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nightmares neverending

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Hawke ran, in the dark, boots slipping against wet stone. Their passage made ripples in puddles of otherwise dark and stagnant water, breaking reflections of a strange sky, green and full, with a dark city in the distance. Some of the things in the sky were moving. Some of the things in the sky were laughing.

Something rose before Hawke and they sliced it down, barely looking. They hopped over the remains and it rose again behind them; Hawke’s axe arced through the air again. It rose again, but Hawke had already moved on. They ran past a child’s bed, past an array of candles floating through the air, hurled around a corner, and threw themself against the wall, panting. Not just exertion: their eyes were wide, pupils dilated with fear. Their armor rattled as their legs shook, but their axe did not.

“Silly creature,” came a voice from the sky, from everywhere. “Did you think you could hide from me? From us? We always see you. I’m always watching.”

The wall behind Hawke grew arms, grabbed them, pulled them in; stone covered their shoulders, their feet. Some of it cracked away as they struggled, but not enough -- the stone arms closed around their throat; one grabbed the axe. The stone covered their mouth, growing towards their nose, smothering; now and not before they screamed, barely audible through the coating of rock. The rock forced itself down their throat, up their nose. They couldn’t breathe. But their eyes remained uncovered till the last, white-edged and terrified until they finally fluttered closed.

He woke sweating from the nightmare and reached for them but found only the edge of the empty tent. He was alone.

 

*

 

It was raining when Fenris walked into the Inquisition post. He’d stayed in the area long enough that the soldiers here knew him -- probably a sign that he needed to move along -- so he didn’t get the sidelong glances and hands on weapons that often greeted him, based on his race, odd appearance, and very large sword. Besides, the Inquisition had a fair number of elven warriors in its own ranks; the soldier who greeted him bore proudly a pair of pointed ears and an Inquisition-issue sword.

That soldier looked more solemn than usual today, but Fenris attributed this to the rain and felt slightly relieved not to have to navigate his typical chirpy small talk when asking about mail. He received a single, thick envelope and handed over his own packet: a letter for Hawke, as chatty as he could make it with his limited eloquence, and a short and half-sarcastic note for Varric. Walking out, Fenris thought that whatever you said about the Inquisition, they had vastly improved the postal system through most of war-torn Ferelden. He received letters from Hawke almost regularly now, rather than on the odd occasion one of Varric’s agents could track him down.

Hawke’s letters were usually affectionate, gossipy, slightly pointless, and the high point of Fenris’ days. He spent the walk back to his hidden camp thinking with vague warmth about what the latest one might contain. Hawke seemed to enjoy their time with the Inquisition, and from their writings Fenris had gotten to know its core members even though he’d never seen their faces. He couldn’t confess much investment in their lives, but Hawke’s anecdotes were usually quite entertaining, and more importantly, he could almost hear Hawke’s voice in the writing, as if they were reading to him again.

Reaching his camp, he crawled into his small tent to get out of the rain and peeled the Tethras family seal from the envelope with a dagger, flicking it aside into his writing kit. When the rain stopped and he started his campfire again, he’d melt it down and reuse the wax on his own letters.

First out of the envelope came some sturdy sheets of paper folded together, with “READ ME FIRST” written on the outside, underlined twice. Fenris recognized Varric’s clear handwriting and Varric’s stationary. He almost chuckled at the command: clearly, Varric knew or suspected that Fenris usually tossed his letters aside unread to get to Hawke’s, and only sometimes came back to them.

Second inside was a smaller envelope, wrinkled and much-folded, with Fenris’ name on the back in Hawke’s writing. The wax seal on this one was cracked from rough handling and, unlike the rest of Hawke’s recent letters, bore the Amell family crest, from the signet ring that Hawke hadn’t bothered to carry with them when leaving their home in Kirkwall.

Fenris turned Hawke’s letter over in his hands once, glanced at Varric’s note, and then cut the cracked seal off the smaller envelope and crumbled it in his fingers, leaving no sign of the Amell crest, before letting the bits of wax fall into the dirt.

 

My love,

This letter is bad news. Brace yourself. I’ve spent half the night trying to think of an easier way to say this, but there isn’t one.

If you’re reading this, I’m dead.

 

Fenris stared at the line, thought he’d read it wrong, and traced it with his finger as he went back over it, just to make sure. Hawke’s handwriting was easily legible; after all, it was what he’d first learned to read. The letters stubbornly refused to spell anything but I’m dead .

For a second Fenris’ head felt stuffed with cotton, as if he had a bad cold; the rain on the oiled canvas of his tent was very loud. Then he dropped the letter as if it’d stung him and scrambled for Varric’s missive.

 

Fenris,

I have bad news. You might want to sit down. Or drink something. Something strong, I’d recommend. Trust me, you’re going to want to be drunk for this one.

