Guarded Love

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Chapter 51: Want

Everything hurt.

A good 99.99999% of that was a blade perforating his organs and slicing him up like the family hog for Satinalia dinner. But while Alistair watched Cade being dragged away a tiny part of him stung. It was probably the oncoming shit storm of dealing with this mess, but maybe some of it was regret at losing another person he once thought of as a friend. Having exhausted what little energy he had in scooting across the floor, Alistair began to sag. Lanny moved to catch him, but it was Reiss who beat her to it. Her arm slipped around his back. She used the still sore but no longer as broken one to steady him but put no pressure on it.

For a breath, Alistair stared deep into her eyes, his hands dangling limply at his sides but yearning to cup her cheek. She blinked and turned her head away, staring daggers out the door while Lanny gripped tight to her cane.

After making certain that Cade was on a well guarded carriage ride to the dungeon cells in Redcliffe castle, that templar rounded up the stairs and dashed into the room. He didn’t even glance over at Alistair, his eyes fully on Lanny. First curling a hand around her back, he brushed his lips over her forehead and seemed to melt in her presence.

“Thank the Maker you’re okay,” he gasped. In the grand scheme of things it seemed that Reiss was in the most danger, then Alistair, and if Cade had time he’d probably go after Lanny. But of course, the templar was only concerned for his wife. Alistair didn’t blame him an inch for it.

“I was on pins and needles outside that door, not knowing if you’d have time to send for assistance or if he’d do something to...”

“Cullen,” she laid her fingers against his cheek and gently patted it, “I’m fine. I can take care of myself.”

“I know, but it won’t stop me from worrying.”

Lanny smiled at that, “Fair enough.”

Trying to roll his eyes away from the two about to mack on each other while professing their unending love, which seemed to happen on the hour, Alistair’s eyes wandered over to the woman still keeping him upright. She was staring past him watching the two love birds, but when she felt his attention Reiss blushed and Alistair dropped his head to the ground.

“Sorry to tell you this, Lanny, but I’m going to have to borrow your templar for a little bit,” Alistair said, doing his best to fight through the awkward mist rising up through the floorboards before it went toxic and turned all their skin inside out.

“Oh?” she broke away from him, a quirk to her eyebrow.

“For standing up against Cade, he’ll have to head to Denerim for the trial. It’ll be tough going to convince people the Commander of the royal guards was behind this but...”

Lanny nodded, already onto his same trail, “If it comes from the Commander of the Inquisition, then they’ll have to believe it.”

“I don’t know if it’s wise,” the stick in the mud began, his fingers curling over Lana’s hand pinned tight to his chest.

Alistair shrugged, “I need a witness, someone with great standing. Teagan can offer some support but if it’s not you who heard the whole confession, then...” He waved his exhausted hand at Lanny. The Hero of Ferelden would certainly sway minds in an instant but it’d also raise a bunch of questions like: How was she alive? Did the King know she was alive? Why was she alive? and What’s for dinner? Landsmeet meetings were notorious for taking hours and also having rather decent spreads.

For once Cullen actually listened to him. He curled a hand over Lanny’s erupting locks and nodded his head. “Of course, I’ll testify or whatever you need.”

“Well, that was easier than I feared,” Alistair admitted. He never thought the templar would agree to anything he asked for on principle alone. “Now, if you don’t mind, I need to return to bed before I pass out on the floor.”

He’d woken in fits and spurts over the past few days, always with Lanny clucking her tongue and trying to jam some other Maker awful concoction down his throat. That Alistair wasn’t surprised by, but the presence sitting on the other side of his bed -- often silent -- was a big question he yet had the courage to ask about.

With her hands full of the King, Reiss guided him to bed. She hadn’t been in charge of physically dragging him around, what with her own arm being cracked open as Lanny explained in her graphic and fascinated detail. Reiss didn’t say much, about her biggest speech to him involved her theory on why Brunt up and went rabid. And even if she was capable of touching him, Reiss seemed to shy away from it. No, the special honor of lifting up Alistair’s exhausted body to change clothes and do other bodily things went to his least favorite person in all of thedas. It seemed to be the kind of fitting punishment the Maker dreamed up for both of them.

