Author's Note: So... I've now played through the final sequences between the female human Nobel (Elissa) and Alistair and Morrigan. I think I've played through it now with every option (after you declare you'll rule beside an un-hardened Alistair that is);

1) You take Morrigan up on her offer and persuade Alistair to sleep with her (not the most popular option to be sure, but the one that ensures both of you come out of it alive - and you keep Morrigan in your party for the final battle)

2) You flat out refuse to hear Morrigan out OR you agree and then change your mind; Morrigan leaves

3) You agree to try and convince Alistair - but don't succeed when you fail to use the "persuade" options (this one leads to some most interesting dialogue choices - and shows just how reluctant he is to agree; if you tell him the truth); when Morrigan is informed, she leaves

I then played through the last battle each different way:

1) Having gone through the ritual; taking Alistair to the final battle

2) Having gone through the ritual; not taking Alistair to the final battle

3) Not having gone through the ritual; taking Alistair to the final battle (he refuses to let you die and does so himself - interestingly though, you get a 'final kiss' only if you use the 'this is crazy!' response; but no other)

4) Not having gone through the ritual; not taking Alistair to the final battle (you die)

Anyway; one thing that struck me in the storyline where you sacrifice yourself without doing the Morrigan ritual, is the lack of focus on Alistair when the demon is slain. I left him at the gate to command his men, but there was no cut scene to show him looking at the Tower - and he must have been - when his love sacrifices herself, and no scene showing his reaction upon recovering her body..

So... this is how we get from final battle (Options 3 and 4 above respectively) to the end scene with her funeral.


Disclaimer - Dragon Age: Origins belongs to BioWare and EA Games; it's their sandbox - I'm simply destroying the sandcastles.

Title: Grief

Author: Jade-Max

Genre: Video Game Fan-fic "Missing Moment" if you will

Characters: Alistair / Female Cousland [Elissa]

Grief

Heart heavy, Alistair watched Elissa walk away for what he knew would be the last time.

Stubborn, infuriating woman. She'd refused to take him with her into Denerim - deliberately, he knew. Riordan had recommended all of the Grey Wardens be there just in case one of them fell so that one could make that final blow against the archdemon... but the set of her shoulders showed her determination. If Riordan failed, she would succeed.

And Alistair had no doubt she would.

Everything they'd come through to this moment had been honing her for this. She'd united Ferelden against the Blight when he hadn't thought it possible. Somehow, and having watched her he still didn't understand how, she'd persuaded the Mages to add their strength to hers and then convinced the dwarves and elves to honor old treaties.

This final honor almost seemed destined to be hers.

Almost; except he knew her well enough to know she'd chosen their companions carefully - and which companions would be with her. He'd seen the way her eyes had lingered on him for a single, long heartbeat before deliberately choosing Sten. And, true to form, he'd been unable to leave it be.

"So I'm not going with you; mind if I ask why?"

"You'd be too much of a distraction, Alistair; I can't risk it."

He'd made some witty remark he couldn't remember, something about it being a backwards compliment, and all he'd been able to do was look at her. She knew him; knew that if he went with her, he'd never allow her to take that final blow herself. It would have killed him to watch her die like that - and she knew it.

She knew it; knew him like no one else.

So she'd left him behind, stepping close to caress his cheek one last time, stealing a soft kiss and breaking his heart in that final moment, before walking away.

He hadn't wanted to let her go; her vibrant, charismatic presence pulling him close as it always had, and he'd stopped her with a touch on the wrist. Dragging her back, he'd kissed her properly - one last time - before pulling away and finally let her go with a promise to never forget her. She'd smiled that smile he'd come to cherish - and then she was gone.

On her heels were the companions she's chosen. The qunari had been her last choice, but Sten had stepped up with dignity and poise; a true warrior. Wynne had been a default choice he knew; someone had to keep them healthy with her healing magic. But Zevran... the elf was a strange choice in his books.

The former Crow assassin had stopped for a single second as he passed by Alistair, meeting his gaze and nodded deliberately - making a silent promise to the new King. Their eyes locked, and Alistair understood what Zevran was trying to say: he would watch Elissa's back - Alistair's betrothed - since Alistair couldn't be there to do it himself; a promise Alistair knew would do no good if Elissa took the final blow against the archdemon.

Still, he appreciated the gesture for what it was.

