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Dancing In The Moonlight [Closed]

Sati Adaar

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#1
[[9:41 Dragon, evening - after the events of Wicked Hearts]] Josephine Montilyet

The music was still in full flow as Sati walked out onto the balcony. After the events of the evening, everybody - including those who had originally shunned her - had gathered around, demanding accounts of Florianne’s plot in detail, how Sati had unravelled the mystery, shoving wine and food at her whenever her hands had been unoccupied. The Empress had kept her distance, gazing out over the ballroom with an implacable expression. Despite the fact that she no longer had to worry about Gaspar’s threat to her throne, she would know full well that there would be many in the room who had rather she failed.

Sati had an inkling of how that felt.

At last, she had extricated herself from the crowd as a lively tune was struck up, and most of her audience detached themselves to join the dance floor. The other members of the inner council were occupied with their own business; Leliana with her assessments of the courtiers, Josephine with her family, Cullen with trying to swat away a small crowd of admirers. Apparently being Fereldan didn’t count against him at all at the moment. The lion-themed capelet and formal breastplate that Leliana had bullied him into didn’t hurt in the extravagant Orlesian setting, although it did amuse Sati deeply.

All the Inquisition members who had attended were turned out better than usual, apart from Sera, who had chosen to fit in with the servants and swipe as much from the kitchens as she could. Leliana was in a lovely dark blue dress, Cassandra magnificent in military attire. Sati had been given a dark green and silver tunic and dark breeches, and had been allowed to keep her silverite gauntlets, much to her relief. She’d half expected to be told to wear a dress with a train stretching halfway back to Skyhold. Varric was his usual dapper self, and Josie…

Sati had had to turn herself away from the ambassador on a few occasions, realising she was watching her overlong. Josie was already pretty enough, but she looked especially beautiful this evening, and the blush that had tinted her cheeks over her sister’s teasing had been nothing short of adorable.

It was ridiculous, to be entertaining such feelings when they were in the middle of a war. Sati prided herself on being practical, and this was not practical at all.

Removing herself to the cooler air of the balcony gave her time to gather her thoughts, and focus on important things. Below, the palace gardens spread out in silvery splendour, lit by moonlight almost as bright as day. The day’s warmth had drawn out the scent of the flowers. It was so beautiful that it was almost easy to forget that guards were moving around in the shadows, quietly locating and removing the numerous corpses that scattered the grounds. So many of them were people who had simply got in the way. The world was on the brink of disaster, and the noble classes went on playing their games. Half of the problems of the evening hadn’t even been because of Florianne.

At least now they had knocked one of the legs out from Corypheus’ plans. Sati wasn’t sure it was enough to bring him down. The memories from Redcliffe were still horrifyingly strong, and even though they’d now removed Alexius and prevented Orlais from descending into civil war, there was still the matter of the Red Templars, and the Venatori. Added to that, they still didn’t know what exactly had happened at the Conclave.

Sati rubbed her face, and tried to let some of the tension drain out of her shoulders. Tonight had been a victory, but she couldn’t quite stop thinking about the battles they still had yet to come.
 

Josephine Montilyet

Ambassador of the Inquisition
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#2
Having been the Antivan ambassador to Orlais, Josephine had thought herself well acquainted with the labyrinthine intricacies of the Grand Game, but the events of the last few hours had left her head spinning. Intrigues inside of intrigues, betrayal upon betrayal, to the point that Josephine was uncertain they had unraveled all the knots. But the Empress was alive, Florianne in custody and Grand Duke Gaspard’s intended coup thwarted. That part of the terrifying future that Sati and Dorian had experienced would not come to pass.

But so much blood had been spilled to achieve it, so many deaths within the lavishly furnished rooms, the meticulously tended gardens, and still, the guests at the ball had danced and dined and gossiped as though it had all been a play staged for their entertainment. Who had died, after all? A handful of elven servants, some mercenaries and Tevinter mages … no one of any concern to the nobles who cared only that peace had been restored and their opulent lifestyles would suffer no further disruption. So insular was their thinking, so ingrained their smug conviction that their empire was the center of Thedas, that Corypheus was considered a minor concern, a threat far beyond the borders of Orlais. Fortunately, Celene was not so small-minded; the Inquisition had gained a formidable ally.

