A/N: I came up with this idea weeks ago, but didn't get the motivation/energy to write it until Friday at work. Then it all sort of... spilled out of me. It's Sunday now, and I can publish it. That was damn quick.
Their first kiss is almost accidental.
They are in Val Royeaux, in Leliana's apartment in the Grand Cathedral. Josephine has decided to stay the night, as she is rather drunker than she should be and it is late. To go out into the streets in her current state would be highly inappropriate, and if she is seen, it would fuel such scandal amongst the nobility. Not that anyone has a leg to stand on, but it doesn't matter. Josephine knows what would be said if she were to leave the Grand Cathedral drunk.
So she stays at the Grand Cathedral, getting drunker. Besides, she likes Leliana's company. The Left Hand is normally so serious, and her sadness runs deep. Not that she is always sad. When they are alone, not seeing to business, Leliana is flirtatious and playful, and it sets Josephine's heart fluttering. But beneath that, Leliana bears the scars of more pain than Josephine can conceive of. She is curious, and has drawn some of it out over the years they have known each other. She knows Leliana loved the Hero of Ferelden, and that the Left Hand was devastated when the Hero sacrificed herself to stop the Blight and the archdemon.
It left her heart scarred. Josephine cannot blame her.
But when Leliana invites her to stay the night, the Antivan Ambassador's heart skips. There is only one bed in here. It is narrow, not meant for double occupancy. Leliana is flirtatious. Could this mean more than friendship?
She drinks and steels herself for disappointment. Her heart won't calm. When it is finally time to stumble toward the bed, Josephine has trouble finding the laces to her bodice. Her fingers are clumsy.
Leliana giggles. "Too much wine, Josie!" Her fingers gently move Josephine's aside and begin to unlace her bodice. The Left Hand's blue eyes sparkle, her lips turned up in a half-smile. They are so close. They share each other's air.
Josephine leans in, finding Leliana's lips with her own. The Left Hand does not pull away, and the ambassador's heart finds purchase in her throat when Leliana's lips part in a delicious sigh. They kiss for several minutes, softly, lips warm and yielding, tongues exploring the slightest bit. When they part, seemingly mutually, Josephine tries to speak, but she cannot. Her heart in her throat robs her of her voice.
"That was lovely," Leliana says, smiling as she cups Josephine's cheek a moment before continuing with the ambassador's bodice. Josephine thinks, as the dress is pushed down over her hips, that they will be going to bed together, that her slip will shortly follow and join her dress, draped over a chair. They do go to bed together, but no more kisses are shared, no more of her clothes are drawn away. Leliana merely guides Josephine's head to her shoulder. Her drink has her asleep in mere minutes, luxuriating in the soft feeling of Leliana's body pressed to hers.
They do not speak of it come morning.
Their second kiss is definitely intentional.
They are in Haven. It is so cold here! Josephine goes everywhere with a cloak. Leliana and Cassandra tease her mercilessly for it. Even the Divine teases her. But she cannot seem to get warm, not truly. Even the water in the bathhouse is not hot enough for her, warm but lacking the small wafts of steam that tell her a bath is the right temperature.
It is not until Leliana presents her with a lovely gift that anyone truly realizes how cold she always is.
"I thought a pair of fur-lined gloves might help, Josie," she says, setting a beautiful pair of light blue, soft leather gloves upon Josephine's desk.
"Oh!" Josephine exclaims, wiping her hands of any still-wet ink before picking the gloves up to examine them. They are smooth as a babe's skin, supple and well-oiled. The wrists are lined with fur. And, best of all, they match Josephine's typical color scheme. Leliana would think of that. "They are lovely!"
"Let me help you," Leliana says, taking the gloves from her, gently, always gently. They have not been so physically close since that night in Val Royeaux, six months before. "Josie, your fingers are freezing!" Leliana takes both her hands, tugging the ambassador closer, enveloping icy fingers with her own. The Left Hand's are incredibly warm, radiating heat. They are gloveless, a rarity these days. Josephine's breath hitches with the proximity of Leliana's face, of her body. She groans at the warmth.
A pale hand abandons her freezing fingers, reaching up to her cheek instead. Blue eyes catch hazel, holding them a moment. The hand on her cheek glides behind her neck, and a gentle pressure pulls Josephine even closer to Leliana. Pale skin, flushed the slightest bit pink, fills her vision, and then she closes her eyes. Lips cover her own. They are warm and soft, just like last time.
But they are also hungry now. Leliana wastes no time in moving her hand lower, wrapping around Josephine's waist and pulling their bodies flush. The ambassador's heart pounds against her ribs, filling her ears with its insistent beat. She gasps when Leliana bites her lip, growling slightly. Josephine moans. Leliana growls again, her other hand now grabbing hold of Josephine's thigh.
She lifts, and the ambassador is sitting on her own desk, Leliana between her legs, pushing into her. Their lips have not parted. Leliana's hands roam freely, and Josephine feels overwhelmed. Is this really happening?
Are we going to do this right here in my office? The Divine is right outside the door!
Leliana bites her lip, hard, coaxing a groan of pleasure out of Josephine.
Perhaps we are.
"Josephine, I needed to know if- oh." Leliana pushes away from Josephine, but the damage is done. The ambassador is still seated on her desk, and Cassandra is still standing just inside the door. Josephine and Leliana both look anywhere but the Right Hand, straightening their clothes. Josephine slides off her desk, rather indelicately. When she finally looks to Cassandra, she sees the Seeker wears a small smirk.
