Author's notes and disclaimer: This is a post-DA2 fic co-written by arysani (here on this site and on livejournal) and myself. You can find these chapters also at arysani's fic journal shiptavern if you find that format more to your liking. Originally, this was a joint round robin that started after some discussion about Justice and Anders and what would happen if Justice weakened outside of the Fade. I replied to that comment with a ficlet lead-in, arysani replied with more and the rest, as they say is history. Here is the final, finished product, edited and proofread for transitions and all those other things you ignore when you're writing off-the-cuff. Also, neither I nor arysani own Dragon Age. We'd like to own Anders and Nathaniel, but we'll content ourselves with fanfic. :DDD Enjoy!
The healers said they could do nothing for him, and so she watched as he slipped away from her day by day. They were alone, now. The mages from the collective had taken their leave with awkward words of condolence. She'd wanted to scream at them that he wasn't dead yet, but it was pointless. It was only a matter of time.
"It will be better this way, my love," Anders told her in a hoarse voice. "Justice will finally be free..."
Those were the last words she heard him speak before he lapsed into unconsciousness.
Sometime in the night she awoke to find that he had stopped breathing. She stood from the chair she'd been sleeping in and stretched, wincing at the cramp in her neck. She felt empty, hollow. Now what?She turned to look out the window as if the coming dawn would tell her anything.
A groan. She whirled around, groping for daggers that weren't there. Anders was stirring on the bed, his hands rubbing his eyes. He... was alive?
"Maker's breath!" Hawke whispered and rushed to his side. "Anders! You're... you're..." She couldn't say it, for the chance that it was a dream and she'd wake up.
The blond mage blinked and stared up at her. "I... I'm sorry, do I know you?"
Hawke laughed in relief. "Rotten timing for a joke."
He frowned. "Who are you? Are you... a Grey Warden? This doesn't look like the Keep... Where's Commander Caron?"
Hawke sat down on the bed slowly. "You're... not joking."
"No, my head hurts too much." He grimaced.
"Does the name Justice mean anything to you?" She watched his reaction closely.
Anders blinked. "He was... a Fade spirit that possessed the body of a dead Grey Warden. Disappeared after awhile though. Hope the poor bugger made it back okay."
"So you... don't remember anything from the last ten years?"
"Ten years? Maker's tits! What happened?"
"I... don't even really know where to start."
"Well where you come into this might help," he looked down pointedly at her hand on his knee, an unconscious gesture. "Not that I don't appreciate the offer, I do like a pretty girl, but, a bit confused just now."
She drew her hand away quickly, trying and failing to keep the hurt off her face. "I... my name is Hawke." She ran a hand through her hair. "Okay, I'll try to make this quick..."
She finished her story and he stared at her. Then he laughed, a sound that startled her for how rarely she'd heard it over the past couple of years.
"Oghren put you up to this, didn't he?"
"No wait, he's not creative enough to do that. Nathaniel: that crafty bastard. Oghren and Nathaniel got me drunk, and you're some pretty Warden recruit sent to fill my head with... well, it's a pretty good story, I'll admit."
"No, nope, absolutely not," he was still smiling, though now it held a tinge of panic that crept into his eyes. He stood and moved away from her, couldn't stand to look at her face, hurt and confused.
"Anders, I—" she stood and stepped towards him, reaching out, and he smacked her hand away, his face now more familiar in a deep, displeased frown.
"Stop. Stop talking to me like that, like you know me. You don't. This isn't funny any more and I'd like," he raised his voice, looking around the room for hiding places, "whoever is in on this to stop it right now!"
"You're right," she turned the hurt in on herself and crossed her arms over her chest. "It isn't funny. Nothing in the last decade of my life has been funny. I thought I was watching you die! How do you think I feel!"
"I don't know." The anger bled out of his voice and he cocked his head at her, still suspicious. "I can't imagine it was pleasant. But I'd like to go home now."
"Home is gone, Anders."
"What? How? Even a legion of darkspawn couldn't take it down!"
"What are you talking about?"
"The Keep! Vigil's Keep! What are you talking about?"
She snorted. "The last home I knew was burned down by templars looking for you."
His eyes grew round. "...Why were templars looking for me? Wardens are outside their reach! Sure," and his face grew bitter again, "they can be recruited, but... you're... telling the truth, aren't you? You're not... lying to me. This isn't some sort of nightmare," he said quietly, and slid down the wall, putting his head in his hands.
"No. This isn't something we can wake up from," she replied quietly, and turned away. "Believe me, I've tried."
Silence stretched between them like a taut bow string.
"So... where are we? Not the Keep I take it?" he asked after a moment.
"We're... in a safe house run by the Mages' Collective."
Anders blinked. "Really? Huh. Never thought they were much use before. Seemed like all they ever wanted was for someone to do stupid stuff like inscribing glyphs on trees and such."
"They have been forced to change, as we all have, just to survive, Anders."
He looked away. She could tell that he was still fighting the truth of what she had told him.
"So... what now?"
"I don't know. You've always been the one sort of...running this circus."
He scoffed. "Well that's where it all went wrong. I'm under strict orders to not run anything more dangerous than a bake sale after that thing with the scratchweed in the Revered Mother's bed."
"Well we can get some rest, at least. I'm exhausted, and you're an amnesiac. If I'm going to come up with a plan, I'm not going to do it on this much sleep." She stripped the heavy tunic and shucked her trousers, climbing into the bed. He just stood and stared.
"Maker's mercy, Anders. Just get into bed."
He waited until she rolled over and closed her eyes before climbing in on the other side and laying facing away from her. He never slept on this side of the bed. His eyelids drooped, but his mind raced; it took him forever to fall asleep.
