Chapter 32: An Answer
She didn’t want to move, lost in the rise and fall of his chest in the middle of slumber, but Reiss’ arm fell asleep and the pins and needles were threatening to turn into serious nerve damage. Shifting slowly, she unearthed her naked arm out from underneath his very naked body. Again. He passed out almost immediately after she’d...uh, why was it so hard for her to even think the word? Sex, it was sex. Glorious, wonderful, she didn’t know it could feel that good sex.
Alistair didn’t wake, but he turned a bit on his side. Her bed wasn’t built on the assumption that two people would share it and he seemed to gravitate to sleeping on his back, forcing Reiss to slot in beside him. If it were any other man she’d probably be furious at being kept awake in such a manner but after the way he strung her body tight and coaxed a symphony out of it, she was willing to deal with straddling the edge. With her freed hand curling up to hold her shoulder because it couldn’t fit anywhere else, she clung tight to his chest for both balance and because she didn’t want to let go.
Maker was he surprised when she yanked him into her room for a kiss. Even Reiss was shocked at how easily she could pull the human that had both height and weight on her. He stumbled for awhile, his hands extended out as if afraid to touch anything. When she broke away a moment he blinked his eyes furiously and asked the air, “Is that a yes?”
She’d barely uttered her response before they fell back into it: the kissing, the moaning, the...rutting around like druffalo in heat. With the men before, Reiss humored sex. It was okay on average; sometimes she’d begin ecstatic for it but wane as the act went on. For awhile she convinced herself that people just put on a good talk about how wonderful and soul affirming it was. Overcompensation, she’d smile and nod even when Lunet went on. But now... Running her fingers over the chest hair she smiled. Now she got it.
At the kennel, naked and heady with the fruits of their passion she’d feared she was in a fog, afraid that any answer given in that state would be tainted. And she did weigh it carefully. He was married -- to a woman that all but suggested Reiss seduce him. He had children -- whom he adored to pieces. Those weren’t her problem, it was the King bit mixed in with the boss parts. Which she probably should have voiced instead of tugging him into her parted legs like a famished sailor.
Opening the door and finding him standing there staring down at a flower he kept impishly twirling with his fingers, with a blush wrapped around his cheeks and one hand clinging to the top of the doorframe for life, she couldn’t help herself. He looked so achingly adorable, the recently discovered lustful part of Reiss needed him. Still, she should probably wake him and have that talk they kept putting off and ignoring. Maybe. In a few minutes.
He looked so serene while traveling through the fade. Reiss batted at the hair waning over his forehead and smooshed it back up with the rest. Gone was the small tic hidden behind his ever present smile. Even relaxed, he seemed to be smiling but a true one, no furrowed lines running up the middle of his forehead or a clenched jaw. She loved seeing it.
“Are you watching me sleep?” he asked without opening an eye.
“I hope so,” those always effervescent eyes popped open and he smiled at her, “unless you invited the entire castle to come in and watch.”
Reiss shook her head and felt the blush returning, “No, nope, it’s just I. Me? Which is right?”
“Void if I know. Sometimes I get called a we and then I am completely lost,” Alistair’s sleeping hand lifted so Reiss could scoot under it and lay her head upon him. More than his warmth enveloped her. A musk all of his own, woodsy while also fruity and mixed with a twang of sweat and sex wafted across her nose. She smiled at it and buried her nose against his skin, breathing it in.
As his arm dropped behind her, he began to rub circles over her upper back, taking the time to dig in if he found a knot. A deep one caused Reiss to gasp and Alistair paused before she ordered him to keep going, it was working. “So,” he began, his eyes dancing in hers, “twice in one day. I feel like I should declare some kind of holiday for being capable of that again.”
Reiss smiled at that, while her stomach opened up in dread, “What would you call it?”
“Oh, it’d be the Feast of some old Chantry Cleric that selected the color of their robes in the Blessed Age, as they all are, but people’d celebrate it by, uh, you know.”
