Frankly, it was a bit embarrassing to find yourself belly-up to the war table, six-and-a-half feet of usually-glowering Vashoth mercenary, and gaping at the object of your affection like a boy. To be specific, nearly swooning as you gaze at the lovely, dark skin of a lady’s cheek, wondering why its warm tones reminded you of late afternoons in summer. Who allowed that sort of thing to happen? Feeling rather petulant about the whole thing, Rami bent over the table, leaned his face into one hand, a bit of cover in case he began to pout without realizing. Slowly, he forced himself to focus on the actual words coming from that lovely face across the table. Really the woman was fabulous at her job, he should be respecting that. So: Something something assassination? Halamshiral? Ball? Wait…
“You must be joking. You want to take Inquisitor Ox-man to an Orlesian ball? Seems like a lot of trouble. Why not just tell everyone that our pasty Prince Charming over there is in charge of things?” He motioned to Cullen, who could only offer a grimace.
“Apologies, Inquisitor, but word of the Qunari with the glowing green hand reached Orlais a long time ago,” Leliana supplied wryly. “We can’t hide you anymore. Besides, the commander is running low on his hair oils, there’s no telling if he’d be presentable in court.”
“May I ask why it’s necessary you keep track of my pomade supply?” Cullen asked wearily.
“No,” came Leliana’s reply, from behind an enigmatic smile.
Adaar cast his eyes about for sympathy, and found little. He pinched the bridge of his nose and growled at no one in particular, trying to remember a time when his responsibilities had more to do with stabbing, less with politics. It was getting harder by the day.
“Out of bed, darling, I’m here to make you beautiful.”
“Yes, that’s just adorable, now get up before I freeze those sheets to your skin.”
Rami reluctantly pushed himself to a sitting position, and peered at the Madame de Fer, wondering what he’d done to deserve her as his own personal wake-up call. He blearily registered the three mirrors that had been arranged by the window and, even worse, the dozens of bolts of fabric hanging off of every possible surface in his bedroom.
Vivienne was accompanied by a short, skinny Orlesian of indeterminate gender with a tape measure looped around their neck.
“Tremblay is the best-kept secret in Orlesian menswear, and luckily for you, the poor dear owes me a favor.” Tremblay pulled a pained face that was gone by the time Vivienne turned back to them.
“The rest of the Inquisition will be in dress reds, but our illustrious leader needs to stand out a bit more. I had a bit of time on my hands, so I graciously offered my services as fashion consultant.”
“How very kind of you.”
“Well, I can’t say that…” Vivienne trailed off, seeing a bit of tightness in the Inquisitor’s jaw, a bit of weariness at the eyes when he looked up to her.
“I don’t know what you’re trying to accomplish, ma’am. Bull told me about the time he spent in Orlais. They’ll never take me seriously. It doesn’t matter what I wear. They’ll be staring at the horns.”
“They will stare, darling, so we may as well pretend that they’re doing it because we want them to.”
“Hush, my love.” Vivienne crossed to sit beside him on the bed. “Bull would make sense to the court, you see. He may not be exactly what they expect from a Qunari, but he still looks a brute. And he’s happy to play that part, when it serves him. You, my dear,” she graced him with a rare, gentle smile, and a soft hand on the cheek. “You are something different entirely, and we are going to embrace that. You have the cheekbones of a prince, and the lips of a rakehell. Lord Inquisitor Rami Adaar will be the first dashing Qunari in Thedas.” Rami huffed out a bitter laugh at this, but Vivienne’s eyes were steady, utterly serious.
“Now strip, we have work to do.” Though Rami had no intention of disrobing a moment before, he found himself pulling off his shirt before he could think to stop. Andraste’s tits, Bull had been right about the good Madame. The height, the hat, and the air of authority… it did remind Rami of the former Tamassarans he’d known growing up in his tiny Vashoth village, even if her elegant mien felt so distinctly human. Clad in only his smalls, he stood and allowed himself to be arranged in front of the mirrors, while Vivienne travelled in a slow circle around him, levelling her assessing gaze at his body and muttering to herself.
“Good chest and shoulders, we’ll have to take advantage of that…strong legs, so we can go a bit tight on the trousers, are you taking notes Tremblay, dear? And we need to set off those eyes, of course,” she murmured to the tailor rather than Rami, almost as if she had forgotten it was a man she examined, rather than a painting. The Inquisitor favored her with a saucy wink, to remind her that wasn’t true, and she responded with a cluck of good-natured disapproval.
He couldn’t blame her, anyway. Humans really got fixated on his eyes, if they ever managed to get past the horns. They were golden-green, a sharp, nearly acidic color. A bit unsettling, he’d been told by more than one lover, but in a good way. Rami grinned a little despite himself. Any time a beautiful, terrifying woman wanted to spend her morning stroking his ego, he’d welcome it.
