Chapter 1: The Nightmare
In all his life, he could not recall hearing his name said with such heartfelt reverence. Even in the heat of passion, their bodies slick with sweat, the Inquisitor never said Alistair’s name without a joyful laugh behind it. He wouldn't have minded the change-up now, actually, had they been having sex, but here? With certain death staring him in the face? No.
And yet, had the Inquisitor said her name, Alistair would've protested. Violently. He would've disobeyed the Inquisitor, and charged in to distract the Nightmare so the others could escape, whether Jax liked it or not. The Inquisitor knew him well, and made the wiser choice.
Besides, Fenris would've killed him anyway had Hawke not been the one spared.
The Nightmare roared in challenge, drowning out everything, even the relentless siren-call in the forefront of his mind. His time was almost up no matter what, no matter how much he wished otherwise, so he might as well go down fighting. A hero. The thought made his grin fierce. He gripped his sword tighter, and nodded at Jax.
“Inquisitor. I'll distract it, get it to follow me deeper into the Fade so you have the chance you need.”
This time anguish laced the single word. Alistair spared a glance at the Inquisitor, his resolve fracturing. Jax Trevelyan was so very young to be thrown into the role he'd been forced into, making the hard decisions that no one in their right mind would ever want to make. Despite his inexperience, no matter how difficult the task before him, he’d risen brilliantly to challenge after challenge.
This was different. This was personal. Jax was sending his lover to certain death.
Jax raised his chin, his ridiculously gorgeous blue eyes steady, only the quaver in his voice giving evidence of his despair. That, and the death-grip on his staff. They'd chosen not to make their still-newish relationship common knowledge--well, Alistair hadn’t wanted it common knowledge, for reasons--but to hell with it, Alistair thought. There wasn't much time left. He didn't have much time left.
He sheathed his sword and grabbed the Inquisitor, pulling his face down for a last, tender, bittersweet kiss. Shocked for only a half second, Jax pulled Alistair to him, opening his soft lips, and plundering Alistair's mouth until he was breathless, tongues dancing with unabashed passion. Jax’s body, so responsive, pressed hard against Alistair’s own. Despite the armor between them, Alistair could feel Jax’s heat. Oh yeah.
Everything and everyone else was blocked off--how he loved the breadth of Jax’s shoulders--so he couldn’t see the others’ reactions. He heard them well enough, though. Hawke's shocked, “Oh, Alistair,” was the only thought voiced. Alistair pulled back, held the Inquisitor's face between his gloved hands and stared him straight in the eyes.
“Kill Corypheus for me. And survive this,” he said hoarsely. “Promise me.”
The Inquisitor nodded, looking now all of his only twenty-one years. “Promise,” Jax whispered, his eyes shimmering. “I promise.”
Alistair withdrew, his heart splintering as he dropped his hands. He forced a smile. “I'll see you again, someday. Just don't make it too soon, yeah?”
Jax swallowed, nodding. “I… See you.”
He was so very, very young. Alistair couldn't bear the grief in Jax’s eyes any longer. He nodded at Bull, at Dorian, at Sera, who crossed her arms angrily and turned away but not before he saw her shimmering eyes.
Then he turned to his friend. Hawke's eyes were tearing, something she normally didn't allow. Their friendship’s deepening after Kirkwall had been a surprise to him. Still surprised him, he supposed. On a whim she’d tracked him down, insisting he visit them when he could. He loved her for that, and always would. All hour or so he had left. She was the closest thing to a sister he’d ever had. He kissed her on the cheek, then hugged her tight before releasing her.
He hesitated, then pulled out the silver amulet he always wore from beneath his armor. He studied it for a moment, remembering both the day he’d hurled it against the wall and watched it shatter, and the day Liassa had found it, cracked but somehow whole again. With only slightly trembling hands, and carefully ignoring Jax’s shocked expression, he slid the chain from around his neck and slipped it over Hawke’s head.
“Alistair,” she said, denial in her eyes even as she clasped it in her hand. “I can’t take this. This was your mother’s.”
He shrugged. “Somehow I think she’d like me to pass it on to someone special. You and Fenris name your kid after me, won't you? Tell him, or her, about me when you give it to them.”
And grinning at her shocked face, the stiff nod--ha ha! He was right!--he unsheathed his sword and raised it high. With a yell of fury he barked out, “Now, run, you lovely people! Run!” Then he whipped around to greet the monstrous beast.
He didn't have to look back to know Jax had stood and watched him for a moment before Bull's “Boss, we've got to go,” broke through to him. Alistair heard their footsteps running away as he prepared to face his fate.
It was, he supposed, a good enough day to die.
The Nightmare charged.
Alistair had fought many beasts, ghouls, creatures, and various and sundry other demons and monsters, but this behemoth? He'd never seen anything so huge, so terrifying in all his life. Except maybe dragons. They were equally terrifying, he supposed, but the few he’d defeated, he hadn’t defeated alone. Still, surely he--an excellent swordsman, an almost-Templar, a Grey Warden and fucking son of a king--surely he could put this Nightmare down in short order?
The Nightmare swiped at him. Alistair leaped back, slicing down as he did so. His sword bit into the Nightmare's nearest leg, making it howl. Another of its legs, claws extended, came at him; he leaped out of the way just in time.
Again, he hacked at the Nightmare’s leg, leaving another deep cut, black ichor spurting from his strike right below the joint.
He grinned as ichor splattered him. He wiped it from his face. Every monster had its weak point, even this one. The Nightmare reared up, waving its legs, screaming in fury, making his ears ring in protest. It gathered itself to leap at him. Oh, shit. It sprang for him, mouth open, teeth gleaming, dripping silvery fluid. Fuck fuck fuck. Poison, he had no doubt.
Alistair jumped once again, hitting the ground with such force he tucked himself into a ball and rolled. Unfortunately for him, the ground was littered with rocks, and he growled in pain as they dug into his back. If he survived this, he would have lovely bruises on his back in the morning.
The Nightmare screamed, shaking the very ground beneath Alistair as he bounced back to his feet. Sort of bounced to his feet. He was feeling fatigued already. Not good, not good. Alistair ran around a boulder, putting it between him and the Nightmare to get a few seconds of precious rest. What could he do to end this in his favor?
Nothing. You’re good as dead already, Theirin.
“Not bloody helping, Self,” he thought viciously. He darted in, slicing at the Nightmare's leg below the joint; another spout of ichor or blood or whatever the hell it was shot forth.
“Maker, you stink.” The Nightmare made a deep, rumbling sound vaguely reminiscent of a chuckle. Fuck. Unfortunately, the other place he'd managed to damage the Nightmare had somehow closed itself off. He watched in horror as this cut too closed off. No wonder the bastard chuckled at him.
Desperation was starting to set in. He really didn't think today was a fine day to die. He wanted to live, he wanted to escape this place. He wanted to walk out of that damn rift, and sneak up to the Inquisitor who, of course, would have his back turned so he wouldn't see Alistair coming. Going for the theatrics here. He would stand a few feet behind Jax, softly say his name. Jax would turn, he'd drop his tea right there in the throne room, and swoop Alistair into his arms and kiss him madly and to hell with what anyone else thought.
He swallowed, an unfamiliar ache in his chest.
He would never feel the Inquisitor's arms around him again, never taste him again, never be deep inside him again, possessing him like no one else but he could, their bodies moving with such perfect rhythm, never again see that beautiful look of wonder on Jax's face every time Alistair brought him to the brink and over.
The Nightmare made that awful chuckling sound again. Is that truly who you’ll miss, Theirin?
“Shut up, damn you,” he said, though whether he was addressing himself or the Nightmare, he wasn’t sure.
Of course he was sure. Right.
Maker, this sucks.
The Nightmare bellowed, ripping Alistair away from his thoughts. He wiped his eyes, cursing himself--he could've fallen in love with Jax, maybe. It had all been about sex and release at first, but quickly had become more, surprising him though not Jax. Jax was all into that destiny crap. They were meant to be. Alistair had almost come to believe Jax might be right. Almost. The past is done. Nothing can change it now, Theirin.
And now this bastard was putting an end to him and any silly notions he might possibly develop, and he was getting pissed at the thought it would win.
Or would it?
Alistair thought back to where they'd fought the two pride demons. There was a drop off there, a very slippery slope he'd nearly fallen down himself… If he could entice this thing that far, maybe he could trip it or something, make it fall. It wouldn't die. No, he couldn't expect to be that lucky. But, it wouldn't find it easy to get back to where he was, and he would be running like a nug chased by a wild mabari after the Inquisitor and his companions, and hopefully be long gone by the time the Nightmare managed to chase after him.
Alistair waved his sword at the Nightmare. “Okay you ugly fucker, you want me?” He gestured with his empty hand in such a manner that had once brought down a Chantry sister’s wrath. “Then come and get me!” He jumped forward, stabbed at the closest clawed foot, and darted away again, moving backwards as the Nightmare roared. “What's the matter. Got poked in your wee little foot? Hurts doesn't it? Poor baby. Follow me, I'll make you forget about that tiny scratch.”
The Nightmare lashed out at him. This time, he didn't move fast enough. Didn't realize its claws were retractable; he hadn't estimated for that extra reach. At the last second a single claw shot out and struck, slicing him across the ribs. His armor took most of the damage but the impact sent him reeling. Now it was his turn to howl as he hit the ground, letting his body roll over with the momentum, his sword extended and grip fierce so he wouldn't lose it.
Alistair's head hit with a solid thunk, knocking him senseless for a long moment. Maker's balls, why the hell had he taken off his helmet when he did? Dazed, he tried to remember when that had happened. Was it before they fell into the Fade?
Too late he remembered that a monster had serious designs on crunching him. He tried to roll out of the way again, but dizziness and the reeling pain made him miscalculate, again, what the monster was capable of.
Another claw whipped toward him, slicing his leg. And another, across his right wrist. He lost his grip on his sword, and gasped in shock as blood pulsed out of the wound. The pain was unbearable. He reeled from the fiery agony, a scream of denial and despair coming from somewhere deep inside him as the monster loomed over him, clacking its jaws, the silvery saliva dripping from its fangs as it swiped him once more across the wrist.
Blood was everywhere. In his eyes, in his mouth. He felt it, hot and wet, and the cold hard truth of it was, he was done for.
Like a nug trapped by a bored wolf, he shuddered in frozen terror under the beast's gaze. His back was against a wall, he had no idea where his sword was, he couldn't move his hand-- Did he even still have a hand? He couldn't feel it. He blinked, pain coursing through him unlike any he'd ever felt before as he stared up into his future killer’s eyes.
The Nightmare tilted its head back, clacking its teeth, then put one clawed foot onto his chest, pulled him away from the wall, and pressed. Not hard, but enough to pin him. All it had to do was step fully on him to kill him, he thought.
His friends were safe by now. They had to be. Please Maker, let them be safe, please don't let me die in vain.
“What are you waiting for you ugly bastard? Come on, just end it already,” he yelled at it. With his left hand--given as he didn't think he had a right one anymore--he pounded on the Nightmare's leg, even as it slowly dug its claw further into him.
“No. No, not like this,” he thought wildly as the point of the claw pierced his armor. The monster stared at him with its fractured eyes, pushing down harder with terrifying intelligence. He screamed as he felt a rib crack. And then another. The claw broke through his skin. No. This can’t be it. He was losing consciousness but the monster made that clacking sound again, this time so loud his ears felt as if they would burst.
It brought another leg down to hold his thrashing legs still. Hot tears poured down his face, blending with blood and dirt. The pain was excruciating. He was slowly being crushed and pierced at the same time. He never thought this would be how he would die. A brutal hack of an ax, a slice of a sword, even shot-through with a well-placed arrow, but this?
Maker, please help me. Not like this.
The monster's second claw raked across his legs. He screamed again, struggling with the madness of agony, gasping for breath, his lungs on fire. His thoughts were no longer coherent. He beat at the monster with his good hand, wondering feverishly if maybe his other hand was still attached to his sword. He couldn't see where the sword had landed, his peripheral vision growing dark.
The monster pulled back, releasing him but only for a moment, only for long enough to watch him try desperately to regain his feet. He hunched over, trying to get his breath, trying to push away the growing blackness from loss of blood and pain when the claws came down again, raking across his back.
He screamed, and collapsed, the impact crunching his broken ribs, sending one straight into his lung. He howled, coughing and gasping, writhing from pain, unaware now of his surroundings, his life-blood pouring from his wounds. His breathing became weaker and weaker, more and more desperate, his thrashing more and more feeble until that moment came he'd known all his life would come eventually. Still he raged against the inevitable until nothing in him was left.
Not like this, Maker help me, not like this...
Then the Nightmare pushed down, and Alistair died.
Chapter 2: The Fade
Something beautiful thought lost forever is found.
Or rather, someone beautiful.
The High Elf took the shield stones he’d prepared out of his pack, each the size of his fist, and placed them around the body. The stones would keep any demons or other predators in this strange and terrible place at bay until they were done. Though he would die this day, it must not be premature.
One by one, he removed the enchanted rings from his fingers: revival, regeneration, ring of mending, ring of health. He’d spent months building the strength of the rings; they were priceless, despite their common look. Their function wasn’t to be beautiful. Their function was to enhance, heal, and protect a precious life. Holding them in one hand, he closed his eyes, and began murmuring the long series of spells he’d labored to learn. Magic from the Fade had a unique power of its own, an incredible source to draw on that he learned how to wield under his guardian’s watchful eye. Here, in the Fade, it was safe for him to do so.
Here, where he couldn’t hurt anyone.
The rings on his palm began to glow: red, gold, blue, and green. Metal edged toward metal, each ring losing its shape until a rainbow of molten liquid filled his palm. It did not burn him. He pulled the fifth ring from his pocket and, still murmuring under his breath, placed it in the melted metal. He watched, his expression impassive as the four enchantments folded over the new addition, layer over layer, flashing red, gold, blue, and green until all had melded into the final ring. Once complete, he held it up to the dim light, turning it in his hand. At a quick glance the ring looked dull silver, but in the light he could see the blended enchantments.
Palming the ring, he slipped the amulet from around his neck. Unlike the enchanted rings, the Amulet of Mara hadn’t taken years to prepare. He’d bought it in Solitude only the week before from a desperate beggar. She and her daughter would have their new home by now, he thought with a soft smile. He’d been very generous.
With a flare of his fingertips, a hot white circle of light formed over the single stone until a milky-white shard chipped off. The chip hovered, untethered, until he closed his fingers around it. He slid the amulet back on and held the ring in his fingers and, returning to his litany of before, dropped the shard into the middle of the ring. The metal folded once again, tines forming around the single stone which now lay flush to the band. He held the ring up, casting a mage light so he could see it clearly. With a satisfied nod he knelt next to the body, and slipped it on the dead warrior’s right index finger.
My only legacy, he thought grimly. If love couldn’t keep the warrior safe on his journey, what could?
He pulled a cloth out of his pocket and wiped the blood and ichor from the warrior’s face. His eyes had been beautiful. A soft brown perhaps. How had they looked, when the warrior laughed? Had they stayed wide and open and amused, or crinkled at the corners? He pressed one hand to the warrior’s cheek, tried to imagine his smile, those pale lips flush with warmth and color. He rubbed the too-pale skin with his thumb in longing, despair tugging at him as he studied the human’s face.
“I promise you will laugh again,” he whispered, pulling away with a heavy heart.
The elf opened his journal, and the remarkable Dwarven pen his uncle had gifted him. It cleverly held enough ink within its odd barrel shape to write almost four full pages of text before he had to refill it again. Amalee had long coveted it; he’d left instructions she should receive it upon his death. He flicked his gaze over the body again and, separating his emotions from the task before him, got to work.
The body was that of a male, approximately thirty-four years of age, perhaps older, but his level of fitness kept him young. As did his boyish face which thankfully was unmarred. He had been a swordsman, as evidenced by the broken weapon still clutched in one half-severed hand, but it was unlikely the warrior would ever fight with a sword again.
That would make it more difficult for what was to come, but his voice was the most important thing. His throat, thankfully, was uninjured.
His ears were gone for the most part and, the elf noted with forced detachment, the monster had brutally savaged the lower belly area, the teeth scores so near the warrior’s penis that another inch lower would’ve emasculated him. The armor, or perhaps sheer luck had miraculously protected the warrior’s cock from true damage, though he would need more than a stitch or two to mend the shredded skin. To wake up in a strange land, impossibly alive, but a eunuch? He was certain he wouldn’t want to live again after that.
Though he was strong, bigger and taller than the dead warrior, it still took some effort to roll him onto his side. He had to fight back nausea at the devastating condition of the man’s back. One of the claws that had pierced his stomach had gone all the way through. Oddly, the expected stench wasn’t present.
Two claws had ripped the man open from right shoulder to left buttock, and down his thigh, slicing through the nicely-crafted armor as if it were cloth. The extent of the wounds truly concerned him. So powerful had been the strikes across his back that his armor was now embedded deep into his skin. The blood loss from those cuts alone had to have been tremendous. He wondered if the warrior had any blood left. He was so pale he could be a vampire. Though Caterina could work miracles with her magic, these wounds would leave devastating scars.
A distant scream, non-human, sent shivers through him. Another scream, closer, deeper, angrier, answered. He took a deep breath, glancing at the shield stones to reassure himself. They still glowed. With a grimace, he turned back to his task. He’d already wasted enough time.
He glanced at the warrior again, his heart swelling with unaccountable compassion for the friends and family who didn’t have a body to bury. He wished he could tell them that their loved one’s sacrifice would give hope to an entire world. His world.
Once Caterina resurrected the warrior, and mended his wounds, he would stir admiration in men and women alike. His body was nicely fit, narrow-hipped, his chest broad, his shoulders and thighs strong. He would catch the eye of all who saw him, and they would wonder who this remarkable man was, where he came from, and where he’d been all those years before he walked into their world just when they needed him most. He didn’t know the warrior’s name but someday it would be on every person’s lips. His life in Thedas, where the Great Wolf had found him, would fade. He would be a hero, loved by millions. He would come to accept that those years in his homeland had been preparation for the man he was meant to become.
“Would that I could live to see that happen.” He sighed, clenched his hands into fists. It wasn’t to be. His time was over. He had made his choice and, like the dead warrior, had chosen the lives of others over himself.
He didn’t consider himself the type to complain about things he couldn’t change, but this… It hurt. He wanted to be there. He wanted to be a part of the Dragonborn’s future, though he knew many would question why the Dragonborn would want someone like him around. Yes, he was wealthy. He had impeccable taste in clothes, in horses, in his homes. He was renowned for his role in locating the finest treasures in his uncle’s museum. He was also a curiosity, the whore marks across his face intriguing, or so he’d been told by many a pleased lover, patron or no.
But, he was also an Altmer elf, and a very dangerous mage, though most believed his magic mediocre at best. No one--save his mentor--knew the truth. Former mentor. He was, after all, no longer a boy.
“When will you come back? Why can’t you take it now? I don’t want it. I want it to go away.”
The Great Wolf knelt down in front of him, taking his small, terrible hands in his own.
“I know, Rumarin. It will be some time yet before I can return.”
Rumarin’s lower lip quivered; tears rolled down his cheeks. “I’m scared.”
“Fear is not a bad thing. It will keep you safe. Guard your secret well. Only use the power if you have no other choice. Someday, you will need something from me. I will find you then.”
“I need you now.”
“No, Rumarin. You don’t. Your uncle will take care of you. You promise not to use it?”
“I- I promise.”
The Great Wolf nodded, then left him among the twisted bodies of stone. When the Justiciars had found him they never suspected the ten-year-old boy elf responsible for the death of dozens. Who would?
And now, at last, he awaited the Wolf.
It wasn’t that simple of course; much time had passed, terrible things had happened to him--things no one should have to endure. The Great Wolf had, at least in Rumarin’s view, failed him several times when he needed help most. He’d been hurt, irrevocably scarred from what he’d endured, so much so that when the Great Wolf did finally return Rumarin had refused to give him what he coveted, and demanded the Wolf help find the Dragonborn or leave him alone, forever.
He glanced at the body, the Great Wolf’s promise fulfilled, and sighed. Rumarin spread his hands, wondering once again if he was making a terrible mistake. He touched the chipped amulet around his neck. He didn’t want to die. He really and truly didn’t.
He sucked in his breath, closing his eyes against the pain; that which he had now, that which was to soon come. To some, perhaps mostly to those who claimed they cared for him, his death would come as a shock he supposed. He had, of course, told no one the price he was to pay for their salvation; the lovely fools would’ve tried their best to talk him out of it, he was sure.
It had been so very hard to say goodbye without making it obvious they’d never see him again. Amalee had looked at him with suspicion, Zora her usual distrust, when he’d hugged them both. Gorr had rolled his eyes, being Gorr. Hist, he said nothing to. He would’ve immediately suspected. But Caterina--ah, Caterina! He owed her so much. He only hoped the legacy he left in the warrior would be payment and thanks enough.
He crouched down where he could brush the dead man’s hair back, a gesture he had no right to make but did anyway. “I wish I had known you,” Rumarin said softly, his chest aching, his throat tight as he laid his hand across the man’s forehead. “I wish we could’ve known each other. I wish I could learn about your life, and be the one to teach you about my world. I am sorry I won’t be there to protect you. I’m so sorry your death was so terribly painful.”
When he heard the soft footsteps approach, dread filled him. The intruder drew close, standing on the other side of the body outside the safety of the shield stones. Rumarin didn’t look up, and did not stand.
“He could not enter your world otherwise, Rumarin.”
“Did it have to be so violent?”
“No. But it was.”
Rumarin huffed. “Sometimes I think you’d fit right in with the Thalmor.”
“You speak as if you are no longer one of them. You don’t count yourself a Thalmor any longer?”
It came out harsher than he’d meant. There were things about him the Great Wolf didn’t know. Many things. “What is his name? Surely you can tell me now.” Before I have to die, let his name be on my lips.
“Alistair Theirin, son of an elf mage, and a king.”
Rumarin looked up in surprise, only now meeting the Great Wolf’s gaze. Still, he stayed where he was. It somehow seemed fitting the other elf towered over him. “He’s heir to a kingdom?”
“A bastard. He also did not inherit his mother’s gift.”
“A king’s bastard,” Rumarin murmured, studying the dead warrior’s lifeless face, tracing his cheek, the light stubble along his jaw. “Alistair.”
"Such reverence, Rumarin.”
“He deserves it for what he is to become. I would sacrifice what I am for no less. Tell me about him.”
The Great Wolf frowned. “He chose a warrior’s life, an honorable life. He did not know who he was throughout his childhood. Learning the truth about his father did not change him, did not make him veer from his chosen path, that of a Grey Warden. He still believes his mother was a maid in his father’s castle. He does not know she still lives, and is a powerful mage, a leader of mages no less. He was, oddly, a loner, as all Grey Wardens are, but he loved people, too. Kind and giving to his friends and strangers, though not when it came to himself. He was well loved by a great many. Charming, given to fits of remarkable silliness that endeared him to young and old, but far more intelligent than perhaps even he understood.” He paused. “He would have made a very good king.”
“He could’ve been king?”
“Yes, but he chose not to. He feared what he saw as weakness in himself, and he believed if that was discovered he would be destroyed and, perhaps, his country as well. He denied himself his greatest happiness as a result, choosing instead to hide behind a carefully-wrought mask and stay a Grey Warden.”
Rumarin heard what was unspoken. “So someone did love him.”
“Yes, but that no longer matters. The Theirin line ends with him, and will not continue in Skyrim.”
He was surprised at that. “Why not? He could find someone. Marry and have children. He will be a hero, after all.”
“No. Not Alistair. His lovers were always men. And not because of some vow to not father bastards of his own. He had no taste for women, though I daresay he loved them.”
Rumarin jerked his head up; the Great Wolf smiled a thin smile. He knew Rumarin’s preferences.
“Ah. I see.”
“No. No. Just don’t,” he whispered.
The Great Wolf, hands clasped behind his back, walked around to stand behind him. He could feel the Great Wolf’s body heat--no wonder he was never cold--as he peered at Alistair over Rumarin’s shoulder.
"A monument stands for him in Denerim, where he would have ruled had his life been different.”
Rumarin stilled. Confused, he turned his head to look up at the Great Wolf. “I don’t understand. A monument? He just died.”
“Almost four years ago.”
Shock roiled through Rumarin. “He has been here four years?”
“I placed a spell on him to preserve him, and keep away predators. It will dissolve when you pass through the eluvian.”
Rumarin stood, towering over the other elf, his fists clenched, the anger twisting him inside and out. “You broke your promise. Why?”
“You are being emotional. I did not break anything, Rumarin. I promised you I would find him for you. I did.”
“Then why the wait?”
“I needed the time to ensure certain events had taken place.”
“I don’t understand.”
“It is not your concern. I am patient, Rumarin. You are not. Had I told you he was here, and asked you to wait, would you have done so? I think not.”
Rumarin clenched his jaw. He couldn’t deny it; the Wolf knew the search for the Dragonborn was his life.
The Great Wolf went on. “Your world was not yet ready for him. The High King is only just now dead, is he not?”
Rumarin grimaced. “His murderer, Ulfric, escaped. He’s gone deep into hiding.”
“The death of the High King was the catalyst for what is to come in your world. Ulfric will be caught, and taken to execution. He will escape. The dragons will return. Alistair will be ready, when it is time.”
“How do you know all this?”
“I have walked the many paths of your world, watching and waiting, since long before you were born. It is how I knew to find you on that fateful day.”
He sucked in his breath at that. “If you knew that I would-- what would happen, why didn’t you stop me?”
“Your powers could not be stopped, Rumarin.”
“But like that?” He shivered, though there was no wind in the Fade. “Why did it have to be like that?” He took a deep, painful breath. “They could still be alive.”
“And you would not be.”
He glanced at the Great Wolf, puzzled. “I don't understand.”
The Great Wolf said no more. He didn’t have to. Rumarin knew the Great Wolf couldn’t manipulate time, but he could travel through its many threads, and perhaps even influence those he found. As he did me. Perhaps another thread had left him dead along with his family. Now, he didn’t want to know. It didn't matter anyway. Terrible change was coming to Tamriel, and the man dead at his feet was the only one who could save them. Did the Great Wolf think Rumarin would survive what was about to take place, and be a part of that future? He knew he would not. He could not. He didn’t know much about what the Great Wolf intended to do with the terrible power Rumarin wielded, but stripping it from him would kill him.
He only hoped he could endure until after he crossed through the eluvian with Alistair.
Rumarin took off his coat, laying it aside. He wouldn’t be needing it any longer. He should’ve left it behind; he’d paid a goodly sum for it and it was of a particularly exquisite material imported from his homeland. His uncle, though taller, would’ve enjoyed it.
He huffed in amusement at himself for his ridiculous concern. He rolled up first one sleeve, and then the other, smoothing his vest, enjoying the feel of its silken material beneath his hands. He was teased by some for his love of fine clothes but playing the jack-a-dandy had given him a certain comfort. It did become wearying, playing that role, but it eventually became who he was. It had helped him survive until today.
He knelt beside Alistair, touching his face once more, his throat and chest tight, aching with the horrible loss of something wonderful. He would have loved Alistair, and loved him well. Protected him, cherished him, been his friend. More.
“I wish I could’ve known you,” he whispered. “I wish you could have known me.” He turned to the Great Wolf, not caring what he must look like. A hot tear rolled down his cheek. “Finish this.”
The Great Wolf looked at him, his brow furrowed. “Rumarin--”
“Just finish it,” he said, his words heavy with despair. He closed his eyes, dropping his chin to his chest. “Please.”
He felt the Great Wolf’s smaller hands on his own, clasping his wrists. Rumarin didn’t need to be told to return the clasp.
“You will feel warmth at first. It will grow hotter. The pain will intensify rapidly after that. Your skin will likely peel, perhaps char before I take it all. I am sorry.”
Rumarin said nothing, concentrating on maintaining a calm he knew would soon break. He hated pain. Feared it. Had dreaded this for years, even as he gave himself willingly to the Great Wolf.
“Are you ready?”
“Just-- Just do it.”
“I’ll do what I can to get you through the eluvian.”
He could feel the warmth now, coming from the Great Wolf’s hands. “Thank you,” he whispered, his voice hoarse. He opened his eyes.
“I have to tell you one last thing. If Alistair ever does try to cross over, if he finds a way, I will kill him.”
Rumarin’s laugh was bitter; the heat escalated, making him suck in his breath. “With the power I am giving you, of course. Just stop talking. Take it.”
The Great Wolf did.
Rumarin threw his head back and screamed, his back bowed with the torment, his face contorting as he fought to breathe. Blinding agony forced him to his knees as his magic began ripping from him, flowing faster and faster, stripping through his veins, growing hotter and hotter as it transferred into the Great Wolf.
Breathe. Keep breathing. His heart beat like a warrior’s drum in his chest, his head pounding as the Great Wolf continued destroying him. He was no stranger to torture; he’d endured a lifetime of torment at the hands of his master. He’d endured weeks of even worse treatment by his Thalmor captors. It took a long time for the Thalmor to be convinced he was ignorant of his master’s work. He’d never broken. Not once. No matter what they did to him.
He broke now. Hot tears fell from his eyes at the stench of burning skin, charred under the yanking, pulling, stripping of his magic. He cried. He howled. He sobbed, begging the Great Wolf to stop even though he knew he must not. It was endless, a thousand hot knives poking, stabbing, peeling away his skin, draining him of every last ounce of his strength.
He gagged, his stomach clenching in spasms as he fought to let go; the Great Wolf would not let him. His grip tightened on Rumarin, his strength growing even as Rumarin’s faded. He looked up into the Great Wolf’s dread eyes; they shone brighter and brighter as Rumarin’s terrible power transferred to him.
Then, it was done. The Great Wolf released him. He fell hard to his knees, his gasping breath coming harsh, air almost impossible to find. He cried out, his throat as charred as his hands--had he screamed the whole time? He was empty, a husk, he was nothing. And yet...
“You’re not done, Rumarin.”
A broken sob escaped, turning into almost hysterical laughter. More? He had to do more?
He cradled his hands to his chest, bloodying his shirt and vest. He sat back on his heels, his hands and lower arms dripping scarlet blood, the skin black, his fingers whole but skeletal from what had been stripped through them.
The pain was excruciating in its relentless intensity. Wave after wave of pain beyond imagining scorched through him. He was breathing too fast but he couldn’t stop. He was growing dizzy, his eyes clouded with tears. His hands. His hands were--
“You have to pick him up now, Rumarin. Come.”
“I-- I can’t.” He stared down at the lifeless body. He had to pick him up. He had to get him through the eluvian. He had to get Alistair to Caterina so he could live again. He tried to move his fingers but could not.
“You can. Trust me, Rumarin.”
“I will help you.”
He was running out of time. He could feel it, his life slipping away, blood falling to the ground, drip by drip. His life. Drops on blood-soaked ground.
“Pick him up, Rumarin.” Then the Great Wolf placed his hand on Rumarin’s shoulder. “Pick him up.”
Rumarin fought to clear his thoughts. He couldn’t speak. He looked up at the Great Wolf, then at Alistair. He obeyed. When he slid his hands under the armor, he expected agony. Nothing. The Great Wolf had deadened the pain enough so that he could pick Alistair’s body up. He gritted his teeth, his muscles bunching as he drew the body close, pulling Alistair’s upper half up first, smearing his blood with Alistair’s, finally getting his right arm underneath his back. The armor was so heavy.
“Under his knees now.”
Rumarin did as instructed, sliding his left hand under the knees, remembering the slashes across the back of the man’s legs, worrying in his daze of heat and pain and numbness that he was making things worse. He pulled Alistair to his chest, dropping his head down, his tears bathing Alistair’s face.
He hadn’t the strength to stand. “I can’t do this. I can’t-- I don’t want to die. It isn’t fair.”
“Rumarin. Rumarin,” the Great Wolf chided, a hint of shock in his voice. “We’ve known each other for how many years? Since you were a little boy, when I found you, surrounded by the stone corpses of your family and friends, dead at your hands? I’ve taken away what made you a killer. That is all. I wouldn’t let you die then; I won’t let you die now. He will need you. To watch over him. To protect him. Be his strength.”
At that, Rumarin sobbed, the lurch in his chest, the sudden hope nearly blocking what the Great Wolf said next. “I’ve left you magic enough to help him.”
Rumarin gritted his teeth. “You promised you’d take it all. I don’t want it.”
“Your fear of your power has stunted you, Rumarin. You have many other forms of magic inside you, untapped and remarkable. It is healing magic, my friend. You will have need of it. You will recover from these wounds, but it will take time. He will heal, with your help. I will make sure of it now.”
He couldn’t speak he was so dumbfounded. Healing magic? He’d only ever been able to kill. The Great Wolf crouched before him. He watched, numb and disoriented, as the Great Wolf placed one hand on Rumarin’s chest, the other on Alistair’s.
"What are you doing?”
“Assuring Alistair’s future.”
An aura rose around the Great Wolf’s hands, the one against Rumarin bathed in clear silver, on Alistair’s, gold. Rumarin was powerless to move though the Great Wolf’s touch was so light he barely felt it.
