This seems to be a common occurance— that she begins to shiver after sundown, as though she’s a featherless chick wanting for the warmth of her mother’s wing.
She’s too proud and too embarrassed to ask for him to scoot closer, so she resigns herself to laying there, blankets drawn tightly across her shoulders, her jaw clenched with the effort of stopping her teeth chattering. Her back is turned to him, anyway, so it wouldn’t be an easy feat to notice. She hopes, so, anyway. The lack of light in the room doesn’t make things any better. Only the soft firelight provides some sort of illumination, but it doesn’t stretch much further than the foot of the bed.
She’s already allowed him space here on the bed simply because watching him trying to make himself comfortable on the floor was painful for both her head and her heart. Lady has slept on the floors of houses and inns for years, ignored and forgotten as though she was something of less worth than even the scraps of food scattered around the legs of the tables, and letting someone else endure it is something like admitting a secret shame to herself.
The memories come back with a sting and it makes her purse her lips in displeasure. She clamps her hands down around her arms in an effort to conserve warmth and tries to put the unpleasant recollections out of her mind. She needs her sleep, and worrying it away will do no one any favors.
The bed is warm in his part of it. But that’s mostly because of his own warmth. His sister had always praised him for being so warm no matter the coldness of the weather. She would even say that it was probably because he had a big heart full of love. And that was were his warmth came from. The memory made him smile though it did not last long.
Qanik could feel her shivering beside him. They were not really that far apart since the size of the bed did not allow it, but he was far enough to allow her space. He was not a man that would touch a woman without permission. The way she shivered and breathed made him think twice however. It somehow amused him how sensitive she was to the cold. /Yes. She wouldn’t survive back home./
The Chasind hears her teeth chattering. It’s faint, but there. He sighs, deciding to damn boundaries tonight. He doesn’t have the heart to leave her cold like this.
So he turns around to scoot closer. Not too close, but close enough to share his warmth. He stretches to rub her arm gently.
“Do you,” he hesitates, “want Qanik to… ugh… hug you? It would be… warmer.”
She starts at the sound of his voice, breathing sharply. She’d thought he was asleep. Apparently not.
The bed’s springs squeak as she hears him turn on his other side to pat her arm. Her body screams at her. It’s warm and welcoming, and she’s stupid for even considering to stay away, but it wouldn’t be proper. /You’ve already kissed him. Not very proper, I’d say,/ she tells herself, and it makes her frown. That was a moment of lacking judgment. She argues with herself for another moment before she turns over, as well, pulling her hair out of the way as she inches a bit closer.
“I’m s-sorry,” she whispers, trying to keep her speech coherent. “It’s pathetic. I don’t want to— offend you, but…” She frowns again at that, and then a chill runs up her spine that sends her all but wriggling into his arms. Maker’s teeth, the man is like a bonfire. She sighs in relief at the warmth and rests her forehead against his collarbone. Much better. The feeling is start to bleed back into her limbs.
He raises his brows when she moves closer to him. He feels his neck stiffen at the feeling of her against his chest. But quickly, his body relaxes because the feeling was not really foreign. He smiles at her apology. Here he was thinking she would be offended by his gesture. Apparently they were feeling the same. He wraps his arm over her.
The position, however, inevitably forced him to bury his nose against her hair.
“Your hair smells nice.” The words tumble out of his mouth the moment it crosses his brain. His face flinches at the slip up.
She chuckles at the feeling of his breath stirring her hair— the failing of being ticklish never ceases to haunt her. It scares her, however, that he’s so near and she doesn’t mind in the slightest bit. Hells, he heven has his arm slung over her hip and she’s not complaining.
“Thank you,” she says. “Yours too. It’s soft as well.” She jerks her head back to look at her hair: it’s grown to the point where some of it spills over the edge of the bed and the pillow. “Mm. Maybe it’s time for a trim.”
“Nonono.” It would seem the night transformed him into someone who couldn’t hold his thoughts inside his head. He shuts his eyes and clenches his jaw. “Ugh. Qanik meant… Wife should not cut it… short.”
He falls silent for a moment, embarassment welling up in his chest. His hands placed at her back brush against her hair. Then he starts twirling it gently around his index finger.
