Varric, in the most polite way that he can, refuses to let her seek refuge with him at the Hanged Man. While the arguments he makes are valid, amongst them that Leandra deserves to know at least one of her children remains alive, Wil can't help but think that she and her mother would both be better off were it Bethany who'd made it home.

If Bethany were here, she'd know what to say to comfort Mother. The right words, the right way of saying them. I don't know. I don't know how to do this.

"Varric," she pleads and he puts up one hand to silence her.

"You'll thank me later, Hawke," his tone is not unkind and his eyes betray sympathy and a sadness over the loss of Sunshine he's not otherwise expressed. He's been Wil's patient guide on her tour of life in Kirkwall as a free woman, and he's not about to abandon her now. "I promise."

So she makes the walk from the tavern to the slums on her own, hugging the alley walls and avoiding eye-contact. She wonders if the people who recognize her can see what she's lost, if they have any idea that she's upright despite wanting nothing more than to be curled up in a dark place, alone or maybe not entirely alone...where she can grieve without feeling as if she's endangering anyone, where she can vent the steady pressure of anguish that is still making her throat ache and her eyes burn.

If they can see any of that, it receives no acknowledgement. Instead people pass the way they always have. Some see her, most don't. She's able to get to the tenements in fairly decent time, thinking somewhere in the slurry of exhaustion and sorrow that it's always the case. The more you want to delay something, the quicker it comes.

She turns the last corner into the square, which is bearing the full brunt of the noonday sun, and immediately her breath catches, panic eradicating everything but panic until...

...there's no need to be afraid. Renewed heartbreak washes over her and, for the first time in her life, she approaches a templar as any other non-mage would.

"Ser...serah Hawke," Knight-Captain Cullen is flanked by two recruits. She recognizes one as a friend of Wilmod and Keran. Cullen appears weary and wary, as if he doesn't quite know what to expect from her outside of the Gallows, and outside of her work. He has no concept of who she really is, only that she's Fereldan, can use a sword and has an affinity for mages. "No doubt you know why we're here."

He speaks softly and, from his expression, she gets the sense that he thinks she should be grateful that he's doing his part to help keep her shameful little secret under wraps.

"The Chantry needs another gold statue so they're sending their bullies out to force donations?" Her arms go across her chest, the muscles in her back burning now with fatigue and the sunlight that's soaking into her dark gambeson. "Or maybe you've lost another recruit to the Blooming Rose and you want me to go lure him back out."

She expects the knight-captain to become angry, to accuse her of blasphemy or fling some other futile accusation at her. Instead his jaw tightens in frustration even as his russet eyes gleam with something approaching understanding.

"I would like to speak to Ser Hawke alone, if you don't mind," he turns to address his recruits. "I'll meet you in the bazaar."

They offer quick, if confused, nods of acquiescence and leave Wil and Cullen alone. Well, as alone as they can be in a crowded square.

"Serah...or should I call you Knight-Lieutenant Hawke?" His expression becomes grave as he says it, and Wil finds herself hoping that something comes of this. Maybe he'll arrest her on the spot for misrepresenting herself as a templar, or...

...she doesn't have it in her to go further than that.

"Mine was but a brief flirtation with the order, Knight-Captain," she stretches her shoulders. "Hawke should suffice for now."

"Hawke," he mumbles it and she swears there's also a hint of blushing at the word flirtation. "If your sister comes with us now, and without incident, I will ensure that your family is not punished for harboring an apostate."

Her throat tightens, her eyes burn. Yet her sadness cannot compete with the indignation that ignites within her.

"Harboring an apostate?" She asks, incredulous. "And here I thought I was living with my sister. You know, like people do."

Cullen's brow furrows.

"People," her tone is icy. "But not mages."

"Just tell me where she is, Hawke," his chin lowers and it's clear that he thinks he's doing the good and compassionate thing. "I swear to you that she, unless she proves herself a threat, she won't come to harm."

