The halls were alive with movement that morning long before the sun was up, servants and Inquisition agents butting heads as Josephine endeavoured to have everyone dressed and ready for the ball. This was, of course, no easy task, even putting aside the sheer number of agents that seemed to be involved in any Inquisition matter; they'd entered the city so late the previous night that even Leliana was looking worn down that morning.
Still, Blackwall dressed quickly and fought his way downstairs through the flurry of activity, coming to rest in the wide hall below their rooms. He eyed a nearby bench longingly, but remained standing; now that he was stuffed into the stiff, ornamented uniforms Josephine had distributed earlier, he wasn't sure it was wise to test their limits. So he paced across the somehow immaculate floor, glancing about agitatedly as various agents flitted past without a backwards glance.
"Good morning," came a voice, and Blackwall glanced up to see Solas, similarly suited up in gold and black.
"Morning," Blackwall said, flashing him a relieved smile. "You're ready early, I see."
"As are you."
A moment later, Blackwall was unsurprised to see Cole slink after Solas, giving them both a quick nod as he came to a stop a few feet away. "Hello."
"Morning. Sleep well?" Blackwall asked without thinking.
"I don't sleep."
"Oh. Right." Blackwall glanced down awkwardly.
People continued to flow around them like water, buffeting them back until they stood against the wall, trying to stay out of the way as final preparations were made. Sera eventually made her way downstairs as well; Blackwall held up a hand in greeting, but her attention was taken by a disapproving Josephine, who immediately set upon fixing Sera's skewed uniform with a zeal that was, frankly, a little intimidating.
Then, there was another figure on the stairs, and Blackwall forgot how to breathe.
Liana had not been forced into a starchy uniform—her entire body glimmered, a fountain of gold blossoming out from her waist into a wide ballgown that floated lightly along with her as she descended the stairs. Even in the poor hall lighting her dark skin shimmered with a reflective glow, highlighting the vallaslin that dotted her cheekbones.
"Glittering, gleaming gold," Cole murmured, "she's so beautiful, can't take my eyes off her."
Blackwall started; his ears reddened as he turned to frown at Cole, words forming even as Solas did the same:
"Please don't read my—"
"Cole, I would appreciate—"
But Cole wasn't finished. "Holy shitballs, I'm fucked, aren't I?"
Blackwall blinked; as one, they all turned to look at Sera—Sera, pacing just out of hearing; Sera fiddling with the sash on her uniform as if she had something to be nervous about; Sera, whose eyes darted away, then back as Liana waved, walking towards her. Oh, Sera. The two of them spoke for a moment, Sera's nervousness disappearing as she chattered animatedly, but when Liana nodded toward the others, Sera's eyes followed her as she walked away, brows low.
Blackwall glanced at Cole, feeling a surge of protectiveness for his friend Sera. "Don't tell anyone else about that, alright?"
"Why?" Cole asked.
Blackwall glanced furtively behind them; Liana was nearly upon them. "Just trust me," he muttered.
Blackwall looked at Solas, who gave a disinterested nod. Then, Liana was beside them, mouth set in a wide smile that made Blackwall's chest ache as they made their way outside to the waiting carriages.
Halamshiral was worse than Sera had imagined. Watching nobles toss and preen from a distance (or even from their own kitchens) was one thing. Standing feet away while some ruffled noblewoman complained about how her dessert had too much cream? Her fingers were itching for her bow.
Actually, everything was itching. She tugged at her starched collar, its gold lining rougher than it looked. Andraste's tits, these uniforms are awful.
The worst part was, Liana didn't even seem out of place. She'd spent the entire evening chatting away with whoever crossed her path like they were old friends, everyone all smiles and charm. It was her job, she supposed, but she didn't have to look so damn comfortable. Sera sighed loudly.
"Maker, I hope something happens soon," Blackwall said, leaning an arm on the railing beside her. "Not that I want someone to attack the Empress, but this waiting..."
"I do," Sera said, shooting him a grin, "if someone could stick a knife in her and get it over with, that'd be great."
Blackwall chuckled. "Better hope no one hears you say that."
"Pfft. Who cares? They can't touch us. We've got that one," she said, gesturing across the room at Liana, who was talking to Solas.
"Hm?" Blackwall followed her gaze, then smiled. "Oh. Yes."
