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the brief curve of her lips

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It is impolite to stare.

Cassandra knows this quite well--at various times in her life she has been the one stared at, for any variety of reasons, and she has never enjoyed it. (Most of the time she accepts it as the price of being a public figure; after so long as the Divine's Right Hand, she is not quite at peace with that status, but she at least accepts it. On her bad days, she has been known to round on some gawking idiot and demand to know what they think they're looking at. She is not particularly proud of it--it ought to be beneath her dignity to shout at bystanders--but it has happened.)

It is impolite to stare, and it is unsettling to be the target of a stare. And if there is anyone in all of Skyhold that Cassandra does not wish to be rude to, or to unsettle, it is Josephine.

This is how it comes to pass that she spends a great deal, a great deal, of her time at the war table looking at her gloves, the fireplace, the war table itself (that's not a bad one, she can look thoughtfully at the Storm Coast or the Western Approach or whatever region they're talking about and it presumably--hopefully--just makes her look absorbed in the discussion). Because if she doesn't find something to look at, she will spend all of her time watching Josephine talk. She knows she can be intimidating at the best of times, which normally suits her purposes perfectly well, but now....

"I shall write another letter to Lady Deresin," Josephine says, and Cassandra looks up reflexively--which is there the problem, because then she is caught, as surely as a moth to a candle-flame, by the full lower curve of Josephine's lip, the way she shapes her words, careful and sure, the way she presses her mouth tight shut in a brief expression of displeasure before continuing, "--but as she has not answered the first two, my hopes are not high. Three is as much I can do without crossing the line to appearing desperate."

"I will notify one of my agents there to report on what might be holding her up and whether we can shake her loose," Leliana says.

Josephine smiles. Her smile is entrancing. "Thank you."

(It is appropriate, if not logical, that Josephine has such a beautiful mouth. Certainly the words that come from it are beautiful, well-chosen and elegant. Cassandra has never spent much time attempting to teach herself how to speak in such a way: she tells the truth as she sees it, without ornament and without circumlocution, and if her hearer does not like it--well, that is their problem. It is only now for the first time, watching Josephine, the brief curve of her lips in a smile as clear and bright as candleflame, that it occurs to Cassandra that it might be useful to at least know how to be lovely in your speech. She has gone decades without needing the skill, or even particularly valuing it. It did not occur to her that now, suddenly, she would have cause to want it, if only for one person.

Too late now, she supposes.)

Cassandra is staring, she realizes, and drags her gaze back to the table. Maker, because what she really needs now is this hopeless distraction.

She could swear she can feel Leliana's eyes on her, knowing, even though she cannot possibly know anything--Leliana is dismayingly observant, but even she cannot read minds. Cassandra thinks not, anyway. Hopes not.

Josephine knows smiles, knows how to read them. She sees so many: polite smiles, pained smiles, ingratiating smiles, poised smiles. Warm smiles, frosty smiles, and everything in between.

When you play the Game, and especially in Orlais where it is at its most rarefied, it is often the case that most of the smiles you see are false in one way or another. A pleasant smile where someone wishes to grimace, a polite smile as the sheerest cover for disdain, a confident smile where uncertainty churns in your stomach--or the opposite, a meek smile to disguise triumphant pride at a secret plot put in motion. A thousand smiles, and so few of them true.

When she first met Cassandra, she was taken somewhat aback, because Cassandra didn't smile. Not much, at least, not often--certainly not as a default social nicety. ("Cassandra is not much for niceties," Leliana said, privately, one of those first nights as they sat up discussing their new allies. "A braver and more honest woman you will never find, and her skills are unparalleled, and she will not deliberately try to offend any of your visiting dignitaries, but... her patience for such things is, shall we say, low.")

To Josephine, who was used to a constant parade of pro forma smiles--diplomatic smiles for the diplomat--it seemed at first as if Cassandra was scowling all the time. But then she chanced to see Cassandra actually scowling (dark and dramatic as a thundercloud full of lightning) and realized that, no, her normal facial expression was not scowling, it was simply--not smiling.

It was, she decided, refreshing: she did not have to guess what lie the smile hid, did not have to guess at all, had only to read what was written plain on Cassandra's face. It was--restful.

It is rather later that she realizes that her excitement at seeing a smile on Cassandra's lips (and knowing that it is real, a true smile for a true reason, because Cassandra does not prevaricate with her face or her voice) is perhaps... beyond the normal. All right: so she is a little smitten with the Seeker. A little. Leliana rolls her eyes and sighs but does not chide her, which is just as well because Josephine could name a few embarrassing infatuations of hers, should it come to it.

But still, she pursues those smiles, rare as they are, with the careful diligence of a hunter, dropping comments to ease Cassandra's mind or to make her laugh. She is good at such things, and those smiles, crystal-brilliant as sun on snow, are reward enough. Cassandra is a Seeker of Truth and Josephine is a seeker of words, and in this case the words that will bring the light to Cassandra's eyes, the curve to her lips that warms her whole face.

It is a game, really, a way of enjoying this... infatuation without hanging too many hopes on it. It makes Cassandra happy and it makes her happy and that is good enough. She has played at romance like this before; it is a good way to not be too hurt when nothing comes of it, when nothing can come of it, as nothing surely can now.

She thinks. Until the day she walks into the tavern and Cassandra is there, and Cassandra turns to look at her and before Josephine says anything Cassandra smiles, just at laying eyes on her, that smile that gentles the stern lines of her mouth, does not so much soften the elegant sharpness of her face but illuminates it. What passes wordless through Josephine's mind then is somewhere between a wild hope and a fervent prayer, but for once she has no speech prepared and nothing comes to her lips. She can only smile back, her own smile instinctive in its honesty for once, all pretense laid aside.

She thinks, she thinks, she hopes Cassandra understands anyway, if not consciously then on some level. A seed planted, growing in the unexpected sweetness of her smile.