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To Find Absolution

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Blackwall didn’t know where to go. His world felt off balance, surreal. Where the inhabitants of Skyhold looked at him with admiration or smiles before, they now avoided him, turning away. They didn’t make eye contact. He could hear the whispers, even if he didn’t know what they were saying. He could imagine well enough.

It would be bearable if he knew where he stood with Zaire. As it was… he wasn’t sure. It had been only a day since the trial, but he’d held out some hope that she’d come talk to him as soon as it ended. Instead, she threw herself back into meetings with her advisors. Which he understood; she had duties that were much larger than whatever was between them. It didn’t make it any easier.

He needed to talk to someone, but finding someone who still considered him a friend could prove hard. So, he went to the one person who was least likely to care. It meant getting through a crowd of tavern goers, but he didn’t know where else to go. Her door stood open at the end of the passageway.

“Are you here, Sera?” Blackwall called, knocking on the doorframe.

“Of course I’m here. Where else would I be?” Sera’s foot stepped through the open window to his right, the rest of her following a moment later. “Ooof. Got hit with a raindrop. I’m out. Or in. In. Right. In and out.” The slender elf giggled as she closed the window soundly and latched it before sitting down on a pile of brightly colored pillows. “Not sorry for that.”

He chuckled, crossing his arms as he leaned against the door frame. “Nor should you be.”

“I’m not that kind of in and out girl. I mean, not in the same way some girls are.” She patted the pile of pillows next to her. “Are you gonna come in and sit down, Beardy?”

“Depends. Fuzzyhead.” He sat down on a startlingly blue pillow and laid his hands on his knees, careful to not let his arms stray too far outward in the crowded room. He didn’t want to run the risk of knocking anything over, a constant possibility when in Sera’s eccentric sanctuary. She had far more possessions than he saw himself ever having, and crammed into such a small space that sometimes he half expected the stuff to start pushing itself out of one of the windows. He never asked where she got any of it, but it seemed like the collection kept growing.

Sera beamed at him. “Sorry you’re not getting any in and out, there.” She hopped up and crossed her legs under her, her blonde hair bouncing with the movement. “So whatcha want?”

Blackwall paused, looking around at the piles of random things she’d accumulated. A metal vase sat precariously on a beat up looking book, and he reached out and moved it so it sat more steadily on top of it. “Maybe I just came over here to make ass jokes.”

Sera snorted. “As if we’d sit around making ass jokes.”

“Are you saying we wouldn’t?” He crossed his arms, wishing that it were as simple as ass jokes. “Didn’t you tell me that you drew the empress’s ass?”

“Yeah!” Sera started laughing. “A story about trust. Yeah.” She giggled then stopped, her face becoming serious. “So I wanted to ask you something.”

Blackwall leaned back against the pillows, trying to get comfortable in the small space. “Ask me what you’d like. So long as it’s not in and out.” And here it comes.

Sera made a face. “Gross.” She picked up a pillow and idly punched at it. “I don’t get it. If you want to change, just change. Why this ‘fake Warden’ rubbish?”

He thought about the question for a moment. There were so many more reasons for why he did what he did than he could explain to her. No answer seemed like a good enough one. “For one, people wanted me dead.” An understatement, perhaps; when the word got out, it went past people wanting him simply dead. Good coin would be paid to whoever could bring him to justice, lending a great deal of motivation for any sensible person to turn him in. “Being someone else kept me breathing.” He paused, rubbing at his beard that he’d used to hide his identity for so many years. “And then, knowing that people thought I was good made it easier.” Every accomplishment he’d had as Blackwall felt like another cut, another place to bleed until Thom Rainier had bled away and only whoever he tried to be would remain. But every look of admiration from another person made him feel like that only lies replaced the blood lost to the cuts.

If he was being perfectly honest with himself, the truth being known came with some relief. If he were going to bleed out from a thousand cuts, at least he would bleed his own damned blood.

Sera stabbed a finger at him. “You needed them to think you could, so you could think you could!” She picked up the pillow and hit him with it. “You’re smart, but you’re sort of stupid.”

“A smarter man wouldn’t have gotten into this situation.” A smarter man would have turned tail when payment for killing came into the picture. A smarter man wouldn’t have fallen in love with the very person that could hold his fate in her hands.

Shoving the pillow into his lap, she sat back. “She won’t talk to you, yeah?”

Sighing, Blackwall wrapped his fingers around the edges of the pillow. The golden fringe spilled out between his fingers. He wished it were Zaire’s coppery hair between his fingers instead. “No.”

