Even while enveloped in the murky haze of sleep, Gaile could feel it; subtle, alien warmth worming its way past the thin barrier of silken sheets, tentatively lapping at her bare skin.
A pleasant intruder. Radiating.
A stray thought—and her pulse shuddered, mind promptly losing all sense — that it could be her body; her warmth.
Did she… She wouldn't…
A breath. Leave it to the pirate to make her lose her composure so very early in the morning.
She hadn't even had her muffin and tea, yet. Tragic.
Though, the rogue couldn't help but be amazed. It remained quite the spectacle, the range of her senses even while in a semiconscious state. And, what did one call that delightful place between repose and wakefulness? Somehow mindful of things about you, yet still well within sleep's grasp if it so happened to lull you back in?
Not to say that this wasn't preferable (much) to what normally occurred when she retired to bed, the inky black stillness that came for her, utterly devoid of dreams….
The experience… It wasn't unpleasant, really, just… empty.
And then, the alternative to that, happened to be a nightmare-induced frenzy where she woke in a cold sweat. Vicious, jarring clips, tirelessly replaying the more recent deaths in her life. Each mistake; each failure:
The Deep Roads.
The blood mage.
But that was unimportant.
What did matter (now) was the heated weight to the right of her.
It had to be Chomp Chomp. Her mabari was notorious for sneaking into her bed when he thought her unaware; she would often wake to find him curled up to an absurdly expensive pillow, despite her constant claims that he stay off.
Or a dragon. Pesky creatures. Sneaking into her bed, and whatnot… So impatient. Apparently, waiting on precarious, mountaintops would no longer do.
At least, Gaile hoped it was a dragon. Dragons she could deal with.
Holding her breath as if it would magically render her invisible, a single eyelid cautiously creaked open, only to catch sight of voluptuous brown curves.
It all began again: the deep shudder inside; the mind racing—
Gaile bit the inside of her cheek.
Really. It was like she'd never seen a naked woman who loathed all things commitment in her bed at the break of dawn before.
Last night… It would be best forgotten. Well: not the mind-blowing sex portions — those could stay — but more the part where she had confronted Isabela over something so meaningless. She had found herself vexed with the entire Zevran ordeal, yet she did not know why; Isabela was a sexual creature—her propositioning others was nothing new.
And the pirate hadn't acted on it.
Maybe it had just been jealousy on her part. She'd… It hadn't been this way before. She'd never been—it was such an ugly word—
She never expected the other woman to change. There was no awaited shift in her personality after Isabela confessed, no anticipated grand epiphany, just…Hell, she didn't know. Some sort of…confirmation? That they were truly together now. More than standard rate fuck buddies? Something she could pull out and show to others — convince them.
But, the pirate had seemed so irritated when she brought up their… whatever they had. And, Gaile couldn't…didn't want to push her away. Not for this.
Why did things have to change at all? She hadn't been asking for more. All she wanted was the pirate near. Within reach. To do that thing she did — that thing no one else could do. But after last night… Maybe the woman had stayed to break things off. Waited until she awakened only to tell her she was just "too damn needy" now; too demanding.
If that was, in fact, the case, Gaile could… pretend she was still asleep until the other left. Never wake up. Catch a slight case of dead.
It was a solid plan — one the rogue felt proud of…Until the worst itch of her entire existence found its way to her left cheek. The more she ignored it, the worse it became, but if she outright scratched it, Isabela would surely notice and things would be horridly awkward.
Well…more awkward. Awkwarder?
It would be uncomfortable. She still had to think of something to say…That, and get her heart to stop beating so fast….
Throwing caution to the proverbial wind, Gaile sighed and rolled onto her belly, really laying her performance on thick as she smacked her lips sleepily, rubbing her affected cheek against the pillow with a satisfied grin.
Now that that was taken care of, she could move on. A good opening line…What to say? How to say it?
'Morn'. Potential: short; sweet—to the point. Also, informative.
Oh! 'Nice weather we're having…Very…' Shit, she hadn't gone outside yet.
'Hey you…' coupled with a grin. She could make it frisky. And then sex. Immediate sex.
Before she could mentally place the finishing touches on her master plan, Isabela's fingers pressed against her back and Gaile could only silently thank the Maker she had not gasped from the unexpected contact. With the Rivaini woman, all it took was a single touch, and her skin was alive….
