For Aimo, my secret swooper and absolute goddess.
- i -
She has never seen roses before, and she does not even remember seeing this one at Lothering, and she is very sure that Alistair barely left her side since Ostagar, but.. here it is. Tracing the curve of the outer petals, she is very sure that for the first time since long ago, when a certain Second breached protocol and kissed the inside of her wrist rather than her knuckles, she is blushing. Alistair is, of course, tripping over his words, but she really does not mind – he's so cute when he's nervous, she thinks. And he is nervous around her more and more. This, she supposes, contributed to that. And she twirls the rose in her hand.
"Ouch!" He stops, leaning forward with a quickness she has never seen, and catches the rose that she has just let go of. "What was that?" He takes her hand lightly and she swears she can feel his pulse.
"Thorns," he murmurs, showing her the small pinprick on her thumb. He holds the flower up for her to see the trail of thorns laced down the stem. She frowns.
"Well, isn't that wonderful."
"They're roses, what do you expect," he chuckles, wiping away the bead of blood carefully. He looks up to her blank stare. "What?"
"I've never seen roses up close before."
"What? What.. never?"
"I'm a dwarf," she says slowly, smiling. "I'd never even seen the sky until I became a Grey Warden." His eyebrows cannot possibly climb further up his face, she thinks, amused, and the pulse in his grip skips a beat – her pulse, she realises. Her heart skipping a beat, not his. Who's nervous now?
"You.. don't have flowers at all in Orzammar?"
"Not really. Some of the nobles will have them imported from the surface for special occasions – I've had them presented to me by suitors, once or twice. But we don't grow them."
"Oh.." He frowns, thinking. "Suitors never gave you roses?"
"The flowers didn't look like this. Why?"
"That's just.. well, odd." He places the rose in her hand, finally letting go of her injury.
"Well, roses symbolise love." He lightly touches the bloom cradled in her fingers. "All kinds of love. Like.. the yellow ones, they mean friendship. Red is respect and desire. Pink is admiration and thanks." Her eyes glance down to the deep purple flower.
"And.. purple?" He blushes.
"Ah.. it means.. um.."
"Enchantment!" The moment is shattered by the young dwarf walking past with supplies for his father, and she cannot help but giggle. Alistair laughs out loud, scratching the back of his neck.
"He's.. actually right. They mean.. love at first sight." She looks up at him, surprised. "Ah!" He leaps back a pace. "N-not that.. it was just.. I, ah.." he stammers, bright red. She giggles.
"I know, it was there and you couldn't leave it. I get it, I really do." She smiles, putting the flower to her lips. "Thank you, Alistair. It's lovely." He grins sheepishly, before beating a hasty retreat, muttering something about Wynne and socks. She cannot help but blush again as she lightly kisses the bloom.
"Enchantment..?" she murmurs.
- ii -
She kneels before the spot where her brother had appeared, tears still streaming down her face. Behind her, whatever her companions are saying seems muted, as if through a haze. The world could fall into fire and darkness and it would pass her by right now - In her hand rests the locket, a trinket to aid her, but she cares not for whatever blessing it gives her. It is from Trian. That is enough.
A soft touch on her shoulder brings the world back.
"Sorry," she says softly, looking up at Alistair. His eyes are teeming with concern, but as she smiles softly, he grasps her arm gently to pull her up.
"You don't need to apologise," he murmurs, cupping her face to wipe the tears from her cheeks. "I just hope you're okay. That looked.. difficult, to say the least." He cocks his head in that way that makes her heart skip a beat and smiles gently. "If you need to talk, you know I'm here for you. Always." She nods, before breathing deeply and grinning.
"Let's get on." Grip tight on the locket, she motions for the group to follow her deeper into the Gauntlet.
The journey back to Redcliffe is long, what with the winter setting in, and one night she finds herself huddled next to him as they take the first watch. If there is one thing that she thinks she will never get used to, it is weather – even though it seems like a lifetime ago, she can still recall the warmth of Orzammar, tucked away from the world, never affected by the seasons, almost cuddled by the stone.
An arm sneaks around her shoulders, pulling her closer to the warmth of Alistair. Smiling, she rests her head on his shoulder.
"Do you want to talk about it?" he asks carefully and she closes her eyes.
"Would you like to know?"
