A/N: As always, thanks to Bioware for letting me play in their sandbox. Though I am five years beyond the Blight, I do still draw upon their characters and their world for my inspiration.
Interludes will comprise three linked stories that occur during the same time period. One will describe Aedan's journey to Gwaren. This is my Ferelden, so we all know he's not simply going to walk there unchallenged. He has recently made choice that will affect the rest of his life, can he stand by his convictions? Another follows Alistair's adjustments to certain situtions and the third charts a new course for the Teyrn of Highever. I've not written Fergus before and he had a lot of tales to tell. I hope this is only the beginning of his story for me. A coupe of Luke chapters will pop up here and there to show things from his unique perspective.
Aedan wrapped his arms more tightly about his wife and kissed the top of her head. Leliana leaned back against him, sitting in his lap with her legs stretched out over his, and sighed gently, contentedly. Spread before them, the pasture of tufted grass slowly turned brown, then grey, as the last rays of the setting sun lifted and disappeared behind the trees. Leliana shivered lightly as a breeze whispered into being, the sort that chases the sun from the sky each evening, and Aedan held her closer.
"I will miss this," he whispered softly.
"You can watch sunsets in Gwaren, Aedan."
"I mean all of this, just being together every day, with the children, it's been idyllic, Leli."
As they'd talked about on the ship, the past month had almost resembled the life they might have dreamed for themselves.
Their first month in Highever had held its share of ups and downs, trials and successes. They had won through and the second month had been more ups, less downs, mostly good days. Aedan felt present and strong again. The restlessness had abated, the sadness had become manageable. He knew what he felt was normal now; he didn't need to fear it or hide from it. Occasionally he would still become overwhelmed, but he coped better. Instead of seeking solitude and the numbness, the nothingness, he sought people. His wife, his brother, his children. Sometimes he told them what he felt and other times he just let the rhythm of their separate lives and thoughts carry him through.
The day after tomorrow they would leave for Denerim. Aedan had decided it was time to go home to Gwaren, to take his place as Teyrn, to properly begin the new life he had chosen for himself. The temptation to travel to Amaranthine first, to visit his brothers had lingered for a day or two, but in the end he'd decided to continue on straight to Denerim and Gwaren after that. He feared returning to Vigil's Keep would reignite the fever. And they were not his Wardens anymore. They were Garret's or Philippe's or… not his.
Aedan did hope to see Philippe in Gwaren, however. A deeper relationship existed there.
Leliana turned slowly in his arms and set herself astride his lap, her legs hooked around his waist. She touched her nose to his and looked into his eyes. "We will spend out days together in Gwaren, my love. I am coming with you."
Aedan blinked into her deep blue eyes and drew his thoughts back to her. He smiled at her offer and kissed her, softly at first, then more deeply as the love he felt for her wrapped around him and held him as tightly as he held her. He'd never have admitted it to her, but he was a little nervous about going to Gwaren by himself. He was afraid of being alone. When not surrounded by people the silence sometimes still called, the numbness still beckoned. But he'd decided against asking her to come with him. Leliana had given up so much for him already.
Even if she only stayed for a while, to see him settled, it would be that much harder to say goodbye when she left. Leliana could not ignore her duties as chancellor indefinitely and he would not ask her to.
"Leli," he finally said, resting his forehead to hers. "You should not trouble yourself. I will likely be back and forth between Gwaren and Denerim." More than he should be, he suspected. He doubted that would sit well with a seneschal who probably thought him unsuitable for the task of governance. Wardens killed darkspawn… "We will see each other much more than we did before."
"I want to be with you, as we talked of, on the ship..." she began.
Aedan interrupted. "And you have been, and will be again. I will be alright. I am recovered enough to…" Do what? Be alone? He tried a different tack. "Your work, in Denerim. You have already been away…"
Fingers touched his lips and he stopped speaking. Leliana dropped her hand and leaned back a little so that he could see her face properly. This indicated that she wanted to tell him something important and Aedan watched her eyes as she spoke, seeing how she had dropped all of her masks and sat before him as simply Leliana.
"Aedan, much as I did enjoy my work, I only stayed on as chancellor for as long as I did to keep myself occupied, to give myself something to do other than sit at home and fret over you."
The guilt twisted hard and he felt his cheeks colouring with it. Breath caught in his throat and refused to move, becoming a solid lump and Aedan tried to swallow over it. Then he hid his face in her shoulder. "I'm so sorry, Leli, I'm so sorry." His words were soft, muffled, but the mournful tone could be clearly distinguished. The emotions he felt were horrible and the temptation to abandon them beckoned, but he did not, he held fast to the clench of his gut and the bitter taste of his remorse, having learned that the more he embraced it, the better he could deal with it.
