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To Find Absolution

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Cassandra caught up with Zaire as she reached Josephine’s office. “Inquisitor, may I have a word? There appears to be-“

“A complete shit show.” Zaire continued forward, stopping at Josephine’s empty desk. Frowning, she looked back at Cassandra. She’d hoped that she could have spoken with her to work out a better arrangement for the situation with Anders. Josephine wouldn’t be pleased, but Zaire needed to find a way to ensure his safety that also kept Skyhold safe. For that matter, she suspected that Cassandra may not be pleased when she found out the depth of what was happening. “Is Josephine doing her usual rounds for reports?”

Cassandra put her hand on Josephine’s desk, forcing herself into Zaire’s view. “I suspect so, but I need to know what’s going on. I’m hearing… alarming rumors.“

Of course she was; the Orlesians alone had probably spread it across the keep, and the mages… Zaire sighed. “Cassandra, I suspect that whatever has happened is going to be a long story, one I’m not completely certain on.” She squared her shoulders. “So let’s go find out.” She gestured to Cassandra to follow her to the War Room.

Opening the doors, she found that Hawke, Anders, Dorian, and Jonathan waited in the room. Hawke and Anders stood close enough that Zaire imagined it had to be hard for them, to wait to see what would happen after they’d waited to be reunited. Based on her conversations with Hawke, she knew they’d missed each other. The two didn’t take their eyes off of each other, and Hawke’s stance looked protective, placing himself between the Templar and Anders. Their hands touched for a moment, a casual gesture that made Zaire ache for her time with Blackwall. Dorian feigned indifference but the look on his face seemed pained. She hoped that no one had said anything about Cullen to him, but she couldn’t know until later. Jonathan looked profoundly uncomfortable and over-diligent

Zaire glanced at Cassandra, whose mouth had fallen open as she stared at Hawke and Anders. It occurred to Zaire that the Seeker could now take over the Templar’s duties. It would be for the better, as she did not need someone else being jumpy about mages in here at the moment. Cullen would be enough of a handful. “Jonathan, you are relieved of duty.”

The Templar protested, taking a half step forward that caused his armor to clink. “Commander Cullen said-“

“Seeker Cassandra will take over those duties,” Zaire snapped, not having the time nor patience for the Templar’s uncertainty. “We must convene in private.”

Frowning, the young man strode from the room, but Zaire saw him slump as he passed through the door. She assumed in relief.

As the door closed behind him, Dorian sighed and gestures towards Cassandra, his ornate sleeve flowing with his movement. “Wasn’t the point that I’m matched with someone I can take down?”

Zaire glanced at him. “Are you saying Cassandra would win in a fight?” She supposed she wouldn’t want to see that fight.

“Oh, I don’t know about that,” Dorian said, taking interest in one of his ornate rings. “But I don’t want to fight Cassandra, she knows my weaknesses. Wine, good clothing.”

“What is going on?” Cassandra asked, stepping towards Anders without threat, only curiousity. “What are you doing here?”

“Ah, my reputation precedes me.” The mage smiled wryly, surprisingly glib. “And I’ve only had one sword drawn on me.”

Cassandra frowned. “By whom?”

The door to the room slammed open, and Cullen strode in. “There had better be an excellent explanation as to why he is in Skyhold,” he growled, jabbing a finger towards Anders. “After what he did in Kirkwall-“

“Stop, Cullen.” Cassandra stepped in front of him, spreading her arms. Hawke edged up next to her, the two of them becoming a human wall between Cullen and Anders. “I would like to remind you of the result of the Seekers’ investigation into the cause of the events of Kirkwall and the Kirkwall Rebellion.”

Anders leaned forwards towards Hawke. “There was an investigation?”

Zaire shot him a look that cause him to step back. “There was. Conducted by Cassandra, and verified by Leliana.” She looked back to Cassandra. “We should get Leliana. It would not hurt to have Morrigan here, given her connection to the Hero of Ferelden, and since apparently the Hero of Ferelden is here and Cullen did not see fit to inform me of this…” She looked pointedly at Cullen, feeling the smolder of anger in her for him not telling her sooner. “They should both also be here.”

