Bethany travels with Aveline for 6 months before releasing her of her obligation.
“This is ridiculous,” she sighs, after a week spent camping in what used to be Lothering, a bitter pilgrimage to the memory of the lives they once thought they would lead. “My brother is not my keeper, and neither are you.”
Aveline frowns over her bowl of stew.
“I made a promise—”
“— that is patently unenforceable and never had any input from me. Don’t you think it’s time I set out on my own?”
Aveline moves to protest, but she looks as tired as Bethany feels. Aveline, however, has a home to miss. Some place to return to.
“Where will you go?”
“It’s not far to Redcliffe. I’m not above slinging pints or making beds for a living. I’ll figure it out.”
“Are you sure?”
“You’ve still got a life in Kirkwall, Aveline. A husband. A job that means something. The people of that city don’t deserve to suffer your absence just because Hawke is a control freak.”
“He’s only doing it because he loves you,” Aveline grumbles.
“But not enough to be here himself, right?” Bethany scoffs. “I’ve always been a problem to solve, to him. I’m almost thirty years old— when do I get to be a person ?”
“Will you at least let me make sure you get to Redcliffe safe and sound?”
“If only because you deserve a night in an actual bed.”
Bethany travels light; in the aftermath of the Kirkwall rebellion she’d exchanged her Circle Robes once again for trousers and chainmail. She keeps her father’s staff, but it’s inconspicuous enough to register as a walking stick from a distance. And in the instances where she’s needed to use it, it’s been invaluable.
The only luxury she allows herself, the only thing she’d salvaged from the Gallows when everything went to hell, is a bundle of letters. There’s a small pile from Mother, and a smattering of tales from Varric and drawings of baby animals from Merrill, but the overwhelming portion of the collection are from Isabela: funny stories about her brother making a tit of himself, bawdy retellings of her more salacious pirating adventures, detailed lists of all the things she might like to do to Bethany when she got out of that blighted Circle.
Isabela hadn’t done any of them, in the end.
She’d sailed off before the lyrium dust had cleared, leaving Bethany stuck in the Free Marches for a year, once again following her brother like a lost puppy to Chateaux and Warden prisons until Hawke had left for the Anderfels and entrusted Aveline to escort Bethany away from Kirkwall.
Varric’s the only one who had even noticed Bethany’s dejection, pulling her aside on a watch shift in the Vinmark Chasm for a heart-to-heart.
“Rivaini leaving… it’s not about you.”
Bethany bit back a denial before admitting to herself it wouldn’t get her anywhere.
“How much do you know?”
“She talks a lot when she drinks, you know? Or I guess, maybe you wouldn’t, given how little time you got to spend at the Hanged Man, may she rest in peace.”
“Is this supposed to make me feel better? Because you’re not really helping, rubbing in all the things I didn’t get to do while I was imprisoned by the Templars”
“Sorry, Sunshine,” Varric winced. “I just meant, well, Isabela spent a lot of time drinking with me and a lot of time talking about you.”
Bethany blushed, despite her better instincts.
“Please tell me my brother wasn’t present for these fireside chats.”
“Oh no, this was the lonely hearts’ club while he and Anders were off gallivanting. You know, before all the terrorism and such.”
“Varric, I see that you’re trying to make me feel better about it all, but all you’re doing is making it seem like Isabela cared about me more than as someone to send dirty letters to. Which doesn’t really make the disappearing without so much as a goodbye better…”
“Ah, shit,” Varric sighed. “Look, Rivaini never met a good thing she didn’t preemptively ruin. It’s in her nature to cut and run. I just… I didn’t want you to think it meant you weren’t good enough, or anything like that. You deserve the world, and someday you’ll find someone who realizes that.”
“Are you sure the ghost of my father isn’t possessing you? You don’t normally have such a… paternal bent.”
“Stranger things have happened,” Varric shrugged.
“Thanks… I think,” Bethany choked out. Varric started to move in for a hug before settling for an awkward pat on her back.
And yet, she carries these letters with her everywhere she goes, telling herself that Isabela is gone for good, but unable to quell the spark of hope that insists that she could come back and find her at any moment. Never mind that they are landlocked and mud-strewn. Her heart continues to yearn for the impossible.
Bethany acclimates quickly to Redcliffe. Even now the village reels with loss, the massacre of the Fifth Blight still fresh in too many minds. It is easy to fit in here, mired as she is in a million kinds of grief.
She gets a job as a barmaid at the tavern and while it’s tiring work, it comes easily to her. People unload their problems on her without so much as an invitation on her partand she gives them a tankard and a smile. It feels like she’s doing more for the world than she ever did within the circle (even if she only uses her magic to make the mugs just a bit more frosty, the ale just a bit more bitingly cold). She keeps a friendly distance with the regulars, but every so often a traveler comes through town (someone with some place to be, someone who wants to be here no longer than they absolutely have to), and she invites them to share her bed for the evening. She picks tall and slender lovers who lack charm or presence; as antithetical to Isabela as possible. It is better to drink wine than to wish the whisky were of a better quality.
There are rumblings in the tavern as the unrest of Kirkwall makes its way throughout Thedas; rumours of conclaves and violence, guerilla warfare outside the village that displaces innocents and makes them refugees. And then, the Grand Enchanter comes, and all of a sudden Bethany is serving mages instead of farmers or soldiers. She’s never joined a fight of her own volition before, never been seen as more use than burden. It may be too late for many things, but not for this.
Bethany nearly freezes Varric when he envelopes her in a bear hug.
“Sunshine! What are the odds? Aren’t you meant to be with the Captain?”
“Aren’t you meant to be in Kirkwall?”
“Long story. I was a bit tied up with the Chantry, as it were. What’s your excuse?”
“Aveline has a life to lead that doesn’t involve babysitting me. I told her as much. I didn’t realize you were with the Inquisition. Have they made a zealot of you?”
“Wrong place, wrong time,” Varric sighs, but his eyes twinkle, and she can tell he’s at least been inspired enough by the chaos around him to write his next best-seller. There are worse things in this world. “I didn’t picture you as the enlisting type either.”
“Mages have much to offer the world,” Bethany shrugs. “It’s about time someone treated us as an asset instead of a liability.”
“Standing up for yourself is a good look on you,” Varric nods approvingly. “And it’s nice to have a familiar face around. I would introduce you to everyone, but I have a feeling you’ll need to get the Seeker’s interrogation out of the way first,” he grimaces.
The fall of Haven is as awful as Meredith’s last stand. Bethany finds herself frozen, reliving those horrible memories, until Varric grabs her forcefully and tugs her into the Chantry.
“No need to be a hero, Sunshine, that’s what the Herald is for. I’m not going to let Corypheus or your brother kill me. Or you, for that matter.”
She moves, somehow. In the months and years to come, the journey will become yet another “thing she did once,” a paragraph in one of Varric’s books. In the moment, every step is excruciating and terrifying, every foot they travel into the snow a reminder that they may have escaped a fiery death only to succumb to the bitter cold.
But they make it to Skyhold— most of them at least, though there are plenty of losses. Bethany wonders when she lost her capacity for sorrow; when devastation made her feel numb rather than bereft. She does not mourn anymore; she simply carries on.
There’s plenty of work to be done, and so she does it; outreach expeditions to the Hinterlands, research on various artifacts, she even puts her farming background to use in the garden. Every day, Bethany works until exhaustion claims her, until her mind is empty and her sleep is dreamless.
Varric’s plenty busy himself (and of much greater importance, being in the Inquisitor’s inner circle and all), but after a few months at Skyhold, he makes a point to drag Bethany out of her rut.
“Come on Sunshine, one more row of elfroot isn’t life or death.”
“It could be, you know. If there’s not enough elfroot there’s not enough potions and—”
“Do you really think the Maker gave you the gift of life only for you to insist on using it to be miserable all of the time?”
Damn. She hates it when Varric’s right about something.
“Fine. Where are we headed?”
“Weekly Wicked Grace game. Don’t worry, there’s no way you’ll lose as badly as Cullen.”
“I’m not especially fond of the Commander, Varric, given the whole having been imprisoned in the circle he patrolled as a templar thing.”
“Shit. Well. Then you’ll enjoy watching him lose?”