As Alistair’s ass fell to the bed, Reiss released him and slid back. She kept flinching her hand, no doubt in pain after the punch she landed on Cade’s jaw. But she didn’t complain about it and he wasn’t certain if he should point out noticing or not. Lanny was stretched to her limits already with him, Reiss’ shattered arm, and that one servant who accidentally ingested deadly berries. It’d been a rather interesting few days of what he could remember.

“We should leave you to rest,” Lanny said, her head dipping down. Her eyes glanced over both Alistair and Reiss, but it was the templar’s hand that she picked up. Tugging it around her back, Lanny let him guide her out the door. While she closed it, the latch didn’t take and they could both overhear the pair of them standing outside.

Lanny sighed, “‘Make sure she doesn’t kill herself?’”

“What?” Cullen responded.

“You know that’s not how healing magic works. One can’t transfer all their life force to someone, it requires a spirit’s assistance and...there is no draining of someone else’s health to heal.”

Alistair shifted in his bed, knowing that voice. That was Lanny’s petulant tone about to shift into ‘why can’t you trust me’ mode. He’d been privy to it more times than he cared to think about during the Blight, and a few times after. The smart thing to do was apologize immensely and then change the subject, too bad the templar was an idiot.

“I also know that you will do anything within your power to save someone,” Cullen hissed, “especially him.”

Ooh, wrong choice. Alistair twisted awkwardly on his haunches, expecting to see literal sparks shooting under the door.

But something else happened. The templar’s voice dropped lower and he whispered at barely audible levels, “Lana, I love you and I don’t want to lose you again.”

No fight broke out, no one stuck to their wounded egos while stomping away. Lanny’s voice answered back, “I love you too.” As they were probably swapping saliva outside his death bed, the awkwardness in the room reached peak ‘Dear Maker, I’d rather set myself on fire and jump out the window than have to suffer this.’ Thankfully the sound of feet and Lanny’s cane striking the floor echoed away as the two of them probably shuffled off to make goo goo eyes at each other for a few hours.

Sliding back against his pillows, Alistair darted an eye over at Reiss. Her body stood like a marionette with the strings all knotted up. The mourner’s chair sat behind her, but she didn’t take it. “I don’t think I’m going to have any more assassins drop in on me today,” Alistair said. “Least I hope not. If you don’t want to stay, you don’t have to.”

“No, I...” she pulled in a shuddering breath before lifting her head up. Those summery green eyes brimmed with something he’d almost think were tears, but that seemed impossible. “I’d like to stay, if that’s okay.”

He shrugged, jerking his head to the chair. “It’s no skin off my nose. I hope. Maker, please don’t tell me there’s some cult out there that needs the skin of King’s and Queen’s and Empress’ noses to rise an ancient bone golem back from the dead.”

“Bone golem?” she sat down in the same spot he kept finding her in. Instead of placing her fingers tight to her knees, she fiddled with them.

“Like a regular stone golem but made out of bones. Far more creepier and eeevil!”

“Wouldn’t it be much easier to destroy? A single good boulder from a trebuchet should shatter it to dust,” she pointed out.

“You’d think that, but skeletons always have that evil bone magic to keep them all boned up and bony like.” He had nothing, no foolish quips to walk his way through his broken heart, no obstruction with a wave of his fingers to drive away the pain sluicing through the room.

She came back.

But she did it to save him. To protect his wretched little life as she was paid to do. Maybe it’d mean something if Reiss had been a gardener or farrier, not someone in charge of keeping his worthless skin un-stabbed, but that’d been her job. Sure, she quit it because of him, because he...

“You’re here,” he sighed to himself. “I mean, the bad guy’s off on a long and interesting trip to his new accommodations in chateau rat squalor. No reason for you to keep sticking around.”

