She just finished her watch and stops at Sten's lean-to first, her helmet under her arm. The stoic Qunari doesn't have a tent like the rest of them; he merely sets up a tarp above his head to protect him from things falling from the sky or trees, and rolls out his bedroll underneath every night.
She taps him on the shoulder, but Sten is already awake, she knows—his hand tensed on the hilt of his greatsword as she neared, and now his eyes are open, looking up at her calmly and without the slightest hint of sleep in them.
"Kadan." Sten acknowledges her with the word, and she nods back as he rolls up to his full height in one impressive motion, like a boulder slowly but inexorably down the hillside. Nothing more needs to be said: the watch is exchanged, Sten shrugs his chain mail over his head, straps on his greaves and helmet, and walks away, finishing buckling his swordbelt with spare, precise movements as he disappears in the darkness between the trees.
Giovanna Cousland hopes this will be a quiet night. She only recently recovered fully from her injuries received in the battle with Flemeth the Shapeshifter, and her dreams are now hunted by not one, but two dragons: the witch, and the Archdemon. She's not sure which dream she dreads more: the one that heralds a battle yet to come, or the one that she already fought and which nearly killed her. She would need some good, dreamless sleep, and considers rooting through their supplies for some wine to aid that, or perhaps stopping by Morrigan's fire to ask her for a sleeping draught.
At the end, though, she decides such means of escape are easy and cheap. She leans down and pets her mabari warhound's head, as he strolls next to her on his huge, silent paws like a piece of the shadows pooling beneath the trees. It is that quiet, almost deadly silent hour in the middle of the night when even one's thoughts are half asleep, and loop around in an endless chase, creating a light hum inside one's skull. She hopes the dreams to come will be easier than last night, and is looking forward to curl up in her tent with Poppy warming her side. All in all, she's looking forward to getting out of armor, even if it isn't her heavy full plate for battle— her newly healed skin itches rather badly under the soft leather gambeson. This soon after her recovery Wynne still frowned at her starting to take watch, but she insisted, pointing out that if she hasn't started now, she never would, and it was highly unfair to just have Shale and Poppy, golem and hound, do it all.
The sound of a throat clearing jostles her out of her thoughts as she nears her tent, and she sees Alistair pacing back and forth, almost tripping over one of the tent stakes.
"Dreams?" she asks softly. His presence here and now comes as no surprise: she did the same a couple of times during their journeys and now, with their travel towards Orzammar, the dwarven city, it seems the nightmares are back for him as well.
"Dreams." He nods, running fingers through his sleep-tousled hair, and drawing his cloak closer to his body. His face is wan, his eyes are hooded: that tells more than she ever could get from detailed descriptions of those dreams, and so she wordlessly draws the canvas of her tent aside and points.
"Get in." she says with concern in her voice. "I make some tea as soon as I get this off." She raps a finger on her pauldrons. "Be right back." He obeys, looking like some of the weight already has been lifted from his shoulders merely by her proximity.
She's the same way with him, really, she muses, as she sheds her armor outside the tent, placing it in the chest she keeps there covered with waxed burlap against the elements as the tent is really too small for it. Quite a number of times, lately, he held her while she shivered after a particularly bad nightmare brought on by her recent experiences and the taint battling her blood—careful, ever mindful of her injuries, but at the same time terribly conscious of the way her body pressed against his.
Giovanna's mouth curves into a brief smile as she unbuckles her greaves: for two as inexperienced as they are, they sure know what they want, but still dance around the issue, and she is determined to give him as much time as he wants. She was, after all, brought up properly, at least in this regard. Her mother would come back and haunt her from behind the Veil if she'd done something as cross and unladylike as propositioning a man to spend the night. Bad enough that I invite him into my tent… she thinks as she finishes shedding her plates and stands there for a second in her leather and quilted fabric gambeson barely protecting her from the wind whistling through the camp. She ducks into her tent fast, stumbling a bit to hide the fact that the mere thought of him there makes her blush.
