A/N: This story has now undergone a total rewrite it to correct inconsistencies after two prequel stories sprang up from it; Shades of Grey and Time After Time, which can both be found on my profile. I'm in the process right now of getting all these chapters uploaded and posted... it might take me a day or two, so I apologize if you're reading and it suddenly shifts in the middle. A couple of additional scenes have been added, as well.
Also, this story was originally written before Awakenings (at least before I had played it), so it's now officially AU. Any references to the Awakenings cast were added in the rewrite.
Here Without You
"How is this to end?"
"As stories must when love is denied;
With tears—and a journey."
~ Shakespeare in Love
Being king made it hard to sleep.
Alistair had been exhausted for the past three days. But every night, as he retired to his rooms, a million concerns would flood his mind, driving away sleep until the early hours of the morning, when finally his brain refused to do anymore and mercifully stopped working. Yet, it would begin again with the dawn, drawing him from slumber with nagging reminders of all he had to do, whining that he had no business lounging around. For a few moments, he would argue with himself, until finally the prodding caused him to sit up with a sigh and throw the blankets back, resigned to face another day.
Being King also apparently made his own brain an enemy. A nagging, whining enemy.
The light was barely present on this morning, and the chill of the night still seeped from the stone walls of his chamber and created an atmosphere of gloom that the grey, overcast skies outside the window did nothing to dispel. It was fitting, he thought tiredly as he crawled out of bed and slipped into the shirt he had carelessly tossed aside the night before. The bright sun and white, fluffy clouds that had presided over his coronation were a mockery—this weather suited his mood far better.
Yawning, he stepped out onto the balcony and looked down at the enormous city that he, somehow, was expected to rule over. It wasn't even worth thinking about the lands beyond the city gates—no, that would only bring about a round of hysteria and, frankly, he was too tired to indulge in one. If he was going to be reduced to incoherent rambling, he at least wanted to be well rested to see it done properly.
The air was damp and smelled of rain. He leaned down and crossed his arms on the rail, breathing in the subtle, clean smell. It calmed him somewhat, and allowed him, for a few seconds, to forget his fear and rising bitterness—to remind himself that they had done what needed doing. The Blight had been stopped, and the nation united under a single ruler. He had good reason to be pleased with the outcome, this apparently happy ending paid for by their blood, sweat, and tears.
Maybe one day he would be.
He opened his eyes slowly, and the movement of a lone figure in the yard caught his attention. His heart leapt in his chest when he saw the mass of ebony waves that fell to the center of her back. He had only seen Elissa once since the final battle—a confrontation that had them saying and doing things he would rather forget. He had never imagined, until now, that they could hurt each other that way. The rest of the time, he had been reduced to seeing her from a distance, surrounded by crowds of friends and admirers.
She no longer wore the heavy dresses she had been donning for the celebrations, and instead had switched back into clothing more suited for her—loose fitting trousers and a plain linen shirt that looked a few sizes too big. The corner of his mouth lifted into a smile as he watched her lead her horse from the stable with her hound Aiden trotting along at her side.
With dawning dread, he realized that the horse was carrying gear, and that Elissa was strapping a bedroll to the back of her saddle, idly kicking at the dog as he got underfoot.
She was leaving.
She wasn't even planning to say goodbye to him. The pain that seemed to lurk behind the fringes of everything these days rose up and stabbed him. For a moment, he had to grip the rail of the balcony to keep from running down to her and demanding to know what she thought she was doing.
Such a short time ago, it wouldn't have mattered. Back in that other life, when Alistair had been a simple Grey Warden in the throes of his first love, he would have given into impulse and chased after her. He would have followed her and begged her not to leave him.
The king didn't have such liberties. He couldn't ask her to stay—to continue on as though nothing had happened between them. She deserved more than that.
Elissa had agreed with his decision, as he knew she would. She was the daughter of a noble, raised to understand the intrigues and sacrifices required for that position. She certainly understood them better than he did. She had known, since the first suggestion that he be made king, it would be nearly impossible for them to stay together. He simply hadn't wanted to listen.
Yet, he had heard her, on the night he returned from Morrigan's room. He had almost gone to her, his natural instinct carrying him to his longtime source of comfort despite the warnings in his head that said he was only going to make it harder for both of them. The sounds coming through the door had stopped him. His chest had tightened with a now-familiar ache as she wept, her heartbreak escaping her in broken, strangled gasps. The sound was made all the more heart-wrenching because of the effort she put into keeping quiet, choking back on her despair so as not to alert anyone else to this moment of weakness.
For a breath, he had paused with his hand on the door latch, almost taking that step inside to retract everything he had said to her. His will had never been tested as it was at that moment, ever fiber of his being screaming to go and wrap his arms around her and spend the rest of his life trying to heal the pain he had caused her.
He hadn't, though. Coward that he was, he had left her to her misery, and returned to his own bed to wallow in his own.
Elissa was pacing impatiently in the yard now, apparently eager to be gone. She glanced repeatedly at the stables. Alistair wondered what was keeping her there, when suddenly another rider appeared, this one blond, and draped in a forest-green cloak.
Alistair's fingers clenched, grasping the rail so tightly his knuckles went white. She couldn't be serious. Elissa couldn't be leaving him for… for…
He sighed and loosened his grip. He had given up all rights to be jealous of Zevran. That's what he told himself, but at the sight of the assassin, his muscles knotted, and a block of ice slid through his chest and settled in his gut.
Was she going to replace him so soon?
Elissa looked up at the castle, then, and Alistair froze, sure she could see him watching her. She stopped in her tracks, and he could imagine her cornflower blue eyes widen in surprise at the sight of him. For a long time, they just stared at each other, each realizing that this, more than anything, confirmed the end of their time together. Alistair swallowed around the knot in his throat and shook himself. He wasn't going to let her go thinking he wouldn't miss her. Even if she couldn't see him clearly, he cautiously raised a single hand in farewell.
After a moment, she returned the gesture. It was small, subdued, her hand going no higher than her chin before her fingers slowly curled into a fist and dropped to her side, but he saw it all the same.
Zevran glanced over his shoulder to see what had caught her attention. The blond head leaned in closer to whisper something to her. With a determined nod, she turned her back on Alistair and mounted her horse, whistling for her dog. The sound carried clearly in the crisp, still silence.
She didn't look at him again.
He watched as the two riders galloped out of Denerim, chasing the rising sun on the horizon, and he released a shaking breath. Slowly, he turned and went back through the double doors to his dimly lit chambers, wondering if his heart would ever again cease to feel as heavy as a chunk of lead in his chest.