Sign of the Maker chapter 11
Sebastian Vael's feet pounded the cobbles of Kirkwall as he tore through the busy streets and towards where he hoped he would find Anders. This couldn't be happening, couldn't be happening. After the headway he had made recently in speaking to the Grand Cleric, in working towards an understanding with the apostate
had it really all been torn apart by a simple choice from a man he idolised as a hero and role model? A man who had given Sebastian's own life a purpose once more?
Sebastian's mind was, as ever, cleft in two. That part of him that was the Prince of Starkhaven held deep admiration for Alistair's tactical planning and for the support he was drawing to his cause. His campaign made perfect sense, his choices was solid, and Sebastian was proud to play his part; his heart swelling for the man even as he saw how these games of politics tortured him. But the other part of him, that part that was priest and friend, that part that believed peace could be achieved through devotion to the Maker and through allowing his creations to find their own path
that part of him was on fire. He needed to speak to Anders; now.
Turning a corner too quickly, the archer nearly collided with a small group of elves. Stuttering out an apology, he continued on ignoring their shouts in his haste to get to the mage, to get to the man for whose soul Sebastian felt he was fighting a losing battle. He had known forces would find a way to conspire around the apostate, they always had and they always would
but to think that, this time, he himself had been a pawn in their making
Ignoring the complaining muscles in his legs, he kept on running, biting down on the anger and frustration that clawed at him.
He could still see the shocked expression the King had adopted as Sebastian had reeled against the account he'd been told. He could hear vividly the sound his glass had made as it had smashed on the King's chamber floor; Sebastian's strong fingers, all too used to prayer and bowstrings, finding themselves weak in the face of this revelation. Alistair had knelt to pick up the pieces then, as if some deep-rooted shame he himself felt over his discourse with Anders had been illuminated by the sparkling shards. He had seemed grateful for the chance to hide his face, and Sebastian had looked down on that bowed, golden head in bemused shock; distressed at the decision the man had made, but unable to feel angry at him for it.
Alistair didn't, couldn't know of Anders's treatment in the circle. He certainly didn't know about Justice, and how the spirit had warped and twisted the mage's ideals and thoughts. His offer had been made to Anders the Grey Warden, not Anders the Abomination. It had been made with good faith in the man Anders had once been, without full knowledge of the man he had become. But it had been made
and Sebastian could only imagine with horror what it had done to the mage's fragile and fledgling sense of hope.
And as he had sat there, his mind reeling; and as he had explained hurriedly that he needed to see Anders and that the choice may have pushed the mage over an unseen precipice, the King of Ferelden had knelt in front of Sebastian and picked up his broken glass like a servant. Abomination or not, no one in this city was just one person.
Sebastian's mind was pulled from his reverie by a sudden and solid contact with another body. Stopping in his tracks, he looked down with wide eyes at Isabela's sprawled form. She in turn looked up at him, blowing a stray strand of hair from in front of her face.
"Well, when I imagined you sweeping me off of my feet...this wasn't quite how I'd pictured it."
"I'm so sorry. I'm sorry."
In a brisk, smooth movement, the Prince pulled the pirate to her feet, so fast that she nearly toppled right back over before stepping forward and using a hand against his chest plate to right herself. Hands out in an apologetic gesture, Sebastian was already edging around her as if to make a break for it. He just didn't have time to...
"Hold it, bright eyes. Just where are you tearing off to?"
Sebastian looked down at the tanned arm that contrasted with his white armour, where it was hooked with surprising strength; though not enough to stop him pulling away, causing the pirate to firmly grasp his wrist instead.
"Isabela, I have no time to..."
"Sweet thing, you look like a man about to do something stupid."
"I fear I may have already done that. Now please, unhand me, Isabela"
"Not until you tell me where you're going."
