The world never seemed to be as it should anymore. Never before did it turn upside down and every which random way as much and as quickly. Cecilia Cousland had never expected to find herself all the way south in Ostegar with only her brother left out of everyone she knew and loved in her childhood. Maybe this was the Maker's way of forcing her to act like an adult instead of the impulsive child she had been accused of being. Duncan was supportive of her, though even on their journey south he had not allowed her the opportunity to grieve. The King had shown her sympathy, but by that point her grief had turned to bitterness and his words only served to make the anger within her boil further.
But then she had to meet him. First impression of Alistair? All talk. He was unnecessarily immature and crude in his manners towards the mage he had been speaking to when she approached. Some of the banter was slightly humorous, though deep down Cecilia knew before all this happened she had the same sense of humor. Now she was in too foul of a mood to appreciate it. All Cecilia wanted was to find Fergus, then maybe she could focus on the Blight.
Except when he turned to her smiled, and made a joke about the Blight bringing everyone together to hold hands, Cecilia couldn't help but chuckle.
"Damn it!" Alistair cursed as the darkspawn knocked his shield out of the tower window. He watched it for a moment before it registered that his shield was now long gone. Once he turned his attention back to the matter at hand, a few more swings of his sword took the vile beast down. Alistair's eyes darted around the room, seeking out anything else he might be able to use as a shield for now.
"Here," Cecilia called out. Alistair looked over and saw the brunette backing towards him with her right hand holding her sword, struggling to parry with it. Then he noticed the large ornate shield that she was holding out to him with her left hand.
"What?" Alistair asked, slightly confused why she wouldn't be using her own shield to block instead of the sword.
"Take it, will you?" Cecilia asked, gritting her teeth while trying to defend herself. Alistair took the shield from her, and as soon as he did, Cecilia drew her dagger with her left hand.
Alistair heard Cecilia curse as he secured the shield in his left hand. When he looked up he saw two darkspawn surrounding her with one landing a blow that knocked her to the ground. He quickly stepped in front of her, guarding a few more attacks that were meant for her. Alistair then bashed one of them away with the shield so hard its skull split upon contact with the floor and a moment later his sword sliced through the other spawn.
He turned around just as Cecilia pushed herself off the floor. He put his sword away as she took a moment to steady herself on her feet, then brush her leather armor off. "Are you hurt?"
"No, not seriously," she answered. Cecilia leaned down and reached for her sword that had been knocked from her hand. To her surprise, her hand did not touch the sword hilt, but another gloved hand. Alistair and Cecilia looked at each other somewhat awkwardly and Cecilia was surprised by the blush that crept up on her face. She felt back to herself for a moment as she desperately hoped the lighting in the tower was too dim for him to notice.
A loud bark from her War Hound was just the thing to snap them out of it. They rose to their feet quickly and Alistair handed her the sword back. "My thanks," she told him, returning the blade to its sheath.
"My thanks to you for allowing me to borrow your shield. I shudder to think what may have happened to you otherwise."
Cecilia smirked. "Perhaps if you had not so casually tossed your shield out the tower window, I would not have needed to distract myself by giving you mine."
Alistair gave her a puzzled look, clearly trying to compare her smirk to her tone of voice. "So… you're trying to tell me I distract you, do I?" He drawled out the last two words and arched an eyebrow.
Cecilia crossed her arms and thought for just a moment before chiming back in. "And if I were?"
He looked away as if the eye contact with her made him uncomfortable for just a moment before looking back. "Well…then I suppose I will have to be your valiant knight and protect you from these darkspawn!"
She found it harder to not burst out into laughter. "Or is it I that needs to protect you?"
"Protect me from what? You distracting me? My dear lady, I could get used to that."
Cecilia looked down and just shook her head, unable to stop her chuckling to come up with a good comeback. She took the moment to inhale deeply, grateful for that minor diversion. When she looked back up, Alistair was simply smiling at her. "Please be careful with it," she said back in her regular tone of voice.
"With it…? Oo! Right, your shield," Alistair said, quickly focusing his mind back to the matter at hand. He was in the process of taking the shield off to give back to her when she spoke up.
"No, hold onto it. It does you more use than me," Cecilia motioned to the two weapons on her back she always wielded in battle. "But be careful with it - It's my family's shield." She paused for a moment as Alistair looked at the crest on the shield. "That and my sword may be all I have left of my family's heritage."
"Then I will guard it carefully. I would hate to see something important to you break." Alistair trailed off at the end as though another thought had taken his attention away once more.