Cassandra’s head snapped around. “Audra Amell is here?”

The door banged open again, and Leliana entered, with Morrigan and a woman whose dark hood was pulled down to hide her face. When the door closed behind them, she flicked the hood down and stepped past Leliana. She radiated a calm but steeled authority, her hair long and pulled back into a braid. The woman strode across the room to put a hand on Anders’s arm, searching his face. “Have you been harmed?”

“He is under my protection, and will not be harmed.” Zaire took a breath. “No one will be harmed.” Zaire stepped forward meet the Warden Commander halfway.

“Inquisitor Zaire Cadash, meet Warden Commander Audra Amell,” Hawke said, stepping forward to bridge the gap.

Zaire nodded. “Thank you, Champion of Kirkwall.”

Hawke smiled. “It is rather fitting that we’re all here. I just wish the circumstances were better.”

Zaire looked up at the Warden Commander. She stood shorter than many humans, but something in her bearing made it seem as if she were taller. Or was it the knowledge that she’d ended a Blight? That was enough to make anyone look larger. Zaire has heard the story, of course, of th killing blow made to the Archdemon. She found it hard to picture the woman in front of her with a sword, but she supposed if one had asked her months ago, she wouldn’t have pictured herself as anything but a lyrium smugger.

Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Cassandra staring. She started to worry about the other woman’s eyeballs falling out of her head. “I would have liked us to have met under better circumstances. I am… sorry for your loss, Warden Commander.”

She nodded. “You may call me Audra. It’s easier.” She drew a breath. “I apologize I did not come to see you first, I did not want Cullen to hear about my presence second hand.”

“I understand.” Zaire did not entirely understand, and had the distinct impression she was missing part of the story. At the moment, it was in her best interest to be as polite as possible until she felt out the situation. She understood enough to know that Cullen and Audra had some history.

“I had hoped to discuss this in private with you and Garrett, but it seems that circumstances tonight have forced my hand. My intent was not deception, rather…” She sighed, rubbing at her face.

“Then let me help move the conversation along,” Zaire noted, her hands feeling along the edge of the table. “I’m not best known for my tact.”

“Neither is Garrett, so I suspect we’re on the same page.”

“It’s good to see you too, cousin.” Hawke crossed his arm and smiled.

“I’d like to discuss the details of why you’ve come to Skyhold,” Zaire said, “but before we go any further, I’d like to discuss the subject of Anders, as this is a potentially sensitive topic.” She looked over at Anders. “Before the others arrived, we started to discuss the results of the Seekers’ investigation into the events in Kirkwall.” She looked to Cassandra, who continued to stare at Audra, Zaire, and Hawke. “Cass?”

“Inquisitor. I am sorry. It’s just that I never thought I would see the Champion, the Hero of Ferelden, and the Inquisitor in one room.” She nodded. “Very well. I investigated Kirkwall, interviewing several parties involved. This included Cullen himself, Varric Tethris, and several other first hand witnesses to the events in Kirkwall. The Seekers’ determination is that the blame for the events of the Kirkwall Rebellion lies on the shoulders of Meredith Stannard of the Templars, and her corruption from the red lyrium she was exposed to.”

Leliana nodded. “I am witness to this account.”

“It is the evaluation of the Seekers that both mages and Templars were victims. While we cannot condone the means,” Cassandra said, with a harsh look at Anders, “the blame for the events does not lie solely on the head of the mage named Anders. None of the events would have been set in motion if the Templars had been following the appropriate protocols.”

Anders slumped and only then did Zaire realize that he had been so tense.

“You are forgetting that while you determined he is not responsible for the Kirkwall Rebellion nor the events, as you put it, he did kill nearly a hundred people in a horrible act,” Cullen shot back.

A silence filled the room. Zaire started to speak, but Anders beat her to it.

