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Believe Me, I Choose You

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The old wooden door to their room screeched with urgency as Olivia opened it irreverently, stomping inside as aggressively as her legs could carry her. Behind her, Cassandra lagged, letting her have her space to rampage. Nothing short of a dragon could get in Olivia’s way, and she knew better than to disallow her to have her furious distance.

Stepping into the bedroom, she shut the door with more care than her lover had, her chest stiff as she expected the onslaught now that they were secluded.

From across the room, Olivia could be heard cussing and arguing under her breath as she removed hair clips, waves of her blonde hair beginning to fall out of her braided bun. Cassandra sighed discretely, not wanting to bring too much attention to herself as she undid the belt which secured her sword to her hip. She set down the weapon across the table, and her mind then turned to getting herself out of her light Seeker armor at last.

As she began unhooking and undoing the belts and straps that encased her body in metal, facing the corner of the room, she knew it was only a matter of time before Olivia’s illustrious mind, paired with her temper, would sound off. It was better to allow it to organically manifest then to provoke it, and she had learned this the hard way beforehand.

“Ugh!” Olivia said aloud, rolling her shoulders out of her hide and metal vest. She swayed her weight from hip to hip, trying to find an outlet for her energetic rage.

Cassandra was now down to her thick underlayer, having methodically set her armor on the chair like she would have it set up back at Skyhold. There was no need for cleaning – this was a tactics mission to the Capitol, and not a siege in some distant countryside. The inn that the Ambassador had arranged for their lodging was quaint, clean, and out of the way of the city center, just how Cassandra liked it best. The rooms were tidy and modestly-furnished, but they still felt comfortable for being unfamiliar. However, the quiet night she had expected to have in the city, tucked away in an inn suite with her woman and enjoying one of the few missions they got to handle together, had been soured by earlier events in the evening.

Placing her hands on her hips, she realized all that was left to do was to wash her face with a rag from the wash basin that was waiting for them in their room and take off her underlayer and get into bed. This meant little was available to her as an excuse for why she wasn’t engaging Olivia or what upset her. Then, she noticed the silence – Olivia had stopped grumbling after she removed her top layer of day armor and was now sliding into a nightdress she had packed. Her back was facing the Seeker as she slipped into the cotton frock.

Cassandra pursed her lips, formulating what she would say first, but, there was so many ways it could go wrong and set off the unideal response. Olivia was much like the temperamental explosive substances she worked with, in that way.

“My Love,” Cassandra began, but did a brief pause. “Do you wish to discuss this?”

Olivia huffed, then, tying up the front lace of her gown. “I hardly think it necessary to discuss something so concretely evident.”

“Humor me,” Cassandra replied, turning to face her direction and folding her arms.

“It’s a non-issue, Cassandra. I am merely being vain and intemperate. Just let me go to sleep and have my peace, already.”

Olivia’s hand went for the hairbrush she had set on the dresser, and she began feverishly brushing her hair on one shoulder. Cassandra watched as she tried to form a method to her madness, getting on with her routine to move on from the anger that resonated in her. It unsettled her compassion for her.

“Olivia, you know full-well you do not work like that,” Cassandra gently challenged, stepping closer to her. She could feel the defensive hostility thicken with each encroaching foot she made towards her. She wondered if that was just the pure energy of Olivia’s temper, of if her magic had more subtle ways of making itself known.

“I work however I say I do, and I say I will be over this and we will not discuss it any further.”

“You have that choice, but I implore you to reconsider.”

“Why, so you can know once and for all just what a spoiled Orleisian brat you’ve gotten entangled with?”

“Do not put opinions on my tongue before I have had a chance to express them. I am only trying to help you.”

Olivia’s eyes narrowed as she set the brush down, tossing her hair back over her shoulder to hand between her shoulder blades.

“The esteemed Lady Seeker Pentaghast, Hero of Orlais, Right Hand to the Late Divine Justinia V, Most Holy. Her Highness, Princess of Nevarra,” she ranted as if fire laced her breath. Olivia was never one for malicious or mocking temper, but in the case of being worn down for so long by her reputation and that of the woman she loved, it had all created a fissure in her sensibilities.

