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

Title: Howe's Death

Author: Jade-Max

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

Characters: Alistair / Female Cousland [Elissa]

Author's Note: So yeah, how come there's... nothing between when your character kills Howe and jumps right back into the story? Shouldn't the other characters be asking about them, checking up to see how you are the next time you talk to them? Shouldn't someone be there to comfort you as you've been comforting them through the whole blasted story line?

I mean, getting revenge is all great, but killing Howe was one of those moments where I went "HELL YEAH! DIE BASTARD!" - and that was me, not my character. I was disappointed by the lack of an 'afterwards' - so here's a 'missing moment' if you will between Elissa and Alistair.

Oh, and I found a video of the "Mod" that adds a scene similar to this to the game [after I wrote this; go figure] - I was so delighted while watching it; it's very well done!

I used the default human female character name [Elissa] for the purpose of this fic.


Howe's Death

Elissa Cousland, last of the Couslands.

The mantle had fallen heavily across her shoulders with the defeat at Ostagar and the knowledge that her brother Fergus had been massacred with the rest of the army. With that family mantle went the responsibilities, including the avenging of her sister-in-law and nephew's murders.

And so she'd taken it; killed Howe as he deserved, slitting his throat without a single inch of mercy, all the while seeing her brother's wife and son in her mind's eye; seeing Fergus himself; seeing her parents. Howe's death should have brought closure, relief - yet, all she felt was numb.

Zevran, Morrigan and Wynne had been privy to those moments with Howe, but they remained silent for the most part on their journey through Denerim, not one of them daring to intrude upon her solitude. Morrigan's reluctance to broach the topic seemed... out of character, but Elissa knew the shape shifter well enough to know she was only biding her time for the right moment. The moment where her comments would strike the truest.

Keeping her stoic facade in place, she entered Arl Eamon's estate with barely a nod to the guard, leaving her companions to find their own pleasures as she went straight to the study where she knew she'd find both the Arl and Alistair.

She made her report, not once looking in Alistair's direction after a brief, impersonal nod of greeting - a greeting she knew he preferred in this environment - and concentrated on the Arl. Having delivered the news that Howe was now dead without so much of an ounce of emotion, she bade the Arl and Alistair good day.

Her gaze lingered on the latter; if they'd been at camp, she'd have asked Alistair to hold her, to make her forget - to make her feel - their audience be damned. But here, under such intense scrutiny and protocol, he'd never agree. Camp wasn't an option; they were stuck at the Arl's estate. Numb, she spun stiffly on her heel, heading for her chambers.

Before she'd left the study, she was already tugging at the laces to her armor; she wanted a hot bath and a good night's sleep - and to forget that today had ever happened. On her way to her chambers, she stopped the Elf lass she'd chatted briefly with on several occasions - a maid - with the wave of one hand.

"My lady?"

"Can you have hot water and the tub brought to my room?"

"It's on the go already, my lady; the moment you stepped into the estate in fact."

Meaning she looked a fright. Managing a faint smile, she nodded to the servant. "My thanks. And.."

"Yes, my lady?"

"I'd like not to be disturbed until morning; can you arrange it?"

"Of course, my lady."

Stepping into her room, Elissa closed the door behind her, leaning against it as she closed her eyes and tilted her head skywards.

Father, Howe has paid for his treachery. But if this is justice, why do I feel so empty?

No answer was forthcoming. Moving away from the door, she headed for the fire place, glad the servants had already lit the fire, and started to extend her hand to lean against the mantle only to stop. Her gauntlet was covered in drying blood; Howe's blood.

Her eyes glued on the gauntlet, she lifted it higher, feeling the emptiness inside her start to wither and die, the hollow ache expanding, the void of who she'd once been opening. A sob stuck in her throat as all the rage, regrets and pain threatened to drag her down, making a mockery of all she'd accomplished, of-

Strong arms enfolded her in an embrace from behind, familiar lips pressing wordlessly against the column of her neck as she was drawn back against a familiar, muscular chest. The instant awareness that engulfed her meant it could only be one person.

