Guarded Love

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Chapter 31: Afterglow

Wow.

Wow.

That’s enough, time to be serious and focus.

Okay, maybe a few more wows worked into the mix for good measure, then liberally sprinkled with ‘Yes!’

Alistair felt like he was flying a good twenty or so feet through the air and all without an ogre having kicked him off a cliff. Against his naked body pretend slumbered Reiss, her hair fanned out over his chest like a golden blanket. It’d been so long since he had a woman curled up on him, her breaths matching his, her soft and so damn tempting body warming him to a cheek breaking smile. That leg of hers was straddled around his, her thigh on occasion bouncing close to his satisfied bits, but he didn’t worry. She seemed to be as drained as he felt -- ecstatic enough for his soul to climb mountains while the body lay at the summit and gave a hearty thumbs up.

The cat grew tired of trying to stay on top the warm but always twitching human and headed off for that perfect sunbeam elsewhere in the kennels. Alistair had slid off Reiss, prepared to let her gather her clothes and probably pretend none of it ever happened, but she wrapped her arms around him and curled up in the crook of his arm. With one hand draped down her back, his other free fingers kept darting close to her face. He couldn’t see much above his eyes aside from the holes in the kennel’s roof that needed patching, but he could feel her breath wafting against his skin and that drew a satisfying smile to his guts.

He hadn’t anticipated that reaction when he came to talk to her. Alistair gave it odds that either she’d admit there was a crush and it should go no further, deny it and say for the sake of her job it’d be best if he ignore it, or he’d blush himself bad enough to cause spontaneous human combustion and accidentally immolate the kennel in the process. What really happened was beyond his wildest dreams.

“Mm,” she murmured, never really asleep, but not quite in the waking world either. Alistair was shocked he was bright eyed awake after all that. Maybe he was too busy doing an internal dance to let rest wash over him.

“Are you still with me?” he asked while glancing down at a crown of blonde hair.

“I believe so, but I fear it will require a scouting party to find all of my displaced clothes.”

“Like looking for a pair of knickers in a haystack,” he chuckled glancing over at the straw pile they’d mostly stayed out of and for good reason.

Reiss seemed to have the same idea as she lifted her head and stared over at it, “I’m surprised you didn’t want to, uh...” He curled his fingers over her cheek to feel the blush, while well aware he had one to match, “in the straw.”

“Dear Maker, no. That stuff’s as itchy as a chantry sister’s cassock. I think I’d rather have sex on an actual stack of needles,” Alistair laughed before pausing and shuddering at the thought. “Actually, that might be a tossup.”

“You’ve slept in straw?” At that she pushed up on her hand to beam those always watching green eyes into his. She didn’t buy it for a second.

“I did as a child, not so much now unless something’s gone horribly wrong.”

She blinked at that and glanced downward, “Oh, when you were the...”

“Forgotten bastard son of the King? Yeah, good, good times. All the food I could swipe, free days to roam the countryside falling into every mud puddle, and a warm bed of straw next to a war dog growling in his sleep. The perfect childhood,” he chuckled, hiding away any pain behind the veneer of laughter. It was what was, and Alistair didn’t have the means to alter it. There seemed little point in dwelling upon it now.

“I’d feared you were going to tell me that sometimes you trade places with a peasant who bears your exact likeness so you can know what it’s like to be a commoner for a day,” Reiss said while nuzzling against his chest. She couldn’t stop rubbing her hand haphazardly against his shoulder, as if she was trying to measure it for a coat.

“That ruse doesn’t work so well when you’ve got a dozen armed guards following around the ‘common everyday peasant who’s new in town and not the King nope, nope. Don’t be silly.’”

“I think the point is to leave all the trappings behind,” Reiss sighed.

“No one told the Prince of Markham that. Right twat he was, barely into adulthood and dead certain he was the Maker’s gift to everything. There was one point when he sat down to explain Andraste to me and called her husband Mouthrat.”

That drew the sexiest snort from Reiss, “Did you correct him?”

“Of course not, that would be unseemly, telling a Prince he’s mistaken. Also it was damn hilarious watching every Andrastian in the chantry full body flinch as he kept droning on and on about Mouthrat. I wish I could have somehow captured that speech for posterities sake. Everyone in thedas must be required to hear about the betrayal of Mouthrat.”

