Fandom: Dragon Age: Origins
Characters: Zevran, Alistair, Elissa Cousland, Arl Eamon
Spoilers/Notes: See Chapter 1
Hooray, it is done! Thanks for reading. :)
Chapter 1: On DW / On LJ
Chapter 2: On DW / On LJ
Chapter 3: On DW / On LJ
He sensed Denerim long before he saw it: the clattering of wagons on their way to market, the smell of rotten fish rising from the bay, the unease that settled into his spirit. By the time the tower of Fort Drakon loomed overhead, Alistair was well and truly unhappy. Why had he gone along with this madness? He imagined stepping through the palace doors, seeing Anora on the throne, bending the knee and making nice. The very idea made his head throb.
Just outside the city gates, Elissa called a halt, and the team gathered around her, Alistair taking a position at the edge of the group. He wasn't really preserving the option to bolt for the nearest tavern. "Zevran." Elissa turned to address him. "Please take Pieter and Venyel directly to the palace and arrange an audience with Queen Anora. I have an errand to complete first. Alistair, you're with me."
A flash of disappointment crossed Zevran's face, quashed by a wry look from Elissa. "Aye, Commander," he said. "This way, fellows." With a wave of his arm, he gathered up the other Wardens and led them into the city. Elissa waited until they were well out of sight, and then she turned to Alistair.
"Now we see what I brought you to Denerim to see." A soft smile, and then she took him through the gate as well, into the grand square marking the entrance to Ferelden's capital. It was larger than Alistair remembered it, and cleaner. Elissa stopped next to the gatehouse and laid her hand on its stone wall. "We made our final stand against the archdemon here," she commented. "The damage to the city was considerable. The Warden's compound was razed, and you'll barely recognize Arl Eamon's estate." With another glance up at him, she gestured forward. "This way."
He took a few more steps into the square, then stopped dead. For there, smack in the center, where none could miss it, was a statue, carved of dark granite, larger than life, depicting three men. Grey Wardens, all, weapons drawn as if to defend the gate. And the tallest of them, the man in the middle, wore Duncan's face.
He walked towards it, each step slow and deliberate, unable to look away. "Maker's breath," he whispered. "Is it..."
"It is." Elissa's voice was gentle, and sad. "One of Anora's first acts as queen was to commission a monument to the Grey Wardens, so that Ferelden might never again forget. And she made it a priority, too; even with all else that needed to be built, it was complete within a year. Duncan's likeness is quite good, isn't it? It took a small army of artists, working from the memories of those who knew him, but in the end it was worth the effort."
Alistair could only nod; his throat had closed and his eyes filled with tears, blurring his vision until he blinked them away, not caring who might see them spilling onto his cheeks. It was Duncan to the life: chin lifted, eyes noble, dagger drawn and a hand on the hilt of his sword. The sculptors had captured his memory perfectly.
Elissa laid a hand on his shoulder. "Read the inscription."
Swiping at his eyes with the back of his hand, Alistair leaned closer to the base of the sculpture and, after several attempts at clearing his throat, read the words aloud in a husky voice. "In memory of the Grey Wardens of Ferelden, who sacrificed themselves in the Fifth Blight to keep all Thedas safe. May their names be remembered for all time." He turned back to Elissa, eyes widened with wonderment. "Their names." He reached forth and ran a finger down the first column. "Duncan, Commander of the Grey. Riordan of Highever. Alain of West Hills..." His voice trailed off as he continued reading down the list. Everyone was there, all the brothers he had come to know in the months between his conscription and Ostegar. As he approached the end, he stopped, turning to look at Elissa with surprise. "Daveth of Denerim?"
She nodded. "He was one of us, if only for an instant. The other names I got from Riordan's records, but I wanted to honor his sacrifice as well. "I couldn't quite bring myself to include Jory, though." She made a quick face, then gestured back to the monument. "There's one more."
He felt a scowl building. Loghain, of course, it had to be, Anora would never have agreed otherwise -- he should have known this was too good to be true. He whipped his head back, ready to lash out, scratch the letters away with his sword, or his bare hands... and then his anger melted away into confusion as he saw the final name:
Alistair of Redcliffe.
