"I was thinking about Cassandra," Leliana says, looking up from between Vivienne's legs with a thoughtful expression on her face.
Vivienne stretches out on the bed with a sigh, boneless and lazy, and Leliana leans her head against her thigh. She is, by every indication, at least moderately clever, but sometimes her sense of timing is severely lacking.
The news from Val Royeaux came in some weeks earlier, but Leliana has not addressed it before in so many words, at least not to Vivienne. The Grand Clerics’ decision to elevate Cassandra to the Sunburst Throne technically put an end to the — friendly — rivalry between herself and Leliana. There's no real need for her to keep such a close eye on her anymore, but Vivienne supposes continued vigilance can't hurt either.
In truth, it all come as a bit of a surprise. Vivienne was far too busy keeping her attention on Leliana to think of Cassandra as an actual contender. Though it's a shame she won't have the opportunity to shape the world from the Sunburst Throne herself, it could have been worse: at least the idiot Grand Clerics — darling Marceline aside, of course — didn't put Leliana in charge.
"And what conclusions have you drawn, darling?" she wonders.
Getting to her feet, she picks up her corset, holding it out for Leliana to take.
"She is going to be out of her depth," Leliana says as she moves to stand behind her, wrapping the corset around Vivienne's waist, lacing it up with practiced ease. She is adept at this; after all, she is only allowed to remove it if she puts it back on herself.
"She is more resourceful than you give her credit for," Vivienne says.
Pausing, Vivienne considers what rests between her words. "You intend to offer her assistance, I take it. I'm sure she'll be ever so grateful."
She cannot quite erase the sour note in her voice. She's never examined Leliana's motives too carefully, but it stands to reason if she's ready to acknowledge their future Divine, she intends to shift her attention in a different direction. It was only a matter of time, of course.
Leliana brushes her fingers against her hip, thumb pressing into her lower back. "I assume you will, as well, yes?"
For all that she is dangerous and idealistic, on occasion they are of the same mind. She knows as well as Vivienne how this game is played.
If she is going to place herself at the Divine's side, Vivienne can hardly do less.
Having been summoned, Cassandra arrives punctually to Vivienne's balcony, striding in with her usual firm steps, only to falter at the sight of them. Well, it is understandable that the mere sight of Leliana away from her tower, skulking behind where Vivienne is poised on her chaise-longue, would cause such a reaction.
"Sit, my dear," Vivienne says, gesturing at the chair opposite the chaise-longue. "And close your mouth."
Cassandra abruptly sits down, jaws snapping shut. The look in her eyes, as her gaze darts between them, is deeply suspicious. "I have never seen the two of you in the same room before," she says.
"We don't make a habit of it," Vivienne says; the truth, more or less, at least while clothed.
Leliana moves to lean against the railing above the Grand Hall, smiling blithely. "Is there a reason we would not be in the same room, Cassandra?"
"Frankly," Cassandra says, "you have made it no secret that you despise each other."
Vivienne laughs lightly. "Nonsense. We get along perfectly well."
"Truly Cassandra," Leliana says, still wearing that heedless, completely affected, smile, "we are both part of the Inquisition, yes?"
Cassandra, who blessedly has very little capacity to hide her inner thoughts, looks somewhat doubtful.
"Your coronation approaches, darling. Of course we have utmost trust in your judgment... but we both have experience that you lack."
"There are things," Leliana pauses, hand darting down to rest against her hip, "we can assist you with."
She keeps a knife there, hidden under the chainmail, and she taps her fingers against it. Whether or not Cassandra knows exactly where Leliana keeps her blades, the message is rather obvious.
"I was Right Hand to two separate Divines, for close to twenty years."
"Of course." Leliana nods. "And when it comes to brute strength we have every confidence in your abilities."
"But," Vivienne says, "some situations require a gentle hand."
"Nimble fingers," Leliana adds, wiggling said appendages in the air.
"Delicate words at the right time."
Reaching towards the table, Vivienne pours herself a cup of tea from the steaming kettle. "I've already contacted my seamstress in Val Royeaux about the new vestments. Tea, Cassandra?"
