Fashionably Late [Closed]

[[OOC: 30th Haring, 34 Dragon, Mid-Afternoon; with Lucien Braddock]]

Tomorrow had come and gone exactly as it should have. The day after, as well, was an entirely ordinary day, and Cassidy doused the lantern in front of her apartment as agreed, and settled in with some work, to wait for her appointment. She was lucky that she had had work to do, because she had ended up waiting most of the night. And the next. And several nights after that.

She had heard and seen nothing from Lucien the Friendly since their first chance meeting. And that simply would not do.

Of course, these things happened. Of course they did, between Templars, and suspicious neighbours, and whatever home lives people were living, things interfered. But the kinds of people who join collectives of fugitives who pass forbidden knowledge back and forth, those people are usually possessed of some curiosity. And cat-like, in size, in ear shape and in nature, she was going to get to the bottom of this, perfectly mended coat in tow as a plausible excuse.

The second day after Lucien had failed to turn up as arranged, Cassidy went to Philomela, to see if she had a record of a young-ish human with an impressive mustache and a tendency to babble who had paid for repairs. The description jogged a memory, to be sure, but no luck on the record. He had paid up front and in full, no records of his name or address. Although, Philomela remembered, he had been caught up in a conversation with a mercenary while dropping off repairs, and had mentioned both his shop, and Hightown.

Well. That narrowed it down.

The argument of “If I at least look like I tried to deliver it, they might not say I stole it,” and elven solidarity got her some work making other deliveries in Hightown. She saw lots of fancy clothes, fancy homes, and turned up noses, but no sign of the elusive magestache. So, again, the next day, she climbed the thousand-and-one steps to Hightown (it might not have been that many, but it certainly felt that way), and went about her business of deliveries. Pausing at a market stall selling buttons to see if there were any that might suit Philomela’s clients’ needs, she heard the words “shopkeep, Templars, maleficar,” and the name of a bookshop.

Not much to go on, and no guarantee that it was her man, but really, how many apostate shopkeepers could there possibly be in Kirkwall?

It had taken a bit more time to track down the actual shop. It wasn’t as though she could go about questioning people in the street, “Hello there, do you know of a bookshop run by a man with dark hair and an absolutely spectacular mustache, whose wife has either run away from him or been taken by the Templars? It’s just, I have this coat to deliver, and he never left an address. No? Have a good day then.”

Granted, that was more or less the conversation she had with a handful of elven servants, as she stood in the tradesman’s entrances of a half-dozen estates, handing over fine clothes that had had to be specialty mended. But they understood what it was to have your wages bound up in something that was not your fault becoming your mistake and had at least tried to be helpful.

At last, a handful of clues got her started in the right direction, and she walked down a street with an armful of cloth, right past where a Templar was standing guard outside the exact shop she needed to walk into. Because this was Kirkwall.

May the Maker meet Fen’Harel and be banished with the rest of the Creators, because he’s been no damned use to me.

Shoulders squared, a deep breath, and around the corner to the alley where the shop likely took deliveries, and if there was a Templar there too, she’d just have to explain her business in the meekest tones possible. She was good at those, when she had to be. And this time around, she just might have to be.

Things were… better. Not normal. Probably never normal because Alcine was gone now and, well, this was Kirkwall. If things ever felt normal, Lucien would probably start to feel worried. This was especially true given the last time he’d fallen into a routine, that routine had ended with his throat in a very suspicious abomination’s hand. At least he probably didn’t have to worry about that particular problem with the shop, only keeping things together without Alcine around to help.

Alcine. Lucien sighed. He still worried after her but it had been a relief to see her again and know she was free from the Chantry’s clutches for good. In many ways, she was better off than he was. The Templars had stopped their constant surveillance but they still dropped by for friendly little visits, perhaps to make sure Alcine really had gone off with the Wardens and wasn’t hiding here. Eventually they would accept that she’d gone and he’d be left completely to his own devices once more. Even then, though, he’d never be able to live openly the way Alcine could. While Lucien knew that came with a heavy price, he couldn’t help but envy it, especially as his Templar friend made an after lunch visit.

