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Window of Opportunity

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Leliana has memorized a hundred songs about love, and yet she has missed her own window.

Sometimes when she peers down from her tower, she sees the Inquisitor and Josephine strolling arm in arm along the battlements of Skyhold. They like to walk during their rare breaks together, especially when the sun is setting. Leliana tries to give them privacy—from their shy kisses, it’s obvious they don’t know they are being watched—but she is a spy. It’s her business, and now her nature, to know things.

Other times, she sees Morrigan playing in the garden with her son. There is love there, love that, at one time, Leliana might not have thought Morrigan capable of giving. But she had seen a similar bond develop with her own eyes a decade ago, when Morrigan had fallen in love with the Warden.

The Warden. As stoic as Leliana tries to be, as stoic as she must be to give the orders she does, there is still a tender place for her old friend deep within her heart. Somewhere out there, the Warden is fighting dangers she can only imagine, seeking a cure for the Blight. Only the Warden is not seeking it for her. She’s seeking it for Morrigan and the son she’s left behind.

Leliana doesn’t begrudge Morrigan her happiness, or even the lonely sorrow that comes paired with it. She has had ten years to grow accustomed to the feeling of heartache and Morrigan is a friend… of sorts. Leliana likes to pretend she is above envy, even though she knows no mortal is and to think otherwise is a sin. But sometimes, early in the morning, when she sees Morrigan sitting on one of the garden benches as the sun rises over Skyhold’s walls, she wonders.

In another life, would she have been the one sitting there, keeping silent watch? Would she be the one awaiting her love’s return? Would she be the one with her heart in her throat, hanging on every letter from the Warden that arrives?

In another life, would she have been like Josephine? Shyer, more innocent, less burdened by guilt? An ex-bard with an open heart instead of a Spymaster with closed walls?

But those are foolish questions. There is Corypheus to deal with, a far more pressing concern. If she has missed her window, she has to believe the Maker has willed it so. Her faith has been tested time and time again, but on this subject, she is certain. She is needed here. And with the Maker by her side, she can never be truly alone, anyway.

***

Sometimes, Cassandra wonders if she reads too much.

She wonders if it’s entirely healthy to escape from the gritty present by losing herself in a rose-colored world of words. In books, villains are always defeated. In books, love always triumphs. No matter what trials they have to overcome along the way, the hero or heroine claims their love by the last page.

If only real life could be so simple. If only real life could be so certain.

Right now, everything is uncertain. Corypheus is terrorizing Thedas. The Seekers are not at all what she thought. She has a book outlining every questionable decision they have ever made. On top of that, there is talk that she may be the next Divine. She can hardly imagine. Her? Divine? She barely feels like a functioning human most days.

And yet, the Inquisitor looks to her for strength. The soldiers look to her for orders. But here she is, struggling to keep up with everything that’s happening, reading books in her spare time to forget about it all. It’s times like this she wishes Anthony was here, or Regalyan. They would hold her tight and remind her that she is standing on solid ground. But Anthony and Regalyan are in the bosom of the Maker. That is why she fights, for both of them. She must continue on alone.

Sometimes, she wonders why the Maker has taken three of the four people she has ever truly cared for away—first Anthony, then Regalyan, then Divine Justinia. But she has to believe he has some kind of plan. The opposite is unthinkable.

And then there is the fourth person: the Inquisitor. It pains Cassandra to think of how wrong she had been at first, how swift she had been to judge. Even after the Inquisitor had proven herself, Cassandra still kept her at something of a distance. She is the Inquisitor’s servant, as she had once been Justinia’s. By the time she had realized… by the time she had stopped to consider that maybe…

It’s better this way, perhaps. Better she brushed off the Inquisitor’s advances early, even if she had come to regret it later. She had been confused, uncertain whether it was possible for her to be attracted to a woman at all. In her books, it’s always men who make her swoon. Regalyan had most definitely been a man.

It doesn’t matter. The Inquisitor is with Josephine now, and watching their romance blossom has almost put her books to shame. A lost family fortune, an assassin’s guild, an arranged marriage, duels of honor… Varric couldn’t have written it better. The Inquisitor and Josephine are blissfully in love despite the world falling to pieces around them. Cassandra would never stand in their way.

Still, some selfish part of her can’t help but wonder what might have been. What would have happened if she had told the Inquisitor yes first? Would things have played out just the same, or would they be different?

Would she be happier?

***

Leliana closes her eyes and breathes in, holding the scent of incense deep within her chest. It’s a familiar, comforting smell that carries many memories, most of them good ones. With the country in chaos, the small chapel next to Skyhold’s garden receives frequent visitors, although not usually in the middle of the night. Once the sun has set and the stars have come out, Leliana often finds herself alone here. She is glad for the solitude. There are many ways to worship, but the type she prefers is best done alone.

She prays for the Warden-Commander, as always. Next, she prays for the Inquisitor. Without her leadership, all of Thedas will fall. She prays for the Inquisitor’s companions: Dorian and Vivienne, Bull and Blackwall, Sera and Varric and Cole. She even prays for Solas. She prays for her spies, both for their safety and the cleansing of their sins. The job they do is a dirty one, but they do it for selfless reasons. She prays for Divine Justinia in the bosom of the Maker, and she prays for Cassandra last of all, the right hand to her left. And yet, there is no longer an earthly body for the hands to serve.

Cassandra…

There is knot that needs untying. She has always considered Cassandra a friend and colleague, and yet their bond has become strained lately, for obvious reasons.

Maker, help us guide your followers. No matter which of us carries on after Justinia, help us listen to each other. Help us serve your will and bring more people into the circle of your arms.

Leliana opens her eyes. She gazes up at the statue of Andraste, glowing softly in the candlelight. It almost looks as though her lips might move in answer.

Leliana wonders if Cassandra feels the same uncertainty she does, the same confusion, the same fear. If Justinia ever doubted, she never spoke of such things. She always seemed so confident, so assured. Perhaps, Leliana thinks, she and Cassandra should talk. Perhaps she spends too much time in her rookery and not enough among the people below. It is easy to withdraw into her work, especially with so many lives at stake. It is not so easy to maintain friendships, even old ones.

She rises from her kneeling position, stretching her legs out. She feels tired beyond her years, far too old to comfortably kneel on stone floors. With one last look at the statue, she departs the chapel, stepping out into the night.

To her surprise, she is not alone in the garden. Morrigan has taken up her usual post on the bench, staring up past Skyhold’s walls at the stars that swirl in the black velvet sky. Her figure is not entirely clear in the dark, but Leliana recognizes her silhouette. They had spent many nights together, all those years ago. Sometimes, Morrigan even deigned to join them by the fire instead of skulking in the shadows.

