She's being watched and she thinks she's being laughed at too.
She knows she's being watched, it comes with the territory. She's a dwarf, a former Carta one too, surrounded by human and elves, mages and soldiers. She's their leader now too, a famous - or perhaps infamous - figurehead. So she knows she's being watched and that's fine, but it feels a little more...specific than that too. She knows she's being watched by a few different people rather than the general populous of Skyhold.
Scout Harding is one of them.
Every time Malika is in Skyhold so is Harding. Usually hanging around the tavern, standing near the front door, sometimes sitting on the steps, but always there and always smiling when Mal passes her by.
She's being watched, she knows she's being watched and while she's not thrilled about it she can handle it.
What she can't handle is the feeling that she's being laughed at.
It could be paranoia. In her younger angrier days, she was convinced everyone was looking at her funny, seeing scorn or dislike on everyone's faces. This doesn't feel like that, like every person she comes across is a potential threat or enemy.
This just feels like everyone is keeping something from her, a secret she's unaware of but is common knowledge to everyone else. From the barmaids to her inner circle, they know something she doesn't.
Something about her.
She's not quite sure how to approach the subject though.
Dorian seems her best bet, she realises, as she listens to him run down everything she's missed while she was away in the Hissing Wastes. Everything from who the scullery maid had slept with to which of Leliana's spies had been sent out and why.
How he knows it all, Mal has no idea and she doesn't even really need to know half the stuff he tells her but she's grateful for it anyway. Of everyone, she feels the most welcomed by the Tevinter mage, the most accepted. The most comfortable around.
Still, they're still getting to know one another and it takes time for her open up to people. Even before joining the Carta she struggled to trust anyone that wasn't her own mother.
And even the old dwarf shouldn't have been trusted.
Still, she can't shake the feeling and even the sweet smile Lace Harding gives her seems a little off. Or maybe that's just in her head too. The way she talks to her while they're in Skyhold is always a little stilted. Her reports out in the field always came easier and she was warm with her, glad to see her, flirted with her.
At least Mal thinks she's flirting, in Skyhold though there is no banter, no flirting, not even a blush.
Not that Mal doesn't do enough blushing herself.
Especially when Lace smiles at her and winks too, and Malika walks into the wall next to the door of the Herald's Rest. She steps back, cheeks flushing bright red, and rubs her forehead. Lace is by her side, not laughing, no longer smiling but face full of sweet concern.
"Are you okay Inquisitor?" she asks.
Mal pulls her hand away but sees no blood.
"Am I?" she asks.
Lace looks her over, from head to toe and nods.
"You look good, I mean, fine, I mean, okay," she stammers and Mal nods, rubbing the bruise that's forming on her head.
"Just my pride then," she says and Lace chuckles. "A drink will help."
She nods and heads into the tavern, leaving Lace looking a little confused and, as the door shuts behind her, a little hurt too. She stands, staring at the solid wood for a moment, Krem jumping down from his chair
"Everything okay," he asks.
"Yeah, fine, fine."
He's not convinced but doesn't push it for the moment, instead dragging her over to the bar and ordering ales for them both and some wine, finishing his own drink in one. He leads her over to another table and sits down with Dorian and Bull, pulling her into the booth with him. Dazed she does as urged, rubbing her forehead.
Maybe she hit her head harder then she realised.
"When did you hit your head?" Bull asks and she panics, thinking she's lost control of her mouth but then he's pressing a large finger right into the centre of the newly forming bruise.
Malika nods and the three men chuckle.
"Was Harding out there?" Dorian asks.
"So what?" she snaps. They're definitely laughing at her and she glares at them. Dorian simply laughed and wrapped an arm around the dwarf's shoulders, pulling her close. She tenses up as he does so, but he doesn't let go.
"So, she's waiting for you dear Inquisitor," he says finally. "Every day she's out there waiting for you."
"For me?" she squeaks, then coughs. "For me?"
"She's waiting for you to buy her a drink," Krem says.
"She's fucking waiting for more than that," Bull says with a laugh.
Mal goes bright red, she can feel the heat moving up her neck to her cheeks and she tries to pull away from Dorian again so she can hide her face, hide her embarrassment. He lets her go this time, sitting back a bit.
"You didn't realise?" Krem asked and Mal shakes her head. "We all thought you weren't interested."
"In Scout Harding."
Mal looks behind her at the door behind which Lace is probably still standing, waiting. She looks back at the three men sitting at the table. They're looking at her expectantly, smiling and a few things fall into place.
Lace Harding has a crush on her and everyone knows.
She downs her ale and stands up, knocking the table in her haste and spilling some ale. Bull protests and grabs what's left of his but Mal doesn't care.
"I've got to go..." she manages to get out and heads towards the door. Except Lace is outside so she heads to the back door and slips out into Skyhold unseen by the scout.
They're definitely laughing at her now and it's a feeling she does not like, the certainly of it makes it worse. She heads back to her room and squirrels herself away until some of the panic subsides.
Which turns out to be a day and a half.
She spends the time thinking about Lace Harding.
It's not that she isn't attracted to the other woman. She definitely is, it's been a passing thought she's had since she met her. She just didn't think Lace would be attracted to her, or that she would have to do anything about it.
Not that she does have to do anything about it, she knows, she could ignore Lace Harding like she has been for the past few weeks but she could do something.
Turns out she's not good with possibilities.
Not when it comes to her heart and she's not even sure when that became part of all this.
