Stupid. She should’ve just played along—oh yes, six things! Women are definitely good for six things and I definitely know which six things those are! But of course she had to open her big mouth and ask. Maker, she must have looked like such a fool.
Bethany isn’t especially bothered by looking like a fool in front of Marian. Her sister is every bit as foolish, and usually worse at hiding it. Isabela, though… somehow, that’s different. Somehow, looking like a silly little girl (which she is, isn’t she?) to Isabela is mortifying in ways Bethany can’t quite understand.
Or maybe she can. It’s a crush, isn’t it? It’s so obvious Bethany could laugh. Yes, the older, experienced woman, dangerous and carefree and everything Bethany is not. Typical. And there’s her heart picking up speed, right on schedule, and Bethany’s not sure which came first—the idea or the physical response.
Not that she’s going to act on it. That would be foolish. And risky. It’s something Marian would do, or Carver. Not Bethany. Not careful, considerate, quiet Bethany, who would never dream of doing anything so selfish.
Which is presumably why she’s now pushing open the door to the Hanged Man.
She’s been to the bar plenty of times before, but never on her own. Always trailing behind Marian, keeping an eye out for templars and troublemakers while her elder sister gets fall-down drunk with Varric and Isabela. Not that, Bethany supposes, Marian doesn’t deserve to get fall-down drunk every once in a while with her friends.
But that’s Marian—making friends everywhere she goes. Must be nice. Well, Bethany can make friends, too, and what better place to start than—
“Sweetness! What brings you to this filthy hole in the wall?”
Bethany expected (wanted, says the voice in her head) to see Isabela in her usual corner against the bar, but she flinches at the boisterous greeting just the same, her heart so very helpfully pounding rapidfire in her chest. Maker’s breath, it’s just a nickname. Isabela’s probably used it on hundreds of women. Or men. Or whatever. There’s no reason to get so flustered over it.
“I do like to drink sometimes, you know,” Bethany replies, privately congratulating herself for her smooth response even as she can feel a blush instantly exploding across her cheeks. She hopes the dim lighting hides it, grateful for the chance to turn away so she can order a round from the bartender.
But when she goes to pay, sliding her coppers across the uncomfortably sticky bartop, Isabela’s hand closes over hers.
“I’ve got this one,” she says, using her free hand to fish a few coins from the pouch at her waist.
“If you insist.” It takes Bethany entirely too much effort to stop herself from pouting when Isabela finally lets their fingers drift apart.
The beer isn’t very good. Actually, it’s rather terrible, and Bethany’s never liked beer that much to begin with. Still, she’d prefer if Isabela didn’t know her juvenile tastes in alcohol, so she works to keep her face neutral through every bitter sip.
“No Hawke today, hm?” Isabela uncrosses and re-crosses her legs—on purpose, it has to be on purpose—right over left, then left over right.
Bethany tries not to stare. “No. Just me.”
If Isabela is disappointed, she doesn’t show it. If anything, the smile always playing around her lips grows subtly wider. “Just Bethany, coming to the Hanged Man for a drink,” she says, voice slightly singsong. “No other reason?”
Bethany grimaces into her beer. One would think hiding her magic for the last decade would make her a better liar. But it seems Isabela has already sussed her out.
“I came for a proper answer,” Bethany declares, and it comes out a lot braver than she feels.
“Oh?” There’s a flash of… unease, maybe, across Isabela’s face, but it’s quickly hidden behind an insouciant shake of her head and flick of her wrist, every necklace and bracelet and ring glimmering as she does.
“Yes. The six things.” Isabela says nothing, only raises an eyebrow, so Bethany presses on. “That women are good for. You never told me which six.”
Recognition dawns, and Isabela’s eyes sparkle like her jewelry, like polished amber. “Ah, that. Well, you’ve already discovered the first one. Women make much better drinking partners than men. Very clever, sweetness.” That name again, and that burn creeping up Bethany’s neck again. “Oh,” Isabela says, her smile taking on a wicked edge, “and there’s the second.”
The acknowledgement sends that crawling heat surging up and across Bethany’s face. This is going nothing like the way she imagined it would, though, upon reflection, she has no idea what she expected. “You’re just making it all up now, aren’t you? What are they really?”
She’s concocted her own hypotheses, of course. Given the topic of conversation and Isabela being, well, Isabela, Bethany thought up various lists of vulgarities, all those things women might be good for, all those things she might be good for. It left her biting her lip in the middle of the night, numbers forgotten, mind wandering, hands not far behind.
Isabela eyes those hands now, like she knows exactly what they do in the dark. She reaches over and gently pries Bethany’s fingers away from her tankard. “Hands,” she says quietly, reverentially, even, stroking Bethany’s hand with her own, palms to knuckles to nails. “I love women’s hands.”
The gesture feels so painfully intimate Bethany momentarily forgets how to breathe. Hands were on a few of her potential lists as well, though it seemed a silly addition—men have hands, too, after all. But maybe it’s not the same. Bethany wouldn’t know. There’s so much she doesn’t know, but with the way Isabela is watching her, maybe she ought to find out.
“Well, that’s three,” Bethany says, and she doesn’t sound so brave anymore. “Half the mystery solved.”
Isabela slides off her seat and, before Bethany has time to bemoan her flimsy composure, uses her hold on Bethany’s hand to eliminate the distance between them, pulling her so close Isabela can undoubtedly hear every frenzied beat of Bethany’s heart.
“Surely you must have some ideas for the other half,” Isabela murmurs, but she makes no further attempt at escalation. Her grip on Bethany’s hand loosens, along with the rest of her posture—ready yet relaxed, like the heavy calm before a storm.
The tankard still clenched in Bethany’s other fist crushes against her stomach, the rim jutting into her ribs and, when she looks down, into Isabela’s breasts. It’s the only thing keeping them apart, and she can’t seem to decide whether she wants that space or not.
Always the good girl. When Marian and Carver were out causing trouble, Bethany stayed home, too afraid of herself—of that curse Father called a gift—to leave. She has never allowed herself even a moment of recklessness, of life untethered by fear and shame.
She sets the tankard on the bar.
When she kisses Isabela, curving her fingers along her jaw to tilt her head up, Bethany expects her to take control, to take her. But the lightning never strikes. Instead, Isabela responds like a summer drizzle, soft, almost yielding, one hand pressed to the small of Bethany’s back, the other on her waist. There is no threat, no risk apparent in the kisses she returns, only warmth. Her lips are terribly soft.
By the time they part, Bethany is no closer to a resolution than when she entered the bar. But if Isabela can make it up as she goes, so can she.
“That.” The word hangs in the whisper of air between their mouths, suspended somewhere between a question and an answer.
Isabela smiles, like this is what she planned all along. And maybe it is.