So there was an outpouring of anger against Alistair, after I published the most recent chapter of my story There and Back Again. In my head, that wasn’t how it was meant to go, but clearly I didn’t get my ideas across the way I intended. Sticking with one viewpoint - Sierra’s - makes it harder to show what’s happening in someone else’s head, as well as in the background when she’s not around. So I was inspired to write this one-shot from Alistair’s point of view from the last few chapters. Here’s hoping it makes his actions seem more reasonable. I honestly aimed for most people to be irritated with Sierra, and cheering Alistair for standing up for himself, even a little.
He sat on the edge of his bed in nothing but loose cotton trousers, his head in his shaking hands, wondering where in the Void he’d gone wrong.
His chest ached, and he felt vaguely nauseated. He couldn’t decide whether to scream, or cry – or perhaps grab the infuriating woman in front of him and shake her until she talked to him.
The door swung closed behind her – Sierra, his wife, who was practically sprinting down the hallway to get away from him. The words he’d been saying – pleading with her to stay, to talk, not to misunderstand or run away again – died on his lips. He’d have bet his last copper that she hadn’t even noticed he was talking, never mind heard what he’d said. She’d interrupted him mid-sentence to make an unrelated comment about Faren, and didn’t even seem to have realised.
He wasn’t sure why he was surprised. Every time they disagreed on anything, her first instinct was to run. Why he’d thought this would be any different was a bit of a mystery.
Not that he was even disagreeing with her; that was probably the most frustrating part. The throbbing from his groin was enough evidence that he’d wanted her just as much as she had wanted him. He felt like a first-class jerk for stopping her. Her teasing had been physically painful, and it seemed cruel to both of them to let it continue. He’d never dreamed she would jump out of the bed like he had cooties and bolt from the room. It wasn’t his fault that they weren’t allowed...
The mage had been very clear on that. “She’s just had a trauma. She’s in shock, and she needs time to recover, do you hear me?” Anders had waved his finger in Alistair’s face judgementally. “And you know her – she’d force herself if she thought you wanted her to. She’d harm herself trying to keep you happy. Women here are raised to think they must put up with pain for the benefit of their lovers. It sounds like that’s even worse on Earth. So don’t even think about it, you hear me? Don’t be that guy.”
And the healer was right; he’d seen Sierra walking practically bow-legged after sex, sitting gingerly and wincing when she thought he wasn’t looking. He’d seen her ignore bruises and scrapes, sneaking healing potions when she could get away with it. He got so caught up when they were together – the feel of her, the sounds, the taste ... the intoxicating emotions, love and comfort and lust – that he’d hurt her by accident. And not just one time, either. She dismissed it, claimed she actually enjoyed it ... but he’d seen the stiff gait and the finger marks. It was bad enough on a normal day; so many times worse if he’d hurt her when her body was still recovering from a miscarriage that he’d caused.
The healer had been right – he would have to be careful. He couldn’t risk her feeling obligated in some way, forcing herself to perform before she was ready for his benefit; he couldn’t risk hurting her. They would wait, he’d assured himself. He’d get clearance from the healer first. Anders. He wondered if Anders had any insight that would help him understand ... probably not. The mage had a whole host of his own problems to deal with. And Alistair may have forgiven the healer for his feigned interest in Sierra back during the Blight, but that didn’t mean Alistair had to like the guy. No, Anders wasn’t going to be able to help. And he sure wasn’t going to bring it up with Aedan!
He honestly couldn’t understand what was going through her head. Surely Anders had given her the same lecture? Did she really expect him to ignore the warning? Just for once, he wished he were a mage – and that mind-reading was a thing. Because he truly had no idea where to even start.
He struggled with Sierra’s urge to run. He understood it – she’d raised herself, essentially, and been punished for showing emotion, had everyone she cared about ripped away by a callous, impersonal system that had damaged her more deeply than she even knew. They weren’t so dissimilar, but his response to it had been different. She’d been taught to hide her emotions, not to show any vulnerability, never to cry in front of someone ... she was deeply ashamed every time she’d broken down around any of their group, always feeling like she should be stronger. Like feeling sadness or fear made her weak, unworthy. But how was walking out in the middle of a conversation ever supposed to solve anything?
He’d asked her to stay and talk. Begged her. He’d told her he loved her, that he was sorry ... and he’d watched her dress and run from him as though a terror demon had taken his place.
He scrubbed his hand over his face roughly and stood, trying to shake himself out of his thoughts. He didn’t want to think about demons; he’d had enough of them. Between Sierra’s nightmares about Justice – he didn’t even think she remembered most of them, but the spirit clearly left her extremely anxious, and her sleep had been poor long before the Architect had been captured – and the gut-wrenching dismay that came when he thought about the terror demon in that basement...
