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Mucky Little Books

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"If you don't stop stealing Cassandra's books," Adaar says, arms folded, "she may actually kill you."

"Nahhh, she wouldn't," Sera says. She's lying entirely naked on Adaar's bed, reading, her head hanging off the edge upside-down in a way that Adaar would have expected to be uncomfortable, and yet she seems perfectly fine. "She'd just give me that evil look like she's trying to shoot eye beams of death at me, except she's not a mage so it's just eye beams of really sodding pissed off. I can handle those."


"Besides, if she tries to kill me, you'll stop her. Ooo, that'd be exciting to watch."

"Or you could just stop stealing her books," Adaar says, pointedly. Sera snorts. Adaar sighs, feeling that familiar upswell of irritation mixed with affection that Sera so often provokes. "What's so compelling about them, anyway?"

"I'm looking for pictures." Sera flips the book up onto the bed, where it lands with a thump and a ruffle of pages. "You know, pictures?" She waggles her eyebrows. Upside-down, the expression is even sillier than right-side-up, and Adaar can't help laughing.

"I'm afraid you're going to be disappointed, then. My understanding is that Cassandra's taste in trashy literature runs to romances and the occasional risqué poetry. I don't think you're going to find any dirty pictures in them. Line drawings of people kissing and tastefully suggestive flowers, maybe."

"Yeah," Sera drawls, making the word take up at least five syllables, "that's about the size of it, all right. Where's the fun in that?"

Adaar sits on the bed next to her. She successfully fights the ridiculous urge to bend over upside-down too to look her in the eye. "Is there a particular reason you're digging through Cassandra's literature collection to find dirty pictures?"

And to her surprise Sera actually blushes. She wasn't sure that was actually physically possible. (Or maybe it's just the hanging her head upside-down?) She sits up in a sidden clean motion without using her arms at all, and Adaar is briefly distracted by what that movement does for the muscles in Sera's stomach. Sera's arms loop around her knees. "I dunno," she says. "Thought maybe I could get a few more... ideas?"

Adaar blinks at her. "Somehow I had the impression that you had enough 'ideas' for three or four lifetimes."

To her relief, Sera's blushy expression shifts into something distinctly impish, all sharp teeth. "Too right," she says. "And you're wearing too many clothes for it, aren't you?" She swings a leg over Adaar's lap and reaches up to grab her horns, pull her head down for a kiss.

The topic of the book is dropped in favor of more... pressing... matters, but Adaar doesn't forget it.

Although she's a little surprised (and possibly the slightest bit frightened) that Sera feels the need to get more ideas, Adaar isn't averse to finding her a dirty book if that's what she wants. She has, after all, acquired Grey Warden paraphernalia for Blackwall, mystical tomes for Vivienne, and a very old Montilyet seal for Josephine. A book with obscene pictures is really the least she could do for her own girlfriend—especially given her own prior failure to get Sera a present of any kind.

She doesn't bother to ask Cassandra; even if she thought any of Cassandra's books had that kind of illustration, Cassandra would be distinctly unlikely to be helpful. Mortified for the rest of her natural life, yes; helpful, no.

She does ask Dorian (and she's glad that most humans have a very difficult time telling when a qunari is blushing, especially one as dark as her), and after he has stopped laughing himself half-sick, he says, "No, I'm afraid not. It's not that kind of library. And if I was willing to divulge about my hypothetical private collection—and it is still, at this point, hypothetical, Inquisitor, let me be clear—I sincerely doubt any of it would be of any use to you and Sera."

So the only resort is actually buying it. Whatever it is.

This oughtn't be a big problem. There are bookshops here and there (Val Royeaux is lousy with them), and though technically this sort of thing is banned by the Chantry, the truth is that it is not remotely difficult to find if you're willing to ask the right questions. And Adaar is; it's not as though she knows any of these shopkeepers, and when you are a seven-foot-tall qunari warrior, people tend to just answer your questions and not give you trouble about it.

The problem is her companions, who are not remotely afraid of her. (This is a good thing. This is a very good thing! Except....)

The first time, it's a little bookshop in Redcliffe. "I'll just be a moment," she says, as airily as she can. "You wait out here."