"What?" It was little more than an escaping breath as he reached out and touched his own name, chiseled into the cool, polished granite with the rest, an impostor among heroes. He was a deserter, a coward, a child, a fool. What business did he have here? He looked at Elissa, shaking his head, and his next word was a whispered cry of agony. "Why?"
She spread her hands. "Because you belong there."
He shook his head. "No." His throat had tightened again, he could barely breathe. "No, no, I don't, I--"
"You belong there." Her firm response brooked no argument as she raised her chin. "Because this was your victory, too. Because I could have never gathered the treaty armies without you at my side, watching my back, being my conscience, believing in me. Because you stuck to your principles, all the way to the end. And because--" She stopped, looked away, took a deep shuddering breath. "Because for all I knew, you were dead, as much a victim of the Blight and Loghain's treachery as the others. And so I honored you, in the only way I had left."
He heard the pain in that last admission, saw her shoulders trembling. The last frozen edges of his heart thawed at last, flooding him with his love for her, and he rested his hands on her shoulders, turning her towards him. She looked back up, eyes gleaming bright.
"Redemption, Alistair," she murmured, the tenderness in her voice almost beyond bearing. "It is the way of the Wardens. We don't care who you were, or what came before. All that matters is your service, your sacrifice."
With a hard swallow, he nodded. "I think... I think I see now." He dropped his hands and turned back to the monument, looking over the names again. "So then, why..."
"Why is Loghain not listed as well?" She said nothing for a long moment, and then she sighed. "I couldn't. This is not his place. Anora had a statue of him commissioned -- in a courtyard across from the Orlesian Embassy; never let it be said that Her Majesty has no sense of humor -- and his name will be remembered in other ways, at other times. But to include him here, among the very men he sought to destroy?" She shook her head. "The First tried to argue with me about it, but I brought him around to my way of thinking."
Silence fell between them for a moment more, but it was more comfortable now, the awkwardness of the past week lifting like a morning fog. When Alistair spoke again, he felt the last traces of his anger fading. Not gone; it would never be gone. But maybe he could live with it now, keep it from consuming him alive. "You were right. I needed to see this."
Her answer was a smile, warm, tinged with relief. "I'm glad you agree. Now. I must be off to meet the queen. You are at your leisure for the rest of the day, Warden. Our compound in the city was destroyed in the Battle of Denerim, and we have not yet been able to rebuild. When he repaired his estate, Arl Eamon was generous enough to provide us with a small barracks, and that is where we will quarter tonight. Meet me there in time for dinner."
"Yes, Commander. Thank you." Alistair touched his breast and bowed his head, and she returned the gesture. Then he turned back to the monument and looked up, finally allowing himself to revisit his memories of good times and bad.
Zevran walked through the dusty streets of Denerim, alert for the bands of cutpurses who lurked in the city's darker alleys after sunset. After dodging a particularly unsavory-looking fellow, he emerged into the entry square and set his sights on his target: Alistair, who was kneeling in front of the Grey Warden monument, eyes raised to the men's faces. Zevran walked up to Alistair's side and cleared his throat.
"What?" Alistair did not move, not even to look at him. But there was a calmness to the question, abrupt as it was.
"I thought you might still be here." Zevran turned to the monument, attempting to examine it with fresh eyes. He paid his respects whenever he visited the city, but he hadn't looked so closely in years. "What do you think?"
Alistair's shoulders raised with a long, slow breath. "I'm glad this is here, and I'm glad I came here to see it." Looking closer, Zevran could see that Alistair's eyes were red, his cheeks marked by the trails of tears. "I've needed this for a long time."
Zevran raised an eyebrow at him. "What did you need?"
"A hard dose of reality." Alistair bowed his head, a hand to his chest. "I was so busy being angry that I forgot what really matters about the Wardens, and the sacrifices we make." He glanced up at Zevran. "You asked me why I couldn't let it go. I thought that letting go would be the same as forgetting them. But I was wrong. I think, maybe, now, I can move on without forgetting." He sighed. "I don't know if that made any sense."
"Oh, it does." Zevran clasped his hands behind his back. "Perfect sense, really."
"It helps to know that I don't have to forgive Loghain's treachery, or think of him as a dear brother." Jaw clenching, he rose to his feet and nodded at the monument. "Now I see a middle ground. He damned us and then he saved us; perhaps it balances out. The man was a bloody hero, after all. I can even accept that there's a statue of him around here, somewhere. Just don't make me visit it."
