Whoops! Didn't realize I hadn't put this up here yet!
Hope you enjoy. :)
He'd been so close.
One moment, he was free. He was just on the other side of life—had barely stepped into the safe, painless dark of death. Father, Bethany, and Carver, and his poor mother all waited for him, just… just so close and he—
Something held him back. It fought with him, tugging his soul back toward life.
"No!" He shouted, struggling against it. "No," he sobbed, selfish to the end. He knew what was right. He knew he had responsibilities to see through, but he just…. Was it so wrong to want to stay here? To fade into nothing. To not have to worry about the politics of the mages or Templars.
To not have to face the echoing rooms, the empty chairs at the table, the silent spaces in the dark…
The force pulling at his spirit became increasingly violent, burning where it touched him, too full of light. Eventually, little by little, he weakened in its grasp, let himself be pulled back into the sensation and responsibility of life. Hawke looked up, and found himself suddenly aware, left gaping in his dream-world form, stranded in the Fade. He was too weak to wake and too firmly rooted in life now to fully die. His whole body—or the dream version of it, he supposed—was wracked with exhaustion and searing pain. When he lifted his sleeve he found burns dotting every inch of his skin, each in the shape of a gauntleted hand. He could feel the marks chaining him, anchoring him to the Fade and therefore to his body and life. The whole venture just reeked of Justice.
"Son-of-a-bitch, Anders. Can't a man die in peace?!" He shouted fruitlessly into the void that served as the sky. No answer echoed back to him, and so he let himself drop to the strange, cracked earth. His renewed mind was racing, trying to find some way out. Maybe whatever Justice had done would fade in time. Maybe he could find some way to destroy himself within the Fade. Maybe, maybe….
Maybe he just didn't want to keep going any more. Maybe he was so, so tired of all of this. Maybe… he didn't know what to do.
He couldn't say how long he spent, sitting there, staring at his own hands clenched against dream-dirt. Some long-honed instinct within reminded him that he needed to be careful. That a mage in the Fade couldn't afford to be so sloppy, especially not this far in. He had trouble caring. He half wanted to let something take his mortal shell out of spite. Let Anders deal with his living body then!
Still, when he felt something shift nearby, felt the demon step into his particular portion of the dream, he simply stood to face it. Spite, or no, exhaustion or no, he could never willingly let a demon into the world.
I am not Denarius, he'd told Fenris once, and meant it.
"Why hello, mortal." The demon's sultry voice oozed its way into his metaphysical being. Hawke grimaced and shook off the thing's crude spell. He'd been dealing with her ilk since he learned he had the gift for magic. Even weakened, he wasn't about to lose himself to a damned desire demon now.
"Not interested," he grumbled, channeling all his annoyance and despair to the front of his mind—using it to block her out.
"I haven't even offered anything yet. How can you be so certain?" She teased, sliding her way up to him. Hawke paid her no mind, tromping his way over the shattered landscape of the fade. Maybe if he ignored her she'd get bored. Or snap and try to kill him. Either way, end of problem. He felt her claws comb through his hair in a mockery of a caress and he shuddered, jerking away from the unnatural touch. "Little mage, your life hangs by but a thread. You're in no position to deny me, I think." She tried her control spell again, pushing herself into his mind. He threw her with only a little trouble.
"Leave," he demanded shortly. He hated all of this so much. He couldn't even mope in peace.
"What an annoying little morsel you are!" The desire demon hissed, her strangely beautiful form warping, turning briefly ugly and wicked in her anger. "So impudent for one so weak! I could kill you with a whisper if I wished!"
"Then do it," Hawke taunted, turning and facing her fully. If she outright killed him she'd have no way to take over his body. That wasn't how she worked. She needed a deal first. If she killed him his soul would just… stop existing. The path back to his body would disappear with nothing to guide her to it.
He was beginning to think nothingness might not be so bad.
"Kill me or leave. You have nothing I want," he told her plainly, wanting nothing more than to be left alone. She laughed, the sound grating against the contours of his very existence.