For a second she wants to punch his stupid, handsome face. She wants to beat against his silver chest and scream until her hands and her throat are bleeding. She wants to ask him what kind of person he thinks she is that she'd hand her sister over to save her own life. She wants to ask him if he's ever really thought about what it is he does to the mages he steals from their lives and their families.

She wants to ask him why he didn't come sooner, before they left for the Deep Roads.

"I don't know where she is," blinking rapidly, she forces the tears to remain in her eyes. She's not going to break down here, in the middle of the slums of all places. And she's certainly not going to be undone by a templar. "She became ill while we were in the Deep Roads and...," she shouldn't have even been in the Deep Roads. "If she's alive at all, she's a Grey Warden now. So take it up with them if you want her so badly," Wil's voice has become almost unrecognizably harsh, her unwillingness to cry apparently requires her to be angry. "She'd probably name her firstborn after you. If she could, you know, have children. And keep them long enough to name them."

Cullen stares at her, the oddest flicker of hurt in his eyes, but it passes and he just...gives up.

"You might be lying, but it's not my job to stand here and bear your accusations," his head snaps to the side and a muscle in his cheek jumps. She notices, for the first time, a pink scar, flat like a burn, that runs just beneath his jawline. "And if what you say is true...may the Maker watch over your sister. Being a Grey Warden is not an easy life."

He turns to go and she surprises them both by seizing onto his pauldron. "Cull- Knight-Captain." He stops but does not face her, choosing instead to glance back over his shoulder and her hand. "Who told you?"

"We were looking for you. Your friend the Warden is missing. We thought you might know his whereabouts, and our search led us to a informative neighbor...," he frowns. "I actually didn't know for certain until...but it was a safe assumption."

One word emerges from the tangle in her mind.

Anders

"The Warden was with me, Ser Cullen," she asserts, frantically searching for an easy way to deflect the templars' attention away from him. If they show up tonight, even if it is just to ascertain his location, it could turn out badly. "He might not be in his clinic yet...but he plans on returning."

For a while, at least.

"Justice has plans, Wil," his hands remain tucked between his knees, his head bowed. Still, she can see his eyes gleaming in the firelight and she knows he's watching her. "We came to Kirkwall to get away from the Wardens, and for Karl. Now..."

"You have no reason to stay?" It's her turn to pull into herself, to shroud herself in impenetrable space. To keep hurt out, because she has no right to take this so personally.

His shoulders raise in defense but he never responds.

"Too bad," Cullen begins away again. "I'd hoped he'd left to become someone else's problem...and one that can actually be dealt with."

He leaves her with that and she does not follow. Too much is weighing on her now, too much is spinning out of her control.

Everything is spinning out of your control. You were supposed to return to Kirkwall swimming in jewels. You were supposed to come swanning back into this square with your pretty sister on one arm and your awesome dwarf on the other and issue the biggest fuck you all, I'm out of here that Kirkwall has ever seen.

So maybe she'd actually never thought to do that, but she'd expected something. Accomplishment. Hope for a more certain future. A sense that it was all worthwhile.

But what does she have? Two bags laden with gems, artifacts and gold. Two bags worth enough to buy three estates in Hightown, and yet she's so much poorer than was before.

That's what she carries up the steps to Gamlen's tenement. Each footfall echoes in the stairwell. Each footfall is a breath she can't quite draw correctly until she has to stop near the top of their landing, gasping and trying like mad to keep the air long enough for it to matter.

It's a struggle to make it matter.

She's remembering another arrival, another journey that brought her to these stairs. After months running and weeks on the sea and days spent in the Gallows waiting for Gamlen to show some compassion for his sister and her children, she and Bethany and Aveline were all in need of someplace to call home. Someplace with a roof and walls and something like beds, because none of them had seen one of those in forever.

Instead of home they received Gamlen's hovel. It smelled of him, of stale liquor, salty women and his own special stench of desperation like old onions, Bethany called it. It was crusty, full of suspect rags and picture books that made Wil want to bathe just after spending a few seconds in the same room with them. And even if it had been a cozy cottage by the sea with pale green curtains and lacy covers on the settee, he'd made certain that they knew how very temporary he saw their arrangement. This would never be home because it was his. His remaining claim. His corner of Kirkwall after he'd fucked, drank, and gambled away everything else he'd been given.

