The ship rode the waves roughly as it sped north, chased by storms and ill intentions. Hawke lay dead to the world in his bunk, one arm tossed over the side, fingers brushing the floor as the ship rolled. It would be nice to imagine his sleep as dreamless, but after what had happened in Kirkwall, none that walked away would ever sleep easy again.
"Oh for… Wake up, Hawke," came the words, the annoyed Rivani accent penetrating the fog of sleep that had claimed him.
"Go away Isabela," Hawke mumbled, but the rolling ship betrayed him, and a particularly vicious wave nearly sent him tumbling to the floor. "Maker’s breath," he muttered as he reluctantly opened his eyes. "Be honest with me, we are sinking, aren’t we? Why did you have to go and wake me, drowning in my sleep seems to be one of better ways to go these days."
Isabela rolled her eyes. “Don’t be such a baby Hawke, if I’d known you’d be this bad a sailor I would never have invited you on my ship, it’s been a week and I still can’t get the smell of puke out of my quarters.”
"At least the smell matches the drapes; I always thought you exaggerated about Castillon’s taste." It took effort, but finally he managed to toss his long legs over the side of the bunk and sit up. "Mustard," he groaned. "We should be so lucky. I’ve seen mold with healthier coloration."
"Don’t throw stones, sweetheart, you’re not exactly looking rosy yourself right now." She tossed the shirt at him with a playful smirk.
"You’re sweethearting me. Are we sinking? Do we have the Qunari on our ass? The Templars?" Hawke winced as he pulled the shirt on. The bruises had faded to a mottled yellow by now, but being battered around by giant living statues left aches of a deeper sort.
"When did me calling you sweetheart turn into a portent of doom?" Isabela asked innocently.
"Since I figured out that you only use it when you want something from me. Usually something that ends up biting me in the ass later."
"Which you are usually too ready to provide. Ass or service. Honestly Hawke, for someone trying so hard to come across as this cynical seen it all rogue with a chip on his shoulder, you are a complete pushover."
"Takes one to know one Isabela." Hawke rubbed his face, the stubble rough against his hands. He felt dirty. Body and soul. "You could have dumped me and Anders once we were free of Kirkwall."
"You could have left with the others when we made landfall in Ferelden, but oh no, you had to decide to stick around. I made a promise Hawke, this time I’d stand by you to the end, even if that means shipping you and your crazy boyfriend north."
"He’s not crazy," Hawke retorted, then caught himself. "Alright, maybe he is crazy, but not all the time. And he’s the reason I couldn’t leave with the others."
"Probably a smart choice, Lady Man-Hands looked ready to string him up the mainsail. And Anders looked about halfway ready to let her."
"I know. Overdramatic idiot apostate, he had it all figured out, didn’t he? Take a stand. Start a war. Die a martyr, never caring that…"
"Hawke," Isabela interrupted. "Are you sure I’m the one you should have this conversation with?"
"I can’t very well have it with him," he exclaimed tiredly. "Maker knows I’ve tried."
"Try harder then, it’s not like you to give up on anything or anyone, no matter how much of an idiot they’ve been. Case in point; Merril. Me. Now get some clothes on and get out there and talk to him or else I swear I’ll have you scrubbing the bilge for the rest of the journey."
Up on the deck, the wind was strong enough to give him pause, though fresh air really did make his stomach feel better. The sails snapped overhead, and he wondered to himself whether it was safe to have that many up when the sea was this rough, or whether Isabela did it just for the hell of it. He could understand that, she was back on the ocean again, free and with a fast ship underneath her feet. Him, he felt like nothing more than baggage. For not the first time Hawke regretted taking Isabela up on her offer. It had seemed like a fun idea when drinking in the Hanged Man, but actually being out here was an entirely different thing. The sea was vast and unforgiving, and filled with memories of that first, panicked crossing from Ferelden to Kirkwall. Still, no shapechanging witch this time. Yet. Just an idiot apostate. Who was leaning against the railing like he had for the last week, staring out into the waves. Hawke had stopped fearing that he would jump by now, there was no justice in suicide, and even less vengeance.
"So," he started out, his voice filled with false cheer. "Stared long and hard enough that you’ve managed to summon land out of this blasted sea yet?"