Zevran chuckled. "The teyrn will be sad to miss your offering, I'm sure." Then he became more serious. "I assume she didn't tell you that the memorial was her idea in the first place." Alistair looked at him, brow arched, and Zevran nodded. "After Anora was crowned, and she acknowledged Elissa's leadership in ending the Blight, she offered a boon. And of all the things Elissa could have asked for, she requested that the Wardens not be forgotten. Hence, the memorial." He waved up at the sculpture. "She spent day and night with the artisans, making sure they got it just right. It wasn't easy, but she did it."
"None of this was easy for her." The sadness and affection in Alistair's voice were plain. "So many things that I drank to keep muddled are clear to me now." He looked down, then around him, finally seeming to mark the darkness of the sky. "Oh. It's later than I thought. We should go. Sorry to keep you." He ran his hand over the pedestal one last time, then stepped away. "So, now we make for the estate of Arl Eamon. What happened to the Grey Warden compound? Surely after ten years we could have rebuilt."
"Ah, no." Zevran clucked his tongue. "The darkspawn targeted your compound for especial defilement. The Circle did its best, even enlisted the help of the Dalish, but it could be a generation before the land is habitable again. Elissa is searching for a new site; in the meantime, we are the arl's guests."
"Ah." Alistair made a show of examining the back of his hands. "Is the arl in residence, do you know?"
"I believe so." Zevran raised an eyebrow. "Well, you've missed dinner. Do you wish to make straight for the garrison? I know a back way in."
"No." Letting his hands fall, Alistair glanced to the sky. "I've a good track record with facing down my demons today; might as well take care of this one, too."
The market square of Denerim seemed the same but for newer buildings and fresh paint, but as Elissa had promised, Alistair found Arl Eamon's estate much changed. It seemed smaller, for one thing, the entryway less grand, the second kitchen and dining wings replaced by a larger courtyard with more flowerbeds. The changes continued inside, as well: simpler furnishings, construction mainly of wood rather than stone. As Zevran pointed him down the hallway, in the direction of what had once been the arl's study, Alistair felt his pulse kick up a notch, and he wondered whom he was most nervous about seeing again.
After a pause at an ewer to splash and dry his face, he made a right turn, and there was the arl, a hand resting on the edge of his desk, speaking with Elissa. Both of them, together; Alistair supposed that was fitting. Then he looked closer and stopped just short of the doorway, drawn up by shock. Neither Zevran nor Elissa had changed much to his eyes in the past ten years, but somehow Arl Eamon had transformed into an old man: hair thinning and faded to a pale silver, shoulders stooped, eyes sunken, skin wrinkled and grey, a look of wear and care about his face.
Elissa noticed Alistair first, and she lifted a hand to Eamon's arm with a soft word. Eamon turned, and his face went an even paler shade. "Alistair!" And then he was striding across the room, rushing through the door, hands out, gathering Alistair into a fierce embrace. "Alistair. Thank the Maker you're all right."
Too surprised to respond in kind at first -- Eamon had never shown him more affection than a pat on the shoulder or the head, and that not since he was a boy -- Alistair tentatively returned the hug. "I'm-- sorry to have worried you, ser."
Eamon let go and stepped away, hands still on Alistair's arms. "When Elissa told me, I could scarcely believe... but here you are, and I'm glad."
"So am I," Alistair replied softly. Overwhelmed by the emotion in Eamon's eyes, he dropped his gaze and stepped back; Eamon cleared his throat, and when he spoke again, his voice was gruff.
"I'm afraid you've missed tonight's meal, but please, dine with me tomorrow. Your commander has already agreed to stay another day."
"I would be honored." Alistair bowed, despite the butterflies that sprang up in his stomach. "Thank you."
"Good." Eamon smiled. "Ah, my boy, it's so good to see you. Now, off to the kitchens with you -- I instructed the cook to set something aside."
"Thank you." Alistair caught Elissa's eye. "Commander, if I could speak with you for a moment?"
"Yes, of course. I'll walk you to the kitchen. My lord." She exchanged nods with Eamon, then fell into step with Alistair as they headed back down the hall.
