Disclaimer: I own nothing of the Dragon Age universe but my games and strategy guides. This is just me making a mess in the sandbox.
Stumbling around the Wardens camp at Ostagar at night hadn't led Alistair to think he'd run into the one person he'd been trying to avoid since his arrival. With him being who he was and him being well…the King, he hadn't expected it.
Yet here they were blundering up against each other in the dark, him with an apology dying on his lips and all Alistair could think to say was a stammered, "What are you doing here?"
Cailan frowned and it was just downright creepy to be looking at a face so similar to his own. Then the King said bluntly, "Well, I was having a drink. Now I'm having a conversation."
The words were so like something he'd say that Alistair was stunned into silence. He blinked and felt his lips move but there weren't any words to form around them. There had been many times he'd considered what he'd say to his half-brother if they met again after that one failure of a time as children. He'd had the whole thing planned out once.
Now that the moment was here, of course, all the words fled and left him feeling like the fumbling boy who had slept in the stables again.
"I'm surprised I haven't run into you before," he heard Cailan say then and found the King looking oddly at him, his head tilted to the side. Wildly Alistair found himself cataloging the differences between them; dark eyes against blue, reddish blond hair against blond, and the fact that he was taller than his older brother by a handsbreath.
He felt awkward for being taller than the King then and slouched, trying to shrink in on himself. Then he realized Cailan was still staring at him, obviously waiting for an answer, and cleared his throat.
"I…I was avoiding you, Your Majesty."
Alistair's head jerked up in surprise and he found the King still giving him that slightly sideways look, curiosity sitting calmly in those pale eyes. He wondered wildly for a moment what color their father's eyes had been, if either of them had inherited it, before he recalled that both Eamon and Teagan's eyes were blue. Perhaps they were a Guerrin thing then?
Maker, he was bad at focusing!
And Cailan was just standing there, waiting patiently on a response with one eyebrow arched slightly in question.
"Because," began Alistair, fumbling for the right words. He then flung his hands towards his half-brother and exclaimed, "Because you're you! And I'm me! And the rules were that we were never ever ever supposed to meet."
"Well," drawled Cailan with an amused smile, "I think we've already broken that rule." He then shook his head and added, "Of course, I didn't know who you were then. I imagine I didn't make a terribly good impression."
No, you didn't, were the words that wanted to explode from Alistair's mouth but that was rude and this was the King. The fact that they were brothers was something that he'd been told he should forget for as long as he could remember. It had always been Remember, he's a Prince and you're a peasant
Or something to that effect.
Instead he rubbed the back of his neck and said, "You weren't, ah, that bad. Your Majesty." Then he jumped as the King laughed, a boisterous, boyish sound and he stared like a frightened mouse.
Cailan just shook his head and said, "I know full well I was a terrible child. And we're…" He paused and looked away and now Alistair could see his uncertainty about this whole little meeting. "Well…we're allowed to speak the truth to each other, aren't we?"
"Are we?" asked Alistair warily, unsure, and Cailan frowned.
"I should like to think we might be, in a place like this." The King gestured around them at the ruins as he continued, "In the dark of the night, waiting for the start of a battle that could be the end for both of us…is it not the perfect time for brothers to be honest with each other?"
The words struck Alistair dumb even as the acknowledgment of their connection made his whole body feel feather light. Then the words death for both of us hit and he quietly said, "You told Duncan this would be a glorious battle. That's what Karre said. Your Majesty."
Confusion filled Cailan's eyes then cleared away. "Ah, the new Warden. Cousland. Yes, I did say that." He then shook his head and waved Alistair towards a nearby fallen column, seating himself on it and gesturing for the Warden to do the same. As he gingerly took the offer, the King said wearily, "Put aside your duties with me for the night. Speak…speak as a younger brother would."
Alistair blinked then breathed, "I…I don't know how, You –" He closed his teeth over the rest of the title and grounded out, "Cailan." The King's name felt odd on his tongue yet…right.
"And I have no idea how to be an elder one, Alistair. We can try though."
"I – yes." Idly he wondered where this was going even as deep down Alistair felt warmth blossom inside his chest. Talking with the Wardens, with Duncan was one shade of family…but this. This was his brother. This was…this was so much more and Maker yes he wanted to try if this was the one chance they had.
Cailan nodded then bowed his head as he began to speak.
"I am not as simple as many would make me out to be. Even Anora thinks it of me and I allow it. It's…easier…to not have people expect that much of me. Easier to let them think I'm a child…but I think you know that as well."
Alistair blinked then nodded slowly before saying, "So you don't want all the glory."
"Just most of it," answered Cailan with an easy smile that the younger man returned as he caught it for the joke it was. "That doesn't mean that I'm unaware of the danger, of course. But who doesn't want to be the hero of the story?"
Me, thought Alistair and shrugged instead of answering.
Cailan fell quiet then and they just stared at each other until the older man smiled and shook his head. "Y'know," he began, "after I learned who really you were, I asked Father if you could come live with us. By then…you were in the Chantry and he said that was that." He frowned, blond hair falling across his face as he bowed his head. "I think he wanted you to though."
