tagCelebrities & Fan FictionThere and Back Again Ch. 033-034

There and Back Again Ch. 033-034

byElyssaCousland©

Chapter Thirty-Three: Rejection and Acceptance

When I woke, I was in Alistair's tent. For the second time. I mostly could tell it was his tent on account of the fact that he was lying in it, right beside me. There's not a lot of room in a bedroll, really, so I was plastered to his side while he was on his back, arms up and hands behind his head. He jumped like he'd been shot when I opened my eyes, and I sat up and scrambled away from him. My skin felt like it was burning again where it had been in contact with him, and though I knew that was all in my head, it made a lick of heat curl through my insides, made me long for...inappropriate, Sierra! I'm sure my face was purple, Alistair's was as well, and I suddenly wondered how long I'd been lying there. Before he could overcome his shock to say anything, I fled, pushing through the tent flaps, stumbling to my feet and hoping to rush out of camp before having to speak to anyone.

Aedan's mouth dropped open when he saw me emerge, and he gave me a sympathetic look and let me run. Leliana happened onto my path just as I was about to escape into the woods, and she grabbed my hand and stopped me.

"I think perhaps the Maker is sending you a message, no? He has placed you in the handsome templar's tent twice, now..."

I got angry. It wasn't her fault, and I knew it wasn't, but I was sick of my emotions being jerked around.

"Your Maker can just keep his opinions on my love life to himself!"

I yanked my hand out of hers and stormed off. Her hurt expression ate at me, and I knew I'd owe her a huge apology later, but I couldn't right then. I needed air, and alone time. And preferably somewhere I could scream until hoarse, far enough away that no one would hear me and question my (very questionable) sanity. I strode off into the woods, finding a small clearing close enough to be safe, but far enough that I could melt down unseen. I threw myself down on the ground, eyes closed, fingers massaging my temples as the tears came.

As I lay there, I heard the sounds of Aedan and then Zevran ease into the clearing, then leave again, giving me my space. The tears finally dried, and I just stared up at the blue sky, feeling wrung out. It had probably been a half hour since I fled from Alistair's tent, and I had no intention of going back to camp anytime soon. As I lay there, I heard steps I knew could belong to only one person, and I shot up to my feet like I'd been launched from a cannon. No way am I being caught by him lying down! I turned instead and found a rock to sit on, facing away, waiting for his steps to draw close. When he reached me, he fidgeted for a couple of moments, and I just sat quietly. Finally he sighed and stepped into my line of sight. I kept my gaze on my boots.

"So..."

"I don't want to talk about it, Alistair."

"Too bad. You know what Leliana tells me, all the time? I'm too much of a gentleman. So this time, I'm not being gentlemanly. I insist. We are going to talk about this."

"Alistair, I've told you how I feel. What happened doesn't change that. What more is there to say?"

"Oh, but you haven't, Sierra, not by a long shot. You've told me what you think, in that logical brain of yours, not what you feel. Ignoring, for a moment, the fact that you almost killed yourself trying to keep me alive, let's start with this: you saved Duncan and Cailan for me. Not for Ferelden, not because of the Blight, but for me."

I opened my mouth to object, point out all the other reasons I wanted them to live...but he had me. I'd admitted it, and though I'd never planned for him to hear it, I had no argument that would convince him. I finally nodded.

"Yes." I whispered the admission so quietly that I doubted he could even hear it. The answer, however, was obvious.

"Why?"

"I...Cailan's the King, and we need all the Grey Wardens..."

His hands clamped down on my upper arms and he lifted me off the rock then shook me; gently, considering his strength, but my head still snapped back and forth. "No. Don't tell me why everyone else is glad they're alive. Why did you do it specifically for me?" I saw Aedan approach silently from behind Alistair, a question in his worried eyes, and I knew if he was there, Zev was too, somewhere. I signaled to my brother with my eyes and my fingers to back off. He did, but only to the edge of the clearing. Alistair set me on my feet, but didn't let go of my arms.

"Alistair, I..." I looked into his eyes deeply, possibly for the first time, and suddenly felt like I was drowning in them. I bit my lip, tried to look away, and failed. When had those hazel eyes become so piercing, so mesmerizing? I shook my head as my traitorous mouth spilled the truth I wanted - no, needed - to hide.

