So...it's been a while. And I apologize. Like many people, I'm sure, COVID has wreaked havoc on my entire life, and unfortunately my writing was the part that had to give. I am a healthcare worker, so I wasn't off work, and neither was my husband; at the same time, we have a kid who was off school and needed not only help with online schooling but also just day-to-day entertainment. So...it's been busy. But now that things are starting to get back to normal - as terrifying as that is - I'm trying to get back into the swing of it. I imagine updates will be a little slow for a bit, but will hopefully be at least occasional...

I promise I'm not abandoning this story. I've put too much into this to walk away now. Hopefully this update will give people some faith that I'm not disappearing entirely.


This is the non-explicit version of this chapter. If you prefer to read the naughty bits, check out the unedited version under my profile, or find me on AO3.


Chapter One Hundred Ninety-Six: *Uncertain Times

With Fiona's identity confirmed to the best of my ability, I felt much better about having her at the Peak. I was nervous about how Alistair would react, but I couldn't help the bubble of hope that kept rising – that maybe at least one of us could have a parent in our lives, for the first time.

I got up, going over and picking up one of the framed drawings Alistair had given me – the one of us getting married – and handed it to…my mother-in-law.

"It's not as good a likeness of him as it is of me, but it isn't bad," I commented, watching her face as I sat back down.

She gasped softly, running her fingertips over her lips as she examined the image. "He looks…he looks so much like Maric. You can't even tell…"

She trailed off, looking up at me curiously. "Why isn't it as good a likeness of him?"

I grinned. "Because he drew it. And he doesn't see himself the way everyone else does. Still, it's pretty close."

"He drew this?" She traced his face tenderly.

"He drew all of these." I gestured around myself. It was true; at my insistence, our sitting room was full of my husband's artwork – pictures of friends and loves ones, but also scenery, weapons…whatever caught his fancy.

I didn't display most of the ones he'd done of me, for obvious reasons.

Fiona stood and walked around the room, examining the drawings with something that looked like awe. "Will you tell me about him?"

I laughed. "I'm probably biased." She shot me an amused glance, and I continued, "He's…everything. Kind and funny and generous and snarky. He's a good man, despite everything he's been through. When he cares about someone, he would do anything for them." I smiled longingly. "I'm a lucky girl."

Fiona turned back to me. "What do you mean, what he's been through?"

I raised an eyebrow. "Surely Duncan told you?"

She raised her hand to tilt it side to side. "Sort of. He wouldn't give me a lot of detail – we both thought it was probably better that way. The only part I knew much about was when Duncan recruited him to the Wardens." She shook her head. "I was furious."

I sighed. "Honestly…I think that should be his story to tell. Suffice it to say, Maric wasn't always the best judge of character. And the Wardens were the best thing that could have happened to him."

That made her frown, but she seemed to reluctantly let it go. "So…you know an awful lot about me. And other secrets you shouldn't be privy to."

I chuckled. "You have no idea."

Her brows lowered, her expression worried. "I suppose Duncan could have told you…"

I shook my head. "No. He wouldn't do that – you may not have seen him much in recent years, but you must know he would never betray Grey Warden secrets, never mind personal secrets of people he cared about."

She nodded, abashed. "You're right. But then…how?"

I sighed. "That's a really long story – and one that risks breaking more than a few confidences of my own." I bit my lip as I thought. "I'm not opposed to telling you, but I'd like to speak with Alistair first. I think he should be involved in that decision."

Again, she looked unsatisfied with that response, but again she let it go. "Very well."

"He's due back tomorrow. Besides," I grinned, "it's supper time. And I know how important it is to feed Grey Wardens on a schedule."

She startled, turning dark eyes on me again. "I'm not a Warden, not anymore."

I suppressed the smile and the urge to tell her about my own odd taint issue. "Nevertheless, I'd be very surprised if you lost the appetite."

I took Fiona to the main hall with me for supper. She seemed anxious at first, but when no one questioned why she was there, she relaxed and seemed to enjoy the rowdy, noisy affair that was supper at Soldier's Peak. With a surreptitious look around, she did take seconds and then thirds, and I laughed knowing she probably didn't notice that I did too.

She went to bed afterwards, fatigued from her travel from Cumberland, and I went to my room to call Alistair on the sending stone.

I couldn't tell him his mother was visiting; he had little, if any, privacy down in the Deep Roads, surrounded by potential recruits, soldiers, bodyguards, and Wardens, but I still felt guilty for keeping it from him. I was pleasantly surprised to learn they were already on their way back, and would probably be home in the early afternoon the next day. We didn't talk long; he sounded exhausted, and I wanted him to get as much sleep as he could down there. Trudging through the Deep Roads while half asleep is never a good idea.