“’Tis late to be wandering about,” Morrigan says, much to Leliana’s surprise. Although they are friendly (by Morrigan’s standards), she was not expecting her old companion to speak to her. She would have been satisfied with a brief nod of Morrigan’s head.

“I could say the same to you.” Leliana follows the stone path until she arrives at the bench. “Where is your son?”

“Sleeping,” Morrigan says. “As you should be.”

Leliana chuckles. “You know Spymasters never sleep.”

“And do they also pray?” Morrigan asks, dark eyes flashing. “You know ‘tis useless. The Maker does not exist, and he will not hear you.”

Leliana does not take Morrigan’s statement for rudeness. She has long since become accustomed to her needling. “So you keep telling me. But the chapel is a good place to think. It appears you were doing the same.”

Morrigan sighs. “Yes. I was.”

“Have you received word from the Warden-Commander?”

“Not recently,” Morrigan replies. “But… I will tell you when I do, in case your spies are not proficient at their jobs.”

There is something more beneath Morrigan’s words, a silent acknowledgment that has always existed between them. Though the Warden is hers, Morrigan knows Leliana loves her too.

“Thank you. I hope for your sake she returns soon.”

Morrigan nods, seeming to accept the statement as genuine. “Go to bed, Leliana. Sleep. ‘Tis terrible to imagine how the Inquisition will fall apart without your hand guiding it.”

From Morrigan, that is a deep compliment. Leliana smiles. “You should do the same. We need you as well.”

“Indeed.”

Leliana leaves the garden, making the lonely walk back to her tower. She takes the hidden paths, the ones where it is unlikely she will run into anyone else on night watch. As she enters Skyhold and takes the stairs, she feels as if a weight has been lifted from her chest. It’s time to let go, a voice seems to whisper.

Leliana had tried before, of course, but only now does she feel ready. She is not the one who should be keeping vigil under the stars. The Maker has another plan for her and there is still hope it may be a happy one. Looking forward instead of back, she returns to her rookery. Tomorrow, she will speak to Cassandra. She may yet find some peace.

***

Cassandra swings her sword with a grunt, absorbing the shock up her arm as she strikes the wooden training dummy. She is unaccustomed to free time. There is always so much to do, plans to make, lives to save. Normally, she would read one of her books, but her muscles are tingling with unspent energy and thoughts are skittering around in her head like spiders.

Corypheus…

She swings again, striking the other side of the dummy.

Divine…

She huffs, ignoring the sweat gathering at her hairline.

The Inquisitor… and Josephine…

The edge of her sword cleaves the dummy deep enough to send woodchips flying.

“Cassandra?”

Cassandra stops, holding her sword in midair. She lowers it, turning, surprised to see who has called out to her. It feels like ages since she’s seen Leliana, even though they both reside in Skyhold. Lately, her old friend has kept to herself—for understandable reasons. Practically the only times Cassandra catches a glimpse of her these days is across the war table.

“Leliana. You look well.”

It’s true. Leliana’s face has grown older recently, shadowed, although part of that may be the hood she’s taken to wearing. But today, she has a dewy glow to her cheeks, as though she’s come off a good night’s sleep—the first she’s had in a while.

“So do you, Cassandra.”

Cassandra sheathes her sword and sets it aside, turning her face away. “There is no need to flatter me. I was training. I look a mess, as expected.”

To her surprise, Leliana laughs. “You look like a character from one of your romances, a knight who has won a difficult battle.” Her eyes dart over to a nearby bench, where Cassandra is mildly horrified to notice her latest book is sitting. When she’d come out to the training grounds, she hadn’t been certain whether she would read or practice with her sword.

“What are you reading now?” Leliana asks, reaching for the book.

“Nothing you need to see,” Cassandra mumbles, but it’s too late. Leliana is already flipping through the pages.

“Not one of Varric’s. He will be so disappointed.”

Cassandra narrows her eyes. “Just because you are a spy, it doesn’t follow that you need to know everyone’s business.”

Leliana hums in acknowledgment as she flips to the back of the book. “It ends on a cliffhanger. Does that not unsettle you?”

“It hardly matters,” Cassandra sighs. “Our entire lives feel like a cliffhanger.”

“Or the part of the book right before the final battle and the happy ending.”

“Someone else’s happy ending,” Cassandra says, without thinking it through first. “Sometimes, I feel as though we are just supporting characters to the Inquisitor’s grand romance.”

As soon as her own words hit her ears, she stiffens. A blush creeps across her face. “I—I apologize. I have no idea what possessed me to… please, don’t tell the Inquisitor I said that.”

Leliana lowers the book. Her smile is gone and her eyes are sympathetic. “Consider it our secret, Cassandra. But please, you have nothing to feel embarrassed about. I’ve felt as you do before.”

“I don’t know what you mean,” Cassandra mutters, but it’s already too late. With just a few regrettable words, she has revealed her hand.

“So, you aren’t in love with the Inquisitor? My observations are rarely wrong.”

Cassandra swallows nervously. She hadn’t been expecting Leliana to be quite so blunt. In fact, she had prayed Leliana might not make the last connection. But that was too much to hope for. Leliana’s mind never stops.

“There is no time for love,” Cassandra says instead. She removes her sword from its scabbard again and busies herself examining the blade, even though she has no cause to. “Dealing with Corypheus is our first priority.”

“Love grows under all sorts of harsh conditions,” Leliana replies. “When I followed the Warden-Commander during the Blight, I watched her and Morrigan fall in love with each other. Their trials brought them closer.”

Cassandra purses her lips. She is not particularly fond of Morrigan, nor does she trust her. However, she is too polite to speak her misgivings aloud. Her mouth has already gotten her in enough trouble.

“It was difficult at first,” Leliana says in a softer voice, “watching the woman I loved choose someone else. But over time, the wound healed. I consider both of them dear friends now. The Maker has other plans for me.”

Cassandra stops examining her sword, staring up at Leliana in surprise. She wasn’t expecting such an intimate statement in return. It isn’t so surprising, now that she thinks about it. The way Leliana speaks of the Warden-Commander very well could be the way a woman in love would. But still, Leliana is always so… not cold, exactly, but closed-off. It is hard to imagine her being in love. Then again, she had traveled with the Warden when she was much younger. Perhaps she had been different then.

Perhaps watching the Warden choose Morrigan is part of the reason she is distant now.

“If I were the Warden-Commander, I certainly would have chosen you over Morrigan, anyway,” Cassandra says, feeling some strange need to come to Leliana’s defense.

To her surprise, Leliana laughs. Cassandra cringes as she realizes she has said something embarrassing yet again. “Do you find Morrigan so utterly intolerable, or should I take that as a compliment?”

Cassandra exhales. “There is no neutral way to answer that question.”

