It always happened when she least expected it.
Elissa was making her way down the path, minding her every movement as she long had, when out of nowhere she felt herself falling. She gasped, chest filling with the sharp fear mixed with euphoria that accompanied it, and flailed her arms as if that would help her in some way. While she expected the very worst - Oghren nearly tipping over onto the ground for all his laughter or one of Nathaniel's smirks - she was awarded none of it.
Instead, the breath was forced from her lungs as she tumbled forward into a cradle of arms. It only took her a moment to recover, and she jerked her eyes towards her rescuer only to come face to face with Anders.
And he was smiling. Smugly.
Of course, he quickly altered his expression in lieu of a more concerned knitting of his brows. When he spoke, his voice was so full of worry that she almost believed he was entirely genuine. Almost. She would have if not for the markedly mischievous glint in his eyes. "Are you alright, my lady?"
"Yes," Elissa replied, swiftly scurrying to stand upright and out of his arms. The moment her foot set right upon the ground, a sharp pain shot up her leg and she fell. Again. This time, backwards, and into the waiting arms of the mage. "By the Maker, I --" She glanced over her shoulder at him, "Might you set me down somewhere? I fear I may have twisted my ankle."
Anders bit down on his bottom lip to stifle a gasp. Such theatrics were not in order when the lady was actually in distress.
A mere few times - though Elissa would be quick to say too many - he'd been there when she needed him. Mysteriously, of course, with no previous thought as to how to intervene. Like that time her hand snagged a bit of weed in the lake while she was bathing. She'd blushed like mad the moment she was free and realized she was clinging to him for dear life, nothing separating her skin from his but his soaked robes, but it was worth it in the end.
And then there was that time when she was surrounded by drunken men in a tavern. He hated the way alcohol turned men; all heavy-handed and clumsy, as if a few sips of ale transformed them into swine. Seeing that she was cornered, he was the first by her side, expertly swooping in and talking such circles around the drunken fools that they forgot their advances upon the Warden Commander entirely.
Now was clearly another of those times.
"Why, certainly," he said, eyes roaving along the path to find a proper seat for her to rest. Rotted old stump? No; who knew what manner of bug lived within it. Propped up against a tree? Uncomfortable at best, and the thought of spider webs in Lady Cousland's perfect auburn hair was absurd. The road proved to be fond of wounding her; camp was a good mile or two away.
When all was said and done, there were unsurprisingly few proper spots for her to sit.
What sort of fool doesn't carry around a throne on his back for such a woman should she need time to catch her breath?
"In case you were wondering, Anders," the Warden murmured, arms folded over where his were still joined around her waist, "I would very much like to remove my boot and look at my ankle. So if you're able to find me a spot sometime between now and the second coming of Andraste, I would be very thankful."
He could tell by the dangerous lilt in her voice that she was growing impatient. She wasn't the sort of woman to merely relax in his arms and wait for his indecisiveness to ebb for the first time in his life. Being The Warden, he evisioned this sort of thing for her. Well, not this sort of thing exactly, considering the circumstances, but her reactions met his expectations precisely.
Once more, she shifted in his arms and pulled him out of his thoughts with a haughty clearing of her throat.
"Apologies," he said, "There is a spot of grass over there. Would it suit?"
His words were met with a short, almost mocking silence. "Would it suit?" It always bothered him when women answered his questions with his questions, but he forgave her almost instantly. It was impossible not to. "Of course it would suit."
She winced noticeably as she applied the smallest measure of weight onto her foot. "Ah! I believe it's worse than I imagined." Clutching her hands around his forearms, the mighty Warden allowed herself to be half-carried, half-dragged towards a spot a short distance off. As they hobbled unevenly, her neck arched to see her destination, leaving the mage's nose pressed against her skull; her hair smelled faintly of sweat and dust, notes of another distinctive scent toying at his nostrils with every inhalation. Were those... strawberries? He'd have sighed if he knew she wasn't paying attention. Still, she continued on, straining to keep her foot from touching the ground. "Indeed, there might be some swelling."
Anders was careful as he set her down. Very, very careful. Perhaps too careful, he observed as she wrenched herself out of his arms and dropped the rest of the distance onto her rear.
Would she ask him for help with her boot? His eyes settled upon her as she bent to unlace the ties, her brows knitting in both concentration and annoyance at the petty pains. Her fingers were deft in their movements, and he found himself thankful she had not asked, considering how clumsily he'd have set about the task.
Instead of offering his hand, he turned back to the trail with the intention of finding the offender. A lump of gray rock would be easily spotted amidst the red-tinted dirt of the path, would it not? Surely this was a very large rock, as well. Bending at the waist and narrowing his eyes, he combed over the path, hands clasped neatly behind his back as he did so.
Sitting on the grass some ways off, Elissa tossed her boot aside to give her ankle the attention it needed. There was no swelling, but it stung at the touch; an annoying, but insignificant injury. Her attention roamed from her ankle to the mage only to find him hunched over the path, pacing this way and that.
"What in the Maker's name are you doing?" she called out to him.
In a single swift movement, Anders swerved around and popped back into a standing position, a smile lighting his face. "I am attempting to find the perpetrator, my lady."
