Audra watched as Hawke moved ahead of her and Zaire, reaching a door and unlocking it. Audra followed him as he opened the door, and she came to a sudden stop, feeling a drop in her stomach.
In the middle of the room, Alistair’s remaining belongs sat in a pile. Hawke had stacked everything into a careful pile, contrasted sharply with Hawke’s own belongings that were half tossed upon the couch. It summed up Hawke so well, and she thought about how if it hadn’t been her feeling this pain, it would have been Anders. Both thoughts hurt, deeply.
She’d known not long after it had happened, when she’d started having the dreams. Of Alistair in the Fade, but injured. The first time, she’d thought she just missed him, that she worried. When she saw him the next night, she started to see consistencies that started to lead to another conclusion, one that seemed impossible.
It was a week before the letters arrived to tell her what had happened, and it had been Anders who had held her as she shook with the pain, sobbing into his robes, clutching at him with everything she had because no one else there would understand the pain. The pain of losing someone that you’d chosen to love so much.
Fighting for a breath, Audra walked slowly to the pile, sinking down to her knees and placing her hand on Alistair’s pack. She wanted somehow to feel some warmth, some spark of life. Something to tell her that he’d be walking through that door to sling his pack over his shoulder so they could go home.
Behind her, Zaire spoke up. “I don’t want to intrude, but I’m sure you’re hungry and I’d like to get that taken care of. Will you be here, or elsewhere?”
She fought past the feeling of her life being squeezed out of her chest. “I’ll go check on the dogs next, so I suppose that’s near the stables from what I hear.”
“It is. I’ll arrange for something to be brought there.” Zaire excused herself and backed out through the door, closing it as she went. Audra wanted to tell her to stay, that they had more to discuss, but realized that a wave of feeling started to sneak up on her and that she didn’t need the Inquisitor to see it. She lifted the pack, opening it, and started pulling out Alistair’s belongings. The first item her hand encountered was a silly stuffed mabari she’d given him for luck a long time ago. Pulling it to her chest, she held it to her and closed her eyes. She breathed in and almost thought she could smell him for a moment. To just curl up with him and tuck her face against his neck after a long day, to feel his arms around her. Her fingers tracing the freckles on his arms. Him laughing at the times she’d done it with ink still on her fingers, teasing her that marking off the freckles with ink as she counted them was cheating.
She set the stuffed mabari on the table, and reached her arms around the pack, hugging it. Tears formed in the corners of her eyes and she pulled in a ragged gasp as they fell down her cheek. She closed her eyes and let it wash over her. The loss, uncertainty, all of the worries she had that she’d never see him again. That he’d never see the end of the Taint’s influence over them. She was so close to a solution, to a cure.
They’d fought so hard just to get where they were, and for in the end, perhaps nothing. On the other hand… they’d laughed. And loved.
Squeezing her eyes shut, she set her head down on the pack. Anders and Hawke came up and sat on each side of her, each putting an arm around her shoulders. She appreciated the shelter they provided but it couldn’t counter the unbearable hollow ache inside of her. She just needed to hear Alistair, to hear his laugh. Anything that would tell her that he was still her with her. But he’s gone. And I don’t know where. They’d fought an Archdemon and survived, defeated a Blight. Survived trips into the Deep Roads, to locations all over Thedas. For years later on, worked together on a cure for the Taint, often spending months apart from each other, banking all of their hopes on the possibility that they many have many more years together if they could find a solution. When Clarel had put out the demand for Wardens, she’d given hers the choice. Something felt wrong, and she wouldn’t risk them. Her closest Wardens stayed with her: Nathaniel, Sigrun, Oghren, Velanna. Alistair had gone to investigate what had happened with the other Wardens along with a handful of other Wardens, Hawke going with them to keep an eye on the situation and to stay out of sight. He would be the one to report back should the situation turn worse.
Had that been the right decision? Should they have taken advantage of the time they had together? She wasn’t sure what the right answer was.
The false Calling she’d heard of sounded like it would be the worst part for Alistair. With the years of service he had, it risked sounding like a genuine Calling. Something that would terrify either of them.
She looked up at Hawke, then over to Anders, who reached up and brushed a tear off of her cheek. “I need to find him.”
“We will,” Anders assured.
Hawke’s reply was more grim. “We have to.”