Alistair turned his attention back to the matter at hand as Zevran disappeared after Elissa, Sten and Wynne into the city. Wishing them luck, and praying for the miracle that she'd come back to him alive - that they'd beat the odds one last time - he turned to those left behind. Dog sidled close to him, pressing against his leg with a whine, and he absently reached down to scratch the hound's head. Inexplicably, he felt somewhat better knowing she'd left her beloved hound in his care.

Turning to the Bard, he nodded to the gate. "Check the men, Leliana; set them up for ranged attacks and tell them to pick their targets carefully. Oghren, Dog, Shale; you're with me."

"With it?" Shale sounded nonplussed. "And where exactly will it be?"

Alistair un-shouldered his shield and pulled his sword, heading for the gate. "Right in the middle of it. Elissa and Riordan need time and space to get to the archdemon and they don't need to worry about what's coming in behind them. We'll hold the gate and trust them to do their part."

Leliana stepped close as she turned, reaching out to place on hand on his shoulder. Their eyes locked as she silently conveyed a message of strength and sympathy all at once. She knew, as did they all, that Elissa wasn't likely to survive this battle, but she respected and supported what he was trying to do. Nodding once to her, he didn't watch as the Bard moved to take her position, repositioning the arches among his men for maximum efficiency.

Dog stayed at his side as Alistair moved into the breach, setting himself into place and twirling his blade to loosen his wrist. For Elissa, he told himself as the sounds of the approaching darkspawn reached him. Dog growled, setting himself for a charge, and Alistair smiled grimly as he knocked the visor on his helm down.

The ensuing fight was short and brutal, Alistair throwing himself into the melee with an abandon he hadn't shown before, somehow hoping this would end him - but knowing it would not. Darkspawn hadn't the skill or strength to match him or the friends Elissa had left with him.

Ogres, Emissaries and Alpha's fell before his blade - but he saw none of it.

Securing the gate seemed like a pointless task regardless of what he'd told Leliana; he wanted, needed to be with Elissa at the end- but she hadn't taken him with her. Wave after wave of darkspawn came and wave after wave fell at his feet, corpses so thick about him he moved constantly to gain better position and freedom. Oghren relished the battle, standing on the ever growing stack of corpses to gain height and leverage as he cut a swath to Alistair's right.

Leliana's archers picked their shots carefully, the Bard herself focusing on Alistair's targets, distracting them to give him enough time to close. She knew what he was doing and the way her shots shifted to another target as he entered into range, showed she understood. If they survived this - and he had no doubt they would - he made a mental note to give Leliana whatever she wished as a thank you.

And, just as suddenly as it had begun, the swarm ended. Alistair's sword took the head of the final Emissary from its shoulders, blood spraying him with a cry that was half victory, half defeat, as he turned to look for another enemy - and found none.

Oghren stood on a pile of bodies high enough to make him eye level, swinging his battle axe with a whoop. Shale had returned to the base line, pools of blood under each foot with corpses of darkspawn littering the area about her. Leliana raised her bow to him from the back lines with the rest of the archers, indicating victory.

And Dog?

For a moment he cast about for the hound, his gaze searching the fallen with a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. But only for a moment. The whine and woof of the Mabari hound as he bounded back to his side from deep in the field was a relief.

"We've done it sire, we've beaten them back!"

Cries and huzzahs filled the air even as bile rose in Alistair's throat; he lived still. Cleaning his sword automatically, he wouldn't remember later sheathing it or replacing his shield on his back. He must have said something appropriate for the men continued to cheer even as he moved away from the gates and back into the relative seclusion behind their attentive lines.

Dispatching Leliana to the runner, he turned his attention to the spires of Fort Drakon where Elissa and Riordan would be facing the arch demon soon, if they hadn't already engaged. Dog leaned into him, as if sensing his distress, and he placed one bloodied gauntlet on the hound's blood matted head.

Both of them were waiting for something - damnation, salvation... a miracle like one they'd never before seen.

They hadn't long to wait; sounds of battle filtered in from outside and Alistair saw the archdemon dragon plummet to the tower's top. Riordan's doing no doubt; Elissa he knew, would be on the ground. She was nothing if not thorough, his love, and she'd have dispatched the darkspawn generals without mercy or qualm.

Part of him wished to go after her, but he knew he couldn't; not when he might be needed further here. Torn between duty and love, he watched for long, tense minutes - and was nearly blown off his feet as a massive explosion rocked the tower, the shockwave traveling across the city even as the sky lit with the light of the archdemon's defeat.

