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Strangers in Thedas

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The bass of the music pounded in her chest as Aria’s ankles crossed around the metal bar, holding her in place. She leaned back and her spine aligned with the pole slowly, like a snake slowly lowering to the ground in a hunt; both beautiful and dangerous. Her fingertips barely met the cool, smooth wood of the stage before she snapped up and dropped her feet to catch herself on the pole and extend her body from it. Her eyes remained neutral and half-lidded. Her lips parted slightly while the show went on. She didn’t see the group of men hooting and hollering while they threw dollar bills at her. She didn’t see the blinking, colorful lights that danced across her mocha colored skin. She saw her parents. She saw her younger brother. She saw the home she had been shunned from. 

Her heeled feet met the stage again as the music wound down and her face morphed into her stage smile. It was sweet and saucy. Her blood-red wig fell over her shoulders and traced along her cleavage as she stooped to pick up the bills and stuff them in her constricting bra and the band of her thong. She blew a kiss towards her audience and allowed the smooth, midnight-blue acrylic of her nails to scratch lightly over her lip before she sauntered off the stage. The instant the curtain fell and she could no longer be seen by the patrons of The Blaze , Aria’s face fell to the tired woman she was. Her hips didn’t snap with each step, they dipped in a slight limp, instead. Her shoes were new and acted like sandpaper against her feet. She dreamed of putting them up and lathering the blisters in baby rash ointment while she slipped the offending things off her feet. She moaned softly as her feet returned to a normal position on the ground and ignored the popping of her ankles. Rose, a co-worker who often wore bright pink wigs and used her young face to pull the innocent and naive routine noticed and winced. Her pale face was lathered with makeup and glitter.

“Aria, honey, you can’t just take new shoes to the stage! You gotta break them in first!” She popped a stick of gum into her mouth as she tutted her disapproval. Her southern drawl wasn’t as obvious as it used to be, but in that moment, it was very present. “Ice and rub them tonight. Gotta get out there.” Rose stood in her thin, red robe and her black stilettos and made her way onto the stage with confidence. Aria could hear the announcer from her seat at the vanity.

“Get ready for Lollypop!”

A rush of air forced its way out of Aria’s nose. As far as she was concerned, Lollypop was not a great choice for a stage name. Scarlet wasn’t very original, but at least it was more seductive than childish. Aria often wondered what childhood horrors influenced Rose’s act. 

She wiped the pounds of makeup from her face and neck as best she could, but it seemed only a hot shower would do for the rest. She sighed and stood to change into her street clothes. She ditched the wig and fluffed out her black, shoulder-length hair over her neck as se buttoned up her coat. The thought of slipping her socks and shoes on made her groan, but she managed to do so with only a sharp hiss. Luckily, her apartment was only a short walk from here. She didn’t need to suffer long. 

The intrusive thoughts of her family tried to return again, but Aria shoved them to the back of her mind. She didn’t need them. She was making a great living and going to school on her own. She held her head up and made her way out the back door of The Blaze .

Aria always thought New York was most peaceful in the ungodly hours of the morning like this. There were still the street beggers, the businessmen who were likely on their way back home from their nights of sin, and the occasional prostitute looking for a customer. Regardless, the night was quieter than the day. Aria could look up at the dark, starless sky and let her mind wander. Her head was quieter at night. She didn’t need to think about what it took to get here, or the looks on her parents’ faces when they discovered her secret. She could just be who she was and nothing else mattered. A small, sad smile touched her dark lips.

Aria’s feet slowed from a quick stroll to a crawl as she neared the turn that would take her to her street. There was something unpleasant in the air. It felt like a charge of electricity that raised the hairs on her body and send a shudder down Aria’s spine. She couldn’t place what was happening, but she could tell something wasn’t right. She hunched her shoulders and kept her guard up. Her fingers dug deep into her pockets and her head hung low. At the corner was an elderly woman with a confident, if not arrogant face. Her lips pursed and her golden eyes bore straight into Aria’s soul. She shivered. There was a familiarity to this woman she couldn’t place. She stepped around her and continued walking, trying to ignore the almost tangible feeling of the woman’s eyes on her back. She’d walked around creepy people before: men who wanted to cop a feel, young children obviously looking to steal something, people high on something brushing up against her. This felt more personal. She tried to hurry home.

The lights of New York Glittered on the streets and the puddles from the recent rain. Aria tried to refrain from looking back and focused on the colors as she trekked the last block to safety. In her haste, she didn’t notice the colorful oil stain on the sidewalk as her foot made contact. As she shifted her weight, her foot didn’t stop moving. Her heart lurched to her throat as the world spun over her and her face met the asphalt. A sickening crunch erupted from her nose and everything was black.

 

“This is the last one for the night, man. Last call.” Hector smiled, pouring a shot and sliding it over to the last man sitting at the bar. He ran his fingers through his dark hair that fell in waves over his face and threw the cleaning rag onto his shoulder. He dreamed of a beer and left over empanadas as he finished up his long shift. He hurried through the closing routine when the last patron finally stumbled out of the bar. Getting through the minimal needed, Hector called it good and locked up on his way out.

It was a nice, yet muggy night in Memphis. Street lights barely lit the back roads to his house in the darkness of the late night. He strode quickly; the promise of relaxation driving him forward, when a gruff voice stopped him. “Hey, you got any change?” A figure of a man stepped out from the shadows into the dim lighting of the streets. His ratty clothing and the potent smell suggested a homeless man.

“No… I’m just getting home. Sorry.” he threw back, trying to pay the man little mind. Occasionally the homeless population wandered out near his place, but it wasn’t like he had money to give so he kept walking.

A hand on his shoulder startled him still and pulled him to turn around, “I said, have you got money?” he was more demanding now and Hector looked up to see the man’s wild eyes, wide and crazy enough to see the whites, even in the dark. 

The cold press of a gun silenced him. He felt his heart began to pound, nearly out of his chest and stepped back. The grip on his shoulder tightened and the metal pressed to his ribs warned him not to move again. Hector’s mind spun as he tried to work out how to get out of this situation alive and unharmed. A disturbance in the alley behind the man caught his attention long enough for Hector to wrench his shoulder free. He spun around to run, but the growl behind him suggested the homeless man wasn’t done with him. Grubby fingers made to grab him again, but he only managed to grab at Hector’s shirt, dislodging his balance. He nearly fell into the street, but he caught his footing just as two bright lights appeared in his vision.

When Hector woke, his muscles felt stiff and sore. A fog filled his head and he found his hard to form a coherent thought. He must have drifted off on the couch, after overworking himself. As his mind cleared, he realized he wasn’t lying on his couch. He wasn’t lying at all. He shivered, which confused him. It wasn’t cold in Memphis, especially in April. He felt cold wood at his back and forced his eyes open. 

Finding his way to his feet, Hector looked around to see snow! It definitely didn’t snow this late in the year there. “Oh, sweet Jesus.” So this was bad. Where was he? How did he get here? He leaned against the wall and stepped around the corner of the cottage-like house he had woken up against. The bright light over the pure white of the snow assaulted his eyes. He blinked against it and noted his surroundings. There was something painfully familiar about this place.

Before him were stone steps that wound around a hill to his left and led up to a large, tall building. There were pitched tents and people dressed like they’d been at a renaissance fair bustling about, not dissimilar to the ones he’d once saw when he worked at such a place years ago. Only, no one seemed to be wearing modern clothing. There wasn’t any tourist in tshirts dragging their kids along. Hector’s eyes scanned the area again and it suddenly dawned on him how he knew this place. The sight before him was a living replica of Haven. Like, Haven a la freaking Dragon Age!

He leaned his lanky figure against the wall and rubbed his hand over his face. He pinched his tanned hand, certain he must be dreaming. The sharp pain suggested otherwise. How did he get here? What was he to do? The tightness of panic constricted his throat and his chest tensed. He took a few long, deep, box breaths to calm himself down. While it did little to ease the tightness in his chest, it was good enough to function.

“Excuse me!” he called to an elven woman skittering by. She stopped and eyed him wearily, looking over his modern clothes with a sense of confusion and awe. He put on the best smile he could muster, trying to appear friendly and unthreatening “Hey there, darlin’. You wouldn’t mind telling me where this is, would you?” 

“O-oh,” Her accent sounded like a mixture of Scottish and English, “well, this is Haven. If you’re going to the Divine Conclave, everything is starting soon! You should hurry.” She bowed slightly and continued on her way in a hurry.

He blinked and watched her and a handful of heavily armored men and women make their way down the mountain. He realized in this moment, he was not only in Haven, it was just before the beginning of the Dragon Age Inquisition game! If the Conclave had yet to start, that meant it hadn’t blown up yet! His mind reeled as he remembered the burnt corpses he’d viewed through the screen of his game and quickly went down to the gates. He couldn’t even see the Temple of Sacred Ashes from this distance, let alone run there. There was no way he’d make it there in time, but he could at the very least start to close the distance. People were going to need his help!  

Hector made his way down the icy path carefully, taking time to avoid the groups of soldiers marching by at a leisurely pace. The clank of metal and the buzz of tense conversation made their way to his ears as he made his descent. The Frostbacks were beautiful and peaceful. Shimmering snowflakes occasionally shook down from the tall pine trees that swayed from the mountain breeze. It only increased the constricting anxiety he felt in his chest. The world was about to crash down around them at any moment and he was helpless to stop it. He knew warning the locals was no use, as he was clearly an outsider. What would he say, anyway? How could he explain what he knew? He could only hope to lessen the damage.

As he was making his way past the frozen lake and toward the temple, that was filled with Mages, Templars, elves, dwarves, and humans, a crack of atmosphere was his only warning before a cacophanus sound knocked him back. As far away as he was, he didn’t suffer an injury from the initial blast, though there was a dull ringing in his ears. He brushed off the snow as he stood up.. The ground shook and groaned as the sky tore itself open with a green, shimmering hole that cast an eerie green light over the shimmering snow. It looked as much like the end of the world as it was! He took to running, soldiers running by him in the same direction. They took little note of him as they sped past. Their heavy armor clanked and clicked as they moved.. Rocks like asteroids hit the ground around him as he made his way forward. He stopped when he saw a soldier on the ground. One look and he knew he wouldn’t make it. There were severe burns blooming from a caved in chest. One of the asteroid like debris rocks lay nearby, likely the culprit of his injury. He leaned down to examine the man, but there was nothing he could do.. “I’m sorry.” The soldier gasped and choked. Blood trickled from the corner of his mouth. One last gasp and his eyes were empty.

He pulled himself up and chewed his lip, thinking over his options. The question was whether to go to the camp or sneak around to get closer to the action. He knew if he did that, he would have to face demons. Something he’d obviously never encountered in his world. The camp nearby likely held trained healers and people with medical knowledge, but anyone he left here wouldn’t survive without his help. He had to go forward. Avoiding the bridge he remembered exploding he slid onto an icy river. The cold bit into his flesh and seeped into his muscles but he continued on. No demons yet. He counted his lucky stars and  made his way on the ice then up the steep stone steps as quickly as his frozen bones could muster. 

He’d soon reached the impact point where the explosion scorched the ground, leaving burning corpses in its wake. HIs stomach roiled at the mess. What was left of the bodies that were here were burnt into various positions of obvious fear and pain. The stone ground below them was scorched black and red-hot. If anyone survived, it was a miracle. Hector wandered around, checking for any signs of life. He was running out of time! The air around him popped and screeched as the smell of storms met his nose. Rifts were pulling themselves open and demons were sure to follow! Just as he was ready to accept that no one had survived, Hector noticed a figure amid the chaos. He rushed over and a laugh of disbelief escaped him. An elven woman lay half buried in ash and rubble. There were scratches on her face and her nose was clearly broken, but she wasn’t burned and was very much alive. Hector quickly cleared the rubble that covered her body and eased his hands under her arms to drag her back to safety. Screams of terror surrounded him, signalling that the demons had finally emerged. He cursed under his breath and moved as swiftly as his cold muscles would go. He’d never make it back to the camp with a hundred and ten or so pounds of dead weight. He needed to find an alternative solution quickly!

Hector noted a cavern nearby that was shallow, but deep enough to hide them if he covered the entrance. He pulled the unconscious girl inside and located rubble and boulders that weren’t too hot to touch. He pulled them over the mouth of the cave and ducked behind them to see to the woman that lay in the snow below him. His first priority was to warm her. He chewed on his inner cheek as he glanced around. There were some rocks that were still hot. If he could manage to get them in the cave without burning himself….

Before he needed to do anything, however, a boulder sailed into their makeshift shelter and closed off the mouth completely! It melted the snow it hit and sprayed boiling water and dust at them. Without thinking, Hector covered the unconscious elf with his own body and groaned as hot water sprayed at his exposed neck and arms. Hector leaned back once the dust had settled and assessed their new situation. On the positive side, they were significantly warmer, as the rubble had brought the impact heat with it. However, in the process, it had completely closed off the cave! Hector turned his attention back to the task at hand and stored that mess in the back of his mind. The cracks in the cave were barely enough to see, so he needed to assess her injuries by feel. His fingers danced over her skin carefully, adding enough pressure to feel for bruising or broken bones. The bridge of her nose would need to be pulled out and realigned, and she’ll have black eyes and a massive headache for a while, but her face was fine other than that.

He felt her pulse and smiled at the strong, even beats that pressed against his fingers. He pressed his ear to her chest. Her rib muscles flexed against his jaw as she drew shallow, yet full breaths. Just in case he ran his fingers along her breastbone and ribs. Finding nothing broken or cracked that he could tell, he quickly felt along her arms and legs. As far as he could tell, the worst of her injuries would be her nose. He sighed heavily. This was bound to be an unpleasant experience for both of them. He drew a deep breath and cradled her head in his left palm until her skull was properly settled. He gripped her nose with his other hand and said a small prayer before pulling quickly.

 

Aria’s eyes flew open as a sharp, hot pain flashed across her nose and behind her eyes. She cried out and tried to sit up, but something was holding her down. Fear shot through her and her brain shorted out. She struggled and screamed as someone held her down. Whoever it was, he was trying to say something to her, but she couldn’t hear him through her screams. Tears trailed down her temples from the pain and pressure. Panic pressed against her chest and bile rose in her throat.

“Hey, hey, now. It’s alright… kinda, you got to calm down. You’re fine.” A… husky, soothing voice spoke in her ear. She shoved at the source of it and fought against him. Eventually, he let her go and she backed away from him. He scrabbled for her in the darkness, “No, darlin! Hot! Hot rocks! Don’t go touching those.”

She turned around in time to see the glowing red of the rubble that blocked them inside. Her breathing felt heavy and no matter how much air she pulled in, she felt light headed. “Where are we?” Her voice sounded much more high-pitched than normal, and there was a whistle from her nose when she breathed. “I can’t see you! Who are you?”

“Hector, Hector Muñoz at your service. We are… in a cave. The Conclave exploded, I-Ii’m afraid. You’re the only person I found up here.” A light brush of fingertips met Aria’s arm and she jerked back, singing her other arm on the hot rocks behind her. “Ah!” She shifted to the other side of the cave, away from this stranger who spoke nonsense. “What exploded?”

“Uh, the big temple thing you were at? They had a meeting between the Mages and Templars called by the Divine?” It sounded weird enough for him to try to explain and now he was a bit concerned she might be concussed. 

Aria’s eyes fought to see the man who was speaking, but there was very little light. She could make out stubble, some flannel, and dark skin, but that was it. What he said rang with vague familiarity, but it still made no sense. “Temple? I wasn’t…” She swallowed against the dry lump in her throat and looked around. Conclave… Divine… Mages… “Wait… are you talking about Dragon Age? A video game? I’ve got some kind of broken face and we’re in a fucking cave that we can’t get out of and you’re talking about a video game?” Her voice squeaked as she spoke. She was definitely getting light headed.

He sighed and rubbed his face, “It’s about as fucked up to me as you. I was in Memphis, Tennessee last night, minding my own business. Far as I recall, there was some kind of mugging and I woke up dumped behind a house in Haven. What does an elf know about video games, anyway?”

Aria shot the darkness in front of her a look that would have said “Are you fucking kidding me you blithering idiot?” But obviously he couldn’t see it. “Elf? And you’re what? Santa Clause? God damn it! Where are we really?”

Before the stranger could answer, muffled voices could be heard from behind the hot rubble. Hope rising in her chest, Aria cried out. “In here! Help! Help me, please!”

“Oh, thank God. Hey! Help! We’re in here.” He grabbed a rock from the floor of the cave and hit it on the wall for more noise. 

“Cullen! In there!” A soft, yet affirmative voice said from the other side. Aria’s eyes watered from pain and relief at this point as the rock in front of her finally began to move away. Light gradually started streaming through. It was bright, but tinged with green that Aria should have found strange. As she was, however, she was simply grateful to be let out. 

A metal-clad hand shoved the rock the rest of the way and a handsome face popped in. A man who could be mid twenties to early thirties frowned at them with concern and clear confusion. His blond hair was dusted with ash and stuck to his forehead with swear and some sort of green substance that smelled like rotting garbage. He wore what looked to Aria like a suit of armor, and a thick, fur cape was draped over his shoulders. She would have laughed at the idea of a literal knight in shining armor coming to her rescue, but at that moment, her stomach decided it had had enough of the bile that was building up. She emptied its contents on the cave floor. The pressure of the act exploded pain in her face and her she simply couldn’t handle it any longer. She was out for the count. Again.

 

Her hands were bound in front of her, “Hey, come on. I’m not waiting around here all day!” She turned her hand to examine the green glowing palm and it made her stomach drop. “Really fucked up this time,” Minerva muttered to herself, when the mark flared up, she hissed and nearly doubled over in pain. “This is super uncomfortable here, team!” She looked to the soldiers around her, maybe she could get off of her knees. She dropped to her hip and rolled them out in front of her, waiting a bit more comfortably. 

An angry Cassandra barged into the room, followed by Leliana close behind. “What did the coterie want with the Conclave?” Leliana asked, speaking first as she began to circle the room. 

Minerva gave a halfhearted shrug, “This was more of a vacation for me than anything, well up ‘til the explosion.”

“That you caused!” Cassandra growled, gripping her shoulder hard enough to make the prisoner wince. Between the searing pain in her hand and the one in her shoulder, Minerva winced.

Anger crept up in her, they may have done enough research to find who she was, a cotiere spy, but she knew who they were as well. “I did not cause this! Where were you , the right and left hands of the Divine in all this? There was a threat and you did nothing to protect her. You will not put this on me!”

Leliana put a hand on Cassandra’s shoulder to keep the woman in check, “If not you, who then? What happened at the Conclave?” 

Minerva dug through her brain to remember the exact course of events, but found little and what she could was fuzzy at best. “It’s… not there. I don’t remember anything, but a woman. We were running away from something bad, really bad. And now, this.” She said, reaching her glowing hand, deteriorating as the spoke. “I don’t think I have much time left as it stands, but, for what it’s worth, I didn’t do it.”

Cassandra sighed and told Leliana to head forward and pulled the prisoner to her feet. “We must address the Breach.”

“The Breach?” she mumbled, following the woman to the open doors. Blinding light hit her eyes and it took her a moment to adjust before she saw it. A massive swirl of green light looming in the sky above. It was beautiful and terrifying all at once. “Shit.”

“The mark on your hand might be our only way to close it.” Cassandra stated grimly, cutting off the bindings. “And if your end is as near as you suggest, we best move forward.”

Minerva gave a firm nod and trailed after the taller woman. Chaos had already rained down. Everywhere around her, soldiers were running, people screamed, and the smoky, salty scent of bodies burning assaulted her senses. The pain itself from the mark on her hand was nearly unbearable, like molten metal searing through it. “If I die… maybe you can cut it off.” she suggested morbidly as they came up on the bridge and she paused. 

“We’ll cross that bri-” the bridge exploded, leaving them alone in the aftermath. Cassandra sighed, “We’ll need to get down the embankment, come on.” 

They slogged forward through the snow and debris, Minerva spotted a bow and a  quiver half full of arrows along the way. Demons were few enough in number that the two were able to dispatch them easily enough as they made their way to meet the others. 

Coming upon a collection of people fighting as demons continued to enter from a nearby rift, Minerva aimed her bow, keeping a distance from the main action. When the final demon went down, she rushed forward to the others and Solas guided her to the rift, palm out. It pulled from somewhere inside her like a thread connected her to it so she pulled with all her strength. The rift collapsed, Minerva nearly along with it. Solas steadied the woman. “Mother fucker, that really hurt.” she hissed, looking down at her hand. 

“It seems my hypothesis was correct.” Solas said with a smile as if admiring his own work. 

Minerva shot him a glare, which was responded with a confused raise of the eyebrow, then turned her attention to the smug dwarf a couple feet away as he pulled his crossbow back, “Sailor... well I’ll be damned! You sure know how to find yourself in interesting places.”

“I could say the same to you. The Chantry, really Varric. That’s not your speed.” she grinned, throwing her arms around the shorter man. 

Solas chuckled and stepped beside the pair, “Hardly. He’s a prisoner the same as you.” 

Minerva started to eyeroll, but closed her eyes and pulled away from Varric. “Bianca is looking great. She still monogamous?”

“Mitts off, coterie.” he said goodheartedly, patting her shoulder.

“You seem to have me at a disadvantage. You two know each other...?” Cassandra asked, an irritated frown marred her face. “Ugh,” she scoffed. “We will deal with this later. Let’s go, now!”

No one disagreed.

 

Chapter Text

Hector hung on long enough to help with all the injuries in the aftermath of the charge that he could. He set bones and held off bleeding until someone qualified could take over. In the frenzy of the moment, someone had passed him a coat. He couldn’t recall when, but it gave him the much needed warmth that had kept him going so far. It got him back to Haven with a group of the injured. He’d explained the injuries to the grumpy healer in charge and hopped off, wandering to the nearest fire and collapsing beside it, stunned, cold. Alone. 

Charred faces, bodies torn asunder. Flaming rocks nearly missing him. It was as if hell itself had opened up from the sky. Perhaps it did. He closed his eyes and dared to hope for sleep.

 He sensed more than heard a presence beside him as someone took a seat on the floor next to him. He cracked one eye open to see the elven maiden he’d helped before curl in on herself. The deep bruises that had surrounded her eyes and nose were nearly gone, and her nose had nearly healed completely. Hector marveled at the wonders of healing magic and potions in this world. That would have taken weeks to heal back home. Her dark, olive skin almost glowed in the firelight, and her violet eyes were lost in the fire. 

“When you said the Conclave… I- I couldn’t…” She spoke softly.

He shook his head, staring at the fire himself, “It’s unbelievable. I didn’t, uh, are there elves or something where you come from? I… fuck. This shit’s nuts.” He stood up and paced, wringing his hands. “I mean… I don’t fucking know.” 

She simply nodded, looking from the fire back at him with soft, sad eyes. When he’d asked about elves she snorted a humorless laughter, “What? In New York? No. I’m… I wasn’t an elf before today, I gotta say it’s weird.” She looked back up at him and patted the ground beside her softly, “you look chilled. Come back to the fire.”

He stopped and looked to her, taking a moment to process. He sighed and sat down nervously. “New York. Okay.” He looked at his hands, bits of blood and dirt still clung to him from the last person he’d aided on the trip over and scooped up some snow, rubbing it between his hands. “What are we gonna do?” 

She shrugged and offered him a weak smile. “Wake up?”

He laughed weakly. “I’ve been waiting to wake up since this morning. So far no luck. It’s a mess… here.” 

She arched an eyebrow, “Yeah, a mess is an understatement. I’m Aria… by the way. Hector, was it?”

“Yeah.” he gave a sharp, somewhat jerky nod. “Nice to meet ya, Aria.” 

“Make room everyone! Make way for the Herald!” A young, elven woman cried as an unconscious woman was carried through the camp into a cottage nearby. Hector tried to get a look at the future leader of their little camp, but all he could see was a worn-out boot hanging from someone’s grasp. Aria’s eyes rolled when he looked back at her and she wrapped her arms around herself, vigorously rubbing her arms to warm up. “Guess it’s all really starting now. Whoever the Herald is. Hope it’s someone closer to the diplomatic spectrum than the angry, red side of the dialogue options,” Aria grumbled.

“I hope so. Maybe we could listen around and see what’s going on… or, well, maybe I do have some medical training. Adan’s the one treating her. I don’t know.” He took a deep breath, “This has been a lot to process.” 

“Agreed. But we really should figure out what’s going on, get an eye and ear out. You’re working with Adan, so help him treat her. I’ll look around and talk to people. The more info we can get the better. I don’t know about you, but I would like to get home as soon as possible. Maybe we’ll run into more people from our world.” She looked Hector over and smirked, “Maybe find something to wear that doesn’t scream “Texan”. You stand out around here like a sore thumb.” With that, she stood up with a grace that was very inhuman, and headed in the opposite direction of the Herald’s cottage.

After Aria set off, Hector stood and took to wander in the direction of the apothecary, but paused, turning around. There was that abandoned shack in the woods Adan mentioned. It had notes he needed for healing and possibly a change of clothes. It might have been the easiest way to get himself in the healer’s good graces. Heading down to the gates, he kept his head down and tried to be as inconspicuous as a man in cowboy get up could be in Thedas. With a brief walk there, he found what he was looking for: a change of simple clothing and the notes, picking some elfroot he saw on the way back. 

Stepping into the building, he cleared his throat and Adan turned to him, “Yes, what do you want? Can you not see I’m busy, boy.” He actually took a beat to study Hector. “Your that one that was tending to the wounded, weren’t you?”

Hector nodded, “Yessir. I, uh, came to help if I could.”

Adan huffed, “Well, you’ll have to do. Come on!” 

He followed after the man, taking the basket of supplies thrust at him. It was filled with herbs and liquids he didn’t recognise. One looked like elfroot as it appeared in the game. It seemed to be the most common ingredient in the basket, so he made certain to familiarize himself with it. Adan knelt beside the unconscious woman and shooed the rest of the onlookers out the door, mumbling something about “bloody scavengers”. 

Hector glanced over the woman as Adan felt her forehead and started to unlace her leather armor. Her light, olive skin was flushed with fever and her chocolate hair flared around her head and stuck to her face in a wild way. She was both beauty and power. Even unconscious, Hector could see that. Adan slipped her chest piece off and slipped the blanket over her chest to provide a little privacy as he undressed her. 

As Adan took to examining her, he lifted her arms, shifting them around and checking with his fingers to check for cuts and breaks. Her hands and arms were littered with cuts and scratches from battle. He called for a bottle of some red liquid and when Hector handed it to him, he saw something interesting on the arm that Adan was holding. ‘Perfer et obdura, dolor hic tibi proderit olim.’ A phrase that appeared to be Latin in origin, though he couldn’t imagine why there would be Latin in this world. 

He was quickly pulled from his musings by Adan’s voice, “Don’t just stand there, give it to me!” He snatched the bottle from his hand and took to treating the injuries grumbling. 

 

Aria meandered through the buzzing and humming of gossip around Haven; most of which centered around this great “Herald of Andraste”. She resisted rolling her eyes and scanned for someone useful, like Varric or Cullen. She spotted neither, instead laying her eyes upon a familiar, thin figure who leaned on his staff while he observed his surroundings. 

Fire blazed in her gut as she remembered her first playthrough of Dragon Age: Inquisition. She had played the very elf she appeared to be now, and she had taken a strange liking to the bald elf with his knowledge of history and the Fade. She had spoken to him until conversation had run out, and had taken every opportunity to flirt with him. Her mind flashed back to the moment her thoughts on him changed. She had been sitting in her apartment on a particularly rainy night, curled up at her desk and staring intensely at her computer screen. Tears pricked at the back of her eyes as she watched the events unfold.

“Ir abelas, Vhenan,” his silky, seductive voice said as his eyes were downcast.

“Tel abelas! If you care, give me the truth!”

It had been him! It had been him all along and she had fallen for the whole thing! His deep, british voice had lulled her into a false security and like the fool Bioware knew she’d be, she fell for it. She wanted to scream at her computer and swore off the game for weeks. She was torn between understanding his actions and wanting to stab him for his stupidity. And he stood mere meters from her now, in the flesh. She swallowed and drew a deep breath. She needed to do this. She needed to learn what she could about this version of the world if she and Hector had any chance of getting home. She stepped forward and walked up the few steps to the elvhen apostate. A small smile graced his features and he offered a small nod. “Anderan atishan.”

“Aneth ara,” she replied mechanically. She stood beside him and looked out at the world before her. It looked like the game designers had intended, and yet it didn’t. There were at least fifty more houses, and more pathways to follow. From here, she would be able to see where Varric had camped out in the game. As it was, she could see the makeshift tavern, and a handful of merchant wagons. “What do you make of this ‘herald of Andraste’?”

Solas looked up at the breach. The emerald light played on his face in a way that felt mysterious. Knowing the cause of the breach was his own magic, Aria wondered idly if there was a connection there that no one else could see. “She is necessary. Even if she is not this fabled herald, the people of Haven are in dire need of a beacon of home. She is that beacon. Whoever she is, whoever or whatever sent her, she is our solution. Everything else matters little.” He turned to face her fully, his stormy eyes roaming over her body. She felt sized up, and she barely resisted squirming under the weight of his gaze. His eyes lingered on her forehead, where the Vallaslin of Mythall was likely drawn all over her face. “Forgive me, but we have not been properly introduced. I am Solas. I am pleased to see another Elvhen here. If you find yourself mistreated, please inform me.” 

Yeah, I’ll just do that , Aria thought to herself. She pasted her best smile that she reserved only for her job back home. It was pleasant and slightly flirtatious. “Thank you, Solas. My name is Aria. I look forward to seeing how this all develops.”

He chuckled softly and looked over his shoulder. There was a cauldron bubbling over a fire he had built, “As do I. If you’ll excuse me, there are potions that need tending to. Dareth shiral.” He nodded once again and returned to his task. Aria tasted bile and turned away to allow her mask to slip. She idly brushed her fingers over her forehead, feeling the slight raise of the Vallaslin that she knew the truth of. Slave markings. Solas was probably itching to remove them upon sight. She shuddered and descended the steps, looking for something, anything, to distract her from the encounter.



By the time Hector had finished up, he’d found the chance to give Adan the notes on the potion and the elf root he’d collected. The man looked the least surely he had been since they’d met, pressing a few coins in his hand as he sent him out of the apothecary, which was a wonderful thing: Hector was absolutely starving. 

He slid onto an unoccupied bench upon entering the tavern and flashed Flissa a smile as he waited for her to finish serving the other patrons. “Can I get you anything?” she asked, looking all too exhausted herself. 

“I would absolutely love anythin’ you have to eat that’s cheap and whatever ale you got.” She gave him a quick nod and went to retrieve his food. Upon her return he said, “Yer sent from heaven, I swear it.” He handed her the coin and dug into the mystery stew before him. Flissa blushed and smiled, telling him to call her over if he needed anything, going back to her work. 

He smiled and thanked her between bites and sips of beer. The conversation in the tavern was loud and echoed around the room. Soldiers, bakers, carpenters, and the blacksmith had gathered, talking about the day’s work and whispering about the chance a Herald of Andraste was in Haven. It was pleasant, but a bit too loud for Hector. Especially after the absolutely insane events of the day. 

He quietly finished up and ducked out of the place, into the cold, hibernal air. He went off to the unoccupied cabin he found earlier. Down the steps, passed the gates and the tents for the training soldiers. He passed Aria chatting with a rather solemn looking Commander Cullen. He finally came to the abandoned house, picking some elfroot on his way. It seemed as though, with the owner dead, no one had claimed it. A couple large boxes of who knew what gathered in one room and there was cots and a few tables in the other. It could be a place for now, in the very least, and it was quietly outside of Haven.  

Hector gathered up the blankets and sheets he found, picked the closest cot, and buried himself under them fully clothed. He mused the idea of gathering wood for the woodfire oven. It would surely aid in heating the place, but for the moment, he was far too tired to even know where to begin. Exhausted down to his bones, he lay down to sleep.

 

Aria spotted Hector trudging his way out of Haven with curiosity. There was nothing in that direction except an abandoned cabin.

Oh, duh . She smirked to herself while the Commander spoke of the recruits he was training. He returned his attention back to her and she could see the stress lines and the dark smudges under his eyes that the game missed. Of course, he’d need to be pristine and beautiful to be on a Bioware game, so he wouldn’t be shown with his hair tousled and dirty in the aftermath of the events that had happened. Few could bathe properly when half the mountain had blown sky high. He shot her that half-smile that the game designers had perfected and rested his hand on the hilt of his sword.

“You know, you sort of remind me of someone. Someone…” He hesitated and looked away. His honey brown eyes darkened as he looked away, “who is no longer here.”

This puzzled Aria. As far as she knew, no one special had come into Cullen’s life before, let alone died. Perhaps there were Templars he cared about as comrades and allies in the Circle, though the back of her mind stored this information for later. Who knows what they don’t know. She knew what was going to happen, and the main events of what did happen, but Aria couldn’t possibly tell if Varric snored, or if Knight Commander Meredith liked music. Small details like this could be vital. She flashed her famous, show-smile. “Anyone I may have heard of?”

He shook his head, “Likely not,” he cleared his throat, “If you’ll excuse me, I must return my attention to the recruits. We’ll need all the fighters we can get if we want to be of any use to the Herald.” With that, he turned away. There was a wall around him that Aria hadn’t seen before. She frowned, wondering what exactly she had said wrong. Something wasn’t right here. 

With a sigh of defeat, Aria glanced at the sky. Beyond the glittering shimmer of the Breach, the sun was setting quickly. She needed to find some sort of shelter before dark. Aria imagined the mountain would be cold as death after dark. “Of course, Commander,” she said softly. She wanted to check on Hector. He may have gathered some insight on who their “Herald” might be. She made her way down the snowy hill as quickly as she could, grateful that whatever mode of travel she took to Thedas thought to change her into suitable clothing for the destination. Her boots were made of some sort of soft, yet sturdy leather the color of a buckskin hide, and her leather armor was tight enough to feel snug and secure around her, but not constricting her movement or breathing. The corset wasn’t as rigid as the ones back home that she wore to work, but it definitely kept her girls in place the way those ones did. The abandoned house came into view and she let herself in without a word. She expected Hector to be sitting at the desk munching on one of the vegetables she remembered laying around and making a salve or something, but instead she found a bundle of shivering blankets curled up on one of the two cots. Panic surged through her as her mind brought up the worse scenario. He must be exhausted and weak after all he did today, and now he’s freezing!

She knelt beside the figure in front of her and pressed the back of her hand to his cheek. Cool, but not frozen. He also didn’t seem feverish. She counted her blessings that the one person between the two of them who knew anything about medicine wasn’t ill, and set to making some sort of fire. There was a makeshift hearth nestled in the corner near the cots that would do to warm them at least enough to survive. Before her last family adopted her, Aria had lived with a family that used a wood stove for warmth. They had kept their wood in a home-made shed just outside the house, stacked and stored during the summer so there would be plenty in the cold months. She stepped outside and checked around the house for such a thing and sighed with relief when she found it. It was more of a lumber box than a shed, but it was half filled with prepared firewood that would do nicely. It wasn’t as secure from the snow as she would have liked, but a couple of rows down the wood should still be dry enough to work. She returned with a couple armloads of wood and set it beside the hearth. It was this moment she realized something.

Shit!” She hissed a little too loudly.

Hector shot up into a sitting position . Surprise and more than a little panic shot up his spine. “What the fuck!” He looked around wildly until he spotted the woman he’d helped before. What was her name? Aria.. “Oh. Hey…” His heart still pounded in his chest, the shot of adrenaline rendered him quite awake. “What are you doing… here?”

She snorted and shot him an incredulous look. “Trying to help, but I’m a bit at a loss. Where we come from there’s this magical item called matches! Here… I don’t know, magic or a flint and steel?”

Hector sighed, pulling himself out of the warm blankets. “There’s probably that stuff around here somewhere. I can do it if we find it.” He went over to the desk, feeling around for the implements. “Used to camp with some weirdies in high school that liked the old school way of doin’ things. Can’t be that hard.”

 Aria looked around at the all-but barren building. “Well I remember there being a storage room in this building in the game. Let’s look around. Moving might do your freezing ass some good anyway. Come on,” she gave him a soft, half-hearted shrug for good measure, and got to her feet.

He raised a brow, but followed her. “One of us could always run over to the soldier’s tents and steal some of their fire, get some Prometheus action up in here.” Looking around the dimly lit room, there was plenty of opened and unopened boxes around the storage area. He went to one with the lid off, digging through to find mostly medical devices. 

“I’d like to keep my liver in my body, thank you,” she mumbled without much mind, digging through chests. She found dried herbs, empty bottles, and some foul smelling food stores that had obviously been forgotten. “I’m not finding anything. You?”

“Just bottles and other crap. The guy might have taken it with him.” he sighed, for what felt like the hundredth time. “I can go see if I can borrow some or something, I guess. You know, walking out there… in the cold… and snow… and cold. It’ll be great.” 

Aria shot him an “are you kidding me” look. “Fine, I’ll go, you big baby. But after that, we’re even. You saved my ass, but now I’ve officially helped you and listened to your whining.” She turned to go, stopping when she heard him speak.

“I had blankets.” he offered weakly. “I’d have been fine.”

Feeling suddenly self conscious, Aria shrugged one shoulder. “Didn’t look like it from my angle. Sorry. I’ll… leave you to it, then. I’ll be at camp. Take care of yourself.” Feeling suddenly sick with nerves, she hurried out the door and made her way back to Haven. The chill of the mountains and the wind that had picked up sunk through her armor and into her skin. The “Herald” wouldn’t be waking up for another couple of days, if the game was accurate on time, so there wasn’t much else to do for either of them but survive in the meantime. She ducked her head and snuck past the soldiers who were winding down their training and made her way up the steps past the gate. Now thoroughly shivering and out of options, Aria looked around for any kind of familiar face, or an open seat at a fire that hasn’t yet been put out.

“You appear lost, and more than a little cold,” a voice like an angel that had fallen, but could still charm your soul spoke from behind her. Aria closed her eyes and slowly counted to five before turning slowly around. Her arms were hugging her body, and she debated relaxing them to her side but the idea of losing even the bit of warmth she had was too unpleasant to entertain. “I’m both, I”m af-fraid,” Great, now I’m shivering. Damn Texan!

Solas’s smile wasn’t unkind. If Aria didn’t know the things she did about him, he might have seemed pleasant and soft. Perhaps he was, at one point. “I’ve been offered a small accommodations here in Haven. There is a hearth and a rather pleasant stew within, you are welcome to join me.”

The invitation shocked her into silence for a moment. Her already large elvhen eyes were likely comically wide. Solas waited patiently while she wrestled with her thoughts. On the one hand, what other option did she have? She could brave the cold outside but without context, that would seem like insanity to any onlookers. Whatever her feelings for this man, she couldn’t afford to turn him down. “Thank you… I’m grateful.”

He nodded once and gestured towards the steps where Solas could be found in Haven during the game. Aria followed him inside one of the smaller houses available, questioning her judgement. All doubts melted away once the warmth hit her as the door opened. A small, soft moan escaped her lips and she darted for the fire.

Solas entered as well and closed the door. He propped his staff against the wall and set to serving the stew. Aria hadn’t even noticed the warm, savory aroma that had wafted from the fire, and her stomach immediately rumbled. She bit her tongue at the embarrassment, hoping Solas hadn’t heard.

He offered her an earthen bowl and some sort of wooden spoon, and leaned against the wall himself, gazing into the fire. Aria dove into the meal despite the heat, burning her throat and tongue as it went down. She didn’t care. She hadn’t eaten in longer than she knew, and the stew was heaven! When she finished, she glanced up at her host, who was still lost in his own thoughts. 

I must destroy the world for the good of long dead elves, because these new ones suck. Why do they suck, you wonder? They think I’m the literal Devil and don’t live forever that’s why, so fuck everyone else that exists here! She mocked his voice in her head, chewing on her lip as she stewed. She could never forgive him as a character for what he was planning to do. As a real, living, breathing person, she felt even more betrayed. 

“There is a cot available in that back room,” Solas pointed towards the back end of the house. Aria glanced and saw only a door, an armoire against the wall, and a small desk pushed into the corner. “It should be suitable for the night.”

Fear froze her in place. One cot. She cleared her throat and slowly stood up away from the fire, dusting her leather leggings and flashing Solas a smile that likely showed her discomfort. “Thank you, but I..” She struggled wording her concerns. A flash of realization crossed Solas’s grey eyes and he shook his head, holding his hands up.

“Oh, do not worry lethalan.” He retrieved a bundle of furs from the chest behind him and dropped them on the floor near the fire with an almost smug smirk on his face. “I have grown accustomed to less… luxurious sleeping arrangements. I will remain here, you have my word.”

Aria swallowed and looked away sheepishly. Of course he wasn’t insinuating that ! He “wouldn’t lay with you under false pretenses”. “Apologies… I shouldn’t have…”

He laughed, a small thing that rumbled in his throat. “No apologies necessary. Sleep well.”



Chapter Text

Minerva woke to an elf woman dropping crates to the floor of the well furnished room. “Oh, my. You’re awake! I’m so sorry.” the woman bowed her head, all together terrified. 

Minerva shook her head, sliding to a sitting position with her feet on the floor “It’s alright doll. How long was I down for?” she asked as kindly as she could.

“Th-three days. Lady Cassandra said you must speak to her in the chantry. At once she said! At once!” The woman was gone before Minerva could think to utter a replay, the poor thing.

She shook her head and pushed herself up to a standing position, wobbly from the days in bed. “Here goes nothing.” Wandering across the room, Minerva popped open a trunk and dug out armor, new, sweet sweet armor. She slipped out of the odd pajamas they’d put her in and slipped into it. She’d have to thank or maybe punch whoever took her measurements, but they fit like a dream. A black jacket with buckles and a tail made from a sumptuous leather that matched the white blouse with delicately embroidered diamonds throughout, buttery gray breeches, and knee high black boots. She didn’t dare recall the last time she’d received anything so nice.

With a wink to the messenger crow they’d left her, “Looks good, eh?” Then she took her first steps out the door into Haven. Crowds had gathered, all whispering about heralds and the Maker. She held her head high and made her way past them, trying to pay the gawkers little mind. It was unnerving just the same. That many eyes had never been on her all at once before and they, even more disturbingly, were revenant about it. 

She made her way to the Chantry and shoved the door open, the screeches of Chancellor Rodrick were echoing the walls. “I want her chained. She should be brought for trial!” Followed by other harsh demands. 

Taking a deep breath, she opened the door to the sight of guards, Rodrick, and the founders of the Inquisition. “You guys know there’s like a bunch of people outside talking about some Herald of Andraste? Weird.” she asked, innocently pointing her thumb over her shoulder in the direction of the rest of Haven.

“Arrest her!” Rodrick ordered the armed guards. “She is to be brought to Val Royeaux for trial!”

“Enough Chancellor. Leave us.” Cassandra said firmly and the guards obliged. 

“This is ridiculous.” the angry man scoffed. “Outrageous!” 

“Eat a bag of dicks, Chancellor.” She said, pointing a wagging index finger in the man’s face, then turning her back to him to face the others while still speaking to him. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there’s still a big ass fucking hole in the sky and last I checked, I’m the only one that did a damn thing to it. So how bout you skedaddle or else I make you. Your choice” Minerva smiled menacingly, turning to approach the man at a leisurely pace until he slowly backed out the door, promptly slamming it behind him. “So. Hi. I was told you wanted me?” 

“Uh, yes.” Cassandra said, not sure about the previous interaction, placing the book with the insignia of the Inquisition on the table. 

“Your mark, as you aptly put is the only hope we have for closing the Breach. We intend to reinstate the Inquisition of old to gather resources and allies so we might stand a chance.” Leliana said, entirely unfazed by the exchange and focused on the much more important matter at hand.

“And you want my help?” Minerva asked with an incredulous smirk, shooting Cullen a knowing glance he didn’t return. “A coterie thug.”

“We do not know why the Maker put you in our path, and I do not know what I believe. What I do know is that you helped even in irons. And if this is the Makers plan, then we would be fools to refuse or prosecute you. So, yes. Will you help us? Will you be the first to join the Inquisition?” She held out a hand.

Minerva took it, giving a firm shake. “World’s gone to shit. It would be stupid not to.”

“Wonderful.” Leliana smiled. “I’ll send the ravens. Commander Cullen, make it known to the people of Haven.”

The blond man gave a curt nod, taking a scroll under his arm and heading out the door, passed a dithering Chancellor Rodrick, “accidentally” shoving past him on his way out. 

“This is gonna be great.” Minerva smiled. “Let me know when you’ve got a plan. I’ll be around.” Then with a nod, she followed in the direction Cullen took, wanting to see the spectacle as the small settlement heard the news. 

 

Hector woke from a nightmare soaked in sweat. The images of demons and death burned into the back of his eyelids with a ferocity that was difficult to shake and left him feeling like he’d barely slept at all. He begrudgingly dragged himself up, out from under the blankets and picked up a tomato that had been left by the man that had formerly owned his lodgings. It was fresh enough to eat at least, and he scared it down. He hadn’t a change of clothing outside of the ones he’d been wearing when he was dropped in the place so he kept the loose blouse top and breeches on, sliding his borrowed coat over top. It’d have to do. 

He’d meant to seek out Aria and apologize for the other night. She’d was trying to help and in his exhausted, grumpy state he’d behaved unacceptably, then too busy in the days following for Adan to so much as find her. But as he approached Haven, he’d known something had happened. The enlivened sounds of the people there reached down to the barracks near the gate. Something was up in the sleepy little place and he had an inkling as to what. 

The Herald had risen. 

He still didn’t know what kind of person this Herald was. As far as he could tell from Adan, she wasn’t a noble woman. No Trevelyan or anyone of the sort. In fact, she seemed to be in some sort of faction in Kirkwall; not anyone meant to be at the conclave or the Herald at all. Things had gone off script right out of the gate. 

He’d wandered up the steps and found himself lost in the throngs of people. Merchants, townsfolk, soldiers, men and elves alike were alive with gossip and conversation. He tried to listen in on any information that people may have that could have on this mystery woman. Unfortunately, after the third person to exclaim she slipped out of the Fade and was sent by Andraste or the Maker, he decided that no one knew the woman as she was before. With an irritated sigh, he gradually made his way through the groups of people toward the Chantry. He spotted Aria standing with a group of Elves, likely Dalish based on their vallaslin, and stopped long enough to catch her eyes and give a nod of acknowledgement. Her face morphed into something one would see after eating a fermented grape, but a rather practiced smile graced her features after and she nodded back. This surprised him for a moment, but there were higher priorities for both of them right now. He worked his way closer to the Chantry, keeping his eyes low for a specific Dwarf, if he could find him. If anyone had the proper information about the goings on around here, it would be him.

Or he could just completely tell some made up story filled with over the top embellishments, he mused.

 Nearby, a rather obnoxious, weasel of a man was crying out about the utter audacity of Cassandra and Leliana for letting that “unholy, guilty woman” walk free when she should be clapped in irons. Cullen stood nearby, rubbing his head like the Chancellor was giving him a headache. Hector didn’t envy his position. Cassandra and Leliana were discussing something with a nearby group of Templars. Cassandra’s face was grim, as if she were receiving bad news. Leliana’s was the definition of neutral. As a practiced Spymaster, it didn’t surprise Hector that she would have such a look down. It kind of reminded him of Aria’s smile earlier.

Then he spotted her, the Herald of Andraste. Or, more accurately, the woman who happened to be there when Corypheus was threatening the Divine. She leaned against the Chantry with her arms crossed, surveying her surroundings with a mildly amused, yet hard face. There was something in her dark chocolate eyes that said she was the woman who would give you the shirt off her back with some sort of smart ass remark about it, but also use that same shirt to hogtie you in some prank after. Regardless of who she was, however, she was still the leader here, whether everyone else, including her, knew it yet or not. His mouth suddenly felt very dry, and his limbs stiff. He needed to speak to her; get a sense of who she might be. However his body felt frozen in place. A firm clap on his shoulder sent a spark of panic through him and he spun around. The no-nonsense, gruff look of Adan now stood before him. 

“Some survivor stragglers just came in. Need you to help get them back on their feet. Come on, boy.”

Almost relieved by the interruption, Hector looked back at the strange woman who stood at the Chantry before he was rushed by Adan to tend to the injured once again. He’ll have his chance, it was just not today.

 

Aria watched as Hector waded through the crowd of joyous people toward the Chantry. She smirked inwardly while keeping her face neutral. Good luck with that, the woman is positively crazy . She hadn’t met her in person, yet, but she heard enough of her speech to know she’s definitely not what you’d expect of the future Inquisitor. She flew out of the Chantry that morning like she owned the place and watched as Cullen rallied all of Haven to join the Inquisition and their fight to close the breach. She smirked from her spot near the door, but there was tension written all over her lightly tanned face. She was enjoying something, but it certainly wasn’t the attention. Chancellor Roderick had approached her with his whiny voice and his red faced anger as he screamed accusations towards her. Cassandra had moved to intervene, but she was stopped dead in her tracks when the woman spoke.

“Listen, little man. I get that you want to grab for power when the getting is good.” She said, placing a hand on his shoulder. “But as far as anyone here’s concerned? You’re more likely the culprit of the explosion than me. I’ve only tried to help.” she said a little louder than necessary for the sake of the crowd. “When I attempted to seal the Breach, it nearly killed me. Why get in the way?” She then lowered her voice and pulled him in. “You are nothing but a problem. We have enough to deal with. Don’t tempt me to do some creative problem solving. K?” 

Were it not for her new elf ears, Aria might not have caught the last part from this distance and with all the commotion. This alone wasn’t what had given Aria pause. When a Templar shoved a mage apostate to the ground however, the mystery woman’s language became just a bit more colorful.

“Hey, fuck head. Maybe don’t.” She said stepping up to the commotion. “Mages wouldn’t be in this mess if Templars weren’t causing institutionalized oppression. We are the same here, far as I’m concerned. Cullen you’re commander, eh? Should I have a chat?”

The sight had silenced the chatter for a moment before it erupted anew. Mage sympathizers were a buzz with excitement, while Templars and Andrastians who take their beliefs as far were angry. Cassandra and Leliana were both pale. Cullen was red with either embarrassment or anger, Aria couldn’t tell. She just knew the moment Josephine heard about this her ears would steam like a kettle. Regardless, the woman didn’t back down until the Templar left. The apostate stood from the ground and scurried away into the crowd to avoid any more unneeded attention. One of the elves Aria had been talking to shook her head.

“Does she realize what she did?” Aria didn’t recall her name, but she was a pretty, pale girl with dark hair. Her big eyes reminded her of Oriana from the second game. She looked back to the rest of the group with worried eyes. “We can’t be divided right now. If anyone could mend what Kirkwall broke, it’s her.”

Aria agreed silently. She knew the Inquisitor was the only one now who could fix Anders’s mess, but there was something about this woman she wasn’t certain of. Something was not right about her. She’s no noble woman, that was for sure. She wasn’t a mage as far as she could tell, either. No staff, no strange aura she’d noticed from Solas, no robes. There were some whispers of Kirkwall thug, but the only dwarf who could confirm this was M.I.A. as far as she could tell. She needed more information, but based on Cassandra’s armor and travel pack, the original trio party members and their Herald were about to leave for warmer scenery. 

Waking up that first night bunking with Solas had been interesting for Aria. At first, she’d forgotten where she was. A blissful few seconds before reality… oh what an ironic word, had hit her. True to his word, Solas hadn’t slept near her. She hadn’t seen him in his little nest of furs when she’d slipped out of the little room either. The fire was still blazing strongly, like it had been tended to recently. She worried about the lack of attention to such a flame in a wooden house, though. She checked for Solas’s staff, but didn’t spot it. He was gone. She poked her head out the door, and that was when the strangeness really started. 

No one was there. 

Aria frowned and stepped out, forgetting the fire for a moment. The buildings all remained, and the fires from the previous night still littered the ground. The market stalls were stocked high with goods but there wasn’t a soul to tend to them. Not even a dog bark was heard. Aria’s chest tensed in panic. When and where had the villagers gone?

Meandering around in only her undershirt and tights, Aria should have been cold. She should have noticed she wasn’t. She also should have noticed the way the air around her moved the way something does when looking at it over a flame. But she didn’t.

She slipped out the gate, hoping to find Cullen training his recruits or Harritt hammering away at some armor or weapon someone had ordered. Once again, she was graced with silence and emptiness. As she looked farther, closer to the Breach, she spotted a figure standing alone. 

“Hello?” She called out, hurrying to get closer to whomever was there. “Where is everyone? What happened?” As she ran, she could see that it was Solas who was standing alone. Her first instinct was to stop. There was a pang in her chest that screamed stop! But she fought past it and stood at his side. She wasn’t winded or tired from the run, which should have surprised her. “Solas? What’s going on?” She did a quick three sixty, “everyone… the merchants, the soldiers…”

“Are sleeping, I suspect.” He spoke calmly, if not with a little surprise in his voice. Aria turned back to him with an arched brow. He looked back up at the breach with a solemn expression. “Do you realize where you are?”

“Haven?” She couldn’t hide the sarcasm and irritation in her voice. Now wasn’t the time for his Solas behavior. “What do you mean everyone’s sleeping? They’re gone! They’re-” She stopped dead in her tracks when she finally saw it. Looming in the sky was a black silhouette of a city. It looked like something from a cartoon, or a video game. The Black City.

“This… we’re in the Fade.” Her voice shifted from irritation to awe. She could suddenly see the green hue to the air around her. She could feel the shifting of the energy around her. Solas’s smile almost beamed with excitement.

“Correct. If you’d like to discuss it further, we shall after we wake.” He barely finished speaking when Aria’s eyes opened again.

She shook her head and returned to the present. The last thing she had wanted to do was speak to Solas about her little trip to the dream world. Luckily, he did most of the talking. Almost everything he had to say, she knew already from playing the game. She only needed to nod and use simple words that kept him going while she enjoyed some bland porridge. Eventually, duty called him away and she was free to return to her original job. Unfortunately, she hadn’t had any luck learning about the world state they had found themselves in. She also didn’t feel like speaking to Hector after he made it clear he didn’t want her around that night. She felt lost in a world she literally didn’t belong in. 

She finally spotted Varric, that was the good news. Unfortunately, she did so as he, Solas, Cassandra and the Herald made their way out the gate of Haven. Aria yearned to go with them. The Hinterlands may still be cold, but they can’t be as bad as this place. She sighed. There wasn’t much more she could do standing out here, so she slipped into the tavern. Maryden was strumming her lute and singing Once We Were with her soft, yet carrying voice. Aria used to listen to the tavern songs of Inquisition while she sat around at home. She loved the simple sound of Maryden’s voice and her lute. The woman had a talent she couldn’t deny. No wonder Krem and Cole liked her. She smiled at the idea of those two, almost excited at the possibility of meeting them in person. She sat in a corner booth near the back, leaning against the window. Flissa had offered her a cup of “tea” that was very much not tea so much as boiled pine leaves. Regardless, it was hot and it warmed her so she sipped on it. With the commotion outside, there were few people crowding the tavern today. Aria let her mind wander until she heard someone slide onto the seat across from her. She lifted her head and her stomach dropped. Hector in front of her with a charming smile on his handsome, ruddy, tanned face.

“He-eeyyy, there,” he said nervously, biting his lip for a moment before continuing. “I wanted to apologize. You were bein’ nice and I was bein’ a downright shit. I appreciate what ya did and I’m sorry.” Flissa spotted Hector and came over, he asked for a meal and a drink then gave her a little smile, “Thank ya, darlin.”

 Aria rolled her eyes at the display. She sipped on her “tea” and swirled it in her mouth to buy herself some time before responding. His attention returned to her when Flissa sauntered off with flushed cheeks and a grin that schoolgirls would have when the senior boy waved at them. “You have a fan,” she said without looking directly at him. “And don’t worry about it. I’ve been through worse.” She looked out the frosted window again, thinking of her family again with a pang in her chest. She’d grown used to people throwing her out. Why would a complete stranger be any different. 

“No, you wanted to stay there and I was too hung up on the death and…” he let a huff of air out his nose. “It was a bad day. I wasn’t really thinking.”

Aria’s trademark, Scarlet smile appeared on her face habitually, “I was being pushy. Don’t worry about it, really,” Drop it, we don’t need the theatrics , “on to more important topics anyway. I’m not sure what’s going on with this Herald, but she’s definitely not one of the default options.” She lowered her voice, despite the sparsely populated building, “She doesn’t fit the game.”

“No…” he paused, wanting to press the previous topic, but could read the writing on the wall. “She’s apparently coterie. I can’t say I’m familiar that much, but there was something else weird that I saw, though I’m hesitant to say. She has a tattoo up her arm. It’s in Latin, I think. Is that something they speak here? Far as anyone things I’m Antivan so it’s hard ta say.”

It took Aria longer than she wanted to admit to understand what he meant. Antivan? She realized he was talking about his accent. Orlais and French, Antivan and Spanish, Fereldan and English. She chewed on her fingers while she thought. As far as she knew, there wasn’t any form of Latin in Thedas. “I have to admit. I didn’t exactly read the codex pages I found lying around. There could be Chinese around here and I wouldn’t know it. Definitely something to keep an eye on though. Any idea when the group is getting back to Haven? After the trip to Val Royeux, shit’s gonna hit the fan.”

“Nah, I would suspect some weeks, at least. It sounds like the… Hinterlands are far from here. And they’ll be back before goin’ off again.” Flissa brought his food over with a drink and he shot her a smile, “Let me know if you need help, you hear. I was the best bartender in Antiva. I could sure lend a hand.” 

“Oh, I think I have it covered.” Flissa said graciously. “But I’ll keep it in mind.”

Aria clenched her jaw to prevent it from dropping as she watched the display in front of her. When Flissa left she let her disapproval show. “I doubt her small clothes need tending.”

“Pardon?” he paused to consider the connotations, his eyebrow raised. “She’s doing all this by herself and I at least worked in the restaurant industry. I’ll admit we can be a rowdy bunch, us restaurant folks, but I wouldn’t lest’ she wanted that kinda thing and wasn’t offering.” 

Aria downed the rest of her bitter drink and slid from her seat. She wasn’t sure she believed his innocent little ‘I’m just trying to be helpful’ story, but he did have a point. Flissa was a lone bee working a whole hive. She tapped the young woman on the shoulder and she turned with a raised eyebrow. 

“I’ve worked a job like this before. I may not look it, but I can handle some drunk men. Need some real assistance, I’d love to help. Don’t worry though,” she leaned in to Flissa’s ear, “he’s all yours.”

She giggled.

 

After setting up camp on their first night out, Varric and Minerva sat on a log where they’d set up by the fire. “How on earth did you end up here, Sailor. I thought you had a good thing going in Kirkwall,” he smirked, “good as Kirkwall can get, anyway.”

Minerva shrugged, pulling a flask out of her coat and taking a swing before passing it to him. “Things happen and you can’t just stand by. That’s why you’re here, isn’t it.”

Varric gave a gravelly chuckle taking a sip. “I didn’t ask to join, but this shit is crazy. Too good of a story to pass up, at least, but I’m not the hero. You know this doesn’t end well for heros. Look at Hawke.”

“I don’t expect to survive in one piece, if that’s what you’re implying. Might not survive at all, but, hey, haven’t you heard? The Maker moves in mysterious ways.” Minerva smiled to the man she’d known for so long weakly. “It’s worth it, I think and at least we’ll have fun along the way.”

“I’ll give you that. You had half of Haven pissing themselves this morning with the commotion. I can’t wait to see what the rest of the world thinks.” he said, a calculating smile on his face, as he passed the flask back to her. There was a hint of concern in his voice.

“They’ll think I’m Maker-sent and if that’s what it takes to change this stupid place, I can deal with a fancy title.”

He threw his head back with a throaty laugh and mimed a tipping of his nonexistent hat, “I’ll drink to that!”

Cassandra stopped and held her hand up for silence. “Did you hear that?”

Solas closed his eyes in concentration and Varric readied Bianca. At first, no one heard anything. After a handful of agonizingly slow minutes, Minerva heard it. Distant shouting, and the clash of swords.

Varric sighed, “Like old times huh,” and readied his crossbow.

Minerva smiled, “Never gets old. Let’s go see what the fuss is about.”

Hidden in the foliage a mere handful of yards east of the armed group, a figure hunched down, lurking in wait. 

Chapter Text

The fighting broke out before they’d even made down the steep path to the Crossroads. Templars, mercs, and mages all were clashing while the people seeking refuge in the area were all sent scrambling for shelter. Cassandra rushed in, shouting to the Templars to stop, but her pleas fell on deaf ears. 

Gritting her teeth, Minerva pulled her bow, taking aim and nailing a mage in the throat. “I don’t think anyone’s listening!” 