"I will come back in a few minutes," Cassandra finally says, exiting the room, but leaving the door open.
"I… will take my leave," Leliana says, rushing for the door.
But it is no use. The Left Hand is gone. Will they once again pretend as though this never happened? The broken skin on Josephine's lower lips will not let her forget, that is certain.
She puts the gloves on. They smell like Leliana.
Their third kiss is for comfort.
It is also the first night they make love.
The explosion at the Conclave is three days' past. The survivor is no longer dying, but she languishes unconscious in a cell. The Divine is dead. Josephine is stunned, going through the motions of her work. What even is her work in the wake of this tragedy? Will the Inquisition still be reborn?
Leliana walks with red-rimmed eyes, and her words are cutting. Josephine knows that she weeps, but the ambassador has not witnessed it. She longs to offer comfort, but Leliana has been distant since the day they kissed in her office. The Left Hand keeps to herself and away from the inside of the Chantry, away from Josephine and her office.
It is hard not to take it personally. With the Divine's death, she could use a friend. And she suspects Leliana could, as well. She walks in the courtyard now, aimless, wishing to work off some of the nervous energy that builds up when she sits all day at her desk. She passes Leliana's cabin. Should she knock and attempt to speak with the Left Hand of the Divine? Or should she respect Leliana's wishes, which are obvious in her avoidance of the ambassador?
Her decision is made for her when she walks past, intent on not disturbing the Left Hand. She hears weeping. Such anguish. She goes to the door before she can think better of it. She knocks.
"Leliana, it is me!" she announces. "Please don't turn me away?"
The sobbing stops immediately, and for a moment Josephine thinks that Leliana is going to ignore the ambassador, effectively turning her away. Am I bold enough to barge in? Would I demand she see me, let me comfort her?
Her fears - and her turmoil - are unfounded. The door opens, and she catches a glimpse of red hair and purple vestments before Leliana's body is suddenly in her arms. She immediately grips tightly to the other woman, easing her just inside the door, just far enough to toe it closed for privacy.
Leliana sobs into Josephine's shoulder, and it is all the ambassador can do to hold her and let the storm pass. There is no shushing her, or telling her she need not cry. She is mourning. Mourning is a period for grief, for wailing, for keening, for weeping. And it is a time for comfort to be given and accepted. It is a time for people to come together.
Leliana has been alone. Josephine should have forced the issue three days ago.
"I am here, Leliana," she says, now that the former bard has quieted some. "I am not going anywhere."
Leliana nods, but says nothing, tucking her arms further between them as she continues sniffling. Josephine holds around her waist, holding her close. She should not think of indecent things now, while Leliana holds to her for support and comfort, in her grief. But she cannot help it. Despite the many layers of clothing between them, she feels the other woman's body. She remembers the feel of her lips, of her roaming hands, pinching and grabbing and claiming. She remembers being lifted so easily by a woman who is only just her own size, and not as well rounded. It was thrilling. It sends a shiver through her now.
"Josie?" Leliana pulls back the slightest bit, enough to catch Josephine's gaze. "Are you all right?"
Josephine smiles, shakes her head, incredulous. "You ask such things while you are in my arms, weeping? Honestly, Leliana."
Leliana's hands venture out from between them, going to brush a tear from Josephine's cheek. They are, once again, not gloved. "But I am not the only one who weeps, Josie."
Her hand stays on Josephine's cheek. She sniffs. Her eyes are red-rimmed and puffy, but she looks better than she has in days. She has finally cried it out, as it were. She is beautiful. Oh, how lovely she is. Josephine reaches up, tucking a stray strand of hair behind Leliana's ear.
She opens her mouth to speak, but Leliana cuts her off with her lips. She makes a startled sound, but does not pull away, instead curling her fingers to cradle Leliana's head, her other arm tightening around the Left Hand's waist. Leliana's hands rest on Josephine's chest, above her breasts. The ambassador wishes she would move her hands downward, caress her in altogether indecent places.
Josephine pulls back abruptly. "No, Leliana, I am here to be your friend, to comfort you. I can't…"
She trails off as Leliana places a single finger over her lips, feather-soft. "And if this is the sort of comfort I want?" she asks, blue eyes searching Josephine's hazel.
"I… I thought you wished to pretend it never happened?" Josephine blurts, though a whisper only.
Leliana looks a little guilty, her eyes shifting. She makes no move to pull away, however. "I… do not know how much I can give you, Josie. You are my dear friend, and I desire you, but… you deserve someone undamaged, and who can open their heart to you. I am far beyond just damaged, and… I cannot give my heart to another. Not like that. Not again."
Josephine's heart soars, then falls at Leliana's estimation of herself. "You are not as you describe, Leliana," she says, palming the woman's cheek and gently getting their eyes to meet again. "You are not damaged – you are resilient. And as far as your heart is concerned… I already have some of it, as your friend, yes? I do not know that now is the right time, but… I would not ask of you more than you are able or willing to give."
Leliana stares into her eyes for a long moment, her hands resting on her chest once more. Josephine can barely stand it, but she will not be the one to initiate this time. This is foolish as it is, with Leliana's eyes puffy from weeping, her emotions compromised from grief. But Josephine cannot tear herself away. She will have to be denied, to be sent away; that is the only way she could leave this woman, this room, at this moment.
