Sera had been struggling with it for hours now. Hours - no exaggeration. She had to get it right, absolutely perfect, because that was no less than Nehna deserved. She was like sunshine, or rainbows, or something equally sweet and lovely tied up with a silk ribbon, all elegant and wonderful. Nehna was perfect, so any gift Sera gave her had to be too.
Pissballs. That was the trouble with gifts you made yourself; it had to be within the range of your talents and comfort zone, and Sera realised that her idea, however cute, was beginning to veer beyond either. She'd never really tried drawing things beyond crude little sketches here and there, always to amuse others, but this was different. This was a serious sketch, meant to show how beautiful-radiant-wonderful Nehna was, and it meant she had to be serious too.
Frigging useless quills. She was on the verge of ripping up the parchment into tiny pieces and starting all over again, but then her work would be ruined. She had made progress, however small it felt: there was an outline of Nehna's face, and the basic features had been planned. If she just carried on a little longer, no matter how many hours it took - hours! bloody frigging Maker-damned hours! - then it would be finished. She just had to keep that in mind each time the urge to set it on fire came into mind.
Nehna could have set it on fire with just her mind, she thought. Magey shite. It still felt a little... weird, she had to be honest, that her girlfriend was a mage. It didn't make her uncomfortable anymore, not really; now it was more a matter of getting used to something a little different, a little beyond what she was used to. Mages were fine, and she couldn't give a rat's arse about the mages-vs-Templars thing: it wasn't her conflict for one thing, and it wasn't really interesting either.
She only really cared about the lives of the little people it would inevitably hurt, all the servants and peasants and commoners who didn't have a noble to look out for them, or any claim to money and power to protect them. The nobles would probably abuse the situation too, she thought bitterly, in an attempt to gain more power for themselves. That was what they always did; kick each other to the dirt to pull themselves up higher, then guard their rung on the ladder with barbs and knives, no matter the cost of innocent lives.
It was worse in Orlais, where the petty struggles were actually celebrated as part of "the Game." Maker, did Sera hate that, the way the nobles celebrated their descent into corruption and in-fighting over... what, really? The throne? There was no way, for one thing, that some ordinary noble would just suddenly end up seated on it. She despised politics, and any mention of it made her deeply uncomfortable, but even she knew that a large and bloody coup would be needed, one that would likely tear Orlais to shreds as it was. The nobles knew it was useless, and their servants did too, but they still stabbed and poisoned each other for the thrill of it. The commoners who knew no better idolised the process because it was all they knew, clinging to the fervent yet misguided hope that someday they or their descendants would rise to power with a well-spoken word, or a simple gesture to the right person. It sickened her.
No. I'm not thinking of that shite. You can't make me. Breathing deeply, she tried returning her focus to Nehna and the portrait she was struggling to draw, but her thoughts scattered as they inevitably would. Stupid me. Can't think straight. She punched the table in her frustration, then swore at the pain lancing its way up her arm. Frigging pissball arse-face shitsack fuck.
It was her fault, as it always was. She struggled to concentrate for long on things because her mind danced and flitted from one subject to the other, shifting from thought to thought as if leap-frogging its way over a stream. It stung because nobody understood, not really. They just figured she was stupid, so she wondered if maybe she was. She didn't always understand the fancy words people used, sometimes not even Nehna when she was still in Inquisitor Mode by accident and babbling on about something while Sera listened intently, trying to puzzle it out. It was useless, because they'd always change subjects too early and she'd only half-understood it by the end.
Useless, brainless, like a frigging child. Lop-eared pus-buckets, the lot of them. They always said she was immature, but that was simply what made sense. The more complicated stuff was... well, complicated, and it always got difficult to think about. The simple things were easy. They didn't hurt, and they made more sense. Magic bad, mages scary, Templars protect, nobles evil. It had taken her a long time to work beyond that, a lot of hard-won progress after a lot of angry debates with herself and others, but nobody saw that, not really. They just saw her swearing and blustering and making jokes about genitals or sex or laughing at how stupid people could get because they forgot just how simple things could really be, and that was all she was.... to them.
