Disclaimer: "Dragon Age Origins" is owned by BioWare/EA Games. I am not profiting from this fanfiction.
(Note: Set in the Arl Eamon's estate in Denerim, shortly after arriving. My hero is Melanie Cousland, female human rogue. She has light blue eyes and red hair in the bun model. Her romantic interest is Alistair. Her POV.)
I stared at the fire, watching the flames move. My life felt so out of control; a spiral, throwing me about without my permission. It was difficult to find anything to hold onto. Generally, I clutched at the one thing I knew was true in this unending nightmare: Rendon Howe.
My family's betrayer.
The rage I felt for him was beyond anything I had felt in my life. It was times like this when the rage ran rampant inside me — when it was time to rest, late at night, when everyone else was asleep. I couldn't control these waves of fury, couldn't see any way out of the mental prison that held me captive. It was strange to think that I even wanted to escape my mind; the fury reminded me that I was here, alive, breathing. Seething.
The fire itself was poetic, in a way: it was just like me. Held fast to the wood that kept it burning, though it tried so vainly to reach another handhold. It was wild, feeding on its one source of energy, unable to stop despite what it might wish as the fuel was slowly devoured. It tried to reach above itself, tried to grow larger, tried to find some way to exist without its food, only to discover that there was simply no way.
I grimaced at it, then held my hands out towards it, warming them. This room felt hollow somehow, cold. I realized it must be because of the situation; the last time I was in a civilized room like this, it was only to awaken to the screams of my family and home as they were butchered. Ever since then, I had slept on bed rolls, in tents, kept company by my allies.
I wouldn't sleep this night. I knew it already. There was no chance of it happening, with the nightmares so close to the forefront of my mind already. I would only awaken screaming, flailing, hurting. . .
It would be nothing like my nightmares about the Darkspawn and Archdemon. Those dreams had an aura of sense about them, the undeniable ending where my life was taking me. Besides, the Darkspawn were things I could fight against, things I could kill. Dreams of the last night as Lady Cousland were entirely different, the thought of them alone causing my heart to ache.
Rendon Howe's face rose behind my eyes.
I grit my teeth.
How close I'd come today to slaying him where he stood! I should have slain him then and there – should have plunged my family's sword into his heart, severed his head, spilt his blood and laughed as my vengeance had been exacted. No one could have moved fast enough to stop me. Loghain would have retaliated, but then he would have fallen as well — end of the civil war, end of his oppression, end of Arl Howe, end of this pointless struggle over power while the Blight stared us in our faces.
How easy it was to imagine the chips would have fallen just so.
A soft knock on the door caught my attention, and I turned to stare at it quizzically. Who could it be at this hour? It must be past midnight. . .
A strangled laugh escaped my throat. That was Alistair's voice, quiet, questioning. He must be wondering if I was awake or not — I was wondering why he was up.
"Are you asleep?" he continued in the same breath.
"I'm awake," I called back, almost as quiet. I rose from my seat. "You can come in."
The door opened. He looked. . .ashamed, in a way. "Sorry," he started, before I could say anything. "I don't want to keep you up or anything —"
I chuckled more warmly this time. He was nervous, I realized. I could only guess why — at first. Then it became obvious: here he was, visiting a woman's bedchamber (temporary or not) at a time when the rest of the house was asleep. He must be worried I was going to judge him.
Not a chance.
"I wasn't planning on sleeping this night," I told him, smiling. It was so easy to feel at ease around him. Between his witty one-liners (as he called them) and his obvious strength as a Grey Warden, I always felt safe around him.
I wondered if he knew that.
He shrugged, looking awkward. It gave me a moment to look him over, almost laughing again — I'd never seen him in anything other than armor before. A regular, average set of shirt and breeches looked unlike him, in a way. At least it left his arms uncovered, I thought wryly, unable to glance away for a moment. His chiseled muscles never ceased to set my heart aflutter.
"Perhaps I could join you for a time?" he offered, gesturing with one hand.
I mimicked the move. "That depends. Did you come here to steal my chastity?" I teased.
He grinned, unable to resist a good joke. "It might have been part of the plan. The insidious workings of the Grey Warden Alistair's mind — young ladies, beware!"
I laughed, then nodded at the door he still held. "Close the door already. We don't want to wake anyone else up."
He gave a nod, shutting it quietly. After another nervous moment, he crossed over to me. I sat back in my chair, he in the opposite.
I crossed my legs, glancing at him in time to see him looking over my clothes. I could have laughed again at the irony — was I not, a moment ago, coming to the same conclusion I could see forming in his eyes now? What an odd pair we made, surprised to see the other in anything other than armor.
