The Last Thing You'll Expect
By Deadly Off Topic
"I don't know what I was thinking. Same old and same old, I guess." Alistair's voice is a low barely controlled whisper as he shifts away from the decrepit, wooden frame of his half-sister's door way. He's clearly agitated and words he wants to say, can feel bubbling deep inside his gut, are struggling to free themselves prematurely. He's afraid they'll make him vulnerable, give his companion a bigger hole in which to tear into him, but even though Alistair knows its foolish to think that Elissa will hurt him as Goldanna has hurt him, the saying "once bitten, twice shy" is already dancing in his thoughts. He does not want to expose himself...especially not to the only person he believes he can still trust. "I guess, we should go back and find the others then."
Ugh! He wants to say something else instead of trying for an all too visible play at being dismissive and yet how can he help it? The one thing he wants most in this flea-bitten world has slapped him hard across the face and instead of ranting and screaming about it, all Alistair wants is to bury himself beneath dirt and rock to cry. It's laughable really, and the bitterness in his own thought chills Alistair. A loving, caring family. That's all he's ever wanted. A family who would cherish him, nurture him and support him. Instead, all he's ever gotten in this short, miserable life has been the short end of the stick. His mother and Duncan were both dead and Arl Eamon - well, there was no going back to the 10 year old child before he was shipped off to the Chantry. The ties to that father-figure relationship were snipped a long time ago. Bitterly, he knows that nothing there's for him.
With his hands clenched at his side, nearly overwhelmed with both emotions at war in his gut, Alistair hadn't thought it was possible to be both bitterly angry and so close to Maker blasted tears. It also doesn't help any that the warden walking slightly behind him and to the left hasn't said anything. In fact, she's been silent the entire time and it irritates him in a way he never expected. Elissa naturally commands a considerable presence anywhere she goes and she always has something soothing or thought-provoking to say when matters take such an emotional turn, but to not even offer anything to him when he needs reassurance the most? Did she think so little of him after all? Did she think of him the same way Goldanna did?
"I'm glad you agreed. There's no point in staying here." The words, once said, echo hollowly behind him. He doesn't want to feel surprised, but he can't help feeling a bit betrayed by Elissa's quietness and a bit guilty that he's so close to taking this out on her. Maker! Was he insane? She has fought off demons and dark spawn and he's quite sure that she could stand her ground against something of lessor quality if provoked... by someone like him. "I guess that's settled."
And still nothing. Is she even listening to him, he wonders as he watches Elissa moves effortlessly, graceful like a lithe cat, down the dusty street as if she owns it. Her sea-coloured gaze is not on him, but on the people milling around going about their everyday business. It's almost as if she's one of Denerim's sour-faced guards seeking for signs of trouble before any may start, except no guard is as good and thorough as her. She's doing their job for them? And Is this of more important than him? As if things couldn't have gotten worse, he would never have excepted her to care more for these random strangers than a fellow grey warden... him.
Damn it! Every person in this painful, short life was important and should be treated as such and - and - and - What about me? Am I not important?
He should have known better. This dream, this longing for something not meant for him, scalds and burns Alistair with despair. He's so miserable and lonely right now, so rock bottom thin, that he wonders why it's so important to hear her voice, to have her say something, anything when she's too busy looking away. He should have just stuck to his hard-nose humour, his double-edged sarcasm. At least that's a shield that keeps others laughing with him instead of against him. At least it's easier than letting them in and being disappointed - being hurt - again and again.
Maybe if he walks fast enough he can leave these disquieting thoughts behind, get himself back to camp and into his own tent before anyone starts asking questions. He might even get over the worse of it before nightfall. All he does knows is that if he bursts into tears in front of that smug, abusive yellowed-eyed witch, Morrigan, he'll never be able to show his face anywhere.
"It's not your fault, she's a bitch, Alistair." Elissa's voice digs into his thoughts, pulling with a weight he had not expected, forcing him to look at his fellow warden with complete and utter surprise. She speaks?
And as he looks at her stoic, aristocratic features and the way her brown hair curls around her shoulder and down her back in one sinewy wave, he realizes that she would be the perfect model for an artist to sculpt a statue from. Statues, models? Maker, what was wrong with him? He needed to stop looking at her as if she was a stone statue on a pedestal of precious gold. Elissa was a living, real person. Not wood, not stone. ... and certainly not someone he desperately clung to when the world exploded under his feet.