He’d shaken it off pretty quickly, but that hadn’t stopped it from planting the seeds of fear deep in Alistair’s psyche. He was educated enough to understand that the terror demon was playing him, using normal every day worries and amplifying them out of proportion, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t still effective.
“She’s still in shock and hasn’t connected all the dots. But she’ll never forgive you, once she puts it all together,” the creature had whispered. “None of them will. You think any of them don’t want to push you as far away from her as they can? You left her. You failed to do what was necessary to keep her safe. You drove her back to Earth, let her be captured again and again, tortured, traumatised, forced to attempt murder in cold blood, because you didn’t stay with her. You could have prevented it – but you didn’t. She nearly died because of you. And in the middle of all that, you thoughtlessly got her pregnant against her will – and then let her overexert herself until she miscarried. It’s your fault – her trauma, her nightmares, her loss and pain. The unstable life she will lead, the fear that will be her constant companion ... all your fault. She’d be better off without you, and you know it.”
With the words as he remembered them, there came images: Sierra, delirious with sleep deprivation, crying out when she thought he wasn’t real; Sierra, tears streaking down her face as blood poured out of her, ending the hope she’d had for their unborn child; Sierra, face crumpled as he’d called her a monster and walked away. And then Aedan, face red and twitching with rage; Zevran painstakingly, threateningly polishing his knives, one at a time; Leliana telling stories about the grizzly revenge of spurned lovers as though they were meant as entertainment.
And he’d deserved it – all of it. He knew in his heart that somehow – he had no idea how – Sierra didn’t blame him. She’d understood why he left her, and had never blamed him for any of the rest of it. She’d never held him accountable for any of it, not really.
Or maybe she did? Maybe there was more to the running than he’d originally assumed? No. He refused to let the terror demon create doubts. The one thing he knew was that his wife loved him.
His erection now a non-issue – even a few brief seconds thinking about everything the demon had planted in his mind was enough to solve that problem – he quickly dressed, struggling into his armor alone. He could do it, but it was easier with help. Once dressed, he headed down for breakfast, wondering what he could say to her to calm her down and bring her back to him.
She’d always come back before, right?
He needn’t have worried; she didn’t show for breakfast. He scrambled to make some lame excuse when Aedan asked where she was, not even sure himself. He couldn’t help but be irked – why, oh why, did she have to be so avoidant after a fight? Or any sort of conflict, really ... hadn’t they talked about that? About forgiveness and the benefit of the doubt? Hadn’t they been through enough together to get past one, entirely confusing disagreement?
He planned to spend the morning beating the tar out of a sparring dummy. He didn’t want to risk sparring with one of the soldiers or Wardens in his current mood; the last thing he needed was to hurt someone else in his frustration. He had just finished warming up and taking a few initial swings when he heard the sound of a throat clearing behind him. “And what, pray tell, did that dummy ever do to you, my friend?” Zevran sauntered in, his swords sheathed at his sides, a wry smile twisting his face.
Alistair grunted and re-centered on the straw mannequin, lifting the sword stubbornly. “I’m not in the mood right now, Zevran.”
“That implies that some day, you will be ‘in the mood’. We will have to hide it from the Cousland siblings, but I treasure the anticipation that—”
“Maker!” Alistair dropped his stance and rubbed his forehead irritably, unable to hide the blush that crossed his features. “Don’t you ever give up?” He huffed, knowing his body language was giving away far too much to the observant elf.
The Antivan chuckled, but the smile soon dropped from his face as he noted the tension in the warrior’s shoulders, and the defensiveness of his responses. “Teasing aside, you look ... frustrated, yes?”
Alistair swished the blade of his sword idly through the air, refusing to make eye contact. “I suppose you could say that. I’d rather not talk about it.”
Zevran examined the Warden seriously for a moment. “Speaking of Cousland siblings...”
Alistair flushed again and turned away, so Zevran continued. “You know, I’ve had the opportunity to get to know three of them, now, and it would seem that obstinance runs in their blood. It’s obviously not a learned response, but something truly hereditary, no?”
Alistair snorted. “Noticed that, did you?”
Zevran chuckled. “I never met their parents, but I shudder to think how much more so they must have been.” The elf smirked, but there was no response from the agitated warrior now pacing the training grounds.
“Well, at least in my experience, beating on an opponent that cannot fight back is a poor balm to that sort of frustration.”
Alistair’s shoulders shrugged, admitting the truth of the statement; no sparring dummy was going to allow him to vent his feelings in any significant way.
“Perhaps I can help, then? I only have my meager skills to offer, but surely I can prove a more able partner than that scarecrow, no?”
Alistair turned and stared at the elf, who withstood his gaze, unflinching. He certainly had wished for something more ... satisfying than destroying a training dummy, but he didn’t wish to hurt anyone. On the other hand, the assassin was an able combatant, and if anyone was capable of withstanding his pique, it was the elf. Seeming to take it as agreement, the elf unsheathed his swords and gestured to Alistair’s shield propped against a stake in the courtyard.
