tagCelebrities & Fan FictionThere and Back Again Ch. 158

There and Back Again Ch. 158

byElyssaCousland©

Chapter One Hundred Fifty-Eight: Memories and Madness

Faren cleared his throat, and then finally spoke after months of lying unconscious in bed. "I'm sorry, Surfacer, I've obviously missed something, but I'm fairly certain I'd remember if I'd ever met a human before. Who are you, and how do you know my name?"

I blinked. And then again. I opened my mouth, paused, closed it again, and then turned slightly. "Anders?" I called, my voice rising almost into the supersonic with panic.

Hearing the fearful tone in my voice, the healer extracted himself from a still-sobbing Solona, handing her off to Jowan and rising slowly from his cot. Alistair was behind me, his eyes wide, and Aedan, who was a few more steps away, came closer as well, his hands held out for me to grab, obviously thinking I was on the verge of fainting or something.

And maybe I was; my mouth had gone dry, the words I wanted to say stuck in my throat, and I imagined I looked rather pale. I took the proffered hands and gulped, shaking my head as I waited for the healer to work his way around the cots.

I looked back to Faren as Anders finally knelt beside the dwarf's supine body. If anything, the dwarf had gone even more green around the gills, and I wondered whether it was the vomit staining Anders' robes or something else.

"You - you're not real," Faren gasped as Anders leaned forward to touch his forehead. "I...I mean, I dreamed you, but dwarves don't dream, really, but..." He trailed off into incoherence, his head falling back against the pillow it had rested upon, his eyes falling shut.

The mage looked up at me, one eyebrow raised, clearly confused.

"He...he said he didn't know who I was. I think...he's lost his memory?" I was near tears; of all the things I'd expected when Faren awoke, losing him again hadn't been anywhere on the list. Being yelled at, sure; I was prepared for that. But how do I even start to explain everything - who he was to me, and how I had tried to kill him? "Can the poison do that?"

Anders frowned and looked down at his patient. My mind spun uselessly while I watched the healer introduce himself to the dwarf while avoiding explaining much; he got Faren's approval and began to cast, his hands a green glow that made Faren twitch and gasp until he realised it didn't hurt. The healer's eyes fell closed as he worked, and I felt Aedan draw me away from the bedside while we waited.

We crossed the room, huddling in a corner, and I closed my eyes and tried to avoid watching the drama unfold. Seeing that the danger had passed, Fred and George, along with Velanna, Sigrun, Rolan, and Zevran excused themselves and left. Sigrun's complete refusal to speak to the dwarf she was so devoted to continued to be ridiculous, and I made a note to myself to talk to her before too long. Jowan brought a mostly limp Solona with him to join us in the corner, while Donal moved over to Faren's cot to offer his assistance.

I didn't know what to say, where to even start. If Faren's memory was truly gone...my eyes teared up again, and I fought to suppress the reflex. Tears never help. So instead the five of us stood silently, avoiding eye contact, avoiding looking at the two healers, trying not to think or panic, and just...waited.

After a few minutes, Anders came over; he walked slowly, limping slightly, his face haggard. I couldn't help staring, hoping against hope that he knew something good, but his expression didn't leave me feeling optimistic.

"So?" Aedan whispered.

The healer shrugged. "I don't know. His mind seemed intact in the Fade, but...well, he's a dwarf," he finished lamely, as though that should have answered the question.

"Perhaps you could start at the beginning?"

Anders sighed. "Not much to say. Went into the Fade. Found a helpful spirit who guided me to him. It wasn't just the poison - the toxin might have separated him from his body, but a demon was keeping him there. I killed it, healed him, did the ritual...and ran out of mana. Couldn't wake up. Honestly, I'm sort of surprised one of those templars didn't behead me while I was out of it."

The rest of us exchanged embarrassed glances, seemingly silently agreeing not to talk about it. Anders looked around wryly, but Aedan changed the subject before he could say anything else.

"And how does his being a dwarf affect this?"

Anders rolled his eyes. "Dwarves aren't exactly meant for the Fade. They don't even dream, right? I have no way of knowing if being there, being separated from his body, damaged him. Or maybe the demon did - it seemed rather reluctant to let him go. His memory seems to be missing everything back to before you rescued him from the Carta. Last thing he remembers is trying to escape and being betrayed by Leske." I winced. That's not going to be a fun conversation. "I can't say if it will come back. I wouldn't be surprised, but there's no guarantee. There's nothing for me to heal; it will happen on its own, or not at all."