“Qanik just…” He speaks out, his voice slightly raspy, “like your hair. Long. Like this.” He is not even sure why he needs to explain, but he does anyway. “BUT,” he says that louder than he should have, “if you want to cut it, you should. It’s your hair.” Not his. And he certainly thinks his preference had no weight in Lady’s decision.
“Sorry.” He bites his lips.
At first she’s taken aback by the intensity of his opinion. She hadn’t even thought he’d had an opinion in the first place— her hair isn’t something that most people take care to tell her about. The only one ever interested has been Carmen, who’s loved it long. The Madame had told her to keep it short. Longer hair was easier to strangle with. Fortunately, that worked two ways instead of just one.
“Don’t worry. Speak your mind,” she says, laughing a bit. “Even if it’s about my hair.” She nuzzles him unconsciously, trying to comfort him. It’s sort of disturbing how attractive she finds his jawline. /Careful, Lady,/ she tells herself. It’s been a while since she’s done anything like this. “I’ll be keeping it long. Carmen… she likes it that way.”
Relief spreads in his body like the warmth the sun gives. He sighs at her acceptance of his opinion and her decision. The sensation of her nuzzling against him descends a cloudy haze of indescribable feelings upon his brain.
“Qanik is glad.” He says before he nuzzles back. It amazes him how easy he felt around her. He had only known her for a short period of time, yet words and actions of affection is never difficult. Maybe it is because of her acceptance of him, or her lack of demand for him to be the strong, infallible warrior. Qanik thinks he has spoken to Lady more than he has had with Idris, the younger brother who is the man he would never be.
The not-so Chasind Warrior pulls back to look at Lady. He blinks slowly, taking in her features that is illuminated softly by the light.
“You are very beautiful.” He whispers to the woman who was more of family than his own family back at home.
She feels the breath drain out of her slowly as she looks up at him, stunned into silence by his words. She wonders what it is that makes him say something like this with such honesty and conviction. Where does he see this beauty that no one else has? She casts her gaze down at the edge of the pillow, not knowing whether she’s lowering her eyes out of embarrassment or shyness.
“And you are very kind,” she murmurs, the warmth in her cheeks growing. “No one has ever said that to me before.” Lady laughs nervously.
Her ears twitch even under her hair and she stays quiet, wondering if she deserved the compliment at all.
“They are fools then,” he chuckles a bit. He unwraps his arm around her to place under her chin. Gently, he raises her gaze to him while he himself lowers face so she won’t have to look way up. “Qanik say it because it is true, not because of kindess.”
He lets out a small gasp when she looks at him. She does this thing with her eyes when she looks up. It’s like a slow movement, cautious yet earnest. He suddenly yearns the feel of her lips against his. He remembers the softness and the warmth. He recalls how it feels for her nose - beautiful as she is - to bump against his. The feel of the breath she lets out when they part.
/No I don’t really remember./
He tells himself and presses his lips against hers.
She’s ready to respond, quick-witted as always, to deflect the praise, and then he goes and interrupts her with a kiss.
Any lingering wit or sense flies out the window and is abandoned as she responds, quietly at first, and then with a bit more courage, her fingers curling into the hair at the back of his neck. He’s good at this, she thinks hazily, not intimidated by the size of his palm. At other times she would be thinking— how could this man overpower her? Where are his weaknesses? Nearest escapes?
The sense comes back when she suddenly finds herself atop him, his hands at her hips; she tears away with a surprised gasp, ashamed of herself and questioning where her self-control has gone. It no longer resides in this plane of existence, apparently, she thinks to herself crossly, trying to ignore the loss of warmth. She looks down at him, shocked and ashamed.
“I’m so sorry, I—” she stutters, and then clambers away, letting herself sit a good few inches apart from him. “This is going very fast.” She doesn’t know whether she’s speaking to him or herself. You’d think she were an uncontrollable girl, one who’s never known a man. “Oh, Maker, I’m sorry.”
Would hiding underneath the sheets be acceptable?
