A/N: This story occurs six months after the end of Unforeseen Melodies. Luke is Aedan's adopted son and a lot of what they talk about comes from previous stories. If you have not read them, this will not make a lot of sense. For those of you that have read 'Melodies', this is a bit of an epilogue. And, yes, I will be writing the Luke and Zevran story mentioned within!
The line tugged at his fingers and Aedan opened his eyes. He blinked a little as the clouds floating between the interlocking pattern of branches over head slowly came into focus. Feeling the tug that had pulled him from sleep once again, Aedan squinted against the blue and white sky and sat up. He glanced to the side and a grin turned up the corners of his mouth. Luke sprawled on his back beside him, eyes closed, mouth open, soft sounds passing his lips. He imagined Leliana knew fishing often stood in for napping on the riverbank, but he thought she would enjoy the sight of them both on their backs, fishing lines forgotten as they dreamed away the idle hours.
Another gentle but insistent tug turned his attention to the line he had wrapped about his finger and Aedan tugged back, softly, invitingly. A short game ensued where man and fish sought to cheat the other, the line jerking and twitching in feint and grab until Aedan felt the telltale pop of the hook through flesh. He had won. Drawing the line in slowly, serenely, he reached for the net. He had just worked the hook from the side of the grey mouth when Luke stirred, rolled onto his side and blinked at the fish before him.
"You caught one."
Aedan chucked and dropped his prize into a bucket. "We can tell Leli we did more than nap this time."
Luke grinned and struggling into an upright position, tested his line. "We should bring back more than one, it would be nice to actually eat something we caught.
Aedan's chuckle turned into a laugh. Their last fishing trip had netted them exactly one fish, Luke's catch. They had carted the poor thing back to the house only to be informed that one fish hardly constituted a meal and that they should probably return the lonely soul to the river until next time they decided to nap with lines wrapped around their fingers.
Luke yawned and stretched, prompting Aedan to do the same. Aedan luxuriated in the popping sounds as muscles and tendons unknotted along his spine. He felt fit and well; better than he had in a long, long time. Six months of little else but sleeping, eating, playing with his children and his wife, and fishing, had nearly restored his body. His mind ticked along alright too. He'd managed to do more than follow his seneschal about Gwaren, and be annoying, for at least two months now. Rubbing a hand across the back of his neck, Aedan paused to finger the top edge of a scar beneath the collar of his shirt before removing his hand in a self conscious gesture and dropping it to his side once more.
Glancing sideways he noted Luke looking at him and raised a brow in the young man's direction.
"You look well, Aedan." Luke paused and Aedan waited, knowing Luke wanted to ask about Orlais again and wondering what he would say to put his son off this time. He knew no one believed he'd merely succumbed to a fever on the journey, but he and Leliana had been at a loss as to how else to describe his condition.
Instead, Luke dropped his eyes to the line he had coiled about his finger and he tugged on it experimentally and said in a softly excited tone, "A bite!" Instantly he looked a boy of fifteen again, younger perhaps, and Aedan grinned at him feeling, as always, the surge of love and affection.
Luke played with his line, enticing his catch and Aedan reached for the net. At a nod from Luke he swept it through the water and pulled out another silvery bronze fish, this one more plump than his own. "Nice catch, Luke! At this rate we've got Rory and Grace's dinner covered."
Chuckling, Luke unhooked his prize and tossed into their bucket. They both cast their lines back into the stream and sat quietly a moment, gazes resting on the gently rippling water, the only sound the rustle of a breeze through the leaves overhead, the trickle of the water along the bank and the occasional call of a bird. Aedan's eyelids had begun to drift downward again, a delicious somnolence pulling at his limbs, when Luke started talking quietly.
"We had two new recruits arrive in a couple of months before I left Amaranthine. I think you would find them interesting."
Aedan raised a brow and turned to regard Ferelden's youngest Warden. He had not been to Amaranthine since his return from Orlais. He had officially 'retired' as a Warden. Aedan did not know how long he would stay retired. Ostensibly he currently filled the role of Teyrn of Gwaren, but between Leliana and their seneschal, Beck, the small holding barely required his attention. Really, he spent his time trying to piece his life back together. He and Leliana both.
