(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Bethany nearly didn’t notice her. The Chantry sister was bathed in shadow, a smudge of orange and cream beneath the tree in the Chantry courtyard.
"Sister!" said Bethany urgently. "Sister, what are you doing? The darkspawn are coming! You should get inside the Chantry with the others!"
The sister looked up from her reverie and Bethany recognised her: it was Sister Leliana. She seemed to have been staring at a rosebush, where a single rose bloomed incongruously against a mass of dried up brown branches covered in thorns.
"What use is there?" said Leliana. She had a sweet voice, even laden as it was now with sorrow. Bethany had used to sneak into the Chantry to hear her tell stories, and did not like to see her so sad. "The Maker gave me a task and I have failed in it. If I am to die, I would rather it be out here surrounded by flowers than in some crowded building surrounded by fear."
Bethany was going to protest, but had to admit that what she said made a certain amount of sense. Carver and Marian had gotten their fill of darkspawn at Ostagar, and had seemed quite certain that anyone remaining in Lothering was doomed, whether they hid inside or not. But she couldn’t just leave this woman here to die.
"Then…do neither," she said quickly, before she had a chance to think better of it. "Come with my family and me and escape. My brother and sister are soldiers, and I’m…" Was it unsafe to admit to her magic even now? The habits of a lifetime won out. "I’m not as useless as I look. Surely the Maker would not wish you to throw your life away unnecessarily."
Sister Leliana looked at Bethany in surprise and stared at her for a long moment. "Yes," she said, her expression lightening. "If you are willing to let me come then I will follow you. Perhaps this is the Maker’s will. And I am not as useless as I look either." She smiled, and Bethany had the rather shallow thought that it would be nice to have someone to look at other than her family during the trip, especially someone so pretty.
"Oh, I am glad to hear it!" said Bethany. "My name is Bethany Hawke, I’ll introduce you to my mother and Carver and Marian when we meet up with them." Assuming they didn’t get angry at Bethany for being so impractical and refuse to let the sister come along. But surely they would take pity on a woman of the Chant. "Um…but do you need to grab anything? We’re leaving very soon, I was just looking for supplies." Bethany held up the sack she was carrying and gave a weak smile. "I hope you like turnips, because that’s all I could find."
"Yes, I remember you, Bethany, " said Sister Leliana. "You used to help mind the children while I told them silly stories from Orlais." She stood up and dusted off her robes, revealing the bag that she’d been using a cushion while she rested against the tree. "I have been ready to leave for some time," she said, "although this is not quite how I imagined I would be leaving. Let us go and meet this family of yours."
All around her was darkness, a heavy bank of clouds blocked out the stars so that sea and sky were an indistinguishable mass of black and grey. Leliana shivered, and wondered how far they were from Ferelden.
She was not alone on the deck of the ship. Other refugees had similarly escaped the cramped quarters below decks to take some fresh air while the sea was calm, and all around them sailors climbed the ropes and watched the horizon, calling to each other in their own secret language of halyards and gudgins. She was not alone, but still Leliana felt lonely. Bethany had fallen ill, and her family had closed ranks, taking turns to keep watch against those in the crowd of desperate refugees who might see an unconscious woman as an opportunity for theft or worse. Leliana had offered to help, but the eldest Hawke girl didn’t trust her, having grown up among apostates she clearly saw anyone associated with the Chantry as a threat. This hurt, but Leliana understood. She felt protective towards Bethany herself, she was a sweet girl, and it would be a tragedy for her to escape the darkspawn only to fall during the journey to safety.
Leliana was jostled from her thoughts by the elbow of a passing sailor.
"Watch it," he said absently, readjusting the box that was filling his arms and blocking his vision.
"I’m sorry," said Leliana. "I’ll get out of the way."
The sailor stopped. "Orlesian, are you?" he said in a much more unfriendly tone. "Yeah, that figures. Rats always know when to jump a sinking ship. Just watch you don’t get et by sharks."
"I will try to remember that," she said. He snorted to himself and kept walking.
Leliana moved to a more out of the way part of the deck and started singing to herself under her breath:
Il était un petit navire
Il était un petit navire
Qui n’avait ja-ja-jamais navigué
Qui n’avait ja-ja-jamais…
She heard the boards creak behind her.
"I haven’t heard that song in a long time," said a voice. "And it’s a rather morbid choice under the circumstances. I know supplies are limited but I don’t think we’re quite at the point of eating each other."
Leliana turned to smile at Aveline. "Ah, but it’s not morbid at all! The sailors don’t actually eat the boy, after all, he is saved by a vision of Andraste."
"I suppose that’s true," said Aveline. "But that ending always seemed unbelievable to me when I was a child. Then again, now that I’ve been saved by a dragon anything seems possible." She moved the stand next to Leliana, looking out with her into the night.
Leliana had never entirely clicked with Aveline, she was a decent, honourable woman but the two of them had very little in common. She appreciated Aveline making the effort to be friendly.
"Very true! The Maker always sends us what we need, but sometimes his choices are surprising."
"Always?" asked Aveline, her voice rough. "Tell that to Wesley. Or that boy Carver." Drat. Leliana had not meant to remind Aveline of the still fresh wound of Wesley’s death. She wanted to say something comforting but decided the best approach was to stay silent.
The noises of the ship filled the void between them, muffled conversations overlaying the constant creak of wooden boards and the splash of the waves far below. A cool breeze was blowing, the smell of the salt air now as familiar to Leliana as breathing. She was reminded of her last long sea voyage, when she had escaped to Ferelden two years ago. She had been truly alone then, and in some ways it had been easier.
"Do you miss it?" asked Aveline.
"Do I miss…" Being alone? Was she that obvious?
"Orlais. My father did, until his dying day. Meanwhile I never intended to even get as close as Amaranthine, let alone Kirkwall. Nothing he said ever made it sound at all appealing."
"Oh, Orlais! Yes, I miss it sometimes. After all, it is where I was born and grew up. I miss the clothes, the music…But I was happy in Ferelden too. If it wasn’t for for the Blight I think I might have stayed in Lothering until I was old and grey, singing strange folk songs to the little children in the Chantry and trying not to get bitten by dogs."
"But what about now? Are you going to go back?"
"No," said Leliana. "As much as part of me would love to…that part of my life is over." Even if she didn’t feel able to tell Aveline why. "It’s time to start a new life in a new city." Again. Well, it had turned out alright the first time, the Maker would provide, she was sure of it. "I…I hear they have wonderful shoes in Kirkwall. Not as pretty as the ones in Orlais, of course, but very nice."
"Oh, no, nothing is ever as pretty as the finery in Orlais," said Aveline with heavy irony.
Leliana laughed. "I’m sorry, we Orlesians can be a little arrogant, no?"
"Just a little," said Aveline. "But we Fereldans know you can’t help it. All that fine food goes to your head."
"Oh is that our problem?" said Leliana. "I had always wondered." She smiled up at Aveline. Aveline was smiling too, hopefully Leliana hadn’t offended her too terribly before. Then Aveline twisted up her nose in disgust. Before Leliana could wonder what she’d done to offend her, she was distracted by a sharp shock of cold on her hand where it gripped the railing.
"Eee!" she squealed. "It’s raining!" It was hard enough keeping warm and dry on this ship without letting herself get soaked.
"Let’s continue this discussion later!" said Aveline, walking quickly towards the hatch.
"Absolutely," said Leliana. "Maybe I can convince you that Orlais isn’t so bad after all."
"Stranger things have happened!"
Leliana is singing the French folk song Il était un petit navire, about a boy who is nearly eaten by sailors then gets saved by the Virgin Mary. I spent some time looking for French songs about boats or oceans that wouldn't be too anachronistic, and I decided I liked this one best.
"Right, that’s it, you’re coming with me."
"What?" said Bethany.
"Shopping! I’m taking you to find something pretty to wear, instead of these tatty old robes. My treat." Leliana beamed at her expectantly.
"So when I complain to you that my mother is obsessed with us becoming nobles, your response is to make me go buy a bunch of fancy clothing?" asked Bethany affectionately.
"But of course!," said Leliana. "Clothes are the fun part of being noble. It’s all the politics and legal technicalities that are the boring part. At least for you, I have always liked politics myself."
Bethany leaned towards Leliana with a smile. She had a sudden self conscious awareness that they were sitting next to each other on her bed, but it wasn’t like there was anywhere else to sit now that Mother had filled the main room with legal documents and scrawled notes about old alliances. "And this has nothing to do with you being bored of wearing Chantry robes all the time and wanting to be able to live vicariously through me."
