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To Trust A Maleficar

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His heart crashed to the floor as he watched the Genlock impale her through the stomach. Blood splattered onto the stone wall she was now pinned against. Staring at her, he could see the clench in her jaw as she attempted to hide how much it hurt. But none of it stopped her from curling her lip, spinning her staff in her palm and impaling the darkspawn through the head with it. There was nothing they could do for her as they fought off the rest. Isabela’s eyes switched between Hawke and her targets. Fenris growled as he slashed through their foes with even more hatred than before. Their blades, with his magic, ripped apart the rest of the horde that had found their way into the caves. They did so as fast as they could but he was afraid that it wouldn’t be fast enough.

When it was over, Anders dropped his staff in his haste. Arcadia had already ripped herself off the wall, the bloodied sword forgotten beside her. Her breathing was labored but she was conscious, for now despite the growing stain on her armor. He could help; he could be fast enough.

Magic was already alive in his hands when he reached her. But what he saw caused the fear in his stomach to turn cold. The glow in her hands was not simple healing magic. Blood spilled out of her wound, but where her hands became stained with it, it congealed. Suddenly her wound stopped bleeding completely and the liquid bubbled up around it like a barrier.

The world felt like it shattered into a pieces in that moment. Anders found himself unable to breathe, as if the very sight knocked the air out of his lungs. He swallowed, took one deep breath, then another, desperately trying to control the rage that sprouted inside him.

Everything he had ever told her about Justice pointed to this being the worst thing she could ever have chosen. Everything he had ever said about blood magic, how dangerous it was, how easy it was to lose one’s mind. When she looked up at him, her face went from pain to that of terror and in the same moment his rage turned to absolute fury. Just how long had she been hiding this from him?

Words caught in his throat. It was Isabela that handed her a poultice. It was Isabela and Fenris who helped bind her wound; and it was they who wrapped their arms around her waist to support her as they fled. Anders watched as the bandages stayed pristine when they shouldn’t, felt the betrayal build up in his chest. In all the times they had fought together, all the times a demon had propositioned her, never once had she faltered.

He should have known. He should have seen the lack of hesitation as a sign of what it was. No mage had never thought of the power, had never not been close to reaching for it. Even he had thought of it, before Justice. It was a symptom of the broken system, like a plague that never died out.

When Isabela asked if Anders would look after her, he said yes, if only because it was his duty, blood mage or not. Only when they were alone could he process. She sat on her bed with healing magic back to its normal shade of blue balled up in her hands, but not once did she look at him. He stayed silent, fine with watching her to make sure she survived before leaving. It wasn’t what he would do for anyone else, but this was his wife. This was Hawke. She stayed with him through worse.

He was sure of his decision, but even so, he couldn’t stop his heart from leaping into his throat when she coughed up blood.  It was a practiced motion, wiping the fluid away with the back of her hand, she didn’t even flinch. But, her bandage was still clean. It wasn’t any wound causing the problem he realized. Suddenly, he felt disease in her veins as magic knitted her flesh together. Disease he had never felt before, even when he had healed her on the battlefield, and he didn’t understand how he’d missed it.

Her magic faded, and finally she met his eyes.

“Please let me explain,” she said.

“Spit it out,” he hissed, unable to contain his disgust.

“You can feel it now, can’t you?” she asked. Her hands fell in her lap, he had never seen her so defeated. He couldn’t bring himself to care that he was the one doing it. “It’s mana sickness.”

“How have I never heard of this “sickness,”” he muttered.

“Because it is rare and entirely genetic from centuries of pure magic in a family,” Hawke replied. “Over time the body poisons itself from mana use. It gets worse with age.”

“What does this have to do with being a maleficar, Hawke?”

She sighed, her eyes falling closed. “Before Lothering was overrun. I was bedridden, dying. Nothing was helping. No chantry priest or mage could heal me any longer. It wasn’t supposed to happen so fast, but-” She shook her head and opened her eyes. “ The templars were more vigilant than usual. They knew something, all they needed was proof.”

It was unconscious he decided, her unwrapping the bandage she no longer needed. “Bethany was still trying to understand her magic, and nobody could tell if she was already sick. Carver was too angry to focus on his training. My father had only just died.  My family needed me, Anders. They relied on me to protect them.” Even now, Hawke’s posture stayed as confident as ever, even though her face gave way to her growing distress. “In my dreams, a demon of sloth found me. He offered me a deal of health to protect my family-”

“You should have known better,” Anders interrupted. He couldn’t help it. It wasn’t even something like her being a child when it happened. She’d known the consequences.

“I know that!” she snapped. “My father was dead. The chantry looming over us like bloodhounds.” She shook her head and uncurled her fists. “ I had no desire for power, and I was not scared of death. I had grown up with it looming over my shoulder like an old friend. But I was afraid of what would happen to my family without me. Rightfully so, Carver is the only one of them left alive...” Her gaze fell back to the floor. Anders wondered if the look on her face was sorrow or simple emptiness.

“How many have died by your demon?”