Fortunately, Leliana seems amused. “Relax, Cassandra. We’re friends, are we not? These kinds of conversations are normal among friends.”

“Are they?” Cassandra asks. “I have too few friends to know.”

“You have one, at least,” Leliana says.

“You?” Cassandra asks.

“I was speaking of Varric,” Leliana teases. “I know how fond he is of you.”

“Do be quiet,” Cassandra grumbles.

“You have my friendship as well, Cassandra. You have for years. Am I really so distant that you wouldn’t know that?”

There is a tinge of sadness in Leliana’s eyes, one Cassandra needs to soothe. “No. You are not distant. Just… focused.”

“I am,” Leliana says. “Although I was not always so. There was a time a pretty pair of shoes could make me forget about the blood on my daggers.”

“A Divine shouldn’t concern herself with earthy possessions.” She picks up the romance novel Leliana has discarded. “I suppose if you have overcome your lust for shoes, you would be the better option, considering my particular vice.”

Leliana merely smiles. “Don’t be ridiculous. You would make a wonderful Divine, Cassandra. You always seek to better yourself and help the people around you. Of course, I would prefer to take the position myself… I have plans to widen the Chantry’s doors.”

“Perhaps I should have said this sooner,” Cassandra says, a little hesitantly, “but I think you would be a wonderful Divine as well. You might be a little… nontraditional… but you care, too. All the darkness, the things you’ve endured, haven’t crushed your faith in the Maker. You inspire me when my own faith wavers.”

“Everyone’s faith wavers, even mine. Belief is a choice, or else it is meaningless.”

Cassandra nods. She isn’t sure what to say to that. She has chosen to continue believing despite all the blood that has been spilled and the secrets the Seekers have kept.

“Look at it this way.” Leliana steps forward, and to Cassandra’s surprise, places a friendly hand on her arm. “No matter who the Inquisitor supports and who the Grand Clerics choose, we have each other to turn to for advice. We may not be Divine Justinia… but perhaps together, we can rebuild in her honor.”

A smile spreads across Cassandra’s face. “Yes. You’re right, of course. We have always been partners, in a way. I expect that will continue.”

“I hope so,” Leliana says.

The two of them chat for a few minutes longer, their conversation becoming lighter before they say their goodbyes. When Leliana leaves, Cassandra finds that she misses her.

***

The next day, Leliana makes it a point to stroll around Skyhold instead of remaining in her tower. It reminds her of Lothering ten years ago, only on a larger scale. Everyone is bustling about with some task to perform, deliberately ignoring the possible end of the world.

During the Fifth Blight, people had behaved much the same. Darkspawn? Oh, they were a threat to be feared, but there were still cows that needed milking, eggs that needed collecting, bread that needed to be made. It’s inspiring, in a way. Corypheus cannot stop life from unfolding, no matter how much he may want to.

Leliana wears a smile on her face as she heads down the stairs from the main hall, making her way to the training grounds. Her conversation with Cassandra had gone well the other day, well enough to warrant a continuation.

This time, she finds the warrior sitting on a bench, her sword set aside as she thumbs through the pages of a book. It’s different than the one she’d been reading yesterday, a fact which Leliana makes note of.

“I see you’re a fast reader.”

Cassandra looks up, smiling in welcome. For once, she doesn’t seem embarrassed at being caught with a romance in her hands. “Yes, I suppose I am. Once I start a book, I feel the need to finish it quickly and find out the ending.”

“Ah,” Leliana chuckles. “I understand the impulse, but what about the journey? That is what you remember most after a story is finished.”

“You sound as though you’re speaking from experience.” Cassandra scoots aside on the bench, a silent invitation for Leliana to join her. “Is that something you learned as a bard?”

Leliana accepts the offer, sitting beside Cassandra. “Yes, among other things.”

“Like how to play the Grand Game. I must admit, I always thought it foolish. Wealthy people worrying about outsmarting other wealthy people instead of helping those less fortunate.”

“Oh, it is very foolish, like many enjoyable things,” Leliana says with a laugh. “However, we all find ourselves seeking something of substance eventually. For me, that is the Chantry.”

“For me, it was the Seekers,” Cassandra begins hesitantly.

“And now it is the Inquisition,” Leliana finishes for her.

Cassandra’s brow furrows. “How did you know what I was going to say?”

“We have known each other a long time. Is it so surprising?” Leliana places her hand gently on top of Cassandra’s, squeezing briefly before pulling away. “The Right and Left hand. We compliment each other, don’t we?”

To Leliana’s delight, Cassandra’s face flushes. For all her fierce appearance, she is wonderfully easy to embarrass. “I suppose so,” she mumbles, noncommittally. However, she doesn’t look displeased by the statement, either.

Knowing shouldn’t push her luck, Leliana rises from the bench. “I shall have to come back and ask to borrow one of your naughty books soon,” she says with a teasing smirk. “I find myself wishing to go on a journey that has nothing to do with Corypheus.”

“I—I might be able to find something,” Cassandra stammers, although she has trouble holding Leliana’s eyes.

“I would be grateful. Although if it was discovered that both of us are indulging in such smutty literature, the Grand Clerics might well elect Vivienne on principle.”

“Please, no,” Cassandra groans.

“Best hope the Inquisitor doesn’t tell them. Goodbye, Cassandra.”

As she wanders back to her tower, Leliana finds herself walking with lighter feet than usual. It has been a very long time since she has allowed herself the luxury of flirting with someone. It’s been gloom and doom and self-doubt, not to mention parsing out Divine Justinia’s cryptic intentions. Even espionage is hard to enjoy these days. But perhaps…

Perhaps she should see where this particular road takes her. It seems to have the beginnings of a good story.

***

Cassandra has never been the type to develop swift, unexplainable attractions. Even though she enjoys the descriptions of love at first sight in her books, of smoldering looks, of unrestrained passion at the first locking of eyes, it feels somehow divorced from reality. She has fallen in love with a good sword faster than she has fallen in love with people.

Of course there had been passion with Galyan, even hastened by the urgency of their meeting. (Saving the Divine tends to rush things.) And yet, it had happened in clear, obvious stages. She had seen the culmination of their relationship ahead of their coming together. It had felt romantically inevitable, in a way.

With the Inquisitor, it had been different still. She hadn’t seen the path unfolding before her until she was halfway down another one, looking back over her shoulder at the direction she could have taken. She could blame it all on the fact that the Inquisitor is a woman, and a qunari at that, but some part of her feels it is not that simple.

And then there is the strange fluttering in her stomach when Leliana comes to visit her at the training grounds. It has happened four times so far, at least every other day. It doesn’t feel like her attraction to Galyan, or her attraction to the Inquisitor, and she still isn’t sure whether it’s an attraction at all.

She has known Leliana for years already. She would have noticed before, wouldn’t she?

