A/N: Secret swooper gift for Tasmen, originally posted at the swooping_is_bad livejournal community. Thanks to cjk1701 for inspiration and being a very patient beta.
The fire was dying slowly.
From his chair Loghain listened wearily to the occasional pops and crackles, a low thread of noise running under the sound of Maric's voice that sparked now and again as if to punctuate his words. On a more typical night Loghain would have had much more to say, but the journey from Gwaren had been particularly trying this time around. It was a relief to know the return trip was nearly a season away, after the impending wedding, after all loose ends had been thoroughly tied up. Loghain nodded in the right places, nursing a cup of wine as the evening settled into night, listening to Maric describe new difficulties tracking the whereabouts of the Dalish, the rising price of salt, a dozen new tangles that would need teased loose and resolved.
Tomorrow. It could all wait until tomorrow. For now, he was required only to listen, and he did so assiduously until Maric emptied himself in the course of the mostly one-sided conversation. At the end the flow of words slowed to a trickle and stopped, and the silence that followed was eminently comfortable. It was the kind of silence one could relax into like a warm bath: all emergencies at bay, all tasks lined up like obedient dogs to be taken care of later, the company as familiar as his own skin.
More so, in some ways.
When Loghain reached for the bottle again, Maric was lost in thought, his gaze fixed on some point midway between wall and ceiling, staring blindly. "Something troubling you?" asked Loghain. Nothing in the previous hour's conversation had been particularly alarming, certainly nothing urgent.
If there had been, there wouldn't have followed another hour of sitting around in indolence.
Maric's gaze didn't shift. "Did you ever think things would work out this way?"
Loghain snorted. "Given that Cailan and Anora's wedding has been a foregone conclusion for more than twenty years, yes, I believe I have."
"I don't mean that." Maric roused himself slightly. "If you had told me thirty years ago that we'd end up like this. That Ferelden would be secure. That your child and mine stood ready to take the throne. That you would be sitting right there—"
"I wouldn't have told you that," Loghain reminded him, puzzled at the odd turn of mood. "And Cailan and Anora haven't married yet, in case you've failed to notice. I would see that through to the end before I started assuming all my troubles were over, if I was you."
"No." Maric ran a hand over his face, and looked five years older than he had five minutes before. "I know." He was quiet a moment. "I've lived longer than I expected to. It feels strange to realize it."
Loghain looked at him sharply.
"It's a good thing," Maric said quickly, waving off the impending question. "Don't think I'm complaining."
"You, complain?" But the relaxation of before had vanished, leaving an unsettled tension in its wake Loghain didn't care for at all.
The smile that stole across Maric's face was small but genuine. "Don't tell me you haven't thought of it. This is what we hoped for, isn't it? Peace. Security."
"It was more fighting than hoping, as I recall."
Maric acknowledged this with a slight nod.
"You're not getting maudlin in your old age, are you?" Loghain demanded.
Maric's eyes widened, the hit landing as Loghain had intended. "Old age?" Maric gave a short laugh, the melancholy dissipating like so much fog. "No. Maybe," he corrected, still pensive. "It's an odd feeling, to look on everything that's been accomplished. Like standing at the very top of a mountain and wondering where it is I'm supposed to go to keep climbing."
"Get a ladder," Loghain suggested.
"And climb into thin air?" asked Maric, giving the idea more consideration than it warranted. "No thanks. I'm happy enough here with my feet on the ground."
Maric's smile was faint. "I'm not dead and you're still beside me; what more could I possibly want?"
Loghain snorted and let Maric snatch the bottle away, uncertain whether the empty bravado or thoughtful melancholy suited him more poorly.
.. .. ..
A few hours and several cups later little had changed. Maric's mood had sharpened, if anything, to a raw, unfocused force that didn't abate when Loghain refused to listen to any more and tried to help him to bed.
"Come with me," Maric urged, standing in the open doorway to his chambers. His fingers hooked in Loghain's shirt like little steel traps, his mouth close enough that his breath puffed warm across Loghain's cheek. "Stay."
"You're drunk," Loghain reminded him tiredly. It was a fatigue that had little to do with the wine. Maric never questioned whether he could ask, or should ask, he simply asked.
"So are you. You think I don't know what I'm doing?" Maric accused, and tried on a smile that didn't seem to fit. "I don't know when you set yourself up as guardian of my virtue—"
"Go sleep this off," Loghain interrupted, trying to unhook himself without much success. It was difficult enough to keep his own rebellious wants walled safely away without Maric taking a pickaxe to his resolve…
"I won't," Maric said. "I couldn't."
Loghain sighed, and wished Maric would shut up.
