Warning: Major injury
Anything of Weight
When he sees her again, the templars already have her.
She's exhausted and worn. Her hands are bound with elaborate knots to keep her fingers immobilized, the digits twisted uncomfortably, and they have stuffed what looks like her own scarf between her lips to gag her. There are dark circles under her eyes and while she is still now, there are bruises on her wrists and shoulders, bared by the peasant clothing she wears, from gauntleted hands. A red welt crosses her cheek. Her jaw is swollen.
It is a far cry from how he last saw her, confronting the echo of her father and walking at her brother's side with her chin held high. Then, he had listened approvingly as she told Anders that she had allowed herself to be taken to the Circle. He had nodded quietly when she told Garrett that life there wasn't so bad, that all she missed was family, friends, and that the abuses of power so often decried by Anders weren't universal, even within Kirkwall.
She had restored his faith a little in a time when it was shaky at best.
It had been she who had joined him for quiet prayer. She knew the Chant by heart and she believed every word of it she repeated. When she flirted with him, it wasn't like how Isabela or any of the others teased at him. She was innocent. She asked him Are you a prince? and he laughed and called her Lady Hawke and they played at words until Hawke had silenced them and the situation had grown too grave to maintain that levity.
Now Hawke is gone, Anders is dead, and Kirkwall is falling apart. She shouldn't be here. She claimed she was not leashed and he had heard her say in the Gallows that what she had seen in Kirkwall was not what Andraste wanted - and he was inclined to believe her. That her opinion could have changed in only two short years spoke of movements within the templars that he had not been privy to. That a mage as honest and good as Bethany Hawke could still be frightened for her own safety - and the safety of her apprentices, she had later said as she murmured prayers over those lying dead across the Gallows plaza - lent him conviction when he stayed by Hawke's side.
He had heard her promise Hawke that she would leave Kirkwall.
And yet here she is, being dragged to the docks by a templar guard, eyes fixed not on the sunlit sky which he has on good authority that she loves but on the broken ground instead, still filled with rubble from the explosion of the chantry that had sent debris all over the city, marked with blood and fire. She doesn't see him.
But he sees her, and he knows in that moment that he cannot allow this. She is too good and he owes her brother too much - and there is no Circle for them to take her back to, only empty halls and blood-stained cells. There is no imperious Meredith to destroy her, but there is the reality of all that she's lost, the loneliness, the imprisonment.
He makes a swift assessment of the situation, ducking into the shadows and creeping along after them. He does not wear his white armor and he wears his bow and quiver only out of habit. Instead, he wears the simple clothing of a laborer, his hands rough and dirty from the task of clearing the rubble of the chantry. His eyes are hard from listening and offering comfort to mourners. The shadows welcome him and he thinks.
There are four templars. Two hold her elbows and drag her forward, one leads, one comes up behind. He considers; it wouldn't be the first time he's killed a templar, but killing never grows easier and the guilt that comes of killing a dedicated member of the Order is great enough to still his hand. He looks for another way.
There are countless little alleys that open up onto the docks and he lurks in one of those as he watches them guide her towards a small ferry that will take them out to the prison. There is an open space hemmed in by crates that they pass through. He creeps closer, hiding behind shipments of food and finery both.
He needs a distraction.
There's a small child there, a little girl, not more than nine, and he slips her a coin and tells her to run up to the lead templar, tug on her robe, ask about the chantry - and then to run. She stares up at him, nods, and turns to leave. But he catches her shoulder and murmurs a quiet prayer for her safety, at which she blushes and then continues with a more wary gait.
The group of templars halts for her, the lead knight kneeling to listen.
Sebastian gets himself into position, concealed but with an easy path to Bethany, and readies his equipment. He considers hiding his bow and quiver, but knows he won't have the time to retrieve it, and his grandfather's bow cannot be abandoned. He checks the fastenings of his quiver instead, hoping that all will stay as it is.
The girl plays her part well, and when she is done, she darts off to another little alley. The lead templar makes as if to follow her, and Sebastian takes a deep breath. These are good people he is about to fight. He wonders if he knows any of them.
But there is no time left, and he hefts the vial in his hand and throws it hard at Bethany's feet.
Thick, opaque smoke billows up and the lead templar shouts the order to guard the mage at all costs just as Sebastian ducks into its cover and makes straight for Bethany. There is the clatter of armor and he ducks just in time to avoid a strike to his head, but catches the pommel of a sword in the side and goes down into a roll.