But their conversation about lost loves and missed opportunities has shifted something between them. When she sees Leliana’s face, her first thoughts aren’t of war meetings, or Divine Justinia, or even the upcoming election. They are of simple happiness.

She is pleased to spend time in Leliana’s company. Their conversations leave her refreshed. They make her laugh. Despite her dark mode of dress, Leliana can be quite funny, even cheerful. Cassandra remembers Josephine telling a story to the Inquisitor about smallclothes nailed to a chantry board once, and she doesn’t doubt its truth.

In many ways, Leliana reminds her of Galyan. They both have entertaining senses of humor and minds that are always moving. So does the Inquisitor, come to think of it. Perhaps she has a type.

However, it’s not until the Inquisitor is talking to her and Cassandra isn’t sure of a word she’s spoken that she begins to wonder whether her attraction to Leliana might be more than an idle thought.

“…heading back to the Emerald Graves in a few days with Dorian and Bull… Cassandra? Cassandra?”

Cassandra blinks, trying to recall the first half of the Inquisitor’s sentence. “Ah, yes. The Emerald Graves. With Dorian and Bull.”

Her repetitions aren’t enough to fool the Inquisitor, unfortunately. “Are you sure you’re all right, Cassandra? I know things have been difficult with you lately, with the Seekers turning out different than you thought and the Grand Clerics considering you for Divine when you’ve already got enough on your plate…”

“Does that mean you’ve decided to support Leliana?”

Even though Cassandra has carefully stripped her tone of judgment, the Inquisitor seems hesitant. “Oh, she has enough on her plate too. I wish they wanted someone else besides two of the people I actually need .”

Cassandra smiles. “I understand. But Leliana and I have talked recently. We are both willing to stand by your decision. Whoever sits on the Sunburst Throne will have the other’s complete support and friendship, as well as their ear for counsel.”

The Inquisitor breathes a sigh of relief. “Well, that does make me feel better. I don’t like having such big decisions placed on me.”

Cassandra aims a glance at the Inquisitor’s glowing hand. “Then you have had a most unfortunate year.”

“Tell me about it,” the Inquisitor grumbles. “But back to you. Are you sure you’re all right? You seem distracted.”

“Inquisitor…” Cassandra must clear her throat several times before she is able to continue. “May I ask you a personal question?”

The Inquisitor’s eyebrows rise toward her horns. “A personal question? From you? This is rare. I should inform Varric.”

“Please, refrain,” Cassandra says. “Is it so strange? You have heard personal things from me before.”

The Inquisitor merely grins. “Yes, but not out of the blue. Usually something dramatic has to happen first. Anyway, continue. Ask your personal question.”

“Did your attraction to Josephine happen when you first met? Or did you take some time to understand what it was?”

At this change of subject, the Inquisitor seems even more surprised. “Well, I’m surprised you asked, but I don’t mind answering. I knew I was attracted to her from the moment we met. Her eyes, that smile… that adorable mole. And the accent. I was doomed.”

Cassandra has to suppress a snort. Unfortunately, the Inquisitor’s insight has not proven at all helpful. “I see…”

“Josephine took much longer to realize, though,” the Inquisitor continues. “I kept dropping hints, but it just didn’t occur to her until I was very blatant about my interest.”

“Oh.” Cassandra feels a strange stirring in her chest—perhaps hope? It’s too soon to say. “So, your attractions developed at different times.”

“I’ll say,” the Inquisitor chuckles. “I adore Josie, but her snail’s pace nearly killed me.”

“I understand.” That is a complete lie. Cassandra feels as if she understands even less than she did before.

“Why are you asking? Are you interested in someone?”

“What? I… me? No. No, of course not. There isn’t time. I have more important things to concern myself with… not that I disapprove of your relationship with Josephine, of course. In fact, I think the two of you suit each other very well. But I—no. I’m not interested in anyone.”

“Ah. I see.”

To Cassandra’s dismay, the Inquisitor looks as though she believes less than a single word of that mess. “My books made me wonder,” she says as a last resort.

The Inquisitor chuckles. “Ah, I see. More smutty literature. Don’t worry, I won’t tell.”

“Please,” Cassandra moans, although secretly, she is relieved. Either the Inquisitor has bought her excuse, or is too polite to question it. “You, Leliana, and Varric knowing are three people too many, as far as I am concerned.”

“Leliana?” The Inquisitor’s eyebrows arch in surprise.

“I should get back to training,” Cassandra mumbles, realizing she’s mentioned Leliana one time too many for this conversation. “So unless you need anything else…”

“I’ll let you get back to it,” the Inquisitor says. “But this isn’t over. Not by a long shot.”

As she departs, Cassandra groans in frustration, burying her face in her hand. It seems her feelings are as much of a mess as the rest of Thedas is.

***

Over the past week and a half, Leliana is pleased to note that she and Cassandra have fallen into something of a routine.

They have had several conversations, slowly expanding beyond the borders of the training grounds to the rest of Skyhold. Sometimes, Cassandra walks with her from the war room, and the two of them simply forget to part ways. They end up in the garden, or in Herald’s Rest, sharing drinks as they listen to Maryden sing. It may be prideful to think so, but Leliana has grown rather fond of the song the bard has composed in her honor.

Once or twice, Cassandra has even visited her in the rookery, always with some explanation—and yet, they are excuses Leliana cannot help but question. Cullen always shares his observations in the war room. Even Josephine, who is one of her closest friends, rarely ventures up to the top of her tower. And yet, Cassandra has started making the effort. It makes Leliana wonder…

Her thoughts are interrupted by familiar footsteps. The sound of heavy boots on stone cuts through the soft rustling of the birds in their cages, although some flutter their wings upon hearing the noise of an approaching stranger. Leliana smiles. She may be getting used to Cassandra’s visits, but apparently, her birds haven’t.

“Late for a visit, isn’t it?” she says as Cassandra rounds the corner, arriving at the top of the staircase.

Cassandra chuckles. “Do you even know what ‘late’ means, Leliana? You’re awake at all hours.”

“I am a spy,” Leliana reminds her.

“Even spies need their rest.”

“True enough. Not now, though, because you’re here, and I assume you have something you wish to discuss.” Leliana nods her head at the bench on the other side of the table where she writes her correspondences.

Cassandra brushes aside a pile of spare parchment and sits with a sigh. “I could have come up here just to enjoy your company…”

“But you didn’t,” Leliana says.

“No.”

She smiles. “Well then, out with it. I’ll keep your secret, whatever it is… unless you are Corypheus in disguise.”

Cassandra gives a disgusted snort. “Hardly.”

“Then what is it?”

