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Enchanting the Knight-Commander

Chapter Text

A DWARF ENTERS, STAGE LEFT, AND SWAGGERS TO A CHAIR PLACED CENTER STAGE

 

You know, someone told me once that people like stories. I'm not sure if I believe him, but, since I can't resist telling them, are you ready for a new one? Well…let me be honest, this is a tale as old as time. It’s got all the things people like – drama, uncertainty, not a small amount of danger, and let’s not forget the great uniter: love. I mean, that’s why you’re here, isn’t it? You want to hear the loooove story. But before we get to that, I should fill you in on a few things.

Now, before I start, if you’re familiar with the Fifth Blight you might have already heard some of this story. However, you might not know all the twists and turns, and that’s where the fun begins. I have felt the winds of change blowing harder, these past few years, and I think this might soon be uncommon knowledge. For better or for ill, well, that’s for the Maker to decide.

The year is 9:36 Dragon. The Fifth Blight, an invasion of Darkspawn from the south of Ferelden under the leadership of their Archdemon, an enormous decaying dragon, has been over for five years, and the nation is healing. Oh, sure, there was a famine, and the population certainly hasn’t recovered. But the bodies of darkspawn no longer taint the ground where they fell, and the country and cities have recovered much faster than in any previous Blight. Of course, since the shortest previous Blight lasted for 12 years instead of just one, that isn’t really saying much.

The capital city of Ferelden, Denerim, has also shed most of the Blight’s detritus. King Alistair has ruled well, and the city is rebuilt and thriving with trade. The alienage, once a veritable prison and slum for the elven residents of Denerim, and the place from which elves were rounded up and sold into Tevinter slavery by the usurper Loghain Mac Tir, has been abolished and elves are allowed to integrate with the citizens of Ferelden if they so wish.

The final remnants of the Archdemon, who fell in fire and fury upon Fort Drakon and was slain by the Hero of Ferelden, the mage Warden Cousland, have been carted away by the darkspawn’s great enemies – and the great defenders of the people – the Grey Wardens. That very Hero has become the Warden-Commander of Ferelden and has done much to rebuild the Grey Wardens from their stronghold in Amaranthine, despite many setbacks.

Great changes have also occurred in the greatest power of Thedas, the faith of the Maker and his bride, Andraste: the Chantry. Divine Beatrix III, the former leader of the Chantry, finally succumbed to the mental fragility of old age and was succeeded by Divine Justinia V two years ago, in 9:34 Dragon. Many changes have been made, not least of which is the appointment of a new Left Hand of the Divine (also known as the Divine’s Spymaster). At this time, no one knows who this mysterious figure is, but the new Divine’s policies on improved custodianship of mages are sweeping across Thedas at an exciting rate. The former Divine’s Right Hand, Cassandra Pentaghast, has kept her post and, as a Seeker of Truth (we’ll get to them in a minute) and thus an experienced overseer of templars and mages alike, has not opposed such changes.

You see, the only free mages in Thedas exist in three places: in the far north-western Tevinter Imperium, where they rule under the auspices of their own Black Divine (a strange Chantry, indeed, that is headed entirely by men instead of the women who oversee ours); among the Grey Wardens, who are permitted to conscript and recruit a limited number of mages due to the mystic nature of their mission against the Darkspawn (although the Chantry chafes and campaigns against a mage becoming Warden-Commander); and lastly as the Keepers of the Dalish elves, mage leaders and elders who are tolerated by our Chantry only because the templars can’t find them. As for city elves and humans with magic… well, they aren’t so lucky.

Yes, mages can be powerfully destructive, and their connection to the ethereal power of the Fade leaves them with an opening for possession by the forces therein. They may also, often in extremis, indulge in blood magic, a use of blood sacrifice to fuel devastating spells. The blood used is often not from a willing victim. Those facts, and the Maker’s commandment, “Magic exists to serve man, and never to rule over him,” have long been used by the Chantry to justify the sequestration of mages within Circles of Magi. These Circles are academies of education, bastions of learning, homes of enlightenment, and impenetrable, inescapable prisons for life.

At the direction of the Chantry, the militant Templar Order oversees the Circles with a steel grip: mages are not permitted to leave without a chaperone, to see their families, to marry, or to have children. To prevent mages from escaping the Circles, their blood is stored within phylacteries, which permit a templar to track down the mage at any distance, across land and sea. If the mages of a Circle is seen as too corrupt to bring back under the purview of the Templars, the Grand Clerics (or, if they are unavailable, the Knight-Commanders of the Templar Order) reserve the Right of Annulment, which gives the templars permission to purge all mages in that Circle.

Templars themselves ingest lyrium, the magical mineral that naturally infuses the blood of mages and fuels their spellcasting. Mages use lyrium potions to replenish their internal stores, while dwarves and tranquil use it to make magical runes. Templar recruits are given lyrium from a young age in order to “develop their talents,” which involves exerting their will over mages to allow the temporary suppression of a mage’s connection to the Fade, also known as a ‘Holy Smite,’ among other skills.

I have heard from multiple sources, however, that lyrium consumption is addictive and mind-altering to non-mages, making templars feel bold and empowered while chaining them to the source of their lyrium – the Chantry. There are rumors that as Templars age their minds and bodies begin to deteriorate at an accelerated rate. However, those who are cast out from the Templar Order often become beggars, thieves, or worse to obtain the lyrium that will feed the addiction the Chantry gave them in the first place. That’s what we dwarves call a lose-lose situation.

Alas, there will always be templars that take the most oppressive approach possible toward mages or those who abuse their positions of power and take… liberties. The Seekers of Truth, therefore, are another Chantry force, selected from the young templars before their first dose of lyrium and trained separately to watch the watchers and enforce the Chantry’s will upon mages and templars alike. However, individual Circles of Magic are overseen by Knight-Commanders of the Templar Order that determine the majority of the treatment of the mages at their mercy – the Seekers cannot be everywhere.

The Chantry’s policies and teachings have long convinced the common populace of the dangers of mages, and this is reflected in their treatment of mage children, who are often abandoned to the templars as soon as their magic manifests. Mages outside of a Circle, whether they are outside it by birth or by escape from the Templar Order, are branded as apostates and have no peace from templars or the mage-hunters who roam the countryside, searching for rumors of apostates living freely. Those unfortunates, upon arrival at a circle, are often slain or forced into an engineered conflict with a Fade demon called the Harrowing, about which little is known outside the Templar Order themselves. The process is, however, variably fatal for the mage in question.

Apprentice mages are all forced to go through the Harrowing in order to advance to the position of Enchanter and leave their apprenticeship – and childhood, such as it is – behind. As an alternative to the Harrowing, apprentice mages may elect to take the Rite of Tranquility, wherein they are severed from the Fade during the application of a lyrium sunburst brand to their forehead. They no longer may access the gift of magic, nor do they dream or feel any emotions whatsoever. Thus, they are purportedly resistant to possession. They also lose the passion required for inventive thought, rendering them capable only of logical thought and the manipulation of lyrium into runes and enchantments. As mages cannot either make runes nor enchant items, the Tranquil are a major source of income for the Circles and the templars. Nothing can go wrong with that arrangement, right?

It is a little-known fact that the Chantry has mandated the Rite of Tranquility for all mages, no matter their age, who are alphas or omegas. Due to potential tensions with the families of the mages involved, especially if they are of noble birth, this is a very closely kept secret within the Templar Order and the upper echelons of the Chantry. The Rite requires the assent of the First Enchanter of any Circle in which it is performed, unless the Knight-Commander is too powerful or the First Enchanter is too weak to prevent unregulated usage. As you might imagine, horror stories abound of the abuse of this ritual.

There are dark tales of templars running amok everywhere, but no Circle seems more oppressive than the one in my home city of Kirkwall, in the Free Marches across the Waking Sea to the north of Ferelden. Following the Qunari invasion of Kirkwall, Knight-Commander Meredith Stannard stands as the unopposed martial ruler of Kirkwall and, at this point in time, the only other force within Kirkwall is the free mage Champion of Kirkwall, one Marion Hawke. But that is a completely different story, and although it’s one of my favorites, all you need to know is that tensions between mages and templars are high and getting higher across the Waking Sea.

But, back to our story! In Ferelden, the mages are enjoying an upswell in popularity. The sources of that change are manifold, but it all comes back to the Hero of Ferelden, the mage and Grey Warden-Commander who conquered the Fifth Blight in one year. She was a former apostate mage who had been illegally raised outside the Circle by her noble parents, the Teyrn and Teyrna of Highever. After Arl Howe usurped the Teyrnir during the Blight, she would have been captured or slain upon detection by Howe’s forces, templars, or mage-hunters had the Grey Wardens not conscripted her to their cause.

The longest-standing Circle of Magi in Ferelden is the Circle Tower, in the ancient fortress of Kinloch Hold. It is isolated on an island in the very northernmost part of Lake Calenhad, accessible only by a ferry that is crewed and monitored by the templars. The Circle Tower was home to several of the most powerful mages in recent history, not least of which is the Archmage Wynne, who is now a major voice in the College of Enchanters who meet and discuss the business of mages with each other and with the Chantry. During the Blight, Warden Cousland traveled to the Circle Tower, defeating a mage revolt spurred by the Usurper Loghain that caused many casualties to mages and templars alike. She also recruited Wynne to accompany and aid in her quest against the Archdemon.

Due to her actions at the Circle Tower, Warden Cousland also secured the support of the loyal Circle mages to aid her fight against the Archdemon during the Blight. Templars, always reluctant to allow mages beyond their reach for any reason, accompanied those forces to Denerim to fight the oncoming Darkspawn army. Mages and templars fought bravely together to protect the evacuating populace.

Many mages became casualties of the Darkspawn’s last push, and the people of Denerim shared accounts of their bravery and sacrifice with the returning refugees, who spread those tales across the country. King Alistair, the Warden-Commander’s former companion and a former templar himself, has announced policies that pay lip service to the Chantry’s rules but favor sympathy for the rights of mages.

Many templars also died in the battle of Denerim, not least of which was Knight-Commander Greagoir of the Circle Tower. Greagoir’s successor, a gruff old templar by the name of Nedley, took over the Circle Tower and began to improve policies toward mages. I met him once, he’s a decent guy! Things are changing, my friends, and I think that the Chantry and mages will be at the center of that change.

More freedoms have resulted in better relations between templars and mages at the Circle Tower, and the rates of successful Harrowings have increased while the number of mages made Tranquil have decreased. In fact, Nedley was so successful that he was ordered to the capital by the Divine herself to establish a new Circle there, the first Denerim Circle in over 600 years! At his departure about two years ago, the Divine nominated his chosen successor, Nicole Rayleigh Haught, to succeed him as Knight-Commander of the Circle Tower.

This is her story.

Chapter Text

Knight-Commander Haught drummed her fingers on the wood of her desk as she inspected the scrawled monstrosity in front of her, squinting in the light of the run-down candles dribbling at her side and the magelights glowing gently from the vaulted ceiling. The room was chilled, the night slipping in through the broad windows at her back, only mitigated by the brazier tucked next to Nicole’s chair.

The telltale creak of armor and movement in her periphery informed her that the templar had shifted nervously, again. And well he should – this was the third report in as many weeks with more smudge than substance, and Nicole was properly tired of them.

Her Knight-Captain had already talked to the boy and had gotten nowhere. He’d told her, “He’s thicker than the walls, Knight-Commander, and twice as slow. I don’t know how to bring him to order, but maybe you can.”

Ah, well, time to see if I can get through to him. It was unlikely, but stranger things had happened.

“Lonnie, do you know why you are in my office tonight?” She layered authority into her voice, pushing out subtle pheromones of alpha disapproval. He started slightly.

Oh, Maker, was he falling asleep?

Clearing his throat, her least useful templar stammered, “No, Knight-Commander, Ser, I don’t. I…see you have my report. That I wrote, I mean, it’s not mine anymore because I gave it to the quartermaster and-“

Nicole waved a hand and he broke off mid-ramble.

“Templar, this is abysmal. There are ink splotches and smudges all over the page, and the only part I can read says something about a mabari hound, with an accompanying sketch that is purportedly of that same mabari. I know you are aware that the war hounds of the Tower are working animals, with a purpose that aligns with our own.”

She gestured to her own massive mabari, Calamity, who snored happily on a cushion on the other side of the brazier, peacefully unaware of the insult Lonnie had paid the noble breed with his ‘sketch.’

Nicole continued, “What I do not know is why you made a reference to – and a supposed drawing of – a mabari in your inventory of the food held in the storage caves. Can you explain?”

“Well, Ser, I was worried that the mabari wouldn’t have enough to eat, and I wanted to make sure that the quartermaster knew that mabari are big beasts and eat a lot! You see, in the drawing I put a sword next to it so you can see how big it is!”

Lonnie was gesticulating in excitement, and Nicole had to interject quickly before he continued.

“Lonnie. The quartermaster knows how much mabari eat. He has done his job admirably for many years. What he needs to know is the exact quantity of our supplies. That is your duty, as his assistant. You must accurately quantify-”

Nicole saw the confusion in his eyes and stopped, rephrasing it down to his level.

“You must count the amount of each kind of food and write it down, in a readable manner, to give to him. This is an important duty – in winter, merchants travel less frequently and the lake sometimes ices over completely. We need to know how much food we have, so that the quartermaster can buy what we need and ration what we cannot acquire. This,” she waved the parchment in demonstration, “is unacceptable. It is messy, disorganized, and unreadable.”

Lonnie wilted in front of her, his whole body drooping in dismay.

“I’m sorry, Ser, it’s so quiet down there and I just…get lost in my own head, I guess, and then have to hurry to finish. I want to do a good job, I really do!”

Nicole thought about it for a moment. Lonnie was good-natured, a little too easygoing for his own good, and needed to be kept on-track.

Nicole sighed. “I am going to assign you a partner, a mage apprentice who needs practice with numbers or writing. They can also provide better light. Perhaps with a mage to guard, you will be more attentive to your work.”

Lonnie, predictably, perked up at her words. “Really? You trust me with a mage?”

“I trust you to be an example of hard work and trustworthiness for a mage apprentice . To work next to a mage, you must be attentive to your duty and to their safety, without undue fraternization. You will check each other’s work and be expected to produce legible – readable – inventories to the quartermaster. Am I understood?”

“Yes, Knight-Commander, Ser! I will not disappoint you! Thank you, Ser!”

Nicole concentrated on radiating quiet approval, nodded, and said, “Very well. You will receive your partner assignment tomorrow. Dismissed.”

Lonnie practically frolicked out the door. Nicole rested her head in her hands. Time to add yet another addendum to my meeting with the First Enchanter tomorrow.

Nicole moved on to easier business to close out her evening. The first item to evaluate was the roster of new templars under her command, a young crop of imports that had arrived over the course of the last week. She grimaced at the names.

They were mostly alphas, Maker protect her. There were five: one from Nevarra, two from the Free Marches, one from Rivain, and one from Orlais. The ones from the Free Marches would be trouble, she already knew, likely marinated in the ingrained anti-mage bias of their home city-states, but the others were unknown quantities.

The last of this group, one of the Free Marchers, should have come in the day before, as he had been scheduled to pass through Denerim five days previously, but he was yet to arrive. Nicole had left instructions with the night shift to assign him a billet and tell him to make himself presentable tomorrow for inspection and assignment, if he made it in time.

Nicole frowned at the sheet and tapped her quill thoughtfully at the travel details. All five of these templars had passed through Denerim. That was unusual. Although Denerim, at the northeastern shore of Ferelden, was the closest large port to the Free Marches and Rivain, at this time of year the Waking Sea would be clear enough to take passage all the way to Jader, situated to the west of the Circle Tower and Lake Calenhad. That would save them days of hard riding across Ferelden. The Nevarran and Orlesian should have definitely gone through Jader, as the travel by ship would be easily three times as long to Denerim from their starting ports. Highever, though a less busy port, was also quite close to the Circle Tower.

Why did they all go through Denerim? And, Nicole re-checked the predicted and actual travel times, why did they all lose a day passing through?

Her mind immediately supplied an answer: They spoke to the Grand Cleric.

Grand Cleric Holda had assumed leadership of the Chantry of Ferelden after the former Grand Cleric Elemena, having served through the Blight and having crowned King Alistair, had retired with honor. Holda was a traditionalist, steeped in the conservative politics of the Chantry, and held no love for Nicole or for Knight-Commander Nedley and his new Circle of Magi in Denerim. Indeed, she held little respect for the leader of the faithful, Divine Justinia V. Nicole had been advanced to her post contrary to the express desires of the Grand Cleric, who had wanted to instate her grizzled old Knight-Captain of the Cathedral in Denerim.

Since she had taken command, Nicole had received a missive at least once a month from the Grand Cleric, demanding that this or that privilege be taken away from mages of the Circle Tower. Holda’s letters always took care to say that, of course, the detailed policies of day-to-day Circle management were left up to the Knight-Commanders, but that it had come to her attention that the mages were being allowed to run wild over the templars, and it was dangerous to allow them to have some small freedom. For example, the last rant had demanded she remove the mages’ ability to grow their own vegetables and herbs, because it was an “unnecessary risk to templar safety.”

Thus, Nicole knew the Grand Cleric already had eyes on the Circle Tower, although she was unsure whether it was through a spy or efficient information-gathering from reading templars’ mail and their conversations on shore leave. With the unusual travel patterns of these new templars to go on, Nicole suspected that she had just received a batch of conservative spies just waiting to Nicole to make a mistake. And if the Grand Cleric had sent five of them, she must have some issue she wanted investigated more closely.

Nicole made note to send a message to Sister Nightingale about these new recruits and her suspicions, just in case. The good Sister had made a special point of leaving a small group of ravens for their express communication, with the implication that Nicole should make good use of that resource.

A commotion in the hallway outside brought her attention away from her work just before three loud knocks sounded against the wooden doors. “Come.”

A strange alpha, a young man dressed in light armor emblazoned with templar heraldry, swaggered in through the inner doors, dragging someone behind him by his cruel grip on an upper arm. Nicole stood abruptly, her chair scraping along the stones as she strode around her desk.

The boy crowed, “Look what the mage-hunters found! A fresh apostate for the Harrowing!”

He flung the slight body, a girl by her build and long, honey-brown hair, to the floor at Nicole’s feet. The girl yelped and skidded across the stone tiles, and the templar aimed a kick at her stomach that knocked her breath out in a huff.

“What is the meaning of this?” Nicole barked, calling the young templar to order, unleashing her alpha pheromones to swirl out in a tempest of command and fury. “Step away at once!”

“Excuse me, Knight-Commander, this mage doesn’t know her place. She tried to bite me, just like the animal she is.” He sneered and spat at the small form huddled on the floor, his scent full of rage and sick pleasure.

Nicole stepped forward, swift and sure, and struck him down, the back of her vambrace cracking across his cheekbone. He stumbled to the side, reeling, then swung back around with a hand across his face, blood streaming between his fingers. He opened his mouth to speak, saw something in her face, and closed it instead, taking a step back and averting his eyes. His stink quieted, turned sullen, as her dominance roiled around the room and pushed his down and away.

“Ser Valerian,” Nicole snapped, fury in her tone, to one of her templar guards where he stood, shocked, in the doorway, “Remove this man to the cells for insubordination and behavior unfitting of a templar.”

Valerian pulled the templar – He must be Hardy, that new Free Marcher, Nicole thought – away as Nicole watched, still absolutely livid. This new templar had just injured and spat on a mage in her presence, and she had to calm herself before she charged after him and beat him bloody for the presumption and insult. But first, she had to deal with this mess.

Nicole turned to her second guard, who showed his neck at her attention, eyes slightly wild. He was a beta and should have been more resistant to her fury, yet she had completely overwhelmed his state of mind.

Get control of yourself, Haught, she thought. Nicole took a breath, released it, and restrained her dominance display, halting the flood of pheromones into the room.

Nicole addressed the templar in measured tones. “Ser Rimes, find the First Enchanter. Apologize for the hour and request her presence in my office at once.” Rimes bowed and exited, closing the door behind him.

Nicole turned her attention to her office. Calamity had woken and stood at attention, all of her focus on the girl on the floor.

Definitely a mage, then, but she hasn’t used any magic, Nicole thought.

She made the hand signal for ‘watch’ and Calamity, obedient and calm, sank to her belly with her eyes still trained on the mage. Good. At least someone kept their head.

For her part, the girl had not moved from her landing spot on the floor, although she was curled tightly in on herself with her hair covering her face. Her wrists were bound with hemp, and bright red blood leaked around the edges of the rope.

“Are you injured?” Nicole asked, soft-voiced as if speaking to a skittish horse, and she took a step forward.

The girl whimpered, pulling away, and Nicole stopped her advance. This was a delicate moment, she knew. The mage hunters were often little more than common thugs, and there was no way to know how badly they had treated her before this templar had made a mockery of Nicole’s own reforms. She considered their positions and dropped to one knee, reducing her height to appeal to the girl, the creak of her armor loud in the small room.

Nicole said, “I swear, no further harm will come to you this night. I am sorry you were so mistreated. It was not my will, and he will be duly punished. I do not train my templars to be so unkind.”

“That’s…not what I have heard about Templars,” came a small, cautious voice.

The girl swept back the tangled fall of her hair with her bound hands to look up at Nicole. Her hazel eyes shone in the light of Nicole’s office. They were set in a delicate face creased with lines of pain or worry, with a dark red bruise – very fresh and very bad, swollen and angry – seeping from one eye, across the cheekbone, and into her hairline. Nicole held her breath. This girl was beautiful, something wild and haunting in her expression…and Nicole could not, would not, think like that about a mage. She shoved the impression away.

Nicole took a steadying breath, preparing to reassure the girl further. But that breath carried more information to her senses, and she reeled back at the gentle, beguiling, needy scent of distressed omega. The undertones were lavender and honey, with a hint of rosemary. The girl must have been suppressing her scent with everything she had to hide it, even under Nicole’s furious deluge of pheromones.

Nicole could feel her inner alpha wake again, rumbling in dismay, driving her to comfort and protect this girl, this omega, while her mind swam in horror.

Nicole’s thoughts churned, I will have to – will be forsworn if I do not...Maker .

Her knowledge of the girl’s fate only made her alpha worse. Nicole’s instincts shoved information into her brain: that this omega was healthy, she was unmated, she would clench and shiver and come with a scream around Nicole’s knot.

Nicole wrenched up her hard-won control, her walls of training and discipline, and blocked the pulse of seduction and arousal pheromones that she, her alpha, wanted so badly to release. She had so hoped that no omega apostates would ever come to the tower, and although she thanked the Maker that she had recourse, she regretted mightily that this girl would pay that price.

The girl’s eyes widened, pupils dilating as she read Nicole’s reaction, the realization striking her that her secret had escaped her control. She froze there, on the floor, a rabbit pinned beneath the gaze of a predator, breathing fast. She was no doubt scenting Nicole’s omnipresent alpha in the room around them, and Nicole saw how she trembled slightly in ways that drove Nicole’s alpha instincts to new heights of barely-controllable agitation.

Calm, calm, calm, you can do calm, she told her alpha, told herself. Don’t scare her to death with a mating display, you have more control than that. Be calm, be a protector, not a predator.

Nicole had years of meditation, of controlling her inner alpha, on her side, and she could sometimes use her pheromones with a surprising subtlety – but tonight, her rage at the new templar had shaken her hold on that control.

That’s how First Enchanter Gus found them; the alpha and omega caught in suspended time, locked together in shared, tense dismay. Gus knocked briskly and opened the door, brushing a hand down her wrinkled robe and yawning.

“Knight-Commander, what is the emergen-“ She stopped, eyeing them, and then decisively closed the door behind her, turning the key in the lock.

A startled query, “Knight-Commander?” from outside broke Nicole from her stupor.

“At ease, Templar,” she choked out, then returned her attention to the girl, who was looking between Nicole and the First Enchanter with her terrified, hunted, beautiful eyes.

The First Enchanter had tucked her hands within her sleeves and looked inscrutable, no longer fighting sleep. Gus was a short, slight woman in her late middle age, her dark, curly hair shot through with white and cut short. Her face showed the lines of a perennial worrier, but Nicole knew that those lines hid the quick, wry humor and genuine kindness of a generous teacher.

Gus’s beta status was undoubtedly shielding her from the remnants of Nicole’s anger, but from her response to the stalemate she’d no doubt seen Nicole’s dilemma. Her calm gave Nicole further strength to speak.

“I will not harm you, nor will the First Enchanter. Are you injured?” Nicole asked again, gentling her voice still further. “This is First Enchanter Gus, who oversees all mages within the Circle Tower. She is a talented and powerful healer and can see to your well-being.”

“Can she make me not go through a heat where I can’t even protect myself for fear of Tranquility or death?” came the biting response, and Nicole winced, showing the answer on her face.

A wisp of sharp despair, suppressed but potent, reached Nicole’s nose. The girl crawled backward awkwardly, her bound hands impeding her movements, until her back met the wall and curled her legs up to her chest. Calamity tracked her with a slow movement of her head but made no further move.

The girl spoke again, “Can she make me not be an omega mage in a tower filled with alpha Templars?”

Thankfully, Gus stepped in. “No, child. Those arts are beyond my knowledge, although there is tell of omega Tevinter magisters who control their heats and walk among alphas indistinguishable from betas. Maybe, eventually, we can convince the templars to try such things here. But, alas.”

Gus looked at Nicole, sympathy clear on her face, before she turned back to the girl. Gus understood that Nicole thought this solution was inelegant at its best, brutish at its worst, and agreed, but also understood that there was no other choice. She was Nicole’s best ally in this discussion.

Gus continued, “The Chantry has only two permitted solutions for omega apostates.”

The girl shuddered and supplied one, her voice flat. “You mean Tranquility.”

Gus nodded, solemn, “Yes, Tranquility. Or,” she hesitated, looking to Nicole.

Nicole nodded, her stomach roiling with all the emotions she could not, would not, examine at the moment. This was her role, her duty, her incipient cruelty, and she would not allow another to deliver the pronouncement. Her knees, sympathetic to the pain in her mind, twinged at her prolonged position on the floor.

“Or,” Nicole ground out, regret heavy in her voice, “To mitigate the heats and prevent their agony from opening the omega, you, to possession, and to prevent the temptation from opening alpha templars to the same fate, the Divine has decreed that any omega mage may be bound to a powerful alpha among the officers of the Circle, provided the templar is trained in the formation of such a bond.”

Nicole’s alpha howled, delighted with the knowledge that this was to be her omega, hers to comfort and protect and claim . Nicole shut it down, again, blocking off the premature and inappropriate joy of her instinctual side with the knowledge that no omega, especially an apostate not raised in the Circle, would want such a fate.

The girl’s face collapsed with the same horror Nicole felt, her bound arms coming up protectively in front of her chest, the despair growing into a choking miasma. Nicole tried to pour her sympathy into her next words, to show how much she did not want to do this thing, and how she had no other options save Tranquility, while inside she cringed at the rejection apparent in the girl’s eyes.

Nicole said, “I am Knight-Commander Nicole Haught, in command of this Circle of Magi. If you do not choose Tranquility, I am the alpha who would do this and thus enable you to study and live as a mage within the circle. No others would be permitted any liberties with your person, and, provided you integrate yourself within the circle and cause no disruption to the peace, no contact with me would be required outside your heats.”

Her alpha scrabbled at her for that last statement, angry at the implied deprivation from her omega , but she held it back, stronger than ever. She would not force this girl to do anything besides the absolute minimum necessary.

The girl barked out an unamused laugh, almost a sob. “Will you knot me before, or after, the Harrowing? Or does that happen during?”

Nicole winced at the jibe, again letting her face show that the crude barb hit home. “You would not go through a Harrowing until the senior mages decide that you are likely to survive it. This Circle no longer puts apostates through the Harrowing on arrival. However,” she sighed, shaking her head, “I cannot allow you free movement in the tower until your omega is either bound or you are made tranquil. I cannot risk my mages or templars on an unknown quantity within their ranks.”

Gus spoke next, her tone matter-of-fact but kind, “The Knight-Commander and her predecessor have vastly improved the trust between mages and templars within this Circle over the last five years. She holds great respect for the lives and, indeed, relative happiness of everyone within her purview, and that will include you, whichever path you choose. This is the only way she can help you maintain your connection to the Fade, and she is willing to do it despite the cost to herself.”

Nicole’s alpha side was still unsettled about the potential for this girl to reject her and choose tranquility. Nicole wanted to protect this omega, help heal her, convince her to take the binding and be Nicole’s. She wanted so much, but she did her best to ignore most of it.

Nicole did, however, agree with her instincts that this girl was too still, holding herself too stiffly, to be well. There were dark smears on the tiles where she’d fallen and on her stained clothes, and the air smelled of the faint tang of iron. And her jaw was tight with more than just dismay, clenched in her attempt to keep her teeth from chattering.

Nicole offered, “You have had a hard journey to us and have been poorly treated besides. It is cold, here on the floor. Will you allow the First Enchanter to see to you? I will arrange a safe place for tonight, a hot bath, fresh clothes, and a meal, and we can discuss the matter after a night’s sleep.”

Nicole had finally managed to access her inner reserve of calm, and she broadcasted it gently, not wanting to overwhelm.

The girl shivered, swallowed, and nodded slowly, her eyes never leaving Nicole’s face. With that, Nicole heaved herself to her feet with a creak of leather and clatter of metal. The girl shrunk back against the wall as Nicole drew her knife, but she relaxed when she saw Nicole offer it to Gus for use on the ropes that still cut cruelly into the girl’s wrists. Then, Nicole went to the door after a glance at Calamity, who remained unmoved.

She hasn’t leaked any magic yet. Excellent self-control, Nicole thought

From behind Nicole, she heard Gus asked softly, “What is your name, child?”

“Waverly,” the girl replied, “My name is Waverly.”

With an order to Valerian, who had returned from the cells, to fetch stew and bread and a flagon of water, and to Rimes for a set of apprentice robes, Nicole closed her office door. She gestured to Calamity to stay, trusting the hound to guard Gus should the girl – Waverly – cause trouble, and picked up a candle before she retreated past her desk to another door set in the left-hand wall. Behind it, a narrow hallway ended at yet another locked door, which she opened to enter the visitor suite.

Nicole touched the light rune beside the door, watching the magelights brighten to illuminate the room, and took a deep breath. The girl would be staying here tonight, and she – her alpha side, at least – wanted to flood the high-ceilinged room with pheromones, roll on the bed, touch everything and anything to mark it for her omega. She is not mine! she thought, firmly, and clamped down on the impulse. She would provide a safe place to stay, no more, no less.

She checked the bathroom first. A deep basin sat along one wall, sat next to a shelf lined with an array of soaps and oils, and with a touch Nicole set it to fill from the spigots set on the wall. She found the heating rune, strung on a bit of cord, and placed it on the side of the basin. Then she returned to the living space and made a quick round of the room.

A fire was prepared in the hearth, with wood stacked nearby, and she lit the kindling with a touch of her candle. It caught quickly and well, beginning to heat the room with preternatural rapidity, aided by the magical conduction network laid into the walls. Nicole removed a small knife from under the bed, probably forgotten by a former tenant, but otherwise the space was clean and free of dangers. The bed was made as well.

She went to the bathroom and, satisfied at the depth of the water, turned off the taps. Taking a deep breath of the clean, unscented air, she left the room. Her alpha wanted to be pleased because she had done all she could to provide for her – the – omega, and she did feel somewhat better about the situation, if still reluctantly.

Nicole stepped back into her office and saw Gus speaking quietly to Waverly. She noted with satisfaction that the bruise that had so discolored Waverly’s high cheekbone was reduced to a deep yellow-green and thanked the Maker for the gift of Gus’s healing. Waverly’s wrists were still visibly laced with fresh and crusted blood, but Nicole knew the First Enchanter would have healed the lacerations.

A knock came at the door, making Waverly jump, and Nicole moved forward to answer. Her knights had done as ordered, and Nicole took the tray of food and the mage robes before closing the door once more.

Gus looked up, nodded at Nicole, and then turned to Waverly once more.

“And now, I will take my leave. You will see me again in the morning, with the Knight-Commander. May the Maker guard your sleep.”

“Goodnight, thank you,” Waverly whispered. Gus handed Nicole’s knife back and unlocked the door, stepped out into the hall, and shut it firmly behind her.

Waverly’s eyes lingered on the door, and Nicole, with Calamity, waited to see what she would do. When her shoulders slumped and she turned back to Nicole, Nicole felt her own tension dissipate. Waverly wouldn’t try to run, not after she had been dragged through the Tower and had seen how far it would be to the front door. Nicole was grateful for the reprieve – punishing this new addition to the Tower would likely be scarring to both of them, with what was to come. She needed this girl to trust her, at least in some small way.

Nicole decided to take a formal approach, hoping it would calm some of Waverly’s obvious misgivings. “Apprentice Waverly, follow me.”

Nicole heard the footsteps trailing her, followed by the click of Calamity’s claws, as she opened the door to the hallway, then into the guest room. Nicole set the food and clothing down on the table, taking a few steps deeper inside to not block access to the meal.

Waverly walked into the room, scanning for threats, always with an eye on Nicole’s location. How long she had been a fugitive or refugee, Nicole could not guess, but it had been long enough to make a tactical appraisal of the room a necessity.

Interestingly, Waverly did not keep a wary eye on the dog, who had quietly stopped behind her to observe and wait for Nicole’s commands. Either Waverly was familiar with and trusted mabari, or she didn’t know that the hounds made for lethal adversaries. Or perhaps the omega mage was simply fixated on the largest threat in the room, the alpha templar who had declared her intent to either mate her or make her tranquil. Nicole shoved away that concern for later.

Nicole cleared her throat, saying, “This is a room dedicated to distinguished travelers who pass through the Circle Tower on business. There is a bathing chamber and toilet through that door. I will lock the door when I exit, and no one will knock until morning.”

She trained a sterner eye on Waverly, seeing the way the omega examined the windows behind the bed, “The windows are warded, and it is a long drop into very cold water. You may yet decide to be a mage in this tower, but that position comes with responsibilities and rules. One of those rules is that the Head Enchanter and I decide whether mages may leave the tower for any purpose. Do not leave without permission.”

Do not make me hurt you, she wanted to say. Thankfully Waverly nodded, not looking Nicole in the eye, and Nicole felt that she had been appropriately clear.

Nicole gestured to the bathroom door. “There is a heating rune in the bathroom, on the edge of the tub. Drop it into the water to warm it and remove it to stop. There is soap and a cloth to dry yourself. More water comes through the spigot, and you are free to use as much as you wish.”

Nicole stepped to the wall to the left of the door, where there was a keyhole in the smooth stone. She inserted her Knight-Commander’s key, turned it in a complete rotation, and removed it again. A convex stone in the wall above the keyhole rotated smoothly around, revealing a carved rune. She turned to Waverly, who had remained stationary in the entryway, watching every move with a tense stance that belied the exhaustion she must be feeling.

“My quarters are near this room, through the other door in my office. If you require my presence, press this rune,” Nicole indicated the stone she had activated, “and I will be alerted. The magelight control rune is here,” she tapped that stone with the key, “and it glows in the dark – try not to press the summoning rune by mistake.”

Nicole started back toward the door with her normal brisk stride, and to her dismay Waverly stumbled backward, away from her, and bumped into the table. The scent of distressed, angry, overtired, hungry, unhappy, and, overwhelmingly, scared omega lashed Nicole, the stress finally overcoming Waverly’s admirable restraint as the girl lost her composure.

Nicole’s steps faltered at her own need to help, her desire to cradle this omega in her arms and promise her the world, but caught herself and slowed her approach, then stopped in front of the open door. She had a strange urge to reassure this mage somehow, and for once, tired and with her alpha prying into all the chinks in her armor, driving her protective instincts into mania, she let this one thing out.

“I hope,” she stopped herself, started again, “I believe there is much here to learn and aspire to, for a mage. I must protect the Tower, the mages, and the Templars, and I must do it within the proscriptions of the Chantry. But I do my best to make it a place to live, also. I hope you may get to experience that life for yourself. Goodnight, Apprentice Waverly.”

Waverly’s whispered, “Goodnight,” echoed in Nicole’s ears for a long, long time before she slept.

Chapter Text

Early the next morning, Nicole rolled out of bed at the fifth bell, before the first hint of dawn. Curling her toes against the cold of the stone floor, she danced to the bathroom where she splashed her face with freezing water, dried it, and leaned against the basin to stare at herself in the mirror.

Nicole’s deep brown eyes were framed by dark shadows and her cheekbones stood out starkly. They were sharper than they had been even the previous year – the command of the Circle Tower had taken a toll on her, and if yesterday’s events were anything to go by, this duty would continue to demand everything she had. At least her scars stayed the same from year to year.

Nicole ran a damp hand through her short, red hair, hoping to settle it, and frowned at the resulting disaster. Her ribs and shoulder ached, a sure sign of incipient bad weather, and her eyes were gritty and sore from the long night and lack of sleep. Knowing that there was more stress to come this day, she sighed and went to wash herself before dressing in the light, functional Knight-Commander’s regalia, her usual uniform within the tower.

Nicole had long campaigned for practical armor for everyday use in the tower, and once she took command she had led by example. No more would every templar sweat and shiver through the seasons in an unwieldy suit of plate armor that was still only as good as its enchanted resistance against magic. Now, all templars were allowed to customize their uniforms from the quartermaster’s stock, provided they could pay for their selections to be enchanted and that they maintained the dignity of their station. Nicole, of course, could special-order her gear and afford the best enchantments, which yielded more than satisfactory results.

Her black, quilted gambeson, a necessity in the fall chill of the tower, supported light armor, mostly composed of leather with a few steel pieces at her shoulders and forearms where they would not impede her movement nor dig into her when she sat to complete paperwork. Her breeches were thick leather, broken in and comfortable, strapped over with more leather armor and tucked into her boots.

Over it all, Nicole hung her sleeveless red and gold tabard, the flaming sword blazing across her chest and trailing to the flaring red, blue, and gold skirt of the templar, slit up to her belt in front of each thigh to aid her movement. With her thick weapons belt tying it all together, she was protected head to toe from magic and twice as mobile as she would have been in plate steel. And, happily, when she added her warm wool cloak to the ensemble, she was shielded from the drafts that still whistled through the Tower’s cracks and crevices, despite the efforts of the mages assigned to find them and plug them up.

Sadly, Nicole’s armor would not protect her from her responsibilities. She strode out of her chambers, rolling her eyes as she saw Calamity fast asleep on Nicole’s bed (which was strictly forbidden and thus absolutely desirable). Her first task took her to her office, where she quickly wrote a missive on a long, thin strip of parchment, using the code Sister Nightingale had provided.

Her message was simple, consisting of four sentences: “Omega apostate mage named Waverly brought to the Circle Tower, will choose tomorrow between Tranquility and binding. Five new templars arrived, all passed through Denerim with added day of travel: [listed names and origins]. Missives from Grand Cleric betray information leaked from within the Circle Tower. Request advice and intervention with Grand Cleric when news of omega mage reaches Denerim.”

Nicole took her letter and trotted down the curving hallway toward the makeshift mews. She opened the door and quickly stepped inside, closing the door, wanting to prevent any birds from escaping into the Tower hallway. The last time they had slipped through the door, two of her youngest Templars spent an entire day chasing the mischievous things. The four inhabitants squawked and eyed her with intelligent, beady eyes in their pointed black faces. Nicole whistled a single note.

One raven swooped down and landed on the rod in front of her, shuffling along and tilting his head up to look at her. She waited, whistled again, and he grudgingly held out his foot. The cylindrical mechanism wrapped around his leg was in good condition and it took only a moment for Nicole to feed the slip of paper in, winding it into the depths with the turn of a gear, and to clap the cover shut so it was sealed against the elements. Then Nicole whistled again, a three-pitch sequence, and the raven screeched as he leapt into the air and barreled toward the open window.

Nicole’s next morning stop was to discipline her newest delinquent templar, who had spent his first night under her command in the cells. It was an inauspicious beginning, and she feared that this was another templar who had been ruined by bigotry before he had been knighted. The visit to Denerim, too, was a concern. If he was a spy and a saboteur, news of Waverly’s arrival, treatment, and ultimate fate could reach Denerim within days if he slipped a letter out.

Grand Cleric Holda was not, Nicole felt, on the short list of Chantry dignitaries liable to go along with the Divine’s slow-moving plans to reform the Circles of Magi and would cause no end of trouble, up to and including the Right of Annulment if she had evidence of “wrongdoing.” Unfortunately, Holda did agree with the former Divine’s policy on omega mages – much of the screeching Nicole received by messenger was about the alpha and omega children she was permitting free reign instead of the Tranquility they ‘deserved’ – and would thus most likely demand Waverly’s death or Tranquility were she to find out about her before Sister Nightingale was able to intervene. Nicole would appeal to the Divine if such a thing occurred, but it was for the best that she had already taken steps.

New templars were always given a period of adjustment when arriving at the Circle Tower, including restriction to the Tower for six months and no correspondence with their families for the same period. Senior templars were, of course, allowed some time off to visit the local town, given an occasional vacation, and were allowed to give their letters to outgoing messengers and merchants, which was no doubt how the Grand Cleric gleaned some snippets of inflammatory information.

Fortunately, all of Nicole’s templars knew that secrets of their positions were not to be told to outsiders. Nicole would have to have her Knight-Captain go through the outgoing mail for a time to weed out the letters some of her more sympathetic templars might include in their own bundles for the sake of their new comrades-in-arms.

As for Templar Hardy and his four compatriots, Nicole would see to his retraining, and perhaps with time he could be made a trustworthy soldier – but she had her doubts. She headed to the cells.

 


 

 

After her visit, she had a more complete estimation of this templar. Her interview had gone better than she would have expected - if she had thought him merely a misguided templar. Instead it confirmed a few of her suspicions about his loyalties. He had seemed appropriately chastened by his immediate correction and apologized profusely for his offense to his new Commander. Informing him that he also needed to understand why he could not treat mages in the manner he had done had hit some expected resistance, but with a firm approach and a judicious exertion of her dominance, Nicole had persuaded him to at least pretend to agree. However, his acquiescence had been patently false.

Taking the opportunity to learn more about her newest charge by asking about the apostate he had delivered, Nicole had discovered that Templar Hardy had been on the ferry with the mage-hunters and their prisoner and had paid the pair to have the “honor of presenting the apostate directly to the Knight-Commander.” Considering that mage-hunters were never allowed to stay the night in the tower and received their bounty directly from the quartermaster, that was a wasted bribe. Then, he had blustered his way through the entrance procedures and managed to create the scene she’d so forcefully halted.

She had sentenced him to a month of scut-work, alongside the usual re-training and education she pushed on her new templars. “Learn the latrines of the Tower,” she had told him, “and discover that mages and templars alike have difficulties with proper aim. While you do that, think on your lessons and the role you will play as a protector of mages.”

After releasing Hardy to Knight-Captain Robin’s direction, having already briefed Robin on her suspicions about the new templars, Nicole had made her way back to her office. There was much work to be done.

 


 

 

In the moments between First Enchanter Gus's distinctive knock and Nicole’s permissive, “Come!” the Knight-Commander attempted to rub the lines impressed by her gloved palms out of her cheeks. By the amused cant to the First Enchanter’s mouth as she entered, Nicole knew it was only a limited success.

Nicole gestured to one of the comfortable chairs before her desk, and Gus sat. Calamity, ever a calming presence, bumped her head up under Nicole’s hand for attention and got some distracted scratches for her efforts.

“Good morning, Gus,” Nicole said.

“Good morning, Nicole. Are you ready for this morning’s interview?” came the question, and Nicole’s first response would have been “No,” were there any other choice.

“Yes,” Nicole offered. “Are we prepared for the Rite of Tranquility should she demand it?”

The First Enchanter’s lips turned down at the edges. “Yes, but I would hope that she would choose to take advantage of the Divine’s grace. A chance to not immediately condemn every omega mage to tranquility is a blessing. Sister Nightingale said the same. You already know I think it is worth the effort, and I believe you would not have offered it if you did not agree. Are you prepared if she accepts the binding?”

Nicole nodded. Her thoughts had cleared, somewhat, overnight, solidifying into a kind of determined rectitude.

“I hope she does, for her sake. She seems,” Nicole paused, thinking through her impressions.

From what little she had seen, Waverly was smart, practical, and restrained. She had not released any magic upon her tormentor, nor on Nicole and Gus. She had restrained her omega, as well, and may have only betrayed her scent due to Nicole’s aggressive display.

Nicole settled on a pithy opinion. “She seems strong.”

Gus nodded. “And she may have the makings of a healer – she asked about the techniques I used on her bruises and gave the impression that she had always struggled with them, but she implied that lacerations were easier. She had several wounds that were, well.”

And oh, Nicole had to suppress her rage at the fact that the girl had come to her with wounds .

“Frankly, they were already partially healed. Considering that the mage-hunters at times use unrefined templar techniques to subdue and cow apostates…”

At this, the distaste in Gus’s tone was clear and, since Nicole concurred, she nodded in agreement.

“She may be quite powerful, to have healed herself to that extent despite the magic suppression. She is 21, past the average age of advancement to Enchanter, but I feel she would catch up quickly and would be an asset to our Circle.”

At a knock on the doors to the outer hallway, Calamity’s head popped up with interest. Nicole smiled at her mabari before she spoke, “We can discuss further while we break our fast with our new mage.”

Nicole called, “Come!” As always, the word released the magical lock on Nicole’s office door, warming the Knight-Commander’s signet ring where it rested on her right hand.

Several kitchen workers entered, laying down a hearty repast on Nicole’s desk. Calamity, ever aware of which hands held her bowl, stood near her water bowl and danced from foot to foot until the honored culinary apprentice (Nicole knew the staff drew straws, traded, and won bets for the right to feed the mabari in the tower, especially Calamity, and would never usurp their victories by feeding Calamity herself) lowered her bowl to the floor next to the large bowl of water. With a woof, Calamity graciously accepted a pat on the head and then looked to Nicole.

“Eat, Calamity,” Nicole said, and with that permission the dog began happily munching through the bloody chunks of meat.

After the staff had departed, Nicole ordered Calamity to stay and stood. “Shall we?”

She led the way through the passage to the guest room and knocked, trying to make the sound of her knuckles against wood sound inquisitive instead of intrusive.

A hesitant, “Who is it?” rewarded Nicole’s caution, and she cleared her throat.

This is just another mage , she told herself. She’s just another person entrusted to my protection . There is no reason at all to be nervous.

Belying her restraint, her inner alpha danced at the renewed proximity to the omega, trying to catch a hint of Waverly’s scent leaking through the door. Nicole studiously ignored her instincts.

Nicole said, “Knight-Commander Haught and First Enchanter Gus, Apprentice Waverly.” After a moment, the door creaked open, yielding a wave of nervous omega scent and a hesitant Waverly, clad in new mage robes and shielded by a waterfall of hair.

Nicole paused, transfixed for a moment by the delicate beauty in front of her, then hurried on with her words. She had probably revised them five times that morning.

“I have ordered breakfast to be served in my office, after which we can further discuss the terms of your stay. Would you join us?”

The junior mage looked far better this morning than she had the previous day. The bruise across her face had faded even further overnight, as a result of the First Enchanter’s healing or, perhaps, due to Waverly’s own talents. Nicole had not forbidden her magic of any kind, guessing that it might be a comfort and was unlikely to allow her to escape.

Waverly’s scent was nervous, but not nearly as tumultuous as when Nicole left the night before. The sleep, healing, and bath had smoothed some of the sharp edges away and her face was no longer pulled tight by stress, though her lips were flat and tense.

Waverly – Apprentice Waverly, Nicole told herself sternly – nodded and exited the room. She moved forward, skirting as far away from Nicole as possible, and followed the First Enchanter as Gus turned and retraced their steps. Nicole followed up the rear, steeling her nerves for the conversation ahead as her alpha side eagerly scented the air for traces of lavender.

They ate first. Nicole attempted to concentrate on her food, the First Enchanter, the sun streaming in through her windows, Calamity – anything to not stare at this tiny omega she was going to try to convince to allow her, a strange templar, to knot and mate. She made it several minutes, aided by the fact that her hunger was a veritable force.

Gus seemed calm, as always putting away an impressive amount of food for such a small woman. The majority of mages were slight, a side effect of the enormous amount of energy it took to channel and shape the forces of the Fade. Their appetites were almost always substantial, and their consumption was a good indicator for general health and well-being.

At that thought, Nicole glanced to her right at Waverly, trying to see if she was eating enough. The mage was staring directly at her, and her eyes widened when Nicole caught her gaze. Nicole looked down in what was decidedly not panic. She grabbed a sausage and diverted her gaze to the side, knowing she was scrambling for something to do to divert her attention.

“Here, girl,” Nicole called. Her enormous war hound galumphed to her feet from her cushion, her short little tail swinging mightily in excitement. Nicole tossed the treat and the dog’s muscles clenched and released, bouncing her three feet in the air as she snatched the sausage.

The sounds of messy, doggy chewing followed and Nicole snorted. “You little pig.” Calamity snorted back, and Nicole returned to her food.

Now I just have to finish eating and decide how I’m going to get through this.

Nicole returned her attention to her plate, and it gave her another few precious minutes of distraction before someone set their plate on her desk and cleared their throat.

Nicole looked up, and it was Waverly. She held Nicole’s gaze for a beat, dropped her own, and said, quietly, “Thank you for the meal. Meals.” She stopped, hesitating on the edge of saying something else, but did not continue.

“You are welcome.” Nicole offered, letting her face relax and pushing her plate away as well.

After a night of deliberation, Nicole had decided to start by establishing Waverly’s safety.

Nicole said, “This morning, I went to see the templar that hurt you.”

Waverly froze, her eyes snapping up to Nicole’s face, and this time neither of them looked away. Waverly didn’t say anything. In fact, she appeared to be holding her breath.

Nicole went on. “He is a new templar, fresh from training in the Free Marches, but that does not excuse his behavior. He was entirely out of line. You have my apologies again for how you were treated. His behavior is a black mark on this Circle and on me.”

“No!” Waverly interjected, one hand held palm-up to Nicole. “No, you were, you were,” she seemed to lose confidence and swallowed. “You were fine,” she whispered, and inexplicably blushed.

Nicole blinked, surprised at the vehemence Waverly showed, and by the blushing, which was curious...but she shook off her bemusement to continue. “He spent the night in the cells. He has also been assigned punishment details and retraining and will not be allowed unsupervised contact with mages until he can adequately and believably explain why what he did was inappropriate. I hope that you will feel safe here, with the templars I have trained. We are meant to be guardians and protectors.”

Waverly had gained control of her blushing and appeared composed when she nodded. “Thank you for protecting me, I was not in any condition to defend myself.”

Nicole nodded in acknowledgement. “I'm impressed that you did not use magic, despite the provocations visited upon you. Most apprentices leak magic if you accidentally surprise them while they are nose-deep in a book.”

