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The Healing Season

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9:34 Dragon, Spring

 

She manages to make it out of the Viscount’s Keep, her own rudimentary healing skills holding her body together. For someone who’s only attempted to learn the basics of the craft, she thinks she’s doing very well. Her entrails haven’t fallen out, for one, and she counts that as a success.

Something to add to my diary, Ismat Hawke thinks as they descend the staircase. Today, I managed to be decent enough at healing that I actually kept my insides on the inside. Oh, and I defeated the Arishok in single combat. Varric can add it to his stories.

Aveline walks just before her, Anders to her side. The dwarf in question walks behind her, presumably next to Isabela, though Hawke hasn’t checked to see if she hasn’t run off again already.

“That was a risk,” Anders says, and Hawke focuses in on the sound of his voice. “I worry that you used magic like that in front of the Knight Commander. She knows you’re a mage now...”

“Oh, don’t worry!” Hawke tips her head towards him, smiling. Glib words fall from her tongue, far more confident in tone than she feels. “If she wanted to make me Tranquil, she wouldn’t have left me walk out like that! Besides, I’m a champion. I’m special.” She ignores the little stabs of pain that pepper her side as she walks.

“You’re something, Hawke.” Aveline’s tone is brusque. “But if you think that defeating the Arishok is the end to this whole qunari mess -”

“They are leaving.” She thinks of gesturing, but the pain in her side stabs sharper and all the little pinpricks start to bloom into infinitely worse feelings that start to make their way up to her chest. Hawke presses her hand to her stomach, which is not the smartest move as it just causes a greater ache there. Just one more flight of stairs, she thinks. Then home. It’s a comforting thought. After this, she just wants to lie down and sleep. She’s at the edge of running through all of her magical reserves, and just sustaining a low level healing spell is too nearly too much for her. “It’s a qunari thing, Aveline. That’s the whole point of me fighting him.”

“It was a bloody stupid thing to do.” But there’s something kind behind the comment. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

“Well, I’m glad to have -” The pain creeps up now, sharper than before, and Hawke falters. It isn’t just in her side, it’s in her chest and her neck and her arm, and she knows her healing spell is failing. There are little sparks of grey that swim in the corners of her vision. She inhales and her breath comes in shallow. She coughs, puts her hand to her mouth. Stares at fingers that are slightly more stained by blood than they were a moment before. “Oh. Oops.”

Hawke?

That’s Anders, his voice such a needed focus. Hawke sways on her feet.

“I’m fine,” she says, and smiles. There’s an intake of breath - not hers - and she sways again. “I - oh fuck.” The grey swims across her vision as the last bits of her magic burn out and the healing spell fails completely.

So much for my insides, she thinks, and the last thing she registers is that the world has tipped quite lazily to the side before everything goes black.

 

***

 

He curses himself for not realizing it sooner, for not running to Hawke’s side the moment her fight was done and checking her for internal injuries - Meredith be damned, he should have. He’d seen her take hits in the fight, blows that had sent her reeling. He should have done something.

Fear had paralyzed him, fear and the angry dischord of Justice, two forces that had kept him from acting in the moments that Meredith had been within his sight. Knight-commander Meredith. The templar, if there could be just one, and she’d seen Hawke use magic, might have seen him. The fear was old, deeply ingrained in his mind and body and bones, and Justice had been angry in a way that he had rarely felt him - though perhaps it was his own anger, amplified - and it had taken all he had to stand there when she was so close.

And now Hawke was paying the price for his inaction.

When she smiles at him, as though she is trying to convince him that she truly is fine, there is blood on her teeth, on her lips. It is with a start - his heart feeling as though it has stopped and turned over and plummeted through his ribcage - that he realizes she is bleeding internally. That the Arishok had damaged her body badly, and she has been somehow walking and talking and holding herself together until the point where she couldn’t go on.

When she falls a moment later, he is again too slow - but Aveline is not. The guard captain catches Hawke before she hits the ground.

Ismat!” Her first name falls from his lips, and he is at her side. Aveline has lifted her up; the streets are still aflame, smoke heavy in the air, but they are so close to Hawke’s mansion.

There are a few things that Anders can do in such a situation, though the middle of Hightown is not ideal. He is low on magic himself, having nearly spent all he has during the battle. He is tired and hungry and exhausted both mentally and physically, but fear and anxiety and worry claw through him and strip all of that away.

He cannot fully heal her here, not when he doesn’t know the extent of the damage, not with Aveline moving purposefully away towards the estate. Anders follows, and he weaves little threads of healing magic - nothing that will fix what is wrong, but just enough to keep her alive. There is a part of him that worries - can he trust himself to heal again? - but the rest of him, the panic and the fear for Hawke, overrides it.

He is only dimly aware of Varric and Isabela following them. The bang of the door as Aveline kicks it open is dull in his ears, as are the cries of Bodhan and Orana.

“A table,” he says, and now he has purpose. “Get her on a table, now.”

They rush her into the study, and a sweep of an arm clears papers and books from a desk. Ink spills across the floor. Aveline sets Hawke down, and then Anders is there, at her side.

“I can’t stay,” Aveline says, her voice tight, but he would swear there is anger and worry within her words. “I have a duty, and I’m the only captain of the guard this blighted city’s got.”

Varric pats her arm, carefully avoiding her blood splattered armor. “Don’t worry, blondie’s got this. Go and put out the fires before the whole place goes up in flame.”

Anders doesn’t see her sharp nod, or the equally sharp look she gives him; he barely hears her heavy footsteps as she leaves. He has to focus, because otherwise he isn’t certain what will happen.

“I need hot water. Bandages. Any medicinal herbs you have. We need to get her armor off; I can’t treat her if I can’t see what’s wrong.” His voice is harsh and hard and desperate. There is blood on Hawke’s lips, and her dark skin has lost all flush of life. He can barely see her chest rise and fall. “For the Maker’s sake, will one of you help me?”

He doesn’t see the lost look on Isabela’s face before she leaves the room in search of the things he has asked for.

“Calm down, Blondie, you’ve got all the help you need.” Varric is at his side then, and Anders’ gaze snaps to him. “We’ll get Hawke out of her clothes, and then we’ll see you work your magic on her.”

Another time, he’d have some sort of light hearted jest. Not now. Something you can’t stand to lose.

He hadn’t before let himself think that he could lose her to something more than the templars.

With Varric’s help, they strip Hawke out of her armor so he can better see her injuries. As they peel back layers of blood sodden cloth, Anders comes to realize how dire her wounds are. His experienced eye can see where she’d held herself together with her own limited healing magic; a gash in her side is half healed in the worst of ways, new skin stretched in places over damaged tissue beneath.

Anders takes a breath then and stills. He is exhausted, but this - this is what he excels at. The breath he draws in brings a calm, and in his mind Justice falls silent, as he often does when Anders calls upon healing magic. As he exhales, it is as though he exhales magic - threads of it drip onto Hawke, slide under her skin. Here, magic at his fingertips, he can tell more about the damage the Arishok has left behind. He feels bruised tissue, deep in Hawke’s abdomen. Her left side is worse, where her own armor had torn into her side as the Arishok’s blade had hit her. One rib - two, three, cracked and broken, and here he finds the worst of it, what Hawke’s own magic had held at bay just long enough for her to walk from the Keep with her head held high. Her lung is damaged, ruptured, and if he does not heal it -

Anders does not deal with ifs when he heals. Where he had once been a selfish man who would leave behind those who called him friend out of his own sense of self preservation, he now has a greater focus. He is a healer, and he can heal her.

Magic knits the tissue of her lung back together, clears the fluid and blood building up within it. Her ribs are pulled back into their proper places, though he does not fully heal the breaks. As his magic slides from her lung to her heart to her side, it heals the worst of the damage.

There is a building pressure in his head as he works his healing magic, and it grows to a sharp stabbing pain. Justice is whispering warnings to him, but he ignores them until the pain is too much and with a shout from the spirit in his mind, he is abruptly pulled back, his magic snapping and dissolving.

He reels; the room slides. There is a blooming silence in his ears, everything hollowed. He splays his hands on the table, feels them slide in blood. His knees shake.

