Author's Note: This is a followup to my story "Waking Hours". It's probably going to be a bit longer total than that story was. Plot and ending spoilers, and a fair amount of stuff that's either original or I've done some creative interpretation of in-game conversations and the sourcebook with.
Bioware are a collection of evil geniuses who own the characters and the world.
One: What Immortal Hand Or Eye
The babe was small, to be sure, but he was healthy and perfect, ten fingers, ten toes, and no scent of darkspawn taint about him. And right now, Alistair was walking the halls of the Palace with him, because every time he stopped for a moment his son woke up and started fussing. Rima was exhausted, and he'd taken little Duncan so that she could sleep.
There were nurses, of course, but Alistair was a new father, and he was in love with his tiny son in a way he'd only loved a few things in his life. He was leaving for Waking Sea in a few weeks, and he wanted to spend as much time as he could with the child before he left.
And it was such a relief that Duncan was healthy, and a boy, and even though he'd come a few weeks early it didn't seem to have hurt him. Alistair shifted the baby in his arms and tucked the blanket around him a bit better.
"And one of these days, I'll teach you how to use a sword," he said. The baby stirred and turned his face into Alistair's chest. "Well, maybe after you've learned how to walk."
He kept walking, his son a warm weight in his arms. And as often happened on these nights when he was awake long past when anyone else was, his thoughts turned to the only other person he'd ever taught to use a sword.
"Alistair. I'm serious."
He furrowed his brow, taken aback by her determination. "But you're a mage. Mages don't use swords."
They were camped at the edge of the Dalish camp. The smell of halla drifted on the breeze from the enclosure that protected the deer-like creatures, clean animal sweat with a tinge of grass and musk. Kathil was standing in front of him, one hand on her hip. "Fine. I'll go ask Sten to teach me, then. Not that he thinks I should be fighting, either, but I'd bet he'd give me the basics. I always end up in the middle of the fight anyway, for one reason or another."
He'd known that the phylactery that they'd found in the ruins was going to be trouble. Finding phylacteries was always trouble. Instead of them having to put down a revenant, however, Kathil's face had taken a look of concentration when she'd touched it, almost as if she were communicating with something inside of the vial of black blood.
Then she'd put the phylactery on the altar and the torchlight had dimmed so briefly he thought he'd imagined it, and she bent to pick up a package from the base of the altar.
And now she was standing in front of him, asking him to teach her how to use a sword.
What in the name of Andraste's frilly underthings have I gotten myself into?
He felt eyes on him—Morrigan, watching from the shadows. He ignored her. He looked at his fellow Warden and sighed. "All right, all right. First thing you need to know—"
"Pointy end goes into the other person?" she suggested, and gave him a flash of a smile that nearly made him forget himself for a moment.
She took to the sword with a singular fervor. And when she hit, she hit hard. Weeks later, she put on the armor she'd found in the ruined temple, and it was with some surprise that Alistair realized that, if anything, she looked even more at home in the armor than in her robes.
And of course, right after that, he'd completely lost his head and kissed her—
He'd always wondered, after the war was said and done, what her life would have been like if she hadn't been a mage. Would she have become a soldier anyway? Been sworn to the Grey Wardens earlier?
Been lost at Ostagar with all the rest?
Strange, how the thing that made it possible for them to know one another was the thing that, in the end, had forced them apart.
"Your Majesty, smoke ahead."
"I can see that," Alistair said dryly. "I'm not blind quite yet. Looks like a campfire."
They'd been traveling for two weeks now, and he had to admit that, which it was much more of a process to be traveling as the King, it was also a lot more comfortable. He almost missed the little tent he'd called home while they were traveling during the Blight, but he did not miss having a bedroll so thin that every tiny rock seemed to dig into his spine through it.
(But there were other things he did miss, Wynne tching at him and complaining about his socks, Lorn's constant barking at things as threatening as bunnies and branches moving in the breeze, Sten's rare smiles, Shale calling him "it", even Morrigan's arch little comments about, well, everything. And of course the other Grey Warden. Of course.)
"Why don't you go and—" He stopped, and cocked his head. "Never mind. I believe I know who that is." That barking was entirely too familiar. He dismounted from his horse and started walking, the guard trailing in his wake.
"Ah, sir—your majesty—where are you going?"
"I'm going to go see the Grey Warden, Emris," he said. "You can stay here for the moment, I'll be back."
"Stay here, Emris. Between her and her warhound, anything that might think of being dangerous has packed up and moved away already. Besides. Do I really look all that helpless?"
Emris faltered and fell behind, and a bit of bellowing later Alistair was free of them and striding towards the rising smoke. Nerves were twisting up his stomach, and if he stopped to think his head was perhaps going to explode a little, so he didn't. He just kept walking.