Still, when she's finally clear-headed enough to leave her room - and when Josephine's concern and Cassandra's insistence to do so becomes too much - she's definitely feeling surer of herself. Of her feelings. Of everything.
Except then Mal sees Lace again, sitting on the steps by the tavern reading some Maker-awful novel of Cassandra's and flushing bright red at the sex scenes. She thinks about turning around and heading back up the stairs and going around on the battlements to get to the smithy. Then Lace looks up, snapping the book shut and blushing an even bright red as Mal towers over her.
They stare at one another for a moment, before Mal nods and carries on down the last few steps and heads into the courtyard. She forces herself not to look back, to keep looking forward, but as she turns to go around the tavern she sees Lace watching her, frowning.
They come to some sort of impasse.
Because she's definitely attracted to Lace, and Lace is definitely attracted to her and she actually really likes the other dwarf and she usually hates everyone.
At least until she came to Skyhold.
Now it's just nearly everyone.
They talk to each other in passing, smile and nod though Lace never winks at her again, never gives Mal cause to walk into a wall again. Although seeing her in something other than her scout uniform does cause her to trip up and it's then she decides she should probably really do something about this. Either to move forward or move back.
Lace beats her to it.
Dressed in her uniform - thank the maker - she's leaning on the wall by the door of the tavern with a determined look on her face. She doesn't even let Mal put a hand on the door before slipping between her and wood, smiling finally.
"Can I buy you a drink?"
Mal stares at her, and Lace straightens up, trying to stand a little taller before. Never easy for a dwarf, even if they're a well-respected scout.
Even if they're the Inquisitor.
"Can I buy you a drink?" she repeats.
"I'd like that," she manages, swallowing hard and Lace brightens, smiling and leading her into the tavern. When she doesn't follow immediately Lace takes her and almost pulls her inside. For a scout and a rogue, she's pretty strong and not expecting it, Mal almost tumbles over.
"Sorry," Lace says, helping her upright, pressed up against her body for a moment before she steps away, blushing. "Strong arms."
"Yeah," Mal breathes.
They grab some ales from the bar and head to a table upstairs, in a corner, away from all the people that watch her. Though Lace is leading, so maybe she doesn't want to be seen either. Though perhaps because Malika is an embarrassment; she's had those reactions too, those relationships. People who were attracted to her, wanted her but didn't want to be seen with a dwarf.
Which would be fine if Lace wasn't a dwarf too.
"I thought some privacy would be good," she says, "spies everywhere."
"Even in Skyhold?" Mal asks. Lace laughs, a sweet sound.
"Especially in Skyhold," she says, taking a drink. "Leliana's always watching, within the walls you're in more danger."
Mal frowns at her, thinking about the massive sword she carries around. She's had it for years, been unable to part with it but in Skyhold she rarely has it on her person. She does have a dagger strapped to
her belt and another one in her boot and a few others that she's sure no one knows about.
Not that she's willing to let Lace know that just yet.
"Be a brave person to try something here."
Mal nods and she wonders if this is what normal people talk about on a date, discussing the ways people might kill them. It's certainly normal for her.
"Ale no good? Lace asks.
Mal looks down at it, then takes a drink.
"No worse than usual," she says and Lace smiles.
"Is this weird?" she asks then, all serious and a little sad. Mal thinks it over. She doesn't want to admit to her that it is weird, and it is, it is weird but she knows what the problem is.
She downs the rest of her ale.
"Yeah," she replies, standing up, ignoring the stricken look on Lace's face. "But it's me that's weird, not this," she says. "You want another ale?" she asks.
Lace stares at her for a second then downs her ale too and hands Mal the mug.
"I'll be back in a minute," she says.
She uses the time walking down to the bar and back again, the ordering and serving of drinks to think about it but nothing comes to her. She's always been like this, a little outside her own world, her own feelings.
Though, she's very aware of her feelings for Lace or at least that she has feelings for the other woman. Something warm and sweet. She feels better for it and for Lace's smile when she returns with the drinks and slides one over the table to her. They sit together, close, touching from shoulder to hip.
"Can I buy you dinner?" she asks suddenly. "That's normal right?"
Lace chuckles, shifting to face her.
"Maybe I don't want normal," she tells her and there is a little hope that comes to life from that comment, springs up from deep inside her.
Blooms when Lace leans forward and kisses her gently on the lips before pulling back again. She smiles at her, laughing as she reaches out to kiss her back, harder this time. The physical stuff she knows, the physical stuff she can do and it's all too easy to fall into the rhythm of it, of them.
It takes an effort, on Mal's part, to pull away, covering her blush by taking a long drink of her ale. Lace is just smiling at her, already pushing away the table so she can straddle Mal's lap, the Inquisitor gasping at the contact. In the dark corner, they can't be seen well but they're hardly hidden. Lace kisses her again, her lips light on hers and Mal wants to pull her closer, deeper but holds her back.
"I'm not easy to get along with."
"And I'm weird and paranoid."
"Is it paranoia is people are really out to get you?"
Mal thinks it over.
"And I keep a lot of daggers on my person."
"Who doesn't?" she replies.
Lace lifts up her tunic to show her the dagger strapped to the underside of her breast and Mal barely sees it, focusing on the curve of her chest instead.
"You show me yours and I'll show you mine?" she asks.
Lace laughs, kissing her hard until their panting.
"After dinner," she tells her.