Cassandra ground the heel of her hand into her eye. The scattered pages of the manuscript lay in drifts of paper around her bed. Sometime around three am she had stopped trying to keep it in order.
She stared out of the window at the dreary view of the courtyard of the Denerim Chantry. The skies overhead were dull with rain clouds in these early pre-dawn hours. The lanterns had grown low, guttering in their metal brackets, the last of the oil feeding the flames. Her eyes felt gritty. She hadn't slept.
It was their story.
The trappings were ridiculous. Templars and thieves. Foolishness. But the beating heart of it, the soul of it, was them. And it made her want to weep. She stared down at the final page crumpled in her hands. She read the final page again.
"I love you."
He got a kick out of the expression on her face. He always got a kick out of the expression on her face. He knew every scar, every frown, every smile. It was as familiar to him as his own.
"I love you," he repeated, and reached out to brush his thumb over her lips.
"You aren't amusing, Gabriel." Her voice was irritated as she scraped a strand of her away from her brow, tucking it behind her ear.
"For once in my life, sweetheart…" His smiled faded, his eyes softened. "…I'm telling the absolute, honest truth."
The confusion cleared from her eyes. "You love me?"
"When the hell did this happen?"
"Oh, it crept up on me slowly. One day, you just crawled into my heart and stayed there." He sighed. "You are a disruption to my calm and peaceful nature, Templar."
She snorted her amusement and he smiled. Her hand rose and pressed against his chest. He caught it in his own, suddenly aware of his heart pounding in his chest.
"Well?" He asked. "What do you think of that?"
She smiled at him. A new smile.
"Allegra?" She still hadn't spoken.
But when she did, he received the words he didn't know he had been waiting all his life to hear.
She had searched the bed, desperate for the ending, and it had taken many long minutes and several non-Divine approved swear words before she realised there was no final page. That was it.
The dawn was insipid, trying to eke some cheer into the grey of the Denerim skies. She closed her eyes and let the cold air wash over her face. The third candle she had lit so she could keep reading through the dark hours of the night guttered and went out, the merest wisp of smoke a memory of the warming flame.
She turned her head and stared at the gleaming robes she would don this evening. They hung in heavy silken folds from their hanger. She ran a hand through hair that had grown into an uneven cap of shaggy coils in the last months. The insignia of the Chantry embroidered in heavy metallic thread on the breast gleamed in the low, sulky light of her austere room. Her heart ached in her chest.
Vivienne picked up the folded notepaper on the desk. She studied the room, the bare furnishings, the lack of tapestries on the walls and shuddered. She took in the unmade bed, the burned down candles, the empty closet. And finally her eyes rested with distaste on the chaste robes that hung limply from the open door of the closet.
She pursed her lips and opened the fold of paper. She wouldn't allow herself a laugh when she read the contents but her serene features relaxed into a smile.
"Oh Lady Inquisitor, you clever, clever girl."
She tucked the paper into a pouch on her belt.
She had some news to break to the Chantry sisters.
The banners above Skyhold were a bright beacon in the mountains. Spring sunshine was golden with only the faintest hint of warmth. The air smelled sweet.
Varric saw none of it. He had seen out the night writing the tale of the Inquisition and sat morosely at his desk, unsatisfied and irritated at the pathetic prose now scrawled on the pages in front of him. He raised a hand to his brow and pressed against the low throbbing that had started around midnight and hadn't relented.
A sharp whistling had him groaning and leaning his head back on his chair, the sharp edge of the back digging into the back of his skull.
"Rise and shine, Storyteller." Dorian's bright tones had him sighing. The mage was insufferable in recent days. Erien had given him an entire section of Skyhold to turn into a library to rival any in the Imperium. Between that and the obvious devotion Bull showered on him daily was making him a grade A jackass.
"Go away, Sparkles, I'm not in the mood." His voice was raspy with lack of use and lack of sleep.
"Not a chance." The door banged open. "Our lovely leader wishes your recalcitrant ass in the reception hall."
"What for?" Varric scrubbed a hand over his face.