And it had been Sati’s doing. The confused and wary mercenary that had stumbled out of the Fade in the wake of the explosion had been nowhere to be seen; she was the Inquisitor, leader of the Inquisition in fact as well as name, combining diplomacy with a frank forthrightness and formidable martial skill. The furtive stares and derisive whispers of ‘she-bull’ that had greeted her entrance to the Winter Palace had given way to a mixture of fawning and appraisal as the players of the Game sized up one who had defeated one of their best. It was a change that might easily have gone to the head, but Sati had accepted effusive praise and probing questions with the same polite poise, slipping away when the orchestra began to play once more, though there had been more than a few who might have invited her to the dance floor. She cut a dashing figure in deep green and silver, the tunic tailored to accentuate her build without making her look mannish. All of the Inquisition had been resplendent in formal attire, except for Sera - but Josephine was not going to allow herself to dwell overmuch on what that hooligan might be up to.

She had been quite pleased with the way her own dress had turned out: carmine velvet with deep gold satin and beautifully embroidered trim. Not that she was here to participate in the revelry, of course, but appearances counted for much in this world, and it would be appearances that lingered as much as deeds in the minds of those in attendance. The events of this night had cemented the Inquisition’s reputation as a force to be reckoned with in Thedas, and an ally worth cultivating.

And the one most responsible for it stood alone on a balcony. Quite likely by choice, but it still did not seem right. She had been so brave, so clever, and Josephine had never been more conscious of her own lack of skill in combat. Most of the time, distance separated her from the tasks that Sati and those who accompanied her took on, but this time, Josephine had been required to make small talk knowing that only a few walls separated the partygoers from a life and death struggle. Each time that Sati had slipped away to follow up on some new bit of information that one of them had uncovered, a part of Josephine had not been able to breathe properly until she saw her striding back through the doors of the ballroom.

It was only natural that the Inquisition’s ambassador be concerned for the Inquisitor, she told herself as she began wending her way through the folk that crowded the promenade overlooking the dance floor. If her gaze had lingered on Sati on occasion, it was simply out of that concern. And friendship, of course. She was … a dear friend.

“Did you just … grab my bottom?”

Josephine stifled a giggle at the scandalized note in Cullen’s voice as she passed. The cluster of women around him was not so restrained; their merry laughter mixed with transparently insincere protestations of innocence. The poor man had never had a chance; Leliana had personally curated his garb for the fete, well aware of the effect a handsome military man would have. A few vague remarks about his background, hints of a tragic past, and the trap had been neatly laid, with the former templar serving as the piece of meat. The Inquisition’s spymaster was close by, to all appearances absorbed in her own conversation with two comtes, but also alert for any careless words dropped by one of Cullen’s admirers in an attempt to impress him.

Blue eyes shifted briefly to Josephine, Leliana’s expression unreadable. Josephine knew that her old friend no longer blamed Sati for Justinia’s death, but she remained reserved around most people, still grieving her loss and wary of attachments that could cloud her judgment. She had become somewhat more reticent around the Inquisitor of late, but Josephine would have thought that tonight’s triumph would have changed that.

Sati was indeed alone on the balcony, and Josephine paused in the doorway, wondering if she would welcome company or prefer her solitude. She had already been required to endure more than her share of vapid conversation, some of it instigated, however inadvertently, by Josephine herself. The ambassador felt her cheeks heating anew at the memory of her sister’s inane chatter. And the bit about the dolls … Maker’s breath! What must Sati have thought? And she didn’t play with the dolls anymore; it was just -

She gave herself a mental shake. Foolish to dwell on such trivialities when the weary slump of Sati’s shoulders plainly indicated that she had weightier concerns. She made no attempt to muffle her footsteps on the marble tiles as she approached; those who lived by the blade did not respond well to being startled. She had learned that the hard way with Cassandra in the earliest days of the Inquisition.

“It is a lovely night,”
she remarked, joining Sati at the balustrade, breathing deeply of the heady scent of the flowers proliferating in the gardens below. Surely it was only her imagination that the faint tang of blood lay beneath it? “It is difficult to believe that it could be so with all that has happened.” So many deaths, and yet the moons hung like opals in the night sky, casting the world beneath into a play of silvered light and deepest shadow. So many lies and betrayals, and yet Josephine could still admire the clean lines of Sati’s profile and the way that her hair captured the moonlight and seemed to glow from within.
 