Leliana’s hand flew to her cheek in mock offence. "No, indeed, how can you suggest such a thing! And I do not wear Chantry robes all the time. Sometimes I have the chance to wear armour." Leliana’s tone made it clear that she did not consider this much of an improvement, although Bethany had always thought her armour was very pretty.
Of course, everything about Leliana was pretty.
"Ok, you’ve convinced me," said Bethany. "Let me tell Mother that we’re going out, and you can make look at as many ornate fabrics as you want, although I can’t guarantee that I’ll like any of them." It wasn’t as if she had anything better to do, and it would distract her from worrying about Marian and the others. Which was probably the real reason Leliana was here, bless her devious heart.
It was late afternoon when they finally made it back to Lowtown. Bethany shook her head and laughed at the tinkling sound her new earrings made.
"Leliana, I just want to say…"
"Hush." Leliana’s expression was suddenly very serious, and Bethany went still. She must have seen something. Lowtown could be a dangerous place at night.
Leliana pulled Bethany into a little alleyway, and pointed silently to Bethany’s house. With a quiet gasp, Bethany noticed that the lock had been broken, and that the door was hanging unevenly on it’s hinges. Bethany pushed forward and Leliana held her back with surprising strength. "Wait," she whispered. "We should find out what we’re dealing with or we’ll just get ourselves killed."
They stood in silence, Bethany’s heart beating like an angry drum. Straining to listen, she could finally make out parts of a conversation.
"…A nice story, but we know the apostate is here." A man’s voice, angry.
Something indistinct. A woman’s voice. Mother!
Someone was coming out of the house now: a Templar. "I’ll go search the houses next door," he said. "Good," said another voice from inside the house.
"It’s the Templars!" whispered Bethany urgently. "We have to go save Mother!"
Leliana shook her head. "I count at least three," she said. "We could not overpower them quickly, and your mother could easily be hurt during the fight. They should not hurt her, the Templars will realise you are not there and leave."
"I can’t just stand here," said Bethany. She tried to push past Leliana.
"Bethany." Leliana held Bethany’s head in her hands, and looked into her eyes with intense seriousness. "Bethany I know you are worried for your mother. You love her, and you want to keep her safe. But there is nothing you can do for her right now. It would hurt Leandra much more if you were to be captured and sent to the Circle. Trust me."
Bethany took a deep shuddering breath, and nodded. Leliana stopped holding her so tightly, but still stood close against her, shielding her from the eyes of the street. She was very warm, and Bethany could feel the quick puff of Leliana’s breath on her cheek, so much steadier than her own.
They stood and watched the house in silence.
Eventually the sounds of shouting stopped, and finally the Templars came out. Bethany’s heart untwisted itself when she saw her mother come to the door to see them out, looking upset but otherwise none the worse for wear.
"It’s only a matter of time until we find her," said one of the Templars. "Don’t think you can defy us for long. We’ll be back."
"I will see you then," said Mother, stiffly, and watched them leave with fire in her eyes.
Bethany collapsed against Leliana in relief, and Leliana gave her a quick hug. "Did I not tell you she would be fine?"
Bethany gave a quiet laugh. "You did. Thank you." She sighed and stood up straighter. "But I can’t go back, can I? They’ll be watching. And with Marian away we can’t just leave the city like we used to."
"No," said Leliana. "We need to find you somewhere safe to hide. I’d let you stay with me, but the Chantry is hardly the place to hide from Templars."
"Nor are the barracks or the alienage," said Bethany. "And I’m sure they’ll check all the inns. I suppose I could escape to Darktown like Anders did, I know a few people down there even if he’s not around to introduce me."
"Darktown is still not exactly safe,"said Leliana. "I think we can do better than that." She frowned in concentration for a while and then suddenly smiled, clapping her hands together softly with glee. "Wait! I know just the place!"
Leliana picked past a pile of mildewy curtains covered in dead bugs.
"Does this man ever clean?"
"You did try and aim for an uninhabited part of the house," said Bethany. It had been quite exciting, following Leliana up a rope onto a high balcony on the hidden side of the house, then watching her silently break her way in with practiced ease. Not something you saw a Chantry sister do every day.
Bethany brushed past a cobweb. "And really, you can’t…" She heard a click and instinctively fell to the floor. A thick arrow flew seemingly out of nowhere to bury itself into the wall behind them.
"Trap!" said Leliana.
"Thanks," said Bethany, deciding to stay on the floor for the time being. It was very dusty though. She sneezed, and tensed in case the noise set off any more unexpected surprises. "Are you sure Fenris won’t mind me staying in his house?"
Leliana smiled down at her. "Of course not! Not if he knew we were here. He’s just trying to keep it safe from burglars and his old friends from Tevinter." She stepped lightly towards a statue and carefully pulled out the crossbow that had been hidden behind it. "This is nice work," she said. "I wonder if Varric or Isabela helped him set it up. You should be glad to know the house is trapped, it will help keep you safe from the Templars."
"Assuming I survive long enough for them to find me. Maybe I’ll let you go first from now on."
"Good idea!" said Leliana cheerfully. "Let’s go this way, I bet that’s where we’ll find you a nice room to stay in."
After dodging a few more traps they did find a nice room, with a comfy looking bed, a small bookcase, and a drape-covered window looking out into a hidden courtyard. Leliana helped Bethany shift a cupboard in front of the window to make sure that noone would notice any lights or noises, and then the two of them sat down to properly catch their breath for the first time since Lowtown.
"Will you be alright here by yourself while I get you some things?" asked Leliana. Bethany nodded. "I’m sorry it’s so dusty. But it should only be for a little while."
"Oh don’t worry about that," said Bethany. She held out her hands and concentrated until a breeze started from the tips of her fingers, sucking the dust from the floor and bed coverings to dump it in a neat pile outside the door.
"Oh my!" laughed Leliana. "How ingenious!"
"My father taught it to me," said Bethany, feeling a faint flush of pride. "Apparently it’s one of the first spells they learn at the Circle, since it saves so much time on cleaning. My mother…my mother always said it was the ultimate proof that magic can be a force for good." She looked imploringly at Leliana. "Can you check on her for me? And tell her I’m fine, I don’t want her to worry."
"I’ll get a message to her, don’t worry," said Leliana.
"Thank you so much for all this," said Bethany. "If it wasn’t for you I’d be locked up in the Circle by now."
Leliana grasped her hand and squeezed. "It’s nothing, I’m glad to help" she said. "Now I have to go, I’ll see you later."
Bethany nodded and watched her leave. Then she had nothing left to do but wait. She wandered over to the bookcase with the hopes of finding something long and involving to read. She was going to have a lot of time to kill.
Bethany had gotten halfway through the most promising looking book, a rather dry history of the Tevinter occupation, when she was interrupted by Isabela cheerily peeking her head around the doorframe.
"I heard there was a fugitive from justice here in need of supplies?"
"Isabela!" said Bethany. "I am so glad to see you!"
"I’m glad to see you too, sweetness," she said. "And even more glad that you managed to escape from those blasted Templars. Hawke goes away for five minutes and they think they can get away with anything!" She dropped heavily onto the bed and started pulling things out of a large bag. "I’ve got some food, some spare clothes, what your mother said was your favourite staff, and various other bits and pieces. Including…these!" She pulled out a pack of cards.
Bethany laughed. "Those will come in handy. So you saw my mother? Is she alright?"
"It would take more than a few Templars to phase that woman," said Isabela. "She was glad to hear that you’re safe. Merril sends her regards, too, but says she isn’t sure she could climb into a window without falling down and waking up the neighbourhood. And Aveline says not to worry about the guard, she’ll keep them off your back."
"So much trouble just for me!" said Bethany. "I really appreciate it, thank you."
"Hawke would never forgive me if something happened to you," said Isabela. "And that woman is terrifying when she’s angry."
"Oh, so this is all for Marian’s benefit is it?" teased Bethany. She’d certainly noticed Isabela making eyes at her sister every chance she got.
"Well it’s not like I care about you, obviously" said Isabela with a grin. "Come on, I’ll teach you my favourite variety of Solitaire, though it’s not as much fun when you’re sober. This has gotten me through many a long night waiting for a boat to come in."
Two games and a bottle of weak beer later and Isabela was standing up to go. "Don’t worry," she said. "The house arrest should only be for a little while until we can come up with a more permanent solution. And Leliana said she’d pop by when she’s finished at the Chantry. Since the two of you were out together today she didn’t want to be seen to be acting suspiciously."
