Varric is not all right. He's pretty sure he'll never be “all right” again. He knows, intellectually, that it's not his fault. He knows this. He also knows that this time, Hawke isn't coming back. There. It's been acknowledged. Hawke is gone. She is in the Fade and is most likely dead. (Though if anyone could beat those odds...no, Varric; that path leads to madness.) His best friend is dead, and it's his job to tell everyone else. For one shining moment, he feels an overwhelming sense of rage. How dare the Inquisitor do this to him. How dare Hawke do this to him. He knows that he's being unfair, but to the Void with it. Hawke owes him. Owed him. Fuck.
He stares at his quills and his paper. At the deck of cards next to it, still short the two cards he knows Hawke had lifted from it last night. She always cheats worse than the Rivaini. Oh Andraste's fiery tits. Rivaini. He ignores the water spots on the paper. Skyhold still needs repairs, and Maker only knows that he's had leakier places to take shelter than this. (His room at the Hanged Man routinely had a bucket on standby for the inevitable leaks.) He's firmly ignoring that inner voice that is whispering he's in a stone area that was the first fixed, and that it's sunny out. That voice is a lying liar who lies and loses him hands of Diamondback to Hawke's mabari—Maker's breath, Tangle.
Hawke had taken the mabari with her on this trip, since Rivaini couldn't really have him underfoot on her ship, and Carver didn't want him to get sick on darkspawn taint. (He's dreading the letter to Carver.) And it's not like he knows how to care for the critter. Besides, don't mabari pine? Shit. And it's not like he can ask Hawke how to handle it, since...fuck it. He's going to go get shitfaced. Then maybe when he's done bleeding out, he can write the letters, and handle the mabari and...everything.
He picks up the axe, gets the first log on the block, and swings. Repeats the process. Again. Again, again, again. He doesn't feel his arms burn. He doesn't feel the wetness on his cheeks. Those don't exist. He. Is. Too. Busy. He bloody denies it. He denies the anguished cry from Aveline in the house. Bloody nosy busybody—never mind that the letter is also addressed to her. Near miss of leg from swinging the axe wrong. His hands feel numb, like he can't hold onto anything. Still, anything is better than thinking about it, so keep chopping.
Arms around him, stopping his arms. He fights the motion, yelling at Donnic that he needs to do this and to sod the fuck off, please and thank you. He hears her voice in his head to stop being a “daft tit” and sodding Marian. The axe falls one more time to the ground, where it embeds itself next to his foot, handle finally out of his grasp. The arms holding him firmly turn him around, and pull him close, and it's not Donnic, but Aveline holding him. The Iron Maiden is holding him while he's having his breakdown, and now it's confirmed to him that Marian is gone and sodding Void, he didn't want it confirmed. His tenuous grip on his shaking, shuddering sobs slips, and be buries his head in her flaming hair, while she silently runs a hand up and down his back. He knows she's sobbing too, can feel the wetness pressing into his tunic, but her hand remains steady, soothing on his back.
Her door flies open once more, the da'len's mother bustling in, a basket in one arm. Market day, Merrill thinks, numbly, curling into a ball. She wishes that Keeper Marethari was still alive. Well, she always wishes that the Keeper were alive, of course, but especially right now. Or being able to ask hahren Paivel the rites for the dead.
A tree! She needs to find a suitable tree and send it to Skyhold...though there isn't a body to bury. And would they even know how to plant a tree? Varric is lovely, yes, but growing things is not his strong suit. And Hawke isn't even Dalish, but Merrill still wants. She wants to give Hawke a properly carved oak staff, and at least one cedar branch. Her friend deserves that much, at the absolute least.
The woman in the room—Jevas' mother, she remembers finally, looks at her face and sweeps her into a hug.
A blackthorn tree, she decides, her sobs slowly easing down. She never could cry for a long stretch of time. Her nose got too stuffy, her eyes burned and ached too much, and she started coughing after a while. She gives a watery smile to Jevas' mother, and asks where she might find a blackthorn seedling at this time of year, voice slightly hoarse from her sobs. As she makes her purchases, she wonders if Varric wouldn't benefit from her visiting. He sounds like he could use her shoulders, even if he'll insist he's fine, silly dwarf. Besides, she needs to give him back his twine.
"Falon'din guide you, lethallan," she murmurs as she places the cedar branch she found next to the blackthorn seedling. "May the Dread Wolf never catch your scent."