He passed what looked to be days-old darkspawn remains, crumbling bones and shreds of flesh. Well, there had been darkspawn in the area. No more.
The first one he saw, of course, was Lorn, because Lorn bounded out of the underbrush and reared up to put his massive paws on Alistair's shoulders—"Mind the pauldrons, pup!"—and gave Alistair's face a swipe with a tongue that felt for all the world like a washing-cloth. A very wet washing-cloth.
"Glad to see you too, Lorn," he said as he tried to wipe his face with one hand and fend off the Mabari's tongue with the other. "No, I've had a bath just recently, I don't need another one. Where's Kathil?"
The warhound's paws thumped to the ground, his stubby tail wagging wildly, and bounded towards where Alistair could see the smoke rising from the fire. He followed.
A few hundred yards away, he came out from the forest into a clearing, catching his breath—
And she was there, bending to pet Lorn, and when she looked at him her face was transformed by a smile into one of the most beautiful things he'd ever seen. He barely had time to think she looks happy before she'd hurled herself towards him and caught him around his neck. He picked her up, laughing. She was out of armor, which was good because two people in armor hugging was a ticklish proposition. It was bad enough with only one, really, but they'd gotten used to it, traveling together.
"You're late," she said into his ear.
"Takes a little longer to cover ground than it used to," he said, and carefully set her back down on the ground. "Besides, I didn't know where exactly we were going to find you. We've been traveling a slowly to make sure not to miss you."
"You did not miss us, and neither did the darkspawn," said a familiar voice. "Grey Wardens. Tch. One would think the darkspawn would learn, but traveling with one of you is much like painting a large target on oneself."
"You should be used to it by now, Zevran," he told the elf, who had come up to them while he was busy setting Kathil back on her feet.
"One advantage of the Circle Tower, Alistair. Darkspawn are terrible swimmers." Zevran had the ghost of a smile on his face.
Alistair chuckled, and began to relax. So far, this was going much better than the last time he had seen either of them. "Well, I'm here now. Let's get you two packed up and—" He stopped.
He'd missed something when he walked into the camp.
It was a small camp.
There had to be some reasonable explanation for that. Perhaps the darkspawn had made off with one of the tents? That must be it.
But Kathil was beginning to flush, and her ears were beginning to turn red, and he suddenly felt very foolish.
At least Zevran was having enough grace not to smirk.
"Er. Get you packed up. Waking Sea is waiting, after all," he said into the silence. "I'll, ah…"
"Go back to your guards, Alistair," Kathil said, and her voice was remarkably steady given the fact that she was looking everywhere but at him or Zevran. "We've packed camp before. We'll be there in a little while."
He was a king, and kings did not scurry back to their men like their tails were lit on fire.
It surely felt that way, though.
"That…could have gone better. Maker's Breath, why did I not hear him coming?" She was rolling up blankets with furious hands, still blushing.
"He was going to learn the truth soon, little bird," Zevran said. "You were going to pretend that nothing has changed? All the way to Waking Sea?" He shoved dirt over their fire with one booted foot.
She shook her head. "No, I was going to tell him…tonight, I thought."
"And now there is no need. He knows, we know, everyone knows and there will be no awkwardness tonight. Ah, the look on his face."
She growled. "I hate you."
"No, you do not." He finished putting the fire out and came to her, holding out one hand. She looked at him and relented, taking his hand and letting him pull her to her feet and into the circle of his arms. "You are perhaps a little angry and a little embarrassed, my Warden. And perhaps you are not as recovered from what was between you and Alistair as you occasionally claim, yes?"
She put her head down, her nose against the scarred golden skin of his neck. "I suppose not. I just wanted a little time, was all." She breathed in, and the smell of him calmed her, smoke from the fire, steel, leather, and just a hint of stone. Lorn thought he smelled of stone, anyway, from what she could tell, and she chose to believe the warhound was authoritative on the subject of what things and people smelled like.
Said warhound whuffed and shoved his nose against Kathil's hip. Alistair was here, and they were obviously about to travel again, and could they get a move on, please? "Yes, yes, Lorn, one moment." She raised her head and kissed Zevran, just to remind herself that it had been three years, they all had changed, and they all had moved on. He kissed her back, sweetly teasing, withholding what she wanted from him until he gave in to her in a rush, and that was pleasant enough that she forgot for a moment what had just happened, heat tingling down to her toes.
When they broke the kiss, Kathil took a deep breath. "We should go before Alistair sends someone to check on us."
He didn't let go of her. "Likely." Then he was looking at her for a moment, searching her face for—what?—and then released her. "Lead on, my Grey Warden."
It took them a few minutes to finish packing, Kathil spent a few more putting on her armor, and then they were shouldering their packs and walking in the direction that Alistair had come from.
It was going to be a very long trip.
