A warmth spread through Alistair and he sunk into it gratefully. Was he dead? He didn’t hurt anymore. There’s that, at least. He laid there, hearing voices and struggling to focus on them. Audra? Was it really her? Or the spirit of hope again, trying to keep him from letting go?
He didn’t think he had much time left. He didn’t even hurt. But then again, he thought he’d heard Anders. And other voices…
Focus. He had to focus.
Distantly, he could hear Audra’s voice, and he put all of his attention on it, focusing on her words. On her.
“Come on, love. Wake up. Or I have to let Cullen and Hawke carry you out of here.”
That didn’t sound very fun. But it did sound like Audra. Alistair groaned and turned his face towards her. He couldn’t open his eyes yet, still deep in the feeling of warmth and comfort. It had to be Anders, somehow. It felt like his healing. “Can’t you carry me instead?”
Audra wrapped an arm around his chest, and he lifted a hand to rest on her arm. Her arm felt so warm. So alive. She was here. “I don’t think that would work very well.”
“But it would be funny,” Kieran added.
Kieran. His son. Alistair went still and slowly opened his eyes, blinking. He looked up at Audra and smiled, drawing a deep breath. He wanted to tell her that he could finally tell her that she was the most beautiful woman in Thedas or the Fade, but he struggled with what was happening around him. His eyes slid to Kieran and he felt something that he couldn’t explain. Perhaps it was some kind of pride, a pride he felt like he didn’t have a right to have but couldn’t stop himself from having.
“Kieran helped find you,” Audra explained. “It’s a long story. We’ll talk about it later.”
Alistair swallowed and nodded, reaching a hand out to Kieran. “Then I owe you a great debt.”
Kieran reached out and took his hand. “It’s fine. This is what you do for friends.”
Smiling, squeezed his hand. “You’re a good kid, Kieran. Your mother has done well.” He winced, thinking of Morrigan. “Don’t ever told her I told you that, though. She won’t let me live it down.”
“I won’t.” He grinned and stood up.
“Let’s see if we can get you out of here,” Dorian said, stepping forward and starting to remove the armor off his leg.
“The sooner, the better,” Cullen agreed, dropping down to help remove other pieces of armor.
Alistair made a face and shook his head. “You two aren’t my type.”
“Hush, you,” Audra said, unbuckling another piece of armor on his arm.
Dorian laughed. “Oh, I’m everyone’s type, they just don’t know it yet.”
Blushing, Cullen dropped the piece of armor he’d be holding. Alistair saw him glance at Dorian and then away. He wondered if Audra knew about that yet. Oh, who was he kidding? Of course Audra had worked that one out.
He looked up at Anders, surprised to see him here, especially given Cullen’s presence. Getting Cullen into the Fade must have been one thing, but to get him to go with Anders… A pang of something seized in his chest. They’d come here to save him. “Days like this… Anders…”
Anders dropped down next to Alistair and smiled, the soft smile of the healer that had healed him after battle more times than he could count. “Like what?”
“Days like this I’m glad my wife knows where to pick up all the good stray mages,” he croaked, reaching up to take Anders’s arm. “Thank you.”
The mage broke into a huge smile. “You’re family.” He reached up and put a hand on Alistair’s hand. “Thanks for saving Hawke the first time around.”
“For saving us all,” Dorian added, removing the last piece of armor. He patted Alistair’s leg.
“Lucky for me, I also inherited the ability to pick up stray mages,” Hawke said, putting a hand on Anders’s shoulder.
“Oh good,” Dorian added. “Zaire also has that talent. You should all go drinking and invite the mages along.”
Solas leaned over Alistair, observing. “How do you feel?”
Alistair coughed. “Like I had holes poked in me. But I’m alive. Thanks to all of you.”
Picking up Alistair’s sword and shield, Dorian looked around at the others. “Well, while this is all nice and very sentimental, we should probably get ourselves out of here.”
After all of the armor was removed, Hawke helped Alistair to his feet. “Can you walk at all?”
He lifted a foot and tried to take a step, putting the weight down on his other foot. He felt himself wobble and leaned into Hawke. “I don’t think I can do more than that.”
Cullen got on Alistair’s other side, helping to distribute the weight. “We can work with this.”
Alistair grinned. “All I need is a beautiful woman to feed me cheese and I’m-“
Audra shoved a piece of cheddar into his mouth. “Happy now?”
Cheese had never tasted so good in his life, and he chewed at it appreciatively. He didn’t think he’d ever see any of them again. His eyes drifted over to Audra, and he realized that she’d been crying. He swallowed hastily and leaned onto Hawke, taking his arm off of Cullen for a moment and reaching out towards her. She stepped to him and put her arms around him, sobbing once into him as he put his arm around her and kissed her. “Hey. I’m okay.” His fingers brushed over her hair.