Gus huffed a laugh at that and nodded, joining in the conversation. “Yes, you are clearly disciplined and regimented about your use of magic. And you have healed your bruises further, I see.”

Waverly’s hand went to her cheek, then she blushed again. “Yes, First Enchanter.” She looked furtively to Nicole, who nodded encouragingly, then back to Gus. “I thought it best to be well-rested, and it still hurt a little. And yes, Knight-Commander, I knew that magic raised against a templar would get me into even worse trouble, so I did not.”

“You just bit him.” Nicole stated, hiding her smile. At Waverly’s worried expression, Nicole let the corners of her mouth tilt up. “I would have bit him too. You did nothing wrong.”

Waverly heaved a sigh of relief at that and relaxed a bit. Then her mouth twisted, and she spoke.

“He made…insinuations, about how apostates are handled by templars. I wanted him to know I wouldn’t let him do anything to me.”

Nicole’s smile was gone, and she felt fury rise in her chest. Gus looked similarly outraged.

“He threatened you sexually?” Nicole demanded.

“Yes.” Waverly’s expression was tremulous, the corners of her mouth turned down.

Nicole growled, “What did he say? I will have him-“

“No!” Waverly interrupted, holding her hands out to Nicole. “No, please, listen. He made sure no one else could hear him. It is bad enough that he is being punished for what you saw – maybe he'll find retaliation against me too much work or will respect your right to dictate his behavior. But if you punish him for what I said he said…” her words trailed off, but her worried face made it clear that she feared the consequences.

Gus interjected, “Knight-Commander, if this templar is a threat to the comfort and safety of my mages, he should absolutely be restricted from their presence. I would demand he be punished as well, but Apprentice Waverly is correct – unless a witness comes forward, she would bear the sole brunt of his anger, and he would be free to spread rumors and discredit her to the other templars. She is already vulnerable, as an omega mage. This would place her in a very dangerous position.”

Nicole stewed in her anger, frustrated that she could not track the boy down and simply throw him off the Tower roof for victimizing Waverly and likely other mages in the past. What were the Free Marchers thinking, allowing such an odious example of alpha, male, and yes, templar arrogance out into the world? Under her command, a recruit with such tendencies would have been washed out of the training program altogether, and a caution about him put out to any local garrisons, brothels, and alienages.

“Fine,” Nicole gritted out, not feeling fine at all about the situation. She thought for a second about her response, then repeated the word, softer this time, “Fine. As much as it galls me, you are both correct that punishing Hardy for this additional inexcusable act would endanger Apprentice Waverly. However, I trust my Knight-Captain and you, First Enchanter, to know which of my templars are most trustworthy with mages, and they shall be assigned to watch him. He will not be allowed near mages or-” She realized something else that made her stomach churn. “-the tranquil on his own for the entirety of his probation. And, if I do not see cause to lift that restriction, he will be kept away indefinitely.”

Waverly and Gus looked relieved, and Nicole sighed. “I am doubly sorry, Apprentice. Were you, are you, that is-” She stopped, then started again. “Did the mage-hunters do anything to you?”

Waverly shook her head. “No, nothing, besides the smites, the rope, and a gag.”

Nicole looked to see just the shadow of bruises around Waverly’s jaw, something she had missed the previous night.

Waverly said, “I heard them talking, and while one of them wanted to beat me for trying to escape, the other said that the Circles pay better when the mages aren’t too roughed up.”

Nicole felt relief swell in her breastbone. Gus looked grimly unsurprised, and Nicole realized that the First Enchanter must have asked Waverly this question the previous night. Nicole felt like she could not apologize enough for the traumas Waverly had encountered, but she had to be circumspect. An apostate was a criminal, and living outside of the Circles was punishable by death in some places. She could apologize for overly-rough treatment, but the Knight-Commander could not apologize for the girl being brought to the Circle, where mages belonged for the safety of themselves and the populace.

Nicole said, “We are working to discourage mage-hunters from operating in Ferelden, but they are well-entrenched. At least we can try to keep them from hurting mages more than they already do.”

There was an awkward silence after that, and Gus filled it, bless her. “I trust most of the templars under Ser Haught’s command, Apprentice Waverly. They are honorable and loyal, and would not hesitate to protect the mages they guard. You will be safe here, whether you choose to stay as a mage or take the Rite of Tranquility.”

Waverly nodded at that, looking wan but determined.

Nicole picked up the thread. “We are here to help you with your decision. As you are an adult mage, an apostate, and an omega, there are only two options: the Rite of Tranquility and the binding we discussed. I know yesterday was difficult, and that you are unfamiliar with the internal workings of the Circles. Do you have any questions before we speak of your options?”

Waverly looked up again, her eyes going hard. “I want to speak to a tranquil omega mage.”

Nicole blinked, thinking, She would consider Tranquility first, before she even finds out about the binding? Nicole looked to Gus, who seemed similarly taken aback, eyes wide.

Waverly continued, “Another former apostate, if there is one within the Circle. I want to find out what it is like, to-” She stopped, wet her lips, then said, “Please.”

Nicole regained control of her surprise and nodded, swallowing the protests she wanted to make. And there were so many protests, her mind’s rational arguments and her alpha’s instinctual objections swirling around, making it hard to focus. She pushed past them anyway.

Nicole said, “Of course. Gus, do you know who would be best suited to talk to Apprentice Waverly?”

Gus shifted in her seat, eyebrows lowering in thought. “Yes, there are several omega Tranquil here. Haelia is working in the apothecary. She is older, but she was brought to the Circle as an apostate before the Blight. I will send for her?”

At Nicole’s nod, Gus went to Nicole’s office door and spoke softly with Nicole’s guards. Nicole turned her attention back to Waverly, who was watching her curiously.

“You call the First Enchanter by her first name?” Waverly asked.

Nicole didn’t realize that she'd used Gus’s name. She normally kept to formalities around others, but she must have slipped. She inclined her chin.

“Yes. We have worked together for many years, even before I was Knight-Commander and she was First Enchanter. Our meetings are long, and they would become quite unwieldy if we used our full titles to address one another the entire time.”

“Oh.”

Gus returned and sat. “Ser Justine will be back shortly. Would you like to speak to Haelia here, Apprentice Waverly, or in the room you stayed last night?”

Her tone was gentle, with no emphasis put on either option. Nicole was so grateful that Gus was here, to navigate this conversation with her, and to add an extra incentive for Nicole to deny the impulsive urges her alpha kept shoving in front of her.

No, I will not just persuade and cajole Waverly until I’ve convinced her that the binding is the best option. That is a terrible idea.

“If I could talk to her on my own, in the room?” Waverly was fidgeting with her fingers, tucked in her lap.

They waited for another moment, the tension in the room escalating. Nicole felt tense and bulky in her chair.

“How,” Waverly began, and her voice stopped in her throat. She cleared it and tilted her chin up bravely. “How do you know I am not already possessed?”

Gus smiled a little. “Demons want to enter our reality with powerful mages as hosts. Everything that happened on your journey here, what occurred yesterday, and every path open to you would either release it or banish it. Why would a demon ever let a possessed mage enter this tower without showing itself and escaping?”

Nicole thought about the strangeness of Waverly’s question and came up with a potential cause. “We do not test mages for possession.”

In some Circles, apprentices and even full mages were regularly ‘tested’ by means both cruel and foul if possession was suspected. Nicole felt that these methods were ill-considered, not least because they might lead to the mage accepting a demon to escape the torture.

Nicole continued, “In this Circle, mages are trained to be strong of mind and given the freedom to explore their studies, making them accomplished enough to resist the demons of the Fade of their own volition. And, if one were to succumb, the templars and mages in their vicinity would be the first line of defense. If they are friends with their fellow mages and trust the templars, one would hope they would be stronger for it.”

Waverly nodded at that, relief in her posture and her scent. Then there was a knock at the door, and Nicole called out. “Come!”

A short, plump woman in her mid-forties stepped through the doors and walked forward as they closed behind her. She had straight, brown hair, tied up in a no-nonsense bun, and the robes of the tranquil draped over her generous proportions. Haelia had no scent. On her forehead, the Chantry’s sunburst brand lay, red and bright, likely unchanged since the day it was administered. Nicole had not assisted with this particular woman’s Rite of Tranquility, and she was grateful to Gus for selecting her. Haelia bowed to Nicole first, then Gus.

“Knight-Commander, First Enchanter. You summoned me.” Her monotone voice showed neither surprise nor curiosity.

“Yes, Haelia. Thank you for coming. We have a new mage who is interested in speaking to you. This is Apprentice Waverly.” Nicole gestured to the girl.

“Hello,” Waverly said.

Haelia examined Waverly and said, “Hello.” Then she turned back to Nicole.

Nicole said, “I would like you to discuss the Rite of Tranquililty with Waverly, Haelia. Please follow Waverly to her room, and you have my permission to speak freely of your experiences. When you are finished, you may return to your duties.”

Haelia nodded to Nicole. “Very well, Knight-Commander.” She turned to Waverly, who stood and led the way back to the guest quarters. With a hand movement, Nicole sent Calamity down the hall, to stand guard at the room’s door.

After the door closed, Nicole blew out a breath. “I did not expect that. She seemed too – I don’t know, too comfortable with being a mage, to immediately ask about Tranquility like that.”

Gus looked thoughtful. “I wonder if she’s really considering it. Tranquility is beyond anything she knows, and she seems like she resents her freedoms being taken away. Losing her magic and emotions would be another freedom lost, wouldn’t it?”

Nicole chewed on her cheek. “So, what, she takes steps to make it seem like she does consider it? Why would she do that?”

Gus shrugged and said, “We did both express a firm opinion yesterday about which path was better. Perhaps she is manipulating our desires to see her take the binding by making the possibility seem more remote.”

That made a great deal of sense. Nicole said, “Ah, proposing something undesirable in order to make the next proposal more appealing?”

Gus said, “Yes. Remember, she does not know our motivations or how this Circle operates. If we are made more anxious to convince her to take the binding, we may let more information slip, or we – you – may be kinder when it comes to the act itself. Especially since she was told just yesterday, and who knows how many times in the past, that templars take advantage of apostates…she might feel she needs the extra leverage. We might put more effort into not driving her toward Tranquility, and that can only be to her benefit.”

This was another occasion where Nicole was reminded that Gus was far older and wiser than she. She felt a wave of relief. This explanation felt right, and she did not feel that Waverly would find the life of the Tranquil, full of logic and methodical thinking and agreeability, tempting. Waverly was full of carefully-banked and concealed fire.

Nicole was hurt, a little, that Waverly would think so poorly of her that she felt the need for this extra bit of leverage, but that was her alpha side’s response. Her rational mind saw exactly why Waverly might think such tactics were necessary, and she hated it as much as she respected it.

Nicole said, “I think you’re correct. So, how much more eager should we be to assuage her concerns when she comes back in?”

Chapter Text

The food had been cleared away and Nicole was discussing Lonnie’s predicament with Gus when they heard Calamity’s soft woof and the opening of the guest-room door. They broke off their conversation to turn their attention to the hallway. Calamity came first, followed by Haelia and Waverly. Calamity passed Nicole’s chair and paused for scratches, then returned to her bed.

Haelia bowed to both Nicole and Gus. Nicole said,“Thank you, Haelia. You may go.” Released by Nicole’s words, Haelia left.  Nicole gestured to the open chair and Waverly sat.

They had decided that Gus would start off the next conversation, so Nicole examined Waverly as she waited. She looked paler than before, her mouth tight with some unknown emotion. Nicole abruptly wished she had taken the time to speak to the tranquil before about their experiences, so that she would know more than the basics of a tranquil existence. It was unnerving, true, to speak to people she had once known as bright, rambunctious children and who were now emotionless, but they were hers to protect, so she promised herself she would speak to them more regularly in the future.

“Do you have any more questions about Tranquility?” Gus asked, her voice soothing.

Waverly’s face tightened, then she shook her head. “No, Haelia answered everything I asked.”

Gus said, “Then, are you willing to talk about the binding now?”

Nicole watched as Waverly’s eyes flashed to look at her, then down to her hands. “Yes,” she said in a small voice.

Nicole ached. This was supposed to be a boon, offered to mages who came of age after years spent in the Circle, a reprieve from the old Divine’s intolerant policies toward omega mages. It was supposed to be a solemn duty that templar undertook for the goal of improving the lives of omega mages. It was not supposed to be a sudden imposition upon a formerly free mage who had to choose between two undesirable outcomes.

Waverly asked, her voice still quiet, “Would it be a punishment? For being an apostate?” Her gaze was still fixed on her hands in her lap, where they were twisting together in anxiety.

Nicole was devastated that this was still Waverly’s concern, despite their assurances. Damn Hardy for being such a bastard, and damn the Free Marchers and the Grand Cleric for sending him my way, she thought. Waverly’s motivations for making Nicole and Gus uneasy about her choices became even clearer, from that question.

Nicole said, “No, we do not punish mages for the actions of the family members who did not obey the Chantry’s orders. Yes, you are an apostate, but after you came of age it was likely fear that kept you from coming to a Circle. We would not reinforce that fear further.”

Waverly met Nicole’s eyes with a look of interest. She asked, “Then…you do this to all omega mages? So there are others? Bound to you, I mean. Can I talk to them?”

Nicole braced herself for this conversation. Few outside the Templar Order and the higher echelons of the clergy knew that all omega and alpha mages, even those raised in the circle, were made Tranquil under the old Divine. Fewer still within that group knew that the new Divine had begun steps to rectify that injustice. Sister Nightingale had told Nicole that only the most progressive templar officers would be trained, and only after detailed questioning regarding their motivations and purposes. Nicole had experienced it, and the process was invasive and lengthy.

Nicole said, “No, you would be the first omega bound to me.”

Waverly looked from Nicole to Gus, confusion in the lines of her face. “What? But, you said the Divine had decreed that omegas be bound to a Templar, and that you were trained for that…purpose.”

For a traumatized and injured woman, Nicole thought, Waverly has a good memory.

Gus answered this question. “Yes, but although there are omega mages within the tower, they are as yet only just presenting. We suppress underage omegas’ connection to the Fade around their heats by placing them into null rooms, monitoring them throughout. Then, we plan to bind each of them to a templar when they reach the age of their majority, after the Harrowing.”

Waverly’s brows furrowed. “But, there should be others, older than those?”

Nicole answered this time, her heart heavy. They had to get through this, but it was going to be a difficult conversation.

Nicole said, “Divine Justinia only ascended a little over two years ago. The null rooms, the binding, all of it, began only then.”

Waverly stopped, clearly thinking the ramifications through, then her eyes went wide. “Andraste’s ashes , you made them all Tranquil.”

Nicole nodded, slowly. “Yes, before Divine Justinia the Chantry mandated that all alpha and omega mages be made Tranquil upon presentation.”

“You were doing that to children ?!” Waverly was horrified, and Nicole could not, would not, defend her actions.

“Yes.” Nicole admitted, shame heavy on her shoulders.

Nicole had done that to children, Andraste preserve her. She had been required to hold down children she had known for years, children who were thrashing and snapping their teeth in the throes of their first heat or rut, while the lyrium brand was placed on their foreheads. She had watched them go limp, their emotional storm suddenly cut off from the source. She had been duty-bound to alert the old First Enchanter that a student had presented and been made Tranquil, and she had once seen the devastation on his face when he realized that his own apprentice was no longer the boy he had practically raised.

Waverly leapt to her feet, her body tense as she snarled, “This is- how could you do this? This is a travesty, a crime! Children are the most vulnerable-” Waverly’s voice was outraged, her scent darkening with charred rosemary, flowing into the air and charging it with fury. Then, Waverly looked, really looked at Nicole’s face, and her own face slowly morphed into something other than rage. Her voice was softer when she said, “You…agree with me.”

Nicole hesitated. Two years ago, she could not have told a mage that she considered the treatment of alpha and omega mages disgusting, but now, with these new chances to make up for the wrongs of the past, she could change. Nicole nodded.

“Now.” Nicole said, and looked to Gus, then back to Waverly. “Now, we have an alternative, and we will endeavor to allow omega mages to live their lives as mages.”

Waverly sat again and asked, brows knit in some deep thought, “What about the alphas?”

Nicole said, “The children are treated similarly; however, there are no omega Templars to quell their ruts after they come of age. Our patron within the chantry anticipates that a solution will be offered to us before those alphas reach the age of their majority.”

Waverly pushed, “So, alpha apostates that are over-age?”

Nicole’s silence was the answer.

Waverly passed a hand over her face, obviously thinking. She asked, “Is that why you are trained for this? Because you want to fix an injustice?”

Nicole considered the question, impressed at how easily Waverly had cut to the core of her motivations. “Yes.”

Waverly’s entire posture changed, suddenly, her rigidity seeping away as she slumped back into the chair. She was staring at Nicole with something open in her wide, hazel eyes, like she had just realized something very important, a missing piece to the story.

Waverly asked, “You aren’t just seeking power over mages, over omegas, are you?”

Nicole shook her head. “I want to protect everyone under my command, especially the ones who need it the most. I am grateful to have been offered this chance.”

“I thought…well. I guess you can imagine what I thought. I’m sorry.” Waverly’s brows were knit together, and she looked almost pained.

Nicole reassured the omega, “I don’t know what I would think in your situation, but I think it wouldn’t be anything good. I don’t blame you for it.”

They both paused, eyes locked in something approaching understanding. Gus cleared her throat and shifted slightly, and Nicole shook herself.

Nicole asked, “Do you have any questions about the binding? Now that you know more of why it’s necessary?”

Waverly frowned, perhaps disagreeing with the necessity of the situation, but her next question was not an argument.

“What is the binding, exactly? My si-“ She stopped herself, restarted. “ Someone told me that templars are supposed to be celibate, but you didn’t say whether it was just a bite, or something more. I jumped to conclusions, last night, but I don’t know if I was correct.”

Nicole said, “Templars are not celibate, but any relations must not interfere with our duties. Thus, it would be a partial mating. Your omega instincts would get what they need to establish a bond with me: a bite and-” Nicole’s voice stopped, her tongue feeling thick in her mouth, and cursed herself for her dry throat.

With some effort, Nicole continued. “- And a knotting. I wouldn’t receive a bite in return, however. I need to remain unbound, so that I am less susceptible to corruption. That accusation will likely still be leveled against me if conservative templars or clerics understand what has happened, but this process is supported by the Divine and I will have resources to protect myself and you from that problem.”

“And, my heats?” Waverly blushed. “You said I would have to see you for them?”

Nicole nodded. “They would be lighter, from the binding, and you would spend them in my care.”

“What about pups?” Waverly asked.

Nicole had discarded dreams of family and pups long, long before, when she was just inducted into the Order. She answered honestly. “No pups. You would be given a potion to prevent pregnancy.”

Waverly tilted her head, her eyes curious. “Pardon my assumption, but that sounds like an alpha’s dream. No binding on your side, an omega to knot whenever the heat comes, no pups to demand your attention. Why did the First Enchanter say last night that there would be a cost to you?”

Nicole thought for a moment, then said, “I cannot protect you from myself.”

Waverly shrunk back in her chair. “You’re planning to hurt me?”

Nicole raised a hand, palm out. Her body and mind rebelled at the very thought of harming Waverly on purpose. “No, not like that. It is…”

Waverly waited, demanding an answer with her silence.

Nicole tried to frame her response adequately. “How much do you know about the motivations of alphas?”

Nicole realized her question had been poorly phrased when Waverly bristled. “A great deal, actually. My si-“ she stopped herself, covering her dismay at the almost-slip of the tongue.

Nicole betrayed nothing on her face. She had gleaned enough about Waverly’s protector from Waverly’s missteps, but the girl did not yet know that Nicole wouldn’t hold it against her or her sister the alpha.

Having gathered herself, Waverly said, “I have known several.”

Nicole nodded. “Then you know that our alphas drive us to do certain things. I am a protector . My life, my alpha, and my training have all been dedicated to the protection of the mages and templars under my command. And yet, you, the one person who will be most vulnerable in the Tower, who will depend on me the most for protection, would be bound to me against your will. You, who were free just days ago, would be required to mate with me. That would hurt you, and the pain I inflict on you would thus hurt me.”

Waverly was silent, thoughtful, for several moments before she nodded. “I think I’m starting to understand.”

Gus, who had been silent nearly the entire conversation, cleared her throat. “Waverly, do you have any further questions for us?”

Waverly paused, thinking. “What are the consequences for you if this fails? If I chose the binding, but later became an abomination?”

Gus answered, “For us, there will be no consequences beyond the loss of life and danger to the stability of the Circle. This is a new endeavor, and failure is a possible outcome. However, the implementation of these new policies might suffer.”

Gus looked at Nicole, and Nicole knew what she was about to say. Nicole wanted to stop her, because this was edging toward a kind of blackmail that she did not want to exert. Unfortunately, It was true and it was important that Waverly understood the implications of her involvement, so Nicole held her tongue.

Gus continued. “We, as some of the first to adopt these reforms, have been tasked to document all cases of non-Tranquil omegas in the Circles. We provide evidence to the Divine of the feasibility and success rate of this new policy. I, the Knight-Commander, and the omega in question,” Gus inclined her head to Waverly, “are required to write quarterly accounts of each omega’s experiences and progress that are sealed in the presence of witnesses and sent to the Grand Cathedral in Val Royeaux. Also, due to your arrival, a representative of the Divine has already been notified to visit the Circle and conduct interviews about the process, regardless of your decision.”

Waverly spent another moment considering the issue and came to the conclusion Nicole anticipated. She was quick, this apostate, and obviously had had at least some education.

Waverly said, “So, if I fail, they may decide that the evidence is against this reform and not expand its use, or simply go back to the old policy.”

Gus nodded. “It is a possibility. But, in this Circle we have not seen a mage perform blood magic nor become an abomination since the Blight.”

Nicole suppressed a shudder at the mention of the Blight. She had been a Knight-Lieutenant – I was about Waverly’s age at the time , she realized – and had witnessed first-hand the devastation wrought by abominations and demons. Also, she had experienced the horror of Greagoir’s resigned fatalism when he had sealed the entire Tower beyond the entrance hall and had requested the Right of Annulment, the authorization to purge the Circle Tower's mages completely, from Grand Cleric Elemena.

Nicole had begged and pleaded to be allowed to lead a detachment of templars into the tower to rescue the children, at the very least. Greagoir had said, “They are all dead or abominations, now. Your request is denied, Knight-Lieutenant.” When Nicole had persisted, he had sent her away to wait for the Right of Annulment to be delivered, forcing her to yet again carry out a duty she found repugnant and wrong.

Had Grey Warden Elissa Cousland and her band of recruits not visited the Circle at that time, all of the mages and many of the templars now under Nicole’s command would likely have been slain, merely for being caught behind that door when the cowardly Knight-Commander shut them in. Cousland had killed the demons and abominations and rescued the uncorrupted who still lived, winning the loyalty of mages and templars alike.

When Nicole had returned to the Tower, the Right of Annulment in her saddlebags, the templars and mages had been picking up the pieces and Greagoir had decided, at the Grey Wardens’ urging, not to carry out the Right. Nicole had spent days dragging malformed corpses out of every room in the tower, and the stench of death and decay had not dissipated for an entire year.

Nicole had lost all respect for Greagoir after that, and so had many of his men. She had been grateful when he died of his wounds after the Battle of Denerim, instead of being allowed to continue his paranoid oversight of the Tower.

As Nicole pulled herself out of her memories, Gus continued speaking, “It would take an extreme stress to make you take the path of a blood mage, would it not?”

Waverly swallowed and nodded. “I don’t wish to die, but I know that to become an abomination is no life I’d want.”

Relieved by Waverly’s practicality and good sense, Nicole asked, “Do you have any further questions?”

Waverly shook her head. “I have a lot to think about.”

Gus offered, “Would you like us to give you a tour of the Circle? It is almost time for the noonday meal, and you should get a look at the place before you make your decision.”

Waverly looked to Nicole, then back to Gus. “Yes.”

 


 

 

Nicole’s office was in the Templars’ quarters, on the fourth floor of the Circle Tower. Nicole knew that Hardy was most likely getting a very detailed instructional lesson in the cleaning of the templar latrines on that same floor by whomsoever had that duty last, so she decided to start them with a quick overview of the Templar Order as she led them to the stairs. Calamity followed at Nicole’s heel at a gesture, pacing along calmly as they walked.

Nicole said, “Each floor of the Circle Tower is arranged similarly. There is a large circular room at the center, with multiple doors opening into a circular hallway that runs outside the periphery of that room. The hallway is lined with doorways that open into rooms arranged along the outer wall.

“Templars all live and train on the fourth floor. We have our own mess hall here, and any templars in uniform who come down to the mage halls are either on assignment or on their way to and from assignments. Templars out of uniform are permitted to visit the Chantry and go outside on the second floor, use the library on the main floor, and make their way to the ferry.”

Nicole paused in her speech as they walked, then decided to continue with the normal part of her introductory speech to this new mage, regardless of her pending decision.

“Templars and mages are forbidden from fraternization. Any templar must use the mage’s rank when addressing them: Apprentice, Enchanter, Senior Enchanter, and First Enchanter. The customary address from a mage to a templar is ‘Ser’ or ‘Templar,’ or their rank if it is known. Most mages are not allowed onto the fourth floor without prior authorization, although the First Enchanter has a standing invitation to bring issues to my office.”

Nicole smiled at Gus, then returned to her recitation. “Conversations between mages and templars must be limited to business: authorizations to enter specific areas, requests for attendance upon templar officers or senior enchanters, and exchanges of information are all legitimate reasons for interaction. Physical contact between mages and templars is forbidden, unless there is a threat of imminent harm to the mage or to others.”

Nicole nodded to Waverly, implying that their current situation was such an exception. Concluding her introduction, Nicole said, “Magical contact between mages and templars is also forbidden and carries immediate and severe penalties, while templars are forbidden from using our skills against mages unless justified. The judgment of that justification is performed by myself and the First Enchanter with the aid of witnesses.”

They reached the staircase, and Nicole nodded to the two templars on guard as they began to walk down the curving steps.

Gus took up the narrative, “Mages are free to practice the arts we learn from teachers and spellbooks, with a few exceptions. Blood magic is absolutely banned and punishable by death or Tranquility. Contact with demons is also forbidden. We can, however, interact with non-hostile spirits under specific circumstances, which you would learn about from your mentor. Otherwise, pursuits of magical learning, alchemy, and healing are open to mages in a variety of disciplines .”

During Gus’s explanation, they had emerged directly into the Great Hall. The tall ceilings were studded with magelights, shining brightly down upon the circular room. Long tables protruded from the walls like carriage-spokes and were being slowly filled with platters of food carried by servants in plain tunics. Mages sat at the tables in clumps, attacking the food with admirable voracity or discussing subjects with enthusiastic gesticulations. Some even managed both simultaneously, with variably messy results.

Gus waved a hand at the tables. “This is the Great Hall, which serves as both a mess hall for mages and tranquil and as a meeting room for large assemblies. Meals are served for an hour three times a day: at seven bells, twelve bells, and eighteen bells. We have about half an hour before this place is full. The kitchen is through that door, so if you need food after-hours or between meals you can find it there. Watch out for Brigid, however, she will scold you for missing meals the entire time she fills your plate.”

They continued through the arched door opposite the kitchen, into the hallway that skirted the Great Hall. Some doors were open, and Waverly peeked into the first. It was well-lit by windows placed high along the walls and by balls of mage-light hovering at regular intervals.

Nicole explained, “There are meeting and learning rooms all along this hall. The opposite hall, on the kitchen side of the Tower,” she pointed a thumb over her shoulder at the Great Hall, “contains quarters for the Senior Enchanters and the First Enchanter’s office and quarters.”

Sometimes, when Nicole turned too quickly in one of these hallways, she could still see the blood that was left after they had dragged away all of the dead, could still smell the death and corruption. It was much better than it had been right after the mage revolt and resultant influx of demons, but she got the faintest edge of it this time and tensed, marching for the stairs and ignoring her roiling nausea.

Gus, who likely understood Nicole’s sudden departure all too well – she had been inside the tower when the revolt occurred , not just afterward  – called for Waverly and Nicole heard their footsteps trailing behind her, with the ever-present click of Calamity’s claws.

Gus continued, “The second floor is down a staircase immediately opposite the one we came down to enter the Great Hall. You can just cross the Great Hall or follow one of these hallways.”

Once they reached the staircase, Nicole breathed a sigh of relief. The stairs were clean, their worn stone saddled by the passage of centuries of feet. The stairs, for some reason, had stayed relatively untouched during the mage revolt. Good stairs.

Nicole led the way down to the second floor landing, which opened up into another curved hallway. Gus was still explaining the Tower’s layout, Maker bless her. “The second floor holds the Enchanters’ quarters, stockrooms, laboratories, the Chantry, and my garden.”

Nicole smirked at the pride in Gus’s voice at that last item and turned to the closest door. It opened into the northernmost-facing room of the tower, a former library which stretched around a full thirty degrees of the tower’s side. Waverly gasped at the sight within and Nicole, quite frankly, agreed with the sentiment.

The outer walls had been removed almost entirely – supportive pillars were all that remained. The stone between the pillars had been replaced with curved walls of clear glass, stretching up to the ceiling three dozen feet overhead. Shining through the glass, the autumn sunlight made the moist air almost glimmer.

A thick, earthy scent filled the air, the smell of life and growth and light, herbal decay, and the warm press of the sun’s kiss wrapped around them. The entire wide arc of the room was filled with plants growing in planters and pots. Chains hung from the ceiling dozens of feet above them, holding basins that trailed riotous sprays of green and bright flowers. Apprentices, enchanters, and tranquil tended the plants at irregular intervals, holding baskets for cuttings or pushing fresh soil gently around new sprouts. A templar stood at attention at the central pillar, just happening to be standing so he was bathed by a ray of sunlight.

Waverly walked inside behind Nicole and so did Gus, who closed the door behind them to keep in the moisture. Calamity trotted off to a nearby pot to snuffle at the dirt, earning a smack on the nose from a nearby senior enchanter, followed by scratches as Calamity proceeded to give the mage her attentions instead.

Gus’s voice was low and proud as she continued, “The senior enchanters worked for an entire year to build the windows and to constantly reassure the templars that the entire Tower would not collapse from lack of support.” Nicole snorted at the allegation but didn’t dispute Gus’s version of events. “We have to do weekly upkeep, to keep the drafts sealed, but we can grow all sorts of plants year-round.”

So that’s where all the engineers are working. I was wondering why we had so many drafts upstairs. Nicole made a note to ask Gus to train more mages to plug the drafts, or at least to help find them so the masons could shore up the cracks – she would never ask Gus to sacrifice this garden, but some rooms had grown unbearably cold this fall, and it would only worsen as they progressed to winter.

Waverly trailed through the planters in a haze of apparent wonder, her hand trailing along leaves and stems. She spotted something and bent, pinching the leaf and smelling her fingers, and turned to Gus with a radiant smile.

Nicole almost staggered at the sheer excitement radiating from the omega and caught the scent of her enthusiasm, sunlit lavender wafting on the air. Nicole’s alpha wanted to roll in that smell, pursue it, make it hers, and she mentally stuffed it into a dark corner and sat on it, not wanting to ruin the moment of happiness.

“Royal elfroot? You can grow it here, even in winter? You have no idea how much I could have used this last winter when the bandits-“ she stopped and drooped a little, shaking her head. She looked back to Gus. “This is a marvel,” she said, but the happiness had dropped out of her voice and face. That brief glimpse of joy, the openness of her scent, were gone.

Gus smiled at her gently. “You may always come here, to garden, harvest, or just to be.”

Waverly nodded, not looking at either of them, and passed Nicole on her way back to the door.

Nicole’s heart sank again, and she tried not to believe that she was the cause of Waverly’s unhappiness. As she passed Nicole to the door, Gus murmured for her ears only, “Give her time.” Nicole’s dismay must have been visible, to draw Gus’s sympathy, so she drew herself back together, armoring herself in her duty.

Nicole followed them after a moment, careful to close the conservatory door after Calamity trotted through. She trailed behind the two mages as they toured the rest of the second floor, nodding to each templar and mage as she went.

Next to the wide staircase going down to the first floor, Gus stopped and opened a door. The sounds of the outside streamed inside with the sunlight: the water lapping at the base of the Circle Tower, the cries of seagulls that had found a kinder home here than upon the Waking Sea, and the laughter of children. The two mages stepped through the door, and Nicole followed. She strolled out into the sunlight, looking around to evaluate the Tower’s extracurricular activities.

The massive terrace extending from the second floor of the Circle Tower stretched fifty yards to the right and left. The platform also extended before Nicole, fifty yards of white stone beyond which Lake Calenhad was visible. The shattered remnants of the old bridge stretched out as chunks of long-degraded masonry, and even those scattered pieces ended long before they reached the intact section just barely visible on the shore. Behind and to the sides, the stone flagstones passed under tall, graceful archways that connected the main thrust of Circle Tower to a smaller tower, then a shorter archway linked those sequentially to the smallest tower.

Over the years, this space must have been put to many uses, but it was now the outlet for the caged energy of the Tower’s residents. On Nicole’s left, practice dummies were being set afire by apprentice mages, the conflagrations swiftly quenched by their teachers. Others were tasked to other skills, such as the throwing of ice and electricity, or clustered in small circles for meditation.

To Nicole’s right, off-duty templars were engaged in sparring matches within small rings set up near the far tower. Nearer to the Tower itself, a small game of football between the smallest apprentices was being energetically refereed by a senior enchanter older than Gus, who interfered in the rough-and-tumble game with much hand-waving and whistling. The rules of the outside space mandated that an enchanter or senior enchanter be present at ball games at all times, not just to police behavior (tussles between adolescents with magic were a bit harder to stop than just a fistfight) but also to catch the ball before it could plummet over the edge from an overenthusiastic kick.

A line of on-duty templars, spaced twenty yards apart, ringed the edge of the platform, their bodies turned in toward the Tower. The drop was warded by the entire cadre of senior enchanters under Gus’s watchful eye to prevent anyone larger than a small dog from flinging themselves into the water, but the temptation to do such a thing paled when guards were visible.

And, Nicole thought, it lets templars get out into the sunlight, which drastically improves morale. She didn’t wonder why the templars had been so badly behaved under Greagoir’s administration - she knew that the lack of personal freedom for the templars had contributed to their severe oppression of mages, which in turn sparked the mage revolt. Nicole, and Nedley before her, had changed things, and she firmly believed it was for the better. The Grand Cleric hated that the mages were allowed outside. Nicole smiled at that thought.

Calamity trotted off, no doubt to find the patch of dirt and weeds next to the carefully-cultivated outdoor gardens that were seeing their last harvest before winter. The Tower’s mabari had been generously granted the fallow plot for their toilet, and they enthusiastically dug it up at any possible opportunity.

Nicole called after Calamity, “If you roll in something dead again, the apprentices get to practice water spells on you until you’re clean!” Calamity stopped and shook her head, whuffing disdainfully, then turned back to her vital doggy mission.

As Nicole advanced toward the front edge of the terrace, following Gus and Waverly, she saw a small child, perhaps eight years old, standing nearby with a thrilled expression on her face. The girl’s eyes were fixed on the sky overhead, and she held a wound bobbin of string tightly in both fists as the free end seemed to tug them into the sky. Nicole looked up, squinting to see past the noon sun. A yellow kite, a simple diamond design like Nicole herself had flown as a child, floated on the wind sweeping off the lake, a long streamer dancing from its tail.

Nicole said, “That’s a fine kite, Apprentice Gail.”

The girl squeaked in surprise at Nicole’s voice, almost dropping the bobbin. She clearly had not been paying attention to her surroundings beyond her kite, and Nicole smothered her grin down to a small, approving smile. Gail looked back up at the kite, then back to Nicole, her own smile gap-toothed and uninhibited as she lisped, “Thank you, Knight-Commander! I made it myself!”

Nicole nodded in approval and moved forward to where Gus was talking to Waverly, at about the midpoint between the Tower and the edge. Waverly swiftly looked back to Gus when she saw Nicole approaching, but from that averted glance Nicole guessed that the omega had been observing her approach. The wind was whipping Waverly’s long hair back, making it tumble and shine in the sunlight, while Gus’s short, no-nonsense haircut only ruffled with each gust.

“-apprentices and the enchanters are granted time in each day for leisure or personal pursuits,” Gus was saying as Nicole wandered up. Gus continued, “And every week all mages and tranquil share a rest day. That’s the day after tomorrow, actually. So you will have some time to settle in.”

Waverly nodded. Gus turned back toward the tower, gesturing for Waverly to follow. “One more place to see, and then we can get some food.”

Nicole waited for the two mages to pass, then followed them once more back to the Tower. There was no sign of Calamity, but she would no doubt show up in time for the evening meal.

They entered through the door, then headed down the wide, grand flight of stairs to the round central section of the first floor. It was ringed with bookshelves that extended almost twenty feet into the air. Ladders were hooked to rails along the top of each bookshelf, with wheels on their bases to provide motility. Light from mage-lights and from the ring of windows on the far-away walls near the distant, elevated ceiling created a bright glow, with candelabras scattered across tables for closer illumination.

The scent of old books and beeswax lay heavy on the air, comforting and sleepy to Nicole’s nose. The library had recovered its natural scents the fastest after the mage revolt, as it had been minimally touched by battle, and Nicole and many others had spent sleepless nights reading there when the nightmares upstairs were too much to take. There were two open avenues between bookshelves across from the stairs, one on each side of a pillar.

A pair of apprentices were perched at a table to one side of the stairs. One was entirely and irrefutably asleep, snoring and drooling on an open tome, his candelabra dark. The other looked up at their approach and nodded to Gus and Nicole as they passed by, eyeing Waverly with curiosity before he returned to his book.

Gus was speaking again, “The first floor holds the library and apprentice quarters, which are also shared by the tranquil. The library opens up here into the central circle. You can go to the right into the library proper, which winds around one entire side of the tower.  The opening to the left leads to the apprentice quarters, where you will have a bed and a place to store your robes and equipment. Both of those hallways end at the front entrance, where you will find the stairs down to the lower levels. Access to the outside must be granted by myself and the Knight-Commander and generally requires a templar escort.”

Waverly nodded, her eyes glued to the towering bookshelves. “Are any of these books available for me to read?” she asked, her tone edging toward wonder.

Gus looked amused, “I am glad you are familiar with your letters. If you have time to read them, outside of your lessons and training, any of the books on the first floor are open to you. Once you have approval from a senior mage for specialized training, you may access some of the second-floor libraries as well.”

Gus rubbed her hands together, her tone lightening as she continued, “But, now, I’m getting hungry. There are other places, the storage caves under the tower, for instance, but you will be introduced to them in the course of your duties. So, are you interested in eating in the Great Hall? Or, if you so desire, you may take a tray back to the Knight-Commander’s office or to the guest quarters. I know there has been a lot to take in today.”

Waverly looked to Nicole, then replied to Gus, “I would like to eat, but maybe in the room. You’re right, I have a lot to think about.”

“Very well. Let us go to the Great Hall, then you can go with the Knight-Commander back up to the guest quarters. We can settle you with the apprentices once everything has been decided, hm?”

Gus did as she had promised, leading them up to the Great Hall amongst the growing throng of mages drifting toward the smell of food. Nicole watched the shift-change of templars filtering through, relieving their compatriots who left to go up to the templar mess hall. Gus and Waverly occupied themselves with a bit more discussion of the life of mages, until they reached the Great Hall. Gus bid them goodbye and went to sit with her senior mages.

Nicole grabbed a tray and piled it with food, and Waverly followed her lead, showing surprising strength as she hefted a selection of Brigid’s best victuals up to the fourth floor. Nicole’s guard, Ser Justine, opened the office for them and Nicole nodded her thanks, then dropped her tray on her desk. Seeing the two-handed grip Waverly needed for her own tray, Nicole then led the way to the guest quarters so that she could open the door for the mage.

Waverly dropped the tray on the table with a sigh of relief, then turned. “Thank you, Knight-Commander.”

Nicole smiled at her. “You are welcome, Apprentice. Enjoy your meal. I shall be in my office for now – should you wish to speak to me, come find me. If I must leave for any reason, I will close and lock the door to this hall – use the rune I pointed out last night to contact me, if necessary.”

“When will I have to give you my decision?” Waverly asked, her anxiety growing visible in the fidgeting of her hands, swelling in her scent.

“Tomorrow, Apprentice Waverly. You have until noon tomorrow. If you would like, I can leave you alone to think it over until then, having supper and breakfast delivered to your door. Or you may ask for the First Enchanter or me to speak with, have meals with us or down with the mages with an escort. I want you to have everything you need to decide.”

“I think, if I could see you both at dinner, and then at noon to give you my decision? I think I want some time to myself, between, before I have to interact with everyone.”

This mage had likely been isolated for some time before the mage-hunters found her, and this would be the last relative solitude she would have in a long time. Nicole inclined her head.

“Very well. I will lock the hallway door, then, and let you get to your meal. You may contact me at any point if you have a request, and I will come get you for dinner with the First Enchanter at the eighteenth bell.”

“Thank you, Knight-Commander. You have been very kind. Kinder than I expected.”

Nicole smiled at her. “You are welcome, Apprentice.”

Chapter Text

The rest of Nicole's afternoon passed in a blur. Once her meal was finished, Nicole caught up on the work she had put aside to see to Waverly’s decision. Trying to put the mage out of her mind and ignoring the way Waverly’s scent lingered in the office from the long morning’s discussion, she finished correspondence to leave on the next ferry, using the afternoon light to her benefit. Then, out of paperwork, she sent her guard off to order the new templars to assemble for inspection.

Nicole interviewed the new templars in a meeting room near the templar quarters. Five young faces: three of them alphas, one of whom was a woman, and two betas, one man and one woman, stood at attention before her. They all wore the regulation armor: dense plate steel with Andraste’s flaming sword emblazoned on the chest plate, with templar robes and armor fastened about their waists with their weapons-belts. They would be introduced to the Tower’s policy on armor and allowed to modify their equipment under the supervision of a Knight-Lieutenant, but for now they appeared uniform and imposing, just as the Chantry preferred.

Nicole quizzed them on the introduction Knight-Captain Robin had provided upon their separate arrivals. She did her best to ignore the rage still lingering in her breast whenever she saw Hardy. For his part, Hardy was sullen, perhaps due to his morning learning the intimacies of scrubbing toilets, but he possessed a reasonable understanding of the duties and requirements of his new post. The others were likewise well-informed, and Nicole made a note to congratulate her captain on a job well done.

Trouble reared its head, however, when Nicole was winding down her assessment. Hardy raised his hand and spoke after Nicole acknowledged him.

“Knight-Commander, you said no shore leave for six months, but my rut is coming up soon. What provisions are made for templars within the tower for their ruts? Are there resources -” he leered at the word, “-provided for our use?”

Nicole’s mood soured significantly and, as she was unable to punish him further for his actions against Waverly, indulged herself. “Templar Hardy, are you unable to control your rut, or do you just wish to be catered to because you are an alpha?”

“Catering would be nice!” the idiot joked, and the templars to either side of him edged away, either at his words or at the anger Nicole was allowing to grow upon her face and in her scent.

“If you need a special dispensation, then you shall have it. Your rut will take place in the dungeon, when it arrives, and your current punishment detail will be extended for another two weeks for disrespecting a superior officer for the second time in the mere two days since your arrival!” Hardy’s face went white, realizing much too late that Nicole was completely uninterested in his attempt at humor.

Pushing him to submit with her tone and pheromones, Nicole growled, “What do you say to that, Templar?”

Hardy dropped his gaze, his neck craning to the side to bare his throat. “Thank you, Knight-Commander.”

After a few more moments of glaring, Nicole addressed the others. “All of my templars would do well to remember that they are elite soldiers trained to have the best discipline in Thedas! Those who have passed their probationary period are permitted some leave each season and may go to any of a number of nearby facilities who will accept coin for lodging, food, and company. Templars under my command are expected to behave with the dignity of their position, and if I receive negative reports of your behavior from anyone, inside or outside the Tower – that includes your comrades, officers, mages, merchants, and proprietors of any facilities, even beggars on the street – punishment will follow. Am I understood?”

“Yes, Ser!” the new knights responded, Hardy noticeably less enthusiastic than the others.

“Do you have any more questions?” Nicole challenged.

At the chorus of, “No, Ser!” she received, Nicole dismissed them to their commanding officers. She had taken care to have them all assigned to different duties, as their unity would create a larger problem if they were suborned by the Grand Cleric. Additionally, all of her officers would provide her a weekly account of the new templars’ activities, new friends, and any tidbits about their behavior that indicated subversive or surreptitious activities.

After she left, she found time to write an extra missive to Hardy’s Knight-Lieutenant. “Hardy exhibits little respect for authority and an inflated sense of self-importance. Make every effort to change these characteristics and watch him carefully for signs of rabble-rousing. Keep him away from the other new recruits, if possible. Additionally, and most importantly: I have reason to suspect that Hardy has been introduced to the worst habits of Free Marches templars. Do not allow him solitary contact with mages or the Tranquil, even when off-duty. Keep a guard on him if you must.”

Hopefully, in a few months, the templar would improve enough to be trusted with actual work. Nicole highly doubted it, but perhaps the latrine fumes would cook his brain enough to fix him, or maybe just neuter him. That would work, too.

 


 

At eighteen bells, Nicole fetched Waverly from the guest quarters and escorted her to the office. From the light scent of roses, Waverly had indulged in another bath. Nicole had hoped that Waverly would enjoy the luxury while she had it, as apprentices and the Tranquil bathed communally. However, so did most of the templars, so it was a perk of rank, not of magical status, to have access to the few private bathrooms..

Gus was yet to arrive with the food, no doubt “supervising” the kitchen staff and thus picking the best out from the kitchen herself. Nicole gestured to the chair, and Waverly took the seat. Nicole settled herself down and gave Calamity a scratch, groping for something to say.

“What did you think of the Tower?” Nicole asked, settling on an innocuous subject.

“It’s… livelier than I expected, for a mage prison,” Waverly said, and then clapped a hand over her mouth.

Nicole tried not to show her amusement at Waverly’s obvious dismay. The Circles were mage prisons, as a point of fact, except in Tevinter where they were elitist academies. Although the Circles were necessary for the protection of the populace from the catastrophic damage even a single rogue mage could cause, Nicole had done what she could to make the Circle Tower a better place than it was before the Blight. Waverly’s words demonstrated that those efforts had had an effect.

Waverly was trying to stutter out an apology, still alarmed at her own bluntness, so Nicole gave her a half shrug and said, “It’s true, mages cannot leave without permission and escorts. In some places, the Knight-Commanders interpret the Chantry’s rules to mean that mages should be kept entirely separate from the world, but I believe that’s a mistake.”

Waverly, still making an apologetic grimace, asked, “How so?”

Nicole leaned back in her chair. “Just as mages can kill many people, they also possess great power which can be turned to the benefit of the populace,” she said, trying not to think too hard about the details of what she was about to reveal.

“How much do you know about the armies that gathered in Denerim to fight the darkspawn and the archdemon?” Nicole asked.

Waverly shrugged. “Only what everyone else knows. The Grey Wardens rounded up armies from every ally in Ferelden, including the elves and dwarves. There were mages there, too. Oh, wait, were the mages from here?”

Nicole nodded. She said, “All but two Grey Wardens were dead, killed by Loghain’s insane coup attempt, and the darkspawn horde was descending on Denerim. Elissa Cousland, a former apostate mage who had been a Grey Warden for under a year at that point, had traveled across the entire country and recruited armies to help her fight. This Circle supplied one of those armies, mages and templars together, and our mages were devastatingly effective against the darkspawn.”

“I was on Denerim’s wall with the mages when the darkspawn came. They stretched farther than the eye could see, a sea of malformed creatures in rusted armor, screaming twisted war cries as they charged the walls. Above us, the archdemon flew, a massive dragon-like thing of corruption and decay that blasted the city with fire. The archers and ballistae and catapults were firing as fast as they could and the front line was still coming closer and closer, and then-”

Nicole smiled, remembering her awe. “Then the mages ignited their battle-magic. Massive explosions threw dozens of darkspawn into the air, whole platoons of the creatures froze solid or were blasted by lightning spiking down from thunderous tempests, energy bouncing from body to body. Huge vortices of blue and green and orange fire and destruction blew across the entire charging line of the horde.

“It wasn’t enough,” Nicole added, shaking her head. “They still breached the walls, and many fell in the melee as we tried to stop their advance. But behind us, before it all descended into madness, we saw those same battle magics raining down upon the archdemon where it lay upon the top of Fort Drakon, having been taken out of the air. While we all fought, taking heavy losses, we gave Elissa Cousland the time to slay the archdemon after a tremendous battle, almost losing her life in the process. The darkspawn scattered. And then the mages, having fought for an entire day and night, began healing everyone.

“We would have lost so many more of the people of Ferelden had the mages not been as powerful and as learned as they were. And that was under a Knight-Commander who had done his best to stifle mages entirely. Imagine what they could have done, how many more lives would have been saved, if mages had been allowed to flourish? So, I believe that magic has its place in the world, as well as within the Circles of Magi.”

Waverly asked, “Is that why the Circle is so much less oppressive than I had imagined?”

Nicole spread her hands. “Exactly. My former mentor, now the Knight-Commander of the new Circle in Denerim, began a series of reforms that were strengthened and accelerated by the new Divine’s policies toward mages. We give mages more space, more freedoms and, importantly, the ability to leave the Circle and help the people of Ferelden.

“Enchanters from the Circle Tower who wish to heal are assigned to clinics in towns all around Lake Calenhad, and people travel for days to see them for illnesses that are otherwise incurable. The Circles are neutral in political disputes, but if banditry or animals or even giants are reported within range and people or the lord of the land request our assistance, we will send a detachment of templars and mages to deal with the problem.

“The payment for such assistance and healing goes to the Circle Tower’s coffers, the templars who fight, and the mages who heal or otherwise assist in equal proportion. Innovation and experimentation are encouraged, and discoveries by our scholars are published and distributed to the other Circles to improve the science of magic wherever they can. The Knight-Commander of the new Circle in Denerim is my former mentor and shares my goals and motivations. Hopefully we can show that magic, dangerous though it can be, can also be a force for good.”

Nicole finished her speech and looked back to her audience.

Waverly was blinking at her, looking nonplussed. Nicole felt somewhat exposed, having given so much with her explanation, and straightened up from her relaxed position at her desk, clearing her throat.

“You care a lot about this,” Waverly said. “Making the Circle better, I mean. You really seem to care.”

Nicole said, “Yes. It’s what I’m here to do.” Waverly was still looking at her, and Nicole could not figure out what the expression on her face meant.

A knock on the door disrupted Nicole’s puzzlement and she called out, “Come!”

