Guarded Love

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Chapter 27: Never-Sick

It began as a sniffle two days travel outside of Denerim. The King shook it off as the chill of the south trailing him until waking one morning on the cold ground to a cough that wouldn’t cease. While Alistair kept laughing it away with assurances that he never got sick, the Arl and a few other advisors sent to keep tabs on him shared a concerned look. People were quick to fetch the in denial King honeyed elfroot tea, which he drank but with a small glare, as well as more and more blankets when he kept complaining about the cold. That drew greater concern as the sun beat almost as warm as summer’s day down upon their weary bones, but he tried to snuggle deeper into a cloak while perched upon his horse.

Reiss tried to voice her thoughts, doubt nibbling in her brain, but Alistair would shake it away before stuffing a kerchief up his nose in an attempt to quell the tide of mucus. When they stood far enough outside of Denerim they could spy the city’s gates in the distance, Alistair paused his horse, said “I think you may be right,” and plummeted to the ground.

Pandemonium struck, every able hand racing to their fallen King’s side. Mercifully, no hooves trampled him, but hands passed over his forehead and mouthes kept insisting that he was burning up with fever. Out of her depth, Reiss stood dumbstruck while Teagen took charge. Emptying out the caravan loaded down with gifts and traveling goods, he set up a small bed for the King to rest in.

“Get to the castle as fast as possible,” he ordered the driver.

“Yes, Sir,” the woman nodded and began to scoot over to let him up onto the seat.

“No, I...” those piercing blue eyes caught Reiss as she waited uselessly in the sea of junk. A moan rattled out of the back of the wagon, people at first trying to pile blankets onto the unconscious man before abandoning ship and yanking them all off to douse his enflamed skin in a wet rag.

“Travel with him to the castle,” Teagan spoke softly beside her.

Reiss startled from the sight to find her fingers flexing against each other. “My Lord?” she asked.

“I have to send a message to someone, and pray she responds quickly,” he glared out through the city waiting in the distance. “You, sit beside the King. Everyone else out!” he lifted a hand to his mouth and shouted. A few servant heads popped out, full of questions, “It needs to be as light as possible.”

“There isn’t anything I know about medicine,” Reiss admitted, a terror lodging in her throat even as she scrambled up the back step and slid in beside Alistair’s limp form.

“All you have to do is keep him safe,” Teagan ordered before raising his voice to a shout, “Get going!”

The wagon jerked below Reiss’ feet and she shifted while watching the Arl leap up into his saddle and urge his horse into a full gallop. Both of them streaked past the wagon that was ramping up in speed to try and get their King somewhere comfortable as fast as possible. Turning to the man that’d braved a frozen river to save an elven child, a pain jabbed behind her eyes from the sight. His skin was ashen, dark circles forming under his eyes while red spots burst upon the cheeks and forehead. Dropping to a knee, Reiss scooped up one of his hands and almost started at how his skin burned against hers.

A moan broke from the King’s throat, his eyes screwed up tight as if he couldn’t face the pain of being alive. Scurrying forward on her knees, Reiss tenderly brushed her fingers against his forehead. It burned twice as bad as his hand, almost causing her to yank her cold hands back in pain but a soft sigh punctuated the moan as Alistair faded back. “Shh,” she whispered, beyond useless. A sword couldn’t fight an illness, and all she could do was stop bleeding in the heat of the moment. Proper healing was beyond her. Bleating whimpers dribbled out of Alistair’s mouth and despair nested in her gut.

“It’ll be okay,” she lied to him, trying to dab at his sweaty forehead with the wet cloth. How did she know? She was no healer. “I’m here, for what little that counts.” A dark thought twisted her tongue and Reiss breathed it aloud, “You’ll do anything to get out of having to talk about my kissing you.” She meant it as a laugh while the ground trembled below the ailing man but the joviality didn’t reach her heart. What if they weren’t fast enough? What if the King died right here next to her?

“Please go faster!” Reiss screamed in the politest commanding tone she had. Whether the driver heard her or was already planning it, the carriage sped up, skittering around corners. Through the back she watched Denerim’s gates come into view and vanish as quickly, shops and houses whipping past as they began to give way to the proper palace district. By the time the royal carriage careened through the gates, they barely had time to blow any horns as it pulled up to the front door.

She heard the driver screaming, “The King is ill!” and a dozen heads all rushed from the front of the carriage to reach hands in, each one attempting to gather up Alistair’s limp body. Reiss didn’t realize that she wrapped her fingers tight through his until they tried to take him away.

