A/N: This one jumps back to somewhere in the middle of Act II
Laica clutched her hands together and tried to pray. What she truly needed at that moment was courage, so she prayed for that.
The confessional door opened and a man slunk out, looking glum. Laica took a deep breath, then another. Out of the corner of her eyes, she saw an old woman creeping towards the now-vacant penitent's cell. Laica darted ahead of her. If she didn't go now, she'd leave. Again.
She slammed the door shut and scrambled to the small kneeler. "Maker have mercy on me, a sinner," she began, slightly breathless. "It's been..." she tried to remember. Had she really not been to confession since Lothering? "Uh... a long time since I've confessed."
The priest cleared his throat. "Proceed, my child," he said in a gravelly voice.
"Well, first I should confess that I pushed an old woman out of the way to get in here. I feel bad about that, but if I had waited any longer I would have lost my nerve."
The priest coughed a dry, hacking cough. "That can't be why you are here, though."
"No," Laica sighed. "It's not. I'm here because of something that happened a while ago. And... it's hard to explain because I'm not sure what my sin was but I'm pretty sure I did sin somewhere because I feel really guilty about it. I'm just having trouble figuring out why."
"Perhaps you could just tell me what happened," the priest suggested. "Maybe we can determine the cause of your guilty conscience together."
Laica wrung her hands. "First of all, we were out on the Wounded Coast hunting some slavers. And we later killed them, but I'm not sorry for that. And I don't think it's a sin in the eye of the Maker to kill slavers. Because wasn't Andraste a slave? Isn't slavery a worse sin than murder? I can't see how killing slavers is a sin." She thought a moment. "Is it a sin to kill slavers? Is that what I feel sorry about?"
"That is a complicated question," the priest mused. "You see-"
"Oh, blast!" she slammed her hand on the prayer rail. "I'm not sorry at all. I've killed plenty more than that. That's not what I feel bad about. So my friends, Varric, Isabela and-" she stopped herself. "And somebody else who lives around here so I'm not going to tell you his name. You might know him, and I don't want to embarrass him."
"Whatever you feel comfortable with sharing, my child," the priest rasped.
"We were tracking these slavers along the Wounded Coast," she continued, "But it was taking longer than I thought. So we made camp. And that's where the trouble started."
"What trouble?" the priest asked.
"I'm getting to that, stop interrupting!" she exclaimed, feeling irritable. "I have to get this story out or I'll lose my nerve again. I've tried to confess this five times already."
"That's a lot of times," the priest said, amused.
"It is. And I could do without the condescension, thank you very much," Laica bristled at his tone
"You are right," the priest sounded sincerely sorry. "My apologies. Please continue."
"Thank you, I will," Laica straightened her robe. "Now where was I? Oh yes. Camp. I didn't tell you, earlier, but Boney had come with us, too."
"Who is Boney?"
"Oh! Sorry. Boney is my dog. I guess you wouldn't know that. Anyway. There was a stream nearby and my friend decided that he wanted to take a bath. Which was really stupid, might I add. We were only out for one night, he could have lived without a bath. The rest of us did. If he wasn't so damned fussy this never would have happened."
"But he is not the one confessing," the priest prodded gently.
"Fine!" Laica huffed. "So my really stupid friend decided he wanted to take a bath. And then my other friends decided to play a prank on him. They found his clothes, and put some scraps of jerky in the pockets."
"That seems like a fairly harmless prank," the priest said, sounding dismissive.
"No!" Laica exclaimed. "It wasn't! But you're forgetting about Boney! They knew he would smell the food, and they thought he would just mess up his clothes. And sense he's so void-taken fussy about everything he would get mad. But that's not what Boney did."
"What did Boney do," the priest asked, the hint of amusement returning to his dry, harsh voice.
Laica decided to ignore it this time. "He dragged my friend's clothes away, all the way back to camp. And when I saw them, I didn't know who they belonged to. My friend usually wears armor, I thought Boney had gotten clothes off a dead body or something! So I took them off the dog to see if they were worth selling. But that's when-"
"Let me guess," the priest said, sounding oddly weary. "That's when your friend appeared."
"Yes! And he said 'Hawke, give me back my pants!'" she said in a poor attempt at Sebastian's accent, "and I just froze, Father. I just froze. I had no idea. And I was so embarrassed. And he stalked over to me and he was so angry. And I guess that's when I started feeling guilty, even though I hadn't done anything wrong!"
"Did you explain the situation to him," the priest asked.
Laica slumped forward, rubbing her forehead. "I tried, Father. But the words just didn't come out. I mean. He was just all naked and wet and angry and he is so attractive and I just couldn't put words together."
The priest was quiet for a moment. "I can see how that would be distracting."
"Very. I'm glad you sympathize," she said, feeling some measure of relief. "So he just grabbed his pants from me and put them on and then he just stood there fuming until he said, 'And I'll have my shirt back, thank you very much,' and snatched it off me and just stalked away."
"So your friend believed that you had stolen his clothing," the priest said.
"Yes," Laica said, feeling just as miserable as she had back at camp. "And then he wouldn't speak to me the rest of the trip. And when I tried to visit with him when we were back in town, I was told he was sick with a cold and wouldn't see me."
The priest coughed again. "Yes, that has been going around the Chantry dormitory. But, my child, I am afraid I still do not understand. You have explained how the prank was your friends' idea, your dog behaved in a way they didn't expect, and your other friend was mistaken about your role in the prank. What, precisely, is your culpability?"