Chuckling at the idea, Reiss unearthed her body stuck tight to his and climbed to kiss him with her tempting lips. Maker’s sake, he never ever wanted to stop doing that. To press against her slightly pursed lips, to taste her. Did determination, endurance, and the dawn’s crisp light have a flavor? If so, that was her, with the occasional scent of thick armor polish wafting under it. Smelling it roused up his blood from its crypt, while kissing her swaddled his soul down for a perfect nap. The one where no one needs you, the sun’s hidden behind the curtains, and someone left a glass of water near the bed in case you get thirsty.

Sweet Andraste, he just compared a beautiful woman to a nap. Was it any wonder he’d been single for so many years?

Slipping away, Reiss placed her hand upon his skin and beamed her summery eyes onto him. “What now?”

“Clothing is probably smart, don’t want to give the poor stablehand a heart attack at seeing his King in the altogether,” his eyes danced around her face waiting for a groan or patented eye roll the same way everyone suffered him, but she nestled tight to his chest and molded her head against him.

After a rise and fall, with Alistair trying to comb her hair back and forth, she sighed, “Better make certain we check to see whose is whose before getting dressed. I doubt you’ll fit in my tunic, or knickers.”

“That, uh...” The very idea of her knickers, the tiny scrap of fabric that covered her tempting anatomy he was gifted the opportunity to lavish attention on, shut off Alistair’s brain. He’d had something rather witty for him regarding women’s clothing but it poofed like smoke on the wind. Snuggling Reiss tighter to him, he wanted this moment to last forever. The warm summer breeze wafting over his exposed skin while he clung to this beautiful and sharp woman who got him was one of the best days he could remember in a long time.

“Thank you,” she said, not bothering to glance up.

“For what?” He shifted uncomfortably at that. She was always thanking him for innocuous things, or asking for forgiveness. If Reiss wanted to thank him for his performance, he owed her her own castle with a chocolate waterfall and a pony made out of sugar.

“For not ripping open my shirt and breaking off the buttons,” she smiled, her fingers drawing across the scrawny chest hair he never managed to cultivate beyond a few weed patches.

“Oh, that,” Alistair smiled wider while scooping both arms to hold her in a hug, “I know how much of a pain it is sewing buttons back on.”

“Finding them again is my greater concern,” she grumbled, reminding Alistair that she’d seen hard times where a solitary button’s replacement may represent a missed meal.

“I admit, I’m not the best at doing the...what do they call it, buckle ripping?”

Reiss giggled against his skin, her wet lips pressing tighter to him as she gasped for air. “Yes, exactly, ripping those buckles off someone in one go.”

“Must take forever when trying to seduce someone from Tevinter. I think over half their clothing is buckles. If you took one off, an entire square foot of fabric would collapse. Loud as sin when they’re trying to eat too.”

They weren’t talking about what they had to, what they skipped over before he and she did things that would make the Chantry hurl the Chant of Light at his head. Alistair didn’t want to ruin it, and he knew if he let his brain take hold it would. That damn thing was always dredging up duty and his proper place while he wanted to wallow for a few minutes longer in bliss.

Sighing, he whispered under his breath, “I am never going to hear the end of it from Lanny.”

That caught Reiss’ attention, her head lifting right up as she tried to search his face. Alistair was too focused on the ceiling, but he heard a taut thread in her voice as she asked, “Oh? How so?”

“She was so damn certain that if I just bit down on the stick and talked to you things would work out. I admit, I didn’t think they’d work out quite that well...” he twisted in the burn rising again through his stomach. Maker’s sake, thirty seven years old and he couldn’t stop blushing at the idea of sex.

“Was it,” Reiss lifted fully off of him and began to work her fingers around in a knot, “I mean, I don’t try to appear too forward and...”

Sitting up quickly, Alistair pulled her tight, his hands easily wrapping around her back. She didn’t fight the hug, but he could feel a frown puckering along her brow pressed to his skin. “That was far from forward. I’d been the one working backwards and sometimes to the side, and...sorry, it’s probably weird to learn that the Hero of Ferelden cares about whatever is between us.”

“You know,” Reiss gasped in his arms.

“She told me you figured it out, said that she trusted you to honor her secret. But, knowing Lanny she also probably knows that no one’s likely to believe a random guard about the Hero suddenly springing to life.”