I didn't think I'd be able to keep the news completely to myself; since I couldn't tell my husband, instead I told my brother. Alistair will forgive me…I hope? Aedan was as excited as I was when I told him about Fiona – and as apprehensive. He still refused to tell me where he and Zevran were and what they were doing, but I could tell from his tone they weren't even close to getting ready to come home. I could also tell he was having much more fun than I would have expected, and I wondered if he finally felt free of all the obligations and duties that had followed him for so much of his life. I didn't envy him – a mission of vengeance against the leadership of the Antivan Crows certainly didn't appeal to me – but when I thought about the endless amount of paperwork I did every day, I wouldn't have minded a little less duty in my life. Having my family and friends close more than makes up for it, though. I regret nothing.

I promised to tell Aedan how the reunion went, and then sent myself to bed too. I thought I might lie awake, worrying, but I fell asleep the moment my head hit the pillow.

The next day I gave Fiona permission to explore the Keep as much as she wanted, while I rushed through my paperwork. I hoped to get ahead so I'd have less to worry about while spending time with Alistair and his mother. Assuming they wanted me with them – and I wasn't sure if they would, but I wanted to be ready just in case. I was just giving my assistant instructions for the next couple of days when I got a notification on my sending stone that Alistair and his group were nearly back. I raced down the stairs, wanting to be waiting at the door when they came through.

Fiona and I had agreed it was probably best if I warned Alistair she was visiting before he saw her, and the anxiety of telling him roiled in my gut while I waited. Daniel stood beside me – the only Warden left at the Peak – waiting in case anyone needed help, along with Avanna, a handful of soldiers, and Mhairi. We were all armed, but we could sense no darkspawn near the door, so the attitude was pretty relaxed.

Alistair came around the corner, a broad smile on his face when he saw me waiting. He was filthy – covered in dust and even a little darkspawn blood – but I didn't care. I pressed myself into his open arms, tilting my face up for a kiss. I'd meant to keep it light, I really had, but the moment Alistair's lips met mine, we were both suddenly ravenous; I clung to him and moaned as he swept his tongue past my lips to duel with mine. We were interrupted by cheering, and a loud, fake cough from Avanna, and I pulled away, red-faced and giggling.

I took his hand, avoiding eye contact with everyone around me. "Come on, you. You need to get cleaned up – and we've got some things to talk about."

Everyone laughed, clearly thinking that by 'talk' I meant something entirely different. Alistair examined my face for a quick moment, his eyebrows shooting up when he realised I wasn't referring to sexy fun times, and followed me as I dragged him towards the stairs, leaving everyone else to sort themselves out without us.

He tried to get me to talk on the stairs, but I silenced him with a single, not-quite-panicked look. Once in our rooms, I insisted he have a shower before we began the discussion. I might overlook his filthy armour for a kiss, but that's my limit. I could see on his face how he considered inviting me to shower with him, examined my expression briefly, and decided against it. My heart twinged, but there was no way I could clear my mind and just have a good time while I had important news burning a hole in my stomach.

He showered quickly while I changed out of my now-soiled clothes, and then, still damp, wearing nothing but light cotton sleeping pants, he let me push him onto the bed and crawl into his lap.

"You're scaring me, love," he murmured, burying his nose in my hair and holding me to him tightly.

I sighed. "I'm sorry. It's not scary, exactly. It's just…" I took a breath and let it out. "We have a visitor."

"Oh?" He leaned back to look down into my face. "Anyone I know?"

I shook my head. "It's the First Enchanter from the Cumberland Circle."

He whistled, pretending to be impressed. "And what did we do to earn a visit from such an exalted man?"

I flushed. "Woman, actually." He winced apologetically, and I smiled weakly. "She's an elf. A mage—"

He chuckled. "I rather assumed the First Enchanter would be a mage, yes."

I elbowed him in the side, and he laughed again. "Sorry! Sorry. I'm listening."

I sighed. "Alistair…her name is Fiona." He stilled, his eyes widening. "She used to be a Grey Warden."

I wasn't sure what sort of response I'd expected, if I was honest with myself. Shock, apprehension, anger…none of those were out of the question, but how they would manifest was a different matter. Tears, if it was me, probably. But that's not Alistair's usual go-to. And there was shock, I had no doubt. But unlike me, after a pregnant pause where I could nearly see the gears turning in his head, he nodded, seeming completely calm, and asked, "So where are you hiding her?"

"H-hiding?" I blinked, taken aback by his underwhelming reaction.

