Title: Lève-toi Soldat

Rating: T

Summary: A synopsis of Anders's life or perhaps a letter he left behind. FemHawke/Anders

A/N: Thanks for reading. Review please.

Let the rain wash away all the pain of yesterday…

Lève-toi Soldat

My life has been one jumbled mess of living in the moment ever since I can remember. How many times did I push back my fear and take a leap? How many times did I simply go along with whatever my friends wanted, not caring for the consequences? Consequences were for cowards, for the mages that stayed up all night worrying about tests. They weren't for people like me who snuck out at night and crept past the Templars to stare out the highest window at the first snow. They weren't for rule-breakers, for risk-takers, for fools like me.

The first time I ever broke a rule in the tower was the most frightening moment of my life. Abby, a particularly thin girl with a gap-tooth and black hair was crying in her bunk. I'd had a crush on her since she was escorted through the doors, so I immediately went to check on her. She was sick to her stomach because she hadn't eaten anything at dinner. She had a test the next morning and had spent so much time studying, her plate had gone untouched. I woke a few of the other boys, and we agreed to sneak down into the kitchens and grab something for her to eat.

My heart pounded fast as we darted through the halls, I thought it would burst. We were all tense, the four of us. We were good kids; we didn't tempt the Templars, those above us that had the power over life or death. But we fought back our fear for a little girl with pretty eyes and a delightful smile, and we brought her food from the kitchen. About a decade later, she thanked me properly with her hot mouth and perfect hands. By then I was skilled at doing what I wasn't supposed to.

Years roll by like nothing in the tower, especially when you're growing up. Schedules, friends, skills, and tests kept us all busy. Those boys I sneaked out with? They disappeared. Maybe some died in their harrowing. Maybe some didn't. They changed from chubby-faced children into men before my eyes, and then they were gone. Sometimes I think I should care more about them, but I can't force myself to feel such a thing. I made new friends, ones that weren't so afraid to rebel. By the time I considered myself an adult—rather young, actually—I had broken nearly every rule in the handbook and some laws, and I was ready to escape.

Escape attempts when you're eager and young aren't very thought out. You just go. It's like an instinct. I saw the door, and I ran as fast as I could. I didn't get very far, but for the first time since I was a child, I felt real moisture in the air, real dew beneath my feet, and breathed fresh air. The blue sky was enough to bring me to my knees, so bright when I wasn't looking out through a pane of glass. The bloody nose the Templar gave me was worth it, and I showed it off to girls like Abby with pride. Little did I know that my rebellious nature had just become something dangerous.

Irving tried to tell me. I'd passed my Harrowing. If I applied myself for once, I could become an Enchanter. There was so much potential in me, but I didn't want any of that. I was drunk on sunshine and the smell of sweet grass. The outside world called to me, and I wanted it more than anything. Damn what the Chantry thought. Damn what Irving wanted for me. Life was beyond those walls, and I had to get there.

Second time was easier, really. I used what little talent I had gathered from quick trysts in corners to seduce a guard—or bribe her—into opening the doors. After about four hours, they caught me in the woods and threatened to run me through if I ran again. Enchanter Irving stood up for me, but I spent a month in solitary confinement for my crimes.

When I got out, I craved physical intimacy like a drug. I needed it, and without it I would shrivel. Escape was put out of my mind as I branded women with my wanton kisses, dragged them into the closets, and tried to forget being the loneliness among the giggling and fumbling. It never worked, but it did put the horror out of my mind for a while. The more and more I did it, the longer I could be happy, and I gained quite the reputation as a talented individual when it came to such things.

Karl came into my life with a flourish of magic that knocked me on my back. When he helped me up, I stared into bottomless eyes and a cocky grin that wasn't the least apologetic, so exhilarated that he'd cast such a powerful spell.

"You okay?" he asked, hardly interested.

I brought out my most charming smile and finally caught his eye, squeezing his hand so he wouldn't let go. I leaned in close and whispered, "I am now."

Such a cliché line, but he fell for it. That night I had him in a broom closet near Owain's storage room. My first time with a man. Then again in my bed and in his. On Irving's desk one night when we weren't supposed to be out of our rooms. In closet after closet, in the corner of the library. My appetite for his touch as well as his conversation was veracious, and he was a willing participant.

That didn't mean my craving for freedom ebbed. Not at all. In fact, I became idealistic. I wanted to escape with Karl, sweep him off his feet with a house in the country. I wanted to see a ring on his finger, to know his lips were mine to kiss, his body mine to touch. These were the dreams of a child, though, and the reality came crashing down as the years passed.

Over and over again I escaped. More and more times I was sent to solitary confinement. Every time I was escorted back, the walls closed in even further. The air became stifling, the blankets suffocating. Food was poison; I fed off desire and lust. Drink satisfied nothing; only kisses and fresh air sated me. Every word spoken to me was another sword through my heart. If I didn't escape soon, I would drown in the mundane happenings of everyday life.

Then my time came, and I ran. Through the rain I propelled myself. I swam upstream in lakes to throw off dogs. I used my lifesavings to bribe innkeepers and sold myself more than once to keep mouths shut. For almost a year, I was free. I established contacts—not people I could really trust but people who would do whatever I asked them to for the right amount of coin. I studied hard the complicated distribution of Templars around Ferelden. I even considered boarding a ship to Orlais.

Six months I stayed in a port city in the Northeast, and finally made a friend that meant something more than a quick tumble. His name was Gilder. A fine gentleman just a little older than me, he was slim and very tall. His blonde hair was parted to the side, and he always wore blue. I slept in his mansion sometimes, in a bed of feathers and fine, silken sheets. Always I left before morning, before I could embarrass him, but hardly at his request. He often spoke to me in public, bought me drinks, or asked me to have dinner with him. What he didn't know was that it was more dangerous for me to be seen with him than him with me.

He was fine with my commoner status and poverty. With a blinding smile, he would brush all that aside. Such a long time I spent in his home when one day, I simply left. Our love was stale, my appetite for romance sated. Nothing could come of our coupling, and I headed west.

Templars caught up to me.

After such a long time, I had thought that part of my life was over. Yet as I stared at the chains, I realized it was just beginning. Their gruff demeanor startled me, because I had grown accustomed to the cool ignorance of common people around me. Acceptance I never wanted. Tolerance I had come to expect, not for my magic but for myself as a person. These Templars had no such respect.

Gregoir reprimanded me for nearly three hours when I came into the tower. The scent of spice and papyrus made me want to throw up. Abby's startled eyes met mine as I was taken to Irving with my armed escort. She just shook her head sadly, as if I were the demented one. As if I was the one living in a fantasy world and not her. The gesture made me so angry, I jerked my gaze away from her. A Templar kicked me in the calf so I would walk faster.

In Irving's office, he railed in a fury at me, but I was immune to it. Did he know what I had experienced? Him? A man who had spent his entire life in the tower? Did he know what it was like to smell sea air and taste the lips of someone without magic? Did he know what slow, unhurried sex was like? When no Templars were bearing down on you, and you had an entire day to languish in luxury if you wanted? No, of course not. My mind and spirit were irreversibly changed, and I think he saw this.

It was why he sent me to a year in solitary confinement.

A miracle, really, that I didn't go mad in there. After so long in the open world, so massive and wonderful and bright, I could scarcely survive in such a dark chamber with only a cat to keep me company. I cried. The rascal everyone adored cried in his hole and beat on the door. I may have even begged for forgiveness after a month or so. I wanted to kill myself. I made conversation with an animal.

