Actions

Work Header

Sun Touched

Chapter Text

Sirra Brosca - Alistair Theirin

Alistair watched her out of the corner of his eye as she walked into the ancient stone ruins. No, she didn’t walk – she prowled. Dark eyes shifting constantly, wary, hesitant, not trusting that something didn't lurk in the shadows of the toppled stone. Her leather clad fingers fidgeted nervously, just itching for an excuse to rip her daggers from the sheathes strapped to her back and he was certain there were other blades concealed elsewhere on her body.

Alistair swallowed a little thickly in between his verbal sparring with the mage as she filled up the space next to them. He could feel the tension rolling off her like a tidal wave, but it was no match for his own, as he tried in vain to keep his gaze from flicking to her.  He could only pray that she wouldn’t notice his distraction. She didn’t; she was too engrossed with her examination of their surroundings.

A mage, a warrior, and a dwarf walked into an elven ruin – it sounded like the beginning of a bad joke.  He shook his head to drown out his inner idiot, playing it off as minor annoyance when the mage exited the conversation in a huff. He was forced to turn his attention to her now. There wasn’t another person to pretend to be engaged with.

Alistair was awkward at the best of times, but around women he was utterly hopeless. He was vaguely aware of saying something stupid about the Blight bringing people together and she frowned deeply, cocking her head slightly in appraisal, sending his stomach plummeting to his feet. Maker, he wished the earth would open up and swallow him.

She was slow to respond, but he didn’t rush her - too mortified of saying something equally ridiculous. Instead he studied her: dark hair braided halfway down her back, the rich brown a match to her fathomless eyes, a trio of geometric tattoos in black stamped across her cheeks and down her left eyelid. But the starkness of the marks on her fair skin were offset by a generous, full mouth that very suddenly pulled into a quick smile. Her eyes flashed with amusement, the gold hoop in her nose glinting with the movement. Alistair’s heart raced at the impish quality that expression lent her face.

Shit, shit, shit.

“You are a very strange human. Not entirely wrong…just strange.” Her gravelly voice washed over him, the raggedness falling from such lovely lips surprising him, yet still alluring in its huskiness. Alistair smirked and tried to keep his tone light.

“You are not the first to tell me that.” She snorted and crossed her arms over her breasts that weren’t fully contained by the layers under her leathers and he swallowed hard again.

“So…you’re Duncan’s new recruit?”

“Call me Sirra. You are Alistair?”

He nodded and held out his hand to shake hers. She leaned back, wary again, and he quirked an eyebrow at her hesitancy. Taking a deep breath, Sirra lowered her arms and cautiously extended her hand to his, but she gripped him higher around the forearm instead of his hand and gave him a single, firm shake before releasing him. Nervously, she mimed tucking a nonexistent strand of hair behind her ear out of habit and refused to meet his eyes.

“Right,” Alistair cleared his throat, trying to ignore the heat on his arm where her gloved fingers recently touched him. “Let’s go meet the rest of the recruits. Duncan has a task for us.”

She merely nodded and fell into step with him. He noticed that she fell behind him when they walked down the second ramp depositing them back into the main camp. She was trying valiantly to keep up with his long stride on her shorter legs and he cursed himself mentally for being an ass, immediately reining in his steps so she could keep up.

Sirra was flushed when she reached his side again. He shot her a small smile and muttered an apology, but she dismissed it with a shrug. They reached the center of camp where Duncan and the others awaited them. The Warden-Commander quickly informed them of their task for the evening before the Joining could take place that night and they set off to scour the Wilds for darkspawn blood and mysterious Warden treaties.

It was Alistair’s first time with any of the recruits in battle and he was nervous how they would work as a team since he didn’t already know their strengths and weaknesses. He knew that Ser Jory was a seasoned warrior and Duncan had raved about Sirra’s prowess with her daggers in his letter, but Daveth was an unknown. Oh, well – he could pick up the slack, if he needed to.

No sooner had they entered the dense forest outside the camp than a pack of starving wolves descended on them and he heard Sirra suck in a shocked gasp, but she kept her wits. A flick of her wrist and one of the hidden blades he suspected she carried flew into a wolf’s eye, taking it down instantly and tripping a couple of animals that followed. The four of them made short work of the beasts.  Daveth and Sirra used stealth and brutal backstabs in vital organs to debilitate and the warriors finished what they started with massive swings and slamming shield.

Yanking her throwing knife from the first animal, the dwarven woman wiped down her blade and used the time to collect herself.  None of the men said anything – afraid of embarrassing her, or worse, making her so angry they found themselves staring at the pointy end of her weapon. Once it was tucked back into place, she finally turned and blew out a shaky breath.

“What. The. Fucking. Ancestors. Were. Those?”  It was the first time Alistair heard her break up her words, as she tended to string them together, and they sounded harsh in her low pitch.  Her barely concealed fear was obvious.

Daveth barked out a laugh and then stopped when no one joined in and he stared at her in shock. “You’re serious? She’s serious?!” He turned to each of them, taking in Ser Jory’s uncomfortable blush and Alistair’s glare as understanding dawned and he looked at Sirra sheepishly.  “I’m sorry. I-I thought you were a surface dwarf…”

She shook her head and crossed her arms defensively, nervously swaying from one foot to the other.  Ser Jory was the first to find his tongue in the awkward silence.  “Wolves, my lady. They roam wild places like this and hunt in packs.”

Sirra frowned. “Wolves.” She rolled the strange word around her mouth and bent down to examine one more closely. “They kinda look like the beasts in camp… same teeth.” The dwarf shivered a bit and stepped back from the sharp canines, as though expecting one to still bite in death.

Alistair shook his head and reassured her. “No, the war hounds only bite enemies. They are loyal and domesticated.  These are wild creatures and will attack anything.”

“Okay.  Good to know.”  She finished wiping down her main daggers and re-sheathed them without making eye contact with her human companions.  “Let’s keep going.  I don’t want to make us fall behind.”

Alistair studied her closely during their foray into the forest. He realized belatedly, like Daveth, that she would have no concept of life above ground and he wondered what would cause her to leave Orzammar. The surface must be completely alien to her. He watched her jump at the whistle of a bird or howl of a wolf, and it opened his eyes to see the world the way she did. Her eyes flicked to the sky, and he noticed her nauseated expression, which led to her occasional need to steady herself against a tree trunk. Curiously, she examined the crumbled bits of bark left in her glove after pressing heavily on the loose tree casing.  Sometimes she stared into the branches, following stray patterns of light that the sun cast through the leaves into the murky undergrowth with her dark eyes.

Maker, how strange things looked to him now. No wonder she had been so hesitant when she entered the ruins earlier. Everything was foreign and untrustworthy until proven otherwise. It was hard to believe that until two weeks ago, she’d never seen the sun, never felt the wind on her skin. She didn’t have a word for ‘tree,’ much less an understanding of them.

Yet, in combat, she was a whirlwind of flashing blades and grenades – a silent Mistress of Death. The men were careful to stay out of her way to avoid accidently coming too close to the woman’s fighting perimeter, as wolves and darkspawn alike fell under daggers. Alistair spun to help her with the final darkspawn archer on the ridge, but she planted her foot in the creature’s back and shoved it off her blades with a soft grunt. Slipping the vials Duncan provided from her pack, she quickly slit its wrist and filled the three vials with the thick, foul smelling blood. Smiling in approval at her, Sirra couldn’t help returning the grin as she stored the vials and continued their trek. He noticed that she didn’t even put her daggers away now, idly running her gloved fingers along the hilt, waiting for the next band of spawn to attack.

He was curious if she’d fought the creatures before or if they were new, too. Either way, she dashed fearlessly into the next group they came across, warning her companions of the traps that littered the ground. Reaching into a pouch on her belt, she tossed a handful of metal shards, triggering the line of traps across the bridge and disappeared into a cloud of smoke only to reappear behind the darkspawn mage.

Alistair barreled around the clumsy hurlock the others could handle and ran to her aid. The emissary roared when her poisoned blades sank under his ribs, but before he could turn his fury on her, Alistair was there. Swinging his shield, he caught the darkspawn’s jaw with the edge of the hammered metal. The move stunned the creature and Sirra peppered it with jabs and cuts, twisting the daggers slightly with each removal so the wounds bled faster while Alistair swung his sword deeply along its front.

Even weak it fought tooth and nail, summoning a magical cage to snare the warrior and squeeze around him, seeking to crush the life from him. Alistair watched fretfully when the mage swung his staff and caught Sirra on the temple, sending her stocky frame skidding along the ground. The corrupted creature chuckled darkly, covered in black blood, as his quarry struggled to regain her footing after the hit. She struggled to her feet and growled something he couldn’t make out. The mage shot a bolt of lightning at her and she was too slow to completely evade it, hissing as it scored her right side and tore through her leathers.

Where were the others? Maker, damn it! He couldn’t move, he could barely breathe now, and that emissary was acting far too alive for his liking. A ball of fire erupted in the creature’s palm, but before it could lob it at his target, a throwing knife buried in its wrist and it screamed in surprise, fingers unclenching and dropping its staff. Of course, it could still cast, but it would be difficult for it to concentrate through the pain and in that moment the spell holding him broke. Alistair took a deep breath, but didn’t bother to chug a health potion before he rammed the spawn with his shield and knocked it to the ground, toppling with it in his weakened state. He managed to stay on top of it and hold it down, but he was too weak to do anything else.

Before the creature could regain its senses, Sirra was there and the sound of her honed blades whistling through the air sent a shiver down his spine.

“Alistair? Are you okay?”

He stared at her and the blood pooling near her hairline, smeared by her unmarked eye where she’d rubbed it with her hand and wondered why she was wheezing. He opened his mouth to reply and dark blood bubbled over his lips and he realized in some fuzzy part of his brain that he was the one struggling to breathe.

“Fuck! Hang on!”

He wanted to laugh at such a crass word coming from her pretty mouth, but the world was darkening around the edges of his vision and noises were quieter than before. Someone tilted his head back and forced him to drink something. Maker, it was bitter! Who in the Void distilled that ale? They should be fired – immediately.

His body was gently eased down and he landed on something soft and warm. He was tempted to give in to the darkness until the warmth of the potion flared in his broken body. His ribs realigned and the puncture in his lung began to knit itself together before suddenly stopping. He coughed when he breathed too deeply and spat another clot of blood as voices (damn, those were loud) demanded another drink. Ugh, no. He wanted to protest, but words failed him and yet again he was forced to drink more bitter plonk.

The heat was back, chasing away the chill he’d been tempted to give in to, and finished repairing the extensive damage caused by the emissary’s cage. Alistair’s hearing attuned first and he could hear the sounds of birds singing in the distance as he slid his hand up to his chest, breathing deeply to make sure there was no pain. He released the breath slowly with a quiet sigh of relief. It took a couple extra heart beats before he realized his head was laying in someone’s lap, causing his breath to hitch again.

Nervously, he cracked his eyes open and met Sirra’s concerned gaze. He smiled wanly and tried to sit up, but the world was still wobbly and she gently pressed him back down with a sad shake of her head.

“Be still. You may be a warrior, but you aren’t indestructible. By the Stone! You know that you are crazy, don’t you?”

He chuckled weakly and gave a listless shrug. “Couldn’t let you get roasted on your first day.” Her lips quirked at the corners and she glanced away quickly, but she gave his hand a tight squeeze.

“Thank you,” she breathed so quietly he almost missed it.

An unfamiliar warmth suffused him then and sent wriggles of anxiety deep in his gut. From his current angle, he noted her feminine nose and jawline and traced her tattoos with his eyes. A broken ‘s’ on her right cheek, a rectangular bar ending in a sideways ‘g’ on her left cheek, underneath an obelisk pointing into her hairline and extending under her eye, with a small ‘g’ shaped open space over her eyebrow. She had to be tough as shit to sit through that one.

Her beauty was edged with danger with those unconventional markings, but it was there, and Maker, he found himself willingly ensnared by her deadly mien. It seemed he was not immune to the allure of danger when it wore a pretty face and fought like a rabid mabari.

“You’re welcome,” he whispered.

This time when he sat up the world was only slightly off-kilter and he needed to regain his distance from her soft curves and gentle touch. Once he was standing, he extended a hand to help her rise and caught sight of the dried blood still on her face. Hidden in shadow when on the ground and recovering from a near death experience, he’d forgotten about her own injury. Now he frowned softly and lightly grazed the side of her head with his fingertips. Sirra hissed and jerked her head away from the contact. He shook his head with a quiet ‘tsk’ and passed her one of his own potions. She nodded in thanks and swallowed it quickly, not even grimacing at the taste, tossing the bottle carelessly in the bushes.

The others rejoined them when he collected his weapons and they continued up the incline to the ruins on the hill where Duncan was sure the Warden treaties were stashed. They all groaned to see the next band of darkspawn milling around the crumbling building, but readied themselves. This time, Alistair issued orders for a plan of attack; the warriors would focus on the alpha, and the rogues would concentrate on the closest archers. Once the alpha was down the warriors would join them. Thankfully, there wasn’t an emissary in this group, but no one wanted any more surprises.

It worked pretty well. Daveth snuck behind an archer and slit his throat with a single deep slash, freeing him to move onto the next one, so Sirra stole to the archers flanking them while the warriors handled the alpha. Ser Jory was a master of the two-handed sword – his final upswing literally eviscerated the creature, and by the time they rejoined the rogues, only two archers remained. In mere minutes the entire band of darkspawn were dead at their feet and they trudged towards the section of the dilapidated outpost marked on Duncan’s map.  

They found the area indicated and had to dig the chest out from under some ancient rubble. Alistair sighed in frustration to find that the chest was empty, most likely looted hundreds of years ago. A throaty chuckle bounced around the stone and a raven-haired woman wearing clothes so skimpy they could hardly be called such emerged from the shadows. His templar training sized her up in an instant; a hand-carved staff, the formidable surge of her aura pressing on the Veil. An apostate and a powerful one.

He narrowed his eyes suspiciously, listening as she honed in on Sirra and they bantered back and forth in a duel of witty words. “Don’t answer. She looks Chasind. That means barbarians could be nearby.”

The apostate scoffed with a sneer, but did not even deign to look at him when she replied. “Ooooo, you fear barbarians will swoop down upon you?”

Alistair crossed his arms defiantly. “Yes. Swooping is bad.” Sirra shot him a bemused glance, and he flushed slightly, realizing how ridiculous he sounded. Maybe she would blame his injury for addling his brain. He could only hope.

The woman, Morrigan, revealed that her mother was in possession of the scrolls and after some debate it was decided they would go with her to reclaim them. Her mother seemed like a crazy old bat and he didn’t give her much credence, only remembering to thank her for keeping the treaties safe when she told them the seal wore off a long time ago. The old woman had Morrigan escort them back to the edge of the army’s camp and the four of them re-entered the barricaded site with a shared sigh of relief.

Duncan smiled approvingly when Sirra passed him the vials and Alistair showed him the treaties. The Warden-Commander sent a runner to alert the Circle mages to prepare for the Joining and intoned gravely that it was almost time for them to proceed with the ritual that would see them finally become Wardens. Alistair suppressed a shiver and tried to ignore the clenching around his heart – he knew what was coming and he did not relish it for any of them. Sirra bravely told Duncan that she was not afraid and was ready for whatever came next and he swallowed hard, avoiding eye contact with them. With her.

“Alistair, take them to the ritual site.” Alistair only nodded and waved them to follow him. Maker, hear my cry – don’t let her die. Please…for me.

 

 

Chapter Text

They returned to the same part of the ruins where she met Alistair earlier, but they moved further back to the overhanging tower that would send someone tumbling into the canyon, if they happened to slip over the edge. Everyone was somber: subdued, anxious, ready for it to be over, yet dreading it at the same time. Sirra subtly observed Alistair on the way over and his mood was very telling. She steeled herself for whatever was to come.  She may be a duster, but she wasn’t a coward.

Her time on the surface hadn’t been anything like she’d imagined. She knew nothing about the customs or the people or even the animals. Duncan made sure on their journey to Ostagar that they didn’t encounter any hostile wildlife, so the wolves earlier were a complete surprise. Their viciousness reminded her of stories of the tezpadam – deepstalkers – in the Deep Roads, but she had never actually fought off a pack of hungry predators before. Not counting the Carta thugs she and Leske escaped from after the cock-up in the Provings. But they were back-stabbing lackeys and deserved to die slow for working for that bastard. Too bad she’d been on a timeline and had to kill them quick.

Yet, there was something exhilarating about being topside. None of the humans gave a damn about her caste or lack thereof. When she asked Duncan about it, he explained that humans might have racist sentiments, but they did not have a caste system. It dawned on Sirra then that she could start over. She was free to live a life without worrying that she would be told to “know her place” and keep her head in the dust where she belonged. Sirra smirked to herself when she recalled the uproar she caused in the Provings; besting all the warriors of the Warrior Caste easily like she was one of them. If she could upset centuries of tradition underground, just imagine what she could do up here…well, as soon as she stopped getting nauseous from staring at the sky for too long.

Even though she missed the security of a ceiling, Sirra did love the sunlight. It stung her eyes after a lifetime underground, but Duncan assured her that would pass with time. Even so, she loved the way the light changed colors during the day and played through the leaves on the trees, seeming to dance on the ground. The Warden-Commander had patiently explained the flora to her on their two-week journey to Ostagar from Orzammar. And with stone being in short supply on the surface she had taken to occasionally touching a tree, sensing the strength and rigidity in them during times of insecurity. She may be casteless – doomed to live and die without honor or returning to the Stone, but on the surface, trees didn’t reject her and she took some solace in that. Maybe it was stupid, but it made her feel like she belonged topside. Or maybe she was simply sun-touched, her brains addled by exposure.

It was full dark when Duncan approached them, interrupting the squabbling between Daveth and Jory that she had tuned out. He was holding a large goblet and Sirra’s blood ran cold as pieces began to fall into place. She could see that the men hadn’t caught on yet. Flicking her gaze to Alistair, the warrior quickly turned his head to avoid her pointed stare.

Oh, shit. Oh, shit. Oh, nug shit!

The Warden-Commander explained to the men what she had already figured out and Sirra clamped her mouth shut, willing herself to keep the lunch she ate hours ago down. She didn’t want to find out if the stew was just as disgusting coming back up as it had been going down. Her ears pricked up when Duncan informed them that drinking darkspawn blood could either kill them or leave them “forever changed” – whatever that meant.

Sirra was a dwarf. She’d heard stories of men exiled to the Deep Roads and left for dead, only to be discovered years later by Lord So-and-So on an expedition as tainted, twisted versions that could never be returned to the Stone. It was the closest thing to a dwarven nightmare that the castes could imagine. Sirra had never put much stock in the stories, mainly because she was casteless, but she knew that the other castes could not imagine a worse fate than being denied the Stone’s embrace when they died.

Yet, now she was here, about to drink darkspawn blood and either die like a worthless duster or prove the shits in Orzammar wrong again. She was determined to do the latter.

Sirra was tempted to ask for the goblet first after Alistair’s melancholic Grey Warden intonation, but Duncan passed the chalice to Daveth first. She held her breath anxiously when her fellow rogue took a big gulp. He shoved the cup back to Duncan with a grimace, forcing himself to swallow and blinked back tears. Within seconds, his hands flew to his throat scratching with his blunted nails along his neck, gasping for air until he fell to his knees and keeled over. Sirra stepped back in horror, covering her mouth with a shaky hand. Alistair stood against the wall almost folded in on himself wearing a pained expression, still refusing to look at her. Her blood went from cold to ice instantly.

Ser Jory was no better, scrambling to get away from the body of their short-lived companion, until he found himself backed against the wall. The younger man argued with Duncan and refused to partake of the ritual. Sirra squeaked in spite of herself when Duncan unsheathed his sword and solemnly declared, “There is no turning back.”

Jory tried to fight him off, but Duncan was faster with his longsword than the knight was with his two-handed one, and ran the younger man through. Ser Jory’s blood pooled quickly on the stone heading straight for her boots from his slumped corpse on the ground and she leapt out of the way, only to come face to face with the stern glare of the Warden-Commander.

Thrusting the goblet at her, she tried to ignore the bright red stains on his normally immaculate white armor. Flicking her eyes to Alistair, he finally met her gaze and she saw the hope that swirled in his amber eyes that she would be the one to see it through. Steeling herself again, Sirra calmed her trembling hands to take a sip of the foul concoction without getting it all over herself. Her eyes burned with tears as the blood scalded her mouth and left a blazing trail of molten lava down her throat and dropped into her gut like a hot stone. She could feel the flames licking through her veins, burning away what was there and replacing it with something darker. It traveled to her heart and seared her like a brand, then it pumped the new substance from her heart to the rest of her body. Darkness descended as the fire stormed the gates to her brain and flashes of darkspawn raced through her mind.

Sirra screamed.


When she jerked awake, she had no way of knowing how much time had passed. Sirra only knew that her head felt like it was going to explode and there were lingering visions of what might be an urtok – a dragon. Duncan and Alistair were both leaning over her, concern etched on their faces as Alistair helped her stand. Their lips moved, but she was having a hard time making connections and Duncan merely patted her on the shoulder in understanding. After a little more time on her feet clinging to a nearby pillar, she felt strong enough to walk around and the movement cleared the shadows that still clung to her mind.

“I’m sorry,” she rasped, halting in surprise almost immediately. Her voice was hoarse and jagged, more so than usual. She clasped her throat, resisting the urge to clear it, somehow knowing it wouldn’t help. Duncan smiled gently and shook his head.

“It’s not permanent. The blood always burns the vocal cords. In a couple of days, your voice will return to normal or you can drink a healing potion, if you don’t want to wait.” Glancing back at her pack, Alistair beat her to it and passed her a red potion bottle with an understanding smile. Yanking the cork out of the bottle she chugged it and sighed happily as it went to work healing her raw voice.

“Thank you,” she murmured to both of them when she felt it was safe to speak. They nodded and Duncan asked her again how she was feeling. “I’m…fine now.” Sirra wasn’t able to meet his gaze, aware he knew she was lying and too proud to admit that while she was trapped between life and death she had done nothing, except scream in her mind as the change took place. The older man sighed heavily, his eyes full of pity and he looked like he wanted to say something, but he curbed his tongue with a weary shake of his head.

Alistair broke the weighty silence and passed her a pendant on a leather cord full of blood from the Joining chalice and explained that it was worn in remembrance of those who didn’t make it through. He’d obviously wrapped the wire attaching the pendant to the cord himself – she could see the indents in his forefingers and thumbs from bending it repeatedly to make sure the pendant and its contents were secure. With a teary nod at the heartbroken expression on his chiseled features, she clutched the necklace to her chest and listened to Duncan explain that she was wanted at a strategy meeting with the King. With a sorrowful smile, Duncan passed her a new set of leathers to replace her damaged ones before he took his leave.

Sirra grabbed Alistair by the wrist when he turned to go and she swallowed hard. “I want to wear it, but I don’t trust my hands to put it on right now.” Raising her hand, Sirra showed him how unsteady she remained after the events of the night and he nodded as she passed him the cord. He towered over her when he was this close, her head barely coming up to the center of his broad chest, but his height didn’t put her on edge like some humans. Gingerly he laid the pendant in the hollow of her throat, shifted her braid over her shoulder, and tied the leather in a tight knot at the nape of her neck.

He didn’t touch her, but he lingered in his position behind her and whispered solemnly. “They will be remembered, Sirra. I-I am glad you made it through. You had us both worried that…well, just goes to show I shouldn’t doubt you.” Alistair chuckled mirthlessly in the dark and she turned around to peer up at him curiously. His warm hazel eyes were captivating and lit within with something she couldn’t put her finger on, but it buoyed her nonetheless.

The taller man seemed unnerved by her scrutiny, no doubt bewildered by her ability to see in the dark, another feature Duncan informed her that humans did not possess. Sirra read every minute facial tick for signs of deceit and couldn’t find it. Surprising, she mused. Relenting at last, Sirra let her mouth relax into a light smile. “Thanks. I’m not used to people having positive things to say about me.”

Alistair scoffed, his eyes widening. “You-you’re serious? I just watched you take down at least fifty darkspawn and wild animals today. In my books, that qualifies as a massive accomplishment and definitely deserving of recognition.”

Sirra shrugged and hoped the shadows hid the flush on her pale cheeks. Praise was indeed rare, but sincerity was rarer still. Where she came from, praise was only given when someone wanted something in return, usually paid in money or sex and she wasn’t sure she’d ever been on the receiving end of genuine sincerity. She didn’t even know how to respond to that. What did you say to people when they were being honest and kind without hope of reward? When they were simply nice for the sake of being nice?

“Alistair, I-I –“

The warrior smiled softly, patting her shoulder awkwardly as he skirted around her smaller frame with a reminder that the King awaited her presence. Sirra nodded dumbly and waited for him to leave the tower before quickly changing and dashing down to the strategy meeting. Duncan flashed her a minute smile at her arrival and she gave him a clipped nod as she focused on the battle plans.

King Cailan hailed her and congratulated Sirra heartily on joining the Grey Wardens, which she had the presence of mind to only acknowledge with a short bow, catching Duncan’s nod of approval beside her. Sirra was surprised when the king requested that she and Alistair be the ones to light the signal fire. Yet again, she inclined her head at the leader of the human lords and left the meeting with Duncan who waved Alistair over from the far end of the camp. The young man clapped a fellow soldier on the back with a warm laugh and the sound of it caught Sirra off-guard. It was too bright and comforting to fit in with the oppressive darkness that held the promise of rain for the coming battle. More than that though, she was surprised by how it wrapped around her like a blanket and lifted her lagging spirit.  

Bleeding Ancestors.

The warrior stood on her left as Duncan filled them in on the plan for the fight and Sirra was more aware of him than she’d been before. She tried vainly to ignore the heat that radiated off his larger body and the dulcet tone of his voice as he argued with Duncan. Alistair was not happy with their orders, but he grudgingly accepted them, like a good soldier. Unlike them, however, he couldn’t resist a teasing jibe about wearing a dress if the King asked him to dance and Sirra couldn’t help snorting at the absurd mental image.

“I think I’d like to see that.” Sirra smirked at her fellow Warden, raking her eyes down his body and trying to visualize him in a gown. Alistair grinned broadly and her stomach flip flopped at the mischievous twinkle in his eyes, knowing she’d been caught ogling him.

“For you…maybe. But it has to be a pretty dress,” the warrior teased. Duncan groaned, but Sirra was outright chortling now and Alistair chuckled lightly beside her.

Duncan rubbed a hand wearily across his forehead. “Head to the Tower of Ishal. Alistair will know what kind of signal to watch for.”

Having laughed away some of their battle nerves, Alistair turned serious again. “Duncan! May the Maker watch over you.”

Their Commander looked at them, almost sadly, for a moment before he replied. “May He watch over us all.” His eyes turned to her. “And may the Stone guard you, Sister.” Sirra’s eyes widened in surprise and she inclined her head, too stunned to answer. She was casteless and he knew it, but he still treated her with respect and afforded her the traditional words of honor for those with a place in the Stone.

Finding her tongue at last, Sirra gave him a traditional farewell. “Atrast tunsha, Duncan.” His lips curved into a smile then, which she returned as they all separated to their places. His on the front lines – theirs as supporting roles in the battle. She followed Alistair to the bridge that she crossed into the ruins earlier that day and he pointed out their destination, yelling over the sound of the catapults that they needed to reach it quickly.

Sirra didn’t need to be told twice. She ran across the bridge as fast as her short legs would allow, barely reaching the other side when a fiery projectile from the enemy plowed into the bridge and killed a couple of sappers where she had been standing mere seconds ago. Alistair steered her gently away from the carnage, his face twisted painfully in an expression that surely mirrored her own.

A Circle mage and a solider almost bowled them over, explaining that darkspawn claimed the tower, having dug through the lower levels. Sirra shared an uneasy glance with the warrior and they grabbed their weapons simultaneously, recruiting the mage and the soldier to join them in retaking the tower so they could fulfil their duty. The mage enchanted their weapons with fire and the flames warmed her hands in the freezing rain allowing Sirra to keep a firm grip on her daggers. She was thankful for the heat and the additional damage it did to their foes as they fought through a couple bands of darkspawn before they even reached the base of the tower.

She wasn’t adept at feeling them in her mind yet, but there was a sliminess thrumming steadily in the back of her mind whenever they were near. When the shrieks erupted from stealth at the doors of the tower, Sirra shouted and leapt back, letting a throwing knife fly, not even bothering to aim in her terror.

“Sorry! Damn, I forgot you can’t tell them apart yet!” Alistair yelled over the sound of his shield slamming into one of lanky creatures.

“’S okay!” Sirra shot back while burying her daggers to the hilt in the back of one preparing to rake the mage with its jagged claws. Whirling, twirling, sidestepping her way through the new darkspawn, Sirra covered the more vulnerable party members, knowing that Alistair could hold his own. Until a hurlock alpha charged towards him with its massive greataxe raised, heading directly for the warrior’s unprotected flank.

Growling in anger, Sirra tossed a shock bomb, temporarily blinding the hurlock and ending his single-minded charge at her fellow Warden. Alistair turned around as his foe fell under his blade and focused his attention on the hurlock that was denied victory. Ganging up on the alpha, Sirra slid along the wet stones and sliced up from the darkspawn’s Achilles heel into its calf. With a roar it collapsed on the ground and Alistair’s sword whistled through the air, cleanly removing the head from its shoulders sending it flying.

They were saturated in black blood. The rain rolled the congealing blobs in between the seams of their armor, but neither of them cared. Panting heavily, Alistair froze and stared at her still on her knees next to the hurlock corpse and she returned his frank gaze with her own. She should not feel this strongly about a random human she met that very day. Normally, she wouldn’t, but today was turning out to be anything but normal. Maybe she was losing her damn mind now that she was topside. But she knew that wasn’t true – it was him.

Sirra may be a dwarf, but she wasn’t blind. Alistair was incredibly handsome with features that were so perfect they could have been carved by the finest stoneworkers in Orzammar. Long, noble nose, strong jaw dusted with stubble, hard panels of pure muscle making up his torso and arms that she had been all too aware of when he’d collapsed earlier. And Ancestors, he was tall! Taller than Duncan, taller than most of the men in the camp, and for some reason that was incredibly attractive. Even more than his Stone-hewn good looks though, was the kindness that precipitated his every action and the surprising gentleness in a man so large. Not to mention his humor and penchant for teasing. She swallowed hard as his golden eyes bored into her.

Breaking their staring contest, she tried to stand, but the slick flagstones kept her from getting purchase and she was forced to accept his arm to regain her footing. When she continued to slip even then, Alistair slid his arms under her armpits and easily lifted her out of the slippery goo she’d been trapped in to deposit her carefully a few feet away.

Once back on her feet, Sirra dashed up the ramp and pushed the heavy wooden door of the tower open, hoping the gloom would hide the furious blush that stained her cheeks. The men followed her silently, Alistair taking up the rear, and she tried to concentrate on what they were doing. They crept slowly around the curve of the room, but she raised her fist and indicated with hand signals that there was a trap ahead. An obvious sheen covered the floor and Sirra saw the wire in the flickering torch light that would ignite the barrels and set the grease on fire. Alistair asked the mage a question that she couldn’t hear and the mage nodded with a small smile. Sneaking a little closer, the man cast a layer of ice over the grease and Sirra carefully disarmed the trap, allowing the four of them to finally rush the unsuspecting darkspawn.

“Emissary!”

“I got him,” yelled Alistair and Sirra focused her attention on the archers. They moved quickly through the lower level, even cutting down the rather surprising gang of darkspawn by the ballistae with ease. Sirra recognized appreciatively that she and Alistair were becoming more in tune with each other’s fighting styles and the mage with his fireballs was a welcome addition for taking out large groups.

“Maker’s breath,” Alistair panted when they reached the second level. “What are these darkspawn doing ahead of the horde?”

Sirra shook her head and hissed, “Weren’t you complaining that you wouldn’t get to fight?”

He chuckled at her teasing.  “You’re right, there is a silver lining to this after all. But don’t forget we need to reach the beacon.”

She lifted two fingers to her temple and flicked them in silent salute. He smiled and jerked his chin toward the next room, flashing his hand twice to indicate the number of spawn ahead of them: ten. Sirra nodded at they crept as silently as possible to maintain the level of surprise.

Five spawn were in the main room lined with kennels containing the war hounds Alistair told her about. He released the lever to open the cages, and she involuntarily shrank back, remembering her encounter with the wolves and still not a hundred percent sure of these animals. But she needn’t have worried. The dogs headed straight for the darkspawn, knocking them over and shredding them with claws and teeth, while the humans stabbed and burned their way through the rooms in the hallway, flushing out the remaining darkspawn.

Another room at the end of the hall held three more guarding the staircase. Once dead, they climbed to the third level and repeated their annihilation of the disgusting creatures, clearing the floor. They reached the next staircase and Sirra stopped to catch her breath.

“For the love of all the nugs! Why do humans insist on climbing into the sky? Please, tell me this is the last floor?” The shorter woman wheezed from her bent position while kneading her fingers in her quivering thighs.

Alistair shrugged guiltily and sucked in a deep lungful of air. “Andraste, I hope so. Come on, let’s find out and light the beacon. I’m sure we missed the signal.”

They barreled in, but Alistair’s arm grabbed her shoulder almost instantly and reeled her back a few steps, his hazel eyes wide as saucers. Sirra followed his stare and threw a hand over her mouth to swallow the squeak that almost spilled out at the sight of an ogre sitting on his haunches. It was eating…something. Human or darkspawn, she couldn’t say, but she didn’t really want to know, either.

The room was completely circular and there was zero cover. The beacon was just behind the giant darkspawn. There was no hope for it – they would have to fight him in order to achieve their goal. Alistair squeezed her shoulder quickly before he hefted his shield with a dark glint in his eyes. At the last minute, he bent down and breathed in her ear, “May the Stone guard you, Sirra.” She jerked at him, mouth agape. What was it with humans surprising the shit out of her today?

Gathering her scattered thoughts, she managed to stammer quietly, “May the Maker watch over you, Alistair.” Sirra had heard the phrase many times already during her two-week journey with Duncan to Ostagar. Yet to see the way his amber eyes shone like polished bronze when she repeated it flawlessly, was the first time she was grateful she’d been paying attention to human pleasantries.

Ducking into stealth, Sirra crept close to the ogre, trying to avoid the slick blood and crunching the bone fragments that littered the floor. She hoped to land at least one solid hit before it realized it was not alone. It was not to be. Something caught its attention and it whirled angrily on the three men huddled near the stairs. She tried to follow after it, but it moved too quickly with its massive legs and she watched helplessly as it raked its meaty hands along the ground, sending them careening in opposite directions.

“NO!”

Sirra screamed when Alistair landed hard, his head snapping up and cracking back down on the hard stone, leaving him splayed out like a broken doll halfway across the tower. Her stomach fell like a boulder to her feet; a repeat of the dread that descended on her when he collapsed hours ago with blood spewing over his lovely lips. The ogre turned when she yelled to charge her next, but she dove to the side avoiding him. A movement by the stairs revealed the Circle mage standing on shaky legs and attempting to sneak through the shadows to Alistair’s side. His cool blue gaze met her determined one and she nodded imperceptibly.

“Well, a duster’s gotta die sometime. Might as well be today,” Sirra muttered.

Reaching into her pouch on her belt, she pulled out a fire grenade and threw it directly in the beast’s face. It roared in anger, grinding a giant fist against an eye, she smirked to see that it was damaged. Of course, that only pissed it off more. Its good eye zeroed in on her and it slammed the ground with its fists, throwing her off balance and almost causing her to lose her grip on her blades, but she ducked into a roll to move out of range. It bellowed angrily when she stood and yanked a section of the ruined stone floor to hurl it at her.

Sirra’s eye widened and she disappeared in a cloud with half formed prayers to any ancestors that might listen for help, as a casteless girl tried to fight an ogre on the surface with only two daggers and her wits. The creature tossed the stone easily, the force shaking the entire floor and knocking her teeth together with a clack. She managed to sneak behind it, but she had to act fast – its gaze landing on the mage and Alistair. She couldn’t spare more than a glance to reassure herself that her fellow Warden was alive before she launched herself from the shadows to slam her blades deep in the ogre’s sides, twisting them with a snarl for extra damage.

It reached for her, furiously trying to snatch her in its massive grip and crush her like a Deep Roads beetle. Using her daggers as climbing holds, Sirra slowly crawled up the middle of its back, just out of its reach - taking pleasure with each bite of her honed weapons into its thick skin, finding courage in its screams of rage. If she could just get to its neck, Sirra planned to rip open its jugular and send the Blighted creature back to the Void where it belonged. She kept up with her ascent, ignoring her exhausted arms and the burn in her lungs from the exertion.    

“Sirra! Get down – I’m going in!”

Thank you, Ancestors. Her eyelids fluttered shut for an instant in gratitude. With the last of her strength, Sirra made sure the hold on her daggers was secure and yanked them out with an upward swipe when she flipped off the ogre and rolled halfway across the floor. Glancing up from her position on the ground, time seemed to slow as she beheld the warrior in amazement. Alistair flew through the air with a snarl of pure hatred, sword arm cocked and shield back, while the ogre roared at the new opponent with streams of blood coating its backside.

The strike was true, burying his sword deep in its neck and the momentum of the large human sent the ogre to the ground in its weakened state. Alistair maintained his hold on his weapon, locking his legs around the creature’s neck to ride out the fall with ease.  Ripping out the blade sent a shower of blood arcing across the stone. He then slammed his weapon to the hilt through the ogre’s open maw, twisting the blade until its arms stopped flailing. With a satisfied grunt, he yanked out his sword from the mangled mess of the darkspawn’s head and jumped nimbly off the massive carcass.

Sirra managed to push herself on her knees, breathing slowly as blood returned to her arms in a rush of pins and needles. Alistair sank to the ground in front of her and lifted her head, his mouth moving with questions, but her fuzzy brain wasn't able to process anything, besides the fact that they were miraculously alive. Her companion paused his torrent of words; instead, he gripped her by the shoulders and squeezed – reassuring and strong, like the Stone. Sirra smiled as she stared into the gore-smeared face of the crazy human who took down an ogre and chuckled. His eyes widened, large hands fluttering across her form again, checking for hidden wounds or blood loss that would explain her hysterics. Which only made her laugh harder until tears of relief and mirth mingled with the thick layer of blood coating her features.

“You…you…” Sirra wheezed through her laughter, her hands tight on his forearms for support as she struggled to speak through her chortling. “You killed an ogre! It was…ogre-kill!” Alistair’s brow furrowed slightly and she breathed deeply to be understood. “Like overkill, except it was really ogre-kill!

The dwarven woman crowed as all the stress of the night leeched from her body. Alistair laughed softly, gradually increasing in strength along with hers until they were clinging desperately to each other, laughing and crying through the myriad of emotions that crashed over them. The tension finally shaken from their bodies, Alistair pulled Sirra to her feet and waved the mage over to light the beacon while he pulled a couple of rags from his pack so they could remove the evidence of battle from their faces. Now, they just had to wait for the battle to end. Afterwards, she planned to meet the other Wardens and maybe get something better to eat than that stew she had earlier.

 

Chapter Text

Alistair was still sore after flying across the tower and then barreling into the ogre, as he discovered when he rolled his shoulders to work out the kinks. He glanced furtively at Sirra as she rifled through the various crates and barrels scattered around the walls of the chamber and some of his soreness faded. He knew she could have killed the ogre without his help, yet an irrational need to help her flared within him when he saw her scaling the darkspawn like a mountain while it flailed, attempting to fling her off it.

Maker, that is so inconvenient, he mused as he rubbed his forehead wearily.

That’s when he felt it: the tell-tale oiliness of darkspawn crawling like ants in his head, but he was too slow to respond. Too slow to warn Sirra whose back faced the door as she walked towards him with a teasing smile. Darkspawn burst into the tower and Alistair watched the surprise and pain twist her features as she took three arrows. He reached for her, her name half-formed on his lips, when he was struck in the side and his breath whooshed out of him, replaced by agonizing pain where the barbed head ripped through skin and muscle. He hit the ground and his body screamed in protest, his eyes squeezing shut with a strangled hiss.

Rolling in and out of consciousness, at one point he became aware enough to find the darkspawn were gone. Alistair cast his eyes frantically to find her with his darkening vision. Relief bloomed through his broken body when he located her. Crawling towards her, panting and sweating as his flesh tore further with every movement, Alistair kept going – determined to reach her. He had to know. He had to be sure. Tears pricked his eyes when he finally made it to her side.

There was an arrow in her shoulder, one in her side, and one deep in her thigh. He took her chin and gently turned her to face him, indulging himself with the opportunity to run his thumb across her ‘s’ tattoo. The pulse in her neck was weak, but he could see it was still thumping and hope sparked in his chest. Laying his arm protectively over her form, Alistair succumbed to the blackness pounding on the door of his consciousness and accepted his end with resignation.


Alistair blinked against the light, bringing his arm up to shield his sensitive eyes from the sudden onslaught of brightness with a groan. Sitting up he was startled to discover that he was practically naked, covered with a threadbare blanket on a straw filled mattress, if the stabbing of the ticking was any indication. He was in a small single room hut and it smelled faintly of elfroot and sage – antiseptic, medicinal. Was this a healer’s house? Where was everyone else? Maker, where was Sirra?

He shot out of the bed and searched wildly for her, yet he already knew the room was empty aside from him. Raking his hands through his hair in distress, Alistair snagged his breeches and undertunic from his piled-up armor in the corner, slamming his feet into his boots and rushed out of the building in a panic.

The sun nearly blinded him pulling him up short in his harried search. An aggravated huff emanated on his left and he risked peeking through his fingers, immediately bristling. “You! Where is she? What have you done with her, Chasind?”

Morrigan deposited the stack of firewood she was carrying and brushed the bark bits from her hands with an imperious roll of her strange yellow eyes. “Calm yourself, Warden. Your fellow lady Warden is being tended to.”

Alistair glared and threw his arms up in frustration. “Where?! We’re the only ones here and there is only one hut!” The apostate refused to answer his question, only pulling fresh herbs from a satchel that was slung over her shoulder and adding them to a pot of boiling water hanging over a nearby fire.

Patience gone, Alistair growled darkly. “Are you going to tell me, witch?  Where. Is. She?”

Another voice he recognized answered him. “She is here, Grey Warden. You worry too much.”

He spun to see Morrigan’s mother dragging a small litter behind her with a familiar body strapped to it. Alistair gasped at the gray tinge to her skin, the lackluster quality to her normally shiny hair, and the deep bruises under her eyes.

“Maker’s breath…is she –“

“Alive? Yes. Only just, however, so I need you to calm yourself, young man. I’m taking her inside so I can finish tending her and you are going to wait out here. Do you understand?”

Alistair nodded mutely as the women unstrapped Sirra from the litter, but he brushed them aside to pick her up and waited for them to argue. They all knew that while she might look small, dwarves were stocky and therefore, not light.

“I’ll help you get her inside and then leave you to your work.” The old woman cocked her head at him curiously, but did not reply as she led the way inside the hut.

Morrigan stripped the bed of the blanket, leaving only the crisp white sheet covering the mattress and Alistair swallowed hard as he laid her carefully on the bed, trying not to imagine her blood staining the stark bedding. The women shooed him out the door, Morrigan slamming the wooden barrier in his face when he turned around, leaving him outside fretfully wringing his hands.

He wandered over to the edge of the small pond and sat down on the flattest rock he could find, snagging a cattail to fiddle with. Maker, what a disaster – he hadn’t even asked about the army yet, but he knew if they were here, hidden in the wilds that it probably wasn’t good news. Flashes of the battle danced through his mind: darkspawn everywhere, blood drenched floors, fiery blades casting odd shadows on her face, killing the ogre, light dimming in her dark brown eyes when the arrows hit her, pain lancing through his chest even though that’s not where he’d been struck.

Tossing aside the shredded remains of the cattail, Alistair buried his face in his hands and dug his palms into his eyes, sucking in one ragged breath after another. He hadn’t done enough to protect her – as the senior of the two of them he should have been paying attention, instead the darkspawn got the jump on them. Maker! If she died, then he would be responsible for her death and he didn’t think he could live with the guilt. He was too distracted by Sirra and he hadn’t been doing his job. His job of making sure they survived the battle and being her mentor, not the drooling lecher that he was turning into.

His mind unwittingly recalled the softness of her body when she aided him in the field. There were callouses on her hands and strength in her legs, but there was a layer of padding covering her muscles that he found irresistible. He could imagine his large hands kneading her generous curves, his lips pressed against her full mouth, while her fingers tangled in his hair – Maker’s breath! He stood up angrily, running a hand across his face.

He couldn’t keep doing this. She was his Sister Warden, newly arrived to the surface and not even a full day past her Joining where they lost two good men. If Duncan knew what lewd thoughts crossed his mind, he would skin him alive.

Anxiety rolled through his gut at the thought of his noticeably absent Commander. Where was the army? Where were the other Wardens? Duncan? The King?

The door of the hut creaked open. The older woman stepped out and wrapped a folded towel around the handle of the pot with the steeping herbs. Alistair moved closer and whispered, afraid of speaking the words aloud, but needing to know.

“What of the army?”

The woman stared at him, her face neutral and giving nothing away, yet the pointed silence was answer enough. He stumbled back a few paces in shock.

“I am sorry, young man. I can explain all when your friend is stable.” Alistair nodded, watching forlornly as she stepped back in the hut and left him alone. It seemed he was fated to be alone forever.


Sirra woke up slowly. Her nose was assailed with a strange fragrance and she realized she was laying on something lumpy and scratchy with twigs poking her tender flesh. Sitting up with a moan, she pressed a hand to her forehead and tried to get her bearings.

“Ah, your eyes finally open. Mother will be pleased.” She recognized the voice. Glancing across the room she found Morrigan adding chopped vegetables to a stew bubbling over the hearth. What was it with humans and stew?

“Morrigan? Where am I? What happened?” The witch studied her thoughtfully and moved closer.

“What do you remember?”

Sirra closed her eyes as flashes of the battle in the tower filled her mind. Overrun with darkspawn, black blood running in rivers across the stone floor, hazel eyes full of worry, strong jaw clenched with dread, taking down the wounded ogre, horror on his face when the arrows hit her, and then darkness.

She shook her head. “Not much. I remember being overtaken by darkspawn.”

“Mother rescued you from the tower. The man who was to respond to your signal quit the field. The darkspawn won your battle. The army was massacred.”

Sirra’s head spun with the information. The cunning side of her brain wanted to ask how the witch’s mother knew where they were and why she rescued them, but it was too hard to focus when a larger question loomed in her mind.

“Where is Alistair?”

Morrigan tilted her head slightly at her and responded, “The suspicious, dim witted one that was with you at the ruins?” She waved a hand airily at Sirra’s glare. “He is outside with Mother. He is not taking the news well.”

Sirra recalled Duncan’s timely rescue in Orzammar; his belief that she was worth something and his easy companionship on the road. The warm welcome of the King when she arrived at Ostagar, not caring that she was branded, shaking her hand like a friend. Daveth’s flirtatious teasing about watching her back after the wolf encounter in the woods, Ser Jory’s praise of her skills in battle – and now they were all gone. Her heart ached at the loss, regretting that she would never be able to meet the other Grey Wardens, and she felt guilty at her secret thankfulness that Alistair survived.

Trailing her fingers over the new star-shaped scar on her shoulder, Sirra carefully slid off the bed to get dressed. Morrigan returned to stirring the stew while she pulled on her leggings and tunic. Sirra paused and stared at her armor for a heartbeat.

“Who cleaned my armor?”

“Your Warden friend. Oh, Mother asked to see you when you awoke, by the way.”

Remembering how coated with gore her armor had been clenched her gut. She knew they must have taken a long time to clean. A full day, at least. Her hoarse voice was quiet when she spoke again.

“How long have I been out?”

The dark-haired woman stopped stirring and slowly raised her unusual eyes to meet her hard stare. “Three days. Your injuries nearly took your life on multiple occasions. Mother only declared you safe from death’s grasp last night.” Sirra nodded absently as she quickly donned her leathers and strapped her polished daggers to her back.

Halting at the door of the hut, Sirra slowly turned to face the standoffish woman by the hearth. “Thank you, Morrigan.”

The witch was momentarily speechless, but managed to find her tongue and stammer. “I…you are welcome.”

Sirra yanked open the wooden barrier and stepped out into the dusky light of preeminent sunset. It surprised her that after such a short time on the surface she was able to recognize the time of day by the light. Maybe because it was her favorite time of day, when the world was washed in coppery orange and blushing pink – soft and warm. Similar to the flickering torches and lava river underground. Not the same colors, but the same feeling, helping her feel more grounded topside.

Of all the stories she heard growing up about the dreaded surface, the fact that the light changed colors during the day was never mentioned. Nor that it warmed her skin like a gentle hug, but could burn her pale complexion with too much exposure. There was so much the dwarves had wrong about the surface and the people who lived under its open sky.

Alistair stood ramrod straight, staring over the small body of water that she didn’t have a word for yet. He reminded her of the carvings of the Paragons in the entryway to Orzammar she passed when she left. Stoic, proud, lifeless – not like himself at all and it made her skin crawl. They were all that was left of the Grey Wardens. All that remained of Ostagar. She worried that this blow would change him – change them and this weird friendship they were building. Sirra needed something good on the surface; it was her home now and she had no one else. Tearing her gaze from his chiseled profile, her eyes narrowed at the bemused expression of the old woman studying her.

“Here is your fellow Grey Warden. You worry too much, young man.”

The old woman smirked when Alistair whirled around. Shock etched his face and he moved haltingly toward her; arms extended as though he intended to hug her. Catching himself, Alistair shook his head and patted her shoulder instead. A pang of regret burned bright in her gut. Looking up at him, she saw the unspoken pain swirling in his normally warm eyes, cooled to embers in mourning. Without thinking, Sirra brought her hand up to cover his own that still rested on her shoulder.

With a sad smile he stepped back and dropped his arm listlessly. “You’re alive. I thought…” He swallowed hard, flicking his gaze from her face with a blush and crossed his arms abruptly. “This doesn’t seem real, you know? They’re…dead. All dead – Duncan, the Wardens, even the King.”

His expression pinched at the mention of the king and Sirra wondered what it must be like to have an allegiance to nobility. She had been barely invested in her alliance with Beraht – only for Rica’s sake and the protection the Carta afforded them did she work for the scumbag.

“I’m sorry, Alistair. I know I’m a poor consolation prize.” Sirra dropped her gaze, suddenly unsure of her footing with him, though she couldn’t say why. He sucked in a sharp breath between his teeth and tilted her head up revealing a heavy frown marring his golden features.  

“Don’t say that, please. Don’t even think it. I am so glad you are here with me. I-I can’t do this alone.” Alistair paused and then closed his mouth, leaving Sirra wondering what else he wanted to say, but accepting his statement all the same.

“I’m sorry. So…what do we do now?”

Curling his lip into a sneer, Alistair stepped back and began pacing furiously. “We bring Loghain to justice! Why would he do this?!”

Sirra could have told him why – power, money, fame, glory. Those were simply the first reasons that came to mind when she remembered others from her past life that strove for more than what they felt they deserved.

The old woman was of the same mind and did not hesitate to tell him such. “Don’t be naïve, boy. He would not be the first king to come into the throne through murder.”

Alistair turned on her with a growl, fists clenched as his entire body shook with barely checked fury. “Shut. Up.  Just because you may be right, doesn’t mean that everyone wants to be reminded all the damn time.”

Sirra studied her companion. She wouldn’t have guessed that he was capable of such anger, but she would remember for later. The woman merely nodded at him, her mouth quirked slightly at the edges and Sirra idly wondered what sort of woman would be amused by a giant of a man bellowing in her face. Obviously, someone who was not entirely who they claimed. Her Carta instincts kicked in and she stepped closer to Alistair with her arms crossed over her chest.

“Who are you,” Sirra demanded authoritatively.

Alistair snapped his head down to glance at her, his expression softening into curiosity as his gaze returned to the old woman. The woman chuckled and waved her hand dismissively. “Names are pretty, but useless. The Chasind call me Flemeth – I suppose it will do.”

Alistair reeled beside her. “The Flemeth? Daveth was right…you’re the Witch of the Wilds, aren’t you?”

Flemth scoffed. “So, I know a bit of magic. It has served you both well, but now we have bigger things to contend with. What do you plan to do about Loghain? You are Grey Wardens, aren’t you?”

Alistair raked his fingers roughly through his hair. “I don’t know! What can we do? We don’t have an army and all the Grey Wardens in the entire nation were on the front lines! I suspect that the reinforcements Duncan sent for from Orlais will be handled by Loghain…one way or another.”

Sirra blew out a frustrated breath. “There must be other allies the Wardens can call on?”

Alistair shrugged. “I suppose.” Snapping his fingers, he smiled unexpectedly. “Of course! Arl Eamon wasn’t at the battle – he still has all his men. We could go to him and appeal for aid!”

Sirra raised an eyebrow questioningly. “Would he help us?”

The man flashed a strained smile. “Yes. I know him. He’s a good man, respected at the Landsmeet and he was Cailan’s uncle. So, he has a personal motivation to see Loghain pay for his treachery.”

She nodded, but then sighed. “It’s still not enough, though, is it? We’ll need more than one man’s army to back us against the darkspawn.”

Alistair smacked his forehead lightly with his palm. “The treaties! Duncan gave them to me for safekeeping. They require dwarves, elves, and mages to help us when we call for aid!”

Flemeth smirked. “Well, that certainly sounds more like an army. So, are you all set then?”

Alistair nodded enthusiastically, but Sirra felt the weight of anxiety settle in her gut. Could they do this? There were only two of them in all of Ferelden and she was technically new to the country, having lived underground her whole life, and now she would be expected to scour the nation for allies because a stupid human decided to let the King and his entire army die? And Orzammar – really? She had been hoping she would never have to set foot there again. She was just getting used to the idea of the surface being a better option for her – a place to call home.

Yet, she knew this was the only way. This was just like the ogre in the tower – the only way to their goal was forward and this was the path they needed to tread.

Stone guide my steps.

Extending her arm, Alistair grinned broadly and clasped her forearm like she had the first time they met, shaking once – firm, strong, sure. Sirra smiled back and answered Flemeth’s question though she looked at the handsome human when she spoke.

“Yes, we’re set. It’s what Grey Wardens do; build armies and stop Blights.” His fingers squeezed meaningfully into her flesh before he released her.

Sirra turned to Flemeth. “Thank you for saving us and getting us on our feet again.”

Flemeth smiled, her sharp eyes appraising the shorter woman with interest. “Well, we can’t have the last of the Grey Wardens dying, now can we? Before you go, there is one thing I can yet offer you.”

Morrigan exited the hut and sauntered over to them. “The stew is ready, Mother. Shall we have two guests for dinner or none?” Sirra’s back straightened and she eyed the older woman askance, her Carta instincts buzzed in warning and she had a feeling what Flemeth was about to offer them was not a ‘thing,’ so much as a ‘who.’

Flemeth snorted in derision. “The Grey Wardens are leaving shortly, girl. And you will go with them.”

“What?!” Alistair and Morrigan both screeched, while Sirra stared hard at the older woman.

She knew in her duster bones honed by years of backstabbing Carta politics that there was an ulterior motive for thrusting Morrigan upon them. But she knew, and Flemeth did too, that there were only two of them. They desperately needed allies and a mage would certainly come in handy, as their time in the Tower of Ishal attested. Fireballs were excellent friends when fighting large groups.

Alistair dipped his head to her level, whispering harshly in her ear, “Do you really want to take her because her mother says so?”

Sirra covered her mouth with her hand and murmured back. “No, I don’t and I don’t trust them, but we need allies. We need a mage to cover our backs. We’ll keep an eye on her, but we can’t afford to say no, Alistair.”

He sighed despondently and rubbed his forehead in agitation. “Shit. I know, I know. Fine. I agree only because you don’t trust her any more than I do.”

“We accept,” Sirra replied to Flemeth. The older woman smiled almost hungrily and Sirra heard Alistair’s loud gulp above her.

Morrigan threw up her hands and squawked. “Have I no say in this?”

“You’ve been wanting the leave the Wilds for years. Here is your chance,” Flemeth snapped.

“But –“ Morrigan’s words died on her lips at the warning scowl on the older witch’s face and she sighed. “Yes, Mother. I have to…gather my things.”

Flemeth rocked back and forth on her heels delightedly. “You should eat before you go. Morrigan will be able to get you safely through the woods, but it will take a close to a week, especially with all the darkspawn in the area. However, you should be able to find a safe place to bed down for the night. She will know of the place, I mean. It is not far, but it will get you some distance from the hut, in case you need to shake off pursuit.” The woman bustled inside to presumably fill a couple of bowls with stew for them.

Alistair sighed and ran a hand through his hair nervously. “I hope this doesn’t come back to bite us in the ass.”

“Me, too,” she murmured and he snorted in response. Shooting him a sideways glance, Sirra asked in a light tone. “So, you said you know this Arl?”

He stammered and rubbed the back of his neck. “Did I say that? Hmm, how strange. Oh, look! Food!”

Alistair hurried away when Flemeth emerged from the hut with bowls of steaming stew. Shaking her head at her companion and the weird food preferences of humans, Sirra walked over and gratefully accepted the offering. By the time they were finished eating and collected their bags, Morrigan was packed and ready to go. Thanking Flemeth again, the Wardens followed the witch’s daughter into the woods with equal parts uncertainty and grim determination.

 

Chapter Text

Lights. Flickering in the dark. Torches – thousands of them. The light gradually fanned out to illuminate the surrounding area. Darkspawn. The Deep Roads crawled with them, the air filled with the sounds of their hisses and growls. Strangely, the sounds weren’t angry. They were excited, full of anticipation, and the feeling thrummed through her blood, too. What could possibly have them tittering so?

A roar filled the space, echoing through passages lost to the dwarves ages ago. Darkspawn all along the Deep raised their arms and cheered. The ground shook as it landed on the precipice above them and bellowed again. The horde waved their torches and banged their swords against their shields rhythmically. Sirra couldn’t make out the words, but when the Archdemon leveled its gaze to her, the dark, deep chuckle danced through her mind like a gentle caress.

Everything behind her faded away and she realized she was standing in front of it. All she could see was the strange beauty of the Archdemon. Drawing back its lips in what might have been a smile, its hot breath stirred her long hair with every heavy puff through its nostrils. Sirra wanted to reach out and touch it: to see if the scales were as slick and smooth as the polished amethyst she once lifted off a mark for Beraht. Would they feel cool under her fingers like those stones or would they be warm?

It angled its head - a large dark eye, the same size as she, stared directly at her. Her reflection stared back against the ebony backdrop. Mahogany hair falling in a sheet down her back, brands well suited to highlight her cheekbones, skin pale enough to catch any nobleman’s attention, while her Carta jewelry glittered in the dark.

"Come home, Stone-daughter. Join us. We are your family.” A warm rumble filled her mind. The dragon’s lips hadn’t moved, but there was nothing else that could have spoken.