“That theory appears correct,” Solas growled as a Templar struck his staff before he froze him solid. An angered apostate aimed a spell at Minerva from a few feet away, but Cassandra’s shield blocked it before the blow hit. She and the Seeker stood back to back, while Varric and Solas attacked from a distance. 

“It seems we can only solve this with more violence,” Cassandra said as Minerva’s arrow hit a templar in the eye.

“Well, let’s get it over quickly before anyone gets caught in the crossfire.” 

“Agreed.”

They fought off mages and Templars alike, rescuing innocents who’s witts weren’t enough to stay back. Minerva’s attention was directed at a little girl who had stumbled onto the road in her haste to leave; right in front of a Templar that was ready to charge. She aimed her arrow, her focus solely on the target in front of her. Another Templar was coming at her from Cassandra’s blind spot, readying his weapon for the kill.

A loud crack was heard behind her as Minerva took out the rampaging Templar, saving the young girl as she scurried off to safety. She spun around, dagger ready at her attacker’s throat. She had expected another apostate or Templar, but she found her blade dug into some kind of polished fighting stick that was little more than a broom handle. Behind it, a smirking woman with striking, green eyes stood in leather armor. An unconscious Templar lay at her feet.

“Thanks, doll.” Minerva smiled, finishing the man off with a dagger to the throat. 

“Pleasure’s all mine,” she replied with a voice that sounded like Christmas bells. She yanked her blade from the ground it had dug into and spun around. Her long, black curls tickled Minerva’s neck from the motion. “Shall we?”

“Lets.” Mineva gave a sharp nod and returned to the matters at hand, taking out another one of the mage mercenaries, then going for a templar with a dagger blow. The mystery woman used her stick weapon like a dance, gracefully twirling and spinning with it while she wove between enemies and took them down with apparent ease. Minerva was impressed. The Inquisition might find a use for such talents.  

After the battle was over, Templars and Apostates littered the streets of the Crossroads, and the five of them stood winded, but mostly uninjured. Any blow they took was easily healed by Solas’s soothing magic. Minerva forced a friendly smile and thanked the elf. “You’re a peach.”

“We are all grateful, I am sure,” Cassandra said, storming towards Minerva and the strange woman while Solas nodded in acknowledgment. She stopped when she was nearly toe to toe with the stranger, “but I want to know who you are.”

“Oh calm down, Seeker. She helped us, leave it at that. Don’t look a gift stick dancer in the mouth.” Varric produced a rag from within his coat and polished off Bianca before returning her to the holster on his back. Cassandra shot him a look that could curdle milk and returned her attention to the matter at hand. “Well?”

“We’re hurting for help, Lady Cassandra. What’s more she saved my ass. Now’s not the time to get picky.” Minerva said firmly. “You looking for a job, doll?”

Unphased, the woman flashed a charming smile that would make Anders jealous, “No, I understand your concern… Seeker, was it? But I assure you, I’m a friend. I knew Leliana when she traveled with the Warden. Just tell her, ‘The Arishok’s friend has returned’ and she’ll vouch for me, I’m sure. As for the help, I’m afraid this is all I have to spare at the moment. I have my own quests to complete here. In a way, I am helping, believe it or not.” She turned her attention to Minerva. There was a calculating look in her bright eyes. Her pale skin shone with sweat, and the band of cloth around her forehead was damn. She looked Minerva up and down before settling on her eyes. 

Minerva smiled and cocked her head at the woman’s visual assessment of her, “See something you like?”

She threw her head back in laughter while Cassandra scoffed. Before she could reply, Varric jumped in with his hands on his hips like a disapproving mother.

“You know the Arishok huh? Well boy do I have words-”

She shook her head and quickly corrected him, “The new Arishok. He was just a Sten when the Arishok you know ran off to Kirkwall, making a mess of things. I’m no threat, don’t worry. Anyway, I must be going. You’ll see me again, when you really need me. For now, the woman you’re looking for is that way,” she gestured up a nearby hill where a medical tent had been pitched. “And Dennet’s farm is in the opposite direction. Good luck.” She turned in the direction of Redcliff and sprinted off. Solas frowned and looked at his small group.

“Should we not question her further?”

“You’re call, kids.” Minerva said with a shrug, striding off in the direction of the Mother with a wave. “I’ve got stuff to do.” 

Varric laughed, “Kids! Nice. I say leave her be. The Herald’s right, we came here for a reason.”

Cassandra was already scratching down a message to send to Leliana, but dropped the issue for now.

 

Word that the Herald was returning from the Hinterlands had reached Haven. Rumor was they’d spent a good deal of time galavanting across the area, getting the horses and Master Dennet, taking down the faction strongholds, and helping anyone they found along the way. They were returning with a number of Inquisition agents in their pockets as well. 

Haven itself was abuzz with the news. A raven had been sent that they were to return by nightfall. Hector, after finishing up the day’s work mixing up salves and potions for Adan, went down to the gates to watch the return with the rest of the crowd. 

Cassandra led the procession in, stomping her way up to the Chantry, surely to report what had occurred in their travels. Varric and Solas followed after, going their separate ways; Solas to his lodgings, and Varric to his tent and campfire, all looking weary and in need of rest. Minerva followed in a few paces behind, glancing at the crowds as she turned towards the path that led to the tavern, but paused, standing still for a moment, then turning around. She was looking at him. More aptly, looking at his shoes. “You-” she said, coming forward and grabbing him by the wrist, dragging him the short walk to her cabin. She shoved him through the door and shut it behind her. 

Hector’s heartbeat pounded in his ears, what was happening?

“What’s a guy like you doing here in those…?” she pointed down. “Cowboy boots.” she said flatly.

“I, uh, whhhat do you mean?” he stuttered.

“That accent too. American, maybe Texan?” she asked and his eyes widened in surprise. His brain nearly short circuited trying to find the words to say. “Oh, come on. I’ve been all over Thedas for the last six years and I’ve never seen anything like them.” she said, digging through a drawer and pulling out a bottle of something and pouring two glasses, putting one in his hand. “Drink. The stunned silence makes me think you need it. Lord knows I do. Tell me your name, at least.”

“Hector…. You’re not from here?” he asked dumbly. 

She laughed a bit shrilly and took a healthy drink, plopping on the bed. “Fuck no. I’m from Michigan originally. Flint, thus the Minerva Flint. Zombieland rules, woo!”

He gave a weak, forced chuckle at the display, unsure of what to say. “So you know what all is about to happen.”

“It’s the fucking reason I went and picked up that damn elf ball. Save the world, make it so mages aren’t locked up like criminals… fuck up Solas before he’s a problem.” she said the last part with venom. “If I’m not getting home, I’d at least like to make this place a little more tolerable.”  She shook her head and took another drink looking back to him. “Have you met anyone else like us?” 

“Uhhhh….” He didn’t know what to say. Aria was pretty cold to begin with and might not take kindly to being exposed. On the other hand, the Herald could probably kill him before he knew what happened. 

“You do. Who? Are they here?” Minerva asked excitedly, hopping off the bed and drawing close. 

“There’s an elf woman at the bar… She’s from--” his words were cut off by Minerva grabbing him by the wrist once again and dragging him out, bottle of, what he now knew to be rum tucked under her arm with the glass still in hand. “You’ll have to point her out to me. Three of us in one place. This shit’s so weird! Like, holy fucking shit, yo!”

Aria was going to kill him.

 

Aria scrubbed at one of the grimier tables with a vigor she probably didn’t need to use. The apron around her waist was both soaked and filthy, but she needed to throw herself into a project of some kind. Flissa had asked her multiple times if she needed a break today, but she refused each time. She couldn’t dwell. Not on her family, not on Hector and his odd behavior, and not the literally impossible situation she found herself in. She needed to work. If that meant wearing some tavern girl dress and scrubbing ale from a wooden table, then so be it.

The door suddenly flew open and everyone in the tavern gasped collectively. Aria, still scrubbing, glanced up through the stray hairs in her face. She frowned when she saw Hector, looking more than a little guilty, standing hand in hand with the Herald. Her stomach twisted. What has that boy done?

The Herald’s brown eyes raked over the tavern until they settled on her. She leaned in to Hector’s ear a moment and he nodded stiffly. Aria straightened up and pasted her smile. She tossed back to Flissa, “I’ll be taking that break now.”

“Oh go on! You’ve worked enough for today! I’ve got it from here!”

She smiled at the woman and walked past the two outside the door. Neither said a word to her, but the Herald motioned for her to follow them back to her cabin. She tried to make eye contact with Hector, but he kept his eyes trained on his worn cowboy boots. Something wasn’t right. Had the Herald threatened him? Her fingers brushed over the blade she kept on her hip, hidden discreetly under the folds of her apron. She couldn’t kill this woman, but she would make her point known. No one was to harm Hector, or herself. Not if she had anything to say about it. 

Upon entering the warmth of the cabin, the Herald shoved the bolt of the door shut and spun around with a radiant smile that stretched at the scars on her face. Aria arched a brow and waited. 

“An elf from earth, pretty fucking cool! Never heard that one!” she smiled and laughed excitedly. Aria frowned with confusion at this clearly insane woman. Elves don’t live on… she blinked and looked to Hector, who looked green, and then back to this strange woman.

Then it hit her.

“You… you’re from our world?”

“Yuuup. Minerva Meggyesfalvi at your service.” she held out a hand. 

Aria’s knees felt weak with relief and she shook Minerva’s hand with more vigor than she should have. Luckily, the woman was strong, “A-aria Glenn! My God! I’m so glad there’s another! And the Herald! You, my friend, are either super lucky or super unlucky .” She looked at Hector, who seemed shocked and unsure of what to do with himself. “What’s wrong? You made it look like we were walking into danger!”

“I… didn’t want you to be mad at me again. And I’m processing… this,” he said, finishing off his glass to soothe his nerves. 

Aria wasn’t sure how to respond to that. Had she really affected him that much? She’s a perfect stranger, why should he care if she wasn’t happy with him? She decided not to push the issue for now, and returned her eyes to Minerva.

Minerva was all smiles, topping off the drink and pouring one for Aria. “No luck at all, really. Well, maybe a little getting there in time, but I don’t remember to tell you different.” 

Aria’s fingers went cold around her glass and she stared wide-eyes at this woman, who was prattling on while topping off Hector’s glass and fetching her own. Her hand shook a little and she peered at her wavering reflection in the glass. “You… how long have you been here?”

“Six years there about. Woke up in Kirkwall, of all places. You?” 

Hector looked in the liquid of his glass and spoke, swirling it around. “Just before the explosion at the Conclave. I found Aria up by the impact point shortly after it.

“Well, shit.” Minerva raised her brows, sitting on an armchair with her legs over the arm. “So you just got plopped here in the middle of all this? Tough luck there.” 

Aria swallowed and held her own gaze. Six years . Minerva had been here that long and still found no way out. Was there one? Were they stuck here in this world that was not their own? “So there’s no way back?”

Minerva shot her a sympathetic look, “Oh, honey. I wouldn’t count on it. I mean, maybe once the Black Emporium offers me admittance… but even then the chances are really slim.”

That got Aria’s attention, “What? How would you get into the Black Emporium? The keeper is… well you’ve seen him!”

“Inquisitor gets sent an invite. Xenon tends to send them to people with the money and connections to be a useful contact for him. It’ll probably be coming sooner or later.” She shrugged.

“What is that?” Hector asked, confused. 

Both women gawked at him in shock.

“What…? I’m not exactly up on game lore.” he stared back.

Aria shook her head, “It’s not lore, it’s a black market for rare, usually magical items. If you wanna change your Inquisitor character, you go to some creepy mirror there. If there’s anyone who would have a way home, I suppose it would be Xenon.” She smirked, “I vote we not warn him, let him see the man for the first time in person.”

Minerva shrugged, “Sure. Whatever. That mirror you mentioned doesn’t just change your MC. It changes how everyone in your life even remembered you, alters life experiences, your ancestors. That’s the type of dude we’d be dealing with.”

Aria resisted rolling her eyes. Now wasn’t the time to show off game knowledge that didn’t matter. She doubted this mirror did half of that in this world, it was more of a way to alter things for the player. “Anyway, what’s your plan? Since you don’t seem gung ho on getting back.”

“Well, saving the world’s a big part of it. I’m aware someone else could have done that and likely would have had I not mettled, but the issue is how the world changes. God forbid Vivianne ends up as the Divine or mages are left to fend for themselves. Then there’s the Solas problem.”

Aria blinked, processing Minerva’s words, chewing on her response. Had she not considered outside of the box options? Yeah there were the choices the game made, but if the woman had been here for six years and everything was still the same… “Not to mention infinite possibilities.”

Minerva swigged her drink, “If we get too far off track, then we won’t know what happens next. I’m not above changing things I find to be stupid other/or choices, but if we decided to convince people to move to Skyhold now, for example, then what would Corypheus do?” 

Aria couldn’t believe it! Knowing what Anders would do, how many lives would be lost here, this woman had all that knowledge and did nothing? She bit her lip and swallowed her irritation. She turned to the man in the room, who seemed to be absorbing the conversation in silence. “You’ve been quiet. Thoughts?”

Minerva looked her up and down, her expression hard. It made Hector nervous. He cleared his throat and looked between the women. “I… well, uh. I guess I understand that. I mean, what good is game knowledge if you can’t use it?”

Minerva nodded and smiled. “Exactly. Same reason I didn’t sell gaatlok primer secrets to anyone in Kirkwall. Would have made me some much needed money, but it also would have caused that information to be out in the world. Not only that, but qunari probably wouldn’t spend the time to figure out how a nobody with nothing to my name came to find it before killing me. It’s a tightrope walk.”

That pulled Aria out of her irate thoughts, “Gaatlok! We could use that!”

Hector, again felt totally out of the loop. He was really starting to wish he’d actually paid more attention to the games.

“Sure.” Minerva laughed. “When you catch a live poison dragon to harvest from, you let me know.”

Aria smirked, finally downing her drink and barely managing not to cough and look pathetic in front of this intimidating woman, “You can’t think of a single person who is coming into the picture rather soon who would love to help you do that?”

“The Iron Bull?” Hector asked. “He does like hunting dragons.”

“But they are rare. And he’s a smart as a whip qunari spy that would report the information back to his people, no doubt, and it would cause more problems than good. I’ll probably mention it to Leliana on the downlow. She probably already has some idea that things aren’t what they appear and could actually help, but it’s not the time for that yet. They barely trust me.”

Aria shook her head, “no I don’t mean the Inquisition I mean us personally! The mountain, Corypheus! If we can find a way to get our hands on that stuff it would help us tremendously! But… you are right. I forgot Bull’s still Ben Hassrath at this point…” She quieted, deep in thought.

“It something to think about.” Minerva nodded, her cheeks flushed from her drink and a bit more relaxed. “It’s just not easy to make these choices knowing the possibilities. Choosing the right moment and the right people to utilize is proving quite the challenge.”

“Well,” Aria set her drink down and adjusted her dress before grasping at the handle, “in no time you’ll have enough power to make that job ten times harder. But you’ve got us now.” With that, she stepped out the door and made her way back to the tavern.

Hector stayed behind. “I might not know a lot about all of this.” He said, plucking the bottle of rum off the floor and pouring himself a shot. “But I’ll help how I can.”

Minerva pat him on the leg. “We’ve some time yet, but it’s going to get crazy fast. I’ll let ya know if I need your guyses help. But can I ask you to do one thing?”

“Of course.” 

“Keep an eye on Solas. He probably has spies around already looking to cause problems for us. And, if you’re feeling creative, think of some ways we might eliminate him. I’m still pondering that one.”

Hector gave a nod, downed his shot. “You have a nice evenin’, Herald.” She waved him off and he stepped out of the cabin, heading up to the tavern for dinner.

 

Aria realized she didn’t know where she’d be going tonight as she walked closer to the tavern. She had been staying with Solas, but that arrangement had an expiration date and she was well past it at this point. She slowed to a stop and pondered her options. Hector, lucky bastard, had found suitable lodgings and didn’t have this problem. Why hadn’t she thought of that cabin? She’s played the game enough times to know it was there!

“You know, if you paint a picture, you can stare at that wall forever.”

Aria jumped at the voice that sounded behind her and spun around to see a smirking Varric. He motioned her to sit with him at his little outdoor fire and took a seat himself, “Varric Tethras. I don’t think we’ve been acquainted.”

Oh we have, you just don’t know , she thought to herself. 

“You know, you remind me of someone. Veronica. Always had that same look in her eye, like she knew just when the hatchet was gonna fall and how to avoid it. I have a feeling about you, and it’s a good one. Just… take care of Sailor. Girl’s got a lot on her shoulders.”

None of this made sense to Aria. Who was Veronica? Who was Sailor? And why did so many people say she reminded them of someone? Before she could form these questions into words, Varric’s eyes glanced above her and he smiled before standing up. With a nod in her direction, he sauntered off.

Aria turned to see what he had looked at, and her stomach sank. Solas smiled politely down at her, leaning on his staff. “If I may,” he gestured where Varric had been sitting. 

She shrugged, “Sure.”

He stepped around her and gracefully sank onto the log, “Have you found suitable lodgings in your time here?”

Uh oh . “Not yet, but I will. Thank you, for your hospitality, by the way.” She couldn’t shake the awkwardness from her voice. She felt a flush rise to her cheeks as she struggled to maintain eye contact. The storms in his eyes were piercing. 

He leaned forward, his expression calculating. “I am willing to extend the invitation, if you wish. It is rare to find a Dalish elf with such an open mind. I find you fascinating.”

This comment soured Aria’s mood. Of course he would see that first. She was just a Dalish elf to him, some part of his history gone wrong. She felt the muscles that control her face move on their own and she stood slowly. “I am more than a Dalish elf. I am a person. I am more than my past, or anyone else’s here.”

His smile faltered slightly, but still held, “Of course-”

“I thank you for the offer, but I will find my own way. Good day.” She turned to stalk away, but a voice stalled her for a moment.

“Although, if the Dalish are truly more, then why do they fight to regain what they have lost?”

A single, angry laugh left her as she hurried away from the insufferable elf and his ironic, hypocritical words, “Why indeed?”

 

Feeling altogether past tipsy, Hector stumbled out of the tavern, his stomach full and his face warm from too much drink to see Aria as she scurried away from Solas, he followed after, stumbling in the snow, not entirely sure where she was heading. “Hey!” he called after her, clumsily catching up. “Ya alright?”

She hesitated, not turning around, and offered a weak, “yeah,” before resuming her walk.

“That doesn’t quite sound like it.” he said gently, with a low voice. 

Now just past the gate that leads out of Haven, Aria finally stopped and spun around. Her eyes were glassy and red, and the muscles of her face tense. “And this is your business how, exactly?”

“Because everyone needs help sometimes, someone to talk to, or just care.” He shrugged with a concerned furrow of his brows. His words were a little slurred, but understandable as far as he could tell. Her behavior did kill the pleasant, warm buzz in his chest, though.

She looked away, that sour face he was getting used to seeing back on her face. “Some of us can’t afford it.” She sighed heavily and looked back at him with a defeated look in her eyes, “Look, I appreciate the gesture, but I’ve got this. I’ve figured my shit out on my own for a while. And, honestly, you’re so plastered right now that I doubt you’ll remember this tomorrow.”

“Pff, maybe, maybe not. But I’d do the same sober. You’re not the only one that’s had to take care of themselves for a long while, ya know? It’s not weakness to admit it, at least not to me.” 

She snorted, “what’s your damage?” Before he had a chance to speak, she continued, “doesn’t matter. I’ll talk to you tomorrow, when that head of yours is on straight. Get some sleep, if you can walk to that cabin of yours on your own.”

Rather than taking her command, he ungracefully sat his ass on the ground, “Let’s see. Family wanted me to go to med school, family a’ doctors, all that. Couldn’t do it, between that and finding out I’m bi, got my ass disowned. Drifted a while. I’m a regular mess, darlin.” He nodded, mostly to himself, which made his vision spin so he stopped and looked up in her direction, eyes a little glassy. “But I’m tryin’.”

This finally stopped her in her tracks. She turned back around and it almost felt like she really looked at him for the first time. Her lips moved without words, and she choked on what to say for a long time. It could have been moments or years, he couldn’t tell in his state, but eventually, she shook her head and walked off quickly. He flopped back in the snow and stared up at the sky, singing some sweet nonsense as she left. 







Chapter Text

Aria set the plate of roasted goat in front of Harritt with a smile that didn’t touch her eyes. She felt frequently sick since her little conversation with Hector a couple of days before. He didn’t talk to her about it the next day, so she assumed he’d forgotten about the whole interaction altogether, which was a blessing. He likely wouldn’t have spilled his guts out to her the way he did had he been sober, and would likely not enjoy the knowledge that he had done so. Especially to her. She hadn’t found a sheltered place at night, so she took to staying in the tavern until it was late and closed down. She tried to help Flissa clean the place up after it closed, but she often shooed her out after pressing some coin into her palm and thanking her for the help. She’d taken to sleeping by the forge after Harritt had turned in for the night. She was always careful to sleep in a location that was well hidden from onlookers, but close enough to the forge for some warmth as it died down. So far she had been successful in rising before anyone noticed her, but it was a matter of time before she was discovered.

If she was being truly honest with herself, she knew it was foolish to turn Solas down. She can hate his actions all she wants, but at the end of the day, she needs to survive this. But when that thought creeps into her head, the memories of the scorched flesh and the images of the people who have lost so much here at Haven remind her just why she can’t get close to the man. When this happens, she grits her teeth and continues working. She’d been homeless before, she’ll survive it.

“The Herald’s off to Orlais to talk to the Revered mothers,” Flissa said as she handed her a dish of potato soup, “That’s for the gentleman in the back by Maryden, by the way, anyway, it would be so nice to see Orlais. I bet it’s beautiful!” She smiled up at the wooden beams that held the roof in place with a dreamy sigh before returning to her duties. Aria smiled and searched for the man who’s dish she was holding. She saw one armed man sitting with his back to her, leaning forward as if entranced by Maryden’s singing. She shook her head with a smile and stepped next to him to set the bowl down.

“Here you go, hon. Let me know if there’s anything else you need.” She hadn’t even looked at him yet when he spoke, but his voice drew her eyes to him. He didn’t look at her, as he was still watching the bard play. His soft lips pulled into a half smile, and his sharp cheekbones cast mystical shadows on his bronze face in the firelight. 

“A tankard of ale, if you can spare it. Thanks.”

She bit her lip as she wanted to ask him a hundred questions that she shouldn’t know enough to ask. She flashed a smile he didn’t see and rested a hand on her hip. “Of course! But what’s a girl to do to get such a handsome man’s name around here?”

That got his attention. He looked up at her through the bangs of his dark, military cut hair, and chuckled softly. “Cremisius Aclassi, my lady, at your service.”

 

“I will make the Order a power that stands against the void! We deserve recognition! Independence!” the Lord Seeker yelled, loud enough for the crowds to hear as he stared Minerva down and Minerva returned the gaze, unwavered as she calculated a plan. “You have shown me nothing and the Inquisition has shown me less than nothing! Val Royeaux does not deserve our protection. We march!” He turned to lead the men out.

“Huh… unhelpful Templars. Shocker.” Minerva heard Varric say from behind her. She stepped forward, an idea formulating.

“Ser Delrin Barris!” Minerva called loudly after him as the templars began their exit. “Would you stand for chaos or for righteousness?” This gave the man pause, as he slowed to the back of the lot. “You, who are brave enough to stand against Lord Seeker Lucius’s words, join the Inquisition! We will close the Breach and end the threat, but I would rather do it with good men on my side than watch them die to this madness!”

He stood still and turned to face the group. Cassandra spoke with a surprised glance at Minerva, “She speaks the truth! We already have Templars joining our ranks.”

Solas’s eyes swept back and forth between Minerva and Delrin with a calculating expression behind the neutral mask. Varric’s fingers twitched, a sign he was ready to aim Bianca at a moment’s notice, but his face suggested he was dying for a quill and parchment to take notes.

“The Lord Seeker cannot close the hole in the sky!” Even the man himself had stopped now, turning to Minerva, enraged. “He lacks the power to do it, unlike us.”

“Herald, what is your aim?” Cassandra asked, a warning coloring her tone.

Solas’s face hardened and his eyes showed concern. Minerva ignored him and shot Cassandra a smile as Lucian drew closer. “My aim is to say this so-called Lord Seeker is ineffectual, useless!” She continued loudly, “He leads his order to ruin as he single mindedly chases after power we already possess!”

“You are cocky, girl.” Lucian laughed, as Varric muttered that she isn’t wrong, “The order is long established. What makes you think your little upstart Inquisition has half the resources and might that the order does?”

“It’s a simple answer, Lord Seeker.” Minerva said, stepping in arm’s reach of him and leaning in. “They have me, the Herald of Andraste, bearer of the sacred mark.” She waved it with a waggle of her fingers. “It’s something you will never have, that is, unless you allied with us.” 

Cassandra’s grip on her blade tightened. Her dark eyes drilled into Minerva as she glanced between the two, “Minerva,” she warned.

“The Inquisition is insignificant.” 

“All the better reason to get in on the ground floor, while the getting is good. You’d stand a much better deal than if I could simply conscript you once we have the alliances to put you in a less favorable position.” She spoke lower, as she leaned in. “You already have Templars looking to defect in this small band you have here. Think of the reach a full blown Inquisition would possess. More people, people that are far more loyal than a few templars kept on a leash, questioning their convictions.” Cassandra was about ready to blow a fuse when the Lord Seeker responded.

“You raise a valid point.” he said, grabbing her, pulling her into another place entirely. 

Green echoey walls that turned and flickered in and out stretched before her. Minerva sighed and shook her head. This was certainly not the plan when she got up this morning, but it was happening now. Heading forward, she walked past the flaming bodies so similar to the ones that littered the Temple of Sacred Ashes, the burning smell tickled her nose, bringing memories to the forefront of that terrifying day, likely just as the envy demon had planned. 

  She approached her stilled advisors, Cullen and Josephine, looking like themselves, but not. “Will this form help me know you?” the demon asked, sauntering out as Leliana. “Everything about this place does.” She, not she, but it drew a knife to Cullen’s neck. “Will this?”

Minerva’s mind flashed back to the times in Kirkwall when she knew him, a hardened young man that had seen too many horrors to look past his prejudices, the man that actually, finally, stood up for what was right as Kirkwall burned. She hadn’t even spoken to him of their time there yet, a silent truce she had hoped to break sooner or later and mend fences. The demon slit his throat and let the body fall. “Yes, I think it does.” it said. “Good.” 

“Envy, I know your face, but you will not know my mind.” she said, staring at the body. 

“You know me, then? How interesting . I will enjoy getting to know you.” The demon guised as Leliana flitted away and animated Josephine. She began to pace with dagger in hand and spoke, “I am intrigued by the promise the Inquisition offers. When I am done with you, the Elder One will kill you and ascend. Then I will be you and make it a force to be reckoned with.”

“Corypheus is a fool, as you are. A pathetic little envious thing that wants what others have.” Minerva scoffed. 

“I am not a fool!” the thing hissed, appearing behind her as Cullen and stabbing a shadowy green form. “I will . Know. You!” The myriad of voices followed, tell me what you think, tell me what you feel, tell me what you think.

Minerva pushed onward, passed the chant, through the recent memories and the visions Envy had for the future. She felt weak, dizzied by the scenes both of her mind and those all together not her’s. The realization that she might not be strong enough to withstand the demon hit her hard in those moments. Perhaps she wouldn’t be strong enough or wise enough to follow the path she’d set for herself. Perhaps she was too stupid to pull it off, she’d already gone off from it on a whim and found herself here. 

She kept her head down and eyes averted from the scenes around her, narrowly avoiding walking right into veilfire washing down like water from things baring a Tevinter-like design. She darted around it into another vision of a horrible future then another until she ended up in a sort of bedroom, if bedrooms kept chairs and a table on the wall. Cole. He was on the ceiling, standing as though it was the most ordinary thing in the world. “Holy shit, Cole, buddy. You here?” 

“Yes, I’ve been trying to help.” The boy said, fiddling with his shirtsleeve. “It wasn’t supposed to happen. Grey mist, wet cheeks. “He want me to quit. I can’t. Shattered glass. You’re here now.”

“Yeh, bud. We need to wear this guy out. Can you show me the way up to the top of… my mind?” She blinked and he was in front of her.

“This way.” he said, leading her forward. No longer alone, she felt more sure. More able to stand a chance. The envy demon’s taunts sounded more frantick and unsure and it helped her continue on. She had to be almost there and almost out!

 All her hope and relief came to an abrupt halt when she stepped through what she thought had to be one of the final doorways into familiar space. “Oh, no.” She gasped, looking around glassy eyed. No, no, no. It was living room, decorated in lovely mid century modern furniture, a banana leaf accent wall. Her computer with a bottle of wine half filling her favorite bone china coffee cup on the table. 

“Stand up for yourself! You can’t keep working like this and just taking everything they throw at you. It’s killing you and it’s killing us.” The image of a handsome man yelled at the shadowy version of her with the glowing green eyes. 

“You knew I couldn’t do that! It was my first real job. I-I had to prove myself. For us… for the future.” Minerva cried at the display. “I shouldn’t have left that night. I should have-”

“Minerva,” Cole spoke, appearing beside her and grabbing her hand. “You cannot stay here. Put him back, into your mind. Hold him secret. You must go up.” He pleaded, pulling her hand gently towards the door. 

“No, you must stay. I must know you, Minerva!” The demon, only in the visage of the man she’d loved so long ago spoke.

Minerva looked into his blue eyes and gritted her teeth. “How dare you.” With everything she had in her, she turned from the figure and out the door into a misty forest. She was close, Cole in hand she went with him paying everything the demon threw at her little mind, and running past any that turned to fight. When they reached the final steps, she looked to the boy. “Thank you. I hope I’ll see you soon.” Cole nodded, disappearing before her and up at the top of the stairs. 

She ran to follow him, spinning around as the demon went for her, grabbing her by the neck. “Not fair!” It growled, “That thing kept you from giving me your strength!”

“He fears. He is scared of you.” Cole called from behind, causing Envy to lose concentration. She brought her arm down hard on Envy’s and grabbed it by the collar, punching it with all her might and sending them all crashing back to the real world and the demon being revealed.

Minerva scrambled to grab her bow, but the demon dissolved into mist and fled. With a quick scuffle from templars turning on themselves, the ones corrupted by the foe where subdued. 

The streets of Orlais were aghast. Minerva sighed, picking up a stray arrow shot down.

“Could it be assassins?” Cassandra asked, wearily checking the balconies for attacks ready to rain down.

“It’s not.” Minerva said devoid of emotion, picking up the scroll attached, not really caring what Lady Cassandra read into it.

“And how might you know this?” Solas asked with a layer of accusation and another of irritation. 

“Because I fucking said so.” Minerva snapped. 

Varric choked out a laugh. “Never question two people, I’ve found. Prophet, and Sailor.”

Cassandra jumped in again, her expression like she’d witnessed her parents in bed. “What do we do with the templars… with all of this?”

“I’m sure you and Leliana will figure it out when you interrogate me and interrogate Ser Barris there,” she gestured to the man, still standing there shocked after the fight.. “I… need a moment to myself.” Minerva said, walking up to a stunned, well dressed man that had nearly been caught in the crossfire of feuding templars. “You want something, bro?”

The man passed her an invite to Vivianne’s whatever and Minerva grabbed it. “Thanks.” The second tier of the balconies, the tavern, the docks. At least she knew what the Red Jenny wanted and where her crap was located. It felt positively normal and not like she was stuck back at the beginning, like a scared little girl too unsure to get involved. On plan was good. Great, even. At least she could come back to Haven with allies along with the shit load of problems she singlehandedly caused. 

 

Creeping through the exterior of some Oleasian noble, the group came upon a number of soldiers or perhaps guards, standing together, talking amongst themselves. Minerva raised her bow to take a shot and Cassandra put a hand on her shoulder, “We don’t know if they’re hostile.”

“The Inquisition’s Herald!” One proclaimed, raising their swords to fight.

Varric, chuckled, readying Bianca to fight, “They don’t look friendly, Seeker!” He put a bolt into one as Solas froze another that was quickly dispatched with Cassandra’s blade. 

Minerva took aim at one up a flight of stairs and watched him drop. “Whoever they are, they could have used better training.” she murmured, already in a sour mood, kicking a body of one over to look and saw nothing identifying. She pointed forward, up the stairs. “Let’s go.”

When they reached the door, Minerva readied her bow and pushed it open, narrowly avoiding a fireball in the process. 

“Herald of Andraste!” A snobby, Orlesian voice snarled behind a polished mask. “How much did you expend to discover me?” He straightened up, acting important in his chef costume. Having heard the line enough times, Minerva released her arrow, only half paying attention to its aim. Luckily for him, he happened to lean just enough to the right that she only grazed the side of his neck. It stopped him in his ridiculous speech, at least.

His mouth was agape, as if he was absolutely scandalized. “You insolent little-”

“Hey rich bitch!” A commanding, yet fair voice called from behind the crates, like a scolding mother who has simply had enough of her child’s behavior.

A shrill snicker sounded near the first voice as the Orlesian mage turned. “What is the meaning of this?”

“Shit! Messed that up. Whatever,” as the first voice finished speaking, a dagger suddenly found itself lodged deep in the Orlesian’s chest. 

Minerva raised a brow, looking as surprised as the others, but for an entirely different reason. “Who’s there?”

A snort chuckle that was obviously Sera sounded as a hooded woman stood from behind the crate, her hands raised. “Don’t shoot, Min!”

Minerva lowered her bow. She knew that voice…. “Veronica?” 

“Is that you Prophet?” Varric asked from behind her, retracting Bianca as he stepped forward. “Well I’ll be a nug’s backside!”

The woman pulled her hood down, revealing her fair-skinned face. Her smile sparkled with mischief that danced in her nearly white, blue eyes. A strand of crimson hair fell into her face as she leapt over the crate. A laughing Sera followed. “Miss me?”

“You two seem well acquainted…” Cassandra said with hesitation. Minerva nodded, but this wasn’t the time for introductions. The breeches-free guards should be showing up any-

“Shit, duck!” Veronica called as she dodged an attack from a really pissed off guard.

“I’m not even gonna ask,” Varric called as he rained bolts down on the assailants.

“Broke into their equipment shed!” Sera cried as she shot arrow after arrow at the attackers. “No breeches!”

Minerva groaned, shooting anyone of them to come near. “You could have killed them or, like, took their weapons.” 

Veronica shot an apologetic smile, “Sera’s sense of humor is very contagious! I couldn’t help myself!” She slashed a guard’s throat as she spoke, then ducked out of the way of another attack. 

Minerva shook her head, a bit confused by her friend, “Did you go to the bar first or something?” 

A laugh that sounded too much like Sera for comfort erupted from the red head as she round-house kicked a man and removed his sword arm. Instead of a verbal answer, she tossed a wooden, likely hand carved, flask in Minerva’s direction. 

She caught it and twisted off the cap, giving it a sniff before taking a swig. Chasind sackmead, nice.  

“Who needs a bar? When this one’s ‘round, it’s always a party!” Sera said, sauntering lazily while Solas froze the final attacker. “Friends really came through with that tip. No breeches!” She sniggered.

“I fail to see how this aids us, or anyone else!” Solas sneered, shoving his staff into the merc icicle.

“I say were hear them out, Chuckles,” Varric stood to the side, eyeing Sera wearily. 

Minerva passed the flash back to Veronica. “So what’s this all about, then?”

Veronica arched a brow and, in sign language, asked, Like you don’t know. Honestly, this guy isn’t much to know about. But you need Sera, yeah? 

Everyone, including Sera, shot Veronica a very confused look, as if she’d lost her mind. Minerva, however, understood most of what she’d said. She signed back, I have to make them believe I don’t know, you know.

Veronica stuck her tongue out at her. “It’s complicated, but you guys could use us. Varric and Min can vouch for me, and I can vouch for Sera.”

Sera snorted. “I don’t need vouching. I can prove myself. Besides, with all this Heraldy stuff, you look pretty big and important from down here where the little people are….” She continued on her typical “Big people bad, little people good” rant, but both Veronica and Minerva droned her out.

Veronica rolled her eyes and signed, Here we go. She does this a lot, even more than in the game.

Cassandra frowned. “Is this some kind of code?”

Veronica smirked. You can explain this one. She’s your friend.

‘Friend’ is a loose term. “Sort of.” she said to Cassandra then turned to Sera. “Wasn’t so long ago that I was one of those “little people”. We need folks looking out for those at the bottom in the Inquisition. I’d be happy to have someone like you to help with that.” 

Sera was visibly surprised, “Oh, well… Fun innit? Let’s get back to the big important place and see to that hole up there. We’ll follow you, yeah? Then we’ll see what you’re really made of “Herald”.”

As the conversation wound down, Minerva could head Varric whispering to Cassandra, “You’ll get used to the hand stuff. Pretty sure it’s their made-up language to talk shit without us knowing.”

“How comforting,” Cassandra replied sarcastically.

 

Chapter Text

Minerva plowed into the war room with Cassandra at her side and Barris tagging close behind. She opened the door and let the others through, taking a big breath before entering. “We have much to discuss.” she said, taking her place at the table. “In Val Royeaux, as I’m sure you’ve all heard, we discovered that the Lord Seeker was an imposter, an Envy Demon.”

Josephine stood like a statue, holding her tablet with pale knuckles. Her face was pleasant, but strained. “You could have used discretion, Herald. Half of Thedas is talking about this. The Inquisition… you.”

“Let them talk! She stopped a damn demon from poisoning the templars minds!” Cullen waved the Antivan off dismissively, folding his arms, “But I believe I speak for everyone when I ask how exactly you knew to goad him on that way? In Leliana’s scout’s report, you seemed to know exactly what to say.”

Leliana nodded, her hands clasped firmly behind her back, “This is true. I have dealt with demons before, and none were so obvious. How did you know, Herald?”

“I was in Kirkwall long enough to see the works of demons play out.” Minerva began, her voice steady and sure. “Lady Cassandra said the man was not himself. I once investigated some templar recruits in Kirkwall that had been taken over by blood magic, for our Commander Cullen, actually, when we just met. It reminded me of that. I didn’t necessarily think he was the demon, just perhaps being influenced by one. And I certainly wasn’t planning on unleashing one in Val Royeaux. I apologize for that, Josephine.” She looked to Josephine with an apologetic smile. 

Josephine sighed, “I suppose if it could not be avoided. Still, we must prepare for the rumors that such a scene will spark. We must prevent any more fuel for the Revered Mothers’ fire, as well as the nobles who wish to see us fail.”

Cullen scoffed, “There’s a damned hole in the sky! Have they not taken notice?”

Cassandra had been watching silently. She straightened up and shook her head, “It is out of our hands, for now, what anyone thinks or prioritizes. For now, we must continue forward. I shall help Cullen train our newest recruits that followed Barris here.”

Leliana nodded. As the others filed out, she made eye contact with Minerva, “A word?”

“Of course.” Minerva nodded. 

“There is a strange lack of Grey Wardens about. I have been unable to track any down, save for one. Warden Blackwall, who is in the Hinterlands just north of Lake Calenhad. When you’ve some time, will you investigate?”

“Yes, certainly. Oh, well,” she paused, calculating in the fact she knew she had to the Storm Coast for The Iron Bull soon as well. “Actually, we ran into a friend of mine from Kirkwall when we were in Val Royeaux. I was thinking of finding a way for her to get involved. I imagine her skill set would be excellent for tracking down this Warden fellow.” 

This surprised the rogue, but she recovered quickly and flashed her secret smile that she had developed after the first game, “Certainly. If you believe she is trustworthy and up for the task, I will stand behind your judgement. One more thing, a rather strange fellow has been asking around for whoever is in charge. We do not have an organized leader yet. You are the most qualified, in my opinion, to speak with him. He resides just beyond the gates, near the blacksmith.”

“I will go see what he wants. Thank you, Leliana.” she said with a bow, heading out the door. 

 

The ting ting of Harritt’s hammer could be heard on one side, and the shouts and thrusts of swords from Cullen’s recruits on the other. Aria had grown used to the sounds of Haven in her time here. She was getting used to her lithe body, as well as the scorn elves receive from the humans around here. She was, admittedly, settling in to this new life. She had even reached some sort of silent understanding with Hector… at least as much as she could in such a short time of knowing him. She chewed on her lip as an embarrassed flush darkened her cheeks at the memory. 

She had been sleeping against the side of the blacksmith building like usual, as her only option for a makeshift shelter. It had been more difficult to sneak in, as Krem had set up camp beside the gate and didn’t sleep until late, but she managed. Working at the tavern until late helped, but Flissa chased her off before too long to “get some rest”. She huffed as she settled in for the night, fighting the rattling cough that threatened to give her away. She’d been denying it, but the tickle in her throat had  spread into a scratchy, then swollen and painful throat. She had messed up three orders at the tavern, as she had heard them completely wrong. She moved as if through water and her head felt heavy. Flissa had decided it was due to exhaustion and insisted she leave early. She tried to object, but she had little ground to stand on to argue. So she reluctantly left the warmth of the tavern and kicked away at the snow. Her chest felt tight and every breath in felt like it was through a thin film that fluttered in her lungs. She knew she was in trouble if she didn’t get some warmth soon, but she had made her bed. Now she must lie in it and freeze.

She had eventually fallen asleep, feeling hot despite the cold. She couldn’t remember much of the events that followed, but she remembered feeling like she was floating. She was much too hot on one side of her body, and freezing on the other. She was too tired and heavy to ponder, and she was out again. 

The next time she came to, she was so hot she felt like she couldn’t breathe. She struggled to sit up, but she felt something restricting her. She realized it was a blanket and tried to throw it to the side, but her limbs barely listened to her. Any sound that registered in her ears sounded far away and filtered through a phone or water. Her stomach was rejecting its contents as well, which was little. She tried to sit up again before retching, barely able to lean over the surface she had been placed on.

Hector quickly grabbed a bucket and set it over beside her. “If you’re going to throw up, please try to aim for this.”

His words barely registered in her ears, but she managed to reach the bucket when her stomach convulsed. She leaned back, wincing at the horrid taste of bile in her mouth and the abuse to her already sore throat felt like a hot iron had been stuck down it. She could barely think to speak. “Sorry,” it came out as a barely audible mumble.

He went over and worked on something, bringing back a mug and a hot cloth, wiping her face with it gently. “It’s alright.” He put the mug up to her mouth. “Sip this.” It was a mixture of hot water, salt, honey, elfroot, and dried citrus. She allowed the offered drink, tasting only the salt and honey, before leaning back down. She recognized the voice, but couldn’t place who was speaking. Where was she, anyway? She tried to open her eyes, but the flickering light shot spikes of pain through her eyes into her head. She gave up on the idea and settled in, instead. “Thanks,” she whispered.

 “Get some rest. You need it.” he said, tucking the blankets tightly around her. 

She smiled, “I’m a burrito.”

Hector laughed quietly. “You’re a lovely burrito, darlin.” 

When she opened her eyes again, she felt miles better. Her head felt as if it was stuffed with cream, her eyes felt heavy, and her throat was raw, but she could sit upright and open her eyes. She groaned and cradled her head as she sat up, confused about the warmth, and trying to make sense of her surroundings. Had she passed out at the tavern?

“If you need somewhere to stay, you’re welcome here.” Hector said plainly. She looked up at the sound of his voice as he pulled on a shirt “It’s better than getting sick. I left you medicine by the bed. There’s enough porridge if you want any.” 

Though she would never admit it, Aria couldn’t help but look at the bare skin he was concealing. She wouldn’t consider him “muscular” so much as fit, but she would certainly fall under the category of “attractive”. She swallowed and silently berated herself for staring. “I’m sorry for the trouble,” she looked away. The words she wanted to say stuck in her throat. They were simple, easy to say even, but they felt like powder in her mouth that she couldn’t spit out. ‘Thank you’, ‘Sorry I was an ass but you don’t remember because you were drunk’, ‘that would be nice, thank you’. None of them came out. She frowned with frustration and groaned as her head pounded harder.

He shrugged then pulled on a coat. “It wasn’t trouble. I’m going to work. See ya around.” He gave a wave and went out the door, leaving Aria to stare at the space he’d recently occupied. She looked down at her hands and wrestled with her choices. She knew, deep down, that the only option she had was the one he’d just given her, but she couldn’t imagine the tension being cooped up in a cabin with him would cause. Her brows furrowed. Tension, sure. He’s so laid back and calm. Maybe nothing bothers him, despite what he’d shared with her. She couldn’t help a twinge of jealousy as she followed his example and readied herself for work at the tavern.

“It’s a rowdy bunch, but you won’t find more loyal people than the Chargers. Wait til you meet them, if we’re hired, that is.” Krem’s words pulled Aria from her thoughts. They had been standing near his tent, chatting about why Krem had come here in the first place. It had taken some prodding, but Aria had finally convinced him to let her in on why he was here. It had been gradually grating on him more and more the longer he’d gone without someone official seeing to his message, and she could tell. She silently prayed for Minerva’s return, as she’s the only one who will look into the Iron Bull and his Chargers. Until today, they had only talked at the tavern. Aria used a few flirtatious tactics to keep his attention, as she wanted to start off on the Iron Bull’s good side as soon as possible. Though she’d never done it herself, she had heard of what happens if the Bull isn’t completely loyal to the Inquisition by the time Trespasser rolls around. Looking the man in front of her in the eye, she barely held back a shudder at the thought.

She was about to respond when a sudden, and very intrusive presence was in front of her face amid a blast of smoke. Aria let out an impressive, and embarrassing, scream. She flew back, lost her balance, and ended up ass-side first in the snow. Krem was in a similar state, though he’d managed to remain upright. “What in the Maker’s name?”

Aria couldn’t believe what was in front of her. It was literally impossible at this point of the game! But she couldn’t deny the boy in front of her was the Spirit-turned-Human. 

Cole.

“Shit! C-” She remembered herself at the last second, “You scared me!”

His bright eyes looked down apologetically. “She dances to forget. She remembers a time of warm meals and love. Broken home. Your fault… but… not,” his pale eyebrows furrowed as he struggled to reach for the hurt inside her. Aria realized what he was getting at and scrambled up quickly, taking his hand in both of hers.

“Hey, hon, it’s okay! You know who could really use your help?” Her mind drew a blank and she frowned, struggling to think of someone. Anyone ! “Leliana! She’s really hurting since the Divine died! You should go to her!”

“Excuse me, something I should know about?” Krem asked with an eyebrow arched. His stance was tense, but it wasn’t defensive yet. Aria flashed him a desperate smile.

“Everything’s okay, I promise. Oh! The Herald! Sorry, but I need to speak with her,” she addressed Cole, who looked between her and Minerva before disappearing. Something told Aria that she hadn’t seen the last of him. She shot Minerva a glare, silently asking her what the hell had happened in Val Royeaux.

Minerva tilted her head and smiled, “We can talk, but I actually was looking for this dashing young man, here.” She motioned to Krem. “I hear you wanted to speak to someone in charge?” 

Clearly unsure of what to say on the matter that had just taken place, Krem nodded wearily before his professional demeanor took over. “Cremissius Acclassi of The Iron Bull’s Chargers. We’re a mercenary company out at the Storm Coast. Best you’ll find, but don’t take my word for it.” He held out a stained piece of parchment that looked like a map, “Find us here, and we’ll show you what we can do.” He turned to Aria with a friendly smile and a wink, before setting to packing his things. Aria smiled back then turned her attention back to Minerva. She shook her head. What in the Maker’s name did that girl do ?

“Hey, Min! Heard you wanted to talk to me?” A curvy woman with ridiculously red hair jogged towards them. There was a slight wobble to her run, like she’d been drinking, but there was an air about her that suggested she meant business and not to cross her if you could avoid it. “A field trip, right? What’s up?”

Minerva turned to her friend, still smiling, “Ah, yeh. Good you found me. I need someone to head out and find us our Blackwall in the Hinterlands if I’m going to the Storm Coast to meet The Iron Bull.”

Veronica’s smile was strained now, but still present. “Great, he’s not annoying, or anything. Give me the fun job why don’t you. Very well, Oh Mighty and Powerful Herald,” she bowed dramatically.

“Pffff, shut up, all seeing Prophet.” Minerva rolled her eyes, barely holding back a laugh. 

Aria looked between the two in confusion. Who was this woman? She cleared her throat.

Minerva signed to Veronica, She’s from earth, like us, but less fun. 

Veronica snickered and thrust her hand in Aria’s direction with more enthusiasm than she would have liked. “Veronica Black. A fellow real world being. Strange though, I gotta say. You may not have noticed,” she winked as Aria took her hand for a rough shake, “you’re an elf.”

Aria forced a smile through her irritation. This woman was a lot. “Yeah… I look like my Inquisitor. I don’t know why.”

“Shit’s weird.” Minerva muttered, pulling a flask from her pocket. 

Veronica shrugged, “Not news to me, honey. I’m gonna grab Sera and Varric. You send me to the broody impostor, I get to take the fun people.” She stuck her tongue out at Minerva and dashed away, as if she could keep the party she wanted by tagging them first.

Aria blinked and shook her head, “She… seems nice. So, when are you going to the Storm Coast?”

“Hadn’t exactly planned that far ahead yet, after the nonsense that was Val Royeaux, I need a minute to catch my breath… Maybe in a day or two.”  

“Let me come with you.”

Minerva looked her up and down, taking another sip. “To do what? There’s bandits and shit out on the roads. It’s not an easy trip for people that do know how to defend themselves, let alone people with no combat training.” 

Aria smirked, feigning an innocent smile. “I may not be an apt fighter, but I have some useful skills, regardless. In this world, you never know what you’ll run into.”

“I don’t care if you were the goddamn pope. If you don’t know how to defend yourself, really defend yourself, you’d be more a liability than help.” She looked around, back the way of Cassandra and the templars training. “Talk to Cassandra. If she thinks you’re okay or can get you up to speed enough, I’ll consider it.” 

Aria barely swallowed her anger. Who is this woman to tell her what to do? She may be Inquisitor fancy shit here, but in their world she’s no better than she is. She scanned the area and noted a plateau nearby. Made completely of ice, and at least ten feet tall before the first solid foothold, no one could possibly get to the top. There was a single, skinny tree nearby, and an overturned log on top of it. With a clear “fuck you” glance at Minerva, she sprinted in the direction of the tree, leaped to the top with grace and ease only the best pole dancer could achieve. She hoisted herself up with her legs, then easily held onto a flimsy, but suitable branch with her hands. She pulled her abdominals tight, noticing that the action was even easier than it would have been back home, and lightly walked onto the frozen log, turning to face Minerva, and plopping down to take a seat. She gestured as if to say “can you do that ?”.

“I am too old to care about whatever nonsense temper tantrums you want to throw, girl. You can talk to Cassandra or not. I really don’t care, but I’m the boss here and if you want a chance, best listen to what I tell you.” With that Minerva turned, heading in the direction of Cullen and the troops. 

Absolutely seething, Aria leaped from her seat and rolled to a crouch. Her teeth ground together painfully and she watched the woman as she made her way to the two people who she deemed suitable to judge her like she knew a damn thing about her. She straightened out stiffly and looked around her. There was little she could do in a few days that would put her in Minerva’s good graces. She had no fighting training or experience. Her skills were closer to….

“Leliana.” She muttered under her breath and made her way back to the gates of Haven.

 

Minerva put on a cheery smile, ignoring the irritation that child was causing her as she approached Cullen for a much needed talk. “Do you have a moment, Commander?” she asked once in earshot of the handsome blonde leader of the Inquisition’s forces. 

“The templars you brought back with you from Val Royeaux have expressed they may be able to reach their peers. It will aid us in closing the Breach, I’m sure, Herald.” Cullen said, his posture straight and voice formal. 

Minerva’s smile slipped a bit, “No, I didn’t want to speak on that, though I suppose we should. Walk with me?” She stepped to the path and he turned to follow.”

“Of course. What did you wish to speak of?”

“We didn’t leave things on a good note in Kirkwall, Cullen. I thought maybe, well, hm. Maybe we could find some understanding, you and I.” She said, walking along the snowy path. 

“I believe the last time we interacted you pitched a rock at my head.”

“And I got arrested for it! Lost my job… No, I didn’t mean-- shit.” she muttered, this was not at all how she intended to get into it. “I mean, I shouldn’t have done that and I’m sorry. For what it’s worth, I think what you’re doing here is really noble and… I’m proud of you.” 

He cleared his throat and rubbed his neck awkwardly, making her smile. “Kirkwall had a way of bringing the worst out in people. But I’m trying to do better, make amends in a way I can. I don’t know if it will be enough. Some things cannot be forgotten. ”

“Cullen, look at this place. You all are doing something great. We’re gonna save the damn world in no small part thanks to you. I just… I want to be friends again. I know it’s a lot to overlook and I don’t think either of our opinions have totally changed, but if we can do it from a place of professionalism and not let it get personal, I think we can. What do you say?” 

“I think we can manage that,” he flashed his half smile. 

Minerva practically beamed and nudged his shoulder. “Good, that’s something. Don’t be so hard on yourself, my dude. You’re a good egg. Come get drinks with me at the tavern before I leave?” she asked, flask in hand. 

“Try not to overdo it with the drinking. You are the Herald of Andraste, after all.” he shook his head. “But, certainly. We can chat about plans for the templars that are coming.”

“Always business with you. Fine. I’ll see you soon, bud.” She bounded off, looking forward to a good dinner and a chance to relax. 

 

Veronica stepped out of the tavern after filling Sera and Varric in on her little mission, and spotted a very irate elf stomping towards the Chantry. Still slightly buzzed, she felt it would be a good idea to talk to her. She stepped in the girl’s way and held her hands up, “woah cowgirl, calm down. What’s wrong?”

The elf grimaced at her like she’d stolen the last slice of her pie. “Your friend is what’s wrong, but what would you know about it?”

Veronica snorted. She may be Minerva’s friend now, but she wasn’t always. “Come on, I’ll buy you a drink. Tell me all about it.”

“I’m busy-”

“No you’re not. Come on.” She gripped the girl by her skinny arm and dragged her back into the tavern where Flissa was busy waiting on her patrons. Sera was scowling at Maryden, who had clearly just written “Sera Was Never”. Noticing this as well, Veronica steered them in the opposite direction and she shoved the girl a little harder than she intended into a corner booth. Sitting across from her, she offered a smile. “Come on, lay it on me. I’ve known Minerva some years now, I think I’ll get it.”

The elf girl seemed to curl in on herself, visibly upset and shaking slightly. This made Veronica frown. Minerva can be intense, and probably a bit stubborn but she’s never frightened someone or upset them this badly without just cause. She couldn’t catch her eyes if she tried. 

“I’m waiting.”

With a heavy sigh, the girl finally looked up and a layer of stubbornness seemed to mask over the pain on her face. “She thinks she’s the big boss around here.”

Veronica’s smile was knowing, but she couldn’t hold back her amusement. “She kind of is, dear.”

“She’s acting like I’m useless. She doesn’t even know me!” Her fist clenched on the table, and she growled slightly. “I can take care of myself! I feel like I need to be there at the Storm Coast, I can’t explain it but it’s something I feel and I never ignore a gut feeling. But she said if I don’t have some great fighting skills or whatever-”

“Well do you have fighting skills?” Veronica asked, flagging Flissa down.

Aria deflated, “Not you too.”

“Two mugs, hon, thanks!” She tossed Flissa a few coins, who glanced at Aria curiously before pocketing the money and making her way to the bar. “Yes, I understand your frustration. She’s not one to budge. But she has a point. Girl’s been in Thedas for six years. She know this place and how dangerous it really is. You’ve been here how long?”

Aria looked away. Her answer was silence.

“That’s what I thought. Take my advice. Play nice, get you some fighting training, and you can go play with the big boys. But if you’re itching for a fight that badly, I suppose you could come with us,” she shrugged. Flissa returned with their drinks and she wasted no time downing hers. Aria didn’t touch the drink in front of her. There was a contemplative look in her eyes that Veronica didn’t like. She frowned. “What skills do you have that you think will help them out there?”

“Apparently none,” Aria grumbled and shoved herself away from the table. She looked defeated and down. Veronica sighed and picked up the drink meant for the elf. If she was going to take defeat so easily, the girl had no business out there fighting demons, mercs, templars, and rogue mages. 

She frowned at the thought of rogue mages, but shook the thought away and rose to chat with Sera.

Chapter Text

Hector came out of his cabin feeling completely drained, nightmares had been digging their way into his mind for weeks. It took everything in him to get through each day without snapping back at Adan or Aria. He couldn’t keep doing it, he thought, rubbing his hands on his face, slumped against the wall of the cabin. He was tired of the cold, the fucking snow. Being alone. 

Aria trudged her way through the snow toward the cabin, angry and done with this world. She looked up as Hector exited the cabin they shared to a sight she never thought she’d see. Hector was all but tearing his hair out. She straightened her shoulders and strode forward. Now wasn’t the time for her to be down. Something was up. “This isn’t the normal, calm, cool and collected Hector I know and love,” she used the same voice she’d mastered when working as a cashier. It was exaggerated and meant to be fun.

He looked up and his eyes widened, great. He rubbed his eyes with his arm and straightened out his clothing. “You don’t know me at all if that’s what you think.” 

“No? Huh. So this is you? Panicked and worried and… completely out of it?” She elbowed him lightly, holding her Scarlet smile, “I doubt it.”

“Just because I don’t flip out on everyone doesn’t mean I’m not having a hard time of it, Aria.” he grimaced, lowering his tone. “I’m exhausted and frightened as anyone.” 

She tried not to, but she couldn’t help but feel that he was pointing his words at her. She looked away for a moment, allowing her sadness to show on her face where he couldn’t see. She owed this stranger so much, and he needed something. She just didn’t know what. “Fine. Show it then.” She turned to him and shoved him, hard, in the chest. “Get pissed! Right now!”

“What the fuck is wrong with you?” he asked, taking the shove and flattening against the wall. 

She laughed, bitterly, “What isn’t wrong with me, Hector?” She stooped down, praying to every deity she could think of that this was the right move, and scooped a handful of snow up, packing it into a ball. She stared him down while she made it very clear what she was planning to do.

“It’s hard to tell behind that wall you put up,” he stared back, not making a move. 

His comment caught her off guard. Far as she could tell, he’d barely taken notice of her, let alone paid that much attention. She tried to let it slide, but it unnerved her. She pulled every trick dancing as Scarlet ever taught her. She sauntered up to Hector, a seductive smirk on her face until she was close enough to see the lines of his face. She held up the snow in her hands, and, without warning, quickly shoved it down his shirt before ducking back with reflexes she’d gained on the job.

He jerked at the cold, untucking his shirt and shaking it out. “Jesus fucking Christ. I fucking hate this fucking snow. Could you quit being an asshole for one fucking minute, for the love of all things holy, please.” He pulled his coat tightly around him and slid to the ground. “I’m so fucking tired .” 

Aria hesitated. This really didn’t seem to be working. Was she really helping him, or was she just hurting him more? She knew that the first time she ever felt anything after her family gave her the boot, she had a co-worker who shoved and pushed until she snapped. She hated the woman until the day she quit, but she felt better. Maybe that was it. Maybe she had to be the bad guy. She turned away and walked a few paces, debating. She stopped and closed her eyes. I’m sorry, Hector . With a roiling feeling in her gut, she turned around, sprinted until she was nearly on top of him, and kicked at the snow with all her might.

Hector opened his eyes and a pulse of radiating heat burst from him, melting the snow. Flowers swirled up from the bright green grass in a radius around him. He put a hand to his mouth and choked back a sob of fear.

Aria’s eyes were comically wide, especially for an elf. She looked around her at the garden that had sprung up from nothing and the lack of snow around them. She finally looked at Hector in awe and wonder. “Dude… you’re a mage !”

He averted his eyes from her staring at the ground. “No, Jesus.” He closed his eyes tightly, tears cropping up. “Fuck…”

Aria tore her eyes from the beautiful display around him and really looked at the man who sat curled up on the grass. Her throat tightened at the sight before her. She had caused this. In trying to help him, she hurt him more. She stood frozen, unsure of what to do. Her eyes burned but she held a stony gaze. She didn’t need to give herself away. Not here, not now. “I’m… sorry… Hector,” her words were quiet and thick.

“It’s... it’s not your fault,” he muttered, pulling himself up, feeling the tightness in his chest that made it difficult to breathe. He held his hand over his mouth feeling the start of his body beginning to hyperventilate. This was bad, so bad. A mage was the worst thing to be in most of Thedas. All it took was one shitty templar wanting to cause trouble and he was dead or worse. So much worse. 

Aria knew the signs of a panic attack. Her brother got them all the time. Unfortunately, the best way to help was different for everyone. Noting his shallow breathing patterns and the panic in his eyes, she didn’t give herself time to leaf through her options. She needed him calmed now before he passed out!

