Elissa wasn't surprised to find Anders in her study. She had been expecting him for quite a while, a little more than a month, and was honestly rather shocked he hadn't come sooner. Finding him in one of the uncomfortable chairs standing before her desk was unexpected, but not alarming.
For his part, Anders looked uncertain and wary, and he was half convinced Elissa might simply attack him outright. He sat in the chair, his back rigid and body tense, wondering if she didn't use these specific chairs just to make visitors twitchy and uneasy.
"Oh, I think we're well past Commander, don't you?" Her voice chill as she settled behind her desk, she leveled a frosty stare at him. Her pale blue eyes had never looked so much like ice, and he felt his resolve begin to wither.
But he would not be defeated so easily. He tried again. "Elis—"
"Your Majesty will suffice." The words were carefully calculated to hurt him, and she saw the pain flicker across his worn and tired face. What she hadn't expected was how much they hurt her, too. But she knew better than to show that. Years at court had done their job well; she could hide even the most violent of emotions behind an empty smile.
"We were friends once," he said softly.
She lifted a brow and turned her heart to stone against him. "Queens have no friends, and deserters have no Commanders. Why are you here, Anders?"
"For the queen's support if not her friendship." Hope was the cruelest of all weapons, and he felt its keen blade slide through him as he watched her face. This was his last chance. After Elissa—after the Queen of Ferelden—he had no other place to turn to for support.
But surely she would understand. In the past, she'd always been sympathetic to his plights as a mage. She had listened with quiet outrage to his stories of the Chantry's injustices.
Just the thought brought Justice flickering to the surface of his mind, and Anders silently reminded the spirit of their bargain. He couldn't, under any circumstance, threaten the Queen of Ferelden. And he didn't want to threaten his friend.
An awful part of him whispered that she was his friend no longer and hadn't been since he'd left the Wardens, and a much better part of him wondered if that was true.
"Support? You want my support?" She sounded genuinely surprised. She was genuinely surprised.
Of all the things she had expected from Anders, him coming to her for support was the least of them. She suspected she was the last on a short list. He had to realize her prejudices swung against him after he left the Wardens. She couldn't tolerate people who abandoned duty for any reason, especially when it was only her sense of duty that kept her on the throne.
Sitting was suddenly too much. Placing the tips of her fingers on the surface of her desk, she rose, leaning toward him. There were no windows in this room, only a tower of candles behind her that sent her shadow looming over him.
"You destroyed a Chantry, you committed an act of war, and you come here to ask for my support?" Her voice was tight, her entire body tense.
They looked so much like each other in that moment. She couldn't help but notice it, and she knew he saw it, too.
He started to rise, too, anger burning a streak of disgust across his face. "You would condescend to me when—"
"Sit. Back. Down."
He sat without thinking, remembering that tone of voice far too well from their campaign against the Architect. The people of Ferelden loved and adored their Hero. They sang songs for her in the streets. But none of them, not a single one, knew how vicious she could be when pushed. Anders didn't want to make an enemy of her. They didn't need to be friends, but he desperately needed her to be anything other than an enemy.
"How many people did you kill during the Blight?" he demanded, trying to keep his expression cool. He'd never been able to control his emotions as easily as she could. And he wondered, in that moment, if there was anything genuine about her. She gave of herself freely – but what she gave was a calculated sacrifice.
He swallowed bile and pressed his lips together, fingers curling around the arms of the chair to hide how badly his hands were shaking. Anger coursed through him, the nervous tension making his body unsteady. He needed her to understand, and he couldn't reconcile the woman before him to the Commander he'd served alongside.
"Don't even compare—"
"Oh, so it's perfectly fine for you to slaughter countless hundreds to stop a Blight, but if I want to right an injustice, I'm a monster?"
That threw her off her stride. Her expression faltered, and for a moment he thought he'd won. Then she was the heartless queen, the emotionless politician once again, her face a blank mask. "That's what Grey Wardens do – stop the Blight regardless of the cost." She didn't yell when she spoke, not this time, her voice soft and quiet.
"I'm trying to spare the mages of Thedas." His words were a plea, and he wondered when he'd gone from strident and determined to pitiable and desperate.
"At what cost?" She didn't understand how he couldn't see it. Her heart, stone though she tried to make it, thudded against her ribcage and threatened to break. Every word they spoke was a knife wielded against the other, and just as many of her own words cut into her as they did him. This wasn't what she wanted.
This wasn't how their conversation was supposed to go.
He finally rose, sensing some sort of change. He wasn't sure if they were at an impasse, or if this was her quiet concession of defeat. Placing his hands on the edge of her desk, he leaned toward her, and their eyes met. For a moment, he saw anguish in her eyes, but instead of making him sympathetic toward her, it brought only the burn of more anger. "At any cost."
It was clear to him, then, that she didn't understand. She never would. She wasn't a mage and she couldn't possibly comprehend what the templars did to them. What the Chantry condoned.
He expected the words that she spoke in reply.
"I can't support that." And that, she knew, was the end of it. His expression hardened, and she did the same in turn. "As a queen and as a human being, I cannot support a needless war."
He lashed out without thinking. "A human being? You? You? Do you honestly see people as anything other than bloody tools to be used? Mages are useful – you've said it enough." He reeled away from the desk, not noticing her expression – the rage and the anger and the pain. It didn't even occur to him that she might be armed, that he might be provoking her toward a dangerous precipice.