The Great Wolf closed his eyes as he concentrated. He then slowly dragged the light from one hand to the other, melding Alistair’s with Rumarin’s. Strands of gold entwined with silver, a perfect sphere floating between his hands. The sphere flared, making Rumarin wince. It split into two smaller, imperfect spheres. The larger sphere plunged into Rumarin’s chest, almost knocking him over. The smaller sphere plunged into Alistair, making his body contort before falling back into Rumarin’s arms.
An overwhelming sense of completeness filled Rumarin as he cradled Alistair in his arms. Stunned, he stared at the Great Wolf in wonder. “What did you do?” he choked out.
“Never let it be said I haven’t compassion. I do this for you, my friend. He will not deny you. He cannot. You own the majority of his soul.”
Elation filled him. Alistair was his. His.
No. This is wrong. Despair cascaded through him even as he pulled Alistair closer, tenderly kissed his forehead. He looked at the Great Wolf, tears burning in his eyes. He took a shuddering breath. “It’s not right. It’s not right. You’ve given him no choice.”
“It is done, Rumarin.”
But-- He shook his head. This wasn’t possible. “He’s dead. He’s been dead for so long. How could you take his soul?”
“My shield was enough to hold his soul until now, will be enough to keep the new bond protected.” He glanced at Rumarin, then stood. “You are now his reason to stay in Skyrim.”
“It’s not right,” he breathed, shuddering as Alistair’s very being seeped into him, filling him with incredible, tender bliss.
“He may accept this easily, he may fight it, try to deny it, but will be unable to in the end. I do believe Alistair will enjoy being owned by you once he comes to terms with it.”
Owned? “He’ll hate me.”
“No, Rumarin, he will not.”
The Great Wolf placed his hand on Rumarin’s chest. “I have given you the greater portion of him. He belongs to you in all ways now. You control his very life. You are bonded to him permanently, Rumarin.”
Bonded. He’d bonded them. “How do I explain this?”
The Great Wolf’s keen eyes were amused. “My advice is to say nothing until he questions it. Alistair is at heart an amenable sort for a warrior. Like you, he hasn’t truly known love. He came close, once, but was denied by his would-be lover. He need never know, if you prefer not to tell him. Unless you die first he may never know.”
“What will happen to him if I die?”
The Great Wolf smiled. “This is what it means to be bonded. Even being apart more than a few hours could be difficult, if not devastating, especially to Alistair. The need to see the other, to touch, will be more than essential; it will be imperative.”
Stunned, Rumarin tightened his grip on Alistair’s body. Alistair had had no choice in this; he had none, either. The thought of being so bonded with another, with the Dragonborn, with Alistair, terrified him.
And, thrilled him.
The Great Wolf saw, and nodded. “You understand.”
“I do,” he whispered, a shiver of want, of hunger, of pure need taking hold. He wanted Alistair. Skin to skin, buried deeper and deeper inside him until he was consumed, until they were joined and entwined as tightly as were their souls. A groan escaped him; his entire body heated, his cock hot and heavy and throbbing in time with his racing heart as if the bond itself sensed what must be done to be complete.
He will not deny you.
No. This was wrong. He had to make the Great Wolf take it back, make it different. If he did, Alistair would die. He bowed his head, shame and hunger and want and humiliation and guilt, so much guilt, dancing on his soul.
He would live. Fierce joy took hold of him as he looked down at the dead warrior in his arms, his Alistair. Bonded.
Yet his joy was tempered by the darkness of what they had done. It worried Rumarin, the power now present in the Great Wolf’s touch. What he meant to do with it, Rumarin couldn’t fathom. He pushed it from his mind. It wasn’t important. Thedas’ fate wasn’t important. Only Tamriel’s. And Alistair’s. Rumarin had made his choice. You hold his very life.
The harsh snap of his name broke through. He dropped his head back, gasping for breath; the Great Wolf touched the back of his neck and he instantly calmed, the panic lessening until it was but a double-thud in his chest. Rumarin took several deep breaths, the dull thud keeping time now with his heart. He gasped. He held Alistair’s heartbeat within himself until he could return it to him?
The Great Wolf nodded, acknowledging Rumarin’s understanding of what he had done. “Yes. It is time for you to go. I will give you one last gift, the threads of the years I held. Take care of them, Rumarin. Only use them if his life is in danger.”
The Great Wolf took Alistair’s hand, the one with the ring the Great Wolf had told him to create. He examined it, and nodded. “You did well. This will serve.” The Great Wolf pulled the Amulet of Mara from around Rumarin’s neck and raised an eyebrow. “An amulet of love?” He shook his head, smiling briefly.
With a flick of his finger he pulled a final gold thread not from Alistair, but from his own palm. With another flick the thread snapped into pieces, then slid into the amulet’s fractured stone.
The Great Wolf put the amulet back around Rumarin’s neck. “You will be able to reset the stone if you wish. I hope you will. This thing is gaudy. It is time for you to go and never return here.”
“I- I won’t see you again?”
“No, Rumarin. My time in your world is done.” Confused, Rumarin tried to understand but he couldn’t form the words. Rumarin wanted to tell him not to worry; he had no intention of allowing Alistair ever to return to Thedas, but remained silent.
Rumarin nodded and struggled to his feet. He stumbled, the Great Wolf catching him, but he pulled away. “No. I can do it.”
The Great Wolf stepped back, dipping his head. “Once you are through, the pain will return. Caterina must move swiftly to bring Alistair back to life. His heartbeat will return to him once he takes his first breath, whether or not you are conscious. Neither she nor anyone else will see it happen.”
Rumarin shuddered, the edge of pain making itself known with every movement. He took a step, and another, each touch of boot to ground reverberating up to his hands, sending shock through him despite the dulling spell. He didn’t turn around. He never wanted to look into those eyes again. The Great Wolf finally had what he’d coveted for decades.
As he rounded the corner, the eluvian mere feet in front of him, its shining surface shimmering as he drew closer, Rumarin half expected to die before he could reach it. But as he drew closer and closer, calm descended over him. They would make it. They would both survive the difficult time to come, somehow.
“I wish you happiness. You do deserve it.”
Rumarin hesitated, then half-turned, finally glancing back at the Great Wolf. The elf stood, proud and strong. And oh, so deadly. Rumarin could almost see the new power in him take hold. “Goodbye, Solas. Thank you.”
He turned away, not waiting to hear if the Great Wolf answered. Holding Alistair tight, Rumarin stepped through the eluvian. The moment his second foot touched ground he fell to his knees, a howl of agony tearing from his throat as the dulling spell dissolved. Hist and Caterina were there to catch him, Zora and Gorr and Amalee not far behind.
Someone gasped, another cried out, “Rumarin!”
Rumarin groaned as the pain, worse than ever before, tore through his hands. He could no longer bear touch. “Take him. Take him.”
Still, even as they pulled Alistair away he fought to hold on, despite the agony, the burned flesh. He couldn’t let him go. He had to touch him, he had to--
“Ru. Love. Let me have him. I’ll take care of him, I promise.”
“His name is Alistair--” Caterina looked at him strangely but turned to her patient as Rumarin finally let him go.
Hands reached for him but Rumarin shrugged them off, struggling to his feet. He gasped for breath, struggled to see; the pain scored his vision with red. His hands, his arms burned. He could smell them burning. What was he thinking, he had to do something--
The eluvian. He had to do this. He had to stop Fen’Harel from ever coming back to Skyrim. He had to make sure Alistair never returned to Thedas.
With a last roar of determination, pushing back the blackness fighting to take him, Rumarin turned to the eluvian and kicked it with the last of his strength, shattering the mirror into thousands upon thousands of glittering shards. His knees buckled and he followed the shards to the ground as the merciful blackness took him at last.
For those unfamiliar with Skyrim, or Interesting NPCs, I hope you'll come to love Rumarin as much as I do. I can't imagine playing Skyrim without him, and adding him to this story was something I simply had to do. He is handsome, and odd and quirky, and not a very good mage supposedly, but I've long been convinced there was far more to the lad than we ever see in his quests. I've had and continue to have great fun exploring the possibilities with him.
Here's a little more info on Rumarin, including a youtube video: http://3dnpc.com/wiki/interesting-npcs/locations/winterhold/rumarin/
And yes, Solas is a manipulative bastard. And a liar. The Great Wolf is just another one of those many names he is known by, and is the one he taught Rumarin to call him by when Ru was a little boy elf.
Chapter 3: Resurrection
Alistair wakes up, and realizes he's not dead.
He's not in Thedas anymore, either.
That's a lot of WTF.
“Good. You are awake.”
Alistair blinked, the hand he’d moved to rub his face frozen mid-air.
He faced a wall, wrapped in a thick, very soft blanket, the chilled air brushing against his bare face. And, he thought, one foot. It took him a second to realize that yes, someone had spoken to him, but the accent was one he didn't recognize, or couldn't in his foggy state. The rough male voice sounded more like a hiss than human. He instinctively grasped for a dagger that wasn’t there.
“Turn toward me, please. Do not be frightened.”
He took a deep breath, and did so. Several things hit him at once. First and foremost? It wasn’t a man who had spoken to him. Nope. It was a lizard.
Then he realized something even more stunning. Though terribly stiff and sore, he was alive . And, perhaps the most breathless thing of all, the Calling no longer ran through his mind. It had been fake, thank the Maker.
“I-- Uh.” Why was he talking to a lizard? A lizard that wore clothes?
Maybe he was dead after all.
Then, it all rushed back. The Inquisitor saying his name. The kiss goodbye, and then turning to face his certain death. And, blast it, he knew he had died except here he sat, very not dead. He bit the inside of his cheek to try to keep the rest of the memories at bay but the flash of pain failed to stop the rest rushing back to him.
The Nightmare looming over him. Toying with him. Claws, those horrific claws, thick and pointed and sharp, pressing into him, crushing him, his ribs cracking, gasping for breath…
Was there anything worse than gasping for breath and finding it impossible to pull in air? Remembered terror made him close his eyes and shudder, almost violently. He could feel his heart beating erratically in his chest; he was supposed to be dead. His hand reached for his mother’s amulet but it wasn’t there.
Hawke. He’d given it to Hawke, hadn’t he? He blinked, clutching the covers with his empty hand. Yes, he’d given it to her. She was alive. Safe, and alive.
“Easy now. I know it is frightening, not knowing what is happening to you.” “How--” His voice came out a cracked whisper. “How did I survive?”
“You did not. Here. Drink this, and I will explain.” The lizard held a mug with thick, green and black mottled lizardy fingers. A faint wisp of steam curled up from the mug. It smelled, honestly, absolutely divine. His stomach growled in response, and he wondered how long it had been since he'd last had something to eat.
“Uh…” He looked at the lizard. “What in Andraste's name are you?”
The lizard man made an odd chuckling sound, more like a hiss-chuckle, motioning with his other hand for Alistair to sit up. Given he was in shock, it was a bit hard for Alistair to move.
“I am Among-the-Hist. An Argonian.”
Argonian? He closed his eyes briefly, trying to push down the panic threatening to overwhelm him. When he opened them, the lizard was still there. “How can this be real?”
“I promise you, I am quite real. As are you. Now, drink this. You are very weak and we must start to remedy that.”
Alistair flexed his sword hand. Though stiff, and a bit achy, it still worked. He noticed then a ring on his index finger. Where’d that come from? He tugged at it, but it hurt. He was certain he’d never seen it before. The mysteries were piling up quick.
He sat up gingerly, wincing when his back protested, and took the patiently-proffered offer, the ring clinking. Though Hist’s hands looked human enough, his nails were black and slightly pointed, a vivid reminder of the Nightmare’s claws. He pushed down his trepidation and took a careful sip. Nothing fancy, needed a dash of salt maybe, but otherwise? Not bad. He took another sip, savoring the warm as it slid down his throat.
“What is this?”
“Lentil broth soup. Minus the lentils.”
Alistair looked up at the Argonian. “Hist? Where is this?”
Hist smiled--at least, Alistair thought it was a smile, and turned to pull up a stool. That’s when Alistair saw he had a tail. Awesome.
“Hist is acceptable. Our home, where you currently reside, is the Waystation. We provide food and lodging for certain travellers. You are in Tamriel. More specifically, Skyrim.”
He was about to take another sip when that statement stopped him cold. “ Where the hell is Skyrim?” He knew his geography and knew no such place existed. Nope. Couldn’t.
And yet, here he was...
“Drink your broth. I will show you.”
Alistair was pretty sure he was naked underneath the covers. “Uh, my armor?”
“The monster that killed you destroyed it as well, I am afraid. We were unable to restore it.”
He swallowed, the little bit of broth he'd drunk roiling in his stomach. “Killed me.” Blackness nudged at him. It was true then. He had died. Definitely. “Who is ‘we’?”
Hist gestured, fingers twisting up and black nails flashing, an oddly elegant mannerism the meaning of which his inexpressive face could not provide. In place of smiling, Alistair thought.
“My mistress, Caterina, her assistant, and myself among others. You were found in the Void. You had been killed a few hours prior and she was able to save you without too much loss. You were far more fortunate than I.” He tilted his head, his yellow eyes closing slowly.
“Where we found you.”
“Ah. Oh. We-- if it is the same thing, my people call it the Fade.” Hist nodded, casually stretching out one hand to push the cup back to Alistair’s lips. Alistair eyed the claws as Hist extended them. No, he was just stretching his fingers out. Still, he shuddered.
“What disturbs you?”
“That monster. It sunk its claws into me. Black claws.” His face heated. “That sounds pretty rude of me now that I’ve said it out loud. I’m sorry.”
Hist pulled back his hand. “No apology necessary. Shall I paint them pink for you?”
Alistair snorted. “ No . Though the image is pretty funny.”
Hist bowed his head. “I am glad to amuse. In answer to your question, yes. You were penetrated by claws four times. You also have two deep furrows across your back, from right shoulder to your left buttock, and across your thighs. The monster nibbled on your head, and a few other bits, but happily not your face. Caterina was able to take what was left and reconstruct you. Resurrect you, if you will. What is your name? Do you remember?”
Alistair was still on the head-nibbling part. “What? Oh. Alistair. Alistair Theirin.” Usually, the revelation of his last name produced an appropriate--or inappropriate--gasp of recognition. Hist didn’t react. Clearly, in Skyrim the name Theirin meant nothing at all. That would take getting used to. “How did I get here?”
“Our resident elf.” At Alistair’s confused look, he said, “He does the heavy lifting and general care-giving for Caterina’s patients.”
“An elf can lift me?” He found that hard to believe. Had he lost that much weight?
“He is quite strong. You will meet him soon enough. What role did you play before you came to us?”
“Me? Oh, other than a dead man? I was… I was just a… a swordsman.”
This has to be a dream.
He went silent, a sudden, sharp longing stealing his words. Longing for his friends, Leliana, his fellow Warden, Liassa, who he hadn’t seen in way too long. A face with a scarred lip came into his mind but he pushed it away. That hurt too much. Cullen had been lost to him long ago.
Hawke, maybe even Fenris a little, Varric and Bull, who he'd hit it off with especially well given the Qunari was so damn imposing.
But then he did like big men… and Bull definitely was that. He’d thought about riding the Bull, as the Qunari had jokingly called his proposition, but Jax snagged him just as he was seriously considering it. Later, he’d asked Bull why he’d suggested it. Pointed at Alistair’s red hair, and grinned. Then, “You need someone to take care of you, for a change.”
More than once he’d regretted not letting Bull show him what he’d meant.
He closed his eyes, the longing to see Thedas again, and knowing he never would, exploding into pure, black grief. Sharp emptiness threatened to engulf him; he was astray, a boat without anchor, grasping vainly to reach the safety of shore. He started to shake, unable to hold the cup steady. Hist took it just as he folded over on the bed.
The scars on his back strained; he was forced to sit up. Horror over all he had lost belatedly punched him in the chest so hard he gasped. Desperate to hold it all in, he wrapped his arms around his still-sore ribs. He wasn’t dead but he wasn’t in Thedas anymore, either. He was in a place he’d never heard of, tended by a lizard that could talk, saved by some woman for reasons he wasn’t sure he understood and in a land with super strong elves. He was somewhere impossible, once dead and now not, his future unknown by anyone, even himself.
The emptiness inside clawed at him. Alone. He was completely alone.
And back home, everyone believed him dead. Believed the Inquisitor, Jax, had willingly sacrificed him so he could escape. He hated to think what that had done to Jax. He would never know. He would never see any of them again. Never have the chance to tell Jax he’d made the right choice, he really had.
Maker's breath why had he never told Jax how he felt about him? He wasn't in love with him, not yet, but another month or two? He would've been. He was pretty sure of it.
Or maybe, he'd been lying to himself and had fallen for Jax, denying it because… because… Love. Love was fucking scary. It’d happened once, but-- He squeezed his eyes shut. It was useless going down the what-if, the maybe-if-he-had path. He was in Tamriel. And Tamri-fucking-hell was-- was where?
“I am sorry, Alistair,” Hist said in that strange hissy voice. “I too was in shock when I began to understand.”
Alistair couldn't say anything. His throat was tight, his gut still feeling sufficiently pummeled that he might not be able to eat anything else. A huge chunk of himself was missing and he couldn’t see how to find it again. Hist waited patiently until he could collect himself.
“You're not from here? Where--” He wiped his eyes. “Where are you from?”
Hist showed his teeth. A pretty scary visual, actually, though the Argonian reminded him of Dorian somewhat, with his pretty speech and manners. Or perhaps, more like Solas. The bastard. The apostate elf still bothered him for some reason. He guessed he would never know why, now.
“You are from a planet called Thedas, yes? Tamriel is on a different one.”
He drew in his breath. Another planet? Insane. But, his being alive was insane, wasn't it? Dorian would've loved this. Dagna, too. Him? Not so much. “Thedas is a continent, he said, a little insistently.
Hist nodded. “And this continent Thedas is not on the same planet as Tamriel.”
“That’s… That’s crazy.” Was the Fade connected to other worlds? How had he even got here? Maker, this was confusing. “Okay. And you?” Surely the lizard was wrong about this. He had to be wrong about this.
“A lovely world of rivers and plains and warmth called Seprecana.” He showed his teeth again. Pointy teeth. “I was a vampire, which is never a good thing to be.”
“Blood sucker. Human blood preferably.”
Like a blood mage then. Sort of. Hist tilted his head to the side as he watched Alistair. Alistair suddenly felt very defenseless. Hist chuckled again, that odd raspy sound that Alistair hoped was a chuckle.
“When Caterina pulled me from the Absolute, which is what my people called the Void, your Fade, she cured me. Though I am not in appearance the man I used to be--I was quite handsome, which of course made it easy to entice the ladies into my lair--I am grateful.” He eyed Alistair. “More grateful to her than you can believe. I can be in the sun again. I no longer have those horrendous cravings. I no longer have to kill to survive. I hope you will be grateful as well, in time.”
“How, why did she change you to--”
“Argonian.” He shrugged. “She is a necromancer of extraordinary talent but I was fairly far gone. She did what she could.”
Alistair straightened up in shock. “A necromancer? I'm a spirit? ” He thought he was alive! He felt alive. He breathed in, pretty sure his heart was beating. He pressed his hand against his chest, aware for the first time of the rough rhythm.
Hist frowned. That was something his Argonian face could do. He spread his hands. Alistair eyed the black talons warily. “You are here, both of us are, Alistair, because of necromancy. Traditionally, that would mean we were undead, not truly alive. What Caterina did with us is reverse the death process itself. We were dead, now we live. We will die again someday, but hopefully as old men and after a long, well-loved life.”
If Hist saw the flash of despair on his face, the hot tears threatening his eyes, he was polite enough to ignore both.
Hist continued. “Caterina has to work with what is left of her subjects. In my case, my skin was cracked and dried from sun exposure and there was very little choice but to replace my entire skin. Argonian skin is uniquely suited for such transference. I had been staked out to die in a lovely little village I made the mistake of visiting. Though I had no tail then,” he swished his tail, “so she gave me one. I quite like it.”
“It is a nice tail.”
Hist chuckled again. “In your case, it was fairly easy. You were remarkably well preserved despite your injuries. You had lost most of your blood but we were able to gather up enough to analyze it and prepare a substitute.”
“Uh-- what do you mean?”
“Something exists in your blood that was most unexpected. Human for certain, but elven as well. Those two elements gave Caterina the knowledge she needed to reconstruct the parts of you destroyed, such as your ears.”
Alistair touched one of his ears. “I lost my ears?” His fingers curved around the outer shell then he gasped. “Wait. What the--” He felt both ears, the tips not quite as round like they should be. “She gave me elven ears?” He touched them again, finding himself smiling for the first time. “Well, not terribly pointed, but definitely somewhat pointed. This is amazing.”
Hist looked surprised. Alistair thought it was surprise anyway. “Were they not before? There wasn’t much left to know for certain. You’re a half-breed so we thought--”
“I am, but my ears were round. Hardly anyone knows that I’m half-elven.” Knew. He was dead now, he had to remind himself.
“Would you like them changed back?”
“No. No they’re fine. Elf ears. Oh Maker,” he muttered, dropping his hands. “All my life, well, as a kid anyway, I wanted my ears to be pointed, like my mother's. She was an elf, a maid actually. She died when I was still a baby. My father, well, my father--” He hesitated, then looked up at Hist. “I am a bastard, a much unwanted child.” No need to explain that further. “You asked what I did back home. I was, am, a swordsman, but first and foremost, a Grey Warden.”
“And the Grey Wardens are--”
How to explain? “Warriors. Specialized, I guess you’d say. We fight demons called the Darkspawn that I sure hope you don't have here.”
“We don't, but we have other monsters to deal with.”
Of course they did. “That's technically what we fight. Demons, darkspawn, lovely terrors like that. We go through a ritual that enables us to detect them, and the plague they bring. The Blight.”
“What is involved in this ritual?”
“We aren’t supposed to say.” Alistair sunk deeper into the pillows. This bed was very comfortable. “Guess that doesn't matter now. Simple explanation? It’s called the Joining. We drink a specially-prepared concoction, made of darkspawn blood, a little archdemon blood, spices to make it a little more palatable. Survive that, become a Grey Warden. Most don’t survive it.” No need to explain the Calling, he thought.
Hist narrowed his eyes. “Are you sure you were not a vampire?”
“No! No, I drank that one time and one time only.”
He remembered that day as if it were yesterday. He'd been terrified, yet so positive he would survive he took the chalice without protest. The thick liquid had flowed down his throat, changing him irrevocably and forever. He'd felt truly alive for the first time in his life.
He felt no trace of the Taint now. Shouldn’t he feel something still? He closed his eyes, pressing his hand to his chest at the emptiness. He felt his heartbeat, could almost hear it. He was pretty sure it was beating a bit too hard to be healthy.
“What? Sorry. What did you say?”
“This archdemon. What is it exactly?”
“The Old Gods. Dragons, technically. The Ritual doesn't always involve dragon blood, but mine did.” He shook his head and reached for the cup again, taking a sip. It was, surprisingly, still warm. He wondered what kind of magic they had here. Cup magic? He finished it and set the cup down.
“Dragons,” Hist mused. He glanced at Alistair. “We came close to losing you not long after you were rescued. Caterina could not get your blood balance correct. Finally, she retested the blood we’d collected, discovering the third element. Very similar to dragon blood which was most unexpected. She tried using dragon blood, a very difficult ingredient to obtain as they no longer exist as far as anyone knows. You began to improve quickly after that.”
“No dragons? How did she get dragon blood then?”
"Some myths are better described as legend. Also, the dragon blood cured the disease you carried.”
Alistair looked up, confused. “Disease? I--” He stopped, shocked. The taint? “Are you sure?”
“Yes. The… the errors in your blood that no doubt would have brought you some trouble when you grow old have been removed.”
Stunned, he could only think of one thing to say. “Wow. That...that is awesome .”
“You knew of this?”
He nodded. “Yes. Yes, I did.”
Hist made a surprised sound. “You knew it would kill you? Yet you took it anyway.”
He nodded. He would never hear the Calling again. There was a cure. If only there was for lyrium addiction.
But that also meant he was no longer a Grey Warden. He rubbed his chest against the hollow feeling that sat within, as if waiting to burst free and tear him down the second he turned away. He closed his eyes for a moment, the shock of it roiling through him. What was done, was done. No use dwelling on it, he guessed.
He would die an old man now. Alone. A stranger in a very strange land. He didn’t belong here. He didn’t want to be here.
Easy, Ali. He’d been worse before. Sort of. He’d never been dead before.
He needed to distract himself. The room he was in, though sizeable, was as bare as a Templar’s chamber. A chair, a mirror, a dresser. A small door led to who knew where; the room’s door was half open. A fire burned in a fireplace which heated the room nicely. The bed however, was big enough for two, a wrought metal of some sort that glimmered in the light. The blankets that covered him were thick, warm, and soft to the touch. And pretty. Reds, golds, blues in an intricate pattern that must’ve taken a weaver months. Fit for a king, he thought wryly.
Hist watched him, waiting, the silence lengthening. Alistair grabbed the first thing he could think of to say.
“You speak my language. How?”
“This was why Caterina chose to save me, you see-- Vampires have a natural gift for languages, and she does not. I handle this part of the process for her so she can continue with her work, though the elf does understand your language somewhat. ”
“How often does she, uh, bring the dead back to life?”
“One or two a year. You have been with us four months now.”
Well. Wait. “ Four months. I remember nothing!”
“After we almost lost you, she kept you in a tranquil state, for want of a better description, to keep you from panicking, give you time to heal without experiencing severe pain. That is why you are not aware of the passage of time.”
His heart jumped at the word tranquil, though he didn’t think what Hist thought of as tranquil was what he thought of as tranquil. He didn’t remember anything though, about his recovery, whatever they’d done to him. That, he was fine with. He gulped, keenly aware of his naked state again.
“Uh-- So how did you take care of me?” His face heated. Why had he asked that?
Hist gestured. “The monster did have time to help itself to your more delicate parts. Your ears, your genitals, so Caterina recreated--”
"That isn't what I was asking! But wait-- My cock? It ate my--” Alistair yanked up the covers and stared down at himself. “Maker's breath, still there.”
The damn lizard chuckled. “There, and hopefully better than before.”
“Wow, okay then. I guess that’s good,” he whispered hoarsely. Then his entire body flushed with embarrassment. “ She fixed, uh, everything?”
“Everything. As for who took physical care of you, myself and the elf when he was available. He’s our resident bard and mage, though compared to his singing skills, his healing skills aren’t very polished. He is also, however, an excellent cook.”
An elf had taken care of him? That simply seemed impossible. How did he not squish the poor thing? He rubbed his chest again, his curiosity piqued. His rescuer brought Hist back for his gift of languages. But what did he have that someone as powerful as she was interested in? He was nothing here.
A great maw of emptiness opened within him. No purpose .
“Why me, though?”
“She has her reasons for doing what she does, and choosing who she chooses to resurrect. You, however, came to us because of Rumarin. He is the one who located your body in the Fade. He brought you to us.”
The elf again. Rumarin. He hadn’t even met this Rumarin yet, but merely hearing his name left Alistair with a strange, unsettled feeling. His heart fluttered uncomfortably. He pressed his hand against his chest as if he could still it. Not that he wanted his heart to stop or anything.
He coughed. “Can I see? My face, I mean.”
Hist stood, nodding. “I was waiting for you to ask.” He walked over to a small dresser, opening the drawer, and pulled out a hand held mirror. He returned to Alistair's bed, but didn't hand it over directly. “Be prepared to see a stranger. Not just the ears.”
Hist lit a lamp and set it on the table next to Alistair's bed, then handed him the mirror. Alistair stretched his fingers, a bit annoyed by the mysterious ring, then took it, closing his eyes for a brief moment. Finally he looked. Relief rushed through him.
"I still look like me!”
Except for the ears, but he didn't care about that. His hair was longer than he'd normally keep it, but that was a minor issue. He examined his face. Eyes same, boring brown. There were scars across his left cheek that he hadn't had before, but none as dramatic as Cullen's.
He took a calming breath, and striving for impassive, looked again. Same eyes, squinty as always, same mouth though his chin looked a little less square. Just how much had the Nightmare chomped? He shuddered, glad he’d already been dead.
“Caterina will be delighted you are pleased.”
“I am. Believe me.”
He ran his hand down his chest and stomach; sure enough, he could feel the knotted scars from where the claws went in. And one lower still. Suddenly the walls of his little room were crushing down on him, a sensation he didn't much care for.
“You said I could see outside?”
Hist nodded, then opened another drawer and pulled out a heavy black robe. He handed it to Alistair. Not what Alistair was accustomed to wearing. “You’ll be most comfortable in this for the time being. We can obtain more suitable clothes for you later.”
“Was I making a face? Sorry. Just used to armor.”
In fact, he felt naked without armor. Especially when he was naked. Did these people not wear small clothes? He didn’t relish the idea of walking around free and swinging. Alistair took the robe and, figuring what the hell, Hist had apparently seen him bare-assed for months now, carefully moved his legs out from under the covers and slowly stood. He wavered a bit but steadied himself, wincing at the pull on his back. He looked down, puzzled for a brief moment--he felt shorter somehow?
Or maybe it was the sad fact that over the last few months after being dead, he'd lost a lot of weight and his view down to his toes had changed as a result. He ran his hand over his stomach again. He’d already gone a bit soft. He grimaced as he tried to slip the heavy robe over his head but the back scars pulled painfully.
Hist ended up having to help him, then the Argonian handed him a matching tie for his waist. He slid his feet into the boots Hist handed him next. Though the robe was plain, it was, he realized, as fine a material as the bed covers. It also went clear down to his ankles and the sleeves covered his hands.
“It’s a little big, being Rumarin’s, but should keep you nicely warm. This way, Alistair.”
He thought Hist had said Rumarin was an elf? This robe would swallow an elf whole. It swallowed him.
Still puzzled, Alistair followed. He was weak but only had to hold onto a wall or a chair a couple of times. He wondered just when they’d unTrainquiled him, suspecting that though he’d just awoken mentally, he’d been moving around at least a little for awhile.
They were in a cave that had been reinforced, the rough gray stones beneath his palms when he had to reach out to balance himself cold to the touch though the air itself was warm. Hist climbed some stairs ahead of him, and paused, waiting for Alistair to catch up. Once he did Hist moved on, opening a door at the top of the stairs. Alistair winced against the sun's intensity, and shivered at the sudden cold.
Hist waited. “Come, Alistair Theirin. I present to you your new home, Skyrim.”
Alistair joined Hist and, after giving his eyes a moment to adjust, stared out into the vista before him. The cave was situated high on a mountain overlooking a massive valley. In the distance, he could see horses traveling on a road toward a walled city, though outside it were unprotected houses and farms, so it didn't currently appear in any immediate danger. How would it feel to live in a land of peace?
“Whiterun,” Hist said.
Whiterun. He breathed in the cold, crisp air, then startled as he saw three giants--literally fucking giants--walking down a road, one prodding a cow in front of it. “ Giants? They aren’t a threat, so close?”
Hist nodded. “Leave them alone and they will ignore you. They make excellent cheese, however.”
Hist snorted. “No, I sneak down there now and again and steal some. I can run very fast when I need to.”
Alistair laughed. “But you’re so dignified. I have a hard time imagining that.”
“If you take that road and turn back to the south you will find an inhabited dwarven city.” Hist, well, hissed. “Markarth. Not recommended.”
“You have dwarves here?”
“Not anymore. They disappeared millennia ago.”
Huh. “We have dwarves. One of my friends is a dwarf.” Varric, what would he make of this story Alistair was living? He wished he could tell him about it. He smiled to himself at the thought of a book about him for once. A bestseller for sure.
Not far to the east, or what Alistair guessed was to the east, a road running along a river split the range. He wondered where that road led. Both directions. On the other side of the river, a single mountain rose higher than the rest, so high in the sky and dense were the clouds that Alistair couldn't see the top of it.
“That is the Throat of the World.” Hist said it with such reverence that Alistair tore his gaze away and looked at him questioningly. Hist gestured. “You will discover it on your own, soon enough.”
“You make that sound like a given.”
Hist folded his hands in front of him. “The decision is yours, but I do hope you climb the steps someday.”
Interesting. He twisted the ring absently. Alistair decided to wait on further questions. Instead, he looked back at the road that split from the one toward Markarth and headed north. Northwest technically. “What’s that direction?”
Hist shook his head. “No, a city, the largest in Skyrim. The Imperial palace is in Solitude. There’s been...unrest recently. The High King was murdered late last year.” Hist turned his head slightly, facing Alister, his expression-- Well. Alistair had no idea what his expression was, other than different than what Alistair had seen thus far.“He was shouted into pieces by Ulfric Stormcloak. Died instantly.”
Shouted to death. The thought of such powerful magic made him uneasy. “I feel sorry for that cleanup crew.”
“It was apparently quite gruesome. Ulfric escaped and hasn’t been seen since. Jarl Elisif rules from Solitude, and while she is young, she is fair and has brought positive change to the city. She even approved the building of the new museum, even though it is run by an elf. Rumarin’s uncle, actually.”
“Don’t tell me. No one likes elves here.”