"I have something for anyone who wants. That is what drew me to you. Your desire runs deep." She crowed, her claws tracing his cheek. He managed not to flinch when they scraped against one of the burns.
"Well, it seems your sensor is broken. There is nothing left in life which I desire. It may have missed your notice, but I have just tried to kill myself, more or less," he admitted wondering why he was negotiating with the damn thing now and when it would just leave him be. If he weren't as truly weak as the demon said, he'd just kill her and have done with the whole thing.
"On the contrary, my little bird," She sang, piquing his paranoia with the pet name. Surely she hadn't somehow found out his name? What else could she know...? No, it had to be a coincidence. "Obviously there's something you desire so much that you're willing to die for lack of it. Suicides always want so much." She closed her eyes as she spoke, presumably drinking in his desires. Hawke was determined to give her none.
"When you can give me an end to fighting and a solution to the plight of the mages, you let me know," he shot back testily, turning on a heel and walking in the opposite direction again in hopes that she would give up. No such luck. She floated alongside him, keeping up with every step. Her gaze was narrow, calculating.
"You really think you killed yourself out of want of a better world?" She prodded, apparently curious. Oh joy. He'd become entertainment for the demons.
"I think I killed myself because I wanted to die." He insisted angrily. He didn't bother to add that he hadn't really killed himself in the strictest sense of the words…. For all intents and purposes it was true. He'd wanted to die. Maybe even if he'd escaped the duel relatively unscathed he…
Well it wasn't like he hadn't thought about it.
"Aha!" the demoness exclaimed, cacophonous in her excitement. Hawke did flinch this time. Through his weakness or his annoyance, she'd managed to slip into his head without his notice. He felt her presence, rummaging about, pillaging his thoughts.
"Get out!" He roared, panting as he shook her oily mental tendrils a third time. Her mental-force left bruises in his mind—more strange, unreal pain to plague him.
"Oh little, deluded bird. Do you even know what it is you'd die to have?" she teased, looming over him. At some point, he'd fallen to the dirt again. He didn't have the strength to stand any more. His thoughts were racing—all of him trying to find some way to sever his tie to life before she could take advantage of him. If she could slip into his mind again she could control him into a deal. There would be nothing he could do to— "It's nothing so noble as 'an end to the plight of the mages.'"
"You to leave me alone?" he gasped, unable to resist one last jibe. He didn't know what she thought she'd found. He wasn't even thinking of it, really. So when she transformed before his eyes, taking on Fenris's lithe form, he nearly lost it.
"Isn't this what you want, Hawke?" She said with his voice, forcing his image to primp and pose lasciviously. Hawke couldn't help himself. Here he was, just this side of death, battered, beaten and bruised even in a dream, harangued by demons and losing his damn mind besides. And this stupid, pitiful, weak creature thinks it can control him—can manipulate him—by wearing his face? By teasing him, offering him the one thing he knows he absolutely, without a doubt, will never have?
He burst into laughter, his derisive guffaws shaking the demon out of her chosen shape.
"Impudent mortal! How dare you—"
"Oh. Is she bothering you, Hawke?" Merrill, or at least, something wearing Merrill's face, questioned from nearby. He didn't know when she'd gotten there or how much she'd seen. He didn't much care at this point. There was a reason he'd never been terribly troubled by pride demons.
"I'd say so," He mumbled tiredly, collapsing completely to the ground and pillowing his head on his arms. He didn't have to watch to see Merrill take care of the demon. He knew his fellow mage would have no problem whatsoever dispatching such a foe. The sounds of their fighting and demon's screeching couldn't reach him past the waves of his exhaustion.
"All gone," the elf tittered at him, some time later. He didn't know exactly how much time had passed, but Merrill was sporting a rather fashionable scratch on her right cheek. The desire demon was nowhere to be seen.
