Emilia hadn’t really wanted to become a warrior. If it hadn’t been for her hopeless crush on Ser Gilmore, she would have never asked him to teach her how to use a sword and a shield. It had been just an excuse for her to spend more time with him. The truth was she had never thought the day would come where there wouldn’t be castle walls and her father’s men to protect her.
How wrong she had been! She had faced all kinds of dangers this past year and had fought with sword, shield, nails and teeth to survive and succeed. She had bled from countless wounds, had felt each and every single muscle of her body – some she didn’t even know existed – ache. But this hurt more. This should be nothing compared to finding and destroying the Anvil of the Void, slaughtering an entire clan of Dalish elves, annulling the Circle of Magi, finding Andraste’s ashes and being tortured at Fort Drakon.
Except that it wasn’t nothing, because he had come to mean everything to her.
He was in her room now, but not because he had sneaked in there during the night so they could be together. He was on her bed, but not because they were making love one last time before marching to war.
Her stomach was turning into knots as she watched him walk miserably in there, like a lamb to slaughter, and close the door behind him. After the horrors she had witnessed at the Circle of Magi, Zathrian’s curse that turned men into werewolves and the lies he had told her to get her to kill them, Jowan and all other blood mages and abominations she had faced, she knew very well she should stay within ear’s reach from Alistair and the witch, because that ritual could go all kinds of wrong. Mages always seemed to have some twisted secret agenda and she had just learned what Morrigan and Flemeth’s were. At least she had killed the old hag.
But even though she knew better than to trust a mage, she wasn’t going to stay anywhere near that bedroom. What if she heard a pleasured moan, the bed creaking, flesh slapping against flesh, that sexy tormented groan that always escaped his lips when he was coming? She couldn’t take it. Only in a tent outside, set somewhere she knew he couldn’t find her, she would have a chance of getting some sleep. In the castle she would spend every second of that dreadful night awake, waiting for him to return as she tortured herself with thoughts of how long that abhorrent ritual was going to take, how many times they would have to do it to make sure the witch really got pregnant, if he would stay with that woman until morning…
However camping didn’t help as much as she thought and the only thing that took her mind of the fact that Alistair was trying to get Morrigan pregnant was the just as awful thought that he had broken up with her after the Landsmeet, because she – just like him – was a Grey Warden, thus unlikely to bear children.
It had felt like a sword through the heart hearing him say that he would find someone else to marry. So her damned fruitless womb suddenly meant more to him than their love, their story and all the promises they had made to each other? Of course she knew that love mattered squat when it came to marriage among nobles, but that was Alistair… she had honestly thought he would be different from the others.
Yet she had done a great job pretending she was fine with his decision while he had done a poor one pretending he was sure of what he was doing. If she had pressed the matter, she would’ve probably convinced him they could stay together, but she was a proud woman and she would neither beg nor settle for being his mistress.
Despite of all the heartbreak, she had no second thoughts about having made him king. After what she had witnessed and been through while imprisoned in Fort Drakon, Emilia would never let anyone of Loghain’s lineage get anywhere near the throne. The Mac Tirs were a family of traitors and torturers, father and daughter both. Oh, how she had enjoyed seeing Alistair behead that vile man. That, along with her putting a sword through Howe’s guts had been the highlights of this past year.
And so that there would be no chance of Anora ever becoming queen, Emilia had accepted Morrigan’s proposition. She had already decided Riordan and she would take point in the fight against the Archdemon, but if they didn’t make it, it would be up to Alistair to finish the monster and his survival was crucial to Ferelden’s future. Disappointments aside, he was the best option to rule the country.
In the morning Emilia made sure she would only run into the king when everyone was already gathered to leave for Denerim. He looked like he had been up all night and she didn’t know what to make of that. She didn’t even want to think about it.
During their whole journey, every time he shot her a longing look, it was soon replaced by a guilty one and he would turn away. While her eyes, no matter how much she tried to act like she was fine, invariably carried a hint of resentment. She had managed to avoid any conversation about their relationship and his night with Morrigan by always walking side-by-side with Riordan or someone else who shouldn’t learn what they had done, which was… everyone.
