"Have you seen Cole?"
The woman just gave him a blank look. She clearly had no idea who he meant.
Anders had been circling the camp for an hour now. Everywhere he looked, he found exhausted, miserable people who quite obviously just wanted him to go away. He didn't care. He didn't have room inside to care. He was full to brimming with fear – fear of loss, fear for Hawke, fear of what he would become without Hawke.
Hawke should be here. Why had those bastards left him behind? When they caught up with the refugee train, and Hawke wasn't with them, he'd wanted to kill them. All of them. Only Justice stopped him attacking. If he'd been with them, if Hawke had let him be with them, he would've stayed at the end. Hawke wouldn't have had to face an archdemon and a darkspawn magister alone. Hawke wouldn't have had to die alone.
No, he mustn't even think that. Hawke was alive. He must be alive.
"No word yet?" a quiet voice asked behind him. Anders turned to see Chancellor Roderick, pale and unsteady on his feet.
Anders swallowed his immediate response, which would have been to yell at Roderick, scream at him with all the anger and fear he held. It was a very hard lump to swallow; if not for this man, Hawke might not have been able to find an excuse to leave Anders behind. He would be with Hawke, for better or worse, and not... alone.
He shook his head brusquely. "Have you seen Cole? The spirit boy? Big floppy hat?"
Roderick frowned. "I don't think I know who you mean." He shook his head as if shaking off his confusion and focused on Anders once again. "Hawke will make it, healer. Andraste would not have brought him this far to let him die now. We must have faith."
Anders stared at him. "You... don't know who I am, do you?"
"An apostate healer who is in an obvious relationship with the former Champion of Kirkwall?" Roderick gave him a small smile. "I have an inkling. And... my reactions even yesterday would have been far different."
Anders swallowed hard again, but this time it was a ridiculous urge to apologise – inappropriately and insufficiently. "I, er, you really think She is watching over him?" Maker knew, he'd like to believe that.
"I do," Roderick said. "I am ashamed I denied it for so long. I let doubt and fear cloud my judgement, but the proof has been there all along for those willing to see it."
"I'm not sure She'd want a prayer from me," he said glumly, turning his head to look around for Cole again. "You probably shouldn't be standing, you know."
"I shouldn't even be breathing," Roderick countered. "If it weren't for you, I wouldn't be. I probably would not have survived long enough to pass on what I knew – knowledge that allowed us all to survive. We are both Her instruments in this, in spite of any missteps we have made in the past."
That brought Anders' attention straight back to the chancellor. "Misstep? I–" He shook his head; he hadn't the time for this. "Look, nice talk. I appreciate it. Truly. But you need to be resting, and I need to be finding compassion spirits, who if they truly had any bloody compassion would let themselves be found!" His voice had risen in volume during the last bit of that spiel, so in way of an apology, he took Roderick's hand and fed him some more healing energy.
Not too much though. He was saving whatever Justice had left him for when Hawke turned up. Any time now.
Roderick patted his hand gently before pulling free from his grasp. "You've given me enough of your strength. Save it in case you have need of it later. Try to keep faith. She will lead Her herald back to us. After everything that has happened, how could She not?"
"I... don't know." Anders managed a weak smile. "I really need to find Cole, but we could talk again later maybe? After Hawke's back." He nodded firmly. Not long now and Hawke would be walking down that slope towards the camp.
"I would like that," Roderick told him, giving him an encouraging smile before wandering slowly back towards the tent in which he'd been resting.
Anders watched him go for a few seconds and then turned on the spot, surveying the camp. He spotted Solas standing apart from everyone at the start of the track that led away from the camp, the one they'd arrived by. Gwydion was standing beside him, staring out into the grey and looking nearly as dejected as Anders felt. He headed off towards the pair, hoping for a more informative answer from the elf than the last time he'd asked.
He didn't even make it halfway before a welcome voice came from his side, "Cold, so cold, don't think I've ever been this cold in my life. Everything's gone numb."
Anders turned and grabbed Cole by the shoulders. "Where have you been?" he demanded, and then what Cole had been saying registered. "Who's cold? Is it Hawke? Where is he? You have to take me to him!"
Cole's eyes had widened when Anders had grabbed him, and he looked up at him now from under the brim of his floppy hat like a startled halla. "I didn't hear you calling me, I'm sorry. There's just so much... It's very loud here."
Anders was aware that he was only just holding it together. "Cole. Please listen. You must take me to Hawke. He needs me."
Cole didn't answer at first, his gaze going distant and distracted. "Can't stop. Won't stop. One foot in front of the other." He focused again, more sharper than before. "He's alive," he told Anders. "Battered, beaten, bruised, but unbowed."
For a moment, Anders felt like he was going to collapse to his knees, such was the weight of relief he felt. He leant heavily on Cole as he tried to regain control of himself, but then strength seemed to infuse him, and he didn't need to see the spirit cracks in his own skin to know where the strength was coming from.
As he straightened up, removing his hands from Cole, he thought a heartfelt 'Thank you!' at Justice. "Where is he? Can you take me to him?"
"Embers... still warm," Cole murmured, then nodded sharply. "Yes. He isn't far. Freezing, faltering, but forcing himself forward. He won't stop until he finds us. Finds you."
As they rushed out of the camp, Anders gestured at Fenris as they passed. Fenris scowled, but that probably had more to do with what Anders had said to him last time they spoke than anything else as he immediately got up and jogged after the pair.
"Have you found him?" he demanded.
"Cole knows where he is," Anders said, saving his breath rather than elaborate. He gestured to Giddy as they ran past, who immediately joined them.
Outside the camp the snow was deep and thick, and they were suddenly moving at a crawl. Too slow! If he hadn't been conserving his energy to heal Hawke, he'd have sent a fireball through it all, forcing it to melt.
Behind him, he could hear more people following, so he glanced round to see if it included a mage with firepower. It did. "Dorian," he yelled against the noise of the wind. "Can you..?" He gestured at the snow ahead of them.
The Tevinter mage was shivering violently, but gestured with his staff, and Anders could feel the strength of the spell he threw out. A wall of flames roared into life, stretching out ahead of them, then immediately died down, leaving a passable trail in their wake.
Beside him, Cole straightened and stared into the blowing snow more intently. "Light in the distance. Not sure what, but at least it's something other than snow." He turned to Anders urgently, "He saw that."
Anders began to run.
Before he got to the end of the cleared path, he could see a figure in the distance ahead, dark against the snow. "Hawke!" he yelled as loud as he could. "I'm coming! Hold on!"
He watched Hawke's head snap up, and Anders was still too far away to make out his features, but he still somehow knew Hawke was staring right at him. And then to his horror, Hawke collapsed, falling onto his knees in the deep snow like a puppet whose strings had been cut.
Hawke didn't have a spirit inside him to boost his strength. That Hawke had got this far was proof of his incredible determination; Anders wasn't about to let him fall now. He plunged into the thick snow, forcing his way through it with sheer physical muscle, what he had of it.
Giddy managed to leap ahead of him, his approach to the snow seemed to be to bounce like a gazelle. Twice he disappeared in the snow completely only to bounce up again further along.
Anders fell over more than once, but hardly noticed it, so compelled was he to reach Hawke now.
As he got closer, he started yelling again. "Hawke! Hold on!" To his great relief, he saw Hawke look up in response, and then something happened.
He was where he was, and then he wasn't. He had somehow shot through the rest of the snow and was by Hawke. He didn't have time to question that miracle before dropping to his knees in front of his lover and taking him into his arms. "I'm here. I've got you."
Hawke's arms wrapped around him in return though they didn't do so with their usual strength. "Found you," he murmured, his breath warm against Anders' neck.
Anders felt through Hawke's body with his magic, finding exhaustion, cold shock, broken ribs, awful bruising, incipient frostbite and more, though it could have been so much worse. He began to feed Hawke every bit of healing energy he had. "The others are coming. They'll get you to the camp. You made it. You did it. You're amazing."
He felt another puff of warm breath as Hawke chuckled. "Thought for sure you were going to yell at me."
"Oh, that's coming," Anders assured him after swallowing down something that felt horribly like tears. "Once you're warm and safe, and whole. Just wait."
"Oh goody. Something to look forward to," Hawke said with a trace of his usual humour though mostly he still sounded exhausted. There was a pause while Giddy arrived and tried to give Hawke big warm mabari kisses that would quickly freeze on Hawke's skin. Anders pushed him away.
Then, with a little more urgency, Hawke asked, "Fenris, Varric, the others... did they...?"