“Depends. In Windhelm, where the Dunmer elves live, and quite a few Argonians, racism abounds. You shouldn’t have much trouble there given your appearance.”
“Much? Keep my hat on, in other words.”
“Altmer elves, like Rumarin, are viewed with disdain by most but they are powerful, so also given reluctant respect. We are all rather fond of Rumarin, however. He is rather...unique. The wood elves suffer the least. How are you with a bow?”
“Passing fair. I prefer the sword.” It was a shame he’d apparently lost his own. He’d had that sword for years. It’d been a gift from Liassa.
“You will enjoy Solitude the most then, I think. Excellent food, a delightful pub, an armory or two, excellent tailors so you can get appropriate clothing. Rumarin will assist you. He does like shopping. Were it not for the nature of our work, Caterina would move us there tomorrow.”
Alistair’s head was swimming. Too much, too fast, too many questions. He focused on the leave part, the one thing Hist explained he wanted to understand right now. “So-- I really do get to leave? I mean, I'm not a slave or anything?” When Hist looked down at him, eyes wide, Alistair shrugged. “You said Caterina was your mistress--”
“She is my wife.” Hist made his chuckling sound.
Oh. “Oh. Oh. ” He swallowed, then grinned. “I'm sorry. I hope I didn't offend you by my ignorance.”
“There is little that offends me. No, Alistair. You are free to leave. I would give that time, however, until you are a little more healed. There are no slaves in Skyrim, and we have no expectations other than you stay in touch. Caterina likes it when her family visit.”
“Family,” he said softly, not a little surprised.
Hist nodded. “You. The others. Also known as The Horde when they all suddenly descend en masse. In time you will meet them all.” The Horde? Of all things to call them. Hist was oblivious to his dismay. “Two are here now, Zora and Amalee. They’re married, but quite different.”
“Married,” he said, that maw of emptiness pulling at him again.
Hist nodded. “Don’t worry. There are plenty of single women in Whiterun.”
Alistair sucked in his breath. “No. I didn’t-- I mean-- I’m… Never mind.”
If Hist could smile, Alistair imagined he was doing so now. “There is also Gorr, who primarily lives in Riverrun. The girls and Rumarin are here most often.”
“How many are there?”
“Eleven, other than yourself. A few spouses, and even a few children. Holidays are especially--loud.”
Eleven. Still, he was stunned. Overwhelmed a little, even. “A pity I can't speak the language here.”
“Perhaps you can, if you try.”
Alistair stared at Hist. It was clear he'd spoken in a different language. And, Alistair could understand it, though he didn't know how.
“How?” He paused, searching for the words and stunned, finding them. “How can I understand you?” He touched his lips. “How did I say that?”
Hist smiled. “I taught you the language of this world during your initial recovery. You are a quick learner when so focused.” Hist put a hand on Alistair's shoulder. “Caterina will be home soon. She's looking forward to seeing you.” Hist let his hand drop and, with a parting nod to Alistair, said, “Come in when you're ready.”
Again, uneasiness flared in him. Even though he’d been more or less Tranquil, he somehow had managed to learn an entire language? Why hadn’t Hist known his name, then? Surely if he could learn a language while Tranquil, he could tell them his name? Or maybe Hist was just seeing if he knew his own name. That was the most logical explanation.
Alistair stepped out a little further, his booted feet crunching on the snow. He bent down, carefully as his back pulled at the massive scars he was reluctant to acknowledge, and scooped up some snow. It was bitter cold on his fingers. Just simply snow. He let it drop, the flakes caught in the wind and disappearing as he watched.
So. This was Skyrim. His new home, it appeared, whether he wished it or not. At least he wasn't dead, he thought, clenching his right hand. He ached to hold a sword in it again but his grip felt worrisomely weak. And the pull on his back? Not good. He rubbed his chest at the ache there, the way his heart beat unsteadily. He was by no means well. His head swam with all he had learned from the being alive part when he absolutely should not be, to the realization that, once he gained a little more strength, he was free to leave.
To do what though?
That was the question, wasn't it? He had nothing, and no one--save those who had saved him. No one needed him to do anything. No one cared what he did or didn’t do, when he did whatever, or how he did it or even if he did it, whatever it was. Nausea pulled at his stomach.
Alistair took a deep breath and stared out at the vastness of Skyrim. For the first time in his adult life, he had no purpose other than what he chose to do, and he didn’t know how to handle it.
He was, in all honesty, terrified.
Early post as my BIL is home from Afghanistan, and there's much to do tomorrow so I figured better early than late, right? Thanks to all who have commented/kudo'd/bookmarked! I appreciate you!
To Hist fan: yes, I know, he was not ever a vampire in-game, and wasn't ever a man, either. Sometimes brains insist on weird things (like this entire story...).
Chapter 4: Fractured
The title says it all.
Posting for Cullen Appreciation Week. Chapter 4 of my long fic gives us our first glimpse into Cullen's struggles with post-DAI Lyrium addiction and withdrawal. It isn't pretty. Lyrium sucks.
Look for more frequent postings - once a week just isn't enough to suit me. I'd like this completely up well before November as I plan to hit Nano hard this year and want to be free of everything but my project (Alistair in Skyrim - Part Two).
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Head down, hood pulled over his scraggly hair, he began the long walk across the bridge to Skyhold. Right foot, left foot, heavy boots crunching snow, his breath coming out in irregular puffs, stitch in his side. Wind whipped across his body, his legs and feet and backside not covered by his coat gone numb. Hunger, longing for food and warmth--not having known either in so very long--hurried his steps.
Brak pranced beside him, bounding ahead across slick snow-brushed cobbles, then back again, touching cold nose to bare hand. He’d pulled off his gloves and tucked them in the one pocket not ripped when he’d fallen down a trail. His palms still stung. He did not want to chance being identified, even by them . What would he say? How could he explain? He was no one now. Wanted to be forgotten, even as history immortalized him and his once-friends in song and print.
He wondered what Varric would write about him now. The Commander: A Tragedy . His lips quirked in a half smile, the scar tugging, reminding him as it always did of things best forgotten. The result of another attempt at penance on his part, one that proved to have the opposite effect, unfortunately for him.
Right foot, left foot, pushing against the wind that had kicked up, swirling the air with snow, stinging his eyes. His throat hurt, parched as it was. He longed for relief, the sweet kick of lyrium down his throat, feeling it seek the hidden recesses of his body, bringing him to life for a little while. How long had it been now? Five days? Six? Too long. The pain of withdrawal grew stronger with every step. Too much longer he would find it very easy to climb to the top of his tower and fly.
Skyhold. It rose before him, massive in its majesty, filling him with awe even now that he loathed it and all it stood for. He pulled his hood tighter against his neck, his teeth chattering, despair and shame and deep beneath it all, deep-seated anger. Anger at himself, at those who had turned from him. Where were they now?
He’d been there for them. Always.
No one cared, now.
He sounded embarrassingly pitiful, even to himself.
All the times he’d crossed this bridge during the years of the Inquisition, he’d never felt so fragile, so alone as he did now. The man he’d once been--constantly dogged at the heels by his staff, by those who saw him as, if not their savior--that was Jax--but as the strong, steady force behind the young Inquisitor--had been loved and admired. His men and women had fought not just for Jax, but for him. Him . With his faithful Commander at his side, Jax was invincible. They both had been.
Now, only one was, even though he’d lost his hand. Talk among the common folk remained as positive of the Inquisitor as always; no one knew the worst of Jax. No one, save for himself. And Bull, though he was dead now, as were the Chargers.
Sometimes, he envied them their peace.
Cullen was not yet halfway across the bridge when he heard them, several horses approaching from behind, hooves ringing, tack jingling, the rough cough of the driver. Cullen pulled Brak to the side, signaling the marabi to heel. As the horses passed his breath caught--the riders were all in Divine regalia. Panic stilled his heart; if she were here, he would have to forget his plans and just leave. He took a step back, and another, then turned to go. He nearly ran into another onlooker.
“Easy fella.” Cullen stopped, drawing up. Arms crossed, the man beside him scowled at the riders as they passed. He wore clothing similar enough to Cullen’s own that he relaxed a little. Not a soldier, former or otherwise. The man eyed him, then lifted his chin toward the passing horses. “Rumors look like they’re true then.” A second trio of horses approached, followed by a team pulling a wagon heavily laden with goods.
Striving for normalcy, Cullen spoke for the first time in days. “What rumors?”
The man gestured as the wagon passed. “Rumors the Inquisitor’s returning to Skyhold.”
“Those were the Divine’s livery.”
The man squinted at Cullen. He looked away. “Yeah? Same difference. Hear he’s working for her now. Guess they’ll both be here soon.”
That surprised Cullen. He rubbed his forehead, trying to push back the bleariness he felt. “I-- I hadn’t heard that.”
“Yeah, reopened Skyhold last week. What with the war looming, guess they figure it’s time.”
A chill ran down his spine. “War?”
The man looked at him, his gaze traveling up and down. “Guess you been in hiding or something. ‘Tween Queen Anora and that Gaspard bastard. Disagreements over how to handle problems brewing in Tevinter. Heard Gaspard threatened the Queen and she took exception, been gathering forces. So has he. Both wanted the Inquisition, but they’ve stayed neutral. So far. And now it is rumored she is ill.” He shook his head.
“Ill. What do you mean?”
“Hasn’t been seen in weeks. If she dies, given there's no heir, well. Ferelden could find itself under Gaspard’s rule. Fuck the Inquisition for letting Queen Celine die. Least those two ladies got along.” He crossed his arms high on his chest. “Biggest mistake though? Know what that was?”
“No,” Cullen said, his thoughts racing. Queen Anora ill, maybe dying. War returning to Thedas. Gaspard. After all they’d done to bring peace, it had barely lasted three years. He shook his head in despair.
“Not making Alistair Theirin king. Now there was a man with balls big enough to rule a country. A hero is what Ferelden needs, and he’s that. If he showed up tomorrow and demanded his rightful place, guarantee all of Ferelden would rejoice. Them fucking Orlesians would think twice about invading if he were on the throne. Pity no one knows his whereabouts.” He sighed but Cullen barely heard him. The man’s words tore into his soul, ripping it into tiny little shreds.
His gaze traveled up to his tower, not his office tower, but the tower. How many times after Alistair died had he found himself up there, one step away from joining the only person he’d ever truly wanted? It tugged at him now, as hard as ever. No one would stop him, now. Anyone that could, was either dead or might as well be.
The man had not stopped talking. Cullen supposed he’d been nodding at appropriate spots as the man had kept on about Alistair. He wished the man would stop. He couldn’t bear to hear more, the lingering worship for a man long dead.
He hadn’t even thought about it until now, that no one beyond those directly involved with the Inquisition, and what had happened at Adamant, knew Alistair was dead. Cullen wasn’t even sure how that had happened, it not being known. There’d been no edict to keep that fact secret, at least not that he remembered. Apparently it was simply believed he had disappeared somewhere, which wouldn’t be unexpected for a Warden.
He wanted to move on but the man, well, he had no idea which direction the man had been headed, and didn’t want to go the same way, in case the man wanted to keep talking. The urge to go the opposite way, whichever way that was, was stronger than his will could fight.
He winced, and rubbed his forehead again.
“You all right, fella?”
“I’m fine.” He dropped his hand and looked up at Skyhold.
“Why you headed up there anyway?”
“I-- I just wanted to see it.”
“Well there ain’t much to see right now. Give a few weeks, and it’ll be booming again.” The man squinted at him. “Say, used to deliver ale up to the tavern. You remind me of someone there--”
Cullen hunched down in his coat, shoving his shaking hands into his pockets. “I have to go. Come on Brak.” He hurried away, panicking at the thought of the man figuring out who he was. Shame. Shame. He resumed his solo trek across the bridge, Brak staying close now. The mabari whined. “I know, boy, I know.”
He didn’t much like this bridge either, never had. As he got closer to the main gate, which stood wide open--if he’d still been the Commander, he’d have someone’s head for that--his gaze drifted up to the tower. The tower.
He moved to the side again, this time so he could look over the bridge wall. He blinked against the last bit of afternoon sun, breathing in the bitter cold. His gaze traveled from one of the windows downward to where the walls of Skyhold eventually blended in with the mountain itself.
Far below, the river passed through the mountain, and out the other side. He wondered, should he fling himself down there tonight, where he would land. On the rocks? In the river itself? How long before anyone found his body, and would they recognize him then?
He supposed they would. He tongued his scar again. Always the scar.
His gaze narrowed, his bare hands clenching the ice-cold wall as he wondered if the ladder was still there. If it wasn’t, he would have to find one, and drag it up after him. Then climb up from there? He didn’t know if he had the strength to do that, but he would have to try.
Beside him, Brak whined. He didn’t reach out to the mabari--he couldn’t take that guilt right now.
A male Qunari wearing threadbare clothing beneath a bloodstained apron, butcher knife in one hand, turned his head and glared down at him. “You’d be leaving him alone. Again. How could you do that to him?”
Cullen whirled around, eyes wide at the woman glaring at him. The Qunari was gone. “I-- I’m sorry. I wasn’t-- I’m sorry.”
The woman, dressed in heavy brown robes, a staff at her back, eyed him critically. He stared at the staff, a mage, she’s a mage, then shook his head, rubbing his eyes. He quickly dropped his hands as she stared at how they trembled. Whether she sensed he was a Templar, had been a Templar, should still be a Templar, he didn’t know but she backed away, then hurried toward the gate.
He followed after, instinct carrying him now, his feet remembering what his mind fought against. He’d been over this bridge thousands of times, yet he’d never once felt such dread. This had been a mistake, he shouldn’t be here. The lyrium, it had to be long gone, taken away by himself even--he couldn’t remember taking it away. That was the difficult part, and why he had come all this way.
He simply couldn’t remember if he’d left any here or not.
The mage had hurried ahead and once more no one was around save for Brak. He raised his gaze as he entered the lower courtyard, and looked up at the main hall. A chill went through him. He hadn’t known he would never come back here. He’d been simply cut off, thanks to Jax. The familiar burn at thoughts of Jax roiled through him as he stood alone and surveyed what had once been his home.
Had he been happy here? He wasn’t sure if he’d ever been truly happy since he was a teenager living in the Chantry. Since he was sixteen, then. Alistair’s laughter filling the halls. Alistair’s skin, hot and slick with sweat against his own.
The Templars became his life after Alistair left to join the Grey Wardens, and duty brought him both great reward, and terrible punishment. His had not been an easy life. He had a great many regrets. He’d never once, however, regretted his decision to accept Cassandra’s offer to join her and Leliana. She’d given him a chance at a new life, the Inquisition gave him a chance to redeem the many mistakes he’d made.
He wished he could say he’d been successful, but he could not. He’d started out with such hope, though. What did hope feel like, he wondered? He couldn’t remember anymore.
Cullen was as thrilled with Jax as any of them. Young, charismatic and handsome, the new Inquisitor was exactly the kind of leader the Inquisition needed. The kind he could never be. Though untried and a mage--which had worried Cullen considerably--Jax was blessed with an uncanny sixth sense of what path would bring them to the victories they’d sorely needed.
With Jax at their head, and his own well-trained armies behind the Inquisitor, defeating Corypheus was only a matter of time. The Maker had truly blessed them when he sent the young Trevelyan to them. Going into battle--despite impossible odds--Cullen never doubted Jax once. He knew his belief in the Inquisitor impacted his soldiers, and they too gave everything of themselves. Despite everything, and the harsher choices Jax made, Cullen had no doubt the future Jax and Dorian had seen, and refused to talk about--faces gone pale at the mere mention--would’ve come to pass without Jax.
Jax. His Inquisitor. The man who’d made him who he was today--a burned out former Templar, an addict, his mind twirling away in bits and pieces as he went through the beginning stages of withdrawal only to be yanked back on lyrium again. Alone, and forgotten now that his usefulness was over. He’d lost everything by giving everything he was to the Inquisition, though Cullen knew he wouldn’t have done different.
His problem with Jax narrowed down to one thing and one thing only--Alistair. Jax killed Alistair. So, the very last time he saw the Inquisitor he’d punched Jax in the face.
“Why didn’t I fight for you when I could’ve?” he whispered to the imaginary Alistair in his mind. “Coward.”
“Say something to me, Ser?”
Cullen startled. A human boy with haunting blue eyes and patchwork clothes stared up at him. Cole? No. Not Cole. Cole was dead too, Cullen thought. Or had he ever been alive? He’d left the Inquisition after the Chargers died, told Cullen Jax would not remember him. Cullen hadn’t either, until now. The boy touched his hand, making Cullen flinch. What had he been saying… “No. Sorry.”
“Is that your mabari? You better hide him. The Inquisitor doesn’t like mabari.”
Cullen blinked, looked to where Brak was digging frantically for a mole or a rat, sending dirt flying behind him. In days past, he would’ve laughed. Now he just sighed.
Cullen turned and the boy was gone. He looked around at the empty courtyard, blinking against the sun. There was no boy, no Qunari in a blood-stained apron. He rubbed his temples against the thudding pain, then stretched his neck from side to side. Brak lay stretched out on his side, then rolled onto his back, legs flailing. A ghost of a smile passed Cullen’s lips. He snapped his fingers. The mabari sprang to his feet and trotted back to him.
Lyrium withdrawal had characteristics to it that made it doubly difficult to deal with, and why he was so desperate to not go through it again. Imagining things--even people--that weren’t there was bad enough. It was the memories that lyrium withdrawal slowly stole away, leaving black, hollow gaps in the past that was far worse. He was terrified that lack of lyrium would, in time, take those memories most precious from him. Especially those precious ones involving Alistair.
C’mon Cullen. Don’t be so stuffy. Let’s have some fun. Kiss me.
Be serious for once. This is important. You’re never going to pass if you don’t study. Why can’t you be serious?
I’d rather kiss you.
Okay just once. Then we study. Right?
Fine. Come here then.
Alistair’s decision to leave with the Grey Warden had angered Cullen, though looking back he understood he was actually terrified to be left behind. Life without Alistair? He could hardly bear thinking it possible. So he’d chosen anger instead, never expecting to see Alistair again.
I’m leaving, Cullen. I don’t belong here. Duncan’s conscripted me and I’m glad.
But I thought we were together forever, Alistair. I thought--
Then come with me! I can talk to Duncan, he’ll conscript you too.
Leave the Templars? Alistair, I can’t. I-- Why can’t you stay?
I’d make a lousy Templar. We both know it. I’ll never be good enough for y-- the Templars. It is just as well I go now.
Alistair was wrong. He’d always been the one who was good enough. It was he, Cullen, who never had been. Time and his life before the Inquisition proved that to be true. So much rested on his shoulders, so much blame, so much death. He’d tried to make up for it, had believed accepting Cassandra’s offer to be part of the Inquisition meant that he could atone for all his past wrongs, but it hadn’t worked out very well. He’d dreamed of finally becoming a man worthy of Alistair, but the days and weeks and months had passed by and he’d felt more inadequate, not less. He should never have given up lyrium, but he knew Alistair would never have accepted him if he wasn’t free of it.
He’d tried so damn hard but was never good enough.
Never good enough.
He’d truly thought he’d never see Alistair again and then one day he’d shown up with Hawke at Skyhold, and all his vows to go on with his life crashed around him. Alistair had sought him out repeatedly but he’d made himself scarce, going so far as hiding from Alistair like the idiot he was.
Then came the night when Cullen, desperate for relief from his constant headache, had gone to the Herald’s Rest for a pint. Alistair walked in barely a minute later, trapping him. A game of Wicked Grace was already in progress, and Alistair had dragged Cullen into it with a promise to make it worth Cullen’s time. The Inquisitor had not been there. If he had been, would Alistair have teasingly offered himself to Cullen as he had?
That night blazed in Cullen’s memory, setting his body on fire with self-loathing even now. He’d been too shocked, too stunned by the sudden offer to act like anything but an idiot. He’d stupidly told Alistair what they’d shared was a childhood infatuation, nothing more. He’d mostly convinced himself of that over the years, and thought Alistair had too. Alistair looked at him for the longest time, placed his cards face-down and left.
Twice he’d the chance to fulfill his greatest dream. Twice, he’d failed. There’d be no third chance. The Maker had abandoned him, and Cullen understood.
And then, Cullen learned Alistair and Jax were lovers. After he’d rejected Alistair? Before? He wasn’t sure, but the downward spiral of his relationship with Jax started then. And, quickly escalated.
How could you? That’s what he’d said to Jax. You killed him. YOU KILLED HIM. Stunned, Cullen had stared at the Inquisitor, the pain of loss, despair in his eyes making Jax’s flare. Cullen’s fate had been sealed in that minute.
The very next day, Jax ordered him to take lyrium. He’d obeyed, of course. Furious and not a little hurt, Cassandra begged him to reconsider, but he’d walked away from her, refusing to explain his reasons why.
Right foot, left foot, step by step. He passed the steps leading up to the main courtyard and hesitated; he hadn’t meant to walk here. He’d meant to go to the side entrance, through the kitchen. Less chance of being seen then. No, wait. He’d meant to go to his office, hadn’t he? But he found himself going up anyway, his thoughts pulling him back again to that first time they’d climbed these steps, he and Josie, Leliana, Jax, and Varric. The keep had been in such disarray, holes in the roof, glass shattered and sparkling in the sunlight, but Jax was like a puppy, bouncing around in excitement.
Back then, Cullen saw possibilities. He’d had hope. It had been a very exciting day.
As he trudged up the final stairs, Cullen saw nothing but cold, the weak winter’s sun filtering through the stained glass of blues and blacks and purples adding to the chill. He blinked, realizing he now stood in the middle of the keep itself--that happened a lot these days. He’d mean to go one direction, and end up in another, not remembering how he got there.
Now, he suddenly stood before the throne, at the foot of the dais, not remembering walking up to it. The dragon skulls remained high above, all nine of them, their open mouths positioned as if they would all gladly take bites out of the Inquisitor’s throne. The final dragon remained free despite the Inquisitor and Bull’s determination to slay him. Cullen had always been secretly glad they’d failed to find the last, though a spot remained for his skull.
He stared unblinking at that spot for a long moment, imagining Jax on the throne under the dragons’ watchful empty eyes, passing judgment as he’d found so easy to do. How many times had he heard Jax say those words?
I’m executing him myself.
I’m executing him myself.
I’m executing him myself.
Jax stared at him, blue eyes glittering, daring Cullen to argue. “You, I’m executing you myself.”
Jax, the Inquisitor. Jax, the judgment-maker. Jax, the savior. Jax, who wanted him dead. Why? Because he’d stupidly let Jax know how much Alistair had meant to him.
He was meant for me!
But Alistair hadn’t been forced into his relationship with the Inquisitor. He hadn’t been forced to stay behind in the Fade either, Hawke told him. No one forced Alistair to do anything he didn’t want to.
He’d chosen to stay in the Fade.
Alistair chose to die, so Hawke and her unborn child could live. Of course he did. And because of that, Jax came home without him. Jax wanted someone, anyone punished, and there stood Cullen, his heartbreak shining from his eyes.
He stared up at the mural. He was in the rotunda, the wolf’s lair. He blinked, shaking his head as he stared up at Solas’ work. The wolf. The Dread Wolf. Fen’Harel himself, here, all this time. Waiting. Watching. Planning. Privy to everything they did. He was out there now, more powerful than before if Jax was to be believed, and getting stronger. He wanted to destroy them.
For the elves, Solas told Jax, though seldom had Cullen heard the apostate speak highly of the Dalish.
He can turn people into stone, Jax exclaimed when he’d stumbled back, his hand gone, to the Winter Palace, his shock at the level of Solas’ power highly warranted. Jax said Solas only had to think it, and the Qunari who’d threatened him was no more.
Dead. Dead as a rock.
Cullen almost laughed. Jax had power too, didn’t he? He’d certainly turned him into stone. Jax had stripped of everything that mattered. Everything he’d fought for, cared about, believed in was destroyed. His position. His wealth. His family and friends. The Inquisition was disbanded. Alistair was gone. Those who he’d once called friends were friends no longer. Thedas was possibly headed to war. His beloved country cringed under the shadow of not just Orlais but the Dread Wolf himself.
There was no one to stop Solas now, and there was naught he could do about it.
He could feel the tower pulling him as he stood outside in the cold, its ghostly whispers teasing and pulling at him. Come. Come. Let me show you peace. All these weeks he’d ignored the whispered callings, or tried to, and yet found himself here in Skyhold anyway, embraced by the song, the promise of freedom in his madness.
“I’m ready,” he whispered, then headed for the stairs.
Special thanks to Aurlana for today's help and encouragement! And to all of you who are reading. I know things seem pretty dour right now but remember - HEA guaranteed. Eventually. (And there WILL be smut, too - eventually....).
Any mistakes are my own but I absolutely don't mind folks pointing out silly errors so I can fix them. Thank you!
Chapter 5: The Waystation
Alistair gets his first glimpse of his new home, and meets a most extraordinary--and unexpected--elf.
I ended up combining two chapters as one was ridiculously short. That made this one ridiculously long, but I hope you won't mind.
Alistair stayed outside for the better part of an hour, even though he was soon shivering. Blast it, it was cold here. By his reckoning, Wintersend was still several months away. He wondered how long winter lasted in Skyrim, or if it was always this bitter cold.
At one point, Hist brought him a heavy cloak, a chair to sit on--which he accepted most gratefully--and another mug of hot broth, before disappearing inside again. The sun marched its way toward the horizon, and silhouettes of two moons appeared, as yet still faint in the sky.
As he sipped the broth, he watched with interest as the people below went about their regular business. It was like watching a play, though with tiny characters, so he had to imagine their faces and what they were saying to each other.
Especially intriguing were the giants. He loathed giants, truly. But, to his fascination, these giants herded the largest druffalo-ish beasts he had ever seen in his life! Even from this distance he could tell they were at least the size of a dragonling. They were shaggy, and had tusks, but massive tusks. Clearly, they were the source of Hist’s favorite cheese. He couldn’t wait to taste it.
He saw a pack of wolves rushing across the open plains, some halla-like animals bounding about, and in the pond closest to the main road, several evil-looking crab-like things he thought it probably best to avoid. He rubbed at one of the knotted scars on his belly. Their claws reminded him a bit too much of the Nightmare.
Whiterun was a busy city. The main road was never completely empty, occupied by travelers on foot, and on horseback. Carriages ran regularly as well. He was relieved the horses were similar to the Ferelden horses he’d always preferred; sturdy creatures that looked like they had decent endurance.
The city itself looked admirable, on a par with most mid-sized cities he’d visited in his lifetime. Pretty, but not as fancy as Orlais, though that was fine with him. There were ruins outside the city; a few buildings looked as if they’d been hit with catapults, but long ago. No one had bothered to repair them so they must not be needed.
Another thing to ask Hist; how did Skyrim’s political system work? Though he’d chosen not to become king, he did find politics interesting, in a thank-the-Maker-it's-not-me way.
Skyrim was, he guessed, a fairly peaceful place otherwise. No dragons, no ongoing threat, no war, no Templars, no Red Templars, no angry mages, no need for a Grey Warden...a former Grey Warden, much less an injured swordsman. Again, the worry of what will I do with myself bounced in his head, spiking his anxiety. He pushed it down again, trying not to upset himself. That would lead to paths he couldn’t bear to travel.
Just the thought of those paths led to his hands shaking.
No, it was more than just that--something tugged at him, an emptiness he wished desperately to fill but didn’t have the first idea of how. He rubbed his face, the stupid ring heavy on his hand. Sheer loneliness, a desperate need to understand why he was here flared inside his chest.
Maker, why had he been spared his certain death?
Focus on something else, Alistair. Even though this country appeared peaceful, Hist wore a sword at his belt for a reason. He wished he had a mabari or two. He wasn’t as wild about the beasts as some-- Cullen --but it would be nice to have backup when he traveled. He could find a human travel companion, he supposed, but the thought of having to talk to anyone else in this strange new language overwhelmed him, even if he was able to do it.
The thought of leaving his safe haven overwhelmed him, too. That uncomfortable, unfamiliar emptiness tugged at him again at the thought. He looked behind him, half expecting to see whatever it was that pulled at him to get up, go find the source , but there was only the door behind him, nothing more.
Trying again to distract himself, he held up his sword arm and pushed his sleeve back, examining the vivid scar that almost encircled his wrist. Not entirely lopped off then. A second scar crossed higher up. His arm had the familiar strain of holding a sword too long. It would take work to get his hand and arm back to their former strength but he wasn’t as concerned about that as he was the way his back pained him when he stretched.
He could practically feel the scars reopen when he swept his arm to the left. Up and down was even worse. He half expected to feel hot blood pouring down his back. He’d had scars force him to compensate, but these?
If he couldn’t lift his sword higher than his shoulder, he was useless.
He cupped the mug again, the ring clinking against it. He tried to push all the aches and pains and exhaustion and that dreadful emptiness out of his mind. It was, he had to remind himself, only the first day since he’d woken into this new life. Patience wasn’t necessarily one of his best virtues, yet he had to try. What choice did he have?
The sky was darkening rapidly now that the sun was almost gone. Far below, torches flared to life, and someone on horseback lit lanterns along the main road. Whiterun itself, especially the highest building which he figured must be the main hall or some sort of rudimentary palace, danced with light. They did like their lights here.
When the twin moons started their ascent together into the sky, one much smaller than the other, flooding the city and the surrounding plains with soft moonlight, he was near overwhelmed with how beautiful they were. If anything told him he was nowhere in Thedas, the moons did. They were remarkably close and incredibly large, as if he could reach out and touch them. He swallowed, the punch of his new reality hitting him once again.
He was far, far from home. He would never see it again. He would never see his friends again, Jax again. Hawke, or Fenris, and their future little Alistair. Varric, or even Zevran. And-- and any of them. He took in a shuddering breath as a last name swept through his mind-- Cullen.
Dead to them all.
He wiped his betraying eyes, and stared up at the twin moons. He had a decision to make, and had to make it now. Either let his past go, and accept this new chance at life he’d been given, or find a nice high cliff and jump off. Right now, as scared and lonely and hurt and empty as he was, he honestly wasn’t sure which would be best.
He wiped at his eyes again. Damn leaky eyes. It hurt. It hurt so damn bad. He pressed his hand against his chest, at the huge knot inside, and sucked in his breath against the pain.
The door behind him opened, making him startle. “You should come in now. The temperature will drop rapidly soon.”
He stared down at the road, not wanting Hist to see he’d been crying. “I’ll be right there.”
Hist closed the door. Alistair cast one last look around, his gaze lagging as he looked up at the mountain Hist had called the Throat of the World. It looked formidable, and incredibly cold. Hist had appeared quite moved just saying its name. Exploring that, however, could wait until spring. Until, he hoped, he was stronger.
He would go to Whiterun first, he decided, and see about some new armor, though he had no idea how he’d pay for it. Then, he’d maybe go on to Solitude. He would need a horse, he thought, but again… no money. How could he earn money?
He supposed his mind had made up the decision for him to stick around. At least for now. He just wished he knew one thing-- Why did they save me?
He got up slowly, hissing a little as the pain sizzled down his back, his backside, his leg, not to mention his stomach’s protesting. Thirty-five going on seventy, he was. With measured steps he pushed open the door and entered the cave, dragging the chair after him. Fortunately it wasn’t heavy. Hist waited for him halfway down the stairs.
“Leave the chair. You may wish to use it again tomorrow. Come. I will show you the rest of our home. Caterina should be back soon. We will have supper then.”
Hist trotted lightly the rest of the way down the stairs, his massive tail wagging back and forth. Like a happy mabari , Alistair thought as he made his painstaking way down the stairs.
“Can I eat something besides soup?” He held up his mug when he finally reached the bottom.
Hist made that chuckling sound. “Your diet will consist mainly of thin soups for a little while, I am afraid. Your stomach must learn to tolerate solid food again. This way.”
Hist opened a door that Alistair hadn’t noticed before. His room, or what he thought of as his room, was small, with not much more space than two or three people could inhabit though upon reflection the huge bed took up most of it.
The room Hist led him into was, in contrast, cavernous. Every inch of it was utilized, however, and there was even a small pool with a little waterfall in one corner. Stairs on the other side of the pool rose steeply up to an open door; wouldn’t be tackling those for awhile.
To his right, a massive table, gleaming with polish, had been placed; Alistair thought it could seat at least twenty people. The chairs around it were a mismatched bunch. Several unlit candelabra were the only items on it. Halfway across the space a pit fire, burned down to glowing coals, was on a slightly lower level to the rest of the room. Several worn wing-back chairs and a small couch had been placed around the pit. Two large bookcases, each packed tight with books, covered the wall on the other side.
Books he wondered if he could even read. It would be horrible to be unable to read. He liked to read, though Morrigan had accused him of faking it whenever she found him curled up with a book.
“The heart of our home. Through that door is the water chamber, when you need it.”
“Water chamber? Oh, that.”
“Through the door opposite the pool is another chamber, which you will see tomorrow. That is Caterina’s domain.”
“Was that where I--”
Hist nodded. “Yes. We only moved you to your present room yesterday. The rest of the living quarters are up that stairway, which you would find difficult to navigate in your condition. As a result, Rumarin has loaned you the use of his room. I must finish supper. Make yourself comfortable.”