When the doors opened, I didn't believe it. They had to drag me out, and my spirit was so completely broken. After that, I only broke out twice before leaving the tower forever. The tower had become a place of pain and unfathomable loneliness. Mage flesh didn't suite me anymore. I needed something raw, something not domesticated and caged. I wanted a lover, a family, a house. My life was flashing past my eyes at rapid speed, and I had to escape for good.

People were whispering, though. A Blight was coming. No one could hide. Eventually Ostagar was lost to the oncoming Darkspawn hoard, and King Cailan lay dead on the field. When Lothering was taken, I felt my throat close up at the news. For the first time in fifteen years I felt the acute sense that I could die without ever having truly tasted life outside these enclosing walls.

I killed a Templar to escape this time.

Never had I used my magic against the Templars. They could drain you, take your powers away with just a swipe of their hands. The boy didn't stand a chance. He was a younger man with a red beard and black eyes. I hit him with a lightning strike that stopped his heart and took off, nearly drowning in the lake beyond I swam for so long.

Irving washed his hands of me, and I became a menace. I wasn't just some boy running away—though I had long since become a man—I was a dangerous mage who dared use his magic to attack the Templars. I wouldn't go back placidly anymore. No, the tower wasn't for me. I would live free or die trying.

I wandered, for it was what I was best at. Setting down ties is stupid. You get sloppy, complacent, and you lose everything. I kept to myself and stayed at inns without causing any trouble so they wouldn't remember my face in the morning. If I wanted company, I kept prostitutes and visited brothels. I spent a fortune at the Pearl in Denerim one week.

Maybe it was a year. Maybe it was two. I don't know how long I was free. The Blight was over, defeated by a slim elf they compared to Garahel. People were celebrating. The Hero of Ferelden had conquered, they sang! They were in such good spirits; I even joined in on the revelry. I craved stories about this woman. I wanted to learn more about her. I felt I owed her something, perhaps the Blight something, because it was what finally convinced me to run for my life.

She was a city elf, they said. Came from Denerim and grew up right behind its walls. Courted by the new king himself, they whispered with sneers. Apparently the two of them had been warming each other's beds before the Blight was even over, but it was not news that King Alistair kept her close at hand. She was an advisor. A wise and taciturn warrior with a sharp wit and dangerous gleam to her eyes. Poets were the best men and women to speak to. They could weave lullabies for me out of her exploits for the barest amount of coin.

One day, I met her.

Again, I don't know how long it was I wandered. A little over a year, I think. I was caught outside of Amaranthine while chatting up a pretty thing in the tavern. I didn't see the Templars come in, didn't hear the clink of their armor. Perhaps I should have. I'd gotten used to freedom, and I paid for it. Outnumbered and out-armed, I surrendered.

They took me to Vigil's Keep so they could rest before such a big journey. They had come from far, they said. They were weary and needed supplies. They locked me in a cell and ate fine cheese and drank finer wine. I mulled over my options in my head. Fighting them in the compound would be impossible. The Grey Wardens haunting the halls would just kill me anyway. I couldn't go back, though. I was wanted for murder, not just escape. It would mean a death sentence.

As I frowned and considered, the Keep was attacked.

Darkspawn broke through the gates and wreaked havoc on the place. They killed my Templar guards. When they came for me, I burned them alive. The smell was rancid as they writhed in agony, and I casually shook my hands to douse the flames. It felt cruel to kill them, really, when they had saved me so. But they were monsters, I was free, and nothing else really mattered. When I turned around feeling quite proud of myself, she was there, more lovely than I could have imagined. A shield was locked onto her tiny arm, a sword in the other. She stared at me warily.

I knew it was her. I had her face memorized though I had never seen it before. Her small mouth, delicate lips, handsome bones, and deep-set green eyes were a potent combination. Her nose was slightly crooked, as if it had been broken several times. Her eyebrows were thin and gave her a severe countenance yet had the potential to transform her entire face. Wispy blonde hair fell over her petite shoulders. Her legs were long for an elf, too thin. She appeared wasted, starving. I didn't know at the time that Grey Wardens were supposed to look like that.

After introductions, she tossed me a staff.

She trusted me enough to watch her back. I was invited to join the battle and fight. We discovered something curious on the battlements: a Darkspawn capable of speech. I had never seen one capable of articulating anything but a fierce growl. She appeared stunned, but we saved the Keep nevertheless.

When the entire ordeal was over with, the King was spotted approaching. We went down to meet him. I'm not sure why I followed. Authority used to cause such a deep fear in me; I was blinded by the equality she treated me with, perhaps. I didn't think about the dangers. A Templar knight was there, and she accused me of murder the second King Alistair acknowledged the risk we had all taken.

The Hero, Tabris as they called her, stepped in front of me. She vouched for me, asked to keep me as a recruit. I was so stunned I could hardly think. For a long time I had loved the idea of such a woman. Her tales were legendary. Her power was phenomenal, strength and wiles trapped in a tiny and limiting body. Then she offered to save me from the one thing I feared: the Templars.

I said yes before I could think about it, and by midnight I was drinking blood to become a Grey Warden.

We toiled in the blood of Darkspawn. The dreams were a fair trade for the protection from the Circle, but I did wake up sometimes in a sweat, screaming. She was always there in the beginning, in a nightgown or in a full suit of armor. If she suspected something was wrong with her men, she rushed in to reassure us. We were her Grey Warden. When I became sick, she nursed me back to health. When I told a joke, she laughed with such a beatific smile my heart would stop beating. She even got me a cat. We fought side by side. Together we killed the Mother and the Architect of the Darkspawn and put an end to the threat at least for a while.

For the first time in my life, I was happy. Never had I been more ecstatic to be alive, to wake up every day. When we weren't keeping ourselves busy with Darkspawn, we were training recruits. Good men and women looked up to me to know what to do. They took their lessons from me. I made friends among the guard, good friends who would sit with me at dinner and discuss trade and gossip. We laughed and joked and drank.

Sigrun, a dwarf from the Legion of the Dead, became my confidante. One of the Howes named Nathaniel became my best friend. Velanna of the Dalish was resistant to my charms, but I could get her to smile on bright days. Oghren, an old friend of the Commander's, was his own man, but even he would sit and drink for a while if I asked. Justice…Justice was another matter.

He was a spirit trapped in the flesh of a dead man, and the one who argued with me incessantly, spurring me to do something. He was an ideal, not a man. He didn't understand limitations, and he didn't accept them. He called me lazy, incompetent, a coward, and so much more. We railed at each other, fought and grappled physically at times. He was so angry at my inert nature, and I was so angry at his active one.

Over time, though, he came to convince me. I thought more and more of the days of old when I was captured and treated like dirt. The Templars kicked and cursed. Some of them didn't mind that mage flesh was supposed to be untouchable. Women and men were raped in the tower—not usually in mine, but I'd heard stories. Babes were taken before their mothers could see them. We couldn't get married; we couldn't be free. We were trapped in a tower of stone all our lives. The more I thought about it, the angrier I became until I said something entirely harmless, or so I believed.

"I know," I finally admitted to him after one night. "You're right. I wish I could be more like you. I wish I had just an ounce of that courage inside me."

"What if you could?" his corpse-like face asked of me, and I understood his intent.

