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Love They Say

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“All I’m saying is that I don’t trust her,” Susan told Garibaldi as they walked the battlements together.

Garibaldi rolled his eyes. Of course she didn’t. Out loud he said, “Ivanova--Susan--you don’t even know her.”

“She’s Circle, Michael,” Susan responded, as if that should explain everything.

“There are no more Circles, technically,” Garibaldi pointed out. “Not for what, a year now?”

“Doesn’t matter,” the Captain said, squaring her jaw. “Once a Circle mage, always a Circle mage.”

“Sure,” he replied, rolling his eyes again when she glanced away from him. “But… can’t you just give her a chance?”

Susan didn’t respond but did shoot him a dirty look.

Garibaldi sighed, redirecting his gaze to the fort’s approach. The new mage had arrived at the Babylon outpost days ago and Susan had refused to be in the same room as her ever since. To Garibaldi’s knowledge--and as chief of security of the Babylon outpost, he knew a lot--Susan hadn’t even laid eyes on the poor woman, but whenever someone tried to convince Susan to give the mage a chance, Susan had refused. Commander Sheridan had even tried to trick Susan into eating dinner with the mage and as soon as Susan had realized what was happening, she’d vanished for hours. Garibaldi still wasn’t sure how she’d pulled it off or where she’d gone.

For several minutes the two paced the battlements in silence before Susan suddenly burst out, “Why do we even need a Circle liaison in the first place?!”

“She’s not Circle.” Garibaldi gave a long suffering sigh; he had made that statement more times than he could count in recent days. “And because we need someone to provide a link to mages passing through to convince them to join the Inquisitor and provide some insight into why mages may or may not agree with the Inquisitor’s decisions. We are a diplomatic mission, remember?”

He received a noncommittal grunt for his efforts. As highly competent as Susan was, the elf could be extraordinarily frustrating sometimes. Ordinarily he approved of her pragmatic approach to life, and her almost dwarf-like sensibility.

And then, there were times like now, when she was no more moveable than the Stone itself. “That doesn’t mean I have to like her.”

Garibaldi groaned. “Fine. You don’t have to like her. But you can’t kill her.”

“Fine. Just so we’re clear on that.”

He would have thrown his hands up in the air if it wouldn’t have looked completely undignified. As it was, he gave her a level stare--or as close to one as he could get given the height difference between an average-sized dwarf and a fairly tall elf. “You’re a real pain in the ass sometimes, Captain.”

That earned a small smile out of her. “I try, Chief.” The second in command of the Babylon outpost adjusted her armor. The steel of her breastplate shone in the afternoon sun, and Garibaldi had the feeling that she was doing her best to be as intimidating as possible despite her assurances. Not that she had to try hard--over the time they’d been serving together in the Inquisition, Captain Susan Ivanova had proven formidable in both command and on the field.

Soon, they reached the stairs that would lead them down to Commander Sheridan’s office. They passed a few guardsmen--human, mostly, even this close to Orzammar--before Garibaldi knocked on the heavy wooden door. Susan exhaled noisily.

“Remember: no killing the mage,” Garibaldi muttered to her. She glared back at him, but didn’t answer.

“Come in,” the Commander called. Susan pushed the door open, squaring her shoulders and walking in. Garibaldi trailed in behind her, deciding that if worse came to worse he could dive back out the door if Susan tried to stab the new mage.

“Captain Ivanova, Captain Garibaldi,” greeted Commander Sheridan, standing. Another surface dwarf, he kept his beard close-cropped where Garibaldi shaved his down to stubble for convenience’s sake. Even here, safe within the comfort of the fortress that comprised the bulk of the Babylon outpost, Sheridan, like Ivanova, was in full armor though his gloves and helm rested on the corner of his desk. Sheridan gave the newcomers a warm grin and waved to the chairs in front of his desk. “Mage Winters will be here momentarily.”

Susan glowered but took a seat.

Sheridan sighed. “Susan, it’s not that bad.”