"Tell me about them," he encouraged.
Luke nodded and a light seemed to touch his features as he acknowledged this small success. Aedan had been reluctant to discuss the darkspawn or the Wardens since his return and he knew his attitude, along with his obvious distress had confounded all he came into contact with. One day he would tell Luke that thoughts of him had sustained him in his darkest hour. He'd already told the young man how proud he made him. But today he would listen to Luke talk about the Wardens, his Wardens, or Philippe's Wardens now.
"They're Dalish, from the north east. A brother and sister, Lyssa and Gerick. They are exceptional archers, both, but Gerick also dual wields a pair of blades quiet handily. I sparred with him before I left. He has the most amazing tattoos. He told me a little about it, they call it the vallaslin?"
Aedan nodded receptively. "Blood writing." The Dalish coming of age ritual. He had always wanted to know more about it. His mind ranged backward to the first Dalish Warden, Lyek. Another spectacular archer, Lyek has lost his life in the same battle that had claimed Luke's sister, Brenda. Lyek might have told him more about his people, had he been granted the time. He'd been reserved, but not shy, and he had enjoyed exchanging stories. "The Dalish have such a defined manner of declaring their adulthood," he mused. "I wonder how it would feel to know that one moment you were a boy and the next a man?"
For all that he had endured in his nearly thirty years, Aedan had not had such a defining moment. He had been told he'd achieved his adulthood on a certain birthday, but perhaps he hadn't truly felt it until he'd blooded his sword the night Rendon Howe's men overwhelmed Castle Cousland. A rather violent coming of age, but probably overdue in a way; he'd been a sheltered young man.
Glancing at Luke, Aedan did not have to think long on when his son had become a man. Their eyes met and he knew they thought of the same incident, Luke's Joining. Aedan felt the corners of his mouth turn down and he dropped his eyes. He no longer blamed himself, not really, not convincingly, but he would always be sorry. Always.
He held up a hand, preparing to stop Luke's words. "I know."
"No, you don't."
Curious, Aedan looked up again. Luke studied him with his warm brown eyes a moment before speaking. "I know you think my Joining changed me, forced me to grow up, but it didn't, not really, not in the way you think. I was still a boy long after then, you and Zevran both made sure of that."
"Don't tell me you're sorry."
Aedan closed his mouth and looked at Luke curiously. And then it hit him. Luke was a man. Young, yes, but mature, wise. When had it happened?
Luke answered his unspoken question. "Under Denerim, in the Deep Roads. That's when I finally cast boyhood aside. Splashed with the blood of men instead of having it tattooed into my skin."
Aedan raised a hand and gripped Luke's shoulder. "I should have been with you."
"You were, Aedan. You are always with me." Luke smiled.
Aedan resisted the urge to hug Luke, to treat him like a boy, and instead returned his smile. "Tell me about Gerick's sister then, does she have the blood writing too?"
A flush spread across Luke's cheeks and Aedan worked to keep his face straight, carefully interested. Luke described Lyssa in more detail than Gerick, including not only the intricacies of her vallaslin, but the russet hue of her hair and the deep forest green of her eyes. Aedan suddenly realised he had never talked to Luke in this manner, about woman, love, sex, and he felt a blush warm his own skin as he contemplated the questions he might ask, tried to decide what he should say.
He started gently. "She sounds lovely."
Luke chewed on his lip a minute before agreeing. "She is."
An awkward silence fell between them and both busied themselves with their lines a moment, giving ineffectual tugs, feeling for nonexistent fish.
Luke finally asked, his voice quiet, his tone curious, "When you met Leliana, what was it like?"
The very mention of his wife's name stirred Aedan's heart, as it always did. He cast his mind back to the first time he'd met her, at the inn in Lothering, and he chuckled.
"Truth be told I barely noticed more than her chantry robes when I first met her. And then she tried to tell me the Maker had sent her a dream and Alistair rolled his eyes and…" and Morrigan had laughed. Aedan then remembered the answering fire he'd seen in those clear blue eyes and the defiant tilt of Leliana's chin. He'd admired that, but it had not been enough to accept her plea. He still saw a lay sister, a woman in chantry robes, lovely, but vulnerable, and he'd turned her down, left her in the inn.