He nodded. "I assumed, given that the world cannot find out who she is to me, that you'd have her hidden somewhere."

I shook my head to clear it. "Oh! No, we just told everyone she's the First Enchanter here on Chantry business." I reached up and cupped his cheek. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you yesterday, but I didn't want to take the chance of anyone overhearing it on the sending stone." He just nodded. "Are…are you okay?"

He looked at me, his brows furrowing. "I don't really know." He turned his head and kissed my palm. "Might as well get this over with, right?"

"Do you want me with you?"

"Always."

I smiled and climbed to my knees, pressing an enthusiastic – if sloppy – kiss to his mouth. "I love you. So, so much."

He reeled me back in for a second, longer, equally enthusiastic kiss. "And I you."

I stood, smoothing my clothes while Alistair quickly changed into something more presentable, and then I went out to ask my guard to send someone to bring up some refreshments, and escort Fiona to our quarters. Alistair paced in our sitting room while we waited, nibbling on cheese off the tray a servant brought up, until finally there was a knock. I kissed Alistair one last time, then opened the door.

Fiona stood there wordlessly, her complexion abnormally pale, her dark eyes wide; she tried to curtsy, and I stopped her with a hand on her shoulder and a shake of my head. She followed me around the corner to the sitting room, and I heard a quickly suppressed gasp when she spotted my husband, who was standing stiffly by the fire.

She curtsied again, nearly falling in her haste, and Alistair's voice was tight when he quickly told her to rise. And then the two just stared at each other for a long, silent moment. I looked from one face to the other, trying to see any signs that the two were related. And they were there, a little – something about the shape of their cheekbones, maybe, and their full, almost pouty lower lips – but it was clear Alistair got most of his features from his father, and I didn't think anyone just glancing at them would guess she was his mother.

I could see Fiona fisting her hands in her robes, as though trying to stop herself from reaching out to touch him; Alistair's arms were crossed over his chest in a pose so defensive it made my heart ache.

Alistair stared at her for another minute, before finally turning his gaze on me, the desperation clear in his eyes. "I…" He swallowed noisily. "I can't. I just…"

I nodded, finally seeing the shock I'd been expecting since I'd told him Fiona was at the Peak. I could see in his expression that he'd had enough for one day. I tilted my head towards our bedroom, and with a grateful look, he bolted. He skirted around the elf, keeping as much distance as possible between them given the small room we occupied, and then disappeared into the hall, the sound of a door latching behind him almost echoing through the suite.

I turned back to Fiona, to see her slumped, her arms around her own waist tightly, a solitary tear trickling down her face. "I shouldn't have come," she gasped, wiping away the tear with the voluminous sleeve of her robes. "I'll go and pack. I'm so sorry."

I stepped between her and the door, reaching one hand out to touch her shoulder lightly. "No," I murmured, hoping Alistair couldn't hear me. "First of all, if you were to leave, you'd need to wait until morning. No one is going out there at this time of day – it will be dark before you leave the mines. And second, I don't think you're really done here, do you? You knew for ages you were coming. He's had less than an hour to prepare. You need to give him a little time to get used to the idea, and then he will give you a chance."

She looked at me with grief written all over her face. "I don't deserve a chance. I left him, a long time ago. I shouldn't have come."

"I'm not going to argue what you do or don't deserve. We both know this was never about your choice. But even if you were right and you didn't deserve him, have you thought about what he deserves?" I closed my eyes, sending up a brief prayer to anyone who might be listening. "Fight for him, Fiona. That's what he needs – someone who won't just give up on him."

She didn't respond, biting her lip anxiously and refusing to make eye contact.

I sighed. "Just give us one more day. We can try again tomorrow. If it doesn't go better, you can leave the next morning, if you wish. But after twenty-five years, can you just give him one more day? Please?"

She nodded reluctantly, and then hurried out of our suite, the door banging shut behind her. I stood alone in the sitting room for a moment, wishing I could split myself in half, then sighed and went to check on Alistair.

I found my husband pacing restlessly in our bedroom, his movements jerky and clearly frustrated. He could only take a few steps in each direction before he had to turn, though by the distant look on his face I didn't think he'd even noticed. I wonder if he'll be dizzy when he stops. He was muttering to himself under his breath, nothing I could pick out from where I stood, not that I couldn't guess the general direction of his thoughts.

I leaned against the doorframe silently, just watching him pace. Everything in me wanted to go to him, wrap him in my arms and comfort him, but his body language screamed 'don't touch me' more clearly than anything I'd ever seen from him. And so, I waited. It took him a while to even notice my presence, and for once it didn't seem to help any. He kept pacing, though every few laps he would stop, turn to me as though to say something, lift his arms to gesture…and then drop them and resume pacing.

