A/N: This is a direct one-shot sequel to "Reclamation", as a means to fill in some gaps before I move on to the larger AU that covers the seeds of war and possibly a blight. I mean, when it comes to AU, go big or go home, right? This sets the stage for what is to come - the landscape which Maric rules over and the advisors who bled with him and who still put Ferelden above themselves. It is perhaps here that we see the true changes beginning...
Spoilers, obviously, for "The Stolen Throne".
Disclaimer: Bioware owns all. David Gaider, ILU even though you took Rowan away from Loghain.
"What did you find in her tent?"
"This letter, addressed to you," Rowan handed it over. She had not broken the seal, even though Loghain had wanted her to, so that they knew what they were getting into. She had admonished him for wanting to do such a thing, and he had pointed out that as king, there were few privacies he would be awarded, because this would not be the last time someone betrayed him or attempted to assassinate him. She had insisted that he wasn't king yet, and therefore was still entitled to unbroken seals on letters addressed to him.
"No," she replied, and Loghain stayed silent. United front was what Maric needed from them right now, so they kept their arguments out of his earshot.
He took the letter and weighed it in his hand a moment, not wanting to look at them for his next question. "Did you...find out who did it?"
"No," Loghain offered. And he wasn't happy about that either. The spy had been saved for his justice, not the misguided vigilantism of some faceless soldier. Or worse, someone within their camp who feared what she was going to spill, and ended it before she could. The idea that there was another traitor in their midst had gotten under his skin, and it had taken Rowan quite the shouting match to convince him not to haul every single man up for interrogation. "But I will, Maric. I will," he promised.
Maric was under no misapprehension that Loghain was concerned about the loss of life in the dark of night - he was clearly angry because it had not been his knife slipped between her ribs, and Maric hated him just a little bit for it. They had...not spoken candidly since the day he spared her life - Rowan had always been there as a buffer, and Loghain seemed to defer to her, which gave Maric a strange bitter taste in the back of his mouth. They'd been subtle about it, sure, but it was there all the same. They had each other while he had...nothing.
"Will you really?" he couldn't help the words trip off his tongue, bitter and scathing and undeserved in that tone.
Rowan did not try and smooth out the creases, she remained silent, and he watched Loghain clench his jaw and narrow his eyes. His cheekbones moved in a flutter, evidence of his clenching and unclenching teeth.
"Though I may do the things you find reprehensible, and you may come to resent me for it, I would hardly kill her in the dark of night. She is a traitor and she deserved to be made an example of," he started, and almost launched into his theory that she was not the only one, but for his own assurance that it would solve nothing. He did not even have to heed Rowan's widened eyes pleading with him to back off. He unclenched his fists at his side and widened his stance, folding them behind his back. "I serve my king, and he asked that she not be harmed until he was able to pass judgment," he added flatly, staring at Maric, almost seeming desirous of a fistfight, as though that would solve their problem.
They stared at each other for several minutes before Maric sighed, his shoulders sagging. Rowan relaxed as well, but Loghain only imperceptibly, if at all.
"I am sorry, Loghain. I know you would not do such a thing," he pressed his hand to his forehead with another sigh, and rubbed it vigorously before reaching out an arm to clap Loghain on the shoulder. "Could we end this war, please? It's making me irritable," he joked, and Loghain relaxed a bit more.
"Maric, this will not be the last of the difficult things," he cautioned softly.
Maric's hand fell from his arm. "Yes. I know." He reached out each hand and took Loghain's in one and Rowan's in the other, bringing them together a little and squeezing them. Loghain looked uncomfortable and Rowan seemed to understand and shared a look with Maric that Loghain could not quite decipher. "But I have my two best friends with me, and we'll work it out. It'll work out," he nodded, and dropped their hands.
"Yes, because holding hands and hoping it will be so will make it so," Loghain quipped, crossing his arms over his chest.
"How do you put up with him?" Maric said to Rowan, and she merely laughed.
