Title: "Like a Burning City"

Disclaimer: Not mine. There's no question on this point.

Leliana and the female Aeducan Grey Warden. The first time.

Title taken from the St. Vincent Millay sonnet, "Women Have Loved Before As I Love Now." It is possible that I have taken liberties of the imagination with Leliana's backstory - but I don't think, really, that one can suffer the kinds of "terrible things" that are implied and still come away unmarked.

Aud Aeducan smells of steel and leather, harsh lye soap and old blood, and something else, some quality of granite and musk and thunderstorms that is uniquely, peculiarly her. She is all muscle and sinew, a leanness Leliana finds painful to behold because of the history behind it: scant rations and a body driven beyond all sane limits day after day for months now. Her form is as much a weapon as her blades, and one which receives far less exacting care.

They are both scarred.

Leliana has had more than two years to grow accustomed to the marks on her flesh. No one will ever compliment the silken smoothness of her thighs again, or the creamy perfection of the skin across her shoulderblades. The questioners in Val Royeaux saw to that. She escaped before they could ruin her hands (and she still shudders, remembering how near a thing that was), but she is lucky to have regained full use of her arms. And no healer in the world can make the proud flesh of a healed flogging, or the white and greyish-pink reminders of white-hot irons, anything but ugly.

It hardly mattered in the Chantry. She thought herself grown beyond mourning the ruin of her vanity: she is old enough to know that beauty is never one of nature's most lasting gifts. And she has felt the Maker's hand on her heart. A rose can still flourish in the midst of destruction.

She is not naive enough to consider herself a rose. She has done many wicked things, and no amount of atoning can undo what her hands have wrought. Or what other hands have wrought unto her.

In the warm, lamplit dimness of Aud's narrow tent, only a thin shift between her and the other woman's gaze, she hesitates.

The tent is not large enough for them to stand. They are both kneeling on Aud's thin woollen bedroll, facing each other. Aud's shirt is unlaced to the navel. The lamplight shades her dark skin to the rich, deep bronze of ironbark. Her breasts lie small and slack over protuberant ribs criss-crossed with scars, from old, ragged white cords, to the most recent, still red and inflamed. The hollow planes of her stomach look like bruises.

It hurts to look at her, but Leliana cannot look away. The warmth rising in her belly trembles her fingers. Foolish. She knows how to do this.

She used to know how to do this.

"Aud." Her voice cracks. Nerves, and so many other things.

Aud lifts her head. To call her hawk-faced falls short of justice. Her nose is a prow between the hard wings of her cheekbones, her jaw a stubborn jut, all sharp angles and leashed energy. Her eyes are gold-brown at the iris, dark, intent. There is little about the dwarf that is soft; little that she allows to be. She allows it now, fondness and care mingled with hesitation in her glance, and Leliana knows it for a gift.

A precious one. "I am not... unblemished," she says, on a mouth dry with some unnameable combination of desire and shame. "Since... I haven't..."

"It's not like you to be lost for words." Aud leans into her shoulder, all gentleness. Her warm breath stirs the hairs on Leliana's upper arm, tickling along her nerves, and Lelianna shivers as Aud's muscled abdomen flexes against her hip. Her touch is a friend's, reassurance and care, even as Leliana feels her careful restraint, the yearning under her hands. "Since Orlais?" Aud asks, soft.

"Val Royeaux." Leliana closes her eyes. If she sees pity in the Warden's face it will break her. Better not to look. Better not to see at all. "I have scars."

She does not know what she expects. A cutting reply, perhaps. They all have scars, after all: even the mages have been kissed by darkspawn claws more than once by now. Maybe it is merely vanity that makes her hesitate. Vanity, and the fact that she has not been this vulnerable to any living being since Marjolaine.

"Ah," Aud murmurs. And gently, very gently: "May I see?"

It is the gentleness, perhaps, that allows Leliana to move, to lift her shift over her head and lay herself bare. The air is cool on her breasts. She feels her nipples harden, sensitive, tight with desire and the knot in her throat that is so many unspoken things.

Aud is behind her now, a light warmth just above her skin. "Nasty work." But there is no pity in it, or revulsion, only matter-of-fact assessment, and Leliana shivers as one calloused finger traces a line of keloid tissue from her shoulderblade down across her flank. "Did it take very long to train yourself to draw a bow again, after?"

"Months." Long, painful months, where only determination that she would not let Marjolaine's betrayal cripple her and the need, at first, not to be a burden on the Chantry hermit who gave her shelter when she stumbled across the border from Orlais and onto his doorstep kept her working to stretch the scars. Leliana swallows. The bow she draws now is still lighter than the longbow her younger self once spanned with ease. Her breath catches on the knot in her throat as Aud's finger trails lower. "You are not - You do not -"

"Brave Leliana." Aud's breath tickles the hair by her ear. The kiss that follows in its wake does more than tickle: nothing chaste, all heat and tongue and promises, and when Leliana twists to meet her gaze her eyes are steady, bottomless. "You hardly need me to tell you that you're beautiful. Any number of scars cannot take that from you." Aud cups her cheek, hands that've broken necks and hewn limbs light as the touch of a feather. Her voice husks. "Brave, beautiful girl."

This time it is Leliana who kisses, teeth and passion and promises and life, Maker, life like a talisman against the dark.

There are few words, then. And very little restraint.