This story was written for deviantArt small contest (and I even managed to rank third!) and since results are out, I wanted to publish it here.
Special thanks go to my beta, Hatsepsut, for bearing with my disrespect to perfect tenses :)
Comments appreciated as always!
"We should strike camp here," said Aveline when they arrived to a meadow – a mere opening between the trees, barely big enough for them to pitch tents. No one complained, though. Since they had left Kirkwall – and since Dany Hawke had withdrawn into herself – the former Guard-Captain had taken the lead of what had remained of their party. There were only six of them now, not counting Hawke's mabari, running for their lives from the pursuit that the new Knight Commander (if there had been any appointed yet) would sent after them. To make things worse, it was also possible that Sebastian would keep to his parting word and sent an army from Starkhaven. Personally, Fenris doubted it and most of his companions agreed, although each one gave various reasons to that. Fenris himself thought Sebastian didn't have the guts to pursue Hawke, Merrill claimed he 'couldn't be so cruel, could he?' and Varric pointed out that Starkhaven was on the verge of bankruptcy, since its leader was doing everything but ruling during the last few years. Donnic however, had reminded them it wasn't important who they had on their heels – the most important part was to put enough distance between them and their pursuers.
After the first day when they had blindly run ahead and north of Kirkwall, they had to sit down and decide what to do. It was a grim discussion and Hawke didn't even take part in it, sitting a few feet away from the fire and refusing to answer any question. It was then that Aveline took charge and decided they should try and find their way inside the Tevinter Imperium – it was the place where the Chantry would have the biggest trouble pursuing them. Zevran, the former Antivan Crow assassin, who had temporarily joined them at the Gallows, had left then and Isabela with him. Fenris couldn't make up his mind if he was going to blame her for that or not. He had almost been ready to leave at the first mention of the Imperium himself. Granted, Isabela had already stayed longer than he had ever thought she would and besides Hawke… didn't seem to mind.
Not that she seemed to mind anything lately. With each passing day she grew more and more pale, stumbling after the others with her gaze fixed on the ground beneath her feet. They tried talking to her, all of them did, but she hardly said a word to anyone, not even to Varric. It was painful to even look at her – as if the shock of Anders' betrayal had wiped all the joy and liveliness out of her. Each time Fenris thought about that, the rage awakened in him and if the apostate had been anywhere near, he would surely have killed him at first sight… but Anders had left them when Hawke told him to get out of her sight and had disappeared. Maybe he was dead. Fenris would surely welcome that, even though he would still regret it wasn't him who had killed the mage.
"Fenris, will you go and cover our tracks from that river we crossed on the way here?" His brooding was interrupted by Aveline and he nodded reluctantly, turning to look at her. Naturally, after all those years of running from Danarius, he really knew how to mislead the pursuit and Aveline had been asking him to do that every evening. He didn't mind. Every minute he didn't have to look at Hawke and suffer his heart being torn apart was a welcomed relief.
Still, he couldn't stop thinking about her as he went back, sweeping the forest floor with a broom made of pine branches. Sometime during this afternoon, Dany had suddenly stopped in the middle of the road and refused to move on. They had to lead her on by the hand, talking to her like to a stubborn child and finally they had to carry her in turns – she followed them and allowed them to carry her as if she wasn't aware of what was happening around her. When Fenris had taken a first look in her empty eyes, he had almost cried out in pain and since then it hadn't gotten any better.
He hated being so helpless. He had never known how to behave around Hawke – she had confused him, being at the same time so open and so secluded, but right now not knowing what to do was even worse. If only killing something - or someone - would solve the matter, Fenris would be the first one to do that. Deep in his heart he realised he should be helping her by talking, by being nearby, but he didn't know where to start. He never did. Bitterly, he realised that might have been one of the reasons why in the end she had preferred the mage over him – compassionate, emotional Anders, who had worshipped her, cared for her and in the end had broken her heart.
'It was all my fault,' Fenris thought, hating himself all over again. If only he hadn't walked away from her after that night they had spent together… if only he hadn't made her hate him, Dany would have been his and Anders' betrayal wouldn't have been as much a killing blow as it was. If only…
He reached the shallow stream that Aveline had excessively called 'a river'. It was no more than ten feet wide and maybe two feet deep, but its current was fast and icy-cold water was rushing over the cobbles. Fenris grimaced when it washed over his swollen feet. Sometimes he wished he wore shoes like humans did – for example when he was walking against the current of the stream, sharper stones cutting his skin like razors… He was determined to leave a false trail upstream, where the Templar pursuit would expect to find it. He had had an argument about that with Aveline earlier.
