Elissa had long known that Andraste's Grace alone was not enough. The scent, as delicate as the petals that made it, had a trace of the cut flesh of green almonds and ripe apricots. Then there was how the flower's aroma could be held within her mouth upon a slow intake of breath. It reminded her of a simple syrup made with the essence of orange blossoms. As a child, she drizzled that syrup upon palm sized pancakes stuffed with thick cream and crushed pistachios.
All this was Andraste's Grace and more. The wildflower grew deep in the woodlands of Ferelden, among moss covered roots and lichen encrusted bark. Where sunlight filtered through thick and green canopies, casting forests as underwater kingdoms. Those petals basked in that love, and released their precious scent in thanks.
Andraste's Grace was a pleasant enough flower for much of her youth. It was nothing to long for, nothing to drink in like sweet air or water. And then, one day, it became so much more. The day she found it woven into Leliana's braid was the beginning, like the first drop of a gentle rain.
The scent changed when Leliana wore it. It took on a saltier tone, like that of the coastal winds in Highever. The oils and sweat mixed with the essence upon Leliana's skin, and Elissa could swear that no other smelled the same.
Leliana was all around her here, in these stone quarters, more so than a forest full of Andraste's Grace. There was a high window sealed with stained glass, and Elissa knew that in the morning the light would transform this room like it would those woodlands.
The posts of the bed, like slender birch trees, invited her gaze, drawing her eyes up to the rafters overhead. There, long tapestries hung, some along the length of the walls. All told the story of Andraste and the Maker with the detail of their designs. Charms were tied to the edges of the tapestries, as if to capture any ill that would come upon them, and Elissa noticed that they too carried the scent of Andraste's Grace.
Leliana had allowed her a moment to pause within this room in Skyhold, but now came to stand before Elissa. The woman looked upon her with a longing that Elissa easily returned, and began to unhook the clasp of her hood.
"Wait," Elissa whispered, "May I?"
The soft plea stilled Leliana's hands, and the woman nodded.
Elissa reached for the ornate clasp, the metal cool to the touch. She shifted the loop holding it together, and released it. The weight of the hood surprised her, and it took a long moment before she pulled aside the material and uncovered Leliana's bobbed red hair. Elissa brought the hood close enough to breathe in its scent, and soon draped the cloth upon a nearby chair.
Leliana watched her with a look that Elissa could not read, and the distance time had created between them became that much more a reality. Once...Elissa knew every look, every movement, but that time had long since passed.
Elissa returned her attention to the simplicity of undoing armor, and undid the Inquisition's seal upon Leliana's chest. It bore a blade within an all seeing eye and the flames of faith. Elissa did not linger there, not wanting to consider whose all seeing eye it may be, and undid the remaining buckles holding the pauldrons in place.
The heavy leather was also placed upon the chair, and Elissa froze when Leliana's gloved hand rested upon her shoulder.
"You need not place them with such care, Elissa," Leliana paused, "It is only armor."
Her name was strange said aloud, almost foreign, as if the sounds should never have belonged together, yet somehow did. For the last three years she rarely heard it uttered. For so long, she was Lady Cousland, or Ser Warden, or nothing at all. But to hear it now, upon Leliana's lips, was like a familiar kiss.
Elissa willed herself to turn, the hand falling away from her as she did so, and nodded.
Leliana's long, chainmail lined, leather tunic was easily undone, and when it fell away to the ground the harsh sound of the metal reminded Elissa of breaking glass. She winced slightly, as Leliana did, and was surprised by the soft laughter that emanated from the woman.
"I suppose that would have done with being placed upon that chair," Leliana chuckled, the sound drawing a smile from Elissa.
She knelt before Leliana, undoing the greaves and guards upon her legs, and unbuckling the straps upon her boots.
Leliana shifted her heel to the other foot's arch and slipped out of the first boot, repeating the gesture to slip out of the second.
The wool stockings had stiffened with the length of the day, but felt soft enough to Elissa's touch as she gently pulled them off Leliana's feet, exposing the woman's skin.
Elissa paused here, the skin of her hands also laid bare, and with a slow and deliberate motion, touched Leliana's ankle.
Elissa was not sure what she had expected, a shock like the crackle of a mage's staff perhaps, or even a flash of light like a sudden storm, but certainly nothing quite so ordinary as skin. And it was this ordinary skin, this simple flesh, that drew Elissa's tears like a barbed arrow pushed through a wound to free it. The sharpness of these tears startled Elissa, and her breath turned to gasps, her surprise into a wail.