 

The letter continued in that vein for several lines; Fenris made a frustrated noise, scanned for Hawke’s name, and picked it up again there, mid-sentence.

 

Hawke was lost in the Fade. They sacrificed themself to distract the demon so that the rest of us could escape. They’re gone.

 

Varric went on, but Fenris stopped truly reading. Varric’s account of the siege at Adamant, of the Fade, of how Hawke had saved the Wardens; the dwarf’s attempts to comfort Fenris, his insistence that Hawke was truly dead, even if there wasn’t a body, and that Hawke would want him to grieve and move on -- Fenris’ eyes moved past them all without absorbing any of it. Eventually Varric’s letter slipped from Fenris’ numb fingers. He couldn’t say how long he sat there, listening to the rain, before it occurred to him to read Hawke’s letter, though once it did, it immediately became the most important thing in the world.

 

My love,

This letter is bad news. Brace yourself. I’ve spent half the night trying to think of an easier way to say this, but there isn’t one.

If you’re reading this, I’m dead.

I don’t know how, or when. As of writing this, I’m perfectly safe, but you know I can never stay that way for long. That’s why I’m writing: I don’t want to leave you without a word. A lot of words, actually. And I don’t want to leave you at all.

I don’t know what to say to make it better, but I have to try.

I love you, and I’m so sorry for dying. If I had my druthers, I’d be at your side right now. The thought of leaving you alone when you need me the most tears at me. It’s all right if you’re angry at me for leaving, for getting myself killed. I understand, and I don’t want you to beat yourself up for being mad, or for any other reason. I don’t want you to have to feel like you failed or should have been there. You know I know how it feels to blame yourself for losing someone you love, and I know you might not be able to avoid it, but this is not your fault.

I write this without knowing how I will die. I figure chances are I’ve chosen to do something heroic and stupid, and I understand if you’re angry with me for that. All I can say is that no, you couldn’t have stopped me. I assume I didn’t know I was going to die, or I wouldn’t have picked “heroic and stupid” over a long life with you. But if I did, I probably did it because I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself knowing I let others suffer so that I could be safe. I’m so sorry. I’m also sorry if I tripped on my axe and fell off a cliff or something and died for stupid reasons, and if that’s the case I give you full permission to curse my name. In fact, I give you full permission anyway.

You’re going to grieve, and it’s going to be hard. It’s going to take a long time and it’s going to feel unbearable. But you’re going to get through it. That’s all I ask of you: to keep going. You can blame me, blame yourself, be angry, be sad -- feel whatever you have to feel. Do whatever you have to do. But, please, keep living your life and seeking out what makes you happy. I’ve always wanted to see you happy. I know that by dying, I haven’t exactly helped with that. It may be cruel of me to ask anything of you at this point, but I can’t help it. I’m not asking you to actually be happy; I know that might not seem possible right now. I’m just asking you to try, and keep trying. It’s all right if you feel like giving up, but I need you to still get up the next day and go on with your life.

Remember, you’re not alone in this. You can rely on our friends, Aveline and Varric and Isabela and others; they’re grieving too. (At least, I think they are. Gamlen might just be sniffing around the estate. Please don’t hit him too hard for that; he can’t help it. It’s in his nature. I think it might be how he expresses grief.)

I love you. I wish I had more time with you. But I’m glad you’re reading this, because I’m glad for a chance to say goodbye.

Goodbye. Until we meet again at the Maker’s side. Or maybe we don’t; I never was totally sure on that one. But I hope we will.

With all my love,

Hawke

 

Fenris read the letter three times, beginning to end, as something jagged and broken grew inside him. Part of him felt a cutting disappointment: That’s all? That’s no help! A more rational part of him knew it was help, and a less rational part of him excoriated the first for so disrespecting Hawke’s final words. Those were reactions to the letter; he had no idea how he felt about the event itself. He could not say “Hawke’s death.” It was not real. It could not be real; if it was real -- no.

He carefully folded Hawke’s letter and went to put it away with the rest of Hawke’s letters to him, which he reread in the evenings. Then he changed his mind and tucked it into a pouch on his belt instead, to have it with him. He picked up Varric’s letter and read it almost mindlessly, once again failing to process most of the information, until he came to that vital phrase that sparked something in his mind. Lost in the Fade . Lost . Not dead. Lost . What was lost could be found, couldn’t it? Not by Varric, apparently, but he’d already decided Hawke was gone; he wouldn’t really look. Perhaps, said a mean-spirited and paranoid part of Fenris, he was even glad -- he shut that down. Lost in the Fade . The Fade, the realm of dreams -- the demon Nightmare -- and Fenris’ nightmare --

The elven soldier tried to say something when Fenris burst back into the Inquisition post, but something in his face, the intensity in his eyes, stopped the boy in his tracks, as the other soldiers reached for their weapons. Fenris didn’t care. He had only one interest: “How do I get to Skyhold?”