“Whoa there. No dwarf wants to see two of the three mages closest to his heart passing out in one day.” Varric’s voice comes from a distance, though Anders can feel himself being supported by him. “Come one, Rivaini got you a chair. You should consider using it.”

“I would if I thought I could take a step without falling,” he says. His own words sound like they come from miles away. “Not as amusing a sight as you would think it would be.”

“Good thing we had the good sense to set it right behind you while you were doing your magical sparkle fingers.”

Anders - with the help of Varric - manages to sit back into the chair. His head lolls back, and he shuts his eyes before he can see too much of the ceiling swimming before him. “Just...give me a moment. I haven’t - I need to do more.”

“You mean she’s still not fixed?”

They are the first words he’s heard from Isabela since the duel. There’s some quality to her voice that he cannot place, but whatever it is, it’s something he’s not used to hearing from Isabela.

“I’m a mage, not a miracle worker,” he says, snaps really. There’s more he wants to say, but his tongue feels leaden in his mouth, and he knows he’s pushed himself too far. He’s bone weary, everything leached out of him. He’s worn thin, and if Justice wanted to take over right now, there’d be no resistance.

He’s been stripped of magic before, more than once. There are templars who take joy in reducing a mage down to nothing. This is not quite the same, not like when everything had been cancelled and dragged away. There is something different in knowing how one’s magic has dwindled down to nothing. Or next to nothing; it is one of the perks of his bond with Justice - no matter how much magic he uses, there will always be at least one tiny flicker within him, a connection to the Fade that cannot be severed.

That doesn’t mean he cannot feel the tug of magical exhaustion. Fighting through a city at Hawke’s side - it’s left him in just such a state.

“But she’s not dying, right?” Isabela again, her voice cutting through him. Anders opens his eyes just a bit and he can see her, wavering near the doorway. She’s moving her hands like she does when she’s nervous, shifting her weight from foot to foot.

“Do you think I’d be sitting here if she was?” It’s sharper than he intends. Or perhaps not - there’s a flicker of anger there, because Hawke would never have dueled the Arishok if not for Isabela. With that anger, something flickers in him, Justice stirring at all the ugly emotion welling up, jostled from his silence. Dangerous ground, he knows, because anger brings Vengeance to the surface.

“Blondie, Rivaini, I’ve got an idea.” Varric suddenly blocks Anders’ line of sight. “Why don’t you get some rest, recharge all that sparkle fingers magic. Rivaini, you’re going to come with me and - do something.”

For a moment, no one moves. Then Isabela turns and leaves. Anders holds his breath for a moment, then slumps forward, burying his head in his hands.

 

***

Isabela’s first instinct is to bolt. Head right back out to the docks and hop on the first ship out to sea. Stow away if she has to, then possibly commandeer the ship. She could take on a crew, even, if that of the commandeered ship didn’t like her taking over. Running - that’s what she’s good at.

She doesn’t, but it’s a close thing.

Outside, the fires in the street have been put out. There are still corpses in the street, though someone has started to pile them, and soon the city will stink of the dead. Hightown will be cleared of them the soonest, of this she has no doubt, but there will bodies in the lower, poorer parts of the city for weeks.

They have moved Hawke into her bedroom - they meaning Varric and one of the dwarves for makes their home in the mansion - and it has been some time since Isabela has heard any movement from within. She’s been left alone for now, and she’s not sure if she’s glad for that.

What had happened with the Arishok is not something she wants to dwell upon. She doesn’t want to think about it or understand it. She does, or some part of her does. There’s a reason that Hawke’s lying on a bed, still as death.

She should leave. But she doesn’t.

Eventually, she finds herself standing at the doorway to Hawke’s bedroom. Her hand rests on the doorknob for a long moment; she doesn’t knock. After a long hesitation, she opens it.

Hawke rests on the bed, still and silent. Isabela’s eyes seek out something, anything, else, and her gaze falls to Anders, who still sits at Hawke’s side. There is a tiredness that she can see in him even from here; he’s taken off his coat and, sitting there in his ratty, threadbare tunic, he looks so exceptionally out of place among the opulence of the room. He rests with his head and shoulder upon the bed, his hand holding tight to Hawke’s.

That there’s no glowing is a good sign. She likes Anders well enough on most days, but she’s not fond of him when he goes all blue and wibbly outside of battle.

Isabela draws in a breath, then walks forward. No reason for her to feel awkward here; after all, her, feeling awkward? Perish the thought. She sits down on the opposite side of the bed from Anders, and then, after a pause, looks at Hawke.

She looks...well, she looks like she just got her ass kicked by a qunari. She hadn’t looked this bad at the end of the fight, Isabela could swear to that. Or maybe she hadn’t wanted to notice it.

“She looks worse than she is.” Anders’ voice startles her, and her eyes slide over to him. He’s propped himself up, though his body is still curved with fatigue, eyes shadowed and exhausted.

“You look worse than her,” she says, as though he hadn’t begun to go all glowy on her just a few hours ago. “Can’t you, I don’t know, drink some of that magic shit and…?” She makes a motion of throwing back a drink, followed by fluttering her fingers in mimicry of magic.

Anders laughs. Probably so tired that he’d laugh at anything, she thinks. “Only if I were truly desperate. Besides, I’ve got a lot of magical shit in me, it’s just this that doesn’t keep up.” He indicates himself. Or maybe his body. Isabela’s not sure, but she’s not going to dwell on it.

He goes quiet for a moment after he says that, looking down at Hawke. His thumb brushes over the back of her hand. “I should apologize. For earlier.”

Isabela shrugs. “No harm done.”

“But I could have -”

“I said it’s fine, okay? Really, you do try to make things dramatic.” Isabela follows that statement with her own decidedly dramatic sigh. “I know she likes it, but you could try to tone it down around the rest of us once in awhile.”

He laughs again, oddly enough. She pretends she doesn’t see how his hand tightens on Hawke’s.

“So, she’ll be fine, right?” she asks, partially for herself, partially for him. “You’ve got magic fingers; so it’s not like we have anything to worry about.”

Anders looks up from Hawke and locks eyes with Isabela. “Do you want to know what that fight did to her, Isabela?”

“Not especially; I’m sure Hawke and I will be able to talk about it later, over drinks. Much more fun that way.”

“He broke her ribs,” Anders says, as though he hasn’t heard her at all. “From here to here.” He touches Hawke abdomen, high on the side, then down near where her ribcage ends. “Do you know what happens if a broken rib punctures a lung? Or what happens when someone is hit by a giant qunari repeatedly? Armor doesn’t do much if it’s hit so hard it cuts into flesh, and Hawke doesn’t wear much armor to begin with. The only reason she walked out of there alive is because she has just enough healing skill to hold herself together. She didn’t really heal herself, she just stopped her injuries from affecting her during the fight. That’s the only reason she’s not dead right now.”

Isabela’s throat feels tight. “But you fixed her,” she says.

“I did what I could. She’s not going to die.” Anders looks back down to Hawke. Isabela looks at neither of them. “I just want you to know what she did for you.” He laughs then, very bitterly. “She really does care too much about worthless people.”

“Well. It’s good to know you think I’m worthless. Or are you talking about yourself?”

He doesn’t say anything, but that in itself is something of an answer.

Part of Isabela - a large part - wants to leave then. Leave the estate, leave Kirkwall, leave everything behind. There’s no point to sitting here and listening to this; none of this is new to her, not really. She’d come back for Hawke, she’d thought she’d done the right thing at the time - and isn’t that a laugh, her, doing the right thing? - but now she thinks that, maybe, it wasn’t the right thing at all.

Instead, she simply leaves the room.

 

**

 

Hawke dreams.

Pain has seeped its way into her, warping her thoughts like a fever. The images in her mind bubble up, change, melt into each other. Nothing is distinct, everything small snippets strung together into an incomprehensible narrative that speaks of pain and exhaustion.

She hears voices throughout it, murmuring, pleading, begging. Demons, a whisper in her mind says, but she is too tired to fight them off. The dream sinks in upon itself until it turns black.

 

**

 

When Merrill arrives at the estate, she finds everything in disarray. Outside the front doors, the streets smoulder, and she has to duck past several soldiers on her way from Lowtown.

She finds Isabela sitting on the stairs, looking so strangely lost. It is an odd look for Isabela’s face, and Merrill is not sure what it means.

