Usual copyright shpleil: Dragonage is the property of Bioware, and so forth.
It had been dark for several hours when the group eventually returned to camp from the day's adventuring at the abandoned fortress of Soldier's Peak. The sun had set anyway-the full moon cast everything in a bright silver light to such a degree that it was less 'night' and more 'early dusk'. They hadn't made much progress with the fortress: Levi Drydan was a merchant first and a guide second, repeatedly getting lost despite his insistences that he knew exactly where he was going. When they'd finally arrived at the snowy mountain top, the skeletons and spirits had proved tenacious which, coupled with the sheer size of the building meant Kallian had decided to return to try again the next day after several hours fighting. Arriving back at camp their leader, the diminutive elf Kallian, Alistair, Leliana and Wynn went their separate ways. Wynn to relax and examine some of the books their leader had found, Alistair and Leliana to get some food. Sten may have been intimidating to most of the group, but he was also on cooking duty for that night and was a damned sight better than Alistair's slop, and a hot meal after all the fighting was very appealing to Leliana. Even more appealing than a bath at that moment; the water in the nearby pool would be cold in these hills, and the blood would probably still be in her hair tomorrow. Speaking of blood...
The redhead looked around. Their leader seemed to have vanished, though Leliana could guess where she'd gone. It was disconcerting really, she mused. Kallian was already pretty good at sneaking around, and the elven rogue had, in her own words, "never bothered learning to sneak properly". Maker knew what she would be like if she actually tried. Well, odds were she was already at the pool herself... she'd been positively drenched in blood and her hair had become a single solid object after the blood in it had dried. Leliana decided to delay the stew and do the bathing first; a hot meal would be the perfect follow up to a cold bath, and Alistair would be wanting to get cleaned up a bit himself.
If the red-headed elf was bathing now, she may as well join her. It would be nice for some company after all; that she could also try and get some information out of her leader when they were alone was just a bonus, Leliana reasoned as she entered her tent for her soaps. Kallian was like herself in many ways; always talking to other people, smiling and learning about people and storing little bits of conversations for future reference: Leliana had found the odd necklace with Andraste's symbol present on her pillow occasionally, metal bars being given to Zevran and Sten seemed to have a suspiciously regular supply of cookies with the odd watercolour.
While Leliana rummaged in her miscellaneous bag containing her soaps she considered and planned what she was about to try and do with their Grey Warden leader. The simple fact was Kallian never talked about herself. She knew of Leliana's own mother, of how she grew up in Orlesian aristocracy to say nothing of what she knew about the others, but Leliana knew nothing of her and the mystery was almost irritating her. She'd asked Alistair about her past nearly a week and three days ago; since he had been her comrade (slightly) longer than she had surely he knew something. Alistair had given her a slightly surprised look before he settled into that cute half-smile he was so good at doing...
"You don't know either? I thought she might have talked with you about it to be honest... I mean, you two seem to be becoming good friends." A true enough statement; Leliana enjoyed her company, her ability to listen and Kallian found her tales fascinating and listened to them with childlike glee. His face took on a thoughtful look as he recalled what he knew about her. "She arrived with Duncan at Ostigar a few days before... well." His face darkened.
"...anyway, Duncan didn't tell me anything about her. Didn't have a chance to really. The two arrived, the recruits gathered, and off we went. Daveth and Ser Jory talked a bit about themselves as we..." he gave Leliana a 'look'. "...well, while we were doing our Grey Warden initiation stuff. The point is, she didn't talk." He shot a look over Leliana's shoulder to see where Kallian was; apparently the dog had done something to upset Morrigan again, and Kallian was trying to soothe the witch's frazzled nerves. Again. Even so, he leant forward and lowered his voice a bit so only Leliana could hear him.
"I mean she didn't talk. Ever. It was creepy, and to be completely honest with you, Daveth and I half thought she was mute at first; she didn't speak for hours. And when she did..." the templar trailed off uneasily "...she never made eye contact, even when she was talking to us. Always gazed off to the side." The pair exchanged a look, Leliana voicing their identical thought: "She still doesn't. She only makes eye contact with Zevran, Oghren or when she's feeling emotional."
