I have set this story two weeks after 'Til Death. The companions are on the road from Redcliffe to Denerim for the Landsmeet.
I started writing this short before I wrote Unforeseen Melodies. I already knew what would happen to Aedan in that longer fiction and that of course drew my mind to the similar circumstances from Leliana's past. It is a story she only alludes to in the game, but given the nature of their relationship, I always imagined she'd elaborate at some point. I wanted to explore her feelings on the subject so she could respond properly to Aedan after his trial. I have mentioned the discussion they have here in a couple of other stories too, so it made sense to go back and actually write it.
I could not get this piece to work from a single point of view, both Aedan and Leliana begged to be heard, so I've swapped point of view where it seemed most appropriate.
Aedan opened his eyes and blinked into bright sunlight. He heard laughter and splashing and raising his head from the blanket, he saw Leliana playing in the water with Jack, his mabari. Dressed only inher undergarments she cavorted and danced about with the hound, heedless of how much skin she exposed. Aedan smiled. Beside the fact he thoroughly enjoyed how much skin she bared, he also liked that she did not feel self conscious about it. She knew she was beautiful and accepted it without flaunting it.
Though he knew circumstances had brought them together, he preferred her version. The Maker had led her to him, and he to her. They were meant to be. Every time Aedan contemplated her, he thanked the Maker for his good fortune. He loved the Orlesian bard in a way simple words could not describe.
The sun had only just touched the treetops and warmth still hung in the air. The companions had taken this day for themselves, a rare day of rest on the march toward Denerim and the Landsmeet, and they were camped close to this river. Each had gone their separate ways, singly or in twos and threes to relax and recuperate. Aedan invited Leliana to swim and they discovered this private cove and played in the water for a good part of the day, swimming, splashing, kissing and sometimes talking, before he announced his intention to nap. He then stretched out on the beach and surrendered himself to the sweetest of sleeps, that vague place one goes for an hour on a sunny afternoon. As he awoke he had smiled in satisfaction.
Leliana looked up and noted him looking at her. She smiled and waved and began to swim toward him, Jack following. She walked out of the water and up the beach, water dripping from her figure. Jack shook himself vigorously, spraying Leliana and eliciting giggles and soft admonishments from her, before seeking his own spot in the sun, circling, settling, and placing his head between outstretched paws. Leliana moved up the beach, stepped over Aedan and sat across his hips, her wet skin and legs cool against his sun warmed self. He hissed a little in reaction and she laughed and leaned forward into his arms.
"Someone is awake I see," she said quietly.
Aedan shivered as he wrapped his arms around her cold skin, but he pulled her down to his chest anyway and lifted his lips to hers. It was so easy to forget the Blight and the Landsmeet in this private cove. It was easy to imagine that just he and Leliana were here, together, with nothing better to do than lie on a beach and kiss.
Three weeks ago this woman had nearly broken his heart and now he couldn't bear the thought of being parted from her and it had all seemed to have happened so quickly. They had been companions, then friends, and now they were lovers. When he thought of her, there was a lot he knew from the stories she told, but so much he didn't know, such as why sometimes her eyes were shadowed. But her eyes were not shadowed now; they were the deep blue of the sky behind her and sparkling with happiness.
She had her nose resting against his and when she spoke her breath tickled his lips. "Are you still waking up, or are you deep in thought?"
"A little of both."
"What are you thinking about?"
Aedan smiled and pressed his lips to hers briefly. "You." He kissed her again. "Do you know it has been just over two months since that night I kissed you for the first time?"
Leliana smiled and rubbed her nose against his briefly before sitting up. "How sweet that you remember such a detail."
Aedan flushed. This was not something he did very often; he could probably count the times on one hand. Suddenly he felt acutely embarrassed at having remembered such a detail and wondered if it was sheer silliness on his part. Leliana was older than he by about five years, maybe she had had many more relationships and perhaps anniversaries were not as important to her. Aedan chewed on his lower lip and turned his head to the side, willing his cheeks to cool. Twenty-four year old men did not blush and neither did warriors.
Her soft fingers touched his cheek and he looked at her. She smiled and said, "I remembered too." She lay down over him again, putting her cheek to his chest and Aedan wrapped his arms around her back and kissed her hair. He rolled to the side and let her down gently so she lay next to him, still wrapped in his arms. "If we slept here, like this, do you think they would come looking for us?"
