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not all hands are soft

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Whenever Lady Cecilie spoke privately to Leliana, she clasped her hands and held them close.

They were small then, all but engulfed by the woman's thin fingers, and she found herself unable to look away from where her wrists disappeared into nothing.

Lady Cecilie's knuckles were wide, swollen, painful-looking things, though she never complained about them. And her skin... Her skin was no thicker than parchment and prone to turning black and blue. Leliana earned her fair share of bruises, but never from as little as a gentle bump or a too-firm grip. And with them so close to her eyes, she could see veins standing out against the back of her hand, ropes of violet twisting around bone.

Her palms were soft. They were tempered with the memory of a lute's gut strings and pretty gloves, with all delicacy that was expected of nobility. There was nothing harsh about her; she expected nothing from sweetness from the woman, though even as a child, she knew it would not last. Her mother died; so would the old woman who'd never been anything but kind to her.

Once Lady Cecilie was satisfied with their conversation, she let go of her hands and cupped Leliana's flushed cheeks instead, thumbs smoothing carefully beneath her eyes. They were cool to the touch and blotted out the warmth always swimming beneath her skin.

"Such a pretty girl," she cooed. Leliana smiled; it was only the polite thing to do. "And so sweet."

"Delicious, is what you are."

Leliana squirmed, a giggle catching in her throat as Marjolaine's lips parted against her thigh. An agile tongue slid over heated skin, swirling as her hands sought for purchase. The hand not curled beneath Leliana's knee moved to grasp her hip, and the worn calluses on her fingertips pressed against the curve of it.

No matter how hard Marjolaine gripped her or how possessively, the emotion that surged within Leliana at being trapped within her lover's arms was the only detail of any importance. Only the smile she felt against her upper thigh mattered; the warm, dewy breath beneath her navel.

Even so, it was Marjolaine's hands that drew the most attention. Every day, they seemed to grow firmer. The calluses flattened. They held. Between those calluses was skin as smooth as silk, and she played the simple duality as a strength rather than a weakness. Leliana's own hands only blistered after a day of instruction, but she was still just a novice.

"My sweet Leliana," Marjolaine murmured against her stomach, her voice a purr that sent a warmth right down to her bones. Her dark hair spilled around her shoulders, over Leliana's thighs; the strands seemed to touch everything at once.

Shifting downward, she nipped playfully at Leliana's inner thigh, causing the girl to laugh outright. "I cannot imagine a life without you like this."

"What I mean is: you'd better still be alive when this is through."

There was an underlying threat in Liadan Cousland's voice, but it pleased rather than frightened her. It was a threat made by a friend, a threat that told her twice over that she was needed and this band of misfits meant the world to their fearless leader.

Well, not entirely fearless.

When Liadan gripped Leliana's hands, her own were clammy. This wasn't like her. Going into battle with fear on her back was something she'd never seen the woman do before, in all the months of knowing her. She had reason enough to be as afraid as all of them, but the front of cool confidence she wore as surely as her plate didn't quite make it to her limbs.

Her fingers were rough beyond belief – dry and sometimes cracking, hands melded to the hilt of a sword without any use for soft palms. They were long and wide and thick-knuckled, but in a way that reflected strength rather than age like Lady Cecilie's.

"Look out for this lot," Liadan continued. A small smile curled at the corner of her mouth. "They need you here."

"I appreciate what you are doing for the mages, but I need you to remain in Val Royeaux for a time."

It was unlike the Divine to make such a request. Leliana only spent so much time in Andoral's Reach due to her own word. There were people who needed that extra protection, and it was much easier to remain aware of the climate among the apostates with a well-intentioned spy in their midst.

Leliana stood behind her, her arms folded over the high back of the chair, and she waited for further explanation. When that explanation did not come, she reached forward and ran a careful hand along her forearm, hoping to goad the truth of why she was to stay out of her. Warmth even stronger than that which constantly burned beneath Leliana's skin melted into her fingertips, and she found herself smiling faintly once her hand covered Dorothea's own.

"Are you keeping me for yourself, then?" she asked as her thumb slid over the woman's digits. First her index finger, then her middle, hovering for a long moment above the scholarly bump on the second.

Dorothea relaxed, her pin-straight posture curving only slightly and her head drifting back to rest against the chair's cushion. Leliana knew just how to ease her worries, just where to touch her to make her forget Her Perfection and be reminded of the woman who guided her for so many years, in so many ways.

"I worry," she sighed. The sound was sad. "These are dangerous times, my love."

"I do not care."

Leliana's eyes narrowed at the woman across from her. Even with every story wound about the Inquisitor echoing in her head, she hadn't expected them to be true. Tall tales whispered among the mages about the woman who struggled against them. Hearsay from the mouths of people who never met the woman. But that did not seem to be the case.

"You do not care? I am an envoy for the Divine!"

Helaine's shoulder hitched in a shrug as she tugged off her gloves and tossed them onto her desk. A litany of pale scars scored the backs of her hands, marking her pale skin every few inches at most. No doubt a gift from the goshawk she maintained even in the middle of a war. Despite the scarring, the skin seemed remarkably soft for a mage, like she had never cast a spell without gloves in her life.

"I could care less for the Divine," she said only after pouring herself a cup of wine from the bottle at her desk. "Her dominion over me and my fellows ended the moment Lord Seeker Lambert abolished the Nevarran Accord."

With every lingering moment of eye contact, Leliana felt her blood run cold. It splintered in her veins; cracked. Threatened to drown her out or freeze her to that very spot.

"She will bend to our demands," Helaine continued, lifting the cup to her mouth. "Or we will break her."

Leliana left at that.

Leliana left as quickly as she could for fear of finding her own hands around the Inquisitor's neck.