Family. Sirra always wanted a true family. One without a mother who was more in love with drink than her daughters, throwing them callously to the Carta, allowing Rica to sell her body and her fertility. Giving her to Beraht, so he could shape her into a dangerous weapon to manipulate and control because he owned both sisters. If she screwed up, it would be pretty Rica who suffered.

But she still had one, didn’t she? Beraht was dead and Rica was free – she was still alive in Orzammar. She couldn’t give in. Besides, she had a new family now with the Grey Wardens.

Remembering who she was broke the illusion and shifted her image in the Archdemon’s eye. Sirra’s true reflection froze her blood. Gaunt, gray skin crisscrossed with black tendrils under the surface, brown eyes milky, lank hair hanging in wisps barely concealing the missing chunks exposing her scalp. This is what she would become if she gave in and joined their tainted family.

“No.”

A single word, a powerful word, barely whispered yet carrying a millennia of dwarven conviction. The Archdemon roared in anger, tossing her over the precipice they were perched on. She fell without a sound, wearing a contented smile knowing oblivion awaited her on the ground.


Sirra jerked awake, almost leaping off her pallet by the fireside, sucking in a desperate lungful of air. Hanging her head between her knees, she tried to calm her racing heart, and blink away the images branded in her retinas.

“Bad dreams?” Sirra startled with a small cry of shock. Alistair looked abashed on the opposite side of the fire. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you. I heard you thrashing around and thought you might want to talk about it.”

Holding up a hand, Sirra scrambled for her water skin from her nearby pack, taking a deep pull from the clean water before she could reply. “Those are dreams, huh?” Alistair gave her an odd look and she explained. “Dwarves don’t dream. At least, non-Grey Warden dwarves. Apparently, those who join the ranks do,” Sirra stately dryly.

“Well, damn. I’m sorry. I had no idea. Here you are and you’re first experience with dreams are nightmares from the Archdemon.” Alistair grimaced and rubbed his hands nervously across his thighs.

“Please tell me these won’t happen a lot. I can’t take the Archdemon asking me to join its family every time I go to sleep,” she implored.

He cocked his head curiously. “Is that what you dreamed?” She nodded and his eyes widened. “Creepy. Mine are usually full of the world burning and the Archdemon trying to eat me.”

Sirra laughed. “I prefer yours, honestly.”

Nodding in agreement, Alistair replied with a small smile. “To answer your question: you can block the dreams out, but it takes a little bit of time. Although, I have heard that it’s harder for those who join during a Blight.” He winced and Sirra dropped her head in defeat.

“Why am I not surprised? Any other surprises I don’t know about,” Sirra murmured unhappily.

Alistair rubbed his jaw thoughtfully as a slow smirk bloomed on his face. “Hmmm, let me think, let me think. Duncan said something about your appetite increasing, but I haven’t noticed anything like that with you.”

“Hey!” Sirra tossed a stick at him while he chortled. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” She crossed her arms, tilting her chin haughtily, but her lips quirked at his teasing.

“Are you sure? Because the way you wolfed down your food the other night. I don’t know…seemed a little unladylike to me.” He smirked mischievously and warmth flooded through her that could not be attributed to the proximity of the fire.

“Don’t make me come over there and punch you!” Sirra mockingly shook her fist and he raised his hands in surrender.

“No, don’t hit me! I bruise easily,” Alistair whined.

They sat in the pre-dawn gloom in silence a little longer, enjoying the companionship and the knowledge that no matter how hard the road ahead of them was likely to be, they wouldn’t have to walk it alone. The past week as they traversed the wilds together only brought them closer. Some of it was due to their shared suspicion of Morrigan and the rest simply because they were scared and needed a friend. Of all the things she never expected when she left Orzammar, becoming friends with a giant human was at the top of the list.

“No other Grey Warden secrets, I should know then?” Sirra intended the comment to be teasing, but Alistair’s sudden inability to make eye contact sent goosebumps along her fire warmed flesh. Clenching her jaw, Sirra glared daggers at the man across from her until he met her gaze with a heavy sigh.

“Wardens…don’t live long. The taint – it’s a death sentence. Eventually it catches up to us and once a Warden starts to hear the song of the Archdemon in their mind, they go to the Deep Roads to die fighting. It’s tradition,” Alistair mumbled.

It was Sirra’s turn to avoid his concerned glance. “How long do most Wardens have after joining?”

Alistair coughed. “Thirty years – give or take.”

Sirra inhaled sharply and processed the information. Honestly, she couldn’t say that she was surprised. They did drink darkspawn blood for their Joining and Duncan hadn’t lied. He told them doing so would change them. She was able to sense darkspawn in her mind – how could that not be killing her slowly?

Did she like it? Fuck, no. Did she understand the necessity of it? As a dwarf who grew up on stories of darkspawn and witnessed their cruelty with her own eyes – fuck, yes. If recruits were aware of the price to be paid beforehand, there wouldn’t be any Grey Wardens and darkspawn would be left unchecked.

She was former Carta, used to doing what needed to be done, no questions asked. The chances of her living another thirty years weren’t high in Orzammar, either. Starvation and disease lurked around the corner. Any job working for Beraht could have killed her; hell, the last one nearly did. Yet, without being conscripted, Sirra would never have considered leaving for the surface.

Alistair cleared his throat and whispered, “When Duncan told me I was angry. But he told me that it isn’t how you die, but how you live that matters.”

Gazing at him fully, she inclined her head in acknowledgement of their Warden-Commander’s wisdom, murmuring softly, “I get it. I do. I’m just –“

“Disappointed?”

Sirra observed him from the corner of her eye, noting the small frown he wore and how he was shredding a clump of green stuff...what was it called again? She closed her eyes and heard Duncan’s baritone give her the word – grass. Reopening them, she found Alistair’s hazel orbs studying her. They both blushed, but Sirra held his gaze for a few more heartbeats before lowering hers. He cleared his throat again and she hid her smile behind her hand.

“We…we should pull up camp now that you’re up, right?” Alistair hopped up in the cresting glow of dawn, rolling up his bedroll and attaching it to his pack with trembling fingers. Sirra sighed and followed his lead, then she grabbed the cooking pot and meandered to the nearby stream to fill it. Once back in camp she discovered Morrigan was also awake and dousing her separate fire as she set the water to boil.

Sirra set about making a bowl of porridge from their rations, thankful they were close to a settlement, as their supplies were running low. Alistair attempted to help, but she smacked his hand away. He chuckled choosing to plop on the ground instead, fiddling with the stick she tossed at him earlier.

He was banned from cooking after his ‘stew’ a few nights ago left the women vomiting his vile concoction throughout the night. Morrigan later determined their illness was caused by the mushrooms Alistair added to the pot that evening. He still felt guilty Sirra knew, but that wasn’t enough reason for her to take a chance on his help in making their meals again. Besides, porridge was similar enough to the grits that most dusters ate on a daily basis; she could make this stuff in her sleep. She just wished they could get something, anything, to add some flavor to the mush.

Morrigan stared at her bowl dispassionately when Sirra doled out breakfast. “Warden, we should get some cooking supplies – herbs and such. Nothing fancy, but even some butter would help.” Alistair hummed in agreement as he happily devoured his morning meal and Sirra almost wished she could eat slop with such zeal.

“Butter? What’s that?” The humans stared at her – jaws completely unhinged. Sirra snorted and then burst out laughing, turning their shock into humor and minor irritation on the witch’s part.

“Dwarves get their butter and milk from brontos, but only the higher castes like nobles and warriors can actually get their hands on it. So, while I may know what it is, I can say I’ve never tasted it.” Sirra waved her spoon with a flourish.

Alistair stared at her in horror. “That’s a crime, you know. We have to fix this immediately! Butter is now our first priority when we reach Lothering.”

Morrigan snorted at him, but she appraised Sirra with interest.  “You may be a fool, Alistair…but you are right. We must fetch butter for the Warden.” Morrigan refused to look at either of them, pointedly ignoring Alistair’s broad grin.

“Yeah, just for Sirra. Not for you, at all. Nope.”

“Oh, shut up, you idiot and eat your porridge before I dump it over your head!” Morrigan snatched her bowl and moved some distance away to eat as Alistair laughed uproariously.

Jerking his thumb at the mage he winked to Sirra. “That’s more like it.” She rolled her eyes, refusing to encourage his teasing with a verbal response and tried to hide her smirk, but he noticed and smiled even wider.

Breakfast finished saw Alistair banished to wash the dishes by Morrigan. Sirra dug in her pack while he was gone to brush out the tangles and clods of dirt from her hair. Rica gifted her the comb as a parting gift – a beautiful bauble of surfacer ivory, carved with dwarven motifs and inlaid with three golden citrines. Sirra knew it had been a gift from one of Rica’s potential patrons that didn’t pan out. With practiced motions borne from careful study and repetition, Sirra twisted her thick tresses into a chignon and pinned it firmly in place. The witch observed her with a ghost of a smile.

“What? Why are you looking at me like that,” Sirra asked around a mouth full of leftover pins.

“I’m just surprised that a casteless dwarf knows how to fashion such an elegant hairstyle, ‘tis all. You fight like you used to be Carta, yet I see little body jewelry denoting your affiliation.” Morrigan flicked her nose in reference to Sirra’s golden ring. “Were you perhaps a noble hunter instead? Afraid that your fellow Warden will be displeased with your former lifestyle, hmm?”

Narrowing her eyes, she shoved her items in her pack without answering. Morrigan shrugged with affected boredom. “Suit yourself, Warden. You may keep your secrets. Just remember that we must return to Orzammar at some point and all will come to light anyway.”

“Why do you even care? What does my past matter to you? I left it behind and now I’m just an exiled surface dwarf. Before I came topside, I was a good-for-nothing duster scraping by in Dust Town with the other casteless, stealing food and pickpocketing nobles when I was younger.” Morrigan only lifted her lips in a condescending smirk. Sirra snarled, leaping to her feet, wound tight for a fight after days of nothing to unleash her pent-up frustration on.

“I did what I had to – to survive! My sister is the noble hunter; she taught me how to do my hair like this. We practiced hair and makeup, proper greetings, curtsies, dancing, everything that Beraht’s paid lessons taught her so she can land a noble and get knocked up. She sold what was between her legs so I wouldn’t have to, but by the Stone, I had to do the boss’s bidding to keep him from punishing Rica because she hadn’t found a patron yet!”

Sirra paced back and forth, working out her anger as she raised her voice as loud as her raspy cords would allow. “Rica – with hair the color of fire and curves that men pawed as she passed. She is the pretty one. I was expendable, but I surprised everyone by being good at my job. It was my money, the money I earned in the Carta, that kept us from starving! I blackmailed, I threatened, I killed men just because Beraht – the holder of our leash – told me to!” Pounding her fist against her leathers for emphasis, Sirra squared her shoulders, glaring balefully at the witch.

“I’m nothing but Carta trash; no matter how much I try to tell myself differently up here. But I learned a thing or two from Rica, even if I never had an opportunity to use them, because I was worthless then and I’m worthless now!”

A strangled noise came from behind her. Sirra closed her eyes, the fight leeching instantly from her stout frame. Opening them again, she hissed at Morrigan, “You are such a bitch.” The witch smiled wickedly and sauntered off to leave the Wardens to talk.

Sirra didn’t turn around to face him; she couldn’t stand the look of disgust that would be plastered across his face.

“How much did you hear?” Her gravelly voice barely carried in the early morning stillness, but Alistair wasn’t wearing his plate yet and he snuck closer on quiet feet, catching her words.

“All of it.”

Silence descended and Sirra nodded sadly, afraid now that her secret was out, he would feel sullied in her presence. She tried to move away and create more space between them, but he stopped her with a light touch of his fingers on her wrist. So light they felt like air, except for the heat that radiated from them, practically scalding her skin. She sucked in a breath and held it anxiously.

“You’re not worthless,” Alistair whispered. The breath she’d been holding passed her lips with a tiny mewl of surprise. Still unable to look at one other, Alistair kept his hand on her wrist and she resisted the urge to scoot further away.

Sirra murmured, “You don’t know me, Alistair. You can’t say that.”

“I can,” he insisted firmly, his fingers pressing just a bit harder on her flesh. “It doesn’t matter who you were. When you join the Grey Wardens, all that matters is who you are. I may not know who you used to be in Orzammar, but I have a pretty good idea who you are in the sun.”

Tears pricked her eyes and her throat constricted oddly. They didn’t speak for a few heartbeats as she controlled her emotions. Surely Alistair could feel her trembling, but he didn’t move a muscle which both pleased and disappointed her. Pleased because if he hugged her, she was afraid of embarrassing herself further by breaking down, but disappointed he didn’t even try because it felt like rejection.

“We should go. We’re losing daylight,” she mumbled.

Sirra turned to leave, but his hand encircled her wrist and pulled her back. She stared at the ground still too ashamed to meet his gaze. Alistair didn’t say anything as he slowly knelt, almost eye to eye with her at this height, and wrapped his arms around her in a hug. Sirra buried her face in his rough spun tunic with a shuddering breath.

“Is this okay,” Alistair whispered in her ear. Sirra nodded vigorously, twisting her hands in the front of his shirt, anchoring herself in the face of such kindness and understanding. She didn’t know how he could give it so freely. So easily. To her... it was the most precious gift ever given and she cherished it. Eventually he would have to let go and she knew that she'd feel hollow when he did.

“I-I’m sorry,” she rasped, desperately trying to rein in her tears. “I don’t know what to say. No one, except my sister, has ever been nice to me…but this is…I don’t know.”

“I get it. I do,” he breathed.  She noted the thickness in his voice as he repeated her words. “I-I just want to say…that I am here for you. You can talk to me about anything. And I mean that. Don’t…shut yourself off from me, please.”

Sirra nodded again, not trusting herself to speak until she forced down the lump in her throat. “Same goes for you, Alistair.” It was his turn to nod against her shoulder.

Untangling her hands from his tunic, she pulled out of the embrace and he reluctantly followed suit. “We should go. I’m sure that Morrigan was trying to drive a wedge between us. Now that her plan has been foiled, she may kill us instead.”

The warrior snorted. “I’d like to see her try. She’s going to have work a lot harder to break us.”

Sirra laughed lightly and finally met his eyes. There was no rejection or disgust in them or on any plane of his face. His signature grin was in place with openness and warmth gracing his features. Her body relaxed at last with a smile. He placed a hand on the ground to push himself to a standing position again, but she cupped his cheek instantly stilling his movements. Slowly, she pulled Alistair’s head close, resting their foreheads together. Sliding her hand to the nape of his neck, she pressed three fingers gently against his skin in a quiet salute, whispering into their shared oxygen.

“Thank you, salroka.”

Alistair’s wide eyes bored into hers, his breathing slightly irregular, as he mimicked the salute on her own neck. His mouth dried as she shivered involuntarily at the action coupled with the intensity of their gaze.

“You’re welcome,” he rasped. Swallowing hard, he asked shyly, “What does ‘salroka’ mean?”

Sirra smiled. “Directly translated, it means ‘one at my side.’ It’s a casteless’ way of saying ‘friend.’”

He grinned broadly. “Salroka.”

Slowly, the duo separated, careful to keep their hands from touching anywhere else as they dropped them. When Alistair made to stand, Sirra didn’t stop him a second time. He quickly repacked the cookware in his larger pack, a faint flush decorating his cheeks. With deft fingers, he fastened his splintmail over his cloth breeches and tunic before sliding his weapons in place. Sirra had the fire doused by the time he was ready and without a word she waved at Morrigan to signal they were leaving.

Alistair took up the front following the path that Morrigan kept them on since leaving Flemeth’s. The witch sidled up to the dwarven woman with a haughty sniff. “T’would seem your talk was…enlightening?”

Sirra couldn’t resist smirking. “I wanted to throttle you at first, but now I think I should thank you.”

Morrigan jerked her head in surprise. “Truly? Well, that was obviously a grave error in judgement on my part then,” she grumbled. Sighing in exasperation the woman stomped off ahead of Alistair who chuckled at the witch’s ire.

Shortening his stride, he waited for Sirra to catch up tossing her a playful smirk. She returned it with a raspy chuckle. “She is just so fun to irritate, isn’t she?”

Alistair laughed outright at that. “Yes. Yes, she is.”

“I can still hear you!”

Alistair and Sirra shared a quick glance before dissolving into peals of laughter as they walked through the outskirts of the wilds.


Alistair couldn’t get the vision of Sirra’s face out of his mind on the journey to Lothering. She had no idea how pretty she was or how entranced he became staring into her eyes. Orbs so dark they bordered on black with her pupils blown wide. He’d been so close to closing the gap between them and brushing his mouth against her slightly parted lips; the urge to capture her full mouth only furthered by the intimacy of the strange dwarven gesture.

He wondered curiously what it would be like to kiss her. Were her lips as soft as they looked? Would the nose ring get in the way? He’d never met a woman with piercings besides their earlobes and hers fascinated him. Maker’s breath, he was glad his hand had been touching her neck though, to prevent his twitchy thumb from going rogue and grazing her tattoo again.  

Brand. Ugh! Alistair sneered to himself at the very idea of calling her markings such a thing. It sounded so…dispassionate and callous. He hated that she thought of herself that way – that her own people could think that of an entire class of their own kin like that. Sirra was more than that and anyone who talked to her for five minutes would be able to see it.

Alistair didn’t care about her past. When he thought about it, it wasn’t shocking that she was former Carta. Most surface dwarves were either Carta members or former players. He may not understand her culture entirely, but he wasn’t so naïve to pretend that those less fortunate in the world didn’t have to do unsavory things to survive. He heard stories of the alienages, even in the monastery and especially since joining the Wardens – they surely didn’t paint a complete picture of elven life, either. Alistair realized now, that though his childhood had been less than idyllic, it had been better than most poor, unwanted children.

Most telling about who Sirra was as a person, revealed itself as he fought beside her, which was strangely intimate, actually. They kept tabs on each other when they were on the field watching each other’s backs to boost strengths and assist in weak areas so they became a single unit. They lived and breathed for the other during a fight – to do any less invited death. But she didn’t have to. Alistair grew up fighting and training alongside many warriors, templars and Wardens both, of varying skill. Few would willingly risk their necks for a fellow on the field. Yet, Sirra often did and she didn’t have a warrior’s strength or a shield to protect her. But she was tenacious, scrappy, and tough – never backing down from a fight or intimidated by a foe. Alistair would happily take Sirra at his side any day.

No, Sirra was so much more than a pretty casteless exile. More than a ‘brand.’ Alistair didn’t have a word for what she was, but he was aware that the idea of losing her left him feeling lost. Not because it would leave him alone in the world – he was used to that. No, losing her would take something from him: her light, her laughter, her.

Alistair peeked at Morrigan and Sirra while they discussed the village ahead and her wry smile suffused him with warmth.

It was simple. If he lost her, he would lose everything worth saving.

Chapter Text

“Lothering – pretty as a painting,” Alistair quipped. 

Sirra snorted with a playful roll of her eyes. Refugees flooded a makeshift tent city outside the village gates; women, children and men too old or infirm to wield a weapon milled about helplessly.  Predation on the poor folk in the face of a crisis was already apparent. The hapless bandits stupid enough to demand Sirra pay a toll attested this fact. Instead, she had them pay her and was wiping the remnants of their blood from her blades with a satisfied smirk. 

The warrior shuffled his feet nervously. Sirra glanced at him and his lips tilted skyward as he mimed brushing his cheek.  Raising her fingers to her face, the dwarf scoffed in irritation to discover a smear of congealing blood and used a clean section of the rag to scrub it away. 

“So,” Alistair cleared his throat.  “I was wondering where you thought we should go next?” 

Sirra rocked back on her heels in surprise.  “Why are you leaving it up to me? I don’t know anything about the surface.”

The warrior grimaced and bent closer so his words wouldn’t carry to Morrigan.  “I don’t like to lead. Bad things happen when I do. You have more experience with it from your time in the…Carta.”  He fidgeted and struggled to spit out the name of the dwarven organization. It hurt more than she cared to admit. She wasn’t sure if his hesitation in voicing her former profession as a criminal was due to embarrassment or if her past bothered him more than he let on. 

Mentally sighing, Sirra had to admit that she did have more experience leading, but damn it, she didn’t know the first thing about being topside or who they should contact.

“Okay, that is a valid point.  Do you have any ideas about who we should speak to first?  You can at least help me come to a decision. I’m not calling all the shots alone.”  Alistair smiled and his posture relaxed at being included.

Straightening to his full height, he leaned on the stone railing behind him, kicking out his absurdly long legs and crossing them at the ankles.  “I think going to Redcliffe to see Arl Eamon would be the best idea. Once we have his backing it might be easier to gain the others. Then again, it may not matter at all, but I still think we should go there first.”  With a slight shrug he waved a hand airily, indicating that he’d said his piece and would go wherever she directed.

Sirra nodded at her fellow Warden’s wisdom.  Alistair mentioned that he knew the Arl personally and while she recognized a human lord’s allegiance wouldn’t matter in Orzammar, it could hold weight with other allies, if they proved difficult.

“Sound plan.  Let’s resupply in the village and dig up some gossip.  We need information about what’s happened since...” Her voice trailed off as recollections from Ostagar flashed through her mind, unsettling the tranquility of their surroundings.  Alistair shoved off the railing, his skin noticeably paler than usual, and Sirra took that as her cue to get moving again. The trio passed through the city gates, nodding politely at the templar’s warning that the village was too full to house additional refugees fleeing the Blight. 

Alistair pointed to the Chanter’s board decorated with a recent notice.   He scoffed at their messed-up priorities, but conceded that it was an easy way to earn coin.  Sirra agreed and they ambled over to examine the details of the job. Scanning the document, he quirked an eyebrow with an interested hum.  “A bandit contract. Worth three whole sovereigns for wiping them out. Sounds easy enough for us, I think.” 

Glancing at Sirra, she inclined her head with a grin which he merrily returned.  Ripping the notice off the board, he slid it in his pack sharing a brief nod with the chanter standing nearby who acknowledged their acceptance of the bounty. 

“Right,” Sirra intoned.  “Let’s take care of the bandits and then we’ll resupply with the money from the bounty.  Hopefully it will be enough to get us what we need.”

Morrigan pointed to the tavern after crossing a small bridge to the other side of town.  “Should we stop and get information, Warden?” Peering at Alistair for his opinion, she purposefully drove her point home – she was not the only Warden and they worked as a team. Tilting his head in agreement the trio veered into the local watering hole. 

It was packed with residents, intent on drinking away their last coin before the darkspawn arrived, loud folk songs from the band on the upper level increased the din of the crowded building.  A cluster of humans were lounging in the corner, well-armed and outfitted with quality armor that could only have come from a big city. The arrival of a tattooed dwarven woman flanked by two humans did not go unnoticed, halting the music and the various discussions, catching the mercenary’s attention.

“Well, well, well.  What have we here? I think it’s the same dwarf that all the villagers told us they hadn’t seen.”  A burly, balding man in steel chainmail strolled over wearing a hungry leer. Leaning over, he ran a gauntleted finger under Sirra’s chin to lift up her head, smirking at the furious scowl gracing her features.

“I hate being lied to, don’t you, boss?”  Flicking her eyes left, she realized that the captain’s men encircled them, blocking off their exit.  The locals hastily snatched their drinks to watch in relative safety from the far-flung corners of the tavern.

The captain’s touch turned rough, gripping Sirra tight and jerking her close, snagging her nose ring with the metal edge of his gauntlet and cutting her cheek when he yanked it free.  She winced, but did not make a sound – she refused to give him the satisfaction. Alistair started towards the mercenary with an angry squawk of protest that morphed into painful surprise and Sirra’s blood boiled at the resounding crack of one of the captain’s men punching him square in the jaw. The mercenary kept him on his knees, the tip of a blade practically kissing the hollow of his throat.  She couldn’t see him from the new position, but she could sense the unadulterated rage rolling off him and hear his livid whuffs of expelled oxygen.

“I do hate being lied to, but more than that, I hate not getting paid.  Especially a job as easy as this one – find a lost dwarf girl, bring her to Loghain, get large sack of gold.  But Loghain never specified what condition you needed to be in…and you’re pretty enough for a man’s needs.”

Sirra only needed him to come a little bit closer.  Relaxing in his hold and flashing him a coy smile, she purred, “Why didn’t you say so?  It’s been too long since I’ve had any kind of fun.” 

The captain’s eyes lit up as he leaned lower, tongue glossing lecherously across thin lips.  She could hear Alistair choking in horror at her brazen encouragement, but Morrigan’s magical aura flickered to life on her right.  In this moment, she was acutely appreciative of the devious witch. Both women were aware where this charade was going even if the men present did not.

“Mmhhmmm.  I hope you like it rough Carta bitch, because I don’t feel like being gentle with you.”  Closing the distance, now bent nearly double, he hovered over her lips. His blue gaze, full of malice, encompassed her vision and she suppressed a shiver.

Smirking, Sirra breathed words of promise against his skin.  “Oh, I do.” 

Hot blood showered her and doused the captain’s shiny armor in a haze of scarlet.  Morrigan froze the enemies that descended on them after her hidden blade ripped open their captain’s jugular.  Sirra released her wrath on the rest of the company with pleasure, stabbing and slashing weak points while Morrigan electrocuted and burned foes.  Alistair regained his footing within seconds of the fight and pummeled the one who held him at sword point with a savage snarl. 

Spinning away from a sloppy sword thrust, she let fly the same knife she used on the captain, catching the soldier in the knee.  Morrigan hit him with a horror spell to allow Sirra to bury her daggers in his lungs. He fell at her feet with a gurgle and she whirled to assist Alistair, only to find him growling with the last man skewered upon his sword, tip of the blade peeking through his spine.  Sliding the body off his blade, he spat when it flopped unceremoniously to the ground.

The tavern was utterly silent.  Twirling a dagger in her hand, she calmly faced the innkeep behind the bar, deliberately ignoring that she was covered in a tub’s worth of blood.  “I need information. Are you able to provide answers?”

The scrawny man continued to dry a mug with a threadbare cloth, his face wearing a permanent expression of boredom.  “Whatcha wan’ to know?”

“News after Ostagar.  And I want to know who this nug licker was.”  Sirra tapped the mercenary captain’s body with the toe of her boot.  A handful of patrons groused at her lack of respect, but Alistair stood at her back boring holes into those who dared protest and the tavern was suddenly full of customers interested in their foamy pints.

“Word is Grey Wardens killed the King.”  Alistair opened his mouth to argue, but Sirra pinched his side in warning.  “Teryn Loghain pulled his men from the battle to save ‘em and now he’s actin’ Regent for Queen Anora.  As for him,” he waved his rag absently at the dead man. “I don’ know ‘is name, but he was a merc. Hired by Loghain.  That’s all I’s know.”

Nodding curtly, she tugged her purse strings to pay for damages, but the emaciated innkeep shook his head.  “No, ma’am. You done us a favor with ‘em riffraff. We’ll call it even and na’ tell the guard that you was evers here.”

He knows we’re Wardens.   Her palms began to sweat in her gauntlets as fear pooled in her gut and her eyes warily scanned the tavern.  For the briefest of moments, Sirra wondered if they would be able to leave without killing the helpless villagers, but she reminded herself that none of the locals seemed antagonistic.  The tavern owner was likely sincere in his gratitude and willingness to help them. 

“Is there a backdoor we can use?”  

Waving them over, he escorted the trio to the kitchens.  Filling a pot with water from a nearby bucket, he laid out a ragtag collection of towels on a table.  “The exit is jus’ there,” he pointed to a door at the back of the room. “You’ll need ta wash up a bit, Warden.” Smiling warmly, the man patted the towels and left them to their own devices. 

Grabbing a rag, she soaked it intent on scrubbing the captain’s blood off her face and armor as best as possible with their available tools.  None of them spoke as they hastily wiped down following their impromptu skirmish.  

Morrigan clucked at Sirra and aided her in removing the congealed blood under her neck she missed, nodding in satisfaction once it was gone and examined the shallow cut on her cheek.  The rogue smiled, but there was a sharp edge to it. Shaking her head, she pulled away from the witch’s scrutiny. Casting a furtive glance to Alistair to verify he was prepared to leave, her stomach knotted uncomfortably to discover her fellow Warden was unable to make eye contact with her.    

Clearing her throat Sirra broke the heavy silence with a soft question, wringing her hands to keep from cupping his jaw.  “How is your face?”  

He shrugged dismissively, cheeks pink and shuffling nervously, amber gaze bouncing around the room.  “‘S fine. I’ve been dealt worse blows. The swelling will go down in about an hour.”

Resolutely shoving aside her apprehension caused by his evasiveness, Sirra refocused on their current goal.  “Come on. We need to take care of the bandits so we can leave town.”

The humans fell wordlessly in step with her as they slipped out the back door.  A musical accent brought them all up short. 

“Grey Warden, a moment, if you please.” The three of them turned to see a pretty red-haired woman in leathers leaning against an empty barrel. 

“Another mercenary?”  Sirra shook her head at Alistair’s whispered question, sizing up the woman casually waiting for them. 

Armed with a longbow and a quiver full of arrows slung across her back, her hands rested calmly at her sides.  She didn’t even bother to tuck her chin-length hair behind her ear when a light breeze ruffled it. It didn’t seem like the mystery woman wished them harm.

Crossing her arms over her broad chest, Sirra bluntly asked, “Who are you?”  

“My name is Leliana.  Former lay Sister of the Chantry.”  Bowing slightly, the woman’s plump lips spread into a warm smile and her blue eyes twinkled with light.

Alistair forehead crinkled in confusion.  “Former? Can you leave the Chantry if you’re a Sister?”

The archer laughed lightly, the bright sound clashing with their current circumstances.  “I was not a Sister.  Only affirmed.  I never took any vows and was free to leave any time.”

“So, why did you leave, then?”  Sirra didn’t understand the vocabulary regarding the intricacies of human religion, but she caught the gist of the conversation.

“You will need allies, no?”  The former Carta dwarf studied the woman appraisingly, a cunning smirk blooming across her tattooed face as she nodded in confirmation.  “Good, then I am coming along.” 

Morrigan cursed under breath while Alistair huffed indignantly, but Sirra ignored their petulant attitude and pointed at the bow.  “You any good with that thing?”

Leliana pushed off the barrel, leaping in the same motion, and with a single draw peppered the area where she’d been standing with arrows.  Sirra stepped forward with her arm extended. “Welcome to the team, Leliana.” The rogues clasped arms wearing matching grins unphased by the grumbling of the other companions. 

They needed more people.  Yes, their primary goal was to secure allies for the Blight, but they were in need of personal partners, as well.  It wasn’t safe to travel the entire country with only three people and archers were always welcome. Especially skilled archers able to skewer multiple darkspawn at a time with that trick.  

“We’re headed to a job.  Bandit contract. Once we collect the reward, we are restocking our supplies and moving on.”  Leliana reached around the pockmarked barrel to grab a small pack tucked against the tavern fence.

“Lead on, Warden.”

“I’m Sirra.  This is Alistair, my fellow Warden, and our companion, Morrigan.”  Leliana exchanged pleasantries with Alistair, who was at least polite in officially greeting Leliana.  Sirra’s confidence about their newest recruit increased with the former sister’s nonchalance in the face of Morrigan’s standoffishness.  

Flitting through the village and slipping out the gates to the hills bordering the town, they were barely past the village boundaries when they detected the first group of bandits.  With four of them, the band was quickly dispatched and the companions trudged deeper into the hills. They expected little resistance with the next company, as well, but were surprised to find these bandits were obviously professionals; not starving peasants with pitchforks acting out of desperation.

“Take down the archers and the hounds!”  Sirra hollered as a hound charged her, forcing her to roll away from her target.  Heeding her call for aid, Morrigan rained fire on the dogs while Leliana lanced the archers with well-placed arrows, removing them from the fight.  Alistair blocked one foe on his left and parried with his right, grunting with the effort to maintain a dual front. With the dogs’ attention on the witch, Sirra dropped into stealth to shank the bandit battering his shield.  Her foe sank to his knees with a shocked cry and she swiftly drew a dagger across his neck to finish him.  

Alistair spun catching the bandit leader across the face with the edge of his shield, blinding him in one eye.  The man screamed in pain and fury, giving the warrior and the rogue all the advantage they required. Falling on him with precision, she flanked him burying her daggers to the hilt in his back, while Alistair assaulted him with his shield until all that remained of his face was a bloody pulp.  Withdrawing in unison the man sank to the ground without their weapons to hold his corpse aloft.

His amber eyes met hers and he graced her with a faint smile while rolling his shoulders and stretching out his arms to prevent his muscles from seizing after such strain.  “Thanks for the rescue.”

Sirra’s breath caught and her mouth instantly dried as he continued with his exercises, completely oblivious to the effect it had on her.  Managing a quiet response that sounded suspiciously like a whimper, she dashed to unlock the bandit’s chest, grateful for an opportunity to work out her nervous energy.  A bright gleam of silver reflected in the afternoon light when she raised the lid and she grinned at the find. Calling Alistair over, the rogue lifted the heavy-weight chainmail armor from the depths of the chest and passed it to him.

“See if it fits.  I’d feel better if you wore heavier armor.”  Sirra kept her eyes lowered, avoiding his golden gaze, but his calloused fingers brushed hers lightly as he gingerly took the cuirass she passed him.

His low timbre washed deliciously over her in a humble murmur.  “I will. Thank you, Sirra.” She simply nodded and shooed the women to the opposite side of the hill so he could test out the new kit, trying and failing, to keep her mind off the fact that her handsome fellow Warden was stripping just around the bend.    


It fit perfectly and he was rather pleased with the set.  Quality steel mail, not even a nick on the surface yet, and it shone brilliantly in the sun.  Alistair knew it was vain, but he couldn’t help feeling that it suited him. 

He left his blood stained splintmail behind.  Normally he would have kept it to sell once it was clean, but it held too many memories of Ostagar and loss for him to be willing to cart it around anymore.  Shoving his emotions under his veil of humor he rejoined the women, blushing scarlet at Leliana’s appraising stare, her pink lips curving into a wicked grin as her eyes roved his form.  He caught Sirra’s heartbroken expression at the exchange between them. It was only visible for a split second and was replaced almost immediately with a calm mask. If he hadn’t been desperately seeking to hold her attention with his gaze, he would have missed it. 

Alistair wished he could explain, but now wasn’t the right time.  Heaving a sigh, he followed as she wound through the hills searching for the final group.  The barking dogs alerted him that they were nearing the bandit’s camp and he tapped Sirra on the shoulder signaling to stop. 

“Hounds,” he whispered.  She sucked in a breath then blew out a soft curse while he conferred with the team.  “Take out the dogs. We can’t let Sirra get overwhelmed. Then we’ll focus on the others.  Morrigan, any large area spells you have that can deal with multiple targets would be best.  The last group were professionals, so we must assume they are, too.” Multiple heads nodded as they readied their weapons for battle. 

Sneaking as quietly as their armor would allow, the four rushed the bandits, utilizing the element of surprise afforded them.  Electricity lit up the wooded area, snaring the dogs and the archers in the lightning, stilling them briefly to allow Alistair to cut down a pair of dogs with broad sweeps of his sword.  Leliana riddled the third hound with arrows and Sirra broke her stealth behind an archer as Morrigan’s spell waned and released him. The archer jerked at the last minute causing her daggers to miss their target, merely grazing the skin, but avoiding any serious injury.

Now free, he rounded on Sirra and she immediately flicked her wrist to toss her throwing knife, but the hidden sheathe was empty.  Alistair’s feet propelled him the short distance on the field as the archer reached for the short dagger hooked to his belt and threw up his shield with a growl – deflecting the blade that was a hair's breadth from slicing open her throat.  The sudden block took the bandit by surprise, the impact reverberating up his arm, but he didn’t have time to puzzle the pieces together. Alistair’s sword angled through his third and fourth ribs impaling his heart. The golden warrior watched dispassionately as his foe spewed blood, the light dimming in his eyes, and removed his blade with an irritated huff.

Dropping his weapons, he wheeled on Sirra, taking a knee to worriedly check her over for injuries.  “Are you alright?”

Not waiting for a response, he tilted her head and fluttered his hands along her arms, vigilant for any painful reaction.  There was the cut on her cheek and minor swelling around her piercing when the mercenary snagged it with his gauntlet, but no other obvious wounds that he could see.  He finally met her rich brown eyes and paused his examination.   

Ogling him in something akin to awe, her cheeks pink and lips parted slightly, caused heat to rise along his face and neck.  Sucking in a tremulous breath, she managed to unloose her tongue.

“Th-thank you,” Sirra rasped. Her fingers trailed under her leathers to the hidden sheathe and screwed her lids shut. “Stupid mistake. I fucking knew the knife was gone, but I reacted out of instinct, expecting it to save my ass.”

Alistair sheepishly grimaced.  “Not your fault. It’s mine.” He retrieved the blade from a sheathe on his belt.  “I grabbed it when you were talking to the barkeep, but I, uh, stupidly forgot to give it to you.  I’m sorry,” he whispered. Biting his lower lip, he stretched out the knife hilt first to its rightful owner.

Sirra carefully took the thin blade he proffered, hugging it to her chest for a beat then hastily tucked it where it belonged.  “It’s fine. Nothing bad happened and I didn’t lose this. I – thank you, Alistair.”

The color highlighting his skin deepened.  He expected a spectacular dressing down for forgetting to give her something so vital.  Void take him, he deserved one! That slip up nearly cost her life. It was the first time Alistair ever saw her freeze on the field and he prayed to never see it again.  

“You’re welcome.”  Her gaze was fixed on the diminishing swell of his cheek and he noted the concern swirling within her dark eyes.  Idly running his fingers over the tender flesh, he angled his mouth in a rapid-fire smirk. “I’m fine, really. You don’t need to worry about me.  I’m a warrior, remember? Known for ogre-kill.” 

Alistair winked, pleased to hear her laughter bouncing around them as he stood, and cheerily intoned.  “I believe we have a reward to collect, don’t we?” Sirra smiled and together the Wardens navigated the hills toward the small village. 

The townsfolk gave them a wide berth upon their arrival.  Well, maybe arriving covered in blood and cutting down an entire company of mercenaries in the local tavern would make most people wary, he supposed.  Alistair presented the contract and passed it to the chanter. Normally, proof for completing a contract was required, but again, the blood they wore was proof aplenty and the chanter couldn’t pay them fast enough. 

Leliana and Sirra discussed what supplies they needed and where they could procure them, wandering off to see the merchants the former Sister recommended.  Alistair waved them off, deciding to take a walk around the Chantry grounds. Morrigan was nowhere to be found. Good riddance.

Wandering over to the well just inside the Chantry, he hauled up a bucket of water for a sip from the drinking cup attached to the wooden pail by a leather cord.  Aware of the judgmental scrutiny of the Templars in the courtyard, he poured a small libation of liquid to the carving of Andraste standing next to the stone well.  Stupid Chantry, stupid superstitions.  As though a wooden figurine gives a damn if I share water with it.

Seizing a clean cloth from his pack, he soaked it with water to wash his face and remove the worst of the gore that coated his armor.  He was careful to not place the soiled cloth back in the bucket and used the cup to saturate the cloth as needed, then finally to rinse it as best as possible, so he could put it away.

Feeling less grimy, Alistair ducked inside the small building and ambled to the candles.  Out of habit more than any religious desire, he lit a candle to ruminate on how things would be different – and probably better – if Duncan were alive instead of him.  Duncan was a true leader, the Warden Commander of Ferelden, and he would know what to do: who to talk to, what favors to call in, how to reach the Orlesian Wardens and explain their situation.  Alistair felt lost – he was only six months past his Joining and he didn’t know a damn thing about rallying allies or mentoring another recruit into the fold.

He hadn’t even known that dwarves didn’t dream, which completely blindsided him when he tried to comfort Sirra after her first Archdemon nightmare.  Then, he spectacularly botched the conversation about the Grey Warden’s shortened life span. And not two hours ago his negligence almost saw her killed.  If he hadn’t checked on her during the fight that bandit would have struck her down. What else was he going to screw up next?  

Swearing colorfully in his head, Alistair veered to leave, only to halt and stare at a familiar face.  He shuffled closer to confirm his suspicions before speaking.

“Ser Donall, is that you?”

The Redcliffe knight jerked in surprise to hear his name, cocking his head at him and breaking into a large grin as recognition dawned.  “Alistair! By the Maker, you’re alive!” He clapped him on the shoulder, forced to look up into the younger man’s face. “When did you grow so tall?  The last time I saw you, you barely came up to my elbow.” Ser Donall glanced furtively around and lowered his voice. “What are you doing here? You know that the Grey Wardens are hunted, do you not?”

Alistair scowled.  “Yes. I just found out, actually.  My companions and I have been on the run.  What game is Loghain playing at?”

The man sighed, suddenly looking his fifty years as weariness settled heavily on his shoulders and grief filled his eyes.  “I wish I knew. If Eamon were well, he would not stand for this, I assure you.”

Alistair blanched.  “If he were well? What do you mean?  Is he sick?”

“Yes…ugh, I do not know.”  He sighed and rubbed his hand along his forehead.  “All I do know is that he has fallen into a deep sleep and nothing has been able to wake him.  Not magic or potions. The Arlessa has sent the knights in search of the Urn of Sacred Ashes.” Ser Donall blew out a breath, his posture defeated, and hung his head. “But I fear we chase a fable. I have found no record of it actually existing, only rumors and dead ends.”

“Maker’s breath.”  Alistair raked a hand through his hair.  “We were hoping to rely on Eamon for allies against the Blight.”

Ser Donall crossed his arms over his chest and frowned thoughtfully.  “I’m sure the Arlessa might still be able to help you, if you came to Redcliffe.  But without Arl Eamon I cannot guarantee that she would be willing…”

Alistair raised his hands and shook his head vigorously.  “No, no, it’s fine. We’ll figure something out.”

Stepping closer, the older man laid a gentle hand on his forearm, his voice warm and encouraging.  “You should still come, Alistair. Please. If Arl Eamon – well, just come home.” He smiled at him fondly and squeezed his arm.  “Despite all, you are still one of ours, my boy. You know that. There are many that would love to see you again and I’m sure that we can assist your Order somehow.”

The young man acquiesced with a wry grin.  “It has been a long time, Ser Donall. I will speak to my companions, but you’re right; I should like to go to Redcliffe.  Either way, it’s important and we can figure out troop support somehow.”

“Alistair!  There you are.  I’ve been looking everywhere for you.”  Alistair’s head swiveled at the distinctive sound of Sirra’s voice.  The muscles in his neck tensed from the double take at the sight of her in a new set of hardened leathers deliciously hugging every one of her curves.  Leliana and Morrigan trailed behind to complete their ragtag group.

“Ah, sorry,” he choked.  With a concerted effort, he forced himself to stop gaping at her hips and tantalizing glimpses of her thighs.  “I ran into an old friend. One of the knights from Redcliffe – Arl Eamon’s man.” Alistair introduced everyone, thanking the Maker for small mercies in keeping his voice neutral during the exchange. 

The knight smirked at the younger man’s reaction to his nubile companion.  A dwarf – while certainly unusual and less common than an elven lover, was not wholly unheard of and as a Grey Warden, Alistair was not bound to any social strictures.  

“Alistair, my boy, do you always travel in such fetching company?”  Morrigan rolled her eyes, but Leliana giggled prettily and Sirra lips quirked at the compliment.  Alistair’s skin burned with embarrassment, well aware that the knight was purposely teasing him. Andraste’s flaming sword!

“I was simply telling Alistair, my dear lady, that you would be sure to find aid in Redcliffe.”  The knight’s gaze snapped to his at the emphasis and he barely reined in a tortured groan. 

Sirra chuckled huskily and he looked down in time to witness Donall press a lingering kiss to her knuckles while holding her dark stare.  “I do hope we see each other again soon, dear Warden.” Delicately releasing her hand Ser Donall stood, still wearing a smirk and patted Alistair’s back as he passed and exited the Chantry.

Leliana’s bright giggle bubbled forth again.  “Well! If all of Arl Eamon’s knights are so solicitous, maybe we should go there first, no?”  The archer winked at Sirra who chuckled softly, staring at her knuckles in a daze. 

Alistair couldn’t respond, too stunned by the day’s events, remembering suddenly why he needed a walk around the Chantry in the first place.  Knowing he wasn’t going to get one now, he turned with a resigned sigh to the door, and was halfway through the courtyard when a brilliant pop of color caught his eye.

A single red rose stood in stark contrast to the black, withered bush it sprouted from.  He reached out to it reverently, marveling at such beauty in the midst of despair. The King was dead and the Grey Wardens with him while darkspawn marched on Ferelden.  This little hamlet would soon be swallowed up by the Blight, yet…even in this time of trial and suffering, beauty emerged almost to spite the darkness. 

Sirra’s face danced through his mind and he considered the similarities between the two.  She may not be a dainty flower, but she did bruise easily on an emotional front and there was a softness to her, underneath the tattoos and fierceness.  She was thorny too – at times brash and easily angered. Maker help anyone who pissed her off! A large grin sprouted on his face when he recalled how she lost her cool with Morrigan.  But those were qualities he actually appreciated about her. Sirra could hold her own – she didn’t need a man to protect her, but that didn’t stop him from wanting to or stepping in on the field if it was warranted.  He would take her wrath later, if it meant keeping her alive. If it meant that one day, he might rub his thumb across her tattoos when she was awake and feel her soft skin under his fingers because she invited his touch. 

Alistair gradually realized he was stroking the velvety petals and with a blush he yanked his hand away, but he couldn’t leave it.  The horde was coming and soon the entire area would be black and twisted like the bush and the rose would sicken and die. His chest tightened at the very idea and he shoved the small voice in his head that told him he wasn’t thinking about the rose into a dark corner and slammed the door.  Before he could stop himself Alistair plucked the flower, enjoying the fragrant aroma that filled the air and pulled out a rag from his pack to carefully wrap it in and tucked into the pouch on his belt. 

The women had long since passed him, leaving him alone in the Chantry courtyard, apparently understanding his need for space.  Willing his blush to fade at his impetuous action and the secret reason for it, Alistair left the grounds and caught up with them on the other side of the bridge.  Sirra pushed off the wall she’d been leaning on and looked at him with a soft frown, uncertainty swirling in the fathomless depths of her eyes. 

“Are you okay, Alistair?”  He dug deep to pull out his best smile, but it must not have reflected in his eyes because her frown deepened, yanking her sharply angled brows low in concern.

“I’m fine.  I just needed a breather after today.”  He forcefully squashed the images of the tavern from his mind, not wanting to evaluate the particulars of that right now.

Brushing a strand of hair behind her ear that escaped during one of the fights, Sirra shuffled her feet anxiously.  “Alistair, if you want to talk –“

“We should keep going, actually.  While we still have daylight to find a decent campsite.” 

Hefting his pack higher on his shoulder, he felt the guilt slice him to the core at her crestfallen expression and her mumbled concession that he was right, of course, they should leave.  His lungs tightened, refusing to expand as she walked away, leaving him gasping like a fish out of water for a few nerve-wracking seconds until his traitorous body remembered how to function and allowed him to suck in a grateful gulp of air. 

Sirra and Leliana took up the lead and he followed, still light-headed from his prior lack of oxygen, and tried to avoid standing too close to Morrigan.  But proximity hadn’t stopped the witch so far and it didn’t work this time, either. 

“That was masterfully done, Alistair, if I do say so myself.”

Clenching his fists, he gritted his teeth in anger.  “Why do you say that?”

Alistair seethed and tossed her a scathing look over his shoulder.  Her gloating expression sent his stomach roiling and all of his willpower was required to keep from vomiting.  Morrigan’s laugh was more condescending than usual and it grated his frayed nerves. 

“I think my earlier goal was easily accomplished and all it took was for you to be an insecure man.”

Resisting the urge to throttle her, barely, he snorted in irritation.  “Why in Andraste’s name do you care anyway if we get along or not?”

Still eyeing her in his peripheral vision, the witch glared at him with her beady yellow eyes and sneered.  “Simple. I don’t like you and I enjoy watching you suffer.”  

“Very mature.  I’m not the only one your little games affect, you know,” Alistair scoffed.

Grinning wolfishly, Morrigan flicked her fingers with scorn.  “Well, you would know all about that, wouldn’t you, Alistair?”

Alistair’s steps faltered as her words sank in and ice water coursed through his veins. Morrigan shoulder checked him, hard, as she passed with a wicked chuckle. He didn’t have the energy to bash her head in with his shield, even though he desperately wanted to, because damn it – the blasted witch was right.

Shit.

 

Chapter Text


The battle raged around them.  Flaming arrows whistled through the air, setting men and monsters alike aflame, but he couldn’t get distracted by stray projectiles.  Slicing a genlock in two, he moved onto the next that immediately stepped up to fill the void, while blocking the strike of a mace on his left from a hurlock frothing with rage at missing its target.

He needed to get round the crush of warriors.  He needed to find Duncan!  A flash of gold on the field caught his gaze and he wanted to rail at Cailan for being a fool, but he wouldn’t have heard him over the hisses and growls and squelches of bodies hitting the ground.  Funny how all men were suddenly brought equal in death – peasant, merchant, noble, king – no one cared who you were in the heat of battle, darkspawn least of all.  Yet, that didn’t mean that the King should be reckless, wearing his gleaming armor like a beacon to every foe on the front lines.

Alistair knew that Duncan would be at the King’s side.  He needed to reach them both, to shield them and guarantee they survived the night, and keep Loghain from instigating civil war to give the country a united front against the Blight.  A roar rent the air, pausing the battle on both sides.  Goosebumps erupted across his flesh and a cold sweat replaced the heat from the exertion of the fight. 

Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh. 

Wings and not just any wings – massive wings sluiced across the dark sky.  Trees swayed and loose grass not mired in muck billowed in clouds along the trampled earth.  His heart sank and the sour tang of bile filled his mouth which he swallowed thickly.

WHOOSH, WHOOSH, WHOOSH.

It was closer now and the darkspawn screeched in excitement.  The unholy racket of a thousand spawn cheering and banging their swords on bloody shields had Alistair clenching his ass cheeks together in opposition of his nervous bowels.  He was frozen in horror – his pulse pounding an erratic tattoo in his chest as the sound drew nearer. 

WHOOSH, WHOOSH, WHOOSH.

A thunderous roar, so loud he clapped his hands over his ears and cried out in terror, reverberated through the night echoing dully in his skull.  He shouldn’t be afraid - he was a Grey Warden!  But shit, he was petrified.  The forest around them lit up, a veritable tinderbox as the Archdemon spewed purple fire from its mouth; hemming those on the field in, sealing off their potential escape route and instantly killing any who had already fled the battle hoping to disappear in the Wilds.

Diving on silent wings it snatched Cailan in its maw and raked Duncan aside with ease.  Spearing him with a claw, turning the Warden’s white armor crimson, it shook him off like an insignificant gnat and took to the sky with its prize.  The darkspawn cackled with anticipation and Alistair fought the urge to vomit as the Archdemon roared again, sending its trophy spiraling to the ground from a thousand feet up.  Screwing his lids shut to be spared the sight of his liege – his brother – becoming a smear on the ground did nothing to prevent his heart from lurching against his ribcage at the gruesome thud of Cailan’s lifeless body slamming, crunching, squishing into the mud.

 Alistair collapsed numbly to his knees, heedless of the battle or the hot tears mingling with icy rain, as the dragon bellowed in triumph from on high. He did not raise his shield to stop the hurlock’s mace a second time.


It was always the same.  Mother was passed out Stone-drunk, drooling on the table in the hovel she called home.  Rica was gone, probably at some fancy noble shindig they seemed to throw all the time, on the never-ending hunt for a patron and freedom from the Carta.

A heavy knock pounded on the door and Sirra rolled her eyes.  There was only one person who would dare cross her after the day they had in Beraht’s service and she didn’t want to deal with more of his shit today.  She planned to sleep until next week or at least until tomorrow since the boss would inevitably have another job for her.  Stomping to the door, she yanked it open with a sneer, a tongue lashing already prepared for the idiot duster outside.

"Leske, you bast –“

A chill crept up her spine.  Nobody stood on the stoop and Dust Town was silent.  It was never silent.  There were always the sounds of beggars rattling their tin mugs, whores plying their trade in the close alleyways, wet coughs and sniffles of phlegmatics as they huddled around smokey fires.  This was unnatural.

Stepping into the square the house faced, Sirra crept on quiet feet, hissing names of those who frequented the area, but never receiving an answer.  Goosebumps broke out on her skin and her throat seized in panic as she turned tail and dashed to the house.  Slamming the door shut, she braced her back to the stone, panting raggedly – eyes closed to let the coolness calm her and the touch of rock under her palms anchor her to reality.

"Sirra?  Sister, are you alright?” 

Sighing happily, a ghost of a smile graced her face.  “Rica, you’re home.  I was worr –“ 

She opened her lids and gasped in horror.  Rica was wearing the same blue dress she remembered from the day of the Proving, but it was tattered and covered in black ichor.  Rica’s once beautiful hair the color of molten lava was lackluster and dimmed to faded embers, threadbare in places where it had always been too thick to trail fingers through.  Her bright eyes were opaque and black, tainted spiderwebs crawled under her milky skin.

"Oh, Rica.  No, no, no, no.”

"What’s the matter, Sirra?  This is the best thing that ever happened to me.  I can hear the song and it’s so beautiful.  Don’t you want to hear it, too?"

Swallowing hard the younger dwarf shook her head.  “No, Rica, I don’t.  You don’t want to either, not really.”

The ghoul wearing her sister’s face shuffled closer and Sirra could feel her oily, slickness in her mind and she choked down the acid scalding her insides.  The pounding on the other side of the door returned.  Planting her feet against the flagstones, she prayed to any Ancestors that might deign to listen to give her strength enough to withstand as the hammering continued, scooting her boots across the worn tiles.

Ghoul Rica – It – smiled, tearing the fragile skin of her face, leaving trails of black-tinged blood to run over her chin and stain the collar of her faded dress.  “Mother is waiting for you, sister.  She wants you to come home.”

Aware of who Ricca truly spoke of she played dumb.  “Mother is right there, Rica.  I am home.  I don’t need to go anywhere.”

It laughed; a rough, broken wheeze so far removed from Rica’s trills of delight that Sirra’s heart crumbled to dust.  Stifling a sob, she unintentionally lessened her hold on the door for a split second allowing it to open enough for a wickedly curved talon to slip inside, scrabbling across the stone for her.  Spearing her meaty calf, she screamed in agony while the Archdemon roared in victory – echoing triumphantly throughout the thaig, shaking the very foundations of the city.  Rica leered wider, completely covering her lower lip and chin in black blood, drenching her neck and dress with taint.

"Time to go home, sister.  Mother is insistent that you join us.  We have so much planned for you.  Come home with me – I can show you the way.”

She shook her head and begged for mercy, pleaded for death, but it was too late.  She’d been caught and there was no escape.  Not now.  Rica shoved her away from the door, jerking it open for the dragon to drag her past the threshold and into the square, a trail of blood following in her wake.

“Come home, Stone-daughter.  Your sister is one of us, so you can stop resisting.  Let me care for you.”

The silver embroidery of Rica’s dress flashed in the torchlight, a metallic sheen in the dark heart of Dust Town, reminding her there was a way out after all.  Flicking her wrist, her throwing knife fell neatly in her palm, its worn hilt instantly familiar.  Staring into the creature’s obsidian orbs with steel in her bones and pure hatred in her heart, Sirra snarled vehemently.

“Never.” 

Plunging the razor-sharp blade deep in her gut, she twisted the handle to maximize damage for a quick death, and tumbled blissfully into the Void as angry screams resonated through the Stone.


She scrambled out of her tent in unison with Alistair, both panting and dry heaving, drenched in sweat gluing their nightclothes to goose pimpled skin.  Unthinking she reached out and clutched his hand, causing him to shiver involuntarily and sink to his knees, tears falling unchecked down his cheeks as ragged sobs hitched violently from his broad chest.  He buried his head against her shoulder and Sirra cried disjointedly into his neck as they mentally sifted through the haunting images that tore them from their beds.

Desperately they clung – seeking the touch of someone alive and willing to simply hold them.  There weren’t many times in either of their lives when they could claim to have a support system that wasn’t manipulated to benefit somebody else instead of them.  But here, in the secluded Ferelden countryside, there were no Carta bosses or Chantry priests to stand in their way of finding solace and understanding in one another. 

It took a while for them to calm down.  Their nightmares played on deeply rooted fears and insecurities that neither of them had words to accurately describe – only long buried pain that bled profusely once the bandages covering the wounds were ripped away. 

Sirra was grateful their mutual outburst hadn’t roused anyone in the camp – their sobs were anything, but quiet.  Yet, they managed to avoid disturbing their companions and the dwarven merchants they rescued outside Lothering from darkspawn.  

“I-I’m sorry,” Alistair finally managed to whisper brokenly in-between gasps of air and chattering teeth as he trembled. 

Sirra shook her head gently against his skin, struggling to be understood through tight vocal cords.  “Don’t be,” she rasped.  “I’m sorry…if touching you was the wrong idea…I-I just needed –“

“No, no.  I needed it too,” he breathed.  “More than I realized, actually.”  Calming down at last, Alistair’s tense muscles relaxed enough that his tremors eased into intermittent twitches and his teeth stopped crashing together.  Sirra inhaled deeply to slow her racing heart, timing her breaths to match his until the overworked organ was no longer in danger of bursting from her breast. 

“Want to talk about it,” she asked quietly.  Alistair leaned out of her embrace to stare into her warm gaze full of concern tinged with a little fear.  His gut twisted painfully as it dawned on him that his earlier reaction caused her to fret over his response. 

Sighing heavily, he plopped onto the ground and patted the space next to him.  “I guess…it’s about Duncan.”  Sirra nodded encouragingly, but Alistair couldn’t meet her eye – not yet.  “I should have died instead and then he would be here.  If he were here, he would know what to do.  How to reach Wardens in other countries, which allies to track down first, to help you adjust to life as a Grey Warden.  I’ve only been a Warden for six months and I don’t know what I’m damned well doing.”

Sirra studied his grief-stricken expression thoughtfully before replying.  “I don’t think Duncan would see it that way.”  Alistair swiveled his face away with a disbelieving huff.  “I’ve been a Warden for far less time, Alistair, but I don’t think you are as unprepared as you imagine.  You are an excellent warrior, one of the most skilled I’ve ever met, and you know the Arl of Redcliffe.  I’m sure that is going to come in handy in rallying support for the Blight.”

Alistair blushed at her compliment regarding his physical prowess wishing that he could bask, even temporarily, in her kind words.  Instead, he nervously ran a hand down his face as another wave of cold sweat broke out across his back.  Shit, he needed to tell her who he was!  But how in the Void do you just blurt that little piece of information after everything they’d experienced together and not have it blow a giant hole in their new whatever-this-was?

“I suppose you’re right – it’s not like my dying would have made him happier.”  Alistair grimaced, clenching his fists so tight his knuckles blanched.  Andraste forgive him, he was a coward.  Sirra shot him a gentle smile, unaware of his true inner turmoil and it only made his guilt worse.  “I want to have a proper funeral for him.  Once this is all over.  I don’t think he had any family.”