Alistair.

She hadn't heard the door open.

Tears stung her eyes as his presence banished the darkness and she sagged against him, taking much needed comfort in his touch. He caught her close, pressing his lips into the fall of her hair just above her ear, his arms bands of security she'd been too long without. She'd wanted, needed to be held - and he'd come to her. He'd known.

Her gauntlets caught her gaze as she lifted her hands to cover his - and she stopped, stricken. How could she touch someone as pure and good as he when her hands were covered in the blood of a murderer? The blood of a man who'd needed killing - but whose death had shown her that her own motivations were questionable; she'd believed she'd sought justice and extracted vengeance.

"How can you touch me?"

Alistair shifted his head at her broken query, but didn't break the contact. "How can I not? I look at you and all I can see is pain - and it kills me."

"I'm no better than he is, Alistair," the words came out on a shuddered breath as she struggled to straighten, to shift from his embrace without tainting him the same way she'd been tainted - but he didn't let her go. "This wasn't justice; this wasn't... wasn't sacrificing for the greater good... it wasn't..."

"Shh," he tightened his embrace. "Not everything is about being a Grey Warden, my love."

"Isn't it?"

"No. Howe has done your family a gross injustice; it's not wrong to want to set that straight."

"Yes it is." Tears finally slipped down her cheeks, but she made no move to brush them aside, loathe to touch her own bare skin with her tainted gloves. "It's petty. And selfish. And... and everything I've told all of you not to be. I shouldn't have killed him the way I did, I shouldn't-"

The sob that tore loose from her throat drew Alistair impossibly nearer, his whole body braced at her back, enfolding, cradling hers in the standing embrace as she hung her head shamefully, unable to stop the tears or brush them away. So Alistair did it for her, holding her through the worst of the storm - though she wouldn't let him turn her around - and then lifted his hand from his shoulder to brush away her tears when it subsided.

"It wasn't wrong to want justice for your family, Elissa."

His words spurred her, and she practically tumbled from his embrace, spinning to face him with an anguished cry. "Justice, Alistair?" Holding up her hands, she knew he'd see the blood; blood spattered her almost completely, but her gloves and gauntlets had touched Howe, held him as he bled - encouraged him to bleed out. "How is this justice? My family is dead; murdered! Justice would have been taking him to the magistrate; Justice would have been having him tried for his crimes; Justice would have been seeing him branded the traitor he was!"

Alistair watched her silently, no less imposing without his armor and she found herself thinking abstractedly that it was his eyes, always his eyes. For a man who played the fool, the shrewd shine of intelligence he often hid proved he wasn't one.

"What I did... I betrayed everything I've worked so hard to do until now," her confession was raw, torn from a place she hadn't known existed. "Everything I've said, everything I've done; the example I've tried to set - it means nothing-"

Alistair stepped in, grasping her hands - bloodied gauntlets and all - and refused to relinquish them as she struggled against his hold. "Not nothing," his words were as fierce as his expression. "It simply means that you're as human as the rest of us; as fallible."

"I shouldn't be; I can't be."

She continued to twist her hands, trying to free them, and Alistair let one go, keeping the other firmly in his grasp even as she tried to pry it loose. He turned her wrist up, exposing the laces of the bracers as he responded. "Why not?"

"Because... because I'm tying to unite Ferelden to fight a Blight and if I'm fallible... if I can't... What are you doing?"

Pulling a dagger from his belt, Alistair cut the laces on her bracers and peeled it off with her glove, tossing the ruined leathers into the fire. Well aware she wasn't very attached to these particular pieces, he had no qualms about being the one to do the ruining. He didn't answer her question though.

"Give me your other hand."