...and he had revealed nothing. Well. Almost nothing; she'd learnt Kallian had apparently opened up a bit since she'd been recruited, even if she did still flinch when Sten or Alistair grabbed her by the shoulder or arm unexpectedly.'There has to be a reason to that reaction,' she mused as she exited her tent and made her way over to where the pool was, pausing to examine Alistair in the firelight of the camp. He was talking with Wynne and Oghren over the events the group had encountered Soldier's Peak, occasionally Levi Drydan adding something. Studying her companions in the firelight, Leliana smiled as a thought occurred to her: if Alistair ever realised how attractive he could be then Zevran would be in a lot of trouble. Leliana smiled at the thought of Alistar the Lady Killer. The idea of Alistair seducing anyone was endearing in a way. Then the idea of him seducing via the ways Zevran used caused a giggle to erupt from the bard's lips as she walked through some bushes, moonlight guiding her. Approaching the waters she heard quiet splashing through the foliage-her suspicions were correct.
Slipping by the last bush Leliana paused to take in the scene. Kallian was standing near the middle of the pool, the water up to her hips, normally scruffy shoulder length hair neat with wetness and skin almost glowing in the silver light from the moon, suspended in the sky behind her and reflecting on the surface of the water, her profile on display as she slowly washed some cloth, unaware or uncaring of her audience.
At first, Leliana hesitated, unsure of disturbing Kallian. She was friendly enough to her, but unlike Leliana she seldom bathed with the other women of their mismatched band bathed together. If she did it was usually away to one side. Besides, but this seemed... private. Apparently sensing her unease Kallian turned to face her, unashamed of her nudity.
"Are you enjoying the view or something?" she dead panned. The elf's face now hidden in shadow, the human was unsure what to say, so she settled for the truth.
"Yes. You look like an ethereal spirit from legend. It is a scene many an Orlesian painter has dreamed of painting, I am sure."
There was a pregnant pause. The silence grew until it was deafening.
Kallian broke it. "....Really?"
Leliana smiled. She could hear the shy, nervous blush in her voice, see it in her changed posture. "Of course." Sensing the mood had eased, she broached her question. "I was hoping to wash the blood off me before I ate." Leliana suppressed the urge to purse her lips. The barrier had gone back up again already; Kallian's posture had returned to 'normal'. "Would you mind if I joined you?"
"Not at all," Kallian replied with a shrug, turning back to trying to clean whatever it was floating in the waters, uninterested in Leliana's undressing-it wasn't the first time they'd bathed together after all. Once she'd done, Leliana approached the water with some trepidation-she hated the first few minutes of the cold water. Hissing as she felt heat leave her body and the mud squeeze between her toes, Leliana waded over to her leader, who was once again gently washing the cloth-she could see it was a dress of some kind now. Once she got to Kallian's left side she opened her mouth to speak; but her words died on her lips as she saw the elf's face, marked with sadness and regret. It was the first time Leliana had seen those emotions on their leader's face. She's seen many; indifference (Zevran propositioning her), spellbound fascination (herself recalling tales to her), concern (Oghren falling flat on his face after drinking, anyone suffering), aggression, annoyance (usually Alistair and Morrigan bickering) amusement (Morrigan and Alistair's bickering again)... but never such naked remorse. And it was focused entirely on the floating dress. Following the elf's gaze she examined it. It was a simple-though pretty-thing with sequins and embroidered silk patterns which had, quite honestly, seen better days. White in the bright moonlight, it was marred by an irregular brown pattern on it which really didn't suit the beauty of the dress. A few of the sequins had been lost from tears and cuts that hadbeen sewn back toge... Leliana's eyes widened.
That wasn't a pattern. They were blood spatters.
"It is..." Kallian's head lowered, drying hair falling to hide her face as she lowered her head, body visibly sagging as she answered the unspoken question on Leliana's face, "...was... my wedding dress."
To say Leliana was surprised was an understatement. Kallian was young: Leliana didn't know exactly, but the elf had told her she wasn't even 20 seasons yet. Marriage wasn't exactly unusual at around that age but... she couldn't see her as a wife. "You-you're married?" was all she could think to stammer out, the cold briefly forgotten.
