For Cherith in the Dragon Age Ficathon over on LJ. Prompt was "I'm not too specific, something with Alistair. Female Aeducan, Cousland or Surana bonus points." Hope this is okay. I just really like the idea of the Dwarven Wardens may be suffering from agoraphobia when they first leave Orzammar.
She was not used to being afraid.
She was Aeducan. She had been taught from childhood to be as strong and obdurate as the Stone itself; to be unfailing in her duty, unyielding in matters of her own honour, and that of her House.
Truly, what had she to fear, before? She was the Princess of Orzammar, the cherished only daughter of a beloved king, a respected warrior, loved by the Assembly and the people alike.
Even the Darkspawn never frightened her, before. The Darkspawn were not an unknown horror to the dwarves, but a daily danger to be fought and overcome. She had overcome them many times, with her trusted Second at her side.
That all changed when she left the safe, familiar caverns of Orzammar. She hadn't been afraid when she found her brother's body. She had been far too numb with shock and anger. She had felt no fear after she had been abandoned in the Deep Roads (or at least, her fear had not been for herself); she had been utterly determined to find the Grey Warden. To survive. To make Bhelen pay.
The fear came later.
When they left the Deep Roads (through a road that didn't lead through the city; she'd be forever grateful to Duncan for that small mercy) it hadn't been so bad. It was a dark, overcast night and so not that much different from being underground, aside from the cold and the utterly foreign sensation of the air moving against her skin and hair. She'd dealt with that, though. Just.
But when the sun rose it felt like a thousand needles stabbing her through the eyes, so painful it made her eyes water. Then, when the pain faded enough for her to look around at her new surroundings, she had been horrified. The surface was so vast, so endless, she couldn't see the end of it. There were no other people within a day's travel, leaving her isolated with a group of tall, grim-faced strangers.
For someone who had inhabited a comfortably enclosed city for her whole life, the change was jarring, to say the least.
It got easier when she entered the Wilds. It was a little foggy, so she couldn't see as far in all directions. And leading a company against Darkspawn was something she was used to after all, a comforting familiarity in the strange new lands she found herself in.
By the time they were on the road to Redcliffe, she'd got used to the surface, more or less. She'd got used to the endless horizon, the ever-changing landscape, the birdsong, the sun and rain and wind and cold (she'd never been cold in her life before, she decided that she really didn't like it at all). But she couldn't get used to the sky. She couldn't get used to the feeling of all that space above her head. She longed for the feeling of honest stone surrounding her once more.
She'd heard stories of dwarves looking at the sky for too long, getting dizzy, and somehow falling into it, never to return. While the more rational side of her knew that those were just stories for children and drunks, part of her can't help feeling it must be true. She got dizzy every time she looked at it, after all. What if there was a reason dwarves were meant to live underground?
She couldn't understand how something could be so big and empty and endless and bright. Every time she glanced at it, it made her feel sick and panicky, made her heart start pounding in a way battle never did. It hurt her eyes to try and take it in so she dealt with it by not looking up at it. It's not like there were any flying Darkspawn, after all. She didn't need to look up.
They'd been attacked on the road that evening, the sense of wrongness shrieking along her newly developed senses warning her just in time. By now, she and Alistair were fighting together as if they always had, his defensive sword and shield attacks complementing her battle-axe swings perfectly. That was something else that was comfortingly familiar, fighting alongside a Second that she could trust implicitly at her back.
"It's strange, isn't it?" her fellow Grey Warden mused once they'd cleaned up and made camp, poking at a log in their pile of firewood absently with his booted toes.
"What is?" she asked, concerned. Alistair had been acting strangely the closer they got to Redcliffe, as if he was worrying about something. She'd caught him on the verge of telling her something a few times, but he'd always backed out.
She figured he'd tell her when he was ready. Besides, she of all people understood that homecomings weren't always a good thing. She was dreading returning to Orzammar. She didn't know what he'd be facing in Redcliffe.
"The stars," Alistair continued, musing aloud to himself. "They're still there, the same as ever, untouched by the Blight and everything that's going on down here. It just feels like… everything should be different. Even the sky."
She shrugged non-committedly, determinedly not looking up. The glimpses of an endless, glittering ceiling from the corner of her eyes was more than enough for her to be dealing with.
"Still," he said, "it's nice to see that there's something untouched by the Blight. Don't you think?"
"I suppose so," she replied, staring into the fire.
"You're not looking," Alistair observed after a moment. "You never look up." He mulled this over for a while before coming to his conclusion. "You're scared of the sky!" Alistair exclaimed, in a tone of childlike discovery. "I didn't think you were scared of anything!"
"Everyone's cared of something," she returned grumpily, not liking her weakness to be discovered. "I always thought you were scared of everything."
"Ouch," Alistair gasped, clutching at his chest. "Another wound to my pride. At this rate, I don't think it'll ever recover."
She didn't reply to his teasing comment, still not happy that he'd figured out her phobia. After a while of her glowering silence, he chuckled nervously.
"You're a strange little thing, you know."
"Hey!" she protested, elbowing him sharply in the ribs, earning a pained grunt, much to her satisfaction. "Serves you right for taking off your armour."