"Everyone is fine. Well, I imagine their ears will be burning for some time yet. They left you!" Anders held Hawke tighter still, now that he'd fixed the broken ribs. "Those bastards. I'll never forgive them that."
Hawke shook his head stubbornly. "There was a dragon. I told everyone to move. We got separated. Not their fault."
"They could have gone back! They left you there!"
"I wish I could say I was surprised to hear you're already complaining about us." It was Fenris' voice from behind them, harsh and angry. "Hello, Hawke. Good to see you're in one piece."
Hawke pulled away from Anders enough to give Fenris a quick searching look before smiling tiredly. "You too."
"Reprieve, relief, rest now that I know they're safe. Lost but not the losses that would level me. Can still stand back up, can still scrap and scuffle and fight back."
"Hello, Cole." Hawke turned his tired smile on the spirit boy.
"Can you stand?" Anders asked as Varric, Dorian and Cassandra also moved into view from behind him. "We could make a rough sledge, get one of the brontos to pull it."
"I made it this far under my own power. I can make it the rest of the way," Hawke said stubbornly.
Anders had his doubts, but he helped Hawke up, inserting himself under Hawke's left arm. Fenris did the same on the other side of Hawke without being asked. He'd found Hawke's Key in the snow and was carrying it for him.
Dorian repeated his trick from earlier, casting a wall of fire to clear some of the snow out of their path, and they slowly started making their way back towards camp. Although Hawke's steps were rather stumbling, and Fenris and Anders were taking much of his weight as they walked, he peppered them with questions about the evacuation and the status of the survivors.
Anders had questions he wanted to ask too. If Hawke was well enough to ask questions, he could surely answer them... but maybe he should keep his silence until they reached the camp so Hawke only had to say it all once.
He was starting to realise just how much of his own energy he'd given Hawke by the time the small procession reached the camp. Everyone was up and staring at them, and as they saw Hawke, they started to cheer.
"Shit," Hawke said under his breath, just loud enough for Anders and Fenris to hear, but he managed a real looking smile and even a little wave to the gathering throngs. Then in the same undertone, he added, "I'm going to fall over in about five seconds if I don't get somewhere I can sit down."
Anders looked around wildly and caught a glimpse of Cullen nearby. He gestured with his eyes and head and, thank the Maker, Cullen understood.
Within moments, Cullen had organised his forces and a route to the covered area near the fire had been cleared. Anders and Fenris were pretty much taking all Hawke's weight by the time they reached the cot that had been vacated for him, but Hawke had managed to keep his head high.
Hawke let out a low groan as they lowered him down onto it, but at least it didn't sound pained so much as relieved. "I know everyone has a lot of questions, but can they wait?" he asked plaintively. "If I don't get some rest right now, I'm probably going to pass out in the middle of answering them anyway."
Anders gave Cullen a very pointed look, which again he seemed to understand.
"Everyone back," the commander ordered. "The Herald needs time to recover."
As people reluctantly moved away, Anders gently pushed Hawke down onto the cot, placing a folded blanket under his head in lieu of a pillow. "Sleep, love. I'll watch over you."
Giddy barked, as if to say he would too.
Hawke's eyes were already closing, but he still reached out and grabbed Anders' hand before he could completely pull it back, entangling their fingers. "Love you," he said, words more breath than voice as he drifted off to much needed sleep.
"Well," Dorian said as he and Fenris left the sheltered area where Hawke was resting, "the man certainly knows how to make an entrance."
"I shouldn't have doubted him," Fenris said, not sounding as happy as Dorian would have expected under the circumstances. "No one's will is greater than Hawke's."
Dorian glanced over at him, trying to figure out his state of mind. The elf had been unusually quiet even for him ever since they'd realised that Hawke had become separated from them in their mad scramble away from the dragon. He would've thought Hawke showing up alive would've lightened Fenris' mood, but he still seemed more broody than Dorian had grown used to him being.
He just wasn't sure what he could do to help with that. "Are you... all right?" he finally ventured tentatively, in a bid to at least maybe get more information.
"I'm fine," Fenris said, not sounding it at all.
Right. "You're lucky you're so good at glowering and glaring because you're a horrible liar," Dorian observed.
Fenris scowled at him, reminding Dorian he should have included scowling along with the glowering and glaring, but then the expression dropped, and he said despondently, "Anders... wasn't wrong."
"Anders practically accused us of throwing Hawke to the dragon to save our own lives," Dorian pointed out. "I understand why he was lashing out, but that was all it was – a man lashing out in pain because the love of his life was missing." He wasn't about to let Fenris carry a guilt that he hadn't earned.
"I promised the mage I'd keep Hawke safe," Fenris said, looking at the ground, his voice tight.
"Fenris." Greatly daring, Dorian reached out and laid what he hoped was a comforting hand on his arm. "I was there. I saw the swathes of destruction that dragon caused, cutting us off from Hawke. We all did everything we could to get through it, and you did more than any of us." The sight of Fenris screaming his anger to the skies, glowing like a small sun as he attacked the debris again and again was not something he was going to forget any time soon.
Fenris looked up at him, finally letting some of the distress he had to be feeling show on his face. "Dorian, I..." He broke off with a frustrated noise and violently raked his fingers through his hair.
"It was a horrible situation, yes. But you did everything you could. There was no way to get back to Hawke. If we'd kept trying, if we hadn't left when we did, we would've been caught in the avalanche. How do you think Hawke would've reacted if he made his way here only to find that we – you and Varric in particular – were gone? I've only known the man a short time, but I'm fairly sure that would've done far more damage than a darkspawn magister and his pet archdemon."
Fenris let his hands drop, closing his eyes and taking a series of deep breaths. Finally, he turned to look at Dorian again. "You're right. I know you're right. I just can't... No, you're right. Let's find somewhere quiet to rest."
It was probably the best reaction that Dorian could hope for at the moment though he wished he'd been able to fully chase the shadows from Fenris' eyes. He supposed only Hawke himself would be able to do that, if anyone could. "Resting would be good," he said, going with the subject change. "As would blankets if there are any to spare. I'm even missing the dubious warming properties of that atrocious ale."
Fenris gave him a sharp look at that. "We'll stay close to the fire. Find us a perching spot. I'll locate a... covering of some sort." They had stuck close by each other since leaving the wreck of Haven, and it seemed that Fenris had no intent of changing that for now.
He was off through the crowd before Dorian could protest so he did as he'd been told and managed to find a spot on a log that had been pulled near one of the main campfires – a spot that got annoyingly larger once he sat down.
Wonderful, his 'evil mage from Tevinter' repelling powers were still working perfectly. He sighed and pulled his stylish but inadequate for this kind of weather cloak tighter around himself and unobtrusively fed a bit of magic into the fire, making it burn a little warmer and brighter.
Fenris was quickly back, carrying some thick, folded material, which he shook out and draped around Dorian's shoulders. It appeared to be a heavy woollen cloak. "It's far from your usual style, but it should be warm at least."
He sat down close enough to Dorian that their legs were touching, but considering Fenris' armour, any warmth Dorian felt from the contact had surely to be his imagination.
"Thank you," he said, meaning it. The cloak was doing an admirable job of blocking out the worst of the freezing wind. "Since there are no bloodstains, I'm going to assume you didn't kill anybody for their cloak," he joked. He looked at Fenris whose armour had to be as cold weather worthy as Dorian's outfit, which was to say not at all. "What about you? You can't be any warmer than I am. Wasn't there more than the one cloak you could pilfer?"
"It's a big cloak," Fenris said with a shrug. "I don't feel the cold the way humans seem to. I'm never sure if it's being an elf or my markings that make the difference. I don't remember enough from before. That said, my feet... are better for being close to the fire."
That was probably as close as Dorian was going to get to an admission of discomfort from Fenris. "It is a big cloak, and I'm not adverse to sharing," he said, unwrapping from it enough that he could throw it over Fenris' shoulders as well, moving closer in order to do so. "I could perhaps even be talked into providing a foot rub for certain people too stubborn to wear shoes even if it means risking losing a toe or two to frostbite."
"Because, of course, your clothing is entirely practical," Fenris said, and Dorian could hear the smile in his voice. He seemed to have no problem with sitting snuggled up with Dorian. On the contrary, he let his hand rest on Dorian's nearest leg. Squeezed together as they were, that was probably the only comfortable place to put it.
Dorian suddenly felt a lot warmer, however, and it wasn't due to the cloak wrapped around him. They hadn't discussed what had happened between them before the attack on Haven. To be fair, there hadn't exactly been a good time to do so, even if Dorian hadn't been intent on avoiding what had the potential to be an incredibly awkward conversation if it all turned out to be just due to the alcohol and the happy occasion. But it seemed like maybe it had been more than that.