“He had you, Alistair, and he would approve, I’m sure.”  Tucking her knees under her chin, she tilted her head slightly, staring at the way the fire light added a subtle radiance to his already golden complexion.  “I could come with you, if you want.”

Alistair grinned then, warm and genuine, mesmerized by the flames reflecting in her dark eyes.  “I would appreciate that and so would Duncan.”  Clearing his throat softly, Alistair murmured, “Thank you.  It…was good to talk about it, even a little bit.  And…thank you for your earlier compliment.  I-I don’t feel very worthy of it, but it means a lot.”

“You’re welcome, Alistair.  I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t mean it.”  Alistair blushed at that and Sirra bit the inside of her cheek to restrain her smirk.

A pregnant pause descended, each of them finding distractions in the silence – a patch of pebbles for him and a loose thread in her nightshirt for her.  Casting a furtive glance at the man beside her, taking note of his hunched posture as an indication that he was trying to hide, she bit her lip and gathered her courage.  Although she risked angering her fellow Warden, she had to dig deeper, well aware that Duncan was not his sole burden. 

“Is there anything else you wanted to discuss?” 

Alistair froze and didn’t answer.  Bile rose hot and fast in his throat.  He choked it down as he replayed the leer of the mercenary and his vulgar promise to abuse her in bed.  His heart shattered into a million pieces on the sticky tavern floor when she leaned into the captain’s touch and whispered that she wanted him to…do those things to her.  Even after she ruthlessly cut him down and he realized it was a ruse, his heart continued to bleed, and he found it difficult to look at her.

He knew it was stupid.  It was a tactic she employed to get the mercenary drop his guard and it didn’t mean anything.  Alistair was confident that Sirra would never have gone willingly to bed with anyone who worked for the man that betrayed their Order.  That betrayed him.  Closing his eyes for a brief moment, he allowed himself to wallow in the rejection that hadn’t been real – he wasn’t sure why he tortured himself this way, but he felt that he deserved it somehow.  It would be just his luck to find a woman that interested him only for her to abandon him and literally sleep with the enemy.  Shaking his head fervently he banished the thought – Sirra would never do that. 

And how could he explain all that nonsense to her without sounding like a possessive jackboot?  No better than the brute that manhandled her?  Glancing over at her, he gauged her emotional state and found her observing him askance: full lip worried between her teeth, nose ring flashing in the orange glow, fingers fiddling with the hem of her sleep shirt.  Alistair blushed when he finally registered her state of undress; he paired his sleep shirt with cotton breeches, but she didn’t.  The fabric reached her knees, but there were flashes of soft flesh exposed in the dark with the two of them alone that made his heart race. 

Andraste, she’s beautiful.  I want to comfort her, but I don’t know how without mucking it up.

With another shake of his head, he tore his gaze away from her tempting curves.  But Sirra didn’t give up.  Sighing softly in the quiet of the camp, she curled tighter into a ball and leaned forward slightly, using her loose hair as a curtain to separate them.

“Is it about the tavern?”  Her gravelly voice filled the looming chasm that had grown between them and he wished he could deny it, but he couldn’t.  She would have seen through his lie anyway.

“Yes,” Alistair murmured.

Sirra jerked as though she’d been kicked square in the gut.  A tiny word brimming with such broken-hearted despair that she felt his rejection as though it was her own. 

As they traveled the bannorn, Sirra confided to Leliana concerning the current state of affairs dividing them and that she wasn’t sure how to fix things.  The rogue had been sympathetic and explained that on the surface, women were expected to be chaste.  They rarely flaunted their sexuality, much less their desire to bed a man publicly, unless they worked in a particular field.  She patiently pointed out that using sex appeal as a way to lower an enemy’s guard would certainly be upsetting to a man raised in a monastery and unused to women using their assets to their advantage.  In her world it was commonplace and only the most idiotic or desperate of dwarven men would have been gullible enough to fall prey to her wiles, but on the surface the rules were obviously very different.

Combined with what Alistair knew of her sister’s profession, Sirra feared it left him questioning if she had ever stooped so low.  The uncertainty of what her partner might be thinking of her filled her with self-loathing.  Her arms wound tightly around her middle as a pit of despair yawned wide in her stomach.  She wasn’t a blushing virgin, which must be abundantly clear to him now, but she wasn’t the type to apologize for her sexuality or for enjoying the occasional meaningless tumble.  So, why was she so worried about his opinion of her?  Sirra screwed her eyes shut and buried her face in her sweaty palms, trying to smother the ache in her chest, choking on the whimpers lodged in her throat.  She was well aware why it mattered and it cut like a thousand knives to think that he might hate her.

Alistair broke the uncomfortable silence with a whisper.  “I-I wanted to kill him for touching you.  He…hurt you and still you didn’t fight.  I didn’t understand why you wouldn’t.  But then he…said that he…and you encouraged it…” Exhaling with difficulty, Sirra heard his loud gulp as he tried to regain his composure. 

When next he spoke, his velvety voice was scratchy with unshed tears.  “After you killed him, I realized then what you’d been doing and why you did it.  It made sense to play on his…base nature, but that didn’t make it any easier to watch.” 

Sirra nodded, rocking her dark sheet of hair, but she didn’t reply or steal a peek at his forlorn expression.  The curtain was required to be this vulnerable. 

Ancestors save me for caring what this man thinks of me.  I’m stronger than this and I know shouldn’t care so much, but I do.  He’s all I have. 

Alistair shuffled closer until his breath gently stirred her loose strands and she shivered at his sudden proximity.  “I know it’s stupid.  We barely know each other and yet…I couldn’t help feeling rejected on the floor with that mercenary’s sword at my throat.  For a moment, I thought – I thought you might go with him and…that I meant nothing.”  Alistair choked on the last word, unintentionally baring more of his pain than he intended and hoped that she wouldn’t forsake him after all.

Sirra faced him sharply, tossing her hair over her shoulder and stared at him incredulously.  “No, never!  I would never have gone with him and I would never hurt you…well, not on purpose anyway.  I’m sorry that it did; I didn’t mean for it to.”  Tears welled in her eyes, pleading for him to understand, and he took one of her calloused hands with a tender smile.

“I know that.  I was an idiot and I made you feel worse about a bad situation.  You were simply manipulating him.  My logical brain recognizes it a cunning strategy, but the more…emotional side –“

“I’m sorry,” she breathed, hanging her head mournfully and Alistair’s gut twisted with guilt.  Reaching out he slowly lifted her chin so he could see her face, drinking in the sight of her tattooed features crinkled with shame, lips red and plump from nervous biting.

“Please, it’s not your fault for how I read into things.  You have nothing to be sorry for, Sirra.  Nothing at all.”  Chuckling half-heartedly, he graced her with a wan smile.  “I am very cross that you didn’t let me kill him, though.” 

Sirra grinned crookedly at his teasing, the ring in her nose winking gold in the warm light.  “What can I say?  Can it actually be called a Wednesday if I’m not covered in some lecherous human’s blood?”

Alistair snorted as a genuine grin bloomed on his face.  His gaze landed on the cut breaking the skin of her cheek, the line ending a hairs breadth beneath her left tattoo and he ran his thumb gently across it.  “It’s looking better.”

Sirra licked her lips at his tender touch.  “Yes, uh, Leliana…cleaned it and applied ointment to it while you were in the Chantry.”

Amber met mahogany and his heart stuttered in his chest.  His voice plummeted a full register when he spoke again.  “I’m glad.  I don’t think it will scar.”

“Would that bother you, if it did?”  Sirra leaned into his touch, unspoken desire evident by the flush high on her cheeks and the uptick in her breathing as his sword roughened thumb idly danced across her soft skin. 

“No,” Alistair rumbled, earnestly holding her gaze.  “Not the scar – only how you got it.” 

Sirra sucked in a sharp breath and his eyes flicked to her mouth a second before he bent to close the tiny distance between them.  Sirra let her eyelids fall, her entire body anticipating the caress of his lips on hers, quivering in excitement for the moment she didn’t think would ever come.  Maybe she really was sun touched, maybe she’d gone insane, but right now she didn’t give a damn as blood thundered in her ears and fire lapped along her nerve endings.

A brisk snap of canvas and Leliana’s melodious voice sent Alistair flying backwards and Sirra feeling bereft.  Her skin tingled where his hand had lain against her cheek while her lips ached for the lost opportunity to discover if his were as soft as they looked.

The redhead stretched with a yawn.  “Is it my turn for the night watch?” 

Alistair mumbled an affirmative and shot Sirra a sheepish glance, rubbing his neck awkwardly and flushing crimson to his exposed toes.  Merciful Andraste, did he almost kiss her?  Whatever had possessed him?  They were just talking about a man she murdered without remorse because he planned to drag her to bed and then turn her over to Loghain.

He drank her in, sitting in her night shift, disappointment and desire flashing across her features.  Even if she did want him to kiss her, it wasn’t a good idea, he knew.  No matter how much he wanted it, too.  They had a job to do.  Grey Wardens were the only ones capable of ending a Blight and he was technically her superior in rank, despite the fact that he deferred to her in terms of leadership.  He would be taking advantage of her as much as the mercenary, if not more so, since she was a subordinate that he was aware would willingly take things past the line of respectability.   

But it was so hard to deny his growing feelings for her.  Surely, they couldn’t be all wrong, right?   Andraste herself had a human husband before she became the Bride of the Maker – even siring children! The Chantry didn’t condemn…relations between men and women; they simply stated that they should be married first.  Yet Alistair recognized that very few people maintained their chastity until marriage and after meeting Sirra he finally understood why.

Rising to her diminutive height, Sirra dusted her shift with a polite good night to Leliana.  Turning her gaze to Alistair she bobbed her head faintly, a sad smile barely quirking the corners of her lips as she ducked into her tent.  Alistair scrunched his eyes and cursed himself for a fool, throwing his large frame into his own canvas shelter with a grunt.  Yanking the blanket of his bedroll over his head he wished the ground would open up under him to spare him future embarrassment, like he did every time he tripped up in her presence.

Sirra faced his tent and listened to his muffled grumbling, smirking at his personal admonishments.  Yes, she was disappointed, but she was also cognizant that he was shy and lacked confidence.  Alistair wasn’t the type to let others be privy to such intimate moments.  Their attraction to each another had been immediate and it ran deeper than she expected.  His gentleness and protectiveness allowed her to feel valued for the first time in a long time.  No one had ever stepped in front of a blade for her like he had yesterday.  It wasn’t the Carta way – you were on your own, in spite of having a partner to watch your back.  Alistair though, had her back in every fight whether darkspawn or bandits, even teaming up with her whenever Morrigan was particularly snide.  He had her back in life

It was a welcome realization, yet it wasn’t until that moment she discerned how much she craved a true connection with someone.  Even if things with Alistair never grew beyond the bounds of friendship, she needed a person in her life that she could trust completely and reveal her softer side to without fear.  Sirra hoped as they continued their journey to gather allies and end the Blight that nothing would ruin this precious new relationship they were building.  

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

After Lothering, the party took a few days to rest at their campsite and trade with the dwarven vendor, Bodahn, for supplies.  Meeting her first surface dwarf went better than Sirra expected. He told her he was a former merchant from Orzammar who utilized the help of the Carta occasionally, to procure goods from the Deep Roads languishing in ancient thaigs.  His methods might offend some people, but Sirra recognized a sound business opportunity. 

The dwarf didn’t always stay with them.  He regularly made excursions to nearby settlements and traded off his inventory, returning with more health potions and better arms he believed the Wardens would purchase.  Bodahn had foregone the trip to Redcliffe with them, promising to meet them after they completed their discussions with the arling.

And now, Alistair’s home village was within sight. 

The four of them made the week and a half long trek from Lothering to Redcliffe, dispatching small bands of darkspawn as they traveled, culling the wolf population enough that Sirra hoped the beasts would not recover their original numbers.  She appreciated the price their pelts fetched, though, and how warm the hides were when they were turned into sleeping furs. She’d grown up underground with magma rivers – Ferelden was frigid by comparison, especially at night, but she was much warmer with her new wolf's fur blankets.

Alistair shifted uneasily beside her, continuously fussing with the hammered mail resting against his collarbone and she glanced at him for the tenth time in three minutes.  Something was bothering him as they neared the place he’d advocated they visit first. It set her teeth on edge, but she didn’t want to ask him what was wrong – she kept hoping that he would confide in her on his own.

He felt her gaze on him before shifting her eyes away and he groaned inwardly.  Maker, help him, he needed to tell her.  They were close enough to the village now that he could hear the waterfall that ran over the cliffs and powered the mill.  Ten years had passed since he’d left the modest village, shipped to the monastery in the dead of night, but he could see it clearly in his mind.  Alistair wondered what, if anything, had changed. Did the Rothschild’s still make goat’s milk cheese sweetened with honey that he used to smear on apple slices?  Did the Coulter’s boy become a squire in the Arl’s service? What became of Bella after her mother caught the sweating sickness?

Damn it - there was the bridge.  Once they crossed it, they would walk into his past – a past that she needed to know about, regardless of Eamon’s health.  Andraste’s flaming sword, he would rather fall on it than say what he had to right now. Leliana and Morrigan walked across the narrow walkway and Alistair spun in front of her to prevent her from following while clearing his throat.

“Can we talk a moment?  I have something to tell you – I should, probably, have told you earlier.”  Sirra frowned and crossed her arms over her chest. Her wary, yet expectant,  expression weighed heavily on him and Alistair cleared his throat again. 

“Did I mention how I know Arl Eamon?”  Shaking her head, Alistair blurted out in a rush.  “I’m a bastard! My mother was a serving girl in Redcliffe castle, but she died giving birth to me and Eamon took me in.”  He wrung his hands anxiously at her tense posture, her frown deepening by the second. “The reason he did that is, well…because my father was King Maric.  Which made Cailan my, half-brother, I suppose,” he finished with a grimace, rubbing the back of his neck uncomfortably.

Sirra reeled in shock, stumbling numbly backwards, heart in her throat when she managed to croak a coherent reply.  “You’re – you’re royalty? That makes you the heir to the throne,” she rasped. Ancestors, she’d been so stupid! He was a prince!  She was a casteless dwarf and he was...out of her league.

“Maker’s breath, no!”  Alistair lifted his hands, palms up in supplication as he explained.  “It was always made very clear to me that I’m a commoner. I didn’t grow up in the palace.  I wasn’t schooled as a prince. I slept with the hounds, for Andraste’s sake! My place has never been the throne.  The very idea of it almost gives me a heart attack.”

She shook her head sadly, too hurt to look him directly, choosing to stare at the red dirt that gave the town its name.  “You may not have much choice, Alistair.” 

He closed his eyes and clenched his fists, digging his nails into his palms, leaving half-moons imprinted on his skin.  “Please, I can’t even think of it, right now. I just…I needed to tell you before we got to Redcliffe. It’s important for you to know.”

The dwarven woman toyed with the handle of her throwing knife and Alistair steeled himself for imminent death at the hands of an angry former Carta member.  

“Why did you wait so long?  Why didn’t you trust me,” Sirra muttered accusingly.

“No, no, please, it’s not that I didn’t trust you!”  Raking his fingers roughly through his hair, his amber gaze pleaded with her to understand.  “It’s just…ugh, after Ostagar when I should have told you, it just seemed like it was too late by then!  And then later…I don’t know, I guess I liked that you didn’t know.  How do you just tell someone that ?”

“There have been opportunities, Alistair.  You’ve been avoiding it.” Lifting her dark eyes, she glared at him accusingly.

He flinched at the naked hurt reflected in them and nodded in concession.  “Maybe I have. But only because I liked you seeing me for me – not the bastard prince.”  Alistair tossed up his hands in frustration. “People treat me differently after they find out.  Even Duncan kept me out of the fighting because of it! I hate it! Its shaped every aspect of my life, but why?  I was told I would never be king, why did it even matter anymore? They shoved me into the Templars and now I’m a Grey Warden, which means I can’t be king.”

Sirra’s brow furrowed.  “Why does that matter?”

“Grey Wardens are politically neutral,” he stated flatly, scuffing the toe of his boot through the sienna dust.

Huffing incredulously, Sirra stared at him.  “Do you really think that will stop anyone?” Alistair pinched the bridge of his nose and shrugged despondently.  Peeking around his large frame, Sirra held up a finger to their companions who were observing them curiously. 

He ran a hand through his hair with a sigh.  “The Arlessa hates me. She believed the rumors that pegged me as Eamon’s bastard and was the reason I was sent to the abbey.  So, just be prepared for her to dig in her heels and refuse to help us as long as Eamon is ill.”

Uncrossing her arms, Sirra tossed them wide in agitation. “Then why did you come here, knowing that we wouldn’t find allies?”

Alistair faced her sadly, grief casting shadows in his usually warm gaze.  “Because it’s home and I haven’t been here in a decade. I couldn’t turn down the chance to see it…just once before the Blight ruins everything I hold dear.”

Sirra’s chest tightened at the vulnerability in his statement and she inclined her head in understanding.  “I-I suppose I couldn’t deny you that. I only wish you had told me from the beginning.

His voice was apologetic when he replied.  “I am sorry. But now you know and we can just pretend that you still think I’m some nobody too lucky to die at Ostagar.”

His words were ice in her veins and she barely choked out a response.  “That’s not really what you think, is it?”

Alistair shook his head, pointedly avoiding her gaze and whispered, “No.  What I actually think is that I was lucky enough to survive with you.” Spinning on his heel, he crossed the bridge, an air of sadness enveloping him that Sirra hadn’t seen since he lost Duncan. 

With a resigned sigh, Sirra followed behind him, only taking her place at the front of the group as the others halted on the rise past the bridge.  Alistair refused to look her as they spoke to the petrified villager, but he was familiar with the noble protecting the town from unnamed creatures attacking the townsfolk every night and suggested they speak to him. 

“Wonderful.  Apparently, everyone seems to believe a Blight is the perfect time to kill each other.”  Morrigan muttered savagely and for once, Sirra agreed much as she loathed to admit it. Following Tomas into the village, she noted Alistair glancing around curiously taking stock of his surroundings.     

“Has it changed much since you were a boy, Alistair,” Sirra asked softly.  The warrior flushed at being caught and tried to rein in his interest with little success.

“Not really, no.  A few new houses and they expanded the mill.  The windmill has been there for hundreds of years.”  They crossed a second bridge directly under the mill and Alistair excitedly pointed out the stables at the top of the hill next to the tavern.  “I used to dream about being a groomsman or a squire, so I spent a lot of time with the horses. I didn’t have many friends, but I had them.”

“Do you ever regret your Templar training?”

Alistair paused for a moment and flicked his gaze to her respectfully.  “Initially, yes, since it wasn’t my choice, but now…no, I don’t. I was actually quite good at it and the priests saw us educated before we began training.  I am very glad I got away before I said my vows. As much as I appreciate the training, I never wanted to be a Templar.” 

She merely nodded as she focused on the ground to keep from losing her footing on the steep hill that led to the center of town.  Alistair threw out a hand to assist and then just as quickly pulled it back uncertainly and Sirra felt sick. The news he dumped on her had irrevocably changed them.  He would likely be king, whether or not he wanted it, and she was fated to be his dwarven Grey Warden companion and nothing more. To entertain anything else would only bring heartbreak – well, more heartbreak.

Alistair coughed softly, yanking her from her reverie.  “What about you?”

“What about me,” Sirra asked curiously. 

“Well, I mean...did you have any training to learn your skills?”  As soon as the words left his mouth, Alistair wished they hadn’t. Her warm expression turned stony and her back stiffened in affront.

“No,” she curtly answered.  “I learned everything I needed to know on the streets.”

“Ah, of course, I’m sorry.  It was a stupid question.” Alistair blew out an embarrassed breath.  Sirra was tempted to say something to ease the awkwardness shrouding them, but they arrived at the Chantry and there wasn’t time. 

“Tomas, who have you brought?  They do not look like simple travelers.”  Bann Teagan’s voice was smooth as mead and just as warm.  It suited his refined good looks – dark hair with a single braid on the left side, bright blue eyes, straight nose and strong jawline.  Feeling a little petty, a wicked idea crossed Sirra’s mind as she observed the man.

“No, my lord.  They came seeking to speak to the Arl, so I brought them to you instead.” 

The noble nodded in thanks, casting his azure gaze to the odd group of three humans led by a dwarven woman without batting an eye, further raising her estimation of him.  “Greetings, friends. My name is Teagan, Bann of Rainesferre, brother to the Arl.”

Alistair piped up with a teasing grin.  “I remember you, Bann Teagan. Though, the last time we met, I was a lot younger and covered in mud.”

Teagan’s face lit up with a brilliant smile, dashing to grasp him by the shoulders.  “Alistair, by the Maker, you’re alive! We feared the worst when we heard about the Grey Wardens.”

He laughed and clasped Teagan above the elbows.  “Still alive, though I’m just as surprised as you are.”

The bann scowled furiously.  “Indeed. Loghain instigates civil war after leaving the King, my nephew, to die on the field and blamed the Wardens for his death.  I don’t believe it – it is the act of a desperate man.”

“Yes, we’ve already had the pleasure of meeting some of Loghain’s friends in Lothering,” Sirra intoned dryly, her gravelly voice purposely pitched to sound husky.  Teagan’s eyebrows shot into his hair when he whipped to face her. She smirked mischievously and Alistair frowned behind Teagan’s back as the dynamic between the bann and his fellow Warden shifted instantaneously.

“Forgive me, my lady.  You are a Grey Warden, as well?”  Sirra dipped her head, her smirk growing into a genuine smile that Teagan returned while his eyes traced her curves openly displayed in her snug leathers.  He cleared his throat in realization of the oppressive silence in the Chantry. “Ahem, you are here to see my brother? I’m afraid that will not be possible.  No one has heard from the castle in days. Strange creatures come from the castle grounds and assault the village every night.”

“Yes, Tomas said the same at our arrival.  But what are these things, Teagan?” The bann shrugged helplessly in reply to Alistair’s question.

“I do not know.”  Teagan’s attention fell to Sirra.  “I know you came to see Eamon, but Redcliffe desperately requires aid.  If you help us, I swear on my honor that I will see that you receive troops for the Blight.  If Eamon cannot make decisions, then I must make them in his stead.”

“You would swear Redcliffe’s army to us for the Blight?”  Teagan nodded gravely, saluting with his fist against his heart.  Sirra crossed her arms over her chest and bowed in acknowledgement.  “Then, what do you need us to do, Bann Teagan?”

Thanking her profusely, he recommended they speak to the mayor regarding strategy and battle preparations, sending Tomas to inform the local leadership they would be by shortly.  Morrigan tsked and grumbled, but ignored by everyone she wandered away from them in disgust. Leliana ambled to the back of the Chantry and gathered the children around for a quick story to distract their minds with happier things. 

Sirra made polite conversation with Teagan, asking if the villagers were protected against the siege, inquiring if they had enough provisions to see them through the night.  The nobleman seemed pleased by her concern and assured her they were well situated for the time being. Flicking her deep brown eyes to the bann with a soft smile, she moved in for the kill, leaning closer with a husky purr.

“And what of you, Bann Teagan?  Do you have a family?”

The man’s lips curved into a knowing smirk.  “Ah, do you mean, am I married?” Her smile turned coy, gazing at him through dark lashes and Teagan hummed appreciatively, purposefully ignoring Alistair’s irritated scoff.  “I have never had the pleasure myself, unfortunately.  If I may be so bold, my lady, are you married?”

Sirra chuckled low and warm, sending shivers of desire through both men, but kept her eyes locked on Teagan’s azure eyes when she murmured. “No, I am not married, my lord.”  

Teagan bowed low, genteelly grasping her small fingers, pressing a lingering kiss to her knuckles, maintaining her intense stare as he did so.  “I find that hard to believe. Surely, that must be a crime to allow such beauty to remain unspoken for.”  

“Such flattery, my lord.”  Her voice wavered in the face of the man’s attentions, pulse quickening in his relaxed hold, held captive by the secret promise swirling in that crystalline gaze.  

Teagan straightened, releasing her with obvious regret. Simpering smugly, the growing tension caused a deep flush to bloom her cheeks, highlighting the tattoos outlining her delicate features.    

“Not nearly enough, I think, my lady,” he smoothly rejoined. 

Alistair sucked in a ragged breath at the easy charisma of his sort-of uncle showering her with compliments, saying things he only wished he could spit out regularly without tripping over his tongue.  He knew she was baiting him after his confession and while it smarted and slightly angered him, part of him felt like he deserved it.  

A relationship between them was doomed to end in failure, if the powers that be managed to finagle his ass on the throne of his deceased brother.  Worse, he knew full well it was possible, yet continued to feed the flames - a cruel and selfish act if there was no hope for them in the long run.  Sirra might be a dwarf, but if she could land someone like Teagan, he couldn’t fault her for this demonstration.

Sirra’s blush finally contained she gathered her wits.  Teagan certainly knew what to say and how to seem sincere, but he wasn’t the one she truly wanted.  Humming noncommittally with a shy smile, she politely excused herself to speak to the mayor. The bann bowed in appreciation as she collected her companions.  Alistair glanced over his shoulder and narrowed his eyes to catch Teagan ogling Sirra’s assets as they exited the building.

Despite his earlier charitableness, Alistair’s jealousy flared hot in his blood and he refused to offer any help while Sirra spoke to the mayor or the blacksmith.  He watched in a red haze of anger as she worked her charms on the smith, promising to find his daughter trapped in the castle, if he would repair the militia’s arms and armor.  The man agreed, gracing her with a genuine smile before they left to inform the mayor.  

Next, they recruited the dwarf warrior, Dwyn, and Alistair nearly lost his damn mind at the dwarf’s passing comment that Sirra was pretty enough for a casteless, openly suggesting they have a quick romp before dying in pointless battle. 

Before Sirra could open her mouth to reply, Alistair jerked the shorter man off the ground with a snarl.  “Get to the square before I knock out all your blasted teeth, dwarf.”

Dropping him unceremoniously, his livid glower stopped the dwarf’s guards in their tracks as they reached for their weapons.  Dwyn picked himself off the floor, grumbling about Stone-blind idiots and duster trash, but Sirra kept her blades sheathed in the face of his insults. Once they departed, Alistair shooed Morrigan and Leliana away, as well.  Slamming the door for privacy he whirled on her, hazel eyes flashing dangerously and snapped through gritted teeth.

“Care to explain what all this is about, Sirra?  Trying to make me jealous or is your goal to actually piss me off?”

Sirra scowled at him from her mocking bow.  “Why would you be jealous, my prince? We both know you can’t be with an illiterate, casteless dwarf when your ass warms the throne. I am not my sister and I will not be relegated to the role of mistress.”

Alistair sputtered indignantly.  “No one has even said I will be king!”

Flinging her arms, Sirra yelled from across the room.  “Not yet, maybe! But they will and you know it! You can’t pretend it away – it doesn’t change that you are the only one of royal blood left! ”

He fixed her with a stare and roared bitterly.  “I never wanted this!  I didn’t ask for my life to be decided for me!  I want to be free to choose my own destiny!  My own –“ Alistair stopped and swallowed hard.  They both breathed too heavily in the cessation of sound.  Sirra’s cheeks were flushed in umbrage, but tears he suspected were more sorrowful than irate filled her eyes, causing his chest to tighten painfully in response.  Heaving a deep sigh, he extended his hand to her and waited patiently.

Sirra warily studied his proffered hand, desperately wanting to take it and feel the comforting strength of his fingers, yet terrified by how much it would hurt later when she’d be forced to give him up.  Glancing at him, she melted at his soft smile and the silent apology that danced in his eyes. Taking a single halting step towards him trepidation settled in her gut. Biting her lip, she took another step and one more until she was close enough to clasp him, if she wished.  Anxiety thrummed through her body, causing her to tremble, but his smile widened in encouragement and against her better judgement Sirra slid her palm into his larger one. 

Alistair closed the distance between them, sinking to a knee in front of her.  He shook violently as he steeled himself to tell her what he’d been struggling to say for days.  She leaned slightly away from him, trying to create space between them to maintain control, because things were quickly spiraling and she couldn’t keep track of anything anymore.  His fingers brushed across her cheek and her eyelids fluttered shut at the touch, breath hitching despite her best efforts to remain unaffected and she mentally cursed herself for being weak.

Opening her eyes after a beat, Alistair was all she saw.  He stared at her with something she’d never seen and didn’t even know how to describe.  Adoration?  No, it was a word Leliana used the other day – reverence.  Alistair used his teeth to snag the leather under his mail gauntlet and yanked it off, holding her gaze as he did so.  Sirra nearly stopped breathing entirely when he cupped her face with his free hand, caressing her brand with his thumb. 

She whimpered at the call of attention to her mark, but Alistair smiled reassuringly and whispered, “I’m not sure if I’m allowed to say I like your tattoos.”  He waited, unsure if he’d crossed a line or upset her by saying something culturally insensitive, especially when her fingers flew up and touched her opposite cheek as a furious blush stained her face.

“You…do?  Even though they mean...”  Sirra swallowed thickly, but he gently lowered her hand.

“On the surface they are just tattoos, which many people have.  They don’t mean that you are worthless – not anymore. Not to me.”  Using his gauntleted hand, he opened the pouch at his belt, unfurling a fabric swatch to reveal a red flower that Leliana hadn’t given her a name for yet.  

Plucking the bloom from its wrapping, Alistair’s voice deepened when he met her gaze.  “Do you know what this is?” Sirra shook her head and bit her lip in embarrassment regarding her ignorance, but he smiled kindly.

“It’s a rose.  I picked it in Lothering.  I remember thinking, how could such beauty exist in the midst of so much…despair and ugliness.  I should have left it alone, but I couldn’t leave it for the darkspawn.  Their taint would destroy it, so I’ve had it ever since.”  Alistair sucked in a quick breath, rallying his courage as he continued.  “I-I thought I might give it to you, because I think much the same when I look at you.  I wanted to tell you what a rare and wonderful person I think you are in this darkness.  And to apologize that I’ve been a prat who wasn’t able to tell you how I feel.”

Sirra hesitantly grasped the flower by the green stem and brushed the velvety petals with the tips of her fingers.  A couple traitorous tears fell down her face and he sweetly thumbed them away. “Th-thank you, Alistair. I-I don’t know what to say.”

Alistair flushed with a nervous smile.  “I’m glad you like it.  Can we move past what happened earlier?”  He leaned forward, laying his forehead against hers, pressing three fingers to the back of her neck.  She nodded, mimicking the salute – both shivering at the caress reserved for them alone.

“Yes,” she breathed in their shared oxygen.  “Can you forgive me for taunting you?”

“Of course.  All is forgotten and forgiven,” he murmured.  They remained in that position for a few heartbeats with eyes closed, listening to the other breathe, feeling their pulse through the tips of calloused fingers.  Sirra separated first, removing her hand from his golden skin and he followed her lead with reluctance, slowly leaning back to create space between them again.

Alistair licked his dry lips.  “We should get back to the others.”  She nodded mutely, but neither of them attempted to actually leave.  Alistair could have stayed where he was until the Archdemon arrived had his knee not protested the continued press into the hardwood floor.  Smiling he stood and took a few wobbly steps to work out the stiffness of his joints.

Sirra passed the discarded gauntlet to him and he tugged it on with a quiet word of thanks.  Her head swam with what happened, while she carefully re-wrapped the rose and gently tucked it in her belt pouch.  After days of dancing around each other, Alistair finally admitted his feelings and she couldn’t find it in her to regret it.  Maybe later, when he was king and they tossed her out of the palace on her ear…but right now, no. She felt more alive than she’d ever felt in her life - the euphoria she currently experienced surpassed the elation from winning the Proving. 

She turned to walk out the door and back to work, but Alistair’s fingers coiled around her wrist, stopping her so he could bow low over her hand.  Sirra expected his lips to touch her knuckles, which seemed to be a standard human greeting. Instead, he shook her to the core by gently rolling her palm face up and placing a lingering kiss on her exposed wrist – directly over her rapid pulse point. 

Hazel eyes bored into brown.  The intimacy of his action ignited a bonfire in her chest, increasing her heart rate.  It was apparent by the twinkle in his gaze he noticed the difference. 

Knowing that he was capable of eliciting such a response was exhilarating and he learned he enjoyed keeping her on her toes.  The wrist maneuver was an impulsive act, but merciful Andraste, he was pleased with his own ingenuity. Watching her shock melt into desire and feeling her blood racing under his lips set his own aflame.   He couldn’t believe that he’d waited so long to tell her how he felt. 

Alistair wasn’t going to let her go.  He would find a way to get out of being king if it killed him.  Eamon or Teagan were better options and the Landsmeet would surely see that, but regardless, he wasn’t putting Sirra aside. Not for the Grey Wardens and not for Ferelden. He fully intended to pursue his own happiness for once and Void help anyone who stood in the way of achieving that dream.

 

Chapter Text

They returned to the task at hand, noticeably happier and stealing not-so-secret glances at each other as they finished making preparations for the village with the mayor and the knights.  Sirra informed Ser Perth of the oil in the store and with Alistair’s help procured amulets from Mother Hannah to bolster their faith for the fight. 

After pick-pocketing an elf in the tavern, they learned that Loghain was somehow responsible for the trouble in the castle.  Yet another atrocity committed by the general. Alistair snatched the elf by his shirt, ordering him to stay and defend the village.  Berwick shifted his gaze to Sirra, hoping for a reprieve, but she twirled a dagger with a predatory smile and he quickly assented. 

Alistair raked a hand unsteadily through his hair, but stilled when Sirra’s alighted on his forearm.  She smiled softly and murmured, “We’ll sort this out, Alistair. I promise.” He nodded and blew out a breath only to suck it right back in as a bright voice exclaimed behind them.

“Wait…Alistair? My Alistair?!” 

The warrior turned slowly and gawked at Bella: the beautiful farmer’s daughter that lost her father at the age of six and her mother only three years later.  She had been his playmate, along with Airic Coulter, from the time they were four years old. The boys vied for her attention when they began to notice girls as more than cohorts in their shenanigans.  They went to outrageous lengths to prove their worth over the other. Swimming from one side of the lake to the other, the winner earning the right to hold her hand behind the stables when the sun set on Summerday.  Or jumping from the top of the mill into a hay mound in a dangerous show of bravery and nearly breaking their legs. And here she was – working in the local tavern. Still undeniably beautiful with her bright green eyes, flaming red hair, and signature smile.

“Andraste’s mercy, Alistair!  All grown up!” Bella leapt into his arms, twining her own around his neck in a fierce hug.  His eyes brimming with uncertainty, he glanced at Sirra over the woman’s shoulder, but she let him off the hook with a bemused grin.  He awkwardly patted Bella on the back, much to the collective amusement of the tavern, and flushed crimson.

“Bella…it’s, ah, good to see you.  How have you been?” She stepped out of his arms, allowing him to breathe easier with proper boundaries re-established, but slapped his chest smartly with a cleaning rag.  Alistair grimaced at the scowl on her face, bracing for an imminent tongue lashing a decade in the making.

“I’ve bloody missed you, that’s what!  You had to go join the blasted Templars!  Left in the middle of the night without so much as a by-your-leave.  I cried for weeks! Weeks! You never even wrote to me in all the years you were gone, you dolt.”

Alistair’s skin was on fire and he rubbed his neck in mortification.  “Damn, Bella, I’m sorry. I didn’t think you’d miss me so much. I didn’t write to anyone after I left.  I-I didn’t think anyone would care.”

Bella quirked an eyebrow in exasperation, but her gaze was full of pity for the man who was still the unsure boy she remembered.  Softening her tone, the redhead clasped his metal clad hands and squeezed. “Well, I do care. I’m just glad you’re in one piece. I heard through the grapevine that you were recruited into the Wardens.  Is it true?” Alistair nodded and Bella smiled softly, reaching up to pat his stubbled jaw affectionately. “I always knew you’d do great things, Alistair. I’m glad at least one of us got out of this town.”

Alistair flushed with a faint smile, but a frown quickly replaced it and he cocked his head.  “Only one? Where is Airic?” Bella’s expression fell and he shook his head in disbelief. “Oh, no.  Do I want to know how it happened?”

The barmaid hung her head, murmuring quietly in recollection.  “It was so stupid. He was still a stable boy a couple years after you left...about to be squired.  He was helping shoe a horse, something spooked it and it bucked, caught him in the head with her hooves.  It was…slow. One day, he finally drifted to sleep and never woke up.”

Pulling her to his broad chest, he ran his hand across her hair soothingly, and forced down the lump in his throat as he remembered the boy with golden hair and laughing blue eyes.  Alistair’s voice was thick with emotion when he spoke again. “I’m so sorry, Bella. I shouldn’t have shut you out – either of you. Please, forgive me.”

Blinking back tears, she stepped out of his embrace and smiled gently at him.  “Oh, shut it, you. You know I could never stay mad at you, Alistair. Just promise to stay in touch, now, you hear?  No more disappearing for ten years and leaving me in the dark, assuming the worst.”

Alistair smiled brightly.  “That I can promise.”  

He glanced furtively at Sirra once more, but nary a trace of anger or jealousy graced her features at his tender reunion.  Bella tracked his gaze, smirking when his attention returned to her, the flush splashed across his freckled nose confirming her suspicions.  Clapping her hands smartly, Bella shooed him out the door.

“Well, you have better things to do than yap with me!  I’ll be hiding in the Chantry come nightfall, oh mighty, Grey Warden.  Be sure to find me after the fight, so I can smack you upside the head.”

“For what?”  Alistair whined with a frown.  

“For promising a girl that you would kiss her at Satinalia and never delivering, only to return years later bestowing kisses on another woman.”  Bella tossed Sirra a wink and the Warden chuckled at Alistair’s obvious discomfort as the redhead followed the group outside.

“Women are cruel.  So, so mean. How do you keep such cruelty hidden under fair facades?”  Alistair crossed his arms petulantly to the assembled women’s amusement.  “See, look at you all! Laughing at my expense again!  Whatever did I do to deserve this?”  He flung his hands melodramatically to the sky while the four collectively rolled their eyes at him.

Bella knelt to hug Sirra, whispering in the dwarf’s ear.  “I know I don’t have to tell you to take care of him. I just can’t stand the thought of something happening to him.” 

Sirra returned the embrace without insult.  She shared Bella’s fear each time they went into battle, but Alistair’s friend had long thought she’d lost both of her childhood playmates. The possibility of losing him after having him unexpectedly return was surely terrifying.

“Of course, I will.  I’ll guard that ridiculous man with my life.”

The barmaid stood with a smile.  “I don’t doubt it. It’s in your eyes when you look at him…and it’s in his, too, Warden.”  Alistair and Sirra shared a blush, but did not hide the truth of the statement as Alistair’s pinky finger snagged hers with a shy grin.  

Sirra reached out and grasped the woman’s fingers with her free hand.  “Call me Sirra. I didn’t want to interrupt earlier with introductions.”

Bella squeezed firmly in reply.  “A pleasure to meet you, Sirra.  Be careful tonight.”  

Waving goodbye, the four of them headed to the windmill to inform Ser Perth they were ready to make their stand.  As they waited for nightfall, Sirra tossed Alistair an apple from the selection of food the townsfolk scrounged up for them.   Shooting her a questioning glance, she jerked her chin to indicate the red skin with a smirk.  

“So…Bella.  If I had known you had a thing for redheads, I wouldn’t have told you my sister is one.  Now I’m worried you’ll leave me for Rica once we go to Orzammar.”

Alistair took a large bite out of it with a crunch, rolling his eyes playfully while Sirra laughed lightly beside him.  Wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, having removed his gauntlets so he could eat, he shook the fruit at her. 

“It wasn’t her hair color that I liked as a boy.  It was her fiery personality and the fact that she didn’t see me the way the rest of the world did.”  He poked her thigh with a teasing smirk. “Sound familiar?” Sirra tapped him with the toe of her boot with a broad grin, warmth washing over her from his carefree laughter.

After they polished off their dinner, Sirra sprawled on the grass, staring at the sky.  Two months on the surface and she could finally look at the massive expanse of blue without nausea.  The biggest adjustment now was her eyesight. She struggled most when the sun was at its zenith, but even that lessened each day.  Her night vision remained unaffected, however, and it pleased her to have something she excelled in over her human companions.

Glancing over, she stared at the chiseled profile of her fellow Warden.  Ancestors, he was handsome. Bracing his body on his forearms as he leaned back, head tilted and eyes closed as the sun warmed his face, a relaxed smile tugging his lips.  Sirra tore her gaze away before she did something impulsive, like attacking his mouth with hers or dragging him into the dilapidated windmill to strip him out of his mail.

Shaking her head in a futile attempt to remove the images from her mind, she closed her eyes and focused on the surrounding noises.  It was an exercise she employed to become more familiar with the surface. Birds chirped in the trees, but she couldn’t tell them apart – they all sounded the same to her untrained ears.  A breeze rustled the leaves. The water from the stream rushed over the rocky bed, crashing over the lip of the falls, and splashed into the deeper water below. A small group of knights held a prayer vigil under a nearby tree.

Ignoring the more obvious noises, she deepened her meditation and concentrated on the quieter sounds.  The gentle whuff of Alistair’s breathing, Leliana’s soft hum as she waxed her bowstring, Morrigan’s impatient tapping on her wooden stave.  Turning inward, Sirra listened to the pulse of blood in her veins, breathing deeply three times in a row to completely relax her mind and allow tension to melt out of her.

“So…” Sirra cracked open her eyes at Alistair’s low voice.  “You mentioned something earlier and I’m curious why you never told me before.”

The rogue smiled lazily.  “Oh? What did I say that is so interesting?” 

With lightning speed, Alistair caged her small frame under his, holding himself aloft on his strong arms and drinking in her stunned expression.  Brown eyes wide in surprise, her perfect lips parted in a silent gasp, a lovely pink highlighting her tattooed features.  Lowering his face to hers, she held her breath in disbelief, but his mouth veered from her lips to her ear, breathing hot against the shell, sending heat roaring through her body. 

“Why didn’t you tell me you couldn’t read? I could have spent all this time teaching you,” he whispered. Sirra exhaled raggedly and her stomach fluttered, but this time it was caused by anxiety, instead of desire.

Turning her face away in embarrassment, she twined her fingers in the cool blades of grass to ground herself before replying.  “Well, if we’re going to focus on the things I can’t do, you should know I can’t swim, either.”

Staring at her, he freely admired the gold hoop in her nose.  It was simultaneously edgy and delicate, suiting her personality perfectly.  “Okay, I’ll remember that, too. But why didn’t you tell me? We agreed we could tell each other anything, salroka.”

Sirra’s heart lurched painfully at the hurt in his hazel eyes as he rolled onto his side, propping his head in his hand.  He fidgeted nervously, afraid that she hadn’t told him because she thought him a snob who would look down on her, as though her lack of education was her fault.  Her ability to read didn’t change how he felt, but he was beginning to understand how privileged his upbringing had been, compared to hers and other poor children, anyway.

“Because it’s embarrassing, Alistair.  I only have street smarts and bits and pieces of Rica’s noble hunter training.  I can read some dwarven – mostly graffiti carved all over Dust Town, because most Carta members aren’t smart, and they use the same insults over and over.”  

Alistair smiled weakly at her attempt at humor, mollified that she hadn’t told him because of her own shame and not because she thought he would judge her.

“Will you let me teach you?”  

Taking her hand, he rubbed his thumb in small circles over her knuckles, sending her heart racing at his tender touch.  When did the Ancestors decide she was deserving of kindness? 

Exhaling shakily, Sirra queried, “You don’t think it’s a waste of time?”

Alistair clutched her hand and vigorously shook his head.  “Nothing about you is a waste of time, Sirra.”

There was no way she could deny him and she did need to know how to read - especially now that she belonged to a society so reliant on written communication.  Some days, reminding herself that she was no longer bound by tradition and was free to broaden her horizons was harder than others.

“All right,” she finally breathed.  Alistair rewarded her with a broad grin.  “Let’s wait until we’re done here, though, okay?  I don’t really want everyone in your hometown knowing.”

Alistair wanted to reassure her, but he knew she still suffered the insecurities of growing up casteless and a of couple of months on the surface wasn’t time enough to erase those.  He plucked a twig from her braided bun and sprawled on his back alongside her. 

“Your secrets are safe with me.”

“Thanks, salroka.”  Smiling, Sirra flicked a piece of grass at his face, spearing his cheek with the pointed tip, snickering at his involuntary nose twitch.  “Tell me something now, Ser Alistair.”

He rolled his face toward her, obvious affection swirling in his hazel depths.  “As my lady commands,” Alistair rumbled causing Sirra to shiver in the residual evening heat.  

“You mentioned that you enjoyed your Templar training.  What was your favorite part?”

Humming thoughtfully, Alistair returned to his side and propped his head in his hand.  “You don’t really want to know about my being a Templar, do you? It’s really quite boring.”

Sirra chuckled softly.  “To you, maybe. But we don’t have templars in Orzammar, so I know nothing about them.  I find them, and your past, interesting.”

Smirking, Alistair used his free hand to jab her in the shoulder.  “Poke, poke, poke. ‘Tell me all about your life, Alistair!’ Fine, fine.  What was your question? Ah, yes, my favorite part – Templar training.” Rocking back and forth on his hip in thought, he absentmindedly chewed on his bottom lip as he decided what to say.  Sirra imagined taking that pillowy lip between her teeth, nibbling until he claimed her mouth and kissed her fully. His voice yanked her rudely from her reverie and she hoped he didn’t notice her distraction.

 “The discipline, mostly.  You have to have a disciplined mind to use the talents we have.  Of course, the priests see you educated first, but I was an unruly child with a temper.  I definitely required discipline in my life.” He chuckled in recollection; his statement tinged with sadness.

Reaching out, Sirra tangled her fingers with his free hand, rolling on her side to face him.  “What is it,” she whispered, transforming Alistair’s sad smile into a warmer one.

“You know me so well, Sirra,” he murmured, softly squeezing her hand in gratitude.  “Ahem, well, the night they sent me to the monastery with the Templars…I threw my mother’s Chantry amulet at the brick wall in a fit of blind rage.  It...shattered. I just felt… betrayed when Eamon arrived with the templars.  In an instant, my entire world changed and I lost the only thing of my mother’s to my own stupidity.” 

Swallowing hard, Alistair attempted to smile, but it turned into a grimace.  “Oh, well. Can’t change it now. Just as I couldn’t change things as a boy, either.  I learned to control my temper, thanks to the Sisters' efforts with caning and rapping my knuckles when I spouted off, but they couldn’t beat the humor out of me.”

Sirra hung her head.  “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have asked.”

“No, no!  It’s fine, really.”  Alistair tilted her head up, smiling with more confidence.  “I don’t mind telling you even the unhappy parts of my life.”

Her brows leapt in surprise.  “Why?”

Alistair huffed, glancing away bashfully.  “Because…you are the only person who’s ever wanted to learn more about me.  And you ask from a place of caring and natural curiosity, not as manipulation or a tool.”

Sirra licked her lips, noting the way his eyes locked onto the movement, his lips parting slightly in unconscious response.  “Know what I think, Alistair? The people in your life never gave you enough credit for being smart and aware of their…what’s the word?”

“Machinations?  Deviousness? Political backstabbing?”  He teased with a wink, pleased that she enjoyed and encouraged his ridiculousness, evidenced by her soft chortle.

“I was gonna say, bullshit.  But yeah, those work, too.” 

Alistair snorted before dissolving into his own round of chuckles.  “I do admire your word choices, Sirra. You’re always so –“

“Blunt?”  The dwarf maintained a straight face, but her eyes twinkled mischievously, and he grinned broadly at her quick wit.

“Well, I was going to say honest.  But yeah, I guess that works, too.”  

Her heart skipped a beat as he repeated her words to her.  It was a habit of theirs - verbal confirmation that the conversations and stories they shared mattered to each other.  Mustering her courage, she decided to test his listening skills, using a snippet of information from Leliana to her benefit.

“I suppose it’s a good thing you escaped the templars when you did, isn’t it?”  Alistair cocked an eyebrow curiously. Her pupils dilated and her voice took on a husky timbre.  “If you had given your vows to the Maker, then you wouldn’t be able to…sample the other…flavors of wine, outside of the sacramental kind.” 

Swallowing hard, all noise around him died as blood pounded in his ears, his senses honing in the roguish dwarf in front of him.  Andraste…did she just imply what he thought she did? The rapid rise and fall of her blushing chest that matched her inviting stare answered his question as a categorical – yes.  Yes, she did. Her pink tongue darted along her full lips again. Without realizing it, Alistair tugged gently on the hand entwined with his own to inch her closer to his willing mouth.

“Wardens!” 

“Ancestor’s tits!”

“Maker damn it!”

The Wardens turned to the knight who interrupted them and caused their simultaneous curse.  The knight blinked at them in confusion, oblivious to what he’d stumbled upon, and why the dwarf and the human were presently glaring daggers at him. 

“I came to tell you that Ser Perth wants everyone to prepare.  The sun is about to set.” Bowing curtly the knight abandoned the couple. 

Sighing heavily, as reality popped their bubble and reminded Alistair they weren’t alone, the warrior sat up with a huff and roughly brushed debris from his hair.  Sirra flopped onto her back and threw her arm across her eyes in defeat. At this rate, she’d never kiss him. Alistair smacked her hand lightly and she peeked at him from under her elbow, blowing out a resigned breath and taking the hand he offered to pull her effortlessly to her feet. 

“To work.”  

He smiled infectiously, despite the blush warming his chiseled features.  Sirra chuckled and flicked two fingers at him in salute as they strapped their weapons in place and joined the knights to review the battle strategy for the coming attack. 


 “Light the oil, men!  We do the Maker’s work tonight!” 

The knights slammed their swords against their shields fervently, setting Sirra’s teeth on edge.  Recollections of the soldiers at Ostagar doing the same to maintain their courage in the face of the darkspawn weighed heavily upon her short stature.  Alistair also struggled as memories of the battle and his horrific nightmare melted into one torment in his mind. He could feel the tension settling in his shoulders from his stiff posture and had to consciously force himself to stop grinding his teeth.

The green mist flowing from the castle rolled across the drawbridge and slowly down the hill towards the windmill.  Gurgles and growls echoed eerily in the still night, the smell of decay filled her nostrils making Sirra gag, while the mist left a sharp tang of metal in her mouth when she sucked in a gasp.  Sirra thought after becoming a Grey Warden, granted with the ability to feel the darkspawn’s slimy presence in her mind, that it would prepare her for anything. She was so very wrong.

A disembodied head shot through the mist with a hiss.  Mostly bone, but decorated with globs of putrefied tissue and hair hanging from what was once a face.  Raising its sword arm to strike, Sirra catalogued the delicate bone structure denoting this walking corpse as female.  Leliana screamed on her left, while Alistair swore colorfully behind her, as half-decayed skeletons descended mercilessly upon them.

Sirra avoided the blow, nimbly moving to flank the creature, backstabbing furiously and praying to any entity that might grant her favor, that regular weapons were capable of killing the creatures.  They did fall under her blades, but with every slip of the honed edges she fought to keep from vomiting. Her daggers slid easily through the atrophied muscles and rotten flesh, squelching obscenely, coating her weapons with blood and other liquids she didn’t want to think about. 

Morrigan’s magic filled the air and Sirra was never more grateful for her group spells, taking down multiple corpses at a time, saving them from touching the walking horrors.  But no sooner did one fall then three more took its place – they were never-ending. Her arms grew tired and she knew her companions felt the effects of a long skirmish, as well.

A runner crested the hill, desperately waving her over.  “Monsters are coming from the lake! We’re overrun in the square.  We need help!” She nodded tersely and flagged down Alistair who ordered the knights and Dwyn to guard the path.  Leliana and Morrigan were on their heels as they raced to the center of the village.

Sirra’s eyes widened when they reached the center of the village.  The runner hadn’t lied. They outnumbered the militia five-to-one – she wasn’t even sure that the addition of her team would be enough to beat back the sheer mass of animated dead crawling from the muck, like Leliana’s tales of bog monsters. 

“Shit!  Morrigan, fireball, now!  Take out as many as you can.  We’ll pick off the stragglers!” 

The witch lobbed a giant ball of flame in the crush.  Screams of anger rent the dark as the skeletons burned, crumpling to the ground in blackened husks.  The poor villagers wearing their hastily crafted armor, stabbing foes with hands more accustomed to holding pitchforks stood stunned and horrified, but Alistair couldn’t afford to mourn. 

If they survived the night – then he could slip away and cry for all those souls that were once villagers and knights.  Maybe the one whose head he sent sailing through the air was someone he knew long ago. He feared to acknowledge that Ser Donall was not among Ser Perth’s number, gagging on bile at the idea that his friend could be among the creatures.  Alistair was very glad that Airic was long dead, cremated like a good Andrastian, and Bella was securely locked in the Chantry. He didn’t want to imagine either of them as abominations he was forced to cut down.

Leliana cried out as corpses swarmed her.  Alistair barreled through with his shield to give her an opening to escape.  The rogue bolted, raining arrows on the field a safe distance away to slow the creatures, even pinning a few which gave the inexperienced militia time to hack their foes.  Sirra made good use of the slowdown to cut down four skeletons, her blades digging in their backs, vanishing into stealth as the arrows stopped falling. Dashing to Alistair, she blocked a blade aimed at his flank with a crossed parry.  Snarling, she shoved it with all her strength, slicing through its neck with a satisfying crunch when it landed hard on the ground.

Morrigan threw another fireball, lighting up the square with a blazing flare of orange and scorching heat, wiping out a fresh squadron newly arrived from the lake.  Alistair wanted to cry with both gratitude and exhaustion. His arms quaked after hours of non-stop fighting and the blasted creatures kept coming! Was everyone in Redcliffe dead?  How could there be so many? He shook his head, attempting to refocus on the battle and not the morbid questions that made him ill. 

Chain lightning arced through their foes, dropping a few closest to him.  He nodded to the witch who never halted her casting and shot him a self-satisfied smirk.  Right now he couldn’t be bothered to care that she would probably never let him hear the end of his gratitude.  Alistair studied the square, realizing they were making a dent in the corpses, at last. Sparing a glance to the lake, he checked to see if additional creatures rose from the depths, but it seemed the tide of horrors was spent.

“Sirra!  This is the last of them!  I don’t see any more coming!”

“Thank the damned Stone for that!”  Splitting one down the middle, she rolled to avoid a second attempting to knock her senseless with its shield.  Alistair leapt in and skewered it with a growl.

“Wardens, scatter!  I’m going to freeze them!” 

Scrambling out of range of Morrigan’s ice spell, they stood on the sidelines awaiting the finale.   With the skeletons frozen solid, the witch released a supercharged chain of lightning through the crowd, cackling merrily as they shattered.  Ice and bone fragments showered those present, but Alistair raised his shield over himself and Sirra to keep particulates from coating their hair.

Alistair murmured low underneath their canopy.  “You know, when she does things like that so…joyfully, I understand why people want to lock up mages.” 

Sirra nodded in understanding.  Morrigan’s power was phenomenal and the dwarf was glad the woman was on their side, because she would hate to be standing on the wrong side of her stave.  Chuckling, Sirra teased the warrior with a gentle poke in the abdomen. 

“Your templar training is showing.”

He scoffed indignantly.  “It is not. ”  Sirra glanced at him, cocking an angled brow, forcing him to sigh heavily.  “Okay, maybe a little. I know, I know. If we didn’t have her with us, we’d be dead thirty times over, wouldn’t we?”

Sirra nodded with a soft laugh.  “Probably, but we need not let on that we are aware of this.  She gloats enough as it is.” Alistair flashed his signature grin and lowered his shield since the sky was no longer raining corpse dust.

The mayor wandered over, favoring his left leg, and shook their hands gratefully.  “Thank you, Wardens. Without your help, I fear that Redcliffe would not have survived tonight’s assault.  We may be battered and bruised, but damn it, we’re alive! Whenever you need men for the Blight, I can promise that I will be among the Arl’s men to battle the darkspawn.”  He bowed as best as he could, given his injuries, and Sirra responded in kind.

Once the man shuffled away to see to his leg, thankful militia besieged the four of them and soon the remaining villagers, as dawn chased away the terror of the night and they opened the Chantry doors.  Bella elbowed her way to the front, throwing her arms around Alistair with a strangled cry of relief despite his gory state, and he hugged her fiercely in response. Sirra stepped back to give them privacy in their mutual grief for all the people lost to this atrocity and the stunning realization that they lived to see the dawn. 

Sirra couldn’t imagine how Alistair must be feeling.  This was surely not the homecoming he expected. She wondered idly how she would feel if something like this happened in Orzammar and found that she probably wouldn’t be upset.  Her mother epitomized the casteless stereotype and would not be missed by the dwarves or her. Leske – she would miss him, even though they grew apart over the years. He was careful to never do more than necessary when watching her back during Carta jobs.  Of course, he had his reasons. No, her sister, Rica, would be the only one she would guarantee survived something so horrible. The rest of Orzammar could crumble to dust and she wouldn’t shed a damn tear.

Bella surprised her as she knelt and pulled Sirra in for a warm hug.  It caught the dwarven woman off-guard, freezing like a statue in the woman’s arms, until she met Alistair’s eyes over Bella’s bold curtain of hair.  His warm gaze and tender smile relaxed her and she wrapped her arms around his childhood friend. 

“Thank you for helping us and for keeping him alive.  I’m glad Alistair got away from this place and I’m so happy he has you,” Bella murmured in her ear.

Sirra swallowed hard before replying.  “Even though I’m a dwarf? It’s less common than a human-elf pairing from what I understand.”  She chuckled mirthlessly as her insecurities reared their head.

The woman leaned back, her expression kind and understanding.  “Alistair has always looked into people to find a kindred soul.  He’s never been one to see what the world does about a person.  And what you did for us here, when you did not have to, speaks volumes about who you are, Sirra.”  She bit her lip and shook her head. “I may not know you well and I’m probably overstepping my bounds, but if I may be so bold – I don’t think you see your own beauty.  He likes you for more than your appearance, but you are beautiful, in a fierce, sort of way. You’re well suited, I think, balancing each other.” 

Sirra gaped with a blush as Bella gracefully stood with a soft giggle.  Alistair shot the woman a worried glance at Sirra’s reaction, but the redhead kissed his cheek without explanation and breezed past him towards the tavern.

Before either of them could steal a moment for themselves, the Revered Mother and Bann Teagan corralled the four of them on the Chantry steps to hold an impromptu ceremony for those who perished and thank their human god for their survival.  Teagan flashed a winning smile as he presented her with a beautifully wrought helm with the mark of the Arling engraved on the back, declaring Sirra and Alistair as Champions of Redcliffe. 

The pomp and ceremony over, Teagan urged Sirra to meet him at the old windmill.  Glancing warily at Alistair, she saw he shared her misgivings about this meeting, but they couldn’t ignore a command from the man in charge of making sure they received support against the Blight.  Sirra rechecked their dwindling stock of potions with a sigh – somehow knowing that the Bann’s request would require them, but recognizing they didn’t have time to wait for Morrigan to brew replacements.

