A/N: Secret Swooper fic for vehlr, from the swooping_is_bad comm. Huge thanks to sagacious_rage for the beta, crisium_rising for wiki-ing for me, and the ladies of #sib for helping with some research. MERRY CHRISTMAS VEHLR!

Five Men Who Loved Kallian Tabris

1.

He doesn't expect her.

Throughout the journey from Highever, she is an abstract in his mind. Some nights she is short, some tall, some fat, some thin, some ugly, some gorgeous until she is an unrecognizable tangle of thoughts and fears. The wedding ring that sits in his pocket feels impossibly heavy.

But he sees her and something slides into place. Not a noose or a trap, a sense of yes, this that Nelaros cannot explain. He looks upon her, so fierce and beautiful and everything he ever wanted and nothing he ever dreamed possible. He knows in an instant that he will give her anything she dreams of, anything she desires.

When he calls her radiant, he fears the word is not strong enough. It undercuts so many things he can't put into words and there's nothing left except the life they will make together.

The ring doesn't feel heavy any longer. The hours spent to forge it, the careful precision, the work. He had poured himself into that ring and now he knows why. Everything has lead to this, he has been brought here for her and even though she scarcely looks at him, he vows to find a way to impress her.

The passion in her eyes and the fierceness in her bearing undoes him and he is certain he will love her from the moment they meet until death do them part.

He doesn't expect both will be today.

2.

Her strength impresses him first.

They fight together, through the Tower of Ishal and beyond, and everything is changing in ways he can't yet figure out. Somehow, Alsitair knows this is big He knows something is happening, and she is at his side through every blow. Her world has already been torn apart, and as the same thing happens to him there is a glimmer of thanks that he has someone by his side.

Someone strong, above all. Beautiful and smart and clever as well, but her strength is what he needs and as they forge a path across Ferelden he notices that her shoulders never sag. Their friendship grows precious to him in so many inexplicable ways and sometimes he wonders if he would have noticed her before The Blight. His beautiful elf warrior with her head held high. As he tells her every secret he's ever kept, he can't help but fall in love with her.

It's not easy, not like the stories. The world is out to get them. But he can't keep a lightness from his step because he is at her side. She grieves a husband she'd never truly known and he can't possibly live up to that precious memory but he tries to be the best man that he can. For her.

Impossibly, it seems to work. And when he finds himself above her in the tent he says a prayer of gratitude. He may not deserve her love, but he vows to be careful with it and love her with everything he has.

In the Landsmeet Chamber, everything changes.

He can barely find his voice and she won't meet his eyes and he can't understand how she thinks this is the best thing to do. Be King? Marry Anora? No. She can't be doing this to him! But when she finally meets his gaze, her eyes are guarded and Alistair's heart breaks a little more.

He looks at Anora and he knows, without a doubt, that she knew. She expected this. It had been planned and arranged and organized beforehand and nobody thought to ask him about anything. It takes every bit of strength he possesses not to break down in front of the assembled nobility. His people.

Maker help him, he is to be the king. If Kallian thinks this is the right thing to do he needs to marshal his courage and honour her wishes.

Her strength impresses him again, for if their roles had been reversed he would have taken a far more selfish route. He would have kept her for himself.

3.

He had meant to give her comfort.

Her first time in Redcliffe, he had been mildly intrigued. His smiles and his flirting more a cover than anything, he needed to get inside the castle. But now, after so many things have happened, she is not the girl he had met back then.

She'd been Alistair's lover, he was sure of it. Yet, when they come back to Redcliffe, they barely speak. He is told that Alistair is to marry Anora. He can't help but raise his eyebrows at that. Calian's widow marrying Maric's bastard son? Surprising, though he can see the logic in it. Anora is beloved to Ferelden and Teagan can't help but admire the arrangement.

It is taking its toll on Kallian, he can see. In little ways, slight differences in the way she holds herself that he knows he only notices because he's watched her so carefully. Her body is beautiful and strong. He's never before felt himself attracted to an elf.

H

He comes across her in the early hours before she is to head for Denerim. Before the rallying speeches, before what will surely be the final charge and she is standing in the hallway of Redcliffe castle looking fierce and broken all at once.

He wants to know what troubles her, wants to know if there is any way he can help. She turns to him and presses close. Then her legs are wrapped around his waist and he's supporting her bottom with his hands and stumbling for his room before he even realizes what is happening.

They take their pleasure quickly and when she grins at him afterwards, Teagan sees a shade of the girl he'd met in the chantry.

He had meant to give her comfort, but if he has given her that instead, it is more than enough.

4.

He's weary, down to his bones.

Vigil's Keep weighs him down. Even amidst the new trouble he can't seem to find the energy he needs. The business with Howe, the atrocities and everything he'd done to stop them have taken their toll, and he can't help but wonder if maybe it's time to find another path? The talking Darkspawn is cutting him down and he shakes his head and keeps on fighting.

But then she shows up, the fiery warden commander. A warrior, an elf, a woman. And from the moment he meets her, he feels a new energy. She takes down The Withered and as he sees her fight, Varel knows he is in the right place.

She brings a vitality to Vigil's Keep, leadership he could never have expected and while she does not seem to want the mantle of Arlessa she still wears it well.

He can't remember the last time he worked under someone he respected.

There are rumours, of course. Spawned by those who do not approve of her, for race or gender or any other reason and Varel cuts them down with an angry stare each time. He will not hear an ill word of the Arlessa, the Warden Commander. He is her Seneschal and he will protect her however he can.

He's weary down to his bones, but that doesn't matter anymore.

5.

He's never been in love before.

It's always felt pointless, temporary. He's loved plenty, but this is different and he laughs at himself sometimes when he thinks about the absurdity of it. Turning into a starry-eyed little girl isn't his thing so he refuses to take it seriously.

He takes her seriously, though.

She kicks ass and takes names and he whistles appreciatively while she does so. He's heard lots of things about her, about the things she's done and the raw deal that life has given her but Anders just rolls his eyes and shrugs it off.

It's not like he actually cares that much, anyway.

It's a lie and he knows it. But gleeful self-deception is easier than moping around and brooding and trying to make sense of his feelings for the commander. If he started behaving like Nathaniel, he'd have to take his own life and Anders is extremely fond of himself so doesn't really fancy that as an option.

Instead, he watches her happily while they take out the bad guys and that's enough. For now.

And yet, when it's over. After the fighting, after everything has settled into place, he's still there. Still in Amaranthine, still at her side and he knows that sooner or later he should probably just try and coax her into bed and hope that clears his mind of these terrible feelings that keep welling up inside of him.

He catches himself smelling her hair and that's more than enough to prove that he's obviously lost his mind. He's not some romantic who smells girl's hair and has mushy feelings and it doesn't matter that she's beautiful and strong and lets her guard down more and more with every day...

He's gone within hours.

But the road doesn't hold the appeal it used to. Within months he is back in Amaranthine, to her, determined to face things like a man.

It doesn't matter if he loves her, he likes her and that's so much more important. And maybe he'll never get her into bed or get to smell her hair again or find out if elf women's lips taste any different than human ones. Maybe she'll never be anything other than his commander. But that doesn't really bother him that much, because he gets to be around her and she's pretty amazing.

He's never been in love before, but when at the table she rolls her eyes at one of his jokes and Anders can see the hint of a smile and he's fairly certain he likes it.

A/N2: Yes, I'll be updating annals shortly. I promise! :)