"Hawke." Isabela could not keep the sway from her steps as she made her way across the deck, made no attempt to hide the smirk tugging at her lips.
Hawke's back was to her, her shoulders hunched and heaving as she rested her elbows upon the port side rail. The bloody Champion of Kirkwall, tossing her breakfast into the deeps like a white-faced cabin boy.
"Isabela." She wiped a hand across her mouth.
Folding her arms, Isabela leaned against the rail beside her. Hawke made no move to rise. Instead she sagged, sinking to her knees with a heavy sigh.
"Get up. You're embarrassing yourself. And me."
She chuckled, taking the offered arm to let Isabela haul her to her feet. "I've never been one for ships."
"Apparently not. I can't imagine how you survived the journey to Kirkwall."
"Shock, I suppose." Hawke moved to a low pair of crates, resting elbows on her knees as she stared out across the waves. It would not help the nausea, but the woman had never been one to turn away from anything. That was the problem. "Maybe I was sick. It was years ago. I can't remember."
Isabela took the crate across from her, nodding back in the direction of her gaze. "I do not know what you're expecting. He's not about to come soaring across the waves."
"Like a knight in shining dinghy?"
"Anders is not much of a knight in anything."
Hawke did not take her eyes from the water as her chin fell into her hands. "No. That would be you, wouldn't it?"
"Then put me ashore."
Isabela snorted. Another day, another argument. "I cannot."
"And why is that exactly?" That gaze was fixed on her now. "For the same reason that you hit me over the head? Tied me up?"
"Would you have come otherwise?" She smiled. "You are on my ship now, Hawke. We will go ashore when I say we go ashore."
With a sigh, Hawke pushed to her feet, striding again to the rail. The breeze stirred her cloak, one hand idly tugging it closed. She looked down with a smirk. "Thank you for the clothes, by the way. But you're certain you couldn't come up with something less... revealing?"
"Oh, they will do for now." She laughed. "But come into my cabin. It will help."
"We need to go back."
Isabela rolled her eyes with an exaggerated sigh. "I am sure Anders will be fine."
"But I won't." She whirled, staring down at her hands. "I needed to speak with him, Isabela. We were to flee together."
"Plans?" She barked a bitter laugh. "And whose plans were those? I stood beside him. Even after what he'd done, even though I knew that all of those people would... But that's not why I was there. I didn't even care that he didn't share my reasons. This is what he'd wanted all along, the only thing. It was vengeance. Nothing more."
"There wasn't supposed to be a future, Isabela. But I needed to at least speak with him."
She met the other woman's gaze, shaking her head after a long and silent moment. "If you think he did not do this for you, you are wrong."
"It had nothing to do with me. He made that abundantly clear."
"Not Kirkwall. This." She let her hand take in the deck. "He did this for you, Hawke. It was Anders that bid me take you."
"What?" Hawke took a step forward, but she staggered, turning to throw herself again against the rail. As she heaved, Isabela moved slowly to crouch beside her. Wrinkling her nose, she ran a soothing hand across the Champion's back.
"Not a day before we answered the Enchanter's summons. He visited me in the Hanged Man..."
The worse the streets, the fatter the barman's purse, they said. Kirkwall may be quiet as a tomb, but the Hanged Man saw no slowing of trade, even at this hour. Varric had already retired, gone to snuggle his bow - or whatever the boys were calling it these days. Isabela, though, had found herself unable to sleep. Those same men who spoke of streets and purses would call it a sign of a heavy heart, or a guilty one. But she had never had much problem with guilt.
Glancing up, she spotted a familiar figure slipping through the door. Speaking of guilty hearts...
"Anders!" Leaning over the bar, she snatched up a second mug and made for the nearest table.
He hesitated before taking the seat across from her, his eyes darting furtively around the room.
"And where is Hawke?"
"Sleeping." Still he would not meet her gaze, turning his face away with a wistful sigh. "Soundly."
"Well, we can't all be so lucky. But if you are here to seduce me, you should know that—?"
"You look like a man who's headed to the gallows - literally, I suppose." Resting a knee on the bench beside her, Isabela trailed a finger along the rim of her mug. "The Hanged Man has seen its share of dirty deals. And you've never had much of a face for bluffing. So what is it to be, then?"
Anders did not reply.
"It's the coat, isn't it? Very dark, very brooding." She leaned across the table, flicking a bit of lint from the feathers. "But ever since you've started wearing it, you've been less fun than usual. And even worse at cards. What did you do?"
"It... it does not matter now. Or... not yet."
"Oh, obviously. But if you didn't tell Hawke, I did not truly think you'd tell me. It's driving her mad, you know."
His eyes flickered guiltily as he raised his head. "It is?"
"Why, just last night we shared a pint or two... or four. The way she complains about you..."
