This content is rated R and is meant for audiences 18 or older.
Chapter 2: Cassandra’s Denial
Hand resting comfortably on the hilt of her blade, her shield strapped secure against her back, a familiar welcome weight, Cassandra strode up the small hill from the old apothecary cabin she and Commander Cullen were sharing to be closer to the troops. Leliana and Josephine and a few others stayed inside the Chantry with the rest sharing cabins inside of Haven or in the tents that marked the land outside of it where their growing number of their troops found rest.
She strode over to Horse Master Dennett. “Is everything ready for our departure?”
“Aye, Seeker. Be careful about yours, he’s a bit fickle in the rain and I hear there’s a lot of that in the Storm Coast.”
Cassandra nodded. “Let us hope the journey proves worth the trouble. I shall fetch the Herald and we will be on our way.”
Near the front gates, ten Inquisition soldiers made their last minute preparations to depart. Varic stood among them, laughing with one of the soldiers. He winked at her as she passed and Cassandra made a disgusted noise in return.
“If you’re looking for our dear Herald, I last saw her by Leliana’s tent!” Varric called out.
Cassandra ignored him but as she strode through Haven she found herself heeding his advance and moving towards Leliana’s tent near the front of the Chantry.
“Wait… I thought you said you were friends with this man once?”
Cassandra heard the Herald’s voice and her steps paused. She stood near to the side, certain Leliana could see her, but the Elf had her back to Cassandra.
“He betrayed us. He murdered my Agent,” Leliana said, not bothering to disguise the anger in her tone or expression.
“I understand but you’d kill him? Just like that?” Alvaerle asked.
Cassandra quirked a brow, her gaze moving from Leliana’s stony gaze on the Herald to the Herald herself.
Leliana folded her arms over her chest, her gaze unwavering from Alvaerle. Cassandra noticed that Leliana’s Agent looked extremely uncomfortable, even backing up a step and warily shifting his gaze between the two women.
“You find fault with my decision?” Leliana asked.
Cassandra could not see the expression on the Elf’s face but her tone took on a gentler touch. “I think you know exactly what you’re doing nine times out of ten, Leliana. But… everyone needs someone to keep them from that one time they’re making a mistake.”
“A mistake?!” Leliana’s tone rose and her arms uncrossed as she took a step towards the Herald. Cassandra’s brow ticked in surprise at the Herald’s bravery or perhaps foolishness and took a silent step closer wondering if she’d have to intervene. “Butler’s betrayal put our Agents in danger.” Leliana continued in a strong tone. “I condemn one man to save dozens. I may not like what I do, but it must be done. I cannot afford the luxury of ideals at a time like this.”
“Now is exactly the time for ideals!” The Herald who had been leaning against the tent post, suddenly straightened and took her own step towards the Spymaster, leaving very little distance between them. “We won’t always get to make decisions that don’t chip away pieces of us. I am not naive to what a war like this will do, will force us to do. But, when we can be better, when we can show ourselves, and our people the difference between mercy and cruelty even for those that don’t deserve it don’t we have too? Isn’t that what your Maker teaches Leliana?”
Leliana barked a humorless laugh. “He asks a lot.” her quiet tone betrayed a different kind of anger. She studied the Herald in tense silence for a long moment and then turned around back towards her table. She set her hands on it, sighing. “You feel very strongly about this. Very well. I will find another way to deal with this man.” She looked at her Agent. “Apprehend Butler. But see that he lives.”
The Agent bowed slightly to Leliana, glanced at the Herald and then departed.
“Now if you’re happy, I have more work to do. And I believe your party awaits you for your visit to the Storm Coast,” Leliana’s tone was dismissive.
Cassandra watched the Elf’s back go from a determined straight line to a posture that suggested perhaps less confidence. “Leliana…” Alvaerle’s voice trailed off. She paused then said quietly, “See you when we get back.” The Herald hesitated and then turned around.
Cassandra noted the Herald looked startled to see her there. Alva’s eyes dropped to the ground and she moved past Cassandra silently.
Cassandra watched her walk away in a studying sort of silence until she was out of sight. Her gaze turned to the left hand of the Divine, stepping closer to the tent. “I cannot say I am not surprised you yielded.”
Leliana sighed again. “So am I. But, I – she knew Nesaris, Cassandra. Met her, briefly months ago.”
Cassandra’s brows arched in surprise at the mention of the Hero of Ferelden and Leliana’s love. She knew her friend had not seen her beloved in nearly a year. “Truly? Is Nesaris well?”
A tiny smile crept onto the Spymaster’s mouth. “She is. Though our Herald didn’t know anything regarding her quest to cure herself of the Calling, she did say Nes was in good spirits and spoke fondly of her love. Of me.”