Leliana rocks forward, pressing her lips to Josephine's in an almost chaste kiss. She pulls back, examining Josephine's face. The ambassador does not know what she looks for, but she assumes whatever it might be is found, for Leliana rocks forward again. She peppers Josephine's lips in progressively stronger kisses, until their lips blaze like they did in the ambassador's office week before. Leliana's hands do not rest passively on Josephine's chest. Instead, they begin untying her bodice.
It is many long minutes of kissing and shifting and saying nothing before they are nude. They fall into bed together, and Josephine draws the most delicious sighs out of Leliana.
They fall asleep tangled together, furs drawn over them to keep them warm, the fire having never been started in the grate.
They do not kiss again until Haven falls.
Leliana was provided the comfort she needed, and informed Josephine in the morning that while it was lovely and precisely what she needed, she is not sure they should do it again. Josephine is crestfallen, but nods her acceptance. Leliana's past is rich and complicated, with many often-conflicting emotions running through it. Who knows what she is thinking, what intimacy reminds her of? Josephine is less experienced, and could not say what Leliana needs. She does not wish to be a burden on her friend, who already bears so much upon her slight shoulders.
They go back to being friendly and flirtatious. There are several almost-kisses. But nothing more untoward happens.
Until death and destruction and crippling, tangible fear rain down upon them. They escape Haven and regroup in the mountains. She and Leliana fight with each other, with Cassandra, with Cullen. Faith is partially restored by Mother Giselle. They agree to get some sleep, and Josephine and Leliana are given a small tent to share. They will have to share a bedroll. It is fine. It is more than is afforded many others.
"How are you doing, Josie?"
Josephine is freezing. She took her dress off in an attempt to let it air out. She lies in only her slip, her stockings also hung in an attempt to keep them fresh. It is perhaps silly, vain, but in times of crisis Josephine clings to these small signs of civility. What are they without civility? What happens when words and gestures and cordiality all fail? They become animals. Josephine will not become an animal.
"It would be rude to regale you with my personal misery," Josephine finally answers, though she can't see Leliana, as the spymaster is facing the ambassador's back. "It would be too long a tale." She smiles at Leliana's chuckle. "And besides, I am far more comfortable than most, even if this blanket is as thin as parchment and about as useful."
"Josie…" Josephine feels Leliana's arm circle around her. "Come here. I shall warm you up."
Josephine's heart flutters. It has been many months since they were so close. She did not forget the scent of Leliana, nor the feel, nor the taste. She has awoken many times with the ghost of Leliana upon her lips, teasing her tongue with its memory. She is not sure she will sleep while this close to the object of her desire. She might die, however. Dying seems like a reasonable option at this point.
She does turn around. Leliana pulls her close, combining their thin wool blankets before wrapping both arms around Josephine's shoulders. The ambassador begins shivering, and she can't help herself. She buries her frozen nose into the fabric of Leliana's shirt, at her collarbone, and touches her frozen toes to the spymaster's feet.
"Maker, Josie, you didn't lie. You poor thing, so cold all the time, and nearly frozen now." Leliana presses a small kiss to Josephine's forehead, a hand stroking her disheveled hair. One kiss becomes another. Josephine barely breathes. She does not want the affection to end. She has been starved for it.
Finally, she tilts her face up, slowly, hoping Leliana does not stop. Truly, Josephine acts as though Leliana is a feral kitten, that she will start and run away. But the spymaster does not. She merely presses a kiss to Josephine's brow, then her nose. The next kiss is caught by Josephine's lips. She gasps. Leliana is fire. Her lips sear. Her tongue scorches when it pushes into Josephine's mouth. Her grip tightens and heat suffuses through the ambassador.
They part panting. "Please, Leliana," Josephine breathes, unashamed to beg for the spymaster's touch. Her need is too great, and the prize is literally in her arms.
Leliana looks like she might refuse her, but her hands begin to roam, and her demeanor changes. Josephine can't see much, only what the light of the fires and the moon shining through the canvas of the tent show, but she can feel. Leliana shifts, pulling Josephine underneath her. She grinds a thigh immediately between the ambassador's legs. Their lips finally meet again, and Josephine is on fire.
She reaches down and rucks up Leliana's tunic, relishing the squeal that falls from the former bard's lips. She forgot her fingers are still ice, for the fire in her blood is roaring, warming all of her.
Leliana takes charge, and soon Josephine clamps her hand over her mouth to keep from screaming as she comes apart at the spymaster's skillful touch. They continue throughout the night, dozing in spurts before waking and warming back up again, their mouths and hands and teeth tearing into the other.
They share a room when they settle in Skyhold.
It is strange. No words are spoken on the matter, but the dam seems to have burst. They come to each other time and again. Either Josephine slips into Leliana's narrow bed, or she finds the spymaster lifting her own covers. Sometimes it is gentle. Other times it is rough, leaving Josephine bruised and exhausted, but happy and sated.
As Skyhold shapes up into their headquarters, the two women conduct business like normal. Leliana takes up residence in the rookery, Josephine in the office near the war room. They rarely see each other under the light of the sun.
But in the light of the moon through the window in their room, which they continue to share, they see all there is to see. With the fire roaring, Leliana draws cries from Josephine's lips. With the pillow over her face to muffle the screams, Josephine brings Leliana to ecstasy time and again.
