Of Hands

A/N: This was born from that remark of Alistair's about him being incredibly clumsy around the PC: 'all hands', and my own musings about the nature of first love between two Wardens in a time of war.

The water is barely warm in the battered tin basin as she scrubs the dishes and thinks about his hands.

Dinner was a pleasant enough affair. It got increasingly colder as they climbed up the mountains to Soldiers Peak, but Levi Dryden's wagon was well-stocked and had supplies she hasn't seen since she left Highever. The spices certainly made Leliana squee with delight and launch into a long description of Orlesian style beef stew. It was only natural that Sten made some short and sharp remarks following that and as a consequence Leliana, of course, turned her delicate nose up in the air and accepted the challenge. Wynne helped her rummage through Levi's supplies and her own herb bags rather enthusiastically, and once she learned about it, Morrigan contributed some wild thyme she gathered back in the Brecilian Forest. Even Zevran has chipped in, chopping the meat (claiming dealing with that is traditionally a male affair in Antiva) and offering commentary on the nature of certain herbs and their effect on male stamina and endurance, casting unmistakable glances in Alistair's direction, who tried not to blush furiously. "My dearest Morrigan", Zev would purr, narrowing his eyes, "I am sure you know about how thyme and rosemary soaked in strong wine for a fortnight and with some added honey is often prescribed to nervous couples prior to wedding nights. At least they do in Antiva, you know…" Zevran would shrug at this point as Morrigan snorted and tossed her hair. "In Ferelden, maybe they just talk until they fall asleep. Ah, such a pity."

Despite that, the stew turned out to be excellent, especially so for something cooked at a campfire. Leliana beamed as praise was showered on her (even Sten admitted, gruffly, that she's quite a good cook 'for a human') and everyone chose to ignore Shale who suggested next time perhaps they should make it from pigeons.

Giovanna volunteered to do dish duty; not from some sense of self-mortification, as Zevran suggested as she gathered up the bowls and took up the hot water kettle to the small stream by their camp's edge to rinse everything off. Not for that, although she took care of smacking the back of the assassin's head gently as she passed him by, being very aware that he let her do that instead of ducking—the blasted elf was way too fast. She simply wished to be alone, away from camp bustle a bit, away from eyes of companions, from their witty remarks, amused glances and occasional smirks, and think.

About his hands.

As she scrubs the wooden bowls, quickly and efficiently, she's glad the firelight doesn't quite reach this far. She has one of Wynne's little magelights with her; enough to make sure the dishes are clean but not quite strong to show her face and its increasing blush as she contemplates the events of the past week or so.

It is… interesting, she muses, as she rinses the dishrag she uses and sets another bowl to the side, clean, to be in a…relationship, for lack of a better word. While in Highever, she heard enough castle gossip, caught enough conversation between her training partners, her father's knights, to realize that romance blossomed quite actively in The Cousland's court, and her mother's salons lent ample opportunity for young women and men to meet and learn the arts of courting, or even more than that. After all, she stumbled upon enough couples in dark corners after feasts (she still has to suppress the urge to giggle when she remembers the red face of Ser Gilmore with the elven scullery maid). But the only way she can deal with this…this development, she labels it promptly, is to somehow force herself to view it objectively, from above and detached, as if she was one of those scholars studying old scrolls of past events in history.

Otherwise I'd be sitting here, staring in front of myself, with a slightly idiotic smile on my face, while thinking about his hands.

She shakes herself, as her attention wanders yet again. All of those silly courtly ballads sung in her father's court suddenly seem understandable, at least. Or even pale by comparison, compared to the real thing. No one could have told her how her stomach would twist in a knot and her breath would go out of her in an almost audible throaty sigh when she as much as looks at him just sitting there, cleaning his weapons and armor in the evening, or playing with Poppy, or arguing with Sten about proper blade handling, gesticulating wildly with his hands. Those hands.

Those scarred hands that can drive his sword with such a force through a hurlock's throat, yet the very same fingers can trace complicated patterns on her collarbones in some stolen moment in between camp chores and the sleep of exhaustion. Those cursed, dear, beautiful hands of his, that drive her to distraction to such extent that she almost drops whatever she's doing every time he accidentally brushes them against her.

A part of her, a cool, detached and calm part that remains aloof even in her worst moments, offers that maybe those are not accidents. That maybe, just maybe he tests her deliberately, wants to see just how far into this madness she's sunk to, how far in the doe-eyed infatuation of the heart's first spring he can drive her. That maybe this is just a play, a game, something that cannot be true, because, frankly, Giovanna Cousland cannot think she ever could inspire such things in a man...

She heard about men doing this, to make maidens mad with desire using sweet words and caresses so they lie with them and then simply they move on, while the woman gets discarded and destitute... but that is much more Zevran's style, to be honest, and Giovanna shakes her head at the thought of even contemplating Alistair harboring such nefarious plans, innocent Templar altarboy that he is.

Not that I have much more to go on, she smirks to herself. Some uncomfortable and technical discussions with my mother, overheard conversations on the prowess of certain household knights, and stumbling upon couples in the dark clutching at each other in funny poses really doesn't count as experience. For pity's sake, I even took that remark of his about lampposts in winter at face value!