I don't know if I can blame him for that, Wil makes it to the door. Fucking, drinking and gambling sound pretty fantastic right now. What better way to deal with being alone when you've never really been alone?

Beyond the rough wooden door she can hear Bello whimpering in anticipation of her arrival. It's a comfort to remember that, no matter what, he might greet her with something less than repulsion. Even if he could reject her, no amount of disappointment could stand in the face of her strong fingernails and propensity for always having bits of dry oxen on her.

Beyond the door is also her mother...and Wil just

I don't know if I can...

She sees Varric's face and she knows that she can't let the woman suffer any longer, especially...

So Wil opens the door and it's harder than she'd thought, her muscles resisting her good intentions and screaming at her bad idea bad idea don't you remember how she treated you when Carver died? Like you could have stopped him from doing anything but especially protecting his own mother from death by ogre? but Wil ignores the voice and forces her way in.

It's quiet, even with Bello bounding towards her to bury his face against her stomach, snuffling her belly in delight. Gamlen sits at the table, a bowl of stew half-eaten in front of him and a small pile of copper laid out next to a deck of cards and a packet of parchment. She recognizes it as a type of guide sold by shady merchants in the bazaar. Tips and strategies on how to cheat at Diamondback. Oh, Gamlen. Never change.

He glances up, surprise loosening his pinched features but not impeding his usual tactlessness. "Well, look who finally deigned to come home," he leans back in his chair. "I half expected you to..." he stops in mid-sentence.

Probably because that's when he actually sees her.

Maybe it's the hunger. Maybe it's her grime covered clothing, or her cheeks which feel scorched after weeks of being without sunlight. Maybe it's the fact that she's unmoving and tears are clinging to eyes which she knows must betray so much.

"Maker's breath, girl," he stands and is far more concerned than she'd ever thought he could be. "What's wrong with you?"

She can't respond before Leandra appears from the back bedroom. Wil has no idea whether she heard her come in or if it was just intuition, but how is unimportant in the face of her mother's heartbreaking relief to see her eldest child home and alive enough to touch and cling to with soft hands that grasp in near wild desperation.

"Wilhelmina! You came back," she catches Wil's cheeks between her palms so she can search her daughter's face, her own glowing with real happiness. "I've been so worried, my darling. So...," like Gamlen it hits her in mid-stride. "So...wait, where's Bethany?" Her brow pulls down in concern and her eyes dart, wild, to a point beyond Wil that's just the door. "Wilhelmina...where is your sister?"

Like a solid thing, the answer sits in her throat and cannot be dislodged. Instead she mouths it, the horrible truth. The failure. Her failure.

"I don't know, Mother."

She gasps and wills herself to hold together. She's had days to come to terms with this. It wouldn't be fair to Leandra for her to break down now and leave her mother with nobody to hang on to.

Not that it matters. Realization settles in like anger as much as sorrow and Wil is rejected in the form of two hands that shove against her chest, that shove her back into a door that she never wanted to walk through, punished for a mistake that is, in and of itself, a greater burden than could be conjured in the deepest parts of the Void itself. Wil's head snaps back from the force of contact and it smacks against solid wood with a thunk. She must bite her lip to keep from crying out, to keep from making any noise that might interfere with her mother's wails, and her insistence, her repeated insistence, to Gamlen that My little girl would have stayed, if only Wilhelmina had told her. If only Bethany had stayed...my little girl gone, just like Carver.

As if Wilhelmina isn't right there. As if Wilhelmina doesn't feel it sharply enough already, the emptiness, the regret, the bonecrushing loneliness unlike anything she's ever experienced. Even with Varric and Anders. Even here, with Mother and Gamlen, she's alone.

"Leave!" Leandra struggles to her feet and she can't bring herself to look at Wil, at the child who remains. "Go away and don't come back until you have Bethany...until you can tell me what happened to my...," the rest is incomprehensible on account of the sobbing, but Wil can figure it out.

