Chapter 39: Happiness
Why wasn’t she happy?
Reiss paced back and forth through the derelict bell tower, her boots stirring up dust bunnies on their fifth or sixth generation. Bell tower was a bit of a misnomer; while it bore the general shape and structure of one, the architects clearly had no intentions of soiling it with an actual bell. This was most evident as they forgot to leave a gap wide enough in the ceiling for anything but the tiniest of bells to jangle away in. As a lark, someone did stick a string up there, the kind one would find attached to a horse’s bridle when they’re being particularly kitschy. She couldn’t help but yank on the rope and hear a soft tinkling as they trembled through the silent building.
Maker’s breath, what was wrong with her? Atisha was alive! She wasn’t willing to leave Jader, but Reiss expected that. Her sister was stubborner than her, often digging her heels in no matter how much Reiss tried to convince her she was walking into danger. The harder Reiss pushed, the more...
Her fingers ran over the seal on the envelope. In her haste to open it, she didn’t recognize the royal emblem stamped into the wax. It wasn’t Atisha returning to her after Reiss began to mourn that was chewing her apart. It wasn’t even that Alistair did what he could for her, to try and find her sister, to give her peace. No, it was that damn crown again.
Don’t get fat on someone, her mother used to say. She didn’t mean it literally, well, maybe she did sometimes. Her mother had a habit of scooting all her food into various piles and if it didn’t match up, refusing to eat even if she was hungry. But those words she said her mother, and her mother’s mother told her. When you depend upon someone for food, for shelter, for love, for guidance, for sanctity, for friendship they’re going to buckle under the weight and you’ll be left bereft and penniless.
Reiss never thought much of the words, she hadn’t had anyone to rely upon for so long they didn’t seem to apply to people like her. Until Ethan. Until he swept in and she, like a foolish teenager, began to pin everything she had to him. She gave him her hopes, her dreams, her future, her livelihood. And how did he repay her? That Sayer stubborn streak of needing to prove the bastard wrong was the only reason she survived to Denerim, three coppers left to her name, and a cheap sword on her hip. In walking the streets she blundered into a pair of city watch caught in a bloody fight.
She could have walked away, there was no reason to go charging in, but all that Inquisition training took over and Reiss fought off the first, giving the other guards the chance to pin the second. That was how she met Lunet. Reiss was shocked when the woman yanked her helmet off to reveal a set of the same ears. There was no, “This isn’t the place for you kid, run along home” from Lunet. She threw her arms around Reiss and begged her to join the watch, in particular her guardhouse because Maker did they need more people so bad!
Andraste’s grace, Reiss missed her. She missed her before their fight outside the assassin’s den. Their old talks about nothing important always made her day and now... Reiss was putting all her cards in a stack beside a very drafty window.
Why did he do it? She flipped the letter back and forth, her finger scanning the lines from Atisha as if some secret could be revealed.
The cynical part of Reiss paced back and forth, clucking its tongue with certainty that it knew why he did it. She’d been blubbering and moaning at all hours of the night for her lost sister instead of playing the part of mistress. If he found Atisha, not only would he be the hero, she’d want to...have to return to...
“No!” Reiss’ voice echoed through the hollow tower. Lunet may be wiser in matters of the heart but Reiss knew him. She’d seen him be sweet to those who didn’t even glance back at it, help people who had nothing to offer in return. The idea that he’d hunt for Atisha just because he was hoping for sex in return was ludicrous. Wasn’t it?
She was being an idiot, letting doubt drown her out when there was no reason to. Why does this have to be so damn hard? Growling at her ineptitude for not knowing when to savor something good, Reiss flipped around to glare out at the grounds. Far in the distance she could see the guardsmen pacing back and forth up and down the long drive to the gate. Their armor gleamed while they performed a meaningless move for the sake of pageantry and tradition. Would that be her? She didn’t do much in the city watch, most of it walking the streets to remind people to not openly steal and kill, but sometimes she got to help. There were a few extra cakes slipped to her from citizens the blonde elf on the beat saved. What would come now? Was that, pacing up and down in exchange for enough coin to make her very comfortable, what Reiss wanted in life? Did she even have a right to ask?