"New vestments?" Cassandra exclaims, rather than answering the question, as if the mere idea is inconceivable. "What's wrong with the old vestments?"
"And I've taken the liberty of preparing a list of your biggest enemies in the Chantry and outside of it," Leliana says. "My people are ready to strike at your command."
Cassandra stands up, severe scowl in place. "How did you even — nevermind, I do not want to know."
Rubbing her hand over her forehead, she makes a noise of displeasure, giving them both very stern looks.
"No deaths, no clothes. Do not kill anyone. Do not dress anyone. Me. Do not dress me. Ugh."
"Grand Cleric Victoire?" Stretched on her bed, Vivienne reads out loud from Leliana's note, eyes following her scrawled hand-writing. "Well, she is a buffoon."
Lounging on chair by the small desk opposite Vivienne's bed, Leliana huffs. "A trouble-making buffoon."
"Surely there are things that could befall her that wouldn't incapacitate her physically. She's practically ancient — the right enticement might tempt her onto the path of a retirement that is much overdue, I should think."
Leliana sighs with what might, on a less lethal sort of person, be described as a pout. "It will not be as much fun."
"True. Perhaps I should simply destroy her reputation to the point that she'll be asked to leave."
"Alas, Cassandra would disapprove."
Vivienne nods, raising an eyebrow as she makes her way down the list. "I suppose it might be entertaining to watch Cassandra deal with her herself. She can, after all, be very persuasive. She has beautiful hands, especially when she makes a fist."
"Vivienne," Leliana says, smirk positively indecent.
"Darling, are you going to take all night removing that abomination?" Vivienne gestures vaguely in the general direction of Leliana's chainmail, which under no circumstance is allowed on her bed.
"I wouldn't dream of keeping the fearsome Madame de Fer waiting. They say she has the patience of a thunder-strike."
"Yet here I am."
Leliana undresses with the slow sensuality of someone who enjoys being watched. With such a view, Vivienne does not even particularly mind waiting. Not that she would tell her that, of course.
"She is too stubborn," Leliana says when she joins her on the bed, leaning on her knees, the light from the window caressing her bare breasts. She's speaking, of course, of the next Divine. "If she might learn to unwind, she would be more open to our most reasonable suggestions."
Her pale skin is speckled by old scars, faded and forgotten. The sort of stories that need not be told in words, written as they are on her skin.
"It is not her forte," Vivienne agrees. "Perhaps she requires help in that department?"
Leliana puts her hand on her knee, tugging on the edge of her robes, eyes tracing the intricate lacing up her front. Nothing else she owns has this many buckles and hooks, lacing and straps. Deciding on a plan of attack, she starts low, on the knots that tie up her embroidered shoes. "Help unwind?" she says. "How very lurid."
"I am not so sure she's amenable."
"Ah, but you are wrong. She simply needs — how did you put it? — a gentle hand."
"She is not a skittish horse, my dear."
Leliana slips Vivienne's shoes off, placing them on the floor, shrugging as she returns to her place between Vivienne's legs. "No. But she can be... intense."
Indeed, Leliana is not wrong. Cassandra is a formidable woman, and her ardor is hardly a flaw; rather it's something that sets her apart, a shining beacon in the dark.
"I suspect her experience is limited," she says, lifting her arm as Leliana methodically tugs loose the lacing on her sleeves.
"With the appropriate partner, such things are not a problem."
"And who would you partner her with?"
"A woman, of course."
Vivienne laughs, delighted. "Is that truly her preference?"
"No," Leliana admits, looking all of a sudden a little sullen, "not in my experience."
"How unfortunate. We might have arranged something with Josephine."
"Oh, of course not." A firm shake of her head. "Josie has no interest in romance."
"If you say so."
"Perhaps the Champion? I received word recently that she is returning from Weisshaupt."
"A poor investment," Vivienne remarks. "It's only a matter of time before her sense of humor gets her killed."
"Fair enough. The Inquisitor then."