“They may not even believe you after so many years.” Her enticing breath ruffled his chest hair while Alistair’s eyes couldn’t stop darting down her sculpted shoulders to savor the curve of her breast’s side. They were so adorable, like two perky puppy heads... No, that would be even worse than the nap idea. Drop that one off a cliff right now.

Sliding his hands off the back of her neck and up to her cheek, he tipped her head to him hoping. Reiss caught on quick and answered with a kiss, soft and sweet like a spring wine, which quieted Alistair’s soul. He didn’t realize how turbulent it’d been as of late, banging its fists against the cage and trying to drive him mad, until her touch calmed it down.

Dropping his fingers against the small of her back, Alistair mashed his forehead against hers and whispered, “Lanny also mentioned that you asked her if she still loved me.”

“I...” Reiss swallowed deep, a blush burning up her cheeks as she struggled to find the right words. “I did, if that was unbecoming I-- ”

Alistair was quick to interrupt her by kissing the tip of her nose, “No, it’s perceptive of you but I’m coming to expect that from a woman who anticipates arrow shots. I’m guessing you want to ask me the same. Or we could talk about breakfast pastries. If it’s not at least glazed I don’t see the point. Might as well just eat a rolled up piece of bread and call it good.” He paused in his babble to try and break apart the awkwardness while Reiss fell dangerously silent. And he thought he could survive asking her about their future without leaping out the window? Which, given the fact they’re all closed in the kennel wouldn’t get him very far.

“Are you, I mean, I get it. She’s...amazing, wonderful, legendary.”

“Also beautiful, pedantic as all get out, will organize your library if you forget to lock it and hide the key, and can store more food in her pockets than a chipmunk with a satchel. Lanny’s a lot of things, many of which others don’t see, but she’s not perfect. And to answer the question I raised, I’m not in love with her. I...think I’ll always carry her in my heart. We’ve been through too much shit to give up on each other, but the other stuff is gone. Washed away and the like.”

“And she’s married,” Reiss said. Alistair managed to fight down the flinch at that. It didn’t bother him, not in the abstract sense as it made her happy, it was just the other half of that contractual arrangement that ground his guts to dust. Stupid templars.

“Though,” Reiss’ hands slipped off his neck and landed in her naked nap. Matching her, Alistair tugged his away but had no idea what to do with them. After tugging on his hair he let both land with a thud upon his thighs. “You’re married too,” she pronounced, her eyes darting over his.

“Yeah,” he sighed, his head falling down. Glaring at the stones of Ferelden, the damn country that never wanted him happy, Alistair nodded, “I am. If that’s an issue for you, I’m afraid...”

She didn’t shout out no, nor pat him on the head once with an ill thought out yes. Reiss rocked back and forth on her toned haunches before she sighed, “I’m not sure. I have to think about it.”

“This is probably when I’m supposed to say that my wife and I have an understanding, but I believe that’s rule two in the cheater’s guidebook.”

“What’s rule one?”

“Never bet on a white horse.”

His nonsense got a small snicker from Reiss. Her eyes stayed focused in the immeasurable distance hovering between them, but her hands lifted off her lap to caress first his knees, then slide up to massage into the thighs. Screwing his sight up, Alistair stared at the ceiling and did his best to think about the time Eamon forced all the old codgers to visit a hot spring. That should keep him from springing up at her touch sliding ever higher along his leg.

“We should talk about this,” she whispered, breaking their long, awkward stalemate.

“Yeah, I guess we should. Do you want to get dressed before or...?” He gestured to where he was 76% certain he left his pants. Though they could be hers. He was going to have to get better at that after so many years of only having to deal with robes.

“No, it...” she reached forward to embrace him and snuggled tight to his chest. “This doesn’t bother me.”

“But something does,” he whispered, his breath scattering her hair. It was so fine, like golden thread used to stitch up doll clothes.

“I don’t know,” she admitted again, the edges of her nose puckering. “Maybe I feel like I should be more bothered by it than I am. You’re a human, I’m an elf. You’re married, I’m not.”

“You’re a royal guard and I’m some dumb idiot they let sit on the big chair.”

“It’s a lot to take in at once,” she sighed. Her words sounded as if she was trying to talk herself into running, but her body kept pressed tight to his skin. Maker, if Alistair had to do the adult thing and send her away for her sake he’d either crack in half or fail miserably at it.