"Y'okay?" He slurred, squinting at the minor injury in concern. Merrill nodded and helped him to sit up, letting him lean against an odd, stone half-wall he hadn't noticed before. Hell, this was the Fade, wasn't it? It may not have been there before.
"I'm right as rain. Can't say the same for you though," Hawke huffed in agreement, pulling away from her touch as she unknowingly echoed the motions of the desire demon earlier and traced the one burn on his face. He gently grabbed her wrist, stopping her wandering hands. Her arm felt solid and natural in his grip.
"So, I guess you're the real Merrill?" he prodded, pretty certain he could tell the genuine deal from any imitation. She certainly acted authentic enough, her motions quick and bird-like as usual. Her lips quirked into a tired smile at his question.
"Probably," she assented, "unless I've somehow changed since Anders sent me in here to get you."
"He did, did he?" Hawke grumbled, turning away from her too-clear gaze. He didn't have to look to know Merrill was nodding. The air displaced by her quick motions ruffled his hair.
"He dragged you kicking and screaming back into life, he said, but he didn't have enough strength left to pull you out of the Fade. So… that's where I come in, I guess."
"Ah," he groused sarcastically, certain now that it really had been Justice and Anders who'd just not been willing to let him die. He hoped he could take these burns back with him to the waking world. He'd make Anders feel so bad when he had to heal them. Yes. It was the perfect, evil plan. So perfect.
"Hawke?" Merrill's concern broke through his delirium, "Are you still in there? You seem to be spacing out just a bit." The mage in question squinted at her, trying to order his thoughts. What was she doing here? Were they just talking about something?
"If I say no, will you have to kill me?" It was only half-meant to be a joke. Merrill only half-smiled in response. See, Merrill got him. She was the best.
"I'm afraid it doesn't work that way," she consoled as she prodded him to get to his feet. Her tugging on his arms and clothing was insistent. "Come along, Lethalin. You've been stranded here too long. It's time to touch the waking world again, to rest in the shallower realms of dreaming."
"I'd rather not," the words escaped him before he could stop them, and he felt Merrill tense. Her hands stilled, her big eyes searching his, diving into the core of him. She shuttered once, and then pulled him forward into a deep embrace.
"Hawke, I… If it were truly your wish to slip away, I would not be so selfish as to keep you. If that is what you really want, I…" The words themselves were spoken fiercely, but her arms shook around him. Merrill, at least, might be the only one of his friends willing to let him have what he wanted. But he knew without a doubt that it would tear her apart, and he wasn't selfish enough to ask that of her.
He sighed, and pulled away from her embrace, forcing himself to stand despite the aching and the exhaustion. He was just… so tired. Was it really so wrong to want to sleep forever? He glanced at Merrill's distraught, shattered expression and knew the answer. This wasn't about him and it never had been. He couldn't lose sight of that truth.
"Take me home, Merrill," Hawke asked of her, softly. The shackles of responsibility settled heavy and uncomfortable on his shoulders once more.
"You are sure? This is what you want?" Merrill asked as she straightened. He began to notice that her face was lined with exhaustion. He wondered what it had cost her to come find him here.
"It's what needs to happen. When has what I wanted ever mattered?"
"Hawke," Merrill admonished sadly. She swallowed whatever it was she'd been about to say, closed her eyes and took his hand. "It'll get better. We'll make it get better. You'll see." Her fingers around his palm were warm and comforting, a contrast to the burning of the wounds on his soul.
"Yeah, I know." Merrill's weary smile was an unspoken promise. Hawke gave in, let her lead him out and back through the layers of the Fade. He didn't have enough energy left to pay attention to where they were going or how. He spent all his focus on remaining upright, on placing every step, one foot in front of the other.
The closer they got to the real world, the harder it got to keep moving. As the tie to his physical body strengthened, so did the pain. He felt all the reminders of what he'd done to send himself here returning to his dreaming form, one by one like a twisted stigmata.
