The air smelled of ash and magic and blood when Hawke finally returned to his manor. He let his staff fall just inside the door, then unbuckled, unstrapped, and divested - a pauldron here, a rerebrace there, a vambrace there, leaving a trail of discarded armor on his way through the foyer.
To the Void with it all. Let Orana clean it up or not. He just couldn't summon the energy to care..
He ignored Bodahn's muted greeting as he nearly fell on the stairs, pulling off his boots and leaving them lying on the bottom steps. His belt with its pouches of potion vials and a few remaining carefully packed grenades ended up draped over the banister.
It took the very last of his will to push himself up to his feet to ascend to his bedroom instead of crawling on all fours. After being betrayed by her husband, at least Andraste had the Maker's love to turn to; despite Sebastian's attempts at consolation on the return boat trip from the Gallows, Hawke did not think he would be turning to the Maker for comfort for a very long time.
When Bodahn called up a cautious question as to when Master Anders might be returning home, Hawke had to brace himself on the wall while he called back in voice roughened by smoke, shouts, and grief, "He's dead."
His right hand clenched convulsively with the memory of holding the knife and the sickening feel of it sinking into Anders' back.
"Dead," he rasped again, and kept his face turned away when he heard Bodahn's gasp and Orana's birdlike cry of shock and pain.
At least that gave him the strength to get up the stairs and into his bedroom. If he had to face another well-meaning offer of condolence or sympathy, he would be tempted to turn it into more fighting just to postpone the time until he had to be alone with his thoughts and his grief.
He shed the last of his armor's underpadding and fell onto the bed in just his smallclothes.
How long he lay there he could not say. It had been dark when he had returned home, and the day had dawned with a blood-red haze of ash from the Chantry and the funeral pyres in the air. At some point during the night his mabari hound had opened his door and jumped up on the bed, lying down beside his master without even trying to take up the majority of the space.
Hawke patted his head and murmured, "Never let me love a cat person again, hm? It's obviously the first sign of an abomination."
Ser Barks-a-Lot cocked his head at his master before licking his hand.
"And we're changing your name back," Hawke added. "I should never have let him convince me to change it from Wulfrum in the first place."
Wulfrum, who had moments before been Ser Barks-a-Lot, wuffed at him and thumped his stump of a tail on the bed.
They must have slept, Hawke and his hound, because he was woken by Isabela's wry comment, "This is why they call you Fereldans dog lords. Kinky, but no."
Hawke threw Anders' pillow at her and tried for a smile, but managed mostly a scowl. "Don't you have something better to do?"
She caught the pillow and dropped it on top of the chest by the door. "Someone better to do, you mean?" she said. "Fenris is still resting. You know that Merrill is absolutely hopeless as a healer and there's only so much potions can do. He said to tell you he's fine."
She didn't mention that their best healer was now dead. Who knew that better than Hawke?.
Hawke cursed and pushed himself up on an elbow. "I'll go see to him. I should have done that sooner. Why did you let me leave the Gallows without taking care of him?"
"Hawke." Isabela fixed him with a warning glare. "Do not make me tie you up. Unless you want me to tie you up, only I forgot to bring my feathers and whipped cream, so it isn't going to be the full experience."
"He's a big boy," Isabela said firmly and left her place leaning in the doorway to come sit on the edge of the bed. She put her hand in the middle of his chest and pushed. Her bicep flexed and Hawke grunted, but eventually the pirate won over the mage and he slumped back.
She silenced him with a sudden kiss that reminded him of the one night they had spent together. Maybe he had been a fool thinking it was just for fun, but there were definitely worse things to be reminded of.
"I'm no good at this," she said. "Get some rest. Heal. Tomorrow or maybe the next day we'll go up to Sundermount or out to the Wounded Coast and we'll find something to kill then go back to the Hanged Man to drink until someone vomits. That should cheer you right up. It usually works for me."
She patted his chest and stood up to leave. Hawke watched her, bemused, until she paused in the door. She didn't turn to look at him, and he had to strain to hear her words.
"You deserve better."
And with that, she was gone, disappearing in that way she had - now you see her, now you don't.
Wulfrum gave a quizzical whine and dropped his great head in the center of Hawke's chest as though taking a cue from Isabela.
"Uh uh," Hawke shoved his head off and sat up. "Privy for me, you can go water the neighbor's tree. Serves them right for flaunting their, ahem, out where anyone could see. See and draw pictures if you're Isabela."