“For what little it’s worth, I like you, a lot. Enough to have the Hero of Ferelden prod me about it constantly during her visit.” At her confused look he elaborated, “Apparently I talk in my sleep. And there were dreams of a...uh, hey, what’s the cat up to?”

Laughing against him, Reiss smoothed up his hair while staring ever higher, “For what it’s worth, I like you too.”

Such a simple thing he was made well aware of when the pants went flying, but the admittance drew a bright smile to Alistair’s face and a warmth through his old bones. The knee creaked a bit, but it always did that. Holding her cheek, he pulled her for a deep kiss. He savored the tug of her lips almost but not quite pinching against his bottom one. That move threw off all control he had on his lower bit parts, the poky one rising from its happy stupor.

“I like you,” he whispered as the kiss ended.

“As you already mentioned,” Reiss smiled.

Alistair’s brain tripped away at her golden face. Not just her hair, but her entire face, her being seemed to glow as if she was some secret answer that’d been hiding in plain sight. Sweet Andraste, he was in deeper than he realized.

“Time,” shot out of Alistair’s fumbling lips. “Take all the time you need to decide, to figure out if you want, or don’t want, or however it would work.”

“You’re certain you don’t want an answer right this minute?”

He shrugged, “I fear if I force you now, it’d be a no. And if I give you long enough to think it all through it’d also be a no. Lot of no’s on the horizon either way and maybe it’s best if I try hope for a bit. See if it fits me or...”

Her palm cupping under his jaw and lifting his head to her cut off his babble tap. “I wouldn’t bet on a no just yet. Anything’s possible.”

“Right,” he smiled, doing his damnedest to act like the carefree, unconcerned ladies man he was supposed to be. But all his gut did was churn in anticipation, his body begging to roam all across hers and his heart thumping a new, happy beat.

“We should get dressed then, and return to the stuff I...” Alistair glanced up at the ceiling as if he could see the sun.

“What is it?” Reiss asked.

“Oh Maker, I left Eamon on the illusion I was taking a trip to the ol’ bushes for a leak and that had to be a good few hours ago.” She snorted so adorably at that, some of Alistair’s regret vanished but not quite all.

“He’s probably combing through every inch of the castle searching to make certain the King didn’t pass out with his trousers down around his ankles.”

Laughing, Alistair snatched up his mentioned trousers and began to wiggle into them. “Face first into the shit hole, sounds about right. They’re probably drawing lots to see who’d have to clean me up first.”

Reiss was both more methodical and faster to dress. She took the time to make certain her shirt wasn’t inside out, while Alistair threw his on, yanked it off to invert it, realized it was now inside out, and repeated the process. He wasn’t certain if it was better to blame it on his naturally idiotic mind or the beautiful woman with her fingers delicately knotting back together her buttons. Forgetting the plan, he abandoned the ties to his shirt and reached over to grasp her fingers.

Those eyes he wanted to drown in turned over in surprise, but she glided upon her knees to him for one last kiss. He meant it to be a simple goodbye, but Reiss’ lips parted to let her tongue knock around with his. Slowly losing all sense of himself, Alistair followed in turn, dipping in and out of her as he had before. It felt more than good, it was right, so stupidly right he wondered why it took him so damn long to try. Trailing first from her earlobe, he cupped the points of her ears, gently rocking his thumb against the edge. Reiss reached under the back of his billowing tunic to run her nails against his skin. Even cut short, the sensation invigorated every nerve in his body. He didn’t want it to end, not for anything. Forget Eamon, or the council, or eating, sleeping, breathing. This was it.

Reiss mmmed, her lips sliding down as her eyes opened with a coy look in them. “Tonight. I’ll have an answer for you tonight after we return to our rooms.”

“Okay,” Alistair nodded, fully aware that he was on full salute in his trousers and uncertain how to smoothly tuck it into his waistband while the beautiful lady watched. “We’ll uh, tonight. Got it. Writing it down in my mind.”

Snickering, she released her hold on him and began to crawl to the ladder. “You best go find the Arl fast before there’s a proper manhunt through Denerim. After I slot back on my armor I shall join you, Ser.”