He didn’t die, for which she said the prayer to Andraste Atisha taught her. Healers scurried in and out of the royal bedroom, often bearing bottles of various stenches and colors. Towels and bedding were constantly changing, while the King’s condition remained obstinately static. His breath rattled in his lungs like he was trying to breathe through soup, and the fever across his body refused to break after two, three, and finally four days. The only constant was the distraught bodyguard standing outside the bedroom door making a vague attempt at checking everyone being ushered in and out, and Arl Teagan.

Whatever his secret mission was, he ran back into the castle and never left the King’s side except for once. Reiss assumed he’d taken a leave to get cleaned up, the snowy whiskers on his cheeks prodding out at a rapid pace, but when pressing a servant they claimed the Arl of Redcliffe excused himself to the memorial in the center square. While a strange choice, Reiss shook it off, her own heart struggling to make sense of this pain.

He looked bad, so bad. Even Atisha having to sleep beside the ocean waves in rocky sand while falling to a pox never looked so near death as the King did. Swaddled in the finest garments, his head propped up on a pillow, everyone worked to make him as comfortable as possible but there was nothing to be done about the grey skin, ghastly hacking, or the red pooling at the sides of his eyes and upon his forehead. Sometimes, when he’d been still and no one else was in the room, Reiss would pad over to his bed and hold her fingers near his nose. She held her own breath until she felt his brush against her skin.

The Queen came once before being ushered out by people concerned she might contract whatever did the King in. Worst of all was the princess. She knew her father was in his room, that tons of others were allowed to go and see him, but everyone kept dragging her back. Once, Reiss caught the curious girl trying to sneak in inside a laundry basket. Gave the washerwoman a terrible fright, but all the princess could do was wail about seeing her father while the adults locked her away.

After four days of nothing changing, Cade came into the bedroom to visit with the Arl Teagan.

“No change?” he asked in his meaty voice.

“None yet,” Teagan admitted.

“This wouldn’t be a problem if his high and mighty hadn’t sent our only college trained mage out the door a fortnight ago,” Cade groaned. He never let on to any pains, but the crow’s feet beside the man’s eyes deepened like wagon ruts.

Teagan turned away from the sick bed and in the whisper voice that came to fill Reiss’ life said, “There’s no point in dwelling on what has occurred. We are better off focusing on what will help.”

“Right,” Cade shifted on his foot and rocked back and forth, “unless you got one o’ the Maker’s miracles stashed away in yer hose I don’t see anything fixing this.” For a brief moment the Commander paused, his eyebrows curling up to wait, as if he truly expected the Arl to have some magical elixir. When Teagan sighed and shook his head, Cade nodded, “What I thought. If you need me,” he turned over to his King and sighed, “When you need me, I’ll be down in the barracks trying to keep my men from revolting.”

“As you say,” Teagan didn’t bother to give him leave, his focus on Alistair before his eyes would dart to a pulsing red bottle on the shelf.

Cade stepped to the closed bedroom door and whispered at Reiss, “Corporal.” She tried to not groan at his insistence that she wasn’t a true knight mostly because she feared that Cade was right. “Walk with me,” the Commander instructed.

“Very well,” she staggered to her exhausted legs and trailed after the man past the flock of servants trying to mix up a dozen potions they kept funneling down the unresponsive King’s throat. Cade barely gave them a glance, Reiss trailing behind and fighting to keep awake. She thought she hadn’t slept while they traveled; sitting in the dim room listening to what could be the final breath of a man, her every moment was like a waking nightmare. If someone told her this was really the fade, she couldn’t muster the energy to seem surprised.

Coming to a stop at the staircase, Cade turned back to her, “Corporal, you were hired for one job, weren’t you?”

“Yes, Ser,” she muttered, wondering if this wasn’t some cruel test she failed by following his instructions to leave the King’s side.

“Protect the King, keep his ass alive. And yet he’s waffling closer to death than anything the assassins ever managed.”

Through the fog blanketing her mind, a sharp anger pierced Reiss to the core. “Commander?” she sneered, “are you implying that I could have protected him from an illness?” Or that she wouldn’t try if it were at all possible.

Cade rubbed a fist under his jaw in thought, “Seems to me, the King got it in his pointy head to go wading through some filthy savages river. It’s no wonder he’s got every damn disease known to man swimming in his body after that.”