"If we go downstream, they will follow us surely," he had said, to which the woman had only shrugged.
"They would expect Hawke to be clever and go upstream, which is where they will look for her," she replied after he scowled at her. "And this is exactly why we will go the opposite way."
Since arguing with her was pointless – and since her reasoning made sense to him – Fenris decided to follow her lead and do what was expected from him. For Hawke's sake.
He got out of the water when he couldn't feel his feet anymore and rested for a while, sitting on the grass. The evening was getting colder, but luckily the weather was still good at this time of year. The forest smelled of moisture, fallen leaves and mushrooms. Fenris thought he could try and collect some of the latter, in case Aveline wasn't going to allow him and Donnic to hunt for game. They needed a change in their diet, what with eating only dry bread and baked potatoes lately.
They had fled Kirkwall with almost nothing but the clothes on their backs and the weapons in their hands. A handful of valuable jewellery and other things they traded for food and provisions in the first village they stumbled upon. Fenris tried not to think what were they going to do once they reached the Tevinter Imperium. Not long ago, he was beginning to think he would never have to run anymore – and moreover, that he would never have to face a magister again. Now he just hoped they could get through to Hawke before it was too late and that she would be able to figure out something, the way she always did.
There was a sound on the edge of his hearing, something like distant steps of someone who was trying to tread quietly. Fenris got to his feet in the blink of an eye, unsheathing his sword and froze, listening. Whoever that was, the sounds were growing louder and Fenris could tell someone's attempt to be quiet had failed already. It must have been a human or a dwarf – no elf would walk through the forest that carelessly. Fenris decided to wait – if it was just a lone traveller, he could let him pass. If there were Templars… depending on the number he might even try to put them down at once. He craved for a fight like never before.
Soon he was able to see a silhouette between the trees – it was dark and tall, definitely a human and a man. He was alone. Fenris watched him for a moment, before something familiar in the way the man moved – and it's really easy to get familiar with the movements of a person you spent the last seven years with, a person who was your ally and mortal enemy, on whose arm Dany Hawke had rested her beautiful head – pushed the elf running blindly towards the man, his sword raised above his head.
Anders must have heard him, because he reacted immediately, pushing a wave of freezing air in Fenris' direction. The elf dodged, fell to the forest floor and rolled to the side. Magical wind brushed his hair, frosting the ground around and the leaves above. Fenris got up, quick as thought, and rushed forward. Another wave of cold air missed him by an inch and he felt the tattoos on his skin burning in a reaction to magic. He almost enjoyed them flashing and charging his body with the accursed and familiar flow of energy. He swung his blade at Anders, but the mage escaped the blow, jumping backwards.
"Stop it!" He shouted, but Fenris only uttered a roar and attacked again. The Stonefist spell hit him square in the chest, sending him back a few feet and throwing the sword from his hand. Fenris landed on the forest floor, cursing. He leapt back to his feet, brown leaves falling off his back, before the mage cast another hex on him. His lyrium aura had weakened the stunning effect of the stone spell.
"Will you just listen?" Anders backed off, waving his staff in the air. The elf clenched his fists and dashed forward. He was only a few feet away from the mage, ready to push a hand through his chest, when Anders built a barrier of light around himself. Fenris hit it hard, but the sphere held well and he bounced against it.
"I don't want to fight you!" shouted Anders, now barely visible behind the white light. Fenris snorted, massaging his knuckles. The lines of lyrium in his skin began to itch after the contact with the magical barrier.
"A shame. I want nothing more, but to kill you here and now."
"I can see that. I want to talk to you, Fenris."
The elf shrugged. There was nothing that Anders could tell him that he would want to listen to. He was aware that the force field barrier was a difficult thing to hold on for long. He just had to wait a while longer and the mage would be defenceless. Fenris felt blood rushing in his veins.
Anders seemed to hesitate. The light of his barriers swirled and weakened a little.
"I want you only to listen to me. You can kill me afterwards, I won't even fight you back," he ventured carefully. "Will we have a deal?"
"When I can kill you without listening? Never!"
"I just want to talk to you! Please!" The light of the barrier faded and disappeared. Fenris hesitated. There was something in Anders' voice that surprised him – a sort of pain and desperation that made even him hesitate. Even now.
"I will listen to what you have to say, but nothing more," he said finally and noticed relief on Anders' face. The mage let go of the staff he was holding and threw it to the ground.
"See? I have no will to fight-"
"And you were following us – why?" Fenris interrupted him angrily. Anders grimaced as if he was hit in the face.
