Love wasn't something Pilar ever thought about in Dust Town. Sex, sure. But not love. Love was for songs and stories. Dusters rutted, and casted dwarves arranged marriages of political advantage. Love was saved for secret sighs and unrequited feelings and other things better off left alone.

Sometimes, when she was left alone with her thoughts (which wasn't often) she'd wonder if her da ever loved her mam.

"Here, do you know what this is?" Alistair asked, a faint tremor in his voice.

"Hm?" Pilar looked up from cleaning darkspawn blood off her armor to see her friend crouching next to her, holding a small flowering plant. "Oh yeah!" she grinned. "Leske and me, we stole a bunch of these off a surface merchant once." She shook her head and grimaced at the memory. "They don't make good eating, though. Real tough and bitter even after we boiled them for hours!"

Alistair furrowed his brow. "No, it's not for eating. It's a rose."

"If you can't eat it, what's it for then?" she asked as she turned back to her chores.

"What's it for?" he repeated, baffled. "It's just to... look pretty. And it's for you."

She stared up at him. "For me? Really?" She quickly ran through every option she could think of to come up with a reason to possess such a thing. "Why?"

He blushed a deep red and became even more flustered. "Because it's nice to have beautiful things. And it's for you because it reminded me of you. And... I have to go," and he ran off, stumbling over a tree root.

She sat for a moment, stunned, staring at the flower. Its petals were a deep velvet red, soft and silky. Its smell rich and sweet. The thorns had all been painstakingly trimmed. She stood and wandered over to Morrigan's tent.

"Hey, Morrigan?" she asked as she sat next to her at the fire. "Do you still have that mirror I gave you?"

"Of course," Morrigan reached into her pack to retrieve the shiny thing, and handed it to her.

They sat in companionable silence as Pilar alternated between studying her face in the mirror and studying the flower. "Reminded him of me," she murmured to herself, still not quite believing it.

With every step they got that much closer to Redcliffe. He couldn't avoid it anymore. He had to tell her.

They stopped just outside of the village to take stock of their gear, a habit Pilar had started back when they were returning to Ostagar from the Kocari Wilds. She said it was so she could haggle better at the shops. Since Pilar was the best haggler Alistair had ever met, he didn't question it.

She was examining the blades of a pair of daggers when he finally worked up the courage to confess his secret.

"There's something I need to tell you," he began. And immediately saw the flaw in his plan as her first reaction was to grip the daggers tighter and eye him up warily.

"So? Tell," she said in a neutral tone, returning to her sorting, though her shoulders were still tense.

"You know how I told you that Arl Eamon raised me before sending me to the Chantry, right?" He half-hoped she didn't remember, because then he could tell her that story again, instead of the one he was trying to tell now.

"Mm-hmm," she nodded, checking the inscription on a leather helmet. "Humans are so odd like that. Why wouldn't the other servants take care of you instead of the higher caste. I mean 'class'," she corrected herself.

"Well, funny you should say that," his stomach roiled. He glanced around to make sure nobody could overhear and crouched next to her. "You see, the real reason is because, well," he swallowed, his mouth dry. "My father was King Maric. Which makes me King Cailan's half-brother. And I never really cared about it until now-"

Her head whipped up and she glared at him through narrow eyes. "I think we should get moving," she said, teeth clenched.

"Pilar, wait! I can-" he tried.

"Let's go!" she shouted to the others, interrupting him without acknowledging that she ever heard.

They gathered up their gear in silence, and she took the lead as he lagged in the back with a heavy heart.

The villagers of Redcliffe celebrated rowdily, with drinking and dancing and bonfires. It was the sort of party Pilar would have loved, if her heart wasn't breaking.

She was never all that good at pretending to be happy when she wasn't. As soon as she saw an opening, she slipped away from the celebration and found an crawlspace under one of the porches of the lake cottages. She hid herself under there and pulled the rose out of her pocket.