"Just a little further now," Merrill placated, her voice strained as they passed through another gate. Hawke nodded slightly to show he'd heard. He tried to focus on her, on her hand like an anchor around his own, rather than the cut that had opened up on his thigh, leaving his whole body thrumming with a searing cold. He was almost numb with pain by now. It was all blurring together. "Oh, Creators. Why didn't I take up healing when I had the chance," she swore tearfully, helpless as another laceration tore itself across his forearm. The blood from the wound dripped down sluggishly, tracing Merrill's warm fingers with red, making her grip slippery.
He knew there was some joke to be made here, some kind of comment he could toss out about Merrill's bedside manner or the absurd thought of her strutting about preaching like Anders, but he couldn't put the thoughts together well enough. Her hand was the only bridge he had, the only escape from his pain. He felt her let go, and whimpered brokenly.
"It's alright, Hawke, I've got you. I won't leave," she sounded so sure and so certain he could almost believe her. She pulled his arm over her shoulders and wrapped hers around his waist, supporting him. "It's just a bit further. We're very close," Merrill repeated, and they took one step, another. He knew she spoke the truth. He could already feel the beginnings of the last wound. It was tearing through him in reverse, starting at his back, ripping through his center until blood and agony blossomed on his front. "Oh, Lethalin!" Merrill cried out, clearly distraught at the sight. She shut her eyes against it, forcing herself to keep to task with a few, shuddering breaths. "There is only one more gate. We can make it. We will make it."
Another, stumbling step. Merrill was the only thing keeping him upright now. They were leaving a trail of crimson behind themselves, painting the fade with red in their wake. He could feel the demons following them, hungry. These didn't want a way out like the desire demon had, only his magic, his life force. If not for Merrill he would have let them have it. She forced him forward, even as his will to keep going flickered and died. She pulled, and tugged, and carried his deadweight through to the end, snatched him through the gate just as the first monster appeared in the fog.
They were just this side of the veil now, in the relative safety of the realm of dreams. Hawke still bled. He half-wondered if he wouldn't get his wish after all. Was it possible to bleed out in the fade? He certainly felt weak and dizzy enough, certainly felt the same as if he were dying.
"Please, please don't hate me for this," Merrill begged, confusingly, before she sliced her palm without warning, and pressed it to his wound. She bound her self to his, grasped his very being through his blood and threw him back to his body, back to reality. The pain went with him. He rolled with it, twisted under its weight as it roared through him. His soul had gone too deeply into death to come back without consequence, he understood that now. He felt as if he must be burning alive, agony emanating from the deathblow at his middle, searing through his every vein. Merrill's gentle touch could not reach him, there was nothing to anchor his mind. He simply… lost himself to the sensations, lost his mind and his memory and let it play with him, toy with him as it wished. He was ground into dust, he was nothing. He…
Woke up. Just for a moment, just long enough to see heavy, spiked gauntlets, silver tattoos, and leaf-green eyes at his bedside.
"Hawke!" the vision breathed his name, as if it were a spell—as if it were something sacred. He wanted to reach out toward that person, even if he was certain it must be a mirage. He wanted to feel that touch again, wanted to pretend that he might feel it forever, but he was too weak.
His eyes slipped closed, and in the shallow dark he did not dream.
Madness. All the world had fallen to madness. The Abomination healed, the Blood Mage protected and he sat useless on the sidelines, indebted to them both in ways that he could never properly repay.
He felt he must be losing his mind.
