N/A: Jaleth was too much of a whiner in the first draft so I cut a but of the drama out in this rewrite. I'm happier with the second draft.
"I am proud of you child," Wynne said, patting the back of her companion's hand.
The expression in her eyes was composed of something more than pride alone, it had a hint of pity in it, mixed with a very well hidden 'I told you so.'
"I don't know," Jaleth replied, staring into the distance.
The Great Hall was crowded with people from all over the nation, representatives, old friends and new allies, all coming out to great the King and his new bride. It was the last place on Thedas she wanted to be right now, but she was still there, next to Wynne in the window-sill, regarding the festivities in silence.
They both had their reasons for staying away from the crowd. Being a mage was the only one they shared.
"It's just – I don't know."
Jaleth seemed to trip over her own tongue every time she tried opening her mouth, and she was sure it had something to do with the smell of the wedding cake, the fabric of the dress and the fact that Alistair finally managed to avoid stepping on the toes of the woman he was dancing with.
She rather addressed an entire army, or some stubborn politician than to utter another word at this party tonight.
She did not need much words with Wynne though. They had spend so much time on the road together that it was not hard to guess what was going on inside the younger mage's head. Wynne had been there all along, from the very first blush on Jaleth's cheeks until Alistair's clumsy attempt of telling her he loved her with a half dead rose in his trembling hand.
A lot had changed since then and the man who was placed in the centre of attention today, bore no resemblance to the stammering half prince she had met at the Circle Tower three years ago.
He had aged and with it matured, or at least that was what it looked like when the public eye was set on him. To Jaleth he was still the handsome clumsy man she had met in Ostagar, all those years ago.
Her eyes were firmly set on the newly weds, and they had been lingering on the pair for some time now. They looked happy, radiant. They looked like proper royalties.
Her trust in Alistair had not been misplaced. He had mastered the ways of the court in a very short period of time. Sure, he was still falling of his horse and he had the table manners of a mad man, but the people loved him and his charismatic innocence allowed him to build bridges between sworn enemies. She had been there, always on the sideline, smiling at him when Leliana tried teaching him how to smile like a noble man, sparring with him every time the bureaucracy of court life frustrated him and listening to him when politics drove him mad. She was sure that he would have managed just fine without her, but she took what he was able to give she had fallen even more in love with him until the day he uttered six dreaded words with a mug of ale in his hand. "Fall out of love with me."
She had smacked the mug out of his hand and into the stone wall, told him to piss off and spend the rest of the night in the dark with several bottles of Antivan wine as her only company.
Jaleth could not get her mind off the things Alistair had said to her just after the Landsmeet, she could not drive the tormented expression out of her mind when he watched his mug dissolve into a million shattered pieces on the cold stone floor.
Love did not simply disappear because he told her to make it so.
"I guess you saw this coming when you gave me that lecture back at camp," Jaleth mumbled.
Wynne's serene smile slowly disappeared as she placed a hand on top of Jaleth's.
"As did you my dear."
The warmth of Wynne's hand calmed her down a little. She focused on the softness of it and counted the wrinkles on the skin that almost looked transparent in wintertime. For a moment she was four years old again and resting at her nan's side while she listened to the ticking of long forgotten knitting needles.
The laughter of a party guest brought her back to the cold reality of the packed castle hall. Her nan was gone. Alistair was gone.
She turned her eyes toward the dance floor again where Alistair was doing his best to remember the steps Leliana had taught him in the courtyard. She looked at the concentrated look on his face, his movements were clumsy but charming and his bride seemed to appreciate the effort.
"Letting go – it was the right thing to do," Jaleth said as she swooped a drink from a passing platter.
"Is that a statement or a question child?"
She took her eyes of Alistair and closed them as she listened to the voices around her. She could hear them congratulating each other with the beautiful bride from Highever, praising Arl Eamon with his impeccable taste.
It was the Arl, Alistair's godfather who had arranged it all. The old man had been pestering Alistair about a bride ever since he took his brother's throne, and he made it very clear it was not going to be a circle mage. It was not that the Arl did not like Jaleth, there had been a time where he had actually been quite fond of her. But that time soon passed when he noticed the sideways glances she shared with the young King when the people around them were too busy concentrating on their plates or their battle plans.
"I feel ridiculous in this dress," Jaleth said, breaking the silence between them.
"I know exactly what you mean. Maker, I can barely breath in this corset." Wynne shifted her weight as she let out a small sigh.
"Do you reckon we got fat?" Jaleth mumbled while she held her breath to check out her stomach.
"Yes, very. You two should start running after Darkspawn again, it worked wonders for your dress sizes." They turned to where the remark was coming from and stared into the two hazel eyes belonging to the king.
"Alistair Theirin, the King of smirks," she said as she got up to greet him with a curtsy.
"It still cracks me up when you do that."