Varric’s friends are lovely, actually (if a bit crass, which honestly just reminds Bethany of her brother), and Bethany finds that away from Kirkwall and the uniform, Cullen is very nearly tolerable. Cassandra is actually quite funny when she’s not interrogating someone, and Dorian instantly senses a kindred spirit in her, sidling up to her and whispering all the salacious gossip he knows into her ear so she could catch up to speed. She feels a sense of belonging she hadn’t realized she’d missed. She’s not the wide-eyed young girl she was around the table at the Hanged Man, but as she falls asleep that night she feels something very close to exuberant.
It’s easier after that, but harder, too, because for all the joy she’s allowed herself to feel again, there is an answering grief. But even on those days, she finds her comrades in the tavern and shares a silent pint with a fellow mage or throws angry darts with Sera. Except for the fact that the world is literally being torn apart, things are more alright than they’ve been for a long while.
Isabela is going to kill that little dwarfy bastard, magnificent chest hair be damned.
She’s been on a horse for two days, and it’s so cold in these blighted mountains that she’s wearing trousers. And a coat. The only upside is she’s practically disguised so she can surprise the son of a bitch.
“Tell me the Inquisition has a bigger budget for booze than the Hanged Man,” she mutters, sitting down next to her dear friend (and current sworn enemy).
“Rivaini!” Varric practically yelps. “I didn’t think you’d be here for at least another week. What a pleasant surprise! Those are hard to come by these days, it’s mostly just ‘oh, the evil shit you thought you killed is back and better than ever’ or ‘whoops, ancient artifact’s haunted!’”
“I changed course as soon as I got your letter. If you ask for help, I figure it’s important,” Isabela shrugs. “And it better be, considering the chafing I have on my thighs at the moment. It’s not even the fun kind,” she pouts.
“Trust me, I’ve got a job only you are fit to carry out. And it’s not quite as big as, say, closing the giant rift in the sky, but it will help the Inquisition.”
“Ugh, I don’t like how official that sounds. You know I prefer to work under the table.”
“Unless you’re dancing on top of it, am I right?” Varric winks, and Isabela chuckles heartily.
“So, what’s the deal with your operation here?” Isabela asks, scanning the room for threats and promises.
“Mine? Hardly. The Right Hand of the Divine happened to be interrogating me about the whereabouts of Hawke when shit went down at the conclave. Not sure why I’ve stuck around, honestly, other than it feels like the right thing to do.”
“Look at you, a man of in—” Isabela starts, before her eyes catch on a too-familiar face in the corner of the tavern, laughing with a group of mercenaries. “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.”
Varric at least grants her the decency of not pretending he doesn’t know what she’s talking about.
“Come on, Isabela, did you really think you could go your whole life without seeing her again?”
“Yes,” Isabela frowns, “which is why I disappeared without a trace like an asshole. That plan sort of depended on not having to face the consequences of my actions.” She sighs. “What’s she doing here, hmm?”
“Sunshine’s made a bit of a name for herself with the rebel mages. Hawke’s not the only hero in the family.”
“I thought he was committed to keeping her away from the fallout of Kirkwall.”
“Oh, he was furious when he showed up here. But Bethany’s a big girl; she can make her own decisions.”
Isabela can’t quite keep the fondness out of her voice when she responds.
“Always had a stubborn streak a mile long, didn’t she?”
Varric nods, taking a long drink of his ale to buy time before the next big reveal.
“I’m guessing you didn’t get my letter after Adamant fortress?”
The look on his face is as grim as she’s ever seen Varric, even more so than when he killed his own brother.
“No… what happened to Hawke?”
Varric tries to keep his glib tone, but tears threaten to escape.
“The inquisitor and his party got trapped in the Fade. Hawke insisted on sacrificing himself to a demon so they could escape. The damned fool felt responsible for Corypheus coming back and insisted on being a hero.”
“All of that effort at disappearing, only to actually disappear.”
Isabela gulps down her whisky, welcoming the harsh burn against her throat that settles into her gut.
“How’s she— is Bethany holding up alright?”
“The poor girl has lost pretty much everyone she’s ever loved. Except me, I guess.”
Isabela feels the guilt like a bludgeon to the back of the head.
“I’m sorry,” Isabela murmurs. “About Hawke.”
“Anyways,” Varric clears his throat, determined to salvage the evening. “You’ve missed a lot. Why don’t I catch you up on the good stuff?”
Given how long Varric’s stories can last, Isabela’s three sheets to the wind when Bethany leaves the tavern, and Varric’s pissed enough that he calls her over, either oblivious to the fact that Isabela would very much like to avoid this interaction or beyond the point of caring.
“Sunshine!” He shouts, and Bethany turns her head, finally seeing Isabela’s face (instead of her miserable cold weather trappings).
“I ought to slap you,” is the first thing she says after walking over to the bar.
“I’ve gotten worse punishments for lesser offenses,” Isabela admits. “How are you, Sweetn—” she clears her throat, “Bethany?”
“You’d know, if you’d ever made any effort whatsoever to find out.”
So that’s how it’s going to be.
Varric is visibly uncomfortable and clearly regretting what now appears to be an entirely contrived scenario to reunite Isabela with Bethany.
“I was just telling Rivaini how many Red Templars you’ve set on fire.”
Bethany raises an eyebrow, and Isabela gives her a proper once over.
(She’d like to think she’s matured some over the years, but she’s still human .)
“I was always glad I wasn’t on the other end of your spells,” Isabela drawls. “Pity the fool who underestimates you.”
Bethany chuckles. It’s a dark, biting thing, and yet Isabela’s heart soars. Two years of avoidance have done absolutely nothing to cure her of her infatuation. Bollocks.
“You’re not worth the lyrium it would take to incinerate you.”
“Well, it’s pretty late, time to pack it in, I guess.”
Bethany still looks colder than the ice Isabela has seen her shoot from her fingertips on multiple occasions.
“You know, I usually invite friends to stay with me when they visit Skyhold. Enjoy the barracks, Isabela.”
Isabela shoots Varric a murderous look.
“Sorry, Bianca doesn’t share. I’ll walk you to the bunkhouse.”
Killing Varric isn’t enough. Isabela’s going to torture him first.
“So. Um. Ruffles.”
Josephine looks up from her desk to find Varric pacing in front of her. He doesn’t usually leave his people-watching alcove in the great hall… this can’t be good.
“How can I help you, Master Tethras?”
“I may have oversold my connections for that Antivan ball next month…”
Josephine wrinkles her brow.
“But the Admiral has arrived at Skyhold— do you mean to tell me she’s made the journey for naught? And surely Lady Hawke will fulfill her duty to the Inquisition— I don’t think she’s ever so much as complained about an assignment.”
“No, I think that if I asked either of them to go solo it wouldn’t be a problem…”
“You haven’t even told them,” Josephine sighs. “And there is some sort of interpersonal conflict you failed to mention when you tried to swoop in heroically and solve my problems. This is why I don’t delegate,” she huffs.
“I thought I could kill two birds with one stone,” Varric grimaces, “And I need more plot inspiration for the next Swords & Shields installment…”
Josephine forces herself to exhale slowly through her nose, hiding how much she’d like to throttle Varric at the moment.
“I’ll handle it. I always do.”
“Varric never mentioned how gorgeous the Inquisition’s ambassador was,” Isabela drawls, helping herself to a seat in front of Josephine’s desk without being invited.
“Flattery will get you nowhere, Admiral,” Josephine tuts, crossing her arms over her chest and wielding her sternest stare.
“That’s a shame,” Isabela sighs. “I was hoping to relive some fond memories with Leliana, and that would require a third party, for historical accuracy. Well, actually a fourth as well, come to think of it…”
“If you don’t mind ,” Josephine interrupts, “Varric has informed me that, despite your willingness to perform favors for the Inquisition from afar, despite the fact that you and he have already returned to Antiva, you intend to refuse our request for you to represent the Inquisition by attending an Antivan state function?”
“Well when you put it like that that makes me sound like…”
“A coward? Well, perhaps you are, then,” Josephine huffs. “Andraste preserve us, if the fearless Admiral of the Felicissima Armada is too intimidated to do something as simple as pose as a married woman in order to convince Antiva to support us in the coming war, then maybe we are already well and truly lost.”
Isabela looks shocked. Good.
“I’m sorry— Bethany and I were supposed to pretend to be married ?”