Leliana dropped down to kneel before her, and her hands lay upon Elissa's shoulders, "Dear one," she called, her voice full of worry, "What is the matter?"
Elissa could not speak, but drew the woman's gloved hands to her cheeks. She was not sure she could bear the touch of Leliana's hands without the gloves, but, Maker, how she longed for them.
When her sobs stilled she dared to pull one glove away from Leliana's hand, and, with the gentleness of a healer, drew the hand close to her cheek once again.
In that hand Elissa knew all the tenderness lost to her for nearly three long years. All the warmth, all the comfort, of feeling another person's skin against her own swelled like a summer storm. The rain poured down, pelting her skin, soaking her hair and shirt.
Past the mountain range far to the north, beyond Weisshaupt and Tevinter, there were rains such as this, where the air was hot and thick. The rain came day after day, and Elissa had never seen more water save the Waking Sea. The woodlands there were dense and full of vibrant colors that she never came to understand. It was where the trees were like tall grasses and there was hardly any ground to tread upon for all the growth underfoot. It was as if the world had gone mad, for the sea belonged in the sky, and one walked upon a forest's canopy.
"Elissa?" she heard the soft whisper, and Elissa found herself within her body once again, "Love?"
Elissa pulled away the second glove and took those precious hands within her own, drawing them up to her lips. Sweet Andraste's Grace lingered here, upon the soft flesh between the fingers, and Elissa tasted the salt of Leliana's skin.
Surely it was the salt that left Leliana's skin sweeter than she remembered it? She had never noticed before now.
Leliana's thumb stroked Elissa's cheek, wiping away the tears streaming there, and she drew Elissa into an embrace.
Leliana's hair pressed against her, and when Elissa's hand rose to weave through the strands, she came upon the braid that often wore blossoms but found none there now. Her finger traced the ridges of the braid, and Elissa could almost feel the petals, leaving her mesmerized by the sensation.
"How long has it been since you felt the touch of another Elissa?" Leliana asked, still cradling her in her arms.
Elissa did not know. She had not realized that she had been thus deprived until now, and while she certainly had touched and been touched through armor and clothing, she knew that it must have been over a year since she felt the touch of skin against skin.
"Too long," she replied.
It was then, when Elissa uttered those two simple words, that Leliana began to weep. It was such a soft sound, leaving the woman barely trembling in her arms, that Elissa strained to hear it.
"Leliana?" she asked, and the answer dawned upon her, "How long has it been for you, my love?"
Leliana took a short moment to still herself before she replied, "The morning of the Conclave," she paused, as if she had yet to share this with anyone, "When I received my final blessing from Justinia."
That fateful morning a year ago when the Divine died and the world turned further towards chaos.
Elissa knew that Leliana had been surrounded by others, some of which had been close friends, but to have gone so long regardless? Justinia's death had been far more terrible for Leliana than Elissa had suspected.
"Come with me, love," Elissa whispered as she pulled away from the embrace and rose to her feet, "Our ache ends tonight."
Leliana nodded and rose as well, standing softly before Elissa.
They moved towards the bed, and Elissa removed her boots and stockings before she sat upon it, gesturing for Leliana to join her.
Once they had settled there, their knees touching as they faced each other, Elissa offered, "Love, I am here to hear it all. Justinia, the Breach, Haven, everything."
At first Elissa was not sure that Leliana would do more than shake her head, but once she began, the dam gave way. Leliana told her of the disaster at the White Spire, which her presence had a hand in beginning and drove the Lord Seeker to turn against the Divine. She told her of how she had failed Justinia, that she had not suspected the Grey Wardens of anything even though she knew that they had all disappeared a few months prior, without warning. That she should have known something was wrong when both the Mages and the Templars sent only representatives even though the Divine herself was in attendance in the Conclave. That when her forward scout at Haven had not reported back, she should have investigated rather than pull the rest of her people from their posts. That all who died at Haven had her to blame as much as Corepheyus. That had the Inquisitor not accompanied her to the Valence Cloister, she would have killed Sister Natalie without a second thought rather than let her go.
And on it went. Every regret, every false move, as if it were seared into Leliana's mind. That her love had borne this alone was beyond cruel, and Elissa was taken by a deep shame for her absence these past few years.
