tagCelebrities & Fan FictionThere and Back Again Ch. 163

There and Back Again Ch. 163

byElyssaCousland©

Chapter One Hundred Sixty-Three: *Promises Kept

The twentieth of Wintermarch. The date of my wedding anniversary...and another important event in my life: the birthday of the man I'd married. And I'd had no idea, at the time, that our wedding had fallen on the day we should have been celebrating his life.

"The twentieth?" I asked. Alistair nodded, wincing. "As in, the twentieth of Wintermarch?" He flushed and looked away, trying to hide his guilty expression from me. "As in the day we got married?" My tone was rising with each sentence, each word, and I stopped to take a deep breath and bring it back down to normal.

Alistair stayed where he was, posture stiff, face turned away from me; I was mad, there was no doubt, but the only person I was angry with was myself - though it was clear Alistair was expecting something else. I walked up behind him, pressing my forehead against his shoulder blade and my hands to his lower back, feeling him relax slightly against me. "Are you telling me I'm such an asshat that I not only missed my husband's birthday, I got married on that day without realising?"

Alistair finally turned, his expression concerned and serious and intense, and I couldn't pull my gaze away even when I tried. I'd seen the expression before - it usually happened right before he said something sweet and romantic and overwhelmingly adorable, and my heart fluttered in anticipation. He lifted my chin with one hand, his thumb stroking my cheek and the corner of my mouth, his other arm around my waist possessively. "The best birthday present I ever could have asked for was to marry the woman of my dreams. Even if you'd never figured out the date, even if we never celebrated my birthday specifically, I'd have had the best birthdays every year celebrating our anniversary."

I swooned, as usual left breathless by the evidence of my husband's devotion - which I'd vowed never again to question, and never to take for granted. "You...I..." I couldn't even make a coherent sentence, so instead I leaned up to kiss him; Alistair returned it enthusiastically, holding me to him like he was afraid I'd disappear - and then both of us laughed as my brother cleared his throat uncomfortably.

I glared at the offending conspirator. "Don't think it's escaped my attention that you're partially to blame for this, brother. I'm willing to bet you damn well knew I was obliviously getting married on my husband's birthday. You are on my shit list." He laughed as I kissed Alistair again - out of spite, yes, but also out of the need to be closer to my husband than I could get in polite company.

Finally pulling away, I went to retrieve a piece of parchment and a quill from a drawer in the side table, scratching down the dates in my horrible scrawl.

"What about you, Zev?" I asked. There was a pause, and I glanced up to see the elf standing awkwardly, his face that neutral mask I hadn't seen in a long time. "Mio fratello? What's wrong?" He didn't move.

I put the quill down and approached the elf, who kept his gaze fixed resolutely on the hearth. Not knowing what else to do, I slipped my arm through his and stood quietly at his side. Aedan's expression looked pained. What in the nine hells have I walked into here? I squeezed Zev's arm lightly and rested my head on his shoulder. "You don't have to tell me..."

He sighed and turned to smile at me, though the expression didn't reach his eyes. "I would, cara mia, if I could." He extracted his arm and paced away, reminding me of a caged tiger with its hackles up. "You know I was purchased from slavery by the Crows. Slaves do not have birthdays, and the Crows aren't exactly known for caring about such details in their apprentices. If anyone ever knew my birthday, it was never told to me."

His tone was surprisingly not bitter. I closed my eyes briefly, my heart aching for the child that had been Zevran, alone amongst strangers who would torture him, manipulate him, and attempt to turn him into a soulless assassin - and feeling like a jerk again for not guessing that he had never known his birthday. "Oh, Zev." I wanted to point out that he was no longer alone - that in this group, with Alistair's upbringing and my terrible foster families, we understood - but knew he wouldn't appreciate attention being drawn to his apparent vulnerability. And we don't need to start a contest of who had it worse growing up. Instead I chose humour.

"Well, that's the best birthday of all, then. Any day could be your birthday - and no one can contradict you when you claim a 'free birthday pint' at the tavern."

The elf laughed, and I felt some tension ease in my shoulders. "Is that a thing, then? I shall have to keep that in mind the next time I get the chance to see the lovely Felsi."

I giggled, and winked at Aedan when he shot me a grateful smile.

"Or you could just pick a day," Alistair suggested. "The rest of us would like to help you celebrate, and that would be difficult without a date. And unlike the rest of us stuck with whatever day we happened to get, you could choose anything."