She giggled. "You just had a nap! Is this another Grey Warden thing, like the appetite?" She poked at his bare stomach and her touch tickled, making him catch his breath and draw his abdominal muscles back.
"No, it's an Aedan thing. But I can think of things I'd rather do than sleep."
She chuckled. "Which I am fast learning is another Aedan thing. Do you ever think of anything else?"
Leliana laughed delightedly and kissed at his lips. "I really do love you, Aedan. You are so uncomplicated and sweet."
Aedan frowned at this. He didn't feel uncomplicated. He didn't think anyone did, really. But he supposed that right here, right now, his desires were fairly plain and simple. Perhaps that was what she saw in him, a naïve young man who knew little of her past exploits and never pressed her on that score. He replied softly, "Am I really so simple? Nothing about this past year has been without complication. But perhaps that seems naïve to you?"
He felt his previous languor ebbing slightly as he became more thoughtful. Leliana's mood had also sobered somewhat and they lay looking at each other for a moment. Not an uncomfortable silence, but a thoughtful one. The shadows had entered Leliana's eyes and Aedan inwardly cursed.
"Leliana, I'm sorry, I have spoiled our mood." And he truly felt he had. They lay in the most tranquil place he had visited in the last ten months and instead of doing as he truly desired, he'd started to think. He didn't consider himself a thoughtful man, usually, he preferred action, but he liked to talk with Leliana on all subjects. She encouraged him and she listened. Swallowing his remorse he absently lifted a finger to trace the scar that licked over her shoulder. He knew she had painful memories and that a lot of her scars were more visible than his own meager collection, he could feel them now beneath his fingers.
When he realised what he had done, he drew his fingers away, quickly. Too quickly, as if he had touched something forbidden. Leliana did not mind being touched – anywhere – but right now to trace one of her scars seemed a more intimate gesture than if he were to remove her what was left of her clothing. Aedan was curious about the long, faint lines that decorated her back. Though he thought he knew the answers to his unasked questions, he considered their relationship still too new and delicate to confirm his suspicions. But to touch on the marks now, with all his unvoiced remarks, seemed somehow inappropriate.
Leliana rolled away from him and sat, pulling her knees up and wrapping her arms about them. He could see her back properly now and he closed his eyes and dropped his head to the blanket. Was he really so unpracticed with women that he could not keep their conversation on an even footing, or did he defeat himself before he started, always knowing she had seen more of life than him. Did that even matter? Should it? Aedan kept his eyes closed as she finally spoke.
"There is no need to apologise. You know I like to talk with you, about all things. We have not known each other for so long, really, there is still much to tell."
Sitting up, Aedan mimicked her posture, sitting near her, near enough to feel her warmth without touching her. Looking at her he took a deep breath and said, "And we need not tell it all now, right?" He dropped his voice a little as he added, "We'll have plenty of time to share our stories… in the future."
He wanted to reach out to her and touch her, but she seemed to have curled in upon herself and he dared not. He didn't want to see her flinch, she looked like she might.
"Would you like to hear a story?"
Aedan instantly realised she would be telling a tale of herself he swallowed drily. He did and he didn't. He couldn't deny his curiosity, but acknowledged his trepidation. "Only if you want to tell me."
She stared across the river silently and Aedan immediately regretted his words, their change of mood.
"No, Leliana, I don't. I take it back. I'm a simple man, yes. I can't apologise for it, it's what I am." He knew he spoke too fast, but embarrassment had flushed his cheeks again. "Maybe that's why you like me? Can we go back to napping and kissing, please?"
Leliana turned to him and her face held a sad smile. "Oh, Aedan, the door is open now. Unless we close it, one or both of us will always be tempted to look through."
How had their afternoon come to this? Aedan had enough years and experience to know that not every relationship existed in the realm of the perfect. He and Leliana would have difficult discussions and differences of opinion, it was only natural. But did it have to be today? "Does it have to be today?"
"My sweet Warden." She leaned toward him and he scooted next to her so that they could lean together. Raising an arm he set it about her shoulders and held her close. Her arm snaked about his waist. "I will tell you about my capture and then it will be behind us and we can look forward to this future you propose." She smiled at him and Aedan tried to smile in return, his face somewhat tight with anxiety.