A sharp, agonizing pain squeezed his heart, stealing his breath as it nearly drove him to his knees.

ELISSA!

And Alistair prayed as he'd never prayed before, feeling utterly wretched for hoping that it was Riordan who'd struck the final blow and not his Elissa. Much as he didn't want either of the Wardens to die, if Riorden's death meant Elissa's continued existence, he would gladly and willingly sacrifice the older Warden as he'd wished.

Dog let out an uncertain bark, looking up at him with a whine as he shifted back and forth restlessly, but Alistair couldn't tear his eyes away from the tower.

The light finally faded, and the sound of the army cheering beyond the walls could be heard as the darkspawn retreated. It was all background noise, his entire being focused on the drama that would now be playing out on the tower's spires; focused on a single, agonizing question - who had struck the fatal blow?

Silent companions joined him and he was only peripherally aware of Oghren standing stoically by him; of Leliana's presence just behind him, at his shoulder and Shale's unavoidable bulk completing the company.

It was here they waited.

News was brought to the King of the darkspawn's retreat, but Leliana intercepted the messenger, informing him that the King would be informed, but wasn't to be disturbed. Alistair was aware of it somewhere in the back of his mind even as his whole focus was concentrated on that tower top and its now silent spires. If any of their friends had survived...

He couldn't bear the wait. Turning, he looked at the companions Elissa had left in his care and was silently thankful they'd all come through relatively unscathed. Looking from one to the next, he saw the same resolve welling within him staring back. His order, when it came, was a surprise to no one.

"We head for the tower."

Not waiting to see if they would follow, Alistair took off at a run for the city. He didn't care about his station, his crown; he didn't care if the soldiers shouldn't see their King run. His mind was on one thing and one things only; Elissa's fate.

Dog seemed to agree with him wholeheartedly, surging ahead with a bark and taking off at a pace they struggled to meet.

They were turned back several time by broken bridges, but eventually made it to the steps of Fort Drakon. Darkspawn littered every corner they crossed, the hallmark of their friends passing, but as the Fort rose above them, Alistair slowed his steps. Dread suddenly churned in his gut for a reason he couldn't explain as Dog raced forward.

Stepping out into the square, his world and hopes came crashing down.

Riorden's lifeless body lay crumpled on the steps to Fort Drakon, his head turned at an unnatural angle. Lifting his head, Alistair was just in time to see Zevran and Wynne step from the Fort, Sten a half step behind and reverently carrying a lifeless body in his arms.

It was the thing of his nightmares, his worst fears realized.

"No."

Dog surged forward, but Alistair couldn't move. His breathed denial lost in Dog's mournful howl as the Mabari skidded to a stop, suddenly unwilling or unable to move to his mistress. But in that sound, there was no doubting he knew.

Moving as if in a dream, Alistair took one step and then another, only semi-aware that the silence in the square was almost eerie as the echo of Dog's howl died. No one spoke, Sten moving to meet him, his stoic facade unbroken. They met on the steps next to Riordan's body, Sten gently placing Elissa's lifeless corpse next to the other Warden's as Alistair's foot touched the first step - and then could go no further.

"Wynne?" Turning desperate eyes to the mage, he recalled some of the inexplicable feats he'd seen her do. "Isn't there something... can't you..."

"I'm sorry Alistair," she shook her head, tears sliding unabashedly down her cheeks. "There's nothing I can do for her. She made her choice."

"A worthy sacrifice," Sten intoned. "The archdemon is dead."

"And so is she," Alistair snapped at the qunari giant, his eyes blazing. "It should have been me; I should be dead - not her!"

Leliana stepped in. "She wanted it this way, Alistair; she loved you."

"And I didn't love her, is that it?"

Leliana didn't respond, and Zevran broke in to redirect his anger. "No one is saying that, my friend, but this is what is; what must be."

"You!" Lunging at the elf, he gripped him by the tunic and Zevran, much to everyone's surprise, made no move to stop him. "You promised to watch her back - you swore... swore she'd..."

"I did watch her back. We all did; through the horde while eliminating the generals and right up to the end. What would you have had me do, my friend? Make that final blow myself?" Carefully, Zevran placed his hands over Alistair's and broke his grip with surprising ease. "Would that I could have sacrificed myself in her place - but I am no Grey Warden; it could have ended no other way."

"If she'd taken me-"

"If she had taken you, she would not have been the woman you fell in love with, my friend." Zevran reached out and placed one hand on Alistair's shoulder. "She protected those closest to her and knew her duty. This could not have ended another way. You both knew and accepted this."