“Sorry,” Alistair’s voice drew her from the window. She spotted the tuft of his blonde hair rising up the rickety staircase. “That took a lot longer than I expected.” Halfway up he paused, his eyes trying to size up Reiss. She put on a small smile and he dipped his head down, his own grateful one slapping into place.
“Harding,” Alistair continued while finishing the climb to the top of the tower, “she made certain I tell her everything I found. Which was mostly a lot of receipts for a very specific ointment.” His tale slowed as he stopped near Reiss but far enough from her reach. Banging his hands together, he rolled back and forth on the balls of his feet, “Seems one of those Zea Dogs had a real problem with his uh aft side, which kept an alchemist very rich. And...I am running out of ways to talk now.”
Reiss winced at making him uncomfortable. “I’m sorry...” she said and he groaned. “Not, okay, I won’t apologize for it. But I regret not acting appropriately. It’s taken me some time to adjust to...”
“Reiss,” he sighed, shaking his head slowly, “you can drop the ‘Shit, the commanding officer just caught me sneaking a prostitute into my tent. Better play all repentant with cold and distant words’ act. I...I hope you can talk to me. I want you to talk to me. I don’t bite?” he ended his plea with a question and a shrug.
Darting forward, Reiss wrapped herself around him, catching Alistair so startled it took him a moment to return the hug. “It threw me, reading her words and...I still can’t believe she’s alive. Really alive. And...”
“I understand,” he whispered, his lips pressing to her forehead. She tugged herself tighter to him, her eyes honing in on the whiskers upon his chin. It surprised her how many were red by dawn’s light, but blonde in high noon. As if that was what she should be focusing on, Reiss dragged her thumbnail up under a few of the hairs, lifting each one to see if it changed color. Alistair pressed another kiss to her forehead, his fingers molding to her back.
“Everything’s changing,” she whispered to herself.
“Things have a way of doing that. Unless you’re rich enough people call you eccentric instead of crazy. Then you can make all your servants dress in the same clothes from a century back, have your dead relatives stuffed and mounted in place. Eat nothing but ham jelly every day while tickling a lute with a feather.”
Even his babble was oddly soothing for Reiss, his words lapping over her like a cool wind to clear away the embarrassing heat. “This was never meant to last, to be permanent,” she murmured.
“Oh,” he tightened his arms around her, his eyes drifting away.
“With the assassins and all, I mean,” she was quick to tack on. “My being a bodyguard with you, for you. I hadn’t considered, uh...”
That brought a brighter smile to his face, his warm brown eyes searching for hers. When he was being in a strangely poetic mood while also being stark naked, Alistair declared that his eyes were the dirt that nurtured hers into vibrant, beautiful greens. It was so terrible, Reiss insisted he stop drinking koomtra lest he begin writing her love songs. Maker, how did she get a shem hooked on the stuff? Smiling at the memory, Reiss drew her fingers back across his cheeks, framing his face as she tried to memorize every line.
How long had they known each other? A season? It was barely enough time for fashions in Orlais to change and yet...somehow Reiss felt as if she knew him, knew his soul. It was baffling to find in a human that happened to be the most powerful man in Ferelden.
“Are you going to keep squishing my cheeks together?” Alistair asked. “I’m afraid no matter how hard you press it, it doesn’t make my face look any better. I’ve tried. This thing,” he placed a finger to the tip of his nose, “is staying out long past its bedtime.”
Reiss giggled, her hands quickly tugging his away. “It’s a very handsome nose,” she said before kissing it.
“You’re just saying that because there are no other dashing rogue noses in this tower to distract you,” he said. His face gleamed in mischief but there was a question bobbing in his eyes. He was concerned that his joke was true.
Butting her broken, and character giving nose next to his, Reiss’ hot breath wafted across his skin, “Even if all the noses of thedas were lined up in order of handsomeness, yours is the only one I’d want.”