When Leliana's tale was told, Elissa could hear a heavy sigh leave the woman, as if a demon had been exorcised. It was after all this that Leliana then unstrapped the last of the armor upon her arms, and let it fall away as well.
There they sat, in linen shirts and leather pants, and Leliana began to laugh. The sound was so bright, that the heaviness of Elissa's last few years seemed a distant thing, and Elissa found herself laughing as well though she knew not why.
"It is like we are a pair of young girls spending our first night away from home together," Leliana finally explained through her laughter.
Elissa smiled. That she was thirty seven now, and Leliana forty, did make for an interesting image.
She had often wondered what Leliana was like as a child. Surely the woman had been as mischievous then as she was now, and likely just as sweet. This was the Leliana that she remembered, the one that had strange and sudden thoughts come to her and was not afraid to share them. Wasn't there something about riding the sails of a windmill? She couldn't remember.
With her love's laughter fading into a soft chuckle, Elissa held the hem of her white shirt and pulled it over her head, leaving behind only the wrap around her chest. She heard Leliana gasp, and knew that there were far more scars upon her form now than Leliana would have remembered.
The cool touch of Leliana's fingers traced the most terrifying scar, and Elissa drew a sharp breath at the sensation.
Leliana pulled her hand away, "I am sorry, did I hurt you?"
Elissa shook her head, and took Leliana's hand, returning it to the old wound.
Those fingers were as a salve, cooling the burn that had seared this mark upon her belly. Elissa could still feel the dagger that had been driven into her, and then the hot iron that sealed the wound, keeping her alive long enough for the mage to stitch her innards whole again.
Leliana's fingers explored the scarred skin there, feeling the little dips and valleys that ran along its edge, "This one nearly killed you."
It was no question, but Elissa nodded, "Yes."
Leliana leaned forward and guided Elissa's shoulders to lay upon the bed beneath them.
Leliana's hair and wisps of breath trailed along Elissa's torso, and though she could not feel the woman's lips upon the scar, she could hear the kiss.
Leliana rose, resting high upon her knees, and pulled away her own shirt.
Elissa saw an unfamiliar scar on Leliana's shoulder, and could not make out what may have caused it. The puzzlement on her face must have shown, for Leliana smiled and said, "Schmooples II."
Elissa stared at Leliana a little too long before she burst with laughter.
"You laugh now, but that little imp has quite the kick," Leliana chuckled, "Just wait till you are the one trying to give him a bath after a long and muddy rain."
Elissa could hardly breathe, and had to sit up to still her coughing.
"Easy now, dear one," Leliana cooed, "The night is still young."
Elissa smiled through her easing cough, "Maker, I've missed this," she said, "I missed you."
Leliana's eyes softened, "I missed us," and leaned towards her.
Leliana's hair fell to trail along Elissa's face and soon their lips met.
Elissa's skin drew tight along her throat as she reached to meet Leliana's kiss. She tasted a touch of apricots, and teased Leliana's lips apart with her tongue for more.
Leliana straddled Elissa's thighs, and with great care began to unwind the wrap Elissa wore about her chest. The woman's bare arms brushed against Elissa's, and raised a slight chill along the skin.
The wrap soon came away, leaving Elissa's breasts to fall forward and her breath to catch.
Leliana's lips pulled away as she smiled, knowing full well the effect she was having, "I see you have missed this as well, yes?"
Elissa reached for Leliana's neck with her mouth, her hand traveling up along the woman's side. She allowed her fingers to trace the edge of the chestwrap Leliana wore, as her teeth nipped at the soft flesh of the woman's throat.
Elissa heard the sharp intake of breath that came when her fingers began to slide beneath the wrap, and she sat up straighter so that her other hand could pull the woman closer.
"Are you going to remove it, or do you intend to tease me all night?" Leliana breathed, her fingers digging into Elissa's shoulders.
Elissa didn't answer, though she pulled away from the woman's slender neck, now red from her attentions, and did as she was bid.
When Leliana's wrap was undone, Elissa was drawn near again, pulled in close enough to touch Leliana's skin with breath.
Elissa brushed the swell of the woman's chest with her open mouth, letting the heat of her breath warm Leliana's skin. The backs of her fingers trailed up the woman's belly, stopping just below a breast, allowing the weight of the flesh to rest upon Elissa's broad fingers and knuckles.
