When Sera and Nehna were both called to see Josephine in her office at the same time, neither of them really understood why or what was happening. 'Trouble' of some kind, presumably, and Sera was full of ideas.
"I bet you some noble prick saw us kissing and is all offended because Her Ladybits wants to tumble with a commoner," she explained, chucking an arrow with a thunk. It landed as a bull's eye on the target board on her door, but she didn't seem especially interested or excited. Nehna saw the expression in her lover's eyes, and it alarmed her: Sera was unhappy. Perhaps she was worried about how it might affect Nehna's reputation in the complicated cat-and-mouse dance of politics. Perhaps she thought their relationship wasn't stable enough. Perhaps she didn't love her anymore.
No. Don't be ridiculous. Even a blind nug could see how much Sera loved Nehna, and she didn't need any convincing on that account. She loved her daft rogue back with her whole heart, and seeing her lover in such a state made her unhappy too.
Humour generally helped smooth things over with Sera, so Nehna tried lightening the situation. "You know, I'm a commoner too," she said gently. "I couldn't even read that well before I joined the Inquisition, anyway."
Sera wasn't convinced; she made a face like a squashed grapefruit and twanged at her bow irritably. "Yeah, you're a commoner or whatever, but you've still got a title. That puts you a step above the rest of us, you know. Nobody cares who crushes us."
"Nobody's going to crush you, Sera. You'd just shoot arrows into their gut before they could even get within ten paces of you." Nehna waggled her eyebrows. "Besides, isn't crushing you my job? You never complained before."
"Ugh. Not helping, loony." Sera's mouth twitched slightly, but she was too miserable to really rise to the jokey, playful banter they normally had, so Nehna dropped it. She moved closer, resting her head on Sera's shoulder, and gave her hand a gentle, comforting squeeze. I'm here for you, it said, and the gesture seemed to calm Sera. Her previously tensed shoulders relaxed, and there was the ghost of a smile playing on her lips as she wrapped an arm around Nehna. The two women sat there in comfortable silence for a while.
"I'm sorry, vhenan," Nehna whispered, breaking the silence. "I just wanted to help by lightening the mood, but I wasn't paying attention to how you were feeling or what you might need."
"Maker, that's a wieldy sentence and a half," Sera chuckled. "You always end up spouting essays whenever you talk, Inky. It's kind of cute." She pressed a kiss to Nehna's cheek. "Besides, it's not really your fault, anyway. I just... I feel.... ugh!" She kicked her heel back against the wall in frustration, swearing moments later from the pain.
A swirl of healing magic moved from Nehna's fingertips to Sera's heel, glowing a faint blue-green as it trickled and pulsed its way over her skin. Cooling enough to relax her lover and ease the physical pain, but also a tacit sign of comfort and affection; the magical equivalent of a hug, perhaps.
"Why do the noble pricks have to ruin everything?" she sighed. "Pissheads, the lot of them."
"Why do you assume it's nobles, Sera? Or even that it's a problem?" Nehna turned to face her lover, offering her a gentle smile. "Maybe we're being summoned as a reward for good behaviour. A nice holiday on a warm island somewhere in thanks for all our hard service."
"Oh, you're insufferable, you are! Besides, wouldn't it make sense to reward us after Coryphysplash kicks it, not before?"
"True," she admitted, "but you can't deny it's a nice thought."
"Anything can be a nice thought, though. Your efforts to teach me elfy shite are nice thoughts. The way you're always so patient and Maker-damned good is a nice thought." Sera groaned. "That doesn't make any of the bigger stuff into little stuff, though. It just grows."
"I... think I understand." Nehna paused. "Are you worrying about the letter because of what you think it implies about us?" Seeing her lover's expression, she continued: "You're scared that just by virtue of sharing my bed, you're going to cause some kind of scandal?"
"You're big now. Really big. Even if maybe there's a few who don't know who Nehna Lavellan is, everyone knows who the Inquisitor is. And I'm..." Her throat tightened. "I'm little. I'm just going to get in the way. Maybe not now, but eventually. That's how it always goes." Her eyes looked so sad that Nehna could hear her heart breaking in half.
"Not true for us," she said firmly. "We went against everybody's expectations, didn't we? I'm Dalish, you're a city elf. I'm a mage, you're a rogue. I like to be in control and make things perfect, you go with the flow and change when everything else does. I'm the serious, boring one, and you're the fun little firework."
"Pfft, you're not the boring one. You know how to use words like a weapon, and I..." Sera let the sentence trail off, but her sense of inadequacy was obvious.
"You're better than me in loads of different ways, vhenan. You're a people person, and you're good at putting folk at ease and connecting with others. You can get rid of tension with jokes, no matter how dirty, and you're always having a good time. You can even outdrink Bull... almost," Nehna added with a teasing grin.