"Let me find my tea tin," she says, rummaging through a bag by the side in which she keeps her emergency food supply for when the hunger amplified by the Taint in her blood comes upon her. The small space is still half-crammed with the paraphernalia of her recovery: a washbasin and water jug, several bundles of clean linen bandages, clothing in an unruly heap, two or three extra blankets, small jars of herbal salves she still uses to soothe her skin, a book Wynne lent her to read while she lingered in bed, bored to tears but not well enough to get up and start moving… She normally never would allow piling things up like that, and she bites her lip when she notices Alistair looking over them with barely repressed curiosity.
"Sorry for the mess." she says curtly, and is rewarded with a shaky smile on her fellow Warden's face.
"It's all right; makes it cozy." He colors slightly when he realizes what he had said, and hastens to correct it. "I, um… just know you like order and this is not because you just decided to express your devotion to me by suddenly mimicking my habits…" he pauses and tilts his head on one side. "Dear Maker, I'm really screwing this up, am I not?"
"You had a nightmare." Giovanna reminds him as she finally locates what she was looking for. "I understand people are not quite…responsible for what they say after those." She adds, just for clarification. "As I've done it on a number of occasions myself." She ducks out for a minute to get some hot water from the kettle that hangs over the smoldering ember of their campfire, and hopes that this gives enough time for him to collect himself.
Poppy, sitting by the entrance, looks at her with his ears slightly cocked, a question in his eyes.
"Won't be sleeping for a while, honey." she whispers softly to the mabari, petting his side. "Might as well go and keep Sten company, hm?" She grins. "Maybe he has a cookie for a good dog?"
Poppy bounds away, great body quivering with excitement, and Giovanna glances after him as he disappears into the night before she returns to her tent with two of the cheap tin mugs they carry with them since the army camp in Ostagar like talismans. She hands one of them to Alistair.
"There." She reaches out to smooth some unruly locks of hair out of his eyes. "One of Morrigan's good sides you never allow yourself to see is that she makes quite excellent herbal teas. This here is lavender, chamomile and some Orlesian orange flower petals she found in Bodahn's rather odd assortment of wares. The sticky bits at the bottom are from that last honeycomb you two bought at Lake Calenhad." She makes a face at him. "Come on, it's not poisoned. She made it for me: it helps me to sleep better. I am sharing medicine, here: be nice."
"I don't know." He sounds petulant as he takes the mug and sniffs at the steam rising from it. "She's an apostate… that's only one step from a maleficar, after all. And Flemeth, really…"
"Your templar training is showing, Alistair." She frowns at him. "Kindly tuck it back if you will."
"No, it's not!" He answers indignantly, then he pauses. "Wait… I think it does."
"Glad that you admit it." She sighs and sinks down on her bedroll, kicking a pile of clothing out of the way as surreptitiously as possible. "Have a seat." She blows on her tea and looks at him sideways. "Do you really hate her that much?"
He furrows his brows.
"I… don't know." He admits. "Everything in my training screams against her and demands to just smite her out of her smugness. But then…" and he waves at the mug he holds, "she is doing things for you that, I must admit, makes me question that." He shrugs. "Can I just withhold my final judgment on her until further notice?"
"Sure." Giovanna smiles: that's already a big step from him. When they started to travel together, Alistair simply wanted to either abandon Morrigan or cut her throat when she was asleep. "You like the tea, at least?"
"Yup. Quite tasty, in fact." Never to be said that Alistair isn't fair in his judgment, Giovanna muses, as she watches him take a sip. That also must have been hard to admit, given who made the mixture...Truly, he'd come a long way.
"Now, about your nightmare..." she says next, carefully measuring the words. "I had trouble sleeping the last couple of nights...Is it because we are nearing Orzammar and the Deep Roads, you think?" Alistair is the older Warden amongst them, if only by about six months. He should have a better understanding of what they are about to face-- and how to cope with it. Not that it helps him with the nightmares, apparently, Giovanna thinks as she scoots closer, almost unselfconsciously seeking the warmth of another body against the cold of night.