Wulfrum crawled off the bed with an annoyed huff and disappeared down the stairs. Hawke eyed the chamber pot before deciding he did not want to see Sandal when it needed emptying. Besides, as much as he wanted to hide from all of Kirkwall until the walls fell down, life went on, and he was all the leadership the city had. Leaders did not stink of fire and blood on a full time basis. Or did they? Come to think of it, he had never gotten up close with Meredith or the Viscount to take a whiff. The Arishok, on the other hand, had probably been born stinking of fire and blood.
He shuffled off to have a bath instead, musing on the stink of leadership, and returned to his room wrapped in a heavy robe and feeling a bit less like a revenant and a bit more like a chap who could fake being the Champion of Kirkwall.
Aveline waited by the door to his bedroom. She was crouched down talking to the dog, but rose when she heard Hawke's footsteps.
"Hawke..." she shifted uncomfortably. "I just wanted you to know that the Guard has things under control in the city. I spoke with Knight-Cap— Commander Cullen and he has withdrawn the Right of Annulment as you ordered. His templars are still finding mages who managed to hide during the fighting and returning them to the Gallows. Carver is with them. He said to tell you he would see you when he could."
She raised a hand as though to put it on his arm, but dropped it without following through. "I know you prefer to put on a good face, but we're here for you, you know? We all saw how much you loved—"
Hawke shook his head and cut her off before she could say the name. "Aveline, don't. Please. Just tell me Donnic is okay and that you'll be by my side with the Guard while we put things back together."
She stiffened, then nodded. "Donnic is fine. He helped keep things from falling apart in the city while we were occupied in the Gallows."
Hawke watched a hint of a smile touch her hard features and forced a smile of his own. "He's a good man. Kirkwall is lucky to have him, and you."
"Kirkwall could do worse than you as its leader, Hawke. You might not always say the right thing at the right time," she coughed, perhaps thinking of a certain infamous comment about boneless women flopping through the streets, "but your heart is always in the right place."
"It isn't, you know," Hawke said, slipping past her into his bedroom to find some clothes. "It's broken."
He opened the wardrobe and caught his breath against the feeling of having been punched in the gut by an ogre. Anders' old gray and green feathered coat hung there like a reminder of the man he had been before he lost himself.
Aveline murmured Hawke's name and put a hand on his arm. "Hawke, don't do this now."
"I have to." He pulled the coat out of the wardrobe and stalked past her, out of his room, to push it into Orana's arms.
"Get it out of my house."
He faced Aveline and thrust an arm out to indicate his mother's room. "Three years. Three bloody years, and I still haven't been able to change a thing about Mother's room. If I don't get his things out now, my whole home might as well be a museum filled with what I've lost."
In the end, rather than argue, Aveline simply convinced him to put all of Anders' things into a sack and Bodahn put them away down in the cellars. Hawke didn't ask where and the dwarf didn't volunteer.
She left him after he promised to see her in the viscount's keep the next day.
He was standing at the window looking out at the angry red sky when he heard Bodahn greet Merrill. Of course, first Isabela, then Aveline, now Merrill. They were checking up on him. He wanted to be angry, but he had to be grateful to these people he had dragged almost to the Void and back for staying by his side no matter what fires burned around them.
He turned to see her coming up the stairs. He thought he should just keep her close at hand and any time someone asked him how he was doing, he would just point to Merrill. Like that.
She looked tired, sad, worn. She looked like a woman who had done terrible things, seen terrible things, and made choices that would haunt her for the rest of her life. Her open pain made him want to comfort her when he still couldn't manage to comfort himself.
"Hawke," she said tentatively.
He just held his arms open in invitation and folded them around her when she threw herself into the embrace. She dissolved into tears almost immediately; it was almost comforting in its familiarity.
"I'm so sorry," she mumbled into his chest. "I didn't know. I would have told you if I'd known what he was doing. Those poor people, those poor mages. And And—"
Hawke hushed her. He wasn't ready to hear that name yet. "Remember Asha'bellanar?"
He quoted her from memory, the words burned into his mind as surely as if she had put them there with dragon's fire. "She said 'We stand upon the precipice of change. The world fears the inevitable plummet into the abyss. Watch for that moment... and when it comes, do not hesitate to leap.'"