I must have looked as devastated as I felt. Anders made as though to offer me a hug, then looked down at his soiled robes with a moue of distaste; he reached out to squeeze my hand instead, and leaned forward sympathetically. "It's not your fault. You did the best you could - and every one of us would have done worse. He'd have been dead and me long gone, had I been stuck in that cell." He straightened up and turned to Aedan. "He's going to need a lot of therapy to get back to normal. We did the best we could, but his muscles have atrophied from disuse and will need to be built back up slowly. Donal can help with that, but there's only so much healing can do. Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to change. And pack - I assume we're still leaving tomorrow."

Aedan nodded; Anders took Solona under his arm and they headed out of the lab.

Aedan turned to me. "I know your first instinct is going to be to run over there and beg forgiveness, but that's not the place to start, okay?" He shook my arm, drawing my attention away from where the dwarf lay, slowly moving his arms and legs as directed by Donal. "Sierra?"

I paused, rewinding his comment in my head until I understood him. "Don't worry. I'm in no hurry to go tell him that his current condition and near-death was my fault." Faren cursed loudly at something Donal did, and I winced. "Maybe I'll just..." I sighed. "I do have a lot of work to do."

"Oh no you don't," Aedan objected as I turned as though to walk away. "You're one of his best friends, and you're going to spend at least a little bit of time teaching him who he was and what he meant to all of us." I shook my head mutely in horror, but Aedan gripped my arm and dragged me in the direction of the dwarf's cot. "You need this as much as he does, Sierra. And you're going to give your friend a sodding hour of your time, you hear me?"

I looked to Alistair for help, but my husband was looking towards the door, nodding to himself. "I'll go manage things out there - make sure everyone has what they need for tomorrow. I'll take my turn later."

Aedan nodded, and Alistair left without a glance in my direction. I slumped, forlorn, until Aedan shifted his grip to my hand and squeezed. "Come on, sis. Distraction is good for what ails you."

****

I can't say that spending an hour trying to convince a weak, surly dwarf that we not only knew each other but were actually friends was the worst thing I've done, but it wasn't fun for either me or Aedan. Faren remained entirely skeptical of everything we said; knowing a few details about Rica, Leske, Beraht, Jarvia, and his mother helped, but didn't exactly lead him to trusting us like we'd hoped.

Explaining what had happened to Leske, his sister, and his nephew was difficult enough without the added frustration of referencing shared experiences - that he no longer shared. I had no idea how much communication is based on inside jokes, nicknames, and common people or places. I had the overwhelming urge to say "Shaka when the walls fell," but had no desire to try to explain Star Trek, of all things.

We avoided mention of my unique origin, my strange abilities, or my knowledge of the future. He's got enough to take in without adding in unbelievable talk about alternate universes! When he asked awkward questions, Aedan would jump in with details about the Wardens, or his sister, and the subject would be effectively changed. Faren wasn't dumb - I was sure he knew there were things we weren't telling him - but there was too much for any one sitting, even if we had wanted to tell him everything.

It took a while to convince him he was a Grey Warden - he couldn't believe that the 'legendary warriors' would bother recruiting a 'brand' - never mind that he was friends with some former Warrior Caste dwarves and was on friendly speaking terms with the Queen of Orzammar. "You're named as one of the regents for your nephew if something ever happens to Sereda," I assured him. "So, technically, I guess that makes you...a noble, now?"

He flashed a mischievous grin, and I chuckled. His own laughter had him shifting around on the cot, when suddenly he gasped, coughed, and groaned, gripping his chest and cursing under his breath. "Cramp," he explained when I jumped up to go get the healer, and I settled back down at his gesture. "Can't believe I'm this sodding weak. I thought Grey Wardens had unnatural strength and stamina?"

"We do! Not after two months in bed, though, lazy bones." Aedan smiled sympathetically. "Seriously though, can you feel the other Grey Wardens? You should be able to sense my taint, at the very least." Aedan talked him through the sensation of the taint, and Faren finally admitted that he could sense Jowan, outside in the library, and Aedan.

Finally, he asked the question I'd been dreading. "So, what happened to me? Why have I been unconscious for weeks?"