To Nehna, she was more. Heaps more. Sera wasn't just a clumsy, bubbling mess of scattered thoughts and all the shite they laid on her. To Nehna, she was funny, even when her jokes were crude. Especially when her jokes were crude, because Nehna said it was a refreshing change from the people with trees up their arses. She didn't say it like that, of course: she was always polite even when talking about those she held in distaste or didn't care much for, but Sera knew what the real meaning was. She's just too good to say it, not wasting her words like wind on them, but I know.
To Nehna, Sera was someone who cared, and she cared deeply about causes many people forgot. She cared about the little people, as she called them; the nameless, faceless masses who moved and thought and lived and loved and died, and nobody would remember them or sing songs in their honour. They were the first to suffer, and the first to die needlessly. Nehna said Sera was good because she was a constant reminder to never forget them, and that was good because it meant Nehna cared, too. Sometimes she was busy with bigger things on her mind, but she always listened to every suggestion Sera made, and that was important because she remembered.
To Nehna, Sera was fun. Simple fun without consequences; giggles and laughter and sunshine and all that other poem shite. Nehna was so wonderful, so beautiful and smart and kind and funny, but it always made Sera marvel that the most free and relaxed she ever was, was when she was with her. She was always happy with the rest of her inner circle, but it was Sera who made her laugh and smile; Sera made her react without inhibition, without fear of judgement, just simple pleasure in enjoying her company.
It didn't make sense, really. Nehna loved her without expecting anything back, but people always expected something back, didn't they? That was what all the nobles had taught her. Nehna loved her for her humour, even though it made Solas and Vivienne look at her with scorn, but then they always did, and now they were wrong. So dead wrong, because Nehna was different, and they could just eat it, the pair of them.
But why? What did she see in her, really? It wasn't because they were both elves, because if that was really what Nehna wanted, she would've wanted a real elf. Someone like Solas who could talk about ancient history and probably got off thinking about it; at least that was what Sera assumed. It just didn't interest her; it was so long ago, so long that Sera couldn't even conceptualise how many thousands of years ago, and that was that. Things that mattered, mattered now. People were alive right now, and they did things right now. It made more sense that way, to her at least, and there was much less stress. If you stopped mourning for something that you could never experience, you could enjoy more what you actually could. Living in the present, free of the past, working towards the future. That was Sera all over.
Was it Nehna, though? She knew all that elfy shite mattered to her girlfriend. Nehna never said the Dalish were right or that the city elves like her were wrong, but she did go out of her way to research history and their language. With Solas, of all people. Eurggghh. The very thought of him with her girlfriend just made her squirm uncomfortably. Wrong, wrong, wrong. It was just something she was interested in.... Sera hoped.
If it wasn't, and she started saying that stuff like that mattered beyond it being a hobby - a weird one at that, but then most of Skyhold had a weird hobby... even Sera herself, if she really thought about it - then they'd have to talk. Sera really, really didn't want that talk. Nehna was too good, better than she deserved, and she couldn't bear the thought of losing her. Not to their past. Not to Solas and his weird words that confused the hell out of her and gave her a headache and feeling of dread that she could only shake off with three strong ales. Not to magic, although Nehna had constantly emphasised the fact it didn't make her superior or all-powerful and that she'd never use it around Sera without her permission. Not to anything or anyone.
She'd just have to learn too, then. Make it her own weird hobby. That's all it was, anyway. A hobby. Nothing deeper.
Sera repeated that thought like a mantra, slowly calming herself down as she approached the sketch again. She wasn't losing Nehna. Everything was alright. She was just worrying, and that was okay, but these worries were unfounded. Nehna cared for her. Maybe Nehna even loved her. She didn't think they were at that stage yet, but she mattered. Words were stupid, anyway, too easily twisted and manipulated like tiny blades into someone's chest. Words didn't matter. She and Nehna had their own thing, and it was a good thing, a very good thing. There was nothing else important outside it. The Inquisition could disband tomorrow for all she cared, so long as Nehna was safe and happy. Well, and that Thedas was too, she admitted reluctantly.