He stood up straight and looked defiantly at Cullen. “I do not deny my part in ensuring both mages and Templars had a chance at freedom.” Hawke put a hand on his arm but Anders shook it off. “There is no excusing what I did in the name of mage freedom. We were given few options. Yet…” He took a deep breath and closed his eyes. “Hurting people went against everything I wanted to be. And for that, I will always be sorry, and nothing I do will ever be enough atonement for that.” He opened his eyes and Zaire realized he was blinking away tears.

“The Templars pushed everyone too far. Hell, Cullen, you took away my sister, in case you forgot.” Hawke stepped forward and put his hands down on the table. “Anders was a healer in Darktown helping everyone he could, before the situation became intolerable.”

“And that excuses his actions?” Cullen asked sharply. “And you’re no better, helping him like you did.”

Zaire put a hand up. “Cullen, Anders is not on trial.”

“Perhaps he should be.” Cullen looked from Anders to Zaire. “I demand he be put on trial for his crimes.”

“If that’s a discussion we need to have, we can have it.” Zaire crossed her arms. “But we are not having it right now. We need to have some trust.”

“I have no trust for him.”

Anders crossed his arms, the glint of tears still in the corners of his eyes. “You have never trusted any mage, Cullen. Kirkwall isn’t that far away. What was it you said?”

Hawke and Audra shot Anders a look of warning at the same time. Audra in particular looked alarmed, and shook her head at him. “Not here, Anders.”

Cullen’s eyes grew wide and Zaire saw him flick a panicked gaze to Dorian. The mage’s expression didn’t change, but Zaire could see that he did not meet Cullen’s gaze. This was a road she needed neither to go down, and now they would both be distracted. Even worse, it may have proved Cullen’s silent fear about not wanting Dorian to be anywhere near Anders. “Enough. We are not here to discuss the people that we were. The Inquisition has changed us all, I like to think for the better.” She looked to Audra. “You and Anders came here for a specific reason, and I’d like to get to business on discussing that reason.” She could see Cullen fuming. “If any of you are not here to discuss the fate of Warden Alistair, you are welcome to depart now.”

Silence greeted her statement.

Zaire continued. “I’m not convinced that Alistair is dead. Nor am I convinced that it is a good idea to risk a person remaining alive while physically in the Fade.”

“While we cannot determine if the historical precedence for such an event is accurate,” Dorian noted, “it does not seem that leaving him there is a wise idea, no.”

Audra nodded. “I’m actually certain he’s alive. I’ve dreamed of him being alive, and I have heard that at least one other as has well.”

“Have you spoken to enchanter Fiona yet, Warden Commander?” Dorian asked. “She has also mentioned having such dreams.”

Audra blinked. “I was not aware of that. I’m not sure why Fiona would also be having those kinds of dreams, although it could have something to do with her being a mage and a former Warden. The ties of Warden blood are strong, although…” She frowned. “Well. It doesn’t matter. We can discuss Fiona later.” She looked around the room. “I intend to attempt to rescue Alistair, but to do that I need your help.”

“We will provide what assistance we can, but we also are locked in our own battle with Corypheus and need to consider the implications of assigning any of our people to your own mission.” Zaire started pacing the room, thinking. “But I agree that the very least we can do after everything he did for us is to try to save him.”

Audra nodded. “I’d hoped you’d say that. The rumors I’ve heard about you seem to be proving true.”

“So, how do we do this?” Hawke asked. “Zaire has the mark, which gives us a chance of getting into the Fade if she can recreate what she did to take us there the first time.”

“I think I can, with some help from Morrigan and Solas,” Zaire noted.

“And am I chopped liver?” Dorian asked, smirking.

“Absolutely not, Dorian.” Zaire shook her head. “But I think that they’ve got that specific knowledge. But, I need your help to determine the plan after everyone gets there. I have no idea how anyone will find him once there.”

