Author's Notes: Hi everybody! This story was inspired by a desire to explore the relationship between M!Cousland and Alistair. I think it has a lot of potential, seeing as both of them have royal blood-though in this particular instance, that relates very little to the story. This is just a hurt/comfort fic. I remember when doing the Human Noble origin for the first time just how heart-wrenching the whole thing was. I imagine something like that would stick with you for years, maybe even the majority of your life, and thus, this fic was born. I had originally gone into it with the intent of making it romantic, however as the story unfolded it ended up being slightly more platonic. I actually like it better that way, so let me know what you think. :)

As an FYI, there is no real time frame aside from between discovering the Urns of Sacred Ashes and the landsmeet. Picture it wherever you will!

Aedan Cousland has a recurring nightmare—a nightmare that strangles his heart with chilling fear each and every night.

In it, he sees his mother, lying there beside his bloodied father, urging him to go with Duncan—urging him to leave his family behind in the hopes of saving it. He sees in vivid detail the destruction of the castle he called home for the entirety of his life, with two-story high flames scorching and engulfing everything in their path. He yells so much that his voice goes hoarse, disappearing nearly altogether.

But above all, the last thing is the feeling—the feeling of his life being violently torn to pieces by betrayal. He is no longer a boy. Through the hardship and loss of his family, he has been thrust into adulthood.

Aedan wakes up from this nightmare in a cold sweat, shouting—he shouts every time, even despite his many attempts to control himself. These yells rouse his companions, though most now do not bother to check on him.

All but one, that is.

His check-ins started some time ago, shortly after they discovered the Urn of the Sacred Ashes. It was there, in the Frostback Mountains, that Aedan finally told Alistair, his fellow Grey Warden, his whole story. How he had been talking to his brother, Fergus, in the afternoon and that following early morning, fighting for his very own life. How his mother had fought valiantly beside him, all the way to his father, whose dying wish was to see him survive. How Duncan had taken him away to safety at the sacrifice of their lives.

He remembers Alistair's comment: "Yes, well, being the Chantry's bitch pales in comparison, now, doesn't it?"

Aedan knows the check-ins likely started because he also confided in Alistair how he had seen his father's spirit in the Gauntlet, and how his father had told him to absorb the pain and move on. But how could he move on? He was barely twenty years old—and at the tender age of nineteen, had helplessly run away as his family was decimated. He fears being alone, fears the heavy weight that lies on his shoulders not only as a Grey Warden, but as a Cousland.

He sighs. His heart is racing in his chest and along his brow sweat has beaded up. He wipes it away with his hand, which he then wipes on his blanket.

Like clockwork, Alistair arrives outside his tent just a few moments later and peeks his head in. Dark circles hang under his tired eyes. His voice is gruff.

"All right?"

Aedan rubs his face with his hands. He says nothing, but he doesn't have to. An unspoken agreement was born between them the night Aedan bared his soul, and Alistair has kept it ever since. The blond warrior slips inside the tent and crawls beside him. He beats Aedan's pillow a few times to fluff it up, then lies down.

"Come on, then," he says to the other warrior. "Lie down."

What was once strange has now become commonplace. Aedan, despite the whispered suspicions of his other companions, finds no romantic gesture in Alistair's company, only comfort. Friendship.

As Aedan closes his eyes, he hears Alistair already beginning to snore. Just his presence alone is enough to soothe him and help ease his fear of being alone. For a moment, he can rest assured knowing that he doesn't have to bear the weight of the world by himself. He has his best friend at his side, ready and willing to help in whatever way possible. And that means the world to him.

To Aedan, Alistair may not be blood, but he's family.