He’d taken the elf’s room? He thought of the huge bed, certainly more bed than a typical elf needed. Easily big enough for two or three elves. He mentally shook that thought away. Making himself focus, Alistair stood just inside the door as he watched Hist go over to the kitchen area. He added wood to a large pit fire over which a large pot hung on a rod. Hist then opened the pot’s lid, steam escaping, and stirred the contents, humming to himself in a way Alistair guessed was pleased.
He was reluctant to move too far from Hist but it looked like Hist didn’t need anyone underfoot, especially him, being useless as he was. Alistair’s stomach growled. The smells were incredible, spices scenting the air he wasn’t sure he recognized. His mouth watered as he drew close to the table where at least a dozen loaves of bread cooled. One loaf had been sliced. Surely he could tolerate a little bit of bread?
It was warm in the room despite its high ceiling so he slid off the cloak and stood holding it, unsure where to put it. He turned, and saw a row of hooks, several of which held other cloaks. He hung his up and then, feeling a bit awkward, tried to do as Hist had suggested: make himself at home.
Alistair decided the first order of business was to tend to his full bladder. Fortunately, the Waysation’s facilities weren’t the most primitive he’d seen. There was even a large tub in a second, smaller room, with a wood stove. Two huge empty metal buckets were on top of it, and if he guessed right, the makeshift water trough was full thanks to some sort of pipe system leading from the waterfall in the main room. Clever, and useful for non-mages.
If the stove fire had been lit, he would’ve asked for a bath; he had no way of knowing exactly when he’d last bathed. Or been bathed. Had he been brought here to be cleaned up? He winced at the thought, imagining himself all tranquil-like while someone else took care of him. He dreaded meeting the elf who’d tended to him. He left the room, rubbing the lingering ache in his chest, not wanting to think about that just now.
He needed to sit down. Badly.
Despite his slow pace and the pull on his back and the hollow feeling in his chest, when he stepped down into the lower level, he felt calmer than he had since he woke. He could breathe more easily as well, though he felt a bit chilled. It would be nice to sit by the fire awhile and read, if he could read, and get warm. The fire needed a new log or two but he didn’t see any to add to it. He looked back toward the kitchen to ask Hist, but he was gone. Oh well. Maybe he could pull a chair closer to the fire.
As he slowly passed by the first wing-back chairs, Alistair felt a sudden pull. He stopped, confused, belatedly realized the chair was occupied by a figure who, given the length of the booted legs stretched out to the coals, was likely male. Unless they had Qunari here. Could be a female Qunari. There were elves, so why not Qunari? Either way, he couldn’t see their face.
Their hands, in repose on a closed book on their stomach, were gloved, and rose and fell steadily as they breathed. Alistair unwittingly found himself matching the slow, steady pace. He closed his eyes briefly, lost in the odd moment of calm, the uncomfortable tightness in his chest loosening.
Just as he wondered if the mystery person were perhaps asleep, they suddenly drew in their legs. One gloved hand flicked casually toward the coals, and the fire flared back to life. A mage. Alistair pulled back so quickly he nearly tripped over his robes. But how had they done that?
Alistair was well-used to mages casting fire spells but what this mage could do was nothing short of amazing. No staff, no streak of fire from fingers. They just--made the fire flare up with a casual flick of one gloved hand. Alistair didn’t think it possible. No, wait, he’d seen Solas do it once, but his magic was unusually powerful for a mage.
A door Alistair hadn’t noticed opened and Hist walked back in, balancing some dirty dishes. “Don’t be concerned, Alistair. He is quite harmless.” He. Okay, definitely male then.
The mage laughed. Most definitely male. His voice, rich with amusement, resonated straight to Alistair’s chest.
“Why thank you, Ser Lizard. I do try my best not to scare off the youngsters with my parlor tricks. I gladly leave that to you.” Hist didn’t deign to respond as he headed for the kitchen area with his burden, and clearly no response was expected.
The mage leaned forward and Alistair could finally see him. Alistair blinked in confusion at the pointed ears. This was an elf? He was massive for an elf! Maker. No delicate Thedas elf here. He would absolutely tower over even Fenris.
Could this be Rumarin?
Rumarin--if indeed he was he--turned in his chair and looked up, eyes widening briefly when his gaze fell on Alistair’s robe. He smiled as if well-pleased. A remarkable flash of heat encased Alistair as he held Alistair’s gaze fast. Remarkable, in that not since-- Well, it’d been awhile since anyone had triggered such a quick response. He gulped, sure that his face was red. Probably even his ears. Definitely his ears.
He wasn’t what Alistair would call handsome; that wasn’t the right word. He wouldn’t call himself handsome, either, though Jax always claimed he was the most beautiful man who ever walked into Skyhold.
Ridiculous. Everyone knew Cullen was, though Dorian enjoyed insisting otherwise. Rumarin was… Alistair fumbled for the right word.
He wore his thick flaxen hair tied neatly at his neck. Alistair couldn’t tell what color his eyes were in the dim light. They were light, that was all he could tell for sure. He couldn’t tell how old he was, either, having that timelessness elves always seem to have once they reached a certain age. Lucky bastards. Like Solas, even with that egghead he had.
But unlike Solas, or any other elf he’d ever met, Rumarin’s skin was golden. Not golden brown, been-in-the-sun-a-lot golden brown, but actually golden. He also wore some sort of war paint, two bars across each cheek, which struck Alistair as odd as the leather gloves. When he raised one pale eyebrow Alistair finally broke away, his face heating in embarrassment.
How long had he been staring, lost in his own thoughts?
“Hist. Please introduce us.”
Hist made a sighing sound. “Alistair, as you no doubt deduced, this is Rumarin, Caterina’s sometime assistant I spoke to you about. Elf, you damn well already know who this is.”
Rumarin laughed, his gaze flicking to Hist before returning to Alistair. “And so I do.” He bowed his head once. Alistair could only stare. “Well met, Alistair. I am so very glad to see the latest melange worked,” he said, his sonorous voice momentarily thick. Rumarin smiled. “That is a relief. I had no real desire to go chasing after myths again.” One eyebrow raised. “Though the end result certainly made all the hardship worth it.”
This was who had taken care of him! Alistair clutched at his robes. Was Rumarin a healer? He didn’t look like one to Alistair. Why else would someone so elegant want to do stuff like… like clean up after him ? All kinds of scenarios that probably had happened flitted through his mind, each more mortifying than the one before. If he could run, he would.
It was an enormous relief to Alistair that the room, despite all the lamps and fires and moonlight, was relatively dim. Only the kitchen area glowed with adequate light. He could feel his face heating, no, burning , and it only got worse when Rumarin stood to his full height, setting his book on the chair, and sweeping his cloak back with casual elegance.
Alistair was by no means a small man, but Rumarin towered over him. The only person he knew taller, other than Bull, would be Carver. Alistair thought he might come up to just beneath Rumarin’s chin. No wonder the robes he’d borrowed fell all the way to his ankles. And those shoulders!
Rumarin’s clothes were of the same singular quality as the robe. Gold threads ran through a wine-colored vest. It even had polished gold buttons. Underneath the vest, he wore a plain but well-tailored burgundy shirt, open at the neck. His boots shone as if newly polished, and his black hooded cape was of some unusual fuzzy material. Usually Alistair didn’t notice clothes, but it was kind of impossible to dismiss the entirety of this beautiful being before him.
Still, he tried to look away but Alistair’s attention was snagged by the brilliant white stone, threaded with silver and a bit of gold, glimmering at the hollow of Rumarin’s throat. It looked the same stone as the one in his ring, but bigger. Was it a common stone? Curious, he started to raise his hand, the desire to touch the amulet as strong as breathing, but stopped, embarrassed by his actions.
Flustered, he fixated on Rumarin’s dark leather trousers. Well. That was a mistake. They fit those powerful thighs very well, and the way he stood emphasized his… assets, making Alistair’s cheeks so hot he almost brought his hands to his face in a vain attempt to cool down. Alistair panicked at the sudden responsive swell of his cock and like an idiot pulled the thick robes-- his robes--closer around himself as if he could hide. Way to be subtle, Theirin.
Rumarin raised an eyebrow, and smiled in amusement at him, taking a step closer. Alistair gulped. Any doubt Alistair might have had that Rumarin wasn’t interested in men ended right then.
“Are you all right, Alistair? You look a bit feverish.”
Alistair shivered, then nodded. Then shook his head, making Rumarin grin. No, no I am not all right. He couldn’t make words form. He was incredibly confused. This wasn’t like him to go so crazily slack-jawed.
Okay, maybe it was. It’d just been a long, long time since he’d reacted to anyone like this. Not since he was a horny teenager and confronted with his new roommate’s eyes for the first time. Ah, Cullen.
“Like what you see?” Rumarin asked, his voice so low only Alistair could hear. He tried to look away but he was a fly in a spider’s web, unable to move. Caught. Rumarin leaned on the chair’s back, eyes half closed as he watched Alistair struggle to pull back from his wayward thoughts.
Finally, Rumarin turned toward Hist and said, “He can understand us still, Hist? I have so many questions, but he won’t talk to me.”
“You are a bit overwhelming, Elf. Give the man a moment to collect himself.”
“Overwhelming, me ?” With a flourish that somehow didn’t at all seem ridiculous, Rumarin pulled his cape off, draping it over the chair. Alistair couldn’t help but stare at how elegant he was as he moved, how well the leather breeches fit his side profile.
He looked more a king than Alistair could ever hope to.
Rumarin casually rolled up his sleeves over his powerful forearms, taking his time. Alistair was mesmerized at the slow reveal of golden skin. Why the gloves, though? He didn’t take them off, instead tugging each more firmly in place until satisfied.
He bowed slightly. “I am very sorry for stealing your breath away, Alistair.”
Alistair gulped and took a deep breath. He hadn’t even realized he’d been holding it. Smooth as a bottle of Mackay’s Epic, he was. What he wouldn’t give for a bottle of that now.
“Please, say something. Anything you like. A little poetry perhaps? In your own language, if you wish.” Something hovered in Rumarin’s voice, puzzling Alistair.
Rumarin’s eyes softened as he smiled. He again stepped closer, stopping within easy arm’s reach of Alistair. He suddenly felt very weak at the knees. He found himself staring at Rumarin’s mouth, snapping his gaze back up to the other’s eyes only when he touched Alistair’s face with his other hand.
Alistair couldn’t move, even when Rumarin’s leather-clad fingertips brushed against his cheek. Even when he drew closer, Alistair didn’t pull away. His thighs trembled so hard he had to grasp for something to hold onto, to keep himself standing. Rumarin’s arms were the only thing close.
And didn’t that appear to please him.
Alistair couldn’t help it; he closed his eyes, his lips parting and breath quickening as he leaned into the touch, that strange emptiness gone silent. He clutched Rumarin’s bare forearms, smooth and relaxed beneath his hands. Alistair didn’t recognize himself. Was Rumarin casting some sort of magic over him? Had to be.
The leather glove against his face was large and soft, and warm, smelled of cold wind and sunshine and horse as if he’d just come in from a long ride. Alistair swallowed, his breath quickening when Rumarin stroked his cheek, the grip on the back of his neck tightening. Mere inches separated them, inches he desperately wished would disappear, but he dared not move.
He bit back a whimper, locking it in his throat.
“Open your eyes, Alistair.” He snapped them open, they were so close his neck strained as he looked up. Rumarin expression wasn’t what he expected. He looked...concerned. Alistair couldn’t bear to look at him directly, terrified of what else he would see in those eyes.
Maker, he was confused. He looked away. Or tried to.
“No.” Alistair startled. “Look at me , Alistair. Don't be afraid. I won’t hurt you. I will never hurt you. You don’t know how I’ve longed to talk with you again,” Rumarin said, his deep voice rough, barely above a whisper.
He had no choice, then, did he? Alistair bit the inside of his lip and looked up; Rumarin’s gaze locked with his. And held him there, firm under their spell. Mage. He’s a mage. Or a demon maybe. Except he would be able to tell if he was a demon… No, no, he was no longer tainted. That alarmed him. Rumarin couldn't be a demon, though, logic insisted. Rumarin was real. Very. The skin beneath Alistair’s hands, very real. Alistair could feel Rumarin’s breath, the heat from his body as he too seemed to be affected by this, whatever it was, reverberating between them.
Alistair’s knees almost gave way from the power of that stare, his groin tightening, hardening with more enthusiasm than he’d had since he was sixteen. He clutched Rumarin’s arms with a death grip. His entire body shuddered with some undefined need, something he couldn’t explain. He positively craved Rumarin’s touch, the distance between them too much to cope with. He felt lost, incomplete, like an essential part of him was missing. It was as if he’d been cleaved in two. Which of course he had been. Did the monster do this to him?
It scared him, Rumarin’s words of reassurance notwithstanding.
When Rumarin blinked, it was slow, mesmerizing. Alistair couldn’t stop staring at him, now that he was staring at him. A betraying sigh of longing escaped Alistair, making the corner of Rumarin’s mouth twitch. He rubbed Alistair’s jaw with his thumb, his gaze roaming Alistair’s face.
Embarrassed and confused by his own ridiculous behavior, Alistair yanked back, jerking his hands away, stumbling again in his confused haste. Rumarin grabbed Alistair’s arm, steadying him. His hand on Alistair’s arm was like fire, even through leather and cloth.
“Careful. Caterina would have my scalp if you got hurt.”
“What was that,” Alistair managed to choke out, confusion and arousal and lingering fear making his voice shake. “Did you do that?”
"Did I do what?”
Alistair stumbled. “I-- I-- um.”
He wiped his forehead with one shaking hand, his inability to speak making it even harder to speak. He tried to pull away. Rumarin sighed, gently letting him go. Alistair managed to find his balance. Somehow.
“I assumed…” Rumarin’s voice softened. “Do you not remember me at all?”
Remember him? From before? “No. No, I’m sorry.”
And he was. Something’s not right here. He just-- The look Rumarin gave him--a pause, quick thoughtful frown, the flash of hurt quickly masked--confused Alistair. He was no fool, though. Something more than Rumarin helping him bathe and dress must’ve gone on between them, then, which of course he couldn’t remember, and he guessed Rumarin didn’t want to say.
Well. This was awkward. He didn’t know what to say himself so he stared at the floor, useless as a nug.
“Then we shall begin again.” Alistair looked up. Rumarin took a step back and, with a quick grin, bowed before him with a sweep of his arm, then straightened. “I am Rumarin. Altmer elf, adventurer, explorer on occasion, passable bard and minor mage and somewhat healer, occasional Waystation cook and baker, self-appointed caretaker--yours--and whatever else Caterina or Hist tell me to do.”
Alistair coughed, then choked out a single word, his body and his brain not exactly in sync yet. “Hello.”
Rumarin’s eyes flashed with...something. Relief? “A man of little words? That’s fine, I always have plenty to say as you might’ve guessed. Who are you?”
This was absurd. “Alistair Theirin. I’m-- I’m no one.”
“Alistair Theirin. Lovely name, like the man who bears it so regally.”
Alistair frowned, glancing toward Hist but he wasn’t paying them any attention. Had Hist told him Alistair’s father was a king? No, wait, he hadn’t told Hist that. Not that it mattered now, either here or there. Alistair took several deep breaths, quite grateful his body had started to cool off. He felt a little dizzy though, and wavered where he stood. Rumarin’s eyes widened as Alistair stumbled. He took Alistair by the arm and led him to a chair.
“Better?” Rumarin sat on the arm of the chair he’d previously occupied, towering over Alistair, just as imposing and overwhelming, but it did help to sit. Rumarin’s smile warmed him. He folded his arms; the necklace gleamed at Alistair. Alistair fiddled with the ring on his finger, not sure what to say, if he was supposed to say anything at all, or if he should wait for Rumarin to say something?
He was very relieved when Rumarin spoke. “So, what do you think of Skyrim so far, Alistair? It is cold, though from what you have told me, so is your world. There’s a reason the elves here don't run around barefoot.”
“I--” He searched for the words, surprised he found any he was still so off-balance. “It is interesting, what little I have seen. Those hairy beasts with the giants. They’re huge. ”
“The mammoths?” Rumarin laughed. “Many things in Skyrim are huge, Alistair.” He raised an eyebrow. Alistair blushed, wondering again just how well he and Rumarin had known each other before. His memories before this day were truly non-existent, at least any memories associated with this place. Or Rumarin. “Do you have mammoths and giants where you come from?”
“Well, we do have really big giants, well, I mean giants are all big, else they wouldn’t be called giants, but mammoths, no. Our giants are much more primitive.” He paused, realized he was babbling now but couldn’t stop in no small part because it made Rumarin smile. “Some of the Avvar are kind of giants too, I suppose. They are civilized though, mostly. They’re actually quite a nice people for such a big people.”
“Bigger than I am?”
Was this a trick question? Of course it was. “A little. Not much. You’re pretty big all over.” Rumarin raised one eyebrow. “I meant for an elf! Our elves are small!” Alistair covered his face with one hand. Blast it.
“Oh? A pity for them.”
Alistair couldn’t help it. He laughed. “I wouldn’t advise saying that to one’s face. At least not my friend, Zevran.” Not that they’d ever meet.
Rumarin eyed him. “Former lover?”
Alistair barked out a shocked, “No! No.” He shook his head. “He’s a friend I traveled with a long time ago.” He frowned. “Well. Not really a friend. He drove me rather too mad, most of the time, to qualify as a real friend.” And yet, he’d give anything to see Zevran now. They had been friends, he supposed, thanks to Liassa’s insistence. “ He's an assassin, an Antivan Crow. They call themselves that, even though he's not one officially anymore. Still has the tattoos though. He may be small, but he is quite deadly with two blades. He tried to kill me when we first met."
"I am glad he did not succeed. He traveled with you after failing to murder you?”
“It sure wasn’t my idea. Liassa let him. Liassa was, well, she was our leader. A Warden like me but even though I’d been a Warden longer, it wasn't that much longer, and she was, is quite amazing. She’s an elf too. I’ll never understand why she gave Zevran a chance, other than he’s pretty.”
Rumarin laughed. “Beauty can be a powerful tool.”
Alistair wrinkled his nose. “I wouldn’t know.”
Rumarin stood. “And that is part of your charm,” he murmured. “Come with me, Alistair. You must be thirsty or even hungry.” He motioned for Alistair to follow him and headed toward the kitchen area. Tugged along in Rumarin’s wake, Alistair slowly followed. Even a few minutes sitting down had made him stiffen up. The scars pulled hard on his back, worrying him again. It concerned him a great, great deal.
Hist looked up as they approached and glared--at least Alistair thought it a glare--at Rumarin.
“You like cheese, yes?” Rumarin asked over his shoulder, sliding around Hist, leaving Alistair to stand awkwardly by the bread table.
“I love cheese.”
"I am sure Hist already told you about the wonders of mammoth cheese. I am fairly certain he exists purely for mammoth cheese.” Hist rolled his eyes and continued what he was doing. Rumarin pulled a mug from a shelf, grabbed a silver pitcher beaded with moisture, and poured whatever was in it into the mug. He handed it across the table to Alistair, his fingertips brushing over Alistair’s knuckles, his gaze lingering for a moment on the ring.
“Thank you.” Just plain water but it tasted like heaven. He drank it all, wishing he could splash some on his face, wondering why the ring had caught the elf’s attention. It wasn’t like Rumarin hadn’t seen it before. He offered the mug back to Rumarin; he refilled it and Alistair drank it just as quickly as the first.
“That’s enough for now,” Hist said. “He can have more before bed.”
“I’ll see to it.” Alistair frowned. Rumarin cocked his head and smiled in apology. “Sorry. Too used to taking care of you.”
“It’s fine. Weird, but fine.”
Rumarin raised one eyebrow. “Still, feel free to chastise me whenever you need to. I tend to be a bit of a broody hen for those I care about.” He poured more water but this he drank himself. He gestured with the empty mug. “So. Let us continue. What kind do you like best?”
Alistair was still stumbling over the ‘those I care about’ part. “What?”
Rumarin leaned forward. “ Cheese. ”
This discussion was beyond ridiculous. Rumarin clearly was attempting to put him at ease, and it was working. He didn’t feel so wobbly now. Well maybe a little. He leaned against the table to steady himself.
“Uh, well. Goat cheese. And we have cow cheese which is good. I love cheese, any kind really. Except tusket cheese. It’s… I only ate it once. It’s not for… Nevermind.”
Rumarin eyed him in amusement; only then did he realize his cheeks had grown hot. “”No. I want to know. What is this tusket?”
He cleared his throat. “It’s an animal. Zevran tricked me into eating it. It kind of has the effect of…” he gestured to his groin. “I’m a Warden, or was a Warden, and we’re known for our stamina and he thought it would be amusing to-- You know. Add to that?”
Hist rumbled, shaking his head as he cut up what looked like potatoes.
Rumarin’s eyes lit up. “Ah, and how did that turn out?”
Alistair sighed. “Days. It lasted days.” And he’d had no one to help relieve him of his misery.
“Here. Try this. I promise it won’t cause you undue hard ship.” Alistair groaned, shaking his head. Rumarin pulled a container from a shelf. “And don't worry, Hist, I’m just giving him a bite.”
Hist handed him a knife. “Half a bite. No more.” He made that odd laughing sound then said, lowering his voice, “And no telling Caterina.”
Rumarin rolled his eyes. “Of course not.” He pulled the loose cover off the container and cut a slice, handing it to Alistair. Alistair took it, his fingers brushing Rumarin’s on accident, making his fingers crackle. He wondered if Rumarin had done that on purpose and he searched his gaze but Rumarin’s eyes were decidedly innocent. And quite striking. Here, in the well-lit kitchen area, Alistair could see them more clearly now; honey yellow and black-rimmed. Much better than his own boring brown eyes.
“Go on. Nibble away.”
Alistair’s stomach rumbled. He took a bite, eyes widening as the sharp bite and creamy texture spread over his tongue. “This is fantastic,” he murmured, eating the rest of it and looking hopefully at the container. Except Hist had turned around and held his hand out to take the container from Rumarin. There would be no more.
"I am pleased you like it.” Hist put the container away. Rumarin set aside the mug and moved around the table. He bent his head down to Alistair, something he imagined the tall elf had to do often when talking to those shorter than he, which was probably most everyone. “Is Ser Lizard’s back still turned?” At his confused nod, Rumarin grinned, straightening and snatching a piece of bread from the table. He wasn’t as quick as Hist who succeeded in smacking him with a spoon.
“Ouch, that hurt.” Rumarin rubbed his shoulder as he moved away.
“Keep out of the bread. Dinner will be soon enough.”
“I did make the bread, Hist.”
“For travellers. Not for yourself.”
“I’m on cooking duty this week. I deserve samples.”
“Who made tonight’s dinner because someone was too distracted? Who pulled this bread out of the fire when it was done?” Hist said. “ Not you. Go back to the other fire, and take Alistair with you. He’s about to fall over.”
Alistair watched in bemusement as Rumarin darted for the bread again, snatching a second piece, and tossing it to him. He grabbed for it, almost missing it, but managed to hold onto it despite his fumbling fingers. It was still warm, the rich yeasty scent immediately making his mouth water.
He looked at Hist, remembering his warning. “May I?”
Rumarin huffed. “You don’t have to ask permission, Alistair. Hist, you didn’t frighten him into submission, did you?”
Hist glanced at Alistair, shaking his head. “No, he’s just naturally obedient, unlike you.” Rumarin’s eyes flared with a dangerous glow. Hist didn’t seem to notice. “Eat it slowly, Alistair. And you, Elf, keep an eye on him please.”
“Of course I will, Ser Lizard. Happily. See? I can be obedient too. Come along, Alistair. Have I got a treat in mind for you.”
Hist made that odd chuckling sound, then turned back to his work.
Chapter 6: This Way Does Madness Lie
What is real, and wasn't it? There's no true way to know when suffering from withdrawal and lyrium madness, as Cullen finds out for himself.
Another one of those darker chapters--most of Cullen's chapters in Part One are such as I wanted to explore the effects of the encroach of lyrium madness combined with the effects of sporadic withdrawal. As Cullen's fortunes changed, so did his access to the blue stuff. Going on and going off again played havoc with his body, and his mind. He simply will never be the same. Devastating, but a blast to write.
Cullen stood at the door to his tower, then looked back over his shoulder at the wide open door behind him. He didn’t remember opening it. He didn’t remember walking across the bridge. He tried the door handle to his office; it clicked, and swung open. He stood at his desk, the steps between door and desk a patch of dark in his mind. The desk still had his books stacked on one corner, lists, letters opened and smoothed out in a stack.
He frowned, rubbing his forehead. He didn’t remember leaving it all like this. Had he been back since the Exalted Council? Had someone else gone through his things? He shook his head, the throbbing relentless, accompanied now by drifting dots of black. It was hard to see in the dark room but there was only weak sunlight to see by, no lamps, no torches.
He shuffled through the papers, finding a letter from Mia. Panicked, he crumpled it unread. No, no she must never see him like this. Must never know. Better she thought him finally dead. Which, in a way he was, wasn’t he? He pushed the rest of the papers aside. One fell to the floor. He stared at it for a moment, then turned away.
Brak snuffled around the room, sticking his nose into the bookcases--still full of Cullen’s books--sniffing everything he could reach. Being a mabari, that was a great many things. He growled at the dummy; it still had Cullen’s knives sticking into it. He pulled one out, testing its sharpness, wincing as he cut his thumb, blackened by dirt.
He stood back a few feet from the dummy and considered for a moment if he had the strength and focus to throw the knife. He blinked; the knife fell to the floor, forgotten, sliding from his trembling fingers. He pulled in a breath--lyrium, he needed lyrium. He needed to be taking it. I should be taking it .
The echo of his own voice rang between the stones, floating up to the loft and the open sky above. Had he shouted? He couldn’t-- Something pulled him upward. He found himself halfway up the ladder before he realized what he was doing. Below him, Brak howled in frustration--he didn’t like when Cullen was away from him. Cullen ignored the mabari and hurried toward the bed, finding his focus, remembering why he’d come. It flickered in his mind that the bed was made, the covers different than he remembered (weren’t they red, not blue?), but he didn’t care, it didn’t matter. What mattered was beneath the bed. He pulled the covers off, snarling as they caught on the mattress, making him fall down.
“Hey, what’s this-- Someone has been here.”
“Thought I’d heard something.”
Hearing voices, that’s all. No one was there. No one was coming to stop him. Brak would make them go away.
Cullen struggled to stand again. He pulled at the mattress, growling as it refused to budge. He yanked and pulled, ignoring whoever called below. Ignoring as someone yelled, “Who's up there?” and “You better get the fuck down here, right now.”
He only vaguely heard Brak’s barking, the sound of nails scratching against wood. All he could see was the box, his special box, the one he’d hidden. With a last heave, he pulled the mattress off and stared at the empty space, even as he heard the voices of men down below, someone coming up the ladder, hands slapping on rungs, boots scuffling.
The box wasn’t there.
Cullen fell to his knees. “No, no. No.” He scrambled back to his feet, frantically yanking at the covers. “It has to be here. It has to be.”
There was nothing.
“Hey, what the fuck are you doing?”
“Who the hell is that-- Stop him Kirby.”
Cullen felt a hand on his arm. “Hey you, come with me or I’ll--”
Hands. Holding him down. Taunting him with visions of what he couldn’t have. They’d come back, all of them, trying to stop him. “No. No. No.” Cullen batted at the hands trying to grab him. Their faces, wide eyed and in shock stared at him as he pulled out the knife and slashed at them. He’d kept the knife? He’d thrown it, hadn’t he?
“Okay buddy. Easy now. You don’t want to do anything stupid.”
“Where is it. What did you do with it?” Cullen snarled, stabbing at the air between him and the man. No, three men. They’d taken it. “It’s mine.”
“Shit. Another fucking crazy Templar.”
“What’s he doing up here though? The Commander didn’t keep any lyrium here far as I know.”
“I don’t know but I’ve had enough of this guy. On the count of three, I’ll go for his knees. You punch him.”
“He can hear you, you know.”
The man laughed. “Look at him. Weak as a kitten. His hand is shaking so hard he can barely hold that knife. This’ll be easy even knowing what we’re gonna do.”
“Once we grab him, what do we do with him?”
“Throw him in the dungeon. The Inquisitor can figure out what to do with him when he gets here.”
Cullen’s chest heaved. He squeezed his eyes shut. He heard a foot fall, opened his eyes and swiped at the man.
“Easy now. We’re not gonna hurt you. You’re a Templar, aren’t you? There’s no lyrium here buddy. Now put down that knife.”
“Kirby, this guy’s too far gone.”
“Yeah. I know he is. But we can’t leave him up here.”
Gone. It was all gone. They’d taken it. “ I should be taking it.”
“Yeah bud. I know you should. We’ll get you some, okay? Now come with us.”
“You have some?” he said, his mouth dry, his entire body shaking now with want. “I need--” He shuddered. “Please. I just--”
“It’s okay fella. Help us out here. Okay? We’ve got lyrium but it’s not up here.”
The man’s face wavered in front of him. He couldn’t make out his features, save for his eyes. Eyes of pity, eyes of disgust. His head pounded, relentless, spikes in his temples. The man smiled, gesturing with his fingers. Cullen wavered where he stood, sick with hunger, sick with need, sick with loneliness and self-hatred and there was no reason anymore for living, was there?
He licked his lips, cracked and bleeding. He stared at his hand, filthy, fingernails ragged, torn. A line of red across his finger. His beard and hair long, unkempt. He looked down at his breeches, torn at the knee where he’d stumbled. When had he stumbled? He could see fresh blood, the mismatched boots. He didn’t remember these boots. There was another pair like it somewhere, he was sure of it.
Cullen wavered where he stood, then tried to focus on the two, no, three men surrounding him. He still held the knife up but it was laughable given he barely had the strength to wield it.
“Shit. Poor bastard.”
“Yeah. Lyrium fucking sucks. Try again, Kirby.”
The one with the eyes gestured to him. “Now, mate, you’re gonna put that knife down, real slow. Right? Then you’re gonna get on your knees, hands behind your back for me. Okay? We’re just here to help you. Promise.”
His voice cracked and splintered when he spoke. “You really have some?”
The man nodded, pity-eyes back. “You bet I do. I have some. It’s not here, but I’ll bring it to you. Okay?”
Cullen slowly nodded, falling to his knees, the knife still clutched in his hands. He put one hand behind his back, staring at the great maw of emptiness closing rapidly on him. His gaze drifted to the ladder, and that’s when a hand came crashing down on his own. He howled, the knife flying from his hand. A fist rounded toward him; he blinked, saw it coming and just sat back on his heels, waiting for it.
When the explosion of pain came he rolled with it, letting his body fall to its side. Still reeling from the pain he pulled himself to his feet even as hands reached for him; then, with the last strength he could find, he hurled himself toward the ladder, tumbling down until he hit the floor. He hit shoulder first, a scream tearing through him, then finally blackness took him into its embrace.
Cold. So cold.
The wind howled up into the prison cell, an eerie sound of ghosts and banshees and demons that he knew all too well. The roar from the waterfall muffled any other possible sound but he still strained for a voice, any voice. As far as he could tell, he was alone.
How had he got here? How long had he been here?
What had he done?
He huddled in his too-thin blankets, thankful that at least he had the mabari to shield him from the worst of the wind. Still he shivered, the damp cold doing the one thing for him he wished it wouldn’t--for the first time in days, his mind was almost completely clear.
Checklist. It had become habit long ago to evaluate his condition every morning, starting from his days in Kirkwall throughout the years until now. Seldom did he find nothing wrong. It was the nature of his life, as a Templar, later as the Commander of the Inquisition, and later still as the outcast he’d become, all of which exacted a heavy price. Today was no exception. His shoulder hurt, his arm hurt, his head pounded relentlessly at his temples, though that he more or less was used to. He was hungry, he stank, he hadn’t shaved in more than two months. He’d lost weight, muscle, his sword. When had he lost his sword?
He couldn’t remember. His temples throbbed as he tried to think, but he couldn’t remember when he’d had it last. He flexed his hand, longing for the weight of it. Where were his gloves?
You sold it for a single bottle of lyrium.
He had. When, where, he didn’t remember. He winced, trying to ignore the one thing he didn’t add on his list, never added on his list. The lack of fire in his veins. Lyrium, cool and sweet lyrium, how he missed it! He’d been a fool to ever stop. To ever believe that voice in his head that promised him if he would give it up, then he would be free of his torment.
That he would be forgiven for what he’d done.
Brak sat up and scratched at an itch just as a particularly fierce gust of wind blew up. Cullen stood, his limbs aching, his fingers shaking as he grabbed the bars to his cage. He was in the cell closest to the edge. The river roared below. Crystal ice walls, blue as the sky, stretched as far as he could see, and though it was still light, the afternoon was waning, surely.
Above them was, he thought, Dagna and--- No, no wait. Dagna was gone. They were all gone. He shook his head again, remembering what one of the men had said… And then it was gone again before he could grasp it.