“There are some other possibilities, but they may not be ones that we will be able to actually pursue.” Audra glanced over at Morrigan, exchanging a look that Zaire couldn’t quite read but that she filed away to ponder later.

“I’m assuming, then, that you’ve brought Anders with you as you’ll need him to heal Alistair if he is badly injured,” Zaire added.

“He’s the best healer in Thedas.” Audra smiled, glancing at the other mage. “I couldn’t do this without him.”

Cullen frowned. “We have many capable mages within in the Inquisition.”

“None that have the ability to directly pull from the Fade in the same way that Anders does,” Hawke added. “And I suspect, given how this happened the first time, it’s going to take a lot of power to get even a handful of us in.”

“I don’t have the capacity to send in enough mages to make up for Anders’s ability,” Zaire admitted. “I’m taking Audra on her word that he’s the best.”

Sighing, Cullen glared at Anders. “He is… powerful. I can admit that much. But that doesn’t mean this is a good idea.”

“I think it’s a fabulous idea,” Dorian remarked. “In fact, I volunteer to go, if I can. I’d look forward to this sort of impossible mission.”

“Let’s not be too hasty, Dorian,” Zaire warned. “We’re going to have to put together a plan first. Let’s go over what we know. Alistair is alive, and physically in the Fade.”

“You have the capacity to get him out, with the Mark,” Morrigan added.

“We have a Fade expert, in the form of Solas,” Leliana noted.

Audra nodded. “It sounds like we can put together a party. I need myself and Anders for sure. I’d prefer Hawke, because Hawke and I have enough experience in combat together at this point that we can work well off each other. I’d like to get a warrior, not someone who would physically go in but that would go into a dream state in order to help fight.”

“I’ll do it,” Cullen said, taking a step forward.

The room fell silent. “Cullen, are you sure about that?” Zaire asked, concerned. With how much of a loose cannon he’d been during this, she wasn’t sure if she could trust him to keep it together.

“I need to keep my eye on this situation, and this is the best way to do it.” He set his jaw firmly.

“Cullen, I’m not sure that’s wise,” Cassandra warned.

“With all respect, Cassandra, it’s not your decision.”

“We’ll keep discussing this in more detail later.” Zaire frowned. “I wish that I could help, as I want Alistair back badly, but I have to admit the risk is too high for me to go.”

“I would agree, Inquisitor. I’d prefer if you and Morrigan are here, as I’m going to need you both to get us out.” Audra looked around. “I’d be interested in talking to this Solas, if possible, before trying to make any solid plans about what we do next. But by my estimate, I need three mages including myself, plus Hawke, one warrior…” She looked over to Cullen. “Are you sure it will not take you away from your duties here?”

“It doesn’t matter. My duty is to protect those that need it.”

Audra shook her head. “Well, I personally would welcome you having our back, but you will need to work with Anders. Can you handle that?”

Cullen took a deep breath. “If I may say so in front of the group… for the things I have said and done, I owe it to you to help bring Alistair home.”

“Then that settles it.” Audra nodded. “There are other details to work out, primarily about how we get into the Fade, and how we find Alistair once we’re there. I’m going to suggest we call it a night.” She looked back at Cullen. “You won’t appreciate me for this, but Anders is a Warden responsibility, and as such I am overruling your authority in regards to him needing to have guards. He deserves some time with Hawke, and I dare say that we all have bigger issues than if a healer is going go to blow something up again.”

Cullen glowered at her but finally nodded. “If the Inquisitor agrees, I will compromise on a guard outside of his quarters.”

Zaire sighed. “If it gets us out of this conversation, I don’t care what we do. So, we’re settled.”

Everyone nodded.

“Excellent. I suggest that everyone break off to have the conversations that you need to have, and tomorrow we will meet up to discuss what our next actual steps are.”

Everyone started to disperse. Dorian strode out of the room, past Cullen, and Cullen followed him. Wincing, Zaire wondered if she should go after them but realized that they’d have to work those things out for themselves. Especially if they had to go into the Fade together.

