Then you'll be on your way, Shem."
"Understood. We won't impose on you for a minute longer than is absolutely necessary.
Anders could just make out their words as his brain dragged itself reluctantly into consciousness. His head was a wad of cotton, and it was with a great effort that he managed to open his eyes a crack to get his bearings.
The first person who had spoken was marching smartly away, towards red sails and treetops.
Dalish. The thought connected and Anders suddenly understood why he'd been unable to place the smells and sounds around him. He was outside. Far away from the city; from any city from the feel of it. Far away from Kirkwall.
Oh, Maker. He'd really done it. Memories hit him in a rush and a hand involuntarily went to his brow, pressing his temples as he squeezed his eyes back shut and fought against the horrible onslaught of emotion. He could see everyone's faces at the moment of the blast. He could hear Sebastian's violent threats. He could almost taste the bitterness and rage and heartache of his shameless need for death. He had wanted it so much, so much. But he could also feel Hawke's arms holding him strong as he had fought and snarled like an animal.
The shame of that stung his eyes as he lay here now, listening to gentle shuffling as the owner of the second voice rummaged through packs and occasionally took a long, drawn breath.
So, Anders the mage/warden/abomination was alive? That wasn't the plan. That had never been the plan. With trepidation he probed the quiet parts of his mind in search of Justice. He felt nothing. The spirit was silent and unresponsive and, as the chantry's demise played over and over in his memories, Anders felt horribly, horribly alone. He shouldn't be alive. He didn't deserve to be alive. It was all he could think.
With a grunt, he made himself sit up and look towards the red haired man who was crouched and muttering a little way away. Even from this angle Cortland looked tired and stern. His shoulders were high and his movements were stiff as he lined up potions and equipment that he was pulling from a large, leather bag. Muscle memory almost moved Anders forward right then. Should he wrap the smaller man in his arms? Nuzzle into his neck? Whisper his unsure thank yous for saving a life he wasn't sure he wanted? Then Anders heard echoes of the words Cortland had spat out back in Kirkwall.
Who said anything about forgiving you
And his arms instead wrapped around his own shivering form as he continued to let his eyes alone connect with the man who had given him back his life twice, and who probably now wished he'd not bothered that first time.
I never told him I'd make his life easy. I gave him every opportunity to leave, damnit. I gave him
what? A knife in his hand and the burden of my life on top of everything else?
Anders missed the steady voice of reason that Justice had provided. He missed having an internal sounding board. He willed the spirit to show himself; to assure him that the sacrifices he'd made and failed to make - had been for a reason.
The sacrifices he'd forced Hawke to make
But Justice remained silent.
His eyes moved back to the man crouched a few feet from him and, with a sudden shock, Anders realised that Cortland was looking at him. A flash of blue peered through unruly red looks as Hawke regarded the mage from over a shoulder.
It was a simple statement of fact, with little emotion to help suggest whether the speaker thought this was a good or bad thing. Absently, Anders remembered waking back in Hawke's estate after he and Sebastian had been trapped below the ground. It felt a long time ago. Cortland's eyes back then had been so sweet, so caring
his lips had spoken soft and comforting words. Now his words sounded cold, his blue eyes were less warm waters and more ice.
And Anders had done this to him.
Cortland turned back to his work a fraction of a moment too quickly for it to feel natural. Anders struggled to breath. It was like the very air here was cloying, despite the fact that it was probably the freshest his lungs had taken in for a long time. He wondered if he still had the courage to die, but feared that the moment had passed.
"Why am I here?"
The rogue shifted a little, the movement in his shoulders suggesting he was now starting to restock the bag. "Merrill suggested we ask one of the Dalish clans in the area for shelter. This clan has offered us their hospitality for one night only."
"That's not what I mean." Anders shook his head and tried to ignore the way that Cortland's clipped tone cut through him. "
Why am I alive?"
"Because, for once, Justice and I were in agreement on something. You should be pleased."
Anders wasn't. This was suffocating him. The echoes of the rogue's arms that he still felt around him were fast moving from comforting to smothering. The shadows that had always stained the very edges of the man he loved, that had always threatened to rise up in him in darker moments, were now rolling over them both. Anders had to say something, anything to connect to this person again. He scrambled for words; sifted through the myriad questions in his battered mind for the ones that might do the least damage.