She replies with more gusto than he is expecting. He had kissed a woman before, Seren, his childhood sweetheart. He was a man fresh from boyhood, and Seren was a girl who did not demand anything from him. Yet it quickly faded. She only loved him for his potential - a potential he never fully uncovered. (Because he was never the man they wanted him to be.) He had thought he would never know a woman after her anymore, but here is Lady, her lips soft and warm.
/Home/, he thinks.
Her fingers sit quietly and comfortably against his neck. Too comfortable. /Perfect/, he thinks. It is a word he often uses to describe her now. Innocence starts to ebb away when their bodies close the gap. The kiss turns fiery as if they are compensating for the cold of the night. Before he notices what his body does, he turns on his back and she slips atop him.
His heart skips a bit. And he finds he is enjoying this too much. Too much. He’s not sure whether he wants to stop or not. Because this was going faster than he intends. Yet it felt /so right/ with her weight over him, her fingers pressed against his cheeks. Her toes against his legs.
As quick as it began, it ends. He rises to see her retreating far from him.
“No.” He tells her. “My fault. Sorry. Qanik shouldn’t have.” He proceeds to rubbing his face in regret. He shouldn’t have yet he did. And it felt so right. /Spirits/, he pleaded. “Sorry.”
“I’m so sorry.” He says it again because he feels once or twice is not enough. He’d hate it if she started hating him. And just because he was just foolish. Like a boy without inhibitions. He shakes his head. He then gathers the blankets on his hand to place on her shoulders. And he slinks away from her, his back against the headboard. “I am so sorry. Truly. It’s just that…”
“Qanik really likes Lady.”
She waits for a moment, for her head to clear and for the haze to pass. She has to swallow to wet her mouth. That had been extremely, dangerously close to overstepping boundaries she had set in place for herself long ago. Lady parts her mussed hair and smooths it away from her face, taking a deep breath and ignoring the fact that her lips feel very hot. It’s hard to stop her mind from wandering.
“It’s alright,” she says, and her voice comes out huskier than she’d have liked. She clears her throat and gratefully takes the blanket. It’s a poor substitute for him. “Don’t apologize so much. It takes two, you know,” she reminds him, and tries to smile. Lady shifts, crossing her legs, trying to get comfortable, and really smiles at his last sentence. “Well, I do too. I think that’s evident.” She coughs as the red rises in her cheeks.
“I think… perhaps— so… so we don’t ruin what we have,” she starts, compulsively tucking hair behind a pointed ear, “that we should… maybe… get to know each other better?” She hesitates for a moment and then takes his hand in hers, hoping it will erase some of the shame he’s wearing so openly on his face. “Give it a… trial period. Become friends, first. And then… well. We’ll see?”
It’s an absurd idea. She won’t fault him if he turns and walks out the door to try and get back to where he came from. It will probably be more familiar to him than anything he could find with her here.
Qanik crawls to where she is and sits beside her. Just close enough to provide her the heat she seems to be missing. He coughs, his heart thundering against his chest. He is glad she was not angry. And he is elated to know she likes him back.
“If that is what Lady wish,” he pasues, his thumbs twiddling together, “Friends, then.”
He falls into silence because he does not know what to say anymore.
“Erh— we should… lay down some rules?” she asks, and she sounds meek even to her own ears. She deeply hopes she hasn’t offended him. “I apologize.” She squeezes his hand in consolation. “I… these matters are delicate. They need care, yes? Let’s not rush and spoil something that could be very nice.”
Nice. /Nice?/ she asks herself. Where has all her eloquence gone? Nice must be the grandest understatement of the Age.
“Do you have any… suggestions?”
“It is all right. Qanik understands.” Qanik smiles at her. He doesn’t really know why she is apologizing for asking such a thing. His smile widens when he hears her describe what they could have. Happiness washes over him at the thought of Lady finding his companionship “nice.”
He pouts, thinking of what they could lay down. Then he scratches the stubble on his jaw.
“Ugh. Kissing?” He coughs, heat rising to his cheeks. “Do you have… any say on it? Qanik will gladly abide.”
No, don’t pout, she thinks to herself, watching with a sort of fascinated dismay as he does. The last word to appear in her mind is ‘dimples’ before she manages to wrench it away from imagining things that would get them both into a far more complicated situation. She clears her throat again to avoid her voice being too high and nervous.
