Aedan's experience with the Dark Ritual. I've been meaning to write this one for a long time and I was finally inspired to do it by a meme prompt requesting a situation where a tough man might cry. I think this one does it for me (and Aedan). Rated M for suggestive content and themes. Aedan and Leliana. Morrigan.

Aedan followed Alistair from Riordan's room, but he made no effort to keep pace with the ex-templar. In fact, as they entered the hallway he stopped entirely, letting his friend walk on alone. He leaned against the shadowed wall instead and tilting his head back, closed his eyes. A faint ringing buzzed behind his eardrums and he couldn't tell if it was from fatigue or fear. Oh yes, he felt fear now. While he had known all along he might not live to see the end of the Blight, having it confirmed was somehow… different. He couldn't describe why, they had faced death so often along this road, almost at every turn. In fact, if not for their mages, they might already be dead, several times over.

Aedan glanced down at his armour, seeing the new scars that lay beneath the plates, the marks of his journey. And now it all must come to an end. Even if Riordan did manage to land the final blow, it would take all of them to bring a dragon of that size down, all of them. Even his love, his Leliana.

He knew she wouldn't leave his side now, even if he asked her to. She was as committed as he to their cause. But the thought of taking her into Denerim, having her witness the horror of the final battle, of leaving her there alone after… Aedan shook his head and rubbed at his temples. He didn't want to do it. He would talk to her now, try and explain… without telling her anything. Even if he didn't succeed, at least he would have this last night with her and there was nothing he needed more now than the comfort of her embrace.

Aedan pushed away from the wall and made to step down the hall towards their room. Though it was late, he hoped she would still be awake. He didn't want to pull her from sleep for such a dark purpose, even though he knew she wouldn't mind. She would say, "I am here for you."

He passed an open doorway and happened to glance within the room and started at the shadow standing at the threshold.

"Do not be alarmed. It is only I." She stepped forward and the light of the lanterns lining the hallway illuminated her yellow eyes.

"Morrigan. Is everything all right?"

"I am well. 'Tis you who are in danger."

Aedan glanced over his shoulder at the empty hallway as if he expected an assassin to melt from the stone and wood. He saw nothing. He turned back to the witch and she beckoned him into her room. He hesitated, his desire to see Leliana strong. "It is late, Morrigan. What is this danger to which you refer?"

She only receded further into her room, giving him no choice but to follow if he wanted to hear what she had to say. Clenching his fists, Aedan glanced down the hallway again, his eyes alighting briefly on the door to his own room before stepping through and following her to stand in front of the fireplace.

As Morrigan related details he could not even share with Leliana, Aedan's apprehension grew. He did not wonder how or why she knew Grey Warden secrets, he mainly objected to the fact she knew at all. He opened his mouth to voice his ire and she held up a hand.

"I offer a way out. A way out for all the Grey Wardens, that there been be no sacrifice." She spoke of a ritual as though she planned to simply prepare a meal and a cold shiver ran down his spine. Morrigan had always made him uncomfortable and even now, after they had forged a friendship of sorts, she had the power to make his skin crawl.

"Nothing comes without a price, Morrigan." Aedan made to back away.

"Perhaps. But that price need not be so unbearable, especially if there is much to be gained. All I ask is that you listen to what I have to offer, nothing more."

Aedan glanced at the door and every instinct told him to turn around and leave. This might be his last night of peace; he wanted to spend it with Leliana, not Morrigan. But the fear rose within him again and he had to bite on the inside of his cheek to halt his thoughts. Morrigan offered a way out, and all she had asked so far was that he listen. With sharp sigh Aedan returned his gaze to the witch. "Very well. What is your plan?"

"What I propose is this: lay with me. Here, tonight. And from our joining a child will be conceived."

He felt as if the air had been knocked out of his lungs and the buzzing returned behind his ears. Aedan backed away from her with both of his hands raised before him as if to ward off something awful. "No. I don't want to hear any more."

He strode towards the door only to hear Morrigan's voice continue behind him. "The child will bear the taint and when the archdemon is slain its essence will seek the child like a beacon. At this early stage, the child can absorb that essence and not perish. The archdemon is still destroyed, with no Grey Warden dying in the process."

How does she know so much? A part of Aedan warned him against listening to her words, but yet another part seized upon her last sentence. The archdemon is still destroyed, with no Grey Warden dying in the process. He turned around. "How do you know this will work?"

"This is what my mother intended when she sent me with you. She was the one who first gave me this ritual and told me of what I was meant to do."

Anger swirled within him now, momentarily banishing his fear and he growled at her. "So Alistair was right."

"This does not surprise you, does it? Did you not wonder why Flemeth saved your life, why she aided you? This is why. What is important is that I am offering this to you now. It will work and it will save your life."

