The trip back to Denerim was more pleasant than the one they'd taken to get to Redcliffe. For one, some of the tensions between the two Grey Wardens seemed to have eased, their other companions noticed. However, Morrigan's absence also seemed to make things easier for everyone. While none could believe that she could simply disappear this late in the game, no one seemed to question why too deeply. After all, hadn't she always held herself apart from the rest of them? Hadn't she always gone out of the way to be a thorn in everyone's side?

They marched toward the city at a hard pace. When they reached the outskirts of the city, they found it overrun by darkspawn. Clearing them out had been difficult, but they'd managed to clear a path to the city gates. It was there where Riordan explained his plan. Draw the archdemon to the top of Fort Draken, and slay it there. He advised Neva to select a small group to go with her, the rest of her party to stay at the gates to help hold them. Riordan left with his own group, and Neva turned to her companions. Alistair immediately came to her side.

"Who's coming with us? Wynne for sure. And maybe Leliana? She's good with that bow of hers."

Neva gave him an odd look, then turned to her companions, her friends. "I'll be taking Wynne, Oghren, and Zevran with me," she said after a short pause. "The rest of you will stay here to guard the gates. Alistair, you lead those who are staying here."

"WHAT?" Alistair demanded. "What do you mean, staying here? I'm going with you."

"No, you're not," said Neva with a shake of her head.

"Maker's breath, woman, I'm going to be king. I'm not going to stand by and let someone else fulfill my duty for me. I'm going whether you like it or not!"

Neva rounded on him, her hands on her hips. "No, you're staying here, Maker damn you. King or not, you have no say over what happens here today. You made me the leader of this group a long time ago, or have you forgotten? When you leave this place, you can command others as much as you want, but right here, right now, I say who stays and who goes! And you're staying!"

Alistair's face was red with rage. "What are you trying to do here," he demanded, moving closer to her, dropping his voice and trying to ignore the fact that everyone was watching them intently. "If you think I'm going to let you go up there without me, you're crazy."

Neva folded her arms across her chest. "You've made difficult choices, too, Alistair. To fulfill your duty, as you put it. Well, that's what I'm doing, too. I have a duty to protect my king. You're staying here. There is much you can do here, and being where the other soldiers can see you will lift morale."

Alistair gripped her shoulders, a sort of wild terror in his eyes. "Don't do this, Neva. Don't be foolish. I'm still a Grey Warden, and I..."

"No," Neva cut him off as she shrugged his hands off her shoulders. "Grey Wardens have no titles, remember? You're the king now, or will be soon enough. You're staying here. We're not discussing this anymore." She called out, "Wynne, Oghren, Zevran, let's go."

Neva turned to go, but Alistair grabbed her arm and pulled her towards him. She growled, ready to scold him for delaying their party, but he covered her mouth in a kiss. Neva was shocked by this, as Alistair had always shied away from any sort of public display of affection.

"Hurry back," said Alistair, trying to keep his voice light.

"We both know how this ends," said Neva sadly as she turned quickly to jog towards the gates, not trusting herself to look back at him.

~***~

Neva's group stopped for a rest. They were about halfway up the tower, and Zevran needed to collect more arrows. Oghren was helping him look through the corpses littering the ground, and Neva sat on a small bench to catch her breath. The trek through the city had been difficult. At least she was sure Shianni and Soris were safe for now. The same could not be said for the soldiers her treaties had bought her. Too many of the bodies they passed were not darkspawn bodies.

"I'm sorry for you that my instincts were correct," said Wynne as she sat down beside Neva, who jumped at the sound.

"You startled me, Wynne. And what do you mean? Instincts about what?"

"About you and Alistair. About it coming down to making a choice between duty and love. I know it is not an easy one, and I can see the hurt that you both feel from having to make it."

Neva shifted uncomfortably. While Wynne had always been her confidant and advisor, she wasn't sure she wanted to talk about this. "It wasn't much of a choice, Wynne. There were really no options left to us."

"Only because you refuse to ignore your duties. You are both very noble, and I admire you both for the sacrifices you have made, but I am sorry, too."

"I... thank you, Wynne, but I can't talk about this right now. I need to focus on the..." Neva gestured to the stairway leading up through the tower.

"Of course, my child," said Wynne just as Zevran and Oghren returned.

"Let's get this sodding business over with," grumbled Oghren. "I need a drink."

The continued upwards, fighting their way through the throngs of darkspawn, until they reached the top of the tower. They barely made it through the door when they heard an awful screech and the archdemon landed in front of them.

"Shall we dance, then?" Zevran asked with a grin. He bowed to Neva. "Ladies first, yes?"