Cassandra couldn’t help but feel warmed by the expression on Leliana’s face. It felt like too long since she had seen her friend smile, and if she thought about it she was sure she could say the same for herself. It was difficult to find any joy in times like this. “I am happy to hear that Leliana. Still-“
“She was right Cassandra,” Leliana finally turned away from the map on the table and looked at Cassandra. “I have often felt as if I was losing myself to my work without Nes by my side. Losing my faith when Justina died. If the Maker’s hand is in this, he did something right sending Alvaerle to us.”
Cassandra paused in thoughtful silence. “I have felt the same. She is proving to be precisely what we need, when we needed it.”
“I agree. Good luck on our journey. Keep yourself and our Herald safe, Cassandra.”
Cassandra nodded and turned to go join their party. As they rode, she found her gaze drawn often towards the Herald, watching as she spoke with soldiers that rode with them, noting that she made a point to speak with each of them in turn and for some time. Cassandra also noticed the Elf gave into her laughter with abandon; it was full and loud, contagious even and Cassandra watched it light up Alvaerle’s whole face. The Seeker found the corners of her own mouth twitching involuntarily when she heard it.
When they made camp that night it wasn’t Varric who told stories to entertain the men and women but the Herald. Cassandra sat off to one side, going through her nightly ritual of cleaning her blade. Usually she tuned out Varric’s grating tone. But Cassandra liked the Herald’s voice. It carried a faint accent and tone that Cassandra found pleasing. Relaxing even. At some point she was startled to realize she’d stopped her motions all together and had been watching the Herald for some time.
This knowledge however did not prompt her to begin her ritual again, instead she continued to study the Elf. Watching the way she used her hands when she spoke, the light in her eyes as she told a humors tale of a hunting trip with her clan gone wrong. It was warmer weather at the foot of the mountain and around the camp fire the Herald had removed her leathers, leaving her in a loose linen shirt though she continued to wear a glove over the hand that bore the mark. Unlike other Elves, her skin tone was a deep tan from her life spent outdoors, and though thin there was strength in her lithe frame. Her vallaslin was an intricate drawing of tree branches that wrapped around her eyes and forehead, kissing the inside of her cheeks and dipping slightly down her nose. The Herald shaved the sides of her head it looked like, but her hair was long on top, down just past her shoulders, and Cassandra silently noted she liked the way the Elf wore it. It felt… rebellious, proud, and unique.
“She’s a cutie, isn’t she Seeker?” Varric’s low but utterly amused voice brought Cassandra back from her staring.
She blinked at the dwarf who was moving past her on his way to his tent, a knowing gleam in his eyes.
Cassandra rolled her eyes and refused to acknowledge Varric. Instead she abruptly lowered her gaze from the Herald, returning to the task she had forgotten about earlier.
Though it was entirely possible she continued to sneak glances at the Herald and kept one ear attuned to the sound of her voice.
Their journey to the Storm Coast had originally been to determine if the offer coming from The Iron Bull and his mercenary company the Chargers was something the Inquisition wanted and to seal the rifts their Scouts had reported seeing along the coast. After reaching the main camp Scout Harding and her group had setup, they learned that several of their scouts had gone missing.
Cassandra had watched the Herald’s brow furrow as Scout Harding gave the situation report, an expression Cassandra was beginning to realize meant the Elf was either worried or displeased, possibly both. She’d listened as the Herald assured Harding they would go looking for the Scouts themselves.
They’d gone to find the Chargers first. And as that day had worn on Cassandra had found the Herald not only liked the near constant rain, but she liked flirting with The Iron Bull too and had proceeded to do so since accepting him and his mercenary company into the Inquisition.
The rest of the day had been long and difficult. They had closed several rifts, and with the help of The Iron Bull’s Chargers they found their missing scouts, unfortunately dead. Cassandra had been angry and so too she had noted, had the Herald. Alvaerle had knelt beside each body and spoken quietly in her native tongue, before vowing to find those who had done this senseless act and bring them to justice for it.
The next morning, they were on their way to challenge the leader of the Blades of Hessarian. Cassandra had heard of them briefly and so had the Herald in her travels. They were supposedly deeply religious, served Andraste, and whomever was strong enough to lead them.
As they trudged up another cursed hill, the rain falling a bit lighter today, Cassandra watched the Herald smile at some deep rumbling coming from the Quanri. Cassandra frowned, picking up her pace to move closer to the Herald.