Testing those waters, Dorian covered Fenris' hand with his own as he answered as haughtily as he could. "I'm the scion of one of the oldest houses in Tevinter. There are certain standards of fashion I'm expected to maintain even if I must suffer to do so."
"If you cared about Tevinter standards, you wouldn't be sitting here with me," Fenris pointed out, letting Dorian's fingers thread through his own.
Dorian was hard pressed to keep the smile off his face, but he managed. "I'll give you there are some subjects on which I vehemently object with the prevailing opinions back home, but this is different. We're talking fashion. Moreover, you agree with me. Can you honestly say you would rather see me in some of those horrid Southern Circle robes than my usual attire?"
Fenris snorted softly. "No, I can't say that." After a few moments, he added, "Anders claimed robes were important in the Circle for quick access and quicker concealment."
Dorian made a show of thinking that over. "While I can see the appeal of easy access in certain situations, if someone isn't willing to put in at least the minimal of effort to get me out of at least the most relevant of my clothes, they don't deserve to be able to sample what is underneath."
Fenris squeezed Dorian's leg a little, presumably in response to what had just been said. "You do have a lot of straps," he said with amusement in his voice.
"Consider it a puzzle you have to solve," Dorian suggested archly. "I needn't point out what the prize is if you succeed, do I?"
"Wouldn't me finding my way there be just as much a prize for you?" Fenris asked, equally archly. "Or do you think I'd just want to enjoy the view?"
"The view is breathtaking," Dorian pointed out with supreme confidence. He knew what he looked like, after all. "But yes, I would hope if you took the time to solve the puzzle, you'd be more... hands on with the prize."
Fenris laughed quietly. "You make me wish we were somewhere a lot warmer and softer, with altogether less onlookers. And that I had the energy to do such a setting justice."
The words brought the expected heat, but Fenris' laugh filled Dorian with an altogether different kind of warmth, one that he wasn't willing to look too closely at. "The last day and night have been more than a little trying," he admitted with a sigh. "I doubt right now I could give the kind of accounting that I pride myself on, even if we did find somewhere that wasn't covered in knee-deep snow or curious onlookers."
"A bed would still be nice though," Fenris said and chuckled softly again. "Southern living has spoiled me. When I first got here, most nights I ended up sleeping on the floor. The beds were so soft they made me feel like I was sinking in mud."
"I had rather the opposite experience when I came south," Dorian admitted. "The first few nights I spent camping out were eye-opening in more ways than one. I'm sure the only reason I got any sleep at all was that there comes a point where exhaustion overwhelms discomfort. Also it rained a lot. There may have been actual sinking in mud involved." He kept his tone light and self-deprecating, but the reminder that, for all that Dorian complained of how he'd been treated back home, Fenris had faced far worse sent a wave of guilt through him.
"Do you ever regret leaving?" Fenris asked, his tone thoughtful.
"No," Dorian said firmly and without hesitation.
Fenris chuckled, squeezing Dorian's leg again. "Even sinking sleepless in the mud?"
"Better sinking in the mud than sinking in–" he bit off his answer before he could say blood, though he couldn't entirely suppress the shudder that ran through him at the memory. Hopefully Fenris would put it down to the cold. He took a deep breath to try and steady his nerves. "I... wasn't in a good place when I left. Hadn't really been for some time, if I'm being honest."
"Because you wanted to be with men openly?" Fenris asked quietly, pulling his side of the cloak around the front of himself and making more of a tiny tent for them both. "What would have happened if you had?" He made a small, uncomfortable sounding noise. "Danarius may have 'kept it to the slaves', but he never made an effort to hide his preferences that I saw."
"It was more that I refused to pretend with a woman," Dorian said. "I was betrothed when I was still a babe in arms, you know. I refused to marry, carry out my duty to House Pavus by begetting the next generation. I think the only way I could've disappointed them more is if I had turned out not to have any magic whatsoever."
That prompted a very rude snort from Fenris, who immediately then said, "Sorry," contritely. "Old prejudices die hard, it seems."
"The Dorian you see before you wouldn't exist if I didn't have my magic," he pointed out. "It's such an essential part of who I am, I would be a completely different person without it. What my parents have never been able to grasp is the same holds true for my preferences as well. You can't change either thing without completely destroying who I am."
"I... understand. Whether or not I chose to have these markings, they are fundamental to who I am now." After a pause, Fenris added, "But don't tell the abomination I said that. The crowing would be unbearable."
Dorian smiled and squeezed Fenris' fingers. "Your secret is safe with me."
"I know. And yours, too, are safe, if you choose to share them."
Dorian felt the smile slowly fade from his face. "I know," he said because it was true. He might not have known the elf all that long, but he felt like he had at least a basic grasp of who he was. "There are... things... I haven't talked about, it's true. But I haven't talked about them with anyone. Not even Felix. I'm just... saying them will make them more real, and I'm just not ready to deal with that yet."
Fenris nodded. They were sitting so closely that Dorian felt rather than saw the movement. "There are many things I've never spoken about with anyone. I just wanted to ensure you knew you could should you want to."
"I think there's already been more than enough emotional turmoil in the last 24 hours, we don't need to go dragging up even more right now," Dorian said rather frantically because he really wasn't ready to confront what his father had tried to do to him. Especially not when he was this tired and this sober. Still he thought maybe, just maybe, he might be some day, which was a new thought. Scary, but also oddly comforting.
"I will remember," he said more softly, holding onto that feeling of scary comfort. "Thank you."
Varric watched Fenris snuggle up to the Tevinter on the opposite side of the fire and shook his head ruefully. He'd known the elf over a decade now, and he didn't think he'd ever seen Fenris do something more inexplicable. A guilty part of him even wondered if Dorian was indulging in some form of mind control, but Hawke would have picked up on that by now.
Maybe that bad magic everyone kept telling him lurked under Kirkwall had poisoned Fenris as well as Anders, and yeah, so many others. And now Fenris wasn't living there he was able to shrug off some of the mountain of chips on his shoulders and... love mages? It seemed unlikely, but then Varric remembered the elf still wore the Amell crest from his brief encounter with Hawke, so maybe, in fact, mages had always been a thing for him, despite everything...
Ah, it was none of his business anyway.
That said, why hadn't Kirkwall poisoned him? He'd lived there all his damn life, more or less. Was he changing too now he was away from home? Nah, the Kirkwall curse was just what Anders told himself so he could sleep at night.
"You're still you." Varric didn't jump, but it was close. Not many people were able to sneak up on him, but the kid managed it every time.
"That's, uh, good to know. How you holding up, kid? There's gotta be a whole load of heavy emotions flying around this camp."
"Hurt, pain, death, dying, fear. Is this how it all will end? It's been very loud," Cole said. "It's better now that Hawke is here. He makes them hope."
"Yeah, he does that a lot. You found him for Anders, for all of us. That was a good thing you did there." Varric smiled at the lad. Then he glanced at the canopy under which Hawke slept, Anders close by. "How are they both now?"
Cole looked over at the canopy as well."He's here, I made it, found him. Can rest now. Will deal with everything later but rest now. With him. They're together," he said, sounding satisfied as if that was an answer in itself and with those two, maybe it was.
Varric nodded. "Good." When they'd had to give up on getting through the rubble, when they'd had to run, when the avalanche began and they only just made it to the passage in time, and then were unable to turn back because it was now blocked off, each time his dread had grown that he was never going to see Hawke again.
"But you did," Cole reminded him, following his thoughts as easily as if Varric had spoken them.
"Yeah." Varric smiled wryly, but then managed a firmer, "Yeah." One day it would be the last time; one day one of them wouldn't come back, but that was just the nature of friendship. Maker knew, he was glad it wasn't this time though.
Cole cocked his head to the side as he looked at Varric. "You're still in that moment. Holding the hurt, the horror, hoping it's not true, but you stay there even when you know it's not."
"Patience, kid," he said with a snort. "It's only been a few hours. The bad stuff will fade. Just gotta give it time."
"It won't if you keep hold of it so tightly. You keep thinking that it's going to happen even if it didn't happen this time. You don't know that. You're making yourself hurt for something that might not happen. Why?"
"Because it will happen one day. That's just life for us fleshy types. You too now, maybe. Hawke and I, we're both gonna die, and in our line of work, it's going to be sooner rather than later. Unless we somehow manage to die simultaneously, one of us has to go first. The only thing sure in life is death. Well, that, rain in Ferelden, and the advisability of ever asking what's in the mystery meat stew in the Hanged Man."
