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To Find Absolution

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“And that’s how I ended up traveling with the Hero of Ferelden,” Anders finished.

Kieran grinned. “What happened to the rest of the Wardens? And to Justice?”

“That’s… a story for another time.” Anders smiled at the boy. “I can’t tell you the whole story right now, that would leave us with nothing to talk about later.”

There is another spirit here, Justice told Anders, causing Anders to fall silent.

Where? Is everything okay?

No. The spirit is a spirit of compassion. He appears in distress. There are people who are hurt.

Anders saw the crackle of blue flash across his hand and tried to hide it from Kieran. The boy was too sharp, however, and he looked from Anders’ hand to his face. “Are you okay?” he asked. “Your hand…”

Nodding, Anders shook his hand out. He didn’t bother trying to have a conversation with Justice if they should go help or not. They both knew they had to, without needing to discuss it. I’m about to do something very stupid. “I’m fine. But I think someone needs my help. Where would people go if they’re hurt?”

“The infirmary. I could take you there.” He stood up, his eyes narrowing as he studied Anders intently. “You’re spirit. Like Cole, but not like Cole.”

Cole is the other spirit here, Justice supplied.

Thanks. “I doubt it’s quite the same, but it’s also a long story. I’ll explain later.”

“You have a lot to explain later.” Kieran looked up at him. “You’re not just telling me that to make me stop asking questions, are you?”

“Maybe. But it doesn’t mean I’m never giving you answers.” He fished out a leather strap from his bag and tied his hair back into a rough tail. “I think I’ve got to do some healing first.”

Justice spoke up. Hawke will not be pleased at the risk.

Getting his cloak out of his bag, Anders threw it over his shoulders and pulled the hood up tight over his face. Hawke will understand. It’s everyone else I’m worried about. With any luck, no one here will recognize us. He pulled on gloves so that he could hide his hands if needed, although he’d need to take them off to heal.

Luck has nothing to do with it, Justice warned.

Kieran picked up his own cloak and pulled it on, starting for the door. He stopped for a moment, turning back to Anders. “Is Justice inside of you?”

This child is too smart for his, or my, own good. “Yes. He is. We… we merged after what happened.”

“What’s it like?”

This was the question that Anders hated to answer the most. “It’s… complicated.”

“You’ll explain later?” Kieran said with a knowing smile.

“Something like that, yes.” Anders gestured towards the door.

Audra had said Cullen is here, Justice said, and Anders’s stomach tied up in a knot. The last thing he needed was a Templar, especially that Templar. Or former Templar, he supposed.

Here’s hoping we don’t run into him, then.

Kieran led him outside, Diablo following them both, and they headed through the garden and along the edges of the keep. “If you could do me a favor, Kieran… could not you not mention my name?”

“I won’t.” He glanced over at Anders. “We all know about Kirkwall. Mother teaches me… a lot.”

“Oh.” Anders pulled his hood tighter over his face.

“Mother is an apostate. She says that people would be afraid of me, too, if they knew everything.”

“A part of you is very old, is it not?” Justice asked.

“That’s how it feels.” Kieran studied his face. “You’re blue again.”

Anders felt suddenly self conscious. “It… happens.” We’re not home, Justice. We’re going to need to keep that down, as much as I hate it, too. They’d become too used to casually slipping to the surface; with the Wardens, everyone became used to it. Here? Anders didn’t even want to think about what would happen.

Anders heard the shouts before they reached the infirmary, and he picked up the pace. All he had to do was blend in with the other mages and healers, it should be very easy to just sneak in, heal, and fade back into the darkness. Simple.

People ran in and out of the infirmary, shouting and carrying supplies, and Anders paused before edging into the chaos. “Why don’t you take Diablo and head back to your room?” he asked, looking down at Kieran. “Something tells me your mother won’t be happy if I’m dragging you all around the keep, and we didn’t let her know you were going.”

Kieran nodded. “I’ll let her know what’s happening.”

“Thanks.” Anders smiled at him and turned, edging past a scout near the door.

I like the boy named Kieran, Justice observed.

Me, too. He melted back into a corner, getting his bearings. There were a lot of people there, and he tried to evaluate who was hurt worst so that he knew where to focus his effort.