As she started for the door behind the others, Hawke reached out and put a hand on her arm. “Zaire, a word, if I could.”

“You will anyway, Hawke,” she said, smiling at him but feeling tired. “We’re going to get a drink later.” She hadn’t thought to ask who Cullen would put as a guard outside, but at that point, she wondered if he’d just eventually give up. As is, he was sure that Dorian was going off to raid someone’s wine stash and it worried her.

“That’s what I’d like to talk about. Anders and I…” He glanced at the mage. “We drink enough for three people so you’re buying.”

Anders snorted. “You forgot that we’re both getting to be lightweights in our age.”

“I didn’t say anything about me getting old,” Hawke noted, and Anders smiled, shaking his head.

“I see your gray hairs, Hawke. All three of them.” Anders straightened his tunic and looked at Zaire. “We thought it was fair that we explained to you my situation. There’s a lot of rumor about it, a lot of assumptions, and it’s… hard to explain. You’re aware that I carry a Fade spirit inside of me, a spirit of Justice?”

“I’m somewhat aware, yes.” Zaire searched his face; he seemed like any other person, nothing strange about him. “But I know very little. My experience with Fade spirits has been mixed, but so has my experience with people.”

“That’s the most true statement anyone’s said since I got here.” Anders glanced over at Hawke before looking back to Zaire. “It seemed faire that perhaps we let you know what you’re actually dealing with. It’s nothing… bad, necessarily, but…” He sighed. “It’s easier to show you. Would you like to talk to Justice?”

“Now?”

“I think in technicality, you’re already talking to him, since we’re effectively the same entity, but we… shift. Here.”

Blue cracks appeared along Anders’s skin, and his eyes shifted to glow with an otherworldly blue light. “It is easier this way.”

“You are Justice?” Audra asked, searching Anders’s face again.

“I am.” His voice took on an otherworldly quality. “And I am Anders. We are one, yet also two.”

Zaire reached out a hand. “I don’t know if spirits shake hands, but-“

“We do. I do.” He reached out and took her hand. His skin was cool to the touch, and tingled. “We have lived in this form for many years, I have adopted many human mannerisms.”

Part of Zaire wondered if she should be afraid or intimidated, but oddly, she didn’t. Perhaps it was her own experience so far with various spirits, such as Cole, that meant her no harm. Or perhaps it was fighting her way through the Fade with Hawke, and learning that she trusted his judgement. “I am glad to have you as an ally, Justice.” She smiled. “You are welcome at Skyhold.”

“You are not afraid? After what you have been told?”

“People say a lot of incorrect things about me as well. About any of us here.” She almost listed a few examples then decided perhaps that wasn’t the best idea, since Cullen would likely be among them. “Is there anything that you need while you’re here?”

“Beyond what Anders needs?” He glanced over at Hawke. “No. We have everything we need.”

“A hot bath would do you good,” Hawke noted, reaching out to run his finger near a streak of blood on their arm.

“Spirits do not need baths. But our hosts do.” Justice looked back at Zaire. “If you have any questions, you are welcome to ask them.”

“I have a lot of questions. Ones that can wait.” Zaire smiled, brushing her hands over her leather vest. “You’re both welcome here. I’m sorry that your reception was as it was, but there’s a lot of painful history for a number of people.”

“There is. Our reputation is not undeserved.” He looked down at her, eyes crackling with blue. “We have made mistakes. We have been angry. We learn to change, to move forward. It is why we merged in the first place, to teach each other.” He paused. “For a time, we did not teach.”

“You bullied each other,” Hawke said, putting a hand on his shoulder.

“I do not bully,” Justice said, a note of indignance in his voice.

“Ok, how about: you are both very strong willed, and that can sometimes be in opposition.”

“That is fair.” He nodded. “We have spent time since leaving Kirkwall learning how to work together.” The blue faded from his skin by a margin and he smiled. “We’ve made the arrangement work.”

Zaire noticed the shift in speaking and realized that the comment was more in the tone of Anders. “Do you shift back and forth?”

