tagCelebrities & Fan FictionThere and Back Again Ch. 109-110

There and Back Again Ch. 109-110

byElyssaCousland©

Chapter One Hundred Nine: Insurance

The next morning, I found a very subdued Aedan sitting by the fire, dark bags under his eyes testifying that he hadn't slept well. No one else was around, though it wasn't that early by our normal standards, and I wondered if the sour expression on his face had scared everyone off. I sat down beside my brother and took his hand, resting my head on his shoulder as I picked at cold jerky I had fished out of my pack. We didn't speak; I handed Aedan and Alistair some of the jerky, and we ate together in silence as we waited for the new Grey Wardens to wake.

About an hour later, the three men emerged from their tents one at a time, I assumed mostly drawn by hunger; Aedan had made an enormous pot of porridge, anticipating the need, and handed each of the men a bowl without a word. Once the three of them had finished of seconds and then thirds, he finally stood, glaring at them balefully.

"So would anyone like to explain what in the void that was all about? This was your idea, I'm sure of it." He glared at Zevran.

Sten and Oghren remained impassive, turning their gazes to assassin, who winced. "Amore mio..."

"Just explain it? Please? What were you thinking?"

Zevran sighed. "I overheard you, yesterday. The three of you with Duncan in the command tent."

"You were eavesdropping?"

"Not originally, no. I wanted to ask you something, and it was only when I got inside that I heard you talking about sensitive topics. And my natural curiosity kicked in when I realised you were discussing Grey Warden secrets."

Aedan shuffled his feet, pouty expression still sullen, but suddenly I thought I knew exactly what had happened.

"You didn't tell me, amore mio, that the Grey Warden who kills the Archdemon will die." The assassin's expression was recriminating.

"Zev-"

Zevran cut him off. "I know Duncan intends to be the one, but we all know that nothing is preordained. He could perish before getting near the beast. If you thought I would allow you, any of you, to take the risk of being the one, when I could prevent it, you are much mistaken."

Aedan put his hands over his face, shuddering slightly. Zevran stood and wrapped one arm around Aedan's shoulders, whispering something I couldn't hear into his ear; Aedan drooped even further. Obviously uncomfortable with the emotional display, Oghren turned to me and picked up where Zevran had left off.

"The elf told me and big guy that he was gonna volunteer, and I wasn't about to let the swishy nug-licker show me up."

I snorted a laugh, and Zevran grinned at him. "Whatever you need to tell yourself, my dwarven friend. I can pretend you didn't agree to it after finding out Sierra could be forced to make the killing blow."

The dwarf flushed, and I gaped. "Oghren?"

"Whatever. Ancestors' hairy asses, I know I owe you – all of you. I might be a no-good, drunken, exiled, useless dwarf, but I pay my debts. Don't make it out to be more than it is."

I blushed, knowing it was the closest the berserker was ever likely to come to admitting that he cared about any of us, and I was pleased to be included in that group. I squeezed his shoulder, and he smirked at me before waggling his eyebrows and asking if the rumours he'd heard about other Grey Warden 'appetites' were true, and if I'd care to demonstrate. Alistair wrapped an arm around me possessively, I slapped the back of Oghren's head, and Zevran chuckled lewdly.

Aedan finally looked up, expression bleak.

"I didn't want this for you." He looked from Zevran to Oghren and Sten. "Any of you. Do you know you could have died?"

"We could have died, amore mio, any time in the last year. Killed by darkspawn, bandits, or trying to save an idiot from himself, what does it matter? We could have become tainted, ended up as ghouls. It doesn't matter, now, yes? We all survived."

Sten, looking longingly at the now-empty pot of porridge, sighed. "Parshaara! Enough. It is done. There will be three more Grey Wardens between the Archdemon and the destruction of Thedas. Is that not enough reason? Why must this endless discussion be necessary?"

"Sten...I understand why Zevran Joined, honestly, and Oghren was always going to end up as a Grey Warden, but..." I trailed off, confused.

Sten scoffed, refusing to answer, giving me the stoic Qunari silent treatment he always resorted to. Instead, Zevran answered. "What he meant is there will be three more Grey Wardens between the Archdemon and the only two people in Ferelden he respects, mia sorella. That was all I had to say."

Sten growled. "I was sent by the Arishok to answer a question. I will have more to tell him now. And there are no Grey Wardens in Seheron. What if the darkspawn tunnel that far? I will protect my people. That is enough."