As she hummed tunelessly to herself, thinking happily of her lover's smiles and subtle little gestures - the way her eyes lit up with excitement, complete with a big, goofy grin that melted Sera's heart; or the way her head tilted to the side like a bird if she was deep in thought or curious about something; or the way her whole body danced when she cast a spell, moving to the beat of a soundless song as she whirled and rotated, spinning on her feet in a way that was by turns dizzying to look at and made Sera's heart swell with pride when she saw how graceful her lover looked, and magic be damned - she found the drawing began to progress much faster. Sera was no longer consciously thinking about it, instead letting the quill move where it willed, focusing more on not blotting the page.
Nehna's face was appearing on the parchment now, something real. It wasn't just an abstract outline anymore, where she puzzled over what it would finally look like and stressed over how good it would be, but instead it was taking on form and shape; something that would last, something that mattered. Her lover would be immortalised at her most beautiful, at least to Sera: the way she softly smiled, eyes filled with love, when she saw her lover approaching and realised just who it was. The expression would soon dissolve into sheer excitement as Nehna let out a squeal of pure joy and raced into Sera's arms, often surprising the other woman with just how strong she was for a mage. It hadn't been by any means a rare occurrence that Nehna had nearly bowled her over, or had scooped her up and spun her around, chanting her name wildly and peppering her cheeks with enthusiastic kisses.
The drawing mattered, Sera thought with a smile, because it would make such a fleeting expression last forever. Her little smile, softened in surprise at Sera's approach, would be there for all to see.
Not that they would, of course. This was just for her. No doubt Nehna would put some fancy protective spell on it that actually would make it last forever, though. She was like that, always trying to keep things safe and preserved. Sera wondered what Nehna had done with all the little doodles and notes she had made her and smiled as she imagined her lover carefully binding them in a locked box. Just like her, too. She's a loony.... but she's my loony.
Time passed much quicker when you were having fun, or so the proverb went, but Sera didn't realise just how fast it had passed until she suddenly found herself staring at the finished drawing, feeling dazed as it hit her that it was actually done. Her little masterpiece was finally complete, dried even with the coloured inks she had filched from... she forgot, but she had taken them to make the drawing really come to life.
The liquid gold of Nehna's eyes; the scarlet red of her vallaslin, dark against her pale skin; the flushed pink of her cheeks, and the subtler blushing rose of her lips; the black of her eyeshadow, in elegant contrast to her eyes; her ink-black hair and long, dark eyelashes; even the elegant shape of her eyebrows, which Nehna had half-joked was a magical art in itself to preserve...
All of it was there. All of it lovingly, painstakingly drawn from memory, right to the fluttering curves of her lips as they began to smile in earnest. It was the longest Sera had had to sit in one place and really focus, and the aching muscles of her hands wouldn't let her forget it.
It's real now, just like this is. It matters, just like she does. It's perfect, just like she is. She allowed herself a brief moment to simply bask in the glow of her accomplishment before getting up off her stool, swearing profusely as her body groaned itself back into motion, and carefully folded the parchment into a scroll. It couldn't be wound too tightly or the folds would be obvious once Nehna unravelled it, but too loose and Sera would drop it along the way. Figuring (and hoping) that the scroll was alright as it was, she zoomed off in the direction of Nehna's room, giggling eagerly as she ran up corridors and winding staircases in pursuit of her lover.
"Found you, Inky!" she sang, bursting through the door like a hurricane and pouncing onto Nehna's bed, pinning her girlfriend underneath her and applying sloppy kisses liberally to both cheeks.
She hadn't expected them to be wet, though. That meant... that meant she...
Nehna made a sound, half hiccup, half sob, as she sat up, gently pushing Sera off her chest as she drew breath in and laid her head against her lover's shoulder.
