In which Alistair and Raven lock the door.
Previous Chapter (To Dream of Dragons – Chapter 21: Satisfaction Brought It Back)
Sunday, 1 August, 9:30 Dragon
Raven stifled a giggle as Alistair pulled her by the hand into the bedroom of some long-ago Warden of Soldier’s Peak. She shoved the heavy door closed behind her, grateful no telltale squeak gave them away, and turned to grin at her partner-in-crime—well, perhaps not crime, but definitely in shirking cleaning duties. But he caught her by surprise, taking her face between his hands and leaning down for a kiss that pressed her against the wall. Her muscles loosened and stretched as she melted into his embrace, and when he released her, it took a moment for the world to come back into focus.
When it did, she found Alistair looking at her with nervous concern. “I’m sorry; that … that wasn’t too much, was it? I’ve wanted to do that all morning, and then we were alone and you smiled and I got carried away …” He trailed off when she reached up to lay a gentle finger upon his lips. No matter how many times they’d kissed or embraced in the last month, he always worried he’d be too forward, do something she didn’t like, or worse yet, cause her pain. She tried not to tease him about it (much) or get impatient with him; heaven knew she needed more than her share of reassurance and he was always quick to provide it.
“Shh. It’s fine. More than fine, if my reaction didn’t prove it. In fact,” she raised a brow, “I think I liked it so much, I need a second helping.” He chuckled as she drew him down for another kiss.
They parted at last, and, with uncharacteristic seriousness, he walked over to a dusty table near one of the room’s long, narrow windows. Though the thick, bubbly glass distorted the landscape outside, it allowed the autumn sun to wrap him in a golden halo, and her heart did a little flip. He brushed the dust off the furniture and gestured for her to sit. After he opened his mouth and closed it again at least three times, she grew uneasy.
“Hey in there,” she said gently, but he jumped as if she’d yelled. She reached across the table and took his larger hand in her small ones, rubbing his sword-callused fingers. “Is something wrong? You seem upset.”
“No! I mean yes. I mean,” he exhaled slowly. “I just need to say something, and I don’t really know how, so … I’m a little nervous, sure. Not that this is anything bad or frightening, or … well.”
Raven smiled, ignoring the knot in the pit of her stomach that grew despite his weak assurance. Her mind whirled, forming and rejecting possible scenarios for what might have made him so solemn and uncertain. Could she have said or done something to turn him away? (‘Of course you could,’ said her malicious inner voice. ‘You knew it was only a matter of time.’) Or … oh no, what if he meant to ask her about fighting the Archdemon, and what would happen after? She didn’t know what Aedan would do, and probably shouldn’t tell him even if she did, and she definitely couldn’t tell him about Morrigan, and—
But he’d started speaking again, oblivious to her inner panic. “Okay, how do I say this? You’d think it would be easier, but every time I’m around you, I feel as if my head’s about to explode. I—I can’t think straight.”
She laughed despite her fear and Alistair’s intense gaze. “So you’re saying I give you a headache? I’m sure my brother would sympathize.” Something about his words tickled the outer edges of her memory, but flitted away before she could catch it.
“I don’t mean it like that,” he protested, his eyebrows drawn together in a brief mock scowl. He took a deep breath, and met her eyes. “All right, let me start over. Here’s the thing: being near you makes me crazy, but I can’t imagine being without you. Not ever. I don’t know how to say this another way. I want to spend the night with you.”
The air rushed out of the room, leaving her staring dumbly with her mouth a soundless O and her pulse pounding in her ears. Her thoughts splintered and flew off in a dozen directions, the most popular being ‘Did he say what I think he said?’ and ‘I can’t believe this is happening,’with a quiet ‘Oh, game dialogue—that’s why the start of this conversation seemed familiar,’ somewhere in the back.