“Hector, look at me!” She gripped his biceps just hard enough that he couldn’t ignore her, and tried to hold eye contact. “Hey, I need you to look at me and breathe.” She tried to pry his hand from his mouth, but it didn’t budge. She tried a different approach, “just sit down next to me, okay?”

He slumped back to the ground and closed his eyes tightly, trying to steady his breathing. “Th-thi-this is bad,” he gasped. 

“Don’t worry about that now. Minerva won’t let anything happen to you,” Stubborn bitch, but she won’t let him get hurt, she thought irritably. She hesitantly pressed her hand to his back, testing the waters. His muscles tensed under her hand, but he didn’t pull away. Feeling lost, she tried for soothing circles on his back. Her brother calmed down after a few seconds of fast, counterclockwise circles that matched his anxiety, then slower, clockwise to calm him down. “Will you try something for me?”

“Why?” he croaked. 

The question caught her off guard. “Why? I know something that will help you. If it doesn’t work, I’ll walk away and won’t bother you again. Just… please?”

“W-hy do you always h-ave to be so dra-matic? Jesus…” 

She tried to hide the sting his words caused and cleared her throat before speaking. “Okay… I’ll leave anyway.”

“Fuck, no… that’s not...” he began, weezing for breath, but trying to speak as clearly as he could manage. “I… I’m not trying to push you away. Stop putting that on me!” He started crying, feeling altogether broken by the revelation and the conversation. 

Aria looked away to hide her own tears. What did he want from her? She stays she upsets him, she leaves, she upsets him! She drew a deep, shaking breath and swallowed. “Do you know the butterfly? You can nod if you do. Don’t need to talk,” she spoke softly so he wouldn’t hear the pain in her voice.

He shook his head no. 

“Okay. I promise this helps. Can you cross your arms over your chest for me?” She didn’t look directly at him, not trusting her eyes to be clear just yet.

He did as instructed with jerky motions. 

“Alternating hands, tap your fingers to your chest. Left, then right, then left, then right. Start off kinda fast, then gradually slow down. Try to time your breathing that way too. It’s the science of EMDR and mimics the feeling of being in the womb.”

He tried to follow through on what she said, focusing on the motions. Slowly he began to not feel like he was drowning, better, not great, but better. 

Aria watched as his breathing slowly returned to normal. He probably needed a visualization exercise and some sleep, but she couldn’t help with either. She cleared her throat again and tried to bring up her Scarlet smile. For the first time since she perfected it, it failed her. She settled on her neutral expression. “I promise this isn’t me being dramatic,” she almost choked on the word, “But if it’s what you need right now, I can go. If not, I’ll stay. It’s up to you.”

“I… need to get to work.” he said weakly. 

“I’ll talk to Adan. You aren’t in any state to be working right now. You’ve been there every day, I think he’ll understand. If not, he can yell at me. Fuck him if he’s gonna be an ass.” She shrugged.

He looked up at her and wiped his face, his expression worried. “The people here need help. We have sick and wounded refugees in every day and it’s only two of us. If someone died because I wasn’t there… I couldn’t… It’s all I’m good for, really.” 

That… She closed her eyes and drew a deep breath. That kind of thinking has haunted her everywhere. She looked back at Hector and shook her head. “Bullshit. There’s one other person who can help and I’m gonna kick his Elvhen ass to get him to. I get Solas to work with Adan today, you get some rest. Okay?”

He nodded just barely. 

She stood up, brushing the mud from her trousers. She started walking off then stopped. She knew one other thing that helped her brother… tight hugs while she lay next to him. She chewed on her lip then shook her head. No way he’d be okay with that. She looked back, “You… uh… want alone time today?”

He shrugged, not really knowing how to reply or what he wanted at all at the moment. 

She tried not to let her frustration show, as it could be misinterpreted. She always knew what to do for her brother. This… she was at a loss. “I’ll check up on you later, then.” She watched for some sign of acknowledgement, he gave a jerky nod. That would have to do. She hurried off to Haven’s gates. Solas needs to help. She’ll pull all the bitch stops if he doesn’t, and no one in Haven wants that. She strode past the gate, nodding at Veronica, Varric, and Sera as they headed out to retrieve Blackwall. Veronica shot her a wink that heated her chest with anger but she ignored her. She hurried up the steps, noting how long she’d run without getting winded. This new Thedas body was capable of a lot. She idly wondered what else she could do once she put her mind to it, but that was for later. Luckily, Solas wasn’t far from his usual spot. He was studying something in his hand, and didn’t notice her approach until she was directly in front of him. His eyes rose to meet her, and there was a hardness there.

“Greetings.”

“Hector… he can’t help Adan today. There are injured that could use your healing expertise.” She didn’t look directly at him, but she could see the surprise in his eyes.

“I had wondered when we would speak again. I must apologise, for I spoke ill of the Dalish. Will you accept?” He set the object down in the pouch that lay at his feet and his face eased into a smile. He wanted something from her, she could tell.

She crossed her arms and decided to use it against him, for now. She could figure out what was really on his mind later. “I will… if you promise to heal the refugees and soldiers for the day. And maybe tomorrow too, for good measure.” She held a challenge in her eyes. His smile widened and he nodded his head.

“How could I refuse? Please inform your friend that his duties will be seen to until I am called upon by the Herald. We are to travel to the Wounded Coast in three days time. Will that be sufficient?” He leaned against his staff again, his eyes running up and down her. It made her uncomfortable.

“It is. Thank you, Solas.” 

“You know, if it is the cold you fear, you needn’t worry. Boots like that are only needed for human feet. See me, if you’d like some proper Elvhen attire.” With that, he scooped up his bag and disappeared in Adan’s cottage. Aria shuddered. What a creep. To think she cried over losing him in a video game. She decided to store the encounter away for now. She wanted to see how Hector was doing.

 

Minerva was at a loss when she went up the path to find the snow cleared from the area around the little cottage off away from the rest in Haven, with spring flowers cropping up, no less. And Hector sitting there in the cold air looking like a wreck. “Heeey, there, doll. What’s this about?” she asked, walking up to him and crouching to look at the man, his eyes red and puffy.

“I… am a mage, apparently. “ he said motioning to the ground around him. “A-and I don’t know what to do.”

“Well,” she said, pulling herself up and brushing herself off then offering him a hand. “First thing, let’s get you warmed up. We can deal with this.” She kept her voice light and chipper, even if she was concerned that it could become a serious concern. He’d need training. He took her hand and she helped him up, ushering him in the house and onto his cot. She worked on getting a fire going again. “It’s gonna be alright, ok, Hector.” she said calmly, putting a kettle on. 

“Is it? I saw those templars coming in with you from Orlais. Are you even still going to try to side with the mages? I don’t want to be locked away for the rest of my life. I can’t live like that.” He watched her as she fiddled around with things around the room. 

“Not a chance in hell will I side with the templars, doll. Trust me. We’re gonna get Leliana as the new Divine and everything is going to be better.” She took a seat beside him and pulled an arm around him, he stayed stiff, but didn’t stop her. “And we’ll find someone to help you with figuring out what to do with magic.” Minerva jostled him gently until he looked at her. “And, furthermore, any templar fucks with you, tell me and I’ll gut them like a fish.” 

He smiled a little at that. “I never would have wanted this, any of it. My… my life was small and fairly lonely, but at least grindr was a thing.” 

“Grindr?” she raised an eyebrow.

“Dating app. Great for hookups. Less great for warning you about when the guy’s girlfriend’s gonna come home and your climbing out the window naked.”

Minerva laughed, “Oh, the things I’ve missed. Well, for what it’s worth, I never would have asked for this either, well, to be here at all. I did sort of ask for the particular fucked up situation I find myself in now, but we make do. We get stronger and smarter and eventually not just surviving, but thriving. You’re going to be okay.”

“Has it worked out that well for you here? Honestly, I just want to know.” 

“Yes and no. Purpose, skills, friends, feeling like a badass when you do something you never dreamed of, those are all good things. It takes time, but it can happen. With the other stuff, let’s just say I wish Thedas had a ‘dating app’.” she smiled, hearing the whistle of the tea kettle coming to temperature, she got up and made him a glass of spiced tea she kept in a pocket of her jacket. “Here, it’s the good stuff. I need to get moseying, but let me know if you need anything. I’ll see what I can do about finding someone that can help you out.

“Thanks.” he muttered, swirling the metal ball of tea around in his drink. 

She gave him a nod and a wave then plodded off, leaving him feeling slightly more reassured about the turn of events. If anyone could help, it would be someone with Inquisition resources. 

Aria had caught the tail end of the conversation, but kept herself hidden until Minerva was gone. She waited a moment before stepping into the cottage, composing herself. She didn’t need to ruin the moment for them because of her own issues with the woman. “Hey,” she said as she stepped in front of Hector, who was sitting on his cot with his hands curled around a mug. “Solas is taking over for three days. Should give you plenty of time to calm down and feel back to your old self.” She stood awkwardly, unsure of what else to do. She still didn’t know if he wanted her to stay or leave.

“This is myself too, you know. I don’t know where you got the idea I’ve got anything under control. I spend most of the day terrified I’ll do something wrong or everything will go wrong and we’ll all be dead for no reason,” he said softly. “I’ve been holding on by a thread for days.” 

She toed the ground, picking at her tunic idly, “I didn’t mean to offend. Just haven’t seen this side of you.” She bit the inside of her cheek, a habit she’d tried to quit multiple times, “What can I do?”

He shrugged. “I tend to let my breakdowns happen in private. And I’m not exactly used to having anyone trying to deal with it with me. I don’t know.” 

She eyed her own cot, which sat a couple feet from his, and sank down onto it. She stood again and pushed it closer, so that he could get some kind of contact if he wanted, but have the space he needed if he didn’t. She sat back down and rested her hands on her knees, keeping them open and available, but to herself. “Well, you have someone this time. Let’s see how it goes.”

He looked to her, at a loss. “I appreciate it.” He took a sip of the sweet almost chai liquid of his cup. Apparently the Herald didn’t just live on rum alone. It was good. “Do you want some of my tea?” 

The gesture brought a smile to her lips, “no, thank you. You enjoy it,” she silently hoped Minerva thought about caffeine and its effects on anxiety. She didn’t know what the tea was like here.

He nodded and quietly sipped it. “Minerva mentioned she’d find someone to help me not become a dangerous fireball. At least… that’s one thing if I can actually do it.” 

Aria leaned back slightly, remembered the necessary close proximity and returned to her original position, thinking. “Solas is out, bastard is nuts. There is one mage that should be coming soon, who is not only good at magic, but looks absolutely fabulous doing it. Best I can think of unless you want Vivienne to teach you,” she let the sour taste of her words morph her mouth, hoping Hector would find some amusement in it.

“Hah, yeh. I’m good with Vivienne not even knowing I exist, really. Her ideas are the type that might actually get me caged up for life under templar watch. Dorian, though, that would be nice at least,” he smiled a little, with a tiny bit of hope cropping up. “Even if it didn’t work out, I could enjoy the view.” 

Aria burst out in laughter, “Oh boy! So would I, if I’m being honest. Dark skinned guys always did it for me!” She realized what she said and swallowed her words, looking into the fire until her cheeks stopped burning. “Hey, this… might not be the best time to say this, but I need you to know…” she turned back to him.

He looked up at her, his cheeks tinged with pink. “Ok…”

She watched the fire dance in his eyes, turning them a deep amber, “If we have to make a life here, no matter what, I’ve got your back,” she brushed her fingers against his for emphasis, careful not to push his boundaries, “promise.”

“Thank you. I hope you know I’ll do the same.” He took her hand and gently squeezed it in his own. 

Aria tried to ignore the heat in her face and the flutter in her gut. He seemed to be feeling better, at least. “Doing okay?”

“No, not really, but it’s a normal level of gut wrenching panic at least,” he offered a crooked smile and let go of her hand before he made her too uncomfortable. 

Aria leaned back a little. Her hand felt empty at the loss of contact, but she wouldn’t push him. “Well, that’s an improvement. We’ll work on it, if you want me here to help you do that, of course.” She decided the fire needed stoked to get out of the bubble of awkwardness that had enveloped the two of them. She felt like they made some headway in terms of understanding, but she wasn’t sure what to think of all this. With his new magical abilities, Hector will be in danger. In the Inquisition he’ll have the protection of that power and eventually Skyhold’s walls, but he’s still a mage in a world where that isn’t okay. She realized that she needed to learn how to fight. Not because Minerva told her to, but to keep them both safe.

  “You’ve always been welcome. I just don’t want to push if you don’t want to be here.” he said pulling off his coat and outer vest, leaving him in a soft blousy shirt that didn’t feel too hot in the warm room. 

Aria snorted, poking at the coals and adding wood until the fire started picking back up. “Never didn’t want to be here.” Did she just say that out loud? She stopped speaking before she said something else that sounded dumb. She had meant to make a joking comment about their rough start. Where had that come from?

He didn’t make a comment, just got up and looked through his food supplies. “I’m going to make some caldillo, if you’d like any. I still have some venison out there that’s probably thawed with… the accidental spring situation.” He put a pot on the fire to warm and started chopping an onion with a pocket knife. He began humming softly as he did, dicing some sad little potatoes once it was done. 

“I… don’t know what that is, but sure. Um… need any help?” She straightened up awkwardly, not certain what to do to make herself useful.

“If you want to grab the venison, you can, it’s hanging behind the house in a sack.” He threw the onions on with a knob of butter. 

“Sounds good,” she slipped out the door and located it quickly, as there was only one sack hanging on the wall. She returned quickly and held it up, “What am I doing with this?”

He plucked it from her hand gently, unwrapping the bit of meat and giving it a chop before throwing it into brown with the onions. “I got it. Thank you.” Once they’d started to brown, he filled the pot with a bit of water and added tomatoes, dried chilies and a number of other little things from small pots he kept on the table. 

Aria sat back on her cot and watched Hector’s hands work nimbly as he added ingredients together. She never learned to cook from scratch herself, she just got take-out with her tips. She wondered if he would teach her… if their acquaintanceship extended into some kind of friendship. “Who taught you to cook?”

“My mom did. I’m afraid it’s all going to taste like a vague approximation of Mexican food, no matter what I make because of that.” he said, giving the pot a stir and putting the lid on it. “Hope that’s alright.” 

She smiled, “Of course. It smells amazing.”

He blushed and looked down. “I appreciate it. I’m sorry for not making all that great of conversation. I’m sort of used to being alone a lot.” 

She shrugged. “Me too.” She never talked about her family. Not to anyone. But in this moment, she felt like she not only could, but should. “You probably don’t remember… but you told me some things while you were pretty wasted. My… well I was adopted after years and years of crappy foster situations. Whatever. But the family that wanted me, they were amazing. But, I showed an interest in both genders. My younger brother found out. He swore he’d keep it a secret, but,” she shrugged again. “Haven’t seen or heard from them since.” She decided to keep her profession to herself. They weren’t that close.

“Last time I saw mine was when they found out I was working at a gay bar. They… well, I guess I did too, but everyone dropped off the planet after that. I wasn’t exactly welcome even before they found out that fun fact.” He said choosing to commiserate rather than do anything she might find as pitty, getting up and pushing around the fire. “It was bad a long time before the final nail in the coffin.” 

Gay bar? Guess mine isn’t that far off . “I have a fun idea. Think you can guess what I do for a living?”

“A dancer, maybe? You have the legs for it.” he asked, innocently. 

She arched an eyebrow, a laugh bubbling from her chest. She looked down at her new legs, examining them. “Do I? Not much to look at in this world. But in ours, let me tell you! Guys came from far and wide to see these babies!”

He chuckled softly. “I’m sure. They’re plenty fine now, far as I can tell.” 

She immediately stripped off her boots and rolled up her trousers, noting that elves didn’t seem to grow body hair. Cool, no need to shave, “You kidding me? Look at these things! It’s a wonder I could dance a p-” She coughed, dropping her leg and the subject. “So… you worked a bar back home, I work one here. Funny, huh?”

“I was in med school, a long time ago. It’s adjacent to what I’m doing now, though bars are significantly less high pressure. I miss it. If Flissa had taken me up on working there, I’m sure I’d have enjoyed it.” 

“She wouldn’t say no to the help, but I have a feeling you are enjoying your work with Adan too much to come down to the level of us lowly peasants,” she kept her head low, but watched his reaction through her lashes, hoping her joke wasn’t taken badly. She couldn’t always gauge how he’ll react. It was like a game, a dangerous game now that he had some strange magical powers. 

“I didn’t realize being the guy Adan yells at constantly puts me above it all.” he said with a cock of his brow. “But yes, it’s needed, enjoying it might be a strong word, but if it helps people, I’m glad to do what I can.”

“In the spirit of helping people, first thing tomorrow I’m going to Leliana to learn the art of assasination, if she’ll teach me. You don’t have Dorian just yet, but you could still use a sword or something. We both need to defend ourselves here. I might have ridiculous reflexes and the ability to climb shit like a cat, but I’m useless with a blade out here. What do you say we agree to work on our fighting skills after hours?”

“I like the idea, I just worry if I don’t know what I’m doing, I might light someone or something on fire and cause a lot of unwanted attention,” he said, getting up and checking the pot. “Almost done.”

Aria crossed her legs, looking at her feet, thinking about Solas’s words. “Well, just spar me. If you say you haven’t wanted to light me on fire once or twice, you’re lying.”

“Maybe we can, but believe it or not, that’s not a thought that crossed my mind. I’m the forgiving type.” He gave her a winning smile and bowled up the food, passing her one with a spoon, then making one of his own.

She took the bowl gratefully, and barely allowed it to cool before digging in. It wasn’t Thai takeout, but it was still amazing, considering she’d been living off of Flissa’s mystery stew since arriving. They ate in silence for a while, and Aria allowed her mind to wander. She thought about her life before this. If she was being honest with herself, it wasn’t that much better. Safer maybe, but she ate alone, worked as alone as one could be, naked in front of a hundred leering men. She may have nearly died of fireballs and fever since arriving, but she’s made friends with Flissa, and has at least found a civil companionship with Hector. Tonight, at least.

Til you screw it up again , she mused.

Hector ate his food quietly, trying to put on a brave face, even if he felt like the world was ending for him. He might survive being a mage and whatever demons had to do with it, but nothing would ever be the same. People, Aria and Minerva, at least were looking out for him. If only he could convince himself it would be enough and he could be okay again. 

“How are you feeling now?” Aria asked as she set her empty bowl aside.

“I’ll be alright.” he said softly, not really believing his words. “What’s one more fucked up thing in my life?”

“It’ll be awesome, you’ll see. We’ll fix the fucked up ideas this world has lived off of.” She pondered her next question for a minute, unsure if she should ask. “Think you’ll sleep?”

“I’m afraid to,” he said, honestly.

She nodded once. There was one thing she could think of to help, remembering the many times her brother crawled into bed with her in the middle of the night when the nightmares hit. She couldn’t form the words to offer though. She didn’t want to risk pushing a boundary that would make Hector more uncomfortable. She stared into the distance and warred with herself, pulling the loose threads of her sleeves until they came out, fraying the ends. The fire was dying down to coals again, casting only shadows in the room.

“I’ll be alright. Really. You don’t gotta worry about me, darlin.” he said, wearily placing his bowl down and flopping back on the bed. 

Aria leaned back onto her own cot, her hand hanging off the side near his, just in case. “That obvious huh? Guess I can’t help myself.”

He sighed, “After the foolish display today, I don’t blame you.” 

She frowned. “Foolish? What was foolish?”

“Just me bein’ me.” 

She turned her head to look at Hector, but she could barely make out his form in the shadows. She could hardly see his face, couldn’t read it. “Nothing wrong with that, Hector. Something we both have to learn, I suppose.” She looked up at the ceiling, trying to keep her mind present. She couldn’t dwell on her problems. Someone needed her, here. “I don’t mind anything about you, for what it’s worth,” she hastened to add.

“I don’t mind you either.” he said softly, half asleep. 

She smiled, drifting off, liar.











Chapter Text

“Okay, okay. Ummm lacy gold!” Sera called.

Veronica frowned in concentration, “Too uncomfortable… a dark red, with gold trim.”

“No! That’s too obvious!”

Veronica shrugged, “Exactly! It’s the most reasonable option.”

Varric, who was trailing slightly behind, grunted and hurried to catch up. “What are you two doing now? Do I even want to know?”

Veronica smirked. “Nope.” 

Sera cackled, “Guessin’ the type of smalls you wear.”

Varric’s jaw dropped in mock horror, “My delicate sensibilities, Buttercup! I… I never…”

Veronica shot him a look.

“Fine, fine. Sturdy, yet breathable, black smalls. Keeps the boys in check.” He stretted like the proud dwarf he was. “Best you can find in the Merchant’s Guild.”

Veronica snickered, “You have the same smalls you did in Kirkwall?”

“If it ain’t broke…”

“Ooo let’s play, “Your People Are Shit”!” Sera jumped enthusiastically. Her eyes swept between the human and the dwarf, choosing her victim.

“We’re getting close to Lake Calenhad, Sera, let’s hold off on that for now,” Veronica said as they approached the waterfall where a camp post was set. “Let’s supply up first. Who knows what we’ll face up there,” I do.  

“Alright Prophet. Say, Sailor hasn’t been herself lately. She’s more high strung than usual, and the stress is written all over her face.” Varric gathered a handful of elfroot potions into his pack, and topped off his bolts. “I think she’s lonely. I mean, the whole “Herald” thing isn’t helping, but I think a certain someone could help out.”

Veronica nodded in agreement. “We gotta find Fenris.”

He froze, straightening up with an eyebrow raised. “Say what now?”

Veronica polished her dagger, and grabbed a couple extra to store as back-ups. Sera was gathering arrows somewhere out of hearing range. “You didn’t see them when they drank together? He got her to loosen up a bit. Whoever you were thinking of, not gonna work. Fenris is what she needs Varric, and I know just the man to find him.” She shot him a wink, tightening her weapon belt as she called for Sera, asking if she was ready. Varric sighed.

“Okay, Prophet. If you’re sure. I don’t know if Broody will even show up, he’s pretty content hunting slavers.”

Veronica smirked, approaching the trail that led to Lake Calenhad, “You think I can see the future right?”

He rolled his eyes, “I know you can. Next question.”

“Well, I say we’re gonna fight plenty of Tevinter, and Fenris would love to join. Lead with that,” as she spoke, Blackwall and his recruits came into view across the lake. She held her sigh in. She couldn’t let her feelings of what he did in the past color how she treated him now. This was Minerva’s decision now. Whatever she deemed necessary was to be his fate when the time came. His annoying broody angst and “oh woe is me” could stay far away from her in the meantime. “Ready guys?”

Sera squinted, “that lot? That’s it?”

“Don’t be fooled, Sera. Keep an eye out.” Veronica warned, readying her own weapon.

 

Worst trip ever. Minerva inwardly groaned at the sight of Solas and Vivienne bickering, meanwhile Cassandra was actually groaning as the two carried on. “I'm just saying, darling. If you invested any time in your wardrobe people might take you more seriously.” Vivienne said with mock concern as she critically looked at the elf riding his mount.

“Not all of us place as much value in vanity as you, Madame.” Solas shot back, not bothering to give her so much as a glance. 

“No, I suppose a man that had lived in the wilderness wouldn’t understand the concept of a proper public image.” 

“Madame de Fer, if Solas would like to dress like a vagabond, that’s his unfortunate prerogative.” Minerva added in, drawing The Iron Lady’s gaze. 

“You could do with a new wardrobe as well, my dear. The Herald of Andraste needs to inspire her followers, not fit in with the common rabble.” 

Minerva sighed, “I don’t want to be part of this conversation.” 

“I have a positively wonderful seamstress in Val Royeaux I could set you up with. Once we’re back in Haven, we must begin to get you more suited to your new position.” Vivienne smiled knowingly and Minerva could only muster a withering glare. Looking like a little princess wasn’t going to be of any use with all the nastly places the Inquisition had her slogging off to. 

She clicked and signaled for her horse to go faster, getting ahead of the rest to get to the Inquisition’s meeting spot. Soon she would never have to bring the awful woman or Solas for that matter all over Thedas. That would be nice.  

She jumped down, let one of the forces handle the horse and got the word from Lace about the Blades of Hessarian. “They’re a weird bunch, but if you challenge their leader, they might respect that. Or you could just go in and kill them all!” she said cheerily. “It’s your call Herald.”

“Uhh, let’s work on getting that necklace they want. Might as well try fighting just one rather than the lot.” Minerva smiled back, not quite meeting the chipperness that Lace brought even to the cold, rainy place. 

She had one thing to get to first, anyway. Meeting the Chargers. At least that was a short trip and then she could finally take a nap before dealing with that mess. 

Minerva signalled to the others to follow her and made her way down the steep, rocky path to where the Chargers were located according to the map Krem had left. They could hear the sound of fighting before they even reached the beach and prepared to jump in. 

The Iron Bull was swinging his large axe like it weighed nothing as he removed various protruding body parts from the Tevinter fighters that littered the beach. Krem’s maul pounded into one man’s chest, caving in his armor as Dalish used her “bow” to produce a vine that choked him to death. Skinner and Rocky took out a handful of Vints they had cornered by the cliffs, but Minerva didn’t see how. She did hear a mild explosive, however. Grimm and Krem tag-teamed one mage woman that resulted in a bloody mess. One man raised his staff in Bull’s direction, but it was on his left side where he couldn’t see. Minerva aimed her bow and easily took him out. She smirked; straight in the eye. If only it was his name that was Bull. 

Vivienne and Solas froze a couple of Vints together, creating one, solid ice block filled with two warriors. The Iron Bull roared with laughter as he charged through it, shattering the block into a mess in the sand. Minerva laughed at his enthusiasm as Krem finished off the last one.

“Chargers!” Bull cried out as Krem strode up to report. “Status, Krem?”

“Five or six wounded, Chief, no dead,” he stood up straight, showing a respect for Bull that he never did during down time. To Minerva it showed he respected Bull’s position as the boss, but also was comfortable enough to treat him as a friend in their downtime. 

Bull nodded in approval, “That’s what I like to hear! Have the throat-cutters finish up. Then we’ll break open a casks!”

“I take it you’re The Iron Bull I’ve heard so much about.” Minerva smiled, striding up to the gigantic Qunari. Least he was friendlier looking than the ones in Kirkwall. 

“The horns usually give it away.” he chuckled. “Sit with me, we’ll talk business. Drinks are coming soon.” 

Minerva took a seat on a log across from the man, assessing him as much as he was her. “So I’m figuring you’d like to be hired by the Inquisition, you and your Chargers, that is.” 

“Oh yeah, this won’t cost you a thing, personally. That Antivan lady… Josephine..? She’ll handle it. Gold will take care of itself. Here’s the deal. You get the Chargers, who are the best at what they do, but you also get me on the front lines. I will fight with you personally. Dragons, giants, demons, the bigger the better. Oh… one other thing. Might help you out, might piss you off. What do you know about the Ben Hassraths?”

“I know a little from Kirkwall. Qunari spys, right?” she asked, doing her damnedest to look more clueless than she was. “Why do you ask?”

He smiled, an observant, almost knowing look in his eye that made Minerva nervous, of course he would pick up on it. The spy he was, “Well, if you know about them, you might guess where this is going. Whole opens up in the damned sky. The Ben Hassrath want to know all they can about that. So, I will be sending them reports. However, this works both ways. I also receive reports from them. You have all my connections.”

“So you inform on us and, in turn, you inform on them. I think we can work with that.” she grinned, standing up. “Well, then. Welcome to the Inquisition, The Iron Bull. I’m looking forward to working with you.” She offered the man a hand to shake on it. 

He smirked, the scar on his lip stretching as he did so, and took her hand as it disappeared in his enormous bear paw, “Pleasure doin’ business with you, Boss. Chargers! Drinks on the road, we just got hired!”

Krem’s face was absolutely comical. He appeared both appalled and completely irate. “What about the casks, Chief! We just opened them up! With axes !”

He shrugged, “Find some way to seal ‘em. You’re Teviner right? Try blood magic.”

He shot him a dirty look and mimed kicking him in the balls as a response.

 

After breaking for the night, they set off the morning with the new amulet a quartermaster made up to go off and challenge the Blades of Hessarian. On their way, they’d come across a decimated Inquisition troops that Harding had mentioned going missing soon after they’d gotten word of the ability to challenge the Blade’s leader. The sight made Minerva’s blood boil. These were their people and while she might just be the Herald now, she knew in part, they were joining up for her. 

Traversing through the rough, wet terrain of the Storm Coast, they’d reached the encampment. “There’s a challenger!” one of the men that had taken watch yelled, stepping aside to allow entrance. 

She’d only taken a few steps in when she remembered what a bad idea this was. Minerva was an archer . She’d picked up daggers when she’d joined the coterie, but it wasn’t exactly a strong point for her. There was no way of this going well. The man was huge. “I come to represent the Inquisition.”

“Then you will die like every other one of your ‘Inquisition’ we’ve found.” The tall, blond leader laughed, not seeing her as a worthy opponent. He dove in for her with a hatchet as soon as the words left his mouth and she dove away, pulling out her daggers. She did her best to evade his blows with hopes of slowing him down and getting a jab in where she could. 

When she’d managed to get a dagger in his ribs, it stuck and he brought the hatchet down on her side. She felt a wash of pain as the blood began to pool out of the injury and rolled away, at least if it was stuck, he was unarmed.

He flailed at her wildly as she scurried away, reaching her bow. She drew it with what strength she had from the ground and fired a shot, catching him through the jaw. Him collapsing was the last thing she remembered as she soon followed after, right into a puddle of mud. “Fuck.” 

The Blades began cheering and congratulating her companions. Minerva tried pulling herself up, but found it rather difficult, what with all the bloodloss. “Help…” Her vision blurred out to white and she collapsed. She felt herself lifted and her injuries tended to, though she was only half conscious for the lot of it. It hurt. 

The next conscious moment she had was back at camp when she’d woken in a tent, bandages around her. She tried to sit up. 

“Mindful of your injuries, Herald. Your ribs have all been broken completely, and have punctured your lung. Magic alone will not mend it before tomorrow. I have brewed a potion that will ease the pain, and the Charger’s healer has created a poultice to apply every hour,” a gentle, but firm hand held her down as Solas spoke gently and mildly. It annoyed Minerva to no end, but the pain in her body told her to listen, for now. 

She relaxed. “Th-anks, bud.” she muttered through a sore throat. “When… can we get out of this shithole?” 

“I recommend two days, to ensure you are in good health for the journey. I must harvest more elf root for your potion. I will return when it is ready,” with that, he pressed a vial into Minerva’s hand and exited the tent with as much grace as an ancient elf should have.

“Well, fuck me.” she sighed, closing her eyes to rest. The Storm Coast was the worst. 

 

Hector had attempted to participate in the ‘training stuff’ Aria was doing. Leliana hadn’t had the time or desire to work with her, but Cole had soon popped up wanting to help and offered his aid. Rather than taking part, he’d found himself mostly watching the two as the practice in the solitude of the area outside the cabin. 

He’d hardly tried to even tap into his new found abilities for fear of doing something wrong or being caught. It wasn’t something he wanted. While he’d been able to hold his own in a bar fight or two in his day, it wasn’t something he took joy in. He would have been more than happy to just continue apprenticing with Adan and gain a trade that might prove useful to the Inquisition and perhaps others later on. He didn’t find himself wanting to go out there on ‘quests’ or be at the front lines of battle like Aria did for whatever reason she had. 

He had continued to do his work, but every day was filled with more anxiety than usual. There were far too many templars and too few mages. Sooner or later he was going to end up in trouble. He knew he needed help soon. Hector’s options of course were limited for now, the unapproachable mage loyalist Vivienne or Solas, the stuffy elf with enough secrets to keep him useful. 

With those options, he set sights on speaking to Solas once the party he was with returned to Haven. If nothing else, the apostate would at least keep his knowledge of Hector’s situation to himself and might be able to offer some useful tips. That, and someone had to keep an eye on the man for the Herald, as she’d asked. It wasn’t as though anyone else was about to do it. 

 

“Your feet are too loud. You think too hard, try focusing on the “why”. The “how” is in your way,” Cole explained calmly, looking down at Aria through his bangs under the wide brim of his hat. She shook her head and pushed herself up off of the ground. She had thought herself to be improving, but she still couldn’t get a single good swipe in at the boy. Even with her fancy new reflexes, he side-stepped her every move with ease and the frustration was getting to her. She needed to prove to Minerva that she wasn’t useless. She needed to show everyone that she had value here. She needed to protect the one ally she felt she had in this God Forsaken world she’d literally fallen into. She led out a heavy huff and straightened out. Cole stood without much of an expression, waiting patiently. 

Focus on the ‘why’, not the ‘how’. 

She remembered the look on Minerva’s face as she proudly displayed her climbing skills. She remembered the panic-stricken face of Hector when he realized his powers. She thought about her family, and how little use they had for her. She had no choice. She had to do this. She drew a deep breath and looked down at the wooden practice dagger in her hand and sidestepped as she thrust it into Cole’s direction. He dodged it well enough, but were it a real blade, she would have certainly sliced his coat at least. She couldn’t help but beam with pride. She looked to Hector, who sat on a boulder nearby watching with little interest. “Tell me you saw that!”

He smiled back, “You’re doing good!” Hector gave two thumbs up, but put them down quickly, finding it to be too cheesy. 

“Hell yeah, I am!” She looked at Cole, who wasn’t giving her much of a reaction himself. There was the hint of a smile on his face, however, which was enough for now. “What’s next Cole?”

He shook his head, “Enough for today.” He looked to Hector and his smile faltered. Aria wanted to tell him no, that his hurt wasn’t something that could be fixed with bread or turnips, but it really wasn’t her place. He suddenly vanished in a cloud of smoke, but Aria had a feeling he’d be back before too long. She shook her head and looked to Hector, who hadn’t had an episode like before, but there was certainly a lot on his mind. 

“Company or solitude?” She had asked him this question many times, but he didn’t seem to like it. She couldn’t avoid it, however, as she refused to push his boundaries. 

“You can stick around if you want to.” he shrugged. “But only if you want.” He pulled himself off the little bench he’d set up and brushed himself off. “I was just gonna throw together some dinner… and be boring.” 

She smiled, a genuine smile she’d found herself doing a few times lately. Hector didn’t know it, but he was the first person to even see one in a long time. “You’ve done all the cooking. How about we go to the tavern tonight? My treat. And, for the record, you’re not boring,” she offered a wink.

He brushed a hand over the stubble on his chin considering if it was a good idea to brave going into town with all the people about, but with the company, it didn’t seem so bad. “Oh, alright. Getting out might be nice.” 

Her smile widened before she could stop herself and she motioned for him to follow, “perfect! Let’s go before the good seats are taken!” They walked the short way into the gates of Haven. Aria glanced at the soldiers that Cullen was quickly whipping into shape as they packed their weapons and armor up for the night. The sunset shone through the fractured, emerald lighting of the breach and sparkled against the sky. Aria stopped for a moment to appreciate it.

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it. I mean, despite what it is,” she shrugged.

He smiled, looking out at the Breech. “You’d never see anything like it where we’re from. And shoot. Have you looked up at night? I can’t remember the last time I saw stars like here. Maybe never.” 

Aria resumed her walk, “I haven’t. It should be sun down by the time we head home, remind me to look then.” She almost halted her movements at her own words. Had she called their run down shack home? She tried to ignore the word, settling for the simple explanation of a rushed word choice, and stepped into the tavern. It wasn’t as busy as she expected, for the time of night that it was. Then again, there was some sort of feast type thing going on in the Chantry, something about the Herald meeting a merchant in Val Royeux and sending her over. She dimly remembered running into a lady when playing the game, but she didn’t realize she brought so much with her after. Because of his new powers, or a burden as he’d likely call them, Hector didn’t think it a good idea to join in on a crowded event inside a building filled with templars. Aria didn’t argue, as she didn’t care for crowds in general. 

She chose a secluded booth ducked away in the back corner and slid onto the bench. Her mind wandered to the last few days. Leliana had practically brushed her off like an irritating gnat when she approached her for training. Luckily Cole stepped in, but she really felt her style was closer to the Spymaster. She just needed to learn enough to prove to the woman she was worth her time. She shook the thought away and returned her attention to the present company across from her, offering a small smile.

He smiled back, “Whater’ you thinking about?” 

“Eh, nothing important,” Flissa stepped up to their table and asked what they’d like. Lord, did the girl ever stop working? “You know I’ve been wanting to try that ram stew you made today. I’ll have some of that.”

She smirked and nodded, “and you, Handsome?”

He beamed back at Flissa. “If it’s the stew you got on, I think that’d be lovely. Thank ya, darlin’.”

“Of course, hon. Water, ale? I think that merchant brought some kind of ghislain that no one’s taken yet.” She rested a hand on her hip and looked between the two. Aria wanted to roll her eyes at the look she shot them. It reminded her of the look a teenage girl might give her friend when her high school crush was nearby. She looked at Hector first, waiting for his answer.

“I’d love to try the ghislain.” he answered then looked to Aria. “I can get my own drinks though, Aria.”

Flissa responded before Aria did, “on the house hon. This one has worked tirelessly since she got here and has saved my hide enough times. Both of you enjoy and relax. How about you, Aria? Some nice wine to wind down?”

Aria’s brain shorted out in that moment. She didn’t know how to respond to such generosity. After an uncomfortable amount of time gawking at the woman she cleared her throat and stammered, “uh.. Y-yeah. Thanks.”

Flissa winnked, “I’ll be right back.”

Hector looked at her with concern, but decided it was best not to comment. “Did we ever figure out how Cole got here? Or was he just secretly always here?”

Aria was thankful for the subject shift, “I have a feeling Minerva did something. Something off the beaten path,” she spoke quietly at the end, looking away to hide her embarrassment. She had to give the woman credit where it was deserved. If only she didn’t treat her like some damned child. “Dorian shouldn’t be far after, though. I’m sure he’d love to help you out. I know you want to try your hand with Solas, but… I really don’t trust him. Not to mention his magic is different.” She looked back at him and allowed her eyes to display just a bit of her concern, “be careful. Okay?”

“I’m gonna try to be as careful as I can, I promise. I just think his perspective might be useful… and it’ll happen sooner than if I try and wait. Besides, Dorian might not give me the time of day. He is some fancy noble mage and I’m absolutely no one.” he said, voicing the bit of the concern he had for that plan himself. 

Flissa returned with their drinks, offered a smile and hurried off to tend to the few other patrons that were too drunk to join the rest of Haven in the Chantry. Aria watched the woman walk off before returning her attention to Hector. She frowned. “I really don’t know what to say to that. The comment hurt me and it wasn’t directed at me. What makes you think that?”

“Everyone’s doin’ important stuff. I’m barely a healer’s apprentice.” he smiled a little and shrugged. “At least I don’t think Minerva’s interested in giving Solas too much action. He might be bored enough to help if nothing else.” 

“If that’s what you measure to be someone’s worth, what are you doing talking to me?” She lowered her voice, “I’m a tavern wench! Back home, I was a god damn stripper for Christ sake. Not information I was planning on giving anyone, but there it is. You’re helping people. You saved my fucking live twice ! That’s worth something!” Without thinking, she reached across the table and held onto his hand. She tried to convey her sincerity in her eyes as she spoke, “If Dorian won’t see that, which he will, then fuck him. But you’re not a nobody, Hector.”

Hector shrunk down, a bit at her words, but held her hand just the same. “Okay, if you say so.” he said softly.

She realized they were still holding hands and debated letting go, he had to be uncomfortable right? But she didn’t want to risk him feeling rejected if she pulled away. She settled on leaving it up to him and left her hand where it was. She felt calluses at the tips of his fingers that were curious, but the inside of his palms felt soft. She tried not to focus on them too much and returned her eyes to his. “I do say so. It’s not up for debate.” The last words she wanted to say died on her tongue and she closed her mouth slowly, awkwardly. You’re special . What did that even mean? She wasn’t sure, herself.

He stared at his hand in hers between them. “Okay.” He didn’t really know what to say. “I, uh, have weird calluses, I know.” 

She smirked, “So do I… pole can do that,” she cleared her throat, noting that he hadn’t commented on her profession. She had a sickening feeling that it was due to disgust. 

“Oh, I am sure I can only imagine. It’s an incredibly athletic profession.” he said, smiling gently, getting a hint from her tone it might be a delicate topic. “Mine are just from playing the guitar… and banjo. Nothing so exciting.” 

She exhaled more quickly than she meant to. She hadn’t been aware she was holding her breath. “I used to want to be a musician… didn’t have the talent, I’m afraid. I’d love to hear you play.”

Flissa arrived with their stew and Aria pulled her hand back to leave room for the bowls. She didn’t admit it outwardly, but she missed the contact. Flissa smirked with a cocky air, told them both to enjoy, and returned to work. Aria rolled her eyes and sipped the Ghislain to calm her nerves.

“It’s just to relax for me. If I had a guitar here, I’d show ya, but I think they’re in short supply.” He pulled his bowl of stew over and started eating. 

Aria dug into hers, relishing in the way it tasted. There was some sort of spice in it that she knew wasn’t of her world. It wasn’t as thick as the stew she was used to, then again there probably wasn’t any kind of equivalent to corn starch here. There was some kind of herb floating around that seemed somewhat familiar, but she couldn’t place it. She caught Flissa gave them and a sinking feeling stomach replaced the warm content she’d been feeling. She inspected the herbs again and tasted one to be sure. It wasn’t quite like what they had back home, but she was already feeling the effects.

“Hector… I think there’s some form of pot in this.”

He raised his brow, “Well, that’d at least make Thedas more fun, wouldn’t it?” He certainly wasn’t having any sort of reaction. It smelt like sage maybe?

She shook her head, feeling like she was moving through water. How many times had she shaken it? What was she shaking her head for? “I… what?” She giggled slightly, then remembered she was annoyed at Flissa. What would this accomplish?

Hector finished off his drink in a few gulps, not really taking the time to savor it, though he noted it was a good wine. “You wanna go home?” 

She realized she’d still been eating the stew when she saw an empty bowl that seemed to be moving through water. “Yeah…..”

Hector got up and offered her a hand, pulling her up once it was clasped in his. “That seems like a good idea. Come on.” He’d held on in case she needed any help with balance, leading her out. 

“Safe walk home you two,” Flissa offered as they stepped out. Hector stepped, Aria stumbled. She chuckled and looked up at him, studying his face.

“You’re really pretty…” She tried to walk and speak at the same time, but found herself stumbling more, which nearly knocked Hector off balance as well. She cackled at that and nearly did it again.

“So they tell me.” he said, trying to keep her upright, but giving up and scooping her up into his arms with a hand under her knee and the other on her back. “Hope this is alright. It’ll be quicker.” 

Aria was silent as the world spun around and around. Once it settled, she leaned back and spread her arms. “I’m flying….” She looked up at Hector and smiled a very dopey grin.

“I’m going to have to have a talk with Flissa if she thought it was a funny joke. It’s not acceptable to slip people something without their consent.” he muttered, carrying her back to the cottage.

“Flissa… Flissssaaaaa…” Aria leaned onto Hector’s shoulder. The fabric was sturdier than anything one would find back home, as all clothing was made to be mass produced and not to last, but it was surprisingly soft. She nuzzled against it, forgetting that there was a human being attached.

“A very firm talk.” he grit his teeth, feeling altogether quite irritated that anyone would pull that sort of stunt. “Hopefully it was just a foraging mistake.” He grabbed the knob to the door with the hand under her knee and kicked the door open, placing her on the bed. “Try to get some sleep.” 

She pouted, trying to sit up, but the world decided to sit up faster, “Are you leaving? I’ll miss you!”

“I’ll be back soon. Are you gonna be alright?” he asked, hoping to go check the ingredients with Flissa. 

“No…” She leaned back, feeling woozy, “Man… I haven’t felt like this since I had surgery… Don’t think that was pot,” she turned her head to look at him and flashed a brilliant smile, “You’re really cute… and you’re awesome. Know that?”

“S-sure.” he mumbled, not liking that she wouldn’t be saying these things if not having some sort of reaction, one bit. If she’d remembered and reflected on it later, she might be irritated with him. He dug through his pack from work. Elf root had some anti-inflammatory properties, at least. “Here.” he said, handing her the small bottle. “Drink this. It should hopefully cut down on the reaction you’re having.” 

She took the bottle and downed it, suddenly parched. Once it was down her throat, she grimaced. “I don’t like it. Where’s my wine?”

“Left it there. I can boil some water, if you like.” he said, putting the kettle on the hook over the fire and getting the fire going again.

Aria’s head suddenly felt very heavy. No, this was definitely not pot. “Hector, dear,” she tried to sound as calm as possible, though she was beginning to really panic. “Is Adan awake, by chance? I don’t think this is a drug reaction.” She felt hot, like she was burning up with fever, and her stomach churned. She focused on breathing through her nose, counting her breathes so it wouldn’t irritate her stomach. She missed the happy high version of this night.

“I’ll go get him and figure out just what all was in that.” he said, concern straining his voice. “Hold on tight here, alright?” He paused by the door for confirmation she could hold it together that long. 

 She nodded, but regretted the action immediately. Hector ran out the door as soon as she did. She felt similar to this when she’d been given penicillin, which she learned quickly she had a pretty serious allergy to. No kind of benadryl or counter existed here, she was certain. Her chest tightened and her breathing became shallow with panic. Was she going to die here? Tears pricked at the corners of her eyes as she hoped the world would stop spinning.

When Hector reached Adan, he’d shook the man awake and quickly sent him running to the cabin. Stopping at the tavern to get a list of ingredients from Flissa. They might not be able to figure it out tonight, but it was good information to figure out quickly. 

Aria’s head hadn’t cleared when she heard someone entering the cabin. She would have breathed a sigh of relief if she wasn’t busy rocking back and forth somehow while laying on her side. She heard a curse and a few grumbles before someone’s hand lightly touched her face. Something warm was being presented to her, but not to drink. Steam drifted up to her nose. It smelled sickeningly sweet. She winced.

“Breathe in, deeply.”

She tried to obey. It was difficult at first, but she managed to inhale more deeply with each breath. By the time the door opened a second time, the spinning had stopped, and she was left with only a ringing in her ears.

Hector entered and spoke with Adan. “This happens again, embrium in boiling water, you hear? It’ll take care of it.” He gave Hector a pat on the back, his tone more kind than usual. Then he left.

Hector kneeled down beside her cot. “Anythin’ you need I can do?” 

Aria’s breathing evened out, but her panic was miled away. She wanted contact, reassurance. She needed some kind of restriction around her. Knowing that wasn’t an option here, she simply said, “Sorry…”

He frowned, his brows creased with concern. “No need to be sorry. Just… tell me if there’s anything you need and I’ll see what I can do. Or if ya want me to leave you be, I can do that too.” 

“No,” she said more quickly than was necessary. She pretended her heated cheeks was from the reaction and not embarrassment. “I… I used to give my brother… t-tight hugs wh-when he panicked like this. I don’t have my comfort jacket I w-wear.” She closed her eyes and drew a deep breath. “Can’t help, not with that.”

“Do you want a hug then?” he asked softly, knowing he wouldn’t without her clear consent on the matter. “I can at least do that.” 

She nodded slowly, unable to do much else besides scoot over on the cot and hope he could look her in the eye in the morning.

He slid onto her cot and pulled her into a tight hug. “This alright?” 

“Yeah,” she spoke into his chest, hesitantly wrapping her free arm around him. She kept a heavy, baggy jacket around for occasions like this, as it felt like a hug at times. It didn’t compare, now that she had a real one for the first time in years. Her breathing slowed with her heart rate. She wasn’t dying, she was feeling better, she would be okay. The last dredges of anxiety were more from Hector’s thoughts on all of this. She could only imagine what he thought of her now. Stripper, complete mess, obviously very attracted to him. She wanted to cry and scream. 

Hector rubbed her back and he held her and hummed something soothing, knowing that sometimes it helped him when he was feeling ill or anxious. 

She felt the ghost of a smile on her lips and focused on the vibration of his voice in his chest. It soothed her, and she eventually drifted to sleep.





Chapter Text

Hector woke up feeling something warm and soft pressed against him. Oh! He opened his eyes to find the sleeping Aria tangled with him, their arms around one another. She likely wouldn’t see their current predicament in a very favorable light. He gently pulled her arms away and extracted his legs from her then got up. He removed the jacket he’d still had on from the night before and started up the fire. 

Maybe breakfast would be appreciated. 

The sudden movement awoke Aria from her deep sleep with a jolt. She opened her eyes as Hector left their small cot and a wave of confusion and panic crashed over her. What was he doing laying next to her? What happened?

Then the memories of the night before surfaced. She winced and turned over so she couldn’t see him and curled in on herself. She had made a complete ass out of herself and clearly he wasn’t happy with her for it. She was grateful to him for being there, but judging by how quickly he darted from the bed, he wasn’t as happy about it this morning as he was last night. 

God damn it, Aria. Go ahead and ruin the one okay thing around here for yourself. You’re really good at that.

He hummed lightly, pulling eggs out of the sawdust box he’d stored them in and put the pan down over the fire to heat, oblivious to the woman behind him. 

Aria rolled over and slowly sat up. Her whole body felt like an electric current was running over it with her discomfort, and she felt like she was suffocating in there. She needed to get out of here. He would probably appreciate that, but she had to say something to him… she mused on what. She couldn’t tell if her rolling stomach was due to anxiety over the situation, or left over effects from whatever she’d eaten the night before.

When he heard her moving around, he tilted his head to her. “How ya doin, hun?”

 She forced the Scarlet smile onto her face. “I’ll live. Sorry about last night. I… should go see Flissa, I’m sure she’s worried about me and will need some help with all the hungover citizens of Haven.”

“I was, uh, gonna make eggs, if you’re interested before you head out.” he said, turning to her. “If you’re feeling weird about last night, don’t. You know I’m always happy to help.” 

She frowned at the floor. She couldn’t understand him. No one is this understanding, what’s his angle here? She finally looked back up at him, her fake smile returning, “I appreciate it, Hector. Since you’re going to the trouble, I’ll have some eggs. Need any help?” She hoped they wouldn’t hit her stomach as hard as she suspected they might.

“You don’t have to… sometimes greasy foods settle the stomach… though that might just be for hangovers.” He put them on with a pad of butter, quickly frying them up. “Might be a dumb idea of mine.” 

“Only one way to find out. So… did Adan know what happened? He fixed me up quickly enough.” She wrapped her blanket around herself, missing her heavy jacket again. 

“Oh!” he went over and dug through his coat pocket. “I had Flissa write what was in the stew down. Adan said it was likely an allergic reaction.” He handed her the note then went back to the fire. 

“She’s a doll. I hope she didn’t get too upset about it last night. I’ll have to hear about it today, I’m sure.” She looked over the ingredients, wondering if she’ll even get to work today, or if her unofficial employer is going to mandate a day off. She recognized a few ingredients, as they parallelled her world, but some others might as well have been written in a foreign language. She’ll just have to avoid anything with… whatever these things were. She pocketed the note and gazed at the wall, finding nothing more productive to do that didn’t require forcing awkward conversation out of her current roommate.

He plated the food and handed hers to her, taking a seat on his own cot. “She’ll be alright. She was more concerned about you at the time. These things happen.” he offered a smile, eating his own food. “If you want to take it easy, I can always talk to her before I head in.” 

 She bit into her own breakfast, not realizing how hungry she was until it hit her stomach. Luckily, her nausea seemed to be mostly nerves. “I feel like I should see to her myself. I feel infinitely better, but I’m sure she’ll shoo me out, regardless. Um… thank you, by the way. You really came through for me last night.” She left out the whole ‘no one else has done that before’, as that would likely make the man more uncomfortable than he already was.

He shrugged and nodded, “It wasn’t any trouble. You’re fine.” 

She was getting tired of her stripper smile appearing on her face. She had gotten better at that. Old habits, she decided. “I’m not sure how I should feel about your lack of surprise, when I told you about my profession back home. Do I send off the vibes of a woman who gets naked in front of creepy old men?” She hoped he would take it as a joke, but she was mildly curious beneath the playfulness.

“Everyone’s got to make a living somehow.” he raised his brows, realizing it might be a sensitive topic. “I can’t say I really thought so much about it. Ya do what ya gotta. If you have the talent for it, why not do it? I’m sure the money’s better than half the crap I’ve done.” 

She smirked, “It was decent. I could always get take out, which never poisoned me. Honestly, I was weirdly good at it. My muscle control-” she realized she was babbling about stripping of all things and faked a cough, “anyway, I should talk to Flissa, and Adan’s not gonna yell at himself. I’ll see you later. I think Minerva is getting back, so there’s Solas too… I could talk to him, if you want. I don’t like it, but he seems to have some weird fascination with me.” She screwed her face into an exaggerated look of disgust, hoping to lighten the mood. Her own, if no one else.

“If you want to.” He said pausing. He could trust her with his thoughts at this point, if no one else. “I can always try to strike up a conversation with him. I do usually give him a ‘hey’ in the morning anyway. I’m aware of just what he is, but I think him seeing we’re not all braindead shells would be good… so someone’s got to bond with him somehow.” 

She had a sinking feeling that the best person to do that would be here, as he is a racist bastard. She shrugged, “I’ll throw in a word. I’m sure you’ll be fine. Just flash him some of that charm of yours.” God damn it, Aria ! She set her plate down, avoiding looking at him, and looked at her boots with a strange curiosity. She really was the only elf around wearing anything on her feet besides Sera, who could simply be doing so to keep as far away from elven tradition as possible… she should see what the snow feels like on her bare feet….

He smiled, still worried reaching out to Solas might be an absolutely terrible idea causing it to not totally reach his eyes. “I’ll give it the old college try, at least. You probably do stand the best chance, being an elf and all, with his attitudes.” 

“Never finished college, so I won’t even give it that, myself. I’m off, and yes, I know I’m not wearing shoes.” She stepped out before she could say any more stupid things and winced automatically when her feet touched the snow. Her face relaxed into shock when it didn’t feel painful. She felt the cold, but it didn’t bother her any more than the crisp air on her face. She honestly felt more free than she had in her life! She smiled at the strangeness of it all and strode toward the gates of Haven.

Hector shook his head at the sight. Elves and their feet. How did that work? Giving it no more thought, he went to prepare himself for the day. Elves had elf things, like no shoes, and it was better just to let it be. Aria had enough to figure out without him asking dumb questions.

 

Minerva could barely stand by the time her party made it to the stables at Haven. Solas had ushered her aside, much to her irritation. “Let me assess your injuries from our travels. We wouldn’t want our Herald dying of internal bleeding, after all.” he said calmly, offering her an arm if she needed to brace herself. 

She accepted his arm, knowing it was a distinct possibility she’d not make it all that far without him. “Th-anks, Solas.” 

He hummed an agreeable sound and guided her in the direction of her cabin. “I hadn’t wanted to speak on it earlier while you were recovering, but you acted foolishly in the Storm Coast.”

“Yeh, I’m entirely aware. Something about a hatchet to the ribs made that abundantly clear.” she said dryly. It had been stupid. What the game did and real life were two entirely different things when you couldn’t save and restart, but it was still her burden and what had to be done. “But the Blades are an asset and we need those right now. Otherwise they’d still be running amuck all over the place.” 

“Allies are necessary, but not at the cost of your own life, Herald. You are not expendable,” he said, pulling the door open for her and settling her on her bed. “Are you well enough to remove your tunic without aid?”

“Maker, everyone’s gonna see my tits before this is over, aren’t they?” she mused, with a smile. Solas returned a slight smirk, but it died quickly and he was again, all business. He stood with his arms crossed, waiting, like a nurse dealing with a rowdy child. She lifted her arm in an attempt to pull off the coat and hissed. “Yeh, I’m thinking not, bro.” 

He hesitated a moment, likely trying to understand the word, “bro”, but he quickly stepped towards her and gently peeled away the ruined, leather coat, taking care over her injuries and slipping it off of her arms with a strangely practiced ease. He shot her a look of warning, silently asking permission.

She raised her hand and flopped it up in an approximation of a shrug. “I’m all yours, big boy.” 

His cool fingers brushed under the hem of her tunic and slowly slid it over her shoulders, waiting for her to manage to get her hands above her head before discarding it. His eyes never roamed where they shouldn’t, much as Minerva would expect from the controlled man. He stooped low, examining the wrappings around her waist. His nimble fingers gently pressed against them, “I need to know the range of your pain, Herald. Is it unbearable anywhere?” he spoke as he prodded choice spots along her ribs and side.

She winced when he ran his fingers over the wounded area. “It’s not great around my ribs, honestly.” 

He nodded, “that is to be expected. There is enough of the poultice The Iron Bull’s healer made for another application. He did wish for me to explain that it is not for ingesting… why he felt this warning necessary is beyond me. If you will stand still, I can redress your wound, unless you would prefer Adan to tend to you from here.”

Minerva actually laughed at the thought of Adan dealing with her. It made her wince and grit her teeth. “Believe it or not, I think you’re considerably more agreeable than that man. Do what you got to.”

A ghost of a smile played on his face as he quickly, yet carefully unwrapped the cloth from around Minerva’s torso. His eyebrows furrowed just enough to cause concern when he saw her skin, but he smoothed his face into a neutral expression quickly. He held his hand over her, and closed his eyes. A cool, violet light spread from fingers and ran along Minerva’s injuries. The worst of which lit up, but she couldn’t see it very well without hurting herself to lean over and look. The concern returned to Solas’s eyes. He stood back up.

“Given the current state of your injuries, you’ll need at least another week of rest.” He shot her an accusing glare, “have you been pushing yourself since the blow?”

“Riding a horse didn’t do me any favors, but I figured it was better than sitting in the rain doing nothing. There’s too much to do here, for the Inquisition.” She didn’t like the thought of being laid up for a week one bit. 

He shook his head and rustled around in his pack for the poultice, “Agreed. There is much to be done, and now another will do it. I will inform your advisors you are not to leave this cabin.” He redressed her wound after applying the last of the salve, and gently helped her back into her tunic. “You do not see the far off consequences, Herald. You cannot fight if the damage is permanent. If you cannot fight, where will that leave the Inquisition?” He didn’t bother waiting for her to respond. He turned to leave, stopping when she spoke.

“Did you ever think the reason I do this shit is because I’m thinking of the far off consequences?” she asked, honestly. “That I don’t feel the sheer magnitude behind every decision I make here?” She felt that weight hanging from her neck constantly. One wrong choice, one step off the path and it could all come crashing down. It may have already with that envy demon in the world. How could a man like Solas not understand that? He was trying to fix his own damn mistakes. 

“Heal well, Herald. I will return in the morning, if you require my assistance.” His tone was quiet, contemplative, as he stepped out the door.

Like hell, there was no way she’d stay in this stupid cabin. Solas be damned. 

 

Aria had barely made it past the steps when she saw Solas exit Mienrva’s cabin. She arched a brow with curiosity. Minerva seemed to want the man dead as soon as possible. What were they doing cuddling in her cabin? She stopped walking when she was within his path and shot him a questioning look. There was something haunting in his eyes. Something was wrong.

“Anderan atishan, Aria. Forgive me, I must speak with the healer about potions and salves for our Herald. Was there something you were in need of?” His impatience was obvious. Aria debated dropping what she’d come to speak to him about, but Hector couldn’t wait any longer. She smiled as sweetly as possible, allowing some of her seduction she’d perfected back home to show through.

“Anderan atishan, Solas. You’re busy now, but if you could see me later, I would appreciate it. I am in need of a man of your expertise. Perhaps sundown?”

This seemed to catch the elf off guard. His eyes shot past her, to Adan’s makeshift clinic, then returned to her. He nodded once, and brushed past her. He didn’t say a word. Aria watched him walk a few paces then looked back at Minerva’s cabin. Something was definitely wrong. She made her way to the door and hesitated. They didn’t exactly part on the best of terms… but this woman was their only hope, like it or not. If she was hurt, they all needed to know about it. She rapped her knuckles against the door thrice and waited.

“Yeh, what?” Minerva called, wondering if Solas had forgotten something. Soon as he left, she’d busied herself making a drink to take the edge off. “It’s open.” 

Aria bit her lip with worry. That wasn’t a happy tone… she clearly didn’t want to be disturbed…. She straightened her shoulders and set her face to a pleasant neutral. She would investigate and leave quickly. She opened the door and stepped through, ready to ask how the trip had gone. The question died on her lips when she saw the state of the woman inside. There was a flush to her cheeks that didn’t seem to be due to the drink in her hand. Her hair stuck to her face where a sheen of sweat shone and there was pain in her eyes. She seemed to favor her left side. Her tunic was loose and not confined in a corset of any kind, despite the fact that Solas had just been here. Aria was at a loss for words. What had happened at the Storm Coast?