Months passed. I didn't think on the words. No, that was too insane. I would be an abomination, even more of a target. Grey Warden or no, a possessed mage wasn't something to be trifled with. Even if it were a kind spirit taking control. But again, he wore down my qualms. He calmed my fears. We did it. We merged, and I became Justice.

Justice made the claim that he was going to kill himself, to leave his body. The others bade him a sniffling goodbye—especially on Sigrun's part—and he wandered off into the woods. Only later did he come to me, and I accepted him into my body. For a moment, I felt whole. I felt well. I felt…powerful.

The Commander became my infatuation.

I can't remember when it happened. One day I simply woke up and felt a thrill from my fingers to my toes at the prospect of seeing her. I walked beside her, talked with her, ate with her, and slept next to her when we were underground or out in the field. Still, her heart belonged to Alistair. On occasion he would visit, planting a kiss on her soft lips as he walked through the door or tossing her up in the air like an elven ragdoll. Somehow he managed to turn my hard commander into a giggling girl with a flush on her cheeks, something I could never do.

At parties, he had her on his arm like a trophy. I fumed in silence, and Nathaniel remarked on it once or twice. Even Oghren snorted at me and told me to just 'bend her over a barrel'. I wouldn't, though. To steal a man's lover was one thing, to steal a King's mistress was quite another. Not that I thought I could have her. She was so delightfully out of my reach, such a safe love that I grew accustomed to the pang that came whenever she became dough in her king's hands. I smiled at her when she told me stories of him, her eyes becoming glassy and distant.

Justice chided me. He claimed it was impure to have such thoughts, and I agreed. That didn't mean I wanted it any less. Over time, Justice took so much out of my life. Mindless pleasure something he fought vehemently against. Drinking was taboo. Work became my life. We plotted together how to free the mages while I lusted after the only woman I couldn't have.

Until one day I knew I had to leave.

Being trapped in one place had been the problem from the very beginning, and I felt the Keep becoming my new prison. Just another tower. Justice and I couldn't change the world from Vigil's Keep. We needed to travel and start somewhere, to begin again. I explained to Tabris at her desk my desire to leave, proposed that I go to Kirkwall. We had heard news of a few hundred refugees from the Blight having run there. I wanted to help, though I kept the secret of the mages to myself.

She gave me her permission with a hug, and I turned it into so much more. I grabbed her arms, pressed my thumbs into the soft flesh of her shoulders. Justice squirmed inside me, uncomfortable with this, but I ignored him. I felt her yielding against me, so pliant and bending yet completely unbreakable. Without remorse, without fear of treason, I had her there on the desk. She trembled and cried out my name and clawed at my neck. Her fingers lingered in my hair when it was over. Her lips ghosted over mine again and again, asking me not to leave. Yet I had to and did the very next morning.

On the ship to Kirkwall, my heart broke and ragged sobs tore from me. It was the second time in my life I cried so pathetically, only wanting to go back but knowing I couldn't. Tabris was never meant for me; I had to accept that. We could never be together, and staying would only cause problems for her. I had a new plan, a new purpose. Justice had to be served. Someone had to help the mages.

In Kirkwall, I found Karl. He'd been transferred from the Ferelden Circle for some reason. He kept records for the Enchanters, and he was wandering about in front of the Gallows. The embrace we had was tight, intimate, and too powerful for words. My thoughts of Tabris disappeared as months of his kisses and his scent and his powerful arms flashed before my eyes. He was my first real love, after all, and that old affection came back with hardly a thought to the woman I'd abandoned in Ferelden.

"Anders?" he asked, tilting his head when I didn't respond to a question he'd asked. We were just outside the Gallows, and I wasn't the least bit afraid. The old, cocky Anders was back, renewed with thoughts of my youth.

"Come on," I tugged on his hand and pulled him behind a pillar in a very dark corner. With my hand over his mouth, I reminded him of what had happened in those old days before we separated, and he was flush with pleasure.

Eventually, though, I had to bid him goodbye. I was free, and he was not, no matter how much I wished he were. He promised to write, a blush on his cheeks still, sweat on his brow. I smiled as I walked away, but Justice was less than happy.

He did write, and we did meet like the old days. Sometimes it was so he could pass information from one spy to another. I set up connections inside the Gallows, learned that the cruelties to mages in Kirkwall were so much worse than the ones in Ferelden. Here the mages were treated like monsters. Stumbling in the hallway could earn you Tranquility. As months passed, I fell into my work. I opened a clinic and worked long hours. Suddenly sleep-deprivation seemed normal. Helping mages was secondary to my nature. Justice melded even deeper into my mind, syncing with the core of my being.

He also became more volatile. Tiny things that frustrated me made him furious. He writhed inside me, a pet on a leash that I had to yank on and choke him. As he became a part of me, he also took on my resentment, my cold hatred of Templars that had sprung up out of nowhere like a well of hate in the back of my mind. Justice began changing, and so did I.

Suddenly, an event disrupted the mindless day-to-day tasks. Karl stopped writing me. And only a few days later, the woman who would change my life forever sauntered casually through my doorway with swaying hips and a luckless air about her. I recognized the very same charisma, same flow of strength and unique charm, as the one that attracted me so to Tabris. Yet she was a danger, an unknown. My greeting was harsh, and the amused light hardly flickered in her eyes.

"Are you always this nice to strangers?" she flicked something off her shoulder, barely sparing me a glance though my hand was out to ward her off.

A man to her right tensed beside her, similar in looks and demeanor. Her brother, perhaps? He shouldered past her, getting between us. "You got a problem with my sister, you got a problem with me." A broadsword was strapped securely to his back, large and unwieldy.

"Thank you, Carver," she patted him on the back and shot a grin toward me. "So sorry. You know how siblings are." She shrugged and rolled her eyes. Carver glared at her fiercely.

"Are you from the Wardens?" I demanded, because she had that same invulnerability to her. I think I knew then that nothing could defeat her, just like Tabris. "I'm not going back."

"No, but I hear you are," she flourished her hand, and I noticed her gloves were encrusted with powerful gems. "A good ear of mine says you have a map for the Deep Roads in this area. I'm going underground, so I was wondering if you were selling." She flashed a set of bone-white teeth. Too clean, too perfect, too beautiful.

I did have a map. I'd stolen it from Stroud some time ago when a contact of mine said he was in the area, but I had no intention of going underground. "I'd be happy if I never saw the blighted Deep Roads again. I'm not interested."

Her face fell a little. "Come on," she pleaded, clasped her hands together as if in prayer. "I've got coin to pay you. This could set my family up for life. I'd do whatever you want."

"Sister…" Carver warned.

A thought occurred to me quite suddenly. Karl, in the Gallows, was out of my reach. He was also potentially in danger. If I met him somewhere, we would both be danger. I was ragged from working so hard, and the thought of losing control…if I were to take a little backup, perhaps I could rescue Karl.

"A favor for a favor," I said more to myself than her, but she perked up considerably.

"I'm really good at getting jobs done," she smiled.

So I told her. The innocence in her face drew me in, and she hid nothing of her emotions from me. She was sympathetic to the cause, both to Karl and the mage's plight. Then she said something I didn't expect to hear.

"I would help any fellow mage," she declared, and I suddenly noticed the staff strapped to her back and wanted to smack myself. I must have been exhausted not to see it before.

"So, when do you want to do this?" she clamped a hand on her hip and smoothed back her hair.

"Tonight," I croaked. "Meet me at the Chantry tonight."

Without further ado, she thrust out a hand. "Deal." Blinded by her smile, I shook.