"Very much possible." Alistair's expression is troubled, but he leans against her and sneaks an arm around her waist, letting out a deep sigh. "As far as I can tell, the Deep Roads is where the center of the darkspawn infestation lies...where the Archdemon is."
"And we're going right there." Giovanna cradles her mug between her hands as if it was a warding amulet.
"I know." Alistair nods. "Will you think less of me if I confess that the mere thought of that gives me the shivers?" His mouth quirks a bit, and his voice deepens. "I am man enough to admit when I feel dread. Seriously, I am trembling. Check it out if you don't believe me. "
There is a bit of silence as the words sink in.
"Alistair FitzTheirin, did you just invite me to put my hands on you?" Giovanna asks sternly, eyebrow quirked, hoping her heartbeat cannot quite be heard all the way to the other side of the camp.
"Yes, ma'am." Alistair deadpans without missing a beat. "Most definitely."
"Well, then." Giovanna pauses, and carefully sets her mug well outside of reach, towards the entry of the tent, and continues in her best commander's tone, even and crisp. "Since you've given me permission..."
"About time." Alistair grumbles as he empties his mug. "You really should know that the best remedy against nightmares is..."
"I believe I've already told you that you talk too much." Giovanna says mildly. She reaches out, takes Alistair's mug out of his hand and sets it next to hers.
"Yes, ma'am; sorry, ma'am." He definitely grins this time, as if he half-mocks her, and that smile, full of uncertainties, promises and possibilities, is so much him that it makes her chest constrict and squeeze the air out of her lungs before she can do anything.
"Oh, do shut up, you." She leans forward, and, as their lips touch, as his hand comes up to tilt her chin, she moves, and slides over into his lap in one smooth motion, lacing her fingers in his hair. "And that's an order."
She surprises him, but just for a short second. I guess this was a long time coming, the thought forms vaguely in her mind, dissipating almost instantly, because Maker, this feels good, and right, the way their bodies fit together, the way he deepens the kiss while his hands, those wonderful hands she missed so much while recovering, start their long and tortuously slow way from her cheekbones down to her neck and collarbones, shoulders and arms, sliding alongside the cut of her leather gambeson, questing their way under the hem to find the edge of her linen shirt underneath, and she hopes, she really hopes there will be a way to go beyond this, because sweet Andraste's smile, this is almost unbearable, even if her dear departed mother would come back from the Fade to stare her down for it and give her a stern lecture about duties of nobleborn daughters and the importance of preserving one's virginity until the day of marriage... She shivers and her fingers tighten on his shoulders, digging into his skin, and then, almost feverishly they also start to move, brushing along an almost familiar road now after weeks of courtship.
"Giovanna..." Alistair gasps her name, and she comes back from infinity's edge to the realm of here and now just enough to realize that he stopped, and she doesn't want him to, especially now, that his hands finally wondered high enough above her ribcage to skirt her breasts... She makes a frustrated little growl and presses against his hand, but finds that he really means it. His hand moves just as she moves, perfectly matching, with all the control of his Templar training of long years, and however much she pushes, those strong, calloused fingers hover exactly a quarter of an inch above her breast, tantalizingly out of reach, almost, but never quite touching.
"Giovanna." he says again, sounding less out of breath this time. "I... I need to ask you this, but I don't exactly know how." Alistair's face is almost as red as her own, she can see even in the dim light of her single candle and his own clothing is in a bit of a disarray as well, considering that Giovanna's hands were not exactly idle either in the past couple of minutes. "I... I was all set about this while I was waiting for you. With the nightmare and all, it just got even clearer, but then..." He laughs nervously, and as Giovanna looks at him, leaning back a bit as she holds on to him still, it strikes her just how young he looks; how vulnerable and innocent, despite all what happened to them in the past months. "Blast it, how do I say this? You'd think it'd be easier but..." He breaks off and inhales sharply as one of his fingers brushes bare skin just barely below her left nipple.
"Oh, Maker..." he whispers while she leans forward again and lets her lips wander over the curve of his ear. "This is... I... Every time I am with you I feel like my head is about...to...explode." The air goes out of his lungs in ragged gasps as she arches up against him. "I can't...I can't think straight..."
