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Skyhold Academy Seasons

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 Something There 

Cole made his way through the lines of tables, on his way to find one little group in particular. After a moment of searching he found them - Jim, Rory, and Nessa, all sitting at the end of the table in the corner. He approached shyly, not wanting to interrupt their conversation.

“Oh, hey, Cole,” said Nessa, moving her bag so he could take a seat. “I’m surprised to see you here.”

“Yeah, we figured you and your folks would be off hanging out with baby Skye,” said Jim.

“I’m trying not to be in the way,” Cole explained. “So I came for a walk. And for breakfast. Also, I’m confused.” He slid carefully into the seat.

“What about?” Rory asked curiously.

“Well, some of the students are reading your summer assignment story about my parents,” he said, nodding to her and Jim in turn. “And I’m confused by their reactions.”

“Yeah? What’d they say?” Jim’s eyes were wide.

“They sounded angry. How dare you?! and Who told you you were allowed to give me these feels? But they loved it. And they wanted more. They’re angry but they like it. Why?”

Nessa immediately started to laugh. “It’s a sort of strange way of showing approval,” she told him. “Like when we explained that Rory saying something is killing her with feels is a good thing. Same basic idea.”

“So they... like the feels,” Cole said, in a tone that suggested he was trying to absorb all this new information.

“Yeah, it’s like when you read a sad poem,” Rory said. “And it hurts, but in the best possible way.”

“I see. You’re making them discover, new depths to delve into, new thoughts to tap. Creating feelings from words, the sweetest form of alchemy.”

“Exactly.” Rory smiled. “Like when you write your poetry. Just with more squeeing.”

He considered that, nodding slightly. After a few moments of deliberation, he cocked his head. “And why won’t you let Krem read it?”

At that, Rory turned very red. Her gaze dropped down to her plate where she busied her hands with buttering and rebuttering a slice of toast.

“He said he would like to read it,” Cole continued. “When we were listening to Professor Tethras’s story. He meant it. He’s still wondering if he can.”

“I thought you gave him that story, Rors,” said Jim.

“Yeah, well...” she mumbled.

“You let so many others read it - even the teachers. Why not him?” Cole looked quizzical.

“Cole, he’s in it.” She looked around, dropping her voice. “He’s a character in the story.”

“Why does that mean he can’t read it? I think he’d like to be in your stories.”

Nessa giggled and Rory shot her a look. Jim shrugged. “Well, I mean, if you’re embarrassed by our writing, Rory...” he teased.

“Jim, you know I’ve never been embarrassed by a single thing we’ve ever written. I have such confidence in that story, I agreed to turn it in for a grade. But...” she looked around again, leaning forward. “I’m not going to let Krem read a story where I have Mrs. Rutherford call him ‘cute as a button’!”

“Maybe he would like being as cute as a button,” Cole suggested in pure innocence. “It might make him smile. I could take the story to him.”

Her friends and Cole all blinked at Rory for several seconds. After a few moments, she groaned and put her head down on the table. “Ugh. Fine.” She reached into her bag and fished out a copy, handing it to Cole.

“He’ll like this. I’ll take it to him now.”

“Thanks, Cole.” Jim smiled.

“You’re welcome. I hope it was helpful - I like helping.” He returned the smile and hurried off.

“And now, if anyone needs me, I’ll be in a hole somewhere, waiting for the fallout from my social suicide.” Rory sighed, sliding her hands through her hair.

Thus she spent the rest of the day on pins and needles. And thus she was more than a little surprised the next afternoon when, as she was on her way to find her Partners in Crime after Poetry Club, a voice stopped her.

“Excuse me, Rory?”

“Hmm?” She turned and abruptly froze at the sight of Krem. “Oh! Oh, hi! Uh. Hello. What can I... do for you?” Five seconds into the conversation and she was already blushing. She sighed internally.

“I wanted to give back the story,” he said with a smile, handing her the papers. “Thanks for letting me read it - you and Jim are good at this.”

“Oh, wow, thanks.” She smiled, trying not to turn even redder. “That's... really nice of you to say. I uh... we have pretty active imaginations, I guess, he and I.”

“You do. But I was wondering…” He paused. “How would you like to actually see the place you sent the characters on their date in the story? You know, do a little on-site research?”

“On-site research? That would be pretty cool, actually, I -” Once again, she froze, her eyes slowly widening in disbelief as she parsed out his words. “Wait... I... what?”

“Maybe Friday at six? Unless you have plans, I mean. I'd love to get a better look at... how you write your stories.”

She looked hilariously gobsmacked, like she was sure her ears were deceiving her. “I... Friday at six?” She stammered. “Yeah, I… I don’t have plans. Nope, none at all. Well, now I do, but I didn't before.” Shut your mouth before more stupid things escape it, Rory Norbertson, she ordered herself, clearing her throat. "I mean, that sounds nice, I'd like that. Thanks.”

“Great.” He smiled. “I'll - I'll meet you at the main entrance, then. Like in the story.”

Don't squeal, she silently intoned, in between reminding herself to breathe. You can squeal in your room later. Don't squeal. She managed to give a little warm laugh. “Yeah, that'll be perfect. I... Friday at six. I look forward to it.”

“Me too.” And with that, he grinned and sauntered away.

For her part, Rory felt a little bit like a statue, frozen in place as she watched him walk away. As soon as he was gone, she all but collapsed against the wall, blinking. Maker's breath, Cremisius Aclassi just asked me out on a date. HE asked ME. He's so... well, him. And I'm so... well, me. And he liked my fanfic and oh Maker, Nessa and Jim are never ever ever going to believe this.

Suddenly a voice cut through her thoughts. “Rory? Are you okay?”

"What?” She looked up to see Nessa standing there, as if summoned by her thoughts. “Oh, Nessa! Oh, I was just going to text you! Oh, sweet Maker, Ness, I need you to carry me back to the dorms. I think my legs have stopped working and I might swoon."

Nessa laughed at that. “What in the world happened?”

“Oh, Maker. Ohhhh, Andraste. Ness...” She reached out to take her friend’s shoulders. “Krem just asked me to dinner. I mean, what? I can't. I have lost the ability to can."

“Wait.” Nessa blinked. “Wait. What?”

“I know right?! I'm gobsmacked. And oh, Maker, it was the most suave and charming thing I've ever heard in my life. I don't know how I managed to make words come out of my mouth that made any kind of sense.”

“Okay, hold on, I require a lot of details and Jim's gonna want them too. Let me text him.” She did so, tapping frantically at her phone, which chimed with a response moments later. “He's just getting off work at the post office. Let's go meet him.”

“You have way more faith in my legs than I do at the moment.” Rory chuckled weakly. “Oh, Maker, Nessa, what even is air?”

“Come on, you can make it.” Nessa linked her arm in Rory’s, helping her walk to where Jim was waiting for them in the courtyard by the Chantry, looking ravenously curious. “All right, tell us everything,” she said as they sat down.

“Okay. Well. I'm not entirely convinced this isn't a dream or perhaps I died and went to Heaven but... he tracked me down to return the fanfic and said he enjoyed it and then... Oh, Maker, he asked if I wanted to go to the restaurant in the story for on-site research. He legit said ‘do a little on-site research’ and how I managed to answer without swooning is beyond me.”

Nessa fully gaped at her in amazement. “That is. The greatest thing. It's like you stepped into your fanfic!”

“Right?! And guys. Guys. He's going to meet me in the main hall, quote, ‘like in the story’. He was all like ‘I'd love to get a better look at how you write your stories’ and there was this pause in the middle and why even was that pause there and Maker's breath you guys I'm going to die.”

“So he definitely read it for real. Maker's breath, Rors!”

“I knooooow.” She drew the monosyllable into about five, just sort of collapsing onto Jim. “Is this the real life or is this just fantasy? Ugh, he's so stupidly perfect and I'm so far away from perfect... I don't even live in the same country as perfect. Man, I have no clue what I'm even going to say for an entire dinner.”

Both Jim and Nessa burst out laughing. “Rors, you sound exactly like the way we write Professor Rutherford talking about Mrs. Rutherford!” Jim said.

“I'm so sorry for all the times I ever giggled about this because the struggle is real! Poor Professor Rutherford, no wonder he kept running away! Oh, Maker and Andraste preserve me.” She rubbed her cheeks with both hands.

“Okay, so important things to consider,” Nessa interjected. “What are you going to wear?”

“Oh Maker... I uh... well, I have a purple dress. I wore it that one time when President Theirin came to visit. Maybe that'll do?”

“You look adorable in purple, that's perfect,” Nessa agreed. “Oh, do you think he'll get you flowers like Mrs. R said he should do in the story?”

“If he does, I'll probably die. My heart will probably just explode from sheer proximity to such perfection.” She considered that. “Hmm, not a bad way to go, actually…”

“I can think of worse things.”

“Oh man.” Jim was shaking his head. “This is just... unbelievable. You guys could end up being the next Cullevelyan.” He laughed.

Rory’s eyes went wide. “Oh, man. No. I can't even fathom that. Did we not just establish how perfect he is compared to me? Also, if his adorableness doesn't kill me, I will have a lot of really upset fangirls to contend with.”

“That is unfortunately true,” Jim acknowledged. “Although none of Professor R's fangirls tried to kill Miss T back when she was Miss T. Maybe they'll start shipping the two of you!”

“This is the craziest thing that has ever happened to me, you guys,” Rory said. “And I say that as a student in a school where the teachers performed karaoke and my real life OTP was married by the President of Ferelden.”

“And they now have a baby who was born while our writing instructor read us his own fanfic about said OTP,” Nessa pointed out.”

“Right?” Rory said. “And yet somehow... this is still crazier than that. Like, in a good way, of course. A really, really good way. But still crazy.” She took a deep breath.

“Are you going to survive until Friday?” Jim asked with a tiny grin. “Do we need to take you to see Madam Giselle?”

“I'll try to survive. No promises. I might hyperventilate before then, to be honest.”

“Maybe we should take her to Mrs. R instead,” Nessa suggested “She has some idea of how Rors must be feeling, maybe she can advise.”

“That's... actually not a bad idea. I mean, like I said - I have no clue what I'm doing, you guys know that. I hate to bother her for something so... this. But…”

“Oh please, I bet she'd love this!” Nessa enthused. “She adores Krem to pieces, anyway, she'll probably be thrilled.”

“Well, uh ... Maker knows I can use all the help I can get. If you think she'll be fine with it, maybe I should talk to her.”

“She always says we can come to her about anything and she'll do whatever she can to help,” said Jim. “C’mon.”

It was Friday at approximately 5:45 and Rory stood shifting back and forth in the main hall, fussing with the hem of her dress. Mrs. Rutherford’s advice was encouraging – “Mind your manners, be yourself, and smile, because he likes you” – but she was still nervous. “Okay. It’s fine. Everything’s fine. Just fine. You’re just... going to get dinner. With the cutest human being on the planet. At the exact time at the exact restaurant that you wrote about in your fanfic. Ohhh, Maker.”

“Hey, there you are,” he said, coming into view. “You look very pretty. Are you ready?”

“Hi. Thanks. You look...” She paused, blinking. “I’m a writer, and all the adjectives just fell out of my brain. You look great. I, uh… yeah. Yeah, I’m ready. If you are, that is.” She was already blushing and the evening had hardly begun. Great.

He chuckled, a faint pink dusting his cheeks, and handed her a single daisy. “It’s not what it should be, really, but something about daisies makes me think of you. Very unassuming and sweet. Well, shall we?”

She accepted the flower with a smile, looking like she was trying very hard not to squeal, and tucked it behind her ear. “Thank you, that’s really nice. I love it.” She looked around. “Uh, yeah, we shall. I uh... I’ve never done this before - gone on a date, I mean. So you’ll have to forgive me if I’m rubbish at it.”

“Aw, no, it’ll be great,” he assured her. “We’ll have a good time. That’s all that matters. Come on.” He led her outside to where he’d been given permission to use one of the school cars for the occasion. “Perks of being almost staff,” he joked with a wink.

“This is brilliant.” She smiled, aware of the fact that she was still blushing (and sort of wondering if her cheeks were just going to remain red the entire night). “I know Mrs. Rutherford is the resident Cinderella of Skyhold, but I sort of feel like this is my pumpkin coach for the evening. It’s great.”

Krem laughed. “I don’t think anyone can ever quite replicate the pumpkin coach experience, but I’ll do what I can. So are you hungry? I barely ate today because I was looking forward to this meal.”

Her smile widened slightly. “Yeah, I’m pretty hungry. I haven’t had much since breakfast. I do that sometimes - I forget to eat, especially when I’m working.” That was true, but she chose to leave out the fact that on this particular occasion she had skipped lunch because she was, by and large, too busy freaking out.

“Oh yeah, I’ll do that now and then too. It’s not a good idea, though, always end up paying for it later.” He opened the car door for her. “Well, it’s not a coach, but it’s guaranteed not to turn into a pumpkin at midnight.”

“Good.” She laughed and thanked him, sliding in with as much grace as she could muster. I know that was a joke, but if I'm really out until midnight, my friends will probably call the police. Just imagine it - ME, out until midnight. She smiled a bit to herself.

The drive to the restaurant was quiet, but mercifully short. “I hope the food’s as good as the decor makes it seem like it should be,” Krem joked, opening the door for her again. “So is it measuring up to your fanfic ideals so far?”

She giggled slightly. “Even better actually. The pictures on the internet don’t do this place justice - I Googled it so I could describe it a bit in the story.” For about the ninth time in perhaps less than half an hour, she felt herself blushing a bit.

“Smart.” He nodded. “So are you going to order what you had Mrs. R order in the story?”

“Probably not. I mean, I like seafood, but not that much. And you don’t have to get what I wrote you getting if you don’t want,” she said hastily, as if feeling the need to clarify. “I just took a stab at it. Sort of wrote the first thing that popped into my head. I mean, you... do whatever you want.” Well, if every conversation you have tonight goes THAT well, it’s going to be a long evening.

“Actually, what you wrote me ordering sounded pretty good, I might try it,” he admitted. They greeted the waiter, ordered drinks, and accepted menus. “Do you mind if I ask you a question about the story, though?”

She lowered her menu, blinking. “No, no, by all means. I don’t mind at all.” She somehow managed to feel both an odd combination of bewildered, flattered, and extremely nervous all at once.

“Well, I just wondered - I’m not criticizing, not at all - you guys wrote that Coach suggested I have the practice date with Mrs. R because she was my first crush. Um... what gave you the idea for that?”

She gave a nervous chuckle and tugged awkwardly on her ear. “Well, uh… when Jim and I were brainstorming it, we wanted to have something galvanize Professor Rutherford into asking her out and we thought having someone else go out with her would work. We almost made it Professor de Chevin, but then... well... we thought it would be cute if it was like a practice date and I mean everyone always talks about how so many of us have crushes on Professor Rutherford, but Mrs. Rutherford is gorgeous so I’m sure plenty of people have crushes on her too and... I’m going to stop talking now because I’m sure that all sounded really stupid.” She winced at her own diatribe and turned her attention to taking a long drink from her water glass.

Krem chuckled. “Okay, I see. I just asked because there was a point where I kind of did have a crush on her and I was wondering how you knew that.”

“Oh, did you? I didn’t know that. That makes perfect sense though, she’s amazing. And she thinks you’re great.”

“She’s a sweet lady. Professor R’s a lucky guy - everyone thinks so,” he added. “But he’s great too, so it’s one of those things that makes perfect sense.”

“It does. And that’s why we ship it so much.” She laughed slightly. “I still kind of can’t believe they read that story. Not just read it, but read it aloud in the staff room. I’m actually kind of surprised anyone other than my friend Nessa and of course Professor Tethras read it, honestly.”

“Hey, don’t knock it, that story was hilarious and awesome.” He grinned. “I loved it, personally.”

“Really? That’s so nice, thanks.” She blushed yet again. “I honestly was a little worried you’d be... offended that we included you or something. Cole tracked me down and said you wanted to see it, so then I was worried I was going to offend you by not showing it to you. So, hearing you enjoyed it is a big relief.”

“I did, very much. I’d like to see more of your work, actually, have you done anything new?”

She smiled at that - both flattered by the compliment and remembering the line she wrote in the story suggesting to always ask an artist about their work. “Well,” she said, and giggled a bit, “shortly after ‘Accidentally in Matrimony’, Jim and I wrote a story where Professor and Mrs. Rutherford meet in college when he’s the model for her art class. It’s really silly, but it actually takes a dramatic turn too. Our friend Nessa loves that one. If you’re really interested I can give you the Google Doc link or something.”

“Oh man, that sounds hilarious,” Krem said, laughing. “Definitely send me the link. Man, that would have been funny if they’d been able to meet in college! They wouldn’t have been as nervous around each other when they came here, too.”

“They really were frustratingly adorable during those early days,” she said, shaking her head fondly. “Or maybe adorably frustrating? I don’t know. My friends and I were talking about them constantly during Mrs. Rutherford’s first year here - you wouldn’t even believe our texts and Facebook messages,” she added with a little laugh. Okay... well... so far so good. This isn’t going terribly.

“I probably would. The Chargers talked about them plenty too,” he admitted. “A lot of us took art classes and tried to find excuses to mention Professor R just to see how flustered she would get.”

“We did that in history class too!” She laughed a little harder. “We’d mention Mrs. Rutherford as much as we could - well, back then she was Miss Trevelyan, of course. But it was so funny to watch him smile when we said her name. I think the whole school must have been doing the same thing.”

“Probably. I think everyone wanted them to get together practically from day one.” He grinned. “That must have been a little weird for them, I sometimes think.”

“I imagine so. But it's probably kinda flattering too - having so many people wanting you to be happy.” She laughed, a touch embarrassed. “Although then again, maybe not. I don't know how they feel about being the stars of fanfiction, after all.”

“From everything I hear from Coach, they actually kind of love it,” he assured her. “They’re a little confused by it, but mostly they think it’s flattering and funny. And they think you guys are really talented.”

“Aww, that's sweet.” She smiled, then very abruptly slapped a hand over her mouth. “Oh, Maker, listen to me blabber on! Wow, sorry. I uh… I'm really not that interesting, to be honest. I'd like to hear more about you.”

“Oh, uh... well... what do you want to know?” He looked a little pink as he grabbed his water glass.

“Well, I feel like I should ask you a question about football, but I know such an alarmingly small amount about football that I would probably make you weep.” She chuckled. “So what else do you like to do?”

“Uh. Well, I read... and listen to music,” he said, a little hesitantly. “Sometimes I play video games, but I’m not a huge gamer.”

“Ooh, fun. Jim’s the same way - although he's a fiend for Mass Effect. He played the new one when it came out until his eyes blurred. And that's also how we discovered Professor Harel has a Let's Play channel.” She laughed again. “So do you have a favorite book? Am I doing this correctly? This is how people do first dates, right?”

Krem paused as the waiter appeared, and they ordered their entrees. Once they were alone again, he said, “Yes, yes, and I think so, but can I back you up for a moment? Professor Harel has a what now?”

“Oh, yeah, you've got to check it out. He's called The Dread Wolf, it's hilarious. My friends and I probably know a distressing amount about the teachers, honestly.”

He started to chuckle. “Please. Please, tell me everything.”

She smiled. “All right, but you can't tell the teachers I'm telling you this stuff or I'll absolutely die.”

He mimed locking his lips with a key and putting it in his pocket. “Your secrets are safe with me, babe. Hit me.”

She opened her mouth to speak then froze, her expression somewhere between a gape and a massive smile. “Erm... I... well, hang on. This requires visual aids.” She pulled out her phone, on which there were approximately fifty texts from Jim and Nessa asking how it was going. Well, he just called me babe. Don't wait up friends because I'm gonna be dead. With this accomplished, she pulled up the internet. “Well, so, the teachers have social media…”

Roughly two hours later, they had finished their meal and Krem was almost sick from how much he’d been laughing over the teachers’ various accounts. He’d actually watched three of Solas’s videos right there in the restaurant, and agreed that Cullen’s Instagram might be the cutest thing on the planet. “I - oh, geez, we’ve been here a long time, they probably want us to go. I was having so much fun I didn’t realize.”

“Hmm?” She glanced at her watch. “Oh, sweet Andraste, we have been, haven't we? I - I was too. Having fun, that is. I'm almost sorry we have to go back.” She blushed a little.

He did too. “Well, in that case... you think maybe you’d like to... do this again?”

“I - wow. Yes, I would definitely like to do this again. Gosh, are you serious?” Her eyes were wide and very bright.

“Uh, yeah, of course I am.” He chuckled. “This has been great.”

“Really? Well, in that case, uh... name the time and place.” She smiled shyly.

“You want to come here again? Maybe next weekend? Or... uh... I’m free tomorrow.”

“I... me too. Yes. Tomorrow sounds brilliant.” Maker and Andraste it's going to take me hours to stop blushing.

“How about lunch? We could… uh… see what else Redcliffe has to offer. Maybe visit the bookstore,” he offered.

“Yeah, I would like that. Also, bookstore - my favorite word. So that makes it even better.”

“I was hoping that might sweeten the bargain for you.” He grinned. “All right, let’s head back to Skyhold before Coach sends a search party or something.”

“Yes, right. Skyhold. Good plan. Right.” She chuckled slightly.

Krem paid the bill and they headed back to the school. “So. Um. Thanks for coming out with me, this was... really fun. And we’ll - I mean - I hope you’ll enjoy yourself tomorrow too.” He rubbed the back of his neck in an almost perfect mimicry of Cullen.

“Thank you… for asking me in the first place. Gosh, this has been really great. I'm really looking forward to tomorrow.” She twisted a strand of her hair. “Uh. Hey, Krem? Can I - can I ask you something?”

“Sure, what is it?”

“Well, I was just sort of wondering... erm... why me?” She turned a bit red, immediately shuffling her feet as she realized how terrible that question probably sounded. “I mean... it's just that... I see how people look at you when you walk down the hall - they look at you like you're a god. And why not, right? You're talented and sweet and handsome and funny and clever. And then there's me, the bookish poetry-loving squealing fangirl.” She was saying far more than she intended, but couldn't quite stop. “People like me only really find people like you in novels - and fanfiction about those novels. I guess part of me just expects to wake up and find this was all a really great dream.” Again.

Krem listened to her with an increasing expression of mingled amusement and fondness. “Pretty sure it’s not a dream,” he said. “Usually when I’m having these kinds of dreams I end up someplace without pants. Anyway, to answer your question properly… let me tell you a secret.” He moved a bit closer as though imparting the wisdom of the universe. “It’s kinda cool to be popular, don’t get me wrong. But after hanging out with you and your friends like I have, I started realizing that while it’s fun to have people know my name and think I’m pretty cool from a distance, it’s a little hard to actually... make friends. I didn’t want to hang out with people who treated me like I was untouchable, I just wanted somebody to like me. When I’m with you, that’s exactly how it feels.”

For a moment, she was sure she forgot how to breathe. Her heart was threatening to hammer out of her chest and she blinked for several seconds, willing herself to calm down. “Well, I do,” she managed at last. “Like you, that is. Really like you. A lot.”

“Well, good. Because I really like you. A lot.” He grinned. “So... is noon okay for tomorrow?”

“Sounds perfect.” Her voice was hardly more than a breathless squeak, but she managed to smile. “I - I'll see you then, Krem.”

“Good night, Rory.” In what he might admit was an effort to seem like he really did belong in one of her stories, he bent and kissed her hand before leaving the main hall. His ears were positively crimson.

She stood frozen for what felt like forever. “Good night,” she replied, a good five seconds after he had already gone. Shocked her legs worked at all, she made her way up to her dorm, placed the flower he had given her on the nightstand, then pitched forward on the bed to scream into her pillow in euphoria.

Nessa, whose room was across the hall, heard the muffled shrieking and burst into the room without knocking. “You’re back! How was it? Are you alive? Are you in one piece?”

“Ness! Oh, Andraste preserve me, Ness, it was amazing.” She flipped onto her back in the least dignified way possible. “And he's amazing. And he gave me a flower and called me babe and I swear I'm never washing my hand again.

“Okay, I want details. Start from the beginning. Wait, let me call Jimmy and put him on speakerphone so he doesn’t miss anything.”

“Right. Good plan. I'm going to try and get air back in my lungs.”

Jim picked up almost immediately when Nessa called him. “Nessa, hey, is Rory dead? Did she die of feels?”

“No, but she sure is close. Hang on, I’mma put you on speaker and then she can tell us all the sordid details about her evening with Krem de la Creme.” She pushed a button and set the phone on the bed.

“Hey, Rors!”

“Hi, Jimmy. Oh holy Maker, you guys, I can't even.” She proceeded to retell the events of the evening in what was practically one enormous breathless run-on sentence. “Guys. Guys, I'm seeing him again. I'm seeing him again tomorrow.

Nessa squealed. “I told you he likes you!” she cried.

“I'm still gobsmacked by that, honestly. I mean, he straight up said as much and I'm still gobsmacked.” She sighed dreamily. “Before he said good night I got a little rambly. I asked him why he picked me when he could, you know, basically have anyone on the planet. Gracious Andraste, he said it was because he wants to be liked for himself and that when he's with me I make him feel like he is being liked for just himself. Maker, I nearly hyperventilated.”

“Awwwww. That’s so cute,” said Nessa.

“It really is. Who knew Krem was such a softy?” Jim teased. “And he asked you to go out again? That’s amazing, Rors.”

“I know right? We're getting lunch and going to the bookstore. I could cry, it's all just so crazy and wonderful.” She flopped backwards on her bed.

“All right, he’s taking her to the bookstore - I’ll start drafting the wedding invitations,” Jim said playfully. “Ness, you find a caterer.”

“Oh, shush, you,” Rory scolded, sitting back up. She giggled, however. “I'm honestly almost a little terrified. I mean, he gave me a flower and kissed my hand and all this stuff and somehow by the grace of the Maker I lived. I don't know if I can survive whatever he has planned for an encore.”

“I think you’ll be just fine,” Nessa assured her. “He’ll make sure of it. Otherwise he’d have to answer to Professor Pavus, after all.”

“Aww, my ray of sunshine. Oh gosh, I'm sure he's probably going to hear all about this because Krem will tell Coach Bull and Coach Bull will tell Professor Pavus. I honestly have no idea if I find that thought amazing or super embarrassing.”

“Knowing you? You think it’s both,” said Jim sagely.

“Well, that's... actually probably not wrong. Yeah.” She ran a hand through her hair. “Man, all the teachers will probably know by breakfast tomorrow.”

“Probably, yeah. But I’m sure they won’t tease you too badly.” Nessa paused. “They might write fanfic about you though.”

“Oh, man.” She groaned. “Maker curse poetic justice. Oh, well, I suppose it's a small price to pay.”

“Well, try to get some sleep,” said Jim. “You’ll need your strength to face the gauntlet tomorrow - including all of Krem’s jealous fangirls.”

“Oh, crap, I almost forgot about that.” She slapped a hand to her forehead. “They’ll probably run me up a banner pole in the courtyard when they find about this.”

“We’ll protect you. Or he will.” Nessa grinned.

Jim laughed. “Well, Rors, I’m glad you had a legendary time. I’ll see you both at breakfast. Night, ladies.”

“Night, Jim. See you tomorrow.” She leaned forward and ended the call, handing the phone back to Nessa. She then sagged on her friend’s shoulder with a dreamy sigh. “Oh, yeah, sleep is so not going to be a thing.”

Nessa giggled. “Are there any details you left out? I promise not to tell Jim if you don’t want him to know.”

“I don’t really keep secrets from Jim - I think he’s used to my squealing by now. Hmm...” She tapped her chin. “I think I’ve told you everything. Ooh, wait, did I tell you what he said when he gave me the flower? He said daisies remind him of me because they’re sweet and unassuming.”

“Oh, how precious. Hey, you’d better get that in some water if you want to still have it in the morning. Or press it in a book.”

“Ooh, yes, you’re right. I think I want to enjoy for the night, then I’ll press it. Because I want to keep it, that’s for sure.” She got up to find something to put the flower in, picking it up and pressing it to her nose with a blissful grin.

“I’ve never seen you like this, Rors.” Nessa giggled again. “It’s like your feet aren’t even touching the floor. I love it.”

“I know, I can’t even explain it, really. I told him I was worried it’s all a dream - I’ve literally had this dream on one or two occasions, honestly. He assured me it’s not, but it sure feels like it. I feel like I’ve gone a little crazy.”

“It’s taken me a few minutes, but I know what you remind me of.” Nessa grinned. “Remember the fic you guys did where Miss Trevelyan ran away from home to escape her evil aunt? And then she met Professor Rutherford and they had that glorious first date and she was walking on air? You’re acting just like that!”

Rory laughed slightly. “Yeah, I guess I kinda am, aren’t I? I mean, obviously we’re not really like Professor and Mrs. Rutherford, that’s just silly. But it was certainly an amazing evening, so I understand that walking on air feeling better now.”

“Your fanfics will probably be even better in the future,” Nessa teased. “Now that you have some idea of what romance is really like.”

“Don’t get ahead of yourself, Ness. I mean, I’m really starry-eyed over here, but I’m not even sure if we’re considered dating or what. Whatever it is, I’m just going to enjoy the heck out of it.”

“Best plan I ever heard.” Nessa smiled. “Now this is where I’ll leave you. Good luck sleeping tonight.”

Rory giggled. “Word. But I’ll try. Night, Ness.” She blew her best friend a kiss, smiling as the door closed, before finishing her search for a flower vase.

With this done, she resumed her previous position of flopping on her bed, kicking off her shoes and folding her hands behind her head. “Best. Night. Ever,” she muttered to no one with a dreamy sigh, which rapidly became a giggle.

Chapter Text


 Dorian’s Coat

No one knew exactly what pressing matter was calling Dorian back to Tevinter on such short notice, only that he was being uncharacteristically tight-lipped about the whole thing. Knowing better than to ask, the staff merely agreed to divide his classes amongst themselves, let Felix tend to the library, and sent him on his way with several well-wishes. Covering the music classes fell mainly to Cullen, Cassandra, Varric, and Bull; Evvy would have gladly helped, but both her husband and Madam Giselle had insisted against it, seeing that Dorian’s abrupt departure had come mere weeks after Skye’s birth. In order to keep from driving his wife mad by hovering over her, Cullen tried to take on as many of the music classes as he could. Varric too seemed to take on many of Dorian’s classes, a fact which amused the entire Hawke family greatly.

“What is he up to, I wonder?” Cassandra mused one day over coffee with Cullen and Marian Hawke in the staff room.

“What do you mean?” Cullen replied, nursing a single indulgent cup of decaf.

“Varric has been... awfully invested in Dorian’s music classes,” she explained. “I’m curious what’s going on.”

“After all you and Varric have been through in recent history, you’re still suspicious of him?” teased Hawke.

“It’s not like that!” Cass insisted. “It’s just... he seems very eager to substitute. And the students seem to be coming out of his classes with an awful lot of giggling. I just find myself wondering why that is...”

Before either of the other two teachers could answer, there was a shy knocking on the staff room door. Cullen smiled, recognizing the rapping immediately.

“You can come in, son, it’s all right,” he called.

A second later, Cole peeked his head through the door. “Sorry to interrupt. Aunt Cassandra, Uncle Mahanon is here to see you. He brought flowers.”

Immediately, Cassandra sat up a little straighter. “What? Really? Why is he here?”

“I know, it’s not even a holiday,” said Hawke playfully.

Cole shrugged a bit. “He said he’s here just because. Why not? It’s Tuesday, she’s pretty, and I just happened to find some flowers in need of a desk to live on. Is there any better excuse to stop by than that?

Both Hawke and Cullen smiled at that, and at the heat that still crept into Cassandra’s cheeks, even though she and Non had been dating for well over a year.

“Well go on, then, don’t keep him waiting!” Cullen said, still grinning as Cass got up to depart. “Thank you for coming up to fetch her, Cole.”

“Glad I could help, I like to help,” Cole said, returning his father’s smile before he departed to go find his uncle once more.

By the time he arrived, Mahanon and Cassandra were in the main hall, Cass clutching the little bouquet of flowers that Non had been toting. They both smiled as their honorary nephew approached.

“I’m sure Mother will want to see you, Uncle Non,” he said as he came to a stop in front of Mahanon. “She’s in the apartment. She’s supposed to be resting, but she would much rather be here, helping everyone. Especially since Uncle Dorian had to leave.”

“Cass was just telling me about that.” Mahanon nodded. “Do you know when he’ll be back?”

“He said he hopes to be home the day after tomorrow,” Cole offered. “He got a call last Monday and then said he had to go. He seemed... dimmer, not shining as brightly as usual. He didn’t say why, but he seemed sad to be going home. He hasn’t told anyone what’s wrong, only that he’s supposed to be back soon. The castle’s so quiet without him.”

“That it is,” Cassandra said with a little chuckle, placing a hand on Cole’s shoulder before turning back to Mahanon. “We’ve been covering Dorian’s classes in his absence. Varric’s there now - I’m actually his replacement. But I’m sure I could ask Cullen to cover for me... now that you’re here.”

“What, and miss the chance to see my lady lead a music class?” Mahanon’s eyes sparkled mischievously. “I think I need to see this.”

Cass blushed slightly once more, but nevertheless gestured for Non and Cole to follow her in the direction of the humanities tower.

When they arrived, Cass pushed the door to the music classroom open and glanced around, a bit surprised to see all the students still seemingly enraptured in Varric’s lesson.

“Varric, I - oh. Didn’t class end ten minutes ago?”

“General! You’re just in time.” Varric grinned, then glanced past her to the other two figures in the doorway. “Oh, and Lockpick’s here too. That explains the flowers...”

Cass immediately cleared her throat and placed the flowers behind her back, ignoring the squealing from a few of the students as she did so. “Anyway. As I said, class ended ten minutes ago. What are you all still doing here?”

Each student was clutching a small stapled packet of sheet music and they all seemed to be giving each other a sort of conspiratorial grin. Varric, meanwhile, was wearing a look that might also be worn by a cat who successfully swallowed the family canary. “We’re in the middle of gold here, General. Art stops for no man.”

“Art?” she repeated, her tone obviously full of doubt. “Just what ‘art’ are you creating?”

“See for yourself,” he said, passing a spare packet down to her.

Cass looked faintly bemused as she scanned the music. “What is this?” she asked, passing the papers to Non.

Non read them and immediately began chuckling. “Oh, I know exactly what this is. I did this musical in high school.”

“Yeah?” Varric chuckled. “You’re a man of many talents, Lockpick.”

“And why exactly are you teaching the students to sing this of all things?” Cass said, still looking puzzled.

“The kids told me they were learning songs from musicals before Professor Pavus left. And this song - well, this song just screams Sparkler, don’t you think?”

“Well it does seem... rather apt,” Cass conceded, scanning the lyrics.

“Exactly! So, I thought I’d teach the kids to sing it as a little surprise for Sparkler when he gets back to Skyhold.”

Mahanon began laughing deeply. “Oh, well done. I don’t know if Dorian’s going to thank you too much for it, but I for one would love to see this.”

“Actually, we could use your expertise, Lockpick, since you’re so familiar with the song.”

“Hmm…” he said ponderously. After a moment, his eyes glinted. “Varric... how would you feel about tweaking some of the lyrics to this song? You know, to make them fit everyone’s favorite Tevinter librarian-slash-music professor even more?”

“I’m certainly not one to shy away from a challenge.” Varric grinned. “I think I can cook something up. Got anything else up your sleeve?”

“Well, since this is a song from a musical and it’s for Dorian of all people, I think something a little bit more... theatrical is called for, don’t you?”

“I knew I liked you, Lockpick!” The creative writing professor chuckled. “What’ve you got in mind?”

“I’m leaving,” Cass cut in, shaking her head in amusement. “I would like to maintain some level of plausible deniability when you present this to Dorian. I’ll see you both at dinner.” She smiled at Non and added teasingly, “And to think I’m being supplanted by Varric of all people.”

“Once my services are done here, I’m all yours, Professor Pentaghast,” Non returned quietly - although not quietly enough, since it was met by another wave of squealing from the first row of students.

Cass turned red and gave his arm a playful little shove before she departed. Once the door clicked shut behind her, Mahanon spun to face the Varric and the class. “All right, so I’m thinking this requires a bigger place than your music classroom. Maybe we can get Felix involved - I hear the boy has a talent for screenwriting. And we need some volunteers for solos. And probably a few costumes …” His eyes wandered the room briefly as the students began twittering amongst themselves. His gaze fell on Cole. “Ah, Cole! Would you like to help us with this?”

“I like helping,” Cole said, although his tone was quizzical. “What would you like me to do, Uncle Non?”

“I think you could have a role in this, but you have to keep it a secret. Don’t tell your parents.”


“Because I think we’re going to surprise Uncle Dorian and your mother. We don’t want to ruin the surprise.”

“All right.” Cole nodded. “What role will I have?”

“Cole, how do you feel about pretending to be your father?”

As predicted, Dorian arrived back at Skyhold on Thursday afternoon, looking careworn and weary. However, a smile crawled across his features at the sight of the school and he approached the front gates, looking relieved.

“Welcome back, Professor Pavus,” said one of the guards.

