Hawke was aware of three things:
First, of all the things she missed dearly about Ferelden, the snow was not one of them.
Second, for looking so lithe, an unconscious Fenris was a very heavy Fenris.
Third, his sword was also… very heavy.
She trudged hopelessly towards the lights and smoke in the distance, squinting against the wind, the elf unconscious and bleeding on her back. It felt like hours since she managed to lose the mercenaries on her tail, too panicked to check her estimate with the position of the moon. No matter what, she was moving too slowly – Fenris needed help, or he would –
No. She would not lose him
In the distance, she saw smoke.
The farmer stared slack-jawed at the woman before him, panting through blue lips and covered in blood he was sure wasn’t her own, an elf on her back.
“Is there a medic in this village?”
He pointed silently to a small shack on the outskirts. Hawke nodded her thanks, and trudged forward, grateful for the scarf and hood that obscured her face.
The medic was a small woman of some age, but kind enough to take the pair in without question. Hawke limped her way over to a cot and laid Fenris down with a groan, arranging his limbs delicately and working at removing his armor as quickly as she could with her hands. Her fingers were too clumsy, numb with cold and panic.
“We were ambushed,” she said through chattering teeth. Only near the warmth of a new fire did she realize how cold she was. “He was hit, badly.”
The medic was struck by Hawke’s piercing gaze, an exhausted ferocity of a young woman who had seen far too much for her years.
“He needs help. Please.”
A nod from the older woman eased Hawke’s stance, and so she continued prying the armor off of the unconscious elf to the sounds of clinking bottles and sloshing potions.
The medic’s furrowed brow gave Hawke very little reassurance for the situation.
“He’s bled out terribly,” she grumbled, moving a wisp of dark grey hair from her face. Hawke did not dare ask the question at the forefront of her mind – it was too final. They had not tried anything yet.
“I may be able to heal him, but…”
The medic glanced at Hawke.
“It won’t be by … conventional methods.”
There was silence, but to her surprise, Hawke’s face did not change. Her eyes shifted, focused behind the healer, just barely making out Fenris’s form in the semi-darkness. He worried her with the way his chest heaved with raspy breaths and the sweat on his brow.
“Apostate healers are not unfamiliar territory to me. Please, just… save him.”
Hawke watched until the woman’s hands ceased to glow and reached instead for her more traditional balms and bandages. She was gentle and efficient in her application, and something in her manner reminded Hawke vaguely of Anders (or, at least, who he had been), and brought a pain to her chest she had been trying to force away ever since they left Kirkwall.
Soon, the medic turned to Hawke, wiping her hands on a clean rag, examining the younger woman’s face with unanticipated attention.
“… I know who you are, Champion.”
“I see my fame precedes me.”
“That would be one way to look at it.”
Hawke snorted. She would rather have been known for her unique outlooks than… well, Kirkwall.
“What gave us away?”
“Your armor, for one, but also the markings on the boy’s body. Those who pay attention are at least a little familiar with your companions.”
“So, is this the end for us, then?”
The medic’s laugh was as sharp as her jut of her cheekbones.
“An apostate? Turn the Champion of Kirkwall in to the chantry?”
The tremors left Hawke’s hands, then. She had been hoping for an answer like that. She would have hated to spill more innocent blood, but if it meant saving herself and Fenris from the chantry’s enthusiastic searching… well.
“You did take two random travelers in during the night. I wouldn’t put risks beyond you.”
“Perhaps some time ago, child, but not anymore.”
The best Hawke could do was a small upturn at the very edge of her lips. She had not been called ‘child’ since meeting some distant relatives, back in Lothering, years before she became intimate with grief and bloodshed.
“Will he be alright?”
“Your friend will be just fine. I gave him a sleeping draught so that he may rest tomorrow. He will need it, for the kind of travel you seem to be doing. I would suggest you follow suit. There are spare bedrolls in the chest behind you.”
“Think nothing of it, Champion. You’ve done enough for my kind.”
Hawke did not sleep.
She sat, her legs straddling the back of a chair, with her arms crossed atop the wood and chin nestled in the intersection. She watched Fenris’s chest rise and fall as he slept, peaceful at long last. Her hand reached over to clear his forehead of silver hair and stroke his cheek. It would be the last time for a long time that she would feel the warmth of him, still abuzz with lyrium and healing magic. Hawke’s eyes traced his profile slowly, her hand drifting to the frayed edges of the red scarf on his wrist.