Gus swept in, followed by three servants carrying trays. The chosen one of the day had Calamity’s bowl and diverted to the side, patting the dog’s head as she set the bowl down in front of the excited canine. “Go ahead,” Nicole told Calamity, and the dog settled to her meal.

Gus plopped in her chair. “I am starving, I cannot believe they took so long to get this put together! I am sorry to have kept you waiting, Apprentice, Knight-Commander.”

“It’s all right,” Waverly said, “The Knight-Commander was just telling me about the opportunities for mages to work outside the tower.”

“Oh?” Gus was already tucking into her food, and she swallowed before she said, “It’s the pride of the Circle, the opportunities we have to help the people of Ferelden. Of course, such opportunities are only available to those who pass their Harrowing. The Tranquil can move freely, of course, though few choose to do so.”

Waverly said, “Right. And… how does the Harrowing go, for your mages?”

Gus smiled. “We haven’t had a failure since the Blight. A couple of apprentices that never wanted to be mages have taken the Rite of Tranquility by choice, but we have the highest success rate of the Harrowing in Thedas.”

Waverly nodded and looked away, then turned to her meal. The three of them let the quiet sit as they ate. Nicole, as always, enjoyed the bounty that Brigid the cook had chosen to bestow on them. She had sent some of Nicole’s favorites, meat and potato pasties still warm from the oven, spiced with herbs and pepper and ale, and their crusts were perfectly flaky and golden. Fresh vegetables from the garden had been roasted until their edges were crisp and brown, and a thick loaf of warm bread with butter was laid out in the center of the platter.

Nicole finished her meal first, choosing some tidbits to feed to Calamity. Calamity, being a noble and reserved member of her breed, wiggled ecstatically and did tricks for Nicole with each treat. A laugh, bright and uplifting, from Waverly made Nicole look over her shoulder.

“Your mabari, what is her name?” Waverly asked, and Nicole smiled fondly as she looked back at the dog.

“Calamity.” When she looked back at Waverly, she caught a strange expression on her face for a fleeting moment before it morphed back into amusement.

“What did she do to get a name like that?” Waverly asked.

Nicole rubbed her hands together. This was a favorite story, and she hadn’t had the chance to tell it for a long time.

“Oh, she loves telling this story, and it’s a good one too,” Gus observed, smiling.

Nicole began, “This happened when I had just been promoted to Knight-Captain, about a year after the Blight. The Knight-Commander’s own mabari bitch had a litter, and from the very beginning this one was the smallest and the most adventurous. At the time, there was a great deal of work being done to revitalize the Tower after the Blight. So whole teams of templars and mages were whitewashing the stone walls to give the Tower its current light, airy feel.”

Nicole rolled her eyes at the description, knowing that the old citadel’s atmosphere could resemble a cave even with the towering ceilings and windows. Gus smiled indulgently, and Waverly’s lips twitched.

“So, one momentous evening, the templar that was watching the pups snuck away to grab some supper. This little no-name pup, seeing the world laid at her feet, embarked on a journey through the halls. She smelled the smells, saw the sights, and rolled in every smelly thing she could find.”

“Oh no,” Waverly laughed, covering her mouth.

Nicole grinned, saying, “Ohhh yes. All of the doors were open, to prevent the smell of paint from overwhelming the workers. Calamity roamed the entire second floor of the Tower while everyone was at supper, and found every pan, and bowl, and bucket of paint in her path. She tipped them over, rolled in them, and shook her little coat off innumerable times. She scraped herself along the floors, galloped from room to room, and then she found the stairs.”

Nicole was smiling at the look on Waverly’s face, how the girl was obviously entranced by the story.

“That little pup, no doubt smelling the feast being served upstairs, trotted up through the third floor halls, poking her nose into every open door on her way to the Great Hall. When she entered, everyone was so exhausted and so used to the smell of paint that no one even noticed her while she wandered through the room, snapping up scraps the fell beneath the tables. So, intrepid explorer that she is, she marched up the great staircase to the fourth floor and straight into the templar’s mess. By this point, she must have been dreadfully tired, however, because she wandered under the tables for a short time until she found a comfortable place to sit – right on my favorite old boots.”

Nicole scratched Calamity’s head, tousling her ears and receiving a lick on her arm in turn. “I looked down, exhausted after painting for the entire day, and I see this pup in all her dripping, completely white paint-covered glory, with her head on my knee, her eyes drooping in exhaustion just like mine were. I ducked to look under the table and saw this trail of white paw prints leading straight to me. And, well, I knew it would be trouble, but I couldn’t stop myself. I scooped her up, smearing paint all over my armor, marched to the Knight-Commander and said, ‘Ser, please excuse me from the evening’s drills. I have just been Claimed by this mabari and need to clean her up.’” Nicole remembered the love that had immediately blossomed in her heart for that little wet ball of fur, the pride and honor she’d felt at being Claimed as this mabari’s permanent, lifelong companion.

Waverly’s eyes were bright. “And how did that go over?” she asked.

“Well, everyone wants a mabari to claim them. I had rank, but I was just a pup to some of these templars. I still am, I suppose.” Nicole exchanged a wry look with Gus. “So, there was an immediate uproar, because there was a list of templars for the pups to be presented to, and I was about twentieth on the list. And so, being the forthright sort, I pointed at the trail of white paw prints coming up through the door and said, ‘Ser, look, she came so far to find me, and I am the only templar she chose. She would have chosen me anyway.’”

“What did he say?” Waverly asked, her face still betraying delighted interest.

“Knight-Commander Nedley is a fair and honest man. He stood up and called for order, then said-”

Nicole put on her Nedley voice, gruff and straightforward. “‘As this pup came so far and left such clear evidence of her preference for Knight-Captain Haught, then Haught can keep her.’ Then, at the return of the fracas he held up a hand and roared, to my chagrin, ‘And since this is her mabari, Ser Haught can clean up this calamity all by herself!’”

Waverly’s laugh sparkled across Nicole’s senses, making her grin as she continued. “Strangely, no one seemed ready to fight me for Calamity after that. And that is the true story of how I spent an entire week on my knees, scrubbing paint off of every flagstone in the Tower. And, of course, Calamity was worth every blister and kept me company the whole time, and ever since.”

Waverly was grinning while Gus clapped from her chair.

Gus said, “That story gets better with every telling, Ser Haught. You should have been a bard, I say it every time.”

“Ah,” Nicole sighed with false pathos. “Alas and alack, for that to be true I would need to set it to music, and I left my lute in Highever.”

“Highever?” Waverly asked, her voice sharp, the smile dropping from her face. “Haught, from Highever… oh.”

Nicole turned to her, hearing something like recognition in Waverly’s voice. “Yes, I was fostered to the Teyrnir of Highever for a time when I was young, before I went to the Chantry at the behest of my family. I became friendly with the Couslands, although I was just a child at that point.”

Nicole thought bitterly of the Couslands, victims of the Usurper Teryn Loghain Mac Tir’s plots against King Cailan Therein at the very start of the Blight. Much of the events had been covered up by that same usurper, but Warden-Commander Elissa Cousland had spoken of them at the meeting of the Ferelden court, the Landsmeet, and much had been revealed.

Under the auspices of friendship, Arl Howe of Amaranthine had entered Castle Cousland as all the nobles of Ferelden were preparing to march their armies to the aid of the Grey Wardens at King Cailan’s request. Howe had claimed that his army was delayed, and so Elissa’s brother Fergus Cousland had marched ahead with the Cousland forces while Elissa stayed behind as part of the skeleton defenses.

That night, Howe’s army had attacked Castle Cousland and slaughtered almost everyone: the Teyrn and Teyrna Cousland, Fergus’s wife and six-year-old son, and the guardsmen, servants, and their families. Elissa herself had escaped by the slimmest margin and was subsequently conscripted to the Grey Wardens to save her life.

Now, years after the war and the unveiling of the plot against the Therein monarchs, Fergus now sat in his rightful place as Teyrn of Highever and had remarried some time ago. Nicole had lost track of him through the years, but she hoped that he had reclaimed some of the happiness he had lost with the Blight.

Shaking off the past, Nicole decided to move on from the dangerous subject of Elissa Cousland. She asked Waverly, “Do you know Highever well?”

“Just in passing. Sorry, I was just surprised to find a noble here, and one connected to the Hero of Ferelden, no less.” Nicole tensed, but was grateful that Waverly cleared her throat, setting her plate down on Nicole’s desk as she ended that discussion. Nicole noted Waverly’s discomfort, but she had no idea why the mention of Highever would have caused such a change.

Yet another little mystery, she thought. I know why I’m uncomfortable, but why is she?

“Thank you for the meal, and the story. I appreciate all that you both have done to introduce me to the Tower and make my choices easier to consider. Would it be acceptable if I gave you my decision at the noon meal tomorrow? I would like to have some time to myself, to consider.”

Nicole and Gus both nodded, and Gus spoke first. “That is perfectly acceptable, my dear. Many things are made clearer by a good night’s rest.”

Nicole said, “I agree. Would you like someone to deliver breakfast to you tomorrow? They can unlock your door and leave it outside for you. I will be in this office tomorrow, if you have need of me, and if I am out the hall door will be locked and you can reach me with the rune I showed you last night.”

Waverly looked relieved, and Nicole praised herself for handling this whole situation so delicately.

Waverly replied, “Yes, Knight-Commander, that would be perfect. Thank you again.”

Gus stood up, putting her own plate aside, and said, “Allow me to escort you to your room, Apprentice. I can show you how to bank the fire so it doesn’t go out this time.”

As they passed, Nicole nodded at Waverly and offered her key to Gus to lock the guest chamber door. She studiously did not watch them go, instead going to her office doors and calling for the servants to come clean up their supper.

When Gus came back, Nicole had pulled out a bottle of wine and two small glasses from her desk.

Nicole asked, “Would you like a drink, Gus? We’ve both had a long day.”

Gus handed back the Commander’s key and sat with a long sigh, “Is that the port? Ah, yes, please.”

Nicole handed over a glass and sat, quietly savoring her own pour.

After a few long minutes of silence, Gus stirred, “So. I think she was taken aback by the Circle Tower’s amenities, don’t you?”

Nicole nodded. “Before you finally managed to herd the food into the room,” Gus rolled her eyes, Nicole chuckled and continued, “She told me that it was ‘more lively than expected for a mage prison.’”

Gus slapped her knee, then steadied her wine glass. “She did not! I like this girl, she has real spirit to her. Er, not in the Fade Spirit way, of course.”

Nicole waved away the qualification. “I know what you mean, she really is something.”

At that, Gus looked at Nicole with a mischievous light in her eye. Nicole said, “What?”

“Nothing.”

 


 

 

Hours later, Nicole woke to the feel and sound of her signet ring warming, glowing, and chiming in the dark chill of her chambers. She stared stupidly at it for a moment, fumbling for it with her other hand, before the meaning sunk in. Only a few signals could activate Nicole’s ring, and that combination was keyed for one particular runestone. Waverly.

Nicole stumbled out of bed onto the frigid stone and rubbed her face, then turned toward the door, slipping her feet into fleece-lined house shoes on her way. Calamity came with her, a claw-clicking shadow at her side, as she passed through her chambers, office, the hall to the guest quarters, and knocked at Waverly’s door.

“Apprentice Waverly,” she rasped, low on sleep, asking the only question she could think of. “Are you well?”

“I am,” came a tired voice from the other side of the thick, wooden door. “I find myself thinking too much. Could we just talk? Here, for a few moments?”

Nicole nodded. Then, realizing she was invisible to her audience, she said, “Yes.”

Indulging her exhaustion, Nicole let herself slide to the floor, her back against the door. Calamity, ever an opportunist, clambered into Nicole’s lap as best she could, her weight painful and awkward before she settled into a comfortable position; or, at least, as comfortable as over two hundred pounds of muscle with sharp elbows resting on two human thighs could be. At least Nicole was warm.

Nicole could smell Waverly’s omega, tired and anxious, unshielded by alert uncertainty, and her alpha responded with a pulse of calming fortitude. “What would you like to talk about?”

After a moment, a question filtered through the door. “Are you really what you say you are?”

Nicole gave a hummed, “Mm,” in answer, then elaborated. “People are rarely what they say they are. It is always more complex than that. But, I swear to you, everything I have told you is true. What we would make here will optimally last for years, decades. I don’t want you to think you understand me now, only to be surprised later.”

Waverly’s voice sounded like she was in Nicole’s exact position, sitting against the door. “I want to believe you. I’ve been told…things, about templars. But I want to trust you, and I don’t know why.”

Nicole rested her head against the door, letting the mild thunk echo in the hallway. “If your experience shows that your instincts are trustworthy, trust them. If not, then do not trust them. That is all any of us can do, sometimes.”

There was a stillness, then, from the other side of the door that somehow seemed to fill the space as much as conversation had. Nicole left her temple against the door where she sat slumped and waited, scratching Calamity’s head with one hand as the dog wriggled more thoroughly into her lap.

“I choose the binding.” Waverly’s voice was strong, firm, with a tremulousness underlying it that was all anxiety. “I will not lose my self here, no matter what happens.”

Nicole smiled to herself, grateful that Waverly had come to this decision. And, for once, Nicole was too tired to curb her response. “I am glad. You are too passionate, too powerful, too admirable to be forced to take the brand of Tranquility.”

“You…admire me?” Waverly’s voice was surprised.

Nicole knew she had said too much, so she tried to edit her loose tongue. “Within the bounds of my responsibilities, I mean.”

“Oh, of course.”

Nicole narrowed her eyes – that reply almost sounded facetious. After a moment, however, she decided to move on.

“Would you still like to wait until noon to give your answer to the First Enchanter? After all, it is both of us who will approve your entry into the Circle.”

“When would the binding be?”

Nicole was suddenly aware that the binding was going to happen, and her alpha’s celebration began immediately upon that realization.  It had been so long, months and months, since Nicole had been able to win free of the tower even for a single night to indulge her alpha. Her gut pulsed, her clit throbbed, and she felt her body suddenly wake to full alertness.

“Ah…” she said, her words failing her for a moment before she schooled herself to respond adequately. “Tomorrow. You would not have to stay the night with me, if you do not wish, but tomorrow evening would be best.”

A low chuckle sounded through the door, and it ricocheted up Nicole’s body and into her brain. Nicole abruptly realized that this was the closest they had ever been to one another, and the knowledge amplified her body’s responses.

Waverly said, “You smell entirely disinterested.”

Ah, Maker, I should not be doing this when I am so tired, Nicole thought.

Nicole apologized, “I’m sorry, I didn’t intend to make you uncomfortable.”

Waverly’s reply was immediate and struck a spark in Nicole that she did not expect. “I’m not uncomfortable, except for some curiosity at the thought of being knotted by a big, strong alpha like you.”

Nicole’s tongue was simultaneously dry and stuck to the roof of her mouth, her clit growing three sizes in the time it took to stammer out her response.

“Very well, Apprentice, I will see you tomorrow.”

Then, hastily, Nicole struggled up from under Calamity’s weight, her legs slightly numb, and made an inglorious retreat before she did something stupid like opening that door. As she fled, soft chuckles rang in her ears while the scent of lavender and honeyed arousal cajoled her nose.

Nicole took herself in hand that night, her cock presenting for the first time in the months since her last rut. She came with one hand clenched around her cock, biting down on her wrist to keep Waverly’s name from leaving her lips.

Chapter Text

The next day was marked by bursts of aggravation and arousal. Nicole woke at the fifth bell, as always. This time, though, she was hard, so hard it almost hurt.

I’m 27, not a teenager, she told her cock. Go. Away.

Grizzled, veteran templars twice Nicole’s age had jumped to obey that growl, but remarkably, it had little effect on taming Nicole’s recalcitrant genitalia. In fact, it twitched mightily in obstinate rebellion. She had to resort to an ice-cold bath to quench it and thus began her rounds still shivering from the extended soak and grateful for the opportunity to wash away her tension in the privacy of her own bathroom.

That access to running water was thanks to the expert smith and rune-maker Dagna, a dwarven arcanist who had studied at the Circle Tower for a time after the Blight. Undeterred by the dwarven inability to access the Fade - and therefore even to dream - Dagna was fascinated by magic and had offered to “upgrade the facilities” in the Tower in return for funding for the equipment and resources she required for her research. No doubt Knight-Commander Nedley hadn’t realized what chaos would ensue if he gave a perky dwarf with a powerful knack for explosive runes unlimited access to the tower, but it had resulted in running water for each floor, pumped up from the lake via some rune-driven mechanism that Dagna’s overexcited explanations did nothing to demystify.

Other improvements, such as the privacy shield of silence in Nicole’s office, the lock on her office door that was keyed to her command alone when she resided within, the communication link between signal runes set around the tower, the keying of all those aforementioned qualities to Nicole’s signet ring, and even Calamity’s collar, with its ability to open Nicole’s rune-locked door only for Calamity, were all benefits of Dagna’s room and board arrangement. Dagna herself had moved on to other Circles, still writing her thesis, but Nicole seriously considered offering her a permanent and well-paid position if she could figure out some way to install rune-driven Tower heating .

As she stepped out of her office in full uniform, Nicole was terribly grateful for the pre-dawn stillness of the Tower. She nodded to the few templars in the halls as she walked to the mews, and, after she found that the raven had not returned from Sister Nightingale, she trudged to the templar’s mess to sate her morning hunger.

As she woke more completely, Nicole did her best to distract herself from the frenetic energy coiling in her gut, the anticipation she could no longer completely deny now that Waverly’s path had been decided. It was probably to be expected. Nicole had not indulged in intimate contact, even of the paid kind she’d pursued after Sister Nightingale’s visit, for over six months.

When Nightingale had pronounced her, “Competent, but rusty,” Nicole had proceeded to visit several of the brothels around Lake Calenhad and even, memorably, the Pearl in Denerim. Each time, she had asked for an omega, and when they were alone together she had said, “Teach me how to pleasure you.” After almost a year and a half of those exercises, Nicole felt much better about her skills.

Yet, except for one time when she was just eighteen, Nicole had never indulged her ruts. Telling herself she had no time, or that a templar needed to be above such base needs, Nicole had spent her ruts throwing herself into exercise, meditation, and, when those didn’t sate her need, furious masturbation.

Since the spring, however, the Tower’s demands had cut even what little time Nicole had for leave into shreds. It had been six months since she had a lover, and the proximity of an omega that she was to mate infiltrated her every waking thought.

Initially, Nicole had thought to go train while the communal rooms would still be fairly empty, allowing her to run off the tension. However, Waverly’s words from the previous night floated to the surface of Nicole’s mind at odd moments. At one point, one of those stray thoughts triggered a flash of heated interest so strong that Nicole staggered while walking, struggling to keep her balance under the onslaught of arousal. Grateful that no one had observed her slip-up, she retreated to her office to do paperwork instead.

By three hours till noon, Nicole’s brain was a sieve. Nothing had worked. Earlier in the morning, she had tried to meditate, to retreat into the skills she had practiced for over a decade to control her ruts and soothe her pheromones, and she had almost immediately slipped into a fantasy that had her hard and aching, straining against the laces of her breeches. She did not want to stink up her office with her lack of self-control, so she escaped to her chambers.

Nicole’s bedroom was worse. The faint, lingering scent of her previous night’s indulgence drove her to change the bedsheets, bundling them into the laundry chute outside her door – a welcome perk that had its own separate bin at the laundry, ensuring that her garments would be returned to her alone. Once she had started with the sheets, she happily cleaned the rest of the room, then the bathroom, until she was back in the bedroom, plumping pillows. Then, Nicole realized something horrifying.

I’m nesting. Oh sweet Andraste, I’m nesting.

Nicole fled to her exercise chamber, a small room adjacent to her bathroom lined with weapons and weights organized on tidy racks. Once inside, she stripped to her undergarments to practice her forms, gliding smoothly from position to position with the weighted weapons. Finally, Nicole sank into the calm she had been seeking all day, the burn of her muscles and stinging sweat in her eyes a welcome reprieve. It was almost eleven bells when her signet ring began to chime and glow, breaking her from her reverie.

Without much thought, Nicole toweled off briefly, raking her hair back from her face. Still warm from the workout, she donned just her under-armor layers. Then she jogged down the hall to see what Waverly needed.

When she knocked on the door, there was a quiet call of, “Knight-Commander?”

“Yes, Apprentice Waverly. Do you require something?”

The door swung open and Waverly stood there, framed by noon sunlight. She was more stunning than before, as if Nicole had forgotten her beauty when they parted and was struck by the sight of her anew. Waverly opened her mouth to speak, then stopped, eyes darkening slightly as she scanned Nicole, a slow up and down perusal. Her scent swirled out, full of heavy, silky honey and lavender, and she said nothing. Nicole told herself she wouldn’t drool… but Waverly smelled so good .

Nicole stood there, confused and entranced in equal measure, and then looked down at herself to see what Waverly was looking at. Nicole had donned a blue sleeveless tunic, normally worn under her gambeson, and knee-length linen trousers designed to prevent her leathers from chafing. Her arms and upper chest still shone with sweat, and a line of it was tickling down her temple from her hairline. Looking back to Waverly, she saw that the girl was taking deep breaths, as if calming herself.

Perhaps I’ve offended her?

“I, ah, apologize for my lack of proper attire,” Nicole ventured, when Waverly continued gaping. Gesturing to the signet ring, Nicole tried to explain her presence. “I was training when you summoned me. Do you want me to leave? I’ll just… I’ll go.”

When she turned to leave, however, light fingers encircled her wrist. Nicole froze, holding her breath. Waverly had never before gotten close enough to touch her, and Nicole’s entire arm erupted in gooseflesh at the gentle grasp. Nicole tried to forbid her body from reacting, but she wasn’t sure how effective her control was.

Nicole was pretty sure she didn’t have an erection. She hoped she didn’t have an erection, because there was nothing to hide it. She also really, really needed to stop thinking about erections while Waverly was touching her .

“Wait,” Waverly said. “Sorry, I just wasn’t expecting…” she trailed off, and Nicole turned to look at her again. Waverly was thinking, clearly, her eyes on Nicole’s, but her tongue darted out briefly before she bit her lip.

Oh. Ohhhh. She likes what she sees. This is good. Or, is this good? I don’t know if this is good. Why didn’t Sister Nightingale tell me about this part?!

Waverly abruptly seemed to realize she still had a grip on Nicole’s wrist and let it go, her eyes wide. “I’m sorry, I don’t know what’s gotten into me. Um.”

Nicole’s traitorous clit twitched at the thought of what could have gotten into Waverly. To divert herself, she shifted and crossed her arms. If anything, that movement appeared to fluster Waverly further, her mouth moving silently as she watched Nicole’s arms. Nicole flexed, curious to see Waverly’s reaction.

“Oh,” was all Waverly said, her eyes dilating still further, and she licked her lips again. Then she shook herself and looked back up into Nicole’s eyes. It was appealing, that she was so slight. Nicole enjoyed being bigger, stronger, when Waverly looked at her like that . Nicole could pick Waverly up with ease, lift her onto something- Nicole stopped herself from pursuing  that train of thought.

Waverly tried again, “I, um, I seem to have forgotten… oh!” At once, her eyes seemed to regain some of their intelligence, her pupils constricting, and she blinked. “I wanted to ask if I could request some additional items of clothing? And maybe some boots? My old ones are in bad shape.”

Nicole nodded, dismayed at having not predicted this need. “Of course, I will have them sent down to you. My apologies for the oversight.”

Waverly smiled. “You have a lot on your shoulders.” She looked back at Nicole’s shoulders and Nicole, suffering a flash of brilliance, flexed again. Waverly blushed, even the tips of her ears reddening. “Um. I mean, you have lots of responsibilities! Yes. Right. Um. Thank you, Knight-Commander,” she squeaked.

Nicole smiled, pouring a warmth into her voice so it purred out, “You are very welcome, Apprentice Waverly.”

Nicole turned and strode down the hallway. She didn’t hear Waverly’s door close until she was already in her office, turning to shut the hallway door. Nicole smiled to herself.

Perhaps Waverly’s comment last night was not just a tired slip, but a statement of preference? Nicole considered.

Nicole still hesitated to believe that Waverly was interested in the binding in that way, because frankly Nicole wanted it to be so. If Waverly was amenable to the knotting and the binding that came with it, it would make matters between them more settled and spare Nicole some heartache. But, since Nicole couldn’t be sure, she would watch and see if Waverly showed other signs of interest.

 


 

Nicole instructed one of her guards to relay her written request for an apprentice’s wardrobe to the Tower staff. They had access to the guest chambers and Nicole’s office, so they would be able to deliver the clothes directly to Waverly. Nicole regretfully retreated to her chambers to bathe herself, sluicing off the sweat of her exertions.

Nicole pondered the evening’s upcoming… activities. The character of this binding would be tricky, and Nicole had been thoroughly briefed by Sister Nightingale about those necessary dynamics, thankfully. The alpha would have to form a bond strong enough for the omega to accept, while still maintaining a level of detachment and aut hority. Nicole’s training two years ago had been dedicated to that balance.

 

Two years previously

Sister Nightingale spoke authoritatively while striding back and forth in front of Nicole’s chair, her Orlesian lilt adding flair to each word. “The typical alpha-omega mating does reflect an intrinsic power differential, on the surface. However, while the alpha holds overt powers of dominance and authority, the omega has their own talents which can sway the alpha to do their bidding. It is a subtler influence, but no less powerful. For instance.”

Sister Nightingale stepped closer before lifting one leg gracefully over Nicole’s lap, settling down so that, as her skirt rode up her legs, the meat of her thighs hit Nicole’s hips. The scent of her sex wafted up, eager and aromatic and so, so tempting. Nicole’s breath blew out in a long, steady stream, and she barely controlled the twitch in her arms that betrayed her urge to grab Sister Nightingale by the hips and grind up into her. Nicole’s erection had already been full, throbbing, for an hour just from watching Nightingale strut in front of her, talking with those full, pouting lips and showing off that ass.

Sister Nightingale leaned close, her chin-length red hair brushing Nicole’s cheek, her cleavage mounding up against Nicole’s chest, and murmured, breath warm over Nicole’s ear, “I have been seducing you from the moment I entered this room. You would lift me in your strong arms and enter me now if I asked you to, no?”

Nicole nodded, unable to lie or, indeed, to construct actual words in the face of the overwhelming need to be inside this omega, to take her and make her scream. Nightingale was too close, smelled too good , for Nicole to refuse her anything.

Nicole’s toes curled as teeth grazed her earlobe. “Ah, but this is dangerous, alpha,” Sister Nightingale said as something cold and sharp suddenly pressed against Nicole’s neck. Swallowing, Nicole sat, petrified, as Sister Nightingale purred, “I could kill you right now and you could do nothing to stop me.” The way she said it somehow made it sound just as enticing as thrusting into her would have been.

Nicole sat frozen, her eyes hooded and body torn between fear and arousal. After a few moments, Sister Nightingale pulled back, sheathing her knife while still straddling Nicole’s lap, and smiled, patting Nicole on the cheek.

“You have excellent restraint, and I think you make a prime candidate, Knight-Captain. Knight-Commander Nedley said you were his best, and I think we will work well together. Maintenant .” Sister Nightingale dismounted Nicole’s lap, her skirt falling once again to cover her thighs. Nicole suppressed her strong feeling of disappointment at the loss, avoided sniffing the air to catch one last trace of omega sweetness.

“We will go over the maneuvers necessary to maintain your integrity as a templar with this kind of binding, and to build your resistance to seduction. And soon-” Nightingale winked, a mischievous light in her eyes that made Nicole’s cock throb and twitch, growing even harder, if that was possible. “Very soon, if you’re good, you will get to practice on me. Hands-on, so to speak. So pay close attention, Knight-Captain.”

 

Now:

Nicole snapped herself out of her recollections, narrowing her eyes at her perennial cock where it stood, unrepentant and proud, after her ill-advised reminiscences. She had to empty the hot water and turn on the taps to smother it with freezing water until it finally hid, shrinking back into an innocent-looking nub. It was almost time for the noon meal, and she needed her alpha side to just behave itself for a while longer. Deciding to chance it, Nicole went to get dressed – she had only minutes left and wished to be presentable.

When twelve bells tolled from the center of the tower, Nicole was striding toward Waverly’s door, where she knocked and waited. The door swung open and Waverly greeted her, looking her up and down. Nicole was in her armor and surcoat, having weighed the wisdom of wearing ordinary clothes in preparation for the evening’s undressing before deciding against anything that would show a stray erection if she got unduly distracted. But, she did just happen to be wearing one of her favorite surcoats, a rich blue with red and gold trim, Andraste’s flaming sword gleaming with gold embroidery across her torso.

Waverly was dressed in a simple mage’s robe of green and brown, a low-slung leather belt wrapped around her hips. Her hair was loose, trailing in gentle waves over her shoulders and down to her- Nicole stopped looking at Waverly’s chest and snapped her eyes back up to her face, which was clearly caught between nerves and amusement. Clearing her throat in chagrin, Nicole stepped aside and gestured for Waverly to lead the way.

While following Waverly into the office, Nicole tried to keep her mind on the task at hand and off the shape of Waverly’s hips. She managed, mostly. The First Enchanter was seated at her chair, already loading her plate with food from the platter on Nicole’s desk, and looked up when Waverly entered.

“Hello, Apprentice, how did you sleep?” Gus smiled at the girl, still adding food to her portion without even looking at her hands. Nothing, absolutely nothing, got between Gus and a meal.

“Very well, First Enchanter,” Waverly said, not looking at Nicole. Nicole took her seat and reached for her own plate.

Before Nicole could start eating, Waverly spoke. “I have decided to take the binding, First Enchanter, Knight-Commander. I want to get that off my shoulders before we start eating.”

Nicole knew that a number of things could be learned from how people present their decisions. Waverly looked determined and sure, her chin raised and shoulders back. Nicole was relieved that she wasn’t visibly anxious about her choice.

Gus smiled at her. “I am glad you have come to a decision, and may I say I’m particularly pleased that you made this choice? I look forward to showing you some healing tricks of the trade.”

Waverly smiled. It still wasn’t a full smile, but it was real, and Nicole felt own her lips curl slightly in response. “I’d like that.”

Nicole said, “I am also glad to have you join the ranks of our mages, although I cannot teach you healing like the First Enchanter can. But as I said before, I think you might thrive here.”

“I am sure I will learn a lot from you. Um.” Waverly blushed. “Both of you.”

Gus betrayed only a mysterious smile and dug into her food, signaling the end of that conversation while they all served themselves.

While they ate, to divert her focus from Waverly for a few minutes, Nicole asked Gus about the mage assigned to Lonnie. Gus rolled her eyes. “I talked to the quartermaster this morning. I made a mistake, assigning Apprentice Kane to that duty. You would think that one apprentice, who needs work on his letters and numbers but can focus, and one templar who cannot focus whatsoever but can count and spell-”

At that last word, Nicole lifted a hand and rocked it from side to side, and Gus sighed as she continued. “Can spell somewhat, would be able to work together. True, they are working much more quickly. Unfortunately, now, not only is the inventory still unreadable, the numbers are wrong as well. It made it worse.”

Nicole laughed. “I don’t know how to fix him. He is good-natured and gentle but cannot be trusted with the simplest tasks. We cannot spare any of the Tranquil, winter is approaching and they are all needed at their crafting positions. Do you have any more apprentices whose duty hours are unassigned?”

“Me,” Waverly said. Nicole and Gus both turned their attention to her, and she blushed. “I mean, you haven’t assigned me anywhere. And I am good at both numbers and letters. I could help.”

Gus looked thoughtful. “I had thought to allow you some time to settle in before giving you an assignment. You are older than most of the apprentices, and we need to assess your talents and aptitudes while filling in any gaps in your education.”

Waverly’s chin lifted. “I might have gaps in my education, but I know that if I’m the only apprentice without chores to perform, it will be seen as favoritism.”

It was a valid point. “You’re right,” Nicole said. She had noted before that Waverly seemed very sensitive about her education, for some reason, though there was no shame in not knowing a Circle mage’s lessons when she came from an apostate’s life. Indeed, just knowing her letters put Waverly far beyond the normal level of education for a Fereldan. Nicole put it aside to ponder later.

Gus nodded. “Yes. Perhaps light duty, until I have a better idea of your talents. Would you be willing to do, say, half an hour a day? The normal apprentice duty roster is one hour for the undesirable tasks, like inventory in the storage caves, and one-and-a-half hours for the prime assignments. But, if you were to increase Lonnie’s efficiency, you would still get more work done in that time frame.”

“Yes,” Waverly assented and looked pleased, going back to her food.

Nicole ate and thought about Waverly’s possible motivations to spend her time doing inventory in the caves. There was the proximity to the front door as an escape route, though no doubt Waverly had figured out that apprentice chores would include reshelving books in the library, which was much closer to the front door. Nicole discarded that idea.

Waverly had loved the garden, and Nicole had seen avarice in her eyes when she looked at the library. Why not volunteer for duties there? Was it simply that working an unappealing job would make her look better to the other mages? Or was it to help someone who Nicole and Gus both thought hopeless? Or to help the two of them, however indirectly?

Waverly was already a puzzle, and she had been in the Circle for less than two days. Nicole tried, unsuccessfully, to be less eager to find out more about her.

 


 

 

Gus and Waverly departed to discuss the intricacies of Waverly’s new life, and Nicole threw herself feverishly back into her work. Gus had agreed to return Waverly for dinner, and thus Nicole had yet another deadline to avoid thinking about. This time, however, her room was already tidied and she didn’t want to be exhausted from further training, so she had no outlet but paperwork. Among the other minutiae that occupied her attention, Nicole also drafted a letter to Nedley - they needed to know what those templars had done, that extra day each took in Denerim. They should have boarded at the Circle there, if not in the Cathedral barracks, so Nedley’s perspective would be valuable.

When eighteen bells tolled, Nicole was bleary-eyed and the sky was turning pink through the windows behind her desk. At a knock on the door, she called, “Come!”

Waverly entered, alone, carrying a tray of food with plates and cutlery with a bowl for Calamity prominently placed on top. Nicole stood when Waverly entered and then felt a bit silly for acting out that ingrained noble courtesy.

“Hello, Knight-Commander,” Waverly said, shyly, and placed the tray on the table.

“Hello, Apprentice Waverly,” Nicole replied, and then looked at the door.

“Um, Gus said that we needed time to get to know each other without her meddling.” Waverly shrugged. “Her words, not mine.”

Nicole heartily agreed with Gus, but now that the moment had arrived she was a bit nervous.

I need to calm down. I am not a teenager flirting with a girl for the first time, all of today’s experiences to the contrary. This is a serious affair and requires my full effort and attention. And I am the Knight-Commander, soon to be her alpha.

“May I feed Calamity?” Waverly asked, and looked over to where the dog was dancing next to her water bowl.

Nicole snorted. “Go ahead, just beware - she’ll love you forever if you do.”

Waverly smiled at the dog as she walked over, and when Calamity sat she said, “You’re so polite, Calamity, I can’t believe all the things the Knight-Commander said about you causing trouble.”

Calamity looked over at Nicole, snorted, then turned back to Waverly. She tapped the floor with one large paw.

“Oh, right, sorry.” Waverly put the bowl down, and hesitantly patted Calamity’s head when the huge dog offered it to her.

Nicole said, “Go ahead and eat, Calamity.” The dog set to the food with relish as Waverly walked back to her place and hovered, still standing.

Waverly drew in a big breath, clearly preparing herself to say something important. “I’m going to move the things from the guest room into the apprentice quarters tomorrow, so. Um.” Waverly ground to a halt, looking down, then seemed to gather boldness from somewhere deep inside. Straightening, Waverly looked Nicole in the eyes and said, “So, I’m all yours for the night.”

Nicole’s alpha, so deceptively quiet for the past five hours, blazed to the front of her mind like a forest fire. Her needs had been set aside for so long, pacified with meditation and work. Holding those forces back, banking them carefully under her skin, took an enormous effort of will - but Nicole had to wait until Waverly said it. Nicole's scent, however, was not so restrained, streaming from her pores to blanket the room.

Nicole's voice was a low rumble, charged with the maelstrom she chained within. “Waverly, do you consent to become my omega, to be mated to me and knotted tonight?”

Waverly shivered. Her eyes were dark, deep in the candlelight. Yet she stood strong, her voice steady, if a bit breathy, when she said, “Yes, alpha, I'm yours.”

This time, Nicole didn’t stop the rising of her alpha - she welcomed it, directed it. The wild, hungry energy licked through her, driving up into her eyes and her hands and her chest and her groin. Not yet, not yet, she thought, I can wait until after we eat .

When she spoke her voice was still gravelly with desire. “I accept you. Sit, eat. We’re going to have a long night.”

Nicole didn’t remember much of that meal. Well, not the food, at least. She remembered the answering fire in Waverly’s eyes and the way Waverly’s body seemed to tighten and relax simultaneously at her words. She remembered the sudden way Waverly sat and reached for a plate, her eyes never leaving Nicole’s face. Nicole remembered her own scent, spicy and thick and potent, filling the room and melding with Waverly’s honeyed tones.

Nicole remembered her cock, aching and pushing against the laces of her breeches, and thanked herself for remembering to change into something less constricting than her armor. She remembered thinking that she should control her reactions better, refine their inevitable collision, but she also remembered that Sister Nightingale had told her to let go and allow her alpha to dominate the conversation. So, Nicole did just that.

When their plates were both empty, Nicole stood and walked around the side of her desk, offering her hand to Waverly. The omega assented, her hand sliding into Nicole’s, slender fingers clasping Nicole’s palm. Then, Nicole tugged Waverly to her feet and, ordering Calamity to stay on her comfortable mattress on the floor, led her omega to her chambers.

Chapter Text

The tension between them vibrated, thrumming through the clasp of their hands, as Nicole led Waverly to her rooms. Nicole locked the door, precluding interruptions, while Waverly released her hand and took several steps into the bedroom, turning to survey the space. Nicole looked around with fresh eyes, curious to see what Waverly saw.

A fire burned brightly in the fireplace, as Nicole had been stoking it for the last hour between bouts of paperwork. The room itself was larger than the guest chambers, a table and chairs in one corner, the walls decorated in a sparing style with several small paintings and a largish tapestry of mabari hounds going to war. There were the customary tall, peaked windows on the curved outside wall and, resting between them as the focal point of the room, was a large bed with carved wooden headboard, posts, and footboard. Nicole had made it, neatly folding back the blankets at the corner to show fresh white sheets, which she thought made an attractive picture.

That last was what Waverly focused on. Watching as Waverly froze, the nervousness in the omega's scent growing in scale and substance with each moment, Nicole waited, her alpha telling her to be patient, not to push, to let the natural attraction between them dictate the events to come. She let her aura of patience and authority and desire leak gently into the air, not demanding but asking.

Waverly turned and looked at Nicole. Her eyes were wide, a little wild with conflicting emotions, and Nicole praised her own instincts as she turned one hand palm up, offering it to the girl.

“Come to me, Waverly. I will not harm you. You have nothing to fear from me.” Nicole’s alpha slid purring overtones into her solemn words, and they melded into something genuine and enticing, a gestalt of honest seduction that she’d never before heard from her own lips.

Waverly stepped toward her, closer and closer, her omega pheromones growing thick and intoxicating. She stopped and, after a beat of hesitation, placed her hand in Nicole’s.

Nicole’s alpha purred deep in her chest at the implicit trust, the obedience, in the action. With one hand clasping Waverly’s, she slid the other up, over the sleeve of Waverly’s robe to her shoulder. Waverly’s breath stuttered and skipped with every inch of movement. Nicole brought her fingertips inward, along the exposed line of Waverly’s collarbone.

Waverly’s skin was so soft, so pliant, so warm, as Nicole dragged her fingertips back, under that glorious fall of hair, until she could curl her hand around the back of Waverly’s neck. Then, Nicole pulled Waverly close, gently, tilting Waverly’s face up to her own. Nicole dipped her chin and softly brushed her lips to Waverly’s once, then waited, asking permission. Waverly’s breath puffed out, in, out, in, and then Nicole felt Waverly’s eyelashes tickle her skin as the girl pressed herself closer. Her lips were so soft as they pushed against Nicole’s, moving gently as their noses brushed, side by side.

Nicole was swept away by the soft press of Waverly’s lips, warm and giving under her own, and the intake of breath that grazed her cheek. Those sensations were swiftly followed by the way Waverly’s moan vibrated against Nicole’s mouth when Nicole slid an arm around her waist to her spine, pulling Waverly’s body into herself. Waverly arched against her, clutching Nicole’s shoulders, and Nicole groaned at the warmth, the friction, as she deepened the kiss. It had been so long since Nicole had touched someone, and the thrill of it thrummed through her, danced along her skin, drawing her entire being to focus on the girl in her arms.

Sweeping her tongue across closed lips, Nicole asked for entry. Waverly opened for her, and Nicole licked her way into Waverly’s mouth with another sound of pure desire - from which one of them, Nicole couldn’t tell. Waverly’s hands wandered, clutching at Nicole’s hip, twining into her hair, digging into her shoulders as Nicole carefully, delicately, tasted Waverly’s mouth for the first time. It was glorious, hot and spicy with the taste of her omega, wet and so, so soft. To her delight, Waverly’s tongue flirted back, stroking and teasing, until Nicole captured it, sucking on the tip to elicit another sound. Nicole pulled Waverly closer still, until nothing was between them but cloth.

Cloth. They were wearing far, far too many clothes. Nicole pulled back, panting, seeing Waverly’s eyes shift from glazed to afire in an instant.

“Clothes,” Nicole growled as she unbuckled Waverly’s belt. It fell to the thick rug with a rattle of brass, and her own followed seconds later as Waverly’s quick fingers undid the clasp. Nicole’s grin was feral, she knew, stretching her cheeks around bared teeth, but Waverly seemed unafraid, her breaths coming fast, matching Nicole’s intensity, her scent eager and damp like rain.

Nicole found the laces and hidden buttons running up the side of Waverly’s robes and snarled at the delay they would require. Instead of ripping them open, she pushed Waverly’s hands off her own half-undone tunic, gentle despite her haste, and bent, gathering the hem of the robes and pulling them up, up, up and off.

Waverly emerged from the robes, her scent so fresh and clean without the smothering cloth that Nicole just closed her eyes and inhaled. Then, as her eyes opened again, Nicole got her first good look. Waverly was slender and slight, with wiry muscles and darkened arms and legs that spoke of hard work under the sun. She still wore a breastband and smallclothes, and Nicole stepped closer, intent on removing them, only to run into a hand that pushed against her sternum.

Waverly smirked at her. “Your clothes, too, Knight-Commander.”

Nicole reined in her urgency and nodded, and Waverly’s clever fingers began unfastening Nicole’s tunic.

Thinking past the haze of need as she watched Waverly undress her, Nicole said, “You may call me Nicole, when we are in my chambers.”

Waverly gave Nicole a coy glance through her eyelashes as she edged the tunic off Nicole’s shoulders, until it crumpled on the floor and those hands descended to touch Nicole’s bare skin. Nicole’s whole body enlivened at the touch, prickling with anticipation.

“What if I enjoy calling you Knight-Commander?” The honey in Waverly’s voice was irresistible, irrefutable, as she traced a single fingertip down the front of Nicole’s stomach, tickling in a way that made every muscle on Nicole’s body clench.

Nicole growled her affirmation. “Then by all means, continue.”

Waverly’s fingers brushed the front of Nicole’s breeches, tugging at the laces pulled taut by Nicole’s cock where it throbbed, heavy and full with restrained desire, tucked safely behind cloth. Nicole shivered at the vibration of the leather cord being pulled through the eyelets, tension pooling in her gut. Her cock was aching to be free after being confined all day, but she didn’t expect Waverly’s fingers to tuck themselves inside and wrap firmly around her, squeezing delightfully.

The feeling of it, of being touched after such a long day, such long months of denial, rocked Nicole’s head back on her spine, pulling an, “Ah!” out of her mouth.

Waverly wasn’t done. She shoved the breeches and underwear down and pulled Nicole’s cock out. Nicole looked down, entranced by the slender fingers grasping where her knot would form.

“Oh, this is nice,” Waverly said, her voice raspy, and tightened her grip. “You’re bigger than I expected.”

Waverly gave Nicole’s cock a slow, luxurious pump, her head tilted to watch as Nicole’s foreskin slid smoothly over her cockhead on a shining pool of her own slickness. Nicole’s knees almost buckled at the swift-coiling glory of being touched, of being stroked by the hand of this omega, who was hers. It had been forever since Nicole had been handled like this and she was completely unprepared for how it felt. With a pleased hum, Waverly did it again, and again.

Nicole heard a roaring in her ears, felt her gut clenching - and, sensing that she could come to a quick end right now, Nicole gently grasped Waverly’s forearm. She thought, I did not take two cold baths today just to come in her hand for the first time.

“Not yet,” Nicole said, when she had regained her balance. She stepped back, hurrying to shuck her trousers and underpants. “That felt wonderful, but not yet.”

Waverly’s eyes gleamed in the firelight as Nicole stalked back toward her, then she squeaked as Nicole scooped her up into her arms. She was light, so light, compared to Nicole’s years of experience bearing armor and heavy weaponry. As Nicole carried her to the bed, she contemplated just how long she might be able to lift Waverly, given an opportunity.

Against a wall, with her legs hooked around my waist… Nicole thought of Waverly pinned against the wall, head thrown back in ecstasy as Nicole thrust up- Later, she promised herself. For now, however, Nicole yanked back the sheets, lowered Waverly to the bed, and pounced.

Nicole knelt between Waverly’s legs, staring down at the girl in her bed. “You’re gorgeous,” she purred, and stroked one hand up Waverly’s stomach, watching the muscles shiver under her hand. “And we’re both still wearing too many clothes.”

Nicole leant on one arm while she tugged at Waverly’s breastband with the other. Waverly tried to assist but the cloth came away with a rip, and Nicole disposed of her own wrap with the same speed. Nicole tucked her fingers into the top of Waverly's underclothes, pulling them down and over the omega's legs as Waverly lifted them to help. Nicole stared down, inhaling the intoxicating scent of Waverly’s arousal, seeing her glistening lips peeking out, and she was so tempted to get closer and just see what she tasted like, just one lick… but Nicole knew she wouldn’t be able to keep herself to just one, and everything would come to a head far too soon.

Tearing her eyes away, Nicole looked back up Waverly’s body. The omega was spread open for her, under her, and her breaths came fast, her gaze fixed on Nicole. When she saw Nicole watching, Waverly swallowed, reacting to whatever she saw in Nicole’s expression, and with a growl Nicole started to crawl toward her, over her; however, the girl stiffened a little, flinching backward.

Nicole stopped. “What’s wrong?”

“I don’t- I don’t know if I’m ready, yet, to have you inside. I, you’re, kinda intimidating.”

Driven by the concern, the fear, she heard in those few words, Nicole hurried to reassure her. “I’d planned to wait until you’re ready, Waverly. I’m going to pay attention to your body, the sounds you make, how your scent changes, and I will take my time. You can always tell me if you’re uncomfortable - we must complete the binding tonight, but I want you to enjoy yourself. Trust me?”

Waverly seemed surprised. “Oh, fuck, um. Yes. Okay.”

Pleased that she had alleviated Waverly’s concerns, Nicole crawled up to cover Waverly's body, grazing warm skin with her own breasts and stomach as she settled on top of her omega. Nicole brought their lips together again. Waverly sighed into her mouth, hands reaching up to tangle in Nicole’s hair. Waverly’s skin was so, so smooth under Nicole’s weight, and Nicole made sure her cock was nestled down, unthreatening against the sheets. Nicole growled with the pleasurable knowledge of being on top, of what was to come, of how she was going to work Waverly into a frenzy of need then take her.

With her fingers woven into Waverly’s hair, scratching her scalp, Nicole explored Waverly’s mouth, teasing out little sounds: a moan when Nicole captured her tongue; a sigh when Nicole’s hand found a breast and massaged it, scraping the hard nipple across her callused palm; and a whimper when Nicole caught the soft, giving curve of her lower lip and tugged it, catching it between her teeth and letting it slide away. Nicole wasn’t silent, either: she groaned at the soft way Waverly’s tongue accepted her, gliding alongside and over and under, chuckled at the daring nip Waverly made against her own lower lip, and purred when Waverly’s hand crept around to her shoulder to pull them closer together. Waverly felt and tasted and smelled so good, so right, so wet, and Nicole couldn’t get enough.

The body underneath her relaxed as they kissed, Waverly’s hips picking up a gentle undulation against Nicole’s stomach. As Nicole thumbed a nipple Waverly gasped against her mouth and arched, sliding against her, pulling Nicole more forcefully down toward her. The scent of her sex, her omega, ocean and honey and lavender and a hint of spicy rosemary, steadily permeated the air, filling Nicole’s nose and driving her alpha to move, to satisfy her omega, to bring them together. Not yet - I have plans.

Rearing back after one last nip, Nicole stared down at Waverly. The omega was flushed, her lips red and plump from kissing, and as Nicole watched her eyes cracked open, their depths hazy and dark. Nicole smirked at the sight, then bent forward, opened her mouth, and engulfed a breast, immediately delighted that she could fit so much of it into her mouth. Waverly cursed. The softness against Nicole’s lips contrasted beautifully with the hard peak of the nipple she trapped between her tongue and the roof of her mouth. She rolled it there, clamping down on Waverly’s breast with her teeth and lips as the girl bucked and gasped under her. Waverly’s calves slid up Nicole’s legs, one of them hooking around her waist, and Nicole pressed herself down to give Waverly more friction.

Looking up, Nicole saw that Waverly’s head had lolled back, exposing the line of her neck. Nicole chewed gently into her bite, thinking of how she’d mark that smooth column of muscle, and the answering jolt in Waverly’s body made her purr in satisfied anticipation. Every slide of Waverly’s hips spread moisture across Nicole’s stomach, accompanied by a tickling scrape of her hair. A hand laced itself into Nicole’s hair, holding her close, and Nicole growled. If anything, Waverly rubbed harder against her, and then Waverly's other hand tried to snake between their bodies, heading down, presumably to touch herself.

We can’t have that, Nicole thought.

Nicole pulled away, catching the nipple and then releasing it with a pop. She reared up and pinned Waverly’s forearms above her head, using her muscle to keep the girl there as she squirmed, helpless. Waverly’s eyes were so dark, her pupils blown wide and hair mussed, her breaths coming fast and heavy.

There was a neat imprint of Nicole’s teeth, just divots in the skin, around the entire root of Waverly’s breast. Blowing a stream of air over the still-wet skin, Nicole watched her squirm, rubbing herself against Nicole. Then, holding Waverly’s arms with one hand, she grasped her cock and laid it between their bodies, the underside against the line of Waverly’s slit. She ground herself there, feeling her cock slide against soaked flesh and watching in satisfaction as Waverly writhed and cried out. Waverly felt so smooth and soft, hot and fluid against Nicole, and Nicole let her head fall back as she savored this first, teasing touch. When she pulled away, Nicole could feel the cool air against her cock and knew that Waverly’s wetness was painted across it.