“Oh, sorry. I thought Solas was pestering me again. You want something?” she said, guiding herself gingerly to sitting in a chair. 

“Yeah… I wanna know what happened. I thought this was gonna be a simple recruitment. The Tevinters couldn’t have been that tough, especially with Bull at your side.” She looked around for a cloth of some kind and water. Finding an old rag, she stepped outside quickly and wrapped some snow in it before returning. She silently asked, holding the offering near the woman’s face.

“Uh, thanks…” Pain showed on her face as she lifted her right hand to grab it from the woman, hissing as she placed it on the worst of her wounds. “Don’t get in a one on one with a 6’10 guy wielding a hatchet. It doesn’t end pretty.” 

Aria’s eyes widened and her jaw dropped. “Minerva, you didn’t !”

She laughed weakly and shot her a crooked grin. “Got the Blades of Hessarian for us, at least.” 

Aria shook her head. “Us” means you and the Inquisition but I get it . “At what cost, though? I know, it’s not my place. Sorry. I’ll… let Veronica yell at you.” She looked awkwardly at the wall while she calmed the heightened heart rate she was suddenly feeling. The very real danger was more obvious to her than ever. They could have lost the one person who can fix this mess. “Anything I can do?”

Minerva waved her hand as if to brush the idea away. “I’ll be fine. Just.. gotta take it easy a minute.” She took a good swig of her drink with a grimace. 

Aria nodded, “alright. Take it easy, then. I’ll be at the tavern, if Flissa will let me today, if you need me.” 

“I’ll probably be out that way soon as I can shake Solas’s static. ‘Stay in the cabin’ my ass.” she grumbled with a shake of her head. What a joke. 

Aria stopped and closed her eyes in a silent prayer. This woman will have the power to pull the head right off her shoulders before too long, but if it means everyone will survive, especially Hector, she had to plaster her Scarlet smile and turn slowly. “I’m about one hundred percent sure I can’t stay at the tavern today, and my roommate probably doesn’t want me near him right now. I have a great idea! Your stubborn ass clearly needs a babysitter, and I need to keep myself busy. Perfect! Agree? Agree.” She kept her voice pleasant, but she was honestly terrified. She pulled up the opposite chair and sat down in it. Her hands were balled tightly into fists beneath the table where Minerva couldn’t see.

“What’re you on about?” Minerva asked, more exhausted than irritated. “I do have stuff I need to do… talk to ‘Blackwall’ when he gets in, try to get someone to go and see what can be done about that envy demon, I’ve been putting that off, contact Alexius to get that sweet invite, see how The Iron Bull and the Chargers are settling in, get a status report from the advisors. Not like I’m being stubborn just to be stubborn, yo. You don’t even like me, anyway.” Aria didn’t trust her leadership ability any more than she trusted her to send her to the field, but that didn’t mean she needed to stick around and make sure she wasn’t going to keel over. 

Aria leaned back, thinking about how to respond. The woman had all valid points, but not all were completely true. “‘Not liking you’ is a bit strong. Permission to speak freely?” She hoped the familiar phrase from back home would ease some of the obvious tension in the room, but she couldn’t bring herself to smile either. There was a lot at stake, and this conversation wasn’t the safest idea she ever had to her person.

 “Whatever.” Minerva mumbled into her drink. “You do you.” 

“You’re stubborn. You see what needs done and you do it, consequences be damned. But there’s more than just you who knows what’s at stake here. I get it, you’ve been in this world awhile, you know better than me what goes on around here. But there are four of us, not one. I disagree with you on some things, I admit. And I don’t appreciate being brushed aside because I can be useful, and I’m damn tired of people thinking I have no value.” The words tasted bitter on her tongue, but she continued anyway. “Let me do something. I can check on the Chargers, I can talk to the advisors and run what they say back to you. Whatever is needed, it can be done without getting you hurt more.”

“I never said you were useless. You wanted in the field and I said no. Because,” she motioned to her current state. “It’s dangerous. I’d rather have people not like me than dead. I appreciate the offer, but I do have to act as the Herald and, unfortunately, that is an important factor to the people offering aid.” she paused, choosing her words carefully, not wanting her to think it was specifically her she was rejecting. “I’m sure that Josephine’s already sent people out to all of them with a damn gift basket, but it’s not me. When I decided to do this, I accepted the responsibility that came with it. Part of that is letting people know I’m not some standoffish figurehead. I’m just an ex-milliner from Kirkwall with a rap sheet.” 

Aria suddenly felt exhausted, and it wasn’t because she’d been sick most of the night sick in Hector’s arms. “You really didn’t have to, Minerva. Hear or see something your whole life, you realize there’s a reason after a while. But think of it this way. You’re not the leader right now. You’re some hot shit fancy godsend icon. When you’re Inquisitor, you’ll have all sorts of people running around doing this stuff for you. For now, you don’t need to. Besides, real leaders have helpers. Let me at least do that, please. Call it a selfish request, but I need to do more around here. You may have seniority when it comes to who got here first, but I know this story too.”

“You can talk to them if you like, but I’ve still got to do it myself for the sake of appearances.” She downed her drink and tried getting herself out of the chair delicately as she could manage, the pain in her side shooting. “Talk to them, hell, talk to Solas while your at it. See if you think there’s something you can do. I’ll listen if you bring me something I think is appropriate.” 

Aria looked at the door and chewed her lip. She needed to keep this woman down while she healed, but she was set on self destruction. She thought of an idea, but it was, admittedly, not a good one. “You stay here, and I talk to Solas. If you don’t like what I come back with, I’ll leave you to do whatever you want and stand back for the rest of our time here. Deal?”

She raised a brow already furrowed in pain. “I’m getting out of here short of an army stopping me, but I intend to take it easy. Like I said, talk to who you want, find out what you like. I really can’t deal with the dramatic ultimatums today or people telling me to stay cooped up any longer, alright? It’s not you. I just need to do something.” 

Oh it’s me. I get that reaction a lot . She inwardly grumbled. Clearly this woman was too stubborn for her own good. “Alright. At least let me get your potions from Solas. He seems distracted today, and could have forgotten.”

“Yeh, fine. I’ll be around.” she nodded, gingerly nudging a coat over her shoulders. 

Aria nodded and hurried out the door. Having been through an injury herself, she knew just what moving around on it could do to a person in the long run. She had refused to stay in bed after she’d torn ligaments in her leg. She was supposed to take a month off of work, but she needed the money. She worked through the pain and her knee was never the same again. Luckily, this new body didn’t have that problem, but the likeliness of Minerva getting that kind of second chance was slim to none. She needed to do something. She spotted Adan speaking with Solas. The elf was holding a potion in one hand and some kind of poultice in the other, explaining the injuries to the older man with a grim expression. Aria wasn’t certain it was related to the Herald. She strode up and offered them both a smile. “Hey, the Herald asked me to pick up her potions, she’s in a lot of pain.”

Solas nodded once and passed them to her, taking his leave without a word. Aria wanted to shake her head and sigh. That man needed to get high or something. She turned her attention to Adan, pushing it to the back of her mind for now, “thanks for last night. I was wondering… do you know how to make a potion that’ll help me sleep?”

 

Minerva up and hobbled out of the cabin, looking around. The Chargers were sure far away. She slowly made her way down the path, out the gates, stopping once she saw the massive Qunari man. “Everything up to your standards?”

“It’s a small faction so far, but I’ve been watching Cullen. That man is doing a fine job training the Inquisition’s troops.” Bull commented, turning a weary eye to the state Minerva was in and all she could do was a little shrug and smile to answer his gaze.

“He does that.” she nodded, looking over at Cullen as he trained the troops proudly. He’d done good. “I apologize for not being in quite the state to offer a proper welcome, but if you or your people need anything, please let me know and I’ll take care of it.” 

“She’s serious right now, isn’t she?” Krem asked with a shake of his head. “You’re still injured, Your Worship.”

Bull nodded, “We can get along fine. Got the royal welcome from Josephine. Looks like everything’s taken care of.”

“I’ll take a break shortly, promise.” she nodded. “Just want to let everyone know I’m alive.”

“Take care, Boss.”

She gave them a wave and made her way back up the steps. Lord, this is tiring. It wasn’t likely she’d make it much further without some more of whatever tincture they’d cooked up for her, so she went to her cabin, finding more bottles Aria must have left. Great. She couldn’t wait for the nagging to begin when she next saw her. She downed one of the bottles and sat down for a moment. After a couple of minutes, she began to feel dizzy.. No, not dizzy. Tired... groggy. She looked at the other bottle across the room and a realization dawned on her when she saw the color. Goddamnit . That wasn’t what she’d been taking, she realized as her head hit the bed.

 

Veronica, Blackwall, Varric, and Sera rode into Haven stables by nightfall. As she dismounted her horse and stepped out of his stall, Veronica noticed Aria speaking with Solas before parting and making her way through the gate. She watched curiously as the elvhen mage strode in the direction of the previously abandoned cabin that Aria and Hector seemed to be bunking in. She entered the gates quickly, leaving her small group to settle in, and jogged up the steps to catch up with the dark skinned elf. She nudged her with her elbow, but the smile she flashed was gone when Aria jumped with a yelp. 

“Damn, it’s just me. What’s got you so paranoid?” She laughed as they continued on their walk in the direction of the Chantry. 

Aria’s eyes darted to Minerva’s cabin quickly, “Just… jumpy… I guess.”

Veronica rolled her eyes, “Come on, you two can’t still be at it. Just play along with her for now, she means well.”

Aria’s smile was shaky, “Oh, yeah. I’m working on it. I was just gonna go to the tavern…”

Veronica gripped her arm with a sigh. “This shit needs to stop, now. I’m too sober for this. Come on, let’s go in there and I’ll sit you two down like children.” Yeah right, like Minerva would stand for that

Aria’s eyes were stricken with fear. “No, I really need to get going. Flissa needs help.” 

Veronica frowned. This smelled fishy. She held her grip tightly onto the squirming girl and slowly dragged her towards Minerva’s cabin. She was going to get to the bottom of this one way or another. She didn’t bother knocking. She shoved the door open and her eyes swept the room. She saw her friend laying half on her bed, half off, completely sprawled in an awkward angle that couldn’t possibly be comfortable enough to sleep in. Fearing the worse, an icy chill of fear struck her heart. She let go of the elven woman and rushed to Minerva’s side. She hauled her up, fully onto the bed and checked her vital signs.

“Careful!” Aria cried, “She’s hurt!”

“She’ll live with some pain! She looks like she’s been poisoned! What happened here?”

Aria’s eyes met the floor and Veronica knew she did something. She left her friend, who seemed alive and well, if not completely unconscious, and walked until she was almost nose to nose with the guilty woman before her. She gripped her forearms until she cried out, and stared into her violet eyes. “What. Happened.”

“She-she was hurt… she wouldn’t rest… I just-”

“I don’t want to hear excuses! I want to know what you did!”

“A sleep drought… she’ll be awake in twelve hours….”

Veronica’s hands released the girl automatically, and she stepped back quickly, rubbing her arms and looking very small. She saw red and had to look away. Minerva was going to kill this girl. “Get out.”

“I’m sorry-”

“Get the fuck out!” Veronica shoved her out the door and slammed it, pressing her forehead against the rough wood. This was bad. This was worse than bad. This was fucked . Minerva was going to shit bricks when she woke up, and there would be little Veronica could do to stop her from running straight for Aria. 

After a few breaths to calm herself down, she made her way to her friend’s side. She didn’t see an injury on her just looking, so she lifted her trouser legs. Nothing. She lifted her shirt slightly, and gasped. There was a huge bandage wrapped around her whole torso! 

“You were running around with this ? Damn it Min.” She lowered her shirt and sat down on the side of the bed, holding her head in her hands. She needed to figure out what to do. Fast. Minerva might heal properly, but she isn’t one to forgive, and she certainly isn’t one to take it lightly when someone takes choices from her.

“Rest in peace, Aria. Was nice knowing you,” she grumbled.

Chapter Text

    Aria hurried past the gates of Haven and ran as quickly as she could to the cabin she shared with Hector. She knew it was a horrible idea! She had been stupid to switch the bottles, but what choice did she have? Minerva was hurt! She cursed herself as she slipped on an icy patch and landed on her knee. Had she been paying attention, she would have been able to correct herself easily. She bit down on her finger to prevent herself from crying out as a sharp pain stung into her knee. A sharp piece of ice had left her with a reasonable scratch, but it was minor in the grand scheme of things. She stood back up and continued home, limping slightly. 

    Hector was inside, sitting on his cot reading in the low candle light. He was looking at some book on herbs Adan had let him borrow, saying it would stop him from asking so many obvious questions. When Aria opened the door in a hurry, he looked up in concern at her state. “What’s… goin’ on?” 

    She shook her head, leaning against the door and trying to catch her breath. Her heart was hammering in her chest and she felt as if she might actually vomit. She tried to focus on her breathing, but she felt the signs of a panic attack. She didn’t normally suffer them, at least not at this scale, but she knew she would this time if she didn’t do something. She was so dead !

    Hector put the book down, now feeling truly worried. “What happened? What can I do?” He asked, getting up and going to her in the other room of the cabin. He didn’t know if he should hug her or wait and found himself somewhere in between with his hands open and slightly outstretched to her. 

    She covered her face, not seeing the invitation, and shook her head. “I’m in deep shit. No one can help me. Not this time.” She laughed without humor, “in case I die today, I should tell you I meant the stupid shit I said last night. In the name of honesty.”

    Hector placed a hand hesitantly on her shoulder, “Aria, please. What’s happened? We can figure something out, whatever it is.” 

    She shrugged his hand off her shoulder and shook her head again, scanning the cabin for any possessions she might have. Nothing. She didn’t have a damn thing here. Where was she going to go anyway? She was stuck, and alone and, damn it ! She sank to the floor and leaned her head against the wall. “Minerva… she was hurt… she was so hurt and,” she swallowed, “she wouldn’t stay down ! She was gonna get worse… I had to.” She looked up at him, her eyes pleading with him to understand. “I had to do it!”

    “Wh-what did you do?” he asked, knowing whatever the answer was, it was not going to be good. He crouched down to be at eye level with her.

    She looked away, beginning to tremble. “Sleeping drought.”

    “Aria, you can’t just--” he cut himself off, it was far too late to explain that she can’t just go around drugging people. “It doesn’t matter. We have to deal with it now. Okay, ok. So she’s going to be pissed, fairly so, even if it might have helped her. Maybe… uh, maybe try apologizing.” 

    Aria felt numb now. That was it. She did it. She ruined herself and that was who she could blame. She looked at Hector, but it wasn’t his face she saw. She saw her mother, crying in the corner as her father yelled at her to get the hell out of his house. She nodded. “Yeah… I’ll… I’ll go do that.” She stood up on shaky legs. Her mind swam, but she was determined. “I’m sorry, Hector.” She couldn’t look at him, not after this. She was that person who slipped people sedatives now. A bisexual stripper who slipped drugs. In the eyes of so many people, it didn’t get much worse than that. 

    Hector against his better judgement, shot up and grabbed her hand. “If you just did it, I doubt she’s awake yet. But… if you’re going to try, I’ll come with you, when you do. You don’t have to be alone.” 

    She looked down at the hand that held hers with confusion for a moment. “I’ll wait. I need to go alone. I did it, not you.” She slowly pulled her hand out of his and stepped back. “I need to.” She turned to the door and yanked it open. Her eyes were burning and her throat tight. She shouldn’t have even told him. She should have just done this from the beginning. 

    “Well, listen first. I’m not about to order you around or make choices for you,” he called after her. “But I can help… maybe some of her friends? Soften the blow. It’s not like it will make it any worse at this point. I’m here if you need me. I can talk to them, if we want to try it. I can also stay here, though I’d rather not. That’s up to you.” 

    She stopped a moment, allowed her face to relax and her eyes to settle, then turned long enough to throw him her best Scarlet smile yet. “I’ll be okay.” Her voice almost didn’t shake. She turned back and made her way toward Haven, listening for any footsteps following her. She passed the tents where Cullen’s soldiers camped, and the space the Chargers were holed up. She ducked her head in case Krem was still out and about, though she imagined they would all be at the tavern at this time. Luckily, they didn’t seem to be around. She spotted Dennet tending to the horses, and grasped the coin purse on her hip. She had saved a decent sum at the tavern. It might not do much in the long run, but it was a start. She stepped up to the man and smiled.

    “Any of these beauties not taken?”

    The older man looked her up and down. She must have been a sight; red eyes, no provision pack, clearly in distress. He patted the strawberry roan in front of him and nodded his head towards the tackle shed. “Just this one. Not the fastest or the sturdiest. Not great in the mountains. Name’s Chaser. Darts off first sight of trouble. I have a feeling you two will get along.”

    She shot him a look that could melt metal, but reached for her coin all the same. Not the best horse, but it’ll have to do.

    “That won’t be necessary, Horsemaster.”

    She froze. Fuck!

    Dennet nodded and continued to put Chaser away. Aria didn’t want to turn around. She didn’t want to move, or breathe. Of all the people in Haven, why did it have to be him ?

    “Veronica was looking for you. I imagine it is serious, given your sudden desire to flee. Tell me, Aria, what were you planning to do with a handful of coins and a young, half excuse for a horse?” Solas asked as if they were discussing the weather. He stepped in front of her and seemed to analyze her. She looked away, suddenly quite cold. She shivered. He sighed and looked behind her, “I have agreed to help your friend. It would be a shame, if you weren’t here to watch his progress. He shows great promise. He could be the best of myself and Adan. The ultimate healer.”

    Aria glared, “Wh-why are you t-telling me this?”

    “It is simple,” he clasped his hands behind his back, “you have friends here, Aria. Would you abandon them?”

    Of all the ironic shit that’s come out of his mouth , “Fuck you!”

    He shrugged, “Perhaps later. For now, let us get you somewhere warm. Shall I walk you home?”

    “You shall piss off! I don’t need you!” She tried to say between teeth chattering.

    “Oh shit, Chuckles, you found her! Prophet was worried. Hell, you look like your mother died.” Varric sauntered up, frowning, then flashing his charming smile. Aria wanted to wipe it off his face.

    “My mother is dead. But that doesn’t matter.” She looked into the distance, wondering if she could find Redcliff on her own. Maybe she could slice Alexius’s throat while she was at it. Okay, that was morbid.

    “Who’s isn’t? Come on, you’re gonna catch your death out here. Two against one, I think you should just come along with us.” He offered his hand, half smiling. Solas, who didn’t usually agree with Varric on most days, simply watched her like a scolding father. 

    Aria felt suddenly very tired and miserable. She didn’t want to face anyone, especially Hector. He can’t possibly think anything good of her now. She drugged the Herald, then blurted out about her attraction for him before storming off. But what else could she do? Varric was armed and Bianca wasn’t one to take no for an answer. 

    “Nothing is unfixable, Twirly. She’ll be pissed, but hell, she can’t throw a punch let alone notch an arrow. Plenty of time to calm her down. No one’s gonna let her hurt you.”

    A sob escaped her chest at that. Why were they helping her? Why did they care? And did he just call her ‘Twirly’? Lacking the strength to argue anymore, she slowly followed the two men in the direction of the cabin, fearing Hector’s reaction, if he was even still there.

 

    Hector was waiting on the bed to see if she might return, half doubting it, but it wasn’t his choice to make. Something she had to do on her own, if she wanted to. It didn’t make the ball his stomach hurt any less. All he could do is wait. As the time dragged on and nearly a half hour passed, he became even less hopeful of her return. 

    The door suddenly opened roughly and loudly and Hector looked to it with a mix of surprise and relief. “Aria?”

    “And friends,” Varric said as he and Solas guided a mechanical, numb-looking Aria into the house. “She’s been through something. But she’ll be alright. She’s in your hands now, take care of her. Prophet and I will take care of Minerva. It’ll work out eventually.” He flashed him a smile and sauntered out. Solas offered a polite nod, glanced one last time at the woman who stared at the floor without moving, and ducked out as well, closing the door softly.

    “See?” he asked, not really sure exactly what he should do. “They’re gonna handle it. It’ll be alright. Maybe take a seat and try to get a little rest, if your up for it.” He tried to smile encouragingly through his concern.

    Aria gazed at the door with a longing in her amethyst eyes. Her white hair had fallen out of its braid in some kind of wild mess in front of her face. She spoke softly. “I don’t know. But I’ll figure it out.”

      He nodded, “Alright. Well, do you want to talk or should I leave you alone?” 

    She finally looked at him. Her normally bright, stubborn eyes looked almost dead in a way that made Hector frown. There was really so little he could offer as aid. “Please don’t, Hector.”

    “I’m not doing anything.” he offered simply. Staying in his seat. 

    “You don’t need to play the hero. I’ll take care of this somehow. Sorry, that I dragged you into it but it’s not your problem anymore.”

    “Don’t do that… I offered to help because I want to help. It’s shit to be alone when you have the cards against you, for anyone, and I don’t want you to have to deal with it by yourself. I’m here. For you .” he said, adding emphasis to make things clear as possible. “Because I want to, because you need it. You just got to let me.” 

    She seemed at a loss for words, and clearly shocked. She wrapped her arms around herself and looked at anything but him. “I don’t know what to do.” Her voice was small.

    “You’re gonna let her friends mellow her out. You’re gonna say it was a mistake and you shouldn’t have done it once they’ve got her in a better state of mind. I’m gonna be there with you if you let me. That’s what’s going to happen, Aria. Now, there’s nothing you can do but wait. It sucks. I know. Waiting for the inevitable bad thing to happen, but you’re strong enough to face it and when it’s done, we’ll figure it out, ok? That’s what friends do. We help each other and figure out fucked situations.” 

    She tried a smile, and failed. Not even her fake one could come out now. “Friends huh?”

    “I like to think so, even if I have to deal with that fake smile you’re always putting up and it drives me crazy… and the attitude about, well, a lot of things. I still like ya.” he said, giving her a timid smile. She could reject him outright if she wanted, but he couldn’t deal with not speaking his mind on the matter. 

    She released a deep breath, and at least seventy percent of her tension with it, and a small smile finally did appear. She limped to her own cot, finally paying attention to the cut on her knee, and sat down heavily. “You forgot the wildly inappropriate comments I throw at you.”

    Hector laughed lightly, “I’m a bartender… or was, I guess. I’m used to the wildly inappropriate comments from folks when they’re drunk or having a bad day. I think I can handle it.” 

    “I’m as bad as your drunks now? Ouch. And, for the record,” she glanced at him, still not wanting to meet his eyes, “that smile drives all men crazy. That’s kinda the point.”

    “I meant it more in the, ‘great, she’s shutting me out again’ sort of way. It hurts a bit when you do, ya know?” 

    “Not really. Never been close to anyone like that. You dissect everyone like you just did, or am I special? Because I feel naked about now.” She had hit the numb stage of calming down and felt almost no filter between her brain and her mouth.

    “Not that close to most people to do it, though I might have a bit of a skill at it. I tend to keep my thoughts to myself for the most part,” he shrugged. “I got plenty of ideas about why people act the way they do.” 

    She snorted, “Why’s Minerva got such a stick up her ass?” She winced. “Don’t answer that. I’m just going to stop talking now.”

    Ignoring the last bit, he answered, “I think she’s trying her best to do everything herself as much as she can and thinks she knows what’s best… not to be unkind, but because… maybe she thinks she has to or everything falls apart. I don’t know what made her want to up and get the mark that’s gonna cost her her arm, but I’m figuring it had something to do with how powerless anyone random from the real world would be dropped in Kirkwall right after the Blight. That’s not a story I’d want to get caught up in.” 

    Aria listened carefully, digesting his words. Trying to understand completely gave Aria a headache, but she knew he was probably right. She wasn’t there, she didn’t know what had happened in Kirkwall, and honestly, it’s one city with one city’s problems. What could she do? She felt like shit. She sighed, “You’re a beautiful being, Hector. Don’t ever change. And I’m owning that one.”

    “If you say so,” he mumbled. “Just… maybe go easy on your idea of her. She really does think she’s alone, unlovable, with the weight of the future of Southern Thedas on her. Even Atlas tried to skirt that responsibility.” 

    Aria shrugged. “Maybe you should talk to her. You’re so insightful.”

    He shook his head. “Not my place.” 

    She glowered at the ceiling, “Then who’s place is it? She can’t keep going at this alone, she’ll doom herself to fail. Obviously I can’t do anything about it, I’ve ruined my rep for myself. Her friends aren’t getting the job done.” She closed her eyes and shook her head, “Whatever. It’s officially not my business anyway. We’ll see where I’m at once she has court privileges.” She tried to play the comment off as a joke, but she still feared it. She’s pissed the woman off three times since she met her. 

    “I think it’ll be alright, but we’ll just have to see,” he said with a tired yawn. “I don’t think she’ll be mad forever.” 

    Aria had her reservations. “Get some sleep Hector. I’ll try not to run away in the middle of the night.” She closed her eyes, feeling the weight of the day on her whole body. 

 

    Minerva woke up to the early light of morning creeping in through her windows. What the fuck happened? Cotton mouth, and like she’d been hit by a bus was what she’d felt like. Oh. Right. Aria, the little brat, had fucking drugged her. 

    “Morning sleeping beauty. So, how those injuries feeling?” Veronica asked with a tense, false cheer in her voice.

    “They’re fine.” Minerva muttered, gritting her teeth as she pulled herself to a sitting position. “Tis a flesh wound.” 

    Veronica smiled and snapped the book she’d been reading shut, leaning back in her seat. “Know why they feel fine?”

“I was going to take a break, Veronica.” she practically glowered at the other woman. “I had shit to take care of first.” 

Veronica’s eyes were firm, but kind. “You always have shit to take care of Min. You had Anders to take care of, you had Hawke to take care of. You have the entire mage versus templar dilemma to take care of. But here are the facts. You drag yourself around like some immortal flesh bag and take every beating you get, mental or physical and dust it off the way you’ve been doing, you’re going to come up short. I’m not saying what she did was right, but I understand it. As your friend, you’re a stubborn ass.”

“Yeh, I am. I know. But ya don’t just fucking drug someone you barely know. That’s straight horse shit, man,” she frowned. 

    Veronica nodded. “Her friend seems to be a mage, but I’m guessing you knew that. You know who can keep him safe? You know who can fix that damned holed in the sky? You know who can stop a lot of bad shit from happening?” She didn’t answer, only looked pointedly at her.

    “Wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think I could do it, doll. This is just… a set back, fucking costly ass set back.” She rubbed her face, still groggy and tired. 

    Veronica thought for a moment, contemplating. “We all experienced this before. We were all the only person who could fix everything. We all were alone. We all made choices, and knew the consequences. Here’s the thing, Minerva. That isn’t the case anymore. You aren’t the only one here who doesn’t belong. You took this on yourself and I respect that, I do. I wouldn’t wish this shit on anyone. But if you can chip off some of that steel around you and let some of us help, we’ll all be better off. You may have that fucking thing on your hand, but this is all of us. I’m your friend and I give a shit if you live or die! Challenge a huge ass psychopath on the beach, I’ll support that. But live with the consequences after.” She stood up, her eyes slightly red. “Get yourself killed, I’m gonna kick your ass woman,” and she left, hoping something she said would get through to her, but she doubted it.

    Minerva sighed, knowing there was some truth to her words. She could trust Veronica, at least when she was around, but the others were basically kids, lost in a place they didn’t fully understand, let alone comprehend the weight of the choice they made if they were given a chance to have a say. It wasn’t exactly a fun place to be in when you saw it blow up in their face. With time, maybe they’d come into their own, but not if they died first. 

 

    Aria felt like she was going to pass out. Veronica had shown up that morning announcing that Minerva was awake and, rightfully, pissed. Aria knew she deserved it, but did everyone always have to add that part like she didn’t know it was wrong? She had asked if it was a good idea to apologize that day. Veronica had been hesitant, but nodded. She offered a hand on her shoulder and left quickly, seeing to the duties Minerva thought were all hers before the woman could take them on herself. Aria looked at Hector with a weak smile.

    “Nice knowing you.”

    “You got this. I have faith in you.” he said, giving her a smile in return. “Are you sure you don’t want me to come?”

    “Keep asking and I might beg you to come with,” she laughed.

    “You’re call.” he shrugged, slipping off his nightshirt to pull on another for the day. 

Aria turned away quickly, so she wouldn’t see him shirtless. She tried to act casual, but the movement was dramatic and obvious. 

    “I… don’t want you getting caught in the crossfire.” She decided to stare into the dying embers of the fire, pretending her warmed cheeks had something to do with that.

    He pulled on his jacket after shoving his shirt in his breeches. “I could always try flirting with her, lighten the mood,” he offered, as a joke.

Aria turned to face him, her Scarlet smile the only thing preventing her from showing the sting his comment brought to her chest. “Would you?”

 “Only if you wanted,” he shrugged, frowning at her facial expression that let him know something was off. 

“I doubt it would help,” her tone was more dismissive than she wanted it to be, but it had to do, “thanks though.”

“Sure… Let me know how it goes.” 

She knew that tone… she turned back to him, noting the concern and discomfort in his eyes. You’re a real winner Aria, you know that? “The smile?”

He only nodded in reply. 

“I’m trying. It’s a habit, like a shield. I’m sorry.” She knew bringing attention to it might risk him asking why, but she couldn’t let it go. After he refused to leave her to her misery the night before, she owed him literally everything.

“It’s a process. I get it.” He knew there was more to it than that, but didn’t think his own concerns were worth voicing with the looming meeting. “Good luck.” 

She touched the knob of the door, then looked back, “If I survive this, will you tell me what’s going on with that face? I can see gears struggling in there.”

“Maybe, ask me tonight.” 

“Deal,” she forced a real smile before leaving the comfort of their cabin. The walk to Minerva felt it lasted a year, and yet wasn’t long enough at the same time. The closer she got, the tighter her gut pulled. She had thought about hesitating at the door, but that would only delay the inevitable. She knocked to announce her arrival, and squared her shoulders as she waited for a reply.

“It’s open!” Minerva called, she’d managed to make her way to the table with a bottle of liquid breakfast, or rum as it was. If she had to deal with everybody fretting over her and/or yelling at her, she was damned if she was going to do it sober. 

Aria stepped inside and struggled to maintain her confidence. The woman before her was miles better than the one she had seen last, but that didn’t excuse her in any way. She stood near enough to make conversation, but kept the door nearby. “It’s me, I’m sorry to say.”

Minerva raised a brow, pouring herself another drink. “Here to spike my drink?” she asked, mildly. 

“All out of roofies, I’m afraid. Might get my hands on some laxatives, if you’re interested.” Fuck that was was the wrong thing to say. She swallowed, waiting for the response to that stupid comment.

 Minerva snorted, “Might want to work on your material, hun.”

She relaxed slightly, and shrugged. “Best I got. I’m not known for being a good time. I’m known for pissing people off and saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. It’s a talent, honestly.” She looked at the table, her mouth suddenly dry, “for what it’s worth, I regret what I did. I stand by why, but it was wrong to force your hand like that.”

“Yeh, you were.” She looked at her with a good deal of frustration, but quickly suppressed it into a more neutral expression. “Do it again, we’re going to have a problem. I understand why, but you don’t get to just take away people’s right to choose if they want to knock themselves out or not.” 

“I won’t do it again, believe it or not, it isn’t a habit. But I’m not gonna let you destroy yourself either. There’s someone I care about in this world. I need it to be saved. And, if we can set aside whatever this is, I can direct that same stupid, reckless loyalty right back at you.” 

“I’m not going to let myself self-destruct until after this…” she waved her glowing hand “is gone, I assure you. And when Hector and all the folk like him are living in a place that allows them to live their lives. I just… get ahead of myself sometimes with everything that needs to get done. Eye’s on the prize though.” 

“Have you looked at the people who are here from Earth, Minerva? An archer with a strong leadership skill, a spicy rogue who can keep morale up, a potentially great healing mage, and an excellent assassin in the making. Put all that together, and you have a team . What you can’t do, we can. But I’m not one to speak without action. So prepare yourself, Herald. Cause I’m going to amaze you.”

Minerva rubbed her face with the glowing hand and looked at it with a frown, shaking a little pain out of it. “I’m sure you will. It’s going to take work and time, but when you’re ready… if you don’t piss me off too much, or try to stab me… I’m sure there’s going to be plenty for you to do.” 

Aria pulled the smile Hector hated so much and sashayed closer to Minerva like a seductress professional that she was, displaying her manipulative abilities as she leaned against the table. “Oh honey,” she purred, “I can guarantee you, I will piss you off. It’s what I do,” she winked and turned to leave.

“Super.” Minerva muttered. Today was shaping up to be loads of fun. 




Chapter Text

Veronica watched as Aria left Minerva’s cabin unscathed and looking better than she had the last time she’d seen her. She smiled. Minerva was a lot at times, but she wasn’t a monster or unreasonable. She settled next to Varric’s fire and listened to him telling Sera a story about how they had been trapped in the deep roads by Bartrand. He made it sound much more comical and simple than it was, exaggerating his boldness and bravery. In reality, it had been one of the most terrifying few weeks of her life. Even knowing it would be mostly okay in the end, the fear of the Darkspawn everywhere was more than she could take. Carver had been so sick, and was in so much pain. She hated thinking about it.

“No way that all happened. Veronica, what really happened?” Sera shot her an accusing stare. 

She shrugged, “he’s telling the truth. It was a lot of crazy and not at all fun.”

Varric chuckled, “true. Anyway, Baird got back to me. He managed to get ahold of Fenris and told him about all the nasty Tevinter slavers we fight and he’s agreed to come. However, he’ll only do it if he knows Minerva is waiting for him. I think he suspects us, Prophet.”

She shrugged. “Lie. I don’t care. The two can be pissed at us later. It’s become a tradition around here to do shit behind Min’s back, didn’t you know?”

Varric laughed, “Oh yeah. That girl’s got balls drugging Sailor like that. Did her some good though, don’t tell her I said that.”

  Veronica nodded. “Can’t wait til we can all laugh at it. I’m turning in. I’ll see you guys in the morning.” She shoved herself off the log she’d been sitting on and made her way through Haven to her tent she shared with Sera, though the woman never showed as she all but lived at the tavern. She noticed all the scared mages that were stuck in a town packed with templars and it hit her square in the chest. She could have stopped this. She should have. The first night she and Anders had lain together she could have killed him in his sleep. But she couldn’t do it. Like Aria, she put the person she loved first. At least there was some coming back from what she’d done. She sighed. 

She’d been asked many times where he was, but she always stuck with the same answer: she didn’t know. She couldn’t bring herself to put him in danger. Cullen, the templars, the rogue mages, they’d all try to kill him. She couldn’t do it. She held that one selfish secret close and wouldn’t let it go for anyone. Not even Min. She crawled into her tent and under her covers, curling in on herself. He had charmed the literal pants off her, but he had opened up to her too. What those templars did to him… it was hard to not hate them all. It was hard not to hate Fenris for his jabs. She sighed and closed her eyes. Now wasn’t the time for this. Minerva needed her, now more than ever. Nothing was more important than that. Not now.

 

The training with Solas started once Hector was off from work. He was a patient teacher and started with small things, like concentrating on growing plants out of the snow and feeling the tug of mana in him as it flowed through to what he was working on. He’d said he showed promise in the area of creation magic. After he had a grasp on healing, the other things would come more easily to him. 

“Excellent. You are an impressive student. You’ve learned enough to control yourself. You needn’t fear your gifts. The only person in your way, is you. We will continue tomorrow, at the same time.” He offered a nod and a genuine smile before meandering away.

Hector smiled a small bit to himself and made his way back to the cabin, feeling lighter, in spite of all the things going on. It was nice to have the perspective of someone that didn’t have the overarching ‘magic is dangerous’ opinions offering him advice and helping him get better at it. Even if the rest of them didn’t seem to care for Solas, he wasn’t that bad.

Aria entered the cabin just after he did, a light smile on her face and more relaxed than she had been in a while. Hector, who’d taken a seat on his cot to take a load off, looked up and over at her. “It looks as though it went alright.” 

She nodded, sitting on her own cot. “I’m not dead, Flissa let me work today, and Solas is helping you. I’d call that a good day.”

He smiled a radiant beaming smile at her, “Things are looking up.”

She smiled at him, a little mischievous. “You told me to ask tonight, so, what was on your mind so hard this morning?”

“I was worried. I worry about saying the wrong thing pretty often,” he said, shrugging.

She arched a brow, “Why do you worry about that with me? I’ve said and done all the wrong things. Not you.”

“Yeh, I guess… but I’m not the flight risk,” he admitted, looking away. Hoping it wouldn’t be taken badly. 

Pain flashed in her eyes, “I really scared you… why?”

“You’re my only friend here. I mean, I talk to Minerva on occasion, but she’s more of… I don’t know. A weird older sister that’s trying to sooth my worries and not stress me out more. I can actually just talk to you.” 

Aria watched his face carefully. There was worry set deeply in his eyes. His anxiety was back and she was causing it. Her first instinct was to leave, take her out of the equation, but that wasn’t right. That’s not what he’d want. She held her hand out in offering, not touching unless he wanted it.

He accepted it with hesitance. “It’s a lot to put on you. I know I need to get out more.” 

She smiled at him, her thumb rubbing soft circles on his hand, “you’re lucky you’re cute then, huh?” 

He rolled his eyes, “So they say.” 

“Who’s this “they” you keep mentioning? Have a lot of girls in your life?” She faked a pout… half faked, anyway.

He laughed at the ridiculousness of the thought, “Nah, not really. Occasional hook-ups with strangers, but that’s about the extent of my love life.”  

She didn’t like what she heard, nor the casual way he said it. “You say that like you don’t deserve better.”

“I’m not tryin’ to say it like anything, darlin.” he said, pulling his hand away. “Just the way it’s gone for me. I was too busy… then I was alone and too busy.” 

She rolled to her side to look at him fully, “Well… for what it’s worth, you’re not alone now. Whatever you need, I’ve got you. I may have those days where I wanna run, but you’ve all proven you won’t take that shit from me.”

“That’s a relief to hear.” he smiled tiredly. “They don’t tell you using magic wears ya out like this, let me tell you. You might be on your own tonight to figure out dinner.” 

“Get some sleep. I’ll tuck you in, chase the nightmares away.” She smiled as his eyes drooped. “And I’ll see you tomorrow. Promise.”

He laid back in his bed and kicked his old cowboy boots off. “I’ll see ya tomorrow.”  

Aria felt a very random and sudden urge to kiss his forehead or something. She frowned at her strange though and turned over so that her back was to him. She needed to get a grip on reality, whatever that was. She closed her eyes and hoped for a dreamless sleep that didn’t involve strange walks with Solas.

 

Boredom had lead to some terrible ideas in her life, though Minerva wasn’t sure if this was terrible or mildly brilliant. She managed to get herself up and out of her cabin with a bit of difficulty, wandering in search of Veronica. The woman was by far the closest of the lot, likely in the tavern with Sera as usual. She took a rather ungraceful seat at the table near them, too tired to make it much further. “Yo, Prophet!” she called after her, throwing a stray spoon at her head, left-handed and rather ungracefully. 

Veronica rolled her eyes as the spoon landed at least a foot left of her, “This is our archer, ladies and gentleman,” Sera snickered as Veronica leaned forward, resting her chin on her hand. “How’s the body? Still broken?”

“Basically.” she sighed with exaggeration. “I need you to do me a solid.” 

She arched a brow, “Oh? Do tell.” She was clearly sober this morning.

Get the earth kids. Secret meeting. She signed to her, with a little difficulty due to her range of motion. 

“Ugh not that again!” Sera scowled with disgust, “It’s rude, you know.”

Veronica was definitely intrigued, Okay, meet you in twenty.

“Cabin.” Minerva said cryptically to her with a wink, pulling herself up. 

Sera smirked, “You two are gonna smash your lady bits together aren’t you?”

Veronica rolled her eyes and stood up. “You know it, Sera.”

 

Minerva slowly walked back to the declared meeting spot and pulled up a chair at the head of the table, awaiting the others. With any luck, the meeting would bare some sort of fruit. That is, if the others were up for making a tough decision. 

Veronica entered with Hector and Aria in tow. All six eyes that rested on Minerva were curious, and a little concerned. Veronica sat across from Minerva, at ease in her home. Hector took a seat as well. Aria opted to stand, awkwardly.

“You’re all here, wonderful.” Minerva smiled cheerfully. 

“Sure are, all of us shocked to hear from you,” Veronica said with more sass than Aria would have attempted. “What’s up?”

“Well, as you know, the meeting with the mages is fast approaching, more aptly, the meeting with Alexius.” she paused to allow them to come up to speed. Aria’s face set in a grim line, glancing at Hector. Hector nodded along, though a little confused. 

Veronica frowned, “yeah, I figured that was coming up. When were you to meet Fiona?”

“That’s exactly what I wished to discuss. We all know how that goes. She’s been indentured to the Tevinter’s thanks to time magic. I meet Dorian and Felix. We have to come back by sneaking in. That goes poorly. Why not cut out the silly shit and jump right to telling him we’re taking the mages? Sneak in now, catch him by surprise…” 

“That sounds good, but how are you going to convince the advisors to help?” Aria asked.

“Leliana.” Minerva said, simply. 

Veronica blinked. “Sorry, sweetie… not following.”

“She already has to know that I’ve done more than a few weird things. I think we, or at least I, could talk to her. Say I know what’s going to go down and it would be an easier move forward with a plan to catch Alexius unaware. The other world stuff might not even need to be discussed, if she didn’t feel like pulling it out of me…. I don’t know, what you think?” 

Veronica shook her head, “I’ve mulled over how to explain to people here… I’ve thought of saying stuff like, “In my world, you’re all a big story,” or something… nothing I’ve thought of sounds convincing. If she pushes… it could go badly.”

Hector thought carefully before speaking, “But if not, it could put us in a better position when Haven is invaded.” 

Aria frowned, “or criminalize us. Once they know we can tell what’s gonna happen, anything we do wrong or anything that goes badly makes us all look bad. No matter our intentions. I think we need to wait, get closer to Leliana, or find someone who’s already close to her.”

“Can’t say I ran into many of those types in my travels.” Minerva said. “It is a risk. But I mean, I’m also shady as hell. I have connections. Someone might have told me something,” she sighed, more worn down than usual. “I’m asking because it’s not just me potentially affected, but it’s not like I’d out you all on the matter.” 

Veronica frowned, “you didn’t run into many, but you did run into one, didn’t you? Think about it, didn’t some random ass woman help you at the Crossroads and say something like, “Say hi to Leliana for me”? I wouldn’t think it possible, but after meeting these two… do you think…?”

Aria looked between the two women, “Wait, what?”

“Weird cryptic woman at the skirmish we faced at the Crossroads. She did mention something about Leliana. It was odd, but I don’t necessarily know what to make of it.” Minerva answered. 

Veronica leaned back with crossed arms. “My vote, before we reveal anything, we ask Leliana to find this woman. If she is from our world, she can talk to her. If not, she’s an asset. I don’t see the down side.”

“I do,” Aria put in. “She’s great, but how long will it take Leliana to find her? We don’t have all the time in the world.”

“I’m not likely leaving Haven short of creeping out in the night for at least a week and a half. Without me, there’s no meeting to begin with, so if I mention it to Leliana now about this woman, we have that long to wait and see or decide the move we want to make. I’d like to make this all happen with as little danger to our troops and friends as possible. I already saw what awaited if I’d just have gone with the templar quest. It wasn’t pretty.” Minerva said, voicing her opinion. 

Aria looked at Hector, who had been silent for most of the conversation. “Thoughts?”

He frowned, “There’s not a ton of great options. You, Herald, could just follow the regular plan that worked… if this woman doesn’t end up being something.”

Minerva paled at the thought, but stayed quiet for the other’s opinions. 

Veronica caught Minerva’s panic and shot her a smile. “I’ve a feeling it won’t come to that. Let’s find this woman.”

Aria nodded, feeling like it was their best option, but she didn’t put much hope into it.

“If that’s what you all think is the best option, ok. If it doesn’t work, business as usual, I guess.” Minerva said with finality. “I appreciate you all taking the time.”  

“‘Course Min.” Veronica patted her hand and stood up, leaving the room. 

Aria half smiled, worry filling her. If this woman was a dead end, Minerva would be in danger. With her injuries so recent, that wasn’t good. “Let us know if you need us.” She followed Veronica. Hector gave her a tight smile and followed after the others, leaving Minerva alone. 

Feeling suddenly drained, she got up and pulled out some parchment. Once she’d finished, she sent Leliana a note with her messenger raven asking her to find this person she’d met at the Crossroads, letting the bird go out her open window. 

 

Keep, emerald eyes scanned the plain for rogue templars and mages. The villagers she was escorting walked timidly behind her, scared of their own shadows. She had taken the initiative to help those who were bound to get caught in the crossfire of this ridiculous war. She didn’t know how it had started, as she had only heard rumors. Some say a mage terrorist destroyed a Chantry in the Free Marches while bellowing something about Mages and their superiority. This mostly came from templars or Chantry people. Others said a crazed man destroyed a town because he had been driven to madness by the templars’ treatment of him. Another theory floating around is that he was some kind of tormented hero. Ceciele didn’t know which was true. Experience told her it was probably a bit of each. She hadn’t heard the man’s name, but it probably didn’t matter. Whoever he was, or is, if he is even still alive, the damage is done. She can only hope the tensions resolve soon. She had hoped the Conclave at Haven would smooth things out, but that apparently went tits up quickly and only caused the whole thing to get that much worse. She missed the warden. She had attempted to find Lihris Marethari many times. If anyone could put this shithole world back together, it would be here. Unfortunately, she was nowhere to be found. She had disappeared to Amaranthine after the fall of the Archedemon, and had chased after Morrigan after that. What became of her beyond that, was a mystery to Ceciele. She had been away at Par Vallon with Sten, now Arishok. When she returned, she had really wished she’d stayed with the Qun.

“We’re nearly there, you’ll be safe soon,” she threw over her shoulder as they trekked on. 

She had spoken too soon.

A warcry from a templar drew her attention to a young, elvhen woman wearing some kind of hooded uniform as she dodged the attack. Ceciele cursed and instructed the couple to stay low while she investigated. The elvhen woman was holding her own well enough, but losing ground. She sped up, holding her stripped staff and lodged it between the templar’s helmet and breastplate, right into the exposed part of his neck. The woman used the distraction to slice her sword into his throat, downing him immediately.

“Oh, thank you! I’d have been done for if you hadn’t come along!” Her accent was Dalish, but she Ceciele didn’t see a vallaslin, which was curious. “Say!” she piped up, reaching into her satchel, “You wouldn’t be Ceciele, would you? You match Leliana’s description!”

Ceciele arched a raven brow. When did Leliana get messengers? She knew the strange woman who had fought at the crossroads was allied with her due to the rumors of an Inquisition after the Conclave had erupted. She knew Leliana would be there, as she was the left hand of the Divine herself. She didn’t expect a reply from a scout. “Thank you,” she took the note that was rolled up and opened it quickly, aware of the cowering couple that awaited her return.

Come to Haven when you’ve a chance. We are in need of your skill and expertise. You remember Haven right? A high dragon, a cult, a very angry Sten. If you receive this message soon, I hope to see you, as the matter is urgent.

-Leliana

“Shit.” She rolled the note back up and returned to the couple, announcing the all clear before returning to her escort duty. If Leliana was calling on her personally, then things must be worse than she thought. 

She prayed she was wrong.

 

The week had progressed slowly for Minerva, she felt better, but took it easy. The matter of if the mystery woman would help making the task of solving the mage crisis had yet to be resolved had made her more than a little anxious and restless, but between Veronica’s and Solas’s scolding, they’d eventually convinced her to get some sleep and try to relax. However, today was not going to be the day for any sort of relaxation, the way it was shaping up. 

“Hello, darling!” Vivienne smiled with practiced poise, entering the cabin with a flourish. Minerva noted she’d not even bothering to knock, bitterly. “I’ve come to see how you’re doing and have brought a bit of a surprise!” 

“Oh, wonderful!” Minerva said with a heavy slathering of sarcasm. 

“But really, my dear,” she said, brushing the tails of her corseted coat aside and sitting on the bed, “how are you? You look positively awful.” She said, gently tipping Minerva’s chin up for observation with a critical eye.

Sure she wasn’t in the best state she’d ever been: her hair was a mess from sweat and having difficulty reaching it for a good wash and her best coat was torn, leaving her in some tragic, borrowed thing, but she was feeling better. It was mostly thanks to Solas’s daily visits, under his gentle hand. Had she really let herself go so terribly? Yeh, probably. “Hasn’t been the easiest week in my life, but be back to my roguishly charming self in no time. Promise.”

“I’m so glad to hear it. I’ve been quite worried about you being here, all alone in your cabin so long. It’s not good for anyone’s state of mind to be without pleasant company indefinitely.” She smiled kindly, delicately brushing down Minerva’s arm with motherly care. “Solas is excluded, naturally. He’s clearly not been helping you keep up your appearance at all. It’s a terrible shame to see someone as lovely as yourself in this state.”

She was either insulting her or actually concerned and Minerva could not distinguish the difference. “I can’t complain about his treatment, he’s been doing the best he can in spite of me.” Say what one might about the man, he did have exceptional bedside manners, even when she was cranky and sore. She had to give the man a little credit and accept her own part in the situation. “My appearance, such as it is, is entirely my own fault.”

“Nonsense, darling. We all need help at times, even the Herald of Andraste.” she smiled knowingly. 

“Madame Vivienne!” a little feminine voice called from the outside of the abode. “Madame Vivienne, il fait absolument glacial ce matin! Puis-je entrer?" 

“Oh, look at me. I’ve been so caught up talking, I’ve forgotten all about the surprise!” she said to Minerva with a little too much delight for comfort then called to the door. "Oui, bien sûr!"

Minerva looked to the door expectantly as a… Oh, god. The most Orlesian looking little woman entered with a massive tote, hair done up like something else and a delicate mask over her eyes that’s filigree matched her decadent dress. “And this is what exactly?” 

“This is Colette. She’s a positively wonderful hairstylist and manicurist I arranged to come all the way from Val Royeaux!” Vivienne looked nearly as excited as she’d seen her with a warm smile on her face. 

“This is… a kind gesture.” Minerva began with trepidation, cut off before she could continue by the woman. 

“Now, I know what you’re thinking, darling, but I assure you she does all styles and types of hair with precision, not only Orlesian trends. We’ll get you right as rain, her and I.” That eased Minerva’s mind a little, goodness only knowing what they had under their ridiculous hats. “What do you say?” 

Once upon a time, Minerva would have loved shit like this, but that was a lot of years and a world away. She looked between the women. It couldn’t be so bad. “Okay, sure. It can’t hurt.” 

To be fair, it hurt a little, but that was more Vivienne making sure she was clean from head to toe, proving her theory the whole of the Inquisition was truly going to see her tits at some point. Colette had given about the gentlest manipedi she’d ever received along with a surprisingly pain free hair cut, a rare find when it came to anyone daring enough to work with curly hair. Vivenne kept the day filled with, light, but entertaining gossip about the nobles of Orlais and occasionally venturing into Inquisition territory, the tragically groomed beard the Blackwall man possessed, Solas’s utter lack of fashion sense and the like. It was, strangely kind of nice, though the fact she had yet to see her hair was a bit of a concern. 

“I wish I’d been able to get my seamstress. Perhaps the next time your in Val Royeaux we can get her to have a look at you.” Vivienne said, assessing the work done with a, what looked to be, approving gaze. “I’ll see if I can send for something before then.” 

“I really appreciate it, but you’ve done more than I’d ever expected. I’m sure they’re finding time down at the smithy to get me in something practical.” It wasn’t as though Minerva personally had the funds for such things, she’d shot the damn rams they’d be using for said coat, for goodness sake. 

“Nonsense, darling.” Vivienne smiled, dabbing a bit of rouge from a pot on her cheeks and rubbing it in for a finishing touch. “If we are to make this Inquisition great, we need to look great doing it. I’ll search through my wardrobe and see if there’s anything that might suit you until we get your measurements. You’re a bit short in the torso and petite, but I think we can manage.” Ah, yes. The dig. “Designers send me the loveliest things without doing their homework on my frame. Surely I’ll have something you’ll look fabulous in.” She spun around and plucked a mirror from Colette’s alarming amount of beauty supplies, placing it in Minerva’s hands. “What do you think?”

Minerva gazed in the mirror and saw someone long forgotten. She nearly resembled that long forgotten designer ready to take on the world, but with a few more scars and a tan from all the days spent outside. Her hair was positively fluffy, falling in large soft curls to her shoulders. “It… looks wonderful.” she admitted, half to herself and half to the women waiting for her response. 

Colette clapped small excited claps that would have regularly made Minerva’s eyes roll, but somehow didn’t today. “Tu es resplendissante!” 

“Merci, Colette.” Minervia said, certain she butchered the pronunciation. 

“I am happy to help.” the woman beamed with a heavy accent, quickly packing her things away. “If you are ever in Val Royeaux, do send for me!”

“Of course.” Minerva smiled kindly to her as she parted with a wave after retrieving her mirror. With the two alone, she looked up at the tall elegant woman left with her. “Thank you, Vivienne. This has been surprisingly delightful.” She practically didn’t believe it when the words left her mouth, but it was true. It was nice to remember and to be someone else, if only for half a day. 

Vivienne lightly brushed her hand across her shoulder, giving it a squeeze. “It was no trouble, my dear. I know it’s difficult at times, but don’t forget that we are all wishing for the greatest success for you and Inquisition. With help, you will inspire.” She plucked the hennin off the table she’d left there, along with a prettily package gift of makeup, when they tackled getting her cleaned up. “We will have to do it again some day, though I expect you’ll find yourself busy once you recover. For now, I’ll have a few things sent here from my room in the chantry. Do let me know if you require any more assistance.” She gave a gracious nod and exited as abruptly as she came.

The Iron Lady may be cold, but she was damn good at what she did. Minerva rubbed on some eyeliner from that gifted makeup box just the same.





Chapter Text

    The second week of Minerva’s convalescents was significantly better than the first. She felt stronger and found the pain less frequent. If she’d have any say, she’d have already been back out in the field, but no one else could really be convinced on the matter. 

She found herself restless for that very reason and decided to get some fresh air for the day, dressing in the ‘new’ jacket Vivienne had so humbly provided along with her usual black breeches and knee high boots. At least it was nice and went with her usual black on black, even if the feather’s lining it were a bit austentatious. 

She found herself outside with her feet moved without her, wandering down past the gate, to the dock, overlooking the lake where she sat. It was pretty, even if she had to squint to see anything in the sunny weather and blinding snow.  She could see the hint of someone walking along the woodline in the distance. Wondering who could be out there, she hopped down off the bridge, regretting it immediately with a groan. Clearly she was not that healed yet. Shaking off the feeling, she made her way across the frozen pond and realized the figure was heading in her and familiar. 

“Fenris?” she asked, her voice not even hiding her surprise. 

The lanky elf stopped a few feet from her and his face was both amused and disappointed. “It appears so. Were you expecting someone else?” His hair had grown nearly to his shoulders, and there were a few more lines along the corners of his eyes. The intensity of his gaze had softened since she’d seen him last, but it was certainly Fenris.

“Uh, no… I wouldn’t say that.” she offered, a little hesitantly. Just what the everloving hell was going on?  

His huge sword had been lain across his shoulders and there was a film of green substance that looked like demon blood dripping from it. He dropped it, point-side down and leaned against it. Gears were turning in his eyes. He reached into the pocket of his travel bag and produced a sheet of paper, handing it to Minerva.

She took the paper, giving it a read, hoping something in there might give her a bit of a clue. 

Broody, I hear you’re in the market for some Tevinter hunting. We’re after a big one, and Minerva wants the best at her side. She requested you by name, so you know it’ll be good! Hurry to Haven in Ferelden so you don’t miss the action!

-Varric

“Oh, lord.” she muttered, letting the old curse slip. “Don’t get me wrong… I’m glad to see you, but this… This is our friends meddling. I’m sorry if this pulled you away from something important, Fenris.” 

His smile was genuine and open, something he didn’t often do in Kirkwall, “Minerva,” he hoisted his blade back onto his shoulders, “I will pretend, for a moment, that Varric didn’t write this, for argument’s sake. Would you send an invitation so vague?”

“I… hm,” she paused. Would she? No, she’d never had even thought to invite any of her Kirkwall compatriots that weren’t already there. It wasn’t even that it was too dangerous, really. Though that was a concern. It was that, while she held them all dear, she’d always been on the sidelines, unlike Veronica. Busy with her own shady career for the most part, with few important exceptions. Were they really close enough that it’s something she could even ask of any of them? Maybe more than she thought if Fenris was in Haven. 

He walked past her, shoving his shoulder into her lightly, causing her to gasp and pull a hand to her side, quickly suppressing the knee jerk response. Fenris dropped his sword immediately and rested a hand on her shoulder, “Fasta vass.” He grunted, “What have you gotten yourself into now?”

“Oh, a fight with a big guy… with a hatchet.” she smiled wryly, pulling the hand away and beginning to take the walk back to Haven, hoping he’d follow. “Nothing I can’t handle.” 

“A wise decision, I’m sure,” Fenris said sarcastically. “Will you accept my help? Knowing you, it is pointless to ask.”

She looked at him, considering. Between Veronica, who probably was the most likely culprit of this, and the lot telling her she needed help, she’d actually given it some thought. Maybe it would shut them up. “You know what, sure. People keep beating over my head I need help. You’re capable. If you want to join in on the shindig, I won’t say no.” 

He stooped to pick up his sword and slid it into its sheath. His almost predatory smirk was her only warning before he scooped her up into his arms. She let out an undignified squeak as he started walking toward Haven’s gates. “Capable? Is that so?”

“More than capable,” she smiled a little shakily from the shock. This was… interesting. It made her stomach flutter in a way she didn’t quite understand or like. 

His smile melted into a frown as he walked. He didn’t wear the same armor he used to, he donned a thinner, more flexible material that allowed Minerva to feel the muscles of his chest flex and move against her. “So you located Veronica.” 

“Ran into her a while ago. Before you ask, no, I don’t know where Anders is, neither does she.” she answered, her expression hard. That, of course, was the thing on his mind, of all things. 

He was silent a while. The walk was peaceful as Cullen’s soldiers and Bull’s Chargers came into view. Fenris stopped just out of earshot of them, noting their curious looks. “Before we venture any further. I must ask one thing.”

“Yeh?” she asked, feeling more than a bit breathless. Her injuries made her so fatigued, it was stupid. 

“After the abomination destroyed the Chantry, you left without a word. I must ask, and I will only do so once. Why have I received no word from you?”

“I didn’t think…” you’d want it. I was still noone. She cleared her throat and changed her answer. “I’ve been a little busy lately. I don’t know how much you know about what happened here, but it’s a lot to explain.” 

His following smile was obviously forced as he resumed his walk. “I expected no less. I look forward to hearing of it after you’ve recovered. I am inclined to agree with the collective, you need rest even if it must be forced upon you.”

“Oh, come on, Fenris. I’m fine.” she said, exasperated, wiggling to get away. Last thing she needed was for rumors to start about the Herald of Andraste being carried around like a bride by her elven lover. “Set me down, please. I can’t be seen being carried all around Haven.”  

He hesitated, “I fear if I let you go now, I will see nothing of you for another year,” he smirked and obliged carefully, straightening back up and motioning for her to lead the way.

She straightened her jacket, and proceeded in the direction of Varric, sure the two would want to catch up. “I’m pretty sure these assholes would drag me back kicking and screaming if I left, not that I’m inclined, Fenris. This is too important to disappear on, unfortunately.” 

She missed the sudden tension in the elf behind her.

 

Aria was dressing for her day, straightening her tavern keep dress and having trouble with her corset. She’d managed it before, but today it was giving her trouble. Was it tangled?

“All the fucking, Ugh!” She growled, wrestling to get herself out of the mess or fix it, neither of which was happening right now.

Hector had been outside when he heard the commotion and entered into the cabin, appraising the sight with an amused expression. “Everything okay in here?” 

She threw him a dirty look. “Peachy! My girls are trapped and I can’t breathe, can’t get out of this thing, and my best friend is laughing at me!”

“I’m not!” He was, but tried to hide it with a cough. 

“Not my best friend? I know! Not anymore you’re not! Now help me or something before I pass out!” She officially gave up and dropped her arms, blowing a strand of hair out of her eyes.

He strode up behind her and squeezed the sides of the corset, making the clasps easier to undo. “Lucky for you, I am well versed in removing corsets,” he smirked at the fact that sounded far worse than it was. 