Finally, after three more repetitions, he spoke.

"Why? Why now?" He ran his hand through his hair and started pacing again.

I wasn't sure if it was a real question or not, but given I knew the answer, I ventured to respond. "Duncan sent her a letter back during the Blight. It took her this long to make arrangements with the Chantry to travel here unaccompanied."

He spun to face me. "Or so she says." He snorted. "How do we even know she is who she claims to be? For all we know, the real Fiona's dead somewhere and this is an imposter."

I took two steps closer, not invading his personal space, but trying to test the waters and see if he was ready to let me in. "I quizzed her. Extensively." I smiled half-heartedly. "If she's an imposter, the Wardens are gonna want her for questioning about how she knows so much." He hadn't reacted, so I took another step. "I could also feel her magic. It's hard to imagine anyone else with Circle-trained magic, who knows a million Warden secrets, and also knows deeply personal details about a story the Wardens and your father worked so hard to bury."

He looked at me for another moment, and then spun and started pacing again. I reversed my course, giving him room, propping myself back up against the door frame. "Also, she had this." I held out the letter from Duncan, and Alistair came close enough to snatch it from my fingers, taking it over to the hearth for light. He read the words quickly, then with a sniff, started again, more slowly. His face was a kaleidoscope of emotion, ranging from bitter-sweet, to amused, to bordering on despondent. I wanted to hug him, but his shoulders were still up around his ears, and it was clear he still needed time. He let the letter fall from his fingers without comment and took up pacing again.

After several more minutes, he turned to me again. "But…I…where has she been for all these years?"

I could hear the pain he was valiantly trying to hide, the pain of a little boy who'd been left all alone without an explanation, and it made my chest hurt. His hair was wild from too many fingers, his face flushed, and when I approached him again, he staggered towards me, reaching out blindly as moisture gathered in his eyes. I grabbed his hand and spun him toward the bed; he sat heavily, pulling me between his legs and burying his face in my midsection as a sob tore through him.

I wrapped my arms around his shoulders, holding him to me tightly, leaning down to plant a kiss on his crown. I didn't say anything – what could I? Nothing I could say would take away the pain he felt. All I could do was be there, to hold him and love him even when he couldn't feel it, and hope that once he'd had time to properly grieve, he'd be able to give her another chance.

After a while I climbed onto the bed, Alistair's head pillowed on my stomach while I alternated stroking his hair and rubbing his shoulders. The atmosphere changed when instead of holding me so tightly I could barely breathe, Alistair began pressing kisses to my belly while caging me in with his arms. I squirmed, giggling, trying to draw him up so I could see his face. Before I could say anything, his lips were on mine, a kiss full of desperation and need, and I couldn't help but respond the same way.

I yanked at the fabric of his tunic as he swept his tongue into my mouth, and we both gasped when my hands met the heated skin of his back. I pushed him away long enough to make eye contact.

"Are you sure?" I always wanted Alistair, and I'd had him distract me with sex many times when things were difficult, but it wasn't something he usually asked for. I needed to make sure he was okay.

He nodded. "I…I need you. Please." He pressed a kiss to my nose, then my chin. "Please."

As though I'd ever say no. I responded with actions instead of words, burying one hand in his hair and pulling him down to my lips while the other hand stroked his spine, scratching his skin lightly with my nails. And then we were both scrambling to get undressed, yanking on ties and popping buttons until we were naked, my skin pressed against his glorious body. And then, unexpectedly, he slowed, taking his time teasing me with kisses and gentle touches, until I squirmed against him in complaint.

He chuckled darkly and held me so that I couldn't move, could do nothing more than whine. "So impatient," he whispered against my skin, his voice husky, and I shivered. "Tonight, I'm going to make you work for it, Love."

I could hear what he left unsaid as clearly as though he'd shouted it in my ear; he needed this, needed me – to give in, to submit. He needed control, and I could give him that.

I melted onto the bed, relaxing my muscles, legs going limp and hands clasping above my head on the pillow. He growled his satisfaction and returned to tormenting me until I was little more than a puddle on the bed, helpless with pleasure and desperate for completion.

And then he stopped. When I came back to myself, he grinned at me impishly, and I couldn't help but laugh at the look of sheer self-satisfaction. He's forgotten all about Fiona in this moment – and I gave him that. He's not the only one who's feeling a little smug.

He looked at me with a wicked glint in his eyes. "You want more?"

