Disclaimer: 'Dragon Age' is property of EA Games. . .and possibly other things. I am not profiting from this fanfiction.

Note: My character was Melanie Cousland, a rogue, who fell in love with and married Alistair when he became king. She has light blue eyes and red hair in the bun style. Set roughly a year after the end of the game. Melanie's POV.


I was lounging on the bed, watching him whirl around the room, much like a tornado. My husband, the king of Ferelden, who could take down any Darkspawn, whom I've seen climb atop dragons to slay them, was scared spitless. I couldn't help but grin, watching him.

"You're not dizzy yet?" I teased as he made another pass.

Alistair scowled. "I hate Balls," he muttered.

It only served to prove his words true that he hadn't made a joke of it. I felt a moment of sympathy for him; after all, he was raised as no more than a bastard child, sleeping with hounds. Until he was sent to the Chantry, of course. I, on the other, was born and raised a noble. I knew what I was doing with the fancy things. I knew how to set up a Ball, how to be a hostess, what to serve, how to act, what to say, what to do, how to react to any given situation.

That was one reason why he'd managed to stay afloat as king for so long: I took care of the things he hadn't a clue how to deal with. Balls were one of many tasks I took off his hands for him.

After another moment, I took a deep breath and sat up. The motion caught his attention -- not that I thought it wouldn't have. He was only halfway dressed, after all, while I hadn't bothered to get even that much done. For a moment his eyes were glued to me.

"I cast a spell on you!" I joked, spreading my hands at him.

He clutched his throat, gagged, and threw himself to the ground.

Loud, delighted laughs escaped my throat as I tossed my head back. What a clown he was. I loved the way his mind worked; all those jokes was heaven-sent in the worst of times, a riot in the best. I still remembered some of the best -- "Yes! Watch as I dazzle the Darkspawn with the deadly power of flower arrangements!"

When he didn't get up, I came over, then made to pretend I would eat him, starting with the neck. He was giggling quickly; I knew all of his ticklish places.

"Stop, stop!" he got out between laughs. I acquiesced, sitting up.

"It won't be so bad," I promised him.

He frowned, the good mood gone. "Had to bring it up again, didn't you?"

I sighed dramatically. "You're hopeless. What if I promised to find a way to make it fun?"

"A Ball?" he checked, raising a brow.

"Yes, you foolish man," I retorted, jabbing him in the ribs with my fingers. He convulsed reflexively. "Balls can be fun, you know. If you allow yourself to enjoy it."

"I much prefer being alone with you," he told me seriously. "No prying eyes, you know. I could do whatever I like and no one will be judging me." He smiled wistfully.

"You make it sound like I never judge you," I countered. His eyes widened in horror. I just laughed.

He sat up. "You know, you're very distracting in bare nudity. I'm having trouble thinking."

"Oh, must be a reprieve," I teased.

"Hey," he warned.

I grinned. "Alright, if it will help your mental facilities, I'll dress."

"Take your time," he offered as I stood, crossing over to my wardrobe.

I almost snorted. Wardrobe. It'd been so long since I had one, if you measured the few months fighting the Blight a long time. It felt longer than years, longer than decades. The difference between Alistair and I, again, was that I was returning to a lifestyle I was raised to know. He, on the other hand, never had anything larger than a chest for his belongings before. The two of us having separate wardrobes was a constant stream of humor for him.

And a little dread.

I didn't want to bother with anything extravagant (as most of the queen's wardrobe was meant to be) so I just shuffled into a shirt and breeches, leaving it at that. When I turned back around, he was frowning.

"Too quick?" I guessed.

"Well, I was enjoying myself, watching you dress," he shrugged. "Oh well. Suppose I'll just have to rely on fantasies for a while."

"I distinctly recall you saying 'this is better than any fantasy' just a while earlier, Highness."

He groaned. "Again with the highness!" He skewered me with a glare. "I thought we had a deal, majesty."

"No royal pet names in the bedroom, I remember, my king," I shot back.

"I liked that 'my' part. But the other half I could've gone without."

I crossed over to him again, offering him my hand, then pulled him up to his feet. "And here I thought you liked playing the king and the serving girl," I teased.