"I didn't want to be responsible for another person, a woman, I was barely holding myself together and Alistair had practically already fallen apart." He glanced at Luke and realised that though this wasn't the story Luke had expected to hear, he was interested none the less. He continued. "But we needed her. She convinced the Reverend Mother to release the Qunari, Sten, and then she asked to come with us again and Alistair," here Aedan chuckled as he remembered the conversation between them, "he convinced me to take her along."
"Despite the fact I would never have met my wife, I'm glad he changed my mind. Leliana is an exceptional woman, Luke. Skilled in combat, amazing with a bow, intelligent, cunning – we may still be stuck in some of those traps but for her. Her talent for story telling brought us all together at camp, allowed us to put our burdens aside and relax for a while. I often forgot we were former strangers, all of us, fighting for a cause we could barely grasp when she sang or told a tale. We simply became a group of friends sharing a campfire."
Aedan's mind drifted forward to the almost four months they had just spent together at Gwaren, and the two months before that in Highever. His words to Luke echoed in his mind: Leliana is an exceptional woman. These months had been so hard for both of them, in so many ways. They both had new scars.
"So you were friends first?"
Aedan blinked as Luke's voice brought him back to the river bank. "Yes, for a long time. About nine months in fact." Aedan blushed as he remembered his and Zevran's antics in the first few months. They had seduced barmaids, visited the Pearl and shared an interesting evening in Captain Isabella's cabin. All the while his friendship with Leliana had steadily blossomed until he'd stopped thinking about other women, only her. Still he'd not approached her, not for several months more. He couldn't name the moment friendship had turned into something more, it had been a gradual thing, a deep and steady change. He could remember clearly the moment when he'd first realised he loved her, however. The kiss, that first kiss.
With an effort he dragged himself back to the present and focused on Luke. "Um… have you, are you friends with Lyssa?"
Luke nodded thoughtfully. "She's pretty serious about being a Warden; I don't want to distract her."
Aedan suddenly wondered if Luke had ever kissed a girl. There would not have been many opportunities for him at Amaranthine; they only had two female Wardens thus far. He couldn't come right out and ask it though. He remembered another conversation with Alistair, the night at camp when they had asked him about his 'experience'. He'd admired Alistair for his answer and his conviction, though he had teased him at the time. "She will need a friend in the months to come, particularly after the Joining." Aedan chose his next words carefully. "And if things never develop past there, you will always be friends, right?"
"You don't think it would be inappropriate… for two Wardens to…?"
"No, Luke, I don't." Aedan took a shallow breath and pressed on before he lost his nerve. "If you ever need to ask, um, to talk about…"
Luke flushed. "Zevran and I had that talk."
Aedan felt his mouth drop open and Luke laughed at his expression. "Zev? Maker, Luke what did he tell you?" He held up a hand. "Wait, perhaps I don't want to know?"
Luke laughed harder and his cheeks reddened further from both amusement and embarrassment. "He was quite eloquent, actually, and he put aside his ribald humour for most of the conversation. It was bit odd, at first, but," Luke dropped his head. "He caught me in the pantry with one of the kitchen girls."
"Luke!" Aedan laughed and then clapped his hand over his mouth. He had to ask, "What were you…"
"Kissing, just kissing," Luke interjected.
Aedan smiled. He felt enormously relieved upon hearing that Luke had engaged in such normal activities, things he might have done at the same age. He felt the burden, the weight of his guilt lift a little, and he acknowledged it with a small, soft sigh.
His line tugged at the same time as Luke's and they busied themselves for the next half hour teasing, hooking and netting their catch. Aedan's finger slipped as he sought to draw the hook from the fish's mouth and he cut his finger. His fish escaped his grasp and he gasped at the sharp pain, not because it hurt, but for the memory it triggered. Leliana had told him this would happen, that for a while odd things would trigger odd memories. She had also told him to breathe it away and so he did, ignoring the shiver that traveled across his shoulders and down his back. The blood dripped from his fingers and on to his leg and he stared at it a moment before diverting his eyes just in time to see the bronze body of his fish plop over the river bank and drop back into the river.