“I’m sorry,” he said, though whether it was to himself or those he had wronged and hurt and failed, he couldn’t say. He’d done something, something terrible, and now he was in prison. He’d-- he’d--
“What have I done?” Brak whined beside him. He absently reached down and scratched his head. Such a good boy.
That was right. He’d been in the office, his old office. He didn’t live there anymore, but he was sure he’d left the lyrium in the locked box underneath his bed. His emergency supply. Every Templar he’d ever known had kept at least one bottle hidden somewhere, just in case. But he must’ve used it at one point, maybe given it away. He couldn’t remember.
It terrified him, this loss of his memories. That is, it terrified him when he was coherent enough to realize he was losing his mind. Like now.
He shook the bars. “Hey, anyone here? Can I get a decent blanket at least?”
There was no answer to his call.
He almost sounded like himself. Too much like himself. He couldn’t remember why but he didn’t want to be known. Jax. One of the men had said Jax was coming. Why? And, the Divine. Why? Why would either come here? And why here if the Queen was truly ill?
War. If Alistair Theirin’d been king...
But Alistair was dead. Cullen slid down the bars, tears clouding his vision.
The last time he’d seen Jax, the Inquisitor had been on his knees, rubbing his jaw with his remaining hand. Cullen had hit him. Not his best moment, but one to put with all the other failures he’d had in his life. The Inquisitor had stared at him, loathing fueling the fire in his eyes. Then he’d walked away, still rubbing his jaw.
He’d left that very night, the mabari following whether he wanted him to or not. He’d told no one goodbye, not even Cassandra. He hadn’t wanted anyone to see him. To know that he’d reached the pinnacle of failure; punching Jax. It had felt so good for a moment and then the guilt and self-disgust had come so he’d left, hoping he would never see Jax again.
So much for that.
He rubbed the back of his neck, turned back to the unstable cot and, very gingerly, crawled onto it. His wrist still bore the mark from the kick he’d been given, red against his pale white skin. His shoulder ached, and he was pretty sure he’d been kicked in the ribs at some point. Brak wagged his tail and whined, lifting his head to howl mournfully. Cullen sighed. He should never have brought the mabari with him. Brak deserved better than this.
A little redheaded elven girl stood next to him. Bare footed, she wore nothing more than a shift and a tattered cloak of green. Like her eyes . She looked down at him. “You do, too.”
No, he didn’t. He truly didn’t. Cullen closed his eyes, breathing in unsteadily, the cold sharp in his nostrils. Every bit of uncovered skin hurt from the cold. He willed the girl to go away.
A small hand ghosted over his head. “ Step through, it will be all right.”
He clasped his hands against his head and squeezed, eyes screwed tight, fighting against the overpowering sense of wrongness .
“Don't be afraid.”
She wasn’t real. He couldn’t hear her. She was not real.
“Maker, help me. Help me. Make it stop!”
He opened his eyes, gasping for breath, the cold searing his lungs. He looked wildly around him but the girl was gone.
Tears coursed down his cheeks. Brak snuffled his face, licking them away. Brak had seen him cry many times over the last few months. It happened more and more often lately as he struggled against the insistent voices chanting in his fractured mind: a vicious melody he wanted to join in with. He knew the chorus by heart.
“Why do you want to fly? Don't you want him, too?”
The little elven girl sat in front of him, her thin arms around her knees, her red hair cascading around her shoulders. He frowned, confused. You’re not making any sense. That’s what he would’ve said, if she were real, which she was not.
She cocked her head, and smiled then with a wave, winked away. He buried his face in Brak’s fur but the dog moved away, leaving his hands empty. He’d always feared this. Always expected this madness. He was, without a doubt, one of the unlucky ones. It was one of the many reasons why he had wanted to get off lyrium. Cassandra had believed he wanted to be free of it for altruistic reasons: a way to further atone for all the fuckups he’d made in his life.
She was right to a point, but truly, the true reason he’d wanted off lyrium, needed to be off lyrium, was because he knew someday it would destroy him if he didn’t.
He’d been so naive. He’d been doomed since the first moment he’d tossed that first vial down his throat. Maker, what a fool he’d been. An innocent, blind, fool. He was never so glad that Alistair had chosen to be a Grey Warden instead. Not that that was any better; perhaps they’d both been destined to die young.
He wanted to die, right now. He didn’t want to wonder over the elven girl’s words, what they meant. That would lead him to madness even more quickly than he was. He ran his hand down Brak’s back and grimaced at the feel of the dog’s ribs beneath his fingers. The mabari had lost weight, as had he.
“I’m sorry, boy.” Brak wiggled, leaning against him, and licked his face. The only one who ever loved him so completely was the mabari.
Cullen laughed; it was either that, or give up.
Chapter 7: An Understanding
In which Alistair begins to understand many things about his new life (and grows even more confused).
Alistair followed Rumarin back to the firepit. Like a puppy following his master. Alistair sighed inwardly at himself but he didn’t want to just stand there like an idiot, not knowing what to do with himself, so he followed. Besides, following behind those leather trousers was rather nice.
This time, Rumarin bypassed his chair and sat on the couch facing the waterfall. He pointed to the spot next to him, between himself and the couch’s arm. A very small space. Alistair hesitated, keenly aware that though he’d calmed a bit, said calm would not last for long once he sat next to his keeper. Still clutching his bread he sat down gingerly, his back catching as he settled in the soft cushions. He sucked in his breath, shifting to try to make himself more comfortable which, he thought, didn’t seem likely.
“Snacktime.” With a glance back at Hist, who was preoccupied with wrapping the loaves in cloth, Rumarin pulled a tiny jar out of his pocket. He held it up so Alistair could see. “What’s bread without jam? Of course cheese would’ve been better, but Hist foiled my plan.” Next, he pulled a small flat knife out of the same pocket and deftly spread some on Alistair’s bread. “And yes, I made the jam as well.” He pocketed the little jar but tossed the knife onto the table on the other side of Alistair. “You’re fortunate, you realize. I love to cook. It’s my hobby. Some people chop wood, go fishing, or hunting. I bake. And sing when I bake. When I’m truly stressed, I tend to bake too much bread, sing entire arias, and we have to give all the extras away to travelers passing through. At least the ones I don't frighten off with my singing.”
With that voice--which was almost as alluring as Fenris’--he couldn’t imagine Rumarin’s singing would scare off anybody.
“How do you know entire arias? Are you a bard?”
Rumarin nodded. “Bard, troubadour, minstral, whatever you like. Not an actor though. I am terrible at acting.”
“I-- You’re very different from other elves I’ve known.” Rumarin indicated the bread. Alistair took a bite, his eyes widening as the tart berry flavor burst in his mouth. “This is good!” He took another bite, humming happily. “It is the best thing I’ve ever tasted.”
“Even more than the cheese?”
He side-eyed Rumarin, and nodded. Rumarin looked pleased as he spread jam on his own slice. “Thank you. So how am I different from elves from your world? Taller? Or perhaps better looking, you mean?”
Rumarin was quick. Dangerous, Alistair thought with a smile. Or maybe a mind reader.
Could mages here read minds?
"Yes, you are,” he said absently, mulling over his unspoken question. He wondered if they had Circles here. He couldn’t imagine Rumarin in a Circle. The thought depressed him as it made him think of Cullen. The Circles had been good for no one, Templar or mage. At Rumarin’s chuckle, he said quickly, “I meant taller. And bigger.” Rumarin’s eyebrows shot up. Maker. “I should shut up and eat my bread now.” He finished it off quickly.
“I’ll take your hidden compliment and treasure it. So thank you. My mother’s father was human. The big shoulders, and my less-delicate body are all inherited from him. I’m actually an inch shorter than the average male Altmer, with slightly less pointy ears. I’m the devil to humans, and to the Altmer I’m worth less than a mangled cur.”
“Seriously? Why would anyone say that?”
He pointed to the stripes on his face and grimaced. Alistair had no idea what they meant but Rumarin went on and he lost his chance to ask. He would though, later. Or ask Hist.
“Aside from the unfortunate existence of my whore marks…” Oh. “...you’ll be surprised to learn that while I am capable of being incredibly charming, those who haven’t come to personally know me view me and every Altmer elf as intruders to Skyrim. I suggest you avoid other Altmer as much as possible. Your mother was a full-blooded elf?”
“My mother, yes. My father-- Well. It’s complicated.”
“It usually is with half-breeds. I’d suggest telling people who ask that you are Breton. Breton father, Bosmer mother.”
“Bretons are a half-breed race themselves, human and Aldmeri. Or Mer. Elves that is, which half of you happens to be. Breton are distinctive, especially in their abilities, which you do not have so claiming being half-breed is safer.”
“Magic. Bretons have certain skills someone like me could only imagine.”
He huffed. “Well that’s definitely out then. I can’t do a blasted thing.” Except for a few latent Templar-ish skills. “Hist told me Caterina used your blood to help me. Doesn’t that matter?”
Rumarin’s nod was slow in coming and he didn’t meet Alistair’s gaze. “Yes. She did use my blood. That doesn’t change the basics of what you look like. Your skin is the wrong color.” He looked at Alistair now. “Your ears were a mistake, Hist tells me, but also you don’t wish to change them now. As such, I simply suggest you claim the Bosmer background for your own safety. You don’t want to be associated with my kind, Alistair.”
Now Alistair felt he’d overstepped somehow. He shifted uncomfortably; this couch wasn’t very comfortable. Too soft. “I apologize if I offended you.”
Rumarin smiled. “You didn’t. Skyrim can be a dangerous place for an outsider so we want to make sure you are able to fit in easily. It is especially dangerous for one who occasionally throws themselves into new situations without thinking things through clearly, like myself.” He spread one gloved hand, staring at it.
“What happened to your hands?”
Rumarin looked up, his amusement back though this time, it didn’t reach his eyes. “I usually only tell that secret to my lovers. Hard to have sex with gloves on, after all.”
“Oh. Okay.” Eloquent, so eloquent, Alistair. He shifted on the couch, gasping as a spasm ripped through him, straight down his back. He closed his eyes. Fuck this hurts.
“Alistair. You are in pain. Why didn’t you say?”
Alistair winced. “Sorry.”
“Why are you apologizing?” He didn’t wait for Alistair to answer. “You must tell us, tell me if I’m here which I always intend to be, when you are hurting. I can help you. I am a healer of sorts, though my skills are rough. Turn to the side so you can rest against the arm.”
Alistair did as instructed, folding his arms and laying his head on them. He winced, sucking in his breath and sat up again, cradling his right arm against his chest. That hurt. His worry about his ability to lift a sword rose again, hot and fresh.
Rumarin reached for and gently moved Alistair’s right hand and tucked it across his lap, settling it there, then gently pushed Alistair back over the couch arm. He was maneuvered so smoothly, so neatly, that he’d not protested, even when Rumarin’s fingers brushed against his cock which sometime or another, he wasn’t sure when, had decided to perk up again.
Yay for heavy robes.
Rumarin went on as if nothing untoward had happened. Which it hadn’t . Alistair just felt like it had. His face heated anew and he was glad he was facing the bookshelves, not Rumarin. At least he wasn’t reacting as weirdly as he did earlier, as if Rumarin was his everything. That disturbed him, a hell of a lot. It was unnatural, he was sure of it.
He was just getting a backrub to help his pain, right? Right.
“If what I do is too much, let me know.” Alistair nodded. “Close your eyes, concentrate only on breathing,” Rumarin said, his voice a warm whisper in Alistair’s ear. He shifted closer, angling his body on the couch. “Match mine again.”
Match mine-- He had noticed then. Alistair’s pulse quickened but a touch on his shoulder eased him.
“Breathe with me.” Rumarin took a few deep breaths, slow and measured. Alistair tried. He really did. But when Rumarin ran one hand across his shoulder, then touched his neck, moving to his ear, tracing up and around, he forgot how. A shudder passed through him, leaping straight to his groin, his cock thrumming again with pulsing heat. He clenched himself, hoping Rumarin wouldn’t notice, though he couldn’t disallow the possibility that Rumarin absolutely did notice. He tried in vain to will his body’s sudden enthusiasm to calm the fuck down.
Rumarin rubbed the back of Alistair’s neck with his thumb, holding his broad hand in place. Rumarin paused, his own breathing no longer quite so slow and measured. Neither was Alistair’s. He was thoroughly and completely contained within Rumarin’s space.
“Turn your head toward the waterfall. Close your eyes.”
Alistair did as he was told. Rumarin casually stroked his neck, tracing his fingers underneath Alistair’s messy hair, tracing along the hairline and over the slight point of his ear. He groaned beneath his breath, only his shock at the depth of the intimate touching keeping him from doing so out loud.
“Sensitive, a bit?”
“Damn elf,” Alistair finally muttered, covering his face.
Rumarin barked out a laugh, moving his hand away. “Caterina will be glad to know your ear sensitivity has restored itself. And, about your other reactions. All is well there.”
Alistair turned to stare at Rumarin. “Are you serious? This was all for her? ” Fuck. “You tricked me?”
Rumarin’s expression was shocked. “Alistair. I apologize if you think that. It was not my intention. I am sorry. Forgive me.”
“What was your intention then?”
Rumarin hesitated, dropping his hand. He smiled ruefully. “I-- I am sorry. I did want to know if you were still attracted to me.”
Still attracted to you? “I appreciate the honesty, but what do you mean? Exactly.”
Rumarin drew in his breath, closing his eyes briefly before answering. “I thought Hist explained about us almost losing you.”
Alistair didn’t like to think of that. “So I actually died more than once. In the Fade, and here?”
“It wasn’t technically dying the second time but it was close. Very close.”
He waved one hand in the air. “So-- what exactly happened? Something between us, I take it?”
Rumarin hesitated, then nodded. “Yes. Caterina warned me you might not remember--” He bowed his head. “Again, I am sorry.” There was a strange sadness in Rumarin’s eyes that made Alistair uncomfortable. Any anger that had been brewing instantly deflated.
“It’s okay. You could simply have asked. Although I really did think it was pretty clear when you turned around in that damn chair.”
Rumarin smiled, dropping his head, shaking it. He looked sideways at Alistair. “So-- I am forgiven?”
“ Maker help me, ” Alistair whispered, covering his face. “No, there’s nothing to forgive. I wish I could remember what happened when I first got here but I don't, I am sorry. I just--” He sucked in his lower lip. “It isn’t every day I wake up in a strange world and meet someone like you. That I--” He paused, confused. That he was attracted to? No, it wasn’t that. He rubbed his chest, uncertain. “Strange,” he murmured.
The reaction his bumbling words brought to Rumarin’s eyes was curious. It almost looked like guilt.
“We’ll speak more of this later, I promise. I have much to tell you, Alistair. First though, let me help your pain?”
Alistair nodded. He turned back to his previous position.
“Relax.” For a moment Alistair hesitated, but then did as instructed. Rumarin shifted, and slid one arm around Alistair, and pulled him closer. He left his arm resting there; heavy, warm, enclosing him.
He sighed. This was nice. He rested his right hand over Rumarin’s bare forearm; Rumarin shifted his arm, brushing across Alistair’s groin. Alistair couldn’t stop a soft groan escaping.
“Is this better?”
Alistair snorted softly. “It’s good.”
“Caterina will have my hide,” Rumarin finally said, so softly Alistair almost didn’t hear him.
Rumarin chuckled. “I was instructed to move slowly with you.”
“So Hist was right then, about you.”
“What, that I am disobedient? Quite so.”
Rumarin ran his free hand down Alistair’s left side, sweeping up again. Alistair breathed in, once again matching Rumarin’s steady breathing; both had sped up a little during all the shifting around. Rumarin removed his arm from around Alistair so he could work his back with both hands, much to Alistair’s disappointment.
He slowly began to relax, the pain lessening a little at a time as Rumarin worked, shifting the fabric of the robe. He seemed to know exactly where the scars were and avoided them. Alistair’s thoughts drifted in the silence which was broken only by the rush of the waterfall; of course his thoughts went straight where he didn’t want them to go.
Four months. He had been here for four months.
It was unreal that so much time had passed since the day he died. Maybe time passed differently here? Not that it mattered. He wouldn’t see Thedas again. Would never see his friends again. Would never get the chance to tell Jax he was sorry. He would never see Cullen again. That hurt most of all, despite Cullen’s constant rejection. He just wanted Cullen to be happy. He closed his eyes again, swallowing against the regret. He was getting too morose. He needed a distraction, from both his brain and his body. Rumarin’s hands felt incredible.
“Hist says you know a little of my language.”
“Yes, though I am a bit rough. Perhaps you can teach me more?” Rumarin said, switching immediately to Trade Tongue.
Alistair found himself grinning. “Not bad. I’ll help you. It was a spell that helped me learn your language so quickly, Hist said.”
“Yes, though it still took a great deal of work. Hist mostly handled that. I--was not here for a time.” He switched back before Alistair could ask where he’d gone. “Tamrielic, or Cyrodiilic as it is also called, the language most often spoken here and what we are speaking now, is not my native tongue, however. I am from the Somerset Isles. Aldmeri is my native language.”
“So you speak three? That’s impressive. Zevran is the only other person I’ve known who could speak several languages.”
“Are you sure this Zevran and you weren’t--”
"No, I’m sure. Liassa laid claim to him pretty quick.”
“Ah yes. She thought him pretty. But you were not interested in him? Or her?”
He might have admired Zevran a time or two, knowing he’d no absolute preference for either men or women, but Liassa-- he would never have betrayed her like that. “Not my type. Too short.” He gasped when Rumarin hit a particularly sensitive spot. Rumarin worked on it for a long moment until finally the knot gave way to the pressure. “How did you come to be here?” he finally managed to ask.
Rumarin didn’t answer for a moment, his hands paused. “My family died, so I left.”
“I am sorry.”
“As am I.”
The pain in Rumarin’s voice ended his questions. He’d lost people he’d cared about too, but he hadn’t known his mother, his father, even his half-brother very well. Duncan’s death was one of the few that truly still hurt.
Rumarin’s hands moved over his back, across and down, smoothing the material when needed, stopping just at the top of his buttocks and making him twitch. Then he repeated the motions. The soreness slowly became more bearable as he worked his way over Alistair’s back.
“A little magic now. Is this acceptable?”
He was warm from all the attention already, but soon the warm sensation turned to cool, pulling the heat and almost all of the aching pain away. This was definitely magic, and in his view, quite powerful magic. Not rough at all. He regretted when Rumarin finally dropped his hands even though he was completely relaxed now. How much better would it feel if his skin was bare? If Rumarin didn’t have on those damn gloves?
Rumarin chuckled. “You can turn around now then.”
Alistair slowly settled back on the couch, definitely feeling better. Rumarin definitely knew what he was doing, moving with such familiarity Alistair thought it likely they’d done this before, many times. How well had they known each other, truly? Surely not well enough to jump into bed with him at first opportunity. Except… Well. It wasn’t like he wasn’t one to just jump into bed with someone, especially for a handsome face.
He certainly had with Jax, which in truth had been a self-pitying, post-rejection-again fuck. He’d had no intention for it to be more than that, ever. But, as he’d discovered, one doesn’t just fuck the Inquisitor and leave again.
Except now he had. Sobering thought, that.
“Are you still feeling pain?” Rumarin said, interrupting his thoughts.
“No, I mean I’m fine, just thinking. I’ve known you an hour or so. You’ve known me much longer. But-- It’s just strange, that’s all. I’m obviously, I mean we’re obviously -- ”
“Madly attracted to each other?”
Maker’s breath. “It feels a little lopsided,” he said, not denying Rumarin’s suggestion, but not truly certain he’d say that. He was attracted to Rumarin. That he couldn't deny. Rumarin was incredibly handsome, and big. All over. He really liked that, he did. But it wasn’t a normal attraction. Was it? He wasn’t sure at all. He felt like he was missing something. A piece of a puzzle he never meant to start. “I can’t keep up.”
“You don’t have to, Alistair. We never truly got the chance to know each other properly before. You were quite ill. Then you got worse.” Alistair heard the pain in Rumarin’s voice.
He nodded, remembering what Hist had told him. “I remember fighting the Nightmare, but the last few months?” He shrugged, confusion and not a little sorrow weighing him down. “I don’t remember. I’m sorry.” He looked down at his hand, at the ring he couldn’t remove. “You cared for me.”
“Yes. I still do, Alistair.”
That should’ve made him happy, he supposed, but it just felt… off. Maybe if he could understand why he apparently flung himself at Rumarin before, he would feel different. “I wish I remembered. I don’t understand why I can’t. I’m sorry.” He was so tired, and the massage and whatever magic Rumarin wielded made him very sleepy. “Why can’t I remember?”
Rumarin moved closer, his greater weight pulling Alistair to him. “Rest against me if you’d like.” He hesitated. “I will take care of you, Alistair. This I promise. You will get well. You will get stronger again. I will help you figure things out if you are willing.”
He nodded as he sank against Rumarin. So very tired. He closed his eyes, Rumarin’s warm bulk comforting, and tried to sort out his mixed-up feelings.
In his mind, only a day had passed since saying goodbye to Jax, to Hawke and the others in the Fade, fighting a monster, and dying by being crushed and pierced to death simultaneously. That was a lot to deal with.
Then, waking up, discovering he was very much alive, and very much in a new world? And then , meeting the elf--a really big elf--who he leaned against now, finding in him a strength Alistair feared he no longer possessed?
It wasn’t like him to lean on anyone else. Not anymore. Not since… Not since he was a teenager, when Cullen… No. He couldn’t think about that now. Ever. The ache in his chest flared.
He was in bad, bad shape. He knew, he hoped , it was simply because he was recovering from being dead. His wounds, though mostly healed now, were still horrific; he dreaded seeing the scars, though he knew he must. For the moment he was safe and warm and at ease, thanks to the people who for some reason had decided to help him. Thanks to Rumarin who clearly did care for him.
He wasn’t sure how to handle that.
It was a hell of a lot to deal with, as was going from healthy, virile body to this shattered remnant of what he once was. He’d left purpose behind, to now hold nothing between his hands. He’d left friends who’d needed him, a country that needed his unique skills--skills he no longer had--and was now stuck in an unknown world that didn’t need him at all.
He was so very, very tired but he had so many questions! “You live here all the time?” he asked, yawning.
“I have a room here. Winter’s come, and I truly am not a fan of such cold. Solitude is to the northwest, in a much warmer, dry climate. I have rooms at the museum, owned by my uncle. I do work for him now and again. I’ll leave for there soon.”
Alistair stilled, his heart beating wildly at Rumarin’s words. He was leaving? He clenched his free hand, his breath catching. The emptiness snapped its claws at him again. A long cold winter, spent alone like this? He didn’t think he could bear it. He pushed his hand against his chest, willing his heart to calm. It hurt . And scared him to death which upset him even more.
“Look at me. Alistair. ” Alistair blinked, finally caught by Rumarin’s gaze. “What’s wrong?”
“I-- I’m…” How could he explain? I’m going mad. “You’re leaving?”
Rumarin’s eyes widened in understanding. “I’ll take you with me, if you would like to go.”
Alistair shuddered in relief and Rumarin pulled him tight against him. It took a few more minutes to calm down, for his heart to start racing, minutes where Rumarin did not let him go, instead studied his face worriedly, minutes in which he struggled to understand why he had reacted so deeply.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered. Why had he fallen apart like that?
“Nothing to be sorry about. It’s habit, referring just to myself. Caterina’s actual work--outside of running the Waystation--necessitates secrecy. Keeping you safe is our first priority. None of us speak of you to outsiders.”
“Hurrah for that,” Alistair said weakly. Why was he kept secret, though? That puzzled him, yet at the moment he couldn’t make himself ask why. “I-- I think maybe I’ve had enough emotional upheaval for one day.”
“I understand. I’ll take you back to your room in a minute.” Rumarin released him then, and stood.
“Where are you going?”
“Just behind that door there. Do you need to--”
Oh. “I’m fine.” Rumarin nodded, and still looking worried, left him.
How long had he been awake now? Maybe three hours? Four? Exhaustion pulled hard at him, making him nauseous. He could feel the dreaded emptiness creeping back along with the very real worry he might never get back to how he was. His reactions to the events of his first day awake were all over the map, ricocheting unpredictably, knocking him thoroughly off his feet, and it scared him.
He, who had faced a Nightmare alone, was afraid of this utter helplessness.
He stared down at his hands, how they trembled. He felt positively ancient. His breath caught. Would he be better off dead, than like this? Useless. Helpless . He wiped at his eyes, hating how easily they leaked. He understood that he was still recovering but it had been four months, even if he couldn’t remember.
He stared at the door through which Rumarin had disappeared. Cut off. Gone. He just wished Rumarin would come back. Wished for the calm reassurance his presence brought. How much time had passed? A minute? Five?
He covered his eyes with his hands, trying to breathe slow and steady. It wasn’t working. The black empty maw opened up beneath him, sucking him in. He hunched over, his fingers sinking into his hair, and clenched hard. He squeezed his eyes shut at the pain and confusion.
Then, that damn emptiness stole away his breath.
Given this is a cross-over, I wasn't sure I'd get many readers, so I want each and every one of you who are reading along, or may read later once I am done posting, to know how much I appreciate you for giving this silly thing a chance. Thank you, thank you! I'm hard at work on Part Two which if all goes well, which I think it will, I will be able to start posting when Part One is up and running. That's the plan, anyway!
Special thanks as ever go to Aurlana who is so amazingly encouraging--and who has fallen for Rumarin in Skyrim too. :) If you're a Skyrim player and have never tried out Interesting NPCs, I highly recommend it. So many fun characters! But Rumarin is definitely the best of them all. :)
Chapter 8: Hawke
Ever since she returned from the Fade with the Inquisitor and his companions--and without her friend Alistair--Hawke has lived a life of unease. Several years later she'd finally recovered from the ordeal and her deep sorrow when the dreams began. Dreams she dared not ignore.
Hawke blinked awake. She held her breath for a long moment, shock roiling through her at the intensity of her dream. Not just any dream, but the dream. It’d been a few months since she’d last had it but it was as real and detailed as the first time and all subsequent times thereafter.
She shuddered, biting her lip, willing herself to calm down. How could such a dream, any dream, be so real? She could still feel the sensation of warm bare skin beneath her fingertips, could feel their bodies moving together. She’d felt and experienced every minute of it as if she were there. It left her hot and wanting and maybe her face a little red. It was so real.
A truly remarkable dream.
Beside her Fenris sighed, his hand searching for her. She wondered how he could always sense her arousal, even when he was fast asleep. When he touched her arm, her skin set on fire once again. He awoke.
Fenris had many ways to say her name. This, she thought, was his m’wake now want to make love now Hawke. Given the state she’d woken up in, she hungered for him too, for his touch, his lips on hers, his body covering hers, pushing away the last vestiges of the lingering sensations that weren’t her own.
He rolled toward her, humming softly as he caressed her arm, his white hair brilliant in the moonlight that pooled over their bed. After that horrible day in the Fade, she’d ripped off the curtains, always needing to see the familiar stars shining over Kirkwall to assure herself she was, indeed, home.
Almost four years had passed since the Inquisitor had chosen Alistair to die. Like everyone else she’d hoped for a miracle. Hoped that somehow Alistair would come sauntering out of the Fade in that hip-swaying way he had when he was messing around, a little battered from defeating the Nightmare, but alive and whole and breathing.
It didn’t happen.
In time, she’d come to terms with her friend being gone forever. Having Alis, fulfilling Alistair’s last, though joking request that her and Fenris’s child be named after him, had helped. He would’ve been the best uncle. Someday, when Alis was old enough, she’d give her Alistair’s amulet, and tell her everything about the remarkable man whose name she carried.
She’d taken to wearing it lately, weirdly compelled to keep it near her all the time.
“Hawke?” Fenris said again, this time more a question. He molded himself alongside her, trapping his throbbing cock between them and humping her leg a little. She smirked. He laughed, touching her mouth, his fingers trailing down to the hollow at her throat, followed by a kiss. He rather loved that spot. She inhaled the fresh scent of his hair still damp from his bath, her fingers skimming through the white locks. His hand continued its journey to her still, well, almost-still-flat stomach, lingering there for a moment, then lower. Her breathing quickened, her hips moved; impatient, she grabbed his hand, pulling it down to her wet folds.
He sucked in his breath as he began to play with her, just as she liked. “I am a most fortunate elf.”
“Oh hush.” She was the fortunate one. She gasped as he sank his fingers deep inside her, his thumb finding and rubbing her clit.
He stilled. “Hawke.” And that was his what is wrong Hawke? His cool eyes appraised her. “Were you dreaming about me?”
She bit her lip, squirming against him. He got to work on her again. “No,” she gasped out. His hand stilled. “I mean-- I had that dream again.”
His smile was almost, not quite, a smirk. “Hawke.” That was the slightly admonishing Hawke. Also known as the you wicked thing version. “Here I thought you were wet for me .”
She groaned, then pulled his head down for a kiss. He obliged before breaking away and making his way down between her legs. After several long moments where her breathing became somewhat stuttery thanks to his attentions, Fenris paused just as the heat started to build in earnest. She bucked, a soft “fuck yes” falling from her lips before she fell against the pillows with a groan, making him chuckle. He teased her as the last waves of her orgasm rolled through her. She was powerless to push him away. Not that she wanted to. No way.
“You beast,” she said finally, voice shaking as she calmed down a notch or two whether she wanted to or not. She would get her revenge.
“Mmmhmmm,” he mumbled between her legs. She rested her hand on his head; he lifted it, eyes shining in the moonlight. “Anything happen?”
Every time she had the strange dream, she tried to capture it, hold it long enough in her hands to understand what it meant. “I heard words I think, but I didn’t understand them.”
He resumed his work. “Rmufflphaps?”
She laughed. “Not muffled, no. It was the same language as before, just sounded different from the other person. It only lasted a few seconds though. Then they were alone again.”
Fenris raised his head. “And they fucked.”
She stifled a laugh. “No. Not yet. He dreams about it though.”
“You aren’t making any sense, Hawke.”
She bit her lip. “I think I am dreaming about a man, having a dream, and then waking up from the dream, and he’s with someone else. Different than who he was dreaming about.”
Fenris snorted. “That almost makes sense. Can’t see who it is still? The dreamer.”
“No. He’s still in a lot of pain. The elf did something though to help, and, well.” She sighed, then rubbed her hands over her face, keeping them there. Despite Fenris’ acceptance of her as a mage, he still disliked mages. “He has a very unusual yet powerful healing magic.”
In truth, she would very much like to talk to that elf. His magic was unlike anything she’d ever seen or imagined. She had so many questions about it. Could it be learned? Where did he draw the mana from? If her dreams were a true reflection of this mysterious man’s life, and not something her overly-vivid imagination had conjured up, which was still a high possibility, she would really like to see if she could learn it herself.
Fenris huffed. “Still no sign of Solas then.”
“I hope you never see him again.”
She knew Fenris well, so she heard the underlying anger. She was glad of it. She wanted him to stay angry with Solas; it damped her fear of losing him to whatever the Dread Wolf’s plans were for the elves. When the elves began to leave Thedas, following after Solas, she feared Fenris would too. Especially after Zevran and Liassa had disappeared, Hawke’s letters to them returned unanswered.
When Leliana told her that Zevran was in a relationship with the Inquisitor she was beyond shocked. She’d thought Liassa and Zevran would stay together forever, but apparently not. Her feelings about the Inquisitor were complicated; she did not much care for the man he’d become, especially after he sacrificed the Chargers. Why Zevran would turn to Jax and end up in his bed, she simply couldn’t fathom. She hoped she’d have a chance to ask him, and find out if he knew where Liassa was.
She was just very, very grateful whatever secret message or signal that had led to most elves leaving, Fenris never got it.
Or, he hadn’t told her he had, and chose to ignore it.
She pulled him back up to her, her lips covering his as she reached down between them for his cock. She felt the ghost of his smile, less rare these days than it used to be, when she wrapped her fingers around him, toying with him as he loved to be toyed, spreading the precum until he growled against her and abruptly moved. He nestled himself between her legs and kissed her neck just under her ear; she welcoming his warmth, his reassuring weight.
He kissed her again then pushed up to stare down at her, moonlight-stroked arousal making his markings glow. Over the years he’d grown comfortable with her touching him, and touching her, but she never forgot how difficult it was at first. She brushed his hair back, marveling again, as she did every time he looked at her the way he was now, how lucky she was to be here with him. How grateful to Alistair that she was alive, in her bed, with her love; their daughter sleeping peacefully in the next room, their second child on his or her way.
Fenris entered her then, eyes closed, mouth slightly parted, a soft groan of pleasure accompanying the quickening of his breath. So beautiful. She licked her lips, the sound making him open his eyes. That soft smile was back as she pulled her legs up and welcomed him. He lay on top of her, holding still, his head on her shoulder, his breath rufflying against her cheek.
How she loved him! Too many times she’d come close to losing him as they struggled to learn each other, accept each other. When she’d sent him away when she went into hiding, she’d truly feared never finding him again. She held that fear in her now as a steadily-darkening future loomed. They were being forced apart again, no matter how temporarily, and she didn’t like it. She suspected there would be more separation to come, despite the growing life inside her. She said nothing though, not wanting to worry him, knowing that probably was a mistake as he wanted her to share everything with him.
Not yet. Not just yet. She just needed this peace a little while longer.