“That...” Reiss wanted to defend the Dalish from this boorish man who’d never even seen them, seen what they accomplished, but he wasn’t finished.

Taking advantage of his inches on her, Cade loomed down at the elf -- a woman quickly realizing how tiny she was to the massive meat muscle crammed into armor that was the Commander. “If he dies, people will be wanting someone to pin the blame on. They’ll be distraught, panicking, braying for blood and so on.” He grabbed tight to her shoulder, pinning her in place as a bitter breath washed over her face, “And I’m half a mind to give them what they want.”

“You cannot prove anything...” she began before the man continued talking over her.

“There’s nothing to prove, arguments and theories don’t mean shit against the simple fact you’re the royal bodyguard and if the King dies on your watch,” Cade released his grip on her, pain searing in the wake of his hand, and he drew a finger across his throat. Reiss tried to not gulp at the obvious threat, but she felt her eyes watering as a voice screamed in her soul. You knew, you blighted well knew this was going to happen!

Chuckling, Cade turned away from her to return down the stairs. A pack of servants dashed out of the King’s room, carting a basket down the stairs for the launders. While the Commander tried his attempt at a smile for them, he shifted over to let both past. Over his shoulder in a friendly voice he said to Reiss, “Welcome to the big leagues, newbie.”

Drawing the N out long enough, she knew what he really meant to say. Having finished what he wanted, the Commander huffed down the stairs, his imposing form fading into the darkness of the case while Reiss tried to not scream and beat her impotent fists against the wall. What was she supposed to do? Stop the King from risking his life. Then what? Either the dam wouldn’t have been put in place and the entire village could have been lost or the child might have died. Both scenarios happened to be something a knob of royal shemlan wouldn’t give a shit about.

You’ve really done it now, rat. And she’d had such hopes to...

Shuffling on her feet, she felt her heavy head about to snap at the neck while returning to the King’s bedside. No, Reiss pinched into her nose. It wasn’t just a King struggling to survive, but a man, a silly-sweet man that dusted himself with flour and kissed with an honesty she didn’t think possible. If he died, the crown would crush her beneath it. And maybe, she’d feel wretched enough Reiss would let them.

Barely aware of the Arl standing in the room staring out the window, Reiss ran her fingers down the sheets tucked up to Alistair’s chin. Rifling below them, she plucked up his hand and bent close to his ear. “You promised me you weren’t going to die. Remember? Please...please don’t. For,” for so many reasons beyond her, beyond her neck stretching across a stump, beyond her heart turning to ash in her chest. He was a hope for people that thought there was nothing left and she’d finally begun to see that.

Curling the back of her fingers along the curve of his fevered cheek she whispered, “Please come back.”

Jaws snapped against the air, not the fanged kind known to wolves or demons. No, these jaws were attached to something grey, fluffy, and twenty feet tall. Alistair felt his legs slowing to treacle as he turned back to face down the massive squirrel army descending upon him. Rather than scurry on four legs, they all waddled back and forth on the back two, a loaf of bread clutched in their tiny arms -- which they waved back and forth like a bludgeon.

“What in the Maker’s sake is going on?” he gasped, trying to clear the sweat from his forehead. All that did was smear blueberry jelly across his skin, which began to bubble over in the insipid heat of this place causing him to smell like a pie.

A blur of green burst out of a swamp behind him, and an easily ten foot tall frog hopped before Alistair. “Do not concern yourself with them, your Majesty. I shall handle these scallywags!” His voice rumbled in the bulging air sac of his throat, until the talking frog finished the sentence with a massive ribbit. “Excuse me,” he apologized before turning around, unsheathing his sword and waving it manically at the encroaching squirrels. “For liberty and the breakfast queen!” he shouted before hopping into the fray.

“Okay then, I’ve gone fully mad. Good to know,” Alistair stumbled backwards until his shoe plummeted into a river. It’d been calm before, a cottony pink, but while he watched, the water lifted up high into the air as if someone snatched it up and then dropped it. Rapids rushed fast, threatening to drag him down the banks and into Maker only knew where. He began to slide back from the threat, when he heard the pitiful death knell of a talking frog being beset upon by squirrels. Through the tufts of fluffy tails and gnashing white teeth all Alistair could see was a gentle wave of the silver sword before it too collapsed under the rodent weight.