Lucien was glaring at the mirror at the front of the shot that gave him a view out the front where the Templar stood watch when he heard Paige meow. He perked up immediately. “Does my lady require something of me?” he cooed.

Paige swished her fluffy tail and stretched up to claw at the side door. When the weather had been warmer, he’d simply left it open during the day for her to come and go as she pleased but with winter emphatically settled in, that had needed to change. So Lucien got to his feet and opened the door to the shed. He hadn’t been in there since Alcine had been taken and it was odd to not see her staff mixed in with the various posts and tools stored there.

He was about to open the door to the alleyway when he spotted a figure through the small shed window. He froze until he saw the cloud of red curls and large, pointed ears. Cassidy! He’d utterly forgotten. He opened the door quickly and ushered her inside the blessedly empty shop.

“Ah, my coat. Thank you,” he said a bit more loudly than necessary, in case anyone was listening. Paige rubbed against the elven woman’s legs, having apparently gotten what she really wanted which was more company. “I’m sorry I never showed,” he said quickly and quietly, his eyes flicking toward the front of the shop. She had to have seen the Templar outside. If she hadn’t, he was still visible in the mirror. “It’s good you waited as long as you did. There used to be two posted at all hours. Now they just hang around long enough to let me know I’m still under their thumb. This one should be gone soon enough. They seem to have lost some of their righteous vigor once my wife slipped free of their grip. Which is… I’ll explain when he’s gone.”
Fortunately, there had been no Templars posted to the back alley, which left Cassidy free to start counting doors, trying to work out which one would open to the bookshop. She had narrowed it down to between two, when a harried-looking Lucien opened one of them, and ushered her inside.

“Ah, my coat. Thank you.” He was speaking a bit more loudly than was probably necessary, unless his usual clientele was harder of hearing than the average citizen. She doubted that. It was probably for their shiny friend out front.

“Fully repaired, as agreed, messere,” she responded in kind, making it known to whoever might be listening that this was a legitimately business transaction. Sort of. Cassidy shifted the bundle in her arms in order to hand it over, then started as something brushed against her leg. She looked down. Just a kitten. Damned Templars. She wasn’t usually this jumpy.

“I’m sorry I never showed,” he continued, much more quietly, indicating the Templar outside with a flick of his eyes. She nodded to show him that she’d seen, and understood what he was doing, if not why the Chantry was hanging around his door.

“It’s good you waited as long as you did.” She hadn’t … actually … waited. It had just taken this long to find him. No point explaining that though. He already seemed burdened enough. And she was here now. In the end, it didn’t really matter.

“There used to be two posted at all hours. Now they just hang around long enough to let me know I’m still under their thumb.”

“How charming,” she muttered, wrinkling her nose. Imagine having Templars outside your door just because they could. She supposed that was rather the point of the Circles. Another reason to stay out.

“This one should be gone soon enough. They seem to have lost some of their righteous vigor once my wife slipped free of their grip. Which is…”

There was no response to that, really. She hadn’t known he was married, certainly not to another mage, if that was what he meant by his wife slipping free of their grip. Had his wife been in the Gallows?

“I’ll explain when he’s gone.”

And now she needed a reason to stay. She chewed her lip, thinking for a moment, then spoke again in the louder voice that they had been using before, “I understand that messere will need time to prepare the funds in question. My mistress has asked me not to come back until they are in my hand, so I will wait here until they are ready. I'm sure messere understands.”

She hoped messere understood, at any rate.

Cassidy looked understandably confused but she picked up the ruse quickly, as he knew she would. “I understand that messere will need time to prepare the funds in question. My mistress has asked me not to come back until they are in my hand, so I will wait here until they are ready. I'm sure messere understands.”

“Of course, of course,” Lucien responded. He pulled a tin from under the front counter. It was actually full of various bits and baubles he’d found left around the shop but he made a good show of pretending at counting out coin. From the corner of his eye, he saw a young girl pass by with a basket of fresh, steaming baked goods. Right on cue, as he had the past couple of days, his Templar guard wandered off after her. Even through the visor, Lucien could practically see the hungry drool.