He watched it fall back into place, that wall she kept up to protect herself, to protect him from himself, to protect the world from catching on. At the moment he hated it because Alistair feared that wall may never come back down again. Barely bothering to work down the ladder, Alistair bobbed his head at her, tied the drawstring of his tunic and said, “I’ll see you inside, Ser Reiss.”

Eamon was less than pleased when Alistair staggered back inside. On the plus side, there weren’t any Knights scattered through Denerim to find the wayward King and drag him screaming back, but he did get a serious meeting of those bushy white brows as the Chancellor wafted back and forth on his feet.

“Nice of you to return to your work, your Majesty,” he grumbled. A fresh stack of problems only the King could deal with waited on the desk. Alistair had three of them stashed across the castle. He liked the idea that he could do work in different rooms and also that he could send the things he really didn’t care about to the dark room with the walls painted like dried blood after an unfortunate party. If Eamon caught on, he gave little to no hints about it.

“I assume you found the lavatory acceptable, seeing as how you had an hour or more to inspect it,” he continued. The man had been in a pickled state for the entire day, probably still angry at Alistair for sending that mage away and nearly dying in the process.

Squatting back at his desk, Alistair yanked up a quill and smiled, “It was only an hour?”

“Do you require more healing? I believe there are excess potions left...”

“No!” he shouted over Eamon’s cruel/kind look. Whatever Lanny kept shoveling down his throat dried out his gums and caused a balloon of gas to squat in his stomach and never leave. It may have saved his life, but at the time Alistair wondered if it was worth it. “I’m here, up, talking, no being dead or near dying. And we’ve got work to do. I’ve got work to do.”

“As you say, your Highness.” Eamon shuffled off a dozen or so pieces of parchment in order to reveal one Alistair’d been ignoring for awhile.

On the Matter of the Inquisition and Its Involvement in the Avaar Issue.

Everyone loved the Inquisition when it was stopping a crazy man who thought ripping open the fade would be good for a lark, but the infatuation faded over time to become that person who sleeps in your bed but whose voice draws nails across your brain. Tying them to a new bridegroom seemed the answer with the chantry, and it’d been working right up until that Inquisitor began regrowing his little army with Avaar warriors. It didn’t help Alistair’s case that he knew the why, sort of, but no one else could. Convincing a bleating flock of Bannorn that the giants of the mountains weren’t going to march upon their lands under the banner of the Inquisition nor Chantry wasn’t going so well.

Maybe if he sent a note to the Inquisitor asking him to hold off on scooping up every damn giant man and woman he could out of the Frostbacks. Leave a few behind to startle the Banns during Satinalia parties. Tapping the quill against the paper, and leaving behind flecks of ink, Alistair turned to ask Eamon what he should do, when the door opened and Reiss stepped valiantly in.

She’d returned her hair to its tight bun, but those always floating tendrils haunted the edges of her face. Pausing to bow her head to the Chancellor, she turned to the man trapped behind the desk and ever so softly smiled. Maker’s sake, the dreadful anticipation rose up in his gut. How was he supposed to keep playing the part of idiotic but generally helpful King while waiting on pins and more pointy bits to find out her answer? Focus seemed impossible while his skin still smelled of her and his legs slightly trembled at the memory and hope of getting another chance to go again. Please.

Alistair drew the quill into his mouth and began to chew on the end in contemplation. He kept his eyes upon the parchment scattered across the desk, but his mind kept replaying the past hour and however long he was gone. It wasn’t just the sex, okay, the sex was a lot of it, but having her naked and wholesome form in his arms cracked a peek into the locked chest he hurled his heart into. It didn’t knock it fully open, that was up to her, but it’d be so nice to let himself fall again, to trust himself to love again. Plus, there was the sex. That was top notch, applause all around, please do it again.

So many years since he caressed a hip, kneaded a butt cheek, and kissed lips panting for more. The thought that it could all be ripped away kept him hanging upon that cliff’s edge waiting for either a helping hand or a good kick to finish the job.

“Sire,” Eamon spoke.

Alistair ignored it, his teeth nibbling up and down the quill’s shaft while he stewed about his personal life.

“Sire,” Eamon tried again, finally causing him to look up, “you’re consuming the inked end.”

