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Andraste's Flaming Knickers

Chapter Text

        Selene Cousland is the last thing Alistair expected Duncan's new recruit to be. He doesn't know exactly what he expected, but it wasn't her.

        When Duncan set off to find another recruit, Alistair subconsciously expected him to bring back someone, well, male. In his short time in the order, none of the other Wardens he met were female. He knew that the Cousland's youngest child was a girl and he knew that Duncan initially wanted her for the Wardens, but Duncan had said that he didn't expect Bryce and Eleanor to let their only daughter become a Warden. Imagine Alistair's surprise when his mentor sent word ahead that he would be returning to Ostagar with none other than his first choice - Selene Cousland, youngest child to Teyrn Bryce Cousland.

        Duncan's letter was brief, only detailing that they would arrive soon and telling Alistair to behave himself as if he were some child left alone for the first time. However, in a post script at the bottom of the page, the old man told Alistair not to press the girl too much as the circumstances leading to her becoming a Warden were far from ideal and she had lost much.

        Alistair saw the two, or three if he counts the mabari hound Duncan failed to mention, as they approached Ostagar. The young Warden never fails to single out his mentor, even among the swarm of people constantly moving around the ruins. The girl walking next to him must be the new recruit.

        A noble girl as a Grey Warden recruit. So many parts of that sentence don't fit together for Alistair. None of it does, in fact. He may not have been a criminal, and neither was Ser Jory, but one doesn't usually find those of noble birth among the Wardens. Let alone girls. He really has no idea what this Selene will be like. He knows from Duncan's letter that she just endured a lot, so he expects her to be distant for a time, but that's about it. He hopes she doesn't expect a cushioned life or she will be very sorely disappointed.

        Duncan spoke highly of her, though, so he'll try to save his judgments until he actually gets a chance to talk to her. Thus far, she's just been wandering around the camp. She's a curious one - literally. In the time he's been watching her, she's talked to probably everyone she's passed from the Ash Warriors getting ready to scout the Wilds to the prisoner still waiting for his execution.

        Not like he's been watching her that intently or anything. Just people watching as he waits for a mage he's supposed to deliver a message to. That's all. Definitely not watching her because she's one of the few girls in camp.

        It isn't until Alistair is mid-argument with the mage that Selene finds him. At least, he assumes it's her. He hasn't seen her up close, but she has the same short black hair as the girl that arrived with Duncan. He turns towards the girl when the mage leaves in a huff. "You know, one good thing about the Blight is how it brings people together."

        The girl looks at him with an expression that rides the line between confusion and amusement. For a brief moment, Alistair wonders if this isn't Selene. If it is, she's either very good at hiding her feelings or Duncan made whatever happened sound worse that it was.

        "I know exactly what you mean." Her response knocks Alistair off guard. Playing along is, apparently, the number one way to make Alistair forget everything he was going to say. It doesn't help that she's pretty. Oh, Maker, she's very pretty, and Alistair nearly begins to panic.

        "You're Alistair, right?" The strange girl questions, and it startles him out of his bubbling panic. "Me? Yes! Yes, I am Alistair. I take it you're Duncan's new recruit?"

        She nods once and extends a hand in introduction. Alistair almost feels like he's about to combust under the intensity of her pale blue eyes, nearly staring a hole right through his head. He takes her hand in his and does his best to sound like he's not on the verge of panicking.

        "Alistair." He feels dumb as soon as he opens his mouth. She already knew his name, she doesn't need him to introduce himself. Nevertheless, she smiles softly and he could almost swear he saw something twinkle behind her eyes.

        "Selene. Duncan spoke highly of you. I look forward to traveling with you." Oh. Oh no. Andraste's flaming knickers, he's going to have a hard time around her.

        Selene very quickly proved all of Alistair's fears about her false. If he hadn't been told, he'd never guess she grew up as a noble. While she is very thorough with her questions, she respects that Alistair and Duncan are her superiors and follows orders without complaints. Most nobles he's met would complain, at the very least. Used to their cushy lives with everyone at their beck and call, they usually don't take authority and orders well. Selene, though, doesn't even look like she wants to complain. He already likes her more than Daveth and Ser Jory.

        Though, now that he thinks of it, her easy compliance could be a double-edged sword. Would she still accept orders and authority like this when it's obviously wrong? Would she still silently follow someone who doesn't have good intentions? He hopes not.

        "So, tell me," Alistair starts, picking up his pace so he's walking next to Selene instead of behind her. "Did you even want to become a Grey Warden? Duncan said that the circumstances that brought you were were bad."

        The girl's eyes briefly flash with sadness and a frown begins to form on her face, but she masks it so quickly he wonders if he imagined it. She turns her gaze away from him and to the dirt in front of them.

        "I wanted to. I tried convincing my parents to at least let him test me, but they weren't hearing any of it." This time, she fails to conceal the way her face drops as she speaks of her family. Alistair goes to apologize, but she starts again before he can. "This isn't how I wanted it to happen but, to answer your question, yes. I did want to become a Warden."

        "How did you convince your parents?" Alistair regrets the words as soon as they leave his mouth. He can almost feel the way her heart breaks. Duncan told him to to press her, and yet he did.

        Selene picks up her pace, and Alistair is content to walk behind her again. "Sorry, I shouldn't have asked." "It's..." He can see the way her shoulders rise and fall with a deep breath. "It's fine. You don't know. I would just rather not speak of it, if you don't mind." "Not at all."

        And there is the sorrow he expected from her. He doesn't know what happened but, Maker preserve him, the deep look of despair in her eyes makes him wish he never asked.

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        Under normal circumstances, Alistair absolutely wouldn't reach out and grab a girl he just met less than twenty-four hours ago and hold onto her like he needs her to breathe. But these are not normal circumstances, and she's holding him just as tightly.

        At this time yesterday, spirits were high and the future looked bright. Or, at least, as bright as they can look when facing a Blight. Mere hours before, Alistair and Selene were just two among many. Although a small order, there was still a force of Grey Wardens and they were just the two newest recruits. And now, they're the only two. The order of the Grey Wardens in Ferelden is now just the two of them. Two young, clueless, brand new recruits that only survived because they were sent away from the fighting.

        The hug surprised Alistair. Both because he reached out to her in the first place and because she reciprocated. Maybe also because they haven't known each other long. Alistair chalks it up to them having just defended each other's lives, nearly dying together, and now finding out that they're alone.

        Selene trembles, knocks her forehead so hard against his shoulder it makes an audible sound, and holds onto him tighter than he thought she had the strength for, but she doesn't cry. She nearly does, and so does he, but neither of them do. Because of what, and how they don't, only the Maker knows. All Alistair knows right now is how relieved he is to see a familiar face, another Grey Warden. He isn't alone, and that's what matters right now.

        Alistair envies her, the way she can so quickly and easily put on a brave face like nothing happened. The way she can think rationally even in a time like this, after all they've gone through. After all she's gone through.

        But still, he can see her true feelings buried deep in her eyes. So much fear and uncertainty and sorrow. She may be able to mask it on her face and in her body language, but her eyes still reveal all. It comforts him, knowing that she feels the same way he does.

        He's still unsure about everything that happened. He still hopes that everything is just one big nightmare and all he has to do is wake up, and Duncan will be right there beside him. But it's not. He knows it's not. Duncan and the Grey Wardens are all dead, along with the King. Loghain betrayed them. It's all real. He really is one of the two remaining Wardens in Ferelden.

        He thought that joining the Grey Wardens would mean a better life, or at least one he enjoyed. Perhaps Selene did too. But all they got was quite possibly the worst case scenario.

        They may be living a nightmare but if there's one thing Alistair can be grateful for, it's that Selene is the other Warden that lived, and not someone random. He may not know her well yet, he doesn't even know how much he'll like her in the future, but there's a sense of comfort to be found in her presence.

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        "Do you want to talk about Duncan?" Both the question and the sudden appearance of a voice catches him off guard. One second, Alistair is staring into his reflection in a pond and the next, Selene seemingly appears out of thin air on the tree stump next to him.

        "Do I really look so pathetic that you felt the need to check up on me?" He laughs out the question, trying to make light of his obviously pitiful state. Even he knows that his humor doesn't reach his eyes, though.

        "Sitting on a log all by yourself, staring woefully into a muddy pond? Oh, not at all." Selene plays along long enough to get him to give her a real smile. They sit in silence for a few moments, appreciating the first calm moment they've had since Ostagar.

        "You don't have to do that, you know. Check up on me, I mean." Alistair finally breaks the silence with his voice just barely above a whisper. He continues staring into their reflection on the pond and he can see her doing the same.

        "You're my friend, Alistair. I may not have known him long, but he saved my life and helped me after what happened in Highever. And I know he was like a father to you. If you want to talk, I'll listen. If you don't, I can just keep you company as you stare at the pond." Her words are quiet, but they strike him right in the heart for several reasons. He heaves a deep breath and closes his eyes.

        "Any of us can die in battle. We all knew what we were signing up for. There's so much riding on us with the Blight, I shouldn't have lost it like I did. I'm sorry."

        When he opens his eyes again, Selene isn't staring into the pond, but at him. He can see all of the emotion written in her eyes like they're open pages of a book. The soft compassion and empathy only thinly veiling her own hurt. They're so much more vibrant in the moonlight, Alistair almost feels like he can drown in the icy blue. He snaps his gaze away before he can lose himself in her eyes and really get himself into trouble.

        "You don't need to apologize, Alistair." The soft weight of her hand on his shoulder grounds him more than he realized he needed. He looks back at her and finds her tilted ever so slightly forward, trying to get a better look at him. Andraste preserve him, he doesn't think he's ever had his breath taken away by a girl before. Now is precisely the worst time for him to be thinking of how stunning and literally breathtaking she is and how much of an idiot he is for not realizing it sooner. But with this lighting and how her eyes have softened for him, he can't help it.

        "You..." Alistair clears his throat and makes a conscious decision to look at anything that isn't his fellow Warden. "You said you're from Highever? I think Duncan was, too. If we live past all this, I think I'd like to have a proper funeral for him if we have the chance. Though, now that I think of it, I don't think he had any family to speak of."

        Selene removes her hand from his shoulder and for a second he finds himself chasing after it until he catches himself. This time, he doesn't look at her in fear of getting entranced again and fear of seeing the sadness reemerge at the mention of her home. He can see her lean forward again in the reflection from the pond and in his peripherals.

        "He had you." Her voice is so soft and calming, Alistair almost feels like he's going to get entranced again anyway. Still, the statement brings a smile to his face. A small one, but a smile nonetheless.

        "I guess you're right. Will you...go with me? To Highever to hold a funeral for him, when we get the chance?" He really is going out on a limb with his question. He almost hesitates to ask, knowing that she might not want to go back after whatever happened.

        In spite of himself, he looks back over at her. This time, he can see the internal conflict and silent contemplation. After a moment of silence, before he can open his mouth again to say she doesn't have to, she speaks.

        "I think...I'd like that." The words lift a small weight off his chest. He mutters a quiet thanks and they fall back into a comfortable silence.

        Alistair doesn't let the silence continue on for long, though. This could be a poor decision but, with their previous conversation about Duncan, there really isn't any better time than now to voice his thoughts. And by now, he does consider her a friend and a close confidant, as well as his only colleague.

        "What about you?" He tries to keep his voice even and as soft and soothing as hers was. It's a little difficult, so he hopes she can sense his care and concern. For a moment, she looks confused. She looks at him with an eyebrow slightly ajar.

        "I'll admit that you're very good at hiding your feelings and for a moment you had me fooled, but still. Duncan said you went through a lot and I can see how much it's weighing you down. Do you...want to talk about it?"

        Selene takes a deep breath, lets out a mirthless laugh, and mutters a quiet "Oh." She falls silent again and this time, the sorrow is much more visible on her face.

        "You don't have to if-" " It's okay." She cuts him off, taking another deep breath. Alistair watches her face closely as she leans her elbows on her knees. Now she's the one staring blankly into the pond.

        "I think that might do some good." Alistair nearly asks if she's sure, but the look of determination on her face stops him.

        "I don't even know where to start." She breathes out another mirthless laugh. She clenches her hands together so tightly her knuckles turn white. Thoughtlessly, Alistair reaches over and puts his hand over hers. He takes it away as soon as he realizes what he did, but Selene just looks at him from the corner of her eye with a faint smile. He puts his hand back, but this time into her open one.

        "Start from the beginning of the day, if that helps." He suggests. Maybe holding her hand to comfort her wasn't the best of ideas, because now he can barely think past how nice her hand feels in his despite the callouses from her sword and dagger. Selene's grip on his hand tightens ever-so-slightly as she thinks of the events that brought her to the Wardens.

        "The King called on us to send our men to Ostagar, along with my father and brother. They were supposed to make the march with Arl Howe's men, from Amaranthine. But Howe came to us in the morning and told us his men had been delayed due to poor weather, and will have to make the march the day after. He and my father had been friends for such a long time and had fought together on many occasions, so we trusted him."

        Alistair can already see where this is going, and it's hard to miss the hint of bitterness in Selene's voice. It makes his heart sink into his stomach.

        "Father made the decision to send Fergus and our men anyway, and he'd leave in the morning with Howe. And that's when Duncan came in. 'A Grey Warden!," I thought. I had spent so much time in the library tucked away in a corner reading about the Wardens and thought how magnificent it would be to be a Warden. When Duncan arrived, I completely forgot about all my duties. Sure, I would have to run the whole castle by myself for a time, but who cares about that when there's a Grey Warden visiting? And he's recruiting? Oh, how I begged both of my parents to let him test me."

        This memory brings a smile to both of their faces. At least, he thinks, the entire day wasn't a disaster.

        "They weren't hearing any of it, of course. They already told him no, so he set his sights on Ser Gilmore, one of our knights. I loathed it, of course, but I was happy for Ser Gilmore. He is...was a good man."

        Selene's face falls again. Alistair gives her hand a gentle squeeze, reminding her that he's still there and still listening. She takes another deep breathe before continuing.

        "He found me after Father sent me away to find Fergus and to keep me from bugging Duncan any further. 'Your warhound has gotten into the larder again,' he told me. 'Nan's head is about to explode if you don't get him out of there.'" She smiles once more, but continues on without missing a beat.

        "A lot of trivial things like that. Killing rats that Rufus chased into the larder, soldiers playing cards, bugging my parents to let me join the Wardens, bugging Duncan about information about the order. I remember teasing Fergus about having to march in the cold while I got to stay warm and cozy in the castle. I promised Oren I'd teach him how to use a sword. Fergus always used to say that..." For the first time since starting, Selene starts to break. She squeezes Alistair's hand a little tighter than before.

        "Fergus always used to say that Oren was more like me than him. He'd say it with so much indignation, but he always smiled when he did. Once he said he'd be proud if his son grew to be like me." A tear rolls down her cheek. Alistair wants to reach over and wipe it away but, this time, he keeps his impulses in check.

        "Nothing that happened throughout the day ever hinted to what would happen once the sun went down. Aside from Duncan's visit, it was really just a normal day." Selene stops. She hesitates and looks at Alistair. His heart breaks as he looks into her eyes. He squeezes her hand and nods to let her know it's safe to continue, though he wouldn't be surprised if that really matters at this point. One more deep, shaky breath, and she continues.

        "A servant burst through the door to my room, crying out that the castle has been breached and begging for help. An arrow pierced straight through his chest before I was even out of bed. The screaming woke my mother too, but she hadn't seen any sign of Father. We went through the entire castle. The only ones who were still alive were the few knights who had been left behind to defend the castle, or Howe's men."

        This time when she stops, she lets go of Alistair's hand and digs both of her hands into her hair. Even with her head hung low and her arms blocking most of her face, he can see both her jaw and eyes clenched tightly and tears dripping off her chin. She doesn't take her hands out of her hair, so Alistair scoots close and puts an arm around her shoulders.

