He does not hear the small "oh!" that escapes her lips as the damnable emissary cuts across her form like a sword through silk, only sees her crumple to the floor. With a roar, he boots his current target into the poised blades of Leliana and charges. With a thunk of the shield and a grunt as the sword swings down into the creature's throat, he yanks back the blade and slices the hurlock's head clean off. Glancing around to check on the others – Wynne is being pulled to her feet by Leliana – he slumps to his knees next to their fallen leader.
"S-sorry.." she whispers. "C-couldn't keep u-up."
"Shut up." It is not a suggestion. His hand is tight on her arm. He knows that this is a bad wound, probably the worst that any of them have received. "Just stay with me, stop talking and pay attention to Wynne, alright?" She nods, and he smiles softly. "You'll be fine."
She is far from fine. Eventually he is banned from her side by an exasperated Wynne, and now he sits by the campfire, stripping bark from a twig. The camp is shrouded in a gloom, muted by the fall of the one who brought them all together. Dog sits by the entrance to her tent, ears pricked up. Alistair sighs, throwing the now-bare twig into the flames. Maker, but this was bad. A soft touch on his shoulder alerts him to Leliana's presence.
"Stew?" He shakes his head, and she frowns. "You need to eat something, Alistair. She will not be very impressed if you starved to death on her account." He chuckles, but it is forced. Relenting, he accepts the bowl from her and watches as she takes another into the tent. Toying with the spoon, he looks down at the fare – as it always is with the Orlesian, the soup is light and the meat absent. Sighing, he places the bowl in front of him, and restrains himself from knocking it over in frustration.
From the tent emerges Leliana supporting a worn-out Wynne. Zevran appears from nowhere to take the mage's arm, but is waved away.
"Please, I am just tired." The small group gather around the fire, and her eyes are grim as she explains the situation. "I have done all I can. She is resting now, and only time will tell if she will recover. So I would.. ask you all to take just five minutes to.. talk to her." The silence implies the worst, and Alistair feels his heart crack. They all look ashen-faced, but he nods anyway. She gestures to Leliana, and the bard swallows hard before making her way into the tent. Wynne grabs the Warden's arm, pulling him to one side. "Alistair, you go last."
"Uh.. okay, why?"
"I have no illusions that you will want to stay by her side," she replies simply, smiling softly. "I wouldn't deny you that." He takes her hand in thanks, and leads her to her tent, allowing her to take all the rest she needs.
Finally, as Sten relieves him of watch duty, Alistair slides into the tent. His fellow Warden is white, paler than anyone he has ever seen, and the bandaged wound still looks horrific. In one swift move he is knelt beside her, clutching her hand to his chest.
"You listen to me, dear lady," he starts, his voice cracking. "Don't you go into the darkness. We need you a lot more than we let on. Everyone's already miserable enough, what with this Blight and the constant trudging across the whole bloody nation." His eyes well up, but he shakes his head. "And the last thing we need is the only woman capable of bringing us all together without a serious fight going on just upping and dying on us. So you just sit tight and get better, you hear me?" She does not respond, but he is almost glad that she is not conscious. His throat is unbelievably tight as he looks up and down at her frail form. "Don't you dare go where I can't follow," he whispers, the tears slipping down his cheeks. "I need you." And he leans forward to kiss her forehead.
The night passes without incident. She never stirs, and he never takes his eyes off her, keeping his hand tightly curled around his. Dog lies just inside the tent at her feet, the ever-vigilant guardian. Alistair wonders if this is how Isolde felt around the Arl when he was ill. Then he feels sick. Poor Isolde. He sighs, stroking her hair again.
Behind him, Wynne enters with the dawn.
"Any change?" He shakes his head, eyes hooded. She places her palm against his back. "You should sleep."
"Have you tried?"
"Won't," he corrects, sighing. "My chest hurts too much for me to even think about sleeping."
"You're injured? You should have said-"
"Not injured." He chuckles, looking up at her. "Heartsick. Wynne, what do I do?" Her eyes fill with pity.
"Wynne, if she doesn't wake up, I don't.. I don't know.." He closes his eyes, clutching her hand to his forehead. "What do you do when the person you love dies?" There is silence for a moment. A single, long, haunting moment.
"You keep going, idiot."
He jumps, eyes opening. His Warden, his precious fragile Warden, smiles up at him. "If I die, you keep going, because otherwise I'll come back from the Fade to kick you myself. Got that?" He kisses the back of her hand, quite unable to wipe the stupid grin from his face. Wynne kneels beside him, rolling up her sleeves, ready to cast new spells.
"Glad to see you're back with us," she smiles.
"Well, I can't leave him in charge, can I?" Her voice is tired, but she squeezes his hand back. Wynne places her palms over the wound, and looks up at Alistair.
"Please. Go and sleep." Below her, the Warden glares at him.
"You didn't sleep?"
"You wouldn't have, so don't look at me like that. Fine, fine, I'm going," he chuckles, kissing her hand again. She pulls him down to her, pressing her lips to his. For a moment, he is slightly dizzy, but he just grins and backs out of the tent.
Zevran is standing by the fire as Alistair walks across camp.
"I take it from your jovial tone that our esteemed leader lives, no?"
"Oh yes. Very much so." The stupid grin is all over his face, but he doesn't care that Zevran is smirking right now. He walks past, on to his tent, and falls onto his bedroll, giggling himself to sleep.
Of course, he thinks, it was never going to be that easy. She gets a fever just days later, and Wynne and he stay with her all night until it breaks. It is another six days til she is out and standing, and that of course is the night that darkspawn attack the camp. But with a sword in her hand a barely a wince at the pain flushing across her chest, it is like she was never away from the battlefield, and when the last hurlock is slain, she throws her head back and laughs, and he almost pulls her into a tight embrace to kiss her senseless. Almost.
Three days later, she is sitting next to him by the fire, laughing at some awful joke, when she stops him, holding his arm.
"Do you really love me?" He looks upon her with a tender smile.
"Always. To the ends of the world and beyond." She smiles.
"Good. Because I love you too, you know. Even if you are an idiot who can't take charge for five minutes when I'm knocked out by darkspawn." He clutches his chest dramatically.
"Lady you wound me so!" She chuckles, shivering slightly as his fingers gently cradle her face. "I expect an immediate apology." And he steals it from her lips himself.