Goodbyes are not Therrin's strong suit.

It had been so much easier to be the one who left, once, instead of being the one left behind. The sudden losses of Zevran and Oghren make Leliana's departure all the sharper, makes the sudden loneliness sting. She hadn't let on to Leliana; it would have been selfish. Still, from up here on one of the balconies of the palace she watches Teagan and Leliana's carriage roll away and feels only a quiet, nagging sadness.

Stephen and Dog help—the distraction of keeping them from bounding right over the edge is an odd sort of relief—and Alistair is occupied admiring Stephen's dragon doll (statuette, Alistair insists at Cecily's arched eyebrow). When Cecily turns that skeptical look on Therrin, Therrin shrugs, and the not-quite-laugh that passes between them eases the tension just a little bit more.

It feels odd to have this particular group together, like a misshapen remainder of something else—Alistair and Cecily, Stephen and Dog, and Cullen—

Cullen stands at the railing of the balcony, looking out over the city.

Therrin steps over beside him, watching the carriage disappear from sight. He doesn't speak—Maker knows he was quiet enough before, and now he only seems even more silent—but his hand slips across the stone and finds hers. That small flicker of private happiness flares to life again, so much like it had been at the Tower in the depths of winter: quiet, and hopeful, and theirs alone.

There's a small flurry of noise and Alistair's on his feet in an instant, frowning in concern, but the servant who opens the doors is looking at Therrin, troubled. "Grey Warden, ser. She said it was urgent."

There's a woman with her that Therrin's never seen, clearly a soldier, moving as comfortably in armor as though she was born wearing it. When she turns back to look behind her Therrin catches a glimpse of the heraldry on her shield.

A griffon.

"Warden Amell," the soldier-woman says, a rigidity in her posture as though she's moments away from snapping to attention and saluting. "My name is Mhairi, of the Grey Warden recruits at Vigil's Keep. I was sent to retrieve you, to see you to Amaranthine."

Therrin's blood seems to run cold in an instant, a seeping dread pooling in her belly. "Retrieve me?"

Mhairi looks uncomfortable, darting a glance at the king. "Yes, ser."

Alistair cuts off whatever else she would have said, drawing himself up and looking impressively regal. "Is there a problem?"

"No, your Majesty," Mhairi says hurriedly. "I mean… yes, your Majesty. The situation in Amaranthine has grown tense, your Majesty."

Alistair frowns. "I was led to believe it was already tense."

Mhairi's tongue darts out to lick her lips. "It was, your Majesty. It's become progressively worse the last several weeks. The Orlesian Wardens decided it in the best interest of the order to name Warden Amell the Knight-Commander of Ferelden in absentia. I was asked to return with you immediately, ser."

The world seems to stop. A nerveless panic crawls along Therrin's skin, her tongue going numb in her mouth. This feels like a mistake, like a terrible mistake, but she looks at Mhairi and knows it isn't.

It feels like everyone is looking at her expectantly; she should say something, anything, but her throat feels as though it's closing and all the air in the world is gone. Therrin hears Alistair as though from very far away, and at his words Mhairi nods and retreats to the corner of the far corner of the balcony, giving them what little privacy they can have.

She does not want to be the Warden-Commander. The bone-deep drive to run kicks in with surprising ferocity but there's nowhere to go. She does not, Maker, does not want to be the Warden-Commander… but Alistair is looking at her, and it hadn't been so long ago at all that they'd stood on a lower floor of this very palace, and he'd looked at her with his heart in his eyes and meant please don't make me king, I don't want to be king.

There had been no one else. She had done it anyway. And there isn't anyone else now.

She isn't about to say I don't want to be the Warden-Commander to Alistair.

"Are you all right?" he asks.

"I'm fine," Therrin somehow manages, and she notes dimly that it sounds unnaturally calm which is ridiculous because she's the furthest thing in the world from calm.

"You are such a bad liar," Alistair retorts with an uncomfortable laugh. "You went pale so fast I thought you were going to faint." Apparently she can still manage a disgusted glare; it makes Alistair grin. "Look on the bright side, though. You won't be the only woman Warden this time."

"That's true," she forces out, fidgeting with a fold of her robe and fighting a surging, paradoxical tranquility. Every sense seems heightened, everything going chaotic but clear, like that moment just before battle begins. "Small mercies."

Alistair's amusement fades. "I'd meant to head up to Amaranthine anyway, to see how the Wardens were doing. I can't leave…" he casts a harried glance in Mhairi's direction, "immediately. But I won't be far behind. We'll see you settled."

Therrin nods, stiff with tension.

"Take care of yourself," Alistair says, with so much sympathy Therrin's eyes sting.

She nods again, less stiffly. "You too."

He steps aside and the whole thing seems to come up in a rush.

As much as I can, I want to live quietly, she'd said. So much for that, now. She thinks she should've known better, and when she looks to Cullen he is as quiet as ever, a thoughtful cast to his expression.

"So," Therrin manages as he gets closer. "Warden-Commander. They must be really desperate."

Cullen gives a small smile. "I don't think so."

Therrin raises her eyebrows. "No?"

"No."

She leans on the balcony a second, trying to organize her scattered thoughts. "I know this isn't quite what we'd talked about." She bites her lip, uncertain because the words Warden-Commander seem leaden with duty and sacrifices yet to be made.

"To Amaranthine," Cullen says, musing. "Or wherever else. Remember?"

Therrin nods, trying to resist the feeling of being pulled inexorably onward.

"This doesn't change anything. Not for me," he says quietly. "I'll go where you do." He huffs a very soft laugh, the corners of his mouth curling in amusement. "Commander."

The best glare she can manage is a half-hearted, pitiful thing that only makes him smile, but it doesn't matter. She nods and feels him fall into place beside her as she heads for Mhairi, information already running in quicksilver streams through her mind. Change of plans or not, they'll have time, she'll see to it. They have time to figure this out, to make this work, an entire future of possibility—

But that will come later.

For now, Amaranthine—and the Grey Wardens—are waiting.


A/N:

So.

Anyone up for a sequel?