It gradually registered that he was staring at her, in danger of interpreting her stunned silence as rejection. She swallowed hard and tried to collect herself. “You … you do? You mean …”
“Yes!” He blushed at his own vehemence. “Not that I want to seem … over-eager. Maybe this is too fast, I don’t know, but … I know what I feel.” He stood up in a rush of nervous energy and paced over to grip the tall bedpost; dust motes rose from the heavy curtains to dance in the sunlight. “I just—I wanted to wait for the perfect time, the perfect place … but when will it be perfect?” Amber eyes swept around the room, taking in the antique finery beneath all the grime. “I never had much to call mine. Between Isolde and the templars’ rules, it was … easier … to focus on lessons and jokes, and not let myself wonder what I might have wanted for myself if I’d been given the chance. But—“ He turned to face her again, soul laid bare. “Soldier’s Peak belongs to the Wardens, and we’re the only ones left, so … this is the closest thing I have to a home of my own. And while I have one, I want to share it with the only other thing I need: you.”
Wordlessly she rose and went to him, eyes welling with emotion, holding him close and pressing her cheek to the thump of his racing heart. He cleared his throat. “Besides, it may be dusty, but it’s bound to be more comfortable than on the ground in some tent, right?” Her soft huff of amusement drew his arms around her.
His cheek pressed against her hair, and she could feel his quiet words rumble through his chest. “I care for you so much. I really don’t want to wait anymore, and … I want it to be with you.”
Raven pulled away enough to smile up at him. “Yes.”
His eyes opened wide, and he exhaled shakily. “Yes? I mean, yes. Of course. Okay, good. That is … good. Yes.”
A snort of nervous laughter leeched some of the tension from his shoulders. “Well yes, but you weren’t supposed to notice. You were meant to be swooning at my smooth charm.”
She pretended to consider. “I could try, but I feel like if I swooned that easily, it wouldn’t bode well for us sleeping together. I’d faint every thirty seconds, and we’d get nowhere.”
“Good point,” he agreed, and then darted a glance to the dusty bed. “So … when do you—er, I mean, when should—“ He ran a shaky hand through his hair in frustration. “I mean … now? Or …?”
Her heart swelled, and she giggled. “You really are adorable, you know that?”
He blinked. “I … guess so? I have it on good authority from a beautiful woman, so it would be ungallant of me to disagree. Admittedly I might prefer an adjective like rugged or handsome. Virile, even.”
Still laughing, she pulled him down for another kiss before replying. “Yes, my strong and dashing warrior, all of those. Plus charming, witty, and sweet.”
“Oh look, now you’ve gone and made me blush. See what you’ve done?”
Giddy joy bubbled through her like champagne, and twice as intoxicating. “Hmm, I guess I’ll have to find some way to make it up to you, won’t I?”
His eyes flicked to the bed again, and she smirked. “Relax, Alibear. If we started anything now, we’d be too busy coughing up decades of dust to get far, and then somebody would come barging in at the worst possible moment.” She paused when she caught him looking at her with a dopey grin. “What?”
“You called me Alibear.”
“… oh. Um.” It was her turn to blush. “Sorry?”
“Don’t be. You said it once in your sleep, that night we were alone in the forest. I wondered if you’d ever say it on purpose.”
“You … don’t mind?”
“I’ve never had a nickname before, unless you count ‘the annoying one’ or ‘hey you.’ I rather like the idea. Though it is perilously close to adorable. Cute, even, Maker forbid.” His laugh belied his criticism.
“In that case, Alibear, how about this: we’re supposed to be here a few days. So, for now, we flip this mattress, and take the bedding down to be washed … and then we keep working with the others to get this place livable again. Tonight, we just sleep, like that night in the forest. And then tomorrow, when everything is fresh and clean, we can bring something up here for dinner, lock the door, and … see where things go from there?”
“My dear, your beauty is only matched by your genius,” he teased, but she could tell some of his nerves had subsided.
Of course, that gave them both a full day to anticipate what was to happen next, which was both exciting and agonizing. She had plans to make, though, and a paltry twenty-four hours scarcely seemed sufficient to set things up on her own. There was nothing for it … she’d have to enlist Leliana’s help.
Monday, 2 August, 9:30 Dragon
The evening sun had just slid behind the mountains when Alistair stepped into their room, his hair still damp from the bath. He paused in mid-motion, golden eyes growing wide, before closing the door after him. “You’ve been busy, I see,” he observed, taking in the flickering candles adorning every horizontal surface, enhancing the soft light of the fireplace.