Sirra beckoned her team to follow her, but Alistair snagged her hand with a faint shake of his head and secreted her around the corner of the Chantry.  They could still see the square and be seen by the few villagers milling about, yet it afforded some measure of privacy in the shade of the stone building.  He knelt in front of her, gingerly laying his forehead against hers, three fingers automatically pressing the back of her neck. Sirra immediately repeated the salute, closing her eyes as his touch seared along her rattled nerves.  They didn’t speak for some time – simply enjoying the other’s presence and gratitude that they were unharmed and miraculously alive.

Breaking the silence with a shaky breath, his velvety voice tight with unshed tears, Alistair stammered.  “I-I may not have liked…Maker, some days I hated this place.” He gasped in their shared oxygen. “But, shit, I would never have wished this on them.  No one deserves this. I-I knew them, Sirra, but I could never tell you their names or faces…they were too far gone.”

Her heart lurched for the strong warrior.  She didn’t know his full history here, only that he had few friends and that he slept with the hounds.  That information alone made her righteously angry to think of a towheaded Alistair sleeping with those toothy beasts.  Yet, despite all that, and unlike her aversion to her hometown, he still maintained an affection for the town of his birth and the people who lived here.  He returned looking to reconnect, maybe to find hope and a reason to go to war. Instead, they acted as a team of executioners with no choice, but to destroy the possessed villagers. 

“I’m so sorry, Alistair.  I don’t know what to say to make this any easier…but I am here for you.  Whatever you need. If you need to rant, if you want to cry, or toss Morrigan in the lake for a laugh,” he snorted slightly and Sirra’s lips quirked.  “I’m here and I will support you, salroka.” She whispered the endearment, finally opening her eyes to find his amber ones already focused intently on her face.

Alistair slid his fingers from her neck to cup her cheek, grazing her skin gently with his metal covered thumb.  Smiling, her fingers splayed across his neck, her palm resting feather light at the nape while her fingertips fiddled with his overgrown hair.

“Thank you, Sirra.  Being here with you helps.  Even without words. I…” he sighed.  Fear made his tongue thick and clumsy, nervous flutters filled his gut, and he reined in the words that nearly tumbled foolishly from his lips.  Instead, he smiled softly, his words warm and sincere. “Thank you, salroka. I’m always here for you, too.” Impulsively, he bumped the tip of his nose against hers and was rewarded with a surprised chuckle and a large grin from his companion. 

What was she to him, anyway?  More than a companion, definitely.  Leader of their merry band of misfits – check.  Comrade at arms – yes. Best friend – that went without saying.  Yet, there was another word beginning to overshadow the others in his mind, but he couldn’t think of it without blushing scarlet, much less voice it.  Shoving it to the back of his mind to maintain some of his dignity, Alistair leaned out of their embrace, lamenting the loss of her touch that shot pulses of electricity through his veins.

Standing, Alistair tossed her an easy smile before sauntering from their dark corner and Sirra’s chest constricted at such open affection.  Glancing into the square, Sirra saw Dwyn boring holes into her with an unreadable expression on his face. Crossing his arms, he cocked an eyebrow and nonchalantly tapped three fingers on his forearm.  Sirra scowled at the other dwarf’s silent inquiry and hurriedly rounded up her team, thrusting her jumbled thoughts to the back of her mind to deal with later. Bann Teagan had work for them to do.

 

Chapter Text

“Well, that was… unexpected,” muttered Alistair, kicking a rock down the red dirt road that led around Lake Calenhad. Sirra nodded dumbly in reply. Redcliffe had not turned out the way any of them expected. Teryn Loghain's actions set them all down a dark and twisted trajectory.  First at Ostagar and now here. Hiring an escaped blood mage to poison the Arl triggered a chain of events leading to the Arl’s young son becoming possessed by a demon. It was hard to believe a ten-year-old boy created the army of walking dead that relentlessly attacked the village. 

Keeping the mage alive had been a wise decision, even though Alistair had initially been unsure, yet he had information on how to free Connor from the demon. The option to use the Arlessa as a blood sacrifice to power the spell was out of the question, but there was hope. If they traveled to the Circle Tower, they could kill two birds with one stone: secure the mages' help with the Blight using the Warden treaty and bring a contingent of mages and lyrium to Redcliffe castle to save the boy.

They could only pray that Connor was able to keep the demon at bay while they arranged for reinforcements. Teagan informed the group it was only a day’s hike around the lake to reach the Circle, but they had been fighting non-stop since last night and all of them were worn out. They would have to make camp and resume their trek in the morning.

Finding a clearing away from the main road they set camp. Leliana passed out rations of meat, bread, and a mixed assortment of dried berries the Arlessa packed for them. Alistair offered to take the first watch, afraid that if he went to sleep, he wouldn’t be able to wake up later when it was his turn. Sirra peeked at him as she slipped into her canvas shelter, drinking in the sight of him cleaning his weapons, the warm glow of the firelight wreathing him in burnished copper. Smiling to herself, she shucked her armor and breeches and tossed them into a careless pile before sliding under her sleeping furs in her undertunic. She was asleep in mere moments after her head hit the pillow.


“Salroka! How’s life as a cloudgazer? Since you left, I’ve had to pick up the pieces after the mess at the Proving.”

Sirra blinked in astonishment as a large smile bloomed on her face. “Leske? You rock-licker! What’s shaping?” Leske scooped her up in a bone-crushing hug with a barked laugh, his arms forcing an amused burst of sound from her lungs.

Stepping out of the embrace, Leske's hands rested comfortably on her shoulders and Sirra smirked at her old friend. “Still with the Carta then? Does that mean you’re running the show?”

Leske genuinely smiled, lifting the 'S' brand on his cheek and revealing the gaps in his teeth where two molars were forcibly removed. It was a punishment that Beraht meted out for a perceived slight. Yet, her friend had been lucky. Beraht was a cruel taskmaster and had a penchant for amputation: fingers, toes, tongues, cocks. Losing teeth was nothing compared to being rendered mute or castrated.

Her friend chuckled. "Hell, nah! I don’t want to run it, too much bullshit and not enough fighting when you get that high up.”

She arched an eyebrow, elongating her eyelid brand, with a skeptical expression. “Yeah, but you get more of a cut from the jobs. You live for gold like a Deep Lord.” 

Her friend clapped her heartily at the truth in her words. “Hey! We should go to Tapsters now that you’re back! They can’t kick us out now that you’re a bona fide Grey Warden.  Whatcha say?” Leske playfully elbowed her and she shoved him good-naturedly with a put-on eye roll. 

“Fine, fine. Let's go get drunk.”

“Yes! I knew you wouldn’t let me down, salroka!” 

Sirra didn’t remember the walk to the tavern from Dust Town, but now they were sitting in a back-corner booth, chugging their lichen ales like old times. Leske shared stories of the Carta’s dealings since she’d been away, proudly showing her his new body jewelry and hair links woven in his braids awarded for jobs well-done. He was sketchy with the details of how he earned them, but she wasn’t surprised or upset. She wasn’t Carta anymore and not privy to the nitty gritty. He narrowed his eyes appraisingly at her, registering her lack of adornment and asked where the rest of her jewelry was. Sirra only shrugged and pointedly refused to answer. 

They were halfway through their fourth round when Sirra felt the alcohol warming her skin and realized she was giggling. Yep, she was tipsy and if she kept going, she’d be well on her way to absolutely sloshed. Deciding to slow down, Sirra only sipped while Leske continued to gulp and she smiled behind her mug. He was better at holding his liquor, but Sirra purposefully avoided drinking too much so as not to become her mother. This was more than she’d imbibed in years, but it had been so long since she'd seen Leske.  Not wanting to disappoint him, she’d kept up with his tolerance, mug for mug.

His large hand fell on her thigh, kneading her flesh appreciatively while he flashed her his most charming smile. Sirra’s stomach somersaulted. Once upon a time, she would have loved his touch, craved it, so he could make her feel alive. As she warred with uncertainty and the best way to let him down gently, Leske leaned in and planted an open-mouthed kiss on her lips.

She pulled away and shook her head sadly. Leske frowned. “What’s wrong? It’s been forever since we’ve had a tumble.”

“I-I can’t. There’s someone else.” 

Leske palmed her meaty thigh with a grin. “That’s never stopped us before, Sirra. Come on! You know you’re my favorite. Don’t make me beg.” 

Sirra crossed her arms over her chest and scowled. “Is that all I am to you? A good lay?”

“Awww, don’t take it like that!” He shrugged lightly, but his expression was dark and his shoulders were tight in expectation of a fight. Sirra leaned against the stone wall and continued to glare at him. 

 Jerking his hand away, he spun his mug angrily on the table. “What’s gotten into you? I remember you being way more fun. Has living topside made you frigid since leaving the heat underground?”  Leske’s brows furrowed and his eyes flashed in the dimly lit tavern.

“Or do you have feelings for this surface piece? Is it another dwarf? One of your Grey Wardens?” Sirra blushed, but held his gaze unflinchingly. His bark of bitter laughter sent a chill down her spine.

“You gotta be fucking kidding me! Seriously, Sirra, I thought you had more sense than that. Is it that human that saved you from the guards?” She worked her jaw back and forth in silent rage and didn’t respond. “Ah, I see…you’re not going to tell me. Think you’re better than me, now, is that it?”

Sirra shook her head. “No! It’s not like -" 

Leske stood abruptly, nearly sending their tankards and contents flying, his face red and mottled with wrath. The tavern stilled as the Carta dwarf and the honorless Grey Warden stared at each other. As the seconds ticked by, Sirra noticed the tavern warping around her, flicking in and out of existence, and purple tendrils of smoke emanated from Leske’s nostrils. He grinned lecherously and his teeth morphed into long, white daggers, laughing gutturally and pure terror coursed through her. The Archdemon erupted from Leske’s body, lunging for her, but she rolled away with a yelp. 

Scrambling to her feet, she dashed into the first cavern she could find, praying to the Ancestors for aid. It followed her, massive clawed feet thundering on her heels, the echoes of its menacing chuckles reverberating through the chambers of rock. Sirra felt its hot breath licking her neck, but she didn’t dare turn around to see how close it was. If she was about to die, she didn’t want to know how soon the final blow was coming. 

There was a bridge ahead linking this cavern to another. Forcing her weary legs to their limit, she picked up the pace and bolted for the structure. If she crossed to the opposite side, it might be possible to shake the monster on her tail in the myriad of tunnels. The demon behind her roared in rage as it discerned her plan and her heart fluttered at the possibility of escaping its clutches. As she neared the bridge, a jagged rock caught the toe of her boot, ripping through the leather sole and gouged her foot. She tried to right herself, but she slipped in the blood pooling on the stone, and slid over the edge of the cavern into the black abyss.       


Alistair shook Sirra’s shoulders desperately, continuously calling out her name to wake her from the clutches of her nightmare. The hoarse screams emanating from her canvas shelter sent him dashing inside to find her thrashing in a blind panic. He was seconds away from pouring water on her face when she sat up with a gasp. Her pupils blown wide with fear, doused in a sheen of cold sweat clinging her tunic to her skin, struggling to breathe evenly after the horror of her dream. 

“Sirra,” he whispered. “Are you alright?”

She ducked her head as a whimper tumbled past her full lips. Wordlessly, he pulled her to him and allowed her to release the torrent of emotion brewing inside her. Alistair murmured so softly she couldn’t make out the words, but the rumble of his chest as he formed the sounds and the comforting pressure of his hands on her back soothed her raw nerves as she clung to him and wept. 

Sirra cried for her friend, still trapped in the Carta's vicious cycle, if they hadn't already killed him for aiding her with the debacle of the Proving. Only yesterday, she told herself that if something terrible happened in Orzammar that she wouldn't bother to save Leske, but after seeing his face and hearing his voice, she knew that she would never abandon the lout. He might be a giant cave tick sometimes, but he was her cave tick. 

And she cried for her sister, Rica, hoping against hope that she was safely ensconced inside some noble's estate. Bitterly, she lamented the loss of the two good things about Orzammar, that in joining the Grey Wardens she was forced to leave behind. Sirra prayed that those she abandoned could forgive her. 

After a while she finally calmed, sniffling and hiccupping, but no longer raggedly sobbing and soaking his shirt with salt water. Rubbing small circles on her spine, he used gentle pressure to work out the tight muscles, and Sirra melted into his touch. Alistair smiled into her mussed bun, pleased that such an inconsequential action relaxed her after the night terror.

“Are they always like that,” he murmured in the sudden silence. 

“No,” Sirra whispered. “I don’t dream every night, and when I do, they aren’t always like that. But… the Archdemon appears frequently in mine. Asking me to join the family or bursting out of people I know and trying to eat me. That’s what I dreamed tonight.” 

It frightened her more that the Archdemon could tap into her remorse and use it against her. That level of connection with the leader of the darkspawn horde was not a pleasant thought, but she didn't want to delve too deeply into things and worry Alistair.  

Alistair gripped her tighter, closing his eyes as guilt welled within him. “Andraste’s ass, Sirra. I’m sorry. This must be terrifying for you. Never dreaming in your life to this… I’m sure it’s because we initiated you during a Blight,” Alistair intoned regretfully.

“You’re probably right.” The dwarven woman heaved a weary sigh against his chest, her hot breath fanning across his nipple through his thin rough spun and he shivered involuntarily. Alistair sent a silent prayer to the Maker that she noticed nothing amiss, assuming his shiver merely related to her dream.

“Stay with me,” she breathed. Alistair’s pulse sped up and his heart pounded against his ribs. He was sure she could hear the rapid increase in tempo with her head leaning sweetly against his torso.  “You can say no, Alistair. I’m just… scared, but I understand if you can’t stay.”

Her voice sounded more gravelly than usual, laced with uncertainty and contrition for having spoken at all. Alistair nodded his head against her hair and swallowed quickly to wet his dry vocal cords. 

“I’ll stay,” he croaked. “I won’t abandon you. Let me wake Leliana to take over the watch, alright? I’ll be right back.” 

They separated suddenly, as though just realizing that he’d been holding her all this time, and he slipped out of her tent. Waking their companion for her watch, he slid into Sirra’s tent before Leliana exited hers to see where he was spending the night. He didn’t want anyone to get the wrong idea - that would be a problem to handle in the morning after everyone was rested, not when both of them were anxious about this sudden development.

Sirra swapped out her small bedroll for two of her larger furs to accommodate her guest and protect Alistair from the small pebbles littering the clearing. He smiled at the kind gesture, even as he nervously eased his bulky frame on top of the fur, slipping off his boots and tucking them gently in the nearest corner. Sirra’s eyes flicked to his as she extricated the pins that held up her bun, breaking contact shyly as she worked her fingers through the plait and shook loose her dark waves. Alistair watched in fascination, honored that she allowed him to be a part of this nighttime ritual, and wished he had the courage to reach out and run his fingers through her shiny tresses. 

Shoving the pins aside, Sirra re-situated herself on the fur, casting nervous glances at him with unsteady hands. Ancestors! She'd shared her bed with enough men that this situation shouldn’t be turning her into a quivering mess! Yet, he wasn’t some Carta dwarf to tumble and forget the next day. This was Alistair, her fellow Warden and best friend, and something else that she didn't want to name just yet. All of this was further complicated because to some people, he was Prince Alistair. This was a bad idea, but she couldn’t back out now. It would hurt his feelings and that would surely kill her.

Breathing deeply to slow her furious heart rate, Sirra handed him her bedroll, folded into a large square to act as a pillow before quietly laying down. Alistair smelled her scent on the makeshift pillow, sweat after days of fighting and hiking, but underneath was the faint aroma of sweet musk that he'd noticed emanating from her skin during their intimate gestures. He mumbled his thanks and placed the fabric where his head would be, stretching out alongside her, pulling the covering furs to their necks in silence. Neither of them moved. They barely breathed in the small space, listening to the campfire pop and Leliana’s soft humming outside their cocoon; acutely aware of the other, but unsure what their boundaries were in this situation.  

Huffing in irritation, Sirra finally rolled to face her partner and quirked her lips in a shy smile when he turned his head towards her. Extending her arm under the fur, her fingers lightly brushed his causing his breath to hitch slightly, but she went no further. Alistair rolled towards her, glancing at her arm under the edge of the sleeping fur, realizing she only wished to hold his hand. With a fortifying breath, he slid his hand into hers, and her smile widened. His own lips curved in response and warmth bloomed in his chest, spreading throughout his body.

“Goodnight, Alistair,” Sirra whispered. “Thank you for staying.”

He squeezed her hand. “You’re welcome. Goodnight, Sirra.” 

Alistair watched her eyelids drift close, her body relaxing by degrees, until she was finally asleep. She was peaceful in repose as the day’s tension leached from her body. Lips parted ever so slightly to allow tiny puffs of air past them, chest rising and falling evenly, her long hair acting as a second blanket on her short form. Her tattoos softened with the rest of her features and Alistair never found her more beautiful. Letting his heavy eyelids fall over his tired eyes, the warrior settled on the makeshift pillow and allowed sleep to descend, hopeful that tomorrow they would finally secure allies for the Blight.   


Upon opening his eyes in the morning, Alistair couldn’t contain the grin that split his face, barely suppressing his laughter. Sirra was sprawled on her back, swimming in her mahogany tresses with one arm thrown over her pillow with her mouth wide open. She shifted as he observed her and realized that she was on top of the furs. The movement hiked the tangled night shirt dangerously high up her thigh, revealing a myriad of silvery scars and stretch marks in the slivers of morning light bleeding into the tent. 

His heart thundered as though a hundred head of cavalry resided in his chest, but he willed himself to stay. Not because he wanted to ogle her more, although he’d be lying if he denied that part of him wanted to, but he didn’t want her to wake up and find him gone. It would probably hurt her feelings and would only make things awkward between them, which was the last thing he wanted.

Tearing his gaze from the tantalizing glimpse of her full-bodied curves, Alistair tried to distract himself by squeezing his eyes shut and running through exercise drills in his head. He could hear his instructor at the monastery yelling at the recruits. Parry! Block! Thrust! He snapped his eyes open, his cock twitching on the last word. Yeah, exercise drills were not helping. 

Sirra seemed to be slowly rousing, and he quickly closed his eyes enough to look asleep, yet watch her through his lashes. She stretched, arching her back and lifting her other arm over her head, pulling the hemline of her shirt even higher. Scoffing in irritation, she freed herself from her long hair, carefully untangling a rogue strand that snagged her nose ring, and froze when her gaze landed on him. Alistair had to focus to keep his breathing even to mimic sleep, though his heart threatened to burst from his chest as her surprise melted into adoration at the sight of him wrapped in her sleeping furs.

Shifting closer, careful to not move too suddenly, she stared at him with liquid eyes. Sirra flicked a stray lock of hair off his forehead and whispered, “I know you’re awake. The pulse in your neck gives you away.”

Giving up the ruse, Alistair opened his eyes completely and curled his arm around her back with a large smile. “Can’t blame a guy for trying, can you?”

Grinning in response, she shook her head and slid closer to him, vigilant for cues to stop. He lifted the fur that covered his body in invitation, allowing Sirra to slip underneath, but she waited for him to make the next move.

He appreciated that she ceded control of the situation to him, but he wasn’t about to stop now. They’d had too many interruptions already, and he wasn’t foolish enough to waste this opportunity. Sliding his other arm firmly around her, Alistair closed the gap between them until her curves barely grazed his clothed form, their faces millimetres apart. Lifting his hand, he traced her jawline with a broad thumb, his racing heart stopping entirely when a breathy sigh of pleasure escaped her lips at the ghostly touch. Hiking his digit to her mouth, he slowly outlined the shape of her full lips, relishing their softness. 

“May I?” 

The huskiness of his voice electrified the atmosphere in the small tent and Sirra breathed an affirmative, brown irises obscured by pupils blown wide with want as Alistair smiled softly and claimed her lips, at last. 

Caressing her cheek tenderly, he barely registered her fingers running through his hair as he lost himself in the kiss's magic. Her lips were full and soft, perfectly shaped to fit against his own and Maker, she tasted sweet. He'd never be able to get enough of her now. He’d kissed a few women - girls, really, Templar recruits like himself; stolen kisses during co-ed training and he was grateful for the experience now. It spared him the awkward, unsure stage that he suffered in his teens. Sirra seemed to enjoy his technique, if her mewls of pleasure were anything to go by, and he definitely agreed that kissing her far eclipsed his previous encounters. Desire coursed through him, tingly and hot along his nerves, turning his morning wood to solid stone.  

Ancestors! This man – this gorgeous, kind hearted, fumbling, sarcastic giant would be the death of her. He might be shy, but he was no wallflower. Alistair kissed her sweetly, yet confidently with a promise to erupt into searing passion at a moment’s notice. When his tongue slipped in her mouth, she was grateful to be lying down, unprepared for a simple kiss to be responsible for the raging fire coiled in her stomach, sending sparks of want to her core. A deep groan rumbled in his throat as she tugged on his hair, his large hands unconsciously gripping her tighter, pressing her breasts against his chest. Her blood boiled in response, the low timbre reverberating in the marrow of her bones, chasing all reason from her lust addled brain. 

Alistair pulled out of their embrace with a gasp, snaring Sirra in his molten gaze. Staring at one another, he was tempted to return to her succulent lips as pure desire swirled in her dark depths. Lightly raking her short nails along his scalp, she clenched her thighs together in a desperate bid for friction with the second growl that tumbled from his swollen lips. Rolling his eyes into the back of his head, he instinctively jerked his hips, rocking his obvious excitement along her thigh. It was too soon to take things further, she knew, but by the Stone, that didn’t stop her from wanting him right now.

Slipping her hands from his hair to his chest, Sirra smirked at the irregular tattoo of his heart pounding against his ribcage, teasingly flitting her dexterous fingers across his sensitive nipples. Snagging her by the wrist with a hiss, he gently removed her hand, eyes burning with want even though he shook his head. 

“Too much,” she whispered in the close space. 

Alistair pressed his forehead to hers and murmured, “I’ve never… kissing is all I’ve ever done -" He swallowed hard, embarrassment splashed across his chiseled features. “I want to, Maker knows… I want you. But I’m not sure I’m ready.  Is that okay?”

Sirra smiled warmly and placed a chaste kiss on his lips.  “Of course, it’s alright, Alistair. There is no rush. I’m the one that should be apologizing.  I shouldn’t have pushed.”

Shaking his head with a small smile, he replied, “Don’t apologize. I enjoyed it… that was the problem.” Alistair blushed furiously, looking anywhere but her, which was quite a feat since her head was taking up most of his field of vision.

“Rule number one in relationships, Alistair. Never be ashamed of what makes you feel good. Don’t be afraid to tell me what you like or don’t like and when to stop because you need to breathe.”

Alistair huffed a quiet laugh, tucking her under his chin for a tight hug, burrowing his nose in her silky tresses. “Good rule. I approve. Ah, s-same for you, Sirra… especially since I have no clue what I’m doing.”

She giggled into his tunic. “I disagree. You definitely know what you’re doing. We’ll learn what makes the other tick as time goes on, but don’t discount your skill.” 

“That good, huh?” Alistair failed to keep the pride from his voice.

Sirra breathed huskily, “Stone, yes.” 

He buried his face in her wreath of hair, simultaneously proud and embarrassed, blushing all the way to his toes. Sirra smiled at the increased heat of his skin against her cheek, but said nothing to keep from making him uncomfortable. 

Alistair’s uncertainty and timidity were quite endearing. She was used to men who took without asking and laid claim to her body, forcing her to be rougher to regain the upper hand. Men, like Beraht, who were so sure of their masculinity and sexuality that they expected women to lift their skirts on demand because they believed they were the Ancestor’s gift to dwarves. Yet Alistair, despite his attractiveness, was oblivious of his charm and its effect on her. His gentle caresses and sweet words shook her duster self to the core, showing her how starved for kindness and tenderness she truly was. Sirra relished every touch, every word, every gaze he gave her as the gifts they were, innately aware that she could never have enough of the giant human and what he freely offered.

“We should get up,” Alistair mumbled.

“Mmmmm,” Sirra replied, idly fiddling with the laces of his tunic.  “We should, but I don’t want to.”   

He snorted while nosing her ear, his breath tickling her slightly. She teasingly swatted his face, only serving to make him laugh and blow more air across her ear, grinning when she tried to duck away from his mischievous mouth. 

“I don’t want to either, trust me, but we really should get a move on to the Circle.” 

Studying the delicate shape of her ear, he noticed holes dotted along it he’d never seen before.  He was afraid to comment on them, ignorant as he was on dwarven culture, instead filing the knowledge away for later. Pressing a kiss to her temple, he slid her from his hold and sat up. Unable to resist, Alistair glanced down at Sirra splayed on the fur, lips still red and curved into a blissful smile, noting the peaks of her nipples under her tunic. A deep blush washed over him, along with an unadulterated rush of lust surging straight to his groin.

Maker, he wanted her, but not like this. Not in a tent where the others could hear them. He wanted the moment to be right, and this just wasn’t it, but Andraste’s pyre! It was hard to deny how much he wanted to with her sprawled out so deliciously. With a groan, he reached for his boots, pausing at the entrance of the tent when her hoarse voice broke the tension.  

“Will you come back tonight?”  

Alistair turned slowly on the balls of his feet to face her. Sirra was upright with a fur pulled up to her neck, biting her lip with uncertainty. She wasn’t sure what possessed her to ask the question, but after the comfort he offered overnight and their Stone-quaking kiss, she didn’t want to spend another night without him. But once the words left her, she feared that she might be moving too fast for him and wished it were possible to take them back to spare her the possibility of his kind rejection.

“Do you want me to?” His stomach flip-flopped and he wasn’t sure if nerves or want caused the reaction as he waited with bated breath for her answer.

Staring directly in his hazel eyes, Sirra emphatically replied, “Yes.” 

The emotions swirling in her dark depths spoke volumes and Alistair’s heart leapt in exaltation. Smiling warmly, he leaned towards her and pressed a tender parting kiss to her lips. 

“Your desire is my command,” he murmured. Her breath hitched with the choice of words.  He would have to use that line more often, he decided. With a self-satisfied smirk he exited her tent, missing Sirra’s giddy flop onto her pallet while she smothered her squeals of glee with difficulty.   

Ignoring the knowing gaze from Leliana and Morrigan’s exaggerated eye roll, Alistair slipped in his own tent to strap on his armor over the clothes he slept in and gathered his things. Exiting his canvas shelter, he dismantled the tent and strapped it to his pack before rejoining the women for breakfast. Sirra had yet to emerge, so he plopped down beside the redhead and dug into the porridge she passed him. No one spoke, but Alistair knew Leliana was dying to ask what happened last night, yet he was not the type kiss and tell. They might have to live in super close quarters on the road, but some things didn’t need to be uttered out loud.

Their leader stepped out in her leathers, daggers strapped to her back, her hair braided and pinned in her signature bun, nose ring glinting in the early morning light. A pang of longing shot through his gut as he remembered her hair against his skin and the heat in her gaze that stole his breath away when they were hidden from the world, wrapped up in each other.  He wanted to kiss her until they both panted for breath, drinking her in until the only thing he could see or feel was Sirra.

Leliana giggled beside him and he realized he was openly ogling her, his porridge forgotten and growing cold in his hands. The former Sister hopped up and passed Sirra a bowl, offering to break down her tent for her so she could eat and waving her to sit next to Alistair. Morrigan groaned in disgust, stomping away in a huff leaving them alone by the fire, which Alistair was thankful for. 

Sirra sank beside him with a warm smile, her cheeks pinking under his ardent stare before turning to her food and Alistair took his cue from her, trying to keep his eyes from wandering to her face as they ate. After polishing off their first helping, they split the remainder in the pot between them with soft chuckles, neither of them embarrassed by their Grey Warden appetite anymore. Sirra took their bowls and the pot to wash while Alistair doused the fire now that they finished breaking their fast.

“Leliana, that porridge was fantastic today. What was in it?” Sirra queried.

The rogue clapped her hands. “Oh, you thought so! I was afraid I might have used too much cinnamon, but I added some honey to tone it down.” 

Noting Sirra's confusion, Leliana reached into her pack and pulled out a stick of cinnamon for her. She studied the strange spice curiously, twirling it in her fingers and inhaling the sharp fragrance, passing it back with a smile and giggling at the lingering scent it left on her skin. Leliana next showed her a small jar of honey, explaining how it came from bees and had to be harvested carefully from their hives. Sirra’s eyes widened in fascination as she carefully raised the golden liquid to the light, entranced by the glow that radiated from the sweet treat.

Alistair regarded her childlike fascination with awe. There was still much she didn’t know about the surface. Small things that would never cross his mind to be surprised by, but she gave him reason to appreciate everything with renewed wonder. Yet, Sirra was the biggest wonder of them all. 

He laughed along with the rogues when Sirra sampled the honey. The sweet, floral flavor overwhelmed her taste buds as it melted on her tongue and she enthusiastically proclaimed it was the best thing she’d ever eaten. Her rich brown eyes met his across the embers of the campfire, sparkling in amazement at the new world she found herself in, and a different heat flared within him instantly. 

A relaxing warmth that felt like coming home, bringing to mind images of hearth side conversations and comforting silences that didn’t require words to convey what they were thinking; a peaceful vision of what life might be like when Loghain was defeated and the Blight safely ended. A life of his choosing with Sirra by his side.

 

Chapter Text

After an eight-hour hike, the Grey Wardens and their companions arrived at the Circle Tower by late afternoon. It really was a tower, jutting higher into the vast sky than the Tower of Ishal at Ostagar. Sirra stared at it in astonishment. Kinloch Hold rivaled the master stonework of Orzammar, but unlike mountain caverns, a ceiling did not limit this building and it seemed to go on forever; especially to a dwarf who didn’t even reach five feet in height.

The lake bisected the ground, leaving the Circle on the far bank, and she wondered how they would get across when she couldn’t swim. Gnawing on her lip nervously, she shot a worried look to Alistair, but he smiled and pointed to a man standing on a wooden structure and a small vessel bobbing in the water. 

“We’re going to take a boat across the lake,” he said with infinite patience. 

Ancestors! Sometimes she truly worried for the sanity of humans. They purposefully built things that crossed large bodies of water! Why? It was a natural barrier! Dwarves didn’t build transportation that would survive crossing magma rivers!

Sirra observed the little boat rocking slightly from the movement of the water and gulped hard.

They carefully descended the steep hill, and she took stock of the inn nearby, deciding that they would get rooms there when they completed their business at the Circle before returning to Redcliffe. As they neared the man on the dock (Leliana thankfully supplied the word for the structure) Sirra recognized his Templar armor. She expected a warm greeting, but the man crossed his arms and scowled.

“You! You’re not looking to get across to the tower, are you?”

His gruff tone surprised Sirra, and she shared a surreptitious glance with the man behind her. 

“Uh, yes. We are Grey Wardens and we seek the aid of the mages against the Blight. I need to speak to –“

“The First Enchanter,” Alistair whispered helpfully.  

“Speak to the First Enchanter regarding allies,” Sirra finished, lifting her chin haughtily in silent challenge and crossed her arms. 

The Templar snorted and stared at her with a mocking grin. “Oh, you’re a Grey Warden, are you? Prove it? Kill some darkspawn!”

Sirra frowned, dropping her arms in disbelief. The Templars let this idiot guard the boat leading to the Circle? She was about to speak when Morrigan interrupted her.

“Oh, wonderful,” the witch purred seductively. “I have been looking for new prey.” 

The young man blanched with a squeak.  “Prey?”

Moaning huskily, Morrigan's red lips curved into a predatory smirk. “Excellent! I can smell his terror already, that will make the loving all the sweeter.  Why don’t you go on ahead, Warden? I fear the lad won’t have use of his limbs… or his eyes when I’m done with him.” 

The devious woman took a step towards the Templar causing him to take an even larger one back, his eyes wide with horror, and he gulped audibly.

“You said you wanted to get to the tower? We should go. Right now. NOW.”

He scrambled into the boat and Sirra covered her snort of laughter with a cough, winking at Morrigan as she and Leliana moved around her to board the vessel. Alistair scooped her under her armpits and settled her inside the boat where she promptly clutched the side for purchase, as her insanely tall companion climbed in and tossed off the line of rope anchoring them to the small pier. Alistair sat behind her, using his knees to lock her in place. She sighed heavily at the solid strength in his legs holding her still, grounding her like Stone, and cast him a grateful smile over her shoulder. He grinned, resting three fingers on her neck in silent understanding.

It amazed her how well he understood her in the short time they’d been together, but she also knew that people underestimated Alistair’s intelligence and observational skills. He had to be adept in both areas to be the accomplished warrior he revealed himself to be in battle. As Wardens, they might have an advantage in detecting darkspawn, but they fought other enemies that required their full attention and he never wavered. Apparently, those traits bled into his personal relationships, as well. 

Alistair removed his hand and leaned against the stern of the boat. He knew that moving water terrified Sirra and her trepidation about their mode of transportation was obvious, especially since she couldn’t swim. She kept shooting wary glances at the deep blue water as the Templar rowed them across the lake. Today was a day of many firsts for his dwarven lady, but this was the only one he doubted Sirra would count as enjoyable.

After twenty excruciating minutes, they reached the opposite pier. The Templar secured the line and jerked his head for them to disembark. Alistair signaled for the women to get out first and then slowly stood to keep from rocking the boat as much as possible to assist Sirra to her feet. Repeating his earlier move, he picked her up and swung her with ease onto the dock where Leliana waited to grip her hand as he hopped out of the vessel. 

Sirra swayed a little on her feet as the odd sensation of rocking waves threw off her center of gravity. Leliana gently led her along the pier and explained that walking again would help her shake off the strangeness of her first boat ride. By the time they reached the doors of the tower, Sirra regained her composure and tried not to think about having to make the same trip when it was time to leave. 

Steeling herself for the task, she waved at Alistair to push open the massive metal door and the four confidently strode inside the tower. It was dimly lit, but there was enough light to indicate that something was wrong. Paintings hung lopsided on the walls, tapestries roughly cut from their rods were strewn haphazardly on the stone floor for the injured Templars, moaning and crying out to the Maker in agony. An older man who seemed in charge was issuing orders to another Templar, and he sneered at their group as they stepped further into the vestibule.

“Who are you? I specifically told Carroll not to let anyone cross the lake. We are dealing with a delicate situation here. You must leave immediately.”

Sirra bristled and took a bold step forward. “No. The mages are obligated to aid the Grey Wardens during a Blight. I didn’t come all the way here to be denied men for the scourge that threatens us all.” 

The Templar narrowed his eyes, but didn’t speak. He simply appraised the dwarven woman whose fuse was as short as her stature.

“The Circle is lost. Abominations and demons roam the halls. We were overrun and not prepared for such an onslaught.  We’ve barred the doors to keep them out and are waiting for reinforcements from Denerim for the Right of Annulment.”

Alistair groaned and Leliana gasped at his pronouncement while Sirra huffed impatiently with her hands on her hips.

“Oh, for the love of all the Paragons! What does that mean?"

Alistair snorted softly at her dwarven curse and murmured in her ear. “The mages are probably already dead. The Right allows for the Templars to kill anything inside to prevent abominations escaping.”

Sirra reeled back in shock, staring at the older Templar, as fury bubbled within her. “They are mages! They have magic! They can’t all be dead! You locked them in there and left them to their fate like cowards!”  

A hush descended on the room and he opened his mouth to refute her and regain his authority, but she cut him off with a slashing motion of her hand, glaring at him in defiance. 

“I’m going in and I will save them, which is what you should have done! And when I return you will aid me against the Blight or so help me, you won’t be begging the Maker to spare your life, you will beg me. Is that understood?”

“I assure you abominations are nothing to scoff about.” The Templar closed the gap between them and stared down at her imperiously, attempting to intimidate her.

Flicking her throwing knife into her palm, she tossed it casually in the air, catching it by the hilt with ease, a murderous glint in her stormy gaze. 

“Do I look like I’m scoffing to you? I have confidence in my abilities. You really should thank me for doing your damn job, but if that’s below you then at the very least, get out of my fucking way. I have people to rescue.”

Jerking her head at her team, Sirra could hear their chuckles of approval as she brushed past the man, only pausing long enough to hear him inform her he would require the word of the First Enchanter to believe the tower was secure to grant her aid. Tapping her foot impatiently at the Templar guarding the entrance of the inner tower, the armored man shook his head and pulled the metal barrier doors open for them to pass through. 

Once they slammed behind them, Alistair knelt and kissed her fiercely, which she happily returned. When he leaned out of the embrace, he wore a proud smile.

“That… was the most amazing dressing down I’ve ever seen. Telling off the Knight-Commander in his own Circle!”

Sirra smirked and swept into a mocking curtsy. He laughed, his amber eyes full of wonder at her fearlessness, squeezing her hand as he returned to his full height.  

Leliana cooed adorably over them, their relationship status confirmed, but Alistair found he didn’t care if they knew. After Sirra’s little display, he wanted to scream from the top of the tower that he was with the feistiest woman in all of Thedas.

Their good humor was short lived.

Leading the way through the silent halls, Sirra peeked in the mage’s chambers, appalled at the carnage and the sheer number of bodies wearing robes and armor alike, scattered like broken toys across the floors. Fleshy sacs clung to the walls, some of them tall enough that tendrils of wet tissue spanned the ceiling. A sense of horrified curiosity brought her closer to one, but the squelching sounds coming from the sac as it undulated sent her scrambling back and careening into Morrigan. 

"Is it -" 

“You do not want to know,” Morrigan interrupted tersely. 

Sirra swallowed hard to force down the bile that rose from her gut. Leliana’s small hands covered her mouth in stunned disbelief, and Alistair’s bronze complexion was paler than usual. The group turned away from the corpse devouring sac as one and continued their trek through the tower. Char marks and soot covered the walls from fire spells the mages cast, mingling with the blood splatter and sticky fluid that oozed from the sacs, painting a picture of unspeakable horror.

“By the Stone… what fucking happened here,” Sirra whispered. 

Passing the final bedchamber, Leliana gave a hoarse cry and Sirra jerked her head to follow the archer’s gaze. A small arm was sprawled on the flagstones, fingers curled in pain. She was thankful the rest of the body was hidden around the corner, so none saw the child’s face. Snatching the rogue’s hand, Sirra dragged her down the hall as Leliana’s tears made it difficult for the former Sister to navigate the corpse-strewn corridor.        

Stumbling into an open chamber, Sirra almost sobbed with relief to find mages alive, huddling together and warily guarding a few children. An older woman with a shock of white hair and elegant features froze a rage demon that slipped through the magical barrier protecting the mages from the rest of the tower. With the demon dead, she rounded quickly on Sirra, her staff at the ready, wearing a warning scowl. The dwarf had no doubt that she could kill her in seconds, if she so wished. 

Holding up her hands, Sirra implored the woman. “We mean no harm. We are here to rescue any survivors.” 

The woman narrowed her eyes calculatingly. “Who are you? Why should I believe what you say?”

Sirra smiled in reassurance and spoke softly. “I’m a Grey Warden and I came here to seek the aid of the mages against the Blight.” 

The mage relaxed her stance with an understanding nod. “And Greagoir told you that we could not help, didn’t he? Has he sent for the Right?” 

Sirra nodded and clenched her jaw in anger. “I will not help him slaughter you. He says that he will only accept that the tower is under control again if the First Enchanter tells him it is so.” 

The mage smiled causing her crow’s feet to crinkle merrily and she brightened considerably. 

“Then our path is set before us. My name is Wynne and I shall join you.” Sirra opened her mouth to protest, but Wynne interrupted brusquely.  “This was my home and I will see those responsible punished for this… madness. And First Enchanter Irving is a long-time friend; I will not abandon him in his hour of need.” 

Sirra inclined her head. “Very well. We will probably need your help, anyway.” 

Quickly introducing everyone, she gave Wynne some time to confer with the remaining mages on their duty to protect the children. 

Morrigan scoffed in derision. “You will truly assist them? They allow themselves to be corralled! I say, let them die. 'Tis their own foolishness that brought this upon their heads.”

“You’re a real bitch, you know that,” Alistair growled. Waving his hand at the small group behind them, he hissed. “There are children here, Morrigan. Children! Did they deserve this? They can’t even control their magic yet, and you would see them thrown to the demons without batting an eye? Even you cannot be so callous.”

Her yellow eyes stared at him unflinchingly and he spat at her feet. “Never mind. I forgot for a moment I was speaking to a heartless shrew.”

Sirra seethed at the witch while Alistair stomped away from them, broad shoulders quaking with rage. 

“Fine, you don’t want to help, you can stay here. I doubt you’ll lift a fucking finger to assist them if they need help, but it's better if you don’t join us for this mission.” Angry red splotches bloomed on Morrigan’s cheeks, but she held her tongue at Sirra’s challenging glare.

Stepping over to her fellow rogue, Sirra placed a hand on her arm with a concerned frown. 

“Are you okay to continue, Leliana?” The redhead managed a wan smile and patted her hand affectionately in reply. 

Sirra blew out a weary breath. “I’m sorry. Everything seems to go to shit when I’m around.”

“No, my friend, it isn’t you. The world has gone mad.” Leliana fiddled with her single twist of hair and whispered, “Did I ever tell you why I joined you... in Lothering?” Sirra shook her head and the archer flicked her gaze to the wall. 

“I-I left the Chantry because… I had a vision. A vision of the Blight. I felt like the Maker was telling me to stop it and then… the very next morning I saw a single beautiful rose blooming on a rosebush, the only one in the Chantry courtyard. Everyone knew that bush was dead, yet there it was. So bright and vibrant against the black and it was confirmation for me.”

Her blue eyes met hers imploringly and Sirra’s heart pounded at the mention of the rose, immediately aware it was the same one that Alistair gave her only two days prior. 

“I know it sounds insane, but a few days later, you arrived at the village and I knew you were the answer. Ending the Blight is what we’re destined for, no matter who we believe in, I believe that much. And this... ending the torment for the people here is just as important. I am glad we came. Without us, the Templars would have followed through with the Annulment and I cannot imagine…“

Leliana paused and took a steadying breath. “I am glad we came so we could change the fates of some.” Her crystalline gaze fell on the children hugging Wynne goodbye and Sirra nodded. 

“Me, too, Leliana. Me, too.” 

Sirra’s fingers fell to the pouch on her belt, and she closed her eyes with a soft smile. 

“I may not understand your belief in the Maker, but I don’t think you’re insane.” Leliana looked at her in surprise and then curiosity as Sirra opened the pouch and carefully pulled out the rose. The redhead gasped.

“Is it the same one?” Sirra nodded slowly, running her fingers over the velvety petals. “But how?”

“Alistair,” Sirra whispered without looking at the woman. “He picked it believing it was too pretty to leave behind and become tainted. A rare beauty amid the darkness, he said, and then he… gave it to me. He told me he thinks the same thing when he looks at me.” Lifting her eyes to Leliana’s, she didn’t hide the tears welling in her dark eyes and the woman smiled tenderly.

“He’s right, Sirra. You are a wonderful person and I am so proud to call you my friend.” Giggling, the rogue shot their male companion a quick glance. “That was surprisingly smooth of him, wasn’t it?” 

Sirra huffed a small laugh and gently replaced the delicate bloom to her pouch. “I don’t feel like I deserve him. I have done nothing in my life to warrant such… honesty and affection. I may not be Carta anymore, but that doesn’t erase what I did when I was.”

Holding up her hands, she stared forlornly at her calloused fingers, remembering all they were responsible for. “I can never wash my hands thoroughly enough to make them clean and deserving of his goodness.”

“Oh, you poor dear!” Leliana bent over and pulled her close for a hug, murmuring in her ear. “I know you feel that way now, but believe me when I say that you are deserving. Our past does not define us, Sirra. I fled a past as violent as yours and look at me now. Look at you! A Grey Warden, free from Orzammar and their brutal caste system, free from the Carta! You are free to be who you really are up here and we all love you.” She giggled softly and Sirra could hear the smile in her voice. “Some of us more than others, it would seem.” 

Sirra chuckled amidst her tears and hugged her fiercely. “Thank you,” she whispered when they parted as Wynne and Alistair rejoined them. 

Alistair frowned, his gaze flitting nervously between the women with their too bright eyes, and wished he knew what to say to be comforting. He’d observed their conversation surreptitiously from afar, but hadn’t interrupted since it was apparent they needed a moment to speak privately. His heart stuttered when Sirra pulled the rose from her belt, unsure what she meant to do with it. Give it to Leliana? Crush it to dust? It was foolish to worry after their morning in the tent he knew, and yet he couldn’t help fearing that she would abandon him, like everyone else in his life. 

Instead, her face melted with an affection so warm he felt the heat across the room. When she stroked the petals and showed it proudly to Leliana, his heart thrummed to life once more, beating so rapidly all sound was drowned out by the whooshing of blood in his ears. Even were he standing next to them, he wouldn’t have heard their whispers, though he was dying to know what they said after Leliana glanced at him. The conversation ended with both women wiping away tears, leaving him at a loss of how to help, uncertain if he even should, in case he was responsible for them.   

Sirra smiled brightly, squeezing his hand in reassurance with her uncanny ability to read his mind. He hadn’t quite ruled out the possibility that she harbored some unknown dwarven magic which granted her such an in-depth understanding of him. Alistair returned her grin and fell happily behind her as they followed Wynne deeper into the tower. 

Things grew worse as they climbed into the upper reaches. Blood and viscous fluids saturated the stone flooring, making purchase difficult when fighting abominations, blood mages, demons, and walking corpses. It was worse than Redcliffe or maybe it only felt that way because they were still recovering from the horror of the village when they walked into another waking nightmare.

Sacs were plentiful, growing from the very stone, with bodies so charred that distinguishing between human or elf, mage or Templar, was impossible. Dismembered corpses impaled on spikes or piled carelessly in heaps littered every room, leaving each of the party members to wonder if anyone in the tower survived. And Maker's breath, the smell! Rotten eggs and ozone and underlying it all the sharp tang of copper. It left a disgusting taste on the tongue, if he tried to breathe through his mouth instead of his nose. Alistair made that mistake once and then decided that searing his nasal passages was preferable to the violent nausea that hit him when the flavor assaulted his taste buds.

Wynne sighed despondently when they reached the vacant First Enchanter's study. "I did not expect to find him here, but I hoped... Let us continue onward so we may find him quickly."

The lack of blood in the chamber buoyed Sirra, and she took a moment to inspect the room for clues. Alistair reverently caressed the books lining Irving's shelves as she sidled over to him.  

"Do you think he's read all these?" His hazel eyes marveled at the mage's personal library.  

I wanted to tell you what a rare and wonderful person I think you are in this darkness. That's what Alistair said to her when he gave her the rose, but watching his face light up in awe, surrounded by knowledge stored in the ancient tomes, Sirra realized the statement was reflective of him, too. Perhaps even more so than she. He was rare and wondrous indeed - the last of the Theirin bloodline, a man with a noble and valiant heart willing to put himself in harm's way for others every day. Sensitive and sweet, kind and fierce, and for reasons she still couldn't fathom, he cared for her.

Slipping her hand in his, he glanced at their entwined fingers, but his minor surprise softened into adoration. Squeezing gently, Sirra murmured, "I don't know how or when, but I promise one day you will have a library to rival this." 

Chuckling softly, he shook his head. "It's alright, Sirra. I can live without them."

Stepping directly in front of him, she peered hard into his burnished gaze. "You aren't the only one who wants to make sure your partner has everything they could ever want. Whether it be books or cheese or an entire chest of statues and runes that you collect." 

Alistair’s smile widened as she confidently rattled off a few of his favorite things without even thinking. Warmth radiated from his chest and charted a course throughout his body that set his heart racing. Cupping her cheek, he gingerly traced her ‘s’ tattoo and for a few beautiful moments he forgot they were trapped in a tower of terror.

"Thank you, Sirra. That means more to me than you know." Alistair bent to brush a tender kiss across her forehead. Flushing under Leliana's bemused eavesdropping, she released his hand to search the nearby chest, tucking an intriguing book inside in her pack for a mage to examine more closely later. 

Exiting the study, the foursome headed upstairs and cleared the next floor of demons. By the time they reached the fourth level housing the Templar quarters, they were emotionally overwrought, and were all close to breaking.

Sirra closed her eyes and thanked the Ancestors that the Knight-Commander had not joined them, because he surely would have demanded an immediate annulment upon seeing the state of the Circle. He wouldn't have listened to the protestations of the few mage survivors who were against the actions of the blood mages, horrified by the ensuing carnage. This was the most emotionally traumatizing experience she’d gone through, but she would rather suffer and protect those she could, then allow more senseless death at the hands of those who proclaimed to know what was best.

Wynne breathed hard, occasionally clutching her chest as though it pained her, and Sirra studied her with concern. This was even worse for the woman, who like Alistair was witness to the utter ruination of her home - of her life. Pushing off the cleanest section of wall she found to lean against, Sirra waved a gory dagger onward and they tip-toed down the hall. She heard murmurs in the first open room and peeked around the corner to find a scantily clad demon crooning to an enthralled Templar. 

Leaning back, she hissed to Wynne, “A demon. It’s purple with a long tail and little clothing. I’ve never seen one like it before.” 

The mage’s eyes flashed and she muttered angrily, “Desire demon. They offer your deepest desires and drain you of life slowly, if you accept.”

“Ancestor’s tits! Well, it's snared a Templar.” Alistair paled and gagged as he suppressed the urge to vomit and Wynne's features hardened.

“Cut it down immediately. Do not engage it. They are cunning and might try to turn its attention to you, instead.” 

Sirra nodded in understanding and coated her blades with poison, tossing them a wicked grin. “I’ll sneak in and take it by surprise, but I will need backup immediately after against the Templar.” 

Alistair nodded gravely, rolling his shoulders in preparation, and twirled his sword anxiously as she pulled out a smoke grenade. With a cheeky wink at him she dropped the vial and his stomach plummeted when she disappeared.  

Rocking on the balls of her feet to keep her heels off the echoing stone, Sirra crept gingerly around pools of blood, inching slowly towards her target. Glancing up to judge the distance remaining, her toe crunched a stray piece of bone caught in a crack and she froze, hoping that the demon might not have noticed. 

It turned its head sharply and searched the room, giving Sirra her first glimpse of the demon’s face. Cold and manipulative with eyes blacker than the abyss perched atop a lithe, seductive body. The callousness paired with perfection sent tendrils of ice skittering along her spine.  Unable to locate her shrouded in smoke, the demon returned to her victim, crooning sweet nothings and honeyed words dripping with the promise of unholy intimacy between the Templar and his ‘wife.’ Sirra instantly understood Alistair’s visceral reaction earlier and stamped down a wave of nausea, but she could do nothing to prevent the tingle of cold sweat that broke out across her skin.

One more step put her within range of her target. Popping out of her crouch, Sirra slammed her blades deep in its back, twisting the honed edges forcefully, enjoying the shriek of pain and anger that spilled from its conniving lips.  Angling the daggers up, she yanked them out and rolled out of the way as Alistair charged with an incensed war cry to slam the bleeding demon to the ground. Arrows whistled through the room and Sirra could feel Wynne’s aura activate, as she used her spirit healing skills to keep them in the fight.

Leliana pinned the Templar and Sirra leapt in to deliver a few quick blows to any areas she could reach under his plate armor, ducking into stealth as soon as he freed himself before his shield found her head. Reaching into her grenade pouch, she threw an acid flask in his face, casting aside her guilt for resorting to such measures. When he collapsed onto his knees in agony, she circled around him, carefully avoiding the remnants of his melted face and sliced deep along his throat to silence his anguished screams.  Her ears caught the death rattle of the demon behind her and Alistair’s grunt of satisfaction to rid the world of the creature.

In the deafening quiet, Sirra closed her eyes and willed the tears away. She couldn’t afford to break down. She had to keep it together and deal with her guilt later. They had to keep going. There might be other survivors and if they didn’t hurry, they could die.    

Yet, she kept replaying the demon’s lies to the Templar in her head - a loving wife, children to tuck into bed at night, a life no longer lived for duty alone. The realization that it could easily have been Alistair trapped by the demon sickened her most of all. But for a twist of fate, he’d been recruited into the Wardens. Otherwise, he would likely be among the nameless Templars caught in the crossfire of the mage uprising; ensnared by a demon or massacred with calculated cruelty.  

Alistair’s strong hand alighted tenderly on her shoulder and she almost lost what little composure she had at his touch. Patting his hand in silent gratitude, Sirra avoided the worried looks he cast in her direction, steeling herself as they continued their investigation of the floor.  

Leliana’s full draw skewered the blood mage controlling the possessed Templars in the room next door and they efficiently decimated the mindless warriors.  Surrounded by a ring of helmeted Templars, armor crushed and skulls cleaved in two, Sirra trembled violently as terror gripped her heart. A sharp inhalation stuck in her craw as tears fell unbidden and uncontrolled down her tattooed cheeks, leaving sticky tracks through the blood splatter caked on her face. Alistair reached for her, but she shook her head to stall his movement.  

“Please...don't. I-I can’t.”  

The words snagged as they escaped her throat, strangled and raspier than usual, deepening the furrow in his brow as misery swirled in his amber eyes, but he respected her wishes. Clenching his fists, Alistair worked his jaw back and forth, choking on a desperate scream. He knew she was dealing with some unspoken emotional torment, and he wanted to tell her she wasn’t alone in her suffering. Tell her that the situation in the tower affected him, as well, but she kept him at arm's length.  

Shit! Hurting him to keep a hold of her tenuous control was akin to falling on his sword. Yet, she knew if he pulled her into his arms, she would crumble to dust and she couldn’t risk cracking. Stone help her - she needed to remain strong until they found the First Enchanter.

“Come on,” Wynne encouraged the exhausted young people, sharing an inscrutable glance with Leliana. “We don’t have much further to go. Just through the door across the hall and down a few short corridors and we should find Irving.”  

With a bone-weary nod and an unsteady breath, Sirra wiped off her daggers, removing the congealed blood coating the hilts and sheathed them without a word as she trailed the mage into the next chamber.  

 

Chapter Text

“By the Stone, Sirra! I can’t believe you received my letter and that you’re actually here.” 

Rica’s moss green eyes were wide in amazement. Her gold-capped teeth that made her so desirable to noblemen glinted in the orange glow cast by the lava river as she grinned at her lost sister. Sirra catalogued Rica’s new attire. Draped in rich surface silks and satins, her usual bun replaced with an intricate braid coiled at her nape and held in place with a fine netted snood decorated with amethysts and emeralds while finely wrought golden earrings brushed her shoulders.

“Rica! You look amazing! You found a patron?” Relief exploded in her chest to learn her sister was safe and obviously, well-received by her lord. 

The redhead giggled, the bright sound echoing around the caverns of the Diamond Quarter, suffusing Sirra with warmth. Ancestors, she missed the unrestrained joy in Rica’s laughter. 

“Oh, Sirra, you will not believe it! I never had time to tell you, because we were so new when you left, but my patron is King Bhelen and I’ve already borne him a son! He has announced to the Assembly that we are to be married! I will be Queen of Orzammar and it has elevated you to noble caste with me, dear sister. It’s why I asked you to come back home. You can stay with me forever!” 

Rica pulled her in for a hug, and Sirra buried her face in her shoulder with a shuddering sigh. They were safe. She could stay in Orzammar and prove to all the castes she wasn’t worthless anymore. So, why didn’t it feel like it should? She should be ecstatic. This was everything they ever wanted. This is what Rica sold her body and her fertility for. And her beautiful, selfless, proud sister had succeeded!

Pulling out of the embrace with a warm smile, Rica took her hand to lead her toward the Palace. Sirra glanced around the corridors, watching in amazement as nobles saluted her sister, and by extension her, as they passed. Rica nodded in acknowledgment to them, but did not slow her pace.

Their deference reminded her of… someone. Flashes of a man bowing low over her hand… lips pressed reverently against her throbbing pulse point… hazel eyes burning with barely restrained desire searing her soul through dark lashes. 

Sirra stopped, cradling her head in her hands. Rica peered at her with concern. “Sister, are you all right? Oh, poor dear, I know this is a lot to take in. Come, let’s go to the Palace and I’ll get you a sleeping draught. You must be exhausted from your long journey.”

Exhausted, yes. Her body ached from countless battles. Her mind branded with visions she could never unsee. Yet… he was there. Strong, staid, secure - her Stone aboveground to anchor her whenever she felt lost. Sirra remembered taking courage from his nearness as fatigue threatened to overwhelm her. A simple touch. The brush of a hand. Three fingers against her neck, foreheads pressed together and sharing oxygen, a whispered name just on the edge of hearing. 

Sirra shook her head to loosen the tangled webs in her mind. Lifting her gaze to her sister with a grateful word on her lips, Rica’s scarlet hair stalled any words she might have said. 

A rose, red as blood, but soft as velvet. Kisses that stole her breath and made her hungry for more. Kindness she did not deserve freely given. Warm laughter and a teasing grin the first day they met that chipped her stony heart in an instant. I wanted to find a way to tell you what a rare and wonderful person I think you are.       

“Alistair,” Sirra gasped.  

Wrenching her hand from Rica’s grasp, the rogue flicked her throwing knife into her palm, and pressed the edge against the throat of the creature masquerading as her sister. She remembered the sloth abomination in the tower now. Cursing herself for how easily she fell into complacency, Sirra nicked the demon’s neck, enjoying the hiss of anger that tumbled from its painted lips.

It chuckled with dark amusement. “You cannot kill me in this form, mortal. It would break you to slice open your pretty sister’s neck. You’ll never hear her shiny laughter again, if you do.”

Vibrating with rage, Sirra snarled through clenched teeth. “Where are the others?”

The demon chortled, tendrils of vapor seeping from its mouth at the sound, encircling its head like a cloud. “You’ll never find them. You will die first!”

The former Carta dwarf smiled dangerously, her dark eyes cold as flint, when she growled in reply. “No – you will.”

With a decisive slash, Sirra cut through Rica’s neck and watched dispassionately as the blood glimmered like rubies around her elegant throat before the demon evaporated into ash.

Wobbling backwards, Sirra bumped into a wall, halting her retreat. Yet it gave her something to lean on while she calmed her racing heart. If her understanding of dreams and dream connections was correct, according to what Leliana and Morrigan painstakingly explained to her, then she was in the Fade. The dream realm of other races... and apparently dwarven Grey Wardens. And if the demon had ensnared her in the tower, it must have the others – Wynne, Leliana, Alistair. They would need help to escape, but she had no idea how to find them.

Taking in her surroundings, Sirra discovered the wall behind her was actually a stand decorated with runes. The uppermost rune glowed a faint blue, like lyrium, but the other runes were dark. Running her fingers lightly over the surface of the runestone, the runes shone a pale green when she touched them. What if they were place markers like a map? Maybe that’s where her friends were?

Bronto piss! There was only one way to find out.

With a deep breath, Sirra pressed on the rune directly under the blue one and felt a gentle pull in her navel. Almost instantly she found herself in a new place where a man slouched against a nearby pillar. Snatching her daggers, she approached him warily, poised to fight at a moment's notice. They spoke at the same time.

“Are you a demon?”

Blinking in surprise at one another, Sirra relaxed her stance. “No, Sirra of the Grey Wardens. Who are you?”

The man sighed in relief, a small smile breaking across his startled features. “Niall, Circle mage.” 

Sirra frowned as she sheathed her blades and then rubbed her forehead as she processed her jumbled memories. “Wait... a man in the tower said you had something to protect against blood magic.”