Without the frog to fight them off, all the squirrels turned to their last prey, red lights flashing in their eyes. He had no choice. Whipping around, Alistair ran full bore into the river and leaped into a cannonball. The water didn’t splash but oozed like melted cheese and as he felt himself suckering down into it, the smell hit him -- exactly like that fondue Cherie insisted they all had to try. Heat burst along Alistair’s body, the cheese trying to burn his exposed skin as he trudged through it to the other side. Behind him, the squirrel army paused, either afraid of cheese, or waiting for the human to roast himself alive for them.

Hot! So very hot! Sweat gushed off his forehead, down his back, and out of more unmentionable areas. Midway through the cheese, the bottom suddenly dropped off. Alistair felt himself falling downward when a rope launched from the far shore and circled around his midsection. Glancing up he caught his savior, blonde hair knotted back into a bun, a stern set to that broken nose.

“Reiss!” he shouted, trying to jump up and down in the cheese. “Reiss!” The heat suffocated his throat, flattening it into the cheese and strangling his words. He tried to cough it out, hoping the woman would tug faster before his innards were broiled alive. “Reiss,” the world began to melt like paint in the rain. Darkness raced to fill in the gaps, dabbing away the bright yellow sky and furry trees until only a crushing and impenetrable depth remained.

“Gah,” Alistair stuttered, his hand lifting up off a bed. In a rush his brain told him that he’d been dreaming which should have been obvious seeing as how squirrel armies are not a thing. Yet. His skin burned as if the cheese really did touch it, and it felt like the frog leaped down his throat and squatted there for protection.

Slowly, he lifted up an eyelid, fairly certain he’d find a ceiling above him and not the thrashing jaws of a squirrel. But a shadow lurked directly before him -- black as the hand of death come to render his soul from his body. In terror, his body tried to swallow but that enflamed the already ransacked throat. Screwing up both eyes, Alistair risked facing this impenetrable demon head on. As he opened his eyes fully, light landed upon a curl down the back, a curve of her soft cheek, and that scar bisecting down it nearly faded to nothing.

“Lanny?” Alistair gasped, blinking against what had to be another illusion about to vanish into smoke.

But she leaned closer, her deep eyes searching up and down his face as that smile -- the one he’d never forget no matter how hard he hit his head -- filled her cheeks. “I’m guessing that fever didn’t damage your memory too bad,” she said. There were a few quills jammed in her hair, just like how she’d wear it when they were on a down time from saving the world.

“How are you...where am...?” Alistair turned away from the surprise woman to take in the very familiar bed posts, paintings on the wall, and collection of dolls upon a high shelf. He was in his bedroom, safe, with Lanny. “What’s going on?” he rasped out before gagging upon the pain.

Barely slitting open the veil, Lanny waved her fingers causing a blue glow to sparkle off them. The cooling sensation was instantaneous, as if someone dumped a pound of peppermint down his throat. “Thank you,” Alistair gasped.

Lanny smiled sweetly at him and nodded. She slid closer to his prostrated form upon what had to be his bed. Alistair tried to sit up to greet her, but she laid the back of her fingers against his forehead. It wasn’t a tender move, but he felt the pain in his body lessen at the minor physical contact.

“Hm, fever’s still present but it’s gone down,” Lanny said to herself. Taking her hand off, she suddenly bent down and placed her head against his chest.

“Ah,” Alistair stuttered, feeling an urge to cup her pile of spirals spilling off him and down the bed, but his hands lay exhausted against the sheets.

“Damn,” she sighed at herself and began to undo the first two buttons on his pajamas. That had to amp up Alistair’s fever tenfold, the beautiful woman tugging apart his clothing to lay her cheek against his skin. Maybe this was still a dream.

“Can you take in a deep breath for me?” Lanny ordered.

“Maybe,” Alistair struggled, trying to keep his voice normal while staring up at the ceiling. He remembered that vision of Lanny’s head nestled tight to his chest and what was usually entangled with it. That was not the reaction his body needed right now. Sucking in air, he puffed up his cheeks and slowly let it out.

“Okay,” Lanny sat up and inched away from the bed. “There’s some obvious congestion in your lungs but nowhere near as bad as before. Maker, you do not want to know how much fluid I got out of your lungs.”

“Probably not,” Alistair blinked, trying to piece together what the hell happened to cause Lanny to appear in his bedroom. Was it a gift from the Satinalia trickster and also over six months early?

“Heart rate’s a bit erratic,” she continued to list off his symptoms with a detached tone before turning back to him and smiling, “but I think I can guess why.”