“Thank you, it’s good to be back,” he returned with a contented sigh. “So, is everything as I left it?”

“Exactly as you left it, Professor.”


Dorian thanked the guards and made his way up to the school quickly. When he arrived, he was surprised to find everything so… quiet. But after a moment, he smiled, spotting a little welcoming party - Evvy, holding Skye, with Cullen hovering close at hand.

“Ah, both of my princesses are here and so is the prince,” he remarked, crossing over to kiss Evvy’s forehead and give the baby’s cheek a fond stroke.

“Welcome back, Dorian. This place hasn’t been the same without you,” Cullen said, clapping the music professor on the shoulder.

“Oh, I should imagine it wasn’t,” he replied, a bit of his characteristic wit coming back as he beamed. “By the way, where is everyone?”

“Well, that’s actually a very good question,” said Evvy, “one that I asked myself. It finally seemed like a warm enough day to bring the baby out for some fresh air, and I expected to be mobbed by students… but it’s a bit of a mystery to me where they’ve all gone. Some people, however, have seemed rather knowing, of late.” She glanced pointedly at Cullen. “I suspect there are shenanigans afoot.”

Cullen held up his hands. “The things I hear are only whispers, my dearest love,” he informed his wife with a smile. “I maintain my innocence on what exactly that may be, truly.”

“I can't say it comes as a surprise to hear shenanigans are afoot at Skyhold,” said Dorian, “But I must say I'm a little disappointed to hear they're afoot without me.” He chuckled faintly.

“Well, we knew you were coming back today,” Evvy mused. “Maybe it’s a welcome-home surprise. We can go and try to find out what’s happening.”

The music teacher smiled at the words “welcome home”. “That sounds like an excellent plan to me, Cinderella. You and Prince Charming can catch me up on what I've missed this past week as we do.”

“For my part, precious little,” she replied, hefting Skye carefully as they walked. “Midnight feedings, diaper changes, the occasional desperate call to my mother for advice… that’s about it.”

“That’s plenty,” said Dorian. “Sounds like the little princess is keeping everyone on their toes. Speaking of keeping people on their toes, how have my students been? Well-behaved, I hope.”

“They’ve been great, Dorian,” Cullen assured him. “Cass, Varric, Bull, and I have been watching over everything.”

“And Non was here,” Evvy added. “There’s a spurious rumor that he may have sat in on one or two classes, although I’m not sure why.”

“Well, if darling Cassandra was one of my substitutes, then no wonder.” He chuckled.

“Actually, I don’t think it was Cassandra’s class he was sitting in on,” said Cullen. “I think it was Varric’s.” Dorian arched an eyebrow and Cullen merely shrugged.

“I’m perfectly happy not to be able to answer questions,” Evvy added. “Whatever’s going on, I am in no way involved.”

They entered the main hall and checked on the threshold, seeing literally the entire school assembled. “The last of our strays!” Varric called, grinning. “Okay, you three, grab a seat - the show’s about to start!”

“The show?” Dorian folded his arms. “All right, what’s all this then?”

“You’ll see.” Varric smirked. “Ladies and gentlepersons, it’s my distinct pleasure to welcome you to this afternoon’s assembly. As you know, our esteemed Professor Pavus has been absent from our school for several days, and since 85% of my impulse control is currently in Kirkwall, I was left to my own devices to come up with a welcome-home surprise. Mr. Lavellan and I are the sole proprietors of the blame and the glory for what you’re about to see. Without further ado, we proudly present… the Coat.” He nodded to Josephine, who started to play the piano, and Mahanon strode onto the stage.

Shrugging, Dorian took a seat, his eyes quickly widening as a grinning Mahanon began to sing. “The music teacher, he was quite the shiny one. He shimmered very similarly to the sun. His moniker was Sparkler because of what he wore.”

“Surely you must be joking,” Dorian said quietly, looking bemused.

“This sounds like that one song,” Evvy murmured back. “Did they really…?”

“It certainly sounds like it. We were studying musicals before I left, so I have a feeling Varric took it and ran with it.” He shook his head.

Meanwhile, Nessa had stepped forward, looking far more sheepish than Mahanon, but still like she was on the verge of giggling. “Dorian Pavus thus became a fashion star - copied, imitated, never to be surpassed. But it made the rest feel fashionless, and even if they were…”

She side stepped, revealing several of the students dressed like Skyhold’s teachers. “Oh, Maker, look.” Cullen was laughing, gesturing with his head to where the students stood. “Ev, look at Cole.”

“Is that the tie with the flying nugs?” she asked, peering. “The one Rosalie gave you?”

“Yes, indeed it is.” He chuckled.

Each male student had an equally sort of amusing costume. Jim, who was obviously supposed to be Solas, was barefoot and had a comically ill-fitting bald cap, while his friend Doug had the most slapdash-looking fake beard plastered to his face as he pretended to be Blackwall. The group all had their arms folded, looking irked. “Being told we’re also-rans does not make us Dorian fans,” they all grumbled.

Mahanon popped back in to offer, “But where they had really missed the boat is…”

Cole stepped forward, shyly. “I have great ties but no one seems to notice.” He shrugged, mimicking his father.

Evvy burst into giggles, jostling the drowsy infant in her arms. “Look at them, this is marvelous,” she said. “I wonder who’s playing you, Fairy Godfather.”

Cullen, who was also laughing, recovered long enough to point. “There’s your answer, I think.” He pointed to the far side of the stage where Krem, boasting a ridiculous fake mustache, was making his way out.

Mahanon was plowing on, gesturing to where Krem was. “Dorian’s charm and cunning wit were wearing on his colleagues quick.” The students playing the teachers all adopted various exasperated expressions as Krem walked by. Meanwhile, Nessa had relinquished her spot as the other narrator and made her way back to stand near the other students. “But Leliana didn’t brook the grumbling,” sang Non, gesturing now to Nessa. After a beat, Rory joined her, and he included her in his motion as well. “She and Josie dismissed any grumbling. They just saw in Dorian their fashion dreams come true.”

“This is hilarious,” Evvy managed, realizing with another laugh that Dagna was dressed as her in green sequins, while Rocky of the Chargers was clearly supposed to be Varric - his ponytailed blond wig sat vaguely askew, and he carried a copy of Hard in Hightown.

Dorian was shaking his head. “My dear,” he said to Evvy, “make a note of this - I am actually speechless. I wonder who among us knew about this little stunt?”

“I’d imagine Leliana did - it would have been hard to keep this from her,” Evvy noted. “But if Cassandra’s expression is any indication, she had no idea.”

“Cass was a little like me in that respect,” said Cullen. “She knew something was going on, but not this. I don’t think any of us could have imagined this,” he added with a laugh.

After a few brief piano notes, Mahanon continued. “The admins wanted to show the school they liked his look. To make it clear he was fashion forward in their book.” To his side, Rory as Josephine and Nessa as Leliana were presenting Krem’s Dorian with a colorful garment. “So the ladies brought the prof a coat - a multicolored coat to wear.

This tailored coat was the finest coat in Val Royeaux,” said Rory. She was having a very hard time not staring at Krem.

A more stylish coat has never been produced, you know,” added Nessa.

And this is why it caught the eye…” This from Non.

A Bull would stop and stare!” chimed all the assembled students, all pointing in Coach Bull’s direction.

Bull, who clearly did not see this coming, looked genuinely startled before breaking into loud, raucous laughter. Evvy, watching, giggled again. “I don’t think he was in on it either.”

“Well, that's something at least,” said Dorian. “Although Varric has turned my own students against me.” He gestured to the stage, where several of the performers were trying their best not to laugh.

Nessa quickly hurried back to the front of the stage once more to resume playing narrator as Mahanon stepped off. As she sang, Krem was putting on the coat, looking delighted. “And when Dorian tried it on, he knew his plaidweave days were gone. Such a dazzling coat of many colors, how he loved his coat of many colors. In a class above the rest, it even went well with his vest.” All the students snapped the fabric of their shirts as if to pantomime the vests their professor often wore. Then all of them (save Krem) joined Nessa in singing, “Such a stunning coat of many colors, how he loved his coat of many colors. It was red and yellow and green and brown and blue.

Dorian’s colleagues were jealous of a coat so rare,” continued Nessa after a brief pause.

He’s got a coat, I can’t even get some good footwear,” sighed Jim as Solas, gesturing to his bare feet.

The rest of the students who had been cast as the teachers joined him in huffing, “This fashion trend has got to end, maybe then we’ll get somewhere.

“But Solas got shoes for Wintersend,” Evvy noted mock innocently. “The kids wouldn’t necessarily know that, but Varric does.”

Cullen had to put his hand over his mouth to keep from laughing out loud. “I don’t think that was quite the point, my love. Oh! Maybe Dorian will get a coat like that next Wintersend.”

“Not funny, Rutherford,” Dorian replied.

“Yes it is,” Evvy said placidly, giving him a sweet smile.

Meanwhile, Nessa resumed her solo. “And when he wore his coat abroad, onlookers thought he was a god. His astounding clothing was a winner.”

Quite the smoothest person in Tevinter,” chorused the others.

Krem, for his part, was absolutely getting into his role as Dorian. He ran a hand through his hair and did a sort of pirouette, popping the lapels of the coat. “I look handsome, I look smart,” he crowed. “I am a walking work of art! Such a dazzling coat of many colors! How I love my coat of many colors!

A few people gave into their laughter at that. There was also a faint squeak as Rory nearly collapsed while watching him and had to be propped up by Doug.

It was red and yellow and green and brown…”

Evvy chuckled fondly, watching the kids dancing around and around, singing more and more loudly about the colors represented in the improbable garment. “This is adorable.”

“They really did go all out, didn’t they?” Dorian remarked. “They’re all quite something.” and orange and BLUE!” The final word of the song was virtually shouted to the heavens, and the audience burst into thunderous applause. Varric, openly smirking, retook the stage.

“Sparkler, don’t be mad,” he said, laughing. “We wanted to make you smile, and hopefully, that’s what we did. Welcome home.”

As the applause died down, Dorian slowly got to his feet and once again resumed folding his arms over his chest as he surveyed the assembled students. They all stared back, smiling expectantly, perhaps a touch nervously, as they shifted back and forth.

“Mm…” he said flatly, drawing out the suspense. “That…” He dropped his arms, allowing a grin to spread across his features. “...was remarkable. I knew you all were talented, but this is something else entirely. I would give you extra credit points, but given the fact you all participated, that would rather defeat the purpose, so… the next time we go to Redcliffe’s book store, you all can pick out a book on me. Well done.”

There was a general laugh at that, and while the students onstage went to change out of their costumes, Dorian’s colleagues made their way to greet him properly. Varric shook his hand. “I knew you were probably going back to Tevinter for… unpleasant reasons,” he said amiably. “So this was the best idea I had to cheer you up. Then Lockpick turned up and made it even more ridiculous.”

“Guilty as charged,” said Mahanon in a cheerful voice.

“Oh, you two...” Dorian chuckled, pointing at both of them and waggling his finger. “That was far and away the most insane and somehow wonderful thing I may have ever seen. Quite a lot of poking fun at my wardrobe, I noted, while somehow also perhaps complimenting me on it a little - not sure how you managed such a feat - but I won't split hairs. Instead I’ll say thank you. So I thank you.”

“You’re entirely welcome.” Varric looked almost too self-satisfied to be endured.

“We have a good meal waiting downstairs, Dorian,” said Josephine, once everyone had taken their turn at welcoming him. “We thought you might be hungry after the trip.”

“Oh, yes, marvelous. I appreciate it.” He nodded to her. “Let me just stop by my rooms, get everything sorted, and I'll join you all in a minute.”

“Don’t be long,” Evvy teased him. “Skye’s been missing her shiny uncle.”

He chuckled again. “And her ‘shiny uncle’ has missed her,” he replied, then turned to Varric. “Oh, and Varric - this has been marvelous, make no mistake, but I hope you know I will get you back.”

Varric chuckled. “I look forward to it, Sparkler. Until then, YouTube fame awaits.”

“Maker's breath.” He shook his head fondly, grinning. “All right, go on, then. I'll join you all soon.”

Dorian didn’t quite make it all the way to his room before a deep voice sounded behind him. “Kadan, you look tired.”

He turned to face Bull and nodded, smiling sadly. “I am,” he said at length. “It... was a long trip.” The tone of his voice suggested he wasn’t just talking about the length of the stay or the distance he travelled.

Bull nodded and, absent an audience, he moved closer and pulled Dorian in for a tight embrace which threatened his ribs. “I know.”

In spite of the fact it drove the breath from his body, Dorian was immensely grateful for the hug and sort of settled into it with a sigh. When he pulled back at last, he gestured with his head in the direction of his room. “Come, let’s speak privately.” He led Bull inside and began tidying things absently, as if this helped him speak. “That call I got last Monday... it was from my mother. She called to inform me my father had been taken ill.”

“I didn’t know you were in touch with your mother,” Bull admitted. “I... take it things are serious.”

“I’m not in touch with her. So yes, her contacting me proved things are indeed quite serious. Or rather, were serious,” he amended.

“They - oh. Oh, kadan. I’m sorry.”

“Thank you.” He sighed, running a hand through his hair. “It’s no secret things between the two of us were…” He searched for a more delicate word. “...strained, to say the least, but still.” He sat down on the edge of the bed, sighing once more. “But that’s not all. My father... well, apparently, he kept me as his heir all these years.”

“I see.” Bull understood the weight of the statement. “So what are you going to do? That’s a responsibility.”

Halward Pavus had, up until the time of his death, owned a software company in Tevinter - a large one, the controlling share of which now fell to his estranged son. Dorian rubbed his temples, shaking his head as he did so. “I know... and the whole thing got me thinking. I’m always talking about how terribly wrong things are in Tevinter - the exploitation, the cronyism, the corruption - but what do I do about it? Nothing. Having control of my father’s company wouldn’t change much, especially with its dreadful board of directors still in place, but it could be a start. But...” he shook his head again. “Tevinter is just my homeland now, it’s not my home. This is. And that whole display downstairs just proved it all the more succinctly.”

At that, Bull chuckled. “That was something else, eh? We all knew Varric was up to something... we just had no idea what. And no one was willing to ask. I think we were all aiming for plausible deniability.”

Dorian laughed. “I must admit, of all the things I may have expected from my return, that was not one of them. But it really was just the thing I needed. And it’s not as though I really required a reminder, but it did help remind me where I should be and what I should be doing.”

“So how are you going to run a company in Tevinter while you’re teaching in the Frostbacks?” Bull asked. “I mean, not that I’m complaining, obviously, but you’re already a pretty busy guy.”

“Well, as soon as we’re done with lunch, the first thing I’m doing is calling my friend Maevaris - she has a similar sort of story, she inherited her father’s company several years back. Once she’s done laughing herself sick over the notion of me running a business, I’m hoping she’ll have some advice. Perhaps she’ll want to buy the company from me, or maybe I can be some sort of silent partner,” he mused. “It would deeply amuse me if I could muck around the company from the inside without actually having to own the bloody thing... keep my father’s men on their toes even from a thousand miles away.”

“Sounds like a plan.” Bull nodded. “Maevaris - isn’t she the one who’s related to Varric somehow?”

“Yes, but I don’t hold that against her,” he said with a smirk. “She’s his cousin’s widow. I’ve known her for years and I’d trust her with anything.”

“Well, we don’t get to choose our in-laws,” Bull teased him. “Come on, let’s go eat before all the food’s gone. The kitchen made your favorite and we live with a hundred teenagers, it won’t last.”

“Well, that much is true.” He laughed, getting to his feet. He then paused and looked at Bull for a long moment. “Thank you for coming to check on me, amatus.”

“Any time, kadan.”

Dorian smiled, a more genuine smile than he had worn during the entire duration of their conversation. “It’s good to be home,” he said, his tone dripping with contentment as Bull steered him in the direction of the dining hall.

Chapter Text


How Does A Moment Last Forever?

In the days that followed his return from Tevinter, Dorian was in significantly better spirits than he had been. With his father’s company safely in Maevaris’s capable hands (and he with an almost ceremonial seat on the board of directors), he was free to turn his attention to more important things.

“So,” he said, entering the main hall for breakfast one morning. “Given that Skyhold has been even more musical than usual here of late, I've been inspired.”

“I already don’t like where this is going, but let’s hear it,” Varric replied.

“Now, now, it's nothing like that.” He took a seat and paused as if for dramatic effect. “How do you think the students would like a Skyhold Academy drama club?”

“Pretty sure the entire student body already qualifies as one of those,” retorted Blackwall. “But do go on, I feel like you’re warming up to something.”

“Well, I was thinking... Beauty and the Beast.” Dorian smirked. “I would direct, of course. And I already have a potential cast list in mind, should auditions line up with my vision, that is.”

“Considering how much some of the kids loved the live action reboot, that sounds like a fun idea,” said Evvy cheerfully. She looked tired, which was to be expected given that Skye was barely a month old. “You’ll forgive me if I don’t have much to do with it, Fairy Godfather, but I’ll look forward to the production.”

“That sounds like a lengthy undertaking,” said Leliana with a slight frown. “You do realize the term ends in about seven weeks, Dorian?”

“If I was able to plan a wedding in a few weeks, I think I can plan a musical, Maker willing.” He chuckled. “I may need some assistance...” He looked almost pained to have to admit it. “But I’m confident it will all go quite smoothly.”

“Well, that actually brings me to a bit of news I was going to be briefing the staff about soon anyway,” she replied. “Since the Wintersend holiday setup went so well, the founders have agreed that we can start keeping the school open year-round. So if the kids don’t want to go home, and I’m sure most of them don’t, they have the option to stay.” Seeing the hesitation on Varric’s face, she held up a hand. “I know that several of you like to go elsewhere during the summer, and you’ll still have that option. The courses offered over the summer months will largely be electives, so I’m sure we can work out the details to everyone’s satisfaction. But I bring it up because if the play can’t be arranged within the current term, it’s possible to do it during the summer instead.”

There was a general murmur of approval up and down the teacher’s table. “My dear headmistress, that is marvelous news,” Dorian said. “As for the play, I’ll see what sort of magic I can work to bring it in before the end of term, but if not, then a summer project it shall be.”

“It will be wonderful to have them here for the summer,” Josephine agreed. “And even if they play doesn’t occur during those months, I’m sure any number of interesting things will.” She chuckled.

“I’ll hate to miss them. So will Hawke.” Varric smirked a bit. “However, our presence is expected in Kirkwall, at least for some of the time.”

“We wouldn’t expect anything less,” said Cassandra warmly.

“Don’t worry, I’m sure we’ll be able to film anything you miss and catch you up later,” Josie assured him.

“Good, because Sunshine hates to miss anything too.” He laughed. “Well, I guess if I’m needed, I can come back after the first few weeks of vacation. My frequent flyer miles are accumulating like crazy anymore.”

“Worth every second and every penny, though, I’m sure,” said Hawke with a grin.

“Can’t argue. So what do you have in mind for the play, Sparkler? Gonna get Curly to sing lead?”

“Well, as much as I’m sure the student body would love that, I think we’ll let the students showcase their talents. As many as join the club, that is. I may need some of us to supplement certain roles.”

“Cullen could play Maurice,” said Cass with a laugh. “If he’s proven anything in the last few years, it’s that he’s excellent father material.” Cullen’s current absence from the breakfast table only served to highlight that fact; he was, of course, off tending to baby Skye.

“That’s actually a really good idea,” Evvy mused. “I’m sure he’d enjoy it, probably more than any of the kids would enjoy that role. Are you going to announce the club this morning, Dori?”

“Yes, provided the headmistress approves.” He glanced down the table at Leliana with a grin.

“It’s not as though you can possibly make them more theatrical than they already are, some of them,” she replied, laughing. “Go on then. I’m only surprised you haven’t petitioned for such a thing long since.”

“Well, now just seemed like the perfect time - it’s like the Skyhold stars aligned for such a thing.” He rubbed his hands together. “Which leads me to my next question - if they were to both audition, how do you think Skyhold’s favorite burgeoning student romance would do in the lead roles?”

“You mean - Rory and Krem as Belle and the Beast?” It was hard to say who looked more delighted by the idea between Evvy, Josie, and Cass; however, it was actually Bull who had spoken. “That would make for a hell of a show, kadan. We have to talk them into it.”

Dorian looked pleased to have someone understand his vision. “I’m glad you agree, amatus.”

“Although I doubt anyone will have to try very hard to talk Rory into it,” Cass interjected. “Beauty and the Beast directed by her ray of sunshine? I’m sure she’ll be only too happy to audition.”

“Well, in theory anyway,” Evvy said. “She’s still very shy and I have my doubts about whether she’ll be entirely comfortable singing in front of the whole school, Dorian or no Dorian.”

“And she’s only been going out with Krem for a few weeks,” Josephine added. “If he does get the other lead, she might demur entirely.”

“I’ll see what I can do,” said Dorian in a voice like it was a foregone conclusion. “Just wait and see.”

“This should be interesting.” Evvy chuckled. “Well, if you’ll excuse me,” she added, glancing at her phone, “I need to go do the one thing Cullen cannot do for Skye. I’m sure he’ll be joining you soon.” She quickly finished her tea.

“The changing of the guard.” Cass chuckled fondly. “I’m sure Dorian will wait for you to come back before he makes the announcement - that way you can witness the squealing firsthand.”

“Oh, don’t let me hold it up.” She laughed. “I’m sure one of you can record it on your phones and I’ll see it later. I might try to nap a little, if the baby’s open to it.”

“More power to you, my dear, good luck,” said Dorian. “I’ll draft Felix or Seamus to film it, I promise.”

“I’m sure it’ll be an epic event,” Evvy replied, smiling. She left and, several minutes later, was replaced by her husband, who immediately passed around his phone to show off the latest Skye photography.

“She’s so precious, Cullen,” Cass said, beaming at the picture of the sleeping newborn. “It’s funny how much of you and Evvy I can see in her already.”

“Hopefully more of Evvy for her sake.” Cullen laughed, reclaiming his phone and looking at the image with a look of fond pride before stowing it. “So, what have I missed?”

“Siren didn’t tell you?” Varric smirked. “Sparkler is cooking up a new plot.”

“Those were almost her exact words, actually. ‘Fairy Godfather’s plotting.’” He chuckled. “As for details, however, I’m in the dark.”

Dorian brought the history professor up to speed, still looking pleased with himself for the idea. “I’m getting ready to make the announcement soon, actually.”

“I’ll cover my ears now, then,” Cullen joked. “But I think this sounds marvelous.”

Once the students were in their usual places, Leliana rose to do the morning announcements. After rattling off the usual things - helpful reminders and schedule adjustments - she continued, “Now, if you’ll all listen carefully, our beloved Professor Pavus has something very exciting that he wants to share with all of you. Please try to keep the screaming to a minimum until after Professor Tethras has had another cup of coffee.”

Everyone laughed at that, but fell silent as Dorian got to his feet. “Good morning, Skyhold Academy. Since it’s come to my attention lately,” he paused to throw a teasing glance at Varric, “that the student body is positively dripping with talent, I’ve decided to start a club to help you all channel some of those creative impulses even further. So, to those of you interested, the brand new Skyhold Academy drama club will be accepting auditions starting Friday for our first production… Beauty and the Beast.”

It was clearly very hard for the students to obey Leliana’s injunction about minimal screaming, because the excitement was positively electric throughout the entire hall. Varric, watching them with amusement, knocked back the remains of what was in his mug. “It’s okay, kids, cut loose,” he said. “Thanks for waiting.”

The teachers all laughed as the hall erupted into excited whispers and shrieks of delight. There was some clapping, a few cheers, and one or two of the customary “Best. School. Ever” declarations. From his spot at the side of the teacher’s table, Felix glanced over from where he was filming the whole thing on his phone and gave Dorian a thumbs up.

“Oh, but Dorian,” said Josephine, “you forgot to mention that you’ve already planned on drafting Cullen for one role.”

“You are?” said Cullen, lifting an eyebrow and looking faintly amused.

“I am,” said Dorian, smirking as the students all leaned forward nearly as one, eager for the news. “While the musical will be for all of you to showcase your talents, a few of us may join in the excitement as well. I’m envisioning, for instance, your dear Professor Rutherford as Maurice.”

“It is a pretty good part for you, Curly,” said Varric. “Siren seemed to think so too.”

There was a flurry of cooing. Cullen chuckled in response. “You’re probably right,” he remarked. “And who am I to argue with both the approval of my wife and my students? All right, count me in. But I think Professor Pavus should have a cameo as well, in addition to his directing.”

“Great minds and all that.” The music teacher grinned. “I was thinking Belle’s priest friend. The man does, after all, have excellent taste in literature.”

“You would cast yourself as the only sane character,” Varric deadpanned. “Here I was thinking you and I could be the candlestick and the clock. I would be the clock, obviously.”

“We may have to revisit that plan at some point. I am certainly charming enough for such a role,” said Dorian. “But for this particular production, you can be the narrator if you so wish.”

“I suppose I could live with that. It does sort of seem to be my schtick.”

“Marvelous. And the rest we shall figure out after auditions.” He turned back to face the students, who were evidently growing more and more excited by the second. “As I said, auditions start Friday after class, my office. We’ll also need stage crew and background characters, so don’t be shy about coming to me with your talents.”

“So, Bull, how long do you think it’ll take before Krem decides to audition?” Blackwall snorted as Dorian sat back down and the students turned to whispering frantically.

“That depends,” Bull replied. “How excited is Rory?”

Everyone turned to find the Partners in Crime’s customary corner, where Rory was holding on to both Jim and Nessa’s shoulders, looking near rapturous with delight. “Quite excited, by the look of it,” said Solas dryly.

“Then probably not long.” Bull chuckled.

“Even if she doesn’t go for Belle herself, she’d swoon over him as the Beast,” Josephine noted. “But I hope she does, she would be adorable.”

“I couldn’t agree more, on both points,” said Dorian. “We’ll have to see what we can do.” To Varric, he added, “I know you helped bolster her confidence before, perhaps we can work a miracle between the two of us.”

“Last I checked, miracles were sort of a specialty of ours. Let’s see what we can do.”

By the time breakfast was over, Rory had waffled no less than five times about whether or not she was going to audition. “Maker and Andraste, Beauty and the Beast plus my ray of sunshine. I’m in. I’m so in” quickly turned into “Am I insane? I can’t sing! I can’t act! I’ll absolutely straight up die of mortification. Nope. Not doing it.” She ended up somewhere between the two extremes when the students drifted out of the hall and everyone began to separate off to their different classes.

“Magic and music together in one,” said Cole, trailing behind the trio. “He would be your prince, but could he be a beast?”

The Partners in Crime spun around to face him. “Oh, hi, Cole,” said Rory. His statement was already making color flood her cheeks. “I, uh… are you talking about the play?”

“Yes.” He nodded. “Krem was talking about it. He wants to try, but… he’s not sure. Uncertain, unconvinced. Can I do it, would I be right, would she like it?”

“Yeah, I know the feeling, I’m having the same conversation with mys-” She stopped abruptly, her eyes growing wide. “Wait... would she like it? She as in me? Is that a joke? Of course I’d like it. Is he... is he really wondering about that?” She looked a mixture of flattered and shocked.

Jim couldn’t suppress a chuckle. “You two really are made for each other.”

“Quiet, Jimmy,” she said, but was smiling to herself as she did so, the blush in her cheeks deepening. “Anyway, that’s... wow. Yeah, he’d be great in it. He’d be a brilliant leading man.”

“But he doesn’t just want to be a prince,” Cole noted innocently. “He wants to be your prince.”

“Awww.” Nessa beamed, elbowing Rory playfully. “I told you that you should audition.”

“I... gosh... uh... yeah, but...” Rory struggled for a word. “I’ll probably just mess it up,” she insisted.

“It can’t hurt to try, Rors,” said Jim. “Worst case, you’re a singing villager instead of Belle. Besides, Professor Pavus is going to be Pere Robert - you know how much you love Pere Robert.”

“Well, that’s true, I do. I really, really do.” She pursed her lip in thought. “I don’t know, I’ll think about it - I’ve got until Friday, after all.”

“That’s the spirit!” Jim patted her shoulder. “Thanks, Cole, we’ve been trying to talk her into this all through breakfast.”

“I just said I’ll think about it,” Rory reminded him, holding up a hand. “But yeah, thank you for the… additional info, Cole. I know you like to help, and I really appreciate it.”

“I do like to help.” The blue eyes were bright. “Thank you.”

“And if you happen to see Krem and you uh... want to mention I think him auditioning would be really amazing...” She tugged on her ear, a usual nervous gesture for her. “...then, you know, feel free.”

“I can tell him! He will be happy to think that you would be happy.”

“Well... good... thanks. On a related note, I’m probably never, ever going to stop blushing.”

Nessa giggled. “It’s okay, Rors. We’re used to it by now.”

“Gee, thanks,” she returned dryly.

Jim chuckled and shook his head. “Come on, let’s get to class and try to concentrate. Operative word being try.”

It was Thursday when Dorian entered the staff room, glancing around at the others assembled. “Well, auditions are tomorrow. Anyone have any intel on who I can expect to see?”

“I can confirm that Krem is going to try out for Adam,” said Bull, looking inordinately pleased and proud. “Some of the other Chargers want to be background noise - you know, random villagers and the like.”

“Excellent! How did you manage to convince him, amatus?”

“I had nothing to do with it,” Bull replied with a laugh. “Cullen’s boy told Krem that Rory would be thrilled if he tried out for the part. That’s all it took.”

“That’s adorable,” Cass enthused, looking up from the book she was reading in the corner. “And from what I gather, Cole tried to convince Rory to try out too. Any luck there? Any progress?”

“Well, I had a chat with her about it yesterday,” Varric reported, not looking up from his manuscript, “but she wasn’t quite sold on it by the time she left. As far as I know it’s still up in the air.”

“The girl is surprisingly stubborn for someone so unassuming,” Dorian said, but there was affection in his tone. “I’m running out of things to say to convince her.”

“Maybe you could point out that Belle has to kiss the prince and Krem will only want to kiss her?” This from Josephine, who looked impish.

Dorian’s lips twitched in a smile. “I don’t think she’s quite worked that far ahead in her mind, to be honest. Were I to point it out, she’d probably be too embarrassed to show her face, poor girl.”

“True. Ah well - any other tryouts expected?”

“Well, much to my surprise, I believe Dagna might be trying her hand,” said Dorian. “I must say I’m looking forward to it. And of course the other two-thirds of the Partners in Crime are eager to audition as well.”

“Oh, good,” said Evvy, arriving (with Skye in her arms) in time to hear this bit. “I may need to sit in on the auditions tomorrow out of sheer curiosity. This will be fun.”

“You are more than welcome, of course, my dear,” Dorian said, smiling as she entered. “Incidentally, do you think your son would be willing to audition? I’d be very glad to have him if he did.”

“I asked him about that,” she replied, settling down with the baby. “He was a little hesitant at first, but knowing that Cullen’s going to be in the show and that you’re directing it seems to help. So I think he wants to participate, but he doesn’t want a very big part.”

“I think I have just the thing in mind, if he’s willing.”

“You seem to have given this all a great deal of thought, Dorian.” Cassandra chuckled. “But I am glad to see so many of the students taking to it.”

“Shame Broody’s off on tour,” Varric joked, turning over the sheet in front of him. “We could draft him to choreograph the big numbers.”

Hawke started snickering. “I could always Skype him,” she suggested. “Although the man who started Skyhold Academy’s first ever dance club will probably have no trouble with choreography,” she added, smiling in Dorian’s direction.

“Probably true,” Evvy agreed. She gave a bit of a yawn. “Does anyone want to hold this adorable bundle while I get myself some tea?”

Cassandra held out her arms. “I’ve not yet mastered this, but let me see here.”

“Here you go, Auntie Cassandra.” Evvy carefully arranged the little one in Cass’s arms. “Just like that.”

Smiling, Cassandra cradled Skye’s head, very gently rocking the baby as she slept. “Hold on, I simply must get a picture of this,” said Leliana, reaching for her phone and taking the coveted picture. “Too cute. Cullen is going to love this.”

“Where is Curly, anyway?” asked Varric, finally looking up.

“Helping Cole with his homework,” Evvy replied, sitting down again with her teacup. “At least, that’s what was happening when I left.”

“Of course, we should have known if he’s not in the company of one child, he’s in the company of the other.” Dorian chuckled. “He really is astonishingly good at the whole father thing.”

“He’s certainly that,” Evvy agreed warmly. “Not what I expected when I first sympathized with him about his ridiculous ties, but I’m not complaining.”

Everyone laughed at that (quietly, of course, so as not to wake the baby). “You both have come so far in such a short amount of time.” Cass beamed. “We all have.”

“And I have a feeling it’s just the beginning,” said Leliana almost knowingly.

“Yeah, there’s bound to be more wacky hijinks down the road,” Varric remarked. “And probably more kids, at some point.”

“I’ll start drafting the nursery plans now then, shall I?” The headmistress laughed.

“It might not be a bad idea, you know,” said Josephine, chuckling.

“I'll run it by the founders, check the budget. No rest for the wicked.” She grinned. “One thing at a time, however - let's get through the end of term and the summer first.”

“Very true. And it’s not like Skye is lacking for people to fuss over her in the meantime,” Evvy joked. Varric was sneaking glances at the baby, with a slight smile on his face as he did. This fact was not lost on Hawke, who bit her lip to suppress a chuckle.

Meanwhile, Dorian was responding to Evvy’s statement. “No, she is certainly not. She has her own little fan club.”

“I know - her father is the president.” Evvy laughed. “I may have been supplanted in his affections, at least temporarily. But to be fair, she is prettier than I am.”

“Nonsense, you are both equally pretty in your own ways.” Dorian chuckled. “And I'm sure your unicorn could never divide his affections – not for all the money in the world.”

“I’m sure you’re right.” She smiled and sipped her tea. “Varric, if you want a turn holding her, all you have to do is ask.”

“What? No, I’m good. She’s a little too breakable for me, thanks.”

“Might be a good skill to learn,” Hawke remarked innocently.

“You have something you need to tell me, Hawke?”

“Nothing much. Just your usual friendly reminder that Bethy loves kids.” She smirked into her coffee cup.

He shrugged. “So do I. I wouldn’t last long in this place if I didn’t.”

“Well, good. Because she loves them and wants a bunch.” The smirk widened.

“I’ll put in an order,” Varric said dryly. “Soon as I find the store.”

“Bulk order.” Hawke chuckled. She studied her best friend for a moment, shaking her head fondly.

Varric paused, and then started to laugh. “Fine, fine. She wants a bunch of kids? Next time we visit Kirkwall, she’ll have a flock of baby goats running around your estate.”

Hawke snorted. “I'm texting that to her right now. I can just picture the face she'll make.”

“Think of all the free milk and cheese you’ll have!” He grinned. “Tell me what she says.”

After a moment, the phone buzzed and Hawke laughed. “‘I'm groaning. Just terrible. However, I do like goats too,’” Hawke read. “She doesn't miss a beat, that one.”

“I assume you neglected to mention that you started all this. No matter, I’ll fill her in this evening.”

“Of that I have no doubt.”

“We’re going to need a description for those two,” Bull remarked. “They’re not so cute it’s stupid, but... they’re something.”

“Yeah, they're sure something all right,” Hawke said, laughing. “But I know what you mean.”

“Should I leave, so you can properly talk about me behind my back?” Varric retorted, half rising.

“No, no, stay - we have no problem talking about you to your face.” This from Dorian.

“Just checking. By the way,” he said, sitting back down, “there’s the matter of the script for your play. Are you going to have me hack it up before you get started?”

“I imagine we can use quite a bit of original dialogue. I'll let you write the introduction, since you're the narrator, and we can figure the rest out.”

“Works for me. What am I going to be wearing, anyway?” Varric raised an eyebrow, the notion having suddenly crossed his mind.

“Wouldn't you like to know?” Dorian teased. “Don't worry, it won't have sequins. At least... not many.

Varric merely groaned, but said nothing. Evvy giggled. “Well, as the priest of a humble village, Dorian, I don’t imagine you’ll be wearing too many sequins yourself,” she noted.

“I'm sure I can bring panache even to a priest’s vestments,” he said, waving his hand. “And now I will pause here for the inevitable ‘coat of many colors’ jokes.”

“Insert joke here,” Varric replied. “I feel like I’ve made them all.”

“Yes. Probably. But I suppose I should thank you for that stunt, otherwise I never would have had the idea for the club. Well, that’s not entirely true – I would have eventually, I'm sure. But that assured I had it faster.”

“What can I say, I’m an inspiration.” Varric smirked. “Though to be fair, I couldn’t have pulled off the stunt if you weren’t an inspiration yourself.”

“I'm going to take that as a compliment.”

“Intended in the spirit in which it was accepted, then.”

“I love it when they play nice,” Leliana whispered to Josephine, grinning.

“They like each other so much more than they want to admit,” Josephine whispered back with a giggle.

“We can hear you,” Dorian remarked dryly. “And that's all a vicious rumor.” He was grinning, however.

“Absolutely taken right from the scandal sheets,” Varric agreed. “Fake news, as they say.”

“Mmhmm.” Cass made a noise of skepticism. “Certainly, gentlemen. We believe you.”