The younger shook her head, a bitter smile marring her face. "No. I'm not. About thirty seconds later and I would have been." She blinked, as if realising what she was talking about and turned to look at Leliana, unease, embarrassment and self conciousness on her face. Grabbing the dress to her, she turned and started to leave before Leliana stopped her.
"Please, do not go."
The elf paused, still facing away towards where their clothes were.
"Everyone talks to you but... you talk to no-one, not even Oghren, my friend. Please Kallian... you can talk to me." It was a calculated risk on Leliana's part; Kallian was a friendly person but she'd never actually called anyone in the group 'friend', not even Oghren, probably the person she was closest to in the group. Either Kallian would brush Leliana's indirect question aside or she would take the bait and accept the unspoken offer. Leliana was confident her experience at reading personalities and manipulating people would not let her down this time.
It didn't. The elf turned to face her, avoiding eye contact as she usually did.
"I suppose I should start from the beginning..." she thought aloud, as she started to continue trying to clean the stained blood out of the dress. It was a hopeless endeavour but Leliana just didn't have the heart to say so. As Kallian began to talk and wash, so Leliana began to clean herself also, guilt at the manipulation already beginning to eat at her, even if it was, she reasoned, for a worthy cause, making sure that Kallian saw she was paying great attention to her and her story to not lose the fragile trust her leader was showing her, as she washed her robe mechanically, her eyes unseeing as she explained.
"Growing up in the alienage was hard. We're allowed to leave it during the daytime, but we had to be back in it by dark, or we'd be assumed to be pickpockets or thieves or whatnot." The elven redhead paused her washing and gave the human redhead a wry smile. "Honestly, any elf that is out after dark probably is. I don't claim it was special; there's other alienages and they're no better. Val Royeaux is one of the worst I hear... and dust town was at least as bad too. Worse in some ways. Better in others though. The nobles won't have anything to do with those in Dust Town, except for the Noble Hunters." Her face darkened and her shoulders slumped.
"Elves are not so lucky. My mother was..." Kallian made eye contact with Leliana for the first time that night, expression unreadable. He eyes had hardened with the look of finality Leliana recognised. She feared Kallian was going to leave when she pressed on. "We sometimes starved. If there were food shortages in the city, we were the ones who suffered them first, if humans suffered them at all. Girls had to be careful-sometimes humans came and just grabbed the first vaguely pretty one they saw. It's the reason I'm good at slipping away. Others..." Kallian's face darkened again, "...were not so lucky. One of the most vivid memories I have of growing up is my cousin Soris holding me back when I was twelve. A friend was being pulled away by a pair of humans. She was struggling, screaming and crying while the men dragged her away, but no-one would do anything." Leliana had to crush an urge to hug her; she looked like she'd just been told her puppy had died. "I'd grabbed a stick but Soris wouldn't let me help, even as I cried to him that they were going to hurt her." She gave quiet snort of contempt as her eyes hardened and she snarled "Hurt her. That's a nice euphemism isn't it. They raped her."
A sigh. She walked out of the water, Leliana still standing in the middle of the pool, absorbing it. She knew life was hard of course, was seeing-and had experienced-it first hand, but Kallian's mask had been removed for the first time and the... disappointment with the world Kallian showed was bitter, vicious even. Hanging the dress out on some branches of a nearby tree, the elf returned to the water and took the soap from Leliana. At the bard's protests Kallian cut her off. "That's enough washing the dress for tonight. Besides, you won't be able to do your back." And with that she spun the human around before Leliana could protest and started scrubbing gently, but methodically. "You're doing the rest though." As she resumed the narrative, her voice started to take the 'glassy' quality even Oghren had learnt to be wary around; whenever Kallian was upset or angry she smiled a smile that wasn't quite... right. Her voice became cheerful and matter-of-fact, like in that tale about some wives the bard had once read.
Exactly like it was right now.