“I know.” She stepped back and looked at him. “Alistair, I… I think I have a cure for the Taint. But it’s risky.” She met his gaze. The Fade made her eyes look extra blue. “I just got you back, but… this cure. It could pull the Taint out.”
His hand traced her jawline. He could read it in her face. “But it could kill us.”
She nodded, leaning into his touch. He wiped a tear off of her cheek. “I know we said if we had a chance, we’d take it. But you’re the one I’m the most worried about.”
They’d just found each other again. He wrapped his fingers around the back of her head and pulled her into a kiss. Her lips were warm, soft, and so familiar. Years together, fighting the Blight, the Archdemon, and everything since… Part of him wanted to talk her out of it. Part of him want to go home and enjoy what few years they had left, or to try again later. “If you’re taking the chance, I am. We’re in this together. Besides,” he reasoned, “what’s the chance of anything killing either of us at this point?”
She kissed his cheek. “We’ll do the spell when we get closer to the exit, then.” She looked to Kieran, stepping back. “Lead the way.”
Cullen stepped up to him and worked his way under Alistair’s arm, and they started following Kieran towards the starting point.
Something nagged at the back of Dorian’s mind, and he couldn’t put a finger on it. Was it being back here in the Fade again? The Nightmare demon’s words haunted him. I mistook you for your father.
Dorian snorted. Who would ever mistake him for his father? They were about as far away from each other as Dorian thought possible, but coming back into her, into this place where so much had been said by the demon, unnerved him. He certainly felt ready to get as far away from here as he could and never come back.
A whisper tickled at the edge of his mind, bubbling up from somewhere. He’ll never stay with you. If he survives me, he’ll find himself someone with no magic to complicate his life.
It sounded like the Nightmare demon. But it was dead.
From somewhere in the distance, Dorian heard a laugh and looked up the hill. He swore. It shouldn’t be, it couldn’t be. Dread clenched at his chest and he forced in a breath to speak. “Alistair isn’t the only one that survived. The Nightmare demon is here.”
I am. And you walked right into my trap.
Others in the group looked startled, and Dorian looked up to see the giant spider demon loom over the top of the hill and look down at them.
Cullen looked grim. “It was using him as bait
“And now it has us all,” Solas said grimly, readying his staff.
Audra turned to Hawke and Dorian as she pulled hers staff into her hands. “Hawke, Dorian, you’ve fought this. Do we run or fight?”
Hawke lifted his shoulder under Alistair’s arm. “Running isn’t an option.”
“Then we fight,” Audra said, grimly.
Cullen and Hawke tucked Alistair behind a rock, Dorian following to leave the sword and shield next to him. As they turned to rejoin the group, Dorian put a hand on Cullen’s arm. “Cullen, this demon is nasty.”
“I’ve faced demons.”
Typical Cullen. Dorian sighed. “Not like this. I’m not here to tell you how to fight. I just wanted to say…” He thought about his words for a moment before he nodded. “Be careful.”
“I’ll be fine.” Cullen reached out and took Dorian’s hand. “I have you.” A blush crept into his face. “I mean… to protect us.” He covered his face. “Oh, Maker, why do I speak?”
“Don’t ask me, I have no idea.” Dorian reached out and brushed his fingers over Cullen’s hand. “Let’s do this.”
Dorian turned back to get ready for the battle. Damn himself for not being able to leave well enough alone.
The demon reached the edge of the hill, and they could now view it fully. To Dorian’s relief, it appeared injured, dragging itself on three legs. They could outrun it, but what could it take from them in the meantime?
“Solas!” Audra called, backing up and keeping Kieran behind her. She looked desperate. “I made a promise.”
“You know this could trap you here?” he asked.
Dorian winced. “There has to be another way.”
“We have to trust that Morrigan will work it out.” Audra looked from Solas to Kieran. “I’m sorry. I can’t take the chance.”
Kieran shook his head. “No, I can stay back with Alistair, it’ll be fine.”
Alistair coughed, lifting up his arms. “Hey, Kieran. We’ll see you back at Skyhold. Maybe we can go riding. Do you like to go riding?”
“I love horses, but my mother does not ride often,” Kieran admitted, taking Alistair’s hands.
“Then we’re going to go do that.” Alistair looked up at Solas and nodded.
Kneeling down in front of Kieran, Solas softly said, “wake up”.
Kieran was gone, and they were alone in the Fade.
“Well, then,” Dorian said, readying a spell. “Let’s go kill a demon and find a way home, shall we?”
He let loose a fireball with everything he had, as the others launched into battle.