Cole ignored the humour as the deflection it was intended to be. "So... you make yourself hurt now hoping it will make it not hurt as much later," he said slowly then shook his head. "I don't think it works that way."
Varric frowned. "It's not like I spend all my time thinking 'Maker, no! My friend is going to die!'. I'm not the brooding type. It's just a little close to the surface right now because of what happened in Haven."
And now he was actively and determinedly not thinking about it at all, of course.
"That's why most of what you write is tragedies," Cole said, and where in Varric's head did he pick that from?
Varric considered denying it, but as Cole was apparently living inside his mind, that seemed pointless. He shrugged. "Sometimes it's good to work through the bad things before they happen. Accept what can't be changed and so on." He sighed, feeling way more depressed than he had before this conversation had started. "Of all the people here, I can't be the one most needing your help. Is there something I can help you with?"
"Helping helps you," Cole said consideringly. "You're like me that way."
"Yeah." Now the lad was getting it. "If making me feel better is important to you? Give me something I can help with. That's all I need to oil the mechanism." He thought for a second and added, "Though something half-decent to drink would be nice too."
Cole's eyes went a little distant as he looked around the camp. "There are people who need to be somewhere else for a while, even if it's just in their heads," he said when his gaze focused on Varric again. "You can take people away with words. Make them forget but not all the way, not like me."
"Tell them a story or two? I can do that." Varric stood up and brushed himself down, already feeling a lot better. "Just point me in the right direction."
When he slowly drifted awake, the first thing Hawke consciously took note of was that he was cold and everything ached. Memory caught up to him, and he realised that both the cold and the aches were far less than they could've – should've – been.
He'd found the camp.
There had been more than one moment when he doubted he would, when he was all but sure he would be walking in circles in the snow until he'd used up the last of his strength, but even then he never gave up. The one thing he could say that never faltered was his strength of will. Even when he failed in the past, it had never been because he stopped trying. He was happy to say that still held true.
He still had his hand wrapped around Anders', and he couldn't stop the small smile that thought brought to his lips even before he opened his eyes.
There was a start beside him, a small movement and quiet gasp. "Hawke?" Anders' voice.
"Last I checked, I was," he replied, squeezing Anders' hand as he opened his eyes.
Anders was sitting on a small stool close beside him. He brought up his other hand to touch Hawke's forehead with gentle fingers. "How are you feeling, love?"
"Better than I have any right to, considering. Your doing, I'm sure." He looked his lover over. Although Anders was hiding it well, he noted subtle signs of strain – in the tension around his eyes and mouth and in just how pale he was.
"I'd help you feel better still if Justice wasn't hogging all my power. He shouldn't need it anymore; Corypheus is long gone." He leant over and kissed Hawke on the forehead. "Sorry. Please ignore my whining."
Hawke reached to pull him back down. "You missed my mouth."
The kiss was soft and slow and just what he needed. When Anders eventually pulled back, it was to smile jauntily at Hawke. "So," he started, "I think I might be obligated now to become a born-again Andrastian. How do you feel about that?"
Hawke blinked. "Wait. What?" Of all the things Anders could have said, that was close to the last thing he expected. Religion and Anders were not things that mixed. He'd blown up a chantry, after all.
"Yes, that's pretty much how I'm expecting everyone to react." Anders chuckled.
"You're going to have to explain that, or I'm going to have to conclude I hit my head harder than I thought."
Predictably, all that achieved was having Anders feel over his head. He could feel tendrils of magic poking at him.
"Your head is fine," Anders insisted. "Even the bruise has gone."
"That's not an explanation," Hawke pointed out, letting Anders fuss over him. "That's you mother-henning."
"Oh, well, it's your fault really. It would never have happened if you'd let me stay with you." Anders sat back again and folded his arms.
Anders must be convinced Hawke was all right if he was moving on to the accusation portion of the conversation. Hawke had been expecting they'd get there eventually. He was just still a little caught up on Anders declaring himself Andrastian part though. "It's my fault you... had a religious conversion?"
Anders nodded. "I saved Chancellor Roderick, and then he 'saved' me. Because of you."
"Chancellor Roderick saved you. The same Roderick who wanted to clamp me in chains and haul me off to Val Royeaux for execution the first time I met him." Maybe he was still asleep. No, probably not. His dreams didn't tend to be this confusing.
"He's had a bit of a rebirth too. He sincerely believes you were sent by Andraste now." Anders was still half-smiling, which was making it very hard to tell if he was serious about all this or not.
"He what? Because of what happened at Haven?" Hawke snorted and shook his head. "Figures. The only reason Corypheus attacked Haven was to get to me. He can lay that catastrophe much more realistically at my feet than what happened at the Conclave. So of course that's the thing that convinces him I'm 'holy'."
"It's a little more complicated than that, I believe," Anders said before struggling with a yawn. "Anyway, he knew you weren't dead. Told me to have faith, that Andraste wouldn't let you die, and here you are."
Hawke wasn't entirely sure how he felt about people thinking his survival being proof of Andraste watching over him – though the fact that he just happened to trip and fall into an old mine shaft instead of being buried in the avalanche was weird enough that the point could at least be argued.
What he was sure of though was that between worry and healing and blocking out Corypheus, Anders had run himself ragged. He needed to rest, though getting him to was probably going to be a battle.
"Come here," he said, tugging on Anders' hand. The cot wasn't very big, but it wouldn't be the first they shared, Hawke thought, remembering a few nights in Anders' old clinic back in Darktown.
Anders resisted. "We're not exactly in private, love," he said gesturing to where, away from the canopy, Hawke could see the Inquisition leaders engaging in some kind of heated discussion.
Hawke frowned. From what he could hear that really was something he should be taking part in, if only to yell at them all to shut up. "How long have they been at that?"
"Since you reached us, pretty much. All four of them have opinions; none of which are the same as anyone else's, and not one of them seems able to take charge and say, 'Look, this is what we're doing'." Anders sighed. "I learnt very quickly to pretend I couldn't hear them. My own opinions on the pointless circular arguments were not required, thank you very much."
That made Hawke frown even harder. "Is that what they said?"
"Most of them had a version. Even the Ambassador, although she was nicest about it. But can you really blame them, Hawke? The Left and Right Hands of the dead Divine? The former, post-chaos, Knight Commander of Kirkwall? If them being rude to me is as bad as it gets, I'm considering myself lucky."
"Your opinions are very much required, at least by me," Hawke said fiercely. "If they were as smart as they think they are, they'd listen to you too." He sat up and swung his feet over the side of the cot.
Anders frowned. "Don't go rushing into setting the world to rights, love. You need more rest."
"Pot, kettle," Hawke said, leaning over to kiss Anders before standing up. "Neither of us is going to be able to rest with them carrying on like that. So I'm going to go make them stop." He raised an eyebrow invitingly and held out a hand. "Want to come with?"
Anders took his hand and stood up. "All right, but I reserve the right to cast a wet blanket spell if discussion gets too heated."
Hawke had started to move towards the entrance of the area they were in, but paused at that. "If that is a real spell, you are definitely teaching it to me."
Laughing, Anders said, "You already know it. Just cast ice above the offending people and then immediately cast fire. Instant drenching."
"There's a story behind that and you're telling it to me later," Hawke said, laughing as well. He noticed heads turning at the sound when they walked out into the open and he did his best to school his expression to something more serious though he wasn't going to apologise. Laughing in the face of certain death and other tragedies had been his coping mechanism since he'd been a small boy, and he wasn't about to change it now.
The advisors hadn't noticed the laugh, however, and indeed were so caught up in their arguing that they didn't even notice Hawke and Anders walking right up to them before Hawke cleared his throat. Loudly.
All four turned to face him. "You're awake," Cullen said as apparently it was necessary to state the obvious. "Good."
Hawke crossed his arms over his chest and gave them all his best 'I'm disappointed in you' big brother look. "Is that why you're bickering like loud, overgrown children? Making sure I didn't oversleep?"
Cassandra made a frustrated noise in her throat then said, "Are you feeling much recovered, Hawke?"
"Thanks to Anders, yes," Hawke replied, not above any chance to point out the good Anders does. "Though waking up to find the leaders of the Inquisition yelling at each other was not what I expected."
Of them all, Josephine was the only one who seemed embarrassed about that. "Our apologies, Herald. We did not mean to disturb you."
"You didn't disturb me," Hawke countered, keeping his voice low enough that he would not be easily overheard. "People taking out their stress by yelling at each other just feels like home to me. But you're standing in the middle of a camp full of traumatised and frightened survivors. Do you really think listening to the Inquisition leaders fight is doing anything but making that worse?"