It is thrilling. But they do not talk. They lie in each other's arms. Leliana even holds Josephine, her thumb passing over her shoulder over and over again in a simple, easy caress. Night after night Josephine wishes to break the silence, but she is terrified of what that might mean.
She knows she wants more. And she knows she told Leliana she would not ask for it. But that was months ago. Surely the spymaster's feelings have changed some? Josephine does not know much of the Hero of Ferelden. Leliana is tight-lipped about that. Leliana is tight-lipped about much. Flirtations fall from her lips with ease, stories from before her life as a bard abound, but the truth about her life and her heart since? Those remain behind lock and key.
"I wish I knew more," she finds herself saying aloud one night. Her jaws immediately lock. How could she breach the silence? Surely this will ruin the spell?! Josephine wants more, not less!
Leliana pauses in her stroking of Josephine's shoulder. The ambassador holds her breath. What will happen now?
"What do you want to know more about? What makes me scream? Because you have a fair handle on that, Josie." She resumes her stroking, her arm tightening the slightest bit around Josephine's shoulders.
The ambassador finally exhales. Her whole body relaxes as she chuckles, blushing at Leliana's words. "You," she says in answer. "I wish I knew more about you. Your life. Your past. Your family."
Leliana evades. "I don't want to talk about that." She turns, rolling on top of Josephine, leaning forward and biting the skin of the ambassador's throat hard. Josephine squeals, digging her nails into the spymaster's back. She wants to stop this, to make Leliana talk and not evade. But it feels too delicious, and the spymaster's skin is so glorious that she soon loses the will to do anything but follow Leliana's growled commands. Leliana is more and more dominant, more and more possessive.
Josephine will do anything the spymaster wants her to.
She doesn't learn anything new about Leliana until the day she is attacked. It is also the first outward sign of some feeling toward Josephine that is not friendship.
The House of Repose has been silent since her meeting with their representative. It is their way. Honestly, the fact that they reached out about the contract is strange in and of itself. Josephine is lucky to know about it at all. Any other circumstance would have her know of the contract on her life only once she is bleeding onto the flagstones of her office. But in this one instance, the House of Repose saw fit to inform her that they were under contract to take care of her should she fail to settle the matter with the Du Paraquettes.
Leliana is frustrating. She is protective, but also distances herself, assigning guards but not asking Josephine how she feels, how she is holding up. Before they shared a bed, Leliana would have inquired about the ambassador's well-being, sharing an embrace and perhaps a small kiss to her hair. She would have shared her friendship. But now that they share a bed, Leliana is distant in all other matters. Does she try to balance their interactions somehow? If they sleep together, but do not interact during the day, then it evens out to be equal, somehow, to what they had before?
It is preposterous, of course, but Josephine is familiar with the lies people tell themselves. She has told herself a fair few in her twenty-eight years.
Leliana's silence ends the day the House of Repose's silence ends. The assassin comes for Josephine in the night, as she sits up late doing work. She knows Leliana awaits her in their rooms – it is far later than normal – but this missive must be written, sent with the morning batch. It would be extremely rude to keep the duke waiting.
The door creaks. A small grunt sounds, barely audible. Josephine looks up in time to see a man in black dart into her office, a spreading pool of blood in his wake.
Josephine throws herself from her chair, but not soon enough. The thin throwing knife misses her throat, but it buries itself in her shoulder. She stumbles, cries out, and then the man is on top of her. He has another knife in his hand. All Josephine can think is that the knife must not touch her throat.
She lashes out with her palm, relying on training that never truly left her. The man bleeds, his nose broken. He makes no sound. The knife flashes. Josephine catches the blade in her hand. It cuts deep into her palm, but it does not reach her throat. She cries in pain, but wills herself to see through it, to blink back the tears. The blade has stopped and it allows her a few precious seconds.
Her free hand lashes out again, punching her attacker in the throat. He coughs, chokes, and Josephine is able to wrench the knife from his grip. Two seconds later, the man collapses, half on top of her, bleeding profusely, his throat cut. His blood is hot, soaking into her dress, but she can barely think beyond the pain in her hand, in her shoulder. Now that the danger is over, she knows something is very wrong in her shoulder. All the wrenching and moving with the blade buried to the hilt must have severed something. Her arm weighs five times as much as normal. She can barely move it.
And her hand, too, will barely close. A tendon, at the very least, has been severed.
She wriggles out from under her attacker. She finds her feet, her injured hand pressing to the floor to lift her because her injured shoulder cannot. Josephine staggers to the door, where she finds her guards' blood covering the floor of the small anteroom. They are pale, having bled out. Obviously dead. They died so quietly.
She stumbles past them, out into the main hall.
"Josie, why are you still work- Josie!"
Leliana is there, presumably coming to check on her. It is very late. She falls to her knees just as Leliana reaches her.
"Repose," Josephine manages to whisper, and then the black that has been creeping around her vision takes her, and she knows no more.
Until she awakens on some soft, pillowy surface.
She groans, the throbbing ache hitting her all at once.
"Josie, you're awake!" Leliana's voice is soft, but she sounds delighted, relieved. Josephine opens her eyes to the early-dawn gloom lighting hers and Leliana's bedroom. The former bard sits on the edge of the bed. Josephine feels the woman's hand on her arm, and her brows are drawn together in concern. "How do you feel, Josie?"
