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Worth Life

Chapter Text

Part One

. . . and remember to the last, that while there is life there is hope.
Wreck of the Golden Mary, Charles Dickens

The world ends.

After that comes chaos. The templars permit them to leave without challenge—but outside the Gallows there is fire and rubble and angry citizens huddled in tight packs at every corner, staring at the Chantry's blackened smoke where it belches starward, spitting words just past the edge of hearing towards Hawke as she leads them through the streets. The city's Chantry and Circle both lost in the span of hours; two of Hawke's companions lost in the same; and now the city burns with hate and fear and Fenris seethes to see it.

But now is not the time; he is bleeding and Hawke is bleeding, and despite the name of Champion there will be templars crawling through the streets in a matter of days. Isabela's ship waits at the docks to carry them to safety—or away from Kirkwall, at any rate, and he does not pretend the two are alike. (Neither does he pretend that Hawke will not return here eventually, nor that he will not return here with her. Her home is here, regardless; his home is with her.) Still—it is flight, when he thought he had done with it, his heart pounding, his grip tightening on his sword at every distant scream and crack of wood beneath flame, beneath the rage of a city shredded apart by too many months of terror.

By the harbor he is gasping, his hand clenched hard to his side where the leather is split. Their little boat from the Gallows had docked at the northernmost tip, avoiding the small fleet already deploying across the bay to the place where the Gallows burns. The circuitous escape had seemed sound enough in theory, but even the lyrium's lingering strength cannot keep the agony from every step. As they make their way southward to the private mooring that keeps Isabela's ship she collects her crew, one by one, names and faces Fenris has never heard, all leaping at Isabela's curt commands to meet them at the Call. Merrill breaks off to the alienage, Aveline and Donnic to the Keep, brief embraces and hurried promises little comfort in this sudden splintering of their company.

No time—

Most of the mobs spare them, armed as they are; only once are they challenged by a group of wild-eyed elves looting a warehouse just inside the gates, not two real weapons between them despite their frenzy. It costs only moments to cow them, but his vision blurs by the end and he staggers in the darkness, reaching awkwardly to the nearest wall for purchase, the cobblestones pitching dangerously beneath his feet. The tip of his sword shrieks across the stone where he drags it behind him.

Someone grabs his arm—Hawke, he realizes, shaking his head desperately to clear it—slings it over her shoulder, her face a muddled mess of smeared blood and a deep bruise blossoming under one eye. Fenris shakes his head again, stumbles over something broken and slick as they move forward; she says his name, her voice far away and frantic, and then Isabela is there too, hand over his where it clamps against his stomach, and Varric is—somewhere, saying something about the ship—

"Come on," Hawke says, her fingers blazing hot on the back of his skull, igniting a throbbing agony that makes him gasp. He had not known—had not even felt the blow, not with Meredith burnt alive and the Gallows alight with magefire and twisted power.

He stumbles again. How far, he means to say, only it comes out slurred and wordless, and he thinks it should alarm him only he is so tired—Hawke pinches the back of his neck, hard and piercing through her gauntlets, and for a moment the world solidifies again, sharpening into the bright, red-burnt horizons above the barb-tipped walls, the acrid scent of smoke hanging lower with every step. Glass shatters somewhere in the distance and a woman screams—and then he smells salt over the smoke and looks up to the stark-black spars of Isabela's ship spearing outwards against the starry sky.

Wood slats under his feet: the gangplank, rickety and narrow. "Here," says Hawke, "take him, take him, careful—" and then the world lurches and Carver braces him instead, too tall and too broad, stretching the wound across his stomach tight enough to bleed again.

No—this is not right— "Hawke?"

She dips her head into his view, her face swimming oddly, her eyes bright. One white-gleaming hand presses firm against his waist, then against the back of his head. "I have to go back."

"No. No."

"Orana's in the house alone. She'll have had no warning—I have to find her, get her out before they come looking for me."

"No," he says, voice too tight, unable to think through the dim fog, only certain that this is wrong. "Or—let me—let me go with you."

"You can't walk." She ducks forward, kisses him hard on the mouth. "I'll take the dog and be back before you know it."

At your side! The words tangle in his throat, choking him, soundless in desperation. Gladly, at your side! But she has already turned away, her eyes on her brother, on Isabela already up the gangplank.

"You've got to clean those wounds, get them bandaged," she tells him, and Carver nods, a rough thing that jars Fenris's shoulder; Hawke looks up. "And Isabela—"

"We'll wait as long as we can."

"But no longer."

There's a stretched moment of silence, heavy over the distant roar of flame; then Isabela says, "No longer, Hawke. You know where to go, if..."

"Don't worry!" Hawke says, laughing, stepping back to solid stone, her staff straight in her hand, her dark hair lined fire-gold around her brighter eyes. Her mabari stands proudly beside her. "I'm coming back!"

And then—and then, his voice dead in his throat, all his words unsaid between them—

She is gone.