“I can tell, General. Well, we are paragons of sincerity,” Varric noted. She made a noise of disgust, but there was affection tinged in it as well.

“Shame Mahanon’s not here,” Bull deadpanned. “He could start singing ‘Can You Feel the Love Tonight’ like he did at the wedding.”

“That's not funny. You may think it is, but it's not,” Dorian admonished, but even he looked like he was trying not to chuckle.

“No, I’m on Tiny’s side, that is funny.” Varric was openly chortling.

Dorian shrugged comically. “Once again I find myself in a battle I cannot win with you people,” he joked, getting to his feet. “So I concede defeat in this. Wish me luck in my continued effort to get Rory to audition for this play. Hopefully I am more successful in that. Ta ta.”

“If her ‘ray of sunshine’ can’t talk her into it, I don’t know who could,” said Evvy, lifting her teacup. “Good luck, Dori.”

Of course, since no one was more theatrical than the drama club’s director-to-be, Dorian refused to tell anyone if he was successful in his efforts (except Evvy, who had been there for the auditions) until he had a completed cast list. Monday morning, he arrived in the great hall for breakfast, looking almost unbearably smug.

“Someone’s in a good mood,” said Varric, amused.  “Did they put you on the cover of the Randy Dowager’s Quarterly again?”

“Ha, ha. And for the last time, I was not on the cover, a headline using my name was on the cover. But no, I have something much better.” He tapped the paper in his hand. “I have the cast list for Beauty and the Beast here.”

“Ooh!” Josephine squealed. “Tell us, tell us!”

“Well let's see... we have Jim and Nessa as Lumiere and Plumette. Seamus made a surprisingly good Cogsworth. Dagna actually has quite the stage presence so I've made her a female LeFou.” He grinned, stretching out the suspense. “Our very own Cole Rutherford is to be Chip, if he's willing. Oh, and there are the two leads, of course. To the shock of no one who saw Krem take a turn as me in a coat of many colors, I'm sure, he definitely needs to be Adam... and he definitely needs to play off of Miss Rory Norbertson as Belle.” The grin widened.

“Oh, marvelous!” There was a general declaration of joy at this.

“Maybe Cole would be more comfortable playing Chip if his mother plays Mrs. Potts,” Leliana suggested. “Or did you cast someone in that part already?”

“If my Cinderella is recovered enough, I would be more than delighted to have her,” said Dorian. “Unless the school's resident Nightingale wanted to sing a bit.”

“I could be persuaded, I think.” She smiled.

“Wait a moment,” said Cassandra. “Jim and Nessa are Lumiere and Plumette? But they aren’t… are they?”

“Oh, Maker, no.” Dorian laughed. “Not even a little. She would break his jaw if I made them kiss, so I won't. Besides, he would probably rather die than do such a thing anyway. The Partners in Crime are the closest things to siblings each of them has.”

“Something I think a few of us can appreciate,” Leliana noted with a chuckle. “I presume you’ll be writing their kiss out of the show, then?”

“Oh, yes. I don't really want to cart one of my principal cast members off to the hospital.” He chuckled. “But they work well together otherwise, so it seems logical.”

“Are there any parts which haven’t been filled?” Varric wanted to know.

“Well, I am having a hard time finding a Madame de Garderobe,” he admitted, squinting at the list. “And I could stand to have a few more people on the stage crew and in the background. I’m planning on posting the list after breakfast, but rehearsal won’t start until next week, so there’s a bit of time to see if we attract anyone else.”

“Josephine, what about you for Madame de Garderobe?” Evvy suggested. “I’ve heard you sing, I think you could do it.”

“Oh, that’s sweet of you to say.” Josephine smiled, then considered the statement. “Hmm... well, I doubt I could be as operatic, but I would certainly be willing to try.”

“Maybe I could help you with that,” Bull offered. “I’ve had opera training, you know.”

“Oh, that’s right.” She chuckled. “Well, between you and Dorian, I’m sure I’ll be ready in no time. So I guess I’m your woman… or, in this case, your wardrobe.”

“Say, that begs another question,” said Varric, mildly. “Who’s playing what’s her name? Agatha, the enchantress?”

Dorian looked like he was trying not to snicker. “Well, we’re already genderbending LeFou, I thought maybe the enchantress could be an enchanter. And I thought maybe it could be you.”

“How am I supposed to narrate the opening while being the enchanter?” Varric looked mostly amused by the prospect.

“I’m sure you’ll think of something.” Dorian shrugged. “Do a bit of the narration, step out, say something witty, step back in the shadows. It could work. Unless you have another suggestion, that is.”

Varric paused. “How about instead, I record the opening narration and we play it over the speakers? Might be easier, especially since that is the only narration.”

“Now that is an excellent idea.” The music teacher made a quick note of that. “So you’re willing to be our enchanter then?”

“I think he should still be the enchantress,” said Bull, grinning. “Picture it. The narration talks about ‘the old woman’s ugliness melted away to reveal a beautiful enchantress,’ and then he turns around and it’s Varric. The audience would die laughing.”

Varric snorted. “Cute, Tiny. But I think I’ll stick with costumes that don’t require corsets.”

“That is quite possibly the most disturbing mental image I’ve ever been subjected to,” said Dorian. He looked deeply amused, however. “Oh, and speaking of costumes, I have a lot of work to do. I would like them to be something tasteful, not big ridiculous things. I have some thinking to do.”

“Are you open to suggestion?” asked Varric. “And I’m being serious, not sarcastic.”

“I’m always open to suggestions, it’s just up in the air as to if I’ll take them.” His pen hovered over the sheet, poised to write. “What’s on your mind?”

“Just that when it comes to costuming, I know somebody who went to college for such a thing, and she’d probably leap at the chance to help.” Varric glanced at Hawke and smirked. “Not that I generally approve of her leaping very much, but you know.”

“Now why didn’t I think of that?” the director said, grinning. “It would be a pleasure to have Bethany’s help, provided she’s feeling up to it. I don’t want to force more work on her than she’s ready to take on.”

“You and me and Varric makes three on that score,” Hawke replied. “But I think she could manage to be pretty useful. She’s been in remission almost a year now, and at the very least I’m sure she’d want to lend you her collection of patterns. Cutting fabric, measuring people, that kind of thing shouldn’t be too taxing for her.”

“Well, I’m very pleased to hear that. She and I will have to put our heads together. And, if she wants, she can stay and see the show.”

If? I think that’s what we call a foregone conclusion.” Varric laughed.

Everyone chuckled along with him. “Very true, very true,” said Dorian. “Well, I’m happy to have as many guests in the audience as possible, so feel free to spread the word.”

“Hey, here’s an idea,” said Hawke. “I know most of our kids wouldn’t want their parents here - but for those who have parents or guardians who do care about them, maybe we could look into arranging for them to come and see the show?”

“That would be marvelous.” Leliana smiled. “You leave that to me and Josie. I’m sure we can work a little magic.”

“Oh, that would be such a nice surprise for them!” Josephine agreed. “I’ll see what we can do.”

“You know best which kids fall into that category,” said Varric with a nod. “Though I’m fairly sure Miss Norbertson does, so if we can get her parents here to see her in the lead role, that’d be something else. And I assume that the Theirins would want to come and have a look at things. Maybe even Choirboy would want to stop by for it.”

“You’re suggesting inviting Sebastian? You?” Hawke teased him.

He shrugged. “He’s not that bad.”

“Amazing how that tune has changed,” Cass said, her tone jocular. “I wonder why?” she added, grinning in his direction.

“I can’t imagine what you mean, General. Hey, why don’t you take a part in this show too?”

“I don’t think I quite have the skills Dorian’s looking for,” she said, amused. “I could help the stage crew lift things, but that’s about it, I imagine.”

“By the way,” asked Josephine, “who’s playing Gaston, Dorian?”

He chuckled. “As surprising as this may sound, that role belongs to Doug from the chess team. He was able to convey a surprising amount of intensity for a chess champion.” He glanced over at Evvy. “No offense to the chess club or the fine professor who leads it, of course.”

“None taken.” Evvy looked amused. “I’m sure he’ll be a delight in the role. Well, this is going to be quite the adventure, isn’t it? I’m excited already.”

“I’m glad to hear it,” Dorian said warmly. “Hopefully the students feel the same. I look forward to the reactions.”

True to his word, Dorian posted the cast list after breakfast and those who had auditioned were more than eager to see it. There was a little pocket of students, whispering in excitement, each trying to get some time in front of the sheet taped to the wall.

At last, the Partners in Crime had their turn. Jim and Nessa approached the list side by side and squinted.

“Hey, I’m Lumiere!” Jim said, looking pleased.

“And I’m Plumette,” said Nessa, giving him a high five. Then she levelled him with a comical glare. “Just an FYI, though, Jimmy - try to kiss me and I’ll punch you in the mouth.”

“Ugh.” He made a face. “Why would I want to? It’d be like kissing my sister. Ew.”

Meanwhile, Rory had wandered over to take her turn and gasped deeply. Her two friends just grinned at each other. “Maker and Andraste, is this a joke?” she said at last.

“No joke, Belle,” said Jim. “You and Prince Charming get to sing at each other and everything.”

She slapped both hands to her cheeks. “I don’t believe this. I literally don’t believe this. I... wow... okay, right, I’m super terrified now.”

“Hey, is that the cast list?” asked a voice, and they turned to see Krem approaching. “Rors, why so pale, babe?”

Rory whipped around so fast she nearly toppled over. “Oh, Krem! Hi.” She still had a tendency to blush whenever he was around, which was particularly accented given the fact that all the other color had drained from her face. “I, uh… well, you see...” she gulped and pointed at the cast list. “I’m gonna screw this up, I just know it.”

He peered at the list, then did a double take. “What... whoa. This is... wow. No, no, you’ll be great. We’ll all be great.” He grinned. “You know why? Because Professor P believes in us, and he doesn’t do that without a reason.”

“Well... okay, yeah, you’re right. I just don’t want to disappoint him and the others. And I really don’t want to make a fool of myself in front of y- I mean, in front of everyone,” she amended quickly.

“Don’t you worry about it, babe. They’ll love you,” he assured her. “Look at it this way - you’re guaranteed to be the best leading lady Skyhold has ever had, right? So just have fun with it.”

She giggled at that, looking soothed and smiling in delight. “Again, you’re right. Well... okay. I’m sure it will all be fine. We certainly have a super fun cast, so rehearsal ought to be a ball.”

“Yeah, and look at that - you get to be Professor R’s daughter for a while,” he teased. “You can be Cole’s sister!”

She laughed again. “Cole already has a sister. And even though she’s only like a month old, I probably still can’t hold a candle to her. But I’ll try.” She smiled.

“To be fair, no one can hold a candle to little Skye.” Krem chuckled. “That’s some powerful genetics at work there. Who do you guys think she favors more, anyway? I heard some of the teachers trying to decide.”

“Good question,” said Nessa. “I suspect she'll have Professor Rutherford’s curls. And she's got some similar facial features to her dad too. But I wonder if she'll be blonde or brunette?”

“I kinda hope she has her mom’s eyes,” said Jim. “Mrs. R’s eyes are like ridiculously pretty.”

“Can you imagine Mrs. Rutherford’s eyes with Professor Rutherford’s hair color?” said Rory. “Oh, that would be so cute!”

“Oh man.” Krem was chuckling now. “She’s going to be locked in a tower when she’s old enough to date, you watch. Her dad’s not going to let anybody near her.”

“Yup.” Rory giggled. “And she's got a pretty intimidating group of aunts and uncles, so he'll have plenty of people to help scare any potential gentlemen callers away.” She laughed a little harder, evidently picturing such a scenario.

“Or lady callers. Or both,” said Nessa, also giggling. “Poor kid. Ah well.”

“By the same token, those same aunts and uncles will probably also make sure she can have a good time once in a while,” said Jim. “She’s got the coolest family ever.”

“Can’t argue with that,” Krem agreed. In a conspiratorial tone, he added, “You should see how some of the teachers are with her when they think no one’s looking. Professor T is the worst, he gets all syrupy until he realizes he’s being watched.”

“Oh, that’s adorable,” Rory cooed. “Plus from what I gather, Miss Hawke loves kids. So it’s totally within the realm of possibility that little Skye won’t be the only baby in Skyhold. She might have playmates someday.”

“Funny, that’s apparently what Ms. Hawke tells Professor T as well,” Krem said, chuckling. “He keeps playing it cool, but I guess she’s angling for nieces or nephews.”

“That’s hilarious.” Rory grinned. “I love that you have all the inside scoop. Coach probably tells you everything, right?”

“Well, not everything - but he tells me a lot,” he admitted. “You know how he is. He’s sort of like a dad to me.”

“It’s really cute.” She smiled. “And anyone with eyes can tell he’s super proud of you too. I mean, duh, of course he is.”

“I hope so.” He returned her smile, just slightly dopey. “Hey, we’d better get to class! I’ll see you later, yeah?”

“Oh, right, yes, schoolwork is still a thing.” She chuckled, and twisted a strand of hair through her fingers. “Yeah, definitely. You’ll definitely see me later.”

“Cool. Have a good day, everybody.” He gave her a quick kiss to the temple and headed off to class. Nessa and Jim didn’t say anything, just watched Rory with profound amusement.

After several seconds of doing nothing but blinking in a daze, she sighed at last. “Oh, Andraste preserve me, he’s a dream. Someone carry me to class please.”

Her friends laughed. “Come on, funny girl,” said Jim, putting an arm around her. “Let’s get you to class before the people in the hall start singing about you with your head in the clouds.”

“Yeah, that comes next week, after all.” Nessa giggled, also putting her arm around her friend as they set off.

Bethany, as Varric and Hawke had predicted, was thrilled to be invited to help Dorian with the play costumes. “You sure this isn’t too much for you, Sunshine?” Varric asked over Skype one evening. “We knew you’d want to participate, but we don’t want you running yourself ragged.”

“It’s not too much, I promise,” she swore. “I can do most of the work sitting down and in relative comfort. The biggest risk I run is getting myself overexcited.” She laughed. “My fingers are itching to get to work.”

“Well, I imagine that’s true. Sparkler’s got a sewing room all set up for the two of you,” he added. “More accurately, he’s basically taken over the life skills department, but nobody minds very much. And I know Curly and Siren are looking forward to introducing you to Skye.”

“I’m excited for that too.” She beamed. “I can’t wait to see in person the little girl whose photos I’m treated to so often. Her father is a great paparazzi,” she added with a fond laugh.

“I’m amazed we can ever get her away from him without resorting to a crowbar,” Varric retorted, smiling. “Siren has to put her foot down now and then. But he’s getting a little better as she gets bigger.”

“I think it’s sweet. Watching him with Skye and Cole is simply adorable. I know the comment was made at Cullen and Evvy’s wedding that he should write a manual about being a husband, but he’s well on his way to writing one about parenting too, I think. It suits him.”

“It does. And man, Cole is really coming along - being a big brother has been so good for him.” Varric’s smile softened. “Sparkler told me Cole was a little concerned that maybe the baby was going to be more Curly’s kid than he is, because of the circumstances of how they became father and son. But Curly’s gone above and beyond to make sure Cole knows that ‘no, you are my kid,’ and between that and interacting with Skye, he’s growing a ton.”

“Oh, how precious,” Bethany said, a hand over her heart. “I love seeing them all together and so happy. They all deserve it so much.”

“I remember Siren’s attitude about Cole before the adoption went through. Especially when that wretched aunt of hers was here,” he added. “She was just so calm. ‘Cole is my son.’ Piece of paper didn’t matter to her; still doesn’t. That’s her boy and she made sure everyone knew it, him especially. But he’s Curly’s too, and everyone knows it.”

“Poor Cole went through so much at such a young age. It’s good to see him so content and loved now.” She smiled. “I only hope all the Skyhold kids one day have people who will love them that much in one way or another.”

“To a large extent, they already do,” he assured her. “Maybe not quite as directly as Cole, but then again, Cole was the only one who was so desperate not to return to his living situation that he was hiding in the school. He only really started to come out of hiding when Siren came along.” Varric paused. “I’d love to know how that happened, actually. Might make a good book.”

“I’m sure. Maybe we’ll have to ask him one day.” The smile widened. “Skyhold is full of stories, after all. If those walls could talk…”

“Ah, but this house is not for sale,” Varric teased. “What happens in Skyhold probably should stay in Skyhold. Anyway, how soon will you be here? Big sister and I are fighting over who gets to come to the airport.”

“That’s sweet in a way.” She chuckled. “My flight will get in Friday, late afternoon. You know I’d be thrilled to see either or both of you there, so fight nice.”

“We always fight nice,” he protested mildly. “We’re not fighting with each other, we’re fighting with the rest of your fan club.”

She laughed at that. “The rest of my fan club?” she repeated, amused. “I have a fan club? I think you exaggerate, dear.”

“Me? Exaggerate? Perish the thought. I would never.”

She laughed again. “Mmhmm.” There was teasing skepticism in the tone as she smiled at him. “Well, exaggeration or not, it’s a very nice sentiment.”

“With any luck, we’ll fend off your excess admirers and it’ll just be the two of us there to pick you up. Are you bringing the dog?”

“I can if Marian wants me to. Otherwise, I’m sure Aveline wouldn’t mind looking after him. Whatever works.”

“Eh, bring him. You know it sucks for a person to be away from their mabari; it’ll be a nice surprise for her.” He smiled. “Besides, he hasn’t met the dogs here yet.”

“Good idea. Cole can introduce him to Snow.”

“There’s that. She’s a funny little thing - trots around at his heels half the day, spends the other half in the kennels like she’s trying to learn from the bigger dogs how to dog.” Varric laughed. “I get a kick out of her.”

“By all accounts, it sounds like she and Cole are a match made in Heaven. I’m so happy she chose him.”

“Curly told me that Cole wants to teach her to look after Siren.” His expression turned wry, and slightly sad. “He seems to think that if his mother had only had a mabari of her own last year, the Venatori jackholes would never have taken her. Sometimes I wonder if the kid has PTSD from that little episode.”

“Oh, the poor sweet boy.” Bethany tutted. “It breaks my heart to think about how terrified he must have been when all that happened.”

“I think he’s the only one who took it harder than Curly, except maybe Lockpick.” Varric shook his head. “He finally had a mother and someone took her away - I can imagine that would mess with his head something fierce. But he’s getting better, and I know Songbird has him meet with a counselor sometimes still just to be on the safe side.”

“Good, good.” She perked up slightly. “Oh, if I'm trained a bit by Josephine, maybe Cole can start talking to me. He might like talking to someone he knows already.”

“Can’t hurt, Sunshine,” he agreed. “And I think he’s actually kind of excited about being in ‘Uncle Dorian’s play.’ He’s going to be Chip.”

“Aww.” She beamed. “That's a wonderful part for him. I'll have to see if I can make his costume include a hat.” She chuckled.

Varric laughed. “He does like hats. Almost as much as you do.”

She shrugged comically. “Guilty as charged,” she said brightly. After a moment, her lips twitched. “And of course I'm very excited to design a costume for the enchanter.”

“Are you going to make me something that shows off the chest hair?” he teased, grinning.

“That would be telling,” she teased back. “Don't worry, I'll do right by you.”

“You, I trust. Anyway, I need two costumes,” he reminded her, “since I’m also the homeless beggar Edgar. So as long as one of them shows off the chest hair, we’re in business.” He winked.

“Or both. Both is good.” She laughed.

“Both is better. Okay, sweetheart, I’d better get going. Sparkler wants to review the script with me, at least he’s finally acknowledging that I’m a writer.”

“Marvelous. I love that this is an all hands on deck sort of event, it's brilliant.” She smiled. “Give my best to whole crew. See you Friday.”

“Counting the hours, Sunshine.”

Laptop closed, Varric made his way to Dorian’s office to look over the script. “Bethany will be here Friday to start lending you her expert assistance and I don’t remember when I last saw her so excited,” he reported.

“Good. I'm glad to have her help and even more glad to hear she's looking forward to it,” Dorian replied, looking up from the myriad of papers on his desk. He gestured to an empty chair.

“So what do you need for the script?”

“Basically a second pair of eyes. Do the changes make sense, do the places where I've had to simplify certain things still work. That sort of thing.”

“All right, let’s see.” Varric took the pages offered and sat back in the chair, putting on his reading glasses as he did. “How’d you finagle the rights to this, anyway?”

“Josephine swooped in and took care of it, of course.” He chuckled. “I think the Maker Himself owes that woman a favor.”

“Wouldn’t surprise me.” They worked in silence for a while, Varric making the occasional ‘hm’ sound as he looked over various changes Dorian made. “Well, frankly, what I know about blocking could fit in your desk drawer,” he said finally, “but as far as I can tell, everything makes sense.”

“Wonderful.” He reclaimed the pages. “The blocking itself will probably be the easy part - the real challenge will be herding all the students and trying to master their tendency to squeal,” he said with a grin.

“Yep, some things never change. We’ll all go prematurely deaf at this rate.” Varric laughed.

“Probably. Ah, well. Occupational hazard, I suppose,” he remarked, his tone fond.

“Yeah, it could be worse. So how’s our Belle holding up? Has she fainted yet?”

“I haven't had any reports from the nurse yet, so I suppose that's a good sign. Apparently Krem convinced her to just relax and have fun, but she's still panicking a bit. She's afraid she'll foul the whole thing up somehow.”

“Sounds like Sonnet, all right. Do you think she’s worked out yet that she’s going to be kissing her boyfriend onstage?” Varric chuckled.

“I don't think she's quite gotten that far yet - which is amusing, given how many times she and her friends have seen this movie. It's almost like her brain has refused to acknowledge it.” He shook his head, grinning faintly.

“Ah, youth.” He laughed. “Were we ever that young, Sparkler?”

“Speak for yourself - I'm young right now,” Dorian said, smirking. “But yes, I know what you mean. It's hard to picture sometimes.”

“You’re younger than I am,” Varric allowed, “but you’re not as young as they are. I’m not convinced I was ever that young, I sometimes feel like I was born around thirty.”

“I especially feel that way around Skye,” said Dorian. “She's such a little thing - it's bizarre to picture any of us like that.”

“I know! Strange, right? Ah well. Oh, in other news, I was thinking of hiring the film crew I got for the fairy tale wedding to come and make a DVD of the play.”

“Mm, that's an excellent idea,” the director said, making a note of it on one of his many sheets of paper. “I have a feeling we'll want to preserve this for posterity, after all. Thank you, Varric.”

“I also have a suggestion about one scene right here.” He pointed at the script. “When Belle and the Beast use the book to visit Val Royeaux, and Belle’s mother is on her deathbed - why don’t we get Siren to play the mom? Skye could be baby Belle, and Curly can play younger Maurice by taking off the powdered wig.”

Dorian nodded contemplatively. “That's perfect actually,” he said at last. “Maker's breath, Cullen and Evvy playing that scene off one another with Skye in the mix? There won't be a dry eye in the school.”

“Exactly.” Varric grinned. “We keep one side of the stage dark, while Belle and the Beast make the transition and keep the audience distracted by looking around. Then we bring up the lights, maybe add some dry ice effect to show that it’s a flashback, and there’s Curly and a dying Siren and sweet little baby Skye. Plus whoever plays the doctor.”

“Perhaps we can enlist Solas to play the doctor. He could even do double duty and be the one who tries to cart Maurice off to the asylum.” A pause for more furious scribbling on the papers. “This is very good.”

“Double duty would be easy enough, since the doctor is never seen anyway. All you see is that costume.” Varric nodded. “And that painting of Belle as a baby being held by her mother - Hawke could whip that up in no time, I bet, and then we have the bonus of a painting of Siren and Skye that Curly can have for keeps afterward.”

“Varric, I must say I'm impressed. You've put a lot of thought into this.”

“Well, I may not be as in your face about it as everyone else around here,” Varric retorted mildly, “but I liked the movie too. Besides, this is a way better thing for the school to be whipped up about than where we were at this time last year.”

“You can say that again,” Dorian agreed. “Although the end of term last year also had a wedding. And the only way to even come remotely close to that excitement is to have an actual fairy tale this year.” He chuckled.

“I’m down for anything except a love potion,” Varric joked. “I really don’t think Skyhold needs to contend with that.”

“Certainly not. We already have quite the proliferation of couples, I don't think we can survive too many more,” he said with a laugh.

“Well, I’d be less concerned with that and more worried about a love potion screwing up the existing couples. Some messes are not worth making.”

“So no A Midsummer Night's Dream any time soon. Duly noted.” He grinned.

“As funny as it would be to have someone walking around with a donkey mask on their head, I’ll pass. I strongly suspect that would somehow end up being me.”

“Probably yes. Keep that in mind the next time you feel the need to write a song about my fashion choices,” he teased.

Varric laughed. “To be fair, you make Sunshine play Titania and I might be okay with it.”

“Now that I'd like to see.”

“I’ll see what she thinks.” The author winked.

“Looks like we have our next play. Although let's work on making this one a success before we move on to another.”

“Sounds like a plan. All right, what other genius strokes can we brainstorm? Or should I send someone to get coffee before we get in any deeper?”

“Coffee first, then more brilliance will follow, I'm sure.” Dorian grinned.

“I think I can find someone to help us out. Back in a few minutes.”

With plans hashed out and Bethany at the school and ready to start working, rehearsals soon began in earnest. After class on the day of the first practice, Jim made his way to go find Rory and Nessa. He located them eventually at a table in the library. They were all dressed casually for the task at hand, and Nessa was busy securing Rory’s hair in a braid while the leading lady highlighted her lines.

“Hey guys,” said Jim as he entered. “Rors, your hair looks pretty like that. You never do stuff with it.”

“Don't get used to it, Jimmy.” She chuckled. “Ready to go?”

“Ready when you guys are.”

“Cool, I'm just finishing up here.” She gestured with her highlighter. A few seconds later, however, she gasped and the tool fell from her hand.

“What's the matter?” asked Nessa.

“You guys. I'm the biggest idiot on the Maker's earth,” she moaned. “I’ve seen this movie like thirty-two times, why didn't this thought occur to me sooner?!” She held the script out for them to see, jabbing with her finger to the scene where Belle and the Prince share their first kiss.

“You... you really didn’t think about it?” Nessa blinked. “I would have thought it’d be like the first thing you realized.”

“No, I was too busy freaking out! Why didn't you guys remind me?”

“Honestly, there’s been so much going on that I haven’t really thought about it,” Jim admitted. “What’s the big deal, though?”

“Guys. Guys. My first kiss is going to be on stage in front of all my teachers, all my classmates, the president and first lady of Ferelden, and probably the Prince of Starkhaven. If the floor could open up and just swallow me now, that would probably be better.”

“So... you know there’s a solution to that, right?” Jim’s eyes twinkled. “You and Krem can just... you know... practice.”

“You're not funny.” Rory glared. Nessa, however, was snickering madly, which earned her a glare too. “Don't encourage him, he's not funny.”

“Oh, come on, he’s at least a little funny.”

“Nope. Zero percent funny.” She gently socked his arm. “You guys are so lucky I love you and am willing to put up with a lot.”

“Oh, Rors, it’ll be fine. Besides, Krem’s probably as nervous as you are,” Nessa pointed out.

“Less comforting than I would have hoped, but at least we're in the same boat. Andraste preserve us both.”

“You think he’s nervous too?” Jim wondered.

Rory shrugged. “He always seems so confident to me. But maybe. I don't know.”

“He’s the most popular guy in school. But he’s more comfortable with you than anybody,” Nessa reminded her. “He said so himself.”

“Well, that is true.” She smiled a dreamy sort of smile. “I guess we'll figure it out together.”

“See? Nothing to worry about.” Jim tugged gently on her braid. “So! Let’s get to practice!”

As practice waged on, Bethany was hard at work. She and Dorian had batted a few ideas about - including the thought that the members of the enchanted household would wear masks (it was an Orlesian fairy tale, after all) - and thus she was busy adding feathers to the mask that would be Nessa’s when her sister walked in. “Oh, hi, Marian.” She glanced up, smiling. “Welcome to my wonderland of craft supplies.”

“Bethy, you’re something else.” Hawke laughed and shook her head. “You sure you’re not overdoing it?”

“I'm fine,” she assured her. “I already promised Varric I'd take a break soon, but for now I'm quite enjoying myself.”

“Hm. I guess between him and me, you’re getting nagged plenty.” Her big sister shook her head again, smiling, and sat down. “Pass me one of those masks, let me make a mess too.”

“The Hawke sisters making a mess is always my favorite thing.” She chuckled and did as her sister requested, giving her the mask that was destined for Cole. “And, for what it's worth, you guys aren't nagging me. You're being concerned and I get it. It's sweet.”

“We worry because we love you.” Hawke studied the mask. “So this is a teacup... hm. How about some of this pearlescent paint and then gold edging? Kind of give it a porcelain appearance.”

“I love that idea! And Leliana’s costume is going to have a little purple in it, so we can work that into Cole's ensemble as well,” she said brightly, obviously in her glory.

“Makes sense, they’re a matching set. So what did you put your boyfriend in for his part? I could have died laughing when Dorian said he wanted him to be the enchanter.”

“Well, I had a request that the chest hair be on display.” She chuckled, retrieving her sketches. “So I'm working on giving new life to an old coat Dorian and I found. It can stay open and I'll find a shirt with a plunging neckline for him too.” She laughed again.

“And sequins, right? You know how much Varric loves sequins,” Hawke teased.

Bethany grinned. “I'm trying to be merciful. But... I would be remiss if there wasn't a little bit of shine. I might sneak some into the embroidery.”

“If his precious Sunshine does it, you know he won’t argue.” Hawke chuckled. “I wonder how he feels about being basically the villain of the whole show.”

“Eh, less the villain, more the guy who dispenses the lessons. But I think he's enjoying himself and all the various things he's doing to help the show go off without a hitch. He and Dorian are unstoppable when they combine their powers and use them for good,” she added with a laugh.

“That painting they’re going to have me doing is pretty amazing, I’ll admit. Making Evvy be Belle’s mom was a good idea.”

“An excellent idea,” Bethany agreed. “I'm looking forward to that scene - it's going to be very emotional, I'm certain.”

“Not a dry eye in the place, to use Dorian’s words.” Hawke nodded, dipping her brush in the paint. “I’m also very excited to see what you cook up for Belle’s ballgown.”

“Ah, yes. It's going to be a bit challenging since Rory’s so tiny - don't want to overwhelm her with fabric - but I can't wait. I've always wanted to make a princess gown.”

“Are you sticking with the gold color?”

“Oh, definitely. It's so iconic, after all.” She smiled, looking delighted as she explained everything. “We want to keep it very similar to how it looks in the movie, but also add a few unique touches of our own - you know, make it something really special, something that she's really going to have fun wearing.”

“And what about the Beast? How is Krem getting turned into him?”

“I am so glad you asked.” Bethany’s eyes danced, her lips curling into a grin of pride as she reached for an especially detailed mask in progress which even included the Beast’s horns. “Through this. I think it's going to be spectacular when it's finished. It'll obscure the top half of his face and hopefully really highlight his eyes - since that's sort of how Belle recognizes it's him when he turns back into the Prince. We want it to be dark and a bit textured to sort of look like the fur, you know?”

“That is amazing,” Hawke declared admiringly. “Has he seen it yet?”

“Not yet. I want to have it completely done, then I'll get the seal of approval from Director Pavus, then I'll show Krem, hopefully in a few days. I hope he likes it.”

“I can’t imagine him not liking it. Or Rory, for that matter.” Hawke resumed working on the Chip mask. “So tell me what else you and Dorian have cooked up for the costumes. I feel like I don’t know half of the incredible plans in progress.”

“Let me show you my sketches,” Bethany enthused, grabbing her notebook. “So here's Cogsworth - we have this thick brown coat for Seamus to wear and I'm going to paint his mask like a clock face. Then Nessa’s Plumette outfit.” She flipped the page. “I didn't want to drown the poor girl in feathers, so the skirt of her dress has them and then the bodice will have detachable sleeves to mimic the wings. I'm working on her mask right now.” She gestured to the white feathered creation in her hands. “Here, flip through, there's plenty more where that came from.”

“Okay, seriously, your teachers at university ought to be really proud of you,” said Hawke, chuckling as she paged through the book. “I’m so glad Varric’s bringing in a film crew because your work needs to be seen.”

“Aww, that's sweet. Thank you, Marian.” She beamed. “I'm having an absolutely brilliant time. I always love coming to Skyhold, but coming here and doing this? Simply wonderful.”

“I’m just worried about Dorian getting more ideas and running you ragged. That’s my only concern.” Hawke finished the base coat on Cole’s mask. “Let’s take that break you promised Varric while this dries.”

“I think that sounds like a plan,” she said with a smile. “I'm curious to go see how rehearsals are going anyway. Maybe we can go take a peek as long as we don't get in the way.”

“You don’t want tea or anything first?”

“Hmm... a cup of tea sounds lovely, actually. Maybe I can grab a little snack too and take my medications while I'm at it.”

“Um, yes, you will do that! Maker’s breath, no skipping medications - or your usual nap.”

“Yes, yes, of course. I wouldn't dream of it.” She rolled her eyes playfully. “What would I do without you, sister?”

“Probably elope with Varric,” Hawke deadpanned. “Come on, tea.”

Bethany laughed and gave Hawke a teasing salute. “Yes, Ser,” she said with a grin, allowing herself to be led away.

The next several days of rehearsal moved forward very well, and Dorian was pleased with everyone’s progress. As he had mentioned to Varric that day in his office, it was occasionally a bit challenging to get the kids to focus (Nessa, for instance, had a tendency to burst out laughing whenever Jim tried to do anything suave or romantic as Lumiere, and Rory had a very difficult time taking sweet, innocent Doug the chess champion seriously as Gaston). But for the most part, the kids were all eager, attentive, and most importantly, enjoying themselves immensely. Slowly but surely some of their anxiety was beginning to melt away as songs were learned and dance steps perfected. Even Rory seemed to be just starting to loosen up and find her footing in her role. And thus everything was moving like clockwork (not a pun Seamus particularly appreciated) when they finally got the chance to rehearse the scene where Belle learns what happened to her mother. Cullen and Evvy’s part would be practiced later; for now, Dorian wanted to see how Krem and Rory did for their part. The apprehensive look on Rory’s face was not the most encouraging thing in the world.

“It’s going to be fine, babe,” Krem told her soothingly. “You’ve seen the movie like a hundred times. You know how it goes.”

She managed to arrange her features into a tiny smile. “Oh, yeah, no, it’s not that, it’s… never mind, it’s fine. I’ll be fine. Uh… I’m ready when you and Professor Pavus are, I think.”

“You can do it.” He gave her an encouraging nod. “Okay, Professor P, we’re ready to give it a go.”

Once they were in place, Dorian called action and they began the scene. It went off without a hitch as Rory delivered her lines and sang Belle’s brief song about her childhood. However, as she made her way through the “Easy to remember, harder to move on, knowing the city of my childhood is gone” line, her voice died abruptly, causing everyone to look at her. “Sorry, everyone. I... sorry, I... Professor, can I just take a quick five, please? I need some air.” Seeing Dorian’s slightly bewildered nod, she made her way out of the room as quickly as she could without running. Her intention was to go to the girl’s bathroom and splash some water on her face, but she made it about as far as the lockers before she simply gave up and sat down on the floor, her knees against her chest.

After giving her a moment to try to calm herself, Krem went out in search of her, and sat down beside her on the floor. “You okay?”

“Mmhmm,” she said shakily, turning her face away to try and school her emotions. After a moment, she sighed. “That was a lie. No, I’m not really that okay. Sorry, I’m... being ridiculous.”

“Babe, it’s okay not to be okay. You want to tell me what’s on your mind? Because I can totally just sit here on the floor with you all day if you don’t want to talk, but it might help if you do.”

She turned back to face him, the look in her eyes one of extreme gratitude, and nodded slowly. “Okay... well. We all have our reasons for being here at Skyhold right? Mine is because when I was a little girl, my parents and I lost everything. And I mean everything. House fire.” She sniffed, and wiped her nose. “Well, I mean, not everything - we still had each other and that’s the important bit. Stuff doesn’t make a family, after all, people do. But... that scene hits really close to home for me, because my childhood is gone too, you know? And it’s one thing to watch that scene in the movie and it’s another to actually act it out and be in the moment.” She sighed again. “I don’t know, that probably sounds really stupid.”

He smiled, and shook his head. “Nah. That totally makes sense, it really does.” He shifted over and put his arm around her shoulders. “That’s why we have the rehearsals, so we can get used to these things. Otherwise, when we actually do that scene with Prof and Mrs. R in their roles, we’re going to be as weepy as the audience. But I can see why that would get to you.”

Slowly, almost cautiously, she put her head down on his shoulder. “It’s just... hard to think about sometimes. Everything my parents ever worked for was just... gone. And when I think about all they’ve tried to do over the years to make sure I could have things - sacrificing for me - I… I don’t know,” she said again. “It’s hard. And I mean, I have it much better than so many people here, I shouldn’t complain. But yeah.”

“Babe, you’re a good person and it sounds like your parents are good people. And I’m glad, because I wish more people around here had good parents,” Krem added. “So of course you worry about them and feel bad that they have to work so hard. And yeah, you can complain now and then, you’re human and we kind of like to do that. Really, this is okay.”