Fenris paced, back and forth on the balcony just outside Hawke's bedroom door, hands curling and uncurling into fists at his sides. Hawke would live, but the knowledge didn't truly calm him. He was trapped in the web of his own panic, fixated on the feel of the mage's life slowly draining away in his arms—on feeling so helpless and knowing that his was all his fault—
He couldn't look at Hawke's sleeping form without being bombarded with the memories and the guilt. He'd washed his armor and his skin shortly after they'd brought Hawke here, but he still hallucinated the blood on his hands every time he passed into the light. Still woke from every sleep terrified that he'd dreamt some fairytale, that he was really still trapped in that eternal moment on the floor of the Viscount's keep, feeling Hawke's pulse sputter and cease beneath his fingertips…
Honestly, he didn't know what he was still doing here. He couldn't do anything to help the Abomination, couldn't protect Hawke in the fade like Merrill. The way he'd acted, he didn't deserve to be here. Varric and Aveline knew it too. He saw it in their faces when they had time to visit. They were off protecting Hawke in their own ways. Varric by maintaining and pruning and growing the right rumors, ear to the ground for any potential Templar raids aiming to strike at Hawke while he was laid low. Aveline by doing her job and maintaining the city's order. Even Sebastian had made himself useful, stopping by with warm food or fresh bandages or anything else they could need (and a prayer or two, of course.) It was only Fenris who had nothing to give, other than to pace about, wear a rent in the floor, and put the poor servant girl on edge.
He knew he should go; he didn't belong here. But every time he turned to leave he… he couldn't. Because what if, what if something else happened and he wasn't here? What if—
"Hmm… odd. Here I thought you'd be glued to his side like a lovesick puppy." He knew that voice. Fenris whirled to face that low, sultry tone. He got over his shock easily, poisonous anger bubbling eagerly within.
"You," he spat, viciously. His blindness towards Hawke had been of his own making but the only reason the conflict had occurred in the first place was currently sauntering toward him from the shadows. "Give me one good reason not to gut you where you stand."
"A fine greeting, one I don't recommend using on the seneschal's tax collector next time he comes by," she quipped blithely as she rolled her eyes at him. He could not take her flippant nature now. It grated against him, hurt him in ways he had not thought possible. She had caused all of this, had lied behind their backs for years.
She hadn't had to watch Hawke die. Hadn't begged to hear just one more heartbeat, to feel just one more trembling breath.
"Isabela, I do not jest," he choked, voice raw and ruined. The lyrium bands blazed like a beacon in the dim light, tracing achingly over his taught form. He ignored it all with practiced ease and flashed toward her faster than any mortal should have been able. His blade was at her throat before she could even draw her own. Later he'd realize the duelist wasn't really trying, but now… "Give me. One. Reason."
"Look, I'm here now instead of Cumberland like I'd planned. I've rid myself of that blasted book, is that not enough?" A bit of Isabela's true face bled through her hurried words. She looked… worried. Unsure. Good. Let her worry. Let her feel just one inkling of the torture he'd been through these last few days.
"Your book nearly cost us Hawke's life," Fenris, spat, trying hard not to get too caught up in the truth of his own words. He couldn't afford to be distracted with the Thief herself at blade point.
"Only nearly. He lived, right?" Her question was only half-joking. If she'd trekked back from Cumberland with only rumors to lead her, she might not really know for sure. The lines of her face seemed deeper, beneath the makeup. Perhaps she felt the weight of her own guilt. Perhaps that was why she was here.
He said nothing, only pressed his sword that much closer to the woman's skin and thought very seriously about taking Hawke's due in blood, drop for drop.
"Fenris, please," Merrill's voice was weak, but he heard her pleading all the same. Her bare footfalls trailed up the stair behind him. "Let her go."
"Kitten!" Isabela crowed, her smirk brightening. If she expected some kind of sympathy, she wasn't going to get it. He was in perfect position to watch the emotions play themselves out in Isabela's eyes. Instant relief, then confusion, the bitter edge of betrayal when Merrill couldn't bring herself to smile back. Good.
"She should pay," Fenris gritted, lyrium markings thrumming and flashing to life. Merrill's hand fell heavy on his arm.
"So should you. Or do you really think Isabela is the only one to blame?" the mage's words cut to the quick. He flinched away from her touch, blade wavering. He didn't want her to be right, didn't want to feel every part of himself crying out in agreement. He hated all of this, so much, he just…
Fenris stepped aside, sheathed his weapon with a few, jerky motions. He kept his back to them both, his heart still twisting in his chest.