“Wha...” Alistair yanked back the quill and dabbed a finger against his lip. Black oozed across it, more of it no doubt spilling out of his mouth after he chewed right through the quill tip. He grabbed onto the fancy and important parchments, trying to use them to mop up the mess, when Eamon passed over one of his monogramed kerchiefs.

Dabbing like mad, he glanced over at Reiss in the corner. She stood stock still, her eyes gazing out at the horizon as all good guards did, but there upon her lips was an intoxicating smile he yearned to kiss. Good thing for her Eamon was there, or she’d be covered in ink as well.

“Right, okay,” Alistair wadded up the kerchief and tossed it to the edge of the desk. “Let’s get to work.”

“That’s what I’ve been trying to get you to do for the past hour,” Eamon groaned, jabbing his finger at the piles while the only true focus of Alistair’s attention waited outside of arm’s reach.

In the end, he managed to buckle down and answer two and a half letters. One was to Lanny, making sure to report on his symptoms in excruciating detail as she kept begging. He wondered if she was really trying to compile research on a new potion or if she just got a good laugh at it. At least he knew she was safe on the trip back home, taking it easier and with Teagan there to protect her. Well, Teagan to offer to protect her while Lanny no doubt froze every bandit and dangerous wolf in a mile wide radius. It was the thought that mattered.

After work, it was time for the evening meal. Alistair was normally a fast eater, the kitchen staff plopping all the courses down in front of the King while some of the more enlightened in the castle savored the Orlesian approach to moderation. But this time he flew through the meal, jamming various meats together into a wad and stuffing it into his mouth. Beatrice even glanced over from her cocoon of handmaidens and Cordell to remind the King to swallow lest he choke. He tried to slow down, but out of the edge of his eye he caught a flicker of blonde hair and his heart raced again, driving his limbs to jam all the food he could reach into his mouth in one go.

There was one stop he couldn’t speed through and that was reading to Spud. Mercifully she’d moved on from the mage tomes, but someone slipped in the most insipid story about what would happen if someone gave a nug a coat. It should be a short tale; nug gets coat, nug is warm, happy days forever, but somehow by a mad writer’s undiluted fear of charity it spiraled into a cacophony of problems that ended in a dragon demanding the blood of the first born. Dark for a children’s story, but of course his first born loved it, often demanding that he read it four or five times. Tonight was no different. With grass braided into her hair because she’d been out in the meadow watching the horses, Spud curled up with her Mr. Tibbles and demanded a sixth encore.

“Spuddy, please,” Alistair groaned, “Daddy’s tired.”

“I’m not!” she shouted, leaping onto her feet and jumping up and down on the sinking mattress.

“Yes, yes,” a headache swarmed in the back of his brain, “I get it, you are toddler -- queen of eternal energy, but I am exhausted -- jester of laying down quietly. You already know how this book ends.”

“Nu uh,” she lied through her teeth, “again!”

“Maker’s sake, where’s Marn?” Normally, he’d shoo the looming nanny away but right now he’d give anything to have her rush in and kick him out the door.

“I,” Spud began when a great yawn broke up her sentence. Her tiny fist tried to hide it, but Alistair saw that his little ball of energy was about to crash. “Dunno,” she sagged, her body collapsing to its knees against the bed.

“Get back under the covers,” he ordered.

“Mkay,” she nodded, quickly fading despite her admonishments. Alistair helped to tuck her in tight, focusing on jamming the edge of the blankets under the mattress to lock her in, when Spud’s pudgy fingers tugged on his hair. “Can’t go til you sing me the song.”

“Spud,” he whined, well aware that the door to his daughter’s bedroom was open and the woman he was trying to impress waited outside. Hearing him sing would do the exact opposite. “Tomorrow,” he tried to promise, standing up to plant a kiss on her forehead.

Pudgy hands grabbed onto both of his cheeks, smooshing them inward. “No, now!”

“Fine,” he mumbled through the squished mouth and lifted his head away from her hands. Spud clapped those evil hands and Alistair wondered just how she’d use her twisted machinations that could get him to sing while as Queen. She may give Orlais a run for its Royals.

Coughing in his throat, Alistair tried to bide for time, watching to see if his daughter’s eyelids would slip closed and he could sneak out, but no such luck. She was wide awake and waiting for the song. Maker help me, Alistair prayed absently. He was so far removed from being a singer it was pathetic. Rutting pigs in heat bore a more operatic tone to him.