Alistair chuckled in my ear, quietly enough that only I would be able to hear him. "Leliana was right. He is a softie."

I snickered quietly, earning myself a disapproving glare from the softie in question.

"Enough talk!" Oghren stood up and belched loudly. "Now, by the soggy tits of my Ancestors, where's the rest of my breakfast?"

*****

In the afternoon, scouts returned from the Wilds, indicating that they had seen the forces heading west toward Redcliffe, but Teagan had reported himself in position, so we weren't too worried. The same scouts reported horde movements heading for a particular battalion, and the rest of the messengers hurried off to get the other groups moving. The mages and bola launchers headed out, and our camp began to pack up, hopefully for the last time.

It wasn't until Riordan returned with Dougal and Conrad that we had a definitive report of the Archdemon leading the horde. Apparently it had sensed them, as they scouted in the Wilds, and had done a flashy fly-over, choosing not to attack them, presumably for the same reason it had left Duncan alone in the Deep Roads. Riordan hadn't been as badly affected as Duncan, but he'd apparently been a bit dazed after, and had taken a while to shake it off. The other two were fine, so clearly it was something about being so close to their Calling rather than just being a Warden in general.

I found it strange that Duncan was so much more advanced with the taint than Riordan; Duncan had postulated that his exposure to the Architect and whatever magic he'd used to accelerate the taint in Fiona and the other Wardens that had encountered him hadn't been entirely ameliorated by the dagger he'd stolen from the corrupt First Enchanter. No one could suggest any other explanation, so we sort of accepted it, if reluctantly.

We marched out and made camp several hours north of where we had been, the Wardens sharing space with Cailan, Sereda, Lanaya, Greagoir, Irving, several of the human and dwarven nobles, and their retinues. The three groups of Wardens would head south as soon as the location of the generals and the Archdemon were available, and I would stay with Cailan, overlooking the battle from a small cliff. The mages and bola launchers had joined the battalion down below us, ready to down the Archdemon as soon as it was in range.

We had an awkward 'last supper', no one wishing to appear too grim, but everyone knowing that any one of us could be missing from our next group meal. Conversation was stilted, and finally after enough uncomfortable silence, I asked a question I'd been dying to ask since we'd left Haven, but hadn't had the guts. It seemed a good enough distraction to justify the discomfort asking might have brought.

"Those of us who were at the Temple of Sacred Ashes...what did you all see, after we passed the Guardian?"

Those who hadn't been present watched the rest with interest; the stories had been told enough times that they knew what I was asking, even if they hadn't been there. Everyone else shifted uncomfortably.

"I'll start. I saw my father. Our father," I amended, glancing at Aedan. "He told me that I was his daughter, and asked Aedan and I to take care of each other."

"He told me to stop living with the guilt of leaving them behind," Aedan added. "That he loved us, and was proud of us." I hugged Aedan, and he rested his cheek against my head briefly.

No one spoke for a moment, and then Morrigan broke the silence. "I saw my mother...Flemeth. She was not dead, obviously, just speaking with me through the fade. She taunted me, saying she would be watching me. That was when I knew that if I wished to survive as myself, I would have to ask for help to kill her." I reached out and squeezed her hand, surprised but pleased to see Solona do the same with her other hand.

"You know we'll protect you, Morrigan, if you let us." Solona looked earnestly at the witch.

Morrigan flushed and huffed, slightly offended.

"No one is saying you aren't capable, Morrigan," I interrupted before she could make some typical abrasive comment, "just that we are here for you if you need anything. We are your friends, if you will have us."

She relaxed, and eventually even returned the squeeze I gave her fingers, before excusing herself from the group and slipping off, out of the camp.

Zevran went next. "I saw...a former lover. She forgave me." He didn't mention specifics, but I knew it had to be Rinna. Aedan reached out and clasped his hand, and Zevran smiled at him appreciatively. "She told me I could be a better man in future than I was when I was with her. I didn't know what she meant, at first, but I think I'm finally learning."

Leliana sighed. "I saw a former companion from when I was a bard – another one Marjolaine betrayed. He died before I escaped. He also forgave me for getting him involved, and for not being able to save him. He told me...to live my life, not to let others dictate my future."