At least she knew that with these two behind her, they had a chance. She tapped her fingers against the pack, trying to form her thoughts into something that would help. The stuffed mabari looked at her as if to say don’t ask me, you figure it out. “I need to check on the dogs, and I need to talk to the mage named Solas. However, I’d prefer you two stay here. I’m worried about our exposure, and the best thing we can do to fly under the radar is to keep Anders out of sight.” She pulled herself away from them, reluctant to lose the contact but knowing that she needed to take some action to move forward or she’d fall apart.
“You’ll have no argument from me.” Anders settled against Hawke, and while Audra felt a pang of loss, it also reassured her to see them together. If it had been her or Anders having to make the same decision over who would go home and who would not survive, she was certain it would have been a stubborn fight.
“We probably have some catching up to do anyway.” Hawke grinned at Anders.
“In that case, I’m definitely vacating the room.” She stood. “I’ll have to find where the dogs hid my pack.”
“Where are the dogs?” Hawke asked. “They seem suspiciously quiet.”
“I believe they’re in the barn. I’ll check on them on the way through. If you can point me in the right direction, I’m pretty sure I can get there.”
“It’s probably not that straightforward,” Hawke noted, “but I’m going to bet you that if Cullen didn’t post a guard, Leliana at least posted a scout. She likes knowing everything. The scout can help you find your way, but if you go out the door, turn left, and follow the covered area around, you should get fairly close. If you find Cullen’s office, you’ve gone too far.”
“Audra…” Hawke started. “There’s something you should know, if you’re going to the stables.” He got to his feet. “Let me fill you in on everything that happened at Adamant, the parts I couldn’t put in my letter.”
She listened in silence as Hawke told her how they’d ended up in the conflict at Adamant, and onto the Warden that had given a rousing speech there. She’d heard about this, about how he’d rallied them, through other Warden channels, and had wondered. She exchanged frequent alarmed looks with Anders, who looked tired. At one point, she saw his hands glowing, moving in a rhythm as he muttered quietly to himself, renewing the spell that kept them outside of the reach of Corypheus’s voice.
The story Hawke spun told the tale of a man who tried to be better. She had sympathy, yet he also put her in a difficult situation in regards to dealing with it.
“In short,” Hawke finished, leaning back into the couch, “we have a Warden Blackwall here… who is not actually Warden Blackwall.”
Anders had stopped his quiet spellcasting and crossed his legs in front of him, a gesture that Audra recognized as an invitation for a cat to sit on him. “He sounds like someone I’d have a good time talking to, since I’m halfway a fake Warden myself these days.”
Audra sighed. “Morrigan mentioned this. She did say I should ask the Inquisitor, which I forgot to do. I appreciate you filling me in, as this explains some of the recruits we’d gotten from him.” She tried to do the math in her head. “Every recruit became a little more puzzling. I’d figured he had to be past his Calling by now.”
“He would have been,” Anders pointed out. “What are you going to do with him?”
“Be kind,” Hawke added. “He’s worked hard for the Inquisition.”
“By using treaties he didn’t have a right to use,” Audra added, frowning. She didn’t like this one bit, but she started to think on ways that this could be salvaged. Morrigan had spoken reasonably well of him, by Morrigan standards.
“I don’t disagree. But…” Hawke hesitated. “I’ll leave the rest of it for him to explain.”
“Fair enough. That’s where I’ll head, then.” She picked up her cloak and put it back on. “Either of you want to come with me?”
Anders looked at Hawke. “I’d love, to, but…”
“Don’t even try to be subtle, she sees right through you,” Hawke noted.
Audra saw how they didn’t quite reach for each other, as if they were trying to not remind her of her own loss. She didn’t want to explain that it didn’t matter how they were towards each other, she would remain acutely aware of the situation. Their consideration for her made her grateful that they were part of her extended family, however. “Try not to wake up the whole keep, you two.”
“If the Circle taught me anything, it’s how to be quiet,” Anders pointed out.
Hawke let out a laugh that startled Audra. “What happened to ‘fuck the Circle and everything they taught me’?”
“And with that, I make my exit.” There was only so much Audra needed to know, it was bad enough living in the same building as the two of them. She headed back out into the darkness. Her stomach had started to rumble, and she reminded herself that she’d need to eat soon.
She could hear the horses as she got closer, and the sound of Kieran’s laughter over it all. One of the dogs barked, and Audra wiped her face again before going in.