"What's done is done," said Alistair hollowly, suddenly feeling entirely worn out by the admission. He hadn't wanted to know that, to know that Maric had wanted him. It made…Maker, it made everything all that worse. He then shook himself and shrugged before saying, "We're here now, at least."
Cailan lifted his head and smiled.
"That we are, little brother, that we are."
They drifted away from topics that involved their respective roles after that, relaxing around each other like old friends. Cailan told stories about their father and Alistair found himself listening with the fervor of a drowning man, taking in every word he could. He also regaled him with childhood mishaps and pranks that had both men laughing and brought up some of Alistair's own stories. When his brother asked, he told of what it was like growing up in Redcliffe as well as how Isolde had thought he was Eamon's son. Cailan had laughed at the thought and then asked him about the Chantry, listening intently as the young Theirin told of how alone he'd felt there as well as some details about his training.
By the time they realized how long they'd been talking, the sun was rising over the ruins and Cailan rose to stretch with a groan that accompanied the popping of his back. He then smiled in amusement before saying, "I'm sure my guard is in a fit wondering where I've been all night. They've probably told Loghain by now, I imagine."
Alistair almost asked if he'd get in trouble as he stood on half-asleep legs but then remembered who he was talking to. That he had forgotten…shocked him.
"I suppose," he started warily, "this is it then."
"What?" asked Cailan good-naturedly. "Goodbye? For now, maybe."
Blinking in surprise, hope welling in his throat that he might not lose the brother he'd found in the King, Alistair repeated, "For now?"
The King shrugged and grinned at him. "I'm sure we could find some reason for a Warden to visit a King." He then looked thoughtfully at the sleeping camp around then and asked, "You'd die with them, wouldn't you? If the battle called for it?"
"Yes." Alistair was surprised by the swiftness of his own answer but it was true. The Wardens were the first real family he'd had. He then frowned as Cailan turned away and asked, "Why?"
"Would you stay out of the battle if I asked?"
That question started a snarl in the younger man's chest, like his abilities were being questioned, but he shoved it away. Instead he asked softly, "Would you?" since he knew – knew painfully well from their talk – that his brother would insist on being on the front lines.
"No," answered Cailan honestly and Alistair can see him thinking practically and he knows what's going on his head. Knows that he's not going to end up fighting with the other Wardens, that he'll get pushed off somewhere to the side, somewhere safe, because that's –
Maker, that's what big brothers do, isn't it?
Alistair bit down a snarl then breathed, "Don't ask that of me. Not unless you're willing to do the same, Cailan."
Whatever he was going to say was cut off by a shout of Your Majesty! And Where is the King? and Cailan sighed. Turning around, he reached for Alistair's shoulders and gripped them tightly, looking up the slight distance between them with a smile.
"And if I asked you to do something important, little brother, would that make it any better?"
Alistair flicked his eyes towards where he could see the royal guards milling in panic, waking Wardens left and right, but his brother isn't moving yet. For the moment they're still brothers and not King and Warden.
Dark eyes locked with blue and he answered, "I wouldn't like it but…for you…yes."
Cailan smiled brightly at that and his fingers squeezed tightly before he let go, stepping away. His whole stature changed then and Alistair had to shake his head a little as he comprehended the stark difference between brother and King.
"What is it the Wardens say?" mused Cailan and he could tell that the older man was stalling for more time. "In war, victory. In peace –"
"Vigilance. In death, sacrifice," finished Alistair, suddenly feeling cold. "Cailan…"
Cailan lifted a hand to cut him off, smiled sadly, and then left. Just like that, Alistair was alone again, surrounded by only his fellow Wardens as he listened to the guards greet their King.
After a moment of standing, he sank back down onto the broken column and ran his hands through his hair in frustration. Then he looked up at the sound of nearby footsteps, almost afraid that he and Cailan had been caught, that someone knew, then relaxed as the slim form of Karre Cousland appeared from behind a nearby tent.
Well…he relaxed until he noticed the harried look in her green eyes and that the long dark hair he'd been unable to stop staring at upon her arrival yesterday had been hacked off below her ears.
"There you are!" she snarled, rushing towards him and seizing his wrist in a bruising grip. "C'mon, Templar, Duncan wants us. And you're not even in armor!"
"I'm not a Templar," whined Alistair even though she ignored him and continued dragging him back towards his tent, muttering under her breath the whole way. He then saw Cailan leaving the Warden camp, heading back towards his own tent, and sighed. Then he squared his shoulders and despite staying up all night moved to keep up with the fast moving Cousland rouge, who noticed his change of pace and let go of his wrist. She then waited impatiently outside his tent as he dressed, foot tapping incessantly and snarling under her breath.
Alistair huffed out a breath then stepped out of his tent as he slung the strap of his shield over one shoulder and sheathed his sword. Karre flashed him a cold look then they were off to find Duncan and face whatever the day would bring.
And he knew, with a sickening lurch in his gut as they passed the King's tent and he saw a blond head turn towards him, that Cailan was going to keep him out of the battle.
Then he remembered that it would be something important and Alistair couldn't help but smile, completely ignoring Karre's annoyed growl of What is so amusing? that was echoed by her Mabari.
Cailan was back to being King and he was a Warden again…but it wouldn't be King asking Warden to do something important today.
It would be brother asking brother and that…well, that was kind of okay.