Luke handed him a torn piece of cloth, a rag, and Aedan wrapped it around his finger and held it there until the blood stopped seeping from the small wound. Luke reached for another worm to re-bait his hook and Aedan suggested, "Why don't we take a swim? I have to clean this off anyway." He indicated the blood on his bare leg and his hand. It felt as if it crawled upon his skin as it dried and he needed to wash it away, for it to be gone.
Likely the swim would prompt another nap, but wasn't that the reason he had come down here in the first place, to rest? Luke stood up and Aedan followed along as his son moved downstream, away from their fishing spot, out of the cool shade of the large tree that overhung that particular bend in the river. The sun warmed the top of his head and the back of his light linen shirt as they ambled down the bank a ways, keeping a companionable silence.
They sat side by side to undo their boots and Luke pulled his shirt over his head before standing back up and stalking through the shallow water until it reached the hem of his short pants, and then diving below the surface. Aedan reached for the hem of his shirt and hesitated. The sun shone warmly and he anticipated the feel of it on his bare skin, but Luke still hadn't seen his scars. He didn't even like Leliana looking at his back, for many reasons. Aedan felt the melancholy begin to creep in. He glanced down at the cut on his finger, the dried flecks of blood on his leg and sighed. He did not want this to turn into one of those days when the little incidents piled up and buried him beneath their seeming insignificance.
Luke's head surfaced from the middle of the river and he waved. "C'mon, the water feels great!"
Closing his eyes, Aedan drew the shirt over his head and tossed it aside. He stood and jogged into the shallow water and imitated Luke's dive, putting his torso beneath the water, out of sight. When he surfaced, Luke had already begun to swim across the river and so he struck out after him. As the water slipped past his skin, cooling the warmth of the sun, tickling beneath his ribs, bubbling under his arms and at the waistband of his shorts, Aedan relaxed. It felt good, the water, the exercise, the stretch of his muscles, the activity with Luke.
Luke stood up when his feet could touch the bottom and Aedan rolled onto his back and floated next to him, letting his ears fill with water, listening to the flow and burble of the river. He closed his eyes and drifted a while, feeling the water ripple and stir as Luke swam again, settle as the young man moved off downstream. A fish nudged one of his hands as it swam past and Aedan opened his eyes with a grin and looked down stream to see Luke hauling himself onto a large rock, climb to the rock above it, and then launched himself into the water, knees clutched to his chest, the resultant splash spraying the grey stone beside him in a dark pattern.
Aedan swam downstream and splashed at Luke as he surfaced. "Next time we go to Highever, remind me to take you to the cliffs on the east beach. There is a rock there you have to jump from, the drop is so long, you think you're going to meet the Maker when you hit the water." Aedan laughed. "But we won't take Leli; she'd never let us do it." He winked and Luke laughed and splashed him back.
They splashed back and forth a few times and then Aedan launched himself upwards with a kick and pressed on Luke's shoulder, dunking him below the surface. Luke bobbed back up, spat at out water and attempted to do the same to him. The chase commenced. They swam and played, splashed and dunked, and even took turns jumping from the rock. Aedan felt the years melt away until he was eighteen, like Luke, they were just two boys playing together.
Then Luke saw his back.
Aedan had been pulling himself onto the rock when he heard the splashing stop behind him and a soft gasp. He turned himself around quickly and sat on the rock facing the river again and saw Luke treading water there, his expression one of open shock. Aedan did not have to ask what was wrong, he just instinctively knew. He'd forgotten for a while, with the playing and the splashing, but he knew of only one thing that could have Luke looking at him that way. His scars.
Aedan jerked his head backwards, to the shore and said, "Come on out, before you drown."
Luke swam over to the rock and clambered up beside him. He sat next to him, but Aedan could feel the young man's urge to lean backwards, to look at his back again. Rubbing the scar on his forehead, scratching his jaw, touching gingerly at the bridge of his nose, Aedan finally let out a soft sigh.