They watched as Solas held out a hand, which Liana took, allowing him to lead her to the dance floor below (Liana smiling so widely Sera thought her mouth might crack her face wide open). Solas made some comment as they took up their starting positions, and Liana laughed, glancing back up at Solas with a look that made Sera's gut do a little leap. Fuck. She turned to look at Blackwall instead—Blackwall, who was watching Liana with blissful contentment.
"I don't get you," Sera said, crossing her arms over the railing, "how can you be okay with her looking like that at someone else?"
He made a humming noise, and Sera turned her attention reluctantly back to the dancers; as they watched, Liana spotted them (or more importantly, Blackwall), eyes crinkling in a small shy smile. Liana's eyes followed him until she was forced to turn her head back around to face Solas. Blackwall sighed, his mouth turned up wistfully. "Why should it matter how she looks at anyone else?" he murmured.
Barf, Sera thought, wrinkling her nose. It was... too sweet, she decided. No one really thought like that—or, clearly, not unless they were Mr. Proper Chivalry Blackwall. He's too lovesick to be faking it. When she glanced back at Liana, Solas was facing them again, and he raised his eyebrows at Sera. Ugh. Sera very deliberately stuck out her tongue.
Hours later, even after the big dramatic face-off, the party was still in full swing. Orlesians suck royal balls, but they know how to party. Sera wove through the crowded vestibule, narrowly avoiding a collision with a servant carrying a large platter of the most unappetizing chunks of frothy red stuff she'd ever seen. Gross! Scratch that, they know how to make a big sucky party that never ends.
Inside the ballroom, the only Inquisition shirts she could see were Leliana, Cullen, and Blackwall, hemmed in by nobles on all sides. And since she'd passed Solas on her way in, and, yeah, there was Josephine further in, so then—hello. A small figure in a battered dress slipped through the crowd on the opposite side of the room, head ducked, shoulders low. Sera frowned. She watched as Liana looked from side to side before slipping out through an unguarded door.
Sera glanced around, but no one else had noticed. She followed, pausing at the doors to the balcony to take a breath before pushing it open.
Liana stood hunched over the railing at the far end of the balcony. "Hey, you," Sera called, injecting more cheer into her voice than she felt. "They brought out the booze, and now a de Launcet is chucking guts into Lord Some-Git's helmet!" She came to a stop beside Liana, glanced down at Liana's ruined dress. "And I thought my uniform was trashed. You look like a mabari's been chewing on you."
"Thanks," Liana said dryly, but she smiled. "Dresses aren't much good for fighting in."
"You're not meant to fight in them," Sera snorted. "Killing baddies inside a palace in a dress twice as big as you. Daft." She leaned forward over the railing to match Liana's posture. "What are you hiding out here for, anyway?"
Liana shrugged, eyes distant. "I needed a break."
"Right. Yeah." Sera tipped her head at Liana, waiting for her to say something else. After a moment, Liana noticed Sera's gaze, and straightened, rubbing a hand down the side of her face.
"Sorry," Liana said, giving Sera a wry smile that didn't reach her eyes, "I guess I'm not great company right now."
"You alright?" Sera asked cautiously.
"Yeah. It's... yeah." She stared out across the courtyard below, not really looking.
Oof. You're really stuck in your head, huh. Sera cleared her throat. "You wanna see how many banana peels it takes to—"
"Do you want to dance?"
Sera blinked, caught off guard. "You what?"
"Do you want to dance?" Liana repeated, smiling now as she watched Sera, head tipped.
Cold dread trickled down Sera's spine; she frowned. "It's like I said. You've got your thing with Blackwall, and Solas; I'm not messing with all that."
"It doesn't have to be like that," Liana said. "I mean, I danced with Varric," she added dryly, and Sera gave a loud snorting laugh.
When she met Liana's eyes again, though, Sera found Liana watching her with a soft smile that made her stomach flip; Sera's smile faded. "Right, but you can't just say it's not like that and then keep looking at me like that with your big stupid brown eyes!"
Liana blinked, and her nose crinkled adorably in confusion—Andraste's tits, that's worse. "You don't want me to look at you?"
"No!" Sera exclaimed crossly.
"Okay..." Liana looked away resolutely, then gave a dramatic bow, holding out a hand. "May I have this dance?" she asked, staring out across the balcony.
Sera struggled not to laugh. "You asking that sparrow down there? I'll leave you to it, then."