“Her noble status will impress those in Antiva who still care about such things, and your piracy will convince the rest that the Inquisition is an organization worth supporting. It’s an advantageous match for all parties.”
“Why aren’t you doing this? Since you’re, you know, actually Antivan?”
Josephine sighs in the most dramatically Antivan fashion she can muster.
“Alas, I would love nothing more than to return to my beautiful homeland, but it is not possible. I must accompany the Inquisitor to Orlais, and even then, if I were not obliged to be in Halamshiral, the fallen fortune of the Montilyets makes my name nearly worthless in Antiva. It would only bring me shame to attempt to leverage my family’s name for influence there.”
Josephine can tell Isabela doesn’t fully buy it, but she’s also not interested in whatever histrionics Josephine may perform in order to get her way. Or worse, what calm and measured argument she may pull out next.
“Listen, if the money’s good, I’ll do the job, alright. If you can convince Bethany to get on board, fine. I can really only be here for three more days, though— I left my crew in Jader and if they have more than two weeks to go on a bender I’m liable to lose either my men or my ship, and I’d rather have both in working order.”
“That won’t be a problem, Admiral. My colleagues work very quickly.”
“I can do a lot of things quickly, too, Ruffles,” Isabela waggles her brows. “If you’ve got a spare fifteen minutes before I leave I could show you the world…”
Josephine answers her with a disapproving glare and Isabela leaves her office, her laugh echoing along the wide hallways of the fortress.
“You wanted to see me, Lady Nightingale?”
Bethany has had incidental encounters with the spymaster since joining the Inquisition (including a brief reunion in Haven’s chantry, reminiscing about the seemingly halcyon days of Lothering) but never a personal request to meet her in the rookery. Whatever it is, it can’t be good.
“Please, call me Leliana. Surely at this point we are old friends?”
Bethany wouldn’t go that far, but she also wouldn’t protest such a declaration. People who argue with Leliana have a tendency to disappear. She clears her throat.
“You wanted to see me, Leliana ?”
Leliana nods and beckons Bethany to a straight backed chair. As she sits, Leliana remains standing with her hands clasped behind her back. It feels more than a little like an interrogation.
“It’s come to my attention that Varric failed to give you the full scope of our need for you to serve as an agent of the Inquisition at the upcoming Antivan state dinner. And that he may have brought Isabela here on false pretenses as well.”
Bethany’s glad for the chair, actually, it helps to hide her shaking legs. Whether she trembles from nerves or rage, she can’t discern.
“You mean for us to attend together? Why ?”
Leliana smiles sympathetically.
“Varric sold the idea as a convincing political marriage that would win us points with all elements of Antivan society, although I also believe his motives are more selfish. Or selfless, depending on whom you ask.”
“Well, it’s already a flawed plan. No one who’s ever met her would believe Isabela would ever get married again, and practically everyone in Thedas has met Isabela at this point.”
Leliana fights a smirk. (Bethany already knows that Leliana is one of Isabela’s numerous intimate acquaintances, but she could do without the reminder).
“Oh, but to be so passionately in love that one abandons a life of swashbuckling to save the world? The Antivans will eat it up.”
There was a time when Bethany would’ve considered Sister Leliana a safe confidante, a gentle ear for her worries. But this Leliana uses people’s secrets against them like a dagger to the throat. And still, Bethany finds she wants to talk about it, to speak it aloud and make it real.
“Has Isabela informed you that she broke my heart without so much as a goodbye? Or is she too chickenshit to own up to it? I don’t even know that she could playact having changed.”
Leliana paces, looking out the window and studying the exercise yard.
“There are people who genuinely enjoy having many lovers, you know? Who thrill at the chase, and the intrigue, and the grand game of seduction.”
She pauses, gazing intently at the Seeker clobbering her practice dummies.
“And then there are those who stick to surface flirtations because it is all they believe they are worthy of, that they do not deserve to have a heart that someone gives them fully.”
“I do not care what someone believes, I care what they do .”
Leliana turns back to her, looking even more weary than she had when Bethany arrived.
“Do you still believe in the Maker, Bethany?”
Bethany grimaces, but nods yes. Her faith may have been shaken, but it is still present, a flame that will not go out.
“Perhaps this is him giving you both an opportunity to make things right.”
“I’m not giving Varric the satisfaction of making a fake relationship real. It’s the oldest trope in the book.”
Leliana laughs echoes like birdsong.
“No, but you can give yourself closure. You can free yourself to move on from the hurt, and onto something better with someone else, if the Maker wills.”
“I can buy that this mission is vital to the Inquisition’s success, but I still think it’s hardly necessary to send me. There are at least three other mages with noble backgrounds, and given how indiscriminate Isabela’s tastes are, any one of them could fit the bill. Even the Seeker is of noble birth.”
(It’s petty, the last dig, but Bethany derives a base satisfaction from seeing the glimmer of jealousy flicker across Leliana’s face at the thought of Isabela traipsing across the sea with Cassandra in tow.)
“Do you truly trust any of them to protect her against Venatori or Red Templars?”
Bethany wants to protest that Isabela can handle herself just fine, but she’s seen the Venatori light someone on fire before they’ve even drawn their blade. And as much as seeing Isabela in the flesh feels like a knife to the gut, the thought of her dying at the hands of Corypheus stings even worse.
“You’ve made your blighted point. I’ll do it,” Bethany spits, trying not to look as ill as she feels.
“You’re well fit. Buy me a drink, then?” Sera waggles her eyebrows at Isabela, who’s made a sizable dent in a bottle of whisky but still has plenty left to share.
Isabela considers flirting with her to earn herself a cozier place to sleep tonight, but her heart’s not in it.
“Do your worst,” she pushes the bottle across the table.
“So you’re the big fancy ship captain, yeah?”
“The Queen of the Eastern Seas herself,” Isabela winks.
“I don’t like boats. Can’t swim. Anything that big, floating on water? Don’t trust it.”
“Pity, I could’ve used someone like you in my crew.”
“Oh, I’ll bet you could’ve,” Sera smirks. “What’s got you looking like you’ve got rashvine in your knickers, innit?”
“Just a misery of my own creation, the usual,” Isabela slurs.
Sera nods, looking past Isabela’s gaze to the corner of the tavern, where Bethany is eating dinner with Dorian and a few other mages.
“Over her ? Good luck with that, she’s scary.”
“No, really,” Sera insists. “I’ve seen her freeze a man ‘til he shatters into a million little pieces without flinching. Even for a mage, she’s on another level.”
“Well you don’t have to make her sound so bloody hot , now do you?”
“I’d offer to help you get over her by getting under me, but no, not gonna get turned into an icicle, you’re on your own.”
“In the end, we all are,” Isabela sighs, resigning herself to another sleepless night in a cot that’s seen better days.
The Inquisitor is an unassuming dwarf who looks more comfortable behind an anvil than in front of an audience. He’s so soft-spoken he’s frequently overlooked, and Bethany feels a kinship with him, having spent most of her life going out of her way to avoid notice.
“I really do appreciate you doing this for the Inquisition, Bethany.” He shakes her hand, and Bethany’s struck by how soft his skin is, how gentle his touch is, despite his wielding a maul in the field. “I'm sorry you won't be joining us in Halamshiral, but know that your efforts in Antiva aren't going unnoticed.”
“That’s kind of you, your worship. I hope you have a better time in Orlais than I expect I will… I don't fare well at sea, historically speaking.”
“From what I’ve heard, you're in good hands with Isabela,” he winks, and Bethany’s too bloody tired to try to disabuse him of that particular notion.
“Dance with Dorian for me, won’t you?”
His eyes twinkle gleefully as he agrees to her terms before ambling off to return to the War Council. Bethany finishes saddling her horse and mounts up, riding to the gates of Skyhold, where Isabela sits atop her own steed, somehow managing to swagger in stirrups.
“There you are. Thought you might’ve gotten cold feet.”
“That’s never been an issue for me,” Bethany grumbles, tightening the straps on her shoulder pack.
“Right,” Isabela grimaces. “Shall we?”
Bethany nods, and they set off, riding in silence. After an hour Isabela attempts chatter, but gives up after five minutes of talking to herself.
The air chills the moment they leave Skyhold, but the ground is dry, if frozen. It could always be worse, Bethany reminds herself. (Although realistically speaking, being bereft of her entire family as the world itself threatens to end is arguably not a walk in the park.)