“Is she...I mean...how is…”

“She’s up there, kitten,” Isabela says, jerking her thumb over her shoulder in the direction of Hawke’s room. “She still hasn’t woken up.”

“Oh.” Merrill’s eyes go wide, and she walks up several stairs before she thinks that, perhaps, she ought to stop and see how Isabela is. “Are you -”

Isabela stops her quickly. “Go see her. Honestly, don’t worry about me. I’m fine.”

Merrill doesn’t think that’s true. Isabela doesn’t look fine. Isabela looks miserable. But she has learned something of when it is all right to push Isabela for more information, and when to step back. She is not perfect at always picking up on it, but she has gotten much better.

So she nods and takes the steps by twos and makes her way to Hawke’s room.

The room is so large and furnished, but Merrill thinks that it makes Hawke, laying on her large bed so very still and silent, look very small. Beside her is Anders, who suits the room even less.

She thinks that he looks very ill himself, with great dark circles beneath his eyes and a hollow look about him that is all together unhealthy.

Merrill slips across the room and stands at the foot of the bed. “Isabela says she hasn’t woken.”

Anders looks up at her, dragging his attention away from Hawke’s still form. “No. She hasn’t.”

Merrill’s brows draw together as she looks at Hawke. It is so strange to see her like this. “I’m sure you are doing everything you can. You’re a fantastic healer, Anders.”

Anders looks startled by this. “I...yes. I am doing everything I can. But I need to do more.”

Merrill sits down on the foot of the bed, close enough to the edge that she’s barely resting upon it. “She was very brave, wasn’t she?”

“She...she was so stupid,” Anders says, and he sounds angry and upset, more so than she would have thought. “She didn’t need to do that, she could have -”

“She’s Hawke,” Merrill says, and her voice stops him short. “If she’d done anything else, she wouldn’t be who she is.”

Anders stares at her, then presses his fingers to the bride of his nose. He exhales sharply as he drops his hand from his face, letting it fall back down onto the side of the bed.. “...you’re right.”

“Of course I am.” Merrill hesitates for a moment, then reaches out and sets her hand upon his arm. “Anders, she’s going to be fine, isn’t she?”

He looks down at her hand, then sighs. “I don’t know, Merrill.”

That he says that causes anxiety to bubble up. Merrill was worried before, of course she was worried, but she thought - Anders is a healer, and Hawke needed healing, and -

“What do you mean? You’ve got to make her all right.”

“You all keep asking me if she’ll be all right. I don’t know. I’m fixing as much as I can, Merrill, I am. I’m giving everything, every drop of magic that I can. But she hasn’t woken up, and I can’t…” He shuts his eyes.

He’s terrified. Merrill hadn’t realized it before; he’s always so set in his convictions, so tremendously stubborn and convinced that he is right that it sometimes makes her want to hit him - she hadn’t realized.

“She will, though,” Merrill says, even though she doesn’t know. She’s not a healer; she doesn’t know the things that he does when it comes to piecing a body back together.

“I can’t lose her, Merrill,” he says, and his voice cracks with pain and worry and fatigue. “Not like this.”

 

*

 

Hawke dreams.

She walks on a strip of light that cuts through void; there is nothing to look at save for an an unwavering line of white. One foot at a time, she walks forward. Her movements are languid, and she feels almost weightless.

The light skitters upward in jagged steps; she climbs. Up and up, using her hands and her feet. Finally, a door looms before her. Upon it is etched a city; it looks like Kirkwall, but her mind tells her otherwise.

She sets her fingertips against the door, and her skin turns to ice. Across the gold surface of the door, blackness spills forth. From each of her fingertips, a crawling corruption. It eats away at the towers, at the streets. Even as she tries to pull her hands away, the city crumbles. The door dissolves, and she falls through where it had been.

 

*

 

Merrill sits with him for some time, and Anders finds some comfort in that. It is strange, that the presence of a blood mage should make him feel better, in any way, but…

Often, he thinks that if it wasn’t for the blood magic, he and Merrill could have been dear friends.

She leaves eventually, to check on the others, and makes him promise to get some sleep. And he does promise, he simply...cannot sleep.

He doesn’t know what it is - that he is too worried, too focused on Hawke, too drained of magic - but though he feels fatigue down to his bones, he cannot sleep. Justice simmers in his mind, agitated by Anders’ own emotional state, and between the two of them he simply cannot rest.

He cannot draw on Justice for healing magic. They both know this, and after what nearly happened under the Gallows, neither of them would consider even to attempt it. Where they overlap, they are volatile. When Justice comes to the surface, it is too easy for Anders’ emotions to corrupt him, and vengeance has no place in healing.

Especially not now.

Perhaps he could let Justice have control of his body for a moment, just a moment, to see if that would replenish his magic. But he won’t risk it. Not with his anger, not with his fear. In his mind, Justice agrees.

His other option is...less dangerous, but one he tries to use as infrequently as possible. Lyrium in any quantity is dangerous, and while processed and refine, he knows that using lyrium potions too often can bring about...consequences.

Still. This is Hawke. As he cannot sleep, cannot rest - and cannot restore his magic through that means - he will use another.

He keeps a small vial in one of the pouches he always wears, and this he pulls forth. For a moment, he looks at it, then pulls out the stopper and drinks it.

Magic, white hot, floods through him. With it comes a return to awareness; his weariness is washed away, pushed down, ignored. Justice, too, becomes a whisper as Anders pulls on the Fade, on the healing spirits there.

Light sparks on his fingertips, and he leans over so that he can continue to heal Hawke. The worst of the injuries he has since fixed - her lung will be fine, the deepest of the damage to the tissue of her body knit back together. Now, he pulls magic through her once again, smoothing the hairline fractures in her bones again and again until they begin to reform. One rib at a time he attends to, until they no longer feel freshly broken. From there, he turns his magic back to her heart, to each of her internal organs that he had healed before, searching for any damage that he may have missed.

He can feel her heart beating through his magic.

There is more damage still; not in her heart, but in the muscle of her back, her side. This is harder, though it seems counterintuitive. Some of this he will have to leave for her body to heal on its own, at least for now.

He checks her limbs, finds fractures he had not seen before in her staff arm. He curses under his breath; they are partially healed through Hawke’s own magic, and poorly done. The bones should have been set before any healing magic was used, but Hawke...Hawke wouldn’t have been able to do that, not in the midst of a duel. Not after, when Meredith stood there.

She’d held herself together until she’d exhausted all her magic. The Arishok should have killed her, but she kept herself alive.

Anders takes a deep breath, assessing how much magic he has left to use before the lyrium potion has run its course. He will need to reset her arm.

“I’m sorry,” he says, but she doesn’t wake. Not for that, not for some time.

 

*

 

And Hawke dreams.

She does not know how long she falls, or how long she screams. She does not remember when it ends, just that it does. It could have been an instant or an eternity.

There is a bed of flowers where she lies, spreading out around her. Her hair turns to ink, running between them. With her arms outstretch, she looks up. A black city looms in the sky.

“I can’t possibly be in the Fade again,” she says to herself. “I don’t think I drank any lyrium.”

She does not remember what she was doing before the dream, but that does not seem odd to her.

When she pushes herself up, the flowers crumble, become unimportant. She looks out over seas of color, and there she sees a demon.

“I swear I’m not in the Fade,” she repeats. This does not feel like the Fade to her. Or, at least, she is not walking physically there. “Perhaps it will ignore me.”

The demon sits in the flowers and watches her.

She can feel it, even when she looks away. Hawke breathes in the air of the dream, then exhales. She is lucid enough to know that, if a demon has decided to intrude upon her dreams, then things are not going well.

When she looks back, there is a second demon.

With a sigh of frustration, she tries to think. What is causing this? Her mind, caught in the dream, gives her only some information, most of it unneeded and unnecessary. She remembers pain and loss and grief. She remembers her mother, and more dreams like this before. There had been no demons then.

Something must be very wrong.

She feels something, in the corner of the dream. Without seeing it, she can feel it burn. Something raw and powerful, something bright. Out of the corner of her eye, she can see a figure, alight with magic. When she turns, it is gone.

The demons lie in ash among the flowers, and Hawke marvels at the patterns they make as the dream blows them away. She kneels down and drags her fingers through what remains. She smiles.