He closed his eyes, remembering the slam of a staff on flagstones. Once. Twice. And then the feeling of the abyss opening at his feet.
"She was talking to us all. To me, to you, to our whole merry band of misfits."
He could feel her tears soaking through his tunic. "Yesterday we leapt."
"It feels like we're still falling," Merrill said, muffled against his shirt. "My stomach feels like I've tumbled off a cliff and the bottom is hidden by fog that might hide a fluffy pile of bunnies or sharp rocks. What do you thinks, Hawke? Bunnies or rocks?"
"Bunnies," Hawke lied. "Definitely bunnies. Just wait until Aveline lands on them in that armor of hers. It's going to be messier than that one time with that spider in the Bone Pit. You know, the one bigger than your house in Darktown."
Merrill giggled and hiccupped at the same time. "Are you trying to be like Varric?" she asked. "You know, when he starts another one of those stories that ends with you single-handedly killing every Tal'Vashoth in the Wounded Coast with an underdone leg of lamb?"
"Don't forget how I can smile a templar out of his armor at thirty paces," Hawke teased. "While beating Tal'Vashoth with an underdone leg of lamb and banishing demons with a sprig of spindleweed I collected naked under a full moon."
Merrill giggled again before she sighed wistfully. "I have to ask Varric to tell that story for me. It sounds almost as good as that dream you told me about."
She made a show of pushing away and looking down at his legs. "But you're wearing pants, so I guess we aren't dreaming."
He kept the smile on for her sake and shrugged. "I think it would be a little too awkward. Me with no pants and you in my arms. The way people have been dropping by today, Sebastian would probably walk in, see us, and faint. Then he'd crack his head on the stairs, there would be blood everywhere, and my rug would be simply ruined. Not to mention making it very difficult for him to wear a crown."
He had been hoping to keep the bit of levity going, but from the look on Merrill's face, he thought he might have miscalculated. That did happen now and then.
It was just about then, seeing the flash of naked longing on her face, that Andraste dropped a lightning bolt of comprehension on his head. Of course she was in love with him, because he attracted the crazy mages. If Flemeth had stuck around longer she probably would have tried to get in his pants.
Right before eating him like one of those big damn spider queens. Flemeth would probably even turn into a spider to do it.
He shook his head to clear it and patted Merrill on the shoulder before taking a step back.
"I'm sorry, Merrill, but I'm still exhausted," was all he had to say to send her into a flutter of concern.
"Oh! Yes! I— I'm sorry, Hawke. Silly of me. Of course you're tired. Who wouldn't be tired? I'm tired. I'll just... shut up and go home now. Maybe you can come visit me in the alienage when you have a chance?"
"You know I will," he agreed. "And then I'll drag you out into some cave or tunnel or dungeon to fight spiders or walking corpses or demons."
"Business as usual, then?" Merrill said tartly before he clasped one of his hand between hers and squeezed. "Take care of yourself."
Hawke walked her to the door and then allowed Wulfrum to take one of his hands carefully between his teeth to pull him back upstairs to the bedroom. He chuckled as the mabari glared at him until he lay down again.
He dozed until the sound of someone discreetly clearing his throat woke him from dreams of goodbyes.
"Is that a dagger under your pillow or are you just happy to see me?" Varric asked.
Andraste's tits, but the dwarf looked as fresh as a daisy. He sat on Hawke's keepsake chest idly cleaning his fingernails. He looked for all the world as though he had spent the past week being attended to by doting dwarven manicurists and masseuses rather than dealing with mad blood mages, terrorists, insane templars, and the occasional carta assassin.
"One of these days you must tell me how you do that," Hawke muttered while he rubbed the sleep out of his eyes.
"Look like you have a team of minders to make you look like you never miss sleep, take an arrow to the chest, stand in the middle of a fireball, or drink too much Hanged Man swill."
Varric chuckled and shrugged. "Isabela has suggested that I should be named a Paragon of manliness. Only then will I share my secrets, and only to dwarves for the furtherance of dwarven hegemony. Or some shit like that."
"Just tell me the truth. You're all taking shifts looking out for me, aren't you?"
Varric made a show of brushing a bit of dust off of Bianca's lath. "I don't know what you're talking about. Can't a man come see his friend after they've overthrown a tyrant together?"
"Maybe. Should I check my wine cellar when you're gone?"