        Selene had her moments where her emotions would show through her eyes and briefly flash across her face but, for the most part, she remained strong. Ever since they met at Ostagar, throughout their trial in the Wilds, the events at Ostagar, and most recently at Lothering, she always held her head high. She was always so strong and quickly proved herself to be a better leader than Alistair would have been, and he appreciated that. But now that she's finally broken, now that he finally knows what happened and how heavy of a weight that's been on her shoulders, he's in disbelief. She must have had good, strict etiquette training to be able to hold herself up with such a tragedy so fresh in her memories. He almost can't believe that she's human. But she is human. Now that the veil has been lifted, Alistair can see that she's hurting just like he is and more.

        "The moment I saw Oren's body, cold next to his mother's, I swore to myself and to my mother that Howe would pay. He'll pay with the sword he tried to take from me, shoved all the way to the hilt through his heart." The venom in Selene's voice nearly startles him. She takes a moment to steady herself and stem her rising anger. In that moment, a cold breeze brushes past them and Selene scoots ever-so-slightly closer to Alistair.

        "We found my father by the secret exit. He thought to find us there but, by the time he reached it, he'd been badly wounded and lost too much blood. Duncan helped him as far as he could, but we all knew he wouldn't make it through the exit, let alone past the men Howe had stationed outside. My mother decided to stay with him and buy us as much time as possible. She told me to go with Duncan. Become a Grey Warden, help end the Blight, and live long enough to deliver vengeance onto Howe." Selene grips onto her hair again. She clenches her teeth, but gathers herself.

        "I got what I wanted, but at what cost? Sometimes I feel like I should-" "No." Up until now, Alistair was content to just be there and listen, but now he sees where her thoughts are going. He's all-too familiar with survivor's guilt.

        He turns her towards him and puts both of his hands on either side of her face, brushing her hair away as he does so. In any other circumstance, he'd be embarrassed by his actions and their close proximity, especially considering his earlier musings about her, but not now. Her eyes are still cloudy with tears, but now she looks at him with confusion written across her face. He barely registers the soft pink tinge coloring her cheeks.

        "There was nothing you could have done. Everything that happened was beyond your control, and you did what you had to. Don't you dare blame yourself for any of what happened or think of what might have happened."

        He feels a little odd, scolding her like this, but he can see that his words hit home. Her eyes well up again and for a second her bottom lip quivers before she drops her head again. Alistair pulls her into him and lets her sob into his shoulder for as long as she needs. Unlike their last hug, this one is gentle. Neither of them are holding onto each other like it's the end of the world. They're content to hold and be held, and with the comfort of the closeness between two friends who have been through hell together.

        Neither of them move for a short while but, after Selene has stopped crying, she places her head in the crook of Alistair's neck.

        "Thank you, Alistair." She mutters quietly. Alistair, in turn, whispers an "of course," but neither make any attempts to pull away. Alistair only hopes she can't hear, or feel, how quickly his heart is beating.

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        One would think that with all the traveling and fighting the party does, there wouldn't be much room for boredom. Most of the party take their few moments of downtime to rest and get the necessities out of the way, such as repairing their arms and armor. However, when two of the party members are very young, very restless Grey Wardens with their already high, youthful energy further increased by the taint in their blood, not even fighting through a darkspawn ambush dampens their spirits.

        Much to the other party members' dismay, and possible slight annoyance, neither their leader or her second in command seem ready to pass out like the rest of them. Only Sten has the energy and strength to keep up with them, but the two Wardens learned early on that he's not one for playing around. So, that just leaves each other.

        Alistair makes eye contact with Selene from the other side of the campfire. If there's one thing he's learned, it's that her eyes tell all. And he can see that she's just as bored and restless as he is.

        Without a word or warning, he launches a vaguely sword-shaped stick at her. To his satisfaction, she's ready. They're both on their feet before they even have their "swords" in hand, and are circling each other around the fire once they're ready. The first time Leliana and Sten saw this when they first joined, they thought the two were actually fighting until they realized that their weapons weren't actually weapons. But still, as the two Wardens learned the hard way, even sticks can do some damage.

        One hit, two hits, three hits, and Selene's stick breaks into two. Alistair would have been delighted at this development had he not been aware that her specialty is duel-wielding, and that he is now somewhat screwed. This leaves him with only one other option if he wants to get through this spar without bruises across his entire body. He plays dirty.

        "You know, for a rogue, you're not very stealthy. I saw you trying to sneak away with the last of the stew." His jab at her skills as a rogue earns a playful "ouch" from Leliana watching on the sidelines. The party's second rogue has clearly begun to find their sparring sessions entertaining. Selene, however, grins at his comment. There's something rather primal and almost wolf-like to her grin and it unnerves the unfortunate warrior. Maybe trying to play dirty with a rogue wasn't his brightest idea.

        He pushes at her and, for a second, Alistair thinks he actually succeed at knocking her down, despite the unnerving grin she still wears. But then she rolls, discards one of her sticks, and is back on her feet like a cat. The boy only realizes that she has a fist-full of dirt when she throws it at him. He covers his face in time to keep it from getting in his eyes, but still gets some in his mouth and he still flinched. He's not about to give up easily, though.

        Before Selene can take advantage of his disorientation, he jumps back and grabs his shield from the ground. He can hear Leliana's "nice move" comment, but he really can't bring himself to care. Out of his peripherals, he can see Sten has also begun to watch the fight.

        Selene purses her lips at Alistair's new tactic. She crouches and retrieves her second stick from the ground without taking her eyes off him, though he doesn't take a step forward. He brought up his game, so he'll let her do the same.

        The two circle each other slowly again, eyes locked on each other's and ready for the other to make a move. They remain like that, both unwilling to make the first move, for a few moments. Alistair finally makes the first move, swinging at her in a wide arc that he knows will break either his stick or hers, when Leliana yells some encouragement to Selene.

        The girl catches Alistair's blow with her stick but, as Alistair predicted, it breaks and leaves her with the one. She clicks her tongue and curses and Alistair begins to think that this round might go to him. He grins, feeling far too proud of this tiny, insignificant accomplishment. But now it's time for Selene to change tactics.

        She locks her stick against his and gets far too close to him. His battle sense completely disappears when she nearly presses her chest against his and bats her eyelashes at him.

        "Has anyone told you how handsome you are?" And just when he thought he was going to win the round, too. She goes and pulls something like this. He thinks she's drop dead gorgeous and now she shows him that she knows.

        Selene's comment completely throws him off his guard and she takes full advantage of it. Within seconds, she both disarms him and kicks his feet out from under him. Alistair just sits on the ground, cheeks a bright, angry red, feeling far too shy from her calling him handsome to complain about his loss. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he can hear Leliana laughing in delight and telling Selene she'd make a great bard.

        The young girl smiles triumphantly and puts her hands on her hips in a proud stance. Her cheeks are also red, but Alistair can't tell if it's from the exertion of their fight or if she embarrassed herself with her compliment.

        After basking in her victory for a short moment, Selene's triumphant smile turns into a friendlier, more playful grin as she reaches down to offer a hand up. Alistair takes it, but the feeling of her hand in his makes his heart pound even faster and he lets go as soon as he's stable on his feet.

        Once the excitement dies down and the others crawl into their tents, the two Wardens find themselves looking back and forth at each other and at the fire. Even now after they've both calmed down, the pink tinge remains on Selene's cheeks, and thinking about her comment only warms Alistair's cheeks again. The atmosphere between them grows to be a little awkward, both still blushing.

        Selene pokes the fire with the stick she used as a weapon before tossing it in. She opens and closes her mouth a few times, trying to put her thoughts together and hesitating to put them out into the open.

        "Do you really think I'm handsome?" Alistair asks quietly. Whether that was what she wanted to talk about or not, he's not sure, but it's going to eat him alive if he doesn't get a definitive answer from her. The way her cheeks darken and her eyes flutter away from his makes his heart pound all over again. She curls in on herself, drawing her knees up to her chest and resting her chin on them. Her words are quiet, but he can still hear them. And do they go straight to his chest.

        "And if I do? What then?" Oh, this is new. For a moment, Alistair thought she was closing herself off to him, but that's not it at all. No, she's shy. She called him handsome and now she's shy about it. Andraste preserve him, he really shouldn't be this giddy about a simple compliment.

        "Oh, nothing much. I just get to grin a bit and look foolish for a while." And grin he will, because now he can't wipe the boyish grin off his face for the life of him. Selene sees this, and he can see her grin in return.

        "Is...this the part where I get to say the same?" And now her cheeks turn the same angry shade of red his were earlier. It's almost startling how much of a contrast there is between her red cheeks and pale eyes.

        "Not unless you don't think so." Try as she might, but none of her training as a noble could help her mask the hopeful tone in her voice. They're never going to be the same after this, Alistair can tell.

        "Oh, I do. I think I'll just spring it on you when you least expect it." They both grin at each other. No longer awkward but now both far too shy to talk any more. Selene retires to her tent, trying to use her hair to hide the dark red on her cheeks as she leaves. She fails, though, and it leaves Alistair feeling much fuzzier and warmer than he has in a long time. Maker, what is that girl doing to him?

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        If her mother were here, she would surely be crying for two different reasons. She watched as her dear daughter grew into a beautiful young woman who cared more for sword fighting and her dog than getting swept off her feet by a nobleman.

        By no means did Selene ever hate the idea of romance and falling in love. She grew up hearing fairy tales from her mother and hoped one day she would have a fairy tale romance of her own. She just resented the idea of being rescued and confined to the frilly dresses men expected from her, or marrying someone she had no feelings for. She wanted to fall in love, not get trapped.

        "If someone really cares for me, he won't expect me to put down my weapons in favor of a ball of yarn and a dress, or abandon my dog," she would tell Eleanor. Oh, if only she could see her dear daughter now.

        Of all the men in the world to fall for, the one who caught Selene's attention just had to be the only other Grey Warden in all of Ferelden, in the middle of a Blight. Eleanor would chastise her to no end and complain about the circumstances, but perhaps she'd still be pleased.

        Alistair isn't nearly as simple as Morrigan likes to say he is. His battle sense is second to none and he has a good sense of when the party could use a pick-me-up. Even after losing so much, Alistair is still one of the most caring and compassionate people Selene has ever met. And he cares for her.

        Whether or not it's the same as the way she cares for him doesn't matter. She has lived all her life with people who only wanted her friendship for money, marriage, or power. But that's not Alistair. There is nothing Alistair could gain from her friendship besides just that. Her friendship.

        She supposes that none of their other companions could gain anything else from her either. Sten is just as standoffish with her as he is with everyone else, Morrigan has no interest in her power or money, Leliana's a fugitive on the run from all of Orlais, and Wynne is an old mage that lived her entire life in the Circle. Even if she still had any of the money or power she had before everything happened, they all follower her in hopes to help end the Blight. With them, she's no longer a noble girl trading in wealth and power. She's just a Grey Warden trading her friendship in return for theirs.

        Admittedly, Selene is still unsure if the bond she shares with Alistair is simply because they've gone through so much together in the short amount of time they've known each other. And even with all of their new friends, they are still each other's only true colleague. They are the last two Grey Wardens in all of Ferelden.

        But not knowing why doesn't change the fact that it's still there. She cares for him, a great deal more than she'd like. Whether or not it's because of their current situation isn't important anymore.

        She's had her idle fancies before. If a particular knight in the castle caught her attention, she'd spend a little more time in the training yard than usual. Although, more often than not, she'd come to realize that he would prefer her in a gown than armor, and lose all interest. She would tell herself the same thing she told her mother. "He won't expect me to put down my weapons in favor of a ball of yarn and a dress." She wouldn't change herself for some knight she fancied, no matter how good he looked with a sword in his hand.

        The closest she got to finding someone she could see building something good with, was with Ser Gilmore. He was polite and even indulged in her love for her less-than ladylike activities. But it was just a girlish crush, and he could see that. They wouldn't last even if they tried. They were better as friends than they ever would have been as lovers, and thus remained as such.

        But what Selene has with Alistair is no idle fancy or girlish crush. She wonders if this is what it's like to be falling in love. Did her mother feel like this when she met her father? Or Oriana and Fergus, or all of those girls in the fairy tales she grew up hearing?

        There are times where she can't even bring herself to look at him, times where just standing next to him twists her insides into knots. Times where she's gripped with fear when he faces far too many darkspawn than he could handle alone and the wash of relief when he's still standing at the end of the battle. The way she can only feel truly safe and comfortable when he's near. And the way only he can make her laugh until her belly aches and there are tears falling from her eyes, even after hard days. But also how he understands her like nobody else has, not even Fergus.

        Alistair makes her feel things she thought impossible, especially in the middle of a disaster stacked on other disasters. He makes her feel the way she's only heard in fairy tales her mother used to tell her as a child. Gone are the days of her idle fancies and girlish crushes. Gone are the days of her dreaming of falling in love with a knight in shining armor, who would let her fight alongside him. Alistair's armor is perpetually caked in blood not his own and dirt and the grime of traveling, and he's not exactly a knight, but she wouldn't have him any other way.

        Selene cares a great deal for Alistair, that much is clear. But now she's beginning to wonder if this is what it's like to be falling in love.

Chapter Text

        If one were to ask Selene why she let the question tumble out of her mouth or why she was even thinking of it in the first place, she'd lie through her teeth. And if someone suggested that her mind started wandering after Alistair returned to camp with just his bottom half clothed, she'd throw them into the lake.

        "If you were raised in the Chantry, have you never..." She regrets the question as soon as she realizes what she's saying, for multiple reasons. Just the mortification of asking Alistair, of all people, that question, and also the delighted look on his face once he recognizes this as an opportunity to tease his fellow Warden. She wishes her mind never started wandering down that path.

        "Never...? Never what? Had a good pair of shoes?" Oh, how the girl wants nothing more than for a hoard of darkspawn to burst up from the ground and drag her back down with them. Leliana snickers, but makes no comment and no attempt to save her fellow rogue as she busies herself with her bowstring. Now there's no way out of this conversation for Selene.

        "You know what I mean." She grumbles. She also tries to busy herself with her weapons, but she already sharpened out any nicks there might have been on the blades.

        "I'm not sure I do. Have I never seen a basilisk? Ate jellied ham? Have I never licked a lamppost in winter?" Selene knows that look on his face. That stupid, annoying, smug look on his stupid, annoying, handsome face.

        "Now you're making fun of me." "Make fun of you, dear lady? Perish the thought." He is far too delighted and having far too much fun with the conversation.

        "Well, tell me. Have you ever licked a lamppost in winter?" Selene doesn't know if she wants to laugh, cry, or both.

        "No, I've never licked a lamppost in winter." The laugh her response elicits from him makes her think that maybe her embarrassment is wort it. Maybe.

        "Good, I hear it's quite painful. One of the younger initiates did it on a dare, once, and there was pointing and laughing..." Alistair pauses for a moment to make a dramatic sigh. "Oh, the humanity."

        For a moment, Selene thinks her fellow Grey Warden is going to let her off the hook. But, just as she makes a move to run away, she's proven wrong.

        "I, myself, have also never done it. That. Not that I haven't thought about it, of course, know." This really doesn't help her wandering mind. And, as much as she wants out of the conversation, her curiosity and that stupid, stupid part of her mind that was already wandering wants to hear more.

        "Never had the opportunity?" This brings out another laugh from him.

        "Living in the Chantry is...not exactly a life for rambunctious boys. They taught me to be a gentleman, especially in the presence of beautiful women such as yourself. That's not so bad, is it?" "You think I'm beautiful?"

        Her mother, and certainly Wynne as well, would chastise her for completely missing the point of what he just said. But neither of them are present.

        "Of course you are, and you know it. You're ravishing, and resourceful, and all those other things you'd probably hurt me for not saying." This time, it's Selene that laughs.