“None!” she growled. Any sadness that was caught in her eyes disappeared as she turned to glare at him, and for the first time in years, there was no empathy hidden within it. “ Which is more than I can say for Justice.” Anders flinched, his heart ached and guilt poured into his stomach. But he shook it away and set his jaw, waiting for her explanation. “I have only ever used my own blood to replace mana use. The demon granted me time, not a cure. ”

“How is that any different from the rest of them!?” he cried.

“Because I’m not a simple apostate trying to start a war with the blighted chantry,” she yelled back at him. “You have lost control for far less than my blood magic has even thought of.”

Suddenly everything was still. Hawke stood, her furious gaze unwavering. Somewhere, he knew that she didn’t mean it. They both knew that Justice was not the same as the other possessions that so many mages submitted to. But they also knew that it was Justice that had pushed him to start this war so many years ago. And he knew, more than anything else, that his betrayal still hurt her. Still haunted her in the night when she woke up and pulled herself close to him as if her grip would stop him from hiding from her again.  

Her sigh was slow, meticulous. “I have spent years refusing to be the monster that I am painted as, and I have done enough to prove myself. As long as this curse keeps me alive, it will stay that way. Think what you want Anders, but I wouldn’t take it back.”

His heart ached. Her resolve was the same as it always had been, just like his own. This had always been the Arcadia Hawke that he knew even if he had never understood what that meant. This was the woman he had fallen in love with, the one who was strong in the face of death, decay, and endless hatred. The one who stood up for their kind without fail even when it put what was most important to her in danger.  The one who trusted him, even when she shouldn’t have, and the one that stayed, let him live, and still loved him when he didn’t deserve it. He understood this, but somehow, he still felt like he’d never really known her.

“This has always been who I am to you Anders. The one with white hair and golden eyes. That was never the Hawke that I knew. You will never meet the pure me that isn’t touched by this. She doesn’t exist anymore,” She whispered.

He should have seen it. When she looked so ethereal in front of him. He should have known that a normal person didn’t look like she did. When he looked at her now however, he saw nothing but pain.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” he hissed, like he didn’t know the answer.

“How could I? I watched you time and time again throw nothing but ire at Merrill. I saw your frustration and rage when Fenris  and Isabela didn’t agree with you about our kind. You started a bloody war without me and I-” Her voice caught in her throat. Arcadia Hawke did not stutter, she never faltered, she never cried. He knew that better than anything. Yet here she was, with tears glistening in her eyes. “How was I supposed to tell you that I was everything you despised when you didn’t trust me to begin with?”

“So your choice was to keep it a secret forever?” Anders said. “Like that was any better?”

“I hoped that it would kill me before I ever had to see you look at me the way I had to look at you that night.” Her eyes pierced through him, steady even though it hurt. “Then the Hawke you knew would always be the pure me I lost.”

He wanted to hold her, to tell her it was okay, that she could have always told him. But he didn’t want to lie to her. She deserved that much. Despite everything, she’d saved him, protected him, and fought for him. But he couldn’t breathe. Couldn’t throw away the anger that boiled in his chest. When he turned to leave it was because he couldn’t bear to look at her any longer, he couldn’t taint the memory of what he knew any further.

 

-0-

 

Arcadia remembered the fire that coursed through her veins all her life. How her veins screamed under her skin when she used what her parents said was a gift. She remembered knowing that the blood spilling out of her mouth wasn’t from any normal wound. She remembered what it felt like to be dying when her family needed her most, and knowing that she was powerless against it. And then she remembered what it felt like to be without pain. Suddenly able to be the mage she was suppose to be.

As much as she had wanted to, Arcadia had never been able to tell him during their travels. Especially not after Meredith’s death.

Not that she was sick, not that she was a maleficar, not any of it. Any attempt to try was met with her choking on her words. He had no idea, and yet, he loved her. Because she kept the most important part of her a secret.

He’d fallen in love with her because of their shared plight. Because she always stood up for what was right, because she fought back against the Maleficar but still kept kindness in her heart to protect the mages. Because he could trust her with his struggle to keep his own mind against Justice. Trust that she knew the pain that came with him. But he never knew how much she really understood, nor how hard it was to keep her own mind under control. To keep it hers. She tried not to think about the fact that he’d never really trusted her at all. The look in his eyes was all she needed to feel like a demon instead of a person. To wish that there had been another way to protect her family. But there wasn’t, and now the last family she had, the one she’d chosen for herself, turned to abandon her.

She watched him leave, watched as her heart shattered into a tiny pieces with the closing of the door. Shutting him off from her forever.

She’d never thought she could keep this from him for long, but she’d foolishly hoped that she’d proven herself already. So, she swallowed down the pain of knowing that he saw her as nothing more than a monster. She replaced it with numbness. She decided it was better to forget. Better she not commit this final moment to her memory of him.

Chapter Text

Auroline’s gaze stabbed Anders every time he looked up from Ser-Pounce A Lot. She was waiting for him to explain himself, but the longer the silence went on the more he was at a loss. Auroline Cousland-Theirin was not a woman to be trifled with, Anders knew this. She ruled Fereldan alongside her husband as the less understanding of the two and in a time of war, that meant a lot more than it had when she commanded the Grey Wardens.