There must have been a strange look on his face because she sounds almost apologetic now. "I didn't want to say anything at first. Didn't think it was my place, but... you look so lost, like a little puppy kicked by a disgraceful owner. I just- I want you to know she's NOT worth wasting your time on." Elissa lifts her serious face to look at him and her sea-coloured eyes - are they blue at this moment or are they green, he can never tell - peer at Alistair as if he wears nothing. No armour to protect him, no clothing to shield him. He feels naked, vulnerable. How does she do that? See truth where impregnable stone should keep it hidden? "I guess, what I'm trying to say is don't take it hard, she's not worth it. What you saw in there was the result of choices she made, bad choices that don't involve you. Never did. She just got to you because, and don't take this the wrong way, because you're an easy target."
"Oh, how can I take that the wrong way? Seems like bad choices and I go hand and hand." Alistair's amazed at how easy his humour returns when moments before he was overwhelmed by bellowing storm and rain clouds. Secondary thoughts kick in almost immediately, making his face burn with guilt. He knows she's the reason. He shouldn't have needed her to say the words that would calm him - make him feel better, but... saying that and knowing it aren't the same things because he... he did need her. Without family Alistair feels like he has nothing, but even if it's illusionary and fleeting, Elissa's words anchor and steady him. Giving him a momentarily reminder that he's not as alone as he thinks he is.
"I guess it's just you and your special magnetic skills." The words are harmless enough, meant only to tease, but the half-smile on her face is distracting. Alistair can't help thinking how very beautiful she is.
"Special magnetic skills eh?" He ducks his head to hide his reddened cheeks and pretends to be distracted by ordinary passerbys. Perhaps if he doesn't draw attention to it, she might not realize he's blushing. "I wish I could re-roll mine."
Elissa returns the words with a low chuckle, but her smile has already disappeared. Her words, when she speaks are more serious. "Just don't get too carried away, Alistair. We all need you in one piece. Mind and body. Thinking about her is a waste of time you. You know better than to let it get to you. At least you should."
Alistair finds he can't say anything except stare at Elissa. The funny thing is that while he's always found her beautiful, it's not her beauty that stills him into silence right now. It's her unwavering command of authority and her ability to do what is necessary without hesitation. A Teryn's daughter with a Teryn's training, but no, it's always been more than that. Elissa has an uncanny sense of insight and understanding that lets her make educated calls on any immediate situation at hand. What she has said, had been saying, was all simply truth. Truth meant to ease him, bring him back to his old self. That had to mean something... coming from her. ...especially her.
"Of course, you're right. I just expected-" He trails off with a useless wave of his hand, his gaze flickering over the shacks and slums of Denerim's marketplace.
"Stop. Don't go there." Elissa's hand curves around his arm to pull Alistair away from the slew of slum buildings -where Goldanna's home is but a part - with some force. He had not realized how oppressively dark the shadow cast by those crowded, clustered homes was nor the sudden, sharp feeling of exhilaration as Elissa's fingers, firm and solid, touched him. "She's not your family, Alistair. She never was, don't ever make the mistake to think she is. She is NOT your family."
Something in her tone shakes Alistair, makes him alert. Elissa's so adamant. She's never been one to repeat herself so soon and in the same sentence before. Maybe he's just being so dense she has to drum it into his thick skull, but no. When he looks at her, there's something burning in those stormy sea-green eyes, but what, he does not know. Still, it bothers him, makes him look away, across the dirty, dusty streets to the merchants hawking their wares. "I guess you're right. The only family I had died at Ostagar and the sooner I accept that, the better it'll be for all of us."
An odd look passes Elissa's face and her hand on his arm tightens uncomfortably for a moment. Funny that, he didn't even realize they were walking arm in arm. It had simply been...natural.
"You don't think... I mean..." She glances away to the canopy and high pitch tents to the south where the merchants and their potential customers are gathered. It's almost like she's expecting dark spawn to charge through the finely garbed rich and the badly dressed poor, but there's no sign of trouble here. He would know. "I would have thought, at least by now..." There's a stiffness to her shoulders and the way she holds her head suggests that she's struggling to find words. Her? The most diplomatic person he's ever known, struggling for words? Wasn't he, Alistair, the one having the personal crisis here and as far as he was concern, he should be the only one capable of being a failure at speaking, not her. Not the gifted, Cousland Teryn's daughter.
"I don't think - what? What are you trying to say?"
With her free hand she wipes the dust and sweat from her brow before looking up at him. She's deadpan serious and yet Alistair's surprised to see worry still tickle itself free from behind those sea green eyes of hers. She looks so human, so small at this moment... so young. "Am I not... your only family now?"
To say the world imploded all around him is pure understatement. There's a brief moment when all he can hear are the sounds of passerbys, hawkers crying out their wares and the loud, boisterous voices of the children running around playing their games and then suddenly nothing. It's like he's fallen into the black vacuum of space where sound simply does not travel. If he speaks now would he hear his own awkward voice? And yet, what to say to that? By the Maker, he must look so incredibly stupid to Elissa right now. What must she be thinking? Family? Between her and himself?