She pulled away briefly to smile up at him. “You’re sweet, you know,” she said at last, warmly. “You’re sweet to say that and I appreciate it. Thanks.”

“Any time, Rors. Now... you think you’re ready to try the song again? Or do we need a few more minutes of hallway cuddles?”

She laughed slightly. “I think a few more minutes of hallway cuddles is just what the doctor ordered,” she said, putting her head on his shoulder once more. “I did say I was taking five, after all.” After a beat, she added. “And Krem, if you ever want to talk too, I’m happy to return the favor.”

“I know, hon.” He kissed the top of her head. “Maybe sometime. Right now this is plenty good.”

“Mmhmm,” she agreed, shutting her eyes. After a minute or so of this comfortable silence, she opened her eyes once more. “Hey, Krem? I have a really stupid question, but uh... you read all the way through the script, right? Like... all the way to the end?”

“Sure, why?”

“Well, uh... you know that scene after the Beast turns back into the prince and Belle sort of stares at him and then realizes it’s him and… everything? I, uh… well, how do you feel about that scene?”

“I - oh. Well.” He rubbed the back of his neck. “Mostly it makes me glad that, you know, I’m the Beast and you’re Belle, because otherwise I think it’d be real uncomfortable for both of us.”

She turned a little pink at his assertion, but looked pleased behind the nervousness. “Yeah. I mean, I guess I'm just a little... well, you know, because it's going to be in front of all our friends and our teachers and... visiting dignitaries.” She chuckled awkwardly.

He chuckled too. “Point taken. Well, we could ask Professor Pavus to let us change the scene? Make it a big dramatic hug or something?”

“Now that I could do. Although I have a sort of suspicion he won't agree.” She lowered her voice. “Just between you and me, I think he was sort of hoping you and I would be the leads.”

“Honestly?” Krem laughed. “From something Coach said, I don’t think he was the only one.”

She giggled. “They really are something else, our teachers. I think practically every single one of them said something nice and encouraging to me before you asked me out to try and bolster my confidence. It was really sweet.”

“That’s Skyhold for you.” He smiled. “All right, ready to try it again?”

She took a deep breath, as if preparing herself to get back into character. “Ready, thanks to you.”

“That’s my girl. Let’s knock ‘em dead.”

Since Evvy and Cullen were not yet needed for their part in the scene, it seemed as good a time as any to work on the portrait of Evvy and Skye that would be used as Maurice’s portrait of Belle with her mother. Cullen, of course, found himself lingering as the session began.

Evvy was more amused than anything. An emerald green costume had been rented for her, and her hair had been carefully arranged in curls on her shoulders. “I’ve never posed for a painting before,” she noted. “This is a new one on me. How should I hold Skye?”

“On your lap, if you can, in a way that I can see her face,” Hawke directed. “I’ll try to get her sketch done as quick as possible in case she starts fussing.”

“Here, you get situated, then I’ll hand her off to you, darling,” Cullen suggested, walking over from where he had been leaning in the doorway. “You look beautiful, by the way.”

“Thank you, love.” With Skye in her father’s arms, Evvy settled herself into the elegant chair which had been appropriated for the purpose. “How’s this?”

“That’s good,” said Hawke, then glanced up at Cullen. “Have I got your seal of approval, Maurice?” she asked playfully.

“Perfect.” Cullen beamed, then looked at Skye. “What do you think, my little sweet one? Good?” He pretended to nod along as if in serious consultation with her.

“Barely a month old and already has her first acting credit,” Evvy joked. “And I’m sure Uncle Dorian will see to it that it’s not her last. All right, my dear, hand her over.”

“Skye, you’re going to be a star,” he said with a laugh, gently shifting her into Evvy’s arms. “Be good for mama.” He retreated out of Hawke’s line of sight, but still lingered, watching Evvy and Skye with a smile. “Do you mind if I stay, Marian?” he asked at last.

“No, as long as you don’t distract me - or them,” she added with a chuckle. “Remember, this is supposed to look like you painted it, so I need Evvy’s adoring smile directed at me.” She paused, and chuckled again. “Maybe you’d better stand behind me.”

Evvy laughed too. “I’m sure I can manage it, somehow.”

“How about I sit right here?” he suggested, pulling up a chair and positioning it a few feet behind Hawke, enough to give her plenty of space to work while still in full sight of his wife and daughter. “I can still see them, but I’m not in anyone’s way.”

“That works.” Hawke started sketching on the canvas. “Lift her a tiny bit more, Ev - yes, perfect. Let me know if you need a break.”

“Thank you for doing this, by the way, Marian,” Cullen said as he took a seat. “I appreciate it.”

“Oh, you’re welcome. Once the show is over, you can have the finished piece,” she added. “I’m not sure where you’re going to put it, but you can have it.” She chuckled again.

“Well, since it looks like a historical portrait, I’m sure it won’t be at all out of place in my classroom.” He smiled. “After all, I can never have too many pictures of the family... although I may soon run out of wall space,” he added, laughing.

“Which is why I said I wasn’t sure where you’d put it,” Hawke replied with a grin. Evvy, for her part, was trying not to laugh too visibly.

Cullen shrugged, likewise grinning. “You’re not wrong,” he said, still smiling as he settled in to watch the portrait begin to take shape.

Hawke worked in silence for some time, sketching out the bones of the portrait and making notes about colors on a sheet of paper. “All right,” she said at length, “I’ve got what I need for little miss Skye. I’ll need one or two more sittings with you, Ev, but I think we’re off to a good start. If need be, I can work off of a photograph too.”

“This is really looking wonderful,” Cullen complimented. He had been silent up to this point, not wanting to break Hawke’s concentration. “I can’t wait to see the completed piece.”

“They’re getting some fancy elaborate frame to house it,” she reported, “and Varric’s film crew is going to get some footage of me working on it for the behind-the-scenes bit of the DVD. So that should be interesting.”

“I’m sure that will be excellent. Dorian and Varric are really going all out - Bethany too. I honestly can’t wait to see some of the things they’ve been cooking up.”

“Me too,” said Evvy. “When those two get after each other it’s funny enough, but when they work together they really pull off some amazing things. I know Varric helped Dorian with some of the details of our wedding. They’re kind of unstoppable when you put them together.”

“They really are,” Cullen agreed with a little chuckle. “In fact, the mechanics of this scene were a brainstorm of Varric’s while he and Dorian were looking over the script together.”

“By the way, how’s Bethany feeling?” Evvy asked Hawke. “This hasn’t been too much for her, has it?”

“Varric and I have been keeping after her, making sure she takes breaks and eats and takes her meds. But she’s great, and having a ball. You should see her in her little workspace - she looks like she’s in Heaven.”

Both of the Rutherfords chuckled. “Good, I’m glad she’s enjoying herself,” said Evvy. “Well, if you’re done with me, it’s about time for this one to have lunch and a nap - maybe I’ll do the same. Thanks, Hawke.”

“My pleasure. I’ll let you know when I need you again.” She gathered up her things and waved as she left the Rutherfords alone.

“You know,” said Cullen as the door closed. “I’m looking forward to our scene together, and yet I’m not at the same time. It’s going to wonderful having you there, but I don’t particularly like the... well, the subject matter we’re going to be acting out.”

“I know, darling. I’m not crazy about it either, but I can understand why they thought it would be a good idea. Neither of us is going to have to act very hard, that’s for certain,” she noted.

“Quite,” he agreed, coming over to her. “Dorian keeps saying we’re likely to make the audience cry, but my eyes are going to be just as wet, I can assure you.” He reached out to stroke her cheek. “I really don’t know what I’d do without you.”

“Maker willing, you’ll never need to find out,” she replied, covering his hand with her own. “And if your eyes are wet, it’ll just sell the scene that much more - especially on the DVD.”

He chuckled faintly at that, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. “Well, we’ll see. If I make Dorian start to get emotional, I’ll know I’ve gone above and beyond the call of duty.”

“I’ve only ever seen him cry twice,” Evvy mused, settling down to nurse Skye. “When he saw me in my wedding dress for the first time, and when he saw me for the first time after Skye was born. So this should be interesting.”

“He also got quite misty-eyed when we told him you were pregnant,” Cullen added. “So honestly, more than likely it’s your performance that will make him cry. I’m not surprised by that, though - you are his Cinderella, after all.”

“Well, when you’re someone’s hand-selected sibling, I guess you have quicker access to his tear ducts,” she joked.

Cullen laughed. “That’s true,” he said, taking a seat once more, watching his wife and daughter fondly. “So, were you serious about that nap idea? It sounds like a good plan to me.”

“I’m certainly not opposed to it, once I get out of this costume. I hope Hawke doesn’t paint me with these dark circles under my eyes,” she added, chuckling.

“I’m sure she would never,” he assured her, smiling. Then he gently stroked Skye’s downy head. “You make me long for the days when I could drink regular coffee, sweet one. But I wouldn’t trade this for anything.”

“Neither would I.” Evvy smiled up at him. “Where’s Cole? Last time I spoke to him he said he would be in the kennels working with Snow, but I don’t want him to miss rehearsal if Dorian’s expecting him.”

“He was still there when I left to come up here.” Cullen nodded. “I think he’s off the hook for rehearsals today - it seems Dorian’s focusing on a few of Belle and the Beast’s solo scenes at the moment.”

“Oh, those two are so adorable.” Evvy laughed. “How many performances are there going to be? Just the one, or did he decide to do a second one?”

“Last I heard, he was hoping to do two to try and accommodate as many parents that want to come as possible. As Leliana said, there aren’t many, but he wants those who can come to have a chance to do so.”

“That’s sweet. I can’t wait to see Rory’s face when she realizes that her parents are in the audience.”

“Me neither.” Cullen smiled. “Leliana and Josephine were thrilled when they realized they could make that one happen in particular. Everyone’s sort of keeping it under wraps so she’s extra surprised to see them.”

“That’s so cute! I love it.” Evvy shifted Skye to her shoulder. “So many people coming to see you, precious. I can hardly wait for you to meet them all. Very well, Papa, she’s all ready for her nap if you’d like to do the honors.”

“I would love to do the honors.” He beamed, accepting the tiny bundle and pressing a kiss to her forehead as he started in the direction of her crib. He was already softly humming “How Does A Moment Last Forever?” as he retreated.

By the time he returned, Evvy had extracted herself from the period costume and was settling down for her own nap. “Maker, please, just half an hour,” she muttered to herself, closing her eyes.

“If she cries, I'll go,” Cullen assured her, lying down beside her and brushing the hair from her face. “You just rest as long as you like, darling.”

“Mm. Thank you, love.” She immediately turned to curl against him.

Smiling, he wrapped his arms around her as they both drifted off for a few snatched moments of blissful peace.

Chapter Text


 Blunt the Knives

The next several days were a flurry of sewing, dancing, singing, and regular classes on top of it all. Dorian looked exhausted, but extremely proud as the drama club moved into final dress rehearsals. He also looked exceedingly smug, but about what, no one was quite sure… until one dress rehearsal day.

Given the giggling and excitement that his actors often displayed, Dorian decided they would do one playful, silly run through of the show so everyone could get it out of their systems before the real thing. About half an hour before the run through was due to start, he went off in search of Varric. “Busy?” he asked, entering the creative writing professor’s office.

“Just going over the details for the final exam for our seventh-graders.” Varric glanced at him over the rim of his reading glasses. “You need something?”

“Well, drama club is getting ready to do a jocular sort of run through of the play, if you'd like to get out for a bit and come see,” he said, suppressing a grin.

“Oh, a silly version to get the kinks out, huh? Great idea. Yeah, I don’t want to miss that. Or miss being in it, for that matter.” Chuckling, he put away his glasses and stood. “Lead on, MacDuff.”

“I thought as much.” Dorian grinned as they made their way down to where the drama club was waiting. They were all a little bouncy with excitement.

“Hey, everybody!” Varric waved. “I heard it’s time for the fun run, huh? This is gonna be good, so let me make sure the film team is in place. We should totally have this as an extra on the DVD.”

“You know, we should at that,” said Dorian, joining the students on stage. “But before we get to our run-through, we have a little something else we'd like to share.”

Varric glanced around, amused to find that most everyone was on hand for the occasion. “Should I be scared, Sparkler?”

“Maybe.” He chuckled. “I told you I would find a way to pay you back in kind for the coat of many colors. And not only did I find the perfect way to do it, but the perfect opportunity too.”

“Oh, this is going to be good, I bet.” Varric smirked. “Where’s Sunshine? And Hawke? They won’t want to miss this.”

“I sent them a text,” Dorian reported. “They should both be on their way.”

Sure enough, the Hawke sisters arrived a minute later. “I hear shenanigans are afoot,” Bethany chuckled as they entered.

“Not just shenanigans,” Varric corrected, “but shenanigans pointed at me. I knew my girls wouldn’t want to miss the fun.”

“Oh, yes, we definitely don't want to miss that,” Hawke teased, taking a seat. “So what do you have planned, Dorian?”

“You're all familiar with The Hobbit, yes? And the song about all the things Bilbo Baggins hates?”

Varric’s eyes widened. “Did you really…?”

“Well, the list of things you hate is pretty legendary,” Hawke noted. Bethany giggled behind her hand.

“Yes, I really did.” Dorian chuckled. “From me, to you.” He stepped out of the way to allow the students to come forward, all of whom looked like they were barely containing themselves. Josephine, seated at the nearby small piano, began to play the accompaniment.

First up were the very delighted looking Partners in Crime, who each took a line of the song.

Nessa was first. “Take him to hike where it's all uphill.”

Then Jim. “Bring him some mail from the Merchants’ Guild.

Followed by Rory. “Terrible titles and spelling mistakes.”

That's what Varric Tethras hates!” chorused the entire drama club (and their director).

Hawke covered her mouth with both hands, already laughing so hard it was threatening to choke her. Varric merely stared at the stage with his mouth hanging open, though the corners of his mouth quirked with amusement. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” he muttered.

“This is amazing!” Bethany chirped quietly, grinning broadly as the song continued.

The next line belonged to Seamus. “Mountains and caves in the great outdoors.

Orlesians, Fereldans, they're all such bores,” added Krem with a grin.

Quiet and rain and most kinds of bugs.” This from Doug.

And the creepy feet you see on nugs!” Dagna piped in.

Bull was leaning against the wall, his chest heaving with suppressed laughter. Blackwall wasn’t even trying to hide it; he stumbled backstage to where Cullen, Evvy, and Cassandra were in similar straits, and promptly collapsed on a piece of prop furniture.

These reactions evidently pleased Dorian greatly, who strode back out to the middle of the stage to take the final verse. “Taverns too clean and the squeak of chalk. Rocks on the ground when he takes a walk. Dark skies and weather to make him balk…” He grinned as he added, “Anything but hearing himself talk.

That's what Varric Tethras hates!” everyone shouted in conclusion, dissolving into hysterical laughter as Dorian held out his arms.

Those in attendance who hadn’t been part of the performance immediately gave in to their desire to laugh, and applauded loudly. Varric himself got to his feet for a standing ovation, wiping tears of laughter from his eyes. “That,” he declared when he could be heard again, “is the greatest song ever written. Sparkler, my deepest compliments.”

Dorian chuckled, still looking pleased. “I thank you.” He bowed. “Of course, I couldn't have done it without this lot.” He gestured behind him.

“I think this calls for something special,” Varric said. “I’ll figure out some kind of token of my gratitude. But later, after the silly rehearsal we all came to watch. Now that you’re warmed up for your goofiness, the rest should be a riot.”

“Of that I have no doubt. We're very good at silly here in the Skyhold Academy drama club.” Dorian chuckled again. “Care to get up here and start the show off right, Enchanter?”

“Don’t mind if I do. All right, you ankle-biters, places.” Varric grinned and climbed the steps to the stage. Once everyone was where they needed to be, and he confirmed that the film crew was on hand to record the nonsense, he began ad-libbing a sarcastic variant of the opening narration. “Long ago, in the hidden heart of Orlais, there was a shiny castle with a shiny prince who was kind of a dillweed…”

There were various muffled giggles from backstage. “Ahem,” Krem remarked as he made his entrance. “That's Prince Dillweed to you, thanks.”

“No offense, Krem Puff. Anyway, Prince Dillweed liked to make his people give him money so he could have expensive parties, like this one that’s starting riiiiiiight… now.”

All the extras for the scene scurried out, looking amused as they started to dance. Josephine was laughing so hard she almost couldn't sing.

Varric waited patiently for her giggly song to conclude, then continued his made-up monologue. “One winter’s night, this kind of grungy guy showed up at the palace, and he offered Prince Dillweed a single rose in exchange for shelter from the storm outside, which would have been the least expensive hotel room ever if the prince had accepted. Instead, this happened.” He swept into the scene, as though blown in by the wind, and offered the rose to Krem.

Krem, doing a masterful job of keeping it together, gave a haughty laugh and an exaggerated sneer, tossing the rose to the ground like he was spiking a football. There was a resounding laugh, which sounded mostly like it came from the Chargers.

“The gnarly guy,” Varric said, dropping to one knee to retrieve the rose, “warned the prince not to be deceived by appearances, because ugly goes deep. But the prince still said no, at which time the interloper revealed himself to be a dashing and handsome language arts teacher - I mean, enchanter. Of course the prince tried to apologize,” he added, standing while Krem went to his knees instead, “but it was too late, since now the enchanter knew for certain that he was as much of a dillweed as suspected. So he transformed the prince into a hairy but still kind of awesome beast, and turned the rest of the household into yard sale merchandise.”

In the actual show, this would be accomplished with a little fog to hide the actors putting on their masks, but for this run through, everyone simply shrugged and pantomimed putting masks on, snickering among themselves.

“As for the rose,” Varric added, “it was pretty badass. It would keep on dropping petals at an indeterminate rate, and when the final petal fell, they’d all be stuck like that forever. But if Prince Dillweed could find someone who would put up with his hairy hide and love him, it would break the spell.” He glanced at Krem. “Yeah, good luck with that.”

“I volunteer as tribute!” Rory shouted from backstage.

“Rors, spoilers!” Jim added, while all three Partners in Crime started snickering.

“Oh, well, okay, maybe there’s one.” Varric chuckled and left the stage to await his turn as Edgar the beggar.

The silly rehearsal pressed on as the members of the household were replaced by the villagers instead. Rory came out to begin her scene, cringing visibly and rolling her eyes as Gaston arrived to ask her to dinner.

Doug was in his element, hamming it up, even twirling an imaginary mustache (despite the fact that Gaston didn’t have one). He started whining at Rory about how he was a “nice guy” and she should “give me a chance!” which cracked up more than a few of the onlookers.

Rory was laughing too, but managed to recover long enough to arrange her features in a long-suffering sort of look. She turned out to the audience and gave a dramatic sigh of exasperation. “Yeah… no,” she said at last, looking back at Doug. “I think I left the stove on at home or a window open or something. So I'm gonna… go. Okay bye.”

“Wow.” Dagna wandered up to Doug’s elbow and nudged him. “Epic fail.”

The entire principal cast started laughing. Doug had to clear his throat before he responded again. “It's fine, LeFou. I don't know the meaning of ‘no.’” He blinked at Dagna, looking bewildered. “Seriously, what does it mean?”

“Oh, Gaston. I don’t think there are enough hours in the day to explain everything you don’t know.” She sighed. “Come on, let’s go get a drink and I’ll try to cheer you up with a random musical number.”

Meanwhile, most of Cullen’s scenes were more adorable than funny, but he did manage to net a laugh as he entered the castle, shrugged, and said, “I'm sure this will be fine.” Dorian called back in a falsely deep narrator voice, “It wasn't fine.”

Even Cole managed to get in on the fun. “Hello!” he said, when Cullen was drinking tea. “My name is Chip! You are my father. Prepare to run away.”

Cullen grinned broadly. “Oh, hello, son. I mean… hello, talking teacup. Wait. That should probably be a cause for concern. All right, I'm off. Or, more accurately, I must be going.”

“Oh, nice call back!” Varric called from the front row.

Cullen shrugged once more. “Thank you. I do my best.” And with that, he dashed off to do some ill-advised rose picking.

The silliness continued as Belle, having been alerted to her father’s disappearance by the arrival of Philippe the horse (played by Grim, one of the Chargers, who hadn’t bothered with the costume), headed off to the castle. Grim carried her piggyback off the stage, down into the audience, around the room, and back up to the other side of the stage. “Hrm,” he said, putting her down.

Giggling, Rory swept down in a bow to him. “Thanks, that was fun.” She pretended to fix her “wind-blown” hair, then cleared her throat. “Right. Let's get down to business.”

“To defeat… the Qun!” Nessa and Jim called from backstage.

“Sure, we can do that too,” she replied.

She proceeded to enter the castle, where Jim and Seamus waited. “Oh sweet Maker, what is she wearing?” asked Seamus, trying and failing not to laugh.

“Excuse me? What am I wearing? What are you wearing?” Rory retorted. “I mean… who said that?”

“Nothing. Nobody! I mean. Nobody here but us candlesticks and clocks,” said Jim. “Go about your business, pay us no mind.”

“Okay, sounds legit,” she said, then paused as Cullen loudly called “Pssssst” from somewhere off stage. “Wait, that sounds like my dad. I'm going to need some light, come with me.” She grabbed Jim by the hand and marched off with him in tow.

“Oh, sure, leave me here to rot,” Seamus complained. “I see how it is.”

Everyone was laughing hysterically by the time Belle found her father and demanded an explanation as to what had happened to him. As Cullen explained the castle was alive, Rory slowly turned to look at the audience in bewilderment. “And she looked into the camera like she's on The Office,” Jim narrated as this occurred.

“Rawr,” said Krem, suddenly appearing in the scene and using a comically bored voice. “I am the fearsome Beast who has captured your father. There is no way that the conversation we’re about to have could possibly change my life forever.”

“Yup, no possible way,” Rory said, suppressing a little grin. “Anywho, my father is a precious creature who has never done a thing wrong in his entire life. So what gives?”

“He stole a rose.” Krem paused. “Admittedly, saying it out loud does make this seem like a bit of an overreaction on my part, but I am all about the drama because my life sucks in my hair prison.”

Rory laughed so hard at that she had to cling to Jim’s shoulder for a solid minute before she could reply. “Well, yeah. But that doesn't excuse locking up innocent artistic types. If you really need a scapegoat, pick me - I wanted the rose. It's sort of my thing.”

“Ah, I see. Okay, I will keep you and turn him loose. You’re more my type.”

She smiled to herself at that, then turned to face Cullen. “Sorry, Dad. Don't worry, it's gonna be fine. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon… like by the end of the play. Be safe, okay?”

Cullen’s expression was not to be described as he tried to find words. “Don’t worry,” said the Beast, “my employees are way more competent than I am when it comes to wooing and they’ll put her in a nicer room. Why do I even have this horrible tower, anyway?”

“It's probably just for show. You know, tearful goodbyes like this one. Maker's breath, Professor Rutherford is good at this.” She dabbed at her eyes, then scuttled in to take Cullen's place in the cell until Jim eventually took her to meet the other household objects.

This continued, the audience and other cast members laughing until tears were rolling down their cheeks. Among the highlights were Nessa stage-slapping Jim for trying to put an arm around her waist and Rory and Krem dancing the Macarena instead of a waltz. Eventually they arrived at Belle’s departure from the castle. “Don't make me cry,” she told Krem in a mock stern tone and dashed off.

Krem sighed, and launched into “Evermore”... sort of. He used the same tune, but made up his own words. “And now she’s riiiding oooon a horseeeey… heading off toward certain doom… after I got dressed up, my hair messed up, dancing ‘round the room! Yes, she has to save her father, but she could have said BRB… I’ll tell myself that it’s okay, order pizza, and watch TV.”

At this, the whole proceeding had to stop as everyone completely lost it. Rory was indeed crying, but for an entirely different reason than she had anticipated, and it took her several minutes to stop laughing uncontrollably. When at last she did, she walked back on the stage and threw her hands up in fake exasperation. “Yeah, there's no way I can follow that.” She raised her voice. “Hey, Gaston, where’s my dad?”

“Oh, I gave him to the bald guy with no shoes,” said Doug idly. “Seemed like a good plan. Now you’ll marry me, right? Because kidnapping and wrongful imprisonment is sexy?”

“Yup, they're definitely the hallmarks of a well-adjusted guy. And to think, the guy with the horns is more chill than you are. That's super telling.”

“That is my girl, get your own!” Krem called from offstage. “I kidnapped her father and wrongfully imprisoned him first!”

“He likes Shakespeare, so it made it all a lot better.” Rory shrugged. “You had to be there. Anyway. Let my dad go. Also, don't go to the castle. Pretty please.”

“As a reasonable person and a gentleman, I will of course accede to your wishes,” Doug replied. “Except, you know, not. Put her in the box too.”

“Crap. That was worth a shot. Oh, well - it’ll just make my inevitable escape that much more awesomesauce. Have fun storming the castle.”

“I shall! Come on, everybody, let’s go pillaging! It’s a bonding exercise for the entire community!”

With a resounding “hooray!” everyone followed Doug offstage except Dorian. “Thank you, ray of sunshine!” Rory called, then looked around where she and Cullen were imprisoned. “All right, super cool escape time. Let's go.”

Several minutes later, Krem and Doug were facing each other. “I see you’re planning to shoot me,” said Krem. “I would first like to see your license to use and carry firearms.”

Doug patted himself down as if searching for it. “Oh, darn, I must have left it in my other pants. I'll bring it back later.”

It was at that point that Rory dashed in. “He won't! He's making it all up. Also, he locked me up. And not in a ‘Sure you say that now but one day we're going to hang out in the library and discover the meaning of true love together’ way either.”

“So… do you want me to beat him up, babe?” Krem started advancing on Doug.

“Yes, please, if it's not too much trouble. I'm sure this will go totally smoothly and nothing bad will happen at all.”

Krem and Doug proceeded to pretend to fight on one section of the stage, while the villagers and household objects grappled elsewhere with one another. Noses were tweaked, dope slaps were issued up the backs of heads, and other staged nonsense happened; meanwhile, Varric slowly meandered among the various combatants to show that the enchanter was making his way up to the rose.

Rory, meanwhile, twiddled her thumbs as she waited for everyone to finish fighting. As Varric walked by, she pointed. “Ooh, look! I'm almost positive this random guy who keeps popping up at opportune times is definitely not plot relevant!”

“Pay no attention to me, I’m just a weather balloon,” he replied.

“Marvelous. Have fun.” She waved.

The fight between the townspeople and the household objects concluded as Doug and Krem’s fight took a turn for the worse. Doug raised his fingers in a gun shape, shrugged, and shouted “Bang!”

“Oh no. I am grievously wounded. Help.” Krem executed a remarkably well-done pratfall.

“No!” Rory cried. “For some reason I did not expect Gaston to do that, even though he's the human equivalent of a garbage can.” She got to her knees next to where Krem had fallen. “Hey, listen, you - don't you leave me here alone. You got it?”

“Sorry, babe, but I’m done for. You just… wait, before I die…” Krem got back up, walked over to Doug, and flicked his nose. “There, you just fell to a terrible demise. And now I will die. Farewell, my beloved.” He promptly fell down again.

“No, no, this isn't fair. We had a whole bonding song montage and everything.” She pretended to pout. “Plus… you know… I, like, love you and stuff.”

“Oh no, the last petal has fallen and our master is dead. I can only hope that someday we will be regarded as valuable antiques,” declared Jim, as the household objects froze in place.

“Enter one enchanter ex machina,” said Varric, returning to the stage again. “Since someone said the magic words, I can do a little hocus-pocus and poof, the Beast is alive and also human. Get up, kid.”

“Oh, thank goodness!” Rory sighed in relief as Krem sat up. “Because I never want to go back to my terrible village ever again.” She wrapped her arms around his shoulders in a fierce embrace.

“Awwww,” chorused the entire cast, before dissolving into giggles.

Everyone who was a household object celebrated their restoration to humanity, then assembled for the wedding dance. Even Sera, on the stage crew, got in a joke as she bumped Dagna’s dance partner with her hip to get him to move.

“Who are you?” he asked.

“I'm on the crew, you daft twit,” she retorted, dancing off with her girlfriend and wearing a smug grin.

“And they all lived happily ever after, if somewhat confused,” Varric concluded. “Kids, that was the funniest thing I’ve ever seen. Well done.”

They all took a bow and called “Thank you”. Bethany was on her feet, applauding. Dorian, meanwhile, looked both deeply amused and delighted. “Yes, excellent job. With all that laughter, the real show should go off without a hitch now.” He walked forward to stand in front of the assembled cast. “I am very, very proud of each and every one of you. Let's make these last few rehearsals perfect. And then…” He smiled. “Then let's give Skyhold Academy the best show they've ever seen.”

“But first,” said Varric, “let’s head down to the dining hall. Because while you were all being hilarious and insane, I made a couple of phone calls. Also, I’m hungry.”

“Oh, yes?” said Dorian, hopping down from the stage. “You made a few phone calls? Color me intrigued.”

“I said we needed to do something special to honor that amazing song you wrote about me,” Varric joked. “Come on, you’ll see.”

Several minutes later, the school was piling into the dining hall, where the students were treated to the sight of boxes and boxes of piping hot pizza. “I had a craving,” Varric explained. “It wasn’t easy, since Redcliffe’s last pizza joint closed on us, but I was able to call in a couple favors. Paper plates and napkins are at that end, sodas and cups are at the other end, and there’s some stuff like parmesan cheese and garlic salt for anyone who wants it. Dig in.”

There was a lot of excitement and a lot of gratitude from the students as they scurried off to gossip and eat their dinner. Dorian chuckled as he watched them go and wandered over to stand next to Varric. “You've really outdone yourself this time,” he complimented.

“Hold on, let me write this in my diary. ‘Sparkler gave me a compliment.’ It might never happen again, you know.” Varric laughed. “The whole thing’s been pretty wild, really. I’d venture to say it’s some of the most fun I’ve ever had.”

“I rather agree. I knew our students were talented, I didn't know they were this talented. Or this funny.” He smiled, shaking his head fondly. “This entire process has been… even better than I had hoped.”

“Maker’s breath, I thought I was going to pass out when Krem sang. I don’t know when I’ve laughed so hard in my whole life.”

“Oh, I know. I thought for sure I had bruised a rib from laughing.” He chuckled. “How about Belle and the Beast’s dance? Where do they even come up with these things? Bless them.”

“Well, you did promise them this wacky stunt, so I guess they decided to go all out. When they make the DVD, I’m going to tell them to put a hidden link on the main menu page, and if anyone finds the hidden link, it’ll lead to the footage of this rehearsal.”

“Good, because that needs to be preserved for all time. I look forward to that DVD - thank you for springing for it.”

“Well, you know. I can’t let you completely beat me out as the cool teacher.” Varric winked.

“And thus you resort to bribery,” Dorian teased, chuckling again. “Come on, let's join the others. We've more than earned it.”

“I’ll drink to that.”

Rehearsals were suspended for a few days so the students could prepare for and take their final exams, which was difficult for everyone since they were all so excited for the show. But they soon resumed their practice rounds, and at last the final dress rehearsal was upon them. “I think, Rors,” said Jim, “that you and Krem should seal the deal tonight. That way it won’t be so nerve-wracking when we actually perform in front of an audience on Saturday.”

“Whoa.” Rory lifted an eyebrow. “I mean, it's sweet that you've been thinking about ways to make me not die of mortification. But like… I don't think that's going to be happening. I mean, like, wouldn't that be super weird?”

“I dunno. Did you talk to him about it?”

“About what? Kissing him or kissing him on stage? We talked about the latter that day when we had hallway cuddle time. He thought maybe we could get the scene changed, which obviously didn't happen.” She ran a hand through her hair. “As for talking about kissing him for real, I don't exactly know how that could come up in conversation in a way that doesn't make me look like a dork.”

“Mm. Fair point.” Jim shrugged. “Well, how comfortable are you with this?”

“Uh… well… it's not like I'm against the idea of kissing him. I'm actually very much for that idea.” She blushed. “But I'm still not really okay with this whole ‘in front of everyone’ business.”

“You know, there’s such a thing as a stage kiss,” Nessa suggested. “If you can manage to turn your bodies so that the audience can’t see your faces, you can probably fake it pretty well.”

“There is that.” Rory nodded. “I guess I can run that by him. Or… something.”

“Talk to him,” Jim urged. “Make sure you’re on the same page so neither of you does something that upsets the other. Poor communication kills, y’know.”

“Yeah, if our OTPs have taught us anything, it's that.” She chuckled faintly, then sighed. “This is probably going to be an interesting conversation.”

“Well, he’s over there and he looks like he’s looking for you.” Nessa nudged her. “Go have a private chat while there’s still time.”

“All right, all right. Thanks, guys.” She blew them a kiss, then set off to where Krem was standing. “Hey, got a minute?”

“For you, babe, I have lots of minutes.” He chuckled. “Okay, that sounded corny. What’s on your mind?”

“No, no, it sounded cute,” she assured him with a smile, then sighed faintly. “Well… it's that kiss scene. I know I'm probably being really silly still thinking about it, but… you know…”

“Would you rather not?” His expression didn’t suggest that he was insulted, just concerned. “I mean, we don’t have to.”

“Yeah. Maybe. I don't know…” She looked down at her feet, shuffling back and forth. “I just… it's not how I pictured it, you know? I sort of thought it would happen organically. Like, we're coming back to Skyhold and you stop me on the bridge by the gatehouse, or somewhere in Redcliffe after a date. Not on stage.”

“Yeah, I understand. I probably should have… you know, done it already. But I didn’t want you to feel rushed or anything. Look, we can fake it or whatever, it’s totally okay.” He smiled. “Promise.”

She returned his smile. “Are you okay with that? I’m just one half of the equation, after all.”

“Babe, I’m really happy right now. I’m at the best school ever, they’re going to finagle something to let me work here next year since I won’t be a student anymore, and you’re my girlfriend.” He shrugged. “Anything else is just gravy.”

At that, her smile slowly widened. “I'm really happy too,” she said, obvious delight in her tone. “Really, really happy. Oh, and don't worry about the fact that we haven't actually kissed yet. I think it's so sweet you don't want to rush me. I have no idea how I got lucky enough to find you, honestly.”

“I’d say we’re both pretty lucky.” He dipped his head to kiss her temple. “Though as Professor Pavus likes to remind me, I’m the lucky one.”

She shrieked a little bit in delight. “Really? Oh, he’s such a doll to say so, but no, I'm the lucky one,” she said, sighing dreamily.

“Agree to disagree, then. So… ready for rehearsal? This is the big one.”

“As ready as I'll ever be, I guess. I'm nervous, but excited too. I never in my whole life thought I'd get to be Belle.”

“Skyhold Academy, where dreams come true.” He laughed. “Come on then.”

Chapter Text

 Tale As Old As Time

The “opening night” wasn’t really a night, as it was more of a late matinee performance; the cast had all morning to fret, the early afternoon to run lines one last time, and then the show would start at four. Lunch was very light so no one would have an upset stomach from nerves. Bull, meanwhile, was trying to find Dorian. “Kadan, are you here?” he called, poking his head into Dorian’s office.

“Yes, I'm here,” Dorian called back. He was busy salvaging notes on blocking and scene changes from the stacks of papers on his desk. “I shouldn't be, but I am. I need to get backstage.” He looked up. “What's on your mind?”

Bull laughed fondly, shaking his head. “It’s going to be fine. But I have a little something for you all the same. Here.” He put an obsidian stone into Dorian’s hand; it had a vaguely thumbprint-shaped indentation. “It’s a worry stone. So you can fuss quietly.”

Dorian stared at the gift for a moment, then gave a warm chuckle. “This is very thoughtful, amatus, thank you. Maker knows I'll be doing enough worrying tonight, so this will come in handy. I'm almost more nervous than the students are.”

“I know, but it’s going to be great. I was talking to Krem earlier, though, I thought you should know - Rory’s very nervous about that kiss, so they’re probably just going to do the stage kissing they’ve been doing at rehearsal.” He chuckled. “He’s sensitive to her needs, I’ll say that.”

“Maker bless the boy, he most certainly is. Ah, well - I was hoping that scene might inspire one or both of them, but at the end of the day, it's not my place and the decision is entirely theirs. Besides, I would rather my leads be comfortable and enjoy themselves above anything else.”

“And who knows? They might get caught up in the moment and surprise us all.” Bull chuckled again. “All right, let’s get you a quick cup of tea and brandy before this flying umbrella takes off.”

“Just a small cup - I need to stay on point. The large cup will come later, believe me.”

“That’s my kadan. Come on.”

They made their way to the staff room, which was being used as the primary dressing room for the occasion; the stage was again in the great hall, much like it had been for the concert the previous year. “How are we on attendance?” Bull asked Leliana as they entered. “I know the kids advertised this all over Redcliffe to try to get the people to come.”

“We have quite the full house,” she reported with a smile. “A lot of it is people we know, but I would say those advertisements worked - we've sold several tickets at the door.”

“Good. More people should come out and support their local weirdos,” Varric remarked. He was standing patiently while Bethany gave his costume a few final adjustments. “Did Sonnet’s parents get in?”

