title: "Sink and Rise"
exegesis: Kallian Tabris and Leliana. After the Blight, after Amaranthine, after everything, there ought to be a happy ending. But the world doesn't work that way.
Note: This doesn't necessarily go with "Time Cast Forth My Mortal Creature," though it could. And I would really like to know if the last few lines can hold up their own weight, if anyone feels like saying.
Love is not all: it is not meat nor drink
Nor slumber nor a roof against the rain;
Nor yet a floating spar to men that sink
And rise and sink and rise and sink again.
Edna St. Vincent Millay, "Love Is Not All"
Love isn't enough.
It should be, but it never is.
Leliana returns from Orlais with the autumn rains, a damp vision in fine linen stepping from gangplank to Highever pier. Kallian Tabris meets her in the noise and clamour of the wharf, conscious that the Warden heraldry on her tabard draws even more glances that her pointed ears. Her apprehension is almost as great as her relief. Letters have been few and far between. Paper is a dangerous medium to which to entrust many truths. Much lies between the lines of Val Royeaux's gossip and tidings of a slowly-healing arling: Tabris does not know what she dares expect.
"Kallian!" Leliana exclaims, flinging her arms wide. The tangled, complicated knot of longing in Tabris' throat loosens as the other woman steps willingly into her embrace. Leliana smells of saltwater and damp cloth, steel and attar of roses. Tabris buries her face in the curve of Leliana's slender neck, inhales familiar warmth, and lets herself believe, for a moment, in homecomings.
Later, as she lies spooned in the warmth of the best bed in one of Highever's many inns, contemplating the arch of Leliana's cheekbones in the evening dimness and listening to the drumbeat of rain on the old slate roof, she lets herself say, casually, "So you met the Grand Cleric of Val Royeaux and the Divine. Must have been an interesting visit."
A log pops in the hearth. Leliana is practised at keeping tension from showing in her body, but in a year's close proximity Tabris learned to tell when her ease is forced. She strokes an errant strand of red hair from Leliana's jaw and waits, relaxed, patient.
"Yes." Leliana sighs, but does not turn her head. "It seems I had met Grand Cleric Dorothea before, do you know? Years ago, after Marjolaine... Well, anyway. They say she will be Divine after Beatrix succumbs to old age: Her Most Holiness is very frail." A touch of wryness. "The betting-shops on the docks were laying odds she won't survive the year, when I was leaving, though I think she may surprise them yet. Her mind seemed sharp enough, when she asked me to tell her how we came to the Ashes."
"Did you tell her that it was your fault we had to fight a bloody great dragon to get there?" Tabris inquires, leavening her tone with amusement.
A huffed laugh. "Unkind, Kallian! I stumble once -"
"And it has to be right on top of a bloody noisy dragon-summoning gong?" It's funny in retrospect, but she will never forget her terror in the moment Leliana windmilled backwards, elbow striking the convex bronze disc. The ringing brazen noise echoing from the cliffs and the thunderous wind of dragon's unfurled wings. The fight that ended with Alistair and Morrigan both inches from death, and Sten not much better off - it could easily have ended so much worse. She swallows the terror of the memory, and remembers something far more satisfying. "And I suppose you told her I called the Guardian an interfering old bastard, too."
"I believe I neglected to mention that part." Leliana tilts her head on the pillow, lifts her glance to Tabris with a slow smile. "Both parts. It wouldn't do to have the Hero of Ferelden declared anathema."
"It's enough work killing darkspawn without having to look over my shoulder for templars," Tabris agrees, dry. "Although if I could get the templars to kill the darkspawn..."
"Indeed." Leliana's amusement fades. Softly, she says, "The Grand Cleric offered me a place in her train, you know. If I were to return to Orlais."
If I were to return... Tabris knows Leliana well. Very well indeed, in all truth: more than well enough to hear wistfulness and the wish in her voice. It is not merely the lights and gaiety of a great city to which she is drawn, but the opportunity to play the great game, to nudge the levers of power and set them in motion. To be the trusted hand of a Grand Cleric, one tipped to be the next White Divine, is no small thing. It is a much larger thing than Tabris can offer. "Do you mean to accept?" she asks, calm as she can make the words, and holds very still and unflinching for the answer.
