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Bad Dreams And Good Memories [Solo, Complete]

Alistair Theirin

King of Ferelden
Canon Character
Grey Warden
Post DAI Timeline
DAO/DA2 Timeline
((2 Cloudreach, 35 Dragon; just after midnight))

The cries in the middle of the night had steadily become more rare, but Alistair still responded instantly, rolling from his bed and padding swiftly down the hall.

“I've got it,” he said as Alys, the head nanny, emerged from her room. “I've got it,” he repeated, the command in his voice softening to a request as Elena entered the hall. She responded to Bran's distress as quickly as he did, and there were times that it felt as though she was trying to beat him to her brother's side, but he refused to turn it into a competition. If she had insisted, he would have let her go first, and she knew it by now. She hesitated, then nodded, slowing her pace to follow him as he entered Bran's room.

It had been a bad one. Bran had abandoned his bed to huddle in a corner, his cries tapered off to soft whimpers. He stiffened when Alistair knelt and touched him.

“It's all right, little man,” Alistair said softly, making no move to embrace him just yet. “It's all right.” He kept repeating it until he felt the tension leave his nephew's body and Bran leaned into him, clinging desperately. “I've got you,” he promised, lifting the boy and carrying him back to his bed. Nearly eleven, Bran had grown out of the worst of the sickliness that had been a near-constant worry for the first few months, but he was still small for his age, his weight easy to bear.

“Ser?” Glancing around, he saw Peter Yorath standing beside the second bed in the room, watching with wide eyes. Teyrna Constance had come to Denerim for personal business and, as had become custom in the last year, allowed her son to sleep over at the palace. Alistair had wondered at first how the status-conscious noble would respond to her son playing with the children of a washerwoman, but he had never seen her be anything but gracious to them.

“He just had a nightmare, Peter,” Alistair assured him. “It's all right. Just a bad dream.” The last was spoken as much to Bran as to Peter. He laid the boy on the bed, then settled beside him, his back against the headboard, stroking the sleep-tousled hair as the tremors that shook his nephew gradually stilled.

“Oh.” Peter regarded them solemnly, then approached. “I have bad dreams sometimes, too,” he said, reaching out to pat Bran's arm.

“Bran!” Arwen burst into the room like a comet, hurling herself onto the bed and hugging her brother. The girl slept like a stone, but when she woke, she shifted immediately to full speed and kept going until she fell asleep again, often between one word and another.

“I'm all right, Wenni,” Bran told her, his voice thick with tears and sleep. “Just a nightmare.” The eyes that turned up to Alistair were still haunted.

“Did you want to talk about it?” Alistair always made the offer, but as was usual, the boy shook his head.

“Same as always,” he said in a low voice. Goldanna and her children had been living in a tiny house in the Market District when the Blight had descended upon Denerim. He fortunately had not seen his mother and two older brothers being slaughtered by darkspawn, but he had witnessed numerous other atrocities that had engraved themselves upon his fertile imagination. The nightmares had come almost nightly at first, growing further apart as time went on. This was the first in nearly a month, but while the dreams decreased in frequency, they seemed to lose none of their intensity, and he was growing old enough to begin to feel shame at the fear that overwhelmed him when in their grip. “Sorry.”

“It's all right,” Alistair assured him, ruffling his hair gently.

“Tell us a story,” Arwen demanded imperiously. If the dreams were a recurring event, so was the aftermath, and she knew the routine well.

“All right,” Alistair agreed affably. He wasn't going to be putting Leli out of a job any time soon, but he could spin a yarn well enough to draw Bran's mind away from his nightmare and soothe him back to sleep. “What would you like to hear?” This last was directed to Bran.

“Killing the Archdemon,” came the prompt reply. It was at first thought an odd request as an anodyne to bad dreams, but when monsters stalked your nights, there was comfort to be had in knowing that they could be slain.

“Yes!” Arwen agreed with enthusiasm, cuddling in on Bran's lap and reaching across to pat the empty spot on the bed at Alistair's other side. “Peter, here. Lena, you too.”

Peter willingly climbed onto the bed, but Elena maintained her post in the doorway, saying, “I'm fine here.”