Several digits—almost reverent—trailed the flesh there; more specifically, a prominent scar. A lovely parting gift from a very deceased Arishok.
The pirate wouldn't admit it, but Gaile knew how much the other hated that particular scar. Isabela's eyes always betrayed her when she happened on it: angry; frustrated…Yet, she bore it proudly; this burning decree that she survived…Survived a decision she would never regret. She—
The other's touch suddenly became more insistent, harsher—nails digging into flesh.
"Mmph…" Gaile couldn't quell the sound, more surprised than anything as her eyes fluttered opened, "Isabela?"
The height of eloquence. And who said she couldn't think on her feet?
The rogue barely caught the other woman's withdrawn hand, meeting her gaze only to see Isabela look away.
"Thought I'd stick around and see what the morning ritual at the Hawke estate was like." The pirate refused to acknowledge her (or that bloody brilliant line), speaking to a window as if trying to convince it what was said did not matter.
"Ah." This was the other's show. Gaile moved to her side, wanting to get a better view. "Not too different from yours, I'm sure; I just happen to be in bed this time." A grin, even though Isabela could not see; this didn't have to be difficult. It would be their choice. "I usually climb out of whatever ditch I happen to be in, gargle with a bit of ale, spit away from the wind—that's important—" she had learned that lesson very well, thank you very much, "and then begin to think on how much havoc I can wreak on everyone's plans for the day."
"Even lady man-hands?" Humor had earned her a glance.
"Especially lady man-hands." Aveline was her best friend, one she trusted with her life and more during their many years together, but it was simply too much fun goading the guard captain. And that was just the way she showed her respect and admiration.
Gaile teased because she loved.
"Well, then: you have my approval." Gaile's grin grew—not only from the words, but that Isabela now fully turned her way with an inclined brow, a very…promising sign. "You know…" the pirate's voice lowered an octave, "looking as you do now; I might do it more often—" her amber orbs burned with her intentions, making Gaile's body throb in response, "the bed thing. I like this 'just woken up' look. Messy." Isabela's fingers ruffled her hair, sending tingles everywhere she touched. "Like you've just had a good lay."
"A pirate plundered me booty."
A familiar smirk touched the other's lips as she chuckled, a smirk that meant only one thing… The rogue did not resist, Isabela fluidly straddling her, grinding against her in the process; leaving her breathless…. "Another go?"
"Only at the risk of sounding desperate…" Gaile adored this—it happened now; the woman on top of her was everything provocative, it, these, moments when her body would respond without her ordering it, hands rising to apply a gentle pressure. "Though, before we begin," a more insistent touch and she was rewarded a moan, "I'd like to know why you're really here."
She felt Isabela's entire body tense in her grasp — it expected; the pirate then dove into her exposed neck, lips dragging torturously up, up, up…until they found her ear.
"We've gone over this, haven't we?" Throaty: each word caressed her earlobe, "I was curious to see Kirkwall's Champion before she put on her face." The pirate's supple form pressed into her, adding to the delicious friction between their two bodies.
"I see." Lies — no matter how extraordinary…. "What now?"
"Apparently, not sex." Isabela slid off her body with a sigh, and she felt the detachment as almost a physical thing. "This is silly. I want to leave, and I can't. Because of you." The other's eyes rolled, and her stomach flipped. "Shocking, I know."
Derision; similar incidents had come about before — but it was shocking. Didn't the other know she never really knew where she stood? Every time Gaile heard these sorts of things, they were savored.
She decided to tsk, again making light of the situation. Testing these foreign grounds. "What ever shall I do? I've a woman who never wishes to be tied down, but holds no objections, whatsoever, to being tied up."
This was the game they played: truths wrapped tightly in jokes. Wondering if the other would acknowledge them.
"The latter's more fun."
A chuckle, birthing only a pregnant pause. The other woman had opened the door, but chose not to explore it. And she waited for additional words that did not come.
"I don't want you uncomfortable." Gaile bit back her—was she disappointed? Isabela had stayed—why could that not be enough? "If you left now, I wouldn't be upset." Repeated; repeated, in her head until she convinced herself it was true.
"I can't." The pirate chose to glare at the ceiling, but not at her. "Every time I manage the balls to go, all I see is that bloody hurt expression of yours."