"You are... correct, of course," Cassandra said. "It behoves us to show a better example."
"Oh, so you listen when he says it?" Anders said wryly.
Hawke squeezed Anders' hand that he still held. "I get that you're traumatised and frightened too – we all are – but you're the leaders. You have to look like you know what you're doing and have it all under control, even when you're curled up in a little ball of fear rocking back and forth on the inside."
Cullen grimaced. "Normally we keep our disagreements behind closed doors. It was a mistake to... let things get so heated."
"The trouble with leading by consensus is when there isn't one," Anders commented.
"Situations like this, you need to just focus on the most basic of basics," Hawke said, already shifting from chastisement to problem solving because someone needed to. "Things we can all agree on. Safety, food, shelter, supplies. Getting this camp set up was a good first step."
"There are spies and patrols out, looking for stragglers, game, signs of pursuit, all of that," Leliana said.
"But we can't stay here," Cassandra said, almost plaintively. "If the weather turns, if a true blizzard sets in..."
"We don't have supplies for much more than one day," Cullen put in, apparently supporting Cassandra's point. "We have to keep moving, and to do that, we have to decide where to go. I still say Orzammar is our best bet. It isn't far."
"You don't even know if–" Cassandra cut herself off, throwing her hands up and turning away.
"All right, Orzammar might be one possibility," Hawke said, trying to keep them from degenerating into a screaming match again. "What are the others you've come up with? No arguing why they're good or bad just yet, let's just get all the ideas on the table."
"We are almost as close to Halamshiral as we are Orzammar," Leliana said. "And the way is easier."
"Halamshiral is still recovering from Empress Celene's actions at the start of the civil war," Cullen said. "The last thing they need is a bunch of desperate refugees turning up at their gates."
"Redcliffe is a strong possibility," Cassandra said, turning back to the proceedings. "We already have a strong presence there, and–"
"And taking the mages back to Redcliffe after what they did there would be monumentally stupid!" Cullen's voice was becoming loud again.
Hawke felt a light touch on his arm and turned to see Solas, who asked, "A word?"
He nodded, then turned back to the others. "Everyone, just... go find neutral corners to sit in until I get back. Or, at the very least, stop talking to each other." He glanced at Anders. "If they start yelling at each other when I'm gone, I fully endorse the wet blanket spell option."
"Ha!" Anders grinned and then looked evilly at the Inquisition leaders, who looked worriedly back at him.
Hawke followed Solas out onto fresh snow, away from the camp, to a brazier that was, for some reason, just there in the middle of nowhere; perhaps it marked a path currently hidden by snow. Solas lit it with veilfire and stood by it.
"The orb Corypheus carries, the power he used against you, it is Elvhen," he told Hawke. "Corypheus used the orb to open the Breach, and in doing so, caused the explosion that destroyed the Conclave. I do not yet know how Corypheus survived that. Nor am I certain how people will react when they learn of the orb's origin."
That was not what he'd been expecting to hear. "All right. What is it and how do you know about it?"
"They were foci, used to channel ancient magics. I have seen such things in the Fade, old memories of older magic. Corypheus may think it of Tevinter, but his empire's magic was built on the bones of my people." Solas' tone strengthened as he added, "Knowing or not, he risks our lives. I cannot allow it."
"Wonderful," Hawke sighed, running a hand through his hair. "And if that little piece of knowledge gets out, we'll have all sorts of idiots laying this whole mess at the elves' feet and calling for their heads. Because finding a scapegoat is always so much easier than dealing with the actual problem."
"History would agree," Solas said. He turned, looking out into the night. "There are steps we can take to prevent such a distraction. By attacking the Inquisition, Corypheus has changed it, changed you. Scout to the north, be their guide. There is a place long deserted that waits for a force to hold it, a place where the Inquisition can build and grow. Skyhold, it is called. Lead them there. Be that light they need to follow."
Hawke just stared at Solas for a long moment, it slowly sinking in that the elf had just handed him the answer to the most pressing current dilemma they had. "Solas," he said slowly. "I could kiss you."
"That... would seem unnecessary," Solas said, rearing back a little.
"I'm not used to people pulling me aside to actually provide me with solutions. Usually when they ask to speak with me in private, it's to hand me even more problems." He didn't kiss Solas, but he did clap a hand on his shoulder. "So thank you for the novel experience."
"You're quite welcome. It is good that my Fade travels can be helpful even here. Go," his said, gesturing loosely back to the camp. "I'll be close by to help with directions, but you need to be the focus for this."
Because the one thing they needed more than a place to go right now was something – or someone – to believe in. As much as he didn't want the position, Hawke couldn't deny he was the best choice to be that rallying point. He swallowed a chuckle as he headed back to where he'd left Anders and the leaders. Varric was going to love this.
As he drew close, there was a reassuring lack of raised voices, and no one was where he'd left them. He found Anders leaning against a canopy post with his eyes shut. Some sixth sense seemed to tell him Hawke was approaching, however, as when he opened his eyes, he had already started walking in Hawke's direction.
"All right?" he asked, peering at Hawke's face as if for clues.
He took Anders' face between his hands, leant in and kissed him. "Better than," he said when he pulled back. "I know where we're going to go."
"You do? I warn you, if you say 'Kirkwall', I'm going to cry."
Hawke shuddered. "Maker, wouldn't that be a horror show? No, not Kirkwall. Where did the others get off to – they need to hear this too. Actually everyone should hear this, I should just get everyone's attention and make a general announcement."
"An aerial fireball should achieve that nicely," Anders said helpfully. "One that makes a nice big bang."
"Perhaps something a little less flashy," Hawke said, grinning at Anders and kissing him once more before he moved to the center of the clearing and let out a piercing whistle – the kind he used to call Gwydion to him over distances.
It did, of course, immediately bring his dog galloping to him, but it also grabbed the attention of everyone nearby. Even those who were asleep woke and looked around to see what was happening.
Cullen appeared from somewhere. "Herald?"
Hawke nodded at him. "Cullen. That thing we were talking about? I've got it." He looked around and raised his voice when he spoke again. "This isn't the speech I expected I would be making today. I thought I'd be talking about how putting aside our differences and working together let us close the Breach, and how it's proof that we can all find a way to do what Divine Justinia wanted and negotiate peace. I might've even made some notes. I wasn't counting on them getting burnt up by a dragon, along with the rest of Haven.
"Corypheus caught us with our breeches down, waltzed right in and smote the crap out of us. He won that fight; I won't lie and tell you he didn't, but he didn't beat us.
"We lost people, good people, and that is a tragedy Corypheus is going to pay for, but look around you." He gestured at the clearing which was full of people, with more creeping closer the longer he talked. "Look at how many of us are left. Look at how many we saved.
"We got out, got clear, and as a parting shot hit Corypheus right in the face with the world's largest snowball. That was the first step. Escape. We've done that. The next step is finding some place we can escape to."
He paused, long enough to let that question sink in. "There's an old abandoned fortress north of here. It's not far. We're going to locate it. We're going to go there; we're going to set up shop, and we're going to build this Inquisition into a force that is going to kick Corypheus' arse to the Void and back. We're going to make him pay for every single person that monster has hurt.
"Corypheus may have won the first battle, but we are going to win the war."
To start with there was a stunned silence, but then someone somewhere started to clap. More joined in quickly, and then the cheering and whistling started until the crescendo of noise was enough to make Hawke grateful that more avalanches weren't likely after the attack.
People got up from their perches and beds and came closer, forming a half-circle around him, an arch of happy, hopeful faces lit up by his words. And amongst them were his friends. There was Varric with a grin so wide it practically bisected his face. Fenris stood with Dorian, not cheering, but standing tall, his pride in Hawke obvious. Cassandra was cheering, looking happier than he'd ever seen her look before.
And there, to his side, stood Anders, beaming, biting his lip, unable it seemed to even blink let alone look away from Hawke.
With a smile, feeling like he was flying high on success and relief, Hawke took a step closer so he could wrap his arms around Anders and kiss him soundly.
Anders woke to bright sunlight on the other side of the canopy above him. A quick glance around told him he was alone, but that there was plenty of activity in the camp outside, people no doubt getting ready to follow Hawke north.
Yawning, he sat up and rubbed at his face. He could probably have done with another few days worth of sleep, but he least he wasn't in danger of passing out on the spot anymore. Dragging himself to his feet, he restored his hair to its leather tie and then went looking for Hawke.
He found him talking to some of the younger mages, all of them hanging on his every word with eyes full of hero worship as Hawke demonstrated a trick he'd developed, modifying the fire glyph he'd learnt from Dorian to create tiny, transient fire sculptures that floated in mid air before him.