“Your cunt smells so good, feels so hot, so wet.” Nicole groaned as she thrust along Waverly’s slit again, pushing the lips apart as she went and dredging up more wetness. Then she pulled away again, and Waverly whined, trying to make contact with her hips.

Nicole looked back into Waverly’s face and bared her teeth as the girl renewed her struggles, fighting against Nicole’s grip on her arms. If one of Waverly’s calves wasn’t sill wrapped around Nicole’s waist, pulling them together, Nicole would be worried that Waverly was actually trying to escape her. Nonetheless, she decided to check.

“Is this too much?” Nicole asked, and she was immediately reassured when Waverly shook her head.

“More,” Waverly panted. “S’good, more.”

I did this, I made her want this, Nicole thought. And I’m going to do far more before this night is through.

Nicole unleashed her alpha in a pulse of animal energy. The flood of pheromones hit Waverly in a visible wave, sending her chin lifting up and to the side to instinctively bare her neck, her body freezing in abject submission that set Nicole’s blood afire. Nicole was alpha, and Waverly was omega, her omega, yielding to her.

“Be good and keep your hands up here, Waverly.” Nicole squeezed once around Waverly’s wrists to indicate that they should stay. When Nicole removed her hand, Waverly obeyed. Nicole purred approvingly, sliding down to kiss and nip along Waverly’s exposed jaw, savoring the shivers she could feel against her own skin. Again, she sandwiched her cock between her own pelvis and Waverly’s searching thrusts, grasping a breast and teasing the areola and nipple with gentle, coarse fingertips. Her cock was throbbing, demanding her attention as she savored the tingling, teasing strokes, but she put Waverly’s needs first.

“In a little while, after I tease you and pleasure you, when my cock is deep inside you and my knot is about to lock us together, my bite will go right here,” Nicole growled, her voice raspy and deep, and sucked a red mark into the flesh at the pulse point. Waverly whined, grinding herself against Nicole’s cock, pushing against the underside with an undulation that shivered into Nicole’s core.

“Or maybe, I’ll put it here,” Nicole pondered, moving down an inch and sinking her teeth into hot skin, not breaking the surface, just bruising. Waverly’s rapid heartbeat fluttered against her tongue and Nicole growled, chewing the bite, licking the skin caught between her teeth.

Waverly’s cries increased in volume, vibrating against Nicole’s tongue, as her rutting grew fast and jerky, the slippery friction rocketing sparks into Nicole’s core. Nicole released her and moved again, murmuring, “Or right here.” She laid another love bite just above Waverly’s collarbone, and Waverly stiffened and arched under her, moving against Nicole’s cock in little circles and releasing gasping moans from the depths of her lungs. Then, her body convulsed for a long moment, a strangled sound leaving her lips, before she melted and twitched, once, again, again, panting.

Thrilled by Waverly’s sensitivity, Nicole purred, “Did you just come against my cock?”

“Yes, Knight-Commander,” Waverly breathed.

Nicole probed, “Did you like being held down and told what's going to happen, how I'm going to take you and make you mine?”

“Fuck.”

Nicole took that as all the answer she needed. Waverly still breathed heavily, her hips alternately grinding up and dancing away from Nicole’s cock, and Nicole decided it was time to change the pace. She brought up one knee, using her shin to pin Waverly’s thigh wide and down to the bed, taking away the source of friction. At the deprivation, Nicole’s cock twitched, but she knew that it would be worth the tease when she finally took Waverly. Her mouth watered, already, at the thought of what she was about to do. Waverly whined, but she obediently still kept her hands still.

Nicole leaned forward and laced her fingers into Waverly’s hair, snarling filthy promises into her ear. “You smell so good, I need to taste you. I’m going to take you in my mouth. I’m going to suck on your clit and push my tongue inside you, making you ready for my cock.”

Maker,” Waverly groaned. “Fuck, please, Knight-Commander.”

The title was getting to Nicole, spiking her alpha with self-satisfied pride every time Waverly said it, especially when she choked it out in that breathy voice. Nicole loved it.

Nicole kept her leg pinning Waverly open, preventing her from moving as she licked a line along the bites she’d left on Waverly’s neck, down to her collarbone. She scraped her teeth across the skin, sucked in a red mark, and laid another, and another, and another love bite as she traced her way down to the breast she’d neglected. Her alpha side was thrilled with all the marks she was making on her omega, and she rumbled happily in her chest as she dragged her tongue up the slope of Waverly’s breast. Looking up, Nicole saw that Waverly’s hands were still up over her head and smiled at her as she licked the very tip of her nipple.

“You take direction well, Waverly. You’ve been so good.” Waverly’s chin had been tucked down to better see Nicole’s path along her body, but at Nicole’s words it swung up, baring her neck again.

Interesting.

“You like being good for me, don’t you? Such a good little omega, obeying her alpha.”

Waverly’s whole body twitched, her eyelids fluttering, and Nicole took the nipple into her mouth and tapped it with her tongue, pressing the thin skin of Waverly’s aureola with her lips. Waverly’s hands moved restlessly, twining together and grasping the sheets, and she moaned with each flick of Nicole’s tongue.

Nicole’s cock throbbed, hanging in the empty air over Waverly’s body, as Nicole’s delight in Waverly’s responses fed her own arousal. She would need to fuck into Waverly soon, feel her stretched taut and throbbing around her cock, but not yet. Right now, Nicole relished the tease and the temptation, the way arousal poured off Waverly in a miasma of need. This, this was why Nicole had dedicated such time to learning omegas, so that she could make this happen - and with such an omega, it was all absolutely worthwhile.

Nicole finished teasing Waverly’s breast and blew on the sensitive skin, watching it crinkle and tighten, before she continued her slow way down Waverly’s body. The edge of the ribs, the slight dents in the abs, the curve under Waverly’s bellybutton – Nicole marked them all, with bruises and teethmarks and sucked-in lovebites. Waverly quivered, yelps and groans serenading Nicole’s ears with every new mark. When she reached the tender junction between thigh and cunt, Nicole licked a long line up it, wriggling herself down to lie flat between Waverly’s legs, and then indulged herself by diving straight down.

Nicole spread Waverly’s cunt with her thumbs, smelling the fresh honey scent of this needy omega from the source. Looking up and meeting Waverly’s eyes with a smirk, Nicole licked a long, wide line, right up the middle, hearing Waverly gasp- “Oh!” -and feeling how she jumped, spread her thighs wider, and tilted up to Nicole’s mouth. At the apex of her stroke, Nicole stopped, closing her eyes to savor the flavor. Waverly was slick and aromatic, sweet and salty and musky, and exactly what Nicole needed on her tongue, smeared all over her face, on her cock, her thighs, dripping down her legs. She needed to roll in it, cover her omega with her own scent, until they were blended irrevocably together. Soon.

Nicole looked up Waverly’s body again, where the girl was craning down to watch. Nicole smirked at the attention, then slid back down between Waverly’s spread folds, letting her cheeks hold them open as she flicked her tongue out to taste and tantalize. She started with the clit, laying wet lines around, over, up the middle. Pushing the hood back with her lips, Nicole circled the exposed flesh, relishing the little yelps she heard whenever she got the sensation just right. Nicole sucked the clit into her mouth, clasped it with her lips, released it, licked up the center, sucked it in again, and scraped it oh-so-gently with her teeth.

Waverly’s hips started rocking, as if she had just realized she could thrust against Nicole’s face, and Nicole stopped, using her hands to push down against Waverly’s hips. Waverly froze, her body language unsure, and so Nicole pulled her face away to meet Waverly’s eyes.

“I want you to stay perfectly still until I tell you to move.” Nicole pulsed out another wave of pheromones, and Waverly went limp and pliant under her, her thighs spread wide, her irises narrow around enormous pupils.

“Good girl.” At those words, Waverly whined but made no movements, and her pussy pulsed once as Nicole watched. She was being so good for Nicole, and the submission filled a basic, primitive need in Nicole’s alpha that had rarely been fed.

Very good girl, don’t move, but you can make as much noise as you want,” Nicole said, and dove right back to her tasting.

Waverly was even wetter than before, if that was possible. With Nicole’s permission to make noise, the omega’s cries echoed from the faraway ceiling, a chorus of encouragement that drove Nicole faster, harder as her alpha responded. She sucked Waverly’s clit, then held her breath as she slid down and pushed inside with her tongue, relishing the tight, hot, slickness of Waverly’s cunt. It tightened, pulsed around her as she swirled her tongue to stroke the walls.

The thought of plunging her cock inside, deep into that tightness, had Nicole’s cock twitching, leaking against the sheets. The rising ache was nagging at her, begging her to rut against something, anything - but she resisted the urge. Soon, she told herself, be patient.

Dragging her nose and lips up to tease Waverly’s clit again, Nicole caught her breath and then dove down again. With every deep breath, caught in the moments before she dove deeper, Nicole basked in the heavy scent of Waverly’s lust and need, then taunted herself every time she slid inside Waverly. Obediently, Waverly held still, but her entire body trembled with the effort not to buck and strain against Nicole’s face.

“You’re being so good,” Nicole growled into Waverly’s cunt, listening to Waverly’s panting over the slick sounds of her mouth as she lashed Waverly’s clit again. Pulling the firm nub of it into her mouth, she pressed close, pushing her tongue, lips, and nose firmly into Waverly’s cunt, sucking folds and clit inside, then slowly dragged everything from side to side, letting the tension slowly drag it out of her mouth before she grasped it all again.

Waverly yelped, “What? That. Fuck. Fuck!” and Nicole knew she had her. Nicole brought one hand up between Waverly’s legs and slid two fingers inside, curling them to find the sweet spot just behind Waverly’s clit. Then she repeated the side to side motion with her whole mouth, friction and pressure and a pulsing peak of tension with each pull. She moved her tongue down, up, sliding on slick juices as she slowly worried Waverly’s entire pussy with her face and mouth. Then she thrust with her hand once, twice, again, curling on the way out, accelerating, coordinating her mouth with every thrust of her arm.

Waverly screamed and tensed, her cunt clamping down around Nicole’s fingers on the seventh thrust, and with a victorious growl Nicole curled her fingers hard into that swollen center and kept going, hard and fast. Waverly’s body was tensed in an arch, suspended for five whole thrusts, then she curled forward and came, beautifully, wetly, against Nicole’s face, around her fingers, giving Nicole a crescendo of yelps and extended, unformed moans with each tremor. Nicole lapped it up with a groan, still keeping up the thrusts of her hand, feeling fluid drip down her chin.

When Waverly cried out, “Ah! Too much, please!” Nicole released her mouth, leaving her fingers inside as she kissed her way, slowly and languidly, along the side of Waverly’s mound, smearing the slickness on her face, to the inside of Waverly’s thigh. She could feel herself smiling, helplessly, at the accomplishment she felt. Then, with one last lick, she propped herself up to take in Waverly’s face.

She was beautiful, in the firelight, all wild long hair and blissed-out dark eyes, panting and still obedient, keeping her hands above her head. A sheen of ice sparkled around her fingers, cracking and flaking as Nicole watched, and she realized with pride that she’d driven Waverly to spill magic.

“You did so well,” Nicole told her, watching the sincere pleasure light up Waverly’s face, even as it twitched from the aftershocks Nicole felt around her fingers. “You can use your hands, now.” Nicole licked her lips, tasting Waverly there, and left her fingers inside as she crawled up her omega’s body, ready to share the bounty. Waverly hummed with the kiss, her tongue darting out to taste, and Nicole dipped her own tongue into Waverly’s mouth to chase it. Waverly’s hands, frigid with the remnants of her magic, twined into Nicole’s hair.

Suddenly, Nicole was aware of her cock, throbbing and pulsing a wave of need into Nicole’s core, so hard and aching that she could barely stand not to touch it. She knew it had to be soon. But, still, she wanted Waverly to feel everything clearly, not blurred and distorted from a too-recent orgasm. Nicole explored Waverly’s mouth, relishing the nails scratching at her scalp as Waverly’s fingers warmed to body temperature.

“Knight-Commander, that was… incredible.” Waverly murmured when they parted to catch their breaths.

Nicole thrummed with pride as she dipped back in for a soft kiss. “I enjoy making you come, especially when you’re so good for me.”

“Fuck,” Waverly groaned, and her pussy pulsed around Nicole’s fingers.

Nicole chuckled. “And I’m not done making you come tonight.”

Nicole twisted her fingers inside Waverly’s cunt as the omega hummed and moaned for her, making little thrusts back against her hand. Nicole knew she was ready. She caught Waverly’s tongue and sucked the tip, then pulled back, kneeling between Waverly’s spread thighs. She withdrew her fingers, observing how Waverly’s cunt had coated them to the wrist, how they felt sliding out, how Waverly’s opening pouted open, and how Waverly groaned at the loss.

Nicole rubbed her fingers together, feeling the slickness, before stroking all that wetness onto her cock, feeling the relief and need crash into her at once, filling her with renewed anticipatory purpose, as she fought the urge to thrust into her own palm. Out of the corner of her eyes, Nicole saw Waverly watching, spellbound, and raised her head. Waverly, too, looked up and met Nicole’s gaze. None of the fear from earlier was there, just eager desire and anticipation warring with the pleasure still apparent on her face.

She’s ready, and fuck, so am I.

Nicole’s voice was heavy, raw with her alpha’s growl when she said, “Get on all fours for me, Waverly.”

Waverly scrambled over with alacrity, looking back over her shoulder to see what Nicole would do. Giving herself another slick pump, Nicole ran her free hand over the smooth curves of Waverly’s ass and hips, up to the back of her shoulders, then dragged her nails down, down, down to that ass again. Waverly threw her head back and her whole spine followed, curving beautifully, her muscles standing out under the skin. Nicole settled herself forward until her thighs brushed Waverly’s ass and her cock rested on the back of one ass cheek, throbbing. Waverly put her head down, shivered, and waited.

This pose did things to Nicole - there was something about it that was primal and right and perfect for mating, perfect for what she had planned. She knew from her instructions and her reading that the mating would take hold more easily if she took the omega, took Waverly, fast and hard and deep, and that it would be nothing like the seduction she’d just performed. Nicole knew she had to do this right.

“Good omega,” Nicole purred, running her hand over Waverly’s flank and smiling at Waverly’s whine. Nicole’s alpha pheromones saturated the air, so potent she could almost taste them, and for Waverly they must have been overwhelming. And yet Waverly’s omega rose, matched her, flooded her nose with honeyed want that had Nicole almost panting to just thrust inside, to take Waverly hard and fast, to knot her and bite her and come inside - but first, she had to make sure they were of the same mind.

“You can move as much as you want, Waverly. I want you to fuck yourself onto my cock. I want you to open yourself for my knot and take my bite. I want you to give yourself to me.”

Waverly’s trembling grew, her lower back curving just that little bit more, her ass pushing into Nicole’s stomach, and she moaned, “Fuck. Knight-Commander, alpha, I’m yours.”

Fuck, that’s amazing. Nicole felt herself throb with the thrill of her incipient victory.

Leaning back, Nicole spread Waverly’s cunt with her hands, admiring the slick mess she’d made with her face, and positioned her cock right at Waverly’s cunt. The hot, wet contact on just the head of her cock made Nicole’s stomach clench with the need to thrust, but she wanted to do one more thing first, one more thing to give Waverly a part to play.

Nicole placed a hand just above the swell of Waverly’s ass, providing a reassuring weight. “Waverly, push yourself back onto my cock,” Nicole ordered, and without hesitation her omega began to impale herself.

It was awe-inspiring, watching Waverly’s ass moving back, feeling her cock pushing against soft, hot resistance. Then, as the head popped inside, Nicole slid inside so, so slowly, gradually engulfed in a hot, tight, silky grip. Nicole rubbed Waverly’s back with her thumb, encouraging without pushing. Now and again the progress would stop as Waverly clamped down and shivered, then it resumed. Waverly moaned with each panting breath, short, guttural sounds escalating with each stop, each resumption, each torturous inch that slid inside.

Nicole gritted her teeth against the urge to thrust, quivering with self-restraint, letting Waverly set the pace. Then, with one last, decisive push, Waverly hilted herself on Nicole’s cock, her ass pushing against Nicole’s thighs. Waverly whimpered as she ground herself in little circles against the root of Nicole’s cock. Nicole was so full and ready for her omega, held so tightly, as zinging channels of sensation coursed up her cock and into her groin, tightening there, building. She had to move.

“This won’t be slow,” Nicole growled. “Brace yourself.”

Nicole grabbed Waverly’s hips, fingertips dimpling the skin, and withdrew. Her cock dragged slickly out, tasted the cool air, and then she streamed back inside, bottoming out, the heat almost overwhelming. It was the best thing Nicole had ever felt, shocking the breath out of her with the intensity of sensation. Waverly screamed for her, and Nicole did it again, and again, working up to a pumping rhythm that soon had Waverly slamming herself back at each of Nicole’s thrusts, bouncing her ass off of Nicole’s hips.

Grunts and sharp moans broke out of Waverly’s throat with each impact, mixing with Nicole’s growls and muttered curses. Nicole let her alpha loose once more to fill the air with everything she was. Her omega felt so good, her cunt so tight and slick and wet, and each time she bottomed out the tip of her cock shocked her with a burst of pleasure that pulsed down to her toes. Sweat began to leak from her pores, mingling with fluid spreading, smearing, against her thighs and stomach, scenting ever-so-strongly of alpha, and omega, and sex.

It seemed only minutes before Waverly was coming again, losing rhythm and listing slightly to one side, her cunt clamping down around Nicole’s cock in a tight, glorious grip as she released a choking cry on each thrust. Nicole roared at the burst of sensational friction and curled herself forward over Waverly’s back, slamming herself inside again and again through Waverly’s orgasm. She pushed her omega’s shoulders to the mattress and, digging her fingers into Waverly’s shoulder and hip as leverage, pulled her back onto her cock with every brutal thrust.

Nicole knew she wouldn’t last much longer, not after this day of tease and denial. Her legs and feet tingled, her body readying itself for a spectacular orgasm. Somehow, a connection was already forming with their mutual pleasure, brightening with each thrust and twist, and she knew instinctively that Waverly would only need her knot to shatter completely.

At that thought, Nicole felt her knot swelling at the base of her cock, inspiring an aching, sparking need to be held tight and hot and wet, deep inside, locked inside. She snarled with the compression as she pushed the growing bulb in, dragged it out, and each time Waverly’s opening grew a little tighter. Then, suddenly, she was stuck outside. Waverly, needing the stretch as much as Nicole needed to get that knot inside, whined and pushed herself back to grind against it. Nicole growled and fucked Waverly with everything she had, ramming into her but stopped short by her knot.

Nicole’s alpha knew what to do, and her instincts snapped everything into sharp focus, filling her mouth with saliva and her mind with need. Snarling, she dragged Waverly’s head to the side by a firm grip on her hair, right at the scalp. She found the side of Waverly’s neck, mouthing the mottled bruises along the pulse point. The scrape of teeth drove Waverly to push back against Nicole’s cock even harder, stretching herself on the knot, but it wasn’t enough, not yet.

Nicole felt a swell of victorious satisfaction at Waverly’s submission, the raw need of her omega, and growled, grinding out, “Mine !” Then, finally, she bit down through the skin of Waverly’s neck, tasting the tang of hot blood and sweat on her tongue, feeling something profound and right and true snap into place, the place it would always be. And then, with a last, firm push, Waverly’s cunt opened for her knot and she was inside.

Nicole chewed into the bite, ripping it, and screamed against the skin as the pounding pressure in her body erupted, a supernova of white-hot pleasure exploding in her core to rush out as a galaxy of exultant bliss, streaming through her cock and into her mate. She could sense Waverly shattering with her, heard and almost felt her omega release a guttural scream as she clamped down and convulsed, tensing muscles trying to curl her forward. Fighting the firm grip of Waverly’s cunt on her knot, Nicole rutted inside, dragging her knot back and forth as far as she could and emptying herself in a vicious, almighty torrent inside her omega. Each pulsating clench made her vision blur, spots dancing in her mind, colors melting into glorious bliss.

When she came back to herself, Nicole found herself holding them both up, her teeth locked on the bite and blood and saliva streaming down Waverly’s neck. Waverly was limp, sated, humming with overwhelmed pleasure. Nicole hastened to release her teeth, feeling Waverly’s shiver, and then guided Waverly down to collapse in a boneless slump. Nicole followed to keep from pulling at the tie.

The movement sparked a white-hot pulse from her core, and she ground forward against Waverly’s ass, pushing her into the mattress, feeling Waverly’s sympathetic orgasm shiver and grasp around her knot. Nicole dropped her forehead to Waverly’s shoulder and moaned at the sensation, heard Waverly grunt.

After the sensation receded, Nicole rolled them both on their sides until she was spooned behind her omega, still joined. Nicole’s sweat-slick skin glided across Waverly’s back, sticking them together in a warm, damp meld.

Nicole pulled Waverly’s hair back, kissing the back of her neck, then licked the fresh mating mark, dragging her tongue against the torn flesh to clean away the blood. The clench of Waverly’s next orgasm, accompanied by a moan, squeezed Nicole’s knot, making Nicole release again with a hoarse exhalation and a fresh spurt deep, so deep inside.

Nicole kissed the bite, stroking down Waverly’s side. When she came to the swell of Waverly’s stomach, where Nicole imagined she might feel her cock inside if she just pressed down, Waverly came again with a shiver and a moan and Nicole’s cock pulsed again.

“Waverly,” Nicole hummed after it faded, nuzzling up behind Waverly’s jaw, letting her fingers dip down to slide over Waverly’s clit with light, slippery caresses, humping just a little so that her knot rocked in Waverly’s tight grip. The movement fed growing warmth into Nicole’s core. “Fuck, you feel so good.”

Waverly came again, harder than the previous time, curling forward with a small cry, and Nicole threw her head back at the sensation as she came again. She came down slowly, feeling boneless, her fingers picking up their teasing again.

“You feel so good around my cock, you took me so well, you came so beautifully for me. You’re mine, Waverly.”

This time Nicole’s pulse came first, and it felt like Waverly’s orgasm followed, squeezing the come out of her. Nicole growled in pleasure and slid her hand away from Waverly’s clit, dragging it up and playing gently with a nipple.

“Waverly,” Nicole said, after a few blissful minutes. “Are you well?”

“Mm.” Waverly’s voice was hoarse, slurred with pleasure. “Yes. Are you well, Knight-Commander?”

Nicole came again with a laugh at the title, and as Waverly’s sympathetic orgasm squeezed her through it she groaned out her reply. “Yes.”

They lay together in silence for few minutes, warm and tingling.

“Is it always like this?” Waverly asked. “The orgasms, chained together like this?”

“Sometimes,” Nicole said. “Especially when there’s a lot of foreplay.” Then, she realized what that question implied. “Have you not been knotted before?”

The thought made her twitch, thrusting once with another pulse, and she buried her face in Waverly’s neck.

After her own echoed climax had faded, Waverly replied, “No, I didn’t want to get pregnant, so I asked a beta to help with my heats.”

Nicole pondered that answer, confused. “But you wouldn’t have a knot to sate you, and you still might get pregnant?”

Waverly chuckled, and then they both groaned as the movement sparked another ricocheting orgasm. After a minute of rest, Waverly said, “She had nice, firm fists.”

“Oh. Ohhh. Huh. That works?” Nicole was slightly jealous of this beta, who had put her fists inside Waverly. But, as she was still knot-deep, with her mating bite fresh and still bleeding, it didn’t have much pull right now.

“Mm, good enough to keep me sane and not pregnant.” Waverly tried to look over her shoulder at Nicole and stopped, wincing and feeling for the bite. “Ow.”

“I have a salve for it, no don’t heal it!” Nicole stopped Waverly’s blue, glowing hand from touching the bite, cupping over it protectively with her own callused palm. “If it’s healed by direct magic, it might not take.”

“It took, I can feel it, feel you, inside me in all sorts of ways,” Waverly purred. “But if you’re worried, then we could always do it again, Knight-Commander.”

The heat in Waverly’s voice, the fact that she’d just implied she might be interested in another round of torrid fucking, made Nicole come again and she felt Waverly clench. “Fuck. I’ll keep that in mind.” Then Nicole felt her knot shifting, loosening.

“Well, the only other part of knotting you don’t know about yet is-" With a groan from both of them, Nicole’s deflated knot slid out - and so did everything else. Nicole sighed. “Yep. The cleanup.”

Nicole let Waverly use the bathroom first, after Nicole had cleaned the bite and dabbed on the salve. The sheets needed to be changed, so Nicole bundled them up, smiling at the mess they’d made, and wiped herself off. She threw another log on the fire, then turned as Waverly reentered.

Waverly looked radiant in the firelight, her skin glowing and hair tousled, eyes still dark with the night’s activities. She bore a string of dark, bruised marks, Nicole’s marks, down from her neck, trailing all the way down her stomach, to her - Nicole’s clit, back to its normal unassuming size, twitched at the memories, and she forced herself to look up into Waverly’s eyes, attempting to keep her composure.

“Would you like to stay the night?” Nicole offered. She hurried on, “I’m not expecting anything of you, just, if you’d like to, you may stay.”

Waverly hesitated, then said, “Yes, if you’ll have me. I need…” Waverly stopped, her brows furrowed in thought, then continued. “I think I’ll need to touch you. If that’s all right?”

Nicole nodded and gestured at the bed. “I think it’s to be expected. I’ll be back in a moment, go ahead and get in if you want. There’s a flagon of water on the table beside the bed and a nightshirt if you’d like.”

Nicole hurried through her ablutions, rinsed off, and patted herself dry, and then walked back into her bedroom. Waverly had tucked herself almost completely under the piled covers, just her eyes exposed as she watched Nicole walking toward the bed.

“Hello, Nicole,” she said, shyly, using Nicole’s name for the first time. It sounded sweet, and Nicole wanted to purr with the unexpected intimacy.

“Hello, Waverly,” Nicole replied, sliding between the sheets. “Are you well?”

Waverly slithered closer and turned, her bare back to Nicole in clear invitation. Nicole piled Waverly’s hair up on the pillow, out of the way. Then she slid one arm under the pillow supporting Waverly’s head, wrapped the other arm around Waverly’s ribs, tucking her hand underneath, and curled the rest of her body up behind her omega, against hot, smooth skin everywhere she could reasonably touch.

Nicole buried her face in the back of Waverly’s neck and inhaled, smelled how her own scent had twined into the omega’s, forever. Mine. The fragrance of the salve on the bite was sharp, herbal, and reassuring, because it meant that Waverly wasn’t feeling any pain.

“Now I am well.” Waverly’s voice was sated, comfortable.

Nicole couldn’t resist the question. She was somewhat confused that it had gone so well, that Waverly had accepted her so readily. She didn’t move away, not wanting to waste a second of contact, but she had to ask, “Why are you so… not angry, with me, about this?”

Waverly leaned back more firmly into Nicole and sighed. “I am angry, but not with you. I’m not happy to be here. I didn’t choose it and I’ve lost my freedom. I’ve lost my family, again. I’ve been scared and sad since I got here. But you didn’t do that. The mage-hunters did, and the Chantry did, and the Templar Order as a whole did, and that one jerk of a templar, Hardy, did too. Once I got to you, though… You’ve been nothing but kind.”

Waverly tucked her own arm around Nicole’s, pushing it further into her ribs. “I know you can’t just let me go. You would lose your command, your ability to protect people. And…”

Waverly hesitated, clearly thinking before she continued. “You’ve sacrificed the chance to have your own family, your own mate, to save omegas like me from being made Tranquil. To give me a chance of living, even if it’s in captivity. I think if it were anyone else I’d hate them and try to kill them. I’m not angry with you, because you are good, Nicole. I can see it in everything you do. And you are-”

Waverly hummed, her voice amused. “You are handsome, and strong, and you smell amazing, my omega side wants you so badly, and I still can’t feel my toes.”

Nicole huffed out a laugh, amazed at how strong this woman was, to be so generous to her captor. She kissed the back of Waverly’s neck, enjoying the little shiver it induced.

“You are so strong, Waverly. I admire your fortitude, and intelligence, and wisdom. If you would like, you can send a letter to your family tomorrow, I’m sorry I didn’t think to offer before.”

Then, letting her own humor leak into her tone, Nicole said, “And thank you in advance for not killing me tonight while I sleep, because I can’t feel my toes either and I want to see how long it takes for them to come back.”

Waverly snickered and then yawned.

“Go to sleep, Waverly. You’re safe with me,” Nicole said, letting her alpha drift into her voice, full of satiation and protective strength. Thank you for seeing me, she wanted to say, but kept it to herself as she drifted off to sleep.

 


 

 

Nicole woke up. From the lack of moonlight through her windows, she guessed that it was a few hours after they’d dozed off. Waverly was curled into her side, a leg thrown over Nicole’s thigh and an arm over her waist. The sweet scent of her hair tickled Nicole’s nose. It had been a lifetime since Nicole had slept, just slept, with anyone. She had been a child, perhaps.

In the Haught manor, Nicole had occasionally crept into bed with her mother and siblings, and in Castle Cousland at age ten she had fallen asleep, exhausted from various adventures, on Elissa’s bed once or twice. But she had been alone ever since, first with the Chantry and then with the Templar Order. All of her sexual dalliances since reaching her majority had been temporary and fleeting, and never ended this way. This was… much more intimate than she had realized when she made the offer.

Waverly’s breath puffed over Nicole’s collarbone, tickling with every exhale. Nicole looked up the ceiling, belatedly realizing that she had thought about home for the first time in years, this night.

Why now?

The answer, of course, was right beside her, purring gently in her sleep. Nicole couldn’t help a small smile, ignoring the internal voice that tried to warn her about attachments and duty, and she kissed the top of Waverly’s head before she let her eyes close once more.

Chapter Text

At five bells, Nicole’s eyes fluttered open. The sky was still dark, cold seeping in through the windows, and the stone ceiling was lost in shadows far above her. Muzzily, Nicole thought to get up - then she remembered that she had today off for a special reason. A very special, very warm reason, that even now was snuggled against her side.

My one morning of leisure, and I still wake before dawn. Guess I’ll be punished for responsibility for the rest of my life.

Nicole took a deep breath and turned her head, considering just nestling back to sleep, and met Waverly’s sleepy eyes. Waverly’s hair was a tousled mass on the pillow behind her, and her lips curled at the corners when she saw Nicole looking at her.

“Did I wake you?” Waverly said, her voice soft and thick with sleep.

Nicole managed a negative grunt, mustering the energy to say, “I always wake up now.”

But, now that Nicole was more awake, the call of her bladder was too strong to ignore. “I’ll be right back,” she said, and turned to wriggle out from under the mountain of bedding - Are there more blankets than there were last night? - to the edge of the bed. Everything ached in the most pleasant way, and she stifled a groan when she remembered just why she was so sore.

Nicole’s normal routine was to prepare herself at the edge of the bed for a moment, gathering her fortitude, and then prance across the cold floor to the bathroom. This time, aware of her audience, Nicole forced herself to put her feet down calmly and sedately on the stone floor - Nope, nevermind, nooooope, that’s way too cold - she withdrew her feet. Then, setting her pride aside, Nicole held her breath and dashed to the fireplace, throwing three logs in on top of the coals, and then leapt across the floor to the bathroom, closing the door.

She could hear Waverly’s soft snickers through the door and turned her nose up, resting her toes on the mat she had placed on the bathroom floor, as she fastidiously avoided touching anything with her bare skin. Finished, with a sigh of relief, she opened the door to a much warmer bedroom and a bed with a prominent lump in the middle, covered in every blanket that had been nearby when they went to sleep. The fire flickered merrily, crackling as bark and sap caught flame.

Nicole managed to get back to bed without losing a toe to frostbite, and she pulled back the covers to find Waverly's amused expression, her eyes crinkled with glee. Nicole huffed and clambered inside the warm nest.

“You’re so dignified,” Waverly teased.

Nicole drew herself up in mock-serious dignity, letting her alpha exude confident authority. “I am always dignified. Even when I’m not.”

Then, childishly, Nicole put her cold feet on Waverly’s bare legs. With a yelp, the omega tried to get away, and Nicole laughed as she gave chase.

“Who’s dignified now?” she taunted, pinning Waverly to the bed on her back, holding her shoulders to the mattress.

Waverly’s eyes were wide, their hue dark in the firelit room. Nicole’s mind flashed to the previous night, a memory of holding Waverly down as she writhed and came. A visceral twist of arousal ran down her spine to her core, waking her body all at once.

Then, abruptly, Nicole felt a flash of alarm that wasn’t hers. She reared back, removing her hands, and putting distance between them. Turning her back on the omega to show she wouldn't do it again, she berated herself for being an idiot.

Nicole’s alpha was hurt, feeling that Waverly was hers and need never be afraid of her. But the rational truth was what she told herself: She doesn't trust me .

“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have done that,” she said, and prepared to get out of bed again. It was time for her to get ready for the day anyway, she could get some paperwork done before breakfast.

A warm hand rested against her spine. “Wait,” Waverly said, and Nicole did as requested, her body tense.

In a soft voice, Waverly said, “It’s all right. I’m adjusting, slowly, to this... connection. I felt something from you and didn’t know how to handle it. I’m not afraid of you .”

Nicole let her shoulders relax, even though her alpha side was still whining and castigating herself for hurting her omega. She hadn’t thought the one-sided nature of the binding would make her so reactive, but it was sensitive like a fresh wound. Perhaps it was just because it was so new. She couldn’t imagine what it was like for Waverly, who had the full brunt of the binding.

“It’s new to me, also,” Nicole managed. She tilted her head up to look at the ceiling. “We should spend the morning discussing how to navigate this bond, in the context of the Tower.”

“Later, after breakfast,” Waverly said, and Nicole turned to look at her. The blankets were tucked up to Waverly's chest, only her shoulders and face uncovered. She didn’t look upset, just thoughtful.

Waverly scooted closer and tugged at Nicole’s arm. Nicole let herself be pulled down to lie on her back, shuffling partly under the covers. Waverly’s hand drifted down, to the side, and traced a line across Nicole’s side, right under her ribs. Goosebumps prickled over Nicole's exposed skin at the light touch.

“How did you get this scar?” Waverly asked, running her fingers over a space between Nicole's ribs and hip.

Surprised by the question, Nicole tried to think of what to say. She knew the one, of course. It was five inches wide and puckered, ridged with poorly-healed tissue. Every time she bathed, she was careful with these scars, as they had been delicate for a long time after they healed.

“I don’t remember, exactly. It was at the Battle of Denerim, but I…” she paused, thinking carefully.

Waverly didn’t move from her place a foot away, the blankets tucked over her chest, her hand resting lightly on the scar. Raising her own hand, Nicole fingered a much paler, flatter scar that sliced through the top of her breast at a diagonal cant. It was four inches long and wide, with undulating edges.

Nicole took a deep breath, “I only remember getting this one, the last one, because a hurlock ran me through.”

“It ran you through?! ” Waverly’s voice was horrified.

“Yes, with a spear.” Nicole remembered clutching at the blood-soaked wood protruding from her chest, seeing the steel spearhead at the end, not understanding what had happened, groping for a breath that would not come, watching the world tilt around her… she sucked in a breath and reminded herself that she could breathe, that it was long ago, and stopped the memory before it could suck her in.

To get out from under the weight of memory, Nicole said, “Gus told me I almost died.” Actually, Gus had yelled at her for dying , but Nicole couldn’t accept that. Soldiers survived horrific injuries under the hands of skilled healers all the time. Gus had just been exaggerating to make her anger and upset clear.

“The other mages in our unit told me later that Gus was so drained from the battle that she almost killed herself trying to keep me alive. That’s why the other scars are so much messier. She fixed this one, then they dragged her away so she wouldn’t drain herself for me. All of the others had to heal with stitches, poultices, and time.”

Nicole swallowed, trying not to let the memories of that slow recovery drag her back to Denerim’s makeshift infirmaries. She had had enough of the cries of dying soldiers for a lifetime. Still, once Gus had recovered and started checking in on Nicole, Nicole had always let Gus check for infection and then had sent the healer off to someone in more need of healing. Nicole had healed slowly, but well, until she could make the ride back to the Circle Tower.

“All of the others? You mean, your scars, they’re from Denerim? All of them?”

“Um.” Nicole considered. Surely she didn’t have that many scars. But, now that she thought of it, she had many more than most who hadn’t seen war from the front lines. “Some of the ones on my arms and hands are from sword practice, and there’s one on my calf from running through the castle as a child and getting caught on a rusty nail. There are a few more like that. But the really bad ones are all from Denerim.”

“Why are there so many from just one battle? I’ve treated warriors’ wounds before, you know. None of them had so many taken at once.”

Nicole didn’t like discussing Denerim in detail. If she spent too long thinking about that time, she started to feel like she was there, could smell the blood and rot, hear the clash of weapons and cries of battle and despair, so she generally avoided it. But Waverly had swallowed her own discomfort to have a conversation, and Nicole owed her no less courtesy.

Nicole said, “I don’t know. There was an explosion, several of us were flung off of the wall. The horde was on us, inside the gates, and I heard my soldiers screaming. After that, well. It's all hazy and disjointed, the memories I do have don’t make any sense, and then I… woke up? It felt like that, like I woke up for a moment, covered in blood, trying to breathe through this spike in my chest - then, there’s nothing else.”

Needing something to do with her hands, Nicole cleared her throat and plucked at the covers.

The mages and templars under her command, those that survived, had tried to talk to Nicole about what had happened. Nicole had refused to hear any talk of the wall, unknowing and afraid of what she would find out. Nedley had told them to stop, and eventually even Gus had let it be. But sometimes, one of them would pass her in the halls and nod, greet her with this strange look in their eyes, and she would somehow know that they were remembering her, that day in Denerim. It wasn’t a good look, and it scared her deep inside.

“You’re-” Waverly didn’t complete the thought, changing the subject. “Can I look at it? Magically, um. To see how it was healed, I mean.”

Nicole nodded. Once Nicole got back to the Circle Tower, away from other needful souls, Gus had poked and prodded Nicole every day for two months, pouring healing energy in whenever something slipped in the barely-healed scars. This particular wound still ached, the ribs and shoulder growing sore with every change in the weather, but it was intact, the bone, muscle, and skin healthy and robust.

Waverly’s hand thrummed with blue radiance as she lowered it to Nicole’s skin. The touch prickled and danced along Nicole’s scar, burrowing into her ribs and through in a searching pattern that made her chest feel warm. Nicole sighed and relaxed. Healing had always felt good, and after she became a full templar it made the lyrium in her blood hum.

“Oh,” Waverly said, the glow pulsing from her hand as she looked thoughtfully at Nicole’s scar, probing the edges of it with her fingertips. “How did she save your ribs? They… it’s the wrong word, but they remember what happened. And you’re so resistant to magic, it’s a wonder she was able to put you back together at all.”

“All I know is that it was a masterwork. She studied under Wynne, you know.” Nicole felt strangely calmed by Waverly’s curiosity and the healing warmth still soothing her aches. She sighed peacefully.

“I know of Wynne,” Waverly said, and the magical warmth faded as she pulled her hand away. “Everyone has heard about the Hero’s companions. Wynne is a spirit healer, right?”

“Yes,” Nicole said. “The senior enchanters wanted her to become First Enchanter before the Blight, but she went to fight darkspawn instead. Thank Andraste she did - I think that group needed all the healing they could get.”

“You knew the Hero, right? You said you went to Highever Castle, before the Blight?” There was something more than idle curiosity in Waverly’s words, and Nicole smiled wryly. Most Fereldans had more than a passing interest in the Hero.

“For only a couple of years, long ago. We were, hmm. Ten, I think, when I left. She was hard to keep up with, and very bold. I liked her, wanted to be like her. We even got into some trouble together. But then, I presented as an alpha and was sent to the Chantry, so we lost touch.”

Nicole had wondered, during her years of training and then the years after the Blight, if Elissa ever thought about their budding friendship, about the trusted confidante who went on to become a templar.

“And you didn’t know she was an apostate mage?” Waverly’s perceptive question froze Nicole’s breath in her lungs for a second, until she forced herself past the surprise to respond.

“No,” Nicole lied, hoping that long practice with this subject would conceal her untruth. After the Blight, after Elissa Cousland was revealed as an apostate, the Order had realized Nicole had spent time in Highever. Nicole had been questioned about the Hero’s magic by a trio of senior templars from Denerim. By then, she’d almost convinced herself she hadn’t known anything at all, and she had convinced them of the same. “I would have been forsworn in my oath to the Templar Order if I had shielded an apostate from the Chantry’s laws.”

“Ah,” Waverly said. Nicole couldn’t tell if Waverly believed her or not, but she couldn’t ask without giving up the truth. “It’s a good thing you didn’t know, or we might not have a country anymore.”

Nicole swallowed, giving the most non-committal answer she could imagine. “It is as the Maker wills it.”

Waverly gave her a sardonic look. “I suppose, although it’s strange that the Maker would mandate imprisoning mages and then turn a blind eye to an apostate, even if that apostate was destined to become a Grey Warden and end the Blight. So, why were you sent to the Chantry after that?”

Relief washed over Nicole at the change of subject. “Because nobles live in patriarchal bullshit land.”

Waverly let loose a bark of laughter. “What?!”

Nicole nodded. “I mean it! I was the fourth child and third daughter of a noble house. I was never going to rule our lands, and then I presented as an alpha. After that, I was considered unfit to even be married off to a Bann’s or Arl’s heir for a political alliance, because I might not be the obedient little female noble they would want.”

Nicole snorted. “Not that I minded being passed over for that duty. I was given to the Chantry as a last resort, so that I wouldn’t be eligible to challenge my brother for Winter’s Breath. From there, my options were to become a speaker of the chant or a defender of the faith. You can see which I chose.”

“Protector,” Waverly said.

Nicole nodded. Some of her fellow templar recruits had become fanatics, some were hardened into battle-hungry warriors, and many more ended up as simple soldiers. But Nicole had sworn she would protect above all else. Even when she doubted herself, even when she made decisions she disliked, she found strength in the ideal of protecting her people.

“Yes.” Nicole turned her head, resting her cheek on the pillow. “How about yourself? How did you end up as an apostate?”

It was Waverly’s turn to freeze, and Nicole caught an edge of panic and sorrow from the bond that quickly shut off, as if a door had slammed. Nicole cursed herself.  She’s been through so much, coming here, and I just reminded her of everything that happened.

Nicole scrambled for words, “It’s all right, you don’t have to answer me. I won’t make you say anything you don’t freely offer.”

To her surprise, Waverly spoke. “My middle sister kept my magic a secret after it started. I was eight. She got me a teacher, and I learned how to use a little magic and protect myself in the Fade. But a few years ago , my oldest sister found out. She told our father, and he-” she stopped. “I had to run, and my middle sister came with me.” Waverly’s voice cracked and Nicole realized she was crying.

Waverly continued after a moment. “She said, ‘I’ll have a lot more fun on the run with you than I ever would on my own.’ And now, she’s on her own again, and it’s all my fault, and I’m never going to see her again.” Her voice was thick, choked with sorrow. “S-She was on a trip and probably doesn’t even know yet, that I’m, I’m.”

Nicole stayed silent, knowing that this girl’s heart was breaking. She just opened her arms in invitation, and Waverly sobbed once, loud and broken, before she crawled into Nicole’s arms and buried her face in Nicole’s shoulder, beginning to cry in earnest.

Nicole could feel the wetness on her skin as Waverly’s shuddering breaths heaved against her side, and she ached with sadness for this girl. Waverly had been ripped away from her home, restrained, hurt, threatened, imprisoned, and, finally, mated to a strange alpha templar, all at the behest of the institutions Nicole served. If there was anyone else Waverly could cry on, she would have done so. Instead, this whole situation had resulted in Nicole being the only available source of comfort, of stability.

Nicole hated herself, suddenly, for not being able to just let Waverly go that first day and say it had been a terrible mistake. It would have brought questions, yes, and it might have lost her the command of the Tower, but Gus might have supported her for those few crucial minutes. No one would have questioned Nicole if she had declared, “This girl is not a mage, bind her wounds and we will renumerate her for her suffering.” Waverly would have gotten far away before the fallout started, the questions and doubts.

It would have been so easy, had it not been against the ideals that had been drilled into Nicole for eighteen years of service. “Magic exists to serve man, and never to rule over him.” “Many are the ways in which maleficar can warp your mind.” “Mages are not suited for a life of freedom. They must be protected, shepherded, so that the trials of their lives do not drive them to accept a demon’s bargain.” “Remain vigilant, for even the most docile mage may carry the desire for your destruction.” “The people depend upon the Templar Order to protect them from the evils of untamed magic.”

It would have been easy… and it would have been wrong. The self-hatred eased, replaced with unhappy acceptance. Nicole's guardianship of Elissa's secrets must have been guided by the Maker and was an aberration. This, mages contained in a Circle, protected by templars from themselves and others, and enabled to make themselves useful to society by learning crafts of healing and war, this was the way things had to be.

Nicole swore to herself, then, that she would endeavor to help this mage, her mage, have as fulfilling of a life inside the Circle as possible. Waverly’s freedom was gone, her independence shackled, but she would be provided every chance to excel and become the person she wished to become.

Nicole would go to Gus and ask her to take Waverly as her apprentice as soon as possible - Gus would treat her well and teach her better than anyone. And Gus needed a new apprentice, as hers had passed his Harrowing a few months previously. As she considered all this, Nicole stroked Waverly’s hair, carding her fingers lightly through its length as she smoothed it down, holding the crying girl and being present while Waverly mourned the life she had lost.

Many minutes later, Waverly’s tears had tapered to isolated sniffles, her breath brushing Nicole’s skin where she was resting, limp, half on top of Nicole. It had been years since Nicole had felt the bone-deep weariness of a long cry, but she knew that Waverly would be drained and hollow-feeling for a good while yet. Nicole shuffled the blankets up to Waverly’s chin and relaxed her body, planning to let them both drift off to sleep for a while.

Waverly’s voice crawled out of the covers, hoarse and thick with her tears, “Why are you being so kind?”

Nicole kissed the top of her head. “You deserve kindness.”

They said nothing more as the pre-dawn stillness lulled them both back to sleep.

 


 

The seventh bell woke Nicole from her doze. She blinked open her eyes and saw the sun streaming through her windows at a low angle. The room was warm, though the logs Nicole had added hours ago had burned down to glowing embers.

From her place on Nicole’s shoulder, Waverly took in a deep breath, shifted, and opened one sleepy eye, the green in her iris bright in the sunlit room. Her eye widened upon seeing Nicole looking down at her, then she seemed to calm. Despite her face looking a little puffy and her sclera still red, she betrayed no emotional distress in her body language where she clung to Nicole.

“Mm,” Waverly said. “I’m hungry.”

At the words, Nicole’s stomach gave an urgent grumble. Waverly snorted and Nicole huffed a laugh.

Nicole said, “They should be bringing breakfast up to my office around now. If you’re amenable, I can bring it in here, or we can eat there. We have things to discuss.”

Waverly nodded. “In here is good.” Unsticking her skin from Nicole’s, she rolled away, revealing a flash of her torso, love bites livid across pale golden skin.

Nicole hastily turned her head away, fighting another flash of erotic memory. She knew the time had passed for such things, but that didn’t mean her body and alpha instincts agreed. As they clamored for her attention, she stood and strode to the clothing she had hastily piled on a chair the previous night. Waverly disappeared into the bathroom.

After she had shrugged on her tunic and breeches, forgoing underclothes at the moment, Nicole exited the bedroom and went to her office. Calamity was gone, no doubt off begging the kitchen staff for “scraps” of the best sausage and bacon they could sneak to her. The customary platter was there, with plates and a steaming teapot besides. There were a few pastries as well, some glazed lightly with honey and others leaking a brown, fragrant filling. Nicole smiled.

Thank you, Gus. Nicole knew the First Enchanter would have arranged for the rare treat, as chocolate was a balm to the nerves as well as a delicacy.

Nicole carried the tray back, noting that Waverly was still in the bathroom, then fetched the teapot, walking carefully to not spill the hot liquid all over her bare feet. Once at the table, she set the plates and cups before two chairs and fetched one last thing from the safe set into her wall - a small, stoppered vial, globular with a short stem, filled with dark green liquid.

Waverly came out while she was closing the safe, and Nicole smiled at her. The mage was wearing her robes from the previous night, her belt back in its place at her waist. A slight collar hid anything below her adam’s apple, so the only mark visible on her neck was the bite - the salve had removed any bruising and left the bite as a pink, healthy-looking circle of teethmarks. Nicole felt a swell of pride at the sight - her bite had taken well, and Waverly’s omega, at least, had accepted it as her own. It would fade to silver as time went on, but it would never disappear entirely.

“That smells amazing,” Waverly said, drifting toward the food.

Nicole walked over to join her. “It does, doesn’t it. Here.” Nicole pulled out Waverly’s chair, pushing it in behind her as she sat. Then Nicole went around to her own place opposite and took her own seat.

They fell on the feast like starved animals, and Nicole didn’t feel the urge to slow down until she was almost full and taking a sip of tea. She liked it strong, a little astringent, and quenched with a nice dollop of milk, a perfect aromatic start to a day. One of the precious pastries, honey and almond by the looks of it, sat on the edge of her plate, waiting to finish off her hunger.

Nicole heard a loud moan and snapped her eyes up to Waverly, who was staring, awestruck, at the chocolate pastry in her hand. Then Waverly closed her eyes and chewed, her face blissful. For the first time in her life, Nicole found herself envying a pastry. When Waverly swallowed, so did Nicole, but Nicole certainly wasn’t imagining the taste of chocolate .

Looking away before she could be caught staring, Nicole picked up her own reserved treat and bit down, savoring the sweet explosion on her tongue. Nicole took a sip of tea and tried to studiously ignore the happy little sounds Waverly was making, concentrating on savoring the last few minutes before they would have to return to business.

Nicole looked up and froze. Waverly was licking her fingers, her tongue darting out and catching little smears of chocolate to carry them back to her-

Stop it, Nicole told herself firmly, dragging her attention back to her own food.

Nicole’s pastry was just as good on the second bite, the crisp caramelized edges sticking to her teeth, the inside soft and flaky by turns. For such a fierce and terrifying woman, Brigid the kitchen maven really knew how to make sweets. It was really a wonder that Brigid stayed at the Circle Tower, as her talents would have gotten her the command position at any Bann or Arl’s estate that Nicole had ever visited, and she would definitely succeed with a bakery in any small city. Still thinking of Elissa from the night before, Nicole wondered, briefly, if the Cousland’s chef had survived the slaughter - she had been as gifted as Brigid, but Nicole and Elissa had always pillaged the kitchens when she was asleep, as Elissa had warned Nicole of Cook’s temper.