For a moment, insecurity flashes across Cassandra’s face. If Leliana hadn’t known her so well, she might have been surprised—but she does know Cassandra, and she knows that it takes an incredible amount of trust for the warrior to show her weaknesses.

“I… find myself wondering whether I have moved on from the Inquisitor.”

Leliana waits, expecting more.

“I know I haven’t brought up that awkwardness since our last discussion, but you must remember…”

“Of course,” Leliana says. “But why does the thought of moving on upset you? The Inquisitor seems happy with Josephine, and you seem happy for them.”

“It does not upset me,” Cassandra says, her voice almost imploring. “It… confuses me. These feelings are strange to me, Leliana. Despite all my reading, I am… unaccustomed. My experience is limited.”

Leliana’s mind races. There are two possibilities here, and since Cassandra’s eyes are aimed at the table, she has little to go on. Either Cassandra has developed feelings for someone else, and she is merely coming to Leliana because of their recent growth in friendship, or…

As Spymaster, she should be more than used to uncertain outcomes, but this has her heart fluttering nervously, much as it had used to a decade earlier. It’s as if something within her has awakened from slumber, something fragile and easily broken.

“And this person… the one you have developed an affection for. Do you think she returns your feelings?”

Cassandra’s head snaps up in surprise. Her brown eyes widen, glossy with a sort of vulnerability that gives Leliana hope. “Why do you say ‘she’?”

Leliana smiles. “A little guesswork. I am right, no?”

The opening and closing of Cassandra’s mouth is response enough.

Maker guide me, Leliana says, aiming a brief prayer to the universe before reaching across the table to brush one of Cassandra’s hands. “Cassandra… whoever she is, you should tell her. She would be a fool not to accept your feelings with gratitude.”

Cassandra stares down at their hands. She clears her throat, but does not pull away. “There are complications. I may become Divine, and she…”

“Andraste herself was married,” Leliana reminds her. “And the Maker always celebrates love in all its forms—romantic love included. I find the Chantry’s rules on such matters outdated, to be honest. And you might not even become Divine. Neither of us might. We cannot know what the future holds, however hard we try.”

“So…” Cassandra’s eyes darted to the side, as though she couldn’t stand the heat of their shared gaze. “You think I should treat every day as my last? Make decisions that bring me happiness while I can?”

“No,” Leliana whispers. “Treat every day as a gift from the Maker, because it is. You are not just a servant. You are also his daughter. And you are deserving of every happiness, Cassandra.”

There is a long moment of silence, and though it is tense, it is not uncomfortable. At last, Cassandra withdraws her hand, rising to her feet and adjusting the tunic beneath her chestplate. “Ahem. Well. I appreciate your advice, Leliana. You have given me… I have a great deal to think about.”

“Yes,” Leliana murmurs. “You do. But hopefully some of those thoughts are good ones.”

With a muttered goodbye, Cassandra makes a hasty exit back down the tower stairs, but Leliana feels her presence long after. The cool of night is seeping through the open windows and the rafters above, but she holds a warm glow within her chest.

Soon, she thinks, Cassandra will come and visit her again. And perhaps then, she can put her beloved friend’s fears to rest. Perhaps then, they might become something more. Perhaps they haven’t missed their window after all.

***

It takes Cassandra three days to gather her courage.

With the Inquisitor off to the Emerald Graves, Skyhold is quiet—mostly. For once, Cassandra is not grateful for the reprieve. Her mind is in turmoil, turning the things Leliana had said over and over. Could it be possible? Could the Maker approve of such feelings, even if she and Leliana are both candidates to become Divine? Is she even ready to acknowledge the seed sprouting in her heart and see how it grows?

Cassandra does not feel ready, but at the same time, the thought of ignoring her emotions terrifies her more. She has already done that once before with the Inquisitor, and it has brought only regret. Shielding her heart has only brought her pain in the end. Perhaps it’s time to try a different tactic—even a risky one.

Unfortunately, that involves talking… about her feelings, no less.

She has never been masterful with words. All the elocution classes in the world haven’t done her much good—she still expresses herself like a dim-witted child, both in speech and writing. Perhaps that is why she so often loses herself in books. The pictures each sentence paints are endlessly fascinating to her.

But she is also no coward. If talking is required, she will talk—and hopefully Leliana will take pity on her.

That is what she tells herself as she heads up to Leliana’s rookery again, shuddering against the draft. Today, she is not wearing her armor. There is enough weight on her shoulders already, and though it jolts against her ribs at rapid intervals, her heart feels like a leaden brick in her chest. Instead, she is in a simple shirt and pants. She had considered dressing up for the occasion, but that might have been pretentious. Or awkward. Or both.

When she reaches the top of the last flight, she pauses just before the final corner. She takes a deep breath. This is nothing like her books. She has no script to follow. And yet, words are building in her mouth, tumbling over each other in a race to her shaking lips. Even before she has seen Leliana’s face, she feels the urge to say something.

Perhaps, ‘I love you?’ But maybe it’s too soon.

‘I could love you?’ That has the beautiful promise of a garden coming into blossom. But Leliana might take it the wrong way…

“Cassandra?”

Cassandra snaps out of her thoughts. She has been spotted—although that should be no surprise. Leliana is always observant.

She breaches the final hurdle, arriving at the top of the stairs. “Leliana.”

Leliana smiles at her, and even though it is late evening, it feels to Cassandra as though the sun has risen. “Another visit? I’m flattered.”

Cassandra’s tongue sticks to the roof of her mouth. Flattered? Is Leliana flirting with her? Thanks to her inexperience, she can never be sure. It’s so much simpler in books, where the outcome is taken for granted.

“I came because… I have something to tell you.”

Her throat stops up again, but Leliana is patient. She simply waits, smiling, the last of the light setting her red hair aglow. Her hood is pulled down, revealing all of her face. Cassandra suddenly realizes it has been a long time since she’s seen Leliana without some sort of covering.

“Cassandra…”

Leliana steps forward, and Cassandra’s heart picks up speed. When Leliana takes her hands, they shake. Leliana’s fingers are so warm around hers.

“Tell me. You will feel better once you do.”

Could she already know? Cassandra wonders, but as she looks into Leliana’s eyes, she forgets everything else. She is lost in a soft blue sea, gasping for breath.

“I… have feelings.”

Leliana laughs—but not the kind of laugh meant to make fun. It is light and sweet, and far more innocent than Cassandra knows she is.

“Most people do. What are these feelings?”

“They are… feelings. For you.”

Cassandra closes her eyes, snorting in disgust at her own ineptitude. She couldn’t have possibly said this more clumsily.

And yet, a moment later, something soft caresses her cheek. At first she thinks it is Leliana’s hand, but then she realizes it can’t be, because she is holding both of them. That leaves…

Has Leliana kissed her cheek?