But his attention quickly returned to her, and she felt her cheeks go pink as his gaze roamed her form. Leliana, as expected, had thrown herself into Raven’s planning with delighted abandon, and had immediately begun scavenging belongings left behind by long-ago residents. “They certainly do not need them any longer; why not make the most of them?” Raven couldn’t think of a good reason to disagree, especially when they’d discovered the wardrobe of a Warden who’d clearly loved fine clothing. As girly as she generally wasn’t, even she had her moments.
The gown she’d fallen in love with was a rich velvet in Warden blue. The bodice was off-the-shoulder with a sweetheart neckline and long shirred sleeves of satiny silver. Her gasp of appreciation had been followed by a sigh. “It’s beautiful, but I’m sure it won’t fit me,” she said. “To be honest, I doubt we’ll find anything that will. This is probably a waste of time.”
“Nonsense,” Leliana replied. “If you were attending a ball in Val Royeaux, certainly we would need to have you fitted. But here you are dressing for one man who knows as much of gowns as he does of Tevinter wines of the Steel Age. All we need is the right corset,” she rummaged around in a drawer before pulling out an undergarment with a bewildering array of hooks and laces, “and we should be able to make it work with a few simple alterations. We’ll get Wynne to help; it couldn’t be simpler. Besides,” she smirked, “the intent is not to wear it very long, yes?”
And thus, she stood in the center of the room feeling like a princess in floor-length velvet, blushing under the admiring gaze of her prince. He neared her as if in a trance, taking one of her hands and lifting it to his lips. “Maker’s breath, but you’re beautiful,” he marveled, and she had to open her eyes wide to prevent them from spilling over with emotion.
She stepped away from him and moved to the door. He tilted his head in question, and she held his gaze with a smile full of promise while she slowly slid the bolt home. He swallowed hard, and her grin widened. “So … are you hungry?”
Alistair blinked, as if forming words was far too complex a task, and she couldn’t help but giggle. She took his hand and led him to the room’s small table, as he’d done to her the day before … but this time, the table held dinner for two, and a vase carefully displaying the rose he’d given her. She’d pressed it in a journal once it started to fade, but it was still lovely, and his eyes brightened as he noticed it.
They talked of light subjects through dinner, but as they finished eating, he said, “You do realize the rest of our little party here is going to talk, when we disappear for the whole evening. Maker, Leliana alone will ask nosy questions for a week straight.”
Raven laughed. “Who do you think helped me set this up? The meal was pretty basic with what we had on hand, true … but my cooking’s worse than yours … and I’ve had your cooking.”
“Oh, ouch!” He pressed a a palm to his chest and feigned an injured air before laughing. “I suppose that’s fair.”
“Leliana helped me find a dress, put my hair up for me and everything.” She looked away, suddenly shy. “I … wanted to be pretty, for everything to be perfect for you.”
He slid from his chair to kneel at her feet. Taking her hands in his, he said, “You are always pretty, my dear; that hasn’t changed from the first time I saw you. But tonight,” he paused, reaching up to cup her cheek, “tonight you’re breathtaking.”
She rubbed her face against his hand, twin tears spilling from her eyes, sliding beneath her glasses and down her cheeks. His alarm was immediate. “Did I say the wrong thing again? I’m sorry, I—“
“No,” she smiled. “It was the most beautiful thing you could have said. I’m just … having one of those moments where it’s hard for me to believe all this is real. That you’re real. I don’t—my life, my … my relationships, they’ve never been like this. I can’t understand how I could be sitting here with someone like you looking at me like I’m … something precious.”
“I can’t understand how someone could see you as anything else,” he said, and leaned up to claim her lips in a kiss that made the world slow in its turning, with them at its axis.
Finally, she stood, holding his hands to draw him up with her, and backed slowly toward the bed. He tensed, and she halted with a reassuring smile. “Hey, you know it’s okay if you aren’t ready for this, right? We won’t do anything you don’t want.”
“No, it’s not that, it’s just—“ He ran a hand through his hair, swallowing nervously. “I’ve … I’ve never done this before. You know that. Whenever I think of it, I feel like a bumbling idiot, all hands.”
“Alistair,” she soothed. “Relax. Just being here with you is wonderful. Anything beyond that is a bonus. And if it doesn’t all go how we’d prefer, well, that only gives us more excuse to practice.”
