When he first meets her, a part of him—the sheltered, bastard templar-prince—wants to run and hide. It warns him that, though a noblewoman, this is certainly no lady. He meets her eyes—hollow but whole; burning with hate—and can't help but agree.
She doesn't scream during the Joining. He has a terrible suspicion it's because she's endured worse.
Her blade sinks into the ogre's neck, metal singing songs of triumph and valor. Her face betrays no hint of pride as she stands over the enormous corpse, no sense of victory. He sets fire to the beacon in hope that the warmth will thaw her.
They have ascended to new heights to save the King. She falls—two arrows buried deep into her bosom. His fear for this familiar stranger sends him plummeting after her.
He wakes in Flemeth's hut. She does not. Morrigan eventually chases him from the Warden's bedside, bearing threats and curses. He waits outside the door.
Relief. Sheer, utter, overwhelmingly honest relief.
It frightens him.
The trip to Lothering is silent, but they all share the guilt of it; Morrighan is fuming, he is mourning and she rarely speaks. Such is the cause for his shock and confusion when she asks him about Duncan.
Surprising them both, they talk and she does her best to comfort. It is only when he asks of her own losses that she shuts down entirely and ends the discussion, refusing to speak further. The empty hate returns to her eyes.
Something picks at the back of his mind, but he ignores it. Nothing important.
Morrigan joins them at their camp for one evening and one evening only. She sits next to her. Just sits. Then, when he has half a mind to ask her to leave, she speaks. "'Tis unwise to feign death while still alive. Life is for the living, you know. Whoever you mourn would not want this."
He opens his mouth in retaliation as she stands to leave, only to realize that it was not to him that she spoke. She walks away as the other Warden's shoulders begin to shake, empty eyes suddenly swelling with tears as they glare at the fire. Hesitantly, he places his hand on her shoulder.
She collapses into loud, shuddering sobs as wave after wave of misery wracks her body.
Too late, he remembers what had been picking at his memory; her family's massacre, and how she barely got out alive.
The shame burns him like acid.
When she falls asleep against his arm, eyes puffy and red, he doesn't have the heart to push her away.
He does, however, have the gall to admit to himself that the weight and warmth of her surprisingly small body leaning against his is something he wouldn't object to in the future.
She has given up the search for her brother—the quest to save Ferelden comes first for now. She insists on going to the Circle tower first and they reluctantly agree (he wasn't looking forward to going to the Arl of Redcliffe, to be honest. The whole bastard-prince revelation tended to be off putting to some people.) Though he bears no particular love for mages, being raised as a templar, he can't help but chuckle at Morrighan's scornful comment.
"How very like the templars to build the circle tower in the middle of the lake and shape it like a giant phallus."
If his eyes and ears didn't deceive him, she laughed as well.
The sight of her cleaving through enemies—decapitating blood mages and using Abominations as the new sheath for her sword, blood gleaming off of her plate armor, body a picture of effortless grace—admittedly turns him on more than any half dressed tavern wench with a bursting bosom.
This worries him, just a little.
"I want to save everyone who can possibly be saved."
He thinks of her family—of how hard it must have been to leave them behind for the slaughter, for the Arl's bloodthirsty wrath. He looks at her and understands, not for the first time, that she would rather die saving than live on the bones of others.
He remembers the Archdemon, waiting, watching, preparing to strike.
He remembers their duty to kill it and die by it.
He closes his eyes, makes himself forget, and pushes away the sense of foreboding roiling about in his gut.
First the insane sister from the Cloister, then the murderous Qunari, now the Antivan Crow-turned-wannabe-sex-slave. He protests, of course, but she dissuades him with logic and he finds himself less irritated than he should be.
"Besides, there are worse things than being at the whim of a deadly sex goddess."
Scratch that. One wrong twitch and the Antivan dies.
"You know what I don't understand? Why in blazes did we go to the Circle tower only to head all the way back across Ferelden and through Lothering—sorry, what used to be Lothering—to go talk with some frolicking wood elves." He complains rather loudly.
"Careful; my mother was one of those frolicking wood elves." Zevran reminds him with an arched blonde brow.
"Your mother was a whore."
"For all I know, so was yours."