A few paces from the kitchen door, he stopped her with a hand to the shoulder. "I need to thank you, again. I still have much to think about, but the turmoil of my spirit is gone. And..." He took a deep, cleansing breath, letting his shoulders rise and fall. "I wanted to ask if your, ah. Offer. From the other night. Whether it's still, perhaps, maybe, open."
She raised her eyebrows, parted her lips. "Are you sure?"
He let out a shaky laugh. "Andraste's flaming sword, no, I'm not sure. I'm not sure of anything at all." Lifting a hand to her face, he ran the side of his index finger along her cheek, and her eyes fluttered shut. "But... I'll be damned if I care."
Leaning close to him, she brought her mouth to his ear. "Come to the barracks in an hour," she murmured. "Last door on the right." She kissed his cheek, catching the corner of his mouth, and then she was gone.
The appointed time arrived, and Alistair stood at the door, his fingers resting lightly on its smooth wooden frame. He had eaten a little, then bathed and changed, getting out of his armor and into a suede tunic and pair of casual breeches that Zevran had acquired for him in Kirkwall. He took a long, slow breath and closed his eyes as he thought back to the first time he had asked to spend the night with her, at camp on their way out of Orzammar. He had been terrified, then -- certain she would say no, positive he would make a fool of himself, unsure where the path of loving her might lead. But that was nothing compared to the fears that gripped him tonight. This time, he knew exactly what awaited him on the other side of the door. Was he ready to accept it? Could he survive if he lost it again? He'd talked himself into and out of keeping this appointment half a dozen times in the last fifteen minutes alone.
But in the end, he feared not making the attempt even more. And so he gathered his courage and rapped his knuckles against the door, twice, softly.
"Enter," came the muffled reply. Alistair turned the knob and let the door swing open, then stepped through and closed it behind him. She was there, seated on the edge of her bed, still dressed for her dinner with the arl. As he approached, she stood up, and he saw a look of guarded relief cross her face. "I wasn't sure you'd come."
"Neither was I," he admitted. He came closer to her and lightly caught her hands in his. Their fingers flexed together, and he tightened his grip, sparks tickling his palms. His breath came faster as he studied her face. "Maker's breath, you're still so beautiful. I can hardly believe that I'm really here, with you."
"Believe it," she whispered, and then she kissed him. Her lips were a balm, bringing him back to life, healing the wounds he had spent so much effort to keep open. He let go of her hands and brought his arms around her, pulling her tight, so close, and she pressed her body into his with a sigh.
He broke the kiss to lean their foreheads together, rubbed the tips of their noses together. "Oh my love, how I have missed you."
She froze for a second, then pulled away, eyes round. "Love? You... love me?"
Alistair bowed his head. "Even when I hated you, I loved you." Glancing up through his lashes, he swallowed down his fears to speak truth. "My dear Elissa. I will always love you. Always."
"Oh." She laid a hand on his cheek, lifted his face to meet her eyes. "Alistair, I-- I was angry, too, you know. Angry, and hurt that you left me to face the archdemon alone. And I held onto those feelings for a very long time. But neither did I ever stop loving you." She pulled him down and kissed him again, harder now, her tongue sliding into his mouth. Burying one hand in her hair, the other sweeping up and down her back, Alistair kissed her in return, felt her tremble, a groan pulled from his throat as she ran her hands up underneath his shirt, caressing the bare skin beneath.
Yet again, he dragged himself away, long enough for her to pull his shirt over his head; meanwhile, he started fumbling with the laces that held hers in place. "Damn," he muttered, working at the tiny, tight knot, fingers clumsy with anticipation and desire.
She laughed in answer. "Let me," she said, and within a moment the knot was undone and her shirt removed. He brought his hands to her bare waist and reveled in the feel of her skin beneath his rough palms, then skimmed then up her torso until they rested on her breasts. Encircling them, he lowered his mouth to hers and plunged within, tasting her, feeling her lift in response, winding her hands around his neck, gripping, clinging.
He never wanted it to end, and yet he wanted to move on, too, get the rest of her clothes off, ease her down on the bed, feel her surrounding him. She seemed to be of a mind with him as her hands drifted down, cupping his buttocks before seeking the drawstring that held his pants up. Then she paused; he broke long enough to speak a single word: "Please."