Granted, my armor was made of leather, not layer upon layer of shiny metal. . .
"Odd, isn't it?" I asked, tilting my head.
He looked surprised. "What is?"
"Clothes," I answered with a laugh. I looked down at myself, contemplating the choice of apparel. I matched him, in a way — shirt and breeches. It wasn't the norm for a woman, but dresses didn't feel right anymore. It was as though when my family's estate burned, so too did Lady Cousland and every appearance I'd had to live up to while I was her.
In a way, it was a great freedom — being one person instead of many. I was a Grey Warden now (the ever-present burn in my veins from the Joining gave proof to that) and none other. No appearances to uphold, no other nobles to impress, no floundering, lovesick boys to court my hand. I rolled my eyes at the memory. Being forced to accept unwanted affections for my family had been the worst.
Alistair just laughed. "Yes, it is a bit odd, isn't it? I've been wearing armor for so long, I feel naked without it. Oh, not to say I would come to your room in the nude —" He broke off and swore at himself.
I pressed my fist to my mouth to smother a volley of giggles. He was definitely nervous, though I couldn't quite see why. He might be building up to something, I supposed, though I didn't see the need to be so high-strung in that. We've already shared many a kiss as it was. He should know how I feel for him by now.
I cleared my throat. "I should hope not," I agreed with a nod. "You would give the servants heart attacks."
He shook his head, grinning again. "I would at that, wouldn't I? Some of these servants I've known since I was a lad."
I rose my brows in mock horror. "Child Alistair?"
He matched my look. "Indeed. I was quite the hellion, you know."
"Did you ever streak nude as a lad?"
He tossed his head back with loud laughs. "Once or twice, perhaps. Not enough to garner a nickname, you understand."
"I could have thought up one or two."
"I wouldn't doubt it. You're as quick-witted as I."
"Maybe, but you're still the cleverer of us," I pointed out. I laughed again at the memories that rose now, some of the strangest things that came from his mouth. "I can't understand where some of your jokes arose."
He shrugged. "I make them up as I go."
"Perhaps you ought to teach me how to do that so well," I offered. "Then I could keep up – for once."
He smirked. "I'd rather not. It's rather nice, always a step ahead of you."
"You can't know that for certain," I shot back. "Only a game of Chess can determine whom is a step ahead of whom."
He leaned forward, resting on the arm of the chair. "Chess is a game of chance, as far as I'm concerned. The best strategy is to do what your opponent does not expect."
I leaned in, too, pursing my lips. "What are you expecting now, I wonder?"
That seemed to snap him out of his good humor. He sat back again, looking sharply – a little too sharply – into the still-burning fire. "If you're wondering why I came here, it was. . .insomnia. Sort of. I don't feel comfortable sleeping here, and I thought if I was having trouble, you might be, too."
"Odd," I said again. He glanced at me in confusion. "I don't see a reason for you to be uncomfortable here."
"It's not so much the Eamon's estate as it is Denerim," he explained. "Loghain knows we're here."
I tisked. "He wouldn't try anything. Everyone knows you're an heir to the throne now."
He scowled. "Don't remind me."
I chuckled. "Does it bother you so? No one can pick and choose whose blood he inherits. You might as well make use of it."
"Oh, come now — your logic applies to you, too. But you don't introduce yourself as Lady Melanie Cousland of the Cousland Noble House, now do you? Or Teyrna, for that matter."
"Of course not. The house burned to the ground." I frowned at the memory.
He glanced away. "It's a bit different between us, too. You're not the bastard daughter of your bloodline. You were born into the nobility and raised there."
"And you were raised in a Chantry," I agreed. "But if you're going to say you never wanted the crown, you can save it. At some point, for some reason, you must have wanted it — if only for that one moment in time."
He shrugged, then smiled. "I admit it, then. I'm a power-hungry royal bastard because, for one instant in time, I wished for the authority to remove myself from the Chantry. I should be assassinated!"
"Remember what happened the last time an assassin was sent after us?" I laughed.
He rolled his eyes. "Yes, I do. You spared him. I still don't trust him," he reminded me.
I frowned. "Zevran has proven himself, as far as I'm concerned."
"You're too trusting."
"Someone has to be."
"I wouldn't put betrayal past him," he warned.
I grimaced. There it was again: Rendon Howe's face, before my eyes. I looked at the fire. "Please, Alistair, don't remind me of betrayal."
He turned contrite in an instant. "I'm sorry, Melanie — it slipped my mind. I don't mean to make you unhappy."
I shook my head. "Then distract me," I offered. How strange; my voice sounded so breathless there. Was I the one expecting something? The memories of the kisses we shared came to the forefront of my mind, beating back the image of Howe.