Josephine paused for a moment outside the Inquisitor’s door, straightening her papers, tucking a strand of hair behind one ear. Something an older friend had taught her in university – how to pull yourself together beforehand, and always appear fully formed upon entering a room, in one’s element. Much as she liked the Inquisitor personally, business was business. She rapped at the door, and entered when the Inquisitor shouted a surprisingly cheery “come in.” Nudging her way through, she found herself face with a good deal more bare gray skin than she ever could have expected to see from anyone who wasn’t the Iron Bull.
Rami Stood before a collection of full-length mirrors, stripped to his smalls, allowing Vivienne to circle him in obvious assessment, while a smaller person darted about, taking a variety of obscure measurements of his person. And…Maker. Josie found herself treated to a full view of Adaar’s back, the wide shoulders tapering into a waist far narrower, but still sturdy. His arm moved, and the prominently carved muscles shifted, rippled, flowed like river rapids in slow motion. Molten sliverite. Josie attempted to drag her eyes away from that marvel of biology only to allow them to slide down to where his smalls cupped a deliciously rounded arse. She wondered idly if it would jiggle when she…no. No.
She cleared her throat pointedly, and Adaar twisted around to offer her a jaunty wave and a huge, cheeky grin. Entirely shameless. Not that he had anything to be ashamed of, in truth.
“Inquisitor. I was actually coming to warn you of Madame Vivienne’s arrival, but it appears that fashion doesn’t sleep.”
“Spot on, Ambassador,” Vivienne said, her voice all lightness and amusement.
Rami snorted as he turned in deference to Tremblay’s tape measure, and she could see that while his shoulders and chest were all hard muscle, there was a hint of unspeakably endearing softness to the stomach. The word fluff drifted through her mind, unbidden, and she felt her cheeks heat up. Thankfully, nobody noticed.
“Now, dear, about the horns…”
“Ah, that I can help with.” Rami disentangled himself from Tremblay and the tape measure and crossed the room to tear through a bag near his bed, only adding to the swirling mess that surrounded it. “Ha!” The inquisitor produced a plump cloth bundle from the bottom,
“Horn rings. There’s a better name for them in qunlat, but I can’t remember. They belonged to my Tama,” he said, a note of sweet pride in his voice. “She had almost exactly the same horns as I do, we used to joke that she might have actually given birth to me all those years ago.” He laid out the rings carefully, in order of size. Some were wide, plain bands of gold, others were slimmer, inlaid with semi-precious stones. Four or five for each horn.
He set about sliding a larger ring around one of his great, looping, swept-back horns. “Kind of a Vashoth tradition, actually. A symbol of a life outside the Qun, of…I don’t know, embracing earthly pleasures?” Rami smiled distantly, a little sadly. “Tama would think this whole thing is pretty hilarious, to be honest. She’d love it. She’d be right here, fussing over me along with you guys.” Suddenly, Josephine felt she was intruding on something private. It took Madame de Fer to break the silence.
“Inquisitor, we’re going to let Tremblay finish their work, Lady Montilyet and myself have much to discuss about our strategy in the coming weeks.” Vivienne swept out the door, trailing a still-flustered Josephine in her wake.
“What was that supposed to be?”
“Just moving things along between you two bumbling kittens.”
“You can’t be serious…”
“A girl could do worse, love. You did get a look at that arse, didn’t you?”
“If you’re so enchanted, why don’t you take him to bed?
“I’m being taken care of elsewhere, darling. You’re the one who hasn’t had a dalliance for over a year.”
“Why do I tell Leliana anything?”
“She cares about you, ambassador. As do I. As will a certain large gray gentleman with a lovely arse, sometime soon.”
“I think I liked it better when I was afraid of you.”
“Most do, dear.”
With most of his face still tipped up and covered by his tankard of ale, Varric heard the chair next to him as it was dragged back, and the scrape forward as someone very heavy scooted it up to his table.
“Hey, Fuzzy, how’s it going?” asked the mountain of gray flesh and red leather coat now sitting next to him.
“You know, you can’t just go around giving nicknames to the nickname guy. It’ll confuse people.”
“Everyone needs a nickname. I don’t want you to feel left out.”
“Always thinking of others. That’s why we let you do all the inquisiting around these parts.” Rami inclined his head forward and spread his hands, an unconvincing burlesque of modesty. “Can I help you with something, boss?”
“I need you to teach me to be charming.”
“That’s a joke, right?
“Come on, if you won’t induct me into the society of irresistible rogues with fantastic jawlines, who will?”