“Yes, it is.”

Garibaldi and Sheridan exchanged exasperated looks.

Apparently having taken no notice of the exchanged looks, Susan continued, “I just don’t see why I have to meet her. I am perfectly capable of doing my job without some mage and she is, presumably, capable of doing hers without me around!”

“Captain,” Sheridan said, his voice brooking no argument. “You are here as a member of the Inquisition welcoming a valuable asset who can add her intelligence and abilities to ours. Is that clear?”

“Yes, sir,” Susan said, still glaring.

The Commander frowned. “And try not to glare at her.”

Susan arched an eyebrow though her expression eased into one of annoyed disdain rather than pure fury.

“Ivanova…” Sheridan’s tone clearly indicated his rising annoyance with his second in command.

“Dammit, John--!”

Garibaldi shifted uncomfortably. He knew the Commander and Captain had a long history but she rarely used his first name in public unless she was really upset.

Further words from either party were cut off by a brief knock on the door. Sheridan gave Susan a quelling look before raising his voice slightly. “Come in.”

The door edged open. Sheridan and Garibaldi immediately stood, facing the newcomer. Ivanova followed suit after a moment, visibly bracing herself before turning to face the mage.

Mage Talia Winters stepped through the door, a warm smile on her lips. “Good afternoon, Commander, Captains.”

“Mage Winters, it’s good to see you again. I hope you’ve settled in well?” Sheridan asked, returning her smile.

“Call me Talia, please, Commander. And yes, the quarters are more than satisfactory. Thank you for your help with those.”

“Anytime, Mage Winters--Talia.”

Susan remained silent, arms crossed, studying the mage. A human, blue-eyed and with shoulder-length blonde hair, close to the elf’s height. Susan’s face had been grimly neutral just before the mage entered the room, but for a moment Garibaldi thought he saw something flicker there. Then the moment was gone, and the dour expression was back.

Talia’s smile faltered slightly and she looked between the Captain and Commander, clearly confused and more than a little curious.

Sheridan sighed quietly but his voice was calm and authoritative as he said, “Mage Winters, I’d like to introduce you to my second in command, Captain Susan Ivanova. Captain Ivanova has been with the Inquisition from the beginning, a new Warden from Ferelden.”

Talia’s eyes lit up. “It’s a pleasure to meet you at last, Captain. A Ferelden Warden? Then you must know the Hero of Ferelden!”

Susan shot an annoyed look at Sheridan who smiled back, clearly unrepentant. “Yes, I’ve met her. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m in the middle of fifteen things, all of them annoying. Good day.” Susan gave the Commander a curt nod and glare before neatly sidestepping the confused mage and stalking out of the office.

“Sorry about that. Captain Ivanova is very busy.” Garibaldi offered the mage a rakish grin, and his hand. “Captain Michael Garibaldi.”

“Nice to meet you,” Talia said, taking his hand in hers and shaking it. She had a surprisingly strong grip for both a human and a mage. He raised an eyebrow at her.

The woman gave him a small, satisfied smile in return. “No mage should rely solely on magic,” she answered simply.

“A very practical viewpoint,” Sheridan said. “Mage Winters, Captain Garibaldi is responsible for security in the Babylon outpost. If you have any concerns, whether for your own safety or how to improve anything, he’s who you should speak with.”

“Oh, so you’re the one everyone calls the Chief.” Talia’s eyes widened with understanding.

“That’s me. I’m not much of a stickler for rank, so Chief suits me fine.”

“We only call him ‘captain’ at formal events like these and when he’s in trouble,” added Sheridan with just a hint of a smile.

“Which is often,” Garibaldi agreed. “My office is on the ground floor of the main fortress. I can walk you there, so you know where it is?”

“Thank you for the offer, but I really should be on my way to the library at the moment. I’m supposed to meet with the librarian?”

“Ah, Lyta,” said Sheridan, nodding. “She’s a good dwarf. You may not have to worry about being late; she and Brother Lennier are likely still arguing about how best to organize the history section.”