She slid her hands down his back, the muscles beneath her palms twitching. Sliding them over his backside she pulled him in deeper, clenching hard as she could around his cock. He growled softly, closing his eyes, and exhaled a pleased sigh. For long moments there was no sound but their breathing, no movement but his lips roaming over her neck, her jaw, mouthing her ear which made her laugh.
How she adored the feel of him, the weight of him on top of her, loved catching hold of his slim hips and holding him, making him grumble at her to let him move. She relented, clasping her legs around his backside, angling herself up so he could move deeper inside. She held onto him tight, tighter than probably necessary, tight enough that he felt the brief tremor caused by lingering snatches of the dream.
She pushed all thoughts but of Fenris out of her mind.
Fenris pulled out, then lay on his back, dragging her on top of him before she could even think. She straddled him, guiding his shaft back deep inside her, settling down to find the contact she craved. His hands held her hips as she ground into him. The days of their wild, abandoned, and surprisingly noisy sex had disappeared once Alis was born, but Hawke was hot, confused, and hungry for understanding and craving release again in the hopes that somehow that would provide the answers she sought.
Time and thought escaped her as she and Fenris coupled. She concentrated on him, only on him, pushing aside how badly she was going to miss this in the coming weeks. He took one of her breasts into his mouth, lavishing her nipple with his tongue, making that mysterious thread that went from breast to clit tug hard. She cried out, couldn't help it, a quick flick of her gaze to the open door reassuring her she wasn’t too loud. She should get up and close it but simply did not want to get up.
Fenris canted his head back, ears twitching, giving in to the bliss as he thrust hard into her, reaching his peak before her. How she loved watching his face as he came! The wonder, the love he felt for her, shone in his eyes and, she liked to believe, in the roiling flare of his lyrium markings. She collapsed onto him, digging her fingers into his shoulders as his dug into her hips. They rocked back and forth, clasped so tightly together as he held her through her orgasm; she couldn’t tell where he ended and she began. She buried her face in his neck until her breathing calmed and her heart stopped racing.
“Better?” he finally asked, his deep voice rumbling.
She nodded, sinking her fingers into his hair and closing her eyes. He stroked her back until their breathing turned to normal. Even then, she didn’t want to move. Laying on top of him like this, his cock slowly softening inside her, made her feel safe. Loved. Protected. He was the only person she’d ever known who made her feel this way. He was the only man she’d ever loved. She finally let him slip out of her, and then slid off him, curling against his side.
She nestled against him, moving her leg on top of his, trapping him as if to reassure herself he would never leave. Except she was the one leaving, wasn’t she?
He kissed her on her forehead and fell back to sleep. She’d always envied his ability to immediately nod off after sex. It always seemed to wake her up.
As Fenris slept, her thoughts drifted back, as they often did lately, to when she and Alistair first met. When Alistair had joined them in Kirkwall, she hadn’t thought much of him. She knew about him, knew he was quite close to Liassa, the Hero of Ferelden, and had assumed they were lovers. Not so.
He’d been open from the start about his preferences for men, eyeing Fenris with high interest the first time they’d met in the Hanged Man. She’d stomped on that real quick. She’d fully expected Alistair to mock her, given she had no true claim on her elf yet, but he had nodded in understanding. When Fenris joined them at the table with the next round of drinks, Alistair kept her confidence and just smiled at her encouragingly.
Alistair later told her even if Fenris had been into men, he was too scary for Alistair’s tastes. The memory of his expression still amused her.
Fenris was naturally wary of Alistair but Alistair had taken it all in stride, backing off and giving them room to work on their tenuous, troubled bond. They’d all become friends somehow. Alistair had been there when Fenris’s self-doubt had pulled him away, helping her understand what her lover was going through. If not for Alistair, she’d never have given Fenris another chance. He’d seen in her elf a huge desire for love, but a great deal of fear he hadn’t admitted even to himself. Until he finally did.
Alistair eventually left Kirkwall, and she hadn’t truly expected to see him again. Except she did see him again. When Alistair had come to her for help when the Grey Wardens began to hear the Calling, she’d readily given it. Then she’d come back from the Fade without him. Fenris alone truly understood how devastated she was. That night, safe again in his arms, the amulet Alistair had given her clasped in her hand, she’d felt so empty inside, so hollow. It still hurt, like losing her mother all over again. As if he now sensed where her thoughts had taken her, Fenris pulled her closer, brushing his lips across her forehead before falling back into deeper sleep.
So much had happened since then! Corypheus defeated, Solas’s true intent revealed. Vivienne now Divine, the Inquisition disbanded, Jax still determined to find Solas.
Jax still angry at her because she had survived, because Alistair had given her his most treasured possession, his mother’s amulet.
Varric was now a man of means and together they were slowly rebuilding their beloved Kirkwall. Cassandra initially disappeared, but Varric began to receive letters from her. She was reforming the Seekers, and wanted to know when Varric’s next book would be out. He’d sent a copy of the newest to her immediately, long before it went on sale. Hawke quite liked Cassandra in the end, but was unsure of her thoughts on the Seekers themselves.
Dorian--she had no idea where he was now, though Fenris’s intense dislike of the Tevinter mage had led her to never truly getting to know the man. Leliana stayed in touch, and even visited shortly after Alis was born. That was a friendship Hawke hadn’t expected to continue, though she now cherished it.
It was always a good thing to have Leliana on your side.
The rest of them she was unsure about, those few who survived Jax’s deadly reign as Inquisitor. Bull and his Chargers were gone. She still couldn’t believe Jax had sacrificed them and in the end it nearly got him killed. Sera was hopefully still alive somewhere. Cole, gone. Blackwall, imprisoned, possibly dead.
Her mind drifted to Cullen. She idly traced one of Fenris’ lyrium markings, thinking how though the lyrium was a part of him forever, it would not be responsible for taking his life. It was of no threat to him in this form, as much a part of him as his skin. He was deadly, of course, but then so was she.
Of Cullen and lyrium, she was not so sure what fate would deal. He’d changed as much as Jax after Alistair died, returning to his lyrium on Jax’s insistence. At times she wondered about the unspoken desire for Alistair on Cullen’s part, and if Jax had somehow known how deeply Cullen mourned Alistair.
What was she thinking? Of course Jax knew, and hated Cullen for it.
She’d been in the tavern that evening, witness to something unexpected when Alistair had teased Cullen about needing to unwind more, and offering to help him out. They’d been playing cards, drinking a bit too much, the Commander taking a rare break from his work. Mostly, she thought, because Alistair was in Skyhold.
Alistair had been teasing, but she saw the hunger in his eyes, the hope in his voice. She’d watched Cullen’s embarrassed sidestepping, listened in disbelief as he insisted to the momentarily stunned Alistair whatever they’d had as boys meant nothing. She hadn’t even known until that moment there had been something between them.
Alistair walked away to get another drink, laughing it off. She’d understood though, that Alistair laughed because it was either that or cry. Cullen’s rejection had hurt him.
Hunger. Longing. Regret. That’s what she saw on Cullen’s face as he watched Alistair leave. He’d caught her eye then turned on his heel, and abruptly left. Alistair took up with Jax after that, apparently giving in to the then-sweet Inquisitor’s attentions.
She didn’t speak to Cullen again until after Alistair died, but that conversation had been stiff, formal and very painful. He’d wanted to know, why Alistair? So she’d told him; it was a choice between her and Alistair. Alistair knew she was pregnant, and for Alistair, that meant there was no choice. Cullen’s eyes had widened, and he nodded, and left, his eyes shimmering. They hadn’t exactly been friends given their history, though the mutual, but hard-won, respect was there.
She felt sorry for him that day. Still did.
Last she’d heard he’d disappeared into the forests around what used to be Haven, leaving everything and everyone behind. She feared Cullen dead. What a waste. He was a good man; had fought to change himself for the better.
She nuzzled against Fenris, her hand sliding under the blanket, seeking his relaxed cock, curling her hand around it. He made a cross between a hum and a groaning sound, shifting and pushing against her hand.
“Again?” he murmured. “You’ll have me raw before you leave.”
“There’s an idea,” she said. She stroked him, considering how long it would take to ready him again.
A cry sounded from down the hall. “ Dadddyyyy!!!”
She automatically moved to get up, even though Alis had cried for her father, but Fenris’s soft “stay” stilled her. He slid out of bed, grabbing his sleep pants and pulling them on as Alis found her lung power. She appeared in the doorway, sobbing. Fenris padded over to her and swept her up in his arms, muttering softly to his daughter. “Saved me yet again, love. What’s wrong?”
She sobbed, burying her face in his shoulders. “Monsters!”
Hawke pulled the covers up and turned on her side. He held Alis against his bare chest, swaying as he whispered into her ear, a nonsensical mixture of promises to keep her safe and buy her everything her heart desired and that there were no monsters here, he promised.
He was a fierce, attentive, and protective father, and oh how she loved him for it.
Alis was quite small for her age, delicate like her father, and with the same shock of white hair. Alis didn’t look like her at all. Fenris firmly believed, however, Alis was the perfect combination of them both, and would be a force to reckon with. Already Fenris had commissioned her first sword for her birthday, though Hawke wasn’t unconvinced just yet that their daughter wouldn’t prove to be a mage like her mother.
“Is she still feverish?”
“No. She’s cool.” To Alis he said, “Come, let’s go take care of these monsters.”
“You do it, Daddy.”
Fenris laughed. “You’ll guard my back?”
Alis sniffed, then nodded. “I need a sword though.”
Fenris glanced at Hawke triumphantly, then headed down the hall to vanquish whatever monster had appeared this night.
He was, Hawke thought more than once, a true natural at caretaking. Without memories of his own childhood, Fenris was determined to make plenty surrounding their daughter. They spent hours together alone while she and Varric worked. He took Alis everywhere with him, whether it was trips into town to shop at the markets, or riding his horse with her perched in front of him, guiding Kal around Varric’s estate holdings.
Varric had once, and one time only, made the mistake of telling Fenris he was an excellent mommy. She smiled at that memory though she secretly agreed with Varric.
While Fenris tended to Alis, Hawke got up, too restless now to sleep. She grabbed her robe, glancing at the envelope on the desk, the waiting bag on the floor, and slid out the room, heading for the kitchen. Her footsteps echoed in the cavernous house, the once-filthy mansion now clean down to the nails, but vastly empty except for toys, some that were gifts, many made by Fenris himself.
After drinking a glass of water she stepped outside, and looked up at the stars, wishing she understood what the dreams meant, and why she, of all people, dreamed them. They weren’t just ordinary walks in the Fade. She understood that, and that’s what worried her most of all. She felt a part of this stranger, somehow seeing through him either a scattering of his memories, or events as they happened. She wasn’t privy to the man’s thoughts, just what he saw and heard and all of it was weird and strange and foreign to her. He was weak, very fragile, and seemed to spend most of his time in bed tended by vague shapes that she wasn’t even sure were human. She swore at least one had a tail.
Tails. She wasn’t even sure he was on Thedas.
When the dreams first started, they had been very upsetting. She’d woken up screaming more than once, trapped in a nightmare, claws raking her skin, tearing her apart. She’d desperately flooded their room with mage lights, scaring Alis and almost blinding Fenris as she sobbed, convinced her skin was shredded, blood gushing from puncture wounds.
Then the pressure came, the terrible pressure on her chest as if she were being crushed. She’d been unable to breathe, almost to the point of passing out until finally she’d been able to suck in air. It’d been so bad Fenris had run outside and shouted desperately for help, certain she was dying. Varric came running from the guest room--he'd been staying with them while work was being done on his own home--to see what happened, Bianca in hand and ready to fire.
It had terrified them all. The incredibly vivid dreams continued for the next several nights, so bad that she’d given to sleeping in another room. Merrill had come to care of Alis, so Fenris could watch over her. She’d never known pain could be felt in a dream, but she woke in agony, sweating, positive her stomach and back were torn apart, over and over again, collapsing in near hysteria in Fenris’s arms.
Then, Solas had appeared in the dreams. They were in the Fade, and she was watching as if she were on the ground, looking up at him, seeing him through another’s eyes. His eyes. He couldn’t move, he was hurt, he was in armor but she couldn’t see any weapons.
Solas was with a second elf, this one taller than any who existed in Thedas. He rivaled Carter in size, he was so tall and powerfully built. He was finely dressed in a strange costume, with golden skin and blond hair, yellow eyes and red stripes across his cheeks. She wondered why he’d done that. He was so unusual and different she had to wonder how he possibly existed. And where he existed other than in the Fade.
She’d written Leliana after that, telling her that she’d seen Solas in the Fade with another elf who definitely wasn’t from Thedas. She hadn’t told Leliana how she saw it through someone else’s eyes, and was especially glad she hadn’t when Leliana had rightly informed Jax and Divine Victoria. The search continued in earnest for Solas, and any lead needed to be acknowledged.
She still wasn’t sure why she’d left so much out in her letters to Leliana. She’d learned long ago to trust her instincts, so only Fenris knew all the details of her dreams. She heard footsteps padding behind her as Fenris joined her, pressing against her back, his hands sliding around her waist.
“Come back to bed, Shalell. Morning will be here soon enough.”
She leaned back against him, her hands wrapped around his. “I always worry when you call me that.”
“It is your name.”
Hawke didn’t respond. He was worried, she knew; she was too. “I wish I’d never told Leliana about this. I don't want to leave you and Alis.”
He nuzzled the back of her neck and sighed. He moved one hand over her lower belly, protective already for the new life inside. “Two weeks is not long. Tell the Divine and Jax what you are able, then it is in their hands. The Divine might be able to help you block the dreams. Just don’t tarry, and come back to me. I don't like being here without you.”
Two weeks. Long enough travel to Skyhold, find out why the Divine and Jax felt it necessary to meet with her there of all places--she’d thought Skyhold permanently abandoned--and get back home where she belonged. Nothing could possibly happen in so short a time.
Later, she would question her naivete that night, but now she let Fenris lead her back to their bed where, thankfully, the dreams kept at bay.
(For some reason, I see Hawke and Fenris with five children. Alis, the first born, will always be extra special to Fenris as she will grow up a warrior like her dad, but he'll of course love all his kids. Alis' four siblings (one set of twins) will all be mages. Just a big, happy family for Fenris, which makes me happy, too).
This chapter was the third I wrote, as Hawke's dreams set off the action in Thedas, but in the end, it actually got moved here to chapter 8, which I am honestly still not positive about but here it is, and here it is now forever. :)
Chapter 9: Breathe
Alistair realizes even simple things aren't easy after dying. Also, he's being particularly sooky* tonight.
*GoWombat, is that used right? :)
Rumarin’s footsteps accelerated as he drew near. “ Alistair. ” Rumarin crouched down in front of pulling, pulling Alistair’s clenched hands out of his hair, capturing them in one of his own. The blasted ring bit into his palm as Rumarin squeezed his hands, but the pain drew him out a little from the cycle of despair.
“What the fuck, what’s wrong with me? I can’t breathe--”
“I fear you are overthinking.”
Alistair shuddered, still folded over, his hands still firmly grasped in Rumarin’s. Overthinking? Rumarin was right about that. Alistair finally managed several, shuddering breaths. “I’m so fucking helpless, ” he snarled, anger easier to handle right now than the alternative; collapsing in a sobbing heap, terrified of his weakness and what it might mean.
Some warrior he was now.
“Look at me, Alistair.” He did so, reluctantly, caught by the concern in Rumarin’s voice. “You’ve had a great deal dumped on you, and given no choice about any of it.” He raised an eyebrow. “Including me.”
“I--” He swallowed. “True. I just--” He swallowed, but the words he didn’t mean to say tumbled out anyway. “I’m falling apart.”
“I’m not letting you go, Alistair. Do you understand me?” Before he could respond, not that he knew how to respond to both the literal and underlying meaning to the words, Rumarin stood, not letting go as promised in the literal sense, and sat next to him. Rumarin’s greater weight pulled Alistair into him on the soft couch. He let go with one hand and wrapped his arm around Alistair’s shoulders, and even captured Alistair’s legs with his own. Alistair hesitated, but then gave in and sank against Rumarin’s chest. Rumarin tightened his grip. Alistair unable to move, grateful he couldn’t.
It still took several minutes before his head cleared and his heart calmed. Finally, he said, “You’re going to get really tired of me falling apart.”
“If that is what you need, then fall apart. I am here for you.”
The conviction in Rumarin’s voice was enough to make him pull back and look up. Rumarin let him. He searched Rumarin’s eyes, shaking his head in confusion. Rumarin’s eyes softened.
“ Why? Why would you-- why would you want me around? Why do you even care so much? It’s not as if I was stellar company the last few months. Incredibly boring from the sound of it. This isn’t normal. You went to take a piss, and I couldn’t handle being alone.” He took a deep breath. “That’s just wrong. That’s pathetic. This is not normal. I’m going into hysterics because you, I just met you ! You left. I thought I was going to die. I can’t handle this.” He took another deep breath, tried to bring his hands to his face but they were trapped. His brief attempt at pulling away was that--brief. “If I were you, I’d run screaming.” Maker’s breath, he was babbling, he wasn’t making any sense, he was so scared and frustrated and confused. He was a grown man, damnit, too old to be scared like he was some silly child.
“I don’t have any desire to run screaming from you, Alistair. I do think your--”
“-- reactions are a concern. Were you fine before we first talked?”
“No. I don’t know. I was in shock to wake up alive, I think. Just-- I felt so empty. Like the emptiness was wanting to eat me, like the monster, fuck, and I was helpless to stop it. I still am. I don’t feel it now because of you.” Because Rumarin held him so tight, keeping him from spinning out of control.
“Now that we know it’s a problem we can find a way to fix it.”
“What if we can’t? What if--” Rumarin tugged on his hair, the sharp pain brief but effective. “Ouch.”
Rumarin chuckled. “I think we need to be patient.”
He huffed. “We. The royal we? You have no idea how ironic that is. I’ll let you know what I think about that after Caterina explains to me how she brought me back to life. Where is she, anyway? ”
“She’ll be back soon. All will be explained to you. Please be patient with us.”
Be patient? “Great, be patient he says.” Alistair squeezed his eyes shut for a second, wishing he could rub the bridge of his nose but Rumarin still held him fast. “Not like I have a choice in any of this.”
“You already made your choice.”
Confusion made his anger flare again but he was too tired to move. “Really? And what’s that supposed to mean exactly?”
Rumarin didn’t flinch at Alistair’s anger. His breathing stayed slow and even. “The very day you first woke up you chose to put your trust in us. In all of us.”
“In you specifically, I assume?”
Rumarin hesitated. “Not at first, but eventually. Yes.”
“I don’t understand. Did I, uh, react to you then like I did tonight?” Just thinking about that both made him blush and flush. Stupid body.
He hoped Rumarin didn’t realize the direction his thoughts had gone, but then again… He needed to know. Why couldn’t he remember? “Did we-- Uh…fuck?”
Rumarin laughed. “No. Of course not. No.”
Well. He supposed that was good. Not like he didn’t have a habit of fucking perfect strangers at the first sign of interest.
It never worked, Theirin. You always thought of him anyway.
Now his mind was betraying him, too?
“When we almost lost you, I was devastated to learn your memories of your time with us, with me, would be gone. Caterina decided that it would be best to keep you as calm as possible, and that’s how she chose to do it.”
“By taking away all my memories? I mean, recent memories. I remember everything from back home, I think. That makes me a little angry.” And he was. Who was she to take away his memories?
“She had to, Alistair. Don’t be mad at her. It did work, in the end. I couldn’t bear seeing you like that,” Rumarin said, his voice thickening. “I couldn’t bear for you to look at me and not know who I was. so I left.”
“Don't be. It was necessary.”
Ah. Rumarin had said he’d left for awhile. “I was made Tranquil,” Alistair said softly, shaking his head. At Rumarin’s questioning look, Alistair struggled how to explain. Rumarin was a mage, after all. It probably wouldn’t make him happy. “It happens to mages sometimes in my world. Weak ones that can’t handle their power. Their connection to the Fade must be broken, to keep them from bringing darkspawn into the world. They’re left emotionless after.”
Rumarin tensed. “I’d rather be dead.”
“Me too. How did you stay so calm, when I first walked in here tonight?”
“Hist. He threatened me with bodily harm if I didn’t sit there like a good elf, and wait for you to come to me. Caterina believed you needed to approach all this newness on your own, and I agreed. We sent most everyone away when it was clear today would be when you woke up.”
“Why was Hist there when I woke up? Why not Caterina?”
“Despite his fierce appearance, Hist is much more the calm diplomat. You needed that calm at first. Neither I nor Caterina would be capable of that. So, she and the girls went to Whiterun, Gorr went back to Riverrun, and I waited in the communal room and pretended to read a book. I went a little crazy when Hist let you go sit outside by yourself, but I think he did it so he could lecture me again.”
“From what I’ve learned of him, I agree with you.”
“Hearing you talk to Hist, then walk around the room was pure hell. I thought you’d never come over to where I sat waiting.”
“At least now it makes sense, my throwing myself at you.”
Rumarin laughed. “You didn’t throw yourself at me.”
“Oh I was close. And you knew it.” He sighed at Rumarin’s chuckle. “I just don’t know what to think about any of this, really. Where do I belong? What am I going to do?” He thought again about trying to raise his sword arm, the burn and pull of the scars.
“I’ll show you this world, if you will let me, and help you find your place in it. I’ll take care of you until you do.” He smiled. “As we all will.”
“Thank you. I think that would be good.”
He relaxed at last, accepting Rumarin’s words as truth though his own purpose for being here, other than that, still eluded him. He didn’t mind being taken care of, not really, at least for a little while until he was stronger, but he had to be able to do so for himself, too. It was, however, very strange to be held by someone else like this. Just held, nothing more than that. No one had ever done that for him; at least not that he could remember. When he was a kid, maybe? He didn’t think even then. He closed his eyes after a moment, giving in to Rumarin’s very persuasive soothing touch and found himself nodding off.
The door behind them opened then, several men entering the room to laughter and excited talk. Alistair jerked his head up, tensing, but Rumarin’s firm grip on him tightened. “It’s all right, Alistair,” he murmured. Rumarin turned his head for a moment, watching them, but none came toward them and Rumarin turned back around.
Chairs scraped the ground as the men sat, and Hist’s, “Dinner, gentlemen?” rang through the room.
“You know who those men are?”
“I do. Don’t be concerned. They’re regular travelers through the Waystation. Some days hundreds pass through here. Hist offers hot meals for those who wish them.”
“Where are they going? To Whiterun?”
“Many do, for shopping, or for jobs.”
“At least they have jobs.”
“As will you, soon enough,” Rumarin murmured. “What did you do in your previous life?”
Previous life. Had an all-new meaning to him, that. “Grey Warden, I was, am a Grey Warden.” No, was. He no longer had the taint, did he? It was so strange, remembering that. Kind of a jolt to his heart which he could feel pounding in his chest this very moment.
“Hist explained a little of that to me. It sounded very dangerous. I’d like to hear more.” Rumarin shifted, drawing him in closer. That sense of calm settled over him again, which made him tense again. Rumarin rubbed Alistair’s arm with casual familiarity. Huh.
He cleared his throat, feeling awkward again as he relaxed against Rumarin. Where the strangers watching? Oh don't mind us, just having a little snuggle and a chat here. No matter what Rumarin said, he didn’t like knowing there were others in the room, cavernous as it was, watching them. He cleared his throat again. “There’d been some problems with the Grey Wardens, caused by this really terrible thing, man, monster demon-thing named Corypheus, so I joined the Inquisitor to help him figure out what was going on.”
“Problems with the Grey Wardens? What kind?”
How to explain the Calling? Except he really didn’t need to. “He persuaded most of them, but not me, to his side. Promised them so much,” he said, his throat tightening. It’d been awful, hearing that sound in his head for the first time. Drawing him closer to Corypheus. He’d fought it, thanks to Hawke, and never succumbed. How he wished he’d properly thanked her for that! She’d saved him.
He missed her so damn much.
Rumarin squeezed him a little. “Sorry. We battled an archdemon, and the part of Adamant, where we were fighting it, broke and we all fell. But the Inquisitor used his anchor, that’s hard to explain too, and we ended up in the Fade. Jax, his companions Sera and Bull, Solas, me, and Hawke. She and I have been friends for a long time. She helped me when-- well. She helped me when I needed help. I couldn’t let them die. Especially Hawke. She’s pregnant. Her husband, he’s an elf with major anger issues, would’ve killed me if she’d died. He’s a great guy, don't get me wrong, but given he can rip hearts out, it is best not to anger him. I did fight hard for myself too though. I didn’t want to die.” He laughed bitterly. “Did anyway.”
“I am sorry.”
He took a deep breath. “Now I can’t even walk across the room without grabbing for stuff to hold onto. The second I am alone, I start to think, and thinking leads to overthinking, and then, well. You saw. I thought I was going to implode.” At that, Rumarin drew in his breath. “Blast it, Rumarin. I can’t even lift my arm above my shoulder. What use is a swordsman who can’t wield a sword?”
Rumarin didn’t say anything for a long moment, then said, “Look at me, Alistair.” He did so, shifting in Rumarin’s grasp. “You truly aren’t very patient are you. Too used to rushing headlong into danger, into everything you do, consequences be damned. I’m a little like that myself though age has helped me wise up a little. You will find your purpose here in Skyrim, I promise you. There is a whole world of possibilities out there.”
Alistair nodded, his throat tight. “So, when?”
Rumarin laughed. “Caterina won’t let me take you anywhere just yet. Not until she’s certain you are making progress. So try hard, yes?” He nodded. “Also, tomorrow the horde descends.”
The horde. Or was that The Horde. “That sounds like a warning to me.”
“What do they know? I assume they know about my existence. But what will they see when they look at me? When they realize I can’t function like a normal human being without--”
“I need help to do everything,” he said, bitterness creeping into his voice.
“Your helplessness is temporary. You will get stronger. Everyone will help. Especially Amalee. Though I warn you, she is a bit of a romantic. She-- She will assume we are together, as before.”
Alistair caught his breath at that. So. He really wished he could ask his past self what the fuck he was thinking. “This is going to be awfully embarrassing. We can’t keep this, whatever it is, secret, I suppose? No?”
“I am here for you, and you have accepted my help. That is all anyone needs to know.”
No pressure, no demands. “I keep saying thank you. But, thank you.”
“Rest now, Alistair.” And with that Rumarin leaned his head back and closed his eyes.
Alistair froze for just a half-second before forcing himself to relax. Rumarin was warm, he was comfortable, and he had to admit, he liked this. He thought again how he’d insisted no one know about his relationship with Jax. How much it had hurt Jax, how much better things could’ve been between them if he had allowed their relationship to be known. If he’d allowed Jax even a hint that he was there for him. They’d been together for almost six months, and no one had known, except Leliana who knew everything. She hadn’t been happy about it, either. He’d been a right bastard to Jax, refusing to give him even a bit of what Rumarin offered him now. The boy, too sweet-natured to protest, had let Alistair do what he wanted.
He hated himself right now.
He wondered if Josie and Cullen had known about him and Jax. Josie, probably not. But Cullen? Probably. He winced inwardly, remembering the last time he’d spoken to Cullen. He’d had a little too much to drink after a game of Wicked Grace, let close-held desires better kept hidden loosen his tongue. Cullen had reacted as Alistair had known he would, though Cullen’s harsh words--that what they’d once had, had been mere childhood infatuation--hurt Alistair more than any previous refusal Cullen had slung his way.
Cullen’s friendship had meant far more to him than that. He knew Cullen hadn’t meant it. Or at least, a few days later after he’d calmed down he realized Cullen hadn’t really meant it. That he regretted his words. But more than once Alistair had seen Cullen do that--mess up what he meant to say, and say the wrong thing at first. If he didn’t immediately restate himself, the wrongness would stick in the air and refuse to budge. Cullen would then flee.
He should’ve chased after Cullen. He should’ve grabbed him by the arms, slammed him against the wall, and refused to let him go until Cullen looked him in the eye. Or maybe just kiss him. Cullen would’ve melted, he knew Cullen would’ve and that would be that. Not that it would’ve changed his outcome in the Fade--he would’ve chosen Hawke over himself regardless--but at least he could’ve died knowing all was well between them.
He missed Cullen. He missed Cullen’s friendship. The ache intensified, slamming gleefully into him and just making him even more miserable.
It’s too late, Theirin. You’ll never, ever see him again.
He pushed thoughts of his old life, and old regrets away. He needed to forget about them all, especially Cullen. And he would. Right this minute. Look forward, never behind.
“I will enjoy getting to know them. I promise, I do like people normally.”
Rumarin chuckled. “So you claim. You are tired. Shall I take you to your room?”
“Yes. I think I’d like to go back to bed now.” Instead he curled against Rumarin. Like a cat. Cats were damn lucky. Some cats. He felt incredibly mellow, though his cock had remained half-hard throughout their talking, a curiously comfortable position to be in. He ached to press it against something, and clearly not clear-headed, pressed against Rumarin’s thigh. He pulled sharply back. “Sorry.”
“It is fine, Alistair.” Rumarin’s voice rumbled in his chest.
He didn’t have the energy to argue with that. He shifted so he wasn’t in danger of embarrassing himself. Rumarin pulled him closer though. It felt amazing, and he was calmer than he’d been since he first woke up. His misgivings about this entire situation had quieted, at least for now.
Magic? He still thought so. In fact he sort of felt drugged. He yawned. “Can’t I just sleep here? Just need a blanket. Conjure one up for me?”
“No, I cannot. I am not that kind of mage.”
“What kind of mage are you?”
Rumarin laughed, bending his head down and lightly kissing Alistair on the head. It happened so quickly Alistair thought he must be mistaken, especially as Rumarin kept on talking. “A terrible one, don't you know?” Rumarin slid his hand down Alistair’s back, then to his hip. He dug his fingers in, massaging Alistair’s backside that he didn’t realize was aching so much. Warmth seeped into him from Rumarin’s hand and he looked up briefly; Rumarin simply smiled. With a sigh, Alistair lay his head down again, confused as ever.
What, really, was going on here? A soft groan escaped him as Rumarin moved his hand down Alistair’s upper thigh, his strong fingers loosening the tightness there. Heat pooled in his groin at the touch, even though it really wasn’t intimate; if Rumarin kept this up, he would pass out right here, but not until after he likely embarrassed himself.
“What are you two doing on my couch?”
Alistair jolted. He gasped, looking over Rumarin’s shoulder. The men at the table turned to look at him, curious. He ducked his head, his face heating.
Rumarin laughed. “It appears we have been caught out, Alistair.”
“Indeed you have.”
A woman stood over them, hands on her hips. She was somewhere in her mid-fifties, Alistair thought, noting the streaks of silver in her short black hair. She wore brown leather traveling clothes, and took off her coat, tossing it on one of the large chairs. She pulled up a smaller wooden chair and sat in front of them both. She smelled like snow and wind and spice.
She appraised them both, shaking her head in amusement. Alistair felt like he was thirteen again, caught with Cullen by one of the Sisters. That, however, brought memories he didn’t want to think about right now.
“Rumarin. When I told you to be nice to him, I didn’t mean to immediately start working on getting him into your bed. Especially not in the middle of the communal living area.”
Rumarin shrugged at Alistair in apology. “We weren’t doing anything, Caterina. Just talking.”
Alistair bit back a groan of embarrassment; this was Caterina?
Caterina sighed, then focused on him. “Hello Alistair. Are you going to be as bad as Rumarin? I’ll kick you both out now if that is the case.”
“I--” He looked at Rumarin whose eyes twinkled in amusement. “Maybe?”
She threw up her hands, her smile belying her supposed irritation. “Well, I figured as much. No more making out in the communal area though, please.”
“Yes ma’am,” Rumarin said contritely.
“But we weren’t--” Seeing Caterina’s disbelieving smile, he shut up. Definitely thirteen again. Now he was truly worried what the Horde would be thinking.
“Productive trip?” Rumarin asked.
“Yes, though I suggest you go shopping for Alistair’s new clothes in Solitude. The quality at Balfor’s has fallen.”
“Or he knows you don’t like him so he shows you the shoddy stuff. We’ll go to Solitude as soon as we can. I very much look forward to showing Alistair my home there.”
She huffed. “Let Alistair go so I can talk to him. I need you to get in the rest of the packages, and put up my horse. A blast of cold air will take the rest of that edge off.”
“Caterina, he is not feeling well--”
Alistair found his voice. “I’ll be alright, Rumarin.”
“You are certain?”
“Go, Rumarin,” Caterina said. “My horse is waiting.”
Rumarin squeezed his shoulder, then stood, and with a nod tugged on his vest before walking away. “Hist! Caterina said I was to pester you now--”
“I heard her. Go take care of the horse and the supplies, please.”
“Yes, sir . Of course.”
Alistair watched Rumarin grab his cloak, swirl it over his shoulders with practiced ease and head for the door. Rumarin paused, looking back over his shoulder. Hist said something and he left.
Alistair swallowed, shifting uncomfortably as he turned back around. He’ll be back. He’s not going far.
Then why did it feel as if a vital part of him had been wrenched away?
Chapter 10: Questions. Lots of Questions.