"It isn't like I'm going to change my mind in the morning," Maric went on, his voice rough. "I wanted you yesterday. I'm going to want you tomorrow. And I want you very much right now," Maric said, tugging him closer for emphasis as though it was Loghain being dense about it. "You think this is the sort of thing that goes away?"
Maric's mouth was set. The corridor was empty and the room beyond dark and private, free of accidental onlookers and old ghosts alike, and with wine thrumming warm through his veins and Maric's expectant glower sapping his reluctance, Loghain wet his lips and surrendered. "Then why are you still talking?"
Maric tried twice to kick the door closed behind them; in the end Loghain had to throw the lock himself. In the absence of light and sobriety the mutual stagger toward the bed was difficult and seemed very long, complicated, no doubt, by the greedy seeking of Maric's hands trying to clutch every part of him at once.
When they finally toppled into bed Loghain's head kept tilting as though he was still falling, and through the haze of wine and desire he tried to grab hold of Maric, who'd gone somewhere in the dark. Loghain could feel him nearby but not see him, his breathing was close and quick, but—
Maric's hands yanked at the fastenings of Loghain's trousers, impatient. "You have to—" Loghain began.
They came undone and it was all going too fast; Maric's hands were on his skin and everything else seemed to shrink in importance. "Loghain, shut up," Maric said with a laugh, and then was on him, hot-mouthed and fervent, and Loghain forgot how to think.
.. .. ..
The next morning found Loghain gritty-eyed and dull-witted, blinking slowly against the thin light. In sleep, Maric's bare arm was slung around him, a dead-weight reminder of the previous night's foolishness. Loghain pushed it off with a grimace, sitting up and regretting it when his headache worsened at the motion.
Maric's groggily mumbled protest didn't help, either. "Go back to sleep."
But sleep was the furthest thing from Loghain's mind, now. He rubbed his temples, willing the headache to subside.
Loghain grimaced. "That wasn't exactly how I'd expected to be welcomed back to Denerim."
"Didn't you hear?" Maric's mouth curled into a grin, eyes slitted open. "That's how I welcome everyone these days. You should see how many more visitors—" Loghain glared at him and Maric smothered his smile in the linens. "Loghain. Sleep."
Loghain only began to collect his clothes, pulling them on automatically, fingers stiff. "Nothing has changed, Maric." What had it been, twice now in twenty-five years? And the situation was as impossible as ever.
Maric's humor faded. "I thought it had." He propped up on his elbows, watching Loghain search for his socks. "I thought with Cailan and Anora married—"
"They aren't married yet."
"—there would be less reason for anyone to care."
Loghain shook this off, perturbed, the dull ache behind his eyes making everything worse.
"I had a plan, actually," Maric went on, stubborn as ever.
"Good for you."
"After the wedding's done and everything goes back to normal the last thing they'll need is the two of us hovering over their shoulders. Especially you." Maric didn't quite smile. "They ought to have a chance to settle into things on their own. If I'm out of Denerim for a while, it'll give them the opportunity for it."
Loghain glanced over, surprised. "And where do you intend to be?"
"In Gwaren," Maric said, as though it was obvious. "With you."
When Loghain didn't answer, he pressed, "Just for a couple of months. As much as a season, if it all goes well. It's not so far as to be unreachable, I'll be there if they need me, and in the meantime…"
"What?" Loghain asked when Maric didn't continue. "In the meantime, what?"
Maric sat up slowly, thinking. "You've always said it was the wrong time. Too much was at stake. And now it isn't—it won't be," he hastily corrected, forestalling the inevitable argument. When Loghain didn't answer, Maric watched him, face still as though expecting a challenge.
"A whole season?" Loghain echoed. "Are you out of your mind?"
"If it all goes well. I've been away from Denerim nearly that long for less important things."
"And after that season is over, then what? You have a plan for that, as well?"
Maric grimaced at the volume of Loghain's voice and rubbed his head as though it ached, which it probably did. "I intended to see how the time in Gwaren went before going ahead and planning the rest of our lives. Consider it… scouting." His glance up at Loghain was wry. "If you've got a better idea, I'm all ears."
You can give up this foolishness entirely, Loghain thought, but the reprimand faded to nothing before he could give it voice. It was entirely unexpected, after more than half a life's quiet, closemouthed wanting, to find himself faced with such an offer, especially one so easily made.
He thought it over in silence, looking for what victory might be gained in refusal and finding little of value.
"Unless you don't want to," Maric said, almost managing indifference.
Loghain squeezed his eyes shut, trying to think. "Don't be an idiot."
