roses for me?!"
Josephine giggled. "Of course not!" She took a sip of wine. "Is there no one who might stoke the fire in your blood? No one whose company you enjoy for any amount of time? Who knows you well enough to leave you roses and read you poetry by candlelight? With whom you are perhaps close, to whom you might also be attracted."
Cassandra pursed her lips. There was someone. She tried not to think of her confusing feelings about Leliana from earlier. A fluke, no doubt. Cassandra had known the woman for years and never considered her… romantically. But she did enjoy Leliana's company. They could talk of anything, for hours, and not grow bored. They could also enjoy silence without trouble. Leliana had made it clear earlier that she knew what kind of romance Cassandra would want.
It… No. It couldn't be.
"You look like you have an idea," Josephine observed.
"Perhaps… but it bears further thought." Cassandra looked out the window a moment. "Private thought."
"Well. I look forward to hearing the outcome of your private thoughts," Josephine said, getting to her feet and gathering the detritus of their lunch together on the tray. "And the outcome of this scavenger hunt of roses."
"Yes. I… thank you, Josephine. I have a direction in which to look, now. I do not think I would have arrived there without your gentle guidance. Even my own thoughts can be… blunt."
Josephine bowed her head, a smile pulling at her lips. "You are quite welcome, Lady Seeker. Now go. Seek this admirer of yours. I'm sure she is waiting."
Cassandra nodded. She had her hand on the door handle when she realized the pronoun Josephine had used. Did she know Cassandra's thoughts? She was about to say something, when there, just outside the door, was something upon the ground. She bent to pick it up.
"What is it?" Josephine asked.
Cassandra held it out for the ambassador to see: a parcel, wrapped in plain brown paper and tied with a rough string. Tucked into the string was another rose, this one pink.
"It seems your admirer has struck again," Josephine said. "You should go open it. In private," she added as Cassandra made to slip a finger under the paper.
Nodding, Cassandra shut the door. She could think of only one thing.
"Leliana," she murmured aloud, and then she was moving once more.
Leliana was no longer up in the rookery. Perplexed, Cassandra instead went to the spymaster's quarters above the Chantry garden, but there was no answer when she knocked on the door.
Turning from the heavy, age-darkened wood, Cassandra looked out on the garden. The roses were blooming - they were always blooming, the magic of this place keeping it in eternal spring even when blizzards raged out on the rest of the mountain. Right now it was summer, the snows melted and the animals out in full force. Evidence of this flitted around the garden in the form of birds and insects.
It was pleasant to look upon, but Cassandra's mind churned. She was not convinced that Leliana was her admirer, but she was becoming more and more convinced that she admired the spymaster. And it confused her. She always assumed she was only attracted to men. She wanted a dashing man who could take her as she was, who was strong and confident enough to not be intimidated by her own surety in herself. Someone who would not take her directness as an insult, who might even appreciate it. She was decisive and stoic, but underneath she still had a heart, one which longed to be courted like the women in her novels.
But… was a man required to fill this role? Assuming her suspicions were true, and it was Leliana who was leaving her these flowers, leading her on this strange scavenger hunt… Then the woman definitely knew what Cassandra's tenderest heart desired. And the fact she was a woman hadn't seemed to stop Cassandra this morning, when Leliana's proximity sent that tender heart's beat into double time. Was masculinity the only thing that could outbalance her strength? Regalyan had not been overly masculine. In some ways, he was like Dorian: he joked, he flirted, he was refined in his tastes - and his grooming. Some might describe him as a dandy. Perhaps overt masculinity was not required.
Could feminine, subtle Leliana court brash, blunt Cassandra in the way she needed?
It appeared she could. Roses, and a mystery parcel. Cassandra hadn't opened it yet, so bent on finding Leliana was she. She decided to do so now, right here outside Leliana's door, above the garden from where the roses had been cut. Placing the pale pink rose on the stone ledge in front of her, Cassandra took hold of the rough string with sure fingers and pulled.
Revealed beneath the crisp brown paper was a book. Leather bound, it had a very comfortable weight and smooth feel in her hands. The lettering, gold and delicate, spelled out the title of a lesser-known epic from Nevarra, written in contemporary Nevarran. Cassandra, of course, had read it more than once. She had read all the tales more than once, even the ones she did not prefer. But she did prefer this one.
Opening the book, Cassandra turned to a page at random, finding a conversation between the two lovers. They were friends first, for years. On this page, they spoke of memories they shared, known only by them. Such history they had, a rich tapestry to adorn the halls of the castle which was their romance.