        "I'd never hurt you, Alistair." For a moment, both of them forget about their frequent sparring matches that often end with bruises and sore muscles. She expects him to play along but, for the first time since this whole embarrassing conversation started, his face falls into something a little softer and a little more serious.

        "Nor I you." Maker, she wishes he didn't say that. She wishes he didn't say it so softly and fondly, either. Curse him and his ability to knock all the air out of her lungs with just a few words.

        "Come on, then. Let us be off before your risque talk make my ears blush." He stands, stretches, and holds a hand out to help her up as well. Both of them know she can get up on her own. She's done it far too many times to count and they're far past the point of needing to be formal and gentlemanly. But still, she takes his hand and appreciates how nice it feels around hers for the brief moment it's there.

Chapter Text

        They were all skeptical of Zevran at first. He was hired by Loghain to kill them, after all. But Selene made the decision to trust him, so he was let into the party. And now, as the Antivan elf dramatically acts out a story from his past with Leliana's music as his background, Alistair thinks maybe it wan't that bad of an idea after all. Especially if it lifts the party's spirits and makes Selene laugh.

        Zevran ends his story with a flourish and the few of them that were watching all clap, including Wynne. No matter how much she dislikes his profession or his advances on her, even she has to admit that he's a good storyteller.

        After the applause dies down and Zevran returns to his seat by the fire, Leliana continues with her lute, although with a much less lively tune. The rest of them are happy to sit around the fire and listen, content with the quiet companionship. However, Alistair notices the way Selene taps her fingers along with the music. It gives him an idea.

        He stands and, inspired by Zevran's previous flair, makes a dramatic bow and flourish with his hand in front of Selene. "May I have this dance, My Lady?"

        She laughs, delighted with his dramatics. She hides her giggles behind one hand and takes his with the other. For a moment, he continues with his exuberant movements and swings them around wildly but, after more than a few stumbles and nearly dropping them both into the fire, he slows things down to match better with the music.

        Alistair really shouldn't be surprised that she's a good dancer, she would have been taught these things from a young age, after all. But the way she can adjust to his poor dancing skills still takes him by surprise.

        No matter how much time they spend together, with their ever-increasing familiarity and decreasing inhibitions with each other, Alistair still gets so nervous when she's close like this. Nearly pressed chest-to-chest, one hand in his and the other resting comfortably on his shoulder. He's held her before, but not like this. He can't help but to think how nice it feels to hold her waist, how nice it is to hold her close like this.

        This close, Alistair can see the little scar just above her temple, hidden by her hair. He can almost count all of the eyelashes on her eyes. Oh, how easy it would be to lean down and kiss her with how close they are.

        He almost wants to pull her closer, partially to make it easier to not kiss her and partially because he wants to know how well her body would fit against his. Would it be a perfect match, like the way her hand feels like it fits just right in his?

        But somehow, he feels like that would push too close to being inappropriate. Even this, just dancing with her, is pushing close to a line he's scared to cross. They've been dancing around each other, both literally and figuratively, flirting here and there and this is definitely not the first time he's been oh-so tempted to kiss her and open the floodgates of his feelings for her.

        He wants to. Oh, Maker, he wants more than anything to tell her how he feels. He wants to be selfish and take the one good thing about his life, but he's scared. He's scared that she wouldn't actually want him the same way. He's scared that she just likes the flirting and the fun they have together as friends. And he's absolutely terrified of how she'd react to his secret. What if she does like him, but then he tells her and she decides it's too much? He doesn't know if he wants to take that chance, to risk what they have to pursue something more.

        No. For now, right in this moment, he decides he's content. He may change his mind in the future. Hell, he knows he's going to change his mind. But whether it'll be in a month, in a week, or even tomorrow, that doesn't matter. Because for now, he's happy to just twirl her around and watch her have the time of her life in his arms.

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        At first, Alistair wondered why Selene carried a shield, kept strapped to her pack. She duel wields, so she has no need or use for a shield. She even said herself that she doesn't know how to use it properly when he asked early on in their travels. Still, she never said why she kept it. He came to the conclusion that it probably held some sentimental value since she had it when she first arrived at Ostagar with Duncan. Especially after she opened up to him about the events at Highever. Given that, the last thing he expected was for her to present it to him.

        "I want you to have it." Her request is clear, but Alistair's mind has trouble comprehending it.

        He barely processes the words as they leave her mouth. She sits there in front of him with the shield held out in front of her, the symbol of the Couslands sitting proudly in the center. He stares blankly at her for a few moments.

        "You...what?" He asks, knowing that he sounds dumb. Despite his question though, her resolve doesn't falter. She nods down at the shield, now setting it on the ground between them.

        "I want you to have it." Selene repeats, without the slightest hint of hesitation.

        Alistair moves his stare from her to the shield between them. It's a remarkable shield, better than any he's ever carried before, and certainly much better than the one he carries now. But that's not what has him so speechless and, frankly, confused. It's that she's carried this shield from the moment she stepped out of Highever and protected it like it was something precious. To her, it is precious.

        "I'm giving it to you as a gift." She presses again after he remains silent for more than a few moments. Alistair finally tears his gaze away from the shield, and returns it to Selene's face.

        "I got that, but...why?" He questions quietly. He doesn't know if he trusts his voice enough to keep his emotions under control to speak louder than that. He's honestly a little surprised that he has to keep his emotions in check.

        "Why?" She echos, now confused herself. He nods as he looks over the shield once more.

        "You've carried this shield with you all this time, even thought you don't know how to use it. This is the shield of Highever. It's one of the last relics you have from your home. Why give it to me?"

        A part of him yells to just take it and be grateful, but he can't. Not when it means so much to her.

        Alistair watches as the emotions stir in her eyes. The aching sadness he's seen countless times before, but also a sense of determination. Selene looks down at the shield and grips it tightly for a moment, before pushing it even closer to him.

        "Because I trust you, and I care about you. And I really...." She trails off momentarily, voice constricting with emotion. She regains her composure and turns her gaze back up to meet his. "I can think of no one I'd rather hold it."

        Her words knock the air out of Alistair's lungs just as surely as a punch would have. It almost feels like she did punch him. He has to take several deep breaths to keep his composure before he reaches for the shield. He gives her a look, silently asking if she's sure. With her permission, he takes the shield and turns it over in his hands. He doesn't miss the pleased and somewhat proud look in her eyes as he inspects every inch of the shield and holds it on his arm.

        "This is the most remarkable shield I've ever held." He laments as he tests its weight, holding his arm at various angles. Now, the pride washes over Selene's face completely.

        "Of course it is. It's Highever, after all. When have we delivered anything but the best?" Selene huffs out, crossing her arms over her chest.

        Alistair throws a deliberate glance over towards Rufus, who has chosen now as a good time to relieve himself on a nearby bush. Selene makes a face at her fellow Warden, silently daring him to say anything about her precious hound. He, wisely, decides not to. Instead, he takes the shield off his arm and turns it so it faces up again.

        "I..." He trails off, still baffled and touched by the display of trust. "Selene, I can't begin to thank you. For all of this. For the shield and trusting me with it. I promise you, I'll take care of it." He grips the sides of the shield and stares at her. He hopes his eyes can convey what he can't put into words. She meets his gaze and smiles.

        "It's fine around camp but, out in the rest of the world, the Couslands are supposed to be dead. Might not be the best of ideas to keep it uncovered." She turns away from him to reach behind her. In her hands, Alistair can see the piece of leather she had been using to cover the Cousland crest. It's a little beat up, but it'll still do its job.

        "Yeah, that'll probably come in handy." He hands the shield over for Selene to cover up once last time. She wears a nostalgic smile as she pulls the leather over the shield and fastens it into place.

        "Thank you, Selene. Truly." Alistair reaches out and places one of his hands over hers, resting on the face of the shield. She smiles, but keeps her eyes fixed on their hands.

        "Thank you, Alistair."

Chapter Text

        "You're quite taken with each other, aren't you?" Wynne asks as she settles down on the log next to Selene. The question startles the young Warden, and she can feel her face heat up a little at the question.

        "I'm afraid we're not on the same page. What do you mean?" Selene asks quietly, verging on mumbling.

        She knows what the woman means. Wynne has caught the two Wardens staring and smiling at each other more than a few times, and their apparent affections have become even more clear since the dance they shared. This is the first time anyone has actually spoken of it, though.

        "My girl, I think you know exactly what I'm talking about. It's hard not to notice the doe-eyed look you give each other when you think no-one is watching. It's almost too sweet for my taste, and I'm an old lady who should be making lace hearts and fuzzy blankets with animal motifs." Wynne's tone is light and almost teasing, but the humor doesn't quite reach her eyes. Still, being confronted with her obvious feelings for her companion is more than enough to embarrass Selene.

        "You're not the average old lady." The young girl draws in on herself, bringing her knees up to her chest and trying as best she can to hide behind them. This really is not a conversation she wants to be having. Not when neither she nor Alistair have actually said anything about how they feel, to anyone or to each other.

        "No, I won't be making socks with pom-poms any time soon, but that's hardly my point. I've noticed your blooming relationship, and I wanted to ask you where you thought it was going." The young girl nearly feels like she's going to get sick from the combined embarrassment and anxiety Wynne's question brings.

        "Alistair is a fine lad, skilled in battle, but quite inexperienced when it comes to affairs of the heart. I would hate to see him get hurt." Selene's eyebrows draw together. She knows Wynne means well, but still she can feel anger beginning to bubble inside of her.

        "Are you saying I might hurt him?" It takes all of her willpower to not let her anger show. However, Wynne could see the effects her words had.

        "Not intentionally, no. But there is great potential for tragedy here, for one or both of you. You are both Grey Wardens. You both have responsibilities which supersedes your personal desires." "I'm still a human being with emotions, not just a Grey Warden."

        The words rip themselves out of Selene's mouth before she can stop them, carrying the venom of her growing anger. Wynne's eyes soften a little, but Selene has her angry gaze fixated on the fire in front of them.

        "That may be true, but you are still a Grey Warden. Love is ultimately selfish. It demands that one be devoted to a single person, who may fully occupy one's mind and heart, to the exclusion of all else. A Grey Warden cannot afford to be selfish. You may be forced to choose between saving your love and saving everyone else. What would you do then?"

        Selene knows this. She doesn't need to be reminded that she has a duty to all of Thedas as a Grey Warden. She doesn't need to be reminded of one of the many things she's been fighting with herself about since day one.

        "We understand that anything can happen, that any of us can fall in battle. We saw that first-hand when Duncan, the rest of the Wardens, and the King all died at Ostagar." She can't hide her displeasure anymore. She's angry and she doesn't care if Wynne knows.

        "Nothing is certain, not in these times. You cannot take anything for granted. I want you to be aware of this." Carefully, she places a hand on the young woman's arm. Selene sighs and draws her eyebrows together again.

        "I'll...consider what you said." She gets up and quickly makes her way out of camp, not willing to spend any more time being lectured about things she already understands. Leliana shoots Wynne a sympathetic smile before standing and following the young Warden.

        She finds her sitting alone on a stump, head buried in her arms. Selene huffs, grabs a rock, and throws it as hard as she can into the woods. Leliana sits next to her, but remains silent to allow the younger girl to cool down.

        "Don't hold it against her. Her heart was in the right place." She says quietly, smoothing a hand down the middle of her back. Selene sighs and grabs fist-fulls of her hair.

        "I know but I..." She pauses to take a deep breath, and her hands tighten in her hair. "I don't need to be reminded that the world has gone to shit and it's my duty to put it right again." Selene lets go of her hair and draws her knees back up to her chest before wrapping her arms around them and hiding her face in her arms.

        "I've had everything ripped away from me. Please just let me have this." The hurt in her voice breaks Leliana's heart. She doesn't say anything, but continues to rub circles into the small of her back.

Chapter Text

        It's really not unusual for Alistair or Selene to pull the other away from camp to sit, talk, and spend time together away from the prying eyes of their nosy companions. Especially after Wynne's lecture. But something about the way Alistair looked nervous as he beckoned for his fellow Grey Warden to follow him has also made her nervous.

        Alistair leads them a fair distance away from camp. Far enough away that they won't be seen or heard, but close enough to know if there's any trouble. To say he prepared the scene would be a little bit of an overstatement. Really, he just found a clearing in the trees and rolled over a fallen log for them to sit on. There really isn't much for him to work with, constantly traveling as they are, so he takes the content smile on Selene's face as a good sign.

        "Here, look at this. Do you know what this is?" He waits until she's seated on the log with him. When she sits, he shows her the flower in his hand. She smiles and looks at him from the corner of her eye.

        "Your new weapon of choice?" From her smile and the twinkle in her eye, Alistair knows she's playing with him. So, why not indulge her?

        "Yes, that's right. Watch as I thrash our enemies with the mighty power of floral arrangements! Feel my thorns, darkspawn! I will overpower you with my rosy scent!" Alistair stands and thrashes at an invisible opponent with the rose, and delights in the bubbling laughter it earns. Selene is still giggling quietly when he sits back down.

        "Or, you know, it could just be a rose. I know that's pretty dull in comparison." It's hard for him to keep a straight face when she's smiling at him like that. Like it's just the two of them and the world isn't on the verge of ending.

        "I'll have you know that sentiment can be a pretty potent weapon." Her laughter finally dies down, and she eyes him with a knowing look.

        "Is it really that easy to see right through me?" Alistair decides to ignore the way her eyebrows raised, silently asking if he really needed to ask. "I guess I shouldn't be surprised."

        They fall silent as Alistair tries to collect his thoughts, and as Selene waits for him to do so. He finally turns his gaze towards her and twirls the little flower around between his fingers for a bit.

        "I picked it in Lothering. I remember thinking, "How could something so beautiful exist in a place with so much despair and ugliness?" I probably should have left it, but I couldn't. The darkspawn would come and their taint would just destroy it, so I've had it ever since."

        "That's a nice sentiment." Selene smiles. They're close enough to knock each other when one moves, but now she purposefully leans against him. It makes his heart race and he finds himself having more trouble thinking.

        "I thought...that I might give it to you. In a lot of ways, I think the same thing when I look at you."

        He's approaching dangerous territory here. As obvious as it is to everyone, including them, they've yet to say anything about their feelings. He knows Wynne had something to say about it, and he knows that it upset Selene quite a bit but, beyond that, nothing. Everything between them has been limited to finding any excuse to be close to one another and sharing soft gazes and shy smiles.

        Selene's cheeks darken a little at his words. He'll never get tired of being able to make her blush with just a few sincere words. He offers the rose to her and, much to his relief, she takes it.

        "Thank you, Alistair. It's a lovely thought." She keeps her head turned away from him, but he can still see the smile on her face. He nudges her with his elbow and leans forward just enough to get a better look at her.

        "I'm glad. I just...wanted to do something nice for you. You've been through so much but you still hold your head high." "Alistair, you know as well as I do that I'm not impervious to the things the world throws at us." The boy laughs at her interruption. He brought her out here to be all flowery with her, and she drags him back to reality. He doesn't mind, though. Not when it's her.

        "I know. What I meant was that you take it all in stride and don't let it show through, and yet here I am complaining all the time. I just wanted to tell you what a rare and wonderful thing you are amidst all this darkness." Her smile fades a little into something softer. They both sit quietly, Selene watching the flower as she twirls it in her hands, and Alistair watching her. What he wouldn't do if it meant he could freeze time so they could stay in this moment.

        He sees the way her smile grows and that familiar twinkle sparks in her eyes, and he knows something is coming. "Does this mean we're married now?"

        He had gotten used to her flirting, but this still throws him off and his mind goes blank. All he can do for a few seconds is sputter and laugh.

        "You won't land me that easily, woman." He sputters, and Selene just sits there giggling, proud that she managed to make him blush too. He can hear her quiet laughter as he takes another second to compose himself.