“Sometimes. We are working on acting as one as often as we can, but the Taint complicates everything. It adds a level of chaos and distraction. Our merge will never be complete because of it.”

Zaire nodded. “That sounds difficult.”

“It is. But it is worth it.” The blue faded from his skin and his eyes returned to Anders’s. “Justice and I work together. He makes me stronger, and I teach him about humanity. It’s a careful balance that took us a long time to learn.”

“It turns out that Kirkwall was also not very conducive to a peaceful coexistence, thus why we’ve been working with the Wardens,” Hawke explained. “It’s a much more comfortable place for us to be in that regard.”

“If I can ask a question of you three, then,” Zaire said, thinking about how some of their situation mirrored their own. “I’ve read Tale of the Champion.” She hesitated. “I know I don’t know either of you that well, but-“

“I’m hurt. I’ve been telling you all of my secrets.” Hawke made a gesture.

Anders laughed. “Hawke, you have no secrets.”

“Are you sure about that?” Hawke said, grinning.

Zaire laughed, feeling somewhat more at ease. “I’d like to ask something that might be a little difficult, so if you don’t want to tell me, you don’t have to.” She took a deep breath. “I’m in a situation where someone I love… lied to me about who they are. Very badly.”

Anders winced. “You weren’t kidding about the disclaimer on that question.”

“No, I wasn’t.” She looked from one to the other. “Was anything Varric wrote about what happened to the two of you true in that regard?”

“After a fashion, yes.” Hawke reached out and took Anders’s hand. “I think perhaps there was more lying about motivation than who he actually was, though. I went into it not really knowing the whole story, and that was a hard thing to get through. I didn’t comprehend what it meant for Justice to be such a part of Anders.”

“How… did you get through it?”

Anders looked at her. “I almost died, and that made us get our shit together. I really don’t recommend it.”

“It’s the sort of thing that’s different for everyone, but I do see the parallel there. For you, you’ve loved who you think you’ve loved, to find out there’s another person also on the inside that they’d hidden from you. And I know this one a bit.” Hawke smiled kindly. “It’s not that complicated, though. You have to learn how to get to know that person on the inside, that one you didn’t know, and decide if you want them in your life.”

“It’s a lot of really rough conversations,” Anders added. Small blue cracks appeared on his skin. “And a lot of being honest. Apologizing for mistakes.”

“And resolving to accept that you can’t change what already happened. And you might find that person on the inside isn’t that different from what you thought, once you learned to accept the whole package.” Hawke reached out and put his hand on her shoulder. “If it helps any, I can tell he loves you.”

“I… appreciate that.” Zaire smiled, touching his hand.

“I’m not sure what either of you are talking about, but I’ll cheerfully help remind this mystery man of yours what he’s got. It’s not every day I can show someone a spirit and they don’t freak out.” Anders made a gesture, waving his hands, and Zaire laughed.

“You see a lot in Skyhold.”

“That’s what we used to say about Kirkwall.” Hawke smirked, pulling his hand back.

“Well, we’re going to see a lot more before it’s all done.” Zaire sighed. “Hawke, I suspect there’s enough space in your room for Anders. If I recall, Josephine put you in a two room suite with Alistair, so perhaps that’s the best place for Audra as well.”

“Agreed. And it’s getting late. I’d love to get her settled in before she goes to talk to Solas.” Hawke stretched.

They left the room and found Audra waiting, looking over the books on the shelves. “I thought I’d give you some time to talk.” She ran her fingers over the spines of the books.

“Let’s get you settled in a room before we move any further ahead with any planning or conversation.” Zaire gestured to her. “Hawke, lead the way.”

They started through Skyhold, gathering a few stares and Zaire had a feeling that by tomorrow, the rumors would be all over the hold. If not sooner. “I apologize for the chaos of that meeting.” She looked around. “I don’t see the guard anywhere.”