“Yes, they did.” The headmistress’s smile widened. “And they're very glad to be here. They can't wait to see Rory and her friends perform - and I suspect they're looking forward to meeting Krem too.” She chuckled.

“Naturally.” Bull looked almost absurdly proud. “Here, kadan, drink that,” he added, procuring a teacup.

“Ah, thank you.” Dorian accepted the cup and took a sip, looking like he had been given some sort of holy nectar. “Mm. Lovely. So, is everyone and everything in place? What still needs to be done?”

You need to get into costume, Pere Robert,” said Evvy briskly, sweeping into the room. “This is going to be the biggest night at Skyhold since - honestly, I’m not sure.” She laughed. “Here, I made sure everyone got a copy of the program.”

“Much appreciated, Cinderella.” He kissed her cheek. “How's the rest of the Rutherford clan? Ready?”

“Oh yes. Cullen will be along presently; he’s greeting his brother and sisters, they all made it in to see the show. They're probably playing pass the baby right now.”

Everyone chuckled. “Yes, I imagine they are,” said Bethany. “She’s adorable, I bet she's being smothered in love as we speak.”

“You’ll get no argument from me, but as I am her mother, I’m probably biased.” Evvy smiled.

There came a knock on the door, and a curious Blackwall went to open it. “Floral delivery?” he asked, baffled, accepting the bouquets that were loaded into his arms. “Let’s see here… we’ve got some daisies for Miss Norbertson, some red roses for Ms. Hawke, and a single yellow rose for Miss Hawke. Here you are, ladies, I’ll go find Rory and deliver hers.”

“Oh, it’s beautiful. How sweet!” Bethany said, pressing the flower to her nose. She immediately glanced over at Varric.

He shook his head, however. “Not me this time, Sunshine. I suspect it’s from the same source as big sister’s bouquet.” He looked to Hawke for corroboration.

She nodded, smiling. “Fenris sent them.”

“Oh, that’s nice of him. So did he make it then after all?”

“He wasn’t sure he could, but he said if he made it he’d give me a sign. I’ll take this as a very good sign.” Hawke chuckled.

Bethany giggled. “So cute. Do you know if Seb was able to come? I know he was invited, but when I spoke to him he wasn’t sure he could get away.”

“Last I heard, he was probably going to make tomorrow’s show rather than today’s. But he’ll be here if he can.”

“Marvelous.” She smiled.

“What about the President and First Lady?” Dorian inquired. “Are they coming?”

“Already here,” Leliana reported. “Sitting up in the balcony so they won’t be a distraction - that’s Alistair for you. The mayor of Redcliffe is with them too.”

“Gracious Andraste.” Dorian somehow managed to look both extremely pleased by this fact and extremely nervous at the same time. “Well, hopefully we give them a show worthy of their attendance.”

“We will,” Bethany assured him, then waved him over. “Come on, let's get your costume.”

“It’s like I said way back at the last game with Venatori,” said Evvy, moving to help. “Our kids can do anything.”

“I think you're right, Ev,” Bethany said warmly. “Every time I'm here, they prove that more and more. And I'm convinced all you teachers can do anything too.”

“We certainly try, Sunshine,” said Varric mildly. He picked up one of the programs and leafed through it. “Nice work on these, Siren. I’ll remember who to call next time I need a book cover designed or something.”

“Me design the cover of a Varric Tethras novel?” Evvy chuckled. “I don’t know if my ego could handle that sort of rapid inflation. But I’m tickled.”

“I think you would do a marvelous job of that, darling.” Cullen entered at that moment, smiling at his wife. “Is Varric drafting you for a new book design already?” he added, laughing.

“Not yet,” the author replied, “but maybe down the road. And there’s our baby Belle - is she ready for her big stage debut?”

“What do you think, Skye? Ready?” Cullen bent his head slightly as if listening for a reply. “Yes, she's ready for her close-up. And she already has plenty of fans - Aunt Mia, Aunt Rosalie, and Uncle Branson all can't wait to see her.”

At that moment, Madam Giselle came bustling into the staff room with something in her hands. “Professor, put these in little Skye’s ears,” she said. “Baby ear plugs. The music will be too much for her delicate hearing.”

“Oh, good, that's perfect. Thank you.” Cullen did as suggested, checking to make sure they were in comfortably and securely. “Do you have any spares by any chance? Just in case these fall out or break?”

“I have an extra pair, yes.”

“I’ll hold onto those, Madam Giselle, thank you so much,” said Evvy warmly. “Since Skye and I are in the same scene, I’ll be keeping her with me during the rest of the show.”

“We should pick up a few more pairs of these,” Cullen remarked. “I have a feeling they'll come in handy down the line.” To the baby, he added, “Yes, love, we tend to do things like this a lot, as you'll find out.”

“No doubt,” Evvy agreed. “All right, Cul, love, give her to me. You need to get into your first costume, and when you’re ready I can help you with the wig. Bethany, what else do you need me to do meanwhile?”

Cullen kissed Skye’s forehead before surrendering her to her mother and moving over to let Bethany begin getting him set. “Hmm… I think most of the staff members who need costumes have them,” she said. “If you want to check in on the student actors and make sure they're ready, that would work.”

“Sure thing. Come on, little one, let’s go see your friends.” With her adorable luggage in tow, Evvy made her way to the student dressing area. “Hello! Anyone home?”

The students were all fixing each other’s costumes or helping each other do their hair and make-up. There was a lot of giggling and excited chatter. “Oh, hi, Mrs. Rutherford!” It was Nessa who spoke, looking up from her task of buttoning the back of Rory’s costume.

“Hey guys.” Evvy smiled. “Look, Skye, it’s you in several years,” she added jokingly. “I came to see if anyone needs help getting ready.”

Rory giggled and waved at her “younger self”. “I think we’re all on track,” she said, peering around. “A few people might need help with hair and make-up, I think, but otherwise… oh! This is a strange request, but do you know if there’s a vase anywhere? I’m sort of shackled here at the moment and I… got some flowers I want to put in water.” She smiled faintly.

“Oh yes, I heard there were daisies. I’ll see what I can find,” Evvy promised. “From your Beast, I’m assuming?”

She nodded, the smile widening. “He gave me a daisy during our first date. It’s kind of our thing now, I think.” She sighed a dreamy sigh. “He’s so sweet.”

“What a darling! All right, if you’ve got your hands free, I’ll trade my infant for your flowers and get them in some water for you. Skye, sweetheart, can you stay with Rory for a few minutes?”

“Thanks so much, Mrs. Rutherford.” She held out her arms to accept the baby and immediately giggled. “Oh my gosh, you’re adorable. You know that?”

Skye made an almost self-satisfied gurgle, as though she were perfectly aware of just how adorable she was. Evvy laughed. “She’ll never have self-esteem issues, I don’t think. I’ll be right back.”

“Maybe I’ll talk to your parents about babysitting you,” Rory mused to the baby as Evvy departed.

“That would be fun,” said Nessa. “You, me, and Jim - maybe even Krem - we could all do it if Professor and Mrs. R are cool with it.” She peered over Rory’s shoulder to wave at Skye. “Hey, cutie. We’re friends with your brother.”

“Where is her brother, anyway?” asked Jim. “He should be here.”

“I don’t know, I just assumed he was off getting ready,” said Rory. “Has anyone seen him around?”

“His aunts and uncle are here,” said Seamus, overhearing the discussion. “I think he’s saying hello to them.”

“Oh, that’s true.” Nessa nodded. “Just as long as he’s back soon to get in costume. Otherwise Professor Pavus will probably freak out. It’s kind of funny, I think he’s more nervous than we are.”

“That’s my Fairy Godfather for you,” said Evvy, returning with a vase full of daisies. “Here you are, Rory. Trade?”

“Thanks again, Mrs. Rutherford, I really appreciate it,” Rory said. Nessa briefly took possession of the vase while Rory shifted Skye back to her mother’s arms. “We were just talking about how it might be fun to babysit little miss Skye if you ever need someone. Maybe we can talk about it with you and Professor Rutherford when all this is wrapped up?”

“Oh, you’re sweet to offer. I’ll definitely keep it in mind as she gets a little bigger.” Evvy smiled. “Currently we don’t like letting her out of our sight, but I think there’s a good chance of us taking you up on that down the road. Oh - Skye, look, here comes Cole.”

Cole was, in fact, making his way into the room, and stopped at the sight of Evvy and Skye. “Oh, hello, Mother! Hello, Skye! I was just with Aunt Mia, Aunt Rosalie, and Uncle Branson - they were very happy to be invited.”

“I’m sure they were. They’re looking forward to seeing their favorite nephew onstage,” Evvy assured him. “You’d better get into your costume, sweetheart, it’s getting close to time.”

He nodded. “Yes. I need to be transformed into a boy who gets transformed into a teacup. Miss Hawke worked so hard to give us a little magic of our own.”

“You can say that again,” Rory agreed. “I can’t wait to wear that yellow ball gown - it really does make me feel like a princess, if it’s not too corny to say.”

“Not corny at all,” Evvy assured her. “Did you see that painting Ms. Hawke did of Skye and me? I feel like a princess every time I look at it.”

“Yes!” Nessa beamed. “It is so beautiful. And I heard Professor Tethras say Professor Rutherford gets to keep it when the play is over.”

“Adorbs,” Rory agreed.

“He’s trying to decide whether to put it in his office or his classroom.” Evvy chuckled and shook her head. “I strongly recommended the office; at least that way you kids don’t have to look at it all the time.”

Rory giggled. “Speaking just for myself, I know I wouldn't mind that. Professor Rutherford always looks so happy when he looks at pics of you and Skye and Cole. It makes me squee.”

“I like that Father is happy,” Cole remarked, almost absently. “He wasn’t, for a long time… it was like he didn’t know he wasn’t happy until he was.” He paused. “Professor Tethras is a little like that too.”

“Mmhmm.” Nessa nodded. “And you're happy too,” she pointed out with a smile.

“It's so awesome to see,” said Rory. “I love seeing how happy all the teachers are - you all make us so happy, so it's great when you guys get to be this happy too.”

“Oh, thank you, Rory. We love making you kids happy - that’s why we do the crazy things we do,” Evvy joked.

The Partners in Crime chuckled. “And that's why Skyhold is the best school ever,” said Jim, and several of the students in the room joined him in the familiar mantra.

“We’re just lucky our headmistress enjoys the shenanigans so we don’t get fired,” Evvy added playfully. “All right, I guess I’ll go wait with the others, if no one needs anything else from me. Break a leg, everyone, you’re all going to be wonderful and we are so proud of each of you.”

There was a resounding chorus of thanks at that. “And break a leg to all of the teachers in the cast too,” Rory added. “We couldn't have done any of this without you guys.”

“I’ll pass that on. Let’s go make history, or something like it!”

Naturally, Dorian being Dorian, he couldn't send his drama club off without one last speech. Once he knew for certain everything was as it should be, he went down to where they all were waiting and held up his hand to signal quiet.

“As most of you know,” he said, “this idea came to me after watching you all perform the song Professor Tethras wrote when I returned from Tevinter. I knew it was a good idea, of course, but it has turned out to be an excellent one. Now, I won't get too syrupy on you all - I don't want to make you cry before you've even gotten out on stage…” There was some laughter at that. “...But I do want you all to know how impressed I am, how proud I am, and how honored I am to be your director.” Everyone sort of collectively cooed at that, and Dorian smiled widely. “All right, now, off with you. Break a leg, good luck. You'll all do splendidly, I have no doubt.”

While everyone else took their places out of sight, Varric made his way to the stage. “Good evening, everyone, and welcome to Skyhold Academy’s first ever stage production,” he said. “I’m your friendly neighborhood curmudgeon, here to remind you to please silence all electronic devices. Yes, this means you.” He paused for a few laughs. “If you must leave the theater at any time, please use the main doors at the back - they’re a double set of doors, as you might have noticed, so kindly wait until one door has closed before opening the other so that the light doesn’t interrupt the performance. Signage outside will direct you to the restrooms if needed. There will be a fifteen-minute intermission somewhere around the middle of the show, during which time light refreshments will be available in our dining hall downstairs. Any questions? Okay good.” He chuckled. “With that, the Skyhold Academy Drama Club - and the rest of us - are proud to present Beauty and the Beast.” He moved off to the side to await his first cue, and as the house lights went down, the stage lights came up and the magic began.

The drama club did their director proud right out of the gate. It was evident that they were all eager to do their best for their teachers and all the guests who had come specifically to see them. They all looked more than a little nervous on the onset - Rory in particular as she stepped out to sing the opening lines of her first song - but soon each of them was swept up in the action of the story they all loved. Before long, they all seemed to be enjoying themselves and losing themselves in their roles. The same could easily be said for the teachers participating as well. Despite being an unpleasant character, Krem’s Prince Adam clearly endeared himself to the audience almost at once; the presence of his fan club certainly helped. Dorian made a delightful Pere Robert, and his presence on stage did a lot to help Rory relax. Cullen likewise was a charming Maurice, and seemed remarkably at ease acting - a surprising turn of events for a man who, just two years earlier, was known as the school's resident stick in the mud. Doug’s Gaston, meanwhile, was threatening to steal the show with his over-the-top dramatics.

Dorian had wisely scheduled the intermission to happen right after the flashback scene. As he had accurately predicted, next to no one was able to keep it together unless they’d managed to harden themselves to it during rehearsals. Solas, as the plague doctor, was suitably stern and a bit unnerving. Evvy lay in the bed, looking pale and exhausted, and gazed at her husband as the doctor made his pronouncement. “Quickly,” she pleaded, with tears in her eyes, “before it takes her too.”

Cullen, in spite of the many rehearsals, still looked like the very idea of the scene caused him actual pain. He lifted Skye into his arms, watching his wife with a tragic look in his eyes. His lip trembled slightly, but whether it was an acting choice or legitimate emotion was anyone's guess.

Skye, apparently having inherited her Uncle Dorian’s flair for the dramatic, started to fuss and cry as Cullen hurried offstage with her. The flashback part of the stage went dark again, and all attention returned to Krem and Rory; Rory’s own face was full of pain. “I’m sorry I ever called your father a thief,” said the Beast.

“Let’s go home,” Belle replied throatily. The stage went dark, and the house lights came up.

“Gosh,” Rory commented as they made their way backstage, dabbing her eyes slightly. “Professor Rutherford making me feel all the feels.” She was doing her best to keep her tone light. “Playing the emotion in that scene does not require any acting.”

“I know what you mean,” Krem replied. “Professors P and T sure knew what they were doing when they planned that. You want a bottle of water or anything, babe? I can run down to the dining hall.”

“Water sounds perfect.” She smiled. “But make sure you get some time to sit down. We've been on our feet for a while, after all.”

“Both of you sit down,” directed a new voice, and they looked up to see Cassandra striding into the wings. “Here, everyone, I have water for all of you. We don’t want anyone fainting from the hot lights - especially you, Krem, in your ‘hair prison,’” she added with a slight grin.

Rory laughed at that, and accepted the water. “Thank you so much, Professor. This is just what I needed.” She took a long sip. “Have you had a chance to see any of the play? How are we doing?”

“I’ve been standing along one side of the audience as an usher,” she replied, doling out the bottles. “You’re all doing splendidly. It’s everything Professor Pavus could have hoped it would be.”

“Oh, good! Oh, I'm so glad!” Rory grinned. “I don't know about everyone else, but I'm really enjoying myself, so it's great to hear other people are enjoying it too.”

“I think the audience is spellbound,” Cassandra assured her. “The gasps, the laughs - they’re absolutely enthralled. I’m so glad there’s going to be a DVD because I think a lot of people will want to see this again.”

“Aww, that's so wonderful.” She placed a hand over her heart. “But it's not just us - we were just talking about Professor and Mrs. Rutherford’s performance. I literally had chills.”

“I did as well,” the gym teacher admitted. “So romantic.”

“I know, right?” Nessa agreed as she and Jim came over to sit with the two leads. “And to think, there's still a lot of romance still to come.”

All the feels,” Jim agreed with a chuckle.

“But no Macarena this time,” Krem joked.

Rory giggled. “Yeah. I'm worried I'm either going to step on your toes or trip over my dress. Or both. I can see myself doing both.”

“You’ll be fine, babe. We’ve practiced it and you know the moves,” he said confidently. “It’s going to be great.”

“Aww. Thanks, hon.” She smiled up at him, resting her head against his shoulder. “Best prince I could ever ask for.”

“I do my best.” Krem looked a little puffed up at the praise, however, which made Cassandra chuckle.

Once everyone was settled in with refreshments (and, after the Rutherfords’ performance, tissues), the action began again in earnest. The students did not seem at all diminished - if anything, the brief break seemed to have energized them, pushing them forward into some of the play’s most important scenes. “Okay, here we go…” Rory whispered to herself as she changed into the gold dress and emerged for the dance scene. There seemed to be a few gasps as the audience got to see the crowning glory of Bethany’s hard work.

Krem, as the Beast, beamed at her in a way that was clearly not entirely an act. He bowed as she curtseyed, and as the music swelled, they began their very carefully orchestrated dance. The light played off of the gold embroidery in his jacket and the layers of the gown swirled like flower petals as Rory twirled. Offstage, Varric was chuckling quietly. “Knew you were just what Sparkler needed,” he told Bethany in a hushed voice.

She looked away from the dance in order to smile at him fondly. “You’re sweet to say so,” she whispered back, kissing his cheek. “I’m so glad I could help - and that you suggested me in the first place. It’s been so wonderful.”

“You gave the kids a real fairy tale. Well, you helped, anyway. Plus it’s good to see you smile so much.” He draped an arm around her shoulders and continued watching the dance.

As if to accent that point, she smiled and settled against him, sighing happily as the scene unfolded. Leliana, garbed in her role as Mrs. Potts, stood off to the side as she sang so as not to be in the way, and her musical voice lifted the dance all the more. There seemed to be quite a few misty eyes in the crowd once again as a different kind of emotional scene played out before them.

“So much happiness… and then it all comes crashing down,” Varric muttered, as the mirror showed Belle what had become of her father and the Beast set her free. “I know it’s only temporary, but still. That’s the sort of crap that sometimes still keeps me from buying into happiness too far.”

“They have a rough time of it, true - and this part in particular always makes me sad,” Bethany said with a nod. “But they get their happy ending. That’s the important part. I guess the lesson is that it’s not enough to believe in happiness, you have to keep believing in it.” She smiled at him knowingly.

“Hm. Well, when you’re around, it’s a lot easier.”

“Then I’ll just have to be around more then, won’t I?” she replied, laughing softly.

“Now that’s my fairy tale,” he teased her. “Man. Listen to Krem Puff sing.”

“I know, he’s remarkable. We’ll need to pass out handkerchiefs at this rate.” She shook her head admiringly.

“Although I kind of like the version about ordering pizza better,” he added with a snicker. They watched in silence after that, taking in the sight of the villagers preparing to pillage the castle. “Oh, wait, I need to get out there!” Giving her cheek a hasty kiss, he made his way to join the crowd.

Bethany giggled and waved to him as he dashed off. Meanwhile, on stage, there was a balance of several things happening at once - Belle, having freed herself and Maurice, was arriving back at the castle, the villagers were trying and failing to hold their own against the enchanted objects, and Gaston was off in search of the heartbroken Beast. It was quite a genius bit of blocking that allowed each thing to flow effortlessly into the next as the play drove towards its dramatic climax.

Quite a few of the onlookers - despite knowing how well things would turn out - were on the edge of their seat for the fight between Gaston and the Beast. Krem’s mask somehow managed to show the Beast changing from despondent to joyful at Belle’s return, and the effects of Gaston’s gun elicited some genuine shrieks of alarm from the audience. Varric was hard-pressed not to wince at the sound as he continued to make his way to the rose; his path took him through the audience, much like when Grim gave Rory the piggyback ride, but everyone was so riveted by the action onstage that few people even noticed him.

Thus the fight continued, making clever use of the stage’s limited space. At last, Belle and the Beast were reunited, but it was a short-lived reunion as Gaston fired again, despite Belle’s desperate pleading. The third shot was, of course, the last shot Gaston could make, and the character’s death was actually an impressively executed stage fall off of a piece of scenery and onto a concealed mattress. In the middle of the stage, Rory was down on her knees at Krem’s side, the emotion on her face quite real.

Of course, the Beast’s death left Belle a sobbing wreck, which Rory didn’t need to entirely force, and the lights went down in that part of the stage in order to bring focus to the enchanted objects, who were turning inanimate as the final petal fell from the rose. At roughly the same moment Varric entered the scene, Belle could be heard telling the Beast she loved him. Trying very hard not to smirk, Varric raised his hands and the rose - actually a very cleverly-designed lamp positioned above the stage - was suddenly whole and shining brilliantly. The Beast’s body rolled behind a nearby cloth-covered table, and after a moment, as the music crescendoed, he stood up and revealed his human form again.

For several moments, there was no dialogue whatsoever as Belle, amazed and bewildered, approached the man standing before her. Her hands gently found his cheeks, exploring the surface as she peered into his eyes with some curiosity. It was the eyes that truly let her know this was he, of course, and she smiled in delight. As Rory played this out, she wondered if Krem could hear how fast her heart was beating.

In spite of himself, Krem couldn’t help chuckling a little bit. He opened his arms so she could throw herself into them, then did a bit of a turn to the side to conceal their faces from the audience. Varric could clearly see what was happening, but no one watching from the seats could.

Grateful for the rescue (and making a mental note to thank Jim and Nessa later for suggesting they talk it out before the play), Rory availed herself of the opportunity to stage kiss her way through the pivotal scene, hoping it seemed genuine. For his thoughtfulness, however, Krem was rewarded with a clandestine cheek kiss and a whispered “thank you.”

The revival of the enchanted objects, and their transformation back into humans, helped to distract somewhat from the kiss scene. As Varric melted back into the wings of the stage, it came alive with the objects shedding their masks and rejoicing at seeing each other and the prince again. A moment or so later, the stage darkened, and Leliana moved to the edge of it to take over Varric’s duties as narrator.

“With the spell broken,” she informed the audience, “the Beast - now once again known by his true name, Adam - lost precious little time in asking Belle to marry him. The residents of Villeneuve, who had been charmed into forgetfulness, remembered their friends and loved ones in the castle once more, and were reunited with them at last. Belle’s father was brought to his daughter’s side, and a grand celebration was held for the wedding.” The lights came back up to reveal the wedding scene, and everyone in their finery, with Maurice sitting at a canvas to paint. Leliana returned to the rest of the cast in order to sing the final song.

Nearly the entire cast was present for the beautifully choreographed final dance. Belle got her little joke about asking Adam how he felt about growing a beard and his playful growl in response, which elicited a laugh from the audience. Leliana was joined by the rest of the cast as they sang the last lines of the reprise together, signaling the play’s joyous end.

The stage lights went down, the house lights went up, and the applause was thunderous as the cast slowly trickled back onstage in reverse importance to take their bows. There was a fair bit of hooting for some of them, including Dagna and Doug, and a bit of happy screeching when Cullen and Evvy walked out together (without Skye, for whom even the earplugs might not have been enough protection from the noise). But the loudest cheers were of course reserved for Rory and Krem, who practically brought down the house.

Rory looked beyond touched, and she placed her hands over her heart as she curtseyed deeply to the audience. She then gestured to Krem, indicating the applause should continue for him, blowing him a kiss with both hands as she did so.

With the show concluded (and the audience finally persuaded to stop clapping), everyone was invited down to the dining hall again, this time for the weekly ice cream party. The teachers were in rather a hurry to get down there so that they could see Rory’s face when she, having changed out of her costume, entered the hall to find her parents waiting to greet her. “Surprise,” said her mother, laughing.

As soon as she saw them standing before her, Rory gasped deeply, and for several seconds it was all she could do to stand there with her hands over her mouth, her eyes wide. Then at once, like she had suddenly remembered to breathe, she let out a shriek of delight. “Gracious Andraste!” she cried and sped to embrace them both. “You’re here! You’re here at Skyhold! You’re here at Skyhold for this! I… no one told me!”

“What, and waste a perfectly good set-up like this? For shame, Sonnet,” Varric said teasingly. “Surely you know us better than that by now.”

She looked up from the embrace and nodded, laughing. Her eyes were a little misty with tears of joy. “Did you guys do this?” she asked Varric. “Did you guys do this for me?”

“Us? Do something nice for a student? Would we do that?”

She laughed again. “Only every single second of every single day,” she replied, beaming. She glanced up at her parents. “Mama, Daddy, this is Professor Tethras the creative writing teacher. And, you know, the author. Oh, I can’t wait to you introduce you to everyone! Like Krem - I’m sure you definitely want to meet Krem.”

“We most certainly do. Oh, honey, you were terrific,” said her father. “We’re so proud we could burst. Come on, introduce us to all your friends.” They wandered away, leaving Varric chuckling to himself.

“Nice work, ladies,” he said, glancing at Josephine and Leliana.

From where they were watching the reunion, Josephine looked ready to cry, while Leliana looked deeply and thoroughly pleased. “It was a team effort, I’d say,” the headmistress remarked with a smile. “We just pulled the financial strings to ensure they could get here with no cost. It was all of you who had the idea.” She chuckled warmly as she watched the family. “Look how happy they look.”

“Look how happy they all look,” said Bull. Other students whose parents or guardians had come were introducing their friends, while still more were dishing out the ice cream and teasing each other with the toppings. The ruckus was greater than normal, but no one seemed to mind. “We do some good work here.”

“You certainly do,” said a new voice, and something of a hush fell over the room as everyone suddenly noticed the President of Ferelden. “Uh - right - hello, everyone. How are my kids?”

There were a few excited, curious whispers, then a louder assortment of positive confirmations, letting Alistair know they were, in fact, all doing well. “I’m thrilled to hear it,” he said. Behind him, Elissa and the mayor of Redcliffe were coming down the stairs as well. “We wouldn’t have missed this for anything - but we had no idea what kind of incredible show we were going to see when we got here. I don’t know if I’ve ever been more proud of anything in my life!”

The student actors all let out a grateful “aww”, looking shocked and delighted. Dorian looked overwhelmingly pleased by the praise (if it was possible for him to look any more pleased than he had throughout the duration of the evening). From her corner, Leliana was chuckling fondly at the very genuine pride on Alistair’s features.

“You were all splendid,” Elissa agreed. “Any excuse to visit Skyhold is a good one for us, of course, but this was an especially joyous occasion and we’re so happy to be here.”

“And we're thrilled to have you here,” said the headmistress, taking a few paces forward as she gave her old friends a smile. “All of you,” she added, looking around.

“Well, that ice cream’s not gonna eat itself, people,” said Varric with a grin. “Come on, help yourselves.”

“Oh, good, because I’m starving,” said Mahanon, coming into the room at that moment. “All that skulking around pretending not to be here really worked up an appetite.”

“Non?!” The look of surprised delight on Cassandra's face caused quite a few of the students to squeal. “You're… you're here!”

“If it’s not me, it’s a stunningly accurate reproduction,” he quipped, moving to embrace her. “I managed to get here just as the show was starting. That was just amazing.”

She buried her face in his shoulder for a moment before looking up again. “It really was,” she agreed. “Everyone has completely outdone themselves.”

“I heard a rumor that my little lady was going to make me cry,” he joked. “Came pretty close, no question.”

“Yes, I think it's safe to say we were all in tears or very close to it - Cullen especially.” She smiled fondly. “Have you found them yet to say hello?”

“Not yet. I suppose they’re getting changed or some such. But I certainly don’t mind finding you first.”

“And I don't mind being found.” Her smile widened. “I think I'll keep you to myself until they show up, if no one objects.”

“I don’t care if they do or not,” he assured her. “You can monopolize me all you want - and feed me ice cream, please.”

“Oh, yes, ice cream. That's right.” She chuckled. “I almost forgot about that. Let's see what we have…” She took his hand to lead him off in the direction of the spread.

Eventually the Rutherfords and Hawkes made their way to the dining hall, where the ruckus was at almost overwhelming levels. “Maybe I’d better bow out and take Skye back to our rooms,” Evvy said, a bit worriedly. “It’s louder than I expected.”

“That might not be a bad idea,” Cullen agreed. “Let me find my siblings, they'll probably want to see her again before you do and…” he squinted. “Oh, and Cass found Mahanon, I see. I'm sure he'll want to say hello as well.”

“Non!” Evvy’s unease quickly turned into joy. “Wait, she needs to see Uncle Nonny. Come on, Cole, you too - I’m sure your uncle wants to see you both.”

“Well then, let’s brave the crowd and see if we can steal him from Cass.” He chuckled, lifting his hand in a wave. Cassandra looked up and returned it, crossing over to meet them.

“We were wondering what happened to you,” she said pleasantly, stroking the baby’s cheek. “You both did an excellent job - Dorian was right in his guess that there wouldn’t be a dry eye in the entire castle.”

“Thank you. Dorian gets a lot of the credit himself for arranging it, of course,” said Evvy, kissing Mahanon in greeting. “I’m so glad you could make it, Non! Weren’t the kids amazing?”

“Stupendous,” he replied cheerfully, clapping Cole on the shoulder. “You were the best teacup ever, Cole.”

“Thank you, Uncle Non. I’ve never been a teacup before,” he said. “I hope I did it correctly.”

“I don’t think there was a wrong way to do it, son,” Evvy assured him. “But you did it very well. Did you have fun?”

“Oh, yes! Very much.” He smiled. “I was glad to be a teacup with all my friends and all of you too. It’s been magical.”

“A good word for it.” Mahanon chuckled. “I wouldn’t have missed this for anything. And how’s our little princess, hm?” He tapped Skye’s nose. “She was so good onstage.”

“Wasn’t she?” Cullen’s smile was almost absurdly proud. “I have the most talented family in all of Skyhold - and that’s saying something.” He turned his smile to his wife and son.

“In fairness, you technically have the only family in all of Skyhold,” Evvy pointed out, smiling.

“Well, I suppose that is true. But you’re still the most talented.” He chuckled. “I’m so proud of all of you - and the students too. They all worked so hard.”

“And so did you. We should get Varric to stage a showing of the funny rehearsal, though, for Non and Fenris and your siblings.”

“That is an excellent idea. Maybe we should have a gathering in the staff room to do just that when this is over - if we all have the energy, that is.” He chuckled again.

“See if you can’t persuade the rest of the Rutherfords to stay the weekend,” she said. “I’m sure there’s room somewhere, and we’ll have some staff celebrating after the second show tomorrow.”

“I like the sound of that,” he said warmly. “I'm sure I won't need to work too hard to convince them - it's been a while since we've all been able to just enjoy each other's company like this.”

“And you’ll stay, right, Non?”

“Wouldn’t miss it, little lady. Cullen, your brother’s welcome to crash in my room tonight, if space is an issue.”

“Oh, thank you, Non. I appreciate that. Let me see what they say - and what Leliana says. I'm sure she can find space for everyone.”

“Good. Now, let’s not deprive my favorite nephew of ice cream any longer, yes?” Mahanon winked at Cole. “Go find your friends, champ.”

Cole nodded and scampered off in the direction of his fellow actors. Cullen, meanwhile, also excused himself to go find his siblings, giving his wife and daughter a kiss before he did so. Evvy smiled fondly after both of them. “They’ve both come so far in the past year,” she remarked, pride in her tone.

“They have,” Cass agreed, her own smile warm and full of affection. “And so much of it is because of you, you know. It's hard to believe Cole is the same boy who used to haunt the halls or that Cullen is the same man I knew when we first started at Skyhold.”

“I honestly don’t know what I’ve done, but I hope I can keep doing it.”

“You've done the most important thing - loved two people who didn't think they would ever be loved. As long as you keep doing that, everything will be just fine.”

“I think I can manage that,” Evvy assured her. “I’m not sure I could do otherwise if I tried.”

Cass chuckled. “That's what I like to hear. Not that I expected anything less, of course.”

Evvy smiled. “So… what do you recommend from the ice cream bar?”

“The classics, of course - vanilla, preferably with chocolate or sprinkles. Or both. You can never go wrong with that.”

“Funny,” Mahanon commented, “I’d have taken you for a strawberry girl, Cass.”

“Who’s to say I'm not?” She grinned. “The night is young, after all.”

“Feisty. You’ll have to tell me more.”

“I’m walking away now,” said Evvy, pretending to be scandalized and trying to cover Skye’s ears. “Enjoy yourselves.”

“Always.” Cass laughed, and tugged at Mahanon’s hand to lead him off.

A moment later, Evvy was joined by Dorian, who wore the smile of a man who had just seen a precious endeavor turn out for the best. “Well…” he said in greeting. “This has been quite the evening.”

“It certainly has, Fairy Godfather.” She beamed at him. “Look at you, making magic for the whole school.”

“Ah, more like the whole school made magic for me,” he said, still smiling. “I'm still a little in awe, quite frankly. Everyone and everything came together so marvelously. It really was better than I could have ever expected.”

“It was a real life fairy tale in many ways,” she said fondly. “You have every right to be proud, Dori. None of this would have happened without you.”

“I merely started what everyone helped finish. But yes, I am very proud and very impressed. You and your unicorn were also excellent, I might add - Cole and Skye too.”

“It was fun. Sad, in my scene, but fun.” She smiled. “We were talking about a staff celebration after tomorrow’s show, get Varric to show the funny rehearsal for our visiting loved ones.”

“Now that is an excellent idea.” He chuckled. “A perfect way to wrap what has been a legendary few weeks.”

“We can make popcorn and have a few hearty laughs. Sounds like the ideal finale to me.”

“I quite agree. It will be the perfect Skyhold way to celebrate,” he said, watching fondly as the kids laughed and hugged, finding friends and family members. “The perfect Skyhold way indeed.”

Chapter Text


 A Prince of a Fellow

Between the drama club’s final performance of Beauty and the Beast, the departure of Skyhold’s guests, and graduation looming for the seniors, it was a busy few weeks as the term came to a close. With the haze of joyful excitement finally beginning to slow and her classes finished for the year, Rory in particular was teetering on the verge of a lull before summer even started. She and her parents had talked about it and decided that her remaining at Skyhold for the summer was a good idea so she could stay with her friends and enjoy the atmosphere while her parents labored as usual. Still, she missed them now that they had once again departed Skyhold and the whole thing had left her feeling a bit depressed. Of course, there was a surefire way to put her in an instant good mood and thus she grabbed her phone one afternoon to text a certain special someone.

Hey, sweetheart. I'm already super missing being the Belle to your Beast. Between the play being over, my parents having gone back home, and the end of the year in general, I'm feeling a little down. How do you feel about having a date night?

The response came a few minutes later. You beat me to the punch, babe, I was thinking something similar. Anything particular you’d like to do?

Hmm. I don't know. I'm up for anything really, as long as it's with you. :) Dinner date, movie date, book store, hanging out by Lake Calenhad... any of that sounds nice. Anything YOU want to do?

You know, he said, hanging out by the lake sounds kind of perfect. We can get some food and sun.

It does sound really amazing, she agreed. I think that's just what the doctor ordered. When should we go?

How does Sunday afternoon work for you?

Oh, that totally works for me. I will literally be counting the hours.

Cool. It’s a date then.

When they set off for Lake Calenhad, however, Krem was quieter than usual. Distracted, almost. He smiled at Rory, but it was a faintly vague expression, like he had something on his mind. “It’s a nice day. Great weather.”

“Mmhmm.” She nodded along, then paused, studying his expression. “Hey, you okay? You look lost in thought - and I mean about things besides the weather and the pretty lake.”

“Also the pretty girlfriend. No, you’re right, I’m...” He sighed. “I need to talk to you about something kind of serious, and I don’t know how you’re going to feel about it, so... it’s on my mind.”

Her brow furrowed slightly in concern, but she did her best to give him a reassuring smile. She reached out to take his hands in her own, pressing them to her cheek. “You know you can tell me anything. I mean, you listen to my problems all the time and I’m always more than willing to return the favor, hon.”

“I know you are. This isn’t a problem, exactly, but it might... change things.” He sighed again. “Let’s find a place to sit down.”

She nodded and, still holding his hand, led him over to a shady spot where they could watch the lake gently beat the little shore. “Here we go - nice and quiet. Looks pretty private too.” She sat down cross-legged and reached to turn her phone off. “Just you and me, yeah? No distractions, just whatever you want to tell me. I’m here for you.”

“Okay. Thank you. Uh.” He rubbed the back of his neck. “There’s something you don’t know about me. And most people don’t know it about me, but I probably should have told you before you became, y’know, my girlfriend. I wanted to tell you, but it just never seemed like the right time.”

“Don’t worry about not telling me sooner - whatever it is sounds very private, so I get why it may be hard to talk about. The important thing is you’re telling me now, right?” Another reassuring smile.

Krem nodded. “Okay, so… Maker, I’m not even sure how to start. Very few people at Skyhold know about this - Coach does, the Chargers do, probably most of the senior teachers do. And Madam Giselle, for reasons that are about to become obvious.” He took a deep breath. “My... my reasons for not being with my parents are... different from most people’s. I, uh... I left home voluntarily, a couple years ago. Ended up sort of running into Coach out in the world and he more or less took me under his wing, brought me with him when he came to the school.”