Hearing her titles and name be invoked as it had been earlier in the evening, Cassandra felt a stinging sensation in the core of her being. Was Olivia going to truthfully be hung up about this? Was it all there was to her anger, her frustration, that Cassandra’s amassed stature was so vast? It wasn’t as if she basked in it all day, or let it get to her head.

“Olivia, you are going to have to be more detailed in your explanation that simply repeating my name and occupation as it was in the assembly.”

“Oh, do I? I scarcely think so. If you were to listen to the way they talked, you would swear my name was my alias and not the one my Father gave me the day I was born. The Black Dove of Orlais – a mistress’s title, a façade of allure. What does she know besides looking pretty? She shouldn’t have opinions, or an intellect. And she certainly did not attend this assembly to be anything more than the true guest’s escort.”

“Olivia, you give yourself too little credit. Why do you take such offense to what pitiful, cowardly Orleisian nobles have to say about you? You have carried your chin high before in such circumstances.”

Olivia growled, rubbing her forehead with her hand. “Because, Cassandra, Orlais is my heritage. I am Orleisian by birth and by culture. Do you not understand how hurtful it could be to know that, even in the halls of your own nation, you are nothing more than a decoration?”

“It was my understanding that most everything in Orlais is a decoration, including the masks and facades they use to manipulate the headache you call the Great Game.”

“So, you have no compassion for me, then? Do you not understand how intimidating it is just to be your lover alone, never mind the ramifications of trying to do so whilst having your own, individual ambitions?”

“I have endless compassion for you, I suppose my issue is that I do not understand the depth of your anger at a situation that was anything but out of the ordinary for such an insufferable society, or why it has provoked such insecurity within you.”

Olivia was pacing the floor beside the bed, her bare feet anchoring her body which would otherwise ascend into a higher plane of aggravated existence. She folded her arms tightly to her chest. Meanwhile, Cassandra sat herself at the foot of the freshly made bed, one hand resting on her thigh with her elbow turned upwards. She watched Olivia’s every move, hoping that it would not end there.

“Why are you even with me?” Olivia took a rhetorical detour, heading straight for the core of her insecurity.

“What kind of question is that?” Cassandra raised an eyebrow.

“It is a simple one, easy to answer if your intentions are aligned. Why, if you are such an illustrious figure, with years of traveling, battles, and experiences under your belt, did you pick me of all people?”

“Olivia,” Cassandra smirked, “I cannot see—”

“Don’t you dare find humor in this, Cassandra Pentaghast, or so help me Maker, I will take that greatsword of yours and send it through the door like a tavern dagger game.”

“Alright! Alright, fine. If you promise not to lay a hand on any of our weapons during this conversation, I will oblige any question.”

“You think I need to touch them with my hands to make them do my bidding?” Olivia sneered, her chin lowering as her eyes began to glow with magic. Cassandra maintained eye contact with her, trying to suppress the unhelpful attraction she felt when Olivia did such things. Something told her that if she wasn’t allowing humor, she most definitely wasn’t allowing lust into the mix.

“I suppose not. Still, an agreement is an agreement, and you are a woman of your word.”

“Fine. Now, talk, Seeker.”

Cassandra hadn’t heard such orders like that in a long time and hearing it in this kind of circumstance was most unheard of to her. Yet, she felt the same pang of reverence at the command as she would if it were in any other context.

“Though I cannot possible describe all of the reasons and motivations for my being with you, Olivia, I would think the truth of the situation is the best I can provide: I am in love with you, and I want to be with you for as long as my days are in this life. You are the woman, the person, for me.”

Olivia let the air still for a moment, her glare remaining undaunted. Cassandra worried that the response wasn’t up to par.

“That’s all?”

Cassandra blinked. “Is that not enough or you? Some people go the better half of their lives never hearing such an admonition from another.”

“You read all of those novels, those romance serials, and that is what you have in store?” Olivia turned and began to pace again, her shoulders hunched around her folded arms. “I am asking in reference to the qualities you see in me. Why do you think, of all the people in the world, that I am your match? What makes me so special, that you couldn’t possibly let me end up with another?”