"Oh, I feel the same way." she breathes alongside his jaw, really hoping no one decides to attack the camp just now. Or my noble conscience and upbringing coming back and smacking me righteously around for behaving like a common harlot or camp follower...
"By Andraste, I hope you meant that head exploding thing in a good way." Alistair's laugh rumbles around in her bones, resonating from all the way to her toes. He grabs her shoulders firmly and holds her away from him, looking intently in her eyes. His pupils are dilated, the gorgeous amber irises almost invisible. "Listen, here's the thing. Being around you makes me crazy but... I can't imagine being without you. Not ever."
"Alistair..." she whispers, barely audible, and wishes time to stop, wishes everything to melt away and disappear, infinity to stretch out its wings to fold them into this moment so they can forever remain like this, staring into each other's eyes, so she can hear those words over and over again.
"No, wait, let me finish this, please, otherwise all my courage goes out of me in one great huge and disappointing and slightly flopping whooosh and I run away screaming." He cups her face in his hands. "I wanted to wait for the perfect time, the perfect place, I don't know, roses and scented candles and silk and velvet and perhaps a fireplace...but then I asked myself... when will it be perfect? Or is there anything like that, really? Perfection, I mean? If things were, we wouldn't have even met. I'd have been a Templar set to guard the Tower and eventually become Knight Commander as it befits a slightly inconvenient royal bastard, Cailan would have lived to ripe old age as the glorious King of Ferelden defeating the Darkspawn before a full-fledged Blight, and you'd have married some Orlesian prince as a peace offering between the realms after the victorious Battle of Ostagar." Giovanna wants to object to the latter, but Alistair shakes his head and keeps talking. "Instead, look at us. We sort of... stumbled into each other, and between all the imperfections and slight inconveniences of fighting darkspawn, bandits, werewolves, abominations, demons and saving the Realm, I still found myself... falling for you." He swallows and traces a finger along Giovanna's cheekbone, the way he always does, the way that makes her insides melt and catch fire and the world all fade into slowly swirling red haze.
"I really don't want to wait any more." His words are like honey and cream, like silk and fur on bare skin, like all the good things in her life all coalescing together in one. "I...want to spend the night with you. I want it to be with you. My first. Your first. Now. If you want to. While we have the chance. In case..."
Giovanna feels like her entire world coalesced into the swirling colors in Alistair's eyes. Infinity, indeed, awaits, right here, right now... but she finds that her throat is dry and her voice is cracking as she tries to speak, as she tries to tell him that yes, he told her exactly what she was waiting for, what she hoped, what she wanted for so long. But the words are stuck in her throat, desert her, treacherous as they are, right at the moment when she wants everything just be right and perfect. What comes out is something entirely different from what she originally wanted to say.
"I thought you'd never ask..." Giovanna Cousland grins, rather unladylike, and before she could curse herself for, yet again, falling prey to her family's honesty compelling her to put her foot in her mouth, a giggle escapes her, and she clutches as Alistair's shoulder, unable to contain the waves of almost-hysterical titters that follow that first one.
"So very sorry." she tries to explain in between, feeling his shoulder stiffen beneath her fingers. "It's just that... I didn't exactly anticipate it like this..."
"Tell me about it." Alistair murmurs, the confused and almost-hurt expression that flashed on his features vanishing. "I hope you don't misunderstand me, but... way to boost my ego with that."
"I'd never dream of hurting you." Giovanna breathes, suddenly serious, repeating what she vowed what seems a lifetime ago. "You know that."
Alistair remembers; his hands tremble as he cups her face between them again, like a tender and rare flower.
"Nor I you, lady." he affirms, just like back then, on that frozen training ground, and his voice is rough from memories and desire. "Nor I you. Ever."
Her tent is small, and is rendered even smaller by the leftover equipment from her long recovery all over it. It definitely doesn't help that they are both terribly self-conscious either, so after Giovanna almost causes the canvas of the tent to catch fire when she kicks over the candle with her hastily removed left boot, and Alistair elbows her in the stomach the second time as he maneuvers in the small space between the center tent pole and the opening, they both burst into laughter and stop.