As she idly fiddled with a yellow flower one night in camp, Cecilia got lost in her own thoughts with the soothing sound of the fire crackling in front of her. She knew that she could pin the source of her feelings to that fleeting moment of happiness she clung to from the tower. But exactly how they grew she was unsure of. Maybe it was the way he seemed to keep a watch over when she slept, or their long conversations about their times in training. The way he babbled was a comfort to her even if he never knew it.
Most of all, it moved her the way he seemed to be so proud to carry her family shield into battle. Since that moment in the tower, he seemed to be more aware of enemies near her and come just in the nick of time to block a blow that may have knocked her to the ground otherwise. Despite her better judgment, Cecilia found herself wanting to believe that there were more to his actions, more to the way he looked at her and more to the way he spoke in that low comforting tone to her and only her - though using Morrigan as a comparison probably wasn't the best way to know for sure. Maybe she was grasping at straws, but holding these feelings close to her got her through. Surely that was harmless. She could keep it to herself and settle for him as her angel - a brilliant light amidst all the despair.
"…And so… does he love you?"
"…H…Huh…?" Cecilia looked up to see Alistair watching her from the other side of the campfire. Her heart nearly jumped out of her chest from the sudden fear that maybe she had spoken a thought or two aloud. "'Scuse… me…?" She could barely catch her breath.
Alistair chuckled and motioned his arm towards her before walking around the fire to sit near her. "In your hands, you silly girl."
Cecilia looked down at her hands to see that while lost in thoughts she had absent-mindedly picked nearly all the petals off of the flower. In front of her and on her lap was a pile of the dainty yellow petals. "Oh!" She suddenly exclaimed, finally understanding what Alistair was referring to. She exhaled deeply in relief, though he did not hear it over the sound of his armor clinking when he sat next to her.
"So, does he love you, whoever he is…"
"Are you jealous Alistair?" Cecilia asked as she cocked her head to the right.
"What? That is absurd… wait… should I be?" Alistair brought his hand to his cheek. "Hmm… I wonder who it could be…"
"Wouldn't you like to know?" She asked, striving to match his tone of voice in their banter while twirling the flower between her thumb and her index finger.
"Well yes!" He threw his hands up with his exclamation. "That's why I asked, isn't it?"
Cecilia kept her head still, but moved her eyes to see him out of her peripheral vision. She smiled when she saw that his eyes met her and was wearing that ridiculously goofy smile of his. She took another deep breath before returning her gaze to the fire.
A long silence sat between them. Cecilia sat cross-legged barely aware that she was still holding the flower in her right hand while Alistair sat next to her with his right knee up and his arm casually resting on it.
"All right then, what's on your mind?" He asked, finally breaking the silence. "You've barely spoken a word since we got back to camp."
Cecilia appeared to not hear him for a moment. Just as he was about to open his mouth to try to get her attention, she answered. "I… am distracted by my own anxieties." Cecilia looked at him again. "It is nothing. Forgive me for worrying you."
"Hey, now that's not right. You let me cry over Duncan. It would be terribly heartless of me to push you away now," Alistair answered as he put his left hand on her right shoulder, squeezing it gently.
Cecilia drew a slow but audible breath. "Everything with my family was just… so… sudden. We never once doubted Arl Howe…" Cecilia's hands clenched, crushing the flower's stem.
"It does seem treachery is afoot at every turn in the road."
"And my brother…"
"Don't lose faith," Alistair interrupted quickly, moving his hand from her shoulder to the hand that still clutched the broken flower.
"How can you say such a thing?" Cecilia asked, raising her voice with her question.
"Because he was out scouting. He may have been able to get away." Silence settled between them again but he did not move his hand. She felt her cheeks flushed as she realized this was the first time they had touched without their heavy gloves. "Don't give up on me now Cecilia - I need you with me."
Cecilia felt her heart skip a beat. She saw the softness in his eyes and found herself wanting to cry and wanting to kiss him at the same time. "Thank you, Alistair."
As powerful as the moment at camp had been, the most poignant moment occurred as they entered the small village at Redcliffe. Morrigan had gone on ahead a bit with the Mabari so Alistair took the opportunity to stop and turn towards Cecilia. She couldn't necessarily explain what it was, but his story moved her. The way he spoke about himself as a child showed the way he was more mature then maybe Morrigan ever gave him credit for. And the way he was so concerned that he didn't want Cecilia to treat him any different made her see just how sincere of a person he truly was.
The story about his mother's amulet made her understand why he valued her family shield so much and was yet another moment where his words took her breath away.