“You can look now,” Waverly said, her voice amused.

Waverly was smirking at her, and Nicole felt her blush creeping up her neck even as she tried to fight it down. Nicole diverted the conversation from her blush. “Did you enjoy the chocolate? I think Gus sent it up special for you.”

Waverly smiled. “That was sweet of her, I haven’t had anything that good in... a long time.”

I could tell by the sounds you made , Nicole thought.

Instead, Nicole said, “I’m glad.”

“So, you said we had things to discuss?” Waverly prompted, sipping her own tea.

With her mind finally, thankfully, focusing on business, Nicole nodded. “Yes, there are a few things you need to know about your position here, and how to navigate the challenges you will face. But first.” Nicole proffered the vial. “This will prevent pregnancy, if taken within a few days of intercourse. I’ll give you one every time you come here.”

One eyebrow crept up Waverly’s forehead, and Nicole choked. “I didn’t mean it that way!”

Waverly’s stern expression broke into an amused smirk. She took the potion, uncorking it and sniffing. “Ah, yes, this one. Safe, harmless, and profoundly effective, unlike some. Contains herbs that are almost impossible to find in Ferelden in winter. Best taken after a meal, effective for three days both before after intercourse, loses potency after one week if not bottled under a mage barrier, and tastes like the arse end of a bogfisher.”

That last bit startled a laugh out of Nicole, who was rather impressed that Waverly had identified the potion by smell alone. Waverly rolled her eyes and pinched her nose, tipping the vial into her mouth. A shudder ran down her body and she quickly grabbed her tea, drinking it down.

“Ugh. Vile stuff,” Waverly said with a grimace.

“That’s why I saved you the other chocolate pastry,” Nicole offered, pointing.

Staring longingly at the golden-crusted confection, Waverly asked, “Are you sure?”

Nicole nodded. “Absolutely.”

The treat was consumed in small bites, savored slowly and thoroughly as Waverly closed her eyes and hummed happily. She refilled her tea, sipping between spates of blissful chewing, and Nicole tried not to sexualize the entire experience. That attempt failed, but Waverly seemed not to pay any mind to Nicole's rapt attention.

After the last bite, Waverly sighed. “Much better, thank you.”

Nicole smiled at Waverly. “You’re welcome. You were familiar with the potion right away, have you seen it before?”

“Mhm. I made it a few times, when trade was brisk enough to bring the herbs my way and I could afford them. I was working as an herbalist, before. Mostly non-magical tinctures and salves, but a few clients knew that I was a mage and asked for more.” Her expression soured. “That’s probably how the mage-hunters found me.”

Deciding to advance the conversation before the subject became difficult, Nicole nodded in acknowledgement. She said, “Now, since that's settled, we need to discuss how to move forward.”

“Mm,” Waverly hummed, sipping her tea.

Nicole said, “I trust the First Enchanter introduced you to your living arrangements?”

They spoke for some time of the details of Waverly’s stay in the Tower. While Waverly was a mere Apprentice, she would be housed on the first floor in the quarters therin. To Nicole’s relief, Waverly seemed unbothered by the minimal accomodations, accepting them as appropriate for her status and indicating that it was an incentive to excel and pursue her Harrowing as soon as was reasonable. Additionally, Waverly was pleased to learn that she could write a letter to her family that very day, but she was dismayed when Nicole described the limitations of such correspondence.

Nicole explained her reasoning. “I have reason to believe that someone opposed to the Divine’s policy on omega mages is reading mail sent from the Circle Tower. All templars and mages are forbidden from revealing some Templar Order business in correspondence, and the former treatment of alphas and omegas, as well as the reforms, are firmly in that category. Additionally, I would like to keep the secret of your arrival and omega status, especially news of the binding, from others for as long as possible. The greater the time from your arrival to the inevitable challenge, the better.”

Waverly nodded, but her expression was less than happy when she said, “So, what am I not allowed to write?”

Nicole listed the restrictions. “Nothing about alphas and omegas, the binding, tranquility, specifics of the Tower’s defenses or schedules, or identifying details about individual templars or mages, including the First Enchanter and myself.”

Cocking her head, Waverly thought about it and nodded. “I can do that.”

Nicole braced herself. “And I will have to read it.”

A flare of unfamiliar anger in Nicole’s chest and a waft of heated rosemary indicated Waverly’s opinion of that stipulation. It disappeared, but Waverly’s tone was harsh as she said, “Why?”

Nicole shrugged one shoulder, her hands out. “Every letter leaving the tower is read by me or the Knight-Captain to maintain secrecy. Some complex codes might make it through, but we can catch the simple ones or a forgetful inclusion of taboo information. We then seal it with the Tower’s stamp and send it on its way. If you would rather it be read by my Knight-Captain, I can arrange it.”

Waverly said, “ Every letter? Not just mine?”

“Yes,” Nicole said.

Waverly sighed. “All right.”

After a deep breath, Nicole decided to at last address the most personal issue before them. “We should talk about your heats. When is your next heat, and how long does it usually last?”

Waverly held her cup in both hands, resting her elbows on the table. “In one month, maybe some days sooner. It… when I've had someone to sate it, it's lasted four days at the longest. I always know a few days ahead when it's approaching and could, um. I could give you warning?”

Nicole nodded. “That would be best. I will make preparations so everything goes smoothly.”

Knight-Captain Robin could easily manage the Tower for three to five days, and it would give him valuable experience. Nicole didn't intend to give up command of the Circle Tower for a long time, but her Knight-Captain could advance to command his own Circles or regiments and needed to understand the burdens of leadership.

Tentatively, Waverly asked, “What would happen? During my heat, I mean.”

Nicole blinked and gave the first answer that came to mind. “Whatever you need, of course.”

Honestly, Nicole hadn't really considered the details of her omega's heat too closely. Sister Nightingale had insisted that every omega's heat would be different, and that Nicole's alpha side would know what to do when the time came.

Waverly asked, “Do I have to go to a null room? I mean,” She hurried on before Nicole could reply. “Would you just, visit and leave me between  or… how would it go?”

Oh, I'm an idiot, Nicole thought. She's not asking about the sex, she's asking whether she'd be left in a cage with a very intimate, itinerant jailer. Fuck.

Nicole hurried to reassure her, upset that she'd somehow implied that scenario. “Oh, no, Waverly. No, you would be either in the guest room or here with me, and I wouldn't just leave you in the middle of your heat. I’d be with you the whole time, and our meals would be left for us. My Knight-Captain would be in charge in my absence.”

Waverly relaxed a bit. “I could stay here, with you?”

Nicole pushed reassurance into her tone. “Absolutely.”

Her voice soft, Waverly said, “Okay. That's really generous of you. Maybe… maybe I shouldn't be surprised.” She seemed thoughtful, resting her cheek on one hand as she looked at Nicole through her eyelashes.

Then, surprisingly, Waverly asked, “When is your rut?”

Nicole hadn't expected the question and was caught flat-footed. Intelligently, she said, “Uh.”

Nicole's last rut had been a hazy period maybe five weeks previously. She remembered that during the days nothing had gone right and she had reined in her temper time and time again, only to work herself to exhaustion in her private training room with her weapons, punching bags, and exercises all night, every night. Gus had cared for Nicole's new blisters and bruises without comment during their morning meetings, only mentioning on the fourth day that Nicole should get some sleep.

After Nicole had finished apologizing for her snarled response, Gus had just nodded and said, “You're very strong and in excellent control of yourself, Nicole, but this isn't healthy. Next time, or the next, you're going to get sick, hurt yourself, or lash out at someone. And, as your friend, you reek of frustrated alpha dominance. That young templar you snarled at yesterday pissed himself, and you know how hard it is to get urine out of leather. If you won't take rut leave for the sake of your own health, think about satisfying it so you can function to protect your Tower.”

Gus really knew which argument would work, and furthermore, Nicole had known she was right. She had considered visiting a brothel for her next rut - but still, she worried about hurting whichever omega was willing to take a rut visit. Pent up as she was, Nicole knew if she relinquished control she was strong enough, powerful enough, to do serious, permanent damage, maybe even kill someone. Wasn't it better to stay away entirely? She’d put off thinking about it for the time being.

Nicole stammered, “Uh. In two months. But I wouldn't expect you to-” No, that was the wrong thing to say. Nicole tried again. “That is, I normally just try to ignore it. You know, uh, wear it out with training and try to do my job.”

Waverly was gaping at her, and Nicole felt self-conscious so she reached for the teapot, refreshing her own cup and offering to do the same for Waverly. At Waverly's nod, she poured, then set the teapot back down and put milk in her own cup.

Finally, Waverly spoke. “How long have you been denying your ruts?”

Nicole caught herself looking away like a scolded child and forced her eyes back to Waverly's. I am the Knight-Commander , she told herself, not a pup .

Firming her voice with the steel of command, Nicole said, “Years.”

Waverly sipped her tea calmly, then said, “Well, this time, you'll have me.”

Her alpha’s need slammed into her, and she growled out, “No! No,” she repeated, trying to gentle her tone as she fought the YES screaming through her body. “I'd hurt you. I'm too strong and you wouldn't be able to stop me. I don't want-” Nicole cut herself off. “It's better if I don't,” she said.

Waverly's face hardened, her voice snapping like a whip when she said, “Nugshit! If I'm mated to you so my heats don't drive my omega, me, insane enough to make a deal with a demon, which by the way is an extremely paternalistic way to view mages but I digress , what do you think will happen to a templar who has never let herself actually release her alpha completely? I'm astonished you aren't already howling at the moon and making deals with demons yourself.”

Nicole growled, “I can handle it. I always have.”

Waverly threw up her hands, saying, “No wonder you smell so, so... so hungry . You've been starving yourself.”

Shocked, Nicole thought, What ?

She must have said it out loud, because Waverly buried her head in her hands. “You alphas are so dumb, sometimes. Has no one ever talked to you about this? How your alpha’s needs are like, like… hunger for food, a stomach that need to be fed, even occasionally , for you to be complete? That’s why ruts and heats are so much worse if you don't indulge them, they're your instincts begging you to please, please fill that hole.”

Nicole blinkied and Waverly stopped, blushing. “Um. I didn't mean that the way it sounded. But,” she rallied her ire, leveling a finger at Nicole's chest. Nicole recoiled from the accusatory digit. “My point is, you will spend your rut with me, your alpha will never hurt me, and you'll be better off for it.”

Nicole sat, poleaxed by the fierce rant. She tried to summon an argument. “But-”

Waverly cut her off. “No buts! This will happen. Call it whatever you like, but when your rut comes you will spend it with me, or I'll come find you in the Tower and your alpha will decide for you!”

Nicole blanched at the thought of Waverly marching up to her somewhere in public, fierce and willing and determined to incite Nicole's rut, and how Nicole's alpha would react. Nicole would lose that battle, immediately and overwhelmingly.

Nicole relented. “If you're sure , absolutely sure I won't hurt you… then yes, we can try. But if it looks like you are in danger, you need to be able to get away from me.”

Waverly's face softened as she said, “I can feel you, you know, through the bond, if I open it up a little. It reinforces things I was already starting to believe. You're not going to hurt me, your alpha’s not going to hurt me, unless you're forced by something outside yourself.”

Wrinkling her brow, Nicole pondered that detail. She hadn't thought about how the bond might change things, but surely if she could sense some of Waverly's emotions, she might have a better chance of not harming her during the rut.

Then Waverly said something that made Nicole feel hot and cold all over. “Besides, I must admit to a certain curiosity about just what might happen when you lose control.”

Nicole found herself wordless once again, her mouth going dry with the implication. Waverly eyed her speculatively and seemed to come to a decision. Nodding to herself, Waverly stood and walked around the table, toward Nicole. Nicole knit her brow and pushed her chair away from the table, preparing to stand, but Waverly’s hand reached for her shoulder and urged her back down into her seat.

Nicole swallowed and scrambled to think of what to say as she looked up at Waverly. “Um, Waverly, what are you doing?” The omega was so close, and her scent was rapidly warming, too close in proximity for Nicole to ignore the enticing blend of pheromones, the unmistakable aroma of arousal.

Waverly smirked at her, placing both hands on her shoulders. “Knight-Commander,” she purred, “Now that we’ve eaten, and discussed how this arrangement works, I find myself interested in reinforcing my memories of you. I’ll need something to think about, alone at night, for the long weeks until my heat.”

She’ll be in the apprentice quarters, Nicole’s rational mind chattered at her, trying to dissuade her from this clear breach of policy. It’s not like she’ll have the privacy to think about it . But I will. Andraste save me, I will. Fuck. And it’ll help cement the binding, right? What’s the harm?

The temptation was too strong to ignore, and Nicole’s voice was already dropping in pitch when she said, “Oh? What do you propose?”

Waverly licked her lips and grabbed a handful of Nicole’s tunic, tugging to show Nicole that she wanted her to follow. She said, “I’ll show you.”

Obedient, dazed by the sudden change of subject, Nicole got up and trailed her omega to the bed.

Chapter Text

When Waverly had successfully towed Nicole almost entirely to the bed, she turned, keeping her hand fisted in Nicole’s tunic. Nicole was still in a bit of a haze, unsure of how they had gotten from a discussion of Nicole’s rut to this, but Waverly’s scent was strong, sweet and floral, and Nicole drank it in with a deep inhale.

A flicker of worry crossed Waverly’s face, her brash boldness faltering slightly. “I want to- No, that’s not what I mean. I would like to, um.” Waverly smoothed down the fabric rumpled by her grip, and Nicole caught her hand.

“You can tell me what you want, Waverly.”

Waverly’s lips curved upwards at Nicole’s reassurance, despite the crinkle still set between her eyebrows. “I know, I think.” She tilted her chin and examined Nicole, the concern fading. “It’s just new. But…” Waverly set her shoulders. “I want to get you on that bed and get to know you better, like we did last night. But, maybe I could start by seeing what you like, make you feel good first. I mean, if you would you be interested?”

Nicole flushed, not at all expecting that. She was a doer, a solicitous and energetic lover, and this was strangely new territory. “Um.”

“You don’t have to, I realize it must seem strange, but I just, I want-” Waverly stopped, shaking her head, and stepped close. Nicole held her breath as Waverly stood on her tiptoes, lifting her free hand to the back of Nicole’s neck, and kissed her.

With the soft-sweet touch of Waverly’s lips, all of the memories of the night before, the lust and new-blossoming respect for this tiny, intense woman, broke through Nicole’s restraint. Those barriers had been built up that morning to keep from pushing Waverly farther than she wanted to go, but if she wanted this, Nicole had no defense. It might be a mistake to allow Waverly such closeness outside her heat, now that the initial binding had been made, but Nicole could think about it later - for now, her omega needed her, and Nicole felt a tug, deep inside, that told her that this was the right decision.

Nicole dropped Waverly’s hand and wrapped her arms around her omega, pulling her close. She could feel Waverly’s relief at the acceptance and purred into the kiss, savoring the little noise that escaped into her mouth when she squeezed once and let go, pulling away.

“How do you want me, then?” Nicole asked.

“I want you now, not then, Knight-Commander,” Waverly said with a smirk, freshly emboldened by Nicole’s assent. She pushed Nicole away, a playful light dancing in her eyes. “Take your clothes off.”

As Waverly started on her own robes, undoing the belt and then attacking the buttons, Nicole obeyed. She couldn’t help but turn it over in her mind while she disrobed. Is this the bond, making her want more closeness to me? Or did she enjoy last night enough to seek out a repeat performance? But, regardless of the intent behind this request, Waverly’s bold interest and scent pulled Nicole inexorably onward, urging her to set it aside.

Once Nicole had toed off her boots and shucked her tunic and pants, stumbling a little in her rush to kick her legs free, Waverly stopped her own efforts long enough to set one hand on Nicole’s sternum and push. Nicole let herself fall to the bed. From there, she was treated to the sight of her omega unveiling all that sun-kissed skin. Waverly let the robes pool on the floor, leaving her clad only in all that long hair, strands glittering gold and red and chestnut in the sunlight streaming inside. Looking at her, really looking at her, Nicole was taken aback by the slender curves of her body, the way muscles rippled under smooth skin, the bounty and wildness of her hair.

Nicole forced some words out past the sudden rush of libido. “You’re beautiful.”

Waverly blushed, her ears turning bright pink. “So are you,” she said, and climbed onto the bed.

Nicole struggled to control her flush of arousal, then realized it wasn’t all hers - the bond was conducting Waverly’s interest. She said, “How do you want to start?”

Waverly’s swift movement, pulling herself up to straddle Nicole’s thighs, answered that question.

“Oh,” Nicole said, and looked up Waverly’s body.

Nicole’s teeth marks on Waverly’s neck were livid, the scars flushing from their previous pink hue to something darker, more alive with Waverly’s arousal. The other marks Nicole had bruised into Waverly’s skin the previous night were bright, red and purple in the morning sunlight, traveling a gentle S-shape from Waverly’s collarbone to her groin. Nicole lifted one hand, intending to trace them, and Waverly grasped her wrist. Nicole allowed it to be pushed back to the bed, curious to see where this was going.

Waverly smirked at her. “You took such good care of me last night, Nicole. Let me return the favor.” Her voice darkened with the last words, purring with powerful desire.

Waverly’s scent, light and fresh just a moment before, suddenly filled Nicole’s lungs, blanketing her in the aura of aroused omega. Nicole gasped, taking a full, deep breath of concentrated lust, honey and sunlight, and felt herself shift with an aching pressure that wrenched a groan from her chest. Her clit swelled, lengthening, thickening until it rested against her stomach, full and aching with the promise of that scent, with the desires of her omega.

“You’re so responsive,” Waverly hummed, tracing a finger along Nicole’s cock.

The light, almost ticklish touch made Nicole twitch and hiss in answer, grasping the sheets with her suddenly-sweaty palms. Smirking, Waverly slunk forward, upward, on her hands and knees. Hair tickled along Nicole’s sides, over her breasts, up to her chest, alive and shifting with every movement, and then Waverly brought her lips down to Nicole’s.

The scent-taste-feel of Waverly’s kiss pulled another groan out of Nicole, made her open her mouth to let her omega in. Then Nicole’s whole body twitched with the sudden sensation as Waverly moved, nestling lower, closer, and against Nicole, resting her cunt along the underside of Nicole’s cock.

Nicole was lost in the feel of it, liquid heat sliding along her cock, up to the head and down. Waverly moaned into her mouth as she changed direction, gliding upward again. The touch of Waverly’s kiss, the slip and slide and press of her lips, the brush of her tongue, brought Nicole to chase, to slide herself up against and along Waverly in every way. The first buck of Nicole’s hips got her a gasp from Waverly and an answering grind.

Waverly chuckled, weaving her fingers into Nicole’s hair. “Patience, Knight-Commander, I have every intention of enjoying your cock this morning, but first I want to explore you a little.”

Nicole hummed her assent. She could wait. With that thought, she relaxed, letting her omega have her way, but curiosity drove her to ask, “Aren’t you sore?”

A thrill of healing energy danced through Nicole’s scalp, tingling wherever fingertips touched skin, as Waverly laughed. “I’m never sore for long.”

Nicole’s cock twitched at that thought. We could go again, and again, and again… But if she’s healed herself, why is she still bruised? “My marks are still there.”

Waverly hummed and responded with a statement that only stoked Nicole’s desire, the possessive pride of her alpha, and the urge to take Waverly again. “I like them. Now, be quiet, Knight-Commander, and kiss me.” Waverly brought their lips together, and then her hands were on Nicole’s breasts, kneading into them while she ground herself lightly against Nicole’s cock.

Nicole closed her eyes, luxuriating in the way the sensations multiplied in intensity, in depth, from the combined stimulation. She tried to regulate her breathing, tried not to pant, and utterly failed as Waverly’s fingers found her nipples and tugged, alternately soothing them by rolling them between her fingers.

Then, a scraping kiss under Nicole’s jaw made her stiffen in every way, unable to stop the instinctual response to Waverly’s mouth there. Waverly whined as her own desire to bite down, to finish the binding left incomplete between them, echoed through Nicole. The thought of Waverly mating her, leaving her own mark on Nicole’s neck was frighteningly tempting, alarmingly strong, and Nicole drew breath to ask Waverly to stop. We can’t-

Before Nicole could say anything, however, Waverly moved on, licking and sucking along Nicole’s collarbone, down to her chest. Nicole’s skin prickled at every touch, touch of lips and tongue and teeth sending bouncing waves of shivery energy down her spine and to her cock. It was slow and methodical and thorough, and Nicole could only pant quietly and try to restrain her urge to grab Waverly. It was torture. It was bliss. Waverly’s slow trek continued down, down, to Nicole’s chest and then her hot, wet mouth closed around Nicole’s nipple.

Nicole swore and tensed, the warm, humming spurts of pleasure from her breast sending sparks down to her core, feeding the ache. Her cock jerked, releasing a trickle of moisture at the intense feeling, and Waverly hummed, intensifying her efforts. Waverly’s mouth was wonderful, sucking and squeezing and tapping her nipple, and Nicole felt like every moment she grew harder, more sensitive, full of glorious hot need that tore a panting growl out of her mouth.

Waverly pulled her mouth away. Nicole whined, lifting a hand to drag her back down, to regain that delicious pressure. The moment she touched Waverly’s hair, however, Waverly glared at her and growled. A shiver of power flickered over Nicole’s senses, then a stream of magic followed, wrapping around her wrists and slamming them down to the mattress at either side of her waist. Nicole looked down to see white cords, woven of potent magic, twining around her forearms, disappearing into the bed beneath her.

Nicole flexed against the pressure, straining, and found herself unable to move her arms. A thrill of fear lashed through her - a mage had her pinned to the bed, naked and alone. She had been trained for this, had had endless lessons where she had to fight off magic such as this… But. This was Nicole’s mage, her omega, and she knew, somewhere deep in her alpha instincts where the bond resided, even half-formed as it was, that this was a game, not a threat.

Along with her captivity, the knowledge of Waverly’s willingness to play with her at this intimate level, inspired a pulse of arousal so strong that it arched Nicole’s back, tore a gasp from her throat, made her throb and ache with the urge to touch and the denial thereof.

Nicole looked up at Waverly and saw her omega staring at her, one hand reaching down to caress Nicole’s face. “If you can’t keep your hands to yourself until I give you permission to touch-” Waverly growled, her expression mischievous, her aroused scent growing darker, deeper than before. “-then I’ll have to tie you down while I do as I please.” Yet, despite her statement, she didn’t move.

She’s waiting for something, Nicole thought

The fear had faded, except for an exciting thread of - What will happen next? - that thrummed under Nicole’s skin, but Nicole’s alpha chafed at the command, the dominance from her omega. She thought about giving into what it wanted: Waverly underneath her, screaming out her bliss as Nicole slammed into her. She knew she could do it, could break the magical binding with a flex of her power, could roll them over and take control, make Waverly love it. But Waverly had chosen this, was already loving this, if her wetness and scent was any indication. It would be worth it to wait, to give Waverly this chance to get to know her better.

Meeting Waverly’s eyes with a nod, Nicole relaxed, curling her fingertips back into the sheets, accepting the restraints. With the surrender, Nicole’s alpha changed its response, filling her with eagerness for this new game. Nicole was startled by the sudden change of tone. For over a decade, her alpha had focused on being in control of situations, dominating the conversation, and, especially in the bedroom, placing Nicole firmly in charge. But, before Nicole could examine her alpha’s response, Waverly’s actions interrupted her thoughts.

Waverly leaned down to lick a circle around Nicole’s untouched nipple, taking it into her mouth. She began gliding over Nicole’s cock again, and Nicole felt herself sliding on her own abdomen with every movement, completely covered in her omega’s arousal. The tension inside Nicole was growing, aching, with the tease, the minimal touch, that would never, could never, bring her to completion. She licked her lips.

This, allowing a mage to have the upper hand, was against every one of Nicole’s lessons, either as a young templar or as the Nightingale’s trainee. It was against everything she’d learned about being an alpha, a protector, always in control of every situation. And it was incredible, giving up the urge to control, being helpless to give, or take, to influence Waverly in any way. This was so wrong and felt too right to stop.

Nicole could smell Waverly’s arousal, aromatic and floral and mixed with herself in a way she knew she would never, ever, take for granted. She remembered the previous night’s feast, Waverly’s cunt slippery and excited against her face, tight around her tongue and pulsing as she pushed inside, and her mouth filled with saliva while the pleasure coiling inside from her cock intensified, throbbing.

Waverly groaned, giving a quick buck of her hips against Nicole’s cock, her voice throaty as she said, “I felt that. What are you thinking about?”

Nicole licked her lips. “Last night, you tasted so good.”

Waverly cursed, then her movements stopped. “That gives me an idea,” she said, and she moved away, sliding down Nicole’s body.

The deprivation of Waverly’s warmth sent a pang into Nicole’s core, but then her thoughts caught up to Waverly’s words. “What?” She jerked herself into an awkward crunch, looking down her body just in time to see Waverly’s hazel eyes, alight with something between mischief and hunger, before Waverly opened her mouth and engulfed the tip of Nicole’s cock. At the shock of contact, Nicole collapsed back to the bed.

It was so hot, so wet, so filthy that Nicole couldn’t do anything but stare, pinned to the bed by magic and astonishment, as that mouth slid down around her cock and up, tightening on the upstroke in a way that made her toes curl. At its tip, Waverly mouthed the soft flesh and licked, teasing her tongue along Nicole’s slit, before she slid herself back onto it and down.

Fuck,” Nicole breathed, her fists clenching, her stomach tense. No one had touched her like this in… Years. She knew, intuitively, that she had to let Waverly set the pace for this unexpected intimacy, but the tension, the effort required to keep herself from thrusting up and burying herself in Waverly’s throat, sent her heels sliding along the sheets, her legs brushing against Waverly where she knelt between them. The warmth, the tingling pressure replacing the ache in her gut, was too fucking good.

It was almost too much, watching as Waverly’s mouth sparked such intense sensations, but Nicole couldn’t bear to look away. Waverly’s fingers wrapped around her cock, tightening to pump downwards, away from that wonderful mouth. Then Waverly’s mouth slid open around her again and she sucked, her cheeks hollowing around Nicole’s cock, buried as deep as she could take it, while her fist squeezed around the base, rubbing against her where her knot would swell.

Maker, she’s sliding on her own come, on me, she’s sucking herself off of my cock, fuck, fuck, I can’t-

Nicole’s whole body flexed, desperate to move but unwilling to break the spell, her ass clenching and thighs trembling. Waverly pulled her mouth and hand away together, dragging along Nicole’s length, stroking up, up, until she could detach to kiss the tip. Nicole breathed out with the move, almost as if it were an exercise, then gasped in another breath as Waverly descended, and as she repeated it again, and again, and again.

Caught in mounting, agonized ecstasy, Nicole buried her hands in the sheets, unable to grasp anything else. With every move, every stroke that sent ripples into her core, Nicole’s legs twitched and her stomach flexed, her body trying and utterly failing to process what was happening. Her alpha, however, was awake and alert, humming with eagerness inside her skin, thrilled that her omega was so happy with her, so willing to please, so generous with her, so very much hers.

Waverly’s tongue, warm and soft and wet, slid up against the bottom of Nicole’s cock as she pumped it again, slowly, decadently, rubbing along Nicole’s cock with firm pressure one moment and tickling along it the next. The world was emptying, slowly, everything vanishing except for that mouth and those fingers and that tongue, and Nicole realized, vaguely, that she was groaning with each stroke, each teasing lap against her tip.

Transfixed, Nicole watched Waverly’s other hand crawl up to grasp her breast, kneading it, trapping the nipple between two fingers, fingertips dimpling the flesh where they dug in. Nicole’s fingers and toes tingled with echoing tremors that danced up her limbs, driving them to flex and curl with the sensation.

Nicole watched Waverly ascending again from another deep, heavy suck, her eyelashes fluttering open. As their eyes met, Waverly purred, thrumming against the cockhead in her mouth. Nicole felt herself tighten, everything in her abdomen coiling like a snake about to strike, eager to spill into Waverly’s-

“Wait, I’m-” she choked out, trying desperately to warn Waverly, and threw her head back against the bed as the heavy, thick feeling toppled her over the cliff of climax, overwhelming her senses. The heat around her cock disappeared but she was already far, far gone, her body arching back, her cock pulsing against the firm grip that still slid up, and down, and up again, pulling her higher with each stroke.

Fire shot up her spine and she convulsed into a crunch, growling, as she felt herself swell and release, thick hot bursts of euphoria splashing flickering lights against her eyelids and shivering down to her toes. She collapsed and gasped as she clenched and spurted again, and again, accompanied by the pressure and friction still pulling each pulse out of her core.

FInally, the shocks tapered off, and Nicole slid into pleasurable limbo, boneless and replete.

Moments - or minutes, Nicole couldn’t tell - later, Waverly released Nicole’s cock. Nicole groaned, trying to stir, and blinked blearily down her.

“Wow,” Waverly said, her eyes on Nicole’s stomach. Nicole craned her neck and saw that she had splashed herself, white puddles speckling her belly to her ribs, a runnel of come dripping down Waverly’s hand. Huffing a laugh, Nicole smiled dreamily.

“Wow yourself,” Nicole said, her voice throaty and clumsy. “That was... incredible.”

Then, Waverly lifted her hand to her lips and her tongue darted out, tasting the drips across her knuckles. Nicole felt her cock twitch, her alpha stirring in possessive interest at the sight of her omega tasting her come, and she grunted with the feeling of the too-sensitive flesh swelling once more.

“Already?” Waverly asked, amusement in her tone, in her eyes.

Nicole roused herself to reply with slurred humor. “Something about you inspires me, I guess.”

“That’s good,” Waverly purred, crawling up Nicole’s body again. “That’s very good, because I’m feeling inspired, too. Besides,” she shrugged, licking her lips, “I like how you taste.” Nicole groaned again at that thought, the ache of arousal reforming in her gut.

Waverly bent and lapped up a drop of Nicole’s come, then another. Nicole watched, breathless, as one of Waverly’s breasts grazed her cock, just barely, her hair dragged along Nicole’s sides, and her tongue scooped up drop after drop, cleaning Nicole’ stomach with little flicks that made the baby hairs on Nicole’s skin rise, prickling with goosebumps. When Nicole’s stomach was clear and Waverly was up to her ribs, she kissed the side of Nicole’s breast, then slid over to the nipple and trapped it between her lips.

“You’re going to kill me,” Nicole growled, the ache in her core growing with every moment of Waverly’s resumed attention, “and I’m not going to stop you.”

“Mhm,” Waverly hummed against Nicole’s skin.

Nicole’s arms tensed, almost of their own accord, with the urge to grasp Waverly’s hips, and she remembered the magic only when she couldn’t move. She tugged and growled, “I’d like to touch you now.”

Waverly looked up at her, releasing the nipple from her mouth, and hissed, “Yes.”

The magic died with that assent. Before the sound had finished leaving Waverly’s lips, Nicole moved, fingertips dimpling the flesh of Waverly’s ass, pulling her forward to drag along Nicole’s cock where it lay, thick and throbbing again. At the sensation, they both gasped.

“Oh, fuck yes,” Nicole said and did it again.

“Mmh,” Waverly groaned and bucked with Nicole’s pull.

Nicole had an idea. She pulled harder, lifting as she did, and said, “C’mere, I want to taste you.”

Nicole coaxed Waverly toward her mouth until she was straddling Nicole’s collarbone, staring down her body. Her scent was so enticing, so warm and damp that it made Nicole purr with eager anticipation. Nicole leaned forward and ran her tongue up the part of Waverly’s pussy she could reach, coating her tongue and humming with the taste.

“Oh, fuck,” Waverly muttered.

“Hold on to the headboard and ride my face, Waverly,” Nicole instructed, her eagerness to taste, to give back to Waverly for the satisfaction she’d just delivered, driving her forward. She was already completely hard again with the thought.

Weaving her arms underneath Waverly’s thighs pulling firmly, Nicole urged Waverly to scoot just that last distance. Waverly obeyed, and Nicole felt her eyes roll back with bliss as she was plunged into a world full of slippery, hot, flavorful cunt. She was soaked, which meant she had enjoyed sucking Nicole’s cock. That was… awe-inspiring. Waverly was everywhere, all over Nicole’s face and mouth and nose, and Nicole found Waverly’s clit with her lips, cupping it and sucking gently as she flicked her tongue against the tip.

Above Nicole, Waverly gasped and grabbed the headboard, her hips twitching and then thrusting once against Nicole’s face. Nicole dipped her tongue into Waverly’s opening as it slid closer, savoring the tight, wet heat, the taste, then gave a flat, wide lick straight up the center as Waverly pulled back across her chin. While Nicole waited for the next thrust, she sucked the tip of Waverly’s clit and grazed her teeth over the soft peak. Waverly’s thighs trembled against Nicole’s arms, her hips hovering in place over Nicole’s mouth.

Nicole heard Waverly pant out a question. “Is this, can I grind like that?”

With her mouth completely occupied, Nicole couldn’t answer with words. Instead, she felt for that spot in her instincts where she felt the bond and threw her alpha wide open with a growl, hoping that some echo of her own feelings, her hunger, her enthusiasm for the idea of Waverly rutting unashamedly against her face would make it through.

“Ah!” Nicole heard as Waverly ground forward again, “Oh, ok, yes!”

Nicole wriggled her face closer, spreading Waverly’s lips with her cheeks, and closed her eyes as she probed the soft, yielding delicacies laid out before her. With her fingertips dimpling Waverly’s ass, holding her up a bit and assisting her progress up and down Nicole’s face, Nicole sucked tenderly on one slip of flesh, circled Waverly’s clit at the nadir of Waverly’s retreat, and pulled the opposite labia into her mouth on the way back up, dipping her tongue inside when Waverly paused at the apex of her thrust. She ran her tongue everywhere it could reach, trying different pressures and patterns to see what they would do to Waverly’s rhythm, finding which permutations would make Waverly pause, legs shaking, to swear and make little tight circles with her hips.

Nicole slipped her hand up, palm sliding against the liquid coating her chin, to find Waverly’s opening and glide inside. At the urgent thrust it elicited, Nicole fought not to smile and kept up her ministrations, adding another finger, then another, curling with each of Waverly’s movements. She was so hot, so wet inside, and Nicole remembered how it had felt to thrust inside at last. Nicole’s cock was stiff with throbbing fullness where it lay against her belly, held in eager suspension as Nicole pleased her mate, and it twitched with the sensory memory.

Maker, Knight-Commander.” Waverly’s voice was thick, and her words were followed by a groan as Nicole sucked her clit once more.

Nicole opened her eyes, looking up Waverly’s stomach, admiring how the muscles there clenched and rolled. One of Waverly’s hands had moved to her own breast, kneading it and tugging her nipple by turns, and she still clutched the headboard with the other. Her hair fountained down around her shoulders, and her eyes were clenched shut, her head hanging, mouth open with pleasure. She was enjoying this, riding Nicole’s face, and Nicole was driven to new heights of effort by the sight of Waverly’s pleasure.

Letting her eyes narrow into pleased slits, Nicole slid her tongue flat against the middle of Waverly’s cunt, right under her clit, and, taking inspiration from Waverly’s previous actions, purred as she thrust her fingers inside, curling on the outstroke, drumming her fingertips against the swollen patch on Waverly’s front wall. The angle was odd but it was worth the ache in Nicole’s wrist when Waverly went rigid, her thighs shaking, back beginning to arch. Her noises escalated, losing cohesion, becoming a pulse of unformed sound that tore out of her on every stroke.

Come for me, I want you to come all over my face, Waverly, omega, you’re mine.

Nicole sucked the clit inside and tapped her tongue on it, then flicked it over and over, thrusting again with her fingers. Waverly’s body snapped into a convulsion, dropping weight onto Nicole’s face and neck as she clung to the headboard with both hands. The legs against Nicole’s shoulders trembled as a short gush of fluid overflowed Nicole’s tongue, dripping into her mouth and down to smear across Nicole’s cheeks and Waverly’s inner thighs. Nicole could barely hear, but Waverly’s gasps egged her onwards. In a victorious frenzy, Nicole sucked, and licked, and thrust inside, holding Waverly up with one firm arm under her ass, keeping herself from blissful suffocation by just a couple of inches of space.

As the weight on her face increased, Nicole sensed that Waverly was about to collapse. Grasping Waverly’s thighs, she lifted with a twist, spilling Waverly sideways onto the bed. She bumped her own nose against a wayward knee as she did, but the eye-watering ache was well worth the sight that awaited her.

Waverly didn’t fall as much as she oozed, her arms and legs spreading in limp akimbo, and she lay there with a smile pasted across her face while Nicole sprawled between her thighs. Nicole purred, so pleased that she had done this to her omega, thrilled with the taste on her tongue, the little runnels she could feel still trickling down her neck from her chin and hair. Some had even run into the outer folds of her ear.

“You look so proud of yourself,” Waverly said, consonants blurry, with a fond expression on her face.

Nicole sucked her fingers into her mouth, humming at the taste, and then wiped her face to lick that off her hand too. “Mhm!” This was where Nicole’s alpha wanted to be, covered in her omega’s pleasure, smelling of her, claimed by Waverly just like she’d claimed- Nicole shut that line of thought down and told herself, told her alpha, to just enjoy the moment. She wants me – this is something to cherish and protect on its own merits.

One of Waverly’s heels slid around Nicole’s back, tugging her forward. “Come here, Knight-Commander. I’m not finished with you yet.”

Nicole was abruptly reminded of that fact that her cock was more than ready to feel Waverly clench around her again, tight and wet and hers. She crawled up Waverly’s body, stopping to suck a new mark under her ribs, intending to move up toward her nipple - then a firm grip on her hair pulled her attention to Waverly’s next words.

“Inside, Knight-Commander.”

Fuck. How is she ready to go again so soon?

Nicole abandoned the tease, crawling up until her hips were bracketed by Waverly’s thighs. Propping herself up on an arm, Nicole stared down their bodies, at the eager tilt of Waverly’s hips, and positioned herself with her hand, then let her weight bear her down. Her cock flexed under the pressure, bending a little, before its head pushed Waverly open and slid inside.

Nicole’s eyes rolled, her eyelids fluttering, at the tight, wet warmth she was sliding into, so slowly. Fuck, she feels so good. Then, at the feeling of nails clawing along her shoulders, Nicole looked up to see Waverly, teeth bared, arms outstretched, and hands digging in, trying to pull her deeper.

Oh, really? You’re all kinds of demanding this morning.

Nicole’s alpha need to take command, now that Waverly had had her fun, drove Nicole to stop her slide and ask, teasingly, “Want something?”

Waverly growled, bucking her hips up to take another half-inch. Nicole’s whole body twitched with the urge to plunge herself inside, but she gritted her teeth and waited. Waverly whined, did it again, squeezed down against Nicole’s cock, but Nicole held firm. Nicole felt a little shiver of magic begin to take shape but she was ready, was able to exert just the bare hint of her talent to brush the incipient spell away.

Waverly’s eyes widened, darkened, at the denial of her spell. Nicole grasped Waverly’s thighs and forced them up and apart, holding them wide as she kept herself poised above the omega, only part-way inside. Nicole smirked down at her omega and decided to taunt her a little, pushing her mind past the heat in her loins.

“I’m stronger than you, Waverly. I can stay here all day, teasing you, denying you, if I want.”

“Please,” Waverly said, and tried to drag Nicole closer with her hands.

“Please what, Waverly? Use your words.” Nicole was barely holding herself back, but she somehow managed the light, amused tone she wanted, pulsing out a wave of alpha desire and dominance. Waverly was her omega, and she would have her omega submit.

Waverly’s defiance broke. “Please fuck me, Knight-Commander.”

Nicole plunged all the way inside, bottoming out, and they both cried out at the overwhelming friction. With the tension broken, so too was Nicole’s teasing at an end. She wrenched her hips back until her cock almost left Waverly’s cunt before she slid inside again. So fucking good. That second thrust knocked Waverly’s breath out in a huff, leaving her to choke out short, puffed syllables of delight and encouragement with each measured stroke.

“Oh-” “fuck-” “yes-”

Nicole watched her omega’s face as she slammed herself deep, hard, and slow, taking in every detail. Waverly’s face turned slightly to the side as her entire body inched upward on the bed with every thrust, her breasts bouncing with the rhythm, a bright red flush creeping up her chest and onto her neck. Nicole gripped Waverly’s shoulder and stopped the slide, changing the angle to free her entire spine to swing each thrust down and in. Each solid thrust spiked pleasure into Nicole’s cock, filling it slowly with heavy need.

Her exertions and the warmth of her room coated Nicole in a thin sheen of sweat, loosening her muscles as she ramped up the rhythm. Waverly felt so good, so tight and wet, the slickness of their previous exertions and new arousal spreading over Nicole’s thighs and stomach with every collision. Nicole reached down with one hand and slid her fingers over Waverly’s clit, letting each thrust push her hand forward as she provided the pressure and friction Waverly needed, and growled at the way Waverly tightened around her.

Waverly bucked up into Nicole, her ankles braced behind Nicole’s back. Nicole snarled happily down at her omega, thrilled at her eagerness, and received a joyful growl in return. Waverly’s teeth were bared, clenched but parting at each deep slam, and her hands clawed at Nicole’s shoulders, drawing flaming blazes across the skin. Settling even lower into the mattress, Nicole tilted her hips up and savored Waverly’s whining gasp at her next thrust. Right there, Nicole thought.

She was echoed by Waverly. “There! Just like that,” Waverly rasped and jolted when Nicole repeated it, again and again. Every time Nicole’s thrusts bumped her hand, she brought it back to keep rubbing Waverly’s clit between her thumb and forefinger.

The growing tightness, the way Waverly’s body was tensing into a bow, told Nicole what was approaching and she growled, “Come for me, Waverly, come around my cock.”

Waverly’s legs clamped around Nicole’s hips, drawing her deep, and Nicole fought their pull to keep up her pace. This was Nicole’s first chance to see Waverly’s face as she came around her cock, to watch her omega release from being fucked into the mattress, and she wasn’t going to let anything stop her. With her free hand, she reached up and caught Waverly’s breast, tugging the nipple before she gave it a calculated, sharp twist.

Waverly’s eyes went wide, unfocused, and her body constricted in a rippling wave, tightening every muscle and drawing her body into a tight arc toward Nicole. Nicole felt a burst of unfocused magic leak from the omega under her and panted out harsh breaths as the tight-clamping hold shot waves of sparking energy into her core, drawing her higher and higher with every thrust. She gave into the building pleasure and sped up, her legs and core burning with the sheer joyous exertion of giving everything she was to extend Waverly’s climax.

Waverly’s tension snapped and she gasped, scrabbling for Nicole. The frigid burn of ice-coated fingers clawed into Nicole’s shoulders and back. Nicole felt a feral grin pulling at her cheeks as she pushed one of Waverly’s legs up, deepening her angle, and let loose her inner beast, pounding hard and fast into the spasming omega. She refused to give in and come, sure she could pummel out at least one more orgasm.

“Fuck, you feel so good,” she ground out, reaching up to slide a hand along Waverly’s neck, then dug her fingernails into the dents of her teethmarks. Waverly’s pulse thudded under her thumb, wild and excited, and her cunt began to tighten around Nicole again. “You like that, like knowing you’re mine?”

“Fuck,” Waverly said and Nicole felt her start to constrict again.

“That's it, come for me again.”

Waverly growled, “No!” Nicole faltered in surprise, then her rhythm sped at Waverly’s next words. “Knot, give me your knot!”

Nicole's entire being exulted at the demand, her knot swelling, snapping into being, the sharp amplification of every sensation crashing into her as she ground it against Waverly’s opening. As she felt Waverly petal open around it, stretching for her, Nicole snarled out a victorious howl.

As soon as Nicole was inside, Waverly's cunt clamped down, grasping her knot with pulsating waves. The pressure of being locked inside her omega, of rutting into the tightness and feeling the pull as her knot was refused exit, spiked straight to Nicole’s core. She roared, thrusting mindlessly as the warmth in her center cramped, coiled, and erupted into a maelstrom of glorious bliss.

Waverly gasped under her, her pupils blown wide, face slack and mouth open. Nicole fought to keep her eyes open, keep her attention on her omega, who she’d brought to orgasm with her knot, who had asked for, demanded, Nicole’s knot. That thought inspired a new spike of ecstatic release, and Nicole collapsed to her elbows, her knees sliding on the sheets as her muscles spasmed and Waverly squeezed around her knot. Both of Waverly’s hands, which had been somehow still clinging to Nicole’s shoulder, followed its opposite and fell to the bed.

Nicole ducked down and, following her instincts, kissed Waverly. Her mouth was so soft, so warm, and Nicole’s whole body shivered with the touch. After a moment, Waverly’s lips moved, caressing back, and the moan that breathed out of her ended in a distinct, “Fuck,” that brushed against Nicole’s lips.

Nicole chuckled, “Yes,” she said. “We did. Again?”

The huff that shifted Waverly’s body almost made Nicole come again, and she ground forward once, twice, until Waverly clamped down and she felt the climax rise to take her. After it passed, Nicole bent to place a kiss on Waverly’s forehead.

Waverly stirred. “Mm, you’re still holding yourself up.” She raised a hand to Nicole’s face and froze, her face dropping. “Oh, oh no, where did I hurt you?”

Nicole blinked, then looked at Waverly’s hand. Her fingers were stained with bright red blood – My blood, Nicole realized – that had stained the creases of her knuckles and palm. “My back,” Nicole said, and then Waverly’s hands were running over her shoulder. When they caught on the fresh wounds there, Nicole hissed.

“I am so sorry, I didn’t mean to-” Waverly’s magic sank into Nicole, soothing her sore muscles, knitting her skin back together.

The magical warmth, accompanied by the siren song of the lyrium running through her veins, thrilled through Nicole. She came again suddenly with a panted curse. Waverly followed her, fingers clenching against the skin she’d just knitted together.

After a moment, Nicole gathered the ability to speak again. “It’s okay, Waverly. I’m… I think I’m honored, to make you lose control like that. Are you well?”

“Am I well?! I tore you up, Nicole!” Waverly’s expression was pained, her scent leaking into rosemary, and Nicole smiled at her.

“You healed it, there’s no harm done. I have had far worse wounds, and some were earned with less merit.” Nicole realized how those words sounded and blushed. “Um. In battle, I mean.”

Waverly’s worry broke at the slip. “I understood you. I can’t see you taking many severe injuries this way! I don’t think many of your conquests-” She stopped, her face falling, and Nicole flinched at the insecurity that stabbed into her chest from their bond. It was gone in a moment, but it had made a mark. Waverly looked up at her, and Nicole knew her own expression betrayed that she’d felt the blow.

Waverly stuttered, “I-I’m sorry, I wasn’t, you don’t-”

This wasn’t unexpected - Nicole had been warned that the bond would strike the bitten partner far more thoroughly than it would impact her. It couldn’t be helped, but in some ways this intensity was a good thing. It could inspire loyalty, trust, and honesty that no ordinary mage would ever feel for a templar, and Nicole knew she would never abuse it by rejecting Waverly.

Nicole’s alpha thrummed deep in her chest, a purr that calmed Waverly’s attempts to explain. Nicole rumbled, “Who is your alpha, Waverly?”

“You, Knight-Commander.” The answer came without hesitation, and Waverly’s face cleared somewhat with the affirmation.

“Whose bite to you bear?” Nicole moved her hand to Waverly’s neck, caressed the scarred skin with her thumb, admiring the bruises her fingertips had left. Waverly wriggled under her, bucking against her knot.

“Yours.” Waverly’s voice was breathier.

Good, this was good, the questions were both reassuring Waverly and winding her back up. Nicole persisted.

“Whose knot is inside you right now?” Nicole ground forward in emphasis, sparking friction that made them both gasp.

“Yours!” Waverly’s eyelids fluttered, eyelashes brushing her cheeks as she moaned.

The repeated affirmation stoked Nicole’s alpha and she pushed further. “Who do you belong to?”

“You, fuck, Knight-Commander.”

Nicole leaned forward toward Waverly’s neck. It arched at her approach, exposing the mating bite, and she purred as her lips made contact in a chaste kiss. Waverly smelled so good, so right with Nicole’s scent weaving through her own. Waverly whimpered, pushing herself against Nicole’s mouth.

Nicole mouthed the bite. “That’s right, you’re mine, Waverly.” Nicole’s alpha deepened her voice, made it rough and possessive, and her pheromones filled the air as she scraped her teeth across the scars.

There were some things Nicole couldn't promise Waverly: she couldn't promise love, or monogamy, or everlasting devotion. In several years when the young omegas came of age, or perhaps even sooner if the next apostate mage was an omega, Nicole would need to bind other omegas for their own protection. Her duty would always constrain her from giving herself to only one omega. She couldn't even promise forever - who knew what the future would hold for them? But she could open up her alpha to Waverly and speak the truth.

Her instincts drove her forward, augmented her next words with the fire of possessive alpha protectiveness. “I cannot take your bite - my duty requires me to stay unbound. But you are mine, my omega. I will sate your heats, and you-” Nicole hesitated, then soldiered on. “If you still wish it, you will sate my ruts. You are mine. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Knight-Commander.” Waverly’s voice was tight, raspy with her own instincts and arousal, and Nicole purred for her.

Nicole rutted, slowly, with her knot, as she licked the flesh under her mouth. Then, she set her teeth against the scars, biting down slowly, gradually, inexorably. Her thoughts trailed into a victorious refrain: Mine. My bite, my mage, my omega, mine.

“Oh fuck,” Waverly moaned, her voice trailing off as her pussy flexed, the incipient orgasm building slowly. Her cunt squeezed Nicole deliciously, tightening down bit by bit, until Nicole could barely move. Feeling her own climax approaching, Nicole tensed as she forced her hips against the resistance, concentrating on the bite and Waverly’s pulse under her tongue, fighting against the urge to spill before Waverly was satisfied.

Then with a jolt, Nicole felt the tension around her knot flex and pulse, rippling as Waverly clawed across her back. Nicole thrust harder, once, twice, again- and groaned as her orgasm, an actual, full-scale orgasm, not an echo, wrenched out of her with a burst of pleasurable pain. The peak was sharper, stronger, this third time, a kaleidoscope of euphoria that knotted every muscle, pushed the air from her lungs, brought her thoughts to a stuttering halt.

Nicole resurfaced to the feeling of Waverly petting her hair. She groaned and Waverly huffed under her.

“Knight-Commander, you're heavy. Can you-”

Nicole recollected command of her flabby muscles, tucked her arms under Waverly, and rolled them, trying to keep from jostling the tie. She failed at that goal, and with their positions reversed Waverly collapsed on Nicole's chest, gasping. The wave of pressure in her cunt squeezed another spurt out of Nicole's cock.

“Fuck,” Nicole breathed. “Are you-” She arched and came again as Waverly ground down, flexing around Nicole's knot. Spots danced in Nicole's vision and all she could do was lay there, panting.

