Author Note: This has been rolling around in my mind for a while now, so I've eventually written it down. I hope you enjoy.
Disclaimer: I do not own Dragon Age Origins.
Alistair drew closer to the fire, the chill never quite leaving him. Instead of celebrating victory with his fellow Wardens; he was sitting on the hard ground, next to the smallest fire he had ever seen, so they didn't draw attention to themselves, with people he didn't know. Aedan at least was a fellow Warden, but he had barely spoken to Alistair. When he had tried to engage him in conversation it was usually met with one word answers, or uncomfortable silence. As for their other party members Alistair was uneasy with them all. The apostate Morrigan made no attempt to hide her distaste of him. He had no idea what her agenda was for traveling with them and he hadn't believed Flemeth when she said it was to aid them because of her magic. He glanced to the dark haired beauty who scowled when she realised his gaze had rested upon her. Alistair turned away, flushing as he realised Sten was watching him. He shifted uncomfortably. The giant stood unmoving; taking the measure of Alistair before turning away, glaring out into the darkness. Glancing away from the flames, Alistair looked to Leliana whose gaze tended to rest on his fellow Warden. A Chantry sister so quick to pick up a blade had unnerved him. Alistair lowered his head, the weight of defeat heavy on his shoulders. Without Duncan he had felt crippled and when Aedan had looked to him for guidance, he had panicked. He had always been made to feel unworthy and the one chance he had to prove himself he had run.
Alistair retreated into his own grief, shuddering at the burden they carried. He remembered his last conversation with Duncan; angry because he was not going to be part of the fight, sent instead to light a beacon, a task any soldier could have completed. He should have been at Duncan's side, to whatever end and a part of him hated his mentor for denying him. Now he had to live with the knowledge he had lived when they had not. He shuddered and wrapped his arms around himself descending further into his misery. He was startled out of his thoughts when a handful of twigs were tossed carelessly into the fire, the flames spitting and hissing. Aedan was moving back to sit on the log; his deep blue eyes bloodshot, his face flushed and swollen, still wet with tears.
Alistair felt a flush of shame stain his cheeks. The young man had lost his whole family. Alistair rose and wandered over to Aedan sitting on the log next to him. "I'm a good listener." He said softly.
Aedan glanced up. "I can't."
Alistair nodded and returned his gaze to the fire losing himself in his own dark thoughts.
Aedan sank into the horror of his memories. The blood stained rooms of his home, the screams of the dying. The bravery of those holding the doors, who had surely perished. He almost choked as Ser Gilmore flashed in his thoughts. So long yearned for and now he was nothing but ash beneath Howe's boots. It was barely seconds before his mind continued to torture him with his final moments with his parents. Their sacrifice to ensure he survived. Slowly his eyes closed; he had survived, but that was all. He was a shell; the hopes and dreams of his youth had died in that Castle, replaced with guilt, bitterness and the need for vengeance. He had wanted to hate Duncan for pulling him out of there; preventing him from defending his parents to the death, but the man was fighting larger stakes and Aedan somehow could not blame him for his actions. Then he had been faced with the brutality and betrayal of Ostagar and once more despair gripped him, dragging him into the darkness of his own soul. He had been a Warden for one night; knew nothing of the burden he had inherited before the people Duncan had told him would become his family were ripped from him, all except Alistair. Aedan knew he should have been angry when Alistair shrank from the role of leader. He wanted to be angry when those hazel eyes had pleaded for him to understand, before he had looked away. However there was no anger; only sadness that whatever hand life had dealt Alistair, it had stripped him of his self-worth. He was the son of a Teyrn; leadership was in his blood and came automatically to him, so he had stepped into the void Alistair refused to fill. Then he began to learn a little more about Alistair, that what he lacked in leadership he more than made up for in his skill as a warrior. Aedan grew irritated with himself; Alistair was trying to be supportive despite his own grief, the loss of his own family and he kept just brushing him off. Aedan focused on the flames, not daring to look at his fellow Warden. "I just left them there."
Alistair glanced at the man beside him unsure what to say. "You would be dead if you had not left."
Aedan felt the surge of anger and glared. "I should be dead." He hissed. "I would trade places with them in a heartbeat."