"When would you like to celebrate your birthday, Zev?" Aedan asked. There was something intimate about my brother calling his lover by the diminutive, and it made me feel warm inside to hear it.

Zevran scoffed, but when urged, appeared to stop and think about it. "Perhaps August, if I had to choose." I gestured for him to go on, and he sighed. "Mid-month seems safe. The fifteenth."

Aedan looked curious, and I was as well, but given the faraway look on the elf's face, I elected not to ask.

Alistair cleared his throat behind me, and I turned to see him standing where I'd left him, now with the enormous chest at his feet. "Sierra? Would you like to open your present?"

My eyebrows shot up as I considered the chest. "But...I already had my birthday present." I bit my lip and looked at Alistair, who blushed crimson and stammered while Zevran snickered behind me.

Aedan snorted. "I did not need to know that."

I giggled and stepped over to my husband, butterflies careening around in my stomach. I wonder if he knows this will truly be my first birthday gift. "Really? For me?"

"For you." Bending down with a flourish, Alistair popped the clasps on the chest and lifted the lid.

At first, I wasn't certain what I was seeing. There was a shapeless mass of what looked like purple leather, and I frowned as I knelt down beside the chest to lift it. The leather was thick and heavy, and whatever it was, it was big; I stood, lifting the material with me, and the purpose of the item became clear as it unfolded and tumbled down to hang from my hands: a cloak, made of thick purple leather, lined with some sort of white fur around the collar. There was a hood, made out of thinner leather but also fur-lined, so that it would be warm when up, and not too bulky when down.

And underneath the cloak, hidden by the voluminous folds of leather, was a set of matching purple leather armour. There was no question in my mind that it had been made by Paider, my favourite prissy armourer from Orzammar. The style was similar to my destroyed red leather set, including full-face helm made to look like a mask, but the shoulders had clasps where the cloak could be attached, and the leather...

"Is that...?"

"Archdemon leather." Alistair nodded with a smile. I stood open-mouthed, staring at him like a simpleton. "Paider made this using the measurements from your old armour. It's enchanted to resist fire," he rolled his eyes at me and I couldn't help but giggle, even as shocked as I was, "and cold too. If we're going to live here, with year-round winter, you can at least be warm." He took the cloak from my unresisting hands and walked behind me, draping it over my shoulders and clasping it around my neck. "It works with or without the armour, and should make a memorable fashion statement anywhere you wear it."

The fur lining the cloak was blissfully soft, and I nuzzled it with my cheek; I felt a momentary pang for whatever furry creatures had died to make it, but shook my head and forced myself not to think about it. I'm in Thedas, and I can't afford to be squeamish. Besides, the animals were probably used for meat and bone too - not like the fur farms that so shamed everyone into avoiding fur on Earth. I could immediately feel the warmth enchantment - inside, with the hearth roaring, I was suddenly sweaty, but I could tell that it would be very comfortable outside in the snow.

A glance showed Aedan admiring the armour, clearly not shocked, but also not familiar with the details - another surprise by Alistair alone, obviously. I turned to my husband and flung myself at him, wrapping my arms around his neck. "It's beautiful." I let go and glanced down at the armour again. "I thought you'd use the leather for, you know, actual Wardens."

"We will," Aedan assured me. "There's quite a lot of leather on an Archdemon. We're having all sorts of things made from it."

Alistair took my hand. "But if there's one 'non-Warden' who deserves this, it's you, love. Aedan agreed I could have some of it for you."

I stroked the fur of my collar again and then unclasped the cloak, setting it carefully back in the chest. I was near tears, overcome with love for my little family, and I took a minute to settle myself and bury the tears before someone got the wrong idea. "Thank you."

"Does that make it my turn?" Zevran asked, voice amused. "Because I think you'll want to open this, yes?"

Aedan and Zevran sank back down onto a couch, Aedan with the small package Zevran had produced earlier. My package was identical, I noticed - a small wooden box, intricately carved - and I plucked it off the table and went to sit beside Alistair with it in hand. He wrapped his arm around my shoulder, pulling me against his side, and I kissed his nose quickly before turning back to the package I held curiously.

"Both at once, if you will."

Aedan and I exchanged perplexed glances, but both popped the lids off at the same time. The box was small, not much larger than a ring box on Earth, and lined with something soft. "Zevran, did you buy me jewelry? Because I'm pretty sure that might make someone jealous." I caught a glimpse of gold, reinforcing the impression.