        "I guess it was just a stupid impulse. Do you...mind it?" He can see the question in her eyes when she looks at him, with her raised eyebrow and devious glint in her eyes. They soften as she continues to stare at him, seeing the uncertainty in his own eyes.

        "It wasn't. Thank you, Alistair. I appreciate it." Alistair sighs in relief, and he knows she can see his feelings written all over his face. She's just as good as him when it comes to reading each other. Possibly better.

        He stands, afraid that if he stays too long she'll be able to see all of the feelings he has bubbling just below the surface.

        "Right, now if we could move past the awkward, embarrassing stage and get right to the steamy bits, I'd appreciate that." Selene bubbles with laughter again, though much more subdued than earlier.

        "Aw, you were doing so well, too." She stands as well, and begins heading back in the direction of camp. She stops when she reaches the edge of the trees, waiting for him to join her. He does so happily and, hesitantly, takes her hand. But instead of heading back to camp, he leads her a little further away. Just a little more time away from their nosy companions.

Chapter Text

        If someone went to Alistair on the day Selene arrived at Ostagar and told him that he'd completely, utterly, and hopelessly fall in love with her one day, he'd laugh at them. He'd laugh but he'd believe it because, even then, he could tell there was something that drew him to her like a moth to a flame.

        Alistair knew he'd change his mind about being content with the way things are between them. He was happy to just keep dancing around his feelings and let his fears hold him back from telling her, but not anymore. The world is too cold, too harsh, and today served as a good reminder that life is far too short to not take advantage of the few good things he has left. He wants to be selfish.

        He's still afraid of finally letting his feeling out and then having them shoved back in his face. He's still afraid she'll reciprocate but then take it all back once she inevitably learns of his birthright. But today scared him and he's not going to let those fears control him anymore. He won't be bound by duty, not when it comes to her.

        They were ambushed again. They're only a couple weeks away from Redcliffe and spirits have been high lately, so they let their guard down. More than a few of them were injured, but especially to Selene. She got pushed into a trap and then cut down by a Hurlock. They were all okay in the end with no lasting injuries, but everyone had been shaken. Next time, they'll take more precautions.

        Hours have since passed and spirits aren't quite as damp as they were, but Alistair can't get the image of Selene getting cut down by a Hurlock out of his head. And from the look on her face, he's willing to bet that she still feels uneasy.

        He makes eye contact with her over the fire and motions for her to follow him. She hesitates for a moment, but ultimately decides to follow. Normally she wouldn't hesitate, but they had just been ambushed hours earlier.

        Alistair waits until they're far enough away from camp to not be seen before taking her hand and leading her all the way to the edge of the lake. They can see the Circle Tower from here, and all of it's faintly twinkling lights. It makes for a rather pretty scene. Kind of romantic too, if they ignore the fact that they're both still shaken from the day's events.

        Selene doesn't wait for him to say anything. As soon as they stop, she lets go of his hand and hugs him. She lets out a shaky breath, and then several slow breaths to steady herself after Alistair's arms wrap around her shoulders. They just stand there for several minutes, both comforted and grounded by each other's embrace. The girl buries her face in the crook of his neck and he rests his head on hers.

        "Are you okay?" Alistair asks in a whisper, unwilling to speak any louder. She only nods against his shoulder, and he pulls away just enough to look at her. Her eyes were closed, but she opens them to look up at him when he pulls away.

        "I'm okay, just shaken. Are you?" He nods too. For a moment, he can see Selene debate with herself and she even opens her mouth to say something, but she closes it and decides not to.

        "I promise I'm okay. I was more worried for you than anything else." The girl huffs, but says nothing. He knows what she wants to say. "I can handle myself," she'd say. "There's no need to worry about me," but still he would. How could he not after seeing what he saw? She doesn't say those things, though. She knows what his reply would be.

        She tucks her face back into the crook of his neck, and Alistair props his chin up on her head. They stand there for so long, he suspects they'd fall asleep if they were lying down. It's amazing, the things nearly losing someone does to a person. Normally Alistair would feel nervous and awkward for holding her for more than a few moments but, right now, he's not willing to let go for anything. Not for the first time, he wishes he could stop time so they can live in this moment forever.

        "You scared me today. For a second, I thought I lost you. I know we haven't known each other long, but I..." He stops and sighs.

        The words have already started coming out of his mouth, so he can't stop and take them all back. He needs to continue and he wants to, but the rapid beating of his heart is making it hard for him to put his thoughts and feelings into words. Selene pulls back from him just enough to look at him, making it that much harder.

        "I care for you, Selene. More than I ever could have imagined. And I...feel like you do too. Or am I fooling myself? Do you...feel the same way about me?" Alistair had never been so nervous about a question before, but as he speaks he can see the hope grow in her eyes. He can feel her breath against his face, and how it stops.

        She stares at him for a moment, pale eyes piercing into his. Much like the night she told him about Highever, and many nights after that, Alistair notices how much clearer her eyes look in the moonlight. Her continued silence would make him even more nervous, had he not been aware of the state of their relationship since long before he even thought of asking her this question.

        "I do. Feel the same way." Her words bring a wave of relief and he lets out a breath he didn't realize he was holding. In spite of himself, he laughs quietly.

        "Do me a favor, and never leave me hanging like that again." Alistair sees the smile in her eyes before it's even on her lips. Not for the first time, he looks at her and thinks of how easy it would be to kiss her. And it is. Neither of them realized just how close they were until Alistair intentionally tries to close the remaining space.

        Andraste preserve him, the amount of times he thought of kissing her and imagined what it would be like could never have prepared him for the reality. He feels like he's going to levitate out of his body if he doesn't hold on tight enough. She feels so warm and soft against him, he almost forgets that this girl is a trained fighter. If it weren't for the bite of the cold breeze and the feeling of her calloused hand holding the back of his neck, he'd feel like he were dreaming. But this is real. She is real, and he's never going to let her go if he can help it.

        Selene pulls away first, shivering when another breeze hits them from the lake.

        "That wasn't too soon, was it?" Despite all of the evidence to the contrary, he feels the need to ask. From the way she further curls into him and chews on her bottom lip, he'd guess no.

        "I don't know. I think I need further testing to see." Her eyes light with another smile and Alistair laughs quietly. It's not possible to pull her closer, so he just tightens his grip around her. Just warming her from the cold, he tells himself.

        "I think that could be arranged." Selene is already standing on her toes and smiling against his lips before he can finish the sentence.

Chapter Text

        If he were to ignore the darkspawn attacks, the Blight, the impending civil war, being outlaws in their own country, and the constant threat of death looming over their heads, Alistair would say that the past couple of weeks have been great.

        He and Selene have finally taken the next step in their relationship. His accidentally romantic lakeside confession didn't doom their friendship like he was afraid it might. Neither of them said just how deeply their feelings go, but that doesn't matter. He told her that he cared for her and she eagerly returned his feelings. Alistair doesn't have to completely dance around his growing feelings for his fellow Warden anymore, or push her away out of fear that he'll spill everything or kiss her on impulse.

        Their companions were able to piece it out more quickly and easily than either of them would have liked, but it was to be expected. They weren't exactly subtle about it either, with their near-nightly disappearances, lingering touches, and sneaking more than a few kisses behind their friends' backs.

        However, with each step they take closer to Redcliffe, something weighs heavier and heavier on Alistair's mind. Something he fears will change everything within the party and, more than anything, will bring this newfound happiness crashing down around him. The past weeks have been incredible, given their circumstances, and he doesn't want to risk that. But he should have been completely honest from the beginning, with all of them but especially with Selene.

        Now, as they set up camp with the dark outline of Redcliffe Castle on the quickly-darkening horizon, Alistair is forced to make his decision.

        Once camp has been set up and everyone has settled down where they're going to remain for the rest of the night, Alistair pulls Selene away from camp. She follows easily, almost eagerly, until she sees the unease and nervousness in the way her Warden moves. He can see the questions all over her face, and he almost feels like he's about to confess to her for the first time again. This is much more difficult, though. This runs the risk of ending the one good thing he was able to build.

        His name leaves her lips as a question, but he barely hears it. He can barely hear anything past his whirring thoughts and the dread he feels as he looks at the disappearing silhouette of the palace he once called home.

        "Before we get to Redcliffe, I need to tell you something. Something I should have told you much, much earlier." He spits the words out before he can lose what little nerve he has left. However, he doesn't look at Selene. He doesn't want to see the rising questions and anxiety he knows he just dumped on her.

        "I told you that Arl Eamon raised me, before he sent me off to the Chantry. You asked me once why he did that, but I never answered." He fiddles with a pebble under his boot. He stares down at it like it's the most interesting thing in the world. He tries not to look at her, afraid that he'll see her heartbreak and betrayal in her eyes. But Selene places a hand on his shoulder and proves that, even now, she can command all of his attention effortlessly. And instead of the heartbreak and betrayal of finding out she's been lied to, her eyes are as curious as ever. This alone gives him that extra boost of confidence he didn't realize he needed.

        "That's because my father...was King Maric. Cailan is...was my half-brother." Alistair watches as the words process in her head and the realization that shows in her eyes moments later. Much like she did when he confessed, she takes far too long to process her thoughts and respond than he'd like.

        "So..." She begins, taking her hand off his shoulder but remaining close. He sees that oh-so familiar spark in her eyes and he breathes an internal sigh of relief. "You're not only a bastard, but a royal bastard?"

        He laughs. Whether out of relief or because of her joke, he'll never know. But, Maker, is he relieved.

        "Alright, I'll admit that was a good one. But..." He takes a deep breath, both to steady himself and set them back on topic. "Everyone who knew either resented or coddled me. Even Duncan kept me out of the fighting, and I just didn't want you to know for as long as possible. I'm sorry."

        Slowly, the humorous glint in Selene's eyes dies down to something softer. She reaches out to grab his hand, but hesitates and takes her hand back. Alistair sees this and reaches out for her. He thanks any entity that might be listening when she takes his hand. He hopes this means that all of his fears were for nothing.

        "I think I can understand. If I had a choice, I wouldn't have told you where I came from for similar reasons." Alistair opens his mouth to say "No I would never" and deny anything she said, but she beats him to it.

        "Admit it. Duncan told you my name and the first thing you thought was that I wouldn't last five minutes without complaining about missing home and my comfy bed." Her eyes narrow at him and an eyebrow quirks up. Alistair faintly thinks that she looks rather attractive with such an expression, but pushes that thought away with a snicker.

        "Okay, maybe I did. You have a point." Her eyebrow raises even further and he can see the "But?" forming on her lips.

        "But," He says it for her and takes her other hand, gripping both of hers firmly. "That's my secret. That's what I had to tell you. I thought I should tell you."

        That playful light returns to her eyes and she wiggles her eyebrows at him.

        "What a thrilling secret. Got any more?" She leans forward, getting rather close to him but not quite close enough to kiss. Alistair sees the challenge, but decides not to take it. For now.

        "Aside from my unholy love of cheese and a minor obsession with my hair? No, that's about it. Now, can we move on and go back to thinking I was just some nobody who was too lucky to die with the rest of the Grey Wardens?"

        Alistair already regrets the entire conversation the moment he sees the grin spreading across Selene's face. Though, not for the same reason he initially thought he would.

        "As you command, my prince."

Chapter Text

        By all accounts, Alistair should think that his relationship with Selene suffered no damage after he revealed his birthright to her. She hasn't treated him any differently than before, and he really can't be any more thankful for that. But he still has a nagging fear that she'll leave him once this is all over, not wanting to be wrapped up with a bastard prince.

        It's been a couple of hours since their talk and, like usual, they're the last two up that aren't on watch. Morrigan, Wynne, Leliana, and Zevran have all long since crawled into their tents while Sten takes first watch and the two Wardens sit across from each other on opposite sides of the campfire. It's not unusual for them to do this, just sit and occasionally look up and smile at each other but remain in relative silence.

        Selene usually takes this time to tend to Rufus, tending to any injuries he may have sustained, brushing out his fur, and giving him a long rubdown that Alistair feels silly to be jealous of. Sometimes he joins in. Alistair does enjoy their four-legged, furry companion no matter how jealous he is of the attention the dog gets from Selene.

        Tonight, since Wynne already bathed him and treated some minor scratches he, Selene just mindlessly scratches behind Rufus's ear.

        Alistair moves from his spot and settles down on the other side of Selene. Rufus briefly looks up at him, lifting his head off the girl's lap, before losing interest and dropping right back down and dozing off. At least Selene looks a little more enthusiastic about their company. Alistair really hates to break this comfortable, serene moment, but if he doesn't talk to her before they get to Redcliffe, he's going to go mad.

        "Can" He hesitates to speak and when he does, it's just barely above a whisper. Both out of not wanting to disturb the peace in camp and not wanting the others to hear.

        Selene's eyebrows raise as she looks at him, and he can see the "Again?" forming on her lips.

        "I just...want to make sure we're alright after...what I told you." The girl's mouth opens in a silent "Ah" and she gives him a small smile, although he can still see the questions in her eyes.

        "Why wouldn't we be?" She questions, keeping her voice at the same level as his. Alistair shifts nervously, accidentally knocking into her and disturbing the sleeping dog in her lap. Rufus huffs out disapprovingly, but doesn't move away.

        "I don't know. I guess I thought that you might have been...hurt? I don't want you to feel like I didn't trust you--that's absolutely not the case. I scared to tell you. I was afraid that you might treat me differently or look at me differently. Especially after know."

        Selene smiles again and covers her mouth to stifle a small giggle. "Alistair, we kissed and admitted that we care for each other. You make it sound like we spent the night together." His cheeks flush at the prospect of spending the night with her, and she giggles even more at the sight. Her eyes soften once she stops laughing, and she places one hand on his.

        "I understand why you didn't. I already told you that I would have done the same, had Duncan not told you before we even arrived at Ostagar. And if you were worried that your blood changes how I see you, don't." She moves her hand from his to brush a piece of hair out of his face before resting it on his cheek.

        "It doesn't matter who your parents are or where you came from. The Alistair I know and have grown to care a great deal for is one of the most caring people I've ever met, not a bastard prince. I know Alistair the Grey Warden, not this bastard prince you think I see."

        Alistair is learning very quickly that Selene knows just the right things to say to make his insides melt into a puddle of mush and push away all of his worries. If there's a future to be had after all of this, he wants her to be a part of it. He can't form enough words to make a coherent sentence, so he settles on taking her hand off his face and pressing a kiss into her palm.

        "Where would I be without you?" He mutters into her palm and she laughs quietly.

        "At the end of some darkspawn's sword, perhaps?" Alistair snorts, causing Selene to pull her hand away and wipe it on his shoulder as if he just spat on it.

        "That may be true, but you don't have to say it."

Chapter Text

        "Da? Do you think I could ever be a great hero like the Wardens?" "Maybe one day, pup."

        Ever since she was a girl, Selene had wanted to be a hero like in the stories her father used to tell her. On nights when her mother told her stories, she was a princess falling in love with the knight in shining armor. When her father told her stories, she was the hero that saved the day. Eventually her two fantasies blended and she dreamt of fighting alongside the knight she fell in love with.

        She wasn't in her teens yet when Brother Aldous first introduced her to the stories of the Grey Wardens. Legendary warriors of all races and genders who sacrifice everything to protect the lands from the vile darkspawn. It didn't matter what one's background was, each and every Warden was revered and held at the highest esteem, and proved that they deserved it with their valor.

        The things Selene heard about the Wardens fit her fantasies of heroism and glory perfectly, like a missing piece in a puzzle. She knew exactly what she wanted, but nothing had fit into her ideal fantasy until she learned of the Wardens. Her young mind took that and ran with it, determined that her destiny would be to become a Grey Warden of legend.

        As she grew, her childish fantasies and desire for glory began to fade away, and she became more aware of the faults in the order and in her own reasoning behind it being her destiny. Though she still held a strong fascination and respect for the Wardens, and she would still jump at any chance to possibly be recruited into the order.