Without further hesitation, she pulled on the cord and it came free, allowing his breeches to fall to the floor. He stepped out of them as she removed her skirts, and now only their undergarments came between them. Bringing his arms around her, he pulled her tight against his chest, cupping the back of her head in his hand as she laid her cheek next to his. Skin on skin, her perfect muscles curving into his embrace, their bodies forming a single being, one that had been broken into separate pieces for too long.
And then she was taking him by the hand, leading him toward the narrow bunk in the corner of the room, pulling him down atop her and drawing him into another kiss, long and hot and sweet. By unspoken agreement, they divested themselves of their smallclothes, and oh Maker she was lovely: her skin smooth and warm, her breast filling his hand, her cleft slick and ready, her soft moans the sweetest music he had ever heard. Her hand came around his length, encircled him, tugged gently, and her touch almost undid him; he crushed her to him with a gasp, then took her mouth yet again.
"My love, oh my love," he groaned, lips against hers, a catch in his voice. "I want... I don't know if I can wait much longer."
She shifted into place and brought her knees up his waist. "Then don't," she murmured, and then, with her hands and a thrust of her hips, she brought him home.
The morning dawned clear and chilly, and the Guerrin estate slowly came to life: guards changing shifts, cooks preparing the food for the day, servants scurrying from place to place, carrying out their duties. Zevran took advantage of the extra day in town to sleep in, strolling into the Warden's dining room for breakfast well past nine. Given the late hour, he'd expected to eat alone; instead, he was greeted by a sight that lightened his spirits: Elissa and Alistair, seated across from one another in the far corner of the room, the remains of a large meal spread out between them, smiling into one another's eyes. He backed away to give them privacy, but then Alistair saw him and waved him over. Grabbing a cup of coffee and some toast from the sideboard, Zevran went to them, taking a seat on the bench next to Elissa.
"Good morning," Alistair said, around a mouthful of egg; he swallowed, then nodded to Zevran's plate. "That's all you're eating?"
"I prefer a light breakfast." Zevran favored him with a grin. "An advantage of not being Joined: I never did develop the legendary appetites of the Wardens."
Alistair's smile broadened as he caught Elissa's eye, and to Zevran's surprise, it was Elissa who blushed, a light wash of red staining her cheeks. Zevran bit his lip to keep from laughing; if there'd been any question regarding what his former companions had gotten up to last night, there was his answer. He took a careful drink of his coffee to give Elissa a moment to compose herself, then propped his elbows on the table. "So, Commander, what's our agenda for the day?"
She turned to look at him, back to her usual calm self, although the hardness that had long lurked beneath the façade was faded; only now, in its absence, did Zevran notice how pronounced that edge had been. "I have another meeting with Queen Anora this afternoon, but neither of you need attend. Pieter and Venyel are visiting the Alienage and the City Watch, meeting with Shianni and the captain of the guard to evaluate potential recruits; Alistair, if you would join them?"
A wary look passed over Alistair's face, but it was gone almost as soon as it appeared. "Of course. When do we leave?"
"Soon. I believe the first appointment is at noon."
Alistair took one last swig of his coffee and wiped his mouth with a napkin. "I should finish getting ready, then. See you at dinner." He rose from the bench and leaned across the table to graze her temple with a kiss, then nodded to Zevran as he turned to go. Zevran watched him walk out of the room and marveled at the change in his friend -- Alistair's head was held high, a confidence had come into his step, and his shoulders were both squared and visibly broader than they had been only two weeks ago.
Elissa seemed to have much the same thought; she turned to Zevran, her eyes warm. "Thank you for saving him."
He smiled at her. "Ah, well. I suspect we can share the credit for this one." He covered her hand with his, and she squeezed his fingers in response. "You have yet to give me a task. Do you have something for me?"
"Yes." She sat up straighter and pulled her hand free. "Orders from Weisshaupt were waiting for me yesterday, and we need to talk about them. Let's go to Eamon's study; we won't be interrupted there. Bring your breakfast, if you like."
The last of the plates were cleared away, and Arl Eamon leaned back in his chair, a glass of wine in his hand. He had spent the dinner hour catching Alistair up on the events of the past ten years, and Alistair had listened with more interest than he had expected to muster. Politics had never been his favorite thing, but now that he had met some of the players, he found the stories more compelling, particularly with the passage of so much time. Of his own time away, he had spoken little; he was not particularly keen to remember those years, or share them in any detail, and Eamon had not pressed, not even raising an eyebrow at Alistair's request for water rather than wine or ale. Someday he might lift a glass again, but not just yet.