As he finds his feet again, the cry goes up, "Do not let her cast!" and for a moment he loses track of her in the obscuring smoke. He hears a body fall to the ground; it does not wear armor. His pulse hammers and he races towards the sound, only to hear a heavy stomp, a scream that he knows is Bethany's.
He finds the templar before he finds her, and his temper is flaring high as he grabs the armored man around his neck, fingers finding the gaps in his armor to choke him. The man thrashes and Sebastian can't keep his pressure even. There is a giving of way beneath his fingers and he whispers a prayer of forgiveness, but as the templar drops he too goes down to his knees and finds Bethany, soft fabric beneath his fingertips and trembling skin.
"Bethany," he murmurs, and she whimpers in return.
It's only when he has her out of the slowly clearing smoke field that he realizes what has happened. Her hands, once simply twisted in their rope bindings, are now crushed to unbearable angles, dirt and blood covering the rope. Bethany is barely able to focus her eyes from the pain.
Maker have mercy upon your child, he thinks, swallowing hard, but he does not stop moving, pulling her through back alleys he should by all rights not know of. But Hawke asked odd things of him and played on bits of his past that, while he keeps them buried, he continues to long for. Through shadows, through winding passages, he leads them up to Lowtown, and then again towards Hightown.
"Where are we going?" Bethany gasps when he pauses to pull the gag from her mouth - but her words are thin and her eyes wide and unclear. He feels little tremors of power beneath his fingertips as the templar control wears off, little spikes of heat and cold.
"Somewhere safe," he assures her, and then adds, "Please control yourself, Bethany. I know you can."
"It hurts," she whispers.
"I know," he returns.
He's never seen her this weak. She is strong, a spine of steel coated in genuine kindness, a mind given to listening. He has seen her injured, convulsed by sparking lightning when Corypheus threw her into the stone labyrinth, her shoulder lanced by a hurlock arrow. She had healed herself as best she could and continued on.
Now, she leans heavily on him all the way to the door of Fenris's mansion.
He fumbles for the key that Fenris gave him before he left, whispering to Bethany that it will only be another moment. He tells her to hold on. She sags against the door frame and stares at his hands as he unlocks the door.
It's no cleaner than when Sebastian last stopped by, two weeks before Anders' attack, but it is no dirtier. He supposes it couldn't get much worse. But it is safe (relatively) and familiar and he locks the door behind them before setting down his bow and quiver and taking Bethany into his arms. She is both heavier than he expected and far too light. She clutches her broken hands to her chest and breathes heavily through her mouth, eyes shut. He lifts her up and carries her up the stairs he's not sure she can handle, back to the room Fenris had taken for his own.
The last time he walked these floors, it had been for his weekly game of Wicked Grace with the elf, and if he tries, he can still remember the low light of the fire, the smell of Fenris's wine. They were better times, if not simpler, and he takes strength from them as he gently lowers Bethany to the small, thin mattress.
The sheet beneath her crackles with ice crystals.
"It hurts," she repeats, cracking her eyes open and staring up at him in the dim light. "I can't-"
Mages don't need their hands to cast; he asked her once in the Vimmark mountains, curious about what it was like to live in the Circle. She had told him of lessons, of apprentices, and when he asked what it was like to feel the Maker's gift of magic, she wiggled her fingers and laughed. No, mages don't need their hands to cast - but to direct their spells, to remember them, the movements of fingers and the sound of the voice is essential.
He knows that because she taught him that.
If she casts, there will be chaos. There will be flames raining down from the heavens, and they will be dangerous; she is powerful and well-trained, but in pain and without the ability to aim, she's a risk. He wishes for just a moment that he knew a single templar he could trust to subdue her but not take her in.
But there are none, and he would not subject her to that.
"Give me your hands," he says instead, holding out his own as he sits down beside her. "I'll get the rope off. I might be able to do something." She hesitates, cradling them still to her chest, but slowly she extends her arms.
He pulls a knife from his belt, a small thing with a curved tip, and holds it aside as he carefully takes her hands. He wishes for more light, but the dim sunlight filtering in through the grimy window nearby will have to serve. She hisses and grimaces as he touches his fingers to the rope, as he finds a place to hold her steady.