The royal guard built one central fire and three smaller fires when they finally stopped walking that night. Alistair's tent was pitched in the center, by the big fire. He was sitting out in front of it when Kathil approached, working the edge of his blade with a sharpening steel.
She was alone, having entrusted Lorn with keeping an eye on Zevran. There was an empty place on the rock next to him, and when she paused he waved her towards it. Then he glanced at the guards nearest him. "A little privacy to talk to the Grey Warden. Please." It was not a request. The guards stepped away.
"Polishing the old blade, eh?" she said quietly, trying to smile. Her stomach was flipping over on itself. She sat down next to him, close enough to touch him if she reached out, far enough away (oh thank goodness) that she could not feel the heat radiating off of him.
"Helps relieve the tension." The steel went shhhhhnick against the blade, the starmetal iridescing dully in the firelight.
Kathil was at a loss. When she'd last seen him, she'd had her mask of calm to help her get through the encounter, a deadly silence bolstered by despair and not really caring if she saw the next sunrise. But now she cared, she cared very much, and the real problem was that she honestly didn't quite know what she wanted from him.
What she really wanted, she thought, was her friend back. The very funny friend who had joked in the face of doom and lived to tell the tale, the sweet friend whose voice had cracked when she'd teased him.
She'd gone and made that friend into a king, so maybe it served her right to lose him. She took a deep breath. "I hear congratulations are in order. You named him after Duncan?"
"Ah. Yes." Alistair was still not looking at her.
"Look, Alistair." She swallowed. "Is this the part where we travel in awkward silence for a few days and then have a shouting match where neither of us is admitting what we're actually fighting about? Because if so, I think I'll take my awkward silence back over to my own tent, thanks."
He looked at her. Blinked.
And then, Maker be praised, he laughed. It was a weak laugh, but a laugh it was.
"Skewered on my own sword, Kathil. You look like you're doing well. Life as a Circle mage seems to agree with you."
Abruptly, she was desperate to get the really awkward part of this conversation over with. "And Zevran."
"Zevran," he echoed. "Kathil…I never thought…why?" He was better at controlling the play of emotions over his face than he used to be, but she could still see everything he wanted to ask but knew better. "Why him?"
And that was a question with a very long and complicated answer that started with because he was there when I needed him and ended with because I love him, you idiot. "I honestly don't think you want to hear it," she said.
"And if I do?"
She considered him, and sighed. "Because I don't have to be anyone other than who I am with him, Alistair. Many other reasons, but that's one of the big ones."
There was a question on his face that she could see he didn't know how to ask without causing offense. "And…it's a thing? I mean, he's been at the Tower for months, but it's Zevran, doesn't he, um…"
She raised an eyebrow. "Bed anything with a pulse?"
Alistair looked like he would much rather be elsewhere, but he straightened his shoulders and forged on. "Well, if you put it that way—"
"If you really have to know, we have an agreement," she told him. "Yes, it's a thing, as you so eloquently put it. Started a few weeks after he showed up at the Tower with a bunch of Antivan Crows on his heels."
"Well, if it matters—not that it matters—you look happy." He looked down at the sword in his hands for a moment as if he didn't quite recognize it. "I was just expecting…"
"That I'd come skipping back to your bed the moment you beckoned?" Oh, damnation, she thought as she closed her mouth on the rest of that statement, and Alistair was looking more than vaguely offended and the worst thing was that she didn't actually mean what she said, they were both trying so hard to be adults and there was no way to take back what had just come out of her mouth. "Andraste's little ankles. I'm sorry, Alistair." He still had the most delicious puppy-eyed look when he was trying to decide whether to be angry or hurt or both at once and stop that right now Kathil do you not remember what he did to you?
There was a reason she'd fled Denerim in the first place. She remembered, now.
"We should talk. Later. I, um—" No, dignity was not going to be an option. She rose abruptly and stepped away, towards the other side of the fire, and when she got to her own tent she sank down on her bedroll and just shook.
Lorn attempted to crawl into her lap, shoving his huge head under her chin and making soft whff whff whff sounds against her chest. "I'll be all right, puppy," she said and leaned into him. "I'm just very silly sometimes. What did you do with Zevran?"
"I am here," she heard him say as the tent flap opened. "I had thought I might teach some of the guard how to play Seven Dragons while you were talking with Alistair, but your discussion was…quite a bit shorter than I thought it might be."
Kathil frowned and craned her neck around so she could see him, as much as she could in the dim. "It went a bit to sixes and sevens. You don't have to stay with me if you wanted to go play cards."
"Ah, I believe I will stay here. I will have time to teach the game later, and the company here is far better." He sank down next to her, and leaned over to kiss her ear. "Even if half of it does smell like it might need a bath sometime soon."
She laughed and kissed him and shifted so she could put an arm around him, feeling a little bit better about the world.