By the time he’d met her, she’d fought an archdemon and rid Fereldan of a blight. Then In the Keep she saved thousands of people through nothing but an impeccable glare, a quick tongue, and pure stubbornness. She made many friends, people that wanted nothing more than to murder her, with ease. Auroline was no nonsense, kind when it mattered, and harsh when necessary.

By her standards, it was now necessary.

When Anders arrived, Auroline and Alistair greeted him with happiness and open arms. It was when they inquired about his visit, that Alistair glanced to his wife, swallowed hard, and excused himself. This was how Anders knew that he was in much more trouble than he anticipated.

“So. If I am in good understanding. Hawke has proven loyal to you, and your cause. Has fought for years against horrific circumstances, and never once harmed anyone with her magic that you didn’t also agree with in hindsight, even when she knew it could save her family. Didn’t kill you when you started a blighted war behind her back. And you have decided, to…”

“Run away. Yes.” Anders whispered.

“Can I ask a question.” One leg folded over the other as she leaned forward.

“Of course.”

“Have you gone mad?!?”

He gave her a blank stare, he wasn’t really sure if it was a rhetorical question or not. Auroline sighed and pressed her fingers to the bridge of her nose.

“Throughout the years I have traveled with many. Not all made choices I agreed with. But in learning about why they made them, I began to understand. Your lack of compassion for your own wife is both insulting to your intelligence, and naive. You know more than anyone that sometimes we must make sacrifices.”

“Blood magic is different, Auroline!” He replied, although he wasn’t sure who he was trying to convince.

“How. It appears to me that Justice is worse that Hawke has ever been.”

“No he-”

“Are you betting to insult me by attempting to lie of such things Anders?” Auroline hissed. “I remember Justice before, I was there. And I can compare the you now to the you then. I have directly seen the body counts from his influence on you. So why don’t you tell me what is actually stopping you from trusting her.”

 

-0-

 

Arcadia stared at the ceiling, unable to comprehend how much time had passed. She was thankful that Bodahn sent word to her companions that were still close to the city. But they could not be with her every hour of the day.

It was not the wound that was hurting her now, it was her mistake. She’d forgotten to activate her blood magic before they went into those caves. In her attempt to hide her ailment from Anders, she used mana instead, something she hadn’t done in over a decade. A mere Genlock would never get the best of her, had she not been crippled by her veins screaming against her skin. The problem now was that there was no healer with enough knowledge to help her get it back under control so she could bar the disease behind its walls.

Had she been able to she would have asked Anders.

Her body was now covered in the vibrant bruises, hidden by sleeves and blankets in an attempt to not worry her friends. The stab wound on her stomach never healed, but never got worse either. Beneath the skin of her fingertips she could see the mana glowing in her veins and feel it eating away her. When she wasn’t in and out of sleep, she was suffering at the hands of anguish, boredom, and the ever present stench of her own blood.

In the midst of her questionable thoughts, she wondered how long it would be before she died. It was an inevitability, before she’d hoped there would be more time. Now she only hoped that it would be fast, so she would no longer suffer.

She wondered what Bethany would think of her, what Carver would say if he was able to be here. If her mother would still be proud of her like she said. What her father would do.

Oh how she missed her father.   

No, not just her father. She missed Anders.

 

-0-

 

Ser-Pounce A Lot found himself curled up in Anders lap at the dinner table. His soft purrs helped calm Anders as Auroline explained the situation to Alistair. They went back and forth, wondering if Wynne would know anything, or if they could reach out to any of the mages on the battlefield.

Alistair did not judge Anders, he only looked sad. Anders wondered why.

It was at the very end of their meal that a messenger strode in.

“Queen Theirin, a letter has arrived for you from Kirkwall.” She said, before bowing and taking her leave.

Auroline opened the letter, her eyes scanned it before she held it out to Anders. Her face was unreadable, sending a shiver through his spine as he took it from her.

 

Hey Blondie,

Hell of a time to take a vacation. I heard from a few sources that you were around the palace in Ferelden, and for your sake I hope that’s true.

I’ll be blunt, Hawke is dying. I don’t know what happened between you two, but without a healer in this city, there is nothing we can do for her.

I assumed you’d want to at least be around to say goodbye. Personally, I think that’s the least you owe her.

-Varric

 

Auroline’s cocked eyebrow did not help to relieve the sudden emptiness that took hold in his stomach. Alistair's confusion only furthered the absence of breath in his lungs.

“Excuse me.” He murmured as he retreated to his quarters.

 

 

Looking back at it all, Anders wondered how long he’d known somewhere in the back of his mind. He wondered how he’d never noticed. He wondered why he cared so much. His mind traveled back to the night that Leandra Amell was murdered.

In the shadows of Dark Town, Hawke marched up to Gascard Du Puis, her jaw was set but there was more terror in her eyes than he’d ever seen from her.

“I can use my magic to track his victims” Gascard murmured. Hawke didn’t blink, had no moment of hesitation with her reply.

“Do it.” Her voice was empty, harsh even to his ears. Anders couldn’t bring himself to question her choice despite Justice murmuring in the back of his mind. They were running out of time and they could all feel it. If they didn’t act fast...he just hoped they could save her.

