Keelan sat, tracing the constellations in the sky above their camp. Years of training meant she could find them without much effort, and knew exactly where she dwelt beneath them. They had a map, of course, but Keelan still preferred the stars. They wouldn’t burn or tear. The stars were eternal.
“They are lovely, no?” Leliana’s voice was like a song.
“Always,” Keelan replied softly. Keelan had found herself enjoying Leliana’s company more and more as of late, so she made no objections to the woman’s presence. Besides, the bard seemed to have something on her mind.
The comfortable silence between them stretched as Leliana took a seat beside her and turned her face upwards as well. She was close enough that Keelan could feel the warmth drifting off her pale skin, which was not unpleasant. Finally, Leliana’s attention fell down to Keelan, who met the other woman’s eyes with an even expression.
“I hope you do not think me bold,” she said, “But I have noticed something about you.”
“Oh?” This should be good. Keelan was nothing if not used to being judged by others, though perhaps coming from Leliana it stung just a little more than usual. “That I’m insufferable? Cold-hearted?”
Leliana’s responding giggle was warm in every way that Keelan could never be. “You are no such thing. I see you, you know? You care so deeply about those who suffer in an unjust world. You are hard, yes, and quick to anger, but these are not always bad things.”
Keelan hadn’t expected that. She frowned, ever so slightly, and turned her gaze away from Leliana.
“Ah, but this is not what I wanted to say.” Keelan couldn’t imagine what else Leliana could have discerned about her. The woman was far too insightful for Keelan’s liking. “I wanted to say, that you are remarkably forgiving for someone who has suffered so much. It is something I admire about you.”
Keelan let a small, bitter laugh pass her lips. “Now I know you’re lying.”
Leliana didn’t stop smiling. “Certainly you do not forgive those who do not deserve it, but I have seen you many a times press someone who has slighted you without realizing it. The moment they admit their fault and apologize, you forgive them and allow the conversation to continue. Even… in our conversations, I am ashamed to say.”
Was she blushing? No, that must be a trick of the moonlight.
Silence fell around them, less comfortable than before, and for the first time in a long time, Keelan felt compelled to tell a story. Leliana loved stories.
“When I was first recruited… I was forced to go. I would gladly have died rather than leave my clan, but… the Keeper insisted. She said I could do more good for our people as a Grey Warden than as a corpse.”
Leliana hummed. “A wise woman.”
“Yes. At the time, however…”
“You were angry and petulant at being forced to leave?”
Keelan felt one edge of her mouth curl upwards. “Yes. Extremely so.” She took a breath to compose herself. “When Duncan and I arrived at Ostagar, we met Cailan. All I saw was a Shemlen king, a man who lived in a palace while my people scraped by on the edges of the world. I was… very rude to him.”
“You? No!” Leliana’s smile was infectious, even to someone like Keelan.
“I think I expected him to have me executed. It would prove that all the hateful things I’d ever thought about the Shemlen were true, and I’d get the death I sought after.”
Keelan fell silent, recalling the anger that had filled her up on the journey, burning like cold fire in her belly and scalding her throat every waking hour. Leliana waited patiently until Keelan shook off the memory and continued.
“He didn’t, obviously. He just frowned and told me that he probably deserved such harsh words for everything his people had ever done to mine. I… didn’t know how to deal with that. Anger, fear, resentment... these were all things I was used to receiving from Shemlen. Humility was not something I was prepared for. The shame of my behavior crashed over me in that moment, and I felt like a misbehaving child.”
Leliana burst into laughter and Keelan frowned at her until she calmed enough to speak. “Forgive me! I just imagined you as a child, already serious and glaring up at whatever poor soul was trying to discipline you!”
“I was a fairly grim child,” Keelan granted.
Leliana laughed again, and it was beautiful. Everything about Leliana was beautiful. “Ah, I interrupted you,” she said. “Please, continue.”
It took Keelan a moment to gather her thoughts, still distracted by the sound of Leliana’s mirth. Finally, she found her place and picked up her discarded thoughts.
“It seemed to me that I could continue behaving like a child, or admit that I’d painted all Shemlen with the same brush, and that, perhaps, this was unfair.” Leliana smiled, and Keelan felt her composure slip a little. “I- I still remain mistrustful of Shemlen, but I don’t see why I can’t overlook their slights if they prove to be honestly remorseful.”
“See?” Leliana asked in a teasing voice. “You are very forgiving.”
Keelan tried not to let the praise please her as much as it did. “If you wish to call it that.” She didn’t know what else to say, and Lelianna was watching her.
Time stretched, and while Keelan turned her face to the night sky, her attention was still very much on the ground. One patch of ground, specifically, that held a red-headed bard whose voice was like a bird’s.
“The moon is beautiful.” The words startled Keelan, and she looked over at Leliana. The bard’s expression was pulled into a peaceful smile as she gazed lovingly at the sky. “Her light is so pale and cold, but she guides those lost in the dark, and helps lovers to find each other where no one may judge them.”
Keelan gazed at the moon, trying to imagine it as Leliana saw it, kind and lovely.
“She reminds me of you.”
A shock ran up Keelan’s spine like ice, spreading through her whole body. Leliana was watching her, waiting to see how she’d respond, but Keelan was lost. She frowned and tried to bring order to her racing thoughts.
“The moon… is a cold substitute for the sun,” she tried, not even sure herself what she meant.
“And yet one dare not look directly at the sun for fear of being blinded.”
Eyes locked, neither one of them moved. They breathed in and out slowly, the only sound beyond a chorus of crickets. A breeze picked at Leliana’s hair, and Keelan noted the way that silly little braid bobbed under the unseen force. She was becoming rather intimate with the effects of unseen forces.
Finally, Leliana closed her eyes. With a nod of her head, she stood, and stretched out her long, agile body. Keelan watched the play of lithe muscles beneath her skin, transfixed. When she finished, Leliana smiled once more, then bent down and kissed Keelan’s cheek. Her lips burned warm and pleasant across Keelan’s chilled skin. “Goodnight, Warden.”
As Keelan watched Leliana walk away she felt that she shouldn’t leave things like this. That she must do something to fix what seemed like a terrible mistake.
“Keelan.” Her voice felt far away, but Leliana turned back to her. “Just call me Keelan.” Leliana smiled, and all at once everything was okay.
“Oui. Goodnight, Keelan.”