tagCelebrities & Fan FictionStrings Attached Ch. 26-30

Strings Attached Ch. 26-30

byElyssaCousland©

Twenty-Six: Leliana

He was gone in the morning when she woke, but he'd left a piece of parchment with a note scrawled across it in hasty handwriting: Your route is being handled by another scout for the day. I thought you could use some rest. I hope to see you tonight.

She sighed and stretched. She could admit she had been looking forward to waking up together but knew Nathaniel would be eager to report back to Cailan. It left her with a day to herself - a rare luxury - and she was determined not to waste it. She jumped up and dressed quickly, eating a brief meal of rations from her pack. There was still a small pile of ale-soaked clothing in the corner, and she gathered it up with a wrinkled nose.

Nathaniel's tent had been disassembled, leaving a small pile of belongings under a tarp made up of the old, torn tent; Leliana transferred everything except his bedroll into her, larger pavilion, determined that Nate would have his tent back. The bedroll she discarded; it smelled awful, and she'd never trust the assassin's needles had all been removed.

Thinking about the needles - and what she'd done to ensure none of them had harmed Nathaniel - left her pink-faced, but grinning.

She packed her own belongings, leaving them in one corner of the tent, and then went to the requisitions officer and got herself a new tent and bedroll, which she also stashed inside Nate's. She stepped out through the tent flap when she was done, and nearly knocked Sierra straight off her feet.

"You okay, Leli?" Sierra grabbed her arm, holding on until they were both stable. "I haven't seen you the last few nights."

"Oh, yes, my friend. How are you?" Leliana distracted the woman with small talk, having no desire to discuss what may - or may not - be happening with Nathaniel. But she made sure to borrow the small stone showerhead the Queen of Orzammar had gifted her, willing herself not to blush again as she considered the many uses to which it could be put...later.

The two women wandered through camp together, stopping to chat with several of their friends, who all seemed to be around, for once. Aedan started to talk about the assassination attempt, but Leliana shot him a look, tilting her head towards her friend when she wasn't looking. Did the idiot really want to discuss that with Sierra? His eyes widened, but then he nodded in understanding and changed the subject. Zevran just flirted with the both of them, a sly grin on his face, leaving Aedan sputtering; the dwarves were already well into their cups, and they didn't linger. Wynne and Anders were working in the rough infirmary, trying desperately to stem the tide of a stomach malady that seemed to be going through the camp; Wynne shooed them away to reduce their risk of catching anything. No one had seen Conrad all day, and by mutual unspoken agreement, the two avoided the command tent entirely. Leliana had no desire to have to school her expression around Nathaniel - and Sierra had no desire to get pulled into planning sessions with Cailan and Loghain shouting at each other endlessly.

When Sierra left to go find her husband - and how adorable were they? - Leliana began the preparations she had in mind to finally, hopefully, give her and Nathaniel the chance to see if there was anything more to their relationship than mutual attraction and awkwardness. She gathered some supplies, scouted the area surrounding the camp for a likely location, and then hastily scrawled a note and handed it to one of the young runners to deliver.

It was almost supper time. She wouldn't have to wait long.

Twenty-Seven: Nathaniel

He stood, staring at the open space where his tent used to be, mind spinning. He'd detailed someone to gather his things but had yet to requisition himself a new tent; the day had been busy, attending to Cailan and adding new routes for the scouts to cover amongst the various camps. He'd expected a pile of gear just waiting for him, but there was nothing.

While he considered his options - tracking down the servant who'd disassembled the tent, perhaps - a runner approached him nervously, holding out a note with slightly shaking hands. Nate took it, trying to hide his eyeroll from the poor kid; it wasn't the teenager's fault that he was now the Fereldan cautionary tale, and as such, apparently intimidating beyond belief.

He dismissed the runner with a wave, knowing it would be easier to deliver a response in person than force a terrified boy to stand there while he found writing supplies and wrote a reply. He didn't recognise the handwriting, but there was a subtle perfume scent on the parchment that immediately informed him who the author of the note was. He sniffed it appreciatively, furtively, before unfolding it.

"Arl Nathaniel Howe," he read. "My Lord, I have secured your possessions somewhere both safe and dry. I must insist on delivering my report to you in person. If this is acceptable to you, please proceed south from the edge of camp and follow the marked trail. If not, your former accommodations are prepared for your arrival."