"I mean, that's the trick, right? If you get distracted by the nitty-gritty, you kind of forget all the little things around you. You lose track of things that matter because you're thinking of other stuff that matters, and you need to think what matters more... maybe?" Her lover shrugged. "Besides, I'm not always having a good time. This hole in the sky? Fucking terrifying. Magic? Kind of weird, but there's you to make it better. Weird creepy demon Fade crap? You explain it so it makes sense. People who should have died ages ago walking around ruining everyone's day? Totally not what I signed up for."
Sera shivered slightly. "But then you need someone to be happy anyway, right? Someone to lighten it up like... like a firework. You need a distraction, and I'm really good at knocking people's focus. I'm so good, I do it to myself half the time. Maybe. Anyway, point is that you need someone to make other people happy, and mostly I'm fine as can be, but then some stuff? Yeah, could do without it."
"You know what I couldn't do without?" Nehna whispered, leaning in conspiratorially. When her lover shook her head, she lit up with a crooked grin, pulled Sera closer by the ear and whispered, "You."
Sera giggled. "Loony! Isn't Her Ladybits meant to be all grim and scary? And then you're here all goofier than a five-year-old."
"Only for you, vhenan. You bring out the best in me."
"The worst, more like." The two women embraced and kissed, smiling into each other as they relaxed together for a long, easy moment.
"As the Inquisitor, of course I have to worry about scandal," Nehna began a little more solemnly, and Sera's face fell. "I have to think about the right connections and maintaining them, and all the weird diplomacy things Josephine makes me get up to. I'm the public face of one of the biggest groups in Thedas, or at least I sort of represent them, and so there's a lot riding on these shoulders."
She sighed. "It's pretty tiring. I can't really get a break from it because who would fill my shoes? And who would want to, more like? I wouldn't wish this job on Corypheus, and that's saying something."
Nehna paused. "But there's one thing that makes it better. One little respite, one calming touch, one grin and cackle that lights my heart up and makes me all warm and fuzzy inside. You're the one person I have to help me feel like Nehna, not the Inquisitor, and I treasure that. I love you, Sera, and I'm not going to let any 'noble prick' take that away from me." She grinned. "So no matter the scandal, the outcry, the buildings falling apart as our lovemaking tears apart the fabric of the universe while the Divine screams condemnation at us? I'll take it all on, because you're worth all that and more." She formed a fist and punched an imaginary villain.
"Maker, you make everything into poetry. My honey tongue." Sera was practically melting.
"Only because it's true. Ar lath ma, vhenan."
The kiss was longer this time, slightly more passionate than the last one had been. Sera's embrace grew tighter and more insistent, her hands wandering to very inappropriate places after a brief attempt at a civil façade; they clutched and grasped as if she worried Nehna would be rent away from her otherwise. She just couldn't get enough of her lover's smooth skin that was practically made for squeezing, and the indecent sounds escaping from her lips as Nehna swooned under her touch only made it better.
By the end of the kiss, Nehna was gasping and redder than embrium, but she shook her head shyly. "We shouldn't keep Josie waiting," she said bashfully, coughing as she tried to restore decorum and clear her mind of the dirty thoughts that had cropped up while Sera was handling her breasts.
"Sweet talker you might be, but you can't resist a kiss either." Sera waggled her eyebrows, ignoring her lover's playful swat. "But you're right. Plenty of time for fun after we get all the dull stuff out of the way." With great reluctance, the two women hopped down from Nehna's desk and made their way slowly to the stairs, although not before Sera squeezed her buttocks playfully, winking to Nehna's answering yelp.
"I wonder what she wants, anyway?"
"Maybe you're right after all, and we've earned ourselves a nice long holiday somewhere warm and tropical. No Breach, no Inquisition... no underpants?"
"You love me for it, Inky."
"You're right," Nehna admitted. The door to her quarters was getting closer now, and then they'd have only a few steps through the hall until they got to Josephine's office. She was in no hurry to make her way there, and by the looks of things, neither was Sera, but business had to be attended to. Whatever it was.
"Did you mean it when you said you couldn't read before you came here?" Sera asked, and Nehna stopped in her tracks, fingers laced round the handle.
"Why did you remember that now, of all things?" She asked it teasingly enough, but it was a direct, disarming question. Straight to the point, just like an arrow flying to its target. Fitting for Sera, then, she supposed.
"Dunno. Just did. And that's not an answer, Inky."
Nehna drooped slightly. "I did," she admitted, and Sera hooted.
"Really? You couldn't read? I grew up on the streets of Denerim in the Blight and I thought I had it rough, but... Wow." She shook her head in disbelief.