 

 

There were so many times in that basement that Arcadia could have used her blood magic. But even worse than that thought, was the memory of agony on her face when the corpse of her mother started stumbling towards her.

Rage bloomed in Hawke's eyes as shades, abominations, and desire demons sprouted from the ground. As he called out to her, hoping to stop the Shade from touching her, he understood now what true lack of hope was for Hawke. In the blink of an eye, flames erupted around her, high and scalding. With every new Shade came a blast of solid ice that tore through their miasmic flesh.

It was when a desire demon carrying her mother's face erupted that, the bubbling fury boiled over. His head began to pound with nothing but hatred. Images of everything around them rotting and decaying, writhing black shadows attaching to nothing and swallowing them whole, blinked in and out between his spells. But around them, the Shades stopped in their tracks.

Between the hallucinations, Anders could only watch as Arcadia seemingly ran out of mana, spun her staff into a hold as if it were a sword and with a cry of pure anguish, decapitated the final desire demon.

The room fell deathly silent, Leandra shuffled and Hawke ran forward to catch her as she fell to the floor. There was nothing any of them could say, all they could do was watch her cradle Leandra as if she were a child, tears dripping down her cheeks and onto rotting skin.

“There's nothing we can do, love.” he whispered. Somewhere deep in her bones he could feel her trying to call on anything to heal her mother. But even with all the practice she had, all the times she saved the others when they were on the verge of death, there was nothing either of them could do.

“I knew you would come.” Leandra said, a smile that felt like it didn’t belong crossing her lips.

“I’ll find a way to-” Hawke began.

“Shh. Don’t fret darling. That man would have kept me trapped in here, but now I am free. I get to see Bethany again and your father. But...you will be here all alone.”

The chuckle that came out of Arcadia was hollow, Anders could see the shake of her shoulders..

“I’ll be fine, Mother. I always am.” She whispered. “Say hello to Bethany for me.”

“My little girl has become so strong. I love you. You make me so proud.”

There was nothing they could say when Leandras body grew cold, and nobody could think to tear Hawke away as she curled in further, clutching the corpse against her chest and trying desperately to hide the sobs against a soiled wedding dress.

 

If she had wanted to, Arcadia could have done what Quentin did. She had the means, his notes were nearby, and she had blood magic just as he did. Anders knew more than anybody that she was more powerful than most too. If she wanted to, she could have kept her mother alive. But she didn’t, the thought never once crossed her mind.



They had nothing to say as Hawke left the corpse. Anger set in her furrowed brow as she found her forgotten staff.

“Where is Gascard.” She growled.

“The wretched dog went this way.” Isabela offered. As she lead the way towards a secluded back alley, Anders tried to find the words to comfort Hawke. But all of those thoughts disappeared when they found him quivering in a corner in an attempt to hide.

Anders couldn’t even think to be concerned as Hawke ripped him from the floor, put all her weight against one arm and pressed him against the wall.

“You lied to me.” She spat. When he said nothing she only pressed harder against his throat.

“Yes! I lied it was never about revenge!” She released him, but he did not dare move from his crumpled position on the floor. “That portrait was of a woman I ….experimented on, when Quentin refused to teach me necromancy.”

Magic balled in Arcadia’s hand but Gascard put up his hands in surrender. “Killing me won’t bring your mother back!” He pleaded.

“You’re right.” She said, her magic fizzling out. For a moment Gascard look relieved, then a sickening smile crossed Arcadia’s lips. “ But it will make me feel better.” Anders couldn’t process what was happening until after she backed Gascard into the wall. Hawke ripped a dagger off of Isabelas hip and ran him right through the chest. She didn’t hesitate to twist it as he gasped for air, didn’t even twitch as blood poured onto her hands. She handed the stained blade back to Isabela, and left without a word to them.

That evening, when he arrived back to the house, he found her in the bedroom. Her head was in her hands and she was...crying. He sat down beside her, put his palm on her back to rub calm circles against the fabric of her shirt, as if it would help.

“I didn’t get there in time.” She said through shaky breaths. “I wasn’t fast enough. Gamlen is right, it's all my fault.”

“No it’s-”

“First it was Bethany, then Carver to the Wardens. Now mother. I might as well have just killed her with my own hands.”

“Arcadia, she wouldn’t want you to blame yourself.” He murmured. Her bitter laugh told him that that was not the right thing to say.

“You don’t know my mother.” His blood ran cold, there was a ache in his heart that he couldn’t describe. The real loss that came with those words suffocating him.

“No I don’t. I’m sorry I will never get to.” That only made her cry harder, and it was all he could do to pull her against his chest and hold her. He made gentle patterns against her hair as he smoothed it down, whispered to her that it was okay, that he was there for her.

Arcadia Hawke never fell apart. But after hours of trying to hold it all together while she found every last piece of the man who murdered her and destroyed it. After dealing with what was left of her family both in person and in an attempted letter, she broke under the weight.