Reiss didn’t look at him, but she put up her armor. “I, uh...” blinking slowly, she whispered in a scratchy voice, “I owe you one, you know for sitting with me when I was...” Was she here to honor some foolish debt between them? He didn’t check in on her when she was sick in exchange for the same. He did it because...because he didn’t want her to hurt. But she hurt him, hard and fast. Someone should have told Brunt there was no heart for him to stab because Reiss already gutted it from him. Alistair groaned, the forced levity cracking in half.

“I feared falling asleep because every time I opened my eyes, I kept expecting to find you’d left,” he whispered to himself, “That I’d turn my head and there’d be a Reiss shaped cloud of dust.”

She winced, her head falling down. That bun was in place, but she hadn’t slotted back in the dagger. Instead it was an empty vial curling through her golden waves of hair. The sprinklings of tears dripped down her cheek and Alistair’s stomach sneered at him for being so cruel.

“I mean,” he shifted on the bed, trying to pull himself away from the raw wound in his soul, “you have your whole life to get back to. City Watch and all that fun entails, and my little stabbing and bleeding everywhere antics shouldn’t keep you from it.”

A snicker lifted her lips, but there was no mirth to it.

Half of him wanted to lash out the way he always did, one part jokes to another part bitter anger, but as his eyes tried to look past Reiss, to harden his heart to her, it had the damn opposite effect. She looked miserable, almost as bad as he felt and he was the one that was stabbed. All he wanted to do was wrap his arms around her and promise that somehow it’d be okay, but he couldn’t because...because she left him.

And then came back.

Right, because of assassins. Not exactly the same as riding in on a white horse and declaring eternal love.

Why not?

“You’re still wearing my blood,” Alistair said, pointing at the stained tunic. A dark scarlet sopped up her chest where she’d probably helped in trying to move him, or maybe it was Brunt’s blood. Or her own. There was so much blood everywhere, it was like a Tevinter office party.

Reiss picked up the middle of her filthy shirt and inspected it as if the fact was new to her. “I...I didn’t bring another change of clothes with me. There wasn’t time, I had to leave it behind. Leave it all behind.”

“Oh,” he tugged on the bandage wrapped tight around his midsection, the feel of the linen distracting the pain knotting up his heart. “I had no idea. You, I mean, I’ve got a lot of extra shirts that someone was kind enough to insist I needed for this trip. You’re free to take one.”

Her summery eyes washed over him and Alistair felt the lump in chest sluggishly thump awake at the attention. His mouth flapped away, needing to provide a distraction. “You know, so you don’t have to waltz back to the City Watch decorated with blood. They might get a bit funny about that.”

She swallowed hard and bobbed her head listlessly, “It doesn’t matter, when I left I...I left everything behind.”

“What?” Alistair tried to sit up, the pain in her voice drawing him closer like a moth to a flame. “What do you mean?”

Biting on her lip, she shrugged half a shoulder, “I’ve missed reporting in by...nearly two weeks now. There’s no way they’ll take me back.”

Andraste, she abandoned that for him? “Reiss,” his fingers skirted over hers. She didn’t yank her hand back, but let him attempt to comfort her. “I’m pretty sure ‘saving the King’s lousy hide’ is a damn good excuse for missing work. And if not, Karelle could probably swing you an even better posting.”

She didn’t speak for a few breaths, her eyes staring down at his hand cupping tight to hers. Should he let go? Was it the right thing to do or...? “I suppose that would be good,” Reiss’ voice washed back and forth like the shore, uncertainty in her every breath.

“Or,” Alistair groaned at the mere thought of the monumental work ahead of him, “turns out I’m going to be needing a new Commander of the Guards. Someone I can trust who won’t strategically place bodyguards in the palace to stab me in the back, or front. I’d like to avoid anymore stabbings if at all possible. This is about as much fun as having to sit through a ten year old’s fife recital.”

Reiss snorted at that. Why did she do that? Anyone else, everyone else suffered him. He knew it, grew used to it, didn’t mind. Even Lanny had to take her occasional breaks, but Reiss would smile at him when he was tripping down non sequitur lane. She didn’t attempt to mash him into place, or sand off the rough edges, just let him be him. Even, Maker help him, prop Alistair up when the world was taking its pound of flesh.