"Occasionally," he allowed, pulling me closer to kiss me. "But it should be the other way around, shouldn't it? With the way we were raised, I mean."

"Want to switch roles next time? I could order you around, be cruel, and you can beg for more." I quirked my bros in suggestion.

He chuckled. "Only if you make me lick your feet."

I screwed up my face as I laughed, disturbed by the idea. "Ew!" I complained. "Now stop distracting me. I've got work to do." I started to walk away, only to be yanked back.

Not one to back down easily, I spun out of his grasp, and then we were twisting around in a mock wrestling match. He won, of course; I was nimble, but nowhere near as strong as he. He had me pinned on my back on the floor with hardly any effort.

And with a wide cat grin, too.

"Distracting," I reminded him.

"You don't have to get to work right now," he suggested. "The Ball thing can wait."

"You've postponed it three times already," I laughed. "Teyrns are starting to get antsy."

"Whatever. Let them suffer." He started running his mouth along the length of my neck and it was very, very hard to focus.

I sighed, half in pleasure. "Alistair," I warned, "eventually you have to put away your toys and be a big boy."

In response, he wrapped his arms tightly around me. "No," he protested. "I'm not done playing yet."

The whine in his voice had me laughing again. "Wynne's going to chew you out," I warned.

He heaved a sigh then, sending shivers down my spine. "Alright, alright," he moaned, sitting up. "Happy now that you've played the Wynne Card?"

"Elated," I said without enthusiasm. My favorite place in the world to be was the same as his: here, alone, just the two of us. It didn't matter so much to me what we were doing, as long as we were together.

This time he stood, hauling me up. "So what are you going to do, to make the Ball more fun? Release the hounds after bathing everyone in blood and starving the dogs for weeks?"

"Not a bad idea," I allowed. "I'll put it on the list. Right next to turning everything into a circus."

"I like that one," he said with too much zest.

I shook my head, grinning again. "Go see to what Wynne and Eamon have lined up for you this morning," I suggested. "I'll find a way to make the Ball fun, I promise."

He sighed again. "Right. King stuff." He grimaced, but sought out a shirt and pair of boots to finish his ensemble. It looked odd, even after a year of nothing but calm waters, to see him out of armor. He wasn't always, of course; we were still Grey Wardens, and he heeded their call when the need arose.

Although he refused to let me endanger myself anymore, so I was stuck here while he was off fighting waves of Darkspawn whenever they showed up.

As he made to step out of my range, I reached out quickly to pinch his rear.

He jerked and spun, eying me. Then he said, "I'm considering that a promise."

I winked.

He grinned. "I'll see you again as soon as I can, Melanie."

"Likewise, Alistair," I cooed. I knew he loved that tone I used every so often.

He shivered, meeting my expectations. Then he fumbled for a second, probably looking for an excuse to stay.

"Go on already," I urged, giving him a shove. "You can't take care of the country locked in a room with me."

He shook his head. "I could damn well try," he countered.

"You're distracting me," I said again, turning my back to cross over to a desk. I sat, crossing my legs, and glanced back only when I heard the door shut. I counted to thirty in my head, and sure enough, my maidservant Elisa entered, right on time.

She carried a tray with breakfast, knowing I liked to eat up here. She set it next to me with morning greetings, as she did every morning. When she started to bow out, however, I stopped her.

"Yes, majesty?" she asked, confused.

"I want you to help me," I said. "With two things, actually. I haven't been able to get around to brushing my hair today, and I have a lot of planning to do, so that's one of them."

"What's the other?" she asked, picking up a brush and starting to run it through my long red waves.

"Planning," I finished simply. "How you ever attended a Ball before, Elisa?"

"No, milady. Or, not as a guest."

"But you've been in the Ballroom, seen the guests. . ?"

"Yes. What is it you wish of me?"

"So you've made assessments, correct?"

"About what, milady? I don't understand."

"The guests. When they seemed happiest." I pulled out a quill and parchment as I said this. "What kinds of Balls let the guests have the most fun? Which ones did they enjoy? Which ones would they want to visit again?"