To simply say that a part of him is ecstatic is understatement, he can't breathe, can't speak and he wants to. There's so much he wants to say, to blurt out, and it's all stopped up in his throat. Alistair's surprised he hasn't choked on it yet. She considers them family - a unit, a group ... a pair. A couple? He finds himself hitting sky and dropping quickly. No, Elissa has never said anything like that. Family is sibling and parent. It's not lover and beloved. Why should this matter to him? All he's ever wanted is a family to make himself feel whole and alive again and she's offered him just that.
But with her, looking at her beautiful face and way she moves even covered in silver plated armour, awakens other feelings and desires - of wants and needs - he never once thought he could have. Would be allowed to have, he amends silently. With Elissa, of all people, he wants more than a simple family. He wants... hot summer nights and cold winter evenings in bed with her, to laugh and share pain, to lose himself in her eyes... to be all that she wants and to have every last drop of her love and devotion fixated on him... in short, he wants her as a wife.
When he does speak, his voice is indeed awkward to his ears making his hands clench at his side. He's so uncomfortable, so uneasy, and it makes him stumble over his words. It's bloody embarrassing. "Maybe I... I've suddenly developed bad hearing problems. But- But you didn't just say... you didn't just say that you're my... family, right? I mean that would be..." Awesome? Then why did he feel that the wind had just been taken out of his sails. His experience with Goldanna had scored him too deeply - was still rich in his mind and now this. Perhaps, Elissa was just trying to make him feel better? By the Maker, he should take that thought back. Elissa wasn't someone to say things without any express purpose or intent. She led their group with the strength and wisdom of a true leader who cared about her charges. If she said this-
"Is it so bad? I don't have anyone Alistair, I've lost my family - you know that Arl Howe murdered them - and that my brother is missing. I don't even know if Fergus is alive - he's probably...dead." Elissa sounds so vulnerable - so very fragile. So incredibly human. This is a thing he has not ever considered possible - that she should have the same desire - the same need - for family as him. Heat flushes through Alistair, making his face blossom red because all he can focus on how much more he wants from her than simple family.
"I remember. I didn't mean to-" He sees the kids playing with a rag ball, can almost track them as they throw it around to each other, but still their cries don't reach him. He's standing there in the middle of all Denerim and the only thing he can hear is her. Elissa. Dear Maker, why couldn't he turn his gaze on Alistair for once and give him what he wanted, really wanted, from the people he wanted it from. Family from those who were blood and... dare he even think it, lover from those he wish to join with. "But this is me. Why me? Am I safe or something? There's Zevran, Sten and Oghren-"
Her hand stops mere inches from his face and Alistair has the decency to look shocked. She'd almost slapped him! Almost! Elissa's eyes are furious and the explosion of sound that follows in the wake of her next words. They hit him like a brick wall falling out of the sky. "They are my friends true enough, but I don't feel the same kinship that I feel with you and- and safe?" She's splotched red across her face - a sure sign that she's not just anger, but agitated and upset. "You think I want you as part of my family because you're 'safe'? I don't have to do any of this with you Alistair. I don't NEED you that way. I'm a Teryn's daughter and I've faced hardship alone and without you before. And while I may be a Grey Warden, my roots will not and are not forgotten. If you don't consider me as family, just say so."
She should have just slapped him, those angry words have done their equivalent already. This day was getting worse and worse. He should never have stepped out of his tent today - better yet, he should never have asked her to take him to meet with his sister. Alistair should have just manned it up and gone alone. "I never meant that! I just don't understand the why of it. I mean this is me, we're talking about. You know the guy whose sister just reamed him a hole where the sun didn't shine. The same person who only thought I was good enough for money. Of course I'm going to ask stupid questions. No woman has ever loved or cared for me without wanting anything from me. And as for the men, aside from Duncan, they've abandoned me in the end."
He's shocked to hear his voice roughed with pain, to feel the edge of tears wanting to break free. To even think that just a moment ago all he wanted was for Elissa to be his - body, heart and soul. Now all he wants to do is run as far and as fast as he can. Showing her his pain and distraction was a mistake. The damage Elissa can do is so much worse than Goldanna - so incredibly worse. Why didn't he see this before? "So, you'll excuse me if I just find it so hard to believe-"
"I love you."
"-when someone claims that -"
"I love you."