She did talk to Morrigan though. Since it made no sense going through that insane ritual and then letting the woman endanger herself and the baby in that darkspawn infested city they were headed to, Emilia told her to leave whenever she thought it was safer and soon after, the witch disappeared.
Days later, Emilia and her remaining companions and allies arrived in Denerim. They fought their way into the city and she left Shale, the dwarves and the templars holding the gates under Oghren’s command and went after the darkspawn generals and the Archdemon with the rest of her party, the werewolves and the Redcliffe soldiers.
After twenty hours straight of fighting they finally reached the top of Fort Drakon. A couple more hours and Emilia was gathering the last of her strength and making a final run towards a badly injured Archdemon.
Sliding underneath it, she ran her sword through the soft skin of its throat and neck, slicing it open. Blood flowed freely from the cut, slick and thick, covering her and making it impossible for her to see anything through the visor of her helmet. She hastily took it off, blinking a few times to ease the sting of the sweat that was getting into her eyes.
She could feel inside her the creature getting weaker with each heartbeat; its pain and fear making her blood boil in her veins. That damned dragon would be dead from the bleeding within a minute or so, but she wasn’t going to wait for it, oh no. Inhaling sharply she raised her blade above its head and aimed for the brain as she lowered it with all her might.
Helplessly and in horror, just like he had watched Riordan fall from that blighted dragon to his death a few hours ago, Alistair was watching Lia now as she sunk her blade in its head.
He just hoped Morrigan hadn’t lied about that fucked up ritual of hers, because if Lia didn’t survive this he was going to hunt that traitorous witch down and…
The shockwave that followed the killing blow sent him rolling several feet in the opposite direction and Morrigan was gone from his thoughts. All he could think about was that Lia was in the epicenter of that blast.
Alistair was the first to get back up on his feet, looking around frantically for his fellow Warden amidst that sickening mess of corpses and body parts. There were a few soldiers cheering while others began chasing down the retreating enemies, and then he saw Chewie sprinting. That old mabari would only run like that for one person. Following the dog with his eyes, he watched him get to a body and nudge it with his muzzle a few times.
Alistair moved towards them as fast as he could, his heart clenching in his chest as Chewie began barking desperately, calling for help.
Leliana got there first and fell to her knees by Lia’s side, already fumbling with injury kits and potions. When Alistair reached them… He had never thought the day would come when he would wish for the presence of a mage, but there it was.
Lia’s breathing was shallow and blood was gushing from a deep cut on her forehead. Her left arm was twisted in a weird angle and her armor was dented, bent and smashed in several places, probably hurting her and crushing her. His was not so different, but right now he couldn’t care less.
A small crowd gathered quickly around her. Even ruined like it was, her Blood Dragon armor was very unique and easily recognizable, so everyone up there knew that was the woman who had led them to victory. They were all speaking at the same time, some saying this or that potion should be used, others saying that she wouldn’t make it, another reciting the Chant of Light. It was madness. He had to get her out of there, give her room to breathe, see to her wounds and make sure she would survive and… that she would forgive him.
Yes, at first he thought she had wronged him, since he didn’t want to be king and she had forced the crown upon him. He wanted her to feel bad about it and apologize to him and try to convince him they could still be together. What a fool he had been. A proud woman like her would never do such things, especially after being treated as if she weren’t good enough for him.
Leliana couldn’t help chiming in in favor of her friend, of course, and thank the Maker for her nosiness. She reminded him of how the two of them had found Lia naked, broken and battered in an unwholesome cell in Fort Drakon and how most of the prisoners there had been tortured to death, their bodies forming a stinking pile of rotten flesh in a corner. Anora not only had allowed that to happen, but had also gotten Lia imprisoned there. “Do not tell me you wanted to hand your country over to that traitorous woman, Alistair. How could you have thought Lia would agree to this?” Leliana had scolded him.
More than that, Lia had made her case, though he had been unwilling to admit it, when she had told him how weak, what a tool Anora really was, thus unfitting to rule Ferelden. “Loghain thought she would be able to control Cailan, bend him to the will of the MacTirs and their allies, but she kept failing at it. Cailan always did as he pleased, she could never control him. Loghain grew tired of it and took the matters into his owns hands. That was why he left Cailan to die at Ostagar. Anora could have stepped up as ruler then, could’ve tried and do some good. Instead, she let her father take over. She’s a coward; easily manipulated. These are wartimes we’re living in. We can’t risk having a coward ruling our country,” Lia had said. And then she had given him a thousand reasons why he would be a better king than Cailan, Anora and Loghain put together.