Alistair didn't argue. While she still maintained her distance with him, his care of her siblings had slowly thawed the cool hostility in her eyes to a wary neutrality, and he was willing to give that time to mature further, hopefully at least into trust, if not the affection that both of the younger ones bestowed on him. Right now, sitting surrounded by children, small heads leaning against his shoulder and chest and little fingers trustingly curled around his own, he was almost ridiculously content.

“Well, we had fought our way through the darkspawn to Fort Drakon,” he began.

“Who?” Arwen asked, apparently for Peter's benefit, since she had heard the tale often enough that she could tell it herself.

“Well, there was me and Aedan, Wynne and Leliana ... and Nu,” he added with a pang of wistful sorrow at the memory of the faithful hound.

“Nu?” Peter asked.

“Uncle Aedan's m'bari,” Arwen informed him. “Uncle Ali, when can I have a m'bari?”

“When you're older,” he told her. Bran was old enough, and Alistair intended to take him to Highever this spring to select a pup. He'd offered one to Lena (he'd been hoping to get one that had an appetite for adolescent males), but she had declined, saying that she wanted a cat instead. He was still working on that request.

"I have a mabari," Peter said, a bit smugly, since he was a year younger than Arwen. "His name is Rufus."

"When you're older," Alistair repeated in response to his niece's indignant look.

“The story,” Bran prodded him gently. Unlike Arwen, he seldom asked for anything, so Alistair took a special pleasure in being able to grant his requests.

“The Archdemon was on top of Fort Drakon,” he went on. “Riordan, a Grey Warden from Orlais, had hurt it so badly that it couldn't fly any more.”

“Riordan was very brave, wasn't he?” Arwen asked. This had become a regular part of this particular story.

“Yes, he was very brave,” Alistair agreed. The Orlesian had all but been forgotten in the tales that had sprung up after the Blight, but the king never forgot that without the older Warden's courageous crippling attack, they might not have been able to bring the beast down, and these children, at least, would be taught to remember him as a brave man.

He went on to detail the fight through the corridors, up the steps to the roof of the fortress. Certain moments remained crystal clear in his memory: Aedan cutting a path through a group of genlocks to challenge the alpha; Leliana's arrow thrumming by Alistair's ear to take out one of three darkspawn that he faced; Nu savaging a hurlock that had been charging Wynne. Other moments had been obscured behind the frenzied blur that had been the drive to reach the roof, but he embellished his way through, filling in details that had become canon to his rapt audience. He kept the gore to a minimum, emphasized the derring-do, and if the heroics of his companions exceeded his own, well, that was just how he remembered it.

"At last, we burst out onto the roof," he said, "and there it was!" His suitably theatrical delivery was greeted with a round of delighted gasps.

"How big was it?" Peter's eyes were huge, and Alistair had a belated moment of concern that he might be hearing later from an irate Constance when the boy began having nightmares of his own.

"As big as this palace ... at least, that's how it looked to me," he replied honestly. "And, of course, it was very angry because it couldn't fly, so it was breathing fire, and - "

Again, certain moments remained as fresh in his mind as if they had occurred only yesterday. Wynne's voice rising in a spell, a gesture from her hand sending magic swirling around Leliana an instant before a gout of flame enveloped her. The bard emerging unscathed, giving the mage a grin of thanks before her bow sent arrow after arrow into the fray, her red hair gleaming in a stray sunbeam that had managed to penetrate the smoke that rose from the burning city below. Nu darting in from behind, biting at the monster's hindquarters, goading it into turning, exposing its neck. The hurlock alpha that had blindsided him as he'd been hacking like a madman at the junction of neck and shoulder, seeking the jugular. The flare of pain in his shattered leg as he struggled to rise, able only to watch in a mix of horror and hope as Aedan staggered toward the floundering Archdemon and -

"- raised Starfang way up and brought it down right through the Archdemon's head and killed it!"

"And then the Archdemon 'sploded!" Arwen finished for him with an enthusiasm possible only for one who hadn't been present for the event. Exploding archdemons held a high position on his own list of things to avoid for the foreseeable future.

"Really?" Alistair hadn't thought it was possible for Peter's eyes to grow any larger, but fortunately, it seemed to be from awe, rather than fear.