Niall huffed in minor annoyance. “Yes, the Litany of Adralla. Fine lot of good it does us trapped in here.” 

Glancing around nervously, Sirra whispered, “Where are we anyway?” 

Niall explained the sloth demon held them hostage, seeking to drain them of life, and leave their bodies to waste away in the real world. Nausea bubbled in her stomach as she thought of the four of them, sprawled on the sticky floor of the tower, as it slowly bled their life essence from them. 

Nug-humping Ancestors!  

“Good job getting out of that trap,” Niall congratulated with a grin. 

“Thanks, but I didn’t come alone. Would my companions also be trapped?” Niall’s expression turned grim and he nodded.  Sirra cursed at the confirmation and thumbed her hidden knife anxiously. 

“How do we get out of here?”

He snorted dismissively. “There is no way out. See that pedestal? Each rune is an island where another dreamer lives out their nightmare. The only way to free yourself is to kill the demon jailer. The center rune leads to Sloth, but he is untouchable as long as the other demons live. There is always an obstacle when you try to reach the guardians: a door you can’t pass through, cracks only a small creature can fit, walls of impassible fire. Worse, if you die in the Fade, then you die in the real world.”

Sirra shook her head fiercely, irritated by the human’s willingness to give up. His assurance of defeat reminded her of the Knight-Commander. Were all humans such cowards? Her companions' faces flashed in her mind, strengthening her resolve - no, not all humans. And she would not leave them to rot. 

“No. I will kill the demons, then I will free my friends and we’re all leaving. I will not give Sloth the satisfaction of sucking my life from my body.” 

Niall quirked an eyebrow and waved her onward, pointing to a purple barrier in silent challenge. Snatching her daggers with an impatient huff, she stepped through the portal, and came face to face with a rage demon. Channeling her own hatred into her strikes, she quickly dispatched the lava monster with satisfaction.

A small voice at her feet startled her, and she shrieked in surprise when she realized a mouse was speaking to her.

“I apologize for scaring you. I am a dreamer like you. Thank you for freeing me. I will give you my knowledge of how to become small, unnoticeable… You must kill Yavena, the demoness that rules here and reach Sloth. Good lu-“ The mouse dematerialized and Sirra screamed again.

Yeah, okay, the Fade was officially her least favorite place. 

As the mouse disappeared, a purple haze descended over her, and she felt an internal shift. Her muscles and bones felt… malleable, like potter’s clay. She pondered the dreamer’s words "become small." This was the Fade and rules obviously didn’t apply here. Maybe she could do it.

Closing her eyes, Sirra imagined a mouse with soft fur and whiskers. Creeping on silent feet, invisible in shadows no one thought to check, like the ones inside Redcliffe's castle dungeon. She began shrinking before the thought was complete, her belly hovering above the ground and she squeaked, nearly tumbling into a nearby crack to hear the strange sound bubble out of her.

Using her new ability, she darted in a nearby mouse hole and destroyed the demon on that plane before passing through another portal and killing three more. The final portal deposited her where she started with Niall. The mage instantly noticed that something about her differed from when she left. He became very excited after she explained the shape-shifting and recommended she travel to the other islands and learn other forms. Hopefully, they would allow her to move through Sloth’s realm and kill the guardians within them.

His advice was sound and there wasn't a better option. If the only way to kill Sloth was to kill his generals, then she needed the tools to defeat them, and she needed to free her friends. 

Stone help her. She would guarantee they all walked away free.  

Stepping to the podium, Sirra glanced at Niall, bolstered by his encouraging smile and minute nod. She pressed her hand to the upper left rune with more confidence than she felt and the same light tug transported her to the next island.

Her new mouse shape was quite useful and allowed her to sneak past enemies entirely or at least, get into advantageous positions to take them by surprise. The darkspawn dreamer granted her a spirit form that opened the ethereal doors scattered throughout the region. She remembered seeing one on Niall’s island, and she had a hunch that the guardian might have ensconced itself behind it. Returning to Niall's dream, Sirra transformed into an arcane horror, chuckling to herself at the mage’s terrified reaction before she passed through the doorway.

A desire demon shrieked angrily and threw itself at her, but Sirra tapped into the latent magic of the spirit form and cast a crushing prison spell. It was the same spell the darkspawn emissary trapped Alistair in a month ago that nearly killed him. Breaking her transformation, Sirra snatched her daggers and buried her blades to the hilt in the demon’s lungs while the cage held it captive. The cage shattered, leaving the demon sagging against her daggers, the full weight of its body propped up on the small blades. With a snarl, Sirra kicked it off her weapons and returned them to their sheathes, transforming once more to use the spirit door and activating the next rune on the pedestal without a word to the shaken mage. She had a long way to go to save her friends and reach Sloth. There was no time for idle chit chat.

When she freed the mage dreamer and learned how to become a golem, Sirra knew she finally had the missing ability necessary to break down the doors she couldn’t pick open. Smashing the unbreakable door ahead of her, Sirra cut down the guardian in the realm. She quickly backtracked to the two islands she already cleared and killed the guardians there, as well.  Within minutes of gaining her golem shape-shift form, three guardians were dead under her whirlwind fury. 

She still hadn’t found them - found Alistair - and her heart pounded erratically in terror. What if she couldn’t get to them in time? What if they died because she took too long fighting? Why hadn’t they been on the islands she’d already cleared?  Where were they?  

Alistair, where are you, salroka?  

Wandering wearily to the runestone, a new rune was lit up on the outer edges of the main pentagram. She hadn’t noticed them before, but that could be where her companions were! But only one glowed green. Following the line from the outer rune her fingers traced the outline of the other two runes, but they didn’t respond when she touched them. 

Fucking Ancestors! Did that mean they were already dead? 

There was one more island that she needed to clear out in the pentagram to open the way to Sloth. Maybe killing the guardian there would unlock the other two…? Biting her lip nervously, Sirra pressed on the outlying rune, pleading the Ancestors for a miracle.

She landed in the corpse-strewn Circle, surrounded by blood and gore, but she could see the seams stitching the weak lie together after so much time spent in the Fade destroying nightmares. Relief flooded her to find she wasn’t back in the real Circle yet, because she couldn’t leave her remaining companions behind. She growled at the part of her brain that dared tell her they were dead, especially as she rounded the corner of the nightmare and saw Wynne standing in a ring of dead apprentices. 

Her stomach plummeted and she fought the urge to vomit. He wasn't here.

Wynne stared at the bodies of apprentices fanned along the stone floor like a halo. Sirra snorted at the contrived poetic tragedy vibe the demons were aiming for. Honestly, Leliana's tales were better than this! She hoped to shake the older woman free of the morbidity holding her hostage. The mage stared at her as she entered the scene and the anguish etched on her face froze her blood. Oh, poor Wynne. This would not be easy.

“Death. Why didn’t I do more to stop it?”

“Wynne, please –“

Furrowing her brow, the mage pointed angrily at her. “And, where were you? You promised to help me find Irving. You weren’t there when we needed you! Now, they’re all dead. I’m all that’s left and Greagoir will likely kill me on sight. He’ll assume I’m a blood mage or an abomination to have survived such a massacre.” 

Wynne flinched and wrapped her arms around her chest, rubbing her hands unconsciously along her arms. “Maybe he’s right,” the woman whispered.

“Wynne, whatever this feeling is, you must fight it!”

“Your blatant disregard for the dead is most disturbing, young lady! These brave apprentices fought with everything they had to survive, but I didn’t teach them enough. I failed them.” Wynne sighed heavily. “I shall collect their bones and scatter their ashes to the winds where they will finally be free.”

Sirra shook her head in frustration and gripped Wynne’s forearm. “Listen to me. They aren’t dead. You’re a mage, aren’t you? Can’t you tell you’re in the Fade?” 

Wynne reeled for a moment and Sirra noticed the stitches holding the vision together weakening and she sighed with relief. 

“Yes, try to think of how we got here, Wynne.”

The mage pursed her lips with an impatient shake of her head. “I do not know what you are trying to tell me, but I will do as you say.” 

Frowning, Wynne closed her eyes and then pressed her palms against them as she struggled to concentrate. “I-I cannot seem to remember… perhaps some time away from this place will… help.”

Her pale gaze landed on Sirra, fear and confusion swirling within them in equal measure, and Sirra's heart constricted with empathy.

Sirra smiled in encouragement and took her hand. “I think leaving here will definitely help you. Let’s go.” 

No sooner had the women turned to leave than the apprentices sat up and hissed at their prisoner. Sirra armed herself with an aggravated huff.

“You have to kill them to leave, Wynne.” 

Wynne grabbed her staff, her cornflower eyes hard as steel. “Yes, Warden, I do believe you are correct.” 

With a smirk, she leapt into battle. She cut down the nearest apprentice with ease, dancing through the demons wearing faces of people Wynne once knew and loved, trying to kill as many for her sake as she could. When the last one fell, Sirra approached the older woman, who leaned heavily on her staff while pressing a shaky hand to her forehead in disgust.

“My apologies, Warden. I should have realized sooner what you were trying to tell me.” 

“No need to apologize, Wynne. I’m just glad to get you out of here. Now we just need to get Alistair and Leliana.” The mage smiled softly and made to follow, but shimmering silver mist enveloped her and she blinked out of sight with a gasp.

Sirra’s knees wobbled and her mouth fell slack in shock. 

Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit!   

She sincerely hoped the mage was okay wherever she went. Maybe she was awake in the real world now, trying to rouse her, fearing Sirra was dead like the apprentices. Or… what if Wynne was dead? What if she had been too late to free her? The mage seemed pretty worn out after their fight, and she’d been oddly cryptic when Sirra found her. 

Willing her weak legs to move, Sirra returned to the runestone and checked the status of the glyphs. All the islands she’d cleared glowed blue, and her chest lightened with relief to see Wynne’s did, too. But the other two outlying runes were still dark, and Sirra’s breath came out in ragged pants as fear washed over her. 

Images of Alistair tormented by demons, reliving his childhood trauma, or the battle of Redcliffe alone tumbled through her mind. Flashes of him searching for her in his own haunting broke her out in cold sweats. She had to find him!

Swallowing her terror, she pressed the rune of the pentagram she knew would lead her to the final guardian.

Whoever this dreamer was, he was a tortured soul indeed. This nightmare required her to use all of her shape-shifting abilities. She threw fireballs as a flaming corpse, crushed golems with spiritual prisons, snuck through crevices as a mouse, and rattled the teeth of her enemies with massive stone fists. Using the full range of her abilities gave her a small sense of what it must be like to be a mage and constantly wield such raw power in one's fingertips. Sirra knew part of her would miss this if, when, she woke up.

Reaching the final room in the nightmare, she moaned despondently to see the crumpled body of the templar with a desire demon looming proudly over him. The demon cackled with glee and ducked into a mouse hole. Sirra followed immediately on her heels, popping out of her rodent form in the next room, and released her throwing knife as a distraction. The demon screamed as the thin blade burrowed in its shoulder which gave Sirra time to shift into the arcane horror and hold it with the prison spell.  

Breaking the transformation, she hurtled towards the demon to plunge one dagger deep in its gut while simultaneously raking the other across its throat. The spell broke as the demon’s lifeblood gushed across the stone floor. With a grunt, she freed her throwing knife from the creature, re-sheathing it as the pedestal appeared in the room.

It felt like ants were crawling under her skin, and her nerve endings were alight with raw anxiety as she approached the runestone. With a steadying breath, Sirra saw all the pentagram runes were blue opening up the way to Sloth in the center, but tears ran down her blood-streaked face at the sight of the two exterior runes glowing green. Pressing the next one in the chain, she found herself inside a Chantry. 

A long runner covered the stones between the pews muffling her footfalls.  Following the sound of chanting, she recognized Leliana’s lilting voice instantly. The rogue was clad in Chantry robes again, kneeling in prayer at the feet of an older woman wearing similar garb with different ornamentation to signify she was above Leliana in the hierarchy. The old woman narrowed her eyes suspiciously when Sirra approached and the dwarf smirked at the demon’s concern.

“Do not interrupt the girl’s prayers. She needs to meditate.”

The old woman’s scratchy voice grated on Sirra’s jagged nerves. Leliana looked up then and stared hard at the dwarf without recognition.

“Revered Mother, I do not know this person.”

The demon’s lips quirked ever so slightly in victory. Sirra glared at it, but focused her attention on the young woman, and spoke gently to her companion. 

“Leliana, you know me, we’re friends. Remember, you showed me a cinnamon stick this morning and told me of your vision from Lothering?” 

The archer's brows knit in confusion as she shook her head. “No, that cannot be right. I am still in Lothering.”

Leliana straightened her spine to convince herself of the truth in her words, but her eyes gave away her uncertainty. Sirra shook her head faintly and opened her belt pouch to show her the rose. Leliana’s eyes widened. Sirra tucked it away for safekeeping as the former Sister scrambled to her feet and shuffled away from the priest.

“Come now, dear girl. We talked about your vision. You know the Maker does not give visions. That’s heresy.”

Leliana’s face purpled in indignation. “I do not know who you are, but my Revered Mother believed me and supported my decision to leave. You are not her.”

Spinning to face her, the redhead's ire softened. “You say that we are friends and I can feel the truth of your words.  We should go.” Sirra smiled, but the priest shifted into a shade with a growl.

“You are going nowhere, girl!” 

The rogues wasted no time ripping it to ash, and Leliana hesitantly slung her bow over her back. “She… she was a demon!” Sirra gazed at her with pity as she raked a hand through her short hair. “Well, I believe we had some task to accomplish. Lead on.”

No sooner had she spoken than Leliana disappeared in the same shimmering mist as Wynne. Fleeing in a blind panic to the podium Sirra slammed her palm against the final outlying glyph. She prayed that whoever’s Ancestors were listening to her and answering her prayers would hear her now.

A warm breeze brushed her cheek, stirring the loose strands of her hair that escaped the confines of her braid, and turned to face Alistair’s dream with a growing sense of dread. Her feet pressed the springy blades of grass and she heard birds trilling in the trees as she walked along the greenery. 

There was a farm up ahead with a field of golden wheat swaying in the breeze and a horse stable off to the side of the main building. A smaller house was tucked behind the main structure with a curlicue of smoke rising from the chimney. It was gorgeous and serene - picturesque. 

Sirra’s heart broke into a thousand pieces as she walked through Alistair's subconscious. 

Like her dream, his was a wish. A hope for a life he would likely never have.

A horse neighed in the stables and Sirra heard his velvety tone croon in response. Steeling herself for what she would find, her feet carried her towards the stable, but she froze when she reached the doorway. Alistair wore snug brown leather breeches and a simple cream tunic as he fondly braided the bay’s mane. His hair had grown into shaggy waves he kept tucking behind his ear with a lazy smile. A few days' growth covered his jaw, making him look older and more refined.

Her gasp of surprise alerted him to her presence. Alistair spun to her with his signature grin and mirth dancing in his hazel eyes.

“Sirra, my dear! I was wondering what was taking you so long. Although, now I’m glad you took your time. You look ravishing.” 

Blushing in spite of herself at his praise, she dropped her gaze to the ground and almost gasped again to discover that her clothes had transformed in Alistair’s dream.

She wore a simple linen dress overlaid with an elegant surcoat dyed red, held in place with a woven belt. Gold links secured the fringe of the belt to prevent it from unraveling, which created a delicate tinkling sound whenever she moved. Feeling the weight of earrings in her ears, Sirra curiously touched them - hoops to match her nose ring. 

Alistair strode over to her, bending down to give her a sweet kiss, and for just a moment Sirra wished they didn’t have to wake from this. That they could stay here in this beautiful fantasy he created for them in his mind. He pulled away with a contented sigh and took her hand with a smile.  

“Come on. I’m sure that Goldanna has dinner ready by now. Once we’ve eaten with the family, I have a surprise for you at the cottage.”

“Oh? What’s that?” She smiled and immediately cursed herself for playing along. It would only make this harder in the end. 

He waggled his eyebrows teasingly and pitched his voice lower. “I can tell you this: it does not require clothing.” 

Sirra licked her lips unconsciously and he chuckled, bopping her nose with the tip of his finger, and tossed her a cheeky wink. Her knees wobbled, and she was grateful his hold on her was secure or she would have tripped over her stumbling feet as a wave of pure desire crashed through her body.

The couple reached the door of the main house and Sirra could hear the shrieks of children playing inside. A stern woman’s voice scolded them for running while the cook fire was lit, but the din didn’t change. Alistair’s face was a picture of serenity as he pushed open the door and crossed the threshold with her in tow. 

“Sister! How are you this fine evening?” 

Alistair leaned over to press a kiss to his sister's cheek before a passel of children bombarded him, tackling him to the ground in their enthusiasm. He laughed richly, hugging and kissing them each in turn, content to stay on the clean threshing scattered on the floor in his role as the fun uncle. Sirra tore her eyes away with difficulty, but her gaze turned menacing when the demon smiled triumphantly.

“Alistair, dear brother, get up and help me set the table,” Goldanna said with a chiding laugh. Rising with a smile, he promised the children they would play more after dinner as he took a stack of dented metal plates and began setting the table. 

“Are the fields ready to be harvested, brother?”

“Almost. There is quite a bit of rye mixed with the seed this year, though. We’ll have a lot of picking to do before we can harvest the wheat,” Alistair groused. Goldanna inclined her head in understanding.

Great Ancestors, she didn’t want to do this to him. A boulder settled in Sirra's stomach as she spoke. 

“Alistair, I know you wanted to stay for dinner, but we must leave.”  

Alistair frowned and placed a hand on her forehead as he completed his circle around the table.

“Are you feeling alright, dear? You don’t look alright, you're paler than usual. I wish you had told me sooner if you felt unwell. I would have made you some tea –“

“Alistair.” He blinked at her firm tone and she exhaled sharply in an effort to remain calm. “We must go. Right now.” 

Crossing his arms, he cocked an eyebrow and stared at her critically. “You’re acting very strangely.”

“Think about how you got here,” she demanded. Yanking one on his arms free, she squeezed his hand, as much for herself as for him.    

Alistair laughed. “Oh, I get it. You’re testing me. This is a joke, right?” 

Sirra shook her head sadly, gutted to be the one to wound him so deeply, to destroy this dream of a peaceful life.

“No. Please, trust me and think very carefully how you got here, salroka,” she pleaded in desperation. 

“Alright, alright,” he pouted, but his petulance quickly melted into confusion.  Alistair shook his head, as though trying to shake something loose.

“It’s… a little fuzzy actually…” His amber eyes swam with anxiety as his gaze locked onto hers.

“Alistair, brother, it’s time to eat -"  Goldanna interrupted, reaching out to touch him. But he jerked away from his sister, pulling Sirra with him, never breaking eye contact with the dwarf.   

“Wait!” His voice quavered a bit, but he swallowed hard and continued. “I remember a tower… the Circle! It was under attack and we were fighting -"

Sirra clutched his strong hand harder with an encouraging nod. “Do you remember the demon? The one that pulled us into the Fade?”

The warrior gasped, eyes wide and dejected as he croaked. “Are… are you saying this is a dream?” 

Sirra nodded slowly. “I’m so sorry, Alistair,” she whispered and he sucked in a ragged breath. “We need to leave, now.”

“Yes, yes. You’re right.” 

Clinging to her hand like a lifeline they moved towards the door, but the farm evaporated around them, revealing a wasteland full of walking corpses and a furious Goldanna.

“No! We’d rather see him dead than free!” 

Sirra was thankful her regular clothing and weapons returned with the dashing of Alistair’s dream. By the sounds of battle behind her, she knew his had as well. Stealthing behind the shade wearing his sister’s face, Sirra was immensely pleased when it disintegrated under her back stab. 

Spitting on the pile, Sirra muttered angrily, “None of your filth will ever have a hold on us.” 

Turning to join Alistair against the corpses masquerading as his nieces and nephews, she discovered he'd already vanquished them. Ash rained around the proud warrior who suddenly looked lost and alone. Running to him, Sirra noted his hands shook so violently the metal of his sword vibrated.

Alistair’s heartbroken gaze met hers. “How... could I have been so stupid?  And you saw… all that? Maker… I’m such a fool.” 

Reaching out to brush his hand through his once again cropped hair, he realized he was still armed. Huffing in annoyance, he secured his weapons and cupped his face in his hands. 

“Alistair, there is nothing wrong with what you dreamed. You should have seen mine.” Peeking at her between his fingers, Sirra smiled warmly and entangled her fingers with his in a tender squeeze.

Chuckling softly, his return grasp bordered on a death grip as he murmured, “Well, just don’t tell the others how easily fooled I was.” 

She shook her head, buoyed by the jovial light beginning to brighten his haunted eyes. 

“I’ll always keep your secrets, salroka,” she promised.  

Alistair’s signature grin almost emerged at that, but it faltered when the silver mist descended, cutting off his cry of alarm. Clasping desperately for him, he disappeared leaving her hand holding air.

 

Chapter Text

“No!” 

Sirra screamed as sheer panic rattled the marrow of her bones. It was one thing to watch Wynne and Leliana disappear, but to lose Alistair after freeing him from his demons released a flurry of abject terror through her small frame. Running to the pedestal, she slammed her hand against the center rune in a haze of righteous fear rapidly giving way to fury. 

Sloth smirked in derision, nonchalantly relaxing in his domain, unruffled by her arrival in his abode. Blood boiling with unbridled wrath, Sirra was seconds from rushing the creature when Alistair’s dulcet voice emanated behind her.  

“There you are! You just disappeared.”  

Whirling around in shock, her jaw dropped at his sudden appearance. Alistair’s hazel gaze settled on her, mirroring her relief and overwhelming gratitude to find each other unharmed. Her stomach somersaulted, and she ran to him with a soft cry, needing the grounding feel of his arms to tether her unraveling composure. He fell to his knees and curled his body around her, enveloping her with his scent, caressing her ear with the warmth of his disbelieving chuckle.  

"Maker's breath, I thought I lost you again," he whispered, his voice catching on the words.  

Shaking her head against his neck, she breathed, "You can never lose me."  

His hold tightened and his lips brushed the rapid pulse of her throat. "I'll hold you to that, woman," Alistair croaked.

Tears welled in her eyes when Wynne and Leliana materialized beside them. Sucking in a ragged breath, she shot them watery smiles, which they returned with tremulous ones of their own. Everyone was alive and unharmed. Thank the Stone.

Reluctantly releasing the warrior, Sirra straightened and stalked towards Sloth, taking comfort in the presence of her companions guarding her back. The creature tutted condescendingly as she approached.  

“Well, well, an escaped slave. Playtime is over. If you go back, I’ll make you much happier.” 

It reached out and lifted her chin with a clawed finger. Alistair’s sword edge sang as he pulled it from his scabbard, ready to defend at a moment’s notice.

“Cut the shit, Sloth. None of us are going back. We don’t want your fantasies,” Sirra growled. 

The demon’s eyes narrowed to slits. It's claw dug into her flesh, but she didn’t make a sound indicating any pain. She refused to give it the satisfaction.

Sloth leaned closer, nearly bowling her over with the stench of blood and putrefaction washing over her when it hissed. “We both know that’s not true, dwarf. You wanted to stay with your fellow Grey Warden. I can give you that. I’ll give you a lifetime of memories and you can grow old together, just like you want. You don’t have to worry that he’ll be King and leave you or that he might die in battle. He can warm your bed every night. This is what I offer you.”

Sirra warred with herself. Her brain told her not to take the deal, but her heart was another matter. She wanted love, companionship, a promise of forever - things that she knew in reality she couldn’t have with Alistair, no matter how much she wished. But it would be a lie. A cruel torture, just like the desire demon and the templar. 

And without them to stop the Blight, the Archdemon would destroy Ferelden, allowing the darkspawn to massacre thousands in Ferelden alone before spreading to other lands. The Grey Wardens would eventually kill the Archdemon, but not before it wreaked havoc throughout Thedas. They had a chance to end things before that happened. She couldn’t shirk her duty to her Order for dreams and wishes. Not to mention, if Alistair learned that she even considered taking the deal, he would be furious with her.

Tilting her face directly at the demon, Sirra answered with the point of her throwing knife to its eye and rolled out of the way as it clawed its face. Sloth transformed into an ogre with a bellow that shook the fibers of the Fade. Sirra yelled to Alistair as he barreled past that it was blind on the left and he shot her a quick grin behind his shield while hacking its gargantuan legs. A flurry of arrows whistled through the air, burrowing deep in the ogre’s chest. It charged the archer in anger, but Leliana nimbly dodged the beast, releasing more arrows into the back of its knees. 

Wynne slammed it with a boulder, knocking it off-balance and sending it to the ground with a crash. Alistair leapt on top of it and shoved his sword through its gut, twisting the blade with a growl, only to fly backwards as the ogre swiped him with a massive hand and morphed into a rage demon. Casting a healing spell on all the party members, Wynne continued to keep them on their feet as they fought. 

It seemed to take forever to wear Sloth down to his true form. Sirra lost count of how many times he shape-shifted, but it finally revealed itself to be an arcane horror. Her blood ran cold. She knew that an arcane horror’s favorite spell in their arsenal was the crushing prison, because it had been the one she relied on when she was flitting all over Sloth’s realm. 

Memories flooded her mind of the day the bars of the cage tightened around Alistair's powerful body - his warrior training defenseless in the face of such an attack, crushing his bones, puncturing his lungs, blood spilling past handsome lips...

Swiveling her head to him, she commanded, “Alistair! Smite it before it casts a spell!”

Without hesitation, the warrior smote the demon. It wasn’t strong enough to stun it, but it weakened the creature and sent it to its knees, giving them all time to focus their best talents against it. Alistair’s shield slammed relentlessly into its face, Leliana riddled it with arrows, and Sirra furiously dug her blades into its back.

The horror was unaffected even in the throes of such an onslaught. Once it regained its strength, it spun with a growl to rake Sirra’s face with its claws, but it met Alistair’s shield instead. Behind the barrier Alistair’s features were twisted with a ferocity she’d never seen, and he shoved Sloth back with the full force of his considerable bulk. Using the momentary wobble as the creature re-centered its footing, Alistair’s sword angled up through the ribs and twisted the blade so the honed edge ripped through its chest and shoulder as he sliced through the demon. 

Ash rained across the field, coating them all in a fine layer of gray powder. The warrior remained in his position with sword at the ready, chest rising and falling heavily, as he took a moment to collect himself. His heart had literally stopped when he realized that Sirra was Sloth’s target, reacting instinctively to protect her, and now he vibrated with an overabundance of adrenaline.

Alistair gave into the demon’s fantasy so easily because he wanted nothing more than to have a life with her. If it were not for the blasted Blight, he’d say damn the Wardens and run off with Sirra right now, but he still hoped they could live for themselves when it was over. He was afraid to ask her if that's what she wanted, but that didn’t stop him from wishing. He'd be damned if some asshole demon was going to kill her and take away the one person he…

Turning slowly to face Sirra, Alistair's sword fell from bloodless fingers as knelt before her. Cupping her face in his large hands, he greedily drank the affection for him that poured from her eyes. Mutely, she pressed her fingers to his neck and touched their foreheads together. Exhaling raggedly, Alistair lifted his fingers to her own nape and allowed the familiarity to ground him. He still wasn’t sure what this symbolized in her culture, and he feared offending her by asking, but it meant a lot to her. It meant just as much to him, because it was theirs

Sharing oxygen for a moment, they tried to calm their racing hearts and trembling limbs, reassured through touch that they were both alive. They had survived the Fade. Sirra rescued them all and then, as a team, they destroyed the demon that had ensnared so many. 

“You’re amazing, do you know that,” Alistair breathed when his heart left his throat. Sirra shook her head against his forehead, but he pressed his fingers more firmly against her skin and she whimpered at his insistence.  

“Yes, Sirra. You truly are amazing. We would still be trapped, if not for you.” 

Sirra gave a reluctant nod of acceptance at his praise, and he bit his cheek to hold his tongue. There was more he desperately wanted to say, but this was not the time or place. Alistair brushed his lips chastely across hers before sadly pulling out of the embrace. 

Niall winked into existence and shared a few words with Wynne, who nodded vigorously while brushing aside her tears. Turning to Sirra with a sad smile, the mage took her hand and shook it firmly. 

"Well done, my friend. You did something I thought was impossible, but in truth only required more bravery than I was capable of. You have my respect and my gratitude."

The dwarf clutched the man's hand, horrified disbelief dawning on her tattooed features. "Niall, I meant what I said. We're all getting the hell out of here. I'm not leaving you." 

His blue eyes softened and his other hand wrapped over hers fondly when he answered, "I cannot go with you. I’ve been here too long, my body has already withered away. For you, it will be like an afternoon’s nap. Don’t forget to take the Litany from my body - you will need it. Thank you again for freeing us, friend."

As the mage spoke, the shimmering mist descended upon the four companions, and Sirra tried to maintain her grasp on the man. "No! Niall, no -"

The four of them awoke on the blood-slicked floor, gasping for air, moaning from wounds inflicted in the Fade. Their injuries didn’t leave any exterior marks, but Sirra could still feel where every blade, arrow, or claw marred her soul.  Wynne cast a couple of rejuvenation and healing spells on them in rapid succession, which eased most of the ache, but Sirra knew it would be a few days before the phantom pains were completely gone.

Her gaze fell on Niall's body across the room. Pushing herself up on her shaky limbs, she crawled towards him and cradled his head in her lap. Tears splashed onto his blue robes as she closed his unseeing eyes and gently unfurled his frozen fingers from the scrap of paper clutched in his fist.  

"Atrast tunsha. Totarnia amgetol tavash aeduc. May you always find your way in the dark, Niall. Thank you for your help. I'm sorry I couldn't bring you back with us."

With infinite care, Sirra laid him on the gore-covered floor, trying to ignore how unseemly the situation was and regained her footing on weak legs. Unable to meet anyone's gaze, she led the team deeper into the tower where they cut down more demons and abominations. Her stomach knotted at the ever-increasing piles of dismembered and charred corpses. The sheer scale of the carnage in the tower was almost beyond comprehension.

Wynne continuously brushed tears from her face the higher they climbed. Sirra would have cried, too, if she hadn’t been rendered numb by this point. Later it would catch up with her, but she had shut down her emotions after their excursion in the Fade in a desperate act of self-preservation.

“The Harrowing chamber is just ahead,” murmured the mage. “It’s the last room in the tower. If Irving is not there, then we must assume the worst.” 

As the four entered the next chamber, they found a lone templar surrounded by an obscene number of corpses and flesh-eating sacs, trapped in a purple holding cage. In unified horror, Sirra hissed, Leliana gasped, and Alistair swore colorfully. Wynne was too stunned to respond; her mouth a perfect ‘o’ as she noted the numerous bodies wearing templar armor, and a few clad in mage robes.

The templar knelt in prayer among the remains of his fellows, rocking back and forth in desperation. Sirra could see the effects of starvation and dehydration on the young man. He was probably her age or thereabouts – too young, much too young.  Ancestors, this was all kinds of wrong. 

He noticed them finally, bright eyes wide with fear, and gasped through clenched teeth. “If anything in you is human, kill me now and stop this game!”

Sirra stepped closer. “We’re here to help, if we can.” 

Leliana attempted to offer him a skin of water, but the young templar scrambled back and demanded that no one touch him. With a silent nod of sympathy, the red haired archer resumed her place behind Sirra, sharing a pitying glance with Alistair. 

“Silence! I’ll not listen to anything you have to say! Now, begone!”

Closing his eyes, he counted for several seconds before reopening them. The templar blinked in surprise and wobbled unsteadily as he studied the crowd facing him. 

“Still here,” he gasped. “But that’s always worked before…”

“As I said, we are here to help,” Sirra patiently replied, offering him a soft smile.

“Do not blame me for being cautious.” Running a shaky hand through his tangled mess of blond curls, he caught his fingers in the mats of dried blood, yanking them out in revulsion when he realized what substance created the knots. 

“What are you doing here? How have you survived?” 

Sirra quickly explained their mission to the man, pleased to see him relax further when she mentioned the Knight-Commander sanctioned their presence. “Now, you tell me what happened to the Circle.”

The templar swallowed hard and nodded. “Uldred… turned on the First Enchanter during a meeting and we suddenly found ourselves overrun with his followers. They must have been practicing in secret. There were too many. We were not prepared.” 

Striding to the edge of the barrier, he slammed his fist against it with a snarl. “They caged us like animals! Looked for ways to break us… I’m the only one left.” Exhaling raggedly, he continued, “They turned some into monsters… and… there was nothing I-I could do.”

“Where did Uldred take Irving and the other mages that fought back,” Wynne asked gently.

Tormented amber orbs flicked to the door leading to the uppermost room. “They… they are in the Harrowing chamber. Oh, Maker! The sounds coming from that room!” The young man choked on a sob, his red-rimmed eyes welling with fresh tears, and her gut twisted in empathy for him.

Sirra snatched her daggers and jerked her chin towards the stairs, and her team quickly readied themselves. Turning back to the templar, Sirra murmured, “We will get you out, Ser Knight.”

“Leave none alive, Warden. Kill them all for what they’ve done! You can’t tell maleficarum by sight. They’ve been surrounded by blood mages whose wicked fingers snake into your mind and corrupt your thoughts. You have to end it now before it’s too late!”

“His hatred of mages is so intense… the memory of his friend’s deaths are still fresh in his mind,” Alistair muttered. 

Sirra nodded in agreement. She recognized that logic would not win against the poor man’s mind in his current state. As former Carta, she was well-aware what prolonged psychological and physical torture could do to a person. Her heart went out to the young man who would likely have a long road to recovery - if he ever managed, after all he'd experienced.

“I will not kill an innocent,” Sirra stated firmly. 

The man raised his hands imploringly. “That is your choice to make, but I beg –“

“If it is my choice, Ser Knight, then you best let the matter go right now. I have made my choice and you will not sway it,” she replied severely.   

The man narrowed his eyes dangerously, his demeanor turning cold. Sirra suppressed a shiver at the instantaneous transition of scared young man to callous Templar. Never was she more grateful that Alistair escaped the Order than now. From the press of strong fingers on her waist, she knew he was thinking the same thing.

“Maker turn his gaze on you. I hope your compassion hasn’t doomed us all.” The Templar resumed his kneel and endless recitations, pointedly ignoring them as they climbed the stairs into the tower peak.

Alistair squeezed her shoulder as they crossed into the large circular room. It was bigger than the chamber atop the Tower of Ishal, but it triggered a flood of flashbacks of the separate battle the two lone Wardens waged that night. And rekindled the guilt that they were the only ones who walked away. He could see she was reliving the hell of Ostagar, as well, by the stiffness of her carriage and the unconscious clenching of her fists. Leaning into him, she rested her shoulders against his torso, and exhaled slowly to calm her rattled nerves.

Swallowing the words that filled his mouth as she took comfort in his presence, Alistair shifted his hand from her softness to his hard sword hilt. Carefully drawing his blade from its scabbard, the foursome watched Uldred and his abominations turned another mage into one of the demon ilk. The warrior gritted his teeth and tried to calm his rolling stomach that threatened to spew across the already grossly viscous flagstones.

He pointed out the few surviving mages tied up in a far section of the tower to Wynne. The older woman breathed a sigh of relief, mouthing Irving’s name in confirmation. The Warden smiled warmly and tossed what he hoped was a reassuring thumbs up. At the very least, it caused the mage’s lips to curve in a ghost of a smile which he counted as a victory. Now, they just had to make sure the First Enchanter survived the encounter.

Uldred cocked his head oddly at them as the four of them strode into the center of the room. His eyes flashed with a dark mischievousness that Sirra recognized from her meeting with Connor, the Arl’s son, in Redcliffe. The man in front of her was not human anymore and she would feel no remorse bringing him to justice for what he had done to the Circle. The blood of hundreds of innocents stained his hands; and she would make sure he paid in kind.

Sirra’s daggers were drawn before Uldred could open his mouth. He smiled coldly as she took up her stance.  

“Fight, is it?”

“Shut up and die, nug-licker,” she growled. 

Laughing maniacally, Uldred swathed himself in brilliant white light and a massive pride demon split his human form to shreds. A tendril of icy terror shot down her spine. The last time they fought a pride demon was only a couple of short hours ago in the Fade and it nearly killed them. Outside of the dream realm, the creature loomed even larger above her, its massive scaled arms jutting into sharp spikes at the elbow were sharper. It chuckled darkly, sending coils of purple smoke to hover around its jagged teeth and numerous slanted eyes.

The three abominations moved first, and Sirra wished that Morrigan were with them to release a well-timed fireball, because fighting a pride demon while distracted on multiple fronts was a good way to die. Passing Wynne the Litany, the rogue focused on the skirmish because they would need every blade for this encounter.

“Abominations first!” 

Alistair hollered his understanding and rolled away from the pride demon’s backhand, narrowly avoiding the sharp edge of its scales to his chest. He doubted his heavy chainmail would offer much in the way of protection against the damage those unholy razors would cause. Hopping to his feet, the warrior rushed the nearest abomination, running it through from behind.  When it fell to the ground, he removed its head for good measure.

He could see Sirra’s poisoned daggers flashing in the dimly lit tower, ducking the claws raking the air, attempting to eviscerate the dwarven woman. Alistair smirked as he ran over to assist. She may be short and stocky, but she was a rogue - her reflexes honed to a finesse he wasn’t sure he could ever achieve. Watching her fight was like watching a gory Orlesian dance; a graceful flick of the wrist here, a smooth bend at the waist there, a spin that moved her into a more advantageous position, while blood drops gleamed in the light like stained glass.

The pride demon roared in anger as the last abomination dropped dead, refocusing Alistair's attention on the rather large task at hand. Sirra met his gaze, and he instantly knew what she meant to do. He tried to protest, but the words stuck in his throat, leaving him only able to nod grimly as she disappeared into stealth. Swallowing his fear, the warrior yelled across the chamber to Leliana to cover him. Sirra might be furious later that he used himself as a distraction, but he would not take any chances on that thing killing her.

Charging it with a bellow, Alistair hacked its legs and tried to angle his sword into its thigh to reach the artery there that would end its life. But the floor was slick with fleshy tissue and blood, making critical hits difficult. It swiped at him as though he were a gnat, yet he knew the minute Sirra unleashed her surprise attack. Thundering in pain, the creature tried to claw her blades free from its back. Alistair struck the legs with more force, using the opportunity to make a dent in its deep health reserves, hoping to redirect its ire towards him and off the dwarf climbing its back like a tree.

Sirra’s freshly poisoned blades bit deep; the new coating applied before she took the running leap into its spine. With each hike upwards, the rogue twisted the blades to maximize the amount of blood the creature lost, and concentrated on staying clear of the claws scrabbling to spear her. She heard Alistair below her, grunting with the effort of his heavy slashes, banging his shield in desperation, and faintly the thwack of Leliana’s bow string.  

It was becoming harder to hold on. Drenched in blood, her weapons slippery, the constant roar of the demon reverberating through her bones and rattling her teeth, made her hold tenuous, at best. But she couldn’t give up now – she was so close to her goal!  

Digging deep within herself, Sirra pulled the last of her strength and climbed to its neck. She had to be fast. It could easily grab her from this angle and toss her across the tower. Her blades barely met in the middle when she wrapped her arms around the demon’s massive neck and sliced deep into its throat. It flailed with the gush of arterial spray and she mentally crowed in triumph until it began to tip backwards.

She knew her body was too tired to remove her from the crash area in time. 

A flash of steel and a clatter of metal rang alongside his authoritative command from below ordering her to jump. Her arms were still wrapped around the demon, but as it fell, self-preservation kicked in. Tossing her daggers aside, Sirra kicked off its shoulders and vaulted to the warrior on the ground with his arms outstretched. 

If he missed, she was dead. If she survived the leap, she might kill them both with the impact, but if there was one thing she had in spades: it was trust in Alistair.

The demon slammed against the stone, shaking the entire tower with its colossal bulk, unsettling Alistair’s footing slightly, but he shifted to the right to adjust for her angle of trajectory and replanted his feet a second before her thick body hurled into his. Curling his larger frame around hers and tucking his head, he let his heavier weight mail take the brunt of their skid along the flagstone, his eyes tightly closed and heart pounding violently in his chest until they finally halted with a wall at his back. He stayed like that for a few moments trying to breathe, which Wynne’s healing spell thankfully accelerated.

Carefully, the mage unfurled Alistair’s grip on the woman he cradled against his chest, and he opened his eyes to see if she lived. Covered head to toe in gore, the bright smile beaming at him under the congealed mess was the most gorgeous thing he’d ever seen. A sound that was half-sob, half-laugh burst from his lungs and he shook Wynne loose so he could wrap his arms around Sirra again. The older woman tutted and muttered about the idiocy of youth and giving old people heart attacks as she wandered off to check on the First Enchanter. 

Sirra chuckled disbelievingly against his armored chest. She couldn’t believe that any of their mad improvisation actually worked. She should be dead. They should both be dead. Yet, here they were – as Murdoch of Redcliffe said, “bruised, but alive.” There was no doubt the aches and pains of today would be a thousand-fold tomorrow, but it was worth it.

The four of them saved what they could of the Circle and survived being trapped in the Fade. She simply couldn’t wait to get downstairs and discuss terms with the Knight-Commander now.

Patting his pauldrons gently as a sign to release her, Sirra rose gingerly and stretched out the kinks from scaling the demon and careening at high speed across the slick floor.  Alistair stood alongside her, none the worse for wear, but his armor would have to be replaced. It was functional enough for their return journey, but the dents and slices in the steel made the set beyond saving. When they reached Redcliffe again, she made a mental note to get him a replacement, and in higher caliber metal than steel. 

Neither of them spoke. The words they wanted to say were too weighty to be uttered in the presence of others, but he snatched her hand and squeezed tightly to convey his relief. Sirra noted his trembling and shot him a smile that was more confident than she felt, hoping to hide her own anxious shaking. Leliana interrupted their silent communication with a damp handkerchief, muttering angrily in Orlesian at the pair as she none too gently wiped the gore from Sirra’s face and neck to reveal the dwarf’s laughing expression once more. Alistair chuckled at the redhead’s sisterly chiding while collecting their weapons from where they ended up after being thrown in a blind panic.

Sirra thanked Leliana and walked over to join Wynne and the First Enchanter. Irving was lucid, if sore from his imprisonment, and retained his good humor, remarking dryly on the Warden’s particular methodology. Wynne scoffed and rolled her eyes.

“Do not encourage them, Irving,” Wynne said. “They could have been killed with that stunt.” 

The First Enchanter’s eyes twinkled at the woman. “Ah, Wynne, don’t tell me you’ve forgotten all the trouble you got into when you were young. Surely, you remember the time in the templar’s garden –“

“Yes! All right, Irving, you’ve made your point,” the mage laughed wistfully at the memory. The man winked at Sirra, and she smirked in reply.

“Besides, Wynne, we could have all died today. At least it would have been on their terms, which is more than can be said of many we lost here,” Irving murmured. 

The mood instantly turned somber. Wynne gave a clipped nod before taking Irving by the elbow and leading him towards the stairs. 

“Come, Irving. Greagoir will only call off the Right of Annulment if he hears from you that order has been restored.” 

Sirra couldn’t hear the man’s response as she allowed the distance between the pair and herself to grow. Alistair lightly bumped her with his hip, tossing her a cheeky grin and sliding her daggers in their sheathes. She returned the smile with one of her own and threaded her fingers through his as they walked. Outside the Harrowing chamber, Irving and Wynne were working to reassure the formerly imprisoned Templar that Uldred was dead and his rebellion with him. But the man’s face was mottled in rage and ordered them to move with all haste to the ground floor to speak to the Knight-Commander.

The mages brooked no argument and the Warden’s did not interfere. Any attempt to override his authority at this point would not help. They risked the Templar’s tightly wound control snapping. Sirra released Alistair’s hand regretfully, stroking the hilt of her hidden knife throughout their journey downstairs, in case she needed it. Alistair, too, kept a close watch on the nervous Templar, whose eyes shifted constantly for signs of an attack or a betrayal of those he escorted. Not that they blamed him for his reactions, knowing that he had gone through something unspeakable, but they weren’t taking chances after all the damned work they did, either.

As they neared the room that held the mages and children Wynne sheltered during the attack, Alistair smoothly moved to the front alongside the Templar, prepared to cut him down if he attempted to attack. The Templar squared his shoulders with a glare and tried to match his height to the Warden in silent challenge. Alistair resolutely ignored his stare while continuing to read his body language out of his periphery, trying to appear non-threatening. Crossing the threshold of the room with the survivors, Alistair gave a minute shake of his head to Morrigan. For once she did not argue with him, halting her barbed tongue as she cataloged the hungry justification for revenge in the Templar's gaze.

Leliana broke off from the group and corralled the mages into a corner with the children at the center. Waving Sirra on, the archer stayed behind to reassure the crowd as the Wardens continued with the Templar and his charges. 

When they reached the barred doors, Alistair slammed his gauntlet against the metal and announced that the Grey Wardens had returned with the First Enchanter. The door screeched open in the eerie silence of the corridor, revealing the shocked faces in the vestibule as they crossed the threshold. The Knight-Commander rushed to aid Irving, who was listing heavily even with Wynne’s help, casting a dark scowl at the Templar for his dereliction of duty. The young man avoided his superior’s gaze, working his jaw back and forth in quiet rage.

“Irving… Maker’s breath, it is good to see you alive, old friend,” intoned Greagoir in awe. Irving chuckled and patted the Knight-Commander on his plated shoulder.

“Ah, don’t worry, Greagoir. I’m sure we'll be back at each other’s throats in no time.” He groaned as the knight gently lowered him onto one of the tapestries decorating the floor.

Greagoir snorted softly with a wry grin. “That may be, but not today. Now, tell me – do you believe the Circle is under control again?”

Irving smiled faintly. “Yes. Uldred is dead, Greagoir, and with him dies the rebellion. Everyone that stood with him in the meeting and those who succumbed are dead… thanks to the actions of the Grey Wardens. You have my sincere gratitude for coming along when you did, Warden.” 

Sirra crossed her arms over her chest and bowed. “I am glad we could help, First Enchanter.”

“NO! Every mage must be purged from the tower!” 

Greagoir rounded on the young Templar in fury over his insubordination. “Silence, Ser Cullen! I am the Knight-Commander here, not you!”

The Templar stepped forward, shaking with what could easily be mistaken for anger, but his rapid pulse point and pin-pricked pupils revealed that his emotional outburst was a fear response. “But they may have demons within them, lying dormant to strike later!”

“What?!” Irving scoffed indignantly and struggled to stand in the face of the young Templar's claims, but Greagoir placed a kind hand on his shoulder while simultaneously barking at Cullen.

“Enough! I will not hear any more.” 

Cullen glared at each of them in turn before moving to a far corner of the foyer and crossed his arms over his chest defiantly. The Knight-Commander shook his head slightly in disbelief.

“Don’t be too hard on him, Knight-Commander,” Sirra murmured. “This whole experience has been traumatizing for everyone and Ser Cullen is no exception.” Greagoir glanced at her sharply, but she didn’t elaborate, and he merely inclined his head in acknowledgment with a heavy sigh.  

“Now, Ser, do I have your promise to aid the Grey Wardens during the Blight, as we agreed?”

Greagoir helped Irving stand since the mage was attempting to rise on his own. “With the Circle restored the Templars must stay here to maintain our watch, but you may speak to Irving about getting the mage’s assistance.”

Irving beamed behind his beard. “Which, of course, you can guarantee, my dear. After all you’ve done for us – it is the least we can do in repayment for our lives. Call when you have need of us and we shall answer.”

Greagoir nodded and excused himself to make arrangements to have the tower cleared, leaving Sirra to speak to the First Enchanter alone.

“There is one more thing, First Enchanter.” Irving cocked a bushy eyebrow and leaned closer to compensate for her hushed tone. “In Redcliffe, a child has been possessed – the son of the Arl.”

Both of his eyebrows jumped in surprise at that. “So, you want us to go to Redcliffe and face the demon in the Fade?” Sirra nodded at his instant understanding of the situation. Irving smiled and patted her shoulder. “We shall go immediately.”

“No need for that, First Enchanter. After all the fighting we’ve done today, there is no way we can march all the way around the lake. I plan to let everyone rest at the inn across the lake and leave at first light tomorrow.”

Wynne sidled closer to them. “Irving, I would like to go with the Grey Wardens. This woman is brave and good and is capable of great things, even if she is a little rash in the heat of battle, at times.” She smiled affectionately at Sirra. “You won’t need me here to clear out the tower. Why stay when I can be of better use in this? If you’ll have me, that is,” Wynne asked Sirra belatedly.

Sirra chuckled. “Of course, Wynne. You are most welcome.”

Irving smiled in resignation with a light sigh. “You have my leave, Wynne. I know your talents will be more useful out there than here. Will you be crossing the lake to stay at the inn or join the Wardens in the morning?”

Wynne seemed torn at the choice, her stately features pulled into a frown as she considered the options.

Placing a hand gently on the mage's arm, Sirra supplied. “It’s your call, Wynne. But this may be your last opportunity to tell everyone goodbye.” 

The older woman's face cleared and a small smile bloomed on her lips as she nodded. “I will meet you at the inn in the morning, Warden.”

“Please, call me Sirra. You, too, First Enchanter.” 

The mages shared a short laugh with her before Sirra begged their leave and gathered her scattered companions. She could not leave the Circle Tower fast enough and put the whole blasted mess behind them. At this point, she was almost looking forward to the boat ride across the water, since it would get her farther away from the horror of the spire and closer to a night on a real mattress instead of the hard ground.

 

Chapter Text

Exiting the dark tower, Sirra squinted against the bright light, groaning at the headache pulsing against her temples at the rudeness of the sun. As her vision cleared, she checked its placement in the sky and realized it marked the approximate second hour in the afternoon. They’d been inside the tower for an entire day, at least. Who knew how much time passed in the real world when they were trapped in the Fade?

Reaching the dock, they discovered a different Templar waiting to row them across. Morrigan was the one who broached the question on everyone’s mind.

“How long were we locked inside your tower, Templar?”

“Two days,” came the clipped reply. 

Sirra gasped and she felt Alistair tense beside her. Two days longer than they planned to leave Connor at the mercy of the demon. Yet they hadn’t had a choice, and they couldn’t march even halfway around the lake in their current state of exhaustion. They needed a decent meal, a good night’s rest, time to clean all the congealed gunk from their armor, and a bath. Ancestors, she was splurging for baths across the board.

Alistair helped her into the boat with the others, and they rocked along the waves in silence. Sirra missed the comfort of his knees on this trip, but he was contemplative and distracted. Instead, she clung to the side of the vessel with one hand and the bench seat with the other, praying the small craft remained upright on their crossing. It was an uneventful trip, and more quickly than it took to arrive at the tower, the foursome found themselves deposited on the opposite shore.

Sirra knew they made quite an impression when they entered the old inn: two women, one of whom was a mage, a man so tall he had to duck under the low lintel, and a dwarf wearing blood covered armor. Slapping a full coin purse on the table, she rented two rooms, baths, and a hot meal for them all. The innkeeper snatched the pouch and picked his jaw off the floor to yell at his staff to heat some water for multiple baths while he escorted them upstairs to the rooms.

There were four rooms upstairs, one of which was the communal bathing room. He gave them the two rooms side by side on the left of the stairwell and told them to see him about a hot meal when they were ready. Leliana and Morrigan claimed one room, leaving Alistair and Sirra outside the second.

The dwarf nervously shuffled her feet. “I can rent the third one, if you’d rather. I didn’t think to ask –“

Alistair tilted her head up to meet him for a chaste kiss, secretly pleased he wouldn't be separated from her after their harrowing ordeal. “No, Sirra. I already promised to spend the next night in your tent, and we ended up in the Fade instead. This makes up for rudely denying you,” he murmured with a teasing glint in his eyes. “Come on.”

Pushing open the door, he followed in behind her and closed it with a gentle click of the metal lock in the door plate. Awkwardly, they deposited their packs and Sirra tugged off her boots with a grateful sigh. She grimaced at the flakes of dried blood that littered the floor wherever she walked. 

“Uh, I have to get out of this armor.”

“Yeeeeep.” 

Alistair’s lilting reply carried in the small space, but he did not look at her as he dropped his gauntlets on the floor next to his boots. Sirra exhaled slowly to calm her anxiety and started working on the leather straps of her armor, only to discover most of the bindings glued shut by the copious amount of blood and who knew what else. She snarled in frustration, pausing at Alistair’s amused laughter and glanced at him, now in a pair of simple cloth breeches and his under tunic wearing a bemused expression.

“Need help?” 

Blowing out an irritated breath, Sirra extended her arm in invitation and in three long strides he loomed over her, his strong hands making quick work of the stubborn straps to free her from the confining leathers. Within minutes they had shucked her armor until she was left standing in snug leggings and a loose tunic, much to her relief. Sighing happily, she sank onto a nearby chair with a smile, rolling her shoulders to work out the sore muscles underneath the armor she'd been stuck in for two days straight.

“Thanks, Alistair.” 

Flushed to his toes for aiding her in removing her outerwear, he croaked it wasn’t a problem before he plopped on the floor and pulled out his whetstone. Sirra hid her smile behind her hand. He always sharpened his sword or cleaned his armor when he was nervous or needed to think.

A light knock came on the door and he opened it since he was closest. She heard a disinterested woman’s voice inform him that the first bath was ready for which he thanked her and closed the door when she walked away.

“You should go first, Sirra. You got the majority of the gore on this mission.” Alistair commented cheekily, quirking an eyebrow at the flecks of blood decorating the floorboards. Barking out a short laugh, she dug through her pack for her soap and clean clothes and crossed to the bathing room.

A large brass tub dominated the room, and tendrils of steam rose from the water in invitation. Sliding the wooden plank across the door to bar unwanted guests, Sirra laid her clean clothes next to the towels. Far enough away from the tub that if water sloshed over the sides, they would remain dry. Stripping out of her dirty garments and unfurling her hair, she snagged her soap and gingerly eased her bruised and battered self into the tub with a loud moan of pleasure. She heard Leliana giggle in the hallway and the dwarf blushed scarlet, hoping her moment of bliss hadn’t sounded as wanton beyond the door as it had in the echoic chamber.   

Sirra leaned against the back of the basin and processed everything that happened, allowing the guilt and shock and pain of the last two days to break free, adding copious amounts of salt to the water with her tears. Pulling up her knees, she laid her head on them and sobbed. They did what they could at the tower, but it didn’t feel like a victory. Not with all the death and destruction. Not with Greagoir sealing off survivors and leaving them to die. Not with poor Ser Cullen tortured for Ancestors knew how long. Not with losing Niall in the Fade. It was all such a waste. 

Guilt descended, knowing she was beholding the mages to the treaty for aid during a Blight after all they'd already gone through. Sirra knew that the mages would be invaluable. Against the Archdemon they must exploit every angle to win, but part of her felt that the mages had already sacrificed enough. Those that were lucky enough to survive should not have to risk their lives again later.

Yet, it was done. The Circle was functional again and the mages aid secured. Irving would travel with them to Redcliffe tomorrow to save Connor. They had achieved much, and she had to remind herself to stay positive.    

Corralling her scattered thoughts, she lathered her skin and hair, diligently working to remove days’ worth of grime from her body before the water cooled. Repeated passes were necessary until she was sure every spot was clean. It was impossible to be sure if her hair was fresh since the water turned red as soon as she started scrubbing her locks, but at the very least, it was better than when she started. 

Aware of how slick the water was with soap residue, Sirra carefully exited the basin. Vigorously drying her body, the dwarf wrapped her hair in the towel so she could dress in her clean clothes. Collecting her things, she exited the bathing room, feeling guilty for the poor girl who would have to deal with the bloody water.

Inching the bedroom door open, in case Alistair was half naked or sleeping, she found it empty instead. Frowning, she studied the room and noticed the dried blood on the floor was gone, as was her armor.  

Shoving her dirty clothing and soap in her pack, her fingers quested the depths of her bag for a leather tie. Retrieving a thong in quiet triumph, she unraveled the wrap from her hair and tossed it across the nearby chair. Returning to her pack, she searched for her comb box, and with her items she moved to the bed centered against the wall. Scrambling with difficulty onto the far side of the bed, she chewed on what she’d been avoiding: her feelings about a certain almost Templar.

As she brushed the ivory tines through her hair, she ruminated on her deep feelings for Alistair, and the desire for a committed relationship with the handsome warrior. Yet, even with her immediate attraction to him, she never expected to... love him. 

This wasn’t something she was familiar with. It was downright dangerous to have feelings for anyone in the Carta that ran beyond simple respect. It made you weak. It gave the leaders something to exploit. Very few dwarves in Dust Town were stupid enough to care for anyone, for that reason. 

Although, she wasn’t in Orzammar anymore, and she didn’t need to protect herself from retribution from the Carta. She was free of Beraht and his cruelty, free of the neglect of her mother, free to let someone give her what she’d been starved for her whole life. 

It was insane considering their short time together that she could love him after only a month. Crazier when she was honest with herself that she was smitten with the handsome warrior from day one. Sirra would never forget the way his piercing hazel eyes held hers in front of the Tower of Ishal, as rain flattened his hair, tracing his chiseled features before falling onto his rapidly rising chest. Even then, she was enamored by him, awed by such raw masculinity tempered with gentleness. 

The depth of her feelings had only grown since then: a small, hopeful burn in her chest whenever he was near that ignited into a raging inferno when he touched her. Yet the morning in her tent two days ago was when she knew that she could no longer deny it, try as she might. Sirra did not doubt he likely felt similarly. His heroic rescues and the rose he gave her were obvious signs. Not to mention that very telling Fade dream of his.

But was it too soon to say those things? Was it actually love considering how briefly they’d known each other, or was it a trick of the mind? Were they merely struggling to find meaning in a world gone mad?  

They would have to talk tonight and see where they stood. 

Deciding to have a quick nap before doing anything else, Sirra worked a small amount of camellia oil she purchased from Bodahn through her strands, before packing her comb and oil into the box. Then she braided her wet hair, tying it off with the leather cord, and curled up on top of the bed. She needed to rest before broaching such a sensitive topic with the shy warrior. 

Almost two hours later, Alistair returned to their room with their freshly cleaned armor slung over his shoulder. His breath caught in his lungs at the sight of Sirra sleeping peacefully on the bed. Her dark hair twined in a braid draped sensually across her shoulder, the end nestled between the cleft of her breasts. The cream tunic still sheer in places where her saturated hair touched the fabric. The form fitting leggings she favored clung to her muscular calves and curvy thighs, causing his fingers to twitch at the thought of kneading her generous flesh. Her mouth was slightly parted in sleep again, and he smiled tenderly as he tiptoed across the room to gently lay their armor down.

Not wanting to disturb her when he knew she desperately needed rest, Alistair snatched his pack and left the room to have his bath. The dwarven girl who worked there informed him moments ago that his bath water was ready, just as he was finishing up the armor deep-clean by the lake. He'd desperately needed something to do, to keep his hands busy, while he mulled over things from the Circle and Redcliffe before allowing his mind to wander to his Warden companion.