Leaning back further, giving Leliana space to work on the lacing down her front, hands brushing against her breasts, Vivienne considers. The Inquisitor is remarkably sweet for someone who takes such pride in her brutishness. She and Cassandra work well together in the field, fighting back to back, swords and shields. She cannot think of a single reason she ought not lead the path for a match such as that.
"I think not," she says, opting for brevity rather than elaborating.
Leliana watches her, hands stilling, eyes sharp like daggers. "You are fond of her."
"Cassandra? Of course. Aren't you?"
"I have a copy of some trite, filthy poetry the Chantry banned some years ago," Leliana says, rather than answering the question. "I'm sure it'll have the same effect."
"Possibly even a better one. I'm sure such a book, unlike present company, does not keep one waiting."
"If you did not want me to take my time, Vivienne, why is it you always wear such difficult clothes?"
There's no reason to answer, when Leliana unhooks the last bit of lacing, allowing her robes to unfold. She kisses a line down her arm, finding a path just for her. It's not, of course; others have gone here before.
"Not there," Vivienne says, pulling her wrist whip-quick from Leliana's mouth.
The strange things one finds bound up in the body. She does not care for the depth of understanding in Leliana's eyes, nor how she averts her gaze, as if to allow for a privacy that does not exist.
"I know the Right Hand to the Divine held a long-time connection to one of the Circle," she says quietly. "A man."
"He did not survive the Conclave."
Vivienne suspected as much. He was not among the rebels that Adaar conscripted, nor with the loyal mages in Val Royeaux. Everyone loses loved ones eventually; if ever there was a guarantee in this world it's the inevitably of loss and grief.
Reaching out to touch her fingers to Leliana's jaw, she beckons her closer with a featherlight touch. Her palms are rough on her skin, no doubt calloused from knives and bows, scarred from who knows what. But her mouth is soft, and she kisses her gently, sweetly. Soothing the tension in her body, building a different sort of strain.
There's a scar along the hairline on the back of her neck, old and jagged, and Vivienne traces her fingertips along the raised skin, letting the familiar texture of it anchor her.
She's become rather accustomed to her.
It occurs to her, following the natural path of unspoken words, that Leliana is in love with the Divine-to-be.
A curious thing. She probably ought to find a way to take advantage of it.
It's been Vivienne and Cassandra's habit for some time to spar on the plains below Skyhold. The summer days are growing warm, even in the mountains, and the strain is pleasant. When they're done, Vivienne is warm under her robes, and sore from where she wasn't quick enough.
They've always been a good match in the field, and few people provide such an excellent challenge as Cassandra to practice with, and against.
"That was good," Cassandra says with a decisive nod. There's a small cut on her eyebrow, where the handle of her sword snapped up when she misjudged Vivienne's movements.
Vivienne puts her hands on her hips, stretching her back. "Perfectly decent," she agrees. "I shall miss the opportunity when you leave for Val Royeaux."
Cassandra frowns at that, looking for all the world like she's considering her own doom. She touches her fingers to her bleeding eyebrow, wincing slightly. "There is time yet," she says.
"Oh, don't fidget," Vivienne says, closing the distance between them with two long steps, eying her forehead critically. "Allow me."
"Do not bother, it will heal on its own."
She's not wrong; the wound has already sealed closed, blood clotted, and left alone it will likely not even leave a scar.
"Nonsense," Vivienne says. "I couldn't possibly let the Divine walk away marked."
If Cassandra intends to argue further, she is effectively silenced by Vivienne reaching for her chin, angling her face. Getting her handkerchief out, she wipes away the dried blood on her forehead, dabbing at her eyebrow. The cut heals quickly as she drags a streak of healing magic from the Fade, stretching and folding it like a web over the cut.
Too quickly, really, certainly not worth the effort, and Vivienne holds onto her for a little while longer than necessary, studying her face for more scratches. There are none, of course; she does take care to keep their sparring civilized.
"Another mark would be the least of my problems," Cassandra sighs. They're standing close enough that her breath brushes warmly against Vivienne's neck.
