Spoilers for all of Dragon Age 2, post-game.


As they set off from what's left of Kirkwall the wind keens like a widow, slicing across every inch of exposed skin on their blind impetuous run towards the hills. Lightning crackles out over the sea as Hawke staggers on the poor footing, caught in an instant as Anders takes her arm and pulls her onward, ever onward, a frantic rush of away away away.

The red-tinged sky hangs above them like an ocean of blood, like the world tipped over, and for a moment Hawke knows the strange feeling of reversal, of what the dwarves mean when they talk about falling up into the sky: in those roiling clouds above them is the Chantry (what's left of it) and everything had turned upside down.

Pebbles fall from the sky with the raindrops, remnants of a holy place, hailing down upon them as though being cast back down from the heavens.

Just before they stop to take refuge, Hawke takes one of the pebbles and slips it into a pocket: memory, however small, of something she can't imagine bringing herself to forget.

-o-

He'd had such beautiful hands, once.

How many times she'd watched, these long years, watched them glow with the magic of a healer's calling, watched them linger on the pages of letters from allies, watched them ease the robes from her body and slide along her skin, a benediction, a healer's blessing for whatever it had been worth.

Hawke watches Anders gather kindling and wonders when his hands had lost their beauty.

-o-

The pebble in her pocket becomes a token, slow-polished in endless circles of worry, every bump and ridge familiar to her ever-worried fingertips. Nevarra, and Antiva, and then back south for Ferelden; she holds onto the stone and turns it over.

"It'll be easier in Ferelden," he assures her, and she knows he's lying, because nothing will ever be easy again.

-o-

At night she sees it, permanently inscribed on the insides of her eyelids: pillars of red energy howling like nothing holy, taking apart the Chantry methodically, completely, bursting outward in a rain of stone and bits of things no one misses anymore. In her dreams she hears whispers of people trapped there in the dark, of orphans in the understories, of penitents come to pray, of the cooks and cleaners and Maker-knows-who-else that'd been there, innocent, when it had all gone so wrong.

When she wakes up crying Anders is there, and though she holds him and cries and takes what comfort he has to offer, she thinks she hates him a little more every time.

-o-

She is losing him.

She watches Anders and Justice and the slow banishment of the man she loves from his own body, and she tries to remember why she loved him, tries to remember (as the world burns, as war levels the just and the unjust alike) just what it was that convinced her to give herself so unreservedly to his cause.

Freedom, she reminds herself, but years of running isn't freedom, it's exhausting, and war isn't freedom, it's just a new set of chains.

"I couldn't have done it without you," he says, eyes full of hopeless gratitude and honesty, and she swallows bile and smiles and hates herself more with every day that passes.

-o-

And then the last Circle falls, not to templars, not to mages, but to people so frightened they take matters into their own hands.

"Why?" Anders demands of the survivors, incredulous. Hawke doesn't bother with the newly-minted apostates—no, they've a small army for that now, all she must do is be here and that becomes a more impossible task by the hour—and she stands amid the rubble of a broken Circle and clutches her fragment of Chantry-pebble in her fingers, watching a man she used to love argue for peace with bloody hands.