"No," Anders replied, in a similarly light and false tone. "I’ve decided to stay away from summoning things. It never works out really. Not in the long run."
"What, so you mean that if you did manage to summon us up some lovely solid rock it would crack, burn, and then sink into the sea as soon as we sat foot on it?" Hawke leaned against the railing next to the mage, thankful for a bit of support against the rolling sea.
"Not that soon, it would probably wait until we were fast asleep in your tent. Never underestimate fate’s sense of irony." His lips quirked in the smallest of smile, revealing long disused wrinkles around his eyes. It had been a long time since he smiled, even longer since he had joked.
"You feeling any better?" Hawke could have kicked himself; it had been a much smoother transition in his head, light and funny and in no way filled with as much worried desperation that came out as soon as he said the words.
"No," came the short answer, Anders eyebrows pulling together again, the frown was back as if it had never left. "And I’m not sure I should."
"Oh for the love of Andraste," Hawke groaned. "We’ve been over this. I’m not going to kill you out of some misguided attempt to make everything right, and I’m not going to just stand by while the man I love is planning to throw the last bits of his life away."
"It’s hardly my life anymore," Anders defended himself, but the words came more from habit than passion. "Justice…"
"…hardly ever comes out anymore," Hawke snapped. "And don’t call him Justice. There was nothing just about that, that was Vengeance."
"You’re right," Anders admitted with a sigh. "It would be funny really if it wasn’t so tragic. I had that conversation with him. With Justice. Back in Amaranthine, before we melded. We were discussing the difference between spirits and demons, and he said that demons were spirits who had fallen prey to their desires while spirits remained pure. I asked him what he wanted, if he didn’t have any desires. He denied that, vehemently, but after I took him into me…" He turned his back on the railing, facing Hawke for what seemed the first time in days. "He has desires now. Terrible desires. I’ve tainted him. He is Vengeance now, and it’s taking everything I have not to go up and ask Isabela to steer us back to port."
"Back to port for what? To lead the revolution? Somehow I doubt that. " Hake raised his voice and stepped closer, close enough that he could just have reached out and grabbed the man. Kissed him. He didn’t. "Are you planning on dying like some fool martyr?"
"A martyr would serve our cause better. Besides, I deserve to die," Anders retorted, raising his voice. At least there was anger there, instead of bleak despair.
"And I deserve to have the man I love treat me like an adult and not an idiot that can’t be trusted making the right decisions." Anger was easier to act on, far easier to just step closer and continue. Maker, was he turning into Fenris?
"I love you Hawke, make no mistake in that, but you’re not a mage." Faced with Hawke’s anger, Anders sank back a little, the wind tearing at his feathered coat, his ponytail already half undone. "You can’t truly understand…"
"Oh shut up Anders, just shut up." Where Anders sank back, Hawke advanced. "My own sister was a mage who now has to live on the run for what you did, I loved Merril like a little sister, and with her tribe dead she’s as vulnerable as Bethany. I loved them both, I promised mother I would take care of them, and instead I’m here on a ship with yet another mage I can’t help but love even if he’s being a royal idiot while the two of them are trying to petition the king of Ferelden for refuge. I’ve had demons trying to tempt me, gone into the fade and killed, yeah, killed a boy just because he begged me to rather than having to face the demons every night he fell asleep. Maybe I’m not a mage, maybe I don’t have the power you lot go tossing around, but by the Maker, I have enough of your baggage that you needn’t mock me for an outsider. I’ll hang as soon as you for this."
"I… I had not realized you felt that way." Anders looked as shocked as Hawke felt; the anger had been as sudden as a lightning strike. Usually they hid their feelings beneath carefully constructed walls of jokes; this left them both painfully exposed.
"Honestly? I hadn’t either." Hawke sighed and turned away, the sea seemed preferable to the face he half wanted to punch, half kiss. "I’m sorry, I just… I love you, but you can be infuriating at times."
"You keep saying that. Love. Can you honestly say that after what I did?" The voice of a man who wanted judgment. Condemnation.
Hawke wasn’t going to give it to him. “After what he did. Not you. And it’s not like I haven’t done terrible things myself. I made Feynriel tranquil. I got Carver and my mother killed. If I would just have stood up to Merril that last time her tribe would still be alive. The Keeper. Everybody. “
"You’ve made mistakes, yes. But mistakes are all that they are." Anders made a motion as if he wanted to reach out and place a hand on Hawke’s shoulder, but he couldn’t go through with it. Not now.