I gulped and looked down, cheeks flushing. "You were poisoned. We, uh, we were captured by a darkspawn—" I began, but Faren sputtered and interrupted me.

"Captured? You act like the darkspawn are intelligent. They don't take hostages."

I sighed. "This one did." Aedan went on to explain the Architect, and how he'd been taking Faren's blood for nefarious purposes.

The dwarf shuddered. "I'm guessing that's even worse than it sounds." He stretched, wincing in discomfort. "Ancestor's sodding tits, I ever find the bastard that poisoned me, I'll kill him all over again." He frowned at the uncomfortable look on Aedan's face. "You did kill him, right?"

Aedan glanced at me, glanced away, and rubbed his neck awkwardly. "Um..."

"It was me." I hid my face with my hands, trying to fight off the stupid tears I knew would come. "It's my fault. And I'm..." I glanced up at my friend's face, normally so jovial - he'd been slowly opening up again as we talked, it felt like there was a chance we might get our Faren back - but now his eyes looked hard and suspicious, his expression glacial. I could almost feel the anger and judgement emanating off him in waves, and I gasped and looked away. I jumped up, pulling back as I felt Aedan reach for me. "I'm sorry. I'm so, so sorry."

And then I ran.

****

Eventually I ended up back in my office; I skipped supper, not wanting to see anyone or deal with anything else. I contemplated sleeping there - I had a small couch in front of the hearth, and then I wouldn't have to face my husband either. I was sitting there, tangling my hair around my fingers, my stack of paperwork all-but-untouched, when there was a knock on my door.

"Come!" I called, straightening up; the person on the other side was no Warden, I could tell, and I wasn't about to show my fatigue and depression in front of someone who worked for me.

A young man entered slowly, a soldier I didn't recognise; he had on some sort of reinforced leather armour, and two swords were sheathed at his hips. He stepped forward and held out his hand, and I looked down to see a piece of parchment folded between his fingers.

"For you, my Lady." He half-bowed, and I nodded my head in acknowledgement, taking the offered paper. "Shall I wait for a response?"

I raised my eyebrows, curious who would send me a message in my own Keep - and expect an immediate response. I held up one finger, then looked down and unfolded the parchment.

'Lady Theirin,' it read, in handwriting that was achingly familiar, 'We need to talk.'

I swallowed heavily, throat too tight to respond right away. It can't be good when your own husband sends you a messenger. And nothing positive ever came of someone saying 'we need to talk.' I took a calming breath, dropping the letter on my desk so my shaking hands wouldn't be obvious. I considered ignoring it, sending the messenger back saying I was too busy...but it had to happen eventually. Might as well get it over with.

"I'll deliver my response in person." The soldier nodded and turned to go. "Where is he?"

"Your quarters, my Lady." He bowed again, and then was gone.

I changed my mind, on the walk up to my room. I didn't want to get anything over with, and my breath came shorter and shorter with panic as I walked. I barely noticed the woman at my side - one of my guards, hired by Avanna, no doubt - though I was sure she was giving me strange looks as I practically hyperventilated. I paused outside the door to our suite, trying to calm down. I could feel the warm sensation of my husband's taint somewhere inside, and it made my chest ache.

"My Lady?"

I didn't even have the energy to correct her; I still hated being called that, but it wasn't annoying enough to distract me from what I thought I was about to face. Will he have packed his things already? I waved dismissively at the guard. "I'm fine. You can wait here."

She nodded in my peripheral vision, and I took one more deep breath before entering.

I found Alistair in the sitting room, perched on the edge of a chair; he jumped to his feet when I came in, eyeing my face without a word. He'd taken off his armour, and wore just a pair of trousers and a shirt. His pecs and biceps were outlined clearly through the shirt, and I had to stop myself from ogling - as usual. I stopped a few feet in front of him, arms crossed defensively in front of myself.

Neither of us spoke for a minute, and I glanced up at his handsome face to see his expression looking angry - angrier than I'd ever seen, I thought. I looked down again, sighed, and mustered my courage.

"If you're going to leave, could you...could you not tell me until tomorrow? I don't think I can take it tonight."

At the exact same moment that I had spoken, so d he. "You ran from me. Again! How are we supposed to..."

He trailed off as my head shot up in surprise. It took me a moment to parse what he'd said, and he appeared to be doing the same.

I ran? What?

"Leave? Sierra, what in the Void are you talking about?"

