Dragon Age, 9:34 – Act II: year six – future
"Hold my hand, Caela, you're dead on your feet and the last thing we need is for you to take a header off the gallows," Anders muttered, throwing out the appendage in offer.
I shoved it away with my free hand, repositioning my bundle, then pulling my cloak more firmly around my shoulders. "All I need right now is that damned Templar."
"He's late," observed the unhelpful Anders.
"Yes, I noticed." Which was peculiar for Cullen; he was never late before. Doesn't he realize how urgent this is? I thought despairingly, as I leaned into the wall of a nearby building. Anders moved instantly to wrap an arm around me, but I hissed at him, and he withdrew, hands thrown up in surrender. "Stop treating me as if I'm about to collapse."
"I'm surprised you haven't."
"I'm fine," I insisted for the hundredth time. I straightened my shoulders, despite the pain that ran up the length of my back and begged me to curl into a ball. I spoke through my teeth. "I hope you don't think that what just happened.. in the Sundermount caverns.. we're still not friends." I knew it was harsh to say, but I had to, I had to push him away.. he felt too impossibly close. There was a select few I would have chosen to endure that with and the last one on that list would have been Anders. Yet, there I was, standing in the shadows of Kirkwall, late at night, frozen to my bones, having just limped my way from Sundermount to the Chantry, leaning into his shoulders.
"Wouldn't want to give Fenris that impression, would we?" replied Anders. "Can't have his girlfriend befriending an abomination." He really withdrew then, bitterly, crossing his arms over his chest and moving away to stand against one of the distant support beams.
I felt my free hand twitch, meaning to reach out at him, but I clenched it into a fist. It wasn't because I wanted him, truly. Selfishly, I didn't want him to leave me there, alone. It was true that I'd said that we weren't friends, merely because my thoughts had gone to Fenris. If he saw me as I was then.. hair matted with sweat, legs shaking beneath my weight... holding the hand of a hated companion...? No. If Fenris saw that, it would have only pried more distant between us, and I wouldn't have been able to cope.
Instead of speaking, Anders gazed up at the Chantry, towering over everything, just across the way.
Every second that passed tightened my nerves. I wanted Cullen to take my burden before it could hurt me any more and yet, as the silence dragged on, I shifted the bundle and held it to my face, burying myself there, feeling the warmth graze my cheek and neck and lips. I'm so sorry,I thought, then lifted my head at the sound of running footsteps.
"Caela?" came the call. "Is that you?"
"Cullen," and my voice shook with my relief. I pushed myself up from the wall with a new strength I'd not had moments ago and embraced the Templar I'd known all my life. He pulled away, to glance uncertainly at Anders, who was watching us, then Cullen's eyes went down, between us.
"Tera.." he whispered, out of Anders' earshot, his eyebrows knitting together.
"Just take it," I told him, and used my free hand to grip his forearm. He wasn't wearing his Templar armor; he must have been off duty, wearing the clothes of any common man. "Do this for me."
"Are you sure?" he asked. There was still confusion in his face as he lifted his eyes to mine.
"I've never been more sure about anything in all my life."
"Very well, I trust your judgment."
As I handed Cullen the bundle, and he held it awkwardly against his chest. I was consumed abruptly with the gratefulness I felt to these two men. I owed them, for their silence, their grudging understanding, the questions unasked. Of both I should have hated; one a mage given over to a spirit of the Fade and the other a Templar, trained to capture me. The irony of it was bitter. Yet, I felt at that moment, emotional and raw and nothing like myself. I had to let them know I appreciated it, if I ever did anything for them. "Thank you," I breathed to him, for everything.
"Of course, Caela." The name felt off on his tongue. Cullen must have been remembering the time that I'd returned to the Circle of Fereldan, as a Grey Warden named Tera Amell, whom purged the tower of the corruption that threatened his life. Or was he seeing the sixteen year old me, that had pulled pranks with an ancient best friend, Jowan, on him and his newly graduated Templar troop on their first day at the Circle?
"And you," I said, turning toward Anders. "If you hadn't come.."
"Let's just be glad I did," he said, and I saw the warmth touch his eyes briefly, before he remembered we're supposed to be heated enemies. Anders slid his gaze Cullen's way. "Can he be trusted?"
"I'd trust Cullen with my life," I responded, eliciting a smile from the Templar.
"Not all Templars are awful," said Cullen and Anders merely shrugged indifferently, turning away and looking about the square. "I must be getting back though," he continued, to me. "I'll be sure that the Chantry receives your gift."
I shook my head, faintly amused. "Gift, huh?"
"Every child is a gift, Tera. From the Maker," he whispered.
I pursed my lips at his words. The free hand I had against his arm moved and reached for the bundle sandwiched between his arm and his chest. I shifted the robes that Anders used to swaddle the infant and my fingertips briefly ghosted across the child's flushed, apple-red cheek. "This gift is not for me," I breathed, the air a puff of white in the winter cold. "I'm not the child's mother. I can't be a mother."
"I understand." I continued to gaze down on the Maker's creation for several seconds. Cullen spoke, awkward and curious, "What are you thinking about?"