His only counter argument was that he didn’t want to. Deep down he knew Lia was right, but he had refused to acknowledge it and, utterly bitter about it all, had dumped her. If she died now, she would die thinking he considered her unsuitable for him and he would never forgive himself.
She was his sister in arms, his best friend, his family, his lover. How could he have treated her like that? These past few weeks without her he had been nothing but miserable.
Ignoring Leliana and everyone else who was fussing over Lia, he gathered her in his arms. The companions and the crowd followed as he carried her off that rooftop, offering aid and suggesting places for him to take her, but he wasn’t listening. If there was one good thing that came out of them both carrying the taint in them, it was that they could feel each other and right now he was feeling her exhaustion and her dangerously weak vitals, and that made it impossible for him to pay attention to anyone else.
The Royal Palace was relatively close and he ended up there. Given the chaotic state of the city, it surprised him that two servants and a few guards appeared to offer him their services. Right then and there Alistair decided to begin his reign. He ordered one servant to go see to the needs of his companions, the other to guide him to the king’s quarters and the guards to disband the crowd.
Only when he lowered Lia onto the bed, he noticed how his arms were trembling with the exertion. Had he really carried her from Fort Drakon to the Royal Palace, both clad in heavy armor, after traveling for over a week from Redcliffe to Denerim and fighting for about a whole day and night straight?
Maker’s breath, he had! But he would not feel tired. Not until he was sure she would be fine. Chewie was of the same opinion and he sat down by the bed, watching over his mistress.
Alistair took off his gauntlets and put the potions and injury kits he had left on the nightstand. Thankfully, Leliana had managed to stop the bleeding and bandage Lia’s forehead before he had taken her out of Fort Drakon.
Slowly and carefully not to aggravate her wounds, he removed her gauntlets. The gloves she wore underneath were in shambles and her knuckles were raw from the friction against the metal. Her fingers were reddened and swollen and her nails were broken and bleeding.
His hands were almost as bad, but the pain he felt seeing her hurt like that was way worse than the pain from his own injuries. She was not supposed to endure all this hardship, to encounter horrors such as abominations and broodmothers, to be hurt and scarred over and over again like she had been this past year. Like the other Ferelden noblemen’s daughters, she was supposed to be safe and sound, protected by armies and castle walls or vacationing in Orlais, waiting for the war to end. However life had shown her no mercy and that lost, dejected girl he had met at Ostagar had become the strongest, bravest, most admirable woman he had ever known. He had never seen anyone so capable to inspire loyalty and such a natural leader. Soldiers, templars, dwarves and even werewolves and Qunari had followed her into this battle and she had led them to victory. There would never be a woman more suited to the role of queen than her. He just hoped he hadn’t ruined the chances of that ever happening beyond repair.
Sighing sadly, he took off her boots and greaves. Her feet were even worse than her hands, covered in blisters and caked blood from several small wounds where her boots had begun to cut through her skin. A few of her toenails were cracked while others were black-and-blue.
One of the servants came in bringing a basin of fresh water and clean cloths and Alistair took the opportunity to ask her to ready a bath, before he turned back to Lia.
As he cleaned the blood and grime of her face, he noticed how pale and waxy her skin was. He couldn’t pour a potion down the throat of an unconscious person. Why wouldn’t she wake up, dammit!
He worked her out of her breastplate next and when it came off, she instantly sucked in a deep breath. It was obvious that thing, bent and smashed like it was, had been crushing her and he cursed himself for not getting rid of it first.
At least now her breathing was normal and that gave him hope. Cupping her face gently, he tried to talk to her, whispering apologies and begging her to wake up, but she remained unresponsive.
He moved on to take off the worn tunic and breeches she wore underneath her armor, leaving her only in her smallclothes. There were many bruises throughout her body and her skin was sticky with sweat. He cleaned her left arm first, now realizing it wasn’t actually broken. It was her shoulder that was dislocated. He muttered a curse under his breath, hating that he would have to cause her more pain, but it had to be put back in place. However it was best to wait until she was awake to do it. Because she would wake up. She had to.