Leliana smiled as she studied the man next to her, his short hair, cool blue eyes, high cheekbones and square jaw. His face had quickly become familiar to her; the bump on the bridge of his nose, the perpetual shadow across is jaw, the life in his eyes. She could almost always tell what he was thinking about, he had an open face, an honest face. She loved his face. His eyes now showed his concern, for her, for them, and she wanted to brush it away.
"We all bear our scars; some are just more visible than others. We have talked of this before, have we not?"
She and Aedan had talked of her capture prior to meeting Marjolaine, when her former mentor's messengers had delivered their message with a volley of arrows on the outskirts of the Brecilian Forest. Aedan had drawn her aside that evening, away from the campfire, and had asked her to sit with him and talk. They had been friends then, close friends, and she had felt comfortable with him. Aedan had always been a good listener and friend, almost from the time they had met. He made himself available to all of their party, whether from a need not to be left alone with his thoughts or a genuine desire to get to know his companions, or perhaps both. She liked to watch him talk with Zevran and Alistair particularly and marveled at the fast bond that formed between the men. Though she had interesting discussions with Wynne, most of her overtures towards Morrigan had been rejected. It was Aedan she sought when she really wanted to talk.
But that long ago night at camp they had not talked about the faint scars that licked across her back and over one shoulder. She'd only hinted at the terrible things that had been done to her, not yet comfortable enough with her friend to share the full story. Aedan had not seen her scars until that night in Orzammar when he had removed her dress and taken her to his bed. His fingers had brushed upon them and she had seen the thoughtful look in his eyes, the connections being made, but though his fingers had rested there as he told her how lovely she was, he'd not mentioned the marks.
Aedan had scars of his own, several, but none so deliberate as hers. Now she prepared to tell him about them, she wondered at her course. Despite being a warrior, Aedan had a gentle nature and she knew her tale would upset him. She'd hoped to save it, but until when? They had an archdemon to face and Leliana had read the stories. Wardens usually did not survive the archdemon. Whether fanciful imaginings of tale tellers or real fact, she might lose her sweet Warden soon and she wanted to be as close as possible to him in the time between.
Her thoughtfulness prompted him to touch her shoulder and she turned to catch his cool blue gaze. She saw apprehension, but did not smile to dispel it.
"You have suffered betrayal, you know how that feels," she began. "That is a torture all its own."
Aedan nodded softly and reached to smooth a tendril of hair from her eyes. She took his fingers in her own and felt encompassed by him. His arm about her shoulders his other hand in hers.
There is no adequate way to describe torture.
"At first I resisted when they sought information from me," she began. Aedan's eyes rounded and Leliana pressed on before she lost her nerve. As she'd said, she wanted this behind them. "Anger fueled my resistance, anger at Marjolaine's betrayal. I refused to give them what they wanted." A frown wrinkled her forehead as she remembered the anguish. "They were not so cruel in the beginning, though it is all relative. I was given nothing to eat or drink, no light, no water to wash. I did not like being so filthy and I had wounds from my capture. I lost track of time very quickly, to my shame, and my anger turned into fear."
Aedan gripped her hand, his eyes reflecting the fear as no doubt he began to imagine what came next. She told him, so he would not have to imagine and perhaps get it wrong, think the worst. She described the different instruments used to inflict pain, the different sorts of hurt. Aedan cringed slightly, his grasp on her fingers becoming tighter. He asked quiet questions now and again, his tone betraying his desire to stay quiet even as his voice sounded, asking anyway.
Among them: "What kept you strong? Why didn't you give them something, anything? Did you think…?" he trailed off at the last, unable to further articulate his thoughts.
Leliana answered everything asked, no matter how awful. She didn't want him to remember something later and want to ask but not.
"I did not feel strong, I felt weak." She hesitated before answering the next. "It was hard to decide what to say and as the days passed and my thoughts became less clear, it became harder still. Though I felt I had been betrayed, there always existed a seed of doubt, that this was a test of some sort, and so I held on, and on." She had also clung to hope, for far too long. These things were harder say, her feelings, her despair and anguish, were harder to describe than the smack of a baton or the sting of a whip. The cut of… Sometimes Leliana could not determine which had been the harsher punishment. Though she bore scars from both, the physical marks were always more visible and therefore, perhaps easier to dismiss.
Curiously, as she spoke, and she'd never told anyone the full story of her capture by the chevaliers, given a full account of her time in the dungeon, Leliana felt a shadow leave her, pause in the air between them and then dissolve. She felt the presence of Aedan and maybe something less substantial; the Maker, urging her to share her burdens. She had not released how heavily her memories still weighed upon her until then and as Aedan offered comfort, she leaned into him, allowing herself to feel protected within the circle of his strong arms.