“I’d be honored if you were my Commander of the royal guards.”

She pinched her eyes together tight before staring fully at him, “What?”

It’d be hard to have her close while also beyond reach, but Alistair didn’t want to lose her. Not again. “I trust you, there are few anymore I can say that of and...I mean, think of the potential. You’d be the first elf ever in charge of a small standing army. At least since Shartan. And some of the Dalish, I suppose.”

He didn’t expect a yes right away, but Reiss’ head drifted down further, her eyes burning a hole into the bedspread. “That doesn’t seem wise.”

“Why not? You’ve proven yourself, over and over. Sure, people might be hard to win to your side. Have to be a lot of ‘I didn’t believe in you until you stood up to the evil bear about to take my head and showed you were capable and now we’re best friends’ kind of learning experiences but... You can do it.”

“That’s not it,” she lifted her head up and tears bubbled in her eyes. “Whether I’m capable isn’t... I can’t because I don’t want it.”

“Maker’s hairy ass,” Alistair groaned. Yanking his hand away from her he thudded both into the bed and growled, “What do you want?”

Her lips opened, a breath passing through them. The tears were dripping faster now, each drop an ice pick jabbed into his soul. He wanted to help, to try and give her something in this world to make her happy but he had no idea what would do it.

Steadying herself, Reiss whispered to the air, “You.”

Alistair pointed at himself, then turned his head to look behind himself. “Me? Since when? You were the one to...”

“I know,” she stuttered, her fingers digging into the blanket. “I walked away, I’m the reason you were nearly killed.”

“No,” he jabbed his hand through the air, “that was all on my turncoat Commander who’s going to become very familiar with the dungeons he once ruled over. It had nothing to do with you.”

She didn’t seem convinced, but that need to blame herself was tabled for later. “For so long, I didn’t focus on what I wanted. I couldn’t. I had to keep my eyes on what I needed. No one ever cared about what I wanted.” Reiss lifted her eyes and stared right into his soul as she spoke, “I didn’t care about what I wanted.”

He knew that feeling. Ten years old, sentenced to a life Alistair never asked for, certainly never wanted, with no one willing to listen to him he began to lose hope. He’d find little ways to rebel, to remind the Grand Cleric and anyone else that he didn’t want to be templar, he didn’t want to hunt mages, or give his life to the chantry. But in all that time, shouting at the top of his lungs to make certain he was still alive, hiding moldy potatoes in the Grand Cleric’s pillows, rebelling the only way he could, he began to forget what it was he did want. What the very act of wanting was.

“Reiss,” Alistair reached out, his fingers curling to her cheek. She didn’t shrink away, or turn her head. Those beautiful eyes slipped closed and she pressed into him, her own hand cupping the back.

“I want you,” she whispered. “My heart...Maker’s breath, my heart’s been begging for you for, I think since we met.”

Biting his tongue, Alistair braced himself for the ‘but’ he knew was coming.

“The problem is I can’t be with you and also work for you,” her eyes opened, fresh tears glistening on the edges. Leaning closer, Alistair dabbed his thumb to the sides, trying to wick them away. He couldn’t take her in pain even if she was hurting him in the process.

Reiss blinked madly, trying to fan away the tears while she launched into an explanation, “I keep thinking what if I find myself doing things not because I want to, or because they’d make you happy but because I...I fear reprisal. If you, if there was a chance you’d turn cold and then, and I’d lose... It’s not that I think you would, only, from my past when things were... I’m sorry,” she faded away, trying to turn from him. Her lips puckered against his hand, but Alistair didn’t release her.

“I get it,” he said. Reiss’ eyes opened wide and she honed in on him. “I didn’t think how, thought that you being separate wouldn’t interfere. Though then I was putting you under Cade and in retrospect you made the right call running far from that.”