"Oh!" said Bethany happily. "How wonderful!" It wasn’t that she didn’t like Isabela, but she had wondered if she’d have a chance to see Leliana again. Suddenly her situation didn’t seem so grim.
"Oooh," said Isabela with a knowing look. "Like that is it? Well, I’m sure Fenris won’t mind you putting his bed to good use. Just don’t let her keep you up too late, you’ll wake the neighbours."
"What do you…Isabela. As if I would…she’s a Chantry sister!"
"Exactly. You should see some of the things I’ve seen Chantry sisters get up to," said Isabela with a leer. "And she has hidden depths, that woman, trust me. No humble minstrel is that talented with a pair of knives."
Bethany gave her a disapproving glare. "Oh alright, I’ll stop scandalising you," said Isabela. "Keep safe, ok?"
"You too," said Bethany. And then she was gone.
Bethany had fallen asleep over her cards by the time Leliana arrived, all the adrenaline from her escape gone sour and making her sleepy. She slowly woke to find herself being gently tucked in under the covers.
"Shhh," said Leliana. "Go back to sleep. I’ll try and come visit you tomorrow."
"Do you have to go right away?" asked Bethany, dozily. "It has been so boring, and I was looking forward to seeing you."
"I can stay if you like," said Leliana, and she sat carefully next to her on the end of the bed. Bethany sat up and shook her head to get the cobwebs out, then cast a faint glow throughout the room so that she could see better. "I’ve brought you some cookies," said Leliana, holding up a paper package carefully tied with string. "Difficult times are always easier to deal with when you have something sweet to eat."
"Thank you," said Bethany. She opened the package and took a cookie out for each of them before taking a bite. The rush of sugar did make her feel a little better. "Did you have any trouble at the Chantry?" she asked.
"Not really. The Templars did ask about you but I said we parted ways in Lowtown and they seemed to believe me. I didn’t like having to be polite to them though, I wanted to hit them all on the head for trying to steal you away from your family. As if you would ever be a danger to anyone!"
"I’m sorry for making you act against the Chantry," said Bethany. "That can’t be easy for you."
"I am sorry the Chantry made me act against them," said Leliana. "I know that it is taught that all mages should live in the Circle, but I have seen the Gallows, and I would not send my worst enemy there, let alone a friend. I hate to have to say it, but I do not like what the Chantry has become here. They do not seem to care for the poor or the unfortunate, and the Templars are a bunch of bullies. The Grand Cleric means well but I think she could do more to help the people of Kirkwall than she does. Sometimes I think I could do more good if I left the Chantry altogether."
"But your faith is so important to you!" Bethany had always looked up to Leliana as an example of what a good Andrastian should be. If she had her doubts what did that mean for the rest of them?
"I do not speak of abandoning my faith," said Leliana. "But the people of the Chantry are not the only ones who do the Maker’s will."
Bethany couldn’t argue with that. "Then what would you do instead?"
Leliana gave a sad sigh. "That is a question I ask myself daily!"
"I know the feeling," said Bethany. For a while she’d kept herself busy working for Athenril, and then saving for this trip to the Deep Roads, but now she was back to having no real purpose. She couldn’t see that changing once her sister returned and the Amells reclaimed their birthright, either, assuming they ever managed to.
"It is difficult isn’t it, not to know one’s place? When I was in Lothering, I thought…ah, but I am keeping you up with my babbling!"
"I like your babbling," said Bethany.
Leliana giggled. And was that a blush? "You are a good friend to lie so prettily," she said. "But you have always been a good friend to me, better than I deserve." She shifted across to sit closer to Bethany. "Well, if you wish to hear the story I shall tell it. You know you saved my life that day in Lothering, yes? I had been so certain, you see, that I knew what my purpose was, only to have my hopes dashed. Have I ever told you that I met the Hero of Ferelden? He is not as nice a man as the stories say..."
Bethany woke again much later to the faint hint of sunlight filtering around the edges of the cupboard against the window. Leliana was gone, but she had left a short note:
Bethany felt almost giddy. She didn’t like being on the run from the Templars, of course, but she did like the idea of more nights spent talking to Leliana, and Leliana alone, without her sister or anyone else monopolising her attention. She had come to enjoy Leliana’s company a great deal in the past few years, she always made Bethany feel calm and happy. And she was so beautiful, perhaps…Bethany reminded herself not to be silly. As if a virtuous, sophisticated woman like Leliana would be interested in someone as dull as Bethany, especially not when she was an apostate. Still, Bethany spent those parts of the morning not taken up with magic exercises or card games thinking about what she might say to Leliana when she came to visit. (She also peeked inside a book Isabela had packed for her, but she didn’t manage to get more than a few pages in before becoming too embarrassed to continue. Did people really do those things?)
I was sorry to leave you but my own bed was waiting, I would not want the other sisters to notice I was gone and think I was up to mischief. I am glad I did not wake you this time, you looked so peaceful.
I will try to visit again tonight. I hope you are not too bored without me!
As it turned out, the next person to visit Bethany was not Leliana after all, it was Marian. Her big sister stomped into the room a little after Bethany had finished her lunch of apples and cheese, holding a crossbow bolt in her hand and looking furious. Varric, Anders and Fenris were following close behind her. Bethany gave an awkward little wave.
"I hear that the Templars have been harassing you and Mother," said Marian with a familiar fire in her eyes. "Well, we’ll see about that."
Bethany walked wearily up the stairs back home, her fingers sore from setting bones and soothing fevers. She really didn't have much of a natural talent for healing, but Anders was off running the mage underground with Marian and it was hard to ignore the constant stream of human suffering that lay literally at her doorstep. There was joy to be found, too, in connecting with people and making a genuine positive difference in their lives, and Anders's assistant Peter dealt with most of the annoying practical details. She just wished it wasn't so tiring.
Just as she'd entered the first of the Amell Estate's sub basements she heard someone calling her name from the clinic. Bethany gave a sigh and started walking back. "What is it?" she called back.
"Bethany, come quick!" shouted Peter.
"Is it urgent?" Bethany really wasn't in the mood for dealing with some random latecomer. She'd been in the clinic for hours, surely it could wait until Anders' return. "I was really hoping I could…" She stepped through the doorway and stopped stock still as she took in the grisly tableau.
Marian was standing behind a table, covered in blood, her eyes staring at Bethany with a mixture of horror and hope. And on the table, her eyes closed, her skin grey, and an arrow sticking out of her chest, was Leliana.
"Maker's breath," breathed Bethany. It was as if the world had stopped and all she could see was Leliana. She ran to the table and tried to centre her thoughts to figure out what she should be doing. There was so much blood.
She motioned for Peter to turn Leliana on her side and saw that someone had already broken off the head of the arrow. She covered the wound with a clean cloth and started to carefully pull the arrow out, healing the pierced flesh as well as she could as she went. Leliana made a small whimpering sound and Bethany cursed her clumsy hands.
"What happened?" she asked Marian. "Are you alright? Where's Anders?"
"I'm fine, just a flesh wound," said Marian, breathlessly. "Anders got held up by some Templars, they saw him casting healing magic and decided to take him in for questioning. Bastards. And what happened…" She rubbed at her forehead. "I don't know! We were just walking through the docks, minding our own business, and these assassins came out of nowhere, trying to kill us. And they were fast, we didn't manage to catch any of the survivors. Definitely a professional hit. I checked out some of the bodies of the ones we killed, they looked like Kirkwall mercenaries but they'd been paid with Orlesian coin. I know I have a lot of enemies, but what have I ever done to any Orlesians?"
Marjolaine thought Bethany. It had only been a few months since Leliana had finally felt comfortable admitting to Bethany the real reason why she'd had to leave Orlais all those years ago. Had her past come back to haunt her?
Just then Anders burst through the door, looking frazzled and angry. "Blasted Templars!" he muttered, then gently pushed Bethany out of the way to attend to Leliana.
There was nothing more she could do to help her now. Bethany stepped out of the way and took a better look at Marian. Not all of the blood on her was Leliana's, there was a nasty gash on her arm and what looked like magically inflicted burn across her hip. Bethany started to do what she could to heal her sister's injuries.
"Could they have been targeting Leliana?" asked Bethany, reaching for a bandage.
"Possibly?" said Marian, clearly trying not to wince at Bethany's touch. "She's the one they attacked first, but they seemed to be trying pretty hard to kill all three of us. And why would anyone want to kill Leliana?"
"Mmm," said Bethany.
It was late in the evening before Leliana regained consciousness, the ever shadowed streets of DarkTown hidden now in the true darkness of night. Bethany was busy sorting and cleaning empty bottles and didn't notice the little movements Leliana was making until her arm flailed out and whacked Bethany in the shin.