        No new face appears on the castle grounds without her noticing. She noticed the strange man almost as soon as he stepped foot through the gates. Who is this man, why is he alone, and what business does he have here?

        Her father is speaking with Arl Howe when Selene enters the main hall. She already suspected that the arl's men were delayed, but hearing them talk confirms it. They're laughing about something to do with smells when her father finally notices her standing on the sidelines.

        "I'm sorry pup, I didn't see you there. Howe, you remember my daughter Selene." Bryce ushers her closer with a wave of his hand, and Selene nods a greeting to both of them as she approaches. Howe bows his own head in return.

        "Well of course. I see she's become a fine young woman. Pleased to see you again, my dear." "And you, Arl Howe."

        Her father is happy to sit back and listen to them go back and forth about the arl's son, the man not-so-subtly hinting about the boy's crush and Selene also not-so-subtly rejecting the idea of an arranged marriage. Bryce finally cuts in once he can see Howe's patience begin to wear thin.

        "At any rate, pup, I summoned you for a reason. While your brother and I are both away, I'm leaving you in charge of the castle."

        Selene's heart drops into her stomach. She fully expected to finally be allowed to ride with them. Bryce can see the rising arguments and complaints, and he raises a hand to stop them before they start.

        "I am not willing to deal with your mother if you join the war. She'd kill me if I let you go. She's already twisted into knots about just Fergus and me."

        She knows she shouldn't argue. Her father has likely already set his mind on his decision and it's not her mother that she gets her stubbornness from. But just because she knows she shouldn't, doesn't mean she won't.

        "Why can't you leave Mother in charge of the castle? That'll keep her busy enough to not worry about us." She can see the way Arl Howe's lips twitch disapprovingly from the corner of her eye. Maker take him, she doesn't need his approval.

        "You know as well as I do that she would still find time to worry, if she even let you out of her sight for long enough to sneak away with us. No, pup, your place is here." Bryce smooths down some stray pieces of hair on the top of his daughter's head. Her shoulders droop slightly, but she lifts her chin high.

        "Very well. I'll do what you think is best." Her words bring a smile to the man's face, and he claps a hand on her shoulder.

        "That's my girl. In any case, there's someone I think you'd like to meet. Please, show Duncan in." Bryce calls to a guard standing at the side of the room. He disappears briefly, returning quickly with the man Selene noticed in the castle not long ago. The man, possibly named Duncan, bows his head in greeting to the three of them.

        "It is an honor to be a guest within your hall, Teyrn Cousland." He's respectful, but Selene gets a weird feeling from him. She briefly narrows her eyes at him, but wipes the possibly disrespectful look off her face before anyone notices. Who's this old guy?

        "Your Lordship, you didn't mention that a Grey Warden would be present." Howe sounds...uncomfortable with Duncan's appearance, but Selene's mind barely registers that.

        All of the air leaves her lungs and she can feel all of her childish excitement and admiration for the Grey Wardens return. Bryce chuckles at her surely starstruck expression before she quickly regains control of her face, the tips of her ears burning in embarrassment.

        "He arrived just recently, unannounced. Selene, this is Duncan. He leads the Ferelden Grey Wardens. Duncan, this is my daughter, Selene. She's had a great fascination with the Wardens ever since Brother Aldous began telling her stories of them when she was a girl."

        Selene's ears burn hotter with her father's comment. Duncan takes it in good humor and bows his head again, but only to Selene. "A pleasure to meet you, my lady."

        As if she hasn't been embarrassed enough, she has to further add insult to injury by stuttering and barely coughing out a "Likewise."

        "Duncan is looking for recruits before joining us and his fellow Wardens in the south. I believe he has his eye on Ser Gilmore." Bryce says carefully, keeping a close eye on Selene. He adds just a little emphasis on Ser Gilmore's name, as if silently telling his daughter "Don't even think about it." Selene chooses to ignore it, though, and turns an eager eye towards Duncan. The voice of her twelve year-old self comes crashing back into her head, proudly exclaiming that it's her destiny to join the Wardens. And Duncan can conscript her.

        "If I might be so bold, I would suggest that your daughter is also an excellent candidate." Has there ever been a time in her life where she had felt this happy? Maybe, but she can't remember. Her head whips back over towards her father, but the stern look in his eyes stamps down her rising hope.

        "Honor though that might be, this is my daughter we're talking about." "Father please." Selene could throw herself at her father's feet and begin begging. It takes all of the etiquette lessons she barely paid attention in to not do exactly that.

        "No." The force in his voice and the look in his eye suffocates the last bit of flame, and she can physically feel herself deflate.

        "I've not so many children that I'll gladly see them all off to battle. Unless you intend to invoke the Right of Conscription...?" There's a challenge in his words. Duncan, perhaps wisely, decides not to take it.

        "Have no fear. While we need as many good recruits as we can find, I've no intention of forcing the issue."

        Less than five minutes ago, Selene would have been glad to be conscripted. But now all she wants to do is find her dog and hide away.

        "Pup, can you ensure that Duncan's requests are seen to while I'm gone?" Bryce asks, easing his voice down to something softer. He places a hand on her shoulder, but she shrugs it off.

        "Of course." Her words are dead compared to how eager they sounded just a few moments earlier. Again, she can see Howe staring disapprovingly at her. May the Maker smite him.

Chapter Text

        Running around the castle and idly chatting with the various people in it raised her spirits enough to not drag herself around like a lifeless corpse, but talking with Ser Gilmore about Duncan just dampened them again. After chatting with some more people, chasing giant rats out of the larder, and finding Fergus, Selene took Rufus and threw herself down into a corner in the library.

        On the other side of the room, she can hear Brother Aldous giving lessons to the two new squires. She helped with a little Cousland history, knowing from experience just how boring the old man's lessons can get and wanting to save the two boys from as much boredom as possible. She doesn't have any motivation to help any further, though. Not after the disappointment that was the meeting with Duncan and her father.

        Normally Brother Aldous wouldn't let Rufus into the library, claiming that he'll slobber all over the books and leave his fur everywhere, but he could see the lack of pep in Selene's step, so he allowed it. Now, the girl just sits on the floor against a bookshelf in the corner of the library, an open book on her lap and Rufus snoozing happily at her feet.

        She's read this book possibly hundreds of times and over again since she was a child. Just a collection of tales, possibly real or not, of the Grey Wardens. She started reading it, but eventually got lost in her own thoughts and is now just staring blankly at it. For as long as she could remember, she dreamed of being a Grey Warden. For an embarrassingly long time, she truly believed it was her destiny. And now when the opportunity is dangling right in front of her, it sits just too far out of her grasp. Close enough to touch, but not enough to grab.

        She wants to march back up to her father and plead with him, beg him to let Duncan test her. Argue that it's everything she's dreamed of. But how willing would he be to let his only daughter give up her life as it is now to be a Warden? Even he says there is no higher calling, no higher honor, but still it isn't enough to convince him to let her go. Maybe she could sneak out of the castle and follow Duncan. Then he'd be forced to take her.

        Selene dashes that idea as soon as it crosses her mind. Aside from the fact that she's horrible at sneaking, despite being categorized as a rogue, she couldn't stand by that morally. She'd leave her entire family without a word to chase some dream she never expected to come true in the first place, and she has no wish to get on Duncan's bad side. And there's no guarantee that the old Warden wouldn't just drag her back to the castle.

        A quiet chuckle snaps her out of her thoughts, and she nearly jumps out of her skin when she sees who's laughing at her. There Duncan stands, peering at her from around a pillar, an eyebrow raised.

        "Dear girl, I don't think I've ever seen a noblewoman look so defeated." He says quietly, stepping around the pillar to crouch down in front of her. Her ears flush in embarrassment, and she can feel the heat radiate down her neck. Oh great, she thinks, Now he's treating me like a child. That bodes well for her ever-decreasing chances of getting recruited.

        "Your father tells me that you've wanted to join the Wardens from a young age." The man stands and motions to a table sitting less than a few feet away. Selene sighs and closes the book, replacing it on the shelf before joining him. Rufus looks up at her curiously, but ultimately loses interest and goes back to sleep.

        "Some people whisper of a new Blight. Others say it's just an unusually large raid. You're a Warden...what do you think?" Duncan looks a little surprised by her question, but not displeased. He folds his hands on the table in front of him.

        "I believe this is a Blight." He says evenly. Selene has mixed feelings. She's relieved that he's not actually treating her like a child, but his confirmation that what they face is a Blight makes her feel sick. She may not have been the best student, but she did always listen to Brother Aldous when he talked about the Blights.

        "Father said that the first battles have gone well. Are you sure?" She doesn't mean to sound like she's doubting his word. Duncan is a Grey Warden, and has been for a long time. When it comes to darkspawn and Blights, she trusts his word over anyone else's. But her father and brother are about to join that war. If it's a Blight, she doesn't want them going alone, if at all.

        Duncan eyes her carefully. Thank the Maker she at least learned something from her etiquette lessons, or else she'd crumble under his scrutinizing stare.

        "No archdmon has been sighted yet, but I believe with my entire soul that this is a Blight." She can stand his gaze, but she crumbles under his words. Though only a little. She lets out a long, slow breath and grips her knees tightly.

        "I understand your night is going to be cut short, and I'm not going to be here for long. If you have questions, I suggest you ask them now. You may never have a chance to after." Duncan breaks the serious air. His sudden change of tone nearly startles Selene, but she keeps her composure.

        The Warden is happy to answer her somewhat embarrassingly long list of questions and, to an extent, indulges her childlike excitement about the order. There's a lot he can't answer, but if she never gets the chance to join, then this will keep her happy for the time being.

        He confuses her, just a little bit. He treats her almost like a child for the most part, but then there are times where he is completely serious with her. No sugar-coating, no beating around the bush. He knows she can handle the truth, but would sometimes rather let her keep her excitement.

        After a while, she begrudgingly tears herself away from the conversation. Every inch of her being is yelling at her to keep trying to pull as much information and perhaps some stories out of the old Warden, but she's old enough to know that she has a responsibility. Her father is leaving her in charge of the castle, and she's not going to shirk her duties just because of her desire to hear more.

        Before she leaves, though, she turns back to Duncan. She grips the edge of the chair as she stands, staring down at the table.

        "Would you really recruit me into the Grey Wardens?" She asks quietly. She doesn't want to look at Duncan but, after an increasingly long moment of silence, she looks back up at him. He's eyeing her carefully, thinking. Selene can almost see his mind working.

        "Of course. You are young, skilled, and eager for battle. The Grey Wardens do not recruit simply anyone, and I intend no flattery when I say you show promise. The old treaties allow me to conscript you against your father's wishes, and I can see just how strongly you wish to join, but our order is too small to risk animosity with Ferelden's nobility."

        Selene sighs. She knew his answer wouldn't change, but she can't help the pang of disappointment in her gut. She lets go of the chair and bows her head to him.

        "Thank you, Duncan. It was an honor. I will leave you alone, now."

Chapter Text

        Selene knew something was off. She knew Howe was acting weird, when Duncan was introduced and when she told him she just wanted to wish him well. She knew his men shouldn't have been as delayed as they were. That bastard, they were delayed on purpose.

        She had never killed a man before. She'd hunted with her father before, and was tempted to stick an arrow through a minor nobleman's shin after one too many remarks about her being with them, but nothing like this. She never had to defend her life and watch as the lives slipped away from the two men that now lie at her feet. Men who wear Howe's family crest on their shields.

        Her mother bursts through the door and finds her on the brink of breaking down, loosely gripping her daggers and still in her now-bloodstained nightdress. Selene had never taken the life of a man before, but now she stands over the bodies of two men she had just slain.

        "Darling! I heard fighting outside and I feared the worst. Are you hurt?" Eleanor rushes towards her daughter, stepping over one of Howe's soldiers to reach her. Selene swallows the lump in her throat and shakes her head. She's covered in blood, but none of it is hers.

        "What's going on?" Both of them flinch when they hear a scream. Eleanor rushes Selene back into her bedroom and urges her to change into her armor.

        "I don't know. There were men in the hall, so I barred the door." "Those men are soldiers, Mother. They wear Howe's crest." Selene stammers as she struggles to get into her armor. Eleanor helps her lace up her chest piece as she moves onto her bracers.

        "Howe was acting strangely today. I knew his men shouldn't have been delayed so much. Do you know where Father is?" "No, he never came to bed. We must find him."

        Without another word, they carefully step out of Selene's room. Nothing waits for them except for the two men whose faces are probably going to haunt Selene for the rest of her life.

        As they step into the hall, Eleanor directs Selene's attention to a door left slightly ajar. The girl's heart sinks into her stomach and it gets harder and harder for her to breathe with each step she takes closer to it. Fergus's room, completely dark. But in the darkness, Selene can see the pale outline of a small hand on the floor.

        "Oren..." Her mother breaks down into tears behind her when she opens the door, and the scene reveals itself to them. Hot tears stream down her face and she grips onto the door tightly to keep herself from collapsing.

        "Howe is not even taking prisoners. He means to kill all of us!" Eleanor cries out as she cradles Oren's small body, not yet cold to the touch. Selene squeezes her eyes shut and grinds her teeth.

        "Howe will get every inch of my blade through his heart. I promise, Mother." The woman pries herself away from Oren and stands.

        "Then we need to get out of here. Your father must be at the front gates, but we should get to the treasury first." Eleanor takes Selene by the wrist and all-but drags her, putting as much distance between them and the bodies of Oren and Oriana.

        "We can't let Howe get his hands on the Cousland sword." Selene has trouble keeping up with her mother, both physically and mentally. Her head is spinning so fast she can barely process anything that's happening.

        "What if Father isn't at the front gates?" She almost has to yell for her mother to hear her over the noise of the fighting. Eleanor stops in her tracks and keeps her back turned to Selene for a moment. Her grip tightens on the girl's wrist briefly before she turns around and takes her daughter's hands in her own.

        "If we can't find your father, you must get out of here alive. Without you and Fergus, the entire Cousland line dies here. If Howe's men are inside, they must already control the castle. We have to use the servants' exit in the larder. Do you hear me?" Selene squeezes her eyes shut again, but she nods.

        They run into more men on the way to the treasury, and Selene's loses count of how many men she's killed now. By the time they clear out the treasury and reach the front gates, her hands are shaking so much she can barely hold her daggers. She's not sure if she wants to, after taking so many lives.

        There are more men in the main hall, but at least here there are more of their men and Ser Gilmore. Once Howe's men are taken care of, the knight turns his attention to the two women.

        "Thank the Maker you're both alive. I was certain Howe's men had gotten through." He sounds exhausted. How long had he been holding the gate?

        "Where's my father?" They don't have time to waste, and every second they stand around is another second closer to Howe's men completely breaking through the front gates.

        "He was looking for you two. Last I saw the teyrn, he was heading towards the larder, but he's been badly wounded. I think he means to find you two at the servants' exit."

        Selene and her mother share a worried glance. Badly wounded, Ser Gilmore said. That does not bode well.

        "Thank you, Ser Gilmore." Eleanor thanks him and grips his arm tightly before moving to the door closest to the kitchens. Selene takes a step forward, but stops and looks around, ultimately bringing her eyes up to the knight.

        "You're not coming, are you?" She asks quietly. For a moment she doubts he heard her, but then he smiles at her. A soft, sad smile as he shakes his head.

        "I'll buy you as much time as I can. It's been an honor, my lady." He takes her hand and squeezes it gently, and then he pushes her towards the door. Selene chokes back a sob as she follows her mother.

        "Maker watch over you, Ser Gilmore." "Maker watch over us all."

        Everything blurs together as they rush to the kitchens. Selene already lost count of the men that have fallen to her blade, and now also mabari hounds, but she's aware that the number has risen above thirty by the time they reach their destination.