"Only if you want to tell me," he insists, kissing her forehead. "You know that your past isn't important to me – we're Grey Wardens, we leave that behind. But sometimes.. sometimes it doesn't leave us. I know that as well as anyone," he adds and she cannot help but chuckle – he of all people knows the perils of a past that will not leave them alone. She clutches his hand, kissing cold knuckles and fingertips.
"Of course, your majesty," she grins, and he pokes her nose in retaliation. "But I suppose I can't really talk.. I was the daughter of the king." Looking up, she smiles softly at his raised eyebrows. "Which, technically, makes me an ex-princess."
"I, ah.. was exiled. Long story." She grimaces. "Actually, not that long. But not a story for tonight." He strokes her cheek gently, nodding. "But yes.. I was Aeducan. The second child of Endrin Aeducan, and his only daughter." She sighs deeply. "The shade in the temple was.. Trian. My older brother."
"Mm." He pauses for a moment, thinking.
"He seemed.. strict."
"He was. But he was heir to the throne, he felt like.. it was the proper thing to do. He wasn't always so stiff." She smiles. "He was a good man.. and he would have made a fair king." Silence falls over them and she turns her head into the crook of Alistair's collarbone, staying in his warm embrace until Sten comes to relieve them of their watch.
- iii -
"Princess," he whispers, kissing her neck. She has never liked the endearment, much as he has sulked every time she has called him a prince, but his barely-there word crawling across her skin is the most erotic thing in the world right now, and she shivers underneath it. He chuckles, running hands lightly down her sides to trace the outline of her form, and steals a quick fondle of her backside. She yelps, turning around to face him with a grin on her face.
"Cheeky," she murmurs, wrapping arms around his neck and pushing her curves up against him. He laughs.
"What can I say? I saw an opportunity."
"Mm, my bastard prince." Her smile broadens as he shudders slightly and she presses her lips to his, an affirmation of her need for him. He cradles her as he lowers her to the ground, tugging at clothes and feasting on lips and gasped words. She is in ecstasy under his ministrations and as he brings her to breaking point, her back arches and -
he is a white knight, the bastard prince, wearing bright silver armour and bowed in front of her; she is the princess, awaiting his proposal with baited breath, blossom and the smell of Andraste's Grace filling the air between them; her robes fall to her feet and she is in light armour, a sword at her side, and his silver armour melts off him to reveal splintmail and a shield, and he smiles softly as he pulls himself to his feet; he takes her hand in his and they walk through the blossom into the sunlight, equal in the eyes of each other – and really, what else do they need?
"Alistair," she gasps, and he collapses on top of her, breathing heavily. She strokes his hair, breathing in deeply. He murmurs something, and she prods his shoulder. "Can't hear you, love." He rolls off her, a look of contentment on his face.
"I said, I'm still waiting for that lightning." She smiles. Hoisting the blanket over them, he curls around her, leaning on one elbow and leaning down to kiss her forehead. "Alright?"
"Mm, yes." She closes her eyes, sighing. "I think you might have broken my brain a little." He chuckles.
"My apologies, princess." And he is still that white knight, underneath the silly grin and the tousled hair, and she is still the second daughter of Aeducan underneath the bravado and the Grey Warden title.
Gorim looks at her as if she is a ghost, but the tears in his eyes and the smile on his face is almost enough for her to throw herself into his arms and weep. Almost. He bows to her still, in deference now to her status as Grey Warden, but his eyes still hold that glint that was always hers and hers alone. She is a little glad that Alistair offered to pursue other business today.
She turns over the shield in her hands, the shield that began all of this, and she feels the loss keenly. He was a good king, and a fine father. Slipping the parchment into her bag, she shoulders the shield – she will never put it to use herself, but it is a part of her. His eyes speak of regret, not all his, and she clutches his hand to try and express even the smallest bit of the thanks she feels.
When he speaks of his wife and their expectancy, she really is very happy for him – he deserves to be loved, completely and unabashedly, and they both know that she is not the one who can do that anymore. His eyes notice the ragtag trio that approach, and the leader, blood dripping from a cut on his forehead. He grins as he explains about the "friends" of the Grey Wardens, shrugging off her concerns with a simple enquiry about her business here, and his eyes meet Gorim's. In a moment of silent understanding, a baton is passed, almost. The Warden nods in respect to the merchant, and she allows herself to be led away from the second-to-last link that connected her to a life before Darkspawn.