So she leaves.

She's almost to the bottom of the stairs when she hears a panicked, "Wilhelmina, wait!" followed by the noisy fast clatter of worn boots on wooden floorboards and the awkward gait of a man who doesn't give chase very often.

So she waits.

He doesn't meet her. Instead he stops near the top of the steps, his arms across his heaving chest and sweat trickling down from his hairline. When he speaks, it's falteringly. He's not certain how to do this, no more than she'd been certain of anything when she'd walked into the apartment.

"Come back up, girl," his gaze latches onto the toes of his boots. "Leandra doesn't know what she's saying."

"I think Leandra knows exactly what she's saying," Wil takes a tentative step up. "And even if she's right, I don't have it in me to listen. Not today."

"I understand," he frowns. "I got her to lay down."

She doesn't want to go back up. She was almost relieved to be sent away by her mother. It gave her an excuse to run, to disappear. But now she allows herself to be lead to the apartment, her uncle who never wanted her there in the first place holding two doors open for her, and being kind enough to not ask if there's anything she needs as she collapses onto the bed that had been Bethany's and still wears the rush rumpled sheets from the morning they'd left, when last minute packing had meant they didn't have time to tidy up and...

Wil doesn't hear the door close. She doesn't hear anything.

It's a blessing.

Slowly she strips away the clothes she's been wearing for almost two weeks. They come away like skin, like a life lived, to leave behind muscle, bones and viscera.

A life to be endured.


Sleep only gets her to nightfall.

Darkness is an oppressive thing and she has to fumble through her abandoned pack for a match to light the oil lamp on their her nightstand. It's a task she's not had to perform very often in her life, one of the benefits of living with mages. For one panicked moment, she's afraid she's going to set her fingertips on fire but she manages the simple act without injuring herself or burning the tenement down.

It's the small things, she thinks wryly as she adjusts her eyes to the light and attempts to make sense of the dull ache behind them and the thick coating of sour across her tongue and down her throat. It comes with an emotional numbness as she takes in the room and tries to decide what comes next.

Not next in her life. She's nowhere near ready for that. She just needs something to do tonight. And tomorrow. And tomorrow night and...

Her stomach twists. Let's focus on tonight.

Tonight. She should be dragging Bethany with her to the Hanged Man, gathering with their friends for drinks and raucous stories. She should be sitting with ale in one hand and the other occupied with keeping Isabela at bay while Varric tells Fenris and Aveline about how Hawke punched a huge rock demon in the face...ish.

Bethany would watch Varric, her chin resting on the palm of her hand and her dark eyes sparkling as the story he wove fell over her more vivid than it had been when it happened. Varric would pause every now and again, to allow Wil to interject a little aside about how Sunshine had said something adorably astute, or Blondie had groused about his boots, and it would be a pristine presentation of what they'd endured, and a charming one.

Blondie. Wil sighs, her hand running down her face. She wonders if he's in his clinic, or if he's already gone. She wonders what he's doing...what he's-

"I'd hoped he'd left to become someone else's problem...and one that can actually be dealt with."

Fuck.

This gets her off the floor and scrambling towards the trunk she'd left behind. Amongst its varied contents is the templar armor she'd taken the afternoon they'd helped the mages from Starkhaven. She doesn't even think the plan through as she strips to her smalls and then begins layering the worn but well-maintained plate over a fresh padded shirt and hose. The only thing she knows is that his profile is uncommonly high right now, and she's the only one who might be able to prevent capture or a bloody, demon-fueled massacre.

It doesn't take her long to get ready. When she emerges from the bedroom, she's greeted by her mother sitting still at the table, a steaming mug of tea in front of her and her puffy eyes closed in what Wil assumes is prayer.

Making no attempt to address Leandra, Wil attempts to stealth her way across the apartment.

Nevermind the fact that she's in full plate metal and has a huge sword strapped to her back.

"Wilhelmina!" There's no anger in Leandra's voice, only shock. "What do you think you're doing?" Wil turns and her mother's eyes widen. "What in the Maker's name are you wearing?"