It shook me, how quickly it happened. One moment fury was taking over me, righteous vengeance at my family's betrayer, and the next, all I could think of was Alistair and the things he made me feel. In that instant, I knew what held the strongest sway over me.
I looked back over at him: the only thing in this world or the next that could hold me together when I so desperately wanted to fall to pieces. I forgot that I was waiting for his answer, for him to come up with a quick-witted comment to distract me. I forgot that I needed to be distracted. I forgot the fire warming me, forgot the things it made me think of, forgot the echoing burn in my veins that was never far from my mind.
My reactions surprised me as I acted without thought.
"Alistair," I heard myself whisper. Maker's breath — was that my voice? I sounded so. . .unlike myself. As though I were a lovesick bird, twittering over her obsession. I wanted to shake myself out of the stupor that kept my actions from matching my will.
Instead, I rose from my chair, reaching for him.
In the time it took to get to my feet I saw the change in him, too. Before, I could see the concentration in his eyes as he tried to do as I asked, to think of something that could distract me as I wished. Then the moment tensed, grew heavier. He could feel the change just as surely as I could, I knew. I saw his eyes darken when his name slipped between my lips. He must have heard the emotion behind it. . .
A part of me, quiet, unseen, was embarrassed. I felt wanton, desiring him now as I did. The desires, too, shook me. I wanted him. I'd known that for some time, but to think the very words was a difficult thing to process. I want you, Alistair, I ached to say. Here, now. Please, take me — make me yours. I want to be yours.
I'd had lovers before — three, to be exact — but never before had I wanted a man so much. It knocked me breathless.
In the next second, he was on his feet as well. I had enough time to see the passion in his face and eyes before he crushed me to him and smothered my mouth with his own. I shuddered as I went wild, from my thoughts to my emotions to my actions. I wasn't used to such passion from him (a dozen kisses, laced with self-control) and it sent my instincts rocketing.
My fingers locked in his hair, holding him as closely as I could manage. I pressed myself to the length of his superior height, aided by the way his arms constricted around me. I tilted my head in time with him, meeting again and again with increasing hunger. Instinctively, wanting more, my tongue traced his lower lip.
He shuddered, then went a little wild, himself. One second, his hold was tight, and the next, it was crushing. I felt an ache following the length of his arms, but I didn't care. His other reaction more than made up for any moment of discomfort — his tongue was sweeping the inside of my mouth. My head spun. My body throbbed in time with my heart, overreacting. I moaned.
Then I kissed him back, turning the tables. I'd had enough kissing experience to be able to handle this; he would have to try harder to make me faint. Suddenly he was on the defensive, and I felt him jerk with surprise when my teeth caught his lower lip, sucking on it ever so slightly.
And then he groaned and pulled away, too fast for me to keep my grip on him. The burn of rejection all but buried the all-too-real permanent burn in my veins.
I could feel my face twist in hurt when we locked gazes, but there was nothing I could do about it. My heart was still hammering, the feel of it so real I couldn't ignore it for a second. Thumpa-thumpa-thumpa, it sang to me. Had my heart always been that strong? I didn't think so. I would have noticed. Did that mean it was Alistair's influence which made my heart work so hard?
I found myself liking that thought. Not a second had yet passed when he swung his gaze to the door.
He was forming a plan of escape, I could tell. Even so, my mind was working too slow — I could only react. When he muttered an apology and took a single step towards the arch that would lead him away from temptation, I reached out and caught his wrist. It wasn't something I'd had a foretelling thought of; I ached to keep him here with me. There was nothing more to it.
Then he looked at me, shock on his face. I knew what this meant: he was going to reason his way out of here, somehow. And then I would have to chase him down to make my case.
Well, I would jump first, then.
"Don't go," I pleaded, hoping my face matched the longing I felt. "Stay with me?" Uncertainty, I learned, could turn a demand into a question.
For one frozen second, that same shocked expression remained in place. And then he gave a laugh — more of a scoff, really. He swallowed. "Stay," he repeated. "Why?"
Instantly another wave of hurt coursed through me. But I knew his question wasn't callous; he wanted to know why I wanted him to stay. Knowing this didn't help the ache. Still, he asked, and I wanted him to know. . .
"I need you," I answered, surprised — not for the first time — at how breathless I sounded. Where was my strength now?
Disbelief colored his face. "Need me?" He looked like he didn't know what to say to that. After a moment, he pressed, "Why would you need me? I'm just Alistair." He gestured himself with his free hand as he said this.
I wondered if he thought of himself as a bland meal in comparison to a feast. In my head it was the other way around; he was a feast, all right. To me, if no one else.