He released a relieved breath when, as expected, the Templar made no sign of return. Lucien crossed to the front of the shop to lock the door. He nodded toward the stairwell behind Cassidy. “We should have our privacy now, but we’ll be freer up in my flat.” He climbed the stairs, trusting her to follow, and fell onto the couch as soon as they were inside. Realizing he was being rude, he stood again to offer up the chair that had once been favored by Alcine. Once Cassidy had taken it, Lucien flopped down again. “Where to begin?”

He rubbed at his beard, the feel of it still foreign to him. And, honestly, where could he start? So much had happened. Even before they’d first met, things had started to fall apart. He was starting to think they could still be salvaged, to some extent, but it was quite a lot to bring someone else into.

Actually, now that he thought of it, hadn’t Alcine been captured a mere day after he’d met Cassidy? His exhausted smile faltered and his eyes narrowed with sudden suspicion. Could she have been the one who had put the Templars on their scent? He hadn’t told her his full name nor where he lived, and yet here she was. But if she was the traitor, the Templars wouldn’t have needed to watch him as they had. Cullen would have dragged him off to the Gallows rather than waste his breath on bitter accusations.

Lucien pinched the bridge of his nose and sank back into the couch. He wasn’t built to be so suspicious of everyone. “The Underground is no longer safe,” he began. She knew he was a mage and his affiliations. It was hardly a gamble to let out that much. “Not that it ever was but,” he waved his hands, “missions have been going wrong. I was nearly killed on one and on the next-” He sighed. “The mage I’ve been living with sacrificed herself so that the rest of us could escape. Fortunately for her, the Wardens got wind and conscripted her right out from under the Knight Commander. Unfortunately for me, she’d been… friends with Knight Captain Cullen and so he knew about me. Thus my charming associates outside. For all they know, I’m the clueless spouse of a now known apostate but you can see why I kept my distance. I’d have warned you off altogether if I could have thought of a way to do so without endangering you anyway.”

He shrugged. He felt the weight of it all on his shoulders as though it was a physical thing. Truth be told, he’d forgotten. Between Alcine and Anders and then Leandra and Hawke, his coat had been the least of his concerns, even when in the hands of a fellow apostate.
Lucien suggested that they might have more privacy upstairs, so she followed him up to the flat where she assumed he (and apparently his wife) lived. If his general appearance hadn’t given her the sense that something was not right, so different from the dandy who had bumbled his way into her abode… what had it been, just over a week ago? Well, the fact that he was falling into his furniture, jumping out to offer her a seat and then falling back down again after, as though mortified by his lack of manners but not having a sense of where to find them again, that was certainly a sign of a man out of sorts.

“Where to begin?” he asked, scrubbing at the beard that he certainly did not have when they first met. He seemed to be lost in thought, trying to formulate an explanation.

She waited patiently, perched on the edge of her chair. It was a nice chair, but she wasn’t particularly concerned about dirtying it (being rather clean). It was just clearly a chair constructed for someone with longer legs than herself, and the only way to get her feet to touch the floor was to sit on its edge. As she did so, the kitten from the shop, who wished to be part of the conversation as well, it seemed, draped itself over her feet.

Cassidy looked down, and wiggled her toes experimentally. It got her what felt like a reproving glare from the Lady of the house, and she supressed a giggle as Lucien sank back into his couch with a sigh, pinching the bridge of his nose.

“The Underground is no longer safe,” he began. 

Safety was a relative term. They both knew that, being what they were, and working with who they did. At least, she knew that. She didn’t know how long he had been working with the underground movements in Kirkwall, but surely they were rife with as much risk as similar movements in Ferelden. For an underground to be unsafe…either it was collapsing from within, or someone was selling it out.

Again.

Shit.

“Not that it ever was but,” he continued, waving aside the obvious, and going on to clarify, “missions have been going wrong. I was nearly killed on one and on the next-” He sighed, and continued. “The mage I’ve been living with sacrificed herself so that the rest of us could escape. Fortunately for her, the Wardens got wind and conscripted her right out from under the Knight Commander. Unfortunately for me, she’d been… friends with Knight Captain Cullen and so he knew about me. Thus my charming associates outside. For all they know, I’m the clueless spouse of a now known apostate but you can see why I kept my distance. I’d have warned you off altogether if I could have thought of a way to do so without endangering you anyway.”