"Where is everyone?"
"Gone. It was safer that way. We'll regroup with
some of them. Tomorrow."
Some of them. Some of them
.but not all of them.
"Hawke, I'm sor-"
The apology died in his throat as, in a moment, Anders found himself thrown back to the floor; his arms pinned either side of his head, the wind knocked from him as Hawke's solid frame straddled his own. The rogue's face, leaning in close, was twisted with a fury that made Anders want to close his eyes and hide from it, but he forced them to accept this. He forced himself to see the damage he had done.
"Don't!" Cortland near bellowed "Don't you dare say you're sorry. You have no right to use those words. They have no place here."
The pressure on Anders's wrists was painful, but not as painful as what was happening to his heart. Was this man really Cortland Hawke? Was this the man who had saved his life?
"What are you?..."
"Do you understand me, mage? You will not use those words until you have earned the right to use them again."
How many times had Anders felt himself at the mercy of this man? It was more than he could count
yet he had always felt utterly safe at the same time. They had always walked a narrow line in the bedroom, Cortland's possessive streak taking them down paths that shocked them both. But there had always been trust.
Anders had never felt in danger from the Champion the way he did now. And he had never, never been called 'mage' by his Cortland. Despite it all, despite his hopelessness and despite how little his life mattered right now, he felt a familiar flame of defiance rising up in him.
"Get off of me. Let me go."
Silence was his only answer, as Hawke's eyes bored into what was left of his soul. He tried to move his arms, but Cortland pushed down harder. He tried to move his legs, but Cortland's knee pushed into his hip and made him cry out instead.
"Get off of me, I said! Hawke!"
His wrists flexed and grew hot and he watched Cortland's face wince a little as controlled curls of fire licked at the places where their flesh joined. The hesitation was all Anders needed to push forwards and throw the rogue back with a shout. Cortland's cat-like reflexes stopped him from falling, and he stopped on one knee, hurt creeping in and mixing with the fury in his eyes. Anders staggered to his feet, rubbing at his wrists, his chest heaving. He had never, ever needed to be scared of Cortland. He had never, ever been on the receiving end of the raw power packed into that small frame. He had never been on the wrong side of that 'click' Cortland used to talk about.
"What the hell is wrong with you? You want to kill me
well, go ahead! You deserve it."
Blue eyes gleamed. They were so, so good at concealing their secrets. Anders could only guess as to what was going on behind them until the words that flew from the rogue helped him to understand.
"You destroyed everything! You took everything I had left; everything I had built. You watched Kirkwall burn and you expected me to carry the ashes. You even expected me to
" The rogue's lips moved a few more times but produced no sound, his anger clearly making it hard even to form words.
Anders swallowed, his own anger fuelling words that took him by surprise "I did what I always said I would do! I said there was no one in Kirkwall I wouldn't kill to see mages freed. I said I would break your heart. So you hate me now, is that it? So
what? You wanted to keep me alive so that you could show me just how much? Why the hell did you save me, Hawke?"
There was a flash, a moment of hesitation in those eyes. "I don't
I don't know yet."
That hurt. It hurt so much that Anders felt his own anger falter as something closer to despair took its place. His voice dropped to a hushed murmer as he asked "Do you want to kill me, Hawke? It's your right."
don't know that yet either."
Cortland's head dropped, his expression obscured as his shoulders shook with the strain he was under. But Anders could not muster sympathy easily. Whatever fragile walls Cortland had built in the apostate when he spared his life in Kirkwall were straining against a siege of emotions. Like too many colours, they could only form black, leaving him feeling something numb and nameless.
"Great. That's great Hawke. Well, I'll just wait here in purgatory while you make up your mind."
Turning and walking away from the little clearing and towards a thicker patch of trees, Anders tried to ignore the howl he heard behind him; tried to ignore the sounds of smashing glass and fists on wood. He didn't acknowledge the few scattered elves, wide-eyed and confused, who watched him walk. He didn't see the way the odd one would bow their head to him as he passed. He could only focus on moving one foot at a time and on feeling the blood that pulsed through his veins, defying his every wish by doing so. If he could end his life with a thought, he would do it. But his life was not his own to take. It was Cortland's.
And he would wait.