Alistair was pretty sure his feelings had deepened sufficiently at this point to call it what it was. Through the entirety of the Fade and Circle tower, his heart remained lodged in his throat, and he'd wanted nothing more than to spare her the emotional torment of that experience. When Sloth attempted to shred through Sirra in the Fade, he'd moved with a burst of speed he didn’t know he possessed to protect her. Blind rage directed at the demon fueled his murderous reaction and was only tamed when he found her unharmed. 

And then, with Uldred in the tower – that had been utterly insane. 

When he realized that monster would crush her, he’d thrown his sword and shield aside, offering to be crushed instead without a second thought. It was almost as though someone else took control of his body and decided for him. He had gone along, willingly, if it meant saving her.  

That they both walked away from such a mad tactic was miraculous. One, if not both of them, should be dead after that. Looking back on it, he assumed that the spongy tissue overlying most of the floor saved them, even though it was damned slippery and sent them skidding across the tower.

Yet, even with all this, he still worried that she didn’t harbor the same depth of feelings for him. There was a difference between attraction and… love. He recalled that her reaction in his dreamscape had been pretty mild, more interested in getting them out of the Fade. As he replayed the scenario, it was hard to gauge what she made of the fantasy that Sloth used to lull him into complacency.

It humiliated him that she saw his dream, walked in it, breathed it! His desire for a family and people who loved him. A peaceful life where he could hang up his sword and just be Alistair the farmer or something equally mundane. Maker, she must think him such a fool for harboring such idle fancies! Not to mention the way he imagined her attire and the things he said about taking her to bed. Ugh, Maker’s breath!

Closing his eyes, Alistair ducked under the water with a groan and blew out his mortification in a flurry of bubbles until required to resurface for oxygen. Of course, he would never find out if he didn’t ask … but Andraste’s ass! How could he bring that up with a woman he cared for when he could barely string together a sentence that wasn't full of horrible puns or self-deprecating humor?  

Grumbling in the chamber as he vigorously scrubbed all the accumulated dirt and gore from his body, Alistair tried to formulate the words he wanted to use so he could actually speak to Sirra later without becoming a bumbling fool. 

Clambering out of the tub, he briskly dried his body and his hair, examining a few new cuts on his side from his skid across the tower floor that might scar with a sigh. He was a warrior. Soon there wouldn’t be an unmarred part of him to be found.  

Rubbing his hand along his jaw, he huffed at the excessive growth, preferring a clean-shaven jawline to keep blood and dirt from getting trapped against his skin. He made a mental note to get out his shave kit later that evening and remove it. Tossing on his clean clothes and roughly shoving his dirty ones inside his pack, he collected his things and crossed the hall into their room.

Sirra still slept, but he knew he needed to wake her or she risked not being able to sleep later tonight when she needed to. Closing the door softly behind him, he dropped his bag and plucked her comb box from the bed, placing it on the end table. Climbing gingerly on the bed facing her, Alistair brushed his rough fingers tenderly across her face, smiling when Sirra stirred in her sleep, leaning into his touch.

“Sirra, you need to wake up,” he murmured, tracing her ‘s’ shaped tattoo with his thumb. “You’ve had a good nap, but if you sleep too long, you won’t be able to sleep later.” 

His heart skipped erratically at her pleasant hum and then her eyelids fluttered, slowly opening to reveal her rich brown eyes coupled with a lazy smile.

“Hi,” she mumbled quietly. Alistair grinned affectionately and twined his fingers through hers.

“Hi,” he breathed. “Did you have a nice nap? No bad dreams?” 

Shaking her head, Sirra stretched with a contented sigh. “No, I slept like the Stone. It was wonderful.” 

Alistair chuckled. “I take it that's a good thing?” 

She nodded, with a too-wide smile that didn’t reach her eyes. His chest tightened uncomfortably as he worried how to approach the topic they both avoided. Clearing his throat softly, Alistair rubbed his thumb absentmindedly across her calloused palm. 

“Do you want to talk about it? The Circle and… Redcliffe, I mean?”

Sirra met his gaze sadly. “Do you?” 

He nodded, but the words wouldn’t come, trapped by the lump filling his throat. “You first,” he finally croaked.

Her dark eyes shimmered with tears, her bottom lip quivering slightly when she whispered. “Did we do enough? It doesn’t feel like a victory to walk into a war-zone and only save a dozen people. So… many lost before we arrived… mages, Templars… children. I don’t think I’ll ever get the images of the destruction inside the tower or all the boats burning on the lake from my mind.” 

She sucked in a ragged breath, and Alistair nodded in silent agreement. Releasing a heavy sigh, he replied, “I don’t know that we could have done more in the Circle. If we arrived before the rebellion, then we would have recruited the mages only to find later they were all killed. And if we got there at the beginning, they could have killed us. We did what we could… but I wish we could have done more.”

A sob fell from her lips and without hesitation he pulled her into his chest. Shaking like a leaf in his grasp, she clutched his shirt as her composure gave way. The secret thing she so feared in the tower spilled from her lips unbidden.

"The whole time we were in the Circle, fighting crazed Templars, I kept thinking, what if you were one of them? Every one hidden behind their helmets could have worn your face and we cut them down without a second thought. It makes me sick to think... you could have been there! Manipulated by demons, tortured like poor Cullen, or torn apart and thrown into... Bleeding Ancestors, Alistair! If things had been different, I might have been forced to kill you!"

"Oh, Sirra, I am so sorry," he whispered. His own gut lurched at the horrendous picture she painted while the breath stuttered in his lungs to see how much the idea upset her. No wonder she didn't want him touching her when they reached the Templar quarters. It would have broken what little fortitude she had.  

Gasping, she continued, "And then, I-I threw an acid flask at that poor Templar. A dirty move from my Carta days I never thought I’d use again. It’s one thing to use it on darkspawn or demons, but I melted a person’s face, Alistair. A poor tormented man who could have been y-you!"

He winced at the memory of the enthralled Templar who also longed for a family and had that desire used against him. Cruelly ensnared by the demon wearing a nameless woman's face, a figment of his imagination, while it slowly drained his life. Alistair choked down the bile that coursed hot up his throat. The memory hit too close to home. 

The rogue wept hard into his tunic, her words so broken and guttural he could barely understand them and he strained to hear her next words.  

“I killed my sister in my Fade dream. S-Sliced her neck open and watched her bleed before the demon crumbled to ash. I’m nothing, but a murderous thug! I kill everything I touch.” 

Alistair’s blood ran cold. Blasted demons fucked with both of them in the worst way, using their families to hold them captive. Shushing her tenderly while rubbing circles on her back, he gave her time to calm before responding. 

“You know it wasn’t your sister, Sirra. You killed a demon playing a cruel trick on you, then you escaped and found the rest of us. We would all still be snared in Sloth’s web, if you hadn’t. Your sister is still alive.” 

Leaning back, he tilted her head up and gave her a warm smile. “When we go back to Orzammar for aid, we’ll find her, okay? Will that make you feel better?” She smiled faintly as a shuddering breath wracked her frame and he thumbed her leftover tears from her red, puffy eyes. 

Brushing his lips sweetly over hers, Alistair murmured, “And you are not a murderer or a thug, Sirra. War is not fair, and we’ve all been forced to do things we wish we didn’t have to since Ostagar. Don't blame yourself for actions taken on the battlefield. I don't - I could never hold anything against you and I would hate for you to hold a grudge against yourself.”

Sirra bit her lip, uncertain what to say in response to his surety of her character. Cupping his bearded jaw, she changed the subject.

“And what of you? How are you holding up? Redcliffe was your home, Alistair. I know that what we did there was difficult, but it was harder for you. I wish I could have spared you that.”

Swallowing hard, the warrior shook his head. “You’re not responsible for what happened and you shouldn’t feel guilty. I appreciate it, but it’s not on you. It’s not even on Connor. That falls squarely in Loghain and Isolde’s lap.”

“Don’t forget the blood mage who poisoned the Arl,” Sirra reminded gently.

Alistair sneered. “He is a symptom. Loghain is the disease. He’s already seen to the death of the King and now this? Whether I knew Cailan personally or not is not the issue – he was still our King! Then he continued to attack the royal line, my foster family, all in his mad grab for power.” 

Bringing her close again, he buried his face in her hair, speaking with difficulty through his tears. “How many people died for nothing?  To feed his pride? His vanity as the Hero of River Dane? Those days are gone, and he sacrificed an entire army at Ostagar while his actions with the blood mage saw Redcliffe nearly annihilated.”

“I’m sorry, salroka. I'm so sorry,” she whispered, rubbing his back soothingly. He nodded in acknowledgment, but did not reply since his quiet sobs prevented him from speaking.

Silence fell between them. Sirra wasn’t sure what to say to ease his suffering or rein in his anger. Alistair had a sensitive soul and was easily affected by unpleasant things. She used to tell herself that she was impervious to emotion, but it wasn’t true. Deep down she was the type who felt strongly about everything, as Alistair did, but working for the Carta forced her to bury her feelings. She couldn’t be weak or give Beraht anymore leverage than he already had on her, but Alistair brought out all those hidden emotions to the surface. And like her, the warrior was unused to having a listening ear regarding how he felt.

Fingers fiddling with the shaggy ends of his hair, Sirra carefully broke the tension. “You’ve never mentioned you had a sister. Do you know each other well?” 

Alistair stiffened around her with a small shake of his head. “N-No.”  

His voice cracked, forcing him to clear his throat uncomfortably. "I-I don’t think she knows about me. My birth was a secret, after all. After I joined the Wardens, I did some digging and learned about Goldanna. I know she lives in Denerim, but that’s all. Everything… in the dream was simply a result of my overactive imagination. Hopes and wishes that can never be reality." Alistair laughed ruefully, shifting anxiously on the bed.

“Imagination or not, there is nothing to be ashamed of. Your dream was beautiful. I’ve never seen you so content and relaxed.”

He pulled away to read her expression, skepticism clearly etched on his own features. “Beautiful, huh? I would have gone with mortifying, personally.”

Sirra cocked an eyebrow at him with a frown. “Why? Because I was there? Because you dreamed about a nice life with the sister you’ve never met?” Alistair flamed crimson and a grin bloomed on her face. “Oh, I see. Because you mentioned taking me to bed.”

Holding his gaze, she purposefully closed the minimal distance between them. He froze as her breasts pressed against him and the heat from her body radiated through their thin tunics, settling low in his groin. Sirra watched the emotions flit in his hazel eyes: fear, uncertainty, desire, hope.

Her lips parted slightly, breathing out her words in a rush. “I want to kiss you, Alistair.” 

Closing his eyes with a groan, he ducked his head to capture her lips hungrily. The touch of her tongue in his mouth yanked a ragged gasp from him. Sirra started to lean out of the kiss, but a firm hand cupped the back of her head to hold her in place. Angling over her, Alistair pressed her into the soft mattress, his upper body pressed intimately flush against her torso. Sirra’s fingers tangled in his overgrown hair, moaning when he sucked on her bottom lip, nipping it gently with his teeth as his confidence grew. 

Abandoning her lips, Alistair’s mouth inched across her cheekbones before angling south and placing small kisses along her neck. Sirra tilted her head for better access with a strangled sigh, raking her short nails across his broad shoulders encouragingly, reveling in the hoarse groan that tumbled from Alistair’s swollen lips. 

He trembled under her hands, and Sirra’s stomach clenched with guilt. The last thing she wanted was for him to feel uncomfortable with her. Cupping his face tenderly, she lifted his face from the crook of her neck, waiting for him to open his eyes and look at her before quietly breaking the sexual tension. 

“Do you need to stop?” 

Swallowing hard, Alistair drank in the desire written clear as day on her face, but he wanted more than just a physical attraction. He was sure she had feelings for him, but he didn’t know how deep they ran.  

Maker, he wanted her!

The utter disaster that had been Redcliffe and the Circle tempted Alistair to give into his selfish desires and get lost in what she offered. But he couldn’t do that. He wasn’t hard-wired for casual dalliances, not that he thought that's what this was, but still - he needed to tell her how he felt. To find out where they stood before he could let this continue.

In the time it took him to decide what to say, her genuine concern had morphed into supreme embarrassment. Mentally berating herself for being too forward with him, aware he was a virgin and she nothing but a worthless Carta thug who’d been using her body to forget the loneliness and starvation of Dust Town since she was fifteen. Sirra wanted him, true, but for the first time in her worthless life she wanted more with a man and she didn’t want to screw it up by acting like a noble hunting whore.

"I-I’m sorry, Alistair. I shouldn’t -" 

Her face flamed and she cast her gaze nervously away as her body tensed in his grasp. Strong fingers gently caressed her face and along her braid, catching her breath and giving her the courage to look at him again. His smile was bright, but anxiety clouded his golden gaze.

“Don’t apologize. I didn’t stop for the reason you think.” Swallowing hard, Alistair paused and tried to think over the pounding of blood in his ears. “I know we haven’t known each other very long, but I’ve come to… care for you. A great deal, Sirra. I needed to tell you... because I’m not the type who does this casually, you know?”

Sirra sucked in a quick breath. “Yes, I know –”

Alistair blanched. “Maker! Not that I’m implying that you do... or would between us!” Slapping a hand over his face, a muffled curse slipped between his fingers. Sirra’s lips quirked in amusement as Alistair floundered and she giggled. Peeking at her, Alistair chuckled in embarrassment and lowered his hand.   

"What I meant to say is… I want you. I want this... with you, because every time I’m near you I feel like my head is going to explode... in a good way! And -"

“Every time I’m near you, you make my pulse race. Because of who you are and what you stand for and because when you look at me... you don’t see a casteless dwarf. You see me, Alistair.”

Alistair stared at her as words, only slightly different from the ones he planned to use, cascaded from her full lips instead. 

"Yes," he breathed wondrously. "You see me, Sirra, and I love what I see when I look at you. You’re strong and brave and fearless. You saved us in the Fade! You can handle lecherous mercenaries and Morrigan’s snide tongue in equal measure. And I… l-love you. I’m sure it’s too soon to say such things, but I know what I feel and I can’t go another moment without telling you. Th-there were too many times over the last few days I thought I could lose you and it would kill me to think I never took the chance to say it."

Her eyes widened and a beautiful pink blush to match his stained her face and neck as she bit her lip. Drawing a deep breath to steady herself, Sirra whispered, “I love you, too. I’ve never loved anyone before, but I know that’s what this is. You're smart and funny and caring... and you are my Stone above ground. I can always count on you to be there and support me or to catch me when I fall.”

Alistair flushed to his toes when she referenced his actions in the tower earlier that day, and she chuckled softly while running her hands through his hair. Pressing his forehead to hers, he closed his eyes and breathed in her clean scent and the faint sweetness unique to Sirra. 

"I think it’s because we’ve been through so much together. Even though we’ve barely known each other a month, I just feel so… bonded to you," he murmured. 

Releasing a shaky breath, Sirra nudged him with her nose so he would open his eyes again. “I am afraid of one thing, though, Alistair.” Frowning deeply, he waited with bated breath for her to continue. 

“I am afraid that you’ll leave me.” Opening his mouth to protest, she stopped him with a finger to his lips and a stern shake of her head. “Not necessarily because you want to, but I’m afraid Ferelden will make you King. You're the last of your line and there will be those who support you for the throne. They won’t let you keep a dwarven mistress… and I don’t know what I would do, if that happened.” Her voice so quiet that even this close to her, the words were almost lost in her gravelly undertone.

Alistair's hold tightened as he growled. “I don’t give a flying nug what they want. I’m not becoming king, Sirra. I’ll renounce my claim – whatever I have to do. I’m not losing you, damn it! I refuse to give up the one person who has ever brought me joy. And you know I don’t give a damn that you’re a dwarf. It’s my favorite thing about you, actually.” With an audible snap, Alistair clamped his mouth closed and refused to make eye contact.

Arching an eyebrow, Sirra teasingly poked his chest. “Okay, first things first. Did you just say you don’t give a flying nug?” 

Alistair snorted and gave her a small smile. “What can I say? Your colorful dwarven curses are rubbing off on me.”

She barked out a laugh. “Alright then, fess up, Chantry boy. You have to tell me now. Why is my dwarven-ness your favorite thing about me, mmm?”

Blushing furiously, he coughed and tried to sit up, but she snagged his tunic and cocked her head inquiringly as he prayed the Maker would strike him down and spare him this embarrassment. Continuing to hold his gaze, the corners of her lips quirked in gentle encouragement and he drew a deep breath before answering.

“BecauseIpreferthickerwomenandIthinkyourcurvesaresexyandIhavesincethedaywemet.” 

Sirra blinked a couple of times in shock. That had not been what she’d been expecting. She understood his run-on sentence perfectly well, since dusters spoke fast and rarely spaced out their words. But she never considered herself particularly attractive – too skinny by dwarven standards. Dwarven men wanted their women to look like sticky buns, but working for the Carta and living on a near-starvation diet kept her leaner than most. Although, living on the surface where the food was better had plumped her up slightly, her Grey Warden metabolism and constant fighting kept her from ripping through the seams of her armor. Not to mention her triple brand and ruined voice cooled most men’s ardor.

Her one true beauty was her hair. Most female Carta members chopped theirs off following initiation, but after a lifetime of growing it out according to dwarven cultural tradition, she hadn’t been able to go through the ‘big chop.’ Besides, Sirra always imagined that if Rica elevated them to noble caste, then she’d want her long hair to denote her new station and decorate it with delicate golden hair links.

Finding her tongue at last, she murmured softly. "Thank you, Alistair. I-I’m not used to anyone telling me..." Blushing, she continued anxiously, "I'm not attractive, by dwarven standards, and I know most humans prefer elves because they’re petite and graceful."

Alistair pressed a desperate kiss to her lips and pulled her flush against him, rocking his hips slightly along her thigh so she could see for herself what she did to him. 

“They’re crazy,” he breathed when they separated, palming the flesh of her hips with a broken groan. “Maker’s breath, you’re…‘beautiful’ does not do you justice, Sirra.” The sincerity behind his words burned in his eyes like hot coals, searing her to the mattress until she believed it, too. 

Placing her hands on his chest, she pressed him gently on his back and straddled his hips, feeling a surge of pride to see the apple in his throat bob as her weight settled over him and pinned him to the bed. Running her calloused fingers lightly over his tunic, she traced the hard planes of his chest, up along his collarbones, and down his biceps. Sirra reveled in his muscular form and appreciated that he allowed her, of all women, to touch him this way. 

“Do you have any idea how handsome you are, Alistair?” 

He struggled to reply with his mouth drier than a desert while her hands made broad, sensual sweeps of his body. Even through the fabric, her touch was electric and his veins buzzed with every pass of her fingers. “I’ve had a few women tell me that, yes, but they weren’t like you. I’m pretty sure they only wanted something from me.”

Sirra chuckled huskily, her dark brown eyes blown to black above him. “Oh, I’m sure they did.”

Alistair furrowed his brow for a second to suss out her meaning and then blushed crimson, closing his eyes in embarrassment for his ignorance. Of course, they wanted him to bed them. Maker, he was an idiot. He couldn’t even tell when women were hitting on him, not that he understood why they would.

“You are all hard muscle covered by golden skin - scarred, but perfect. Warm eyes that blaze with fire when you defend those you care for. Lips full of sarcasm and wit that always make me laugh. Strong arms to protect and comfort, giving me a safe place to hide and be honest without judgement. Your courageous heart shines like a beacon, and it wasn’t until I met you, I felt I had a home.” 

Tears filled his eyes at her words, stunned to learn how she saw him. But she wasn’t looking at his face as she spoke; instead her lovely tattooed features were bowed nervously and a wash of red highlighted her cheeks. Alistair knew she found it hard to be honest and vulnerable, and it warmed his soul that she trusted him enough to bare herself completely. Snatching her hands to still them, he placed them over his pounding heart and whispered her name. Noting the tears in his eyes, she opened her mouth to speak, but he stopped her with a shake of his head. 

“You should be a poet, salroka. That... is the most... incredible thing anyone has ever said to me, Sirra. Thank you, truly… I- thank you.” 

Sirra graced him with a shy smile, her blush deepening under his intense gaze, but she bravely maintained eye contact. He wrapped his arms around her to reward her with another round of kissing when his stomach growled loudly and they both froze.

Simultaneously, the couple erupted into snorts of laughter, which quickly became belly laughs. Sirra rolled off him so she could squeal into a pillow, causing Alistair’s chortles to boom throughout the room until she shoved the second one over his own face to drown him out. After a few minutes of unadulterated mirth to shake away the tension between them Alistair could only wheeze with his sore abs, and Sirra struggled to rein in her residual hiccups. Peeking around the pillows and sharing broad grins, they agreed to go downstairs and grab a hot meal with their companions before returning to their room to find out where the night might lead.

Chapter Text


The innkeeper brought them each a piping hot plate of roast with potatoes and carrots, drowning in meaty broth with a hunk of rye bread and cold ale. It was the best meal they’d had in weeks, and the four companions enthusiastically passed along their thanks for such a feast. The older man smiled and wiped down the bar, occasionally shifting his gaze to a pair of taciturn men in the corner, instantly sparking Sirra’s curiosity.  

She watched them covertly while they ate. While the men didn’t seem like troublemakers, they had the innkeeper on edge, which meant they weren’t completely harmless, either. Yet, they didn’t seem interested in her group, so she eventually stopped paying them any mind.

A dwarven woman popped out of the back to collect their empty plates. It was only the third time Sirra met a surface dwarf and the first time she was female. The girl didn’t pay more than a passing glance to the others, since she’d spoken to all the humans already, but when she caught sight of Sirra’s triple brand the woman nearly dropped the stack of dishes.   

“Caridin’s teeth!”  

The three humans startled in surprise at the tavern wench’s outburst. Alistair slowly lowered his tankard, forehead creasing with concern, as the tension between the dwarven women escalated. Sirra’s eyes hardened to stone, and she worked her jaw back and forth in silent challenge. The warrior noted the way the other dwarf’s gaze flicked to her ears, and his frown deepened, unsure what it meant, but aware it wasn’t anything good.

“Y-you’re…”

“A Grey Warden,” Sirra finished darkly for the barmaid.  

The other dwarf instantly closed her mouth and with a clipped nod she scurried away from their table. Ignoring the questioning glances of her companions, Sirra chugged the rest of her ale and abruptly exited the table, dashing up the stairs to her shared room. Tremulously, she lit the candles on the bedside tables and waited with her back to the door in the center of the chamber. Alistair would be hot on her heels with questions.

Ancestors, would she never be free of her past?

Sure enough, the door stuttered along the rough-hewn floorboards and clicked softly shut, followed by another scrape of metal as Alistair slid the lock home. Walking behind her, he draped his body over hers like a blanket: enveloping her in his warmth, his scent, his comfort. Sirra gripped his forearms tightly, allowing herself to be held for a few heartbeats, before she sighed and stepped out of his embrace.

Taking a seat on the chair in the corner, she untied the leather cord of her braid and raked her fingers through her thick hair to shake loose the strands. Alistair sank onto the floor in front of her, nearly eye-level with her due to his superior height.

“What do you want to know,” Sirra asked quietly, her gaze on the hardwood floor.

Alistair fidgeted with a grimace. “What do you want to tell me? I know little about dwarven culture, honestly, and I don’t ask because I know it’s a sensitive subject for you.”

Nodding absently, Sirra touched her ‘s’ shaped brand on her right cheek. “This… I got this when I was born. The Shaperate doesn't want any casteless going around without their mark of shame for any period.” 

He paled and swallowed hard multiple times to keep from losing his dinner while he reined in his horror. They tattooed the casteless as infants? Were the dwarves masochists, as well as elitists?

“We are told from birth that the Stone has rejected us,” she continued in a hollow voice. “Dwarves believe that when we die and are entombed the dwarf’s soul returns to the Stone, strengthening the foundation of the thaig. But my ancestors were casteless: criminals, exiles, unwanted. Your caste is passed by your same-sex parent. If I had been born male, my mother would have been elevated to mining caste and my father’s family would have welcomed me as a much-needed heir.”

“Your mother was a caste hunter?” 

Sirra nodded, staring unseeing at the floor. “Yes. She tried to reach merchant caste with Rica. But she was a girl, so they were both turned out of the house. Then she tried again with me. After we were both failures to climb out of Dust Town and her fertility gone, she turned to drink and became an alcoholic.”

Reaching out, Alistair squeezed her hand. “I’m sorry. You don’t have to tell me anymore, Sirra.” 

Squeezing hard in return, the rogue shook her head. “No, you need to understand. Anyway, Rica became a noble hunter, and mother turned me over to the Carta when I was fourteen.” 

Alistair hissed sharply, and Sirra shot him a sympathetic smile. “It was either that or sell my body in back alleys for moldy bread, Alistair. I might not have had much say with joining up, but it could have been worse.”

Sirra shrugged. “I learned quick. My days as a pickpocket when I was younger came in handy with sneak jobs and after I impressed the boss enough, they made me a full member and earned my initiation brand.” Sirra indicated the second rectangle on her left cheek that curled into a sideways ‘g’ on the lower right corner. 

The warrior swallowed hard as he prepared himself to ask the looming question, well aware he might regret it.  

“And the eyelid tattoo?”

Sad brown eyes flicked briefly to his before she closed them, touching the black ink on her left eyelid for a split second with her fingertips.  

“My first kill,” she whispered. 

All the air whooshed out of his lungs in a rush, coinciding with the gut punch that left him reeling on the floor as he let her words sink in. Maker’s breath! He wasn’t sure he wanted to go to Orzammar, and he now understood why she was so glad to have left it.  

The chair creaked as Sirra shifted uncomfortably and his gaze fell on her, noting her stiff posture and small hands clutching the edge of the seat to keep from bolting.  Reaching out, he pulled her into his lap and tucked her against his chest, running his hands soothingly through her long hair. 

“I didn’t want to tell you because I didn’t want to change your perception of me,” the rogue murmured despondently. “I told you that what I’ve done to get here, standing above ground as a Warden, has not been pretty. It’s been bloody and brutal.”

Pausing, she swallowed hard and tapped her hand against her chest for emphasis as she continued. “But part of me liked it, Alistair, because I was good at it. I just turned fifteen when I killed that dwarf and earned my kill brand. Whenever Beraht wanted a job done right, he called me. I took pride in being needed somewhere, because until the Carta, not even my own mother wanted me.”

Alistair choked to hear her last statement, and he held her tighter. “I meant what I said, Sirra. I don’t care about your past or what you did to get here. I truly don’t. It doesn’t change how I feel about you. If anything, it makes me love you more because you went through all that and still came out so fierce and caring. You aren’t like Morrigan – treating people with disdain, even though you have every reason to. And I respect that so much. I only hate what you went through because I know you deserve better than that.” 

Pressing a kiss to her crown, his beard scratched along her hair when he whispered, “Never forget that I will always want you, Sirra. I’m your family now and you are mine.”  

He felt the dampness of her silent tears seeping through his tunic as he rocked her gently, continuing to stroke her silky tresses until she calmed. After a few quiet moments, she stopped crying and extricated herself from his embrace. He released her reluctantly as she scrambled to her feet and wrapped her arms around her torso.

“Anyway,” Sirra cleared her throat roughly, “the girl downstairs doesn’t have brands, but is obviously aware of what each one represents, which means she’s an exile. So, while she may not have a caste as a surfacer anymore, she knows exactly what my prior line of work used to be. That’s why she reacted the way she did. If she had been born topside, she probably wouldn’t have cared.” 

“I see,” Alistair replied.  

He wanted to ask why the barmaid had been staring at her ears, but he wasn’t sure how much he should pry or if he even wanted to find out. Once again, Sirra beat him to the punch. 

“It’s okay, Alistair. I know you noticed.” Her fingers fluttered nervously to the cartilage, and she sighed heavily. 

“Tattoos, piercings, and hair links have meaning in dwarven culture. They usually reserve brands for casteless and the Legion of the Dead. Have you heard of them?” She continued at his affirmative nod. “Some nobles or warriors get tattoos to look tough or whatever, but the shapes they use are different. Easily recognized and accepted by the other castes.” 

Twining a lock of dark hair around her finger unconsciously, Sirra explained. “Hair links in the Carta are awarded for any jobs you worked that earned a large payout. It shows the other members that you’re a top earner. They’re a status symbol. Among the nobles, it’s a disgusting show of wealth. The more links you wear in your beard or your hair, the more money you have to frivolously spend on trinkets. Don’t get me wrong, if Rica made us noble, I planned to buy my weight in them and strut around the Diamond Quarter with my hair dripping in gold links.” 

She grinned and flicked her hair over her shoulder with faux arrogance, tugging a soft chuckle from Alistair. It was easy to imagine Sirra parading through the upper echelons of society, flaunting her newfound status, tattoos on full display, hair jingling with every step.

Her smile faltered a little, and she toyed with her nose ring, whispering with anxiety. “Piercings among noblewomen are beauty enhancers. Ears, nose, and lips are common. Among the warrior caste and Carta we earn them for kills or a humiliating defeat of your enemy. I only wear my nose ring and a few others that you can’t see, because I didn’t want to scare everyone on the surface. But when Duncan recruited me, I was wearing all of mine.”

The new information of Sirra’s additional piercings fascinated Alistair more than the knowledge of how she acquired them. He remembered the various holes in her ears and wondered how many she had and what she would look like wearing all of them. Personally, he found her nose ring very alluring and the fact that she others hidden on her body caused his breeches to tighten in excitement. 

“Would you show me all your piercings?”

Sirra stared at him in surprise for a moment before smiling wickedly. “Maybe one day, but not tonight. Why? Do you like my ring, Alistair?”

Nodding enthusiastically, the warrior reached for her again, bringing her close until they were face to face. Trailing his fingers lightly across her features, he traced the shape of the gold hoop in her left nostril and smiled.  

“I wasn’t sure if it was safe to compliment it, but I’ve always thought it suits you. It's delicate and edgy. A fitting piece of jewelry for you.”

Licking her lips with a blush, she murmured, “I can show you the others I kept, if you want, but only if you are okay with me losing my clothes.” 

Alistair groaned and kissed her passionately, as though trying to drink her very soul through her mouth. He pressed three fingers insistently to her neck as he claimed her lips, and Sirra was sure her heart would burst with the added genuflection.  

Leaning out of the embrace with a tortured moan, he whispered, “Andraste, please, Sirra. On one condition - you have to tell me what this means first.” She glanced at him in confusion, so he rested his forehead on hers and tapped her neck with his fingers meaningfully.  

Her mouth dried, and she trembled in his grasp, wheezing desperately as fear tried to close her airway. Alistair moved back to give her space, urging her to breathe in and out, trying to calm the panic attack before it spiraled. Following his directions, Sirra slowly relaxed, her trachea opening enough to allow air through it without squeaking like a dying nug. Avoiding his concerned gaze, the dwarf popped out of his grasp and moved a short distance away. Once the quaking subsided, she sighed heavily and nodded.  

“R-Right, okay. So… two fingers on the neck is a common greeting among Carta and other dusters. All dwarves understand the meanings, even though they don’t openly use the gesture. It means ‘I respect you’ kind of… close enough, anyway. Three... is less common.” Shaking her head vigorously, her features pinched with disgust and the rogue sighed. “Ugh, that's a lie. It's... rare."

Alistair narrowed his eyes when she paused to chew her lip. Breathing deeply, she steeled herself and haltingly continued.

“Three... is a declaration of… intent.” Clamming up again, she wrung her hands nervously, deepening Alistair’s frown.  

“Intent of what, Sirra?” he pressed.

The dwarf closed her eyes, tilting her head back as her face crumpled into something akin to shame. With a broken exhale, Sirra whispered, “Love. A promise. Marriage.” 

Alistair rocked on the floor in shock. He tried to get his mouth and brain to process things in sync, but his brain was moving too rapidly for his tongue to keep up, so he opted to remain silent. They’d been using this private gesture for almost as long as they’d known each other. Had she loved him that long? How could she have known she did? Did this make them married in dwarven culture? Is that something he even wanted right now? What in Andraste’s name did he say to her about all this? Was he even mad or merely stunned? 

“Alistair, say something please,” Sirra begged, still wringing her hands fretfully. His larger ones covered hers with a gentle, encouraging squeeze, and he shot her a lopsided grin.

“I’m not angry, Sirra. I’m just processing, okay?” She nodded and relaxed somewhat at his kind reassurance. Breathing slowly to calm his swirling thoughts, Alistair stood and directed her to the bed. 

“The floor is killing me. Let’s talk up here.”

Without asking, he carefully lifted her onto the mattress, preemptively ending her attempt to scale it, and toed off his boots to join her. Propping his back against the wall, he stretched his legs the length of the bed. Now comfortable, Alistair pinned her with his hazel eyes and started with his questions. 

“Okay, first: why did you choose three fingers instead of two the first time we did this?”

Sirra fiddled with the laces of her leather boots while she formulated an answer. In a hushed voice, she replied. “I don’t know. I’ve asked myself that, too.”  

Pausing, she yanked off her first boot with a shrug. “It was instinctual. I didn’t even think about what I did until later, but during the moment… I don’t know. It felt right, even though I barely knew you. I’ve never regretted it,” Sirra murmured, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear.

Alistair smiled a little, content to know that part of her had been falling for him, as he had been for her since they met. Maker’s breath, he loved her.

“Next question: you said it represents ‘intent.’ Can you… elaborate?”

Peeling off her second boot, Sirra huffed softly. “Pretend you’re a duster like me and you place three fingers on my neck. Anyone who sees that knows that you have feelings for me that go beyond ‘respect’ and might even mean a promise or a vow to the other.”  

Lithe fingers danced furtively across the coverlet as she spoke, her volume decreasing with each sentence. 

“Casteless don’t get married since we’re considered ‘non-people,’ but there are some who choose to have a private vow ceremony. Usually it’s only the couple making the vow. If too many people know, then the Carta can exploit it. Use your mate as leverage to keep you leashed… or kill them, if you piss them off.”

Alistair tried not to dwell on the ‘non-people’ statement and the depressing notion that there had been little opportunity in her life to experience any kind of emotion not tied to violence. While neither of them expected to be free to develop or explore romantic feelings with anyone, his came from a lack of opportunity. As a Templar, the Chantry encouraged the recruits to love only the Maker and His Bride, and few married even with the concessions granted the Order. 

Sirra’s stemmed from survival and self-preservation. In her culture, love made you weak. Yet, not even a month on the surface and she’d already made a declaration (at least, to herself) of her feelings for him.

Now that he had time to analyze the gesture, its meaning didn’t surprise him. They had been traveling this path from the very beginning. Alistair had been captivated by her the moment she walked into Ostagar, warily searching the shadows of the ruin for danger. In the short time they’d known each other, they bonded deeply over shared traumas and opened up about past ones. Exposing parts of who they were to one another they didn’t like to admit even to themselves.

Alistair recalled their time in the Fade. His dream had been anything but subtle about his feelings and what he wanted with her. Multiple times he’d saved her from killing blows without a thought for himself, and he knew he would continue to do so. If that wasn’t a declaration of his intentions, he didn’t know what was.

Twining his fingers through hers to halt the lazy designs she outlined over the bedding, he asked quietly.  

“What does it mean to you?”

Sirra attempted to hide her trembling from him, but he was damned observant and noticed immediately. Moving closer, the warrior tilted her head up to hold her gaze, smiling tenderly to banish her lingering fear. 

“Let me tell you what it means to me, Sirra. I may not have known its true meaning until right now, but it’s always been special to me because it’s something only we share. It’s intimate. It’s beautiful. It always calms me when I feel overwhelmed. Even if it hadn’t represented all this in your culture… it already kind of did to me.”

Her rich brown eyes filled with tears and her gravelly voice cracked slightly when she responded. “Really? You’re not just saying that?” 

Alistair chuckled huskily. “No, I’m not just saying that.” Pressing his forehead to hers, he firmly laid three fingers on the back of her neck, humming appreciatively when she reciprocated.  

“I’ve been falling for you since day one, Sirra. The moment you stalked into Ostagar, I was lost. Utterly, hopelessly taken by you.”

“Me too, Alistair,” Sirra breathed, drowning in his amber gaze.  

His lips crashed against hers, hungry and insistent, as he dragged her onto the mattress with him. Sirra fell willingly, moaning in encouragement when Alistair nibbled her bottom lip, his own groan of pleasure joining hers when her fingers teased his sensitive nipples through his tunic. A sword roughened hand haltingly slipped under the hem of her shirt, painting abstract designs on her skin with the pads of his fingers, unsure if he should touch her this way, but desperately wanting to.

Scooting closer, Sirra hiked up her top to indicate her approval. Taking the hint, Alistair’s hand pressed to her flesh, his palm resting in the small of her back while his slender fingers splayed along her spine. Her nerve endings flamed to life under his gentle caress and she burned for more. 

“Is it okay if I take off my shirt, Alistair?” Sirra breathed.  

His lips left the trail they were blazing on her ear and he blinked a few times before smiling, slowly toying with the fabric of her tunic with a nod. The warrior watched with scarlet cheeks as Sirra sat up and crossed her arms to snag the hem; her face disappearing from view as the cloth rose over her head, but his eyes were locked on the rest of her.  

She was fuller than he imagined, softer. The leather armor enhanced her curves, yet hid her true shape. His fingers twitched in anticipation as she bared her body to him. Merciful Andraste! She wasn’t wearing a breast band and his eyes widened when he discovered the hidden piercings Sirra mentioned. Golden hoops, held in place by a ball on each end, ran horizontally through each nipple. The rings kept them constantly erect and flushed a lovely rose pink, but the third one surprised him the most. A gold bar, faintly curved, ran vertically under the skin between her full breasts over her sternum. The sight of her erotic triple piercings almost did him in right there.

Maker’s breath –” 

Alistair swallowed hard and reached out unsteadily, hands alighting on the dip of her waist, kneading her flesh and bringing her back onto the mattress. Sirra chuckled breathlessly as his hands and eyes hungrily explored her torso, and she wished she could read his mind. 

Pausing close to her breasts, he glanced at her for permission and she answered by arching her back in invitation. Alistair groaned as the mounds of flesh overflowed his large palms. Dwarves apparently ran full and generous everywhere, for which he silently thanked the Maker. The softness of her skin amazed him, even dotted with scars and bruises like his own, she was silky and smooth under his rough fingers.  

Curiously, his fingers ghosted across a pierced nipple. The contrast between soft flesh and hard metal sent his blood raging. Sirra gasped at the contact and his eyes immediately sought hers, only to find them closed, small hands clutching the bedding in pleasure. Smirking, he repeated the action on the other side, and received another sharp inhalation from his lover. Feeling bold, he hovered his mouth over her breast and bestowed light kisses on her heated skin, avoiding her nipple until his confidence grew enough to flick the point of his tongue over it. 

Her eyes flew open in surprise, her mouth rounding in ecstasy as color suffused her skin all the way to her belly button. He may not have much experience, but he didn’t need it - not right now. Sirra had been aching for this, and every touch sent jolts of pure electricity through her body. Her nerve endings hummed, and she vibrated with need under his hesitant caresses.  

Alistair moved his attentions to the opposite breast, his free hand massaging the fullness of the first that hung heavily to the side when she laid down. She lost herself in the sensation of his warrior hands - confident, calloused, controlled - lavishing her with tender, soft caresses. His mouth followed in their wake, whispering along her skin like a penitent pleading at the stone feet of the Paragons.  

It was better than she dreamed and more than she deserved. Who was she that he would venerate her? Emotions she didn’t have names for welled within her, bringing her to the brink of tears as he worshiped her.

Alistair’s head jerked up at the sound of her strangled sob and his gut lurched at the water glistening in her eyes blown to obsidian. “Sirra, are you alright? Did I do something wrong?” 

Shaking her head roughly, she attempted to blink back the traitorous response, but it forced them from their confines instead. Ancestors, what a terrible time to fall apart! Abandoning her breasts, the warrior hovered over her face with concern stamped across his chiseled features, brushing her hair back lovingly. 

“What is it? I can’t continue if you’re crying.”

Cupping his bearded face with her battle-hardened hands, Sirra smiled brightly through her tears. “I love you, you know that?”

The concern in his eyes turned to terror, unsure where she was going with this, and automatically assuming the worst. Rubbing her thumbs in soothing circles on his cheeks, she continued after a ragged breath. 

“No one has ever touched me the way you do,” she whispered in embarrassment. “With love and adoration, like I’m worth something. I-I was just a little… overwhelmed.”  Blushing, she bit her lip, and Alistair’s heart redoubled its efforts to explode. 

Rewarding her honesty with a smile, he kissed her soundly and thoroughly, keeping his forehead against hers when they separated and murmuring against her lips. “I love you so much, Sirra. I could never touch you any other way.” She did cry then, but knowing they were happy tears, he chased the salty drops, peppering her with chaste kisses until she giggled softly in his arms. 

Her fingers fiddled with the fabric of his shirt and he suddenly wanted out of it. Sitting up, he yanked off his tunic and tossed it across the room. 

“Let’s level the playing field, shall we?” 

Her hands dove for him, cool against his overheated chest, easing him onto his back. Small fingers charted his scars and the outline of muscles under his naturally bronze skin; fascinated by the strength coiled within him, a heartbeat from being activated. The raw power he exuded was intoxicating, and her head swam in awe and desire as she rapturously skirted his pectorals. 

Glancing at him to see how he was holding up her breath hitched at the molten stare that met her eyes. Never breaking eye contact, Sirra shimmied lower and traced the curve of a silver scar on his abdomen with her tongue, circling around his belly button when it trailed away, pleased to hear the strangled curse that tumbled from his lips. Alistair’s blood boiled at the exquisite silken brush of her tongue on his quivering flesh, enhanced by watching her watch him while she did it. He prayed if the Maker should strike him down for this, that He at least wait until they were done.

His hips bucked instinctively when her mouth landed on a flat nipple, deft fingers teasing the other, her throaty chuckle against his sensitive skin vibrating to the marrow in his bones. Straddling his hips once more, Sirra kissed and licked and suckled his torso until it glistened while his large hands kneaded, rolled, and danced across her curves.  

Leaning over him, she held his gaze and whispered, “How far do you want to go, Alistair? You call the shots, remember? I just lead the way.”  

Sirra smirked at the reference to the working dynamic the pair established in Lothering. Grinning, Alistair snaked his hands down to palm her generous thighs, before flitting to the waistband of her leggings, dipping his slender fingers under the fabric.  

“Off. All of it off. I-I want to spend the night with you… here. In a bed. Not a damned tent… not the first time.”

With a tender smile and dark eyes brimming with love, Sirra captured his lips and kissed him so sweetly his stomach clenched. A sudden urge to cry washed over him, and in that instant he understood her earlier emotional overload. He felt like he might drown in his own repressed desire to be loved and wanted by someone – and here she was. Kissing him like he was the only man alive, as though she needed him to survive as much as he needed her.  

His hand twisted in her hair to keep her mouth on his for a little longer: to revel in her, in them. Against all odds, in the middle of a Maker-damned Blight, a human and a dwarf thrown in the middle of a political maelstrom found love, despite all. He wasn’t worthy of her. He didn’t deserve the devotion she showered on him, but he would not deny either of them this sliver of happiness.

Dexterous rogue fingers worked the laces of his breeches as they kissed, and he appreciated the distraction to prevent him from overthinking things in the moment. Pulling out of the embrace with a moan, Sirra ran her hands along his pelvic bones peeking through his loosened trousers and ghosted across the barely visible trail of reddish hair that led to her destination. In a surprise move, the rogue stood over him sprawled supine on the bed, and hooked her thumbs into the waistband of her leggings. She slid them down when he nodded for her to continue with an audible gulp.

Alistair trembled with adrenaline as a dark thatch of hair, groomed into a neat thick strip, acted as an arrow directing his eyes to follow the southerly trajectory of her clothing. He groaned at the discovery that the rest of her mound was bare, fully exposing her delicate folds and a flash of metal. He lost sight of the view for a second when she bent over to pull her legs free of the confining leggings, but then his eyes caught sight of the thick thighs he'd yearned to touch since he met her, and he didn’t mind the loss.    

Freed of her clothes, Sirra fidgeted as his hazel eyes devoured her. It had been a long time since she’d been nervous to be naked with a man, but then all her lovers had been dwarves like her. They expected the extra insulation on her body, yet she knew after a month traveling with the others that humans didn’t carry excess protective layers. While she was battle hardened, the additional cushion hid her musculature, rounding out her hips and backside. Despite Alistair’s assurances that he preferred curves and wouldn’t reject her, her stomach rolled at the idea that he still might.

“Sirra...” Alistair’s voice cracked, his face obviously flushed, and he swallowed quickly to try again. “You are... gorgeous. Maker’s breath... I am a lucky man.” 

Sirra smiled shyly, a warm flush suffusing her fair skin at the ardent sincerity in his tone. Clearing his throat, his eyes flicked briefly south, before darting back to meet her gaze. 

“I do have one question. When you said that piercings were for defeating foes, is... that how you earned that one?”

A wide grin spread across her face as she chortled with a shake of her head. Alistair’s features relaxed, and he breathed a sigh of relief he hadn’t realized he’d been holding. He wasn’t sure he wanted to know who would be an important enough target to warrant getting that pierced. 

Calming at last, Sirra’s dark eyes flashed teasingly while a lascivious smirk played on her full lips. “I’m sorry, Alistair, I wanted to surprise you. Most dwarves in Orzammar, caste and casteless alike, have genital piercings. It’s cultural and unrelated to murder.”

His eyebrows climbed into his hair. “Even the men? How in the Maker’s name does that work?” Sirra opened her mouth to explain, but he hastily held up a hand and shivered. “Rhetorical question. Please do not answer that.”  

Sirra burst into uncontrollable laughter, sinking to her knees and clutching his legs for support. He grinned in amusement at her reaction, aware that she wasn’t laughing at his expense, but his witty rejoinder.    

Grateful for the humor to release his tension, Alistair lifted his hips and shimmied out of his own breeches, needing to free his painfully engorged cock before it burst and prematurely ended the evening’s activities. Sirra helped him escape by tugging on the ends of his trousers. Finally nude, goosebumps erupted across his body even though the temperature in the room was unbearably warm. No, not the room, just him. The entire expanse of his skin flushed a deeper bronze in embarrassment. It was one thing to be nude among fellow men, but it was another to be exposed and erect with the woman he loved.

Opening his eyes with a startled gasp, uncertain when he’d closed them, her hands caressed his muscular thighs dusted with russet hair, massaging the anxiety from his rigid body with languid strokes of her fingers. Glancing at her kneeling naked between his legs, triple piercings glinting in the candlelight mere inches from his hard length, yanked a strangled moan from his throat. Sirra’s mouth curved upward as she worked along his quivering form, grazing the tips of her fingers teasingly across his sensitive lower half.

She knew he would be larger than she was used to. Alistair was a giant among his own people, towering over every man they'd ever met, which would be undeniably translated to his cock. Longer than dwarven men, but not quite as thick, the crown peeked red and swollen through the foreskin. Impressive and exhilarating in its newness. Forgetting her earlier trepidation she rubbed her thighs together at the thought of him filling her.  

Plucking her courage, Sirra finally wrapped her hand around the base and pumped his velvety length with smooth, practiced motions. Alistair clutched the bedding with gritted curses and half-coherent pleas to the Maker under her deft ministrations. A smug smile crossed her features as she twisted her wrist on the next upstroke and moved in to swirl her tongue over his broad head.

Almost instantly the salty tang of his initial excitement danced across her taste buds while her lover swore magnificently, causing her to chuckle. Her hot breath stirred the red curls at his base, sending shivers of delight through the man under her. Pressing her advantage, Sirra licked upwards following the pulse of a vein underneath his shaft and closed her lips around the tip, smoothly gliding her mouth as far down as she could while her hand pumped the remainder. Hollowing her cheeks, she sucked and licked and stroked him until Alistair was a writhing mess of groans and inventive swears.

“Shit, oh Maker... fuck, Sirra..."

Watching her enthusiastically swallow his cock was more obscenely erotic than he imagined. Combined with the feel of her hot mouth and tongue twirling along his length like he was the best thing she'd ever tasted threatened to undo him. Tangling his hand in her luxurious hair, Alistair lifted her off him with a whine and a garbled apology for potentially hurting her. Sirra only smiled and nuzzled her cheek into the hand cupping her face. 

“You didn’t hurt me. Need a breather?” Alistair nodded with a ferocious blush, gasping for air her touch denied his lungs.  

Lacing his fingers with hers, he tenderly laid her next to him on the bed and rolled to face her. Amber eyes blazed with an unquenchable fire, leaving her as desperate for oxygen as Alistair - made worse when his lips crashed onto hers, stealing the meager supply she held in reserve. His mouth danced along her jaw to nibble her earlobe and tease the shell with his lips. The ticklish whisper of his beard, combined with the sensual caress of his mouth, melted her with a shiver and her lover chuckled huskily. He was a quick learner and her entire body burned with the devotion he rained on her.

“Show me…” Alistair breathed against her buzzing ear. “Show me... h-how to make you feel good. Please.”

Sirra nodded, taking his larger hand and laying it over the plump layer of her stomach. Before she could angle him lower, he palmed her rolls with a heady groan of desire and a surge of dampness pooled on her already drenched thighs. She was still incredulous that such a handsome human found her stout, dwarven form attractive, but she refused to question it. Resuming their trek, the couple’s heart rates synced, chests rising and falling together, until they both stopped breathing when his questing fingers dipped into her slick heat. 

Alistair’s lungs stuttered at the first touch of her slippery folds. Nothing he’d heard whispered in the Templar barracks or among the Wardens could have prepared him for this.  Hot and deliciously wet, and Maker, so tight. Yet again, he feared he might finish before they even got started as her body accepted him willingly and his name fell like a prayer from heart-shaped lips.  

It didn't take him long to discover the swollen bundle of nerves with her piercing as a landmark. She showed him how to circle his thumb on her clit while curling his fingers inside to find the place that made her come apart. At first his motions were halting and unsure, but he quickly realized that she would tell him if something wasn’t right. Eager to please, he followed her instructions, observing her cues and responding accordingly. Lost in the feel of her wrapped around his fingers, he imagined how amazing it would feel when he switched out his hand for his cock.

Alistair felt her becoming impossibly tighter, and he dipped his head to her neck, nipping and sucking where he learned she liked to help her along. The wordless cries and husky moans indicated she was close, and he sat up to watch her shatter. Eyes blown to onyx, cheeks stained scarlet, full lips parted in silent ecstasy while her nails bit into his forearms with the force of her climax. As she gasped his name, warmth rushed over his hand. It amazed him to discover women also released fluid when they orgasmed. 

Curiously, he raised his drenched fingers to his mouth and tasted her: sweet, bright, a bit salty, but not unpleasant. Sirra watched him lap at the evidence of her arousal and shivered with renewed desire.

“Alistair,” she breathed. “How do you want me? On my back or you on yours?”

The warrior shot her a lopsided grin. “I don’t know what I’m doing, Sirra. You tell me. What would be easiest?”

“Lay down, salroka,” she murmured with a tender smile and he quickly complied so she could straddle his lean hips. 

Sirra stroked his rigid cock, already weeping with need, poising the broad tip to her entrance and slid slowly down his length. A choked cry that mimicked her lover’s was ripped from her lungs. Alistair’s fingers dug into her wide hips as the raging fire coursing through his veins built in intensity, settling in his rapidly tightening sac. He knew he would not last long, but with the way Sirra’s muscles were fluttering over him, it didn’t seem like she would be far behind. 

Laying her hands on his chest for support, Sirra nearly sobbed with the pleasure of Alistair’s fullness, filling and reaching places no man ever had before. Dwarves weren't just short in terms of height and this ... Ancestors, this was fucking incredible. She knew he would not be able to hold on long with this being his first time, especially with the foreplay, but she wanted to crest with him. Sirra increased the tempo of their lovemaking, chasing the bliss they both sought.

Her name fell in an unbroken chain from his lips, each intonation more ragged than the last, until his hips rose to meet her erratically. In moments, he spilled over the edge with a guttural moan. Sirra continued to ride out his orgasm, rubbing her clit in a frenzy, soaring over the cliff moments after him when he rolled her pierced nipples between his fingers.  

Melting into his arms, she whimpered at the loss of him from her body when Alistair tucked her against his side and held her close as she came down from her high. Plastered together with sweat and spend, neither of them moved, content to stay stuck together all-night listening to the other breathe while their fingers lazily memorized the map of each other's skin.

Alistair brushed Sirra’s long curtain of hair from her face with a drowsy smile, and her lips tilted in response. A calloused thumb gingerly traced the outline of her initiation and kill brands, sending blood pounding in her ears with apprehension.  

“You’re so beautiful, Sirra,” Alistair whispered. “The tattoos suit you. I was watching you when… you know…” He blushed and her heart skipped a beat at his endearing timidity. “They emphasize your cheekbones and the one on your eyelid makes your eyes stand out.” 

It was Sirra’s turn to blush. Never in a thousand years would she have considered her brands beauty enhancers, but Alistair did. Maybe in time she could think of them the same way.

His fingers ghosted sensually across her shoulders and along her arm. Circling around her breast he teasingly flicked the piercing, sending bolts of electricity through her body with a raspy moan. “Don’t even get me started on how much I love your piercings. Andraste, the sight alone almost killed me.”

Sirra raked her nails across his back, enjoying his hiss of pleasure and the desire that burned in his eyes. His cock returned to life against her leg and she was equally surprised to discover that she was ready for a second round, as well. Alistair chuckled in her ear in response to her confused frown, squeezing his massive arms around her until she moaned in shameless want at his show of strength. 

“Grey Warden stamina,” he explained. “Probably the only good thing about joining. Besides meeting you and falling head over heels for such a gorgeous-” kiss on ear "-fearless-” kiss on jaw "-feisty-" kiss on nose "-rogue.”

The kiss he placed on her lips quickly trailed to the rapid pulse on her neck, mouthing and raking his teeth along the sensitive skin until she whimpered. Inching lower, he dotted the hollow of her throat and the line of her collarbone with soft pecks. His questing lips finally stilled over her racing heart. Alistair’s amber gaze held hers as he sweetly pressed a lingering kiss over the furiously working muscle with a murmur.

“A rogue who has stolen my heart as surely as the sun rises every morning and sets at night.”

By all the Ancestors, she believed him. The sincerity in his tone settled over her with a heavy warmth, and threatened to smother the last of the air in her lungs. 

“Alistair…” she breathed.

“I love you, Sirra,” he interrupted. “Probably more than I should for having known you for only a month, but I don’t care about propriety and timing anymore. I. Love. You. The world could end tomorrow, but I can at least die happy having shared this with you and telling you how I feel.” Crawling back up her body, Alistair captured her lips with such tenderness Sirra feared she might shatter like metal not properly tempered from the forge.

Breaking the kiss, he angled himself between her legs, groaning at the vision of her underneath him. Lower lips flushed a deep pink topped with a gold bar over her clit, glistening in the flickering candlelight, and his cock twitched in response. Lifting her thigh to wrap her leg around his waist, he slid into her with a mumbled curse.  

Sirra tilted her head back on the mattress with a moan, unconsciously scratching his thick arms at the glorious feeling of absolute fullness. Alistair panted harshly out of his mouth, his eyes fluttering closed as her body accepted him. Fuck, he doubted he would ever get used to how incredibly tight and soaked she was. Some was from their last coupling he knew, but the first time she’d been almost this wet all on her own.  

Setting a languid pace hoping to last longer, he rocked smoothly into her. This time around he was able to focus on the things he missed in the frenzied rush from earlier. Sirra’s gasps and broken cries were music to his ears, spurring him on to ensure she continued to enjoy this as much as he did. The feel of her hands scrambling along his back and arms, seeking an anchor against the waves of pleasure he gave her, boosted his confidence and allowed him to relax.

Kneading the generous flesh of her thigh hooked around him, his left hand caressed her breasts and the soft layer over her stomach he found irresistible. The dwarven physique of his lover fascinated him - her undeniable strength hidden under marvelous, squishy handfuls of flesh.  

Maker's breath, he adored how soft and pliable she was in his grasp! Not that he didn’t find other body types appealing in their own way, but he had always been attracted to curves. As a large man, he wanted someone he wasn’t afraid of breaking if he hugged her too tightly. Of course, he never expected to actually find a woman as a sheltered lad in the monastery whose path in life was chosen for him. Yet, the one thing the Chantry could never take from him, no matter how much they tried, were his dreams. 

And Sirra was even better than the fantasy woman he conjured in his bunk as a teen. Her wit matched his as seamlessly as her ability to keep up with him on the battlefield, while her dwarven build pretty much guaranteed he wouldn’t have to treat her with kid gloves -  physically, anyway. Not that he was the dominant type, but he could relax and playfully rough house with her, in bed and out, without fear of snapping her in half.   

His heart overflowed with affection for the woman underneath him. Unable to reach her face to kiss her with the height difference in this position, Alistair snatched her hand and brought it to his lips, pressing loving kisses to her knuckles and calloused fingers. Her mahogany tresses draped over the right side of her face, leaving only the left eye exposed with its tattoo as a backdrop for her dark gaze. He brushed her hair aside and she pleaded with him to increase his pace.

"Harder... Alistair... please. Don’t hold back."

Never one to defy her orders, Alistair entwined their hands together, raising her arms above her head and leaned forward to drive faster and deeper into her heat. Their bodies smacked obscenely together and the erotic noise of their joining boiled Alistair’s blood almost as much as the feel. Sirra mewled desperately beneath him, clinging to him as he plowed into her, both of them groaning, gasping, begging for more. 

He never wanted to stop. This was perfection and further proved that the Chantry only ever lied to him. There was no way the Maker would strike him down after such bliss.

Sirra’s husky voice brokenly chanted his name and strangled endearments as she clamped vice-like around his cock. Releasing her hands, he leaned back to drink in the sight of her arching off the bed, creamy skin gorgeously flushed, a hoarse ‘I love you’ falling from plump lips and he was lost. A few more erratic thrusts while aftershocks fluttered around his length and Alistair followed Sirra off the precipice. Clutching her hips hard enough to bruise, he ground out the last of his spend with a growl as his vision turned white.

Dropping like a felled tree on the bed next to her, Alistair flopped an arm over his eyes, breathing heavily to slow his racing heart.  

“You know,” he gasped after a considerable pause. “According to the priests at the monastery, I should be struck by lightning for what we just did.”

Breathlessly the rogue answered, “Not for that performance.” 

Alistair beamed under his arm and he snagged her index finger with his slender pinky self-consciously. “Meaning it was good, right? Awww.”

Blushing furiously, he feared to meet her gaze and learn she was merely placating him, but Sirra moaned wantonly and he turned his head to face her. Smirking in contentment, she languorously stretched her sweat slicked body, undulating her metal topped chest deliciously.

“Mmmmm, the best I’ve ever had and the only one I ever want.”  

Sirra grazed his glistening torso with delicate brushes of her fingertips and he barked out an involuntary laugh as they trailed along his ribs. Sirra’s smile turned wicked and she wiggled her fingers at him.

“Don’t you dare, little lady.” Alistair tried to sound serious, but he was too pleased with himself at her compliment to even pretend to be stern.

“Oooh? Calling a dwarf ‘little!’ Not smart, Ser Alistair,” she teased.  