Anders walked up behind him and whispered, "Show off," in his ear.
Hawke turned towards him with a smile on his face. "Says the man who taught me that electricity trick." He kissed Anders, heedless of their audience. "Sleep well?"
"Yes, thank you." Anders grinned. "Having fun corrupting young minds?"
"You make me sound like a bad influence," Hawke said, hand to his chest, overacting being wounded at the accusation.
"And we can't have that, can we?" Anders laughed. "So when do we set out? Is there time for breakfast first?"
"We'll make time. I'm not listening to your stomach growl like an entire wolf pack all day." He said his goodbyes to his audience and started walking towards the cooking fires, tangling his hand with Anders' as he did. "I want to see to the wounded, make sure we've got everything arranged to make travel as easy on them as we can. I was hoping you'd come with me...?"
"Of course," Anders said more seriously. "Justice is letting me have more of my power back today; he must be confident Corypheus is far away again. I have patients that I should attend to. Roderick, in particular. "
"Ah, yes, my newest, biggest fan," Hawke said with a slight grimace. "Probably my public speaking last night hasn't actually helped that notion."
"You could do worse than have him on your side, you know."
Hawke looked at him searchingly. "You really think a lot of the man."
"Strange, isn't it?" Anders smiled, feeling slightly uncomfortable. "He stopped me from completely losing my grip while you were missing and so many people had just given up, certain you were dead and that I just had to accept it. He was the only one convinced you were alive and would come to us. Well, him and the dog."
"If he helped you, I certainly owe him," Hawke said, then shook his head with a wry smile. "I'm just having trouble reconciling the man you're describing with the man who all but threw a tantrum when Cassandra wouldn't clamp me in irons."
"Being saved from certain death can change a man," Anders claimed, his smile becoming more confident as he took the credit that was his. "But it wasn't that, not really. It was realising he was the only one who could lead Haven to safety. It made him see you, being the only one who could close rifts, in a similar light. All according to the Maker's plan. Or Andraste's. Something like that."
"If this is all Her plan, it would've been nice if we'd had a bit more of a heads up about Corypheus' attack," Hawke quipped. He sighed and shook his head again. "I don't know about being chosen. That... it seems far too much like a children's story, or one of Varric's more outlandish books. But then I remember my life is already the subject of one of Varric's more outlandish books and I... I don't know. It would be nice to think there was some divine support."
"You should talk to him," Anders said. "If for no other reason than because he's the only member of the Chantry that doesn't think I'd be better off with a noose around my neck."
"That does get him huge points in his favour." Hawke brought their clasped hands up so he could drop a kiss on Anders' wrist.
They got bowls of porridge at the cookfires, which they quickly ate, and then headed towards where all the wounded were gathered.
"So, can I ask you something?" Hawke said.
"Since when have you checked first?" Anders asked, giving Hawke a sideways look.
Hawke tilted his head and gave a half shrug, conceding the point. "You don't really think Varric and Fenris and the others left me behind on purpose, do you?"
Anders felt his whole demeanour becoming fixed and hard. "I never said they did. I said they could have tried harder. They should have! I would have. I would never have given up!"
"Just because they didn't get themselves buried in an avalanche doesn't mean they gave up," Hawke said in such a reasonable tone it made Anders want to grind his teeth. "Unless you're going to tell me they weren't already planning on going back to look for me."
"They weren't! They weren't doing anything. Just hanging around. Fenris was too busy getting close to Dorian to even look as if he cared. I was just going around and around the camp, desperately trying to find Cole. I thought if anyone might know if you were all right... but I couldn't find him, and most people didn't even want to be seen talking to me. Only Roderick gave a damn!" He realised belatedly that his voice had become strident, taut with painful emotions, so he made an attempt to talk more calmly when he added, "At least, until Cole found me. He cared."
Hawke stopped them moving, sliding his arms around Anders so he could rub his back comfortingly. "I'm here. I'm fine. I'm sorry I scared you. But it wasn't Fenris' fault, and it wasn't Varric's. Or any of the others. If you need to blame somebody aside from Corypheus – who I'm all for blaming for everything – blame me."
For a little while, Anders didn't say anything, just accepted the comfort offered, but eventually he said, almost whispered, "It's a lot easier to be blindly furious at them."
"Not very fair though, is it?"
"I don't care."
"I do." Hawke leant in and kissed him, then pulled back with a smile. "It's okay to be pissed at me. You're not going to drive me away. After all, it won't be the first time one of us has been pissed at the other. You'll yell at me, I'll yell back, and chances are if there's anything remotely resembling privacy, it'll end in either angry sex or make-up sex." He paused. "Possibly angry sex then make-up sex."
"Not here." He didn't mean the sex; he meant the the row that would happen if he let himself feel the hurt and anger he was so busy either pushing down or diverting into rage at their friends.
Hawke, thankfully, seemed to understand because he nodded. "Not here," he agreed. "When we get to Skyhold and actually have somewhere we can go that's private." He leant in and kissed Anders again. "Just... try not to take it out on our friends anymore in the meantime?"
"I'll keep quiet," he conceded. He really couldn't promise more than that.
That earned him another kiss. "You okay to continue on, or do I need to give you a minute?"
"I'm fine," he said, but he knew he sounded subdued.
"Yes, you are," Hawke teased gently, with a wink. "Come on then. You can re-introduce me to my biggest fan."
The problem with letting yourself become a symbol and rallying point, Hawke thought as he trudged at the head of the long procession making its slow way through the mountains, was that everyone watched you. All the time.
It wasn't like he hadn't known that – the same thing had happened on a slightly lesser scale when he'd been made Champion back in Kirkwall – but it didn't make it any less annoying. He could feel the pressure of all those eyes on him, making him itch between his shoulder blades.
He wondered what would happen if he tripped. Would they all take it as some kind of holy omen?
Trying to take his mind off of it, he dropped back a little to fall into step with Varric. "Please, talk to me like I'm a normal person."
"Hi there, Ser Everyday Citizen," Varric immediately said with a grin. "How goes the day?"
"Funny," Hawke said dryly, though it had the desired effect of making him relax a little. "Really, I'm laughing on the inside."
"Sure you are." Varric chuckled. "Hawke, my good friend, you have never been a normal person."
Hawke thought back to when life had been simpler. "I had to have been at one time. Back when all I had to worry about was looking after my family and hiding from temp– Okay, maybe you have a point."
"I always do." Varric patted Hawke on the back. "How are you now, anyhow? All frostburn and exhaustion magicked away?"
"Anders did his thing." Hawke glanced back to where Anders was travelling with the most severely wounded, doing what he could to make them more comfortable. "Sorry, by the way. For him going off on you and the others."
Varric shrugged. "I took it as what I knew it was, a desperately scared man who thought the love of his life was dead. You might want to have a little chat with Fenris though. He seemed to agree with Blondie's accusations, which can't be healthy. Why did you really leave him behind anyway?"
"He was the only one who could've healed Roderick," Hawke said, but he knew Varric wouldn't let him get away with just that answer. "And I didn't want Corypheus anywhere near him. I mean, I don't want Corypheus near any of us, but... especially not him."
"Thought it had to be something like that," Varric said, looking grimly satisfied. "Forgiven you yet?"
Hawke grimaced. "We haven't even started to get into it. I have that lovely conversation to look forward to once we get to where we're going."
"Not much of a reward for your endeavours really." Varric sighed. "But on that subject, great speech and all – really great – but where exactly are we going?"
"An old fortress Solas knows of called Skyhold," Hawke said, then lowered his voice even more. "I have no idea what kind of shape it's going to be in, but we needed a destination, and the others couldn't agree on one. If we'd sat in the same place for much longer, Corypheus wouldn't have needed to find us again. We would've come apart all on our own."
"You're not wrong. I heard the yelling from halfway across the camp. They need a leader, Hawke. It's a good thing you're here, for more than one reason."
Hawke grimaced. "Leader, I think I can do. Not what I wanted, but it's better than letting this whole thing implode. I'm still having problems with the whole 'chosen of Andraste' bit though."
"Ah, for all you know She chooses people all the time. Maybe Her favour is so common it's humdrum." Varric chuckled, apparently quite amused by the idea. "Either way, I don't think there's any stopping that particular fire. If I were you, I'd use it to get some good done. You've already ended the Mage-Templar War practically single-handedly. Think what other pains in the posterior you could put right."
"I think just trying to stop Corypheus from destroying the world with his crazy is going to be enough of a job description for now," Hawke said dryly, not even wanting to start thinking beyond that. Not yet at least. He paused. "Do you believe it's true? That I've been chosen somehow?"
