“This is ridiculous,” Cassandra says through grinding teeth. “I do not see how this is necessary, at all!”
Josephine tsks, her mouth twisting with polite disapproval. “Lady Cassandra, you are an important figure,” she reminds her-–as if Cassandra could ever forget the unwanted pedestals that lay strewn in her wake.
Cassandra huffs and only barely resists the childish urge to cross her arms and pout. “I am a Seeker of the Chantry and a member of the Inquisitor’s inner council. We will be there to prevent the Empress’ assassination, not to indulge in wasteful frivolities!”
A smile breaks over Josephine’s face, beautiful as the dawn cresting the horizon. “That is precisely why you must be ready!” She claps excitedly and sets down her note-board, rising from her desk to cross the short distance between them. Josephine extends her hands in invitation.
“May I have this dance, Lady Seeker?”
A blush steals up her throat to color Cassandra's cheeks. “But there is no music,” she protests weakly.
Josephine’s grin turns playful. “Then we shall have to make our own.”
Cassandra’s pulse quickens at the gleam in Josephine’s eye and she swallows it down, the sudden tightness in her throat. She nods, numbly resigned to her fate, and they fit together easily; their hands clasp and she nearly jumps when Josephine places a hand delicately at her waist.
She has no choice now but to move with Josephine’s guidance–-right, back, left, turn, again and again. Josephine’s skirt sweeps along with the movements, swishing in a rhythmic pattern that might be considered music, in certain circumstances.
“For a woman who says she doesn’t dance, Lady Cassandra, you do it quite well.”
Cassandra’s blush deepens. “You flatter me.” It comes out more breathless than deflecting, obvious to her own ears, but Josephine only giggles.
“It is deserved. You are a woman of many talents.”
Josephine artfully maneuvers Cassandra into a spin, a soft hand dragging lightly over the shoulders of her tunic. Cassandra’s skin tingles at the contact and she follows unconsciously.
“See?” Josephine says. “A natural.”
In perfect timing, Cassandra stumbles out of rhythm, her heart a jolting, hammering drum. “Ugh,” she says, pulling away. “You could teach the Inquisitor’s unicorn–-” her lip curls in a slight sneer “–-to dance better than me.”
“It would not be near as fun,” Josephine replies. “When would you like to try again? I’m sure I can ask Leliana for a song.”
Josephine’s eyes gleam molten in the firelight when Cassandra looks up, the ambassador's dark cheeks pinkened delightfully.
Cassandra’s hands curl into fists fitfully, clenching and relaxing in turns. “I cannot get out of this, can I?”
Josephine laughs, bright and airy. “No, unfortunately,” she says, with no trace of guilt. “So, same time tomorrow evening?”
A sigh escapes her and Cassandra nods. “Fine,” she says, resigned. “I shall endure.”
“Truly, a sacrifice that shall be recorded in history,” Josephine teases. She sets a hand to her chin and taps her fingers, her face lit with amusement. “A wayward Nevarran princess turning down a dance at the Winter Palace to focus on her duty. How… romantic.”
A warmth grows in Cassandra’s belly, spreading out into her limbs. “I… believe I have another matter to attend to,” she says quickly, the words tumbling from her lips in clumsy succession. “Good night, Lady Josephine.”
Cassandra gives a jerky bow and turns, back straight as she all but flees from the warm confines of Josephine’s office. Quick steps follow and a hand lands just below her shoulder. She turns, skin scorched at the touch, to meet cognac-colored eyes turned molten.
“Call me Josie.” The words are low, husky. Pleasant. Josephine is all smiles, but this now feels different–-from what, Cassandra cannot say, but it is a slow-building revelation all the same. “I would appreciate being better acquainted; we share a common cause, after all.”
“I… would like that,” Cassandra admits slowly. Her gaze dips to Josephine’s hand on her upper arm and back to her face with a renewed rush of heat. “Just Cassandra would be fine, in that case.”
Josephine smiles, and Cassandra reads an unfamiliar sense of triumph in the way she moves away. “Tomorrow night, then. I look forward to our next lesson!”
Cassandra is trained in the way of war, but she knows a master strategist when she sees one, and the way Josie’s hair artfully escapes her chignon is nothing but a well-wrought plot to distract from focusing on her artful maneuvering of the situation.
“Tomorrow, then,” Cassandra agrees, knowing she has lost this fight. She bows her head, in acknowledgment of her defeat and in parting. “Goodnight, Josie.”