“Ah ha,” Alistair knew he was blushing now, his skin burning bright against the white sheets, “yeah, that uh, I’m sorry. Why are you here?”

After jotting a few things down on a scroll she pinned to the wall -- Maker, somethings never changed -- she shuffled back to stand by the bed. “A few more questions first to see if you broiled your brains or not. What’s your name?”

“Mister Tibbles!” Alistair exclaimed, the name landing on his tongue from the ether. He focused on Lanny who looked gobsmacked, her lips hanging wide open. “The frog trying to defend me in my dream, it was Mister Tibbles -- Spud’s favorite toy. He looked good in that army uniform.”

“Okay,” Lanny’s eyes kept glancing over to piles of half empty bottles along a side table. He didn’t remember the table being there, and certainly not the glass paraphernalia. “Try this again, what’s your name, not the frog’s.”

“The Reluctant King Alistair the First, Maker willing.”

That drew a smile, “And what year is it.”

“9:47 Dragon, which is proving to be one of the shittiest ages on record.”

Lanny tipped her head in agreement but didn’t respond. “Well, you remember me, your own name, your daughter, and her toy. I doubt there was any significant memory loss.”

Alistair willed his hand to lift up off the bed; pain seared through the joints and he gritted his teeth but damn it he was going to try. He felt Lanny watching the move, her fingers poised to wipe away the pain with the magic, but she waited until he asked. “If that’s all done, can you tell me why you’re here?”

“Sorry,” she blushed, a hint of that stammering mage he met nearly seventeen years ago popping up. Grabbing onto her cane propped by the desk, Lanny got it under her as she limped out of his bedroom door. Alistair tried to sit up to watch but his body was of no mood to obey. Through the silent room, he heard Lanny’s beautiful voice say, “He’s awake.”

That set off a lightning storm inside the castle, one that struck a hive of hornets as a thousand voices suddenly erupted into chattering and feet slapping up and down the stones. Maker’s sake, what was going on? Alistair redoubled his efforts to sit up, when Lanny returned. She’d tugged a hood over her head, rendering most of her striking features down to shadow while sliding to the side. Beside her dashed Teagan. There was a nervous tic to his jaw, but it lightened immeasurably as his eyes fell upon Alistair sitting up in bed and blinking.

“Sire!” he cried, all but falling to his knees in reverence.

“I get the feeling I missed a lot,” Alistair said.

“No, wait, stop,” a voice hissed out of the darkness of his other rooms. It had no chance to stop the blue blur flying under Teagan’s legs and hopping up onto the bed.

Alistair groaned as thirty pounds of child smashed into his tender chest, but the pain faded away as he managed to wrap an arm around Spud. “Daddy, daddy, daddy,” she repeated, clinging tight and burying her face in his bedshirt.

“I’m here, Tater tot,” he whispered, tears springing to his eyes from the unfettered relief wafting off his daughter. The others kept it in check for his sake, but Spud was too young to have that trained into her. Her “Daddy’s” continued, each one stampeding into the next as if she didn’t need a breath.

“And so are you,” he smiled, the tug of his daughter’s body renewing the purpose in his own.

“Sire, I’m so sorry,” Marn appeared, her eyes wide as she gazed down at him.

Dread filled Alistair’s lungs. If Marn was apologizing to him, how blighted near death was he?

“Come along, child. Your father needs rest,” Marn tried to pull Spud out of his hands but neither the girl nor father wanted to give up. It grew into a bit of a tug of war, the reunion wishing to last while Marn had her duty to perform for the sake of appearances and what not.

It wasn’t until Lanny spoke up from her corner, “It would be best to keep any compromised children away for fear of passing the fever on.”

Her voice drew the attention of Marn who glanced back at the tiny mage doing her best to blend in with the wall. No one was supposed to know of her existence, she was risking so much by setting foot in Denerim never mind the palace. What was she doing here? Accepting that Lanny was right, Alistair let his hands fall off Spud. She raised her head, and tears streaked down those rosy cheeks. “Daddy?”

“I’ll be here, I promise, but Daddy needs rest so he can get better and we can play together. Okay?”

“I don’t...” she tried to argue, but Marn scooped up her hand and pulled the girl away from him. A chill knocked against his body where his daughter held him and Alistair tried to not shiver.

“I’ll see you again soon, Spuddy. And, there should be some toys for you in the gear and stuff we brought back.” That last bit brightened her eyes instantly, the girl craning her head back to stare the bottomless question at Marn.