Later, she cries as she shows him the shield, and presses it upon him like a safeward. The letter from her father lies uncurled in her lap as he holds her tight. She is not weak, he insists. She feels it, right now, clinging onto the Shield of Aeducan and the shield of her group and crying such horrible tears. But of course, it is a moment, fleeting and soon enough gone.
She is Aeducan, it seems, even if it is a secret to be kept close to the chest.
- v -
He takes her hand in his as the celebrations begin, and she is sure that there will never be a happier moment than this. They are both alive, and though Morrigan has long gone and the consequences of that particular decision may come back to haunt, she has no regrets right now. Around them, nobles and commoners alike cheer and dance and celebrate the sheer act of living – she is pretty sure that Oghren has started a drinking contest already – and she is half-inclined to ask her knight if he would like to dance.
"Hey." She turns to him, and he grins. "Look what we did." He gestures at the room. She smiles.
"We're big damn heroes." He chuckles.
"You are, certainly."
"Me? Big? Are you sure?" she asks, grinning.
"Well.. maybe not, then." He cups her face. "But you're definitely a hero."
"I'm not the one who.. took a hit," she says quietly, and he kisses her forehead. She wonders if they will ever mention last night again. Behind her, someone coughs. She turns.
"Lady," he smiles, bowing. "I've received word from Orzammar. They want to reinstate House Aeducan.. we can go home." She feels the bottom of the world drop out from underneath her.
"The.. what? The Assembly.. reinstate.. what?" The concept that a topsider could go back was so alien, so unheard of..
"And they're voting on making you a Paragon. A real, actual Paragon, in our lifetime!"
"Pa.. Paragon?" The air leaves her, and she staggers back into Alistair, who grips her arms firmly, keeping her upright. She stares at Gorim's smile, completely overwhelmed.
"They'll make a statue of you, you know," she hears Alistair joke. "So much for not being big."
"She'll be the most loved citizen in our time. And House Aeducan will be the most respected name for generations. They'll be fighting to get in." He looks expectantly at her. "You'll have to bring some decorum to events."
"What? Oh. Oh." She thinks fast. "I suppose."
"So you'll come back, Lady Aeducan?" The name rings in her ears, and she closes her eyes. The sounds of revelry are no longer joyful. A return to the stone city.. after everything she has experienced? On her arms, Alistair's grip tightens slightly, and then releases.
"If you want to go, I won't stop you, princess" he murmurs close to her ear. She nods slightly, before opening her eyes and smiling at Gorim.
"You know, I've just realised. I'm a Grey Warden, and there's only two of us left. The Aeducan name needs someone who loves it enough to drop everything and nurture it, and.. I'm not that person." She takes Gorim's hand and grins. "Although I think I know where I can find someone perfect for the job."
"Lady?" His voice is incredulous.
"I think we can dispense with the traditional stuff. Gorim, would you take the service of House Aeducan and lead it to glory?" He gawps.
"But.. the Assembly.. I'm not.. I'm not a-"
"If they're going to make me a Paragon, they'll have to deal with this," she laughs. "I wouldn't trust it to anyone else. Besides," she adds, "you have a family. It's the best gift I could give you – security." He nods, a small tear escaping his eye. She pulls him into a brief hug, before stepping back. "I'll visit, I promise. But I have a duty." And she slips her hand into Alistair's. Gorim bows, still shocked, and moves away. Sighing deeply, she is pulled away from the crowds to a small alcove.
"Are you sure you want to stay?" Alistair's face is filled with worry. "I don't think anyone could blame you if you wanted to go back to.. well, an easier life." She smiles, pulling him down to her face.
"Shut up, idiot. As if I could give up you." She plants a kiss on his lips. "Besides, I'm not an Aeducan anymore. I'll be their Paragon, but.. I can't leave you, or the Grey Wardens. I'm bound to you, and quite happy with that." He grins wickedly, before taking her hand and leading her through the nearest door.
"Oh, I'll bind you to me if you want," he chuckles. "Let me just find a more private room." She laughs, and they run through the palace, freer than they have been for a long time.
- vi -
She is Aeducan. The legend will ring through the halls of Orzammar for generations to come, but she is here, and she is very much flesh and blood. Staring up at the statue, she grins.
"Looks like me." Beside her, the human laughs. He is, of course, well known too in this land – the man who has never left her side once in the many years since they met in battle, her Second, or so they say. They visit the sights and sounds of the city, and she spends an evening in the House of Aeducan, before walking hand in hand with her Second down into the darkness, and then there is nothing but the echo of a name, and the memory of a smile.