“Yes. That. None. On the lips, at least.” It’s all alright till the very end, where her tone cracks. She swallows and pats her hair again, even though it’s already in place. “It gets a little— distracting? Erm. Perhaps… not a lot of touching?” She tries to stop herself from letting a slightly strange laugh loose. “I mean, I have as much tolerance as the next woman, but there’s only so much I can take.”
The sentence leaves her feeling like a slattern. Can she never say anything she won’t second-guess?
Qanik narrows his eyes at her. Touching but not too much? He thinks he does not have the capacity to judge what may be too much so he just scrunches his brows together and nods at her. Well at least he could kiss her cheeks and her hands. The thought puts a smile on his lips. However, when he notices it, he quickly clears his throat.
“And sharing the bed?” His hand is starting to curl against the sheets in anxiety. “Hugging?”
“I wouldn’t exile you to the floor.” She smiles. “There’s a difference between being paranoid and wholly cruel.” She notices his discomfort and the smile fades from her face. “If this makes you feel— unpleasant, you must tell me. I… I’m not good at making rules.” She scratches the back of her neck sheepishly. “In fact, I am usually the one breaking them.”
Lady coughs lightly and looks away to the side. “I like the hugging too much to deprive myself of it.” She quirks her brows at him. “You’ll learn that I’m a selfish creature.”
Qanik rubs his neck. He then find his fingers tracing the neckline of his shirt. Her terms are actually good.
“No,” he smiles at her shyly, “It’s just that… Qanik has never talked about this…. thing… before.” He coughs and looks away. He feels like such a boy. 28 cycles of the seasons old and he’s still such a boy. He could hear Idris’s mocking laughter in the distance. He finally finds a girl he likes yet he’s here fumbling and making an ass of himself.
/Smooth, Qanik. Really smooth./ He bites his lips before turning to look at her again.
“Qanik respects Lady. So if these rules are good, Qanik will abide. But just so you know, sometimes… I might not know what “too much” is, so just hit me in the head.” He grins at her.
She blinks at him in completely plain surprise. “You mean, you’ve never…?” She gestures with her hands as though it would somehow fill the gap her words leave. It’s hard to believe he hasn’t been— erm— that he hasn’t had any experience, given the way he looks. Why, she’d thought—
/Thought/ being the key word, there, she thinks to herself and feels disbelief wash over her. She had assumed that… she always assumes, doesn’t she? And look where it’s put her now.
“I’d never hit you,” she says, taking his jest far too seriously. The ones she has hit haven’t ended up well. “I don’t want to pressure you into anything.” She smiles at him a bit sadly. “In truth… ‘too much’ passed for me long ago. You don’t have to worry about that. It just means I may be more… familiar, with other things. I’ve had time to get used to that aspect of life.”
Yes. Now he feels more like a boy than a man. He feels the warmth and his cheeks as he looks down, his hand still rubbing against his neck.
“It surprises you?” He asks, his voice ending in a higher pitch than he intended. With a cough, he continues, “There has only been one. But Qanik was much, much younger. Too young. And there has not been any other. Qanik was not exactly… the ideal man back at home. Not when anyone wants Qanik to be someone Qanik is not” Well he had the physique, but never the strength and the courage to attract lovers or a potential wife. He gulps audibly. “Just so Lady knows, Qanik’s shoulders are always free for her head to rest on. Especially now, if you feel seed about… what has happened to you in the past.”
“Well, where I come from— I had that part of life spoiled for me very early on,” she says, smiling at his honest bashfulness. “I’m not surprised because I think it’s bad. It is… it is something to be cherished. And something to be done with someone you love.”
Not in a backalley where the grime stains your palms and you do it for coins so you can buy the last slices of a loaf long-gone stale.
“You’re very true to yourself,” she tells him quietly, patting his cheek. “It’s nothing to be ashamed of. It only changes how quickly you understand things when you learn them.” She lets out a little laugh despite herself towards the end of his encouraging little speech. “We feel ‘sad,’ Qanik, not ‘seed.’ The seed is what we plant in the ground when we want things to grow. Like small trees and bushes.”