“Do you want me to reply in a list form, or should I compose a sonnet?” Cassandra returned the mocking back in her direction. When Olivia stopped to glare at her again, she knew it had stuck.

“At this point, a response at all would be most generous considering the precedent,” Olivia replied, a slight hiss in her tone.

“Olivia.”

A pause of silence rested again, the note of Cassandra’s chiding adding ice to the atmospheric tension. Olivia kept waiting, though, affirmed that she deserved this. Her anger had removed her ability to concede or collaborate – she wanted answers, she wanted hard truth, or she would have nothing.

“My life has been one of incredible circumstances, I will admit it. I have garnered a stature that comes with the roles I have assumed as both a Seeker and servant to the Chantry and Divine. But, Olivia, I am still just one person, one mortal woman who has weaknesses and shortcomings. I am terribly stubborn, prone to impulsive action, and I have little patience for ceremony or artifice. You, Olivia, have seen through them all from the moment we met. From the time you first spoke to me, you have engaged me for who I am. You have one of the most kind and noble hearts I have ever known, and you are passionate and driven. You have turned your adversities into your power, and that is something not everyone has the strength to do. Olivia, you allow yourself to be degraded when you are on your own just as formidable and capable as any person with titles or heroism encompassing their names.”

As Cassandra gave her testimony, Olivia had turned her back again, standing still and listening quietly. Towards the end, Cassandra saw her head tilt downward. Olivia had turned her eyes to the floor. Biting her lip, she felt the unrest start to manifest itself in the back of her throat and in her eyes. She didn’t feel vulnerable enough to confess to crying or show it off.

“Cassandra,” she replied, her voice a bit more brittle and weak than it had been, “how can you say that as if I would believe it? After all the stories I listened to, about your…your life, and your heroism? I am but one meager face and name in the ensemble of people in your story.”

“Olivia, come here.”

Olivia looked up, blinking her eyes shut as she tried helplessly to subdue the water accruing in her eyes. She rubbed her mouth with her hand and turned around, keeping her gaze lowered. She hesitated, but she followed the direction, and made her way over to where Cassandra was sitting. She was met with Cassandra outstretched hand that went to her waist as soon as she was close enough. Carefully, Cassandra pulled her in to stand between her knees, and she rested both hands on her hips as she looked up at her. She noticed the way Olivia’s chin was tucked, and how bashful she seemed to be all of a sudden, her face hidden a bit with the waves of hair falling around it.

“What do you want?” Olivia muttered sorely.

Hearing her, Cassandra grinned. “My Love, I have seen the way you command rooms and crowds. Your presence is indominable. You can level an entire Ballroom with your words and intellect. I have seen it. You are so much more powerful than you admit, both to yourself and to others. How do you not see what I see?”

Olivia blinked rapidly and looked away, off towards the corner of the room. “You are flattering me to make me feel better is all.”

“I am doing no such thing. You know how I am, I am never one for embellishment or unnecessary praise.”

“There’s a first time for everything, I suppose.”

Cassandra shook her head, her grin widening a bit. “People think I am stubborn, they clearly have not encountered you when you have been scorned.”

Olivia exhaled sharply and rolled her eyes, her hand tucking some of her hair behind her ear. “Cassandra, I want to be someone who can stand on her own merits. It is hard for me to endure being the beautiful maiden in the shadow of someone else. I thought I could do it before, when I was in Montsimmard. I know now there is so much more I could be doing than being someone’s object. You have never once cornered me into such a definition, but when we are out in public, and people sneer at me, or ignore me in conversations, or compliment you for bringing me along as if I am some accessory…I get scared that I will never be anything more than that, no matter what I do. It makes me so happy to be yours, but it also terrifies me that that will be the only source of true happiness I will ever have.”

Cassandra’s eyes softened, and she knew then what was upsetting Olivia deep down to the core of herself. “My Love, the people who make such comments are below you, and they have no sense to know the worth of the person in front of them.”

“They know well enough to regard you. They never forget your list of accomplishments. How could they? You are like an ongoing history book about a heroine of an entire Age. Theia will be, too. Leliana, Josephine, Cullen, all of the allies you have assembled.”