Foolish thoughts, he knows. Hawke would still be dead whether he read about it or not. Though he's not sure which is worse, that she is dead, or that she maybe alive, but trapped in the Fade. While his feelings towards magic in general had thawed, he still felt that burn of anger at the thought of her being trapped in the domain of demons, because of a magister. His guilt also burns away at the pleasant haze the wine is providing. Corypheus was their responsibility. He had failed her, again.
But then, he isn't naive. Good rarely triumphed over evil, as much as the stories liked to say otherwise. He knows that frequently there isn't “good” or “evil,” to battle over. Frequently it's making the best of horrible situations, when every option is “bad,” but you have some that are less bad than others. There are moments when “good” is winning, and then the rug is swept out from under the feet of the good, and evil triumphs once more. There is also the knowledge that good rarely triumphs over evil without some sort of sacrifice being made. The Hero of Ferelden, from what he read, had been once such sacrifice. He'd watched so much that Hawke had sacrificed to keep the “evil” at bay in Kirkwall. He knows, somehow, that this latest sacrifice will turn the tide for them all in the fight against Corypheus.
My mistake, his mind echoes bitterly. He knows that he hadn't been the only one there. That Varric and Carver were there with him at Marian's side. But he had sworn to be there for her. He had sworn to guard her back. And now? Now she's in the Fade, without him at her back. Without him there to aid her—and to the Void with her insistence that they go their separate ways. She always rushes headlong into trouble. Had...always...rushed. He throws the bottle of wine at the wall in front of him.
He still manages to heal the farmer's son's broken arm, along with a gentle admonishment about climbing onto barn roofs. He watches as the boy's elder sister puts him in a gentle headlock, rubbing her knuckles into his hair. Watches as the boy flails slightly, making pained noises. Watches the father scold both of them. Feels his hands fist at his side. The tears still are not permitted to fall.
He decides to process everything while rolling up bandages. He rereads the letter again, the words “made sure we made it out of the Fade, but didn't follow this time” leaping off the page at him. The Fade! He jumps up to his small library, wishing for once that he was back at the Circle. That he might have all the knowledge contained there, no matter how esoteric, at his fingertips once more. He denies the burn in his eyes once more, blaming his exhaustion.
He sleeps that night, trying for lucid dreams. Sends out a call for any and all favours with the spirits he's worked with in the past in his healing. Tries to rouse Justice to scout for her, though he knows it's a futile gesture. He wakes up crying, as the only answer he can get is silence. The Breach has played merry-cob with his healing and his connection with the Fade, but he had hoped. He keeps trying, night after night, until he has difficulty waking, his frame stretched far too thin, Justice nagging at him (ironically) to eat something. He swears he hears her voice as he faints.
He wakes to the elder sister of the boy he treated weeks ago spoon-feeding him broth. She scolds him for neglecting himself. It sounds so much like Hawke that he finds himself weeping, at last.
Maker, she's tired. She sees Varric's handwriting, noting it's addressed to Carver. She passes it to Carver on her way to kitchen. She is always hungry these days, though Donnic is still in the dark as to why. Her mouth curves into a small smile as she puts some cheese and apple onto a plate, making sure to grab some for Carver as well. Warden appetites are brutal.
The plate drops with a crash at the anguished noise from her entry way. She rushes over in time to see Carver cradling his hand to his side before pivoting in place and striding outside, a lone tear streaking down his face. The letter is on the floor now, visibly crumpled from Carver's fist. She picks up the letter with a shaking hand, dreading the news. Donnic comes over to her, asking what was wrong with Carver, but Aveline can't hear anything. She registers his voice, but the words are drowned out by the lines containing words such as “Junior, I don't even know how to begin this” and “True to form, she forced us all through the rift, but didn't follow” and “I need to know what you want to do about Tangle.” She sees lines addressed to her, but they don't make any sense. Hawke was...Hawke...
She knew she and Carver were similar in some ways, and her yell, followed by another strike at the wall confirms it. It had always been a source of amusement for Hawke. She tells Donnic that she'll explain...later, and hurries outside after Carver. She knows he doesn't see her. She's surprised he can see the wood on the chopping block. He's probably expecting Donnic, she reflects. Maker only knows how many times Donnic has had to soothe ruffled feathers between the two of them. She wonders, now, if that had been Bethany's job, the little slip of a mage that had been Carver's twin. She realizes that he's alone now.