"Anyway, my wedding. It was an arranged marriage to Nelaros, an elf I'd never met before. I hadn't been very happy about it but... I wasn't exactly resentful either. Father doted-dotes," she corrected effortlessly, "greatly on me, especially..." Leliana felt a pause and tremble for a brief moment on her back, the only hint of emotion, Kallian's voice that eerie cheerfulness. "...since mum died. So, when he had chosen him I knew he would have made as sure as he could that he would be a good man. He seemed a nice enough person from his letters, and when I actually met him, he was handsome, and seemed as kind as everyone had said and he seemed in his letters. We would not have lived in luxury but I think we would have been comfortable." Kallian's voice softened, remembering. "...I... think I could have grown to love him," she trailed off thoughtfully, tapping gently on Leliana's shoulders. Said human tilted her head to look over her shoulder, accepting the offered soap and began washing the rest of herself, turning slightly to see her companion more easily and a sense of dread filling her stomach. "What happened to him?"
"Cut down. By the Arl of Denerim's guards, trying to rescue me. I arrived just in time to see it happen." Leliana turned complete to face her, pity in her eyes as she raised a hand to the shorter woman's shoulder to hold in comfort.
"I am sorry Kallian. If... if this is too painful, I would understand if you do not wish to continue."
A quiet but audible swallow, and a flicker of an emotion on Kallian's face as she shook her head, too brief for Leliana to place before that creepy smile returned.
"I get ahead of myself though-that comes later. An hour or so before my wedding Bann Vaughan, the son of the late Arl of Denerim turned up. He was after some... 'company' back at the estate. One thing led to another" 'and your voice becomes warm' Leliana mentally noted, "and my cousin Shianni knocked him out cold with a bottle of wine. When he returned later, he brought armed guards. Interrupted our weddings... Soris and myself were to be married on the same days, as my fiancé had arrived early." Kallian gave a mirthless smile, and Leliana could swear in the corner of her eye she could have seen tears for a moment. As she turned to face her fully "So, about thirty seconds before I was married, he gatecrashes the wedding, and kidnaps Shianni, most of the female guests, my cousin's bride, and myself. But not before punching me out cold after trying to talk things through. When I came to, we were all locked up in some kind of store-room and my cousin had already been taken to... to his bedchamber." As she talked the smile faded and returned to that miserable look, but to Leliana's perverse (but also guilty) pleasure, the woman lifted her gaze and fixed it onto her own eyes misery present in the elf's green eyes also.
"When the guards came to take me, I... managed to escape" The back of Leliana's mind noted she was hiding something, "by the time I got to that wretched little man's room I was drenched in blood, and..." Kallian closed her eyes and lowered her head "...I should have been faster. If I hadn't been so needlessly cautious, been such a frightened little girl, I could have been there in time to stop it." Leliana felt and saw the muscles in Kallian's arms tense, the tendons under her arms visibly taut.
"Once I realised what he'd done I-" Kallian looked up and gave Leliana a vicious smile. "I gutted him. And his friends. I don't regret it either. He deserved to die. They all deserved to die." As suddenly as it appeared, the viciousness vanished and the sad little girl was back.
"Of course, I didn't get away with it." She broke eye contact again. Leliana dimly noted that at some point the hand on her friend's shoulder hand taken to stroking her arm in a soothing manner as Kallian trembled, though whether it was from cold or emotion the bard was unsure. "Well... not exactly," Kallian continued with a bitter chuckle, "Duncan was there. He'd been trying to recruit, and when he found out I'd murdered my way through the Arl's estate to kill that bully for.... hurting... my cousin, he enacted the Right of Conscription. I took it up of course. It was join the Grey Wardens or dangle from a noose. Assuming none of the guards decided to have some 'fun' with me first. After all, that was what got me into the whole mess in the first place."
Leliana felt herself smile as she took her friend's chin in her hand gently guided Kallian to look at her. "I know you, my friend," she spoke soothingly. "You would have saved them, regardless if you had been taken with them or not. Your sense of justice would do no other."
Kallien studied her with a silent, sad stare before she spoke.
"I should have been faster."