“Driving you crazy, that.”

“It is. She said…” He wasn’t sure if he should tell her. Then again, it was Sera. She’d undoubtedly make fun of the idea, but that wasn’t the worst that could happen. “She said she didn’t love me. Back in the prison.”

“Then she’s being stupid, too.” Sera flailed, reaching out for a flask sitting on the floor nearby. “She loves you. I’m pretty sure she’d do the in and out with you tonight if you wanted.”

He rolled his eyes. “Sera, that’s not even what I want.”

“Then what do you want?” She peered into the flask and frowned, turning it upside down to reveal its lack of contents. “Isn’t that what men want?”

“I just want… her.” He shrugged. “I just want to sit around holding her, talking to her, knowing she’s there.” Feeling her warm and alive in my arms. Being able to take on anything because he’d come home to her. “Knowing she believed.”

“She still believes. She believes in all of us. That’s why it’s good here, because we can just be us. We don’t have to pretend to be some noble bullshit we’re not. She doesn’t ask that of us. She used to smuggle lyrium and that’s shit, Beardy.”

“She also never tried to pretend she was something she wasn’t,” he pointed out.

“Doesn’t matter. People try to make her what they think she should be. Herald of Andraste. Or whatever.” She waved her hand in the air. “The point is that we all change and at least you tried to be better. That’s more than lots of people ever do.”

“Lots of people don’t…” He struggled to find the words. “Kill innocents, Sera. Children.” Blackwall slumped and covered his face with his hands. He wished that covering his eyes could block out their faces, or covering his ears would silence their voices echoing in his head. It’s what I deserve. To be reminded.

“Yeah and lots of people don’t get put in situations where they have the option. I mean, yeah, you should have said no. But that was the old you. You aren’t that Rainier guy, at least not like he was.”

“Then who am I?” He lifted his head. “I’m not Warden Blackwall, either. When I look in the mirror, I don’t know who I see.”

Reaching out, she tugged on his beard. He wouldn’t have tolerated it from just anyone, but something about the way Sera did it made it endearing rather than annoying. “You’re whoever you want to be, now. She gave you that freedom. You get to pick. You can spend the rest of your life giving people second chances like the one you’ve had. You can do anything you want now. It’s all up to you.”

How did she manage to make it sound so simple? “So you’re saying I can be anything.”

She wrinkled her nose up. “Oh no not that. You can’t be a Templar, because lyrium. You can’t be an elf because you’re not… elfy.” She studied him for a moment. “You also can’t be my girlfriend, you’re right out on that one, too much hair and dangly bits.”

Blackwall chuckled, and it felt good to laugh. He pointed at his beard. “Hey, I have had this hair and dangling bits complimented, thank you very much.”

“Well they can be complimented somewhere else.” She punched his leg lightly. “Maybe you should go out of your way to talk to her then? I’ll bet she likes it.”

He sighed, glancing through the window as if he’d gain some insight. The darkness outside made it impossible to see past the glass, and he felt like he looked into his own future, not knowing what lay beyond. “I don’t know if she likes any of me all that much right now.”

Rolling her eyes, Sera plucked an arrow out of the quiver and waved it at him. “Do you need me to stab you? She loves you. She was always happy with you.”

“She was happy with who I let her believe I was.” A hero. Someone who had saved lives, not taken the lives of innocents. A Grey Warden. “She let me close to her because of who she thought I was.”

“You really are daft.” She bounced the arrow on her head. “On the inside, maybe that other guy is still there. Okay. But when you were with her, I saw you. Well, not saw-saw, that would be gross-”

“Sera,” he warned.

“Right, right. I hear lots though. I see you go to your tent together when we’re away from here. You’re just two people. You treat her well, hold open the tent for her. Always make sure she’s okay. When you walk in the room, her face glows, all… glowy. Not like her hand glowy. But you knooooow.” She balanced the arrow on her head as she kept talking. “When you’re with her, maybe you weren’t Rainier, maybe you weren’t Blackwall, but you were hers and she was yours and you were both okay with that.”

Outside, the rain was falling harder, beating against the window. He could be curled up with her by the fire in her quarters, threatening to count her freckles or tracing the shape of the tattoo on her face with his fingers. The thought that he may never have that again made him feel sick to his stomach. “I didn’t tell her what I’d done.”

“Oh! You think she had sex with you thinking you were a virgin who had never killed another person in their life?” She snorted and the arrow wiggled on her head then steadied. “Now that’s rich. The bad kind of rich, I can’t even pick that kind of rich’s pocket. See, there’s no difference now except she knows what you did before, but it doesn’t change what you do now.”