“Technically so am I, but this one is being a bitch. I don’t want to hear about you sex stories by the way, I’m the jealous type,” she exaggerated an indignified look that morphed into relief when the clothing item finally cooperated. “Thanks, you’re my hero.”

“Anytime, darlin.” he said, stepping away and taking a seat on his cot. “Maybe don’t do it so tight next time. Can’t be great for your ribs.” 

She stretched in a way that would have had her audience groaning, pushing her chest out and arching her back to accent her curves and ass. “They feel fine to me.”

He just shook his head and shrugged, “Your call.”

A knock at the door prevented Aria from making any more of an ass out of herself. She finished dressing and called out, “Come on in!”

Veronica popped her head in with a grin. “Fenris is here! And if you weren’t dying to meet him the second you saw him in the game, you’re lying!” Without another word, she ducked out and shut the door. Aria’s already flushed cheeks from her small bit of humiliation and mild rejection burned like fire now. “What? Fenris is here?” She turned to Hector, trying to remember how to breathe, “do I look okay?”

 Hector raised his brows, “Uh, yeh. Sure. Fenris isn’t supposed to be here, right, or did I seriously miss something?” 

She sighed, giving up on her hair and letting it fall over her shoulders. She and Fenris would make such beautiful children, they looked enough alike she could just picture them. “You’re missing the point Hector! Fenris. Is. Here!” She was practically hyperventilating now.

“Jesus, yeh. Got it. He a favorite?” he asked, getting up. He had a feeling he was about to get dragged into something. 

“What? Me? Favoring a dark skinned man with a voice that could… never mind, I’ll spare you that visual.” She laughed and opened the door, “Stay back, cowboy. I call dibs!”

“I was more into Anders, personally,” he smiled, heading out the door after her. “Though I see the appeal.” 

She felt like a record stopped abruptly and halted her steps to turn and face her friend. Her jaw was in the snow. “Anders? Really?”

“He was cute.” he shrugged. 

“Oh honey…” She shook her head and resumed her walk. She tried to control her breathing as they neared the town that was buzzing with curiosity. She heard something about him carrying the Herald into town? “Damn it Minerva, stole my man too! Now who am I going to make beautiful elf babies with?”

“Well, this is shaping up to be a mildly disturbing conversation for me.” he said with a touch of humor. 

Aria sobered up and shot Hector an awkward glance. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable. I was mostly kidding.”

“Mostly…” he repeated. 

She frowned, “I can’t tell if this is genuinely bothering you or if you’re messing with me.”

He shot her a mischievous smile, “I’m just giving you a hard time. It’s cute you get to meet your crush.” 

She tried not to dwell on the word cute and looked at the scene in front of her. Varric was sharing the story of the Storm Coast, ironically as he wasn’t there, to an exasperated and amused Fenris while Minerva sat nearby, looking on with a mix of delight and slight disapproval. Veronica was far enough away not to be noticed, but was listening to the story all the same. Aria nudged Hector’s elbow to get his attention and looked pointedly at her.

“Huh?” he asked, looking between her and the sight of the Kirkwall folk. 

“She seemed enthusiastic to see him a minute ago….” She debated walking over to her and asking if she was okay, but she wasn’t certain she wanted to be disturbed. “What’s your vote?”

He smiled and started heading in her direction. “Can’t hurt to see what’s up.”

Veronica noticed them as they strode up to her and arched a brow. “Something up, guys? Figured you’d want to meet the heartthrob of Thedas.”

“She does!” Hector replied before Aria could get a word in. “But we also wanted to see why you’re keeping such a wide berth.”

Aria gaped at him and shoved him lightly. “I oughta slap you! Calling me out like that!”

Veronica smirked and looked back at Varric as he told his story. Something about Minerva taking on a giant and a dragon at once while they fought each other. “Fenris and I aren’t exactly close. That’s all.” As if automatically, her hand moves as if to pick something off her shirt and flick it away, then pointed to herself. Aria arched an eyebrow.

“What was that?”

“Huh,” she looked up at them again. “What was what?”

Aria mimicked the motion again. “That.”

Veronica smiled, “Oh, I forgot you don’t know. I was born completely Deaf back home. It was pretty unnerving, waking up and suddenly there are sounds and the movements of people’s lips suddenly have meaning that I don’t have to concentrate to understand. But that…” she sighed. “I said he doesn’t like me, if I’m being honest.” She looked tired, defeated, and ready to walk off at any moment. 

“From all I know, Kirkwall sounded like a downright mess. Is… it gonna cause problems for you here?” Hector asked, concern clear on his face. 

She laughed once, “you’re sweet. But it really doesn’t matter what he thinks of me. It’s a long buried issue that we’ll keep that way. And my advice, if you liked Anders at all,” she lowered her voice so only they could hear, “keep it to yourself.”

Aria bit her tongue and drew a deep breath to maintain her self control. She couldn’t do it. “He does!”

Hector rolled his eyes, “I just said he was preferable to Fenris. I don’t really go for the broody types. Just be glad you don’t have this handsome face as competition, darlin.” 

She resisted the childish urge to ask what he does go for and opted to sit next to Veronica instead. “Let’s sit here and ignore all the men within a ten yard radius together.”

Veronica rolled her eyes and shoved her off. Aria stood instead of falling, but it was far from graceful. “Get a room you two.”

“We have one.” Hector said, entirely too amused. 

“Good. Now take your lover’s spats back to it.” She leaned back and stared into the sky, her face unchanged.

Aria was stunned silent, staring wide-eyed between the two. Where had that come from? She waited nervously for Hector’s response.

“You should go and see if Varric can get you an introduction, Aria.” Hector smiled. “I’m gonna hit up the tavern and make Flissa blush.”  

Aria was sure he was joking… until he purposefully strode to the tavern without hesitation. She felt like a bucket of ice water had been dumped on her. Veronica shook her head from where she sat. “Men.”

She wanted to agree, but she was busy staring at the spot he’d disappeared to. She suddenly had no desire to see Fenris, or anyone for that matter. She walked in a random direction away from the tavern until she came to the inside of the gate of Haven and pressed her forehead against it, groaning. 

“Fucking idiot,” she muttered.

“Who’s a ‘fucking idiot’?” 

She straightened up and turned around, smiling softly. “Hello, Krem.”

He leaned against the wall casually, not-so-subtly flexing his biceps while doing so. Aria knew well his mild interest in her, but he couldn’t have been more obvious if he wanted to be. She looked at him for a long moment, deciding he was very attractive. She had used a flirting tactic to gauge where the Chargers were at when they met, but she hadn’t really thought about him this way until now. 

He tilted his head to the side, “Care to elaborate?”

She felt almost sick as she did it, but her Scarlet smile reared its ugly head. “Not at all.” Well, if Hector was going to have his trysts, what should stop her from doing the same? “Care to take a walk with me, Lieutenant Acclassi?” She offered a hand, expecting him to take it like a hand-in-hand stroll. 

He beamed and offered her his arm like a proper gentleman, instead, “I would love to. Where to, m’lady?”

“Anywhere but here.”

 

    Minerva was positively dying, fortunately no one was in the vicinity that was going believe Varric’s ridiculousness. “Honestly, Varric. A giant and a dragon?” 

    “What?” he laughed. “It makes for a great story!” 

    Minerva rolled her eyes. 

    Fenris shot her a look, “As if you wouldn’t find yourself in such a mess.”

    She shot him a withering glance. Is that what he actually thought of her? “I’m not that stupid.” 

    “You are that unlucky, however.” He shrugged, “Besides, you did follow Hawke on her life threatening and often pointless endeavors.” 

    “Had to make a living somehow, yo. I could say the same thing about you, babe. Running all over Thedas for Hawke,” she smiled back at his hypocrisy. 

    “Someone had to keep an eye on you,” his face gave away nothing.

    “Oh, hardly!” she laughed. “You felt indebted for some weird reason then got attached to Hawke as one does. I had nothing to do with that particular brand of nonsense.” She patted her pockets, having forgotten where they were on her new coat and pulled out a flask. 

    “Hah! I missed this. Now we just need Hawke, Ravaini, Daisy and a few dozen rotting corpses and it’ll feel like card night at Broody’s!” Varric smirked, clapping Fenris on the back. “Nice to see you ditched the spikes!”

    “Right?” Minerva agreed. “It’s a much better look.” 

    He shrugged, his face the image of disinterest. His face looked a little darker, though. “When do we fight this Magister I was promised?”

    “Very, very soon.” Minerva answered. “Nearly as soon as I can get out of this place, best I figure.” 

    He nodded. “Very well. I will see to lodgings in the meantime. You should be resting.” 

    “Whatever, bro. Like to see anyone make me,” she said, her mouth half around the mouth of the flask. 

    Varric smirked, “Funny story, that….”

    Minerva raised a brow, continuing to drink. 

    He shrugged, “Just saying, Sailor, check your drink before you get too comfortable.” He laughed and meandered off towards the tavern.

    She looked at it. “No one better have done anything to my shit, Varric!” she called after him. 

    He threw over his shoulder, not breaking his stride, “Do I look like a dark elf with white hair to you?”

    Fenris watched the exchange quietly before looking to Minerva. “What happened to your drink? And why is he implying I had anything to do with this?”

    “No, no… it’s another white haired elf type, weirdly enough. Aria, the woman in question drugged me last week.” she said, looking up at him, intensely irritated and frustrated that Varric had brought it up. Again. The fucking teasing really had to stop. 

    His eyes darkened and the hands that were strangely bare clenched. “Excuse me?” His tone was threatening.

    She shrugged, entirely unfazed by his posturing. “Not great, I know.” 

    “Where is she now?”

    “I don’t know, man.”

    He stood up, a vein in his neck visible, “It won’t be difficult to locate an elf with my likeness.” He looked down at her, “I will return shortly.”

    Minerva gave him an odd look and shook her head. What on earth was the matter with him? She hadn’t seen the man in well over a year and suddenly he’s getting all angry about something stupid. Of course, an angry Fenris often meant he left a trail of damage in his wake. She couldn’t allow for that, even if there was little she could do to really stop the man. “You have fun, but don’t kill anyone, seriously .”

    “I make no promises,” he said as he strode off.

    “Do not kill aaaanyone!” Minerva yelled after, an irritated, teeth gritting smile taking over her face soon after. She was probably going to need to break it up. Fun. 

She was really getting too old for this shit. 

 

    Aria and Krem walked the border of Haven, watching Cullen’s soldiers train and the Chargers go about their business. Aria watched Harritt hammer away while Dennet brushed one of the horses. It was a peaceful walk, filled with pleasant small talk. She wasn’t at ease, however. She wasn’t used to such manners from a man, especially towards her. He shot her a flirtatious smile, on occasion, but he was completely cordial and kind. He kept a respectable distance and never strayed to heavy subjects. After nearly an hour of this, Aria came to a single conclusion.

    She was completely, hopelessly bored out of her fucking mind.

    She wanted to get to know the Krem she’d seen in the game, the one who gave Bull shit and drank like a sailor. She knew there was a fun person in there, but he was hiding it beneath a polite, yawn-worthy young lad who was taking his cousin to prom. 

    “So, Krem. How did you join up with the Chargers?” She knew the answer, but she was desperate to move the conversation. She’d dropped the formal talk a while ago. She watched the breach for something of interest, missing Hector’s singing and the light teasing they shared. Hell, fighting with Minerva would be more entertaining than this.

    “I… will have to share that story later.”

    She looked away from the breach and at Krem, whose mouth was set in a hard line and his body was defensive. She followed his line of sight to see a very pissed Fenris stomping off in their direction. 

    “What the-”

    “You! Are you Aria?” His tone was demanding and his posture was rigid. She had a feeling she shouldn’t answer that… He didn’t have the patience for his hesitation. “You will answer me!”

    “I don’t think so, friend.” Krem stepped in front of her, his hand reaching for his maul. “I’m giving you one warning. Walk away.”

    Fenris finally acknowledged the man in front of him, “What business is it to you?” 

    “Krem, don’t, it’s not your fight.” Aria’s skin tingled with the sense that this was going to get violent very quickly. “This doesn’t have to get heated.”

    “Look at him, Aria. It’s already there. I won’t tell you again!” He shifted his weight and gripped his maul with both hands, ready to attack. His eyes were hard and piercing. Fenris’s matched. Neither backed down.

    Aria pressed her palm to Krem’s breastplate firmly. “It’s me he wants. Don’t get involved.”

    “Already there, sorry to say.” He smirked, “I won’t kill, him, don’t worry.”

    “Answer me, did you lace Minerva’s drink?” Fenris spat through his teeth, looking straight at her. Fuck, not this again !

    “Minerva and I have dealt with that! I admit my methods were bad, but-”

    Fenris had clearly heard enough. Krem saw this and raised his weapon to attack, but Fenris’s brands lit up. Aria knew what was going to happen, but she was powerless to stop him in the time it took him to phase through Krem’s chest. He stopped dead, dropping his weapon with a look of pain and fear. Fenris removed his hand as the man dropped. No real damage was done, but Krem was definitely down for the count. That left Aria completely defenseless. She gulped and sent a prayer to everyone she could think of. Hell, Fen Harel if he’ll come to her rescue. 

    She highly doubted it.

    “Listen! I was trying to help her, I swear!” She held her hands up, but it was like calming a wild, feral animal and she was beginning to see that. Shit . She stepped back as he swiped at her with his bare hands, thankful he hadn’t brought his big ass sword. She stepped to the side and leapt over a handful of boulders with grace before he could get an attack in. It was easier than she thought it would be, dodging his attacks, but he was relentless and growing angrier by the second. She turned and ran, fighting the panic and the pounding of her heard in her ears. A tree hung above her higher than Fenris could reach. She grasped at the base and dashed from branch to branch to make it to the top. It would have been possible, easy even, were it not for the dress she wore or the corset Hector had been so helpful with before. She misstepped and couldn’t correct herself, falling into the snow. She spat the icy water out and looked up just in time to feel ice encase her chest. She couldn’t breath, nor move. She could feel his hand buried there… her life was literally in his hand. 

    “Fenris!” Minerva came marching over and called to the man to get his attention. “Hey! The fuck, bro?” 

    He didn’t release her as he looked over his shoulder. Aria felt her chest begin to spasm, desperate for air. “She is a danger to you! I will not stand for it!”

    “She’s relatively harmless, unwatched drinks aside,” she’d said loud enough to hear as she approached. “I said don’t kill anyone. For real though! You’re making more work for me than this is helping.” 

    Aria’s vision was beginning to darken around the edges when she was finally released. Her lungs were on fire as they sucked in precious air. Her face fell into the snow, but she couldn’t move if she tried, so she settled for the wet, frozen air that made it to her lungs. 

He stood up and strode past Minerva, not saying another word as he left the area. 

    “They don’t make ‘I’m sorry my friend tried to kill you’ fruit baskets, man!” she shook her head, leaning down to check over Aria. “Fucking machismo nonsense. You alright?” 

    Aria was still recovering, coughing as she tried to sit up. She couldn’t fucking believe this! She rolled over so she wasn’t drowning in snow at least, not looking at the woman above her. Krem had finally recovered and was crouched beside her, asking Minerva what the hell that was all about. She closed her eyes, waiting for the story to be told for the thousandth time as her heart rate started to even out and the tingling of her fingers began to subside.    

    “Varric said something. Fenris got his own ideas,” she said remaining vague. “I’ll take care of it. I’m sorry for… yeh.”

    Aria coughed again, “Have I paid my due yet?” Her words were more of a croak. She finally managed to sit up with Krem’s help. He gently rubbed her back, but she wished he wouldn’t. His touch was unwelcome but she lacked the energy or voice to tell him.

“We’re square,” Minerva replied. Maybe a little more than that after the display.

“Come on, I’ll get you to the tavern. It’ll be warm in there, and there is a certain dwarf I’d like to speak to.” Krem spoke softly as he helped her stand.

Aria shook her head. “No more revenge bullshit. Leave it alone.”

“I told him not to kill anyone. I don’t quite think he listens to me…” She sighed. “Frankly, I don’t quite get the overreaction from him, but yeh. No more revenge, for anyone.” Minerva pulled herself up with a little difficulty. She did have to give Aria credit from what she’d seen, at least. “For what it’s worth, looked like you could handle yourself alright. Good job on that one.” 

“I’ll be civil, I promise,” Krem said. His hand was still on her back.

Aria nodded, trying to smile at the acknowledgement, but feeling weak. “Body needs oxygen to function… who knew.”

Krem forced a very fake laugh. “Come on, Flissa made a nice ram stew.”

Aria shook her head, fuck that again! “I’ll pass, thanks.”

“You lot need something I can get you? If not, I’ll leave you to it and try to wrangle my favorite rampaging elf.” 

“Fine, thanks,” Aria’s voice was beginning to return to normal. It was more of a rasp than a croak. “Have fun with that. I’ll apparently be at the tavern, not eating stew.”

Minerva sighed, “Well, tell Flissa to add it to my tab at least.” She gave a wave, walking off to find just where Fenris ran off to. 

Aria and Krem made their way slowly back into Haven and into the tavern. It wasn’t as busy as it could be, but seating was limited. Krem pulled them into a booth between Varric and Sera’s, and Hector’s seat of choice. “Not the greatest first date, I admit,” Krem winked, waving Flissa over. 

Aria closed her eyes and rested her head on the table. She was sure she looked like hell. She also wasn’t sure that was supposed to be a date. She tried to keep attempted murder to the third date. She wasn’t a slut.

“What can I get you honey,” Flissa asked with barely contained concern. “Hell Aria, you alright?” She said this loud enough for half the tavern to hear, Aria was sure.

She straightened up best she could and offered a weak smile. “I’m gonna be fine. Were dining on the Herald’s coin tonight. Can ask her if you don’t believe me. I’d like whatever you have that’s liquid and strong.”

Krem chuckled, “Same here. And something for this one to eat. Not ram stew, I hear.”

Flissa shuddered, “yeah, I agree. I’ll be back with those in a second.” She scurried off in a hurry. Aria rolled her eyes.

Hector, seeing Aria’s state pulled himself out of his seat and walked over to the table. “Sorry to interrupt your… date maybe? But everything good here?” 

Aria laughed, but it was interrupted in a fit of coughing. Krem shot her a look of concern. He’d only lived through the experience a fraction of a second, but he still knew what it was like. She waved dismissively at Hector, not wanting to ruin his whatever with Flissa. “Just some mild attempted murder with a splash of oxygen deprivation until nearly passing out.”

“Wwwhat?” Hector’s eyes widened with surprise. 

“Elvhen chap tried to kill her. Nearly did.” Krem spoke gravely, clearly ashamed at not protecting her. Flissa arrived with two mugs of likely expensive ale or mead and a roast hen for each of them. She shot Aria another look before silently leaving them be.

“What elf guy?” he asked, getting a sense he already knew the answer. 

Aria looked at him, her eyes felt dead. She probably looked it. She should get herself checked out, but she didn’t want to bother Adan or Solas. “You won’t hear another word about him from me.”

Hector frowned, sliding into the crowded booth next to the two, looking at her neck for any sign of the suffocation she mentioned, like coke marks, date be damned. Krem tensed up on the other side of Aria. “Can I try something? I’ll leave ya be after.” 

God, please don’t. She smirked, trying to pull her flirtatious smile up and likely failing. “Only if it’s CPR.”

“More like trying to get that throat healed up.” he said softly. It looked alright. Oh, wait. It was Fenris they were talking about. The thought made him shudder. 

She shook her head. “Didn’t touch my throat hon. He did the thing. Doubt there’s much to be done.”

“Couldn’t hurt… but… okay.” Hector said slowly, removing himself. “I’ll see ya later then.” 

She touched his hand lightly as he stood, “Adan teach you anything that’ll help the chest?” She knew he wanted to leave and be done with the situation, get back to what he was doing, but her chest still felt like it was on fire, like she’d inhaled pure gasoline.

“I’ll send something over,” he nodded, pulling away and leaving in the direction of the apothecary, sending a helper quickly over once he’d gotten it together, entirely set on not making whatever Aria had going on any worse. Her crush had already tried to kill her after all. 

“Fenris, you say?” Varric’s head popped up from behind his chair, peering at Aria. She downed her drink and refused to look at him. She knew who her culprit was.

“Suck an egg, dwarf.”

Chapter Text

    Minerva spent the better part of an hour looking around for Fenris in Haven. It didn’t help that there were two dark skinned elves with distinguishing white hair around. The amount of times she had to explain that she wasn’t looking for Aria was becoming tiring. Fortunately when she was about to give up, one of the woodcutters mentioned he saw a man matching that description over on the far side of the lake by the logging piles.

She hoped he hadn’t ran off further and took off in that direction. Finally she found the man sitting on a bolder on the lake edge. Minerva let out a sigh of relief. “What the fuck are you doing, Fenris?” Both out here, in the cold and really here in general, though she didn’t voice the thought.

“Sitting, as it appears.” He didn’t look up or move away from his seat. There was a tension in his hunched shoulders and his head was low.

“I think I smoothed everything over with everyone… though lord only knows what they’re putting on my tab right now.” She carefully climbed up the rock and sat down across from him. 

His hair was covering his face, so she couldn’t read his expression. He shook his head slightly, “Explain it to me, Minerva. I cannot understand… the woman I knew in Kirkwall could put the fear in Meredith herself, not offering to comfort someone who attempted harm on her.” 

“Oh, I wanted to kill her myself at first. She’s annoying, in my opinion, she thinks I’m doing a terrible job of things, and all around isn’t my cup of tea, but… I’m, like, kinda leadership adjacent here and I don’t have the luxury of doing whatever I want anymore.” She looked down at the cracks of glowing on her hand. “And in truth, she’s not that bad. We’re all dealing with a lot here, some more than others.” 

He finally looked up. His mossy green eyes glittered with anger. He was silent a moment, contemplating. “What did she do to you? At least offer me that. The possibilities have rolled through my mind.”

“She switched out my elfroot with a sleeping draught when I was attempting to get some work done.” She looked back at him with a weak smile. 

His anger shifted slightly to confusion. “Excuse me? She knocked you out to keep you from your duties?” He leaned back, contemplating. “There is more you have not told me.”

“It was… a little soon after the injury. Everyone was nagging me to stay in bed and, uh, let’s just say I didn’t take kindly to it. And here we are with me so fucking behind on everything because I’ve been being ‘good’ about it.” She really hoped he wouldn’t start up on her too. It was getting old. 

Fenris was quiet. His anger had disappeared, replaced by a blank stare over the frozen lake. Eventually, he looked back at Minerva with a secret smile only his closest friends had seen. “Why do I get the feeling Varric somehow gave her this idea? The dwarf knows you wouldn’t take kindly so such an action, but he has a way of influencing others to do his bidding for him.”

“I..” Well, shit. “I seriously didn’t even consider he was a part of it until just now.” she rubbed her face. She didn’t think Varric would do something like that. Perhaps Fenris was just being paranoid. 

“It is a strange life you lead, Minerva. I must say, I am glad to be apart of it once more. Things are sure to get more interesting from here. I do have to ask, that strange mark on your hand,” he gestured to the green light in her palm, “I’m certain that wasn’t there in Kirkwall.”

“You’re really not up to speed, are you?” she lifted it to give him a better look, knowing he might take badly to the weird magic that was the mark. “It’s something weird I got on my hand when I fell out of the fade… after the Conclave blew up while I was there. They’re saying it’s from Andraste… thus the “Herald of Andraste”, which is total bullshit, of course. It closes those rifts that seem to be popping up everywhere.” 

He looked as if he’d bitten into an apple only to find it’s a lemon. “Magic, I imagine. Someone should watch your back more often. Veronica could have done better. Here and in Kirkwall.” He looked away,” I could have done better.”

“If either of you’d been with me, you would have died. I’m the only survivor from the Conclave. Besides, I’ve been taking care of myself just fine for pretty much always, man. I don’t need a babysitter.” Going into the damned Conclave, she hadn’t even believed her own chances of surviving the place were all that great. The thought of any of her friends being involved, she couldn’t bear the sickening thought.

He sighed, “Yes, you have made that quite clear. Let us be done with this, you should rest, and I require sleep.” He stood up and waited for her to do the same, looking back at Haven.

“Ok.” She got up as well, but stepped between him and Haven. “But, uh, before we get back there. I just want to know… you’re not mad about the magic hand bit.” 

He held his hand out, silently asking to inspect it, she placed her hand, palm up in his and he held it gently, looking it over. The green light glowed along his face, casting eerie shadows and accenting his eyes. His frown was one of concern, not anger. “I feel weary, simply looking at it. If it causes you any harm, anger is the last of your concern,” he released her hand and placed his on her shoulder, “None of which, is directed at you.”

She cheerfully smiled, trying to shake the thought that he’d totally hate her if he ever found out it was intentional out of her mind. “Alright. I can deal with that.”

 

Haven was much bigger and livelier than Ceciele remembered it. The Chantry towered over the bustling village that was devoid of any intelligent life the last time she was here. Then again, the only people who resided in Haven were insane Andraste cultists who thought a dragon was their savior. Now, it seems, that wasn’t the case. Ceciele spotted a towering Qunari giving a young man a hard time, his arm draped around his neck while his knuckles gnashed into his scalp. This was strange, as she’d never seen one of the Qun behave so openly and carefree among outsiders. It brought a smile to her face as she walked past. There were soldiers training outside the gate, but she couldn’t see who was giving the orders. 

She walked up the steps into Haven and marvelled at the diference. The plumes of smoke rose from the houses and people were keeping themselves busy not trying to kill her. She spotted a handful of elves working on passing out rations and a templar consoling a small girl who seemed to have fallen. Ceciele remembered the days when templars weren’t seen as the villains of this world. One could even spot a mage and templar in civil conversation once. She yearned for the days. 

She made her way to the Chantry, spotting a rather confident looking woman walking with an intimidating, yet beautiful elf.

She stopped in her tracks, her eyes unable to leave him for a moment. She remembered herself and shook her head. She had a mission. She spotted a friendly, looking dwarf who sported only stubble, which was strange for a dwarf. She walked up to him with a wave. “Excuse me, I’m looking for Leliana… can you point me in the direction she might be in?”

He shot her a winning smile, “You must be Ceciele! I’ve heard you’re the best fighter she’s seen without a real weapon. Come on, I’ll take you to her!” He waved and turned in the direction of the Chantry. Ceciele couldn’t help but smile as she followed him. His impressive crossbow, something she hadn’t encountered in Thedas before, bounced against his back as he walked. She spotted the rogue woman after a long moment of looking. She looked… different. She was entirely the same, technically, but the light and sparkle in her eyes was simply… gone. She stood with her arms crossed, watching the people around her. A hood was pulled up around her face and there was a stern expression that felt almost permanent. Her eyes landed on her and a rather dark smile replaced it. “Ceciele! It’s good to see you!” She strode forward, but her arms didn’t move. The Leliana Ceciele knew would have sprinted in for a hug. “I trust the journey was not too difficult. Thank you Varric, for escorting her to me.” She nodded at the dwarf, who saluted and sauntered off. Ceciele smiled at her, thought it was shaky. This woman intimidated her.

They made their way to the Chantry as Leliana filled her in on what was going on. “So the Herald wants to see me?” 

“Yes. I suspect immediately. She resides in the house just left of the stairs toward the gate. There’s always a crowd of admirers nearby, you can’t miss it.” She offered her a nod and continued toward the back of the Chantry. Ceciele frowned at her back. Who was that? She shook her head. I guess I’ll go meet this “Herald” . She turned and exited the Chantry, looking for this house that was supposed to be surrounded by fans. She only saw one where Leliana indicated, but the beautiful elf from before was standing guard at the door, glaring away any offending children or people who came close. She wasn’t sure if she should laugh or walk away slowly, but she couldn’t do either. 

She walked up to him and offered a smile, “I’m supposed to meet the Herald. I’m Ceciele, she and I met briefly.”

He looked her up and down and wrapped his knuckles on the door, “A woman named Ceciele wishes to speak with you,” he called. 

Minerva made her way to the door, now in just a loose blouse and breeches. “Lord, Fenris. Why are you still out here?” she sighed and shook her head, looking to the woman in question. “Oh, hello, Leliana’s friend… Ceciele, was it? Won’t you come in?” 

She tried to contain her amusement at the exchange and stepped inside after the woman, who was clearly not prepared for guests. “I’m sorry to surprise you like this, but I heard meeting with you was urgent?”

Minerva nodded, closing the door behind her once she’s been ushered in. “Yes, well, it may be. Please have a seat.” She went over to the table and sat on her chair. 

“I’ve been briefed, but I’m not sure about my involvement. I won’t say I’m not a good fighter, I’ve kept my own well enough, but you seem to have plenty of those here.” She leaned over the back of the other chair, resting her chest on her folded arms and crossing her ankles. Her black curls fell over her shoulder stick with twigs. She needed a bathing soon, the journey had been long.

“We do, but that wasn’t exactly why I wanted to speak with you. I actually have a question for you that’s rather important.” Minerva smiled cheerfully, assessing the woman before her for her reaction. “Have you ever been to New York?” 

A small laugh was the response she got. “Excuse me?” She heard that word… where did she hear that? It felt like an old memory, lost in the waves of time and buried beneath the years. It tugged at her, however, and bothered her that she knew it.

“New York City? It’s a big place, but a long way from here.” Minerva’s smile faltered a little and she began to look deflated. 

“‘Fraid the largest city I’ve been to is Amaranthine.” She noticed a bowl of fruit on the table, half full with pears and apples. There was one apple that held her attention. It was larger than the rest, a pretty big apple… a big apple… the big apple… the tug was back, but it was stronger. It was really upsetting her that the memory wouldn’t surface.

Minerva noted the gaze. “Sometimes called The Big Apple . But…” she sighed. “If you don’t, I’m sorry to have troubled you.” 

Ceciele looked at the defeated woman with concern. “That’s it?” She tried to reign in her irritation. She’d traveled halfway across Ferelden to be here! And after some question about an apple and some city she was dismissing her? She held a pleasant smile, though.

“That was what I wanted to know. I’m sure Leliana would appreciate your assistance here. Things are about to get mighty rocky.” Minerva nodded. “Thank you for your time.” 

“Well, I see,” she felt like she’d disappointed this woman somehow, but there was nothing to be done about it now. She wasn’t one to push a stranger. She straightened up, “I guess I’ll-” The Big Apple, The CIty that Never Sleeps , “Wait!” A spike of adrenaline surged through her chest and her hand came down as if to slap the table in her excitement. However, she had forgotten there wasn’t a table there anymore and knocked the chair across the room instead. It crashed into the floor and her hand flew to her mouth, “Shit! Sorry!”

Minerva practically jumped at the outburst and looked up at the woman with a mix of surprise and concern, “Pardon?” 

She shook her hand lightly, as it stung from the impact. “No, I’ve never been to New York,” she looked up at her. There was a hope for something she hadn’t had in over eleven years…. Someone who knew who she was. “I lived in Sedona, Arizona.”

“Flint, Michigan originally, here.” A smile grew across Minerva’s face. 

Ceciele’s body crumpled and she covered her face in her hands. Tears seeped through her fingers as her shoulders shook, “I never thought… I’d hear about that place again…. Oh Maker…” She whispered. She drew a deep breath and wiped her hands back over her head, carefully avoiding the band around her head. “I haven’t met a single person from America, or anywhere from that world since I got here. I thought I was alone. You have no idea what it means to meet you!”

“It’s lovely to meet another American as well.” Minerva paused for a moment before delicately adding. “Uh, I’m sorry if this is a lot for you to take in, but you should know I’m not the only other one from Earth. There’s more of us here, in the Inquisition.” 

Ceciele’s eyes were almost wide enough to pass as Elvhen. “What?”

“Uh, yeh. Two of us have been here for a long while, another two that just dropped in.” Minerva explained. “Me and Veronica were in Kirkwall until not so long ago.” 

Ceciele’s knees gave out and she slid to the floor. “And we’re all here…” she looked back up at Minerva, “You can’t think this is a coincidence… I’ve seen too much shit to believe otherwise.”

“Maybe. I can’t say I have the answer to that one, but we are working together to figure what all’s about to happen out and we thought maybe if you were one of us… you’d be inclined to want to help. It’s tricky business changing the future.” Minerva said, pulling herself up from her chair stiffly and walking over to Ceiele to offer her a hand up. “You look like you could use a stiff drink.” 

She nodded, “yeah, I do. Thanks. I… I don’t know what to think, here. You’re talking about ‘changing the future’ but…” she shook her head. “Okay… focus. I’d rather start discussing everything when we’re all here, but there’s something you’ll all need to know before we do anything else.”

“Pray tell.” Minerva said, picking up a bottle of booze from her collection and placing it  on the table, before the woman. 

Ceciele hesitated and looked up at the Herald. This was a secret she’d kept for eleven years. Not one person knew, not even Wynne who could sympathize. She straightened up and pressed her hand to the bridge of her nose. Her stomach ached with panic and her hands shook, but she slid the head band off anyway. Right there, plain as day, was the sunburst brand on her face.

“You’re… sort of tranquil, I take it.” Minerva said, mild surprise in her tone. “Well, you seem alright, but we’re going to be able to fix that sort of thing soon as I get my hands on the Seeker’s book, I assure you.” 

She shook her head, “I don’t sound tranquil, do I?”

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” she winked. “Shit’s always weird here. I’m sure there’s a reason you don’t sound like one.”

She laughed, more of a huff of air leaving her lungs, and lowered the band again. “Oh, there is. But you might not like it. I’ll tell you all about it after you arrange a meeting. For now, I need to take all this in.” She rose from the table and forced a smile. “I’m very happy to have met you.”

“Back at ya, babe.” Minerva smiled. “Take it easy.” 

She offered a small wave as she exited the house. The elf was no longer standing guard, luckily. She exhaled a breath that carried eleven year’s worth of stress in it and slumped against the outside wall. What the fuck? She thought to herself as she looked up at the Breach. “What the hell is going on?” She whispered to herself.

 

Hector had returned to the cabin after getting caught up helping Adan while sending over the medicine to Aria. The day had progressed oddly to say the least. He had a reasonably good idea just why Fenris went after his friend, the man was carrying what looked to be an unrecognized torch for Minerva and Aria had gotten in the crossfire with her shenanigans. It was most unfortunate, even if she seemed alright. He’d hoped the elf’s arrival would have been a fun event rather than what it turned into.    

And then there was Krem. Whatever they’d had going on felt a little off, one sided maybe? It was hard to say from the limited amount he’d seen. He was certain she’d catch up with him about it once she’d returned so with nothing else to really do, he found himself cleaning up the place. 

His own fun hadn’t worked out with Flissa, oddly. She’d seemed a little distant for whatever reason. Had it not been so busy, he would have asked if she was alright. He couldn’t bear the thought of making the poor woman uncomfortable. It usually seemed to cheer her up. Yeh, all in all, today was odd. 

Hearing the sound of someone coming in, he looked up to the door to find his living companion. “I didn’t expect to see you back so soon. How are you feeling?” he tried to not sound as concerned as he felt. It didn’t seem like it would be appreciated. 

She offered him an awkward, apologetic smile and turned back to the open door. Krem could be seen, holding her hand up for a kiss. She smiled at the gesture, but it wasn’t like any of the open, warm smiles she’d given Hector. In fact, it was bordering on that fake smile that always struck him the wrong way. “Thank you, Krem. I’ll see you later.”

He nodded, his own smile holding the affection hers lacked. “I look forward to it.” With that, he turned and headed off. Aria stepped in and shut the door, her smile falling. She leaned her forehead against it and released a harsh cough she seemed to have been holding in.

Hector waited for her to say anything, expectantly. If she wanted to talk, she would. If not, he would continue to clean. Maybe make some food. There was little point in dragging a conversation out when it didn’t want to be had. 

Once her cough had settled, she groaned, still against the door. “When I said I would give my heart to Gideon Emery, that wasn’t exactly what I had in mind,” her voice was still raspy, and her hand pressed against her chest. 

“I’m sorry that didn’t work out so well,” he offered with a gentle smile. “I’m hoping our Herald had a talk with him about that. You deserve an apology.”

She shrugged with one shoulder, finally turning from the door. Her face was worn, and her eyes were red, “I’m not gonna get it. Doesn’t matter anyway. Fenris wants me dead, Krem likes Scarlet, and,” she cut herself off and swallowed. “How’d it go with Flissa?”

He shrugged, wondering what made her bring that up. “She didn’t seem up for it today so I dropped it. No sense in doing it if it doesn’t make her smile.” 

“Guess both our dates sucked. I can talk to her tomorrow, see what’s up.” She pushed off the door, dressed down, and worked to undo the corset she’d had so much trouble with that morning. “Let’s see if this goes better than the whole damn day has.”

“Oh, naw. You don’t have to do that. I was just having a bit of fun. I’m not really interested in pursuing her or anything like that.” 

“Why not? She’s a sweetheart. She’ll trea- god damn this thing !” She growled, fighting with the laces. 

He stepped over to her and helped with her corset before she could ask, undoing the laces and loosening it. “I’m not looking for a relationship right now, if I’m honest.” 

She tensed at his sudden close contact as he worked the offending item. She hadn’t had time to warn him, but anyone’s touch on her, especially her torso, was unwelcome. She held her tongue, however, and stood uncomfortably. He would feel bad if she brought this to his attention. “Thanks,” her tone was flat.

He stepped away with a nod, noting the tone and realizing he’d errored. “You don’t have to thank me for something you don’t want.” 

She slipped out of the corset and tossed it beside her bed, debating on removing the rest of her clothes for the night or hiding under the covers for the rest of eternity, “what are you talking about?”

“You didn’t want my help this time.” he said.

“Don’t worry about it,” she decided she didn’t want to be uncomfortable all night, she stripped down to her chemise and bloomers. She continued without thinking, remembering Hector was still very in the room almost too late. He cleared his throat and faced away from her, to give her a hint that she might not be considering the company, not that he really cared himself about that sort of thing. 

She dropped her hands, still clothed by her world’s standards. “Sorry, didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable. Thanks for the help earlier by the way, whatever you whipped up eased the pain some. Still sound like a chain smoker, though.” She crawled into her cot and curled up, closing her eyes. “I wish I’d be back home when I open my eyes.” 

“I understand the sentiment,” he wished that too more days than most, back to a place without magic and templars, life or death responsibilities. It wasn’t great, but it was easy. He finished with the cleaning he was doing and pulled off his shirt, sliding into bed. 

Aria’s back was to him as her mind brought her back to before she’d been dropped into this hell. A place where Fenris was just a hot elf she could flirt with, with a click of her mouse, Krem wasn’t trying to damn hard to impress her, and… “and you’d be alone,” she whispered to herself, sighing into her pillow, holding herself tightly. She didn’t want to be here, but she didn’t want to go anywhere else either. She felt like she was unravelling. Her own skin wasn’t enough to hold her together.

“All we can do is stick together and try to make this work, even if it’s hard. Because it is hard, I won’t lie, but we’re not alone. There’s the few of us that understand each other. There’s you and me. It’ll get easier, I suspect, but it takes time.” He said softly, hoping she listened. 

She sat up and rubbed her eyes, missing her heavy jacket. “Sure. I’m gonna go for a walk or something. See you tomorrow,” she slid off the cot, her bare feet padding across the floor loudly in the quiet of the room before slipping out the door.

Hector pulled up his covers and closed his eyes. Hopefully tomorrow would be a better day.

Chapter Text

It had been extremely overwhelming, meeting so many people from what she’d once referred to as “The Real World”. She’d met Veronica first, someone she immediately felt comfortable with. She was straight laced, but easygoing once Minerva had the liquor flowing. Hector and Aria had shown up at once, thought this meeting was a little more awkward. Hector had been pleasant, if not a little quiet. His smile was polite and his eyes kind, but there wasn’t a lot said from him. Aria had thrown Ceciele off guard. She’d expected another human, like the rest of them. When an elf walked in, looking like she’d just been dumped on her anniversary, she didn’t know what to say. 

“You’ll get used to it,” Veronica smirked, throwing back her drink. Her face was already flushed, which concerned Ceciele as they had all just arrived. She struck her as a fun drunk who used booze to escape her own darkness. She wasn’t so sure she blamed her, however, as Thedas wasn’t an easy place to live. Aria didn’t respond to her blunt comment, simply offered a very practiced smile in her direction. 

Hector looked between the women as if he was studying them. “I suspect this is all a lot to process.”

Ceciele offered a half-hearted shrug. “Honestly, I’m just relieved. Moving to Par Vallon with The Arishok was a lot to process. Having your home suddenly flooded with monsters, a random war between mages and the rest of the world. I’ve seen it all. Nice to meet you all.” She tried to maintain a calm, polite demeanor, but she was nervous. Minerva had reacted rather calmly about her secret, which wasn’t expected, but a pleasant surprise. The rest of the story, however, would likely not be taken as well. She had seen what image comes to mind when people think of an abomination… she wasn’t exactly it. “So this is everyone?”

“Everyone I’ve met at least.” Minerva smiled cheerfully. “You had something you’d wanted to discuss once we’d all gathered, yes?” 

Straight to the point, it seems. She nodded and looked down at her hands. She closed her eyes and cleared her mind, touching that piece of her she kept hidden away. A flare of emerald light sparked around her eyes and she spoke with two voices. “We have lived in secret for eleven years.” She let the connection fall, so that she could speak alone. The collective was a surprised reaction, but no panic yet. “When I awoke beside Lake Calenhad, I had no recollection of who I was before. I was just a mage trapped in the Circle with no memories of who I was. When I received this, “she lifted her headband so that everyone could see the sunburst brand, “I remembered. I was a magic user back home who had a connection with what I called a “Spirit Guide”. Honestly, never thought they were real. I saw them as manifestations of peace or something. The reason I’m telling you this, is because when I was branded, this spirit, Compassion it calls itself, bonded with me to prevent me from losing myself completely to the Tranquility. I guess that technically makes me an abomination….” She cleared her throat, watching for the shock or rage to erupt from her audience.

Minerva looked to Veronica with a joking tone and a wink, “Aw, she’s just your type.” 

Veronica threw her tankard roughly in Minerva’s direction, “fuck off!”

Aria rolled her eyes, “Well, long as you don’t blow up the Chantry ‘round here, I don’t see what the big deal is. Nice of a Compassion to be around for you when you needed it. Maybe you can hang with Cole, or something.” She shrugged, leaning against the wall.

Ceciele was the one who was shocked. No one cared? No one was confused or upset, waiting for her to grow tumors and attack? She had carried this weight for over a decade and they brushed it off like it was nothing! “Um… Cole?”

“He’s a spirit of compassion that hangs around Haven. I’m sure he’ll pop up sooner or later.” Hector explained. “I’m thinking you’ve been here a while… maybe too long to be aware of Dragon Age: Inquisition…? But, uh, there’s a lot of spirits touching people’s mind talk in it, like Anders in DA2.” 

“Wynne in Origins,” Veronica said from her chair, staring at the ceiling and obviously plastered. “How you could forget such a beautiful creature is beyond me, though. He was my favorite.”

Ceciele frowned. “Inquisition? There’s more than two games?”

“There’s three and a fourth in development.” Hector replied, garnering a surprised look from Minerva. “Just a teaser, really.” 

Aria looked up at her, twirling a stray hair that had fallen out of her intricate updo, “You only played two? This will… oh boy.” She shook her head, “Well at least you should know that we’re not gonna lynch you for being possessed, especially by Compassion. Anders went nuts because of his own issues, but you seem to be holding your own. Only person I’d be worried about is probably Cullen, I guess, but he doesn’t have to know,” she shrugged.

Ceciele’s blood ran cold. “Cullen?” She spoke barely above a whisper, praying she was thinking of a different person. It can’t be the same man….

“In fairness to him, he’s mellowed out a lot since Kirkwall. While he doesn’t need to know, I wouldn’t be too worried about him losing his shit about it. Heck, I think when you romance him here as a mage, there’s some talk about how if you were possessed, he didn’t think he could bring himself to kill you.” Minerva shrugged, pouring herself another drink. 

Ceciele licked her lips, suddenly feeling dehydrated, “Cullen Rutherford?”

“The very same. He became the Inquisition’s Commander after resigning from the templars in Kirkwall.” Minerva nodded. 

“I see… Where can I find him? After we’re concluded here… of course.” 

“Down past the gates,” Hector replied. “By all those tents.” 

“Now that all this is out of the way, may we please discuss the situation at hand? I don’t think I can really hold off on going for the mages any longer.” Minerva asked, looking to the table for confirmation. 

Ceciele nodded, silently tucking this new piece of information away for later. Everyone else nodded and looked at her.

“Wonderful.” Minerva smiled and continued. “We have several different issues coming up soon. The first is, of course, the meeting with Alexius unless we figure something else out. This will let him know our ‘plans’ to see if we can work with him. I travel back here, we get a request for another meeting, I go back there, and promptly get sent into a horrible nightmare future. This is not ideal.” 

Ceciele bit her lip, hoping some of this would make sense soon. She was once the person everyone would go to for insight into the future. She was the Warden’s secret weapon. Now she was a dopey side character in a bad play she wanted out of. Everyone else seemed to understand completely, waiting for the plan.

“So the thing I’d like to work on is figuring out if there’s any alternative options. Before you were here, Ceciele, I’d considered trying to convince Leliana to help with the sneak attack plan that we’re going to end up doing in a few weeks anyway after the failed first meeting. It would put us at more of an advantage, but it would also show my hand to Leliana.” Minerva explained, her mouth forming a grim line. 

 “Okay… I see why this could be risky. What did you officially decide then?”

“Literally nothing.” Minerva said flatly. “I believe when last we all spoke, everyone thought business as usual, save seeing if we could reach out to you. If that’s still the case, this meeting was a waste of time.” 

“We were hoping you could talk to Leliana, actually. You knew her, you could tell her about us in the best way,” Aria offered. She looked as afraid as Minerva, glancing at the woman with concern. Were all of these people friends? Ceciele felt very left out, but also stricken with panic herself.

“You want me to, what now?”

“Talk to her, if you’re agreeable to it.” Minerva said. “I won’t force you by any means, but she seems to know and trust you.”

“Hah!” Ceciele shook her head, pointing in the general direction of the Chantry, “ That woman, is not Leliana! You all can’t convince me she’s the same, sweet, naive bard who loves shoes and girly talks about boys. And what you’re asking, is… it’s a secret I’ve kept for so long! I…” she covered her face in her hands, groaning. “Don’t ask me. I can’t do it. Ask Compassion.”

“It’s more than me just not wanting to do this, you should know.” Minerva said, trying to explain her reasoning more thoroughly. “Haven is about to be overrun by an old darkspawn magister and his lyrium dragon. We’d be in a much better position to save people’s lives if we’re able to actually plan for it and prepare for evacuation. Otherwise, everyone’s partying when the fucker hits us. We lose a lot of good people with that outcome.”

“Damn it!” Ceciele muttered. Help me! Her eyes crackled again, Compassion drawn to the surface. “We will aid you as we can. Leliana has changed, but she will see reason.” Compassion dimmed down, leaving a very distraught Ceciele alone. She drew a deep breath and folded her arms. “I suppose it must be done. When should I do this?”

“As soon as your able. Thank you for the assistance. I understand what I’m asking is incredibly difficult, but I promise Leliana is still in there. She’s just lost her way a bit.” Minerva smiled kindly. “There’s another topic of discussion I wanted to bring up before we part ways. There’s still that Envy demon that’s manipulating the templars. I had the templar we brought back from Val Royeaux try to send for anyone willing to listen, but I don’t feel great about leaving that thing out there in the world causing chaos.”

Everyone was quiet for a long moment, until Aria spoke. There was hesitation in her eyes, and she was clearly warring with herself as she spoke. “If only we knew someone who could calm demons into spirits.” She sighed heavily, “I don’t know why, but Solas seems to listen to me. I can talk to him and go figure it out. Not sure how he’ll feel about being around a bunch of tempars, though.”

Veronica snorted, “If only there was a strapping young lad who would totally protect you from those nasty templars who could go with you,” she winked… or at least Ceciele thought it was a wink. She could just be fighting consciousness in her inebriated state.

Aria threw her a nasty look.

Hector looked to Veronica with a raised brow. “Uh-huh, maybe lay off the drink, huh? Taking all the Chargers might actually be a good plan, however.”

She flipped him the bird.

“Look,” Minerva said “I don’t even care if we get more templars. Heck, I’d be happier if we didn’t, but if we can make them hit a little less hard when they go red, I’m all for it.” 

Aria shrugged, “Hector has a good point. I don’t know Bull all that well, but if the Qunari is willing to do one thing, it’s fight. And sex. Anyone here confident enough to talk to him?”

Ceciele didn’t know who any of these people were, but she raised her hand hesitantly.

“Great!” Minerva smiled. “Sounds like a plan to me. Everyone, please keep me posted on updates. Unless anyone has more to add, I think we’re done here.” 

“I’m good, sounds like Scarlet has another boring date to plan.” Aria glowered at a snoring Veronica, “Much as I hate to admit it, she was right about Krem.” She sighed and walked out the door. 

Veronica cracked an eye open, no longer snoring and looking very much awake, “She does realize it’s Krem who’s trying to go after her right? Like what is she waiting for? Who’s better than that ?” With a huff, she stood up quickly and followed the elvhen woman with a stomp to her step. Ceciele didn’t even bother trying to understand what had just happened.

“I guess that’s it. I’ll go to Leliana straight away, if I can. I’ll let you know how that goes… though I don’t share Compassion’s enthusiasm.” She waved at Minerva and followed the others.

Hector stood. “It’s going to work out, Herald. We’ll figure this all out one way or another. Take care of yourself.” He gave her a wave and proceeded out the door. 

Minerva sighed and slumped forward on the table. “Lord, I hope so.” 

 

Veronica waited outside while the party filed out of Minerva’s temporary home with her arms crossed and one foot against the wall. She had been meaning to talk to her friend. She’d suspected Fenris’s feelings for her in Kirkwall, but she hadn’t known for sure. She’d also been dealing with her own problem with Anders. Now, after hearing how apeshit the man got with Aria for a simple potion swap, she knew. And she also knew her friend was as oblivious as a rock about it. She knew Minerva had someone back in the real world. She’d gotten drunk enough to black out once during cards one night at the Hanged Man. Veronica hadn’t been as into drinking then as she is now and was much more lucid than the rest of her friends. Hawke had disappeared with Isabela for some “fun time” that likely ended in them both passing out before her corset was loosened. Varric had gone to his room to polish Bianca, a phrase Veronica tried not to think about, and Fenris and Anders had gone to their respective homes. Minerva was leaning on the table, crying about how she missed her home and career, but mostly her fiance and how she never should have left that night. Veronica felt for her then, as it was a fresh wound. But that was nearly seven years ago now. She couldn’t hold onto him forever.

She knocked lightly on the door after Hector and Ceciele had left the building, waiting for a response.

“Yeh?” Minerva called, not lifting from her slump on the table. 

Veronica stepped in, pasting her “Stern Mom” face on that Varric had given her shit about many times. “How’re you holding up?”

“Losing the fight to existential dread as we speak.” she replied, clumsily tipping her drink into her mouth without lifting it off the table for a sip. 

“Poor baby, I’m sorry about all that weight on your shoulders. But, hear me out!” She pulled a chair up next to Minerva and rested a hand on her shoulder, “I bet I know what could ease that stress a bit!”

“What’s that?” Minerva asked, looking up at her friend with a rather sullen expression. 

“How long… has it been?” She raised her eyebrow rather suggestively.

Minerva sighed, “How long what?” 

“You want me to be blunt? Honey I’ve had enough to drink I’ll be blunt !” She elbowed her lightly for emphasis.

“I see you’re being weird again.” 

She sighed. She’d hoped to have this conversation in  a playful manner to smooth the process, but it wasn’t happening right now. She sobered up and leaned back to give her friend some space. “Minerva, it’s been over six years. You know what I’m talking about.”

Silence.

“You really don’t get it? Fenris has had a thing for you for so long! He still has a thing for you!” She frowned, wondering if Min was even gonna remember this tomorrow. 

“Fenris? I mean, he’s a little protective, but that’s his schtick.” She raised a brow, with a puzzled look. 

“A little ? He nearly killed a girl for giving you nyquil! He traveled across Thedas cause he might get to see you! He guarded your door for, like, eight hours, I mean, come on! You and Aria are driving me insane here! Two great guys all over you and you won’t give them the time of day? What I wouldn’t give-” she cut herself off, her throat constricting. Now wasn’t the time. She looked away and blew a breath out her nose in frustration.

“If this is about you missing Anders, I’ve been thinking… maybe-”

“No.”

“Well, not now, but soon. I could pardon his ass…” Minerva grumbled. 

“Cullen would kill him, and besides. Who knows if he’s even alive,” I do . “Whatever, I knew this was pointless. Maybe Aria will listen. If she’s done making doey eyes at that Hector, guy.” She pushed away from the table and stood. “Maybe ask Fenris, if you don’t believe me.”

“He wouldn’t like me if he knew I went and got this mark on purpose, knowing what all it entails. Like, not as a friend, not nothing.” Minerva said, finally giving a hint she might not be entirely oblivious to what she wasn’t admitting. 

She shrugged, “Maybe, maybe not. But you won’t give him that chance.” She rested her hand on Minerva’s shoulder for a moment, “get some sleep, Min. We’ll all give you a full report tomorrow.”

Minerva nodded. “Kay... G’night.” 

“In your bed, maybe?” Veronica arched a brow, “Let me help you up.”

Minerva waved her off. “Nah, I want to stay up a little more. I’d just end up laying over there, worrying about all this nonsense… I need a bit.” 

“Okay. I’ll be with Sera if you need me.” She turned to leave, slightly irritated at her friend. But she had enough on her plate right now, and she did have a point. Being handed a magical mark by an ancient Tevinter Magister Darkspawn wasn’t something Fenris was going to like. But he’d had feelings for her since before the Chantry explosion. She imagined he’d come along eventually.

 

Minerva sighed, rubbing her face. She didn’t need to get laid, she needed to get the recruitment of the mages over with and get to Skyhold with everyone intact. Veronica was right about one thing at least, she probably did need to talk to Fenris. Especially before she went marching into the most dangerous parts of the early game. They had to stop dancing around each other and he had to stop hovering. She’d never forgive herself if he got killed because of her sorry ass. 

Yeh, they had to talk. Something she was totally dismal at when it came to the man. Feeling it was now or never, by the power of functioning alcoholism, she pulled herself up off the chair and slid on a coat before slipping out into the cold night air. 

 

Ceciele stepped into the tent Leliana occupied in front of the Chantry, offering a friendly smile as she did so. The hooded woman looked up from her reports and offered a shadow of her old smile back. “I see you’ve concluded your business with the Herald?”

She shrugged, “Yes, I… actually wanted to talk to you about that.” Be strong, Ceciele!

Now having her full attention, Leliana set her report down and clasped her hands behind her back, “I’m listening.”

“First, I need a vow of secrecy! This is a secret the Herald cannot let out into the open! I’m also asking you as a friend, as it is my own secret as well.”

She nodded, “I had suspected you two might find common ground. Like you, Minerva seems to have apt knowledge of what is to come. I had hoped for years that you would reveal this secret to me, as it would be quite useful in the Inquisition.” She lowered her hood to her neck and ensured the tent’s opening was completely shut before resting a hand on Ceciele’s shoulder, “Time as changed us both, my friend. But you can always trust me. You have my word.”

Ceciele placed her own hand on top of Leliana’s, trying to hold back tears. She was afraid; afraid Leliana wouldn’t believe her, afraid she would spill their secret, afraid Cullen would discover her here. She felt the tug of Compassion, who yearned for the possible deaths that could happen should she fail. She drew a deep, shaky breath, and began. 

“The Herald and I… are not from here. Thedas, I mean.”

Leliana’s hand left her, and she sat down with a strange interest on her face, “Go on.”

“We’re from somewhere beyond the Fade, where magic doesn’t exist as a tangible thing and this world,” she held her arms out to gesture to everything around them, “Is a complex story written for enjoyment. Like a play, except those who view it can choose between a handful of options and see what will happen. Minerva and I have seen it, that is how we know what will happen. We are outsiders, sent here by, call it the Maker, call it fate, I don’t know. But that’s the truth. You wanted to know, and there it is.” She wanted to vomit as she watched Leliana take in her words. Wheels seemed to turn in her head as she considered what to say. 

She leaned forward and asked, “Did you know about the Circle, then? What Uldred would do?” 

She was testing her, as Ceciele did nothing to stop what had happened at the Circle. How could she? She didn’t remember who she was at the time! “I didn’t then. When I arrived here, in Thedas, I had injured my head. I remembered nothing about myself. When you found me in that pile of rubble, I had just gotten my memories back. I stopped more deaths than you know, Leliana. Connor, Ysold, Alistair, yourself, so many lives could have been lost if I hadn’t known what path to take.”

“If this is true, what path should we take now?”

Uh oh, “I have been here for eleven years. The story continued while I was gone. The Herald knows, but I don’t. She wants to speak with you tomorrow about the matter, as she knows what the Inquisition should do next.” She had a bad feeling about this. There was a cold calculation in the Spymaster’s eye. Had she just gotten them all into deep, deep trouble?

Leliana smiled, though it was the smile of a cat ready to pounce. “I look forward to speaking with her. Thank you, Ceciele. Now if you’ll excuse me, I must finish with my work. Good day.”

She nodded and left the tent as quickly as possible, nearly hyperventilating. She didn’t believe her! Of course she didn’t, why would she? She must have sounded insane and would wake up in the dungeon wrapped in chains to prevent her from harming anyone with her madness!

Focus Ceciele! You have more to do ! She scolded herself, leaning against a tree to catch her breath. She couldn’t dwell on it now. Whatever she didn’t know, Minerva surely would. She would have to trust that. With a feeling of dread in the pit of her stomach, she wandered out of Haven to speak to this Iron Bull.

 

Hector hadn’t been ready to go home by the time the meeting was adjourned. There was too much to think about with everyone getting so involved outside of himself. He didn’t have the same connections, only really having spoken to Solas at any length and certainly not in the capacity that he could convince the man to do anything. 

Everyone else was taking initiative, even Ceciele who appeared to have no real clue what was going on, but still volunteered to help. Meanwhile he found himself on the sidelines. 

He wandered down the snowy, rock lined path of the road just outside Haven, hoping to some to some sort of conclusion on how he could even be useful to any one of them. Perhaps once he’d become a more confident healer, he stood a chance. 

“N-no! Stop!” a pleading voice pulled him out of his musings. He looked around frantically and followed the echoing sound of a scuffle taking place until he came upon the source of the sound.

A templar stood over a mage that was on the ground holding an arm up to block the blows, tearily pleading with the templar to let him go.

Hector didn’t think as he moved to action, taking a running leap to tackle the templar. The impact sent them both toppling over into the snow. “Run!” he yelled to the mage, that managed to find his footing and book it off in the direction of Haven, leaving Hector face to face with a very angry looking man. Hector tried to form a fireball to throw at the man and give himself a chance to untangle, but in his panicked state, he barely conjured a flame. The templar’s face was pure rage as he grasped at Hector’s arms to pin him down. 

“Mage scum like you need to learn your place! Magic is to serve man and not rule over him!” The templar growled, stumbling to his feet and raising up his sword.
    Hector rolled away as it came down, barely missing him, finding himself on his hands and knees. He pushed up, trying to get upward and run, but only made it a few steps before a smite sent him collapsing to the ground with what felt like the life being ripped out of him. 

The templar approached with a nasty smile, sending a kick into Hector’s chest with an armored boot. Hector felt shooting pain as his ribs cracked on impact “You thought you could get away?” the man laughed. 

“I don’t think he likes to be hit like that,” a gruff voice said as a fist connected with the templar’s jaw. He was knocked sideways, caught off guard. He angrily stood back up, ready to attack when he met a larger blade than he wielded. A large bearded man stood with a firm expression. “I’d get going if I were you.”

    Hector lifted his head up and saw his rescuer before he collapsed back in the snow. Thank God for that fake Warden . He didn’t know how long he laid there or where that templar had gone to, but the world came back into clarity when he was hoisted up to his unsteady feet by strong hands. “Are you alright, lad? I was afraid if I left you in the snow any longer, you weren’t going to get up at all.”

    Hector winced and nodded, assessing his ribs with a quick diagnostic spell that seemed to interest Thom Rainier more than anything. “I will be.” he replied, sending a wave of bluish healing magic into himself, pulling his ribs and innards back into their proper place and fusing what was broken back together with relative ease despite it being the largest wound he’d yet to tackle. 

    “That’s a handy trick.” Rainier laughed and patted him on the back. 

    Hector gave him a shaky smile. “Uh, yeh, it has its uses.” He looked to the bearded man who appeared to be assessing him. “I… appreciate you helping me out. I would have been toast for sure.”

    “It’s too dangerous out here for people that don’t know how to defend themselves, especially for your lot with the way most people think about mages.” 