Blowing up the chantry was not a mistake. No oversight. No failure. It was a premeditated act to break the deadlock, to force people to make a choice over the broken bodies of those who tried to compromise. They both knew it. Hawke wasn’t sure whether it was better or worse to kill people for a lofty cause than for selfish reasons like anger or revenge. He wasn’t sure that it mattered, dead was dead. He couldn’t claim to agree with Anders decision, and at times he wondered how much of the blame that lay on his shoulders for never asking what was really going on. Probably a lot of it. Like so many other things. Things he’d like to call mistakes, but wasn’t.
"Fenris wasn’t a mistake," Hawke admitted reluctantly. "When he sided with the Templars… Maker I told him to go with his heart, I thought… I guess I thought that maybe there would be friendship enough there to at least keep him from turning his sword on us. Or respect. Or something. I know you hated his guts, but he didn’t deserve to go out like that. I liked him. He wasn’t half bad for a prejudiced asshole."
Anders looked slightly annoyed, far too aware that in those first months there might have been something more than respect between the former slave and the Ferelden refugee. ”He would have had me dead or in chains back when I was just the apostate healer of Darktown.”
"Now dead is a bit excessive, but chains I… no, Maker, I can’t even make jokes any more. They fall flatter than Aveline’s." Still, they remained the last refuge for the otherwise damned. By now Hawke suspected that his last words would probably be a snarky remark. He hoped Varric would at least put one in his book.
"And Varric wondered where my sense of humor had gone," Anders joked. "Perhaps you can give him a few pointers to its whereabouts. Or could. If he was still around."
"Yeah, I miss him too. Funny really. Ten years he’s had my back, and now he’s gone. I keep waiting for him to swagger in with a tall tale and a deck of cards. You did know he pretty much kept the Coterie away from your clinic, right?"
"I’m not stupid. I just wonder what he’d make of all this. What stories he would tell."
"Whether you’d be the hero or the villain you mean?"
"Oh you’re the hero Hawke, make no mistake at that. Varric knows how to pick them. But whether I would be the wicked influence who caused your tragic downfall or whether I’d be the handsome apostate lover who opened your eyes to the mages’ plight I’m not so sure."
"At least you can be sure about the handsome part."
"Joke all you like, I feel like I’ve aged a decade in the last few weeks and I haven’t bathed since Ferelden."
"Now at least we know why Isabela goes on about baths all the time, I’d give up my mansion for a hot one right now." If he still had one, Hawke realized with a wince. Two homes lost by now, two families. He hadn’t thought about it before, how much his friends had insinuated themselves and become family over the years. Family you sometimes disagreed with, but family all the same. Maker, did that make Fenris Carver? Two deaths. He was hard on brothers it seemed.
"I still have no idea about the hats though," Anders said and rescued him from the bleak path his thoughts had taken. "Have you ever seen her wear one?"
"No, now that you mention it I haven’t." Hawke paused, turning his head slightly towards Anders who now was now once more leaning against the railing next to him. Smiling. He realized with a start how much he had missed that smile. "I miss this. I miss us."
"I wasn’t sure there was an us. Not anymore." The words were quiet enough that the wind might have stolen them had not Hawke known what to listen for.
"I meant what I said back there," he offered. Words said in the heat of the moment, with their world collapsing around them. Times when you made choices that might not always be right, but true.
"I halfway expected you said that because you figured there was no way were getting out of the Gallows alive with Meredith’s wolves barking at the doors." Anders could still not mention her without anger.
"Yeah, well, we did. And Isabela is more of a terror on a ship than off it, with the way she’s been eying me now that I’ve been sleeping alone, I fear for my virtue." Hawke gave the mage his best Sebastian impression.
"Virtue?" Anders started with a smirk, then switched gears into cautiously hopeful. "I was sure she already had her way with you, she’s going very far out of her way to do all this for a one night stand from half a decade ago."
"She’s not doing it for a lover. She’s doing it for a friend. For her, that’s rarer I think. But don’t tell her I said that," Hawke added in a hushed whisper.
"I won’t. She doesn’t really talk to me much anymore, she just sort of… glowers."