        Her father is alive when they find him, but barely. They both rush towards him, but Selene hesitates to touch him. His clothes are drenched in blood, and she has a sinking feeling it's mostly all his. Her hands continue to shake as they hover over her father's body, and she barely hears anything her parents say to each other. Bryce snaps her out of her trance when he takes one of her hands. Tears pour down her cheeks again when she realizes that he's not being so gentle on purpose.

        "Selene, you need to go." Her eyes snap up to her father's face. She refuses to recognize the resignation in his eyes. She grabs onto his hands, desperate. She doesn't like what her father is implying.

        "We can get you out." Now her whole body is trembling. She grips her father's hands tightly, but his grip is continuously getting weaker.

        "I...I won't survive the standing, I think." His voice is as weak as his grip, and he struggles to speak. Selene shakes her head.

        "Then we'll stay and defend you." She insists, but even Eleanor is shaking her head before the words fully leave her mouth. Her mother puts a hand on her shoulder.

        "Once Howe's men break through the front gate, they'll find us. We have to go!" She says, quietly yet firmly. Leaving would mean abandoning her father. She shakes her head again.

        "You must...find Fergus...tell him what has happened." "Bryce, the servants' passage is right here. We can flee together, find you healing magic." Eleanor's voice betrays her calm exterior, rising in desperation. The sounds from outside are getting louder and louder with each passing moment.

        "The castle is surrounded...I cannot make it." "I'm afraid he is correct. Howe's men have not yet discovered this exit, but they surround the castle. Getting past will be difficult."

        All three of them turn towards the voice. Duncan, like the rest of them, is covered nearly head to toe in blood. But he looks mostly unharmed. Oh, how relieved Selene is to see him here, alive and well.

        "You are Duncan, then? The Grey Warden?" Eleanor asks as the man crouches down by the teyrn with them.

        "Yes, your Ladyship. The teyrn and I tried to reach you sooner." "My daughter helped me get here, Maker be praised." Her mother's hands are covered in blood when Selene finally notices them. She didn't even realize that Eleanor was trying to stop the bleeding in her father's wound.

        "I am hardly surprised." "Can you help us?" Any other time, Selene would take his comment as a compliment, and she would wear it proudly. But now is not the time for pride.

        "Duncan...I beg you...take my wife and daughter to safety." Bryce begs, now much weaker than before. The struggle to speak scares Selene, even though she already knows deep down that he's not going to make it.

        "I will, your Lordship. But I fear I must ask you for something in return." Bryce nods for him to continue, unable to speak again. "There is a Blight on the horizon. I came to your castle seeking a recruit. The darkspawn threat demands that I leave with one."

        Duncan doesn't need to say it outright for them all to hear what he is asking. Hours earlier, Selene would be absolutely elated. But now, all she wants is to stay with her father.

        "I...I understand." He agrees weakly. Selene swallows a sob and squeezes her eyes shut.

        "You're talking about me?" She stares at Duncan, but she doesn't take her hands out of her father's. The Warden nods.

        "You fought your way through Howe's men. I think the Maker's intention is clear." He stands and retrieves Selene's daggers from the ground. He offers them to her, and turns his attention back to Bryce.

        "I will take the teyrna and your daughter to Ostagar, to tell Fergus and the king what happened. Then, you daughter joins the Grey Wardens." The teyrn removes his hands from Selene's, and places them on his wife. Only then does Selene take her weapons from Duncan.

        "So long as justice comes to Howe...I agree." Satisfied with his answer, Duncan faces Selene again.

        "Then I offer you a place within the Grey Wardens. Fight with us." Those are words Selene had wanted to hear since she was a child, words she would have fought for. But now, all she can do is dig her hands into her hair and sob.

        "I accept your offer." She chokes out. Duncan helps her stand, but Eleanor remains on the ground next to Bryce.

        "Bryce, are you sure?" The teyrn nods and shudders as he takes in as deep a breath as he can manage, summoning the rest of his waning strength.

        "Our daughter will not die of Howe's treachery. She will live, and make her mark on the world." He leans heavily against Eleanor. Duncan quietly reminds them that they're running out of time, but the teyrna makes no move to join them.

        "Darling, go with Duncan. You have a better chance to escape without me." She's right, but Selene doesn't want it to be true. She drops to the floor again and clings to her mother like a child being sent away for the first time. Eleanor strokes her hair, and pushes her back towards Duncan.

        "Eleanor..." "Hush, Bryce. I'll kill every bastard that comes through that door to buy them time. But I won't abandon you."

        Selene sobs as she gives her parents one last hug, ignoring her father's blood staining her armor, as they exchange a final "I love you." Eleanor watches after Selene with a sad yet proud gleam in her eye as she stands and makes her way to the exit where Duncan waits.

        "Live, darling. Become a Grey Warden, and do what is right."

        The words echo in her mind as she and Duncan rush through the passage and fight through the men on the perimeter of the castle. They echo in her mind as they run away from the castle to the stable where Duncan's horse is, thankfully, still alive. Her mother's final words repeat in her head like a mantra as they flee Highever.

        Selene Cousland, now one of the last of her line, stares at her burning home with tears both dried and fresh on her cheeks as she discards one of her daggers and dons the Cousland family sword.

Chapter Text

        Selene was a bright-eyed, young girl full of hope and starstruck as she faced him when they met. She had the look of someone who knew every Grey Warden legend by memory and was in awe as she finally met a real one. He told the truth when he said she showed promise, and wasn't just trying to make a young admirer happy. But now as Duncan watches her, all of that enthusiasm and excitement is gone. She is a shell of herself from just days ago.

        He doesn't blame her, though. He doesn't blame her when he has to call her name more than once to get her attention, or when the far-off, distant look remains in her eyes as he talks to her. Seeing her once bright eyes now dim with despair hurts him. He's always had a soft spot for his recruits, but he would still hurt if he didn't.

        Selene idly tosses a stick for Rufus to chase and bring back to her as Duncan scribbles on a piece of parchment. He already wrote short letters briefing his other recruits, and those sit in a small pile on the ground next to him. The one he writes now is to Alistair, his former recruit, now junior member of the order.


        I will return to Ostagar in a few days with a new recruit. Her name is Selene Cousland. I have high expectations for her. Behave yourself in the meantime. I don't want to return to complaints of you riling up chantry sisters or mages.


        The Warden moves to fold up the parchment and slide it in an envelope, but he stops with the letter hanging halfway out. He looks up to where Selene has fallen asleep against the tree she was leaning against, and her hound asleep with his head in her lap. He looks at what is potentially the last of a once great and proud line.

P.S. Don't hassle the girl. She has been through a lot in the past few days. The events that lead to her recruitment were hard and she has lost much, so please hold your tongue when you speak to her and give her time.

        Duncan almost doesn't want to wake her. Sleeping as she is, it's the only time he's seen her without a frown since they left Highever. But he didn't bring her with him to mother her. She's to be a Grey Warden. Maker, he hopes she makes it through the Joining.

        Selene rouses herself when Rufus leaves her, smelling the fragrance of the stew coming to a boil over the campfire. Duncan catches her eye and motions to an empty bowl sitting next to the pot.

        He doesn't expect her to be used to this type of life, eating mediocre stew made on a campfire and living on the road. She was raised a noblewoman, after all. Though he knew she liked doing things herself, and she has made no complaints about their current living arrangements. It could be worse.

        "We'll pass through Redcliffe sometime tomorrow to gather some supplies and send off a few letters."

        Selene nods idly as he speaks. She pokes at and blows on her stew to cool it down, eventually having to stand to get out of reach of her drooling hound. She mutters something like "you've been fed, you damned mutt" as she dances around him. After basically ballroom dancing with the dog, she huffs and fishes out a piece of meat, throwing it a short distance so she'll have at least a couple moments of peace.

        "A faithful hound." Duncan comments, and Selene snorts. "A royal pain in the neck, sometimes."

        Duncan smiles a little at her comment. Though they eat mostly in silence, the air feels a little lighter than previous nights. Slowly, he can see the light returning to her eyes. It'll be a long time until she's fully back to herself, if she ever can be fully herself again after such a tragedy, but at least she's on the upswing.

        "I guess he's all I have left, though. At least until we can find Fergus." Selene adds quietly, tossing another piece of meat for the dog to catch. He misses it, and it hits the side of his snout. She empties her bowl and stares blankly into it for a few moments.

        "You know...ever since Brother Aldous first told me the stories about the Wardens, I always dreamed of joining. I...guess I got what I wanted, but at what cost?" She asks, but the question isn't directed at Duncan. The Warden's eyes soften as he watches her. She's too young to have to deal with this kind of sorrow.

        "Justice will come to Howe. However, we are on the verge of a Blight. Whatever justice he will face will have to come after. For the time being, just know this is where you belong. Put all of your energy into the events to come, and take your anger out on the darkspawn."

        Selene frowns. Her eyebrows, eyes, and lips all draw into tight, unhappy lines. But she nods.

        "Alright. I think...I can do that."

Chapter Text

        Selene can see the ruins of Ostagar before they even reach it. Pale towers standing tall, crumbling but still magnificent and daunting. The closer they get, the more they can see. And the louder it gets. There's no doubt that there's an army camped in the valley.

        "On the other side of the bridge is the king's camp, where you'll be staying. I have two other recruits, Daveth and Ser Jory, and there's another Warden on this side of camp. His name is Alistair, you should speak with him when you can. He's the most junior in the order, so he'll be watching over you in the meantime. I believe the two of you will get along well; you're a lot alike. Although I believe he's a little more excitable than you are."

        Duncan gets quieter as he speaks and eventually he stops talking altogether when he sees a small group of people standing at the edge of Ostagar. By the armor, Selene assumes the man is someone important.

        "Ho there, Duncan!" The man calls to them. He reaches forward once they're in arms-reach and shakes hands with Duncan.

        "Your Majesty, I wasn't expecting-" "A royal welcome? I was beginning to think you'd miss all the fun." The man laughs loudly and Selene nearly chokes in surprise. "Someone important," she feels like an idiot. That's the king.

        "The other Wardens tell me you've found a promising recruit. I take it this is she?" King Cailan turns his attention to Selene and she startles out of her trance, hastily dropping into a curtsy.

        "Allow me to introduce you, your Majesty." "No need." Cailan waves him off, and he directs a smile to Selene. "You are Bryce's youngest, are you not? I don't think we've ever actually met." Selene shakes her head in answer before she finally finds her voice.

        "We haven't, your Majesty. My name is Selene." She debates on curtsying again, but figures there's no need to.

        "Your brother has already arrived with Highever's men, but we are still awaiting your father." Selene's composure falters just the slightest bit, but Cailan catches it.

        "You don't know what's happened?" She asks quietly, moving her gaze from the king to her mentor.

        "News from the north has been unreliable. What's happened?" He asks, looking between the Warden and recruit. Duncan meets Selene's eye, silently asking if she's okay with him talking about it. She nods, but drops her eyes to her feet.

        "Teyrn Cousland and his wife are dead, your Majesty. Arl Howe has shown himself a traitor and overtaken Highever Castle. Had we not escaped, he would have killed us and told you any story he wished."

        Selene bites down on her lip and drops her head in an attempt to hide her face in her hair. She can feel the sting of tears, but they don't fall.

        "I...can scarcely believe it! How could he think he would get away with such treachery!" The king sounds genuinely baffled. When Selene looks back up at him, he's fixed her with a softened gaze. She doesn't know whether or not she wants him to.

        "As soon as we are done here, I will turn my army north and bring Howe to justice. You have my word." Cailan holds out a hand to her and she shakes it hesitantly. She could do without his pity, but his promise is definitely appreciated.

        "Thank you, your Majesty." "No doubt you wish to see your brother. Unfortunately, he and his men are scouting the Wilds."

        The man speaks almost faster than Selene can keep up with, but she somehow manages to catch is words.

        "I am not eager to tell him, your Majesty." Cailan nods a few times and strokes at the stubble on his chin. He looks young. Is he old enough to grow a full beard yet? He's definitely older than her, but she hasn't yet seen her twentieth year herself. Not until winter arrives.

        "Of that, I have no doubt. You will see him again once the battle is over, I am certain. I apologize, but there is nothing more I can do. All I can suggest is that you vent your grief against the darkspawn for the time being." The king is the second person to suggest that. Violence must be a common way to vent.

        "I'm sorry to cut this short, but I should return to my tent. Loghain waits eagerly to bore me with his strategies."

        Selene isn't a big fan of strategies either, but hearing the King of Ferelden use "strategies" and "bore me" in the same sentence is less than impressive. She tunes out of the remainder of the conversation. The next thing she knows, Duncan is leading her across the bridge and talking about a ritual.

        "What do you mean? What ritual?" The old Warden can see that she wasn't paying attention, but doesn't look like he minds. Instead, he chuckles quietly.

        "Every recruit must go through a secret ritual we call the Joining in order to become a Grey Warden. The ritual is brief, but some preparation is required. We must begin soon."

        Selene purses her lips. In all the years she had been all-but-obsessed with the Wardens, she never heard anything about a Joining. Though, Duncan did just say it's secret.

        "Why is this ritual so secret?" For a moment, she feels like she's back in the library in Highever Castle, asking Duncan question after question. Instead of smiling at her childlike enthusiasm, he eyes her carefully.

        "The Joining is dangerous. I cannot speak more of it except to say that you will learn all in good time. Until then, you must trust that what is done is necessary."

        His words chill her to the bone. Duncan had been, for the most part, warm towards her since they met. But what he said was cryptic and deliberately vague. Just how dangerous is this ritual?

        "Feel free to explore the camp here as you wish. All I ask is that you do not leave it for the time being. Your hound can stay with me while I attend some business. They Grey Warden tent is on the other side of the bridge. You will find us there, should you need to."

        Duncan is already walking away as he tells her this. He motions for Rufus to follow him, and Selene feels slightly hurt that he does so easily. Thanks for nothing, mutt.

Chapter Text

        Without the constant presence of Duncan, Rufus, or both, the events of the past couple weeks begin to weigh down on Selene. So she begins wandering around, and talking to anyone who will talk to her. Guards, soldiers, priests, the Tranquil fellow, even the Ash Warriors. She met a lovely old mage named Wynne and Duncan's other two recruits. Ser Jory used to live in Highever. She wonders if she's ever seen him or his wife before. She decided maybe it's best not to tell him that her father is...was Teyrn Cousland.

        As she wanders, she becomes aware of a man watching her from an elevated area of the ruins. That's where a soldier at the entrance to the ruins said Alistair might be. She wonders if that's him.

        Selene slowly makes her way to that area of the ruins. She still stops to talk to people around camp as she does so, but decides she's been social enough after talking with a wounded soldier being tended to by a nurse. The things he said shook her. They taint the land, turn it black and sick.

        Duncan never said how old this Alistair is. If this tall guy bickering with a mage is the junior Warden, then he has to be around her age. He doesn't look to be any older than she is.

        "You know, one good thing about the Blight is how it brings people together." He turns to her with a small smile lingering on his lips, and Selene can feel her own quirking up into a grin. He's a bit odd, but Duncan was right. She already likes him. He's the first person in camp she's met that doesn't look so glum. After the weeks she's had, she needs someone a little more upbeat.

        "I know exactly what you mean." The boy looks a little surprised at her response. She can see him beginning to malfunction, so she changes the subject.

        "You are Alistair, right?" He starts a little at her question, but he nods quickly.

        "Me? Yes! Yes, I am Alistair. I take it you're Duncan's new recruit?" He's a little awkward but, Andraste preserve her, he's cute. She, almost hesitantly, reaches out a hand. He shakes it gently, almost like he thinks she's made of glass, and quickly drops his hand back to his side.

        "Alistair." He introduces himself. Selene finds herself smiling at him again. This is exactly what she needed. A cute, awkward boy with a sense of humor. Bonus points for being a warrior. Even more for being a Warden.

        "Selene. Duncan spoke highly of you. I look forward to traveling with you." Alistair stammers slightly, but he recovers quickly.

