A/N: This fic will be a collection of snippets depicting the progression of Nathaniel and Velanna's relationship rather than featuring one continuous plot. Epic lengthy plots are sadly not my strong point.
A word of explanation on the title: after unsuccessfully wracking my brain trying to come up with a name for this fic, I turned to my iTunes for inspiration, and one of the songs that popped up was "Stray Italian Greyhound" by Vienna Teng. The song itself is far too peppy and upbeat to really be appropriate for Nate/Velanna, but the overaching message—about a jaded cynic suddenly confronted with something good—seems to fit my perception of the pairing. So I shamelessly altered the title for my own purposes.
Nathaniel peered down at the elf seated on a tree stump, his eyebrows furrowing at her uncharacteristic lack of response. Velanna's legs were drawn up to her chest, her arms wrapped loosely around her shins and her forehead resting on her knees. Little was visible other than her upswept blond hair, her face hidden by several locks that had pulled loose from the carefully twisted knot.
Nathaniel lowered himself to one knee, extending a hand to gently shake her shoulder. "Wake up, Velanna."
"Hmm?" She raised her head slowly, expression bleary, and Nathaniel caught a glimpse of dark smudges beneath her eyes before she jerked back, a sharp inhalation hissing between clenched teeth.
"I was just resting," she said, instantly defensive, and waved off Nathaniel's proffered hand as she pulled herself to her feet. "Are we moving out already?"
Nathaniel nodded toward the head of their small party, where the Warden-Commander was gathering up the last of the supplies. "It was a fifteen-minute rest, as usual."
"Hmph." Velanna shouldered her staff, her lips downturned in a scowl, and one hand stole up to rub at her eyes. She blinked several times, shaking her head in a slight jerking motion reminiscent of a waterlogged mabari. Nathaniel pushed the mental image away, suspecting that to voice it would land him on the receiving end of an unpleasant spell.
"Are you feeling well, my lady?" he asked instead, falling into step next to her as they followed the Warden-Commander back to the road. "You seem rather tired."
"Your powers of observation border on legendary," she scoffed, then trailed off into a sigh. "I just…haven't been sleeping well lately, that's all. It's nothing serious."
"Are you having nightmares?" Nathaniel guessed, sidestepping a root protruding into the middle of the pathway.
He saw her head whip around in his peripheral vision, and he looked over to meet her narrowed eyes. "How did you know that?" she demanded, her voice rising a little in suspicion.
"All Grey Wardens have them, as I understand it," he replied. "Dark, shadowy dreams filled with chaos and darkspawn."
"I—oh." Velanna blinked again and looked away, reaching up to rub at the back of her neck. "I thought I was only having them because of…what's happened to Seranni."
Nathaniel shook his head. "I have them as well. I believe even the Commander still experiences them on occasion."
"I see." Velanna's frown returned, her mouth tightening into an indignant line. "Well, it certainly would have been nice if someone had told me about these side effects before I joined the organization." Then her expression softened a little, growing pensive. "On the other hand, I suppose I did rather rush into things. I was so focused on rescuing Seranni that I gave no thought to any consequences."
"You're more concerned for your sister's safety than your own," Nathaniel pointed out. "That is an admirable trait."
"I…suppose." Velanna furrowed her brows, as though the thought had not occurred to her before. "Or maybe just foolhardy and self-destructive."
"Well, look at it this way," Nathaniel said. "At least you chose to join the Grey Wardens. I was conscripted into the order against my will. I even asked the Commander to hang me instead."
He could practically hear Velanna's eyebrows climb her forehead as her head swiveled sharply toward him. "Really? You wanted to die?"
"I'd lost my family, my good name, and my property, and was about to be forced into the order responsible for killing my father." Nathaniel's eyes drifted down the path as he relived the memory. "At the time, it seemed a preferable option."
Velanna was silent a moment before she looked back at him, her expression inscrutable. "But…you don't still want that, do you?"
He raised an eyebrow at her.
"I ask only because I don't want someone with a death wish watching my back in a fight," she added hastily, raising her chin.
Nathaniel suppressed a smile. "Well, when you put it that way, my lady…no, I don't still wish I'd been hanged. I would never have dreamed this would happen, but in a way, it's like the Wardens—all of you in our little band—have become my new family."
Velanna gazed at him, a little wrinkle between her eyebrows. "All of us? Truly?"
"Well." He let a wry smile cross his face. "Except maybe Anders."
He was momentarily surprised by her peal of laughter, realizing it was the first time he'd ever heard the sound.
It was more pleasant than he might have expected.
The flow of conversation ceased, replaced by the scuffle of footsteps along the road, the occasional rush of wind stirring the trees, and snatches of tuneless humming from Anders' direction. To Nathaniel's mild surprise, Velanna seemed content to continue walking alongside him, rather than picking her own trail a short distance from the party as she normally did.
"Do you have the nightmares often?" she asked suddenly, shooting a glance at him before staring straight ahead down the pathway. Lines of tension ran through her shoulders, and her hands twisted together in front of her before she returned them stiffly to her sides.
"Less often than I did when I first joined," he replied, keeping his voice soft. "I don't believe they ever disappear entirely, but they will fade in time."
Her sigh of relief was barely audible. "Good."
She met his gaze, and for a brief moment her lips parted as though she wanted to say more, but then she steeled her jaw, giving him a brisk nod before lengthening her stride.
Nathaniel watched her step down the path, her shoulders straight and her head held high, and a smile tugged at the corners of his mouth.