Characters: Mostly Alistair and Neria Surana, but also includes, Morrigan, Zevran, Oghren, Leliana and Wynne
Authors' Note: I tried to write something happy. Really, I did. I wanted to write something deserving of a Secret Swooper fic. Instead, I wrote a Calling fic. I am very sorry, and I hope you like it anyway.
If Death Should Part Us
Neria curled up against Alistair, sighing contentedly. She threw an arm over his chest as Alistair ran his fingers through the strands of blonde hair that fell in her face. His spare hand drew circles on her back as she seemed content to doze.
"Neria?" he asked, as he rolled on his side.
"Hmmmm?" she mumbled, tugging at the blanket.
"Thank you." He shifted his hands, one cupping her face, while the other settled on the small of her back, gently pushing her to him.
She fluttered her eyelids open, meeting his gaze. They had only been sharing a tent for several weeks, and the newness hadn't worn off yet. It was still strange to open her eyes to see someone else laying awake, gazing at her.
"For giving me a chance." He smiled then, and brought his lips to hers, brushing them lightly. "I know you could have gone for Zevran."
"Why? Because I'm an elf and elves should stick together?"
"No that's not what I meant..." Alistair started, looking away sheepishly.
"I could never go for Zevran."She wedged her knee in between his legs. "I wanted someone sweet, and kind, and who liked me in spite of who I was."
She kissed him after each word to emphasize his point.
"And what would that be, exactly?" He laughed, and she groaned.
"You know exactly what I mean."
She snaked one hand behind his head and drew his head to hers. When they finally parted, he whispered: "Loving you means everything to me."
Alistair was shaken from his daydream by an arrow to the shoulder. Neria had fallen behind a bit, and he had to backtrack a ways through the tunnels to find her. He cried out in pain, and ripped the arrow from his shoulder. He finally found her, huddled against a boulder, light streaming from her ankle.
"Neria!" he exclaimed, running to her.
"I'm alright, Alistair." she said, wincing as the final blue light from the healing spell disappeared into the darkness.
"I could have lost you!" he said, throwing his arms around her in a big embrace.
"Isn't that the point?" she asked bitterly, as he pulled her close.
"No. Not yet," he said, voice hoarse.
"Alistair, your shoulder," she said calmly, pulling away. "Let me heal you."
She placed her hand on his Warden armor, bits of arrow still sticking every which way. As his shoulder was enveloped in a healing blue glow, she yanked on the arrow.
"Love, I think it's stuck there."
"I'll try it again tonight when we make camp. The area should be fine for now, but it'll need a longer healing period. I'll have to make potions later."
"Why don't we just camp here?" Alistair asked. "This cavern is clean, and there's water not too far off. There are several nasty ogres up ahead we might want to take care of first though."
Slinging her pack over her shoulder, she readied her staff. She downed a few potions and nodded. They stepped out of the cavern together.
A few hours later, he washed up while she readied the camp. It was just as freezing in the Deep Roads without armor as he remembered, but his Grey Warden issue tunic did a good job of keeping the chill at bay. When he returned, washed up for dinner, Neria was hunched over a cooking pot.
"What's that I smell?" he asked happily, dropping his things in front of their tent and crossing to where she was kneeling.
"Ferelden lamb stew," she replied as he threw his arms around her and rested his chin on her shoulder.
He made a face.
"Just like old times?" he asked.
"The way it's supposed to taste." she said, smiling. "Besides, we have to finish up this lamb ration before it goes bad. Unfortunately, this is the last of our meat. It's done though, so scoop yourself up some."
He did, and devoured it with a fervor Neria'd never seen him put into lamb stew. That night, when they made love, they did so with a passion unseen, and only when her cries pierced the silence did he let himself finish. And for the first time in several nights, he dreamed.
The campfire was roaring as Oghren continued his story: “And then I looked at it and I said 'take that you nug,' and the nug fell over into the fire and lit Lila's skirt on fire. She went running out of the tavern. I was banished from Tapster's for a week. And that's why dwarven women should never wear skirts.”
“That is a great story, my stinky friend,” Zevran began. “But I think you have lost most of your audience.”
Zevran motioned to a dark corner near the trees, where Neria and Alistair sat, heads close together. Her hand was on his knee and his hand cupped her face. They had just parted. Leliana was gazing at them, with stars in her eyes. Wynne smiled knowingly, darning a pair of socks Alistair had pouted his way into convincing her to fix.