 

 

That was the first time Anders felt like he understood Hawke. Really understood her. After Leandra's death, she was so much quieter, exhaustion gripped at her and the only way he could tell was by her hair being up in a ponytail instead of down with careful braids. There were other ways of course, but they were even subtler, easy to miss if he wasn’t looking. Those ways were hiding just like her grief was.

Her temper was shorter, she dared anybody to even utter her mothers name with a glare that said she was not afraid to tear someone apart. She threw herself into battle after battle with the Qunari, much to his discontent. The final time before the uprising, he forced his way into the gates only to see her and Aveline running from spears that soared towards them like arrows. His anxiety only showed in the fluidity of his embrace around her and the hushed whisper against her hair that he thought he’d lost her.

After Leandra's death, Anders understood Hawke as she was forced to watch everyone around her get slaughtered in an civil war she tried so desperately to stop before it could begin. He felt it deep in his soul, when he saw Hawkes face as her brother crossed her path amidst a city on fire. There was a flicker of grief in her eyes before she stopped in her tracks and turned to Carver.

In the face of a war, out of everything she could say, all she wanted was to take care of the only family she had left. Even Carver, a full fledged Warden instead of the little brother they’d once known, had to close his eyes, take a deep breath, and nod his head before continuing to move. Just like that any inkling of pain that found its way to the outside world vanished from her being. Neither of them ever had the time to stand still.

 

 

Her face stayed stone as the viscount’s head was tossed at her feet, and her anger became a tool for quiet justice as the Arishok attempted to scare her into giving Isabela up. She protected Isabela that day without even blinking, sneered at the Arishok as if to dare him to try and take someone else from her.

When they dueled she looked bored, she barely broke a sweat as she froze him in solid ice again and again until he staggered enough for her to break his jaw with her staff and burn his flesh at such a high intensity that Anders almost lost the contents of his stomach from watching his eyes melt.

Even then, when it was all over and they were out in the night air on the steps of the Chantry, her fingers gripping so hard against the railing that her skin turned white, she never let anyone know of her sorrow. Maybe the others didn’t notice but he could have sworn that there was a glimmer on her cheeks. Only then did he know that she was stronger than he would ever be, and he was scared for her because of it.

Getting the title of Champion did her no favors, gave her no time to grieve. Thinking about it now, Anders knew that there were so many opportunities in those three years for Arcadia to give in and turn to her blood magic to seek revenge. To cause mayhem and chaos. Or simply to stop fighting and let the insanity take hold just so that she could be through with it all. He was sure it always whispered in the back of her mind, he could tell in the nights that he came home and found her staring blankly at a letter on her desk. Or in the moments when her body halted at her mother's bedroom door but never went inside. In those moments, he wondered how much she was thinking about letting everything go up in flames as the world seemed to want. He knew from experience that it was not an easy voice to fight. But she never gave in to that temptation.

Instead, her rage was calm, calculated, and still had morals in its actions. Her grief was silent, she did not break, acted as if nothing ever happened unless someone tried to use it against her. That wound never healed.

On especially bad nights he would wake up to her screams of terror. Her eyes would search the darkness in a daze, looking for something he could never see. When he tried to force away the terror that shattered her with soft whispers, he would piece together what nightmare she had that time.

Some nights, it was her being the one to harm her family.

Other nights, it was an endless sea of civilians crying for help she couldn’t give.

Most nights however, it was the rotten corpse of her mother. As flesh fell off bone, the corpse screamed at her, blamed her, begged her to save her with bloody tears dripping against eyeless sockets. Leandra cried at her, and wondered why she hadn’t tried harder to save her.

On those nights, all he could do was hold her.

 

 

Hawke was resilient, and did not give in to the sorrows of the world despite the grief that imprisoned her.

Anders knew this now unlike when he’d left. Staring up at the ceiling of the his guest room in Ferelden, he remembered when he used that grief and resilience to his advantage.

 

 

Arcadia returned home from fetching all the supplies he’d asked for and waited with infinite patience to hear his explanation. Her arms were crossed over her chest, her face expressionless.

“What is it that you don’t want me to see?” She asked.

Anders knew that he could not tell her, not about what concoction he was about to make to destroy the Chantry, not about the options he was about to erase. She would only try and stop him.

But treating her like she was an idiot would not help his cause either. There was no right way to do well by her, not with what he was planning.

“Do you believe in me love? Do you believe that we deserve to be free?” He replied. She raised an eyebrow, telling him to continue. “Then I need you to trust me now. I am only doing what is necessary.”

“Was there ever a potion at all.” Her gaze was cold, but even she could not hide the hurt from him. With every moment that he held his tongue, he felt the guilt spread. Deep down, he knew that he might have just solidified his fate. But if he had to die to set mages free, he would.

“I lied. There is no potion. But this will bring freedom to all the mages of Thedas.” The silence between his words, and hers was deafening. His head vibrated with it.

“Do you trust me Anders? I can’t act blindly.” The look she was giving him, pleading for him to trust her, to believe in her like she believed in him, it was almost enough to break him. ”Please just, tell me what you’re planning.”