“Varric, this is the Orlesian court, I need all the help I can get. Madame de Fer says she thinks I can pull of dashing, but I’m going to need a little help with that.”
Varric wrinkled his nose. “I don’t know that I’m the dwarf for the job? I spend my time in taverns, Stabby. Not ballrooms. You might be looking for a someone a little more mustachioed than myself right now."
“Come on, aren’t all of your books about people getting swept off their feet?” The Inquisitor couldn’t have been aware of those stars in his eyes, he’d be embarrassed if he was.
“So there’s someone you want to sweep off their feet?” It took Varric a moment to register that the dark purple sweeping over the Inquisitor’s cheeks was a Qunari blush. How sweet. He’d need to remember that for his adaptation of Tiny and Sparkler’s romance.
“Say no more. Now, you’re going to want to keep it pretty simple…”
The Inquisitor wasn’t even halfway across the room before Josephine could tell that Vivienne and Tremblay had outdone themselves.
Rami’s bottom half was all dark brown leather, tight, supple breeches tucked into high boots. Further up, he wore the same colors as the rest of the Inquisition, but inverted: his scarlet sash tied over a coat of deep blue velvet, the perfect complement to the silvery storm cloud gray of his skin. The Inquisitor had been favored with a great deal more curling gold embellishment than her, a match for the modest set of dress pauldrons adorning his wide shoulders. This all framed an element that, to Josie’s mind, was the main event: a subtly open collar, leaving the hollow of Adaar’s throat exposed at exactly her eye level, the skin of it looking softer, more delicate than anything on a hulking assassin had any right to.
Sheepishly, she dragged her eyes back to the Inquisitor’s face, and noted a bit of smudged kohl lining those strange, sharp eyes, possibly cribbed from Dorian’s cosmetics bag. Rogueish. It was that touch of vanity, that small gesture that sent her over the edge. Frankly, she felt a bit light-headed. It was as if someone had taken one of her the storybooks from her childhood, and fused the noble, heroic knight with the dragon he was attempting to slay. When they’d met, her first thought was that he would be quite handsome, were he human. But that qualifier seemed a bit silly now. Adaar was rather ridiculously attractive as he was.
“Everyone wants to dance with the upright cow-man, but nobody wants to be the first to do it. That would just be gauche.” Adaar had paused next to her, was just slightly closer to her than was comfortable, to the point where she could almost feel his smooth, deep rumble of a voice, with its curiously flat accent.
“You are perceptive as always, Inquisitor.” Josephine risked a sideways glance, just managing to catch the moment when a spark of mad light kindled in those strange eyes.
“Dance with me, Josephine.”
“Everyone here knows you, right? If they see their old friend Josie dancing with the monster, maybe that will help break the ice. Come on, I promise not to step on your toes or anything.” Oh, but he looked so young now, an overgrown boy asking a pretty girl to dance.
“Besides,” Rami took her hand gently, and bowed to place a light kiss on the knuckles. “I may be learning that I’m a sucker for a woman in uniform.” Josephine had always been a bit curious what exactly was meant when characters in Cassandra’s books “melted” inside, but when Adaar fixed her with that rakish little smirk over their still-joined hands, it suddenly made sense.
“Maybe you know a bit more about playing the Game than you let on, Inquisitor,” she said, squeezing his hand and matching his widening grin with a conspiratorial smile of her own. She’d been planning to lay low tonight, but if one must draw the attention of an entire ballroom by spinning across the dancefloor in the arms of someone handsome and fascinating…well, one must.
“I wish I did, ambassador. It would make your job quite a bit easier.”
Dancing with the Inquisitor was an exercise in attempting not to think about things. Not thinking about the invasive, noble eyes that tracked their every move, not thinking about the blood that might drench these fine marble floors later in the night, not thinking about how Rami smelled clean and almost metallic this close up. How the ends of his lips twitched up when their eyes met, how warm and (ridiculously, unnecessarily) large his hand was on her back.
Josephine could only wonder at what point she had come to think of those droopy, pointed ears as adorable rather than alien. She resisted a sudden urge to lean up and kiss the tip. Rami didn’t have the same compunction, apparently, coming close to whisper in her own ear. The ghosting of his lips, his hot breath…it was almost so nice she didn’t catch his words.
“Josephine, look,” he whispered, nodding towards the outskirts of the dance floor. A small cluster of young Orlesian nobles had massed to watch them dance. A couple of dainty hands clasped toward chests, a dreamy smile or two scattered through the crowd.
“It appears your dance card is filling up, Inquisitor. The night might improve somewhat from here.”
Rami chuckled and pulled her a fraction of an inch closer, dropped what might have been a kiss on her ear as he leaned in for another whisper.
“I think there’s very little that could improve on this moment, Josie.”