He groaned, aware that whatever punishment she meted out, he deserved for that verbal slip. Snatching her hands, Alistair pulled her closer with a boyish grin.  

“But what if I made it up to you? I could… kiss you senseless until you forgot I even said it?” With a playful smirk, she shook her head and he pouted. “You’re sure I can’t change your mind about that? I mean, look at these puppy eyes.” He batted his lashes exaggeratedly and Sirra chuckled.

“You can kiss me, Alistair, but I know your weak spot now. Revenge will be swift and unexpected.” 

The warrior gasped in mock horror. “My lady, you would do me bodily harm? I am shocked! Shocked and offended.”

Sirra rolled her eyes and smacked his chest lightly. “Tickling you is not harmful, dear Warden.”

Smirking cheekily, Alistair waggled a finger at her. “Ah, ah! It is so harmful… to my pride. It would never recover from such a wound. Surely, you wouldn’t wish to humiliate me so?”

Raising an arched eyebrow at him, Alistair gasped more melodramatically than before. “My lady! I cannot believe you – ah! Hahahaha! No, stop that right now…ahahaha! Sirra, I mean -"

Alistair dissolved into a fit of uncontrollable laughter as Sirra pinned him under her stocky frame and tickled along his ribs. She snickered along at the sight of a giant human rendered speechless, rolling around like a boy, full of pure joy, and free of his burdens. It was heartwarming and sweet - just like him.

During their scuffle, he brushed the bottom of her foot, causing her to jerk back with a surprised gasp. His expression turned triumphant when he leapt on her, turning the tables in his favor, and tickled her feet mercilessly.

“Alistair! Ancestors… hahahaha, no! Have mercy!”

“Mercy, my lady? You showed me none. Why should I extend you any?” He smiled teasingly as she choked out harsh guffaws of laughter with her gravelly voice.

“K-kiss me! You win! Hahaha, just kiss – mmfph!” Crashing onto her splayed form, the warrior changed tactics and attacked her mouth with glee.  

She'd never felt so light, and in this stolen moment, this bubble of peace and contentment, Sirra felt as though she could fly. Alistair buoyed her soul with a happiness she never thought possible.  

Growing up casteless, the literal nug shit under the lowest rung of the hierarchy in Orzammar, taught her that nice things were not for her. Becoming a Grey Warden and moving to the surface changed all that. Despite everything she did during her time with the Carta, without that fateful job in the Provings, she wouldn’t have met this gorgeous man. 

A man who found worth in her that she struggled to see in herself. A man who daily lifted her up through the obstacles they faced. A man willing to stand in harm’s way to protect her.

Her light in the darkness.

When they separated once more, he laid his forehead to hers with a resplendent smile, stealing her breath with his beauty. Stone-chiseled nose and jawline covered in three days' growth, softened by the endless warmth and love radiating from his amber eyes. Rubbing the tip of her nose against his, she thumbed his cheek thoughtfully, and Alistair quirked an eyebrow at her.  

“Think I should keep it? Grow it out, maybe?” Rolling alongside her, he reclined on the pillows and ran a hand over the auburn hair wistfully.

Sirra cocked her head. “No, I like you clean shaven, actually.” Both of his eyebrows jerked up at that and she giggled. “I’m serious. I don’t know. Maybe I’m tired of being surrounded by bearded men. I don’t mind when you’re stubbly, but this is actually becoming a beard, and it gets in the way of touching you properly.”

Grinning broadly, he pulled her closer for a hug. “Good, because the damn thing itches and it… reminds me of my father. What I’ve seen from portraits, anyway.”

“Well, we can’t have that. Where’s your shave kit? I’ll help you.” Glancing at her with a skeptical expression, Sirra laughed lightly. “Seriously, I’m excellent with blades.”

“And you wonder why I might not want you pressing one to my throat,” Alistair retorted with a wink. 

“Fair point.” She poked him in the gut as soon as the words left her mouth. “Don’t say it. I know you’re thinking it.” Alistair’s shoulders shook with barely contained mirth and he slapped a hand over his mouth to keep silent. 

Sighing heavily, Sirra rolled her eyes and waved airily in permission. “Go ahead. Get it out of your system.”

Point!  Because you’re a dagger wielding rogue! Sorry, I know it's terrible, but I couldn’t help it.” His hazel eyes twinkled mischievously, and the dwarf shook her head with a chuckle.

“I love you, even though you’re a giant dork.” 

Hugging her tightly, Alistair breathed in her ear. “I’m your dork, Sirra.”

Brushing her lips softly across his temple, she murmured affectionately. “Yes, you are, Alistair. I wouldn’t change a thing about you.”

“Nor I you,” he rumbled. Sweeping her hair from her face, Alistair smiled tenderly at her and replied. “I love you, too. Come on. We need to… freshen up a bit and then I’ll let you help me shave, if you really want to.”

Sliding off the bed, Sirra poured some water from a nearby pitcher into a basin, retrieving soap and washcloths from her pack so they could scrub the evidence of their lovemaking from their bodies. Once they were clean and dressed in their sleep attire, Alistair lathered up his shave soap and used the reflective surface of the water to apply it liberally to his beard. Taking a seat in the chair, he tested the sharpness of the razor on his thumb before passing it to Sirra. 

“You know how to use that, don’t you?”

Snorting with a hand on her hip, Sirra waved a hand meaningfully around her groin and smirked. “Alistair, how else do you think I get my hair this way?”  

Blushing furiously, he coughed and tilted his head back, baring his throat for his dual wielding girlfriend. Girlfriend? What a strange word. She was neither a girl nor simply his friend. Sirra was a confident woman who was his best friend and lover. He couldn’t fathom calling her that, even in his own head. 

The blade rasped quietly against his skin as she worked. Methodically and gingerly scraping away the bulk of the hair and rinsing the edge clean in the basin after each pass. Letting her shave him was more intimate than making love. This was an affirmation of his trust. And he did trust Sirra – implicitly. He wouldn’t allow just anyone to hold a keen-edged razor to his throat, especially someone with her skill, unless he trusted them with his life.  

They didn’t speak, but they shared heated glances weighted with words unspoken. Alistair immediately decided this would become a regular occurrence for them. Domestic and sweet, yet fraught with underlying passion as the enormity of this small act of trust grew wild between them. Sirra’s chest rose rapidly and his pulse raced in tandem, but her hands never faltered and not once did she nick him, even when she shaved against the grain to reduce the stubble.

Using a cloth she snagged from the depths of her pack, Sirra dampened the fabric and tenderly removed the left-over lather and stray hairs from his face and neck before proudly declaring she was finished. Passing Alistair the small mirror in his kit, the warrior examined her handiwork and grinned broadly at the result. 

“I think you did a better job than me. Thank you.” Alistair chuckled, skimming his fingers along his smooth jawline. Sirra flushed at the praise while quickly rinsing his razor, drying it thoroughly, and repacked his kit.  

Threading their fingers together, Alistair led them to bed, easily lifting her onto the mattress. After she turned down the bedding and blew out the candle on her side of the bed he climbed in beside her.

Snuffing his own candle, Alistair tucked her back against his chest, enveloping her body with his own. Sirra smiled blissfully in his strong embrace, allowing her Carta senses to fade. With his sword propped against the night stand within arm’s reach, Alistair would buy her time to snatch her daggers, if the need arose. But the door was locked and they were safe. Tonight she was free to simply enjoy the man whose heart was beating a strong cadence from his chest to hers.

“I love you, Alistair.” Sirra breathed in the darkness, her fingers tangling with his hand draped over her torso. His heart rate increased in response, and her stomach fluttered in silent reply.

Nuzzling her neck with his nose, Alistair murmured, “And I love you, Sirra. Always.”

 

Chapter Text

The Wardens ignored Morrigan’s barbs in the morning regarding the numerous times the couple woke overnight in their continuous discovery of what made each other tick, as Sirra promised they would. The couple were determined not to let any negativity steal the residual bliss gleaned from their bubble last night, acutely aware their elation might be the only thing keeping them grounded for whatever awaited them in Redcliffe.

After a quick breakfast at the inn, the four companions met the mages at the lake. Sirra thanked the small contingent of men and women for their willingness to aid in their task. Shaking hands with First Enchanter Irving, the dwarven woman smiled pleasantly during the brief introductions, and officially welcomed Wynne to the party with a hug.  

A beneficial side effect of the mages’ life in a tower was their stamina after years of climbing multiple floors daily. It allowed the Wardens to set a brutal pace to ensure they reached Redcliffe before Connor lost control of the demon again. The group stopped briefly for lunch before resuming their march, arriving at the castle by late afternoon.

As the throng of people filed into the throne room, Teagan and Isolde converged upon the group exuberantly, having assumed the worst after three days with no word. Alistair launched into a bare bones explanation of their delay as the mages set up for the ritual while Sirra conferred in hushed tones with Morrigan. 

"Morrigan, I need you to go into the Fade and fight the demon," stated the dwarf.  

The dark-haired woman arched an imperious eyebrow and crossed her arms over her scantily clad chest. "After you berated me in the Circle tower? I am supposed to simply forgive such an affront and do as I am bid, Warden? "

Sighing heavily, Sirra shook her head. "No, you've a right to be angry. I was..."

"A bitch?"

Sirra snorted at the mage's attempt to goad her, quirking her own eyebrow in response, and shot back. "Takes one to know one, doesn’t it?"

A faint uptick of Morrigan's lips told the shorter woman the witch approved of her unwillingness to back down. 

"Look, I was unnecessarily harsh, but so were you,” Sirra leveled the human with a glare. “I won't argue with you on your stance regarding Circle mages. I am not a mage and not informed enough on the Circle and Chantry rules to even attempt it. But right now, that isn't the issue." The haughty woman continued to appraise her as she spoke, and Sirra was keenly aware every word counted in this moment.  

"Wynne is a powerful mage, but she has little skill with defensive magic and is not well-equipped to fight the demon. I don't know the other mages enough to trust them and despite our differences, Morrigan, I do trust you."

Morrigan's red lips parted slightly in stunned surprise, her eyes blinking rapidly as she processed the rogue’s words. 

"You’ve saved our asses a hundred times when you didn't need to,” the dwarf continued. “You travel with us when you could easily pack up and disappear during your night watches. You haven't sworn an oath to fight the Blight and you're free to leave anytime, yet you stay and... I appreciate it. I have little experience with magic, but even I know your skills are unmatched. There is no one I trust to go into the Fade and kill the creature holding an innocent boy hostage more than you. We need you, Morrigan." 

Recovering her composure, the woman's lips curled into a wicked smirk. "’Tis excellent to have my skills recognized. You are correct, Warden, I am best suited for the task. But I still wonder, why I should bother?"

Breathing deeply to stay calm, Sirra acted on instinct and clasped the mage's hand. A sharp inhalation was the only outward expression of emotion Morrigan displayed, but it was enough for the former Carta dwarf to realize she was getting somewhere with the stubborn human. Lifting her dark eyes, she held the woman's strange yellow gaze unflinchingly.  

“Because I'm asking you to. Not as a Grey Warden, not as a leader. I'm asking you as someone I respect and admire, as the one I know to be capable of accomplishing this. I'm asking as someone I would like to call ‘friend.’”

The woman's mouth rounded into an 'o' of surprise, her eerie eyes scrutinizing and wary. Sirra smiled in reassurance, and Morrigan managed the faintest quirk of her lips in reply. 

"Very well, Warden. I will go into the Fade." Sirra sighed in relief as Morrigan spun on her heel to speak to the First Enchanter. 

Alistair emerged from the shadows he'd been loitering in with a wondrous expression on his face. His disbelieving chuckle rumbled around them as he grasped her small hand. "If I hadn't witnessed it with my own eyes, I would have said that was impossible."

Blowing out an unsteady breath, she glanced at the warrior with obvious surprise. "Honestly, I wasn't sure she'd believe me. I'm as stunned as you right now."  

Cocking an eyebrow at Sirra, he huffed a short laugh in amazement. “You were serious! You actually mean to befriend her? The sneaky witch thief we agreed we didn’t trust?”

She snorted softly to hear the man's ridiculous phrase repeated and shrugged lightly. “Maybe her initial reasons for joining weren’t honest, but consider everything she has done since then, Alistair. I may not agree with her on many things, but that doesn’t mean I don’t respect her talents or that I am ungrateful for her help.”

Alistair furrowed his brow and nodded slowly. “What you mean is, you don’t trust Flemeth, but there is more to Morrigan than meets the eye?”

Sirra stared directly into his calculating hazel gaze and smirked. “It is truly amazing that anyone could mistake you for an idiot, Alistair.” Her smirk grew into a grin as the warrior blushed, fidgeting slightly under her intense scrutiny. “Yes, that is exactly what I mean.”

“Maybe,” he replied noncommittally. “I still don’t like her.”

Chuffing a quiet laugh, she inclined her head in reply. “I’m not asking you to, salroka.”  

Returning her attention to the mages, she saw Morrigan nod in response to something Irving said. With a tight smile the older man waved her toward the lyrium font, brimming with bright blue liquid. Sirra could hear the song of the isana from where she stood in the middle of the room and her grip on Alistair tightened unconsciously. 

The witch speared the dwarf with a piercing, citrine gaze a moment before she dipped her hand into the luminous reservoir. Her eyes rolled back in her head, and she collapsed in the center of the mages’ circle causing Sirra to gasp in concern. Wynne rested a light hand on her shoulder in reassurance.  

“She is powerful, my dear, and the others are monitoring her from this side. Although, I doubt she’ll be in there very long. Morrigan does not strike me as a patient woman,” Wynne commented wryly.  

The dwarf could only nod nervously watching the Circle mages mumble incantations over her companion’s prone form. Ancestors, she hoped Wynne was right.

Behind her, she heard Isolde whimper portions of the Chant while leaning against the throne, wringing her hands fretfully. Releasing her with a wan smile, Alistair joined Teagan in pacing the hall, unable to stay still in his anxiety. Leliana shared soft words of faithful encouragement with the pious knights, her calm demeanor a balm for their jagged nerves.

Not wanting to intrude on anyone's private reflections, and feeling decidedly out of place among the crush of humans, Sirra slipped out of the throne room. The hallway adjacent was lined with family portraits and suits of armor. A proud display of prestige and status worthy of a noble lineage. Sighing heavily, she continued to meander aimlessly until she noticed a room full of books through the half-open door at the end of the passage. Peeking over her shoulder to make sure no one was paying attention, she stole curiously through the entryway.

Three large bookshelves lined the back wall of the room while a large, stately desk stood in the center. Reaching out with feather-light touches, the dwarf ran a finger down the assorted colored spines covered in flowing script she wished she could read. Once again, her insecurity reared its head as she brushed the books reverently. 

This was the world Alistair was born into. 

Even though Eamon hadn't raised him among the nobility, the Chantry had given him a quality education and he was far from stupid. What could she, an illiterate casteless Carta thug, possibly offer him?

Yes, she loved him - with every fiber of her being.  

But would love be enough? 

Despite Alistair’s constant reassurances, Sirra doubted it would be, yet she couldn’t let him go. It was selfish and stupid and would likely crush her very spirit when she had to release him in the future. But she needed him as much as he needed her to get through the monumental task resting on their shoulders. Without Alistair to ground her and guide her on the surface, Sirra wasn’t sure she could do what needed to be done.

Smothering a sob, Sirra turned to flee the chamber when her gaze landed on a necklace, starkly out of the place among the masculine décor. It was draped with care across a pair of books supported by marble bookends in the shape of mabari. A silver-cast pendant with a Chantry symbol embossed in the center hung on a simple braided cord. It was spider-webbed with cracks as though someone repaired it – lovingly so, as some pieces were quite small and yet, they were all accounted for. 

A memory crossed her mind. Reclining in the dappled sunlight on the hill by the windmill, Alistair telling her about his mother’s amulet shattered in a rage when he was a boy. A priceless possession he believed lost to the impetuousness of youth.  

With trembling fingers, Sirra gingerly plucked the amulet from the desk, releasing a breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding as the cool metal gradually warmed in the safety of her palm. Tenderly, she curled the necklace into the pouch alongside Alistair's rose, bolting out of the study and into the throne room. 

Mere minutes after her return, Morrigan awoke with a gasp. A mage passed her a skin of water, which she took gratefully before addressing the crowd wearily. 

“’Tis done. The demon is dead, the boy is free.”

 “Thank the Maker,” Isolde cried, sinking to her knees in relief and clasping her hands to her breast. 

Teagan swayed slightly on his feet with a relieved smile, but he recovered quickly and assisted Morrigan to her feet, whispering his gratitude to the witch. Morrigan pursed her lips, nodding curtly in response, and sidled to the periphery of their group once more.

A flurry of butterflies exploded in Sirra's stomach when she caught Alistair's openly warm stare across the room. The warrior shook Teagan’s hand distractedly, his amber eyes continuously seeking her out over the jubilant crowd. Irving stepped in her line of sight, enthusiastically grasping her hand, proclaiming the Circle forever indebted to her for her willingness to go to such lengths for Connor’s sake.  

Sirra ducked her head at the praise, clearing her permanently raspy throat before replying. “It was the right thing to do, Irving. I wasn’t about to kill an innocent boy.”

The wizened man's blue eyes bored into her under bushy brows. “Few would say the same in these dark times, my friend. Especially a non-human who experienced a harrowing trial in the Fade herself.”

Sirra pulled herself up straighter, tilting her head defiantly. “Which is exactly why I could not allow the child to suffer at the demon’s hands - not when I could do something about it. Thank you for being willing to assist, First Enchanter. We would have been forced to resort to drastic measures if you hadn't been willing to lend your aid.”

He frowned deeply at the insinuation of using blood magic to enter the Fade, glancing angrily at the mage from the dungeons with his retinue of guards.  

“Yes, we shall have to deal with Jowan back at the Circle.”

“And what punishment would fit his crime?” she queried.

Irving heaved a heavy sigh and his eyes lost their sparkle. “Tranquility. We meant to make him Tranquil when we realized he might be dangerous. But he caught wind of our plans and escaped before we could perform the ritual, which is how he ended up here. He will be rendered harmless once his connection to the Fade is severed, however.”

Bann Teagan joined the conversation with a ferocious scowl. “Or we could execute him for the attempted murder of the Arl and creating the circumstances that led to this nightmare.” 

Irving inclined his head in acknowledgement of the nobleman’s right to seek high justice against the mage.

Sirra glanced at Alistair in desperation, but the warrior only shrugged helplessly, clearly as torn about the grim choices as she. Shaking her head, the dwarf crossed her arms and murmured, “I will not decide Jowan’s fate. If you aren’t able to come to an agreement, then I suggest you leave it up to the Arl when he wakes up.”

“Fair enough, Warden. We have already asked much of you,” Teagan intoned gravely with a short bow. 

The bann offered the mages accommodations for the evening and invited Irving to a private meeting following dinner to discuss Connor’s future, to which the First Enchanter readily agreed.

Once the mages were ensconced in the guest wing, the Wardens followed Isolde and Teagan to Arl Eamon’s bedside to find his condition unchanged. Whatever the demon did to hold him, it continued to keep him enthralled even with the creature’s demise. Isolde believed the answer to a cure rested in finding Andraste's ashes. A relic reputed to cure any ailment. 

Sirra shared a conspiratorial glance with Alistair; both aware of the trajectory of the conversation. Mentally sighing, she knew they had no choice but to comply with the Arlessa's request. If they didn’t find the ashes or if the supposed ‘cure’ didn’t work, then Teagan would still supply them with Redcliffe’s soldiers. There was no harm in attempting to locate it.

Besides, from what Sirra had gathered about human politics, Eamon was a higher ranked noble than Bann Teagan and well respected among his peers. His voice would carry more weight against Loghain than Teagan’s and they needed all the leverage with the nobility as possible.

She agreed to search for the relic, much to the relief of the Arl’s family and Alistair too, she knew. The warrior might not be on the best terms with Arl Eamon, but he was still the closest thing Alistair had to family, and he respected the older man highly.  

Declining Teagan’s offer to stay in the castle for the night, the Wardens and their three companions returned to the village to purchase a new set of armor for Alistair. The blacksmith almost bowled Sirra over when she entered the shop and it took her stunned brain a few extra seconds to process the large man was weeping. Falling to his knees, Owen grasped her hands and bowed his shaggy head over them, mumbling incoherently through his tears in his thick peasant accent. 

Sirra stared at the other humans over the distraught man’s head in bewilderment. None of them were very helpful, too busy smothering their giggles at the mystified expression on her face. She shushed the burly man like a child until he finally calmed and regained control of himself. Exhaling raggedly, he smiled through his lake of tears and thanked her profusely for rescuing his daughter in the castle, amazed she kept her promise to find his daughter alive.

“If there is anathin’ I can do fer ya, ya ‘ave but to ask.”

Gracing him with a warm smile, Sirra gently freed her hands from his strong grip and pointed to Alistair’s mangled chainmail. “My fellow Warden requires a new suit of armor. Medium weight is preferable, so he still has decent range of motion and speed on the field.” 

“Done," Owen readily agreed. "Come wit’ me, Warden. I’ll get ya new kit straigh’ ta way.” 

The men ambled off to locate a suitable set from the armory. Eventually, Sirra wanted to have a custom set commissioned for him, but for now anything was better than what he currently wore. The ladies browsed the blacksmith’s wares, purchasing a stronger set of leathers for Leliana from Valenna, and selling some of the loot collected from the Circle while they waited. There wasn’t much in stock that would benefit the mages and Sirra made a mental note to check Bodahn’s updated inventory when they saw him next. Wynne and Morrigan needed the best gear and staves, as much as any warrior or rogue.  

Finally, the men reappeared having found a complete set of scale armor in gleaming silverite. It was perfect, offering excellent protection without adding unnecessary bulk that would hinder his movement and slow down response time. The fact that it enhanced the warrior's broad chest, dragging the observer’s eye along the cuirass to his lean hips and muscular thighs was surely an unintended side benefit of the original armorsmith. As she drank in his physique, Sirra wished she could find the master craftsman responsible and thank him.

Alistair smirked mischievously at her, and her features flamed to rival the coals in Owen’s forge to be caught ogling him. Pointedly ignoring her lover to preserve her dignity, Sirra turned to the smith to discuss payment for the set, but he cut her off.

“It’s a gift, Warden. My Valenna would naw be here, if naw for you both and yer companions. Take it wit’ my blessin’. I hope it serves ya well, Ser.” 

He bowed deferentially to Alistair, but the warrior pulled him out of the gesture to shake his hand instead, much to the grizzled man’s surprise.

“Please don’t bow to me, Owen. I grew up here and I recall you yelling at me frequently to stop being an idiot.” Alistair grinned at the smith’s guffaw.

“Oh, aye, lad! You and Airic chasin’ Bella round the village and nearly dyin’ a time or two. Maker’s mercy, boy, you were a righ’ handful!” Valenna giggled in the corner, ducking her head under her mousy hair when Alistair glanced in her direction. Owen rolled his eyes heavenward with a murmur. “Andraste preserve me from love struck women.”

The four women traveling with the warrior coughed and snorted as they attempted to wrangle their laughter. Alistair cleared his throat uncomfortably, but he couldn’t curb the bright stains blooming on his cheeks.  

“Thank you for the armor,” he continued valiantly, ignoring the chortles behind him. “I will make you proud, Owen.”

The blacksmith clapped him on the back. “Ya already make us proud, boy. Ya done well fer yerself and fer us a few nights back. Go on wit’ ya, now! Ya’ve Grey Warden business to attend to, Ser Alistair.” The tall warrior smiled brightly, inclining his head politely to Valenna as he made his escape. 

"Thank you, Owen." Sirra clasped the older man’s forearm firmly with a broad grin. "Take care of yourselves." The dwarf waved to Valenna in the corner who returned it cheerily as the group departed. 

There was daylight enough for the five companions to head to a clearing Alistair knew of outside the village they planned to use as their campsite. None of them wished to spend the night in the town recently cleared of undead. En route, Leliana snuck off the trail, catching up to the others later with four hares in hand. Combined with the bread and apples in their rations, they would have a nice meal for the eve.

They found the clearing as the sun sank behind the horizon and Alistair quickly set up a stone perimeter for the fire under Wynne’s magelight while Sirra and Morrigan scrambled through the wooded edge of the field for firewood. Once they had a strong fire, Alistair skewered the hares Leliana skinned and set them on a makeshift spit.  

Wiping his hands on a cloth, Alistair overheard the conversation between Sirra and Wynne discussing sleeping arrangements.

“ – stay with me in my tent, Wynne. I apologize, I forgot we were short. We should have picked one up in Redcliffe.”

Leliana chimed in with an alternate solution. “Or you can have my tent, Wynne, and Sirra and I can share.” 

The thought of Sirra sleeping with anyone, even platonically, after last night filled him with jealousy. Stepping forward before he lost his nerve, Alistair cleared his throat and calmly declared. 

“Actually, Wynne, you can have Sirra’s tent. She can stay with me… if you want, that is,” he hurriedly amended to the woman in question.  

Sirra smiled brightly and nodded, too giddy to trust herself to speak around the others who were bemusedly watching the lovers bumble through this new aspect of their relationship. The warrior graced her with a shy smile, his voice slightly higher than normal when he spoke again.  

“Good. I’ll just… uh… fetch it for you, then.”

He hurried to untie the tent attached to Sirra’s pack and set it up for the older woman in the area she indicated with military precision. Leliana and Wynne hid their knowing grins from the Wardens purposefully scattered on opposite sides of the camp, setting up separate tents in nervous excitement.

After setting up their tent and pulling their packs inside, Sirra rolled out a pallet of furs to sleep on, setting aside the ones in Alistair's pack as blankets. Unpinning her bun, Sirra left her hair braided for the time being so it wouldn’t be in her way while she ate dinner and rifled through the assorted items from the Circle stored in her pack. 

Her fingers crashed into the spine of a large book and she pulled it out curiously. It was the strange magical tome she found locked in the First Enchanter’s study. She meant to ask Wynne about it as a Circle educated mage, but it was a black leather-bound book with a skeletal tree embossed on the front cover, full of strange magical script. The longer she studied it the more sense it made for Morrigan to analyze it. It was probably full of dark magic and she didn’t think Wynne would even touch it. 

Stealing out of the tent, Sirra strode toward the back of the clearing where Morrigan predictably set up her living space away from the rest of the group. The witch eyed her inquisitively as she approached. 

“I found this in the Circle tower,” Sirra explained. “I can’t read what it says, but it seemed like something you would want to study.”

Morrigan snatched it out of her hands, running her fingers reverently along the supple leather, clutching it to her chest with a gasp.  

“You found Mother’s grimoire? I had wondered… I didn’t dare hope it would turn up, and I had yet to mention it to you, but here it is,” she breathed. The woman laughed, startling Sirra with the authenticity of the sound, a genuine burst of amazement. “Thank you! I shall begin studying it immediately.”

“So that was Flemeth's? Huh," Sirra chuckled at the irony. "What do you hope to find?”  

“Secrets,” whispered Morrigan. “Mother has many of them. This... was the one time she let them get away and I do not intend to squander the opportunity to learn more than she wished for me to know.”

Sirra smiled. “Glad I could help you, then. If you find anything useful, be sure to share.” 

Morrigan quirked her lips in reply as she dropped onto a nearby log and opened the book. Sirra took her leave, inordinately pleased with how well the exchange worked out. She may not always get along with the witch, but she respected the other woman’s talents and willingness to aid them.  

The dwarf didn’t deny that her true motivations were still suspect, well, at least Flemeth’s were, but that didn’t change that Morrigan fought and bled alongside them. In her world as a duster, that made the witch one of them and she wanted to improve their relationship. Deep down, she doubted the woman was as callous as she purported. As former Carta, she recognized a defense mechanism when she saw it. It was easier, sometimes, to keep people at arm’s length than risk getting hurt later.

Returning to the main group, Sirra found dinner ready and Alistair separating the meat from the bones onto a clean metal plate for everyone to share. Leliana sliced the bread and apples on a second plate, evenly dividing the fruit into fourths until Sirra held out another plate and the redhead realized one of their party was missing. Seeing this as an opportunity, Sirra filled an extra dish for Morrigan and instructed the others to start without her, keenly aware of her companions’ eyes on her as she carried the loaded plate to the witch.

Morrigan didn’t glance up from her reading as Sirra carefully set the plate on the log beside her. Nodding in resignation at the woman’s lack of acknowledgement, the rogue turned to leave when Morrigan’s soft reply stopped her. 

“Th-thank you, Warden.”  

The witch ran her fingertips along the open pages of the tome. The old vellum crinkling and fire popping were the only sounds between them for a few heartbeats as the human’s dark brows furrowed in thought. 

“I-I am… unfamiliar with people and social… situations. I have been… disdainful towards you and I know ‘twas unworthy. ‘Tis... not your fault that Mother forced this arrangement on us. You are the only one doing what needs to be done to stop the Blight and I have not treated you with… respect.” 

Morrigan stared at her with her strange yellow eyes. Sirra could see the sincerity in them and something resembling guilt. “I… am sorry.”

Sirra’s lips quirked at the corners, and the woman’s posture visibly relaxed. “I accept your apology, Morrigan. I would like for things between us to be less… antagonistic. I respect your abilities, and I appreciate what you have done for us. And I should thank you for going into the Fade today for Connor. I know you didn’t want to, yet you did because I asked. So, thank you for saving him.”

 Morrigan’s eyes widened for a second in surprise, but answered with a clipped nod. Picking up her plate, she shot the dwarf the barest hint of a smile. 

Recognizing the woman’s desire to be alone, Sirra returned to the others, ignoring the questioning expressions around the fire as she sat between Alistair and Leliana who each presented her with a plate. With a laugh, Sirra snagged a hunk of rabbit with one hand and an apple slice with the other, falling into the easy camaraderie of her friends, bumping elbows with Leliana and reclining comfortably against Alistair as she ate.

“Are you feeling all right, Wynne?” Concern tinged Leliana’s lilting voice, but the mage merely smiled.

“Oh, yes, just tired. I’m no spring chicken and I fear all the walking combined with the day’s events at the castle have worn me out more than I realized.” 

Sirra’s face scrunched slightly as she tried to figure out what the older woman meant by ‘spring chicken.’ 

Alistair chuckled. “You may not be young, but you’re very sprightly.” 

Wynne laughed quietly, inclining her head in thanks and smiled politely to the other mage who silently joined them around the fire. Alistair and Leliana shared a disbelieving glance, but did not comment when Sirra extended the plate of fruit to both mages. Wynne declined, but Morrigan gingerly took a slice with a quiet word of thanks.

Leaning to Leliana, Sirra whispered, “What is a ‘spring chicken’ and how is that related to Wynne? Is this another weird human thing?”

The bard erupted in a fit of giggles, tossing her arm behind the shorter woman to grasp Alistair for support. He was smirking slightly and Sirra realized he must have heard her question. Their reaction caused her own lips to quirk in response as she waited for the bard to fill her in. A fond smile blossomed on Wynne’s lined face as she observed the trio while the witch rolled her eyes in affected exasperation.

Once Leliana regained her composure, she repeated the question to the others, which elicited a soft chuckle from Morrigan despite her stoicism. Wiping joyful tears from her blue eyes, the redhead explained the strange idiom to the dwarven woman. Sirra absorbed the information with a quizzical expression, shaking her head slightly in bafflement.

“Yeah, I was right,” she playfully huffed following her friend's explanation. “Another weird human thing to add to the pile of weird human things.”  

Her comment evoked another round of hearty laughter from the group and though it was in response to her confusion, she didn’t take any offense. With a bright smile, Sirra chomped on her apple slice as her companions burned away some of the residual anxiety and stress of the last few days. The events of the Circle and Redcliffe still weighed heavily on all of them and likely would for some time, especially for Alistair and Wynne who watched their homes fall, but the levity was healthy. A much-needed respite in the midst of tragedy and war. 

Dinner complete, Wynne offered to ward the camp so they wouldn’t have to rely on a watch for the night. Neither Warden sensed any darkspawn nearby and readily accepted her offer to allow everyone a full night's sleep for the first day of marching to Denerim. Their first lead in the hunt for the Urn of Sacred Ashes would take them directly to the capital – the seat of Loghain’s usurped power. They would have to be careful as they neared the city and even more so within its walls. It was sure to be full of people in his pocket who would be looking for them.

Everyone took a moment to relieve themselves before Wynne placed the wards, there would be no middle of the night trips to the woods once they were set. While the younger companions were gone, Wynne washed the few dishes from dinner, passing them to Sirra when she returned to store in her pack. Morrigan bid them good night, departing to her section of the clearing to set her own wards, leaving the other four in the center of the campsite.

The rogues and warrior curiously watched the mage pull on the Veil, working in a clockwise circle, building a barrier while laying glyphs of repulsion and paralysis every few feet. Magic hummed pleasantly in the air, but it was a warm, inviting hug as opposed to the whip crack of rage lashed against them in the Circle tower.  

Alistair felt compelled to execute a final perimeter check after the women retired. He couldn’t help himself. The Chantry trained him as a Templar, and while he never wanted the life of a mage-jailer, the instruction was ingrained in his bones. The warrior was aware of his biases and worked to overcome them, wishing he wasn’t distrustful of magic when he fully recognized the usefulness of it when wielded properly.  

Unlike what the Templars taught him to fight against, Wynne's magic was soft, gentle, caring. It did not vibrate with anger or thrum with malevolence. The aura left behind was kind.   While he was familiar with warding magic, in theory, he needed to be certain they would hold in order to relax his guard enough to sleep.  

Wynne chuckled behind him and he whirled to face her, not realizing until that moment she was still there.  

"They will hold, Alistair. I have been doing this for many years."

Shame faced, the warrior shuffled his feet and murmured, "How... how could you? You've been in the tower."

Nodding in agreement, the mage continued. "Yes, I have, but neither Ostagar nor this excursion are my first experience with battle or guarding companions on the road. There are always skirmishes the Crown is more than happy to handle with magic on their side. The mages warded our section of camp at Ostagar, Alistair. Some of us warded our sleeping quarters in the tower, as well. Not that it did much good since Templars possess talents to render us powerless, but it gave the illusion of peace."

Alistair fidgeted uneasily, cognizant of the insinuation in her statement, uncertain how to respond regarding abuses of power he found reprehensible. He saw examples of such behavior during his training when he spent the required week in the Circle to experience firsthand the life of a Templar. What it really showed him was a life trapped in the monotony of ‘guarding’ the mages and how that level of power over other people’s lives could easily corrupt.  

He hated the way the mages scurried past. Some with heads bowed, others staring straight ahead, none daring to make eye contact with the armored sentries. His sensitive ears caught snippets of conversations he was never meant to hear - demanding and cruel; vocalizations in darkened corners, not entirely voluntary. Threats, blackmail. No one will believe you, mage. Do as I tell you or I’ll tell them you’re a maleficar. I own you now.   

It made his skin crawl, putting him off his meals for most of the week, but there was nothing he could do or say to stop the abuse. No one would have believed a recruit. Of course, the majority of Templars in the Circle were decent people. There were only a handful of bad apples ruining the barrel, but it was enough.  

He didn’t want to be associated with degradation; he didn’t want mages to see him in his gleaming armor and only see a Templar. To assume he was capable of dehumanizing them or callous enough to kill them without conscience. That wasn’t the kind of man he was or ever would be.

After the disastrous Harrowing he attended signaled the end of his observational stay, Alistair was never more sure he absolutely, most emphatically, did not want to take vows. While being a Warden might not be perfect, it was a hell of a lot better than his last career option.  

“Does it… bother you that I trained as a Templar? I would hate for you to be uncomfortable,” he stammered.

“Why would you think that would bother me? I’ve been surrounded by them my whole life,” she stated matter-of-factly.

The warrior grimaced, rubbing the back of his neck awkwardly. “Yes, but you’re not in the Circle anymore. I just… don’t want you to feel like I’m watching you.”

Wynne cocked her head slightly, her blue eyes searching until Alistair prayed the ground would give way under his feet and spare him further scrutiny. After a few interminable heartbeats, she graced him with a smile.

“Ah, but you weren’t a Templar though. You never took vows, Alistair. Just because you can use the abilities unique to their profession, doesn’t make you one of them.” He tipped his head in acknowledgement. “But even if you were a Templar, I still believe you are a good man who would not strike me down simply because I am beyond the Circle walls, would you?”

He smiled, relaxing slightly as she accurately appraised his character. “No, of course not.”

“Well, then, we really have nothing to worry about, do we?”  

Alistair shuffled again with a murmur. “Thank you, Wynne, for setting the wards. I’m not familiar with this type of magic, personally, but it feels -”

“Protective? Safe?” The woman grinned at his shy nod and the blush darkening his cheeks. “Yes, the creation and spirit schools tend to feel that way. Not all magic is dangerous, though the Chantry wants everyone to believe otherwise.”

“I know it isn’t,” he replied defensively. “I’m aware it's useful, but you’re right - I am more familiar with how to nullify mana in battle. Yet even I know mages can light a candle or warm water for a bath with conjured heat as easily as they can throw a fireball. Not to mention the usefulness of healing magic. Magic can be a force for good in the right hands.”

“You would have made a terrible Templar, dear,” Wynne chuckled, a teasing glint in her gaze.  

They shared a warm laugh, a sense of understanding growing between them, and Alistair hoped for more easy discussions with Wynne. She was open and cordial, grandmotherly, and he was drawn to her candid nature.

“Thank you, Alistair, for setting up my tent and now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I will retire into it.”

“Oh, of course! Sorry to keep you up. Goodnight, Wynne.”

“Goodnight, Alistair.” The mage nodded politely as she crossed the campsite to her tent and slipped inside.  

Confident in Wynne’s protective wards, he headed the short distance to his, now shared, tent with a light heart. Ducking through the canvas flaps he found Sirra sitting on the sleeping furs, nibbling her bottom lip worriedly. Her armor was piled in the corner, leaving her vulnerable in her under tunic and leggings, and she absently fiddled with a small pouch in her hands.  

Snapping the tent flap closed, he tied it shut with nervous fingers, his earlier good mood draining away. Slipping off his boots, the warrior joined her on the pallet, his gaze flicking from her face to the bundle and back with obvious unease. The silence between them grew heavy until it was so thick Alistair could have cut it with his sword. 

“What have you got there?” Alistair cleared his throat to banish the tightness strangling his words.

Sirra’s heart pounded in her chest. She feared giving him the pendant. Scared to bring up painful memories, irrationally afraid he might say it wasn’t his mother’s and wound him unnecessarily. But she knew it wasn’t right to withhold it, either, in case it truly belonged to him.  

With trembling hands, she opened the pouch and snagged the braided cord between her calloused fingers, presenting the pendant right side up. Alistair’s eyes widened instantly and with hands quaking more than her own, he gingerly took the offering, tracing the symbol with awe. 

Blinking back tears Alistair exhaled brokenly, staring in stunned disbelief at the pendant’s cool surface resting in his overly warm palm. With every beat of his heart he could feel the blood pulsing around the amulet, heavy in his hand though it weighed nothing at all. The weight of his rebellion that cost him the only tie to his mother struck his heart anew. Yet, miracle of miracles, it returned to him - a decade later and at the hand of the woman he loved, no less.

Voice barely a whisper, he broke the silence while continuing to stare at the amulet. “How? Where… did you get this?”

“I found it… in Arl Eamon’s study.” Alistair glanced at her sharply and she squirmed under his intense gaze. “I only found it today! While we waited for Morrigan to return from the Fade, I explored the castle to keep busy.”  

His features softened in understanding and he croaked, “Why isn’t it broken? Did you fix it or ask Wynne to?”

 “No,” Sirra shook her head. “I found it like that on his desk. Anyone who sat in the chair would see it anytime they looked up from their paperwork.” 

Alistair closed his eyes, curling his fist around the amulet, his back ramrod straight and jaw clenched in silent grief. 

“Maker, I-I was such an ass. Eamon must have kept it… repaired it. I wonder if he brought it with him on one of his visits to the monastery.” He opened his eyes, brimming with such overwhelming sadness, it pierced Sirra’s heart like a dagger. “But I was so angry. I pushed him away each time until he eventually… stopped coming.”

Tears he’d been holding back spilled their banks, rolling hot down his cheeks as he brushed a tremulous kiss across her lips. 

“Thank you,” he breathed, resting his forehead and fingers against her skin. “I thought I lost this to my own stupidity. I never thought to see it again, but you are miraculous, Sirra. You have no idea what this means to me.”

Moving her fingers from his neck, she thumbed away his tears with a tender smile. “I have a pretty good idea, salroka.” 

Alistair chuckled softly, placing a quick kiss on the tip of her nose before carefully storing the amulet in a side pocket of his pack for safekeeping and removing his armor. Stealing a glance at the Sirra, he noted the desire in her eyes and swept off his under tunic before rejoining her on their pallet. 

Sirra reached to untie her braid, but his larger hand stopped her and she gazed at him curiously. A shaky smile pulled his lips, a sign of his nerves, yet the low timbre of his voice was a testament to his want. 

“May I?” 

His calloused fingers trailed the length of her braid questioningly, catching Sirra’s breath in her lungs, leaving her only able to nod mutely in assent. He sidled closer, and she registered his ardor in the rapid pulse thrumming in the hollow of his throat. Eye-to-eye with her, his quivering fingers stretched out to release the leather tie securing her braid. Neither of them noticed the cord falling to the ground. When his fingers snaked into her cascade of mahogany unfurling the silky waves, their mouths crashed together in desperation and time stopped in an instant.

It might have been minutes or years before they were bare: skin to skin, hard to soft, gold to ivory. They were one person - one breath, one heart, one soul. So perfectly fit together it was a wonder they survived without the other for so long.  

Alistair sat up, pulling her close to his chest and wrapped her legs around his waist, thrusting his hips into every rocking motion she made against him. Tilting her face towards his, he claimed her mouth the same way she claimed him body and soul. Raking her fingers along his scalp, Sirra lost herself in his touch, the sweet taste of his tongue, the bruising grip of his hands on her wide hips.  

With a gasp, she leaned back slightly, shifting the angle between them until the head of his cock was banging into that spot within her that made her come apart. Alistair watched spellbound. Sirra was glorious - her hair a waterfall of dark waves against her pale complexion, highlighting the pink flush traveling from her tattooed features to the top of her pierced chest. 

Pumping intently, he sought the special spot with every thrust, growling in the back of his throat when she fluttered around him, her eyes screwed shut and fist wedged in her mouth to muffle her cries. Propping her up with one arm, his other slid between them and flicked her swollen clit, barely grazing it until she was flying over the edge. Her walls clamped around him like a vice and his name tumbled brokenly from her full lips. That was all he needed to join her. Tugging her flush against him in a crushing grip, he spilled inside her, gutturally moaning her name into her thick mane of hair.

Still held fast in his arms, Alistair laid them both on the furs, groaning at the loss of her heat when he slid from her body. Sirra whimpered in disappointment and they shared a soft chuckle, pressing their sweat slicked forms as close together as possible. Once they could speak without gasping, Alistair whispered in the gloom.

“I wanted to thank you… for Redcliffe. You went out of your way to help Connor, when you didn’t have to.” He swallowed hard to force his heart from taking residence in his throat. “You could have taken the blood mage’s deal or -”  

A strangled sob passed his lips, and he buried his face in her hair. “I-I’m sorry. You must think there is something wrong with me with how often I cry,” he lamented self-deprecatingly.

Sirra shook her head violently against his chest, leaning out of the embrace enough to hold his embarrassed gaze, brushing her fingers tenderly across his cheek.  

“No, I don’t think that, at all,” she whispered. “You are tender and kind and you feel so deeply, Alistair. How could I ever find fault with that?” 

Love radiated from her dark eyes, the sincerity in her words covering him with a warmth that bled into the marrow of his bones. His brain cataloged her rose-colored lips moving and he realized belatedly she was speaking and he hadn’t heard a word. 

“I’m sorry, Sirra, I missed what you said. Are you sure dwarves can’t do magic? I would swear on the holy Andraste you’ve bewitched me, so captivated was I by your loving gaze.”

Stuttering in surprise with his suave assertion, Sirra flushed, not quite able to hide the pleased curve of her lips. “And you say I should be a poet, salroka.”

Rumbling a low chuckle, he rubbed their noses together with a murmur. “Like I said, bewitched.  We both know normally I can’t string a sentence together. They’re cobbled, at best.” 

Narrowing her eyes, she poked him in the ribs. “That’s not true and you know it. You’re smart and witty and a hopeless romantic. You’re the only man I know who would give me a rose, talking about ‘beauty in the midst of darkness’ before battling a horde of undead.”

It was his turn to blush, and he hastily cleared his throat. “Yes, well, I couldn’t risk you not knowing any longer. I am very, very glad I did, though.” Brushing a stray lock of hair from her face, Alistair cupped her cheek and smiled.  

“I wasn’t wrong about the Blight bringing people together, you know. If things were perfect, we would never have met and I... wouldn’t have found the one person who gives me a reason to fight every day.”

“You mean it isn’t cheese?”  

Alistair laughed at the mischievous smirk playing on her heart-shaped lips, but he didn’t miss her rapid blink as she forced back tears triggered by his words. Always so strong, fierce, proud, yet she allowed him to see the cracks in her facade - an honor he did not take lightly.  

“No, but if you have some, I’ll gladly take it,” he remarked with a broad grin.

“Hmmm. Is there something else you’d rather take?” 

Sirra dragged her leg against his length with a wicked smile, running her nails seductively along his biceps and circling around his shoulders, sending shocks of lightning through his nerve endings at her touch. Rolling on top of her, Alistair caressed a pierced nipple and scraped his teeth along the sensitive junction of her neck guaranteed to turn her into putty in his hands. His voice was husky, laden with promise, when he breathed against her ear while nibbling her lobe. 

“Your desire is my command, salroka.”  

He swallowed her answering mewl in response to his confidence and showed her the depth of his affection until neither of them could form coherent sentences. Eventually the pair collapsed in a tangled mess of limbs and dark hair, descending rapidly into the Fade’s embrace with sated smiles.

Leliana giggled lightly when the Wardens finally quieted into sleep, and Wynne sniffed in amusement in her tent next to the rogue. 

“Do they always carry on so?” queried the older woman.

The redhead chortled with more substance at the mage’s question. “This is only the second night they have lain together. They shared a tent sometimes prior to their relationship because of nightmares Wardens suffer during a Blight, but this is new for them.”

Wynne chuckled softly. “Ah, the simple joy of youth.” After a pause, the older woman spoke again. “I do not know them well, I admit, but I am happy they have each other. They will need support for the dark days ahead.”

“Yes,” sighed the bard. “I only hope they can weather the storm.” 

The mage hummed in agreement, having been informed on the road earlier who Alistair’s father was and the political implications that might have for the young man and their mission to secure allies. Bidding each other goodnight, the women contemplated their own concerns that loomed in the face of the Blight and prayed they would all emerge unscathed.

 



Chapter Text



The five of them were making excellent time on the King’s Road towards the capital and were only two or three days out from the city limits. The morning was giving way to the heat of early afternoon when they bumped into Bodahn and Sandal coming back from Denerim after resupplying their inventory. Angling off the road, they introduced Wynne to their resident vendor, stopping to trade equipment and gossip with the dwarven merchant. 

Bodahn grimaced when he informed them of Loghain’s increased patrols in Denerim. He warned them the citizens were on high alert for a pair of Grey Wardens believed to be responsible for the death of the King.

“He’s accused you both of treason, he has. I never thought to see the day when the Wardens were so disrespected. In the middle of Blight, no less! It’s disgraceful, it is.” The dwarf sneered and shook his head in disgust. “You best be careful, that’s all I’m sayin’. Capturing the last two Wardens from Ostagar would be a prize for any soldier looking to curry favor with the Regent.”

Bodahn’s eyes lingered on Sirra’s brands mournfully for a second until a massive grin broke across his bearded features. Scurrying into his wagon with much grumbling and rummaging, he reappeared with a heavily laden satchel.

“Take this,” he said, shoving the pack unceremoniously into her hands. Sirra glanced inside and laughed uproariously at her fellow dwarf’s ingenuity. Crowing with excitement, she pulled out an item from the bag for her companion's benefit. 

“Glamour charms! To hide my brands and change our appearance, Alistair! We can walk through the city in broad daylight now!” 

Alistair clapped the merchant on the shoulder with a booming laugh and palmed him some gold. Sirra saw Bodahn shake his head with a smile, returning it to the bewildered human surreptitiously. 

Thrusting the satchel to Alistair, Sirra dropped her own pack, digging inside for a small velvet pouch she kept tucked away for purely nostalgic reasons. With a fortifying breath, she carefully opened it to keep from spilling the contents on the road. Her fingers rifled through the pouch, jingling and tinkling whatever was inside, until she found the item she sought. The blood pounding in her ears drowned out the ambient noise of the birds and rustling leaves of the canopy covering the King’s highway as she unfurled her fist. In the center of her palm rested a golden hair link.

Alistair sucked in a sharp breath beside her and Bodahn’s eyes grew wide at her offering. The merchant’s hands shook and Sirra wasn’t sure if it was the magnitude of the trade or how she acquired the bauble that garnered such a response from the dwarf. The other humans circled around were strangely quiet, tipped off by Alistair’s reaction that something monumental was transpiring in front of them. No one uttered a word or dared breathe too loudly during the exchange.

Holding out the link, Sirra slowly moved closer to her fellow dwarf until they were eye to eye. She earned the adornment through her blood, sweat, and tears; working to gain Beraht’s trust and rise up the ranks of the Carta. Now, she offered the jewelry for the glamours to express how priceless his gift was. Freely given, it reflected how she honored him personally for his own generosity. It was the highest thanks she could give, and Bodahn recognized the intent immediately.

The tips of her extended hand brushed his broad chest, and he shivered at the contact. Raising her left hand, Sirra held two fingers aloft, inching them around to the nape of his neck. Exhaling raggedly, Bodahn leaned forward and pressed his forehead to hers as two fingers touched her neck. The merchant's eyelids fluttered shut when her own calloused fingers alighted on his skin. 

“Thank you, Bodahn,” Sirra whispered. “You have my respect. I see you, brother. Whatever you need, you need only ask, and I will do it.”

The older dwarf opened his eyes to return her gaze and cleared his throat, but he couldn’t dislodge the thickness from his voice. “Aye, sister, I see you. May the Stone forgive me, but I think She made a mistake with you. You’re more noble than most that live in the Diamond Quarter. I am proud to call you kin.”

Sirra clapped her smaller palm flush against his skin and tugged affectionately on his thick neck. “And I you, brother. Now, take the damn thing and next time I see you, I hope to see you wearing it with pride.”

He patted her twice on the back in acknowledgement, separating briskly as he palmed the trinket and shoved it in his pocket. Bodahn could not meet her gaze, hoping to keep her from discovering the glimmer of tears in his eyes that matched hers. 

“Off ya go! You’re losing daylight gabbing to me. See you be careful in the big city, aye? We’ll be waitin’ at the usual spot for your return... sister."

"Yes, brother," Sirra rasped in goodbye. 

Her throat closed with emotion, preventing her from saying anything more, as she stored the pouch in her pack. Spinning on her heel, she left her startled team in her dust until they gathered their wits and scrambled to follow their leader. Silence twined heavily among the group as they continued their trek to Denerim, though all the humans were bursting with questions.

No sooner had the team stopped to have a quick lunch when a woman burst from the eastern tree line. The blonde reached them panting heavily with sweaty mud tracks on her face and lank hair plastered to her neck. She bent over to breathe deeply, clutching her side as though she’d been running hard.

"Praise Andraste!" she gasped. "I didn’t think I would find anyone. Please, you must help us! Our caravan was en route to Denerim, but bandits ambushed us! There are injured people back there – I left them to get help. Please!”

Sirra hastened to follow the woman to the caravan, briskly waving her team to fall in line. She wasn’t sure anyone would be alive when they arrived, but they needed to check, at least. Maybe a wagon would be salvageable and they could escort the injured to the city. It's not like Brother Genitivi or Loghain were going anywhere. 

As they moved deeper in the woods toward the caravan Sirra became suspicious of the blonde woman's sudden calm. Shouldn't she be demanding they hurry? Insisting her fellows were dying? Tripping and falling over her own feet in her haste? The woman’s lack of urgency made her itch to grab her daggers. 

Glancing at the other members of her party for a read on the situation, none of them seemed perturbed and she relaxed slightly. She must still be emotionally high-strung from her exchange with Bodahn. Not everything was a Carta trick, she reminded herself, snorting derisively at her lack of faith.

Passing through a narrow valley in the hills, Sirra realized her instincts were correct the moment she cataloged the tree tipping over behind them.

“Nug shit! It’s a trap!” 

She snatched her daggers the same instant the tree cut off their exit. Alistair swore beside her and readied his weapons as assassins emerged like ants from their hiding places in the crowded clearing. Archers materialized on the rises, hemming them in, and Sirra recognized how exposed they were in the center. 

It was a perfect ambush, and she’d led them right into it.

“Take out the ranged fighters! Alistair and I will focus on the blades!” 

A rich laugh echoed across the field as a tan elf with a pair of wavy tattoos gracing his elegant face strode into view. Grabbing his own knives, the elf’s laugh morphed into a disdainful snarl.

“The Grey Wardens die here!”

Sirra tossed her throwing knife, skewering the rogue to the leader's left through the eye, and dropped into stealth when the elf advanced. Magic crackled and hissed indignantly across the field, and she smirked as Morrigan’s raw fury made short work of the archers with fireballs and chain lightning. Leliana’s bowstring thumped madly, her well-placed arrows punctuated with shrill cries of pain amid her song.

The assassin’s mage hid under a shield to block incoming spells, but it wouldn’t protect against knives. Sensing an opportunity, Sirra stole forward on silent feet and sliced through the woman’s achilles. The blonde decoy fell with a scream the former Carta dwarf promptly extinguished, sliding a blade across her slim throat.

It was too quick - a death the woman didn't deserve. At least in killing her, Sirra took satisfaction in ridding the world of the person who tricked her. 

In the split second her guard was down, the elf flanked her from stealth, his blade slicing through her leathers like butter. Stumbling forward with the momentum of the strike, she didn’t even cry out as she collapsed face down on the ground.

“SIRRA! MAKER, NO!” 

Alistair’s voice echoed dully, hollow and far away. The grass against her tattooed cheek akin to air as she laid in the verdant greenery. Sirra vaguely registered the battle raging around her, but it was hard to focus; the darkness on the edge of her vision expanding with every beat of her heart. 

Dirt. Each pained inhalation smelled like Dust Town. The infinitesimal part of her functional brain noted how fitting it was. A duster should die with her nose in the earth, even if it was surface dirt. 

A bellow of rage thundered over the sounds of fighting and sped up her heart, but her lips refused to move as her eyelids fluttered shut.  

Alistair... atrast tunsha, salroka. 

The warrior watched her fall like a boulder into the blood-soaked grass, and his heart plummeted into the Deep Roads. An all-consuming fury filled him and renewed strength surged through his limbs, slashing and pummeling any who stood between him and his lover bleeding out on the ground. 

The elven assassin responsible mocked his distress as the warrior closed in on him. With a roar, Alistair’s shield caught him in the chest and sent the smaller man soaring across the field into unconsciousness. Finding the other assassins already dead, Alistair dropped his weapons, scrambling across the bodies of the fallen to Sirra’s prone form.

Wynne joined him as he carefully rolled the dwarf over, gasping hoarsely at the gray tinge to her skin. The healer snapped into action, directing him to aid her in removing her leathers so she could assess the wound. Numbly, Alistair did as she bid, easing her gently out of her bloodied armor as flashbacks from Flemeth’s hut danced through his mind. She would survive this – she’d made it through worse. He had to believe it.

Alistair ripped her out of her undertunic, leaving her in only her breast band (mentally thanking the Maker for small favors), supremely relieved to find the wound clean. The elf hadn’t used a serrated blade or poison, but from the amount of blood pouring from the gash in her back, Alistair knew the elf’s aim for her kidney had been true.  

He gulped loudly in the tense quiet while he cradled her head in his bloodied hands. Maker’s breath, it was her blood. 

Gingerly, Alistair rolled her on her right side so Wynne could assess the wound on the left, praying silently as the woman’s magic seeped into his lover’s body. Leliana knelt next to the mage, gripping the dwarf’s hand while her lips moved in hushed pleas to the Maker for mercy.

Watching intently, Alistair noticed the flow of blood from the wound was slowing to a trickle. Afraid to jinx the work Wynne was doing, he refrained from spouting useless encouragement. Yet he was keenly aware of the sheen of sweat dotting the mage’s forehead from the energy spent on her task. Wiggling his fingers in a slight wave to Leliana, he caught the rogue’s attention.

“Lels, in my pack I have lyrium potions. Wynne needs one.” 

Glancing at the mage, the redhead nodded hurriedly and carefully leaned over Sirra, rifling through Alistair’s bag for the blue vials and uncorked one for the other woman. Without breaking her concentration, Wynne drank the contents of the flask Leliana brought to her lips, inclining her head in thanks as she continued to work with renewed vigor. A few agonizing heartbeats later, the bleeding stopped entirely, and the wound sealed, leaving a red mark on her sallow skin. 

Wynne sank on her heels with a weary sigh and licked her dry lips. “Give her a healing potion now to restore the blood loss. I’ve repaired the damage. She was lucky. It was only a nick to her kidney, not irreparable. She will be fine, but we’ll probably have to rest for the remainder of the day.” 

“Of course,” Leliana replied. 

Alistair tenderly forced Sirra to swallow a healing potion, guaranteeing she drank every drop. Wynne pulled a deep draught from her waterskin, waiting anxiously for Sirra to revive. 

Color slowly crept back into the dwarf’s face, shoving back the pallor of death as blood coursed through her veins once more. Tears trickled along Alistair’s cheeks as her pale lips took on their usual rosy hue and slight puffs of air passed through them. It gave the impression she merely dozed, instead of recovered from a mortal wound. 

Her eyelids fluttered before she found the strength to open them and it took an extra moment for her eyesight to fully focus. Sirra’s marked features crumpled into a frown when she registered Alistair staring worriedly at her.

“Oh… salroka… you’re crying.” 

She licked her lips at the effort the words cost her and Alistair crushed her to his chest with a choked gasp, rocking her back and forth in his arms as he sobbed into her hair. “Yes, my love. You always make me cry. You’re a wicked, wicked woman and I love you so much.”  

Alistair’s usual dulcet tone was brittle. It reminded the bard of an instrument too tightly wound; the strings in danger of snapping from the strain, causing bodily harm to the one foolish enough to attempt coaxing music from it in its current state. 

Leliana blushed at the raw intimacy the man couldn’t conceal. Scrambling to her feet, she assisted Wynne in regaining her footing to give the Wardens some privacy. Wynne patted her arm gratefully as the rogue settled her on an unbloodied patch of ground a fair distance away from the couple. Meandering to Morrigan who was guarding the elven assassin, Leliana’s brow furrowed as she glared at the man splayed on the ground. 

“Is he still alive?”  

The witch snorted and tapped the elf’s foot with her boot, watching the steady rise and fall of his chest. Leliana sniffed disapprovingly. “Pity. I doubt he will live for much longer, however. Alistair will want him strung up with his own entrails, I’m sure.”