“Must you carry on so?” Morrigan asked, annoyed. “'Tis bad enough I must endure the dwarf's horrid stories. You have a tent, I suggest you use it.”
“Sorry,” Neria muttered breathlessly, while Alistair coughed and looked away.
“I think it's sweet,” Leliana said happily. “The templar and the elven mage. It's like something out of a fairy tale.”
“I think I'm going to wash up before bed,” Neria announced, standing suddenly.
“I think I will as well,” Alistair said, following Neria into the woods.
Oghren belched, and wandered off, muttering something about Wardens and cranky mages. He found another flask in his tent, and retreated to where the supply crates were hidden, away from the main camp. Wynne continued to darn socks while Morrigan moved over to her fire. Zevran luridly stared at Leliana, who abruptly stood and retreated to her tent. Disappointed, he sauntered over to the sparring circle, hoping to work off some excess energy.
By the time Alistair had arrived at the clearing just outside camp, Neria had already abandoned her robes and was swimming happily in the water.
“Are you going to come in and join me?” she asked playfully. “I'm naked beneath here you know.”
She smiled, a predatory grin that Alistair had only seen a handful of times. He kicked off his shoes while pulling at his tunic. He fought with his pants to his and Neria's frustration, and she had just begun swimming towards the shore when he finally got his foot free and ran towards her. Their lips met as she pushed him towards the shore. She gently nudged him onto his back and he broke the kiss to utter: “I thought we were going to wash up?”
“Certainly you can wash up on your back?” she asked back, falling back onto him. Her tongue quested for his while one of her hands snaked down between his legs.
Alistair awoke with a start.
“We have to go,” he proclaimed as Neria jerked up next to him.
She was already throwing the blankets together as he threw on his tunic. He rolled out of the tent as she followed, pulling down the ropes. He slid into his greaves and boots as she fastened her Grey Warden tunic. The extra potions she left out to sit the night before were thrown into their sacks, and as Alistair further readied his armor, she took down the camp. The pots and pans were fastened off Alistair’s pack, his size relegating him to pack mule. She shoved the tent into her pack, piling herbs and flasks on top. She hung her potions from her pack, an easy reach for when she needed them in battle. She could hear the First Warden berating her for not properly folding the tent, but it wasn't his Calling, was it? She fought back that thought; he had already left for his Calling. She hoped they wouldn't stumble over him on their way to theirs.
They were running from the cavern just as a horde of darkspawn riding brontos trampled through.
“I thought we got all these darkspawn!” Neria exclaimed as Alistair threw her down.
“I guess they could sense us,” he called as the darkspawn came out into the clearing.
“I got these!” Neria cried, standing and lobbing off Tempest. Alistair, ever faithful, was right next to her and when the bronto careened out of control, its rider dead, he was there to push her out of the way. The bronto hit Alistair at full force and he went flying. Neria cast another spell and the bronto exploded, a mass of limbs and flesh and bone. Alistair slowly got to his feet. He grabbed several of his poultices and everything turned yellow for a brief moment. With new found strength, he charged the second bronto straight into a rock. After he had it pinned, he slashed at it, yelling for emphasis. The bronto and its rider slumped against the rock, and, as blood poured out, Alistair limped to Neria. She helped him to a clean spot and slid off his boot. He winced as his ankle was exposed.
“I'll have to put this in a splint,” Neria said, touching Alistair's ankle gently. A calming blue glow radiated from her hands and she could feel the tendons reshaping. “You've sprained it, but you should be fine enough to walk on it. What where you doing, taking the bronto on like that?”
“I was...trying to save you,” Alistair argued. He winced as Neria removed her hands and began looking for spare pieces of wood.
“You forget where we are,” she called as she disappeared back into the cavern where they had spent the night. Leftover firewood was hard to come by, and she could use the pieces that were too small as a splint. When she returned, she rummaged through her bag, looking for bits of cloth. Her extra tunic would do nicely. As she began ripping it into shreds, she continued: “You won't be able to save me forever.”
Alistair looked around the larger clearing as Neria got to work fixing his splint. He knew where they were, of course, and why they were there, but he wasn't ready to let go yet.
“I will keep you near me as long as I can,” he said weakly.
She placed her hands on him, all the healing she'd be able to do if she wanted to conserve her lyrium potions. She carefully slid his boot back on.