"Ah," was her only response before she turned back to her foot. It was as if this was just another normal occurance on an otherwise normal afternoon. Then again, she'd seen much in the past year, and meeting another eccentric on the road wasn't surprising in the least. There was something off about everyone she met. With Anders, however, she shrugged it off as an act and nothing more. With others, she found peculiarity a flaw, but with him it was another aspect to his personality; one she quite enjoyed from time to time.
Some time later, she heard a triumphant "a-ha!" come from his direction. Not long after, he was on his way towards her, a rather tiny rock nestled in his palm. "I have found the offender," he began, bowing at the waist to present her with the stone. His eyes lifted from his hand, and on his mouth grew a lopsided smile. "How should we deal with this fiend?"
Elissa peered at the rock, "That can't be the right one." She looked up at him, uncertainty riddling her features. When he nodded and offered it to her again, her lips parted. "But it's so... it's so small."
"The miniature can often cause the mighty to tumble, dear lady." His palm lifted upwards. "This stone, for example."
She wasn't accepting his explanation. "I've tred upon many such a stone, yet I have never once fallen."
"Perhaps it is no mere stone," he retorted, "but one inhabited by some foul spirit."
The expression she took on spoke volumes of how little she believed him.
Anders couldn't help but grin despite himself. Really, he shouldn't have enjoyed teasing her quite as much as he did. But no matter her feeble protestations, he would always return with some remark or another. "Should I keep hold of it? Perhaps Justice can look upon the rock and tell us whether it is possessed by a demon."
She shot him a long-suffering look before heaving a sigh. "Get rid of it," she said with a chuckle, rubbing her wrist against her brow as she turned away. It was a poor attempt to hide the smile that teased her lips, for the shift caught Anders' eye before she was able to brush him away.
"Very well then." Standing to his full height, he tossed the rock into the mess of trees. It made little more than a rustling sound as it descended to the cool forest floor. "There. Dealt with." Dusting off his hands, he bent at the knees and dropped down onto the grass before her, his attention focused completely upon her. "How do you fare?"
"Well enough. An afternoon spent in the shade will do me well. I should be able to walk in a few hours."
A comment nestled upon the slope of his tongue, yet it did not reach his lips. After traveling with the mage Wynne for such a great length of time, she often forgot that he was a skilled healer. Had she reminded herself of it, he'd have mended her in no time. However, when she nestled into the grass and began to look around as if she was admiring the view, he found that he couldn't interrupt her.
"And what of me, Elissa?" he asked. It was not often he spoke her name, no matter how many times she reminded him of her preferences. The fact that he called her by her name was enough to pull her eyes back to his face. He was smiling, though this grin was not smug. A true, genuine smile was rare when it came to his lips. "Am I to sit here unrewarded for my act of chivalry?"
She felt her cheek twitch as she gave him a smile of her own. "I did not realize you did so with your thoughts upon a reward and not out of the goodness of your own heart."
"Goodness? My heart? I should think not."
At that, she laughed; a surprising, bright sound that pulled at the center of his chest. "What sort of prize do you wish to receive, Anders? Say the word and it will be yours."
Now that was an enticing thought. Not once in their travels had he been offered such a chance. All the killing was only followed by quiet nights spent huddling in on himself in a quiet tent, utterly alone. Well, except for when his thoughts strayed to the Warden herself. On those nights, he hardly felt the solitude as sharply.
It was when the contemplative look fell over his features that she shifted, a little uncomfortably. "I ask that you be reasonable," she mentioned, "A red velvet cushion for Ser Pounce-a-Lot, for instance, would have to wait until we are finished with our journey."
"Do you honestly think I'd --" He stopped himself, fingers moving aimlessly over his stubbled chin. That was a close one. Now was not the time for any babbled confessions. In order to get some small piece of what he desired, he would have to be truthful with her. He'd have to be honest, and he'd have to leave any and all grandiosity behind. "Ah, I've got it."
"Yes?" Elissa asked, arching an intrigued brow.
Her eyes widened a shade. "A kiss?"
"On the cheek!" he amended quickly. "Sweet and soft and chaste as a Chantry sister's birthday wishes."
She bit on the inside of her cheek to keep from laughing. "Well, if you cannot be dissuaded..." He shook his head, prompting her to shake hers, as well.
With a flick of her wrist, she beckoned him forth, and he went as willingly as anything, as if his form as tied to her fingers by string. He was careful not to nudge her foot while crawling towards her; causing her any harm at this moment would definitely be the equivalent of the Maker bearing his arse at him from between the clouds.
But for all his fortitude, his elbows nearly gave out when he felt her palms against either side of his jaw, drawing him forth. The sensation of her petal soft lips flush against his cheekbone stole his breath right out of his lungs, and it took every ounce of dignity to keep himself from blushing and stammering at her like the village idiot when he reluctantly drew away.
Adding insult to injury - figureatively, as his ankle was fine - was the expression in her eyes when he finally garnered the courage to look into them again. They were full of tenderness, perhaps even a little of her own reluctance to let him go.
Or, maybe - and this was the thought that would keep him from beating his brains into a stump later on - his imagination was playing tricks on him.
Very cruel, very heartless tricks.
"Thank you, my lady."
Elissa smiled, nodding faintly. "And thank you, ser. Who knows what would've happened to me had you not been there."
You shouldn't worry your pretty head over such a thing.
Anders forced a smile of his own, settling down next to her on the grass.
I may not be a knight. My robes might not be very shiny. But I will always be there to catch you if it is within my power.
"You'd have fallen right on your face, that's what."