Zevran's words echoed within him as he stared at the elf, guilt and grief mingling into a lethal combination of self recrimination. Turning away - and Zevran let him go - he left the others as they were and took the last steps to Elissa's corpse. He fell to his knees, reaching out with trembling hands to touch her, unaware of the tears streaking his cheeks.

Dog crowded in on the other side, licking the still face of his mistress with a mournful whine. The rest left him be, retreating a distance to allow him from privacy, but Alistair didn't notice.

"Zev is wrong, sweetheart," his broken whisper didn't reach beyond the ears of the grieving hound. "It didn't have to end this way. I should have done as you asked," brokenly, he pulled her body into his arms and held it tight. Tearing his helmet off, he threw it away without looking, pressing his cheek to her now cool one. "I should have listened to you, my love," he choked out softly, knowing even as he said the words she could no longer hear him. "I should have done the ritual with Morrigan; I could have stopped this... prevented this... I should have known you would never have taken me with you; I shouldn't have let you die!"

He sat on the steps, rocking her lifeless body in his arms, holding onto it tightly. She'd been a Grey Warden and his future Queen, but more than anything she'd been his friend and true love. And now she was gone. Sacrificed as so many had been before; as she hadn't let him be.

"This is my fault, me and my stupid choice; my pride."

Dog nudged him with a soft whine, seeming to disagree.

"You don't understand, mutt," Alistair told him, his voice cracking on the words. "I had the chance to stop this, to make sure it didn't happen - and I didn't take it! I could... I could have made sure... but I... I..."

Burying his face in Elissa's neck, Alistair vented his grief. He'd honor her later, as she deserved, but in this moment he wasn't a King; he wasn't even a Grey Warden - he was a man who'd lost the love of his life. A man whose heart was broken, shattered by their reality and a bleak future without her.

It was long minutes before the other rejoined them, Leliana taking the first steps with Wynne and Zevran at her side. "Alistair." He shuddered as she said his name, but didn't lift his head. It didn't deter the Bard. "The men will be here soon; perhaps this is not the place?"

"If not here then where, Leliana?" Uncaring, he snapped at her, lifting his tear streaked face to hers. "Where? She's gone!"

Wynne and Leliana shared a look before Leliana settled beside him. "Yes; she's gone. And we will all mourn her passing."

"It should have been me!"

"Should it have been?" Zevran inquired quietly. "And leave this land without the King she worked so hard to ensure it had?"

"She loved you, Alistair," Wynne added, gently but firmly. "Loved you enough to want you safe and alive; enough to give Ferelden what it needed most - the end to the Blight and a strong King to rule her."

"I don't want to be King - I just want her!"

"Kadan made her choice," Sten told him, almost contemptuously as he and the others came back into ear shot. "Do not belittle her sacrifice by being unable to accept it for the gift it is."

It was like being slapped.

Alistair choked, looking away as he struggled for control. Sten was right; Leliana was right - they were all right. Elissa had sacrificed herself as befitting her station as a Grey Warden; she'd paid the ultimate price so others would not have to. She'd left him knowing she wouldn't return; just as he'd known no matter how hard he'd prayed for it to be otherwise.

Knowing it, however, didn't make it any easier to accept or any easier on his broken heart.

Finally looking back towards Sten's disapproving gaze, he inclined his head, unmindful of the tears that still marred his cheeks. Wynne beat him to whatever he opened his mouth to say.

"Grieving the loss of a friend and lover is not belittling their sacrifice, Sten; I understand the qunari view death differently, but humans mourn the passing of a loved one - no matter how glorious or honorable that passing is."

"She should be celebrated, not mourned."

"And she will be." All eyes turned back to Alistair at is soft pronouncement. He didn't release Elissa's body as he rose to his feet, cradling it carefully against his chest. "I give you my word, Sten; Eli-" he cleared his throat as the tightness made it impossible to speak. "Elissa's sacrifice will be honored appropriately."

The qunari didn't look as if he believed Alistair, but finally inclined his head. "As it should be."

Striding through their companions, Alistair headed for the remaining bridge that led back into the city and eventually to the army that would be moving towards them. Carrying Elissa's body in his arms, he strode with careful, measured steps back the way he'd come. If his steps were heavy and hard won, none of his companions commented on it; they remained united, brought together by the woman who'd sacrificed so much. Dog walked beside him, Zevran, Leliana and Wynne just behind with the rest behind them.