He laughed in spite of his nerves. “When you put it that way…”
“Exactly. No down side,” she grinned. “So, if at any point you decide this isn’t what you want, just say so, and we’ll snuggle up and sleep. But if it is,” she turned, putting the back of her dress in his reach, and looking at him over her bare shoulder. “If it is, I could use a little help getting this dress off.”
In the pause that followed, she was certain he could hear her pulse thundering. Finally, his hands rose to slide up her satin sleeves. She expected him to move toward the laces of her gown, but instead his lips met the join of her neck and shoulder, and she shuddered so hard her knees might have buckled if he wasn’t steadying her. He gave a low, pleased chuckle at her predictable reaction.
“That, sir, is not where the laces of my dress are located,” she scolded, with no conviction whatsoever.
“But it’s such a lovely spot,” he protested. “It makes you do this.” And he nibbled again, making her grab the bedpost for support.
“True, but just imagine all the spots you don’t know about yet,” she pointed out, trying to slow her runaway pulse. “If you don’t get this dress off me, you’ll never find them.”
She planned to stay in control, to make sure everything was good for him, but when his voice dropped raspy and deep, and he replied, “As my lady wishes,” she knew she was in trouble.
Due to Leliana’s expert assistance, Raven’s dress had been secured with a minimum of fastenings, and for what seemed like the millionth time that evening, she mentally blessed the bard. Alistair pulled the neat bow, and the gown was ready to slip from her shoulders. Holding the bodice against her chest, she turned to face him and, with a deep breath, she let the fabric slide to the floor.
It took her a moment to gather her nerves enough to look up and meet his eyes, but when she managed it, his stunned expression reassured her. The corset she wore was black, and the effect was striking against the delicate porcelain of her skin; it seemed Alistair thought so too. “All good so far?” she asked.
Hesitantly, his palms slid up the sides of the corset. “Does this contraption hurt you?” he asked, stalling.
“Not really. If I had to wear it very long, it would get uncomfortable, but for a few hours it’s not bad.”
“Oh. Good. That’s … good.”
She leaned back far enough to catch his eye. “Alistair.”
“You don’t actually care about the finer points of ladies’ foundation garments.”
“You don’t know that! I am an unusual man with widely varied interests, always keen to expand my knowledge. I could be enthralled!”
“Sure, okay. Are you actually interested in corsets?”
“… No. I’m just … I’m afraid I’ll ruin everything and it’ll be terrible and you’ll hate me forever and I won’t get to kiss you anymore and I—I’m rambling again, aren’t I?”
“Hey.” She tilted his chin up, forcing him to meet her gaze. “First, there is nothing you could do to make me hate you forever. As long as you don’t bite any pieces off, or try to shove your bits in my eye, all we’ll have is a funny story and a good reason to try again, I promise. Okay?” He laughed and nodded, and she grinned, pulling off her glasses and laying them on the bedside table.
He stopped her when she made as if to move, cupping her face in his hands. “I’ve had little chance to see you without your spectacles,” he noted. “You are lovely either way, but seeing you in this light reminds me how beautiful your eyes are. Have I ever told you that? I’ve thought it a hundred times … looking into your eyes is like lying in the grass on a summer day and daydreaming pictures into the clouds.”
Pink bloomed in her cheeks, and she turned to press a kiss in his palm. “Such a sweet talker. How is it that you always find such perfect things to say?”
“I usually do just the opposite, so if I’ve improved, it must be your good influence.”
“Maybe,” she grinned. “But at this moment, I’m much more interested in being a bad influence.” She winked, removing the pins from her intricate braids until her long, dark tresses tumbled down over his hands. Pulling her close, he buried his face in the tumult of mahogany curls. “Your hair always smells so pretty,” he said. “Is that a stupid thing to say? It reminds me of, I don’t know, flowers after a storm.”
She turned with a smile. “It’s not stupid; it’s poetic, to be honest, and I kind of love it.”
“Good.” His callused fingers gently turned her face toward him, and the wonder in his gaze was balm to her heart. “You are so very lovely, my dear.”