Neva grinned back at him and led the charge. The fighting was bloody. Neva could tell they were hurting the archdemon, but it was hurting them, too. She watched as the archdemon thrashed its long tail, catching Oghren across the chest and hurling him against a wall, knocking him out cold. Neva took a nasty hit from one of the archdemon's claws, tearing open a gash in her armor. She saw Zevran fall, but she didn't know if he was hurt or dead . Neva looked around wildly for Wynne and saw her off in the distance. She could tell Wynne was injured, and she was surrounded by darkspawn. Neva felt a wild impulse to go to her, to protect her, but she knew her duty was to kill the archdemon.

The dragon was bleeding from a number of cuts, but it was not enough. Neva managed to slip around behind it and slice its hamstring with one of her daggers. The archdemon screamed and its back legs collapsed, nearly crushing her. Neva danced out of the way and moved up, taking out one of the front legs, but then she took a blow from the demon's tail, sending her flying. Luckily she was much more spry than Oghren, and she tucked her head in and rolled as she hit the ground. She stood up and shook her head, only to find Wynne standing beside her.

"Now is your chance," said Wynne, and Neva saw that it was so.

The archdemon was still alive, but it seemed incapacitated for the moment. It struggled to rise, but its mangled legs were keeping it from being able to.

The fear of dying suddenly overwhelmed her. "In death, sacrifice," she whispered as she rolled her shoulders back, readying herself. This was it, the moment she knew would come. She turned to look at Wynne. "Tell him..." Tell him what, she wondered? That she knew he would be a good king? That in time he would be able to move on? That she was doing this for him? "Tell him I love him?" She waited only a moment for Wynne to nod before she let out a guttural scream and charged the archdemon, grabbing a longsword from a nearby body. It tried to snap at her as she got near, but she was too fast, and she jumped with all her might, landing on its neck.

"For the Grey Wardens!" Neva cried as she stabbed the longsword into the demon's brain. Intense pain filled her body as a blinding light shot up into the sky. She tilted her head back and howled, and then everything went black.

~***~

When the light had shot up from the tower, the remaining darkspawn had fled the city. The soldiers around him were cheering loudly, but Alistair found himself shivering, about to retch. The archdemon was dead, of that he was sure, but who had made the killing blow? Was it wrong of him to hope it had been Riordan? It seemed an eternity before he saw Neva's group returning. There was Oghren, with a bandage tied around his head. Wynne appeared to be using her staff to support herself, and Zevran was walking with a limp and... holding something?

"No," he whispered to himself, and then he was running. "No," he said again as he got closer, close enough to tell it was Neva in the assassin's arms. "Is she..." he gasped, trying to catch his breath. "She's just hurt? She's not..."

"She's a hero, Alistair," said Wynne, coming to stand beside him. "And with her last words, she asked me to tell you that she loves you."

"No!" Alistair cried out again, and he was barreling towards Zevran. "Give her to me," he demanded.

Zevran glanced over at Wynne before carefully handing over Neva's body. "Now leave us alone," Alistair commanded, and for once, everyone obeyed him.

He didn't know how long he sat there, holding her in his arms. "Why didn't you let me go with you?" Alistair demanded of her. "Why did you have to be so headstrong, so stupid as to go and get yourself killed?" A realization dawned on him, and he began to cry. "Why didn't I just agree to Morrigan's plan? Surely nothing she could have done to me is worse than this. Maker help us, what am I supposed to do without you?"

They had achieved victory, but it felt hollow to him. They had won, but at what cost? He looked down at the body of the woman he loved and realized there were so many things he wanted to tell her. "Know that I will always remember what you did here today," he said. "Everyone will remember what you did, I'll make sure of that." Alistair suddenly recalled the grief he'd felt at not having anything of Duncan's to remember him by. He wanted something of hers, but what? He thought about taking Neva's ring but decided against it. That was hers, to remind her of Nelaros' sacrifice, and she deserved to keep it. Instead, he carefully removed the pendant that hung around her neck. It was the one she'd been given after surviving the Joining. He put it around his neck, to rest next to his own. "I love you," he whispered, kissing her lightly on the brow. "And I'll miss you, more than I could possibly say."

Finally Wynne came to lay a gentle hand on his shoulder. "Come, Alistair. You need to address your soldiers."

He looked up to see her with two Chantry sisters standing a respectable distance behind her, ready to take Neva's body. "I can't," he whispered hoarsely. "I can't do this, Wynne. I can't do this without her. Everything I am, it's because of her. She was the strong one; she was the leader. Not me. We were supposed to be together forever," he managed before his voice broke.

Wynne knelt beside him. "You must go on, Alistair. Not only for the sake of your people, but for Neva's sake as well. She knowingly made this sacrifice for you, so that you could be king. She had faith in you, and it was not misplaced. Now it is up to you, to be a king worthy of her sacrifice. Come. Let the sisters have her. Your people are waiting."

~***~

Thank you for reading. Please leave a review if you loved it, or hated it, or anywhere in between. As my first piece of fanfic, I gladly welcome any and all comments or criticisms.