"Exactly," I replied, refusing to think any further about the sound of my voice. "Will you wait for me to explain what I mean?" I insisted, gripping his wrist a little tighter.
He glanced down at his hand as though it wasn't his. He nodded. "You have me curious," he explained unnecessarily.
I smiled, releasing his hand. It hurt to do. "When this. . .whole adventure started," I began, "I had lost everything — except myself and Deni," I corrected. Deni, my Mabari warhound. My brother in more ways than one. "From then, everything has been spinning out of control. I can barely keep up — by the time I've adjusted to one change, another has risen before me.
"First the loss of my parents and home, and before I'd had a spare second to grieve, I was in Ostagar, undergoing training to be a Grey Warden. The Blight was before me and I'd only barely begun to accept what was behind me. Then I survived the Joining, losing my new companions, only to survive the battle and learn I was one of very few. Alistair, from the moment I woke and found you there, you became the most solid part of my life.
"Now we keep facing death and Darkspawn, a civil war and the Blight, and against all odds — against what I thought to be true, that the world will never stop shifting underneath me — you're still here. It seems so impossible, but undeniable all the same." I took a breath, glancing away for a second. Then I smiled at him.
"You're the one thing I can cling to, the one still part of my world while the rest of it twists and spins and grinds together. How could I not need you? I would be insane by now without you."
His expression confused me now, partially because it kept shifting. Self-confidence, skepticism, pride, fear, joy, disbelief; there seemed to be no rhyme or reason to the pattern.
Then he opened his mouth, shut it, and laughed at himself.
"What?" I asked, wondering what joke he'd made.
"I was just thinking," he explained, "that you would have had Morrigan if not I. But your reasoning would still apply there — you would be insane by now."
I smiled, though the joke hurt a little. I didn't like it when he picked on Morrigan, even if the both of them did so regardless of my wishes. Relax, I told myself, Morrigan starts a lot of them.
"Perhaps," I allowed. "But I don't deal in what ifs. You're here," I stepped closer to him, "and that's all I care about right now." My face warmed as I said this; was I blushing? It would be appropriate, if out of place for me.
He took a deep breath, watching me carefully. I didn't understand the pained look that crossed his face.
"What?" I was startled. Why would he look at me like that?
He glanced away, eyes on the fire. "This is wrong," he sighed. "Grey Wardens shouldn't love."
I bristled. What, because I was a Grey Warden, I couldn't love? Or was it that I couldn't love another Grey Warden? And why should he follow those rules, anyway? We're alone, together, and he must feel something for me, too. What did it matter, should we be in love? Wasn't that a good thing?
I set my jaw and answered brutally, "Grey Wardens shouldn't love, or Grey Wardens shouldn't love each other?"
He looked shocked then, whether at my words or tone, I didn't know.
"I love you," I told him. "I'm not ashamed of it — Alistair?" I broke off.
He had staggered a step back, as though my words were a physical blow. I couldn't understand it – what was the problem here? Why did he look that way? What had started as a wonderful night (after all the worry about nightmares, of course) had turned to something more. . .violent. And I couldn't see any way of fixing it.
"You — what?" he asked, shocked.
I blinked rapidly. "What's wrong with that? What could possibly be wrong with that, Alistair?"
"It's not. . .wrong," he tried, clearly having difficulty. "I just. . .you surprised me." He glanced away.
I narrowed my eyes, then stepped closer, ignoring his attempt to back up again. I caught his hands, pressing his right hand to my chest — at my heart.
For a moment he froze, staring. I could see what this maneuver was doing to him, where it was leading his thoughts to. I ignored that, too.
"Do you feel it?" I asked, and his eyes snapped up to mine, half in question, half in stun. "My heart," I clarified. "I can."
He blinked, surprise coloring his expression again. Then he said, "A little. It's very strong." I could see that this wasn't what he wanted to comment on.
"That's just it," I breathed. "My heart's just a regular beating organ most of the time. But when I'm with you, it gets stronger. Alistair, I'm never more alive than when I'm with you. The rest of the time, I daresay I'm half-dead. Just by being around, you're keeping me alive, and healthier than I've ever been. Do you understand it now, just how much I need you?"
I begged him with my eyes to understand. It hurt a little to think of him leaving me, for whatever reason. I knew I was clinging to him obsessively, but I couldn't stop it, and neither did I really want to. He didn't reply.
So I said, "There's no way around it. And there's no other way for me to say it. You own me. I'm yours, every last little piece."
He inhaled, a distinct sound. I'd stunned him again. Well, as long as I was on a roll. . .