"Who knows." Dorian picked up and wrinkled his nose at the plain tunic piled on the floor. "Where on earth is your tunic? You used to dress a little better."
Varric rose to his feet and rubbed his fingertips over his chest, the plain white of his undershirt lifting with his shrug. "Lost in the laundry."
"Huh." Dorian pursed his lips and tossed aside the tunic. "Not befitting the author of such epics as Swords and Sandals."
"Swords and Shields," Varric gritted his teeth as he yanked his shirt over his head.
"Whatever." Dorian flicked his fingers. "Just hurry up."
Varric had his hands rammed into the pockets of his breeches as he mounted the steps up to the main reception hall. Throne room, he supposed, though Erien had only ever taken that ugly throne to cast judgement on some poor deluded soul.
Erien stood chatting to Josephine and turned to beam at him. He paused.
She hadn't beamed at him in …well… since before.
"I am here as commanded, Your Inquisitorialness."
"Varric," Erien approached, laid her hand on his shoulders and leaned forward. Her voice dropped low , beyond the hearing of the gathering watching them. "If you fuck this up, I swear I will strangle you."
Varric stared up at the woman, startled. Erien stepped back.
Varric caught the sharp, intelligent eyes of a woman he thought he would never see again.
"Cassandra…" he murmured. She was here. He took a step forward, then a second before hesitating.
She approached him, the same, but different. Her hair was longer. She hadn't been sleeping. He studied her face in concern.
"What are you doing here?" he asked, bewildered.
"Unfinished business." Her voice was sharp. "We need to talk."
Varric glanced around at the avid eyes watching them. He swallowed, his heart pounding. She sounded angry, but there was something in her eyes he couldn't read. She stalked off, clearly expecting him to follow.
He stared dazedly after her. Erien swam into his peripheral vision and her voice was gentle.
"Talk to her, Varric. Be honest, for your own sake."
Cassandra had yanked open the door toward the war room. He followed, tripping on a subtle fold in the massive carpets that softened the ancient stonework. She stood before the fire in Josephine's empty office. Ruffles had met his glance on his way past, and her small smile of encouragement had just caused his heart to pound harder.
"Shouldn't you be praying to the Maker for absolution for your sins about now?" The tone came out more mocking than he intended. He instantly regretted when she swallowed and cast her gaze away. "Shit, Cassandra. I'm sorry. Maker's breath." He cast his hand over his eyes.
"That was unworthy." Cassandra's voice was soft.
"Yes. It was." Varric approached slowly, and leaned back on Josephine's desk, needing the sturdy support all of a sudden. Cassandra's tall, lean figure was surrounded by a nimbus of light from the fireplace. She was ethereal and untouchable.
Cassandra broke it first. "I should have spoken my vows a week ago."
Varric blinked. What?
Cassandra turned to face him, her gaze steady. "I read something interesting. Something that Erien sent me."
She pulled a crumpled, many times folded sheaf of paper from her coat. Varric clenched his hands over the edge of Josephine's desk. He wondered that it didn't creak in protest.
"The last page was missing." She was studying the writing, then lifted her gaze, met his, took the few steps toward him and held out the page. Even though he knew precisely what it said. He had written it after all.
"What did the Templar say?" Cassandra asked quietly.
Varric broke her gaze and lowered his chin to his chest. She wore riding leathers still. Worn and stained. She hadn't changed since her arrival.
"Varric. I love you." Her voice was barely above a whisper.
He made a small sound in his chest. Somewhere between a groan and a cry.
"That's what the Templar said." Her voice broke and his head snapped up. Tears made her eyes luminous and his heart broke anew. "That's what I should have said."
"Cassandra." His voice was thick, and his hands were white-knuckled with the effort not to reach for her.
"No. This time it's my turn." Cassandra held up her hand. Her eyes were bright on his, her expression serious. "I read your novel. Erien sent it to me. It's the most ridiculous thing you have written." The corner of her mouth quirked. "So of course I read it in one night." She shifted awkwardly. "Except for that one page. That was Erien giving me a very unsubtle message. I pride myself on not being an utter moron and I understood it. I never told you how I felt. And before I took vows that would stay any words that weren't first mulled over a dozen times, I had to speak these words."