His lips parted, about to make some smart ass response to her, when she beat him to the punch with a kiss. It began simple, even a bit chaste, but as Reiss’ fingers climbed lower down Alistair’s back -- skirting towards that steel ass she could barely dent -- the fire returned. Driving her body forward to mold to his, he staggered back at her forceful excitement. Alistair flattened against the wall in shock, his hands hanging limply while Reiss’ were happy to become reacquainted with his body. Tugging on the back of his waistband, her fingers dipped down to curl up against each delectable cheek of his royal ass.
Just as he caught up to her fevered plans, Alistair’s hands circling across the back of Reiss’ armor, she gave a good squeeze to both. Gasping in shock, Alistair broke into giggles at her boldness. He slowly pecked kisses against her jaw, trailing them down her neck until his nose clanged against the edge of her metal armor.
“Damn,” he staggered up, his hand falling away to rub at the poor bruised thing. “Told you it sticks out,” he whined. Reiss watched him shrug, his puppy eyes skipping across the room as if he was aware he killed whatever mood roused without his doing. And yet, she kept both her hands down the back of his pants, still cupping that warm flesh that tightened against her palms.
Slowly, Reiss extracted out both her fingers, letting Alistair lean back against the wall. A dejected air floated around him, while he kept rubbing his nose vigorously. It couldn’t have hurt that badly, but he seemed uncertain what to do now. Without saying a word, Reiss reached into the top of her armor and grabbed up the buckle connecting breastplate to back.
“What...what are you doing?” he gasped, watching as she undid the second, causing her armor to break apart and land at her feet.
With her eyes honed in on his, she stepped out of the metal casing and pressed her freed chest to his. “What’s it look like?” she said, managing to get a single straight eyebrow to raise along with her smirk.
“That, uh...” Alistair began to give her a literal answer, but she was quick to cut him off. Her lips mashed against his while her hands cupped and swirled across every inch of his skin she could reach. Reiss grew so voracious, she tugged at his shirt, bypassing the ties and knot -- needing to see him, to feel all of him. She also forgot to slip away from kissing him, and in trying to take his shirt off, pulled it inside out onto herself.
His lips broke from hers, hot breath sliding up her cheek to her ear as his golden laughter echoed at the move. “I see how it is, you’re going to steal all my clothes for yourself.”
She felt the blush burning at her idiotic move, but an orneriness claimed her tongue. Grabbing onto his belt, she tugged his hips tight to hers and growled, “Try and stop me.”
“Sweet Maker,” he gasped, his hands landing upon her shoulders and digging downward. Reiss was quick to unhook the knot in his belt, but with a gleam in her eyes, slowly she pulled every inch of it through the loops. He was watching her, she could feel the burn against her hair, but her eyes were focused upon the belt and the bulge in his pants growing more pronounced as she yanked upon the leather.
As the last of the metal tip tugged free and Reiss moved to toss it aside, Alistair snatched onto the shoulders of both his shirt and hers, and yanked them skyward. She was fast to toss her hands up, but he pulled with such vigor her lost shirt tugged apart her bun. Half her hair tumbled across her shoulders in messy straw waves.
After wadding up both shirts and adding them to the floor, Alistair drew his fingers through her scattered hair. When that warm and vibrant skin lay flush against hers, Reiss’ body lit up in a special agony. It begged for his fingers across every curve, every line, every anticipating bit he could reach in the way that only he seemed capable of.
“Touch me,” she begged in between hot kisses.
“I, uh, thought I was,” Alistair stuttered, even as his hands lay obstinately upon the hips of her greaves. Every foolish fear clinging in her brain rattled away when his fingers swept up her stomach. With the roll of his tongue, he drew his palms across her ribs until the fingers worked below the knotted band of her undertunic. While it usually required her to untie it, Alistair -- either unaware of that fact, or in such a state he forgot -- yanked it straight up over Reiss’ head.
Both shirtless, Reiss held her breath as the last of her hair scattered like leaves down her naked back. He struggled in a breath, gasping like a fish freed from the river while those brown eyes darted up and down her body.
