A/N: Prequel to What We Become.
The new recruit's a mage.
And a girl.
Woman, Alistair supposes, but she's got the translucent-pale skin of a Tower mage and it makes her look younger, and even as he's trying to give his best "Welcome to the Wardens" smile and make an introduction she's looking around Ostagar, nervous and seeming unsettled at the chaotic din of so many people in such tight quarters.
And here he is, fresh from bickering with a different mage, and oh the joys of almost being a templar, and a glorified courier. Yes, this is precisely why he'd joined the Wardens, so he could pass notes. But he shows her around anyway, and she follows him like a duckling trying not to lose its mother in the crowd.
"Poor thing," Therrin says at the kennel, leaning over the fence to get a better look at the distraught mabari. "He looks lost."
"Yes, well," Alistair says, thinking that she looks rather a bit lost herself. "Maybe you can find him a bone, or something."
Somehow, in between darkspawn and the Joining and the countless people readying for war, she does.
Therrin doesn't know how to fight.
It hadn't been too noticeable with two other soldiers tagging along, but now that it's just the two of them it's painfully, brutally obvious. Which—normally that wouldn't be a problem. A little time with the trainers, some practice…
Except that the darkspawn are crawling everywhere in the Tower of Ishal and Alistair's pretty sure they're not here for tea and crumpets, and she's standing there casting a spell blank-eyed and preoccupied in the middle of the room.
"Get down!" he orders as the Hurlock charges for her, but she's not listening and so he has to run and shove her out of the way, his blade coming up quick and clattering across the horrible creature's armor before finding flesh.
She blinks off the effects of the shattered spell and scrambles up from the floor, running for the next fight, and only jerks to a halt when he shakes his head and snatches for her arm. "Look, just… stop. You've got to move around, find cover, something. You're going to get us both killed just standing there casting and we're not going to get more than one shot at this."
She nods once and tries to be more careful after that, but it's no use at all. At the top of the tower the world falls to pieces and there's nothing either of them can do.
They make a good team, which is a good thing, because there's just no one else around to work with. (Except for Morrigan, and they're of an agreement in opinion on the subject of her.) The companionship just feels right, for some reason―he and his blade as her magic slips down his spine, healing him and making him stronger (it feels like a sunbeam, or summer rain, and it tickles at first but he gets used to it quickly) and the smell of lightning and ice that lingers in the air after a fight.
And she handles ancient scrolls just fine but doesn't know how to buy bread (which is equal parts horrifying and endearing), and as they make their way toward Lothering she asks questions.
Lots of questions.
Alistair doesn't mind because it takes his mind off Ostagar, and Duncan, and the enormity of the task ahead of them, and Therrin takes the world in like a sponge, always looking into corners and around trees for the next new thing. And she actually laughs at his jokes instead of laughing at him, and that's something.
Constellations of freckles begin cropping up on her nose and across her cheeks like tiny stars spattered on her skin.
"There's not going to be enough food in Lothering for the three of us," she laments, kicking at the dirt on the road and getting it on his boots as her stomach growls. "Not between you and me and Dog."
(They don't think Morrigan eats; they figure she lives off crow blood and spite.)
He kicks a bit of dirt back at her. "I still don't know where you put it all. Are you hiding it?"
She grins a little. "It's magic."
"Of course it is. Big mage secret, hush-hush, how to nick food and hide it from templars. I'm onto you."
She grins again, dimpling, and says nothing else.
And there is Lothering and frightened people and doom, and trouble in a tavern and a crazy Orlesian and doom, and a huge Qunari in a cage and templars who look at her funny and doom.
At least doom is predictable.
Less predictable is Therrin's predilection for collecting people. The Qunari is big and quiet and interesting, and the Orlesian is little and never quiet and less interesting, and though Therrin takes to her immediately he's not sure Leliana's interest is quite as sisterly as Therrin seems to think it is.
She plays with Therrin's hair a lot. Alistair doesn't know what to make of that.
There are games of fetch and campfires and thick, sludgy stews, but now that the merry band of misfits is large enough to allow it he and Therrin always take watch together. He doesn't know why, exactly―a Warden thing, maybe, comrades in arms and all that, but it feels like habit from the first night.
It feels… safe.
Then of course Leliana has to go and give her wine because she catches wind that Therrin's never had it before, and Therrin gets giggly and wiggles her toes in the grass as she sits at Alistair's side.
"You have very pretty eyes, you know," she says candidly, though he thinks for a moment that maybe she's talking to the cricket she's caught in her hands and not him. But she glances up at Alistair, all smiles and tipsy sunshine. "Very warm."
And maybe you have pretty eyes is about as pitiful as it gets as far as pickup lines go but it staggers Alistair just fine anyway. "You can have them, if you like," he says immediately. "Carry them around in your pocket. Just don't squish them. Messy, you know. Um. So do you, by the way. Have pretty eyes."
Smooth, very smooth.
But she blushes as though he's just said something terribly poetic, pink to the tips of her ears. "Thank you." And: "You're very sweet."
And then Leliana pulls her away and Therrin looks back at him over her shoulder as she goes, and the night is humming and crickets, starlight and smiles.
They're never far apart.
He never stays at camp when she leaves, and so he's always right there at her shoulder, tripping over Dog and pointing out places of interest, and some days it's just the two of them venturing out together.
And she likes the rose, which is… well, it's just brilliant, really, and her eyes had gone all soft and she takes to smiling every time she looks at him.