He suppressed an outright grin; Leliana had left things vague enough that, if intercepted, the note would not implicate either of them in anything, however it gave him a clear enough impression: he was being invited to a secret meeting in the woods, but being given an easy out if he wished to end things without conflict.

He looked down at himself - the rumpled clothes he'd managed to pull out of his tent and change into early that morning, knowing his hair was unkempt and his face covered in stubble - and sighed. He could probably make her wait while he invaded her tent - he wasn't taking it back, no matter what she said - looking for clean clothes, but that clearly wasn't what she had in mind. He'd have to trust that his less-than-well-groomed self would be good enough.

He stopped briefly to speak to one of Cailan's many servants - Nathaniel hadn't really found time to hire his own, so Cailan had allowed him to borrow help when required. That done, he straightened his shoulders and started walking.

He followed her directions, leaving camp on the main path in the south, but quickly noted a flash of red to his right; upon further inspection, it was a thin strip of cloth the colour of Leliana's usual cloak. He untied it from the branch where he found it, only to realise that he was standing on a narrow trail leading away from the main path. Intrigued - and hoping he'd read her clues correctly - he followed the game trail west, finding another strip of cloth flapping in the slight breeze perhaps fifty feet further along. The trail meandered for a while, curving north and west, and leading up a slight hill, before taking a hard turn back towards the east and up a sharp incline. Another bright strip of red assured him that he was on the correct path. He didn't quite have to crawl up the slope, but was thankful for the scrubby trees and low-hanging branches on either side which he knew he could grab for if he lost his balance.

He was huffing slightly when he suddenly came to the top of the slope, a small clearing opening up in front of him. He hadn't even noticed the cliff from the camp, but it had a clear view overtop of the entire settlement and further out into the woods beyond. It was far enough away he could barely hear the noise of the camp getting ready for supper, but close enough he didn't worry overmuch about their safety. It was high enough up that they wouldn't be visible from below unless they stood right at the edge of the cliff, and there was a steep, though passable, route leading down the side of the cliff that would get them back to camp in moments, if necessary.

It was the perfect spot for a private meeting - or, he reflected as he looked down at the blanket spread out on the soft grass, a picnic.

"Hello."

Nathaniel spun around to see the source of that sweet voice he'd know anywhere. And then stopped, open-mouthed in surprise. Leliana stood there, having just emerged from the trees on the other side of the clearing, but it wasn't her presence that had him struck dumb.

She wore a dress. A simple style, really, not much more ornate than a farmer's wife might wear, but made of some supple fabric that hugged her curves and softened her smile. It was pale blue and yet surprisingly clean despite their surroundings, and it made her look more feminine and alluring than he thought possible.

Leliana in armour - or trousers - was dangerously distracting. Leliana in a gorgeous dress was jaw-dropping.

She raised one delicate eyebrow. "Speechless, my Lord?"

He forced his mouth closed and smirked instead. "Just on the lookout for an ambush. Can never be too careful when invited to clandestine meetings."

She laughed, coming closer until she stood only a few feet from him. "Perhaps you've just never seen a girl in a dress before."

He swallowed heavily. "Not one as beautiful as you." He reached out as though to take her hand, but then stopped and flushed. "I'm rather...underdressed."

She reached the rest of the way and curled her fingers around his. "I have the solution to that problem. Come."

Twenty-Eight: Leliana

She led him through the tree the way she'd come, to another, smaller clearing just out of line of sight. She had laid everything out already - two tarps for standing on, one already wet and one dry except for a few small, damp footprints; a clean towel; soap and shampoo, the scents he favoured; a blade to use as a straight razor; and a pile of new, clean clothes that had been harder to obtain than she'd admit.

She turned to face him from the edge of the tarp and held out her free hand, dropping the little stone showerhead she'd borrowed into his palm. She thought he'd be touched - privacy and cleanliness were both hard to find in the middle of an army encampment in the woods - but he wasn't even looking at the preparations. Instead he watched her, his eyes dark.

She flushed and broke the silence. "Go ahead and get cleaned up. That quick wash last night didn't do you justice." He growled as she pretended to sniff the air. "I'll be over there when you're finished. I thought we could maybe...talk."

