For a day, the sun and the moon are in the same sky. And then the sun sets. The moon travels across the sky.
A heart beats once, twice. A diaphragm shifts, air is pulled into lungs and pushed out again. Sound waves vibrate upon eardrums, impulses travel along nerves to the brain. The brain struggles to decipher input. Hands upon smooth fabric, back propped up on pillows. Light upon closed eyelids. A pressure on a lap, somebody's head resting upon somebody else's legs. Those legs are attached to the hips that are attached to the torso that are attached to the neck that are attached to the brain. Fingers find damp spots left by tears, impulses travel along nerves to the brain. A heart keeps beating. Air keeps rushing into lungs which then push it out again. Eyelids flutter, open, are blinded by weak candlelight, catch a glimpse of a slumped form so close. A hand wants to reach, wants to touch but is weighed down, impossibly heavy, and so remains still.
For an hour, the sun and the moon are in the same sky. And then the moon sets. The sun travels across the sky.
Who is it? Eyes open again. A different person, sitting upright. Dark hair. No, the person did not have dark hair. The new person is reading a book. The new person does not look to see the eyes which then close.
For a moment, the sun and the moon are in the same sky. And then the sun sets. The moon travels across the sky.
One heartbeat, two. Gathering strength to open eyes one more time. A third person, a woman. The first two were not women, this is certain. Or is this the Fade. Is this some kind of torment, punishment for sins? Eyes are shut. Strength is gathered. One breath, two, three. The fingers twitch. She opens her eyes.
The light was too bright. She let her eyelids fall so that her vision was shaded by her lashes. She parted her lips. She wanted to say something, but she was so tired and her mouth was so dry. She looked up at the pacing woman.
One breath. Two. "Nora."
Anora froze. "Maybe? Did you just say something?" She turned around, slightly widened eyes the only crack in her composure.
She tried to nod, but her head was so heavy, she felt as if it might fall off her neck if she shifted its weight. "Yes," she rasped.
She smiled, and relaxed slightly. "Are you quite comfortable? How are you feeling? Do you need anything?" She gestured toward Erlina, who pulled the coverlet smooth and tucked it under her arms more securely.
"Of course," Erlina gently lifted a cup of water to her lips. Maebh sipped a mouthful and swallowed. "Would you like more? Shall douse the light? Is it bothering your eyes?"
She shook her head and leaned back, exhausted. "Where am I?"
"Where are you? As in which room? It's the fifth guest room in the palace. I apologize if it is not to your liking, but it was more convenient to where the healers are staying."
A ghost of a frown. "Palace. Denerim."
"Yes, that's correct. We are in Denerim."
"Damn." She swallowed, her throat hurt. Her everything hurt. A throbbing pain pulsed from temples to toenails. "I'm...alive?"
Anora cleared her throat, slightly impatient. "Yes, Maybe, you are alive."
One heartbeat, two. She gathered her strength. "Please, send for Father."
She had tried to remain conscious until Loghain arrived, but lost that battle. By the time she willed her eyes open again, it was daylight. She took one breath, then two, and lifted her head to look. A glow of reassurance washed over her when she saw Loghain in the chair, arms and legs crossed, head bowed forward, asleep.
"Father," she said, still in pain but stronger now than she had been when speaking with Anora.
His head jerked up and he inhaled sharply. "Yes-- what-- who--" he rubbed his palm over his face, blinked blearily and focused on her. "Maebh. You wanted me?"
She took a moment to look around. They were alone. "Why am I alive?" She didn't feel angry. She didn't feel betrayed. She felt only regret.
He rubbed his chin and regarded her thoughtfully. "So, you did not have faith in your argument?"
Maebh sighed and leaned her head back, left hand drifting into a patch of sunlight that was spilled on the coverlet. "I said we still needed you. I'm replaceable." She turned her hand, palm up to the sunlight and closed her fingers. "I just wanted to be sure you wouldn't take the final blow yourself."
He was silent a long time. Maebh was glad, she didn't feel like talking. A cloud passed over the sky and she lost her sunbeam.
He took a deep breath and spoke. "I knew you were going to do whatever you could to take the final blow. I could not let you die. A man is not supposed to outlive his children. I learned that the first time you..." His voice grew husky, and he paused before continuing. "I could not let you kill yourself while it was in my power to save you. And I couldn't trust that I could outmaneuver you. You had already defeated me in hand-to-hand combat, after all. And, as it turns out, I was right on that account. I was certain you had broken any number of bones when you were thrown from the Archdemon. And you still outran me." He laughed to himself, and then looked at her, suddenly curious. "Where did you learn to run like that?"
The cloud continued across the sky, and the sun was again revealed. Maebh turned her attention to her sunbeam, opening and closing her fingers. "Where does anybody learn how to run?"
Irving waited at the door, holding a thick cloak. "Are you quite sure you are feeling up to it?"
Maebh stood, supporting her weight on the chair. "No, but I am quite sure I am thoroughly sick and tired of this room. I would like to go outside. There is a garden," she gestured with her free hand, "just over there. It has a bench. I must sit outside."
"Very well," he tucked the cloak around her shoulders and began to lead her through the hall. "Have you been using healing spells on yourself? I thought I told you to conserve your strength."