"You were as fast as you could have been. The Maker knows this, as do I. I dare say even your cousin." Leliana felt a spark of joy flash. Kallian looked unhappy; a great improvement from miserable. "You judge yourself too harshly, Kallian. You are a good person." Kallian held her gaze for several second, apparently searching for sincerity. Apparently satisfied, a small smile flicked in the corner of her mouth, and the elf tiled her head as she stared into space behind Leliana. Shadows from the moonlight caught the bards eye however, and she found herself tracing the tattoo on Kallian's face, the design not unlike flames leaping in the air, feeling raised skin. "Wh...what is this?"
Kallian gave a blank look before she realised what Leliana meant as she gently disengaged herself from woman's hands. "Oh. That." The elf gave a small shrug. "A human tried to rape me when I was fourteen seasons. I kicked him in the balls, failed to get away, he cut my face, and left me in an alley. When Soris found me my head was in a small pool of blood and... well. My father's friend tattooed me to help hide it." Noticing Leliana's horrified look, Kallian gave another small shrug. "It made him lose interest in raping me, and I've had seasons to get used to it. Besides," she gave a smile and tossed her short scruffy hair, posing in the moonlight, "it adds to my charm." Leliana giggled. Kallian's smile slowly vanished.
"I know I'll never get the blood out. But..." another sigh. "I can't help but try. You-you understand, right Leliana?"
The bard paused her resumed bathing to give the elf a gentle but above all, understanding, smile. "Of course. It is your wedding dress Kallian."
It had been barely ten minutes since Leliana had arrived at the edge of the waters, but it felt like hours. "I'll leave you to it," Kallian spoke as she turned and made to leave. As Leliana turned her back, Kallian spoke again: "Leliana?"
As the sound of wading grew more distant, Leliana realised she didn't want Kallian to leave, that she had to pay the red-head's trust back somehow and so she turned, quietly calling for her. Kallian stopped, and turned around.
"Would you like to wash my hair?"
A delicate eyebrow arched.
Leliana smiled. "In Orlais, it is a sign of trust when a woman allows her friend to care or her hair. You have shown me how much you trust me. I wish to return the gesture."
The elf stood in the shallows, clearly considering for several moments, before looking into Leliana's eyes and showing, for the first time since Leliana had met her, a genuine smile as she wading back in.
"I would like that my... friend."
This was inspired mainly when a city elf returns to denerim's alienage and for party members to apparently be surprised by the knowledge that their leader had nearly got hitched. Surprised me really, because when I first saw it, my character was involved with Alistair; I'd have thought she'd surely have talked about her past a bit, though it looks like The Grey Warden's stuck in the same therapist boots CHARNAME was wearing in Baldur's Gate II. (Then again, look up Chains of Commanding on tvtropes) That and, rather like the Tabris in the story, I carried the dress from start to finish though it would obviously have been ruined on the Big Day and bloody useless other than as a space-waster. I'm a sentimental oik, what can I say.
So anyway, the focus was on someone prying open Tabris's defences enough for her to talk about her. So why Leliana? She strikes me as someone who can get people to open up to her, part natural ability and part her training as a bard, and their relationship had to start somewhere. What kind of relationship? Lovers or just girlfriends? I didn't give much though to that beyond 'meh, let the reader decide'; read what you want into that with the dialogue. If you beat me into a corner then I'll say I suppose it was just establishing a friendship since there's still that 'gap' between them which had gone (or been greatly shortened) at the end. As I said, the idea of the story was on someone finding out about Tabris' past (alright, I'll say it, her origins) and why she'd kept that dress.
I deliberately left the time setting vague, but I personally imagine it a quite early one. I am perfectly aware of the fact it's clearly around halfway through the game.
Flashback involving her friend inspired by a piece of artwork by the deviantart artist *aimo titled 'Helpless' (I'd give a link but FF is a bit... akward, with links.) It was only after I'd typed up that flashback-y bit that the penny dropped and I realised I'd basically ripped off her work, but she very kindly let me keep it in after I asked, so thanks again if you're reading this!
Pre-read by Yuffie the starfis-thanks for the suggestions and correcting the (very many) errors and plot holes. (If you're interested, a good howler was I'd forgotten to have Leliana get undressed before joining Tabris in the water!)