"So, my boy." Eamon swirled the red wine around its glass. "I understand from the commander that you have a decision to make."
Alistair nodded. "Two decisions, really. Do I stay with the Grey Wardens, and if I stay, do I serve in Ferelden, or elsewhere?"
Eamon leaned forward. "If you choose to leave, then I'm sure we could find a place for you. I don't suppose you have any interest in going back to the templars, but the knights of Redcliffe can always use another good man. With Connor in the Tower, I've named Teagan my heir, and the administration of the Castle has been in his hands for some years now, so it would be his decision, ultimately. But I'm sure he'd be happy to have you."
"Thank you, my lord." Alistair had to swallow back a surge of emotion. "I'm... touched, that you would make such an offer. But there is no need. I belong with the Wardens."
"Well, good." Eamon smiled. "I suspect I'm not the only one glad to hear that, am I, Commander?"
Alistair turned around in his seat and saw Elissa standing in the doorway, still in her armor, and he fought back a blush. So much for the speech he had prepared.
"Very glad," she answered, stepping into the room. "Have you finished with dinner?"
"Just now," Eamon said. "And I believe it is time for me to retire. Alistair, I look forward to speaking with you more on the morrow. Commander." He and Elissa traded places: he standing and leaving the room, she lowering herself into his high wooden chair.
"So. You're staying." Her hands curled around the arms of the chair. "Are you certain?"
"Yes." Alistair rested his arms on the table, tenting his fingers. It seemed he would get to make his speech after all. Damn. "I... never had a family, before the Wardens. Arl Eamon was good to me, in his own way, but it was mostly out of affection for my father. Duncan and the Wardens accepted me... for me. They were my family and my home; they took me in at need, as they have taken in so many others. It is a gift, and I spurned it too lightly before. I will not make that mistake again. Loghain..." He pursed his lips together, and shook his head. "I was wrong. You and Riordan were right. And I'm sorry I was such a child about it."
"I'm sorry, too," she said, reaching across the table to take his hand. He curved his fingers around hers. "I should never have pushed you into that position in front of the entire Landsmeet. And I'm especially sorry that Riordan didn't talk to us earlier, so we could have made a decision in advance with all the facts in mind. I lay a significant portion of the blame for this on his shoulders, you know. But that's in the past, and we're talking about the future." She sat up straighter but did not let him go. "Have you decided where you will serve?"
Alistair squeezed her hand, then pulled away. "That, I fear, is the harder question. And one I would rather not discuss in the arl's dining room. Is there somewhere else we can go?"
"My rooms? I'd like to get out of this armor, if I could."
They both stood, and Alistair followed her down the hallways, through the narrow courtyard that separated the Warden's compound from the rest of the estate, and into her quarters. Without a word, he assisted her with the belts and buckles that held her heavy plate in place, and then she ushered him into the sitting area on the far side of her bedchamber, taking his hands as they sat side by side on the couch. "Now, tell me."
He took a deep breath. It was hard to concentrate with her warm hands in his, reminding him of the long, sweet night they had spent in this very room: touching, talking, making love, and, eventually, collapsing in a pile of contentment to let sleep take them away. But somehow, he gathered his thoughts together and began to speak.
"Today was... instructive." Alistair looked down at their joined hands, then back up. "It was good to see Shianni, and to feel like a part of the Wardens again. But everywhere I went, I felt like people were watching. Remembering who I was, whispering, staring. At least two different people asked if I had returned to take the throne!" He shook his head. "When the people of Ferelden look at me, they don't see a Grey Warden. They see a historical figure, or a symbol, and I'm not comfortable with that. I still have a lot to figure out about who I am, what I want to be. And that will be difficult, maybe even impossible, if I'm carrying King Maric's legacy everywhere I go. And Cailan's legacy, and Loghain's, and my own. So a part of me is eager to take Philipe's offer to join him in Orlais, at least for a time. But there is one difficultly." He leaned forward and pressed his lips to her cheek. "To leave you now, when I've only just found you again... I don't know if I'm strong enough. I can think of nothing else that would hold me in Ferelden, but it is a powerful force."
