He wanted to wait until they had a bed, a room, something more than a tent and a bedroll. He was no stranger to the cold, hard earth, but it was awkward enough touching hands in front of all the others. To draw her close - Loghain couldn't do that, not without privacy, and she deserved something more than dirt beneath her.
If it seemed perhaps sentimental or over-coddling, if he second guessed himself, his motives, his ideas, he buried it all as quickly as they came. Bethany Hawke could have withstood anything he pushed upon her, would have made no complaint; it was courtesy, not need, that made him stay his hand. Courtesy that let her work in peace, as well. The trip back to Vigil's Keep filled her time with marching and with tending to those injuries that could not be healed in a minute, an hour, a day. His own ankle swelled with every mile, and it was only her care that kept the break mending. A better healer may have had it fixed in an afternoon, but she did as she could.
He could respect that.
He could respect a lot of things about her. If she was idealistic, she kept it from making her foolish. If she was young, it was tempered with experiences many her age had not had. She had worked for smugglers in Kirkwall, had seen her brother crushed by an ogre, had dodged templars and moved countless times in her youth until a part of her had questioned who she was, what she was. She was not quick to accept the Taint, or to reject it, but instead questioned it and herself.
It was a weakness, surely, but a weakness he admired in the dark when he compared it to his own quiet resignation. The Taint was a purpose and an execution. He questioned it no further than that, even when it reduced him to a set of walking armor, a walking blade, with an hourglass that inexorably sifted towards empty.
She forgot that she was even waiting for something until he caught her wrist outside the keep dining hall.
It wasn't that she'd made a conscious choice to forget. The road had been long and hard (it always was, always was, and she still hadn't learned how to sleep through the nightmares), and though she had slept a night in her bed at last, the dark circles beneath her eyes had yet to even hint at fading. Her hands trembled now that they were safe behind stone walls, giving in to weakness she couldn't show on the road. She was tired, down to the bone and in a way that made her almost feel as if she were floating.
His broad, calloused fingers against her skin anchored her, and she turned to him with a flickering smile.
She had spent a single night beside him, but her constant following and courting made her feel closer to him than that strictly allowed. She wiggled her hand until he loosened his fingers, and then took his hand instead. Her smile strengthened even as he quirked a brow, scowling for just a moment (his most basic expression, she knew now, code not for anger or displeasure but for thought). She could feel a shy tremor in her lips and her eyes and she glanced down to where their fingers touched.
"Well," she said, and he snorted. "Pleasantries elude?"
"This is a pleasantry," he returned, fingers flexing against hers. Holding hands with the Hero of Ferelden; she could have laughed, and she did, a small chuckle as she let go and inclined her head towards the hall.
"So is walking. Shall we?"
It was an odd match; that she led was the least of it. By her roughest calculations, there was a difference of at least thirty years between them. He was a roughened soldier who was Fereldan to the core, while her callouses and scars came from staves and misfortune and her soul sang not of a country but of a family and a connection to the Fade she could not deny. She was no symbol of home for him, and he none for her, and yet.
Where her brothers had been open, volatile even, and her parents there, he was shut away and shuttered, and she hadn't been able to resist the temptation to pry. To worm her way between the cracks in her armor, until he ate the food she brought him, until he touched her hand and drew her down beside him.
They walked in silence, and she considered moving out into the open air, taking to the battlements. She was barefoot, abandoning even woolen socks, and stone felt good against her tired and aching feet. She moved in soft padding steps to one of the exterior doors when he caught her wrist again and made her halt.
"Yes?" she asked, turning with a smile, with heat springing to her cheeks.
"You need sleep more than a hike," Loghain said, and this time he didn't loose his fingers, instead pulling her away from the door.
"I can make my own decisions," she reminded him, and he snorted again.
"Yes, foolish ones. To bed with you, girl."
She quirked a brow and wiggled her fingers, and he hissed a curse, letting go as lightning danced down to his wrist, making the dark hair on his forearm and smattering the back of his hand, his knuckles, stand on end. He glared.
Bethany shrugged. "Only if you come with me. I'm not being dragged."
"Fool girl," he muttered, shaking out his hand. But his lips quirked into the smallest smile, and he looked questioningly to her as her cheeks began to color, as she had to look down for a moment, as her toes ground into the stone without a thought.
It wasn't like she was familiar with this, this courting dance; she had seen it play out in fumbling half-steps between her twin and the inimitable Peaches, had seen the results in her parents' easy affections, had longed for it and dreamed of it herself, but she had never been given the opportunity to explore. Constant presence, constant attempt - that had come naturally enough. But now, this-
"Are you sure about what you're asking for?" he asked, and Maker strike her down, but her lowered his gaze just a moment, thumbed at his shirt cuff in just such a way-
He was bashful, too. Shy. Not words easily applied to Loghain Mac Tir, but she couldn't ignore the tiny signs, the shift of his weight and then the straightening and tensing of his shoulders, his hips. He was bracing himself.