The flowers around her are bright and inviting. She remembers lying in them, and in the moment the dream tilts as though she has blinked, and she once more finds herself staring at the sky. At a black city. She could stay here and watch it, she thinks. A city and a field of flowers.

Something in the dream buzzes.

Daughter, you must wake.

“Hmmm?”

Wake.

“No,” she says, and the low voice grows more insistent.

You cannot be complacent in a dream, daughter. One mistake, and a demon will swallow you up. You are strong, but in a dream you are at risk.

“We blackened a city,” she muses as she looks up. The city seems to stretch on forever.

No, daughter. Not you. Not me. Now wake.

“I am so tired.” She reaches her hand up. Her fingers frame the sky. “I wish to sleep.

Wake up.

Wake up.

Wake.

The sky turns black and winks out. Hawke blinks once, twice, again. She feels as though all the breath has left her body, every limb turned leaden. Gravity grabs her and holds her, and pain spreads through her chest, dull and aching. When she looks up again, there is a face. Dark hair and dark skin and brown eyes.

Hawke blinks, confused. “Bethany?” she says, and her tongue feels thick in her mouth. She swallows. “Your hair is so long.”

“Oh, sweet thing,” she hears her say, and the voice is wrong. Hawke blinks again, tries to focus. It is hard; she feels sluggish and tired and in pain. As her sight clears, Hawke fully realizes that, no, it was not Bethany that she saw, simply Isabela without her blue scarf over her hair.

“‘sabela,” she manages. “You’re here.”

“Of course I am. Did you think I was going to run off again and leave you behind?”

The fuzziness in her head leaves her disoriented, confused. “How much...did I have to drink...last night? My head feels like it’s been slammed into a wall. Repeatedly.”

The look on Isabela’s face is...strange. For a moment, she looks almost sad. Worried. Regretful? She glances over to someone on Hawke’s other side, and as she tries to turn her head to see, the muscles in her neck tell her that she is not in good shape.

Anders is at her side. She smiles to see him there. Except he looks like...well, he looks like shit. There’s soot and ash all over his face, in his hair. He looks so tired.

“You’re awake,” he says, and the relief in his voice hits her hard. The sort of relief that makes her want to get up and hold him, but the moment she tries to push herself up from the bed, her body screams in protest. She winces and gasps, and then finds both Anders and Isabela gently pushing her back onto the mattress.

“Careful, love.” Anders smooths his fingers over her brow, brushing back strands of hair. “Don’t do anything too sudden. You’ve still got a lot of healing left to do.”

The pain has knocked away the last vestiges of sleep, instead bringing blooming starbursts of grey to her vision. She lies still on the bed, breathing.

“Someone tell me I didn’t duel the Arishok,” she finally says, when the pain in her abdomen has begun to turn back to a dull throb. “Please tell me I had better sense than to do that.”

“You have terrible sense, Hawke,” Isabela says, and maybe she imagines it, but her voice sounds almost choked.

Anders sounds more concerned. “Do you remember everything that happened?” he asks her, and she foregoes nodding in favor of something less painful.

“Yeah. I killed a leader of the qunari and got myself knocked out. I feel like someone dropped a dragon on me.” Her gaze slides to him. “What, you didn’t heal me yet? You should get on that, or I’m going to have some impressive bruises.”

There is silence, the sort that tends to only happen when she’s said particularly senseless. It stretches on for a beat too long.

“Hawke…” Anders begins to say, but he’s interrupted by another voice.

“I thought I heard the melodious sound of our new Champion!” Varric is all smiles as he crosses the room, looking far less grim than everyone else. “So, how are you feeling, Hawke?”

“Varric,” she says, very seriously. “Why is everyone acting like I almost died?”

“Eh. Er. That. Don’t worry, Hawke, I’ll leave it out when I tell the story.”

Hawke blinks. “Oh.” Then she smiles, tries for a joke. “Guess I’m worse at healing than I thought, cause I didn’t think I was that bad. Some bruised ribs, at most.”

Anders’ hand spasms around hers and he makes a noise like someone has punched him in the ribs. He slumps forward, his head in the hand that’s not desperately clutching hers.

“Blondie, you need to get some rest,” Varric says, resting his own hand on Anders’ shoulder. “Eat something, at least.”

“I’m fine.”

“Anders.” Hawke manages to turn her head to look at him. His hair falls forward, veiling his face. She can’t see his eyes. “How long have you been awake?”

“I’m fine,” he says, just as Isabela says “days.”

Days?

A day. And a half. I’m fine. We’re worrying about you, not me.”

“Oh, no, I think we’re on to worrying about you now.” She flexes her fingers in his, then gently tugs. He lifts his head from his hand; there are deep circles under his eyes. “When did you last eat?”

Days,” Isabela says, and maybe she means it to be a joke, but this time Anders doesn’t correct her.

Hawke wants to smooth her fingers over the creases at the corners of his eyes. She doesn’t, just looks past him. “Varric, if Orana is here, could you ask her to bring us something to eat? Something light, I think. At least for me.”

Varric tips his head. “Certainly, oh champion.”

“Oh, Maker, is that what I’m going to be known as now?” Hawke sighs. “You’re going to have fun with this, aren’t you?”

“Hawke, when have I ever had fun at your expense?” With that, Varric ducks out of the room.

“I think I’ll go join him,” Isabela says, and after a short pause she leans over and kisses Hawke’s cheek, which is - thankfully - not bruised. “We’re all going to be bunking here for awhile, you know. Him, me, and Merrill. Road to the Hanged Man is currently full of fire and dead qunari.”

“Oh. Go right ahead.” Hawke waves her free hand slightly. “Plenty of places to sleep.”

Isabela winks, then slips off the bed. As she pads lightly out of the room, Hawke swears she sees her shoot Anders a look. The mage doesn’t notice, his eyes downcast, unfocused.

With a wince, she turns her head back to look at him. His thumb rubs over the back of her hand.

“Anders?” Her voice is soft, and his eyes briefly flicker to hers when she speaks.

“It’s mostly soft tissue damage,” he says. There’s a hollowness to his words, but she can hear just the slightest waver in them. “Right now, at least. You’re going to hurt for awhile; can’t get away with getting tossed about by a qunari warlord and come away without some pains that linger.”

Anders.”

His eyes find hers again, and she sees the redness to them from lack of sleep, the dark circles etched into the skin beneath.

“You nearly died.” He takes her hand, cups it in his own. Bows his head over it, so that she can once again not see his face easily. “You could have died.”

Hawke flexes her fingers slightly; the tip of one bumps his nose. “Not with you there to heal me,” she tells him. He makes a tiny sound, something sad and caught in his throat.

“I’ve got to teach you to heal better.” He curls his fingers around hers, presses them against his soot stained face. “You’re not going to get far with what you’re doing now.”

“Hey, I made it through that fight with them,” she counters, but even she knows it’s a bad argument. Sure, she doesn’t have his skills with healing, but she has some idea at how bad she actually is at healing. Patching something up with magic without having a clue what she’s actually piecing back together is...not ideal.

The look that crosses his face when she says that is...not a good look. It’s a very bad look, and Hawke feels a sinking sensation in her chest.

“What is it?”

“Just...just don’t do that again,” he says. “Please.”

“The fighting or the healing?”

“Both. When you’re better, I’ll teach you more about how to heal properly. Eventually, it will become second nature. You won’t…” His voice trails off and he looks away again.

“Okay,” she says, too tired to try to drag information out of him. “When I’m better. And when you’ve had some sleep.”

“I did try to rest,” he tells her then. “It’s a bit hard to do when there are too many important things to keep you awake.”

“Well,” Hawke says, with more confidence than she feels, “now the important thing is for you to sleep, so you should get on that. Come on, boots off, get in bed.”

He hesitates. “I should sleep in the study,” he says. “I wouldn’t want to bump into you on accident and -”

“Anders, you sleep like a log. I’m the one who moves around too much.” She squeezes his hand. “I’m worried about you.”

“Don’t be,” he says, and the glare she levels at him is the sort she generally reserves for particularly frustrating enemies. It must have had some impact, because he gives a self-deprecating laugh. “All right. All right, Hawke, I’ll try to sleep. And I’ll eat something first, if that will make you feel better. I’ll even go downstairs right now and see if Varric and the others have managed to piece anything together. Okay?”

