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To Find Absolution

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Left in the War Room, Zaire looked from Hawke to Cullen. “It looks like now we wait. I’m going to head to the barn with the mabari.”

“I’m for that. I’m always for dogs.” Hawke grinned, putting an arm around Zaire’s shoulders. “I’ll keep the dogs company, you keep Blackwall company?”

Zaire blushed. “Well, if you can get him away from the dogs.” She looked over at Cullen, who had placed his hands flat on the war table and stared at them. “Cullen?”

“Yes, Inquisitor?” He looked over at her, and she could see in his eyes that this wasn’t a good night. Being chewed out by a Fade spirit probably hadn’t helped.

“Do you like dogs?”

Cullen almost smiled. Zaire thought his face would crack. “I’m Ferelden. Of course I like dogs.”

“Now we’re talking!” Hawke slapped Cullen on the back and Cullen glared at him. “Let’s go find some dogs like proper Fereldens. You might hate my husband, but dogs make everything better.”

Cullen huddled down into his cloak. “I can hate what a person does without hating the person, Hawke.”

“Do you?” Hawke looked remarkably serious. “Hate what he did but not him?”

“Do you think I’m daft? We all knew an apostate was running a clinic in Darktown.” He snorted. “We didn’t care. We knew no one else was taking care of people. I respected that. I respected you both. But you screwed that up. Both of you.”

Hawke focused on the table, his hands running across the wood. “For what it’s worth, you weren’t the worst.”

“Thank you. I think.”

“Did you know that the Templars in the circle abused Anders so badly that he doesn’t remember what his name is?” Hawke asked suddenly. “It isn’t Anders; that’s the name he was called because he wouldn’t tell anyone his name. But he doesn’t know it any more. He’s covered in scars.” He hesitated. “I know it’s a hard thing to explain, and I know it doesn’t excuse the harm he’s done. I just know that he won’t ever tell you, so I am.”

“I… I did not know.” Cullen winced, and Zaire could tell he meant it. “I’m sorry that happened to him. I wish that there had been more good Templars.”

Hawke snorted. “After a while I started having a drink for every bad Templar. I think I became a drunk.”

They headed out to the barn, and Zaire could hear Blackwall’s voice singing what sounded like a tavern song before they reached the barn.

Cullen paused for a moment. “Is that Andraste’s Mabari?”

Hawke listened, then grinned, gesturing for Cullen to follow. “You know it?”

“Of course I do. Templars don’t live in complete isolation.”

“Oh but you’re not just any Templar,” Hawke pointed out. “Because you fight with the Inquisition. And if you’re good enough to fight with the Inquisition, you can sing for the Inquisition.”

As they walked into the barn, Cullen lifted his voice to join in the second verse. “And there’s Andrastre’s marbari.”

“By the Holy Prophet’s side,” Hawke added, joining the trio of voices.

The three continued through the song, taking seats between the dogs around the fire. Zaire sat on a bale of hay, tucking her legs up and resting her chin on her knees. The dogs’ wagged their tails along to the song, and Zaire found herself smiling. Cullen had avoided talking to Blackwall since finding out who he was, and Zaire was certain there was no love lost between Cullen and Hawke, either, given what happened in Kirkwall. But here these three were, singing for dogs around a fire in the middle of the night.

Her eyes drifted to Blackwall, who had a genuine smile on his face. She’d missed that smile more than she’d been able to admit to until that moment.

Maybe Skyhold needed some dogs.

“Yes that mabari’s the companion… of the Maker’s Holy Bride.” The three men finished the song, letting the last note fade into the barn.

A moment of silence held over the space before the dogs started barking, Zaire assumed in approval. A very loud approval.

“I think we should do that more often,” Blackwall noted. “You’ve got a good voice, Cullen. I don’t think I’ve heard you sing since Haven.”

“Yes, well, we’ve had few enough reasons to.” He put a hand on Diablo’s head. Zaire wondered if he knew which mabari was which.

“Are you kidding me?” Hawke chuckled. “We’re always singing something in the tavern. You both need to get out and drink with us more. At least…” Hawke let out a breath then forced a smile. “If we all make it through this okay.”

Blackwall looked at him, then reached out and clasped his shoulder. “I’m sorry for lying to you and Alistair.”

“About being a Warden?” Hawke snorted. “Trust me, I’ve been lied to about worse.”

“Don’t go there.” Cullen sighed, and Diablo leaned over and licked his face. “Why are you even talking to me, dog?”

“Technically he’s not talking to you,” Blackwall pointed out. “Did something happen with Dorian?”

Zaire winced at his keen observation. Cullen buried his face against Diablo’s side and Zaire got up off her bale of hay, walking over to stand behind Blackwall. She ran her fingers through his dark hair, letting the warmth warm her own fingers. “Its fine, Cullen, you don’t have to talk about it.”

“Good.” He kept his head down. “Let’s just get through this trip to the Fade and get everything back to normal. The sooner, the better.”

Hawke nodded. “No offense, but I’m looking forward to going home.”

Zaire watched Cullen tense but spoke anyway. “If it’s helpful, Hawke, I know that there are some that would want Anders to stand trial for what happened. As far as I’m concerned, he is more than paying it back by taking the risk of going into the Fade for Alistair.”

“There’s no one else in Thedas who could do what Anders does.” Hawke smiled. “It’s part of why I love him. He cares. He’s stronger than anyone knows. He adapts. He makes me laugh.” Still grinning, Hawke wrapped his arms around Fang. “He’s even gotten used to this drooling lout. The dog, I mean. Not me.”

“Now we definitely need a dog,” Blackwall commented, wrapping an arm around Zaire’s waist. “I feel like we’re missing out, not being able to make those jokes.”

She wanted to tell him that it was too soon, that maybe it wasn’t time to joke about it yet. But instead, she felt a warmth spread through her. Them. It felt right. When this was all over…

“Cullen,” Blackwall said, looking over at him. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to pry.” He hesitated. “I know you’re mad at me.”

“It’s not even for the lie,” Cullen muttered, lifting his head. “I’m more worried that you hurt Zaire.”

Blackwall’s arm tightened around her more and she realized he shook. She brushed a piece of straw off her pants. “I’m fine, Cullen. I’ll… be fine.”

“And so will all of us.” Blackwall sighed. “For all the shit I give Dorian, I’d like him to be happy. I’d like him to have someone who can care about him.”

“Well, then I am likely not the best candidate for that.”

Hawke reached over and poked at his furred cloak. “If I can work it out, you can work it out.”

Cullen didn’t speak of it, but Zaire could tell he listened and tried to process that. She half expected him to storm out, but he stayed there with an arm around Diablo, until the runner finally came for them. The elf sprinted into the barn and stopped just outside of the fire.

“It’s time, Inquisitor,” she said, gesturing to them to follow.

“Time for what?” Blackwall asked, and Zaire realized she hadn’t told him the details of what was happening. She looked to Hawke. “Are the dogs fine here?”

“They’ll be fine.” He stood, dusting himself off. “I fully intend on us all making it through this, but if anything does happen… mabari bond for life. They may not survive, or they may determine they’ll find a home here with you. Either way, I’m trusting you to ensure they’re cared for, Blackwall.”

“It would be my honor.”

“Come with us, and I’ll explain on the way.” Zaire started for the door, and the others followed.