I spent the entire day getting ready. If only I knew what awaited me, the earth-shattering guilt that would consume me. We met, and the woman was good on her word. Not only did she protect me from the Templars, but we found Karl. The pain that consumed me in that moment was terrible. I had failed him, and Justice came to life with the realization.

She fought like a demon, or so I thought. Her spells were erratic; never once did she pause in her casting. Versatile, she floated across the battlefield, flinging her staff gracefully from hand to hand, calling down oceans of fire and crackling lightning that scorched our foes. When it was done, she still had enough mana to brush against mine. To make the hair stand up on my arms.

Blood was rushing in my ears as Karl stared at me, a little life in his eyes.

"Anders?" he asked, and the sound was so sweet. The words that followed weren't. He begged me to kill him, asked that I end his life.

With her blessing I did, and it reminded me of the first time I slew a Templar. Unfair, unnecessary, and yet the only thing I could do.

Shame flowed through me, wetting my eyes. When I began to think I was so strong that the Templars couldn't hurt me, I don't know. But to have that illusion shattered was painful. To lose Karl was a nightmare, and I made the mistake of latching onto a pretty face to help deal with the pain. I was ashamed I had lost control, that Justice had taken over in that one, important moment. Karl should never have seen that. No one should have to see what a monster his lover has become.

When my tale was finished, she didn't look frightened, but I didn't expect her to. A noncommittal shrug took me off-guard. "You tried to help a friend. I don't see what's so bad about that." That's what she said, but she stared at me in a new light. She was more wary, a little more guarded.

I was falling all over again. Creatures like her were capable of kindness others didn't know existed, me included.

"You're the first person I've told this," I confessed. "Thank you for not running away."

I can't remember what she said then, something flirtatious and dangerous in one. The words have faded from my memory along with so much else about my life; I do know that it shook my world. She expressed interest in me, even knowing what I was. For a silly, impossible moment, I thought about it. I thought about what it would be like to be with this young, spry woman with daring eyes. How much younger was she than me? I don't think she ever told me her age. I simply guessed.

A warning spilled out of my lips before I could stop myself. Horror washed through me at the thought of losing control around her. What if she were something more, but Justice found her to be nothing special and decided to destroy her outright? What if she wasn't as I thought her to be? Would he steal control and harm her?

When she left, it was a little dejected and hostile. I turned around and smacked my forehead into a pillar. One of the nurses shot me a curious look, but I waved her away.

They already thought I was crazy. No use explaining.

For a few weeks, my thoughts drifted occasionally to her. I liked her speech pattern, I realized. There was something so alluring about it. The way she moved enticed me, as if she belonged wherever she went. I'd once possessed that easy confidence. Physically, she was as aesthetically pleasing and sexually attractive as a woman could be. Her eyes were a pale blue, her hair midnight black. Her lips were full, her nose small. Meaningless tattoos were scribbled about her chin and forehead, accenting the shape of her almond eyes. But I hadn't seen her, so I assumed she was just another refugee that ended up in a gutter somewhere. When I think of it now, I almost laugh out loud. Hawke? Dead? The thought is almost ludicrous.

Things fell back into a pattern. I healed; I ran with the Underground; I fought Templars; I hid like a sewer rat. One day, she appeared at my clinic again, and I nearly dropped the stained sheets I was carrying.

She smiled and wiggled her fingers at me. "Did you think you'd scared me off?"

Yes, I didn't say.

"I'm Hawke," she introduced herself the moment I set the sheets down and began washing my hands. A still-born baby was delivered that morning. The blue of his skin matched her eyes. "I realized you told me just about everything there is to know about you, and I didn't even give you my name."

"I didn't require it," I said coldly, feeling a headache building between my eyes.

Hawke, though. The name was strong, very Ferelden. Hard and unforgiving syllables, like the language itself. And the animal? A bird of prey that soared through the skies, independent. A predator smaller animals should be wary of.

"Don't be mean," she rubbed absently at her shoulder. "Have you changed your mind about helping me out?"

I blinked and tried to recall ever offering. Then the words came back to me. My maps are yours, as am I if you wish me to join your expedition.

I had said that without even knowing her name?

"What…did you have in mind?" I ventured carefully. Illegal troubles were becoming the norm for me, but I didn't need any more added to my pile.

Her eyes became darker. Hawke patted me on the shoulder, and electrical shocks skidded down my spine. "Oh, a little pillaging. Bandit-hunting. Maybe save a helpless mage or two? Varric says you're into that sort of thing."

She made it sound like a hobby.

In a rush of furious hand-washing, I chastised her for taking the simple-minded oppression of mages so lightly, her own people. Vehement words spilled from my mouth in a torrent, and I felt myself losing control again. Blue veins erupted along my palms, and I had to take a deep breath to calm down. When I glanced at Hawke, she was thrown but not frightened.

"I was just joking," she said, careful not to touch me. "I didn't know you were such an advocate for the cause, but I run across a lot of apostates in my adventures. If you want to help me help mages, I'd be honored." She meant it, even sounded a little remorseful. How could I refuse? How could any man?

That was just the beginning. I'll make the recap of our adventures short, because there were simply too many of them. I must have gone on a hundred quests with her, where we recruited Isabela and Fenris and Merrill to our circle of close confidantes. Many nights were spent in the stuffy tavern telling jokes and drinking. (I never touched the stuff, because Justice disapproved of 'self-poisoning.') We laughed and laughed and laughed. Sometimes we broke into fights, but Hawke could usually resolve any animosity between us.

If you've heard the tale of the Champion, as many people have, you know of our merry band of misfits as Hawke often called us. Isabela, for one, is a favorite. I have no gift for storytelling, but I can give a vague outline of her character. The main reason I don't have good grasp on her is because I hardly knew her. We talked a little when she came into the clinic for checkups, and she had a knack for making me laugh. Isabela was a pirate whose goal in life was pleasure. Hawke was always good friends with her; they even had a tumble once.

Varric was a friend of mine. A sturdy dwarf with a gift for practicality, he was one of the most charming men I've ever met. He could weave a lie more intricate than you would believe. If he hadn't had such immense pressure to continue his bloodline, perhaps we might have…

Merrill was an elf we plucked from the Dalish in an effort to complete Hawke's task given to her by Flemeth herself. The girl was foolish and young. Maybe I was a bit hard on her. I judged her so harshly, because I knew what it was to use blood magic and be ignorant of the effects. Mages who used blood magic angered me greatly anyway, because there was no surer way to make sure we continued to be oppressed.

Aveline didn't impress me. To me she was the very thing that kept us from rebelling. She had a fondness for order and the law, no matter how wrong it was. On occasion, Hawke managed to convince her to bend her principles, but I couldn't see the guardswoman doing it for anyone else. She always did have a soft spot for Hawke.

Fenris doesn't bear mentioning. His time in Tevinter poisoned his mind against mages. The only exception was Hawke, and his respect for her was grudgingly given. They clashed constantly. The savage almost maimed her once or twice.

Carver was killed in the Deep Roads. For some reason, Hawke didn't take me with her. From what I gleaned, he was a head-strong man who felt his sister was always in the limelight. He was jealous and self-centered, but it was nothing that he wouldn't have grown out of. When she came in the day after they got back to have a large gash on her shoulder healed, she cried in my arms over his loss. Apparently he was the second sibling she had lost. I didn't tell her that I might have gotten him to Stroud if she had taken me. I didn't tell her that she didn't have to fill me in, because Varric had already taken the time. I also didn't tell her how much I relished holding her in my arms.