"The templars might be after Anders...I'm going to go down to his clinic...to," she hesitates because she has no idea what she plans on doing. She's hoping that just standing there looking official will be enough to ward off other templars.

"Darktown is dangerous, Wilhelmina," suddenly Leandra is willing to acknowledge that Wil is worthy of concern.

Wil smirks, "Not for templars. I'll be-" she doesn't finish. It doesn't seem wise to make promises. The past few have turned out to be far harder to keep than she'd anticipated.

Perhaps sensing that, Leandra doesn't press. Instead her shoulders sink and her fingers toy with the edge of her mug. "Tell me what happened. Tell me why my daughter can't be with here with me," her voice quivers, but she's trying very hard to keep from crying. "Tell me that you didn't just leave her to some unknown fate."

Chest tightening, Wil tilts back against the door and tries not to think in specifics, because specifics will only hurt and she has a short-term purpose now.

"We encountered darkspawn and Bethany became corrupted...," Wil omits the like Wesley part of it, because Wesley had given Leandra nightmares for days. "Anders led us to a Grey Warden. He...recruited Bethany."

Confusion and a small amount of relief spark in Leandra's eyes. "So...Bethany is a Grey Warden?"

Wil shakes her head, desperately wishing she could say yes and have it be true. "Probably? Becoming a Warden is a cure, but sometimes the recruits are killed in the process. They had to get her to the surface faster than we could travel, so I don't know yet what became of her." Then, more for herself than her mother. "It was a gamble...but the alternative was certain death."

Her mother's expression is a peculiar mixture of sorrow and pride. Of course. The Wardens are heroes right now. It might be the wrong daughter gone, but it's still something of an honor.

"I...thank you for that," she smiles sadly. "It's a relief to know that hope remains. Do you know what will happen, once she's a Warden? Will she be able to return to Kirkwall?"

"No," it's too quick a response. "Her Commander told me I wouldn't see her again. So...no. She can write, however. It's Bethany...she'll write."

This earns a distant nod and a silent withdrawal from conversation.

Wil leaves without another word. See you in the morning or have a good night were other sorts of promises, and she really should avoid those as much as she can.


Dawn's light trickling down the cistern lets Wil know she's wasted an entire night guarding Anders' clinic from what turned out to be the phantom threat of templars. She sighs, rubbing her hand along her neck, which is stiff from the unfamiliar weight of a recently discarded steel helm. You don't even know if Anders is here. He could have been taken before you arrived, or intercepted on his way down while Cullen kept you distracted in the square.

Her stomach lurches and she's no longer content to merely watch from a distance or assume that he's safe. She moves from her post near one of the upper tunnels and hurries down the rickety wooden steps that will give her access to the clinic level. While she does so, she cannot help but notice how automatic it is. Even after weeks away, she knows this maze of tunnels, staircases and alcoves. Kirkwall, which had resisted her from the beginning, is familiar now, and in a way she never thought it could be.

Smells. Filth and moisture and smouldering corpses. Sounds. Children crying and women shouting for them to shut the fuck up. The rumble of carts and carriages carried down from the busy streets above.

Sights. She reaches the door just as it opens, Anders' eyes widening in surprise as he greets her. He'd told her good-bye the day before. Not see you tomorrow or maybe I'll come by to see how you're doing in a few days. Good-bye. Yet here she is. At dawn. In templar garb and smiling brightly because she is glad to see him and relieved to know he's all right and aware that a bright smile will disarm him a bit and perhaps draw attention away from the fact of good-bye.

Mostly, though, she smiles because the sight of his face is exactly what she needs.

"Dangerous," his gaze drops to the flaming sword that blazes on her chest. "Don't tell me you've been out there all night."

"I wasn't going to," she steps neatly past him and then settles back against the doorframe.

"Are you crazy?" He's gone from shock, to wariness, to open disbelief. Granted, he might have a point. She's clearly avoiding dealing with her loss, and risking her own safety to do so. On the other hand, his safety is worth it. Still, it's not something she wants to discuss with him because...it's just not something she wants to discuss with him.

