The In-Between Times.
Winter was a very different experience on the road than it had been in Highever.
Although the castle had been cold, and sometimes it had seemed to channel gusts of icy wind directly into her chamber, those were things that could be driven away with a cosy fire in the hearth and the thick drapes round her bed. It had been warm and comfortable and homely even in the coldest weather.
Tents, she had discovered, were no such thing. They were draughty no matter how securely they were tied down and the flapping noise of loose canvas had woken her up with a start on more than one occasion. Her blankets were never quite warm enough, and no matter how tightly she wrapped herself in them, a part of her always managed to stick out. And if it rained, which happened frequently, they stayed musty and damp for days until they had the chance to dry out properly. She had never suffered from chapped skin and a runny nose before, but she was coming to learn that they were common side-effects to cold weather.
She missed Highever for more than just its comforts, of course. Memories of her family left her just as awake and uncomfortable as the cold.
She'd spent every night for the last week cuddling her mabari as if he was a bed warmer, greedily hoarding every last bit of warmth that she could. She couldn't wait for spring.
So she was a little grumpier than usual when Leliana woke her up so early that the sky was still a steel grey colour. But the bard was so gently insistent, and so excited, that she followed her with minimal grumbling, dragging her blanket and her dog behind her.
Leliana was crouching in front of their cooking pot, ladling something deliciously aromatic into one of their camping mugs. "Here," the bard said, holding the mug out to her. "I managed to find this in Denerim yesterday."
She eyed the mug with a little residual suspicion; after all, the last time she had taken a mouthful of an unknown substance she had ended up with a dragon screaming in her mind every time she slept, but the smell was too tempting to resist.
"Mmm," she couldn't help sighing after taking the first sip. It was very warming; sweet-tasting, rich and creamy, like nothing she had tasted before. "What is this?"
"It's chocolat, an Orlesian drink. I could not believe it when I found some in the market place yesterday! It's very expensive in Orlais; I don't think the vendor quite knew what he had, to sell it as such a good price." Leliana giggled, and she couldn't help joining in.
As they sat together enjoying the chocolat, a rumple-haired Alistair emerged from his tent. He eyed them blearily, before starting his usual morning exercises, moving through sword thrusts and shield blocks, then ended with his Templar meditations.
She joined him most morning; he was teaching her some Templar techniques, but for now she was simply happy watching him. Despite the cold that made her so miserable, he was training without a shirt. He was even a little bit sweaty.
"Tasty, isn't it?" Leliana asked.
"Very," she replied, before realising that Leliana was talking about the chocolat. But the bard only laughed softly, realising where her thoughts had gone. After a moment, she joined in.
Alistair cracked an eye open, staring at them suspiciously before focusing back on his meditation. She smiled, adjusting the blanket around her shoulders as she sipped at her drink.
There were some definite compensations for enduring the cold mornings.
Fighting darkspawn in the rain on a steep muddy slope while wearing armour was exactly as difficult as it sounded.
Of course she slipped. She cursed as she rolled her way down the hill, convinced that even the darkspawn were laughing at her. By the time she was laid sprawled at the bottom; her friends had already ended the battle.
Alistair skidded his way down the hill, collecting her scattered weapons as he went. When he reached her, he bent at the waist to heft her to her feet, grinning all the while. But before he could even open his mouth, she gritted out, "Not. A. Word."
Alistair laughed, completely un-intimidated. "Would I say anything?" he drawled. She glared at him, but couldn't keep it up. He was smiling that little-boy grin that he used to get himself out of trouble, the one that she fell for every time.
Halfway back to camp, she had recovered most of her usual good humour; despite the fact that she was covered in so much dried mud she looked like a miniature golem. She even managed a smile for Zevran as he strolled up beside her. Despite the rain and the exertion, he didn't have a hair out of place. She couldn't help wondering if that was a Crow trick, and whether he would teach it to her.
"So, my dear Warden, you must be aching after your little tumble down the hill, no? Perhaps I could relieve your pain with a massage when we get back to camp?"
She laughed, knowing that the offer wasn't meant seriously (but also knowing that he wouldn't turn her away if she took him up on it). "I wouldn't want to get your tent all muddy, Zev."
He took the refusal with a pragmatic shrug. "Or I could give our friend Alistair some advice so he can ease your pain." He sent her a sidelong smirk. "I'm sure he would not mind a bit of dirt in his tent."
She laughed, trying to pretend that the flush on her cheeks was due to the wind. Zevran took this as assent and dropped behind. She didn't hear what Zevran said, but she did hear Alistair splutter and choke behind her. It made her smile so widely she felt the layer of mud coating her face start to crack.
When they got back to camp, she left her grubby armour outside her tent to clean later. She was not really looking forward to having to find an icy river to wash her hair in. Once she had changed into breeches and tunic she had worked up enough nerve to face the cold. When she pushed back the flap however, she found their largest cooking pot filled to the brim with hot water. Wynne smiled at her from across the camp, and she waved back in thanks, eagerly dragging the pot into her tent.
She couldn't remember the last time she'd had a hot bath; it had gone from being an everyday commodity to a luxury. Just the presence of enough hot water to wash in was a treat - one she was not going to waste.