It took everything he had not to give in. He loved her, but some things were more important than that. No. He would not put her at risk, he wouldn’t risk his quest. As much as he wished he could trust that she had his best interests at heart, Arcadia was being pulled in too many directions, too many people wanted power over her. If he told her there was no guarantee that she wouldn’t tell someone. There was nothing to say that she wouldn’t kill him where he stood. And worse, should they find her attached to anything...

“The risk is not worth putting your life on the line.” He whispered.

“Anders.” She hissed. The only thing he could think to do was make her angry. If she had to believe he didn’t care for her to do it then so be it. She had to go along with him, it was the only way.

“Does your support of our kind end at the chantry doors?” He said. “It’s easy to say you want freedom if nobody has to die for it.” The words that would hurt her the most danced on his tongue. Twisting the knife could earn her support, or, it could force her to walk away. “You cannot claim to love me then turn on me now.”

Whether it was rage that constricted her fists, or hurt he could not say. But everything about her changed, and in that moment he wished he didn’t need to push.

“I do love you. That doesn’t mean I agree with every decision Anders. Especially not when you’ve been hiding what that is from me.”

“You cannot care for me and despise what I stand for.” That was it, the force to cause a crack in the armor.

“How is that what you hear from my words? Do my actions mean that little to you?” She went quiet, her glare unwavering but her fist clenched so tight he wondered if there was blood pooling in her palm. “For seven years I have defended you and your cause endlessly, without question. I put my entire family at risk for you, I jeopardized our safety for this brewing war. I fought, with Fenris, with the templars, with my own brother! The last family I have left for makers sake. How have I not proven trustworthy to you in all of this.”

“I am the cause of the Mages. There is nothing else.” Anders replied, his heart sinking lower and lower as he drove the knife through her heart. Hawke had been through too much, and he knew it. Yet he added to the pile anyway. “Will you aids us, or does your support end at talk.”

He watched with bated breath as Arcadia’s brows furrowed, the muscle in her jaw constrict. She turned her back to him.

“Tell me what you would have me do. But I will not forget that you blackmailed me to get it.” She spat.

He knew what he’d done, as he watched her leave with her head bowed low.. He refused to be the partner she was for him. All he was was secrets and lies.

When they returned from the Chantry that evening, Anders knew that he’d betrayed her worse than anything they could come back from. He knew what happened to those that did this. He tried to warn her as best he could, to prepare her for what he was sure she would need to do. But it was even more dangerous now to give her the truth.

All she gave him was a disappointed shake of her head, before shutting him out of their bedroom. She had no words of comfort to give him, and he didn’t deserve them. As much as he wished that he could hear that it was going to be alright.  

He did not see her much as his plans started to come to fruition. When he came along with her on missions, she did not speak to him. Fenris and Isabela could only exchange glances and pretend like nothing was happening. Anders couldn’t bring himself to feel the pain he caused her. Instead he continued to try to get them to understand, if only so that Hawke would have someone to help her later when he was gone.

“You must see what an injustice the templars are.” He said one afternoon. Fenris gave the same old annoyed look he always did to him.

“Must I?”

“They go too far.” Anders continued. There was something that flickered beneath the surface of Fenris’s normal anger.

“Talk to Hawke about her mother. Ask her what is “too far.”” Anders couldn’t have known what his words would mean to Hawke in the moment, not when he had no idea that she very easily could have been the same.

“You can’t hold all mages responsible for that!” He didn’t understand how important it was for Hawke to remember what happened. He couldn’t have understood that he should have been paying more attention to her amidst her growing fury and less on his cause. He would have seen more if he had, he would have understood like Fenris did.

“It doesn’t take all mages to cause this. Only the weak ones.”

“Not all mages are weak.”

“You’re right. Hawke, for instance, is not weak.”

You specifically don't mention me.” Anders sneered

“That is also true.”

“I will prove to you that I’m not weak.”

“Prove it to yourself. You’re convincing no one else.” Fenris said. At the time that enraged him. He didn’t need to prove it to himself, it was everyone else that was blind. But now, Anders realized how right Fenris was. Really he shouldn’t have been surprised by it all things considered. Hawke befriended Fenris when nobody else would, made him see a little more gray between the lines of Templars and Mages. And in return she had his complete loyalty. It was the same with Isabela too.

“How do you manage to ignore the consequences of your actions?” Anders asked. In part, because it seems easier to figure out how to not care about what he was doing to Hawke. But also because he couldn’t fathom how casually Isabela continued with her life as if nothing happened.

“Is this about the Qunari thing? I’m not ignoring it. I’m recognizing that it was years ago.” The smirk in the corner of her mouth told him that he was going to regret asking. “There’s this loving thing called moving on. You should try it sometime.”

Isabela had no idea how much he was not able to do that. If she did, maybe she would have killed him.  

But after yet another time in which Meredith threatened Hawke with imprisonment when she dared to put her foot down. When Meredith didn’t hesitate to remind her and Anders that their freedom was conditional. When neither Isabela nor Fenris said anything, despite the fact that Hawke was their best friend, he couldn’t take it anymore.

“I can’t believe you’re still not taking sides!” He hissed. In the moment, he didn’t notice the way Hawke tensed up. Isabela only sighed as she glanced around. The streets of lowtown were bustling as they made their way to the alienage, but nobody seemed to be listening to them.  “You like freedom right? You’re against slavery?”

