A/N: Well, everyone and their mother is writing DA II fic, which I had also originally planned on doing…but somehow I ended up with this bit of Nathaniel/Velanna fluff instead. Am I the only person in the world who ships these two? Alas.
The blasted shem was doing it all wrong.
Velanna crouched at the entrance to her tent, her fingertips jabbing into her palms and her eyes fixed on the man across the clearing. A cool wind whistled through the campsite, raising goosebumps on her bare arms and blowing a stray lock of hair into her vision. She raised one hand to bat the obstruction away, a growl of irritation scratching at the back of her throat.
If Nathaniel was aware of her piercing glower burrowing into his back, he gave no sign. He was kneeling on a bare patch of earth, attention focused on the pile of canvas that was his tent, fingers working at the ropes in a slow but steady rhythm. The rest of their little party was already asleep, their tents scattered in a haphazard semi-circle around the dimming fire. A long, loud snore echoed from where Oghren had passed out—an obnoxious sound that normally would have made Velanna curl her lip in disgust.
At the moment, she was almost too distracted to notice.
Nathaniel's sleeping tunic was loose around the neckline, and it slipped down his arm as he bent to examine one of the knots, exposing the skin of his shoulder and the muscles coiled beneath. A strange flicker of heat twisted its way through Velanna's chest, and her heartbeat quickened in—in—irritation, she decided.
That was happening a lot around him lately.
And—well—why not? Her fingernails dug deeper into the flesh of her palms. He was irritating, after all. Just because he wasn't quite as repulsive as the rest of his kind didn't mean he was worthy of her attention. Just because his eyes softened when he looked at her and his voice went husky when he called her lovely and milady and spoke of things like respect—
Velanna ground her teeth and forced herself to look away, glaring down at her fingernails instead. A persistent piece of dirt was lodged beneath one, and she set to attacking it, grateful for the distraction…from the…
Her ears strained of their own volition, catching the rustling sounds as the infuriating human rose and began to settle his tent into position. Her traitorous eyes followed suit before she even realized what was happening, glancing up and squinting through the smoke, following the movement of his dark hair as it lightly brushed his shoulders.
Apparently it wasn't enough for just her eyes and ears to betray her, for suddenly she was up on her feet and marching through the camp with quick, choppy strides. She found herself beside Nathaniel, yanking the ropes from his hands before her mind had a chance to catch up with her body.
"You're doing it wrong," she hissed, and whipped the ropes around her hands. The coarse surface scraped against her palms, a welcome discomfort to take her mind off that treacherous heat in her chest and how it only seemed to be inexplicably spreading. "Tie the knots like this," she continued, her fingers a flurry of motion. "Otherwise, the whole tent is likely to collapse on you in the first brisk breeze."
She finished and took a step back, her eyes darting to Nathaniel's face, daring him to defy her. She was not unfamiliar with the male ego and how easily it bruised, like a frail little sapling begging to be crushed under an aravel's wheel.
No doubt the male human ego would be even more pathetic. No human man would ever deign to suffer instruction of any sort by a female elf.
But Nathaniel held her gaze with his typical stoic expression, betraying little other than a hint of bemusement before he spoke. "It may come as a surprise to you, but I have successfully tied knots on numerous occasions. My family may have once been nobility, but that does not mean I have spent my life being waited on hand and foot."
"Oh, I do not doubt that you have some skill." She quirked an eyebrow as she spoke, managing to make the comment sound grudging and haughty at the same time. "But no human could ever hope to compare to a Dalish. When your entire life is spent surrounded by nature, moving from one place to another, you very quickly become proficient at this sort of thing."
He bent down in response, looking over her handiwork, then straightened.
"It is, indeed, a good knot." He inclined his head. "Thank you, Velanna."
"I—" She cleared her throat, then raised her chin, switching tactics. "Well. So you've finally abandoned that 'my lady' business? Decided I'm not worthy of respect after all?"
"Not at all," he replied. "You asked me to stop, did you not? I assumed you preferred to be called by your given name."
Velanna opened her mouth, then closed it again. She felt an odd pang at the center of her chest. "I…I suppose…" she began to mutter, then trailed off as her eyes sharpened on Nathaniel's face.
"Wait. You're teasing me, aren't you?"
The remaining light from the fire was just bright enough to illuminate the hint of a grin softening his normally grave expression, the flicker of mirth in his eyes—though, of course, he wasn't laughing at her openly. He no doubt considered himself far too much of a gentleman for that.
"Infuriating human," she hissed, but the words lacked any real venom, and for some reason she didn't back away as he took a step closer to her. "I don't care what you call me," she added, her eyes darting back and forth across his face. Oh, Creators, don't stare at his lips—
"Is that so?" he inquired mildly, taking another step forward.
"I wouldn't have said it if it wasn't so," she snapped. Vaguely she realized he was now close enough that she had to tilt her head back to maintain eye contact. Her heart hammered wildly in her chest. "Why do you ask such foolish questions?"
"Because," he said, his voice barely above a murmur, "you seem to spend a lot of time protesting for someone who claims not to care."
She couldn't hold back a tiny gasp of surprise when he dipped his head and lowered his mouth to hers. Her arms froze at her sides, her eyes fluttered closed, and her lungs momentarily forgot their purpose.
His lips are warm, she realized dimly, as though through a daze. It was suddenly the most complex thought she could muster as her whole body slowly relaxed, responding to Nathaniel's patient coaxing. I don't know why I thought…he always looks so cold.
His fingers brushed over her cheek, both rough and soft, and she realized her own hand was twining in his hair. Her thumb slid along the outer shell of his ear—strange and unfamiliar, round instead of pointed.
For some odd reason, it didn't seem to matter at all.
He pulled back after—seconds? minutes? Velanna couldn't tell—and though his eyes were hooded, his expression sent another wave of…something flooding from her chest to her toes. Her breath hitched a little, and she let her hand drop from the nape of his neck.
The corners of Nathaniel's mouth turned up in an almost invisible smile.
"Good night," he murmured, his voice low and full of promises. "My lady."
The backs of his knuckles ghosted along her cheek once more, and then he turned away, disappearing into his tent.
Velanna stood rooted to the spot, and raised one hand to her mouth, automatically fighting the smile that threatened to spread across her face.
"Infuriating human," she whispered again, then turned back in the direction of her own tent, no longer noticing the chill of the evening breeze.