Our romance didn't bloom for almost four years. After the Deep Roads expedition, I grew closer to her. She visited my clinic at least once a week, but she was also very busy. Her mother was stricken with grief, and Hawke was buying back the Amell state with the money she'd made from the expedition. Gamlen was demanding his due. Between all of us asking her for favors—me especially, I'm ashamed to say—she hardly had time to breathe.

When she bought back the estate, we drifted apart. She spent a lot of time with her family, and I could hardly blame her. Though I did dream about her—most of them I'm not proud of, a sad product of my male mind and warden stamina—I wasn't wasting my time pining on a seashore, staring at the moon and wishing she was there. I was hunting Templars, avoiding the law, and helping with the Underground. Little did I know that the clinic was beginning to overwhelm me. Refugees were piling in, sickly and pregnant. I hardly noticed the sudden rush I was so focused.

Three years later, when she invited me to join her on another adventure for the Qunari, it felt like cold water thrown over my face. Someone had finally woken me up. I could see color again, feel the wind on my face, admire Hawke's precious smile. Only then did I realize what all the dreams about her meant; I had fallen. In the midst of so much chaos and pain and work, I'd fallen in love.

If it were possible to tear out your own heart and continue living, I would have done it long ago. Hawke was beautiful, especially dressed in her fine silk and glittering jewels in her Hightown mansion. With her hair pinned up, she was the epitome of elegance and nobility. I was gaunt and thin and ragged. When my hair wasn't pulled into a messy ponytail, it hung in my face. Sleep was elusive, and the darkness under my eyes wasn't just because of that. Not to mention my age.

Love couldn't have come at a worse time or be focused on a person more out of my reach. Or so I thought. Hawke surprised me, as she always does.

The dreams came more frequently, haunting in their intensity. Over time they transformed from simple sexual encounters to heated gazes and messy love confessions, and I beat myself up continuously about it. I felt like a dirty old man peeking up the skirt of a fair maiden and put the thought from my mind. I wouldn't condemn her to such a life even if she wanted it. Two apostates were worse than one. I wouldn't hurt her like I did Tabris; I cared too much for her.

We found evidence of the Tranquil Solution, a plot to end all mages. Ser Alrik began turning our people into mindless zombies, and I couldn't stop it. No matter what the Underground did, we couldn't put an end to the slaughter. We smuggled mages and bribed Templars and pulled favors. It wasn't enough, and I was forced to ask for Hawke's help. Killing Templars was generally against the rules. I had no sympathy for them—they'd made their choice—but it attracted too much attention to the Underground. But Ser Alrik had to be stopped, and only one woman I knew could do it.

Of course she accomplished in one night what a dozen or so mages couldn't.

She even stayed my possessed hand before I murdered a girl in cold blood. Let me share something. Though I only agonized over in front of Hawke for a short time, the cold hard truth had me tearing my hair out. Justice was out of control. He wasn't my friend anymore. Amidst all the rule-breaking, he had transformed into something that was no longer Justice. Something that sought Templar blood for the crimes committed against mages: Vengeance.

What hurt the most was that I had let it happen. Not only that, but I had been the cause. Why else would Justice, a pure spirit, be twisted into a demon unless he was manipulated by human desires by joining with me? He fed off my hatred of Templars and turned it into an obsession. He stole my sleeping hours, my daylight hours, and any pleasure I might find in the world. He was trying to turn me into a lifeless, frigid thing. Only when I caught sight of myself in the filthy mirror of the clinic did I really see what I had become.

Where did that excited boy who ventured into the dark to please a girl go? Where was the student that yanked women into closets and swallowed their giggles like candies? Where was the man that smiled up at the sky and tasted the rain for the first time? Had I been that man, I might have stayed with Tabris. No, I know I would have. I would have committed treason for her in an instant. That early on in the merging, I was still happy. I was still idealistic and capable of love.

Now how cruel was it to subject Hawke to my broken heart?

Afterwards she came to my clinic and comforted me, but I hardly needed it. I was furious at myself, no longer at Ser Alrik. Pleased that he was dead, yes, but the truth was that one Templar would hardly make a difference. If the Divine wanted to lobotomize all mages, no one would be able to stop her. Then Hawke put her dainty hand on my shoulder and showed me a piece of paper that made my heart ache.

Both the Divine and the Grand Cleric had rejected the idea. Perhaps there was still hope. Maybe we weren't as hated as I believed.

She kissed my cheek and sauntered out, and I nearly collapsed with relief. We were safe in that regard at the very least.

Hawke came back by dinnertime, and she smelled of liquor. She and Fenris had been gambling at his stolen mansion, she told me, and I'd never felt a fiercer stab of jealousy in my life. In fact, I'd never felt jealous before.

There were so many reasons that I kissed her: the easy demeanor she always had, the fact that she had brought me the news of our salvation, her power, her fluttering eyelashes, that she had been with Fenris, the enticing scent of alcohol on her breath, the enticing dance of torchlight across her skin, the pleasing set of her eyes, and that she put an arm around my neck and dared me to do it in a sultry voice that sent heat pooling to my belly.

I shoved her against the wall and bruised her mouth with my kiss. She wrapped her arms around me and melted. Three years of want came rushing back. Three years without a lover, without anyone pressed so deliberately close when it was something I had my entire life. Her lips were sweet, coated in something Justice had deemed forbidden. He reared his head, but I pushed him back. The moment wasn't for him; it was for me.

"Anders," she whispered as I broke the kiss, and the sound was my undoing. If she wanted someone like me, I was far too selfish to push her away. Even if it was for her own good, I needed her too much. I wanted her more than anything, even Tabris. I wouldn't leave again.

"If we die tomorrow, I don't want it to be without doing that," I confessed, still holding her close.

"Anders," she blinked, and all the teasing was gone from her face. "I've never felt this way about anyone."

"If your door is open tonight, I will come to you," I whispered against her perfumed skin. "If not, I'll know you took my warning at last." I dared not tell her I loved her. Not yet.

The door was open, and her mother glanced up knowingly from Hawke's desk as I entered. I couldn't help the flush at came to my cheeks. Did she know why I was there? Leandra hid a smile and went toward the sitting room. I walked up the steps like a man headed to the Gallows, nervousness abound. Amazing how such a thing could happen. Once upon a time I had thought myself the expert on sex. When it came to someone a cared about, and a premeditated plan, I was reduced to shaking nerves.

Hawke was dressed casually in her red cotton, staring into the fire. The relief on her face as I knocked on the door was almost comical, and she grabbed my hand. "You're here." Did she think I wouldn't show?

"Justice does not approve of my obsession with you," I told her, for I could feel his disapproval mounting. "He thinks you are a distraction. It is one of the few areas on which he and I disagree."

"If you weren't here, I'd be out looking for you," she said with a sheepish smile, squeezing my hand.

Love is such a strange thing, and I confess I had never really felt it before Hawke. Tabris I loved, yes, but as a lover and my commander. Hawke I could see myself loving forever, having children with, fighting beside. She was my friend, my confidante. I wanted suddenly to tell her everything about my life. I wanted her to understand what a huge step it was, going from being everyone's lover to being no one's to finally finding someone I wanted to be with. What a strange feeling.

"No mage I know has ever dared to fall in love," I said, touching her cheek. "This is the rule I will most cherish breaking."