Thankfully―thankfully―she takes the whole prince thing in stride, and they don't speak of it again because it doesn't matter.
It's not like there isn't enough going on, magic and fighting and the Blight, and all.
It becomes a running joke—a day without doom just isn't a respectable day at all, and so they tell each other that the evening meal needs more doom in it, or that the campsite isn't quite doomed enough, and though the word shouldn't be funny it gets tossed back and forth between them until it loses all meaning, both Wardens whistling in the dark to keep the shadows at bay.
Doomity doomity doom.
And then he kisses her one night, and there's no doom in it at all.
Exactly why she decides to ask him about… his innocent state, he'll never know, but he suspects some triple alliance of womanly evil.
Morrigan and Leliana made her do it, Alistair grumbles silently, she wouldn't have thought of it on her own.
No. Definitely not.
But he tries to turn it around, inexpertly, and just when he thinks he's got her: "Have you ever licked a lamppost in winter?"
All smug and sinuous, and drawled out like honey, and he expects her to blush.
She doesn't. She blinks, instead, missing the innuendo by miles. "There aren't any lampposts at the Tower."
And just as he's about to say something (which he's sure would have been incredibly clever and smooth, and she'd have swooned and then he'd have had to catch her and maybe she'd kiss him again) Morrigan calls from across the camp, "Oh for pity's sake, you fool girl, he means a penis!"
So much for that.
It does eventually come out in a sidelong muttering like she's embarrassed about it―no. No lamppost-licking for Therrin.
And like a fool, before Alistair can think: "I thought mages were supposed to be promiscuous."
She tosses him a glance, annoyed. "Who says that?"
Everyone says that, but he's not going to tell her so and make it worse. "Er… never mind. So." Alistair rests his elbows on his knees, too-casual. "You never… had anyone? Special?"
"I took my magical studies very seriously," she says primly, not quite able to suppress a smile.
He snorts. "Right. Serious Therrin. Who's somehow not related to the Therrin who baby-talks that massive warhound and lets Leliana braid little bells into her hair."
Which had been a rather colossal mistake, in hindsight.
"No," Therrin says at last, struggling to mend the mangled hem of her robe. "It's… my best friend turned out to be a blood mage, you know. I spent most of my time with him. And besides that…" she trails off, shrugs. "I was always being watched."
Alistair can imagine what it must have been like, trapped in the Tower with templars everywhere like living, brutish statues. "Creepy."
"Not really." Her smile then is faint and a little sad, and she doesn't say anything else.
The Pearl is no place for an ex-almost-Templar.
For one thing there's the women who drape themselves over his shoulders and tug at his ears when they turn red, laughing brightly at his embarrassment.
For another, Leliana's taken Therrin shopping and Maker have mercy he doesn't know what kind of robe that is, but he can't even look at her without having the most incredibly lurid thoughts and the unfortunate choice of location is only making things worse.
And Therrin's playing cards (losing at cards, more accurately) to a woman captain who looks as though she'd like to eat them all for lunch and the little mageling in particular with honey and cream and…
He's never going to turn back to his proper color.
Leliana bends down to whisper something, lips brushing against Therrin's ear a moment before she takes up a spot at the wall next to Alistair, watching the fearless leader play. "Are you alright, Alistair?" Leliana asks, far too innocently. "You look a bit like you're about to explode."
He levels a glare at the bard. "You're evil. Evil. How could you drag me here with… with them, and with her, and―and those." He gestures vaguely in the direction of the robes. He's fairly sure there was something against robes like that in the Chant.
I hardly know 'er.
"Do you like them?" Leliana burbles too-innocently. "She's lovely in blue, don't you think?"
"I hate you." He considers, really considers, getting a drink because he feels like he might need one and badly, but under the circumstances it's probably a bad idea.
Leliana only grins, dimpling prettily. "What's wrong? Little templar afraid the big bad mage will devour his soul?"
"And you've handed her a fork," he mutters back, thankful that the card game seems over, at least, though he's not certain he likes the considering look on Therrin's face as she glances around the Pearl.
Sure enough: "Do you think we should just do it and get it over with? The whole virginity thing," she explains matter-of-factly, oblivious to his mouth falling open and the awful squeaky noise coming out in place of his voice. "I mean… theoretically, this would be the kind of place where you could do that sort of thing. Aren't you curious?"
"Get it over with?" he manages at last, glad that at least his voice isn't cracking and breaking like an egg with a death wish. "I'm not sure…"
Yes, a part of his brain is saying, just say yes, you idiot.
"I mean," she continues, peering down a hallway. "I suppose they all know what they're doing. Could be interesting."
"Oh, you mean with other people," he blurts before he can stop himself, and the look of surprise on her face is enough to make him want to run out the door shouting all the way back to camp. "Right. Yes. So."
She doesn't say anything but red creeps across her cheeks, and before it can get any more horrifyingly embarrassing he extends a hand. "So. Yes. Let's just start over, shall we? I'm Alistair."
She takes it, shakes his hand once. "Therrin."
"You're the new recruit, then," he barrels on, tripping over the words because the robes are cut ridiculously, obscenely low in the front and he can't help but notice the blush is spreading across her chest and oh, mercy.
Therrin's laugh is a little thin. "Yep. That's me. And a mage, did you hear?"
"And a woman," he manages.
"Oh." She considers her own cleavage. "Apparently so."
He's going to die.
He's going to die, and it's going to be her fault, and Leliana is laughing like an idiot.
Maker above have mercy.