"Only if you want to see what excellent taste I have." Varric grew serious and leaned forward. "All joking aside, how are you doing, Hawke?"
"How do you think?" Hawke asked with genuine curiosity. He knew Varric studied him constantly, picking up the foundations upon which to build his tower of lies.
What did a man who had made him a central figure in six years of storytelling see when he looked at him?
Varric tilted his head before giving the question a more serious answer than he had expected. "I think you feel like you cut out your own heart and crushed it under your boot. I think you feel betrayed and I think you feel like a traitor. Perhaps if you had loved him more, or loved him less. Maybe if you hadn't gotten him the sela petrae or the drakestone.
"I think you're questioning your fitness to lead. How can you rebuild Kirkwall if you could be fooled by a man you slept next to every night? How can you lead when you turned on the mages and supported Meredith? How can you lead when you are still an apostate?
"I think it's crossed your mind to pack up your sparky staff and your dog and just leave. Leave Kirkwall, leave your friends, and start over. Maybe go back to Ferelden. King Alistair said he could use someone like you."
Varric shook his head and shrugged. "But I think you've already decided to stay because you're done running. You're done running from darkspawn or templars or angry apostates. Or memories. You'll stay with us and you'll help us rebuild."
Hawke was silent for the space of several breaths before snorting. "I'm sending the next person from our group who asks me how I'm doing to you. By my calculations, that should be Sebastian, since I've already seen Isabela, Merrill, and Aveline, and Isabela says Fenris is still recovering."
Varric slid off the chest and re-settled Bianca over his shoulder. "I'll be sure to tell them you said that."
"When you tell this story for strangers, leave this part out. It's not heroic, the Champion of Kirkwall moping with his dog."
Varric chuckled. "Have no fear, Hawke, I would never tarnish a legend with human truths."
"And one more thing."
"Anything for you."
"When you come up for the wine cellar, bring up a bottle of the Tevinter red for me."
"You got it."
Hawke drank the wine, and if it was make with the tears of slaves, at least they were delicious tears. He sent Bodahn down for a second bottle, and later for a third and fourth. By the time he had dropped the third empty bottle by his bedside, he couldn't think clearly enough to mope, mourn, or open the fourth bottle. The majority of his thoughts were reserved for ruminations on why the world seemed to be so intent on spinning until he flew off into the stars.
He dropped into a dreamless unconsciousness that was exactly what he had been seeking.
"You know, the Hero of Ferelden told me about a mage she had travelled with who was brought back from death by a Fade spirit. Wynne, her name was. We met her in Amaranthine, but I never had a chance to ask her about it. If I ever have the chance, I would love to compare notes with her."
The familiar voice drifted through the wine-dark haze, drawing Hawke's face toward it like a flower seeking the sun. It had been the worst of dreams, but it was over. How could he ever have believed that Anders would—
He opened his eyes.
It was full dark out and a single candle burned in his room, but by that flickering light, he saw someone he had never expected to see again this side of death. Anders leaned against the closed door. He was dressed in the ragged clothes of any Darktown dweller. Hawke didn't see his staff slung over his shoulder, but it was Anders.
"Is this the part where you kill me?" he asked while he tried to clear his head. "Because I still have my pants on, so that leaves out the other kind of dream."
"It would almost be fair, wouldn't it?" Anders asked, but he held out his hands to show they were empty. "No. I'm not."
Hawke was still too drunk for this, which was probably a sign from the Maker that he was never allowed to drink again or bad things would happen like his recently murdered lover returning from the dead to come have a nice lighthearted chat.
"Is it just you? Or is Vengeance still along for the ride?"
Anders winced. "He is Justice once more. More so than he has been in a long time. You made the right choice, Hawke. While I was dead, Justice and I had time to untangle. He had a chance to feel the Fade without the corruption of my anger. It healed him."
Oh yes, definitely too drunk for this. "So, every time you start getting too Vengeance-y I should just stick a knife in your back?"
"Well don't poison my cake," Anders said wryly. "That's much harder to heal.
"Speaking of poisons," he finally left his place by the door - where everyone had hovered while talking to Hawke as though Hawke might lash out if they came too close. "Justice and I have an agreement about alcohol again."
He picked up the unopened bottle Hawke had left among its empty companions. "We came to agreements about many things. Strangely, thanks to Isabela."