"And what exactly did I do to earn your wrath this time?" he asked, exaggeratedly rubbing at his side.
"You called me little!" She saw Alistair's mouth work, but fortunately (for him) he swallowed whatever joke he had thought of and chose not to challenge her words. She'd never had to be sensitive about her height before, but then, she'd never been in a situation where the people who looked down on her could literally look down on her. It was just a little tiresome (and hurt her neck when she had to look back up).
"I just meant," Alistair continued, the air of wounded injury fading into genuine interest. "You face Darkspawn and ogres without turning a hair, but you're afraid of the sky? It just seems strange to me."
"I'm used to Darkspawn," she explained. "I'm just not used to that." She waved her hand vaguely above her head. "It's just so high. It makes me dizzy. And it's so empty."
Alistair was uncharacteristically quiet as he absorbed that statement. Then, he quietly said, "It's not empty."
"What do you mean?" she asked, speaking in the same hushed tone as him, without quite knowing why.
"The sky. Especially at night. It's full of stories," he explained, without really explaining anything, before huffing air out of his mouth. "Please, look up, just for a second."
She glared at him, but found herself quite unable to resist his pleading tone.
She felt that usual dizzying sensation as she glanced up, the far-off stars swimming in her vision. It took her a moment to realise that Alistair had taken her hand and was squeezing it reassuringly.
"See those stars there," Alistair began. "Those three in a straight line, and the seven crooked stars crossing them."
It took her a while to see what he meant, the idea of finding shapes in stars was an unfamiliar one to her, but she nodded shakily after a moment. "Yes, I see it."
"We call that Andraste's Sword. It's said that when Andraste returned to the Maker's side, she threw away her sword and it remained in the sky to guide us. The brightest star, the one at the tip, always points to the north."
She didn't really know much about Andraste, despite Leliana's best efforts, but she had to admit it was a nice story. "It doesn't look much like a sword," she replied critically, and Alistair laughed.
"Well, I didn't draw it!" She smiled at that and listened as he pointed out more shapes in the sky, telling her stories of heroes and creatures that were unknown to her.
After a while, she realised that she was looking at the sky without fear. That terrifying, empty, unknown space was no longer empty or unknown. She was looking up at the sky and she hadn't fallen.
She listened intently as he pointed out another group of stars that he claimed to be a hero named Dane (she still couldn't really see it).
"What happened next?" she asked, as he paused at a particularly exciting point in the story.
"I, uh, actually can't remember," he told her, slightly shame-faced. "You'll have to ask Leliana later."
She smiled. "I will." She glanced up at the sky again. It was easier every time. "Thank you, Alistair."
He ducked his head. It was hard to tell in the inconsistent firelight, but she was pretty sure he was blushing.
"I… I just hadn't thought of how strange it had to be for you up here. It must be very different from Orzammar."
"Yes," she sighed, her thoughts turning once again to her exile. Perhaps sensing this, he squeezed her hand again, steady and reassuring.
There was a pause while the humour faded away and it all came back to them, their darkness; the Darkspawn, the Blight, the archdemon, the treaties, Loghain. She'd forgotten all of her fears, personal or otherwise, in the unexpected beauty of the night sky and in Alistair's stories.
Then, Alistair cleared his throat and broke the tense silence with his usual brand of humour. "See that cluster of stars over there?" he asked her, pointing. "The ones in the sort of wobbly circle?"
"Yes," she answered eagerly, wanting to get back some of the peace they had found before.
"I don't know their real name, but I always think they look like a cheese wheel with a big slice cut out of it…"
His voice trailed off into a wishful sigh, and she laughed for the first time since Trian and Gorim and the Deep Roads and Ostagar. She laughed more freely than she could ever remember, and his protests that he was being serious only made it worse.
Eventually her laughter made him laugh too, and when she caught his eyes, deep and dark in the firelight, she felt it. The thing she had been dreading.
A lurching sensation, a tangible one of falling. Her laughter faded and she stared at him in shock. She was very aware of the fact they were still holding hands and pulled hers away.
"What's wrong?" he asked, not understanding her sudden change in mood. "Do I have something on my face?" He wiped half-heartedly at his mouth even after she shook her head.
"No," she answered shakily. "Nothing like that." She rose to go to her tent, smothering the ridiculous urge to smooth out her chain mail as if it was a fine silk dress. She hadn't worn fine silk dresses even when she had been a princess. "Goodnight, Alistair. And… thank-you. Really."
"It was my pleasure, my lady," he replied, still looking puzzled, but pleased at her genuine words.
She escaped to her tent as fast as she decently could, heart pounding at her unexpected discovery. It turned out she was falling, after all. Just not how or where she had feared.
She couldn't help feeling that this type of falling was almost worse. Far more dangerous. After all, it wasn't as if she didn't already have a thousand other things to worry about. Plus, she'd had feelings for a Second before. It had proved to be not only impossible, but painful, too.
But then again, she was no longer a princess. They were both the same caste, both Grey Wardens. If they both wanted it… well.
Perhaps falling wasn't the terrible thing she always thought, after all.
A/N: I tried to stay away from angst, but didn't quite manage. Oh well, at least no one died in it.
Reviews would be welcome!