Audra rolled her eyes. “I told Cullen that it wasn’t necessary. He didn’t like that, but…” She sighed. “He’s in a bad mood, and I don’t think he wanted to fight over it. While I’m thinking about that topic, let’s talk about that mouth of yours, Anders.”

“What? He had it coming. He doesn’t trust mages.”

“Maybe not. But I think he’s trying. And I think he’s got a particular mage who is has been trying very, very hard to do more than trust.”

Zaire winced. “I’ll deal with that situation. That mage is one of my closest friends, and I have a feeling I’ll know where to find him. But let’s get you settled first.”

Nodding, Audra pulled her cloak closer around her as she looked around the keep. “You’ve done good work here, Inquisitor. Both Hawke and I know what it’s like to need to create order out of chaos, and-“

“I don’t think anyone ever accused me of order, cousin.”

“Well, not in a strict sense, no. But we’ve both had to pull together something out of impossible odds.” She looked down at Zaire. “And while we’re talking, I’d like to address the matter of the letter I sent you about Alistair.”

Hawke and Anders picked up their pace, giving them some space to talk. Zaire was grateful, but at the same time, Hawke was the only vaguely known factor in this conversation, and she felt uncertain about what to expect. “I’m sorry, Warden Commander. I tried to bring him home, we all did.”

“I know. And I’m aware that if he and Hawke went at it to determine who would have to not make it, one of them was going to lose.” She sighed. “If it hadn’t been me in this position, it would be Anders. And no doubt that occurred to Alistair, too. We’re a family, all of us, and I have no doubt in my mind that he did what he did because he was trying to save Hawke. And all of you. That’s what heroes do. I don’t hold that against you.”

Zaire looked down, fighting the pain in her chest. What if it had been Blackwall? She couldn’t even image, and they hadn’t even had the years of being together behind them that Audra and Alistair had. “You seem very calm about it.”

“That’s exactly what Cullen said.” She sighed. “I carry it on the inside. That’s what you learn to do, unfortunately.” She reached up and wiped at her face, and Zaire realized that she was starting to cry. “But I have to keep believing that he’s alive. I’ve had lots of time to cry about it, and now I just want to find solutions.”

“I understand how that works.” She didn’t go on to explain her own difficult moments she’d had recently, but she wanted to. Something told her that she’d be able to trust this woman, but she also recognized that she barely knew her. “Still, if you need anything…”

“I may need some time to process the information we’ve all shared today.” Tucking a strand of hair behind her ear, she readjusted her cloak. “I’ve had to think about a number of things I have not had to think about in years.”

The cold cut through Zaire’s cloak and she longed to be curled up in her quarters. She considered inviting Audra there for a drink and a discussion, but it seemed that perhaps Audra needed a small amount of space. “I’m sure seeing Cullen was something of a… possible shock.”

“I assume he’s told you that we knew each other in Ferelden, then.” A small smile came over her face. “I think it’s a rite of passage if you’re to be a hero in Thedas, you have to go toe to toe with Cullen Rutherford at least once. Welcome to the group.”

“Thanks, I think.” Zaire glanced around, noticing that a few people had stopped to stare as they wound around the garden. The stares would likely go one of two ways. Either they’d realize that the Hero of Ferelden, the Champion of Kirkwall, and the Inquisitor walked together… or they’d notice that the man that was considered one of the most wanted mage criminals walked with them. “He’s trying. He gives a lot.”

“He’s always been like that. Sometimes misguided, but he tries. It seems like he’s learning.” Audra hesitated, seeming to compose her next thought. “It seems that perhaps Dorian might be helping that, but I’m concerned about what happened today. They haven’t been with each other very long, have they?”

“No. It’s really not my place to speak of it, but they met due to the Inquisition.”

Audra drew her cloak more tightly around herself. “I hope they can figure it out. Cullen needs some snark to keep him on his toes.”

Zaire laughed. “Oh, he gets plenty of that here, at least. You can’t avoid it. It’s on the job application.”

“Then I have a feeling we’re all going to get along very well.”