"Is there something bothering you, darling?"
The sunset paints her face in amber and orange when she looks into the distance; eyes turning golden in the light, Cassandra truly is a striking woman. With the right robes, no one will forget a Divine like her.
"As Divine," Cassandra starts, "I know certain things will be expected of me, some of them more difficult than others. Faith. Patience. Diplomacy. Chastity."
Her eyes flicker to the side as the last word is spoken half-mumbled, rather rushed.
"Ah," Vivienne says, amusement tugging at her lips. "Is there someone — dear to you?"
Cassandra is still glowing somewhat from the exertion, and now her complexion takes on an even further flushed color. "It is... a complicated situation."
"Oh, darling. If the Chantry is what concerns you, I assure you that the only thing expected of you is discretion."
"Leliana said the same. Actually, she did not even seem to think discretion was especially important."
Of course she didn't. Vivienne pointedly keeps her face blank. "You asked Leliana?"
"I did not ask, she always knows."
Naturally, they are friends of old. Vivienne has found herself wondering lately, how close they were, or might be. "Well," she says, "Leliana seems to have a penchant for keeping herself appraised of these things. An unfortunate side-effect of her line of work, I'm sure."
"Tell me, at Court, is it…?" Cassandra leaves the question unfinished for several moments before gathering herself. "Is it commonplace to... stray from the conventional?"
"Dear Cassandra, nothing is rare at the Empress's Court, except perhaps good taste."
"It is an impossible situation," she says, looking suddenly miserable.
Vivienne hums thoughtfully, studying the hard angles of Cassandra's face, touched by the warm glow from the sunset. "Is your objection one of a religious nature?"
"The Maker, I'm sure, has better things to occupy himself with than such petty details."
"Quite right," Vivienne says. "And you need not worry too much about the good opinion of the Chantry — after all, you'll be the head of it."
Vivienne's hand twitches as she considers reaching out to touch her again, to provide her a comfort, however small. At the last moment, she decides against it.
"I was wondering of your opinion," Cassandra says, and the look she gives Vivienne is startlingly fierce, as if she aims to stare down all her enemies in the world.
Struck, heart in her throat, Vivienne smiles, practiced and polished. "Darling, I'm not the one you need to impress."
Cassandra looks away, and Vivienne can only guess the sort of thoughts and doubts might plague someone like her. Whatever they are, they must be unfounded.
"Do not worry yourself about what is and isn't conventional," Vivienne says quietly. " Whoever has accomplished the feat of winning your heart is very lucky indeed."
"There is only one blanket."
Cassandra delivers the statement with solemn gravity, holding up the offending item. It's faded into an unflattering shade of yellow, stained from use, and emanates a distinctive smell of wet horse. Vivienne's robes are rain-soaked, clinging to her skin, and every little gust of wind in the drafty cave chills her to the very bone.
And people have the gall to call this summer.
"How perfectly wonderful," she remarks.
It seemed like a lovely idea that morning to join Cassandra for a ride across the mountains. The sky was blue, and Cassandra asking both her and Leliana along could only mean that she finally changed her mind about their offer of assistance. Leliana is not one to voluntarily leave her tower of gloom, despair, and, presumably, bird droppings, but apparently she shared Vivienne's suspicions because she, too, agreed without protest.
That was before the weather shifted. And now here they are, taking shelter in a cave waiting for the thunder to roll by, in what can only be described as an absolutely abysmal waste of an afternoon. Seating herself next to Cassandra, Leliana takes her other side, and with the three of them pressed together, there's room enough under the blanket.
Leliana looks like a wet rat. No doubt it's been some time since she was last in similar weather conditions. There's a small quirk of her lips, eyes pale under wet lashes, and with water dripping from her nose she looks absolutely ridiculous.
"I've decided to accept your offered assistance," Cassandra says.
"I'm glad you've seen reason," Vivienne replies, not bothering to keep the triumph out of her voice.
