AN: This was originally written as a one-shot, but I held off from posting it because I wanted to turn it into a full story, which I began under the title From Which There is No Appeal. I assumed I would simply post this as a chapter of that story, once it got to this point, but I just haven't had the desire to write much lately. Instead, I've decided to go ahead and post this as is... for what it's worth. The story takes place immediately following the end-game events.
The bedroll did little to soften the hard ground beneath her, but Minda just ignored the rocks poking at her. There was much that she tried to ignore lately. Like the way everything seemed to smell of smoke and taste of ashes. Or like the way her companions looked at her, the concern clear on their faces. She even ignored their gentle questions, asking if she was all right. Of course she wasn't. But as she sat on the ground, her knees hugged to her chest, there was one thing she couldn't ignore, no matter how hard she tried. Whenever she closed her eyes, all she could see was the look on Anders' face. It haunted her waking moments as well as her dreams.
"There can be no half-measures."
"Anders, what have you done?"
"There can be no turning back. There can be no peace."
Why hadn't she seen the signs? It was true that he had been pulling away from her in the past few months, but she just thought that he'd been nervous over the growing tensions between the templars and the Circle. He had become more secretive, more cautious about being out with her in public, but when they were alone together each night, Minda felt like things were still okay between them. But things were not all right. In fact, she wasn't sure she had really known Anders at all. How could he have...
Minda lifted her head slowly to look up at the man standing before her. "What is it?" She asked, irritation tinging her words.
"May I..." Fenris gestured to the ground beside her, then sat without waiting for an answer.
"Why are you still here?" She demanded. "I thought you would have taken the first chance you had to get away from me." He hadn't, however, and in fact Aveline had been the first to leave. Donnic had family in Wildervale, and the two had headed north across the Vimmark Mountains almost as soon as they had gotten out of Kirkwall. "With Danarius gone, you could go anywhere. Or are you just waiting for me to turn into some sort of abomination so you can reach into my chest and pull out my heart?"
"Seems to me someone else has done that to you already," he replied.
Minda had to turn her head so he wouldn't see the tears burning her eyes. "Well," she said. "Thank you for that. If there's nothing else..."
"You did the right thing," he said. "Anders deserved to die."
"Fenris, please," Minda croaked. "I can't... Please."
"Very well," Fenris replied before rising and going to his own bedroll, on the other side of the fire.
The days passed in a haze. When Kirkwall fell, they had fled north into the mountains. Aveline had asked Minda to go with her to Wildervale, but she had refused. The idea of being a refugee once more was too much for her. Instead, Minda had decided to head west, through the Planasene Forest to Cumberland, where she hoped she would be able to find a ship to take her to Denerim. Ferelden had been her home once. Perhaps it could be again. After all, there was nothing left for her in the Free Marches. Bethany and her mother were dead, and Carver was off doing Grey Warden things... whatever they did when there wasn't a Blight going on. Gamlen and Charade were still there, it was true, and while she might have liked to have gotten to know her cousin better, they were likely better off without her around.
One night Minda awoke with a start. The nightmare, for surely that was what had awakened her, was already receding, but she was overwhelmed by a strong sense of claustrophobia. The fear she had once felt at being trapped in the Deep Roads suddenly came rushing back, and it felt like the walls of her tent were pressing down on her. She clawed her way out of her blankets, groping her way out of her tent to gulp the night air.
With a grimace, she glanced over at the fire to see Fenris sitting there. If he was awake, then that meant it was nearly morning, as he was taking the last watch. "I'm fine," she said in answer to his questioning gaze. "I just... needed some air." For once, she was glad it was him and not one of the others. She doubted Varric or Isabela or Merrill would have just mutely nodded the way Fenris did. Minda straightened and walked over to the fire. She couldn't face going back inside her tent. Not yet.
Of all her companions, Fenris was the oddest. She could never understand why he didn't despise her. He hated what she was, after all. And they never agreed on anything. Yet there he was, as supportive of her as the rest. He had even fought at her side while trying to defend the other mages, even after... With a start, Minda realized she was staring at Fenris, and he was watching her with an unreadable expression on his face. A memory danced before her, something long forgotten. In the Deep Roads, with Anders... No. She would not let herself think on him.
"Why are you still here?" She asked Fenris after a few moments of silence.
"I could hardly stay in Kirkwall," was his flippant response.
Minda shook her head. "But that doesn't mean you have to stay with me. Everyone will go their separate ways eventually, I'm sure."
"Would you prefer I left, then?" Fenris asked her.
"No, I..." Minda paused. What did she want?" "I just don't understand. It's not as if we're friends."