Except for us, she thinks fiercely. He may be a Hawke, but he's also a Vallen. She starts forward again, a startled sound flying out of her at the sight of Carver trying to chop off his own limbs. Enough is enough. She briskly walks behind him, grasping his upper arms. He yells for Donnic to sod off, but soon drops the axe by his foot. She turns him to face her, hands once more gripping his upper arms. His eyes are red-rimmed and he's sniffing, lower lip trying to stay firm, but trembling all the same. The sight of her seems to break him, and he folds himself around her—Maker, when did he get taller than her?--sobbing brokenly into her hair. Between his hitching, horrible sobs, and the sheer weight of losing another member of her family—her sister—Aveline breaks. It's quiet, and small, but she shifts her arms to wrap around him, one hand gripping his tunic tightly, the other smoothing up and down his back. She may be stone normally, but right now, she needs to be flesh. Carver needs her to be flesh, too. Later, Donnic comes over and puts his arms around them both, unsure what's wrong (he doesn't read letters not adressed to him, the sap), but wanting to fix it.
(Later still, Aveline wonders what possessed her name her firstborn Marian.)
Hawke is dead. He has a hard time reconciling that with her sheer presence in his life. She had made another bench mark in his life; there was “Before Hawke” and “After Hawke.” He suspects that this letter will be another for many of their friends. He wonders absently how Fenris is taking the news. His anger with Anders still burns brightly, and his determination at bringing the abomination to justice have not waned. Especially now that his largest shield was gone, destroyed in a war that Anders begun. But that is for later.
He goes to his family's chapel, joining in Benedictions. Always Benedictions now, since the mages and templars have both turned their backs upon the Maker and his Bride. At least he can take comfort in Hawke being at the Maker's side, along with Elthina and his family. He prays that her last moments in the Fade were peaceful—or as peaceful as the Fade could be. She died doing what she felt was right. In that, Sebastian could relate perfectly. While she and him did not agree on several key points of life, he would always respect Hawke and the willingness to help everyone—even those who were unworthy.
He mourns quietly, accepting a comforting hand from the Revered Mother of the private chapel. He knows he'll need to make a formal statement when he leaves. He'll need to be Sebastian Vael, Prince of Starkhaven. But right now, in the confines of this chapel, between him, the brothers and sisters, and the Revered Mother, he can be Sebastian Vael, former friend of a vibrant, confident woman who has passed beyond all chance of reconciliation. He can mourn that loss before making an Official Announcement about it. A few tears drop to his gloves, the leather darkening briefly. He feels eyes on him from the entry to the chapel. His time to mourn privately is over.
Steeling himself, Sebastian gets up and retakes the mantle of Prince of Starkhaven, the slight discolouration of his gloves the only outward sign of his grief.
Isabela is fine. No really, she is just fine. (Yes, really, thank you, Varric!) She has her ship, she has the sea, she has her crew, and she has her freedom to sail the seas of Thedas. She never needed anything more.
Except...she has this necklace you see. She had bought it on a whim because it reminds her of Hawke's eyes. It also had been around the neck of a rather stuffy noble in Ostwick, where Isabela had restocked provision at. Hawke likes the presents Isabela would give her. She calls them her “cat offerings”—something that Anders chokes at with laughter every time he hears it.
In any case, the necklace is just a trinket, but Isabela already went through the trouble of stealing it, and she finds it tacky to resell stolen jewelry—unless it's a priceless artifact. She likes to think of herself as more than a common thief, thank you. And Hawke had promised her that she'd be safe...promised.
But no! No, no, Isabela is fine. Completely fine. She doesn't miss Hawke at all. That wasn't their relationship. If things matched up for them to be together for a time, that was grand. If not, no hard feelings. She had wanted no strings to tie her down. She spent too long getting away from her husband, then Castillon, much less the emotional strings tying her to Hawke for so long in Kirkwall.
(Why, Hawke? Why did you leave me?)
A quick shake of her head. She's fine. She might even look for a tumble later. All this abstinence can't be healthy for her psyche. Maybe she'll sail over to Kirkwall and see Kitten. Except no, Kirkwall doesn't feel right any more. Must be the lack of utter chaos. Nothing to do with an arresting pair of blue eyes. No. She doesn't do this. No attachments, damn it! She slams her tankard down, ignoring the slight splash of ale onto her hands.