Waverly didn't stop with that echoed orgasm, pumping herself on Nicole's knot, until her shaky groan preceded another breath-stealing squeeze. Nicole's vision blurred and she threw her head back into the mattress, twitching weakly as she came again.

Nicole felt Waverly's breaths skating over her collarbone, the heat of her body where she rested, her presence so substantial for such a tiny frame. Feeling for her extremities, Nicole found them still twitching and tingling, her fingertips and toes slightly numb. Everything seemed to be attached, which was nice. It was all extremely nice, in fact.

“You're purring,” Waverly mumbled and nestled closer, if that was possible. “I like it.”

Nicole maneuvered one clumsy hand up to stroke along Waverly's back, savoring the shivers following her touches. She traced the groove of Waverly's spine down, then up, a lazy petting motion

“Nicole.”

“Mm.” Nicole opened her eyes – she hadn’t even known they were closed – and looked down, seeing the touseled top of Waverly’s head.

“You aren’t afraid of magic.” Waverly sounded thoughtful.

Nicole shrugged, as best she could. “No.”

“Don’t you know how unusual that is? Especially for a templar?”

The templars had coached Nicole and her fellow trainees thoroughly, of course. There were teachings about the dangers of mages and magic with every day’s exercises, parables about templars who had been led astray by manipulative mages who desired to rule over man. Nicole had parroted back the lessons, mastering tales of the duplicity of mages along with the sword, studying the seductive nature of magic while she laid the foundation of her power to countermand it. Often, she’d found herself wondering if magic might be more controllable if the templars made efforts to understand it instead.

“I suppose,” Nicole mused, and closed her eyes again. “I have no reason to fear you, or your magic, Waverly.”

“I guess I knew that,” Waverly mused, her voice sleepy and thick. “I’d never have used it on you, otherwise.”

Nicole’s body tightened at the memory of being held down while Waverly sucked her cock. She shivered.

Waverly chuckled. “That good, huh?”

The smugness of her voice might have prodded Nicole’s alpha, were she not so completely sated. “Yeah,” Nicole said and sighed. “That damn good.”

They would have to clean up and separate, though they’d spend some more time in each other’s company this day as they handled the minutiae of Waverly’s position and the letters to her family. But, for now, tied together as they were, they could have these moments together. Nicole felt Waverly’s purr join hers as they both drifted, sweaty and sated, for a long, sunlit moment of peace.

Chapter Text

The rest of the day flew by. After they had bathed (separately - time was running short, and Waverly had expressed a desire to return to the guest quarters), and Waverly had returned with her belongings packed in a canvas bag, Nicole settled Waverly with ink, quill, and parchment at her desk and set off to the mews, anxious to see whether the Nightingale had responded to her message. She found herself considerably less sore than she had started the day and smiled a secret smile all to herself as she trotted down the halls. Her templars nodded or spoke to her as she went, and everything seemed in order.

The raven had indeed returned and was picking tidbits of meat off of a bone with his compatriots. Nicole whistled him to her - somehow, the birds with a full message-tube knew that they were intended to obey - and retrieved the bit of parchment from the contraption on his leg.

When examined, Nicole saw that it was a very short, encoded message, and, as she went back to her quarters, she prayed it would give her the guidance she sought. Nicole nodded to Waverly as she entered the office. Waverly looked up, smiled briefly, and then went back to her letter.

Nicole hesitated at the door. Waverly smelled… fantastic, but Nicole had business to conduct. So, she continued through to her personal hallway, refusing to let her own urge to extend their liaison push Waverly into further delaying her entry to the tower.

Retreating to her rooms, Nicole opened the safe that Dagna had installed into the wall. The code book was a slim thing, just an array of algorithms, the choice of page dictated by the little marks in the corner of the Nightingale’s message. It was the work of a few minutes to decode it, but it was a disappointing effort.

The note read, “Message received. Update as situation develops.”

Nicole stared at the parchment. What? She turned it over - just as she had seen in the mews, nothing was written on the other side. Sister Nightingale had always been pithy, it was true, but this was on the short side even for her. Nicole thought for a moment, then scribbled her own message on the back of the previous message. Then, she pulled out a fresh strip of parchment and began the laborious procedure of transcribing her note into a separate code.

Upon Nicole’s exit from her quarters, Waverly looked up. “I’ve almost finished,” she said, holding the quill away from the parchment. A second letter sat farther away on the desk, the pounce-pot full of cuttlefish bone powder perched next to it, the surface liberally dusted with the drying substance.

Nicole smiled and said, “All right. I’ll be back in a few minutes, I can read it and we can seal it up then.”

After she’d sent her message off to the Nightingale, Nicole returned and did just that. The first letter was scattered with ponce, greyish grains of somewhat-used powder, and Nicole carefully tested it, shifting the stuff to see if the ink had dried. It had, and she tapped it off into the box she kept for the purpose in order to read.

Waverly’s writing was elegant and neat, the work of someone with an education that surpassed that provided to templars. In fact, if Nicole compared it to her own tidy but ungainly lettering, this was a far finer hand than that of many of the nobility. She scanned the text.

 

Deliver to Rosie in Dubfirth at the Mabari’s Rest Inn

Dear Rosie,

I’m visiting at the Circle Tower. Please do not worry, I am well protected and will learn a great deal here. Would you please go up to the cottage and make sure the shutters are locked and feed my ducks? Also, would you please give the enclosed letter to Nonna when she returns? I don't want her to worry about me.

-Waves

 

Nicole approved. “This is sufficiently vague, and especially with the quality of your hand it reads like you’re a visiting scholar. We get those, from time to time.”

Waverly nodded, her face falling somewhat as she offered the second letter, also dusted with absorbent powder. Nicole took it and cleaned off the mess, then read.

 

Dear Nonna,

I'm sorry I wasn’t there when you returned from sea. I am at the Circle Tower on Lake Calenhad. I am safe and whole, the journey was difficult but the templars and mages alike have treated me well. They have introduced me to the most enormous library I have ever seen! You may send letters to me here, the templars will give me the mail and I would be glad to hear of your adventures. I love you so much, please take care of yourself and our friends.

Love,

Waves

 

Nicole put the letter down. “This will also work.” She looked over at Waverly, who was staring at the piece of parchment. Nicole gentled her tone, hoping to reassure her omega. “I’ll make sure these are carried all the way to Dubfirth, and you may send more letters as time goes on and the scrutiny on you dies down from familiarity.”

“Yes,” Waverly said, straightening. “What’s next?”

“One more thing, before you go.” Nicole fished a pendant out of her pocket. It was a simple silver circle, inscribed with Andraste’s flaming sword in gold inlay, strung on a strong silver chain. “This will give you my leave to come up to my office." She hesitated, unsure of how to word her next statement. "I - I do not wish to discourage you from using it, because if there is a problem you should come to see me. But because of the delicacy of our situation, I would urge you to use it sparingly, if at all.”

Waverly looked at the pendant, then back to Nicole. “What are you saying?”

Nicole tried to school her features to neutrality and hoped she succeeded. “When you leave here, today, it must be to immerse yourself in the life of a mage. I don’t have a place in that life, except as a templar.”

“You want me to stay away until my heat?” Waverly’s expression was difficult for Nicole to interpret.

Want, no, but need…

Nicole attempted to clarify her reasoning. “Any interaction between us that implies favoritism will put your life and my command in danger.If you have need of me, I am here, but use discretion with that decision. I must be independent from you, and you from me. ”

Waverly hesitated, then nodded, taking the pendant from Nicole’s outstretched hand. Nicole couldn’t sense anything from the bond, so she nodded slowly back. This stilted conversation was undermining her resolve , but she had weighed all of the options and this seemed the best path open to them.

Clearing her throat, Nicole said, “Gus will be waiting in the Great Hall for you. I hope you enjoy your studies.” Then she bowed, formally. “I shall honor this binding, Apprentice Waverly, and let no harm come to you if you follow the laws of the Tower.”

Waverly’s face went completely blank, and she bowed in return. “Thank you for your kindness, Knight-Commander.” The title was said with less warmth, this time, and Nicole ached for the loss. Waverly rose, picked up the small satchel that contained all of her worldly possessions, and left Nicole’s office.

Nicole sat in her chair, suddenly feeling bereft, and tried not to look back up at the door. She stayed there for many long minutes, staring blankly at the desk, before she finally picked up her paperwork and set to the day’s business.

 


 

 

Present:

Nicole shook her head, returning from her reminiscences to the monotony of her office, the paperwork laid out across her desk. She yawned.

Three weeks had passed since Waverly arrived at the Circle Tower. It had been three weeks since Nicole had spoken to her, three weeks since they had touched. The strain was slowly driving Nicole to distraction, but she held strong - as an alpha, a Knight-Commander, she couldn’t allow herself to be influenced by this diversion from her duties.

Much as Nicole wished she could ease Waverly’s entry into Circle life by allowing her to stay in the guest room and visit with Nicole, she had known it would be a mistake to let Waverly get too attached and dependent on her - not only for Waverly’s integration with the mages, but also for any accusations of corruption that might be leveled against them in the future. So Nicole had stayed away, telling herself it was for the best.

Nicole’s schedule had slowly normalized. Every day, she woke at five bells from the same position, curled around a pillow that still held Waverly’s fading scent. Although she knew that it was a weakness and swore every morning that she would send the cloth cover to the laundry, when the time came to leave her bed it always remained.

After rising, Nicole would throw herself into a bout of heavy training to work off the previous night’s erotic dreams, prepare herself for the day, and perform her rounds before she ate an early, hearty breakfast in the templar’s mess. Mid-mornings, she would have tea with Gus and converse over the day’s business, where she would have her first opportunity of the day to check on Waverly’s condition and progress.

Gus, Andraste bless her, was good-humoredly informative about Waverly’s studies and health. As Nicole had requested soon after the binding, Gus had taken Waverly on as an apprentice. In fact, Gus had already decided to take that step, and she had laughed and told Nicole as much when she had awkwardly attempted to suggest it. From her reports, it seemed that the omega had settled quite well into Circle life. Her half-time participation in the taking of inventory had improved the quality and quantity of Lonnie’s work drastically, and reportedly the templar was also starting to produce better-quality results when working on his own, which Nicole and Gus both considered a near miracle.

In terms of her studies, Waverly seemed to have been the recipient of a varied and rather complex primary magical education. Gus had said, “I can’t put a name to who it might be, but there’s a familiarity to her spell-working that makes me think I knew her teacher, or her teacher’s teacher. She can’t have had more than a few years of training but she’s applied it far beyond the level of her education without straying into dangerous territory. I think she’s impatient to take the Harrowing, if only to prove herself worthy, but I don’t doubt she’ll be ready when she does.”

Nicole also knew that Waverly had made some friends among the apprentices, including the only other known omega in the tower. Jeremy was sixteen, a bright and applied student who was a credit to the Tower and to his mentor. Gus had assured Nicole that Jeremy respected Waverly’s required reticence about the nature of the binding, and the boy had found a kindred spirit who was willing to burn down countless candles in the library, well into the night, in search of some esoteric recipe for a new potion or concoction.

In a confidential tone, Gus had said that she hadn’t scolded Waverly for her inattention in her studies after such escapades, simply due to the happiness that having a friend had brought the girl. Since no letters had yet arrived at the Tower from Waverly’s sister, Nicole had hoped that having friends might soothe some of the inevitable loneliness. She dismissed her own discomfort over the reminder that there were other omegas, other bindings waiting in her future. There were long years before that would happen, hopefully, time enough for her bond to Waverly to settle and grow less demanding.

As the days grew longer, so too were they moving closer to Waverly’s heat. Nicole had paid special attention whenever she passed through the Tower spaces where Waverly might be, telling herself that she needed to know and that it wasn’t intruding on Waverly to check , and she hadn’t yet caught any signs or scent of heat. The temptation to just call Waverly into her office to speak on such things had struck Nicole many, many times over the past weeks, and she had very firmly told that temptation to go and fuck itself. Waverly had enough to deal with, settling into the tower, and didn’t need Nicole harassing her.

Gus had hinted that Waverly might like to hear from Nicole, but Nicole dismissed the idea as fanciful thinking. Nicole was sure that no one, after being dragged across the countryside and forcibly bound to their captor, would choose to encounter that jailer without actual need.

After her meetings with the First Enchanter, Nicole always checked in with her Knight-Captain. So far, none of the new templars had given him additional trouble besides the normal remedial lessons: How to Speak to Mages Respectfully and When Not to Speak to Mages. There was even one memorable instance of If an Officer Says Jump, You Say How High. The close watch over Hardy had yielded no new misbehaviors. It probably helped that everyone knew who had latrine duty and why - if he stepped out of line, every mage, templar, and servant had an easy, fast, and practically untraceable method of retribution.

About a fortnight previously, Knight-Commander Nedley had responded to Nicole’s coded letter with an account of the five new templars’ activities in Denerim, which all included a visit to the Cathedral. Most of them had bunked over in the Denerim Circle, although one had stayed at a family estate in town. None of their observed activities had seemed at all suspicious. He had also congratulated her on saving an omega from tranquility and told her to “buck up and don’t let the fuckers get you down,” phrasing that brought a smile to Nicole’s face every time she thought of it.

Sister Nightingale had remained distant, despite Nicole’s regular updates. However, the Grand Cleric’s regular missive, full of her “suggestions” for “improving” the tower, had arrived several days previously. To Nicole’s profound relief, no mention had been made of apostates, omegas, alphas, or bindings. Filing it away with the rest, Nicole had prayed to Andraste that her good fortunes would hold.

So, inevitably, that’s when everything went to shit.

Early on that fine afternoon, Nicole was settling back down to her paperwork after a visit to the templar’s mess. Calamity had left her side after her own meal to pursue her doggy rounds, and all was quiet and calm. A knock came on Nicole’s office door and she said, “Come!” distracted by trying to decipher the letter before her.

One of Nicole’s templars, Ser Landra, entered. “Knight-Commander, there is a Sister, a Cleric, from Denerim at the front doors. She insists that she carries a message for your eyes only. Would you like us to bring her to your office? She also requires that her personal templar guard, a Knight-Lieutenant, accompany her.” That last sentence carried a tone of affront - the good sister obviously didn’t trust Nicole’s templars to protect her.

Nicole felt her heart drop into her gut. A Cleric from Denerim, here, meant that Grand Cleric Holda was making a move of some sort. Either it was news of an official inquiry, with agents to observe every part of the process, or it was an edict. Fuck .

Feeling that she would rather order this woman drowned in Lake Calenhad than invite her into the Tower, Nicole inclined her head. “Please escort her here, with her guard. Do not let them stop on the way, no one may speak to them but me.”

At the next knock, a good few minutes later - Nicole’s office sat atop many flights of stairs - Nicole said, “Come,” and stood up from behind her desk.

A pale-skinned woman with full lips, piercing blue eyes, and high, sharp cheekbones entered the room. The rest of her features were obscured by the white cowl and over-robes of a Chantry Sister. She was almost of a height with Nicole, but the haughty expression on her face made her seem taller.

Following her, an armored templar clanked into the room in a full suit of armor, sans helm. His skin was as dark as the Sister’s was light, set off by an even darker beard and depthless brown eyes. He stood a good five inches above Nicole, and from the breadth of his shoulders he would be trouble in a fight. The pommel of a broadsword poked out over one shoulder, and he seemed to have a crossbow slung over the other. The crossbow was an odd choice, for a templar, being a weapon primarily used for puncturing heavy armor, but perhaps he held some special talent for the cumbersome weapon.

Nicole said, “I am Knight-Commander Haught. Welcome to the Circle Tower, Sister, Knight-Lieutenant.”

The woman scoffed, “Some welcome! We had to wait for ages for the ferry, and then again downstairs. What kind of operation are you running here?”

Nicole thought, Well, if it was so traumatizing, maybe you shouldn’t have come. Instead, she made the least offensive response she could come up with. “I apologize for the wait. Would you care for tea while we discuss our business?”

“No!” The Sister’s face contorted with some strong emotion, perhaps rage or hate, as she stepped forward to slam a hand down on Nicole’s desk. A sharp whiff of gingery alpha, spicy and harsh, hit Nicole’s nose. Definitely rage, Nicole thought. “We know you have an apostate, brought to you almost a month ago. Bring her here, now!”

Nicole’s heart pounded into panic. If they knew about Waverly and came here merely to demand Nicole hand her over, that would mean they knew about Waverly . Who knows what they would do to her if they got their hands on her. And this woman, her fury… she might be some kind of fanatic. Trust the Grand Cleric to send me a mage-hater to negotiate.

But, Nicole told herself, trying to calm her response. I have the absolute right to run this tower however I see fit. Only the Knights-Divine, a seeker, or the Divine herself can relieve me of command. This Sister cannot hurt Waverly, and she cannot take her away.

Nicole drew herself up with all the authority of her rank and said, “This is my Circle, Sister. Management of any apostates, were they to exist , is completely at my discretion, under the authority of the Divine and her Knights-Divine.”

The Sister sputtered, the rage that twisted her face and simmered in her scent only growing as she paced to Nicole’s left. “You are a servant of the Chantry! I order you to bring her here!”

Nicole’s patience with this woman and her demands was at its end. She propped her fists on the table, resisting the urge to slam them down in mocking imitation. “And I say no! If you have no further business, leave my Tower immediately.”

The sister clenched her teeth and growled, “Now!”

Nicole started, confused and staring at the woman, and that hesitation doomed her.

The Knight-Lieutenant, who had been standing at attention to Nicole’s right, swung his crossbow off his shoulder and leveled it at Nicole as she belatedly looked at him. It was loaded , an incredibly risky thing to do when a weapon was strapped against one’s back, and even as Nicole watched the bolt’s tip spark into green incandescence.

Fuck.

The big man growled, “Keep your hands on the desk, Knight-Commander, and don’t move.”

Chapter Text

Previously, on Enchanting the Knight-Commander:

The Knight-Lieutenant, who had been standing at attention to Nicole’s right, swung his crossbow off his shoulder and leveled it at Nicole as she belatedly looked at him. It was loaded , an incredibly risky thing to do when a weapon was strapped against one’s back, and even as Nicole watched the bolt’s tip spark into green incandescence.

Fuck.

The big man growled, “Keep your hands on the desk, Knight-Commander, and don’t move.”

 


 

Now:

Nicole thought frantically as she stood, frozen, staring at the enchanted bolt. She knew that she might be able to get out of the way, but that it was terribly unlikely - he stood less than ten feet away, and she knew from experience that even mundane crossbow bolts would punch through plate armor as if it were made of eggshell instead of steel.

Nicole’s alpha instincts screamed at her to do something, anything , but she knew from the look in the crossbowman’s eyes that even a twitch would get her killed. And without Nicole, Waverly would be swiftly made Tranquil. There was no way to get out of this, yet. Nicole would have to obey and wait for a chance to strike.

The Sister stalked around Nicole’s desk, hiking up her robes to reveal leather trousers as she drew a narrow dirk from a sheath on her thigh.

What kind of Chantry Sister is this? The only woman of the cloth Nicole knew who carried weapons was Sister Nightingale, but this was demonstrably not a messenger of advice and instruction.

Any minor chance of overpowering the Sister to use her as a shield was lost when the cold, sharp blade was pushed against Nicole’s neck. Nicole resisted the urge to swallow, still watching the crossbowman, as the Sister’s ginger-flavored anger tickled her nose.

“That’s right, be a good little templar and obey ,” the Sister sneered, removing Nicole’s sheathed sword from its place leaning against the desk and tugging off Nicole’s cloak. Then she patted Nicole down, pulling several knives and Nicole’s dirk from their sheaths, all while keeping her own blade pressed against the side of Nicole’s neck. She never once crossed the crossbow’s line of release. In a few moments, Nicole was mostly unarmed.

“You’re going to do exactly what I say, when I say it, or my friend here will blow your insides out onto the walls.” The woman’s voice was pleased, even smug, and Nicole’s alpha raged at the presumption of victory.

Nicole growled, “That's an evocative image.”

“Shut up!” Nicole felt the knife dig harder into her neck, the sharp edge burning as it cut through skin. “Here's what's gonna happen. You're going to call Waves up here. Then, we’re all going to have a nice talk.”

Nicole sucked in a breath. The Grand Cleric knows her name , what more do they know?! She tried to calm herself - getting killed would destroy everything. “Why are you doing this?” she demanded, glad her voice remained steady.

The Sister behind her growled, her rage mounting like a thunderhead about to burst. “You kidnapped a girl from her home and are keeping her prisoner! Now, do as I say, templar!”

At the intruder’s words, Nicole realized that she had been completely, absolutely mistaken. The nickname, the desperation, it all clicked into place. This wasn’t a fanatic’s rage, and this woman wasn’t a Chantry Sister - this was the desperate agony of Waverly’s sister.

This must be Nonna !

Relaxing would give off the wrong impression, but Nicole needed to change her strategy to suit this new information. This woman, Waverly's sister, wanted to protect Waverly, just as Nicole did. Nicole would have to appear to be intimidated, to go along with the plan. And, honestly, it’s not like I have much of a choice, she thought, they have me at their mercy.

“Ah, okay,” Nicole said. “Okay, you win. I’ll need to ask the templar at the door to bring her here.”

The knife at her neck dug in slightly, deepening the cut. The woman, Nonna, said, “No funny business, templar, we’re watching you. And get rid of your guards, or we’ll get rid of them for you.”

The knife left Nicole’s skin, freeing her, but she saw the Knight-Lieutenant - or whoever he really was - tracking her movement with the crossbow. There would be no escape, and since they didn’t want to hurt Waverly… Nicole would play along. For now.

Nicole walked to the door, her hands in sight. She had three more knives concealed on her person: the most accessible was in her belt buckle, but this was Waverly's sister, someone she loved, and the crossbow was still a concern. How did they even get up here without someone asking why that crossbow was loaded and drawn?

Nicole pushed against the door, feeling her signet warm with the contact, and opened it just a crack. “Ser Rimes, please bring Apprentice Waverly to my office. She’s most likely in the Great Hall, as it’s almost time for the noonday meal. After she arrives, both you and Ser Haver are dismissed for the remainder of your shift.”

“Yes, Knight-Commander.” Rimes didn’t seem to notice anything wrong as he saluted and trotted off to obey.

Taking a deep breath, Nicole closed the door and turned, still moving slowly. If they shoot me now, there’s nothing I’ll be able to do about it, but if I can behave like a valuable hostage, maybe we can all get out of this alive.

Nonna gestured to the corner of the room, against the wall to Nicole’s back. “Sit there and don't move.”

Nicole walked the ten feet to the corner and did as ordered, leaning her head on the cold, stone wall and closing her eyes, showing her throat to the imposters. The floor was cold too, and without her cloak the chill would soak into her legs, slowing her down. It was an entirely indefensible position, with the crossbow still aimed at her. She prayed that Waverly could help fix this mess before someone was injured or worse.

Nonna scoffed, her voice disbelieving. “You're a pushover. I don't know why everyone talks about the templars like they're some kind of elite military unit if their commanders are so weak.”

Nicole filed the information away - not only was Nonna, as suspected, not at all affiliated with the Chantry, she didn’t yet grasp that Nicole had surrendered willingly.

Nicole cracked her eyelids open, unwilling to let the insult pass completely uncontested. In a mild voice, she asked, “Not fighting a pointless battle is weakness?”

“There are plenty of points to this fight, kidnapper.” Nonna gestured expressively with her dirk, wiggling her eyebrows at the word 'points.’

Nicole snorted. “Point taken.” Obviously, puns ran in this family.

Nonna barked a laugh, then looked surprised at her own response, twisting her face back into a harsh scowl. “Aren't you awfully young to be a Knight-Commander? I was expecting a crusty old guy like the one I met during the Blight, what was his name… Nedley.”

Nicole thought, Now how did those two meet during the Blight? Did Nonna fight for Ferelden against the darkspawn? But, those were questions for another time. If Nonna wanted to chat, Nicole could be chatty. “He's in Denerim at the new Circle he founded there. I was his Knight-Captain and took command after he left.”

Cocking her head, Nonna said, “Huh.”

The mountain of a man behind Nonna said nothing, keeping his grip on the crossbow steady. It was an impressive feat, to hold so heavy a weapon out from his body, with the butt against his shoulder, for so long. He had moved somewhat closer, but not so close that Nicole dared scramble to her feet and try to take him out with just a knife, not through that armor. Besides, hurting Waverly’s friends or family was sub-optimal, at best.

A knock sounded against the door, and Nicole arched an eyebrow at Nonna. The woman tensed, her brows drawing down as she stared at the door, waiting for it to open.

The knock came again, then Nicole heard, “Knight-Commander?” Waverly sounded fine, maybe a little breathless from running up the stairs.

Nonna gave her companion a stern look and he nodded, the crossbow steady. Then Nonna sheathed her dirk and went to push open the door. It didn’t budge. She slammed her shoulder against it. Still nothing. Nonna whirled to glare at Nicole.

Nicole shrugged carefully, her hands still clasped on her knees. “Would you like me to open it?”

Nonna’s jaw muscle bulged, then she backed away from the door and growled, “Open it.”

Nicole called, “Come!” again feeling her signet warm to the command, and Waverly pulled open the door to enter.

Waverly began speaking before she was even through the door. “Knight-Commander, what do you-?” She stopped as the door shut behind her and gasped. “Wynonna!”

Waverly dashed to Wy nonna and jumped into her arms, laughing as she was spun around.

Wynonna’s voice was full of emotion, and Nicole watched with growing sympathy. “Oh Andraste’s flaming tits, baby girl, I’ve got you, you’re all right now. Fuck, Waverly, I was so scared.” Holding Waverly out from her body by the shoulders, Wynonna looked her sister up and down and then grabbed her back into a hug.

Out of the corner of her eye, Nicole still watched the fake templar with the very real crossbow, which had not shifted an inch from its aim at her chest. He held himself well, as if he was used to the templar armor, and it fit him as if it was made for him. Curious .

Waverly was breathless with happiness that leaked through the bond into Nicole's chest, her lavender and honey scent wafting out like a summer’s day, happier than Nicole had ever smelled it before. She asked, incredulously, “Wynonna, what are you doing here?!”

“I’m going to get you out of here. It isn’t safe, I’m surprised you haven’t already-” Wynonna’s voice broke on the last word and she took a breath. Then she reiterated, “That letter, Waves. I thought it was already too late, it didn’t sound like you. It’s not safe, you have to leave with me, they’ll make you Tranquil if they find out you’re… wait. Your scent is different.” Wynonna’s voice trailed off as she stared at Waverly.

How did she find out about the Tranquility policy, I wonder? Nicole thought, then had an idea. Perhaps this man's not a fake templar, but a former templar.

Waverly turned to look at the rest of the room, and Nicole saw her face change from happiness to concern the moment she realized what had happened.

A magical barrier, buzzing with power and glowing faintly blue, snapped into existence an inch away from Nicole’s skin and armor. Waverly, also, was glowing slightly, and she eeled out of Wynonna’s arms and stepped between Nicole and the armored man, facing him with her palm outstretched.

“Put the bow down, please.” Waverly stood, bold yet tiny, in front of this large, possibly templar-trained warrior and his enchanted weapon.

Nicole’s skin itched with inner tension. Her relief was intense - Waverly’s going to defuse the situation, thank Andraste - but Nicole still wanted to drag Waverly back, to get between her and the crossbow. Instead, Nicole forced herself to trust that Waverly knew what she was doing. Indeed, after a moment and a glance at Wynonna, the crossbowman lowered his weapon to point at the floor.

Wynonna, obviously confused, started to speak. “Baby girl, what-”

Waverly interrupted. “Wynonna, I love you, but you need to listen to me. The Knight-Commander is not your enemy, unless you make her one.”

Wynonna’s face fell into a thunderous scowl. “What did you do to her?” she snarled, turning to Nicole.

Waverly looked at Wynonna and answered for Nicole. “She saved my life, Wynonna. She kept me from being turned Tranquil!”

Nicole watched Wynonna exchange a look with the man, their gazes heavy with meaning. Then, she looked back to Waverly and stiffened. “Waves,” she said, voice heavy. “What’s that on your neck?”

Waverly’s hand flew to her neck, covering Nicole’s bite where it peeked above the collar of her robes, and looked at Nicole. However, she didn’t budge from where she shielded Nicole with her barrier-clad body. Waverly said, “Something necessary.”

Waverly’s tone was uncertain. Nicole saw how much Waverly didn’t want to discuss this with her sister - and Nicole also sensed how much Waverly needed to do so. Waverly needed to confide in someone, anyone, and who better than her sister, who had blown the whole conspiracy wide open anyway?

“I’m gonna kill you,” Wynonna snarled and started toward Nicole.

“No!” Waverly’s voice was firm, and as it echoed, thick vines of power swarmed up from the flagstones to grip Wynonna’s boots and anchor them to the ground. Wynonna’s forward progress was halted and her arms windmilled as she tipped forward alarmingly, but she steadied herself and opened her mouth to retort.

Before the confrontation could get even further out of hand, Nicole cleared her throat and, as she garnered the attention of all present, spoke. “Apprentice Waverly, you seem to have a lot to talk about with this… Chantry Sister .” Waverly glanced at her, and Nicole saw the twitch of a smile at the emphasis. “Would you like to use the guest quarters for your conversation?”

Waverly nodded. “That would be good, I think. Thank you, Knight-Commander.” Then, her eyes drifted down to Nicole’s collarbone. “Ah, let me fix that real quick,” she said, turning her back on Wynonna’s pet crossbowman and approaching, lifting a glowing hand to Nicole’s neck. Nicole saw both interlopers tense as Waverly neared her, and she made sure to stay very still. No sense getting anyone shot or stabbed.

Waverly’s hand, and the healing warmth it carried, passed through the barrier and pressed over the cut Wynonna’s dirk had left on Nicole’s neck. It was the first time Waverly had touched Nicole since that hazy morning three weeks ago, and Nicole  ached with the need to touch her omega, to pull her close and- Nicole cut off her reminiscences, telling herself, This is not the time or the place!

“Thank you,” Nicole said, her voice thankfully steady despite the lyrium hum in her ears. Trusting that no one would attack her for moving after Waverly had demonstrated such easy trust, Nicole fished out a key and handed it to Waverly, who took it with a smile and turned away.

Waverly swept past Wynonna and the magic restraints vanished as she snagged her sister by the ear.

Wynonna squawked and clawed at Waverly’s hand but, as she was unable to get through the barrier, she was forced by the grip on her ear to stumble after her sister. “Ow! What, ow! Waverly what are you-”

The door to the guest quarters slammed behind them, leaving Nicole and the crossbowman staring at each other. Waverly’s barrier still buzzed across Nicole’s skin and the man eyed her for a moment before he looked to his bow, removing the quarrel and deactivating the rune at its tip before he uncocked the mechanism.

Nicole took that to mean that they were in a truce, for the moment. Heaving herself to her feet, she made her way back to her desk and slid her confiscated weapons back into their sheaths, propping her longsword back up against her desk and re-fastening her cloak. The man kept his eyes on her, but made no move to attack.

Quietly, Nicole asked, “What is your name?”

The man heaved a sigh. “Call me Dolls.”

“Have a seat, Dolls.”

Dolls considered, then nodded, sweeping the sword - a heavy claymore, Nicole saw - off his back to lean it against his chair and placing the crossbow on Nicole’s desk.

Nicole took her own seat and said, “You are a brave man, to come into a place so rife with your mortal enemy.”

“Templars are not my enemy, nor are mages,” he said, his face expressionless.

Shrugging, Nicole said, “I didn’t say your enemy was a person. You are a lapsed templar, correct? You are brave to come here despite the risk to your abstinence. Unless you are taking lyrium, still?”

Instead of addressing Nicole’s probing question, Dolls said, “Wynonna needed help.”

Nicole spread her hands. “You know as well as I do that this was foolish. I can't allow Waverly to leave. In fact, I have all rights to kill you both for this. You’re lucky none of my templars saw what you were doing.”

Dolls didn’t move, perhaps understanding from Nicole’s tone that she wouldn’t kill either of them. Instead, he said, “You mated her. How is that not against your oath?”

Nicole sighed. “I don’t know how long you’ve been separated from the Order, but Divine Justinia wants omega mages to be allowed to live in circles without being made tranquil. This was the solution, that a willing, trained templar bind the omega with a one-sided mating bite.”

“Did she say yes?” he asked.

Shrugging one shoulder, Nicole opted for honesty. It still burned, her regret over the way duty had forced her hand, but it had also let her protect Waverly from being turned Tranquil. Her self-recriminations were private and this wasn't the time to examine them. “Waverly had a choice. It wasn't a good one, between Tranquility and this, but I tried to give her the most information I could so that it would at least be an informed choice.”

“That's more than some would do.” Dolls seemed to relax, slightly, but he was still perched at the edge of the chair. Armor didn’t make for comfortable lounging.

“Will you keep the peace?” Nicole asked.

Dolls contemplated the question for a moment, then nodded.

The sound of yelling and a muffled thump, echoing down the hall and through the door, capturing Nicole’s attention. She was halfway out of her seat, a growl building in her throat, before Dolls interrupted. 

“Knight-Commander, there’s nothing to worry about. Wynonna sometimes - no, not sometimes, almost always - communicates through yelling, but she would never hurt Waverly.”

Nicole still twitched with the sounds, hearing Waverly’s voice rise to join the fray. Casting about for something to do that didn’t involve charging into that room to defend her omega, she eyed Doll as an idea dawned. “How do you feel about sparring?”

Dolls’s slow grin was all the answer Nicole needed.

After securing her office door - no one would be able to enter or leave without her say-so, even with her key - Nicole cleaned off her desk, leaving a note for Waverly. Then she led Dolls to her personal training room. Shedding Waverly’s barrier with a short flex of templar power - she hoped it wouldn’t worry Waverly that her spell had disappeared - she asked, “Staves or fists?”

In silent agreement, they stripped off the outer components of their armor - Nicole assisted Dolls with some of the trickier catches, long-familiar with the bulky things from her junior templar days - and, once they were in the sleeveless shirts that underlay their gambesons, they settled into a watchful prowl, with their weighted, blunt sticks, looking for openings.

Nicole sized Dolls up, and her impression was definitely that of size . He was taller and broader than she, muscles rippling under his skin. Grappling with him would be a mistake. She needed to be lighter, faster, and get in savage blows that wouldn’t get her grabbed and pulled close.

Circling, she waited for him to make the first move. Politely, he obliged, darting in - fast, how is he so fast? - and jabbing for her gut. Nicole hopped back, still balanced on the balls of her feet, and hammered a blow into his forearm before he could withdraw.

Dolls shook his arm out once, grinned, and circled.

This time, Nicole moved first. She struck at Dolls mid-body, was blocked, struck with her other stick and hit him along the ribs, but he snapped his arm down to trap it. Releasing her grip, Nicole jumped over the sweep of his foot and jabbed him in the gut with the point of her remaining weapon. When he jumped back, her captured weapon clattered to the floor, where she scooped it up.

Dolls’s next blow caught her thigh, and she slammed a strike into his shoulder. Then they were off, trading blows and parries as sweat ran down into Nicole’s eyes, and the air grew moist and heavy with their sweat.

After one incautious lunge, Nicole found herself pulled off balance over Dolls’s hip, flying through the air and slapping down onto the flagstones. All the air blew out of her body, and she rolled frantically to get back up and rejoin the fight, huffing little breaths back into her abused lungs. She sent him into the air next, and he hit the ground with a satisfying smack .

Finally, they danced apart, both heaving unsteady, tired breaths through open mouths. Nicole caught a whiff of honey and… is that whiskey? Turning her head, she saw Waverly and her sister at the door, both open-mouthed, staring into the room. Waverly's eyes were dilated, and Nicole remembered her response the last time she'd seen Nicole half-dressed and sweaty... Clearing her throat to dismiss the thought, Nicole straightened up, collecting both of her sticks in one hand as she offered Dolls her palm.

“Good match,” Nicole said, and meant it. She was good and knew it, but so was he. Due to her speed, he had landed fewer blows than she, but they had been all the harder for it.

The big man grinned at her as he took her hand and shook.

“Well,” Wynonna drawled from the doorway, her voice sardonic. “Now that the dick-measuring contest has ended, how about we get some food up here? I’m starving.”

“If I know you, Wynonna, the dick-measuring has just begun,” Waverly murmured just loud enough for Nicole to hear.

Wynonna laughed. “Well, you know, templars. Have you seen those swords? They’re all compensating for something.”

“Not all of them,” Waverly hummed as she gave Nicole a knowing look.

Nicole felt herself slowly, unstoppably, embarrassingly , start to blush.

“Ugh, gross, no! You’re my baby sister, there will be none of this...” Wynonna waved one arm up and down at Nicole, her lip curling in disgust. “This eye-fucking while I’m in the same room.”

Waverly snorted. “Then stop eye-fucking tall, dark, and silent over there.”

With a gasp, Wynonna protested, “That’s not eye-fucking, that’s appreciating the male form!”

Nicole sighed. It looked like they had survived the argument unscathed and that Wynonna was here to stay, at least for the afternoon.

Chapter Text

After Nicole snagged a passing templar, telling him to ask Brigid to send servants with enough food for four people, and once Waverly had pushed enough healing energy into both Nicole and Dolls to make their bruises less swollen, Nicole and Waverly showed Wynonna and Dolls into the guest quarters. Nothing seemed broken from Wynonna’s tantrum, although Waverly had looked anxiously at the bathroom door, but once Nicole revealed the adjoining chambers with an additional bed and small bathroom, she left Waverly to give them instructions on the use of the facilities.

Nicole retreated to her office chair and took the opportunity to drop her head into her hands, resting her elbows on the desk. Now that the immediacy of the problem had faded, her mind was free to tie itself into knots. This was close, she thought, feeling her own fingernails digging into her scalp. If they’d tried to cut their way through me, or if Waverly was less inclined to talk and wanted out, they might have caused a lot of damage.

“I’m sorry,” came Waverly’s quiet voice, accompanied by a hand on Nicole’s shoulder. “I know you were trying to avoid me, and now this…” A flicker of sadness, of hurt, leaked through the bond.

Nicole sat up and turned, grasping for Waverly’s hand as the girl tried to withdraw. “I wasn’t avoiding you, Waverly.” She stopped. That wasn’t quite true. “Well. I was, but I did it to give you space.”

Waverly didn’t try to pull away from Nicole’s hold. She searched Nicole’s eyes, and Nicole wondered what she found there that smoothed the worry from between her eyebrows. “Space?” she prompted, coming closer. Her lavender robes brushed against Nicole’s desk

“You were brought here against your will, forced into a binding that you didn’t want, and, so, yes. I thought you might need to explore Circle life on your own, without being constantly reminded of me.” And of what I did to you, but Nicole didn’t say it. She cleared her throat and pressed forward. “I promised you, that first day, that you wouldn’t have to see me until your heat.” Nicole looked up into Waverly’s hazel eyes, hoping that she was making sense.

It had hurt, not seeking Waverly out to speak to her, to touch her, but Nicole had honestly thought it would be best not to constantly remind Waverly about the binding and upcoming heat. Nicole didn’t forget, of course. Her instincts had urged her to check on Waverly at every opportunity, every moment between opportunities, and every dream had taken her to Waverly’s side (and more, if she was honest) - but she had told herself that was to be expected: Waverly was hers to protect, now, and would never be far from her thoughts.

Waverly came even closer and, after a moment, crawled into Nicole’s lap, pushing Nicole’s legs apart to settle between them. Nicole held her breath, shocked at the contact after weeks of unabated skin-hunger. Nicole’s thighs took the warm, soft weight as the smaller girl nestled her legs sideways over the arm of Nicole’s chair, flattened her shoulders against Nicole’s chest, and tucked her head under Nicole’s chin. The warm solidity of her omega pulled at Nicole, Waverly’s scent rich and full with her own notes mixed in. As she wrapped her arms around Waverly and nuzzled into her hair, Nicole felt something uncurl, something she hadn’t even noticed was tight and aching. Waverly felt like… home .

“When you called me up to your office I was so happy because I thought that maybe you wanted to see me,” Waverly whispered. “I missed you.”

Nicole’s heart ached, remembering the excitement in Waverly’s voice when she entered the office, before she even saw Wynonna. Oh, oh, I’m so sorry, Waverly. Giving in to her feelings, Nicole said, “I feel like I made a mistake, staying away. It felt terrible. Did it hurt to be apart, for you?”

Feeling Waverly’s nod, Nicole said, “I’m so sorry, I should have asked you what you wanted. I thought it was just me. I missed you, too.”

The girl against her chest sighed and snuggled closer, tilting her face up to Nicole’s neck. “I believe you, and I forgive you.” Lips brushed Nicole’s neck and she shivered, arching it back, and was rewarded with a gentle scrape of teeth along the corner of her jaw. Waverly hummed. “As long as you don’t do it again.”

Waverly’s teeth closed on Nicole’s earlobe, and Nicole inhaled sharply with the arousal that sparked down her spine and into her gut. Her alpha libido awoke, intrigued by the closeness of her omega, and Nicole closed her eyes. Waverly purred into Nicole’s ear, her tongue tracing along its shell until Nicole shivered. “You smell so good. Like vanilla, and apples, and sometimes spicy like cinnamon.”

A harsh bark of laughter from the side and behind startled Nicole out of her reverie. Her chin snapped down, and she stopped herself from leaping up just in time to avoid spilling Waverly onto the floor. Wynonna’s voice snarled, “What, your rapist smells like apple pie, and that makes all of this okay?”

Nicole flinched, looking over at Wynonna, still in her cowl and Chantry robes, who had entered after evidently eavesdropping from the hallway.  The word rapist echoed in her mind. After Waverly’s binding, while Nicole had been trying to figure out how to proceed, she had tried and failed at not applying the term to herself. She had tried so hard to be a good person, to always make choices she could be proud of, to protect those weaker than her and yet… she had made Waverly choose between Tranquility and being fucked and bitten and claimed by her.

Even worse, Nicole had worked for years to become the very best, most irresistible lover just so she could make her omega like it, regardless of consent. Nicole could put it delicately all she pleased, but that’s what she had actually done. And here, with Waverly curled in her lap, dependent on her after everything she’d done, Nicole couldn’t defend it. Wynonna was right.

Nicole felt like all of the air was leaving her body, trailing out in one long breath, and it hurt, but nothing could hurt as much as what she’d done. She tried to pull her hands back from where they touched Waverly, but Waverly grabbed them and placed them right back on her legs and hip, with a squeeze to tell Nicole she wanted them to stay. Nicole obeyed.

“Wynonna, stop it,” Waverly snarled. “Nicole didn’t have a choice, either. I told you this.”

“Sure she did,” Wynonna yelled back. “She could have let you go.” Rage boiled under Wynonna’s skin, blazing out her eyes, tainting the air with her pheromones. It stabbbed at Nicole’s alpha, demanding that she stand and fight, but Nicole couldn’t, wouldn’t move, restrained by Waverly’s request in the brunt of Wynonna’s anger. Besides, Nicole had those thoughts herself, and she couldn’t help but feel that she deserved what Wynonna was saying.

Waverly’s ire rose to meet her sister’s, the sharp sting of rosemary flooding into Nicole’s nose. “And what, Wynonna? I’d just be caught again, maybe by someone worse. Nicole might not have had command anymore after letting an apostate go, they may have decided that omegas are too dangerous so I might not even have had this option again! We’ve been over this, I thought you understood, why do you have to hurt her?”

“BECAUSE SHE HURT YOU!” Wynonna roared, her blue eyes bright with angry misery.

“She’s already hurt herself for this, for me, Wynonna. She told me that first day that it would hurt her, and she was right. It hurts her every time she looks at me, I can feel it, just like I can feel it now. Please stop. It’s done, and you’re not protecting me by doing this.”

I’ve been hurting her? Nicole thought, aghast at the implications. All this time, she’s been sensing how I feel about this?

“Argh,” Wynonna said, and then slumped into a chair. Dolls, silent as before, walked in from the hallway and sat in the other seat, now dressed in his gambeson, but unarmored. Nicole tracked the threats automatically, but she wasn’t really thinking about how to defend herself at the moment.

“Nicole,” Waverly coaxed. “Look at me, feel me.” Nicole felt Waverly’s hand, coming up to curl around her neck and smelled her, rich lavender and honey, somehow still affectionate with her despite Wynonna’s illustration of her faults.

The bond between them cracked open and warmth streamed through, coiling around Nicole’s lungs and heart. She blinked, coughed, inhaled, coughed again. Despite her urge to get up, to leave and collect herself in private, she stayed right where she was when she felt Waverly’s lips caress her throat. Wynonna looked away from them with a sound of disgust, and Nicole tried to focus on Waverly instead. “I’m sorry,” she croaked.

“I know,” Waverly said, wiping Nicole’s face with her sleeve. It came away wet - Nicole was surprised to realize she must have been crying.

Nicole had to ask. “You can feel it? When it hurts to think about what I’ve done to you?”

“Mhm.”

Sorry . I never meant...”

“I know , Nicole. It’s okay. You didn’t really have a choice about this, you were forced into an impossible situation, just like me. We’ll figure it out.” Waverly snuggled in, inhaled, and relaxed against her. “We have time.”

Nicole hadn’t really thought about the situation that way. But it was true . Nicole had never expected an omega apostate to come to the tower - they were rare, omega and alpha mages, and didn’t tend to survive the depredations of their heats and ruts long enough to be apostates. Or, so Nicole had been taught.

So, Nicole had made the decision to accept omegas under the assumption that they would have had years to prepare themselves for this choice, not a mere two days. This binding had eaten at Nicole because Waverly hadn’t been given the benefit of that slow deliberation, the years of getting to know and trust one another. But, importantly, neither had Nicole.

Tightening her arms around her omega, Nicole huffed a wet laugh. “How are you so level-headed?”

“Beats me,” Wynonna grumbled, interjecting. “No one else in the family is reasonable like this.” The word was tinged with disgusted admiration, a sister’s aggravation with her sibling shining through.

“I’m the only one capable of making Wynonna see reason,” Waverly confided cheerfully. “Everyone else hits the stone wall of stubbornness or the fires of her temper.”

“Oh,” Nicole said, rallying. “Considering that you made Lonnie more productive in three weeks than he’s been in a year, that isn’t surprising. I’m starting to anticipate miracles whenever you’re involved.”

“Lonnie?” Wynonna asked, her voice sharp.

Waverly answered, “Every apprentice has duty hours - mine are spent taking inventory with a templar who is pleasant, if a bit prone to daydreams.”

“Daydreams, misspelling, miscounting, and inexplicable tangents,” Nicole chimed in, warming to the subject of Waverly’s skills. “Waverly has made him start improving on his own , which I considered almost impossible.”

Waverly hesitated. “You’ve been keeping track of me this whole time?”

Nicole nodded. “How could I not?” The warmth of Waverly’s pleasure at that admission trickled in through Nicole’s sternum, heating her from the inside out. She cleared her throat. “How did you help him?”

Waverly shrugged, her shoulder rubbing against Nicole’s chest. “He just needed a different kind of focus. I taught him the counting songs my Nana used.”

Wynonna’s face softened. “You would teach a children’s rhymes to a templar, baby girl.”

Nicole looked down at the top of Waverly’s head, thinking fond thoughts. Waverly hadn’t told Nicole much about herself, but Nicole didn’t really need her whole history to know that the girl was someone special. No wonder Wynonna was so desperate to find her that she’d brave an entire garrison of templars.

Nicole sighed, shaking off her malaise. It would be back, she knew, as it had lurked in the corners ever since Waverly had arrived at the tower. But, for now, Nicole could move forward.

Nicole said, “The food should be here soon. I’ll bring you a chair, Waverly, and-”

“No need,” Dolls said, and got up. “I’ll go.” Before Nicole could protest, he was through the door to the guest quarters.

“Dolls likes you,” Wynonna remarked, her eyes narrowed as she looked at Nicole. “Maybe he sees something in you I don’t.”

Nicole shrugged as best she could with Waverly still curled in her lap. She ventured a joke. “Maybe he just likes being beaten up.”

Wynonna huffed and looked away, but her face didn’t seem so tight. Waverly patted Nicole’s shoulder.

As Dolls carried a heavy chair from the guest quarters to place beside Nicole’s own, someone knocked on Nicole’s office door. Before she could say anything, Wynonna said, “Come!” in a tone passably similar to Nicole’s usual call.

Nothing happened.

“Damn,” Wynonna said, and Nicole smirked.

“Time to get down, Waverly,” Nicole said, and Waverly sighed but began to move. Trying to push an idea through their bond, Nicole thought, Soon. It was unclear whether it got through, but Waverly seemed content to sit in her own seat nonetheless.

Nicole straightened her clothes, wiped her face again, and said, “Come!” She made sure her signet ring was out of sight of both newcomers, just in case. There wasn’t a visual component to the door lock, and it wouldn’t work for anyone else, Dagna had assured her of that - but it was better not to lose a finger to her omega’s sister if she could avoid it.

The servants streamed inside, Brigid at their head.

Merciful Andraste, Nicole thought in despair. This sinner commends her soul to your care.

“You!” Brigid boomed and planted her feet on the floor before Nicole’s desk.

Both Wynonna and Dolls leaned away, no doubt reacting to the enraged aura leaking from the Tower’s culinary genius. A statuesque woman of perhaps forty years, Brigid seemed to take up more air than other people with sheer force of will. Her black hair was cut short and sprinkled with white, and she wore a white apron that Nicole had seen stay pristine in the middle of a food fight (the apprentices had gotten out of hand and coated everyone in a fine layer of something or other, but even the food was afraid to soil Brigid’s apron).

After taking a huge breath, Brigid waded into her rant. “Knight-Commander, I never see you, these past weeks. You sneak in and out of the mess like a ghost. And look at you!” Brigid waved her hand disdainfully and Nicole glanced down at herself in guilty reflex.

“You are wasting away without eating all this good food that I put in front of you! And then,” Brigid growled, flinging her hand into the air. “Then you ask for food for four people and I think to myself, ‘Ah, that one has used her mirror, she knows that she is but a shadow of her former self, and is finally acting to remedy it!’ So I plan to double the food, but!” Pausing, Brigid glowered.

“But then, I hear a rumor that you have guests! From outside the Tower! And you did not inform ME, your culinary virtuoso, that my services would be required?! SO.”

Brigid clapped her hands, and a train of white-faced food staff marched in lockstep into Nicole’s office, supporting platter after platter of food. There were enough to fully cover the enormous desk, and Brigid watched with fiery determination as each was placed at her direction.

Brigid raised her chin. “So, Knight-Commander, I present you with a feast! I want it all gone, do you hear me?! You, girl,” Brigid said, gesturing at Waverly.

Waverly sat up straight (as one does when confronted with six feet of furious womanhood) and nodded. Pointing directly at Nicole, Brigid said, “Your job is to make sure she eats! You eat too, none of this sighing  and picking at your food.”