His throat felt sore, another sensation he'd become familiar with, the ache of repressed tears. Aedan hated feeling like this, so weak and emotional. But the alternative was worse and so he let it play out and breathed a shuddering sigh of relief as it began to pass, his stomach uncurling, his throat opening and his breath returning.
Leliana sat still throughout. She seemed to sense when the storm had passed and, reaching behind herself, she pulled his fingers from her waist and tangled them with hers. A soft smile played over her lips as she leaned in and whispered, "I am a Teyrna and a wife and a mother. I am your partner and friend and lover. All of these things are enough, Aedan. Half of them, one of them would have been enough. I do not want more, I do not need more. I just need you."
What could he say to that? His wife, the minstrel, had a way with words he did not possess.
"Leli, I… are you sure, have you…" Fingers touched his lips again.
Leliana tilted her head and arched a single brow. Aedan knew that look.
"Thank you, Leli." He hugged her again. He'd let her go in just a second, or maybe a minute. He could hug her anytime he wanted to now, tonight, tomorrow and on the road to Denerim. Then on the road to Gwaren. Then in Gwaren, whenever he wanted to. So he could let go now... But he didn't, not for a long, long time.
It had not been an easy decision, in retrospect, that of giving up her position as chancellor. Leliana expected to agonise over it, feel guilt, and she did. She would be letting down a friend. She tried to tell herself that Alistair did not really need her. He thought he did, just as he thought he needed Teagan's council, his wife's advice. While the words of others were valuable and the opinions of all carried weight, ultimately Alistair ruled Ferelden and he did it well.
The initiatives in place were of his design. Brenna, his queen, helped him formulate those that coincided with her interests, just as Teagan helped with his, and Leliana had with hers. But the ideas came from Alistair. Leliana believed that after his recent victory in the tunnels beneath Denerim, his new status as a hero to his city would fortify the young man and help boost his confidence. Or so she hoped.
Her words to Aedan had been true. While she did enjoy working with Alistair, she had only done it for as long as she had in order to fill her days. She might have endured life at Vigil's Keep, but the place was too aptly named. Her days would have been spent doing just that, keeping vigil. In Denerim she had purpose. In Gwaren, she would have purpose and her husband.
Though tempted to discuss it with Aedan, she preferred to tell him once her decision had been made. A flicker of guilt did tickle at this, that she had not given him the option to talk her out of it. But ultimately she felt it was her decision and that he would respect that. And of course he did.
She had discussed it with Fergus, however.
Catching the Teyrn alone proved easy enough. Aedan often napped in the afternoons and Nan never minded watching the children for her. Leliana found him relaxing in his study. She hesitated to interrupt what appeared to be quiet reverie, but he saw her and his face broke into a genuine smile as he beckoned her forward.
"What's up?" he asked, gesturing the pair of comfortable chairs set before the hearth. He sat down in one and waited for her to sit in the other. "Did you want some tea, something stronger?"
"No, Fergus, I won't keep you long." Though likely she would, for a while. But he could not mind, he never did. Fergus and Aedan shared many qualities, including their patience and ability to properly listen and attend to their companions. Looking at Fergus now, sitting there with his attentive expression, Leliana smiled. From a painting she had seen, Fergus favoured both his father and mother, but he had Eleanor Cousland's eyes, wide and brown, tending towards green in the right light. Aedan had told her that his mother's eyes were greener, bright green. She preferred Fergus's warmer brown shade. Aedan, of course, looked just like his father, down to the cool blue eyes and narrow nose.
"I wanted to ask your opinion on something," she finally said after a moment of comfortable silence.
"I am thinking of going to Gwaren with Aedan." A simple statement with so many meanings.
"And you want my opinion? Leli, you know better than I what Aedan needs." Fergus leaned back in his chair and crossed his legs, an indication he settled in for a longer chat. Leliana smiled. "But I think he would do well on his own now, he seems much recovered. He would be busy, he and I have already discussed policy and he has ideas, exciting ideas. I think he is ready for this." He paused for a moment before adding, "He was born to this, Leli. He always had a better head for politics than I. Much as he would try to deny it."
Leliana nodded to all of this. She agreed with Fergus and Aedan's enthusiasm for his new role excited her. It had helped her to make her own decision. But now, telling Fergus her real purpose in seeking him out had her feeling suddenly shy and she flushed a little with it. She could have tried not to let her emotion colour her cheeks and for many years she had done just that around so many people. But Fergus was her family now, a brother to her in more than just name, and she held a special fondness for the quiet man.
"Actually, Fergus, I wanted to talk about my role in," she gestured with her hand, "in Aedan's future."
Concern drew the Teyrn's brows together. "Your role? Leli, what are you saying? Aedan…"
"Oh, Fergus, I am not explaining myself well." She needed to just come out and say it. "I want to give up my role as chancellor. I want to be with Aedan in Gwaren, always."