"Wait, give me a minute, Luke." A minute? He would never collect himself in a minute. He could feel his world flying apart. He grasped at it, he opened his eyes, when had he closed them? He glanced at Luke and saw the curiosity, the fear and the affection in those warm brown eyes. He found a source of strength, his love for this young man that he called 'son'. "What I am about to tell you… Luke, you can't share it with anyone. None of the Wardens."
Luke's eyes widened and he nodded mutely.
Aedan told him everything, all that had happened in Orlais. The sun dried the water from their skin and crept towards the horizon. The water lapped at the soles of their feet and fish nibbled their toes. A mosquito drifted lazily from arm to leg, finally dying beneath Aedan's hand, and a hawk wheeled over head, casting its shadow across the grey stone on which they sat. Aedan talked and Luke listened. When Aedan stopped talking, Luke leaned back and Aedan leaned forward. He felt Luke's fingers touch tentatively at one of the long, puckered scars across his shoulder blade and he shivered. It didn't hurt; it hadn't hurt since Morrigan had healed him… soon enough to stop the infection from poisoning his blood, too late to prevent the scars. They would continue to fade over time, but would never disappear. They would look like Leliana's eventually. They had a matching set.
When he glanced at Luke again, he saw tears glistening in the younger man's eyes and felt the burn of his own, behind his nose, his eyes, the tightness across his forehead. He looked away again.
"Why didn't you tell me this before?"
"Luke, I," couldn't? "It's not a pleasant story. You shouldn't have to hear about things like this."
"Why are you always trying to protect me?"
Aedan blinked at the anger in Luke's voice and he looked at him again, saw the anger along with the sadness in his eyes. "Isn't that what a father does?"
"Yes, no… Aedan, I'm not a little boy anymore. You can't keep me safe always. Let me be there for you, like you always are for me."
Aedan blinked quickly, feeling the tears press forward. He turned away again. "I'm not always there for you, Luke. I wish I had been, I've let you down so much."
"Stop, Aedan, just stop. You don't have to be a hero all the time. You can be a man too."
His brows pulled forward and down and he glanced at Luke again, appreciating how properly angry the young man was. He wondered at it for a moment and then he recognised it. Luke had chosen the anger over the shock, the sorrow.
"Luke, I," don't say you're sorry… "You're right."
You didn't always need to be at someone's side to be with them. You just had to be in their heart. You didn't need to be a hero to save the world. He hadn't been one when he'd slain the archdemon, he'd been a man – a man filled with fear and the knowledge that he might die.
"Aedan, I'm sorry."
Luke looked young again, the anger had faded from his eyes and only the fear and the hurt remained. Aedan reached out and he pulled him into a hug. "Don't say you're sorry. You're right." Letting him go, he set his hands on Luke's shoulders. "We're brothers now, Luke. Regardless of everything else we are. No more apologies, for either of us. But gratitude is acceptable, right? I want to thank you, Luke, for being… you."
Luke looked at him uncertainly for a moment.
Aedan continued with, "In a lot of ways, thoughts of you sustained me during my trials, Luke. I had to let go of you to come back from the Fade, I had to let you, be you." He didn't know if that made any sense, but Luke nodded at him regardless.
"Well thank you. For being with me in the Deep Roads, in kind of the same way?"
Aedan nodded soberly, and then felt the corner of his mouth twitch. "Are we substituting thank you for sorry?"
Luke bit his lips over a grin. "Maybe."
The sun dipped toward the horizon and the air took on the chill of late afternoon. They stood, collected their shirts and boots and walked back to their bucket. Aedan peered inside and inspected the three fish moving sluggishly about and glanced up at Luke with one eyebrow raised.
"It's not enough for dinner," Luke said.
Aedan picked up the bucket and tipped the fish back into the river. He gathered up their lines and gear, slipped them into the bucket and then slung an arm around Luke's shoulders as they turned in the direction of home.
"We'll tell Leli we napped all afternoon instead."
They grinned at one another, both of them knowing she would believe they had.