She smiled. "Yeah, I am."
He didn't dare kiss her until the door to her room was closed. Her room, she'd said, because it was familiar, because the bed was bigger, because he deserved an escape from the trappings of too much masculinity. There was no armor in her room, no weapons save a staff, nothing but books and drawings done (on folded parchment in crude charcoal, sketched on the road), small trinkets accumulated and preserved slowly over a life. Her bed was in truth no bigger than his, but her door was in a hall removed from many of the other Wardens, and he appreciated the privacy as he watched her.
Five steps separated them. Neither crossed them.
She ran a hand through her hair. She smiled when she was nervous, at least around him. She made sly little jokes. He had seen that smile falter before, had watched her pull away from the campfire, from all the rest.
She didn't pull away, and he swallowed hard.
"You need sleep," he repeated.
"Later," she said, with a wave of her hand, a glance to the darkened window. "I just-"
He waited, and she didn't say anything. Her cheeks were pink and the color trailed down her neck. He swallowed thickly and forced his gaze back to her face. He was half a dead man, but he was a man. He was alive, at least for her. He made himself wait, and finally she laughed.
"I've just never done this."
"Never?" He didn't mean for it to come out as surprised, as confused, as incredulous as he felt, but she was young and vibrant and lovely, active and determined, and never was an incredible word in and of itself. It made him nervous. It made him curious. It made him...
She shook her head and smoothed her off-duty robe down over her hips. "The opportunity never... presented itself. And I think my brothers would have killed anybody who tried. They could be quite protective.
"But they're not here now."
He nodded. "... This can wait," he pointed out.
"And you can just say you don't want to."
"Then teach me," she said, voice dropping to a half-whisper, and he growled and crossed those five paces, took her shoulders in his hands, and fit his lips to hers.
She tasted of soap, of rest, of good food. There was no blood or lingering stench of sweat on her. She was home, she was safe, and she was warm and soft and young beneath his hands. Her lips parted and she was the first to touch tongue to lip. Her hands found his waist, his hips, skimming and exploring as if afraid to grip too hard.
He couldn't help but grip too hard.
The last time he had felt a woman yield (but Bethany was not yielding, she was matching - ) had been too long ago. The witch did not count. The witch he did not think about. The witch was so far different from the mage girl under his hands that it seemed impossible that both could have touched him, could have made his body stir.
And Bethany was right there. So the witch couldn't have existed.
It was Bethany who nudged him to move, who tilted her chin enough that he could slide his tongue along hers, that he could draw her tight against him as she pulled him back towards her bed. He tried to move slowly. He tried to teach her with gentle touches. But she outstripped him.
When her knees hit the edge of the mattress, he pushed her down onto it, spread her body beneath him and kissed a path to her jawline, to her ear, to the tender spot where they joined and below. It had been a long time - a lifetime - but he remembered how to move. Her whimpers and laughs were enough to drive him forward, and he fumbled at toeing off his boots, at dragging his hands down her sides, her hips, until he could catch the hem of her dress and ease it up.
"I'm not a doll," she whispered, and he chuckled and nipped at her skin in response. She squeaked and tangled a hand in his hair, lifted her hips when he urged her. She responded and acted and he couldn't shove his boots off fast enough, climb onto the bed fully with her soon enough.
And when she hooked a leg over his hip and murmured, "Maker, I want this," it took all his fraying self control not to shove his trousers down and take her without another thought or hesitation.
He forced himself to move methodically, to pull her dress up over her head and cast it aside before he did anything more, before he dropped his head to mouth at her breast, full and heavy and sensitive if the way she squirmed and arched was any hint. She spoke, words tumbling out- Oh yes and I didn't know and do that again and oh please, his name gasped or laughed or murmured until he had her bare beneath him, until she had his shirt off over his shoulders and his trousers rucked down far enough that he could shove them down and away himself.
And then he paused, head bowed against the swell of her chest, breath hot on her skin. His hands were splayed, palm and fingers against the mattress beneath her, and he tried to think.
Never done this.
"Loghain?" she breathed, and he looked up to her. Her lips were parted and rosy, her cheeks and neck and breasts stained with her blush, her fingers curled into the sheets and against his skin. She didn't look down his body, but she met his gaze.
"I don't want to hurt you," he muttered, and she laughed, turning her face away and pressing her cheek to the pillow.