“Okay,” she echoes. Anders gets up, but before he leaves he leans over and brushes a kiss over her temple.

“I’ll be right back,” he tells her, and Hawke smiles.

 

*

 

Hawke wakes some time later - having fallen asleep once more not long after Anders had left the room - to find that her apostate boyfriend has not, in fact, gotten into the bed to sleep, but has taken back up his position in the chair at her bedside. He is asleep, finally, but she cannot imagine that he is comfortable, his neck tipped at an angle that she is certain will lead to pain upon waking.

She does notice that, if nothing else, he has removed his boots.

Hawke isn’t certainly how much time has passed, but she does know that she feels restless and tired of being flat on her back.

It would probably be best to wait for an okay from Anders - being that he’s the actual spirit healer here - before getting up, but Hawke isn’t good at being patient and she has no desire to wake him up when he’s actually sleeping.

Getting out of bed, however, proves to be not fun.

Hawke feels like one big massive bruise. Her muscles are tight and tender, and trying to get herself vertical is a challenge, but one that she is going to overcome.

She sits on the edge of the bed for a moment before she gets to her feet. For a moment, she considers picking up the blanket that has slipped off Anders in the night, but bending over sends new aches through her, so she carefully pulls the coverlet from the bed and drapes it over him. He doesn’t even stir as the blanket settles over him. Up close, the circles under his eyes look like bruises.

Hawke looks at him for a long moment, and something twinges in the vicinity of her heart. She gently smoothes a strand of hair out of his face, fingers lingering for a moment, and then she lets her hand drop, not wanting to risk waking him.

Going downstairs is also a slow, aching process. Hawke decides then and there that, if she should ever be challenged to a duel by an Arishok again, she will refuse.

Then she gets to the study and, no, she wouldn’t refuse, she’d do it all over again exactly the same.

Isabela is there, asleep on one of the couches. Her hair is free and in a tangle about her face, her feet are bare, and she’s got one arm dangling off the edge so that her fingers brush the floor. Hawke looks at her and she thinks I would do it all over again for her.

“So, the sleeping Champion awakens,” she hears Varric say, and she turns around to find him sitting by the fire, a book from her library in hand.

“I hope you didn’t snoop through my private collection for that,” she says, looking towards the thick volume sitting in his lap.

“Hawke, I’ve seen your private collection, and it’s nowhere near as impressive or scandalous as you think it is.” He marks his place in the book and sets it aside. “So, as you’re standing here, I’m going to assume that Blondie’s magic is as good as he says it is, and you’re not going to fall over again. You gave us quite a start, Hawke.”

“Sorry, I’ll try to remember not to pass out from devastating injuries next time.” She settles herself down onto the second armchair. “Before you ask, I’m fine, I just feel like a qunari used me for melee practice, which...you know, is pretty much what happened.” The chair is, thankfully, nearly as comfortable as she remembers it being when she wasn’t one massive bruise, and she sinks against the plush backing. “By the way, did you ever manage to find some food in this house back whenever I was awake before? Because I unfortunately did not get to eat anything before I fell back to sleep and I am absolutely famished.”

Varric smiles at her, one of those fond, slightly amused smiles, though what he has to be amused about she has no idea. “We put some away for you. Figured you’d need it once you woke you. Now, you just stay in that seat and I’ll go get it for you.”

Hawke has no objections to that.

Left alone by the happily glowing fire, she has a moment to think. To just sit and observe and reflect. Think about everything that had happened in the past few days, the best weeks.

Varric obviously needed to be faster at getting food.

Instead of letting herself think about things that were still raw and painful, she instead took time to look around at the study. She’d noticed the curtains were drawn in the main hall, and here she is able to see just a sliver of the outside through one of the windows. It is either very early, she determines, or very late. No wonder everyone is asleep. Speaking of those still asleep, she can see bedding set out on the floor in the loft, and - oh, well, that’s where Merrill got to.

Varric comes back with a plate of food and sets it on the small table beside her chair. “A feast fit for a champion,” he says with a wink, and Hawke sees bread and cheese and a thin soup that looks to be just about the right thing for a stomach that hasn’t seen food in...however long she’d been out.

“Am I seriously going to be known as the Champion now?” she asks as she picks up the bowl of soup. It’s cold, she finds, and unfortunately she’s no longer got any talent for fire magic to heat it.

She eats it anyway.

“Well, that is what you are. Besides, it has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?”

Hawke grimaces. “Sure. It’s very flashy.”

“You hate it.”

“I’m just not used to it. Are people already calling me by that?” She takes a piece of bread and dips it into the cold soup. “It’s only been, what, a day?”

“Eh. About.”

Hawke stops, bread in her mouth. She chews, then swallows, keeping a suspicious glare leveled at him. “What do you mean, about?

“You’ve been out a little longer than a day,” Varric supplies, ever so helpful, and Hawke decides that now is a good time to set down the bowl of soup.

“That would explain why I’m so famished right now,” she says, because dwelling on this is not a good thing. “Does that mean you’ve all been staying here for days now?”

“Lowtown’s still filled with corpses,” Varric says, which isn’t exactly an answer, but Hawke doesn’t push it. She contemplates her piece of bread for a moment, then eats a few more bites of it.

“You’re all welcome to stay for as long as you like,” she tells him once she has swallowed. She means it, she really does. This house is too empty now, and Hawke does not want to feel so alone.

“We’ll probably take you up on that for a few days. I tell you, Hawke, when the town goes to shit, Lowtown really goes to shit.”

Hawke makes a face as she picks a crumb of bread from her lap. “Is it really that bad?”

“There are piles of bodies in the streets and the alienage caught fire. It’s pretty bad.”

“Oh.”

“That uncle of yours is fine, by the way,” Varric says, and she is very grateful to him in that moment for knowing that, while she would never ask about Gamlen, it’s something she needs to hear. “Seems like cutting our way past his house pretty much kept things from getting too bad there.”

“That’s...good to know.” She thinks back to that. Everything is a blur - she barely remembers the route they took to get through the city - but she remembers -

Oh. There goes her heart.

“Did - ahem. Any word on what the wardens were doing in the city?” she asks, as smoothly as possible. She’s not fooling Varric at all, of course. He knows exactly what she’s talking about.

“You know wardens, Hawke. Secretive bastards. Seems they blew out of the city as soon as the fighting was over. I did hear tell of a certain surly jerk of a brother making it out alive, though.”

Hawke lets out a breath, long and heavy. Something had knotted up inside her at seeing her brother alive. It’s still there, cold and tight and harsh in her chest. Carver is a different loss from all the others. A loss while he’s still alive, and seeing him...talking to him...hurt in a way she hadn’t even thought of.

She hadn’t had time to send him word of mother’s death, not before the city had gone up in chaos. She’d choked out the words to him, there in the street, but he’d already known.

For a moment, she thinks to respond to Varric with something light hearted, something fun and superficial. That’s what she does - she laughs at everything, she keeps a smile on her face and her words light, even when she feels like she’s drowning.

“It was good to see him,” she says instead. “I don’t think even his letters quite convinced me he was truly still alive.”

That’s a truth she hasn’t admitted out loud before. Not that she has many letters from him - Carver hasn’t written much over the years - but she’d never quite fully allowed herself to believe he was really and truly all right.

“I’m tired of losing people.” Hawke sets the remains of the bread down on the plate at her side and dusts off her fingers. “I’m so tired of it, Varric. My heart is sick with losing people I love, and to see him alive was...is…” She blinks a few times, then looks to the fire. “Brothers, right?”

“I get you,” Varric says, and Hawke believes him on that.

 

*

 

Some time later, there is a knock on the door. Varric has dozed off in his chair, and so Hawke contemplates getting up to answer it when the knocking stops and she hears the low murmur of voices.

Oh, Bodhan is awake, she thinks, and sure enough the dwarf arrives in the study a short time later.

“It is good to see you awake, Messere,” Bodhan tells her with a smile, but there is worry creasing his brow and the corners of his eyes. “Truly, we were all very worried for you. I hate to bother you now, but there is a, ah, man at the door asking for you.”