“I didn’t think he was so calculatingly evil at the time, just an elf-hating jerk,” she shrugged.

“Which is still a good enough reason to refuse the job,” he chuckled. “Salary’s good, benefits are wonderful, but the boss thinks me and my kind should be wiped from the face of thedas. Hard pass.”

“You’ve given me so much,” Reiss sighed.

Alistair shook his head, “Only what you’ve earned.”

“Can you really say that if I had not slept with you, you’d still offer me the position of Commander?”

“I...” Yes. Of course. She put all the pieces together, saw what no one else did, jumped straight to the right conclusion, and saved his ass. But.

He couldn’t be sure. Not really. Try as hard he could, Alistair couldn’t divorce his affection... Maker’s sake, call it what it is. His love for Reiss from her accomplishments. And it’d always be there if she served under him, even with her own charges to answer to. For the rest of her life she’d wonder what got her the accolades as would everyone else in the palace.

“Damn,” Alistair cursed himself, cursed his foolish heart. How did he not see all those traps littering the path? He thought it’d be easy, just like the ones before, but he didn’t want what the handful of mages gave him. A few moments throughout the day, and then nights, never connecting souls just bodies for a couple hours. He wanted so much more but had no idea what to do to get it.

“This job would change things for the better,” he admitted, his eyes pinched tight as he couldn’t look at her while damning his own heart. “People never thought much of Shianni but she’s done good for the alienage. Another elf in such a vaulted position’d...” He turned over to her and tried to shake off the pain building in his eyes. “Knowing what it means, I can’t take it from you for my own selfish reasons.”

“Ma’arlath,” Reiss whispered. Her fingers skirted over his cheeks and he blinked in surprise to find tears sopping into her skin. Alistair wanted to run, to turn all this into punches and kicks and other things that would pop open any stitches and piss off Lanny. Emotions were to be wadded deep down and turned into something useful. But...

Rolling his fingers around Reiss’ wrist, he pressed her hand tighter to him and tried to place his lips in her grasp. It wasn’t a kiss because his trembling mouth couldn’t pucker. No, instead he breathed wordlessly against her skin every fear in his heart, every loss, every broken hope and eternal despair. He couldn’t stop, the tears on a downpour while salt sloshed into his mumbling lips as he begged her to stay. To be with him. To love him. But he couldn’t voice it, couldn’t tear her away from a future that she not only deserved but could do so much with.

She’d earned her happiness even if it wasn’t with him.

“I’m sorry, I seem to be blubbering all over your hand,” Alistair shook his head, trying to knock away the last of the depression as if it was ever that easy.

Reiss drew back her hand stained in his tears and then gently wiped it down the front of her shirt, “I can use it to clear away the blood.”

That hammy sentiment made him snicker, his eyes entranced at her fingers tugging back and forth against her chest. The one that she used to pull his head to, sometimes before falling asleep. Once so he could listen to her heartbeat because he was being foolish, insisting that hers had to have a symphonic quality. Something about her being so quick on her feet or other nonsense that Reiss kept encouraging.

“I can’t stop loving you,” Alistair gasped, the dam shattering. “I’m sorry, I wanted to make this easier for...for both of us really, but,” he thudded a limp fist against his sternum and groaned, “this thing never listens.”

“Don’t,” Reiss wrapped her fingers around his fist and tugged it away.

“I won’t do too much damage to myself. I’ve faced Lanny’s wrath before,” he confided.

“No, I mean don’t stop...” her eyes darted away. A breath rattled through her nose, crinkling up the broken part which almost brought a smile to Alistair’s pale lips. “I didn’t come out here because I thought I’d get you back. No, that’s not how I should start. I mean.”

Reiss tipped her head back and glared at the ceiling, “Why is this so hard? Maker’s sake, I love you. Okay. I’ve loved you for...I don’t know since I first kissed you, or when you rescued an elven child, or while you were slurping up soup and drizzled a drop to the fly beside you. I don’t know when because my brain keeps telling my heart that it’s bad, it’s dangerous, and I shouldn’t, but I can’t stop loving you. I wanted so badly to tell you but...”