Soon she couldn’t see beyond the tears and her throat closed, images of the sword that was meant for her, the sheen of the blade heading for her, the flash of blue blocking the impact, the splatter of his blood on her armor –
He said he would die to protect her. She always hoped he didn’t mean it.
In the morning, the medic re-entered the room to find Hawke stoking the fire.
“I hate to ask more of you,” she said, her words too quick for the calm on her face, “but I assume you understand the nature of our situation. I will pay anything for your discretion, as well as your care.”
The mage raised her hand again, effectively silencing the nervous girl before her.
“Think of it as repayment for the support you gave the mages. Word travels fast among us, and you will find many friends on your journey for it, as well as many enemies.”
Hawke’s smile was surprisingly warm, but it did not last.
“I… need directions to the nearest smithy and market.”
The medic had a feeling that this would be the last she would see of the infamous Champion of Kirkwall.
(She was wrong – she saw her one last time, by the fire pit behind the house, late at night. She sheared her own hair with a dagger, leaving only a few inches, which she swept back. The fire was fueled by the cloaks and clothes she and the elf arrived in.)
Fenris woke bleary-eyed, not awake enough to wonder where he was or how he got there.
When there was no response, he sat up. The pain reminded him of what had happened – he had seen the blade, and taken it for himself without thinking. The elf looked at the bandages around his abdomen, and then around the hut. It was quaint and quiet, not a soul in sight. Someone had taken great care to heal him, and judging by the way his lyrium still sang, not without magic. The thought brought his brows low over his eyes, pulled by the sagging corners of his mouth, but none of that was quite as distressing as the lack of any sign of Hawke.
The footsteps brought him hope, but they were too slow, too light for Hawke’s confident, armored stride. The woman who entered was small and wrinkled, clad in robes and carrying a tray with several small, steaming bowls.
“So, you are finally awake.”
Of all the questions Fenris thought to ask, he could not voice a single one. His eyes were flicking about the new, unfamiliar surroundings, interrupted only by the woman setting one of the bowls near him. It smelled of herbs and cooked meat, warm enough to remind him of the cold in the hovel and strong enough to stir the hunger in his stomach.
“It’s soup. You’ll need it to regain your strength.”
“Where is the woman I came with?”
“I will tell you once you finish your soup,” she said, all too motherly towards a man she had effectively just met. Fenris opened his mouth to speak, but the medic would hear nothing of it. “You have not eaten in days. If I was trying to poison you, I would have done it while you were asleep. I am not stupid enough to challenge an elf who swings a sword nearly twice his size, thank you very much.”
It was a fair argument.
Once Fenris finished, he did not get the answer he was hoping for. The old woman gestured to a parcel on a table, tied haphazardly at the top with a thin, red ribbon.
“That is what she left you.”
Fenris lowered his feet onto the floor perhaps a little too fast, and limped over to the table. He tugged at the ribbon to unravel the package, knowing well enough that it was the same he had seen in Hawke’s hair nearly every day since he met her. Much to his dismay, the contents were exactly what he was hoping they wouldn’t be: a goodbye.
There was a note, laid carefully atop a brand new set of black armor and a cloak. She had left him a small pouch of potions and what he knew to be more than the coin he had on him before the attack. She had even left him new boots and gloves.
The elf opened the note with shaking hands, still clumsy with the words on the page, but Hawke was notoriously less verbose on paper, almost to the point where he would not know it to be her farewell if not for her hasty penmanship.
‘Yours was damaged.
Of all the things she missed dearly about Ferelden, the snow was not one of them.
Hawke stood alone, her cloak a jarring splash of navy on the white landscape. A scarf hid all but her eyes, aided by the shadow of her hood. The new armor she bought for herself was simple, nothing in comparison to the decorated metal and leather of the Champion of Kirkwall. She had done more with less, however, and wanted to rid herself of the clunky metal as much as she wanted to rip the title from her being. The only things she kept were her faithful daggers, well-hidden by the cloak and tucked at her hips.
It all reminded her of how she started, all those years ago, but Lothering was gone and home was out of reach, somewhere between the smell of damp wood and watered down ale; or coastal air rushing between worn stone; or in the arms of the white-haired elf she left behind.
It would be better this way. For him, anyway.
She hummed an old folk song as she moved, lost to all but her own ears against the blizzard.
“Varric. Mail for you.”
The dwarf took the envelope from the messenger, unfamiliar with its seal, but he had a vague feeling that made him wait until he was safe from prying eyes to unroll the parchment. He did not need a signature to recognize the penmanship.
‘I’m moving alone. If he asks, tell him I’m alright. Lie if you have to.
You know how to find me. Stay safe.’