Hawke frowns slightly at this. She thinks of the men that might be calling on her - Fenris, Sebastian, possibly Gamlen - but Bodhan wouldn’t look so worried about any of them. “What is it, Bodhan? Is something the matter?”

Bodhan wrings his hands before him. “He says he’s the Knight-Captain, Messere. Here to see the Champion.”

Oh. Shit.

“Well. That is troublesome,” she says, keeping her voice light. “I suppose I’ll have to take care of this. If you could tell him that I will see him momentarily? Then please come back here and lock the study door.”

“Of course, of course. Is there anything else?”

“Have him wait in the sitting room off the hall. I’ll see him there.”

As Bodhan leaves, Hawke rises, then gently shakes Varric’s shoulder. The dwarf blinks sleepily, but when he sees the look on her face he snaps awake.

“What’s going on, Hawke?”

“I need you to do something for me, Varric. It’s very important.”

“Anything.”

“There’s a Knight-Captain waiting in the front hall for me,” she says, so casually that she could be discussing the weather. “I’d like you to go up to my bedroom and lock the door. If Anders wakes up, I need you to gently tell him what is going on, but by no means let him come down.” She swallows hard then, and some of her worry slides onto her face. “I can’t have the Knight-Captain knowing there are two apostates in this house apart from me.”

Varric doesn’t argue, just nods. “Of course. Bianca and I will make sure that Blondie stays put. But what about -”

“Bodhan will be keeping watch over Merrill. Really, hopefully the Knight-Captain will be gone before anyone wakes up, but I can’t take any chances.”

“Don’t take any chances yourself, Hawke.”

“I never do.” Which is a lie, and they both know it.

She makes her way to the sitting room, still slow, still aching with every movement. This is likely one of the most foolish things she’s done late, even more foolish than dueling the Arishok. A now known apostate seeing a Knight-Captain in her sitting room - it’s positively a terrible idea, but Hawke thrives on terrible ideas. This is also something that - had she actually thought a little on what would happen after openly using magic in a duel - she would have expected to happen.

At least it isn’t the Knight-Commander in her sitting room. That would just be awkward.

Bodhan has left the door to the sitting room open and Hawke does not bother to knock. She steps inside and closes the door most of the way, though leaves it open an inch.

Knight-Captain Cullen stands there, seemingly inspecting one of the paintings on the wall. His back is to her, and Hawke takes a moment to compose herself. Time to get this over with.

“Knight-Captain,” she says smoothly, and Cullen turns.

“Hawke -” he starts to say, but chokes part way through her name and the last syllable comes out stuttered. Apparently the sight of her in a nightdress and robe is a bit too much for him, and his face goes florid. “Ah, or should I say, Champion. It appears I have caught you at an inopportune moment -”

“You did come over at a very early hour,” Hawke agrees, and really, if she’s about to be dragged off to the Gallows, at least her last memories of being free will be of thoroughly embarrassing a templar. That’s something, at least. “If you don’t mind, I will be taking a seat. You are welcome to as well, Ser Cullen, though I’m not sure how well my chairs will accommodate templar armor.”

He hesitates for a moment as Hawke crosses the room to sit in one of the chairs, then takes a seat in the chair across from her. His armor clanks, steel shifting, but the chair does fit it all.

“I apologize for not sending advanced notice of my arrival,” he says, eyes not quite meeting hers. “If I had known I’d find you in such - in such a state, I would have, ah - waited longer. Though I am glad to see you are doing well, Serah Hawke. I had heard you walked away, unscathed and victorious, from fighting the Arishok one on one, but such things are hard to believe even should they be true.”

“I’d hardly say unscathed,” Hawke replies mildly. Part of her thinks it best to hide that she is still greatly injured, but the rest of her - if he’s here to take her to the Gallows, she’s not going to fight it. Not this time. She is worn thin from running and from loss and if the Gallows is her fate now...so be it.

She is surprised to find that, in this moment, she doesn’t care. It is a terrifying realization.

“Still, not many could claim such a feat,” Cullen continues. The redness in his face has gone down slightly, though he still appears to have some trouble looking at her. “It is very impressive, Hawke. No wonder they are calling you Champion.”

Hawke looks at him for a brief moment, then sighs. “Ser Cullen, let us stop with all of this dancing around. I would like to move forward to being arrested and dragged off to the Gallows as soon as possible. Otherwise I’ll start thinking that I’ll be able to stay here for afternoon tea, and I’d really like to not get my hopes up about that.”

Cullen does finally look at her at that, head jerking sharply to meet her eyes.

“Oh,” he says. “No, Hawke, that is not why I am here at all. I was not sent here to arrest you.”

Hawke is, quite literally, stunned. She blinks at him for what feels like a full minute.

Oh,” she says, and her voice sounds a bit distant. “Well, I feel like a right fool then. Assuming that a templar is in my house to arrest me for being an apostate. Silly me.”

“If I might speak frankly, Hawke,” Cullen says, and she notes that he seems to have finally gotten past the initial embarrassment of seeing her in a nightdress. “There has been some discussion in the past days of bringing you to the Gallows. You are an apostate, and you have now come to the Knight-Commander’s attention. However, you are also the Champion of Kirkwall, and with the full support of the nobility behind you, arresting you would be...unwise.”

Full support of the nobility? The feeling of being stunned is not going away any time soon.

“Well that is good to hear.” Hawke smiles, hiding the fact that she is currently very shocked. “I can’t say I was looking forward to being arrested by you.”

“It would bring me no pleasure to arrest you,” Cullen says, his whole demeanour serious. “You have done much for the good of Kirkwall, both now and before, and for that you will be left to live in peace. But I must tell you that, as an apostate living free in Kirkwall, the templars will be watching you closely.”

“That is a relief.” Perhaps she should stop trying to bait him now, but again, Hawke really doesn’t know when to leave enough alone. “I am glad to know that the templar order will be keeping an eye on me.”

Oh, she is fairly certain that a flash of annoyance just crossed the Knight-Captain’s face, and yes, maybe she should stop with the sarcasm.

“Truly, though,” and here her voice drops back to be far more diplomatic than it normally is, “thank you for telling me this, Ser Cullen. I feel as though I should apologize, now that this revelation about me being a mage has come out, for misleading you all these years.”

Cullen gives a low laugh at that. “Ah, yes. I cannot say it was a shock to hear, Serah Hawke. You will remember that I knew your cousin in Ferelden. There are many similarities between you and him, and it was not a stretch to say that magic was one as well. This was just confirmation on something long suspected.”

That stunned, off-kilter feeling returns in full force.

“You knew.”

“No. I suspected, nothing more.” He rises from his seat then; Hawke follows suit despite her protesting muscles. “I should leave you now, Champion. I merely came to deliver a warning - that the templars are watching you. Should you abuse your magic, we will take action, but for now we leave you free of the Gallows.”

“Thank you for that,” Hawke says, and she extends her hand. After another moment’s hesitation, Cullen takes it. Shaking hands sends a tremor of pain through her arm, but she keeps a straight face. “I am certain that I will be seeing you, Knight-Captain.”

“Like-wise,” he tells her. “I will take my leave of you, then. Good day, Champion.”

And just like that, he is gone.

Hawke stands in the sitting room for a long time, blinking, trying to wrap her head about what had just happened. And not just what had happened there, in speech, but what she had realized about herself in that instant before he told her he wasn’t going to arrest her.

She had been ready for him to drag her off to the Gallows. She had expected it. She had...she had been at peace with the idea.

Hawke sinks back down into the chair and covers her face with her hands. She had been ready to be taken to the Gallows. She knows, without a doubt, that she wouldn’t have fought, she would have gone along. Not just because a scene would have brought attention to the other apostates currently within the walls of her home, but because…

She does not want to examine the cold, painful feelings in her heart and her head, the ones that have nothing to do with being batted about by a qunari warlord. She has ignored them as best she could, put them down to grief. Ignored them because she can sometimes laugh and smile and feel happy, but all of that is on the surface. At the core, at her center, she has dying magic and grief. At her center, she takes on all the blame her mother has heaped upon her over the years and made it her own, shouldered the burden of every death, every loss.

At her center, she is okay with being taken to the Gallows, and that realization terrifies her.

She thinks of how she killed the Arishok. How she tore fear from her own heart and poured it into him until he could not move. How her magic blinded him, pulled at his mind until he faltered in his pursuit of her, and only then did she draw lightning from the air to burn him, only then did she draw upon gravity to crush him. Only then.