“Over here,” a voice said softly over his shoulder. A young man was hunched over, his large hat obscuring his face. “Burning, so hot. Am I still on fire?” He wandered towards a cot where two healers placed their hands on an unconscious woman, her clothing melted to her under her armor. Anders followed him. As he watched, the mages started healing the woman, but he knew it wouldn’t be enough to save her.

He stepped up and slid in next to one of them, taking off his gloves. “I’ve got this.” He looked down at the woman and carefully removed her helmet, setting it aside. “We’re going to take care of you.” Laying his hands on her arm, he looked over at the other mage. “She could wake up and start screaming. Do you have a piece of leather you can put into her mouth for her to bite down on?”

The other man nodded and started pulling supplies out of a bag. “I can start treating the wounds, if you can heal.”

“Thank you.” Anders didn’t bother telling him it wouldn’t be necessary to do much treating of her wounds. “You’ll also need to start getting this armor off of her, when I give the word.” The woman’s skin felt hot to his fingers, and he looked at her face as he reached out and pulled from the Fade. His connection to Justice meant that he had more power at his disposal, but it meant that he risked being discovered.

He wove the power into a healing spell and let it pass from his fingers and into the woman. He shifted his hands over her, instinctively searching for damage and pouring it into her. First, the pain, but she may not realize she wasn’t still on fire until-

She awoke, arching her back in pain as she bit down on the leather. Anders could hear her cries and he kept working. The best thing he could do for her is to heal her quickly. Skin knit together where the burns had split it, causing the burnt skin to fall off and away. “Armor, now.”

The other mage jumped into action, and the mage across from him realized that the woman was healing rapidly, but he’d hardly done anything. He stared at Anders, who tucked his head down farther under his hood and kept his focus on the woman.

“Hey, are you going to help or stare?” the first mage asked, and the second one pulled his hands away and started unbuckling the warrior’s armor, letting her regenerating skin breathe. They were efficient and their hands were steady, and Anders found himself impressed with how coordinated they were when they weren’t staring at him. He’d love to mentor mages like these.

Anders watched the woman’s eyes roll back in her head. “Almost there. I’ve got you.” The damage was extensive, the burns covering most of her body. But he’d healed worse.

Bleeding stopped, and soon the screaming stopped. She breathed raggedly, desperately, but she breathed. Anders pulled his hands away, the glow fading from them, and reached for a blanket from a nearby table. He pulled it over her and touched her forehead. “Keep the wound sites clean. After the rest of the skin has fallen away, get her on a clean sheet. She will have minimal scarring if you keep pouring more healing into her, but she needs a break, her body can only take so much of this.”

“We’ll take it from here.” One of the mages laid a hand on her forehead, smoothing her hair back. “We’ve got you.”

Anders placed a hand on the woman’s arm. “You’re in good hands.”

The rush of it coursed through the combined entity that was Anders and Justice.

She has fought hard and now she can rest, Justice said.

There are more to go. Anders was already in motion, moving to the next one.

“Healing the hurts on them heals the hurts inside,” the young man said again. Anders hadn’t realized he was still there, and felt unnerved by the accuracy of the statement. Then again, Justice had pointed out that a spirit named Cole was here.

“Cole, I presume?” he asked. The young man nodded. “If there’s someone that needs my help the most, let me know. Otherwise, I’ll go from patient to patient.”

Cole nodded. “The rest are about the same. Not as bad.” He looked back at the first woman. “She shielded the others.”

Of course she did. Anders’s heart hurt for the woman, but he had no time to stop. More patients were waiting.

He worked in an almost trance from that point onward, blocking out the distractions. The other mages started to work around him, bringing him what he needed.

Between the third and fourth victims, Cole suddenly put a hand on his arm. “These are his men. He is coming to see if they are alright.” He looked up. “I’ll let him know.” Cole rushed from the room, and Anders kept healing, hoping he could finish the last two and get out of there soon. Whoever was coming, it warranted Cole telling him, and as such, he didn’t want to find out why that was important.

The last one was an elven scout, her hands burned. She wept. “My fingers, I can’t feel my fingers.” Her fingers were curled up, her gloves burnt mostly away.

“Archer?” Anders asked, taking her hands in his and holding them, pouring the energy into her. She nodded, looking up at him. “You’ll shoot again. I promise.” He didn’t make that promise lightly, but he could already tell that he’d be able to heal the damage almost completely.