Later, as she attempted to finger-comb her hair back into obedient pigtails, she headed outside to scrape the mud from her armour - only to find it already clean and neatly stacked outside her tent. She stared around, wondering who had done that for her.
Not too far away, Alistair was standing in his still-stained armour, holding a pot of armour polish and acting unconvincingly casual.
She smiled before sneaking up behind him and tapping on the shoulder. He jumped and turned around, trying to hide the polish behind his back, before smiling shyly at her. "Thank you," she said.
"For what?" he asked. "The delicious stew?"
"For that too, then." Even if it wasn't exactly what she would describe as delicious, she was a hungry Grey Warden. She could eat anything, anytime.
"It was meant to be a surprise," he grumbled.
She stretched up on her toes to kiss his cheek. "Thank you again."
He blushed, and then tugged gently on her pigtail to make up for it. "You're welcome," he replied, following her to the stew pot where they dug in eagerly.
She was clean, warm and full. It was a good ending to a wet, muddy day.
She had never seen so much snow before. Highever was too close to the coast, what light flurries they had were usually washed away by rain within a couple of days. But the snow on the way to Haven was knee-deep in places, meaning they had to almost wade their way up the mountains. She passed the thankfully darkspawn-free journey by throwing snowballs for her mabari. The bemused expression in his soft puppy eyes as they crumpled every time he caught one never failed to amuse her.
It didn't take long for a full-blown snowball fight to emerge between Alistair, Oghren and herself. Considering that it was Oghren's first time seeing snow, he took to the concept remarkably quickly, and she and Alistair joined forces to try and beat him. But when one of her snowballs went astray - astray down the neck of Alistair's splintmail - she suddenly found that she was the one being ganged up on.
After a brief but ultimately doomed battle, Alistair bodily lifted her and dropped her into a snowdrift. She squealed, trying to throw snow in his face so she could escape, but he evaded her with ease.
He smirked at her, his face very close to her own - and then they both realised how close together they actually were at the same time. Alistair was practically lying on top of her. She felt her face grow hot - it was the first time in months she hadn't felt cold at all - as Alistair's face dipped closer to hers.
Then her dog barrelled into Alistair, knocking him over and abruptly ruining the moment. She gasped, winded, as Alistair rolled to his knees, and then helped her to her feet, avoiding her eyes the whole time. She sighed, regretting the lost moment as they resumed their trek up the mountain.
"Never mind, lad," she heard Oghren leer behind her. "If you get your nug out in this weather it might freeze off."
"Oh, lovely. Thanks for that image."
She glanced back and caught Alistair staring at her. The heat in his gaze was enough to keep her warm all the way to Haven.
Arl Eamon was healed, Conner was free, and Redcliffe was safe.
And someone had remembered it was Satinalia. The banquet was not as elaborate as she assumed it was most years - the Blight had affected the crops and what was leftover was shared between the refugees and army. The celebration, however, was more heartfelt than any she had ever been to, and she was glad to see it. It was so hard to remember, in the midst of Blight and Civil War, that there were still things worth celebrating.
They were guests of honour, of course, and she was wearing a gown for the first time in months. She was enjoying wearing it as well, something that would have shocked her mother, though she tried not to let the grief overwhelm her with that thought.
Leliana played and sang, and Wynne joined in with a surprisingly tuneful voice. She danced with Bann Teagan, and was gravely escorted around the dance floor by Conner (and she was so, so glad she had taken the chance to try and save him, although that had never truly been a choice. Conner had all too easily become Oren in her mind. She missed him too). Zevran taught her a more risqué version of the traditional dance, thoroughly distracting her. She attempted to dance it with Oghren, though the awkward height difference made it more amusing than successful.
After they finished, and detangled Oghren's beard from the buttons on her dress, much to the dwarf's amusement, Alistair took her hand and led her away from the crowd.
It was dark in the gardens, but the sky was bright with stars and the air felt fresh rather than cold after the heat of the great hall and all the dancing she had done. She stood close to Alistair, looking into his face that had become so dear to her in such a short space of time.
"Here," he said, looking unaccountably nervous. "I have a Satinalia present for you."
"A rose?" she asked, taking it from his hand and thumbing the soft petals. "It's beautiful, Alistair. Thank you."
He fidgeted, still looking nervous. "It reminded me of you." He took a deep breath. "I have another gift for you." He leaned forward and kissed her, his mouth warm and trembling against hers.
When they parted, he held her close for a long moment. She smiled against his tunic.
"So which one of those was the prank?" she asked, grinning.
Alistair laughed. "Neither. But you should check under your blankets before you get into bed tonight."
"Oh really?" she asked, eyebrow arched.
"Well, you know how sneaky socks are. Especially dirty ones…" he dodged as she swatted at him, before pulling her into another kiss.
Between the cold and rain, the endless darkspawn attacks, and the constant ache in her chest where her family used to be, she realised that there were still moments of happiness to be found. She wasn't going to waste them.
A/N: This was a secret swooper gift for the_flowergirl who requested some Alistair/F!Cousland fluff. Hope you enjoyed.