She had mixed feelings about the Ben-Hassrath Agent but there was no denying that he and his Chargers were capable warriors who had insofar followed orders and been helpful. Still, she did not trust him completely and she did not like how quickly the Herald had taken to him. It was her job to protect the woman and she would not see her fall victim to some trap laid by a Qunari spy.
As they crested the top of the hill, the Herald paused, tipping her face up into the light rain that was currently falling. Cassandra watched the Elf close her eyes as if she enjoyed the sensation, watched the way the droplets of water ran over her vassallin, down her cheeks and neck and suddenly found herself feeling unexpectedly flushed.
“Damn Boss. If I wasn’t so good at my job I’d be thoroughly distracted right now,” Bull broke the silence, his one eyed gazed on the Herald.
“Bianca’s distracted,” Varric said with no small amount of amusement in his tone.
Cassandra watched the Herald jerk her eyes open and a blush creep onto her cheeks as she realized they were all watching her. “Abelas,” she murmured, and Cassandra thought, not for the first time how pretty the elven dialect sounded coming from the Herald. “Er, sorry.” The Elf corrected in the language they could all understand. She grinned and shrugged, picking back up their pace. “I like the rain.”
Bull and Varric exchanged glances.
“Dangerous and doesn’t even know it,” Varric said.
“That’s the best kind,” Bull moved ahead.
Cassandra rolled her eyes at their banter and pushed past both of them, catching up to the Herald. “Your Worship.”
The Elf turned her gaze onto Cassandra. “You know it’s just us. You can call me by my name.”
“It is not,” Cassandra protested. “The Qunari is not one of us, yet.”
“I heard that, Seeker.” Bull called out in a good natured tone.
Varric’s laughter rang out and Cassandra could not contain the disgusted noise that left her.
The Herald looked amused, but at the same time understanding. She laid a hand on Cassandra’s arm, giving her a slight nod as if she understood the warning that was coming. Cassandra held the Elf’s gaze a moment longer, for what reason she didn’t know before looking away.
The Herald’s hand fell away, their attention drawn towards the outpost they could see in the distance. “That’s it up ahead,” she said. “Remember, we try and solve this peacefully.”
They were able to solve it, semi peacefully.
The leader of the Blades of Hessarian, a stocky brute with a distasteful mouth challenged the Herald to a duel. Cassandra opened her mouth to protest, but the Herald gave her a strong look and against her better judgment, Cassandra remained quiet.
She was tense throughout the short battle, her gaze focused on the Herald, while Iron Bull and Varric kept theirs on the crowd around them. Cassandra found herself holding her breath as Alvaerle dodged one attack after another, countered, and then finally got in close enough with her blades to do real damage. It was over shortly after that, and Cassandra could not recall ever feeling so relived. She surged forward, checking over the Herald for injury. The Herald brushed aside her concern, gave her a warm smile and moved past her to share a victorious shout with the Iron Bull.
Cassandra watched them with a slight frown, not at all understanding the uncomfortable feeling sitting in her stomach.
The mood back at camp that evening was a lively one, as expected after a successful venture, and even the rain had let up. The Blades of Hessarian swore their allegiance to the Herald and thusly the Inquisition. Two of them had accompanied their party back to the main camp to introduce themselves to Scout Hardings men and discuss plans going forward.
Cassandra noted as the evening wore on the Herald enjoyed the mild revelry but was quieter than usual and looked tired. It was late into the evening when the camp had settled and Cassandra found herself almost alone with the Elf.
Neither had said anything to the other for sometime, the Herald mostly chatting with the Iron Bull until he’d called it a night and retired to the large tent he shared with the rest of his chargers.
Cassandra sat sharpening her blade, stealing glances towards the Herald several times. Finally she said quietly, “You fight very well.”
The Herald seemed brought out of some deeper thought and turned her attention to Cassandra, offering a smile at the compliment and Cassandra silently noted how the expression made the woman’s eyes crinkle slightly at the corners. “I worked hard at it. I was a terrible fighter at first.”
“Truly? I would have thought it came naturally to you.”
The Elf shook her head. “I didn’t want to hurt anything so I resisted. I was…” she looked away, towards the tree line that surrounded them. “…in love with forest in a sense. I felt very connected to it and the energy it gave off. It was very beautiful to me. Very peaceful. I couldn’t understand violence. I didn’t even like hunting as silly as that was.”
Cassandra had slowed her motions, they were almost automatic now, her eyes on the Elf. She was amused by the story, attempting to reconcile the image presented of the Herlad’s past self with the woman that sat before her now. “As distasteful as it can be, it is too often necessary.”