When he finished healing her, he set her hands down on her chest and smiled. He realized she was staring at him. At his face. No doubt he glowed blue from Justice’s connection to the Fade, from the lines that blurred when they healed. His time with the Wardens had made him too sloppy, too open.

He pulled the hood down over his head further, but it was too late. Others had seen, and the whispers started. He had to get out of there. Now.

“I don’t know who you are, but you just saved five of my best. Thank you.” A hand landed on his shoulder and a cold knot settled in Anders’s gut. Across the years, across Thedas, he would recognize that voice anywhere.

There would be no escaping this.

But he’d sure try. “Thank you, ser,” Anders answered, lowering his head. “I’m just doing my service to the Inquisition.”

Why are you polite? Do you know who this is? Justice asked, boiling under the surface.

Of course I know who it is! Anders drew a breath. A memory flooded back to him, of Kirkwall. Mages cannot be treated like people, they are not like you and me. He needed to get out of there, at least long enough to let him process it. To make a plan.

He pushed past Cullen but the other stepped to the side with him. Anders realized that he hadn’t put back on his gloves, and his hands had started to glow. Pulling his cloak tighter around himself, he pulled his hands under his cloak but he already knew it would be too late. Cullen couldn’t have missed that.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Cullen put one hand on his sword and take a step back. “No.” The former Templar’s voice shook. “You cannot be here.”

“Tell that to the men I just saved,” he shot back, standing up straighter but keeping his face covered.

“I will not have the Butcher of Kirkwall in Skyhold!” Cullen started to draw his sword.

Anders shifted so that Cullen could see his face. “I’d consider your next move carefully, Cullen.” He raised his hands; both glowed blue. “We can both walk away now.”

The former Templar paled but did not back down. “Is that a threat, apostate?”

“It’s whatever you want it to be. You’re not going to listen anyway.” On the outside, Anders liked to think his voice remained calm, but under the surface, he and Justice seethed. Memories of Kirkwall that they’d managed to bury in the last four years away from it all started to surface. It would be so easy to lash out at him. So easy to…

We are better than this, they thought in unison.

“Do you think I can let you walk away, when you’ve never stood trial for your crimes? Guards!” he barked. Two guards approached cautiously; Anders could tell one was a former Templar just by their stance. “Arrest this man.”

They started forward, but the elf scout beside him groaned and sat up. “No.” She held up her hand. “Look at this, Commander. Look. I shouldn’t have been able to shoot again. This man saved me.” She turned to Anders and reached out her hands, turning them over for all to see. “Thank you, ser. I’m in your debt.” Anders could see the tears in her eyes and he fought to breathe. This is why he’d come here. Why he’d never given up on healing. The blue faded from his hands.

The guards stopped and looked to Cullen. “Commander?” one asked, eyes shifting from the woman to Anders to his commander.

Cullen kept his hand on his sword, shaking his head. Fury crept into his voice. “Arrest. This. Man.”

Anders clenched his teeth. He could pull a spell together, but he’d risk hurting innocents. “You will not take me,” he growled.

“Stop!”

Whoever yelled, the guards listened and stepped back, saluting. Anders turned to see a copper haired dwarf enter, with Hawke and the two mabari in tow. This must be the Inquisitor. Would she be ally or enemy? What did she know of him? Anders looked at Hawke and nodded, hiding his relief at how glad he was to see them both. Hawke shook his head, a silent warning to Anders. A warning he didn’t need; he knew how delicate the situation had become.

“Commander. Stand down.”

“I will not stand down, Inquisitor!” Cullen drew his sword. “Do you know who this man is?”

“A man that you will not kill on sight.” She strode to his side and put a hand on his arm. “The Inquisition is better than this, Cullen. You are better than this.”

Anders watched a bead of sweat edge down Cullen’s forehead, and recognized that he had to be going through lyrium withdrawal. He wanted to tell Cullen that he forgave him, as Audra had, for his crimes against mages. That he understood how much more complicated the situation had been, more than he’d understood. Kirkwall made victims out of us all.

Instead, he brought himself up to his full height and flicked back his hood. “Is this what you want, Cullen? To expose me to everyone in Skyhold?”

“Cullen.” The Inquisitor shook her head. “Put the sword down and stop. Step away.”