Varric snorts. "You've got to be shitting me, Inquisitor," he says. "If we're stopping, I'm going to go in and see how my books are selling."

And she can't bring herself to ask in front of Varric. She just can't. So she buys two maps and a book of heroic tales and gets out of there.

The second time, they're in Val Royeaux. (She has left Varric behind, and substituted Dorian, who at least already presumably knows what she's doing.) "Just let me take a look in here," she says. "You all can enjoy Val Royeaux. We can meet back at the main square in, say, two hours?"

"What a marvelous idea," Vivienne says. "Oh, a bookshop. I must see if they have the newest work by Madame de Colette. The woman is a poseur, of course, but she does have the wittiest observations...."

Adaar gives Dorian her most helpless look. Dorian's eyes glitter as he gives her his most innocent look in return. (Asking in front of Vivienne is even more of an emphatic 'no' than asking in front of Varric. She ends up buying two maps she already has and a guide to ordering food in Orlesian restaurants. Which might be useful, come to think of it, but isn't what she was here for.)

The third time, it's not a bookshop so much as a stall and Adaar attempts to simply shoo them away. Cole either misses the point or doesn't care, because he hangs at her elbow attempting to help the entire time. Adaar doesn't dare even think about a book for Sera with him there. (She buys a book on how to identify different horse breeds, at Cole's insistence, and wonders what obscure purpose he will put it to.)

(It is an act of pure desperation that she attempts to get this done when Cassandra is with her. Cassandra, of course, not only goes into the bookshop but spends so long looking at each book carefully in turn that she has to be actually lured back out.)

Adaar is beginning to think this is hopeless.

She has begun to wonder whether she could get away with asking Leliana to acquire her such a thing (...there must be some plausible excuse... of some kind...) when the solution falls into her lap. Literally.

She's meeting with Cullen to discuss the troops, and she rests her elbow on his desk. It clearly still isn't the same since Sera got at it; it tilts, and a pile of books and papers slides off it.

"Oh, I'm so sorry," she says, gathering up the things that fell on her. Reports, maps, a ledger-book, and.... She reads the cover aloud: "The Rose and Pearl and Staff of Orlais?" She flips the book open, and... those definitely aren't line drawings of people kissing and tastefully suggestive flowers.

Cullen doesn't look even remotely embarrassed. He laughs instead. "Confiscated it off one of the recruits. It's not so much that I'm upset that they have such things, but they need to learn to keep them hidden in at least plausibly deniable places."

"Oh," Adaar says. Her fingers tighten on the binding. "Well. I can make sure it's... it's properly disposed of, if you like, Commander."

His eyebrows rise.

"As the Herald of Andraste," she continues, getting into the swing of things, "I am of course above reproach, so I can ensure that it is dealt with in the least embarrassing way possible."

Cullen is clearly trying not to laugh, but as long as he doesn't actually laugh, she'll be fine. "As you wish, Inquisitor," he says.

(Cullen is no fool. And that means Josephine and Leliana will know what's going on in short order. But Josephine can keep her mouth shut... and Leliana probably already knew, honestly.

Adaar decides to count it a victory.)

"I brought you something," she says, when she and Sera are alone in her quarters again.

"Ooo, really? Does it explode?"

"No, but it's something I know you've been looking for," Adaar says. She hands Sera the book.

"The Rose and Pearl and Staff of Orlais," Sera reads aloud, and giggles. "Not much for subtlety, are they?"

"It's not a very subtle book," Adaar says, as Sera begins flipping through it.

"I can see that," Sera says. "Ooh, that looks uncomfortable!"

Adaar leaves her to it a moment, because she's trying to figure out how to put the question that has been swimming around in her mind into words. Finally she gives up and just spits it out: "So, mind filling me in on why you were so interested in this kind of thing?"

"Oh, well," Sera says, "you know." But then, there, there's that expression on her face that seems so ill-at-home, of... embarrassment. Sera's never embarrassed by anything. Adaar is half-convinced that she'd happily walk the Skyhold ramparts stark naked if it weren't for the inclement weather. So... why?

"No, really," she says.

Sera lifts her eyes above the edge of the book. She sighs. "Look," she says, "I know I'm—I mean, I was there at Halamshiral."

Adaar feels lost. "...Yes?"