They’re making good time ( maybe the silence makes Isabela travel faster , Bethany thinks, just so she can be back with her crew sooner ) when they stumble upon an itinerant band of Red Templars.
The fight isn’t difficult so much as exhausting. They’re outnumbered four to two, but the lyrium has so addled their opponents’ brains that all they have to offer in a fight is sheer strength, but no strategy whatsoever. Still, it takes a good bit of mana to cast spells long enough to kill them all, even with Isabela’s quick cuts to their vulnerable points.
“We always did fight well together,” Isabela observes, picking over the corpses. “Ugh, bastards don’t even have a silver on them. What a waste of bloody time.”
Bethany shakes off the soot from her sleeves.
“There’s no way we make Jader today. There’s a lake a couple miles away. We can camp there for the night.”
“Fresh water to wash the blood off my daggers? You spoil me.”
Bethany hides a small smile. There’s something about Isabela’s easy charm that feels comforting, even as it stings. A small salve for the walking wound that is Bethany Hawke. Still, she rebuffs all of Isabela’s attempts at bantering until they make camp.
“If you gather wood, I should be able to get a fire going. We have enough rations for tonight, no need to hunt.”
“Have I ever told you that I greatly admire your ability to get even a soggy old log sparking?” Isabela winks. “We have that in common, I suppose.”
Bethany rolls her eyes and shivers against the cold before pitching the tent.
(Fortunately Isabela is actually doing the task she’s asked her to, and can’t make any more obscene puns.)
The fire catches, but it takes the last bit of Bethany’s mana. She feels fatigue seep into her bones. The warm soup is a momentary balm, but when the fire is out and they retire to their bedrolls, she can’t stop her teeth from chattering
“Do you need a lyrium potion or something?” Isabela offers. “Can’t you use your magic to keep warm?”
“I didn’t take any. Wanted to save them for the people who actually need them.”
“Sweetness, you’re allowed to need things, too. Is the martyr complex hereditary?”
Bethany scowls, bitter and cold and ashamed of her own lack of foresight biting her in the arse.
“Nevermind,” Isabela sighs. “There are plenty of non-magical ways to keep warm. Come here,” she beckons Bethany to her bedroll.
“I’m f-f-fine,” Bethany insists, but the shake in her voice begs to differ.
Isabela moves to her, arranging their blankets in a layer and slipping into Bethany’s bedroll so that their shared body heat is cocooned inside, her front against Bethany’s back.
“I’m not going to let you freeze to death out of stubbornness, sorry, love. Hate me all you want, the Hawke line doesn’t end here.”
“You’re an asshole.”
“And a coward. And a selfish whore. Anything else to add?”
Even through the layers of clothing between them, Bethany feels the press of Isabela’s breasts against her back, the way their curves fit together as if designed for such a purpose. This is not the way she’d once dreamed of being in Isabela’s bed, that’s for certain.
Isabela carries on through Bethany’s silence.
“I’ll take first watch. Try and sleep.”
Every night since Adamant, Bethany’s sleep has been plagued with nightmares, different imaginings of her brother’s demise in the Fade. Well, that’s not true— some nights she also dreams of Carver’s or her mother’s deaths. It’s a real roll of the dice.
Still, the tiredness of the day combined with Isabela’s warmth eventually wins out.
Bethany sleeps deeply and dreams of the sun and the sea.
“You never woke me to swap shifts,” Bethany groans, as the dawn breaks and light filters into their tent.
“I’ve slept with a knife under my pillow for twenty years. If there were any intruders they’d’ve been dead before you opened your eyes.”
Bethany’s annoyed, but she can’t deny how much better she feels for having had a good night’s rest.
“We should get moving if we want to set sail in the morning.”
“Aye aye, Captain,” Isabela smirks.
The air warms with every mile nearer to the coast, and it’s a balmy spring day by the time the countryside reveals the shadow of Jader in the distance, and beyond that, the horizon of the ocean.
Isabela pulls over their horses on the side of the road as they approach the city gates.
“Wait,” she rummages inside her boots, pulling out three knives and a substantial amount of gold before locating the pouch she’d been searching for. “We should put these on.”
Bethany balks at the rings in her outstretched palm.
“Can’t we wait until we actually get to Antiva?”
Isabela shakes her head.
“My crew needs to think it’s legit as well. They’re steadfast as can be in a squall, but I wouldn’t trust them with a secret for any amount of treasure.”
“So what,” Bethany scoffs, “They’re supposed to think you just ran off to Skyhold to fetch the wife you’ve never previously mentioned?”
“Something like that,” Isabela laughs, before moving to put the ring on Bethany’s left hand.
Bethany snatches her arm away.
“At least let me put it on myself.”
“Fine,” Isabela sighs. “You’re lucky I like to watch.”
Bethany responds with a glare.
Jader is little more than a glorified fishing town, but even so, its citizens are horribly pompous, and Bethany feels their derision the moment she and Isabela enter the city.
Isabela leads them to an inn where her crew have been carousing for the week, loudly introducing herself to the clerk as “ Admiral Isabela and her wife, Lady Bethany Amell. ”
Isabela hands Bethany the key to the room.
“I need to make sure my men are only going to be half-drunk come morning. And I need to catch up with them. Enjoy your privacy for a bit, Sweetness. This is the last you’ll have of it for at least a month.”
Isabela finds Brand and Leandro engaged in a game of strip Wicked Grace as Anselmo gingerly folds their discarded pieces of clothing.
“Admiraaaalllll,” Brand slurs, throwing his arms out wide and hitting Leandro in the face with the back of his hand. “You’re baaaaaaack.”
“You know I can never stay away from my boys for too long,” Isabela grins good-naturedly. “And if history is any indicator, we’ve reached the point in the week where you’ve promised the barkeep I’ll take care of the tab, yes?”
“If you want us at sea you’ve got to take care of us on land.”
“Not to worry, lads. The Inquisition is funding the next trip. We head for Rialto Bay first light.”
“I hate when you make us do honest work,” Leandro grumbles. “Sometimes we don’t even get to shank anyone.”
“It’s Antiva, darling. You could always find someone to shank,” she pats him on the hand reassuringly.
Anselmo’s eye catches the glint of her ring and he holds up his own hand in comparison.
“Isabela… I don’t believe it!”
Brand and Leandro squint, clueless.
“I may have also slipped away and gotten married while I was at Skyhold,” She mutters. (People believe lies more if you act like you’re not eager to tell them, in her experience.)
“Well where’s the lucky fella?” Leandro waggles his brows lasciviously.
“ Or lady,” Brand interjects.
“Hiding until you lot sober up,” Isabela growls. “And you’d best be on your best behaviour when she gets on the Siren’s Call tomorrow, or I’m throwing each and every one of you overboard.”
“Never thought it would be you who would join me in the old marrieds club, eh?” Anselmo winks.
“It probably won’t last,” Isabela sighs. “She’s too good for me. Too good for all of us. We’ll be lucky if we don’t divorce before we make it back from Antiva.”
And sure, another lie to set the stage for everything returning to normal once this mission is over, but Isabela also knows a nugget of truth in a fib helps sell it more than anything. Bethany is far too good for her— it’s why she ran away from her all those years ago and it’s why she’s been avoiding her ever since. Better to deny oneself a beautiful thing than to hold it, only to have it yanked away by someone else.
“Well, we won’t keep you, boss,” Leandro yawns, putting his shirt back on. “Go enjoy your honeymoon in a proper bed, eh?”
“Anchors up by seven sharp.” Isabela repeats herself a few more times to make sure everyone has the message, before settling with the barhand and slowly climbing the stairs to her and Bethany’s room.
She knocks for good measure, but Bethany must be asleep, for there’s no response, so she opens the door.
Bethany is not asleep.
She’s luxuriating in a bath (way to use that Inquisition per diem to her advantage, maybe she was listening to Isabela’s encouragement to put herself first every now and then), and she startles when Isabela opens the door, grabbing her staff and turning to face her intruder.
“It’s just me,” Isabela raises her hands in surrender. “Sorry to interrupt. Don’t suppose you fancy me joining you in there, do you?”
Bethany glares and grabs a towel, quickly covering herself (but not before Isabela has committed the image to memory, mind you. A girl’s gotta make do with her imagination when she’s in Isabela’s line of work. Call it a tradeskill).