She opens her eyes. Leliana’s face is hovering close to hers, and once more, Cassandra is overwhelmed.

“These feelings,” Leliana murmurs, while Cassandra is utterly entranced by the movement of her lips. “Are they more than friendship?”

“Yes,” Cassandra croaks. The one syllable is all she can manage.

Leliana squeezes Cassandra’s hands tighter and her smile broadens. The thought that the smile is entirely for her benefit has Cassandra’s head spinning.

“I feel the same. And… I am grateful. Perhaps we have not missed our chance.”

“Is it that simple?” Cassandra asks. “There is Corypheus, the Grand Clerics…”

“They will be dealt with,” Leliana says. “Both of us know that feelings like this are too precious and rare to squander. The Maker blesses us with them for a reason, no?”

Cassandra nods. She believes it wholeheartedly, although gazing into Leliana’s eyes, she might have agreed to anything. “Leliana,” she says, not even sure what she’s asking until it falls out of her mouth, “may I kiss you?”

Leliana finally lets one of her hands go—only to slide soft fingers through the short-clipped hair at the back of her neck, which has broken out into a nervous sweat. “Please.”

Encouraged, Cassandra leans forward until their mouths meet. The spark that starts in her lips tingles along every inch of her skin, and she feels as though she could dissolve into the very air around her. She is floating somewhere else, where only her lips and Leliana’s exist. Her mind has screeched to a halt and the only thought left within is that she and Leliana are kissing. Actually kissing.

She is so overwhelmed that she forgets to breathe—a fact she only realizes when her lungs start burning. Still, she does not pull back until Leliana seems to realize she is swaying. Leliana breaks away, and Cassandra sucks in a great lungful of air. Her mouth moves, but no words come out. When Leliana smiles at her, however, she realizes no words are needed.

Cassandra kisses Leliana again, and this time, there is no hesitation. Leliana’s mouth parts slightly when it meets hers, a silent invitation, and Cassandra draws upon what little experience with kissing she has to respond. She runs her tongue gently along Leliana’s bottom lip, groaning with surprise when Leliana invites her inside.

She had kissed this way with Galyan, but that was many years ago—and kissing Leliana feels like a brand new experience. Cassandra is sure she’s clumsy at it, but she doesn’t care. The soft glide of Leliana’s lips guides her, and it is far too good to give up. Before she even realizes it, Leliana has backed her into the nearby wooden table. Cassandra sags against it, grateful for something to support her weight.

When they break apart a second time, Leliana speaks at last. “This is all right, yes?” she murmurs, still close enough for Cassandra to feel the heat of her breath. Her hand runs up along Cassandra’s side, and Cassandra can feel Leliana’s palm burning through the fabric of her shirt.

“Yes,” she croaks. It is absolutely all right. More than ever, she is certain of what she wants.

Leliana kisses her again, and once more, Cassandra loses herself.

***

From the moment Cassandra had arrived in her rookery that evening, Leliana had hoped for a kiss. She had not wanted to presume, but at the same time, her heart had raced on ahead of her. She had imagined what it would be like rather often over the past few days, how their eyes would meet, then their hands, then their lips…

But the fantasy does not compare to reality.

Kissing Cassandra is so much sweeter than she’d imagined. There is a feeling of rightness to it, of completion, of coming home. Some loose thread within her has been tied back into its proper place. And yet, at the same time, she is unraveling. She has kissed countless people, especially during her time as a bard, and yet Cassandra is different than all of them.

Cassandra is different from Marjolaine, her cruel first love. Cassandra is different from the Warden, who was noble and good, but did not returned her feelings. Cassandra has Marjolaine’s passion and the Warden’s goodness, and for once, they are being offered to her completely. Something that seemed out of reach for years is suddenly within Leliana’s grasp.

The more she kisses Cassandra, the more contact Leliana hungers for. She wants to feel Cassandra’s skin. She wants to prove that this gift from the Maker is real and not some fever-dream.

Still, she is cautious. “Is this all right?” she murmurs between kisses as her fingertips slide under the hem of Cassandra’s shirt. “Does this feel good?” she whispers as she presses her palm against Cassandra’s warm stomach, feeling the powerful muscles there. Cassandra only groans in response—but from the way her kisses become messier and more desperate, the sound is a positive one.

Leliana hurries to strip the garment off. Cassandra offers no objections, aside from a whimper of discontent when their mouths part. In fact, she raises her arms over her head to help. Her eyes are glazed, as if she isn’t sure this is truly happening, but she seems all too willing whether the moment is real or not. Leliana understands those feelings perfectly.

“Breathe,” Leliana reminds her as she runs her palms up Cassandra’s strong sides. She is soft beneath her armor, but still so firm, and her body radiates heat even through the bindings she still wears. Leliana unwinds them with quick fingers, fumbling a few times, but Cassandra doesn’t seem to care, or even notice.

“I feel as though I am about to faint,” Cassandra confesses, with a nervous, airy sort of laugh. But from her smile, Leliana knows it is a compliment.

“Please, don’t.” Leliana guides Cassandra’s hands to the fastening of her hood and cape, even as she adds, “If you wish to slow down…”

Cassandra’s eyes widen almost fearfully. “No! No… please.” Despite the trembling of her hands, she makes quick work of Leliana’s cape. It flutters to the floor along with the last of Cassandra’s bindings.

Leliana sucks in a quiet gasp as she drinks in the sight of Cassandra’s bared breasts. They are round and full, with more weight than she expected—but then she nearly always sees Cassandra in her armor. Somehow, they do not take away from the sharper angles of her body. She is a delicious mixture of hard and soft, a magnificent landscape Leliana cannot wait to explore.

“May I?” she asks even as she slides her fingertips up Cassandra’s shuddering stomach.

It seems Cassandra cannot speak, but she takes both of Leliana’s hands and guides them to her breasts. The stiff tips press into Leliana’s palms, and as she cups them, she leans in for another kiss. She cannot get enough of Cassandra’s mouth. Even though it is obvious that Cassandra has limited experience with kissing, she is an enthusiastic learner. Her lips and tongue copy every move Leliana’s make, repeating them to perfection.

Delightful as they are, Leliana is careful not to focus solely on Cassandra’s breasts, fearful of overwhelming her with sensation. Despite always returning to the hard pink peaks, she explores outward, learning the curves of Cassandra’s sides, the wings of her shoulderblades, the powerful muscles of her arms. She roams anywhere and everywhere, overjoyed with every happy sound Cassandra spills into her mouth.

And she uses her mouth too—not just to tease Cassandra’s lips, but to nip along the sharp edge of her jaw, to suck the sensitive place beneath her ear, to smear wet kisses down the column of her throat. Cassandra tastes just a little of salt, but even that light flavor is addictive. Leliana cannot help but wonder how she will taste elsewhere—and she is determined to find out.