It's madness, she thinks, as she scrubs the last bowl out and drops it next to the rest to dry a bit. It's useless, anyway, to dwell on this, to even think there can be more than stolen moments of happiness by the roadside; they are both Grey Wardens, the taint of The Joining's secret ritual slowly poisoning their veins, Time itself playing cruel jokes on them to throw this, this… complication their way. Stupid, hopeless thing, she knows, but ah, the way he holds her after they kiss, and his hands slowly glide down her back to her hips, pulling her against him while his warm mouth moves along her jawline to the hollow of her throat…

She understands Sten a bit better these days, with his fierce determination to cling onto the remains of his past. I am a soldier of the Beresaad, he used to say often in the beginning, his lavender eyes glinting with something she couldn't quite decipher. He recited that like it was a spell—some magic that might anchor him in reality, connecting him to his beginnings, to where he came from, so he doesn't feel like a leaf on the wind tossed violently by events beyond even his control. She also needs that same determination, that will, to cling to something so this, this maelstrom of a feeling doesn't swallow her up whole, taking her away from all her duties and obligations, down on a path that is too dangerous to contemplate, except when the battle-calloused hands of her fellow Warden move whisper-light along the curves of her body with a deliberate slowness that makes her shiver and gasp his name into his mouth…

"You fell in?" Curse the man! Out of armor he can move so silently—must be an aspect of the Templar training she hasn't quite mastered yet herself.

Giovanna turns and glares as sternly as she can, kneeling on the bank of the stream with a bunch of wooden bowls and a battered tin basin scattered around her.

"'m fine." She mutters, easing back and stacking the bowls. "Just finished. Someone misses me already?"

"Um…me?" Alistair offers with that smile that melts her annoyance away faster than spring sun the last piles of snow.

"Flatterer." She murmurs, with her own shy smile blossoming hesitantly, rising to her feet.

"Grouch." He returns the compliment, pulling her to him in one smooth motion.

It is strange, so strange, Giovanna contemplates, how two bodies can fit together so well in the gentlest of embraces, barely touching and yet full of promises yet unfulfilled. It is strange, how a seasoned warrior like her, who can crunch her heels through darkspawn skull and spine without hesitation, can tremble so. It is strange how, in turn, a man who can jump on the falling body of a monstrous ogre and push his blade into his skull through its eyes before jumping off again to land with such lethal grace, can be so delicate as he traces her cheekbones with the same fingers.

"Shut up, FitzTheirin." she whispers, tugging on his hair and feeling herself pressing closer to him, despite all her determination earlier.

"Make me." He grins at her, smoothing her hair out of her forehead and cocking an eyebrow.

"As you wish." She knows enough of him by now to realize that in this, too, he wants her to lead. After their first kiss, so bold and entirely instigated by him (although he insisted later it was the wine she made him drink), he left it to her to ambush him the next time, both of them covered in blood after that young dragon rose up from the crumbly ruins of the forest, not caring, really, that Sten and Wynne were right there, pretending to size up the dragon's pile of treasure. She was so glad to be alive there, after rooms of undead horrors, poisonous spiders and the stench of dragon filth in her nostrils, that she grabbed the front of his breastplate and pressed her lips against his before he could do anything else but make a surprised grunt, his drawn sword, still wet with dragon blood clattering on the stones as he curved his arms around her, all else forgotten.

By the way... you've got red on you, he whispered to her when they broke apart, darting a glance towards their companions, and she grinned widely, perhaps the first time in months.

It is familiar by now, but never once boring, the way his lips and teeth and tongue clash against hers as her blood is pounding in her veins from being this near. It is never old, the way he cradles the nape of her neck in his palm, angling her head just so, the feel of his chest pressing against hers, his stubble scratching her cheeks slightly with a pleasant rasp that speeds up her heartbeat even more...

"Mmm." he says appreciatively as they part, bumping his forehead against hers. "A very effective way of making me forget what I came here for."

"The feeling is mutual." She let her guard down so much for him, she realizes yet again; but she doesn't care any more. There are only the two of them left—despite the camaraderie and even friendship she feels for most of her companions, it's not even coming close to what started that rainy day in Ostagar. Only two Grey Wardens in Ferelden—if she starts a sentence, he probably can finish it, if he looks sad or lost, she knows exactly why.

"Good." Alistair laughs, a bit shakily. "Glad to hear at least someone appreciates my boyish charms."

"Old line." she scolds. Honestly, what was the last time I was this much at ease with anyone? Slight pain presses against the bones of her skull when she realizes the truth: it was at home, at Highever, with her family."Don't try that on me, it doesn't work."

"Oh, never fear, dear lady. I have other lines for you." His voice deepens, and Giovanna draws a ragged breath at the dark promises hinted at by the tone. "Trust me."

Giovanna clings to him and inhales the scent of his skin: leather, steel, wood smoke from the fire, sweat and armor polish. So similar to hers these days, and yet underneath it all, it's him: Alistair, Grey Warden, companion, trusted friend and the man who captured her heart before she even knew it herself.

Oh, his hands , she thinks giddily as she sneaks her arms around his neck and tilts her head back. Warm fingers thread through her hair, warm breath tickles the hollow of her neck and moves towards her collarbone, nuzzling her shirt collar aside with a determined thoroughness she can only approve heartily. I love his hands. But his lips... they are really something I can get used to.