"No, it won't." Zevran's tone was smug. "Well, it will, but not in the way you think."

Aedan gasped, and as my hand wrapped around the contents of the little box, I glanced up to see him freeze in shock, while Zevran grinned in a particularly cheshire-cat fashion. I looked back down to see two small golden...things in my hand, each dangling from a long chain. They were clearly not meant to be decorative, though that didn't help me figure out the purpose for them; the two identical gold ovals were pretty, as most gold tends to be, but otherwise non-descript.

I presented my open palm to Alistair in confusion, and his gasp echoed Aedan's. And then, before I could react, he had taken one of the little lumps, jumped off the couch, and disappeared into our bedroom. I heard the door close, and when I looked down at the remaining item I held, I just about dropped it - it lit up, a thin band of glowing blue lyrium wrapped around the middle radiating blue light. And then, with a brief crackle, Alistair's voice - tinny and strange, but still clearly identifiable - emmitted from the little device. "Can you hear me?"

I stared at it in shock, and after a moment heard a similar crackle coming from Aedan's hand and Alistair's voice continued, "How do I even...is this thing working?"

Zevran plucked one of the ovals out of Aedan's hand, twisted his wrist until the device lit up - not one, but two stripes of lyrium, I noticed - and held the item up to his mouth. "We can hear you. Thank you for the demonstration, my friend. You can come back now."

My mind whirled as I considered the implications. I would have a way of contacting Alistair, if ever we were apart - and apparently Aedan and Zevran too, which was unprecedented in Thedas. We'd talked about sending stones after Ostagar, when I'd been trying to explain the game to Duncan and the others, so I was aware they existed on a very vague level, but I'd never imagined I'd actually see one. The fact that no one in game - not Cailan or Loghain, not the Viscount of Kirkwall or the Divine - had such a thing had led me to believe they were exceptionally rare; things of legend, not reality. And the comfort that it provided, as I weighed the small gold nugget, was undeniable. I'd been trying to suppress my panic for days about Aedan going into the Deep Roads without us; with this, I'd be able to check in on him, reassuring myself that he was fine whenever I needed to.

My surprised gaze switched from my hand, to my returning husband, then my brother, and finally fell on a self-satisfied, grinning Zevran. Before I could say anything, Aedan had pulled the former assassin into a desperate hug, and I was shocked again when I saw tears trickling down his cheek. Its easy to forget how frightened Aedan is of losing people when he always seems to have everything together.

"Where did you find Sending Stones, Zevran?" Alistair asked as he settled back down beside me, pretending that everything was normal as Aedan reluctantly released his lover and surreptitiously wiped his face. "Never mind two sets that are linked?"

"I can't tell you all of my secrets, Alistair; what fun would that be?" His expression softened as Aedan put his arm over his shoulders and pressed a kiss to his temple. "I have my sources."

"We're clearly paying you too much," I teased, finally finding my voice. "These can't be cheap."

Zevran snorted in amusement. "I'm not sure you've formally paid me at all, cara mia."

"Whoops, my bad." I grinned. "Seriously, this is amazing. I don't even have words for how grateful I am." I stood, looping the chain of the Sending Stone over my head, and walked over to pull Zevran into a hug. I had to tug him up off the couch out of Aedan's grasp, wrapping my arms around his neck tightly, suppressing a couple of grateful tears of my own; it didn't take long before we were joined by Aedan and Alistair, the three of us hugging Zevran and each other like we'd never let go.

"Ah, this is the life," Zevran declared after a minute, voice amused. "We should really move this into the bedroom if we intend to carry on this way, though. Wouldn't want to traumatise the maid."

I felt Aedan shift, and Zevran squawked out an outraged, high-pitched whine - I was betting he'd been pinched, and I had no intention of asking where - and laughing, we all let go.

"So...tomorrow?" I bit my lip, still worrying about the group going into the Deep Roads.

"Sierra, we'll be fine; we're a big group, and now we have golems too. Better than the trip before my Joining where all I had was this big idiot to keep me safe." Aedan elbowed Alistair and grinned.

Alistair doubled over in mock pain. "I'm standing right here, you know - you'll hurt my manly feelings."

"All one of them?" I asked, smirking.

Zevran and Aedan laughed as Alistair growled, reaching out to try and grab me while I squealed and ducked away. "Stop stealing my lines, woman!"