“Andraste’s holy knickers, you’re beautiful,” Alistair begged, both hands plunging forward to envelope her breasts. His teeth nipped against her neck, playfully pinching awake her skin as she grabbed onto that pesky waistband and finally yanked off those damn trousers. With one hand gripping tight to his hips, her thumb falling into the deep v indent, Reiss circled her other fingers around the base of his cock and began to slowly move them upward.
She expected him to moan, but it was her that gasped, her lips pressing tight to his chest as he drew out both her nipples, electrifying every nerve in her body. “Maker’s...” Reiss’ breath perforated the air, her tongue lolling slack as she kept butting up against him.
Her hand stalled as he kept pleasing her, his lips playfully darting across her décolletage while those honed fingers kneaded her breasts. Twisting his head, Alistair whispered in her ear, “How’s this for touching you?”
Barely able to do anything but groan and beg for more, Reiss butted her head up to his and kissed him with every desire burning through her body. The force flattened him tighter to the wall and his hands broke away in surprise. Before he had a chance to return them, she grabbed one and slowly guided it down her. His fingers trailed her skin the way one would part the surface of a still lake. Treading softly against her trembling stomach, she whimpered in anticipation as his palm slid down the gap between her greaves and he brushed the top of her pubic hair.
“Please,” she begged, snatching his other free hand and dropping it right to the straps holding her greaves up.
Alistair was quick to undo both, metal clattering to the floor in a cacophony. As he drew his palms in a circle around her hips, slowly digging under her thin leggings, he whispered, “I thought that was my line.”
“Oh Maker!” Reiss cried, throwing her head back so fast she nearly beaned him in the chin. His royal fingers wasted no time sliding her free from the last stitch of clothing and parting down the golden hair to dive right inside of her.
With trembling legs, she widened her stance, ecstatic at how he swirled her own excitement back up to her “magic key.” Maker save her, but she loved the stupid euphemism, in particular as his thumb knocked a perfect rhythm against it. Alistair knew far too well how to get her locked box open.
Biting into her tongue, Reiss tried to focus, her own fingers kneading into his steel back. Each muscle fought back against her, taut as stone while she kept pressing herself tighter and tighter to his fingers. This was too good for her. Too good for...
Her eyes popped open and she stared deep into his, a connection passing from her body to his without a word needing to be said. Reiss leaped into the air as Alistair scooped his hands under her ass. Spinning in place, he pinned her back to the wall as she wrapped her legs around his waist while trading a never ending kiss.
Grunting in primal joy, Alistair lifted her ass high enough he could thrust his hips. His cock slid straight in, past every barrier her worry kept throwing up, obliterating each nibbling doubt with a new thrust. Maker, how could she question this? Her body whimpered and pleaded for it to never end.
“Grab my shoulders,” he gasped, slowing his thrusts while staring at her. She blinked a moment in surprise, when a cheeky smile broke upon his face. “I know you’re dying to.”
Nodding with a great grin, Reiss did as commanded. Her thumbs at first brushed across that strung muscle and tempting sinew. When she dug in with her fingers, he thrusted deep inside of her. The combination tripped off a cascade of euphoria, like a never ending case of giggles building to bursting. Even with the unfinished wall digging into her exposed spine, she felt nothing but a pulse pounding heat radiating through her body. Alistair’s fingers dug into her back, his eyes shutting tight as he drew that delectable cock almost as far out as he could for one last deep thrust.
“Maker’s something,” he groaned, the orgasm walloping him fast. Sweat glistened across the entirety of his bright pale skin, encouraging Reiss to try and wipe it off. She expected him to drop her, but the man somehow shifted nearly all her weight onto his one arm and began to vibrate his fingers against her clitoris. Still inside her, his cock pulsing with the last of his cum, Alistair could only manage a few shallow thrusts, but his finger play drew a new heat through Reiss’ belly.