He awoke some hours later; how long, he wasn't sure, but daylight was shining through the window. Rubbing sleep from his eyes, he stretched... and froze as an arm laid carelessly over his chest moved with him.
Everything from the night before came back. The confusion, this Hawke woman; her... story. It had to be a lie. Anders would never... do the things she said he did. He would prove it. Moving the arm from his chest, he glanced at Hawke's sleeping face—she was drooling onto the pillow a little—and inspected her hand. Blood mages always gave themselves away, either by deed or, if you could get close enough to see, the scars from where they cut themselves to harness their power. Anders dropped her hand after a moment, disappointed. Hawke's hands were scarred, but with irregular scrapes and calluses. He'd healed enough soldiers at the Keep to recognize the hands of a swordswoman. Blood mage scars were usually straight and clean; clinical, almost.
So she wasn't a mage controlling him. That didn't mean anything. She could be anyone...
He looked at her face again—still asleep—and slipped out of bed, gazing around the unfamiliar room. A patched and frayed pack sat in a corner by a chest of drawers. Was it hers? He upended the pack on the floor; hurriedly searching through the odds and ends for... he didn't know what. Something, anything.
There was a small bag of coins, a cheap armor amulet, a few health potions and several lyrium potions—his? Next he unfolded a map. It seemed to be mostly of Ferelden and the Free Marches. Xs were scattered across the map; the one on Kirkwall had been scrawled so hard that it had ripped through. The map reminded him that he didn't really know where in Thedas they were. She'd said a Mage Collective safe house—and they only worked out of Ferelden, right? He couldn't remember.
There was one last thing in the pack.
The tattered journal was tied shut with wax string, a place marked with an amulet of some sort dangling from the bottom. He turned the amulet over in his hand, rubbed at the relief, puzzling out why it seemed vaguely familiar. When it dawned on him, he dropped the journal like it had been on fire. It lay on the floor amidst the rest of the knick-knacks. A Tevinter Chantry amulet. Well that gave him a whole new insight on the woman. That kind of shit would get you hunted and killed.
He looked over at the bed, and she was still. After a moment's hesitation (what, Anders, it's not like you haven't read a girl's diary before), he reached for the journal and untied the string, letting it fall open to the marked page.
I'm losing him more and more every day. He won't wear the amulet anymore, because it is a symbol of 'disguised' oppression. I used to be able to tell the difference between them. Now I wonder if Justice (Vengeance? I am never sure—he calls him Justice, but is that just grasping at impossible hopes?) hasn't gotten...smarter. His voice may not change, that light may not be in his eyes, but it's in the way he speaks. Whatever that is inside him is slowly killing him, replacing him. Am I going to wake up one day and it won't be him at all?
He clapped the journal shut, flinching at the way the sound echoed.
"Now do you believe me?"
Anders glanced behind him. Hawke was propped up on one elbow in the bed, her hair tousled from sleep. She face was sad and worn. He looked away.
Swinging her legs over the edge of the bed, she sighed. "Feel free to read the rest. Maybe it'll help you remember, if that's even possible."
Anders swallowed and tucked the journal into the pack. Maybe he would read it… just not now. "How... how did I get like this?" he gestured vaguely in the air.
Hawke glanced up from where she was tugging on her trousers. "A couple of months back you started getting ill—got tired more easily. You told me that Justice was weakening," she said in a quiet voice. "He'd been outside the Fade too long. Apparently having a... host only prolonged the inevitable. We nearly got caught a few days ago, but that last effort to get rid of the templars..." She shook her head, mouth tightening at the memory. "It must have pushed the limits of his strength over the edge." She shrugged. "And you know the rest."
Anders fought the urge to rub his arms to chase away the gooseflesh. It was a bizarre experience, listening to someone recite a portion of your life that you had absolutely no memory of. And he would have to take it on faith that this woman was telling the truth.
"So, where are we going?" He put the rest of the trinkets back into the pack, anything to avoid thinking about what he was still trying to accept.
Hawke pulled her head through a shirt, combing her hair out of her eyes. "Well, we said a long time ago that we'd only contact the Wardens if we were desperate. I'd say this counts as desperate. We're in Highever, since you probably forgot that too. Amaranthine is a few days' walk, so we'd better get started if you're feeling up to it." She paused. "Unless you have any better options?"
He let out an uneasy chuckle. "I don't even know what our options are, much less which ones are better, so...lead the way." He tried to get up from the floor and heard his joints creak as he stood. "Okay. Ow."
The first smile he'd seen on her face, albeit small, shone as she pulled her hair back in a thong. "That's what you get for sitting on the floor, old man."
"Old man? I never even thought of that! I've missed the prime of my life! I'm... holy Maker, I'm thirty-five years old! Forget all this other crazy nonsense, I'm more upset that valuable years of drinking," he ticked them off on his fingers, "one-night stands, and shenanigans are all lost! Gone! I've aged before my time!" He sobered on the dramatics a little, smiling at her. "I'll never get those years back, you know."
The look on her face was something between confused and amused, like she wanted to laugh, but wasn't sure if it was allowed. "We should... really get going, if we're going to make good time."
"Right. On task, as ever! Don't worry about Anders, he'll deal with these epic insights into his completely bonkers recent past in long-suffering silence," he held up his hands in surrender.
She frowned. "I didn't mean..."
"I know. This probably isn't your idea of the best time ever either. But at least now I have something to look forward to," his face lit up and then he seemed to rethink his joy. "Even that rat bastard Rolan would be a welcome sight—at least I know when he's around I'm about to get screwed. And not in the fun way." She watched him turn away from her and heft the pack up. Rolan. The name rang a bell, but she couldn't quite recall why. "Alright then, to Vigil's Keep!"