He nodded, but didn't let go of her hand, instead tugging her closer gently. She went willingly into his arms, skin still pink. He closed his eyes and pressed a kiss to her forehead. "I've half a mind to invite you to wash my back."

She giggled. "Naughty man! And here I was trying to help you get clean, my Lord."

"My name is Nathaniel." He chuckled. "We could do that too. Together."

She stepped back with a mischievous smile. "And waste the supper I packed us? Not a chance. Get changed, Nathaniel."

She waited for him on the blanket in the larger clearing, trying to avoid thinking about him just down the hill, naked and damp...and hoping she'd wash his back. She shook her head and rolled her eyes, choosing instead to lay out the picnic that she'd organised. It was nothing remarkable - some fresh game, caught by one of the Dalish hunters who'd been helping supply the army, some bread and cheese, and a rather expensive bottle of wine. Getting fancy food in the middle of an army camp was impossible, but at least it wasn't salted meat from one of the barrels and hard biscuit.

She didn't have to wait for long until he joined her, hair damp and braided back, clean-shaven except for his signature patch, and dressed impeccably. She'd been quite sure the clothes would fit, but he looked almost unbearably handsome in the high-collared doublet and dark, laced trousers. He looked self-conscious, until he noticed her gaping; his shy smile was reward enough for the hard work it had taken to arrange everything on such short notice.

He sank to his knees beside her, nodding at the feast spread out in front of them. "And again, I'm unprepared," he groused. "One of these days I'll be the one making surprising romantic gestures, I swear it."

She just giggled and handed him a plate. "I wouldn't count on it. I'm a little bit hard to surprise, yes?"

He arched an eyebrow at her, putting the plate down on the blanket in front of him. "Oh?" His tone was mild, and she never saw it coming. Before she could lift her own plate or take a single bite, he pounced, cradling her head even as he lowered her to the ground, his lips meeting hers, his arms caging her. He knelt awkwardly beside her to avoid crushing her with his weight, but even as his tongue took advantage of her surprised gasp, she knew she needed more. She reached her arms up and wrapped them around his torso, pulling him to her until he settled over her.

They kissed for what felt like hours, and Leliana lost herself to the bliss of his lips on hers, his hand in her hair, his hips pinning her to the blanket underneath her. He felt divine, firm and lean, and his little groans as he plundered her mouth made her roll her hips up against him desperately. He switched his attention to her long, slender neck, making her writhe as he nipped her sharply and then kissed away the sting. She reached for him, tangling her hands in his hair, trying to return the favour, but he persisted, taking nothing from her but the gasps and moans he could wrest from her, from how she shuddered when he found a particularly sensitive spot.

She never wanted the evening to end.

Twenty-Nine: Nathaniel

After an eternity of lavishing attention on her neck, her ears, and the delightful dip between her collar bones, he returned to her lips, gentling the kiss until he pulled away, touching his forehead to hers instead. He rolled to one side, propping himself on one elbow to look down at her, running his hand from her shoulder, down her arm, until he found her hand, loosely draped across her belly. "Lel—"

Whatever he'd planned to say was interrupted by the noisy grumbling of her stomach, and she giggled even as she flushed with embarrassment. He smirked, but without a word, reached over, grabbed the nearest plate and inched it closer, before breaking off a morsel of meat from the thick slice she'd prepared from him, and feeding it to her. She watched his face closely, still pink, her expression apprehensive, but she accepted the bite anyway and chewed carefully. He studied her as she swallowed, admiring the scattered freckles across her nose, the strands of flame-red hair that fell across her forehead, the muscles moving in her neck as she swallowed. He continued feeding her, stealing the odd bite for himself, both of them lying in complete silence, never looking away. When both plates were empty, he pushed them away, kissed her softly, and then struggled up to his knees beside her.

He sighed, unable to remain quiet - even when he knew he should. "You're the most beautiful woman I've ever seen." She flushed again and sat up, reaching for him; he took her hand and brought it to his lips for a soft kiss. "Between my family history and my own past...I'm no prize. And being with me extends the target painted on me to you."