Her shy smile prompted him to lean in for a kiss, and she shivered. “Cold?” he asked, and she nodded; that hadn’t been why she’d shuddered against him, but it was true nevertheless. “Well, we simply cannot have that,” he said, before standing to pull back the covers. His tone should have given him away, but she still squeaked in surprise when he scooped her up with a smirk.
“You crazy man,” she laughed, breathless, curling closer and wrapping her arms around his neck.
“I read once that Avvar tribesmen get their women by kidnapping them. All planned ahead with permission, it seems, but they sneak in and carry their chosen bride off in the dead of night. I could never decide if it sounded barbaric or terribly romantic.”
“Probably a little of both, but at the moment I can certainly see the appeal.”
His gleeful grin made her chuckle again. “Exactly what I was thinking! In that case,” he affected a rough growl, “I have you now, wench; you’re mine, and I shall steal you away, muahaha!”
“Oh, dear me, whatever shall I do? I am but a helpless damsel being carted off by a big, muscular, incredibly sexy man; alas and woe is me!” She was laughing so hard by that point she could barely get the words out.
“There is nothing you can do; you are powerless to resist my charms!” he proclaimed, “and now I will carry you off to my bed to have my wicked way with you!” With that, he tossed her into the center of the thick featherbed and pounced on her, tickling her as he covered her face and neck with loud smacking kisses.
When they stopped to catch their breath, she was certain the broad smile he wore was a match for her own. “You are a goofball; do you know that?” she said, kissing his nose.
“Lies and slander. I am a very serious Grey Warden warrior, madam; any claims to the contrary will be severely punished with more tickling.”
“No, no more tickling! I stand corrected! Or more accurately, I sprawl corrected.”
“And a lovely sprawl it is,” he smiled, eyes growing soft as he looked down at her. He stroked the contour of her cheek with one gentle finger. “Your skin is like—I … I don’t know what it’s like, to be honest, but I’ve never felt anything so soft before. Like catching a piece of cloud and finding out it’s warm and alive. That probably doesn’t even make sense. I don’t know why I’m talking.”
“I love the things you say … but if you’re concerned, you could find something else to do with your mouth,” she said, pulling him down for a slow, languorous kiss.
“You know, according to all the sisters at the monastery, I should’ve been struck by lightning by now,” Alistair joked later, as she climbed back into bed after putting out the candles.
“Hmm, I think not. Smiting someone so—what was the adjective you wanted? Virile?—would be a terrible waste of godly resources.” She winked teasingly. “Especially after such a lovely performance.”
“Meaning what? It was so great the Maker Himself decided to spare me the usual punishment?” he laughed. “Strange the Chantry sisters never mentioned that loophole.” She giggled and kissed him again.
When they parted, he took a deep breath, choosing his words. “So … what now? Where do we go from here?”
Her smile froze, worrying yet again about what choices Aedan Cousland would make in the future, and what it would mean for the two of them. “I don’t know,” she said honestly, burying her face against his chest. “But wherever it is, we’re going there together.”
“I can handle that,” he replied, cuddling her close. “Oh, by the way … have I told you that I love you? Because I do, you know. I love the way your nose wrinkles when you laugh at my horrid jokes. I love that you’re fierce and fearless and yet compassionate and caring to everyone we meet. I love how brilliant you are, how your mind is always working on a solution to the next problem. I love that you’ve taken a situation that would make most people crazy, and found your place in it. I love the way your kisses make me forget what I’m doing, and I love that thing you did with your tongue a little while ago.” He waggled his eyebrows, making her giggle, before pulling his arms tighter around her. “I just love you.”
Her heart felt too full for her chest, and she blinked away the happy tears birthed by his words. She lifted her head so he could see the joy in her eyes. “I love you too,” she answered, then grinned. “my Alibear.”
“See?” he teased. “Was that so hard? And to think, you were nervous about this whole thing. I knew it would be fine, of course, but you know me, the—what was it again? Oh right—rugged and virile warrior who brings beautiful women to their knees, and who—“
Any other claims the virile warrior might have made remained unsaid, when his delicate damsel smacked him with a pillow and forced his surrender with the clever use of giddy kisses.
Next Chapter (To Dream of Dragons – Chapter 23: The More Things Change)