"Shall we stop laughing about ending this and actually get to the business of ending it?" Loghain asked of them, clearly exasperated, and in their mirth, Rowan hooked her arm through his barely loosened one crossed over his chest, and laid her head on his shoulder. Her laughter almost made him smile (despite it being directed at him), but for his surprise at her open affection. She felt him stiffen, and, still with a smile as Maric regained his breath, and a bit of idle chatter he tuned out, she drew no particular attention to her other hand reaching up to stroke the arm she laid against a couple of times, as though calming a skittish horse.
Before he knew it, they were apparently dismissed, and she was tugging him gently, her arm falling out of his and walking away from him, ahead of him. He watched her go, a slightly confused look on his face.
"I wasn't aware you felt that way about her," Maric said softly.
"I..." Loghain turned to face him, his face flushing slightly with guilt.
Maric made a face at him, and clapped him on the back. "She deserves someone who can love her, Loghain. I...couldn't be that man the way she wanted me to be. Just remember that. Don't break her heart." His voice was quiet, but his words had weight. It was a warning, albeit one issued between friends.
# # # # # # #
He still slept in camp with the men, like a good commander. He was not accustomed to being secretive as a rule, except when it came to military strategy. The impression he was getting, that pursuing a relationship with a woman such as Rowan was not a military campaign, put him at odds with himself and the rules for such things.
She flipped aside the flap of his tent, and slipped inside, catching him unawares at first, and he was about to give her a good tongue-lashing before he realized who it was.
"Oh. It's just you," he said, the irritation not entirely leeched from his voice.
"Yes, just me," she jibbed, and immediately began undressing.
He had been sitting at the little table in his larger tent, on his single stool, studying a map by candlelight in only his breeks. He'd looked at the damn thing for hours that day, and still nothing had changed. Needless to say, a woman walking into his tent and disrobing could easily have been a hallucination.
She was down to her smallclothes, peeling her foot out of her breeks when she looked up at him, still sitting there, looking slightly shocked.
"Are you coming to bed?"
"I...you surprised me," he finished lamely.
"That much is evident," she replied with a smile. She folded her breeks and tossed them on top of her folded tunic, and walked over to him, draping herself over his bare back, and looping her arms around his neck. She nuzzled her nose into his neck, and let out a sigh of contentment.
"So many things could go terribly, terribly wrong."
"There is always that chance," she agreed.
"Why are we letting him do this on his own?" he asked, reaching up to hold her elbow at his collarbone. He rubbed her arm slowly, his eyes looking at the map, but his stare was already in tomorrow, imagining those very things. And with their luck, well.
"Because it is his own sort of vengeance. He needs this."
"He is to be king, he should be swaddled and hung from a tree out of reach of harm," he replied darkly, and she chuffed into his neck, pressing a soft kiss to the skin there.
"If we had forbidden it, he would have done it anyway," she pointed out, and he was forced to agree.
"It all changes tomorrow," he said quietly.
"It does," she agreed, and removed her body from his, trailing her fingers across his skin. "Come to bed," she said, and he joined her in his bedroll, making love to her on uncomfortable ground in a tent in the soldier's camp the night before their lives changed.
They were quiet as they could be, slow - just in case this was the last time. He swallowed her gasps into his kisses, and she wrapped her legs around his body, holding him tight to her even after they reached their completions. He tried to ease his weight off her, but she would not permit him to do so, her ankles locked around his waist. She gently stroked his sweat-damp curls off his face, tracing his face, taking in every line and curve.
"Why do you look at me like that?" he asked quietly, whispering in the deep dark, their faces in silhouette from the fires that still flickered just outside.
"Like what?" She traced her fingers over his lips and he kissed her fingertip.
"I don't know. Like I am some puzzle you are trying to put together."
She didn't answer him for several moments, her eyes searching his, her fingers skimming over his chilled flesh. "I am merely...considering fate," she said, and he was about to chastise her for joking with him, but there was no sign of merriment in her face.