She pushed the breast up, bringing the hardening bud to her lips, and trapped it gently with teeth and tongue.
Coastal salts flooded her senses, and Elissa had to keep herself from biting down too hard by drawing away her teeth, leaving only her lips and tongue behind to work the flesh they held.
Leliana's hand cradled the back of Elissa's head, urging her to more than simple nips and kisses, but Elissa did not dare. That Leliana's need was so plain was maddening, and restraint was all that kept Elissa from being completely overwhelmed by her own desire.
She willed her hand fall away from the softness she craved, letting it rest upon the buckle of Leliana's belt. Elissa pulled the loop apart, drawing the long strap of leather towards her.
Soon, while holding an end of the belt in each hand, she forced her lips to pull away from Leliana's breast, and began to wrap the length of the belt about her wrists until both hands were held together before her.
Leliana's smile deepened, and she placed a pair of fingers upon the center of Elissa's chest, gently pushing her back down to the bed below them.
The woman's blue eyes admired the length of Elissa's exposed torso before she leaned forward and began to kiss the flesh between her breasts.
Leliana soon did what Elissa could not, and began to suck Elissa's nipple into a hardness that ached.
Elissa gasped, her wrists straining against the leather that bound them.
"Slowly," she pleaded, "Or I won't last...."
Leliana eased her attentions, though her hand began to travel down to Elissa's own belt, undoing the buckle there and then the buttons of the leather pants below it.
The woman shifted and Elissa watched as Leliana's lips left her chest to trail down her belly and towards her navel.
Elissa's breath quickened, her anticipation at what would come next threatening to undo her resolve to remain restrained.
Leliana's hands tugged at the pants Elissa wore, and when Elissa raised her hips to help the woman in her task, Leliana drew away the undergarments as well.
Leliana's lips continued their descent, kissing the swirls of dark hair now beginning to broaden the further she went, and Elissa could only moan as she twisted beneath the woman's weight.
There was no end to the sensations that bombarded Elissa. It was like trying to drink the whole of the sea, though her thirst remained unquenched.
Leliana was as a desert moon, a silent guide through the night, a refuge from the unrelenting glare of day, and Elissa desperately wanted to remain under her thrall.
As if in answer, Leliana rose up and undid the remaining clasp holding her pants as well, and drew them off along with her smallclothes.
Elissa moistened her lips at the red curls now revealed, and Leliana's mouth parted when she grinned at the longing in Elissa's gaze.
Leliana drew herself up above Elissa's torso and along the length of her so that Elissa's head lay between her thighs.
Elissa closed her eyes to better feel the warm skin against her cheeks, and to breathe in her love's heat...a summer day at the coast.
"Where have your senses taken you to now?" Leliana's voice was heavy with a husky lust, and Elissa nearly dove into the woman at the sound of it.
"Salted caramel," she replied, easing her head towards the moist curls above her, "May I?"
Elissa opened her eyes, kissing the hair she found before her, and ran her nose along the length of the folds beneath it, drawing in the taste through her breath.
Leliana's thighs tightened slightly about Elissa's ears and then shifted to gently sway, inviting her to more than just chaste caresses. But, it was these caresses that held Elissa in awe of the woman above her, where skin lay against skin, and want pressed against need.
"Elissa," Leliana breathed, "Will you not have a taste? Must I beg?"
"You need only command," Elissa's lips came upon the slick folds and drew them gently into her mouth.
The soft gasps above her pinched at her own loins, and though Elissa began to shudder at the desire welling within her, she willed her attention back to the sweet aroma she held in her mouth.
Elissa and Leliana found an easy rhythm to this pleasure, each calling the other further into the heat of the moment where lips tugged and hips rocked.
Leliana's fingers wove into Elissa's hair, only to draw Elissa's mouth higher and upon a fevered knot of skin that had yet to be kissed.
Elissa's wrists pulled against the leather of the belt that held them, and a quick and frenzied unraveling followed, freeing her hands so that they could find Leliana's legs. Elissa trailed one hand along the length of Leliana's side, and the other to caress the inside of the woman's thighs.
"Elissa..." her name came like a chant, a song, and Elissa let loose a desperate moan upon the hard flesh against her tongue, releasing a wave of pleasure between her legs in spite of herself.
Leliana nearly followed, and Elissa could feel the woman shudder against her as she held her desire back.
"Not yet," Leliana gasped, "Not until I hold your lips against mine."