        "You do? Huh. That's a switch. If you have any questions, let me know. Otherwise, lead on!" He punctuates the end of his sentence with a gesture towards the only way to leave this area of the ruins.

        His eyes are pretty when the sun hits them. She might just have to watch herself with him, else she'll catch herself wrapped up in another crush. Having a crush on the newest member of the order she's about to join on the verge of a Blight doesn't sound like a good idea.

        Now that she's found Alistair and met both of the other recruits, it would probably be a good idea to get back to Duncan. But she doesn't exactly have to be quick about it. Alistair is happy to follow, walking just slightly behind her. He whistles as he walks. That's...cute.

        He stays behind her for all but ten feet before he draws up beside her, the question written on his face before it leaves his mouth.

        "So, tell me. Did you even want to become a Grey Warden? Duncan said that the circumstances that brought you here were bad." Oh. She should have known he'd ask. She turns her head away from him, instead content to watch the ground in front of them as they walk.

        "I wanted to. I tried convincing my parents to at least let him test me, but they weren't hearing any of it." Her throat constricts a little as she talks. She swallows down the lump that suddenly appeared in her throat. "This isn't how I wanted it to happen but, to answer your question, yes. I did want to become a Warden."

        "How did you convince your parents?" Selene can feel her face drop. She had been doing so well at keeping her emotions at bay until now. But she can see the regret flash across Alistair's face as soon as the question leaves his mouth, so she doesn't fault him for anything.

        "Sorry, I shouldn't have asked." He apologizes quietly, but quickly. Selene shakes her head.

        "It's..." She takes a deep breath to help keep her composure. "It's fine. You don't know. I would just rather not speak of it, if you don't mind." Alistair mutters a quiet "Not at all" as he falls back into his place, walking behind her.

        Selene doesn't like this. She, quite literally, met Alistair five minutes ago, but she doesn't like how quiet he is or the serious look on his face. He looks good when he smiles.

        "How did you join?" Alistair almost trips when she speaks again, not at all expecting her to keep talking. But he looks glad, nevertheless.

        "I was conscripted. Not that I didn't want to join. I was training as a templar before Duncan recruited me." Her eyebrows shoot up. She certainly didn't expect him to be a templar. Or...a templar-in-training.

        "A templar? You were a mage-hunter?" Alistair snorts at her description, but he nods.

        "Not by choice. Joining the Chantry wasn't my idea, that was something decided for me a long time ago. Duncan saw I was unhappy, and figured my training against mages could double for fighting darkspawn. Now, here I stand, a proud Grey Warden. The grand cleric wouldn't have let me go if Duncan never forced the issue. I'll always be grateful to him."

        Selene has a feeling that there a lot of people that will always be grateful to Duncan, herself included.

        "You speak fondly of Duncan." Alistair nods, happy to keep talking. Selene is happy to keep listening.

        "I spent years in the Chantry, hopelessly resigned to my fate. Duncan was the first person who cared what I wanted. He risked a lot of trouble with the grand cleric to help me."

        Selene thinks back to when she met Duncan, and how happy she would have been if he conscripted her right there. One day it may be a fond memory, but right now thinking of her father still makes her chest ache.

        "I almost tried to convince Duncan to conscript me." Now Alistair's eyebrows go up. He goes to question her, so she keeps going.

        "My brother was already getting ready to march here with all of Highever's men. My father didn't want both of his children marching off to war in the same day." Alistair hums and nods his head like it made sense to him.

        "We've been exiled once before. Conscripting too often wouldn't look good on us, especially if Duncan conscripted the teyrn's daughter."

        Selene's head snaps over to him and she shushes him as the words leave his mouth. He hastily closes his mouth and looks around when he sees her doing so.

        "Keep that knowledge to yourself, please. I'd rather not be known as a noblewoman. People treat you differently when they know who your parents are." Selene motions for Alistair to keep his voice down. She picks up the pace a little, determined to get away from anyone who may have overheard.

        "Here, I'm just Selene the Grey Warden recruit. Nothing more, nothing less." Alistair nods in understanding. If only she knew just how much he understands.

Chapter Text

        Selene didn't really know what to expect from Alistair's sister. All he even knew about her was that she lived in Denerim near the market. He didn't know what to expect either, but both of them hoped, for his sake, that she wouldn't be completely hostile towards him.

        Within moments, Selene knew that Goldana wasn't just going to accept Alistair with open arms. The way she immediately started throwing insults at them and blaming Alistair for things beyond his control once the word "brother" left his mouth made Selene's blood boil. She wanted to snap at her and tell the woman to watch her tongue. She wanted to draw her sword and put the fear of the Maker in that damn woman for wiping away all hope Alistair had left.

        But she didn't. It took all of her self control to hold her ground, but she managed. Though nobody missed the way her fists tightened so much that the metal on her gauntlets creaked. What upset her more? The way Goldana spoke to Alistair, even with his heartbreak so clear on his face, or that they left her house with their coin purse fifteen sovereigns lighter?

        "I feel like an idiot." Alistair mumbles once they move away from the woman's house. He stares down at the ground with conflict written all over his face. Selene motions for Wynne and Leliana to walk ahead of them, and she places a hand on Alistair's arm.

        "I honestly don't know what I expected. Isn't family supposed to accept you without question? I feel like a fool." He sighs and runs both of his hands over his face.

        "You have others who care about you, Alistair. You don't need her." "Like who?" Selene can see the regret on his face as soon as the words leave his mouth. The boy quickly draws a breath to apologize, but she stops him with a hand on his arm.

        "I can't speak for the rest of our friends, but I can speak for myself. I care about you. A great deal." She keeps her voice quiet, just between the two of them. Alistair sighs again and drops his head to rest on hers. The sudden public display of affection startles Selene and she feels very shy, standing at the edge of Denerim's market district as they are, but she lets him do what he wants.

        "Thank you." He pulls away from her and moves to catch up with the other two women without another word. Selene watches him for a second before following suit.

        Alistair stays quiet for the rest of their time in the city, but he begins to get back to his usual self as they head back to camp. He makes jokes along the way, but Selene can still see the way his face falls when he thinks nobody is looking. If he wants to talk, he will, so she pretends she doesn't see through him. Instead she takes his hand and squeezes it, and holds it for the remainder of their walk back to camp.

        She's hardly surprised when Alistair gives her his usual puppy eyes once they've settled back into camp, silently asking her to follow him. And the others are hardly surprised when she does.

        They walk in silence for a while, content to just be in each other's presence. She's comfortable with him, and he's comfortable with her. Together, they're not Grey Wardens, not a noblewoman and a bastard prince, not the heroes everyone expects them to be. They're just Alistair and Selene, the closest and dearest friends either has known, trusted colleagues, and now lovers.

        "Thank you. For talking me down back there, when we left Goldana's house. And just for being there with me. I don't think I could have done it without you." Alistair breathes out as he sits down against a tree. Selene smiles at him and sits next to him. There's not enough space for her to lean on the tree, so she leans against him instead.

        "We're in this together. I won't let you face any foe alone, be it that evil witch or an archdemon." Selene's comment makes him snicker and, for the first time since they entered Goldana's house, he gives her a real smile.

        "Can I tell you a secret?" He gently pushes her with his shoulder, the smile lingering on his lips. The way he's looking at her with his heart in his eyes, so softly and fondly, ties her insides into knots and makes it hard for her to breathe. She humors him, though, and tries her best to not look like the lovesick girl she so obviously is.

        "Oh? Another secret? And here I thought you were all out of spicy secrets to share." Alistair laughs a hearty laugh and repeats her "spicy secret" in the midst of his laughter. The sound eases her worries and she can't keep the fond look out of her eyes.

        "Well, I have one more spicy secret, though it's not much of a secret at this point." He continues to laugh quietly for another moment. He waits until he's regained control of himself to share this secret.

        "I love you. Truly. I am completely, and utterly in love with you."

        Selene's heart jumps and soars in her chest and swells several times its normal size. She feels like all of her insides are going to burst at his confession and she finds herself struggling to keep a straight face. And as she deals with her inner turmoil, Alistair continues to stare at her with his heart in his eyes, making it that much harder for Selene to think coherently beyond the words he just said.

        Slowly, though, she can feel a smile stretching across her face. Alistair mirrors her smile as he watches it grow. His words echo in Selene's head but now they are her own. She starts rambling something that she's not even sure about, possibly with her feelings wrapped up in her words.

        She stumbles on words she can't even think of anymore and throws herself at Alistair. He laughs as they both go down, both exchanging varied versions of "I love you" mumbled against each other's faces. They quickly abandon words for kisses.

        "Love, please don't be mad at me for saying this, but can you please get off of me? You're still wearing a full set of armor. Unless you want to...take it off? You can sit-" Selene quickly shuts him up with a hand over his mouth, and he laughs again as she rolls her eyes and quickly removes herself from him.

Chapter Text

        Eamon announcing that he intends on calling a landsmeet and putting Alistair on the throne was the last thing the young Warden wanted to hear. Especially after fighting through the snow of the Frostback Mountains, a cult, a dragon, and a series of trials just to get a cure for the old man. With everything going on he feared Eamon might propose this. Still, he hoped beyond hope that it wouldn't come to this.

        Before they left, when Eamon announced his plans to the small group, Selene also looked shaken by the idea. She knows that the last thing Alistair wants is to be king. He wants to remain a Warden, and he wants to stay with her. She wants him to remain a Warden. Unless they can find a workaround, there are two options left for them and their relationship. Two options he knows she's not going to like any more than he does.

        Putting Alistair on the throne, they run the risk of having to end their relationship. The thought of it tears at his heart. The time they've had together as friends has been short, not yet a year, and their time as lovers has been even shorter. But Alistair would rather throw himself into the bulk of the darkspawn horde and face the archdemon alone than lose Selene now. He's young, stupid, impulsive, and reckless and nothing about his future is certain, but he knows there's little he wouldn't do to live out the rest of his days with her by his side.

        The only other alternative isn't a welcome one, but Alistair would gladly take anything over having to lose the only woman he's ever loved.

        Selene likes leading about as much as he does, and only took the position out of necessity. She doesn't want the throne. She never so much as thought there may be a possibility that she could even be a candidate for it. But here she is now, in love with the only person with a blood-claim to the Ferelden throne and no more willing than he is to untangle herself from what they have.

        Unlike Alistair, Selene has experience in the world of politics and ruling. As little experience as she has, it's still more experience than Alistair. She bears responsibility and leadership well, and would make a better ruler than anyone else Alistair can think of, including Anora.

        If there's no way around it, if he absolutely has to take the throne, he wants to do it with Selene. There are worse things he can think of than having to marry her. In fact, there are few things that sound better than spending his life with her, even if he has to become king to do so. But only if she feels the same. He hopes, more than anything, that she doesn't want to end their relationship.

        Alistair mulled over his admittedly limited options and moped about his fate for half of the trip to Orzammar until he realized that he needs to let Selene in on his thoughts. It does involve her, after all.

        He's afraid to approach the subject, though. He almost feels like he would be indirectly proposing to her by discussing the fate of their future. Andraste knows he's not prepared to actually ask her to marry him yet.

        But still, he needs to talk with her before they reach Orzammar. They've done enough in the past several months for him to know that once they reach the Dwarven city, they'll be too busy to talk about such things. So, he nervously stands from his spot by the campfire and motions for her to follow him away from the camp like he has so many times before.

        "We need to talk. About the...landsmeet...thing." His words are choppy and hesitant and he cannot bring himself to say the word "king" for the life of him.

        Selene takes his hand and leads him to sit on a patch of grass not covered by snow, and continuously runs her thumb over his knuckles in a comforting gesture. He appreciates the gesture and squeezes her hand slightly. They stare at each other, both either too nervous or unwilling to broach the subject first. She squeezes back, and Alistair can see how nervous she is, her emotions clearly written in the lines of her eyes.

        "I think Eamon is going to try to put me up with you." Selene finally breaks the silence. Alistair isn't surprised that she was also thinking of this, but he is surprised that she came to this conclusion.

        "You...think he wants to make you queen?" Alistair can see how she shrivels a little at the suggestion. She frowns, but nods.

        "It makes sense if you really think about it." She scoots a little bit closer and turns his hand over so his palm is facing upwards. She balls his hand into a fist and brings out his fingers one by one as she speaks.

        "Eamon knows about our relationship, I was raised as a noblewoman, I know politics, and I'm a Cousland. I may be a Warden now, but my name still carries nearly as much weight as Cailan's. My brother and I have been accompanying my father in his public affairs ever since we could sit still. You may be a Theirin by blood, but you are unknown. I am already a recognized figure in the court. As we are right now, my name carries more weight than yours." She smooths her palm over his and holds his gaze, making sure he takes no offence from her words. He doesn't, of course. She's absolutely right and he would have said the same himself.

        The tone in her voice is calm and even, but Alistair can still see the uncertainty in her eyes. Her reasoning makes sense, but he can see that even she isn't fully convinced that Eamon would consider this.

        "It does make sense, but what do you want? I don't have much of a choice anymore, but you do." He asks quietly, smoothing both of his hands over one of hers. "Selene, I want nothing more than to spend the rest of my days at your side, but if you really don't want to be queen, then-"

        Selene cuts him off with a swift, quick, and firm shake of her head. She squeezes his hand once more and eyes him with a determination that sends a chill down his spine.

        "I would do anything if it means I can stay with you. If that means putting a crown on my head, then so be it." Her voice is steady, but her eyes begin to waver and she clenches her jaw. "I can't lose you, too."

        His heart aches and crumbles just a little bit at her confession. For a moment, he remembers the night she told him of how she lost everything she cared about and how broken she was as she spoke. He didn't realize that now he's all she has to lose.

        Alistair removes his hands from hers and getnly pulls her into him, one arm wrapped around her shoulders and the other cradling her head against his shoulder. Selene grasps the back of his shirt and buries her face into the crook of his neck.

        "Don't worry about what I want. I'll follow you to the ends of the Fade and back, as Wardens or as your queen. I am yours, completely."

        Selene mumbles into his neck, and Alistair squeezes his eyes shut. Her words form a lump in his throat and makes his eyes sting. He holds her just a little bit tighter and wonders what he ever did to deserve this woman.

        "As am I. We'll work this out."

Chapter Text

                The world had completely been turned upside down by the time Fergus walked out of the Wilds. Ostagar and Lothering were completely deserted save for the occasional animal feasting on a corpse, and the rumors he heard from travelers were nothing short of disturbing. It's like he woke up in an alternate universe where everything that could have gone wrong had done just that.

        He could barely process all of the information given to him on the road. So much had happened in such a short amount of time, he could barely believe if any of it. And each piece of news broke his heart even further.

        The absolute defeat of the Ferelden army at Ostagar, caused by Teyrn Loghain's last minute decision to pull out of the battle, which many now begin to call treachery. The deaths of not only the vast majority of the army, but also all of the Ferelden Grey Wardens and King Cailan himself. That alone could dash all hope that remained, and then he heard news of what happened after he left Highever.

        Every last Cousland thought to be dead. Every soul in the castle cut down by Arl Howe's men, who now claims the teyrnir as his own. The teyrn and teyrna slaughtered in their own home and their two children missing, thought to be dead as well. Not even the young Cousland boy was spared. Oren, his boy, his son, murdered by Howe. The traitor may not have wielded the blade himself, but it was his orders that killed his son. Fergus swore at that moment that he would not stop until Howe sits with a blade through his heart.

        Fergus lost all hope. His family and home gone, no army to return to, what was he supposed to do? And then the whispers started. Two young Grey Wardens who survived the slaughter at Ostagar. One of which, a young woman who bears a striking resemblance to Teyrn Cousland's missing daughter.

        Traces of the young Wardens could be found everywhere Fergus went. A traveling merchant who came across the two, who were accompanied by a young red-head, an old mage, and a rather large mabari hound. The merchant didn't ask for a name, they just stumbled across one another as he was making his way to Orzammar and traded goods.