We finally called it a night, sending my brothers off to bed - theoretically to rest, though I had my doubts. Aedan hugged me before he went - tightly, like he thought he might not see me again. I returned the gesture, trying not to tear up. "I'm sorry I forgot your birthday, sis," he whispered.

I squeezed tighter. "I also forgot - I'm sorry too. I don't want you to go."

I could feel him sigh. "It's not exactly something I'm looking forward to, you know."

"I know." I squeezed once more before letting go. "For the record, if either of you get yourselves killed down there, I'll kill you."

Aedan rolled his eyes good-naturedly. "That doesn't even make sense."

I pointed my finger at him, scowling. "Don't test me, brother. I'll find a way." I couldn't hold the expression, and a smile inched its way onto my lips even as I tried to suppress it.

They laughed, each of them getting a kiss on the cheek as they finally left us alone.

"Maker, what time is it anyway?" I groaned, hobbling into our room, cursing the ridiculous shoes Leliana had sent me. I kicked them into a corner, determined I'd never wear the wretched things again, and then looked down at my dress with a sigh.

"Late," he yawned. He pulled off his doublet and hung it in the armoire.

I came up behind him, wrapping my arms around his waist and pressing my cheek against his broad back. "Thank you, husband, for the best birthday."

I could hear the smile. "Did you have fun?"

"Are you joking?" I kissed his shoulder blade. "You're the most thoughtful, wonderful husband a girl could have." I squeezed him again. "I'm so lucky."

We fell silent, just standing there together, enjoying the quiet for a minute. Finally, in a small voice, I asked the question I'd been wondering about. "You thought I was going to freak out back there, didn't you?"

He turned, surrounding me with his own arms, shaking his head slowly. "No, I..." He sighed. "I worried. But...you didn't run."

I looked up and smiled. "I promised. Besides, I wasn't mad at you."

He winced again. "Probably should be. It was pretty clear to me that you barely knew which month it was, never mind when anyone's birthday was. But I thought...if I told you, you might have wanted to delay the wedding."

"And?" I wrinkled my brow in confusion. "Would one extra day have been such a big deal?"

He squeezed me slightly. "I wasn't taking any chances that Eamon's scheming might have turned into something."

I snorted. "Never happen. Not in a million years." His expression was still anxious, and I leaned up to kiss his chin. "I'm not upset." I nipped him with my teeth, just hard enough to sting, and he yelped and jumped away from me as I snickered. "But just in case, that's just a warning not to do something like that again."

He rubbed his chin ruefully, giving me puppy eyes. "You're a bad person." I giggled, unfazed, and he straightened up with a smirk. "Alright, well, I can promise you, the next time I get married, I won't do it on my birthday."

"Argh!" I grabbed a pillow off the bed and lobbed it at him, and he caught it with a laugh. We both giggled stupidly at each other for a few minutes, until I finally excused myself to go to the washroom. I came back out a few moments later, tripping over the hem of my dress - without the ridiculous shoes, it was way too long, and I cursed the miles of fabric.

"Love? Care to play lady's maid? I just can't stand the thought of waking Maeve to help me." I stretched my arms behind me, unable to get at the knots in the lacing holding the dress in place. Maker, what I wouldn't give for a zipper.

His arms wrapped around me from behind, his breath warm on my ear. "If it means I get to peel you out of this dress, I'll play lady's maid any day." He growled softly and nipped the helix of my ear, and then spun me before holding me to his chest again, now facing him. And then his lips were on my neck, sucking and nibbling on the bared flesh between my hairline and my bust line. He lingered for a moment on my cleavage - I didn't have a lot, but the dress used what I had to its best advantage - before sealing his lips over my pulse point and sucking.

"So, you like the dress, I take it?" I giggled.

"You do like tempting me, cruel minx, making me sit beside you politely when you have all this delicious flesh on display."

I giggled and weaved my fingers into his hair, holding him close to me as he continued lavishing attention on my neck and chest - and behind me, he was unlacing the dress as quickly as he could manage without looking. Once he had it undone, he took my mouth as we let the voluminous material fall to pool at my feet, leaving me with only smalls - that I knew were damp without even checking. He groaned, and then his hands were everywhere, stroking and tweaking, and I writhed in his arms. After a moment, he grabbed the fabric of my smalls and ripped, allowing the destroyed garment to fall from his hand, and I gasped, aroused and suddenly desperate.

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