“It is not the greatest gift in the world to know History is in the wings, awaiting to judge and shape your legacy with or without your consent, Olivia.”

“I understand that. I just…” Olivia swallowed, her cheeks turning a bit red, “I just fear that I have survived so much violence and uncertainty, just to a quaint feature in the margins. It makes me wonder why I lived while others did not. If all of my blessings, and all of my toiling, was a waste.”

Cassandra stood to her feet, then, and wrapped her arms around Olivia’s shoulders, pulling her into a hug. Once she was safely enclosed in Cassandra’s hold, Olivia felt safe enough to break down and cry. The soft whimpering in her voice sounded off, and Cassandra knew, then, that she had done the right thing. As she cried, Olivia rested her cheek on Cassandra’s collar bone and closed her eyes.

“Why me of all people?” her voice cracked, posing the question that she had asked when all this began, though in a more authentic version.

Cassandra huffed through her nose, her hand going to the back of Olivia’s head. She began lightly stroking her fingers through her hair. “My Love, I could go on discussing such an inquiry. However, there are not enough hours in the night, nor enough words to adequately describe why you are so remarkable to me. Perhaps, you must at last believe me when I say I choose you.”

Olivia sniffled a bit, her cheeks soaked with tears. “But, you could have anyone.”

Cassandra chuckled softly. “You believe that? You have not seen the look on Cullen’s face when I walk into his office in the mornings. He looks ready to be filleted alive or annoyed beyond recovery at the same time.”

Olivia managed to giggle through her tears, and when she did that, Cassandra knew she hadn’t lost her completely. “Okay, but, everyone else.”

“What about everyone else? Why do they matter? Are they able to make me forget where I am when they walk into a room like you have, before? Do they make me imagine new ways of seeing people and the world for what it could be, like you do? Do they work from dawn until dusk, and still make time to bring me something warm to eat when I cannot tear myself away from my work? If so, I must have been hallucinating all this time.”

Olivia stilled herself, her tears starting to dry. In that moment, she felt her heart wish to believe the love she was receiving. The walls had begun to crumble, and her angry nerves became more dormant. Cassandra didn’t let her go, though, and she wasn’t planning on going anywhere.

“Alright, alright, I get the point. You win, this time,” she mumbled, scrunching her stuffed nose.

Cassandra pressed her lips to the side of Olivia’s forehead. “You put up a good fight, my Love.”

Olivia smirked, pulling her head and shoulders away, gazing up at her with reddened eyes. “I apologize. I did not mean to blame you for your life’s good deeds. You should be proud of yourself, and I should be proud of you. I am so silly,” she said as her eyelashes fluttered.

“Olivia,” Cassandra put her hand to her cheek, “you are not silly, you are human. We never escape the reality of our imperfections, we simply do the best we can to follow the Maker’s will for us.”

Olivia sighed. “Splendid, I cannot wait to meet him, so I can provide him with my feedback for his interpretation of my lot in life.”

--

The following morning, the two women were making their way back to the center of the Capitol, making one last visit to a dignitary who was staying in his apartments, awaiting Inquisition officials. Both of them were dressed in light armor, for a change; Olivia, with her light-build Enchanter’s armor and staff attached to her back, wore an opaque black hood over her head as the overcast sky threatened rain. Cassandra in her quintessential attire, complete with floor-length vest coat, was much less daunted by the inclement weather.

They found the entryway to the urban apartment this man, referred to as Lord Lysander, was reported to own, and both of them prepared their patience levels for Orleisian manners. Olivia knew where to find it, a memory of one of her various social engagements she had done with Lady Adalia.

Of course, with the news of visitors from the Inquisition, they arrived and were welcomed by a casual Soiree. Olivia’s chest stiffened as she girded herself for more of the same negligence she had been faced with by the nobility the day prior. It was proving difficult to accept, but her days as Lord Ferndale’s esteemed mistress was long gone, and she had to make do with having the “clout” of an Inquisition representative and a former promiscuous Mage rebel.