"I tried not to, but… I cannot. I have to know how… how she is doing."
"And how do you think she's doing?" The elf took a step towards the mage, his tattoos lighting up again. "How do you think you made her feel? She won't talk to anyone ever since we left Kirkwall! She hardly notices we're around her. If we weren't there to lead her by the hand, she would just stop in the middle of nowhere and die, that's how she's doing!" Fenris felt blood thumping in his temples. He wanted nothing more, but to force his fist inside Anders' chest and pull his heart out – and possibly even make the mage eat it before he died. "How dare you even ask that, after all she had ever done for you!"
"And I failed her?" Anders finished for him. "I didn't have a choice."
"Surely, there could be nothing better than blowing up the Chantry with its Grand Cleric inside," mocked Fenris.
"You know nothing!" Somehow, Anders didn't seem to pay attention to Fenris' fist so close to his head. "I didn't have a choice. All the other mages from the underground had been caught two weeks ago – or turned into abominations and killed. There was a Templar ambush, one I escaped only because I was with Hawke in the Bone Pit that day. I was all that was left of the mage resistance."
"A luck you apparently don't deserve…" began Fenris, but the mage interrupted him.
"Perhaps. I'm not saying you're wrong, I just want you to understand. I didn't have a choice. With everyone dead, I was the only chance the mages had. I had to do something, had to make a change…" Anders' voice failed him and fell silent for a moment, breathing hard. Then he fixed his gaze on Fenris. "I did what I had to do. Maybe one day you can explain it to Dany and make her hate me a little less."
The elf snorted. "You don't deserve that either. I should just kill you now."
"Then do it. Trust me, I wish nothing more. You don't know how that feels, to live without a chance of seeing her, touching her hand…"
"I do, in fact," Fenris reminded him. For a moment they stared at one another wordlessly.
"Then you will listen to me," said Anders silently. "And you will say this to her: I have never, ever made a hardest choice in my life. To sacrifice her for what I believed in, I had to tear my heart out of my chest. It was worse than dying. Damn it, it is worse than being made Tranquil."
"And yet you did it." Despite everything, Fenris was amused, almost impressed. The way Anders had said that suddenly made the elf feel sorry for him. He could well imagine how it felt.
"I did. And my life will never again have any meaning without her. I…" The mage sighed painfully. "I know there are no words of apology that would suffice, but I want you to tell her that I will never cease to regret it."
Words 'then tell her yourself' stopped in Fenris' throat. It would be a noble, a compassionate thing to say, perhaps – something Dany herself would undoubtedly say. But that would only lead to her being hurt again. He suddenly realised he knew what he should do to protect her, to keep her safely out of Anders' reach.
In a second he pushed the mage on a nearby tree. Activating his tattoos, he pushed his right hand into mage's body. Anders stifled a scream, when Fenris' fingers clasped around his ribs.
"I will tell her that," the elf hissed, tightening his grip until he felt bones crushing under his fingers. "But I want you to leave and never come anywhere near her again. I will kill you if you do, mage. I can promise you that much."
When he let go, Anders slid down the tree trunk, moaning and clutching at his side.
"You're going to risk letting me go?" He gasped, staring at the elf with a mocking smile on his face.
"If you truly care for Dany, you won't ever let her see you again. You won't let her suffer." Fenris took a few steps back and gestured south towards Kirkwall and Ferelden.
"Then… you're not going to kill me?" Anders' smile was wiped from his face and replaced with amazement. "Really?"
"She was the one who decided to let you live. I will respect that," he snapped. "You will live away from her and that's enough of a punishment for me."
Anders got up slowly, still pressing one hand to his chest and holding his staff in the other.
"You are cruel even when you're merciful, Fenris," he whispered. "Don't worry; I will never make her suffer my presence again. You have my word on that." Anders fell silent for a moment, as if considering something in his thoughts. "Stay with her," he said finally. "Watch over her. She will need you."
"Go," snarled Fenris. "Now."
Without another word, Anders turned around and slowly limped away, leaning heavily on his staff. Fenris watched his back, disappearing in the forest. If the Templars were coming this way, they might actually find him, Fenris realised. A lone and wounded apostate didn't stand much of a chance against them – at least a regular apostate, one not fused with Fade spirit of Justice. No, Anders was going to live and he was going to keep to his word; Fenris knew he could at least trust him to do that. The mage would never approach Dany Hawke again.
The dark silhouette was gone.
If this was supposed to be his victory, Fenris had never expected it to feel so… hollow.