Finally, her voice dropped and her words ceased to flow. Her tale ended; her escape almost an anticlimax instead of a triumph, but a release and relief nonetheless.
"Leliana, I don't know what to say. I am so sorry."
"Do not be sorry, Aedan, I am here, am I not?" Serenity had descended upon the bard, wrapping her and keeping her as warm as his arms.
"How can you be so…?"
"The peace I found in the Maker, the acceptance, well I found that in you."
Aedan looked at her in surprise. "Me?"
"When I spoke of my visions, you believed me. I stand at your back in every battle and you trust me there. You stood with me against Marjolaine and never once questioned my purpose. You trusted me. Despite the awful things I have told you, you still cry for me." Leliana stroked a finger over one of his wet cheeks. She had never seen this man cry, not once in the many months they had spent together as companions. She had seen him express many emotions, but never shed tears. Even now he did not weep, or sob. A few quiet tears stained his cheeks only, and he seemed unaware of them until she mentioned it.
Loosening his fingers from hers, he wiped at them with the back of his hand, erasing all traces but for the sadness that lingered in his eyes. Leliana knew she'd see it there for a while as he remembered and thought about what she had told him.
"Of course I believed and trusted you and you have never given me any reason to do otherwise. Leli, I wish I could take it all away." He hugged her fiercely. "I will protect you now, always." He closed his eyes and dropped his head to her shoulder.
He could not, not always, but she believed him because she wanted to. He would be her hero now, and always.
Leliana smiled as she comforted him, not swayed by the sudden reversal of their roles. In a way she had taken what innocence they had left between them and had rent it asunder. She could see he had not wanted to believe what she told him, but his faith in her had lent verity to her words and as the truth sunk in, it had injured him in a way. But he had not left her side, not for one moment, and now he clung to her more closely than ever.
Lifting his head from her shoulder, Aedan let go of her and fixed his stare out over the shadowed water. The cool evening breeze cooled her and they sat side by side, their hips and shoulders touching, their comfortable silence enduring for a while.
"I suppose I must seem refreshingly uncomplicated after all." Aedan turned to look at her, a small smile on his face.
Leliana returned the smile and lifted a hand to brush his cheek. "I did not mean you, so much as your outlook. You are a complex person in your own way, Aedan." She moved her fingers to the bump on his nose. "And you have your own scars."
Aedan passed his own fingers over his nose and a somewhat thoughtful expression crossed his face.
Thinking it would divert their thoughts from her scars, she asked him about it. A sly smile pulled at his mouth and his eyes twinkled with something like mischief. Aedan was a horrible liar.
"Well I won a fight, of course, against a far superior opponent, isn't that how the stories always go?"
"Usually, yes, but my sweet Warden, you don't fight with men, you kill darkspawn!"
"Perhaps I was more roguish before you met me." Aedan tried to adopt a wicked expression and failed spectacularly.
"And perhaps you've always been the straightforward warrior you are now, the one I love?"
Aedan affected a wounded look, one he was more successful at, and told her the truth. "The real story is far less exciting." A wistful smile replaced the contrived expression he'd conjured earlier. "Fergus, my brother, broke it. Unintentionally, of course. We were swimming in the river and his elbow caught me in just the wrong place." He looked sad again and Leliana hugged him close, knowing Aedan feared his brother lost to him forever, perished in the Korcari Wilds.
Shaking off his melancholy, Aedan kissed her temple. "You're all I have now, Leli."
They had talked for a long time and the sun had almost fully vacated the sky. Yet still they sat there, snuggled together, trying to stay warm despite the chill in the evening air. Dressing again only temporarily delayed the inevitable. Jack joined them, snuffling around and eventually forcing his way between them, which they allowed because he was warm.
"No one has come looking for us," Aedan said quietly. "Maybe we could sleep here, stay here, and pretend the rest of Thedas does not exist."
Leliana leaned her head against his shoulder. "I would like that." She did not want to be the one to dispel the peace of their evening.
She knew, they both knew, that they could not sit there forever. But they did, for as long as they could. And perhaps like her, he pretended that this was their life. That their days could be spent like this, together, on the beach, exchanging stories of what they had done before, certain in the knowledge that the worst lay behind them.