“Yes, fine, we’ll go and find some. Thank you ever so much, your Majesty,” the nanny bowed deep in sarcasm which made Alistair feel much better. Everything was back to normal.

His eyes darted to the dark woman shuffling over the bottles and inspecting her papers.

Almost normal.

“Sire,” Teagan stepped forward before his eyes trailed out the door. Alistair tried to lean forward to follow and he caught the right side of his bodyguard doing her best to be present without interfering. He raised his hand and tried to give a small wave to her. It must have been enough as a whisper of a smile lifted up her pretty lips.

“How are you healing?” Teagan interrupted, doing his best to not watch the small display between King and Guardswoman, though Alistair caught Lanny’s curious eyes inspecting it.

“Feels like my body was crushed by a broodmother hug,” Alistair groaned.

“I, uh,” Teagan glanced back at the other grey warden in the room and she rolled her eyes, “take it that’s a bad thing.”

Lanny limped towards Teagan and spoke up for Alistair, “His fever remains but the dangerous heat has broken. There’s some residual mucus in the lungs and there will be pain in the joints for most likely a few more days but...” she smiled brightly at him, “I think the worst has passed.”

“He will live,” Teagan sighed in relief.

“Yes, assuming you do exactly as I say,” Lanny tacked on, glaring down at her most obstinate patient.

“I always do, you know that,” Alistair tossed out. He was good at following her orders on the battlefield, a bit less so when it came to matters of poultices and when to change bandages. It got so bad in the woods, she left him to Wynne for a good month. Aware of his stubbornness when it came to medicating himself, Lanny crossed her arms and glared.

“Well, I should let our healer here continue to mend you to health. Your Highness,” Teagan bowed.

“Did, uh,” Alistair interrupted, “did anyone else get sick?” His eyes darted out the door to the woman listening in, hoping she was safe from this.

“Only you, Sire.”

“Thank the Maker for small miracles,” Alistair said back. He wanted to speak to Reiss, to make certain that nothing bad befell her but with Teagan and...Andraste’s fiery underpants, how was Lanny here?

Good to his word, Teagan swept up out the door but not before grabbing Lanny’s hand and shaking it warmly. After the doors closed and she waited a beat for the feet to die away, Lanny tugged off her hood and tried to reanimate her smooshed curls. When she was satisfied with the bounce, Lanny smiled down at him, “How are you really feeling?”

“Like five broodmothers sat on me,” Alistair confessed.

“I’d assumed as such,” she sighed and crossed the floor to him. “May I?” Lanny asked while gesturing to his bed. Alistair nodded and she sat perched upon the edge. With her eyes shut tight, he could see the signs of wear building below her sockets, her normally dewy skin matte.

“No offense, but you look exhausted,” Alistair said, focusing on her cracked lips.

The coca butter beauties split into a smile and she turned back at him, “No offense, but you should see yourself. You look near death.”

“Was I? are you here? What happened?”

“Teagan,” Lanny said her fingers gripping onto the edge of the bed. “When you collapsed he sent for me with the sending crystal. Which you’ve got in the memorial?”

“People tended to look at me weird when I’d be talking to thin air. I figured no one would think twice if I started conversing with a dead woman, as confusing as that sounds.”

Lanny tipped her head at either his ingenuity or idiocy. It was hard to say. “I’m exhausted because I traveled by horseback for four days across country, then ran up to your room, and spent the next day tending to you. Sleep’s barely been an option.” She groaned, her overwrought fingers digging into hangdog shoulders. Guilt tried to find purchase in Alistair’s gut, but it rumbled in wrath at the hollowness knotting through him. When did he last eat?

“What-” His sentence scattered into coughing, Alistair barely able to get a fist up which splattered with yellow and green mucus.

With a slow eye, Lanny gazed over it, “No blood, that’s a good sign.”

“There was blood?” Alistair tried to not shriek but his voice lifted high into the rafters. “Maker’s sake, are you certain I’m not dead right now?”

Her cool fingers skirted across his forehead, drawing down his faux panic as she smiled, “Fairly certain and I know a thing or two about being dead.”

“Is it safe for you to be here, in the palace with so many people watching?” Alistair waved his hands around the room as if the only other pair of eyes weren’t in her beautiful face. “How’d you even manage to sneak in here?”