"Maker's breath, Loghain. You don't say that in the practice yard." She was chiding him. Chiding him while her heel stroked along his bared calf, while her hardened nipples brushed against his chest with every breath. It was too her and he ducked his head, his laugh just a huff of air.
"This isn't the practice yard," he reminded her, but he was smiling.
And when she replied, he could hear the laughter in her voice. "But I'm still a Warden, same as you."
"Join you, Sister?" he snorted, and she smacked his shoulder and that was enough. He reached down between them, fingers skimming over her belly and then to her curls, delving beneath to stroke a slickened path against her sex. Her laugh was broken by a sigh, and she pressed her head back against the mattress, legs spreading and belly rising and hitching with breath.
"In the darkness?" she got out, and it was his turn to respond, to nip at the side of her breast while he brushed her swollen nub with the knuckle of his thumb, then circled it with the pad. She pressed her heel hard against the back of his knee in retaliation, and he countered by slipping the tip of one finger into her.
She went still, a breath of Maker the only sound on her lips.
"Tell me when," he murmured, glancing up to where she stared down at him, eyes lidded and lips parted. She licked at the bottom one, then nodded.
Without hesitation, he pressed further into her.
In this she yielded, at least, tilting her hips to help him, rolling against him to nudge him deeper. He caught her lips with his as he added a second, searching for the resistance he expected to find. There was none, only swift-loosening tension, and it took a moment's stunned thought to remember that Wardens rode horses, that Wardens fought, that Wardens broke their bodies on a regular basis.
He took it as a blessing and groaned against her lips as she grew slick enough that his fingers moved with ease, a few languid thrusts until she bit at his lip and bucked her hips against him.
He strained hard against her thigh, and every movement from her made him bite down a sound, a whisper, an action. He forced himself to be slow as he pulled free of her, as he lifted her hips to his.
"Are you sure?" he murmured, pulling back to meet her eyes.
She answered by tightening the leg she had already hooked around him, by rolling her hips against his aching length, and by laughing.
"Join me, Brother," she said, and he growled and thrust into her.
"Yes, tell that to the man old enough to be your father," he grunted by her ear, and she answered in a shivering gasp, fingers digging into his back. He thought he heard a whispered prayer, but he couldn't catch the words and thrust again before she finished.
"I don't care," she squeaked.
He whispered, "Foolish girl," and kissed her.
He was not a gentle man, and any patience he had with her, any tender care, fell away with the tight heat of her, the sound of her voice ratcheted by pleasure to a thin note that barely made the air between them tremble. She was awkward and unpracticed, unable at first to match his rhythm no matter how slow or fast he went. She clawed at his back and he felt sparks of magic trail down his spine, singe his skin, press against him until he laid heavily atop her. But she was Bethany and she was good and if this was not right, it was still exactly what he wanted.
He buried himself in her and breathed her name until she was crying out and writhing against him to send him deeper still. For every moment where her nails dug too deep or she shifted her hips and he nearly slid from her, there were a hundred more when he couldn't find himself, when he felt adrift and too hot and too cold unless he was buried to the hilt. He had forgotten this. He had forgotten the specifics of being lost. He had forgotten finding another.
And he had forgotten what it felt like for a woman to moan without words and fall apart beneath him, trembling muscle and sweat-slicked skin, magic in every breath and need in every whimper. It drew from him a deep noise, a deep want, and he curled himself around her. Three more heady thrusts into her while she writhed and milked him dry, and he followed her, face pressed to her throat, breathing in her pulse until he fell hard against her, groping in the dark for her shoulder, her cheek, her.
Her hand found his and their fingers wound together. This time he didn't pull away.
She laughed and nudged his hip, and he rolled from her, the air too chill for his sweat-stuck skin. But she followed after him, pillowing her head on his chest and fitting the curves of her body against him. He stared up at the ceiling.
Her fingers caught his chin and turned her to him. She leaned up along him and trailed kisses across his mouth.
"Was that acceptable?" he murmured, and she pulled back, considering him. She tapped her finger against his chin, stroking over stubble growing back in - and then she nodded.
"Oh, I think so."
Loghain huffed a laugh, then looped an arm around her waist and pulled her back down. "And did I hurt you?"
"And is that a relevant question?" She shrugged and nestled against him, toes prodding at the blankets pinned beneath them. "But no. You didn't."
Even if he could not and would not shield her from pain, even if he wanted her to know the full reality of what she faced, of what she asked for-
He didn't want to hurt her.
And Maker damn them both, but when she smiled at him and said that everything was okay, when she gasped and proved with her body that she didn't lie when she said she wanted this, wanted him, he trusted her.