"Wait, wait, Hawke lived, right?" Isabela's confidence was waning, her usual bluster all too fragile. It didn't matter. Her regret was as worthless as his own.
"He'll… live, yes," Merrill spoke far too carefully for anyone's comfort. Fenris heard the shift of fabric against stone and realized she must have sat down on the floor. Whatever she'd had to do to walk Hawke through the fade had drained her. She'd been pale-faced and weak ever since. He didn't understand magic well enough, and didn't want to. But he knew she'd spent much of herself for Hawke's sake.
All the more for Fenris to owe her, he supposed.
His fists clenched, gauntlets digging into palms
"He's not… stuck drooling and vapid forever or something, is he?"
"No, he's not."
"Possessed by a demon?" Fenris shuddered, felt the spikes of his gauntlets break through the skin.
"No," Merrill answered again, after a strange pause. He didn't know what that meant. He didn't want to even think about what it might mean. The back of his neck itched with the heat of Merrill's stare.
"Oh, for the love of… the way you two were acting…" Isabela patronized them with a strange, relieved giggle. "I mean yeah, okay, the book thing was shitty of me, but it's not like—"
"He should have died, Isabela," Fenris roared, "by all rights, for a few minutes he was dead. He bled for you and your book and I couldn't do anything but—" He cut himself off, his eyes shut tight, spiked gauntlets digging further into muscle and flesh. The sharp pain at his hands was all he had to hold onto.
"Oh," the thief murmured, anticlimactically. If he looked past his blinding rage he could see her, pacing now, her fingers twitching and fidgeting; a signal of her uncertainty. She stepped toward the balcony, toward Hawke's door, back and forth until she seemed to come to some decision. "And why couldn't you do anything?" She tested, eyes narrowing.
"Hawke agreed to a duel to the death," Merrill answered, before he could say anything more damning. Isabela laughed bitterly.
"A duel, eh?" She crossed her arms protectively over her chest. "If I'd have known the Qunari might agree to a duel I'd have proposed it myself."
"It wouldn't have mattered. It had to be Hawke. Only he was Basalit-an," he mused miserably, trying not to think too deeply about his own part in all of this. If he'd kept his damn mouth shut, if he'd realized Hawke had been injured…
"You seem to know an awful lot about it Fenris," Isabela prowled toward him like a cat on the hunt, her body coiled tight and ready to spring. She might draw her weapon on him herself if she'd figured it out already. He might not stop her.
"Oh please, both of you," Merrill's strained voice broke through their posturing. She'd pulled her knees to her chest, was sitting curled up and looking for all the world like a child. "Hawke didn't do anything he didn't want to. There's no sense passing the blame around when we all share it." That caught their attention.
"Explain," Fenris barked, not liking the way Merrill hid her face in her skirt. Her words came out muffled and strained.
"You heard Anders, didn't you? Hawke fought him. He didn't want to be saved."
"Didn't want to… are you kidding me? Are you actually saying that bastard used a duel as a way to kill himself?" Isabela cursed beneath her breath, back to her nervous pacing. Fenris only winced. He'd known as much already, hasn't he? Ever since he'd locked eyes with Hawke, just a moment before the duel began, just in time to see the resolve hardening there and too late to do anything but panic.
"I see no reason not to," Hawke had said, looking pointedly at him.
The guilt churned within him, threatened to swallow him whole.
"He might not have meant to die there, I don't know for sure. I just know… he didn't want to come back. Even when I came to get him in the Fade, he…" Merrill's words were broken by a sniffle. "Look, I promised him it would get better. I can't make that happen on my own."
She wanted him to help put Hawke's life back together? Give him something to live for? Pah. He had enough trouble finding that on his own. His rage was all he had; it was a drive and a poison. Hawke didn't need that. Hawke didn't need him. He'd already reasoned that out well enough. He growled in frustration at his own thoughts, finally growing enough backbone to stomp down the stairs to the front door.
"Where are you going?" Isabela called after him, accusing. He didn't answer. The door slamming shut behind him did the talking well enough.