"Oh, yes," he assured the boy with a look of exaggerated disgust. "Took me weeks to clean all the Archdemon bits out of my armor." After he regained consciousness, but that was a part of the tale that would not be told. At least, not yet.

That pronouncement was met with a chorus of giggles, then thoughtful silence. Alistair waited, knowing what came next.

"Uncle Aedan was brave, wasn't he?" Bran asked.

"He was," Alistair confirmed. As frustrated as he had been with his best friend and brother in recent months, there was no denying his courage in the heat of the crucible that had been the Blight. They would have not have accomplished half of what they had, had Alistair been the sole survivor of Ostagar.

"Leli was brave, too!" Arwen declared. All three children adored the bard, and missed her tremendously ... as did Alistair.

"So was Wynne," Elena spoke up unexpectedly from her spot in the doorway. It was the first time she had participated in any way in the storytelling, and he was almost afraid to acknowledge it.

"They all were," he agreed. Perhaps they might not have ended the Blight without Aedan, but just as surely, the Hero of Ferelden would not have succeeded without the aid of their companions.

"Were you brave, Uncle Ali?" Arwen inquired with an impish smile. This, too, had become part of the ritual of this story.

"Me? Brave?" He feigned astonishment with his most droll expression. "I was shaking in my boots. Could barely hold onto my sword." Which really wasn't all that much of an exaggeration, when you got right down to it.

Peter looked at him in puzzlement. "But you're the King."

"Kings can be afraid," Alistair told him. "And wrong. And foolish." He'd been all that and more, sometimes all at once. "And when we were facing the Archdemon, I was very much afraid."

The boy pondered this. "But you didn't run?"

He shook his head. "No, I didn't run," he replied. "Do you know why?" He was looking at Peter, but his question was to all of them: the final part of the story.

It was Bran who answered, the last of the shadows banished from his voice, at least for tonight. "Because friends can make you brave, even when you're scared."

"Exactly," Alistair said with quiet satisfaction. "True friends can make you braver than you ever thought you could be."

"Even if they're scared, too?" Peter wanted to know, looking intrigued by the concept, but still a bit dubious.

"Even then," Alistair replied. "You can make them brave, too. It works out pretty well that way." Maker knew, they'd gone through most of the Blight scared shitless to one degree or another. Sometimes, the only thing keeping you going forward was the knowledge that you weren't alone, and that none of you would back down while the others still stood.

If he taught his sister's children nothing else, he hoped to teach them that such friendships were worth seeking out and nurturing, that such friends were the ones worth keeping. And he would pray to the Maker that they would find friends such as the ones he had found.

"Think you could sleep now?" He asked Bran, and when the boy nodded, he leaned forward to kiss his nephew's forehead, scooping Arwen up in the crook of an arm. Peter had scooted out onto the floor and stood watching as he tucked the blankets around Bran.

"Me too?" He asked, holding out his arms.

He was a remarkably composed child for his age, and when addressing Alistair when the King was wearing his crown and other regalia, he never missed a 'Your Majesty'. On the sleepovers, Alistair had managed to soften it to 'Ser', but right now, he was just a small boy who had lost two fathers before he was five years old.

So Alistair lifted him with his free arm, carried him to his bed and tucked him in, kissing his forehead as he had Bran's. Then he carried Arwen back to the room that she shared with Elena, tucking her in with a kiss, and if he didn't even think about trying to to the same with Lena, the fact that he received a nod from her instead of a scowl as he left the room was something that he would count as a win.

Back in his own suite, he stepped out onto the balcony, staring up into the night sky that remained unchanged from when he had stared up at it during his nights on watch duty with his friends sleeping nearby, trusting him to warn them if danger approached.

He didn't just tell the stories because he wanted the children to remember; he told them because he didn't want to forget. It had been months since he'd seen any of them. Aedan. Leliana. Wynne. Zevran. Oghren. Sten. Shayle. At times, two or three days might go by before he thought of them now, caught between the demands of ruling a kingdom and raising three children. With Goldanna's children here, he honestly could no longer say that he would trade the life he had now for the one he lived then.

But Maker, he missed them.
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