From the prequel to the game, I vaguely remembered a dwarf and an elven mage who had been captured with Leliana. I couldn't recall which had not survived, but I supposed it didn't matter. Leliana's vague smile indicated the forgiveness had lightened the weight on her shoulders, and I was glad for her.

Sten grunted and stood. "I do not wish to discuss it." He turned and headed towards his tent, and we all let him go. I felt a pang of guilt, hoping I hadn't unintentionally hurt him. I had assumed he might see one of the other Qunari who'd accompanied him from Seheron, but given his response, I doubted it.

Watching him go, Alistair spoke without looking at any of us. "I saw Maric." It was almost a whisper. "He...he told me he was proud of me. He told me that, in the rebellion, he didn't know what to do, at first; that he didn't know how to lead. He followed his mother, and then Loghain... anyone who would take the responsibility from him. But when he had no choice, he learned he could lead if he had to, that eventually he even enjoyed parts of it. He told me to trust myself, and to stand up and take responsibility, unless I wanted to live a life of regrets because I allowed someone else to make my decisions for me." He looked over at me with a sudden, mischievous grin. "He told me he liked you, too." I blushed and hid my face in his shoulder while everyone laughed.

That night, the Wardens had one last meeting, all sixteen of the Wardens and I crowded into one large tent. Loghain objected to me being there, but Duncan ignored him and kept talking.

He divided the sixteen of them, plus Morrigan and Leliana, into three groups.

"Riordan, Conrad, Dougal, Loghain, Morrigan, and I will be the first group. Our primary goal will be the Archdemon. Group two, led by Aedan, and group three, led by Alistair, will initially seek out the generals we expect to accompany the horde. Do not engage the main body of the horde. Defend yourselves as necessary, but as much as possible, go around, not through. Find the generals, defeat them, and then rally to wherever the Archdemon lands when it is grounded. Understood?" Duncan's expression was grim and sorrowful; I knew we were all wondering which of our friends we would be mourning in the next few days.

Everyone nodded, and Duncan assigned Jowan, Faren, Zevran, Sten, and Bel to accompany Aedan, and Anders, Solona, Oghren, Mornwulf, and Leliana to Alistair. Prince was to stay with me.

"Now, one last item. We all know that only a Grey Warden can kill the Archdemon. The battalions have all been instructed to back off and provide ranged support only once it is on the ground; their purpose will be to protect us from the darkspawn it calls to defend itself when injured. The same goes for Leliana and Morrigan. For the Archdemon, there is a kill priority that I expect will be followed.

"As the most senior Warden, I will be the first to attempt to make the killing blow. If I am slain before I am successful, the next will be Riordan, followed by Dougal and then Conrad. Loghain has requested that he will be next.

"After that, the rest of you share equal priority. Alistair and Aedan are the next most senior, but not by much, and several of the rest of you have requested to be placed above them in the sequence. I am of the hope that none of you will be placed in that position, but if it happens, whoever is best placed to end it must do so.

"The last in the order is Sierra. While not technically a Grey Warden, there is reason to believe she may be able to kill the Archdemon. I cannot emphasize enough," he looked at me grimly, "that this is only to happen if every single Grey Warden on the field has been confirmed as dead. We cannot take the chance that we are wrong, and the Archdemon reappearing after its death. Is that clear?"

Everyone else murmured agreement, but Duncan did not take his eyes off me until I nodded.

"Everyone, get some rest. The King has placed several servants at our disposal – if your armour or weapons require maintenance or repair, give them to the servants to deal with. Get some sleep; we march at dawn."

We scattered to our tents after that; Alistair and I shared a snack of bread and cheese, eating silently, an unspoken agreement not to discuss the very terrifying nature of what would happen the following day. After we ate, we made love, desperately, clinging to each other, bruising each other in our need to be close. Several times in the night, one of us woke the other to begin again; it wasn't what Duncan had in mind when he said rest, I was sure, but the connection felt far more critical to our survival than sleep.

As we lay, panting and recovering our strength, I cuddled up against Alistair's muscular chest, my hand resting over his heart, one leg thrown across his.

"So...you talked to your father about me?"

He huffed out a laugh. "Not my idea, believe me. He knew."

"Knew we would end up together?"

"No, no, nothing like that. Though that would have been good to know." He chuckled, and I kissed his shoulder. "No, he knew how I felt. Called you a 'spitfire' and told me I should pursue you."