In retrospect, it shouldn't have surprised him, but even Aedan was aware of his naiveté. He always tried to see the good in people. He never did anything himself with a hidden agenda; he always tried to do what was right. And even after all the grey decisions he'd had to make over the last year he still tried to see the world in black and white, as good versus evil. If the Maker willed that he should die on this quest, so be it.

"I cannot go through with this."

"Why? Because of Leliana?" Yes! She knows about sacrifice. She will understand, won't she? Aedan's chest constricted as he thought of her, alone. He had given her his heart, he had told her it was hers forever. "Do you truly believe that she would condemn you or any other Grey Warden to death when it could be avoided?" No, not condemn…

Morrigan continued her voice rising in a relentless wave. "Consider the possibility that Riordan may not be there to make the final blow as he plans. What then? Do you run away?"

"No! I told him I would take the blow, and I will." He would, it was his duty.

"Do you let Alistair, the future King of Ferelden, take the blow instead? And what if he does not make it to the archdemon either?"

"Stop, Morrigan. I am a Grey Warden, this is what I do. If…" Oh, Maker… if Riordan were to fail, if he were to fail, Alistair would be the only one left. Not only might they leave Ferelden without a King, a nation divided, but they might leave her to a worse fate, no end to the Blight. There were only three of them, three Grey Wardens. More than that had died at Ostagar and now they faced the entire horde. The fear returned then, not of his own death, but of what he would leave behind.

"Would you truly choose death rather than lay with me for one night? Would you deny yourself tomorrow and all its rewards?"

"No." His voice came out as a hoarse whisper.

She approached and he flattened himself against the door, flinching as she laid a hand on his arm. Morrigan had propositioned him at camp the very night he and Leliana had declared their feelings for one another. He had always sensed the witch had only invited him to her tent out of spite towards the bard. He had turned her down, flatly. He tried to picture himself with her and he couldn't. In an attempt to ward off his thoughts he asked about the child.

"This child, what will it be?"

Triumph flared in her eyes as he asked the question and Aedan felt control of the situation slip from his grasp as he started to ponder such a child, his child. Alistair had told him he would likely never have a child of his own. Though he'd never expressed his thoughts to anyone, this, even more than his shortened life span, had greatly saddened him. Aedan had always imagined he would have children, a family of his own.

Morrigan removed her hand from his arm and took a step backwards, as if to give him leave to relax. "A child with the soul of an Old God."

"Will the child be evil? What will it become?" Was he actually considering participating in this ritual?

"What I seek is the essence of the Old God that once was and not the dark forces that corrupted it. Some things are worth preserving in this world. Make of that what you will."

These words actually made sense and Aedan considered them for a moment. "The child won't be hurt, will it?" He studied her carefully as she made her response, her answer here would decide him. He would not even consider such a plan if another had to suffer in his place.

"Ignoring that after but one night it could barely be called a child... no, it will not be hurt. It will be changed."

"Will I… this is going to be my child. Will I ever see it?" His heart twisted then, he knew what her answer would be.

"No, you never will. This is all I ask in return for freeing you from the burden the Grey Wardens have placed upon you."

Aedan dropped his head into his hands. He'd never felt so torn and he wished he had more time to decide. Sense warred with sentiment as he tried to order his thoughts. He didn't want to die, he could be honest about that and find no fault with himself for admitting it. No one wanted to die. But to accept this offer, every fibre of his being screamed that it was wrong. And yet he would be doing it for all the right reasons: to save Alistair, to save Ferelden, to save Leliana, to save himself…

Tears pricked at the corners of his eyes and he blinked them away, swallowing over the lump in his throat. Of all the decisions he had made over the course of this year, none had been quite like this. He couldn't help feeling like a coward as he finally whispered. "Alright, I'll do it."

"A wise decision."

He held up a hand. "Don't. Don't…" he swallowed drily once more. "Let's just get this over with."

If Morrigan took offense, he didn't notice. He pushed himself away from her door, closing it as he did so, a guilty flush sweeping across his face. Now that he'd made the commitment the full reckoning of what he had to do hit him. He would never be able to tell Leliana anything about this night, what he had done, the reason he had done it. The thought made him sick.

Morrigan moved to the bureau and began mixing something, her lips moving as she murmured over the concoction. She glanced over at him, an appraising look, and then turned back to her task, chanting quietly over the flask. Handing him the mixture, she bade him drink it. Aedan raised a brow, sniffed at the bottle, and then complied. She moved away.

He stripped off his armour and his clothing, keeping his eyes pointed towards the floor as he did so, unable to look at the woman in the room with him. Glancing down at his naked body, he was unsurprised to find himself limp and disinterested in his course. The light in the room dimmed as Morrigan blew out a lamp and Aedan silently thanked her for the thought. Perhaps this would be easier in the dark. Perhaps he could imagine he lay with…

No, he would not do that, he would not sully his heart, his love such thoughts. He would lay with Morrigan and only Morrigan this night, and take responsibility for it.