She paused, seeming to sense that my questions were half-rhetorical. Then she said, "In my experience. . .and there isn't much of it, milady -- but it always seemed as though masquerades were the most fun. For them," she added, as if unsure what I would think.

I started writing notes on the page, thinking. "You've given me a lot to consider," I told her. "Thank you, Elisa."

She paused again, unused to receiving thanks -- even though I'd been treating her well since the first day. Then she said, "You are most welcome, majesty."

I turned a thought over in my mind for a while as she worked through the knots and tangles in my hair.

"How would you like to attend a masquerade?" I asked suddenly.

The brushed clattered to the floor and she hurried through apologies as she retrieved it. I caught her arm as she was about to get to work again.

"Tell me honestly," I urged.

Her jaw worked for a moment. "I. . .I think I would like that, milady. Why do you ask. . .?"

"Because I have the most devious ideas for making a fun masquerade of this upcoming Ball," I explained, "but to do it, I'll need a lot of servants to help. Would you be willing to do so?"

She hesitated. "What. . .kind of help?"

"You'll need to dress up in costume, masked of course, and play along. I promise you'll enjoy yourself if you agree."

Seconds ticked by as she considered my words, then nodded. "Yes, milady. I would very much like to attend. . .if you'll allow me to." She lowered her eyes.

"Then you're invited," I smiled. "Now, nothing is set in stone yet, but you can feel free to spread the word. We'll still need servants to set everything up and keep refreshments flowing, but I would like anyone who wants to attend to do so. What other chores do you have for today?" I asked.

"Very little. Other than attending this room, I must help the gardeners by throwing out weeds, and then help with the laundry."

"Get to it. Afterwards, take a bath. I want you to get into the habit of being clean, and spread the word to anyone else who wished to attend the masquerade as well. Bathe as often as you have free time to do so. It will help with the act," I added slyly.

She seemed to get the idea, ducking her head. "Of course, milady. Does this mean you don't require my help with your hair?"

"I'll finish it. With haste," I urged when she hesitated.

She nodded. "Majesty," she bowed, then went about the room as she did every morning.

I turned back to the paper and began writing furiously. In order for this to work, a lot of invitations were going to be resent, along with apologies for the sudden change. As always, I added invitations to all of the friends I'd made during the Blight: Leliana, somewhere in Orlais; Zevran, who'd disappeared but I assumed was in Antiva; Oghren, likely living with Felsi near Lake Calenhad; Sten, who I never expected to show up, but I wanted him to know that I hadn't forgotten him; and Morrigan. . .who couldn't be reached, and certainly wouldn't reply if she had been.

Thinking of Morrigan always hurt a little. Though she was a viper in true form, I was skilled at reading her, and I knew how much she cared for me in the end. She called me sister once, and I'd never stopped thinking of her as such. I hoped she was alright -- it was the limit of what I could do anymore, concerning her.

There was a shriek from the hall, and the sound of clawed feet scraping at the floor in a panic. I dashed to the door, opening it wide in time for Deni to come darting through, between my legs. Two angry elven servant boys were chasing him, one brandishing a butcher's knife.

When they caught my gaze, then backed down, and the boy with the blade quickly hid it behind his back.

"Majesty; milady," they mumbled.

"What did Deni do this time?" I asked.

"In the larder again. Miss Rosemary wanted him cut to bits this time."

"You can tell Miss Rosemary that if she threatens my dog again, she will be out in the street."

"Yes, milady."

"And if either of you chase after him again with a knife, you will receive worse. I want you both to keep in mind that Deni is more than Mabari; he helped us during the last Blight. He took down his share of Darkspawn too."

"Y-yes, milady."

"And you can also tell Miss Rosemary not to fret. I'll try to get him to understand, and if not, we can always get more food to fill the larder."

"Yes, milady."

"You can go now."

Then turned stiffly, expecting worse than I was giving them. I shut the door and rounded on Deni, folding my arms.

He shrank back, knowing that look well.

"No more larder," I snapped.

He whined and dropped low on his haunches.

"Sweet-talking won't work on me, so don't bother with it. The next time you're in that larder, I'm putting you out for the night. I won't pamper a dog who doesn't obey."

He rolled onto his back, whining pitifully.