Grinning now, Isabela shook her head. "Lucky for you, she's smitten. She's mad for you; you're mad for her. It's all so pathetically adorable."
"So you... don't think I should tell her?"
"Your secrets are your business." She took a long pull from her mug.
"Good... that's good. Because I need your help, Isabela."
Setting the drink aside, she studied him. "Why not ask Hawke?"
"Right. Off the books, then."
Anders looked to his hands, laying them on the table between them. "I... I need you to leave. To take her away from here."
Isabela burst into laughter, rocking back on the bench as Anders cast a panicked glance at the other patrons. After a moment, she shook her head. "I can assure you, that's not going to happen."
"Not now. When... whatever's coming... when it's over. No matter what. Promise me that you'll get Hawke away from here."
"And what is coming, exactly?"
He did not rise to the bait. "And if I survive... you cannot follow me, she cannot. No matter what."
"If you survive? Is that why you've been moping about?" Her voice rose to a mocking pitch. "'Oh, I'm doomed. You're better off without me.'"
"This is serious, Isabela. If I survive, I'll be hunted."
"And you're not already? I would wager Hawke understands the risks."
He slammed his palms on the table. Isabela flinched instinctively away, but she recovered quickly, leaning forward with a scowl.
"She doesn't understand them. Not yet."
"And you do?"
"I..." He seemed to sink back in on himself, chewing at his lip with a dazed and wondering shake of his head. "I was a healer, once."
"What does that have to do with any—?"
"I can sense things still." He raised his eyes to hers, all trace of bitterness or jests forgotten. All that remained was fear, real and desperate. "I can't make her leave, not before this is finished. She would never allow it. But afterwards... promise me Isabela. Promise me that you will take her as far from here – as far from me – as you can. No matter what."
Isabela folded her arms. "Let's say for the sake of argument, that I do this. How exactly am I supposed to take on the Champion of Kirkwall if she decides she doesn't want to come?"
"You're a resourceful woman. Just... don't hurt her."
"You do realize that I have a problem with this. That I've half a mind to march over there right now and tell her you think you know what's best for—"
"I do. For the moment." He sighed. "I just... I just hope that this is over before she understands. But she will one day."
"Today I'm the one that you need to convince."
"You're really going to make me say it, aren't you?"
"I like to know what I'm dealing with, yes. And if you expect me to drag a very angry Champion off to my hold..."
He snorted, finally picking up his mug and draining it in one long pull. Setting it back down, he straightened, meeting her gaze with that same strange desperation. "I've made my choice, had made it before I knew... I don't know if it would have changed anything and I can't think about what that means. But I always knew that I was doing this for the future, to create a place where mages would be free… where they could live, could grow up without fear of persecution. They never had names, had faces; it was always just the greater good. I suppose you could call it ironic, then. But I'll be hunted for what I've done. It will never stop. That's why I need you to protect that future."
"Hawke is the future? But she's not even a mage. She's just— Oh, sod."
Anders drummed his fingers on the table as they stared into their empty mugs. "So… how big a fool am I?"
"I've rarely seen you speechless, Isabela."
She raised her head. "You... you're sure? I mean absolutely—?"
"I'm still a healer, much as I've been focusing on... other things. I can sense the spark, small though it still is. I don't believe she yet knows herself."
"She will. And if you're not there..."
"If I am there, we will never stop being in danger. I can't do that, not... not to them."
"She'll kill us both. You realize this, don't you?"
He smirked. "So that means you'll do it, then?"
She folded her arms.
"You love her, Isabela. She's like a sister to you. You don't have to like it, but I know you understand."
After a long moment, she sighed. "This... thing you say you've done. Is it really all that bad? There's no guarantee that this won't just... turn out all right?"
"When do things ever turn out all right?" Anders pushed to his feet but still he leaned his hands on the table, as though the weight of standing were too much to bear. Moving round, he bent to lay a kiss on her forehead. "Thank you, Isabela. For protecting her, for protecting our child."
Hawke sank to the deck, leaning her back against the rail as she curled her knees to her chest. It was the only move that she had made since Isabela began her tale, her features unchanging, unflinching throughout. The anger seemed to leave her now... replaced by something like relief.
Crouching beside her, Isabela lay a hand on her arm. "You cannot tell me that you didn't know? It may take magic for a man, but a woman can always sense—"
"I knew. After the battle. But maybe I just didn't want to." She sighed, resting her chin on her arms. "I didn't know that he asked you to do this, though."
"What? You thought I arranged a daring rescue out of the kindness of my heart?"
Hawke chuckled, unconvinced. "I'm not going to stop looking for him, you know."
"Never thought you would. But I did hope to stall you for a bit." Coming to her feet, she again offered Hawke an arm.
"No more stalling."
"Right." Glancing down, Isabela smirked. "Maybe you're right about the clothes, though. Let's see if we can't find you something with a bit more room."