A/N: thanks to Crisium and Tasmen for the beta! And Teija for being my ~inspiration~.


next after the first in place, time, or value.

. . . .

It's not like before.

Sure, it's desperate and forbidden and getting caught would shame an entire family and at least those are familiar enough emotions. The undercurrent of danger isn't as heady as it had once been, there's no rush of adrenaline, no gasps of pleasure muffled against skin and lips and hair. There's no struggle for dominance, he does not push her against the wall, her legs around his waist... she does not hook her arms around and flip him onto the bed so hard the air rushes from his lungs as she laughs...

This is nothing like it had been.

. . . .

She is second-born.

She has all her fingers and all her toes and a brother who frowns as he regards her tiny crying form. The weight of the house rests upon him and he cannot understand what possible need there was for another. They already have him, already have a son, and he came first.

She is second.

. . . .

She barely remembers a time before. Sometimes she considers the fact she must have existed as a girl, must have been something other than a warrior, must have been a child. She did not spring from The Stone fully formed and put together as a woman but her childhood has been peaceful and unremarkable and she doesn't know if she could really remember much about it, if asked.

She was born of intrigue and deception and betrayal, the years where those things were kept from her do not matter.

She is born again as an adult, as a warrior, as brutal and calculating as she must be.

She is Aeducan.

. . . .

In battle, her father comes first.

She stands beside him as his second, but it is all ceremonial. The danger is not real and the fight is symbolic, but she stands proud and fearsome and ready to defer to his bidding.

When it is over, her father beams with pride and speaks of his gratitude.

"One day," he promises "you will have your own command."

Slick with sweat and tense with adrenaline she can only nod. She has never doubted this.

. . . .

He is her second, in name.

Warrior Caste, with the slightest bite of humour and eyes that both sparkle with mirth and narrow with distrust. He is as much a part of her as her sword arm, an extension of her self. She knows every inflection of his voice, every tilt of his head, every grunt, every breath, every silence.

He speaks for her when she asks him to; he holds his silence when required. He is loyal, obedient and respectful.

She asks nothing of him he does not give freely.

. . . .

As a lover, he is not her first.

He is hesitant to begin with and she is not used to anything other than assent. Not from him. He worries of her brothers happening upon them even as his mouth is hot against her neck and her hands hold tight to his hair.

"My lady, we should not-"

She cuts him off with a kiss.

The protest had been all show, his hands and mouth are eager and when they tumble into bed, neither are thinking of her brothers.

. . . .

He may be her second brother, but Bhelen is by far her preferred company.

They are closer in age than she and Trian, and neither suffer from his unbearable dourness. There are jokes and laughter and when she sits down with Bhelen over a drink, she knows they will earn stern looks from their sibling when they finally return to The Palace.

But they did not come first, so the weight of duty does not rest upon them as it does for Trian.

Thank the Ancestors for that.

. . . .

It is to be her first command.

A Proving, A Banquet and then she bring her own glory. Her father's excitement is palpable, as is Trian's discontent. Bhelen grins and claps her on the back with good-natured support and his support lifts her spirit.

So she grins back at him, her little brother, and tells him that one day the glory of a first command will come to him as well.

. . . .

Her first memory is of her grandmother. From the time between, the childhood she can barely recall, she remembers a woman of strength and power and passion.

This is her armour.

She holds it in her hands and there is something different, something deeper and stronger and more real than she can fathom.

This is the armour of her ancestors, and in a week she will don it herself.

. . . .

This is the second time she's brought it up.

He only laughs and she can feel it through her bones as she lies on his chest.

She cuddles herself closer. "I mean it."

Gorim is silent then and for a moment she imagines he might be considering it. He is her second and together they could take on the world. They are strong, fierce and she loves him despite his caste. Their marriage would be defiant, but strong.

But then he laughs again, settling his arm around her and drifting off to sleep.

. . . .

Her second brother is the first to betray her.

She can't tear her eyes away from Trian's body. He had always been strong and confident and filled every space with the breadth of his pride. Somehow, lying cold and prone in the stone floor, he seems impossibly small despite the armour that cradles him.

When her eyes meet Bhelen's, she sees only a stranger.

. . . .

It is the first time he promises her anything.