She thinks on this, and decides she doesn’t wish to think of it anymore.

It has perhaps only been a few minutes, perhaps longer, but she hears a crashing sound from the upper levels of her estate, and that is enough to knock her out of her contemplative mood. Someone shouts, and Hawke’s goes cold and she knows exactly what has just happened.

Moving hurts, but this is more important. Muscles protest and scream as she pushes herself out of the chair so fast as to nearly leap from it - they continue as she runs through the door to the room left open in the Knight-Captain’s departure. Adrenaline courses through her, her heart aches.

He is halfway across the main room when she reaches him, his skin split with fissures of light, the stink of raw magic rolling from him. His boots are still off, his hair mussed from sleep, and he holds no staff, but in this moment he is as dangerous as if he was fully armed.

I will let no templar take you.” She hears the dual tone of Justice - of Vengenace - overlayed over Anders’ own voice. “Where are they, I will strike them down where they stand. They will take no mage from this house.”

She meets him halfway across the room, and heedless of the pain of the movement she catches him in her arms, holding him tightly. “No, Justice,” she says, feeling the sting of magic unbound on the skin of her cheek as she presses her face to his chest. “Anders. I am fine. There are no templars here. They have all gone away.”

Holding him like this, she can taste magic like a dream. It fills her nose, slips along her skin, trails down her throat as she speaks. It is bitter and sharp and sets her alight. It is like the Fade, but more immediate. More tangible, more real. She has never stood so close to him when Justice bleeds through, never touched him when magic seeps from his skin like blood.

“I am all right,” she repeats as magic fills her head like a song. She looks up at him, at his face split open with light, and her grip on him tightens even. “There are no templars here.”

Against her, he stills. His head tips down and he meets her gaze; it is like looking into the Fade. Something changes; she doesn’t know what. For a moment, he is Vengeance, he is that creature born of anger and hurt who she has seen before. And then - it is not a softening in his face. It is not that, but something shifts. Something tilts, and he is different. Not Vengeance, not Anders, and she thinks she knows this face.

“I am safe, Justice,” she tells him as he looks down at her. His eyes are wide. “There was a templar here, but he is gone now, and I am safe.”

There is no safety for mages in Kirkwall,” he says, his voice a deep rumble. This is Justice who she met in the Fade, she thinks. This is not Vengeance.

“Right now, right this moment, we are safe.” Her fingers tighten in the fabric of his tunic. Her back aches. “No more templars will come to my door today. Please, trust me.”

He stares at her, and then - slowly, so slowly - his hands brush her sides. He looks at her and his head dips until his forehead nearly touches hers. Her head fills with magic; it rings through her mind. She is going to drown it it; it runs from her fingertips to her heart and for a moment it burns away all else. She is fire, she is ash, the Fade opens up before her and it sings -

And then it all breaks. Anders slumps forward against her and Hawke lets out a gasp as her knees give way. They stumble; he catches her, and they sink to the ground.

“I am sorry,” he says, his voice a whisper. “I am sorry. I am so sorry, he came out again, I couldn’t stop him.”

“It is all right.” Hawke runs her fingers through his hair, smoothing tangles. “No harm done.”

Anders looks at her, eyes wide, worried. “Varric said there was a templar here and I - I couldn’t - Meredith knows now, she knows that you’re a mage, and I - thought they were going to take you.” He leans forward, rests his forehead against hers. “I couldn’t bear that.”

Hawke’s hands slip down to his shoulders, her thumb brushes over his collarbone. “There was a templar,” she tells him, feels him tense. “I thought he was going to take me to the Gallows. He didn’t. He said that, for now, the templars will be leaving me alone.”

Anders pulls back from her, and there is confusion on his face. “They...what...but…”

“I’m the Champion of Kirkwall. Apparently, that carries some sort of power,” she says with a smile that she doesn’t quite feel. She will never tell him that she would have gone to the Gallows without protest.

“I could have told you that,” Varric says, and she looks up to see him standing at the foot of the stairs. She levels a glare at him.

“I thought I told you to break it to him gently.”

Varric spreads his hands wide. “I tried that. Apparently I need a more delicate touch.”

Against her, Anders laughs. It is a tired sound, but it is still a laugh. “There’s no delicate way to break any news involving templars,” he says. “I am sorry, though.”

Hawke can’t quite read Varric’s expression, but he shrugs. “Don’t worry about it, blondie. I forgive you. Bianca might, too, though I’d be wary around her for a while. You can never be too careful.”

“I’ll keep that in mind, Varric.” Anders stands then, pushing himself to his feet. He extends his hand and Hawke takes it, letting him do most of the work. She can’t help but wince, her abused muscles still protesting everything.

Anders, of course, notices the wince, and his brows draw together.

“What hurts?”

Hawke lets out a heavy sigh. “Ah, well, pretty much everything. Not surprising, considering - hold on, what are you doing? No, no, no, you are not going to burn yourself out healing my bruises.”

“I’m well rested,” Ander says. “I’m more than well enough to fix your bruises, and whatever else hurts without burning myself out.”

“Oh. In that case, go right ahead!”

 

**

 

Even with magic, healing is a slow process. For the first week, Hawke doesn’t leave the estate - she stays inside with tea, reads Varric’s newest piece of work, and feels utterly restless. While Varric’s writing doesn’t lack when it comes to excitement, it’s not the same as actually doing things. Outside the estate.

She has had no concrete reason to put on shoes in an entire week and that is weird.

Still, she is not alone during her recovery. Orana and Bodhan and Sandal are constant presences in the house, and Hawke comes to learn their routines now that she is stuck indoors. She is startled to learn that Orana never leaves the estate, though she doesn’t press her for a reason as to why.

There are letters, too. From nobles she has never spoken to before. Written words of thanks. Invitations to upcoming social events that she, as the Champion of Kirkwall, is now of high enough social standing to warrant and invite. It is utterly exhausting to read through them, but she does, and pens replies to the ones that require them.

She doesn’t think she’ll be going to any galas any time soon, but one never knows.

Her friends come by as well, and they are a great source of comfort. Fenris comes by the day after her visit from the Knight-Captain, Sebastian a few hours later. Aveline is absent for quite some time, busy with bringing order back to the city, but she makes some time late in the week to see how Hawke is doing. Isabela, Varric, and Merrill stay in her study and spare rooms for a few days before finally taking their leave and returning to Lowtown.

And then there’s Anders.

They still haven’t talked about it, not really, but he stays every night, just like he has been doing since her mother’s death. Somedays, he disappears, off to his clinic where the lantern stays unlit, the doors shut, but most days he stays near to her. She is glad for that - she feels better with him near, lighter, happier. The cold knot in her chest isn’t gone, her grief is still there, raw and acidic, but it is easier with him there.

She wants to tell him that she meant it when she said she wanted him right there forever. She wants to ask him in plain words if he would like to move in. To stay. Here.

With her.

She almost does, on several occasions, but the words stick in her throat. When she tries to ask, anxiety wells up, thick and choking.

Three years of them dancing around what they feel for each other, three years of flirting only for him to draw back, three years of this can never happen - apparently this has left her with some worries she needs to work through. There is some part of her that worries that, if she asks him to stay, he’ll draw back again.

It’s silly. It’s so silly. He’s not going to leave. She is relatively sure of that, but being relatively sure doesn’t stop the anxiety.

And they have not been seeing each other long. It’s only been a few weeks of kissing and sex and confessions of love. It’s not long enough, even with three years of flirting and friendship added to it.

She wants to ask him to move in.

But she hasn’t.

She can tell that something is on his mind as well. Not the same thing that is on hers, she thinks. Something is off-kilter, he has been shaken. She has known this for awhile - since the Gallows, since Ella, since Justice - but it is more apparent now. When he heals her, there is something off, and he heals no one in his clinic.

Hawke remembers the taste of magic and ash, and she worries.

She worries, and she continues to dream of demons.

 

*

 

It is evening and the estate is quiet. It has been two weeks since the qunari, and the city will still need much time to recover. The streets are still not yet clean, and there are several templars positioned in the courtyard before the Keep. Not many, but they were not there before. It is unsettling.