He finished, and shrugged. He seemed so small on the couch. Lost and alone, like a child wondering why its parents weren’t coming home. A bearded child.

A dwarf, then.

Cassidy brushed the thought away as she brushed a stray curl off her face. “I’m sorry.” It was such a pointless thing to say, didn’t convey any of the depth of understanding of losing friends to the Chantry’s nonsense, of having the organization you thought you knew being torn up from inside and out, of knowing that sense of betrayal. “If there’s anything I can do?”

Run messages maybe, take on some mending free of charge. Without any contacts of her own, she wouldn’t be much use for the Underground itself. …But without those contacts, she was also hopefully outside suspicion. She couldn’t have been the one who told anything, because she wouldn’t have known what was happening…

“Your friend. The one you wanted to introduce me to. Is it safe for me to find them? To help?” As the words came out of her mouth, she realized that it sounded like she was just going to leave him here, and go dashing off on her own to let him wallow.

"Not that I don't want to stay," she held up her hands in a placating gesture. "It's just... I don't know how much I can do here. But, maybe I could help investigate? Or make deliveries that would definitely be secure? Because nobody but you knows me?"

Cassidy offered her apologies. Lucien had only meant to warn her of the danger she was stepping into and somehow he’d ended up turning it on himself. He shook his head. “Don’t worry about me,” he said to her offer of aid. “I’m fine.” A bit of a stretch but he really didn’t want yet another person worrying after him.

“Your friend. The one you wanted to introduce me to. Is it safe for me to find them? To help? Not that I don't want to stay," she held up her hands in a placating gesture. "It's just... I don't know how much I can do here. But, maybe I could help investigate? Or make deliveries that would definitely be secure? Because nobody but you knows me?"

Lucien waved off any concern she might have of offending him. “My friend is…” His mouth twisted. How best to sum up Anders. “After everything that happened,” and quite a few things before that, “I don’t think he trusts just about anyone. But he trusts me.” Probably. Hopefully. Yes. If Anders didn’t trust him, he’d be dead. But trusting him and trusting his judgment were two separate matters. He’d admittedly shown a distinct disregard for his own well being. “I don’t think it would be wise for you to just show up unannounced but I can vouch for you. I trust you, for whatever that’s worth.” A moment of doubt aside and maybe not with his life but enough to run some jobs. “So maybe we can still work something out.”

He got to his feet and started to pace, drawing the wide eyed attention of Paige. “I can try again to arrange a meeting between the two of you but there’s no reason to just sit and wait to see if that happens.” He was done wallowing. He needed to act. He stopped pacing to look at Cassidy. “You’re clearly resourceful. You have experience with all this. More than that, you can go places I can’t. Talk to people I can’t. If I go marching into the Alienage or even poke around too much in Lowtown, I’ll draw eyes. And like you said, you’re an unknown. We should take advantage of that. Make a plan of attack instead of just charging in. If you want, that is.”

Lucien wouldn’t make any decisions for someone else, as much as he was itching to do something aside from sit in his shop. He went to heat some water while she thought on that and grabbed a pair of mugs. “Tea?” he offered. “I think I have some mint left and I just picked up a few other varieties. Spiced from Rivain. An Ander mix that really packs a punch.”

He offered up a tray with her different choices, if she was interested. “So, what do you say? It seems better than having you sit on your hands while I talk with my friend.”
Lucien claimed to be fine. She highly doubted it, but she wasn’t exactly in a position where she felt comfortable stating that. She’d only known him for… hours, really, if one was feeling generous in adding up all the time.

She imagined most people felt generous around him. The ones that didn’t probably didn’t have much in the way of feeling.

He waved off her apologies. “My friend is…” His mouth twisted, and he seemed to be searching for a way to put it diplomatically. “After everything that happened, I don’t think he trusts just about anyone.”

“If everything you’ve told me is true… about what’s happened… I don’t blame him.” And she didn’t. If the Underground here was anything like the Collective, then it wouldn’t be large, and anyone operating within the same circle would feel losses keenly. Especially if those losses were caused by a traitor. “It’s not exactly a situation that inspires trust in strangers.”