Sati Adaar

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#3
The tap of heels against stone alerted Sati to the fact that she was no longer alone, but she didn’t balk or turn immediately. Not only would no assassin be stupid enough to announce their presence in such a way, but the sound was swiftly followed by a familiar, and comforting, scent. Sati didn’t know what Josie wore on her skin, but it gave her a quiet pleasure whenever she encountered it. Much like the woman herself.
Josie drew alongside her and leaned on the balcony as well, gazing out into the gardens. Sati stole the opportunity to sneak a glance at her. High cheekbones, full lips, and dark eyes lit bright by moonlight. In the dress she wore, with her hair up, it was easy to follow the line of her neck down to the arch of her collar, rounding smoothly to the shoulders.

Sati would have found her attractive enough anyway, but knowing how keen her mind was made her beautiful. She was also immensely busy putting that mind to managing the affairs of the Inquisition, and therefore didn’t need the advances of a mercenary who should be concentrating on the brewing war ahead of them. Sati was aware that in her way, she was being just as foolish as some of the twitterpating nobles inside.
She turned her face back towards the garden as Josie spoke. “It is a lovely night.” Then, “It is difficult to imagine that it could be so with all that has happened.”

“The skies don’t much care what we get up to down here.” Sati had never been convinced that portents could be written in the stars. They were so far away.

She then pinched the bridge of her nose. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be sharp. I’m just - angry. After Corypheus attacked Haven, I thought that might be enough to make everybody take the threat seriously, but apparently unless it’s literally on their doorstep, it doesn’t matter to them.” She underlined the last word with a jerk of her thumb towards the ballroom.

After a moment, she turned her head towards the ambassador, lowering her voice. “Josie. Do you think I made the right choice? Celene holds the greatest sway over the nobles, but Gaspar was more trained in war than she is. But he was prepared to threaten, lie and kill to gain the throne, which would make him a poor ally if he decided against us. Then again, I doubt Celene’s hands are totally clean.”

She lowered her head into her hands. “Being a mercenary was so much simpler than this.”

It was a vulnerability she rarely expressed, but there times when she missed her old life so much. Turn up, do the job, take the money, leave. Or turn up, realise the client was a prick, leave. Having to make these decisions which affected entire nations was, day by day, eating away at her.
 

Josephine Montilyet

Ambassador of the Inquisition
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#4
Over the weeks that had followed the explosion at the Conclave, Sati Adaar had grown from a mysterious and threatening stranger to an ally, then a colleague, then a trusted friend. Josephine no longer found herself at a loss for words when speaking to the former mercenary, but there still remained moments where she felt, as the King of Ferelden had wryly expressed after making a verbal gaffe during one of his meetings with the Inquisitor, as though she were chewing boot leather.

“The skies don’t much care what we get up to down here,” the Tal-Vashoth dismissed her fanciful musings morosely. Even now, she remained skeptical of the existence of the Maker, or indeed any higher power. Even in the darkest moments as they mourned Divine Justinia, Josephine had clung to her own faith, and she could scarcely imagine how anyone could function in the face of this catastrophe without such a bulwark.

But lack of faith had never translated into lack of compassion, and before the ambassador had time to speak, Sati was already apologizing. “I’m sorry,” she muttered, thumb and forefinger gripping the bridge of her nose. “I didn’t mean to be sharp. I’m just - angry. After Corypheus attacked Haven, I thought that might be enough to make everybody take the threat seriously, but apparently unless it’s literally on their doorstep, it doesn’t matter to them.” She jabbed her thumb towards the open doors through which the sounds of music and revelry drifted, the night’s slaughter already dismissed as inconsequential by those who had suffered no loss.

“The Orlesian nobility are not the best example of everybody,” Josephine offered cautiously. “They are notoriously self absorbed; until it affects them directly, they seldom take note of any matter. The Empress, I believe, understands the gravity of the situation.”