"Shit," Varric muttered. "This is going to be awkward." He rubbed his hand over the back of his neck. "I guess... I do? Either you're guided by the hand of some higher power, or you have the worst luck."
It wasn't like Hawke hadn't noticed how bad his luck was, but still. "You think my bad luck is... divinely inspired?"
"Look at all the shit that's happened to you, Hawke. Do I really need to list it?" Varric shook his head and whistled before continuing. "Even ignoring Kirkwall, you survived an explosion that levelled a mountaintop, fell out of the Fade having somehow been in there for real, got sent to the future and back again, discovered that your foe is no less than the darkspawn magister who'd been imprisoned using your father's blood, that you'd already killed once; you ended a vicious war, had a mountain's worth of snow and rubble fall on you and lived... need I go on?"
"Please don't. You're making me want to climb into bed, pull the covers over my head and refuse to come out." He paused. "Of course, what you're saying is the bed would probably catch on fire if I did."
"If it did, something even more impossible would happen to allow you to survive it, at least the way things are going."
"And you're best friends with me why again?" Hawke quipped. "Aren't you worried that divine bad luck will rub off on you?"
"I don't choose my friends based on how lucky they are," Varric said before pausing and then adding, "Good thing really. I wouldn't have any!"
Hawke chuckled then shook his head. "So that's two of my friends who think I am actually chosen. I'm not sure if I should worry about this trend or not."
Varric paused before answering to clamber over a small rockfall over the path. "Who's the other one? Broody?"
"Anders," he said with a half smirk.
"You're kidding." Varric stopped walking to stare at Hawke. "You have to be!"
"Not even a little," Hawke said. "Though if it helps, that was my reaction when he told me he was now a believer too. Actually I was half sure I was still unconscious."
"Well that just proves it," Varric said, shaking his head. "If you can make Blondie into an Andrastian, you must be chosen."
"That does rank right up there on the list of impossible things I've done," Hawke joked. "You may have to leave that out of your next book because it's probably less believable than Corypheus pulling an archdemon out of his arse."
"And isn't that an image I'll now see in every nightmare?" Varric said, grimacing in disgust. "You're serious? He's... converted?"
"I haven't caught him actually reciting the Chant or anything, but yes, he seems sincere. That isn't even the bit that most had me thinking I'd woken up crazy. Do you know who he attributes this sudden embrace of faith to?" Hawke paused for dramatic effect. "Chancellor Roderick."
"That... actually makes a tiny bit more sense," Varric said thoughtfully. "I've seen them together more than could be explained by just healing, and Roderick seems changed himself. Maybe they've rubbed off on each other? And that... sounded so much better before I said it out loud."
Hawke gave a mostly mock shudder at that. "Speaking of images I'll be seeing in nightmares..."
Varric chuckled. "So, Skyhold, yeah?"
"So Solas says. Not that he wants credit lain at his door for finding it, though it's his directions we're following. Probably afraid that people would start calling him the embodiment of Shartan of something."
"Wasn't Shartan meant to be Andraste's secret lover?" Varric asked.
"Please tell me you're not implying what I think you're implying," Hawke begged. Just because he'd slept with half their group of friends back in Kirkwall...
Laughing, Varric said, "Relax, Hawke. I think you might be Her herald, not Andraste Herself."
"That's a relief. That would be taking delusions of divinity a step too far. Plus I don't think I'd be able to pull off the dresses." Glancing around, he caught a certain broody elf watching him, though Fenris quickly looked away when he noticed Hawke noticing. That was probably something he should deal with sooner rather than later. "I think I'll scout ahead, see if I can cement my holiness by actually stumbling on this fortress before Leliana's people can. If I take Fenris with me, can you run interference with Anders if it becomes necessary?"
Varric gave him a knowing look and nodded. "It wouldn't be the first time. Good luck with Broody. You might need it."
"Thanks," he said dryly, then made his way over to where Fenris was walking with Dorian. He nodded at the other mage, who had a truly atrocious looking heavy cloak wrapped around himself.
"Don't say a word," Dorian warned, holding his head high as he pulled the cloak tighter. "Trekking through snow-covered mountains is one of the few circumstances where function trumps fashion. It also should trump aversion to shoes, but some people are even more stubborn than me, if you can imagine!"
Fenris snorted, looking down. Hawke wondered if the elf was aware he'd started walking closer to Dorian the moment Hawke had arrived.
And wasn't that interesting. Hawke mentally added Dorian to the list of things he wanted to talk to Fenris about. "Seems like one of you has some sense at least," he joked to both of them then turned directly to Fenris. "I'm going to scout ahead. Come with me?"
Fenris frowned up at him from under his creased brow. "As far as I know, I haven't tried to kill anyone I shouldn't in the last few days."
"I'm happy to hear that," Hawke said. "If I promise not to give any lectures about not killing allies, will you come watch my back? Everyone is still twitchy, I'm not sure what would happen if I tried to go alone."
Fenris humphed and exchanged a glance with Dorian that Hawke couldn't see, then began to stalk off ahead. "Come on then."
Neither of them said anything until they'd left the main party far behind. Hawke considered various approaches to dealing with the sulking elf before going with, "I love Anders, but sometimes the things he says are complete and utter crap."
"Oh, so that's what this is about," Fenris said emotionlessly and then didn't say anything more.
"Me apologising for his being an ass?" Hawke said, deliberately misinterpreting. "Yep. If it makes you feel better, or at least less singled out, I'm pretty sure I'm going to get the same tirade from him as soon as we have the guarantee of privacy. Which is fine. I deserve it – at least far more than you did."
"I doubt you'll get the same one. Mine was quite... specific."
"Oh, I think the gist is going to be pretty close – how dare I almost get myself killed versus how dare you let me almost get myself killed."
"Do we have to talk about this?" Fenris asked, staring away from Hawke.
"No," Hawke said. "If you can tell me you're not blaming yourself for me getting left behind."
Fenris muttered something in what sounded like Tevene and kicked at small boulder they were passing. It rolled off ahead of them. "I made a promise and failed to keep it."
"'I'll keep him safe if I can,'" Hawke quoted the words he remembered overhearing. "I'll concede the point if you tell me what else you could've possibly done."
"Many things," Fenris growled. "To start with, I should have been the last to run when you told us to. I'm the one that's meant to take the damage, not you."
"The way I remember it, we were all running at the same time," Hawke replied. "And I don't think our respective positions being different would've changed anything – the dragon was deliberately trying to cut me off. It still would've done that if I'd been in front of you instead."
"At least then I would have been with you! You wouldn't have had to face that... thing alone."
"I'm glad I was alone," Hawke said quietly, images of the horror that could've happened far too brilliant in his mind's eye. "If you or Anders or anyone else had been with me, Corypheus would've had leverage." He shivered, remembering how easily he'd been overpowered. "Or he would've just killed you outright to make me suffer for 'stealing' this mark."
"We killed him once, Hawke," Fenris pointed out, but then added, "Admittedly he hadn't a dragon then."
"Barely. You remember the kind of shape we were in when he finally went down." They'd all been more than half dead themselves at the end of that encounter.
"A better shape than him! We've fought a high dragon before too, and there were more of us this time, many more."
"We didn't fight them at the same time!" Hawke almost yelled. "And Corypheus... this isn't like when we fought him before. He was bad enough back then but now... the power coming off of him..." He shivered again, unconsciously wrapping his arms around himself at the memory. He had never felt anything like it and hoped to never feel it again. "He would've killed you, and I would've had to watch."
Fenris stopped walking and turned to glare at Hawke. "I'd rather die than you die, and I'm left knowing I let it happen like a stinking coward!"
Hawke just stared back at him for a moment trying to process the idea that Fenris thought he was... "Fenris, you're the least cowardly person I've ever known." He laughed bitterly. "I'd almost wish you were if it meant that there was less chance you'd be killed for me. If I have to watch one more person I love die in front of me... It would destroy me. There's not enough left of me to come back from that again."
Fenris kept staring for a few moments, his glare falling into what looked like dismay, then he turned and strode off again. "Venhedis! Do you have to be so damn honest?"
Hawke moved to fall into step beside him. "I could lie if it makes you feel better," he offered. "It won't change the truth though."
"Then what am I to do? How can I do my job knowing that if I die, it would do you as much harm as those foes would if I didn't stop them?" He combed his fingers roughly back through his hair. "I'm useless to you, Anders too, if you try to pack us in goose down."
