Summary: Female Cousland leaves Alistair behind when the darkspawn attack Denerim, and goes to fight the Archdemon herself.

I got the game and beat it just a couple days ago, and have been doing nothing but writing fanfiction for it since then. What an amazing story and characters! I'm totally hooked and will likely be uploading many more stories soon.

I have to admit, however, that I did not play nor see the ending to the game that I'm writing about in this fic, so I hope it's at least slightly accurate, or at least in the spirit of the story and characters. Reviews are always very much appreciated! :)

Bioware owns Dragon Age, these characters, and some of the dialog used in this fic, but I own Alistair's love and affection, so I think I win.

He rushed through the city in a rage, felling Darkspawn with a bash from his shield or a quick slash of his sword. His legs ached, his lungs burned, his entire body was screaming at him to rest for a moment. His companion was saying the same thing. He ignored both.

He would not be stopped, or even slowed down. He couldn't.

He blamed himself. He hadn't even seen her leave.

Alistair wished he could remember how long ago they'd arrived at Denerim, but the moment they got there, the group had been thrust into a battle to defend the front gates. Darkspawn were everywhere, and he waded into the horde and let his conscious mind go to focus on nothing but the moment.

Slash, block, jab. Repeat, repeat, repeat. How long had he been fighting?

When one creature in front of him fell, it took him a few seconds to realize there wasn't another one waiting to take its place in front of his blade. He blinked and shook his head. The world was fuzzy and nothing felt quite real; it was like he was just waking up from a long nap and was still drowsy. He couldn't remember the last time he'd had a restful night's sleep. More importantly, he couldn't remember how long he'd been at the gates.

He looked around for his companions. Apparently he'd wandered further into the thick of battle than he thought, because he was alone. That surprised him. He'd assumed his Cousland would be with him at least; since their engagement, they'd hardly been apart for a second. He hoped, half-smiling to himself, that it was more because she wanted to be near him, rather than because she wanted to protect him. Though it was likely both, since he was now Ferelden's future king.

He was feeling more and more like he really could do this "king" stuff, with her support of course. With her standing next to him that morning, he felt confident giving a speech to the soldiers, and afterward she'd told him how proud she was of him and how well she thought he was doing. He'd kissed her and told her he couldn't do it without her, and she just smiled and shook her head.

And apparently he was doing well enough to be trusted out in battle alone. While he was appreciative of her faith in his abilities, he still wondered where everyone else was. He looked around for a minute or two and finally spotted several members of the group near the city entrance, and he hurried to join them. He wasn't tired from the battle; in fact, he was more than ready to continue on to wherever the rest of the darkspawn army was, but he knew he'd have to keep moving to put off feeling the exhaustion from the fight.

Oghren, Zevran and Cousland's warhound Cito were all waiting for him, looking just as serious as he expected. Except Cito, who was running around, being a dog.

"At least the easy part's done," he said with a smile. "Where'd Cousland run off to? Not killing the rest of the darkspawn without us, I hope? She'd better save me a couple at least. It wouldn't be fair, she can't get credit for killing all of them."

They didn't respond, just glanced at each other awkwardly.

He frowned. "I know you're very intimidated by my kingly presence," he said dryly, "but that shouldn't stop you from responding to me."

Still nothing. He was reminded of the odd little conversation he'd had with her the night before. She'd come into his room looking more serious than he'd ever seen her, but then run off before actually saying much. What was it they weren't telling him?

"Seriously, what-"

"She's gone," Zevran interrupted him in a rush.

Did his heart just stop for a moment? He looked at the elf and their eyes locked. Neither one blinked. "What are you talking about?"

"She... she took the others and they left," the elf said slowly. "Leliana, Wynne and Sten are with her. Riordan left as well, to meet them at the tower." He hesitated for a moment. "I- I am sorry we didn't come find you, Alistair. But she told us specifically not to tell you until you asked. She seemed so certain and sure that she had to go quickly that we didn't question her."

He couldn't be hearing this. She couldn't have done such a thing. "But... why?"

He asked, but he already knew.

Zevran finally broke eye contact and looked at the ground.

Alistair knew he didn't get much credit for his brains – he liked to think his charming personality and stunning looks were enough to make up for anything else, and he was more than happy to tell that opinion to everyone – but he wasn't completely oblivious. Not all the time, anyway. He knew the elf had developed feelings for Cousland over the course of their journey. He also knew that the assassin was smart enough to know there was no changing her mind once she'd made a decision, and he'd immediately backed off when she'd chosen Alistair.

But Alistair could be smart, too. He knew the elf's feelings hadn't just gone away and that he still cared about her, just like Alistair did. How could he blame him for caring about her?

So when the elf finally looked back up at him, it was Zevran's look of defeat, of guilt, of hopelessness, that convinced Alistair that this was really happening.

"She said-" Zevran started, then seemed unable to continue, bowing his head and closing his eyes tightly. "She said to tell you she loves you, more than anything."

The world seemed to stop.