“Little girl, asleep in the clouds

Little girl, dreaming of light

Chasing through the thunder

And sliding across the dark

Little girl, feel no fright

Daddy’s here, don’t you cry

Daddy’s here, setting it right

Hold you close when monster’s prowl

Fend them off without a word

Daddy’s here to kiss you goodnight”

As the barely passable melody slipped from his lips, Alistair shook it off and spoke quickly, “There, song sung, good enough.” He began to rise away from her bed, when she grabbed onto his hand and pointed at her forehead. “All right,” he conceded, placing another kiss onto her forehead and against her fingers. That got a small giggle from his daughter who was fighting sleep with everything she had at her disposal.

“Now go to bed!” he ordered.

“’kay,” she admitted defeat, having used up all her tricks. Alistair stepped away to lick his fingers and douse the lamp when Spud’s quiet voice pierced the heavier shadows, “I love you, Daddy.”

All his exasperation vanished in a puff of smoke at the earnest confession from his daughter twisting over to fall asleep. “I love you too, tatter tot,” he whispered to the air before finally closing the door and letting her slumber. Outside he spotted Reiss standing patiently against the wall. “Please tell me you didn’t hear that.”

“I didn’t hear it,” she lied so badly Alistair felt a blush ratcheting up his cheeks. Sweet Andraste, it was a wonder anyone had ever slept with him. He had the seduction skills of a walrus. Trying to distract from the embarrassment knotting up his enflamed and overstuffed stomach, Alistair pointed around, “Where’s Brunt? Shouldn’t he be here guarding the kids?” The silent but gruff bodyguard became such a staple, Alistair kinda stopped noticing him just beyond the playrooms he’d find his children in, always looming. The man had looming down to a science.

Reiss glanced around and shrugged, “I believe he’s with Cailan at the moment.”

“You can never trust babies,” Alistair said, “they play all innocent and barely capable of motor control and then blam, suddenly they’re plotting a coup to overthrow the entire government in favor of the Biscuit Party.”

Chuckling, Reiss fell in behind him as he began to march towards the stairs. All he had left on his docket was... “So,” he spoke without turning around to face her, “I’m done for the day and was planning on going to my room.” Alistair twisted his fingers into knots wishing he had one of those little puzzles to keep them occupied. As the silence loomed, he spun around to spit out, “I mean, just saying that you are free to spend the rest of the night doing whatever you wanted or needed to do without my interference in, uh...”

A smile rose across her beautiful cheek and she nodded imperceptibly, “I believe I would like to retire as well. It’s been a surprisingly vigorous day.” At that she smirked, causing Alistair to blush full on as he rocked back and forth on his tip toes.

“That it, yes, it was, um, what you said.” Aware he was babbling like an idiot, Alistair spun on his toes and began to walk towards his side of the palace. “Heading to the bedroom,” he whispered to himself for fear that his panicking brain might steer him into an open pit by mistake. By the time they arrived he feared he was about to slide down the stairs in a cascade of the flop sweat pouring off him while she seemed cool and collected.

“Do, should I...?” he pointed at his room, the door surprisingly closed. Normally, everyone and their pet mabari wandered in and out with him only having some say in when they should scatter.

A warm smile lifted on her cheeks and she said, “I should deposit this down at the armory.” Her fingers ran across the breastplate Alistair was rather lucky he didn’t have to try to get off her. Nodding dimly at the sense it made, he wanted to ask another question but nothing would land upon his tongue beyond a “duh...” Mercifully, he managed to keep that locked away. Reiss shifted a bit closer to him to add, “When I return we can talk.”

“Right,” he bobbed his head like a fishing bird, all but giving himself whiplash while she smiled under her hand and turned towards the stairs. Midway down the secret servant’s entrance he wasn’t supposed to know about Alistair called out, “You mean talk now, right? No waiting a few weeks while the Dalish, and banns, and mucus keep clogging it up.”

He couldn’t hear her response but she waved a hand while disappearing down the unadorned staircase. Nodding a few more times, Alistair found his hands limply bashing together as if he joined up with a band and someone foolishly gave him cymbals. Focus, he shouted at himself while stumbling into his room.