“Teagan. Though I am aware of a few ways to get past the guards there wasn’t much time to waste by gathering up ten lost seals,” Lanny said. She let her hand fall off her shoulders and stared at both resting in her lap. The woman looked as if she wanted to stretch out beside him in the bed and take a nap. Scrunching up his nose, Alistair tried to shake that idea away even if it sounded nice and soothing. There was less a down and dirty appeal to cuddling beside her, more being near another’s body that was happy to put up with him.

Unaware of his thoughts, Lanny staggered to her feet, causing the bed to lift as she picked up her cane. Must be a new one, again. This was even less subtle than the last one, oak for a base with silver runes carved into the wood, but what made it stand out as an obvious mage’s staff was the blue crystal radiating energy at the top. Maybe the little mage was getting tired of hiding. Her fingers ran across the bottles piled upon the table and she groaned, “I found nearly every tincture and tonic known to man brewed up and left here.”

“What was wrong with me?” Alistair asked, getting a slow eyeful from the woman who knew him best, “I mean what was I ill with, listing everything I screw up on will take us ages.”

She looked about to pounce on the opportunity but sagged, “You’re right. I learned little from Teagan, but it was enough to formalize a few theories -- when I wasn’t driving horses to near death to get across Ferelden. It was easily the fastest I’ve ever traveled from the Hinterlands to Denerim.”

“What about before the battle?” Alistair shifted, his mind traveling back all those years to both of them so young and even more terrified that the fate of the world was resting upon their knife blade.

“Aye, because there wasn’t an army behind me. Anyway,” Lanny waved away his reminiscing, “it wasn’t until I saw you nearly comatose that I knew it was Rock Bite Fever.”

“Do I want to know why they call it rock bite fever?”

She scrunched up her flat nose and shook her tuft of curls, “No, you do not. Your pedestrian alchemists managed to keep the symptoms at bay, as well as alter your humors on the hour and...” lifting up a small bottle overflowing with a pink potion she snickered, “keep you from falling pregnant.”

“Thank the Maker,” Alistair wiped at his sweaty forehead, “that’s a load off my mind to never have to worry about losing my figure.”

“I was rather surprised to find no mage healer present at your bedside...” Lanny began, that coy look skirting over his face. Grumbling, Alistair turned away, his eyes tracing the ceiling as he waited for the insinuations everyone had, but nothing came. Instead, she turned his desk chair to face the bed and flopped down into it, “And that’s the whole story of how I came to be here.”

She shifted her legs out from under her traveling robes, the garment more patches than original cloth at this point. While the woman was eternally etched into Alistair’s mind, to most other people her attire would cause eyes to pass over here. Even still... “Is it safe for you to be here.”

“Teagan’s been running interference, warning me when anyone from the past is nearing so I can,” she lifted up her hood and pretended to shroud herself. “And in general, no one asked many questions of the small woman appearing to rescue their King’s health. Seems they went through damn near every alchemist in Denerim. Do you not have any other mages in attendance?”

“There’s one,” Alistair struggled to sit up, wanting to give Lanny his full attention, “no skill at healing, sells enchantments.”

“Enchantment?” she smiled, her white teeth glistening below those dark rich lips.

“Enchantment!” he cried back before doubling over in pain clawing across his throat, “Oh, yep, not back to health, not by a long shot.”

Once again a sip of that healing magic that so easily trailed her slipped through the fade and into Alistair’s ailing body. He’d had mages over the years cast all manner of spells at him, some useful, most harmful -- depending on who he pissed off that day, sometimes both, but Lanny’s always bore something special. It felt as if a butterfly glanced upon the back of his hand and the scent of meadow flowers wafted on the breeze whenever she healed him.

“Thanks,” he gasped, talking over the pain.

“It’s what I’m here for,” she smiled, crossing her legs and revealing a pair of thick, wooly trousers below the muddy blue robes.

Alone together in his bedroom, Alistair in little more than an unbuttoned shirt and he hoped trousers -- at least knickers anyway -- with the always beautiful Lanny Amell, and she was smiling at him. A dread plopped into his stomach and his eyes darted to the door. “So, where’s your lesser half? Off stomping around in the barracks giving orders to soldiers or perhaps he found a few mages to hassle?”

Lanny groaned, her head tipping back to stare at the ceiling. “He’s back at home.”

“Oh?” Alistair sat up higher at that bit of good news. His chances of being pummeled simply for breathing decreased dramatically.