"My king," she grinned.
He looked stunning in his royal armour. It was the armour Cailan wore before him, Maric's armour.
She brushed some wedding cake from his lip.
"There, you look like a proper king now, a proper one."
"Yes, and a spitting image of my father, according to some of the 'relics' in this room."
It was the first time he had set eyes on her at a close distance since the festivities started, as she had been skilfully avoiding him all day. He had spotted her in the crowd straight away of course, looking stunning in her olive green dress while she smirked at the empress of Orlais or argued politics with the Knight Commander of Ferelden.
"Look at you," Alistair smiled, taking both of her hands in his "you dried up nicely."
He only let go of her hands because Wynne kept clearing her throat until she got their attention. "I have to leave you two alone for a minute," she muttered. "Zevran seems to be seducing my chambermaid."
"Thanks for that Wynne, subtlety still isn't one of your virtues I see," Alistair smiled when the older mage started to walk away from them. He brushed a hand through his golden hair, swallowing harder then intended. The ring Jaleth had given him had been replaced by a piece of jewellery he now shared with the complete stranger he called his wife.
She looked at him as if she expected him to speak. Which he felt obliged to do after that.
"So uhm, Wynne told me you are going back to the circle. I am.. I don't know what to say. I was under the impression that you didn't like it much over there, since you're always nagging me about closing the place down and, you know, I was kind of hoping you would stay and..."
She pressed her finger against his lips.
"Try breathing in between sentences my dear."
His hazel eyes were looking to find something familiar in her facial expression, something she tried hiding from him by erecting a stone wall, but something that was still there when she pressed her finger against his mouth.
The familiarity in her touch brought a warm feeling to his chest and she acknowledged it too by stepping away from him.
"Right..." he said as she widened the distance between them. "I just..."
"The Circle needs me more than you do Alistair."
"You know what I mean."
She grabbed another glass of wine from the tray that walked passed them and waited for him to say something. He didn't.
"And anyway, it's not like I am going to stay there forever, just for the time being. Who knows what will happen after that."
The wall was there again. He had seen it right after the Landsmeet, after he had told her they could no longer be together in front of all of their friends. She had pleaded with him not to end things, but had been too angry to listen and after that she had just started stacking bricks on top of each other.
"Duty calls right?"
She blushed when she said it.
"Duty," he repeated. "Right...I guess I deserved that."
The music changed, it slowed down a little. People were getting tired and needed a breather.
"I'll cock it up without you," Alistair said, "I know I will."
She emptied her glass before replying. All the alcohol in Thedas could not save her now.
"You'll do fine."
He sighed, defeat. He used to sigh like that when Wynne told him to darn his own god damn socks. He looked so beautiful, even when he was retreating.
"You're probably right, but still, I'd rather have your help, you know, just like old times, when I just followed you around, that was so much more fun."
"It was fun, wasn't it?"
He looked at her as she placed her empty glass in the window sill; this was goodbye. He could see it in everything. It was in her gestures, in her eyes even in the tone of her voice. He knew her too well. She was about to take a bow and exit the stage.
"Go celebrate Alistair," she sighed, "get an heir, be happy."
"All right, all right, no need to get pushy my dear."
"It's your wedding day Alistair, might as well try to enjoy it."
He looked at her with the saddest eyes she ever saw. A small boy in a grown ups armour. He was the saddest groom she had ever seen.
"You have a stubborn hairline."
"A stubborn hairline," she repeated as she ran her fingers through his hair. She only realized the intimacy behind the act when his cheeks flushed a bright pink again and she retracted her hand.
It was strange that some things you were so used to doing, turn into things you used to do. It was inappropriate for her to touch her king like that.
"Yes – so uhm, when are you leaving?"
"Well," she replied, trying her best to avoid his eyes, "Irving and Wynne will go back tot he Tower tomorrow so I figured I might as well tag along."
"Wow you are serious aren't you."
"You know me," she said, "run first, think later."
She conjured up half a smile, her enchanting one, while Alistair did his best to swallow the enormous lump that got stuck somewhere half way down his throat.
"Well than," he sighed, "since it's my wedding day and I am the King and all, you won't refuse me when I ask you for one last dance."
"I'm a lousy dancer."
"I know, I've seen you do the happy dance with Oghren once – it was not a pretty sight."
The serious look on her face made him smile again and he grinned as he took her by the hand before she was able to protest. They quickly disappeared in a vast stream of people only to become a part of it.
It was exhilarating, the speed with which he swept her of her feet.
He pulled her close for a second, his forehead resting against hers while the crowd was too busy to notice them.
"I love you," he said, "you know that right? I will always love you."
She concentrated on the warmth of his hand holding hers, his scent, the feeling of his stub against her cheek when he spun her around the room without expecting an answer.
"I just wanted you to know that."