"I'm going to try to go to Denerim, the human capital. If you make it out, find me."

And though her heart is barely held together, though she see Trian's body behind her eyes with every blink, this promise settles into her and holds tight.

So she begs him, pleads for him to hold her and through the bars of the cell, with the steady breathing of her second calming her tattered nerves, she vows that she will make it out.

"I will always love you, My Lady."

And he is gone.

. . . .

For the first time, she understands fury.

She fights with every ounce of rage she possesses. Pushes back the Darkspawn with every angry blow and does not stop to breathe. She cuts her way through the waves with single-minded determination.

Each creature before her wears the face of those who betrayed. Of Bhelen, of The Assembly, of her father and Harrowmont and everyone who sent her to this fate.

The Wardens don't seem surprised to see her.

. . . .

This is only her second command.

The other warden, Alistair, defers to her so easily that she isn't entirely sure her experience is even why. The witch seems happy enough to go along with things, which makes it easy. Their stop in Lothering is quick, picking up two more and she isn't even sure why she keeps adding to their party.

It does not matter.

Now, they head for Denerim.

. . . .

In seconds, her heart is broken.

Gorim has married, is expecting a child... Scant months have passed and he has already moved on. He dares not meet her eyes, platitudes of how it would not last, how he had never expected she survived...

He gave his heart to another, his allegiance, his support... and now she has nothing.

"You are a princess. I'm not even a warrior anytime."

She wants to rage at him, to shout and scream and slap him across the face. She is no more a princess than he is a warrior, not now. But he cannot meet her eyes and his convenient excuses feel heavy in her ears, the wrongness of it all settling in the pit of her stomach.

He is no longer her second. She is no longer her father's. Her second brother betrayed her first and she is left with nothing.

When she turns to leave, she pretends not to hear his relieved sigh.

. . . .

She had known nothing of brutality before this.

She carves her way across Ferelden with anguish and ruthlessness. In her wake, she leaves people trembling. Her party grows and swells, companions wrought from the stone and when there is no other treaty left to gather...

She goes home.

. . . .

For the first time, the stone feels oppressive.

She cannot breathe in Orzammar. She longs for the sky, the surface, for anywhere else. They whisper as she walks the commons, gossip and lies and slander and she holds her head high. They cannot break her now, there is nothing left whole.

She faces her hardest tests, her harshest critics, and when she stands before the assembly and names Harrowmont their king, she wants nothing more than to get out.

She cuts Bhelen down in the assembly chamber. Her blade slicing his head clean off and she wants to laugh out loud for now she has earned her exile.

Fratricide? No. He stopped being her brother countless months ago.

. . . .

He is the second dwarf in their party, after herself.

He is as mangled as she; broken shells of family and honour and love. In the darkness of camp they share a drink and do not speak of Orzammar.

Together, they are running from the stone.

. . . .

Her heart has broken a second time.

He was not her lover, he was barely her friend... but when Alistair pushes her aside to take the final blow himself, the weight of sacrifice crushes at her lungs. There is fire and ash and destruction all around. The screams rise up from the city, the sound of steel and death and she cannot breathe for the heaviness in the air.

She knows it should have been her. What else has she to live for?

. . . .

This is nothing like it had been.

She is nothing like she had been.

It all changed in a second, and there is nothing left.

But she is above him and around him and if she closes her eyes tightly enough she can pretend they are back in Orzammar. Pretend he does not have a wife and child, pretend she does not have the taint crawling through her skin, pretend and play make believe and she rocks her hips against his to draw out the fantasy.

. . . .

It cannot last.

He is not her second any longer and she does not come first. His family, his business... there is no place for her in this new life he has begun and when he tells her as much, she does not feel any pain.

She wonders if there's anything left to hurt.

. . . .

The open sky does not scare her.

At the Queen's decree, she sets off to Amaranthine. There is an order to rebuild and somehow she must be at the forefront. They call her the hero of Ferelden, but she knows better than anyone how titles are fleeting. She was once a princess, a second-born child of the King. She is those things no longer, and she knows she will not remain a hero.

The wardens, Amaranthine, Ferelden and the open sky.

Let the memories find her worthy, this is her second chance.

. . . .

A/N: Thanks for fucking my formatting, FFN. Fixed now.