Instead, looking at the dark smudges beneath his eyes that are slightly less smudgy than they'd been the day before, she realizes that she has more than one reason to be here.

"A touchy subject, don't you think? Even I know not to ask a person that," she waves off his incredulity and continues as if he'd raised no protest. "I wanted to talk to you about the Wardens."

"I've already told you more than I should have," he exhales.

"Yes. But you don't know how mothers can be. Always wanting to know exactly what kind of super secret organization of legendary warriors their children are joining. I told her I thought it was like the sewing circle she had in Lothering, but with more dismemberment," Wil winces. "That just made her cry harder."

It was a lie. If she admitted how little she's spoken to her mother about what happened in the Deep Roads, she might have to confront the fact that she's doing something wrong.

But it sounds good. Better than Yesterday I caught myself wishing that the templars had taken Beth. Better by far than She wanted to die, and I took that choice away from her for selfish reasons.

And Anders buys it. "It will be hard for her at first. The nightmares aren't the only thing that changes when you become a Warden, but it's not anything I can describe. It's better than death..." he hesitates. "It's better than death, but it might be a long time before she realizes that. One of the benefits of hating my life was that becoming a Warden seemed like a free pass at normalcy to me. I never understood why the Commander always apologized for Conscripting me until she was gone and..."

"And?" Wil's heart hurts. The idea of her sister out there, resenting her for making an impossible decision. It's nothing she could have ever foreseen...Carver, sure. He could probably subsist quite well on a steady diet of resentment. But Bethany?

"Bethany might never forgive you, but you did the right thing."

She's stuck on might never forgive you, keenly aware of everything she has lost in that one observation. Not only her sister, but the hitherto unshakeable love and support of the truest sort of friend. For the first time since yesterday afternoon, tears burn her eyes.

"Wil," Anders' gaze darts to the ground, but his voice is warm enough make up for it. "She'll survive. And you will, too."

"I know," she says it too quickly, but decides to take it as a truth that helps to pull her together. She can't really depend on Anders for that, anyway. He has his own trauma to deal with, in addition to whatever Justice wants him to do next. She snorts softly, imagining Justice must be quite relieved that Anders is no longer beholden to her and it's a bitter sort of amusement because she wants Anders to be someone who is...her skin warms at the mere suggestion of an unformed notion and it's not at all a physical urge.

Dammit, Wil. You're starting to have feelings.

And she was. Real feelings. Or rather, all the feelings she's been pushing aside these past few months in the shadows of the Warning Wil...all the things she's not been comfortable confronting or acknowledging because what on earth could she do with them in the face of I can't be with anyone? And how does she reconcile this need to share her grief with him when he already has so much of his own? She moves as if to leave, aware that it's probably for the best. "I shouldn't put this on you, Anders. You have your own concerns and, without you..."

"I'll spare you the discomfort of laying it out," with a smirk, Anders interrupts her out of the blue serious attempt to thank him. "I know that you're grateful."

"Do you? Or are you just trying to keep me from saying something monumentally stupid?" Dammit again, Wilhelmina. He didn't mean anything by it. "Listen, I realize how I must come across to you. To everyone. I'm not always very...nice or serious, but I love my sister. You have no idea how much it means...," Wil shivers and looks down to where her hands are twisting against each other, trying to distract her from the awkward. She has no idea what she's saying, or why she's so defensive. All she knows is that...

"I have never met a person more loved than Bethany," for a second, an elegant hand moves as if he might take one of hers in it. In the end, he keeps to himself, but it's a small slight in the face of what he's saying and how he's saying it, his voice sweetly sincere and adoration plain in his amber eyes. "If every mage had someone like you in their lives, someone who cherished them as a person, who was willing to fight for their rights as if they were their own...I've been jealous of Bethany since the day I met her, and not just because she's been free her entire life."