If that wasn't confirmation of just who her admirer was, then Cassandra didn't know what would be.
"You wish to be wooed. With flowers, wine, and candles and poetry... If this person merely came out and told you how they felt… Well. I'm not sure you would take their desire seriously."
Leliana had been right; of course she had been right. If Leliana, friend and confidante of many years, had simply told Cassandra in the course of a normal conversation that she wished to start a romance, Cassandra would not have been receptive. Indeed, she might have thought Leliana had gone mad; the shift would have been too sudden.
But this… this was having an effect. The roses, leading her to Josephine, the slight deception. Cassandra was not obtuse. She could see what Leliana was doing. She was… warming Cassandra up to the idea, helping her realize that a close friendship could shift and change into a romance, and that she did not need a man to fill that role in her life. Leliana was giving her the time she needed to consider the spymaster differently in her mind. She was doing Cassandra the favor of not thrusting this upon her.
What Cassandra could not figure out was why Leliana's presence suddenly had such an effect on her, when it never had before. Her scent, her warmth, the vibrant color of her eyes: all newly noticed, yet also familiar, comfortable.
Cassandra rifled through the book a bit more, finally going to close it. As she did so, a small scrap of paper fell from the pages. Cassandra knelt to pick it up, seeing that it had a simple message scrawled upon it.
The answer to your questions can be found where you lay your head to rest. The handwriting was familiar.
Cassandra took her time walking back to her bedchamber, using the opportunity to think further on her conundrum. She was now convinced that her admirer was indeed Leliana. But that didn't entirely solve her problem. For what would Cassandra do about it? Did she want Leliana? Could she accept the former bard's courtship as it was being offered? Leliana was small, feminine. She liked shoes and beautiful dresses and many other things that held no importance for Cassandra. Could they truly work as a couple?
Regalyan and I were unlikely, to say the least. Especially at that time in my life. Why not Leliana?
Finally, the Seeker arrived outside the smithy. She looked up at the structure, her heart hammering. Would she find Leliana inside? If she did, what would she do? What would the both of them do?
Taking a deep breath, Cassandra walked inside.
The forge felt no different. The same orange glow, the same heat, the same sounds of hammer on metal on anvil. It was only Cassandra who was changed, who sat on the precipice of a major decision: did she continue on with the status quo, or did she surrender to the desire so newly discovered?
One, two, three steps, and Cassandra hesitated. Four, five, six steps, and she stumbled, nearly tripping and falling. The rest of the steps she did not count, but they felt interminable… until she came to the landing.
Her door was open, but there was no one inside. Cassandra could not decide if she was disappointed or relieved.
She moved inside her room, adding the pink rose to the vase with the orange one from earlier. She now had a collection of five.
She turned, examining the room in the late afternoon sun. It took a moment for her to notice, but once she saw it, she did not know how she had missed it.
Upon her pillow lay a rose, white in color, with a cream-colored parchment folded next to it. Coming closer, Cassandra picked it up, seeing it had a wax seal: the Nightingale.
Breath caught in her throat, Cassandra broke the seal. Her hands shook just slightly as she unfolded the paper. Inside, she found the familiar handwriting once more.
"The red rose whispers of passion,
And the white rose breathes of love;
O, the red rose is a falcon,
And the white rose is a dove.
But I send you a cream-white rosebud
With a flush on its petal tips;
For the love that is purest and sweetest
Has a kiss of desire on the lips."
Cassandra's eyes drifted down to the rose, still lying upon her pillow: white petals, wrapped lovingly around each other in a tight bud. Upon the tips of the petals was the barest hint of pink. The central-most petals were tipped in red.
Love. Love, with a hint of passion. A kiss of desire. I… I should very much like that kiss, she thought, finding the conclusion she had been seeking.
There were more words beneath the poem:
"There is little more to say, my dear Cassandra. I love you. If you would like the last two roses, then meet me in the grove you shared with me a fortnight ago.
I shall be waiting with bated breath.
Yours most truly,
Cassandra looked up from the letter, up from the rose, up from her empty bed. She looked out the window, to the angle of the sun. She had spent a considerable time outside Leliana's room above the garden. She only had an hour before the sun began to set. How long had Leliana been waiting? Would she still be there when Cassandra arrived?
For Cassandra would go. How could she not? This was the romance she wanted. She knew she loved Leliana as a dear friend, and now she knew that she desired her, as well. The book was Leliana's assurance that their relationship, their love, could shift and change, transform into the romantic love for which her heart yearned.