“Thank you,” Alistair said meekly, kissing her on the forehead. He tried to stand, and Neria helped him up.
As they made their way through the cave, Neria found herself looking for landmarks from the other Grey Warden excursions to the Deep Roads. It was then she came to the realization that she hadn't seen anything familiar for several days. The cave they were slowly making their way through turned into a small hallway. They stepped out into another ruined thaig. The architecture was different, marking this one older than any of the others they had seen. She had turned to ask Alistair about the thaig's location on the map, when her foot hit something. The light spell she was holding wavered and as she stopped to see what her foot caught on, she thought she saw something out of the corner of her eye. The floor was littered with corpses: dwarves, humans, elves. She looked down at the body she tripped on and realized these were other Grey Wardens. These were her fallen brethren.
“Maker,” Alistair uttered, as he tried to avoid the bodies of Wardens he may have fought with once. Both of them were silent as they stopped for a moment.
“We should move on,” Neria replied calmly, fighting down dread in her throat. “You should rest. We'll make camp just past this thaig.”
When they finally did make camp on once was an old campsite, Neria let herself break down. She wept as she cleaned her outer tunic by the stream. Alistair found her several minutes later, preparing for that night's meal. Her tunic was floating in the river and her hands were balled into fists as hot tears rolled down her cheeks.
“Oh hey,” Alistair said gently, setting the buckets down. “It's alright. They knew their fate.”
“I'm not crying for them,” she said, as he drew her into a tight embrace. “I'm crying for us. Everything we did, everyone we saved. All of it will die in an abandoned thaig and be forgotten.”
“Neria, you know that's not true,” Alistair said calmly, leaning back to look into her eyes. “We're the Wardens that stopped the Blight. Minstrels will sing of us for ages to come.” He smiled weakly. “You won't die down here alone. I'll always be with you.”
He wiped the tears from her eyes with his thumb, and kissed her gently.
“I'll always be here,” he started, pulling away and balancing on his knees. “But, I have to start water for supper.”
“Give me a few minutes, alright?” she asked quietly. As he stood, he ruffled her hair.
It was late into the night when Alistair crept into the office of the Warden-Commander at Vigil's Keep. Neria was still awake, piles of paperwork around her. She was furiously scribbling at the paperwork and hadn't noticed the door open.
“Late night?” he asked jovially, watching her pen slip.
She looked up.
“Oh Alistair, I didn't even hear you come in. You're sparring late.”
He pulled the heavy chair from the corner and sat at the edge of the desk.
“Sigrun said she needed practice, that there weren't enough humans around for her to try her new sneaking ability. I don't really think she needed to try it on humans, but I humored her for a while.”
He leaned his head on her shoulder.
“Whatcha writing?” he asked playfully, as Neria set the finished page aside to let the ink dry.
“I'm filling out the deed for Vigil's Keep. When the Wardens have cleared Amarathine, we're handing Vigil's Keep over to its rightful heir, Nathaniel.”
“Does he know?” Alistair asked, sliding the chair closer to the elf.
“We've discussed it, yes,” she said. “Nathaniel is quite pleased to have his childhood home back in his possession. It might take another year or two before we've eradicated all the darkspawn here, but both the First Warden and Nathaniel are in agreement that when the time comes, and the darkspawn are clear, he is to receive Vigil's Keep.”
Her stomach protested noisily and Alistair gave her a look.
“What did I tell you about remembering to eat?” he scolded playfully.
“I must have lost track of time.” She laughed. “It happens when I have paperwork to do.”
She crinkled her nose.
“You stink. Why don't you go wash up first? I'll meet you in the kitchen.”
She blew out the candles, and turned on her heel. As she closed the big door, her stomach rumbled again.
“Wash up quickly!” she yelled to Alistair, laughing “I think my stomach is trying to eat itself!”
The kitchen at Vigil's Keep was always stocked. The surrounding farmers, grateful to the Wardens for clearing the land, had begun bringing part of their harvests to the Keep. Every six months, livestock would be slaughtered and salted and delivered as gifts. As a result, the inhabitants were never left wanting. The Keep's cook, originally part of the Howe staff, was unable to keep up with the demand of the Wardens. She took to leaving food out. It was always gone by morning.
When Alistair finally arrived, Neria was already eating. The cook had left out lamb and potatoes and there were several slices of bread left.
“We could always fry an egg or two, if this isn't enough,” Neria said, looking up from her meal. Alistair nodded as he sat. They ate in silence, and when the clock in the hall struck nine, Neria spoke.