When she dips her head and takes one of Cassandra’s nipples in her mouth, Cassandra groans loud enough to startle the birds. Leliana wants to laugh at their indignant rustling, but for Cassandra’s sake, she ignores their silent observers. Instead, she rolls her tongue over and around the sensitive point, testing to see how much suction Cassandra likes.

Cassandra isn’t difficult to please. She seems willing to accept everything Leliana has to give, no matter how hard or soft her attentions. Her hand comes up to grip the back of Leliana’s head for encouragement, and from the desperate clenching of her fingers, Leliana can tell her attentions are greatly appreciated. It also makes her wonder whether, once this first hurdle is passed, Cassandra might take a more assertive role. Part of her hopes so, but another part of her doesn’t care. All she wants is to enjoy this, and to make sure Cassandra enjoys this.

“Pants?” Cassandra asks, surprising Leliana enough to release her prize.

She lets go of Cassandra’s nipple, blowing a cool stream of air across the glistening peak. “So, she does speak,” Leliana teases, enjoying the way Cassandra’s blush spreads across her high cheekbones. But she takes pity, unfastening the ties at the front of Cassandra’s pants and helping her pull them down.

The next few moments are awkward. Cassandra seems to have it in her head that two people need to be completely naked during sex, even in the rafters of a rookery, and while Leliana would have been satisfied simply pulling her trousers down to mid-thigh, Cassandra seems determined to take them off—which she cannot do without removing her boots.

“Sorry,” Cassandra mumbles, seeming embarrassed by the break in momentum.

Leliana sighs and shakes her head, smiling to let Cassandra know she isn’t at all disappointed. She makes good use of the time, removing her own clothes and enjoying the way Cassandra’s hands fumble increasingly with each inch of skin she reveals.

When Cassandra lets out a shaking gasp that sounds something like “Maker,” Leliana pauses in the middle of removing her own pants. Cassandra is staring at her with an emotion that can only be described as awe, and Leliana freezes in surprise.

No one has ever looked at her that way before.

Her previous lovers have gazed upon her with lust, of course. She has seen friendship and deep affection in the Warden’s eyes. But never have the two combined into something like this: into a woman who wants everything she has to offer, both her body and her heart.

Leliana no longer feels like laughing.

***

If any lingering doubts had lurked in Cassandra’s heart, they are completely erased as Leliana strips off her clothes. She has to blink to make sure the vision in front of her is real. Surely, surely the Maker would not create such a beautiful form—such a beautiful woman, inside and out—only to deny her a lover’s touch. She wants to cover every inch of Leliana in kisses.

“You… your eyes flatter me,” Leliana whispers, and for the first time all evening, she seems uncertain.

Cassandra decides it is her duty to banish that uncertainty as swiftly as possible. She takes Leliana in her arms, backing her against the table she had been braced against a minute earlier.

Leliana seems surprised, but not at all unhappy about the shift. She slides her rear onto the table and spreads her legs, and Cassandra is treated to yet another sight that sucks all the breath out of her. She had been about to step into the cradle of Leliana’s thighs, but she completely forgets herself. A neatly trimmed thatch of red hair points down to Leliana’s soft pink lips, which are already parted in invitation.

Cassandra has seen other women naked before. It is unavoidable as a soldier. But never before has she seen one naked for her, open and wanton. And yet… Leliana still seems so graceful. So beautiful. So vulnerable. Cassandra finds herself longing to both ravish and cherish her.

Leliana opens her arms too, inviting Cassandra into her embrace. This time, she accepts, sighing at the feeling of rightness as Leliana’s hands run up along her back. Her own hands settle on Leliana’s hips, and Cassandra hurries to familiarize with herself with as much of Leliana’s bare skin as she can.

She strokes Leliana’s sides, moving up and down along the silky skin a few times before cupping her breasts. When that earns her a gasp, she takes one in her right hand, kneading the soft flesh with the hope that she’s doing something right. The increasingly urgent noises spilling from Leliana’s lips suggest that she just might be.

Her other hand travels down toward Leliana’s thigh, which is burning with heat even as the muscle within is tightly coiled. Leliana spreads her legs wider, shifting forward an inch on the table, and Cassandra moans in surprise as something even warmer presses against her stomach. Her mind screeches to a halt for a moment, but then she realizes what it is—Leliana’s wetness is painting her abdomen. She moves her hand from Leliana’s leg to the small of her back, urging to her to shift even further forward. Cassandra isn’t sure what is about to happen, but she knows she wants Leliana even closer.

One of Leliana’s knees wraps around Cassandra’s waist, a heel digging gently into her rear. “Cassandra…” Leliana takes the hand that is on her breast, drawing it down the narrow space between their bodies. “Please. Touch me.”

Cassandra cannot resist that plea. Heart hammering with both nervousness and anticipation, she runs her fingers through the wiry hairs that guard Leliana’s softest parts. Then she dips lower, low enough to find slick, silken heat.

She supposes it feels a little like touching herself, but at the same time, it’s entirely different. The warmth and texture are the same, but the fact that she’s touching Leliana makes it strange and new and wonderful . Leliana shudders, burying her face in the crook of Cassandra’s neck, and Cassandra can feel her moan vibrate there, slightly muffled, but clearly audible. She wants to make Leliana moan again.

She tries to do what she herself likes, teasing the clasping muscles of Leliana’s opening without pushing past them, stroking up to touch the swollen sides of Leliana’s clit without pressing directly on the tip. Clearly, Leliana considers this a tease. She introduces the edge of her teeth to Cassandra’s neck, and Cassandra gasps in surprise. Galyan had never bitten her, but as the not-even-pain fades, Cassandra decides that she very much likes it when Leliana does.

To show her appreciation, she slides the very tip of her finger past Leliana’s entrance. It is meant to be a test, but Leliana rocks her hips forward, and without even thrusting, Cassandra finds herself buried to the knuckle.

Leliana is all tight heat. Cassandra can feel every flutter of her inner walls, each clench and clasp. Despite the way Leliana clings to her, she is certain she can add another finger. She does, slowly, withdrawing to make sure both are completely wet before pushing back in.

This time, Leliana moans. Her heel digs harder into Cassandra’s backside and the muscles in her thighs jump. “Curl your fingers forward,” she says, half instructing, half pleading.

Cassandra is grateful for the direction. She curls her fingers, softly at first, then harder as Leliana’s whimpers and sighs grow louder. Leliana is shuddering from head to toe, rocking her hips just so, and Cassandra is overwhelmed. She is actually doing this. Making love to a woman—to Leliana . And to her delight, she seems to be succeeding.

