Salem

Why did she do that? Does she not realize the cost? How could she not? She has seen me, torn and battered and bleeding, near death, the price of defying a mad, ruthless god. While silent, the Maker is not...not unkind. Leliana...why would you put yourself in danger?

I watched the letter burn, aghast, upset...and yet relieved. Relieved that she had chosen me, relieved that my life did indeed still have some purpose. I had not lied to her. I could not. I had felt a void in my soul; a nagging voice ever present with the constant headache, an insidious whisper...something so damaged does not belong in a world made whole. You have nothing more to give.

"Leliana." I whispered, eyes fixed on charred parchment that not moments ago had threatened to strip away my reason for existence. "Do you realize what you have done?"

"Yes." she nodded her head, a cold blue steel in her eyes, a light in them that I had never seen. "You love me, Salem." she walked to me and took my hands in her own, staring up into my eyes, begging me to drop the fortress I had erected around my heart when I read those bitter, bitter words, signed by the hand of the most powerful person in Thedas.

"But this..."

She pressed a finger to my lips. "You love me." she smiled and tears welled in her eyes. "You have been tortured for me. You have died for me and...you walked outof heaven...for me." wonder colored her voice and she gazed at me as though mystified. "The Divine is but a woman who believes she speaks for the Maker. She recites the words of the Chant of Light and bestows blessings and guidance upon the people, trying to bolster a fading, fragile faith in a mercilessly silent god. She wraps the mages in chains and disregards the treatment of the elves and...and that is not, in any manner of perception, divine."

I stood there, completely bewildered. The Leliana I had met in Lothering, the woman who had first ensnared my heart, had spoken of the Chantry and the Maker with complete, unshakeable faith. She had vilified Morrigan for her apostasy, praised Alistair for her templar roots...and at some point, some point that had slipped past my noticing...that had changed. She had changed. She had gentled, she had become kinder, more understanding.

But...why? How? Her faith was so absolute, so impervious. What changed, dear heart?

She moved her hands to my hips and gazed at me, reading my thoughts as she alone could.

"I know every legend and story." she told me. "I lived by the gospel that Andraste preached; I reviled that which she reviled, loved that which she loved...and then I saw you. You were not strong," she spoke the truth as she had seen it, and I did not challenge her. I could not. "You were broken inside...something snapped and mutilated almost beyond repair...a shattered soul. But I saw in you something I thought lost to the world, something that not even Andraste could comprehend in its full measure."

"What..." I trembled, not knowing what she would reveal, "...what did you see?"

"Love." she answered, a light in her eyes that transcended and outstripped the sun. "Andraste marched on the Tevinter Imperium full of righteous fury, bristling with anger and fury at the injustices that magic had wrought upon her world. Innocents perish in wars, Salem...and the Exalted March left many slaughtered in its wake. The Maker may have taken her for his bride, but Andraste had no concept of that which defines you. She died because she devoted herself to a cause of wrath, and a man who could not bear that her love for him had departed betrayed her and had her burned. I believe now, Salem, I believe that, had the Maker's bride loved her Maker as much as he loved her, she would have survived. The flames would not have touched her skin. She would have been a messiah, not a martyr."

"When did you become so blasphemous?" I asked, smiling, running my fingers through a lock of her hair.

"When I met a woman who could do nothing but love." she walked into my arms and laid her head against my chest, sighing with contentment. "I have seen you angered; I have seen you wrathful; I have seen you hurt and suffering and given over to depraved revenge. And each time you calmed, you walked away, you did not completely surrender. Because you love...you break every chain you are able to, and when you cannot break them, you wear them in the place of those whom they once bound."

"You are describing someone who is perfect." I shook my head, though tears of my own stained my cheeks. "I could never hope to achieve that definition."

"In my eyes," she held me tighter, "you are all of that, and more." She leaned back and forced my eyes to hers, wanting me to see the absolute, unblemished honesty in them. "The Divine would have all the world believe that the Maker is silent; that he has abandoned this world until our faith bids him return. But that, as are so many things the Chantry spouts, is a lie."

"You cannot know that." I said, frightened of her belief in me...terrified at the enormity of her love. and yet...peace filled my heart. I was not afraid.

"I can and I do. The Maker is not silent, Salem." her eyes grew hopeful and her face shone with a golden, radiant light. "He spoke to me...sent me a vision...sent me to you. So that I might know he is still alive...that his will, his true will lives in actions such as yours. You told me once, after you had reached the Urn of Sacred Ashes, that you had touched the face of god."

"I did." I remembered that moment, fraught with emotion, turmoil, and unspeakable pain.

"Well," she gave me a sly smile, "not to cheapen your experience, but mind has been much more profound. I have walked hand in hand, slept alongside, fought alongside, shed tears with, kissed, and made love to someone who is truly divine."

I laughed at that, though I did not doubt she believed every word she spoke. And I loved her for it. Though I could not accept her definition of me for myself, though I would never see the reflection in the mirror she held before me, I would not attempt to dissuade her beliefs. Her faith made her beautiful; made her impossibly strong. Her faith had ended the Fifth Blight and brought me back from death.

"Why do you laugh?" she asked, her eyebrow raised askance.

"I am simply picturing a god with tainted blood." I answered, wrapping my arms about her waist and pressing a kiss to her lips as I lifted her from the ground and twirled her around.

I settled her back to the floor and buried my face against her neck. "Thank you." I breathed a prayer of gratitude to my own living, breathing goddess. "Thank you for loving me...for choosing me...for wanting me."

She stepped back and the tears were gone from both of our eyes, replaced by light, by hope. I knew, in the back of my mind, that the Chantry did not let go of what it claimed for its own. Leliana knew this as well. But we had until then...and both of us knew better than to snatch tomorrow's troubles and drag them into the present. Such things would keep. Such things could wait.

There will be time.

"I want but one thing more." Leliana guided me to a chair, set me down, knelt before me and looked at me with longing eyes.

"Name it." I cupped her cheek with my palm, not minding, for the first time, the scars that would forever mar my hand.

"I want to be your wife, Salem Cousland." she reached up and took my hands. "I want to be wedded as soon as possible, and for the sake of my urgency I am willing to make a great deal of concessions, save one."

"Very well."

"I simply must have the proper shoes."

I replied with the only words I could. "Dearest heart...as you say."