Her amplified words faded and she whipped her head down. Uncertainty filled those summer eyes and she bit onto her lip. “I guess I just did tell you.”

Alistair began to laugh, the absurdity of it all striking him hard on the nose like a naughty dog. She loved him, he loved her. Blighted everyone in his life was pushing him to be with her. But of course it wasn’t enough. Things kept interfering, his damn crown all but stabbing him in the back.

The idiotic laughter slowed and Alistair stirred a finger through the blanket, “I want it to work, to be with you, even if it’s at a distance, or once a month, or I can only see you through a tiny hole in the wall. I don’t blighted care, I want you in my life.”

“Me too,” she smiled.

“Then, what do I have to do, what do you need me to do to make it happen?” He wished he had a piece of parchment near to scrawl it all down. Every step, no matter how outlandish or seemingly impossible he’d do. Cross the invisible bridge, solve the impossible riddle, pluck a flower from the top of the mountain if it meant he could be with her.

Reiss roughed her fingers up and down his unruly stubble -- Cullen was willing to deal with shirts and pants, but he refused to shave him. “Nothing,” she whispered before leaning forward. Alistair froze, his body exhausted and his brain lost, while she placed her lips against his. Those beautiful, ornery, quick witted lips that he never thought he’d taste again, pressed and molded against him. The kiss was horribly sloppy, Alistair sliding forward and nearly butting her with his forehead, but he didn’t care. It was the impossible kiss; but would it be the last before the end of everything, or the first in a new potential?

Sliding away, Reiss breathed, “That’s the point, you do nothing and I...I live my life outside the palace. As a random citizen who’s in love with a man that also happens to be King.”

“You think that’ll work?” Alistair asked.

Her fingers parted over his forehead before tugging up his oily hair. “Who knows? Who knows what anything will bring. I hope it will.”

Even with exhaustion and pain swirling through his body, Alistair reached forward. He locked both hands around Reiss’ body, pulling himself into her embrace. She was slower to respond, still trying to get his hair to obey before those thin fingers, broken and callused from her mad dash across Ferelden to save his sorry hide, circled over the weary muscles in his back.

“I love you,” tumbled from Alistair’s throat as he lost himself in her softening eyes. “Which I should have told you before, and not in the middle of a big fight.”

Reiss smirked a moment, “And I should have told you before as well. Letting someone in’ll take getting used to.” As his hands locked in tighter, Reiss scooted onto the bed until Alistair could place his lips to her forehead.

“I happen to be an excellent person to get used to. I damn near hear it every day. ’Oh, the King? Yes, well, you’ll get used to him.’”

She chuckled, her warm cheeks knocking against his. It was enough to draw a smile to Alistair’s weary face. Hope. Maker’s breath, he never thought he’d feel that one again. To think he’d never have even met her or had a reason to get to know her if Cade hadn’t been trying to off him. Talk about a flower grown in a pot of dirt scenario. Granted, he’d also not have this stomach cramping knife wound in his gut either, but... As Alistair curled a finger down Reiss face, he knotted up some of her escapee hair to push back behind her ears. Maybe the occasional stabbing was worth it for this.

“What do you want to do? With your life I mean. Though, if you have some really exciting plans for the day I’d love to live vicariously through them as I get to face sitting in bed, sleeping in bed, getting bored in bed, and the potential of another sponge bath from a man that once almost broke my jaw.”

She nuzzled her beautiful face into the crook of his neck, both hands careful to drift nowhere near his aching side. “I don’t know. I’ve never given it much thought before.”

“Well, I promise I’ll stay out of it, but I hope you wouldn’t mind a few suggestions,” Alistair whispered, his lips forming the words against her skin.

Reiss lifted her head off him and he began to clench for fear of saying the wrong thing, but she smiled. “Not at all,” her eyes drifted away in a haze as she whispered, “not from the man I love.” Alistair’s thumb and forefinger cupped around her jawline and he pulled her to him for the second impossible kiss. With all his focus, he softly parted his lips, tasting as much of her as he dare. In his chest, his heart palpitated to a new rhythm of its own making. Seeming to enjoy the sweet but in no way chaste kiss, Reiss nibbled a moment upon his bottom lip before returning to nuzzling against him.