"Do you know," he says to distract her as he lifts the knife and begins to cut off the rope, slicing as gently as he can through looser sections first, "that your brother's friends used to joke about my armor?"
"The white armor?" she gasps, fighting not to squirm.
"Yes." He gives her a smile and gets the faintest hint of one in return. "Merrill in particular commented on how shiny it was, and how it must make me a more obvious target. I told her," he continues, pulling the knife away quickly as she jerks and whimpers as he pulls a knot too much, "I told her that the Light of the Maker was my armor.
"Do you know what she told me?"
"No," she breathes, wavering and unsteady.
He gives her another smile, simply holding her hands a moment. "She told me that I should ask the Maker to make his Light less shiny."
Sebastian exhales a breath he didn't know he was holding when she laughs, a thin little thing that he feels the urge to protect.
The rest of the rope comes off with more stories, more memories of happier times. She doesn't speak except to respond to his questions in clipped sentences, but her eyes are fixed on him and not the wreckage of her hands. She laughs. It is more than he hoped for, and as he looks on the damage done to her he realizes that she isn't weak at all.
Her strength in the face of what she must feel is incredible.
Her hands, separated, rest in his, but they are nearly unrecognizable: swollen, bruised, the skin split and the bones bent to unnatural angles. He wants to stroke his thumb along her knuckles to comfort her, but even resting her palms against his is nearly too much. He can see it in how her shoulders are tense and tremble and she tucks her chin to her chest.
"Bethany, I'm sorry-" he tries, but she shakes her head.
"I'll live," she whispers.
It's true, or likely true, but that isn't enough. He doesn't know how to fix damage like this. Anders would have known, Anders would have been able to make her whole again, but Anders is dead and rightfully so.
He knows of no other healers of his caliber.
"I'm sorry," he repeats.
She lifts her head and smiles at him, and he turns away from it, because he doesn't know how to face somebody who can smile through pain and horror like this when all he feels is guilt and anger.
"Don't be," she says. "If you hadn't done anything, I would be back in the Gallows. They were going to use me to find my brother. They said as much. There are people in the Order calling for his death for opposing the annulment, for being a known friend of Anders. They don't understand what he did. But they are powerful all the same."
"They would turn on him-" There is the old anger, the old frustration. Hawke proved himself when he put Anders to death for what he had done. From there, Sebastian could find no fault in his actions; he was a good man, loyal and fair, and that the Order would turn on him so quickly... he admits to himself, silently, that he does not always understand the moods and politics of his own brethren. That here, now, he wishes he had killed more than one of them.
Bethany moves her hands in his and he looks back to her. She shakes her head, and he realizes his jaw is tight, his brow is furrowed.
"He can take care of himself," she says. "And I am safe now. And free."
And in pain. And broken. He looks down to her fingers. "If I had been faster..."
"Stop." Her voice is steady and firm, though it is still soft from the pain, rough around the edges. Her gaze is level. She is so strong, and he feels like he did in front of Elthina, facing her calm strength and trying to find his way.
"I'll live. The rest comes later."
They stay in Fenris's mansion as her bones knit back together. The templars do not appear at the door, and Sebastian is careful to slip out in the long shadows of dawn and dusk to find food. He draws no attention, and she is quiet and patient.
He splints her fingers as best he can, but the bones are crushed and she cries out when he pulls the splints tight. He rubs poultice into her cuts every morning and evening until they heal over, and when the splints come off, he helps her bend her fingers when she can bear his touch. They do not bend right anymore. They lock and remain stiff, they hurt her when she tries to clench her fists. She cannot hold anything of weight.
And she takes it with a grace that amazes him.
There are nights he finds her crying, her hands clutched to her chest or shoved beneath a pillow so she cannot see them. There are nights when she snaps at him from pain or sinks into anger at her injuries, when she blames him and wishes he had left her after all. There is one night where he returns from a walk through the shadowed halls for their nightly prayers only to find her staring at her hands stretched out from her and pressed to the table they take their meals at, her voice raising quiet and unsteady as she asks if he would cut them free of her.
But there are also days when she works to learn how to hold a book again, how to turn a page. There are days where she pushes through the pain to do. She relearns little spells. She lights the fire in the hearth, makes water by bringing ice from the air and melting it into a basin. She pulls herself back together, and when he asks her, she tells him, "The rest is coming."