“Yes, I know,” she tried to smile but her pit was widening, sucking down her lungs and aiming to snatch up her brain. Reiss tried to focus on the flower he brought her. So silly, she didn’t need anything so superfluous. But she took the time to fill her drinking cup with water from the cold basin to keep it alive as long as possible before climbing into bed with the snoring man. How did other women keep them? There was something about pressing between books or hanging them upside down? She hadn’t collected flowers since she was a child, a young child. All her previous picking in the wild was done for herbs which rarely looked pretty.
“Is something wrong?” Alistair’s voice floated in her ear, but she kept staring at the flower. Why couldn’t it be that simple, a boy giving a girl a token of his affection? Why did there have to be so much complicated layered on top?
Screwing up her eyes, Reiss glanced over at him and opened the can of worms she’d been dreading. “What comes next?”
“Uh,” Alistair lifted up his head so his eyes darted around the room in confusion, “hopefully sleep. I don’t know about you but I’m old and still healing.”
“I mean...what is expected of me?”
“Oh,” he groaned, his head flopping back hard against the pillow. He pinched his eyes shut tight before glancing over to the woman staring a hole through his chest. Warm fingers glanced across her cheek and then he palmed it. “Reiss, nothing’s expected of you. Not because of...” he vaguely gestured down his naked body.
“But I’d be, I mean, there are...” She couldn’t bring herself to say the word even if that was what she was. Nothing sanctioned was ever possible which left her with only one title. She leaned back, trying to wrap her arms around herself in comfort.
Trying to follow, Alistair sat up in the bed and turned to her. He reached over to embrace her, but she couldn’t look up. “Ferelden doesn’t do official mistresses the way Orlais does. No title, no fancy apartments, no standing in court while wearing idiotic attire that leaves you half naked.”
She nodded, glad to hear that, but couldn’t lift her eyes.
“Is that...” he dropped his hands and twisted his legs around to sit square on the bed. “Is that a problem for you? Because...”
“No,” she shook her head.
“You don’t sound convincing,” he admitted in a broken voice. The hurt drew her to him in an instant, his head hung low as his fingernails picked at a callus on the side of his foot.
“It’s not that, I...” she needed to find the damn words. Swallowing a breath, she closed her eyes to explain, “I don’t want to be the King’s lover.” Opening them slowly, she graced her fingers against his shoulder to finish, “I want to be yours.”
That got a breathy laugh and Alistair whipped his head up fast, a smile rising, “That’s good to know, though you nearly gave me a heart attack phrasing it that way.”
“Sorry,” she grimaced, “I’m not good at speeches. Big ones, and the like. I used to have a stutter when I was little and I’d spend what felt hours thinking of the right thing to say that my mouth wouldn’t mess up. Tends to cause sentences to get all jumbled up.”
“I didn’t know that,” he exclaimed, his fingers dancing through her fallen hair.
“Why would you? I grew out of it. It was never debilitating, only slightly annoying and...” Reiss reached over to grab the hand combing through her hair and cup it in hers. “In the Inquisition we’d often have to deal with the gentry’s bedfellows.”
“What? Why?” Alistair started.
“It would curry favor at times, or because they were in charge of a chateau or palace the templars were...not the point. They...” Reiss remembered the handful they’d had to rescue, often primped beyond imagination, corsets sucking in so tight to break ribs and makeup inches thick upon their faces. With the Orlesians that was true of both genders. While the official members of the households wore masks, the bedwarmers were left without, which they made up for with spectacle. But what struck her was how on point they always were, gushing endlessly about their patron as if waiting for them to swoop in and save them like an old tale. It was pathetic and strange.
Slotting away the memory, she stared at Alistair, “I don’t want to be like them. I want to serve, to not be pampered, to not be treated any differently than...”
He tugged her close to his chest, Reiss giving in as she found comfort against his skin rising and falling with every breath. “I can’t promise that people won’t find out. Gossip’s pretty much what this place runs on, but...I’m not about to fire you just to keep you chained up to my bed. Which sounds like a horrific thing now that I say it aloud.”