“Everything’s in order for tomorrow?” Bethany walks over to her bag, mostly hidden from Isabela’s sight.
“The men are ready to sail bright and early.”
“Fair warning, I had an awful bout of seasickness when we sailed from Gwaren to Kirkwall.”
“Down in the hull of a cargo ship? I’ll bet. Don’t worry, you can spend as much time above deck as you need. Fresh sea air cures just about every ailment known to man.”
Bethany slips a nightgown over her shoulders. Pity.
“Can the sea bring my dead family back to life?”
“No,” Isabela admits. “But the freedom of the open water has helped me through many a bout of grief, myself.”
Bethany pulls the sheets back and gets into bed. Isabela begins unpacking her bedroll, setting up on the floor in front of the door.
“Don’t be stupid,” Bethany rolls her eyes. “If housekeeping comes in we’ll be found out.”
Isabela can’t argue with her logic (and she doesn’t want to— scared as she is of Bethany’s fury, guilty as she feels for her actions, she’s still drawn to her physical proximity like a thief to a sovereign), so she joins her on the left side of the mattress.
Bethany dims the lamp, and they lie shoulder to shoulder on their backs, staring into the dark.
“I think I deserve to know,” Bethany whispers, after a silence that feels interminable, “why you left. The honest answer, not what you think I want to hear.”
“I—” Isabela swallows around a lump in her throat. She could’ve happily lived the rest of her life without having this conversation. “I made promises, didn’t I? Of taking you away on adventures, of showing you the world. I don’t know that I ever thought that opportunity would actually arise. I panicked.”
“I didn’t believe you, Isabela,” Bethany sighs. “I’m not stupid. I know who you are.”
(And that’s the rub, isn’t it? Who Isabela is is no good, is much less than someone like Bethany deserves.)
“Even so. It’s not a life, really, raiding. Not unless you have no other options. Or you’re a bit of a psychopath.”
“You could’ve written. You managed it just fine before,” Bethany murmurs.
“I didn’t want to lead you on,” Isabela chokes.
“I was never asking you to marry me,” Bethany spits. “But I could’ve used a fucking friend.”
“I—” Isabela doesn’t know how to answer. It's suddenly clear to her that Bethany would’ve actually graciously accepted her friendship, but Isabela? She would’ve always wanted more. That’s why she had run— not out of fear that Bethany would’ve asked too much, but out of fear that she would’ve stomped all over Isabela’s heart and looked damned good doing it.
“I’m sorry, sweetness. You’re right. I… didn’t think my friendship was anything worth valuing.”
“My brother valued it plenty.”
The lump in Isabela’s throat has now produced a few tears that fall until they hit the pillow, leaving damp spots by Isabela’s cheeks.
“I’m sorry about Hawke. I’m— I’m glad to have known him.”
“I wish it had been me, every day,” Bethany confesses, her voice rough and gravelly with her own tears.
“I don’t,” Isabela admits.
It’s quiet for several long minutes, and Isabela wonders if Bethany’s fallen asleep before her voice cuts through the darkness again.
“I think this would all be easier if I hated you.”
“Mmm, I think I feel enough self-loathing for the both of us, sweetness.”
“I don’t want that, you know. I don’t want you to suffer on my behalf.”
“Ah, I forgot. Only Hawkes get to be martyrs.”
“Too soon for that one.”
“He was— I hope your brother knows— knew the difference he made when it mattered.”
Bethany dons a gown to board the Siren’s Call , stepping into the role of ‘helpless minor noble’ without too much difficulty. Isabela has upgraded her simple tunic for a uniform befitting her title of Admiral, albeit with a far more plunging neckline than those typically seen on naval officers.
As they reach the deck of the ship, Bethany hears the sounds of cheers and the pop and fizz of champagne bottles being opened.
“Oi, wait until we get into open water to drink it,” Isabela admonishes, but she’s hiding a pleased smile and a sizable blush.
Once they’re offshore, Isabela gives her the grand tour. The Siren’s Call is light and fast, making their journey to Antiva a much shorter one than Bethany’s last time aboard a ship. Isabela’s quarters are small, but miles better than the bunks below-deck for her crew.
Bethany spends much of her time just watching the waves. Isabela’s right, there’s a calmness to the seeming endlessness of the water, how it could swallow you up as easy as anything. She leans against the ship’s railing and stares at the sea until her heart aches just a little less. When her legs threaten to give out, she reads the books Isabela keeps in her cabin. (Her literature is as highbrow as ever; Bethany might have to bring some of these back to Skyhold for Cassandra).
Isabela stays busy captaining; it’s not all big hats and hands on her hips. Bethany has seen Isabela do many things, often well, but even so, she’s never been quite as in her element as she is behind the helm of her ship. Bethany finds her eyes drawn, unbidden, to Isabela’s fierce profile as she navigates the ship through rough waters.
(It helps keep the seasickness at bay to stare at a fixed object, she tells herself.)
They share the bed, allegedly, but time is strange aboard a ship, and Isabela prefers cat naps every so often to a full night’s rest, while Bethany still follows the hours of the sun. Isabela has made Bethany sound like enough of a rich bitch that her decision to mainly keep to herself comes across as classism rather than shyness. She’s more than happy to be left alone (after all, what else is she in this world?).
It’s a two week journey to Antiva, and Bethany’s sick of hardtack by day six, but all things considered, it’s not the worst trip she’s ever taken.
The weather agrees with them until the night before they arrive. A late-autumn squall rises up suddenly, buffeting them with heavy rain in addition to the waves that crash over the ship’s deck. Bethany runs to the captain’s quarters, rifling through her pack for a dry frock to change into, when a sudden lurch of the ship sends her satchel flying across the cabin, all the letters from Isabela scattering across the floor. Just as she scrambles to pick them up, the door to the room flies open.
“Bethany? Are you alright? What are—” Isabela starts, before she registers the sight of Bethany frantically chasing the papers, and recognizes her own handwriting.
“If you could stop barging in on me, I would appreciate it,” Bethany huffs, unable to keep the overwhelm from her tone. This is worse than Isabela seeing her naked, actually. Far more humiliating.
Isabela kneels down beside her, silently gathering the letters and handing them back to Bethany.
“It’s not— I forgot they were in there,” Bethany lies feebly, but it takes a liar to know a liar, and even if she doesn’t call her on her bluff, Bethany knows Isabela can see right through her.
“I would’ve thought you’d have long since burned them, the way you greeted me at Skyhold,” Isabela admits, staring at the worn and weathered pages.
“It’s not too late,” Bethany grumbles, fighting the urge to light the whole ship on fire in an effort to burn her shame.
She risks a sidelong glance at Isabela, who’s surprisingly un-smug.
“Why haven’t you?” Isabela’s voice is thick with a mixture of sorrow and hope.
Bethany stuffs the letters back into the bottom of her pack and sits back against the wall, abandoning all hope of having dry clothes or her dignity.
“They were a reminder that I wasn’t a burden to someone, once.”
Guilt wracks Isabela’s face.
“You weren’t ever a burden to me, I promise. Even if I was a tit. It was only because— that wasn’t the reason why, all right?”
“If Kirkwall hadn’t fallen, would you have kept writing to me, do you think? Or would you have let it go, once the sea called you again?”
“I would’ve broken you out of there myself.”
“And then abandoned me?” Bethany spits.
Isabela takes it, because she deserves it, because she’s a bit of a masochist, half of the time, anyway. But then she finds herself walking over to the chest in the corner of the room that hides her good booze and her dirtiest books and her special-occasion knives and rummaging through to the hidden compartment at the bottom to retrieve the most secret of treasures contained inside.
“If it makes you feel any better, I kept all of your replies.”
There are fewer of them; getting letters out was even harder than getting them in, but Isabela had found a way ( was that why she stopped writing , Bethany wondered, once it wasn’t a challenge anymore? ).
“I thought you don’t do attachments,” Bethany mutters.
Isabela stands up, putting her now soggy hat and coat on a hook on the door. Her white shirt is soaked through with rain and she looks very much like the romance heroes on the covers of the books she had smuggled to Bethany in the circle. She reaches out an arm to Bethany, who grasps it in spite of herself. Another wave pounds against the side of the ship, and as Isabela tugs Bethany off the floor, gravity slams them both into the wall, close enough to share the same breath.