“Still,” Talia said. “I hate to make a bad first impression.” Her smile dimming, she looked toward the door. “Speaking of which…”

“Ah, that’s just Susan,” said Garibaldi. “Don’t let it bother you.”

“In that case, I’ll take my leave.” Talia gave them each a nod and let herself out of the office. Garibaldi counted silently, making it to six before Sheridan leaned over his desk and hissed, “Find Captain Ivanova and tell her to meet me in my office first thing after lunch. No excuses.”

“Sure thing.” Garibaldi offered Sheridan a lazy salute and let himself out, pausing just outside of the office. Susan was pissy and avoiding everyone, which meant… right. The tower. It was always the tower.

Some time and a very exhausting hike up the stairs later, and Garibaldi opened the trap door that led to the top of the tallest tower in the outpost. If she wasn’t up here… But she was. Thankfully. Because that was a hell of a climb.

“You know, most people look over paperwork in enclosed rooms.”

“Most people don’t climb all the way up here to bother me,” Susan said, not looking up from whatever correspondence she was currently reading.

“Yeah, well. Sheridan wants to see you first thing after lunch. Which means you may want to start climbing now, given how long it took me to get up here.”

At that, Susan did glance over at where he was still standing by the door. “I’m busy.”

“Think it has something to do with you and Mage Winters,” Garibaldi said, as if she hadn’t spoken.

Susan… did something. Not flinched, but there was some sort of response. Garibaldi, being Garibaldi, had to poke. “You know, I think he’s worried you might try and attack her.”

“I’m not going to attack her,” Susan said, gritting her teeth visibly.

“Might want to tell him that. Maybe her, too. Poor little mage looked like you’d kicked her puppy after you left. Wanted to know if she’d made a bad first impression on you. I don’t think you stayed long enough to get a first impression, but--”

“She made a perfectly fine first impression.”

“Which is why you left.”

Garibaldi could have sworn that he saw her eye twitch. “I had things to do.”

He snorted. “Yeah. You had to go all the way back to your office to grab paperwork that’s been sitting there for a week and then come all the way back up here to do it. Come on, Susan, what’s up? I know you don’t like mages, but--”

“It’s not that,” Susan snapped. “It’s--” She shut her mouth, visibly frustrated.

“It’s… what?” Garibaldi cocked his head at her with a small smirk.

“She’s not what I expected,” Susan finally said.

“Not what--Susan, you barely said two words to her. What were you--?” As Susan continued to stare out at the outpost grounds grimly, Garibaldi’s eyes widened in comprehension. “Wait. You think she’s cute.”

“That’s not what I’m saying. That’s what you’re saying.”

“Me? I’m in a perfectly good relationship. I don’t have to go looking for cute these days. You, though?” He crossed his arms, considering. “You’ve been alone the entire time I’ve known you. There’s no shame in looking.”

“She’s a mage. And a human,” Susan threw in, as an afterthought.

“So? Delenn’s a human, and she and Sheridan seem to have a good thing.”

“Humans don’t throw dwarves into alienages.”

“She was in a Circle tower, I doubt she was personally responsible for throwing any elves into any alienages. She doesn’t look that old.”

“Which brings me back to my first issue: she’s a mage.”

Garibaldi sighed, loudly and theatrically. “Susan. You think she’s cute. She thinks she insulted you somehow. Why not go talk to her? Maybe you’ll find something completely new to dislike and that’ll be the end of that and we can all go back to doing our jobs. Speaking of which, Sheridan still wants to yell at you.”

Susan grunted, but started gathering her papers. “Maybe.”

“That’s all I needed to hear. Just promise me that you’ll find Mage Winters and try to have a civil conversation with her? Remember: new topics to hate her on that aren’t the Circle. That’s all I’m asking.”

“And you’ll leave me alone?”

“I promise.” He held the trap door open while Susan climbed through it and followed her back down.

So Susan thought Talia was attractive. At least this would keep him entertained, if nothing else.