Josephine tries to speak, but her tongue feels like it is encased in cotton. It chokes her, and she coughs. Pain lances through her abdomen, through her lungs, through her arms and legs. Her hand, the one that caught the knife, feels as though it has been crushed, yet she can move it. She can move all of it. She groans again, curling to her side into a ball. That sound, at least, doesn't seem to cause discomfort.
"Here," Leliana says, and Josephine finds a soaked cloth pressed to her lips. She sucks, wetting her mouth with water, like a babe. But it does the trick, and she is able to move her tongue and speak.
"I feel terrible," she murmurs.
Leliana chuckles. "Yes, I gathered as much." Josephine looks up to see a glint in the spymaster's eyes. Concern also lives there. And… something else. Leliana is radiant in the gloom. Her cowl is gone, as are her vestments, leaving her in a thin undershirt, sleeveless, and the thinnest of linen trousers. They are so thin they are almost scandalous, though that matters not – Josephine has seen all there is to see.
"I don't remember…"
Leliana's eyes grow hard immediately. "The House of Repose sent an assassin to fulfill their contract. He killed my guards and nearly killed you. But you killed him first. Well done, Josie. I'm glad you have not forgotten the skills you learned before you became a diplomat." She looks away. "I have seen to the matter. In days we shall have the contract here, and you will be molested no more."
Josephine's heart kicks. "But the Du Paraquettes…"
"It was taking too long, Josie." Leliana's eyes flash as she turns back to her. "I know you wished for a more peaceful resolution, but you cannot do your work if you are dead. There are people here who depend on you. The Inquisition depends on you. It needs you. I-" Leliana chokes out a sob on the last word. She cannot say it.
So Josephine says it. "You need me?"
Leliana says nothing, only nods, blinking back tears. The light has increased. Dawn is here, the sun's first rays setting Leliana's hair afire.
Josephine knows not what to think. Leliana confessed feelings, but only just. What are those feelings? Josephine deals in words. It is so confusing and frustrating to be denied them in something so crucial. But… why can she not merely plunge forward and use her own words?
She is not given more time to think on it. Leliana is in control of herself again. "Come. You are still covered in dried blood. Do you feel up to a bath?"
Josephine nods, but getting out of bed is difficult. Leliana catches her, helps her to the claw-footed tub that has been brought in. "Dorian was able to heal all your wounds, though you will be sore and short of breath for several days."
"Well. At least I am to be spared the difficulty of disrobing," Josephine quips, voice a little hoarse.
Leliana chuckles. "Yes, I took the liberty of doing that for you." Her eyes haze over slightly. "We had to cut you out of your clothes, actually. I am sorry. We can replace the dress."
"I am sure it was necessary, Leliana," Josephine says, reaching up to cup her cheek. "I do not mind. It saved my life, after all."
Leliana nods. "That it did."
Josephine lowers herself into the water with difficulty. Leliana helps. It is divine, the warm water. "How long ago did you call for this to be filled?" She wonders aloud.
"You began talking in your sleep about half an hour ago. I figured if you did not use the bath before the water cooled, then I would."
Josephine nods. "I see."
She soaks in the water. Leliana kneels next to the bath. They are quiet for a time, like they are at night, as the sweat is drying and Josephine lets a thousand questions die on her tongue. Leliana reaches into the water and begins clearing away the blood that is dried onto Josephine's skin.
"Something like this happened to her," Leliana says, out of nowhere, voice so soft that Josephine almost misses it. It is obvious to Josephine who "she" is: the Hero, Eloise Tabris, vanquisher of the Blight, and unbeknownst to most, fiercely in love with Leliana. "She took a blade meant for me. Three blades, in fact. I killed our assailants, then held her as she bled. We were lucky. Wynne caught up to us, healed her. I knew I loved her then, in that moment. I had said nothing to her of my feelings, but when she cupped my cheek with her bloody hand, I could keep it from her no longer. I kissed her. Tasting her blood on her lips, I kissed her, and my heart swelled."
Leliana sighs, is quiet for a moment. "Tonight, I held you as you bled, Josie. I… it was a familiar place to be, but not at all in a comforting way. Why must I keep losing the people in my life? Everything I touch…"
Josephine's heart swells. "Leliana…" She turns. It is painful, but she must touch this woman. Her doubt and confusion melt away in the face of this confession. She reaches out, pulling Leliana to her, kissing her as fiercely as her tender body will allow. Knowing it is merely soreness and not something actually wrong helps her push the pain aside.
She kisses Leliana's eyes, tasting the salt of her tears. She kisses Leliana's lips, tasting the heat of her passion. She pulls insistently at the spymaster's clothes, and they come away. Leliana sinks into the water, resting her head on Josephine's shoulder, allowing them both to take some comfort in this moment. It is so rare that Leliana is vulnerable. And Josephine knows this vulnerability will not last, that come the sun and clothing and the presence of others, Leliana will don her invisible armor and continue to pretend that she has no feelings; for, in her mind, those she cherishes, she loses.
But that moment has not yet come, and Josephine will relish what she is given while it is given. She can do no more. It is not fair to ask more from this woman. Not now.
She must do so soon, however, or stop their liaisons. For, in this moment of hallowed vulnerability, Josephine sees that she is utterly in love, and she must soon stop torturing herself. But for now… for now she lives in this moment, holding Leliana and trying desperately to show her that she will not be torn from her side, not this night and not ever.
