It is four in the morning on the eve of the last day of their lives, and Alistair is in the courtyard of Castle Redcliffe, trying desperately to rid himself of Morrigan's scent.
Bucket after bucket of water as cold as the northern glaciers, he hauls from the black depths of the well, his bare shoulders working under winter moonlight. Once he reaches the end of the rope (she always gives him just enough rope to hang himself with, doesn't she) he grips the bucket hard enough to drive splinters under his fingernails, upends the contents over his head, breathes sharply inward at yet another shock of temperature across already chilled skin. He drops the bucket, and it plummets into the dark, falling, falling, until it smacks the distant surface of the water far below with a sound like a melon being smashed (or a head, he supposes, or a heart, crushed under a Warden's mace or foot or terribly wonderful smile) and it sinks down into the deeps, and all is still again. At least until he hauls the refilled bucket kicking and screaming into open air, and it starts all over again.
He is as naked as he dares to be in the courtyard alone, stripped from the waist up, barefoot and bare-souled, and no matter how hard he scrubs, no matter how he scrapes and scratches his own skin raw, he cannot cleanse himself of her taint.
Alistair is shivering violently, and it is not entirely from cold. He sees Morrigan, over and over again, in a mixture of guilt and horrible desire, approaching the bed with her hips swaying ("Does she dance for you like this, Alistair?") and crawling up to and over him like a tidal wave, beneath which he would be dashed to pieces ("Does she command your fear like this, Alistair?") and he hates himself not because he betrayed his beloved with a Witch of the Wilds - no, because she asked him to do this, Maker only knew why, and is it really betrayal when he would do anything for her if she so much as crooked her little finger? No, he hates himself because some part of him enjoyed it, loved it, ate up every Maker-damned moment of it, and now it feels like Morrigan is under his skin, implanted in his psyche, and her magic had been altering who he is with every shared breath they took, every quiver of muscle between them -
Morrigan had offered, out of some twisted notion of kindness, to shape herself into the likeness of his beloved Grey Warden, to make the ritual easier.
He had refused, because something so horrific should never be easy. And that had made it all the worse, because he could not pretend that he was doing anything other than sharing flesh with Morrigan, and not his love.
The next bucket of liquid ice is centered squarely on his upper back, and the black water makes the open slashes on his shoulderblades from Morrigan's fingernails burn like fire.
Arl Eamon taught him many things that Alistair finds beyond value, and one of those things is this: Every man has his price.
Even Loghain did not sell his soul so cheaply as Alistair has.
He sees her face, his brave and beautiful Warden's face, the set of her jaw as she tells him what she wants him to do, what he must do, for her and for him and for Morrigan who so desperately wants a child that she is willing to absorb an archdemon's power in order to attain the goal - and is that not far more charitable than the witch deserves, for this travesty that she has wrought upon them all? Ah, but that is unfair, because Morrigan cannot work sex-magic without a male there to supply the seed, and so she had gone to the only reliable siege-engine against the defenses of Alistair's heart: his Warden.
And he agreed, because he loves her and will do anything for her. He remembers seeing it, seeing the knowledge in the depths of her eyes, in subtle expressions that after so much time spent in close proximity he can read like the Reverend Mother reads the Chant of Light - that she did not want to do this, but that she is afraid, so afraid, of her death or his or both at once, and she had not had the wisdom to see Riordan's attempts at the Landsmeet for what they were, offering Loghain as a lamb for the slaughter, to prevent what must inevitably come to pass. And that aggrieves her, that she had missed a chance at an ending to their story that did not involve a dead Warden or a pregnant Morrigan. She feels regret as keen as a blade at her throat.
Knowing what he knows now, would he have allowed her to do it? To make Loghain a martyr, to let him die a hero, so that they would not have to die, not selfishly make a blasphemous deal with a demoness in witch's clothing?
No. What had to be done was done, he tells himself as he pulls the bucket up from the well, and he does not think about the fact that his hands are long since numb, that his knees are shaking beneath him and he is swaying on his feet, fit to keel over at any moment, at a breath taken too harshly. He is thinking of his Warden, his fearless leader, the woman who rose from the depths of iniquity and an uncertain future to rally the greatest army her country has ever seen, an icon for those she summons to follow into battle, the face that launched a thousand landships.
His Warden, with her soft lips and her hooded eyes, her rear end wriggling on his lap, her delighted laughter and encouraging moans into his shoulder as they fumble together toward ecstasy, uncertain but enthused and in love, teaching and learning all at the same time -
Morrigan, with her hungry yellow eyes and her swaying hips.
The water goes straight in his face this time, and when he lets the bucket drop from nerveless fingers, he rakes his hair back with his hands and feels like he could weep.
Her hand is hot against the small of his back and scares the living sod out of him, but when he tries to turn she does not let him, pressing herself to the curve of his spine, her cheek to the weals that have long since stopped bleeding. Her arms encircle his waist and seek his hands, and he laces their fingers together and bows his head, leaning backwards into her touch, her comfort.
It is usually Alistair who seeks her out, to shoulder her burdens and share her weight, but this night he does not begrudge her of borrowing his act.
She tugs herself loose eventually, takes his hand, guides him wordlessly inside. The keep slumbers, mostly, with a few noted exceptions (Bann Teagan paces the halls; Sten meditates over Asala; Zevran has charmed a scullery maid into his bed, or perhaps it is Leliana, Alistair is not quite sure) but she draws him into her chambers and locks the door, and for that he is thankful, for his own room in all likelihood still smells of Morrigan. As he is standing there, half-naked and cold and soaking wet in the center of her rooms, she is all business as she takes the blankets and throws them over him, as if she bids to hide his shame from the world. But then she burrows underneath the linens to nestle against his chest, against his heart, and there is nothing sexual at all in this tender gesture despite the sudden warm nakedness of her own body next to his. It helps, helps more than he anticipates -
And then he smells roses, petals strewn throughout her hair, and he remembers all over again why he loves her so, for her keen observations and savvy heart and mind.
They end up bedding down on the floor, wound together like vines grown to unity in front of the fireplace, and Alistair cannot remember a time when he has slept more soundly.