"Anders," Wil breathes his name and oh. That was not simply Anders. That was...Maker's breath, that was 'I love you'. Or...'I think I love you'. Or 'you just said something that moved me from desire with an overwhelming amount of like into love' and...maybe it wasn't. Maybe it was just Anders.

But when she looks at him, she knows without asking that he'd heard it, too. And from the adorable way that even his eyebrows are smiling in soft relief, he clearly doesn't hate the idea of her saying his name but meaning I love you.

Or I think I love you. Or...

"You should leave," it cuts through whatever quiet ebullience she's feeling. From his expression and the hard tone of his voice, Anders is no longer relieved. He's also no longer willing to talk, turning his back on her but I know what I saw...he was happy. Right? She grabs his wrist before he can get too far away, not thinking in any rational sense, but panicking because she'd just laid herself out almost completely bare and now he's...

What did you expect, Wil? Apparently Bethany is alive and well in your unwillingness to see this non-relationship for what it really is.

"Mina. Please."

Fuck. Something falls apart inside her, something she never knew was holding her together.

In front of her, Anders shakes his head.

"You're lost right now. You're lost, and without the one person who could find you and...I hate that you're hurting. I hate seeing you grieve. Wil...," her name catches in his throat because her fingers have tightened around his wrist in anticipation. Even though he's admitting as much as she had, she doesn't want to hear it anymore. "I don't ever want to be responsible for causing you that much pain...and I will. I will break your heart and you would let me and I just...I won't do it," there is no room for argument there. "Not to you. You're too...there's only one sure way that I know to avoid it."

Of course. He's an abomination. His life is high risk, and he has priorities. Absolutely. But she holds on. She holds on because once she's not holding on, she'll be lost again and something tells her that Anders doesn't have the maps that will help her navigate her life in the aftermath of losing Bethany, and now him.

She can't see his face. All she can see is his honey-colored hair in need of a good washing and his still dirty robes that she could have offered to take up yesterday. Maybe this would have been avoided if she'd insisted on things staying as they'd been before the expedition...if she'd went for normalcy rather than trying to force them both through a door that he's been trying so hard to keep closed, despite how he feels. Despite what she feels for him.

More than I've ever...

Wil doesn't remember the letting go. She doesn't remember leaving, or the climb back to her perch on the riser in the undercity, where she settles down because the templars might raid during the day in the hopes that he will come peacefully, rather than risk any of his patients.

She should see Aveline. She should tell her what happened to Bethany, but she knows it will only stir painful memories of Wesley, and how his only option was death.

So she'll stay here. It's an excuse to keep from going home. It's an excuse to wallow in rejection, even if she understands why it had to be.

It's an excuse to avoid having to explain what happened, to receive sympathy for failing.

And sadly enough, it's the only thing she knows to do.

This is how my grand adventure ends. Sitting in undercity filth like an emotional zombie. Wil bows her head and tries not to think too hard about it, how an existence, lovingly mapped with all the best details sketched in for her has become a blank parchment and she left alone to draw life back in. Wil can't see it now, or even begin to imagine, but it will take form. In time. There will be tearspots and bloodstains, and possibly even a vivid scorch mark from an errant lightning spell. The legend will contain hearts of all types and sizes, dragons and a baffling variety of rude doodles, but it will be better than what came before.

Someday it will be better than what came before.

Because she'll have no doubt that it is hers.


Notes from SF: Thus endeth Act 1. And Maps & Legends. As I planned this grand retelling as three distinct stories to correspond with each Act of Dragon Age 2, Life and How to Live It will start going up (hopefully) within the week. It will pick up shortly after Maps & Legends ends, so you will get to see my attempts at plotty stuff and whatnot.

Lucky you guys!

I would like to sincerely thank everyone that read or reviewed but especially: Sandtigress, MelRedux, Miri1984, Evilnor, Ashyraine, ZoEva, Naomis8329, YamiSnuffles, Emmav, Lillian-hime and, most of all, Keldjinfae. All of you provided me with feedback, support, inspiration, fic therapy and ideas and I can't properly express my gratitude ever, so I'll just leave it at thanks, guys.