She grimaced. "I will not lie abed 'til spring, Irving. I have work to do. The Wardens..." She paused, out of breath and light-headed. She set her shoulders, stubborn, and continued on. "The Wardens must be rebuilt quickly. And I cannot trust Loghain to do that to my liking. The Orlesians will be arriving at some point, I must prepare for that. I must to go to Soldier's Peak and reclaim our keep there. I must organize an expedition to Ostagar to eliminate the darkspawn still nested there. And, as my loving sister has been sure to remind me every time we speak, her wedding is being postponed until I am recuperated enough so that they may have some ceremony or parade or something in my honor. Technically, neither Anora nor Alistair is ruling right now, I think. Eamon is regent or something," she paused, trying to reconstruct the conversations she and Anora had been having. She frowned and shook her head. "It all gets muddled. What I am sure of, the situation is altogether intolerable and it would be best for everybody if I were to get well and leave Denerim as soon as possible."
Irving laughed fondly and patted her arm. "No rest for the wicked."
Her insides seized at his words. She stole a sideways glance at him. Did he suspect? His expression was unchanged, tender concern and a bit of sadness. They had arrived at the garden. Maebh relaxed slightly. The grass was still covered in hoarfrost, it crunched underfoot as they slowly made their way to the bench. Irving draped a thick blanket over it before helping Maebh ease down. "Oh, dear me," he said. "It seems I have forgotten my own cloak. I'm afraid it's too cold for these old bones without it. I shall return shortly."
"Oh, First Enchanter," Maebh was ashamed at her own thoughtlessness. "I didn't even notice. Please, take mine."
"Don't be silly, girl. You need to be protected from the elements, and my quarters are just inside. I shan't be long."
And she was left alone for the first time in weeks. She closed her eyes and turned her face to the sun, enjoying the gentle heat. The days were much shorter, winter would be upon them soon. A cloud passed over the sun. She shivered slightly and pulled her cloak tighter. A footstep crunched behind her. "I should have thought to ask you to bring some tea with you, Irving. I don't know how much longer I will be able to stay out here, after all."
"Well," a familiar voice drawled, "it's a good thing I'm so thoughtful."
Maebh whipped around so fast she almost lost her balance. "Alistair?"
He grinned. "I put some of that honey you like in it."
"But, Alistair, what..." She took the mug in her hands and her heart skipped a beat as he sat next to her. "How... What are you doing here?"
He laughed and put his arm around her. She leaned against him, stiff, as her thoughts raced. "Well, maybe you have forgotten in all the confusion, but you did sort of decide that I should live here from now on."
She clutched the mug tighter. "But... I betrayed you. You hate me. Why are you here, with me?"
He sighed. "I don't hate you. I was very, very angry, true, but I don't hate you. And I still don't agree with your decision, but... You were right, I shouldn't have expected you to kill him. I should have done it myself."
She pulled away. "I would have fought you. Alistair, he's still my father."
"Maebh, please, I don't want to fight. Can't we just... be?" He looked drawn, tired. "You're the only thing that makes sense to me around here."
She curled her legs underneath her and melted against him. "Isn't this inappropriate? What about your betrothed? We shouldn't be seen together."
He wrapped his other arm around her and held her tight. "I don't really care about that right now. You're alive. Damn them all."
She thought about the Landsmeet, and Redcliffe, and all the other betrayals she had committed, large and small. She thought of her sister and her father and her and how she had grown accustomed to being an orphan. She thought of Cailan and Duncan and Niall, and all the others who had died. She thought of her friends who had lived, and her country she had saved. She wriggled even closer to Alistair.
"Yes. Let's just be."
And she thought of another child, ripped away from her family, maybe to never know the truth.
Ok, well, that's it. I hope you enjoyed it. I would like to thank every single person who ever betaed or brainstormed with me, which would be (in no particular order) Edje, Tasmen, Odie, Lit, Nea, Judes, Nonny, Reuben, AdorableAnarchist, Crisium, pretty much everybody in the Swooping_is_Bad IRC, my darling husband and my kick-ass roommate.
Like I said, I am planning a sequel so if you are interested, feel free to put me on Author Alerts. I'm not sure when that's actually going to get started. It might have to wait until after Awakenings so I can be sure that it doesn't mess what what I'm planning to do. However, if you have this particular story on alerts you might want to remove it. I'm going to be going back and editing chapters so unless you want an alert every time I go back and fix a misspelling or a dropped quotation mark, you might get annoyed. Fair warning!
(Although, Cailan and I have been very busy over on the kink meme so if you're interested in seeing a little more of what happened the night before Ostagar, be aware that I will be adding that first. *winks*)
At any rate, thanks for reading! And an extra-special thanks to everybody who commented! In chronological order of first comment: Shikyo-sama, A Study in Scarlet, Arsinoe de Blassenville, Peanuckle, durxa, NoviceFanFic, streunekatze, DarkMage6, Sati James, NuitNuit, noneko, Ariannel, , Kakimashou, dragonagefan, skybound2, Shanda27, Judy, Phoenike, Lothering Rose, zenrau, Crisium, Fluid Consciousness, aforgottenfairy, klarabella, Midnight Strike, clafount, and everybody who commented on Swooping_is_Bad, Loghain_Mac_Tir, dragonage_fic or the Bioware forums but not here. It really means a lot to get feedback, and I probably wouldn't have finished this without you guys.