Morrigan observed the pair speaking in hushed tones. Alistair’s free hand searched through his pack, his adoring gaze never leaving the smaller woman’s face. With a triumphant grin, he unfurled one of his spare tunics and Sirra’s husky chuckle floated on the breeze. Holding up her hands with a smile, she shook her head kindly, but Alistair would hear none of her protestations. He promptly yanked the shirt over Sirra’s head and rolled up the absurdly long sleeves as he helped her rise. The tunic fell to the dwarven woman’s calves, causing both Wardens to snicker at the ridiculousness of it. Pressing a gentle kiss to her crown, Alistair took her hand while easily snatching their packs and slinging them over his shoulder.

Yes, Leliana was correct. After that disgusting display of tender adoration, Alistair would definitely gut the assassin, likely with his bare hands. 

As the Wardens neared the elf sprawled senseless on the ground, the warrior’s expression darkened with every step. Morrigan realized he was fiddling with a length of leather cord in the hand not aiding his weakened lover. Tossing the cord to Leliana, he jerked his chin wordlessly, and she nodded in understanding, quickly securing the elf’s wrists in a deft knot.

“Wake him up,” Alistair ordered with a growl of authority that surprised the witch. Eyebrow arched in minor approval, Morrigan roughly snagged the elf’s leather cuirass and slapped him across the face. Moaning with a wince, he gradually opened his eyes.

“Ungh, I rather thought I would wake up dead… or not wake up at all, as the case may be. But I see you haven’t killed me yet,” he replied glibly in a heavily accented purr.

“That can be arranged,” Alistair intoned darkly. The elf’s leonine eyes shot to the tall warrior gripping the hilt of his sword with a smirk.

“Ah, you are the one who tossed me across the field in retaliation for stabbing your fair Warden companion.”  

The twang of metal rang in the small clearing and Alistair’s honed sword tip hovered dangerously close to the assassin’s throat. “One more smart comment elf, and I will end you where you lie,” the warrior ground through clenched teeth. 

The rogue’s smirk widened, as did Morrigan’s eyes. Truly, this assassin had a death wish. Wriggling experimentally, the elf discovered his hands were bound. He turned to Sirra with a teasing gleam in his eyes. 

“I see that you have taken precautions. Perhaps you would like to manhandle me, as well?” 

Alistair snarled and pressed the keen sword edge to the elf’s tanned skin. Sirra placed a gentle hand on his forearm and he reluctantly pulled the blade back, no longer in danger of slicing the elf’s taut throat should his wrist slip.  

“I have some questions I want answered, first.” Sirra’s raspy voice was more gravelly than usual, but her words rang with authority as she pinned the would-be assassin to the ground with her stormy gaze.

“As you wish,” he inclined his head in recognition of his tenuous position. “My name is Zevran Arianai, Zev to my friends. I am an Antivan Crow sent on a mission to kill the last surviving Grey Wardens. Which, I have failed at, sadly.”  

Alistair grumbled unintelligibly, but the gist was clear; the assassin nearly killed one of the Wardens and the warrior was gnawing at the bit to exact justice.  

Clearing his throat, the elf barreled on, “Yes, well, since I have failed to kill you my life is forfeit. The Crows will kill me on principle for failing the first time. Even should I manage to free myself and kill you both now, it would not be enough to spare my life from a guild of assassins who pride themselves on perfection. Thing is, I like living, so what I propose is this: let me serve you instead,” he smirked coyly. “I will join you in your quest to end the Blight and in the end, you allow me to walk away. What do you say?”

All four assembled snorted derisively and Sirra snapped, “You must think I’m royally stupid. You nearly killed me, and now you want to join? What’s to stop you from finishing the job later?”

“I think you are royally tough to kill, my lady Warden,” Zevran’s smile unveiled his pointed canines. “To be quite honest, I was never given a choice in joining the Crows, and I have paid my debt to them ten-fold. Honestly, I’d rather take my chances with you.”

Sirra cocked her head and considered the possibilities. Yes, she nearly died at his hand, but she understood more than her companions the nature of a violent job and orders from a brutal taskmaster. In a world of kill-or-be-killed, the choice was always clear for those forced to choose between the two. 

Zevran was an adept fighter, in a scrappy, unrefined sort of way, reminding her of her former Carta brothers and sisters from Dust Town. That he took her by surprise spoke well of his abilities. Besides, even Duncan recruited the cutpurses and the thieves, the murderers and the cheats. He conscripted her, though she falsely won the Provings, insulting centuries of tradition and dwarven honor. Duncan found worth in her and saved her from execution. Could she do any less given the chance?

Alistair watched the gears turn in her head with a groan. “Sirra, you can’t possibly be thinking of recruiting him! He stabbed you for Andraste’s sake! You almost died! He’s an assassin!”  

She nodded along with every one of his assertions. “Yes, he is, Alistair. Tell me – how handy would it be to have an assassin in our ranks? Someone who can sneak past my Carta honed senses is someone I would rather have on my side than against.” The warrior opened his mouth to protest, but she stopped his tirade with a gentle touch on the wrist. 

“Salroka, I used to be him, remember? We need allies. We need blades. We need all the Stone-blind help we can get and I can’t turn down the offer of aid from someone already skilled in a fight. And neither would Duncan.”  

She whispered the last sentence, but Alistair heard. The warrior stiffened, closing his eyes as his will to argue leached out of his sizable frame. Lowering his sword with a reluctant sigh, the tip of the blade dug into the soft earth.

“You’re right, of course.” 

Reopening his eyes, Alistair clenched his jaw and glared daggers at the elf. “Swear you will not finish the job later. Swear we will have your utmost loyalty and you will not contact the Crows.”

“Yes, yes, and yes. I hereby pledge my oath of loyalty to you until such time as you choose to release me from it. I am your man, without reservation… this I swear.” Zevran bowed his head from his odd position on the ground in submission. 

At a nod from Sirra, Leliana untied his bindings and stepped back. The elf sighed happily, massaging the pins and needles from his wrists as he stood up, but he froze when Alistair’s sword kissed the hollow of his throat. The women gasped, but none made a move in the face of his simmering rage.

“Know this: break your vow and I will kill you. Without hesitation, without explanation, without mercy. I defer to Sirra in leadership, but if you so much as look at her in a way I disapprove of not even she will be able to save you a second time. Am I clear?”

“Quite,” Zevran replied tersely.

Re-sheathing his sword, Alistair wrapped an arm protectively around Sirra, his sharp eyes watching the assassin’s every move. 

Drawling in her perpetually bored tone, Morrigan declared. “A fine plan. I suggest checking your food and drink more carefully, however, were I you.”

Zevran grinned broadly as he returned his scattered daggers to their sheathes. “That’s excellent advice for anyone!” 

He coughed uncomfortably at the murderous glare Alistair shot him. Zevran winked at Leliana to break the tension, murmuring something about ‘fetching companions.’ The archer rolled her eyes and scoffed in annoyance, spinning on her heel to check on Wynne. Shrugging genially, the elf meandered to a hidden chest to collect his stored pack.  

“Well, Wardens, shall we continue on? The day is young, after all.”

Piping up from her position at the rear of the group, Wynne interrupted sternly. “Actually, Sirra will need time to fully replenish her earlier blood loss and I need to rest after such intense healing magic. We should find a suitable campsite and hopefully resume our trek in the morning.” Everyone nodded in agreement and Zevran was wise enough not to respond with an ill-timed witticism. 

Sirra tugged on Alistair’s hand and the pair broke away from the group to collect her armor and throwing knife. Morrigan noted the unflappable assassin didn’t flinch at the squelching sound of the blade exiting his former companion’s corpse. 

When the Warden’s rejoined the others, they mutely left the once pristine clearing in search of a campsite. While wandering the forest, the team found a clear brook, pausing to refill their water skins and take a brief break. Sirra sidled closer to the assassin kneeling on the bank, leaving Alistair to furiously scrub his hands clean in the chilly water.  

“So.” Zevran glanced at her in surprise, taken aback by the roughness of her voice. “Who hired you to kill us, then?”

The elf frowned for a moment in thought. “A rather taciturn fellow in the capital. Loghain, I think his name was.”  

Alistair growled and Zevran bit his lip to keep from smirking, instead glancing at the dwarven woman with a mischievous twinkle in his eyes. “Your friend seems well-versed in the language of the war hounds this country is famous for, Warden. I wonder, is he fully trained? Does he do tricks on command?” 

Morrigan snorted, not bothering to hide her wicked grin as the group resumed their hunt for a campsite. Sirra glared at him from her slightly shorter vantage point, while Zevran bravely ignored the angry rumblings from the warrior looming next to him.  

“Be nice or I might sic him on you, Zevran,” Sirra answered with a saccharine smile, a flinty warning flashing in her gaze.  

The cheeky elf shot her a wink and lengthened his stride, distancing himself from the Wardens to bring him nearer the pretty bard. Sirra rolled her eyes at his attempts to irritate his new companions, reminding herself she recruited him for a reason. She knew Zevran goaded them to gauge their reactions and understand them better. It was a method she was familiar with and a game she could easily play, but she worried about Alistair’s ability to grasp the rules. 

Her lover’s sword roughened hand captured hers and she frowned at his anxious expression. His thumb traced mindless circles on her knuckles as they walked and she felt the slight tremble of his fingers, which no amount of reassuring squeezes could dispel. The warrior refused to release his grip on her until they stumbled on a small meadow an hour later. 

It was just big enough to accommodate all their tents, and Sirra heard the bubbling of a stream behind the clearing. She smiled at the opportunity to take a bath and catch up on laundry for the first time in a week.

Alistair quickly constructed their canvas shelter and set up the sleeping area, making sure there were enough furs to keep Sirra warm for the nap he would insist she take. Shucking his armor with a relieved sigh, he piled the pieces in a far corner, switching his silverite boots for a well-worn leather pair he typically wore when lounging in camp.

Joining the others, Alistair was pleased to find Sirra and Wynne sharing a small lunch of hard cheese and salt pork purchased from Bodahn earlier. Glancing at Wynne, the warrior immediately noted the older woman’s exhaustion. Taking it upon himself, Alistair set up the mage’s tent, suggesting she lie down as soon as he secured it. She didn’t protest, knowing the dwarf was in excellent hands with the man. With a polite nod and an elegant swish of her robes, Wynne glided into her tent for a well-deserved nap.

Easing onto the ground next to Sirra, Alistair tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear with a lopsided grin. “How are you feeling?”  

Snuggling against his side, Sirra breathed in her lover’s earthy scent with a contented sigh. “Tired. Sore. But I’ll live, Alistair. You don’t have to worry about me.”

His sturdy arms wrapped around her, mindful of her injury, but they flexed involuntarily at her words. He buried his stately nose in her mahogany hair with a slight huff. “I will always worry about you. Especially every time I see you practically at death’s door.” Alistair swallowed hard and plopped her in his lap, whispering gruffly in her ear.  

“Sirra… that is the second time I thought I lost you. After Ostagar… Flemeth dragged you to her hut on a litter and you looked… like you did today. I remember thinking you wouldn’t make it and I prayed harder than I’ve ever prayed in my life that you –” Gasping, he pressed her fiercely against the hard planes of his chest. “And then today… Maker’s breath -”

“Shhhh, it’s okay, salroka,” she murmured. “I’m here. I’m alive and everything is okay.”  

Sirra attempted to soothe her distraught lover with gentle words and soft caresses, but he was too agitated. She tossed her arms around his neck with an undignified squeak when he abruptly stood and carried her toward the privacy of their tent. Her cheeks flamed at the intense stare of their elven companion as they slipped inside.

Laying her reverently on the furs, Alistair joined her once he secured the tent flaps and removed their boots. He sidled closer with care so she could curl into his chest, tugging the loose furs around their bodies with his free hand. His warrior fingers gingerly extricated her hairpins, with only minor assistance on a couple that snagged on the mats of dried blood, and sweetly shook out her braid with a shaky breath.  

Her rich brown eyes brimmed with adoration for him and the simple act of domesticity. It wasn't an action Sirra considered intimate until she met him. His fascination with her long hair paired well with his appreciation for the small things in life. The simplest things with Alistair were full of love and kindness. Every action spoke volumes about how much he cared, how much he wanted to protect and shelter her, to shower her with unbridled devotion. 

“I love you,” she sighed. Tightening his hold on her, he nuzzled her neck affectionately, unable to articulate a reply with his throat closed.

Breaking the silence with reluctance, Sirra murmured, “You know we should talk about what happened.” Alistair nodded slowly, but didn’t speak, and after a moment's hesitation she continued in a mild tone. “You can’t blame yourself, salroka. It wasn’t your fault.”

“I know,” he replied hoarsely. “But that doesn’t make me feel less responsible.”

Frowning against his tunic, she queried, “Why do you feel responsible? You were across the field dealing with your own assassins.”

Alistair huffed and grumbled. “That’s the problem. I was too far away to help.”

Her frown evaporated into an understanding smile and she leaned out of his embrace to cup his face tenderly. “Oh, Alistair. I love and appreciate that you want to protect me with your habit of stepping between me and danger, but I’m a big girl. I earned these scars all by myself,” Sirra teased. Trailing her fingers along a shallow scar on his shoulder hidden by his shirt, her smile widened. “Just like you earned yours.”

Chuckling lightly, Alistair graced her with a warm grin. “I know, I know. You’re no shrinking violet and I shouldn’t treat you like you’re incapable of defending yourself. I just wish -”

“That it had been you instead?”

The warrior winced. “Maybe a small part of me wishes that, but no. My real issue is that you almost died. You were bleeding out in my arms, and I was powerless to stop it. I-I’ve only felt that way a handful of times in my life and every time was bad,” he whispered, caressing her eyelid tattoo. 

“I’m a warrior, Sirra. I’m not used to feeling helpless. I nearly lost you today. If Wynne hadn’t been with us, I would have and that… scared the shit out of me. I can’t lose you. I can handle a lot, but I don’t think I can survive that, salroka.” 

Sirra’s expression softened, and her gaze overflowed with love. “I understand, but we’re fighters, Alistair. I can’t promise it won't happen and neither can you. I don’t want it to, but it’s possible. All I can do is promise to be more careful.” 

Closing his eyes, he pressed his forehead to hers with a resigned huff. “I know.”

Resting her fingers against his neck, Sirra murmured, “I’m sorry I scared you and that I made you feel that way -”

Smiling, Alistair’s hazel eyes bored into hers, robbing her of speech. “Don’t apologize for something out of your control, Sirra. You have nothing to be sorry about. I’m just thankful you’re alive and here: in my arms, in our tent, talking it out with me. Making me feel better when you were the one injured. You're amazing and I love you.”

Slanting his mouth over hers in a tender kiss, he poured all of his heart into every slide of their lips, taking the comfort she offered him in return. He pulled away before it became too heated, chuckling at the dazed expression on her face. 

“Now,” he cleared his throat, “about Zevran.”

Sirra blinked rapidly at the abrupt change of subject before sighing heavily. “Alistair -”

Arching an eyebrow, he interrupted. “He almost killed you and you… recruited him? You used Duncan against me. Why? I’m trying to understand, but I’ll admit I’m struggling.”

Rubbing her fingers across her forehead, the dwarf organized her thoughts. “Okay, first, I didn’t use Duncan against you. I simply pointed out that Zevran is the type Duncan would recruit. Because I was Zevran when he conscripted me.” 

Grimacing at the truth in her words, the warrior nodded in chagrin. “Fair enough. I’m sorry - that was low.”

She shook her head with a wan smile. "It’s fine. Look, I know you don’t like him, but please let me explain something, Alistair,” she implored, holding his gaze intently. 

“Zevran is an assassin, and he was paid to handle a job. We were the job. I don’t hold a grudge against him for what happened on the field because I know what it is like to be shaped and molded into a weapon and ordered to kill. He has sworn himself to us and our cause. I respect that and will honor his oath.”

Smirking, she poked him lightly in the ribs. “Besides, you made your position very clear. Zevran would have to be suicidal to try anything with you around. And don’t think I won’t help you if he breaks his word, but I don’t think he will.”

Scowling, the man pressed, “Why do you think that?”

Her gaze filled with sorrow and her tone was subdued when she replied after a lengthy pause. “Because he’s like me. You heard what he said- he was never given a choice. This is the first time he’s had a chance to not be tethered to someone else. This is his chance to be free.”

Alistair stiffened as he digested her words. There were parallels between the two rogues. While he didn’t want to pity the assassin who almost robbed him of his lover, he couldn’t help it. He did feel sorry for him. Working his jaw back and forth, he nodded curtly.  

“Okay. I don’t trust him, but I trust you, salroka. I will watch him, though, at least until I’m sure he won’t try anything. I doubt I can ever be… friendly with him.” His thumb brushed across her initiation tattoo tremulously. “His dagger was the one that gave you that new scar. I-I can’t forget that and I doubt I can forgive it.”

Stroking his cheek, Sirra smiled tenderly. “That’s understandable. Who knows, maybe in time, your opinion will change as you get to know him.” 

Alistair snorted at the unlikelihood of his befriending the Crow. Instead of answering, he tucked Sirra against his chest and brushed his lips across her temple. “Get some rest. I'll be here,” he murmured.

Her blood loss, while magically augmented, was no less exhausting for her body to replenish. A bone-weary exhaustion weighed her down and she knew her ability to keep it at bay was waning. Yes, rest was definitely in order. Snuggling into his body heat, Sirra listened to the steady beat of his heart, allowing the comfort he provided to lull her into blissful sleep after the excitement of the day. 

Alistair chuckled softly into her dark tresses when she relaxed in his arms: the picture of contentment. Tracing her tattoos with feather light touches, he unconsciously hummed a melody from his youth to accompany his own descent into the Fade, cradling the woman he loved. 

 

Chapter Text

Sirra awoke alone in the dim light filtering through the tent. Stretching languidly, she hissed at the sharp pain radiating through her aching muscles combined with a blinding pulse in her brain. Lying still on the pallet, she waited for the lightheadedness to pass, rising cautiously when she was sure the movement wouldn’t cost her the meager lunch from earlier.

Crawling out from under the furs, she fiddled with the sleeves of her overly large tunic, a fond smile gracing her lips at her lover’s sweet gesture. Gingerly she lifted the hem of Alistair’s shirt, craning her neck to examine the new red line marking her flesh. She could barely see it from the awkward angle, but it didn’t look raised. It would likely fade into a small silvery scar to blend into her field of stretch marks. Thank the Ancestors for small favors, anyway. With a resigned sigh, she released the fabric, letting the linen cascade mid-way down her calves. Snagging her boots from the corner, she slipped them on and exited the canvas shelter.

A fire crackled merrily in the center of the small camp, encircled by five tents. The one dyed a muted blue, obviously belonging to the Antivan Crow. She knew from her reading lessons with Alistair that Antiva was a coastal nation with a history of seafaring. The elf’s nod to his homeland didn’t surprise her. It seemed most people on the surface were full of national pride. 

The camp was suspiciously quiet, however, and none of her companions were in sight. The sound of splashing and a bark of laughter caught her attention. Curiously, Sirra followed the noise, until she located the stream she heard when they discovered the meadow. 

Leliana and Zevran knelt on the bank washing their clothes. Leaning close, the assassin whispered conspiratorially to the bard. She paused for only a second before splashing the elf, drenching him from head to foot. He ran a hand down his face in minor annoyance, while Leliana smirked triumphantly. Further down the water’s edge, Sirra noticed Morrigan drying her hair after taking a dip in the flowing water. Sirra felt a powerful desire to wash off the accumulated grime of weeks on the march. Especially out of her hair, which she knew was full of blood and dirt from her collapse at the ambush site. But she couldn’t swim, and the thought of walking into moving water terrified her.

Heavy footfalls cushioned by the loamy ground would have disguised his presence from anyone but her. Even without the Warden connection telling her who approached, she could feel him filling the space behind her. Solid, grounding, warm, safe. Sirra sighed happily when his muscular arms wrapped around her stocky frame, curling over her like a blanket, the scent of his earthy musk filling her nose. Leaning into his embrace, she rubbed her cheek in the crook of his elbow in greeting, causing Alistair to chuckle against her skin. 

“Where did you go? You weren’t in the tent when I woke up,” she murmured as his lips brushed along her temple.

He hummed, the rumble of his chest against her back blazed hot in her breast. “I had to get firewood before we lost the light, so we have enough to get through the night. Huh, that rhymed,” Alistair joked as he turned her around to face him. She laughed softly at his boyish humor, the elation dancing across his features mirroring her own. “Did you rest well?” 

Sirra wrapped her arms around his waist, snuggling into his torso, nodding in response to his question as he fiddled with her loose hair. Her diminutive height saw the top of her head rest just below the middle of his chest. It made him feel gargantuan whenever he stood next to her, reminding him how small she truly was. Yet it also made him love her more, and he couldn’t contain his delighted grin as he tucked her against him.    

“Alistair?”

“Hmm,” he sighed contentedly. Her fingers picked at the woven fabric of his tunic, slowly alerting him to her anxiety. With a frown Alistair moved aside the inky curtain of hair covering her face, revealing her double tattoos and a flash of gold before she buried her head to avoid his scrutiny. He smiled tenderly, though she couldn’t see it, and murmured, “What did you want to say, Sirra? You can tell me anything, salroka.”

She huffed in annoyance. “Sometimes I regret ever telling you that.” Alistair chuckled when one brown eye peeked up at him with a teasing tilt of her lips. “Would… you take a bath in the water with me?”

The warrior grinned to ease her fear, his arms tightening in a reassuring squeeze. “I’d love to. Let’s go grab our packs and we’ll come back to get cleaned up.”

Hands clasped, the Wardens returned to camp and quickly snatched their bags from their tent, ignoring Leliana’s giggles while she hung up her laundry and headed back to the stream.

Their fellow companions were all back at the campsite, but for privacy’s sake the couple ambled further down the bank. Locating a section deep enough for the job, yet not so deep to endanger the small woman and deposited their packs. After retrieving the items they needed and piling them neatly on the grass, the couple disrobed unhurriedly; enjoying the play of dappled sunlight on each other’s skin cast by the canopy of leaves above them. Sirra’s piercings flashed in the sunlight, drawing his attention to her chest. Alistair reached for her heavy breasts, fingertips grazing the bar in her sternum, until his eyes dipped lower and his hand trailed to her left side.

Alistair’s finger’s skirted feather-light and timid across her newest scar. Sirra’s breath hitched, twinging at the contact. Fear and guilt flashed in his amber eyes. Her small hand wrapped around his larger palm and slowly dragged it from the reminder of her near death to rest over her pounding heart. Pressing his hand flush against the racing muscle, Sirra stared into his mournful gaze with a gentle smile.  

“I’m alive, Alistair,” Sirra murmured.  

The warrior flashed her a weak grin and exhaled raggedly. “I know,” he whispered.  

Bending down, he easily scooped her into his arms, pressing her softness against his harder angles and carefully entered the water. Walking gingerly along the pebbled bed, his toes quested for the odd stone that might send him sprawling and his nervous lady careening into the shockingly icy stream.  

“I’ll warn you, Sirra, the water is frigid. This bath will probably be quick. I can’t feel my feet!” 

She barked a husky chuckle, and he smiled fondly at her. Once they were deep enough to cover his modesty, Alistair eased her into the water laughing at her strangled shriek when it stopped at her waist.

“Ancestor’s tits, you weren’t kidding! It’s freezing!” 

Sirra crossed her arms over her breasts with a shiver, suddenly dreading submerging her body and the entirety of her hair into the water. Resigned to her fate, she took the items Alistair grabbed from the bank with a sigh. Roughly, she washed the last week’s accumulation of sweat and grime that sponge baths alone couldn’t remove, hissing with each splash to rinse away the soap residue. Her pale skin was bright red and her teeth chattered loudly in the eerie silence.  

Alistair was no better. His golden skin flushed to bronze from the temperature and the desperate scrubbing he inflicted on his person, but he was stoic in his assault. He knew Sirra was right after their conversation in their tent; he shouldn’t blame himself for what happened, yet he still treated the freezing dip as penance for his inability to protect her on the field. 

While they couldn’t afford for anything to happen to either of them as the only Grey Wardens in all of Ferelden, he personally couldn’t allow for harm to come to Sirra. And today had been too close. His eyes flicked to the red mark on her back and he choked down the hot rush of bile rising from his gut. The realization that he almost lost the opportunity to hear her husky laughter or watch her face light up with wonder as she learned something new about the surface was enough to stop his heart with grief.

Warm eyes glanced up and saw everything he’d been trying to conceal. In an instant, Sirra clasped his hand for balance and carefully stepped toward him. Her observant gaze noted his traitorously bright eyes and the trembling in his usually steady grasp. 

“Oh, salroka,” she whispered. “What am I going to do with you, you giant human?”

Alistair shrugged listlessly, his voice thick with repressed emotion. “Love me?”

Sirra’s breath hitched at his vulnerability and she clutched his hand in a fierce grip. “Always, Alistair. I promise you.” Reaching up, she rested her hand near his heart and shot him a tremulous smile. “You’re stuck with me, even if you want to get rid of me. I’m rock lichen - growing on every surface and impossible to get rid of.” 

Laying his free hand over hers, he pressed it against the firm muscle, smiling at her attempt to lighten the mood. “Good. I never want to get rid of you.” Sighing, he tucked her hair behind her ear. “I know we already talked things out, but it’s -”

“Still fresh. If the roles were reversed, I don’t think I would hold up as well as you,” she stated honestly. 

Swallowing hard, he nodded, unable to form words as his mind took him back to the Circle tower. Reliving Sirra recoiling from him in fear, traumatized by the mere idea he could have been one of the Templars to die there. No, she wouldn’t be handling things well, if he was the one who nearly died on the field today.

Squeezing his hand reassuringly, Sirra stepped back and sighed in resignation. The moment she dreaded had arrived. With a petulant pout to make Alistair proud, she tipped her head back and soaked her hair with a muffled squeak. Standing up with a gasp, her partner crowed with laughter at her wide-eyed shock from the clenching of her brain. 

“Yeah, cold water does that to you,” Alistair chortled. 

He sputtered when a wet cloth smacked him in the face. Sirra laughed when he peeled off the cotton square, revealing his momentarily stunned expression. It quickly turned predatory, his wicked smirk and cocked eyebrow causing Sirra to gulp. Before she could hazard a guess at his choice of retaliation, Alistair snagged her around the waist and pulled her flush against him. 

The fear induced tension between them sparked into something primal - a need to know she was alive and wanted. She needed to be claimed and made real again. His excitement pressed insistently against her abdomen despite the frigid water, and her pulse raced at the intense stare he leveled at her. Compared to the temperature of the stream, he was positively scalding, instantly warming her chilled frame wherever he touched her. 

Cupping her gently under her round backside, Alistair lifted her out of the water. She wrapped her legs around his torso, grinding her fevered core up his body as he captured her mouth. It was a passionate kiss - tinged with a desperation that still clawed at them from her close brush with death, and she lost herself gladly in it. Sirra relished the feel of his tongue dancing with hers, letting him drink his fill from her lips, acting as a balm for his jagged nerves.

With her ankles locked securely behind him, Alistair slid one hand up her spine to balance her and pressed his other firmly at the nape, tangling his fingers in her drenched tresses with a groan. Sirra replied with her own husky sigh and he wanted to sprawl her on the bank and take her right there. She was healthy; she was hale and whole, her skin was the right color again, and her heart pounded an insistent cadence against his chest. He ached to join with her since he wasn’t sure there were adequate words to express the depth of his joy and gratitude for such a miracle, but he held himself in check.

Pulling back with a whimper, Alistair buried his face in the crook of her neck, squeezing her so tight that had she been a different woman, she would have protested. But Sirra, Andraste bless her, crooned tenderly in his ear and ran her fingers through his wet hair in sympathy as he sent silent thanks to the Maker for sparing her life. 

“I love you so damn much. You’re the best thing that has ever happened to me and I’d be lost without you. How have you done this to me in only a couple of months?” he croaked, the words interspersed with deep gulps of air as he struggled to regain his composure. 

“I don’t know, but I feel the same way about you, you ridiculous human,” she teased, coaxing a rough bark of laughter from his raw vocal cords. Smiling softly, she pressed a sweet kiss to his stubbled jaw. “I love you, too, Alistair,” she whispered, her stomach fluttering at his broken sob.  

They remained locked in their embrace for a few moments until Alistair’s shoulders stopped shuddering and his breathing returned to normal. Blinking back her own tears, Sirra kept her voice neutral when she broke the silence. “Come on, salroka. We can finish this in our tent later. I still have to wash my hair.” He huffed a slight chuckle against her neck and reluctantly slid her back into the stream. 

“Let me help,” Alistair whispered in the fading glow of daylight. 

Sirra blushed at the adoration in his gaze when she passed him the soap. Turning around for him, Alistair worked the bar into a good lather and ran his fingers in sure strokes across her scalp. The best part about his aid in washing her hair was that he didn’t overlook a single section. His kind hands worked the soap through her thick mane, unfurling the tangles and dried blood from her pitch-dark hair until it gleamed. When it came time to rinse her hair, Alistair’s voice rumbled softly behind her. 

“Do you trust me, Sirra?”

Closing her eyes, she leaned against his chiseled abdomen with a bright smile. “You know I do.” 

His low laugh coursed through her like top shelf dwarven lager and she bit her lip to keep from moaning. Scooping her gingerly in his arms, Sirra hooked her arms automatically around his neck, squeaking in surprise as he slowly knelt in the stream. The water covered her body, only allowing for brief glimpses of her piercings through the surface.

Shaking his head with a gentle smile, he calmly stated. “You have to let me go, Sirra. Don’t worry, I have a good hold on you, but if you don’t let go of me, I can’t rinse out your hair. I’ve got you; you won’t drown, salroka.”

Exhaling nervously, she willed the cold tingle of fear in her gut to ease and trust Alistair.  Licking her dry lips with a whimper, Sirra pushed aside her terror and slowly released the death grip on her lover’s neck. 

“Now, lay back,” Alistair murmured kindly. Sirra’s narrowed gaze met his, and he snorted, earning a jab in the ribs from the rogue. “Trust me,” he encouraged. “Lay your head in the water for me. You’re safe.”

“I know,” she whispered. Her unwavering confidence in him, despite her anxiety, shone in her gaze, flooding his chest with warmth. 

Surrendering to the man she loved, Sirra gasped as the chilly water wreathed her skull, directing her eyes to the vast sky. Her ears were waterlogged, muting the sound of Alistair stirring the water as he tenderly rinsed her tresses. Down one sense, Sirra focused on touch: battled roughened fingers gently threading through her strands, carefully pouring handfuls of water across her scalp, intent on keeping droplets from rolling into her eyes. 

Flicking her gaze from the enormity of the open sky above her to the man who lavished her with affection, she drank in his serene expression. It was identical to the one he wore in his Fade dream - the first time she saw him so peaceful. Her heart clenched with the startling realization that every time she’d seen that expression since then, it was when he looked at her.

Alistair focused on the task at hand, using calm motions to keep the water from splashing too enthusiastically over her face, not wanting her to feel like she was in danger of drowning. He could feel Sirra’s eyes boring into him as he worked, but he purposefully avoided meeting her gaze. The warrior feared he would break at the overwhelming sweetness that surely filled them - a tenderness reserved for him alone. 

She might be small, but she had an enormous heart. Even though their lives as fugitive Wardens demanded they kill darkspawn and Loghain’s men indiscriminately, it did not change who they were as individuals. Sirra’s time in the Carta might have hardened her for battle, but it had not hardened her. The ‘brands’ on her face were a mask she wore in Orzammar, but she grew up as starved for love and affection as he had. It amazed him every day that she poured the wealth of love stored within her upon him.

With surprising gentleness, Alistair lifted Sirra from the water and wrung as much of the residual liquid from her thick hair as possible. Using his shoulders for balance, Sirra regained her footing with a shy smile and a soft word of thanks for his help. Her hair fell in a saturated sheet of night down her back as she meandered carefully toward the bank. Alistair’s breath hitched watching the ends swish above the dimples of her ass when the water shallowed. Hopping onto the bank jiggled the soft bits of flesh he could see and he bit back a groan as he rose and followed her out of the icy stream. 

By the time he reached the bank, Sirra had already dried her body, her head bent at an odd angle to keep her wet hair from dribbling across her dry skin. She flashed him a teasing smile, a promise of a night filled with soft touches and heady sighs, as he set about drying himself off. Alistair returned it with a wicked grin of his own when her smirk morphed into a pout as he tugged up his breeches. Sirra slipped on the tunic he gave her earlier and nothing else. Nonchalantly, she folded her clothes and focused on drying her hair while humming a dwarven tavern song and pointedly ignored her lover’s hungry stare.

Snagging their soap, Alistair re-wrapped it in a scrap of oilcloth, shoving it in the bottom of his pack and balled their washing cloths with his tunic. Stomping on his boots, Alistair collected Sirra’s pack, rolling their towels into the clothing pile once she finished drying her hair. Sirra frowned at him slightly when she realized he would only allow her to carry her small stack of clothes as she slid on her boots. Alistair smiled warmly, and she forgave him instantly with an exaggerated eye roll. They both knew she enjoyed his chivalrousness even though she pretended she didn’t. 

The two returned to camp wearing matching smiles, their fingers comfortably entwined, looking every bit the besotted couple they were, much to their companion’s amusement and Morrigan’s annoyance. They slid into their tent, but surprised them all by reappearing moments later in fresh clothes. 

Sirra used a towel to wring the last of the water from her hair before passing it to Alistair, who cheerfully meandered back to the stream with their laundry. The dwarf sat in front of the fire using her fingers to comb out her long locks, humming softly to herself. Gradually, she took notice of the looming silence in the camp and looked at her companions with a startled expression.

“What?”

Leliana giggled while Wynne hid a smile behind the scarf she was knitting. Sirra glanced at Zevran in confusion and the elf chuckled huskily.  

“I believe, my dear Warden, that everyone was expecting you and Alistair to spend quality time together. In fact, it rather surprised us to not hear any commotion by the water.”

Her mouth rounded into a perfect ‘o’ of surprise before she burst into raspy giggles. “Oh, I see. Well, I’m sorry to disappoint you. Maybe later tonight we’ll keep you awake, but we can function without it.”

Zevran leered as he sat next to her and whispered conspiratorially. “That is not what I’ve heard.” 

Sirra’s eyes narrowed. “And just what have you heard, Zevran?”

He chuckled again. “Only that you and your handsome Warden are incapable of spending a night without… exertions.”

“Hmmm, well you may find that some of that scandalous gossip that tickled your ears is not correct.” Sirra sidled closer to the fire, shaking out her hair vigorously in the hopes it would dry faster. 

Zevran shrugged. “Ah, more's the pity.” Stretching out his legs, he reclined on his hands and Sirra felt his amber eyes boring into her shoulder blades. 

“I’ve a question, Warden, if I may.” Turning slightly to face him, she waved a hand in invitation for him to continue. “I merely wonder: what you will do with me when the Blight is ended? What use will you have for me then?”

Sirra’s forehead crinkled in perplexity. “Zevran, you are not my prisoner or a slave. You don’t have to stay even though you swore an oath. I won’t hold you to it. You’re free to go whenever you wish, but I am happy to have you.”     

He returned her stare with a harder one, searching her face for signs of deception. “Truly? Well then, Warden, let me reassure you that I do intend to keep my oath. I am rather happy to be had,” he replied with a cheeky wink, pulling a low chuckle from her.

The sound tugged an elegant eyebrow upwards and widened his grin to reveal his pointed canines. “Warden, may I call you Sirra?” The dwarf smiled with a nod and Zevran smirked as he continued. “I apologize for  our earlier meeting. I assure you, I am actually quite a gentleman. I do not wish for there to be any misunderstandings between us.”

The dwarf smiled. “Don’t worry, I don’t harbor any ill will. I used to be Carta. I understand your profession better than you think.”

Inclining his head politely, Zevran lowered his voice in speculation. “Not so for your Warden friend, no?”

Sirra winced, twirling a lock of damp hair around her finger. “Probably not. His life has not been so… colorful. And let’s be honest, you did almost kill me. He will have a hard time coming around. Just… be patient and don’t goad him too much until he’s comfortable. I know it’s your way of getting a read on people, but it will only make him more angry.” 

“Of course, mia dolce. I shall do as you say.” A twig snapped, and Zevran rose smoothly to his feet. “I bid you goodnight, Sirra.”

“Goodnight, Zevran,” she responded with a smirk when he ducked into his tent as Alistair reappeared in camp. 

The warrior noted the elf’s sudden disappearance and the women's inability to meet his eyes with a frown. Sirra continued to rake her fingers through her hair by the fire and Wynne’s knitting needles clacked alongside Leliana tuning her lute, while Morrigan’s face was buried in Flemeth’s grimoire.

“Riiiiight, not suspicious, at all,” he drawled sarcastically as he plopped next to Sirra. Leliana snorted, biting her lip to hold back her grin with his astute observation.

Taking his hand, Sirra smiled warmly. “It’s nothing, Alistair. Zevran is simply following my suggestion to give you space.” The man grumbled, shooting a glare at the blue shelter. “Come on, my brave defender. Let’s go to bed.”

“Goodnight,” trilled Leliana with a giggle. Alistair barked a quick laugh, his pleasant mood returning with the bard’s teasing, as they slipped into their tent. 

Removing their boots, the couple curled on the furs together, content to be held and breathe each other in. Alistair’s ears tuned into the surrounding sounds: the crackle of the fire melding with the trickle of the stream, soft chirping insects in the woods beyond the small clearing, almost musical. It was a night of serenity well-earned after the exhausting day.

Delicate brushes along his collarbone refocused his attention to the woman snuggled against his chest. He felt the vibration of her moan, more than heard it, as she continued to caress him. An idea struck him and he knew with perfect clarity that he wanted tonight to be about Sirra, not him. He intended to bring her to heights she’d never known, to make her quiver and writhe beneath him, to pant and cry out with pleasure.

“What do you want tonight, Sirra? I don’t want to hurt you,” he whispered. The ghost of his words on the shell of her ear caused her to shiver with longing.

“I’m okay, Alistair. I need you to make love to me,” she pleaded roughly. Leaning out of their embrace, their eyes locked and his heart clenched to see the desperation clawing in her dark brown gaze. “I need to feel. I need you.

Swallowing hard to stamp down his own lust in the face of her request, he murmured soothingly, “I will give you all you want and more. Trust me, please, Sirra.” She nodded with a whimper, leaning into his palm as he cupped her cheek, the desire for more making her restless. 

His lips brushed tenderly against hers, the latent beauty in that simple caress bringing tears to her eyes that lingered but did not fall. Snagging the hem of her tunic, he rolled it slowly, teasingly, higher. Each inch exposing more and more of her creamy skin to his hungry eyes. And Maker’s breath, she was beautiful.   

Succulent and strong, her stout dwarven body fit perfectly in his powerful arms; as though designed for one another. Meant to be. Here, in this moment, and for every one thereafter. No others’ skin would, or could, ever feel so sublime when pressed tightly against his, or taste so divine on his lips. No other arms would feel so safe wrapped around her body, no others’ kiss could leave her so breathless and fulfilled.

Kissing each scar, tracing every silvery stretch mark with his tongue, Alistair gently nibbled her full curves, reveling in the crescendo of tiny gasps and sighs that escaped her as his mouth climbed higher. Sirra sat up abruptly with a quiet huff and yanked the tunic over her head, tossing it Maker-knew-where, and he dove to claim her lips in a passionate kiss.

Groaning lustily, he placed his calloused hands on each of her shoulders and pulled away, relinquishing her sweet mouth to wad a sleeping fur under her injury for extra padding. She gazed up at him with love in her eyes, offering a grateful smile for his thoughtfulness.

“Patience, salroka,” he whispered. “Let me take care of you.”

Alistair was in no rush tonight. He planned to take his time worshiping her until she knew nothing could quench the fire in his chest that burned only for her. The one lit by her first smile in Ostagar, the flames of which time had stoked into an inferno. His sole beacon amidst the darkness permeating their lives. 

Pressing his lips against her supple flesh, he began a leisurely descent from her neck to her collarbone, grazing the skin with his teeth before he continued on to the large, plump crests below. He laved one hooped nipple with his tongue, teasing and pinching the other between rough fingers, stiffening them into harder peaks under the attention. Then he switched, sucking the opposite nipple into his mouth to do the same as Sirra writhed and moaned, his fingers tracing lazy circles around the bar in her sternum.

Alistair smirked triumphantly against her skin. Ancestors, he could be infuriatingly smug; which was one reason she loved him with such terrifying ferocity. She wanted – no, needed, to touch him. To feel him. Knotting her fingers in his shirt, she tugged the fabric. Chuckling, Alistair briefly released her breasts to divest himself of his tunic so her questing hands could meander the planes of his chest and shoulders freely.

Trailing downward, his lips veered behind her ribs, skirting her injury with the barest of brushes. Her breath stuttered and tears filling her eyes again with his simple act of devotion - his unspoken relief palpable around them. Feathery kisses descended further, following in the wake of her leggings as Alistair deftly unfurled them from her full curves, pooling the cloth at her feet.

He fought to ignore the weight of his swollen cock, still trapped within his breeches, as Sirra’s small hands spread over his naked torso. Running his hands under her thick thighs, his fingers hovered tantalizingly close to her core, close enough to feel it's pulsating heat. Lovingly palming her curves, all muscle beneath her soft exterior, he slid down to place teasing kisses upon her knees. He slowly kissed and suckled her porcelain skin, working his way upward, murmuring all the while how beautiful she was, how much he loved and cherished her. By the time the warrior reached the apex of her thighs, Sirra was vibrating with emotion.

Alistair literally held her heart in his hands. No one had ever made her feel so deeply, so profoundly. Staring into his molten gaze from where he hovered above her aching center, there was no doubt in her mind that he meant every endearment, every flowery declaration, with complete sincerity. While Sirra didn’t believe she would ever feel worthy of his love, she was aware it was there and it was all hers. Despite her past transgressions, her trauma and abuse, Alistair saw a beauty that required protection and elevation.

Sprawling on his stomach, he carefully parted her legs, noting how they trembled in his grasp. Upon hearing her whimper, he paused and looked up, a reassuring smile gracing his lips. “Let me do this for you. I want to. You don’t have to be nervous.”

Her lover was all too aware how unaccustomed to such intimate affection she was. More used to giving men what they wanted and likely being taken against a wall; however, he had been adamant about learning so he could reciprocate. As his warm breath whispered over her center, goosebumps prickled across her skin, and with an unsteady nod, Sirra laid her head on the pillow. Closing her eyes, she allowed the fire coursing through her to burn along her veins, the blood pounding in her ears like a hammer on the anvil.

Still smiling, Alistair leaned forward and pressed a lingering kiss on her pubic bone before spreading the rose-colored lips of her hot core. Groaning at the sight of her already wet and ready, he breathed in her sweet fragrance and lowered his head between her quivering thighs. He sucked her lips into his mouth, rolling his tongue gently along her folds. Sirra gasped, the intimacy still foreign to her, and struggled not to squirm away with embarrassment.

Feeling her shift, his heavy arms locked around her pelvis and pinned her to the furs below, eyes locking on hers when she glanced down. He searched her gaze for any sign of genuine distress, rather than shame, and smiled when he found none. Circling her clit with the tip of his tongue, he flicked along the vertical bar running through the hood covering her swelling pearl, gratified by the wanton moan that tumbled from her mouth.

Licking broad stripes around her lips, he moaned enthusiastically as more of her slick pooled on his tongue. Taste buds tingling from the salty-sweet liquid, her heady aroma enveloped his senses and sent a bolt of pleasure to his throbbing, neglected cock. Pressing forward to dive directly into her heat, he swirled his tongue along her inner walls, drinking in her rapidly devolving pleas and cries of delight as much as her quicksilver flavor. The tip of his nose teased her clit as he devoured her, shooting electricity from her core to the tips of her fingers and toes curling in the coarse furs.

The adeptness with which he wielded his tongue set her ablaze, and she mused in between his lengthy strokes how easily it translated from snarky one-liners to this particular act. Combined with his ability to read her cues and willingness to learn, he was becoming quite proficient in tearing all reason from her. Light flashed behind her closed eyelids, and soon she could not control the volume of her noises. The spark he’d set off in her belly now a wildfire, and her lover was expertly coaxing her nearer the center of the conflagration where the flames burned hottest. 

Alistair’s senses were full of Sirra. Touch, taste, smell, hearing and sight: all gorgeously displayed as he watched under hooded lids as she unraveled. Arching her back, fingers tangled painfully in his hair, his intimate kisses pulled ragged cries from her lungs that bloomed into raspy screams of pleasure. Intent on sending her over the edge, Alistair replaced his nose with his mouth, gently sucking her sensitive bud and easily slid two fingers inside her fluttering core. 

He moaned greedily as Sirra bucked against his face, desperate for friction. Thrusting rhythmically while his tongue lavished attention on her clit, Sirra yanked unintentionally on his hair causing him to growl against her swollen flesh. The arm keeping her in place tightened, his strong hand kneading the curve of her thigh as he pumped with the other and licked her relentlessly. She walked on razor wire, a hairsbreadth from triggering the explosion that promised to shake the foundations of her being. He could feel her legs quivering and her cries of pleasure peaked at their uppermost octave, crying his name, begging for release, swelling his chest with pride.

“Come for me, Sirra,” Alistair murmured, sucking her pierced clit. Sirra’s eye shot open at the sound of his voice, and love exploded within him. Brown blown to obsidian shone brightly with emotionally charged tears, lips plump and red, a gorgeous berry flush staining her cheeks and chest. Curving his fingers, Alistair stroked the spot guaranteed to make her fall apart. 

“Ali-ss-tair!” 

Freezing for a split second, Sirra clenched around his fingers, throwing her head back with a guttural cry. Removing his mouth from her clit, Alistair placed tender kisses along her lips and thighs, smearing her slick everywhere and happily lapping it up. After gingerly coaxing her through her aftershocks, he slid his fingers from her body once she released him, licking them clean as she watched from the pillow, eyelids growing heavy.

Breathlessly reaching for him, Alistair quickly sprawled beside her, leaning over her since she was too boneless to move. Licking her dry lips, Sirra smiled lazily and whispered, “You didn’t have to –“

Grinning broadly, Alistair lightly pressed a finger to her mouth. “I mean it, Sirra, I wanted to do it. I love you, and I love doing that for you. I love pleasuring you; knowing that I’m capable of making you feel that way.”

Glancing away, Sirra blushed. “It’s embarrassing.”

“Why?” Alistair asked, furrowing his brow. “You were the one who told me to never apologize for what makes me feel good. Are you saying it doesn’t apply to you? Especially when you do it for me and enjoy it as much as I do?”

“No… I just…” she trailed off as her blush deepened. 

Alistair’s stomach dropped and he pulled her in for a tight hug, instantly recognizing the path her thoughts tread. “You are worthy, Sirra. You deserve to be treated like a queen. You deserve to be loved.”

She sniffled, words muffled against his skin. “It’s just hard to get used to the idea that you love me.”

“I can’t understand if you don’t tell me, Sirra,” he chided tenderly. 

Leaning back, Sirra sighed. “I know you love me here.” She placed a fist over her heart, swallowing hard before lifting her hand to her head. “I just have a hard time believing it here,” she murmured. “I’m a dwarf, Alistair. I don’t even come up to your armpits! I’m former Carta and earned all but one of my piercings by killing people. How can you love me? I know you do... my brain just doesn’t understand why.”

“Oh, salroka.” Crushing her against his torso again, Alistair held her as tears spilled across his chest. “You’re fierce and beautiful. You understand my humor and actually encourage it.  Who else would be crazy enough to do that?” Sirra chuckled slightly, and he smiled into her mused tresses. “You know I love your tattoos and your piercings and I think you’re tough as hell to sit through them.” 

Separating slightly, he thumbed away her tears. “Sirra, we were both trained to fight, taught to kill. Does that make me less lovable to you? Knowing the Templars trained me to hunt mages and kill people like Wynne, if they ordered me to?” 

“No,” shaking her head with a small sigh, she continued. “I know it’s stupid, but I’ve been told my entire life that I am nothing except duster trash. It’s hard to get over that in a few months. I’m not even sure if I ever will, Alistair. I am trying. It’s just difficult.”

Alistair inclined his head in acknowledgement. “I understand. I never expected anyone to love me.” An adorable blush bloomed on his features as he caressed her cheek. “We… stumbled into each other, but it was the best thing to happen to me. Believe me when I say, Sirra, I will spend the rest of my life making sure you never doubt how much I love you. There is nothing that could change that, I swear it.”

A brief flash of regret flickered in her eyes, but in the next blink, it was gone. He told himself it was merely a trick of the light in her tear-filled gaze, dismissing the nervous flutter in his gut.

“I love you, too,” she murmured, gracing him with a watery smile. “If I had known you were up here, I would have left Orzammar years ago and tracked you down,” Sirra mused, only half joking. 

“Oh, really?” he quirked an eyebrow in amusement. “I can just imagine you sneaking into the droll monastery and breaking me out. I would have assumed you were a figment of my imagination, a desire demon, or Maker-sent. Regardless, I doubt I could have resisted the mischievous glint in your eyes as you crept in to find me in my smalls, surrounded by thirty other recruits, and told me to run away with you.” 

Laughing, Sirra raked her short nails down his toned chest. “A naked teenage version of you? I would have taken you on the spot, letting the recruits feast their eyes on us, before dashing out the front door with your bare ass in tow.” 

He closed his eyes with a lusty moan, and swallowed hard, his voice strained when he replied. “Definitely Maker-sent then. To think, we could have been on the lam for the last few years, making mad love wherever we went.” Sighing melodramatically, Alistair smirked and playfully bopped the tip of her nose with his. “Ah, well, at least I have you now and that’s all that matters.”

Her small hand cupped his half-hard cock through his breeches, sending him bucking into her palm with a strangled groan after so long ignored, but Alistair snatched her wrist with a reproving click of his tongue. 

“Now, now, Sirra. Tonight was about you - not me.” Panting hard, he desperately tried to restrain himself in the wake of need that burned in his groin, furiously flaring to life from her simple touch.

Sirra’s smile grew lascivious. “I never agreed to that, Alistair.” Hungrily licking her lips, she pushed him back on the splayed furs, tweaking his nipples and enjoying his pleasured hiss. 

“You should be resting. The goal was to make you –” 

He gasped as her fingers deftly untied his laces and her teeth lightly scraped above his lean hips. Stilling her hands with his own, Alistair tilted his head and shot her his best glare.  

“Stop it, you saucy minx. I worked hard to wear you out, I’ll have you know.”

Tipping her head, her dark tresses cascaded in waves across her body, shielding herself from view. “You did,” Sirra whispered seductively. “Grey Warden stamina, Alistair. I want you. I need you and I think you need me, too.”  

Alistair grinned as she peeked through the curtain of hair, her heart-shaped lips curved in a wicked smirk. 

“You are a bad, bad woman, which, you should know, I adore about you.” Propping up on his elbows, eye to eye with her again, Alistair reached out to tenderly brush her waves over her shoulder, drinking in her lovely tattooed features. “Are you sure you’re up for it? I really am more than all right holding off until you are fully healed. I only wanted to show how much I love you.”

“I promise, Alistair, I’m more than okay,” she reassured with a warm smile. “Please, let me love you, too.” 

Pitching his voice low, he replied huskily, “As if I could ever deny you anything, Sirra.”

Leaning towards him, her forehead touched his. Alistair’s heart rate increased when her fingers alighted on his neck, his mouth drying when her eyelids fluttered; her simple gesture saying so much words alone could not fully express. The meaning behind their special genuflection flooded his soul every time since Sirra explained it to him. 

Love. A promise. Marriage.

Rising fully, he swooped to capture her lips, desperately repeating her salute. Trembling together, Sirra fell willingly into the bliss Alistair’s touch always carried. She doubted he realized a simple brush of his fingers was enough to stop her heart. But this - this feeling of being subsumed when he kissed her, three fingers searing her neck, was the closest she would ever come to flying. 

Gasping at the intensity of their embrace, Alistair’s lips trailed unsteadily down her neck, his heart pounding erratically in his chest, vaguely aware of assisting Sirra in removing his breeches. 

“Shiiit,” he involuntarily ground out when her tight heat enveloped his aching cock. 

Mindful of her injury, his hands gripped her hips and clung to her, like a drowning man to his rescuer. And Maker, she had rescued him. Saving him from a life of loneliness, devoid of love and affection, showing him daily that he, too, was deserving of kind words and a lover’s caress. He watched her lean back, bouncing along his length, heavy adorned breasts wobbling gloriously with each motion. Thrusting his hips up to meet her, Alistair groaned deeply at the strangled gasp that was his name tumbling from her plump lips. 

The tight coil in his groin neared the breaking point; he wouldn’t last long after all the time he denied himself. Electricity coursed through his veins, urged along by the heady moans and curses of combined passion echoing in the tent. She stole his breath as she stared at him through hooded eyes while her pink tongue darted across parted lips. Growling, he thrust deep within her, sending waves of pleasure through her in response to her coy smile.

Shifting slightly to adjust the angle, the broad tip of his cock located the spot she loved with blinding accuracy, setting off a chain of flutters around him and signaling her eminent release. Alistair smirked victoriously when Sirra reached behind her, nearly thrown from his lap in the wake of overwhelming sensation. Clutching his thighs for purchase, the muscles under her hands flexing in time with his hips, he stoked the intensity that was a constant companion between them. Climbing higher with each stroke, teetering on the peak, her lips moved silently. Bringing her closer, he balanced her easily in his arms to catch her whispers.  

“I love you. I love you. I love you.” 

The litany of impassioned fervor cascading from her soul opened a dam of adoration in his heart, and his voice joined hers in quiet recitation. Small hands gripped his freckled shoulders, scraping across his sweat covered skin, diving over the edge with a raspy cry. Tears of fulfillment trickled from her shuttered eyes and Alistair breathed a final declaration, choking out a hoarse groan, allowing her aftershocks to empty him. Tucking her against his heaving torso, Alistair kissed her temple and panted. 

“I love you, Sirra.” 

Cradling her gently, he laid her back on the furs, draping one around her and curled alongside her. The blown pupils of lust receded, revealing her rich brown eyes watery with emotion, but she smiled peacefully.

“I love you, Alistair. You’re the only one, besides my sister, who has ever seen this duster cry. Because you are the only one safe enough to feel with.”

Alistair chuckled with a wry grin. “I know what you mean, about trusting someone with your emotions. You’re the only one I feel safe with either.” Pressing a chaste kiss against the delicate shell of her ear, he murmured, “Now, go to sleep. You need rest. Wynne will likely have my hide for this, especially if it interferes with your recovery.”

Sirra snickered softly, but didn’t brook any argument, snuggling into the pillow with a satisfied sigh. Alistair watched her drift with a tender smile. He wanted to run his fingers through her hair, but her descent into sleep was swift and he dared not wake her. Once her breathing evened out sufficiently, he carefully extricated himself from the furs and slipped into a pair of cloth breeches. 

Their damp laundry was still piled on a rock next to the stream. He had abandoned it when he realized he needed the extra soap in Sirra’s pack. They had to be washed and hung up to prevent their clothes from mildewing. 

Exiting the tent, Alistair paused at the sight of his pants hanging on the makeshift clothesline Leliana strung up earlier. Surely, they weren’t actually his, right? But then, no one else wore pants so long the hem was in danger of touching the ground when draped across a length of rope. Following the trail of wet clothes across the line, he recognized Sirra’s tunics and leggings, along with more intimate apparel.

Wynne chuckled softly, and he twirled to face the elderly mage. “Are… are those my pants?”  

She nodded, gathering up her skein of wool, and tucking the tips of her knitting needles inside the neat ball. “Yes, Alistair. Leliana and I washed and hung them for you. We figured you had more pressing matters to attend to.” 

Her gaze fell meaningfully to the breeches riding low on his hips, giving the elderly woman an eyeful of more skin than he was comfortable with. Scrambling for the laces, Alistair huffed with embarrassment, raising the waistband and cinching the ties to keep them secured, wishing he’d also grabbed a tunic to cover his bare chest.

Wynne smiled and let him off the hook, ignoring his furious full-body blush. “I take it she is resting, now?” Alistair nodded, unable to meet her gaze, instead staring at a point over her shoulder. “Does she seem to be in pain? Has she said anything about the injury?”

Clearing his throat, Alistair croaked, “No. The area seems mildly sensitive to touch, but she has not mentioned any lingering pain. And she would have.” Raking a shaky hand through his hair, Alistair spoke quietly in the small meadow. 

“I apologize for not thanking you sooner, Wynne. If you hadn’t been with us… Andraste… I-I -” Breathing deeply, he tried again, finally able to meet her caring blue eyes. “Thank you for saving her life.”

The mage inclined her head. “Always happy to assist.” She paused, her wizened features pinched with concern. “Alistair, you realize you are both Grey Wardens? Anything can happen, at any time, to either of you?” He stiffened but answered with a wooden nod. 

“I just don’t want to see either of you hurt, dear. I can heal physical damage, but not emotional, and not being able to face the truth about such a possibility is worse. I will do everything in my power to prevent it, of course, but -” 

“I know,” Alistair interjected. “I know you care and you mean well. But the best way to prevent it from ever happening is for me to pay more attention.”

She moved surprisingly fast for a woman of her age, striding toward him with her hands on her hips. Scowling, Wynne shook her head vigorously. “That is exactly what I mean, young man! You can’t be everywhere at once and neither can she. Things happen during battle – unexpected, unforeseen things, and you cannot blame yourself for that. You cannot!”  

Alistair’s shoulders slumped, and he sighed wearily. “I know, Sirra said the same. Yet I can’t help thinking if I had been there -”

“Then you would likely have been stabbed instead and Sirra would be here in your place feeling guilty for something completely out of her control. You wouldn’t want that. Why do you torture yourself needlessly?”

He shrugged, fists clenched, his short nails creating half-moons in his palm, reminding him to stay calm. 

“I don’t know,” Alistair grunted. 

It was the truth. He honestly didn’t know why he couldn’t let it go even after talking to Sirra about it. Yet, as he silently chewed on the problem, her odd expression in the tent flashed in his mind’s eye and he felt a tendril of fear snake up his spine. No matter what Sirra said, she would need him to cover her on the field in the future. He didn’t believe in premonitions, but he trusted his gut and it was telling him not to lower his guard.  

Wynne crossed her arms and pursed her lips, waiting for him to elaborate. When he didn’t, she dropped her arms with a slap against her thighs.

“Okay, Alistair. Just know that you can talk to me. I know you confide in Sirra, but if you need another pair of listening ears, you have them. Sometimes it helps to discuss things with a non-romantically invested party, dear.”

Taking his hand, she tenderly unfurled his fist and ran her aged thumb across his knuckles. Alistair glanced at her, startled, his chest constricting oddly at the familial gesture. With a soft pat of his hand and a faint smile, Wynne blinked back tears and released him. Grabbing her knitting, the elderly woman ducked through the canvas flaps of her tent, leaving him alone in the flickering firelight, wondering if all the women he knew were a little bit mad.