We kissed and tumbled to the bed, and everything came back to me in that moment. I knew how to make her gasp, to make her say my name. I knew everything to make the night something to remember, and I was suddenly grateful for my experiences in the Tower. If nothing else, I wanted to make her feel pleasure. Didn't she deserve that? After everything she had done for me, was a little happiness too much?

Four times that night I had her. She was swatting me away and giggling after the second, but her eyes would darken with lust. It was the best nearly-sleepless night I'd had in years, and I woke up with her tangled delightfully around me, breasts pressed against my arm, head on my chest. She was beautiful, and I felt a pang of guilt. I was far too old for her. I still am.

She moaned, and her eyes fluttered open. "Don't go," she whispered.

"Did you think I was going to?"

"I don't know," she smiled sadly. "Sometimes I think you're a ghost. You're there, you're responding to me, you're real, and then you drift. I've had dreams about this. You're never here when I wake up."

My stomach clenched. She'd been sharing my pain, my desire. So much wasted time. "I'm here now." I kissed her eyelids.

She shifted until she straddled my stomach, the blanket pulled modestly over her breasts. I thought about pulling it away. I wanted to see her, all of her. She stared at the hand splayed on my chest. "Stay here with me, Anders. Move in. Come live with me."

I nearly sat up. "Do you mean it?"

Hawke bit her lip. "I think of you in that dirty clinic, and I get sick about it. I want you here where I can keep an eye on you. Where I can protect you."

"You'll tell the world, the Knight-Commander, that you're in love with an apostate and will stand by him?" My head was spinning. What she offered—protection—was a mad prospect. Love, safety, a semblance of luxury. A life with her, however short and dangerous.

"I love you," she said, leaning down so that our noses touched. "I'll tell anyone you want. I'll wear a sign around my neck. Just please, don't disappear."

I crushed her lips to mine and rolled her over, the thin sheet the only thing separating us. Her eyes sparkled with mischief and love and something else. "For three years I've lain awake every night aching for you," I said. "If you think I'm going anywhere now, you're wrong. You're stuck with me, Serah Hawke."

"Thank the Maker," she breathed, hand trailing down my hip.

Without any possessions I could think of save for my mother's pillow, I simply didn't leave. Oh, I went back to the clinic. Tirelessly I worked to heal the refugees, but it was with a new spring in my step. Hawke lifted my heart. She showed up at the door to help deliver babies and bandage scraped knees. She used her magic for healing, though she wasn't very good at first.

Those first months I was deliriously happy, and I continued to be happy with Hawke. She was the one bright light of my life.

Tragedy always strikes though, and it has no sense of timing. One can't prevent it from happening. Leandra went missing. A year previously we'd tracked down a man who was kidnapping women, but the trail had gone cold before we could investigate further. An old Templar asked us to raid a nobleman's home, but we found nothing but typical corruption. We did learn one very important fact, though. The murderer sent white lilies to the women he had an intention of kidnapping. Leandra received a bouquet just hours before she went missing.

It was the first time I'd seen Hawke agree to let someone use blood magic. She even helped the nobleman up once he was finished. My comforts were meaningless. Hawke's mother was the very last of her family. We had to find her. We ran all over Kirkwall looking for her. Aveline's men searched frantically as we closed in on the killer. What we found wasn't Leandra. It was a sewn corpse, a morbid doll with her mother's face attached.

When she asked me if I could help my eyes filled with tears. Help what? Leandra was gone. What was I supposed to heal, a collection of scar tissue and preserved body parts? The only thing keeping her alive was magic. Such a sad end to one so full of life.

"My little girl has become so strong," Leandra rasped, touching her daughter's face. She looked up, past Hawke and to me. "You'll take care of her, won't you?"

"Of course," I answered.

"Yes, you will," she seemed sure. "You remind me so much of my Malcolm. Oh, don't cry, love. I get to see Carver and Bethany and your father again."

"Mother," Hawke sobbed, tears dripping down onto Leandra's face.

"Be strong, my baby girl."

That night was the worst I've ever spent in her company. I've never seen Hawke cry so hard since. She was literally wracked with tremors, nearly making herself sick. I sat rubbing her back and holding her hair away from her face as she vomited. Her suffering nearly killed me and reduced me to tears at least twice, but I hid them from her. I had to be the strong one for once. She deserved that tiny bit of selfishness.

We burned the body as is Ferelden custom and had a group funeral for Hawke's mother and all the other women killed for Quentin's research. We scattered the ashes on the Wounded Coast. Hawke was pale, dressed in a light green sundress with her hair tumbling down her back. She had never looked so beautiful or so completely heartbroken. I don't think it even occurred to the nobles that Hawke might not want to talk about it. That she didn't want to spread the word of what horrible thing had happened to her mother. They demanded details, but she brushed them off.

The city needed Hawke suddenly, though. She didn't get much time to mourn. The Qunari were demanding obedience. They were tired of waiting for their purpose to be fulfilled, and Hawke had to do damage control. Her temper was short when speaking to the Arishok. She'd picked up a few new words from him. I think that night she spent mourning her mother changed her. She became harder and not just toward the Qunari.

Nothing seemed like a joke anymore.

I guess it was inevitable that the Qunari would attack the city. They only ever arrive as conquerors, and we were probably just hoping for the best in thinking they were going to continue to be peaceful. The Viscount certainly was right up until the Arishok lobbed off his head and threw it at the feet of the noble families he had herded into the Viscount's Keep.

My heart nearly stopped when the Arishok challenged Hawke to a duel, and I nearly accepted on her behalf. Isabela had run off with the Tome of Koslun, some sort of biblical artifact of theirs. How Hawke could possibly win a one-on-one duel with the hulking giant who had twin axes that probably weighed more than Hawke was beyond me. How she thought she could wasn't. It was one of her fatal flaws that she believed she was invincible.

I thought we were saved with Isabela appeared with the book in her arms, but I had no such luck. Hawke was still going to fight the battle instead of just handing the damn thief over like she deserved. I took her to the side.

"You can't do this, Hawke. He'll destroy you," I pleaded. "Together we can defeat him."

"And let you take my glory?" she tossed her hair. "Don't worry, lover. What kind of person would I be if I couldn't kill one invading Qunari?"

"That's not one invading Qunari," I protested. "That's four or five sewn together. He could step on you, and it'll be over. Please, I'm begging you. Don't do this."

Her eyes softened, and she kissed my cheek. "I have to. Stop worrying."

As she declared her acceptance, I couldn't help but mutter, "Maker keep her safe."

Of course she didn't die. It was another one of those weak moments where I thought the undefeatable could be defeated. One of his axes came down hard, and she threw up the staff to fight him off. He cleaved it right in two, and she slipped through his legs to lodge one of the splintered pieces into his back and electrify it. The spasms that shook him stopped his heart. Meredith declared Hawke the Champion. The irony nearly killed me, but at least Hawke was alive.

Not completely unscathed but alive. That was damn good enough for me.

Her position changed over the years. As Champion, she was an idol for a lot of people. Nobles no longer turned their noses up at her. She was invited to all the parties (the few she actually attended, she forced me to go along with her only to dance the night away in my arms and refuse to speak to any of the guests). Silks and cows and chickens showed up on her door. Dowries were offered. Men and women swooned as she passed by, but there was a tiny rumor floating on the wind that the Champion was living with an apostate.

I won't be callous and say it served me well, but it did. My position changed in respect to hers. I wasn't just some Darktown apostate, but the Champion's apostate. Templars wouldn't spare me a glance some days. I had to bribe fewer people. Hawke took care a lot of my problems with just her reputation, and for that I was grateful.