    “I’m beginning to get that impression. I’m pretty new to all this here.” he said, hoping it would be more inferred that he’s a circle mage or something like that. 

    Rainier nodded, seeming to understand, “If you want some training, I would gladly show you a few things.”

    “That sounds like an excellent idea.” He was nervous about the prospect, but the alternative option of not doing anything wasn’t practical anymore. 

 

Minerva wandered up to the tents where she knew Fenris to be staying and caught sight of his shock of white hair as he bent and stretched. Exercises perhaps. She approached the man and waited for him to take note of her. 

He lifted his head and offered a half smirk, “I was not expecting company. Is there an occasion for this visit?”

“Maybe.” Minerva said, pursing her lips nervously. What had Veronica talked her into? She wasn’t sure she could actually do this. 

Noting the tension in her voice, Fenris straightened out and looked her over with pursed lips. “Is something wrong?”

“Fenris, why did you come here?” she asked, already kicking herself mentally. 

His frown deepened, “I do not understand… I was called here, as you might recall. What is this about?” He tilted his head to the side, “Would you prefer if I wasn’t?”

“No, no… I mean, if you want to go, go, but no… that’s not what I meant. Shit.” Minerva sighed. “Could we do this somewhere private? I’d prefer not to make an ass out of myself in public.” 

He nodded, clearly anxious but hiding it well. He held a hand out in a silent, “lead the way” and waited.

She scurried off, out to her cabin, waiting for him to enter before closing it behind him.  “Okay… Well, the reason for the stupid questioning is… er… Veronica thinks you have a thing for me.” 

He didn’t say anything for a long moment. He looked away so that his hair hid his eyes. Eventually, he spoke in a low tone, his voice rumbling even more than it usually did, “What are your thoughts on such a theory?”

“I can’t possibly see the appeal… or like… how,” she said lamely, plopping down on her bed. “Or when…. Basically all the five Ws.”

He sank into the chair nearest her and asked, “Is it a list of qualities you are looking for?” He smiled softly, “If so, I can provide.”

She looked across to him, her brow furrowed. “You’re serious.” 

“I am.”

“Oh…”

He leaned back, his face careful and guarded. “Will you hear my confession, Minerva?”

She could only nod. 

“Since the day we met, you had been an intrigue to me. A coterie thug with such morals, and one willing to follow Hawke around like the rest of us at that. It was a curious thing. Most of us followed Hawke because we’d no other option for us. Isabela ran form the Qun, Varric needed him for his exhibition, I was waiting for a purpose beyond Danarius. You are the only one who seemed to seek it out. It drew me in. You entranced me. I’ve thought of little else, but you, for years. And after Anders… you were gone.” His voice was soft and sad, like he could barely form the words. “I understand I was not much of a prize, I was an escaped slave, living in a mansion that barely stood upright. I distanced myself from all of that, now, but I suspect I am no better than the man you drank Danarius’s wine with long into the night.” He looked out the window, “I care for you, Minerva. I understand it is not reciprocated. I have come to peace with that.”

She couldn’t help but frown. “Oh, Fenris… I think you’re wonderful. You’ve done a lot with your life and come so far. I’m just a big idiot, apparently.” 

He chuckled quietly, looking back at her with eyes that glistened just a little more than they had before, “Few are smarter than you are, I’d hardly call you an idiot. Well,” he made to stand, “Now you know. I hadn’t planned on burdening you with this knowledge. I apologize for not keeping myself in check.”

She jumped up and pulled him into a tight hug. “If I gave you the impression you need to apologize, I’m definitely an idiot,” she said, pressing her head against his chest. “I… don’t have a lot to offer and, well, I’m a mess… and there’s so many things you don’t know and might not like me if you did…” she rambled not even sure of what she’s trying to get at. “But… I do… care for you.”

His heart pounded against her ear as his arms wrapped around her tightly, protectively. “I…” he shook his head and rested it on hers. He didn’t speak, just held her as tightly as possible without crushing her for a long time. He didn’t show any signs of letting up, and his heart only seemed to beat faster the longer they embraced.

“We can at least try and see where this goes, if that’s alright with you,” she pulled away enough to look up at him. 

“Minerva,” his tone almost sounded harsh and scolding, but also tight and full of emotion, “‘Alright’ is hardly the word I would use to describe this. I have yearned to hold you for longer than I care to admit. If I could only kiss you, I would die happy moments after.”

Minerva started to crack up into laughter, rubbing her face that was surely turning red. “I’m sorry.. You’re so serious.” She brushed a hand over his cheek, smiling. “Kiss me.” 

“Gladly,” he dove in, his lips soft, but demanding. His hands traveled along her back and into her hair. He settled for one on each as he pulled her closer. Minerva felt her heart race as she shakily stroked his cheek. He didn’t seem to need air, only Minerva as passion and desperation mixed with each kiss.

She pulled away a little. “I’m not going to be able to stop if we keep this up…” 

The hand that had been resting on her back slowly moved to her hip, but remained there, “Only at your command. I have waited three years, I will not force the issue now.”

“Thanks… I’ll get there, promise.” It was hard to vocalize that’d it been six years and even then, another six with the same man. Trying to move forward wasn’t bad, but it was hard. 

The smile he offered her was the opposite of disappointed. ‘You needn’t worry,” he stepped back, holding one hand only, “no promises are necessary. Besides… there was something you wished to tell me?”

“What if… the mark was something I got intentionally?” she asked, hestant, looking down at their hands. Here it goes . She didn’t want to say this, but if she was going to try anything with Fenris, she had to be halfway honest. 

He flipped her hand over, observing the mark as it shimmered and cast its light. It hadn’t spread since Solas sabilized it, but it was very present. Fenris’s mouth was tense, but not frowning. Yet. “You are not a woman who takes rash action without thought. What is this? Why would you seek it out?”

“An ancient Tevinter Magister was going to try to take over the world with an even older elf ball thing. Not a lovely chap, you’ve met him.” 

“Corypheus…” He was definitely frowning now, his grip on her hand slightly tighter.

She nodded. “I took away that option by getting the mark. It’s the best shot we have at closing the Breach and stopping the assbag.”  

“Venhedis,” he hissed. “Do you even know the consequences such a magic,” he spat the word, “could have?”

    She nodded. “It’s going to melt my arm off or kill me, very likely. I’m well aware.” 

    He paled and his hand fell to his side, dropping hers. He turned away and shook his head slowly. “I knew it.” He spoke so softly she wasn’t sure she was supposed to hear him. He turned back to her with haunted eyes. “I’ve already lost you, once again. I’ve failed you.” His eyes hardened and he pulled Minerva in for a desperate, searing kiss before pulling back, “If there is a way to save your life, I will stop at nothing to find it!”

    She smiled sadly at the man. She hadn’t considered it would even affect anyone else and it hurt. “It’s my own doing, Fenris. If you’re going to blame anyone, blame me. I have some time before it gets too bad, I think. We might be able to figure something out, but if we don’t, it’s okay. I knew what I was getting into.”

    His face contorted and he shook his head at her. “Hear such words from someone you love, and I promise you, Minerva. You will know true heartache.” He pressed his lips to her forehead, almost like a goodbye, and left the cabin.

    Minerva sat on the bed and buried her head in her hands. There wasn’t anything, with all her knowledge of the game, she could think to do. If Solas dies, she dies. If Solas lives, everyone dies.

   

Solas wasn’t difficult to find, as he was always alone and usually near his assigned hut, poring over some sort of Elvhen artifact that likely reminds him of home or something. She knocked on the door to his temporary home and heard a soft “enter” before stepping inside. He was looking over a map of some kind that she didn’t bother asking about. He looked up as she entered and offered a polite smile. “Aria, welcome. What can I do for you?” He straightened up and folded his hands behind his back, standing straight. She looked around the room that had been her living situation for a few days. It was livable and comfortable, but she had chosen the cold. She had chosen a Shem. It must have struck Solas hard, knowing this. She tried to care, but she had felt numb the last few days. She knew this feeling, it was a depression slump. When she’d temporarily been in counseling, before her loving family had cast her out, she was working on how to get through these slumps with her counselor when she was suddenly cut off from treatment. She’d been through them many times in her life. Sometimes they last weeks, sometimes months. She can always tell when one is coming; she feels numb to everything for a while, then defensive and pulls back from anyone and everyone. She didn’t have anyone to pull away from for a long time, so that wasn’t a problem. Now, she couldn’t be distant. She needed to help Minerva. She tried to smile, but she could barely pull her fake one up.

“You spend a great deal of time in the Fade, right?”

This seemed to hold his interest, “Correct. Do you have a question?”

“I do, and I don’t. There is a demon of envy running amuck that the Herald needs taken care of. She doesn’t really care how, just that it isn’t messing with Templars’ heads. I know that demons can be spirits when met with the right people. If it can be saved, I thought it would be best to try. I’m going to gather the Chargers as well, so we’ll have some backup if things go south. Are you in?”
    There was shock in his eyes that rendered him speechless. He didn’t answer for a moment, and Aria was beginning to think he wouldn’t when he flashed a wide smile. “Forgive me, it is rare to see one so open-minded about the Fade. I would be happy to aid you in this endeavor. Your friend could join us, if he wishes. It would be an excellent chance to show him his true potential.”

Aria shook her head, feeling a spark of panic amidst the fog of depression. “I don’t think he’s ready for that. He hasn’t learned any destructive magic.” It’s too dangerous!  

He nodded once, “Very well. Inform me when the Chargers are ready. In the meantime, I will begin preparations.” He offered a small bow of his head and returned to his map. Aria took her leave, making her way to the gate. She’d thought of sweet talking Krem after this, but in her current state, there was little point. She should just go home and wait until Ceciele talks to Bull.

Chapter Text

    Minerva walked up to the tents where Leliana was busily plotting the murder of a turned agent. The man in question, Butler was his name, had killed one of her best agents and, in Minerva’s mind, likely did deserve death, but that wasn’t really the point. Getting Leliana out of hardened state was. “Sorry to interrupt, but is there any other way outside of killing Butler?”

“He betrayed us and in doing so became a loose end. I am doing what must be done.” the woman turned to her with a masked anger Minerva could feel radiating off of her. “Surely you can understand that.” 

“What I understand is that the Inquisition is better than a bunch of murderous thugs. You are better than that, Spymaster.” Minerva said firmly, knowing she had no legs to walk on if Leliana didn’t follow her call. 

Leliana turned away and went to her table, hunching over it to look at her information. “I wouldn’t have expected you to suggest leniency, Herald. Especially with your history.”

Minerva frowned, there were so many ways to take that and she probably knew and meant all of them. “You’re right, but we both should aspire to more than our pasts, to serve as an example to the people that join us.” 

Leliana turned to her agent and told him to append the man, but not to kill him. “I suspect there is more you wished to discuss outside of disrupting my plans.”

“Yes.” Minerva nodded, coming closer for the sake of a private discussion, despite her hesitation. Here goes everything. “Ceciele filled you in on our specific situation. I, however, have more knowledge on the coming events. When we go for the mages, we’ll find that Alexius, a Tevinter magister, used time magic to arrive at Redcliffe before us, manipulating the mages to become indentured to him.”

“Time magic? That doesn’t seem possible.” Leliana masked whatever surprise she felt.  “What would be the aim of that?”

“He’s working for Corypheus, an ancient Tevinter magister turned darkspawn and his cult, the Venatori, that is trying to make him a god. The mages are for his army.”

“This is…” Leliana was scribbling down notes, likely to find more information on all the names mentioned. “...useful information. This Corypheus caused the Breach?”

Minerva nodded. “Yes…” She suddenly felt pensave about what came next. Leliana knew Grey Wardens. It would be some news. “But before we go further into it, please let us discuss our plans for the mages. If I go to meet them now, the effort will be futile and they’ll know what’s coming when we next meet them. If we go there now, we catch them by surprise and stand a chance of maybe… not having me blasted into the future where I can’t close the Breach and everything goes bad. I manage to come back, but if there’s a chance of avoiding it, I’d like to take it.”

 

    Ceciele strode lazily up to the enormous Qunari who sat drinking with his Charge. A rather quiet, somber man sat near his feet, listening intently to the story an alienage elf was telling. As she approached, the story halted and all eyes were on her. She offered a friendly smile and a wave. “Panahedan, Sten.”

    The Qunari grimaced and the others shifted uncomfortably, “Let’s keep that shit to a minimum. Makes the boys jumpy. Call me The Iron Bull. What can I do for you?”

    Shit? The Iron Bull? Caring what those outside the Qun think? Is Minerva sure he’s not a Tal Veshoth? Her smile faltered but held up. “I’m here speaking on behalf of the Herald.”

    He arched the one brow that was visible. “Is that so?” 

    Ceciele couldn’t help but feel he was sizing her up, judging her next move. He was analyzing her down to her minute facial expressions. She realized why he was so out of place in the Qun, he was trained that way. Ben Hassrath. She breathed more easily. “She is sending Solas and Aria out to find the Envy demon. She was hoping the Chargers would be willing to escort them. Fight some rogue templars, maybe some demons?”

    Krem piped up at the mention of Aria and shoved his fist into Bull’s arm roughly, “How about it, Chief? Get a little action out there! Boys are getting antsy sitting around Haven.”

    Bull rolled his eye, “You mean you’re getting antsy because you don’t know how to throw a girl onto a bed and have your way with her.”

    Krem smirked a little more mischievously, “Oh I definitely do, I just know how to woo a woman first.”

    “Not from where I’m standing,” Bull laughed. He returned his attention to Ceciele. “You don’t have the attitude of a Qunari, but your greeting was almost perfect. Spend some time in Seheron?”

    She nodded. “Friends with your Arishok, actually. Knew him during his time with the Warden.”

    Bull seemed to be analyzing her again. Did he think she was lying? “Still in touch?”

    She shook her head, “No. I haven’t seen nor spoken to him much since his new title. Do your reports go to him, by chance?” There was a spark of excitement and hope. She missed her long, deep conversations with the Arishok when he was a Sten. They spoke of philosophy, meditations, life and meaning. She didn’t always agree with his beliefs, but she respected them. In turn, he grew to respect her. They were inseparable. She’d grown to love him, in a way, almost like an older brother. It broke her heart when she left Seheron. He’d asked her to conform to the Qun, but she knew she couldn’t live a lifestyle chosen completely for her. It wasn’t who she was. 

    And if she was being honest with herself, she knew she wanted to find Cullen.

    Bull shook his head, “Not unless it needs his attention. You could report to him yourself.” He leaned back, picking up his large tankard and chugging it with a look of suspicion. He didn’t really think… did he?

    Ceciele snatched the drink from him and downed it herself, never breaking eye contact. He was surprised at first, then amused. “I’m no spy, Iron Bull. If I were, I wouldn’t have shown my hand so easily. I may not be Qun, but I know enough about the Ben Hassrath to never underestimate their abilities. Shall I inform the Herald you’ll all be departing tomorrow, then?”

    He smirked, refilling his tankard and passing it to her before filling a new one for himself. He held it up in a toast and tossed it back. “Count on it!”



    “So it’s all settled then?” Aria asked. Bull had sent Krem to inform her and Solas that the Chargers had accepted the task and would guard them against the red templars and demons they might face out there. She and Solas were gathered in his cottage discussing a strategy on how to revert the demon back to his spirit form. The best plan Solas had come up with put them all in the most danger. She was in the most danger. She would be dreaming within his ward while the Chargers defended them from physical threats. Her mind, however, would be highly vulnerable to a demonic attack, which would lure Envy to her. Solas told her that if she believed enough that it was a spirit, and not a demon, that is how it would appear to her. While simple in theory, Aria knew it would be much more difficult and dangerous in practice. She didn’t have a choice, however. If she chickened out now, Minerva would never let her on the field again. She was shocked the woman put her to this task to begin with, and she wasn’t going to screw it up. Not after the fuss she made about being useful.

    Solas nodded once. “We shall leave at sunrise tomorrow. I suggest you all get plenty of rest. You will need it.” He directed this at Krem, who was to pass the message on to the rest of the Charge. 

He nodded and shot Aria look she couldn’t decipher. “If you need anything, let me know.” With that, he stepped out of the cottage. Aria returned her attention to Solas, who was looking over a map of where red templars had been located.

“Are you certain Hector should remain here?” He asked without looking up at her.

She wanted to snap at him, but lacked the energy. She needed to snap out of this slump, fast. She can’t go out in this state or she won’t be coming back. “Yes. He’s learning to fight with Warden Blackwall, but he’s just beginning. He can’t defend himself.”

“And yet, he is a powerful mage. Our chances of success-”

“No, Solas.” Her gaze held firm. 

The elf pursed his lips and dropped his gaze back to the map. “Very well. I shall plan here, for now. Rest well tonight, I will see you in the morning.” With that final word, he dipped a quill in ink and began plotting lines on the map. Aria frowned at his attitude and left his cottage. Why the hell does he want Hector there so badly? Other than some healing spells he can’t do anything to protect himself out there! He could die, does Solas not understand that?

She stopped short as a flame or rage ignited within her gut. He does understand that. He simply doesn’t care. She resumed her pace back to the little shack she and Hector shared. That egg-shaped head of his was going to crack one day if he wasn’t watching himself! Hector was still training with Blackwall, Aria decided, as he wasn’t home when she arrived. Her skin tingled from pent up energy and anger. She couldn’t sit down, but she couldn’t return to town either. She settled on pacing in front of the house. Hector would return home soon enough, and she needed to let him know what she was up to in the morning. So she leaned against the wall and focused on her breathing, waiting for him to arrive.

 

    Hector ventured back to the cottage after finishing up with Blackwall. The man was quite helpful when it came to training, though he’ll never quite get used to everyone yelling to get people to do things. As he went up the path, he saw Aria leaning against the wall. She looked upset. Hector hid a frown and approached her with a mild expression. “Hey, there. What’s going on?”

    She looked up and bit the inside of her cheek to prevent her fake smile from popping up. She tried to let the tension fall from her face, but she doubted she was successful. “The plan to go after Envy is all drawn up. We’re heading out tomorrow.” She hesitated, unsure of how to say what she wanted to. Should she say anything, or leave it be? Would he forgive her if she didn’t warn him? She looked at the snow as she warred with herself.

    “I thought you’d be excited with getting the chance to get out of here and do something,” he said, leaning against the wall beside her, looking at her with a hint of concern. What wasn’t she saying?

    She leaned her head back and looked up at the breach. She hated and loved it. It had brought her to this place somehow, which had upturned her life in every way, but she’s never been more alive than when she arrived in Haven. She finally sighed. “I won’t lie to you, Hector. There’s a very likely chance I’m not coming back.” She didn’t want to, but she couldn’t stop herself. She looked at him from the corner of her eye, waiting for his reaction.

    He chewed his lip, thinking of what to say. “You have good people going with you to depend on. You just need to be careful and not jump into anything you don’t think you can handle.” 

    She couldn’t force that smile down this time. It was her only barrier between composure and a blubbery mess. “Swords can’t protect me from this, Hector. Solas is sending me to the Fade. Alone. It’s just me against that thing.”

    “Minerva did it once. Maybe you could talk to her? I know you wouldn’t love doing it, but if it helps… Besides, if she could, I’m sure you can.” He couldn’t even hide his displeasure at the face she was making. She had to be terrified. 

    Her smile full force, she swallowed her frustration. “I did. This isn’t going to be the same. I have a strange connection to the Fade that’s much closer than her.” She looked away, knowing her expression was gonna piss him off. “It doesn’t matter. Just… thought you’d like to know.” She shrugged.

    “You’re stronger than you’re giving yourself credit for. I doubt very much Solas or our Herald would be sending you there if they weren’t confident. If you’re still not sure of your own abilities, maybe back out of it. I’m sure you don’t want to, but as was said, we don’t need the templars. In the game, they still do all their bullshit if they’re not recruited so this is only some damage control and that’s not worth your life.” 

    She couldn’t say it, but Hector was a mage. Vulnerable to demons. Envy was probably rampaging and pissed at Minerva for her actions. She couldn’t let him run amuck. She couldn’t let him down, or Minerva. She shook her head. “I have to go no matter what, Hector. I’m only telling you this because I want you to know something.” Her throat closed up on her. She swallowed desperately, trying to choke out what she was trying to say. 

    “Okay,” he said simply. He’d said his peace. 

    “Whatever happens, I… want you to know I’m so glad you’re in my life.” Her words were a whisper, and she couldn’t look at him while she spoke. It wasn’t what she’d wanted to say, but it said the gist without causing further damage. She wrapped her arms around herself and drew a breath. The lack of fear or worry on his face was unsettling, but she tried to avoid drawing attention to it. She worried her confession would be taken badly. She was technically a chance roommate here. 

    “I’m going to keep being in your life, darlin,” he said, giving her the best smile he could muster. “Shit, I’d go with you, if you wanted. I might not be a fighter, but I seem to have this healing business down. It might help.” He didn’t think she’d be keen on the idea, but it had been itching in the back of his head with everyone planning and being involved with him on the sidelines. 

    Her stomach dropped and she visibly paled. “If you got hurt….”

    “If I got hurt, it’d be no different than if you got hurt.” 

    She shook her head as if that would help her think more clearly. She was panicking, near an attack, but she kept her composure as best she could. “You don’t understand! It’s not the same!” Why? Because you care for him? She asked herself. She’d caught herself thinking she might love him in some form, but the word was so foreign she wasn’t sure she meant it. She’d never had a friend to love, and her “family” had only been in her life a short time. She couldn’t get a solid grasp on her feelings, but they were deep. That was all she knew.

    Hector sighed, rubbing his face. She didn’t want him to go then. Ok, but why? It probably wasn’t something she was going to come out and say unprompted, knowing her. “It is, far as I can tell, but you feel differently. It’s not your job to keep me out of harm’s way, you know. I’m a grown man that can take care of myself.” 

    His words stung her to silence. She looked at his face wordlessly for a moment. She saw anger more than anything. It was colored with concern, but there was definite anger. She had misstepped, badly. And now her options were risk losing him in a very real way, or certainly lose him as her friend. She blinked and looked away, nodding. “I see. Sorry, I’ll… we leave at sunrise. Get lots of sleep.”

    “If you don’t want me to come with, just tell me why. Please. I am trying to understand here.” He gave her a searing look, his brow furrowed. For once he didn’t feel like dealing with all the evasion when it came to his friend. This was far too important of a topic. “Communication is important to effective relationships.” 

    She didn’t answer for a long time. She’d been fighting with herself about that very answer for some time. She had never planned on telling him any of it. What would he think? She’s some school girl with a crush on her friend? Some pathetic girl who never got close to someone so she latched at the first thing she found? It didn’t matter now. She was tired. She felt hollow and numb. Her eyes were heavy and she didn’t have the energy any more. She looked at him with very little expression to her face. If she lost him now, so be it. She’d lived through it before. 

    “You mean everything to me, Hector.” She shrugged, looking away, “I love you.”

    Surprise wouldn’t even have covered how Hector felt. He was at a loss for words for a moment. “Oh.” 

    Oh . That was what she got. She winced, her back still to him. She wanted to hide, to run off and never look back. Her legs felt like lead. She couldn’t move forward nor back. So she simply stood and stared into the distance, waiting for him to leave, or yell, or whatever he might do next. She tried to stop her mind from reeling with the endless possibilities, but it wouldn’t. Each scenario followed with a worse one. Her chest felt like it was on fire with panic and pain. She waited.

    “I, uh... “ He took a deep breath. “I care about you too. A lot… it’s just… you mean romantically, I take it… and… I’m not exactly great at that sort of thing when things are normal… and I’m not a mage that could just explode at any time or get possessed. I’m dangerous.”

    Of all the reactions she imagined, this almost hurt worse. Her shoulders shook with a silent sob. She refused to cry over this. If she was being honest with herself, she was crying about a lot more than this. She was crying from the stress of it all, her possible death looming over her, and knowing just what was coming for all of them sooner as well as later. But what really cut at her, was what he’d said about himself. He could hurt her all he wanted. But she’d be damned if he kept looking at himself like a ticking time bomb. “Whatever, it’s my issue.” She knew it would only make things worse, but she smiled at him. Her tears were visible, but she could control her voice this way, “But you need to know, you’re one of the most powerful, in control mages Solas knows. And he knew the elvhen mages that became Gods. You’re nothing short of amazing, Hector. Not dangerous.”

    He shook his head, “It’s also my issue. I mean it. I don’t really do relationships, or romantic ones, anyway.” It sounded worse than he meant and terrible of him for that matter. “If I fucked it all up or hurt you, I don’t think I could forgive myself. You’re the only friend I have here… I know it’s selfish of me.” 

    She shook her head, finally wiping her tears from her face, “I’m not asking anything of you, Hector. I know you’re the one night stand type, and to ask you to change would be shitty of me. You asked, I answered. Don’t worry about it.” She felt physically ill, but desperate to shift the blame from him. His face was lined with anxiety, and if she didn’t stop this conversation soon an attack could happen. Whatever she felt meant nothing right now. She needed to take care of him. 

    “When you go… out there to face that demon, be careful. Ok? You do not have to do this. Not for me, not for anyone. I’d rather you be safe, but it’s not my choice to make.” He pushed up off the wall and went inside the cottage. It was selfish of him, but he didn’t know what else to say. Either way, talking more about her feelings, his, or the damn quest she was on was going to make it worse. 

    Feeling like she ruined everything, Aria hurried after him, into the warmth of their cottage. “Do you want to come with me? Forget everything I said. Do you want to come? For you?”

    “If I came, it wouldn’t be for me anyway. Why are you doing it?” He asked, taking a seat on his cot. 

    “What do you mean it wouldn’t be for you? I’ll answer if you do.” She sat on her own cot, determined to fix whatever rift she had created between them. Love or not, she’ll be damned if she loses her friend.

    “It’d be to help you and everyone else going. Everyone else… from earth… is trying to actually fucking do things and help. I’m just sitting here like the coward I am that can’t handle the responsibility.” 

    Aria’s heart went out to Hector. She could see the helplessness in his eyes and she didn’t know what to do here. Before she’d have offered some kind of reassuring touch, but she didn’t know if contact would be welcome given what had just transpired. She held her hand out in a way they’d silently agreed meant the invitation was open, but space was respected.

    “I should go. It’s the right thing to do,” he said, his words shakier than he wanted them to be. 

    She kept her hand open to him, though she doubted he’d accept. “I need to do it because I can’t be useless.” She hesitated, debating on keeping the rest to herself, but he knew her. He’d know if she was holding anything back, and that would only upset him more. “It knows the Inquisition exposed it. It might retaliate. I know you say it’s not my job, but I want to protect you, Hector. I literally owe you my life twice over.”

    He took her hand in his against his better judgement. “I’ll stay here then. You don’t want me there… so I’ll stay.” 

    She held his hand in both of hers, wrestling with her options. She had to do this delicately. On one hand, he would be in danger going with them. He could become, she repressed a shudder, and abomination. On the other, he clearly needed this. This was obviously something he’d been carrying secretly for some time, and she was the shitty friend who didn’t see it. She allowed one small luxury of pressing her lips to his fingers in a small prayer before she spoke. “We’re going to be traveling by horse in the morning. Pack for a few days.”

    Oh. He looked at her with surprise both for her words and the kiss. “O-k.” he nodded. “I’ll be ready.” 

    She forced something as close to a genuine smile as she could through the paralyzing fear in her chest, her hands holding tighter despite her. She wanted to hold him tight in her arms and not let go, but this was his choice, not hers. “Okay.”

    “Do you want a hug?” he asked, she looked as though she could use one. 

    She laughed as the tension eased a little, “I guess you probably want your hand back, huh? Sorry,” she released his hand with stiff fingers, “But you don’t have to do that, Hector. I’m okay, long as you’re okay.”

    “I’m okay as I ever am. But, the offer stands, if you need it.” 

    She knew she shouldn’t. She needed to distance herself from him as much as possible. But given the danger they’d both be walking into tomorrow, she shifted from her cot to his, next to him, and slipped her arms under his and rested her ear on his racing heart. “You’ll be okay.” Was she trying to convince him or her?

    He wrapped his arms around her, rubbing her back gently. “I’ll do my best.” 

    She allowed herself this moment, something to hold onto forever, “Good. Cause if you die, I’m gonna kick your ass. Just so you know.”

    He laughed softly, trying to shake off the anxiety. “I’ll hold you to it.”

Chapter Text

    After all was said and done with Leliana, Minerva needed a drink to take the edge off, but for once, didn’t want to be with her own thoughts, thinking about the monumental task they were setting out for in the morning or the fact the shit with Fenris had ended before it had even began. 

No, she needed noise. With that thought in mind, she went to the tavern, ordered a bottle of some too expensive mead, bringing it back to a corner table and plopping down.

A familiar red-head slid into the seat across from her, stealing the bottle and taking a swig before passing it back. “I know that look. Spill.”

Minerva looked up to see Veronica, sighed and took a swig from the bottle. “Bout to face a terrifying future if we fail… Fenris shit.. Went as expected.” 

Veronica’s brows shot up, “You talked to him? What did he say?”

“I did. Probably said too much.” she shook her head, staring at the table. “No sense starting anything with someone that has a death sentence looming. Oh, and here’s the fun thing. He blames himself for it! Like it wasn’t my hilariously dumbass decisison.” 

Veronica held her hand out for the bottle, contemplating. After passing it back, she crossed her arms and looked at her friend. “What death sentence? And how does he blame himself?”

“I don’t fucking know. Some nonsense is what it is. And as for the former, I’m either down a hand or dead once all this is done if we don’t solve my permanent glowstick sitch.” She waved her glowing hand around for effect. 

Veronica shook her head, disappointment clear on her face. “Those aren’t your only options and you know it. We’ve dealt with impossible odds before and come up on top. You’re just scared to let him in.”

“I don’t know my options outside of it. The game doesn’t exactly present one.” she took another swig and grimaced at the sweet sticky burn. “And yes, I am fucking terrified, but I tried. He’s gone anyway.”  

“Is he?” She asked, her eyes looking over Minerva’s shoulder.

Minerva turned slightly and peeked to see the sulking, handsome elf drinking his own sorrows away. “I didn’t mean literally. Just… away from me.” 

After a moment of shaking her head, Veronica coughed over a laugh, “Is he?” She repeated, then quickly stood up and shot a wink at Minerva before scurrying away.

Minerva’s face fell even further, if that were possible. “Where you going!”

She threw over her shoulder as she slid into a seat with Sera, “Away from the angry elf.”

A clearing of a throat sounded behind her.

She looked up, seeing the lyrium etched throat and tan skin. “Hi.” she offered weakly. 

He held his own drink loosely between his fingers, looking at the chair Veronica had just vacated. “May I sit?” He looked as uncomfortable as she felt.

She nodded and waved her hand to the seat. “If you like.” 

He slipped into the seat with grace only Fenris could possibly muster and set his drink in front of him, fiddling with and staring into it. “I… we parted on a rather harsh note. I would like to remedy that. I apologize.”

“There’s nothing to apologize for.” she shrugged, continuing with her own drink. Feeling a buzz beginning to set in. “It was more than I had any right to bother you with.” 

He shook his head, wisps of his hair falling into his eyes. He looked through his hair at her with a piercing gaze that seemed to go straight through her. “I had longed for you to “bother me” with your burdens for longer than you know. I… was afraid. I felt like I’d lost you before I could even have you.”

“You might have… I mean, I don’t know what all the future holds, but as it stands… I could be dead tomorrow. Or at least in a few days with all the fun places I end up. I don’t blame you for not wanting to get tangled up in… me.” 

His smirk was nothing short of sinful, “You’ve no idea how I’d like to be tangled up in you,” he took a slow swig of his drink as his expression softened, “The future is uncertain, Minerva, but beyond our current control. There is one thing I can decide, and that is how to spend my present moments. If you’ll accept me, I would spend them with you.”

She felt a terrible blush spread ear to ear and put her face against the ale scented table in embarrassment for her own reaction. “Oh, my god…. You can’t say stuff like that. I might actually melt.”  

Gentle fingers caressed her hair, as a silky, rumbling voice spoke, “Melt if you must, but I require an answer, be it a yes or no, I will accept.”

Minerva gave a little, shakey nod. “Y-eh.” 

“Will you look at me?” He spoke softly, but his voice didn’t lose the gravel that had women all over earth swooning.

She lifted her head up, rubbing what was surely the gross residue from the table off her reddened face, and looked to the man in front of her with more than a little bit of wonderment. His face warmed into the softest smile that could exist on a person, “let us find somewhere more private. If you’ll allow it, I would like to hold you.”

She stood up, heading out rather quickly. “Far be it from me to look a gift horse in the mouth, but… Lord, I don’t understand you.” Minerva looked to Fenris as he followed after her in his graceful way. No, not at all. 

“A mystery you’ll have to solve yourself, I’m afraid,” he said as they crossed the short space between the tavern and her cabin, “For I do not know any better than you why I act as I do.”

“Maybe… we shouldn’t… then?” she said hesitantly. “Do this. I mean, I’m kinda terrible. No, that’s not right. You’re actually amazing. It’s just a bad idea, yeh.” Shaking her head, she went to her cabin, entirely unsure of what to do. It couldn’t be that easy, could it? Like someone and then it just happens? Not in her life. Nope. Not at all. She sat on her bed and wrung her hands. She should have been way drunker than this. At least it would be easier. 

Fenris followed her quietly as she sat on her bed. He knelt in front of her and gently held her chin so she would look at him, searching her eyes for something. “Do you love me, Minerva?” He’d never been so blunt in all the times they’d known each other, but he was as open as a person could be as he looked into her eyes.

“I don’t think I love anyone, really. How do you define a thing like that? Putting yourself after that person? I am deeply driven by my own opinions and selfish. I try to do right, but it’s… because I want to. Is it being able to put up with people for an extended period of time? I get worn out on people… almost everyone after a while. I about want to throttle anyone I take out with me when we’re doing operations.” She brushed the hair from his face and smiled a little. “I may be deeply fucked up, I’m realizing.” 

He rose up enough to place a soft kiss on her lips before falling back, “I accepted this fact long ago,” he smirked, rising to sit beside her and wrap an arm around her shoulders, “Whatever you may feel, or not feel for me, I am here, until you wish otherwise.”

She leaned against him, letting out a breath she didn’t know she was holding. “If you end up regretting it, apologies in advance, doll.” With that, she placed a delicate kiss on his lips. 

He hesitantly deepened the kiss, allowing her the option to pull away if she chose, speaking against her lips, “I promise you, I won’t.”

“Ok.”she nodded a little, tapping their foreheads together. 

 

The tension was high that morning when Hector and Aria left the cabin together. She didn’t address it, as she took his silence to mean he didn’t want it mentioned. She had agreed with herself not to mention it again, herself. Maybe, eventually, he’ll forget she even said it, and they could be friends again like they were before. Solas and the Chargers were nearly ready to mount by the time they arrived. Solas shot Aria a confused look that she wanted to slap off his face. Yes, she had gone with his suggestion, big deal.

“I’m afraid there is only one mount left, if you are agreeable to sharing,” Solas offered with a hint of discomfort. Aria held a stony expression, groaning on the inside. Oh god no….

“My steed is sturdy for two,” Krem offered, already mounted and ready. He flashed them a smile that could cheat you out of your last penny, “if you’d like, of course.”

Aria prayed today was a dream.

“Well, that or Solas or me? Ah, the choices.” Hector shook his head, holding back a laugh he thought better to avoid. What a crappy start to the morning. 

Aria rolled her eyes, “Three strapping lads. Oh who to choose,” there was little emotion in her voice. She’d obviously want to ride with Hector between the three, but the discomfort in his eyes suggested he didn’t share the sentiment. She offered a small smile. “You choose for me. I’ll trust your judgement.”

Hector shrugged, “If you wanna ride with me, that’s fine.” 

Her smile was layered with sadness. “Is it?” She asked as she took Krem’s offered arm and let him hoist her up onto his steed, wrapping her arms around his armored chest, looking ahead and not at her friend. Maybe if I ignore the pain, it’ll go away.

“Whatever you like, darlin,” he tapped the horse to get it moving. There wasn’t much that could be done and he’d half preferred to have hung back, but they had to work through the revelation of her feelings if they wanted to be friends. Hopefully they could work it out somewhere along the way. 

“We are a three day ride from where the Envy demon is in wait. We will make camp at sunset,” Solas announced from the front, next to Bull. Aria nodded, which was pointless, as his back was to her. She wanted to look back and see how Hector was doing. This whole trip must be unnerving him. She felt helpless. Their friendship truly began when she helped him through an emotional crisis… it was what she felt like she could do for him. But when she was partly to blame for the crisis… she was at a loss for what to do. She leaned closer into Krem. She hadn’t slept well the night before, frequently looking at Hector like he was going to disappear the second she closed her eyes. The sway of the horse was lulling. She blinked and jerked, fighting sleep.

“Go ahead, love, I don’t mind,” Krem said with a soft chuckle. “Can’t imagine I’m very comfortable with my armor, apologies for that.”

She shrugged as best she could leaning on him, “I’m okay.”

“Lovely thing like you shouldn’t have dark marks under your eyes like that.” He added, leaning back so she would rest against his neck instead of his armor, “Once we make camp, I can find something more suitable.”

Oh yawn . She nodded, “‘S sweet, thanks.”

Hector strode up close behind, listening with mild interest in the interaction. He knew how grand the date had been, i.e. not. He was beginning to hear why.  

“I know of a brook around here that is always filled with colorful flowers. Once the spring thaw hits, I’d love to show it to you,” Krem spoke with the air of “gentleman” like he was polite as a meme about Canada. 

Aria rolled her eyes. “That sounds nice. We’ll see if we’re still around here by then.” We won’t be .

“Sorry to interrupt… this lovely bit of flirting, but maybe try to ditch the chivalrous shit and actually talk to her.” Hector commented, throwing the man a wink and picking up speed to go ahead to where Bull was. He at least seemed interesting for conversation. Plus, this way Aria won’t yell at him right away. Ah, the delayed yelling that was sure to come.  

Aria stared after his back with shock. What the ever loving fuck was that ? He didn’t have to care for her like she did him but did he have to be such a blatant prick about it?

“I… I’m sorry?” Krem asked with shock in his voice. “What was that about?”

Aria shook her head, still unable to speak. 

 

Having set out at dawn, the ride had been pleasant so far for Minerva and company. Well, the company such as it was. Veronica and her had horses. She’d tracked down Cole to invite him on their little sojourn, but lord knew where he was at any given time. Probably floating? Something weird, anyway. 

“So this is fun. Girl time, riding horses. Just like old times, eh?” Minerva smiled to Veronica, riding along side her. “We can talk about boys and our hair and everything!” 

Veronica rolled her eyes. “Not all of us are in the midst of a great sex life.” She shot her a flirtatious wink, “unless you’re offering.”

“Yep, sounds like the best way to quickly ruin the first hint of romance I’ve had in eight years.” she laughed, shaking her head. “I already don’t know why the hell he’s interested. I’m trying not to push it.” 

“Ooo let’s ask him! Soon as we get back I’m gonna go right up to him and say, ‘hey Fenris! What’s the best think about Minerva?’” She snorted, “And he’s gonna just glare at me and I’ll be devoid a spine. Good times.”

“Well, seeing as we’re already not passing the bechdel test, what’s going on with Anders anywho?” she wiggled her eyebrows. “I know you have to at least have a hint of where he be.” 

That wiped the smirk off her face. “I don’t.”

“It’s just me… and maybe Cole around, but fine. Don’t tell me. I still think we should go out and catch that crazy bastard. I miss him.” she said with a bit more serious tone. 

Veronica shook her head, “He’d be killed the second he set foot in Haven and you know that.”

“I don’t mean now.” Minerva said, sending that terrible idea away with a shake of her head. “Once we get to Skyhold. Then people actually have to listen, like it or not. It’s the best chance he’s ever going to have at a pardon. Plus, we could get Justice out of his head with those Advvar secrets we’d get from the folks in the Frostback Basin. I’ve thought a lot about this.” 

“So have I. Your word will only get him so far. He’d be a prisoner at Skyhold because he’d have no where else to go, and that’s thinking Cullen won’t kill him anyway. And… he told me Justice and him were one after so long together. I’ve lost hope they can be separated. Let’s… just leave it Min. It’s not going to happen. Not any more.”

“Have I ever been the one to just leave it?” she sighed, exasperatedly. “We could figure something out, I’m sure. Also, Justice lies and manipulates his head so much that who knows if what he’s saying is true. Wynne had that spirit in her a long time and passed it to someone else to save their life. I’m sure it’s possible.” 

Veronica frowned, “I don’t remember… oh. Book?”

Minerva nodded, thinking hard about that story, but drawing a blank. “Shit, I don’t remember the name, but yeh. It was in one of the books. She was able to give it to someone else so it’s not stuck, no matter how long they’re in there.” 

“So… what you’re saying is that, in spite of the odds, and how impossible it all seems, there’s something that can be done? It isn’t hopeless for us?” She looked ahead, barely paying her friend any mind. 

“It might not be easy, but yeh. I think we all might… you know… be happy for once. Happy as a bunch of alcoholics and a crazy mage can be, anyway. Think about it.” 

“I will if you will.”

Minerva nodded, “I’ll do my damnedest.” 

 

When the lot had found a suitable place for camp, they’d all hopped off their horses and prepared them for the night. Hector was already dreading the interaction sure to come with Aria. There was a handful of ways it could go and there was a very good chance none of them would end well. 

There was the issue of tents, not having enough of them, but there wasn’t exactly anyone here he could think would want to share with him. Without wanting to deal with that issue just yet, he took to setting up a fire. 

“M’lady,” Krem said as he offered to help her off the horse. She ignored him, leaping off easily and shooting him a wink. He smirked. “I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but there is one more issue. Tents seem to be in a similar supply as horses, I’m afraid.”

Aria smiled softly, “I’ll figure it out, thank you.”

Krem seemed like he wanted to say something, and she suspected she knew what. She couldn’t share a tent with him. Flirting with him in the beginning was fun and harmless, but she’d be leading him on at this point. “Well, if you need anything, let me know. I’ll be over there,” he pointed in a more secluded direction. Aria nodded a thanks and walked in the direction of the others, looking to make herself useful, glancing at Hector as she passed.

Hector kept his head down, lighting the fire with a small fire spell. If Aria had wanted to speak to him, she would, but it looks as though he’d taken to doing… whatever that nonsense was with Krem.

Aria decided she would be most useful gathering firewood… away from the others. She wandered off as far as she dared, still within earshot of the group if she ran into trouble, and gathered thick branches in her arms. They might not work for the long term burning, but they’d be good to throw on the fire to keep it hot once in a while. When she returned, it was nearly dark and the group of men and women were gathered around the fire. The Chargers were telling stories to Solas, Hector, and each other while drinking something Aria didn’t realize was packed. Where was all that ale stored on horseback? She deposited her wood and sat between Skinner and Dalish, creating a little elf group among the others. Krem threw back his drink with a flush that told her he was pretty toasted.

“So this spicy red head saunters over, holding the tray of drinks in such a way it displays her rack,” Bull says, barely containing a laugh, “and I’m getting every line I’ve ever thought up ready to get her into bed. She leans in and sets down our drinks like she’s already undressed me with her eyes. I’m thinking, ‘this is gonna be easy!’ but what would you know, she was looking at our Krem the whole time!” He slaps Krem on the back mid-swig, causing the poor man to choke on his ale. Aria imagined a hot young woman hitting on Krem, who is fearless in battle but clearly shy with the ladies and she couldn’t help but laugh. Watching Krem try not to die of suffocation only brought it on more. Krem’s eyes caught hers and he held his hand out to Bull with a cocky smirk. Aria frowned.

“What was that?”

“Chief bet five sovereigns Krem wouldn’t get a real smile out of you. Looks like he was wrong,” Skinner said between drinks. Aria looked back at Krem and Bull, laughing and throwing jabs at each other. She was a bet? It was all just for a fucking bet? Mr. Gentleman Krem was just an act to win some gold? She felt like screaming and tearing her hair out! She wanted to run away and never look at a man again! Was there something wrong with her? Did she display an aura of “I don’t have feelings, fuck with me all you want!”?

She slowly stood up so as not to cause a scene while most of the others were distracted laughing and drinking. Even Solas seemed a little jolly. She walked outside of camp and leaned against a tree to draw a deep breath. She closed her eyes, and pretended, for a moment, she was back in New York. She imagined she was sitting on her couch, curled up with some Chinese takeout, watching some show most would say is for kids. She’d be content, and away from all this bullshit. There she was smart enough to be closed off. What happened to that part of her here?

Hector noted Aria’s leaving and got up to follow her against his better judgment. She was likely still upset with him, but he noted the distress and thought it better to check than leave it be, “You alright?”

His answer was a Scarlet smile. “Of course.”

“Don’t be a dick. I’m sorry, alright. I was trying to get Krem to stop sabotaging himself for your sake, but it was unwanted. I apologize.” he lowered his gaze away from the look she was giving him with a furrowed brow. 

“Don’t be a dick. Got it. Thanks for the advice.” She looked away, swallowing the lump in her throat. No! She wouldn’t cry over this. Not in front of him. He feels bad, he can take his pity party elsewhere.

“That’s not what I meant… Ave María purísima, woman. Whatever. You want to be alone to mope because a joke was made at your expense. That’s what friends do, you know, make jokes, tease… the thing is you do it back. That’s a part of being friends. If you’re so sensitive to it, it’s going to cause problems over and over. They’re trying to make you a part of the group cuz they like you.” Hector shooks his head and pinched the bridge of his nose in frustration. 

Aria closed her eyes. A joke, huh? He could see it that way all he wanted. He lived in a world where there’s always a good in people. She knew what she saw. 

“You get upset over every little thing, but don’t communicate why to the people you’re angry with. Either tell them what’s up or don’t, but you’d save yourself and everyone else a lot of grief.” With that, Hector turned around and went back to camp. 

As soon as she felt he was out of ear shot, she let the sob she’d been containing out and fell to the ground. She couldn’t do this! She didn’t know what was real and what was her own fear warping her sense of reality! She didn’t know what people wanted from her. She tells people what’s wrong, she’s damned. She holds back, she’s damned then too. She let all her frustrations and fears out in an uncontrollable sob that left her unable to breathe. She was ruining everything with everyone and she could be dead in two day’s time. She felt like she was unraveling. 

Hector sighed at the sound, but went back anyway, crawling into his tent for an early night. This was more than he had it in him to deal with right now. He was already worried about the demon and the templars. If anything he was just going to make it worse by talking to Aria, the mood she was in. Someone else could deal with it for once.

Eventually, Aria’s breathing calmed and she settled. Her head felt like she’d woken from a night drinking, and she lacked the energy to get up. What point was there in doing so, anyway? She was going to sleep out here either way. She might as well close her eyes and….

“I don’t think so.”

Her eyes snapped open with a surge of panic. What did he want? After her display she couldn’t imagine it would be anything good. She tried to calculate her chances of him believing her to be asleep, but knew better. 

A large, rough hand gripped her by the arm and yanked her roughly to her feet. She yelped in pain, freezing with fear as she came face-to-face with The Iron Bull. He looked like a parent scolding a misbehaving child, complete with one hand on his hip. He let go of her arm once he’d decided she was able to maintain her balance, and stooped to pick up a fallen branch. It was half as thick as her arm, and half as tall as her when planted into the ground. “You know what happens when a soldier goes into battle already defeated?” He asked casually, stripping the branches away until he was left with only the stick, “they die. You can’t expect to survive a fight with that behavior. Your pretty boy might think talking will knock you out of it, but I live for a more practical approach,” he emphasized his point by shoving the stick into her hands roughly. She barely wrapped her fingers around it time not to drop it. She was stunned silent while he prepared another one. “We don’t have the time to talk through our feelings. There’s a damned demon out there, and you’re on the front lines. I don’t go into battle with a blubbery mess at the front. Not with my men.” His eye pierced her with thick accusation, “Not with Krem at risk.” She pretended not to understand the double meaning. He slapped his weapon against his palm and then, without warning, swung it directly at her!

She cried out loud enough to draw attention to them from camp as she ducked out of the way. She was fast and nimble, but he was strong and experienced. “What the fuck are you doing?”

“You’ll thank me for this,” he smirked, “most women do when I leave them with a few bruises.” He swung again. Again, she barely dodged it in time. “You’re going to have to face me head on eventually. Evading won’t work forever.” He struck again, this time, she didn’t manage to get away unscathed. His stick hit her in her thigh, definitely hard enough to leave a nasty bruise. 

She heard a commotion nearby, and glanced just as Bull shoved into her. She caught sight of Krem and Stitches as she hit the ground with a thud. The wind was knocked out of her instantly. No air would enter her lungs no matter what she did. She panicked, which she knew would make it worse, but she couldn’t help it. If she can’t breathe she can’t fight!

“Hold off Chief! What’s gotten into you?” Krem called from somewhere behind her. “Shit! Aria, are you alright?”

Fuck off Krem! She thought as she finally pulled in a proper breath. Bull shouted something about soldier training and not to worry about it. He yanked her back up as roughly as he did the first time, and swatted at her again. This time, he hit her left arm hard enough she was left with a dead arm for a moment. 

“Damn it! What do you want from me?” She screamed at him, seeing red. “What do all of you want from me? Fuck!” She rubbed at her arm and held the stick with both hands, looking at Bull through strands of stray hair. Her whole body was on fire, and the spots he’d hit her were throbbing. She was sick of it! “I’m not a fucking joke!”

“No one said-”

“Back to camp, Krem. I’ve got this!” Bull spoke as he struck again. Aria pulled back, getting a good swatting in the chest this time. She felt a bruise that ran deep, and she worried about a cracked bone. Enough! As his arm came back, she held her own stick up so that his attack only hit that. The blow’s vibration was jarring, but she didn’t get hit again, at least. Bull’s smile was triumphant. “Good. Again!”

Oh I’ll wipe that smirk off your ugly mug! She growled, spinning out of his way and unleashing an attack of her own. He easily dodged her and parried her attack, releasing some of his own. She twisted, turned, leaped and stepped out of the way, but she pushed closer to him as she released blow after blow. She poured all of her frustration, anger, and fear into each blow that landed. The longer they sparred, the more drained she felt. Her final attack was half-hearted, and she dropped the stick. She stood with her chest heaving painfully. Her adrenaline zipped through her body like electricity, but she didn’t have any more fight in her. 

Bull nodded once and held his stick out like a teacher pointing their ruler, “I don’t want to have this discussion again.” With that, he tossed his stick over his shoulder and ushered Krem back to camp. “I’ll explain when we get back,” he said to him. Stitches walked up to her, a question in his eyes. She shook her head. She didn’t want healing. She wanted to remember what this felt like. Bull was a bastard, but he was right. She’d been cowering and evading everything. That wasn’t going to work with Envy. She’d have to face him head on and they relied on her to do so. She drew a deep breath, ignoring the pain it brought in her chest, and released the last of her fears out with it. Her anger was replaced with remorse. She needed to make things right with Hector. She couldn’t leave things this way when they had so much danger coming up. She made her way back to camp, avoiding the gazes of everyone, especially Solas, who seemed particularly interested in her, and spotted Hector’s tent. She hesitated outside of it for a moment. What if he didn’t want to speak to her?

She shook her head. He’d have no problem telling her just that. He said to communicate, so that’s what she would do. She crawled inside slowly. Her elvhen eyes spotted him without much need for adjusting to the dark, he was laying curled up under his blankets, but awake. She could almost taste the tension in the air. With a pang of guilt, she crawled in behind him and pressed up against him, wrapping her arms around his middle, resting her forehead on his back. He tensed at the contact. She squeezed for a second, then relaxed against him. “I’m sorry, Hector,” she spoke softly. The way she was laying put pressure on her shoulder bruise and the pain in her chest, but she ignored it. “I’m so scared about Envy. I’ve always run from my shit instead of standing my ground. But that’s going to stop. I’m gonna fight to survive and I’m going to fight for our friendship.” She felt tension knots in his back. He’d been carrying so much stress and she didn’t see it. She frowned against his shoulder. “I’ll leave if you need me to. But can I ask you something first?”

“What?” he asked softly, his voice barely above a whisper. 

“Are you worried I’m going to force the issue? How I feel about you?” She hadn’t wanted to ask him, but ever since he pushed Krem her way it had been in the back of her mind. He wasn’t the type to deliberately hurt her. She didn’t want him fearing she was going to try to push him into anything that he didn’t want. It made her sick thinking it was even close to his mind.

“...I don’t know.” He pulled himself up to a crouched seating position. “I don’t really know how badly you’re going to react to things… I’m worried about the Envy Demon and… the templars as far as why everything is hitting worse. And I can’t do anything with you. It’s on you so I’m just… I don’t know. You don’t have to apologize, anyway. It’s my fault.” 

She sat up and touched his hand without thinking, then, remembering their current predicament, pulled away awkwardly, resting her hand on her knee. “How is any of this your fault?”

“I pushed you to say something you didn’t want to say and made things weird.” he rubbed his face, feeling all together like he was hanging on by a string. He sighed heavily. 

She shrugged, “I was trying to decide something for you. I don’t blame you for needing to know why. I need you to know, I don’t expect anything from you. Not even a friendship, at this point, because, let’s be honest, I’m a lot to handle.” She laughed without humor, suddenly feeling the pain of all her bruises. She groaned softly and rubbed at her arm, “As for the demon, even if I have to get possessed to do so, I’ll protect you from it. The Chargers will do the rest.”

“You don’t have to worry about me. I’m probably going to be in the safest position out of anyone doing this. I’m more worried for everyone else, especially you.” He looked at her in the dim light and tried to reel in the worry on his face. 

She searched his eyes, but only saw fear and anxiety. She held out her right pinkie to him, “I’m going to ask you something. And I need you to promise you’ll answer honestly.”

He paused for a moment and chewed his lip, but decided to wrap his pinkie around hers. “Okay.” 

“What can I do to help you? I know you hide what you need for others’ sake. Don’t do that here, tonight. What will make things better for you?” She put on her best mother tone, putting all of her sincerity in her eyes.

“I… I don’t really know. I… I guess I tend to plan… around other people and their reactions to things rather than my own. I don’t really know how to break that habit.” He unsurely said. 

“I understand that. I was seventeen when I was finally adopted and I was trying so hard not to mess that up that I tip-toed around everyone. I realized it was working against what I wanted more than anything, ‘cause they weren’t getting to know the real me.” She softened her voice, “try.”

“Then… I guess… don’t get mad at me, if you can, if I try to, uh, express myself, I guess? I don’t handle disapproval all that well and it’d put a sure stop to me going for it… But really, I don’t know what I want. I think my wants and needs were beat out of me pretty early and I was just trying to figure it out before I was dumped in Thedas… like, doing something because I wanted to for the first time ever, even if it wasn’t anything particularly good or important. It was the happiest I’d ever been and I don’t know if I can figure out what that looks like here.” 

Aria listened closely, absorbing each word he said. It was clear he had trouble saying all of that out loud, and she was happy he trusted her with it. “Thank you for telling me.” She held her pinkie out again with an almost childish smile. “Not only will I not get mad, I’ll be happy, getting to know the real you. I promise.”

He joined his pinkie with hers once again and gave a weak, nervous smile. “Ok,” he nodded, half to himself, half to her. “I’ll… try.”

She dropped her hand and chewed on the inside of her cheek. “I’m gonna be bruised for a damned month, and pretty sure my breast bone is cracked. But I bet that lake we passed half a mile back would feel nice and cool.” She wiggled her eyebrows playfully, “wanna go swimming?”

“I could just heal the bruises…” he suggested. 

She shook her head, sobered, “No. I need to remember tonight, how if felt to be this low and what nearly killing the only friendship I really have is like. But I’m serious about swimming. Could use some care-free fun before the big fight.” She shifted onto her knees and started crawling out of the tent. “Come with me, if you want. Knowing I could be a flesh suit for a demon makes me want to be a little reckless.”

Hector gave her a measured look, but it soon softened. “Okay… I’ll go with you, if only so you’re not wandering the woods alone at night.” 

She stopped and shot him an exasperated look. “If you’re not going for you, then you’re not invited. I don’t know if this is common knowledge or not, but elves have some killer night vision. I’ll be fine.”

“I should go… I’m just going to be in my own head if I don’t.” He frowned a little bit, working through the thought. “And I should make myself do things otherwise I’ll end up doing nothing.” 

Aria waited outside the tent, thinking. Was he doing this because she wanted him to? Or was he really ready to push himself? She crouched down to see him as he emerged from the tent. She’d borrowed a traditional Dale-made armor from Dalish that was flexible and thin, but sturdy. It almost glittered in the firelight, reflecting greens and orange sparkles on Hector’s face. “I don’t want to know what you “should” do. Will it help you, or be something you’d enjoy doing, Hector? Leave me out of the equation for a moment.”

“I don’t know, but I’m going,” he said, straightening out the travel leathers he’d slid back on for their walk out to the lake. 

That would have to do. “Okay. Onward, Squire!” 

He shook his head at the ridiculousness and followed after her in the direction she lead. They didn’t talk much as they made their way through the dark woods. Aria walked with confidence, picking her way over branches and rocks and around trees with more ease than her human companion. Within ten or fifteen minutes, they could see a dark shimmer of water under moonlight, and Aria smiled triumphantly at Hector. 

“Told you!” Without hesitation, she started untying and unbuckling the connectors of her armor. Elvhen armor was mostly a handful of pieces held together in strange ways to look like a single unit, she’d realized when Dalish showed her how to put it on. She slipped out of her sleeves first, her finger getting caught where it looped, then removed the chest plate. She was nude before long and running headlong into the water. The moonlight accented the white of her hair against her dark back.

Hector too slipped out of his clothing, down to his underthings and only a necklace before diving in swimming deeply under the cold water, emerging once he needed air. Water hit his face as he came up, followed by a giggle to his left. He sputtered, but turned himself agily and kicked a good splash of water in the in the direction of the giggle. She squealed as water cascaded over her face then retaliated with a torrent of splashes in his direction.

“I give”, he stuck his hands up out of the water briefly before going back to swimming, going to where he could feel his feet in the sand to stand. 

“Victorious!” She shouted, swimming closer to him as she pulled her wet hair from her face. Wet, and in this light, it almost looked transparent. “How are you feeling, now?”

“Cold.” he nodded sagely, brushing his own, now quite curly hair from the water out of his face and slicking it back. “And wet.” 

She snickered, “I could warm you,” she froze, realizing what she’d said and coughed. Before yesterday, such a comment would have been like regular banter for them. But under the circumstances... “ Um, we can go back.”

“No,” he shook his head with a smile. “I’ll live. I want to dry off before heading back anyway. Have your fun.” He waded up to the shore and flopped down on the grass. 

Aria watched him walk, allowing herself a moment to admire him when he couldn’t see her. She’d seen him shirtless before, something that wasn’t avoidable in their living situation, but this felt different. He was more relaxed, and the moonlight played beautifully on his skin. The necklace he always wore glinted around his neck. She felt flushed and shook her head. This was hardly the time for such thoughts. They would only make things worse for her in the long run. She made her way out of the water after him and laid back a few inches beside him. Even from here, she could see the green hue of the breach. She turned her head to look at him, feeling exposed. She’d never had a problem being naked in front of someone before, but this was more… intimate felt like too romantic a word, but it was the only one she had. “What are you thinking about?”

“All the crap coming in the days ahead. I’m trying not to, but it’s so soon. Haven’s going to be gone and hopefully everyone comes out safely, but it’s scary. What we’re doing now is scary too. I try to convince myself it will all work out, but it gets hard sometimes.” He said, stretching out and staring at the sky. 

She looked up at the sky as well, adjusting her leg so that it barely touched his, hoping the innocent contact would help him a bit. She didn’t feel like her usual hand holding would be welcome anymore. “Anything you know of that takes your mind off of things?”

“I don’t think we have enough alcohol or weed for that,” he looked to her with a smile. “I’ll be alright.”

Her smile answered his. “Just eat some ram stew. It’s like weed with an alcoholic hangover.” She winked at him, “I knew you were a true friend when you wanted to be near me after that.” One of the reasons I love you.

“I wasn’t going to leave you to yourself when you were dealing with that. I’m not a total monster,” he said with a joking tone. “Who knows where you’d have ended up if I didn’t. Maybe Solas would have rescued you. Imagine how fun that would have been.” 

A roar of laughter erupted from her, and she used a mocking, whiny tone, “Oh Solas, whisk me away and take me to your bedchamber!” She feigned a swoon.

“Gross.” he laughed along with her. “I just don’t quite have a thing for the bald, hobo types, I guess. It’s the smell.”

“He doesn’t smell,” she said without thinking. She flushed and scowled, “not that I paid attention.” Quick to avert the attention off of her comment, she nudged him in the ribs, not noticing the smooth feel of his skin, “maybe you just don’t like elves. Racist.”