"That is true," Fenris agreed. "But I have always respected you. Which is a remarkable thing, considering..."
"What, considering that I'm a mage? I'm actually surprised you haven't knocked me out and dragged me to the nearest templar," she retorted.
Fenris narrowed his eyes, nostrils flaring a little. "And would that even do any good? The Circle, the templars, the Chantry... it's all in shambles now." He paused, an irritated sound issuing from his throat. "That is not... you are not..."
"Aren't I?" Minda said, looking off into the distance. "How can you be so sure?" The question was barely a whisper, and she felt something crack inside her, as if she no longer had the strength to hold together something she'd been clinging to for a long time. "I understand the temptation those other mages felt, probably more than most. I've seen enough battle to know the power that comes from blood. Any time I've been injured, even if it's just the smallest cut, I can feel it. Like there's so much more power waiting for me, if only I were to draw on it."
"But you don't," Fenris stated.
The night was warm, and there was no breeze, but Minda wrapped her arms around herself to ward off the chill she suddenly felt. "I haven't yet, but what if..." She closed her eyes, a hundred memories floating before her. "How many times did I take Anders' side, believing he was the sensible one, between you and him and Merrill?" She shook her head. "But I was wrong. Maybe you were right all along."
Humor tinged Fenris' voice. "While I always enjoy hearing a woman say that, I'm not sure it's entirely fair to compare yourself to your former lover."
She barely heard him. Instead, all of her thoughts from the past few weeks just came pouring out in a stream of words. "I was never in the Circle. My father was a mage, and he taught Bethany and me everything he knew. I don't know how different I might have turned out, had I been locked away in a tower my whole life. Maker, even in Kirkwall I was allowed freedoms unlike any other mage. I truly thought that if they could just have the opportunities I had... But look back at what happened. How many times did we see a mage turn into an abomination right before our eyes? How many times did we watch them turn to blood magic when backed into a corner? Was there ever a time when that didn't happen? Maybe I've never known that kind of desperation, but what if that's me someday? How many lives have been lost, how many deaths could have been avoided if..." The world seemed to tilt, and Minda pressed her hands to her stomach to keep from heaving. "How many people did he kill?" She whispered, voice thick with emotion. "How many innocents lost to make a point I still can't see? And I helped him do it. Their blood is on my hands as much as it's on his."
If consoling words were expected, they were not given. "He never loved you."
"What?" Bewildered, Minda just looked at him, the ache in her chest growing.
"He had to know what your response would be," Fenris said. "Anders had to know you would not let him live. He had to know that you would be the one forced to mete out punishment, yet that did not stay his hand. He knew you would not condone his actions, yet that didn't keep him from involving you. He lied to you, perhaps because he knew you would try to stop him, but if Anders truly loved you, he would have given you that chance. He may have still done what he did, but he would have at least been honest with you about it."
"What do you know of love?" Minda demanded, unable to look at him. A tiny voice in her head asked if she was being so defensive because she was afraid Fenris was right.
"Not much, it's true," Fenris admitted. "But I do not have to know what love is to know what love is not." He gestured to the other tents around them. "The others would coddle you, would pet your hair and tell you everything is going to be fine. In that, they would do you a disservice. I would rather you see that the man you knew as Anders was really nothing more than that demon inside him. The sooner you can come to terms with that, the better off you will be." There was nothing she could do to stop the tears, and Minda turned her head from Fenris. "I will not comfort you as you mourn a monster's death," he continued. "But I will not leave until..."
His words trailed off, and she turned to look at him after a quick swipe of her sleeve over tear-stained cheeks. "Until what?"
"We have not always seen eye to eye," Fenris said after a moment. "In fact, we are rarely of the same mind about anything. But that does not mean I wish to see you fall apart. You were there with me when I confronted Hadriana, there when Varania turned on me. You kept me from killing her, though Maker knows I wanted to. I know now I would have regretted it if I had. For all you have done for me, I would feel... ungrateful, to abandon you now."
A scoff escaped Minda's lips. "So... not comfort, but pity then?"
Annoyance flared across his face. "It is not pity," Fenris stated.
"That what is it?" Minda asked.
Fenris' eyes narrowed. "Go back to bed, Hawke," he finally said. "You can still get an hour or two of sleep before the sun comes up."
She went back to her tent without another word. She didn't want to hear any more from Fenris. She didn't want to think about the things he had said. She didn't want to think at all. As she curled up on her bedroll, Minda drew her knees up to her chest. Fenris said he would offer her no comfort, but that wasn't what she wanted. Nor did she want his pity. She just wanted things to go back to the way they had been, before the whole world fell apart.