He opens his mouth to retaliate, but pauses. Is a king's mistress better or worse than a whore? If he had grown up in a brothel, he might not be a virgin. And if he weren't, he might actually stand a chance at talking to her without making a fool of himself.
"Zevran, before we start pulling out the 'your mom' jokes, how about we discuss your leather fetish?" She lifts her brow in challenge and Zevran grins momentarily before retreating to his corner of the campsite.
Alistair sits next to her, almost hesitantly, offering her a small smile. "Thanks for that. I was at a loss for my usual witty one liners." She shrugs, but his heart stops when she returns the smile.
"Don't mention it. Consider it an apology for the cross country trip."
He doesn't mind the distance anymore. Anything to make these moments last longer.
She doesn't like Zathrian; he can see the glint in her eyes, the curve of her lips, the tightening of her fingers. They all say that this man is lucky he isn't impaled on a sword made of meteorite right now.
The Keeper seems aware of this and answers in turn by shifting the grip he has on his staff, a spark of blue fire appearing and then dancing away on a breeze.
He steps up from the back to stand beside her and, deep down inside the armor and the frogs and snails and puppy dog tails that he's always been told he's made of, Alistair knows there's no place he'd rather be.
He knows she likes dogs, but siding with the den of werewolves seems a bit excessive.
On Second Thought
He likes dogs too.
By Any Other Name
Back at camp, he holds the rose uncertainly in his hand, careful not to crush it in his metal-clad hands. Careful to prove that the tin man does still have a heart. He pins it on his sleeve and opens his mouth.
"Do you know what this is?"
Cross Country II
"And we're crossing Ferelden. Again."
"You whine as if you were an elderly woman, Alistair. You don't hear anyone else complaining, do you?"
"I'm sorry, Morrighan, I forgot how hard it must be for you to walk hours in the hot sun in a breastband and vest. What am I thinking in my fifty pound suit of armor? Keep it up, champ."
"I don't see our friend complaining." The apostate glances at the other Grey Warden, trudging on ahead. He watches and his eyes linger a little too long. He glances off to the side—at the encroaching shadow of the Blight, at the haze that threatens to consume Ferelden as they all know it—and feels, not for the first time, the pressure of the Archdemon's mind against his own.
Up ahead, she collapses under the weight.
The heat and fatigue rushes from his body in one swift, cold wave of terror as he watches her crumple to the ground.
He waits in her tent with her until she wakes, and not even Morrighan can chase him away this time.
His hand grips hers as she slowly stumbles back into consciousness.
"Let me guess; candy and rainbows? Sunshine and sweetrolls? What dastardly plans does the Archdemon have in store for us?" He jokes, unable to stop the relieved smile rushing across his face as she wakes and sits up.
The smile fades away as he sees her face shut down and fold in on itself. As he sees her close up.
He squeezes her hand gently and, this time, the creases unfold themselves and she all but collapses into his arms, closing her eyes once more.
He lifts a hand to the back of her head and it waits there for a moment, hovering in that strange space between air and flesh, before settling lightly. He holds her tight and never wants to let go.
On Second Thought II
He wants to run and hide. A deep hole would be acceptable. A new country would be ideal; Antiva, Orlais, the Free Marches—even Tevinter.
Arl Eamon's castle looms just over the hill and he's too busy trying to calm his racing pulse to focus on the green fog seeping out of the cracks and crevasses of the castle walls.
Thank the Maker.
I am a lucky man.
These are his only thoughts as she offers him another smile and they continue walking.
He is not a bastard prince, he is not a possible king in line for the throne.
He is Alistair and, marching into town beside her, he knows there's no one else he'd rather be.
Dawning of an Endless Night
He's never really been fond of the whole 'raising the dead' thing. Frankly, it makes his skin crawl and his privates suddenly feel like crawling back inside. But they survive the night and it's not until the morning sun rises that he finally realizes she's just as fond of it as he is; maybe even less.
When everyone you ever loved is dead, he supposes, the idea of people messing with corpses is far beyond the realm of comfort.
She had a nephew, she once told him at the camp. A cute little boy with an impish smile and a burning love for his mother and father.
Massacred, like everyone else.
She refuses to watch another mother or child die while she can save them.
He watches her, sees her conviction, and believes that saving this family is the very least she's capable of.