It's slow and the days are long, but he fills them with conversation, with getting to know her more, with making up for two years apart.
The first week, he asks her only about the present.
"Why didn't you take ship with Isabela? With your brother? Fenris?"
She shakes her head. "If her crew found out what I was, they might have thrown me overboard. Sailors can be superstitious, that's what Isabela said. She wanted me to come, but I would have had to spend the trip hidden in her cabin.
"So instead I told them that I'd meet them in Antiva. But the templars found me before that."
By the fifth, he asks about her childhood, about Ferelden, about her dreams and her loves. She tells him about a girl she knew back in Lothering, her first kiss. She tells him about how when she first met Anders, she had thought his cause romantic. She tells him about how much she had trusted Orsino, and how devastated she had been - still was - at his betrayal.
She gives him little pieces of herself, and he returns in kind.
He tells her about his youngest years. He confesses his sins as a young man, his wild streak, his choices, his mistakes. She drinks it in, a life she never had the chance to live. She tells him she always wanted to be normal, and he learns to laugh and tell her that normal isn't always the best - and he was far from normal, himself.
"I was a horrible child. A horrible son."
"But you learned so much from that. And eventually, you found your way. I didn't get that, you know- my brothers were always there. They didn't know about Pria, but they knew about everything else. I didn't even have a drink until I came to Kirkwall, even when the water was bad and I had to live off of stolen cows' milk instead."
"They were protecting you. Sometimes, I wish I had somebody who could have done that for me."
By the sixth week they convince one another that neither wanted the life the other had, and that they had both found their way. They laugh then over stories of old adventures and Bethany manages to feed herself without dropping anything for the first time.
He writes letters to Hawke that he knows he cannot send for his safety or hers. He pens them late at night or early in the morning when Bethany is asleep, or during the day when she sits reading. He searches for words. He burns whole sheaves of parchment.
But a few he keeps, little moments put on paper.
Your sister is safe. One day, we'll reach Antiva. Give us time.
At first he continues to go out during the day. He helps clear the wreckage of the chantry. He helps raise the Chant for the dead, he watches the funeral pyres, he makes a new memorial board. But he returns earlier each night, with stories and trinkets and the need to see Bethany again, to sit with her, to listen to her.
Slowly, she becomes his service to the Maker.
There finally comes a day when the templars knock at the door. She is home alone when it happens, and she tells him later that she found a door in the cellar that led her halfway to Darktown. His heart nearly stops when she tells him how close they came to taking her back, and his hand finds hers.
He gets word to Varric soon after, asking for privacy, though he does not tell the dwarf just who he is protecting.
He makes plans. He tells her that one day, he'll get her out of Kirkwall. He promises her that she will have the sun once more, and she smiles and trusts him.
Your sister has the strength of the Maker himself in her.
When eight weeks in he still hasn't taken her from the mansion, she tells him she understands. She tells him she knows what it is to be protected, and he flushes and apologizes. He doesn't mean to be like her brothers.
That isn't what he wants.
Every day they clean another inch of the mansion. They start with the bedroom, moving furniture to right angles with the walls, sweeping the floors, beating out the dusty linens. He cleans the chimney and earns a face and armful of soot for his troubles, and she laughs and lifts a cool, damp cloth to his cheek to wipe it clean. Her fingers curl awkwardly around the fabric and he thinks it must be painful, but there's no sign of discomfort on her face.
He fights down the urge to pull her close, and when part of him whispers that it wouldn't be breaking vows, he tells himself instead that he simply doesn't want to get her clothing dirty.
When the bedroom is clean, they work their way through other rooms. They clean the entryway, replace the sword finally behind the shield that decorates the wall close to the door. They scrub away old blood, throw out the moldering carpets. They find another narrow bed and he drags it to their room; it's far more comfortable than a bench or the floor, and she insists he set it near hers, near enough that when she goes to sleep that night, she can reach out and touch his wrist.
Your sister is beautiful.
Three months have passed since the chantry burned when Bethany spreads out a map of Thedas she has found, a large roll of vellum that is brittle and cracking from being stored where the sun could find it. It's old and out of date, but she puts it before him and he knows what she's asking.
Her hands are still twisted, but she has relearned her magic and her skin is unbroken and smooth. When he takes her hand in his, there is no pain for her. Instead, she blushes and smiles and tries to talk of Antiva.