“Maybe I just don’t like you .” Was all she said.

Isabela saw more of him then even he did. She found ways to get into his conscious and remind him that it was possible that there was no justice. Not really. That the world was not black and white, and people were complicated. Maybe that was why she got along so well with Hawke who saw the world for what it was long before Anders could. Arcadia cared about people, not causes, she could understand Isabela and her need for freedom.  She could see Fenris, look at all that he had been through, and not tell him that he was wrong in his hatred of mages. They had never met formally, but Hawke and Auroline got along well through letters as well. They saw eye to eye on most things, and now Anders was realizing why.

His world had been black and white for so long and he had never stopped to question why.

 

-0-

 

She trusted him.

Something he was unable to return. Her trust was shown to him in every spell that she cast past him to protect him from templars. Every moment that she stayed with him despite everyone around them telling her that she shouldn’t.

She stayed even when his betrayal showed. She showed him her trust, when he begged her to stab him in the back and she refused. When she told him through clipped words and clenched teeth, to just go. She showed him, in her stubbornness to keep him alive and her willingness to believe, despite his actions, that he was a good man. He wondered how much easier it all would have been if he’d only swallowed his fear and given her the same respect.

They forged themselves in suffering and war. But the second Hawke dared to give in to anything, had thought to do anything for herself, he abandoned her. When she needed him, he ran away. And now she was dying. Might already be dead.

And he dared to ever ask if she truly cared for him.

Chapter Text

Isabela wiped the sweat from Arcadias brow without a word of complaint, cleared the blood from her trembling lips before it pooled. Arcadia was unable to stop shivering now, her veins glowed blue throughout her body. Her friends came in shifts, never leaving her alone anymore, not that she could move if she wanted to anyway.

They were forced to watch as she broke against the pain, only able to squeeze her hand as she wept and wish that they could help her.

“I want Anders.” Hawke sobbed as she curled into a ball in Isabelas lap.

“I know Kitten.” Isabela replied, stroking her hair with gentle fingers.  Arcadia was fast asleep only minutes later, and when Fenris made a shadow in the doorway Isabela couldn’t hide her grief as she used to.

-0-

“Good luck my friend” Auroline said as she pulled away from their hug. “May you travel safely.”

“This might help slow any progression” Alistair added, as he handed Anders a small bottle brewed through various mages in Ferelden. When Alistair pulled him into the hug, Anders wondered how much the king understood this kind of pain. He must have dealt with it during the Blight. But Anders knew he’d never thought to betray his wife before. He simply had to wonder if she was dead.  “Have a safe trip, do write when you arrive.”

Before his mind could stop to think any more, Anders was in the middle of the ocean, on the next ship to Kirkwall and praying to a maker he never believed in that just this once, he would arrive in time.

He clutched the elixir in his palm like an amulet of power and hoped that his thoughts could cure her from afar. That they would give him time to do what he should have done the second she told him.

 

The moment he set foot in Kirkwall, Anders was running. Pushing past anyone that got in his way without a second thought. He ran from the docks, past Lowtown, then Darktown, and  up into Hightown. His shaking hands barely grasped his key to the estate as he opened the door.

It was much too quiet, there was no barking of Arcadias mabari, no squeak of cloth on armor. Her absence from the desk that had stacks of unanswered letters on it sent more spikes of terror through his heart. Even her servants seemed like ghosts in the main hall as they tended to the fireplace, or swept the immaculate floors. Anders didn’t expect to hear Fenris’s voice.

“What are you doing here Anders” The man hissed from the railing and Anders couldn’t blame him for being furious. Somehow it felt right that his judgement was passed by the elf.

“I came as fast as I could.” Anders replied, but his voice sounded small even to him. Fenris didn’t even give him a response, only curled his lip and motioned for him to follow.

When he stepped foot in the bedroom, he wondered if she was already dead. Her chest rose with labored breaths. Her brow was furrowed in pain, and from the looks of it, it’d been that way for a long time. The mattress dipped with his weight and she cracked open one eye.

“My, I thought that it would stop hurting so much when I started hallucinating.” She murmured.  

If he could have, Anders would’ve killed whatever did this to her. In that moment all he felt was anguish in knowing that there was nothing to fight. The guilt that was infecting his soul writhed in his stomach, and he felt cracks in his skin as if he was going to break apart just from looking at her. Gently, he smoothed back her sweat soaked hair.

“Oh Hawke…” was all he could manage before his voice caught. He never should have left.

-0-

She fell back asleep as fast as she’d awoken and Anders got to work. He bound his hands to hers, tried to find the source was. Although he mended what bleeding he could but  the short time he’d been gone allowed her illness to spread. He was surprised that she was still alive at all given the damage to her organs, but he guessed he should have expected it.

He knew not to leave her side again. Every hour he was doing what he could for the pain. When she was lucid enough, he brought the potion to her lips in hope that it could heal her enough for her to fight back. As Hawkes friends cycled through they did not ask questions, however, Anders could tell by the looks on their faces that the were both furious and terrified.