I sighed. "It's been a difficult day, okay? I just can't take it if you..." I closed my eyes, feeling pathetic. "Maybe that's too much to ask. Look, I know. You don't...you don't see me like that, not after..." I paused and swallowed. "You made it obvious this morning. You don't have to tell me. I already know."

He didn't respond right away, and I struggled not to fidget impatiently. When he did respond, his voice was tight, clipped - furious? "Let me get this straight. And, correct me if I'm wrong, because I really hope I am. You've decided that I don't want you anymore because, what, because of the miscarriage? And you expect that I'm leaving because of it. Is that about the size of it?" He took a heavy step towards me, and I backed up almost instinctively, not afraid that he'd hurt me on purpose, but afraid that if he touched me, I'd lose it. He took another step, and so did I, until I bumped up against the wall behind me. Nowhere left to go.

I nodded miserably, refusing to look up. I didn't want to see pity - or revulsion. He didn't give me a choice. He lifted his hand to my chin, gently prying it up until I looked into his eyes. His expression wasn't anything I expected - intense, but not angry, not resigned. Sad, perhaps? His lips turned up at the corners, but it wasn't a smile, not really. His eyes were burning into mine, and I closed my eyes to escape his gaze.

"And you believe this to be true because...?" he inquired.

Startled, I opened my eyes again, frowning. "You have barely touched me since. You haven't kissed me. Hell, I threw myself at you - twice - and you declined. I don't exactly need you to paint me a picture, Alistair."

His hand wrapped around the back of my neck, tilting my head, moving even closer so I could feel the heat of his body against my chest, a startling contrast to the cold stone wall at my back. He was smiling now for real, but it was an odd smile - without mirth or joy. He leaned down and I felt his breath skim along the skin of my neck that he had just exposed - sniffing, I realised.

"Did it ever occur to you that I was being a gentleman?" His voice was deceptively mild, but I could feel the tension in his body that told me I wasn't safe yet. "That maybe it had nothing to do with my desire, but more with what was right?" His nose grazed my neck, somehow sensual and frightening at the same time.

I was confused - I wasn't even listening, really, just trying to reconcile my assumptions with his gentleness, his casual rejections with his heat and his touch. "Uh..."

And then he kissed me softly, his lips teasing mine, his tongue sneaking out to taste me, and I gave a confused moan. I fisted my hands in his shirt, whether to pull him closer or push him away I wasn't sure.

"Because there has never," he punctuated the statement with a sharp tug of my hair, tilting my head back even further, his other arm wrapping around my lower back and pulling me to him, "been a time when I didn't want you." He lifted me effortlessly, pressing me back against the wall, and kissed me again - and this time there was nothing gentle about it. I opened my mouth, and he plundered it, his hips pressing mine against the wall, his hand in my hair holding me where he wanted me. I gasped and wrapped my legs around his waist at his urging, and his erection pressed against my core made sure I had no doubt in my mind that he desired me.

And then we were moving together, his hands alternating between my ass and my breasts, his mouth dipping down to bite the side of my neck before kissing me again. I wrapped one arm around his neck, the other hand scrabbling at his side trying to pull him closer. Our hips moved together, his hardness sliding against me through our clothes, and he swallowed my low moan as heat flashed through me from my core and spread to the rest of me.

And the he just...stopped. His demanding mouth stilled, his hands let go, and he backed off to let me slither down the wall until my legs - which were shaking unsteadily - hit the ground. I wanted to cling to him, to demand he finish what he started, but I was shocked into silence when I touched his face and felt tears streaming from his eyes. He stayed close so I couldn't see his face, holding me loosely but immovably, his tears dampening my cheek, then my shoulder. He waited until I seemed stable on my feet, and then he spoke quietly, his voice breaking with emotion, his lips right next to my ear.

"You ran from me, Sierra. You didn't ask, didn't wait, didn't listen. What happened to giving each other the benefit of the doubt? We've talked about this, remember? How we'd been through too much to let anything come between us? Instead, you assumed, and you ran, and you decided I was going to divorce you without even talking to me about it." I could hear anger in his voice, but under that...under that was just hurt. It rocked me, and I gasped as his evident pain echoed in my chest. "You don't trust me, and I don't know what else to do. How do I convince you I love you? How do I prove to you I'm never leaving you? Every time we hit a bump, every disagreement or misunderstanding, you run. You run, and I have to come find you."

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