"You had the pampered flowers of at least three countries drooling on your boots! And I mean, I don't want to be them, poncey prissy arseholes, but... well. You know. Thought maybe I could be a bit more... fancy myself. You know. Keep up, like."

"And... this book is fancy?"

Sera snorts. "It bloody well isn't common, that's for sure. Costs money to print it up and sell it. How much bread d'you think you could buy for the cost of something like this?"

Adaar doesn't mention that she has no idea how much the book cost because she got it off one of Cullen's recruits. Instead, she says, "I suppose you're right."

"Anyway," Sera says. "I mean, it's not like I'm not as good as them, I know that. I just thought..." She slams the book shut and shoves it away, suddenly cross. "I don't know what I thought."

Adaar is used to these kinds of emotional storms from Sera. At first she thought they were something that would pass as they became more familiar with each other. Now, she knows that they're just part of who Sera is: she hides nothing, not even the brief fluctuations of her temper. She sits, then, next to Sera, takes her hands. Her thumbs smooth the crinkle-tight clenching of Sera's knuckles. "If you want to experiment with something new, that's fine with me," she says. "But you never have to be anything else than what you are. I don't want someone fancy, drooling on my boots or not. I want you."

Sera lifts her eyes, then—her remarkable, lovely, autumn-colored eyes, beneath that uneven fringe of wheaten hair; Sera is more beautiful in her rough way than any polished noblewoman, in the same way that a forest in the riot of its fall colors could put the most immaculately-planned Orlesian garden to shame. "You're not just saying that."

"Of course not, love." Adaar cups her cheek, her broad hand engulfing it, fingertips slipping along the sensitive edge of her ear. (Sera is odd about her ears; she likes having them touched, but touching them too much makes her self-conscious. Adaar suspects it has something to do with her uncomfortable relationship with her species, but she knows it wouldn't be right to push. That's Sera's to deal with, if and when she wants to.)

But now, Sera just leans into the touch, humming a little in the back of her throat. "Well," she says. "All right, then."

The only warning Adaar has is a brief flash of a smile that makes the dimple pop out in Sera's cheek before Sera leaps on her, knocking her backwards and straddling her hips. Sera is slim and light enough that normally there is no way she could pin someone as bulky as Adaar, but the element of surprise is Sera's favorite weapon and it often works. Her hands twine in Adaar's hair, behind her horns, and Adaar's hands settle on her hips as they kiss and kiss—Sera's tongue hot and urgent against hers.

She flips them over, Sera on her back and laughing, squirming, "I love it when you do that, Buckles," and more words and more laughter swallowed up in kisses. Sera hangs onto her horns; Adaar loves that, loves the grip, the touch, the way Sera so clearly has to ground herself against the waves of sensation. She loves the way Sera squeals against her throat when she bites her shoulder, bites her hipbone. She loves the way Sera curses, demands, laughs—never begs, not Sera, and Adaar wouldn't want her to. She loves the way Sera is shameless. Loves that there is nothing, here, to be ashamed of.

And maybe what they do after that is too straightforward to be in the pages of Sera's new book, but it's good, it's good for both of them. She has Sera's loud earnest proclamations to the ceiling as proof.

Afterwards, Sera tucks herself up against Adaar's side. Sweat has stuck her hair to her cheek, and her eyes are heavy with satisfaction, dark as forest shadows. "Guess I didn't need the stupid book after all."

"No," Adaar says, and kisses her. "Never." Then, on a whim, she snares the book from where it had fallen, unheeded. "But I did go to some trouble to find it, so...."

They page through it together in silence for a moment. Then Sera giggles: "That one, looks sexy but your foot'll fall asleep in half a minute. And then that's all you can think about, your stupid foot."

"You speak from experience, I take it?"

"Oh, yeah," Sera says, dismissively.

They flip through a few more pages before Adaar says, "I don't think that one's even possible."

"It is, it is," Sera says. "If you can put both legs behind your head."

"...And can you?"

"Oh yeah." Her smile turns wicked, sharp, beautiful. "Want me to show you?"

Adaar laughs. "Have mercy, I only have a mortal woman's stamina." And then: "Maybe in... ten more minutes?"

"Holding you to that," Sera says, and kisses her on the cheek.