I appropriated Kristoff’s old room and the others found quarters of their own. Our belongings settled, we rummaged in the kitchen for something to eat then sat around the fire fruitlessly considering our approach to the Dragonbone Wastes where The Mother had hidden herself. This occupation paled quickly. One by one we wandered off to make any preparations we could conceive for a place none of us had been and the unknown enemy at its heart.
Time seemed to stand still that afternoon as we rambled about the inn, too restless to lie down and too tired to commit to setting out for the Wastes. We bathed, cleaned our weapons and armor, bumped into each other in odd corners, and generally got in each other’s way and on each other’s nerves time and again.
Sigrun and Ohgren argued on the stairs twice as they wandered back and forth from their rooms to the ground floor and I heard her tell Anders she would find a way to slap him if he snuck up behind her one more time. Ohgren ludicrously accused Anders of stealing his whetstone and the pair of them got heated enough that I had to separate them. None of the usual rough humor that flavored our normal interactions was apparent that afternoon.
My dwarven companions avoided me, disappearing from any room into which I wandered. I suspected they were holding their tongues with me rather than being actively insubordinate. For once my being Commander of the Grey actually helped keep Ohgren from frustrating me though I might have welcomed another drunken discussion of our half-remembered exploits to distract me.
Anders, on the other hand, appeared every time I turned around but couldn’t seem to bring himself to say whatever was on his mind. Once or twice he opened his mouth but then closed it and wandered off shaking his head. Without his heavy boots he moved so quietly that he startled me several times. I wondered if he were nervous about the coming confrontation but did not want to admit it. Pushing him would likely not help. I resolved not to snap at him when next I found him standing just behind me and instead tried to be more reassuring and sympathetic.
The last time it happened I literally ran into him as I paced the halls. I had to grab him around the hips to keep from knocking him off his feet entirely. He rested his hands on my shoulders for a moment, looking curiously into my face. I remembered my intentions and, instead of raising my voice, enquired as to whether he needed something. He appeared to resolve something in his mind and simply released me. I had no idea what it could have been but if my show of patience had helped I would accept it gladly. At least it kept him from shadowing me for a couple of hours.
I kept an ear cocked for messengers but no news came of either a renewed assault or a runner from the keep. Finally darkness began to fall. We picked at an evening meal in the main room downstairs while Ohgren availed himself freely of the bar’s remaining stores and attempted to convince the others that they should join him. None of us seemed all that interested in getting drunk and even the dwarf known for the number of kegs he could empty in a single evening bothered with only a few tankards.
I excused myself soon thereafter and made my way to my room where I disrobed and crawled into the bed, irritable and anxious for the night to pass. The room had no windows, being at the back of the inn where it adjoined the guard tower, so it was pitch black once I had extinguished the lamp, a condition I found reminiscent of my childhood underground. I could hear the others moving around, snipping at each other as they made their way to their respective rooms. All soon grew quiet except the expected noises of any building at night. Mice rustled along the walls and the floorboards on the other side of the wall creaked where they joined the stone as the night shift circulated.
I stretched an arm across the expanse of sheeting, desperately missing Alistair’s company. Even disregarding the more-intimate joys of our relationship I wished for the comfort of his physical presence with me at night. I missed lying together discussing strategy and speculating about what form the next confrontation may take. And, in my most honest moments, I missed the safe feeling of being surrounded by his body, writ on so much larger a scale than my own. Despite having trained to defend myself since childhood that harbor had quickly grown to figure strongly in my love for him.
It had been the first time since I’d been a tiny girl that the arms of another had felt secure, a place from which I could do anything and to which I could flee for solace. Gorim had been more than a subordinate but never quite an equal, never someone with whom I could completely surrender. But then I had not faced many decisions more difficult than the gown appropriate to a particular event or when to interfere in the machinations of my brothers to keep the peace in the royal household.
With Alistair I had made plans that affected the entire country every other day, it had seemed. We had fought beside one another all day and made choices about our priorities each night, flying blind as the only two Wardens left in Ferelden, working our way around a civil war to collect enough allies to save everyone, even from themselves. Every time I had discovered another instance of treachery, like uncovering Howe’s slaughter of Teryn Couseland’s family at Highever, I had someone to whom I could turn to help me consider its implications. He’d been content to let me lead in public but without him I may not have been able to.
And here I was, at the ends of Ferelden, alone with my contemplations in a situation that could have consequences as serious as the Blight itself. I rolled onto my side and fell asleep to an endless loop of internal debate about whether I would find myself choosing sides between two Darkspawn factions or whether we could eliminate both. I dreamed of discussing the same circular thoughts with Alistair in my childhood bed in Orzammar, a place he’d never been but in which my mind apparently found safety.
As my dreams of him so often did, this one moved from talking to something more stimulating. I dreamed of his lips against my neck and shoulder, of his body ardently pressed against me. I murmured encouragement and felt a hand slide over my hip in response. I wallowed in the moment and begged my mind not to wake as things grew more heated. I felt him nudging into me, his familiar chest against the back of my head and his hands busy as we moved together.
Something was distracting me, however. Where I’d been dreaming of my home in the palace when I’d begun to concentrate on the sensations, I opened them to complete darkness and the faint stink of taint in the air. Nothing changed physically—I still felt him around and in me, was still rocked by the release hovering just outside of my grasp. Yet the movements were not those I knew so well, had performed so often with Alistair. As an arm passed out of the dark to sweep me closer I smelled the yeasty warmth of fresh bread and froze.
Anders immediately realized something was wrong and stopped as well. He whispered my name questioningly, sounding so much like Alistair that I was tempted to pretend I dreamt still. He laid a kiss atop my head and ran a soothing hand down my arm but I could not react. My mind spun wildly, torn between the ache in my belly and the shock at myself for actually doing this with someone else. How could this have happened? Was I so exhausted, so distracted that his arrival had not awakened me? Yet hadn’t I practically been begging him to do this for weeks?
I couldn’t guess how I would have reacted had Anders approached me differently but it was not the time to wonder. As I struggled to decide how to react I felt him shifting nervously, each gentle movement translating into a nudge much more persuasive than any argument could have been. A growl of mingled frustration and desire escaped me. Anders seemed to take it as a cue to press deeper and I nearly whimpered with need, my best intentions and indignant protests fading in the face of my long-denied wanting. While my mind ordered it out of bed my body rebelled and pressed itself against him.
I marveled at how similar his body felt to Alistair’s in the dark, as though the mage were my darling’s doppelganger. He responded eagerly and it seemed seconds before I was forced to press my face into the pillow to muffle my cries. Our efforts rose to a fever pitch but outside of low cries and moans he made no sound. I fought down the encouragement that I longed to give him and restrained myself from barking orders. He seemed to know precisely what I wanted, unspoken though my commands may have been. I shuddered as he shifted and positioned us both. I denied him nothing and he explored at length, holding himself back for what seemed like hours. Finally he could resist no longer and gave in to the pleasure at last.
We lay unmoving for a time, our breaths slowing, neither brave enough to break the silence. I bathed in the ebb of the sweet throbbing I’d missed for so long and fought away the sleep attempting to suck me back under. A part of me wanted to close my eyes and act as if none of this had happened, hoping that when I woke my bed would be empty once again. With the physical distractions removed, however, my mind again raced in circles. I could hardly take back what we’d done together or deny my responsibility for it. When I finally spoke my voice sounded more or less resigned. “What the hell are you doing in my bed, Anders?”