"Shh." Alistair recovers first, putting a finger on Giovanna's lips. "By Andraste's flaming sword, woman, do you want to announce this to the entire camp or what?"
"Sorry!" she whispers back, wiping her eyes. "I am trying here." She pulls up her knees and hugs them as she sits up on her sleeping mat. "It's just... funny."
"Yeah, everything you've ever dreamed of, right?" He crooks a smile at her, and runs a hand through his hair. "Let's see. Inescapable feel of doom? Check. Blossoming romance in the shadow of almost certain death? Check. Copious amounts of violence and gore, interspersed with lethal magic? Check. Faithful companions to aid until the bitter end, including a dog? Check. Why, lady, we're not in Ferelden any more! We are, indeed, in one of those Orlesian romances Leliana loves so much."
"I don't think those included bodily harm by way of sharp elbows or exploding candles." Giovanna snorts, holding her other boot in her hand and trying to figure out where she could put it. Finally she just shrugs and tosses it to the side where it lands on top of her laundry pile. "Speaking about candles..." she mutters, "...let's do something about that."
The tent is smothered in darkness suddenly as the light is extinguished. Questing hands venture forth, meet halfway and intertwine with only the briefest hesitation, followed by arms and limbs, as if the light had finally taken their last doubts with it.
"Too. Much. Clothing." Alistair announces rather breathlessly after a while.
"Definitely." Giovanna agrees, tugging at the hem of his winter jerkin. "Off."
"As you wish." he whispers, kissing her eyelids closed as he complies. "Keep those closed, though. I am shy."
"I noticed." She feels every little tremble of his muscles against her even through the layers of clothing still covering them both. She is mildly surprised just how determined she is about this, now that they both committed; she supposes this is their warrior training and how it effects everything they do. She quirks an eyebrow and issues her challenge."But only if you do the same. Fair is fair."
It takes a long time to get all those clothes off, but Giovanna is sure by the end that her heart is about to burst. She hates buttons with a passion once her gambeson is off, but her anger dissolves as for every one of them she's rewarded with a tiny kiss. She returns the favor, not stopping with Alistair's jerkin, but continuing with his shirt, unlacing it by feel at his throat, fumbling a bit with the knots.
"Don't help!" she snaps slightly frustrated, eyes shut tight, as his hands cover hers trying to assist. "I'll just... get my dagger and cut these if they get too troublesome."
"Erm..." She hears Alistair clear his throat. "Not to rain on your parade, lady, but you that close with a sharp object with your eyes closed to my neck gives me the shivers."
"Point." she concedes, sighing. "I suppose I just need to suffer then..."
"Suffer." His voice is right by her ear then, deep and sensual—she stops and inhales sharply as his tongue flicks her earlobe and continues to trace a path down to her neck. "We can't have that now, can we?"
"You're a bad, bad man, FitzTheirin." she grinds out between her teeth, her entire body on fire, as she feels his hands—oh, Maker, those hands!-- undoing the last of her shirt buttons and slowly sliding up to her shoulders to work the linen off in one smooth motion. Where did he learn that, I wonder, it flickers through her mind, but just then the last loop of his shirt finally surrenders to her frantically working fingers, and she breaks away from him just long enough to tug the fabric over his head and off. She barely has a chance to take a breath, and he's back, crushing her against his chest, his mouth seeking hers with the hunger he no longer denies.
The air in the tent gets hot and stifling, but she's shivering despite of it. Tiny little trembles run through her body, following Alistair's questing hands and it seems that all of a sudden he's everywhere: his skin, almost fever-hot, against hers, with all those battle-scars against her own as his hard, muscled body presses her down on the bedroll. Her back arches up to have her lips meet his again and again, eyes shut all the while, her own hands roving over his shoulders, chest, sides, hips, skirting over his flanks, feeling his fingers finally close over her breasts and she hears his breathing hitch with almost a hissing sound as he finds the clasps of her breastband-- and then he stops.