“The Wardens would like me to transfer to Weisshaupt, once we've returned the Keep to Nathaniel.”
Alistair looked up from his plate. His eyes said all they needed to.
“I've asked for a double transfer. You're coming with.”
His face lit up.
“You didn't really think I was going to leave you here, did you?” she laughed as she mopped up the rest of the gravy with the heel of her bread. “You're stuck with me forever, remember?”
As they walked quietly down the dark hallway to their room, later, the Warden-Commander turned to her second.
“Remember those 'sparring' matches we used to have?” she asked, grinning.
“And we were always so surprised when the camp asked us about it the next day.” Alistair responded
Neria started giggling, and Alistair found that he couldn't hold back. He began laughing with her. As she fought back her giggles, Neria spoke: “I'm pretty sure that's the reason you and Sten started sparring together- so that you wouldn't get 'distracted'.”
“What can I say? I get distracted pretty easily.”
“You know,” Neria said lowly after a pause.“The practice yard is quiet. What do you say we head down there and practice, just like old times?”
Alistair grinned and grabbed her hand. He had to fight back the urge to run.
When they broke camp the next day, it was a somber affair. Without speaking, Alistair slid back into his armor as Neria quietly took down the camp. Remembering the First Wardens words, she actually folded the tent before putting it in her sack. She counted her potions. They were running low on supplies, and the potions would have to be used sparingly. She looked at Alistair and smiled meekly. The night had been spent in his arms, as she cried out her sorrow and regret, and, when she finally managed to fall asleep, her dreams were fitful memories of her past. Alistair stomped into his boots before walking over to where Neria was counting her elfroots. He smiled back at her before slipping an arm around her shoulder. She leaned into the embrace, and closed her eyes, imagining for a moment that they were somewhere else. His weight shifted, the movement causing the unused flasks to rattle together in her pack and her eyes flew open.
“Thanks Alistair,” her voice finally broke the silence. “I'll be alright.”
She threw her pack over her shoulder, and handed him his pack.
“I've refilled your poultices, but I'd use them sparingly. We only have enough elfroot to last us another day.”
Alistair nodded. Sliding one arm around her waist, they made their way out of the cavern, away from the smell of death and into the dark. She had just pulled the map from her pack when she heard a noise around a corner.
“They just can't leave us alone, can they?” Alistair whined.
“This is the Deep Roads!” Neria exclaimed, casting a spell that bathed them in white glow. A group of genlocks appeared, having rounded the corner, and she lobbed a spell at them. Alistair readied his sword and ran ahead, screaming and slashing. Chunks of genlocks went flying as Neria prepared another spell.
Suddenly, everything went quiet.
“Uh, oh,” Alistair muttered as the strong scent of magic filled the air. They kept walking. An emissary appeared. Two Holy Smites and a few sword jabs and it was dead. Neria rifled through its remains, as Alistair leaned against a rock, sweating heavily.
“Anything useful?” he asked, voice ragged. He searched his pack for an extra draught she may have packed.
“A staff, which I don't need, some accessories which are useless, and...one lyrium potion? Can darkspawn even use potions?”
“Neria, love, I hate to be a bother, but did you prepare any draughts?”
She reached for her pack and grabbed the yellow vial.
“I don't remember it being this hard.” Alistair said breathlessly, downing the vial.
The light from the torches reflected off his face, and for the first time, Neria could see where the taint had spread. His face was gaunt, and the dark scales that had begun to appear before they both left appeared to be spreading. A patch was just visible beneath the high neckline of his armor. She touched his face.
“Oh Alistair. I'm sorry.” Her eyes filled with tears. “You don't have much time. We don't have much time.”
Sunlight streamed through the windows of the fortress at Weisshaupt. Alistair quietly slid back into bed as Neria stirred. He had set the tray he had been carrying on a nearby stool, and as he went to wake her gently, he paused. It had been a long time since those nights he'd stay awake long after she'd fallen asleep. He'd wanted to memorize every feature, everything about her in case something were to happen. Those features were different now, maybe because of the taint, but her face looked thinner than it used to. He didn't think elves aged the same way humans did, but in the morning sun, she looked almost as old as he did. He stroked her face gently as she stirred.
“A-Alistair?” she asked, turning and opening one eye to look at him. “What time is it?”