"She’s not good at… emotional stuff, she calls it. And that’s pretty much all about you lately. Honestly, I’m not that good at it either, but we’re still talking so I must be doing something right."
"You… are," Anders admitted with a soft sigh.
"So where do we go from here then? Just promise you won’t retreat into a brooding statue again, because next time I’ll just dump a bucket of seawater over you or something."
"Is that truly the worst threat you can come up with?" Anders asked, eyebrows raised.
"We’re on a ship. In the ocean. I’m strapped for choices, it’s not like I can threaten to tie you to the bed, cover your feet with cream and set the cat on them."
"Poor Serah Mouseron, I wonder what happened to him."
"He’s probably the safest soul in Kirkwall right now. Whoever took over your clinic will still need a good rat-catcher. Darktown never changes."
"But people do." Anders leaned forward a bit, to brace against the rolling waves. "I’m just not sure what I’m changing into."
"You sound more like the man I fell in love with than you have for the last year," Hawke remarked dryly.
"It’s Justi… Vengeance I mean. I suppose you’re right," Anders admitted. "That’s what he is now, through and through. But there’s nothing on this ship to set him off, he’s… well, I suppose sated is a good enough word. For the moment. I try not to think about things I know will upset him, but once we reach shore I can’t make any promises."
"So, I guess we’ll settle into a life as hermits then?" Hawke suggested. "Have Isabela find us a nice little island somewhere and play shipwrecked lovers the next few years?"
"Don’t get me wrong; while I would love your whole tattered, bearded shipwrecked look, I can’t do it. I can’t walk away from what will happen." Anders was serious now, deadly so. "There will be war across Thedas, and it will be on my shoulders. I should be there. I will be there. Some things are bigger than the two of us."
"Except it’s not the two of us," Hawke remarked sharply. "It’s three. You told me again and again that you and Justice were too entangled, that there was no telling where one begun and one ended, but there is. There is a line. Maybe you can’t see it, but I do. In the way you talk. The way you touch. And if you’re truly serious about this, about your cause of freedom for mages, then you need to do something about this. Is this a cause of people or of spirits? Because while I can get behind the notion that every man woman and child deserves their freedom and a shot at happiness, mage or not, I’ve got a harder time stomaching being told what to do by a spirit. That’s just an abomination by any other name, and I don’t think I would be alone in that."
"You knew what I was from the start, I never hid…" Anders begun protesting.
"This is not about us," Hawke interrupted. "You said it. It’s bigger than us now. I love you. Despite what you are. Despite what you’ve done. I’m happy to be a hunted fugitive with you, but war? I’d be proud and happy to stand with you, but with Justice?" He made a dismissive gesture with his hand before continuing. "I’m with Isabela there. Justice is simple. The world is complicated. And now that he’s more vengeance than anything else… he wouldn’t care if the world burned. And I happen to like this world, flaws and all."
"What would you have me do then?" Anders asked cautiously, but unlike before it actually was a question, not a statement implying that nothing could be done. Certainty was a different thing out here. "I took a spirit into myself and changed us both. There’s no undoing that."
"Are you sure? You never even wanted to discuss it back in Kirkwall, but was that Vengance or you?" Hawke hoped it was the latter, Maker he hoped it was. "If you say that he’s dormant at the moment, use that time to think. We’ve got another week to Rivain if the weather holds, I suggest you use it. Think. Please. You’re a healer, a Grey Warden, an apostate and an abomination, if there’s anybody better equipped to understand this I would like to meet them."
"I would too," Anders smiled, a bit shakily but there was a look in his eyes that Hawke hadn’t seen for a long time. Hope. "I feel completely out of my depth here."
"It’s the ocean," Hawke replied with a deadpan expression. "I don’t know how Isabela stands it; I keep expecting it to swallow me whole."
"How… how do you do that." Anders shook his head, a disbelieving smile on his lips. "How do you take an absolutely horrific situation and make me think that there might be something good coming out of it at all."
"I started to believe Varric’s tales about me, after that, the rest was easy," Hawke said with a passable imitation of his cocky old smirk. "In fac…" he never had a chance to finish whatever he had to say, because suddenly he had an armful of mage to contend with.
The kiss was sudden, and in its own way as much (or little) a surprise as that first one in the clinic all those years ago. But no less hungry or tinged with desperation.