Caterina talks, and Alistair listens. The problem is, listening just brings more questions. Also, he feels like crap. *Please Maker, don't let this be my new normal.*
Caterina is also growing suspicious. By the Divines, just what is going on between Rumarin and Alistair?
(Sad muffin Alistair makes me sad).
Rumarin taught him to slow his breathing, draw calm, measured breaths. He did so now, trying not to pique Caterina’s attention. It helped, a little. Caterina turned back to Alistair, taking his hands in her own. She squeezed them, searching his face, her blue eyes studying him.
“I’m Caterina, though I suppose you surmised that already.”
He nodded, studying her face. She looked kind, and older than he thought she might be. She didn’t look like he thought a necromancer would. They tended to be-- dangerous. And looked closer to demons than human. This woman did not.
“How are you, Alistair? Other than flustered a bit.” She shook her head. “Sorry for the intrusion but it is too soon for that.”
The corner of her mouth curved up a little as she waited for him to answer. He closed his eyes for a moment, suddenly aware of a slight tightness in his neck. Worse, the emptiness was clawing its way back again.
“I don’t feel very well, honestly. A bit tired.”
She reached up, touching his face, her expression serious. “You do feel warm.” She eyed him. “Though Rumarin may be responsible for that.” She sighed. “I’m guessing, given what I walked into, you remember him?”
He shook his head. “No. I don’t remember anything. Rumarin and I really were just talking. I think I want to go lay down. I feel like I’ve been running all day.”
His head hurt, too, he realized. The bread he’d eaten suddenly wasn’t sitting well in his stomach, he didn’t think. Or maybe he should’ve eaten more. He wasn’t sure if he was hungry, or just getting sick.
“You can expect to be tired and feeling a bit weak for awhile. That will disappear in time, I promise. Hist explained to you what happened?” He nodded. “Do you have any questions?”
He looked down at his hands, still trapped by one of hers. Her touch didn’t ease him like Rumarin’s did. He pulled away. What was taking Rumarin so long?
“I was-- dead. You brought me back to life again. Fixed me.” He glanced at his groin. “Did the Nightmare really eat my-- uh--”
Caterina turned to Hist. “Hist, you didn’t tell the boy that, did you?”
Hist waved his hand then turned back to his work. Caterina sighed. “I’m sorry you thought that.” She glared toward Hist. “Yes, you were damaged in your groin area but not even a scar’s left there. You’ll have no trouble performing whenever the time comes.”
Finally, Alistair smiled. He wasn’t even too terribly embarrassed, he was so relieved that his nether parts hadn’t actually been nibbled on. Much. “I couldn’t figure how you could fix that--” He snapped his mouth shut. “I’m sorry. I-- I haven’t said thank you for saving my life.” He swallowed against the lump in his throat. “I’m still in shock, I think.”
“It’s natural, of course. And you are most welcome though I couldn’t have done so without Rumarin. He was very dedicated to bringing you back.”
“Why did I lose my memories? I remember the fight with the monster, and before that, but not anything else.”
Caterina sighed. “I am truly sorry about that, Alistair. Memory retention is difficult to predict. It all may come back to you later, but having to still you like I did--”
She nodded. “Calm you. How to describe it--”
“From what Hist told me it is similar to the Tranquil from where I am from, except that only happens to mages. They have no emotions when they’re separated from the Fade. I don’t mind not remembering that.”
Her eyes glittered. “There are many things I am glad you don’t. Someday, when you are ready, I would like to hear what you remember about this monster. It wasn’t present when Rumarn fetched you from the Void. All we know is it had very big claws.”
Claws. Plunging into him, piercing his armor, his skin, tearing into his bowels. “Do you think I could just go back to bed now?” He was exhausted, bone-weary, the cold had returned. He shivered, pulling the robe tighter around him. All the lights in the room dimmed around him. He was tired. He wanted Rumarin to hurry back. He ached for that connectedness he’d felt, that calming. He was not calm now, at all. He rubbed his chest.
“Of course. Give a thought to what questions you might have. Tomorrow, I’ll want to run some tests. It will be a bit uncomfortable for you, I’m afraid, but it is important I keep track of your progress. Fortunately, all you’ll have to do is lay on a table while we poke and prod you some more.”
“More? Maker’s breath . Has everyone seen me naked?” he muttered.
Caterina laughed. “Only the three of us here. Well, four, but Amalee and Zora aren’t here right now. They decided to stay in Whiterun overnight. You’ll like them. Amalee is my daughter, and assists me with all my patients. Zora is generally in charge of security. Tiny but fierce. No one else but family knows you are here. What I do isn’t common knowledge, I promise you, but in some way or another, everyone in the family is or was involved in what I do.”
“The Horde.” He still rather hated that name.
She laughed. “Hist told you. I’m sure he told you about mammoth cheese as well.”
Alistair stared down at the ring on his finger, fighting the powerful urge to look over his shoulder, to will Rumarin to suddenly reappear. Maybe he was putting away the horse first. That made sense.
He focused on Caterina. “Sorry. Is… Was Rumarin one of your… Projects?”
“Rumarin?” A hard look flared in her eyes. Passing strange. Then, it was gone again. “No, he’s a stray I picked up, how long ago…. Fifteen years? When he was a little younger than you are now. He has been with me ever since. That’s his tale to tell, however,” she said crisply.
“Fifteen years.” Rumarin was older than he thought. Forty-five or so? That caused Alistair’s heart to flutter. He’d almost always been older than his lovers.
“He’s young for an elf. Stay here please. I’ll get your medicines, and then Rumarin can help you back to your room. Unless you’d prefer I do so.”
“No! I mean no, thank you.” He gave in, glancing toward the door. “Rumarin said he would.”
She smiled. “I thought you might say that. You’ve looked for him ever since he left. I assure you he’s going as fast as he can to get back to you. It has been difficult for him, waiting so long. He may not have said so, but he is very happy you are awake at last.”
Clearly, whatever had happened, or hadn’t happened, between them was well-known. “I am too.”
She squeezed his shoulder, and stood. He quickly followed of course--too many years in the Chantry not to remember his manners--and immediately got knocked sideways by a blast of dizziness.
He heard the door open, Rumarin’s call out to Caterina, “Did you have to buy out the entire store-- Alistair? Alistair. ” Alistair reeled, from the dizziness, or the blast that was Rumarin’s sudden return to him, later on he couldn’t say which. He crumpled down against the couch and slumped partway over. Whatever Rumarin had been carrying dropped with a loud clatter. He came running, followed by Hist and other booted feet.
Alistair’s entire body burst into flames of embarrassment. His vision blackened; he could feel his heart pounding against his ribs like it was trying to escape. He pressed his hand over his heart, willing the pain to lessen but it only intensified.
“Alistair!” Caterina, that was Caterina--
Caterina knelt next to him, checking his pulse at his throat. He swallowed, gulping for air. “Easy love. We’re here. Rumarin! ”
Alistair struggled to sit up but he somehow couldn’t get his limbs to cooperate. He felt sick to his stomach and hunched over, gasping for breath. And then, he promptly threw up, splattering the ground with what little he had in his stomach. He groaned, hot tears flooding his eyes as he retched. The dizziness waved over him again and his vision began to fade. Hands, gloved hands, his hands grabbed him by the shoulders, holding him until nothing was left in his stomach.
“Sorry. I didn’t mean to. Sorry.”
“Hush, Alistair. There’s nothing to be sorry about. I’ve got you.”
“Where does it hurt? Can you tell me?”
Caterina slid her hand inside his robe, over his heart. Whatever she found made her grimace. Alistair closed his eyes, hot tears escaping and rolling down his cheeks.
“I’ve got to get his heart rate down. He’s so hot I can’t tell if it is fever or something more.”
“A reaction to something?” Hist offered.
“Maybe. Did he eat something besides the bread?”
“He had two mugs of broth,” Hist said.
“What else? There has to be something else.”
“Just a taste of my jam,” Rumarin said, guilt lacing his voice.
“Cheese,” Alistair gasped, not wanting to believe cheese could hurt so bad.
“Rumarin. You know what it took to repair his stomach.”
Alistair understood too clearly what she didn’t say. The claws. The claws had destroyed him, thoroughly and gleefully torn him apart. Alistair curled into a fetal position, immediately crying out at the pull on his back. Rumarin pulled him away from the stinking mess he’d made and into his arms, his warm, comforting arms. How would he survive this?
“Not his fault,” Alistair whispered against Rumarin’s chest. “Not Rumarin’s fault. Andraste, what’s wrong with me?” he asked again, begging for an answer. Any answer.
A damp cloth wiped across his face. “It will be alright, love. Did he have a fever earlier?”
“No ma’am. I can assure you of that.”
She made a hmmm sound. “He’ll need to be watched. Will you stay with him tonight?.”
“I intend to. I’m sorry. It really was just a tiny bit of food. I just wanted to make him smile.”
“Oh, Ru. I am sorry. It’s not your fault. Cheese wouldn’t cause fever or make his heart race like this.” She felt his pulse again, cool fingers on his neck. “Better. Take him to his room. And Rumarin-- Just be cautious for now. He needs to stay calm, if you understand. I have to figure out why his heart is racing. Perhaps you should go on to Riverrun now, spend a few days apart.”
“I am not leaving him, Caterina. I promised him.”
“Rumarin, if I can’t figure this out-- We’re running out of options.”
“ No ,” he said, tightening his grip on Alistair. “I won’t believe that. Figure this out. Please. ”
“I’ll do my best.”
Rumarin’s shaky, “I know. I’m sorry. I just can’t lose him, Caterina.”
Alistair heard her footsteps go away. Now, he could hear Rumarin’s breathing, labored as his own.
“Ru--” Alistair said reached for him, finding his shoulder. “I’ll be okay. I just got dizzy.”
“Let’s get you to your bed. We’ll talk about it tomorrow.” Rumarin easily pulled Alistair halfway up and, just as Alistair was trying to take a step on his own, “Oh no, you get a free ride.”
Rumarin scooped Alistair up into his arms and straightened with astonishing ease. Alistair closed his eyes as Rumarin swiftly crossed the room, wincing as his head began to pound with every step. He lay his head against Rumarin’s chest, tucking against his neck. His cloak was as soft as velvet, but smelled of leather and, he thought wearily, the Fereldan woods in winter. Like home . He tightened his grip on Rumarin, digging his fingers into his shoulder.
“Easy, Alistair. Let go a little.”
He relaxed his grip. “I’m sorry.”
“No. I’m the sorry one. I should not have left you. I feared this would happen.”
He wanted to ask him what he meant but whatever question was trying to form disappeared. Rumarin had him in his room quickly. A single lamp beside his bed burned low, casting the room in heavy shadows. Balancing Alistair against his chest Rumarin somehow managed to yank the covers back. He let Alistair down onto his bed with a gentleness surprising for someone so tall, pulling the soaked robes up and off with practiced ease. Rumarin flicked his hand toward the lantern beside the bed. It flared brighter, then settled down, allowed him to see Rumarin. And Rumarin to see him.
Except for his boots, he was naked. He was so tired he didn’t care. Not just that--he was sluggish, his muscles uncooperative, and he wanted nothing more than to sleep. And, he hurt. Everything about him hurt. Claws...
Rumarin knelt and pulled off Alistair’s boots, stopping him when he tried to help. He wondered how many times Rumarin had done this for him. Dozens, he suspected. Rumarin eased him down onto his back, pulling the covers up to his ribs. Alistair settled against the soft pillows, grateful to finally be laying down. His heart thumped so hard he could feel it down to his fingers.
Rumarin sat on the bed’s edge. “Alistair.”
He forced his eyes open. “Yes?”
“I’m going to do something now, to help you. It stays between us. Understood? Do you trust me?”
Rumarin reached for the bedside dresser. He pulled out a small bottle, pulled out the cork and turned it upside down, shaking it until some twigs fell out. “Open up. Chew on these. They’ll help your stomach settle and freshen your breath.”
Puzzled, Alistair took the twigs and put them in his mouth. They dissolved quickly. He raised his eyebrows in surprise. Rumarin was right; all the bitter sick taste was gone, leaving his mouth fresh and cool. His stomach didn’t feel any different at first, and then it did.
“Is that the secret? Magical twigs?”
Rumarin smiled. “No. That’s not it. Now quiet for me please.”
Alistair waited, a little nervous though he did trust him. Rumarin edged higher on the bed, then, sliding one hand to the back of Alistair’s neck, the other on his chest over his heart, he closed his eyes. “Still beating so fast. Hurts?”
“Like my ribs want to break.”
“Breathe with me.”
Alistair concentrated on Rumarin’s breathing, matching it, finding the same soothing calmness a little quicker this time. For a long moment, nothing happened. Alistair wanted desperately to close his eyes too, but with the flickering light’s aid he could look freely at Rumarin’s face. The slashes across his cheeks were a deep red; a single scar cut into his chin. He had marvelous, fierce eyebrows, Alistair thought, wondering how he’d look in full battle rage.
Then, the small stone around Rumarin’s neck began to glow. Faint at first, then brighter and brighter, bathing Rumarin’s face with light. Alistair watched, enthralled as the gold and silver within the white stone began to move, churning in a circle, the light brightening. Could his ring do that? It was the same stone.
Rumarin opened his eyes, casting a glance at the lamp; the light flared then disappeared. Save for the light from the stone they were now in darkness. Again, Alistair was shocked by Rumarin’s control of his magic. Hist surely had been jesting about Rumarin’s abilities...except he didn’t think so? It dawned on him, the requested secrecy; Hist didn’t know. Then Caterina didn’t know, either. Why?
“Look at the light and relax. Don’t be afraid.”
Alistair fell back into the rhythm of breathing with Rumarin, and focused on the light emanating from the stone at Rumarin’s neck. A single gold thread broke free, hovering as if a live thing. He sucked in his breath, then forced himself to relax. The single twisting, twining thread flowed down to him. He found himself canting his head back slightly, his chest rising beneath his hand as the thread hovered over him.
“Rumarin? This is kind of strange?”
Rumarin removed his hand from Alistair’s chest, touching his face briefly, then took Alistair’s right hand and placed it over his heart. The ring on Alistair’s index finger began to glow, a twin light to the stone at Rumarin’s throat. Well, that answered that question.
Now a single silver thread slid out from the ring’s stone, meeting the golden. The two threads blended, the silver pulling both back into the ring. Alistair gasped; something slid into him. It felt alive, twisting in his chest, tightening.
“ Rumarin? ”
“Just a little bit longer.”
It didn’t hurt. It just startled him. A wave of calm descended over him then. He could feel his heart slowing, the residual pain settling, finally disappearing. Alistair’s entire body was washed in exhaustion, pulling him down into the mattress. But all his pain, his aches, the fever even, ebbed away as the lights finally dimmed. The bedside lantern flared to life again.
Rumarin pulled back, pulled the covers up to Alistair’s neck. “Sleep well, Alistair.”
“Don’t leave me.” His voice came out so pitiful, so weak. So damn needy.
“I’m not leaving you. Close your eyes, and sleep.” Alistair wasn’t sure, but he thought Rumarin’s lips brushed against his forehead. “You’ll never be alone again.”
He wanted to say, this is so strange, why-- but he had no energy to form words any longer.
Caterina came and checked on him; he vaguely remembered taking something before collapsing back onto the pillows. He heard her and Rumarin talking, but he couldn’t understand much, just Caterina’s, “No, you mustn’t, Rumarin. He needs to stay here.”
Then she left, and Rumarin settled back in his chair with a sigh.
Despite his exhaustion, Alistair drifted in and out of consciousness, unable to stop the memories flooding him. Memories of the many places he’d called home, the many who he’d called friend. All so far away they were as unreachable as Skyrim’s twin moons.
* * *
Caterina sat cross-legged on the bed, an assortment of leather journals spread in front of her. The first one she’d begun the day Alistair came to them was open on her lap. The door opened, and Hist walked in, yawning and scratching his belly. She flicked him an amused smile.
“Going to take a bath?”
“Shortly.” He walked around the bed to stand beside her, and bent and brushed his lips over her forehead, the closest to a true kiss he could do. “Going back to the beginning?”
She sighed, nodding, closing her eyes as he ran his hands through her hair, lightly scratching with his nails. “I just don’t understand.”
“Understand what, love?” Hist sat on the end of the bed so his tail could hang over the edge, a much more comfortable position for him. Sometimes, she regretted the whimsy of adding a tail to her former vampire; but he enjoyed it and, she had to admit, it did provide extra balance when they had sex. Especially against a wall.
“I can’t let him die, Hist.”
“But what if I can’t stop it? What if this is it, our last chance? There’s no more dragon blood and I won’t ask Rumarin to see Paarthurnax for more.”
“You wouldn’t have to ask.”
She sighed, “I know.” She flipped through the pages of the journal. “The Imperials are executing Roggvir to try to entice Ulfric out of hiding, I think.”
“Am certain of it. Auryen believes the Thalmor know roughly where Ulfric is.”
“The Thalmor are actually helping?”
“Apparently.” She sighed. “Alistair is in no condition for this. If Rumarin is right about the future, if Alistair dies we are all lost. The dragons will kill every human and elf, and Argonian,” she added worriedly, taking his hand, “that they find. None of us will be safe.”
“This is no prophecy we must fulfill, love. He will either be the Dragonborn or he won’t.”
“I know. I know. But Rumarin’s friend was right about too many other things.”
“You put too much faith in an unknown being who cares nothing for our world.”
She worried her lip as she turned the pages. Hist had never cared for the Great Wolf, never trusted the mysterious elf. While her husband was a stranger to Skyrim, he’d adopted it as his home and loved it just as fiercely as she did. He did not approve of the Great Wolf’s sporadic attention to Rumarin, nor the way he had ignored him when Ru needed him most. Rumarin would always suffer from what his uncle did to him and for that alone she would smack that elf across the face. She would never forgive him for abandoning Rumarin, for forcing him to live all those years under that disgusting man’s control.
Hist touched her hand. She smiled at him wanly; he knew her well, and knew where her thoughts had gone. “He did find Alistair, love.” She sighed again, tossing the journal aside and taking another. If she just could recall--
“I’m off to bathe. When I come back we shall go to sleep. You’ll be up all night otherwise. It can wait until tomorrow.”
He was right, of course. “Hist, what happened between them? Before I came home. How was Alistair before he met Rumarin again?”
Hist stood, his tail swishing. With a heavy sigh he began to peel off his clothes, tossing them into a basket by the door. Once he was naked he stretched, and yawned again. She couldn’t take her eyes off him, her Argonian. He had, she suspected, been extraordinarily beautiful when he was still human, but this was the Hist she loved, even when he absently reached down to his cock and scratched it. She couldn’t help herself; she giggled. In reply he made his favorite sound of pleasure unique to Argonians, which he reserved only for her.
“I love you,” she said. “Do you know that?”
“Yes. And I you. You wanted to know about the boys. Rumarin is deeply in love with Alistair. After tonight, probably more so.”
“I think the feeling is quite mutual.”
“Perhaps. Is it a real love, though?”
How like Hist to so easily voice her own concern. “I don’t know.” She hesitated. “I don't think so.”
“Alistair is drawn to Rumarin; he is big, he is strong, he is bossy, and yet kind and attentive. That is irresistible to someone feeling lost and alone. Alistair may balk at this attachment of Rumarin’s once he has had time to think about it. Question his motivations. We don't truly know him, after all.”
The last was concerning Alistair, but it truly applied to Ru as well. He was so secretive, covering his extreme privacy with silliness and exuberance. She knew him better than anyone, and yet there was so much she didn’t know, didn’t understand. She was patient, and hoped that eventually she would learn more beyond what she already did, but she would never, ever pressure Ru to tell her more than he could. She clasped her hands to her forehead and sighed. She dropped them back to her lap, an unwelcome dread settling on her shoulders. “I know.”
Hist sighed. “Alistair is hardly in shape to deal with a lover. I would prefer he work on himself first, but Rumarin--”
When he didn’t say anything further, she touched his arm. “Rumarin, what?”
Hist blinked at her slowly. “Rumarin’s easy control over Alistair. If it were anyone but Rumarin it would concern me greatly. It is very strange, this connection, especially given Alistair has no memories from before.”
Caterina nodded. She had, of course, noted the same thing, but hearing Hist voice his concerns made her curious. The weeks that he and Rumarin spent together recovering from their injuries until the first seizure struck had cemented some sort of bond within them that they lacked now. At least on Alistair’s part.
“Then we can be glad Ru is true to our cause. I have to believe all will be well, in the end, whether they end up going their separate ways, or not.”
She reached for the journal she’d started that fateful day.
I fear we have lost him. Our sweet Alistair has been taken from us, and there is naught I can do about it. He’s had several seizures in a row. Three days have passed since the last one, and while Alistair remains responsive, does what we tell him to, can tend to his own private needs with only a little help, this is not living. How I miss his silliness! His laugh! Rumarin is devastated, the pain in his hands and the loss he’s already endured making it all that much worse, and I can’t promise him Alistair will ever again be the man he loves so deeply.
Ru left shortly after that and they didn’t see him again for more than two months, not until Zora got on her horse and went to drag him back herself. What she’d found had been a shell of a man-elf, but he’d come home bearing a reason to hope. He’d gone on a personal mission and been successful. Only then had he finally allowed her to finish his hands. He’d left again soon after though, until she’d finally been able to tell him Alistair was awakening at last. He’d come running and near driven all of them mad with his impatience.
She’d hoped Alistair’s memories of those first two months would come back, so the two of them could pick up where they’d been stopped but it wasn’t to be. Her heart ached so much for them both, but especially Rumarin. All he ever wanted was love, true love, and even though it sounded somewhat silly for a grown man to need it, Rumarin did. He’d been hurt so much in the past that at times she feared for him. He deserved happiness, he deserved to be treasured. She had thought Alistair would be the one to do that but now she was no longer certain.
“I am off to the baths then. I need a long soak so you have time before I descend.”
“Go on,” she said absently. He returned to her, rubbing his cheek against hers; when he straightened she turned her head and kissed his groin. “Does it have to be a long soak?”
“You could join me.”
She cocked her head at him, and grinned. “Oh? I think I will in a few minutes.”
“Excellent. I’ll get your bubbles ready.”
Now she worried Hist’s warning may prove accurate. She truly feared what Alistair would do once he’d had time to accept everything that had happened to him. She also feared it wouldn’t matter, that she’d be unable to figure out how to keep him alive.
She smacked her hands on the journal in her lap. She was well and truly vexed. Never had one of her subjects been so difficult to stabilize. By now, Alistair should be running sprints with the girls, practicing regularly with Gorr, and, her cheeks heating which was ridiculous, they were adults even if she thought of them both as boys, he and Ru should’ve been fucking three times a day if they wanted to.
Instead, she feared for Alistair’s life. And, in turn, Ru’s. She knew, knew something more had happened in the Fade than Ru would confess. His hands-- She shuddered, remembering that first examination. She’d been horrified. All the skin from just above his wrists to the tip of his fingers had been stripped away. Worse, the deeper flesh was damaged, charred in places. One finger so badly she’d almost had to remove it. The gloves hid all the injuries but not the pain they still caused him. Nor could they stop the occasional nightmare.
What had attacked him in the Fade, and why? And most importantly--why would he not tell her? And now there was no way to go back herself; Ru had seen to that.
Something niggled at her about that day, something she should remember, but had escaped while she was busy trying to save not one life, but two. She’d found nothing in her notes so far so whatever it was, she’d neglected to write it down.
She loved them both fiercely. Ru especially; they’d been friends for more than fifteen years now. She’d watched him grow from an abused and damaged boy-elf to the self-assured, confident, slightly flamboyant person he now was, in no small part because he’d found first purpose--to find the Dragonborn--then love for the first time in his life.
She would figure this out. But she knew it might come down to forcing Rumarin to confess what had happened in the Fade, what had really happened to his hands.
That was a conversation she wasn’t looking forward to.
Aurlana, Ginipig and GoWombat - thank you for being such amazing cheerleaders! And everyone else too who have left comments and kudos or just bother reading my stuff at all. :)
And as always, though Aurlana poured over my wordy words, any mistakes found are mine alone (and made probably after Aurlana checked for errors). So blame me, but tell me too so I can fix the wrong stuff!
Chapter 11: Cold
Cullen gets company, and discovers yet another horrific thing that makes him vow to somehow kill Jax someday--even though he's stuck in a prison cell, and losing his mind to lyrium. And has no sword.
Cullen is suffering quite a deal from his on-again, off-again lyrium use. I absolutely abhor the stuff, and how the Chantry used it to control the Templars so they in turn could control the mages. What a messed up world (but I sure love playing in it).
This is a harsh chapter not just because of Cullen's condition, but from what he learns about his caretaker. So please be warned -- non-con (offscreen) lies ahead.
And another reminder - all the major players WILL have their HEA (I just enjoy making their world very, very dark before they find their light).
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Time eddied and flowed and Cullen drifted through it, barely aware of where he was, why he was there, or even, at times, how he was still alive. Whenever he did become lucid enough to answer those questions, he couldn’t say if days had passed, hours, or even weeks. The passage of time was as mysterious to him as the passing of the sun somewhere above his prison. At least when he was out of it, he didn’t have to know how cold, wet, miserable and useless his life had become.
Could a man wish himself to death? He thought perhaps so. If not for Brak, and the occasional visit from the unlucky elf assigned to bring his food and clean out the corner pot, he would have gone forward with testing that theory. But for some reason he lived on as if his life had purpose, which it did not.
He was often unsure if the sudden appearance of an elf or a dwarf or a soldier standing next to him was real, or the result of his illness. Even when they talked to him, asking him questions he hesitantly answered, he wasn’t certain. Sometimes the man who tended him--a male elf with long blond hair, thoughtful eyes and a pained limp--would simply stand and look at him, head cocked to the side. Sometimes he had tattoos on his face, sometimes he didn’t. A curious thing.
The time the elf brought extra blankets to the cell, laying them over Cullen’s shivering form, that time Cullen knew the elf was real. He had tattoos, but that wasn’t what reassured Cullen. It was the elf’s compassion, the care he took to make sure Cullen was warmly covered, and most of all, the lingering touch when he brushed Cullen’s limp curls out of his eyes and whispered, “I am so sorry, my friend.”
This made Cullen wonder: did he know the elf? Did the elf know him? Surely he wouldn’t conjure up such kindnesses himself. He didn’t deserve such treatment, and he well knew it.
Night blended with day, winds howling up from the icy river below. There wasn’t anything to do except to sleep, and dream and pray--not for salvation--but for a final end to this madness. His beard grew more scraggly, his cheeks grew more chapped, his hands froze into claws--at least the tremors had stopped--memories of holding a sword and shield forgotten. The elf came every day with his food just as the light was at its strongest, waiting until he ate, watching him with that same, solemn expression. Once Cullen was done the elf would touch his shoulder, take the bowl, and leave again until the next day.
One day, maybe the third week, or maybe the fourth since he’d been shoved into his cell, he woke from his nightmares to find the wind had died down enough that he could hear the waterfall rushing below him, and the crack of ice.
Spring, perhaps spring was on its way. Had he truly been in this cell that long?
He could also hear voices, which wasn’t unusual, but the words floating from beyond the stone wall that hid the rest of the prison from his sight were sharp and clear. Harsh words, and a voice he recognized. The Inquisitor. The heavy wooden door must be open. He tensed as the voices drew closer; he wondered if Jax was here to see for himself the mad templar inhabiting his prison. As Cullen mentally prepared to meet the man with what little dignity he had left, the scrape of heavy booted feet stopped.
“No, I have no intention of going out there.” A clearly disgusted voice. “Bring the templar to me, after my dinner.” Cullen heard murmuring, then, but he failed to understand the words. “Don’t be ridiculous. I am not sure why I put up with you sometimes.” A bitter laugh, followed by, “...one reason, I suppose...”
Cullen sat up and leaned against the unforgiving wall of the cell, one reddened hand on Brak’s back. The mabari quivered beneath his hand, an anxious whine escaping as he shifted from paw to paw, gaze intent on the cell door.
Murmuring again, then a laugh, followed by the other’s gasp. “Fuck you-- I don’t care, spread them. Now. ” Cullen easily imagined the scene to go with the sounds he heard now--a body pushed against the wall, a whimper that was half-pain, half-moan, more murmuring but this time it was Jax’s deep, rumbling voice saying, “...where I want, elf. Skyhold is mine. You are mine. Remember?”
Breathless moans, scraping boots, a thud and a soft cry. “ Jax--” Less than a minute later came the sound of skin slapping skin, shuffling feet, a long series of torturous gasps punctuated by “ please, so down” as whoever was on the receiving end of Jax’s brutal thrusts fought to retain his composure.
Disgust and anger coiled within him. Cullen shuddered, closing his eyes as the Inquisitor roared his pleasure, his partner’s breathless cries sounding very much different. He grasped the bars, not remembering getting up, intent on calling out to the Inquisitor to stop being such a fucking beast.
“It will be worse for him if you do.”
Cullen hesitated, dared to look to his left; the little redheaded elf-girl looked up at him, her green eyes wide with worry. Too young, if she were real, to understand what was happening out of sight. Cullen dropped his chin to his chest, anger roiling through him. He knew she was right but it tore him apart to listen to such cruelty.
“Fuck. Fuck. Hold still. I’m coming-- I’m coming--”
The Inquisitor’s final thrusts were accompanied by thuds, a body slamming against the stone wall, a single pleading, “ Please, don't-- ”
Then, a final cry. The little redheaded elven girl’s eyes flicked toward the sound. “There. It is over. He’ll bleed a little while but he’ll be alright. He always endures.”
Then between one breath and the next the girl was gone.
Cullen slid to the ground, then crawled to the back wall, his fury by no means quelled, nor his disgust. Nor his pity for whoever the poor suffering bastard was.
No, he knew who it was. The pretty elf. His elf, the one who took care of him. His hatred for Jax tripled in that moment. Jax may only have one hand, but he’d grown into a big brute of a man, broad shouldered and powerful. No delicate elf was a match for him.
“And it's my fault.” Brak thumped his tail and whined.
Though a mage, after Alistair died Jax had insisted Cullen teach him to fight with sword and shield. Cullen had tried to refuse; Jax had kept his lyrium back for two days even though Cullen had immediately retracted his protest.
Jax developed his skills and strengths swiftly. He was, truly, a natural with the sword. Jax thereafter kept a sword strapped to his side, and his staff at his back, which added to his dangerous aura.
Though he’d learned quickly, Jax was first and foremost a mage. Jumping into battle with his sword when he could fight effectively from afar was, in Cullen’s opinion, stupid. He’d made the mistake of telling Jax so. He’d never questioned Jax again, at least not until that final, fateful day he’d punched the Inquisitor and ended up on the run, confused guards on his heels.
Cullen dropped his head the bars, fought to concentrate as he waited for the elf to come to take him to see Jax. It was hard to remember a time when the Inquisitor was young, untried, and kind. Even with a missing hand, Jax commanded still awe from his followers. Jax had done what all feared impossible: defeated the monster of all monsters, and had done so with intelligence and incredible determination. He promised absolute victory, and won it.
Those who didn’t know him, loved him.
Someday, somehow, he would punish Jax for all the terrible things he had done, and continued to do. Not just for hurting the elf, but for everything. The fire burned hot in his veins but a bark of laughter escaped him; how? He was a prisoner , as much as the elf was. And weak. And quite probably going insane.
“Enough. No, you may not.” Jax’s cruel laugh cut off whatever the other had been trying to say. “Now go do what I told you to do. I have more important things to take care of. Hawke is expecting me shortly.” Booted feet, crisp and purposeful, moved away.
He pushed back from the bars in alarm. Hawke? Why was she here? The last time he’d seen her was when she and Alistair headed into Adamant. And fell. He squeezed his eyes shut. He couldn’t think of that day, watching them all fall. Watching Alistair go meet his death, taking with him all the joy that remained in Cullen’s life, even though he’d stupidly never told Alistair the truth.
How he regretted his last words to him. His lies! He shouldn’t have hidden behind his fears and insecurities. He should’ve told Alistair he still cared. That he still loved him.
The little redheaded elven girl cupped his face. “You can still tell him.”
The stab to Cullen’s heart at her words took his breath away. He cradled his head in his shaking hands, fighting against the threat of tears. If only. If only he could see Alistair again.
Maybe he would in death.
Maker, take me.
Brak snuffled at his hands, whining. He lay one hand on the mabari’s neck and scratched behind his ear. “I’m sorry, fellow. I’m so sorry for bringing you with me.” If he died, what would happen to Brak?
When soft footsteps with a distinctive limp approached, Brak left him and ran to the cell door, wagging his tail. The elf approached the cell door, key in one hand, his other hand trembling as he touched his bloody lip.
The elf’s gaze shot to Cullen, widening in surprise to find him watching. In that split moment before he caught himself, Cullen saw the first real emotions he could recall on the man’s face followed quickly by a flash of embarrassment before his usual stoic mask slipped into place.
The elf looked down at the lock as he slipped in the key, his hair swinging to cover his face. The gate opened just enough to allow him to ease inside. Brak wiggled in excitement but the elf ignored him, pocketing the key and closing the gate behind him. He didn’t turn around for a moment, his shoulders shaking so slightly if Cullen hadn’t known what had just happened to him, he wouldn’t have noticed.