"I know," Hawke said simply. "As much as I might want to at times, I do my best not to do that – because that's not fair to you. I don't want to change you – and you running headlong into a fight like a crazy person with a sword that's almost as big as you are is just part of what makes you you. But Maker, when you start beating yourself up because you didn't die for me it just makes me want to shake you until your teeth rattle. And then wrap you in goose down. While lecturing you. So stop it."
"Hawke," Fenris started, and then heaved a long sigh. "Have you ever known me not to be beating myself up about something?"
"If I promise to find you some Tevinter slavers to beat up instead, will you try to stop blaming yourself about this?"
"Venatori will do," Fenris replied in a wry tone. "That will cheer Dorian up too."
"Speaking of..." Hawke began, happy to move on to less fraught topics. "What exactly is going on with you two?"
Fenris glanced at him, a brow raised questioningly. "Does it matter?"
"Absolutely," Hawke replied without missing a beat. "I need to know if I have to give him the don't rip your heart out talk."
"You're not my keeper, Hawke," Fenris said, but he sounded more amused than offended. "Nothing has happened that would warrant such an invasion of my privacy, anyway." A glance at Fenris, however, revealed a small and rather smug grin being directed at the path ahead, which rather put the lie to what he'd just said.
"Maybe not, but I'm getting the feeling you want it to," Hawke pointed out, not bothering to hide his delight at the discovery, however surprising it was.
Looking ahead, Fenris said in a deadpan voice, "I may have a thing for flamboyant mages." Then he snorted and added wryly, "It's not surprising that it took me a long time to work that one out, all considered."
"I'm happy to have been a step on your journey of self discovery," Hawke intoned as seriously as he was capable, which at that moment wasn't very, considering he couldn't stop grinning.
Fenris glanced at him again. "As we seem to be having this conversation, if it happens, will you... mind? You'll always be... important to me, Hawke."
"I know," Hawke said more seriously, reaching out to touch the faded handkerchief that Fenris still wore tied about his wrist. "You'll always be important to me as well. Just because things didn't work out between us that way doesn't mean I love you any less. I want you to be happy, and if Dorian makes you happy, you've got my complete support."
Fenris looked away and didn't say anything for a while, though he'd started to fiddle with the handkerchief. Just as Hawke was thinking the conversation was over, he suddenly spoke again. "I'd like it to... happen. It's hard to forget what happened between us, however. The way I was... afterwards."
"That was a long time ago," Hawke said gently. "Things have changed – you've changed. You've always been strong as long as I've known you, but you're a lot stronger now. More sure of yourself and who you are."
"I hope you're right. I'm aware I... hurt you. I don't want to do the same to Dorian. The memories of... of Danarius, even now an unexpected touch or even a sound can bring them back."
As always when Fenris ventured to speak on this topic, Hawke found himself wishing they'd made Danarius suffer more before killing him. At least over the years Fenris had grown less reticent about accepting comfort, if only in uniquely Fenris-like ways. But this, this was different than previous conversations they'd had, and it made Hawke hope that maybe it was a turning point for Fenris in his recovery from past trauma.
"I won't say it didn't hurt, but I understood," he said, reassuring not for the first time. "Everyone has experiences that affect how we react in the future. What you've endured is far more than any person should have to, and of course it's going to leave scars." He paused. "Talk to Dorian, if you can. If you both know going in what you're dealing with..."
Fenris looked down. "We don't seem to be at the open heart stage yet, if we ever will be. What I can say to you, I may never be able to say to him."
Even after all this time and everything that did and didn't happen between them, knowing that Fenris trusted him enough to share things he wouldn't or couldn't with anyone else meant something. It made Hawke feel slightly possessive and warm in a way far closer to what he felt for Anders than he would ever admit to either of them.
"You don't have to give details you're not comfortable with," he said. "Just... maybe give a heads up that you might need to stop or slow down. If it was me, I wouldn't ask for more than you're willing to share."
"All right," Fenris said dutifully. "I'll try to say something, if we ever... get that far. Without interruption."
"I'd offer to make sure you got the chance, but that would probably just guarantee we get attacked or fall through a hole in time, or something would explode or..." Hawke trailed off. "You know what? I'm just going to quit while I'm ahead here."
Fenris glanced at him. "Is it weighing heavy?"
Hawke shrugged. "I'm trying not to think too much about it," he admitted. "Though considering Corypheus is behind all of this, and it's my fault he's not still locked up in that Warden prison, if this should be laid on anyone's shoulders, it's mine."
"Corypheus is not your fault," Fenris said firmly. "You were lured into a trap and had no choice. If you have to blame anyone other than him, try the Wardens."
Hawke shook his head. "They still couldn't have freed him without me. Or Carver, I suppose." He grimaced. "All things being equal, I'm glad that if one of us has to own the blame for releasing him, it's me. I wouldn't want him to have to carry this."
"So what were you meant to do? Just let the corrupted Carta keep coming until they got lucky and killed one of you?"
"I'm not saying there was a better solution. Still feels like my fault." He shrugged then paused before offering, "Corypheus said our destinies were entwined."
Fenris snorted. "Has he got a crush on you?"
"What?" Hawke asked startled, then couldn't keep from wrinkling up his face like he smelled something bad at the notion. "Maker, I hope not."
Judging by the chuckling, Fenris seemed to find the notion highly amusing. "Why not? Most people who meet you do."
"They do not!" Hawke protested. "I think you're just biased."
"Hawke, even Cullen has at least half a crush on you," Fenris said, still grinning. "He just doesn't know it."
"I'm fairly sure Cullen thinks things would be a lot simpler if I wasn't involved," Hawke said. "And I'm also sure he's thought that since he first met me. That a crush does not make."
"Have it your way." Fenris said, still smiling slightly. "So have we finished this urgent need to scout?"
"The ulterior motive to asking you along, yes," Hawke said. "But we should be getting close so some actual scouting wouldn't be amiss. I should be okay on my own though if you want to head back to Dor– the others."
That got another amused snort from Fenris. "By all means, let's scout."
Hawke spotted a goat path nearby that seemed to lead up to a higher peak. "If we can make it up there, we should be able to get a good eyeful of what's ahead."
"Right." Fenris lightly moved up the steep path, making traversing it look easy. If not for his footprints in the snow, he'd almost seem to be floating.
"Stupid nimble elves," Hawke muttered under his breath as he followed, having to pay a lot more attention to his own footing. In no way, shape or form could his progress be described as floating.
"And that is why I don't wear shoes," Fenris said, waiting near the top of the path for Hawke to catch up.
"Show off," Hawke grumbled, but without any real heat. He much preferred a smug Fenris to the angst the elf had been broadcasting earlier.
They made their way up and around a final curve and found the land for miles ahead laid out in front of them. And there, in the distance, rising out of the snow and rock, was a fortress bigger than anything Hawke had ever personally seen.
"Vehedris..." Fenris muttered. "That can't be what we're heading for."
Hawke couldn't tear his eyes away from the place. "Skyhold," he breathed the name, it coming out sounding more reverent than he thought it would. He felt himself starting to grin. "If it isn't, let's pretend it is."
"It's... huge." Fenris clambered up the rock face where the path had ended, seemingly to get a better view. "There's a road I think, leading to it."
"Convenient." Hawke thought briefly of trying to clamber up beside him, before deciding he'd been through too much in the last few days to risk dying by falling off a mountain. "Can you spot a place we can get everyone onto the road?"
He saw Fenris shake his head. "No, I need to get higher, but... we're on the wrong side of this mountain. I can see that much."
"Then it's down and around and up," Hawke said, not even the prospect of all that climbing dampening his spirits, not when he had the vision of Skyhold in front of him. He grinned at Fenris as they started back down. "Was this the most productive scouting foray ever or what?"
"We do seem to have struck the motherlode," Fenris agreed with a matching grin. "I want to see the others' faces when they see this."
"I'm taking you with me every time I have to scout," Hawke vowed. "You're good luck."
"No one's ever told me that before," Fenris said. "It probably means the fortress is full of blood mages and demons."
Hawke couldn't stop himself from laughing. "There's the prickly elf I know and love. If it is, we'll kill them all and move in. It wouldn't be the first time you've done something like that," he teased.
"True! Things are looking up. Maybe the huge fortress will have an equally vast cellar, and it will be full of fine wine."
"If not, maybe you can sweet talk–" Hawke remembered who he was talking to "–glare at Josephine until she arranges to have a crate of fine wine delivered for you."
"If I say it's for you, I'll get a wagonload." Fenris nodded wisely.
"Seems as good a use of my supposed divine influence as any," Hawke said with a shrug. "As long as you remember to share."
Fenris stared ahead at the fortress they were to claim and said, "Always."