"Leliana!" said Bethany. "You're awake!" She put down the bottle she'd been holding and shifted to hold Leliana's hand. Leliana's eyes flickered open and then she squinted into the yellowy torchlight of the clinic.
"Bethany?" she said. "Why are you…we were under attack! Where is Marian? And Anders?"
"They're fine," said Bethany. "Oh I am so glad to see that you're alright." She brushed Leliana's hair out of her eyes. "How do you feel?"
Leliana sat up and winced. "Very sore," she said. "But I will survive, I think." She looked down and put her hand to her chest, which had been carefully bandaged over the sticky remains of her smallclothes. She blushed and pulled up her sheet. "How embarrassing! I'm sorry, I didn't mean to, um…"
"No, it's fine!" said Bethany, now blushing herself.
There was a moment of mutual embarrassment as they both tried to think of something to say.
"Marian said your attackers were probably hired by an Orlesian," said Bethany. "Do you think the attack came from Marjolaine?"
"Perhaps," said Leliana. "But why now, when it has been so many years? I will have to deal with this." She gave a frown and sighed raggedly. "But not now." Leliana looked around and seemed to notice the darkness of the surrounding street for the first time. "But it is so late! Have you been sitting with me all this time? You are so good to me."
"I couldn't leave you all alone," said Bethany. "And I like being around you."
"Especially when I am unconscious and cannot ramble at you?" Leliana laughed briefly, and then winced. "But I like being with you as well. You are very dear to me. Perhaps I will regret saying this when I have returned to my senses, but…it has been a long time since I…since I felt this close to anyone." She ran her fingers gently over Bethany's hand, her touch sending little shivers across Bethany's skin. "I sometimes wish…" She looked up at Bethany, her eyes wide and beautiful.
"If I was brave," thought Bethany, "I would lean down and kiss her." But she was not brave.
"You are very dear to me as well," she said. Leliana smiled. Bethany moved back slightly. "I should let you rest."
"Do I spy a noble daughter of the great House Amell cooking sausages?"
"Oh no, what will the neighbours think," replied Bethany. Anders smiled at her and came in from the door leading to Darktown and the lower parts of the house. Bethany stirred the sausages some more and tried to decide if they were done cooking yet. "I've only been a noble for six months," she said. "I still feel strange asking anyone else to cook for me."
"Really? I've never had any such qualms," said Anders, nimbly flipping one of the sausages up into the air out of the pan with his long fingers and cooling it with magic before grabbing it again and taking a bite.
"Get away, you," she said. "These are for Leliana."
"That's a nice thought," he said, looking at the tray of breakfast foods Bethany had laid out, "but you'll need a bit more food than that. It's quite crowded down there this morning."
"Really, already?" Bethany groaned. "And I suppose you're here to steal Marian for goodness knows what thrilling adventures. I'm afraid I have to tell you she was up late last night drinking with Isabela, she probably won't be up for hours."
Anders grinned and took another bite of his sausage. With his mouth half full he said "Actually, no, I just followed the delicious smell. I know the ladies of this house are always sympathetic to a poor, starving Fereldan refugee." Swallowing, he added, "I do appreciate you helping out at the clinic, though. It's good to know that someone is taking care of the patients when I'm not there."
"I still think it would make more sense for Marian to take me along instead of you," said Bethany. "I'm no good at healing, and I don't mind the danger." She knew better than to suggest he let Merrill help out.
"She's just trying to keep you safe," said Anders. "You should feel lucky, not everyone has a family to look out for them."
"I suppose," sighed Bethany. "Anyway, if you're going to eat all my sausages you have to help me find something else to replace them."
"An excuse to poke through a fully stocked Hightown pantry?" said Anders. "You don't need to tell me twice." He opened a cupboard and started pulling out spices and sauces. He tipped a bottle and watched the contents slowly ooze down the inside edge. "Oh yes, I can definitely do something with this."
In the end they concocted a huge pankcake-like omelette made of sausages, eggs, and onion, adding new and interesting ingredients until Anders declared the amount of food sufficient for the population of the clinic. By this point, Bethany's mother and Bodahn had come down to the kitchen and started offering their own advice. Leandra then donated a large basket of pastries she'd been planning on feeding to the other members of the local neighbourood association, saying that they were much far less deserving than Ander's patients, and offered to help carry the basket down herself.
"I want to say hello to poor Sister Leliana," she said. "Fancy anyone shooting a Chantry sister! What is this city coming to?"
"She's not Sister Leliana anymore," said Bethany.
"About time too," muttered Anders under his breath.
At her mother's surprised expression Bethany added "It's…complicated. But I'm sure she'd love to see you." Bethany had initially nursed visions of surprising Leliana with breakfast alone, but she'd given up on that idea some time ago.
As the three of them entered the clinic they were mobbed by a large group of human and elven children. Looking over their heads, Bethany could see that the clinic was indeed quite full. Also, Leliana was still in bed, but she was deep in conversation with Varric and Isabela, and they were all sharing bread and cheese from a tray covered in half written manuscripts. Oh well. Bethany waved and they all waved back.
"Hello!" said one of the children. "Look at all my spots!" And he was indeed covered in a great many nasty looking red pustules, as were all the others.
"That…is an awful lot of spots," said Bethany's mother, in the tone of someone who was only just realising that health clinics are full of sick people.
"I've got even more!" said a little girl, and then there was a competition amongst the children to see who had the most, with much disagreement over the result.
"Hush, children, leave the fine ladies alone," said a harried looking elven woman. Bethany felt suddenly self conscious about the way she was dressed. The woman looked up at Anders. "You cooked the children breakfast?" she said. "Oh messere, you are kind!"
"You have Messeres Amell and Hawke here to thank for breakfast, not me," said Anders. The woman smiled at Bethany and her mother and Bethany smiled back, feeling a little guilty for not having thought of the other people in the clinic to start with.
"Messere Anders, I am so sorry, but would it be allowed for me to leave my children here for an hour or two?" asked the woman, "They should be no trouble. My mistress is waiting, and I daren't leave them alone with this rash. Lana's children had something similar last summer, they said it was something in the water, and all but one of them died."
"That's fine," said Anders with a smile. "We'll have your children right as rain by the time you get back,"
"Thankyou so much messeres!" said the woman, and then she rushed off towards the surface.
Anders said softly to Bethany "If this rash is what I think it is, I'll have to act quickly. It's a bit complicated, you take care of the others and I'll show you the spell later." More loudly he said "So! Who wants to be really brave and then get a piece of melon?"
When Bethany finally made her way across the clinic to Leliana's cot she had far from the vast and prettily arranged spread she'd been hoping to offer her. Instead there were some manhandled pieces of melon she'd managed to save from an over enthusiastic toddler, half a piece of pancake, and two pastries, all thrown together into an unappealing looking mess. There had been flowers, too, to start with, but Bethany had given them to a man whose sister hadn't made it through the night. Leandra was still sitting with him. Since Bethany had treated the woman she had the ever present worry that it was all her fault.
As she approached, Bethany could see Leliana screwing up her face into an adorable expression of annoyance.
"No! No! No!" she said. "You cannot put the love scene in Chapter 2! It is too soon! They have barely gotten to know each other yet!"
"Like that ever stopped anyone," said Isabela, taking a bite of cheese. "You can never have too many love scenes."
"I don't know about that," said Varric. "But look, Nightingale, if we don't draw the readers in now, they'll stop reading, and then noone will see the romantic reunion in chapter 5."
"But if the lovers kiss too early, why would anyone want to…" She stopped as Bethany approached. "Bethany!" she said.
"Um. Good morning," said Bethany. "Sorry to interrupt. I was hoping to bring you breakfast, but I'm not sure I've got enough left for everyone."
"Oh how dear of you!" said Leliana, with a beautiful smile, and Bethany decided that making her breakfast hadn't been such a bad idea after all.
Isabela tilted her head at Bethany with far too knowing a smile. "Breakfast in bed?" she said. "Leliana, you are a lucky girl. And don't worry about me, I've eaten far too much of this cheese already." She patted her stomach and puffed out her cheeks.
"Me too," said Leliana. She looked up and smiled at Bethany. "But I will still eat one of these pastries, they look delicious! How kind of you to think of me!"
Someone once told me that difficult times are always easier to deal with when you have something sweet to eat thought Bethany, but didn't say it. "I, uh…"
"I was just telling Varric and Isabela about Marjolaine," continued Leliana. "Well, I was before we got distracted. If she is to be a danger to those around me, they should know the truth. It is strange, to be honest about my past after so long. Strange, but also a relief."