Not unless you keep pushing me away, dear Leliana.
She finally pushes Leliana away the day she learns that her parents have arranged her marriage to Lord Otranto of Antiva.
She is beside herself at the news. What are they thinking?! Yes, Josephine is a little older, approaching thirty, but an arranged marriage?! She is the ambassador to the Inquisition! She cannot go back to Antiva, marry some stranger, and bear him children!
She seeks out Leliana. Perhaps she shouldn't, but she can't help it. They share a bed every night, and the spymaster has finally started to open up, telling stories of her past. She mostly avoids the Hero, but she speaks of her mother, of the better times with Marjolaine, of her companions during the Blight. The stories of King Alistair are always amusing. Their time together resembles a relationship, at least under the cover of darkness. No words of feeling have been uttered, but Josephine tells herself that she does not need the words, that she has the actions that should always support the words.
She almost believes it.
She goes to Leliana because she does not know what else to do. She is panicking, and she needs to figure out how to fix this. She goes to Leliana because the spymaster soothes her soul, and because she retains a cool head in crises. She goes to Leliana because the woman is clever, and can bring nations to their knees should she so choose.
This problem is certainly small in comparison.
Her shoes crunch in the dried bird dung up in the rookery. It makes her shudder. She has not actually been up here yet, avoiding Leliana in her sanctuary. The woman's work is essential, but that does not mean Josephine wishes to see how the favors and secrets Leliana obtains for the Inquisition are put together. Something about sausage and politics… if you like it, don't watch it being made, Josephine thinks, remembering an old adage her father once told her when she announced she would be Antiva's Ambassador to Orlais. Add to that the work of a spymaster.
She finds Leliana immediately. The former bard sits and stares at missives, layers upon layers of messages and maps sitting on the writing table in front of her.
"Hmm?" Leliana looks up, clearly having been staring at nothing as she thought. "What is it, Josie?"
"I… I'm engaged!" she blurts, pleading.
Leliana merely blinks up at her.
"Don't… don't you have anything to say?!"
"Who did you propose to?"
Josephine lets out a frustrated sound. "I didn't propose, Leliana! My parents have… arranged a match. As if I am a child! As if I am not carrying on with…" She watches Leliana's eyes narrow. She has come dangerously close to saying something she should not say. She groans again. "I must get out of it. I must… I cannot continue with you-"
"Do what you want," Leliana interrupts. "Marry him. You are not mine." Her tone snaps. "That you would suppose such a thing from our liaisons – distractions during a stressful time – is your mistake, Lady Montilyet."
Josephine stops moving. All she can do is stare at Leliana. The spymaster has not used her family name since they first met, almost eight years before. She… she cares not? She sees Josephine upset, and she does this? A hot spike of anger lances through her. She seethes. The mere mention, the mere acknowledgement that they have been intimate in some way for over a year, and Leliana reduces it to stress relief?!
"Fine," Josephine says, clipped. "I shall do as I see fit. And I shall keep out of your way."
"That would be best," Leliana says, looking away, out the single door and into the sky. It is raining in Skyhold. "Best not to distract each other, yes?"
Josephine keeps her poise until she gets to her bedroom. Then she loses her temper, finally, pacing and swearing in Antivan and throwing a dagger, burying it in the door again and again until the frenetic energy of her anger is spent.
When Leliana comes to her that night, pulling the covers back, Josephine turns her back upon the spymaster. The redhead does not take the hint, sliding her hand down Josephine's hip and around, heading for the intimate area between her legs. For the first time, Leliana's touch sends the heat of anger, and not the heat of arousal, spreading through her. She slaps Leliana's hand away, hearing the sound clearly despite the blankets muffling it.
Leliana gasps, pulls her hand away, drops the covers. "Josie?" she murmurs. Her hand appears again, this time on the ambassador's shoulder.
"Go to bed, Leliana," Josephine says, her voice hard and cold. Or hot. Antivans always get hot in their anger, as opposed to Leliana, who is the ice queen.
The hand disappears. Leliana's presence, which Josephine can always feel, retreats. The bedcovers rustle. They spend their first night apart since coming to Skyhold. It is cold and lonely, and Josephine does not get any sleep.
The next night, Leliana does not go straight to bed. Josephine watches – feigning sleep – as Leliana approaches her own bed. She stands just a few feet away, watching Josephine. Likely she knows the ambassador is not asleep, possibly even that she is watched in return. She is the spymaster, after all.
Leliana retreats after a time, not trying to touch Josephine again.
They come together again in anger, in loneliness, in desperation.
It took Josephine weeks to come to a decision about Lord Otranto. She will not marry him, but she must remove herself from the engagement delicately. She writes her mother that she would like to meet the man who is her betrothed. She will bypass her parents and appeal to the man directly. Surely he will not wish to marry someone who will be spending all her time in Skyhold? It is a start, at least.
Leliana bursts into her office. She has not seen the woman in weeks. The spymaster comes to bed after Josephine and is up and out before she awakens. She has not seen the bags under the spymaster's eyes. She has not seen the tense set to the redhead's shoulders. She has not heard the hoarse voice the former bard possesses.
"I cannot stand this, Josie!" she exclaims, stalking toward Josephine's desk. The ambassador stands.