Maric made a quiet noise of amusement as Loghain sorted it through, weighing consequences. It was ever like Maric to assume what he wanted would be given to him, one way or another, and if he didn't look too closely at those who offered him what he wanted, why should he? It wasn't as though Loghain had ever had it in him to deny Maric much of anything, least of all himself, handed over a piece at a time over the years with almost nothing held back.
The reverse was almost as maddening. He was entirely certain if he so much as asked, Maric would offer up anything he might possibly want. Including, apparently, himself.
It was a strange feeling, having come to the end of a long denial, finding the reasons for it faded nearly to dust. That denial had become a habit was no reason to carry on with it, not if there wasn't more…
There was nothing but hope and expectation in Maric's face—no, that wasn't right. There were shadows of older expressions, a wholly mystifying trust and something Loghain didn't have a name for, and as the silence lengthened a bottomless doubt appeared that lasted only a moment before Maric was in motion.
"Get up," Loghain demanded as soon as Maric managed to kneel.
Maric's eyes glinted and he didn't move. "Why are you the only one allowed to make the grand gestures? It's hardly fair."
"No." He took a deep breath, his naked chest rising and falling. "This is important."
Loghain sighed and dragged a hand over his face, utterly at a loss.
"Stay with me," Maric said. "Or let me stay with you. I don't care. I've lived for everyone else long enough. So have you. There's no reason we shouldn't take what happiness we can."
"You said last night you were happy enough."
"I lied." He didn't look at all apologetic. "It could be better. For both of us. Don't tell me you don't get lonely in Gwaren," he said, rocking on his knees in discomfort. "When this is done—when the wedding's over, when we've earned our peace—come with me. Be with me," he insisted, and reached out a hand.
Loghain pulled him up and he stood unsteadily, holding on to Loghain's arms and waiting, hopeful. The weight of that hope had defined both their lives in so many ways, Loghain thought, but it felt lighter now than it had in years. A pulling upward into a kind of grace, instead of a burdening down with duties. "You know I will," Loghain grumbled in protest, and Maric's face split in a grin as though the answer hadn't been assured all along. "Last night was still a foolish idea, though; nothing is settled yet."
"No more getting drunk and jumping you in the hallway," Maric translated, nodding agreeably. "All right." He thought a moment. "In Denerim, at least. I can't promise anything for Gwaren."
Loghain's headache worsened enough to make him wince and Maric misread the expression, frowning in concern. "No, don't worry. I can behave."
"For how long?" Loghain asked, his head feeling suddenly light. He knew the particular brand of madness Maric inspired; it wasn't surprising to find himself swept up in it. Only the force of the feelings it inspired in him now was surprising. "Gwaren is still several weeks away," Loghain reminded him, a chastisement that sailed over Maric's head entirely.
"I know." Maric thought it over, still gripping Loghain's arms. "If I move the wedding up to this afternoon, do you think Anora would have me murdered?"
"No," said Loghain immediately, stunned to laughing. "I think she'd do it herself."
.. .. ..
Live a good many more years, Loghain thought at Maric, watching Cailan retreat from the study in pursuit of… perhaps it was best not to consider the matter too closely.
Maric blew out a breath, his glance at the doorway somewhat less than the portrait of fatherly pride. "Do you think he even knows what he's getting into?"
"It could hardly be a surprise, at this point," Loghain pointed out.
Maric gave a faint groan. "We were never that young."
Loghain didn't answer.
"Not young like that," Maric explained, picking through the tray of food on his desk, bypassing a trio of small brown figs in favor of some kind of waxy-looking cheese. "We grew up faster."
"We didn't have a choice," Loghain reminded him, and forbore commenting on certain characteristics of Maric's that never did seem in a hurry to reach maturation. He had behaved himself, as promised. Needling him over the matter would do little good, and besides, he thought, the return trip to Gwaren was only six weeks away.
Good behavior could go hang.
"I wonder sometimes how different it's been for Cailan," Maric said, stacking the bits of cheese into a wobbly tower instead of eating them. "Don't get me wrong, I'm glad he's grown up in peace. But without any difficulty… without any struggle…" The tower toppled and Maric frowned.
Loghain raised one eyebrow. "You're not considering starting a war for the sake of your son's maturity."
"No," Maric said immediately, and then: "No. Of course not." He grimaced. "I worry. That's normal enough, isn't it?"
"I believe so."
"And anyway, in a month he'll be Anora's to worry over," Maric said. "I intend to be busy with other things."
"Oh?" asked Loghain, and then remembered.
"'Oh?' It's slipped your mind already?" Maric didn't quite smirk. "I'm wounded."
"I doubt it."