He felt her move towards him, the quiet rush of air as she passed his shoulder and came to stand before him. Not able to look at her, even now, Aedan turned his face away. The corners of his mouth drew down and he drew in a shaky breath. She touched him.

"No…" he made to step away, he couldn't do this.

"Do not be stupid, Aedan."

"I don't want to do this."

It was not a loving exercise, it almost wasn't even sex. He desperately tried to keep his mind there, right there in that room, not daring to let it wander elsewhere to where he should be, where he wanted to be.

Then it was done.

"Are we done?"

"Unless you enjoyed yourself so much you'd like a repeat performance?" Her tone was snide and laced with disappointment.

His chest heaving with exertion and emotion, Aedan spun away from her and collected his clothing. He dressed all the way, even buckling his armour back in place. Morrigan did not move from the bed. He left the room without a word, never once turning back to look at her.

As Aedan passed his own bedroom, his breath caught in his throat and he missed a step, stumbling lightly, but he kept going, knowing he could not face Leliana in this state. He ran down the stairs and strode towards the armory. The large room stood deserted and Aedan sank down on one of the long benches and buried his face in his hands. What had he done?

Not quite ready to think about it, he began removing his armour once more, placing it piece by piece on an empty stand. He then removed his clothing, all of it, and washed himself, twice, all over. He scrubbed at his skin until it hurt, over all of his body, wanting and needing to forget the feel of another woman beneath him. Though he felt close to tears the entire time, he did not give in. He had made a choice, he told himself, and crying over it would not change it. For better or for worse, he now had to learn to live with it. He almost didn't want to put the same clothes back on, but he did, and then he went outside into the courtyard beyond the armory and stared up into the night sky.

He sought familiar stars with his eyes, and named them to himself until his heartbeat slowed and the nausea in his stomach quelled. Allowing his eyes to slip closed then, he drew on the templar techniques Alistair had taught him and he attempted to still the turmoil in his mind. As the night air wrapped around his damp skin and clothing he shivered and rubbed his arms. He turned and stepped back inside. He would go to Leliana now.

She was asleep, as he knew she would be and he paused in the doorway for several moments, hesitating. His betrayal of her warred with his need for her and he felt as if his heart would tear in two as he studied the fall of her hair across the pillow, the curve of her shoulder and her hip.

He had not shed a tear since Fergus had broken his nose when they were young. Not when his family had been slaughtered, he'd been too stunned. Not over the death of his King or the loss of his brother to an unknown fate. Not when he'd had to kill otherwise innocent men and woman who had become tainted or corrupted. Not when he'd condemned Harrowmont to death. Not when he'd slain Rendon Howe and nearly dismembered the body in his rage. And not when he'd taken Loghain's head, putting to rest a man he'd grown up revering as a hero and a legend.

So why did he feel like he might right now? Why did he feel as if he had betrayed not only the woman he loved, but everything he believed in, everything he had fought for? Why did he feel like a coward?

He walked softly towards the bed and slipped over the side, stretching himself out behind her. He wanted to touch her, he yearned to hold her, but he felt unworthy. Finally need overruled all else and he put his arm around her sleeping form. Just the smell of her, the feel of her against him nearly undid him and he bit the inside of his cheek again, tasting blood this time as he fought for control. Leliana stirred and rolled over and she murmured softly as she slipped her arms around him and snuggled against his chest.

"Where were you?" she asked sleepily.

"I went for a walk."

"I would have come with you."

He pressed his lips to her forehead and whispered, "I know."

"You sound upset, is everything alright?"

No. "Yes. I just needed to think about… things."

"Are you afraid for us?"

"Yes." Only a fool does not admit his fear.

"I will be with you."

His breath caught then, and he hugged her close, burying his face in her hair. The tears burned behind his eyes and he dared not breathe for fear of them spilling forth. His voice barely croaked. "I know."

"I love you, Aedan."

He tried to draw a breath though his throat felt closed and he finally broke. He whispered, "I love you," and the tears came and he couldn't stop them. He wept for everything then: His family, everyone he had killed, for everyone he'd been unable to save. He cried because he couldn't choose his own fate and because he'd never have a family of his own. He cried for the child he would never meet. He cried because he had betrayed the woman he loved and because he didn't even know if the ritual would work. He cried because he had to keep a terrible secret from her. He cried because he was afraid of dying.

Leliana held him tightly and kissed away his tears and attempted to soothe him. She seemed to understand that he cried out a year's worth of pain and she let him go until he was done. Exhaustion finally caught up with him and he felt sleep edging in on his consciousness and he prepared to let go, craving the oblivion of it now.

Before he succumbed she whispered the words he'd known she would say. "I am here for you."

He wrapped his arms around her and whispered softly against her ear, "I know, Leli, and I hope I will always be here for you too."