Her answering nod was slow and thoughtful. "Have you decided, then? Or do you need more time?"
"I've decided." He laid a loose fist between her breasts, over her heart, felt its thudding beat. "I love you. I'll miss you, terribly. But for now, leaving is what I need to do. I'm sorry."
Elissa covered his hand with hers. "Don't be." She leaned forward and kissed him on the mouth. "My love, I think you are right to go, but I could not ask it of you. So I'm glad you came to the decision on your own."
Bringing his hands up to her face, he drew her in for another kiss, ready to linger, to begin memorizing the shape of her mouth, but she drew away and laid a finger over his lips. "Before you make the decision final, there is something you should know. New orders arrived from Weisshaupt yesterday evening." Leaning back, she let her hands fall into her lap. "I, too, have been called to Orlais, to take command at Jader. Philipe will stay in Ferelden to serve as second for Nathanial, who will be promoted to Warden Commander."
Alistair raised an eyebrow. "An Orlesian and a Howe, in charge of Amaranthine? The Landsmeet might not care for that."
"Some may object." Elissa shrugged. "But Nathanial has put much effort into repairing his family's name. Fergus will support him, and the change has already received Anora's blessing; the rest will fall into line, at least in public. Nathanial will make a good commander, and certainly a better administrator than I ever have. The fact is, I've been here too long, and I'm ready for a new challenge." She leaned forward and looked at him, studying his face. "Would you come with me to Jader, then? Or is our history a part of the burden you need to escape for a time?"
"Need you even ask?" Alistair took her hands again and grasped them tightly, lightheaded with relief, standing, pulling her to her feet. Head and heart, honor and duty: all had come into alignment at last, leading him down a single path. "I will join you."
"Good." Elissa drew him into an embrace, resting her head against his chest. Alistair wrapped his arms around her and resolved to never again let go.
The next month passed in a flurry of activity: packing and meetings and formal audiences of every kind as Elissa prepared to leave and Nathanial prepared to take her place. They had, in fact, all been so busy that the appointed day of departure took Zevran by surprise when it finally arrived. The farewell dinner would be tonight, and the courtyard was already bustling with activity. Zevran made his way up the battlements of the keep, thinking to snatch a moment alone before the festivities commenced, but he found that he had been beaten to the punch: Alistair stood there, hands resting on the wall, gaze far out on the horizon.
"Saying goodbye to the land of your birth?" Zevran asked. Alistair turned with a nod. "You arrived so recently; it must be hard to leave."
Alistair shrugged, a wry smile on his lips. "It's like you said on the boat: home is where they have to take you in. Ferelden didn't do that; the Wardens did. Elissa did. So did you." He tilted his head. "Sure you won't reconsider Elissa's offer of a place in Jader?"
Zevran shook his head. "Elissa was able to give me freedom to operate as I pleased; the closer she comes to the center of power, the fewer liberties she can allow. Nathaniel has a good understanding of my relationship to the Wardens, and so I will serve him here." He smiled, showing all his teeth. "But you will see me on my travels. This, I can guarantee." He stepped closer to Alistair, lowering his voice. "They're grooming her to take over as First, you know."
Alistair nodded. "I know. Not that she's come out and said as much, but... yes."
"Then you must also know that the chances of her returning permanently are rather slim." Zevran shuddered. "You'll be shipped off to the Anderfels to live among rocks and Blight wolves. I can imagine no worse fate."
"Then you don't have much imagination," Alistair replied. "I can picture much worse than that." His smile faded, and he turned away, eyes back on the horizon, and his next words came as though from a great distance. "It wasn't so long ago that I was living worse." After a moment of silence, he looked back at Zevran, voice stronger. "Did I ever thank you for saving my life?"
"Not in so many words, no." Zevran shrugged. "But seeing you live has been thanks enough."
"Not for me." Alistair put his hands on Zevran's shoulders. "I owe you a debt I can never repay."
"Careful," Zevran said casually. "I may take you up on that someday." Alistair chuckled, and Zevran pulled him into a quick embrace. "Be well, my friend."
"And you." Alistair slapped him on the back as he pulled away. "See you downstairs."
"Indeed." Zevran did not watch him go; instead, he went to the wall of the battlement and gazed over the lands of Amaranthine and beyond, contemplating their future, and his.
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