Anders feels uncomfortable enough walking in Hightown by himself as it is. That there are now templars makes his skin crawl, makes Justice roil just beneath the surface. He bites his cheek to focus on something other than them and walks quickly, keeping just enough to the shadows to hide his features, but not making such an attempt to stay hidden as to appear suspicious.

Hawke’s front door has, unfortunately, very little by way of which to hide himself. So he gives up on trying to be somewhat sneaky and just walks up and knocks, as though he isn’t an apostate taking an evening stroll through Hightown.

The door opens a crack. Not because anyone opened it, simply from him knocking upon it, and Anders is instantly alert.

Templars. It must be. He had wanted to trust Hawke when she said they would not take her - but he has no trust for templars. They must have waited until they thought their lies were believed, they must have come back -

He bites down harder on the inside of his cheek, breathes once, twice, again. Justice buzzes angrily, and he feels the icy feel of the Fade slipping out. He breathes again. Again. Again. Then pushes the door open and steps through.

The estate is quiet.

He holds his anger in check. Justice remains as he is, has not quite turned to the anger of Vengeance. Perhaps nothing is wrong. Perhaps Hawke has simply gone out and forgot to latch the door properly. There are no templars. Hawke is safe. He is overreacting.

His footsteps fall quickly as he hurries through the hall. He will check her room - no, the study. She has been there most often -

The door is ajar. Something is wrong.

A thick, creeping miasma spills through the door, out into the main room. It curls around his feet, stinking of fear and despair and horror. It clings to him and his worry turns to anxiety turns to fear. He knows this sort of magic, he recognizes it - in the instant before it takes complete hold, Anders draws upon his own magic. It flares out, hot and bright, then fades; at his feet, the miasma shrinks back; as he walks, he cuts a path through it. He walks into the study.

There are no templars.

The room is a mess. Tendrils of fear and anguish curl about, a cloud that rises to his waist. Through it, he can see bodies - not templars, but dwarves. One of the bookshelves has been torn down, the contents strewn among the corpses. There is an electric tang to the air, the whiff of burnt flesh. Everything stinks of magic and fear and death.

Near the base of the stairs, nestled against the wall, is Hawke.

Hawke!

He crosses to her in an instant. Up close, he can tell she is alive. She tips her head back, blinking, and her eyes focus on him.

“Oh, hello,” Hawke says, a somewhat dazed look on her face. “I have good news and bad news. The good news is that two weeks of being stuck inside hasn’t taken the edge off of my magic. The bad news is that I’m going to need your help disposing of some bodies. Again.”

“If this is what happens when I leave you alone for an afternoon, I should really never leave you alone,” Anders says, his words surprisingly calm given that his heart is practically jumping within his chest. He crouches down beside her, setting his fingers on her neck. Tiny threads of healing magic tell him that she is okay. A few new bruises, but no one got close enough to hurt her.

“That would be nice.” Hawke tips her head towards him, leaning into his touch.

His heart lurches in an entirely different way from that. “You know, you can stop with the entropy magic now, sweetheart,” he tells her instead. Hawke blinks rapidly, like she’s just realized what the rest of the room looks like.

“Shit,” she says, and the magic dispels like it has been taken out by a gust of wind. “Ugh, this room is going to smell like magic forever.”

“You might want to look into a way to get rid of it,” he says, because yes, the stink of entropic magic can linger for a long time. “They used to burn herbs in the Tower to try to get rid of it. Cinnamon was also helpful.”

“I will keep that in mind.” Hawke gets to her feet, shaking herself out. Anders rises to follow suit. “You know, I really thought I was mostly safe in my own home.”

“I did, too.” Now that the magic has cleared, he can see more easily the signs of the fight, the telltale markings of Hawke’s skills. The bookshelf had most likely come down with one of her gravity spells, and the metallic tang in the air speaks of lightning. That the room is not more damaged speaks to her control.

Though...and he frowns as he realizes this - there are no signs of earth magic. He has seen her use it before, to great effect. She has torn up cobblestones and floorboards before, only to sheepishly smooth them back into place after a battle. There are no signs that the flooring has been disturbed, and while it’s possible that she didn’t want to ruin the floor in her own home…

When he thinks on it, he realizes that she used no earth magic in her fight against the Arishok, nor with the qunari on the streets before that. And he’d never seen her use any spells comprised of fear before.

“Hawke,” he says slowly, as though piecing together a puzzle. “When did you learn entropy magic?”

“We should probably check the corpses, to see if there are any clues as to why they attacked me.” She stoops next to the closest one, pulling open pouches and going through pockets and completely ignoring his question.

“Hawke.”

“What’s this? Oh, just twine.” She moves to the next body. “Why dwarves, though? I mean, this is new for me. Demons, I expect. Walking skeletons. Qunari. But dwarves? I mean, there’s Bartrand, but he’s not currently on the ‘enemies who want me dead’ list -”

“So we’re not talking about the magic then?”

He sees her shoulders rise and fall as she lets out a heavy sigh. “It’s really not a big deal.” She doesn’t look at him.

“In my experience,” he says, watching her continue to go through pockets, “when a mage suddenly breaks out a whole new branch of magic, they’ve either been studying in secret or something pretty big is going on.”

Hawke pulls a few scraps of paper out of one of the dwarf’s pockets, then tosses them away with a scowl. “See, there you go assuming I learned things in schools of magic.”

That catches his attention. “You didn’t?

“I’m not Circle trained, Anders.” She does look at him then. “Is it so strange to think that I might have learned magic differently from you?”

It is. He has the same sense of something shifting as he had when he realized Merrill didn’t see the difference between demons and spirits as he did. Something tilts.

“So...the entropy?”

“I picked it up,” she says, then stands up. “Ugh, there’s nothing here. No orders, not even a random name on a piece of paper in anyones’ pockets. As far as I can tell, five dwarves attacked me for absolutely no reason in my own home.” She wraps her arms around her waist, hugging herself. “This is dreadfully unpleasant.”

The look on her face is enough to dissuade him from speaking more on the subject of magic, and the worry that he has stamped down comes back.

“How many locks do you think a door can reasonably hold?” he says, still holding that worry in check. “I’m thinking you might need a few more.”

“I think you’re right.” Hawke stares down at the corpses for a long moment, then crosses the distance over to where Anders stands. He catches her up in his arms as she leans against him. “As bored as I have been these past weeks, I really wish I could just be allowed some time to recover without things like this happening,” she says into his coat, voice muffled by the feathers.

“Would you believe me if I said I wish the same?” He tangles his fingers in her hair and is glad that she is well into recovery from her duel. He is glad that he was able to heal her, to trust himself enough to heal her, if no one else. “I don’t like the idea of anyone being able to get at you.”

Hawke gives a small laugh. “I suppose if someone does, you’ll be there to patch me up.”

“Don’t.” There’s a pang in his heart again, in all of him. Justice does not like what she has just said either. Any levity in the situation is gone in an instant. “Don’t joke about that.”

She tips her head up, no longer hiding it against his chest. “I know that tone. What?”

“I don’t -” Anders swallows, breathes. “After the Arishok. When you fell. I’ve lost so many before, but I never - what I told you before. It was true; in the Tower, you don’t dare to love someone so deeply. Because you will lose them and it will hurt too much to bear.” He leans down, presses his forehead against hers. “I am so terrified of what losing you would do to me.”

Hawke slides her hands up to grasp the front of his coat. Her eyes flutter shut. “You’re not going to,” she tells him, and she says it firmly, confidently, as though there is no doubt in the world about this. “The only thing I am good at keeping alive is myself, and I’m very good at that. So don’t worry. You won’t lose me.”

He doesn’t believe her, but as he tangles his hands in her hair and breathes until his heart calms, he wants to.

 

*

 

They dispose of the corpses late in the evening. Ashes are just dust, and dust is not noticed in Darktown.

It is not the first time they have disposed of bodies together, and it will not be the last.

Two days later, they do so again; five more dwarves, five more corpses, and more ash to spread to the wind.

They still have no clues as to why they have come after her.

 

*

 

A week later, and there is a Grey Warden waiting for Hawke at the Hanged Man.

“Hello, sister,” Carver says to her shocked face. “I hear that you’ve also had a run in dwarves looking for the blood of the Hawke.”