A broad smile settled across Fergus's face and he nodded. "You will be a formidable pair! What concerns you? Do you think Aedan might object? He would not…"
"No, not really. I worry more for Alistair. A chancellor is more than a functionary. I would like to suggest a suitable replacement, and I also wanted your opinion, and…"
"And you fear you are letting down a friend."
"Yes." Leliana almost breathed the word rather than said it. She had known Fergus would understand.
Fergus got out of his chair and stepped next to hers. He crouched down and took her hand. "You should do this for yourself, Leli. You are important to all of us. Alistair will understand. You are his friend, of course he will understand."
Though she had been sure Alistair would understand, having someone else confirm it helped. Squeezing Fergus's fingers gently, Leliana summoned a smile, one that hopefully banished the tightness around her mouth and her eyes. She was not used to asking for help, she was more used to helping others. Fergus urging her to do it for herself touched upon what she had been struggling with for some time.
"Thank you for listening, Fergus."
"Anytime, Leli." He stood up and patted her shoulder. "Now, as Aedan is sleeping and the children are playing, do something else for yourself. Go have some fun."
With a grin, Leliana stood and captured the Teyrn's hand. "Only if you will come with me. This will be our last chance to spend time together for a while. I have become used to having a brother; I will miss you, Fergus." She saw the warmth in his eyes and knew she had said the right thing.
They took a walk and talked of nothing important, both content to simply spend time together. Afterwards they found Aedan playing with the children in the garden.
Fergus went to step forward and Leliana pulled him back. She whispered softly, "I just want to watch for a moment."
He seemed to understand and stood quietly in the shadow of the tree with her. Leaning against the tree, Leliana watched her family, unobserved for the moment. She let her mind range back over the previous two months. Despite the journey, and mentally she added Val Royeaux and nearly all that had preceded it to the 'journey', she felt she had finally come home.
Aedan had recovered. He had come back to her, to himself. His cheeks still looked a little hollow and he could stand to gain some weight. He napped more than he had before, he still indulged in silences, he still struggled with nightmares. But when she thought back to the Blight, she remembered a young man that enjoyed napping, quiet time and who had nightmares. He was a strong, strong man. He had prevailed then, and he had now. Aedan thought he got his strength from her. Leliana hoped he had begun to realise that it came from within, and that she merely supported him, a brick to his house, a lintel if she must be.
When he smiled now, his whole face lit with it. Life had returned to his eyes and vigour to his movements. When he spoke of politics and what he might do as Teyrn, she could see the fire within him again, the purpose. Aedan was a man that required a reason for being. She had been the same, still was in a sense, only her reasons had become less tangible. While her work as chancellor had provided a purpose, it had also been a distraction – one she no longer needed. She would be doing something for herself now.
They were a family once more. A proper family. One she had never had, one Aedan had lost and sought to regain. Leliana wanted this to be her purpose, she had for a while. She had tried to be strong for everyone and it had nearly broken her. When Aedan had collapsed after their return to Denerim, she had thought it might be the end. It had scared her nearly more than anything they had endured in Val Royeaux. She had given Aedan everything, willingly, and she felt that if he left, he would take it all with him, leave her empty.
A giggle floated over to the trees and Leliana leaned forward and peeked out. Unbidden a smile came to her face, an easy smile, one that cost no effort and warmed her heart. She had mixed memories of the gravel paths and arrangements of hedgerows and roses spread before her. Over there she had wept in Aedan's arms after he had told her the truth about Morrigan. They had been married there in the centre. She had been dragged along those paths as a captive when kidnapped.
Though the two of the incidents had been dark, they did not overshadow the garden for her. Besides her wedding, many happy moments had taken place along those paths and between the hedges, beneath the trees. She and Aedan had walked there, sat there and made love there, her children had played there, and right now, Aedan chased his daughter along the same gravel pathways and between the same trees, high pitched giggles spilling from her lips, soft growls following her as the Hero of Ferelden pretended to be a bear.
A flash of movement caught her eye and Rory leapt from behind a tree, standing in the path before his sister. Grace screamed and then collapsed in a fit of giggles and Rory turned his face up towards his father in a rare, brilliant smile. Her son was a happy and content child, but he saved the widest of his smiles for special occasions, doling them out like gifts. It made them all the more beautiful to her mind and she knew Aedan thought the same.
Grace looked over saw Fergus. "Fergie," she called and waved. Then those grey eyes caught hers and the little girl's face lit up like sunshine. "Mummy!"
Aedan and Rory looked over and all three of them waved. "Why are you two over there when you could be over here?" Aedan asked with a grin.
Leliana laughed and waved. "We were being stealthy!" she called and turned to Fergus with a wink. Fergus strode out from the shadow of the tree, a wide grin on his face and Leliana quickly followed, saying "Wait for me!"