"You didn't exactly take his advice, at least, not right away." I giggled. "Unless insinuating I was a prostitute is your idea of romance."

He tickled me, digging his fingers into my side while I squealed. "No, I didn't. I told him to go soak his head. The last thing I needed was advice on my love life from a dead guy, or so I thought."

I chuckled and pushed myself up onto an elbow, looking down at my husband's handsome face in the dim firelight shining through the wall of the tent. "Did it help? Seeing him?"

"Maybe." He reconsidered. "Probably. You hear so many stories about Maric the Saviour...I think I had a little of the same insecurity as Cailan. I'd never be able to live up to his legacy. Hearing about him falling off a horse, or following Loghain like a puppy...being manipulated into killing the first woman he loved? He was human, just like the rest of us, but he still learned how to lead. It made me at least wonder if I could learn, too."

"And you did. I don't think you see it, but you could have led instead of Aedan, if you'd wanted. Come to think of it, I don't think I've ever told you how proud I am of you."

I could feel the heat of his blush against my lips as I kissed his cheek softly. He turned his head, capturing my mouth in a kiss, and then rolled me over and made love to me again, slowly, softly, reverently, until I was absolutely limp in his arms.

The morning came too soon; we geared up, sharing a last kiss and a frantic embrace, made less comforting by armour.

"Come back to me, or I swear, I'll find you in the afterlife and kill you myself."

"Stay safe, and do try to keep Cailan from doing anything stupid, would you?"

"I love you, Alistair. I won't say goodbye – we will be together to celebrate when this is over."

"I love you, Sierra. My wife. I will see you soon."

We smiled tearfully, and stepped out into the pre-dawn light. The rest of the Wardens were assembled there, exchanging hugs and maudlin goodbyes amongst themselves.

Duncan kissed my forehead softly. "Be well, Sierra. Keep them safe, after I'm gone?"

I sobbed and clung to him, certain as I could be that it was the last time I would see the only father I or my husband had ever known. He carefully extracted himself from me, his own eyes suspiciously bright, and handed me off to Leliana while he said his goodbyes to Aedan and Alistair. She and I hugged until I managed to stop sniffling and wipe my eyes; she kissed both my cheeks and promised she'd see me after the battle.

Morrigan approached me as I pulled myself together. "After the battle..." she began.

"You'll be gone. I know. I am grateful you are staying as long as you have. Are you sure you won't remain with us? There aren't many places in Thedas where you will be as safe as with the Wardens. You could live with us at Soldier's Peak."

"'Tis a kind offer. My destiny calls me elsewhere, however. I would wish...if I could, I would stay. I did not expect such feelings."

"I will see you again. I know where you'll be in a few years, after all."

"I will miss you, my friend." She actually hugged me, voluntarily; it was brief, and I almost missed it in my shock, but I squeezed her gently and then let her go. She shifted to bird form and perched in the nearest tree to await her group moving out.

Zevran kissed my cheek and promised to keep Aedan safe; I hugged him tightly, and demanded he keep himself safe as well. I refused to say goodbye, and he forced a cheeky grin as he walked away from me.

Oghren slapped my armoured ass with his gauntlet as he sauntered past, making me screech. "Have the kegs aired out for us when we get back, toots!"

I laughed.

Sten approached me stiffly, bowing formally. "It has been an honour, Kadan."

"Sten...thank you." I wrapped my arms around his enormous torso; he patted my shoulder tolerantly. "And I'm sorry about last night."

He looked down at me, his expression possibly...amused? "It is not your fault I do not wish to engage in useless discussion of feelings." He tilted his head slightly. "I do not have feelings to discuss."

I laughed. "Of course you don't." I released him from the awkward hug. "I know you Joined to have more information to bring to the Arishok, but thank you for what you are doing. For us."

"I will do my best to keep them safe. For you." He looked uncomfortable at the concept. "If I should fall..."

"I will send Asala to the Arishok, and tell him what you accomplished here. He will know that you fulfilled your mission."

"Thank you. Live well...Sierra."

It was the first time he'd used my name, to my memory. I flushed and returned his bow as he walked away. I'm just glad he didn't talk about whether he'd seek me out on the battlefield if the Qunari ever invaded...

I shared hugs with Jowan, Faren, Bel, Anders, Solona, and even Wulf, wishing them luck; the Orlesian Grey Wardens each solemnly clasped my forearm. And that left me with my brother.

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