“Josie.” Her breath caught a bit as the violet eyes turned to regard her. Such a delicate color, filled with the intelligence and emotion that most of Thedas believed the horned giants incapable of. Sati had opened the eyes of many with her courage, her compassion and her honor; that there could still be any who thought her a savage brute appalled Josephine, but she had heard a few scornful whispers among the revelers, even after the Inquisition had foiled Florianne’s plot to assassinate Celene, though they had at least had the grace to look abashed when she had turned her furious gaze on them. “Do you think I made the right choice?” The question was plaintive, threaded heavily with the doubt that Sati had never shown in the midst of the intrigue and turmoil. “Celene holds the greatest sway over the nobles, but Gaspar was more trained in war than she is. But he was prepared to threaten, lie and kill to gain the throne, which would make him a poor ally if he decided against us. Then again, I doubt Celene’s hands are totally clean.” Her head drooped, the bronze caps on her horns gleaming into the moonlight as she lowered her face into her hands. “Being a mercenary was so much simpler than this," she murmured dejectedly.

Josephine stepped closer, daring to reach out and lay a comforting hand upon one broad shoulder. “No one who plays the Grand Game has clean hands,” she said softly. Even her; the memory of sightless eyes in a beardless face loomed briefly before being set aside. She could brood upon her own guilt another time. “But you made the right choice; I am certain of that.” And she was. Some among the Inquisition had broached the idea of allowing the assassination to succeed and Gaspard to take the throne, but such a coup would have plunged Orlais into even greater chaos. “Celene is a canny ruler, and the way that you unmasked the machinations of Gaspard and Florianne will only increase support for her as their followers change their allegiance.” She snorted. “In Orlais, getting caught cheating is considered far worse than the cheating itself.”

She squeezed the taller woman’s shoulder, feeling the power of muscle and sinew taut beneath the rich fabric. “Almost anything would be easier than the choices that have been thrust upon you,” she told Sati earnestly, “but I am glad beyond measure that you are the one making those choices.” That the lone survivor of a cataclysm that had killed hundreds and threatened thousands more possessed not only the means to undo the damage but the honor to do so in a way utterly devoid of self-serving intent had convinced minds far more skeptical than Josephine’s that the Maker had sent Sati Adaar, but she knew by now that her friend would not welcome hearing such sentiments spoken aloud.
 

Sati Adaar

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#5
Josie was quick to offer some encouraging words, although she spoke carefully. No matter that the nobility were quick to dismiss the night’s events as a rare form of entertainment. The Empress knew the weight of what was coming and that mattered most. Still, Sati doubted. She had made a number of choices this evening which would ripple outwards, and she didn’t know if she’d thrown her stones in the right pond. With the exhaustion of the evening, she let her guard down enough to ask Josie directly for her opinions.

She trusted the ambassador. While usually the quieter voice in the council meetings, Josie was no less adept at airing her concerns than the others, and she’d brought even a bickering Cullen and Cassandra to a verbal standstill more than once with just a few choice words. So when Josie told her she’d made the right choice, Sati didn’t take it as just an attempt to soothe her. It was a benediction.

“Celene is a canny ruler, and the way that you unmasked the machinations of Gaspard and Florianne will only increase support for her as their followers chance their allegiance.” She snorted. It was...surprisingly cute. “In Orlais, getting caught cheating is considered far worse than the cheating itself.”

“An entire empire built on the same rules of Wicked Grace, Maker help us,” Sati murmured, but there was a touch of amusement in the words. As ever, Josie spoke the truth. Gaspar’s followers would need to go somewhere, and more than a few of them had faced the rifts on the Exalted Plains. Most would see the sense in siding with somebody who was tackling the problem head on.

Josie’s hand rested on her shoulder, warm through the fabric. “Almost anything would be easier than the choices that have been thrust upon you. But I am glad beyond measure that you are the one making those choices.”

Sati covered Josie’s hand with her own. She knew she had surprised people with how willing she was to touch, once she knew somebody well enough; although reserved with her words, she enjoyed the companionship implied in backslaps, pats on the shoulder, a good gripping handshake between friends. In fact they could usually save her from saying anything at all. The touch she now applied was much more gentle, but no less genuine. It would be all that was necessary to convey thanks.

But she felt the need to speak anyway.

“And I am glad you are our ambassador, Josie. Your gift with words is not just appreciated in dealing with the diplomats. You’ve soothed my fears more than once. And you are perhaps one of the kindest people I know.”