"What's wrong, Nehna?" This was bad. Nehna had been crying, and Nehna never cried. Nehna was stronger than steel and iron; nothing ever got to her, no matter how many battles they thought. She'd never seen Nehna cry before; never felt Nehna's body shake as she tried to rein in her sobs; never known her girlfriend to ever be sad before, let alone showing it.
"I was - so scared - you were - gone," Nehna said slowly, her speech punctuated by a gasp as she fought back any further tears and slowly composed herself, pausing until she could speak properly again. "I didn't see any note like you normally leave, and I didn't know where you were but neither did anyone else I asked, so I thought maybe you were ill. I found Solas, and we were talking -" Sera winced, wondering what weird stuff he'd told her this time, "- and it made me feel a little better, so then I looked for you again, but I really had no idea where you were, and I missed you so much so I came back up here to hide from everyone else, thinking you'd come eventually." She gave a half-hearted laugh. "I guess I was right, at least. You came back from... wherever you were."
"I'm sorry, Nehna," Sera whispered, gently cupping her lover's chin upwards until she was looking back at her with red, swollen eyes. "I really didn't mean to scare you. I honestly forgot about the note because.... well, I made you something!" She hopped off the bed, ferreting around her pockets in search of the scroll and praying to the Maker it hadn't been squashed until she found it, carefully removing it and enthusiastically brandishing it in front of Nehna's nose. "Ta-da!"
Nehna unravelled it slowly, and when the drawing was fully visible she took it in for a moment, silently gazing on her own face as a blush crept over her neck and cheeks, darkening all the while. After she looked back up at Sera with the biggest grin she'd ever seen in her life, Nehna was redder than her own dark vallaslin, but it didn't matter. It worked.
The elf flung her arms around her lover, giving her a warm and heartfelt kiss and giggled once they parted for air. "So this is why you were gone the whole day?"
Sera nodded and crossed her arms, affecting a mock-noble air. "The mighty Inquisitor, seducer of Thedas, stealer of dreams and breaker of hearts, painted in 9:41 by a lovable rogue who fired her arrow straight into Her Ladyship's heart, the lone woman whose affections were returned among thousands."
Nehna collapsed onto the mattress, clutching her heart and sighing in agony, writhing with an anguished expression for full effect. "Oh! You have wounded me! I think I might die!"
"And yet her roguish lover knew one simple trick with which to resuscitate her woman. A kiss of life, applied to the -"
Her sarcastic monologue was cut off by Nehna wrapping her arms around Sera's neck and yanking her downwards, crushing her mouth on top of her own. Sera yelped in surprise but enthusiastically joined in, making Nehna moan softly in appreciation as her lover's hand tangled in her hair. The other trailed down her abdomen, feather-light, and traced soft circles against her stomach until Nehna arched her back like a woman possessed. Sera broke off the kiss, laughing at Nehna's petulant reaction until the other woman smiled too, sticking her tongue out and giggling when Sera returned the gesture.
"Admit it, you were enjoying yourself thoroughly," Nehna purred, grinning when Sera nodded with no hint of embarrassment.
"Well, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't," she teased, "and it's probably a sin to lie to the Herald of Andraste."
Nehna squirmed slightly, but whether it was at the mention of a foreign religion or in pleasure from her lover's flirting, Sera couldn't tell. At any rate, she hadn't dropped her smile and merely squeezed her hand where it lay entwined in the inky tendrils of Nehna's hair. "Perhaps I am a benevolent Inquisitor who forgives lies," she said with a wolfish look that made Sera's blood run hot.
"Perhaps your appearance deceived me," she admitted, revelling in this side of her lover that she hadn't seen before.
"Perhaps." Nehna propped herself up on one arm, looking up at Sera with an expression that was anything but innocent. "Besides, just where was this illustrious rogue going to kiss me back to life?"
She got a kiss on the nose for her efforts, at least. "On your lips, of course," her lover replied, arching her brow and grinning as Nehna choked on her own laughter.
"You're a wicked, wicked woman, Sera," she gasped. Her breath hadn't quite returned yet.
Sera took the opportunity to kiss her lover back to life.