"Yes." she whispers, thinking that surely the world is about to end or at least there will be a bandit attack on the camp or something...but no, there's only that hesitation that she clearly feels from Alistair. She gives a frustrated little whimper, clamps her hand on his wrist that was about to pull back and instead of commanding, as she would dearly love to, she pleads. "Please..."
She hopes he understands. She surely does, because for the life of her, she can't exactly put it into words just how much she wants him to take charge, despite both of their inexperience, how much she needs him to guide her, to, just for once, just for now, not be the follower, to...
And he does. He gives a low growl, from deep in his chest so she can feel the vibration under her trembling hand, and Maker, he snaps those clasps between his fingers so hard they shatter. She can hear the pieces clatter around, but she doesn't care, because the way she feels him moveis frightening and exhilarating at the same time... and then his mouth is on the top of her breast, sliding lower, lips, tongue and teeth, and she thinks she surely will burn for this in the lowest circles of the Fade, but she doesn't even mind that in that moment. She feels his other hand move to her waist, fumbling with her trousers, and she finds herself returning the favor, pausing on the way to run her fingers across the planes of his stomach, vaguely hoping all the while that this will not be as awkward as it promises to be...
It is. Surely the Maker must have been in a particularly bad mood when created waistbands on trousers, because there's simply no way those can be undone and the garments slide over hips and shimmied down legs and kicked off gracefully or without knees and thighs getting in the way.
"Sorry..." she mumbles and "Oh blast..." he mumbles, gritting teeth in frustration and snatching back a knee and a hand, as they both pull back and open their eyes at the same time trying to push back from the edges of infinity they so deliciously skirted just seconds ago.
"Try again?" she offers, vaguely able to make out his silhouette hovering over her, leaning on one arm.
"Try again." he agrees, and she has to hide a smile into her pillow at the eagerness with which he complies. It is much, much simpler this way, she has to realize, even though she turns away so she doesn't see him doing it, like a good and proper girl should (a good and proper girl who has no compunctions whatsoever crushing a darkspawn's skull with her boots, that is). Her vague dreams about this part of the fulfillment of a romance, gleaned from her mother's illustrated book a long time ago, are, however, firmly pushed to the realm of fantasy (as in 'what the heck were those bards thinking'), as she gets rid of her last garments, hiding her nakedness under her blanket, squeezing her eyes shut again.
"Oh no, you don't." she hears him whisper half-playful, half-serious, as she feels him sliding next to her, and she shudders as for the first time a naked body of a man presses against her. "It's not fair, you know, hiding like that, lady. I told you it was me who was shy..."
"Alistair?" she says exasperatedly. "Would you just... Shut. Up. Once." She twines her arms around his neck, voicing what's in her head to take her brains off the fact that she feels him against her thigh, firm and very much ready and goodness, that frightens her more than all the world's ogres ever could.
"Oh, but lady, you wanted me to take a lead in this, right?" Where did chantry boy learned this, she wonders for a second, then the air goes out of her lungs in one strangled cry as his hands are, again, on her breasts, followed by his lips, and his words are like spun sugar and liquid fire at once against her skin, and she surrenders, scarcely understanding what he says next and really, it doesn't matter any more. He's worshiping her with his whispers, with every quickened breath he takes, with every brush of his fingers and increasingly more frenzied kisses, and when she can understand what he says she's shaken and shocked and burning breathlessly and even more ready for him, because, by the Maker, he's blaspheming for her with holy texts written by Andraste herself that he must have learned during his Chantry training.
"Thy two breasts are like two young roes that are twins," he gasps The Song of The Beloved into that exquisitely sensitive place between her neck and collarbone, following the path described in those verses first with his fingers and then with his lips. "Thy navel is like a round goblet, which wanteth not liquor: thy belly is like an heap of wheat set about with lilies" he whispers hoarsely as his hands slide lower, and she takes a sharp breath in anticipation as he continues with the next verse, "O prince's daughter! the joints of thy thighs are like jewels, the work of the hands of a cunning workman."
