Author's note: This was written for the "Everyone has a dark side" prompt, posted at the Alistair thread on Bioware Social Network. This is a rewritten version of Ch. 9 (As yet unposted) of "The Edge Of The Grey Enigma". It is rewritten in a fashion that allows it to stand as a one-shot. Reading the novel is not necessary, though it might deepen the experience. Enjoy!
P.S. This wasn't beta-ed and only proof-read by yours truly. Be gentle.
Vien dietro a me e lascia dir le genti. DANTE
Contando i casi della vita nostra. PETRARCA
Many in aftertimes will say of you
"He lov'd her"-while of me what will they say?
Not that I lov'd you more than just in play,
For fashion's sake as idle women do.
Even let them prate; who know not what we knew
Of love and parting in exceeding pain,
Of parting hopeless here to meet again,
Hopeless on earth, and heaven is out of view.
But by my heart of love laid bare to you,
My love that you can make not void nor vain,
Love that foregoes you but to claim anew
Beyond this passage of the gate of death,
I charge you at the Judgment make it plain
My love of you was life and not a breath.
(Christina Georgina Rossetti, Monna Inomminata)
Thunderstorms had always scared her as a child. Back at Highever there were no darkspawn haunting her dreams, no urgency to be a step ahead of the Blight, no lives depending on her. Lighting flashed, followed by ominious thunder. The brilliant clashes of fire and the night still rattled her to a degree. Sleepless nights of constant vigilance had sharpened the edges of her features as much as suffering a lifetime's worth of sacrifice, loss and redemption in but a single year. There were still people to talk to before she could rest, never mind the conversation she was bound to have with her second in command once they were finished discussing Warden business. Sitting down before her mirror she was startled by the image staring back at her through blank eyes, devoid of any feelings except grit and determination. Her white linen robe seemed alien, having worn nothing but her Warden leathers since her escape from the inferno at Highever. A gentle rap at the door cut off her reminiscing jarringly.
"Come in!" she called in a tone that sounded more like Get the hell away from me.
His hesitation gave him away and when the door finally opened, his reflection had changed as much as hers. Where had been boyishly handsome, he was now hauntingly exquisite, like all creatures who had been shaped by betrayal, vengeance and shattered hopes. His eyes were the same though. Velvety dark and warm, like shining candles in a cold night. He watched her rise and approach the window without a word. Pulling it open she felt a gust of wind and rain against her skin, it felt good. It felt familiar. He was part of the world she had forsaken, the one ray of sunlight in a bleak, deserted universe.
"Alistair." Her voice wrapped itself around his name like a tide of melancholy and regret. "I was not expecting you."
"Rhiannon. I..." Words failed him at the sight of her. He had noticed her changed appearance and part of him had mourned her luxurious hair. When had she cut it to shoulder length and, more importantly, why? That aside, she seemed more stern, more aloof. Her shoulders were painfully rigid, her entire posture was that of a cat on the verge of attack. Her demeanor had never been that what most Fereldans deemed becoming to womanhood. Always on edge rather than soothingly kind, wildly passionate instead of becomingly demure... She was a crossroad of contradictions and shades, a book lacking too many pages to make sense to a casual reader.
"Please, before you say what you have come to say..." Her eyes were pleading, her hands interlaced as if in hopeful prayer. "If you have come to rage at me as you without doubt feel I deserve to be shouted at...not tonight." Her vulnerability softened the blistering wounds of betrayal, dulled the pain of losing her to a tolerable level.
"I haven't come to yell at you. You know, funny thing, if you were to ask me now just why I came, I wouldn't be able to answer you truthfully." Unable to meet her eyes, his gaze swept through the room nervously, his hands dusting off unseen flecks of dirt on his armor.
"You have always been a poor liar, Alistair." Her reproof was gentle, yet it would not brook any denial.
"Caught that, didn't you?" A slight blush reddened his cheeks at her ability to read him like an open book. The world might be on the verge of ruin, yet that would never change.
"Enough of this." A new sharpness had crept into her tone, unfamiliar and so unlike her. "Why have you come?"
"I...I had to see you. I had to know you're alright." He wanted to take those words back the moment he had let them slip past his lips. Her eyes narrowed into icy slits, her shoulders were shaking with barely concealed anger.
"So this is all about you again after all?" Acidic words, accompanied by a withering glare that made him writhe at his own stupidity.
"No, how could you possibly think..." She cut him off with a mirthless chuckle coated in disdain and something deeper, something he could not define.
"Why did you have to barge in here like the Maker damn king I forced you to be to check on me? Are you truly so self absorbed not to notice that..." Her eyes fluttered closed, her breathing short and ragged. "How can you not see, not understand that you are making it worse?" Crystalline tears were clinging to her eye lashes as she attempted to blink them away.