Her fingers lingered on Josie’s. Music was drifting on the air, mingling with laughter from the ballroom; the show was over and the main party had resumed. Sati had never been in such an opulent place, worn such plush clothing, or eaten such food. Nor had she ever cared if she did. But now she was here and the danger of the evening was over, she decided she was going to enjoy it while it lasted. She’d certainly derived a bit of entertainment so far from watching her companions and how well they interacted - or didn’t - in this environment.

But she wasn’t going to rush back into the ballroom, under the weight of every pair of eyes. She could hear the music just fine, and she stepped back, her gaze meeting Josie’s again, before dipping a small bow and extending her hand, lips curling in a soft smile. “Would you care to dance, Lady Montiliyet?” Then, teasing, “you may as well see if any of the lessons bore fruit.”
 

Josephine Montilyet

Ambassador of the Inquisition
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#6
Josephine had long been accustomed to the peculiarities of Orlesian politics, even enjoyed the challenges of outmaneuvering other players in the Grand Game without resorting to the less honorable methods that they frequently employed. Sati, from the beginning, while appreciating the ability of diplomacy to achieve goals without bloodshed, had regarded the convoluted and sometimes deadly machinations that frequently took place around the edges with a wary disgust. The events of this night had put such activities on garish display, and the aplomb with which the party-goers returned to their festivities confirmed Josephine's rueful observation that being caught in their treason was the only thing that would be held against Gaspard and Florianne.

“An entire empire built on the same rules of Wicked Grace, Maker help us.” Sati’s disgruntled remark caught Josephine by surprise, and she couldn’t quite stifle a giggle. Covering her mouth with one hand, she glanced quickly toward the door, confirming that no one had been close enough to overhear.

“I had not thought of it that way before, but it is not far off,” she admitted, allowing herself a slightly more unrestrained laugh as she imagined the reaction of Orlais’ nobility at being compared to a card game played by sailors and laborers. Things soon turned more serious, however, as the doubts that Sati had not allowed to sway her before bubbled to the surface. There had been other paths that they might have taken, other choices that might have been made. As Sati had observed, no one’s hands had been clean, and the Inquisitor had unearthed enough secrets in the course of her investigations to have turned the outcome any way that she chose.

But while others might have relished holding such power, but Sati had plainly been keenly aware that her decision would affect not only the Inquisition, but the Orlesian Empire and ultimately the rest of southern Thedas. Gaspard would undoubtedly have been the best choice to fully leverage the might of the Orlesian military, but the likelihood that he would take advantage of the distraction of his neighbors to expand his own borders through conquest was all but certain. Celene had been the stable choice, even more so when allied with Briala’s formidable intelligence network (and, though it could not be permitted to weigh in the balance, the prospect of a more personal reconciliation between Empress Celene and the newly made Marquise of the Dales appealed to Josephine greatly).

But still, Sati worried, and Josephine was quick to reassure her. The impulsive hug that Sati had given her upon news that many of the Valo Kas company had survived the explosion at the Conclave had not been repeated, and Josephine did not attempt to embrace her now, but it had not escaped her notice that the Inquisitor seemed to draw strength from smaller contacts, at least from those that she trusted. While the ambassador maintained proper decorum in public, when offering counsel in private, a hand gently touching a shoulder or arm would frequently calm the other woman when she grew tense with frustration or anger. Josephine could feel some of the tension seeping from the powerful frame beneath her touch now, and after a moment, Sati reached up a hand to cover hers. Gently; her displays of camaraderie with those that she fought alongside tended toward playful roughness, and her interactions with some in the Valo Kas had on occasion been mistaken for brawling (Shokrakar maintained that Sati was almost impossibly restrained, but compared to the brawny, tattooed leader of the Valo Kas, Bull was a model of decorum), but her contacts with Josephine were both rare and unfailingly gentle, as though she thought the ambassador might break.

“And I am glad you are our ambassador, Josie,” she said, her words and her gaze as warm as the callused hand that enveloped Josephine’s. “Your gift with words is not just appreciated in dealing with the diplomats. You’ve soothed my fears more than once. And you are perhaps one of the kindest people I know.”

“Thank you.” All too often since the explosion had forever altered the world, Josephine had felt utterly adrift and out of her depth, waking all too regularly from nightmares in which she found herself surrounded by shouting people, yet unable to speak above a whisper, or walled in by piles of parchment that grew ever faster as she sought to find one vital missive upon which the fate of the Inquisition rested. The nightmares had eased as the Inquisition found its footing, but still returned every few weeks, and her family’s troubles -

No, that was nothing to be dwelt upon now, much less to burden the Inquisitor with. Bad enough that Sati had been subjected to Yvette’s foolish prattle. She would find a way, somehow.