"Well, I could, but not much," Nehna said quickly, feeling slightly defensive now. "I only learnt as much as necessary to get by with shem - human signs in marketplaces and things if I was ever called to go in to trade things."
Sera didn't seem to notice the slip up that she'd quickly corrected, so Nehna carried on: "Aside from when we had to trade with local settlements, and the smaller the better (for our safety and theirs), there wasn't really a need to read anything. All our knowledge is passed down orally, because only the Keeper and their First learn to read and write in Elvhen, so there's no need for written scripts and so on. We learn what we need to get by outside of our clans, but nothing beyond what we need to survive. So, to answer your question.... no, technically I couldn't read."
"So who taught you?" Sera blurted out, seemingly oblivious.
"Josephine," Nehna said through gritted teeth. "Josephine did, and Josephine is the one we're going to see soon enough, so if we could all stop talking about how stupid I was and how I'm some barely educated apostate drifter, I'd really appreciate that." All the tension seeped out of her in one venomous instant - Nehna simply sagged, turning her face away in shame.
There was a long pause.
"I'm sorry, Nehna," Sera said quietly. "I wasn't thinking. I don't think you're stupid, either." She reached out, and when Nehna didn't flinch away, she laced her arms around her and brought her lover close in a gentle, apologetic hug. "I'm sorry," she whispered into her ear. "It doesn't matter, and I don't think any less of you. It just surprised me, that's all." Pulling away to give her a quick peck on the cheek, Sera added: "I still think you're perfect, you know."
Nehna tittered. "It's okay, Sera. I understand, and perhaps... perhaps I got a little more defensive than was strictly necessary. I just felt... I feel..." She exhaled. "It was something I was very aware of when I became the Herald of Andraste, and I felt like I didn't belong in this brand new world. I wasn't used to life outside of my clan, and all of a sudden I had to constantly learn and adapt to something I don't even fully understand."
"So, when she found out I couldn't read, Josephine was... well, as shocked as you were just now. Then she arranged daily sessions for me, teaching me to read and write with the patience of a saint until we both agreed I would be able to get by, even if scrutinised by... I don't know, Empress Celene, maybe?" She shrugged. "It was tough, and so many times I wanted to just give up and hide. But if I'd thought like that when I was struggling with Elvhen, then... then so much would have been lost for the next generation. Just as in the Inquisition, in the clan I am more than just myself. I'm a part of something bigger, to educate, protect and inspire. That's what kept me going, and that's why I can read just as well as any king today," she added, sticking her tongue out.
Sera was momentarily speechless, but recovered quickly. "You're smarter than anyone, you know," she grinned. "Don't know many who'd be willing to learn something not for their sakes but someone else's. But you're way better than most people anyway, so it doesn't surprise me. Just shows you've got a mind sharper than a knife. One extra reason to be proud of my Inky, then. I'll add it to the list," she teased.
"Thank you, Sera," Nehna smiled. "It means a lot to hear you say that. Just one extra reason why you're my vhenan, so I'll add it to the list."
"Ar lath ma... Sulahn’nehn’ara...” Sera whispered hesitantly. It felt strange, not quite fitting on her tongue, but she wanted to try. Nehna had tried so hard to fit into the human world, forcing herself to integrate into a whole way of life that was entirely alien, and it wasn't fair if she didn't do the same for her.
Elfy shite was still weird, definitely, and she didn't think it would ever stop being slightly uncomfortable for her, if she was being brutally honest. But Nehna meant something to her, and this meant something, so even if she didn't entirely understand the Dalish world and her lover's upbringing, culture and religion, then she'd be damned if she didn't at least shake hands with it.
"Did I even say that right?" she murmured to herself, belatedly noticing Nehna's eyes watering. "Hey, hey, what's wrong?" Tears were bad. Very, very bad. Sera had probably ended up cursing Nehna's whole family or something. Shit, shit, shit. This is why you don't mess with elfy shit. She'll hate me forever.
"Nothing's wrong," Nehna sniffed, drying her eyes on the back of her hand. "It was beautiful. You said it perfectly. You sounded just like any other Dalish elf. Nuvas ema ir’enastela, vhenan. Andruil'enaste."
For the third and final time, the two lovers kissed. It was quick, as both were mindful now that Josephine was waiting for them, but it was gentle and loving. When they parted finally, their smiles were both warmer than any sunrise.
"Ar lath ma, vhenan," Nehna whispered, giving Sera's cheek a final kiss before grabbing her hand. "Now, let's see what Josie wants, hmm?" Giggling, the two women left Nehna's quarters and walked down the hall, not caring who saw them or what any visitors might think. Even the noblest of noble pricks can just eat it.