He refuses to go below. He knows it irritates Carver, who wishes to dress his wounds and be done with it; he knows it worries Varric, whose dwarven eyes see too sharply the way his breaths come thin and shallow, the way the thinner blood still seeps into the rough cloth he has pressed to his stomach. Five minutes—ten minutes—twenty—he leans hard on the rail, ignoring the men and women who scurry and shout behind him, painfully aware of how the horizon over Hightown grows redder and redder with flame.

The ship sways beneath him, or he sways, he is not sure, and suddenly Carver curses viciously enough at his back to make him flinch. "Damn them all," he says, and flings his hand towards the far end of the docks. "They're firing the boats!"

And they are, some mad-eyed dockworkers with torches moving ship to ship to ship, a wake of fire scorching the salt from the air. Carver curses again and something in Fenris's stomach goes very cold, and before he can find a word the anchor is already up, dripping brackish seawater that splashes too loud in his ears. No. No. Not yet. Not yet—

"Set her free," Isabela shouts, carrying over the chorus of her men's ayes. "But keep close as we can—I want eyes on the docks at all times!"

They do not go far; Fenris blinks as they pull away, blinks again in fruitless effort to clear his vision as they pull with oar and sail to the open black water of the bay. In the distance the Gallows still smolders, a match to the place where the sky burns above the Chantry; for an instant Fenris thinks of Anders, there at the last battle and then gone at last in some unknown banishment, and it surprises him how little anger surges at the thought.

Or perhaps it is only smothered by worry. Another quarter-hour passes without Hawke, without signal from the docks; in the distance angry torches dot the pier, unwilling to set out to reach them and unwilling to allow them to return. He does not know how—when Hawke comes—

His knees buckle without warning. Carver tries to catch him and misses; he falls to one knee on the deck and cannot rise again, his limbs like a colt's, too long and graceless and beyond his control. He grips the railing as Carver takes hold of his arms and helps him to his feet—and then a sailor shouts, high and alarmed, "Captain! They're raising the chains!"

Fenris does not understand at first, the world a smear of color and flame as the sailors rush to the port rail. And then—and then he sees them, the massive iron links rising slow and inexorable from the sea at the far side of the bay, each as long as a man, their long heavy line slung between the colossal bronze statues that guard the mouth of the harbor. An ancient defense meant to keep the enemy fleets away from Kirkwall's shores—or to trap them inside instead.

Varric breathes, "Shit."

And then Isabela shouts and the crew leaps away from the rail and they are moving, moving, but wrong, away from the docks, towards the distant chains that draw further from the water with every breath and not back towards the city where Hawke still waits. The chains' middle third still hides beneath the waves, enough maybe to skim above, and yet every moment another foot pulls free, another yard, and they do not move fast enough—

"No," Fenris says, the word gone with the night winds before it is even given voice. The oars pound against the waves, pound in the back of his skull. Turn back. Turn back.

Halfway there—a hundred yards yet and the docks growing too small in the distance.

"Full sail!" someone bellows and the Call leaps forward, sudden enough to shake him; he goes hard into Carver and Varric curses again, and this close to the cliffs Fenris can see the giant gears that reel the chains into the hidden feet of the bronze-cast Twins, turning strong and relentless and unstoppable, water streaming thick and frothy from iron that has not seen open air in twenty years. The cliffs tower above them as they surge between the rock, the statues' hidden faces flickering as if even now Meredith's magic struggles to bring them life. Fenris shudders, sick to his bones from something he cannot name, and Isabela throws the wheel to the side as a sailor screams.

The ship flies forward, oars yanked high and dripping from the sea, and something impossibly enormous scrapes along their keel; the chains hang huge on either side of the ship for a split-second of eternity, thick with kelp and seaweed and flaked with rust, close enough to touch and for an instant he thinks—

And then they are through.

The last of the chain rises in a torrent of water behind them, a smooth hanging curve of impassable iron. Behind them the Gallows smokes, and the city of Kirkwall rises in its solitary tiers from where it has been carved into the cliffs, small and so quiet with distance. Flashes of light here and there still mark the fighting behind its high stone walls, their flaring glow doubled by the black-mirror bay that stretches behind them.

They have left Hawke behind.

They have left—

He has—

At your side, he thinks, sudden and quiet and still in the middle of the chaos that is Isabela's ship, the one lit truth he can see in the darkness that encroaches upon him with every heartbeat.

He has left Hawke.

It is a relief when the world goes black.

The sun has risen in full morning by the time Fenris wakes again. The back of his head pounds in a red, throbbing sting, stretching forward to needle the backs of his eyes; the open wound in his stomach is a duller thing, less agony than ache. He knows before he opens his eyes that there is someone in the room with him, knows too that it is—not Hawke—and he rolls to his side, grimacing, pressing one hand to his face.

All of this. To have survived all of this, and to have lost her now—

"Good morning," Carver says, and Fenris looks up.