He cleaned the rest of her body, taking his time to caress all the places her armor scored and chafed her skin. Maker, how he missed being this close to her, touching her, the feel of her skin against his… But then it hit him that she was not his lover anymore. Touching her like that was inappropriate, to say the least, and clenching his fists to keep himself from her, he pulled away.
His heart tightened in his chest as he remembered how they would help each other out of their armor every evening in camp, even before they had begun sleeping together. For him, that was the best moment of the day. At first, it was about the relief of getting rid of all that weight, but as their relationship blossomed it became much more. Each piece of armor that came off was followed by gentle caresses and light kisses on all the tender and calloused spots the metal would invariably leave on their bodies. That ritual never failed to make them relax and forget the madness of their lives. It was a moment just for the two of them to enjoy each other.
Chewie barked angrily at Alistair, bringing him back to reality. The warrior rubbed at his eyes wearily and tried to focus on what had to be done next for Lia. Going over to the nightstand, he got the bandages from his injury kits and soaked them in health poultices before wrapping them up on her hands and feet, minding each finger and toe.
The servant came back in bringing a tray of food and a pitcher of water and with Leliana in tow. The bard looked like she had taken a bath. Her clothes were clean and her injuries were bandaged.
“You need to eat, Alistair,” she said, but he ignored her.
“How about taking a bath? Getting some sleep?” she continued, still getting no answer.
“No? At least let me help you out of your armor, then,” she said, taking a step towards him.
“No!” he snapped, finally turning to look at her.
She didn’t back down. “You’re stressed out and need to rest. I’ll take care of her. First we have to change these sheets. They are all wet,” she said and immediately began fussing over the bed.
Alistair dragged his fingers over his face impatiently, but she stopped him before he could voice any protests. “I won’t hear any more of it. Go eat your food.”
That made he feel as if he were a twelve-year-old boy again being scolded by one of the Chantry sisters. Strangely enough, he found himself sitting at the table by the window in the far side of the room and eating. After he was done and got back on his feet his armor felt so unbearably heavy and uncomfortable, he just had to take it off.
Heavy armor was not something one could get in and out of it alone and this time, when Leliana offered her help, he accepted it.
He dragged himself to the bathing chambers and stripped off his underclothes before sinking in the bathtub. That bath was supposed to be for Lia and he felt guilty for enjoying it so much, but she was still unconscious and, Maker, how he needed it. He was so exhausted he rested his head on the rim of the bathtub and without even noticing, he fell asleep. After only a few minutes, he woke up abruptly and jumped out of the water, worried that he might have been out for too long and something might have changed about Lia’s condition during his absence.
But no. She was still passed out on the bed.
Clean clothes had been laid out for him in the… his room. They were Cailan’s most probably, as was the golden armor he had ruined in this final run for the Archdemon. Well, he guessed it was all his now. To think that not long ago he had practically nothing of his own… Then Lia had come into his life and she had given him everything – friendship, hope, love and even a kingdom. And he had broken her heart in return…
Trying to shake those thoughts out of his head, he removed the towel that was wrapped around his waist and began getting dressed. Leliana was still in the room, but he didn’t mind her and she didn’t mind him. After camping for a year with fourteen people and… creatures, bathing in whatever streams and creeks they would come across in their travels, helping each other in and out of armor and treating each other’s battle wounds, there had been nothing left unseen. Privacy was not a privilege they could afford, or had time for.
The bard had changed Lia’s undergarments for clean ones and was trying to get her in a robe, but was hesitant to move her left arm. “We need to do something about this,” she said, pointing at Lia’s purple swollen shoulder.
Yes, they did. And Lia needed to recover, to wake up, to… take him back. Why the fuck wouldn’t she wake up? He blew out an angry breath as he strode purposefully towards the bed and grasped her left arm, putting it on a straight position and bending her elbow. Inside him he could feel her escalating pain as he rotated her arm and shoulder inward and outward. It only made him all the more determined. Getting a reaction from her, any reaction, was good at this point. Holding her wrist and with Leliana rushing over to steady her upper arm, he shoved Lia’s arm back into the shoulder joint.