It wasn't long before the other commanders reached them, stopping almost as one in their tracks, the men in the armies behind them following their example. An unearthly hush settled over the men as the solemn parade came into view.

Alistair didn't stop, simply continued his even, measured stride, his throat closed and unable to utter a sound. The commanders bowed, taking a knee as he passed, and - somehow - Alistair knew this wasn't for him. The men in the army did the same as he came upon them, taking a knee in solemn salute as their King strode from the battlefield with the dead Warden in his arms.

How long they walked, Alistair didn't know. He headed for their camp and the tent that had been set up for him. As they neared, the other companions broke away, heading for their own tents to prepare for the ceremony Alistair would no doubt perform here and now once Elissa's body had been cleaned.

Alistair had just about reached his tent when an agonized, desperate voice drew him around.

"It can't be true - it can't be!"

Standing before him was a Knight wearing the Highever coat of arms, staring at Elissa with an expression of desperate grief.

"The archdemon is dead." Alistair told him shortly, unwilling to let anyone outside Elissa's band of misfits share his grief - it was too raw just yet. "This was the price."

"Elissa..."

Something about the way the man said her name drew Alistair into assessing him more carefully. Something about the man was familiar even though he was certain he'd never seen him before in his life. The eyes; yes, that was it. His eyes looked familiar... and a suspicion grew. "Your name?"

The man didn't even glance his way. "Fergus Cousland, sire - her-"

"-brother."

Fergus lifted his head, his eyes as haunted as Alistair knew his own must be, shadowed by grief and loss. "You know of me?"

"Your sister spoke of you often; she believed you dead at Ostagar," swallowing hard, Alistair shifted his precious bundle. Someone had placed a large slab of granite nearby at a defensive angle to his tent - Shale most likely - and he carefully placed Elissa's body upon it. Smoothing back her hair, he didn't look the other Cousland's way. "She would be relieved to know you've survived."

"I'd heard... I'd hoped to speak with her before the battle but..." Fergus stepped close, finally drawing Alistair's regard once more. "After everything I'd heard she'd done, I thought we'd have time when it was all over."

His throat closing, Alistair smiled sadly, looking back at his beloved. "So did I."

"Is it true, sire? Was she... were you..."

"I loved your sister, Fergus," Alistair informed him without shame. "She would have been a... a spectacular Queen. She won't be forgotten." With that promise, he turned back to her body and carefully began wiping down her armor for the memorial ceremony he knew he needed to do now, or he'd never have the courage to do it.

Elissa's brother hesitated. "Could... could I have a moment - sire?"

Reluctant to relinquish her even to family, Alistair never-the-less waved the man forward and stepped back. He didn't relinquish much of his position though, unable to bear parting from her just yet. Fergus seemed to understand as he took one of his sister's cold hands in his and pressed a kiss to the back of it.

"Dad would have been proud of you, sis. I am."

He said no more, simply stood there with his eyes closed, holding Elissa's hand. After long moments passed, Fergus opened them again, tears sparkling in his eyes as he placed it across her chest. He rubbed his palm over her cold fingers before letting go completely.

"Goodbye, Elissa and... thank you."

Fergus bowed, a gesture Alistair caught from the corner of his eye, and then turned to leave, his whole posture stiff. His stride was that of a man who had born too much grief - and yet bore it still. His sister, the last of his family, now dead like the rest.

Humbled by her brother's dignified goodbye, Alistair moved back to beside her. He tended her body lovingly, wiping away the blood and the gore, relieved to see there were few injuries on her body. Her armor had served her well - both the physical kind and that of their friends. Zevran had told the truth; they'd watched her back.

Grateful for small mercies, her used the time tending her to say his goodbyes. It was as he was finishing her face - the last place he needed to wash, that emotion overcame him once more. She looked to be sleeping, at peace; an expression he'd only before seen in the privacy of her - their - tent. Overcome by the memories, he bowed his head, resting it against hers and closing his eyes against a rush of tears.

"I love you," he told her softly, wishing he'd said it to her before she'd left to face the archdemon His lips brushed softly over hers, the chill of her dead flesh not deterring him in the slightest. He wished... but his pride hadn't let him. "I'll always love you. Wherever you are; wait for me. I'll join you someday."

A warm wind caressed his cheeks and for a brief, ever so brief fraction of a heartbeat, he could feel her again. Her approval; her hope; her faith in him - and her love.

fin