Her gaze turns serious. “I’ve spent a good portion of my life pretending to be people I am not, sometimes out of neccessity’s sake. Do not ever let someone take that identity from you. It’s something we all have a right to.”
It startles her how protective she feels of him, but she cannot help it. He is surprisingly sheltered, for a wilder, and… she doesn’t want to taint it.
“Riiiight. Seed. Sad. Sad.” Qanik narrows his eyes and nods. Then his expression turns into a serious one.
“Qanik already tried to be someone else. Failed. Miserably.” He casts his eye downward. “My father,” he throws her a somber glance, “he leads us. And Qanik is firstborn. Expectations are a lot. Always failed. Stopped trying after a few times. Eira… she always told me it was all right to be myself. Then my younger brother, Idris, reaching adulthood. Father set his eyes on Idris. And he was the man I could never be so they forgot me. But life did not really… get any more easier.” He recalls the times his father cast him out, the times he stood far from the bonfire when the leader’s family was the one which sat nearest to it. Maybe that’s how he developed his thick skin. Maybe.
He turns his eyes towards Lady. The light makes her eyes look like amber, he thinks.And the caring but protective twinkle in her gaze makes him smile to assure her. “Sounds like you had a harder life than Qanik though. If only Qanik was there, Qanik would have protected you. From anything.”
“Because Qanik values Lady… no matter her past,” he nods. And because she accepts him for who he is, not who he can or must become. But he keeps that one to himself like a secret he held against his heart.
She ducks him under the chin to encourage him a bit. “Your sister is right,” she says. “No one is flawless, but, for the most part, excluding some improvements— we are all perfectly fine the way we are born.” She takes his hand in hers and opens his palm so he can see it by the firelight, and with one finger traces the line from his pinky to the base of his index.
“See. Your heart line is deep and strong. You are kind and you put a lot of yourself in your dealings with others. It means you have a stout heart, even though it might be a burden more than a blessing sometimes,” she tells him. “Goodhearted people are far and few in between. And if there are people who cannot appreciate this, it is their loss, not yours.”
She smiles at his words. “My life has been what it has been. It’s past, and I can’t change it. But I can teach others and guide them away from making the same mistakes I did.” Lady lets her expression relax and she looks at him honestly, her appreciation showing. “That’s very sweet of you. I’m sure you would have tried your best.” She pokes his nose, hoping to lighten the mood. “And Lady values Qanik just the way he is.”
Qanik doesn’t really look at his palms when she points at it. His eyes are upon her, watching how her lips would curve slightly into an honest smile. He feels her fingers slide against his palm as she tells him what kind of man he is. He doesn’t know why but the tears start falling. Yet these are not sad tears. They’re tears of happiness. He never thought that he would find a woman who would accept him for who he is. And the most fascinating thing is he had just known her for about a week. Yet he feels completely at ease with her. He sniffs and starts rubbing away the tears with his fingers.
“Sorry. Qanik is just…happy.” He moves closer to nuzzle against her. “Thank you. Truly.”
Something inside her twists unhappily at the sight of his tears.
“Oh, no,” she says quietly, and uses the sleeve of her nightdress to wipe away some of the moisture. “Don’t worry. I… you’re welcome.” She smiles uncertainly. “Not that I’m entirely sure of what I did, of course.” She leans her head against his and then allows herself a quick kiss to the crown of his head. Rogues will be rogues, she tells herself. “No more tears,” she whispers, patting his cheek, and then scrambling out of bed.
She stokes the fire until it is glowing happily, and then she rifles through the stack of books at the foot of the bed. After moments of silent searching punctuated only by the occasional rustle of paper and the odd spoken Rivaini curse, she bounds back up onto the mattress with a storybook in her arms. It has folk-tales from all over Thedas. This should be interesting.
He settles next to her, the warmth of his shoulder against his a comforting and solid presence. The night is no longer going to be dedicated to remembering wraiths of the past and faceless demons. It is time for a few smiles to be shared. She opens the storybook regardless of his inquisitive gaze and then clears her throat.
“The Princess and the Herald. Once upon a time…”