“Really? You were found by Coach Bull? I thought it was only Miss Harding who found students to come to Skyhold. So, you left home voluntarily? Did you… did you run away?” she asked, her tone gentle.

“Pretty much. I write home once in a while, just to let them know I’m alive. I miss my dad,” he noted. “Not so much my mom, she’s part of the reason I left. Rors, I... “ He rubbed the back of his neck again. “I’m just gonna come out and say this. I’m trans.”

Rory blinked for a moment. “Oh. Oh! Oh, I see.” She paused. “And I take it your mother was... not very accepting?” Her eyes widened slightly. “She never hurt you, did she?”

“Not physically. Up until I came out, both my parents were good to me. But she just couldn’t take that I wasn’t her pretty little girl... she said as long as I lived under her roof, she had a daughter. So I left.”

“Oh, Krem, that's so terrible. I'm so sorry she put you through that, I can't even imagine how that felt.” She shook her head, genuine sadness in her eyes. “What about your dad? You said you miss him - was he okay with you coming out?”

“More or less. I think he always knew... he used to angle his shaving mirror down in the mornings so I could pretend to shave too.” He looked a little faraway for a moment. “Anyway... I should have told you all of this before we started dating. But like I said, there just never seemed to be a good time. That’s also a big part of why I’ve held off on the whole first kiss thing - I mean, it’s true that I didn’t want to push you, but I also felt like you should know about me before that happened.”

She watched him for a moment, curiously, then gasped as recognition dawned. “You mentioned that this might change things... did you... did you think…? Oh, oh, sweetheart.” She let out a squeak of emotion and all but launched herself at him in a fierce embrace. She wrapped one arm around him while her other hand wandered tenderly through his hair. “I wish I could have spared you the worry.”

For a moment he just sat there, too stunned to move, but then he lifted his arms to return the hug. “So you - you don’t mind? I mean, I figured you’d accept things, but I wasn’t sure you’d still want to...”

She pulled back to look at him again and her eyes were a touch misty. “Of course I don't mind. This doesn't change how I feel about you at all. If anything, it makes me... uh... admire you even more, and I didn't even think that was possible.” She chuckled awkwardly.

Krem’s smile was lopsided and grateful. “Okay. Well. Glad that’s settled. Listen, I... I know you and your pals are really close, and you tell them a lot about us - which is fine - but do you think we could keep this between us?”

“Oh, of course, absolutely. I don't keep secrets from my friends, but this is not my secret to tell, so I wouldn’t dream of it. My lips are sealed, promise.”

“Thanks, babe. This... this means a lot to me. You have no idea.” A little sheepish, he glanced at their picnic basket. “Guess we can eat now, my stomach’s stopped jumping around.”

“Aww.” She reached out to stroke his hand, before turning to begin unpacking the little basket. “Like I said, my only regret is that I couldn't let you know sooner that you didn't have to worry. I hope it hasn't caused you too much pain... you know, wondering how I’d feel about it.”

“Maybe a little.” He chuckled. “Rocky and Stitches were trying to convince me to tell you for a while, but it was harder than I thought it would be. After the play, though, and the whole kiss thing, I knew it had to happen. You needed to know, and I needed you to know. So I’m glad I told you.”

“I'm glad you told me too.” She smiled. “That way you know for sure that you never have to worry when you're with me. Because you… you never have to, I promise. That sounds really silly and sappy, I'm sure, but I mean it.”

“I appreciate it more than you know, babe. More than I can tell you.” He fell quiet for a little time, assembling a sandwich. “So - any deep dark secrets you’ve been dying to get off your chest?” he finally asked, playful again.

She chuckled a little, tossing an apple from hand to hand. “I don't have many secrets, honestly. I'm actually a pretty boring individual, truth be told, no matter what you say. I think you know most of my secrets.”

“Well, if there ever are any... you know you can tell me. I’m always here for you, probably now more than ever.”

She smiled at that and her gaze held nothing but fondness. Then she laughed slightly, as if something occurred to her. “Hey, you probably don't remember this - I mean, why would you, after all? But I remember it, and I've thought about it a lot since we started dating. The first time I met you… you helped me pick up my books in the hallway shortly after I arrived at Skyhold.”

He thought a little, chewing. “Oh, yeah, I do remember,” he said after a moment. “In the arts building, right? I had just come out of Professor T’s class and I think  you were heading for Professor R’s.”

“Yeah, that’s right.” She smiled a little, clearly surprised and a bit delighted he remembered. “My locker was on the other side of the castle, so I had everything crammed in my bag or in my arms. And I was already late and having a pretty rough day... I missed my parents and I felt so awkward being at a new school, even if I was happy to be there. So here I am trying to get to history as fast as I can with a ton of books and school supplies on my back and everything just goes right out of my arms. I was so frustrated I almost cried. Then there you were.” She chuckled slightly. “You were already like the most popular guy in school and you stopped to help me pick up my books.”

“Hon, how do you think you get to be the most popular guy in school?” He winked. “Kidding. I remember thinking, ‘man, she’s adorable.’ I didn’t see you too often after that, but I kept an eye out from time to time.”

“I still find that crazy and amazing.” She laughed. “My friends tried to convince me all the time that you were looking in my direction or that you liked me too. I always just thought they were trying to be nice and sort of tell me what I wanted to hear. I guess I wasn’t paying enough attention.”

“No, I get that. The Chargers were like that with me too, a little. ‘You should totally ask her out.’ Honestly,” he admitted, “I assumed for a long time that you and Jim were a thing. I only just found out you’re not last fall - so that’s when I decided to send you the Wintersend gift.”

She started giggling uncontrollably. “Me and Jimmy, oh goodness no. I mean, I guess I can see where people might make that assumption, since we’re practically attached at the hip most of the time, but it’s never been like that. From the moment we met, he’s always just been like… well, as the name of our little group implies, my partner in crime.” She smiled, a look that turned even softer as she thought of the secret admirer gift. “And that gift was so thoughtful, by the way. I’ve read it again and again, usually before bed. I can certainly assure you it’s well loved.”

“Good, I’m glad. Since you started the poetry club it seemed like a good idea for a gift, so it was just a matter of convincing Professor T to tell me the name of your favorite poet.”

“Ah-ha! I knew Professor Tethras had to have known. He and some of the others were always giving me little pep talks.”

“He’s a good guy.” Krem chuckled. “Even if he doesn’t admit it.”

“All the teachers are.” She nodded. “Ooh, which reminds me! You’re going to be one of them soon. How does it feel? Are you ready for graduation?”

“Maker, no, who’s ever ready for it?” He laughed. “But I’m glad they’re keeping me. I really didn’t know what I would do or where I’d go.”

She nodded again, understanding the weight of that statement all the more now. “I’m glad too - both because it’s going to be an amazing opportunity for you and for the completely selfish reason that I get to have you here longer.” She smiled.

“Well, I can’t say I’m finding that a hardship either, you know.” He winked and tossed a grape into his mouth.

She giggled at that, looking delighted. “Well, good,” she said, changing position to sort of sprawl in the grass as she watched him. “I’m so happy to hear it.”

After a beat, he spoke again. “So I didn’t get to say so at the time,” he said, “but I liked meeting your parents. I’m glad they were able to come to the show.”

“Oh, me too, it was such a nice surprise.” She beamed. “And I’m thrilled to death you liked them. They loved you, you know - they both thought you were very polite and gentlemanly. You even impressed my dad! My dad always joked he wouldn’t like anyone who dated his little girl.” She chuckled. “But in all honesty, I knew he would be happy to see me so happy.”

Krem laughed. “Good. That’s a relief. I bet they loved watching you onstage.”

She nodded, beaming. “They did. They said more than once how proud they were.” There was obvious emotion in her voice. “I’m still honestly a bit overwhelmed that the Headmistress and Ms. Montilyet and all the others got them here for me. It was so sweet.”

“It’s very Skyhold of them, that’s for sure.” He chuckled. “Where would we be without this place, I wonder. Any of us.”

“It’s hard to picture,” she agreed. “I’m just imagining not having met Jim or Nessa or… you. And that’s a very sad mental image.”

“It is. And not just us - imagine if Coach and Professor Pavus had never met.” Krem looked thoughtful. “And no Skyhold would mean Mrs. R never came here, which would mean she’d never be Mrs. R - no baby Skye, no happy Professor R, no adopted Cole. And Professor Pentaghast might never have met Mrs. R’s friend, either. Lots of things would be different.”

“Man, it’s so strange to think about it like that… how one choice - the choice the founders made in starting this place - changed so much.” She sat back up and looked ponderous for a second. “Do you sometimes ever get that feeling like everything is happening exactly as it should? Like the Maker is sort of setting everyone on the exact path they need to go, giving a subtle push here or a nudge there?”

“It’s crossed my mind once or twice.” He nodded. “If He is, I’m grateful. That’s all I know for sure.”

“I couldn’t agree more.” She smiled, and repositioned herself to rest her head against his shoulder.

They spent the rest of the afternoon by the lake and, as they tended to do on their dates, lost all track of time - it was nearly dinner time when they made their way back to the school. Rory shifted the picnic basket in her hand in order to wave at the Grey Wardens on duty as they passed the guard gate. The Wardens playfully saluted back, causing her to smile over her shoulder as they began to cross the bridge. Then, as if a thought occurred to her, she began to giggle quietly to herself, covering her mouth with her free hand.

Krem glanced down at her, and smiled. “What’s got you giggly, babe?”

“Oh, oh, nothing. I was just thinking about something I said to you during the play.” She waved it off. “Ignore me, I’m just silly.”

“No, you’re adorable. But remind me, you said a lot of things during the play and it was a bit of a crazy time.”

“Well...” She was a little pink and focused her attention on her feet, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear as they walked. “I was just thinking of the chat we had before final dress rehearsal - you know, about the whole kissing on stage thing? And how I mentioned I didn’t picture kissing on stage being my first kiss but, uh... had thought about it happening differently?” she laughed faintly. “Like I said, I’m silly.”

“Ohh, that conversation.” Krem nodded, as though very serious. As they entered the castle bailey, he glanced up at the sky. “Hey, look, a wishing star. You know what that means.”

“What?” She followed his gaze upward. “Oh, right, uh... Skyhold’s given me so many good things I’m probably running out of wishes, but let’s see.” She thought for a moment and shut her eyes.

Stifling a chuckle at her perfect compliance, Krem dipped his head and, only a little hesitantly, finally gave her their first kiss. “I hope that’s what you wished for,” he said a moment later, when he drew back.

She had been sort of hoping that he would do that - or, more accurately, wondering if she dare hope - but she was surprised by it nevertheless. She blinked at him, a bit stunned, then smiled. “I... wow... that was... wow.”

“Wow... yeah, ‘wow’ sums it up pretty well.” Krem chuckled weakly. “Was it worth the wait?”

“Very much so, absolutely.” She had a hand to her lips, as if trying to preserve the feeling there forever. “That was… perfect.”

“Good. I wanted it to be perfect - and I thought it was, but it’s always nice to know for sure,” he joked.

“It was, don't worry,” she assured him, then paused. “You know, though,” she said with a giggle, “as a writer I might be able to think of even more adjectives to describe it if I had a replay.”

“Oh, well, far be it from me to deprive my favorite writer of on-site research,” he replied with a grin, and leaned down for a second kiss.

Chapter Text

 Is This Your Card?

Summer had come to Skyhold Academy, and naturally several of the students had elected to stay at the castle. That they were happy to be there was apparent; but, being teenagers, they were also apt to get bored very easily with nothing much to occupy their days save for the occasional elective or minor sporting activity. So the idea came to the staff to do something special for the kids - an event they could look forward to as a way of filling the hours. It wasn’t clear who exactly suggested a talent show or how exactly it sprang into being, but that was what it became. Before they knew it, they had assembled quite a tidy catalogue of acts - both from the students and the teachers.

Dorian was the head judge, which he justified by saying that he couldn’t possibly enter - he was too multi-talented and would smoke all competition. He was joined in the judging endeavor by Michel, who had just returned from a few weeks back in Orlais and seemed delighted by the prospect of being part of the Skyhold shenanigans. Evvy also volunteered to judge on the grounds that she was still nursing. This arguably disqualified Cullen, but they agreed that teachers could enter non-competing performances between student acts. “This is going to be interesting,” his wife told him.

“Of that I have no doubt,” he laughed. “This castle is full of talent, after all - and plenty of interest. We already had to tell Sera she couldn’t enter. From what I gather, she was going to try and hit a target using just a Nerf gun, except the target was going to be an apple on Dagna’s head.”

“Knowing Dagna, I’m surprised she didn’t insist on real weapons!”

“Too true. I can just hear Dagna telling Sera how cool would it be if you used a bow and arrow for this!” He laughed again. “Those two really are made for each other.”

“Almost distressingly so.” She smiled, however. “So what is this mystery performance you’re going to be doing? And why do I suspect it’s going to make me cry?”

“Well, it’s never my intention to make you cry,” he said with a little smile, stroking her cheek with his thumb. “But… yes, I have a feeling it probably will. But you probably won’t be alone, if that’s any consolation. It is a very emotional song after all.”

“I suppose I can comfort myself with that.” Evvy chuckled. “I’ll see if Bethany’s willing to come for the weekend - she can hold Skye while the show’s going on, if she doesn’t mind terribly much. She’s really good with the baby.”

“Knowing Bethany, I don’t think she’ll mind even slightly. Especially if we can talk Varric into singing something.” He grinned mischievously.

“He keeps saying absolutely no way. But if his lady Sunshine is in the audience… maybe he’ll change his mind.” She returned the grin.

“In that case, I’ll let Dorian know to expect Varric’s act then. Wonder what he’ll sing.”

“Yeah, me too. I mean, he does a great ‘Metropolis’ but I have a hunch he’ll want to try something else this time.”

“Bethany can have another song to call her own then.” He smiled. “This is all quite extraordinary. I know this was all cooked up to keep the students entertained, but I’ll admit I’m excited too.”

“So am I.”

“Don’t even ask,” said Jim when he found his ‘partners in crime’ the day after the talent show was announced. “I am not tap dancing and you can’t make me.”

“Aww.” Rory put on a fake puppy dog pout. “But why not? It would be amazing.”

“I think you could totally pull that off, Jimmy,” Nessa added.

“Nope. Not happening. Not in front of Professor Pavus, who would laugh until the cows came home,” he replied. “What about you two? You doing anything?”

Nessa pretended to harrumph at her friend’s determination, but after a second, she smiled. “I don’t know, I might sing something. Dunno what yet, but I’m definitely feeling very musical.”

“Nice. How about you, Rors?”

“One word - magic.” She giggled. “No, I’m kidding. I don’t know, honestly - doing Beauty and the Beast was a blast, but I think I need a break from singing and dancing for a while, and most of my other talents don’t really translate to a talent show. I mean, I can’t, like, write fanfiction on demand on stage. That’d be weird.”

“Funny, though!” Jim grinned. “And a magic act would be totes amazing. You could get Krem to be your lovely assistant.”

She turned a bit pink at that, but made a face that suggested she was giving it some serious thought. “Do you think he'd be willing? I mean, I don't honestly know the first thing about magic tricks, but it could be fun…”

“If you ask him, I bet he’d be willing,” he insisted. “It may have escaped your notice, Rors, but he’s got a bit of a Professor Rutherford complex.” He smirked.

“I have no idea what you're talking about,” she muttered, tugging on her ear.

“Mmhmm. Sure,” Nessa teased.

“Here he comes, you can ask him right now,” Jim said, pointing.

“Hey, guys,” said Krem, moving over to where they were standing. “Heard about the talent contest? I heard a rumor that Professor R’s going to do something weepy - Mrs. R was telling Ms. M that he won’t tell her what it is.”

“I can’t say I’m surprised by that,” Rory replied. “That Professor Rutherford is going to sing something super emotional, I mean. You know, because he’s Professor Rutherford.” She smiled. “Are you… are you going to do anything for the show?”

“Nah, I think I’ve done enough singing and dancing for one year. What about you?”

“Well, funny you should ask, actually. I wanted to talk to you about that…” She glanced back to where Jim and Nessa had subtly crept away, making a little shooing motion for her to get on with it as they ducked out of view. “I sort of got this weird idea in my head to do magic tricks as my talent, don’t ask me why, and I was wondering if you… maybe… wanted to be my assistant?”

Krem looked at her in a slightly confused, slightly incredulous manner. Then he laughed. “You’re so cute. Yeah, absolutely, sign me up. This’ll be fun.”

“Really? I mean, great! Cool. Okay, let me actually figure out what the heck I’m doing for this thing and I’ll… text you the details or something.” She smiled shyly.

“Whatever you need, I’m there for you. I mean. Here. Uh. That sounded better in my head.” He laughed.

“Don’t worry, because it sounded really good out loud too.” She winced. “And that sounded better in my head. As most things usually do. Sorry.”

He just chuckled again. “I have to admit,” he said as they started to walk, “I was a little surprised you decided to stay for the summer. I mean, I get why a lot of the kids here wouldn’t want to leave, but… you have nice parents.”

She smiled at that, her gaze a little soft. “They are, I’m really blessed to have them. Anyway, we talked about it and we figured it might be better if I stayed here for the summer - here with the besties rather than home alone while they work, you know? They work so hard.”

“I get it.” He nodded. “It totally makes sense. Well, I liked meeting them - maybe they can come again for the talent show or something. And you’re going to be a senior next year, right? Everybody sort of goes to all the same classes so it’s easy to forget who’s in what year,” he admitted with a rueful smile.

“Yup. Senior.” She smiled a similar sort of smile. “I can’t even believe that. It’s hard to imagine not being at Skyhold… and, you know, trying to figure my life out.”

“Yeah, it’s a shame we don’t have a university attached,” he said with a grin. “I’m half wondering if the President has thought about that. I know some of the graduates go on to the University of Orlais and stuff like that, but Ferelden needs its own thing. A community college system maybe, something that gives people a lower cost access to higher education. I remember Mrs. R saying they have something like that in the Free Marches.”

She beamed at him, looking a little dazed as he spoke. “Oh, gosh, can you imagine? That would be amazing. I mean, I for one can’t imagine leaving Ferelden, and I’m sure I’m not alone in that. It would be cool to have a university here.”

“You know what? I’ll see about bringing it up at the next staff meeting. The cool thing about being assistant coach is that I get to go to those now,” he added with a grin. “I probably shouldn’t be staff, since I didn’t go to college either, but they managed to bend some sort of rule for me I think. Anyway, I’ll see what the headmistress thinks.”

“That would be really awesome. And… you know… you’re really awesome. Just in case no one’s said it lately.”

“Even if they had, it sounds better coming from you.” He ducked his head to kiss her on the cheek. “You’re awesome too.”

“Aww, you,” she said, blushing slightly but looking enraptured. “I’m a crazy lucky gal.”

“That’s what Coach keeps telling me,” Krem replied with a teasing grin. “But like I told you during the play, Professor P likes to make a point of telling me that I’m the crazy lucky one. Not that I’m arguing.”

“Well, then, you’re both sweet.” She wrapped her arms around him, rising up onto her toes in order to briefly place her head on his shoulder. “Thanks.”

Grinning, he hugged her. “So… about this lovely assistant gig… I don’t have to wear sequins, do I?”

“As cute as you would look in them, no sequins, I promise,” she assured him, smiling. “Just… be you. Everyone will probably watch you instead of me, but I’m okay with that.”

“I doubt it, but I’ll do my best. You just tell me what you need me to do.”

“You’ll be perfect. But you do have a really super important job - make sure I don’t look completely stupid, okay?”

He put a fist over his heart in a salute. “You have my word, my lady.”

She giggled, returning the salute and smiling yet again. “You’re the best. So now I just need to figure out how to make some magic happen - literally. Ooh, hon, do you have a deck of cards?”

“I think so. If not, I can get some. Oh, and you need a magic wand. And a top hat, you’ll be adorable in a top hat.”

“Well, then I’m getting that for sure.”

“I thought I told you I don’t want to be in the talent show,” said Varric. “Why can’t I be a judge? I’m great at judging people, I do it all the time.”

“My sincerest apologies,” Dorian replied in a tone that suggested he was anything but sincere or apologetic. “But we have three judges already. If we had four, we could end in a tie and it would just be a whole mess. However, we do have some incentive for you to perform.”

“If it’s what I think it is, that’s a low blow, Sparkler.”

“Oh, come, come. She’s helping Cullen and Evvy look after Skye, would you deny them that?” He smirked slightly.

Varric sighed. “I guess not. But what am I supposed to do? A dramatic reading of The Emerald Princess? I can’t sing ‘Metropolis’ again, people are probably sick of it. I mean, other than Sunshine.”

“Actually, a dramatic reading would probably go over quite well, but I think Cole already has the corner market on poetry,” he said with a chuckle. “I’m sure you’ll think of something to sing - even if you just write song titles on a dartboard and throw darts to pick one.” He chuckled again.

“I’d have to take your picture off the dartboard in order to do that,” Varric deadpanned. “Fine, put me down for being in it, I’ll think of something.” He sighed again. “One of these days I’ll figure out how to say no.”

“I rather doubt that, my hirsute little friend, but it’s endearing that you think so.” He pulled out a notebook and made a note of Varric’s addition to the line-up. “Besides, it’s part of your supposed charm.”

“Hmph.” The writing teacher pretended to grouse. “Well, if you have any ideas for what the hell I should sing, let me know. Because right now I am coming up completely dry, and that’s not a good sign. The things I go through for having a girlfriend…”

“Oh, please, after what you went through last year for Bethany, what you’re going through now is small potatoes,” said Dorian. He knew, of course, that Varric knew that, but he would be remiss if he didn’t tweak him now and then. “And we all know you’d do anything for your Sunshine.”

“I know you know, and that’s my major problem. You think you can get me to do anything by attaching her to it,” Varric retorted good-naturedly. “One of these days it’s not going to work, just wait.”

“I’m not going to hold my breath,” Dorian returned with a laugh. “But even I must admit it’s rather adorable, so who am I to argue?”

Varric sighed. “I’ll be taking song suggestions all week. I’m serious about that.” Rubbing the back of his neck, he started to wander away; he was genuinely a little frustrated, but the fact that Bethany was coming for a visit outweighed the annoyance. She had been so disappointed by him staying to teach, he’d actually been a little panicked that he’d screwed up.

Of course, she wasn’t upset with him - something the elder Hawke sister went to great lengths to assure him of - but she missed him while he was gone and hated that the only chance she got to see him was during the occasional visit she made to Skyhold. Naturally, she had jumped at the chance to come to the talent show to see him (and the rest of the Skyhold family, including baby Skye).

If there was anyone looking forward to Bethany’s visit more than Varric, it was Marian Hawke, and she was smiling when she encountered Varric in the hall. “Hey, just got off the phone with Bethany. She’s looking forward to this.”

His faint annoyance vanished. “You know they only roped me into singing because she’s coming, right? Even if I don’t know what the heck to sing.”

“Of course that’s how they got you,” she replied, snickering. She paused, then laughed again. “Hey, since that’s the case, maybe you should sing ‘I’d Do Anything For Love’,” she teased.

“Smartass,” he replied. After a few seconds, however, his eyes widened. “Wait a second - Hawke, you’re brilliant! That’s a perfect song!”

“I try, I try,” she said, folding her arms over her chest with a little grin. “I was completely kidding, but I’ll take the praise anyway. It actually does kind of work, after all.”

“Fits my vocal range, and you can provide backup vocals. I just need to hunt up the music.” He was thinking now. “Maybe I should watch the video and see if I can find a costume like the one he wore…”

“Yeah, Bethany is going to flip out.” She shook her head, still grinning. “She’ll be so glad she agreed to come.”

“Ah, she can’t fool me. I know she’s just here for Skye.” Varric chuckled. “One of these days she’ll sneak out with that baby. But who can blame her? Curly plus Siren makes for one cute kid.”

“You can say that again. Between seeing little Skye and you singing, she’ll be over the moon, trust me.”

The crowd in the main hall was buzzing excitedly. It was too warm for an outdoor performance, so they hustled the student body indoors and set up large fans to keep the air circulating. At the appointed time, the three judges walked onto the stage, waving. Evvy spotted her siblings-in-law sitting in the front row and grinned, waving at them.

“Welcome, Skyhold Academy, to the summer talent show!” she said. “We’re very glad to see all of you here, including all of our special guests and extended family. And a special hello to our beloved founders, who couldn’t join us but are getting to see the footage a bit later.” She waved at the camera in the back. “We’ve got a whole bunch of amazing acts lined up for you, and to be honest, even we don’t know what all is about to happen. A few of your favorite teachers are plotting to steal the spotlight in between student acts, and none of us know what they have planned. As you probably heard, in addition to the grand prize, we’ll also be giving out a couple of additional prizes as the spirit moves us. So sit back and enjoy the show!”

There was an enormous roar of delight from the crowd. Cullen had become the de facto announcer-slash-crowd-controller, and he was doing one final check of everyone to make sure they had everything they needed. The students were buzzing with excitement and the teachers seemed amused. “Good crowd,” he commented to Varric. “Did you spot Bethany?”

“They have her up in the balcony at the back,” Varric replied, “so that the noise doesn’t bother your kiddo quite as much. You get her those baby earplugs Madam Giselle recommended, just in case?”

“I did. Three pairs, actually,” he admitted, with a nervous laugh. “You know, just in case they break? Or get lost? Maker’s breath, I’m horrifically overprotective, aren’t I?”

“Yeah, but we knew that from the beginning. And let’s face it, the rest of us aren’t much better, since I bought a pair myself and I’m pretty sure Sparkler did too.” He grinned. “You’re covered.”

“Well, thank the Maker for that.” His laugh was genuine this time. “All right, I had better get out there. Good luck.”

He stepped out onto the stage and waved a bit bashfully to the cheering crowd. After a moment, he shielded his eyes with his hand and looked out at them. “What a welcome, thank you for that,” he said with a smile. “Why are you cheering so much? I’m here all the time.” He paused for the small ripple of giggling. “Anyway, happy summer, Skyhold Academy. You all have been wonderful and since you’re all so very talented, we’ll get right to it…”

Diligently - and with something akin to pride in his voice - Cullen introduced several of the students’ acts. There were plenty of surprising hidden skills among the student body, it seemed, and within the span of a few minutes they were treated to everything from excellent singing to complicated dancing and everything in between; Doug even turned out to be a secret trumpet virtuoso. It was becoming very clear that the judges had their work cut out for them.

A lot of the kids were evidently nervous, but they were also evidently enjoying themselves as they entertained the cheering crowd. Even Cole (who was likewise not eligible to win a prize since his mother and his uncle were two-thirds of the judges) stepped forward to share his talent. Naturally, he recited one of his poems – a lengthy, beautiful piece that everyone sort of suspected might have been about the school’s myriad romances.

And, as promised, the teachers got in on the action. The headmistress sang, of course, smiling tenderly as she did a cover of Josh Groban’s “Brave” and had the whole school cooing. Nobody quite knew what to expect, however, when Solas walked out onto the stage and proceeded to do, of all things, a mime performance. He was actually quite good, but that didn’t make it any less bizarre, and the audience was patently delighted if a little confused.

For his part, Cullen stood backstage, laughing heartily and trying to stifle it with the back of his hand. From where he was, he could just see the surprised, amused looks on the judges’ faces as they laughed too.

As Solas finished, Nessa was backstage preparing for her turn. Varric was smug as he patted her on the shoulder. “You’ll be great, kid. Sparkler’s gonna love this. Curly! Announce my little pupil, would you?”

Cullen had barely recovered from Solas’s performance and he chuckled once more as he watched Varric. “Your wish is my command,” he said, shaking his head with a smile as he stepped out to play announcer once more. “Well, that was quite something,” he said as the applause died away. “And now, I’d like to announce Miss Janessa Dasher, who will be singing… something. Apparently it’s a surprise.”

As Cullen departed, Nessa, wearing a long trench coat, took his place. “Hi, everyone.” She smiled, looking around. “So, uh… I was going to sing ‘How Far I’ll Go’, but someone suggested an even better song from Moana, so, here goes…”

That Nessa could sing quite well and that she was comfortable in the spotlight were not particularly surprising - not only had she played Plumette, after all, but she was in the academy choir (Varric called her Lyric for good reason). However, there was definitely one incredibly surprising thing about her performance - the fact that, a few lines into the song “Shiny”, she threw the trench coat off to reveal a dress covered head to toe in sequins. It became evident very quickly that she was singing to one judge in particular and the judge in question, Dorian, arched one eyebrow, looking bemused.

“I knew she could sing,” Evvy remarked, “but I didn’t expect this. She’s marvelous - and hilarious.”

“She was put up to this is what she was,” said Dorian. “And I suspect I know exactly who did it.” He was, however, smiling from ear to ear.

“Almost certainly the same person who put you in a coat of many colors,” she agreed, giggling. “You two are like the weirdest pair of brothers I’ve ever known.”

“You aren’t wrong there,” he chuckled. “But don’t tell him I said that.”

“If Varric’s your brother and I’m your sister, I’m curious to see what our parents look like,” she teased him, applauding wildly as Nessa finished the song. The audience was in hysterics.

She bowed, looking flattered, waving to the crowd. She then turned to the judges and smiled almost apologetically at Dorian, making a heart symbol with her hands. He chuckled and nodded his approval as she scuttled off to gather the discarded coat and leave the stage.

Varric was nearly crying as she made her way back into the wings. “That was beautiful, Ness. I couldn’t be prouder. Between that and Krem in the coat a few months ago, Sparkler’s probably going to send me glitter in the mail for a year or something.”

She giggled at that, looking extremely delighted. “Thanks, Professor Tethras. That was fun.”

“Thank you. Curly, what’s next?”

“Well, from one partner in crime to another. It looks like Jim is next,” he said. Nessa snickered and rubbed her hands together as Cullen went out to announce him.

For some reason no one could really explain, Jim’s act was singing “Love Is A Battlefield”. Whether or not it made sense, it was actually wildly entertaining and Jim was clearly having fun with it, tapping into something deep down in order to belt out the song with conviction. Both of his partners in crime were in absolute hysterics backstage, leaning on each other for support.

The judges, deeply amused, actually gave him a standing ovation as he moved off the stage. “We’re going to take a ten-minute intermission at this time,” Evvy said into her microphone, “because I have to go feed my kid and, frankly, no one else is qualified for that. But we have some bottles of water and fresh fruit for the rest of you.” She headed for the back of the room to climb the steps to the balcony.

When she arrived, Bethany greeted her with a grin. “This is fantastic and I haven’t even seen Varric’s performance yet,” she said, standing so she could carefully shift Skye into Evvy’s arms. “And she’s been a little sweetheart, by the way.”

“I’m glad to hear it. And I’m absolutely dying to see what Varric has in store,” Evvy added, taking Skye behind the curtain. “It’s so cute how they get him to do things by telling him you’re coming.”

She laughed slightly, beaming. “I’m glad to hear I wield that type of invisible power,” she said playfully. “In all seriousness, though, it’s very sweet. I’m flattered.”

“It’s a powerful gift, Bethany. Use it wisely,” Evvy told her in a teasingly serious voice. “These men have weaknesses that we can exploit, but try not to overdo it. I learned that the hard way when I found out Cullen really likes the sound of me reading Genitivi…”

“Uh oh,” Bethany said with a laugh. “Although I can’t imagine that was too terrible for you.”

“Well, no. I’m actually pretty certain it had a direct relationship to what I’m doing right now,” Evvy replied, laughing.

“I can’t say I’m surprised by that. Oh, and speaking of little miss Skye’s father - I hear he’s doing a song. When is he up?”

“As soon as the break is over, I believe. He wouldn’t tell me what he’s singing, but there’s an excellent chance it will make people cry.”

“Oh, dear. It’s a good thing I have tissues, then.” She pulled out a few as if in demonstration. “I’ll send you back with a few before you go.”

“Thanks.” Evvy hefted her little bundle to her shoulder. “All right, my love, all done. You be good for Auntie Bethany, okay?”

“She couldn’t be anything but,” Bethany assured her with a smile. “We’ve been having an excellent time, haven’t we, Skye?”

The infant gurgled and waved one of her tiny fists, which was the closest they were likely to get to a response. Both women laughed. “You’re really good with her, Bethany,” Evvy said with a smile.

“Oh, thanks,” she replied, returning the smile. “I love kids. I know my sister likes to lord that fact over Varric in an effort to scare him senseless or mock him or something - but even independently of all that, I just enjoy being around them. Especially when they’re as sweet as this little one.”

“I really doubt you loving kids would scare Varric as much as Hawke might think,” Evvy assured her. “He’s pretty amazing with the ones here at Skyhold. And he dotes on Skye when he thinks no one’s looking.”

“Is that so? I’m tucking that tidbit away for later.” She smirked. “Although I can’t say I’m completely shocked. You all know what I’ve always known - he’s terrific under all that bluster.”

“He’s certainly that. But he even manages to be adorable when he’s being a curmudgeon. Look at the stuff he pulls on Dorian!”

“Like that performance of ‘Shiny’ for instance,” she said, her smirk widening. “That had Varric all over it, I’m certain.”

“Exactly. Dorian knows it, too. Apparently I’m the sister he never had and Varric’s the brother he never wanted.” Evvy laughed.

“I can definitely see that. Well, Dorian did lead the charge in strong-arming Varric into performing, so I suppose turnabout is fair play. I’m not complaining about any of it, mind you.”

“Deep down, I don’t think he is either.” Evvy grinned and kissed her daughter before surrendering her. “I’d best get back to it. See you a bit later.”

“Yes indeed,” Bethany said, looking a tad mischievous as she took Skye back. “Have fun!”

Once Evvy returned to her spot at the judges’ table, she looked quizzically at the stage. “So if my husband is about to sing, who’s going to announce?”

“From the looks of things, Cassandra,” Dorian said, pointing to where Cullen and Cass were speaking to each other in hushed whispers backstage. “But I don’t think he’s told her what he’s singing either. Quite the mystery.”

A moment later, the audience settled down as Cassandra, looking faintly mystified, strode onto the stage. “Welcome back,” she said. “While our next student act gets ready to perform, please welcome Professor Rutherford… doing whatever it is he’s about to do. All he would tell me is ‘have tissues handy,’ so…” She shrugged and clapped a bit as she backed away from the microphone.

Cullen approached the spot she had vacated and smiled, first at the audience and then in the direction of the judges. “To the surprise of no one, I’m sure, this is for my beloved wife. I love you so much, darling.”

The audience was already cooing at that. He paused to let them recover and then began “I was the one who had it all… I was the master of my fate.

What came was an emotional performance of “Evermore”, and he was unable to keep from glancing at Evvy from time to time.

She had her hand over her mouth pretty much continuously, tears in her eyes. “That man,” she muttered, grabbing one of the tissues Bethany had given her.

She was not alone in that reaction - half the students present were either slack jawed or sobbing. Even Dorian seemed to be getting a touch emotional, although not as emotional as the man doing the actual singing. This was clearly the way he had felt before meeting Evvy - the way he must have felt when confronted with the prospect of almost losing her or the misapprehension that he hadn’t deserved her in the first place.

Wasting in my lonely tower, waiting by an open door, I’ll fool myself she’ll walk right in… and as the long, long nights begin… I’ll think of all that might have been, waiting here forevermore.

Unsurprisingly, the entire room was on its feet as the song ended. A moderately embarrassed-looking Cullen took a bow and jumped off the stage to kiss his wife before disappearing into the wings again. A moment later, as everything calmed down, he came back out to announce things as though nothing had happened.

“And now,” he said, readjusting his tie, “let's get back to the main attraction as Rory Norbertson comes out here to show us all a little magic.”

From her place backstage, Rory moaned. “Really? I have to follow that? How on the Maker’s earth am I supposed to follow that? It was spectacular.”

“It was,” Krem agreed, fixing her bow tie, “but you’ll be great too. Come on, everyone’s waiting.”

“Your lips to the Maker’s ears,” she said with a sigh, making her way out to the stage looking sheepish. She waved slightly as she approached the table where she would do most of her tricks. “Okay, Rory, calm down,” she muttered to herself. “Everything’s fine. Oh, this was a bad idea. At least with the play I knew what I was doing, I had time to practice… why did I think I could learn magic tricks in a couple of days? Stupid...”

Krem followed her, also giving a little wave; a few people whistled. “You can do this, babe. I’m right here,” he murmured, handing her the deck of cards.

She gave him a grateful (if not anxious) smile as she shuffled the deck slightly and approached the judges. “So… Professor de Chevin. Pick a card.”

He did as he was told, looked at it, and gave her an encouraging nod, before placing it back in the deck. She shuffled again, several times, then picked a card at random. “All right. Your card was the king of clubs.”

He looked confused, but not as confused as she did at his reaction. “Huh. It should have been the king of clubs. Hang on, give me a second.” She began flipping through the deck, looking puzzled.

Krem blinked, and realized immediately what was happening. She’s too nervous, she’s going to start making mistakes. I have to do something. “Rory, wait! I gave you the wrong deck!”

She looked up at that, a bit dumbfounded. “I… there’s a wrong deck?” She raised an eyebrow.