"Amber rose. Lothering rose," she muttered. "I am no noble hunter." She clenched her fists and pressed her knuckles into her eyes until she saw stars. Breathing deep, she struggled not to cry.

It was stupid of her to think it could be different. Love was for elves and humans and casted dwarves and surfacers. Not for Dusters or other animals. Stupid, stupid girl.

She didn't know how to handle this. She felt a searing pain in her heart that wasn't a physical injury. She wanted to fight but she didn't know what to hit. She was angry but it all kept turning back on herself for ever thinking that such a funny, kind, handsome, charming sort of man could ever find something to love about a girl like her.

A shadow fell over her, someone was blocking the moonlight filtering through the gaps in the wood. She shifted back even further.

"Pilar?" Alistair said, sounding worried. "Are you here?"

"Go away. I don't want to talk to you," she swallowed around the lump in her throat. "Ever."

"Please," he said, crouching and peering under the porch. "I just wanted to say that I'm sorry. I didn't realize you would be so hurt by me not telling you about my father. If I had known, I would have told you a long time ago."

She bit her lip, feeling like she was going to explode from anger and sadness. "I made a promise to Rica when we were younger."

He crawled under, and bumped his head on a support beam. "Ow! What sort of promise," he asked as he sat across from her and rubbed his forehead.

She took a deep breath. She realized she couldn't look at him without wanting to cry so she turned her face away. "She said to me that I was special, that I had talents that other people didn't have. And I shouldn't waste that. So she made me promise that I would never, ever be a noble hunter. So. Here," she handed him the rose.

He stared at it a moment, frowning. "I don't understand. What's a noble hunter?"

"I don't know what they call it up here," she dug a stick into the dirt, flicking up clods and carving a pattern. "Basically, it's a way to jump up the castes. Even a Duster woman can get a better lot if she manages to birth a son to a man from a higher caste. There's no shame in it," she said quickly, defending her sister. "But it's not for me. I promised."

He shook his head, frowning harder. "But, I don't understand. We're both Grey Wardens. Why would anything change if we were... to..." he coughed uncomfortably.

"Because you're going to be king! Your father was king so that's what you are," she finally was able to look at him because she couldn't believe he was really that dumb.

"No!" he protested. "Pilar, it doesn't work that way up here. I was never in line for the throne, it was always made very clear to me. And I'm fine with that! I just wanted to let you know because I didn't want it to be awkward if somebody like Arl Eamon mentioned it." He sighed. "I've made a real mess of this whole business." He looked back at her. "I'd still like you to have the rose, though. I can't think of anybody else I'd rather give it to," and he handed it back to her with a shrug.

She took it and he turned to crawl back out.

He had gotten a few feet away when something hit him in the back of his knees, knocking him over. "Oof!" he grunted as he tumbled to the ground. "What the-"

And then Pilar was straddling him, a strange look in her eye. "Why not?" she demanded.

"Why not what?" he asked, head spinning with confusion, and other parts of his body reacting in ways he wasn't sure he was ready to deal with right at that moment.

"Why don't you want to give this thing to anybody else? Why me?" She gripped the front of his shirt, confusion and desperation writ large on her expression.

There were three things that Alistair was sure of at that moment: first, Pilar needed something very specific from him, second, he had absolutely no idea what that was, third, if he didn't figure it out very quickly then she would be lost to him forever. "Because... because I've never met anybody like you."

She gripped his shirt tighter. "Yeah, well, we're going to Orzammar soon. You'll meet plenty of Duster wenches, then."

His heart thundered in his chest. "That's not what I meant. When I met you, I didn't even know what a Duster was. I thought your brand was just part of your tattoo." She started to loosen her grip, started to climb off of him, and he grabbed her wrists. "You wanted to know, and now you don't want to listen?" he protested.

She relaxed slightly. "Fine, keep talking," she said, flat and disinterested.