Hawke pushed himself upright, although that made the world spin again. Anders counted the empty bottles at his feet, looked at his bleary expression, and sighed, smiling ruefully. He put out a hand limned in a cool blue glow to press it to Hawke's forehead.
The dizziness receded and Hawke's mind cleared. When he stiffened, Anders pulled his hand back as though burned.
"Can we start from the beginning? Hello, you're looking remarkably not dead. Are we about to throw spells at each other? Because it can't really be epic without Varric here to lie about it later, so why don't we not?"
Anders sat down on the edge of the bed while he pried the cork out of the wine bottle. "No spell throwing unless you really want to. There's something about being dead that can give a man a lot of clarity."
Hawke swung his legs off the bed to sit next to Anders. "That's good, because all it's done for me is confuse things. Like what are you doing here instead of running with your life."
Half the cork ended up on the floor, Anders shoved the other half into the bottle and took a long swig straight from the bottle. Hawke was inevitably reminded of Fenris and his disdain for glasses.
"I'm here because I owe you."
Hawke scoffed. "Void knows you owe me! You made me kill the man I loved."
"I know." Anders gave him a hangdog look. "I was wrong. I was mad."
"Barking mad," Hawke agreed. "You murdered innocents, Anders. Men and women who did not deserve what you did. You wrought a horrible injustice and left me to pick up the pieces."
"I know," Anders said again. "I know! I came back to try to make things right."
"How?" Hawke took the bottle away from Anders. He looked ready to take a swig himself, but he just set it on the floor. "You can't make the deaths of innocents right. Meredith was just as barking mad as you, but she was right about that. If you hadn't already been executed, everyone in Kirkwall would be baying for your blood."
"Can we stop with the dog metaphors?" Anders asked with a hint of his old humor before he sobered. "I've been listening since I woke up with a knife in my back. Good thing I moved on before someone dragged me off to one of the pyres.
"Everyone agrees you should be the new viscount. You've even added to your legend already with the tale of how you were so willing to do what was right that you executed the man you loved and sided with the templars despite being an apostate yourself. Kirkwall will follow you.
"I can help the viscount. I'll do what you command. I can heal instead of murder. Let me make some reparation."
"No chance," Hawke said. "No one will allow a man who murdered the High Cleric and destroyed the Chantry to touch them. Who would trust you to heal and not harm?"
He stood suddenly, striding to the door. "Stay here. Don't move a muscle."
When he returned several minutes later, his arms were laden with cloth and leather. "Good thing I hadn't sold these yet. Don't mind the blood."
He laid out a set of leather armor with a leather face mask that obscured all but the eyes, and beside it a mage's robe and hood that would hide the face just as completely.
"Anders is dead. Executed by the Champion of Kirkwall. The new viscount will have to have a bodyguard." He tapped the leather armor. "A man named Felix who will be with him constantly when he is in public. A man who will do everything he requests without question because he never speaks. Not one word. Varric will start to tell tales about the viscount's loyal retainer. "
He lifted an arm of the robe and rubbed the fabric between his fingers. "And sometimes a hooded mage will haunt Anders' old clinic in Darktown, healing the sick, tending to the needs of those too poor to turn to other healers. The viscount may even let it be known that he has arranged for this mage's services out of care for the citizens of Kirkwall.
"This is how you will start to make your reparations."
Anders' face lit with hope. "And us?"
Hawke shook his head. "Tomorrow I will have Bodahn and Orana clear my mother's room. It's time I let go of the past and my bodyguard should be near. Near, but not here. And if I ever see Vengeance raise his head again, rest assured, I will kill you and I will burn your body on the spot."
Anders just nodded.
"One more thing. What did Isabela have to do with your agreement with Justice?"
"One morning we were in Darktown, chasing after… I forget what, one of those scrolls? Isabela asked me if innocents would be owed justice if I ever killed in the name of mage freedom. I was already too far gone in Vengeance to change my course, but I had to tell her yes. It was the truth. I murdered innocents, and they deserve justice. More than my love for you even, that is why I came back. It was a cause Justice and I could agree on."
Eventually, we all left the Champion's side. Except for Anders, of course. —Varric
AN: I know that it's a glitch when Varric says Anders stayed by the Champion's side even if Hawke killed him, but if it shows up on my screen while I'm playing, that's canon enough for me. I didn't intentionally omit Fenris and Sebastian, it just worked out that way.