"I always knew you were hiding something," said Isabela, without rancour.
"That's good to hear," said Bethany. "That it's a relief, that is. I, um…"
"Sis…Leliana!" said Bethany's mother. "I was so sorry to hear that you were injured! How are you feeling, you poor thing?"
"Much better, thank you," said Leliana. "Anders says I should be fine to go home whenever I like. But it seems I cannot leave until this man here admits that I am right about the story we are writing."
"You could always admit that I'm right," said Varric. "It saves time in the long run."
Bethany's mother laughed. "Good morning Varric, Isabela," she said. "What seems to be the problem? I used to write little stories myself, when I was young, although I never published any of them."
"Miss Prudish here doesn't like kissing," said Isabela.
"That's not true!" said Leliana. "I just think that true romance lies in the two lovers getting to know each other first, the anticipation makes the culmination of the romance all the sweeter. Miss…pirate here would have a love scene on every page."
"Hmmm," said Leandra. "I don't mean to sound cynical, but you will probably bring in more readers with a romantic scene early on. As long as it's tasteful of course."
"Oh, everything I write is tasteful, Leandra" said Varric with a…was he leering at Bethany's mother? Maker's breath. This whole conversation could not be more awkward.
"What do you think, Bethany?" asked Isabela. Wait, yes it could.
"Um. I think it would depend," she said. "On the characters. I…um…I don't know much about romance, really," she finished in a small voice.
"Oh, you're blushing, how adorable," said Isabela, slicing herself off another piece of cheese. She gave Bethany an unsubtle wink."Come on, Varric, let's go drag my…drag Marian out of bed. Do you want to help Leandra? I'm sure you have years of practice under your belt."
"At getting Marian out of bed? Well, I've spent years trying, if I ever succeed I'll let you know. But I'm certainly willing to help."
After her mother and the others had left Leliana smiled at Bethany with an impish expression. "You know, I think Varric may be a little sweet on your mother."
Bethany covered her ears. "I can't hear you," she said. "If I can't hear you it isn't true."
Leliana giggled. "I think it's sweet," she said. "But we shall speak of other matters if you prefer. Come, sit here next to me, and tell me about your morning."
"Gladly," said Bethany.
Leliana's hands were soft and quick, twisting Bethany's hair into braids and curls. It was strange to see herself slowly transform in the mirror in Leliana's quarters. The table in front of the mirror was littered with an amazing number of different brushes and combs and other things Bethany didn't even recognise. All this just to prepare for a small party! It was a wonder any of the nobility ever got anything done.
"Such pretty hair you have..." said Leliana, and her fingers stilled. Bethany looked up at her in the mirror, unsure. Leliana looked back up at her and smiled, and Bethany felt a gentle tug on her scalp as Leliana put in the final pin. "There!" she said. "What do you think?" Bethany looked at herself in the mirror properly now, taking in the delicate braids, the elegant gown, and the shining jewels around her throat.
"I look like a lady," she said, in surprise. "Thank you, I did not...I did not think I could look like this."
"You are a lady," said Leliana. "And a true beauty. A pretty dress, a few pins...these things cannot change what is already there. When I was in Orlais I saw many fine dresses and as for the hair...you would not believe the things people wore! But none of them..." Bethany felt Leliana's fingers gently run across her hair and then rest lightly on her shoulders. Then she stood back and tilted her head at Bethany with a smile."Have I ever told you about Lady Elise?"
Bethany laughed. "Yes. Thank you for not putting any songbirds in my hair."
"Ah, you already know all my stories! I shall have to think of new things to say, how terrible! Or perhaps I could stay quiet...but no, I do not think I could manage that."
"Oh, please don't," said Bethany. "Then I would have to think of something to say."
They smiled at each other in the mirror. "Well then," said Leliana. "Do you feel ready to be a spy?
"Sort of," said Bethany. "But I'm glad you're the one doing the actual spying. I'm no good at lying, I tend to just blurt out whatever I'm thinking."
"Do you?" asked Leliana. There was a pause, Bethany got the strange feeling that she'd somehow hurt Leliana's feelings. Leliana took a step to the side and started packing away her things.
"I wish I was like you," said Leliana, quietly. She gave a little sigh. "I am terrible at saying what I am thinking. I am good at talking, yes, but everything I say turns into a story, it becomes difficult to turn to someone and say simply that I...that I am angry with them. Or that I am...that I have feelings for them." She gave a quiet laugh. "Instead I will tell them the story of how there was once a great king who became so angry at at his dinner being served cold that he turned into a rage demon and destroyed his own kingdom. Or I will tell the tale of...I will tell some other childish tale. I think I am afraid that if I tell the simple truth without all my pretty words, noone will want to listen to me."
"I...I think I would like to hear those stories," said Bethany. "But I like to listen to everything you say. Even if the words are simple."
"Oh," said Leliana. "Well...that is...good." She stared at the comb in her hand as if unsure what to do with it. "It seems all my pretty words have abandoned me, and just when I was...um. We should go, yes? We do not wish to be late."
The early evening breeze was cool on Bethany's skin through her thin wrap. She shivered, and pulled it around her closer.
"Ah, you are cold!" said Leliana. "We should find you something warmer to wear. Silk is very pretty, but it is not always very practical."
Bethany shook her head. "It's fine. We don't have that far to walk, and I'm sure it will be warm at the de Launcets. And I like the idea of looking like a...what did you say? A desire demon?"
"No, indeed not! I would never say you looked like a demon. I said you look like a water nymph, which is not the same thing at all! Nymphs are old gods, older even than the Tevinter Imperium. Back in those days, the people of Ferelden believed that there was a god for every tree and river and stone, and the gods of water were called nymphs. It is said that when a nymph saw a man or woman she liked, she would come out of the water and take the form of a beautiful woman." Leliana held up the edge of Bethany's wrap, and then put her hand behind her ear, so that Bethany's earring fell into her palm. "The blue of the silk is like water flowing over your shoulders, while this stone is like sunlight glinting on the waves. And you are certainly beautiful."
"Oh," said Bethany. "I see. Yes." She felt like she should say something complimentary in return, but Leliana's words had gone to her head, along with the thrill of what they were about to attempt. And then there was Leliana herself. She claimed to have dressed so as to pass through the party without attracting notice, but Bethany could not imagine anyone failing to notice how lovely she looked, the way her coppery hair framed her smiling face, the way her hands moved when she talked, the way her lithe figure was outlined by the soft fabric of her dress. Maybe something about how if Bethany was a river, she would...no, that would sound silly. "You look, um...nice. Beautiful. You look beautiful. Too."
Leliana smiled. "Thank you," she said. "But you are sure you do not wish to return? Not just because you are cold, but because it could be dangerous, what we are trying to do. Even with your sister's protection it may be unwise to draw attention to yourself at such a public gathering."
"I don't mind a little danger," said Bethany. "Not for a good cause. And drawing attention to myself is the whole point, people will be surprised to see a known mage and it will be easier for you to prod them to reveal their opinions. Then mother and Marian will know who they can count on for support. And it's not like anyone else can do it, noone would look past the fact that Merril was an elf, and Anders would end up picking a fight with someone. And then we would be in trouble." The look of sad resignation on Merril's face when she'd explained the flaw in Leliana's original plan had broken Bethany's heart, and she'd decided then and there that she was going to throw a big fancy party for Merril at some point where all the guests were guaranteed not to be bigots. Having such a big house had to be good for something. "Anyway, you said yourself, the de Launcets are known to be mage sympathisers because of their son. I doubt they'd invite anyone who'd hand me in to the Templars."
They were nearly at Hightown now. Leliana's house was in the nicer end of Lowtown, near the markets, and the streets were still full of shoppers and merchants. It made Bethany a little nostalgic. "Perhaps not knowingly," said Leliana. "But I worry..."
Suddenly Leliana stopped. And Bethany might be a pampered noble now, but she still had some of the instincts of a smuggler and Lowtown inhabitant. Those instincts were telling her danger.
And she didn't have her staff! Well, she still had her magic, she'd just have to do the best she could. As Leliana stepped quickly against a wall Bethany bent to the ground, and pushed. The people standing nearest to her fell to the ground, with various cries of surprise and annoyance. "Sorry!" said Bethany. She looked around at them, and sure enough one of the "shoppers" was pulling out a knife. Maybe she didn't feel quite so nostalgic for Lowtown now. "Leliana!" she said, gesturing. "That man has a knife!"