Varric took a shuddering breath.
"I love you. It's simply that. You frustrate the hell out of me. You have no appropriate reverence for the Maker or Andraste, but you are best man I know. You write appalling literature, but I can't stop reading it. You can make me gasp for breath when you touch me, and you walked away. But I love you. I had to tell you. I had to be honest. No amount of praying to Andraste or the Maker has gotten you out of my system."
Her eyes were fierce and he couldn't look away.
"So I hope that is what your rogue planned on hearing, otherwise you need to go back and write that damn ending again." Her jaw clenched, her eyes drowned in the agony of her honesty.
"I'm like half a person without you near me." His voice was hoarse from the effort of choking back the emotion that slammed into him at her words. "I can't sleep. I can't write. I can't damn well live without you near me."
She held out her hand, palm up.
He curved his hand around hers, their fingers entwining.
"Then don't." Her statement was simple. Very her. She tugged him toward her.
"What about the Chantry?" He touched her hip gingerly at first, then splayed his hand over her back.
"They can find someone else." She touched his cheek with her fingertips, then skimmed her fingernails into his hair. She paused. "Don't ever break my heart again." She bent down to bring her lips to his.
"Kick my arse if I'm an idiot again." He said, a breath away.
Her lips curved in a smile. Her first. "Your arse is going to be very sore."
"Kiss me first then?" He entreated.
Their lips met. Months of pent up need and want simmered.
Erien met Cullen's gaze. "You think we should go in there? Make sure there is no bodily harm?"
"Hell no," Cullen shook his head, horrified.
"It wasn't that bad, Curly," Iron Bull rumbled, dropping a massive arm over Cullen's shoulders. "But you should remember to knock first."
"Bull, no offence, but I never want to see that ever again," Cullen stated emphatically, but didn't shrug away. He grinned at Erien's laughter.
Erien stepped forward, brushed a kiss over Cullen's lips, a gesture he now accepted in public without blushing furiously.
"Leave them be," The Iron Bull rumbled, and smiled over at the Tevinter mage that sauntered into the reception hall. "I have a feeling that it will all be alright."
Erien curled against Cullen's warmth later that night, his arms a comforting brace against the night terrors that took her once in a while. She had woken a few moments ago, but his murmur of comfort and familiar scent had quieted her. Not willing to wake him she just lay quietly, staring up at the stars through the hole in the roof she had begged him not repair.
Dorian sleepily turned over in Bull's embrace, his lean, handsome features pressing against Bull's chest whilst his palm propped under his cheek. Bull's hand splayed over Dorian's bare back.
Bull smiled. At last he was at peace.
Cassandra stretched and startled as her arm thwacked against a solid, warm chest only inches away that grunted a moment later. Her lips curved in a smile when a muscular arm wrapped around her midriff and drew her close.
"We need a bigger bed," Varric muttered darkly, his eyes barely open.
She ran her fingertips over his ribs and down the lean curve of his butt. "I'm game."
He growled low in his throat, and with a manoeuvre that surprised her, he shifted and settled into the crux of her thighs, his mouth inches above hers, his gaze fixed steadily. "Is it morning?"
Cassandra glanced toward the window and the orb of the moon glowed brightly in the night sky, casting her austere features into a play of shadow and light that he studied with a smile.
"Hours yet," she murmured, her pale skin glowing in the reflected glory of that heavenly body. She turned back to meet his gaze. She reached up and curved her hand over his cheek, her palm prickling with the familiar touch of his beard.
Varric's hand skimmed up her thigh, into the crook of her knee and he ground himself against her just once. "Tired?"
"Not even close." She wrapped her long legs around his hips and met his kiss with one of her own.
When he slid into her a few minutes later, she sighed, then groaned. And when his lips took hers, she whimpered. "Oh, Varric…."
"I love you…" he mouthed, barely above a whisper as his body moved in the dance she had not known she had missed so badly.
Her arms wrapped around his shoulders. "I love you too."