“Nah, issue’s definitely not the elf part. It’s very… everything that makes him him.” He rolled his eyes. 

“Wow, Hector, tell me how you really feel.” Her smile dropped and she looked back up at the sky. “How much he likes me is unsettling. He wasn’t like that in the game. Is he that way with anyone else?”

“He thinks your pretty, probably.” Hector shrugged. “Or interesting… since you’re not really Dalish or a City Elf like him.” 

She rolled her eyes, “No one thinks I’m pretty. But still. I don’t know… it feels almost familiar around him. Not in a good way. Been meaning to bring it up.”

“Do you think it’s something we should look into?” he asked, propping himself up on an elbow and looking over to her. “If he doesn’t just think you’re pretty, that is.” 

She forced a glare and repeated “I’m not pretty, Hector,” he raised his brow, “I’m beautiful ,” she tossed back her head dramatically, laying on the ground again and cackled.

“Ah, yes. How silly of me. Beautiful was clearly the word I was looking for. He thinks you’re stunning,” He said dryly, flopping back down and looking up at the sky.

Too bad it’s just him that thinks that . She crossed her arms under her head and sighed. “Yep. He thinks I’m really something. Something that’s gonna blow up without notice and cause him a major pain.” Was she still talking about Solas? She didn’t honestly know.

“Well, that’d really put a spin on the Little Red Riding Hood story, wouldn’t it. Scarlet takes down the wolf.” 

Aria frowned. “I hate Scarlet.”

“Then I won’t call you it,” he replied quickly.

She shook her head, “I mean I hate what I’ve turned that name into. It was supposed to just be some stage name for a job, but it’s become my shield.” She looked at him, studying his face more than was appropriate for a friend, but she couldn’t bring herself to reign it in. “She hurt you… I hurt you using her. I’m sorry.”

“We all put up defences one way or another. You really don’t have to apologize to me, just showing me you changed is all I need,” he said, looking up at the trees and sky. “Life is too hard already to hold on to that sort of stuff.” 

His words were touching. She nodded, though he wasn’t looking. It could just be the emotional day, or the sudden doom that loomed over, but she felt an urge to do something very stupid. “Promise this is the last time you’ll hear me say this, Hector. But I feel like I need to say it because I mean it, not out of some awkward desperation. Ready?”

He turned his head to her, and gave her an inquisitive look as reply. 

She looked away, “I didn’t say it right last time, but I love you. I offer it freely, without a cost, strings, or expectation. I’m not asking or demanding anything of you.” Feeling like a coward for looking away, she forced herself to look at him. He looked thoughtful, but guilty. “And until you learn to love yourself, I’ll do it for you.”

“I’m sorry I can’t be the man you need me to be, but I’ll be there for you any way I can,” he said, giving her a small, sad sort of smile. 

“You already are. That’s the point.” She winked.

“If you say so…” he fiddled with his necklace and put one of the coins in his mouth, chewing on it for lack of anything else to say. 

“You never told me why you wear that thing all the time. I imagine it’s not just to dodge heartfelt talk,” she offered a subject change, hoping she didn’t make him too uncomfortable.

He pulled it off and handed it to her, a long gold cord with two coins depicting human shapes. “St. Jude and Santa Meurte. St. Jude is the patron saint of lost causes. Santa Meurte… is kind of the same. She’s for outsiders, LGBTQ folks pray to her a lot. Many gay marraiges in Mexico will have things representing her in them. They look out for people that need it the most, even if they’re no one.” 

She turned the coins in her hand, feeling the texture. “Sounds like something I should carry.” She said softly, reflecting on her own life. She realized she’d been looking at it a long while and handed it back. “Here, you probably feel naked without this on,” She bit down a laugh at the irony of her statement. 

 He took it back from her and looked at her a moment before slipping the one with the beautiful skeletal figure off of the chain. “Here. We can share it.” he said, holding out the trinket to her. 

Her eyes went wide and she shook her head, “Hector, I can’t! Not something like this…” This thing literally went with him everywhere! He couldn’t really want to part with it.

“I wouldn’t offer it if I didn’t want to,” he said seriously. “Please, I want you to have it.” 

She hesitantly held her hand out with a small nod. She felt like a huge weight came with such a gift. Why was he offering it to her? Sure they were friends, but this felt like a huge responsibility. She couldn’t wrap her head around it. “I… don’t understand.” She admitted. He’d asked her to communicate… so she was trying to do just that.

“Because you’re about to do something dangerous and I want you to have all the backing you need to succeed. A little extra help never hurt anyone, anyway.” 

She closed her fist and pulled the coin close to her chest. She wasn’t sure what to think or feel. He looked so serious in this moment. Until now, she hadn’t really seen what the danger to herself personally was doing to him. It touched her, but pained her. “Then I’ll just have to come back, ‘cause you’re going to want it back.”

He nodded. “I’ll hold you to it. We should get back. We have to get a little rest before the big day.” 

“We have two days for that. You go on ahead, though. Doubt I’ll find softer grass than this back at camp. I’ll see you in the morning.” She clutched the coin in both hands to her chest and rolled over to stare at the sky.

“You could always use my tent if you want, but I’ll leave it up to you.” Hector slipped back on his clothes and headed back in the direction of camp. 

She was inclined to disagree, but after one hiss of pain from a misstep on Hector’s part and she sighed, dressed quickly, and helped him get back. When the tent came into view, she hesitated. She side-glanced at him, “Only if you’re comfortable. And don’t tell me what you think I’d rather hear… please.”

“I really don’t mind,” he said. “We share a cabin anyway…” 

“We have different beds there. I just don’t want you thinking I’m pushing for something you don’t want. I’m really trying to preserve what we have,” she let the misery of their situation show on her face for a moment, “nothing is more important to me than that.”

“I know you’re not going to try to take advantage of me, Aria. I’d rather you be in a tent than out of one and, like I said, it doesn’t bother me,” he said with a serious tone. “I promise, it’s fine.” 

    She smiled with a hint of relief, holding the coin so tightly into her palm it likely created an indent, “Lead on, cowboy.”

 

Chapter Text

    “Well, that could have gone better,” Minerva sighed, sloshing in the knee deep water of the dungeon they’d been trying to avoid. Perhaps trying to shoot Alexius right off the bat was a poor judgement call. 

    “It certainly could have, but I’m sure we can still fix this,” Dorian said with a look of disgust at the filthy water on his robes. 

    “Here, but not here. Where we were is where we are… not where, when.” Cole looked around in wonder, his hat was soaked and falling into his face as he had scooped it out of the water and stuck it back onto his head.

    “Fucking time magic. Yeh, we can fix this… We just got to find Alexius.” Minerva pulled up the floating corpse of the freshly killed Venatori and plucked the key off of him, letting them out of the room. 

    Veronica had been quiet this whole time, but she was clearly panicking. She walked through the cell door silently, holding her daggers ready as she followed Minerva through the dungeon. She hoped Cole would keep his analysis of her thoughts to himself, as they weren’t exactly pleasant when in Minerva’s direction. She knew logically this wasn’t her friend’s fault, but it was her plan that landed them here. She had run in bow blazing, giving off hostility without a second’s hesitation. Alexius saw this and sent them into the future without hesitating. She walked on, hoping they could, in fact, fix this. 

    “Okay, let’s see if we can find that main… area thing.” Minerva said, guiding them through best she could figure, though it was certainly more disturbing and hard to figure out in real life opposed to the game. “And remember to avoid the red stuff, Dorian. It’s nasty shit.” 

    “Noted.”

    “We should look and see if any allies are imprisoned around here. We’ll need all the help we can get,” Veroinca signed while she spoke. Leliana .

    “What was that?” Dorian asked with a brow raised. Veronica was already sick of how unphased he seemed by all of this. She understood the spymaster’s irritation now that she was in the situation in person.

    Minerva gave Veronica the affirmative back in sign and shot Dorian a withering look. At least he was having a decent time, weirdo. “Now is not the time, bud.” 

    He threw his hands up in defeat, “Of course. Lead the way!”

    Veronica thought to herself, Sure Min. Lead the frigging way.

    Motioning for quiet, she crept up to the main area that split off to the dungeons and the rest of the corridors, bow drawn. She took a shot, taking out the mage, leaving them all with the rest of the angry rogue Venatori to deal with. 

    Cole zipped around the room in his ghostly form, taking out another Venatori with a well placed stab to the neck. Dorian released a torrent of flames that took out two Venatori and injured another while Veronica hurried in for the kill while the wounded man was distracted. 

The fight was over before the Venatori had a chance to get their bearings and the group continued on, down into the dungeons. Veronica and Minerva had seen the damage and the utter brutality of the castle in the game, but neither were prepared for the smell. It was a combination of lyrium, a smell familiar to both from their days with Fenris, which was a combination of atmosphere and earth, and decay. It stunk of rotten flesh, copper and the indescribable smell of death. Veronica shot Minerva a sour look as she stepped over a cluster of red lyrium on their descent into the dungeon. 

Kicking open the first door, they’d found nothing, but what could have possibly been a person at some point that became a massive red lyrium crystal. Minerva swallowed hard, looking around with a grim expression. It could have been someone they knew and they’d never be able to tell. Pushing the dark thoughts of her failure to avoid this part of the story down for the time being, she motioned for them to push onward to the next door. 

“There’s just one more intact,” Veronica said as she pressed her palm against it. She drew a deep breath, regretting the action instantly, and shoved it open. She saw a pulse of red before she saw anything else, and it forced her back out of the doorway to avoid whatever had happened. The last thing she needed was red lyrium poisoning! “What the hell was that?”

“Leave!” A very gravelly, familiar voice boomed, laced with an almost ghostly echo.

“Fenris?” Minerva paled, entering the room and looking around wildly to find a crouched Fenris, his pale lyrium markings now bled red, and glowed with a light pulse in the darkness. Crystal clusters protruded from his neck and down his left arm. The radiation of the red lyrium’s taint from him was obvious, as his once green eyes glowed crimson. “Fuck. Fuck, fuck fuck.” Minerva muttered, stumbling up to his cage and crouching to pick the lock without a second thought to the consequences. 

“Min, no! You could get sick!” Veronica pulled on her arm, holding her at bay.

Fenris sneered, the skin around his mouth cracked and red light seeped through. “Another demon here to torment me? You waste your time. I still have fight within me, you will not pry the flesh from my bones!”

“I already have a fucking shelf life.” Minerva said, over her shoulder to Veronica then turned her attention to the lock, steadying her shaking hands. “And I’ll be fucking damned if I leave you in here, Fenris. I’m not a fucking demon. We just got sent to the future because I fucked up and we’re trying to get back and fix this shit.” 

“That red lyrium is behaving differently here… it looks like it was etched into his skin and not growing from him…” Dorian mused, stroking his mustache. 

Veronica really wanted to punch him. “We’ll explain later.”

“Come no closer! I trust nothing to be true, least of all pathetic stories meant to lull me into submission! I warn you!” He snarled. Through all his anger and threats, he was clearly exhausted and weak. Words were his best weapon now.

Minerva swung the door open and stepped back, her voice watery in spite of her trying to rein it in. “Go, stay… It’s up to you to choose. We’re going to kill Alexius.” 

He was clearly surprised that she didn’t attack, but guarded and tense like a coil about to spring. “If you truly are Minerva, tell me. What is the last thing I spoke of to you before you disappeared?”

“You promised me you wouldn’t regret trying to be with me…” She said, her stance unthreatening and open. “Something I by no means hold you to now. Obviously.” she held up a hand in a weak shrug. 

    He relaxed and doubled over in a cough, finally letting his weakness show. “Fasta...vass.” He straightened up and pulled himself to his feet with a shaky hand. He made his way slowly to her, then looked in her eyes for a long moment. No one spoke as he calculated. Finally, he sighed. A mist of red escaped his mouth as he did so. “You owe me a drink when you return, and a promise to never leave my side again.” He brushed past her, making his way up out of the dungeon.

    Minerva straightened herself, and gave the others a head jerk to continue on, back the way they’d come from. A groan halted their movement and Veronica and Minerva met eyes before rushing to a half rotted door that left just enough room to see into Solid red lyrium grew along it and into the wall, completely barricading it closed. Veronica hesitated, looking at her friend with unease.

    “We can’t get this thing open… should we even look?”

“Someone’s in there. They could be one of ours.” Minerva said, peering in and stumbling back in horror the moment she did, her eyes wide and tears already falling.    

Veronica shook her head. Minerva didn’t react this strongly easily. “How bad?” Her voice was soft, barely above a squeak. She needed to look… but she was terrified of what she’d find!

“V-varric.” Minerva croaked, shaking her head. “Don’t look. You don’t want… you don’t need that memory.” 

A weak cough came from beyond the door and Veronica’s heart stopped when she heard a soft, “Sailor? That you?” She closed her eyes in a silent prayer as tears squeezed past her closed lids. 

Minerva pulled herself back to the door with all the willpower she had. “Varric, hey, bud.” The sight was grim. The dwarf, their friend, was part of a large growing crystal of lyrium, fusing him to the wall of his cell. “It’s me, yeh. Anything I can do… for you?” Lord, she didn’t want to kill him, but that was the only option she could think of. 

“If it comforts you,” Fenris spoke from the top of the stairs, looking over his shoulder. His haid hung below his shoulders now, tangled in knots and caked with blood and debris, “He was one of the last to fall.”

She shook her head no, wiping the tears away. “I was trying to stop this….”

Veronica placed a hand on Minerva’s shoulder, “It’s not too late, Min.”

“Yeh.” she said weakly, looking back to Varric. “We’re going to fix this! We were sent to the future and if we go back, none of this will happen, ok?” 

He tried to force a chuckle. Splinters of what remained of Bianca were lodged into his shoulder. The festering wounds grew their own crystals, “Better make it quick… this isn’t as comfortable as it looks. Go on, Sailor.”

“Ok… yeh. We’ll see you soon, buddy.” Minerva turned, marching up the stairs, past Fenris. He’d already cleared the Vints from the room. 

“We should search for the throne room and get this over with,” Dorian said as he marched on. The dire situation seemed to have finally caught up with him, judging by the grimm expression on his face. “If there’s a “nicer” part of the castle I’d say that’s where we’ll find Alexius. Bastard.”

Veronica couldn’t agree more.

A cloud burst from thin air in front of Minerva, eliciting a scream and a jump from the woman, who was as on edge as could be without hitting the deep end. “He isn’t worried. He knows you’ll save him.”

“Yeh, that’s our Varric.” Minerva managed to spit out through the surprise. 

“Hot. Red. It hurts, but she will stop it. She came back. Warm feelings. Affection. Friendship. He wants it to stop hurting.” Cole looked at Minerva through his bangs. He seemed to be asking permission. 

Minerva stared at the boy and the weight of the choice. “If he wants death, he can have it. We must continue on. We have to find… her,” she said, knowing Veronica and Cole would pick up on what she was putting down, Leliana

“Her? Who are we looking for?” Dorian asked. There was a glare of accusation in his eyes. 

“If one person is here and well enough to help, it’ll be Leliana.” Veronica spoke quickly. “We’re banking on it, anyhow.”

“I see…” He didn’t seem completely believe her, but he dropped the issue. “Let’s go then.”

Cole disappeared in a cloud of olive colored smoke. Veronica tried not to think about what he was doing or where he was going as they marched forward.

They made their way through the next set of corridors, dispatching any Venatori they found in their quest to find that awful room that was sure to hold their final ally in the fight to get back to the past. Minerva stood still when she saw the door and gave Veronica a look for confirmation. That was it. 

Veronica nodded. “Ready?” They were gonna see a mess… Leliana was gonna be chained, tortured and very near death, but they needed her.

“Ready as I’ll ever be.” Minerva kicked open the door, taking out one of the Venatori and readying for the next before even getting a good look into the room. 

Veronica threw her dagger into the throat of the second quickly. Once his body hit the floor, she was prepared to see the Spymaster glaring at them. All of the air in the room sucked into her lungs when she saw a blonde man tied down to a table, malnutritioned, bruises littering his body and blood coating nearly every inch of him in varying levels of age. One eye was swollen shut, but the other was half open. There was a barest hint of a smile trying desperately to form under a large cut on his lip. She nearly sobbed, but she was too frozen to move.

Anders .

She remembered herself and bolted across the room. She worked quickly to slice open the ropes that bound him down. She nearly sliced her own hand in her haste, working with shaking hands and through the blurriness of tears forming in her eyes. Minerva had rushed to her side to help. First Varric, dead, and now this! She hadn’t seen Anders in so long, she was not prepared!

“Easy, love,” his voice croaked, “be gentle with me. It’s been a while.” 

She did release a single sob as the final bond broke free and she wrapped her arms around him as tightly as she dared, until a grunt of pain forced her to release him. “Anders…”

A shaking hand came to rest on her face as amber eyes looked up at her. “Veronica.”

“Um, I’m not one to interrupt a heart warming reunion, but we have company,” Dorian said from the doorway, taking up a defensive stance. 

Veronica’s body felt like it was on fire. She turned to look back at Anders and ran a hand over his hair. “Stay here, we’ll come back for you.”

He started to sit up, “The hell you are. My… staff is in the… corner. Help me up, darling.” 

She held him down roughly, “the hell you are!”

Minerva went over to the corner and grabbed the staff. “We’re gonna need the help. You need to let him do this, Veronica.” She held out the staff to the man. “Long time no see, babe.” she tried to give him a roguish smile, though it came out pained. 

Veronica’s face was ice cold as she finally let the man up. She stared directly at her friend with a rage she’d never felt. “This didn’t need to happen. You know this.” She turned her attention back to Anders and helped him to his feet. His tattered robes hung off his thin shoulders and he looked like he was a light breeze away from falling over, but his spirit seemed to have held strong. 

“I know, believe me. Blame me. Be as mad at me as you want later, but if we don’t get going, there is no later.” Minerva plucked the key that had fallen from the mage torturer she’d downed and turned down the hall to unlock the door that lead to their next destination. 

Veronica helped Anders hobble alone, waiting for Fenris to make some kind of comment, but the elf was blessedly silent, “Thank Justice for me, he must have helped.”

Ander’s face soured, “It’s Justice that got me in this mess. They wanted to see what would happen if they tortured me while restrained, what Justice would do to protect me. He eventually went silent.”

Veronica didn’t respond. She was too pissed and pained to bother. They needed to undo this now ! She couldn’t take another ally in such a state. She was grateful he was the last one she’d run into.

Of course, she spoke too soon.

They fought their way to the courtyard with little problem despite their weakened companions. Veronica watched Anders’s back, but it was quickly proving to be unnecessary. The fight seemed to reignite Justice in him, as his whole body crackled blue and the voice of two men bellowed when he fought. Fenris’s red lyrium markings proved to be ten times as powerful as the original. His strength was double what it was back home and he could completely phase through solid objects whereas he could only phase his hands through people before. They came up to their first Fade rift, expecting hundreds of demons. They were surprised by the small number that they found. Minerva closed it up quickly and they made to hurry to the next one. Veronica readied her weapon to decapitate a demon heading her way, but it was quickly twisted into a bramble of vines and mercilessly twisted into a mess of parts. Veronica stood in shock and looked around. Her jaw dropped and she tapped Minerva when she spotted them. A dark skinned elvhen woman with shoulder length hair and littered in more scars than a face should hold stood beside a familiar Texan. His easy going demeanor was hardened to a scowl and deep lines from a year of stress, but she knew it was him.

“Aria and Hector... “ She breathed. 

“What the hell are they doing here?” Minerva asked, entirely flabbergasted herself. “And how?”

Veronica could only shake her head. The people that stood on the platform near them were very different from the allies that were off fighting Envy. “I… think they survived.”

Aria scowled and leaped from the platform like something out of a hero comic. “You have no idea what it’s been like, living in this hell hole!” A charm glinted around her neck that Veronica had seen Hector wear. Her hair was much shorter, and her Vallaslin was interrupted by many scars. Her violet eyes swept between all of them. “Shit hit hard and I knew you failed. No one would believe us, so we were cast out! Our only hope was to hold off until you showed up.” She threw her head back at Hector, who was making his way over.

“We’d best get you ladies on your quest than, shant we?” Hector pointed the way forward, his expression grim and voice giving hints of a thinly veiled anger. “Corypheus is coming and we don’t have much time.” 

Aria held her sour expression. It seemed time in this world had made her even more bitter than she seemed to be in their time. Veronica had no idea what to think of the woman in front of her. Hector, at least, didn’t seem as changed, though his magic was clearly a force to be reckoned with. “Yes.” She shot her piercing stare at Minerva as she crouched down to yank her dagger from a demon’s head with more dramatic flair than was strictly necessary, “Lets.”

Minerva sighed, trudging onward to the next rift, again feeling the weight of her failure to stop all of this from happening in the first place along with knowing there was a chance that if she failed now, this was permanent. “When we get in the building, we need to find the keys to the big door. If we split into groups to take out those mages, we can perhaps speed up the process.” 

Aria yanked her tattered sleeve up to reveal a strange looking sleeve tattoo. “I have a map. Don’t bother asking how I got it.”

“I’d rather ask what happened during the last year,” Dorian threw out, clearly confused about the whole ordeal.

Aria’s sharp stare shifted to him and she sneered. “Nothing you want to hear. I’m aware this is a one-way ticket, and so is Hector,” she sliced the sleeve off with her blade as she spoke, “so you have one shot. This will save you some time, but you took long enough to get here. The whole damn resistance has collapsed. Understand this, Dorian: if you guys don’t fix this now, you’re as dead as we are.”

Veronica eyed Hector, who was as quiet as he always was when his loud-mouthed friend was near. He wore a makeshift eyepatch, but scars could be seen framing it, crackling along his skin. His hair was longer and messier than Veronica had seen him last. A nasty scar slashed over his lips that accented the scowl that seemed to have permanently developed on his face and he had clearly broken his nose at some point in the last year. 

Minerva looked at the map that Aria had, drawing out a plan of attack. With any luck it would go smoothly, though anything going smoothly didn’t seem in the cards anymore. 

 

    Everyone was accounted for, though worse for the wear by the time they reconvened with the collected shards. Minerva was sore and bloodied already feeling the effects of being so close to all the red lyrium and she was sure the others felt the same. It was strange, like a vibrating sound that caused nausea and headaches, but that probably wasn’t the half of it over an extended period of time. She looked to the lot, both affected and unaffected by it. They’d all gone through hell, but there was more to do.  “When we put these in, everything after happens fast… so it was nice knowing you guys and I’m sorry. I should have done better.” 

    Aria readied her blades and rolled her eyes, “Save it for when this mess is fixed.”

    Cole peered at the door with a strange intensity. “Alive… still here… but not. ‘I did this for Felix. My son’. He is hurting.”

    Veronica placed a hand on Cole’s shoulder. “We know, Cole.”

    Minerva nodded. “Yeh, bud. This is why children are a nightmare… He’d do anything for that kid and this world is the result for some half dead shell.” She stuck the shards in.

    “Excuse me?” Dorian sounded scandalized. Veronica winced. He knew Felix, cared for him even. Did Minerva have to say it like that?

    “Don’t worry about it, Dorian,” Aria said as she placed the last shard in. “None of it will matter before long.”

Hector gave Dorian a sympathetic pat on the shoulder. “I’m sorry, darlin’, but just remember you got to get back to stop this from happening to him, ya hear? It’ll make sense soon.”

“Last shard is in. Let’s get this over with.” Aria shouldered the door and took a single step back, daggers raised.

The door opened to Alexius standing there with a pale, dead-eyed version of Felix. “Show’s over, Alexius. Get the fuck out of here and we won’t kill you and whatever that is.” Minerva said, gesturing to the boy. 

“The Elder One saved him!” Alexius shouted back. “He was the only option.”
    “Corypheus didn’t save shit. Look at this bullshit.” Minerva raised her hands gesturing around the room, ignoring the look of shock as the blighted magister was named. “And we don’t have time for debate. Get out, or die.” 

“Agreed,” Aria said before leaping past Minerva. She landed behind Alexius and held a dagger to Felix’s throat, staring directly into Alexius’s eyes as she ran her blade through the boy. She didn’t break eye contact as she let the body slip from her hands and straightened up. There was no mercy in her violet eyes, only pain and rage. 

Alexius cried out in anguish, sending a blast of magic that pushed everyone back. Aria, who was closest to him, slammed against the wall hard enough to break bones. Veronica fell back, but no worse off than before. Anders put up a protective barrier immediately and rushed to her aid as Fenris hurried to Minerva’s side with a feral growl that was accented by the vibration of red lyrium in his voice.

A rift cracked open above them, sending terror screeching into the room, one pouncing onto Minerva. Fenris dove at the creature allowing her to scramble to her feet and take a shot at another. “Kill them so I can close this thing!” 

Hector, summoning a mighty fireball, sent it flying at Alexius. The impact caused the barrier around the man to flicker. “They’re just a few demons, handle it.”

Anders’s breathing was shallow and labored as he struggled to hold up the barrier he’d put up. Alexius had his own barrier that he hid behind like a coward while the demons did all the work. Fenris stood next to Minerva with his blade drawn. “I will protect you. Close the rift!”

Veronica, having scrambled to her feet, located her throwing knives and aimed one at a wraith that was trying to freeze Fenris. She shot it in the head, knocking it out of the air. “Same here! Get that bitch closed, Min!”

Minerva reached out to the rift and yanked it closed. Alexius’s barrier came down just as Anders passed out from his wounds and the effort, creating the perfect opportunity to attack. While the focus was on him, however, the sounds of pounding and banging could be heard on the door behind them. Another rift opened up behind Minerva, and a Pride demon stepped out, poised to strike. No one saw it, except Aria, who had finally come to. There was a pressure in her eyes and she could feel broken ribs and a shattered fibula. She wasn’t sure her lung wasn’t collapsed either. It didn’t matter, because the Pride demon was seconds away from removing Minerva’s head. She hauled herself up, shoving her dagger into the ground to help her up, and made eye contact with Hector. After a year of fighting at his side, saving his ass and being saved by him, she didn’t want to ask. But it was their only chance. She needed to buy Minerva time. She portrayed her wishes silently, knowing he’d understand. She needed him to get her over there, where she knew she’d immediately be killed, but that was the only option available.

Hector gave her a knowing nod, though the anguish on his face was clear and visible. With a wave of his hands, he Fadestepped her in between Minerva and the Pride demon. She hurtled herself through the Fade as the demon brought his fists down and shoved her back against Minerva to shove her forward while holding her blades up. Her last thought was of Hector as the fists of the demon slid down her blades and through her chest.

Minerva was caught unaware as Aria and her were impacted by the Pride Demon. She felt the impact of the demon as it tore through Aria at her and time felt like it slowed. Aria sacrificed herself. Hector, Fenris, Anders… her friends were all sacrificing themselves. With the way clear, Hector had sent a mighty blast at the demon, nearly evaporating the thing on contact, leaving Minerva with the remnants of Aria on her. She pulled herself up, rubbing the viscera from her face. Alexius was going to die.

She pulled the rift closed and took aim at the man with his flickering barrier, sending arrow after arrow at him. “Come on, you motherfucker!” she yelled, finally getting one through the barrier and sinking into his neck. 

Veronica stared agape at what had happened. Aria, the girl who had drugged Minerva, just… she shook her head, not wanting to think about it. She stooped beside Anders, who was laying unconscious and barely clinging to life, and swallowed the lump in her throat. This whole thing was beyond fucked! Where had they gone so wrong? She pressed a soft kiss to his damp forehead and whispered a goodbye before hurrying to Minerva’s side. 

Cole, who had been busy decapitating demons in the background, appeared beside the door. “They are coming.” He placed his hand on the door as if to stop them.

“No!” Minerva cried. Cole was from their time! If he dies, he dies permanently! 

Fenris’s red brands flared and he roared in pain at the flash. He shot a last look at Minerva and hurried to the door, grabbing Cole roughly by the collar and hurtling him back at the others. Anders, who had come to, but barely, forced himself to his feet and limped to the doorway. The group who had gone into the future watched them as they slipped past the door to their certain deaths.

“We’ll hold them, but not for long. Best you get working on that spell, Dorian!” Hector hollered, approaching the door. He made a shield to hold the thing in place, but it was quickly crumbling as soon as he put it up. 

“Fuck! Hurry, Dorian!” Veronica growled, the tears she’d been desperately holding back were falling over her enraged face. None of this was right! 

Minerva stood numbly, staring at the group from the future as they did their damnedest to hold off the incoming horde. Dorian worked quickly, and in little time that felt like years, they were whisked away to the very spot they were occupying, but in a very different time. Alexius crumbled to his knees. Veronica looked at him with disgust. She barely resisted the urge to kick him while he was down.

“It’s over, Alexius.” Minerva hissed, her bloody visage positively shaking with anger. “If you’re lucky, I won’t fucking kill you myself.”  

Fereldan soldiers suddenly stormed the throne room as Alistair strode forward with a disapproving stare that was harder than most expressions Veronica had seen in the game. Unless one spares Loghain, she supposed. He looked around the room until his eyes landed on Fiona. “Grand Enchanter Fiona, you have outstayed your welcome. You have driven out Redcliffe’s people and taken over the Arl’s castle.”

Fiona’s eyes were desperate, “But we have hundreds who need protection!”

Alistair shrugged. “Should have thought about that before inviting this Tevinter Magister into the Arl’s home in his absence.”

“It’s almost like they weren’t tricked by fucking time magic!” Minerva cackled. “Go fucking tempertantrum somewhere else. The Inquisition is taking the mages and getting out of your holier than thou hair. What the fuck happened to you anyway? Smh, man.” 

His eyebrows shot up with shock and scandal, “Excuse me, and who might you be?”

Veronica, suddenly aware of herself, stepped in front of Minerva and shot her a warning glare. “Friends of Ceciele. We’re here to take the mages, you don’t have to worry about them any more, King Alistair.”

    “I need to go wash the chunks of my friends off me so does that work for you?” Minerva asked, gesturing to herself as she faced the king with a wild smile on her face. “I’d be happy to be more diplomatic about this shit another time.” 

    Veronica placed a hand on Minerva’s shoulder, “Go on, Min. I’ll take care of this.” She turned back to Alistair with dead eyes. “We Leliana is also in the Inquisition. I’ll ask her and Ceciele to prepare a letter for you, explaining the situation. Ceciele helped us learn about this, just like she helped the Warden Commander. No one, not even these mages, wished harm.”

    Alistair’s confusion almost seemed to switch to exasperation. “Ah. Ceciele. Well, I accept your explanation, as it’s more than she ever offered us but she never led us astray. The mages are in the Inquisition’s custody now. Leave immediately.” With that he turned to leave.

    Fiona looked grim and tired. “I guess we have no choice. Are we to be your prisoners then?” 

    Veronica shook her head. “No. Equals. We need allies. I’ll explain more on the way.” She offered as much of a smile as she could then turned to Alexius. “ He ,” She spat, “Will be dealt with later after Minerva’s calmed down. A kindness, really, as she’d probably run him through if she decided now.”

    Minerva shook her head and stomped off in the direction of who knows where, just out of the building. She needed to clean herself, to think. To kick herself for being such a fucking idiot who thought all this would go any way other than how it did. Now, with the mages at their back, Corypheus would be coming. Was she ready?

Chapter Text

    Aria sat curled up beside the fire, staring into the flames. This time tomorrow, they would be successful in taking care of the Envy demon… or they wouldn’t. She tried not to think about it, turning the charm Hector had leant her in her hands, watching the firelight play on its reflective surface. 

    “It’s beautiful. What is it?” Krem asked, sitting beside her and looking at the trinket in her hand. 

    She looked up at him, not sure how much she could reveal about it without needing to provide knowledge of where she’s from. “It’s… sort of a good luck charm. From Hector.” She looked back at the santa muerte in her hand. “Just trying not to lose it.”

    Krem seemed thoughtful for a moment, “Hold on,” he stood up from his seat next to her and rummaged through his travel bag. Aria arched a brow and looked across the fire at Hector, shrugging.

    Hector smiled when he noticed, shrugging in return then watching where Krem was getting off to. Krem returned and sat beside her again, holding his hand out. There was some sort of silverite braid coiled in his palm. 

    “It’s beautiful… how… how was this welded?” She asked.

    “Did a job for an expert silversmith who specialized in Orlesian jewelry. Traded a decent pelt for it. Had a feeling it would come in handy someday. Here. Something to hold onto from both of us can’t hurt.” His eyes were soft and kind, but touched with concern. 

Aria felt a wave of affection and offered a smile before holding the santa muerte out to him. He slipped it onto the chain and held it out in a questioning gesture. She turned away and held her hair up, feeling a little exposed. She looked at Hector with a look of awkward discomfort as she felt gentle hands around her neck and the light tickle of the necklace settling on her throat. She dropped her hair and turned back to Krem. “Thank you. For the record, this smile is genuine.” She offered a smirk.

He sighed with some exasperation and rubbed his eyes with his fingers. “Be fair, I may have made a bet at your expense, but you didn’t show me anything real until just now. I am sorry I upset you, but I know when I’m being played.” He rested a hand on her shoulder and stood up, making his way to where Dalish was. Aria was stricken silent and felt sick. She didn’t play him… did she? She looked down at her hands. She wanted to look at Hector for some kind of reassurance, but she knew that’s not what she’d find. She had been fake and sour since she arrived, and now she was dealing with the consequences. Didn’t feel too good though.

“We must discuss our plan of action,” Solas said suddenly, occupying the seat Krem had just vacated, much closer to her than necessary. Aria did look at Hector then, flashing him a look of irritation that was supposed to say, “See what I mean?”

Hector just smiled, entirely glad it wasn’t him Solas loved to bother. Solas looked from him to Aria, making sure they were both paying attention. “I have spoken with The Iron Bull’s Charge, and they are ready to fight. They will be positioned around the three of us to ensure we will be successful. I will hold a ward around the two of you, as well as provide healing aid to the Chargers. Hector, do you recall the sleeping spell I showed you last night?”

“I do, yes.” Hector nodded. 

“Good. It is vital that you have it mastered before tomorrow. I suggest you practice with Aria tonight, for it is the key to her survival. You must hold that spell while she faces the demon. Under no circumstances do you wake her, until she has successfully reverted it to its original form.” His look was hard, almost accusing. “No matter what.” He looked at Aria then, “there are many possibilities as to what Envy may have been. What is important to remember, is that the most intense feeling or aspect you have, is what you should focus on while facing Envy. It may be Faith, Justice, Valor, Gratitude, or Wisdom. Focus on one, Aria, and Envy will appear to you as it was. There will be tests, however, as Envy will resist. You must be strong.” He looked back at Hector and Aria both. “Rest well, for tomorrow will be trying. Good evening.” He stood once again and left with grace only elves seemed to possess. Aria looked at Hector again with a sour taste in her mouth. Was she strong enough to face whatever this demon dished out? What she remembered in the game… wasn’t pleasant.

“You’ve got this.” Hector said with a comforting smile. “All of us are going to make sure you’ve got the best shot possible. I have faith in you.” 

Her hand went to the charm on her neck almost automatically. “Thanks Hector. It’s late, might as well practice that spell, huh?”

Hector nodded and stood up. “Yeh, let’s get to it.” 

 

It was time. Solas, Hector and Aria were nestled in a corner of an abandoned fortress that was mostly rubble. The Chargers were in position nearby, ready to defend them as needed. Everyone looked and felt tense, no one more than Aria, she was sure. Solas had drawn a circle around Hector and Aria and was working on sigils while Aria stood toeing the ground. She felt like her insides were twisting in on themselves. She offered a weak smile at Hector. “Last call, anything you need to tell me before I go? You hate the way I chew my food, stole my ipod, my cooking sucks?” Her joke was weak, even to her, but she needed to hear something from her friend before going into uncertain danger. Even if it was playful banter.

“Oh, honey. Your cooking does suck. I didn’t realize no one told you.” he joked back gently. “But no, I don’t think so. Just know I’ll be here and you are going to do great.” 

She was itching to hug him, but kept to herself. “Thanks. With you keeping an eye on me, what could go wrong anyway?”

“Let’s try not to think too hard on how many things could go wrong, huh?” He pulled her into a brief hug. She held onto him as long as he’d let her, committing the feel, smell, warmth of him to memory. She pulled back as Solas announced everything was ready. She wanted to snap that she wasn’t, but that couldn’t be helped. She squared her shoulders and sat down in the dirt before laying back, trying to get comfortable. Hector kneeled down beside her head and began to cast soft blue waves of energy into her temples, lulling her into the Fade. 

Once she was completely under, Solas spoke, “One last thing, Hector. While you control her slumber, your minds will be connected. You can see everything that she does. Regardless of what turmoils she faces, you must hold her there. Do you understand?”

“There’s a lot about this I don’t understand, but I’ll do it.” Hector replied, looking down at Aria’s sleeping face, hoping for the best and expecting the worst. 

Solas nodded and began to set up the ward, leaving Hector alone with a sleeping Aria, who seemed so ironically peaceful. 

 

Aria felt warm, but not uncomfortably so. She hadn’t slept on such a comfortable surface since she entered Thedas, as memory foam wasn’t exactly a thing that existed there. Wait… then why am I comfortable ? She opened her eyes to a sight she never thought she’d see again. She was back home? No, this hasn’t been her home for a long time… this was her parents’ house. Why was she here?

“What the hell is this? You’re bringing sin into this household? Dragging my son down with you? What have you been filling his head with huh?” A gruff voice yelled through the walls. Aria stared at the door, frozen. No… not this… anything but this.

“I’m your child too!” A younger her begged. Aria covered her ears. She didn’t want to hear this, but the walls suddenly dissolved and she was standing in the living room. The man who had adopted her, a grizzly of a person, stooped over a very young Aria with rage in his eyes and a bellow to his voice. His wife sat cradling her brother to her chest, sobbing at the scene but doing nothing to protect her from his anger.

“You are not welcome in this house! What have you been saying to him?” His large hand gripped her forearm with a vice tension that the Aria watching could feel in her own arm. Both versions cried out in pain. 

The younger one asked him to let her go through sobs. “You’re hurting me!”

He ignored her. “We let you in our home, give you a family, a room, and this is how you repay us?”

“They were just holding hands,” her brother weakly offered, but his mother shushed him and held him closer, taking him from the room with a look of disappointment at Aria. 

The man who was supposed to be her father released her arm roughly and spat the words with venom, “Get out of my house! I better not see your face again!”

A desperate sob forced itself from her chest. “Please… Dad…”

“You are not my daughter! Now get out!” His voice reverberated through the room and she could only scramble to get away before he hurt her any more. The scene dissolved and Aria was left standing in a swirling green hue that was obviously the fade. Tears streamed down her face and she looked down at her arm where he had grabbed her. The bruise was there… just as it was when she was young. It was a painful reminder of how unwanted she was. 

She looked up and drew a shaky breath. “What was the point of that?”

What was the point of that ?” A truly demonic voice asked around her. She tried to contain her shudder, looking around for the source of the voice. She suddenly saw Solas standing before her, smiling at her the way he did in the game. She’d only seen this smile through a screen. It was unsettling.

“I must know you. I am in need of a new body,” Solas’s voice said as he circled her with an air of formality that Solas himself possessed. “You will do, if I could become you.” He walked off, disappearing into the darkness around her. 

Aria scowled. “I do not wish to fight you. This isn’t who you are!” She struggled to focus on an aspect of herself she could bring out, finally settling on Gratitude. Yes, that would do. She was grateful every day that she met Hector, that he saved her, that she could help Minerva. She was grateful. So Gratitude must come forth. 

Minerva appeared, a roguish smile on her face and her hand on her hip. “Perhaps, perhaps not. I’m more interested… in who you are.” As she stepped closer, a wave of fatigue washed over Aria and she stumbled. What the ? “You should rest. I need your help.” 

Aria’s eyes slipped closed.

When she came to, she felt very cold. She shivered and opened her eyes to the glimmering emerald light of the Breach. She was in Haven… was… it all a dream?

“Are you sleeping outside again? Lord, girl.” Minerva raised an arched brow. 

“Minerva? What…” She sat up, rubbing her eyes, “What happened?”

“Hell if I know. I found you in a snowpile taking a nap.” Minerva shrugged. “What do you think happened?”

That didn’t sound right… “I wasn’t at the cabin? Where’s Hector?” She was sure she’d been with him recently….

“Why should I know? He’s probably off helping someone… or maybe flirting with Flissa. I’m not the kid’s mother.” 

She felt uneasy about that answer. “Flissa doesn’t flirt back anymore… I thought he stopped doing that.” Why couldn’t she focus?

“Aria! There you are, Hector’s been worried about you!” Veronica jogged up, rolling her eyes, “please go home so he can calm down. I was having a good day drinking. Why’d you disappear on him last night?”

I disappeared on him?

Aria shook her head, feeling uneasy. She had to get back home… she felt tired and disoriented. “I… I don’t know. I’ll go talk to him.”

Veronica snorted. “Good. Up for a pint, Min?”

“Always, my friend.” Minerva winked, heading off in the direction of the tavern. 

Aria frowned. This was all strange… they didn’t seem worried though, so everything was probably fine. She needed to talk to her friend though, he might know what’s going on here. She made her way to the cabin, noting the smoke rising from the chimney. Good, he was home. She hurried inside, eager to warm up by the fire. The smell of Hector’s cooking wafted to her and made her mouth water. She found him inside, pacing. “Hey,” she said weakly.

“What happened? I was worried sick you’d gotten hurt, darlin’.” Hector looked to her, his eyes filled with concern. 

She shook her head and crossed the room to sit on her cot, fiddling with her sleeve. “I don’t remember… what happened. Where was I before last night? I… I had a weird dream that we were on the road but that’s all I remember.”

Hector frowned, “You’ve been here, in Haven. With the exception of you trying to run off on me, you've never tried to leave.” 

She frowned. Did he have to say it like that? “Are you sure?”

“Of course I’m sure.” Hector said, his voice hard. 

She looked up at him, arching a brow. “What was going on last you saw me, then? Were we fighting?” He didn’t normally have such an edge to his tone. Did he?

“You tell me. I never know what’s going on in that head of yours. What are we fighting about this time, Aria? Did I do something that offended you so terribly?” He sighed in frustration. 

“Nothing!” She said quickly. She didn’t think so, anyway. “You never offend me, Hector!” 

“Hardly, if I never bothered you, I’m sure I wouldn’t have seen that stupid, fake as hell smile so much.” 

She stood up, desperation in her voice, “I’m sorry, you know I don’t mean it! I haven’t used her smile on you in a while, I’m trying Hector!” She had been waiting for this for a while, him finally being fed up with her theatrics and defensive tactics she couldn’t get rid of over night. He’d assured her multiple times that, as long as she tried to be better, that wouldn’t happen. But it was looking as if she was becoming too much for him to handle. “I don’t want to lose you….”

“You never had me, honey.” Hector turned from her coldly. “I’m tired of you following me around like a lovesick fool and getting jealous and shitty any time I ever try to have any fun.” 

That hit her like a punch to the chest. She fell back to the cot and stared at him with an open jaw. “Hector…” What had she done ? Where had she gone so wrong that this sweet person was shutting her out this way?

“I could never love you. No one could. Not your parents, not all the friends you’ve pushed away, and especially not me. You’re hard enough to be around, let alone care about.” He spat. 

This was it… he had said it, what she had worried she’d hear from him since she told him how she felt. She dipped her head and closed her eyes, trying to frame her face with her long hair. “I know,” she whispered. “I’m sorry.” She could almost hear her heart breaking. She had done this… not even Hector could care about her, and he saw the good in everyone. “I’ll go.” She stood up slowly, her armor creaking as she did so. She made her way to the door, silently begging him not to say anything more. She couldn’t take any more.

“Good. It’s about time!” he hollered after her. 

She froze at the door, one palm pressed against the frame and the other holding the knob. That… wasn’t right . She peered at him over her shoulder through her hair, noting his scowl and the defensive stance he took. It was too familiar… too much like her father. This… this wasn’t him. She let go of the handle of the door and reached for the blade at her belt, suddenly furious. How dare that thing use Hector against her! She spun around and tossed the blade in the direction of this Hector image, and it lodged deep in his throat. His eyes suddenly bled red and it screamed in rage.

“No no no!” it was both Hector’s voice, and it wasn’t. “He doesn’t love you! They don’t care! Why go back?” It pulled the blade free and the hut disappeared around them, placing them in The Blaze . No one else was there, which wasn’t possible considering how popular it was, but it was her club all the same. The demon morphed into Solas again, then Hector, Veronica, then her father. “I will become you!”

She shook her head, focusing on that gratitude she felt. “I know he doesn’t… I know I’m more burden than I’m worth, and he’d probably be better off without me.” The truth of the words were sharp, and she was grateful that no one but the demon could hear her confession. “But I’m grateful to him all the same. I’m grateful to everyone I’ve met. I’m grateful to be here. You can’t win demon.”

It writhed in fury and fell back into a table, splintering it in half. “No!”

A warmth at her neck brought Aria’s attention to the charm around her neck, and the chain that held it there. She had allies. She had friends. They may be fed up with her most of the time, but they cared. She knew this. “This isn’t you! Show me who you are!”

A gurgle was all the response she’d gotten when The Blaze vanished and Envy burst in an explosion that knocked Aria back. She covered her face to protect it from flying debris, but none fell. She looked up and found herself to be in a peaceful field where grass swayed gently in the wind. Heather, buttercups and dandelions dotted the green around her. She groaned. What horror could possibly take place here? A pealesc figure stepped closer to Aria, a feminine figure that was clothed in nothing,stepped towards her. There was nothing hostile about it. It reached down, offering to help Aria up. Hesitantly, she took its hand and was brought to her feet. Had she done it? Was this the Spirit Envy was supposed to be? 

“Who are you?” She asked cautiously.

The Spirit didn’t have much of a face, but it almost felt like it smiled. “I am love, and you must return. Your friends need you.”

 

Hector had watched the whole thing in horror, then relief when she realized that the demon wasn’t him, that he’d never had said anything like that to her. It wasn’t how he felt or what he believed. Sensing it was over, he eased off on the sleeping spell and tried to do the reverse, pulling her out of her sleep. 

It didn’t work. Hector felt the panic bubble up in him. Was she even breathing? He pulled her up and shook her. “Aria, honey. Wake up for me!” 

Nothing. No rise or fall of her chest, no movement, no indication of life. “Solas, we have a problem!” 

The elf turned, after casting a healing spell Grimm’s way, and looked over his shoulder. Hector was holding a very lifeless Aria in his arms, looking frantic. “What have you done?” He growled, dropping the protective ward and rushing in, pressing his hand to her forehead. Cold. He shot daggers at Hector, trying to pulse healing magic into her. “What did you do?” The magic seemed to be useless.

“I don’t know. I just did the sleeping spell as you said. I don’t know what I could have done….” He followed suit after seeing Solas dump healing into her and did the same. 

The elf’s cold hand circled his and he looked up at him with dark eyes. He shook his head. “Short of necromancy… there is nothing that can be done here.”

“Bullshit.” Hector pushed harder, dumping as much healing energy into her as he could muster. He couldn’t stand the thought of losing her. 

“You must save your mana, Hector! The Red Templars are gaining the upper hand! We must leave, now!” His voice was sharp and accusing, but there was a touch of grief as well.

Hector popped a cork off a bottle of lyrium, downing the awful blue liquid as he continued. “I’ll have enough.” 

Solas opened his mouth to argue, but something caught his eye and he frowned. “The charm on your neck…”

“What?” he looked down at his chest to see St. Jude radiating some sort of weird energy, the color something swirling and pearly, but also indescribable in a way he couldn’t wrap his mind around. The Santa Muerte that rested on Aria’s throat did the same. He reached down and placed a hand on hers. It was warm to the touch. At his touch, her chest shot up and a breath pulled in through her mouth. She rolled over, wracked with a coughing fit as both men were stunned with shock. As her breathing evened out, she looked up at Hector and attempted a smile with watering eyes. 

“Miss me?”

He let out somewhere between a laugh and a cry of relief. “You really know how to worry a man.” Hector pulled her into a quick hug, then helped her to her feet. “We need to get out of here, like now according to Solas.” Hector, while feeling in better spirits felt a bit faint, but did his damnedest not to show it. 

She shook her head, “Love said it gave me a one-time charge that’ll wipe out the Templars. Said it tethered to something of mine but didn’t say what!”

He pointed to the necklace around her neck. “That.” 

She noticed his and frowned. “Well, guess I should have noticed that. Where are the Chargers?”

“This way,” Solas led them around the corner where the Chargers were taking a beating. Bull was taking down two of the bigger templars with relative ease, but he was clearly tiring down. Dalie shot “arrow” after “arrow” at the assailants, but she sported a deep gash in her arm. Grim and Skinner worked side-by-side, both looking run down. Krem… where was Krem?

“Where…” Aria spotted him, flat on his back, the foot of a templar on his chest. She cried out in rage and panic and bolted after him, then halted immediately. No. She needs Hector! She turned  and returned to her friend, “You trust me?”

“Yes.” Hector looked to her with confusion. 

She wrapped her hand around his neck and pulled him down. She saw a flash of panic in his eyes before she turned her face so that his chin landed on her shoulder. With her other hand, she returned the two charms together. Once connected, they released a pulse of energy that reverberated through her chest. The Red Templars burst into a pile of parts before her eyes when she pulled back from Hector. Both necklaces looking like their normal selves. Krem was laying in a pile of filth, but alive and mostly unharmed. Aria released a breath and slumped back against Hector, who stumbled from the weight. She righted herself and turned around, noting how beyond exhausted he looked. “What happened to you?”

“I… might have overtaxed myself.” Hector offered her a weak smile, stumbling then taking a shaky seat on the ground. “And lyrium is jittery.” 

She dropped down beside him, frowning, “The sleeping spell took that much out of you?” She placed a hand on his without thinking, looking over the lines of his face. How long was she in there?

“You weren’t coming out of it. Solas thought you were done for.” He held her hand with his clammy one. 

“Fucking demons! Let’s get out of here, I need a drink!” Bull called out, walking in the direction of the horses. Krem made his way to them. There was a dent in his breast plate, but he wasn’t injured, far as Aria could tell. 

He knelt down and lightly punched Hector in the arm. “You did good. Earned a drink and a long rest.” He draped Hector’s arm over his shoulder, “up you go.” He stood up, pulling Hector with him. Aria shot up to help him, placing her hands on Hector’s waist for extra support while the two made their way to the last place they camped. The tents weren’t pitched, so there was little to do but deposit Hector on the ground while Aria scrambled to get his bed roll at least. Krem chuckled and brought him some water. “Girl would kill a man for you, I swear.”

“Don’t know what I did to deserve it.” Hector mumbled doing his damnedest to keep upright.  

“Bullshit man, and you know it.” Krem shook his head and walked off to find drinks with the rest of his Charge. 

Aria was unrolling Hector’s bedding as quickly as she could and laid a hand on his chest, “Can you get up one more time? It’s not far.”

He nodded, pulling himself up on shaky legs. “Aren’t you the one that just took down an Envy demon? I should be the one worryin’ about you….” 

She helped him down onto his bed roll and sat beside him, “I’m not possessed if that’s what you’re saying.” She reached behind her neck, trying to find the latch to the chain, “Sorry I scared you, and apparently depleted your mana. I owe you one.”

“You don’t owe me nothing. We’re in this together.” he said, getting comfortable, then added, “And you’d better not be taking that necklace off to give back to me.”

She stopped, arching a brow. “That was the deal, wasn’t it?”

He shook his head. “This isn’t the last time things are going to get dangerous. I mean, Corypheus is coming soon… and all… Keep it.” 

“Hector…” She dropped her hands, unsure of what to say. Her heart was still torn hearing him say what he did in the Fade. It wasn’t really Hector, but Envy had been spot-on about her fears. The gesture was huge, and he was acting so casual about it.

“I... I saw what was going on with Envy, in your head. What he said as me… wasn’t me. I hated having to watch that…. And I get if you’re a little hesitant about me. I’m sorry the not me said that stuff.” His expression was unsure and a bit worried. 

Aria couldn’t look at him, shame coloring her face. He saw that? He knew about her insecurities… her family. He saw her believe those words, even if for a moment. “I’m sorry,” she whispered.

“It’s what you’ve been waiting for me to say every time you pushed me away, isn’t it?” he asked softly. 

She could only nod, feeling like she’d betrayed him somehow. He was never supposed to know how deep her fears were.

“I’m never going to say those things, know that.” he said, feeling very tired. “We... should probably talk about this, after we rest and recoup.” 

She adjusted herself to get comfortable and softly ran her fingers through his hair. “Sleep. We can talk later. Better not get revenge on me when you wake up, though,” her tone didn’t match her playful words. She sounded anxious and miserable, but she wasn’t about to leave him like this. Not when he’d run himself into the ground because of her.

“Okay. I’ll try not to die in my sleep,” he joked then closed his eyes, sleep hitting him near instantly. 

She continued to comb through his hair, for lack of anything else to do. She was entirely too anxious to sleep, and had just had enough of the Fade to last her a while, anyway. She looked over at the rest of the party, all celebrating and drinking. Bull raised a toast in her direction, a gleam in his eye that she had a sneaking suspicion had to do with their “talk” a couple days before. Solas stood on the sidelines to observe, but he seemed content. She finally let the pride of what she’d accomplished settle on her and smiled. They did it. She did it. Envy was gone… Love was in its place. She knew they were going to ask her about that aspect, how that had somehow been the strongest emotion on her part, but that was a conversation for another day. 

 

Hector woke to the bright sunlight of morning and climbed out of his blankets and roll into the fresh, cool morning. He felt a bit hungover, achy, but much better than the night before. It wasn’t a far reach to suspect that the Chargers would be feeling the same judging by the sheer smell of alcohol on the breeze alone. He’d missed quite the party. 

“Oh, you’re awake,” Aria said, emerging from the thicker part of the woods. Her hair was wet and hung loose at her back, and there were droplets on her cheeks. She looked awkward standing next to him, looking away purposefully. “They got a little rowdy. It’ll be a while before they join the living. Even Solas, if you’ll believe that.”

“I’d have paid to see Solas let his hair down.” Hector laughed, taking a seat by the long gone out fire and sniffing an abandoned flask. 

Aria couldn’t fight back a laugh. “That’s an image.” She sat beside him and poked the ash of the fire for something to do, nerves bubbling in her stomach.

“You alright?” he asked, looking to her. “You had quite the day yesterday.” 

“So did you, as I recall.” She sideglanced him, “Suppose we’re talking about it now, huh?”

Hector gave a shrug. “Better than stewing on it.” 

“I suppose. What do you have to say about it? The Demon kinda outed what’s been in my mind.” She said.

“Just that I hope I haven’t given you any extra ammo to think that way about me.” Hector said, taking a sip of whatever liquid the flask contained. Moonshine? 

“I wouldn’t drink that… something Bull cooked up himself and he was not okay after a couple drinks. But no, you’ve given me no reason to think you’d say any of that to me, Hector. That’s just old wounds trying to reappear. I assume you saw before other you showed up. Can’t be hard to put two and two together.”

He placed the drink down, choking back a cough from the burn with a shake of his head. “No, it’s not. I understand shitty parents, but at a certain point… you have to choose to let yourself find acceptance… or love… or friendship, for you. People always get shitty about those Disney princesses like Cinderella, you know the ones that’s happy ending is being tired to a man, but what I think most folks with normal lives don’t realize that it is so hard to let yourself be loved after the abuse and the hurt. Being open, trusting people, those things are incredibly hard, but wholly admirable. Doesn’t mean we don’t have our issues or slip up, but it’s a great goal.” 

“Speaking from experience, are we?” She nudged him gently, feeling a little lighter than she had all night.

He shrugged and nodded. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I too am a mess.” 

She feigned shock, her hand flying to her mouth and widening her eyes, “but you took my affection so well!”

He rolled his eyes at her reaction. “I know… it’s a problem. I’m working on it slowly but surely. If you saw the walking disaster I was in med school, you’d probably not even recognize me. I spent my entire life walking on eggshells, trying to please the family that only saw me as a less than perfect extension of themselves, their wants and desires. So yeh, I get feeling like everyone is against you, outright or behind your back.” 

She nodded, “I’m that mess now. Unfortunately for you, as you have to deal with it,” She smiled playfully, but her face became serious again. “I know you’ve been doing that with me, the eggshells, trying to please. Let’s just agree to work on our shit. Envy showed me how ridiculous my fears are. I’m sorry you had to see them, though. I never wanted you to know.”

“I’m sorry for the invasion of your privacy.” Hector said with a sigh. “I would have loved for Solas not to have sprung that one on me. Anway, yeh. Let’s work on our problems and hopefully do better some day.” 

“Yeah Solas is an ass. Should have at least warned me. Though I can understand how that could have been dangerous… a distraction.” She touched the charm on her neck and arched a brow at Hector, “Now that you’re in your right mind and not about to pass out, do you want this back?”

“Nah, meant what I said. Hang onto it.” he nudged her. 

“Hector, this thing means everything to you.” She held the confusion that she’d originally felt when he first loaned it to her.

“You mean as much to me as it does,” he said simply. 

She blinked owlishly at him and looked at the dead fire. “I see.” She didn’t know what to say to that, so she didn’t. She simply traced the lines of the Santa Muerte while ignoring the flutters in her stomach.

“You’re my only friend, you know?” he asked softly. 

She smiled at him and touched his hand, softly, “When we get back, I’m dragging you out to interact with other people. Solas is already impressed with you, and he hates everyone not ancient elvhen. Just show them that charm you swooned me with and you’ll have more friends than you can handle,” she winked at him for emphasis, giving his hand a squeeze.

He smiled at her. “Ok.” 

Chapter Text

    Minerva peeled into Haven and went to Leliana immediately, explaining what had happened in hushed whispers along with making plans for the mages. From there she’d gone immediately to her cabin, chucking out her old traveling clothes out the door before slamming it. 

Minerva was in a bad way. She’d yet to shake the sights of the future. Even Veronica had blamed her in the moment, everyone else too, really. As they should. And Corypheus was just right around the corner. They close the Breach and she’d be facing down the barrel of that gun. For once since this whole stupid plan had been put into motion, she wasn’t sure if she could do it. She knew she’d try, but a lot was riding on her ability to survive it. 

She was pulled out of her musings at the sound of a knock on the door that made her jump. She cautiously approached it and cracked it open, peeking out to see the ever serious face of Fenris looking at her expectantly. Nope. Couldn’t do it. She shut the door as quickly as she’d opened it, wandering back to the side of the building with her bed. 

The door opened again, but Fenris’s light steps were silent and Minerva didn’t feel his presence until he was sitting on the bed beside her. “If you think you can shut yourself in so easily, you are mistaken.”

She pulled on the hem of her long blouse, realizing she definitely wasn’t wearing pants yet as the cold air he’d let in sent her shivering. She looked away with a sniffle. “Really? Think I’m pretty good at it.” 

He looked away for her privacy, “As am I. And yet, here we are.”

She slid to a lying position half off the bed and pulled out a bottle of hardly drank wine, putting it in his hand, then dug for another bottle lost amongst the old boots and spare bedding, sitting up once it was retrieved. “There. Better.” She looked at the polite averted gaze and laughed a little too loudly. “Half the Inquisition’s already seen my tits. I don’t think a little leg is going to kill you.” 

He shrugged a shoulder and took a long drink from the offered wine, “It is a shame then, that I have yet to become a part of the Inquisition.”

“Right? Our parties are the fucking bees knees. People getting sent forward in time, darkspawn invading, who wouldn’t want to join in on the fun!” She took a swig of her drink. “I don’t even know if I still have dead people in my hair! Fun!” 

He set his drink down and looked at her seriously. “I have not been told the details of what transpired at Redcliffe. I would only ask if you wish to tell me. But I will listen.”

She held up a finger to wait as she took another swig. “Let’s see… since I spooked Alexius, idiot fucking Magistar, he sent us forward a year in time. You had that red lyrium shit, like from Kirkwall, all over you. So did Varric… who was, like, almost dead. He hadn’t given up hope when I was the reason it even fucking happened… and then Anders… who was nearly dead from all the torture they put him through. Veronica still blames me for that sight she never should have seen, I’m sure. Then we ran into some Inquisition agents that had been hanging on by a thread… then you all died! Fucking right in front of me...us. Died. I could have stopped it if I’d just been fucking smarter.. Or better at planning… or scouting. I fucked up and I don’t know if I am going to fuck up again, ok?” She was breathing hard by the time she’d finished the dread of it all near choking her. 

Fenris pressed his hand firmly against her back and rubbed soothing circles, resting his forehead against her temple, “You righted those wrongs. Learned from them. You won’t fight alone this time. Minerva, look at me.” The last few words were spoken softly, almost desperately.