Leliana had taken out her daggers. (From where? Bethany tried not to think about it too hard) "Stop!" said Leliana. "Tell me who you...". But instead the man pushed past the people around him and made a break for it. Bethany was inclined to let him go, random Lowtown violence was no reason to be late to a party, but Leliana started chasing after him.
Bethany followed after her, and quickly realised that while this dress might be prettier than her usual attire, it wasn't quite so good for running. "Why are we chasing him again?" she puffed, as she caught up to Leliana. "It's not like he actually hurt either of us."
"I recognise him!" she replied, seemingly less out of breath. "He is one of Marjolaine's men, the ones who shot me before!"
"Oh!" said Bethany. "Well then, we had better catch him hadn't we?"
Leliana gave her a quick grin, and then the two of them kept their breath for running, following the man across Lowtown to the factory district, where they lost him somewhere between a set of buildings. They found themselves in a dead end filled only with empty boxes and a few rats. Leliana glared at the wall in front of her with frustration, then started to climb it. "I will look for him from the roof," she said. Despite her skirts being just as long as Bethany's, she seemed to have no trouble finding footholds, smoothly pulling herself up as if by magic. Bethany, meanwhile, had no spell that would allow her to follow.
"I'll go see if he's around the other side," she said. Leliana nodded. "I will meet you back here in a few minutes if I do not catch him," she called down to Bethany. "Otherwise we will meet at the party." The party! Bethany had entirely forgotten about it. Well, there'd be time to worry about that later.
Bethany walked as quietly as she could back the way they had come, trying to keep to the shadows. Night was falling in earnest now, but the moon was full, and she felt very conspicuous in her finery.
Carefully poking her head around a corner she saw movement from the corner of her eye. Was that...yes! A door! And next to it, the man they'd been following, trying to open it. She stayed where she was and strained to see what was happening.
The door opened just a crack, and a voice with an Orlesian accent hissed "What are you doing here? You were not scheduled to report in until tomorrow!"
"She saw me!" he said. "I was following the red headed girl, just like you asked, and she saw me. Recognised me too, Maker be damned. And then she and some other girl chased me almost all the way here!"
"You idiot, you led her here? What were you thinking?"
"I didn't...I didn't know where else to go where I'd be safe. I'm sure I lost them, but. Let me me in quick, and noone'll be the wiser!"
"Fine, come in, before you bring the whole city guard here with your deafening shouts. But you will pay for your incompetence."
"Thank you, messere," said the man, and then he was inside, the door closed behind him.
Had that been Marjolaine? Bethany tried to imagine a face to go with the voice. It would be a sharp face, with a voice like that, beautiful, but not the sort of beauty you'd want to get near to. Well, except that Leliana had wanted to be near her, had been very close to her indeed, if Bethany was reading between the lines correctly. But that was beside the point.
Bethany carefully made her way back to the dead end, where Leliana was waiting. "I saw where he went!" she said.
"So did I," said Leliana. "He is with Marjolaine. She is here, I did not truly think it possible. And she is trying...she is really trying to kill me. After all this time!" She sounded so sad.
Bethany her hand on Leliana's shoulder. "Well then she's a horrible person," she said. "And obviously never deserved your trust. But you're not alone, I'm here. And...and all your other friends too. We're all here to protect you and help you. Why don't we talk to Marian about it tomorrow?"
Leliana smiled at her, but then her face fell. "Oh, but now that Marjolaine thinks the safe house is compromised, she will move as soon as she can. She will probably be gone by tomorrow! And I do not think we can take her on alone."
"Not just the two of us," said Bethany. "But I know where we can get some help."
Marian wobbled slightly on her feet. "Where are we going again?" she asked in a slurred voice.
"To the warehouse district, Hawke," said Isabela for the third time, with mild irritation. "To kill Leliana's ex."
"Not to kill!" said Leliana. "Just to...tell her to go away." She sounded like she was as much trying to convince herself as she was Isabela.
"Killing her would be much more sensible," said Fenris. "Then you would be guaranteed that she could no longer endanger you."
"Killing people is your solution to everything," said Leliana.
"You must admit, it is a very versatile solution," said Isabela. "Permanent, too."
"Hmmph," said Leliana.
"Anyway," said Bethany. "Thank you for coming. I did not mean to, uh, interrupt your game." She and Leliana had arrived at the Hanged Man to find Marian down to her smalls and completely drunk at a card table with a fully dressed Isabela and partially dressed Fenris. Leliana, Fenris and herself had been horribly embarrassed but Marian had found the situation hilarious, and had refused to listen to anyone's suggestion that she was perhaps a bit too drunk to assist in fighting Marjolaine. She had at least eventually agreed to putting her clothes back on.
Speaking of which, as much as she appreciated the chance to change into something more suited for battle, Bethany wasn't entirely comfortable in the magical robes Isabela had dug out for her from her voluminous wardrobe. "Why do you even own these?" she asked, trying to pull the skirt a little lower before realised what this did to the already low neckline. It felt more like she was wearing an overlarge belt with pauldrons than a dress. Not that Bethany was prudish, exactly, but she was very aware of how much skin she was showing, and the fact that Leliana seemed to be trying very hard not to look at her. And then there was the armour that Isabela had lent to Leliana...
Marian burst into giggles. "I'll explain it to you when you're older," she said with mock seriousness.
"Never mind," said Bethany, "I don't want to know." She cast a weak heal over her sister, hoping it would sober her up, but there wasn't really much she could do. Luckily, as Bethany had learned from past experience, Marian was still a formidable warrior even when she was drunk.
As they approached the warehouse Leliana held up her hand. "We must approach quietly," she said. "I can sneak onto the roof, there is a hidden access-way, and..."
"Pfft," said Marian. "You Orlesians always overcomplicate things." She stomped up to the door and then kicked it in. "GREETINGS FROM FERELDEN," she shouted as she drew her sword and then disappeared from sight into the room beyond.
Leliana sighed. "...or we can kick in the door and go in shouting."
"It is efficiently direct," said Fenris, with a small smile, and then he was into the fray as well, followed quickly by Leliana and Isabela.
Bethany followed behind them more carefully. As she reached the door she saw the chaos following in her sister's wake. From what she could tell, there had originally only been a few people in the room directly attached to the door, but more were rushing in from another internal doorway and there were arrows and swords flying everywhere, as well as magical attacks. Bethany saw a large woman with an axe rushing towards Leliana and she knocked her down with a bolt from her borrowed staff (for something so obscenely carved it was surprisingly powerful) Then she set herself up in a relatively safe position and threw out a wave of energy, knocking down several enemies. Now this she could do. It felt a little weird to admit it, even to herself, but she enjoyed fighting, enjoyed being good at what she was doing and having her magic be useful. There was also a certain dark satisfaction in hurting those who'd caused Leliana pain. So she did her best to cause them as much pain as possible.
Marjolaine was exactly as Bethany as imagined her. Even in defeat she held herself with arrogance and disdain. And despite her victory, Leliana's eyes held only pain and frustration, and her voiced quavered.
"Is that what you think?" she asked. "Moving to Kirkwall, my time in the Chantry...that it was all about you? Is it so impossible for you to imagine that I could have started a new life, one that had nothing to do with you and your plots?"
Marjolaine scoffed, and wiped a trickle of blood from her forehead. "A new life? Dedicating yourself to Andraste? Living in some hovel and helping the needy? Nobody changes that much. I know you, Leliana, I know what you are." She looked up at Bethany and the others. "Does she have you fooled? Well, you will soon learn her true nature. She is a viper, waiting to strike, only truly happy when she has some poor victim twisted around her finger."
"That's not true!" said Bethany.
Marjolaine laughed. "Oh I like this one, Leliana. Such an open, trusting face! And such lovely..."
"That's enough!" Leliana was standing straighter now, her voice no longer uncertain. "You are wrong about me Marjolaine, you always were. I am no threat to you, and you will no longer be a threat to me, or to my friends. Leave Kirkwall, go back to Orlais, and I will let you live. Remain, and I will not be so merciful."
Marjolaine gave a little dismissive shrug, as if she did not have an arrow pointing at her heart. As much as Bethany despised her, she could not help but be a little jealous of her self confidence. "Fine, I will go," said Marjolaine. "But things are still not settled between you and I, little one." And then she took her remaining henchmen, and she was gone.
"I...I need some fresh air," said Leliana, heading towards the door. Bethany, concerned, went to follow her, and then looked back into the room to see if anyone else was coming.
"Take as long as you like," said Isabela. "Did you see all those boxes? I'm thinking Marjolaine had some serious loot. Plus of course there's all those lovely corpses."