“Yes, Brigid,” Waverly said.

“And Knight-Commander, one more thing.” Nicole tensed. Brigid set her face in a firm scowl, but her eyes were twinkling. “If that mabari of yours doesn’t use her manners and stay OUT of my kitchens, I shall have to take steps .” She whirled around and pointed, and Nicole saw that Calamity had tried to edge inside the room, looking remarkably sheepish for a two hundred pound, muscular killing machine. “Yes, YOU!” Brigid warned the dog, and Calamity put her ears flat and whined, wiggling her hindquarters and her tail in appeasement. “Don’t give me that, you behave or I’ll cook you and display you as the centerpiece for the next feast!”

With that, Brigid gave a curt nod to Nicole and her guests and swept out of Nicole’s office, her staff hurrying to catch up. The door slammed shut. The four of them sat in silence for a moment, Calamity’s claws on stone the only sound as she made her ashamed way to her bed and laid down with a huff, her back turned to Nicole’s chair. Wow, what did she do this time? Nicole wondered.

“Whoa,” Wynonna said. “Guess we know who wears the iron panties in this tower!”

Nicole knew she was blushing with embarrassment from the (deserved) tongue-lashing, but something had caught her attention from Brigid’s tirade. “Sighing and picking at your food?” she asked Waverly.

Waverly shrugged sheepishly. “I guess my appetite hasn't been up to Brigid's standards either.”

This further evidence of her mistakes had Nicole feeling guilty and then, at Waverly’s wince, sent her prying at the connection between them, trying to shove her determination to change through to Waverly. She got a startled look from Waverly, but Waverly shook her head and mouthed, “Later.”

“Well,” Wynonna said, rubbing her hands together before she grabbed a plate. “It would be a shame to disappoint my new favorite person.”

Nicole poured herself some wine. Then she looked at the spread. “There's so much food here. You know who's missing?” she asked Waverly.

“Gus,” Waverly said.

“Gus,” Nicole agreed, and then there was a knock at the door. They both swiveled to look at it, then at each other.

“Come!” Nicole called, and Gus walked into the room.

When Nicole and Waverly just gaped at her, Gus said, “What?”

Shaking herself out of her surprise, Nicole said, “Nothing, we were just thinking of inviting you. Waverly…” Nicole hesitated, then decided not to stand on secrecy. “Go ahead and tell Gus everything. Gus, I’ll be right back with another chair.”

Nicole trotted down the hall to her rooms, thinking to let Waverly acquaint her sister with her mentor. Sure enough, when she returned, Gus was heaping praise on a blushing Waverly.

“Waverly's far more skilled than I would have expected from someone not Circle trained. Who was her teacher? She won't tell me,” Gus complained.

Wynonna exchanged looks with Waverly and then changed the subject. “So you're finally learning how to do bruises? Could've used that the last time Doc'n I got sh- ...uh, got back home.”

The slip was obvious, but Nicole didn't press it. Yes, Waverly was full of mysteries, but Nicole would let them come out in due time, if Waverly wanted to share them.

Clearing her throat, Waverly said, “Check out that big one on Nicole's arm from earlier and see for yourself.” There was a good amount of pride in her voice, and it was well deserved. When Nicole rolled up her sleeve, the red mark from one of Dolls's sticks had faded to just a yellow-green smudge.

Gus leaned over to examine it, “Oh well done, you've got the knack for it all right. Though how did Nicole get so battered?”

Nicole turned her attention to Dolls and indicated him with a nod. “Sparring.”

In a dark, disapproving tone, Gus muttered, “Templars.”

While they were all speaking Gus had still somehow managed to load her plate with something from every tray. Half a pasty, streaming gently from the open center, was cradled in one hand while her wine was in the other.

Waverly elbowed Nicole and handed her a pasty. “Eat,” she said. “Brigid put me in charge of you, and she's right. You've lost weight.”

“I've been training harder,” Nicole protested, but she obediently took a bite. It was one of her favorites, lamb cooked with rosemary and garlic and onions, rich with gravy, and tucked inside a flaky crust. Nicole hummed and closed her eyes to chew.

Wynonna’s voice pulled Nicole out of her reverie. “Waverly, I said no eye-fucking.”

Nicole opened her eyes, looking over to see a blushing Waverly scowl at her sister. “I never agreed to that.”

 


 

“So,” Wynonna said, after much of the food had been consumed and they had all settled down with full glasses of wine.

Gus settled deeper in her chair, obviously determined to stay for this conversation. Nicole was grateful - although Waverly seemed to be capable of handling her sister, having allies in a conversation with Wynonna seemed wise.

Waverly had scooted her chair closer to Nicole’s and was curled into it, leaning against the arm and cradling her wine in one hand. Nicole leaned against the arm of her own chair closest to Waverly and sipped her wine, evaluating Wynonna over the rim.

Dolls was silent, just watching all of them with his calm gaze. He obviously wasn't hurting for lyrium, or perhaps he had already passed the worst of withdrawal. Either way, Nicole wouldn't tempt him.

Wynonna rolled her eyes as everyone waited for her to speak. “So, you're not going to let Waverly leave.”

“No,” Nicole said.

Waverly sighed. “It's really not bad here, Wynonna. I haven't seen so many books since… well, a long time. I'm making friends, I get to use magic, and there's potential to be able to help people, actually help people, with my magic. Gus is a great teacher, it's only been three weeks but I feel like I've learned so much. I miss you, and our house, and Rosie and Doc and everyone - but someone turned me in, from there, and even if I left the tower I could never go home.”

Wynonna's face was grim. “You're in a cage, baby girl. It might be a nice cage, but it comes with jailers.” She nodded at Nicole, then at Gus.

Gus sipped her wine and said, mildly, “I would rather be here, interceding for my mages and healing the sick in neighboring towns, than be out there and unable to help even one person for fear of being stoned by a mob.”

Wynonna grunted. She looked at Nicole. “Why haven't you thrown us in a cell, templar?”

Nicole looked at Waverly, who smiled at her, eyes crinkling.

“Ah,” Wynonna said and drank some more wine.

Nicole decided to steer the conversation to more practical ends. “It would be wise not to share your purpose in coming here, or your lack of actual Chantry positions or business, with anyone else. I will let you both stay the night in the guest quarters, unless Dolls wishes to stay in a bunk in the templar quarters?” Nicole looked to him and he shook his head. “Very well. Waverly,” Nicole's voice softened as Waverly looked up at her. “You may stay up here with your sister, if you wish.”

“Thank you,” Waverly said, and reached over to lay a hand on Nicole's arm. The contact prickled across Nicole’s skin, sending waves of happiness through her. All is well, we are together , it hummed.

The rest of the discussion strayed to matters of their stay, and Wynonna declared her intention to leave the following afternoon. After Gus departed, Wynonna and Dolls went to settle into the guest quarters.

Waverly lingered for a few moments after everyone else left, playing with her food. Nicole sipped her wine, then put it down, unsure of how to break the silence. Waverly did it for her.

“My heat is coming soon, I can feel it. Can I still stay with you for it?”

Nicole looked over at her omega and yet again regretted her attempt to maintain distance between them. “Absolutely. Nothing has changed, I meant everything I said before. Do you have an idea of when it will be? I can’t tell from your scent.”

“A few days, no more than five.”

“When you feel the first of it, come up to the fourth floor with whatever personal effects you need and present the token I gave you before. My guards will let you into my office, and I’ll be able to brief Robin and Gus. They already know what to do, and once that’s done I’ll be yours for the duration.”

Nicole’s phrasing was deliberate - she didn’t want Waverly to doubt her commitment to helping her through the heats. And, she had to admit, even if just to herself, that her alpha was eager for it. There was just something about Waverly that drew her in, made her want to push her against the wall and just- Stop it!

Waverly smirked at her. “I can feel that interest of yours, Knight-Commander. If I sat on your lap now, would you be hard?” Her tone was playful and it sparked things, deep in Nicole’s gut.

If Nicole wasn’t hard before, she was certainly swiftly getting there. She coughed and took another sip of her wine. “Perhaps,” she muttered into the goblet and looked up to see mischievous eyes twinkling at her. Waverly was beautiful in her playful guise.

Waverly’s face grew more serious. “I do forgive you, you know. This situation is impossible, but you’ve sacrificed for me, too. I don’t want you to feel guilty. Besides, as we’ve already established, your pain comes through the bond in flashes every time you see me, and it’s uncomfortable.”

Nicole felt another flash of guilt and, at Waverly’s flinch and glare, surrendered. “I’ll try. It shouldn’t be so strong, when it’s one-sided like this. At least, that’s what I was told. I’ll work on my guilt, especially since I can’t change the situation.”

Waverly patted Nicole’s arm and leaned over. Nicole felt the feather-light brush of a kiss across her cheek, and then, after a brief pause, another against her lips. Waverly stepped back with a shy smile, blushing. Nicole’s lips tingled from the contact and she touched them, watching Waverly’s eyes and feeling her own smile against her fingertips. Waverly winked at her, then whirled and strode to the door, giving Nicole one more glance as she pulled open the door and left to collect her belongings for the night.

 


  

A short time later, after Nicole had redistributed the remaining food to plates and sent back the empty platters, she sat musing over her wine and reviewing the templars’ duty rotations at the clinics on the shore. Winter was approaching rapidly. Although transit between the shore and the Circle Tower after the freeze was made possible by mage-burned tracks in the ice, it was always smart to make most shift changes before the freeze deepened. That way, Nicole could minimize any weather-related disparities in shore duty and feelings of inequality between templars on different shifts.

Calamity snored next to the brazier, and as the chill deepened Nicole considered dragging it closer to her chair, but for now opted not to steal the dog’s warmth and instead nestled further into her cloak.

At the sound of the guest hallway door swinging open, Nicole kept an eye on her dog and her head bent to the papers.

Wynonna cleared her throat and walked into Nicole’s periphery, dressed in slim-fitting leather and steel chainmail armor that Nicole figured she’d worn in under the Chantry robes. The equipment was high-quality, fit well, and was obviously broken in and well-maintained, just as her weapon had been. Whatever Wynonna was doing for money, it was evidently lucrative enough to buy tailored equipment and dangerous enough to leave marks and mended patches on her armor.

Now that Wynonna wasn’t consumed with rage, her alpha scents were citrusy underneath the ginger, maybe lime, laced with the same whiskey overtones from earlier. Her hair, freed from the cowl of her Chantry robes, was long and dark, flowing in loose waves over her shoulders, .

Where did she get those robes ? Nicole wondered. She’s never been affiliated with the Chantry, which means she must have taken them off of someone. Hope she left the woman alive.

“Hello, Wynonna,” Nicole said, sitting back in her chair. She held her hand down beside her chair to signal Calamity, who had stopped snoring. Stay, quiet , the gesture said, and as long as Nicole held it Calamity would obey. This conversation with her omega’s sister was necessary, however rough it might become.

Now that she had Nicole’s attention, Wynonna advanced to loom over her and thrust one finger into her sternum. “Listen, templar. Waverly is the sweetest, brightest, best person I have ever met. You might be able to keep her here, but nothing will save you from me if you hurt her again. You hear me?”

Nicole kept her body neutral, restraining her instincts as they pushed her to challenge Wynonna. This was Waverly’s sister, the one other person Nicole could trust, absolutely, to have Waverly’s best interests in mind, even if they didn’t agree about what those best interests were .

“I hear you, Wynonna. Waverly is under my protection, and if something happens to her, it’s on me.”

Wynonna paused, obviously not expecting Nicole’s capitulation, then firmed her face again and prodded with her finger, rocking Nicole. “You bet it’s on you. If I had my way, I’d have killed you and dissolved that binding you forced on her, but she’s decided you’re worth saving.” Wynonna shook her head, her mouth turning down at the corners. “Don’t misunderstand me - I don’t want you near her, at all… but since she’s decided that she’ll stay here with you, don’t you dare neglect her like that again. She’s all alone here.”

Nicole firmed her jaw at the reminder of her mistakes. “I won’t.” I can’t be everything she needs, can’t be a real mate, but I can be someone to trust and find comfort with.

Wynonna continued. “You’d better not. And if anyone harms one hair on her head…”

Nicole grasped Wynonna’s wrist and stared into her eyes, feeling her own gaze ignite with potential rage. “Then we’ll both see them burn.”

Wynonna swallowed, then ripped her hand out of Nicole’s grasp. “You bet we will, Haught. I expect to be notified if anything happens, and-” Wynonna faltered and gathered herself. “If anything does happen, you tell me first.”

Promising to break templar secrecy was against everything Nicole knew, but she didn’t hesitate. Good relations were necessary with Wynonna, and it’s not like she’d run around the countryside blabbing secrets that would get Waverly killed. “I will. Address letters to Waverly to me - I won’t fetter your communications, except what’s necessary.”

“What the fuck does that mean? You’ll just read it?” Wynonna’s anger was mounting again.

Nicole decided to speak plainly. “ Someone from the outside is reading the Circle Tower’s mail. There are forces that want to sabotage the better treatment of mages, especially omega mages. The Grand Cleric in Denerim is one. When you came in here and demanded Waverly’s presence, using her name? I thought you were an agent of the Grand Cleric, here following rumors of an omega apostate, planning to demand her immediate Tranquility or worse in order to force a confrontation.”

Wynonna paled, her lips pressing in a hard line. “Is that why you got all-” she waved her hand up and down at Nicole, “-all commander-y about it? To keep Chantry agents, us, from thinking they could just take her?”

Like her sister, Wynonna had a knack for weaving together the motivations and actions of others. Nicole nodded. “Yes, exactly. You couldn’t have taken her even if you were agents from the Chantry, unless you were a Seeker or somesuch. But I don’t want anyone to know about her, at least until we have enough allies in place to prevent a move from the Grand Cleric. So, yes, all mail leaving the tower is screened by me or my Knight-Captain, but mostly me.” Nicole pointed at herself. “It would be best if your letters to Waverly didn’t include details that might let our opponents understand who, and what, Waverly is to you and to me. She already used fake names for you and herself in that first letter - it was a wise move, and might keep her safer.”

Wynonna’s hands were clenching and unclenching, but she scowled and said, “Fine.”

A knock sounded against the outer door, and Nicole looked at Wynonna. “Don’t let my templars see you out of your robes.”

Wynonna scowled harder, then ducked into the guest hallway as Nicole called, “Come!”

Waverly slipped inside with a bundle in her hand, closing the door, and she smiled when she saw Nicole. “Hello, Knight-Commander.”

The sight of her, along with the memory of all the times Waverly had called her by her rank, had Nicole smiling back. “Hello, Apprentice.”

“Hello, sister,” Wynonna said sarcastically as she stepped back into the room, then looked between them. “Don’t tell me... you call her Knight-Commander when you’re fucking, don’t you?”

Nicole couldn’t stop the flush in her cheeks, and a glance at Waverly’s reddening face showed that the jibe had caught her unawares as well. Wynonna’s laugh, harsh but not unamused, echoed against the stone walls.

“Wynonna! Behave!” Waverly chided, but her lips quirked upwards and humor crinkled the corners of her eyes. Nicole was amused despite herself, reminded of her own older sisters, their pranks and teasing before Nicole was sent away. Maker save me from older sisters , she thought, somewhat sad. I wonder what they’re doing now.

 


  

Hours later, Nicole woke from a dead sleep to darkness and a warm, happy scent flooding her senses. “Waverly?” she slurred, tongue still clumsy with sleep. “How?”

“Hello, Nicole,” Waverly said from her bedside. “You gave me your key, remember? Can I come in?”

Trying desperately to ignore the insinuations she could make from that statement, Nicole pulled back the covers. “C’mere.”

Waverly’s warm body slid into bed, curling into Nicole. “Hi,” she said, and then her freezing feet landed on Nicole’s legs. Nicole tried to stifle a squeak of protest, but from Waverly’s snicker it still escaped.

Nicole breathed in Waverly’s scent and curled an arm around her waist to tow her closer, feeling her warmth through a thin nightshirt. “Hi,” she purred, and then inhaled sharply when warm lips met hers in a gentle kiss, Waverly’s fingers threading into the hair at the back of her neck. Waverly tasted good , was hers .

Nicole started to wake up more, then, and remembered the distance she’d been trying to keep, the aloofness she’d painstakingly cultivated, and the fact that she’d been hurting Waverly that whole time.

“Shh,” Waverly said, and her lips caressed Nicole’s again, her cold nose rubbing Nicole’s cheek. “I’m okay, we’re both okay, and we will work it out. But for now,” her voice dipped into sultry honey, “Please, be my generous alpha, and warm my feet up.”

Nicole chuckled and kissed back, relaxing into the precious intimacy. “Okay, sunshine.”

Waverly made a startled noise, and then her tongue swept across Nicole’s lips, begging for entrance. Eager for that further closeness, Nicole capitulated, opening, accepting Waverly into her mouth with a soft sound and welcoming tongue. Waverly pushed into Nicole’s body, molding herself to Nicole’s skin, and sent a wandering hand up Nicole’s back.

Waverly broke away, hovering so close that Nicole felt her words sweep across her cheek. “You’re not wearing anything. To bed, I mean.” Her hand was creeping across Nicole’s bare skin.

Nicole, hoping she was interpreting Waverly’s tone and wandering hand correctly, purred, “I never do, didn’t you guess from that first night?”

“Don’t you get cold?”

“I run hot.”

Waverly’s hand tickled over Nicole’s side, cresting the lowest edge of her ribs. Her fingers reached the swell of Nicole’s breast, skating across the soft skin. Nicole could feel her nipple tightening, sending an anticipatory tingle straight to her gut. Waverly said, hesitantly, “I want to touch you.”

Nicole cupped Waverly’s cheek, kissed her, then whispered, “You may.”

Waverly’s hand grasped Nicole’s breast, kneading, and Nicole groaned. The light, feathery touches had already awakened her entire body, drowning her in the awareness of her omega’s closeness, her warmth, her willingness. Nicole slid her hand down to Waverly’s ass and squeezed it, through the thin nightshirt, and savored the taste of Waverly’s moan.

Waverly sighed, her fingertips tugging Nicole’s nipple. Nicole’s body had shifted slowly, gradually, as Waverly had come onto her, and her cock was half-full and growing heavy. It brushed Waverly’s stomach and Nicole felt Waverly stop moving.

Waverly stammered, “I don’t know if I can, if I-” She stopped, breathed, and Nicole stayed still, waiting to find out what Waverly wanted. “I want to be close to you tonight, but, it might bring my heat early, to- to take your cock.”

Nicole understood immediately, and she poured reassurance into her tone. “Whatever you need, Waverly, it doesn’t have to be like that every time.” Nicole nudged her thigh between Waverly’s legs, feeling them part for her, then Nicole rolled Waverly flat to the bed. Waverly ground up against Nicole’s leg and made a little sound, somewhere between a moan and a sigh.

Nicole said, “I don’t have to use my cock, Waverly. There are so many other ways to make you feel good. Is that what you want?”

Waverly shivered and pressed forward again, painting wetness across Nicole’s thigh. “Are you sure?” she panted.

Nicole was absolutely certain, especially now that she knew Waverly had come to her bed without anything on below her nightshirt. “Yes, go ahead, you can always take what you need.”

In a moment, Nicole was engulfed in Waverly’s scent as it swirled around her, happy and eager and potent . The thrill of having Waverly so close was going straight to Nicole’s cock, making it throb with need - a need that Nicole knew wouldn’t be met tonight. Nicole groaned and pulled her fingertips over Waverly’s hip.

“Can I touch you?” Nicole asked.

Waverly kissed her and murmured, “Please.”

Nicole traced Waverly’s skin down, down across soft, curly hairs to slide between Waverly’s cunt and her own thigh, into the wetness that coated them both. She hissed out a breath as she dipped down, gliding across Waverly’s clit until she could slot it between two fingers, letting Waverly buck up against them.

Waverly kissed her again, humming out praise with each breath, “Oh, please, s’good.”

Nicole growled, “Fuck, you’re so wet for me, fuck yourself against me just like that. You like being touched like this, don’t you?”

“Yes!” Waverly’s breathless groan carried a hint of pleading.

Nicole slid two fingers down and inside , stretching the ring of flesh at Waverly’s entrance open to allow them to enter, letting her own weight push them deep into the wet heat.

“Oh!” Waverly’s exclamation was surprised and thrilled in equal measure as Nicole curled her fingers, the pads of her fingertips finding the swollen flesh against Waverly’s front wall and strumming against it. “Oh, oh fuck.”

Waverly bucked up against her, giving Nicole a better angle. Nicole pulled out and thrust once, twice, again, making little circles with her thumb around Waverly’s clit. She tried to match Waverly’s movements as their timing meshed and they began to complement each other.

“Let go,” Nicole purred and mouthed against Waverly’s neck, finding the dents where her teeth had scarred the skin as she paced Waverly’s thrusts with her own hand, feeling the burn in her arm at the angle, the way she forced her fingers to curl on the apex of each push. She teased the skin with her tongue, there on Waverly’s neck, against her bite , licking across it and blowing, feeling Waverly’s rhythm falter and her pussy start to squeeze down. “You’re so good, so wet for me, you smell, taste, feel so amazing. Come for me, Waverly.”

With a deep whine, Waverly grabbed onto Nicole’s shoulder, digging in her nails as she bucked desperately into Nicole’s hand. “Yes!” she cried and tensed, clamping around Nicole’s fingers, and then fell apart into fluttering, rapid contractions.

Nicole purred and kissed her omega’s pliant mouth, drawing Waverly’s lower lip between her teeth as Waverly shivered. Waverly was still humping vaguely at Nicole’s hand, and her breath stuttered from her chest. Nicole nuzzled into her neck again and kissed the bite, so lightly. Mine , she thought.

When Waverly’s thrusts slowed, stopped, Nicole pulled her hand free with a gloriously wet sound, bringing it up to her mouth and moaning at the scent, darting her tongue out to taste. “Fuck,” she murmured, and slid her fingers into her mouth, letting her instincts drive her need to seek out every drop of sweetness she could tease out of the grooves of her calluses.

Nicole was still partly draped over Waverly, her cock safely cradled between the sheets and her own stomach, out of trouble. So, when Waverly traced one light finger up Nicole’s length, it came as a total surprise. Nicole hissed and her cock twitched, and then she drew in a slow breath as Waverly took her firmly in hand.

“Waverly,” Nicole choked out, then a long, luxurious pull took her breath away.

With a soft, sated voice, Waverly said, “You said before that this felt wonderful. How do you feel about it now?”

“Yesss,” Nicole breathed as Waverly stroked her again. Then the hand let go, came back, stroked again. It was slick, wet with something. . Oh, oh fuck, is that her own-

Nicole’s thoughts scattered with the next pull, and the next, and when she felt a push against her shoulder, she rolled obediently onto her back to give Waverly more access. Waverly hummed. Nicole felt Waverly’s thigh swing over her own, Waverly’s mouth kissing along her breast, and then the grip on her cock readjusted before pumping again, and again.

Nicole’s cock felt so warm, so heavy, so loved. Every time Waverly’s hand reached its tip her thumb stroked over the head, the slit, spreading wetness and sparking sensation down to Nicole’s toes. Waverly’s mouth teased, flirted, then tweaked Nicole’s nipple, making her cock pulse and flex against the constriction of Waverly’s hand, a fresh spurt of fluid leaking from her tip. Nicole moaned and bucked lightly into Waverly’s grip, getting an answering, rhythmic pull, and did it again, and again.

With every twitch of Nicole’s hips, each tight curl of her abs, Waverly’s pace matched her, dipping away now and again to come back with more slickness, more of her own sex, from where she was grinding against Nicole’s thigh, and Nicole let her head loll back. She was coiling, tightening, every muscle in her core flexing in anticipation of glory, and it only grew with their accelerating rhythm.

Waverly growled, “I want to feel you come all over yourself again, all over my hand, Knight-Commander.”

The title, the filth coming out of Waverly’s mouth, that incredible building tension in her gut, all exploded through Nicole and into her cock. She tensed with a curse, feeling herself swell and throb and clench with an intensity that made spots dance in her vision, then Waverly gave her another pump and she pulsed again, the sensation dancing down her limbs to her toes and fingertips. Nicole surrendered to the pattern, the waves of euphoria pulling her tight and letting her drift in turns.

At some point, after Nicole had emptied herself and slid into floaty completion, she twitched and opened her eyes. The bathroom door was outlined in light, bright in contrast to the dimness of her room. Then the door cracked open and the light went off. Soft footsteps trailed to the bed, and a warm, damp cloth was brushed along Nicole’s stomach, then up her oversensitive cock.

Nicole grunted, and Waverly murmured, “Sorry, you were rather enthusiastic and I figured you didn’t want to sleep like that. I’d lick it off you again, but I daren’t so close to my heat. If I went into heat with Wynonna here, I’d never hear the end of it.”

Some part of Nicole, still tender with her own abuse of their bond, eased at the revelation that Waverly didn’t mind spending her heat with Nicole, she just didn’t want it to happen with her sister there. Waverly’s hand cupped Nicole’s face and a kiss brushed across her lips, and Nicole heard the cloth tossed to the floor with a damp splat .

“No, Nicole, it’s just that she’s here , and I want to spend time with her. And that was… perfect. Thank you.”

“You’re amazing,” Nicole murmured, her brain still muzzy. “Will you stay?”

“Yes. I’ll hear from Wynonna about it, but I want to stay.”

“Good,” Nicole purred, pulling her omega into bed. Waverly’s frigid feet immediately landed on Nicole’s calves, and Nicole sighed happily. All was well, if only for the night.

Chapter Text

Nicole awoke to predawn dimness. The room was chilly, her ear and the back of her neck were cold, but the rest of her was curled around someone soft and warm, whose hair smelled of honey and lavender, vanilla and apple. She nuzzled deeper, taking in a big lungful of her omega’s scents, and pulled them closer together under the thick, piled covers. Her warm armful chuckled, bouncing Nicole’s elbow where it rested against Waverly’s ribs.

“You’re certainly sleepy this morning, though parts of you seem wide awake.”

Nicole mmphed contentedly, taking another deep breath and enjoying the stretch in her chest before she sighed it out. Then her thoughts caught up to what Waverly must mean. Oh. “Sorry,” she mumbled, and tilted her hip up, trying to navigate her morning wood away from where it had been nestled between them. “Happens sometimes.”

“Does it now?” Waverly asked. “Any particular cause?” Waverly’s voice was amused, a slight drawl creeping into her normally-perfect diction.

“Perhaps,” Nicole hummed, her mind waking up enough to catch the tease in Waverly’s voice. “I have dreams, now and again.”

“What do you dream about, Knight-Commander?” There was definitely some heat to those words, the use of Nicole’s title redolent with torrid memories, and they were accentuated by Waverly sliding her ass backwards to press against Nicole’s stomach and legs, putting them back where they started. The honey of her scent intensified, and Nicole took another luxurious inhale.

“Oh, well,” Nicole’s voice sank, gravelly with interest as she pulled her hand down Waverly’s side, gliding over soft skin. Waverly had evidently taken off her nightshirt before coming back to bed the night before. Nicole tilted her chin so her lips would brush Waverly’s ear as she spoke. “Sometimes, they start a little like this.”

The steadily rising thickness to the air, the warmth under the covers, the arch of Waverly’s spine as Nicole stroked down to her hip, all led Nicole to the thought that maybe this morning they could -

 

BANG BANG BANG “HEY SHITE-COMMANDER, HANDS OFF MY SISTER IF YOU WANT TO LIVE!!”

 

Nicole startled, her body jerking against Waverly, then she slumped back to the bed. Waverly laughed, and Nicole groaned and buried her face back into the pillow, clutching Waverly to her with sullen possessiveness. “Fuck. Can’t we just ignore her?”

More banging followed, and Waverly chuckled. “She’s more stubborn than me, so probably not.”

A loud canine growl leaked through the door, followed by a shout of dismay from Wynonna. It was Nicole’s turn to chuckle. “Calamity will sort her.”

Calamity barked, a loud and aggressive sound, then snarled. Wynonna yelped.

“Nicole,” Waverly sighed, not unamused. “She is my sister.”

Nicole cursed under her breath and called out, “Calamity, peace!” The growling stopped.

“Thank you,” Waverly purred, turning to press a kiss to Nicole’s forehead before she began to wiggle out of bed. “Ooh, it’s cold.”

“Nooo,” Nicole whined, but didn't prevent Waverly's escape. “Come back, you’re not wearing anything. Your feet will get cold.”

Waverly laughed and sent a thin stream of flame to the fireplace, lighting the logs there with a whoosh. The room lit up, illuminating Waverly in all her tousled glory as she pulled the thin nightshirt over her head. The skimpy garment clung to Waverly’s body, falling barely to mid-thigh, and her skin gleamed in the firelight. Nicole wanted her back in bed, damn it all.

Waverly smirked at her and shrugged into a dressing gown she’d evidently worn into Nicole’s chambers the night before, covering up all that enticing skin. “Five bells was a while ago and your duties call, Knight-Commander. Besides, I’m very warm for some reason and these will help,” she said as she stole Nicole's slippers from their spot by the door.

Nicole narrowed her eyes and hmmphed, aggravated and slightly mournful that Wynonna had interrupted their incipient tryst.

Waverly darted back to the bedside with a laugh, laying a soft, lingering kiss on Nicole's lips that only intensified Nicole’s desire to tug her back down to the bed and make her happy to stay. “Soon,” Waverly whispered, and then pranced to the door, inserting Nicole's key.

Wynonna charged into the room as soon as Waverly turned the door handle. She was disheveled, her hair wild and breeches unbelted around her hips. Nicole sat up in bed, grasping the hilt of her dirk, just in case. Wynonna wheeled on Waverly, who raised her eyebrows, then she spotted Nicole in the bed.

“You!” she growled in Nicole's direction, pointing her finger, and took one step toward her. Then she stopped as Calamity stalked calmly into the room. They stared at each other, woman and dog, and then Calamity yawned, showing off her two-inch long canines.

Wynonna made a face that betrayed her decision to be wise, just this once. “I'll deal with you later!” she warned Nicole, and then with a stern look at her sister Wynonna stalked out. Waverly sent one last glance to Nicole, her eyes and the corner of her mouth creased with mirth, and left.

Nicole flopped back into bed and groaned once more, then let out an “OOF” as her dog leapt on top of her stomach.

Time to start the day. Damn it all.

 


 

The rest of the morning passed slowly. After she’d washed and dressed, Nicole ordered breakfast and lunch to be delivered. When the first meal arrived, a huge spread that mirrored the previous night’s feast, the sisters emerged only to take their portion back to the rooms. Wynonna directed a sour glance at Nicole but said nothing, eyeing Calamity where she lay, asleep on her cushion beside Nicole’s desk.

Waverly winked at Nicole and perched on the arm of Nicole’s chair to fill her plate, wafting her scent into Nicole’s nose in a way that had to be intentional. Nicole’s fingers twitched with the urge to pull Waverly into her lap, but she resisted. For her restraint, she got a soft kiss on the cheek from Waverly as she left with Wynonna to return to the guest room. Dolls ate quietly with Nicole, then requested access to the Templar training facilities. Nicole assented with the realization that he wanted to give the sisters as much time as possible together.

Nicole spent much of the morning in her office, seeing to the never-ending correspondence and duty rosters. Gus stopped by for their daily tea meeting, eyeing the leftover breakfast food with possessive interest before Nicole told her to go ahead.

“So,” Gus said, selecting from a plate of sausage as Nicole poured hot water into the teapot. “How do you plan to handle this situation?”

“It’s handled. Wynonna will leave, Waverly will stay, and they’ll exchange messages like all other mages and their families.”

Gus laughed. “Oh, Nicole, do you really think that Wynonna will stay away, now that she knows you won’t discipline her sister for this infraction?”

Nicole huffed. “She’d better, or I’ll have to take steps.”

Gus gestured expansively with her fork, which was laden with an entire sausage. Calamity watched with interest from where she’d strategically positioned herself next to Gus’s chair. “Like what? Tell your templars she isn’t a real Sister, and he isn’t a real templar? Answer questions about how she fooled you the first time, and what Waverly was doing up here with all of you for an entire day? Punish Waverly? What could you actually do, Nicole?”

Nicole groaned and buried her face in her hands. “Damn.”

Gus, however, had a proposition. “Tell Sister Nightingale that you need a special dispensation for Waverly’s family to visit. I think she may be amenable. Say something like this: ‘In light of the tumultuous nature of Waverly’s arrival at the circle, I request that her only family be allowed to visit quarterly, under close supervision.’”

“Do you really think that’d work?” Nicole asked. Surely it can’t be that easy.

Gus shrugged. “I don’t know, but I do know you won’t be able to keep Wynonna away from her sister. She’s almost as protective and clingy as you are.” At Nicole’s incredulous snort, Gus said,
“Don’t give me that! You’ve been lurking around the girl for weeks, moping and being noble. For Andraste’s sake, have you decided to stop your ridiculous avoidance policy yet?”

Nicole stiffened, then nodded.

Gus smiled. “Good. I told you, that girl wants to spend time with you. In your situation, it’s a gift from Andraste that she doesn’t resent you for binding her to you and then all but abandoning her. Don’t waste this chance to build mutual trust and respect.”

They moved on to business after that, but after Gus left, Nicole sat and thought about her words for what seemed like a long, long time.

Nicole had made regular updates about Waverly to Sister Nightingale over the previous three weeks, and while she had received only acknowledgements in return, the lack of action from Denerim had gradually reassured her that Sister Nightingale had issues well in hand.

As Gus had suggested, Nicole sent a raven off with the request for Waverly’s family to be allowed to visit. After her raven had departed, she looked out the window through which he’d flown. The morning’s mist had burned off, and the sun was almost out of sight far above her. By its light she could see for miles across the deep blue waters of Lake Calenhad, all the way to the shore, the brown, leafless trees and dark green pines blurry with distance. The wind whipped around the tower, howling across the open sill, its chill moistness sapping warmth from Nicole’s face and neck, but her padded garb protected her body well and she felt no discomfort.

Fed by Ferelden’s southern mountain streams, the lake was deep and cold throughout the year. Nicole couldn’t see ice yet on the choppy waters, but soon the shallowest portions would begin to freeze, forming thin sheets that would break up with the passage of late-running fishing boats and re-set over the course of weeks. Then the water around the Tower would gain its own crust, clinging to the edges of the stone and creeping ever outward.

Once the ice set and thickened, the fishing crew, a much-coveted work detail for mages and templars alike, would be staffed by hardy individuals who trooped down to the ice on a daily basis and chopped or seared holes in the ice, dropping in lines and pulling out fish after fish that seemed eager for the fat worms that the garden kept in healthy supply.

Nicole wondered if she was like those fish, starving for a glimpse of a warmer, more open world. Maybe this entire saga was affecting her so strongly because she had been isolated for too long, trapped inside the curved walls her demesne, and needed to get out and see the land again, breathe the moist, rich air of the forest, sit with her back against a tree and just… be.

But, if Nicole was aching for freedom, how must the mages feel? The templars? How did they all cope with this impending winter, the knowledge that even their limited freedoms would be curtailed by law and weather alike? Nicole, at least, knew that she could leave at any time, though the backlog of work would be daunting when she returned. But her protectorate shared no such privilege.

And how, Nicole wondered, her thoughts drifting back to Waverly as they so often did these past few weeks. How will she fare in this first winter locked inside, unable to walk in the outside air except on the terrace, unable to do… Nicole realized, with a pang of regret, that she had little idea of what Waverly might have done from day to day in the little village she’d inhabited. Gus had been right, she did need to get accustomed to Waverly, to get to know her. She reinforced her resolve. No more avoidance. This is forever, if all goes as planned. I must get to know her and try to repair the damage I’ve done.

With one last glance at the open water, Nicole stepped away and felt the weight of her duty settle back onto her shoulders. The ravens, curious as ever, had edged around to see past her and were alternately peering out into the open window and eyeing her. Nicole shook her head and left, careful not to let any of the little winged troublemakers slip through the door. Brigid would have Nicole’s head if a raven got into the kitchen again, not to mention she’d already threatened to feed Nicole raven pie.

The remaining hours until noon were consumed with templar business around the tower, and Nicole did not return to her office until just past the noon bell. She was preoccupied with Knight-Captain Robin’s distressing report on the templars’ lyrium stores - somehow, their stock of the valuable stuff was below expectations. Considering that it was kept under lock and key - Nicole’s master key, or the Quartermaster’s personal key - in the Repository, and only a mage and a templar together could open the Respository’s door, the diminished supply was quite a mystery. An expensive and disturbing mystery, at that.

Lyrium was introduced into a templar’s training regimen as soon as they graduated from recruit to apprentice in the Order. They were told it would enhance their abilities and protect them from possession. While it did provide a boost to a templar’s power, it was a well-known yet little-spoken fact that the tincture of lyrium they consumed would be required in gradually-increasing amounts for the rest of their lives, or they would suffer horrifying withdrawal symptoms and eventually go mad.

Nicole’s own next dose - she only ever kept one dose on hand, to prevent undue temptation - was waiting for her in her chambers. It was locked in her safe, enclosed in a special wooden case with a carving of Andraste on the inside of the lid. The carved bone spoon, the little knives, the vial of herbs, the mortar and pestle. The glass vial of refined lyrium ensconced in a metal frame, its radiance leaking through slits cut in the steel. If Nicole thought about them, she could feel them in her hands, picture grinding the ingredients all together, dribbling in purified water, pouring them through the metal funnel into the tiny leather flask, pressing the rune on its surface to activate the transformative magic, shaking it and, and, and drinking it again. Feeling it pour through her, the security and confidence and strength she lacked right now, just a few minutes and she could solve all of her problems, could think clearly again like she used to, when she was taking the full dose-

Nicole shook herself and thought pointedly of the reasons she had reduced her consumption of lyrium, the reasons she had held to for almost a year now. She had been concerned, since old Pietr had begun losing coherency in the Evensong he had performed for almost three decades. He had grown querulous and combative, where he had been cheerful and vibrant not three years earlier. Some blamed it on the losses of the revolt and the Blight, but Nicole had seen too many templars exhibit similar rapid declines in their fourth and fifth decades.

Pietr had accepted his mandatory retirement to a monastery with poor grace, and Nicole, well. Nicole had begun scaling back her dosage the very month he left and had informed Knight-Commander Nedley of her decision, hoping he might do the same. He had never addressed the issue with her, but she hoped. She had also instituted tighter accounting of each templar’s rations, but most templars felt they needed more lyrium every three months and that even being held to the same ration by Nicole’s new policy was unkind. If Nicole ordered them to cut back, that minor muttering might turn into a significant morale problem. Nicole was torn - if she told them that she, too, was reducing her lyrium consumption, she might quell those complaints with solidarity. However, that move might also spark rumors of her incompetence or worse, falsehoods about how she was sabotaging her templars’ ability to fight rogue magic, and thus undermine her command just when she needed it to be most secure.

All of the lyrium in Thedas was mined by the dwarves from deep underground, where only they could find the stuff. The market in Chantry-controlled areas was limited to Chantry purposes; in other words, only the Circles and the Templar Order were permitted to purchase it, and the Kings of Orzammar held to that profitable agreement. The dwarves had a healthy relationship with the surface of late, since the Hero of Ferelden’s actions to settle their succession had brought an enormous number of warriors to the surface to fight the darkspawn, followed by an influx of merchants. Nicole had heard that some of the old thaigs - great, underground dwarven cities long abandoned - had even been liberated from the darkspawn while the blight pulled them aboveground. Lyrium had thus been in plentiful supply, but despite the surplus it was still very dear to purchase.

Nicole would have to skimp on other resources for the templars if she was to keep them from running dangerously low. Or, she thought, I could leverage Godwin’s little operation. That miscreant of a mage ran a long-running lyrium smuggling ring that was under close observation, unbeknownst to him. Most of the lyrium he sold made it safely into the templars’ stores, where it could be traded to the Circle mages for various purposes. Godwin hadn’t pushed any of his templar customers - the real customers, that is - past the point of addiction yet, and if Nicole’s agents played him just so, she might be able to last without having to purchase extra from the dwarves and draw the eye of the Grand Cleric.

As Nicole rounded the curved hallway to see her door, she saw a crowd and dismissed her contemplations to pick up her pace. The servants were outside with platters of lunch, and one of them was bickering with Nicole's guards, but when they saw her they made room for her to pass.

“I am sorry, Mathias,” Nicole said to Brigid’s assistant. “Due to the privacy request by my guests, only I have access to my office at the moment.”

Mathias nodded, a smile on his face. Nothing fazed Mathias. “I understand, Knight-Commander.”

Nicole smiled at the servant, nodded to her guards, and opened the door - then shut it hurriedly at the sight within. She turned to the crowd and said, “Wait for a moment longer, please.” They backed away respectfully and she slid inside, slamming the door closed behind her.

Wynonna was now standing beside Nicole’s desk, facing the window. She was at least wearing her disguise, but her position when Nicole first opened the door had been suspicious in the extreme.

Nicole sighed. She knew what this was about. “Her phylactery isn't here, Wynonna. And that lock isn't pickable.” The keyhole in Nicole’s desk safe was, in fact, a completely complicated and useless contraption - without Nicole's signet, the safe in her desk would never open.

Wynonna turned and scowled at her. “I’d have thought you’d want to keep your leash close at hand, templar.” Apparently, she wasn’t done insulting Nicole, but Nicole could weather it for Waverly’s sake. Besides, Wynonna seemed to respond well to humor before...

Nicole rocked back on her heels, shrugging. “No, all of the serious bondage stuff is stored in my bedroom. I wouldn’t want anyone getting ideas during a long budget meeting.” She wiggled her eyebrows to drive her point home.

Wynonna’s face tightened, then relaxed, and she huffed. “Being funny won’t make me like you.”

“No, but it might make you listen to me.” Nicole was serious, now, removing all jocularity from her tone. “I’ve asked my sponsor to allow you to visit. But -” she raised her hand as Wynonna tried to speak, and thankfully, Wynonna let her finish. “I won’t know for a while. I’ll send word as soon as I do.” Nicole bit her lip. “I want this,” she waved her hand at herself, Wynonna, and off to the guest room at the idea of Waverly, “all of this, to be as functional, as healthy, as possible.”

Wynonna’s lips were thin but she nodded. “Me too. For her sake.”

Nicole looked at the guest hall door. “Where is Waverly, by the way?”

Wynonna huffed. “Bathing, again. I swear that girl loves water more than air.”

Nicole filed that tidbit away and tried not to think about joining Waverly in a soaking tub one day.

“Did I smell food?” Wynonna asked, and Nicole remembered the crowd in the hallway.

“Come!” she called, and the door opened to another procession of trays and Dolls, who followed the servants in.

 


 

After lunch, and after Waverly had said her tearful goodbyes to Wynonna (which featured many gruff admonishments to eat right and not let templars push her around), Nicole had Knight-Captain Robin escort Wynonna and Dolls down through the Tower to the ferry. Then, suddenly, after a full day of too many people around her at all times, Nicole was alone with Waverly.

Left with only Waverly’s morose expression to inform her actions, Nicole vacillated for a moment before she opened her arms. Waverly dove into them, nestling against Nicole’s tunic, and Nicole held her close.

After a few moments, Nicole cleared her throat. “I’ve asked my sponsor to allow Wynonna to visit,” Nicole said, and Waverly looked up at her.

Waverly was still mildly blotchy, her eyes glistening, but her expression was hopeful. “Really?!”

Nicole’s throat felt thick, her heart aching with the need to reassure her omega. It was strange how when they were apart, she could steel herself to professional distance that was erased by mere moments in Waverly’s company. “I don’t want you to get your hopes up, it isn’t normally allowed, but maybe Sister Nightingale will make it so.”

“Thank you, Nicole,” Waverly said, setting her head back against Nicole’s chest. “Thank you for asking for me.”

Nicole wished she wasn’t wearing her armor so she could feel the warmth against her skin, but the smell of Waverly’s hair, perfumed slightly from her bath, was reassuring nonetheless.

Nicole hesitated. She knew that it had been a mistake to stay apart from Waverly for so long, and yet she worried about the inevitable questions she and Waverly would eventually have to answer about the binding and the nature of their association. Sister Nightingale’s favor was a boon, but who knew how much power she could truly wield against someone as influential as Grand Cleric Holda? Too many steps down the path of fraternization could end so badly for everyone involved.

But Nicole had already made up her mind - Waverly needed her, and Nicole… well. Nicole didn’t need Waverly, she couldn’t let herself need Waverly. But it would be so good to see her, to be able to hold her and know she was safe. To smell her hair, to touch her, to nuzzle into her neck and kiss the divots of the scar decorating her neck. To-

Nicole halted her imaginings with difficulty, trying to ignore the buzz of interest they had engendered in her groin. She cleared her throat, trying to get back on track. “I have a solution to our problem.” She gave Waverly one last squeeze before she stepped back.

“Our problem?” Waverly asked. She wiped her face, sniffling a bit, and Nicole fished out her kerchief and offered it. Waverly took it with a grateful nod and blew her nose.

Nicole pushed ahead. “The problem of having to stay apart in the eyes of mages and templars alike, while still needing more frequent contact. If -” Nicole was struck with sudden concern, “if you still want to see me between heats, that is.”

Waverly’s expression lit up with interest. “That would be amazing. I missed you.”

“Really?” Nicole asked, relieved but unwilling to let it be without confirmation. “Despite everything?”

“Nicole,” Waverly said, her voice calm and measured. Nicole felt somewhat like she was back in her Chantry lessons, being schooled by someone far wiser than her. “Nicole, yes, I didn’t get a real choice, and that’s not what you want. That’s something I like about you - you think about things. But I need you to understand that every choice I’ve made since then has been mine. I chose to take you back to bed that first morning, I chose to come to your bed last night, and I choose to spend my heat with you. Haven’t you made choices, as well?”

Nicole nodded. “Of course, but, when everything at the start is so convoluted, does it matter?”

Waverly shrugged. “All I know is how I feel, and I want to see you. Isn’t that enough?”

That confirmation, that Waverly was interested in spending time with Nicole despite the circumstances of their binding lit a warmth in Nicole’s chest. She smiled. “I… want to see you too.”

“There,” Waverly said, her voice teasing, “that’s settled then. Now, what did you want to propose?”

Surprisingly, Nicole did feel more settled. She brought her mind back to the discussion. “Did you ever wonder why there are hallways flanking this room, instead of rooms directly adjacent?”

Waverly looked at the walls. “No, I didn’t. Are you saying that there is a hidden room?” She sent out a tendril of magic, a glowing, green cord that probed curiously along the stone walls. Nicole shivered at the sensation of magic tickling over her skin and watched until the cord disappeared. “I can’t sense anything at all!”

Nicole smiled at that. “There are secret rooms in the tower, warded by powerful obfuscations, that are connected by passages between walls and floors. And one of them leads to this very office.”

This information was yet another blessing bestowed by Dagna during her renovations of the Tower. Kinloch hold was an ancient fortress, built by dwarves and Avvar centuries ago, and had lost many secrets to the passage of time. Dagna had discovered the hidden corridors, shafts, and chambers by touching the stone walls and sniffing along the mortar for unexplained drafts, and had taken her findings to Nedley and Nicole. After the discovery, Dagna had spent a great deal of time investigating their every quirk at Nedley’s request and had even crafted keys that operated the long-forgotten mechanisms within.

Coupled with Dagna’s own security innovations, the opportunity for stealthy movement around the tower and even one heavily-concealed access point to the outside meant that the Knight-Commander and her most-trusted allies had a powerful weapon in the face of any potential attackers. Nicole had the only copy of the map, with instructions for all of the pressure-plates and trick locks. Dagna had warned her that there might be more passages, warded from even her investigations, but that she had done her best.

Waverly smiled. “I can visit you?”

Nicole nodded and walked to her desk. She opened a drawer, pulling out a folded sheet of fine-woven cloth and a heavy brass medallion before she strode to the wall. “Come, I’ll show you.”

The tapestry she pulled aside was woven of heavy wool. Nicole waited until Waverly was by her side and pressed the medallion against a stone that appeared the same as all the others. A rune flared into life, then faded, leaving a circular depression. Upon slotting the medallion inside, Nicole watched as it turned itself a quarter-circle, paused, and then continued to make a complete rotation.

Without a sound, an entire segment of stones shifted back, away from Nicole and swung open like a door, wide enough for one person to slip through without touching the walls. The dark hole in the wall sat, silent and depthless.

“Follow me,” Nicole said, and stepped through, holding the tapestry back with one arm until Waverly could brush past. And brush she did - somehow, her entire side glanced along Nicole’s front, the sensation blunted through Nicole’s armor but its intention remained clear. Nicole’s mood brightened even further as she dropped the tapestry and clapped her hands.

The magelights in the ceiling sparked into a gentle glow, revealing a cramped, rectangular room, dusty with age and neglect. The air was cold, unwarmed by physical or magical intervention, and it was slightly stale from the dampness of the lake that clung to the stone floor and walls. To the left, a spiral stone staircase was visible, twisting sharply down into the darkness.

To the right sat a strange projection from the floor that resembled a stone bench with two smooth, elevated ridges along each edge - except that the “seat” of the bench was beveled into a shallow trough between the ridges. It was level for only a few feet before it curved sharply downward, disappearing into a dark, tall hole cut into the walls and floor, with four feet of clearance above it and two feet to either side.

“What is that?” Waverly asked, walking over to the contraption and peering into the hole, then running her hand over its surface. “It’s so smooth, almost like glass.”

Nicole grinned. “That’s the way down.”

“The what?!” Waverly gaped at Nicole.

Nicole tapped the medallion in the door with her finger and it fell into her hand. She closed the door behind her to seal their entrance then turned, shaking open her packet of cloth into a long, narrow sheet. She laid it on the stone bench, then swung a leg over and sat, legs straddling it on either side, butt resting in the groove. Her leathers protected her somewhat from the cold stone, thankfully. Then she turned and offered a hand to Waverly. “Sit in front of me.”

“You’re joking,” Waverly said. Nevertheless, she grasped Nicole’s hand and let herself be towed closer.

“Nope!” Nicole said, cheerily, as she pulled Waverly down to nestle against her front. Waverly was warm, and soft, and smelled so good, and this would be fun. “Kick up your feet - I’ll slow us down if we go too fast.”

Waverly obeyed, placing her boots on the cloth and leaning back into Nicole.  Nicole wrapped her arms around Waverly and hummed. Waverly grumbled, “You’re lucky I trust you, Knight-Commander.”

“Yes,” Nicole said, entirely serious. “I am.”

Then Nicole scooted them forward until Waverly began to slide forward on the incline, leaned back, lifted her boots off the floor, and they slid into the dark.