"Kallian..." Leliana bites her lip. There is a fresh darkness in her blue eyes. It was not there before. "Not yet," she says, very soft but steady. "Perhaps not ever. But the Chantry was my shelter when I was wounded, and lost, and alone, Kallian. I can't..."
"Forget?" The word shapes strange and spikey-edged around the knot in Tabris' throat. Not yet, she said. She can bear not yet, and cherish the hours that span the warmth of her lover's arms, this moment now. The time between now and yet.
She has never, after all, believed in forever.
"It's all right." She makes her voice gentle - it surprises her a little, that after everything she can still be gentle, as though the alienage and the Blight between them should have left her scoured sharp and hollow - and kisses Leliana's neck. "I understand, love. It's all right."
For a time, it is.
Old Gods. They sing to us, the Architect said. At the top of Fort Drakon, Urthemiel's passing sung in her bones, a noise that seared to the marrow.
Tabris has dreamt of Morrigan, and a child with dragon eyes. It has come to her that she understands but dimly what she consented to, in Redcliffe's fear-muffled halls. A loop in your hole, Flemeth's yellow-eyed daughter said, and Tabris chose to trust.
She does not believe she chose wrongly. And yet. Old Gods. So little is known.
The Architect has taught her that she cannot afford to trust what she does not know. It is time to go hunting gods. Hunting knowledge.
Tabris teaches herself to read Old Tevinter, Arcanum and the scrawling orthography of mages. She starts barely literate in her native tongue. It is a hard task, but necessary. There is so little known about the time before the First Blight. So little known about the Old Gods who the Chantry claims helped to break the world. She seeks knowledge. She seeks reassurance, that she has not doomed the world in saving it.
They delve libraries from Orlais to Antiva, earn their bread hunting bandits, sleep rough or in cheap inns. Leliana delights in travel, in new sights and fresh cities. Her delight keeps Tabris from dwelling on the hot murmur of the taint in her dreams, the dread of what she may have set upon the world.
In library after library, town after town, on muddy road after dusty road and hill after cresting hill, she watches the creases at the corners of Leliana's dancing eyes, the flex of muscles in the strong lines of her shoulders, the dapple of light in the hollows of her jaw, and thinks, not yet.
Four years of not yet.
The letter finds them in Minrathous, the city in the shadow of ancient spires, where poverty and the ruin of centuries of war stares from crumbling alleys with accusing eyes. The White Divine is three months dead and burned when the parchment-wrapped packet reaches them. The news has been nervous talk in the bazaars for weeks, accompanied by quiet speculation over the Black Divine's diplomatic overtures. Even under Celene's cautious hand, Orlais is a dangerous neighbour, and Tevinter cannot afford for the Orlesian Chantry's new Divine to flex her muscle in the Imperium's direction. The qunari are trouble enough.
The two templars who give it into Leliana's hand show their discomfort at having travelled through a land ruled by mages plainly on their faces, and Tabris hides her own unease.
Not yet is becoming now.
They do not speak of its contents until later.
Much later, in a night garden perfumed with rose and jasmine, the weight of expectation heavy on the warm night air. Tabris traces the line of Leliana's cheek, settles into the curve of the other woman's arm. "You're going, then," she says, quietly. She cannot bear to make the words a question. It is hard enough to speak at all.
"One does not refuse a Divine." The stars reflect from Leliana's eyes, brilliant points of light. Fabric rustles as she shifts, restless. "I could do good things, Kallian. You could -" A hesitation, a hopeful breath. "You could come with me."
"And conduct my heretical research under the Chantry's very nose?" Tabris's lips twist into a rueful smile. "That would not go well, I think. No. We both know how that would end."
"I love you, you know," Leliana says, soft and searching.
"And I, you." Tabris swallows past the ache in her throat. "I will visit, when I can. But -"
"But," Leliana agrees, regretful, and sighs.
It is a fair night, for leavetaking.
They do not spend it in sleep.
In the morning, Tabris does not weep. But she stares after Leliana's flame-red hair in the roadway until it has long passed beyond her sight.
Old Gods, she reminds herself. Morrigan.
She has a duty, still. To do what must be done. Vigilence.
Perhaps she will be able to visit Leliana in Val Royeaux, in the spring. Perhaps.