Guilt…. It kept her here. "I overreacted. You didn't have sex with Zevran. That…" the stumble was frustrating, but she always had to be conscious of saying too much; always, in these discussions, she was her worst enemy, "I know you're trying."
And Gaile did. Little things so often overlooked by others as they saw only what they wanted to see—and she appreciated the woman's effort.
More than Isabela would know.
"Hawke…I…would." That the other had broken the silence took her by surprise; Gaile did not hide it, letting it lift her brow with unspoken question as she shifted closer. "Change." The word was so weighty. "For you." Isabela's amber depths shook, before completely darting away. Gaile frowned. "With time."
"No." It could not be said fast enough.
The pirate's face scrunched up, as if every line was made to shout her displeasure. "You're damn annoying sometimes, do you know that?"
Gaile blinked. "And I was going for 'charming'…" it somehow stung, her response—but what would it help showing it? Guilt had played its role. "I don't want you to change — that's not what this is about."
The other doubted and it was as if they talked in circles: how many times—how many times did it have to be said before the pirate believed? Gaile pushed out a sigh — frustrated, an old habit taking over as a hand weaved through her hair. "Would you change me?"
"Of course I would!" Huh…. "I'd pluck that butter heart of yours, to start, and that damned compassion while I was at it. Not to mention the fact that you tend to get involved in everyone's problems when there's no need for it." How interesting that the pirate could make traits everyone else would think venerable, seem like the gravest of sins. "Besides all that, you snore."
A welcome distraction.
"Well, it's not as if I would know." Her bottom lip was thrust out, playing the jester once more. "And here I thought that would be one of the main things you adored about me. Well…I'm going to have to rethink this entire relationship, aren't I?"
Isabela's laughter… She could not describe it. It was more than a sound, more than a moment — as if hearing everything good about the pirate, all at once. Her essence. Making her laugh became addictive, and hearing it meant everything in the world.
The laughter faded away, and Gaile simply observed the woman beside her for a time, witnessing the downturn of those lips, the sudden pensiveness that took Isabela's eyes. What affected her so deeply?
Would she share it?
"Bela," Gaile pressed, unable to wait any longer; a light embrace, a gentle kiss—careful; she did not wish the other woman to flutter away, "talk to me…."
Teeth grazed her bottom lip, a telltale sign the other was troubled. "When I left…" she didn't have to finish, the words like a blow to the stomach, "How did you handle it?"
How did she handle it?
As if they spoke of a simple thing.
"Well, it was mostly sunshine and rainbows. Oh — and this grand parade where all the mages and templars danced and frolicked about Kirkwall." More feigned indifference; more flippancy — until this went away. "Shame you missed that."
What did the pirate want to hear? That she literally threw herself into her role as Champion? Relied on a distraction the city provided since she had left?
That she'd missed her?
Anger, and fear, and—
She did not wish to speak about it. She did not wish to think about it.
The other said nothing, and Gaile was grateful as her body slowly, slowly… began to uncoil. She couldn't see Isabela's face.
She wanted to.
Releasing her shoulder, Gaile settled into her lap, closing her eyes; inhaling deeply. "Why did you leave?"
"Why did you fight the Arishok?"
"I like being the hero." The question took her by surprise, though wit saved her, lips forming her grin…Until, Isabela glanced down at her—and her expression began to crumble…. "I couldn't let you go."
And, it was not fair. Not fair that the other woman could have her secrets, but—just from a look—she could not. Gaile hated it—the other's power, her eyes meeting the bed's covers with chagrin.
"Why did you leave?"
A beat. "It was…too much." Gaile's eyes shot up. "The book, the duel…you." It was painful, the thump in her chest from word, alone. "I needed to get away from it all. Step back."
The intent was appreciated, but unnecessary. It was the past. Isabela lay next to her, now, in the present; her thumb was at the other's lower back, kneading the flesh there; an encouragement to go on.
A sigh. "Do you remember what the Qunari said? That I was 'unworthy'?" Gaile did; she could see the Arishok's massive blades vividly in her mind—still hear that condemning tone…. "It shouldn't have meant anything—I know me—but it did. It… I didn't deserve what you did for me all those years back." The slightest pause. "I don't deserve you."
