Ashes from the burning chantry remains dance their way across the courtyard, ticking off the seconds, minutes of silence, before it is finally broken by a small, choked voice that can wait in silence no more.
"You hate me right now, don't you? You want to make me hurt, make me suffer; pay for what I've done. And yet, somehow, I'm under your skin. Unbidden, I have crept into the deepest parts of you until
until you cannot conceive of a world without me in it. And you hate me all the more for it."
The dagger at the speaker's back pauses. The hand holding it shakes.
"Ask me how I know."
Cortland Hawke bites down hard on his lower lip as his fingers twitch on the knife's hilt. Is it to stop his mouth from answering the question? As blood is drawn from the wounds his teeth inflict he realises that, no, he just needed to feel
something. Slight though it is, the pain is something different. It's not here. It's not
The blond head in front of him is dipped. Long, white, shaking fingers weave their way through pulled back hair; their owner grasping his own head as if he's trying to stop his very brain from escaping. It probably wants to.
"Ask me how I know, or finish this now!"
The voice is raised now, raw with emotion. His head dips even futher, exposing the back of the apostate's neck as it protrudes tantalisingly from inside a wide collar. It's inviting a blade, an answer, an end.
When it feels like a response won't come, the hands withdraw from dirty blonde hair, the head raises and its owner moves so fast that Hawke doesn't have time to react. A champion rogue out-manoeuvred by a grey warden mage. Cortland's eyes widen as he takes in the new position in which he finds himself.
Anders no longer has his back turned. His passive invitation has been withdrawn, it seems. He is standing, facing Hawke, hands circling those of the rogue and the blade he's holding. Finesse's blade-tip nestles gently at the clasp of that ridiculous feathered pouldron, its thirsty steel already drawing a trickle of blood that plays downward until it's hidden beneath more clothing. Hawke swallows hard as he forces his gaze to climb up. Damn you, Anders. Maker damn you for making me see your face. As his lips form a word, he's all too aware that it would take very little effort right now for Anders to simply weave a spell and remove Hawke from his life permanently. As little effort as it would take Hawke to thrust forward with that blade.
The mage's chest is heaving, each broad inhale causing the blade to nick further at his skin. His amber eyes swim dangerously with more emotion that it seems possible for one human to contain as he locks them to Hawke's own. He spits out the answer.
"Because I feel exactly the same way about you."
They hold their position. Hatred. Respect. Friends. Enemies.
The wait is evidently too much for their onlookers, and it is the Prince of Starkhaven who breaks the silence first. "For the love of the maker, Hawke. What are you doing? Finish this." As he steps towards the pair, a low voice joins his own. "Sebastian speaks sense, Hawke. Tell the arrogant mage he's wrong and do what he's asking you to. He wants to die. Finish this." Fenris barely manages to hide the snarl on his lips that says he can't believe they're even having this discussion.
Hawke risks a sideways glance at his companions, aware of Anders's hands as they pull the dagger towards the goal it was so intent on reaching just minutes ago. He wants to die.
"Stand down, both of you!" The strength of his shout surprises even him. Merrill's squeak as she grabs Aveline's arm suggests he's not the only one surprised.
Fenris pauses, his stance cautious. "Hawke" He speaks slowly, precisely "Tell him he's wrong."
Hawke's eyes rake back from the elf to the broken, defiant, infuriating, weary-looking man in front of him. The man who, but for Cortland's own grasp, would have buried that blade deep within himself by now. A realisation hits home. The knowledge that, if Hawke had half the conviction that Anders had, the warden mage would have been dead the moment Finesse was drawn. A clatter rings out as Hawke releases the blade, letting the small dagger fall to the cobbles. Anders's hands are left hovering; wielding an invisible weapon, but one that's pointed as firmly at his heart as the real blade ever was.
Three voices. The third one suprises him. Anders looks as horrified as Sebastian and Fenris as the blade drops. Not missing a beat, he falls to his knees, grabs up the weapon and bends his head over it, blade at this throat. The world seemingly pauses as his comrades watch him groan and rock on his heels, hot tears forcing their way out and onto his cheeks. Merrill buries her face in Aveline's shoulder, unable to watch, as Aveline herself lowers her face into the elf's dark hair. Varric looks at the ground, an overwhelmingly sad look on his features. Isabela frowns at Hawke, as an intelligence she usually hides so well reveals itself to say you failed him.
But no one moves to help Anders. They can't watch, but they won't intercede either.
A strangled moan makes its way out of the apostate's throat. Then something unseen shakes him violently, and his arm moves unnaturally, flinging the blade to the ground once again. Justice. On all fours now, Anders lets his head drop for just a moment; tears of frustration and anger drip onto the cold stone beneath him as he takes in a deep, gasping breath. Before his observers' shocked eyes he rocks back onto his knees, lets his arms fall limply to his sides, tips back his head and lets out a raw and painful sound. It swells from a mournful cry to something primal and unworldly. Sebastian can only close his eyes in horror, and even Fenris finds himself looking away, unable to process the broken and piercing noise. Hawke feels his face contorting with grief for the man, but he cannot look away.
You would have had me end your life because you cannot. You would have left me to clean up the mess you made. Justice will not allow you so easy an escape, and I thank him for that. Your punishment is not death, Anders. Your punishment is living.
As his body gains control of itself again, Hawke starts to move towards the apostate. The cry has taken whatever energy Anders had left from him. He kneels, shoulders slumped, staring almost curiously at the ashes that swirl and dance on the wind, as if he had honestly not expected to be around to see them. Hawke removes his dagger from limp hands and resheathes it at his hip. Then he reaches down a hand. Anders lets his eyes slowly, slowly trail towards the gesture. His lips move, but the words can barely be heard.
"Tell me I'm wrong."
Cortland closes his eyes and clenches his jaw. Silence is the only answer he can offer for now.