"Yeah, I'm just going to sit here and...watch Isabela molest these dead bodies," said Marian, sliding down the wall to flop into a loose slouch on the floor. Fenris was not usually all that interested in looting, but he took one look at Leliana's distraught expression and and turned away, looking awkward. Emotional moments were not really his thing.
So it was just Bethany and Leliana left standing outside the warehouse, alone together under the stars.
"Are you alright?" asked Bethany.
Leliana made an inarticulate sound of sadness. After a moment of indecision, Bethany wrapped her into a hug. "It's ok," she said. "I'm here." She took Leliana's hand and led them both to a box, where they sat down. Leliana rested her head on Bethany's shoulder and Bethany put her arm around her. She was very warm.
"Do you want to talk about it?"
Leliana shook her head. "Not now," she said. "Perhaps later. I am just...a little sad. I will feel better soon."
"Well, my shoulder is here as long as you want it." She gave Leliana a little squeeze.
"Thank you," said Leliana. She kissed Bethany on the cheek. Bethany kissed her on the forehead, and stroked her hair. Leliana hummed happily, and Bethany moved her hand to her cheek, wiping away a tear that had fallen there. Leliana looked up at her and smiled. Bethany smiled back, and they sat there smiling at each other for a moment. There was...something in the air between them. Bethany could feel her heart beating faster, and her chest felt tight. Without letting herself think about it she leaned forward and ever so gently kissed Leliana lightly on the lips.
She leaned back. Leliana was staring at her. Had that been...that had probably been completely inappropriate. Oh Maker. What had she just done? She cared about Leliana so much, here she was asking for Bethany's support and instead she'd kissed her, how much more selfish could she be? Leliana would never think of her that...and then Leliana leaned forward and kissed her back, not quite so gently, her lips parting ever so slightly against Bethany's. Leliana only moved back a fingersbreadth or so away, no more, and Bethany could feel Leliana's breath against her skin, warm and gentle and smelling of her. Bethany leaned forward and kissed her again, and did not pull away, instead their lips touched and stayed touching. The awareness of Leliana's touch flowed through Bethany's body like a lightening bolt, leaving a lingering, addictive warmth.
And then Bethany realised she had no idea how kissing worked. Did she just...stay here? Was she supposed to...move her lips, like she was eating? That didn't sound very nice. She'd seen people kiss, had read descriptions in some of Isabela's books, but she hadn't ever stopped to pay attention to the dynamics. Maker's breath she was out of her depth. This was a terrible idea, she was just embarrassing herself, she should probably move now before Leliana had to politely ask her to go. And then Leliana ran her hand up the side of Bethany's face and pulled her towards her, and then she did something with her lips and tongue and Bethany stopped thinking about very much at all.
Bethany came back to herself with the sound of a pointed cough in a deep rumbling voice.
She looked up from where she had pressed Leliana up against the wall (she had pressed Leliana up against the wall) and quickly moved backwards. She put her fingers to her lips, which felt wet and swollen (she had been kissing Leliana) and made an inarticulate sound of shock and shame. She pushed herself further back across the box they were sitting on. Leliana's face was flushed and her hair was askew, (Maker, Maker, what had they been doing? And who had seen them?) and she was looking over Bethany's shoulder with wide eyes. Bethany turned her head.
Fenris and Isabela were standing in the doorway to the warehouse. "Um, Bethany," said Fenris, looking pointedly at the sky. "You might want to..adjust your robes."
"Don't move on my account," said Isabela with a cheerful leer, making no effort to look away whatsoever. "I'm quite enjoying the view."
Bethany looked down. Her robes had gone from practically a belt to pauldrons to literally a belt with pauldrons, though there was nothing on her lower half for them to hold up apart from her underwear. At least they're clean, said a small, unhelpful voice.
"What's this?" called Marian, as she followed the others outside. "Maker above Bethany," she cried as she came through the door. Bethany winced. She was so loud they could probably hear her in the Chantry. "I can see your small clothes! Just wait until I tell Mother! And...canoodling in public! With Sister Leliana! Oh, my poor delicate eyes..."
"I'm so sorry!" said Bethany. "I, um..." She tried to pull down her robes without sitting up and flashing any more skin than she already had. "Could you all...turn around please?" she asked, trying not to die of embarrassment.
"Spoilsport," said Isabela. "It's not like you have anything to be ashamed of, your arse is a lot nicer than mine."
"I...thank you, but I'd still rather..."
"Fine, fine." They all turned around, and Bethany stood up, and offered her hand to Leliana. She looked as embarrassed as Bethany felt, her own skimpy outfit had ridden up and one of the oversized breast cups was sitting askew.
Bethany looked away, and blushed. "I, um...I'm really sorry," she said, as she tried to pull the creased fabric of her robes into as presentable a configuration as possible.
"You are?" asked Leliana. Her voice had a pointed edge to it.
"Yes! I mean, not about the...uh...but just for...for putting you in this position."
"Oh," said Leliana. They stood in silence for a moment, and Bethany shivered.
"Are you done molesting my sister?" asked Marian.
Leliana's face fell. "I'm sorry too," she said. "So, so sorry. I...I have to go." And then she pushed past the others and walked quickly away back towards her house, her face a picture of misery.
"What was that all about?" asked Marian.
Leliana had looked so sad and it was all Bethany's fault. "I am...the worst person in the history of Thedas," said Bethany.
"Oh I very much doubt that," said Isabela. "I mean...what about Loghain? He was pretty bad."
"But all she wanted was a friend and I took advantage of her. She's never going to want to speak to me again!"
"I very much doubt that too," said Isabela. "She had a pretty tight grip on your arse there, Sweetness." Bethany blushed and felt even worse. Isabela sighed. "Look, Bethany, I know Leliana, and I know women. Maybe she's feeling a bit...conflicted right now, but she cares about you, and whether or not the two of you end up...canoodling again she's not going to stop being your friend. Go talk to her, and discuss how you're feeling, and I'm sure you'll be able to work things out."
"Are you sure?" asked Bethany.
"Positive," said Isabela. "Give her a little while to calm herself down, and she'll want to clarify things as much as you do."
"It seems like reasonable advice to me," said Fenris. "Not that I am an expert on the subject of women. Or friends for that matter."
"Awww, don't say that Fenris," said Marian, punching him in the arm affectionately. "But Isabela is right. Do you want us to go with you?"
Bethany weighed up the options. Walk with the three people she'd just horribly embarrassed herself in front of, or walk alone with nothing to distract her from her own shame and confusion? Maybe if she prayed really hard the Maker would kill her on the spot and she wouldn't have to do either of them. But, that miracle not being forthcoming, she eventually decided that there was nothing Isabela or Marian could say that would be worse than the thoughts in her own head.
"Um. Alright," said Bethany. "Just to get me back to her house, I should probably talk to her alone."
"Great!" said Marian. She gave Bethany a hug, which did make her feel a little better. "We can walk Bethany to Leliana's house, and then go back to the Hanged Man and finish our game." She leered at Fenris. "I still haven't seen all of your tattoos."
Fenris groaned. "I wish I could say the same," he said.
"Actually, I wouldn't mind stopping by the Hanged Man first," said Bethany. "I, uh…don't want to be walking through the city dressed like this longer than I have to. Um. Not that there's anything wrong with your taste in clothes!"
Isabela laughed. "Don't worry, I'm not offended. What's fine for me is uncomfortable for you, and vice versa. It's these little differences that make the world interesting."
"Interesting, is that what you'd call it," said Bethany darkly.
"Come on," said Isabela. "Let's get into you a nice sensible ankle length dress and you'll feel much better about things."
Bethany knocked on Leliana's door and tried to think of what she was going to say. It occurred to her belatedly that Leliana might not even be there. But then she heard her voice through the door.
"Who is it?"
"Bethany," she said. "I came..." Why had she come? Leliana had made it clear that she wanted to be alone. "I came to apologise again. But I will leave you alone if you'd prefer."
"No, do not go. But...what are you apologising for?" Her voice sounded quavery, as if she'd been crying. Bethany cursed herself. She had made Leliana cry.
"I want to apologise for...for embarrassing you in front of everyone. And for taking advantage of you. You were feeling emotionally vulnerable, I should have respected that. I should have been a proper friend instead of a...instead of treating you with disrespect."
There was a sound of a bolt being pulled back, and Leliana opened the door. Her face was blotchy, she had been crying.
"You want to apologise for taking advantage of me?" she sniffed. "But...but I took advantage of you!"
"What?" said Bethany. "That's not...how were you taking advantage? You were feeling sad, and then I kissed you!"
"But I kissed you back!"