"But I only..." he began again, hands raised in mute disbelief at her reception of his attempt to make peace. Not forgiveness, never that, yet peace at the eve of battle, was she unable to see his intention?
"You wanted me to mend your conscience because it has finally occurred to you that your decision to abandon us in the clutches of the Archdemon might not have been what Duncan would have wanted?" she snarled spitefully. It hurt, as intended. Terribly. His eyes darkened with pain at the beloved name but she gave him no time to recover. "You are the least selfish person I know, yet the most self centered. Never mind me as long as you can get a night's rest after having faced your demons? Just like that everything is forgiven and forgotten?"
"Rhia..." he spoke again. The old endearment of her name, last whispered in adoration. That certainly got a reaction, if not the one he was hoping for.
"Do not call me that. You...you no longer have the right to do so." Now the tears fell. Angrily and hotly, like constant wells of sadness.
"I came here to tell you that I will support you as much as I can. Both Arl Eamon and..." here his tone grew spiteful to the point of utter disdain, "my future wife have agreed that fighting on the front lines is too much of a risk. I..."
"Stop!" she breathed. "I care not what you do or do not do." Her stricken face belied her callous words, her fingers clawing at the skirts of her robe betrayed the utter anguish she was feeling.
"That's not true and you know it!" he snarled back, finally catching her in a lie.
"Why are you doing this?" she half sobbed and snarled. "Why did you have to do this..." In a whirl of white at black she lunged herself at him, punching against his chest again and again until he caught her wrists.
"I never meant to hurt..." Well intended words, badly timed. A hiss emanated from her constricted throat as she broke free.
"Soft words with you, always nothing more than words. You still do not understand. Maybe you never will." In this at least, she was right. He had not decided to seek her out to hurt her further. Yet he had done so, no matter his intentions.
"It was your choice, remember?" Maybe that was cruel. But she was not the only one hurting. Not the only one mourning what could have been.
Her back stiffened, the tears ceased at that accusation.
"So..." she spoke in a deceptively silky tone, all smooth and dangerous. "You are finally admitting that this is not about me or Loghain or the battle tomorrow. This is about you and your precious feelings being hurt. Never mind the fact that your childish tantrum not only endangered Ferelden but all of Thedas, should we fail. You..." She smiled bitterly. "You could have made a difference. You chose not to because you did not get your way. To think that I..." He wanted to hear the end of that sentence, would have given all the gold in Orlais to hear her say it just once more. Instead he latched onto the anger that had offered itself so freely, so easily.
"That you what, Rhiannon? " he ground out between clenched teeth. What had once been his need of acceptance, of her love, had warped into a dark, alien desire to make her bleed as much as he did. The injustice of such a goal was fading rapidly and her obstinate refusal to concede to his arguments only sped up the process. Alpha and Omega they were, a bond akin to that of Hero and Leander connecting their hearts in a bloody tapestry.
"That I allowed myself to love you." A log shifted in the fireplace, sparks flying like mysterious beings come alive for but a moment. The implication was clear, merciless in its accuracy, tearing through what remained of his soul like an enchanted dagger.
"You mean... Are you saying...?" Unable to go on, he turned away. His tears were no longer her privilege to behold.
"Alistair, know this and do not forget it. Whatever I take to my grave, you take to yours." Rhiannon met his eyes steadily, her eyes loving, her features stern. "The heart you betrayed by abandoning it when it relied on you most, know now what a heart it was. Fate, stronger than you or I, decreed that we be bound to each other not only by the taint but by a connection more sublime. An act of mercy severed the bond indefinitely."
Mercy. Misericordia. Misery.
"The same could be said..." he began anew, his hands seeking hers. Their fingers met, intertwining as they had done so many times.
"I know." Her voice was raw with pain and exhaustion, her grip tightened. They drew together, old feelings reborn anew.
"Go." she said softly, their lips only inches apart.
"Not yet...Rhia..." he pleaded, his gentle fingertips were stroking her cheek.
"Leave me. Now." Her voice was quivering slightly, her resolve however was impeccable.
A sigh escaped him chest as he let her go. She had been his life, the center of his love starved universe. The one treasure beyond price he had thought he could not live without. Determination to see this love avenged flared up within him. Whatever little he had had, Loghain had taken away from him. Everyone he had loved and trusted. Everything that had mattered to him. Payment in blood was overdue and he would have it. What more did he have to lose to begin with? Hatred, both sinister and deeply rooted, blossomed; clawed at what remained of his humanity. Mercy was, indeed, a double edged sword.
Misericordia. Miserere. Misery.