Alistair scooped up the shield and rolled his shoulders. “You asked for it.” The elf just smirked. “Bring it on, then.”
Alistair winced as he clomped up the millionth stair to Avernus’ lab. Sparring with the assassin had been a good distraction – but had started out with rather a lot of humiliation. Frustrated and doubting himself, he’d been too aggressive, at first, swinging wildly and relying on pure strength, assuming he’d rain blow after blow down on the smirking elf, somehow assuaging his own feelings in the process.
It hadn’t gone like that at all. The sneaky Antivan had side-stepped the blows, bending and twisting out of them like he was made of air instead of bone and sinew, slapping Alistair on the flank with the flat of his blade when a missed swing caused him to stumble. And Alistair hadn’t learned his lesson quickly; it had taken a handful of similarly embarrassing blows before he’d narrowed his eyes, stepped back, and stopped acting like a complete idiot. He’d used more of his skill after that, reminding himself that he was more than a strong arm; it had turned into a much more interesting fight after that.
They’d gone around and around in the arena for an hour, trading victory for defeat again and again. He’d knock Zevran over and hold his sword to the assassin’s throat; the assassin would throw a handful of dirt in his eyes and leap on his back, blade against his vulnerable jugular. In the end, exhausted and sore, they’d called it a tie, and the assassin had accepted his awkward thanks – “It was the brotherly thing to do,” he’d deflected with a strange smile – and gone inside to find himself something to eat. Alistair had grinned seeing the assassin limp when he thought no one was looking, but it turned into a self-deprecating chuckle when his own leg threatened to give out on the steps.
He arrived at the top of the tower before most of their companions, and after greeting the mages and helping set up two cots – and gratefully accepting some healing from an amused Anders – he’d stashed himself in a corner to think. His improved mood didn’t last; it turned out physical exertion hadn’t solved anything, and his feelings of guilt and his frustration were blending until he couldn’t tell which was uppermost in his mind.
He deserved so much worse than for her to run from him.
But how could she walk away from him? Again?
He’d earned her distrust. He’d left her when she needed him.
But hadn’t he proved himself to her, over and over, since then?
He was still deep in his own thoughts and missed when more people arrived; Faren’s unconscious form, more mages, two former templars, and a handful of well-wishing Wardens all crowded the large room. He looked up just in time to see Sierra slink through the door.
As always, he was struck dumb when he first saw her. She was beautiful, there was no denying that, and the dress she wore was simple but flattering, but that wasn’t the main reason. It was like ... like goodness just radiated from her. He couldn’t fathom how it had taken a while for some of their friends to trust her; it was immediately apparent to him that she was exactly as earnest as she seemed.
Honestly, he’d had no chance, from the first moment they had spoken.
He looked away, knowing his face was probably pink. He was feeling too conflicted to be caught gaping at her. Instead, he watched Aedan loop his arm over her shoulder and usher her inside, Zevran in tow.
He was briefly jealous; his best friend was Sierra’s brother, so there was no question who Aedan would support when both of them were distraught. He wasn’t sure he’d have discussed this with anyone anyway, and he really was grateful that she had a good support system ... but his corner felt lonely, catching the dirty look Aedan gave him, even as Sierra kept her gaze firmly on her shoes. It wasn’t fair that she had someone to confide in when he didn’t. It wasn’t like they were on different sides – there weren’t sides at all, really. But he couldn’t help but wish someone was standing next to him offering comfort.
Ashamed of himself for the uncharitable thoughts, he tried to forcibly refocus on the pending ritual.
Doing his duty – going out into the library and sending the other Wardens on their way, telling the soldiers to stand down, and heading back to the office he shared with Aedan to catch up on the administrative tasks they’d both been avoiding for days – was one of the hardest things he’d ever done. He thought it might only have been tolerable because he knew the templars Sierra had dubbed Fred and George had also left, sent to their rooms by Aedan so he could deal with them later.
Sierra had turned to him instinctively during the stressful ritual and its aftermath. He wanted to be reassured by that – but she still hadn’t said a word to him. He knew she hated it when he worried about her – she thought it was condescending, and she probably wasn’t wrong – but seeing her standing between two armed, potentially violent templars and a possible abomination was one of the scariest things he’d ever witnessed.
And yet, despite everything, she hadn’t even looked him in the eye.
He wished he had some idea what was going on with her; following a healer’s advice should not have earned him this sort of treatment. He’d done much worse in the past, and she’d forgiven him without question ... once they’d talked. Her avoidant behaviour was frustrating to say the least.
And she continued in her avoidance of him, even after leaving Faren awake and confused; she hadn’t come down for dinner, hadn’t sought him out in his office ... and now he was sitting alone in their quarters, approaching their normal bedtime, and there was no sign of her.