“But he trusts me.”

Which was exactly the sort of thing a traitor would say. Cassidy bent to scratch between the Lady’s ears, and to hide her face as he continued talking about his friend, and his ideas on how she could help. If Lucien were the traitor, she’d just offered him a perfect way to do more to undermine the cause without sullying his own name. Helping him would not do her own case any favours. He didn’t seem the type, but traitors never did. That was the point. You weren’t meant to see it coming.

But if that were the case, he would have to be a truly spectacular actor, between the bumbling and the devastation written all over the way he was behaving now. To be able to make all of that as believable as he was managing, not that she knew him well, but the Circles tended not to train good liars. About petty things, hidden trinkets, secret trysts, yes. But about the grand things, plots and plans, there was too much risk, and people got jittery.

She straightened her back, decision made.

“If you want, that is.”

Cassidy offered him a wide smile. It was why she was here. She opened her mouth to say so, but Lucien kept talking, gathering up some mugs and offering her tea. She chose the Rivaini blend. Something about the spices made her feel warm, and the chill of Kirkwall felt like it was getting into her bones these days.

“So, what do you say? It seems better than having you sit on your hands while I talk with my friend.”

“I didn’t come to Kirkwall for my health,” she reminded him. As though anyone came to Kirkwall for their health. “You’re the one who understands the situation. I’m just here to help.”

Cassidy gave an encouraging smile when asked if she wanted to help. Good. He knew that she’d ostensibly tracked him down for that very reason but she didn’t have the whole picture then. Now she had a better idea of what she would be stepping into, which was important.

“I didn’t come to Kirkwall for my health,” she reminded him after accepting a mug of hot, spiced tea. “You’re the one who understands the situation. I’m just here to help.”

Lucien smiled and dipped his head. “Of course, but things changed since I last saw you. I just wanted to be sure you hadn’t changed your mind. Which would have been fine, of course. But-” He took a sip of his own tea to stop from rambling out apologies or excuses or whatever it was that was always in such a hurry to escape his mouth. “Well, I’m glad you’re still in.”

He tapped his mug thoughtfully and gazed out the window as he tried to formulate a likely plan. There was so little that either of them could do, cut off as they were from the rest of the Mage Underground. Little was not nothing, though, and he was more determined than ever to do something. All he needed was a place to start.

“I think the best thing you could do right now is gather information. We have no idea who betrayed us and we’ll only fall apart from the inside if we go in, swinging blindly.” Lucien once again took up his seat on the couch and crossed his legs, one ankle perched on the other knee. Bouncing his foot, he continued, “You have the advantage of fresh eyes. See if you can spot anything that strikes you as odd. Someone recently come into an unexpected windfall. Or who… I don’t know. Anything fishy, other than the prevailing aroma about the docks.”

He lifted and dropped his shoulders in a helpless shrug. “I know that’s not much to go on but any lead will be more than we have now.”
Lucien prepared her choice of tea, and handed her the mug. It was warm, and she wrapped her hands around the mug, blowing across the top to cool the liquid before she drank as Lucien spoke. “Of course, but things changed since I last saw you. I just wanted to be sure you hadn’t changed your mind. Which would have been fine, of course. But-”

Cassidy prepared herself for another ramble. She was beginning to get the sense that even without nerves to prompt him, Lucien was likely quite a talker anyway, but this time, he cut himself off with a sip of tea, and continued. “Well, I’m glad you’re still in.”

He looked out the window, thinking of how she could help, maybe, or at the very least, just thinking, and she took the opportunity to take a sip of her own tea. It was… certainly different. Peppery? Not that she had the opportunity to have pepper very often, and… there were other, unfamiliar tastes that made her tongue tingle. She felt compelled to look down into the mug, as though she might identify the flavours by looking at them, even though the contents just looked like brown water with flecks of sediment. Maybe another taste… try it again to decide if she liked it or not.

Which meant that she had a mouthful of tea to hastily swallow as Lucien started talking again, “I think the best thing you could do right now is gather information. We have no idea who betrayed us and we’ll only fall apart from the inside if we go in, swinging blindly.”