Andraste's ashes. Maybe they should look for the tears of the Maker while they're busy doing the impossible.
But it's bringing them to Denerim and she's going to keep her promise about Goldanna. He thinks. He hopes.
"After we visit Brother Genitivi, we'll go straight to her house. Promise."
She calms at least one of his worries, but there are plenty more taking root. What if she doesn't like him? What if she doesn't believe him? What if she wants nothing to do with him—or everything to do with him? What should he say, how should he say it? He starts the script in his mind, hoping she'll stick to it and he'll come off as a capable younger brother, not the bumbling idiot he really is.
Outside her doorstep.
The Grey Warden smiles at him and murmurs reassuring words.
He burns the script. He can do this.
Like the shine of dwarven metal, the gleam of Cailan's armor, the glow of the sun setting on the water and the color of crisp autumn leaves.
This is all she sees when she looks at him.
Goldanna was well named.
"You need to learn that everyone's out for themselves."
Her words sting like nettles and ring true in the confines of his soul.
Hay is for horses.
Haven is for cultist whackjobs.
"Do you think you failed your parents?"
"Yes. I should have defended them to the death."
Alistair does not glance away, does not shy away. This Gauntlet is far too personal, prying at wounds far too private. Instead, he feels only his own regret that they still have yet to skewer the man that caused this rift inside her heart and allowed it to fill with misery and hate.
He also feels the slightest hope that, somehow, some day, he might be able to close it.
Almost, but Not Quite
Arl Eamon is cured, but she lingers in the castle a little longer. In his office, searching for something.
Must not be eager to go to Orzammar, he thinks, and can hardly blame her. He's not too big on being near the Archdemon and its legions of darkspawn himself.
His mother's amulet. The one thing of her's he'd owned and the one thing of her's he thrown away—shattered against a wall.
"I'm just not used to people actually listening when I speak."
And the fact that she did will mean more to him than she'll ever know.
Shale is understandably interested in Orzammar—especially in the whole 'turning people into golems' part. He can't imagine why.
Ogrhen's a little more interested in the fact that his wife is a sociopathic lesbian.
She's just interested in local politics, if local politics help her get an army to dismember Loghain or the Archdemon—or both, whichever one happens in their path first.
The Price of Heroism
"You know, I'm starting to think being a nice person isn't really helping us." Alistair sighed.
"Why? We got the good guy on the throne. Dwarves are playing for team Warden, now."
"We could have done that regardless. What I'm saying is, it's all well and good that we've got the warm fuzzies from destroying the hammer of golem-tude—"
"Anvil of the Void." Leliana reminds him with her lilting foreign voice.
"—yes, that. But if we'd decided to put up with Branka's general brand of crazy—"
"Careful, that's my wife you're talking about." Ogrhen grumbles through his bottle.
"Ex-wife, I think. You're a widower now." Wynne points out.
"—the point is, we could have walked out of there with an army of golems and an army of dwarves all playing for team Warden. But instead, we got a crown." She says nothing but he stares at her anyways. "You told me everyone's out for themselves. So why didn't we side with Branka?"
"Because I'm not interested in becoming someone who fights for the idea of people instead of the ones willing to help. Branka became that person. I'm not Branka."
He shuts his mouth and understands.
And feels only shame.
It's burning in her eyes, the way she holds herself—like any minute she's going to lunge at Howe and rip his throat out. Like if there weren't guards and witnesses nearby, he'd be screaming in pain, blood seeping into the cracks in the tiles.
She wants to murder this man like he murdered her family. She wants him to bleed and suffer. She wants him gutted like the pig he is.
But she does nothing. Because striking him down in front of Loghain and guards is the worst thing she can possibly do.
Because then Alistair the bastard prince might not become the bastard king.
Sick and bloody, but her face lights up either way. Anora, held captive in Howe's castle. The one dragon she's been hoping to slay—the one monster she's been longing to slaughter—and she now has a valid reason to do it. He won't warn her against vengeance. He won't deny her this.
This is what she's been waiting for—what plagues her waking nightmares and sleeping bliss. This is the moment she's been anticipating since she first saw his men in her family's home.
Since she saw the first bodies slain like cattle.
This is it.
She will not lose this time.
Code of Hammurabi
"Before she died, I made your mother kiss my feet. That's the last thing your father saw before I killed him too."