He felt her pain subsiding and her relief, but then… nothing. Fuck! What else could he do for her to wake up? He was so mad and frustrated, he wished a darkspawn would appear in front of him just so he could tear it apart with his bare hands. Settling for flipping the table over, he then stormed out of the room only to come back instants later looking guilty and miserable.
Leliana was about to say something to comfort him when a guard appeared at the door. “Excuse me, Your Majesty. Arl Eamon Guerrin is here. He demands to see you.”
“Not now,” Alistair mumbled tiredly.
“He wants to know if the crowning ceremony can be held this week, Your Majesty. Also, there are three dwarves and a… rock lady outside. They say they are friends with the Hero of Ferelden.”
Hero of Ferelden? That was what they were calling Lia? Wow, no need to worry about whether or not the people would approve his choice of queen. “Let them in. The dwarves and the… rock lady, I mean. Tell Eamon…” Alistair rubbed at his temples and sighed.
“Tell the arl the king will let him know when he makes a decision about the coronation,” Leliana came to his aid.
The guard looked at Alistair and at the king’s nod of approval, the man left.
“I’ll go see if Bodahn has something that might help Lia and I’ll tell everyone they may come see her in the morning. You, try and get some rest,” the bard told Alistair.
Emilia looked around at the unknown room. The last thing she remembered was driving her sword through the Archdemon’s head. Since Chewie was lying on the bed by her feet, she was wearing clean clothes and her injuries had been cared for, things must have turned out alright from that moment on.
Parched and with a throbbing pain in her head, she reached with some difficulty for one of the flasks on the nightstand, only to drop it, letting out a startled yelp, when she noticed a head on the bed. Looking more closely, thank the Maker, it had a body attached to it. It was Alistair and he shifted and groaned in his sleep, probably protesting against the noise she was making.
He was mostly on the floor, but for his head and hands resting on the mattress. It looked like he had fallen asleep while… praying?
Why was he there like that? He was king now and she wasn’t part of his life anymore. But before bitterness and resentment took over, she saw him wake up and look at her with weary eyes that quickly filled with tears as he let out a loud sigh of relief.
Feeling like crying too, but for different reasons, she turned away from him. It seemed like he was about to hug her and she couldn’t take it.
“Here. Drink, please,” he said with a shaky voice as he handed her a health poultice.
She took it, holding it awkwardly with her fingers wrapped up in bandages, but she would not ask for his help. “We won?” she asked instead.
Maybe it was those two words or the potion or both, but she was already feeling a little better. If only he would leave her be… Having him near, being nice to her, showing her that he still cared… it was like twisting a knife in her already bleeding heart.
“How are you feeling?” he asked her.
“Fine. You can go back to your room. Thank you.”
“This… is my room.”
“Oh? I’ll go, then.”
Easier said than done. Every muscle in her body protested when she tried to move.
“Maker, I feel like a dragon chewed me up. Did I really kill that thing?” she tried to joke, not wanting to look weak and vulnerable in front of him.
“Lia… you don’t have to leave. I… I want you to stay.”
The way he said those words… she could tell that something had changed. It reminded her of the first time they had shared a tent. The intense, extenuating experience they had had on their return to Ostagar was what had brought them together. Both were desperately in need of comfort and consolation after seeing King Cailan’s body to the Maker and leaving the old fortress and they had found it in each other’s arms. They shared their first kiss that night and then they had lain down face to face, foreheads barely touching, fingers interlaced, his breathing warm and soothing against her skin, hers calming and reassuring against his. They had fallen asleep like that and it had been gloriously peaceful.
Back then they had just been two kids who had lost everything and everyone, two warriors far too young and inexperienced to succeed at the impossible task that had been laid before them. Each other was all they had.
Now, though roughly a year had gone by, there was no soldier in Ferelden more experienced than they were and they had the support of the whole country.
Yet tonight he was looking at her like that kid again. And like that girl, she made room for him by her side. Again, they were both seeking hope. Only this time it was hope for their love and a future together. Again they found it as he laid there with her, holding hands, foreheads barely touching and feeling their breaths caressing each other’s skin.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered at the same time that she whispered, “I missed you.”
Everything would be fine. Each other was all they needed.