Her breath escaped in quick gasps as she clung tight to him, trying to rub back and forth to match that perfect tempo bringing her closer to a state of bliss. “Don’t. Stop,” she pleaded, rocking with her hips against him while clenching tighter and tighter to the cock inside. With her entire body knotted up tight, when his thumb hit the exact right sequence, Reiss felt herself snap apart. More than pleasure flooded her body as she almost fell onto him, taking them both down.
“Whoa,” Alistair tried to catch her but he was as exhausted as her waning body, his hands slipping off her hips. At least she had enough sense to land feet first upon the floor, even as her legs wobbled like jelly, slowly dragging Reiss to the wood. He watched her huddled naked to her chest, his fingers sifting through her fallen hair while she tried to pull air into her ecstatic and exasperated body.
Clinging to her cheeks, Reiss tried to bring herself back from the brink when she felt tears dripping down her palms. Her shoulders shook from the pent up emotions bursting out in the only form it knew to take.
“Are...?” Alistair staggered back from her, realizing quickly something wasn’t right. “Are you okay?”
She bit down on her lip and nodded, but no words could come out. Lifting her face, she tried to smile through the never ending tears washing her cheeks. He frowned at her weird reaction and plummeted bare assed to the ground. “Reiss?” Alistair tried again, hovering near but not touching her.
A laugh gurgled in with her cries and all she could get out was, “It’s stupid,” before reaching over to plant her face to his chest. Scooting closer, he wrapped an arm around her shoulders and pinned her tight to him in a hug. Crying as if she wasn’t happy, Reiss was rocked by Alistair back and forth in his arms until the spell passed.
Even while the tears faded it took her awhile to think of what to say and how to explain it. “I...it struck me suddenly that my sister’s alive. Safe.”
He smiled brightly at her explanation, his fingers picking up her fallen hair and stuffing it safely behind her ear.
“She’s okay, and...it’ll be okay. I never, I’d been prepared to say goodbye, to never see her or hear from her, and now...” Reiss tried to wipe away the salt drying to her cheeks and felt foolish for this display. “I’m sorry, this is deftly destroying the mood.”
Alistair pressed his lips to her forehead and whispered, “If you’ll forgive my bean induced sonata, I think your breaking into tears of happiness is barely a blip on the ‘Who can ruin the romance faster’ meter.”
Wrapping her arms further along his back, she buried her face into his warm chest. The hair waffled against her cheek as she whispered, “How are you so good?”
“A lot of push ups really maintains the upper body strength,” Alistair said. She suspected he knew what she meant, that it had nothing to do with sex, but had no idea how to respond to her earnestness. Rubbing his hair, he tacked on, “and eggs.”
“I’ve never seen you eat eggs.”
“Not for eating, for throwing. Hurl a good dozen rotten ones at sketches of Banns you can’t stand every day and you too will be blessed with biceps like these,” he smiled, flexing his arms against her so those mentioned muscles pushed against her body.
“Alistair,” she whispered, her fingers beginning at those shoulders that drove her wild and trailing down each curved, steel muscle until she could grip onto his hand. He didn’t release his hug, his face buried into the top of her head, while she kept knocking her fingers over his knuckles. The metal ring rotated against her skin, the band always warm from the magic protecting him.
“I like being with you,” he said. “I mean, this part too. It’s rather obvious I really like the uh being to being with your bits and my bits getting all friendly like. But holding you,” Alistair shifted slightly so he could tug her into his lap, “breathing you in, kissing your skin and...maybe leaving a small bruise on your shoulder. Damn.”
Reiss glanced over at a red indent where his teeth pressed a bit too tightly and she laughed it off. “It’ll probably go down and if not, it’d be hidden below my armor.”
A grateful smile lifted his cheeks and warmed her heart. “I don’t want this to end.”
She understood what he was telling her. Even with everything changing, with her reason to be near him all the time slowly being interrogated and extinguished, he was going to do all he could to cling to what this was. Doubt wormed through her gut, but in her rapture it was toothless, the voice silenced. Snuggling against him, Reiss whispered what was in her heart. “Neither do I.”