“A little after sunrise,” he whispered, kissing her forehead. He motioned behind her to the plate of food. She turned and her eyes grew wide.
“What's the occasion?” she asked, pulling the plate onto her lap. There was enough food for four people heaped onto the platter, but Alistair knew that between them, they'd probably still be hungry afterward.
“Nothing,” he said smiling. “Can't a man do a something nice for the woman he loves?”
“I suppose he can,” she mused, reaching for the plate as Alistair curled up beside her. “You know Lief is going to have a fit when he finds out you've taken this much food.”
“In this place?” Alistair joked. “We have enough food here to stock two whole cities in the winter.”
Neria nodded, lips pursed. Alistair reached over, trying to sneak a hand onto her tray.
“Hey! Ladies first.” She lifted the plate out of reach.
Sighing playfully, Alistair propped against his pillow.
“And after I walked up all those steps too. That tray was heavy.”
He pouted, and she bopped his nose.
“You baby, I wasn't going to eat it all.” She set the tray back on her lap. “I just wanted to get a head start.”
She smiled a toothy grin as he reached for the bread. Lazy days at Weisshaupt were usually frowned upon, but they found ways around it. Neither of them had training today, and they were free to spend their days as they liked. Neria looked up from the tray.
“Was there anything you wanted to do today?” she asked, mouth full.
“I know you usually like to head to the library on your days off,” Alistair said, taking her free hand and rubbing his thumb over her knuckles.
“I do, but I don't think there's anything left in there to read.” She picked an apple off the tray. Fresh fruit was so hard to come by. “I think I've been here too long.”
“Do you know how long it's been, since the Blight?” Alistair asked, finding some more fruit buried under all the meat.
Neria thought, her face puckering into that look she always had when she was thinking intently about something.
“Twenty years, I think.” she said finally.
“Just nearing twenty-five,” he said, shoving several grapes into his mouth. He reached for the cask of wine that Neria brought in last night. He clasped his hands together, breathing in deeply. “I've begun having the dreams.”
“It's too soon.” Neria said, grabbing the cask from Alistair.
“It's not really.” he said, setting it back on the side table. “Thirty years if we're lucky. Twenty-five if we're not. I'm not.”
Neria set the tray on the stool next to her and pulled Alistair into her arms.
“It's alright,” she said, stroking his face. “I'll come with you, when it's time to go. But today, we won't think of our Callings.”
She cupped his face and looked into his eyes.
“Today it will just be us.”
She kissed him long and slow, as the stresses subsided. He threw his arms around her, and she fell back against the bed with him. Together, they had everything they'd need.
Alistair hacked away at the fleshy mass in front of him. His ankle was throbbing and the wound in his shoulder felt infected. The taint was spreading fast and it took more energy to hold a sword than he remembered. They had been going for several days with no sleep already, and his strength was flagging. The elfroot had been used up days ago, the leftover vials scattered amongst the Deep Roads for the next group of Wardens to find. They could no longer find where they were on the map. That had also been abandoned. Neria slowly sipped a lyrium potion before filling the room with fire. The smell of burning rotten flesh was nauseating and Alistair had to fight the urge to vomit. The room was full of fire and death, but they pressed on.
“I don't know how much longer I can keep this up,” she said, leaning against the wall as the fire subsided. She held up her last lyrium potion, as Alistair sipped the final stamina draught she had made for him.
The noise in the tunnels up ahead sent him running. Neria leaned on her staff and pressed on. She threw spells in every directions, the exhaustion finally catching up with her and she stopped to rest on her staff. Alistair bashed an emissary and it hit his shield with a loud crunch. The shield shattered from the impact, wooden shards flying everywhere. She sipped her lyrium potion before dousing the room in ice.
The arrow that hit her came from seemingly nowhere. She lunged forward as another one hit her in the shoulder. She fell to her knees and called for Alistair. As he turned around, an arrow pierced the infected shoulder. The pain was blinding, but he ran to her through the hail of arrows.
“Neria!” he called, reaching for her as she fell. He cradled her and pulled her close.
“I'm sorry Alistair,” she said weakly. All the color had drained from her face and she was having trouble focusing on his on anything besides the tunnel wall. “But I think this is the end.”
Alistair leaned in to give her a final kiss when an arrow hit him in the neck. It was so fast he never even felt a thing. He slumped forward as the life drained from him, appearing to shelter Neria's body for eternity.
Together, even in death.