“Yeah! Here, Professor - is this your card?” He reached into his pocket and pulled out, of all things, a string of handkerchiefs knotted together. “Whoa! I know that’s not your card.”

There was a general ripple of laughter at that. Rory continued to stare at him in complete confusion and then, very suddenly, seemed to understand she was being rescued and joined the laughter, slapping her hands to her mouth as she giggled. “Well, we’ll be giving out free handkerchiefs after the show for anyone who needs them after Professor Rutherford’s performance,” she quipped, tugging on the long chain Krem held. “If we can get them unknotted, that is.”

“Let’s try another trick,” Krem suggested. “Hey, Professor Pavus! Think of a number between one and twenty!”

Dorian, looking extremely amused, pondered this for a second. “All right, got it.”

“Great,” Rory piped in, grabbing one of the cards from the deck and holding it up with a completely straight face. “Is this your card?” She looked around as everyone giggled, pretending to be confused. “Wait, are we done with the card thing? Ugh, no one tells me anything.”

“Rory, honey, those are Uno cards! Anyway, the professor’s number is seventeen.”

“, it isn’t.”

“It is now.”

Everyone laughed again, the magic show quickly becoming a comedy routine, and Rory turned to face Krem with stars in her eyes. She then turned back to the audience. “I’m sure you all know my lovely assistant, Krem.” She beamed. “So, Krem, I’m thinking of a number between one and ten, let’s see if you can guess it.”

“Let me see…” He stared into her sparkling eyes for a moment, touching his temples as though concentrating hard. Then he shook his head. “Sweetheart, I told you before, pi doesn’t work for this trick!”

“Oh, that’s right.” She pretended to look disappointed. “But pie works for everything! Oh well.” She pulled out her wand and waved it experimentally. “Abracadabra!”

Nothing visible happened. Krem paused. “Did… did you just change the color of my underwear?”

She very dramatically turned to the audience and winked, before dissolving into giggles. “No, hon, that’s just how I sneeze. Any luck on unknotting one of those handkerchiefs for me? Ah, I’ll be fine. Never mind. Now…” She turned back to the audience. Now that she had them laughing, she was visibly less nervous. “Normally a magician would do something like saw their assistant in half or make them disappear. But I’m not going to do that because, uh, hello.” She gestured to Krem, moving her hand up and down. “Look at him. Why would I do that? So for my next trick I’m going to make myself disappear. Presto!” She waved her wand and then took a very deliberate and obvious step behind Krem.

He stood still for a moment, trying not to smile even as the audience giggled. “Pretty sure they can see you,” he muttered in a stage whisper.

“No, they can’t,” she returned in a sing-song voice. “They’re looking at you. I’m short, while you’re tall and gorgeous. I call this stealth mode.”

Krem’s lips twitched. “Okay, so since the magician has clearly disappeared” - he made finger quotes - “and left me to do the act alone, I guess for my next trick I’ll pull something out of this hat. I have no idea what’s in here, to be honest.” He held up the hat so they could see the empty interior. “Let’s see…”

She crept out from behind him and comically shrugged at the audience to show she also had no idea what he was up to. From the judge’s table, Dorian was snickering. “This ought to be good…” he whispered.

“Hmm…” Krem set the hat on the prop table and started reaching down into it, actually managing to sink his arm up to the shoulder. A moment later, he pulled out a drawstring bag, which he dramatically opened. “Wow! Hey, Professor Tethras, I think I found your marbles!”

There was a roar of laughter at that. Dorian clapped his hands together, nearly doubled over as he guffawed. Rory leaned against Krem’s shoulder, grinning so widely it looked as though her face would crack if she smiled any more. “Now that was amazing!” she managed at last. “Any spare change in there or something?”

“No spare change in the hat, I’m afraid, but hey, there’s a royal behind your ear,” he said, producing the coin. “I think we can do one more trick… Professor Rutherford gave me an idea. Excuse me, pretty lady in the front row here, can you come up on stage?” He gestured to Mia Rutherford.

Mia, who had been watching the entire show in complete delight, smiled now, pointing at herself as if to ask “who, me?” She got to her feet and made her way to the stage, beaming all the while. “How can I help?” she inquired sweetly.

“Now, we’ve never met before, have we?” he asked. He glanced briefly at the judges’ table and gave Evvy a wink.

Mia shook her head. “No, never.”

“All right. Look deep into my eyes… mmhmm… mmhmm… you are the oldest of three - no, four children. You’re single. And I am thinking of a number…” He paused, then rattled off a sequence of digits. “Does that number mean anything to you?”

“No, I can’t say it does,” Mia replied, laughing slightly.

Pardon,” said Michel from the judges’ table, “but that was my telephone number you just stated!”

“Your phone number?” Krem repeated. “I just gave this charming bachelorette your phone number? Wow, I am the greatest wingman ever!”

Mia blushed and glanced over at Michel, giving him a shy smile. From her place behind Krem, Rory squealed and covered her mouth with both of her hands. There were several similar reactions from the crowd; Bull was leaning against a wall, almost crying from laughing so hard.

“I think we can leave it there. A round of applause for our lovely volunteer. I’m Krem, this is Rory, and this has all been completely unrehearsed! Thank you, Skyhold!”

“This is one magician’s assistant who is definitely getting a raise!” Rory added, pointing to Krem as the crowd applauded. She seized his hand and bowed with him, still smiling broadly as they left the stage. As soon as they were out of sight she all but mobbed him in an embrace. “You. Sweetheart. You absolute lifesaver! I would have been toast without you. And that last trick, with Professor de Chevin… that was precious.”

“That was Professor R’s sister - he pointed her out to me,” he explained, returning the hug. “He was joking about introducing her to Professor DC, so I… thought I’d help.”

“You are the literal sweetest.” She pulled away to look up at him. “And you’re actually terrific at magic.”

“I wasn’t sure what tricks you had planned, so I read up on a couple in case anything went wrong. And then it was just a matter of… well, making sure absolutely nothing worked the way anyone expected.” He grinned a little sheepishly.

“Well thank the Maker you did!” She went back to embracing him. “Who says knights in shining armor only exist in fairytales?”

“Never thought of myself as one of those, but I’m not in the habit of arguing with cute girls,” he said mildly, chuckling.

“Well, good, because you’re definitely my knight in shining armor if nothing else.” She stretched herself as much as she could and kissed his cheek.

“I am absolutely on board with that. Hey look, here come your partners in crime.”

She released him in order to rush over to Jim and Nessa, wrapping her arms around both of them. “Oh, gosh, that was… that was a thing that happened,” she said with a chuckle. “As for you both, I’m almost certain one of you is going to win. I mean, I love you and therefore I’m biased, but still.”

“Are you kidding? That was so incredible that it’s a crime if you don’t get something,” Jim said, laughing. “You two were unreal. I haven’t laughed so hard in weeks.”

“I had very little to do with any of that. Except the beginning part where everything went wrong, that was pure me.” She shrugged, laughing. “Otherwise, I lay all of that at the feet of my lovely assistant - if anyone should get a prize, it should be him.”

“Hey, I can’t take all the credit. You had the idea to do the act in the first place,” Krem pointed out, smiling. “And that bit where you made yourself disappear was hilarious.”

She blushed a little, tugging at her ear. “Well, once I knew everyone was laughing with me and not, you know, at me, it became a lot easier. Seriously though, thanks for saving me.”

“Any time, babe.” He glanced out at the stage. “Looks like things are winding down… wonder why they’re making the stage dark.”

Cullen was addressing the audience. “We have to give our judges some time to make their final deliberations. While they do that, please enjoy the final act of the day.... I have no idea what it is. But I do know who it is, so I have a feeling we’re in for something special.” He ducked offstage once again.

The stage remained dark for a moment or so, with the audience murmuring to one another. And then the familiar music started, letting them all know exactly what song was beginning; there was some shrieking. Varric’s voice drifted out of the speakers as the stage very slowly brightened. “And I would do anything for love… I’d run right into hell and back… I would do anything for love… I’ll never lie to you and that’s a fact… but I’ll never forget the way you feel right now, oh no, no way… and I would do anything for love, but I won’t do that… no, I won’t do that!” The lights came on fully and as the music crashed, he spun around and went into the meat of the song.

The audience was, of course, absolutely loving it. They had all gotten to their feet, cheering, laughing hysterically, singing along at the top of their lungs. Even the judges, who were supposed to be busy tabulating everything, more than occasionally glanced up to watch. From her place in the balcony, Bethany was beaming, shaking her head as she watched. “This is actually even better than I thought it was going to be,” she said gleefully.

“Maybe you’d better get down there, then,” said her sister, joining her in the balcony and relieving her of her charge. “And no, he has no idea you’re taking my place. You can’t see the balcony from the stage with those lights, either, so he won’t realize it til you’re out there.”

“Oh, good. This is completely delightful. And I’m so very glad this entire thing it being filmed - so I can cherish the look on his face when I show up.” She laughed, bent to kiss little Skye on the forehead, and gave Hawke a little wave. “Thanks for this, sis. Wish me luck!”

“Always. Knock ‘em dead!”

Still smiling, Bethany made her way down to the wings and took a microphone, approaching where Cullen stood watching. He turned when he saw her and raised an eyebrow.

“Hi, Cullen. Don't worry, Skye is in my sister's capable hands,” she said quietly before he could open his mouth to ask. “I'm here to surprise Varric.”

“Well, I think you'll certainly do that.” He chuckled. “He already surprised all of us, so it looks like the revelations just keep coming.”

Varric, oblivious to her machinations, kept squinting in the general direction of the balcony. He wondered if she liked the choice of song. It was, admittedly, a bit obvious… he was well aware that everyone knew he really would do exactly as the lyrics suggested. The costume was a little warm for summer, and during a pause in the singing, he grabbed a bottle of water which had been placed downstage and splashed some of the contents in his face. Almost time for the female part.

Varric was, of course, expecting Marian Hawke to be his partner for this part of the song, not Bethany Hawke. But pretty much from the moment the elder Hawke sister had let it slip what Varric’s song was, Bethany had been looking forward to taking her place. She watched with a smirk as he got to the line “But I’ll never stop dreaming of you every night of my life, no way. And I would do anything for love…” Not only was this going to be fun, but the song was wildly flattering to boot. She waited a few more seconds, flicked on the cordless microphone, and stepped on stage to sing the first female vocals.

The students, who of course knew all about Varric and Bethany’s romance by this point - and who had been delighted by his karaoke rendering of “Metropolis” and her version of “Take A Chance On Me” during the Rutherfords’ wedding - recognized her voice even before they saw her. There was an enormous cheer and she beamed, waving at them before turning to Varric and lifting an eyebrow mischievously.  

He also recognized her voice the instant she started singing, of course, and spun around in astonishment. Trying not to laugh (and mostly failing), he shook his head and, beaming, held out a hand to her.

She was laughing now too, relishing the look on his face as she took his hand with her free one. She kissed it briefly before continuing to sing.

In soulful baritone, Varric gently guided the song to its conclusion and, on the final notes, bowed over Bethany’s hand and kissed it in return. He straightened and waved at the screaming students. “Sneaky Sunshine,” he murmured, draping an arm around her shoulders as they made their way offstage.

She flashed him an innocent smile. “It just seemed like too much fun - I had to join in,” she said, leaning her head against his briefly. “So did I surprise you?”

“Every day of your life, beautiful. Some days more than others - and this was a hell of a surprise.” He kissed her temple. “I assume your sister couldn’t keep her trap shut and that’s how you found out?”

“Oh, I think she called me about five minutes after you came up with this plan,” she said with a giggle. “And you know I’m always down for having you sing to me, but I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity for a duet.”

“She’s the one who suggested the song,” he admitted. “Mostly she was being a smartass though. It’s pretty widely understood around here that I… uh… well, you heard the lyrics.”

Bethany smiled at that and leaned her head against his once more. “Indeed I did. And I’m very glad of that fact.”

They passed Cullen, who was chuckling at their inspired duet, and then Jim, Rory, and Nessa, who looked like they were trying their utmost not to squeal. “Andraste preserve me,” Bethany heard Jim whisper to the girls. “Those two, man. When are they going to get married, seriously?”

Cullen was standing close enough that he heard this all, and immediately started laughing behind his hand. Varric shot him a look of pure “shut up,” his eyes wide and his throat suddenly mysteriously clogged.

Bethany, on the other hand, also laughed, and bumped Varric playfully with her hip. “Yeah, when are they going to get married?” she teased him with a wink, laughing again.

He gave a short bark of nervous laughter. “Aheh. Yeah. Good question,” he muttered. It was one of those rare occasions when Varric didn’t know how to talk his way out of a situation.

“Don’t worry, Varric, I’m not angling for a wedding just yet,” she assured him with a smirk. “Just this…” she gestured between them. “What we’re doing right now… is pretty great. I’m having the time of my life, you know.”

He gave her a grateful, moderately adoring look. “You’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me, Sunshine. And I would do anything for love - including that - but I want you to focus on getting stronger first. You’ve been doing incredibly well.”

She draped both of her arms down his shoulders, her smile luminous. “And a lot of that is thanks to you, Varric. I -” She glanced around, then smiled. “Actually, this doesn’t need an audience - the poor kids might explode from all the feels. Come on.” She tugged his hand and pulled him out of sight. When they were finally alone, she leaned in to kiss him.

“What was that for? Not that I’m complaining,” he added with a slightly dazed chuckle.

“Just for being you. Because you’re wonderful. And because, you know, I love you.” Her lips twitched into a soft smile. “I hope you know just how much.”

He sort of stared at her. “Yes, but also no,” he admitted, quietly. They’d said it many times, of course, but it felt a bit more serious just at the moment. “Guess I keep thinking I’m gonna wake up any minute.”

She laughed softly and stroked his cheek with her thumb. “Nope, you’re awake and I’m still here. I’m not going anywhere.”

“Hmm. I’ll remind you of that when I’m driving you to the airport to go back to Kirkwall,” he teased. With a resigned sigh that probably wouldn’t even have fooled baby Skye, he pulled her into a tight hug. “You’ve had me wrapped around your little finger for so long, I couldn’t even tell you when I realized I loved you. It’s like I always have.”

She smiled blissfully at that, looking completely delighted. “And always will?” she asked with a mirthful chuckle.

“If you need to ask that, I haven’t been doing my job right,” he said with a smirk. “C’mon, they’re gonna announce the winners.”

She laughed at that and kissed him again, before taking his hand and leading him back to the tiny waiting crowd. She smiled at the assembled students. “Good luck, everyone,” she said. “You were all brilliant.”

“So were you!” said Krem with a grin. “Oh, hey, here are those marbles, Professor T. Thanks for the loan.” He handed the drawstring bag to Varric, who laughed.

The judges were taking the stage. “First of all,” said Evvy, “a round of applause for everyone who performed today! This has been the most fun we’ve had since… well, since the last time Skyhold saw us all performing a bunch of random musical numbers.” There was a ripple of laughter. “Now, we have a couple of special awards to distribute as well as the grand prize, so… can we have all the contestants and teachers back out on stage, please?”

Cullen held his arms out in a gesture that said “after you” as the tiny retinue of students and teachers trooped back out on stage, Cullen bringing up the rear. All the students were whispering among themselves, both excited and nervous as they glanced at the judges.

Most of the ‘special awards’ were purely comical, and largely went to the teachers. They received miniature plastic trophies, which were presented with absurd superlatives such as “Most Creative Use of Empty Space” (for Solas) and “Best Surprise Performance” (for Bethany). Cullen was awarded the trophy for “Fastest to Bring an Entire School to Tears.” Hawke got a special award for “Most Inventive Way to Get Out of This,” although Bethany had to accept it on her behalf since Hawke was still watching Skye, and Varric received one directly from Dorian for “Most Creative Use of a Student to Poke Fun at the Judge.”

The audience was laughing hysterically, as were the assembled student performers, as the teachers accepted their awards. Bethany played to the audience, hefting hers like she had just won the best award on the planet, while Cullen smiled shyly and kissed his like an athlete at a sporting event. Dorian chuckled, leaning towards the microphone. “Basically, you’re all very lucky we love you and have a high tolerance for madness.”

“I’m pretty sure they already knew that,” said Evvy. “All right, now for you kids. Everyone who participated in this contest is receiving a gift card for the bookstore in Redcliffe Village - I’m not allowed to say where we got those, but I have it on good authority that it’s the same mysterious benefactor who provides your weekly ice cream. So thank you, secret giver. The third prize winner will receive... a recording of Professor Pavus Sings Queen’s Greatest Hits!” She paused and peered at her cue card. “Is that really the prize?”

Dorian pretended to look offended. “My dear, are you saying that isn't an excellent prize for which everyone should be clamoring?”

Several of the students were giggling and there was a shriek of delight that came from somewhere in the students’ talent pool (everyone knew from whom).

“I’m saying no such thing, Fairy Godfather, I’m just surprised this wasn’t given to everyone since, of course, everyone needs one.” She gave him her sweetest smile. “Ahem. Anyway, this goes to… Doug, the trumpet master!”

Everyone cheered as Doug went to collect his prize, Jim giving him a fist bump as he passed. “Doug, help a girl out and burn me a copy of that, okay?” Rory whispered as he returned to the group.

“You got it, Rors,” he assured her with a chuckle.

“In second place,” said Michel, taking a turn at announcing, “receiving a gift certificate for that marvelous theater where you all go to see movies each month, is Janessa Dasher for her hilarious tribute to Professor Pavus!”

The partners in crime let out a cry of delight and Nessa went to accept the certificate, looking overjoyed. Dorian patted her shoulder and smiled. “Tell Professor Tethras I'll come up with a way to get him back for that,” he remarked, laughing. “Well done.”

“And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for… our head judge will announce the grand prize winner!” said Evvy. “The grand prize is a savings bond valued at one hundred sovereigns, generously donated by our beloved President and First Lady Theirin. Professor Pavus, if you’ll do the honors?”

There were several excited whispers as Dorian leaned forward, smiling slightly. “The grand prize for the first ever Skyhold Academy talent show - for the most fun we've ever had watching magic… Krem, Rory darling, get down here.”

Rory, who had completely not expected to hear her name, whipped around to face the judges. She had almost quite literally frozen, her mouth open in shock. “Wait. Are you… are you serious?”

“We’re serious! Come here!” Evvy called, laughing at her expression.

Krem, grinning broadly, carefully steered her to where she could accept the prize. “See? Told you it’d be great.”

She blinked, still completely floored, as Dorian handed her the paper. “This… this is more money than I’ve had at one time in… well, maybe ever.” She covered her mouth with her free hand, her eyes wet with tears, and spun to face Krem. “You need to take half of this - maybe more. You did all of the work.”

“Not happening.” He shook his head, still grinning. “That is all yours. I got to be the most epic wingman ever while still scoring boyfriend points - I’m good to go.”

In spite of herself, she laughed at that. Then, crying in delight, she launched herself at him and leaned up to bury her face against his neck while Jim and Nessa jumped up and down, whooping as they did so.

“Speaking of epic wingman, make sure your sister gets to talk to Michel,” Evvy murmured slyly to Cullen. Everyone made their way off the stage in a haze of applause and emotion, leaving her alone with the microphone. “Thanks very much, everyone! Head on down to the dining hall for the post-show dinner - and if someone could bring me my daughter, that’d be great.”

“I’ll volunteer for that task,” Cullen assured her, then dropped his voice. “And I’ll definitely make sure Mia talks to him. I was not expecting Krem to do that, but I must admit, I’m glad he did.”

“It was both funny and sweet. Which I think describes their entire act,” she added. “I get the impression that Krem just took over and started making things funny because Rory froze.”

“I think you’re right. She seemed nervous when she went out there and I think he knew that, so he swooped in.” He chuckled. “And of course he won’t accept any of that savings bond, because that’s just how he is.”

“They’re a really cute pair.” She took his arm as they made their way to the dining hall. “I don’t think anyone saw that one coming but they really go well together.”

“They are,” he agreed and chuckled again. “In some ways, they remind me of us a bit - since they both seem mutually shocked that the other wants to be with them.”

“Hmm. I can see a resemblance in that respect,” she agreed with a smile. “Come on, I’m hungry. Judging is hard work!”

Chapter Text


The Perfect Pear

No one in the school could believe it exactly, but summer was in fact waning. It was almost unanimously agreed that it had been one of the fastest summers in anyone’s recent memory - the students in particular. Usually the summers spent waiting to come back to Skyhold were eternal for them, but the first summer at Skyhold seemed to be a rousing success.

“I can’t believe it’s gone so fast,” Leliana said one evening as she arrived in the staff room. “And they’ve all been so good too.”

“Perhaps we should do something,” said Josephine. “One last outing before school starts or something like that.”

“I may have something that would work,” offered Evvy. “I got something in my email yesterday about Redcliffe Farms. They’re starting their fall events soon - fruit picking, hay rides, corn maze, that sort of thing. It’s a little early for the apples and pumpkins, which are the big draws, but they have some peaches and pears. Maybe the kids would enjoy that.”

“Oh, that’s a lovely idea!” Josephine immediately smiled. “It gives everyone the opportunity to enjoy the last of the summer weather, and we can give the fruit to the kitchens. I’m sure no one will object to peach pie for dessert.” She giggled.

“Let me pull up the email, make sure I know what I’m talking about,” Evvy joked. She took out her phone and played with the screen for a minute. “Here we go. Yes, peaches, pears, and also blueberries and raspberries. That’s nice. They have… hay rides, pony rides, a little petting area with rams and baby druffalo, a refreshment stand, and some nights they’ll even have a live band. I think we can skip that bit, though,” she added, chuckling.

“Yes, probably.” Dorian returned her chuckle. “After all, most of the time we are the live band, we don’t even have to leave the castle for that. But otherwise it sounds quite idyllic.”

“Hang on...” This from Cullen, who had suddenly looked up from where he was playing with baby Skye. “Did I hear you mention blueberries in that list?”

“Yes, dear - why?”

“Oh, no reason. You know my fondness for them, that’s all.” He smiled faintly.

“True.” She looked just slightly mischievous. “I’ll make sure you get your own basket.”

He chuckled. “Well, thank you, darling.” He addressed the group then. “We should also remember those fall activities for the future, if we’re ever looking for a Harvestmere field trip. It sounds like an excellent place.”

“Most of our produce comes from the Redcliffe farm area anyway,” Josephine noted. “But I think letting the students see that firsthand will be educational for them. When should we plan this?”

“Perhaps the first week in August?” Cassandra suggested. “That gives them - and us - a few weeks yet to prepare for the fall term.”

“Sounds okay,” said Varric, “but I’ve got a dentist appointment that week.” He scowled briefly. “Can we do this before that? I want to actually enjoy myself, not be in a bad mood about whatever news I get.”

“Are you expecting bad news?” Evvy asked, a little surprised.

He shrugged. “I haven’t seen a dentist in about eight years. I’m sure he’ll find something wrong with my mouth in order to make his next car payment. Besides, my jaw’s been a little achy lately, so that probably means a bit of trouble.”

“Well, we’ll definitely make sure we fit it in before your appointment,” Josephine assured him. “Sometime in the last week of July or the early part of the first week of August. I’ll make it work.”

“Thanks, Ruffles. I appreciate it.”

“And Cullen, I’m sure you’ll want to take a million more pictures of Skye,” his wife teased him, “so make sure your phone is charged and you bring the portable backup.”

“Oh, yes, of course.” He chuckled. “I’ll make sure to do that.”

“And I’m sure one of us will lend you our phones if all else failed,” Leliana said with a grin.

“Most photographed child in Thedas,” Blackwall noted, chuckling. “But in fairness, it’s hard to blame you.”

“She is precious,” Cass agreed.

“And she has lots of aunts and uncles who come to me to provide them with pictures,” Cullen added in his own defense, wearing a proud smile.

“That she does,” Evvy agreed. “Also grandparents. In fact, they’ve been asking for us to bring the children for a few days.”

“Before the summer’s over?” he asked. “Well, these next few weeks are going to be very busy, aren’t they?”

“I could always manage it on my own,” she replied. “I’m not teaching, and if we go over a weekend, you’d barely know we were gone. Well, you would know,” she amended, laughing, “but it wouldn’t disrupt the flow of life in Skyhold.”

Cullen lifted an eyebrow in thought, as if not enjoying the idea of being alone for a weekend. Dorian immediately started laughing. “Based on that look alone, I'm almost positive the Trevelyans can count on four houseguests, not three.”

There was a general chuckle at that. “Really, Cullen, I thought you might enjoy having the chance to sleep through the night,” Evvy protested fondly.

“I survived for years on very little sleep. The reason for it now is far better than ever before.” He smiled. “But I'll stay here if it makes things easier.”

“I’ll leave it to your decision,” she replied.

“Which means he’ll be going with you,” Varric interjected. “And you know it as well as we do, Siren.”

“I know. I tried to give the man a break, though, you’re all my witnesses.”

Everyone laughed. “And you were very sweet to try, darling,” Cullen said, laughing as well. “I'm sure the day will come when I take you up on that offer, but today is not that day.”

Evvy smiled and shrugged. “Well, you let us know what day you want to do the farm trip, then,” she said, “and I’ll make sure we’re back in plenty of time for it. I imagine Cole will enjoy it.”

“Yes, I imagine he will,” Josephine said brightly. “I won't keep you all in suspense for too long on the date, I promise.”

The students were, by and large, very amused to hear that they were all taking a trip at the beginning of August to the Redcliffe farms. “Ah, such wholesome activities,” Jim joked. “No, to be honest, it sounds kind of fun. Maybe a little anticlimactic after all the showstoppers we’ve had these last few months, but that’s not a bad thing. I’ve never gone fruit picking.”

“Me neither,” said Rory. “And as much as we all adore Skyhold, it'll be nice to get out of the mountains for a little.”

“I’ve kind of always wanted to see a druffalo up close,” Krem admitted, joining them in time to overhear the conversation. “I’ve seen a lot of different animals, but never one of those.”

“I know right?” Rory beamed. “I'm sort of low-key freaking out about the idea of baby druffalo, not gonna lie.”

“I have to make sure I get a picture of you with one,” he teased her.

“It'll be a pic of me wearing a big, stupid grin, probably.” She laughed. “So, you know, usual stuff.”

“I happen to be quite fond of your big grin.” Krem himself grinned. “So, what do you guys prefer? Peaches or pears? I hear we may have to guard the blueberries from Professor R, apparently he’s a fiend for them.”

“Really? That's adorable.” Rory giggled. “As for me, got to go with peaches. I'm a fan of anything you can make into pie.”

“I have to disagree and say pears,” remarked Nessa. “But I won't be sad about peach pie at all.”

“I’m not going to be sad about anything they do with the fruit - although I hope they save some of the peaches for our next ice cream night,” said Jim. “Vanilla ice cream with fresh peaches is amazing.”

“Ice cream is also good on pie, you know.” Rory chuckled. “Yup, I'm just going to keep pushing this pie idea in the hopes it sticks.”

“Mention it to Professor T,” Krem suggested. “Or Professor H. They’ve both got a terrible sweet tooth, either one of them would probably be all over the prospect of pie.”

“Good idea! You're getting all the inside information now, aren't you?” She laughed again.

“More than ever.” He laughed too. “If there’s anything specific you guys ever want to know, I’ll try to find out for you.”

“Oh, don't say that - that stuff will end up in fanfic,” Nessa said, elbowing her two friends playfully.

“Uh, yeah,” Krem replied, grinning. “I have a sort of ulterior motive.”

“And this is just one of the many reasons why you’re the greatest boyfriend in the history of boyfriends,” Rory replied, squeezing his arm and looking like she was biting down a squeal. For his part, Krem looked like he was mentally preening.

“I’m sure we’ll have a small list of stuff for you to find out in no time,” Jim added, snickering.

“I can’t promise anything, but I’ll do my best. Although speaking of knowing stuff, I think the Rutherfords are due back this evening.”

“Oh, good!” said Rory. “It’s been a bit too quiet around here without Cole and the OTP and baby Skye. I know it sounds silly, but after spending the entire year here, it seems a little strange when all of a sudden someone’s out of the equation. Like when Professor Pavus went back to Tevinter in the spring.”

“Yeah, did we ever find out why he went?” asked Jim.

Rory shook her head. “Not to the best of my knowledge. Family matters, as far as I heard, but I don’t know what’s fact and what’s just the Skyhold rumor mill.”

“No, that part’s true,” said Krem. “I’m really not supposed to say anything about it, but it was family stuff. Although I can tell you something weird that I learned recently, sort of related to it - Professor P has a friend back in Tevinter named Mae, have you ever heard him mention her?”

“Oh, yeah, that name sounds familiar,” said Nessa.

Jim likewise nodded. “She sends mail here sometimes. I’ve been on hand in the school post office when a few of her letters have arrived.”

“Why do you ask?” said Rory.

“Well, she also knows Professor T,” said Krem. “Actually, they’re related. I mean, by marriage. She’s a widow, and her husband was his cousin.”

“You’re kidding. So Professor Pavus’s friend is actually one of Professor Tethras’s in-laws?” Rory made a faint huh noise and laughed slightly. “That’s pretty hilarious. Small world.”

“I know, right? The teachers sure think it’s hilarious - Professor T knows exactly two people from Tevinter, and they’re close friends, but he met them independently of each other.”

“It’s funny to think how interconnected everyone here is,” Nessa mused. “So many of them had ties to each other before they started working here - even if some of them didn’t know it.”

“I know, it’s weird,” said Jim. “Like that Professors Pentaghast and Rutherford were friends before they came here, and Ms. Hawke was friends with both him and Professor Tethras.”

“And I think I’ve heard that Headmistress Nightingale was friends with Ms. Montilyet before the school was a thing,” said Nessa. “I guess she was the one who suggested Ms. Montilyet should be the guidance counselor in the first place.”

“Right,” said Krem. “Plus the headmistress is a longtime friend with the President and First Lady, I guess that’s how they got her to sign on.”

“I still don’t know that whole story,” said Rory. “All I know is apparently they all sort of worked together before the President was the president, which is just funny to think about in general. As I said, small world.”

“It’s that all right,” Jim agreed. “Kind of wild. I wonder what they did when they knew each other before he became President.”

“I’m not saying they fought crime,” said Rory, “but I feel like they totally fought crime.”

“That’s always your answer,” Nessa teased.

“Yeah, and every time it turns out they actually do fight crime.”

“To be fair, we know for a fact that Professor Tethras and Ms. Hawke fought crime,” Jim pointed out. “That’s why she’s called the Champion of Kirkwall. So... it’s possible.”

“And even if it didn’t actually happen like that, I’ll just write the fanfic,” she said with a shrug, smirking as she did so.

“It would be a pretty interesting story,” Krem admitted. “Maybe they still fight crime, and the President uses his public image to hide their secret! Like on that one superhero show where he’s the mayor!”

“That wouldn’t surprise me at all. And Headmistress Nightingale probably uses all her secret connections to help.” Rory laughed. “Headcanon accepted.”

“I can sign off on that,” Jim agreed. “That’s way fun to imagine.”

A slow smile spread across her face. “Think we can write that before the new term starts?”

“Possibly. But it’s equally possible that this will turn into a sprawling project. You know how we can get.”

“Oh, boy, don’t I just? Knowing us, we’ll probably still be writing it when we’re both in university.” She chuckled. “Ah, I wouldn’t have it any other way though.”

“Me neither,” Jim assured her.

They couldn’t have asked for better weather when the day finally came for the school’s outing. “I was honestly a little worried it would rain us out,” said Leliana as the last of the students climbed off the bus in Redcliffe. “But it’s perfect.”

“It’s not too hot, either, which is a good thing,” Evvy noted, adjusting the strap of Skye’s diaper bag. “We don’t have to worry too much about them overheating themselves. Hopefully they all remembered to apply sunscreen.”

“If they haven’t and you see anyone getting a bit red, you can direct them to me,” said Josie. She was carrying a duffel bag, which she patted now. “Between myself and Madam Giselle, I think we have a cure for anything that could possibly ail anyone today.”

“And this is why everyone loves you, Josie,” said Leliana with a chuckle. “All right, let’s spread out and enjoy the day. The kids know not to go beyond the farm limits, so this should be easy enough.”

“I think Evvy’s biggest challenge will be keeping an eye on her husband,” Josie said with a laugh, placing a hand on Evvy’s shoulder.

“He’ll be so diverted with taking pictures of Skye and Cole, he might forget that we have other children to look after,” Evvy quipped, chuckling.

“I can definitely see that,” Josie returned. “Taking pictures and eating blueberries.”

“Sounds like a good day to me,” said Cullen with a smile, striding up to the three women, Skye in his arms. “You’re all talking about me behind my back, aren’t you?” he added playfully.

“Yes, but now that you’re here we can talk about you in front of your back,” his wife teased him. “And are you ready for all this fun, princess?”

“She’s going to help Da pick blueberries,” Cullen reported, bouncing his daughter. “Isn’t that right, my little love?” She gave a little giggle as he kissed her cheeks.

“She’s getting so big,” Josephine gushed. “I can’t believe she’s almost six months old already!”

“You're telling me.” Cullen laughed. “It feels like we were just bringing her home from the hospital yesterday. I don't know where the time has gone.”

“I’m just glad she’s put on weight. She was so tiny,” said Evvy. “Maybe the kitchen can make her some nice strained peaches from what we bring back today, hmm?” She lightly touched the baby’s nose. “Where’s your shiny uncle, I wonder.”

“Last I saw him, he was helping herd everyone,” said Leliana. “I’m sure he and Cole will probably double back to find you both.”

“I was about to agree, but here they come, so you’re quite right.” Evvy chuckled. “Well, son, what do you want to do first? Or do you want to go find your friends?”

“My friends are off to look at the baby druffalo. Rory is very excited about it,” Cole reported. “Maybe Skye would like the druffalo too.”

“I think she will,” Evvy agreed fondly. “Should we take her there first?”

“That would be nice.” Cole nodded. “If Father's all right with it.”

“Of course I am.” Cullen smiled. “And it sounds like my first photo opportunity of the day.”

“Well, then, let’s go find Cole’s friends.” Evvy made a little shooing motion.

“We'll see you later,” Cullen said to Leliana and Josephine. “Enjoy yourselves.”

“Of course. Don't forget to send pictures.” Leliana grinned.

“Always.” Cullen chuckled.

“Are you coming with us, Dori, or going to try to avoid the smell of hay?” Evvy teased him.

“I usually try to avoid hay as a general policy, but for Cinderella and little Skye, I'll make an exception.” He smiled. “Besides, I think I'd like to see the little one react to some druffalo - and the little one's father reacting to her reactions, of course.”

“Your sacrifice is noted and appreciated. All right, family of mine, let’s head in that direction.”

Leliana watched them troop toward the petting area with great amusement. “If you had told me two years ago that this would ever be happening, I would never have believed you,” she remarked.

“I know exactly what you mean,” said Josephine fondly. “Cullen happily married and a devoted father, Cole finally coming into his own, all of it. It's not the ending I would have anticipated, seeing them when we first started the school, but I've never been more happy to be wrong.”

“Not to mention those two.” The headmistress nodded in the direction of Dorian, who was trailing after Evvy and had been joined by Varric. They appeared to be - as ever - cheerfully needling each other. “They always got along well enough, but I never expected them to actually call one another ‘brother’, even if sarcastically.”

“Nor I.” Josie laughed. “And speaking of unexpected, the fact that Cassandra was Varric’s confidant for so long! Our friends certainly know how to surprise us.”

“True. That was arguably the most shocking development of all,” Leliana conceded. “Ah well, at least they were nice surprises. Come on - I hear that the cider at this farm is so good, the Maker Himself would drink it. Let’s go investigate that.”

“Sounds like a perfect plan. And, if it’s as good as all that, maybe we can take some of it back with us. Although I must admit I think I may have to pay those druffalo a visit too before the day is out.” She laughed again.

Hawke, who had been on the little tram to the peach-picking field, came in search of Varric some time later. “Oh, here you are,” she said, finding him with the extended Rutherford family. “So this is a druffalo, huh? We didn’t have these in Lothering, I’ve never seen one until now.”

“I have to admit, they’re actually rather adorable,” said Dorian. “As far as wild animals go, of course.”

“The domesticated ones are sweet as doves,” Cullen pointed out, before bouncing his daughter slightly and indicating one of the babies in the herd. “Take a look, Skye.”

She made some adorable gurgling noises, trying to reach out to the baby druffalo. It eyed her somewhat confusedly, then shook its head; little stubs of horns were starting to be in evidence.

“Sonnet was dying to see one of these things,” Varric remarked, slyly helping himself to one of Hawke’s peaches. “Look at her now.” He gestured to where Rory was all but fawning over one of the animals.

Dorian chuckled warmly. “We haven’t been here that long and already she looks like she’s going to burst. She needs to temper herself or she’s going to explode, I fear.”

The baby druffalo, meanwhile, finally consented to put itself where Skye’s tiny hands could touch its velvety nose. Her face scrunched up in an expression of delight. “Da!”

Cullen, who had been watching his daughter with a look of undisguised joy on his face, suddenly froze. “Hang on... did I hear that correctly?” He glanced from Skye to the rest of the group, as if searching for someone to corroborate his thinking. “Did anyone else hear what I think I just heard?”