"I didn't want to see you unhappy." I tried to stop myself, but there was too much pressure behind the words and the rest came rushing out. "I couldn't stand to see that look on your face. I know how much Duncan means to you. And I didn't want you to be forced to become King. I wanted you to be free to choose your fate. Plus this way, maybe...maybe you won't have to die. Not that I want anyone to have to die to kill the Archdemon, but...not you."

His hands gripped my arms tighter, and I stifled a gasp of pain. He didn't know his own strength, but I knew he'd leave bruises, and I didn't care. I wanted it to hurt. His voice was low.

"You gave me all the reasons I should stay away from you, why I shouldn't fall in love. But, Sierra...I don't care about any of that. It was already way too late. Now I need to know.

"Do you love me?"

I stared at him, mind reeling, searching for anything that I could say, anything to make this go away, but his eyes caught me again and I knew I couldn't lie. Not to his face. It would break me.

"Yes." It burned my mouth to say it. "And that's why I can't...we can't..." He shook me again, and my sentence trailed off.

Emotions flickered across his face - fear, longing, anger, amazement. It settled on one that could only be described as 'in love': a goofy smile, eyes too bright, skin practically glowing. I gasped as he pulled me closer, seeing the intent in his eyes, and started mouthing the word 'no'. My mouth was dry, my tongue felt sluggish, and I couldn't get the word out, couldn't even shake my head. Agonisingly slowly, he tilted his head down, and our lips met. They barely brushed once, and then he licked his lips and was back for more. He wasn't demanding or rough, just sweet and soft and perfect, and whatever flimsy wall I had tried to construct over my emotions shattered. I could feel him tremble, and I wondered what his self-control was costing him.

My hands, the only part of my arms that could move, fisted as I struggled against him. I wasn't strong enough to stop him forcibly, but I knew this man. I knew he would stop if he was aware that I wanted him to. He did, pulling back with a shattered breath. The trembling increased.

I swallowed, trying to get some moisture back into my mouth. All I wanted was to throw myself into his arms. I resisted. Mental images of myself, at home, alone, broken, flashed through my mind, followed by memories of me sobbing into my pillow after the first time I accidentally allowed him to sacrifice himself in the game to kill the Archdemon. At last I realised just how truly selfish I was. I wasn't saving him. I was saving myself. I didn't want to have to live with myself if I loved him, for real, and he died, or I disappeared for good. He didn't deserve to be stuck with someone like me. A single tear silently slid down my cheek. With a growl, he let go of my arms, turning to walk away, shoulders hunched like he'd been sucker-punched.

I managed to stay on my feet until he was out of sight, and then Aedan was there to catch me as I collapsed, Zevran behind me to hold me between them. I cried until I couldn't anymore, until there were no more tears. They held me and whispered platitudes which I didn't even hear. They tried, briefly, getting me to talk, but it just brought on a new round of tears every time. Finally back in our tent, I watched Aedan sleep all night, my eyes closing only for seconds the whole time.

The next day Alistair acted like it had never happened. We left the Dalish, heading towards Denerim. Leliana and I sang, and he barely even acknowledged me. It was worse than if he'd yelled or screamed or...anything. I sucked it up, knowing I'd brought it on myself, that I deserved it. I let him get too close, I was too weak to stop it, and then I couldn't even tell the lie that would keep him away. And still I wanted him, painfully so. Twice while we walked I teared up and had to run off into the bush, pretending to need to pee, so I could cry it out. I'm sure I looked like hell; my eyes were probably red and puffy, my nose swollen from blowing it. I didn't care except to think that Alistair might think I was doing it to make him uncomfortable.

I realised that without thinking, I had begun teaching Leliana Sheryl Crow songs. Oh, this is going to go over well. I suddenly knew what she'd be singing over the campfire at supper some night. I sighed and carried on - I was halfway through it anyway.

That evening, Alistair avoided me when we would normally have Templar practice. Wynne sat with me as I worked, patting my knee kindly when I lost my concentration over and over again. When I finally gave up and returned to the campfire, Alistair was laughing at something Leliana said, the two of them leaning in to each other and smiling conspiratorially. It hurt, but I forced myself to smile at them brilliantly before escaping into Aedan's tent. No matter how much it hurt me, I wanted Alistair to be happy. If Leli could give him that, I'd never get in the way. That didn't stop me from crying myself to sleep, clinging to Aedan's hand.