By now she really doesn't care if anyone hears them, or if indeed they are damned to eternal fires for this, because he's there, he's right there between her thighs, and he pushes, and it hurts, Maker, it hurts but she doesn't care, even though she knows she'd be sore tomorrow. She bites her lips, remembering what her mother said about this-- and agrees silently that just as she warned her, it is a small price to pay.
"I am my beloved's, and his desire is toward me," she breathes into the sudden silence that enveloped them for a second and opens her eyes to see him right at that moment, their moment to share, balancing on the edge of infinity again. He is poised above her, the slight glow of the fire outside outlining his wide shoulders, narrow waist and hips, with eyes shut and lips slightly parted, and the image burns into her mind to keep and treasure forever, with all its tiny details. It is the first time, their first time: his first to have her and her first time to take him, and the words of the Song start to flow from her lips, unbidden, in small gasps as she starts to move against him with the small thrusts of her hips matching his.
"Set me... as a seal upon thine... heart." The furrow between his eyes grows deeper and deeper with each stroke, each matching her own movements and her heartbeat, as it's getting faster and faster...
"As a seal... upon thine arm..." Tiny beads of sweat gather on his temples and his breath is ragged, and all of a sudden she can't take it any longer and closes her eyes, letting her head fall back on her pillow as he answers her, finishing the verse with his voice barely more than a low moan.
"For love is ...strong ...as... death." Her world is all sensations, swirling colors, grasping hands, moisture and heat, ever growing heat at the center of her being, where they are joined and where they move, accelerating towards eternity together, spiraling and falling towards the unknown worlds of ecstasy, born on the wings of their joined voices calling out each other's names...
It is later, much, much later, when sanity returns and she slowly starts to feel her way back from beyond, that Giovanna Cousland hears Alistair's soft laughter in her ear.
"What?" She is surprised she can even talk: her throat is slightly sore and her voice is hoarse.
"Oh, nothing." He chuckles: that gets her attention enough to open her eyes. "Just... you know, according to all the sisters in the monastery, I should have been struck by lightning by now."
"It could still happen." she says, deciding on closing her eyelids again and let the warmth of his body still covering hers envelope her. She makes no attempts to move: she's not sure she could, actually. Not even her mother prepared her to this, the realization that love can be just as exhausting as a trying battle in full armor.
Alistair grins as he leans on his elbow, his smile a mixture of his old and something new, more relaxed, more confident, more sure of himself.
"Sure, but you see, if it hits afterwards, it hardly seems like an effective deterrent." He dips his head to drag his lips across hers. "Maker, but you're so beautiful." he whispers against her throat, eliciting a shiver that runs through her entire body. "I have no idea what I did to deserve you, love."
"Being you?" she says slowly, her heart giving a lurch at him calling her 'love' the first time, and she wishes she'd paid more attention to her tutor's poetry lessons so she could speak more eloquently, like a true lady. But his eyes, suddenly widening, tell her she gave the right answer, and his kisses that follow are just as passionate as before, if not more, and so she forgets the poetry lessons soon enough.
"You do realize the rest of our little party here is going to talk, right?" he asks afterward, stretching out next to her and drawing her close to rest her head on his chest. "They do that."
"You're right; they do." She blushes as she realizes that they probably woke up the entire camp, but then she feels a strange mood seize her and Giovanna Cousland feels her mouth twist into a wide grin, one that she saw all too often on her brother's face when he planned some pranks on her or on their parents and suddenly she sits up, grasping the blanket to her chest. Alistair looks at her with surprise on his features as she scoots to the entrance of the tent, and flips the canvas aside.
"Oy, you lot!" she shouts, using her best commanding voice. "First smart comment and you're fed to the darkspawn. Am I clear?"
And as she turns back, lifting an eyebrow and wanting to ask, with carefully feigning indifference, whether that would do, she's swept up by a crushing embrace that makes her drop her blanket with a surprised squeal and forget nearly everything she had in her head but the fact that she is kissed yet again thoroughly and carefully and mercilessly before Alistair whispers to her ear:
"See, this is why I love you."