She'd left him behind so she could fight the main force of the army with the group, but she would finish the Archdemon alone.

She loved him more than anything.

She'd left him behind to die for him.

"Tell me," Riordan said as Alistair and Cousland stood nervously in front of him. "Have you ever wondered why the Grey Wardens are needed to defeat the Darkspawn?"

She shrugged. "I thought 'necessary' might be an exaggeration," she admitted.

"It is no exaggeration, I'm afraid," the elder Warden replied with a heavy sigh. "The archdemon may be slain as any other darkspawn, but should any other than a Grey Warden do the slaying, it will not be enough."

"And... what happens to the Grey Warden?" she asked, sounding concerned.

"A darkspawn is an empty, soulless vessel, but a Grey Warden is not," he said. "The essence of the archdemon is destroyed... and so is the Grey Warden."

Alistair wondered how Riordan could be so calm about this, but realized that he had known for years how this worked, and had time to come to terms with it. Unlike the two of them. "Meaning... the Grey Warden who kills the archdemon... dies?" he asked with growing dread.

"Yes. Without the archdemon, the Blight ends."

"Is there no other way?" she asked, almost pleading. Alistair reached over to take her hand, and she held on to him tightly, unwilling to let go. "Must a Grey Warden die?"

Riordan shook his head sadly. "There is no other way," he repeated. He looked at them, really looked at them for a moment. Alistair knew that the man had realized that he wasn't just talking to the only other Grey Wardens in Ferelden – he was talking to the future king and his betrothed. "For what it's worth, I'm sorry," he added quietly.

This can't be real, he thought, rushing through the city. She wouldn't just leave him behind, they had to fight the Archdemon together. How could she do this?

He heard Oghren swearing behind him. Something about rushing to their deaths, and that there was no glory in dying of exhaustion during a battle instead of an enemy's sword.

But he wasn't paying much attention. There wasn't much room in his head for any thought but faster faster you'll lose her if you don't hurry.

What he would do there, he didn't know. He just had to get there before it was over, had to see her again, had to stop her from doing something that was so monumentally stupid he was surprised he hadn't thought of it first.

Morrigan always teased him for being stupid. He didn't respect her enough to care about her opinion or any of the various insults she'd hurled at him, but he actually did argue with her about that. He just had a one-track mind most of the time. And ever since he met her, his mind had been on Cousland. It had been wonderful to learn that she felt the same way about him.

How could she leave him like this?

When he'd realized what she'd done, Alistair had immediately set off toward the tower. He knew she had a big head start – apparently he'd lost more time fighting the horde by the gate than he realized, and Cousland had slipped away and left a message with Riordan, telling the others her plan for the fight. She would take the group to defeat the generals and the dragon, Riordan would climb a tower and try to intercept the dragon himself, and the group would stay at the gate and stopp other forces from entering the city.

He wondered if the others knew why she had to fight the dragon. Even he hadn't known why Grey Wardens were needed to stop the Blight by dying to the Archdemon, so he doubted they had any idea. He certainly hadn't told them, and he doubted she had either. They wouldn't have just left him behind and taken her alone if they knew.

Would they?

He kept running.

Oghren had insisted on coming with him. Well, he hadn't insisted as much as, been commanded to go. He'd heard Zevran telling the dwarf that he'd be unwelcome everywhere, not just in Orzammar, if he let the future king run off to die, so Oghren had grumbled and rushed to catch up, his heavy armor clanking loudly.

Alistair stopped short when he heard the dragon roar loudly, and Oghren almost crashed into him, his momentum and armor carrying him further than he wanted to go. They looked up above the city to see the dragon flying and a small figure on its back, hacking away with a sword. It could only be Riordan.

The dragon crashed against a tower, throwing bricks and flame everywhere, and Alistair thought that Riordan had been killed in the collision until he saw him on one of the dragon's wings, his sword through the thin wing membrane, hanging on for dear life. For a moment, his heart leapt and he thought that maybe, just maybe, the other Grey Warden would be able to kill the beast and save them all.

But it was only for a moment, and he saw Riordan's limp body fall to the ground as the dragon swerved and crashed on the top of the tower.

He started running again.

"Alistair, we need to talk."

Alistair was by no means experienced with women, but even he knew those words were generally a Bad Sign. Combined with the serious look on her face and the way she was tugging at one pigtail like she always did when she was nervous, he knew there was something very, very wrong.

"Oh," he replied, surprised. But he composed himself and attempted to make her smile. "I guess whatever Morrigan had to say, it's big. This is what I get for becoming king. Everyone always brings you bad news." He sighed over-dramatically. "So what is it, then? Rats running amok? Cheese supplies run low? I can take it."

She tried to crack a smile, but it came out as more of a grimace, and she was avoiding his gaze. That worried him even more – she always laughed at his bad jokes. "I love you," she told him, almost desperately. "You know that, right?"

This was getting ridiculous. "Could you make it sound more ominous? Tell me, already."

Cousland sighed. "What if I told you... there was a way to avoid dying tomorrow?"