She opened her mouth to object, but he held up his hand, and she paused. "Despite that, even knowing I should...I can't walk away from you. You mean too much to me." He swallowed. "So if you don't...if you...well." He cleared his throat. "Now is the time you should tell me, if you don't want this. Because otherwise I want...I would like..."

It was her turn to stop him, putting a slender finger over his lips with a smile. "I'm not going anywhere. We both have complicated pasts. I don't care - and I can take care of myself."

He nodded, his palms slick with sweat, his heart beating too fast in his ears. "Leliana...I would like to...that is, I was wondering..."

She giggled, the sound rich and lush, setting his nerves on fire. "Nathaniel. Unless I'm much mistaken, one of us no longer has a tent or a bedroll, yes? You gave up yours, silly man, and haven't taken it back, nor have you arranged for another." Her smile was soft, and she toned down her amusement as his face reddened. When he looked down at his knees, avoiding her gaze, she squeezed his hand. "Will you share with me tonight? Tomorrow you can make whatever arrangements you wish, but tonight, will you stay with me?"

Her expression was hopeful, but not without her own subtle signs of insecurity. Her shoulders were tense, the hand he wasn't holding clenched tight. It gutted him that she could be so uncertain. How could she, of all people, doubt that any man would jump at her offer? Never mind him, the pariah of Ferelden, the son of a mass murderer and traitor? His instinct told him to walk away, that she would be better off without him. But he hadn't been lying; he couldn't, not if his life depended on it.

"Leliana." Her name was like a prayer on his lips, and when he reached out to lift her chin with his finger, she rolled to her knees gracefully and came to him, meeting him in the middle, tilting her lips up to accept the kiss he couldn't stop himself from bestowing on her. And then her arms were around his neck, her tongue teasing his lower lip, and he groaned and gave himself up to the feel, the taste of her, the anticipation of more to come.

Thirty: Leliana

Sneaking back to her tent was a simple matter. Nathaniel had demonstrated his abilities back in Denerim, and he'd been half-starved and weakened from weeks of torture at the time. Now only her own, considerable skills even allowed her to follow him when he disappeared into the shadows of the darkened camp. It would have been even easier, if not for the slight shaking in her hands, and the queasy sort of quaking in her stomach. It had been a long time since she'd had nerves related to going to bed with someone - but then, it had been a long time since she'd done that, too. She supposed a bit of anxiety was probably normal.

It would have been easier with anyone else, she thought; not that she wanted to take anyone else to bed, but knowing that she likely had only this one encounter - one single night - to prove to them both that they had something worth fighting for was nerve-wracking. If they were somehow incompatible - or if he regretted it the next day, for whatever reason - she'd never see him again, she was sure.

So it was with sweaty palms and a tremulous smile that she parted the flaps on the tent he'd given up for her. He followed her inside, his warm breath on her neck giving her goosebumps. The last light of dusk was fading, so the shadowy interior of the tent was difficult to see. She sighed; she'd have preferred to have more light, not only to allow her to admire his lean, archer's body, but also to be able to watch his face for reactions - to her, to what they were doing - and any indication how he was feeling about it. But despite having access to one of the miraculous little arcane lamps from Soldier's Peak, she wouldn't use it. Neither of them wanted to advertise what was happening between them, and in the dark, with the light on, anyone passing by would be able to see their silhouettes. She had no intention of sharing him with anyone.

His arms wrapped around her from behind before she had the chance to turn; he was warm, and she leaned back against him almost involuntarily, enjoying the feel of his chest against her back and his arms around her waist. He pressed a kiss to her temple, and she sighed happily as some of her nerves settled. She turned in his arms, draping her own arms around his neck and lifting her face expectantly. Instead of the kiss she anticipated, he pressed his forehead against hers, his nose nuzzling her own gently. His face was lost in the shadows of the tent, but she fancied she could feel his gaze on her.

His breath caught in the way that it would if he was about to speak, but after a brief pause, in which he said nothing, he shifted and pressed his soft lips against her own instead. She gasped in surprise, but arched against him and returned the kiss in kind when his tongue flicked across her lips teasingly. Her tongue sought his, her fingers wove into his still-damp hair, and she gave herself up to the feel of him, his hands stroking her back, his taste in her mouth, his hard body pressed against her from knees to shoulders. He groaned softly as she fisted her hands, using his long, silky hair to pull him closer.

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