Soft words, barely audible with market sounds in full swing, but they jar Alistair, making him nearly trip over his own feet as he turns to look at her. Not simply to only look, but to stare hard and fast into those stormy eyes of her. He seeks for any sign of a lie, any sign of amusement, but he finds a cold-deadly earnestness instead. Alistair gulps. Elissa's gaze is challenging, daring him to call her on it. "Did I hear you right? But I thought you said you love me?"
She nods slowly. "I thought you already knew. I haven't exactly hidden my feelings. Morrigan has teased me about it. You should know as well that Wynne has talked to me about it too." Elissa's eyes suddenly seem drawn and heavy - she looks away as if hiding embarrassment. "I guess you didn't."
Alistair's just stands dumbfounded. His entire face registering what he can only hope is a stupid, gaping stare and not the "omg, I'm a moron" expression that he's sure he's wearing instead. "Me? Wait! Wait a minute! Are you saying you love me? Me? Are you...nuts?"
"If Morrigan were here, she'd said I was completely insane. But I am saying it. I love you and I want to be part of your family. No Goldanna, just you and me." Now that she has said the words, she won't hide or brush them away. She's reliable like that. It's one of the things he admires in her; the way she'll stick to her words once they're given. But then that means-
"But this is me. How can you... love me?" Inwardly he feels something break loose inside him, uncoiling itself free to wreak giddy havoc with his body. She loves him! Alistair! ...loves me, loves me...loves me! This unfurling, whirls around his body so quickly that he can't reach out to clasp each emotion that's tearing itself free. In just a few moments, he might even move towards her and pick her up, armour and all. No! He needs to ground himself, find some method of bringing himself back to earth. This can't be right. When did good things start happening for him?
And by the Maker, was he listening in on Alistair earlier? Scary thought that is and one that makes him promise to visit the nearest Chantry building to offer thanks. "I just can't believe you'd love me. You know the warden who can't take responsibility, the one that everyone dumps on - the one that-" He knows he sounds crazy, but Alistair finds that his beating heart is thumping so hard in his chest that it makes him panicky, nervous. He rambles on, talking more to just hear himself speak and to give himself something to focus on, instead of trying to think this through. "And then I said that no one loves me and you say that you do and I'm like "wow!" and then I ramble on and on and say stupid stuff like this."
"Do you remember this?" In her hands, she draws forth a rose, a brilliant flower that has not lost its precious shine and life, and holds it out to him. He can't believe she still has it. It draws his eyes immediately to her fingers. Stark red petals against pale white skin.
"Oh, you mean my new weapon of choice?" He's finding it hard to breathe as he looks at her. The realization of her words have made his face blush even darker. He must look like an overripe tomato. If she's telling the truth - of course she must be as she has never lied... at least to him and he has known her the longest of out of all their companions then...
"When you gave me this. I realized something that I hadn't known through all the dark spawn battles and our travels..." She looks at it so fondly that Alistair finds himself mesmerized by the softness touching her lips, her very face. In that very moment all he wants to do is crush her body to his and kiss her deeply, wildly. "While these are dark times, when I'm with you... I'm happy. I'm not so alone any more. I don't feel so lonely."
"It's okay, Alistair."
"No, it's not." He reaches for her, shocking them both with this very private motion in such a very public place. He's taken her lithe and agile body into his arms and his face is barely inches from hers. "It's not okay, because...I feel the same way about you." His words are hot breaths against her face, fanning against her lips as if for a mere promise of what they could do in the future. "It's been driving me crazy, I couldn't think straight or breathe... Does she care for me? Does she want me? These have been questions I wanted answers to, but I was so damn scared to ask. I never thought you'd feel the same way I do. Maker's Breath, that you should love me. Me? Of all people."
"Is it so hard to believe?" Her words are soft, almost invisible amongst the clatter of market sounds. And while she might look a little surprised, she's not pulling away or reminding him of where they are. "You sell yourself short, but you have no idea of your true value. If you were one of my father's men, I would have already had you-" The flush of red in her face betrays her and Alistair's echoing blush equally so lets her know he understands where she was going with that sentence.
"It's.. I guess I can blame it on how I was raised and how I grew up, but-" He pauses a moment, his eyes drawn to the curve of her lips, the fullness of her lush mouth. Suddenly his thoughts converge in one direction. "Brace yourself?"
"Brace myself?" A brush of wind blows her hair across her face as her eyebrows raise in confusion. "Why? Is something wrong?"
"Yes, no, maybe?" There's a wildness to his movements as he ducks his face towards her, "I'm going to kiss you-"
And he does.
Just a random one shot that I had running around in my head when I was thinking about how Goldanna cut her connections to her brother. Made me think, what if he doesn't realize how much the warden thinks of him as part of her family and more. I wrote this on June 9, 2010 and have been editing it ever since.