"You mean with the Archdemon, right?" She nodded. "If you mean running away, I can't do that," he said gently. But her expression didn't change. "But... you don't mean that, do you? What is this about?"

"I- I need you to take part in a magic ritual."

This was an interesting idea. And worrisome. He was a former Templar, after all. He wasn't exactly comfortable mucking about with strange magics, especially ones that had this incredibly brave woman looking so shaken. "Oh?" he asked, trying to keep his voice relaxed. "Something Morrigan cooked up, no doubt." At that name, she tensed visibly, and he paused a moment before continuing. "What do you need me to do?"

She looked him in the eyes at last, and for a long moment neither of them did or said anything. Then, finally, she crossed her arms and looked at the ground. "I can't do this," she said quietly, almost to herself. Then, to him, "I need to go."

Alistair was surprised, but he didn't want to push her. "All right. Have it your way, I guess," he shrugged. He waited, hoping she would tell him what was going on, but when she didn't reply and still didn't look at him, he sighed. "I'm going to get some sleep, then. Or try to." He yawned, finally feeling tired. "Wake me if the castle falls... or whatever."

She nodded and left the room hurriedly, and he tried not to be disappointed. After she'd supported him at the Landsmeet and offered to rule the kingdom with him, they'd finally stopped beating around the bush about their feelings for each other, and had been sharing a tent. They were usually too tired to do anything but curl up together and sleep, but he didn't mind. He just loved having her close by. It would be strange, and sad, sleeping without her next to him.

What could have bothered her so much?

Alistair's boots echoed loudly in the huge, empty rooms of the tower. Bodies were everywhere, freshly dead and bleeding all over the floor, and he nearly slipped several times in his haste to make it to the rooftop.

faster faster you'll lose her if you don't hurry

The dragon was roaring almost constantly now, and he knew, he knew she was winning the fight. Of course she was. She was a far better fighter than he would ever be, and even a dragon couldn't stop her, he just knew it. But the soul of an Archdemon...

He just had to get there in time to stop her from killing it herself.

He and Oghren raced up the stairs and through the open doors to the top of the tower, and the dragon's huge form immediately caught his eye. The group had it surrounded, and it was thrashing about on the ground, clearly near death.

He felt like his heart was about to burst, but he ran toward them with the last of his energy.

But he was too late.

Cousland grabbed a sword from a corpse and darted underneath the dragon, slicing its neck open before leaping on its head and slashing at it with all her might. The Archdemon roared and flailed.

"No!" Alistair shouted. "Stop! Stop!" But he'd just brought attention to himself, and Sten and Oghren grabbed him and held him back, preventing him from running any closer to her and the dragon.

"Let me go! Maker damn you all, let me go!"

"Alistair! Stop!" Leliana was in front of him now, grabbing his shoulders and shaking him to get his attention. He looked at her desperately, pleading with her to let him go, but she shook her head. She was crying. "We knew," the bard said. "She told us. She wanted to protect you. There's nothing you can do now." She choked back a sob. "I'm so sorry, Alistair."

He barely heard her. The dragon collapsed, and Cousland lifted her sword and stabbed it through the head. It roared one final time, a roar that never seemed to end, and a light began to come from the monster, through the sword, and into her.

He could tell she was struggling to hold onto the sword, but her grip didn't falter, and the light continued to surround her.

He'd stopped struggling and watched in horror. He was too late.

The world exploded in front of him.

Alistair fought his way back from unconsciousness, and as he struggled to sit up from where he'd collapsed onto the ground, he saw that he was the first one to awaken after whatever that explosion was. He tried to stand, and wobbled as he did so, but he ran as best he could to where he'd last seen her.

She was still there, but he'd seen enough people die in battle to know she wouldn't be for long. He knelt and reached for her, but she was bleeding and weakly gasping for air and he was too scared to move her at all.

"Damn you," he said, trying to stop the tears. "Why didn't you let me help you? Why would you come here alone?"

She smiled weakly. "Because... I knew you would've done the same if I gave you the chance, you big dummy," she whispered. He tried to laugh, but it came out as more of a sob. "I love you," she said, looking into his eyes. "More than anything."

He bent down to kiss her gently. "I love you," he murmured, and then she was gone.

He was just dozing off when he heard the door to his room open, and he shifted in bed to look at the intruder. He smiled when he realized who it was.

She crawled under the covers and he wrapped his arms around her, pulling her close. She curled up against him, burying her head against his chest and relaxing into his embrace.

"I'm sorry about earlier," she said quietly. "I just- the cost of the ritual was too high. I couldn't ask you to do what she wanted."

He shook his head and reached up to touch her cheek gently. "Shh. We'll beat this thing without her," he replied, his voice muffled by blankets and pillow and sleepiness. " 'Sides, it will be easier without her whining and bitching at us the whole time," he added with a grin.

Cousland laughed quietly. "I love you, Alistair," she said, snuggling closer to him.

"And I love you."

Moments later, they were both fast asleep.