Title: A Song for the Aftermath
Summary: When you no longer have to worry about dying, you start to wonder about living. Fem!Cousland/Alistair/Cullen
Author's notes: Let's see how this works. Anora remains on the throne. Fem!Cousland, Annabelle for this story, has not had a romance with any of her companions. After all, that's what the after party is for, right?
If there is one thing that Annabelle is certain of is that Lady Isolde is a manipulative shrew.
"Take Connor to the Circle?" Alistair echoes.
All Annabelle can think about is that it's been barely a week since they slayed the archdemon, and all she wants is to finally peel the leather armor off her skin, and take a bath, preferably with bubbles, not trek all the way to the Circle again with a boy who knows she had considered killing him and his mother.
"I would not ask, but they will not allow us to go with him, and I would rather he go with you than with those… Templars," says Lady Isolde, and Annabelle knows she's talking to Alistair, not to her, because Alistair's loyalty is to Eamon, who is disappointed because Anora is still on the throne, and Alistair feels like he has to make up for it somehow.
"Well, Wynn is having her ceremony," Alistair says, uncertainly.
"It will be like another adventure, no?" says Zevran, who has been uncharacteristically silent up to this point.
"You don't need to come," Alistair says.
"My oath is to my dear Grey Warden," Zevran says, amused. "I go where she goes."
And Annabelle knows it means, I'll go where she goes, and get on your nerves, too!
"I guess we could take Connor," she says slowly. And she looks at him, really looks at him, and he's just a boy, who looks overwhelmed and on the point of tears, and she feels sorry for me—
Because, you know, she did try to kill him.
"And stay the week and help Wynn rebuilt the Circle and take her vows as First Enchanter," she continues, and she can't help but sigh.
"Excellent! Eamon and I will feel reassured that Connor travels in your care," Isolde says, and even Annabelle can tell that means, If anything happens to him, we will hunt you down.
Isolde and Connor leave, probably to pack trunks among trunks of stuff for them to take, and Alistair just falls into a chair, smiling.
"Didn't see that one coming," he says. He isn't wearing any armor, only regular clothes, like he's normal and Annabelle wonders where he got them from because the pants are too tight and the shirt is not his color.
"She is quite a clever woman," Zevran says, appreciatively.
Annabelle feels out of place in Arl Eamon's estate. Even though she is—was?—a noble, she now thinks of herself only as a Grey Warden—dirty, out of place, depressed—and she realizes that in all her years, she never had male friends. She was young, of good parents, so of course they were waiting for her to marry someone of nobility, and therefore they had to prevent accidents, and, after surviving, Annabelle is becoming painfully aware of how Alistair smells like wood, and Zevran smells like leather and cinnamon, and it's intoxicating, and all she wanted to do was spend a week by herself, without men, and think about normal things like shoes or kittens or boyfriends who weren't capable of wielding a sword.
"Your mind is elsewhere, my dear," says Zevran, and he has that look, like he knows exactly what she's thinking.
"Just wishing we had a week staying put," Annabelle admits.
"Well, at least we get to avoid Anora's coronation," Alistair says. "She's been staring daggers at me all evening. I bet she can't wait to be rid of us."
"She'll be mad, though," Annabelle says. "If the Heroes of Ferelden aren't there to support her coronation, I mean."
"Ah, but that is not for us to worry about," Zevran says. He stretches, and Annabelle can see how lean he is, and she sighs wistfully, which is unfortunate because Alistair is no fool and he narrows his eyes at her.
"We should best go to bed," Annabelle finally says. "Isolde will probably have everything ready for us early tomorrow."
They part ways, and it's when Annabelle makes it to her bedroom that she realizes how strange everything is when you're no longer on a campsite, and you feel alone. She pulls her dagger out of its sheathe, and tucks it under her pillow.
Just in case.
"I am sorry to burden you," Connor says.
He isn't as talkative as he was when he was possessed, so it takes Annabelle by surprise. "Oh, no," she says, lamely, "you're not. We're glad to be your escorts."
He smiles at her, even though it's weak, and she smiles back, and wants to say, I know you're scared, but Wynn is there, and she's nice.
She doesn't like the boat ride. It's bumpy and the waves make her nervous. Alistair is entertaining Connor with stories, and the Templar who is accompanying them across looks appalled that a little boy is listening to those kinds of stories.
The Tower looms over them as they finally make it there, and Annabelle wonders how long it'll take to find new mages and train new Templars.
"Doesn't look as frightening any more, does it?" Alistair whispers, standing just barely behind her. His breath tickles her ear. "Not after we've seen it as its worst."
She nods, because he's right. And then Wynn appears, looking tired but happy, and Annabelle can't help but fling herself into the older woman's arms.
"Maker's breath, Annabelle," Wynn says, but she doesn't sound annoyed. "You are too old for this. Ah, Connor, very nice to see you again, boy."
Connor stammers a greeting.
"I would like to escort Connor to meet his fellow mages," Wynn says. "This is Cullen, he will be your host while you're here."
"Aw, come on, Wynn, we'll behave," Alistair says, but Wynn rolls her eyes.
Annabelle stares at the Templar, who looks awfully familiar, but she can't put her finger on who he is. He is looking back at her, and he looks ready to both run and strike her down on the spot.
Wynn scans over their little party, her eyes widening slightly at the amount of luggage Isolde sent with them, and then she says, "I thought Zevran was gracing us with his presence."
"He was," Annabelle says, "but we ran into Leliana before we left Denerim, and they both decided to go visit the Dalish. Apparently they're a little frazzled after the war."
"A wise decision," Wynn agrees. "Leliana will soothe their worries, and report back to the Court. Zevran, well, I'm sure it sounded more exciting to him than being cooped up here."
Wynn takes Connor by the shoulder, and they leave. Cullen is still waiting, looking uncomfortable, as though he's unsure about what to do with them.
"Oh, I remember you," Alistair finally says, and Annabelle perks up. "You were the Templar trapped in that cage thingy. You wanted us to burn the place down."
Cullen looks miserable, and he clears his throat. "Yes, well. First Enchanter Wynn has asked me to show you to your quarters."
Annabelle likes her room, which is across from Alistair's, and even though you can still seem some of the blood on the floor, it smells nice, like freshly cut flowers, and she thinks that this is the best place to be right now, with Alistair and Wynn and a tower full of nervous mages and Templars.
"If there is anything I can get for you," Cullen begins, and Annabelle smiles at him.
"Thank you, Cullen. It's very nice." She pauses, because he still looks uncomfortable. "You were very strong to have survived… what you did," she says.
But it's not the right thing because he becomes pale, and she knows that look—the look Alistair had when he woke up after Duncan had died.
"I would have preferred to have died with them," Cullen whispers.
"But you didn't. So now you live for them." Annabelle reached out to touch his arm, but he instinctively flinches like she might be made of fire. "My parents died," she tells him. "And then I became a Grey Warden, and they died. It seems the past year has been about everyone dying except for me. But I live on. I do what I do, even though I'm scared, and unsure, and Maker knows, under qualified, but I do it for them, and that seems to work out in the end."
They stare at each other, and Annabelle knows he's struggling with himself. Finally, he says, "Thank you."
So she keeps smiling.