She hears the whispers behind her onboard ship. Her crew tries to mother her worse than Leandra's awkward attempts at the beginning of her and Hawke's relationship. She knows her second will sometimes read her messages—not the important, secret ones, mind. Those she keeps in a mage-locked chest, with her holding the only key. But her day to day messages, or the personal ones from Varric and Hawke she'll leave out. Especially if Hawke has been feeling naughty. It's become a badge of honour amongst her crew to be able to look at her and not blush when they have read those letters.
Another swig of what must be the most terrible ale in Thedas, if the tears in her eyes are anything to go by. She wasn't aware that anything could top the rat's piss in the Hanged Man, but her galley cook ever lives to surprise her apparently. The tears keep coming, and she looks about for some bread to dispel the taste, since it really was horrid ale.
Because after all, she's fine.
“It's okay to lean on me sometimes, 'Bela.”
She ruthlessly ignores the echo that's decided to follow her into her cabin. She is the Admiral Isabela of the Raiders of the Waking Sea. She had outlived her mother's treachery, her husband's stupidity (and subsequent timely death), and through the shit-show that was Kirkwall. She is strong, and no echo of her past will break her now.
Except that maybe, in the privacy of her quarters, she can admit that she might be less than fine. A little! Certainly not broken up over things. Of course not! Hawke was, after all, a dear friend, and one does not encounter many of those in her line of work. She is allowed to miss that friendship after all. She mourned the loss of her crew on the Siren's Call after all. She willingly gave up the Tome of bloody Koslun for Hawke! She kissed Hawke, and called her all sorts of sweet things, and stayed with her when Leandra died. She showed Hawke a few new things to do in a bed and learned a few in turn.
And Hawke...Hawke had made sure that Isabela had everything she needed. The mage would fetch her presents, getting teased by Anders and Varric for being just like her mabari, Tangle. The look on her face when Isabela explained what the Rivaini fertility talisman was.
The drips of tears had multiplied into a small storm of tears. She might be sobbing. Possibly.
Fucking Void. She is not fine or all right or whatever the fuck else she had been telling everyone else. She had missed Hawke when the mage left, and now she is going to miss Hawke the rest of her Maker be damned life.
Damn you, Hawke, her thoughts rage in between great, ugly sobs. You made me love you. You buried yourself so deeply in me that I can't...I can't imagine the rest of my life without you. Without your smile or your chaos or even your cover-thievery! She tries to walk to her bed, but the ship must have heaved wrong, as she finds herself crumpled into a small heap on the floor. She starts sobbing anew. She doesn't know what to do, or where to turn. Her anchor, so newly attached to her hull, has snapped off, leaving her drifting, weightless. There is nothing she can grasp, even, for closure. Just the letter from Varric, carrying the news, followed by the dwarf himself onboard her ship, to the Void with him for that. She had been hanging on just fine until she saw his face.
A knock. She coughs, trying to hide her tears. The morale of her crew needs her stable, not dissolving into tears over something she can't fix.
“Rivaini?” Varric. Of course it's Varric. She supposes that it's a mercy that he at least had knocked. Resolving herself to the inevitable, she waves him in. He enters cautiously, closing the door behind him. He studies her a moment, before walking briskly over to her desk and picking the lock to her “good” liquor cabinet. Bastard. He studies the contents a moment before seeming to pick a bottle at random. He wordlessly hands her a bottle of Butterbile 7:94. She snorts, coughs, and gags on the excessive amount of snot still in her nasal passages, before opening the bottle and taking a swig, passing it back to Varric. He takes a small sip and winces, shaking his head slightly. Minutes pass, the silence only broken by the occasional sniffle, and the muffled, slightly slurred cursing of anyone unlucky (or drunk) enough to drink more than one shot of Butterbile.
“Varric?” she finally slurs, staring blankly at the wall in front of them. She knows that he's looking at her, and she can't bear to see his expression. “I'm not fine.” She starts to sob again, slumping down until her head is on his shoulder.
“I know, Rivaini,” he murmurs, hand stroking coming up to stroke her hair, in what feels like an absent gesture. “Neither am I.”
“Fucking Marian Hawke,” she manages out, voice broken and hoarse. She sees Varric toast the air with the bottle, before taking another long swig.
“Fucking Marian Hawke,” he agrees, setting the bottle down, head tilting to rest on top of her own.