"Exactly. I love you, but that doesn't mean I'll give you a free ride. You don't see anyone else digging through the larder at their discretion, do you?"

Another whine.

"No, you don't. You want to live her in the palace with us, you obey. I could always send you back to Highever with Fergus."

A louder whine, more of a whimper. He flipped over and licked at my leg, though it was covered.

"Stop that!" I snapped, and he flinched. "No, I don't want you to be sent away, either. But you're taking away my choices. Do you understand that?"

He gave a very intelligent nod.

"Good. Now back to the hound enclosure with you. I'll try to free up time to play with you later." I opened the door for him and he slunk away, dragging his paws.

I sighed, feeling more weary. Distractions, always with the distractions.

Alistair was beyond amused when he learned all of my devious plans later that night. He was doubled over, laughing hysterically. I allowed myself to smile, waiting for him to compose himself. When at last the laughter died down, I said, "That behavior is hardly befitting of a king."

"You're a genius," he replied, ignoring the jab. He yanked me to him, crushing me gently in a hug. "Genius!"

I grinned. "Only because I've been taking on some of your traits. Next thing you know, I'll be in the larder every night."

He groaned. "Bringing that up again, are you?"

"It was a funny story."

"I never should have told you."

"I don't know, the idea of you raiding the larder is quite hilarious. Gravy all over your mouth and everything."

"Never should have told you," he repeated, shaking his head. "But are you sure this masquerade is going to work?"

"Everything works with enough willing participants," I answered smartly.

"I have to wonder, though. . ." He eyed me suspiciously. "You didn't change the plans like this just to give me a way to hide, did you?"

"It's part of it, I'll admit." I smiled. "But mostly it'll just be fun."

"Of that, I have no doubt."

The plan was to invite the teyrns, arls, and nobles from Denerim, and the teyrns and arls from the rest of Ferelden. The plan also included allowing the same number of servants to attend as the noble guests. The point of this was to engage in a guessing game. Everyone could play whatever role they wished, acting as desired or choosing not to entirely. At the end, everyone could begin hazarding guesses at who was who.

Once a person guessed you to be someone, you took off your mask and revealed yourself. Anyone who guessed the king and queen correctly would be given a special prize -- which I was still working on. Something good would come to me, eventually.

In this way, Alistair wouldn't actually have to be king until he was revealed as such. Everyone who arrived would do so from the front gates, including the two of us and the babble of servants dressed as nobles. No one would be announced, other than a butler calling out how many had arrived. No guest list would be given either, adding to anonymity.

Once you'd been called out, whether correctly or not, you had to remove your mask. And everyone was given but one guess, which would end with everyone being guessed, should everything go as planned.

The only hard part was that together, Alistair and I were very recognizable. Everyone knew us, if not for our appearances, then for our devotion to each other. He doted on me like no one ever had, and it was slowly becoming as legendary as the Hero of Ferelden rumors that kept circulating around me.

The latest one was that I'd defeated the dragon single-handedly without taking any damage or endangering any of my party members. I could have laughed; that version had been furthest from the truth.

But about the masquerade, the two of us were going to have to keep apart for anonymity's sake, and I would try not to cheat by stealing glances at him. This would probably be easier if we didn't know which costume the other would wear, but I couldn't see that happening.

"The invitations?" he prompted.

I shook myself awake. "I gave the copies over to Helen. They should be sent out by noon tomorrow."

He considered this, then sighed dramatically. "Too late to cancel the whole thing now. I don't suppose I could dress up as a hound and hope no one notices?"

"You'd make a better jackass," I laughed. "Or you could always wear a dress. I'm still waiting to see that."

"Keep waiting," he answered icily. The warning was offset by his smirk. "I'm a king now. I would never live it down if I wore a dress."

"Less so if you dressed as a hound," I pointed out.

"I wouldn't have to wear furs and walk on all fours," he rolled his eyes. "I would simply have to add accents of a houndlike nature to my costume."

"Like what, a tail and ears and whiskers?"

"It's a thought."

I quirked a brow. "Why not dress as a halla? I hear those antlers are useful in a fight."

He broke up laughing again, tossing his head back. I could tell he was envisioning it, and found the mental picture much more amusing than I had.