Waverly squeaked and clung to Nicole’s arms as they slid down, down, down. Nicole’s stomach flew up into her ribs at the drop and she laughed. As they always did, dim mage-lights sprang to life ahead of them after the first few feet, lighting the narrow shaft of the slide and revealing the curve of its path.

After the first arc of descent - Nicole knew it was a drop of over four dozen feet between floors, but it passed in mere seconds - the slide leveled off briefly. They slid past a door set flush against the curved wall to their left, slowing slightly, and then dipped down again. Waverly made another smothered sound, this time half-fear, half-glee, their bond leaking excitement into Nicole’s mind, and Nicole squeezed her a bit tighter.

“Two more floors to go,” Nicole murmured into Waverly’s ear as they picked up speed again, the chill air rushing past them.

Waverly huffed a breathy laugh.

They passed another landing, then whooshed down another stretch until, all too soon, the slide leveled off again. Nicole set her boots down on the smooth paving stones and pushed, slowing their passage with the friction.

When they finally stopped, Nicole tried to sit up. Waverly had other plans, however, twisting in her arms to crawl on top of Nicole’s stomach, pushing her flat to the stone. Nicole’s heart jumped into her throat at the sudden, affectionate move.

“That was fun!” Waverly chirped, bracing herself over Nicole’s body. “Can we do it again?!”

Nicole chuckled. She’d felt much the same the first time she’d descended through the tower this way. “Yes, but we have to climb all the way back up first.”

“Hm,” Waverly pondered, still smiling down at Nicole. “I think I can tolerate your company for that long, sweaty climb.”

The look of mischief on Waverly’s face made Nicole want to do something, bring them closer together, prolong that glee - but before she could say anything, Waverly’s lips met hers, breathing sweet warmth into Nicole’s cheeks. Nicole felt a spark of hope. Maybe, just maybe, this would work out all right for both of them.

Chapter Text

For the three days since Wynonna had left the Tower, Nicole’s irritability had grown to the point of distraction.

Waverly had departed her chambers soon after they’d scaled the hidden staircase (for the second time - after they’d finished kissing, there had been a rather...uncomfortable trip (for Nicole in her leather pants, anyway) up to the top, followed by another adventure down the slide). Once safely back in Nicole’s quarters, they had discussed Waverly’s heat in theory. Then, they parted with the mutual agreement that they wrap up their affairs in the next few days, abstaining from the use of the secret passages until after Waverly’s heat.

Nicole had been working herself ragged ever since. The interruption to Tower business that Wynonna had precipitated led to a pile of paperwork, and as a result Nicole wasn’t satisfied with anything about her plans to vacate her post for Waverly’s heat. She was especially worried about the Tower’s security under Robin’s command. If, for instance, a “Chantry Sister” like Wynonna had arrived when Robin was in charge during Waverly’s heat, when Nicole and Waverly were both unable to deal with it, the whole thing would have been a bigger debacle and could have gotten people killed. But Nicole couldn’t find a way to prevent a similar event without stopping all ferry traffic at the Lake Calenhad docks, which would inform her opponents that something had changed.

Nicole believed that her frustration was somewhat under control, aided by frequent trips to her training room to sweat and grunt her way through exercise after exercise, but on the second day Gus set down her teacup with a firm clink of porcelain. “You’re overthinking it, Nicole. You’ve left Knight-Captain Robin in command before.”

Nicole shook her head. “But what if-”

Gus interrupted. “Take the time off, you need a rest.”

Nicole growled, then at Gus’s raised eyebrow she smothered her anger. “I apologize,” she said, castigating herself for the slip. There was really no excuse for losing her temper, especially not at Gus.

Gus hesitated, seeming to consider her next words before she spoke. “You seem agitated, Nicole. Does this have something to do with Waverly?”

Nicole considered. The thought of Waverly, of the pleasant but necessarily brief glimpses Nicole had seen of her in the Tower as they separately prepared for Waverly’s heat, was a source of eagerness and excitement, not aggravation. Nicole wanted Waverly’s heat to happen right now, in fact, despite the Tower’s lack of preparedness for a change in command . Nicole shook her head. “I don’t think so, or at least not in a negative way. I just need the Tower to be safe.”

Gus smiled and picked up her teacup again. “Alphas like being in control, Nicole. But you’ve let go before, and everything continued according to plan. Just trust that your Knight-Captain and I can handle anything that comes up. It is only a few days, after all.”

Nicole concurred in the moment. Still, she woke hours before the fifth bell the next morning and couldn’t get back to sleep, too focused on what could go wrong. Instead, she heaved herself out of bed, ignoring the way Calamity heaved herself up from her own nest to galumph onto the warm mattress. The flagstones were cold, spiking icy discomfort into the callused soles of her feet, but since it helped take her mind off her concerns, she didn’t bother with slippers as she took herself to her training room. Might as well get a start on the day.

Just past dawn, Nicole mulled over her visit to the mews as she walked down the hall toward her office. Sister Nightingale had not yet replied to the message about Wynonna, to Nicole’s chagrin, and she was starting to wonder if there was a better way to get in touch with the Sister.

Then, Nicole’s thoughts of Sister Nightingale fled completely from her mind as she smelled something enticing, a scent both arresting and irresistible that filled her nose, flooding her with pleasurable eagerness. She opened her mouth to take it in and sped up into an almost-trot, the urge to find that smell and roll in it, covering herself with it, overwhelming the need for professional dignity. As she went, she scanned her path, curious at the sense of pleasure that the closed doors and empty hallway afforded her. Why should lazy templars make me happy? she wondered, but discarded the thought, too interested in that scent to worry about absent templars.

As her office door, guarded as always by two of her templars, came into view along the curve of the hallway, Nicole saw Waverly approaching from the other direction. Nicole’s vision brightened, sharpened, taking in the perfect radiance of Waverly’s skin, the flood of her hair, the way her eyes had gained a darkness that cautioned and beckoned Nicole in equal measure.

Nicole’s alpha recognized what was happening immediately, translating the prickling along her skin and energy running through her veins like the moment before lightning strikes the Tower peak. Heat, Nicole thought, her heat is here. It simmered against Nicole’s senses, sweet lavender and so, so much honey. The scent, the sight of Waverly in heat made Nicole’s teeth ache, had her clenching her fingers into tight fists, started a fire in her belly that grew with each step closer to her mate.

Ever since Waverly had warned Nicole of her incipient heat, Nicole had put preparations in place, organizing her quarters, her orders, and herself for the event. One decision, the order that all duty officers stationed between Waverly’s quarters and Nicole’s chambers be betas this week, was already fortuitous. Neither of Nicole’s office guards - Ser Rimes and Ser Justine, both seasoned soldiers and betas - reacted to Waverly's approach, only saluting Nicole and keeping their eyes down and away from Nicole’s gaze.

Nicole’s alpha hummed inside at the lack of threat, the lack of any real competition. Not that anyone could match me, she thought, with a bit of wistfulness at the idea of unleashing her alpha in front of Waverly, of showing off her strength. The idea startled her a bit. After all, templars were her protectorate, not rivals to be cowed into submission, but Nicole’s alpha side didn’t care to recognize that fact at the moment. The rational side of her brain, buffeted by her awakening alpha, was doubly happy to have gotten the alphas out of the way.

Nicole slowed down, not wanting to appear as if she was rushing to her omega, and when she reached the door she turned to Ser Justine first, ignoring the pang of ignoring Waverly. “Templar Justine, report to Knight-Captain Robin and ask him to attend upon me as soon as possible. Then, tell Brigid to begin her prearranged deliveries of food to my office, starting with breakfast.”

“Ser!” Justine saluted and trotted away toward the mess hall.

From the opposite direction, Nicole heard running steps. Nicole turned her body to the side and tilted her head, coiling her muscles in tense readiness. Another templar, a young alpha that had been under Nicole’s command for barely a year, rounded the corner at a sprint, his hair rucked up from sleep and clothing half-fastened, eyes wild. The stench of his alpha preceded him, wrinkling Nicole’s nose in distaste. He’d heard the call of Waverly’s mated, spoken-for heat and come running anyway, the fool.

Nicole released a fraction of her control over her alpha, filling the hall with her own pheromones in a wave that, to her satisfaction, made even the stoic Ser Rimes lean away. The alpha looked up in surprise and saw Nicole. He stumbled to a stop, blanching at whatever he saw on her face.

Alpha boy, Nicole thought, barely restraining the urge to bare her teeth at his insolence, a growl swelling inside her chest but not yet audible, she is MINE. The templar averted his eyes, backing slowly away, then turned and bolted from her sight. Nicole huffed in satisfied arrogance and turned her attention back to the task at hand.

Waverly had come to a stop, her scent pooling and swirling around the hallway, around Nicole. Nicole ached to turn to her, to step closer and inhale all that glorious omega , but she had one last set of orders to convey. Nicole spoke to Ser Rimes. “Templar Rimes, I am not to be disturbed except by Brigid’s assistants or the Knight-Captain, and he will give you and the other duty officers your next orders.”

“Yes, Ser,” Rimes said, saluting.

“Good man,” Nicole said, then thought of something. “Oh, and give Templar Orain three days of latrine duty for unprofessionalism.” Then, Nicole opened the door and held it for Waverly, who slipped inside as Nicole followed.

Once the door was safely closed behind them, Nicole turned around. Waverly stood between her and the desk, facing the huge windows. The morning sun slanted through the glass, fracturing at the corners of the panes into scintillating, prismatic light and casting Waverly’s shadow toward Nicole. Her hair was lit with brown and golden glints, shimmering in the morning light. Then, Waverly turned to look over one shoulder at Nicole, an alluring glance full of temptation and banked desire that made Nicole shiver, her body anticipating how being closer to that beacon of seduction might feel.

Waverly's heat-scent curled around Nicole like an affectionate cat, running itself along her sides, tickling her nose, trying to coax her alpha out to join it. Despite the knowledge that she had to retain control for a few more minutes - after all, it wouldn’t do to be tied with Waverly when Robin knocked on the door, never mind the when the kitchen staff arrived - Nicole inhaled a deep breath of the heavy air and held it in.

It felt like summer had come to roost in Nicole’s chest. She could almost picture fields of lavender and busy honeybees, the first bear-found hive of the year rich with honey and chewy comb. Yet, Waverly’s heat was also scented with fall’s apple harvest and sweet vanilla, Nicole’s claim always underlying the surface.

Nicole wanted to crawl inside that scent, that feeling, and release her alpha side completely, meld together into one purpose, one need. With that desire also came the promise of Nicole’s teeth locked into scarred flesh, hot wetness around her knot as she thrust inside. Worse, the knowledge that this could happen in mere moments did nothing to help her inhibit her urges.

Nicole had gone swimming in one of the rivers wending its way to of the Waking Sea as a child. She was a decent swimmer - growing up along the coast provided ample opportunity to practice - but the feeling of the inexorable current dragging her gently, almost unnoticeably toward some unknown destination had always remained with her. Waverly’s heat felt like that river, calm on the surface but powerful , running deep and fast and able to carry Nicole away without her notice unless she swam against the current.

Nicole gathered her self-discipline and muted her response, resisted the urge to stride up to Waverly and rip her robes from her body to get at the skin, the heat, underneath. She told herself it would be soon, that they would have all the time in the world, that it would be better to prepare her Tower first and then she would be free to let go.

Wait , Nicole told herself, duty comes first. Nicole swallowed and asked, "Have you eaten?"

Waverly shook her head, turning to face Nicole fully, her eyes fixed on Nicole's face. Waverly wet her lips with her tongue and Nicole resisted the impulse to mimic the movement. "I didn't want to go into the Great Hall like this," Waverly said, and gestured down her body.

Nicole’s gaze followed the movement on instinct, lingering on the curves that could be discerned beneath the thick cloth, the nipples she could almost see… and then Nicole remembered herself and snapped her gaze back up to Waverly’s face. Waverly looked satisfied at Nicole’s distraction, a smirk curving its way along the corner of her lips.

Nicole strove to keep a level tone despite the way her body, her alpha, her need urged her toward her omega. "I've ordered up food," she said. "I need to settle things with the Tower, so would you wait in my chambers? I won't be long," she hurried to add, seeing the dismay in Waverly 's expression, "just long enough for food to get here and for Robin to take command."

Waverly nodded, her face smoothing even as her eyes showed the effort it took. Nicole approached, laying her key in Waverly’s palm. She only grazed Waverly’s skin but the touch tingled along Nicole’s senses, asking her to stay, to linger for a bit longer.

Nicole shivered as Waverly’s pheromones stirred her alpha, sliding down inside her skin to pool in her gut. Waverly was so small, so warm, so touchable , right here with her. She could just… Against Nicole’s better judgment, but in accordance with her need to touch Waverly, her drive to comfort and protect her, Nicole’s hand closed around Waverly’s palm, feeling Waverly’s fingers flex to grip back just as tightly.

Waverly, her words so quiet in the space between them, her eyes pleading with Nicole to understand, whispered, “Please, I need to feel you, just for a moment.” Her scent thickened and Nicole caught the unmistakable flavor of her arousal on the air. Under her robes, Waverly was already wet for her, her cunt already preparing to take Nicole’s cock, her knot .

A growl thrummed from Nicole’s chest, and she backed Waverly against the desk, letting go of her hand so she could lift her onto the edge of the massive piece of furniture. The key tinged to the desktop. One of Waverly’s legs slid out of a cleverly-concealed fold of the robes, freeing both ankles to curl around the back of Nicole’s thighs, pulling them closer together.

Nicole couldn’t help but slide one gloved palm up the exposed skin of Waverly’s thigh, admiring the little hairs lighting up in the sun’s brilliance and wishing she hadn’t worn gloves today, and then Waverly tugged her closer still, her arms pulling against Nicole’s armor. Nicole pressed in, smelling even more heat, more omega, more Waverly now that Waverly was wrapped around her, half-exposed for her. She threaded her free hand into Waverly’s hair to ground herself and keep it out of trouble. The other remained, rebelliously, on Waverly’s thigh, where she brushed her thumb over the skin as Waverly trembled with each stroke.

“You need to feel me?” Nicole’s voice was thick, low with the pull of sex and heat. She searched Waverly’s eyes, fascinated by the thin rims of her irises where they stretched around blown pupils, dark with promise despite the brilliance of the room around them. “What does that mean?”

“Kiss me,” Waverly asked, ordered, pled. “Kiss me and I’ll go wait for you. I just… need to know, need to feel that you’ll follow me.”

That neediness, her omega’s urge to be claimed, the desire to be reassured, stirred Nicole’s alpha even further, broke through any resistant determination she had left. Nicole bent and pressed her lips to Waverly’s, feeling them warm and dry for just a moment before they moved, opening for her. The kiss turned slick, wet, flavored with Waverly, textured with Waverly’s tongue, enriched with a whimper that broke free of Waverly’s throat so that the air of it brushed across Nicole’s face. It was a relief to give in, untwisting an alien ache in Nicole’s chest - Waverly’s ache, Nicole realized, Waverly’s longing.

Nicole pressed forward, firming her grip on Waverly’s nape, wishing that her armor didn’t separate them. Waverly whined, moving against her, panting into her mouth. A hand gripped the back of Nicole’s neck, another her elbow, barely felt through her armor. Nicole’s encouraging growl hissed through her teeth as she caught Waverly’s lower lip in a soft bite, pulling gently. Slowly, slowly, she released it, swiping along it with her tongue, relishing the trembling in Waverly’s body, as she let it scrape out from between her teeth. She soothed it with another kiss, and another, but she managed to make the next one the last before she lowered her forehead to Waverly’s and spoke.

“You’re mine,” Nicole rumbled, “I’m here, and I promise, I will be there as soon as there’s food for us and the Tower is taken care of. Trust me, Waverly.”

Waverly sighed, the breath rushing against Nicole’s kiss-warmed lips, cooling them. Likewise, the pull of her heat lessened, grew patient, like the forest waiting to put spring rain and sunlight to use. Nicole sighed in relief at the loss of pressure.

Waverly sat back, stroking Nicole’s cheek as she smiled up at Nicole. “I do trust you, Nicole. I’ll… go use your bath, if I may?”

Nicole’s alpha rebelled at the thought of all of this omega-scented glory - She smells so, so good - being washed away, but Nicole reassured herself that Waverly could always make more scent, more arousal. And Nicole had to work , to protect her Tower and its wards.

Nicole nodded, smiling back. “Of course, use anything you like.” Besides, she’ll be covered in my soaps and oils.

Waverly kissed her again, a light press of lips, and then Nicole triumphed over her urges once again and stepped back, away, her hand trailing down Waverly’s thigh to the knee before she was too far to touch. She watched as Waverly hopped down from the desk, hiding her skin back inside the robes, her hair still awry from Nicole’s handling, and picked up her bag that Nicole hadn’t even noticed fall to the floor..

Waverly sent Nicole one last, lingering glance, and then departed for Nicole’s chambers. Nicole swayed forward as she passed, wanting to whine at the loss; but instead, she held herself back to watch Waverly go, not even realizing that she was staring open-mouthed like a starving dog until the door closed. Then, Nicole let out her breath in her own sigh and shook herself. She couldn’t even remember what color robes Waverly had been wearing.

This meeting had better go quickly, Nicole thought, and strode around her desk. There was still some work to do, and the faster she got her paperwork to Robin, the better!

Over the next half-hour, Nicole somehow held her temper in check. First, she aired out the stink of pheromones. Calamity, who had been on her bed and completely unnoticed while Waverly was there, gave Nicole a disgusted look when she opened the window to let the icy air inside and got up, stretching with a doggy groan. Then Calamity headed for the office door until Nicole said, “Calamity.”

Her dog stopped and turned, tilting her head with an inquisitive, “Whuff?”

Nicole hesitated. Calamity had always gone with her on her jaunts to various towns, but had often opted to ‘guard the door’ (in other words, to be spoiled by the staff and customers in the common rooms while Nicole was being entertained in one of the private rooms). Nicole knew the mabari was always aware of who was near her door and ready to jump to her defense, however. Mabari were smart , and they really did understand an astonishing amount of human language. So it was likely that Calamity knew what went on in the brothels and inns they frequented, but Nicole still wasn’t sure how to explain what was going to happen.

“I’m going to be, um, busy for a few days.”

Calamity looked at the door to Nicole’s chambers and back to Nicole with an expression on her doggy face that Nicole would swear was sardonic.

Nicole shrugged, “Sorry, girl, of course you figured that out. Will you guard the office? Robin and kitchen staff only.”

Calamity barked.

“Thanks, Calamity, you’re too good to me. I’ll miss you.” Nicole knelt. “See you later?”

The huge dog bowled Nicole over in a direct charge and Nicole laughed as she tried to dodge the licks, “I just wanted to give you a hug, ugh gross why!”

Calamity boofed and got off of Nicole with one last lick. Nicole heaved herself to her feet and wiped her face as the mabari pranced away toward the door. “Agh.”

After she’d visited the guest quarters to wash her face off, Nicole compiled her papers and then waited for Robin. While she tried to pace away her restless energy, Nicole determinedly didn’t think about how Waverly was just a few doors away. She definitely didn’t picture how Waverly might look in the sunlit bathroom, naked , splashing herself with water, soaping herself up with Nicole’s soaps, running her hands over her skin, along her arms, down her stomach, dipping between her legs - Nicole pinched herself so hard that it left an immediate, angry red bruise. Andraste give me strength .

Robin arrived and Nicole gave him his orders, surprising both of them with the simplicity of her instructions. Something about Waverly’s heat had unclenched the part of Nicole’s mind that had been turning in frenetic circles for days on end, and she was only too happy to see Robin leave.

“I’ll protect your Tower, Knight-Commander,” Robin said, a smile that spoke of confidence and comfort on his face. Nicole trusted he would keep his word.

“Best of fortune, Knight-Captain.”

“To you as well!” he said, and chuckled as he left her office.

Brigid’s assistant was outside, and after he handed her the platters of food, there was nothing left for Nicole to do but join Waverly in her chambers. She closed the window in her office, steeled herself for what was to come, and carried her burdens through the door to her chambers.

Chapter Text

Nicole entered her chambers, carrying both platters of food. Waverly had set the fire to burning in the hearth, which would soon bring the chilly room to a pleasant warmth with the help of the wintry sunlight streaming through the windows. The scent of Waverly’s heat, mixed with the herbal soaps Nicole preferred, made for a luxurious atmosphere despite the bathroom’s closed door.

Nicole took a deep breath, opening her mouth to savor the scents, but resisted the urge to walk to to the bathroom, take the handle in her hand, and swing it open. This was Waverly’s time to prepare herself, the last few moments of privacy she’d get for a while, and Nicole couldn’t begrudge them to her.

That Nicole could provide such luxuries for Waverly, whose humming could be heard through the door, was a pleasant sop to Nicole’s ego. That feeling, along with the sight and smell of Brigid’s best foodstuffs, surmounted by a few precious pastries for Waverly’s sweet tooth, had Nicole quite pleased to be providing for Waverly’s health and happiness. Besides, it wasn’t so bad that Waverly wasn’t waiting for Nicole at the door - it would allow Nicole to gather her thoughts and plan to get some food into Waverly before the heat took over, especially since the vial of contraceptive would be best taken on a full stomach.

In fact, I should probably get that potion now.

Placing the trays on the table, Nicole unfastened her cloak and took a step toward the safe; but then, the bathroom door opened and Nicole’s focus was completely diverted.

Waverly was in Nicole’s dressing gown, her hair towel-damp and finger-combed, her feet encased in Nicole’s slippers. Nicole’s alpha was thrilled at the sight of her omega wearing her clothes , in her room, all hers. Nicole swayed, surprised at the effort it required to suppress the wave of her desire.

Waverly smiled as if she found Nicole’s struggle amusing. Truthfully, as the scent of Waverly’s heat billowed into the room, hitting Nicole like a gush of steam, resistance was amusing. Why was Nicole even resisting? No one could see her but Waverly, there was no one to judge her or stop her.

Nicole let her cloak slide off her shoulders and inhaled, mouth open to taste the air. Waverly smelled so good , so right, with Nicole’s own flavors entangled with that summery aroma until they were one scent, one mate .

Nicole ignored her cloak where it puddled on the floor next to the table and went to meet her omega, answering the call that thrummed through her bones and beat in her ears. Waverly’s smile grew and she met Nicole halfway, eyes dark with interest and heat.

“Hello,” Waverly said when they stopped, barely inches apart. “You came.” The word was heavy, rich with meaning, and Nicole felt herself leaning forward.

“I did,” Nicole said, “I promised you I would.”

“Yes, you did.” Waverly closed that last tiny distance into Nicole’s space, until she was pressing along the entire line of Nicole’s body, the pressure tangible even shielded by Nicole’s armor. Waverly tilted her head up to look into Nicole’s eyes.

Nicole wanted to lean down and kiss her, but… Nicole had planned for this, she knew that she had to be the one to insist they eat and drink, or Waverly’s heat could make them exhaust themselves. Nicole struggled not to think of how fulfilling that exhaustion would be. No. They would both need to eat before they did anything. Nicole prepared to draw away, clearing her throat.

Waverly placed a hand on the surcoat covering Nicole’s breastplate, fingering the cloth. Nicole hesitated.

Waverly’s lips curled, a smirk adding mischief to her face. “Have I ever told you that I like seeing you in armor?”

Nicole blinked, words escaping her for a moment before she found one. “What?”

Waverly purred, her voice low, as she traced a line across the cloth with one finger. “It reminds me that you’re a big, powerful alpha, Knight-Commander. It makes me want you to do things to me.” The heat in the air, in Nicole’s nose and mouth, thickened, fogging Nicole’s brain, and she drank it in like she was dying of a thirst that could only be quenched by Waverly.

“What kinds of things?” asked Nicole’s mouth, as she watched Waverly’s hand reach down to the belt of her robe and tug the knot, letting it fall open to reveal the skin beneath. Nicole clenched her hands into fists, the nails digging into her palms to keep herself from touching Waverly, and watched. Truly, she was helpless to look away, the sight riveting her in place..

Waverly grasped the front of the robe on either side and spread it open, pushing her shoulders back so that she could shrug it down, down, off her shoulders. The muscles of her shoulders and neck stood out, dipping where they met her clavicle, scarred on one side in two familiar crescents. Nicole’s mouth watered with the sensory memory of flesh between her teeth. Waverly’s breasts, her nipples standing out in crinkled readiness, almost touched Nicole’s surcoat. Nicole could see further down, too, to where the hairs adorning Waverly’s mound darkened, shadowing the apex of her thighs, promising to scratch against Nicole’s chin and meld with her own ruddy hair in the frenzy of their coupling.

Nicole stared and didn’t look away, couldn’t find the will to resist. She hadn’t seen Waverly like this, ready and wanton, since they’d parted after that first morning together. And uncovered, even fresh from the bath, Waverly smelled...indescribably good. Her heat was all-consuming but still couldn’t cover the scent of her arousal, and Nicole sucked in another breath. Fuck.

The robe fell to the floor, leaving only Waverly in front of Nicole, her flushed shin and the rush of her scent rolling over Nicole in broad, waves, sucking her under. Nicole stared at the way Waverly licked her lips and then watched as they moved again, accentuating each word with profound intent.

Waverly said, “I want you to do big, powerful things to me.”

Nicole let out a shaky breath. She’d planned for this moment, had steeled herself for her role. No matter what Waverly, her heat , demanded, Nicole would use all of her strength of will to hold herself back, use her hands and mouth to prepare Waverly so she wouldn’t hurt her, to care for her just as she had the times they had been intimate before. She wouldn’t be an animal, there to rut and take her own pleasure. No, Nicole would make Waverly’s heat as pleasurable as any of their trysts had been. She shook her head. “We should-”

Ignoring Nicole’s words, Waverly grasped one of Nicole’s wrists and brought it to her cunt. Against Nicole’s explicit instructions, her own hand unclenched and felt its way south, three fingers sliding through soaked hair and along the hot, slick lips of Waverly’s cunt. Nicole panted once, a harsh exhale as she tried to marshal her defenses, tried desperately to order her muscles to pull back, to not relish how she slid so easily, so wetly across the silky surfaces, to not by any means dip her fingertips inside -

Oh fuck I can’t stop-

And then, Waverly kissed her.

Oh, how had Nicole forgotten how Waverly tasted , how her lips were so hot and slick, how she moaned when Nicole ran her tongue behind her teeth. Tangling with Waverly’s tongue, chasing it as it tapped and teased, made Nicole’s mouth water and brought a growl up into her chest. She grasped Waverly to herself with her free arm, feeling far too little as her armor kept them apart, except where her palm was collecting wet warmth as her fingers slid inside Waverly, curling to press against the passage they entered. Waverly whined into her mouth as Nicole felt her way with fingers and tongue, dipping inside, savoring the hot wetness taking her under.

Waverly was clutching Nicole too, trying to meld them into one creature. As Waverly fumbled with the laces of Nicole’s pants, another burst of heat washed over Nicole’s senses. making her gasp into Waverly’s mouth. Her senses overcome at last, Nicole felt herself shift, her gut tensing into aching hunger as her cock emerged and began swelling, thickening into a pounding nexus of need that took her breath away.

With her wavering concentration, Nicole realized what had happened. Waverly hadn’t even released her heat yet; instead, what Nicole had experienced so far was just the spillover, pheromones fighting free of Waverly’s iron control, but now, this was a deliberate release.

Nicole instinctually fought against this new surge, struggling to tamp down her own arousal, to control that primal need to take and own and knot . She had never felt anything like the strength of Waverly’s heat, not in half a dozen heat-soaked experiences with other omegas. Nicole could already feel the edges of her discipline fading away, eroded by the overwhelming need to take her omega, bite her, slam her knot deep inside, make her indelibly Nicole’s, and feel her bite-

With a gasp, Nicole pulled back and looked into Waverly’s dilated eyes, panted out, “Wait, it’ll be too much for you if I just-”

Another, hungrier pulse of heat slammed into the air around them, vibrating through the bond, and Nicole groaned with it, with the throbbing desire between her legs, with the grasp of Waverly’s hand around her cock. Nicole’s body wavered, moving in little thrusts that fed back only the most frustrating friction to her core. Waverly’s need thrummed through Nicole’s muscles, drawing her in, until she feared she wouldn’t be able to stop herself. Then Waverly spoke, her voice a growl that pulled on Nicole’s very center.

"Knight-Commander, if you aren't inside me in the next instant I will go and find somebody else. ” With those words, the full force of Waverly’s heat, the inferno roiling inside, swept into Nicole like a forest fire, roaring up her center and igniting the alpha within her core.

The challenge, the defiance in Waverly’s tone, the hot column of fire twining up Nicole’s spine, the threat of her omega seeking out a lesser, undeserving alpha - all of it snapped Nicole’s hard-won, much-vaunted control. She broke herself free of Waverly’s grasp and hooked one hand under each thigh, lifting Waverly and slamming her against the nearest tapestried wall.

Waverly’s slight weight was no challenge at all to muscles trained for battle and carnage. Waverly yelped, scrabbling to hold on to Nicole’s shoulders, but the sense of approval soared through the bond vibrating between them, swelling in Waverly’s scent.

“Oh, fuck,” Waverly’s voice was breathy against Nicole’s neck, “You’re going to-”

“Hold onto me,” Nicole ground out, and Waverly’s grip tightened around her neck.

Nicole used her body weight and one arm to keep Waverly pinned against the thick wool tapestry as she she grasped her cock, positioned it at Waverly’s cunt, dredging through slick wetness to find her place, and pushed.

The contact against her cockhead, the pressure and heat, shocked Nicole with its intensity and she groaned, hips pressing upward. Then it slipped out, bouncing across Waverly’s slit. Nicole growled, trying to line herself up properly. This time, she caught on Waverly’s opening and began to slide inside, inch by tortuous inch while Waverly’s little sounds of eagerness tickled against Nicole’s neck.

Nicole repositioned herself, hooking one elbow under each knee from Waverly’s front, using her forearms along the underside of Waverly’s thighs as support and her hand grasping Waverly’s ass to secure her grip. Then, as Waverly whined and shivered in her grasp, each breath a, “Yesss” of anticipation, Nicole dropped Waverly’s weight down to the root of her cock, thrusting up until she bottomed out. Waverly screamed, a short, choked sound drowned out by Nicole’s gruff, guttural rasp of satisfaction.

Nicole’s alpha roiled at the tight, hot pleasure of taking Waverly here, against the wall, glorying in it as her glands pumped out pheromones of dominance and ferocity, victory and possession. She could smell herself all around them now, alpha and omega becoming one in body and scent and mind. It was perfect, Waverly was hers, and she would demonstrate exactly what that meant.

Drawing herself almost out by lifting Waverly’s ass with both hands, Nicole dropped her back down with a thrust of her hips, slamming herself home with a grunt as Waverly’s sharp moan rang out in the stone room. Nicole did it once more, then again, and again, picking up a fast, hard rhythm. The sensation had her clenching her teeth, growling with every thrust.

Waverly released a stream of garbled vowels that broke and flowed and babbled as Nicole grunted and snarled. With Waverly’s scent, her omega’s approval, streaming through her senses, Nicole truly let go. She held Waverly up against the wall, relishing the strain in her muscles as she lifted on every withdrawal and dropped her to meet each thrust. The slapping of their flesh echoed in filthy staccato from the walls as Nicole indulged her urge to rut and mark and claim, accompanied by the creak and clink of her armor as it flexed with her every movement. The scent of sex, spicy and sweet, filled the air, mixing with their pheromones and the tang of sweat.

Waverly’s fingernails dug into Nicole’s neck, almost sharp enough to feel like a bite, holding them close together. Nicole leaned forward to lick her own marks, mouthing the skin. She could feel Waverly shiver with every movement of her mouth, but Nicole wasn’t ready for them to be locked together. Not yet. Nicole wanted more .

Waverly’s choked, “Yes, fuck!” made Nicole pull back slightly.

Nicole looked up into Waverly’s unfocused eyes, watching them roll with each thrust as her head bounced against the tapestry, matching the bounce of her breasts as they moved in time with Nicole’s rhythm. Nicole drew herself out fast and bucked forward again and again, letting out a grunt each time she hit bottom, observing with feral satisfaction how widely Waverly’s legs were spread, a position that tilted her hips up to take what Nicole delivered, and Nicole crooned her approval.

“You’re mine ,” Nicole growled. Leaning back, she changed her angle, sliding her hands up to lock together behind the small of Waverly’s back. As she did, her elbows slid up too, pulling Waverly’s knees to either side so she was completely open, bent almost in half, with Nicole’s cock buried inside her.

Waverly panted against Nicole’s neck as Nicole took a step back, away from the wall. Then, using the power of her bear hug around Waverly’s waist, Nicole lifted her almost entirely off her cock and dropped her down in a faster, deeper plunge. Waverly’s cries grew into shocked, guttural sounds that Nicole had never heard from her before.

Nicole growled, her possessive alpha in full command as she craned her neck back to catch Waverly’s eye. “No one else could do this, fuck you so good, give you what you need, Waverly.”

Waverly’s eyes focused on Nicole, their dilated pupils half-hidden with hooded pleasure. She licked her lips, whined, choked out another cry as Nicole dropped her again. “Yes, fuck.

“You are mine , Waverly. You are mine to fuck,” Nicole dropped her again, bucking up with it, and they both cried out, “mine to take, mine to breed.” Nicole fucked into her again, and again, standing unassisted and using her strength to satisfy her omega’s heat. This was power, this was possession, alpha and omega joined as one. This is what Nicole’s alpha needed and Waverly was loving it, the bond between widening to pour hot arousal into Nicole’s chest, trickling down her spine, coiling in her gut.

Nicole snarled, her words broken into pairs and triplets by each powerful thrust, “No one else will ever touch you, understand? You belong to me.” Nicole’s feral joy was overpowering, all-consuming, radiating from her frame as she took her mate.

“Yours, alpha,” Waverly panted, “fuck, all yours.” The bond opened still further, changed character, feeding the pleasure of Waverly’s surrender to Nicole in a flood of primal awareness. It felt like the sun was rising inside Nicole’s chest. Waverly was ready to burst, and so was Nicole.

“Touch yourself,” Nicole ordered, panting with need and exertion alike. “Make yourself come on my cock, where you belong.”

Nicole shifted, letting a small space open up between them for Waverly’s hand, and felt a tight shiver ripple around her cock when Waverly’s fingers found her clit.

“My place,” Waverly‘s voice was breathy, distracted, and Nicole’s body hummed and burned with the knowledge that the tightness in her cunt was just a prelude to her impending orgasm. “My place is here, alpha, Knight-Com-” Waverly’s body arched and she lost the word in a cry as her body, her cunt, closed down against Nicole’s cock.

Nicole pounded into her, forcing more noises out each time she slammed home into the clenching, gripping orgasm around her. She felt her knot swelling, ready to lock them together. As her skin tingled with the impending climax, Nicole roared and thrust home, once, again, as Waverly’s voice turned to formless sounds and her body clenched tighter still, grinding against the root of Nicole’s cock.

Nicole’s knot expanded in one last prickling rush, gathering everything inside Nicole to coil and flex, preparing to stream into Waverly, to mark her, to breed her. Nicole slammed Waverly back against the wall and found her bite, found the pulse under her tongue that was hers to rip out if she pleased, the indented marks that branded her omega as taken, and placed her teeth in the indents. She tasted salt and spice, honey strong in her nostrils as she inhaled, then she bit down and growled, low and rumbling in her chest.

Nicole felt Waverly coming again even before her cunt squeezed Nicole’s knot, the pressure growing until she could barely move, rippling across her cock and calling, demanding that Nicole fill her. With a last, jerky rut of her knot, Nicole’s climax answered the call, exploding through her and into Waverly, almost stopping her breath with the fires of its passage. Nicole huffed and grunted and growled, chewing into her bite. She ignored a sudden burst of magic followed by the smell of burning, focused on filling, mating, marking, claiming as she poured the fiery almost-pain twisting through her core into her mate.

After a time, maybe seconds or minutes, Nicole wrenched her mouth away. She licked her lips and coughed, pressing her forehead to the tapestry. She was still pressing Waverly to the wall, still standing, and she craned her neck around. Her alpha instinct to be somewhere safe, secure, while the knot took its time was satisfied by the sight of her empty quarters, but she needed to find somewhere to wait it out.

“Waverly?”

Nicole’s armful of omega made a, “mmph” sound and shifted, the movement spiking an electric tingle down to the root of Nicole’s cock.

Nicole breathed for a second, letting the feeling settle, then shifted her grip to better support Waverly’s weight. “I’ve got you.”

Nicole smiled to herself when she felt Waverly groan and nestle tighter into her shoulder. Nicole backed up a step, then turned and stumbled for the table and its wide, padded chairs.

When Nicole settled into her chair with Waverly straddling her lap, she made sure Waverly’s knees could tuck themselves into the deep pockets to either side of her waist and held her close. Waverly burrowed still closer, under the fringe of Nicole’s hair, so her breath trickled down the back of Nicole’s shoulder. Mindlessly, Nicole stroked down Waverly’s back, finger-combing the ends of her hair.

At Waverly’s shiver, Nicole remembered how easily Waverly got cold. Nicole was... Nicole was probably too warm - she was sweaty under her armor despite the undeniably damp things that had happened to her trousers. But it didn’t matter, Waverly would be cold in the open air of her chambers.

Nicole looked around for a solution and saw it - her fur-lined cloak, cast away and forgotten on the floor. Nicole stretched for it, trying not to jostle Waverly and ignoring her cock’s renewed interest in the movement, and got just her fingertips on it to drag it closer.

With an absurdly strong sense of victory, Nicole pulled the cloak over Waverly, even tucking it to both sides to cover her thighs and the dirty soles of her feet.

Nicole breathed out a sigh and rested her head against the chairback to stare at the ceiling, still gently stroking Waverly underneath the cloak. Her mind was, was. Not in charge of anything much, at the moment. Her cock was locked inside, the knot a source of heavy, warm pleasure, but it didn’t demand anything of her at the moment. Their bond was open but quiescent, buzzing pleasantly with post-orgasmic satisfaction.

Nicole hummed something that popped into her head, a little song from her childhood about sweet girls in the hills. She chuckled, she hadn’t thought of that song in years, and tried to remember the words. Something about flocks and a shepherdess?

“You have a pretty voice,” Waverly murmured, distracting Nicole from her thoughts.

“You have a pretty everything,” Nicole countered, and chuckled again. She felt so good .

“Nicole, that was...“ Waverly’s voice sounded as dazed as Nicole felt, “Perfect.” The bond echoed her words, swelling with warmth that bled into Nicole’s chest.

Nicole hummed happily. She’d been rough, maybe rougher than she’d ever been with someone who hadn’t asked for it specifically, but Waverly was happy with her. And Waverly had asked for it, after a fashion. Nicole realized she should check.

“Is that what you wanted?” Nicole asked. Now that they were tied, any possible jealousy she might have felt after Waverly’s threat had dissipated into satisfaction. Her alpha was satisfied for the moment, though with the heat-scent in the air it still felt ready, just under Nicole’s skin.

Waverly’s voice was cautious, so Nicole stroked her back as she spoke, smiling as her omega’s tone steadied. “Um. Yes, I think so. I didn’t know that that , what you did, was possible? But yes. I wanted to see what you’d do, and you were just incredible .”

Nicole purred, feeling very smug indeed. Her Waverly thought she was incredible.

Waverly shifted a little, sitting up in Nicole’s lap in a way that pulled on Nicole’s knot. They both held their breaths as it made the tie throb and pulse, and then Nicole groaned as an aftershock rocked her, her stomach flexing as she pulsed into Waverly’s cunt, feeling the squeeze as the bond sparked Waverly to a sympathetic clench of her own. Nicole clasped Waverly’s hips, supporting them as Nicole thrust up and released another trickle of come into the mating tie.

“Mmf,” Waverly said, grinding lightly on Nicole as she held herself up with one hand on Nicole’s pauldron and one on her surcoat-covered breastplate. “Fuck.”

Nicole agreed wordlessly, caught up by the sensation, luxuriating in it until it tapered off and Waverly settled into stillness once more.

The cloak started to slip off Waverly’s shoulders and she caught it, tucking it around herself. Her hair was wild, still partly damp from the bath and mussed from their activities. With her hazel eyes heavy-lidded by pleasure and her high-cheekboned face surrounded by the wolf-fur collar of Nicole’s cloak, which only parly concealed her naked body, Waverly looked like nothing more than a mysterious inhabitant of the wilderness - some wild, beautiful creature of legend come to Nicole’s chambers for mortal comforts before she fled back into hiding from the depredations of civilization.

Nicole smiled at her fanciful imaginings and dismissed them - Waverly was here, was hers , and needed no lore or mystery to embellish her beauty.

But then, Waverly looked down into Nicole’s face and Nicole realized that she looked concerned, even through the haze of recent pleasure. Nicole asked, “What is it?”

Waverly reached out to touch Nicole’s cheek, and Nicole leaned into it. “I didn’t realize you’re in rut, Nicole, or I might not have pushed so hard earlier. Are you all right?”

Nicole cocked her head to the side, confused by the comment. “I’m not in rut. It’s not due for another month or so...” Nicole trailed off, thinking about the last three days: the escalating irritability, the erotic dreams, the difficulty focusing, the need for everything to be absolutely perfect, for the Tower to be prepared for anything that could happen during Waverly’s heat. Her thoughts about breeding of all things while she fucked Waverly in midair in the middle of the room . Thinking of Waverly as her mate . Fuck . “I’m in rut ?

Waverly blinked at Nicole, her eyes widening. Then she smiled, her grin growing into a laugh that shook her body, the movement dragging at Nicole’s cock in a way that made Nicole curse. Nicole thrust up again, into her still-laughing omega, and rode the aftershock as it coiled in her belly and throbbed outward, making her toes curl and fingertips tingle. Waverly threw her head back and growled, reacting to the call of Nicole’s alpha with her own ripples of pressure before she bent forward again, still laughing as Nicole gasped and twitched.

“Well,” Waverly chuckled, “Andraste knows stranger things have happened than a month shift forward or backward. Like, perhaps, an alpha who doesn’t even know she’s in rut!”

If she wasn’t feeling quite so well-fucked at the moment, Nicole might have argued that it wasn’t funny, might have declared that there was a real risk she’d hurt Waverly in her rut, but she hadn’t, had she? She settled for protesting. “It doesn’t feel like my rut normally does!”

Waverly smirked. “Well, considering you haven’t actually fulfilled your rut in ages,” she poked a finger into Nicole’s breastplate to emphasize each of her next words, “How. would. you. know?”

She had Nicole there. Nicole growled, but it was a growl of surrender. She hadn’t hurt Waverly, and she felt...good. Really good.

“Oh!” Nicole exclaimed, remembering the taste of blood. “Your neck?”

Waverly slipped her fingers under the cloak to touch the side of her neck and then inspected her fingers. “Just a little blood, it doesn’t hurt much. I’ll heal it later, so you can bite me again.” Waverly shivered at her own words and looked back down at Nicole again. Despite her deep, abiding interest in that invitation to bite Waverly again, Nicole’s attention was distracted by a flash of color on Waverly’s skin.

Nicole caught Waverly’s arm as it dropped again and stared at the dented, deep red, crescent-shaped bruises where Waverly had clearly bitten her own bicep. Nicole swallowed. She hadn’t even thought about the possibility of Waverly biting her. Even worse, her cock twinged with the thought of what it would have felt like, to be bitten when she came. It was incredibly irresponsible to have let Waverly anywhere near her neck while she was in heat.

Nicole thumbed delicately over the dented skin, and looked up at Waverly with wide eyes. She wanted to apologize, but she couldn’t be sorry that Waverly took it upon herself to protect them both, as much as her alpha felt that the bond was incomplete. That was the way it had to be. What Nicole didn’t want to do was thank Waverly for not completing the bond… but that was the right thing to do.

“Thank you,” Nicole said, hoping Waverly would understand.

Waverly smiled. Unlike the smiles before it, this one was a bit sad. “You’re welcome. Besides, that’s what healing magic is for.”

Nicole blinked. The word ‘magic’ reminded her of something. “At the end there, was something burning?”

Waverly winced. “Um, I might have lost control of a little bit of magic. It just built up and it didn’t want to be ice this time, and I didn’t want to burn your hair or surcoat, so…” She gestured at the tapestry behind her. “I might have let it go?”

Nicole craned her neck around Waverly’s shoulder and saw a handprint-sized patch of charred fabric where there once had been the depiction of a mabari’s proud… Nicole laughed, trying not to jostle Waverly as she did. “Excellent aim!”

Waverly turned and looked, then wheeled back to Nicole. “I didn’t mean to geld one of them!! I’m so-”

Nicole snorted and interrupted her. “The tapestries just fill space, Waverly. And, apparently,” Nicole ground upwards, using her hands to rock Waverly against her, “they keep me from fucking you directly against the stone wall. We’ll burn holes in all of them, if you want.”

“Oh,” Waverly’s voice was breathier, her tone warming to Nicole’s meaning, “That would be nice.”

Nicole agreed wholeheartedly.

 


 

Later, after the knot had faded and freed them from the tie, Waverly assented to eat the meal Brigid had provided, but only if they could do it in the most decadent way possible. Therefore, Waverly had spirited off one tray to the bathroom while she ran a bath and left Nicole to peel off her armor in relative privacy.

The trousers had been a complete loss. Nicole resolved to try to soak the worst of the stains out in the sink, then send them down to the laundry. She was fully aware that the staff would likely take one look at them and boil them for rags, and she couldn’t blame them. She thought, At least I had the luck to be wearing cambric today! For now, she bundled them into a basket in her wardrobe and left them alone.

Once fully divested, Nicole went to her safe and retrieved the potion. She had found a special treat for Waverly this time - a small piece of solid chocolate, a request that had arrived just in time with the monthly shipment of goods from Jader. The rare gift, even intended as it was to soothe the bitterness of the contraceptive, made her alpha side want to puff out her chest in pride. It’s not like that, she reassured herself as she carried the pouch back to the table.

This tray had sausages, a few pasties, bread, cheeses, and even some winter fruit. There was also a small plate covered by a silver dome, likely some kind of special dessert from Brigid, and a flagon with wine and two cups. Nicole put her pouch on top of the table for after the meal, lifted the tray, and carried it over to the bathroom.

Waverly was sitting in the sunlit room, wrapped again in Nicole’s robe, on the broad, flat edge of the tub, kicking her feet as she watched the red-glowing runestone heat the cold water that was still splashing in from the spigot. The basin had been carved down inside a single huge rectangle of gray and white marble that was sunk halfway into the floor. Oblong in shape, with a single, thigh-wide ledge at knee-height, the stone was hewn so finely that it felt as smooth as fine blown glass. Nicole often felt like ten people her size could fit inside it comfortably, and when she was seated on the ledge the rim of the tub came up to just below her armpits, allowing her to rest her arms on the side and lazily float her body in the hot water, kicking and stretching out stubborn muscles.

Nicole loved this tub.

Waverly’s tray of food was perched safely on the flat stone surrounding the carved-out basin, a good two to three feet of marble on the sides and more at the corners. Nicole set her own burden down next to it, and Waverly smiled up at her, her expression mischievous.

“So, the rumors are true!” Waverly said, pointing at Nicole with glee.

“The...rumors?” Nicole blinked at Waverly, unable to decipher her statement.

“Once your rut starts, you stay shifted until it’s over! I’ve never been able to get a straight answer out of people, it’s like when you ask if the Avvar shamans have anything on under their fur-skirts. People just get awkward and change the subject.”

Nicole looked down at her naked body. Indeed, her cock was still present, flaccid and floppy as it got - which, in the presence of Waverly’s heat and her own rut, was still about half-hard. She looked back up and said, “Yeah. At least for me it works that way. It can be a pain, but,” she shrugged, “I don’t often get a chance to see it get this soft. It’s a lot more comfortable than the normal week-long erection, let me tell you.”

Waverly’s smile softened. “Your normal has changed, Nicole.”

Nicole paused, thinking about it. So much had changed, in just a few short weeks, that her normal was almost unrecognizable from the time before Waverly’s arrival. It was...a good change. The realization made her smile back down at Waverly. “You’re absolutely right.”

They looked at each other quietly for a few more moments, both smiling. Then Waverly cleared her throat and turned away to tap the spigot’s runestone. The water stopped splashing into the tub, and Waverly bent to run her fingers through the water. Nicole busied herself pouring wine, and by the time she finished Waverly had declared the tub ready.

Several minutes later, as they relaxed in the steaming water with a tray of good food shared between them, Nicole reaffirmed her realization. This is good. The binding, this heat, could have been terrible, or awkward, or contentious, but somehow it’s not. It’s - Waverly is - comfortable.

There was a quiet rattle of metal, and then Waverly cackled loudly, startling Nicole into a defensive crouch on the tub’s ledge. The water sloshed around them as Nicole stared at her omega, who was clutching the lid to the formerly-covered plate and shaking with uncontrolled laughter. Waverly tried to talk.

“The...it’s all...you....” Unable to string the necessary words together, Waverly pointed helplessly at the tray.

Nicole looked at the plate Waverly had uncovered. Perched proudly in the center was a pomegranate, surrounded by oysters, sprigs of grilled asparagus, and roasted carrots. And then...there was a pile of breaded, fried meat of some kind. Nicole picked one up and sniffed before she hastily dropped it back on the pile. Oh Andraste .

“They’re all aphrodisiacs!” Waverly howled, “They sent you up phallic vegetables and fried bull’s testicles for my heat!” Her amusement grew so much at that statement that she once more lost the power of speech.

Cooly, calmly, Nicole took the lid and clapped it back down over the entire lot.

I’ll get you, Brigid. Nicole swore quietly to herself. Somehow, I’ll get you for this.

But then, Nicole looked back at Waverly, seeing how genuine hilarity granted her features a lightness that Nicole hadn’t seen before. Waverly had pinned her hair into a complicated pile on top of her head, yet a few strands had escaped to cling to her neck. As she tried to catch her breath, Waverly grinned at Nicole, her eyes crinkling at the corners, and she was so beautiful .

“Should I tell them that you don’t have any problems keeping it up?” Waverly winked, then looked down through the water at Nicole’s cock and back up, wiggling her eyebrows. “Or any problems getting it back up, it seems?”

Or maybe, just maybe, I’ll give Brigid a bonus.

“The only person in my Tower who needs to know anything about my cock is you,” Nicole rumbled, watching Waverly’s eyes as they dilated in response to her tone. She slid closer through the water, and Waverly watched her approach, amusement melting into eagerness. Her heat-scent thickened and Nicole’s alpha rut pheromones rose to meet it, twining together into a miasma of interest and desire.

Nicole slid her knees under Waverly’s thighs, bent forward, and kissed her. It was a soft, lingering touch of their lips, but as Waverly tried to deepen it Nicole pulled away to tease. “Want to learn more about my cock now? Or do you need some pomegranate for strength?”

“Get back here,” Waverly ordered, her voice breathy with desire, and Nicole happily obeyed.