After a couple of days of walking, we found a campsite not too far from one of Bodahn's by now famous swimming holes. We split into shifts to head down to the water and clean up, and Leliana and I drew the longest straw - we got to go first. I grabbed some clean clothes, my soap and shampoo, and a comb, and the two of us headed off. I stripped in seconds and submerged, the feeling of the water on my sweaty body invigorating even if it was cold. Leliana joined me and even had me giggling as she sputtered and shivered in the cold water. I got myself scrubbed off, and handed the shampoo to her as I stood up to climb out of the water, just as we heard voices approaching. Male voices, and coming from the wrong direction. I dropped back into the water, just as the owners of said voices came around the rocks piled on the bank. Four young men, I'd guess not quite my age.

"Well, well, what have we here? Look boys - it seems we caught ourselves some rather large fish before we even cast our lines."

Leliana and I traded looks; my expression was frightened but hers was fierce. I admired her aplomb. What is it with random Fereldan men and attempted rape? Are Alistair, Duncan, and Aedan the only non-rapists in the blasted country? I looked longingly at my daggers, still sheathed and in a pile with my clothes on a rock. Leliana spoke.

"Gentlemen, we didn't know this was your fishing spot. If you'll just turn your backs, we'll get out of your way, no harm done, yes?"

They actually laughed, but the sort of laugh that didn't feel funny at all.

"Orlesian bitch, you think you can just tell us what to do because you're from Orlais? I think perhaps you need to be taught a lesson."

"Now, now. I'm not actually Orlesian. I was a slave there, as a child. I escaped and came here...I just haven't lost the accent yet. I'm Fereldan!"

I could tell she was stalling, looking for a way out of the mess we were in. By unspoken agreement we both floated towards the bank furthest from the men, and closer to our things. I decided that if they tried to come in after us, I'd make a run for my daggers. I pulled my feet up under me without lifting myself out of the water, poised to run, and realised Leliana had done the same. The men stood on the bank, none of them seeming willing to get their clothes wet, but they clearly knew that if they stopped to strip, we'd have the opportunity to run. I had just about decided to run anyway - they'd have to swim through the deepest water to get to us, which should have bought us plenty of time, when another voice joined the conversation.

"I suggest you just leave before things get ugly." I looked behind me and saw Alistair, in full plate, armed, standing on our side of the bank. His expression was confident and full of rage; he would have scared the hell out of me if I'd been on the receiving end of that look. Apparently six plus feet of armoured, cranky warrior was enough for our would-be rapists as well, and deciding discretion was the better part of valour, they slunk off into the bushes. They'd have run, I was sure, if Alistair had been on their side of the river. I saw a black bird take off from a branch behind Alistair, and then come swooping back, chirping, seeming to urge Leli and me out of the water.

"Morrigan, cheep once for yes and twice for no." I'd learned some things from my doctor when trapped between Earth and Thedas. "Are they gone?"

The bird cheeped once.

"Is it safe to get out now?" Another cheep. "Alright. Alistair, could you turn around for a second, please?"

Leliana and I got out of the water and dressed quickly. I was shivering, a combination of fear and cold, and after giving Alistair the best smile I could manage under the circumstances, I thanked him and crawled into my tent, curling up in my bedroll and falling apart. Aedan came in with a bowl of some sort of stew - which I ate mostly for warmth, without tasting much - then stayed with me and held me while I shook.

I didn't know what to say, how to express my feelings. I was scared of what could have happened if Alistair hadn't shown up, embarrassed to have needed to be rescued yet again, and ashamed of myself for being so grateful - and surprised - that despite turning Alistair down, he protected me. A small, cynical part of me thought maybe he was only protecting Leliana, but even I knew that was just jealousy and despair talking. I wanted to run to him, bury my face in his shoulder, and beg him to take care of me forever, but knew I could never do that. I don't deserve him.

I guess everyone took turns guarding the swimming hole while everyone else washed up, and we set off early again, figuring we were about a ten day walk from Denerim. A couple of days later, after watching Leliana and Alistair flirt shamelessly as we travelled, I was glad I didn't have a larger mirror. I wasn't sleeping, had barely eaten, and spent every minute of alone time bawling my eyes out and hating myself. I could only imagine how pathetic I looked. At various times, Aedan, Zevran, and Leliana had all tried talking to me about what was happening. I shut them all out - or at least I tried, but Leli was extremely persistent. One day while setting up the tent I shared with Aedan, she showed up, helped me set it up, and pulled me inside, giving me a dirty look.