She did so reluctantly, watching him, and it received the same treatment. Pulling a cloth from his belt, he wiped down the dagger before sheathing it - ever the contentious warrior - and then rubbed the stain from his fingers... and hers. Enfolding her hands in the cloth, he began gently rubbing the last smatterings of Howe's blood from her skin.

"We're all fallible, Elissa," he told her softly, drawing her closer with his low pitched words. "All of us; even Wynne. It's those flaws that make us who we are, that allow others to compliment our strengths - it's those flaws that let us connect with one another."

"Or destroy them; how can you defend me? I've done nothing but advocate justice and when the chance presented itself, I chose vengeance! I chose it, Alistair; I wanted to make him pay, to ensure he knew he'd been bested by a Cousland!"

"I see that as justice."

"How can you?" The fight drained out of her unexpectedly, her words losing almost all of their punch and dropping to a whisper. "How can anyone? I murdered him just as he murdered my family."

"Murder implies he was helpless or an innocent, Elissa. Wynne would never have let you kill either one."

"You're not usually so eloquent."

"Enjoy it while it lasts; I don't see it becoming a habit." The humor was ill placed and fell flat, but Alistair forged ahead. "Howe ambushed and murdered your family; you gave him a chance to fight back."

"Did I?"

"You're nothing like he is - nothing! You'd never do any of the atrocities he's been tied to; if you can't accept that killing him was justice for your family, then think of it as justice for the other multitude of innocents he's harmed. Thanks to you, he can't hurt them anymore."

Lifting her tortured gaze from the soft cloth that separated her skin from his, she finally met his gaze, "I wish you'd been there; I wish I'd taken you with me."

"Zev was the better choice for a stealthy infiltration mission; I clank in full gear." She wasn't about to deny the obvious and his comment earned him a ghost of a smile. "Though I think Leliana might have been a better choice than Morrigan."

"You'd think an acorn is a better choice than Morrigan."

"If it spares me her acidic company?" Alistair's smile faded and he drew her closer, removing the cloth from her hands and tucking it back into his belt. Lifting them for her to see, he watched as she silently took in the soft glow of health under her alabaster exterior - and their lack of blood speckles. "There, clean slate."

"Just because you washed it away, doesn't mean I'm untainted." The look he gave her made her flush. "You know what I mean. I feel... dirty, Alistair; like killing Howe means I'll never be clean again."

"Guilt." He said it with a shake of his head. "After all he's done... he's not worth feeling guilty over."

"After all I've done, how can I not?" She shuttered as his fingers caressed her wrists, conveying comfort she so desperately needed. "He's my failure; my Goldanna."

"You helped me get past that, Elissa. You were there for me when I needed you most; let me be here for you."

Looking at him, really looking at him, she conceded with a shuddered exhale and a nod. Shifting her hands, she slid them along his, and bent her fingers around his, tears swimming in her eyes once more. Alistair drew her forward, into his embrace, and she didn't resist. Eyes closed, she wrapped her arms about his waist, drawing on his strength to bolster her own. Tilting her head, she tucked her nose his chin as he held her tightly about the shoulders, her whole body clinging to his acceptance as she fought for some of her own.

A moment later a knock came at the door and they turned to the intrusion as the elf girl she'd dispatched for water stepped in - and froze. "Oh! forgive me, I-"

"It's okay," Elissa motioned them in. "Is that my water?"

The Elf bobbed a curtsey and an efficient line of servants rotated through her room, dumping bucket after bucket of hot water into the tub near the changing screen. Three buckets were left beside the tub; one of cold water to help adjust the temperature to her taste and two of hot for rinsing. The Elf shooed the other servants away, bobbed another curtsey, and left, closing the door tightly behind her.

"A bath?"

"To ease a weary mind and body."

"Don't forget heart and soul."

"Never." Looking up at him from the confines of his arms, she searched his gaze and finally shook her head, a genuine smile - small though it was - finding its way onto her lips. "But... they're already in excellent hands."

fin