"How much of this would have been impossible if he had not met you," she mused, and tilted her hips, seeking him again. She pulled his face to hers, kissing him thoroughly.
She broke away as their bodies reconnected, her head tilted back. He set the pace, urgent and rough, and she matched him, digging her nails into his arms, and whispering 'harder'. She wanted to feel him even tomorrow, knowing that either one of them could die, and in all likelihood, were it his death on the field tomorrow, she would marry Maric. She would marry Maric and be queen and in the years to come, she would only have memories of him, of this, of all the vague plans she had dreamed up. As much as she wanted it, it almost seemed unrealistic to believe she could have it. After all these years, all this fighting, all this death, the idea that something would go right seemed foreign.
He made sure she reached her climax, and followed soon after. He moved his body off of hers before she regained her muscles to stop him. But she did not let him go far, gathering his body to hers, and guiding him to rest his head below her breasts.
"Don't leave me," he said so quietly she barely heard him. She wasn't sure if she was meant to hear, but she would do her level best to do as he asked.
They slept, bodies twined under thin blankets, surrounded by soldiers, dreaming as though tomorrow was not on the horizon.
# # # # # # #
The victories they celebrated several days later were not without loss. The chevaliers had a reputation for a reason, and it showed in the pyres they spent days building.
With word of Mehgren's withdrawal from Ferelden, Maric forgot his melancholy and, for the first time, felt as if everything they had done may finally have been worth all they had sacrificed.
Maric pulled Loghain into a tight hug, shaking him and squeezing hard enough to re-crack ribs. He took no heed of the tears in his eyes as he repeated "we did it" over and over again.
To the room at large, Maric raised Loghain's arm high in the air and yelled "to the hero of River Dane!" The men gathered, bandaged and broken alike, cheered for their commoner general who had routed the infamous chevaliers with inferior weapons, inferior armor, but clearly not inferior men - Fereldens with Ferelden hearts drove the usurper out of their lands.
With Loghain on one side and Rowan on the other (he pulled her to his side and kissed her temple), Maric asked them if they would still have him as their king.
"Seems they agree," Rowan said, laughing through her tears as cups were rattled, pots banged, and shouts and cheers were his reply.
"More fool they!" Maric jested, and Loghain remained silent. He looked out over the men and women and felt truly grateful.
"Shall we march on Denerim, then?" Loghain asked.
"Not a moment to lose, eh? Yes, give us a couple more days to say goodbye to our dead, and then we shall pack up and move a portion of the army to Denerim. I want some men left here to secure the area and continue patrolling to ensure there are no more Orlesians hiding in the woods. They can take care of locating any remaining dead and survivors as well as eliminating any stragglers."
"As you say, your Majesty."
Maric pushed Loghain, actually drawing a small smile out of the man as he rocked back and forth unsteadily. "Stop that. The Grand Cleric hasn't even crowned me yet. And of all people, you and Rowan shouldn't have to call me that."
"In mixed company, we shall always refer to you appropriately," he insisted, raising an eyebrow.
"So serious, Loghain! Relax! We've won. Now it's just a matter of making sure the rest of Ferelden knows it."
Loghain merely grunted, and Rowan stifled a laugh. "We shall prepare everyone for the march," she offered, and with a tug on Loghain's tunic, left with him following after her.
Maric watched them go, talking between themselves just out of his earshot. His heart ached for Katriel still, but a small part of him regretted Rowan. She would have made a fine queen, but his short-sighted pursuit of the elven spy had closed that door. No longer was her father around to tell them what was right and proper, and so the three of them had been making their own rules up as they went along. And their rules meant that Rowan no longer felt obligated by the promise between their parents decades before - it meant that she chose her partner, and Maric couldn't fault her for her choice. Loghain was a good man, if terse and closed off - Rowan would perhaps bring out the man that Loghain might have been. Meanwhile, Maric did not want anyone else. He did not want to marry because it was necessary - now that he had loved, he wanted that again...someday.