Adding the rose to the vase, Cassandra made to leave, to hurry down to the grove and catch Leliana before she gave up on her fellow Hand. Only instead she found Josephine standing in the doorway. Tucked under an arm was a parcel.
Cassandra worked her jaw a few times, wanting to be angry, but not managing to muster anything more compelling than the letter still clutched in her hand. "I suppose you knew the whole time?" she asked instead.
The ambassador smiled, small and soft. "Yes, I have known. May I come in?"
Josephine continued. "You will go to her? You… you love her?"
"I think I have loved her for some time. Though… the attraction is new."
Josephine cocked her head to the side. "I do not think it is. That sort of thing does not develop with no warning. Leliana told me how you stiffened in her embrace today, how your breath hitched and your voice abandoned you. She has always been careful, you see."
"You have not noticed? Cassandra, she never touches you, never enters your space. Your hands might brush, but she keeps her distance otherwise."
Cassandra opened her mouth to dispute this – of course it was untrue! – but she hesitated. Yes, they were close, but theirs was a relationship of dialogue, of discourse. They were not friends who… embraced, or kissed each other's cheeks. Their words had always been how they related.
Perhaps Leliana had been keeping her at arm's length?
"Very well. So the feelings have been there, dormant. Did Leliana know I would respond this way?"
"I do not know," Josephine said. "I did not know she harbored such feelings until she told me of her plan yesterday. She asked me to play a few key parts, and to gently lead you to the idea that it might be her who left the flowers for you."
Cassandra furrowed her brows. "So why are you here now?"
"Ah, yes. I have something for you."
Josephine giggled. "No, no. For Leliana, not from."
Utterly confused, Cassandra watched Josephine place her parcel upon the bed. She unwrapped it, pulled the paper away, and held up the contents.
Inhaling sharply, Cassandra stepped forward. It was a gorgeous leather jerkin, dark red in color, with a black trim. Its quality would have been difficult to find in Skyhold. Either one would need to have this custom-made, or…
"This must have cost you a fortune," she breathed, meeting Josephine's eyes.
The ambassador's smile was warm, tender. "I love Leliana dearly, and yours is a friendship I am enjoying building. I want nothing but happiness for the two of you. I can't do much… but I can dress you up a bit for your meeting."
Taking this at face value – really, she needed to get going, and puzzling out Josephine's hidden meanings would only delay her – Cassandra began stripping off her clothes. She went to her wardrobe and pulled out her nicest shirt – linen, bleached white and embroidered along the collar. Her black leather trousers were pulled out next. The boots she had been wearing all day would have to do. They needed polishing, but Cassandra did not have the time.
Soon, she stood buttoning the jerkin as she considered herself in the mirror. Her appearance was not something she usually cared much about. But this… this was special. Leliana had taken such care to lead her here. It was important to Cassandra that she took this care. Not because it was important to Leliana or Cassandra that she look her best, but because it was one small way she could show Leliana she cared.
I am not sure you would take their desire seriously.
Cassandra would show Leliana just how seriously she took that desire.
"There. You are quite dashing, Cassandra," Josephine said, moving to stand before her, between herself and the mirror. The ambassador reached up, straightening Cassandra's collar beneath the jerkin. "There. We could do something with your hair, but there really isn't the time."
"I agree. I should be going. I…" She looked down into Josephine's amber eyes. "Thank you, Josephine. I will never forget this."
Josephine's smile was small, knowing. "I know." Then she was laughing. "Go, go! See to your love!"
Her heart skipping at the words, at the thought, Cassandra rushed out the door and into the late afternoon, grabbing up her sword and scabbard on the way.
Fair warning, this is all I have written. And because I am a mother to twin 7 month olds, there is no guarantee I'll get much written this weekend. But at least it's not a real cliffhanger, right? Like, there's a general idea of what's gonna happen, even if you don't know the details, right?
The poem is A White Rose by John Boyle O'Reilly. I read it and immediately knew how to make it fit into the little story I'd crafted, so I went with it.
Fair warning. I thought this would get smutty, if sweet smutty. But it didn't. Every angle I took just felt forced. So here you have it. My first fic that doesn't have an ounce of smut.
I'll have to relinquish my crown. Queen of Smut can no longer be my title. Sorry, fahRENheit2006.
Also, little homage to my good friend Raven Sinead there at the end.
Anyway. Onward to the conclusion. I hope you all enjoy!
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.