I nodded as enthusiastically as I could, not even able to articulate the plea stuck on my tongue. He teased me again, and I growled my displeasure.

"You sure?" I could feel his grin against my lips. "Alright then, you asked for it."

He finally stopped teasing me, using his lips and fingers to drive me over the edge. And when I recovered from that one – he did it again. And again, until I couldn't tell where one stopped and the next started – and I finally lost track of everything, the world hazing out until I couldn't see or think, only feel.

When my mind cleared, Alistair was holding me, stroking my face gently, a look that combined amusement, love, and concern on his handsome face.

"Welcome back," he whispered, his voice husky.

"Maker's breath, Alistair." I turned and pressed my face against his firm chest.

He moved us until we were nose to nose on our sides, my sweaty body plastered to his from shoulders to feet. It gave me a reminder that, while I'd had so many orgasms I'd nearly blacked out, my husband very noticeably hadn't, at least according to the large, firm body part prodding at my hip. It didn't dim the conceited grin on his face one bit.

"I've always wondered if that was possible." He snickered.

"What, making me pass out from sex?"

"That too." He smiled wider. His erection twitched between us, clearly enthused at the idea.

"Now you know." I rolled my eyes, trying not to stroke his ego – which was clearly rather inflated for the moment. Not that his ego couldn't use a little inflating every now and then. "But you haven't finished yet."

He wrapped his arms tighter around me, trapping mine between us as I reached for him. "Doesn't matter. I'm fine."

I raised an eyebrow at him. "So this tree trunk I can feel between us is just in my imagination?"

The tree trunk in question twitched again, and I giggled even as he flushed and rolled away. "That wasn't the point."

Cuddling up to his back, I grunted. "I'm supposed to just ignore your pleasure? I don't think so." He didn't respond, so I tried again. "What was the point, then?" I ran my hands over his sweaty skin suggestively.

He groaned. "Two minutes ago you were unconscious after begging me to stop."

I kissed the back of his neck. "And now I'm awake and asking you to make love to me." I let my tongue trace across his skin teasingly, and he shuddered. "I mean, I guess we could just stop but I think my original idea is better."

He lasted a minute more, obviously struggling, before rolling over with a growl, pinning me underneath him, our fingers interlaced, his mouth crashing down on mine. He fit against me like he was meant to be there, built just for me. We finished together, clinging together and exchanging little declarations of love as our heartbeats slowed.

We held each other, kissing languorously for what felt like hours, then feeding each other off the tray I'd had brought up earlier, since we'd missed dinner. We took a shower together, enjoying the feeling of our hands on each other but with no serious intent for anything more. I crawled onto the bed afterwards, settling myself against Alistair's warm, broad back with a sigh.

"Is this the part where we talk about it?" He sounded amused, but he couldn't hide the tension in his muscles or the tremor in the hand that held mine.

"Only if you want to."

He snorted. "You're not going to insist?"

I nuzzled his shoulder, yawning. "I rather thought you'd want to sleep on it, maybe talk about it tomorrow."

There was a pause, and I thought for a moment my response had been prophetic and he'd fallen asleep, when finally he answered in a tiny voice I had to struggle to hear. "Do you think she'll still be here tomorrow?"

I squeezed his hand and snuggled in tighter. "Yes. I do." And if she's not, I'll find her myself and bring her back in chains if I must.

He nodded, and a few minutes later he relaxed as a snore slipped out of his mouth. I closed my eyes and joined him in sleep.


A/N:

I know, I know, it's a cliffhanger. Sorry. Hopefully the next chapter will be up soon...ish.

As always, I don't own Dragon Age. A million thanks to my fabulous betas who have not abandoned me despite my prolonged abscence, Kira Tamarion and Melysande.

Reviews:

Eiris: Well...sorta ;) The reunion did not go smoothly! (Don't hit me, I'm fragile!)

Chimera Spyke: Different Dorian. Dunno why they used the same name! From the novels, Count Dorian was an evil Orlesian nobleman who kept young Fiona chained as a slave. She killed him when her magic first presented and his widow sent her to the Circle, after which she was recruited to the Wardens.

charleymiamore: Writing their reunion was totally therapeutic for my impotent anger at Inquisition...sigh.

Guest: Yeah, quarantine...sadly my productivity suffered. But I'm back!

LittleGreenMen: You were on chapter 54, but I hope you've forgiven Alistair now ;) As for Fergus, well...he gets better too, lol. As for Fiona, she ends up getting released from the Wardens once they realise her taint is 'cured' and she won't go through the Calling. She becomes Grand Enchanter and then has a role in Inquisition but they never allow her and Alistair to talk, and it sucks.