She watched as he paced back over the couch, bouncing a foot on the opposite knee. “You have the advantage of fresh eyes. See if you can spot anything that strikes you as odd. Someone recently come into an unexpected windfall. Or who… I don’t know. Anything fishy, other than the prevailing aroma about the docks.”

He lifted and dropped his shoulders in a helpless shrug. “I know that’s not much to go on but any lead will be more than we have now.”

Cassidy nodded. Anyone who came into money, was pardoned for a crime they were known to have committed, disappeared at a convenient time, anyone who was in a situation that the common wisdom dictated that they probably shouldn’t have been, really, would be a suspect. Tricky in a city like Kirkwall, given that everyone seemed to be in bed with everyone else. Between the Carta, the Coterie, the Nobles, the Merchant’s Guild, the Mage Underground and the Chantry, it was impossible to keep who was doing what with whom straight. And her contacts, such as they were, really only covered Hightown’s back doors and the Alienage – the Docks, Darktown, most of Lowtown were out of her range.

“I’m… I’ve got to be honest. I don’t know how much help I’ll be in investigating.” She gestured to her ears, “These’ll get me to people you can’t talk to, but they’ll also limit how far I can go. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll do my best, but…” She leaned forward, looking Lucien in the eye to make sure he understood her sincerity, but also that they had to face the very real possibility that the two of them would not get to the bottom of this, “It’s a big city, and unless your traitor is an elf or a noble, I might not have the contacts to find them.”

"Maybe if we go over what you know, that'll narrow some of it down?"
Cassidy sipped at her tea as Lucien talked. “I’m… I’ve got to be honest. I don’t know how much help I’ll be in investigating,” she said with a gesture to her ears. “These’ll get me to people you can’t talk to, but they’ll also limit how far I can go. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll do my best, but…” She leaned forward and captured his eyes with a sincere look. “It’s a big city, and unless your traitor is an elf or a noble, I might not have the contacts to find them.”

Lucien nodded and took his own sip of tea, the last of the mint Anders had made up for him. He knew he was asking a lot. It meant something that she was still willing to try.

"Maybe if we go over what you know, that'll narrow some of it down?"

His mouth twisted in thought. What did he know? Not much. “With everything else that has happened, I haven’t been able to find out if anyone else has been caught up in this,” he explained, hoping she would understand he wasn’t being willfully ignorant. “But I can tell you about the two incidents I was involved in.”

He drank more of his tea first. It was comforting and he needed comforting if he was going to talk about everything that had happened. “This first mission, we were supposed to find two recently escaped Circle mages, holed up in a cave. If they’d ever been anything more than a ruse, they’d been captured by the time we showed up because all we found in the cave was a former Templar looking to get back in with his pals and an angry mob he’d gathered to help him deal with whoever showed up. I think they were hoping to incapacitate us and use us as bartering chips. We managed to best them, but only just.”

That whole mission was a mess Lucien still couldn’t get sorted in his head. On the one hand, if he’d been with anyone else, he certainly would have been dead or back in the Circle by now, probably with a brand on his forehead for his troubles. On the other, Justice had been the reason he’d come so close to death. Justice… Anders. He knew he probably needed to stop making the distinction in his head. It had been Anders’ hand around his throat, even if it was Justice hurling accusations.

He let out a slow, shaky breath. “Then there was the one I mentioned, where my friend was taken by the Templars. We were there to save mage children from Tevinters and we did, only everything went sideways again because Templars showed up.” He held out his hand and folded a finger down as he tallied similarities. “Both missions first came from runners in the Underground. Different people but neither mages. One I know and one was new to me. I was there both times but I don’t think I’m a target. If they knew me specifically, I wouldn’t have just had the week that I did. The friend I was going to introduce you to, he was also there. He’s not behind it,” he said, his voice firm with absolute certainty, “but I don’t know if someone is after him. He’s not the most… subtle apostate. He's a Warden, though, so I think he's out of their reach. Under normal circumstances, anyway.”

All fingers in one hand down but no closer to any answer. He shook his head lightly. “I’m not sure if any of that helps. I can’t see what connects them both or even if they were both traps or if the second was just poor luck. But hopefully it’s a start.”