Cullen glowered at the Inquisitor but stepped back, sheathing his sword. “You can’t be serious. You can’t let him walk free.”

“Let me be the judge of that.” The dwarf walked up to them both, inserting herself between them. “Cole,” she called over her shoulder. “Help me out here. What do you see? Are we in danger?”

“Surely you can’t be serious?” Cullen asked, staring.

The Inquisitor ignored him and waited for Cole to ghost his way up to her shoulder. “Scars, so many scars. No, don’t hurt me again, don’t… we’ll make you Tranquil for this, boy.” Cole shuddered but looked at Anders.

Stay calm. Anders breathed slowly and tried to calm the fight or flight response that still held him in place.

“Templars. Mages. All victims. The circles are all broken.” Cole moved to Anders’s side, almost touching him but not quite. “No one listened. Drastic but necessary. With the bandages ripped off, now the wounds can stop festering and heal.” He looked down at the Inquisitor. “We are in no danger.”

She nodded and turned back to Cullen. “I think there is a larger conversation we need to have here. I don’t doubt that. But at the moment, five of our men have been healed from a Venatori attack.”

“That doesn’t undo what he’s done,” Cullen said, pointing to Anders.

“Nothing can undo what I’ve done.” Anders took a step forward. “But I could argue that you wouldn’t be here right now if your order hadn’t been shaken to the core, too. Everyone was corrupt. Everyone hurt. You knew it, and you didn’t-“

“Enough.” The Inquisitor shook her head. “We aren’t having this out in here.” She looked around. “Anders, I presume?”

He nodded. “At your service, Inquisitor.”

“Zaire Cadash. Zaire is fine.” She reached out a hand to shake his in a confident grip that didn’t show any fear towards him.

Cullen crossed his arms. “I’m not letting him out of my sight.”

“Like to watch, then?” Hawke quipped, coming around and putting his arm on Anders’s shoulder. “Hello, love. Always one for an entrance, hrm?”

Anders snorted. “It… wasn’t my plan.” He wanted nothing more than to hug Hawke, but the scene in the infirmary was already getting to be overwhelming. He and Justice were both starting to feel restless. As if Hawke could tell, he planted a gentle kiss on Anders’ lips and stepped back, taking his hand. It grounded him while giving him space.

Zaire sighed. “Here’s what’s going to happen. Anders – for your own safety, I’m putting you in the care of two of our guards. One will have a Templar ability to nullify you. One will be a mage that can take that one down, if you are in any danger. You have to understand the situation you’ve put me in, but my intent is to ensure your safety as well as the Inquisition’s security. Is this a suitable solution?”

Anders looked at Hawke. “Can I trust this?”

“Yeah.” Hawke grinned in that cocky way that he did. “I wouldn’t trust her in a game of cards or a drinking game, but she’ll take care of you.”

Nodding, Anders looked to Zaire. “Then it’s fine. Not the reunion I’d hoped for.” He squeezed Hawke’s hand. He wanted nothing more than to embrace him, to show him how much he’d just missed him. To convey the relief he and Justice both felt on seeing him. There’d be time for that later.

“Me, either.” Hawke chuckled and looked at the guards in the infirmary. “But I don’t know, we could give the guards a show?”

Zaire looked to Cullen. “Cullen?”

He threw his hands in the air, and Anders felt certain it was the farthest from his sword his hands had been since he had seen Anders. “Fine. I pick the Templar.”

“I pick the mage.” Zaire jutted her chin out.

“Fair.” Cullen looked to one of the scouts in the room. “Get Jonathan.” He looked down at Zaire. “Your mage?”

Zaire looked over at the scout. “Dorian Pavus. You’ll likely find him-“

“We know where he is, Inquisitor,” the scout said, giving Cullen a look that Anders couldn’t entirely understand.

But if the look on his face were any indication, whoever this “Dorian Pavus” was, Cullen did not approve of the choice. “Surely there’s another, Inquisitor-“

“None other I trust to match Jonathan.”

A silent challenge went between them, one that Zaire seemed to win. “Fine. Dorian it is.”

“Fantastic.” She strode past Cullen. “Your office, Cullen. We need to have a conversation. As soon as Jonathan and Dorian are both here.” She stepped back around to walk from the infirmary, and Anders heard her directing the two mabari to find their other master and bring her back to Hawke and Anders.

Audra would not be pleased, either.