 

It took a week for Anders to believe that Arcadia would survive. The day that she stayed awake for upwards of ten minutes, he was finally able to convince her that he was real. But she had no energy to react to that realization. The day after the few words she spoke hurt more than he could have ever prepared for.

“I think you should leave.” She whispered.

“I will not. Not again.” He responded immediately. She shook her head.

“No not like that. “ Her eyes fell closed, she was preparing for a battle he didn’t understand. “I need to stop using mana.” Her voice was so quiet, she didn’t dare to meet his eyes. He wished that he couldn’t see how scared she was. Scared of his reaction. Worried that he would up and leave again. How could he blame her? He never proved that he wouldn’t.  

“Have you been using it this whole time?” He asked.

“A mistake.” She muttered with a nod of her head. “Since the battle. But in this state trying not to would have killed me faster.” She hesitated for a moment before leaning back against her pillow. “Maybe I should have tried.”

Anders tried not to flinch at the statement. He forced himself to stay silent, to not give her cause to try and take it back for his sake. This was not his Hawke. This was a woman who had been through too much and couldn’t bare it any longer.

When she asked him to hand her a dagger he did so. He watched in an odd sort of fascination as she delicately sliced across her palm and blood bubbled into magic. But when she started to cough, he took her wounded hand in his and didn’t even register her surprise as he fed her power.

Arcadia’s shock stayed as long as he did. Even bedridden she put on invisible armor and waited for the stab in the back. The longer he didn’t do what she was expecting, the more he realized how much of the damage was his own doing.

When it was finished, Anders retreated back to the couch that’d become his bed.

-0-

The next morning he went to Hawkes room only to find her bed empty. Pure panic washed over him as he imagined her dead on the streets somewhere. His mind went blank as he tore through Hightown to Fenris’s Mansion. While Fenris no longer lived there full time, Anders expected him to be there while he was in town. If anyone would tear apart this city for Hawke besides himself, it would be him.

Ander’s hardly registered the murmur of voices until he was just outside the door. Relief replaced his fear as he heard Hawkes voice. Through the crack in the door he saw her with no electric blue under her skin, no dried blood trapped in the cracks of her lips. She still looked so tired, but at the very least not at the Makers front step.

“...Abandoned you…..he’s selfish….dangerous.” He heard Fenris huff.

“I know.” Hawke replied. “....need you….runs again….find him.”

He knocked on the doorframe before entering. To his surprise Isabela was also present, her glare was enough to force his gaze to the floor. Her dagger fell, blade first into the wood with a loud thunk and Ander’s heart leapt into his throat.  It was a grumble from Fenris that forced him into an explanation.

“I apologize for the interruption. I…” He glanced at Arcadia. “I just wanted to make sure you were okay.”

Fenris opened his mouth, but Arcadia’s sigh stopped him. They glanced to one another, and after a short nod, she motioned for Anders to follow.

They walked the streets back to her estate in silence, Anders took the time to really check that she was healing. Her mana was pushed back, no disease ravaged her veins. She did not cough, did not even look weakened.

Inside the house, she leaned down with ease to pet her Mabari. By all accounts it looked like she was making a full recovery. Which meant that he had to deal with the consequences of his cowardice. Somehow this was worse than believing Arcadia was going to be the one to kill him. He was never going to be able to live a life without her in it and now he had to face the fact that he might have to.

“Arcadia I-.” He began.

“Don’t.” She hissed. Even with her back turned to him he could see her fury. “You just left. Anders.”

“I know. I-”

“Well, did I prove myself to you. Am I worthy of the love of my husband or am I just another maleficar to you?”

“You should never have had to prove anything.” He mumbled. It might have been a stupid idea but he inched closer to her, reached for her and wrapped his arms around her. He pressed his nose into her hair and tried to memorize her scent. To his surprise, she didn’t fight him. “I’m sorry. I was blinded by fear that I should have given up long ago.” He sighed and let his eyes fall closed before trying to tell her everything that he should have shown her.

“ I love you. The you that you have always been, blood magic and all The one that I met in a dark corner of the world who didn't abandon me every time the past said you should. You showed me you were years ago, and when it came time to trust in it I failed. I’m sorry for asking so much of you and never returning it.” She shifted, loosening his grasp and forcing him to take a step back so she could turn to look at him. All that he could see was disappointment, but he thought maybe, he could fix that.

“I am still not scared of death you know.” She said.

“But?” He replied.

“I am scared of dying without you.” She sighed, an invisible weight pressed against her shoulders. “I wish I could hate you, just like I wished back then. I shouldn’t have forgiven you all those years ago. I shouldn’t love you. I shouldn’t have married you. And I shouldn’t forgive you now.” She hesitated for a long moment, her fingers idly spinning her wedding ring. “But I do. Because I’m naive enough to believe that you’re a good man who loves me.”

Anders nodded before speaking. “You right. You shouldn’t have. But I will prove to you that it was not a mistake. I promise you. I will right what I have wronged and be who I should have been from the start.”

For a moment, he wasn’t sure if it would be enough. The space between them was both tiny and infinite. Time seemed to stop when she took a breath.

“Okay.”