The admission was too much to take in all at once, and silence, now, would kill her. She had to keep talking.
"What do you deserve?" Gaile was surprised her voice did not break as she shrugged her shoulders, tossing words at the woman; filling the emptiness. "What do any of us?"
"You're a bloody champion, Hawke." The pirate called bullshit. "You deserve whatever good the world gives you."
"And if I want only you?" It was out. Before Gaile could think of the consequences; what she just said.
'Good' depended on the person it happened to. 'Good' ended up being a cheap substitute for all the 'bad'. She had had this so called 'good' the world had to offer: the riches; the renown; the reception — and all it had done was leave her cold.
Isabela had become everything good in her life; everything necessary…
If only she could see it.
It was her own gaze that did not budge, this time, a silent stance to see how the pirate would deal with her words:
A clenched jaw.
A trembling lip.
Maker, the other looked almost… embarrassed.
Realization hit, and Gaile felt her stomach flip for a second time. That…What she said had been too much, hadn't it? She'd been foolish, said too much, and now the other woman would surely run away.
She had to think of something to say; to fix this—
"Why?" Barely a whisper, but more than enough to stub the rising tide of panic.
Rising, her hand instinctively sought the pirate's cheek, needing that physical connection, as well as the emotional.
The time to hide was over.
"Why?" A tender echo.
"Why don't you… You're always just there." It came as an accusation.
Did the pirate not believe herself worth waiting for? As if there were no explanation for the way the woman was.
It was one of the things Gaile hated most:
Isabela had such a low opinion of herself.
Gaile's gaze fell on the intricately carved wood crowning her bed, recalling all the events that led her here. The blood spilt for her luxury. All the choices. "I'd like…something constant in my life. It doesn't…Well, it doesn't seem to want to happen, does it?" A smile — she needed it. If she did not smile, then there was the possibility that the other would take her seriously, witness how true it all was. "So, I thought to myself: maybe, if I can be a constant in someone else's life—in a life that had no constants, either—that could be enough. Even if she didn't want it…" her own little piece of selfishness, "I lose everything, you keep nothing…Seems like it would work."
She continued to smile as if it were all jest:
One had to laugh to keep from crying.
"You're…uncomplicated — because you don't allow anything else. I get what I see." It wasn't an insult. She actually envied the trait — that Isabela could not care. That she could just keep running. "No expectations."
"And I should like that. The unpredictability of it, not knowing where all this is going — it should give a thrill. But it doesn't. It just…doesn't." Her heart was cruel, leaping at the declaration. "It's not enough." The pirate appeared so conflicted, failed words dying on her lips. "It's…no longer enough…"
The spark of hope was quickly snuffed for her own sake.
She would not assume.
"What are you saying?" A hesitant step forward.
"I shouldn't be here." Two determined steps back. "I have a ship."
"You have me." One day, the other would understand this—its depths.
"You…" it was obvious Isabela was exasperated, but she could not relent—they had come too far; there had to be an end, "It's not that simple."
Simple? "I wasn't meant for an easy life, Isabela. I thought that fairly obvious." The pirate still appeared unconvinced, and suddenly, Gaile's fingers itched, the pads latching on to bronzed skin; delighting in the smooth transition from cheek to hair. "What if it is that simple?"
"It isn't. You should want more. I should…"
Isabela could not finish and Gaile found she had had enough.
Doubting did not become the pirate.
"Here's the thing:" Gaile gestured to the row of massive windows at the top of the wall, "Kirkwall wants their Champion: their 'Serah Hawke'. Not the long days, not the sleepless nights—that would be in poor taste." Because a person did not matter as long as they filled a role. And that was the thing with being capable, wasn't it? One was either a tyrant or a saint. "You do. Good, bad — you know me. I don't need to be anything else."
There was simply a convenience that came with having a person grow with you throughout the years:
A merciful need not to explain.
"I just…don't know when everything changed." Neither did she. "Now, I look at you, and something's always there. And if I don't say these things, show them—" the motion was almost crazed, a hand constricting near her chest, "that happens." Yes. That. Gaile knew that well. The sweet contraction when Isabela was near; the paralyzing vice when she was hurt…Brown met amber. "Dammit, Hawke: you've gone and changed it all…"
And there it was again. Change. She began to detest the word, its vaunted expectations. Declaring the pirate not good enough. Declaring what they had, now, not good enough.