But I needed more. I always need more. We lived in happiness for a few more years. Blissful years, really. There were bad nights, but what relationship doesn't have those? For my first serious love, we were incredibly happy. Hawke never fought with me. We spent hours downstairs in her cellar; I watched her drink the night away. We must have made love on every surface of the house save for in Leandra's room which Hawke never touched again. On occasion, she would reprimand me for staying up all the time, dragging me back to bed with a seductive wink that hid the concern. I knew she worried about me, but it was such an utter undertone to our relationship.

Together we combated the Templars. Hawke took an active role in the Underground, and I confess that I worried about her more than I should have. She practically painted up her face. Thanks to her, we rescued dozens of apostates. Food, supplies, medical equipment all made it to compounds spread across Thedas because of her. Years I'd spent just trying to save a few desperate apostates, and she was turning the world around in half that time.

The sewers became our home, really. I confess that we spent more time down there than we probably should have, but it was the only entrance into the Gallows. My heart stopped beating every time we entered that place. She never faltered, though. I said before that losing her mother had hardened her, and it had. For one terrible moment, I'd thought that losing Leandra to a mage might mean she would change her mind about our plight, but she didn't. The thought was foolish. It only served to spur her into action. To stop blood magic.

Fenris and Hawke clashed violently on a few occasions. The worst was in the tavern. Everyone was drinking and gambling. Fenris was glowering at Hawke, and she very politely asked to speak to him in the hallway. A few moments later shouts erupted, followed by an explosion. Varric, Isabela, Merrill, Aveline, and I ran down toward the sound, frightened. Hawke was sporting a bleeding lip, the back of her thumb pressed against the sight. Fenris was slumped against the wall, clearly unconscious. In the middle of the floor was an ugly, black scorch mark.

"Ancestors betray me, what happened, Hawke?" Varric murmured incredulously. Isabela kneeled by Fenris and felt for a pulse.

"He hit me," she replied, getting to her feet. "So I hit him."

A few weeks later, the beast visited to apologize for his behavior. He had done little damage, and she apologized as well though she had no need to. Always the kind one. The look of utter hatred he shot me matched mine. We had never gotten along. We never would.

Things weren't always bad with him. Hawke adored his company at times. He was the only one that she could get drunk and spar with. Isabela molested her when they tried. Aveline was busy. Merrill was wobbly on her own two feet without alcohol, and Varric was opposed to it. Sparring between us always ended in naked frivolity on the floor.

Though she was a mage, Hawke loved hand-to-hand combat. She spent hours training downstairs and never turned down a good fight. It was the only time I ever saw Fenris smiling, when she groped blindly for him and shoved him to the ground. Jealous as I was, it was worth it to see her so happy. To see them getting along.

Aveline visited often to drink with Hawke. Hawke loved Aveline, always will. I thought on a few occasions that Hawke might have wanted more than just friendship from her. Aveline was completely oblivious to the flirtation directed her way. I didn't understand the attraction, and I didn't stir up any trouble over it.

The way I describe it, it seems as though drinking was all we did. It wasn't, but it was a big part of it. After a long day of adventuring, we all had injuries. Cuts, scrapes, and broken bones, burns: those were the norm. Sometimes the others just needed to relax and drink something capable of numbing the aches and pains. I know I missed it. I often dragged Hawke to bed just to taste the liquor on her lips.

I was beginning to fall into complacency, but Justice would stir to life every few months. We were forgetting the cause. We had a job to do. With Meredith in power, the mages were suffering and I was spending time with my lover. I had to work harder to keep us alive and semi-free.

Orsino argued vehemently with Meredith about us, but he wasn't the champion we needed. He was a coward, someone who had grown up in the tower. The compromises became less and less equal until it was clear that Meredith was simply pushing to get her way. King Alistair tried to intervene one day, to help us. I felt suddenly terrible for having slept with his lover so long ago.

One day I realized that this constant tug-of-war wouldn't help anything. That if we were going to be free, we'd have to let go of the rope and hope they fell. We'd have to take a chance, a leap of faith. Something drastic must happen. The compromising must stop, and so I targeted the woman who was the source. It was Grand Cleric Elthina that stepped in every time the argument threatened to explode. She was the one that cooled both sides when it so desperately needed to heat up.

One side had to break, and I wasn't going to wait until ours did.

I tricked Hawke. I admit it, though I don't think she really believed me for a second. For six years I'd known her. I knew the look of suspicion in her eyes. She didn't trust me even as she helped me gather the ingredients for my 'potion.' Lying to her—truly lying her to her—was the hardest thing I've ever had to do. It was the hardest thing I've ever asked her to do. Help me plot a revolution. I still remember what I said.

"If you love me you'll do this," I'd blackmailed her heartlessly. "If you truly believe in the mages' plight, you'll do this. Or does your support stop at the Chantry door?"

It was cruel of me and entirely unfair. Hawke had done more for the mage plight than I ever had. She was the one that had both the intelligence and the ability to lead a revolution for I couldn't.

"Anders, I do love you," she'd said sadly, as if pitying me. "And I'll do this for you, but don't think I'll forget that you blackmailed me into it." She turned on her heel and marched out. I didn't see her for a week. We hardly spoke as we gathered the ingredients.

My mind was full anyway. The more I thought about the lie, the more I started to believe it. I had begun to analyze what I was: an abomination. What I had done with Justice was unnatural. By joining with him to help the mages, I was simply confirming the dangers of having magic. I'd taken a step back in order to step forward, but this was the last step. This was the last resort. It was time to stop hiding underground and start a revolution.

Hawke didn't cry when I told her I sensed my death approaching. She locked me out in the rain once or twice. I had become frigid and lifeless at home. Every day I sat thinking of her and what I was leaving her to. For surely she would kill me once she found out what I had plotted. Of all the things she suspected, surely she wouldn't guess that a bomb was ticking beneath the Chantry, waiting for my signal to destroy both the symbol of oppression in Kirkwall and the woman responsible for a stymie that had lasted for far too long.

The timing was too perfect, almost ridiculously so. Finally the dam broke. Meredith and Orsino were at each other's throats, and Hawke was running around the house yanking on armor. People said there would be blood. As we approached, the streets were nearly deserted save for the mass of Templars lined side by side in their wicked, glinting armor. Meredith's face was twisted with anger, her features sharply outlined by shadows. Orsino was barely putting up any resistance, and my stomach clenched. My hands were shaking, and I peered up at the Chantry as they fought.

Something snapped inside of me, and I slammed my staff on the ground. I stole the moment, my anger coming through. Justice may have taken over. I felt the heat of his presence flash across my skin. "The Grand Cleric cannot help you."

"Explain yourself, Mage!" Meredith snarled.

"I will not stand by and watch you treat all mages like criminals while those who would lead us bow to their Templar jailors," I said, finally face-to-face with her.

"How dare you speak to—" Orsino began, but I smacked the hilt of my staff against the cobblestone streets and silenced him.

"The Circle has failed us, Orsino," I growled. "Even you should be able to see that. The time has come to act. There can be no half-measures." Seeing the crestfallen look on Hawke's face, I turned my back on her.

"Anders," she touched my shoulder, her voice that of an angel, "what have you done?"

"There can be no turning back."