But even if he did and she struck him, it didn't matter. Then he'd be a martyr, and she knew it, and that alone stayed her hand as he spun toward her, jabbing his finger at her face.
"So this is it, isn't it? When we stop being useful to the Hero of Ferelden, we're to be cast aside and our fates left in the hands of those bloody templars." He sneered. "As a human being." He spat the words. "Do you even have a heart, Your Majesty, or did the Blight and the taint take that, too?"
"You son of a—"
Something moved in the shadows behind him, a huge, hulking man with skin the color of night and eyes like cooling coals. Tensing, she drew back, bitter loathing clogging her throat and turning her heart to lead.
He brought a rogue, his lover, that Champion of Kirkwall, into her study. Into her palace. To threaten her.
"I will not be cowed by—"
"Get. Out." She paused and then blundered forward, the words settling the last bit of kindling against the funeral pyre built for their friendship. "Or do you mean to destroy the royal palace, too?"
He froze in place, watching her for a long moment, Hawke's presence at his back a reassuring comfort. "And what if I did?" He couldn't back down.
Drawing herself straight, she glared at him, the contempt on her face vicious. "I have nothing more to say to you."
"Live a long and happy life, Your Majesty." He meant those words as a threat. Let them fester in her memory and turn her down the path toward paranoia and fear. Let her know what he'd lived with his entire life. "And remember what side you chose when the war comes."
She remained on her feet until the door swung shut behind them, and then she dropped into her chair without ceremony, slumping into it until her clothes cut into her skin and made breathing a chore. Her head flopped forward as she bit hard on her lip, refusing to let herself feel the guilt and shame nibbling away at her insides. She was right, damn him, and she wouldn't allow
When the door to her study opened what felt like hours later, she hadn't moved, was still fighting that inner battle to feel vindicated.
Alistair's voice roused her, and she pushed herself from the chair, coming around the desk. She reached for him, and with a frown, he went to her, wrapping her in his arms.
"Anders was here," she said, and she felt him tense. "No, stop that. He's gone now."
"What did he want?"
She didn't quite know. Not her approval, certainly. Not absolution. Maybe her allegiance, but he couldn't possibly have thought she'd approve of his methods. She couldn't. She was a queen, not his friend, and she had to think of Ferelden before all other things. "I… I'm not…" She sighed. "He wanted to know which side we'd stand on in a war against the mages."
Not that she could even make that judgment. She knew which side she wanted to stand on, but she could not make that choice. She could not set that path. It was not – and never would be – her decision to make.
"Did you have an answer for him?"
She shook her head. "He doesn't understand. He's not—I can tell him where I stand. I stand where I always have. The Chantry has done terrible, unspeakable things to the mages. But I can't promise him Ferelden. And that's what he wanted. He—" She broke off, taking a long and shuddering breath as she closed her eyes against tears of frustration.
"He's… you're friends?" Alistair stumbled over you're, his inflection caught somewhere awkward as if he wasn't quite sure whether to say you are or you were and hoped the contraction might hide it.
"We aren't… we aren't enemies." But whether or not they were friends, she could not say. She didn't know if they could even be called allies, not anymore.
And Anders, striding angrily down the road with Hawke beside him, didn't know either, and it frustrated him. "You heard her," he snapped. "She denied me!"
He hadn't expected much different, not really, not deep down inside. Because Elissa was Elissa, and she never acted until the last possible moment. She would sit in her palace and let the mages rot away, safe and protected and unwilling to do a bloody thing.
Hawke, a solid, steady presence at his side, always there to placate him and soothe him, set a hand on Anders' shoulder.
Anders shrugged him off. He didn't want to be placated. He wanted to be furious.
"I don't know why I expected her to understand. Of course she wouldn't. I'm surprised she didn't deliver some bloody platitudes. We're all slaves to something or someone, Anders." Disgust welled inside him, made him feel thick and bloated. "How could she understand? She's not a—"
Breaking off, he turned away from Hawke, not wanting to finish that sentence.
"Not a mage?" Hawke asked in his quiet, even voice. "I understand."
"You're different," Anders muttered, feeling defeated.
They were quiet a moment, and Anders studied the speckled sunlight on the road before him as it poured through the canopy of trees overhead.
Finally, Hawke spoke again. "You're… enemies?"
That caught him off guard. Because he wasn't sure if they were. He was angry – livid – that she couldn't understand, that she wouldn't stand with him and fight. Of all people, it should have been her and him and Hawke. She cared for him. He cared for her. They'd been friends, once.
He didn't know if they were still friends. But enemies?
"She wants me to wait. I think we've waited long enough."
Hawke frowned. Even though Anders hadn't answered him, he let the question go, and they continued down the road away from Denerim.
So this fic is… weird. :| I usually don't put author's note in my fic, because I want it to stand alone. And you're not here to read my ranting, you're here to read my story. But two things I want to say here. One: if you lose the point of view in this, that's okay. At any given point, you could swap the pronouns, the feelings, and the emotions, and everything would read the same. Two: My goal here wasn't to validate either Anders or Elissa's opinions – it was simply to show two people who want the same thing in the end but cannot rationalize or accept the other's modes and methods.