It feels like a bad omen to have Therrin and what's left of Riordan's body in the same room, laid out not far from one another as though both of them are ready to burn. Wynne had said she would wake soon and Alistair keeps waiting for her eyes to open but they don't, and so he frets without respite, keeping watch and waiting for the worst. Maybe she'd lived and maybe she hadn't; maybe this is some last cruel joke of Morrigan's after all. Maybe the child didn't take and the Archdemon had nowhere to go but into Therrin's body; maybe when she opens her eyes there will be an Archdemon behind them and nothing left of Therrin at all.

He doesn't want to think about what he'll have to do if that happens.

But his worst imaginings don't come true. After a while Therrin makes a hiccupping sound in her sleep and sits bolt upright, wild-eyed and fearful until she sees him and relaxes, not quite all the way. "Alistair." She looks around the room, puzzled, and crawls to her feet as though it's a vast effort. "Where are we?"

"The palace," he says, relieved beyond measure to see her awake, to see that it's her and only her in her body, no Archdemons lurking inside her skin. Not that he can tell.

"I thought I was dead." When she shakes her head ashes fall from her hair. "I had the strangest dreams."

"I'm not surprised," he says, because he doesn't know what else to say. The sense of overwhelming relief isn't enough to beat back everything else—not the knowledge of what they've done or of what comes next, not the guilt that gnaws at him like a rat in the dark. He'd bought his life and hers and the only price had been every bit of honor he had.

In death, sacrifice. He hadn't been Warden enough to give either one when it mattered. He turns away, unable to look at her—it's too complicated, just now, his heart feels like it's being torn in a dozen directions at once—and takes up a place standing beside Riordan's body stretched out on the stone. "The others will be relieved to see you. We honestly didn't know if you'd survive."

Therrin circles around behind him, coming to stand on the other side of Riordan's body and contemplating what's left of him. "Did he ever make it to the Archdemon?"

"They said he did. Didn't manage to kill it, obviously, but he tried." Alistair tries to swallow, his throat unexpectedly tight. "He was still a better Warden than we ever were, I know that much."

Therrin nods slowly in agreement, looking almost as unhappy as Alistair feels. She puts out a hand to touch Riordan's arm, briefly, like a talisman of a better self. "Duncan would be appalled at our cowardice," she says, hardly more than a heartsick murmur, and that's all the hypocrisy Alistair can stand. A towering fury explodes inside him in an instant, rage red as blood and twice as hot, the air seems to go out of the world all at once and he grips the edge of the stone table so hard his knuckles go white.

For a moment he wants to hurt her, badly, and doesn't care how. "Get out," he orders, so unlike himself he hardly recognizes his own voice. Therrin flinches in surprise, alarmed but not half alarmed enough, blinking stupidly at him like she hadn't understood. "Get. Out," he repeats, each word like a blade.

She stares at him another second longer, utterly still, and then thankfully for both their sakes she turns, walking dazedly in the direction of the doorway before she goes faster, and then faster until she hits the door at a run.

It isn't enough. It doesn't help to have her gone, not at all; part of him wants her to come back so he can scream at her and exorcise this howling, corrupted thing that seems to be eating his insides, part of him wants never to see her again, part of him wishes he'd never met her at all.

-oOo-

The days that follow are marked by worries, which seems to be the natural state of being a king. There are the ever-present worries about taking the throne running beneath everything else and haunting his dreams. There are worries about Ferelden's blighted lands and the darkspawn still fleeing across the countryside. Most immediate are the worries over the state of the city, over the plight of those who survived the invasion only to lose everything in the process, over the masses of the wounded, the displaced, the missing.

He doesn't realize Therrin is among those missing until Leliana comes to find him, distressed as he's ever seen her, and asks if he knows where Therrin is. He hadn't thought she might be a target for assassination until Leliana mentions it, or kidnapping, or Maker-knows-what else, but he tears himself from his duties to help search every place he can think of and every place they'd gone together in hopes of finding her. She isn't at the Pearl or at the Market, not hidden away at the little grove where they'd made camp outside the city, not at Fort Drakon in the cells or at the side of the rotting Archdemon.

She isn't anywhere.

It's a strange feeling, realizing it, as though the force of his wish has erased her from his life entirely. He would wish differently, if she was here to hear it, but she isn't and so he doesn't know what to do.

Dog is gone, he knows that much, but her pack and staff are still here and she wouldn't have left willingly without those. He keeps them in his new study at the palace, propped in a corner along with the sword she'd used to kill the Archdemon, and for weeks he looks up every time the door opens, expecting it to be Therrin come to collect her things.

She doesn't come back.

After weeks of tension the letter arrives from the Circle, creased but still sealed, little more than a note from Wynne telling him Therrin had returned to the Tower and would likely not be returning to Denerim any time soon. He reads it twice, not quite able to believe it. Of all the places in the world, the Circle Tower is the very last place he'd have guessed she would go. It had been a prison even before it fell; after that it was a living nightmare. It wasn't a place he'd send his worst enemy, much less—

Well. He doesn't think they're really friends anymore, not after all that's happened.

He pens a note, trying to keep things light, unsatisfied at the results but unable to come up with anything better. He has her staff wrapped for travel, but when he hefts her pack something inside sounds like broken glass and he doesn't want to send it along like that. He goes through it carefully, unpacking the contents along the top of his desk—poultices and potions, two of the vials broken, shards of glass littering the bottom of the pack. A set of robes crumpled into a ball, earrings she'd never worn but carried around anyway, a feather he'd seen her pick up out in the Wilds, the day of her Joining.

In a pocket, he finds the rose. It's a sad little thing, these days, faded and fragile in his hands as he looks at it. It's a wonder that it survived so long in the first place. He hadn't expected it would, when he'd picked it.

It feels like a lifetime ago.

He almost tucks it back into the pack—he ought to, he thinks, he gave it to her in the first place and whatever happens to it now, it's none of his business—but it feels wrong to send it back after all that's happened. She wouldn't want it anymore, probably, and the idea of her discarding it is… painful.

It's a silly thing not to want to part with, especially for a king. Still, when he sends on the messenger with her belongings, the rose isn't with them. There's a small compartment on his desk, hidden away from his official business and the eyes of others, just big enough to hold a small dried rose. There it stays, out of sight but not forgotten, kept safe through all the years that follow.