We all turned to watch the mass of the Chantry fly apart, to see bricks separating in midair amidst blinding red magic that shot up like a beacon from the ground. I could feel the rumbling beneath my feet as smoke gathered. The entire display was reflected in Hawke's bottomless eyes as her delicate mouth hung open in surprise. Meredith took a few steps back. When the materials were gathered together in a great whirlwind in the sky, a deafening crack split the sky. Objects hurtled in all directions, powered by intense magic and earthen properties.

The aftershock knocked Hawke to the ground. We all covered out faces from the burning rush of air. The night sky smelled of smoke and death, and the crackle of fire rang out. People were screaming in the distance. Burning wood and debris thumped onto the ground all around us. No one seemed to know what to do. I watched Hawke get to her feet and then stare directly at me.

Pain exploded along my jaw as I fell to the ground. It took me a moment to realize I had been hit. Hawke grabbed my collar and pulled me up so that our noses were touching. "What did you do?" she screamed at me, and I could see tears glistening in her eyes.

"I removed the chance of compromise, because there is no compromise."

"That's it?" she cried. "That's the best you can do?"

"The Grand Cleric has been slain by magic, the Chantry destroyed," Meredith was murmuring madly, staring at the two of us. "As Knight-Commander of Kirkwall, I hereby invoke the Right of Annulment," she shouted to her Templars. "Every mage in the Circle is to be executed. Immediately!"

Hawke leaped off me, and I got to my feet. She held up her hands between Meredith and Orsino, and the gems on her gloves flashed. Desperation lined her pretty face.

"No, please, Knight-Commander, I can fix this," she pleaded.

"The Circle didn't even do this!" Orsino protested.

"Shut up," Hawke snapped at him.

"I have no doubt that you would try," Meredith said wearily. "Even if I wished to, I could not stay my hand. The people will demand blood, and I will give it to them. This is the end of the line. There can be no going back, and you, Champion, will either join my men or die with yours."

"Champion, you can't let her," Orsino shouted. "Help us stop this madness. You can't leave us all to die."

Hawke appeared terribly conflicted. "Please, Meredith. Don't do this. This is Anders's plot. He killed the Grand Cleric. Take him, and let these mages go. Don't make me your enemy."

Meredith cast a wicked glance my way. "So this is mage devotion. Giving up your lover to save the city. How very poetic, but it won't work. He is only one of many, I am sure, that were in on this plot."

"Why did you do this?" Hawke asked me of me. "Why didn't you tell me your plan?"

"Because you would have felt honor-bound to stop me," I said. "Because you would have killed me before this stalemate could end."

Very slowly, Hawke drew her staff and set it on the ground. The clack was jarring, and I knew she'd made her decision. Steel glinted in her eyes. "I stand with the mages, Meredith. With my men, as you do with yours."

That was my Champion.

"Run to the Gallows," Meredith shouted, drawing her sword. "Alert the others. The rest of you take care of this filth."

We killed the Templar swiftly, painlessly and I sat down on the steps of the chantry stairs and put my head in my hands. It was over. Finally over. We could take the steps necessary toward freedom. Justice was exuberant, but I didn't care. Years and years of struggle were over. War would come. The Divine would most likely raze Kirkwall to the ground, but news would spread. Others would rebel. The first step had been taken.

Orsino panted at Hawke's side. "I will go to the Gallows and ready the others. We are few, but we might stand a chance if we fight together. I'll leave you here to deal with your friend. Please come as soon as you can."

"Get up, Anders," Hawke snapped at me, smacking me in the knee with her stave. "I haven't the time or the patience to scold you right now. You did this, so I assume you've thought long and hard about it. We haven't got time for you to sit down."

"You can't be serious," Fenris snarled. "Kill him and be done with it. If we must do this, we can do it without him."

"Really?" Hawke sneered. "Without our healer? I mean it. Get up, Anders, or so help me…"

"Hawke, I don't know if I can follow you if you allow this mage to live," Fenris continued. "He's destroyed the city. Look at what he's done. Whether or not you love him, can't you see that losing his life is the only way he can make up for this?"

She whirled on him. "Really?" she roared. "You think a corpse could help us defend the mages better than a skilled fighter? You think making him pay for what he's done is better than making him fix it? A price can come later, but right now we have a crisis on our hands in case you haven't noticed!"

He was so shocked, he didn't reply.

In the end we all stayed. I can't honestly speak for the others, but I can say that Fenris stayed because he owed it to Hawke. Aveline stayed, because she loved Hawke. The mages didn't unite us, the Champion did. Merrill and Isabela and Varric were just as smitten with her as the rest of us. My death wish was denied.

I was forced to go on fighting.

If you live anywhere but under a rock, you know what happened next. Meredith was killed by our hand. Hawke's, really. Cullen, in a rare moment of honor, stayed his blade and let us walk from Kirkwall. We ran and gathered our things and holed up on Isabela's ship. As it pulled away from the dock, I'd never felt more helpless in my life. Kirkwall was burning. The mages were safe, but for how long? We'd left them to Cullen. Would he be just?

I found Hawke at the helm of the ship, her eyes closed, blood matted in her hair. All the familiar doubts came back. I didn't deserve her. Just as I was about to leave, she called me back.

"Come here, Anders," she murmured softly, and I could only obey. I put my hands on the railing and hung my head. To my utter astonishment, a hand came to rest on my shoulder.

"I can't condone what you've done," she said, "but I understand the intention. A few more years of peace. Was that so much to ask for?" When she looked at me, her eyes were clear. She appeared somber.

"The mages couldn't afford that price," I replied, thinking of Karl.

"I love you, and I won't kill you," she whispered after a moment of silence. "But it will take me a long time to forgive you for what you've done."

Elation was probably not what I should have felt in that moment. Nevertheless, I was so glad that she wasn't going to simply write me off. So glad that she didn't hate me. "I understand," I nodded sadly.

Hawke turned me around and buried her head into my chest. Shocked, I clung to her as she began to cry. We slid to the ground as her sobs echoed into a night filled with burning bodies and smoldering flames.

Since then we've been on the run. Tonight we're in the Ferelden castle, and Hawke is chatting pleasantly with Tabris by the fire in our chambers. The King has his arms around her. Oghren is passed out in the corner. Isabela has taken Zevran to a remote nook somewhere in the battlements. Merrill is sprawled out on our bed, exhausted from the day's events. Aveline is in her own quarters with Donnic. Fenris guards the door, speaking to Nathaniel only once in a while.

My past and my present collide to make my future. We're all here to fight. The Darkspawn are forgotten; fighting slavery in all places is what we focus on now. The deaths of so many are regrettable but inevitable. Every revolution must have a flint to spark to life. Every leader must undergo trials in order to be purified. There is suffering in my past. There is joy and love and hate and betrayal and disappointment. Most importantly, there is friendship. There is Hawke.

Tabris smiles at me, dimples showing in the firelight. Alistair places a kiss on her cheek, and she glows, turning to whisper something in his ear. A ring glints on her finger, no longer the dirty secret but the queen Ferelden deserves. Nathaniel winks when I glance at him. Hawke wiggles her fingertips, beckoning. I've been writing for hours.

Win, lose, or draw: I've finally found where I belong.

Title means 'Rise, Soldier' or "Get up, Soldier'. It's a reference to how Anders just kept moving and turned into this selfless martyr that I love to pieces. I know everyone's mad that he wasn't funny like he was in Awakening, but I liked the sexy, broken thing he had going on. It was alluring, and Adam Howden did a fantastic job as his VA. Thanks for reading. Review please.