"Ha ha," Liana said, though her mouth quirked up on one side. Sera stared down uncertainly at Liana's outstretched hand. "Any time now," Liana added, "my back is cramping horribly."
"Good," Sera said emphatically. After a moment, though, she sighed. "Fine," she said, putting her hand in Liana's, and Liana straightened, wide eyes instinctively meeting hers. "Just one dance, though."
"Of course," Liana said. They moved closer, Liana taking Sera's hand properly with a pleased look that made Sera's ears heat.
"Eyes," Sera said, as they began a clumsy step around the balcony.
"Really?" Liana said, raising her eyebrows, but she looked dutifully away—or maybe that was just because she was now busy looking at their feet. "Ow!" she exclaimed, as Sera stepped on her foot.
"Fucknuggets," Sera muttered, her head coming down to watch where her feet were going, "you've never danced before tonight, either? How'd you even manage with baldy?"
"Solas led," Liana admitted. Then, remembering the rest of the question: "I have so!" She stumbled back as they both attempted to go in different directions at the same time. "I've danced lively, exciting dances. Dalish dances. Not this weird stepping around in circles thing."
"Oh. Right." Sera scowled at their feet, trying to follow Liana's steps. She stepped forward a little too far, nearly overbalancing as their feet came within inches of each other.
"You know," Liana said, and Sera saw Liana watching her out of the corner of her eye; Sera looked up reluctantly. "Solas says it's easier if you look at each other instead of your feet."
Sera rolled her eyes. "Oh Solas says, does he."
"What, have you suddenly become such an expert dancer in the past 2 minutes you don't need his advice?" Liana teased.
"Don't ever need his advice," Sera muttered, but she reluctantly raised her eyes to meet Liana's.
They fell into sync, more or less, stumbling only occasionally as they turned about the small balcony. "Better?" Liana said, with that gentle smile that made it difficult to form words.
Sera swallowed. "S'alright," she said. "Not as bad as in there, anyway."
"That's not saying much," Liana said, and Sera snorted.
"I thought you were having a ripe old time in there, chatting up nobles," Sera said, giving Liana an accusing look.
Now it was Liana's turn to laugh. "Are you kidding? That was the worst! I must have ruined at least 5 alliances just trying to keep all the names straight. ''How dare you," Liana intoned in a clumsy attempt at an Orlesian accent, "'I'm not a du Paraquet, I'm a du Paradis!'" Sera giggled. "Creators. I'd much rather be out here. Much safer."
"Not safer for your feet," Sera said. "I'm gonna have bruises tomorrow."
"My bruises are going to have bruises," Liana said ruefully.
"Oh, it's a competition, is it?" Sera shot back with a grin. "Who got themselves the most banged up?"
Liana bit her lip. "I think Blackwall would have to win, tonight."
Sera was struck by the memory of a burst of flame, and dissolved into laughter. "What, for... for losing part of his beard?" Sera exclaimed, sending Liana into a fit of giggles.
"He looked so indignant!" Liana wheezed.
They were no longer dancing now; Liana's arms wrapped around her torso as she laughed, and she straightened, eyes dancing as she grinned up at Sera. There were blood spatters across her torso, shreds of fabric falling off her arms, and her hair twisted wildly out of Josephine's careful styling attempts... and yet. Too pretty, Sera thought as she attempted to catch her breath, laughter still bubbling in her throat. Way too pretty.
Sera cleared her throat, eyes flicking into the ballroom then back at Liana. S'okay though. Maybe.
"Want to go back in?" Liana asked, tipping her head toward Sera. "Or we could just leave, I'm sure we've done enough for these people already, you know, saving their Empress and all."
Sera snorted. "Pretty sure they've already forgot, the way they're partying. And... hang on!" She grabbed Liana by the arm, eyes lighting up as she remembered where her scattered thoughts had been before she'd entered the balcony. "We're not leaving here until I've floured some noble breeches!" she said triumphantly.
"Floured?" Liana asked, slightly bewildered, "like, baking flour?" Her head tipped, eyes narrowing in amusement. "Sera, did you actually bring flour to the palace just to prank some nobles?"
"What? No," Sera retorted, "stole it from the kitchens, duh. Well, I say stole, but the servants didn't give a fig. Well?" She waved at the door, hands coming to rest on her hips. "You in, or what?"
Sera watched with satisfaction as Liana nodded, all traces of exhaustion gone now as she gave Sera an excited grin. Much better, Sera thought.
"Let's do it."