I smiled up at him, thinly. "Of how Alistair hated his life in the Chantry.." and it ached to say that name, the smile stolen from my lips as fast as the breath in my lungs. "I'm trying to convince myself that the Chantry will be different to this child. There is no where else. Take it away, please, walk away. I don't think I can."
Cullen nodded, drawing the coverings back over the child's face and then he turned his back to me, walking calmly across the square, toward the steps that led up to the Chantry. I drew in deep breaths as I watched, and Anders came up behind me, resting a hand against my shoulder. "Come on, Hawke, you need some rest and another good dose of healing. You can stay in the Clinic tonight. Tomorrow, it's time for you to return to Kirkwall, publicly."
I thought of the months I'd spent in hiding. I remembered the night I'd left the city, not speaking to anyone. The whole city would be wondering what happened to their Champion, who had so suddenly left, in the year after her victory. Isabela came to mind; I'd invited her to share my big empty house with me after Leandra died, and then I abandoned her to it. All of them. I'd abandoned them for my own personal reasons, just as I had done in Denerim..
I peered at Anders out the corner of my eye. "How are they?" I asked. "All of them."
"I wouldn't know, the group sort of scattered after you left. Varric tries, but it's not the same. For a few weeks I know he had got Merrill and Aveline to search for you with him. Isabela merely said you'd be back, and enjoyed the free hospitality of your estate."
"Haven't seen that blighter's face for some time. Not that there's a reason to be upset about it."
I took a deep breath, turning away from the Chantry to face Anders. I found myself being scrutinized by his eyes, they were brown, warm in color, yet hardened by the intensity. I worried myself not over Fenris or the others, but about Justice, or Vengeance, or whatever his name was, and if it was time for Anders to question me about the desire demon.
"I was just as terrified as you, you know," he murmured, finally. "I'd never delivered a baby before."
Relieved, I sighed. "Me either," I said, eyes closing slightly, recalling the terror that had gripped me, the pain that the labor brought on, the way I clung to Anders' hand as he fretfully told me what do to, though neither of us knew exactly. It was both humiliating and degrading, for it to be him, to see me in that state, but it was also.. bonding, in some way, when he handed me my child, proud of himself, for not letting either of us die, and that we clawed our way through it, together, two unlikely allies.
"I think I'm going to collapse now," I said. Anders laughed, a loud, abrupt sound and I raised an eyebrow, accepting the arm he held out to me. "Since when do you laugh?"
"Since you left town," he retorted, and though it would have offended me months ago I smiled then.
"I really was awful to you," I murmured tiredly, allowing him to lead me away from the Chantry, easily finding a flight of stairs that would bring us to Dark Town. "I am sorry."
"I think I can be the bigger person and put it behind me. Justice would like that."
"Justice is a decent fellow. For a spirit from the Fade."
"Really?" Anders' voice was wiry. "He thinks you're very selfish."
"Then he's smart, too," I replied, beyond caring. We fell into silence.
I'd always rejected Anders, from the moment Varric told me there was a Grey Warden in Kirkwall, before I even saw his face. It had not mattered to me that he was an abomination until later. Anders had, at one point, represented to me my failings. He was someone who might have ruined everything I'd worked to build in Kirkwall. I used to wonder all the time, if Anders was really a Grey Warden. The taint was so faint in him. When I'd first met him I had thought Varric told me false; he couldn't be a Warden, I had been sure of it, because I couldn't feel the same corruption in him as I had in Alistair..
After a few months I merely came to the conclusion that Alistair and I were two special cases of Grey Warden. We were closely tied to the Archdemon, in the most recent Blight. Its blood had once lain across our flesh and we had been targeted by it personally. And perhaps, Justice strengthen Anders against the taint, helped purify him. The thought was an enlightening one, to know a benefit that came from their merge, but I still questioned the security of being intertwined with a spirit from the Fade.
Another part of me feared Justice, for my own reasons; could Justice see through me? I had once worried myself over that. If the spirit could aid Anders, by loosening the hold of the taint on him, could the spirit sense the darkspawn blood in me?
Soon after those thoughts came to me, I'd come to realize that it was impossible for him to know. Unless someone was a seasoned Grey Warden, who could sense the taint like I could, I doubted anyone would be calling me out on my false identity, for that reason.
"I should go to Isabela and Aveline in the morning," I said when the Clinic was in sight. "Then to Varric in the Hanged Man, and after that, everyone will know I'm back. That dwarf can't keep his mouth to himself for all the coin in the world."
Anders nodded absently to my plan. Then asked, "And your siblings?"
"Bethany is out of contact," I said immediately, and then my face darkened when my thoughts strayed to Carver. "My brother won't be happy that I'm back."
"I'm sure that he–"
"He hates me. He became a Templar in spite of me, stop defending him."
You remember when he tried to arrest me, I thought bitterly, you were there that day, helping me, then, too. And I lurched suddenly, just before we entered the Clinic door, swinging my arms around his neck in a hug. It was awkward and felt strange, but eventually Anders' arms found my waist and returned it.
"Thank you," I told him in his ear, closing my eyes, "for being my friend all along."