Finally, he turned. Cullen studied his face, the swelling lower lip, the unmistakable red of his eyes. Cullen suspected there were bruises or worse--likely worse--hidden by the elf’s clothes. He clenched his hands against his impotent fury. He wanted to shout and yell and demand why do you stay with that monster? That would not help the elf. Instead he had to settle for, “Are you alright?”
The elf shrugged. “I will be fine.”
“He hurt you.”
“Yes, he did.” He hesitated. “Thank you for your concern.” The voice was soft and lilting, the accent Antivan.
Cullen blinked. Confusion made him doubt the sudden suspicion of who the elf was. He took a step closer then glanced over his shoulder. Reassured, he crouched down in front of Cullen, wincing as he did so, his long blond hair falling over his shoulder.
He didn’t look at all fine to Cullen, not with a bloody lip and the pain pinching his face. “Do you know me now?”
It took Cullen a long moment, then he slowly nodded. “Zevran.”
Zevran smiled, and visibly relaxed. “Indeed. It has been many years since last we met, no? I am glad you recognize me at last, Commander.”
Cullen closed his eyes. “Please don’t call me that. I am no longer that man.” When he opened his eyes again, Zevran hadn’t moved. Brak, however, now lay beside him, tail still going. Zevran paid him no attention.
Maybe he should give Brak to Zevran, Cullen thought, though Jax hated mabari and it was clear Zevran was Jax’s now. How that had happened, Cullen couldn’t fathom. The Zevran he’d encountered in the past, the man who had handled several missions for the Inquisition, would never have let himself be treated the way he’d just been. He was a Crow. Crow’s simply didn’t submit unless it suited their purpose.
“What happened to you, Cullen? How came you to be here?” Cullen startled; Zevran’s questions mirrored his own. How came you to be like this? Why do you let Jax do this to you? “Jax was not happy to discover you were the mad templar in his dungeon.” The words were soft, as if Zevran wished to avoid being overheard over the waterfall’s roar.
Cullen shifted, uncomfortable with talking about his state of mind or lack thereof, but Zevran had seen him; he knew the previous days had been bad.
“I tried to get off lyrium.” He smiled ruefully. “And failed. And tried again.” He gestured with one hand. “And failed.”
Though he supposed after three weeks or so in this cell he was off it again. Just thinking of it ratched up the desire for it once more. Every nerve screamed for it; he craved it, needed it is so badly , the cool, sweet bliss as it flowed through him, filling him with strength… He could do anything when he had lyrium.
Except live unashamed of his weakness.
“I am not--” He couldn’t speak, his breath shaking as he tried to catch his breath. His eyes blurred; he wiped at them angrily. “I can’t-- I can’t stop wanting--” He laughed bitterly, his shame silencing him.
The little redheaded elven girl patted Brak, then scratched under his chin, sending the mabari’s back leg thumping. Her cloak was gone now, revealing delicate, lacy wings on her shoulders. A fairy, straight out of children’s tales. She glanced at him and beamed, nodding. Had he said that out loud?
“Pixie,” she said, then hopped about on her bare feet. Brak woofed at her. Cullen tore his gaze away, tried to focus on Zevran.
Zevran nodded. “The lyrium has poisoned your mind. You see things that are not there. You want it always. It goes away sometimes, the wanting, but it always returns. The craving for lyrium is endless. It won’t stop.”
Cold, hard, unforgiving truths.
“No,” Cullen whispered. “It will never stop.” He coughed, startling Brak. The pixie left again. For now. “I can’t escape it. I can’t escape the voices, the people who aren’t really there--” He shook his head. “I find myself standing or sitting somewhere, and don't remember moving there. Days pass and I know they have, but I can’t remember them. Mad Templar, indeed.”
“I am sorry, my friend.”
“I thought-- I--” Cullen laughed, shaking his head. “I am not sure even now if you are real.” He touched the side of his own face. “Except you have your tattoo.”
Zevran looked puzzled. “Sometimes I don’t?”
“When-- Sometimes, well. You do now.”
Zevran stood and moved closer to Cullen, folding his legs cross-legged. He winced, then straightened out his right leg, clearly in pain. He sighed at Cullen’s questioning look, shrugging. His clear eyes traveled over Cullen with careful scrutiny. Brak moved closer and pushed against him. Cullen was certain the mabari outweighed the elf but Zevran held his ground as if Brak were nothing.
Time had changed Zevran. That limp-- He was no longer the deadly assassin he once was, not with such a visible weakness.
But then, neither could Cullen claim to be the Commander he’d once been.
“Why are you here, with the Inquisitor? Last I heard you were back in Antiva.” He didn’t ask about Liassa. Somehow, he thought that would be a painful topic. He’d caught a rumor or two that she’d disappeared with the rest of the elves. Why Zevran hadn’t gone with her, he couldn’t fathom. He’d thought they’d married-- But maybe that was rumor too as Zevran was with Jax.
Zevran shrugged but the pain in his eyes was clear to Cullen. “I was, but I left after an unfortunate series of questionable jobs. Nothing went as it should. I was set up, but of course unable to prove it. I was badly injured, and failed to recover cleanly. I needed protection from my former acquaintances. Jax offered his, so I accepted.”
“But at what price?”
Zevran smiled. His eyes did not. “Just his use of my body, when, where, and how he wants. It is no matter to me. I have been in this position many times before.”
Cullen frowned. “Zevran. He was forcing himself on you. You didn’t want him. You made that perfectly clear--”
Zevran held up his hand. “No need to be concerned. He is rough, but I can handle myself. I have two hands after all.” Cullen’s gaze fell pointedly on Zevran’s still-bleeding lip. Zevran wiped at it and sighed. “Do not forget, my friend. I am a Crow still despite my limp, and current lowly status. We do more than just assassinations.”
It took Cullen a moment to sort out Zevran’s meaning. His eyes widened. “So you are--”
Zevran put his finger on his lips, then winked. He was spying on Jax for someone, then. What better way than from the Inquisitor’s bed? That made Cullen feel a little better about Zevran’s situation, but not much. Hurt was hurt. Abuse was abuse.
“So you aren’t in immediate danger,” Cullen said.
“Oh yes, most definitely I am.” Zevran’s expression sobered. “And so are you. He wishes to see you.”
Cullen stiffened at that. “I’d prefer not to. I’ve done nothing wrong.”
“Breaking and entering, that is not wrong?”
“Into my own rooms?”
“Jax removed you from the Inquisition. The office tower and its possessions no longer belong to you.” He smiled then, white teeth flashing. “Did you truly punch him after the Exalted Council?”
Cullen took a deep breath, then nodded. “Not my most stellar moment.” He’d very nearly cast smite on Jax, pulling back at the last second. Jax had known, of course. So Cullen had left.
“When do I have to see him.”
Zevran unfolded himself with grace, though his limp was a little more pronounced as he walked to the cell door. He turned back to Cullen.
“He is expecting you soon. I am sorry, but you’ll have to be guarded and shackled.” He grinned, his eyes dancing with amusement. “Even now, reduced as you are to no one, he fears you. That is good, no?” He turned to the waiting guard Cullen hadn’t seen appear. “Shackle him, and keep your weapon ready. The Inquisitor’s orders.”
Note on Zevran: He is truly playing a role here with the Inquisitor--but what he is coming to understand is that he lost control of the situation somewhere along the line. He rarely underestimates his targets, but he has absolutely underestimated Jax Trevelyan. Everyone has.
Note on Jax: I thought the last name "Trevelyan" was a very interesting choice for the male human Inquisitor's last name. I'd vaguely heard reference to a Trevelyan before and so went searching for what I'd remembered. It wasn't hard to unearth Irishman Charles Trevelyan. He is vilified by many as being the reason so many died during Ireland's potato famine because of his religious beliefs. Part of that vilification comes from a slanted exploration of his past by one historian; one of his descendants has worked to show he wasn't THAT bad, or at least the reasons behind his choices: https://www.independent.ie/opinion/analysis/was-this-the-most-wicked-man-in-irish-history-26367449.html
But still - a real-life Trevelyan infamous for cruelty? I found the thought of writing such a man as Inquisitor very intriguing. I played a jerk!Inquisitor playthrough who made all the cruel choices, just to see for myself how bad it could be (and oh hell no, never ever again will I force Cullen to take lyrium, kill the Chargers, let Sutherland die--and, oh yeah, leave Alistair in the Fade to fight the Nightmare alone--and do all the other things a harsh Inquisitor can do). I finished that playthrough and well, you all know how it ends for Cullen, Sutherland, Alistair, Bull (oh Bull)... Not a feel-good playthrough, at all. Still, no regrets, as this fic was born because of it!
Chapter 12: Connections
Alistair wakes up - still in a strange world, still not dead, still confused as ever. And a little horny. Hey, it's been awhile!
(Smattering of smut this chapter).
Something woke him, though he couldn’t say what. Eyes still firmly closed, Alistair breathed in a vaguely spicy scent, the lingering smell of which competed with an unfamiliar earthiness. His back and legs ached, his head vaguely hurt too, and...
Where am I?
He tensed, a flush of panic getting its claws-- claws, no --into him but years of discipline held him still until his head could clear enough to remember where he’d last been…
Then it rushed back to him. He was not only not dead, but he lay on his side with his back bare to the room in a bed in a cave that had been turned into a traveler's waystation of some sort, in a different world from his own.
He’d been hauled here--dead--from the Fade. He’d been resurrected by and was now under the care of a powerful necromancer and her lizard ex-vampire husband for reasons he still didn’t understand. And, he had his own personal keeper, a giant-size elf-mage who he was connected to somehow, also in a way he didn’t understand.
He’d had weird things happen in his life but surely this was a dream?
This is no dream, Theirin. Calm the fuck down.
It must still be nighttime, he thought as he blinked into the dark but warm room. Only the faint glow from the moons through a slit high up in the ceiling let in any light. The steady trickle of a small waterfall or stream outside all but blocked out other sounds. Burrowing into the pillows, he tried to move a hand to scratch his nose but his right hand was captured by blankets, and his left held fast by something.
No, some one.
A very large hand, gloved and covering his own, rose and fell gently with its owner’s every breath. Rumarin. His hand was trapped by Rumarin’s. What was worse? Said hands were awfully close to a nice-sized bulge contained in Rumarin’s leather breeches.
The rest of it came back to him then, the focal point of it all the man sleeping beside him.
Alistair groaned. Had he tried, in his sleep, to seek out the warm body next to him? He probably had. He’d done it all the time to Jax. He was a draper, always had been. He was far more used these days to sleeping with a partner than not, and more often than not, his seeking would lead to that generally-warmest part of Jax--
His face flamed. If that didn’t wake him up the rest of the way, Alistair didn’t know what could.
He lay still, focusing on his breathing. He didn’t think he could pull his hand away without waking Rumarin and he really didn’t want to do that just yet. How long had his hand been there? How long had Rumarin been next to him? He had no recollection of Rumarin slipping onto the bed with him but at least he was warm. The only thing he recollected was he’d been dreaming that dream again, the one that had haunted him ever since he’d said goodbye to his former life, and joined the Grey Wardens. He used to relish having that dream; now, it just made him sad and filled him with regret he’d not done more to convince Cullen they were meant to be together.
He huffed. Guess Cullen’d been right all along.
He shouldn’t think of Cullen anymore, he thought. It hurt too damn bad. Should be used to that but he wasn’t sure he’d ever get over his first love. Strange how life had turned out for them both; for all he knew, Cullen was married now to some beautiful woman with a couple of kids. He smiled to himself at the thought. Cullen surrounded by ankle-biters. It could happen. Could have happened. He never had the chance to tell Cullen how proud he was of him for getting off lyrium, finally severing the leash that had bound him for so long. He would regret that for the rest of his life.
Since Alistair couldn’t move, firmly pinned as he was, he tried his best to return to sleep but it didn’t work. Instead, his treacherous mind decided this was a good time to think of things he truly wasn’t ready to think about just yet.
He needed to face facts. He was trapped; both here in this bed, and in general. Trapped in a world he didn’t know. He was alive, but badly scarred, and his heart appeared to be seriously fucked up. Caterina wasn’t likely to find a solution it didn’t sound like. It scared him out of his mind, the thought of losing his life after getting it back. He’d honestly never thought about it before but he wouldn’t mind growing old.
Now that the Taint was gone, he might actually be able to. Except, he was so weak! It’d been four months and one would think even with as bad as injuries as he had, he’d be much better now. Was he destined to need a cane before forty? He wasn’t sure if he wanted to get old if that was the case. Not that forty was old. Zevran was forty by now, he thought, but an elf, so that was more like thirty. Or twenty-five.
He could’ve been a real elf, and been young much longer if his mother had just chosen a nice proper elf to be his father, but no, she had to go sleep with a fucking king.
The urge to touch his slightly-pointed ear tips was overwhelming. But, both his hands were stuck. He was also, he realized as he gave in and relaxed into the very comfortable position he was trapped in, feeling perhaps a little better despite the general achiness. At least his heart didn’t thump so painfully now. Whatever Rumarin did to him had helped, but would it last? Was it a permanent solution? He feared not, else Rumarin would’ve told him.
Else Rumarin wouldn’t have practically begged Caterina to find a solution. That he expected she could fascinated him, and made him curious to know how she could do so much. She was far more powerful than any mage he had ever met, that was for certain. He should be dead. How did she bring him back to life again? There was so much he didn’t know about his captors! He needed to start a list.
First would be Rumarin himself. Why the war paint? He dressed and moved so elegantly the red slashes were very jolting at first glance. They didn’t make him ugly, no, it wasn’t like that. But Rumarin didn’t come across as a warrior at all, despite his strength and size. Was he? Maybe they were this world’s version of vallaslin? He hadn’t seen any other elves yet to compare.
Rumarin’s magical abilities were another thing, after the gloves thing. Did no one know what he could do? Alistair had no doubt at all, given what he’d seen privately, there were remarkable depths to Rumarin’s magical abilities. Why hide them? He hoped this world didn’t treat mages like his own had. Some of his best friends were mages. Liassa was a mage. He thought about Rumarin’s joking about his “parlor tricks,” Hist’s comment about Rumarin’s skills not being very polished, and later, his comment about Rumarin being harmless “for a mage.”
Even Caterina, who obviously cared a great deal for Rumarin, talked about him as if he were a randy teenage boy not to be entirely trusted. Although that didn’t technically have anything to do with magic, it smacked of a bit of disrespect. The kind of disrespect Morrigan loved to catapult at him . Except Morrigan hadn’t cared for him much at all, especially after they’d had sex (his first and only and last with a woman). Never-mind they had a child together; a child he’d not seen in years. She didn’t want him to have anything to do with Kieran, and though he’d fought that, knowing how it was to grow up without a father, he’d eventually given up trying. That ache was so familiar it didn’t even burn anymore. Almost.
He huffed to himself. Morrigan truly had won, in the end. She wouldn’t have to worry about him anymore, ever.
There he was, going on about the past again. He needed to concentrate on now. He sighed, burrowing deeper into Rumarin’s shoulder, listening to his steady breathing. His own matched it, as before. A spark of hunger passed through him; Rumarin smelled damn good, of heat and earth and rain and-- He shuddered, pushing his mind away from where it seriously wanted to stray, where his cock obviously wanted to stray.
There was an explanation for this charade of Rumarin’s. Surely. Not that he cared one way or the other if Rumarin was a good mage. He just didn’t like being lied to, including by purposeful omission. He’d been lied to his entire childhood about who he was, and resented it still. Rumarin wasn’t being honest about what he could do, and had refused to talk about what had happened to his hands. Why?
Rumarin moved slightly in his sleep, stretching his head back a little, gripping Alistair’s trapped hand a little tighter. Alistair held his breath, worried he’d wake Rumarin up or worse, Rumarin would push their hands down to his crotch.
He wasn’t sure he’d really mind that, though.
He had to admit, right now, laying in bed with this elf he barely knew but who admitted to knowing him quite well, feeling the rise and fall of his breath beneath his hand, the warmth of his body, the delicious smell of him, was quite nice. He at least was safe. He had no idea as yet what terrors this world had, and he could be at the mercy of some cruel sadistic evil mad necromancer and not one who saw him more as a teenage boy who needed rules and his own personal caretaker.
Rumarin was a safe harbor, the one person in this world who had stood against death, for him. He’d gone into the Fade! No one did that willingly save for the Grey Wardens--which he no longer was-- or someone who had a death wish, was forced to do it, or--
Unsettled, Alistair had to admit he didn’t understand why Rumarin had come for him. Why did he go into the Fade in the first place? How did Rumarin know he was there? The Fade was huge. It couldn’t have been an accident. Right?
More importantly, how had he done it? And could Rumarin take him back?
Alistair blinked. He’d dozed off again. It was much lighter in the room than before; morning had come at last. Neither of them had moved; his hand was still clasped firmly beneath Rumarin’s. He was a little too warm, too. Someone had come in while they slept and lit a fire. These people didn’t treat privacy like he was used to; no one would dare barge into the Inquisitor’s room, no matter how cold it was. He knew because if they had, his secret relationship with Jax would’ve been no more.
He pushed away the pang of guilt, the you asshole he had to direct at himself now. Jax had loved him. He didn’t love Jax. He’d hurt Jax with his refusal to publicly acknowledge their relationship.
Blast it. He couldn’t think about that now.
Rumarin suddenly moved, uncrossing his feet, drawing his right leg up, leaning his knee against the wall. Worst of all, Rumarin had done exactly as Alistair had worried he would; pushed Alistair’s hand to his crotch. His not-quite-soft-anymore crotch. Rumarin sighed in his sleep, canting his hips just so but then settled back, his breath evening-out.
Oh. Oh shit!
The sinfully soft leather quickly grew warmer beneath his hand, and naturally Rumarin’s half-hard cock responded, lengthening, thickening. Maker. Rumarin was a sizeable lad, indeed.
Rumarin shifted again, sighing softly in his sleep. Alistair’s heart started to race a little, his cock taking notice. How could he not respond to this? He was only human, and Rumarin…
Rumarin stirred something in him he’d not encountered before. It was damn arousing, but puzzling too. Alistair tried to steady his breath, worried that Rumarin would wake, discover Alistair’s hand cradling his warm, semi-hard, thick cock, realize he was getting a bit too excited and push him away like a bad dog.
Alistair buried his face into Rumarin’s arm again, trying to calm himself and will his body to cool off.
It’s not working, Theirin.
Jax had been like an eager puppy, always wanting Alistair to lead, to top, to tell him what to do and how to do it. Exhausting. He suspected Rumarin would be a very good lover, and need no direction. At all. A gentle lover. And caring. Of course he would be. Alistair wouldn’t mind finding out for himself. Why not? At least Rumarin wanted him, apparently.
His heart beat a little faster but thankfully not painfully. Much. He tried to inch his hand slowly from under Rumarin’s but the second he moved, Rumarin shifted. Alistair stilled, his nerves racing. I’m in no shape for this. A sobering, sobering thought.
He sighed heavily.
Oh shit. Well, so much for Rumarin not noticing the extra hand on his crotch. Alistair had no choice but to shift a little so he could look at Rumarin, who had turned his head in kind. Honey yellow eyes glowed in the semi-dark, questioning. “Are you well?” he whispered, his deep voice still thick with sleep. And maybe more.
“I’m, uh, okay. Fine.”
Rumarin didn’t even acknowledge the hand on his crotch. Maker’s breath. He pulled his left arm out from between them and put it around Alistair’s bare shoulder. He paused for only a second before his hand traveled down Alistair’s back to brush against his backside and up again, idly, comfortingly.
This...this was awkward. And yet he really didn’t feel like moving, or protesting. It kind of felt nice to be held for a change. And wanted. He closed his eyes, shivering a little as Rumarin moved his gloved hand back along his side, much as Rumarin had done on the couch the night before. It felt good. Very good.
He kept his trapped hand very, very still, but it would take only a single movement to start something deeper with his keeper. Just a slight rub with his thumb over Rumarin’s trapped cock… Rumarin’s gloved hand slid up his back, sliding back down again, idly moving lower with clear intent. Alistair parted his legs before he even thought about what he was doing. He relaxed into Rumarin at the first touch, the first wave of pleasure rippling through him as Rumarin took advantage of his silent offer, deft fingers exploring.
He wished Rumarin would take off the damn glove.
Alistair groaned. He wanted more. He needed more. It wasn’t simple lust either, this driving need--it wasn’t like he hadn’t had sex lately, either.
Four months ago, Theirin.
That wasn’t that long ago, was it? Maybe not for some but for him? Yeah. His throbbing cock begged to differ. He wanted to melt deeper into Rumarin, in a way he’d never craved for another. He wanted to be part of Rumarin, every bit of his skin touching the other’s. It was passing strange but his mind was too fogged, his body aching too deeply now for him to figure this out. He craved, he wanted, he needed Rumarin’s touch like it was life itself.
“Rumarin--” he whispered hoarsely, pushing his aching cock into Rumarin’s side, begging in that single word for more. Rumarin chuckled, reaching with purpose between Alistair’s legs. Alistair shifted up, helping; he groaned as Rumarin took him in hand. He buried his face in Rumarin’s shoulder as he parted his legs for more, his fists clenching as Rumarin squeezed the base of his cock, toyed with his balls, handling them as if he owned them.
Fuck he wanted Rumarin to take him. No, he needed him to-- It’d been so long since-- Since anyone had done so.
Was he physically able to, though? His heart raced, a bit painfully. Maybe if he just lay still and quiet and let Rumarin do all the work it wouldn’t hurt much...
Enough wondering. He fumbled with the buttons on Rumarin’s trousers. Buttons! Clever and frustrating. A soft growl escaped him and Rumarin chuckled, helping him undo them, then guiding Alistair’s hand beneath the warm leather.
Rumarin wore no smalls. Alistair pulled in a deep breath as he closed his hands on the thick shaft, a little stunned by just how much there was to grasp. Rumarin pushed into his hand, a soft “yes” escaping his lips as Alistair’s questing hand found the tip, damp with precum. Rumarin’s hand on his backside squeezed. “Come here, Alistair.” Alistair lifted his head, his breath stuttering at the hunger in Rumarin’s eyes as he pulled Alistair closer until a mere inch hovered between them.
Maker, I want this , he thought at the first touch of Rumarin’s lips on his own. Rumarin’s tongue pushed into his mouth, demanding, commanding; a groan escaped them both at the same time which fueled the fire between Alistair’s legs. He humped Rumarin’s thigh, wanting more, needing more, positively aching for Rumarin to strip off those damn leather breeches and take him. He pulled at the waistband, making Rumarin chuckle, and start to lift his hips up to help.
Behind them wood creaked, followed by a yawn. Then, “Gentlemen? You are not alone, you do realize?”
A startled scream escaped Alistair. He jerked his hand out from Rumarin’s breeches. “What the fuck?” simultaneous with Rumarin’s, “Why are you in my room, Gorr? Get out .”
“No can do, Ru. Caterina’s orders. Worried you’d not be following orders. Which obviously you aren’t.” The man made a tsk tsk sound.
“Not now, Gorr.”
“Must’ve fallen asleep. Good morning to you too, Rumarin!”
Rumarin fell back against the covers, his breathing heavy, then tucked himself back in. He let out a frustrated growl followed by several elegant words in a language Alistair didn’t understand. Alistair dragged the covers with him and sat up, glaring at the intruder as something the man had said pinged in his fogged brain.
“What do you mean, her orders ?”
“Ask Ru.” The damn man chuckled. Gorr stretched, well-muscled bare arms flexing, and twisted his neck and back forth. Despite his casualness, the dramatic red war paint covering the man’s brown skin fairly screamed I’m a bad-ass warrior don't fuck with me .
Rumarin growled, and threw a pillow at him clearly not worried about that. “Get out, Gorr.” Gorr neatly ducked the pillow attack.
“What were her orders?” Alistair demanded again.
“We weren’t ,” Alistair said in disbelief.
“Another minute or two? Bang. Would’ve been.” He chuckled. “Sorry Ru. Caterina would have my head and yours if the kid collapsed again. I kinda like my head where it is.” He chuckled again. “Asked me to check in on you but you were sleeping like puppies. Didn’t want to disturb you and fell asleep myself.” He yawned. “Late night with the Fenfir twins. Mmm. Elves.”
“Maker’s balls,” Alistair muttered and bent over, pressing his face in his hands. “You're not telling Caterina all this, are you?”
“Believe me if I didn’t believe it would hurt you--and me, don't want to lose my head remember-- I’d say go ahead and fuck right now. I’d just close my eyes. I know your man-elf wouldn’t want to hurt you, but he’s a bit blind when it comes to what’s his.”
“Blast it ,” Alistair said, shaking his head in disbelief. “He is not my man-elf! I don't belong to anyone! And we are not fucking.” He dropped his hands and turned to Rumarin, ignoring the sharp pull along his back. “Rumarin, please.”
Behind him Rumarin huffed. “Gorr. Ease up.”
“Fine, fine. Just know how you--”
Gorr stopped. Finally.
“Things are not what they were. Please, drop it.”
Alistair shifted uncomfortably. How had things been, that Gorr assumed so much?
Gorr cleared his throat, his eyes widening. “Ah. I-- Sorry kid.” This he said to Alistair.
Alistair sighed. “Apology accepted. And you still haven’t explained who you are exactly?”
Gorr peered at Alistair. “Don't remember me, really, huh?” He shifted in the chair, spreading his feet apart, elbows on knees, bare arm muscles bulging. The man was solid muscle, a warrior through and through. Two-handed probably. He looked more the axe type. Gorr noticed Alistair looking at his arms, and flexed his muscles again, then laughed when Rumarin huffed.
“Sorry Ru. I'm a Redguard obviously…” When Alistair didn’t react--was he supposed to react?--Gorr said, “From Hammerfell? From a distant land you apparently have never heard of? Ru, show this kid a map.” Gorr chuckled again. Alistair wondered if he did so while fighting. Would probably drive his opponents mad. “As of this moment, well after you get some proper clothes on, I’m your trainer.”
Alistair slouched, deflated when even that pulled on his back. “Trainer? I’m not sure that’s necessary.”
“I’ve got some ideas. Stand up, let’s see what you got.”
“What?” Alistair sputtered, clutching the covers to his groin.
Gorr laughed. “Haven’t got a good look at your scars in a good while. Need to see how much more they’ve healed.”
“Do we have to do this now?” He really wasn’t ready for this. All he wanted to do was crawl back into the covers and forget everything. He was so tired.
Gorr rubbed his beard, then stood, motioning with his hands for Alistair to stand. “Need to know what I’m working with. Come on. Not got anything I haven’t seen before. Or have myself.” He chuckled again.
That chuckle was going to drive him mad. He just knew it. “Let me guess. You’ve seen me naked too.”
Gorr flashed his teeth. “Yeah. Peeled your dented armor off you. Don’t remember? Probably good you don't that part.”
Alistair winced at that. “I remember nothing and no one has told me anything either.”
Gorr’s frowned as he shifted to look at Rumarin. “What? Ru, you didn’t tell him what happened?”
“It can wait until later.”
Alistair closed his eyes, “I think I’d rather this wait until later, please.”
“I’m not doing anything else or going anywhere without knowing what happened to me, Rumarin. Bad enough I don’t know any of these people and everyone seems to know everything about me.”
“I know,” he said softly. “And you’re right. Caterina and I argued about this last night.”
“Speaking of that, I heard that. What doesn’t she want me to know?” What were they hiding? He rubbed his chest at the sudden ache there. Rumarin stepped toward him but Alistair held his hand up, stopping him. The concern in Rumarin’s eyes frustrated him for some reason. “I’m fine. Or will be. Will someone please tell me?”
“I’ll tell you.” Gorr held up his hands. “Short version.” Rumarin made a rough sound but Gorr ignored him. “Your elf went into the Void to get you, and fought a damn pride demon to get you out of there. He was so badly wounded we didn’t think he’d make it, either.” Gorr’s gaze had locked onto Rumarin, but Rumarin stared at the wall, the tension in him palpable. “The elf damn near didn’t. You both were in pretty bad shape, but that didn’t stop you from getting to know each other quick, if you know what I mean.”
It was as if Gorr were talking about someone else entirely. “You were that badly hurt?”
Rumarin looked at him then. “Yes.”
“Damn pride monster nearly took both his hands. Caterina wasn’t prepared for him to have injuries too. Lucky both of you survived.”
Rumarin back leaned against the wall and folded his arms across his chest, hands tucked under as if to hide them. That’s why he covered them, then. Why just his hands, though? Pride demon, Gorr said. Not the kind of injuries he’d seen from pride demons. He pushed the thought away for now.
Gorr went on. “Now let’s me see your back. Please?”
Alistair sighed and reluctantly stood, turning his back to Gorr. He held the blanket up to his crotch; he didn’t fancy flashing his bits at just anyone. Alistair had questions, lots of questions, but he didn’t want to ask them in front of Gorr.
Gorr took Alistair by the elbow and pulled him back. “There, under the light. That’s better. Drop the blanket and put your hands straight down your sides.”
Reluctantly, Alistair did so. He shivered; it was chilly in the room despite the fire. Gorr hummed beneath his breath.
“What are you looking for?”
“You’re a swordsman, right? Ever use any other weapons?”
Alistair shrugged, looking over his shoulder at Gorr. “Well, I was trained in pole-arms but really never fought with anything but my sword. I can shoot a bow and arrow but I doubt--”
“Pole-arms. Could work, could work.” He stroked his beard. “Lift your hand up. Sword hand.”
He did so, grimacing at the pull along his back, right down his backside.
The door burst open. Alistair turned to see who was barging in but then he remembered he was naked. With a squeak he grabbed the blanket, wrapping it around his waist, and dove behind Rumarin.
Rumarin but his hand back behind him as if to protect Alistair. He closed his eyes and leaned his forehead against Rumarin’s back. “Why, just why.”
“Remind me to lock the door from now on.” To the girl he said, “Certainly, come on in, Amalee. Nevermind Alistair’s not exactly dressed for company.”
“Sorry Ru, I heard Gorr talking. Alistair?” Still held by Rumarin, Alistair nonetheless peered around his shoulder. The girl grinned. “It’s so good to see you! Except I didn’t mean to see that much of you. Again. Sorry. Oh we brought you something.”
She barreled on, hands flailing in her excitement. “We would’ve given it to you last night but you were sick, Mum said, so Zora--she’ll be here in a minute--” She looked gestured behind her. “Where is she? I swear she was right behind me. Well, it’s done. Finally. It took Alvor forever to figure out how it was made in the first place. We hope you like it.”
“What is she talking about? he muttered to Rumarin.”
“Alvor’s a blacksmith.” Which explained nothing to Alistair.
Wrapping the blanket around his middle he stepped out from behind Rumarin. So this had to be Caterina’s daughter. The young woman had bright blue eyes, dark hair pulled into a long braid, pale skin. She was around Jax’s age, he thought. Maybe a little older. He saw the resemblance now to her mother and of course then remembered she’d seen him naked, too.
What had become of his life?
“Uh, what is your name again?”
She turned around and yelled, “Zora, where are you? There you are. Oh sorry, you really don't remember?” She looked genuinely sad when he shook his head. “I’m Amalee.”
Another young woman slid into the room. He stared at the newcomer, then caught himself, embarrassed by his behavior. She glared at him, raising her chin. Zora he assumed. She was a little taller than Amalee, and, he recalled, was Amalee’s wife. But most striking, and why he’d lost his manners and now felt awful for it, Zora had a deep red mark across her face. Not scars like he bore, but the actual imprint of a hand. Who could possibly have done that to her? She eyed him, dropping her gaze to his blanket-covered body and shook her head once.
Amalee grinned, clearly not noticing their unfortunate exchange. He truly felt rotten. “The best smith in Skyrim fixed it for you. Go on Zora.”
“He’s naked .”
Amalee pulled her wife into the room. “Oh silly, he’s wearing a blanket. It’s not like you haven’t seen a naked boy.”
“Not willingly.” But she stepped into the room and pulled what she’d been carrying out so he could see.
He drew in his breath. Clutching the blanket he stepped closer, everyone else in the room and his almost-nakedness forgotten. Zora closed her eyes, said, “Really?” and Amalee giggled. He didn’t care. He couldn’t take his eyes off the beauty Zora held out to him.
Fun thing about multi-pov where two of the chief characters are literally worlds apart - chapters can be arranged all kinds of ways! I learned that with this story, that's for certain. When I started this fic, it was going to be all Ru/Alistair but... For reasons, and a dramatic change in the plot, Cullen got added into the story (and I am so glad, as honestly, he is my favorite to write). This chapter was written well before that happened though, and used to be around chapter 3 or so. That massive change spawned more massive change, which made me massively glad I hadn't started posting yet. Now though I am back to wanting to post faster -- only 9 more chapters to go on this part!
In any case, I appreciate everyone who is reading this!! I love these people and this world! Or worlds, since it is both Skyrim and Thedas. :)
Also...Gorr is not my original creation. Like Ru, Hist, Amalee and Zora, he belongs to the Interesting NPCs mod.