“Things were busy at the refuge, more than busy,” she scrubbed her face, the retired woman unable to let go of helping people. Suddenly, she pulled them off and a warm, ecstatic smile took hold, “Did you know I’ve helped to deliver five babies this year?”

“I didn’t realize templars were so fertile,” Alistair shifted, uncertain why this was exciting for her.

“They’re not templars, not all of them. The locals are looking to us, turning to the abbey as a place of succor and healing. It’s nice...refreshing to be wanted to help with good instead of--”

“Solving all your problems with a sword,” Alistair interrupted, understanding why this tickled Lanny. She’d left her command and arling, so much power at her disposal, all to try and help heal a few forgettable villagers out in the woods. It was so damn adorable, thinking of it made Alistair smile in jealousy. He wished he could abandon all his duties and join her in it, but then he’d be back to risking having his teeth knocked in.

“There wasn’t time for us to find someone to take over lead of the abbey in our absence, so I left my husband behind,” there was an imperceptible emphasis on the husband part as if she had to remind him.

“And he let you go, just like that? Not even insisting you take the dog?” While Alistair and the templar got on about as well as poison ivy and bare shins, they shared a few things in common. Blonde hair and brown eyes not withstanding perhaps the greatest was a constant worry about Lanny doing something to get herself killed. Maker’s sake, she already did that once and it took the pair of them teaming up together and breaking the fade to get her back.

“Honor’s getting on in years. I don’t know if she’d have kept up with the pace, and I’d rather she stay back and guard him,” her fingers tugged at a chain around her neck until they could grace against the coin she always wore. Well, always since saying a bunch of silly words in front of a chantry sister.

“Was this a quick pop in and make sure the King doesn’t die or will you be, you know -- just for curiosity’s sake -- be staying a bit longer? We might have some cake left over from a fancy party.” He tried to play it off as light but the dread in his stomach warped his airy words to something dire. Alistair didn’t want to her to leave. She was his carrots, a comforting hand that he didn’t realize he needed until it was gone. Which pretty much summed up their entire relationship in a nutshell.

Lanny placed her weary head in her hands and sighed, “I’ll remain for a few days more, to make certain you’re on the path of health but I can’t stay any longer. I’m needed back at home.”

“By all the sick templars,” Alistair sighed, accepting that in her life he wasn’t the most pressing issue.

Scratching her cheek she smiled, “Them too. You should get some rest. I should as well, come to think of it.”

Yawing, Alistair moved to stretch his arms, when he thought of something, “Where are you sleeping?”

“Teagan was going to work some of his political magic to get a cot brought up here. That room you filled with training dummies isn’t the worst place to sleep. I can pretend we’re camping in the dwarven fighting arena all over again.”

“No fancy suite for the woman who saved the King’s life?” Alistair snickered even as he leaned back onto the pillows. She was right, as usual. Exhaustion tried to wrap its cloying grip around him and drag him into a warm slumber.

“I’d rather not risk traveling too far from you, in case someone recognizes me,” Lanny whispered, and he heard that familiar trill of dread warping her vowels as that normally dormant Free Marcher accent flared awake.

She’d risked a lot to come to his side, bandits on the road, weather, lack of sleep, and the potential for people realizing the Hero of Ferelden wasn’t really dead and ruining her perfect life. Guilt erupted in Alistair’s brain at that thought and he blinked against a burning in his eyes. “Lanny,” he began. She stirred from her seat and hobbled nearer to him upon the bed, “thank you for saving my life, healing me, being here.” He didn’t deserve that, barely deserved her friendship, and whatever love they once had was beyond redemption.

Her fingers playfully smoothed up his matted, bed-mashed hair, and she smiled, “I’ll always come for you, Ali.” That drew a slow blink from Alistair and the beginnings of a smirk. In an instant the cozy image of Lanny shattered and the icy frost mage below burst free, “Don’t you dare say it.”

“What?” he tried to play the innocent, parting his limp hands in a perfect who me? “It’s nice to hear that from you is all. Though I don’t remember your coming being a constant before.”

“Maker’s breath,” she groaned, scrunching up her face as if she bit into a lemon, “I’m glad he stayed behind because I refuse to set broken bones. Get some blighted rest before I grab that pillow and smother you myself.”

Chuckling at her banter that was quick to slip to a smile even as the exasperated and exhausted woman returned to her chair, Alistair leaned back on his pillow and let sleep carry him off to Mr. Tibbles and the great squirrel war.

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