"Isabela." She wanted it to end—the pain in the other's eyes as the woman tore herself apart. Where they were now was safe. Both knew what the other could give. And both could be spared the disappointment. "It's enough. You don't have to—"
She was cut off.
"No — I need to say this. If I don't… It'll never get said." The pirate inhaled while she held her breath; Isabela's tone was dangerous, assuring her whatever came next would be irrevocable. "I'm…happy—with you." The breath was released. "More than I should be. But you…I want you to be happy, Hawke…With me." She was happy! Gaile tried to push this, but a pair of fingers settled on her lips. "Listen. Everyone else…it's just sex. It doesn't go any deeper." What she implied… "Sex with Zev would have been great, but not…you. That's why I'm here — now. I…want that other part."
Something other than physical? Lov— her head refused to let her complete it.
The term was vulgar.
Everyone involved in that remained in constant danger. Everyone given it died. It was no exaggeration—it just was. If she loved this woman, if she said the word aloud…Well, that would be more than enough, wouldn't it?
More than she could bear.
She could not lose her. She couldn't. She couldn't.
…Such a terrible battle: heart warring with mind, "Bela…"
Isabela's scoff quivered with emotion; she appeared just as terrified. "It's fantastic, really. You spend your whole life, years of it, being 'fine': getting along and just going through the motions — and then — bam. Someone like you comes round and shows a person just how bloody miserable they really are."
The other did it as well. Every time the pirate left, the Miserable would come for her in waves….
"I…" words were suddenly hard to come by, "suppose misery loves company." A wretched truth; not to be dwelled on. Not when there was a point to still prove. "Be better if that's what you need to do—but, I won't have you changing for me. Not when it was never asked for."
Isabela smiled, it, somehow, happy and sad. "You've always assumed I'm a stronger person than I really am. Even now, I don't know if I can be that person." Even as the words left her mouth, it felt like a contradiction — the pirate was the strongest woman she knew. "Hawke…I'm willing to try. Give it my all. I want this…us."
To hear it—made real with words—shook something inside. And it all, suddenly, became so much more than what fear offered. It a dull ache, surrounded by such… joy, that it was no longer relevant.
This is where she stood. Next to her everything.
"So," a smile hid her intentions but little else, "that's a 'sorry', then?"
With a resounding 'whack', the pillow was at her head before she could even see it, let alone, defend against it. Gaile chuckled, knowing well she would pay for her quip. But, Maker's balls — their talk had been entirely too serious.
"I mean, you must like me terribly." She thought on the other's words, the playfulness of her actions, and it was as if light filled her chest. "I'd just hate to see you get clingy."
The pillow was brought down on her again, but she could not help herself.
Gaile teased because she loved.
Apprehending the pillow, the rogue grinned, coming to a very unanimous decision that Isabela needed to be much closer; a quick jerk, and this was made possible, the pillow, though serving its initial purpose quite well, was now very much expendable.
"As long as we're clear." It rumbled, low, in her throat, arousal mounting each inch she rose.
She needed her. Now.
Isabela, with her lovely ability to read her mind, plunged—lips colliding with a telling pressure as if the pirate wished to devour her. The combination was almost maddening: an unrelenting touch, a supple form, the rogue delighted when a hand snaked a path behind her head to hold her where she was.
A tug at her lip, and the pirate was admitted. The touch, the feel of Isabela's tongue brushing past her own. Light, to start, but then more forcefully, more urgently — until all she knew was the need of her. The other like a fine ale: one taste and Gaile's entire body would burn, warmth finding the most wondrous places…until settling low in her abdomen with its pleasant glow.
They separated, panting. Her body and its ever-demanding need for air — it was entirely too selfish at times.
Gaile's hand strangled the sheets, watching Isabela lick her lips. "It's your own damn fault, you know."
The other's attempt at a scowl simply forced her to kiss it off her lips. "Right."
"I hate this."
Again. "I know."
"It's all…so damn…" Wonderful.
"Mm-hmm…" Her skin was delicious.
"Pathetic." The way the word had been ripped from the pirate's lips…
"Well…" Gaile went for an ear, tongue wrapping and curling: compromise, "I suppose I'll just have to make up for it with years and years of spectacular morning sex, now, won't I?"