"So," he said as he regained control, "what's the date?"

"Twenty-four days from now." I smirked. "That's not too soon is it?"

He put on a look of horror. "You mean it's actually going to happen?" He groaned. "Take me back to the Blight! Someone, anyone, please!"

I laughed.

The grand ballroom was huge, and, today, filled. A massive staircase led downwards into the room, filling half of the southern wall, right in the middle. Ten people could walk side-by-side up or down it. The room was three times as long as it was wide, and I'd sectioned off areas for refreshments and sitting, leaving more than half the room open for dancing. On a raised platform, an orchestra was warming up, its members talking quietly to one another as the room slowly filled.

Fifty-seven nobles from across Ferelden had accepted the invitations, some with a great deal of zest. That meant I called out sixty-four willing servants to participate in the games, of which they'd all received the rules and specific orders. Most of the orders were simple: 'arrive' at seven-thirty, four-eighteen, six-ten, etc; pretend to be Arl Fonte, Teyrna Bernil -- or my personal favorite, Fergus Cousland.

I was delighted that he'd accepted, and couldn't help but want to play the hardest prank on him. Of course, I knew my brother, and he knew me. He'd be watching himself this entire night, and in all likelihood, he'd find me straightaway.

I had arrived with some of the first appearances: five men and two women I recognized from my earlier days as Lady Cousland. I was dressed in a gold, shimmering dress that was gorgeous -- but, carefully, not the grandest thing that could be made. An ivory half-mask covered my face from hairline to nose, lined with red glitter at the edges and around the eyes, a dozen ribbons holding it in place by winding through my red tresses, curled and twisted in falling cascades down my back.

Long hair befitting a Lady -- and to think, Zevran had once told me that the long hair would get in the way. In actuality, it did, occasionally. But if I hadn't kept my hair long, I would be wearing a wig now. Not a bad idea, given the entire masquerade, of course. However, some part of me remained feminine, and I wanted it to stay that way.

I talked with those first nobles for a long while, and we referred to one another as lady and ser. Eventually I was asked to dance. It had been some time since I'd participated in dance, but those lessons weren't easily forgotten. Besides which, I'd been practicing, as had Alistair. He was a thousand times more clumsy about it -- which I'm fairly certain was an act in hopes of getting out of it -- but he would manage all right. And no one would suspect the king of being a clumsy dancer; no one would guess him correctly if he dropped his dance partner.

So I swept out on the dance floor with Teyrn Wiseland, trying to regulate the grace I went with. Nothing too extravagant, I told myself. Falter when he pulls an experienced move. Cover your face with your fan, pretend to be embarrassed. Apologize for your lack of knowledge. Bow out, excusing yourself to a refreshment table.

And then, for the next group who entered (seven men, eight women), do the exact opposite. I lied expertly, calling myself Lady Wiseland. No one believed me, I could tell, but neither had I expected them to. One of the ladies winked at me, and when she did, I recognized her as Lady Gene, a friend I'd had at Highever as a child. We cautioned each other with our eyes.

Not that she would call me out as queen -- very few people knew I'd been Lady Cousland before becoming Queen Melanie. I preferred to keep it that way. I was already infamous enough as the Hero of Ferelden.

Time swept on, and I knew exactly when Alistair entered, about an hour after I had. I watched him descend the stairs, anonymous and dashing, and felt a grin steal over my face before I could control my expression. His mask was crooked-cut, covering the top half of his face as well as a good portion of the left side, slashed down the middle to be a contrast of white and black. His costume matched in that it was mostly white, with a good deal of black accents, creating a balance. He held himself high and straight -- though not quite the same way he had to as king.

"Do you recognize him?" I asked the lady next to me. "In the black and white."

She flushed. "No, I don't. My, he's dashing. I wonder who. . ? I heard Arl Hammond's son was the handsomest thing you'll see. Do you suppose. . ?" She trailed off, giving me a querying look.

"I don't know. But I'm going to find a way to dance with him." I exchanged excited glances with her.

I ran into Alistair much later and got my determined dance, and we chatted like strangers seeing each other for the first time. I asked him if he was Arl Hammond's son, then explained how that idea got planted in my head. The handsomest thing you'll see. He blushed.