"What ever do you mean, Sister Leliana?"
"Do not do that, Josie. It was cruel of me. You are not cruel. You…" She gets close very fast. "I need you, Josie! I need you." She reaches out, cups Josie's cheek. "I need you." She leans in, kisses Josie's throat. "I need you." She repeats it like a prayer, like it's own Chant, over and over, peppering Josephine with kisses.
The ambassador cannot move. She can barely breathe. Her anger is no longer hot and lancing; it cools under Leliana's touch. Her hurt is soothed by Leliana's lips. The fire of her anger is doused by the scent and taste and very nearness of this woman who she has so foolishly fallen for.
Leliana's hands search. We are in my office! We will be seen! Caught! This is highly inadvisable! And yet Josephine cannot stop the storm that is Leliana's passion, could not even if she detested the woman's very presence. Which she does not. She reaches out, pulls Leliana closer, and then they are kissing with such ardor that she is sure her lips will blister from the heat of it.
Oh, how she has missed this. Oh how she has needed Leliana to be this near.
Leliana pushes her into her desk. She is almost rough, but Josephine can feel the desperation in her touch. Her gloves come off and her fingers ruck up Josephine's skirt. One hand travels over Josephine's backside, getting a good handful before moving lower, hooking under her thigh and lifting it. The other hand, smooth as anything, pulls aside her drawers and enters her in a single, fluid motion. Josephine gasps. Leliana swallows her cries, hungry, pulling even more from her.
She comes apart at her desk. They stand together, panting, foreheads resting against each other. Josephine's leg is still hooked over Leliana's arm. Leliana's hand is still buried in Josephine's center.
"Perhaps," Josephine manages, swallowing and taking a deep breath to steady herself. "Perhaps we should reconvene in the bedroom?" She palms Leliana's cheek. "It seems we have much to discuss."
Leliana does not wait for the bedroom. "Do you want to marry him? Were you seeking a betrothal while… while…"
Josephine is astounded. "Leliana. Surely you know that it is you I want, and no one else? I have taken everything you have offered, for I know it is all your bruised, battered heart will give me. You are… you are the only one I desire, Leliana. It hurts, and it tortures, and I want more than mere liaisons under the cover of dark, but I want it from you."
The former bard nods, closing her eyes. It seems she fights back tears, from some complicated set of emotions she will not give voice to, has never given voice to.
Josephine supposes she herself has also never given voice to her feelings, either.
Leliana pulls herself from Josephine's center, causing the ambassador to gasp again. She releases Josephine's leg. The ambassador can barely stand. "I have to go. I have urgent business to handle."
"But, the bedroom…" They must talk. They are so close to actually talking.
Leliana shakes her head. Her cowl has miraculously stayed in place. "I must go." She backs away. Josephine immediately misses their contact. "I must go." She turns, and is gone as swiftly as she arrived.
Leliana does not return for several weeks.
Josephine had no idea that Leliana meant she had to leave Skyhold. She worries for the spymaster. She worries for the Inquisition. She worries for herself. Will Leliana ever come back? Will Josephine be left in this strange limbo of half-confessed feelings? She writes her mother, sends it, hears back from Yvette, whom she had written weeks ago. Lazy girl. Her mother stays silent.
It worries her.
She throws herself into her duties, meeting with diplomats, with nobles, advising the Inquisitor. She arranges trade for her family. She buys back some of the holdings they used to possess. Her family is recovering. Josephine's heart, however, is left in this dreadful state of limbo. When she cannot take the inactivity of sitting at her desk, she leaves, walking the ramparts, always searching for a glint of red on the horizon, hoping that this will be the day Leliana returns. She never finds it.
It is not until she has nearly given up hope that Leliana finally returns.
Josephine is in her office. She is rarely not in her office. She is drafting a missive to the King of Ferelden, Alistair Theirin. He is frustrating. He hates formality, but knows it must be used. Josephine finds that if she is overly formal, he is less willing to do business with her, but she cannot drop all formalities. What if somebody else, anybody else, finds and reads their correspondence? It would be rude, embarrassing, and the diplomat cannot fathom the far-reaching consequences. So she must be delicate, use exactly the right amount of formal address.
It is difficult. Her mind will not focus properly.
The door opens, and a messenger enters. The man wordlessly offers a small strip of paper to her, rolled. It is puzzling. Josephine dismisses him and unrolls the parchment.
"I am waiting in our room."
Josephine's heart kicks. This is Leliana's handwriting, and who else could it be, besides? "Our room." Leliana is back. Why… why did no one inform me?
Josephine deliberates. The anger comes back, fresh and hot and red behind her eyes. I am being summoned? How dare she! She leaves me weak-kneed after fucking me on my desk, leaves Skyhold, and now she summons me?! Josephine fumes. She paces her office. She should not go to Leliana.
I will let her know my anger. This cannot stand.
She abandons her letter to King Alistair, climbing the stairs in such a temper that she is sure steam drifts from her ears. She opens the door to her bedroom, finding Leliana, still dressed for travel, looking out the window upon the grounds of Skyhold.
"Leliana, what is this?!" she shouts, throwing the note upon the ground. "You summon me? Like a pet?"
Leliana turns, says nothing. She walks forward. Josephine seethes. "You will not answer me? You will say nothing, just as you always have?!"
Leliana shakes her head, hands shifting. Josephine sees that she holds something.