Howe has ruined her life.
She takes his.
Alistair takes her in his arms after the deed is done, more than ready to start a new one with her.
Trust no one related to Loghain.
Even if she's your sister in law.
He has now learned this the hard way.
He waits until she wakes up, as always. They're defenseless in the cell, stripped of their armor and weapons. Unprotected, unsure of what awaits them.
"So what now?"
To his shock, she's right. The cavalry has arrived in the form of Wynne and Morrighan, neither looking quite happy in their Chantry uniforms.
She smirks. "Told you so."
He rolls his eyes, but can't stop the grin on his face as he buckles the straps of his armor.
Reassembled and strong. No one can stop them now as they fight their way out, spells blazing and glowing, swords clashing and slicing. The weight of Howe is gone from her shoulders and there's a spring in her step he's never seen before. A light in her eye. A love in her heart.
A fire blazing between them, warm and steady, pulsating.
He feels the heat and, when he touches the flame, it doesn't burn.
Maker, he hopes it never will.
"I told Anora I'll support you in the Landsmeet."
Her eyes say, you deserve this.
His heart says, I'll never deserve her.
His gut says, she's not going to let me die.
Inner and outer conversation over with, he blocks out the Arl's presence and presses his lips to hers.
His Mind Says
Don't let this be the last time.
The Landsmeet ends.
The Archdemon descends.
Riordan descends on the back of the beast and attacks—stabbing and slicing, trying to end the battle before it begins. He's thrown aside like a ragdoll; dead on the castle walls.
Alistair watches from the gates, feeling his heart sink like a rock in his chest. His selfish hopes had rested with Riordan; his hopes of a long and happy life, of a new family, of a royal home with a noble beauty. Of a Grey Warden's future.
She has left him behind.
He thinks of the Arl, abandoning him in the Chantry. He thinks of Duncan, marching off into battle alone. He thinks of everyone he has ever cared about, walking away. He thinks about how he's become far too familiar with the image of backs of people he loves walking away from him. He thinks about what she told him so long ago, outside of his sister's home. He thinks about how everyone's out for themselves; for what they want, instead of confining themselves to the expectations of others. He thinks about becoming someone who only cares about the idea of people, instead of the ones who stand at his back every day.
They expect him to be a lazy king, unwilling to listen.
They expect him to wait behind like a good little soldier.
They expect him to stay out of danger, while the only woman he's ever loved runs off to the slaughter.
They expect an awful lot.
And now, he thinks, to hell with their expectations.
He lifts up his sword and lowers the visor on his helm, cleaving a path through the darkspawn, letting the tainted blood paint his line of vision a bloody crimson. He watches the shadow of the Archdemon looming ahead, hears it cry out in agony, but not death, and prays he won't be too late.
The Archdemon falls, but its soul reaches out for the closest taint, the nearest vessel.
It finds her.
And she's already occupied.
Her soul wars with its, and they intertwine briefly before they shatter like glass. A desperate 'no' escapes his lips, but it is far too short and far too simple to describe the agony he feels as she falls to the ground one last time. As he catches her, one final time, but this time knows that, no longer how long he waits or how much he prays, the Maker will not return her to him. All around, the sounds of battle dim to a dull roar in his ears, out of sync with the deadened pounding of his heart.
Her eyes are shut, a ghost of a smile lingering on her face.
His throat catches with a sob of grief, but he forces himself to be quiet. He forces himself to remember the words and to honor her death, as it deserves.
He remembers her as she was, not as she is. He remembers her smiling, fighting valiantly, melting into his arms and fitting into his grasp, as if their bodies were designed that way. He remembers the way she laughed at his stupid jokes, and cried into his shoulder in the darkest of nights. He remembers the exquisite softness of her lips against his own. He remembers and holds these memories close, savoring them, for he knows there will be no more.
"... and should you perish, know that your sacrifice will not be forgotten... and that one day, we shall join you."
Alistair's voice cracks. His eyes pool with tears.
He doubles over sobbing, still clinging to her, understanding.
Knowing what it means to lose everything.
Knowing there is no one in this world left who can make this pain go away.
Knowing that their story has come to an end.
Perhaps it was never meant to be written in the first place.
Perhaps, it was simply never meant to be.