Then we parted ways, and I met again with that lady from before. She asked me how the dance went.

"He's amazing," I informed her, trying to make my expression pleased and excited at the same time; it wasn't difficult. "I don't think he's Hammond's son, though. We're going to have to keep digging."

She looked so eager, she could have ran straight up to him. "I can't wait until I get to dance with him," she sighed dramatically.

"You'll never forget it," I promised her. For more than one reason, I added silently. Then my attention was called from elsewhere, and I recognized one of the servants of the palace: Kelvin. He asked for a dance with a flair I was certain had many a lady fooled.

I could see he recognized me, too. And, beneath the surface, he was worried that he'd pushed his luck. I accepted.

After a few hours, everyone had arrived. The room was filled with swaying bodies, dancing to the orchestra. The tables were occupied, with only a few spare chairs open. I noticed that many of the servants were giving themselves away by being taken in by the food and not requiring a chair to sit in, but there was nothing I could do about it.

Alistair and I met again in a group of a dozen, talking amongst ourselves, complementing the king and queen's planning. I shared a sly look with my husband, both of us knowing he'd done nothing at all to benefit the masquerade. If anything, he'd purposefully removed himself from everything, leaving it all to me. I had the distinct feeling, as the ten who knew nothing continued talking in wondering voices, that he and I were going to be laughing a lot later.

At the stroke of midnight, Eamon and Wynne -- who'd overseen the entire event -- called for attention. Neither of them were in costume beyond dressing nicely for the occasion.

"It is time," Eamon began, "for the guessing to begin."

"One at a time," Wynne reminded them. "Once your identity has been guessed, whether correct or not, you must remove your mask and reveal yourself."

"Everyone may guess once," Eamon pressed, "so use your vote wisely. Anyone who guesses the queen or king correctly will be given a special gift."

At once, the lady beside me lifted her arm for attention. "I believe I recognized Arl Jenson." She began weaving through the crowd, eyes on her. She paused before a man and curtsied. "Ser, I ask that you remove your mask."

With a blooming smile, he did so. "Alas, I am Desmond, a servant here in the palace." He bowed low.

Gasps went through the crowd. I bit back a laugh. Someone yelled out in indignation.

"Mistook a servant for me?" the voice demanded.

Immediately another man spoke up, laughing, "I recognize the true Arl Jenson!"

"And I recognize my son, Nicolas!"

Laughter split through the crowd, gaiety flowing between the cracks. It was becoming more fun for everyone involved, and now they were picking more carefully, trying to avoid guessing the servants -- but so many of them had been acting flawlessly, it was difficult. Even I couldn't pick them all, though neither was I trying.

Eventually I said, "I recognize Ser Patrick," and pointed him out. I was correct, though I knew it.

Lady Gene spoke up next, having reached me. "And I recognize you, Lady Cousland."

I smiled widely. "Not anymore," I allowed, sliding my mask to rest atop my head. Gasps went through the crowd as they recognized me, most of them having met me at least once while Alistair and I toured the country. "These days, I am known more as Queen Melanie."

She gasped, too. "Mel!" she breathed, taking my hands.

"Oh, Mel," I giggled. "That's not a name I've heard for a long time."

"I want to talk to you, in length," she pressed.

A man beside me tried to hush her, "Lady, do not make demands of our queen!"

I sent him a glare that he immediately obeyed. Then I turned a smile on Gene. "Stay late. We'll talk."

She blushed and hurried through a bow. "My. . .lady," she tried, uncomfortable.

I pulled her closer to whisper, "Don't worry about appearances. I'm still Mel inside."

She nodded, then backed away, smiling, her eyes alight with wonder.

The game continued. And eventually, Teyrn Werner guessed -- as many had before him -- King Alistair. The difference was that Werner was correct, and Alistair removed his mask. This time, cheering went through the crowd, and Werner was allowed to approach Eamon for his gift.

A set of golden bracers with the Theirin crest, in a case, were handed to him. He admired them for a moment, then had them sent to his carriage.