        At first Fergus thought this Warden girl must have looked a lot like Selene, and that would be the end of it. But the more he heard of the Warden, the more he believed it must be her. The mabari hound that's always at her heels, the descriptions given to him by people she's helped, and just how many people have been helped by this mysterious woman. Selene was never someone who could turn her back on someone in need. It has to be her. His baby sister, a Grey Warden. Maybe she was right when she said it was her destiny, all those years ago.

        The more he thinks about it, the more it makes sense. A Grey Warden was recruiting in the castle and he should have been present at the castle when Howe's men attacked. It's not hard to believe that he helped her escape and then recruited her into the order. If it is her, and she not only survived the attack at the castle, the defeat at Ostagar, and whatever else she must have run into after, then truly Andraste, the Maker, or maybe even both must be watching over her.

        His first thought was to go to Denerim, but a traveler he met halfway between there and Crestwood advised against it if he were seeking Grey Wardens. Teyrn Loghain declared himself regent after the king's death and the first thing he did was outlaw all Wardens.

        "If you ask me," the man told him in a hushed tone. "I think Arl Eamon is right. None of what's happened paints the teyrn in a good light."

        Fergus had been growing more and more suspicious of the man the more he heard, but Loghain had been revered as a hero all throughout Ferelden, so it was hard to wrap his head around. His retreat from Ostagar, declaring himself regent while King Cailan's body was still warm, outlawing the Wardens, giving Highever to the man that murdered everyone Fergus loved and making him his right hand man, and the rumors that he was behind this mysterious sickness that befell Arl Eamon. News of the civil war was the final nail in the coffin.

        No, he wouldn't be going to Denerim to find answers. He'll go to Redcliffe. The two remaining Grey Wardens helped the village and were supposedly the ones responsible for saving the arl's life. If anyone can confirm that this Warden really is his sister, it'll be Arl Emon.


        Fergus wasn't expecting Redcliffe to look untouched, but the reality is more than a little jarring. It looks like a war zone, like the place had just been through hell and back. Even as he looks down at the village from afar, he can see the piles of corpses, the barricades, and the mourning relatives of those who perished.

        He hasn't been to Castle Redcliffe many times in his life but he can see that here, too, had not come out unscathed. There aren't many guardsmen, but those he can see wear worried looks. Many of them also clutch the hilts of their weapons a little tighter than others.

        "State your name and intent." A guardsman stops Fergus at the door to the main hall of the castle. Poor man looks like he hadn't slept in a while.

        "Fergus Cousland. I wish to speak with Arl Eamon." A few of the men nearby stop and turn their heads to look at him. Given the rumors, he assumes all of them thought he was dead.

        "You Couslands are a lot harder to kill than Howe thought, it seems." The guard says as he moves to let Fergus pass. It's a simple statement, but it gives him hope.

        The same guard that stopped him at the door announces him as they step into the main hall where Eamon paces back and forth. Fergus hadn't seen the arl for some time, but still he looks like he's aged several years.

        "I apologize for showing up unannounced, but I've been hearing that I'm supposed to be dead so I didn't want to take any chances." He apologizes as he shakes Eamon's hand. The man shakes his head and a faint smile lights behind his eyes. "No need to apologize. I was supposed to be dead too. Perhaps I would be if not for your sister."

        All of the air leaves Fergus's lungs at the statement. "She's alive? Is she a Grey Warden?"

        Eamon's smile widens ever so slightly as he nods. "She is. I suspect you came here with questions. Come with me, and I'll answer to the best of my abilities." The man motions for Fergus to follow him, and he does without hesitation. It takes all of his willpower to keep his questions from flooding out his mouth until they're seated in the study.

        "To answer your first question again, yes, Selene is alive and she is one of the two remaining Grey Wardens. She and Alistair have been traveling across Ferelden, helping where they can while seeking aid against the Blight."

        This is the first bit of good news Fergus has heard since he left the Wilds. Knowing that Selene is alive lifts him back up. His head swarms with more questions than he can ask at once, so he settles on the most simple. "Is she well?"

        "Yes, she is well. As well as one can be in her situation. She bears leadership well, you should be proud of her." If only the arl could understand just how proud Fergus is.

        "I assume that you...know? Of the events that have transpired?" Eamon asks carefully, eyes soft but inquisitive. Fergus feels his heart drop into his stomach, and he nods.

        "I was initially going to go to Denerim, but everything I heard along the way...It can't all be true? Tell me Howe didn't slaughter my family. Tell me Loghain didn't betray Ferelden." Fergus pleads quietly, hands gripping the edge of Eamon's desk. The old man closes his eyes and shakes his head slowly.

        "I am sorry, but I cannot. I fear what you heard is true. But we can turn things around before they get too ugly." "Too ugly?" The words explode out of Fergus without him meaning to. He reigns back his temper before continuing.

        "I apologize, but how can things get uglier? Teyrn Loghain betrayed the king, started a civil war in the middle of a Blight, and gave my home to the man who murdered my family. I don't see how things can get worse."

        "Do not tempt fate, Fergus. Things can always get worse. We still have not seen any sign of an archdemon or even the bulk of the darkspawn hoard. If Loghain doesn't tear the country apart, the darkspawn surely will. Which is why I now present you with a request." Eamon speaks calmly, though still cautious with his words. He waits until Fergus takes a deep breath and motions for him to continue.

        "The other Grey Warden, Alistair, is the bastard son of King Maric. His claim to the throne is by blood, and thus stronger than Anora's or Loghain's. I am going to call a landsmeet and, Maker willing, put him on the throne. He's young, inexperienced, and was raised as a commoner, but I believe he will make a fine king and getting Loghain away from the throne will allow the country to focus on the Blight before it consumes Ferelden. With your parents dead, you are the rightful teyrn of Highever, not Howe. I will need your support in the landsmeet."

        It's a lot to take in. Maric has a secret bastard son that's a Grey Warden and Eamon wants to put him on the throne, and needs his help in doing so.

        Fergus takes a moment to process the new information and gather his thoughts. It makes sense. He is the rightful teyrn now and his word will carry considerable weight. Even if he can't quite claim the title of teyrn while Howe still lives, the Cousland name is old and powerful. Unfortunately, he doubts Selene would be able to make a difference since she has become a Warden.

        "You'll have my support." He says slowly, nodding as he speaks. "I can't claim to be teyrn while Howe still lives, but I believe the Cousland name will still carry weight." Eamon also nods, and folds his hands in front of him.

        "There is, however, more to the request." Eamon almost hesitates as he speaks. Fergus's eyebrows draw together, but he waits to hear what the man has to say.

        "As you said, the Cousland name carries weight. Your family is second only to that of the royal family. I have been thinking..." The man trails off, as if he's still putting the pieces of this thought together in his mind.

        "Alistair was kept secret and raised as a commoner. Therefore, he has received no social training. Making him rule alone would essentially be throwing him in the sea without teaching him how to swim. He will have advisors, but he alone will be king. However, Selene was raised as a noble. She would know how to rule." Eamon gives Fergus a meaningful look. He doesn't need to continue for the younger man to put two and two together.

        "You want to make her queen?" The idea sounds absurd. His little sister as Queen of Ferelden? The same little sister who ditched her etiquette lessons to bug him to teach her to fight? The same little sister who disappeared in the middle of gatherings to throw a stick for Rufus to chase? The same little sister who wanted absolutely nothing to do with her noble responsibilities?

        "I can see that you're skeptical, but I've given this much thought since it was decided that Alistair will be king." "No, no, that's not it." Fergus waves his hand in a dismissive gesture, and leans his weight on the armrest of his chair. He's sure that his confusion is displayed clearly on his face.

        "I do think she'd make a good queen, if she had no other choice. I'm just curious as to why you think my little sister would agree to marrying someone she likely has no feelings for, let alone the man you intend on making king. Father gave up trying to match her up with someone long ago and even Mother was beginning to lose hope. I'm sure she'd rather be his advisor than his wife."

        For the first time since Fergus arrived, the arl breaks out into a wide smile and even chuckles a little. "She'd agree quite readily, I should think. The two have grown quite close and are rather fond of each other. I suspect that even if Alistair doesn't become king and they both live through the Blight, they'll marry eventually."

        Perhaps this is the hardest thing for Fergus to believe, out of everything he's learned in the past few weeks. Eamon chuckles once more as the confusion becomes ever more clearer on the young man's face. "Are you sure we're talking about the same Selene?"

        "Yes, quite sure." The arl laughs. He stands, and Fergus follows suit. "I'm afraid that if you came here looking for your sister, you'll either have to wait a while or go after her, though I highly advise against that. They get themselves into all sorts of situations, and I'm surprised none of her party have died. They've gone to Orzammar to fulfill the final treaty from the dwarves. The trip alone will take some time but with what we've been hearing from there, our Wardens will probably have to fix quite a few things down there like they've done everywhere else they've been. It'll be some time until they return, but you're welcome to stay in Redcliffe if you'd like. Might be safer if you do."

        Fergus nods and shakes Eamon's hand once more. "I think I will, thank you."

Chapter Text

        "What happens if the archdemon appears?" "We soil our drawers, that's what."

        Alistair was joking at the time. Neither of them knew if the darkspawn massing on the surface truly signaled a new Blight at the time. But now here they are, sitting in the Dead Trenches in the ass end of the Deep Roads, staring down the archdemon and more darkspawn than they can even see. Both of the young Wardens feel like maybe Alistair's earlier assessment was an accurate one.

        They've both had the dreams, they can both feel the darkspawn when they get too close. They know full well that this is a true Blight, but nothing could have prepared them for nearly running into the blighted dragon.

        Selene had never in her life felt such pure, unadulterated fear in her life. If she weren't crouched behind a pile of rubble, her knees would have given out from under her. For the first time in her life she was completely paralyzed, but still unable to tear her eyes away from the monstrosity as it roared above the endless stream of darkspawn below. She finally snaps out of it when Alistair takes her by the arm and forces her to keep moving. With this many darkspawn, the two of them just get lost in the noise, but they can't afford to stop.

        The four of them stop for a breather in a tunnel after nearly running as far as they can to get away from the archdemon. When they do, Selene and Alistair look at each other with fear and dread written all over their faces. If the countless darkspawn they've killed, the hoard on the surface, and running around trying to gather as many allies as possible hasn't made them realize just what they've gotten themselves into, this definitely has. Selene's heart sinks into her stomach as she finally begins to realize that they're supposed to be the only two who can end the Blight.

        "How in Andraste's name are we supposed to kill that thing?" Her voice sounds foreign in the tunnels and it echos around them, despite being just above a whisper.

        All this time, Selene had been trying to reassure Alistair that everything will work out in the end. It's no easy task, but they've made it this far. They've solidified alliances with the mages, the knights of Redcliffe, the Dalish elves, and now they're well on their way to getting troops from Bhelen once they put a crown on his head. How hard would it be to kill a dragon with that much help? After all, they managed to kill a dragon at Haven with just the four of them.

        Her optimism had been a driving force for the entire party, not just for Alistair. She was the one who kept everyone from giving up. But now after seeing the archdemon in all its wretched glory, she's not feeling so optimistic anymore. She knew it wouldn't be a normal dragon, but she didn't expect that.

        Selene's shoulders sag and she hangs her head, leaning on the side of the tunnel. Alistair leans his sword on the wall next to her and grabs her firmly by the shoulders, and shakes gently. His sudden actions startle Selene and her head snaps up to look at him. She's met with his face set in stern, determined lines. His eyes bore into hers and she drops her gaze back down to her boots, ashamed. She's supposed to be their leader, but now look at her. Losing her edge after one look at the archdemon.

        "Selene, look at me." The commanding tone in his voice surprises her, but she doesn't hate it. She looks back up at him, now more curious than anything. She has a hard time thinking of anything past how she is very much attracted to him like this.

        "We are Grey Wardens. We survived what very few do, and we are trained fighters. You have survived what no one else has, and you have Cousland blood in your veins. Don't let an ugly dragon dim your fire."

        Alistair isn't good with words. He never has been, and probably never will be even if he goes through years of training to be king. But he still knows Selene well enough to know what she needs to hear and when.

        Selene just stands there, staring into his eyes in stunned silence for a few moments. She lets out a breath through her nose and squeezes her eyes shut, silently laughing at herself. Alistair lets go of her when she pushes herself off the wall.

        "Right. Won't happen again." Alistair watches after her as she dusts herself off and moves back to the front of the group. He smiles as he picks his sword back up and follows after her.

Chapter Text

        Selene never thought she'd be so glad to see dirt and grass not covered in snow, but they've spent far too much time under the surface in Orzammar and in the Frostback Mountains. Far too many weeks spent in clothing not nearly thick enough for the snow-covered mountains, yet not thin enough for the city surrounded by pools of molten rock.

        All of their spirits began to rise with the temperature and, now that they're finally nearing Redcliffe, the party seems to finally be out of its perpetual state of this sucks. Having Oghren around has made things a bit livelier, too.

        The guards all smile and nod a greeting at the four, or five if they count Rufus, as they pass through the courtyard. Arl Eamon will want a status report of what happened in Orzammar and why it took them so much longer than expected, but all Selene wants to do is curl up in a bed and sleep for the next week. Alistair may or may not be involved in her week-long nap plans.

        Of course, she knows they can't actually sleep for that long. She'll be lucky if she can get a full night's sleep. Eamon will want to call the landsmeet and then they'll be off to Denerim. It's more likely that she'll get squashed by the archdemon before she can get more than a few hours while the Blight and civil war still rage.

        Eamon and Connor both greet the group when they enter the main hall. The arl sends a guard away with a whisper before turning his full attention to the party.

        "It's good to see you all in good health. I trust you didn't stir up too much trouble."

        Selene opens her mouth to respond, but Alistair beats her to it. "Not too much. Just killed a few hundred darkspawn, a broodmother, a couple of Paragons, and crowned a new king. All in a day's work." The boy dusts his hands off and wears a proud smile. The three women all roll their eyes, but the fond little smile on Wynne's lips can't be missed.

        "I'm sure you have a lot to tell, and there will be time to talk later. For now, go rest. You've had a long journey and it's still far from over. However, I would like to talk to you about matters of the landsmeet, Alistair. And, Selene, you have a visitor."

        Both of them look at Eamon with questions rising in their throats. Wynne and Leliana bid the arl and his son farewell before leaving the two confused Wardens. There's a faint smile on Eamon's lips, and neither of them know whether or not they should be scared. Before either of them could voice their questions, another person all but crashes into the main hall.

        The whole world stops around Selene when she sees him. She and Fergus stare at each other with the same wide eyes, full to the brim with disbelief.

        "Pup..." The word hasn't even completely left his mouth when she crumbles. A cry tears out of her throat and she lunges at him. She alternates between crying, burying her face in his shoulder, and apologizing. Although, her apologies come out more as a jumble of incoherent words rather than actual sentences. It takes several minutes of wiping tears and snot away from each other's faces before she can speak coherently again.

        "Fergus I'm so sorry. I'm so, so sorry. I should have-" "No. No, don't say it." He shushes her and pulls her against his shoulder again, cradling her head and stroking her hair to calm her. "Nothing that happened was your fault. Nothing you could have done would have prevented what happened. You did what you had to to survive."

        "But I should have stayed, Fergus. I could have helped them. I could have forced Mother to come with me." She sobs out, still clutching the back of his shirt but pulling away enough to look him in the eye. Fergus takes both of his hands and holds her shoulders firmly.

        "You would have died if you stayed. You wouldn't be where you are now if you stayed. You did what you had to and I am so proud of you."

        He finishes with a gentle shake of her shoulders. They stand there just staring at each other for a few moments. Selene wipes away the last of her tears with one last sniff and sets her shoulders. Fergus nods approvingly and does the same. "That's my girl."