Isabela looks into Bethany’s eyes, and Bethany shivers, telling herself it’s only from the damp that’s soaked them through to the bone.
“When are you going to realize you’re the exception to every rule I’ve ever made for myself?”
If Isabela didn’t want Bethany to kiss her after a line like that, well, she shouldn’t have sent her all those romance novels in her formative years.
Judging by her enthusiastic response (Bethany’s never kissed someone with a tongue piercing before— it’s… different), Isabela does want, but just as Bethany’s starting to learn her in the way that kissing a new person always takes a beat or two to figure out, she pulls away with a stricken look on her face.
“It’s no good of a captain to abandon her crew in the middle of a storm,” Isabela stammers, before leaving the room without a second look back.
Why come down here in the first place? Bethany wonders.
But she doesn’t get the chance to ask Isabela herself; she stays above deck until they dock in Antiva City and Bethany seethes below, not trusting herself not to make a scene.
(Not that Isabela deserves such a courtesy, but it wouldn’t do to disappoint the Inquisition in the name of something as fickle as a pirate’s affections.)
Rialto Bay sparkles in the sunrise, light glinting off of the gilded facades of the capital. Isabela wonders briefly if she’s still asleep, caught in a catnap in the crow’s nest and reminiscing about the Antivan adventures of yesteryear, but the city remains unchanged, a gaudy, romantic thing, even as the world itself is torn asunder.
As they maneuver into the harbor, Bethany joins Isabela on the deck, the picture of serenity. Isabela does a double-take (quite sure she’s due for a good tongue lashing, and not the fun kind). Bethany answers her unspoken question.
“You never know who might be watching. Keeping up appearances can mean the difference between an alliance or another battle.”
She sets her shoulders back and plasters a fake smile on her face.
A man dressed in extremely pointy boots and revealingly-tight trousers meets them at the dock.
“Admiral Isabela and Lady Amell,” He bows, flourishing a wrist. “Welcome to Antiva. Prince Stefano would like to host you for breakfast to celebrate your arrival, and to denote his gratitude for your support.”
Isabela gives Bethany another questioning look because she sure as shit doesn’t know who this asshole is, but Bethany just shrugs, leaning over to whisper as the footman fetches their trunks to load into an exceptionally ornate carriage.
“Keep your knives on you, just in case, but it’s probably just one of Lady Montilyet’s connections. And if not, you’ll get to steal something fun, I’m sure.”
“Way to work a girl up first thing in the morning,” Isabela sighs.
She dismisses her crew with a warning not to end up murdered by any Crows, and then it’s just her and Bethany, sitting very snugly in the back seat of a carriage that appears to be made as a toy for children.
“Usually I have to pay to have a woman sit in my lap,” Isabela chuckles.
“You couldn’t afford me,” Bethany taunts.
Bethany’s come a long way from blushing and protesting each and every one of Isabela’s innuendos.
She’s so proud.
And turned on. Balls.
Mercifully, it’s not too long a ride to their destination, so Isabela’s level of discomfort only reaches annoyed, as opposed to desperate or homicidal.
As soon as they arrive at the estate, the front door swings open dramatically.
“Stefano, I presume?” Isabela raises a brow and crosses her arms as the prince rushes towards them, kissing them both on the cheek.
“My dearest Isabela, you have my undying loyalty and my affection for the remainder of my days,” he drops to one knee, kissing her hand.
“Forgive me for asking, have we met?”
“She’s been in a lot of bar fights, your highness,” Bethany interjects. “Her memory’s spotty at the best of times.”
The prince just laughs wickedly.
“You killed that bastard Claudio, and my fortune practically doubled overnight. Hosting you for your stay in Antiva is the highest honor. If there’s anything at all you need while you’re here, simply say the word.”
“I don’t suppose there’s anyone else you’d like killed,” Isabela muses, as they admire the high ceilings and marble floors of the mansion.
“Ah, this weekend is for pleasure, not business, no? Although if you find yourself in a duel, well, when in Antiva, do as Antivans do,” Stefano winks. “And you, Lady Amell, have you been to our fair city before?”
“It’s my first time,” Bethany admits. “But I couldn't imagine a warmer welcome. Thank you for your hospitality, your highness.”
“Please, call me Stefano,” he insists. “We do not flit about with titles here as the Orlesians or Fereldans do. A friend is a friend, and I do hope you will accept my offer of friendship.”
“You can never have too many friends, lovers, or enemies,” Isabela agrees, taking a seat at a small table where coffee already waits, warm and fragrant.
“And some people are all three,” Stefano laughs.
Bethany is quiet but polite during breakfast, more than content to allow Isabela to be at her Isabelaist with Stefano, swapping tales of romance and violence over pastries.
Soon enough, Stefano stands, excusing himself as “business waits for no one,” and imploring them to explore the estate and relax until the ball this evening.
“He’s probably got a standing date with his rival’s son or something,” Isabela observes, popping one last grape off the plate and into her mouth.
“Or he’s plotting with the Venatori to kill us,” Bethany frowns.
“It would be a very Antivan thing to double cross me like that,” Isabela hums. “Pity though, the bloke’s grown on me. I’d hate to have to disembowel him all over these beautiful floors.”
Their quarters are grander than anywhere Bethany’s ever stayed before. She can’t help but marvel at the spectacle, stopping to stare the moment she and Isabela enter their rooms.
“I always thought you’d make a better noble than Hawke,” Isabela murmurs, standing close behind her. “You’d be fending off suitors with a stick, but you’d handle it with grace.”
Bethany laughs bitterly.
“That was never an option for me, not really. Just something to joke about with Varric.”
“Couldn’t it be, now?” Isabela asks. “I mean when all this is over, it’s likely enough mages will be free. You could get married, have a family, live a life of leisure as you deserve.”
Bethany turns to face Isabela, scrutinizing her before responding.
“Is that what you’ve been thinking this whole time? That what I really dreamt of all along was a rich husband and a bunch of children, in a big house with no real worries?”
“I—” Isabela stammers, but Bethany is too angry to entertain any apologies at the moment.
“You know, you never once asked me what I wanted for my life. You’ve made up all these bloody stories about me in your head and responded in kind, with no input from me, whatsoever.”
Isabela crosses her arms petulantly.
“Well, what do you want then, sweetness? If not to find an Antivan noble to sweep you off your feet and into your dream life?”
Bethany rolls her eyes and turns away, walking out to the balcony to gaze off into the distance and quell the urge to light anything on fire.
“I want this blighted mission to be over with so that I can go back to killing red templars in peace.”
Isabela sighs and walks away, mumbling to herself, “I think I need a bath…” and Bethany’s left alone with her thoughts.
She’d stopped considering what she wanted the moment she’d left Kirkwall. Her time in the Gallows had been filled with escapist daydreams, sometimes of sailing the seas with Isabela, yes, but also imaginings of a world without the Blight, where she and her family might still live a quiet farming life in Lothering. But when the war had started, her waking moments were consumed with simply trying to ensure there was a future to someday dream of.
Being near Isabela again… Bethany feels a pull towards her, instinctually, even as her logical brain reminds her that Isabela has run far away from anything remotely approaching responsibility for her entire life. Even if she did turn around and come back with the Tome of Koslun, even if she’s here now… Isabela’s number one concern has always been Isabela.
Bethany isn’t sure how long she stands on the balcony, but eventually her stomach grumbles again. She walks back inside to find a spread of sandwiches and a quickly scrawled note from Isabela.
I’ve confirmed these aren’t poisoned. Thought you might want a bit of space, so I’ve gone for a quick drink with an old friend. I’ll be back at 6 to make our grand entrance together.
If Isabela’s on time, Bethany will eat her boots.
After eating and bathing herself, Bethany doesn’t have any other excuses to delay getting ready. She assumes that Josephine has provided her with an Inquisition dress uniform in her trunk, but opens it to find a gorgeous silk emerald gown, elegant without being overly ostentatious. A small piece of parchment tumbles onto the floor as she unfurls the dress, and Bethany picks it up, recognizing Leliana’s matter-of-fact script.
Just because this is a business assignment does not mean that one cannot enjoy oneself, no? I thought this color might bring out your eyes, and if the Inquisition has a reputation for lovely, fashionable, charming agents, surely that can only help us in our international esteem. And I’ve always found that showing someone exactly what they are missing to be an effective strategy.