Near the end, when everyone had been guessed and the party was winding down, I came to the front to stand with Eamon and Wynne. I called the room to attention as they had, though my voice quieted the crowd much more quickly.

"Although I was not guessed as queen," I began, "my identity was guessed correctly. Would anyone here oppose my wish to grant the gift appropriate to Lady Gene?"

Gene was blushing, not one to be brought to the attention of a crowd. No one disagreed, and many were vocal in declaring I was right. I gestured Gene forward, then handed her a small jewelry box lined with gems. She didn't look like she knew what to do with it.

"Open it," I urged. "The real gift is inside."

She did so, and gasped. A thick, flat golden necklace winked at her in the candlelight, set with a glittering, round ruby the size of a thumbnail at the neck, and three much smaller sapphires on either side of it. It was worth a fortune altogether, and also set with the Theirin crest.

She looked up at me in wonder.

"I'll put it on you if you like," I offered.

She shook her head, mute, and closed the box.

The night continued on. By three in the morning, everyone had cleared out, except for the servants -- who were very tired and excused themselves to sleep -- Lady Gene, and Zevran. Surprise of surprises, he'd shown up.

Blending in as a servant, no less. I hadn't recognized him, so intent on the game I'd been playing.

Alistair wasn't exactly happy to see him, but neither did he act jealous anymore. They exchanged pleasantries and talked while I spent time with a nodding-off Gene. Between reminiscing with her and Zevran, when he'd approached me later, I quickly lost track of time. When dawn appeared, however, I gave separate rooms to the both of them and made them promise to meet me for lunch.

"How?" Alistair wondered aloud, as we settled into bed.

"How what?" I asked.

"About Zevran. I can't understand how he's so good at this sneaking stuff." He shook his head.

I rose a brow. "I invited him, remember?"

"No, I mean -- when we talked, I asked about that. He said he hadn't received an invitation. He heard the date and snuck in."

I turned that over in my head. "Does it matter? I trust him."

"Of course you do," he sighed.

"Not still jealous are you, my husband?" I teased, throwing myself over him.

His arms seized me. "No," he lied. I rose a brow and he gave. "A little. That's not the point. I know you trust him, but it's harder for me. He tried to kill you once."

"Us," I countered. "And then he chose to stay, or did you forget the ambush the Crows set up for us later? He fought with us, not against. And he helped us in the Blight. Do you need more proof?"

He was shaking his head. "Once a killer, always a killer. Once a traitor, always a traitor." I knew he was talking about Loghain there. "Once a trickster, always a trickster."

"Remind me never to ask you for a second chance."

He gave a laugh but saw my point. "New subject. Any thoughts on the masquerade?"

"You enjoyed yourself." I smiled.

"Yes, I did. I was right to pick you for a wife." He gave me a challenging look.

I rose to the occasion, pushing myself up on my hands. "Oh, you chose me, did you?"

"Yes," he said again, grinning. "I have to give myself credit for excellent taste."

The complement wasn't lost on me, but we were playing right now. "And here I thought I was clever all along, manipulating you like a puppeteer. Have you seen yourself dancing for me whenever I wish it?"

He chuckled. "Your bonds can't hold me, woman!" he declared, then flipped us over.

I was too worn out from the long day to go where he wanted to lead, so I dodged when he bent to kiss me. He drew back after meeting with pillow, giving it a confused look.

"When did your head turn soft and feathery?" he wondered.

I laughed. "That's just your magic working on me," I teased.

"Oh. Well, how do I fix it? You're not the same when you're not solid." He eyed the pillow pensively.

I snickered, trying in vain to hold onto some semblance of control. "You don't. I'm afraid I'm like this for the rest of my life." I sighed, relaxing into the bed.

He frowned. "This is going to make lovemaking that much more difficult."

I couldn't stop the hearty laughs that took over me then. I shoved at him until he rolled back over, draping myself across his chest as I often did. "Don't worry, I'm sure I can find a way to solidify myself on occasion."

"How's now for an occasion?" he hoped.

I pinched him; he jerked. "Too tired. Ask me in the morning."

"It is the morning."

"I mean after we wake up."

"We're awake."

"Go to sleep, Alistair," I laughed.

"Alright, alright. But I'm holding you to that promise."