"You look like something the cat dragged in, Sierra. This can't continue. Talk."

"What do you want me to say, Leli? I can't."

"That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard."

"Doesn't make it less true."

"You know, talking to you sometimes makes me want to scream and tear out my hair. Listen. Do you find him attractive?"

"Have you looked at him, Leli? Where I come from, there's a place called Greece. Hundreds of years ago they used to worship a whole pantheon of Gods - kind of like the Dalish, I guess. One of them was called Adonis - he was the God of beauty and desire. As far as I can tell, they based him off Alistair, and they don't do Alistair justice! Hell yes he's attractive. And I damn well know you're aware of that. I've seen you look at him."

"Good, jealousy. That I can work with. But humour me for a moment. Is he interesting enough? Smart enough?"

"He may not be cleverly manipulative, like, say, Zevran, but that doesn't mean he isn't smart. You don't come up with witty one-liners in the worst situations if you're stupid. And not manipulative is a good feature, of course. Leli, none of this is about him."

"Then what is it about? Tell me."

"It's...I..."

"Say it, Sierra. Tell me. By the ass of the Maker himself, why?" She was shouting, and I almost gasped at the obscenity. I scrunched up into the tiniest ball I could fit into, face hiding in my knees.

"It's me. It's not him. I don't...I don't deserve him. I don't want him to be stuck with someone like me. He should be with someone like you. And I hope you can both be happy."

"Oho, now we're getting down to it. What exactly is someone like you?"

"Someone weak. Incapable of taking care of herself. Possibly insane. Someone...feeble." I hissed that last word, the true sting of Shale's nickname finally hitting me. "Someone who can't even lie to him for his own good, who might not even stick around. I can't saddle him with someone like me forever. I won't. I..."

"Love him."

I nodded, dejected, and curled in on myself again. She shuffled over and put her arm around my shoulder. "You're not feeble, dearest. You're not a burden. You're a beautiful woman who could have curled up in hysterics until this was all over and no one who knew what was happening would think the worse of you. Most people who've been through what you have in the last months would be lucky just to live through it, never mind change the course of history, kill darkspawn, and survive rapists, lecherous Kings, and abominations. You are the strongest person I know, Sierra. That is why he loves you, whether you wanted him to or not. And that's why you should let him." She hugged me one last time, and then left to get supper started.

I was proven right about the Sheryl Crow music, finally, when Leliana grabbed her Lute during supper and started belting out songs. It was fine for a couple until she came to "Strong Enough".

God I feel like hell tonight.

Tears of rage I cannot fight.

I'll be the last to help you understand.

Are you strong enough to be my man?

When nothing's true and nothing's right,

Just let me be alone tonight.

Cause you can't change the way I am.

Are you strong enough to be my man?

Lie to me.

I promise I'll believe.

Lie to me.

But please don't leave.

I have a face I cannot show.

Make the rules up as I go.

It's try and love me if you can.

Are you strong enough to be my man?

When I've shown you that I just don't care,

When I'm throwing punches in the air,

When I've broken down and I can't stand,

Would you be man enough to be my man?

As usual, all of us listened avidly as Leliana sang. Alistair's face was impassive, Aedan's expression a mix of shock and horror. Everyone else seemed to enjoy it, cheering her on when she finished. I couldn't take it. I'd known it was coming, but still I felt sick. Standing, suddenly, I took off from the small circle of firelight, stumbling and tripping as I hurried into the woods near the camp. Why am I always running off into the woods alone? Drama queen.

I stopped, probably less than fifty feet from camp, but feeling disoriented in the dark. Unwilling to go any further away from safety, I found myself a mostly dry tree root to sit on and cried for a while. Again. I'm so sick of crying. I finally heard footsteps in the underbrush and knew I'd been found, even as I hoped the ground would swallow me. As the sound grew closer, the blurry shadow resolved itself into Alistair. Of course. Why not? He carried my kinetic flashlight, setting it near me so it cast eerie light through the woods; it stayed lit, so he'd obviously been charging it for a while. He must have realised I was an inch from bolting again. He held his hands up, trying to look non-threatening, while I sat, muscles tensed for a run.

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