A laugh gurgled in her throat, “In certain circumstances being chained to your bed would be tempting...provided I had access to the key.”
“That, uh,” his mouth fell slack as he took in her words. When they fully hit, he smiled his goofy grin and nodded madly, “Yes, good, uh, but I have no intentions of running you out of a job. There’s still assassins and you’ve been a damn fine bodyguard so far.”
A bodyguard who let him get poisoned, who failed to secure him before she pursued an assassin, who couldn’t stop watching his hands and wishing they’d canvas every curve of her body. It was a strange definition of fine. “And what about after the assassins are caught? Shall that be the finality of everything between us?”
“Funny enough, well not ha ha funny, more ‘isn’t that interesting’ funny, I was thinking long before this started that I’d offer you a job in the royal guards. Better pay than what they gave you out on city watch.”
She smiled at the idea, but a warning trickled in her gut. Was that really what she wanted?
Alistair tipped his head closer to hers, the edge of those taut cheekbones grazing hers as he whispered, “And it’d keep you close to me.” Diving in, he plucked a kiss from her lips, just the tip of his tongue swirling across hers before darting back. Barely a breath away he sighed, “I could kiss you all day.”
The trepidation failed to take hold at the earnestness in his tone and the very naked shoulders her hands kept glancing across as she reached over to hold him. She was being silly, it would be a good job, great advancement to a position she’d never thought possible. The first elf serving in the royal guards and...all she had to do was sleep with the King.
Shaking off the urge to whip herself for such immorality, Reiss wrapped her arms around Alistair and tugged him down to lay beside her. The bed groaned at the excess weight, not used to two people having to share it. For a moment his eyes darted up to the wall, then back down at the foot of the bed as if he could see the structural integrity of it. Shrugging with a smile at the lack of a collapse, he stretched his arm out to allow Reiss to slide in beside him. She couldn’t stop fluffing up the nearly white hair sprouting down his chest. It was thicker than she first thought, the color blending in with his skin, but there was a strange gash in the forest as if someone shaved a single line straight down across his pec. Reiss darted her finger up and down the fallow skin, entranced by the emptiness surrounded on all sides by hair.
After a moment, Alistair began to chuckle. She didn’t think much of it, he was always laughing, when a snort reverberated out his nose and he grabbed onto her wrist. “Sorry,” he fought off a few more giggles, “tickles.”
“Is that so?” she glanced up to his eyes and began to flex her fingers still in his grasp.
“Oh no,” his eyes widened into faux shock at her limp threat. “You shall not ambush me again, Ser Knight.” Rotating quickly, his hand shot out from under him to run each finger madly up and down her side. Reiss collapsed, trying to fight it off but it was too late, he had her. “Not when I can tickle you first!”
Giving in, Reiss let a hundred of her giggles escape, all of them cascading into a giant snort that echoed loud enough to strike against her broken nose. “Stop!” she cried, holding her hands out in surrender. “Please stop.”
Alistair dutifully pulled his hands off her, but she was quick to grab them and place one against her not as ticklish hip and the other tucked in between her minor cleavage. It was silly, about the same as getting into a tickle fight with the King of Ferelden, but Reiss impishly looked up at him to watch Alistair absently bite his lip as he lightly flexed his hand to cup the inside of her breast.
“How easily you undo me, Alistair,” Reiss sighed, flipping his hair up and down with her fingers while lost in his eyes.
That caused him to narrow his focus to her face. “Me? What do I have that can do the undoing? Some fleshy bits down there that are prone to having minds of their own and seem to enjoy jamming down the wrong pants leg while on rides?” He all but yelled the last part at his crotch, as if it would feel any shame.
“I like...those parts,” Reiss couldn’t bring herself to say any of the euphemisms, afraid she’d blush so hard she’d burn a hole through the mattress. “As well as your chest, your so taut stomach and...” Her hand paused in trailing up him to curl against the scruff on his cheek, “that smile. Damn near disarmed the first time we met.”