Sati straightened, and Josephine was surprised anew at just how tall the Vashoth was. Surprise turned to confusion when the Inquisitor bowed to her and offered her hand, a rare playful gleam touching the violet eyes as she said, “Would you care to dance, Lady Montiliyet? You may as well see if any of the lessons bore fruit.”

She had to laugh at that, which helped to head off the blush that tried to rise. Dancing was one courtly skill that Ser Lehmann had not provided instruction in, and Sati had come to Josephine in a minor panic when the invitation to the ball at the Winter Palace had been received and accepted. Fortunately, the grace that served her so well in combat had translated well into that endeavor. “You proved that quite nicely in your dance with Florianne,” she teased in turn. “You caused quite the stir.” Josephine had been on edge, knowing that this was some part of the Grand Duchess’ gambit, but not just what. They had all assumed that she was a part of Gaspard’s plan to supplant Celene; none of them - even Leliana - had suspected that she had struck a deal with Corypheus to advance her own ambitions.

But it was done. The assassination had been foiled, that part of the dark and hellish future that Sati had experienced had been averted, and if that was possible, then so was eliminating it entirely. That hope was surely worth a time of respite for the one who had made it possible. “I would be honored, Inquisitor,” she replied, taking Sati’s hand and offering a curtsy. And if her heart beat a bit faster, she was determined to pay it no mind.
 

Sati Adaar

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#7
The moonlight prevented any shadow from hiding the flicker of surprise on Josie’s face when Sati bowed to her, but she didn’t back away or make an excuse to rejoin the ball. Her mouth curled softly in amusement, the expression kindling a soft warmth in Sati’s chest. It had become a minor pastime for her of late to try and provoke the ambassador to laughter, because Josie giggling was downright adorable. But it was also difficult to find the opportunity, given how fraught their situation was from day to day even when they weren’t thwarting the attempted coup of an empire. The sound bubbled in the night air, a gentle release of tension.

“You proved that quite nicely in your dance with Florianne.” Oh yes. She’d remembered her steps, and even balanced the diplomatic niceties Josie had taught her with the careful manner of response that Leliana had instilled. She’d done well, and the duchess had been impressed, but it hadn’t exactly been enjoyable. Except for the reaction of the other guests. “You caused quite the stir.”

Sati chuckled. “For one or two of them, I thought their eyes were about to roll right out their head.” Never mind the debate over her connection to Andraste and position as Inquisitor. A qunari dancing with a duchess would have set everybody’s tongues wagging as it was. For all their airs and graces, the nobility liked gossip as much as the average fishwife.

Tonight had given them a feast, for sure, but she didn’t intend to feed them further. If Josie accepted her offer, they would dance out here; undoubtedly somebody would be watching, but at least not hundreds of them. Strange, that even though Sati knew Josie could handle any scurrilous rumours herself, she found herself wanting to protect the other woman from intense scrutiny anyway.

Although it probably would be smarter in that instance not to be doing this. But the air was warm, and rich with the scent of flowers from the garden, and Josie’s eyes were shining in a way that Sati couldn’t have resisted any more than she could have declared herself supreme overlord of Thedas. Her heartbeat quickened a little as Josie dipped in a curtsy, before placing a soft hand in hers. “I would be honored, Inquisitor.”

Sati drew her closer, placing her other hand on Josie’s back and smiling down at her. “Sati. Please.”

She’d occasionally wondered where people got the steps for dances from. Her footwork as a swordswoman was excellent, there was no point being modest about that, but it made sense to her in a way dance hadn’t. Although she’d remembered what she was meant to do with Florianne, she’d been aware of being a little stiff. The music hadn’t got into her bones. But now a gentle waltz was being played, and the silk of Josephine’s dress whirred a little against her battle-calloused fingers, and she took the lead without thought. It was simple enough that she wasn’t even worrying about matching the one-two-three of the beat, because her feet were doing that on their own, leaving her mind wholly engaged with the woman before her.