Making their way into the Vestibule, there were many eyes and ears waiting in the wings to receive them as the guests of the hour. Cassandra couldn’t bear to think of sustaining this for more than an hour, least of all an entire day. The opulently decorated walls of portraits and tapestry fabric were nauseating after a while.

When the man believed to be Lord Lysander at last approached them, a chalice of wine in hand to wash down in the morning hours, they were both relieved to feel some progression in the visit. Predictably, he went to Cassandra first with his gregarious welcome.

“Seeker Pentaghast, it is an honor and a privilege to welcome you to my home,” he bowed graciously before her, his Orleisian mask shining in the refracted sunlight through the gaping windows. Cassandra could feel her stomach churn.

“Yes, thank you, my Lord. I am afraid we are unable to indulge your festivities, however. We have come on urgent business, and we wish to discuss it with you in private, if you do not mind.” Her tone was curt and as obliging as she could be. She eyed Olivia from her periphery, who had her hands gathered in front of her waist as she eyed the ground. She had already resigned herself to be the secondary presence.

“Of course, my Lady! I would not think of anything less,” Lord Lysander postured, beckoning her with his outstretched hand to follow his lead into another room. His guests had all assembled along the perimeter of the room, coupled and grouped together in various assemblages of faces. Olivia could hear their questioning whispers, and what she could not hear, she could guess well what was being said.

So, Seeker Pentaghast has really taken a woman as a lover?

They call her the Black Dove of Orlais in the Inquisition. My sources say she beds everyone on the Inquisition’s payroll.

It is a shame the Seeker could not find a better-suited person, surely this will knock her chances of being named Divine. Can you imagine? Most Holy, with a Temptress in her bed chambers? The Chantry would sooner dissolve like the Circles did.

She looks like a doll dressed in a man’s armor. Surely, she is not capable in an honest fight.

Olivia took a deep breath, eager to get on with the business at hand. In the midst of her mental escapism, she heard a voice and hand gesture towards her, breaking her own self-induced distraction.

“My Lord, before we proceed, I must introduce you to my ally and traveling companion,” Cassandra turned to face her.

Olivia blinked and looked up fast. Her lips parted as she received polite attention. Her eyes went from Cassandra’s face, to Lord Lysander’s, as he was stopped in his theatrical tracks.

“This is Lady Olivia Sinclair of Orlais, who is one of our most Senior Apothecary scholars and Mages in the Inquisition ranks. She is here to ensure our task here remains in line with the needs of our scholars and healers, and to communicate the needs for your materials and investment on their behalf.”

Cassandra smiled on one corner of her mouth, knowing exactly what she was doing, and taking great pleasure in it despite the environment she was in. Olivia’s eyes lit up, and that alone made it worth the extra effort.

“Oh, Lady Olivia, I did not know you had quit Montsimmard permanently for the Inquisition! I remember you and Lady Adalia attending my harvest season Ball!” Lord Lysander bowed again, this time for Olivia, who in turn smiled.

“Yes, Lord Lysander, I have enlisted myself as a devoted agent of the cause. It is a pleasure to be here, and I am looking forward to our discussion. The Mages of the Inquisition are most keen to appreciate your alliance with our efforts, your patronage of our research has enabled us to do great work, work we wish to continue.” Olivia’s shoulders straightened, and she gained an air of confidence. Her adjusted posture made Cassandra feel like her small act of attention was the greatest success.

“How charming!” Lord Lysander smiled through his mask, and held out his arm for her, “come, we will find somewhere appropriately private for our matters. I am eager to hear what scintillating details you have for me,” Olivia nodded again and took his arm gladly, the poised nature of her body language whilst she was dressed in armor put on quite a show for the gathered people around them. Cassandra put her hands behind her back, following dutifully whilst Lord Lysander took great care to ask Olivia what she thought of the apartments, and the portraits hung on the walls, since she had spent so much time away from Val Royeaux. As they walked, she heard Olivia giggle as they went ahead, and she took her time walking behind them both, trailing and watching as heads seemed to turn and spin with reckless abandon.

Let me show you who you know to be the Black Dove of Orlais, she thought to herself. Let me show you just how foolish you all are underestimating her.