"Stay with me tonight," I half-asked, half-begged. "I don't care what we do. I just don't want to be apart from you. Never again," I added, mostly to myself.
Whatever I'd said, something had gotten to him. He took the step that brought us chest-to-chest again, taking his hand from my chest so he could wrap both arms around me, and kissed me. It was more hesitant than the others, and I understood this: he was being careful. Always so careful with me. He was going to have a lot of free time when he didn't have to be careful with me anymore.
I wasn't quite so merciful, returning the pressure of his lips with more passion. This was strategy employed; I wanted him to know what I wanted, that I was ready whenever he liked. After a moment, he shuddered, and I considered the message delivered.
I wasn't prepared for his response.
He lifted me off my feet, and I wrapped myself around him, half-stunned. That was a bold move. Despite all my thoughts, all the confidence I had, I was caught breathless. Nervous. My heart was hammering and my breath was shaky — once I'd started breathing again. That was new.
I'd never had a lover who made me respond this way before. I declared it just another thing Alistair could do to me, right between laughing in the midst of misery and forgetting blood rights and vendettas. My reactions to him were making less sense with every new thing he did; oddly, I found myself liking it, despite not knowing what would happen next.
Like how I stopped breathing again when he broke the kiss, moving to suck on my neck. Tendrils of pleasure branched out from that spot, trailing all the way through me, leaving nothing unshaken. I found myself thinking that if he unleashed any more passion on me, I'd catch on fire.
My lungs started to ache, so I made a concentrated effort to breathe. My first exhale was mixed in with a moan. I bit my lip when I recognized the sound; what was wrong with me? I wasn't the type of girl to moan.
Or catch my breath for every little thing he did, or start shaking when so little had actually happened, or find myself unable to think, or be rendered unable to react. I was stronger than that. I'd overwhelmed my previous lovers —
And with a jolt, I realized that I couldn't remember them anymore. The faces were gone.
I came back to myself when I felt Alistair's hands untucking my shirt, then trailing up and down my ribs. I gave a strangled kind of gasp, surprised at how that small move excited my already-thundering heart.
"You'd better be going somewhere with this," I breathed. My voice could get no louder.
"I wasn't thinking any further than the bed," he answered, sending shivers down my back with his breath on my neck. He nipped.
I gave a pleasured sound that was more of a squeak than a moan, blushing furiously at what he was so easily doing to me. I wished I could make him feel so weak, so incapable of controlling himself —
That was when I noticed how he was trembling, in particular his hands. My breath caught mid-inhale, and then I laughed once. He was nervous too, of course. I should have known. In all likelihood, he was fumbling his way through what he thought I would like.
That knowledge gave me a sliver of self-control, and I acted on it. Twining my fingers in his short hair, I pulled his face back to kiss him more thoroughly, tasting the inside of his mouth, his tongue, trailing my tongue across his lips when we parted to breathe.
He shuddered again; my body answered with a delicious shiver.
I couldn't think straight anymore, but I could react now. I unwrapped my legs from him, getting back on my feet. I pulled him with me as I backed to the bed, stripping off my shirt as I went.
He stumbled, catching himself on a bed post. "This is really happening," he said in surprise, letting his eyes trail down the newly-exposed flesh.
"I fervently hope so," I replied, scrambling backwards onto the bed, pulling him with me by his shirtfront in one hand, letting my bun loose in the other. I had the shirt off him in another second, and then he was atop me. I couldn't tell whose move it was to lay back like this, but neither did I particularly care. The passion of the moment was spiraling out of control, beyond any hope of an ending. I preferred it that way.
My words from before flitted back to my mind, and I lingered over the two individual words that meant so little apart, but together said more than a thousand stronger words.
It was more true than before — now that he was intent on taking me. I moaned a lot that night, no longer embarrassed by the sounds. And it was incredible. He was so strong; it used to make me shiver in delight, imagining how tight he might be able to hold me. It was different, imagination versus reality. I was certain I would have a few bruises in the aftermath, though it hardly bothered me. If anything, it was a symbol I readily accepted: that his need was as strong as mine, the need to be close.
He was asleep before I was, having done the brunt of the work. I stayed awake until dawn peeked through the horizon, when the servants began going about morning chores, quiet but still audible to any who was awake. I was watching him, my face half-buried in the pillow, hair spilled about my back as I laid on my stomach. He looked so content — and tired.
I couldn't blame him for that. All this time, ever since Ostagar, we hadn't really had a real night's rest. Between nightmares about the Archdemon, constant traveling, endless battle and everlasting stress, none of us had had a real break. I was glad that somehow, unintentionally, I'd given him a reprieve. He deserved a good night's sleep.