Her words stop when he brings her hand to his lips, bows his head and closes his eyes as he kisses her knuckles reverently.
The question is shyly asked, and though he doesn't look up, he knows her cheeks and throat are pink, her lips slightly parted, her eyes fixed on him. He's seen that look on her before, when he brought home her favorite food, when he found a book she had once seen in the market six years before, when he took her hand as she lay curled on the bed next to him.
That blush is the only reason he has the courage to reach out to her now, to confess, because it speaks of returned feelings and the giddy excitement he feels even now as his thumb strokes over hers.
"We'll leave tomorrow," he says, finally lifting his gaze to her.
"... Are you sure?" She looks around but does not take her hand away, looks at the almost home they've made for themselves. "So soon?"
"I'll only delay if we don't go, wondering if it's the right decision. So let's go. Tomorrow morning. We'll use the passage to Darktown, we'll make for Antiva. Will you?"
"Go with me. Will you?" She's the strongest woman he knows, patient and steady, and she knows the Chant as well as he. He can't imagine her leaving his side, but he gives her the option. He asks.
"Of course," she tells him, and a knot begins to work itself free in his chest.
He takes a deep breath. "... Will you let me protect you?"
"Like my brothers?" she asks, voice unsteady. Her eyes find his again and he thinks he can see her breath catch in her throat. He sees hope in the set of her shoulders, the catch of her lower lip between her teeth for just a moment.
"No. Not like them."
He steps close and presses a light kiss to her forehead. He can hear her breath catch this time, can feel her curled hand pressed to his chest and then along his shoulder and then around him. She pulls him against her and he encircles her in his arms.
"Under the Maker's gaze, I love you, Bethany Hawke."
He holds her hand as they approach the old man. He's gone grey in the beard and bald on the rest of him, and his eyes are hooded, his face lined. There are scars from blade and magic on his skin and one eye has gone milky and sightless. But the inquiries Sebastian has made there in Ansburg have led them to this little shop on the river, to the man reputed to be the best healer in the city.
It's dangerous to ask for such help these days, with the Circles crumbling all across Thedas and the templars marching with fewer restrictions than ever before, but he has watched Bethany for five months live with the twisted healing of her bones, has had to feed her on days when she has been frustrated to breaking by the trouble of holding a spoon, a cup. He has seen her at her lowest, has withstood it when she's blamed him, when she's blamed the Maker, when she's wished he had listened to her and cut her hands off. He has held those same hands and kissed them and watched her shy away. He has told her that she is beautiful and held her close, whispered the words of Trials to her until her nerves were soothed.
He knows that even she, endlessly strong and patient, cannot handle each and every day. There are bad times and good times both. But a few questions, a little coin, and a kiss against her brow has led them here.
He will give her this, at least.
"It will hurt," the man tells them. Sebastian says nothing but lets Bethany decide.
She stretches her hands out on the table before her.
Sebastian sits by her side through the whole process. He keeps a hand on her waist, her shoulder against his, his lips against her hair. For the worst of it, she turns her head and buries her mouth against his throat. He holds her through it as the healer breaks each knotted bone and heals it straighter than before, holds her through every cry, every plea, every shuddering, ragged gasp.
"It hurts," she whispers to him.
"I know," he returns.
The healer can't repair all of the damage. Her fingers don't bend like they used to and her skin will always cover bumps and knots of bone that cannot be smoothed or healed. But she can lift a spoon to her mouth and when he feeds her it is to make her laugh or because she is ill or simply because he enjoys the feel of her lips brushing his fingers when he offers her a morsel of bread. She has fewer nights where she looks at her hands and cries. He can convince her now that she is beautiful, even while he holds his vows.
They meet Hawke in Antiva City with all of its riots of color and activity and music. He watches them with an amused little smile as Bethany leans against Sebastian's shoulder, as Sebastian finds the old scrawled letters that he keeps in his pack still and passes them over. Hawke reads them over while Bethany asks what they say.
But what they say hardly matters now; she knows it all. Sebastian takes her hand, laces his fingers with hers, and pulls her into a dance he doesn't know the steps of. They move across the plaza by stumbling and spinning. They laugh. The sun shines down on them and for a moment they are no more protected than they are wild. He does not doubt and she trusts with all her heart.