How long did it take a person to disarm? With him it depended on if he got help or not, some of those buckles were kept in the most unreachable spots. Half the time he just left them flapping free during battle; they weren’t really support straps anyway, more decoration. And Lanny had a habit of finding the strangest pieces of armor for him to wear, not that he’d ever object no matter how beaten up, pointy, or designed for a dwarf it was. Looking up, Alistair caught her phylactery pulsing its normal heartbeat. With only the hearth and no candles lit, it cast his entire bedroom in a haunting red glow which should probably keep him awake but became a comfort. As long as that thing beamed a continuous red light against the back of his eyes she was alive.

And probably halfway home by now, he thought while letting his fingers skirt near the glass but not touch it. One couldn’t read the thoughts of the mage attached to it, and it wasn’t as if he’d suddenly see through her eyes, but it felt weird to keep that close of tabs on her. Knowing she was alive was usually enough.

Picking over a quiver of arrows left scattered across his desk and...what seemed to be a molding loaf of bread with mincemeat smeared over it, Alistair unearthed various letters and memos he wanted to keep close. There were Lanny’s letters, of course, but all of them were locked in his strong box so no one would see them. He worried at first that servants might try to swipe them, but they seemed uninterested. Probably because there were no naughty parts in it.

Only one of hers he left out, the last one she sent him before she “died.” A letter from Vigil’s Keep assuring Alistair that she’d meet him by the Waking Sea for whatever secret trip he had planned in Antiva. It all went right to shit after that, most of it his doing, but for once Alistair didn’t want to wallow in his failure. Below the letter sat a folder he’d swiped from Ghaleb’s stack to keep for himself.

“Reiss Sayer, First Lieutenant Inquisition, Guardswoman second class in Denerim’s twelfth district.” The title gave away nothing to whatever rested inside. It was stupid, but Alistair hadn’t had the heart to open it up and look. She was his bodyguard, someone he entrusted his life with and the wise, kingly thing to do would be to gather all the information on her he could. He wasn’t certain if it was a fear that there’d be something in there he didn’t like, or the greater concern that she’d hate him for having read it.

Returning it back to the pile, Alistair did his best to not tear his hair out when he heard the sound of a door opening followed by a louder close. She was back in her room. What should he do? Oh Maker, he hadn’t done a damn thing but sit around fretting. Should he, uh...change? Or would that be odd? She’d probably notice...

He paused remembering her spotting the archer before anyone else did. No, she’d certainly notice. And would that seem too eager for a yes? If it was a no then he’d seem even stupider for having tried. But, he didn’t want to walk in their empty handed. Glancing around his room he could only spot a few books, more work, a handful of iron daggers (Maker’s sake, no one could get rid of those damn things). All things that screamed romance as much as a kick to the shins.

Doing his best to not yank his hair clean out by the roots, Alistair danced out into the hall. It was a creepy place made all the more disturbing by the old furniture lurking like monsters down the path. Most of it was stuff that belonged to his predecessors, aka things he wasn’t allowed to be rid of but had no idea what to do with. Dancing back and forth on his feet, the squeak of his heels no doubt reverberating through the shut door between them, Alistair did his damnedest to both man up and face what was to come, as well as cower back into a corner.

No, no, forget the stupid brain laying out in excruciating detail every reason she had to say no. Alistair took a sturdy step forward when out of the corner of his eye he caught a small bouquet. How long did he have that vase? And who kept refilling it? Ignoring the roses, he was drawn by a daisy bright as a sunbeam reflecting off a cloudless lake. Plucking it from a mob of baby’s breath, he smiled as he got a better look. A vivid green echoed from the middle of the flower almost the exact same color as her eyes.

Trying to take it as a sign, Alistair gripped tight to his abysmal offering and stepped beside their shared door.

It’s gonna be a no.

You don’t know that.

It’s always a no.

Not always.

Those women wanted the crown.

What about...?

That turned into a no because of you.

His stomach rumbled like thunder cracking across the mountains, and Alistair swallowed. Willing his vision to focus, he lifted up his hand and gently knocked on the door. Time to learn the answer.

To appear not too eager, he glanced down at the flower, running a finger over the fragile petals as the door cracked open. He expected to have her stand back and speak to him across the threshold. Shoring up the last drops of his courage, Alistair glanced up into those summery eyes a breath away when her hands grabbed onto his shirt and tugged him into her room.

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