She turned her head, moving it enough to look at him. He held his arm out, his lyrium lines glowing faintly in the dim lighting of the cabin, “See the markings. Blue, not red. I am very much alive. You went through an ordeal, and I cannot imagine what horrible things I might have said to you, but I am here now. You haven’t lost me, nor Varric. In fact, he’ll love to hear this story so that he can twist himself into being the hero.”

She smiled weakly at the thought, her eyes glassy as she tried to blink away tears. “He would do that shit, wouldn’t he?” She ran her fingers over his arm, feeling the contact of skin on skin, him being there with her. He wasn’t gone, at least there was that. “I’m so afraid to fail.” 

“Good. Then you haven’t given up. Allow us to help you, and I assure you that you won’t.” He pressed his lips softly to her cheek, “You should rest. I’d gladly clean your hair if you’re still worried.”

“I... can do it.” she mumbled. “I already jumped in a lake… ‘s probably fine.” She laid down, not like her usually rowdy, stubborn self. 

He smiled with affection, “Very well. Would you like company or privacy tonight?”

“Don’t know if you’ll want to when you hear… we recruited the mages from Redcliffe… as allies.” She said tiredly. 

“As was your plan.” He said plainly, “I stand by your judgement Minerva. But I will be on guard, as you should expect.”

Of course he’d be on guard. The fact he was still there, with her, however… she didn’t know what to think. “You can stay, if you want.” 

He curled against her and held her close to his chest, breathing deeply so she could feel and hear how alive he was, hoping it would help comfort her and lull her to sleep.

“Have I told you how utterly too good you are for the likes of me today?” she asked softly, cheek pressed against his chest. “Don’t argue. It’s true…” 

A soft laugh rumbled through his chest and he held her more tightly, “You’re better than you give yourself credit for. Sleep now, you can argue with me in the morning.”

She nodded and drifted off. 

 

She shouldn’t be doing this. If she was smart, she’d put down her quill, stand up, and walkout to the tavern for a strong drink. Veronica had come to realize long ago, however, that she wasn’t a very smart woman. How could she be, having gotten involved with a man she knew would become a monster. Her grip on the quill was so tight her fingers were becoming numb. She stared down at the blank paper with a scowl. She should leave… this isn’t safe. Not for her, nor him.

Her hand moved as if on its own.

He Who Seeks to Bring Justice,

I write to you now, because I must. I know the dangers, the risk to your life, should this letter end up in the wrong hands, but I couldn’t wait another moment. Are you alive? Are you well? I don’t know. I cannot know, because-

She crumpled up the paper and chucked it into the fire in a fit of pain. Tears had dripped onto the words and smeared the ink. This was insane! She didn’t even know what she wanted to write! She was angry, sad, desperate, probably suffering major PTSD after that little trip into the future. She needed something, anything that was hers. A comfort. She needed someone who wasn’t involved in all the shit that is Dragon Age: Inquisition. She rubbed her temples and swallowed the huge lump in her throat. She located another piece of parchment and set the ink to paper again.

Lake Calenhad, next full moon. Wear the cloak I gave you, so that I may spot you from a distance. 

She slammed the quill down, staring at her vague note that barely passed for even that. She should burn this one too. She watched the ink dry as she slowly rolled it up. She couldn’t live another second not knowing. Not after what she went through. She tucked the note into her glove to pass off to the first traveling merchant she could find and stepped out of her guest room. She knew the Chargers, Hector, Solas, and Aria would be arriving soon and wanted to speak to their resident roofie slipper about seeing Minerva. She needed to apologize to Min herself, but it was all so fresh… she couldn’t yet. She closed the door behind her and tried her best to paste a smile onto her face. Damn it, Aria could fake this shit so easily! She clenched her fist around the note and made her way to the tavern, where she spotted Sera already starting breakfast: a nice healthy helping of shitty Fereldan beer. She sat across from the blonde elf and flagged Flissa down for one of her own. Sera smiled like she’d done something horrible, which she probably had and it probably had to do with ruining someone’s day for the mirth of the “little people”.

“Don’t tell me, because if you do, I’m involved and I don’t need that now,” she smiled and tossed a few coins to Flissa who arrived with her usual. Damn, she really needed to quit drinking if she already had a “usual”.

“But it’s a good one!” Sera ducked her head, her grin broadening, “Lady Vivie and her pretty clothes are gonna be super close.” She snickered and downed her drink. “Found a stash of honey hidden in a crate somewhere.”

Veronica tried her best to hold a stern face, but lord, if anyone deserved some sticky clothes to knock them down a peg it was Vivienne. “That’s worse than when you stuffed Blackwall’s pillowcase with snow. She’s gonna know it was you.”

Sera beamed with pride at her handiwork, “You think so?”

Veronica rolled her eyes and brought her drink to her lips, “Your pyre.”

Three… two… one…

The door burst open and a very very pissed Vivienne stormed in with some kind of expensive looking robe that was definitely sticking to her skin more than it should…. Her eyes blazed and scanned the room for Sera, who’s ass could be seen from the window she was darting out of. Madam De Fer twirled back outside with some odd mixture of rage and grace. Veronica settled into her seat and continued sipping her drink, shaking her head when she heard Sera’s laugh trill through the window and what sounded suspiciously like ice magic.

 

When the group arrived back at Haven, Hector had fully intended on crawling into bed and sleeping until Corypheus showed up. Aria, however, had other plans.

A sudden dip in his cot alerted Hector that he wasn’t alone in his bed any more, followed by a not-so-gentle nudge. “Get up.”

“Why?” He asked, sitting up and looking at her with a tired weariness. Hopefully whatever she wanted wasn’t too involved, but he had his doubts. 

“This is the busiest time for the tavern. Perfect time to shove you out of your comfort zone. No more moping! I’m alive, you’re alive, let’s go celebrate those facts!” She was wearing some sort off Dalish-made casual wear. It exposed her abdomen and hugged her body in browns and greens. The legs wrapped around the arches of her feet in a very elvhen manner, and the sleeves hooked onto her middle finger. She was sitting cross legged and nudged him again with her foot, “So get up!”

He sighed and pulled himself out of bed with over exaggerated effort. “Hold your horses. I gotta get some clothes on and whatever.” 

She smirked and threw him a wink, “Says who?” She laughed at herself and stood from his cot. She was adapting to her elvhen body, and the grace of her movements was beginning to match that of the elves in Thedas. 

“Me. I’m plenty fine with nudity, but it and snow do not mix.” He dug through the limited amount of clothing he had and pulled out a gray linen shirt and a corduroy jacket. “We can’t all walk around barefoot in the snow, you know?” 

“That’s cause you never tried it,” She said as she tried to wrestle with her hair. She sighed and dropped her hands, her long locks draping over her shoulders. “Maybe I should cut it all off. What do you think? Could I pull off Solas’s look?”

“I don’t think Solas pulls off the Solas look, personally.” he shrugged, slipping on his old boots. “You do as you want though. It’s not my place to say.”

She rolled her eyes and picked up the nearest article of clothing to her and balled it up, throwing it at his head. “Stop it. You can have an opinion, sir.”

“I can.” he said, holding up the underwear she threw at him, unamused. He folded them and set them on a stool then stepped out into the cool evening air, holding the door open for her. “But, I firmly think people should dress or style themselves however they want to make themselves happy, rather than being swayed by other’s opinions.” 

She rolled her eyes, “so serious all the time,” and stepped out after him, “Maybe Cassandra will be friends with you. You can both sit and talk about how immature the rest of us are on your adulty chairs.”

“Seriousness and maturity are not mutually exclusive.” he shrugged, shoving his hands in his pockets to keep them warm. “I can act as silly as the next, but I generally need to be in the mood for it. Freezing my ass off doesn’t really put me in the mood for it.” 

Aria held her arms out with an arched brow, “You’re more covered than me, and I’m fine.”

“You’re most recently from New York. I thought Memphis was cold.” he shook his head. “It’s an acquired skill, dealing with the cold, I hear.” 

They entered the gates of Haven and were nearing the tavern. It was already crowding as the sun set, “Or you’re a big baby.” She shot him a playful look, opening the tavern door for him, “don’t worry, it’s plenty warm in here.”

He stepped in and looked around for any empty or near empty tables, but instead saw one very handsome northerner that stopped him in his tracks. “Oh, damn.” Dorian had arrived in all his fabulous, mustache twirling glory. 

Aria spotted the Tevinter mage, who was looking just as much at Hector as her friend was gawking at him. Jealousy rolled in her gut immediately. That was fast . She crossed her arms, standing somewhat behind Hector so he wouldn’t see and bumped him with her shoulder, “you’re not getting anywhere staring at him. Go say hi.”

“I’m good.” Hector ducked his head and slid into an unoccupied seat, the hint of a blush creeping up on his cheeks at being caught by both Aria and the man he’d found himself staring at a little too intently. The table was a safer thing to stare at. Yep. 

Aria frowned. She wanted to pull his attention back to her and try to continue her futile attempt at cheering him up after their oh-so fun adventure. He had nearly lost someone he’d proven to be important to him, and wasn’t taking it too well. Though his confidence in his magical abilities seemed to have grown, his self confidence needed a boost. She sighed and counted to ten slowly, hating everything about what she was going to do. She made her way around the table slowly, knowing Hector wouldn’t notice with his eyes counting the grains in the table, and slid into the seat opposite the fabulous mage. She pulled her smile full force as he looked at her quizzically. “Dorian, I presume?”

His smile was charming, something that would melt the hearts of men and women alike. In the game, Aria flirted with him plenty, even as a woman. “The very same. And I believe your name is Aria? It is nice to meet you without the look of despair in your eyes or splattered all over the ground.”

Aria’s Scarlet smile fell into confusion. “I’m sorry?”

He shuddered, “It’s a long story, best get into that with the Herald, as you two seem to know each other.” His gaze traveled back to Hector with an open leer. He was undressing her friend with his eyes and she wanted to gag. She’d definitely ask Minerva what he meant later. But now….

“You should talk to him. He’s a newly discovered mage who needs a… capable… teacher,” She threw the smile back up, curling her fingers in until her nails bit into her palm. Dorian’s eyes lit up at the idea and he straightened his hair out.

“Don’t mind if I do,” he threw her a wink and sauntered over. Aria sighed at the table she was looking at and stood up. She couldn’t watch this, even if she organized it. She might as well speak with Minerva about Dorian’s cryptic comment. She avoided looking at her friend as she slipped as quietly out of the tavern as possible.

    “Dorian Pavus, charmed, I’m sure.” Dorian smiled more splendidly than should have even been possible as he slid into the seat across from Hector with flourish. 

    Hector looked up, his face not hiding the confusion of where Aria had gotten to, along with the sudden arrival of the mage before him. He quickly masked the look with an easy smile that didn’t quite meet his eyes. “Hey, there, handsome. Hector Muñoz, at your service.” The words sounded smooth and not entirely like himself, though more close to when he’d spoken with Flissa. 

    Dorian  leaned on an elbow that he’d rested on the table, his bicep suspiciously flexed and looked Hector up and down, “A pretty little bird told me you’re in need of a destruction magic… master,” the last word was said with more silk than necessary as he met Hector’s eyes and his smile became more predatory, “I believe I could teach you a thing or two.”

    “Did she now?” Hector tilted his head leaning in. “Interesting. Well, far be it from me to look a gift horse in the mouth. I’d love to pick your brain on such matters.” 

    Dorian leaned back and played with a lock of his hair, “How much experience do you have with that staff so far?”

    “Less practice than I’d care to admit, recently.” he smiled, in no way avoiding the double entendre. “But I am always eager to get in a little more time with it.” 

    Dorian stood quickly and offered a rather dramatic bow, “Allow me to offer my services then. I must say though,” he walked until he was standing beside Hector’s seat and leaned in until his lips were barely brushing the shell of his ear, “I do hope you are on top of your learning experiences.”

“I think you’ll find yourself most satisfied with how quick a’ student I am.” Hector grinned, standing up. He offered the man an arm. It might not have been the best decision, but it had been months and maybe a little no strings attached fun would get him feeling more normal than he had since he arrived. It couldn’t hurt. 

 

Minerva ended up being a no-go. Aria knocked on the door and came face-to-face with a very familiar elf, instead. She tensed and held a polite smile as best she could, holding her breath in case it was her last. He didn’t appear hostile, only drained. He was carrying some weight on his shoulders that was visible. “If you are here to speak with Minerva, she is resting. I suggest returning in the morning.”

Aria nodded, itching to get away, “Sure, I hope she rests well. Goodnight.” 

Before he could say anything, or kill her, Aria hurried off in the direction of the gate. Her sensitive, elvhen ears picked up the raucous behavior from within the tavern as well as the bustle of Haven life as it wound down. She felt hollow… numb. She knew it was a horrible, insensitive idea, but she found herself making her way to Krem’s tent. He was sitting in front of it, wearing only a loose shirt and trousers, polishing the breastplate of his armor. He looked incredibly handsome where he sat. His hair wasn’t kept nicely like it usually was, and fell into his concentrating face. As she approached, he looked up and offered a surprised, yet polite greeting. “Aria.”

“Krem.” She sat beside him and folded her hands in her lap. She should have felt nervous about what she was going to say, but desperate was more accurate. She looked into the distance, watching the light of the Breach play on the snow. “You wanted me to be straight with you, so I will be.”

He set down his project and looked at her with vague interest, “That so? I’m listening.”

She nodded, looking at the way the light played on his face, “I’m a mess. I’m desperate to feel something, anything, and I…” she looked away from him, “I need a distraction.”

“And you’re asking me to be this… distraction?” There was no judgement in his voice, only a question. 

She nodded.

“Well,” he stood up, dusting the snow off his trousers and crouched down to return to her eye level. There was a level of mischief in his eyes that was encouraging to what she was asking, “In that case,” he scooped her up in his arms and straightened out. She cried out with surprise as she was nestled into his arms with ease. She could feel the muscles of his arms around her shoulder and under her legs, as well as the binding under his shirt. 

Finally feeling that nervousness she was thinking she should have, she cleared her throat to speak, “Sweeping a girl off her feet huh? Classy.”

He shrugged somehow with her arms around his neck, “It’s a gift, I suppose.” Aria looked away from his face and frowned. They were definitely going away from his tent. There wasn’t anything in that direction except Harrit’s blacksmith and Dennet’s horses….

“Where are we going to do this?” She asked with a soft chuckle that was 100% nerves. She wasn’t adventurous enough to do this in a horse stall.

He didn’t answer at first, but he stopped in front of the horse stalls when he did. “Right here, love,” he smiled at her one more time before his arms gave way and she was plummeted into the nearest horse trough.

She stood up immediately and leaped over the side of the trough to escape the freezing water, unable to catch her breath. She landed in a bank of snow, suddenly feeling very bad for giving Hector grief about the weather as her wet skin met the ice. She could hear Krem’s laughter, but it was muffled behind her anger. What the hell was that? She picked herself up and looked straight at the man who was near doubled over with mirth. Her hands balled into fists at her sides as the feelings she’d been avoiding bubbled to the surface in the form of rage. She cried out and sprinted headlong in Krem’s direction, taking hold of his shoulders and pulling herself up until her legs wrapped around his head. She leaned back, pulling him down with her, and rolling away. He recovered quickly and pulled himself into a crouch, smiling at her like a lion might its prey. 

He held his hands out and motioned for her to attack again, “You wanted to feel something, so feel it!” There was some kind of challenge in his tone that pissed Aria off.

“I’ll make you feel something,” she growled, lunging at him again. This time she gripped his arm and pulled it behind him, planting her foot in between his shoulders to render him immobile. It didn’t work. She had flexibility and balance like no one’s business, but strength, she did not possess. He recovered faster than she could register what was happening and spun around to grip her by the waist, picking her up more easily than she thought possible, and sending her into another snow bank. 

She sat up and spit out slush as the snow melted in her mouth, glaring at Bull’s Lieutenant. 

He crossed his arms with a disapproving glare. “I’ll make myself clear this time. I’m no ones second choice. You want to find some half-assed excuse for a lay, look elsewhere.” He walked up to her and offered a hand. She tried to hold her anger, but she just felt drained and guilty. She took the offered hand as he pulled her up like she weighed nothing. “But if you want a friend and a strong drink,” he started to make his way back to his tent, “I’m good for that any time.”

She swallowed and watched him walk. He stopped and turned to see if she was following him, then motioned for her to do so before resuming. She cursed herself as she obliged, both wishing she’d worn something that covered her whole body, and that she wasn’t such a terrible person. Krem deserved better than that. She vowed not to use him like that again as they settled in front of his tent and he started a fire. He leaned back and offered her a water skin. She opened it and took a swig, expecting water.

Oh why did she ever think that?

The homemade brew nearly came out her nose from her surprise. She shoved the skin into Krem’s chest and leaned over to cough. “Warn a girl next time!”

“I did. Promised strong drinks, didn’t I? So,” he took a long drink without even making a face and passed the skin back, “I assume it’s Hector we’re upset about, as usual. What has you so infatuated with him?”

She took a hesitant sip of the alcohol and shrugged. “Hell if I know. He’s sweet, he saved my life more than once, and listens without prying too hard. What’s there not to like?”

Krem thought a moment as she handed him the skin, “Saved your life huh?” He took another long drink and looked into the fire, “So do you love him, or do you feel you owe him?” He looked back at Aria with an unreadable expression. Aria frowned and rubbed at her arms. Between the fire and the drink, she was beginning to warm up a little, but there were the remnants of a shiver.

“I don’t understand…”

He shrugged, “Think about it. Maybe it’s not real love you’re chasing after. Maybe you want to pay him back and don’t know how else to but give your heart away.” He nudged her in the arm and stood up, “Mandatory sparring with the Chief. Think on what I said. Might surprise yourself.” He winked at her and meandered in the direction of the rest of the Charge, leaving Aria in a state of confusion she hadn’t felt since she arrived, and a headache that had nothing to do with the drink.

 

“Friends,” Minerva gave a poised smile, looking to the advisors that she had come to depend on. Her determination had been wavered and she wanted to do nothing but crawl back into bed where she felt safe and not alone, but she had no time to not address the inevitable. Regardless of if she felt like there was no way she could survive the attack, Corypheus was coming, sooner than she’d have liked. They had to prepare or else they’d face many more casualties in the days to come. 

She began to pace, hand behind her back to keep them from acting on their own nervous accord. “My dealings with the mages led to a jaunt into the future as Leliana made clear to you, I’m sure.” She turned and gestured to the Spymaster who gave a sharp nod before continuing her pacing. “But there’s more news I bring you, something dire, I am afraid to admit.” Her smile faltered at the worried look of Josephine as she clutched the writing board she usually handled so deftly with concern marring her pretty face. Cullen too, looked concerned with a furrowed brow and palm on the pommel of his sword. These poor people were about to have their world turned upside down when they’d thought the light was at the end of the tunnel. Even knowing, the fact of the matter burned her heart. 

“We’ve found information that an Elder One, a darkspawn, is planning an attack on Haven. In the future, the attack came soon after I was lost to the time spell. Weeks at most. As it stands, my belief is that once we close the Breach, this Elder One, by the name of Corypheus, will attack in retaliation. Haven will likely fall in spite of our best efforts. He may not have all the mages and the templars, but he has still gathered a mighty force by way of the defected templars and the Teviner supremacy cult he leads. We must plan a course of action, soon. Now.” Minerva looked amongst the faces, expecting disbelief. 

“If what you say is true,” Cassandra began with measured words. “We have no place to go and little time to prepare. Our defences are not ready for an army. We cannot evacuate a city one one woman’s word alone. Where would we go? We don’t even know when to expect the attack.”

“I have already changed some of the mason’s plans to reinforce the Chantry as our last line of defence for when we need to evacuate. Having the trebuchets functional and calibrated, aiming at the mountains so that we could potentially hold off forces with strategically placed avalanches would be an excellent next step.” Leliana said, looking to Cullen. 

“I can begin preparations at once.” Cullen nodded, already writing down on a parchment plans he was sure to give his people. 

“As for where we go, I think you will find Chancellor Rodrick has knowledge of a summer path the few survivors in the future used to make their escape. If we work on making the exit safer and figure out how to evacuate ahead of time, I think it could be a fast process.” Minerva said, knowing Rodrick was not going to be her biggest fan yet and could likely cause panic if he knew the full truth of the situation. “Someone might want to ask him about it covertly. We cannot allow Haven to fall into chaos that would ensue if word got out.”

“I can invite the Chancellor to tea.” Josephine smiled sweetly, a plan forming in her calculating eyes. “It is so cold here now. It’d be lovely to discuss what goes on in Haven in warmer months. I will see it’s done and bring the information to all of you when I have it.” 

“Excellent. Thank you, Ambassador Josephine.” Minerva smiled, feeling a little more encouraged by the sheer competence of the people before her. It fell however, when she thought to the next part. “Once the invading forces are spotted by our scouts, we’ll need to put the evacuation plan into place. I will provide what distraction I can to give you all time.”

“No…” Cullen said, earning him a look of surprise from Minerva. “You are one person against an unknown enemy. I cannot, in good conscious, send you, the title of Herald of Andraste or not, out there to face this. We’ve seen what happened the last time you faced a foe one-on-one.” 

The cut of the remark made Minerva’s heart ache. Her failing was definitely on the forefront of her mind. What other choice did she have?

“I must agree with the Commander. Even after the Breach is closed, that mark you bear is our only certain hope.” Cassandra cut in with a sharp glance in Cullen’s direction, “You should at least bring a team with you, for protection.”

Josephine’s face soured, “And if she falls? The whole of Haven looks to her for hope, we cannot-”

“We cannot afford to falter,” Cassandra returned her attention to Minerva, her gaze softening. “You were exactly what we need, exactly when we needed it. I have no doubt in my mind that you will not fail.”

“I’ll… take a team then.” Minerva said softly, hesitance in her voice. She had to have faith in herself and in others if this was ever going to work. “Who would you all recommend for the biggest distraction?”

Leliana stood rigidly, as usual, all business in her tone. “I suggest Ceciele. Her fighting method is unusual and difficult to predict. Perhaps Fenris as well? Your… “friend” Aria has improved greatly as an assassin, but I do not believe her or Hector ready for such a battle.”

Cullen sputtered, “Who?”

Leliana arched a brow, but ignored him. “I would also suggest Veronica. Anyone else, is up to you, Herald.” She turned her steely gaze on Minerva, a touch of knowing in her eyes that looked like the reflection of water. 

“I can work with that.” Minerva put her hands to her hips and looked to her advisors. “I’ll give thought to if I should take anyone else. This information needs to be handled delicately so I can’t exactly run it past them. I know I don’t have to ask, but do keep a tight hold on our plan, alright? This meeting is adjourned.” 

Each advisor nodded with a different attitude. Cassandra was hesitant, but firm. Leliana’s secretive and knowing, Josephine’s afraid, but polite, and Cullen, he looked like he might be sick.

Chapter Text

    Theoretically, Minerva understood that the mark would be growing more unstable shortly and would cause her to get some trippy rift opening abilities. She just didn’t expect it to hurt so much in the meanwhile and the glowing was a growing problem as the mark’s powers expanded. It was kinda hard to leave her cabin when it was lighting up like a damn strobe light. It’d cause too much panic even if she could grin and bare through the fiery nerve pain burning up her arm. Without another option, she sat in a chair and stared at the thing, hoping to will it to quiet. 

    A knock at the door pulled her from her thoughts. “If you’re someone that knows you can come in, come in.” Minerva called, slumping down in her chair and pulling her knees to her chest. The door opened slowly and a graceful figure slipped through while shutting it silently behind her. Aria’s violet eyes took in the woman in the chair and her face was almost that of pity. Minerva felt her face pale and she looked at her wide eyed as if seeing a ghost. Aria here was alive, but she just saw her and felt her die. The elvhen woman crossed the room with silent, bare feet. She rubbed one of her elbows awkwardly, trying to force some kind of smile, but a more genuine one than Minerva had seen on her before.

    “I was advised by a rather… somber Tevinter mage that I should speak to you.” Aria’s hand abandoned her arm and reached to fiddle with the charm around her neck. “So what’s up?”

    Minerva swallowed hard and tightened her fist containing the painful, glowing mark, pressing it to her chest as if to hide it. That necklace. She’d seen it before, there. Not in this world. She’d had it when she’d died. “It’s… I… The future you… had that.” she gestured to the necklace with her other, shaky hand. 

    Aria arched a delicate, snowy brow and  held the charm out as much as the small chain allowed, “This? I just got it. A good luck charm from Hector. It’s like a friendship bracelet but… more weighty. Why would future me have it?” She shook her head and pulled the other available chair out from the table and sat in it, leaning forward and resting her elbows on her knees. “What happened?”

    “Everyone died. Fenris, Anders, Varric, Hector, you. In my attempt to avoid it, we ended up there anyway and it was more horrible than… anything. You died to save me and I don’t even think you truly believed that I was going to be able to pull it all off, not that I blame you. People… just get to sacrifice themselves for me because I’m the one shitty shot at this and it’s my own damn fault.” She grimaced in pain, looking up at the woman before her with a furrowed brow. 

    Aria watched the mark, the green glow playing an eerie light across her exotic face. She played with her hands while she pondered what to say. Her eyes met Minerva’s again. Her face was serious. “I’d like to believe I knew you would do it. Whatever happened, you fixed it Minerva. You did that. Don’t take that credit from yourself.”

    “I’m trying… it’s hard. I knew it would be, but I didn’t expect so many people I care about to get caught in the crossfire. It’s unacceptable. I can’t… I don’t know what I’m going to do when people die on my account. Even with the best made plans, there’s so much that could go wrong.” Minerva cast her eyes down to the mark and opened her palm, forcing her voice to go to a more confident one, “Don’t worry too much, I’ll pull it together.”

    Aria shrugged, “I’m willing to bet Fenris forgave you before it even happened, and Varric probably loves the story. Who else’s forgiveness do you need? Besides. If I can face a damned Envy demon and come out alive, you can do this. It’s simple math really.” Her face morphed into an almost evil grin, “Want anything to help you sleep?”

    “That’s not cute and you know it.” Minerva said dryly. “But yes, I know… I… or more we all are going to do the best we can and hopefully I’ll survive facing down Corypheus better than my last one-on-one as I have recently been so kindly reminded of.” 

Aria leaned back, watching the other woman with a contemplative expression. “Bring the best with you. When you face him. I’ve still gotta make up for dying all over you and I’ll be damned if I don’t leave a debt unpaid. Damn I’m wracking them up these days.”

“You don’t owe me anything. But… I will need you and likely Hector to help with the evacuation. Most everyone else other than the advisors won’t know what’s coming. It’ll need to happen fast and effectively.” 

Aria’s eyes lit up, “Actually, I was gonna ask. What are the chances Veronica knows how to make the bomb Anders made?”

“Hm.” Minerva hummed contemplatively. Would her friend have hung onto something like that or have the resources to find it? It felt a bit like picking a scab where Anders was concerned, but they did need all the advantages they could get. “Probably better than us getting dragon venom to make some actual gaatlok, I suspect. It’s worth asking her, in the very least. I can ask her… once my glowstick calms it’s tits.” 

Aria’s eyes landed on the mark. “Hurts that bad huh? Have you talked to Egg-Head?”

Minerva shook her head. “Not my idea of a good time. Mark of the Rift thing is in the process of being born, I suspect… so it’s acting up. It’ll ease eventually.” 

Understanding flashed in her eyes and she nodded. “I see. I overused that ability. Saved it for the big baddies of the game. Never imagined it would be painful to charge up, but it makes sense.” She chewed on her lip, “I’ll talk to Hector about evac plans. In the meantime, is there anything I can do?”

Minerva shrugged. “If you see Veronica, you could send her my way to save some time, but that’s all.” 

Aria nodded and stood up, “Gotta say, you’ve come a long way since I’ve met you. If anyone can do this, it’s you.” She shrugged awkwardly, looking away, “Just saying.”

“You want to know something? The longer I’m here… the less I feel like myself.” Probably not helpful, Minerva. She offered her a cheery smile, the same she always gave when trying to be diplomatic. “Though I appreciate the thought.” 

    “You and me both. But we’ll figure it out. I’ll see you on the other side,” she threw a wave as she headed out of the cabin.

 

    Hunting for Hector in the middle of his walk of shame was the opposite of fun, in Aria’s book, but it was necessary. Minerva was in pain, Corypheus was coming, and shit needed to get done. So she was going to be a big girl and get it done. She had been struggling with her feelings since her talk with Krem. Of course she owed Hector her life multiple times over… but that didn’t mean she loved him solely based on that… did it? She didn’t know anymore and wrestling with it all had given her a headache. She’d spent the night curled up in a booth in the tavern so she didn’t accidentally walk in on the boys doing Maker knows what… Creators knows what? She didn’t know. She knew she’d have to decide on one and start using it to fit in around here. 

    Aria found Hector behind the cabin, chopping wood for their fire. There was a glow of bliss about him Aria hadn’t seen before and a smile on his face that all spelled out a very loud “I got laid” sign. She rolled her eyes and crossed her arms, leaning against the outside wall of their little home. “Wouldn’t get too carried away. We’re blowing this house sky high before too long.”

    “I’m only getting enough for the week, unless we need some kindling for something else.” He gave her a grin. “Ya know, explosions or somethin’.” 

    She shrugged, her face carefully neutral. “I don’t know if we’ll need wood for that. Minerva’s gonna see if Veronica has a recipe for us, so we’ll see then.”

    Hector nodded, finishing up and stacking the wood he’d chopped. “So we’ve something of a plan going forward then?”

“Far as that goes. Minerva wants us in charge of evac when shit hits the fan too. How do you wanna go about it?” She drew little lines in the snow with her toes while she talked, trying to hide her discomfort between a casual facade. She knew he would never buy it, but in his glowy after sex state, he just might.

He leaned against the cabin beside her and folded his arms, looking like he was studying her, but didn’t indicate his thoughts. “We could divide into sections or try to look through the whole place and get people out together. Either is viable.” 

Aria absently fiddled with her charm while she thought. “We need to prioritize the citizens who get into trouble, like Adan, Flissa and Threnn. If we do it right, we won’t have to worry about that, though.”

“And Lysette, Seggrit, and Minaeve. They’re pretty spread out with the exception of Flissa, Minaeve, and Adan, if I recall right… not that it’ll all go exactly as scripted, I’d imagine.” Hector chewed his lip thoughtfully. 

“God, I hope it doesn't, honestly.” Aria sighed, “Something needs to pick up before our dear Inquisitor-to-be loses her damned mind. We can’t tell people what’s going to happen, so we’ll have to get them to cooperate somehow in a subtle manner.”

“Maybe if there was a Breach closing party in the Chantry…” Hector murmured, working through the thought. “It would get the most people in the safest place to begin with. They wouldn’t go running all over the place, at least not as many people.” 

Aria nodded, “That’s true, I forgot about that. Everyone will be mostly in one place, near the Chantry where the secret exit is… it could work.” She held a hand out like an offered handshake, “It’s a plan, then.”

He took her hand and gave it a gentle squeeze, shaking it lightly. “If we can come up with anything better, we can try it, but it’s a start.” 

She dropped his hand more quickly than she would have before, feeling a buzz of discomfort at the close proximity of Hector running along her skin. “Yeah, it is. I’ll be… around, in the meantime.”

“Aria.” Hector sighed, pushing off the building and stepping over to the chopping block to give her a bit more space. “...I’m figuring you’re feeling weird about last night, huh?” 

She shook her head, her face blank. “You don’t have to do that, Hector. Enjoy this feeling. Something to hold on to when shit gets real again.”

“Hold on to the feeling of getting laid? I am pretty sure that’s not going to get me all that far. It was just a bit of soon forgotten fun. I’d prefer you and I talking about this before it’s a thing.” He folded his arms. 

She rolled her eyes, a small smile on her face, “You can drop the Mother Hen look, Hector. I’m fine. I pushed for it, didn’t I? It’s not a thing.” She shrugged, “Just want you to be happy. I may not be all roses and butterflies, but that’s my ultimate goal. Promise.”

“And I recall you not liking when I did the same… I appreciate the gesture and… it was really nice to do something frivolous, but I don’t need to be pushed to hook up with someone.” He looked at her, “Not if it’s going to make you feel awkward… I feel like I should say this too. It’s just sex, not relationships… not looking for anything more. I’m much too afraid I’ll lose the tiny bit of hold I have on being my own person to even think about that… It’s hard enough to not try to please everyone at the expense of myself when I’m not supposed to be pleasing someone.” 

Aria looked away and allowed her hair to cover her face a moment as she felt an exasperated look cross her face. He was beginning to sound like a broken record, but he clearly needed to say it. She knew he wasn’t after love, and she wasn’t trying to force it on him. However, she’d promised not to judge him or act in a negative way when he expressed himself. “Got it, stay out of your sex life. For the record, I wasn’t pushing a relationship on you.” She shrugged with a single shoulder, still looking away, “but I’m sorry I got involved.”

“That wasn’t… what I was saying. I wasn’t saying you were pushing for it. I meant that as an explanation for why I went with it.” He ran his fingers through his hair and sighed again. “And I seem to have made it all worse… so yep. I’ll take one from your book with a, ‘I’ll be seeing you’ and go see if I can help Adan.” He pulled on his coat he’d taken off while chopping the wood. 

Aria’s jaw clenched with a sudden flash of irritation, “God… If I take it back will we act like we used to again? Maybe go a day without a conversation like this? Because I will!” The idea almost sounded like a relief, to go back to the time when they were just friends without this awkward tension between them. She wanted to undo it, to take that away, to have her friend back.

“I don’t think there hardly was a time. It was short anyway. You don’t have to take it back. I’ll drop it. I am sorry for bringing it up.” 

Any retort she had prepared froze in her throat. Did he really feel that way? The time they actually enjoyed each other’s presence being short lived and brief? She swallowed and felt her hand wrap around the Santa Muerte laying against her throat. It felt hot, like it was burning her, and a part of her wanted to rip it off and return it to him. Maybe it would be better for both of them if she did… if only she was strong enough to do it. She leaned against the wall of the building and blinked a few times against the burning in her eyes. “Don’t mention it.” Her voice was soft, but somehow it didn’t quite sound sad, just tired. That’s what she felt, honestly. She was tired of all of this.

“Ok.” He said quietly in reply, looking around for any ideas to hit him, frowning when nothing came. “I’m sorry. I’m just not saying the right things today.” 

She didn’t look at him, holding her heavily lidded eyes in the distance, tugging at the charm like a nervous tick, “Some things need said. I’ll either be with the Chargers, Solas, or Minerva if you come up with a better evac idea. If I get ahold of that explosive recipe I’ll let you know before I set it up.” She shoved off the building and offered him a polite smile then turned to go.

He smiled weakly, not trying to stop her, leaving him standing there alone.

 

Veronica checked around the room while going through everything she’ll need in her head. The journey would take her a day at most, she should have plenty of time to meet up, say her piece, and return to Haven before Corypheus appears. She felt a heavy weight of guilt for leaving Minerva at such a time as this, but she couldn’t delay any longer. She wrapped her traveling cloak around herself and gathered her bag. Deciding she was as prepared as she could be, she stepped out into the biting chill of the Haven air. She hadn’t seen her friend since they returned from Redcliffe, and she knew she was having a hard time. She shouldn’t leave… it would do everyone better if she didn’t. She pulled the cloak tighter and made her way to Minerva’s cabin as Fenris, who looked exhausted and defeated, exited. She kept her eyes down as she passed and knocked twice before entering without an answer. Minerva sat hunched at her desk, scribbling in a leatherbound notebook she’d carried with her for a long time. Veronica never asked what was in it. Some things were kept private. She stepped into the room and produced her flask, holding it out to her friend without a word. One look at her and Minerva would know what was happening. She should at least offer the woman a drink.

“You’re leaving.” Minerva said, her voice hollow. She took the flask and swallowed a swig with a grimace. 

“I have to, Min. Please understand,” she tried to keep the begging out of her voice, but it was very present. She felt like a monster for doing this already. She couldn’t handle her best friend’s anger at her now.

Minerva sighed and rubbed her eyes, handing the flask back. “You’ll do whatever you need to. There’s no reason to convince me.” She looked to the leatherbound book and closed it, latching it shut with a leather band. 

She swallowed and nodded. “I know. What can I do for you, before I leave?” She knew there was little she’d be able to offer, as she couldn’t delay her trip longer than a couple of hours, but she had to set the offer on the table, regardless.

“Take this.” Minerva held up the journal. “If I die, it’s years of everything I could remember or think to try in Thedas to make this work. It’s better that it’s a long ways from here.”

Veronica’s fingers were numb as she took hold of the book. She wanted nothing more than to chuck it into the fire with a firm, “You’re not going to die,” but she knew the reality of their situation. She nodded numbly and reached into her pocket. They never discussed it, but she knew Minerva had wondered if she had this information. When Aria had found her earlier and asked, it was like a knife to the chest. Letting people know she had the recipe for Anders’s explosion was like admitting to murder, but it was all she had to offer. She set the folded paper down and slid it toward her friend. “Give this to Aria. Maybe in her hands it can be used for some good.”

“Thank you.” Minerva said in a subdued, sad tone, picking up the paper. “I’ll make sure she gets it.” 

She knew there was no more to say, and there was little point in drawing this out. It wasn’t her style, nor her friend’s. She nodded once and turned to leave quickly. Once she reached the door, she halted. What if something went wrong? What if she didn’t make it back in time? She gripped the door handle tightly and drew a deep breath, “No matter what happens, I love you, Min.” She forced the door open and left the building quickly, fighting the rational urge that every cell in her body wanted her to do; turn back. 

“Love you too.” Minerva called after, sounding for a second more like herself. “Stay safe.”

 

Cards. Varric had gotten the grand idea that everyone was acting too bummed out and, of course, the idea he’d come up with was playing Wicked Grace with whatever Inquisition folk that could be roped in. Minerva had promised she’d try to make it. With how busy all the covert planning had made her, she hadn’t thought she’d have enough time, but the conversation in the war chamber had reached a lull and everyone had decided they needed to have time to think everything over. It left Minerva walking out of the Chantry and into the tavern. Wicked Grace night it was.

Stepping into the warm, bustling tavern, she could see that a small group had already gathered. Varric, of course, was busy shuffling cards and laughing about something. Around him were Sera, a less amused looking Dorian, Fenris, who himself looked a little put off by the company, and Bull bringing up the back. It was quite the group. 

Minerva put on a smile, trying to psych herself up before being spotted and heading over. One night. She just had to let herself push down the dread and be personable. It felt a lot to ask, but moral was important. She looked around the room. The vibe, outside the small collected was nervous and somber. The mages coming was putting former templar and local folk alike on edge. With that thought in mind, it was almost surprising to see Hector, the young unharrowed mage, sitting alone, eating some of whatever Flissa’s special of the day was. 

That wouldn’t do. She strolled on up to the table and leaned down, resting a palm on the surface. “Fancy meeting a guy like you in a tavern like this. We’re playing cards over there.” She gave a tip of her head in the direction of the others. “You’re coming.” 

“I appreciate the off--” Hector began, but was cut off.

“Wasn’t asking. It’ll be good for you to get seen by people with the right sort of company. Come on.” Minerva smiled when the boy begrudgingly got himself up and followed her over to the table. “Yo, people.” Minerva pulled up a chair and took a seat at an end. “Brought a friend. Hector,” she gestured to him. “Meet Sera, Fenris, Dorian, and Varric. I know you’ve been acquainted with The Iron Bull. Quite the collection of folks, by the by.” She looked to Varric wondering how the heck he’d even managed to collect such a group. Well, he could charm the pants off anyone, she supposed.

Hector gave a polite nod. “Hi. I hope I’m not intruding.”  

Varric’s smile was broad and he gestured to the chair between himself and Bull, “‘Course not! Pull up a chair, I’ll deal you in! We playing for coin or dignity?”

“Coin,” Fenris spat as he looked over his cards with clear displeasure.

Hector took a seat as he was directed. Looking around the table nervously. “I don’t have a lot of coin and I have no idea what I’m doing.” 

Minerva smiled, pulling a little coin bag from her coat and tossing it at him. Laughing as the kid fumbled to catch it. “You got this much to lose. We’ll get ya up to speed.” 

Varric laughed heartily, “I say leave it. Best to learn as you lose your coin, I say!”

“I recall,” Fenris shot him a look that was bitterness and amusement blended together. Sera snickered.

Bull leaned in, a gleam in his eye, speaking lowly so only Hector would hear him, “I’ll have your back if you tell me just how good the Vint is in bed.”

Hector hunched down, blushing at the brazenness and said in a low tone, “I’m not one to kiss and tell, I’m afraid. Ask him, if you’re so curious.” 

He threw his head back with roaring laughter and slapped Hector on the back, “Get this guy a drink! Where’s the tavern wench? We need another round!”

“‘Tavern Wench’? Thanks Bull. What do you need,” A familiar voice asked from behind Hector.

“Two of your strongest, filled to the brim,” he shot a look full of mischief at Hector, “One for him, too.”

Hector, his eyes wide only shook his head. “Oh, boy.” 

    “Just bring me a bottle, doll.” Minerva added in, none too helpfully. “Save you a trip or two.” 

    Aria smiled at her, her hands fiddling with the cleaning rag she was holding as she stood uncomfortable behind Hector, “Sure thing. Any else? Wine, Fenris?”

    He looked up at her with surprise in his eyes. Unsurprising, as neither had spoken to each other since their unfortunate meeting. “Yes… a bottle as well,” he returned his eyes to his cards with a flush on his cheeks.

    Aria hurried away with their order.

    “You dealing us in sometime this week, Varric?” Minerva asked, giving the dwarf a wink. “Or does someone need to come up with another form of entertainment? I’d be down for some embarrassing stories.” 

    “Do any involve someone waking up in only their smalls?” Sera perked up with a wide grin. Dorian rolled his eyes.

    “I… actually may have one of those.” Hector said quietly, feeling a little bold. “Not a recent, but kinda funny…” 

    Dorian shot him a charmed smile, leaning in, “Intriguing, do tell.”

    Hector took a deep breath. It might not have been the best idea, but everyone save Varric who was diligently dealing cards was looking at him expectantly and he felt like he had to. “So I used to work as a bartender, right? You meet a lot of people that way. I ran into someone I’d seen a few times at the bar while out getting coffee, uh… Antivan stuff, anyway, we ended up hooking up after coffee.” he said, his voice growing louder for the sake of the group. “What I didn’t realize was they had a boyfriend. And that boyfriend was coming in the house while I was still there. She pushed me out the window in my smalls. The clothing got tossed out after, but her elderly neighbor that was outback gardening got quite they eyeful.” 

    The entire table erupted into varying fits of laughter as their drinks were brought to them by their silent tavern keep. Dorian’s eyes sparkled, as he had seen just exactly what eyefull that was not long ago.

    “No way that’s real!” Sera accused through a smirk. 

    Hector held up his hands as if surrender. “Honest truth. Not one of my finest moments, but it’s funny in hindsight.” 

    A teeming mug was set in front of Hector hesitantly as two more were placed in front of the Iron Bull, “Should I bring your refills now, or wait til there’s more room on the table?” Aria asked with more sass than necessary. Bull smirked and threw them both back one after one with barely a breath between gulps and passed them back to her. She rolled her eyes and turned to get more without a word. 

    Hector had looked up as Aria had passed the drink to him in means of thanking her, but fell quiet. She wasn’t wearing the charm. That was not a great sign. He slumped down in his chair and knocked back the shot Bull had so kindly gotten him. 

    “Hah! Way to throw it back!” Bull called back for Aria to refill his as well and returned his attention to his hand, “Now, who’s first?”

    “Alright. Angels are best followed by Knights, Songs, Daggers then Serpents. Games over when someone draws the Angel of Death. You want the most cards of the highest rank. You discard one card and draw another until the death card is reached, hoping to end up with the best suit, alright?” Minerva looked to Hector, who shrugged. “Look at your cards and place your bet with the idea of how your cards can improve by drawing. I’m going in two silver.” She tossed two coins on the table, discarded a Serpent card faceup in the discard pile and drew her card. She then took a swig of her rum and shot a smile at Fenris. It wasn’t so far off from old times. 

    He smiled around his bottle of wine, fiddling with three silvers between his fingers, a trick he’d picked up playing with Isabela. Bull slapped down five silver as Dorian stated he’s only betting one. Varric dropped some kind of coin sack on the table, and Sera dropped a fistful of coppers. That left Hector, hesitantly considering with a handful of coppers in his hand. Knowing they were all waiting on him, he set down two coppers. “I’d rather bet low until I know the game.” 

    Bull scoffed into his cards as his original tankards were replaced in front of him by a quiet tavern keep. Hector’s was placed in front of him as well, while the game began. 

    As the game progressed, it became clear even to the most inexperienced of the group that Sera was cheating. She’d poorly hidden cards and had been attempting to switch them out when she’d dropped one on the table.

    “Honestly, Sera. You can’t dress that loudly and expect no one to see what you’re doing!” Dorian scoffed, waving his hand at the display with a flourish. “It’s embarrassing.”

    “And your flappery robes got you trussed up like a Satinalia goose,” Sera struggled to get out between giggles, “Could be seen from Val Royeaux. Ale, where is it?” She turned her empty tankard upside down with a look of clear disappointment.

    Dorian gasped and pressed a splayed hand to his chest in mock shock. “Perish the thought. Some… people… have no sense of good taste.” He shook his head and narrowed his eyes. “Insulting me won’t distract from your cheating, dear. Just because you want to live your life as one continued affront to fashion…”

    “How ‘bout we get more drinks?” Minerva suggested, cheerful as she could manage in an attempt to get the bickering to end. 

Varric smirked, “I mean, he is right, Buttercup. If you’re gonna cheat,” he slipped a card from his own sleeve with a devilish smile, “At least make sure you’re good at it.”

Aria snuck behind him to fill his tankard as he spoke, then with an eye roll and a soft smile, did the same for Sera, who was half leaning off the chair. “Anyone else?”

“Please.” Minerva asked, waving a tankard. 

Aria shot her that fake smile she wore and held up her pitcher of ale as she moved around Sera, who suddenly realized her tankard was full and shot upright. Aria’s ribs met Sera’s head and she lost her footing, the pitcher’s contents landing all over Dorian as Aria herself sprawled across his lap with a look of shock and humiliation.

Dorian sputtered, his cheeks turning red with surprise and a sudden irritation. “Now you’ve done it!” He untangled from Aria, righted her and stood up. “I’m done. Goodnight!” He brushed some of the streaming liquid off from his robes and stormed from the bar.

Aria stuttered out what seemed to be some semblance of an apology while her eyes wildly met everyone else’s. Dorian had stormed half-way out the tavern when she finally looked down at the mess that was all over her tavern keep dress. With a flush that could cook eggs, she ducked away with a soft, “I’ll get another,” and disappeared as quickly as she could. Sera had fallen from her chair, spilling her own drink all over the floor with her hands clutching her ribs until she couldn’t breathe. Varric seemed to be torn between shocked and amused. Fenris’s face was carefully neutral. Cole seemed concerned, but unsure of whom to help at the moment. Hector kept his head down, entirely unsure of what to do. 

Minerva sighed. “Just like old times, eh, boys?” 

Varric and Fenris finally let out the laughs they’d been holding. Fenris’s fingers gently brushed over Minerva’s leg and he shot her an affectionate gaze, “So it seems.”

“Are we derailed or do we keep playing?” she asked, looking around the table, offering Fenris a smile before looking to the rest. 

Varric, finally composing himself, wiped a tear from his eye. “Looks like Twirly is already back with your drink, Sailor. It’d be rude to stop playing after she’d gone to all the trouble.”

Aria seemed content with ignoring Varric as she quickly refilled Minerva’s drink, asking if anyone else needed anything in a monotone.

Varric grinned. “We’re down a player, care to fill in?”

Aria’s glare could have soured milk. “I’ll pass. I have some dignity left, let’s keep it that way.”

“Pff, who has time for dignity when there’s money to be made? Join us. Lighten up. World could fall down any minute or whatever.” Minerva looked at her pointedly her eyes not unkind, swigging her drink. 

Aria’s hand wavered over the pocket of her apron and she nodded, “Yeah, it could. I have to go soon anyway. Last call for drinks, Flissa is turning in too.” There was a far away look of determination in her eyes that Bull looked at with suspicion as he sipped his own drink, twirling a coin between his fingers. 

Minerva shrugged. She was clearly on about something that was worth knowing though it was not the time. This was a distraction she needed. She put down a few gold pieces. “Looks like we got another round or two at least. Why don’t we make it interesting” 

“Another!” Sera groaned from under the table. 

Aria ignored her and refilled Bull’s tankard before leaning in to Hector’s ear. “The house will be stocked by the end of tonight. Get everything you need out of it before tomorrow.” She straightened with her smile and topped him off before hurrying off.

Hector gave her a little nod, though he didn’t think she paid it any mind. “Ok… four coppers.” He put them on the table.

“I would be interested in how we are making this more interesting,” Fenris said with a half smile as he dropped a silver.

“Is it worth seeing who can lose the most clothing before we run out of drinks?” Minerva asked with a smile. “I think half the Inquisition still hasn’t seen my tits.”

I want to see,” Sera boasted as she struggled to pull herself up into her chair. She only succeeded in sliding it away from herself and falling to the floor again. Bull roared out a laugh and toasted her words as he placed his bet.

She grinned. Someone was going home without their clothes, but she, unlike Sera, was good enough to not get caught cheating thanks to many hard earned lessons from Isabela. “I’m thinking we start with shirts. Bull, you’ll have to get creative.” 

He tugged on the harness around his shoulders, as his mouth was busy chugging his drink.

 

Unsurprisingly, Hector found himself the losing party. Everyone had lost some items. Sera down to her knickers, Minerva missing her shoes and jacket. At least Varric’s chest hair was as magnificent as the mind could fathom. He borrowed a bucket, for the sake of anyone taking a nightly stroll and gave a bow as he headed from the tavern with an eye roll. 

Minerva offered a slurred, “You can get them back in the morning!” Helpful.

It was going to be cold, something he was certainly dreading even with the warmth of alcohol coursing through his veins, but he kept his head up throwing a wink or salute to anyone gawking. 

Aria closed the door to the house she and Hector had shared almost sadly. The place was packed full with a very powerful explosive that could wipe out at least a third of the Red Templars if timed correctly. Before long, it would all be gone. For the best, she decided. All things considered. 

She heard a jolly tune and a rather uncoordinated pair of feet stumbling behind her and she turned to see a very drunk and very naked Hector walking up to greet her. He looked flushed, the mirth in his eyes fading a bit as he entered. He teetered and leaned against the wall for balance. She noticed the joy in his eyes drop as he approached her and looked away to hide just how much that hurt. “You’ll catch your death out here, dressed like that. Your stuff is piled in a corner just inside the door. Flissa said she’d let you stay at the tavern if you want, once the crowd clears.”

He waved a hand. “I’ll find somewhere.” He turned and dropped the bucket entirely ungracefully, digging for some trousers at least. He still had his old jeans that would do. 

“I won’t be there, if that’s your worry.” She fiddled with a chain between her fingers, unable to look up at him. She had changed out of her ale-soaked dress for her Elvhen style armor, but she felt more naked and vulnerable than she ever had without the charm around her neck. But it felt wrong to keep it. 

    “M’ not.” he said, stumbling to get into his pants. “You’re gonna do whatever it is you’re gonna do. I’m gonna… give you space or somethin’.” 

    Aria sighed. This really wasn’t a conversation to have while he was drunk, but time was a luxury they didn’t have anymore. She held the charm out, though the action cut her deeply. “Well, I’m not your responsibility anymore. I’m a big grown elf now, I can take care of myself. You can do you.” She tried to force a smile, “Be free,” she was hoping it would come off as teasing, but it sounded as pathetic as she felt. The charm felt like a collar on a pet, but it was special regardless.

    “Wasn’t trapped in the first place, love.” He looked to the charm she held out, his expression flickering through an array of emotions on his flushed face. “Throw it in the snow if you want. It’s yours. I’m gonna… go.” He turned, grasping at the door to get it open, it taking a few tries to grab the handle. 

    “What?” Her breath left her lungs with a barely audible whisper. How could he say that? This thing meant so much to him! “How could you say that?”

    He turned to her, leaning on the door with his shoulder. “I don’t know what the hell you ever want. You want me to take somethin’ that’s not mine. I am too drunk for this. What do you want? From me? You want to fuck me and have some meaningless sex because if it got shit back to normal before everything goes to hell, I’ll do it. Jesus fucking Christ, I’m stupid. I know. I’m trying, here. It… just always comes out wrong.” 

    Aria was frozen with shock. Did she really just hear him right? What in every possible deity ever made him think sex with him could possibly be meaningless? And what was he even talking about? She tried to remember what he’d said before, what started all of this, but it was fuzzy. In her mixture of feelings she couldn’t remember the exact words. “What do you want, Hector?” He may be drunk, but that means he’ll be honest. 

    “I want to go home,” he said. “I’m tired. I want to not be sad and freaked out all the time. I want to not be jerked around every time I try to have a conversation with you. It bothered you… talking about the fact I had some fun. Things got weird and they always get weird.” He slid down on the floor, tired of balancing. “And when I try, I fuck it up. I don’t even know what I’m trying to say anymore.” 

    Aria fiddled with the charm and replayed their previous conversation over in her mind. He had said their time as friends was short lived, that she pushed Dorian on him. What else could he have meant? She obviously read him completely wrong, or he wouldn’t be acting like this. With a silent vow to never walk away again, she wrapped the chain back around her neck and clasped it with a secret promise never to remove it again. He needed to get back to his old life. Before Thedas, before magic, before her. She couldn’t be selfish anymore. She stepped into the now very dangerous house and sat beside Hector, sitting near but allowing him space. “Then let’s find a way to get you home. Whatever it takes.” She pulled her hair back behind her pointed ear and looked at him at a side glance. “I promise to take back that dumb confession of mine if you promise not to suggest casual sex again. Deal?”

    He nodded. “That was dumb, I’m sorry.” Then he sniffled and rubbed his hands on his arms. “It’s too cold for strip… not poker.. Whatever it is. Minerva has terrible ideas.”

    Aria held her arms open in invitation. He was still half naked, but as long as he’s been out in the cold a shirt wouldn’t do him much good ‘til he’s warmed up a bit. “Sometimes. But she tries her best.”

    “It… was a distraction. That’s for sure.” He leaned into her. 

    She rubbed her hands around his frozen body vigorously, trying to warm him at least a little. The contact of his skin against her bare abdomen and hands brought a light hiss through her teeth. “I’m sure. Hey, if I promise to stop reading into what you say, can we be friends like we used to be? Before I ruined everything. Might be the last night we have.” The realization of that truth froze her worse than Hector’s cold body. Suddenly desperate sex with him didn’t sound like such a bad idea. She shook the thought away and held him tighter.

    He nodded somberly. “It could be… Can’t really stop thinking about that. Might not even be anything we do. All it takes is one person fucking up the plan.” 

    She shook her head. “I have this… feeling that it’ll turn out okay. It comes from the charms. Ever since Love touched them. Do you not feel it?”

    “I.. don’t know. They’re weird, I’ll give you that.” He played with his own around his neck. “I have less faith it will work out. I know we’ll all try, at least. It’s just not up to only us, but everyone.” 

    She smirked and touched hers, “These things are all about faith aren’t they? Nothing more we can do right now. Just… enjoy this time.” He seemed to have warmed up slightly, but Aria didn’t plan on letting go until he wanted her to. She felt lousy and confused. What did he think of them? What did she ? After her conversation with Krem, taking back how she felt was easier than she thought. Now that she wasn’t certain it was how she felt in the first place. But there was still a pain there. Perhaps she was thinking too hard on it. It was a toxic trait she was desperate to snuff out at this point. 

    “I tried. Look how that ended up.” He laughed, looking down at himself. “Varric lost his shirt by the way. Me-ow!” 

She smiled with amusement, but didn’t quite laugh. “I spilled cheap ale all over Dorian. Kinda jealous I missed Varric shirtless though. His chest hair as amazing as promised?”

“Oh, yes. A golden carpet.” He giggled. “Poor Dorian. Probably for the best. He was about to throw down with Sera.” 

She scoffed, “Poor me ! You know he’s gonna incinerate me the first chance he gets! I hope you enjoyed your time with me, because I’m dying next time he gets his hands on me!:

“Ah, nah. I’m sure all the blame is on Sera’s shoulders. Just tell him he’s pretty and he’ll primp and preen. All will be well.” He mimicked Dorian’s actions of looking delighted and fluffing up his clothing. “Oh, of course I am, darling! Have you seen me?” 

She finally laughed, her breath against his ear and she was struck with an overwhelming urge to kiss him. God damn it Aria ! She scowled and composed herself quickly. “You could make a decent human shield, if nothing else. I’ll trip you and run.”

“Hm, it’s not the worst way to be used as a meat shield, I suppose. Do what you have to.” He nudged her and smiled. 

She bit her lip, the chain around her neck feeling unnaturally warm. “Don’t tempt me.”

“Tempt you to what?” he looked at her with a cocked brow. 

She looked at his glazed, but bright eyes that looked at her with curiosity and she could only think of the fact that they could all certainly be dead tomorrow. What the hell was a little risk? The hand that was on his shoulder slowly drew up to cup his cheek and she looked at his lips, giving him plenty of hints as to what she was about to do. She closed her eyes and leaned forward, letting all logic fall away.

He leaned over and put a gentle kiss on her lips. It was soft and brief before he pulled away, looking at her like he was trying to gauge if that’s what she wanted or if it was a good idea at all through a drunken haze. 

The chain around her neck almost burned when their lips met, but she was content with ignoring it. He was so close… she could do it again. But that last bit of brain activity left in her head knew she should let him make that move. She didn’t say a word, only looked between his confused eyes and his lips as her thumb absently stroked over his cheekbone.

“What... do you want?” he asked, his voice soft. 

She shook her head, fighting the part of her head that screamed at her to stop. “This,” her voice was equally soft as she leaned in to meet his lips again. Both her chest and the charm flared up at the contact.

Hector obliged, pulling an arm around her and kissing her again, his tongue gently prodding her lower lip for more. She sighed softly and angled to deepen the kiss, her teeth gently scraping against his lip and her tongue chasing his. Her arms pulled from around him so that she could tangle her fingers in his hair. A desperate, primal desire seemed to take over her.

He gripped her waist and held her, a whisper of a groan escaping his lips. His tongue teased her’s as he ran his hand up her back. She shivered and loosened one hand to grip his shoulder as passion ignited between them. She freed his hair and her fingers dipped down the side of his neck to trace his collarbone. 

Hector gave her one more searing kiss and pulled away enough to speak. “This is a really bad idea…” 

Irritation pulled a growl from her throat and her fingers dug into his skin as she hissed, “I don’t care,” only by sheer force of will did she not attack his lips again, but they were resting against his neck, ready to continue at the slightest weakness shown.

“But… you will.” He said, letting out a soft sigh, rubbing the visible skin of her side. “If we survive.” 

She swallowed. Will she? Is it so wrong to want a taste of this? Something to hold onto when she hates everything… but this wasn’t just about her. She didn’t dare move from her spot, afraid to look him in the eyes. When she spoke, her lips brushed along his pulse. “You mean you will.”

He shivered and gave her a squeeze. “Maybe I mean both of us will. I don’t know.” 

She noticed the shiver and trailed her lips along his neck to his ear, “Then tell me to stop.” She wasn’t giving up that easily. Not when they could be ground beef within a matter of hours.

“I don’t want to ruin things again. If… if we make it through and you want to, I’m down, but I’m too drunk to be making this decision.” 

And just like that, her buzz was gone. She pulled away, realizing she was taking advantage of multiple situations. She felt sick. What was wrong with her? She shook her head and looked away, fighting a million emotions. “I’m sorry.”

He shook his head. “Don’t be.” He pulled his hands away to let her have space if she wanted. “It’s my doing as much as yours.”

“I’m sober.” She rubbed her face and groaned. “What a world, that doesn’t have cold showers.” She glanced past the door and debated laying in the snow. “I should… go do something. You have a place you can go to sleep?”

“Yeh, I think so. The tavern is an option if nothing else pans out.” Hector pulled himself up, hand on the wall to steady himself. 

Aria moved to help him, but decided against it last second. She pulled at the too-warm chain on her neck and looked around them at the explosives they nearly attacked each other on top of. “Well… if we hadn’t have stopped, it would have been an… explosive experience.” She tried to smirk through her awkwardness, “Your loss.”

“I’m sure it is.” He pulled on one of his old flannel shirts. “Take care of yourself and try to get some rest.” He went out to find a place to sleep. 

“Yeah, sure.” She looked around herself at the mess that reminded her just how dire their situation was and sighed heavily. At the moment, she just wanted the wand she kept in the drawer of her nightstand back home and a strong drink.