Sati wasn’t a person to shy away from her feelings. Ser Lehmann had taught her that all emotion had its use, and to deny any of it would make her ill. She was stoic most of the time because that was simply how she reacted to the world. She didn’t feel particularly stoic at the moment. Her skin was fizzing, a grin widening across her face as she spun Josie out, then back in again, back against her chest before it was her turn to spin out and back in and facing Josie again.

She could have remained in that moment for a long time, her cares given release for the first time in months. And it did feel as though the seconds had slowed for them - the sweet music filled the air, flowing over the quiet hum of the crickets, not quite masking their breathing. At one point, distracted by Josie’s eyes, she misstepped slightly and grinned, slightly abashed, as she found her footing again.

But then the music reached its climax, and there was a smattering of applause from inside. They were chest to chest, and at this point Sati should have stepped away and bowed. She found herself quite unable to do so. A lock of Josie’s hair had come loose - she tucked it back behind the other woman’s ear, slowly, before her fingertips slowly traced the line of her cheekbone along, her gaze exploring the other woman’s own for her reaction, awaiting permission.

“Josie…”
 

Josephine Montilyet

Ambassador of the Inquisition
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#8
Sati Adaar was her friend, but Josephine had always been at pains to address her by her formal title in public, emphasizing the respect that the members of the Inquisition held for the organization’s leader. Nowhere was this more vital than in status-conscious Orlais, and Josephine had scrupulously adhered to that practice, though her growing fear for Sati and those who had accompanied her away from the brightly lit ballroom into the deadly shadows had her close to slipping up more than once. Sati understood the reason for the formality and accepted it.

Calling her Inquisitor now had nothing to do with protocol. The invitation to dance had quite unexpectedly set Josephine’s heart aflutter in her chest in a manner that she had not experienced in a good many years. She was no blushing debutante; she was the Ambassador to the Inquisition, and Sati Adaar was, quite simply, the most important person in Thedas right now, but her attempt to remind herself of their respective ranks fizzled out when Sati simply smiled at her in a way that Josephine had never seen before, drawing her in close and slipping an arm lightly about her waist, hand resting in the small of her back.

“Sati. Please.”

Josephine felt heat prickling on her cheeks, and when she found her voice, it was a touch breathless as she reached up to rest her hand on a broad shoulder. “Of course … Sati.”

A dance could be many things, from diplomacy to social obligation to seduction, but at its heart, it was a partnership whose success rested upon each of those participating. Josephine had experienced varying levels of success in her life, and more than a few failures, but this …

This was pure delight. Their feet found the simple rhythm of the waltz and the rest of them followed suit, Sati moving with an easy grace that had been nowhere to be seen in her carefully formal dance with the Grand Duchess, her smile lighting her face in a way that Josephine couldn’t help but mirror. Sati twirled her out, drew her back, then let herself be spun, ducking easily beneath the arch of their arms, then back, arm settling about her waist as though it belonged there. Even a missed step seemed a part of the dance, and when Sati gave her a sheepish smile as she corrected her steps, Josephine felt a warmth swell in her chest so suddenly that it nearly stole her breath.

Inside, the orchestra ended with a flourish, but while her feet had stopped moving, Josephine’s heart was still racing, and far faster than could be accounted for by the exertions of the waltz. Now was when the partnership ended and the partners stepped apart, bowed, and went their separate ways, but Sati made no move to open any distance between them, and the sudden intensity in the violet eyes made Josephine’s breath catch.

Releasing her hand, Sati reached up to brush back a few wayward strands of hair; Josephine closed her eyes as a shiver chased down her spine at the feel of the other woman’s fingers touching her cheek as delicately as if it were spun glass. She lifted her own hand to cover the warrior’s with the half-formed idea of drawing it gently away, telling Sati that such familiarity was ill advised in this setting. Instead, she pressed the callused palm to her cheek, opened her eyes to find the Inquisitor watching her with an expression that sent the fluttering of her heart down into her stomach. Was this truly happening?

“Josie…”

No. Not here, with so many prying eyes and wagging tongues. The gossips would spin whatever they saw or heard in the most salacious manner possible, damaging the Inquisition, hurting Sati’s reputation. She had to stop this … for now, at least.

“Sati -”

“Your Worship?”