And there was the question. “What do I do now, Sera?”

“You should ask her that question. She’ll probably have all kinds of nice compliments about your arse.”

He reached out and plucked the arrow off the top of her head. “It’s not my arse I’m worried about.”

“Yeah except I’m going to kick it if you don’t talk to her. Trust me. She blushes like… like this pillow.” Sera picked up a pillow that was a shade of red that Blackwall was fairly sure Zaire was not capable of turning under any circumstances, but he went with it. “Every time she talks about you. It’s awful, and I’ve seen you two making out by the stable, Dennet can’t unsee anything-

Blackwall fidgeted with the arrow in his hand. “Then maybe he shouldn’t have been lurking around. Nor should have you.” He smiled, pointing at her with the arrow. “If I ever have a chance to ensure you see my arse, I’m taking it.”

“Oh no you won’t, I learned where not to go at night.” Her hand snapped out and grabbed the arrow out of his hand. “Stop being stupid and just ask her what she’s pissed about. You’re good for her, and life is short and shit. Like that Alistair guy? He wasn’t probably living much longer because he’s a Warden anyway, but you don’t have Warden problems but still we never know when any of us will die and-”

“Sera, I get it.” He shook his head. Alistair. Of course Zaire was still upset, that had really been hard for her. He stared out the window, unable to see much outside through the rain and descending darkness. “I’m being an idiot, aren’t I? She has a lot bigger problems right now than me.”

“Well then stop being dumb and give her one less problem. Maybe tomorrow you can talk to her.” She pushed at his shoulder. “I want to steal a pie. You want to come with me?”

As delicious as that sounded, it also seemed like trouble. “I’d love to, but the way this place has been since yesterday, I’m more likely to get stabbed than handed a pastry.”

“I’ll only stab you if you’re dumb.” She made a face at him. “So, tomorrow, yeah?”

He nodded. Sera believes. Is it such a stretch that Zaire could still believe, too? Maybe it wasn’t so distant of a possibility. For the first time in weeks, he felt hope swell up and he pushed it down, afraid to let himself feel it yet. “I will. And… thanks.”

“You’re welcome. Beardy.” Cackling, she pushed him through the doorway and took off… wherever Sera goes to find trouble.

He headed down the stairs through the tavern, nodding to Iron Bull as he passed. Krem stood near the door, leaning against the wall with his arms crossed. “Hey. How are you holding up?”

Blackwall slowed to a stop and tried to blend into the shadows. “I’m… fine.”

“You don’t sound fine. Chief’s worried about you. Won’t say it, but he worries.” Krem uncrossed his arms to pick up his drink and take a swallow. He pushed the half empty mug to Blackwall. “Here. You need a drink.”

“I need more than a drink at this rate,” Blackwall said, taking it from him and drinking. The ale was well-rounded, just the right amount of bite to make him pay attention to it.

“We’re rounding up a group to do some sparring tomorrow.” Krem jerked a thumb towards the general direction of the practice yard. “Interested?”

Blackwall took another swig of the ale and shook his head. “No one wants to spar with me.”

“No one wants to spar with half of us, either.” Krem shrugged. “The Chargers are a family, and we’re full of people that have done things. You’re always welcome with us.”

A hand clapped down hard on Blackwall’s shoulder, hard enough that he almost dropped his drink. He looked over as the Iron Bull came to stand next to him. The qunari grinned. “Now, isn’t this better? Getting the burden of that lie off your chest?”

Blackwall could feel the eyes of the patrons around them glaring his direction. He raised his mug in a mock toast. “And exchanging it for the burden of everyone hating me? Yes. So much better.”

“Hey, I don’t hate you. You and me? We’re good.” Bull shrugged. “Now that you know who you are, you can stop doubting yourself and start hitting crap again.”

“Why don’t we hit a few drinks first, huh?” Looking down into the mug in his hand, Blackwall finished off the drink with a couple more swallows.

Iron Bull lifted a pitcher from the table nearby and filled the tankard in Blackwall’s hand. “Now you’re talking.”

“Then it’s settled, we’re hitting things tomorrow,” Krem said, grinning.

Iron Bull nodded. “People will come around. Or they won’t. But that’s their loss. We stand with you.”

Well, that’s something. “I… appreciate that.”

“We’ll hit things tomorrow. Tonight is for…” Iron Bull whistled as a pretty woman walked by. “That. Right there.” He turned and followed, and Blackwall shook his head.

At least he knew he had some friends still here.