The Elf drew her gaze back. Cassandra felt… not uncomfortable. She was not in fact certain how she felt under the Herald’s intense eyes. Studied perhaps. Weighed. Like the woman was trying to see through her, find some deeper truth. “Yes,” Alvaerle finally said. “You speak like someone who has led a violent life.”
Cassandra stopped sharpening her sword, lapsing into brief thought. She’d never considered it that way. She had though, hadn’t she? Even if Anthony had lived… thinking about her brother brought about that sharp, breathless pain in her heart. She dropped her gaze to her task and continued sharpening her blade. “Do you still feel that way about the forest?”
The Herald didn’t answer right away, and Cassandra could feel the elf’s eyes back on her. “Yes, at times. I don’t like why we must take these trips but I do enjoy being out in the world. “
Cassandra drew her eyes back to the Heralds. “What happened? If I may ask? That made you learn to fight?”
The Elf looked away, past the others in camp towards the forest that surrounded them, a distant look in her eyes. There was sadness there that Cassandra recognized on an instinctive level. Alvaerle had lost someone she cared about. A fiercely protective instinct welled up inside Cassandra, unexpected in its intensity.
“How we want the world to be, and the face it shows us can be hard to reconcile sometimes. Anyway, a story for another time.” The Elf gave her a small smile, and stood up. “Goodnight, Seeker.”
Cassandra watched her rise, refusing to over think her reaction towards the woman. “Rest well, Herald.” She kept her gaze on the woman’s back as Alvaerle moved towards their tent and hurried to add, “Alvaerle -”
There was a rather long pause Cassandra thought briefly strange before the Elf twisted her body enough to look over her shoulder, her brow quirked in question.
“Should you ever need to speak of it,” Cassandra let the rest of the sentence hang, certain the Elf caught her meaning.
Cassandra watched the Herald swallow, an unreadable expression coming into her eyes. Finally her lips quirked into another faint smile and she nodded at Cassandra and made her way into their tent.
Cassandra was unsure what to make of the expression. Only that it made her want… Cassandra shook her head, refusing to finish that thought and returned to her task.
A warm body was molded to her back, soft lips pressed against the back of her neck. A hand slipped underneath the thin linen shirt she wore, boldly cupping her breast, squeezing, making Cassandra whimper quietly and arch into the touch.
“You make me feel safe,” a low, slightly accented voice whispered against her skin, and Cassandra felt those lips parting, slow open mouthed kisses moving across the side of her neck, leaving her struggling to bite back her moan. “What do I make you feel?” the voice whispered.
“Confused,” Cassandra whispered huskily, reaching her hand back to bury her fingers in the silken threads of long hair. “I do not know what to make of these feelings.”
“Do you like them?” The voice was at her ear, teeth on the lobe making her shiver. The soft hand glided down from her breasts, tracing the muscles in her stomach, and slowly untying the laces of her breeches.
Cassandra found it impossible to think, anticipation coiling hotly in her gut. “Yes,” She breathed and then she lost the ability to breathe entirely, when those fingers slipped beneath and cupped her sex. “I want…”
“My name, Seeker.” A soft kiss was pressed to the spot just behind her ear. “Say it.”
Cassandra felt a fingertip graze across her clit and gave voice to her quiet moan. “Alvaerle-”
Cassandra’s eyes opened and she jerked upright in her bedroll. She was breathing heavily, her smallclothes were soaked with her arousal, her breasts felt tight and achy underneath the breast band she still wore. She quickly glanced to her right and saw that the Herald was still sleeping. It did nothing to cool her arousal though as she noticed the way the Elf’s lips slightly parted in her sleep, how beautiful, peaceful she looked, an expression that made Cassandra want to leave her bedroll and go-
Go what? Had she gone mad? Cassandra bit back a disgusted noise at herself. As quietly as possible she got up and got dressed, pulling back the flap and stepping out into a light, chilly morning rain.
For once she appreciated it and Cassandra stood still underneath the steady rainfall to let it cool her heated skin. It was working, slightly. Though she still felt… achy. It was simply timing, she reasoned. It had been long, perhaps too long since she had been with anyone. The stress of the past weeks, the previous days battle, she was simply having a reaction. She did not, under any circumstance want the Herald. The idea was ridiculous. She’d never been attracted to a woman before in her life. She simply liked the Herald. She liked the Herald a great deal if she was honest with herself. The woman was kind, willing to take charge when need be, a fierce and capable fighter, and there was a depth to her that Cassandra found intriguing. That did not mean she was attracted. No. She was just… tense. All she needed was a private moment and perhaps one of her smutty books and she would be fine. Thankfully, they would journey back to Haven today.
Feeling more in control of herself, Cassandra moved away from the tent to rouse the rest of their party and begin their preparations to return to Haven.