The smirk gave way to a laugh as Maric rose and crossed to the doorway, taking a quick look out in the hall before he shut the door firmly. "I could refresh your memory for you," Maric offered, one hand sliding none-too-casually from the back of the chair to the back of Loghain's neck.
So much for good behavior. "You have very strange notions of discretion, you know," said Loghain.
"I said no more jumping you in hallways," Maric reminded him. "This isn't a hallway."
.. .. ..
But minor hiccups aside, the days passed in comfort and as much discretion as Maric could stand. There was no shortage of tasks to be attended to. If Loghain caught himself thinking about the return voyage to Gwaren now and again it was only because the future deserved due consideration, and shouldn't be entirely ignored in favor of the demands of the present.
Having something to look forward to was such an odd feeling. From time to time it stopped him in the middle of a thought, like a sunbeam peeking out only for an instant on a cloudy day.
And then two weeks before the wedding was to take place Maric found a loophole, and refused to let the idea go.
A sea voyage, now, as though the timing could possibly have been worse.
"Come with me," Maric invited, hopeful. "Get out of the city, have some time. Like the old days." His smile widened as though like the old days was a tempting proposition and not a chain of catastrophes they'd scarcely survived.
Loghain snorted. "Run off chasing trouble, now?"
"There's no chasing. There's no trouble!"
"Anora," Loghain considered, "would murder us both."
Maric's mouth twitched.
"You just hope to weasel out of diplomatic responsibilities for a few days," Loghain accused.
"Cailan and Anora could both use the practice handling matters themselves," Maric argued, with what sounded like logic if one didn't listen too closely. "They don't need relics like you and me around for something so simple."
Relics. Simple. Loghain's head hurt just thinking about it, and yet… it was tempting, foolish as he knew the idea to be. A brief jaunt north, a few days of salt air and summer sea and Maric, of quiet days and nights together in greater privacy than Denerim could afford.
Tempting. But Loghain wasn't much a man who courted temptation, and the return trip to Gwaren was looming on the horizon nearly close enough to touch. Certainly he could wait a little longer. "If you want to scamper off to find some trouble and poke it in the eye, I won't stop you," he said, watching Maric's expression fail to change. "But no, if you're intent on leaving for this foolishness, you'll do it alone. I'll have no part of it."
Maric only laughed. "Suit yourself. I'm still going."
.. .. ..
Maric's ship wasn't even due to return by the time the messenger arrived, bleeding and distraught. It was impossible, Loghain thought, oddly numb as the horse he rode hurtled out of the city, bearing him north to the shoreline. Men didn't survive war and occupation and four decades of enemies to fall prey to the ocean. Ships didn't sink on fine, sunny mornings only a few hours from home.
The wreckage littering the length of the beach said otherwise.
From the bluff overlooking the shoreline Loghain could barely see Fereldan ships circling in the water, searching for anyone alive. As the hot, nightmarish day bled on, Loghain tried to be everywhere at once, ceaselessly driving the crews of men walking the long miles of beach, demanding reports from the ships already searching, ordering out men in whatever boats could be commandeered for the task of finding the king.
Loghain waited for news, strained to snapping, heat and dread making it difficult to breathe. Every wave that washed up empty was another blow, every hour that passed was a new torment. He would have sifted through the sand with his fingers for any trace of Maric, if it would have helped, would have scoured every wave one at a time. As it was, he walked the shoreline, searching relentlessly, waiting in a painful silence that clenched around his heart, squeezing out everything else. Any moment now there'd be word, any moment Maric himself would crawl out of the shallows, dripping seawater and complaining about his luck. But the moments passed and kept passing, and there was no sign of him.
As evening fell, more bodies began coming in with the tide. Some few were alive, barely. Most were dead.
None were Maric.
The signal fire roared and smoked in the night, worsening the heat, but Loghain posted himself nearby and didn't waver. It would do its job, he held to the thought. Those men still adrift would see it. Any moment now he'd get word that one of the ships had recovered Maric—
"Your Grace." A middle-aged sailor edged Loghain's way, filthy and nervous and looking as though he'd rather be anywhere else in Ferelden, and in his hands was Maric's sword.
It was impossibly light in Logain's hands, when he took it. It could nearly have floated in on the waves. Perhaps it had. Loghain held it carefully, unable to breathe, the muted light of the runes unreal in the dark. The sword meant nothing, he reminded himself; Maric could easily have been parted from it in the confusion. The thought was hollow.
The black sea lapped at the shore, and gave up nothing. The hours slipped by, windy and dark, and no more survivors washed ashore, no more news came from the ships. Dry-eyed from staring into the wind, Loghain held to Maric's blade as though at any moment its owner might crawl out of the waves and ask for it back, and he was still waiting in place by the signal fire when it died.