“It sounded rather like ‘da,’ didn’t it?” Evvy agreed, eyes bright. “Do you think it was?”

“I think so. Or at least I hope so.” He laughed slightly. “Maker’s breath, even if it wasn’t, please no one correct me. I would like to just go on believing it was.” A proud and extremely overjoyed smile had spread across his features.

“We’ll put it in the baby book,” his wife promised. Quietly, to Dorian alone, she murmured, “What do you think?”

“I think that was her first word,” he remarked. “Of course, it’s also completely within the realm of possibility she just made a miscellaneous noise - babies tend to do that, after all. But given the look on his face,” he nodded to Cullen, “I would say perception is reality in this instance, wouldn’t you?”

“I’m certainly not inclined to argue.” She chuckled. “Cullen, let me get a picture of you two with Skye’s new friend. Varric can figure out how to smuggle the beast back to Skyhold.” Varric said nothing, only laughed heartily.

Cullen also laughed, still looking extraordinarily pleased. “It can be Skyhold’s mascot,” he suggested playfully, stepping over to where he and Skye could pose next to the druffalo. “Isn’t that right, sweetheart?” he asked his daughter, pressing his nose against her own.

Skye giggled, though she didn’t repeat the alleged first word. “Better it than me,” Evvy deadpanned, taking the picture.

Cullen chuckled at that, then gestured. “Come here, darling. Let's do a family one. Dorian, would you be so kind?”

“Of course.”

“And where's Cole?”

“Cole,” Evvy called. “Would you come here for a moment?” He had wandered over to join his friends, but came back and let her drape an arm around his shoulders for the photo. “I take it the druffalo is part of the family now, as far as the picture is concerned,” she added playfully.

“The druffalo can be a guest Rutherford for the day.” Dorian chuckled, getting in position to take the photo. “All right, smile, everyone. Except for you, Cullen, if you smile any wider your face will crack.”

“Nice,” Varric commented, peering over Dorian’s shoulder as the picture was taken. “Curly’s gonna run out of desk space soon, but that looks like a keeper to me. Bet Curly-girl would want that one.”

“Oh, yes, probably,” said Cullen. “I should call her and the others when we get home tonight, let them know about her first word. They'll be delighted.”

“And we can put that picture in the baby book to show where she was when she said it,” Evvy added.

“She said her first word?” Cole asked. He hadn’t been within earshot when it happened, and now he looked a little disappointed to have missed it.

“We think so.” Cullen nodded. “It certainly sounded like she said ‘da’, but she hasn't said it again.” He bounced the baby slightly. “I'm sure your big brother would love if you repeat it,” he told her. “Da would too.” Unfortunately, the only response this garnered was a string of babble.

“I’m sure she’ll say it again sometime,” said Evvy soothingly. “Cole, did you want to go and pick fruit? Ms. Hawke got some nice peaches... which I can’t help but notice are steadily disappearing from her basket.”

Hawke looked down at that, glared, and took a large step to the side. Most of those assembled started to laugh.

Cole, meanwhile, nodded. “I know Father wants to pick blueberries. My friends can't decide what to pick first.”

“I couldn’t decide either, so I let Hawke decide,” Varric teased. He’d only taken maybe four peaches, and offered her a cheeky grin.

“I should know better than to stand next to you.” She laughed, shaking her head.

“I have to keep in practice,” he protested mildly. “It’s been ages since I stole anything. Well, except for your sister, but I don’t think that counts.”

“You can't steal that which goes to you willingly.” Hawke chuckled.

“Exactly.” Everyone laughed at Varric’s smug expression.

“On that note,” said Evvy, still giggling a bit, “I personally could do with a drink, and Skye needs to eat soon. Why don’t I take her and go sit down for a bit, and you can all head to the blueberry fields? Just please make sure Cullen doesn’t eat them all.” She gave him a teasing wink.

“I can control myself,” he said with a laugh, then paused as if considering something. “Well, I think.” He laughed again, kissed Skye, and passed her to his wife.

“Cole, darling, you’re in charge.” Evvy laughed. “Look after Uncle Dorian, too. He won’t be happy if he gets dirty.”

“Quite right,” said the music teacher, tugging his vest as if to reinforce this point.

Cole nodded seriously. “I will make sure Father doesn't eat all the berries and that Uncle Dorian doesn't get dirt on his clothes,” he vowed. “No one has to worry.”

“That’s my boy,” his mother replied fondly. “Enjoy yourselves, everyone. Come on, little love, let’s go have something to eat, hmm?” She set off for the picnic area with Skye in her arms.

Cullen waved as they departed then turned back to the group, which Dorian was assembling. “All right, anyone who wants to join us in our little blueberry expedition, this way,” he said, raising his voice slightly so some of the nearby students could hear him as well.

“Should we?” Krem asked the Partners in Crime, grinning. “I mean, if Rory’s ray of sunshine is braving the elements...”

“I think he deserves my support for that.” She giggled. “Plus it sounds super fun. We can hit the other fields later.”

“I wonder if they sell jam here,” Nessa mused. “Assuming Sera doesn’t buy it all, that is. She’s mad for the stuff.”

“Much to Ms. Montilyet’s eternal annoyance,” Jim added with a laugh. “But I bet we can find some. Or convince Headmistress Nightingale to get some for the whole school.”

“Oh, yes, maybe she would,” Krem agreed. “I wouldn’t mind some homemade jam on toast for breakfast tomorrow.”

“Hey, are you lot coming?” Varric called. “The blueberry tram is over this way.”

“Right! Coming, Professor Tethras!” Rory called back. She then turned back to the druffalo and sighed happily. “You’re adorable and I’ll be back to squeal over you more later, promise.”

“Naaaah,” it replied nonchalantly, and went back to eating grass.

“Gah, I love it so much.” She drew the monosyllable into about six before taking a deep breath. “Okay, I’m good. Let’s go!”

Skye was enjoying a bottle - she was making the transition to bottles fairly well, all things considered - while Evvy watched the surroundings from the shaded dining area. It was still too warm to enjoy mulled cider or hot chocolate, unfortunately, but the iced tea with berries was remarkably delicious. Waving to various students as they passed within her sight, she pulled out her phone and texted Dorian. Have you heard from Bull?

Only briefly, he replied a minute later. It seems all is going according to plan, though.

Marvelous. I can hardly wait to see Krem’s face. I hope the other graduates don’t resent it - he’s basically Bull’s son.

I’m sure the other graduates will understand perfectly. If we thought Krem was popular before… The chuckle was evident even in text message form. After a moment, he sent another message. Besides, while they’re of course not nearly as spectacular in scope, I know Leliana and Josephine got the rest of the graduates some gifts as well. They couldn’t be sent off empty-handed, after all.

Oh, I know. I guess the hardest part of being a teacher is saying goodbye, isn’t it? I was so weepy at graduation and I’m still feeling it.

Especially when one teaches at a school like ours where the students are so special, he agreed. But I like to think it’s not exactly goodbye - Skyhold is like home to so many of them, after all.

You’re right, of course. She smiled at the display. Hopefully we’ll see them all again very soon.

I certainly hope so. It’s strange to think that we’re starting to cultivate a pool of alumni. It makes me feel old, and you know how I feel about that.

My Fairy Godfather, old? Perish the thought.

And this is why I adore you so. I shall keep you updated if any other news comes in, as well as sending you any pictures of your Rutherford gentlemen hard at work collecting berries, of course.

You’re a treasure. Enjoy yourself. “Oh, your Uncle Dori is a funny one, love,” she told Skye, lifting her for a burp. “But we’ll keep him, yes?”

As if she understood the question perfectly, the baby cheerfully agreed with that assessment in the form of a delighted coo, somewhat clapping her tiny hands together.

Evvy burst out laughing, kissing her daughter’s forehead. “Exactly. Oh look, here comes Auntie Josephine and Uncle Blackwall. And what have you two been doing to entertain yourselves?”

“Other than passing out a few Band-Aids for the occasional scrape and making sure everyone’s drinking enough water,” Josie chuckled, “we’ve been exploring the farms a bit. Oh, it’s so beautiful here!”

“It really is. We had some excitement earlier,” Evvy added, bouncing Skye a bit. “We’re not absolutely certain, but Skye may have said her first word. It sounded a lot like she said ‘Da,’ Cullen’s over the moon.”

Josephine gasped, clapping her hands together in delight. “That’s wonderful! How sweet! Congratulations.”

“Thanks.” Evvy beamed. “I keep hoping she’ll do it again, but so far, nothing. Oh - in unrelated news, the kids are hoping for jam.”

“I think we can make that happen. Although I don’t look forward to everything being sticky for the next week if Sera gets her hands on any of it.” She sighed.

“Funny, they said something very similar. I wonder if we could recruit Dagna to persuade her to keep out,” Evvy mused.

“Ah, that’s a good idea!” She glanced at Blackwall. “Isn’t Dagna one of your advanced shop students? Do you think you could put in a word?”

“I can ask. I certainly can’t promise anything - but it’s worth a try.” He chuckled. “Dagna could probably design a lock that she herself can’t figure out how to open, if it came to that.”

“Yes, that does sound like something she would do,” Josephine agreed cheerfully. “As long as I don’t have to clean jam off of all the school’s best artwork again, I don’t care how it gets accomplished.”

“Honestly, I was starting to think Sera had finally grown past such antics,” Blackwall mused.

“No, I just fear she’s getting better coordinated in pulling them off,” Josie replied, sighing again.

“Well, we’ll figure something out,” said Evvy optimistically. “Maybe something exciting will happen and keep her distracted.” She laughed.

“That’s always a safe bet in Skyhold Academy.” The guidance counselor also began to laugh. “Speaking of which, any word on how the most recent Skyhold surprise is progressing?”

“Dorian doesn’t have much information,” she replied conspiratorially, “but he says what little he has received says everything is going as planned. Unless I wildly miss my guess, it should all be finished by tonight.”

“Marvelous! I can’t wait.” Josie giggled. “It’s shaping up to be a good day, and said day is still quite young.”

“Every day at Skyhold is a good day, isn’t it, darling?” Evvy bounced Skye in her arms a bit. “Could I trouble one of you to hold her for a bit? I need to visit the restroom.”

“It’s no trouble at all,” Josephine said, immediately holding out her arms for the little girl. “I won’t ever say no to some quality time with Skyhold’s little princess.”

“I’m sorry there aren’t more hours in the day in which we can share her with everyone,” Evvy noted with a laugh, surrendering the baby. Skye made a noise, to which they all chuckled. “I’ll be right back, darling. You look after these two.”

“I have every confidence she will do an excellent job.” Josie chuckled, adjusting Skye in her arms. “Isn’t that right? Oh, you’re so precious.”

Skye giggled, and touched Josephine’s nose. By the time Evvy returned, she was amused to find that her daughter had attracted a few admirers, even beyond the Skyhold crew. “And she’s not even with her father,” she noted slyly to Blackwall, watching a few people fawn over the baby.

“She’s less than a year old and already she’s more popular than all of us.” He laughed. “But I can certainly understand it. She is sweet.”

“You’ll get no argument out of me, but I’m not exactly objective. I am her mother.” Evvy chuckled.

“Being unobjective is what being a parent is all about, I think, so you’re in the clear,” he assured her. “And Cullen is much, much worse than you are anyway.”

“Cullen is also terribly not-objective when it comes to me or our son. It’s part of his charm.” She smiled. “I’m not complaining.”

“We’ve noticed.” He chuckled. “But you both deserve all of this and more, so it’s nice to see.”

“I think we all deserve it. Maybe you should look into it.” She nudged him playfully.

“Don’t say that when Dorian’s in earshot. He’ll have a wedding planned by the time we’re back at the castle.” He gave a slight laugh.

“Speaking from experience, you could do a lot worse than letting Dorian plan your wedding. However,” she added, “I think there’s another pairing in line first.”

“I think that’s a safe bet. One at the very least, but definitely the one in particular.”

“Don’t wait too long, though.” She smiled.

“I’ll keep it in mind. In the short term, however, you had better collect your daughter before someone sneaks off with her. And that someone could very easily be her Auntie Josephine.” He chuckled again.

“I would, but here comes her father to do the honors.” Evvy was still smiling, watching her golden-haired husband (with their pale-haired son trailing behind) stride toward the group.

Skye, spotting her father, immediately started straining in Josephine’s grip. This time, there was no mistaking her cry. “Da!”

Cullen halted midstep, his face lighting in a massive smile. “I knew it was her first word!” he declared jubilantly as he accepted his daughter from Josephine, who was all but squealing in delight. He lifted the baby into the air. “Oh, thank you, darling. You’ve made Da very happy.”

“And I got to hear it this time!” Cole added, looking almost as pleased as Cullen.

“Yes, you did, and I'm so glad.” He beamed at both his daughter and his son in turn, looking like he had been given the world's best gift.

Some of Skye’s admirers dispersed, but others lingered, now transferring their enjoyment of the scene to her father. Evvy snickered into her sleeve. “My Cullen is the single most oblivious man on the planet and I wouldn’t have him any other way.”

Josie, having transferred Skye successfully, made her way over the stand with Blackwall and Evvy. “Yes, he really is,” she agreed warmly. “But it's very endearing.”

“I’m not about to argue with people enjoying the view,” Evvy added with another giggle. “But it would be amusing if he would occasionally realize just how much they’re enjoying it.”

“Considering he didn't notice just how much you were enjoying the view your first year here, I can't say I'm surprised.” Josie likewise giggled.

“There’s that. Though in his defense, I was also a little oblivious to how much he was enjoying the view.”

“Yes, we know.” Blackwall chuckled. “I think Dorian and Varric were ready to turn you both around so you could each catch the look on the other’s face whenever you were in the same room.”

“Ah, bless their hearts, they were so impatient with us.” She chuckled too. “They tried.”

“You know,” said Josephine, smiling, “one day, you’re going to tell little Skye the story of how you and Cullen came to be together... and she’s probably not going to believe you.”

“More likely, Varric will tell her the story, and she won’t believe him, and then she’ll come to me to find out which details he invented.” Evvy smiled. “That’s all right. We have witnesses.”

“This is true. A whole school of them, in fact, so I’m sure there will be more than a few people willing to share their part of the story.”

“Uncle Varric and Uncle Dorian will probably quarrel over details. And over who was the cooler teacher.”

“Oh, most definitely.” Josie laughed. “For diplomacy’s sake, the answer is they both were equally cool.”

“But of course. Wild horses couldn’t drag any other answer out of me.” They shared amused glances.

“Speaking of which, where did the two ‘brothers’ end up?” Blackwall asked. “It usually means they’re up to something when they’re out of sight.”

“Let’s enjoy the fact that we don’t know,” Josephine proposed. “Plausible deniability is always good when it comes to those two.”

“Good point,” he agreed. “And speaking of things to enjoy, do you have any plans on where we should go next, my lady?”

“Hm... perhaps we should go investigate these druffalo of which I’ve heard so many good things. The students have been raving.”

“Well then, let’s go see if they live up to the hype.” He grinned and offered Josephine his arm.

Evvy waved them off, pleased to see (or believe) that Blackwall was taking her advice, then went to join her family. “I see Skye’s fan club just keeps getting bigger,” she remarked casually.

Cullen chuckled. “Of course. She is her mother’s daughter, after all, acquiring admiration from everyone who meets her.”

“Oh, you.” She kissed his cheek. “Did you enjoy picking blueberries with our son?” She smiled warmly at Cole.

“Very much so. And, he did his job well - I didn’t eat them all. I only ate some of them.” He grinned mischievously.

“Darling, you aren’t really supposed to eat any of them until after we pay for them,” she reminded him patiently.

“It can be our little secret,” he suggested, chuckling. “Or else they might make me stay and work off my debt.”

Evvy shook her head. “Cole, are you ready for lunch?”

He nodded. “Yes. Something besides the blueberries would be good.” He and his father exchanged an almost conspiratorial grin.

“Oh, no. Cole, you’re turning out just like your father.” Evvy tried, and failed, to look pained. “All right, come along, everyone who’s hungry. They have some very tasty-looking sandwiches.”

Still smiling, Cullen shifted Skye in his arms in order to ruffle Cole’s hair with his free hand, then followed Evvy. Some of the other students did likewise, as did as a few of the teachers, including Dorian. He caught up with the Rutherfords, falling into step beside them.

“How was the hayride, Fairy Godfather?” Evvy inquired sweetly.

“Full of hay,” he complained, brushing himself off for approximately the sixth time since he had finished said ride. “But otherwise scenic. What have you and the youngest Rutherford been up to in my absence?”

“Mostly feeding her and watching students frolic. Also encouraging Blackwall to move things along with Josephine.”

Dorian chuckled. “Ah, splendid. Well done.”

“And don’t forget, my darling, we had a repeat of Skye’s first word,” Cullen added.

“How could I forget that?” Evvy chuckled. “It’s true, we did. No mistaking it, she looked right at Cullen and called for her da.”

Dorian’s eyebrows lifted and he glanced between Evvy, Cullen, and the little girl. “Is that so?” he said to the baby, looking impressed. “Well done, princess. I’m sure your da was very pleased.”

“Immensely so.” Cullen nodded, beaming. “Plus Cole got to hear it this time. Skye’s apparently very considerate of her brother’s wishes.”

“I wanted to hear it and I did.” Cole nodded. “Maybe she’ll learn to say my name soon too.”

“I certainly hope so,” Cullen agreed. “That would be wonderful. Wouldn’t it, my little sweet one?” he added to the baby. Skye merely giggled.

“So, any updates?” Evvy asked Dorian in a low voice.

“I’ve had an update that, quote, ‘all systems are go’, so it looks like everything went off without a hitch,” he reported, his tone equally soft.

“Marvelous. Krem aside, I’ll bet Rory will be thrilled,” she added. As they reached the picnic area, Evvy nodded at Varric and Hawke. “Would you two like me to take a picture of you for Fenris and Bethany?”

“Oh, that’d be nice. Thanks, Ev.” Hawke smiled. “It’s always fun to show them what we get up to when they’re not around to watch us.”

“Not that they need all the details,” Varric added with a smirk, leaning his head against hers.

“Certainly not. Got to have some secrets, after all.” Hawke chuckled, putting an arm around Varric’s shoulder as Evvy took the picture.

“I’ll send it to your phones and what you do with it is up to you,” Evvy teased. “It’s a good picture. Lots of sunlight.”

“Well we are very sunny,” joked Hawke. “And Varric is sending it to his Sunshine, so of course we had to bring as much light as we could.”

“Naturally.” He managed to look only a little smug. “The sun shines brightest in Kirkwall, but it’s something.”

“She’ll appreciate a little sunshine of her own,” Hawke assured him. “You’ll have to call her tonight on Skype and tell her all about the day’s shenanigans.”

“I always do.” He studied the peaches still in Hawke’s basket. “Maybe we can send her some of the preserves... they should travel well enough.”

“That’s a good idea, I’m sure she’d like that. Maybe we can send some to Fenris too.” She paused, then laughed. “Of course, that only works if you don’t steal them all out of my basket, you know.”

“I was just seeing if you were paying attention,” he protested mildly. “I would never really steal from you - I put them back.”

“Yeah, you’re lucky,” she replied in a mock stern tone, laughing again. “Stealing from a woman when she’s looking at druffalo... that’s a low blow.”

“Would it help if I reminded you that you’re the only person in Thedas who can kick my ass?” His eyes twinkled impudently.

“Actually, yes. It’s always good to be reminded I can keep you in line if necessary.” She socked his arm playfully.

“Between you and your sister, I assure you, madam, I walk a very fine line indeed,” Varric assured her.

“The man knows what’s good for him.” Hawke chuckled. “And now, how about lunch?”

“You get whatever you want, it’s on me. Since I stole your peaches and all.” He smirked.

“Who am I to argue?” She shrugged, smiling. “Be right back.”

“Grab me something while you’re at it,” he called after her.

“If I must,” she returned dryly as she disappeared.

Smirking to himself, Varric took out his phone and sent the picture to Bethany. Big sis and I are enjoying the day, but sunlight is no substitute for Sunshine.

Aww, she replied less than a minute later. I would absolutely be there if I could, but I’m glad to hear you’re having fun. And the pic is adorable. What have you been up to?

Fruit picking, animal watching, Dorian bothering. The usual. We’ve got the kids at Redcliffe Farms for a sort of last hurrah of summer.

Ooh, sounds lovely. The farm bit, not the bothering Dorian bit - although I’m not shocked by it, of course.

Everyone sends their regards, as usual. And we had some exciting news, little Skye said her first word. Da - no surprise there.

Oh, how sweet! Oh, I bet Cullen was so thrilled!

You have no idea. I’ll Skype you tonight and do my best happy Curly impression.

If she could have chuckled in a text message, she would have. I look forward to that. And what about the latest Skyhold surprise you were telling me about yesterday? How’s that coming along?

Last I heard it was going well. Hopefully I’ll have full details tonight when I call. Here comes your sis with my lunch, beautiful, I’d better go.

All right, I’ll talk to you tonight then. Have fun! Tell Marian I said hello!

Your wish is my command. Talk soon. He put the phone away as Hawke approached. “Your little sister sends her love.”

“I knew you couldn’t resist texting her while I was gone.” Hawke grinned, sitting back down. “She’s good?”

“She’s moderately spectacular, but you and I are biased.” Varric chuckled, accepting the sandwich she’d picked for him. “Very excited to hear the baby news.”

“I’m not surprised by that. She just adores little Skye.”

“Who doesn’t?” Varric paused, and took a bite of his lunch before he could say anything else potentially cutesy.

“Very true,” Hawke agreed, looking faintly satisfied. “And you and I both know how much Bethy loves kids.”

“Mmhmm.” He nodded, not quite looking at her.

She said nothing in response, merely chuckled to herself as she turned her attention to her own lunch.

By midafternoon, word had gotten around to the students that Skye had started talking. The result was that they would frequently approach her, in Cullen or Evvy’s arms, and try to coax her to speak again. It was becoming increasingly clear that she didn’t quite understand what was happening, and she started to fuss a little from all the attention.

“Oh, I understand, sweetheart,” Cullen told her, kissing her head. “They all love you, but I probably know better than anyone that all the love can be a little overwhelming sometimes. It’s all right.” To Evvy, he added, “Maybe I should take her for a walk?”

“That seems like a good idea. Poor love's overdue for a nap, I think,” Evvy said. “You two go ahead, maybe go visit her druffalo friend again. I’ll help Josephine start rounding everybody up to make sure they’ve all eaten.”

“All right, sounds like a plan then.” He kissed his wife’s cheek. “We’ll be back in a bit. All right, Skye, Da’s going to take you for a walk and then you can have a nap when we get back home.”

Evvy watched them go with a slight chuckle. “Poor dears. It must be so hard to have everyone love you,” she joked.

“Ah, well, we all have burdens we must bear,” a new voice interjected as Dorian strode up, smirking. He put an arm around her shoulder, likewise looking in the direction where Cullen and Skye had headed.

“The students were starting to upset her a little,” she explained. “And it’s past her naptime besides.”

“My poor little princess, she must be worn out. She’s been so marvelous all day, though - such a bright, well-behaved little thing.”

“They didn’t mean to distress her. They were hoping she’d say more words. You know, as much as I’m looking forward to ‘Ma,’ I sort of hope she says Cole’s name next.”

“The same thought occurred to me.” Dorian smiled. “He would love it. Part of me suspected that his name might be the first thing she said actually, although I should have known it would be ‘Da’ with how often she’s attached to Cullen’s hip.” He chuckled warmly.

“The man was born to be a father, I’m convinced.” Evvy’s tone was full of love. “But Skye adores her brother too. I was a little concerned about how that would play out, to be honest, but everything seems to be going well, Maker be praised.”

“That is a relief indeed,” he agreed. After a pause, he added, “You know, it’s funny - Cullen may have been born to be a father, but in some ways it seems like Cole was born to be a big brother. It’s so odd to think that the two creatures who ghosted around Skyhold for so long are the ones who are slowly becoming pillars.”

“I wish they’d realized long ago how much they could help each other,” she mused. “It’s strange to know that I changed things.”

“You changed so much. I speak from experience.” He gave her a soft smile. “Sometimes all that’s needed for everything to fall into place is one event, it seems. As I’m sure your husband the professor could tell you, history is strange that way.”

“It’s certainly that.” She kissed his cheek. “But strange can be wonderful. Come on, let’s go make sure the kids haven’t wrecked the farm store.”

“Let’s hope not, or we’ll probably end up cleaning it all up.” He chuckled and, his arm still around her shoulder, steered her in that direction.

By the time Cullen and a pacified Skye returned, the kids were preparing to go back to school, comparing purchases and phone pictures. Evvy relieved Cullen of his armload. “I’ll get her into her car seat, she’ll probably be asleep in minutes.”

“Probably, poor girl.” He chuckled softly, affectionately. “But it’s been a wonderful day. I hope you had a nice time.”

“I did,” she assured him. “It was a beautiful day. And Dorian tells me everything is ready for the surprise tonight.”

“Oh, excellent. Every Skyhold outing needs a surprise twist, after all.” He laughed again. “I’m rather looking forward to this.”

“As much as I’m excited to see Krem’s face, I also can’t wait to see Rory’s,” Evvy admitted. “This is going to be great.”

“Do you think they suspect anything’s afoot?” Cullen wanted to know. “Some of the students took note Bull isn’t here, but I don’t know if they’ve gone beyond that.”

“If they do, they’re keeping it to themselves,” Evvy said, fastening the car seat straps. “I hope they don’t think anything’s amiss between Bull and Dorian.”

Cullen laughed slightly. “I can picture a few of them making that mistake. Hopefully they just think Bull stayed behind to hold down the fortress or look after the students who didn’t come along or something.”

“There is that. All right, here you are - if you’ll take her onto the bus, I’ll get your blueberries.” She chuckled.

“You’re a darling, darling.” He returned the chuckle, kissing her and accepting their daughter who, as predicted, was already drowsy.

Roughly half an hour later, Skye was defying the noise of the bus and was out like a light, which seemed to amuse the students greatly. “She’s had a busy day,” said her mother fondly. “Did you all enjoy yourselves?”

The students who were seated closest to her all nodded. Most of them had souvenirs and more than a few spoils of a successful day spent harvesting. “It was so nice,” said Rory, who was in the seat across from Evvy. “We got a ton of pictures. And a ton of stuff.” She gestured between herself, her friends, and Krem.

“Good. Maybe we can arrange to send a bit of that fruit home to your parents,” Evvy suggested quietly. “I’m sure we can work something out.”

“Aww, really?” Her eyes had widened and her face lit up in appreciation and delight. “That would be so sweet. They’d love that.”

“I’ll ask Ms. Montilyet when we get back to the school. Between her and the headmistress and Professor Tethras, they can do just about anything, I think.” Evvy chuckled.

“Ain’t that the truth,” Nessa agreed with a laugh, which her friends returned.

“Yeah, seriously. Well, that’s super nice, thank you so much.” Rory smiled. “Oh! And we heard through the grapevine about Skye’s first word! Congratulations, Mrs. Rutherford.”

“Thank you! Her father is thrilled,” Evvy said with a smile. “I think he was secretly hoping he would get to be her first word, so I’m glad it worked out that way.”

“Too cute.” To Cole, who was seated nearby, she added, “And you seemed really excited you got to hear her say it, right, Cole?”

He nodded happily. “I want to be there when she has important moments,” he said. “To see, to share. I can remember them when she can’t remember them herself.”

“That’s a really nice sentiment,” said Nessa. “She’s so lucky to have you as a brother.”

“Is it luck?” He pondered. “Whatever it is, I have a lot of it. I didn’t. But now I do. Rainbows bring good luck.”

“Yes, they do,” Rory agreed cheerfully. “We all got a little bit luckier when Skyhold got its rainbow, I think.”

“Oh, you’re all too sweet.” Evvy smiled fondly. “I didn’t do much. But I’m glad I found Skyhold - or it found me. Whichever.”

“We are too,” Nessa said.

“You know, that’s so true,” Jim added. “I don’t think anyone here really found Skyhold, I think it found them. Funny.”

“There is something about the place that’s not quite... normal,” commented Krem. “And I mean that in a good way.”

“This place is magical,” Rory remarked with a giggle. “Simple as that.”

“Works for me,” he replied, grinning.

“So say we all,” the other Partners in Crime agreed.

They returned to Skyhold, and while Evvy took Skye back to the Rutherfords’ apartment for her overdue nap (the one which she had begun on the bus), the other teachers herded the rest of the kids downstairs for dinner. “So,” said Jim quietly, “I didn’t want to say anything while we could be overheard, but... how come Coach Bull didn’t go with us today?”

“Okay, so I’m not the only one who noticed that,” said Rory. “I thought I was imagining things.”

“All he told me,” said Krem, “was that he had something real important to do today and I’d understand tonight. I bet he went to get a surprise for Professor P.”

“Hmm. Mysterious,” said Nessa. “But knowing Skyhold, I’m sure it will be fun, whatever it is.”

“He solemnly swears he is up to no good?” Jim guessed. “Sounds like an adventure.”

“Isn’t it always?” Rory smiled, shrugging. “Well, I guess we’ll find out soon enough. For now, dinner.”

“Yeah, I don’t know about you guys but I’m starving,” said Nessa. “Something about all that fresh air and stuff worked up an appetite for me!”

“I’m right there with you, girl,” Rory said. “I guess I’m too used to being inside with my books. Not used to all that nature.” She laughed.

“You’re like Professor Tethras,” Jim teased. “He always says his favorite outdoor activity is going back inside. Which makes it a little weird that he calls his girlfriend ‘Sunshine,’ come to think of it.”

“I guess having her around is what makes him want to go out in the sun,” Rory mused. “He does always say he likes to be where it’s sunny - and I have a feeling that means capital-S, Sunny.”

“That’s adorable!” said Nessa. “I never put that together before.”

Rory shrugged cheerfully. “Hey, I am Sonnet after all - it’s sort of in my job description to take things like that and put them together to find the poetry in them.”

“And once again, Professor T hands out an accurate nickname.” Krem chuckled warmly. “I wish he had something better for me than ‘Krem Puff,’ but I’ll live.”

Rory giggled. “My poor adorable boyfriend - victim of many, many puns. I think it’s cute though. Sweet, just like you.”

“Oh, Maker’s breath.” Rocky, sitting nearby, shook his head. “I’m gonna tell Coach that you two are taking over for the Rutherfords in the ‘so cute it’s stupid’ department.”

“I’m sorry, I’m a sap.” She giggled again. “But come on, is anyone surprised? What with the fanfic I write and everything.”

“No, I can promise you that no one is surprised,” Nessa replied with a grin.

“Oh, shush. Eat your dinner,” Rory returned, wrinkling her nose playfully.

“Don’t mind if I do! By the way, when do we get to read another fic?”

The two fanfiction authors exchanged a glance, smirking slightly. “We’re actually working on this massive one at the moment,” said Jim. “It’s about the Rutherfords, of course, but there’s some other fun stuff on the side. We shook things up a bit.”

“Period piece,” Rory added. “But we have a couple smaller things in the pipeline too. So soon, I think.”

“A period piece?” Nessa repeated. “What time period? That sounds interesting.”

“We never really pin it down, but it’s a little Exalted Age-y. We have a lot of stuff set in that time period right now,” explained Rory. “Stupid amazing Exalted Age Faire, running away with our imaginations.”

“That’s fantastic.” Krem was openly grinning. “Come on, spoilers?”



“Oh, I can’t possibly withstand that.” She chuckled. “Okay, so I’m not saying it involves an arranged marriage, a new lordship, and a pretty estate in the forest, but, you know, I’m saying all of those things exactly.”

“Oooooh.” Nessa’s eyes were bright. “Please tell me there’s something in there somewhere that lets the lady be a badass. Please.”

“Oh, Maker, yes.” Jim chuckled. “But you’ll have to read to find out just in what way.”

“Sweet. Badass self-rescuing damsels are way fun.”

“I know right?” said Rory. “Always a fav. And speaking of fun, the last spoiler you get - Jimmy has a role in this story!”

“Self-insert for the win.” He grinned shamelessly. “Figured it was my turn.”

“Yup.” Rory laughed. “So look for that glorious madness coming soon to a lunch table near you. You guys can be our beta readers.”

“Going to turn any of those in for a grade next term?” Nessa asked. “I bet the teachers have been hoping for a new performance.”

“Performance?” asked Stitches.

“They… may have read the first one aloud in the staff room,” Rory said. “And it… may have led to an actual performance of the next few.”

The group stared for a moment before starting to laugh. “I would have paid to see that,” said Krem. “Coach told me about the first one, with the accidental marriage story, but not the others!”

“Yup. Apparently they had the Rutherfords act it out. If it wasn't so flattering, I would probably die of embarrassment. But as it stands, it's super flattering.”

“So I think,” said Nessa, “that if they ever write fic about you two, you should totally act it out.” She grinned at Rory and Krem.

“Nope. Not a thing that's happening,” said Rory. “See previous argument about death by embarrassment.”

“But it would be such a cute way to die!”

“Funny,” she retorted, giving them a mock glare. Nessa made a heart symbol with her hands, smiling innocently.

“Back to your stuff though,” said Skinner. “Do you write about anybody besides the Rutherfords?”

“Well, after Miss Hawke and Professor Tethras became a thing, they made some appearances,” said Jim.

“Coach Bull and Professor Pavus pop up too, no surprise there,” Rory added. “Sometimes we get a little random too.”

“Like what? And where can I read these?” asked Dalish. Even Grim looked marginally interested, though as usual he said nothing.

“You guys would really want to read them?” Rory looked surprised. “That's nice. I can send you guys the Google Docs links if you want.”

“Um, yeah. You’re writing stories about our teachers doing crazy stuff. With their permission. Of course we want in.”

“Well... cool. I'll send them to Krem and he can send them to you. Wow... thanks.”

Krem just looked inordinately pleased, and rather proud. “Oh, excuse me, guys,” he said. “Coach is trying to get my attention. Be back soon.”

Rory waved as he got to his feet. “Have fun. And report back ASAP - I'm dying to know what this is all about.”

“If I’m allowed to share, I will.”

“I’m so glad we’re not losing him,” Rocky commented, his tone uncharacteristically fond as Krem walked away. “The team’s been together a long time.”

“You guys are family.” Jim nodded. “I mean, we have the whole ‘one big happy Skyhold family’ thing going on, but you guys are even moreso.”

“Exactly. See, he gets it.” Stitches chuckled.

“I have my moments.” Jim laughed. “Regardless of what these two may say.” He put an arm around Nessa and Rory’s shoulders.

“Eh, he’s all right,” Nessa joked, gently bonking her head against his.

“Besides, Jimmy, who else will keep you in line if not us?” Rory replied, grinning.

“I don’t know if I ever want to learn the answer to that question,” he said dryly.

“Because you love us so much or because you fear other people will lay down the law way worse?” Nessa asked sweetly.

“To use the words of our good Professor Tethras... a little of column A, a little of column B.”

“Aww, we'll take it.” Both girls giggled.

“Hey, here comes Krem,” said Stitches, craning his neck a bit. “He looks kinda… stunned.”

“Oh dear, I hope it’s nothing bad.” Rory cocked her head in concern, extending a hand to him as he approached. “What’s the word, sweetheart? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

“No - nothing’s wrong,” he replied, a little dazed. He smiled, however. “Come on outside. You have to see it for yourselves.”

“O...kay.” She shrugged at her friends, getting to her feet and slipping her hand into his. The others shrugged as well, but followed.

Outside, Krem led the group down to the gates and out to the garage where Skyhold vehicles were kept. Bull was there, with Dorian, a stupidly proud smile on his face. He stood next to a gleaming black car. “So? What do you all think of Krem Brulee’s graduation present?”

Rory peered around. “Wait, what present?” She glanced at the two teachers, then at Krem, then at the car. “ way.”

“That’s what I said,” Krem said, a little weakly.

“Look,” said Bull, “if Ev and Cullen can make Cole their son, you’re practically mine. So this is me being a dad. Just this once,” he added teasingly.

“Aww, that’s sweet,” said Nessa.

“That’s generous,” added Jim, eyes wide.

“You got him a car?” Rory still looked flabbergasted. “This car? This is his car?”

“Not just a car.” Bull grinned, while Dorian rolled his eyes indulgently. “A Charger!”

There was a pause, then Jim and Nessa started to laugh. “I see what you did there,” said Jim. “A Charger for the Charger. Epic.”

“Exactly. I knew someone would get it.” Bull chuckled. “So? You like it, Krem?”

“It’s perfect, Coach,” Krem assured him. He seemed to be rubbing his face. “It’s a bit dusty in here… maybe we should go out in the fresh air…”

“I quite agree on both counts.” Rory leaned up on her toes in order to kiss his cheek. “And maybe later you can take this thing for a spin!”

“Only if you come with me,” he said with a little grin. “Thanks, Coach. This is… amazing.”

“And now we know why he wasn’t with us on the field trip,” Nessa added. “We were right about it being a crazy Skyhold surprise.”

“Does Skyhold have any other kind?” Bull asked, chuckling.

“Good point.” Jim laughed. “And here’s to many more!”

“Hear, hear!” they all chorused.