He held her wrists tighter. "I meant that I've never known somebody so beautiful."

"You're a liar," she shook her head, tears streaming in earnest. "I'm a freak, everybody says so."

"If you're a freak it's only because most people are selfish and judgmental and weak. You're better than most people. You're special," the words came easier, the feelings he had pent up over the last few months finally finding release. "And when I say you're beautiful, I don't just mean how you look. I mean how you're perceptive and frank and unpretentious and generous and... And after all that's happened. After Ostagar and losing Duncan and being hunted by Teyrn Loghain and having to fight darkspawn and demons and undead corpses I still feel lucky because as long as we're doing this I get to be with you. And that's enough. That's all I want, to be with you and maybe help you while you keep being this astonishing woman."

She choked a sob back in her throat, and then kissed him fiercely.

Her face was flushed, and he tasted the salt of her tears and smelled the smoke in her hair. Her little tongue darted out and danced across his bottom lip and all of the blood of his body started rushing like it didn't know where it wanted to go. He wanted her more than he had ever wanted anything. He let go of her wrists and gripped her thighs, wishing he had another hand to touch her hair and trace the curves of her body and hold her breasts.

And then her hands were pressed against him, tearing at the laces of his shirt and britches and her mouth was on his neck and collar bone and he realized that it was actually happening right then and there, out in the open with the villagers celebrating not ten yards away.

He thought of maybe trying to stop her and suggest that they go elsewhere but then she slipped out of her skirt and yanked her shirt over her head and he suddenly wasn't able to form coherent thoughts anymore.

She was a blur of motion and he could hardly keep up, let alone anticipate what she was doing. And before he knew it she had yanked off his pants and was handling him in ways that made no question of the fact that she knew a lot more about what she was doing than he did.

"Stone," she whistled low. "You are a big 'un."

He propped himself up on his elbows. "I'm... sorry?" he blushed.

She laughed low and a thrill went up his spine. "You've got nothing to apologize for." And she slithered back onto him and held herself just above him. He could feel her heat and knew exactly where he wanted to be, but was having trouble figuring out how to get from where he was to where he wanted to go.

She leaned forward and let her lips brush against his chest as she spoke. "I know you've said you haven't done this before. So we're just going to listen to me for a while. And don't worry if you can't hold on very long, that's normal."

His nerves settled somewhat, he nodded. She inched back and carefully guided him into her. He gasped as she let out a long, slow sigh.

He didn't know what to do or what to focus on. So many time he had imagined what this moment would be like but never in his most adventurous fantasies had he considered that he would become a man outside, during a party, with a dwarf. He looked at the stars and felt the smooth skin of her hips and tried to focus on anything but the incredible feeling of being so deep inside her, her slickness and heat and the pulsing rhythm as she shifted on top of him.

It was too much, he could feel it. He remembered older Wardens talking about reciting the Chant backwards to last longer and he got about as far as "Forgiven be And..." before he was driven over the edge.

She lay beside him, nestled in the crook of his arm. She wasn't feeling quite satisfied, but refrained from mentioning it so as to avoid hurting his feelings. She contented herself with looking at his profile, silhouetted in the firelight.

His face was so unlike what she was used to. His jaw so pointy, his nose so small and... pointy. And hardly any beard to speak of. But still she thought him the most handsomest man she had ever seen. Squirming closer, she tried to reach as far across his chest as she could, and hold him tightly. Her heart swelled in her chest. It hurt, but she wasn't sad. "Hey, Alistair," she said.

"Hm?" he responded, gently running his fingers through her hair.

"I feel lucky, too," she said and grinned.

He tightened his arm around her. "Well," he drawled. "I'm not the expert you are on such matters, but I do believe that I'm up to trying to make you feel even luckier. Again. If you want."

She giggled. "Why not? Third time's a charm."








Happy Valentine's Day! And special thanks to Crisium Rising for filling in for my usual beta, Lothering Rose.