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The Mantle of the Champion

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He really didn't know why he'd kept them this long, honestly. He'd been on the run with Anders for, what, two years now? Give or take. And he never wore it anymore; he wasn't sure how many people outside of the Free Marches would recognise the armour of Kirkwall’s Champion on sight, but he didn't want to take the risk. Andraste’s ass, just having it on his person was more risk than he should be comfortable with. And yet. He remembered there being some idea of selling it on at some point, as justification for not just leaving it to burn or throwing it in the ocean and. It'd just never happened.

Suddenly he was reminded of Aveline, holding onto Wesley's shield all those years, even when they'd needed every coin they could get, even when by all appearances she was happily remarried and moved on. These robes didn't exactly hold happy memories, though she'd probably say the same about her shield. Say it reminded her of when they met, and she'd try to make it a joke but it wouldn't quite work.

Bah. Now wasn't the time. Not while he was still standing in his underwear, trying to remember how he was supposed to get in this thing. Anders, whether through kindness or luck, wasn't watching him, instead looking out the window of their latest hideout. Deep in thought, with the frown he'd been wearing almost constantly since Varric’s letter arrived. It was enough to make Hawke want to throw the damned armour away, pull Anders close to him and kiss him until they both forgot about the Inquisition, and the scarred fade-green sky, and any guilt he had for his part in this mess. But Varric had sent the letter, and he couldn't forget Varric no matter what he did.

Make sure you dress your best, Hawke. That's what the letter said. Up until that point he'd been reading it aloud to Anders, half convinced this was some bizarre trap, more than half convinced he wasn't going. They hadn't heard from Varric for months, and now they're supposed to believe he's proselytising for some 'Herald of Andraste’? Varric loves a story, but he'd never been… devout. At least not as Hawke had known him. But that line had been too easy to imagine, coming from somewhere waist level with an easy grin, Bianca at his back.

Dress your best. Most everything he wore these days was tattered, frayed at the edges and possessed of more than a few dubious stains. Everything except the armour he'd been carrying since Kirkwall. He wondered if Varric had known somehow. It was like something from one of his books: the absent hero returns after two years, same as ever, ready to save the day again. Except he hasn't been absent. He'd been out here, stoking the fires of a rebellion that Varric was now working to put out.

Maybe it was easier for Varric to pretend he'd just been missing.

He'd managed to get in his Champion’s uniform now. It was a little looser than he'd remembered, though given he'd been mostly living on love and pure stubbornness for the past few years, he didn't think he'd done bad. Even the fur collar had held up well enough that he wouldn't need to ask Anders for some spare feathers (for everything else he was prepared to lose, he wouldn't give up his bloody feathers).

“How do I look?” Hawke asked Anders, giving him a twirl. Anders turned to him, brown eyes looking him over.

“Wow. It's like you haven't even left.” Anders said, sounding a little awed. He stood up now, moving to press a kiss on Hawke's lips. Anders let his hands rest on Hawke's shoulders, and he wasn't frowning anymore but the smile on his face was too sad for Hawke's liking.

“I did leave. With you.” Hawke's hands rested lower on Anders, around his waist. “And I'm not going back to Kirkwall to play champion again. I'm only going to do Varric a favour, and it's on the other side of the Waking Sea.”

Anders was frowning again, forehead creasing, “Hm. A favour for the Inquisition, maybe.” Which may as well be a favour for the Chantry.

“I'm doing Varric a favour,” Hawke repeated firmly, “And I'm going to do reconnaissance on the Inquisition. Don't pretend you're not curious what they're up to.”

They'd first heard about the Inquisition only some months ago, and dismissed them as some ridiculous attempt by the Chantry to regain control of a situation way out of their hands, after their Conclave hadn't worked out. The death throes of a dying power. But then they'd started to hear connections to the Breach, that they had a plan to close it, and suddenly the Inquisition seemed to have half of Ferelden under its thumb. Not to mention the majority of the mage rebels army, including Fiona herself. The Inquisition officially called them allies, and seemed keen to emphasise the involvement of the mages in closing the Breach, but. Hawke had been called Champion once, too.

Anders certainly wasn't convinced. He'd been dead set against the Conclave from the start - the mages had been holding their own in the conflict, to be sure, the Chantry giving even the pretense of negotiation was proof of that, though they weren't winning by any stretch of the imagination. They didn't have enough leverage to negotiate with the Chantry in any kind of good faith. And after the Conclave, it was obvious the mages had been hit hardest - the Templars were soldiers and most of the mages weren't, and the explosion at the Temple of Sacred Ashes had robbed them of a lot of their seasoned combatants. It was hard to believe the Inquisition wasn't going to just turn around and lock the mages up as soon as it was convenient.

Then again, rumour had it that the Inquisitor herself was a mage. And it was all rumours, either too vague to put any faith in or wildly inconsistent. She'd been affiliated to at least 7 different Circles, at least one of which Hawke was almost certain wasn't real. Though it wasn't any more unbelievable than closing a hole in the sky, he supposed. Or the Champion of Kirkwall running off with the man who'd destroyed half his city. Or an ancient Tevinter Magister threatening to destroy modern Thedas. You really can't rule anything out these days.

He'd find out soon enough, anyway.

“Are you sure you'll be alright alone?” Anders said, not for the first time. Hawke sighed, bringing up a hand to run through Anders hair.

“If it was anything else, love… but I can't risk Corypheus getting to you again. I know you pushed through it last time, but he's stronger now, and I can't….” He trailed off, struggling for words. The hand in Anders hair stopped moving, hovering somewhere over his cheek. Anders covered it with his own hand and brought it to his lips, pressing a kiss to Hawke's knuckles, eyes on Hawke's face.

“I understand. And you have a duty.” There was a strange undertone to his voice when he said that, the kind that made Hawke look for blue on the edges of Anders cheekbones, “You can't stay here, I know.”

“I'll come back to you,” Hawke said, forcefully, “The first moment I can, I don't care what happens. The Inquisition can't have me. You have me.”

Anders smiled at him, warm and vulnerable and creasing his eyes, before leaning in to kiss him again, open mouthed and a little desperate. Hawke isn't much better, the fear and apprehension in him bubbling over, and they're both panting when they part.

Maker, Hawke doesn't think he'll ever get used to Anders kissing him like that. Doesn't want to, doesn't want to take any of this for granted. They stay close, eyes locked, Anders’ touch warm even through the protection of his armour. Until Anders’ eyes go wide and he starts, as if something important just occurred to him.

“You’re missing something, love,” he says, bustling over to their little box of keepsakes, trinkets they couldn't bear to leave. Hawke peered at him as he sorted through before he held a little bottle up triumphantly. Kaddis. Hawke hadn't realised they still had that. The dog had been left with Carver long ago, too old to cope with life as a fugitive.

Anders collected the bright red war paint on his thumb before smearing it across the bridge of Hawke's nose. And Maker, this was all too familiar, like he'd stepped back in time, but he didn't feel comfortable at all. The mantle of the Champion suddenly felt unnaturally heavy on his body, like Flemeth’s amulet. Weighing him down to an obligation he didn't want but had no choice but to take.

“You have me,” Hawke repeated, “No one else does.”