"You don't really think that, do you?" Cecilia asked, crossing her arms. How could he possibly think she wouldn't recognize the noble blood in him?
"Well, no," Alistair answered with a smile. "What I really think is that I was lucky enough to survive with you." Cecilia's eyes just widened and a smile crossed her face. Alistair seemed pleased with the response, turned, and started down the hill.
She could only watch him, her heart stirring in ways she didn't think was possible after everything she had seen as of late.
And then it hit her harder, as though the Maker had opened the skies and dropped a brick upon her head. As he walked down the hill she saw the Cousland family crest on the shield that he - a prince!- was honored to carry. "One more time…" she whispered to herself. A prince was proudly carrying her family's crest, shouldn't it be the other way around?
But at that moment, she knew that she would never ever see him as just Alistair the deposed royal bastard, but Alistair the Grey Warden, who was one of the goofiest and sweetest men she had ever known. And he placed a lot of importance and value on something that was important to her, Cecilia the Grey Warden, not the Cecilia who was possibly inheriting the title of Teryna. All she wanted to do in that moment was giggle like a hormone-ridden teenager and run to him to throw her arms around him. Somehow she managed to restrain herself to a broad smile.
Three nights later, they were camped for the night en route to the Circle Tower, in hopes of getting aide from the mages. Cecilia and Alistair hadn't really had any other time to spend alone, which was much of a relief to both of them. It gave them time to recover themselves and maybe not seem so bumbling to each other.
But this was the night where Cecilia knew things were real between them, and would never go back. She had found the amulet Alistair spoke of from his childhood, but in the chaos forgot to give it to him. As they stood by the campfire chatting, Cecilia remembered that she had wanted to give it back to him and interrupted him mid-sentence lest she forget again. She smiled when he smiled, upon seeing how much it meant to him that she took the time to listen and cared for what he had to say. If he only understood that his stories helped to keep her from focusing too much on their situation.
She knew that everything was meant to be when he gave her the rose he picked from Lothering and mirrored her feelings towards him. This was it. This was perfect in its own way. A love out of a bad adventure tale, as the late Ser Gilmore might say. It was surely what every little girl dreamed about. Cecilia pinned the rose into her hair and put her arms around his shoulders. He seemed a little awkward as he wrapped his arms around her waist since he didn't seem quite sure how close to hold her. When she rested her head next to his she could feel the rapid pulse on his neck, which made her heart beat faster.
Cecilia pulled away from him but kept her arms on his shoulders. She was pretty sure that they were only making the other smile and blush by noticing it on the other.
"Alistair," She only spoke his name at first. "I… might kiss you."
"Oh…" his eyes darted around everywhere but on her face and he knew there was no hiding the blush in his cheeks. "You want to… right now?" Cecilia felt her stomach drop for a moment, now worried that she had pushed the shy Warden too far and he was only smiling because he was well, Alistair.
"Well, who am I to refuse?"
She felt completely relieved and all her concerns of unrequited love drifted away as they leaned into each other. They paused for a moment, their mouths forming smiles in anticipation. As their lips pressed together in a sweet first kiss, Cecilia knew there was no way it could be bad.. She felt sparks jolt through her and pull the butterflies in her stomach out of their cocoons. It was safe to say no one had ever made her feel this way before.
She lost track of how long they were together but knew that by the time they pulled away she needed to catch her breath anyway. "That… that wasn't too soon was it?" Alistair asked and Cecilia could feel him trembling slightly.
"No… it was perfect," Cecilia answered, leaning in to give him another kiss, this one much more brief and throwing him off guard for a moment.
"Well, then I'm glad you like the rose then," Alistair said quickly, clearing his throat at the end. Cecilia nodded. "Just please, if you could do me one thing."
"What is it?"
"Just, please… uh… Don't pull… all the petals off?" Cecilia laughed softly. "I don't want to know if it tells you whether I love you or not."
The bait was laid, and Cecilia found that she couldn't simply leave it be, even if it risked spoiling the moment. She reached to the back of her head and plucked one single petal off of the rose. Cecilia held it in front of them.
"What? Didn't I just ask you…?"
Cecilia grinned. "He loves me," she said as she let the petal go and watched it float to the ground. She looked back at Alistair and saw his eyes were widened with concern. "Hm, I don't seem to have any other petals here… so… I guess he loves me."
"Uh… Right then," Alistair coughed and let out a single laugh. "I'll be… I'll be standing over here. Until the blushing stops. Just to be safe."
As Alistair walked away to the other side of the campfire, Cecilia could only smile. She bent down to pick the single red petal up and hold it in her hand near her chest.