That got her an even better one, his dimple deepening to the point she wanted to delve into it with her tongue, but that would require rising and her body was beyond tired now. “That’s nothing, hardly counts compared to what you. I mean, I doubt I need to tell you,” he lifted his hand off her hip to wave it through the air in a dismissal before returning it. The other remained firmly entrenched between her breasts where it seemed happiest.
“Perhaps,” Reiss shifted, the sense of unworthiness she never got far from returning in greater measure. “Perhaps it would be nice to...uh, no, you don’t have to. Not if you don’t want to. It’s silly and-- ”
His lips darted forwards to cut off her babbling sentence, the sweetness soothing the ache burrowing through her gut. “You’re so you,” he purred. Reiss blinked slowly, uncertain if that was a good thing or not. “I’m not helping, uh, pretty, really pretty. With the eyes of the green fields of early summer, when all the fireflies are zipping through it lighting it up and you can smell the heat of the sun across your skin.”
Even as his metaphor slipped away, she knew a blush was rising at the fact he even remembered her eye color. She’d never had anyone compare it to anything before, much less a summer meadow. “The nose is off putting,” she said, tapping the top that bulged to the right. It’d gone down since the break but would never go away now.
“Nonsense, it’s character. And,” Alistair scooted closer to her on the bed to whisper in her ear, “when you smile, the side with the break gets these adorable little wrinkles while the other stays smooth.”
“Really?” she gasped.
“Yup, which I may have noticed during a few meetings when people thought I was paying attention to something other than my stunning bodyguard.”
She wanted to marinate in his compliments, let each one wash over her while she let her seedling self esteem grow but it was the bodyguard part that reminded her. “We, I would like to keep our work outside purely professional.”
“For the sake of people, I don’t want everyone suspecting I receive special attention,” she grimaced, aware that she’d tossed a bucket of water on the simmering coals of romance.
Alistair nodded slowly, “So, no kissing before dinner?”
“No,” she shook her head.
“No making out beside that ugly statue of Mafarath?”
Reiss buried her face into his chest and mumbled another, “No.”
“No screwing on the throne when no one’s looking?”
Her face burned at the thought and she couldn’t stop from laughing out a, “Maker, no.”
“Fair enough,” Alistair smiled before planting a kiss into her hair. He began to sift through the strands again as if searching for hidden gold.
“Out there, I will only refer to you as Ser,” Reiss had been working on that idea since the kennels.
“But in here?” he asked, hope resounding in his voice.
She met those warm eyes and smiled, “Alistair.”
“I love the way you say it,” he kissed her on the lips. “Every,” another kiss, “time.” She giggled at his ferocity, never wanting it to end.
“At least we have three rooms to explore to ourselves,” she shrugged, trying to slip back on the coy minx.
Alistair laughed at the idea, then frowned, “Ah, while the sitting room and fighting one would be doable, it’d probably be best if we keep the bedding parts to yours.”
“Servants are always changing my sheets and they like to...inspect it for, uh,” he glanced up at the ceiling, his throat bobbing, “stains. Apparently it gives them all a good laugh. Or it’s how Philipe knows when to award a winner in his stupid pool. I don’t know, but I doubt they’d look too closely at yours.”
Reiss nodded glumly at the idea. She wasn’t sharing her bed with a sweet and startlingly handsome random man. As much as she wanted to pretend, he was the King and there would always be people butting into his life, swarming around them both and making it a challenge. Settling into his arms, the Hero’s words returned to her. Was that what she meant about fighting? Accepting that it wouldn’t ever be normal, but he might be worth the sacrifice of never being seen in public, or ever holding hands outside the bedroom.
There was a good chance this wouldn’t work. She’d be foolish to hope for anything more than a brief fling all things considered, but curled up in his warm arms and slowly shifting to a safe sleep by his protective embrace Reiss dared to dream a little.