"We should not discuss this in the street," said Leliana, and stepped away from the door so that Bethany could come inside. "Would you... like a cup of tea? Or, um, to sit..." She stepped forward to gesture to her small couch just as Bethany was coming in, and they barely avoided bumping into each other. Bethany smiled apologetically and shifted past her to sit down. Leliana had lit a lamp, but it's feeble light could do not much to fill the gloom. Bethany cast a simple spell to make it brighter.
"I don't need any tea," she said. "But thank you."
Leliana looked down at her, seeming unsure whether it would be better to sit down or keep standing. She eventually decided to sit, but scrunched herself as far as possible over onto the other side of the couch.
"I know you kissed me," she said. "And it was...it was lovely. I do not want you to feel ashamed or guilty. But you are very young, and inexperienced, and I should not...should not encourage you to do things you may not be ready for, or to become attached to me when you..."
"Oh," said Bethany. "No, I...I know you would never...feel that way about me," she said. And she had known it, of course she had. If not before, then certainly when Leliana had run from her embrace. So why did her heart suddenly ache so? Leliana looked at her in surprise. Bethany frowned. "But I am not a child, Leliana. I knew what I was doing. Or at least, I should have."
"I know you are not a child," said Leliana, softly. "And I did not mean...." She sighed. "Have I ever told you about my first kiss?" she said.
"No," said Bethany.
Leliana looked out of the small window in her front room into the now empty street. "I was...very young," she said. "Younger than you. I had already known Marjolaine for many years, since I was little more than a girl, and after Lady Cecile's death she was all I knew of love, of affection. And I think she really cared for me, in her way. I was like a toy for her, she would dress me up in pretty clothes, and praise me when I learned my lessons well, and she was charmed by my naivete as she taught me to steal, to lie...to kill. I was very happy."
She paused and looked at Bethany. Not knowing what to say, Bethany put her hand on Leliana's, and Leliana gave a small sad smile. Bethany gave her hand a squeeze. "I was...still a child in some ways. I loved Marjolaine with all my heart, and so when she kissed me, I was so...flattered, that this beautiful women, so sophisticated, so mature, would see anything in a simple girl like me. We were in her quarters, she had invited me in for...for a game. It is something we play in Orlais, there is a checkered board, and coloured pieces...it doesn't matter. She won, and demanded a kiss, and so I gave it her. And then when she demanded more I did not...I did not know how to say no. I even convinced myself that it was what I wanted. She used my love, my...passion to manipulate me, and I would never, never want to do the same to you. "
"Oh Leliana," said Bethany.
"I had thought...I had thought that if you and I were to kiss, it should be somewhere romantic, like that bridge you like in the park, that I would kiss you gently, and tell you that I...that I love you. And then we would hold hands, and talk, and whether or not we were to be...to be lovers, or just friends, I would make you feel safe and cared for, and you would do the same for me. But instead...instead I have ruined everything, and made it sordid. And I am so sorry." She sniffed and wiped her eyes.
"You..." It felt like the room had tipped upside down, and what had been oppressive darkness had become blinding light. Bethany felt that she should speak further but the words stuck in her throat. And she could understand Leliana's concern, she would never have thought herself a prisoner of passion but kissing her before...even now, though the idea of sex was strange and terrifying, part of Bethany wanted nothing more than to give herself to Leliana, to have Leliana give herself in return, to lose herself in her touch, the smell of her soft skin. And she had thought about kissing Bethany, had been thinking about it long before tonight! "Leliana..." she said. "Leliana you...you do make me feel safe and cared for. I...there is noone in the world I trust more than you. You are not Marjolaine, or you would not be having these doubts. You chose not to be her, you are a good person, one of the best people I know. I must admit, I am not ready for...for much in the way of passion. At least not yet. But love... have you not said that love is a gift from the Maker? And passion too, I suppose."
"Yes," said Leliana, softly.
"And he has given us this gift...given us both this gift...if he has led us to each other...then we should not reject it. Should not..." Words failed her. She looked at Leliana with hope in her eyes.
Leliana smiled at her, and gave a slightly sodden laugh. "Yes, that would be very rude of us, would it not?''
"Exactly," said Bethany, her heart lifting. They held hands and smiled at each other in silence, and it was a perfect moment.
Leliana tilted her head a Bethany and batted her eyelashes. "So..." she began and then she laughed again. "It is my way, you see, to be coy, to hint, to make others fill in the empty spaces between my words. That way I do not have to admit to anything until I know where I stand. But I will not be coy with you. Do you love me, then, as I love you?"
"Oh, yes," said Bethany. "So much, for so long."
"Oh," breathed Leliana. "Oh I am glad to hear it, my darling, my dearest friend." She gave Bethany a mock frown, completely failing to hide her joyful smile. "But why did you not tell me!"
"Well why didn't you tell me?! I don't know anything about romance!" Bethany tried to frown at her as well, and failed just as miserably. She laughed. "This is the price you pay for being coy," she said. "Although...I must admit I like it sometimes, when you, uh..." Leliana smiled at her and Bethany could feel her face going pink "...when you are all...Orlesian. It's, um..." incredibly sexy "..nice."
"Nice, hmm?" said Leliana, with a knowing smile.
Bethany giggled nervously.
"I will not tease you," said Leliana. "Well, not too much." She gave a happy sigh and moved closer to Bethany. "Would it be alright if I embraced you?" she asked.
"I would like that better than anything," said Bethany. So they embraced. Being in Leliana's arms filled Bethany with a deep contentment. She kissed Leliana on the cheek.
"Ah, no, we cannot have that again!" said Leliana.
"Oh!" said Bethany, blushing.
"I am only teasing," said Leliana. "Here, kiss my other cheek." Bethany planted a large, loud, wet kiss on the side of her face. "Ah! Ewww!" Leliana giggled, and then grabbed Bethany's face and covered it in lots of tiny kisses. When she reached her forehead she stopped, and gave a single, gentle kiss in the centre and then looked Bethany in the eye with a serious expression. She leaned down and kissed Bethany on the lips, and then sighed. "You are...so beautiful," she said. "But we should send you home, it is late, and I am sure you family will worry about you."
Bethany gave an awkward laugh. "Actually on the way here Marian was giving me some...uh...very personal advice, and said she would tell Mother I may not be home until morning. But I...um...probably should go. It's not that I don't want...uh..." She gave an apologetic smile. "I'm sorry that I'm so...so awkward. I haven't...I've lived a very dull life, you see."
"Dull?" said Leliana. "With all the dragons and Blights and escaping from Templars? You are the opposite of dull, my friend. You are inexperienced in some ways, but...that can change. And there is no need to rush into these things, even between two lovers who are old hands at such matters." Bethany flushed at the word lovers. This was all definitely going to take some getting used to. "And besides..." said Leliana, leaning to speak softly into Bethany's ear, "...the anticipation can make it all the sweeter."
"Oh...my," said Bethany. Leliana grinned at her, looking very pleased with herself.
Bethany took a moment to compose herself, and then laughed ruefully. "You do like teasing me don't you?"
"Just a little. But come, I will walk you to the Hanged Man, where I assume we will find your sister, and if you like I will come visit you tomorrow."
Bethany smiled. "I would like that," she said. "Although, um...you may be in for a little teasing from Marian and Isabela."
"Ha! They do not scare me!" said Leliana.
"Glad to hear it," said Bethany. "And if you ever want to shut them up, just ask them about the exact status of their relationship."
Leliana laughed. "I'll bear that in mind." She stood, and offered Bethany her hand.
As they walked through the now empty market, Leliana said "By the way, by walking with you I do not mean to imply that you cannot take care of yourself," she said. "I just wish for a little more of your company. And it is dangerous in Lowtown at night."
"That's ok," said Bethany. "And...um...doesn't the danger make it romantic? Look at how pretty the stars are! And the...uh..."
"Romantic? Ah, yes! And the refuse on the ground, it is like...rose petals, creating a scented path under our feet."
"Exactly!" said Bethany. "So, we have a romantic location..." She took a deep breath, then leaned across and kissed Leliana lightly on the lips. "And here is...if not our first kiss, then at least a kiss. And now...I tell you I love you."
"I thought I was supposed to say that!" said Leliana. "Well then I shall. I love you. Ah, it is good to be able to say that to someone again."
Bethany reached out and held Leliana's hand. "And now, if I remember what you said correctly we...walk and talk about our feelings, am I right?"
Leliana laughed. "Yes. But our feelings about what? About shoes? I have many feelings about shoes."
"Yes, that sounds about right," said Bethany. "So, tell me your feelings about shoes..."