Alistair felt the words assault him with their accusation. He lowered his head, his own grief tormenting him. "I would give anything to take Duncan's place. He should be here, not me."
Aedan gave a deep sigh and unsheathed his sword, gazing at the glow of the steel in the firelight. "The Cousland blade." He muttered bitterly. "All that is left of a dead name."
"You are still alive." Alistair's tone tentative.
"Warden's give up their names don't they?" His voice harsh, strangled with anger.
Alistair looked at the fire the truth of his words piercing him. "I guess." He mumbled for want of anything better to say.
The two men lapsed into silence once more, Aedan finally giving the fire one final glare before he curled into his bedroll, turning his back on Alistair not wanting him to see his tears.
Alistair watched in concern as Aedan thrashed violently, his screams terrifying. He was relieved that they were a little removed from the others; who glanced curiously, but made no move to the sleeping Warden. The two women moved into their tents and Sten strode to the outer perimeter of the camp. Alistair reached out a hand to Aedan's shoulder trying to sooth him. Aedan's eyes opened; wild and terrifying, pushing Alistair backwards and hard into the ground, a dagger at his throat before he could react.
Alistair gripped his wrists, using his superior strength to stop Aedan before he slit his throat. "Aedan for Maker's sake it's me." Alistair gasped, shoving Aedan sending him sprawling to the ground.
Aedan stared at him horrified, trembling where he had landed. "Alistair I...I..."
Alistair rose shakily to his feet reaching into his pack and pulling out a flask he had picked up in Lothering. He wasn't sure what the alcohol was, but he was damned sure they both needed some. He took a sip, coughing as the rough liquid burned down his throat. He passed the flask to Aedan who drank deeply. It was rough whisky, but it soothed his nerves. "The dreams can be difficult." Alistair said at last, glancing cautiously at Aedan.
"I was dreaming about what happened at Highever." Voice strained, eyes cast downwards.
The silence was uncomfortable for both men, neither knowing how to react to the other. Aedan was pulled back into thoughts of his parents and his glance to Alistair was pleading. "Can we talk; about anything, I don't want to think about what happened."
Alistair chewed his lip, talking usually got him into trouble. He scrambled for a neutral topic. "What made you name your mabari Blaze?"
Blaze gave a soft whine and moved over to Aedan, pushing his nose into his hand. Aedan cast him an affectionate gaze and stroked his back, Blaze rubbing against him happily. "Blaze saved my life. It was three years ago, I'd just turned seventeen and my brother, idiot that he was set me up with a girl." A flush stained his cheeks. "To... well you know... to... to spend the night with her."
Alistair felt a faint flush sweep across his own cheeks and hoped Aedan didn't notice. He swallowed hard. "What happened? I mean, not that I'm asking for details or anything." He lapsed into silence his cheeks burning.
Aedan felt a smile tug at his lips for the first time since leaving Highever. "We didn't do anything, I'm ... I'm not... I wasn't interested. Anyway my brother had us meet in the stables and she left in a bit of a huff and I fell asleep. When I woke up the place was thick with smoke and I was coughing so hard I could barely breathe. Something grabbed my trousers and practically dragged me out, guided me past the flames. When I could see and breathe this mabari was looking up at me. Huge brown eyes, massive paws on stick legs and a huge head with a small body. He was the oddest looking dog, but he grew into himself. In the light of that blazing stable we connected and I knew he was my friend as I was his." Aedan glanced up and froze as he sank into hazel eyes, the fire light flickering around them casting a warm glow. He watched transfixed as Alistair licked his lips nervously, feeling his stomach tighten in response.
"It's a good name."
Aedan glanced back to the fire closing his eyes. He jumped when he felt Alistair sit next to him again. He glanced to the warrior and felt the weight of his loneliness and gave a choked sob, turning from Alistair flushing in shame. He shivered as he found himself enveloped in strong arms and pulled back to a warm chest.
"I'm here for you Aedan, whatever you need."
Aedan allowed himself a moment to rest his head on Alistair's shoulder, his heart beat finally calming. Both men gazed into the flames; neither eager to break contact, pulled to each other through their shared grief and loneliness.
Alistair glanced up and watched a shooting star streak across the sky. He gave a soft sigh. Please Maker, let us make it through this. His wish shared by the man at his side.