He has never thought of Carver as overlarge, but the berth makes him a giant. There is barely enough space between his narrow bunk and the flat desk bolted to the wall to fit Carver's undersized wooden chair; his shoulders, when he leans forward, are wide enough to block the daylight from the single porthole set high in the wall. Then Carver turns just enough to let one narrow slat of sun over his temple, and Fenris catches a glance of blue eyes, and his stomach twists—

"Carver," he says instead, flat and hoarse and thicker with pain than he'd like.

"Don't sit up yet. I've strict instructions to flatten you if you do."

Fenris snorts, grimaces again at the flicker of pain in his stomach. White bandages wrap across his bare skin, a thicker pad over the worst of the wound; when he lifts his hand to his head he feels more bandages there, the scent of valerian and elfroot floating free at the touch. Carver hands him a small red-glinting vial.

One of Hawke's. He's watched her prepare them often enough to recognize the wax stopper. He downs the elfroot potion in three swallows without protest, and Carver sits back in his chair, abruptly washed into morning shadow by the light lancing between them. The vial turns over and over in Fenris's fingers, cut facets flashing white and dark again with every motion; then he says, because he has no choice, "She is not here."

"No," Carver says flatly. "She didn't make it."

Urgently: "To the ship."

"I—yeah. To the ship."

Fenris closes his eyes, fingers pressed to the bandage over the place in his stomach where his skin knits, where even now Hawke's magic works to restore muscle and sinew and strength. Already the throbbing in his head has begun to fade, and when he carefully pushes his way to a seat on the edge of the bunk Carver does not move to stop him. "We must go back."

"We can't."

"Then I'll go alone."

"No—I mean—"

"You cannot stop me," Fenris warns him. It does not matter that he is Hawke's brother, nor that the damage from his wounds still lingers—

"He means she's not there to find," Isabela says from the doorway.

She looks…tired. No trace of a smile, even in the corners of her eyes, and her hair is damp with seaspray and her shirt still stained with blood, and when she leans with a sigh against the little desk Fenris remembers that she fought with them, too, and has not rested since. To leave Hawke in the city must have been just as hard and harder for her, who has left so many times before, who had promised with her blade if not her word not to do so again. He licks his lips. "Explain."

"She's in Wycome. Or will be, at any rate."

"Wycome—"

"It's a Marcher city on the eastern coast, a little more than halfway to Rivain. Don't frown, pet, your face'll stick that way. We've had this contingency plan for ages."

"I was never told."

"The Chantry never blew up before, either. I'm telling you now. She and I talked a long time ago about what might happen if we were separated trying to get out of the city. Barside chatter, you know how it is. We agreed on a little dockside inn I know in Wycome, where hardly anyone looks twice at a stranger and it's still safe enough to walk alone after dark. If she's still alive, she'll already be on her way there."

If—Fenris's hands knot on his knees. "Do not say such things. We shouldn't have left."

Her look is level, stern as the sea. "If we'd stayed, we'd have been trapped like rats in bilgewater. You know that."

He knows; he turns to Carver, to those impassive eyes, the shoulders too broad for the room. "Your sister—"

"—has been taking care of herself since she was fifteen, and all the rest of us since she was twenty." Carver rises, tall enough to brush the ceiling, a tree-trunk of shadow darkening the room. "And if you think any one of us could have talked her out of going back for someone who needed her help, yourself included, then you're barking mad."

He knows. And yet he can't bear the thought… "How far to Wycome?"

"Four days," says Isabela. "Less with a good wind, of course."

"How far on foot?"

Carver rubs the back of his neck. "Nine days, maybe? The Wardens pushed through in a week on our way south once, but we marched full days and took short nights, and there weren't templars looking for us at the time, either."

Fenris stands carefully, gripping the wall for balance; the ship rocks in the trough of a wave and he clenches his teeth, his shifting weight twinging through his wounded stomach. "But she travels alone. The road is too dangerous now."

"What are you suggesting, then? Bank the ship on the nearest shore and start combing every copse for footprints? That'll get the templars on her trail even faster, if they're not there already."

"No," Fenris says, as hard an admission as any, and swallows down the bitterness of knowing that for all his skills and all his intent he has become nothing more than useless. "No. We go to Wycome."

Isabela snorts, though there's no heat to it. "Glad you're onboard, then."

As if there is a choice, he thinks, and closes his eyes. The scent of salt wafts by with Isabela's passing, and Carver's heavy tread creaks over the wooden slats behind her—and then they are gone. He is alone.

Fenris pushes away from the wall, moves to the small porthole set between the paired hurricane lamps. He does not know the coastline that slides by so smoothly behind the glass, the too-green sunlit pines marking some land or another that might hold Hawke, that might not, that might bring him nothing more than an empty inn and a promise with no answer. He has known futility so well over the years; this is worse.

I can't bear the thought of living without you.

Four days.