"When I go to Val Royeaux, I want you to continue to serve as my Left Hand," Cassandra says to Leliana, and turning to Vivienne, adds, "and I want you to be my Right Hand."
Leliana frowns. "Would that not mean we'd have to work together?"
"You told me you get along very well."
"That was obviously a lie, Cassandra."
"I consider you both my friends, and I am going to need both of your particular skills. As such, it stands to reason you learn to enjoy each other's company."
Cassandra presses her lips together in a stern facsimile of a smile, looking altogether far too pleased with herself. Easy for her to be when neither of them can walk away in protest.
In fact, it all seems rather too neat.
Narrowing her eyes, Vivienne returns her look with one much less amused. "Did you plan to make this ridiculous announcement while we were trapped in a cave?"
"Vivienne," Cassandra says, gravely serious. "I do not control the weather."
Eventually, the coronation cannot be delayed any longer, and new duties take up their time.
The newly reestablished Circles vote for Vivienne to be Grand Enchanter, as expected, and she finds herself very busy dividing her time between the Circle in Cumberland and the Grand Cathedral in Val Royeaux. As Grand Enchanter and Right Hand to the Divine, her standing is immutable. She cannot recall a time, even while Bastien was still alive, that she was in a place so secure.
Safe enough that she grows complacent and unforgivably careless.
"Most Holy," Leliana says calmly, as Cassandra's eyebrows make a very serious attempt to escape from her forehead.
One would think she'd never walked in on the Left Hand of the Divine in the nude before.
"Close the door, my dear," Vivienne says, getting up from the bed and wrapping her robe around herself.
It is a rather unfortunate turn of events. Not only to be interrupted at a most unfortunate moment, caught, so to speak, in flagrante delicto, but to be caught in flagrante delicto with Leliana.
"You are —" Cassandra stops, face nearly as red as her robes — robes which frankly do nothing for her, because she still hasn't let them design new vestments for her.
"Hm?" Leliana questions at the Divine's continued silence.
"Friendly," Cassandra settles for.
Vivienne huffs with as much derision as she can manage. "I wouldn't go that far."
"Intimate," Cassandra corrects.
"Only in a professional capacity," Leliana says, which probably would have come off better if she hadn't been naked.
"You did tell us to enjoy each other's company," Vivienne adds. "And so we have. You know I cannot abide an idealist, but the the benefits outweigh the drawbacks."
Leliana only smiles, somewhat smugly. She is obviously entirely aware of her own benefits.
"Please, do not —" Cassandra pauses, the shock on her face replaced by something much softer. "Do not let me stop you. I always knew you cared for one another, for all that you would deny it, and I am... happy for you."
Her eyes are more tender than Vivienne remembers ever seeing them, filled with the sort of raw affection she's only seen on her face when she's praying. Though she fully intends to protest her ridiculous statement, she finds she cannot bring herself to argue when she’s looking at her like that.
"You do not need to pretend, Cassandra," Leliana mutters, glancing at Vivienne. "I know you are in love with her." She pauses, gaze lingering. "I suppose I cannot blame you."
Arching her brow, Vivienne meets Leliana's eyes. Stepping aside gracefully isn't something she has any particular experience with, and she is not exactly keen to gain it. Still, the alternatives are far worse.
"No, darling," she says patiently, "she's in love with you."
Leliana, who is still naked, sits up on the bed, tilting her head and frowning thoughtfully at Vivienne. "How curious," she says.
Looking from Cassandra to Leliana and back, it occurs to Vivienne that she might have misinterpreted the situation.
"I know it is impossible," Cassandra says, voice catching. "Nothing can come of it. My feelings for you both are not... sensible. It is enough for me to know that you may find happiness together."
Vivienne looks at Leliana, raising a questioning eyebrow, and Leliana shrugs in reply, eyes glittering as she smirks.
"Most Holy," Leliana says, a rather playful tone creeping into her voice, "your most noble self-sacrifice is noted, but have we not made it clear that we'll take care of you in any way you need?"
Vivienne smiles, reaching out her hand. "Darling, you're welcome to join us."