Elissa's fingers slipped into Leliana and back out again, testing the woman's resolve, and Leliana's grip on Elissa's hair tightened in response, though not for long.
The temptation had proven too great, and Leliana eased herself up and away from Elissa's mouth, returning to straddle Elissa's waist instead.
Elissa expected to find Leliana's eyes in a haze of desire, but found a piercing clarity in its place. The woman's blue eyes held her like prey, and a hot breath escaped Elissa's lips at the sight.
"Will you speak my name again?" Elissa pleaded, fever flushing her cheeks.
"Your name?" Leliana cooed, dropping forward to rest upon her hands, "Is that all?"
Leliana's lips neared Elissa's shoulder, close enough that Elissa's skin rippled in anticipation of their touch.
"I dare not ask for more," Elissa breathed, her hand rising to brush along Leliana's side.
The woman's eyes softened then, but were no less clear in their intent, and Elissa was left to wonder at how she could have lived so long without their daily presence.
"I am so sorry," Elissa could not hold back the tears that escaped her, nor did she care to, "All this time...."
So many years away from Leliana and she had nothing to show for it. No cure, no freedom, nothing. Nothing!
Nothing but time nearly spent.
All she had left to give the woman she loved were broken dreams and false hopes, and Elissa could hardly bear her failure.
"All this time...." she repeated, as if to say it again could erase it all.
Leliana held her fingers against Elissa's lips, "Enough," she hushed, "Allow me a moment to honor your request."
Elissa kissed those silken fingers, her guilt at her continued silence robbing her of much of that joy.
How could she ruin the moments they had left to them? How could she reveal that she had but weeks remaining, perhaps only days?
Lips brushed upon the old scar that ran down the nape of Elissa's neck and collarbone, warming the skin about it, and Elissa's mind pulled away from her despair upon hearing Leliana say, "Elissa."
The soft kisses upon her flesh came, following the curve of her breast, and Elissa's breath was drawn from her as her back arched towards the woman above her.
"Elissa," she heard her name, and once again as those lips kissed the hard peak of her breast.
Elissa's hands ran through the red locks of Leliana's hair, though she could not keep them there.
Elissa wanted every touch lost to them, every kiss, every joy. She wanted it all.
She needed it all.
"Please," she begged, "Leliana, please...."
In that moment, Leliana's breath began to rasp, the longing she had surely felt no longer held at bay, and her hand found that aching place between Elissa's legs.
Leliana straightened her back, allowing her lips to rest upon the scar along Elissa's neck, as she entered Elissa.
Elissa gasped at the fullness within her, the fluttering of sweet fingers laced with Andraste's Grace, and her legs curled about the woman atop her, drawing her to venture deeper.
And deeper still.
"Leliana," she breathed, "I was wrong to leave."
The woman's lips left Elissa's neck long enough to say, "You are here now, in this very moment, and that is all that matters."
Leliana's fingers found a rhythm that drove Elissa ever closer to her peak.
"No," Elissa tried again, her wits barely strung together, "I should never have...ah!" she drew a sharp breath at the wave cresting upon the horizon.
Elissa was mad with desire, her senses long since overwhelmed by the woman in her arms, and it took all her will to pull Leliana up into that long awaited kiss.
Leliana's eyes flew open in surprise, before they softened at the taste of the salted caramel that the woman surely found upon Elissa's lips.
The tremors began between them, but Elissa could not find the source, nor did she care. That she and her love shuddered in each other's arms, finally, after such a long and empty loneliness, was all that mattered. That they had come together for a time, however brief, was a more noble goal than any other.
In this moment, even the Maker Himself could not force loneliness upon them any longer.
As their pleasure finally breached their walls, a cry emerged and it was a long moment before Elissa could make out Leliana's plea, "Maker!"
But the Maker had done nothing in all the days, all the nights, that Elissa called His name. As the darkness closed about her, His name only shielded her with the flames of her weak and weary faith. It was a faith she carried, like a brand, and it marked her as the one who loved the woman in her arms. It was a faith that pulled her away, driving her to seek what could not be found, and it robbed her of all that ever truly mattered.
They had both been shielded by flame, yes, but they stood utterly alone, without touch, without life, and so they survived. They withstood the darkness that closes, the darkness that ends. Now the darkness returned, the flames having been rent away, and time was once again short.
But the time was finally theirs.