Had Josephine heard someone approaching, she would have broken contact, stepped discreetly back to a distance that would not invite speculation. Having been caught by surprise, however, she did not jump away from the Inquisitor, which would both strengthen the impression of scandal-worthy behavior and wound Sati by implying that being seen with her like this was cause for shame. Instead, she held the other woman’s gaze for a moment longer before lowering her hand and turning to address the newcomer.

She did not know how long Leliana had been standing there; the Inquisition’s spymaster could come and go like a shadow when she chose, and her expression gave no clues. Once, there might have been a gleam of mischief in the blue eyes and a bit of playful teasing later, and Josephine mourned once more that part of her friend that seemed to have died along with Divine Justinia.

“Pardon the interruption,” Leliana went on with exquisite politeness, “but Lady Mantillon has asked to speak with you.”

The Dowager was legend in Orlais: a member of the Council of Heralds, and one of the most skilled - and dangerous - players of the Grand Game. Empress Celene might rule Orlais, but it was widely known, in the Empire and beyond, that if you wanted to play the Game, you had to dance with the Dowager. Evidently, the evening’s events had impressed her sufficiently that she was offering that dance. While potentially a coup, it still made Josephine anxious; the woman had outlived nine husbands, most of whom had died bizarre deaths - how did one perish in a tailoring accident?

She acknowledged Leliana’s words with a nod, then turned back to Sati. “She is extremely canny,” she warned the Inquisitor. “Answer any question she asks honestly; she likely already knows the answer to most. Volunteer nothing, and tell her that all decisions are made by the council as a whole.” Before Sati left, Josephine placed a hand on her arm. “And … whatever you were about to say? I would like very much to hear it when we are back at Skyhold.” There would still be eyes and ears aplenty, but they would at least belong to allies.
 

Sati Adaar

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#9
Josie’s eyes glimmered warmly in the moonlight, and there was a softness in her expression that Sati had rarely seen before. Her fingertips brushed the back of Sati’s hand as though she welcomed the contact. Sati felt a fluttering in her stomach of a variety she was now familiar with, but had tried to ignore over the last few months; now it was almost unbearable, but between the way Josie was looking up at her, the tenderness of their dance, and the momentarily relief from the burdens that weighed on her, she thought she might actually act on it.

But as she leaned forward, Josie said her name, and it was with the faintest note of warning.

Something cold lodged itself beneath Sati’s breastbone, but before she could react, a voice behind them had her turn about sharply. “Your Worship?”

Only Leliana, but it suddenly brought home to Sati how foolish she was being. No matter that they’d won the evening - there would still be enemies of the Inquisition here, people who even without knowing Florianne’s plans would have preferred to back Gaspard, and to give them any ammunition at all needed to be avoided. Especially if it risked dragging Josie into scandal.

Sati straightened up slowly, trying to read Josie’s gaze. Had she pulled away because of the danger of gossip, or because she’d suddenly read Sati’s hopes and tried to let her down gently? It was difficult to tell, but at least Josie didn’t jerk away from her, as though being caught doing something she shouldn’t. Their gazes held for a moment, before Sati looked around at Leliana.

The spymaster’s expression was inscrutable. She would have been able to read the moment, of course, and Sati had no doubt that she’d seen the end of the dance. Whatever consequences there were for that were clearly to come later. “Pardon the interruption, but Lady Mantillon has asked to speak with you.”

Sati had spoken with the Dowager earlier that evening, and found the old woman far more impressive than most of her younger counterparts. There was a mind like a needle behind the mask, an assessment mirrored by Josie. “She is extremely canny. Answer any question she asks honestly; she likely already knows the answer to most. Volunteer nothing, and tell her that all decisions are made by the council as a whole.”

Sati nodded. Josie’s advice was always good. Of course Sati was usually the one with the final say at the War Table, but the Dowager would know that; it would be ensuring that Sati made her decisions after considering the advice of her councillors carefully that would be the main thing. She stepped back and bowed to Josie, reframing her mind towards the task ahead, and prepared to follow Leliana, when Josie caught her elbow.

“And...whatever you were about to say? I would like very much to hear it when we are back at Skyhold.”

Hope rekindled itself. For a brief moment, Sati couldn’t help a smile. “Of course, Josie.”

It took her a moment, but when she was ready, she arranged her face, tucking her feelings behind the stoic facade that had suited her needs so often, and followed Leliana back into the ballroom.
 
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