The next several minutes are a heated blur. Cassandra thrusts in and out, probing the swollen spot that makes Leliana tremble and grasp her shoulders. The scent of their passion is rising, faint but distinct, and more of Leliana’s wetness smears against her palm with each pump of her fingers. She could do this forever, she thinks—make love to Leliana this way, exploring her smooth, pulsing walls and drinking from her lips between ragged gasps.

Making love? Is that what the two of us are doing?

The answer comes to her immediately. Yes. That is exactly what they are doing. Even though things are happening so quickly that Cassandra can barely keep track, it feels as though she has been waiting for this moment forever. She has always been waiting for this chance, this woman.

“Cassandra,” Leliana mutters against her neck, tilting up her chin and offering her lips for another kiss. “Cassandra… please.”

At first, Cassandra isn’t sure what Leliana is asking for, but as her new lover grinds into the heel of her hand, she finally realizes. Leliana’s clit is swollen and slick, pressing urgently into her palm. Hurriedly, Cassandra places the pad of her thumb over it, swiping its stiff point. Leliana cries out, her voice echoing shamelessly around the rookery. She goes stiff, inner walls clenching, and an expression of bliss washes across her face.

It takes Cassandra a moment to realize Leliana is coming. She is used to men and the mess that usually follows, but she swiftly realizes what is happening when Leliana squeezes tighter around her fingers, refusing to let go. The way Leliana’s lashes flutter over her hooded eyes, her open-mouthed smile, the throbbing pulse point in her neck… suddenly, her pleasure is obvious.

Cassandra is surprised, but also delighted. It’s proof that she’s done well, that she’s brought Leliana to the heights of pleasure. Although her rhythm is uneven and distracted, she tries to keep thrusting, and Leliana seems to appreciate her efforts. She surges forward, claiming Cassandra’s lips to muffle another scream.

Leliana’s muscles continue fluttering well after her peak has passed. Cassandra lets her fingers rest in their new home, enjoying the way Leliana’s soft walls shiver around her. Leliana sags forward, resting her forehead in the crook of Cassandra’s neck and kissing her shoulder. “Thank you,” she whispers, almost reverently. “It has been… a long time.”

“I… I am honored.”

“So am I.”

Leliana raises her head, and the brilliance of her smile convinces Cassandra that ‘making love’ was most certainly the right term. “Cassandra… I want to please you, too.” There is a questioning note of hope in her tone, as if she is still uncertain, even after the intimacy they have just shared.

“I would love nothing more.”

Cassandra withdraws her fingers, surprised at how reluctant she is to pull them free. She has grown used to how Leliana’s warmth feels wrapped around her. But the loss is quickly replaced with sweet anticipation as Leliana slides off the table, standing on shaking legs. When Leliana urges her to sit instead, Cassandra obeys. She has no idea what Leliana has in mind, but she is eager to find out.

When Leliana steps between her thighs only to drop to her knees, Cassandra’s heart flies up into her throat. She’d thought Leliana had meant to return the favor with her hand, but the thought of Leliana’s tongue running through her folds already has her pulsing with need.

“This is all right, isn't it?” Leliana says, stroking her inner thighs.

“Yes,” Cassandra whispers. “More than all right.” She reaches down on impulse, stroking Leliana’s hair back from her forehead. “Please?”

Leliana’s smile is the most radiant thing Cassandra has ever seen. “Anything you wish.”

The first touch of Leliana’s tongue sets Cassandra’s blood on fire. She had expected pleasure, but this is ecstasy. She reels, struggling to adjust, as Leliana is learns every inch of her. She is a woman determined, and Cassandra clutches the back of her head, already fighting to keep from falling over the edge.

Leliana doesn't seem to mind the slight tugging. Her blue eyes shine with amusement as she slides her tongue to the throbbing point of Cassandra’s clit, circling the swollen shaft.

Cassandra hisses through gritted teeth. Leliana's mouth is so warm, so welcoming, so incredibly gentle even as it coaxes sounds from her she hadn't thought herself capable of making. Though she tries to stifle them, it's no use. She can't do anything to stop the moan building in her chest, and neither can she tear her eyes away from Leliana’s beautiful face. Somehow it looks even lovelier cradled between her thighs.

It isn't the increasingly urgent swirls of Leliana’s tongue that pushes Cassandra past the brink, nor is it the light suction of her full lips. It's the emotion shining in Leliana’s deep blue eyes, and the thought that, maybe…

Leliana’s name hovers on Cassandra’s lips, but all that comes out is a sharp cry. It doesn't matter, though, because she can see those same words reflected in Leliana’s adoring gaze. She hopes, she prays that Leliana understands, but she is far past explaining. As Leliana’s fingers brush her opening and the soft lips around her clit seal tighter, Cassandra loses herself.

It is like being reborn. Bathed in the Maker’s light and Leliana’s love, she shatters into a thousand pieces. And yet, she doesn't feel broken. She feels whole, complete. She doesn't fall—she soars, each pull of Leliana’s lips and each thrust of Leliana’s fingers carrying her higher.

Leliana coaxes every ripple out of her, stroking a soothing line along Cassandra’s thigh. Only when she senses her mouth has become too much does she pull back, cheeks and chin glistening. In the soft light of the candles, she looks otherworldly, and yet, Cassandra knows she is not. Leliana is real, and all hers.

At least, I hope…

“I… I see what you meant,” Cassandra says after several heartbeats, once she has recovered her voice. “About… this… being one of the Maker’s gifts…”

Leliana beams up at her. “Not just one of His gifts. Love is His greatest gift, in all its forms.”

Cassandra runs her hand through Leliana’s hair, cupping her cheek and drawing her back to her feet. Leliana stands once more, leaning in for another kiss—one Cassandra gladly accepts.

Perhaps, she thinks, all of this was meant to happen. Perhaps it was predestined, part of His plan. But whether it was or not, she doesn't care. The mere fact that this feeling has taken root within her and blossomed is a miracle. She hasn't missed her chance after all. In fact, her life is beginning anew.

“Cassandra,” Leliana asks softly when they break apart, “is this only for tonight? Or do you think it will last longer?”

Cassandra swallows. It would certainly be simpler, but her growing feelings will take much more than one night to express. She is afraid, but not too afraid to speak the truth: “I… I wish for them to last longer. I have no idea how this—the two of us—will be possible. There is the Grand Consensus…”

But suddenly, the Grand Consensus doesn’t seem threatening at all. Leliana’s smile is much more important.

“They will choose one of us. Or not. What is important is that we also choose each other, no?”

Leliana’s words banish the last of her fears. “Yes, exactly,” she says, her chest aglow. Maybe it is too soon to call this feeling love, but it is not too soon to choose it. This time, she is ready to take the twisting, unknown path in the hopes of greater adventure, and greater reward. When she looks at Leliana, the journey seems more than worthwhile.