Laica chewed her lip. "Well, this part gets rather embarrassing."
The priest cleared his throat. "Remember, I am merely the conduit for your words to reach the Maker. And He already knows what's in your heart. There is no shame."
That didn't make much sense to Laica, but she didn't want to get sidetracked again. "It didn't stop there. Well, I mean, his involvement stopped there. But I can't stop thinking about him. And I..." she took a deep breath. "I have dreams and... other thoughts while I'm awake and I try not to because it feels wrong. Like I'm disrespecting him somehow. I don't know what to do. I feel so guilty about it."
"How are your idle thoughts disrespectful? Are you telling others about them? Actively attempting to seduce the man?"
"No, of course not! I would never!" she protested. "But I'm afraid that I'll say something or do something and I'll make him uncomfortable or maybe he won't want to be my friend anymore and I can't bear the thought of him thinking ill of me," she blurted, tears springing to her eyes. "I won't lie to you. I do have feelings for him beyond friendship but he cannot reciprocate so that is what I will be satisfied with. At least, that's what I tell myself but then I keep having these thoughts and what if I say or do something and he realizes? I mean, you took vows, didn't you?"
"Yes, I did," the priest said.
"Were you ever friends with a member of the laity? Could you still be friends with that person if you knew they touched themselves thinking about you?" She blurted.
The priest broke into a hacking coughing fit that lasted several moments as Laica tried to to control her tears of frustration. "That would be awkward," he gasped at last. "However, regardless of whatever vows your friend took, you are not bound by any. You have not trained your mind and body to resist these urges. It is a new concept for you. Your feelings of guilt are understandable, if a bit misplaced."
"What should I do?" Laica implored, feeling desperate.
"First, I would recommend trying to see your friend again and apologizing for the incident. Explain it the way you explained to me." He paused a moment. "Except for the bits about how attractive you find him, of course. But give him the chance to realize his mistake."
"Fine. But if he won't see me again I'm going to blame you," she said sullenly.
"Also, the next time you feel the need to, ahem, relieve your feelings," he said delicately. "Perhaps you could focus your thoughts on a more neutral target, and thus avoid adding to your feelings of guilt."
Laica sighed. "I'll try. It's going to be hard, though," she admitted. "I tell you, Father, I have never seen a more handsome man in my life."
"I'm sure that is the result of not looking very hard," the priest chided gently. "Or perhaps you could try imagining someone."
"I could try that," Laica said, trying to sound more reassured than she felt. "Well, that's it. I should go. I mean, for that and all other transgressions I have neglected to mention I am truly sorry."
"Go in the light of the Maker, my child," the priest said. "And don't forget to apologize to the old woman."
Laica left the confessional not feeling very much better. She still wasn't fully convinced that Sebastian really had a cold, and trying to think of where she could go to find a man more attractive than him (did such a person even exist? Maybe she'd have better luck imagining...) She was so involved in her own thoughts that she didn't even see Merrill and Isabela waiting for their turn.
"Laica!" Merrill chirped. "Do you play the game, too?"
"I, what?" Laica asked, very confused. "What game?"
"We call it 'Have mercy on me, Sebastian'," Isabela grinned. "Basically, ever since Merrill and I found out that he hears confession we've been coming and seeing how long we can go until he throws us out."
"We have to disguise our voices, though," Merrill dropped her voice an octave and made a valiant attempt at a Fereldan accent. "Because after the first few times he just started tossing us immediately."
"I still remember the first time he figured it out that it was me," Isabela snickered. "He said 'Isabela, you realize that confession only counts if you are truly penitent, right?'"
Laica felt as if the ground dropped out from under her feet as the two women doubled over in uncontrollable giggles. "They said he had a cold," she said to herself, disbelieving, as the pieces fell into place and she went cold all over.
"Oh, no! Laica, you've gone pale," Merrill noted with some concern. "Are you well? Have you eaten today?"
Just then the other confessional door opened and Laica turned to see Sebastian emerge, coughing into a handkerchief.
"I have to go," she said and bolted.
Sebastian soon realized that Laica would not be able to face him without encouragement. Which is how he found himself standing in her main hall, making small talk with Bodahn Feddic as her mother went to "see" if she was in her rooms.
"I apologize," Leandra said as she came back down the stairs. "I'm afraid she simply is not at home. Perhaps you could check Anders' clinic? She often goes there when she says it's too boring in the estate with just me."
Anders' lair was the last place in Thedas Sebastian had any desire to go. He kept his expression neutral. "Perhaps I will," he turned to go. "Oh, actually," he said, as a thought occurred. "Would it be possible for me to leave a note?"
"Absolutely," Bodhan said with his customary enthusiasm. "You will find Serah Hawke's writing desk right this way."
That night, when Laica stumbled home with a head spinning with wine and a heart still full of woe, she found a note waiting for her.
I forgot to mention this when we last spoke. Another option would be to perform a penance at the home for unwed mothers in Lowtown. They are often in need of volunteers to help with the laundry.
I find it helpful when I am in need of absolution from similar sins. Perhaps I will see you there?
"Fine," she shouted at the unoffending scrap of paper. "I will!"
Many thanks to Xogs, the resident troublemaker, for the beta. And thanks to FeatheredRaven aka TheSilverRaven for the inspirational art :D