She’s annoyed by the obvious meddling, but touched by the care with which Leliana has chosen (if not tailored herself) the gown. Two other folded notes fall out of the sleeves as she lays the gown out on the bed.
Please know how much I appreciate your willingness to take on this mission for the Inquisition. If you should ever wish to blackmail our spymaster in retribution, I do have several stories that may be of interest to you upon your return to Skyhold. But I do hope you appreciate the beauty of my dear Antiva, and drink a glass of wine in my honor.
I hope when all is said and done, you’ll find it in your heart to forgive me. What can I say, a guy like me likes to see his friends happy. And I’m not done believing that yours is a love story— some serials are slow burns for a reason.
Bethany feels verklempt realizing just how many people truly care about her. Despite the unfathomable grief for her family of origin, there is a steady flicker of warmth from her friends and comrades, even if she’s often too cold to feel it. She takes a deep breath and readies herself for a long evening of playing nice, knowing that at the end of it, she at least has people to come home to.
Isabela’s first instinct is to go track down Zevran (or find the nearest brothel) and have a good tumble to make herself feel better. Then she considers joining her crew for a drink, or ten, until her inner monologue stops calling herself a coward and a fool and remembers that she has some redeeming qualities… like her breasts… or her daggers.
Neither of which impress Bethany, but still.
She’d never asked Bethany what she wanted because assuming a rejection was easier than hearing one, and imagining her happy ending with someone else was infinitely more bearable than witnessing it with her own two eyes.
Being shitfaced for this stupid little ball would be miles more tolerable than soberly witnessing Bethany charm and flirt with the best of Antivan society, but this nagging sense of decency is preventing Isabela from embarassing her by showing up soused.
So she takes a stroll around the gardens of the estate, nodding at all the servants who are making arrangements for the evening’s festivities, and when her legs start to ache and the pit in her stomach has shrunk to a lake instead of an ocean, she returns to their quarters.
It’s frankly an insult to be asked to wear the hideous Inquisition uniform, but Isabela reminds herself that this is a favor to Varric, who so generously gave her job after job when she left Kirkwall, so that she’d never have more than a moment to think.
“If you’d just say you’re sorry, I think Bethany would welcome you with open arms,” Varric had observed, unprompted, after an unnecessarily vicious bar brawl in yet another port town.
“She’s better off without me,” Isabela had spat, not even looking up as she cleaned blood off her bangles.
“Maybe, but shouldn’t she be the one to decide that?”
The joy at getting to tell Varric “I told you so” is bitter, but still, he seems to have found a good crew in this Inquisition business, and she’s not so petty as to fuck that up for him just because she’s sad about a girl.
So she dons the ugly red shirt and skin-tight trousers, only taking the liberty of undoing enough buttons that half of her cleavage is out. It’s far more “professional” than she’s ever looked, and by extension, far more ridiculous.
Isabela raps on the door of the bedroom and Bethany opens it.
It takes a moment for Isabela to say anything, she’s so busy picking her jaw up off the floor.
Bethany always looks gorgeous (hence the need for physical distance in the first place, damnit), but Isabela’s never seen her like this, her hair up off her neck in an elegant chignon, her bandanas and necklaces abandoned to accentuate the pale expanse of her chest and shoulders. She looks like a marble statue of Andraste herself, and Isabela suddenly understands why some people have such devotion to the bride of the Maker.
“I don’t suppose you need any help lacing a corset or anything?”
“I’m perfectly self-sufficient, thanks,” Bethany flares her nostrils. Her eyes look like brandy. Isabela wants to be so drunk she never has a thought in her head again. “I’m impressed… you almost look like a proper admiral.”
“There’s nothing proper about me, sweetness,” Isabela reassures her, holding out an arm for Bethany to take. “Shall we?”
It’s both annoying and exhilarating that Bethany is too distracted by the closeness of Isabela to fully register much of their arrival to the ball. She hears their names, and Isabela nudges her to walk into the ballroom of the estate, and she smiles and nods until she gains her footing enough to properly engage.
“You know, Lady Amell, we Antivans are much less restrictive of mages than the southern countries,” a wine merchant winks across the dinner table. “In fact, we are much more open about most things. You should consider spending more time here,” he licks his lips lecherously.
“Perhaps, when the war is over,” Bethany offers diplomatically. “For now my place remains with the Inquisition, and I do hope we can count on your support.”
“Well, we all know how Admiral Isabela enjoys Antiva’s openness, don’t we,” one of the lesser princes of the city digs.
Bethany’s expecting her to play into the insult, in her usual fashion, but Isabela stiffens beside her, and Bethany instinctually grips her hand.
“I’m a changed woman, Iago. I’m sorry that you’ve never known love enough to have your needs met at home.”
It’s a risky gambit, but it pays off, with the rest of their table laughing raucously. (Besides, they don’t need to win everyone over tonight, just the people with actual power.)
Soon enough, dinner is finished and the dance floor opens up.
“Play nice,” Bethany reminds Isabela. “I don’t want to leave here with a body count.”
Isabela rolls her eyes.
“Only if they deserve it—”
“— Isabela,” Bethany warns.
“I won’t shank anyone unless they’re a confirmed Venatori agent,” Isabela promises.
Bethany dances with a number of men and women, careful to talk up the Inquisition as far more than a religious outfit, noting her “wife’s” involvement as proof of the cause’s (tasteful) flair for adventure.
Isabela holds court around the bar, boasting of Bethany’s accomplishments while keeping one eye on the woman in question.
The prince from earlier steps in at the beginning of a slower tune.
“You have such an ample… harbor,” he smirks, staring openly at Bethany’s chest. “It would be my honor to dock my ship in it.”
“Ah, but your highness, I’m spoken for,” Bethany grits her teeth, showing him her ring.
“Isabela is nothing more than a charlatan and a fool with no fortune to speak of.”
Bethany sees Isabela moving closer to them in her periphery.
“Perhaps, but, for better or worse, I love her.”
“ Iago ,” Isabela drawls, though Bethany can hear the slightest shake in her voice. “I’d hate to have to duel you here in front of all your little friends.”
He stands back from Bethany and scoffs.
“I don’t think you have the nerve to take someone in an honest fight.”
“I’ve killed a merchant prince before, and I’ll do it again.”
A crowd has begun to gather around them. Bethany isn’t sure whether the spectacle will help or hurt their cause, but either way, she’d rather not be at the center of it.
“Isabela, he’s not worth it,” she pleads.
“But you are,” Isabela insists.
“Seeing as I am this evening’s host, perhaps I may have some influence? I must confess, the party is a bit dull for my tastes, and a duel would liven things up.”
“You’re not helping,” Bethany mouths at him, but he just shrugs.
Everyone steps back to make a circle for the duelists. Bethany trusts Isabela to handle herself, but she’s also many years away from court, or any sort of formal fighting style. She can only hope that she remembers enough healing spells if things go south.
“It will be a pleasure to avenge my dear friend Prince Claudio,” Iago huffs.
“Assholes always stick together, don’t they?” Isabela scoffs.
Bethany feels like she’s going to throw up. Just as Stefano is preparing to read the rules she rushes up to Isabela.
“You’re an idiot.”
“It’s been said before,” Isabela shrugs, avoiding eye contact.
Bethany grabs her face with both hands and forces her to meet her gaze.
“Don’t die. I still have plans for you,” she murmurs, before kissing Isabela deeply, as the crowd whoops and hollers.
Stefano winks at her before continuing his rundown of Antivan dueling conventions.
Bethany can scarcely bring herself to look at the fight; Isabela is quick as ever, but Iago bests her in power and form. Bethany doesn’t think Isabela’s ever used a rapier, although the rest of the crowd can scarcely tell.
“You should have left Antiva for good when you had the chance,” Iago snarls. “Luis was a good man, who deserved better than a Rivaini whore.”
“You know, I was only going to wound you, but fuck it, why not go the whole way?” Isabela hisses.
“Your Inquisition will crumble before the power of Corypheus,” Iago laughs. “You will all be slaves to the great one,” he cackles, before magic starts to shoot out of his sword.
“Oh, you’ve got to be fucking kidding me, of course you’re a Venatori,” Isabela groans.
Bethany shoots a wall of ice at Iago to stop his charge, despite Stefano’s frown of disapproval.
“I’m fairly certain demonic magic is a violation of traditional Antivan rules, don’t you think?”