Right. It was good that she broke that off before Alistair’s little brain took control of the big one. He could explain a few injuries away, but needing Lanny to heal him because he broke something during sex would probably be his undoing. The templar’s tongue clucking alone... Reiss put almost no pressure on him, her legs hooked off the bed, but he could savor her warmth, her wind swept smell, the way her always messy hair tickled against his skin.

Back. She came back.

“When you were traveling all hooded black rider across Ferelden, did you happen to stay at a little tavern an hour or so past Lothering? Big white steeples with a blue trim and a horse on the sign despite it being named the Dragon’s Gullet?”

“I...I did actually.”

“Everyone I ask it of always says that. This tiny rundown inn somehow has merchants, princes, and long lost heroes in search of a quest all boarding under its one roof. There are these four lanterns in the sitting room I can’t figure out. By the time you light the fourth one, the first’s already gone out. What are they for? It’s bugged me. There’s got to be a trick.”

“Why don’t you have people light them all at the same time?”

Alistair’s jaw hung open, “I never thought to try that. No idea why, there’s always a good dozen people following behind me in case I start plucking royal jewels out of the crown and tossing ’em away for fun.” He paused and sighed, “I used to think there was some magical spell that pulled everyone into that tiny inn, templar senses never kicked off.”

She nodded her head, not arguing with his nonsense or trying to stave it off. “You know what, I think it’s the breakfast.”

“That they put some magical potion in it,” he snapped his fingers in excitement.

But Reiss shook her head, “No, it’s just that good. Waffles and pancakes? At any hour you wish? Who wouldn’t travel across country for that? I’m thinking of taking a few trips again just for them.”

“Do it at the height of blueberry season,” he pressed her tighter to him, never wanting to let go. “They work it into the batter. I...I guess when I’m not knocking near death’s plague wagon, we could stop there together. I mean, assuming you’ll want to travel with.”

Reiss buried deeper into him, almost as if she never wanted to leave. “Of course I do. For starters, I don’t have any other clothing. And if random people in Denerim see me dressed in the King’s known wares, I’ll probably be strung up in the street.”

He winced at the fact, but threw on a smile, “Or worse, they’ll think you’re me and plop you on the throne. It’s all downhill from there.”

“You’ve done well with it so far,” she said.

There were so many reasons this wouldn’t work. Alistair knew them, Reiss did too. People that’d never approve, time and commitments pulling them in two different directions, but Maker take it all, it was worth the risk. He was going to get it right this time. No secrets, no running away when things got sticky.

“There are somethings I need to tell you, about being a Grey Warden...” Alistair whispered.

“Okay,” she nodded, rising off his chest, “but how about later? I don’t know about you but all that waffle talk has me starving.”

“You only care for the waffles?” Alistair gasped, “I’m sorry, but pancakes are all the King allows at his breakfast table.”

“Oh, those are fighting words,” Reiss sighed. She pretended to hold her hand up as if about to challenge him to a duel. Alistair gripped it, but instead of letting go for the fight to commence, he pulled her tight to him. With one hand roaming through her hair, he couldn’t stop kissing her, couldn’t stop touching her, and Andraste and damn near everyone else who knew, he couldn’t ever stop loving her.

They’d find a way. They had to.

“I love you,” Alistair said, his heart beating in time with every word.

“And I love you,” she smiled at him, “and also waffles.”

Feeling lighter than he ever thought possible, Alistair tugged this brave, beautiful, smart, irreverent, funny woman into his arms. She was already safe in his heart.

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Inkitt is the world’s first reader-powered publisher, providing a platform to discover hidden talents and turn them into globally successful authors. Write captivating stories, read enchanting novels, and we’ll publish the books our readers love most on our sister app, GALATEA and other formats.