"What is that?"
Leliana stops a few paces away. She looks… sad. She holds the box out to Josephine. The ambassador eyes it, wary. "What is this?" she repeats.
Leliana says nothing.
Taking a deep breath to quell her anger, the Antivan reaches out, accepting the box, making sure not to brush Leliana's fingers with her own. It is a small wooden box, like what someone might keep a precious piece of jewelry in.
"It is a gift," Leliana finally murmurs. She does not move, does not meet Josephine's eyes. But there is something in her tone that spurs the ambassador forward, opening the box to find…
Another rolled note. She takes it from the box. This one is bigger, thicker, a sheet of parchment folded in thirds and then rolled. She unrolls it, unfolds it, and reads. There is much pomp and circumstance, but the part that catches her eye, that she reads over and over, is short and simple, and yet everything.
"This document releases Lady Josephine Montilyet from betrothal to Lord Adorno Ciel Otranto."
Beneath, it is signed by Lord Otranto himself.
Josepine's eyes go back up to find that Leliana is on her knees in front of her, blue eyes looking up at her. She has never before seen such a pleading look in Leliana's eyes.
"Please forgive me, Josie," she says. Her voice is low, solemn, carrying the sincerity Josephine rarely hears coming from the spymaster. "I have wronged you in every way. I have taken advantage of your feelings, of your friendship, and of your body, all offered to me with such earnestness. I have wronged you, Josie. I thought that perhaps if I indulged, that my feelings would leave me, or would be appeased, and I would be spared the consequences of opening my heart completely."
She pauses, heaves a breath, and then plunges on, not allowing Josephine to interrupt. Though what she would say, she did not know. "But I opened it just enough, and now you reside there, Josie. You reside in my heart. I have lost so much, so many, all of them. I… I cannot lose you, too. Not to my own foolishness, at any rate. If you choose to leave, I understand, but I cannot let myself keep pushing you away. I am afraid, but I am too far gone to shield myself any longer."
She spreads her hands, a gesture that is not lost on Josephine. Here I am. All of me. No tricks, no lies. Just me. "Please forgive me, Josie?"
Josephine does not know what to say, what to feel. This is all she has wanted. She is released from the engagement, and Leliana is on her knees at Josephine's feet, begging for forgiveness. Can she grant it? Can she forgive the months of being strung along like a fish on a hook? Offered bait and then having her heart broken, little by little, piece by piece, until anger lanced its way through the love that had resided there?
She decides to speak her thoughts. That has been the problem this whole time, no? That they have not spoken their thoughts. Josephine is guilty of it as much as Leliana. "You have broken my heart, Leliana," she says, though her tone is not angry. "You have cracked pieces off of it for months. I do not know if I can just… forget all that has happened."
"I am not asking you to, Josie. I want to be held accountable for what I have done to you. That is part of why I spoke with Lord Otranto, why I negotiated for him release you from your engagement. You did not want it, and I want you to have what you want. And… if you still want me… I would do all I can to mend what I have so callously broken."
Josephine's resolve cracks. In a meeting with a diplomat, it never would. She would never be this soft. But this is not a meeting, and it is not with a diplomat. This is Leliana, on her knees in their shared bedroom, and more than that it is both their hearts laid bare. Can she truly say no to this? This thing that she has wanted for so long without fully acknowledging it.
But she forces herself to keep her backbone, at least for another moment. "And what can you do to show me that you have changed, Leliana? What can you do to show me that you will not break my heart again?"
To Josephine's surprise, another, smaller, box is produced. "I have thought on that. Long and hard. I obtained that letter weeks ago, but I was delayed by this question. I think I have the answer. Though in truth it is a question all its own, and I do not know what your answer will be. But I would ask it, anyway, and let you decide."
The small box opens, and within, Josephine sees a glinting piece of metal. The sun captures it, but she cannot tell what it is.
Until Leliana asks her question.
"Will you join with me under the eyes of the Maker, Josie? Will you let me be your bride?" She pauses, fixing Josephine with the full intensity of her gaze, and in that moment, Josephine sees the truth of her heart. "Josephine Montilyet: will you marry me?"
There is only one answer Josephine can say aloud. Her anger is not gone, her heart is still cracked, her memories have not left her. She is still bruised and in need of a balm. But her broken heart is still in love with this woman, and in Leliana's eyes Josephine can see that she is sincere, possibly for the first time since the Blight, laying her heart out for Josephine to tromp all over should she so choose.
She cannot. She will not. She can say only one thing in answer.
"Yes. Yes, Leliana. Yes, I can forgive you. Yes, I will marry you."
Josephine tries to fall to her knees, and Leliana tries to surge to her feet. Leliana wins, scooping Josephine into her arms, her laughter unbridled like a child's, peppering Josephine's face in kisses.
There will be many details to iron out. It will be a scandal at court. Her family might hate her for it. But they have nearly lost the world twice now, and Josephine will not let the world try to end a third time without wedding the one she loves.
And in the end, when she tells this story, she can say with certainty that words can fix any problem. If they had but used their own sooner, then perhaps her heart would not have needed to break before being mended.
A/N: Okay, so, I know that was a whole lot of angst. But yay happy endings, right?
I also know that this kind of borders on an abusive "just give them time and they'll change" message, but I really was going for "use your words, and also even broken people can love again." I hope I managed more toward the latter than the former.