“Just don’t use any fire attacks. I don’t want a mess,” Stefano warns.
Isabela grins at Bethany.
“You’ve always had much better timing than me, sweetness.”
They flank Iago, Bethany crushing him with force magic while Isabela peppers him with enough cuts until no amount of dark magic can revive him from blood loss.
“Congratulations on your win, Admiral,” Stefano dryly observes, while directing the staff to dispose of the body and clean up the bloodstains. “The party is certainly livelier now.”
“Have you heard of other Venatori agents in Antiva?” Bethany purses her lips.
“Iago was always into trying to be a big fish in a small pond. Not too good at motivating followers, that one. And after this spectacle, I daresay you’ll be getting the support you were seeking. You’ve done the rest of the fall party circuit a tremendous favor.”
Isabela nods, straightening her collar and wiping the sweat from her brow.
“Well, then,” Bethany sighs, conscious of the eyes still on all of them. “Where were we?”
“I believe I was going to ask you to dance.”
Isabela pulls her in close as the band strikes up a slow, sultry tango, and the crowd cheers. It’s all very… Antivan.
(Bethany is shocked and appalled to find that she really, truly does not mind.)
“Did you mean it?” Isabela whispers in her ear, the warmth of her hand against Bethany’s back making her feel all floaty and hazy.
“When I said I wanted you to live? Yes, Isabela, I’m rather sick of everyone I care about dying on me.”
Isabela blushes and gathers her nerve.
“When you told him you love me.”
Bethany considers telling Isabela it was all part of the act, that of course it would be expected that she loved her wife (although in Antiva that’s hardly a supposition). But Isabela’s here. She hasn’t run just yet. Bethany takes a moment to note the way Isabela’s hand feels in hers, the way their bodies fit together seemingly so effortlessly.
(The way Isabela makes that ridiculous uniform look absolutely incredible .)
“I did. What are you going to do about it?”
Isabela kisses her, in front of the Maker and everyone.
They leave the party early, at Stefano’s urging (“You’ve done more than enough for the party, ladies, and we will all have more fun gossiping about you if you’re not here, so please, enjoy your guest quarters and I’ll look forward to seeing you in the morning.”).
“I don’t know whether I should send Leliana a thank you note or threaten her,” Isabela gestures to Bethany’s dress.
“If you’re still thinking about Leliana at all, I have to wonder if the gown even did the job,” Bethany frowns.
“Maybe I should get you out of it, that should occupy my mind plenty.”
Bethany pulls back, and Isabela wonders just how she managed to read the situation so wrongly.
“Isabela… I know what you do is typically skin deep…”
“It’s okay if you’re having regrets, sweet thing, chalk it up to being caught up in the moment,” she bits her lip and looks out the window, and the welcoming void of the sea.
“I love you, but I’m not sure I know you,” Bethany sits down on the edge of the bed, folding her hands in her lap.
“I’m simple,” Isabela laughs. “I like to fight and fuck.”
“You’re not,” Bethany shakes her head. “You’ll do anything for your friends until it means you have to be vulnerable. You’ll plunder and pillage but you give sovereigns to beggars on the street. You leave, every bloody time, but then you come back. How do I know you won’t leave again?”
“You don’t,” Isabela swallows her shame. “You’re right, Bethany, you shouldn’t trust me farther than you can throw me, force mage or no.”
“I want to,” Bethany insists. “I want to imagine a world where we can be together, for good, even, but…”
Isabela thinks of the years, no decades of evidence to the contrary.
“My birth name was Naishe. My mother converted to the Qun, and I didn’t want to— that’s why I got married, so she could be rid of me, for a few coins. Commitment has only ever made me feel trapped, like a bird in a cage. I’ve been running since I was twenty years old, sweetness.”
“Don’t you think it’s time you had a little rest?” Bethany takes her hand, and pulls her close, until they’re sitting side by side on the edge of the bed. “Don’t you think you, of all people, deserve that?”
“I’m damaged goods, Bethany. I know you may not want marriage and children and an estate, but I can’t even handle being on land for more than a month, these days.”
Bethany shrugs, twisting herself to straddle Isabela’s lap.
“I spent years locked up in a tower. I could stand a bit of wandering.”
“You’ll grow tired of it.”
“And then we’ll figure it out. I just want you to promise you’ll try.”
Isabela looks up into Bethany’s eyes. She sees the unconditional acceptance that made her look twice at the younger Hawke all those years ago. She’d chalked it up to naivete at the time, but now she wonders if all along Bethany’s seen something fundamentally worthy in her that no one else has, not without any strings attached.
“For you, sweetness? I’ll try a lot of things. In fact, I have a bit of a list if you want to check some of them off tonight…”
Isabela forgets all thoughts of Leliana. She forgets her three times, in fact.
“I can’t believe you’re making me go back to Skyhold. Why couldn’t we have just sent a letter telling them all we’ve run off together?”
Bethany smiles against Isabela’s shoulder. (The crew have been very autonomous on their return journey. Isabela likes to think it’s a gesture of her trust in them. And the captain’s quarters are long overdue for their full use, in her opinion.)
“We need to see the mission through, Isabela. And if I’m going to run off with you, I’d at least like to say goodbye to my friends first.”
“You and your insistence on being a better person. You’re going to be far too good of an influence on me.”
“Ah, but think of what a bad influence you’ll be on me!”
“Every cloud has a silver lining,” Isabela sighs. “But Varric’s going to be absolutely insufferable. We’ll never live it down.”
“There are worse things to be teased about,” Bethany hums.
“I’ll give you something to be teased about,” Isabela smirks.
(Bethany grows to rather enjoy the waves, truth be told.)
Varric doesn’t even need to hear it from the horse’s mouth to know his plan worked— it’s plain as day in Sunshine and Rivaini’s body language. Not only have they most certainly boned, they appear to be fighting the urge to hold hands as they enter Skyhold’s gates. Varric’s written enough romance novels to know a Happily Ever After when he sees it.
“So, when’s the actual wedding?” He shouts as Bethany and Isabela enter the great hall.
“Get fucked,” Isabela hollers, but she keeps a smile on her face the whole time.
“I hope it was worth it, Varric,” Bethany crosses her arms in faux-threat. “I could still turn you into a block of ice if I wanted.”
“Ah, but Sunshine, the warmth of my heart at seeing this joyful union would block any chill from my bones.”
“This is why your romance serials tank. The prose is shit,” Isabela rolls her eyes.
“Then I’ll make The Admiral and the Apostate an action-centric novel. Swashbuckling and spellcasting, violence and intrigue.”
“Please don’t let Cassandra read it,” Bethany sighs.
“Oh, I fully intend to give her an autographed copy,” Varric smirks. “By the way, Ruffles is thrilled with your performance. The Antivans have already sent a hundred barrels of wine and a flotilla of ships, with promises of more support to come. Everyone’s won over by a good love story, at the end of the day.”
“About that,” Isabela winces. “I don’t suppose there’s more… official Inquisition business for a raider to take on?”
“With a mage in her crew for protection, naturally,” Bethany adds.
Varric claps his hands together delightedly.
“I’m certain Leliana can put you to good use.”
“I don’t get it,” Cassandra frowns, staring across the garden to where Bethany and Isabela sit in conversation, smiling warmly at each other. “They have nothing in common. How could it ever work?”
“You underestimate the power of sex,” Leliana laughs.
Cassandra shakes her head.
“This is not an affair. They’re in love, clearly, making plans for a future together, and yet they could not be more ill-suited on paper.”
Leliana sits next to Cassandra on the bench and wordlessly hands her an apple.
“They say opposites attract for a reason. Besides, don’t you think there’s something there, having to work and fight to understand someone because you would not intuitively do so? Because they are so different to you, and yet, you want to know them more deeply than anyone else in the world?”
Cassandra turns to look at Leliana, who, while opposite in her approach to the world, is as steadfast an ally as she has ever known.
“Perhaps you make a point.”
“I often do,” Leliana grins smugly.
“It will be good to have more naval power at our disposal,” Cassandra sighs. “But Bethany is well-liked among the mages. Her departure may hurt morale.”
“I don’t think so,” Leliana argues. “Even if it ends up being but a divergence, they’ve given everyone a little hope. A reminder of the reasons why we fight. Love is one of the Maker’s greatest gifts, after all.”
“Blessed are we to receive them.”