Author's Note: This is the ending Cailan deserves. The title comes from the Linkin Park song of the same name. I heard it and realized just how much the lyrics apply to Cailan: "Somehow I got caught up in between my pride and my promise; between my lies and how the truth gets in the way. The things I want to say to you get lost before they come." This whole tale has been about Cailan being caught in between his pride and his promises, and between the lies and his search for the truth. He's come a very long way since the spry 14-year-old prince who snuck into the Mabari kennel, and it has been very enlightening working with him.
I've chosen to post this epilogue today, because it marks two weeks until the start of NaNoWriMo, during which I will write my AU fic that has a... well, not happy, but less dead ending for Cailan. I want to thank EVERYONE who took the time to read and review and follow Cailan as he grew up, and supported me in my writing. The support means so much and I definitely value the fact you took your time to read and review. I can't thank you enough. And now, the conclusion to Sneaking...
Epilogue: In Between
It was the palace throne room, but faded, like a painting that had had the color leeched out of it by too much sunlight. Hazy half-light slanted through the high windows, and yet nothing cast a shadow. The light passed through it as if the building itself were little more than a ghost. And yet the dais he sat on felt solid enough.
"It is the Fade, brother," said the man sitting next to him, and he jumped. The man hadn't been there a moment before, but sat on the steps as casual and relaxed as if he'd been there right along. "Don't over think it. You'll only end up confused. I know I was."
The man wore his flaxen hair about his shoulders and was dressed in a loose, cream-colored linen shirt and soft spun tan breeches. He was barefoot. "I never liked the golden armor, you know," he said, taking in his own appearance. "It looked fabulous, but it was hideously clunky." He looked over. "I think it fits you better, Alistair."
Alistair expected the usual warmth of a blush in his cheeks, embarrassed by Cailan's compliment. But there was nothing. Ah, right. Fade. He quickly glanced down to make certain he was wearing more than his smallclothes. When his dreams dipped into his insecurities about his reign as king, he tended to be dressed in the bare minimum, if in anything at all. He exhaled in relief, because he was dressed much the same as his dead older brother. Wait.
"You're dead," Alistair said slowly, hoping he didn't offend the ex-king.
"And I was given proper funeral rites," Cailan added with his characteristic grin. "But this is the Fade, Alistair. Just go with it."
"The way you went with it at Ostagar?" Alistair asked, figuring he couldn't offend the dead too badly. He regretted the words when he saw Cailan's sunny face fall, and felt the light in the room dim, but they were words he'd been thinking since the day he'd stood before the Landsmeet and had been declared King of Ferelden. And had been utterly terrified by the prospect.
"You resent me for that," Cailan said, and when he smiled at Alistair's embarrassed surprise, it was a sad smile. His blue eyes, normally so bright and confident, were as dull as the room in which they sat. "I made a mistake," he said after a moment of silence so complete it nearly deafened Alistair. Cailan leaned back against the steps and stared at the ceiling, his hair brushing the ground. "But I wasn't afraid," he added. "I knew as soon as I saw the horde that it was a mistake, but by then we were committed."
"You were too caught up in glory to retreat," Alistair accused.
"Maybe," Cailan said, the admission catching Alistair off guard. "I suppose I was foolish to trust a relative fraction of Grey Wardens. I suppose I should have waited for Uncle Eamon's forces. And I should have listened to Loghain," he said. He glanced over at his younger brother. "But if I'd done any of that, you wouldn't be king, now. And we'd never be here."
"Of course we wouldn't. You'd be alive."
Cailan shook his head. "No, I mean here. In the palace, together, as brothers."
Alistair leaned back on his elbows, mimicking Cailan's pose. "Could we ever have been brothers? I mean, really? Would you have wanted the competition for your throne?"
"I never saw you as competition, and not because you were another heir," Cailan said, sliding closer to Alistair and tactfully avoiding use of the word 'bastard'. "Those times I met you when you were young there were things that needed to be said and should have been said, but I couldn't. I used to blame it on the obligations of nobility," he said with a snort that Alistair couldn't help but find funny. "Now, I think I was afraid."
Alistair raised his eyebrows. "My fearless, glory-blinded older brother, afraid?"
Cailan nodded with a slight smile on his face, but his pale eyes sad. "First I was afraid of our father. When I was pretty certain you and I were related I called him out on it and we had a colossal row." His smile grew at the memory, though his eyes still looked haunted. "He said he'd never expected things with you to go the way they did, and by the time everything had happened it was too late to change what had been set in motion."
"You mean I got shipped off to the Chantry."
"Yes. He died not long after he and I fought; I thanked the Maker every day I'd swallowed my pride and apologized for that." Cailan drew himself upright and hugged his knees to his chest as if he were a small child, and not the perpetual twenty-something young man. "Loghain pushed for the marriage to Anora shortly after the coronation, and then I was afraid of them. Can you imagine, afraid of my own wife?"
Alistair grinned in spite of himself. "That, Cailan, I can imagine," he said. "Fianna is lovely, but Andraste's arse, she killed an Archdemon!"
The brothers' laughter echoed through the Fade-palace. "I once tried to tell Anora about you," Cailan confided, and his glance over at his younger brother was almost shy. "I thought the truth would set me free. All it did was make her accuse the crown prince of treason." He sighed. "I think the way I handled the whole business was just the first in a long line of mistakes I made as king."
"You were a good man who hoped for too much and died too young," Alistair said, reaching over to clap his dead brother's shoulder. "You have… had so much potential, if only you hadn't died when you did."
Cailan reached up and patted Alistair's hand. "That means a lot, coming from you." He took in Alistair's confused expression. "I'm sure everyone remembers me as the foolhardy child king playing at war," he said with a sigh. "Not that any of that matters here." He gestured around the colorless palace.
"No, not everyone," Alistair said. "You did what you thought you had to do. You made a mistake, but you stood your ground, faced it, and paid for it with your life. That's the least foolish thing I can think of." He looked away. "That's why I had to go back to Ostagar. And why I had to give you rites. It was the right thing to do."
"And for that, I thank you," Cailan said. He rose to his feet and stretched, the loose sleeves of his shirt billowing in an unseen, unfelt breeze, and his long hair settling on his shoulders and glancing in the sun like strands of restless gossamers. "I'm glad we had this talk, brother."
"As am I… brother."
"I wish we'd been able to know one another better in life," Cailan said wistfully, searching Alistair's face. "I think we would have liked being brothers."
Alistair tried to quell the lump in his throat. He stood, realizing he was taller than his older brother, and then slouched, which made Cailan chuckle. "I think so, too," Alistair confessed.
The light in the room was growing brighter, and Cailan reveled in it, shining like a sunbeam. Some color seeped back into his face and his eyes were piercingly bright, sky blue. "Alistair," he said, his voice sounding as if it were coming from far away. "Father would be proud of you. I think he always was. I know I was, even if I could never show it."
Alistair watched the Fade evaporate into a mist around him. "Cailan!" he called. His brother's form wavered and remained before him, though it was fuzzy. "Why did you come back?"
"To tell you what you needed to hear," Cailan said, voice echoing more in Alistair's mind than in his ears.
His brother's form dissipated, yet Alistair still had to know for certain. "How did you come back across the Veil?" he yelled.
Cailan's ghostly voice was a whisper that Alistair knew would have been said with a smirk.