Sebastian shook his head in frustration, biting his lip. Maybe it was wise to have backup. He didn't know, honestly didn't know what he would find when he saw Anders. What would Justice have made of Alistair's ultimatum? But then again, the last time he had approached the mage with someone else, look what had happened. He alone had been entrusted with Anders's tears and his past. With a wrench soft enough so as not to hurt Isabela, he retracted his arm and made to turn, shouting over his shoulder as he did, "The clinic. Bring Hawke if you can."
And then he was running. Not to the clinic, but to Hawke's estate. If Anders was still in any part the man Sebastian wanted to save, that's where he'd be.
Cortland smiled at the sound of a familiar voice and turned with a mocking, sweeping bow towards his favourite female pirate. Well, she was the only one he knew but she was still his favourite. Raising an eyebrow at her breathless state, he couldn't resist a dig.
"Well, either you're excited to see me, or some other lucky sod is only just wiping himself down."
Isabela's face looked...odd. Different. Serious. Forgetting his cheek, Cortland stepped closer and put a hand on her arm as she panted and regained her breath, urging her to speak.
"The storm is coming, Hawke. Something...something bad."
"What? You're not making any sense, Isabela. Breathe first, talk second."
The pirate drew in a slow breath and stood upright.
"Sebastian, he was running. Looked like Starkhaven had just burned down or something, he said to bring you with me."
Hawke felt that all too familiar click in his mind. That transition from Cortland to Champion. There was a time when he would have resented the demands placed on him, but knowing he could help those around him, knowing how they would do the same in a heartbeat for him, the transformation had become easier. If Anders could give so much of himself every day for strangers, Cortland would do what he could for their friends. He pocketed the trinket he'd picked up in hightown; he could give it to his mage later. Right now, Sebastian needed him.
"Where was he headed, Isabela?"
"The...the clinic. Anders's clinic."
Cortland's heart paused, his clothes suddenly feeling too heavy, too tight for his frame. This was an altogether different click, and a different transition. Struggling not to panic, he reached inside himself for that resolve he'd relied upon so often and, without a further word, he turned on his heel and ran.
Anders. Anders was in trouble. His Anders was in trouble.
Anders visibly jumped as Sebastian burst through Hawke's front door. Surprising himself, Sebastian felt a rush of relief at finding the mage here; his hopes being answered. The man's eyes were red, his hair dishevelled, he'd obviously been crying. Somehow this comforted Sebastian. Better the man weep than lash out.
"You...came here to say good bye to Hawke, didn't you?"
Anders didn't speak. He rose from where he'd been crouched in front of Sandal and turned to face the Prince, his expression blank and hard to read. The dwarf boy didn't seem to react to Sebastian's intrusion at all, just gazed for a little while at the apostate, and then, with a smile, left the entrance hall...happily burbling about salamanders. The two men looked at each other in silence for a while, as Sebastian recalled the last time he'd spoken to Anders. The light he'd seen in the mage's eyes then had dimmed now; grown more determined but somehow darker. The guilt rose up in him again as he remembered the expression Anders had adopted on catching sight of King Alistair, and he stepped forward, stumbling over his words a little.
"I'm...I'm so sorry, Anders. I didn't...I didn't know what he'd ask. I understand if you hate me, but for the good of all, he...it's..."
Vael lifted his eyes to meet the mage's, and fell silent. The man was smiling. Not just that strained half-smile they had all come to know, but a genuine smile. Sebastian's fear gave way to confusion as Anders closed the gap between them and placed his hands on either side of the Prince's shoulders.
"It's okay. It's alright."
"It's okay? You don't mean that. I know how hard his offer must have been for you. I want you to talk about it."
"There's nothing to talk about, Sebastian. Alistair made his offer. He's...a good man. A good King. I know he only wants to do what's right for us all. And so do I."
Sebastian shook his head in disbelief.
"You're going to accept then? The circle?"
Anders smiled again and closed his eyes as he gently rocked his head, "no."
"But, you came here to say good bye, didn't you?"
"Then...what?" Something cold coiled within Sebastian. Not the third option. Maker, not that. Flashes of the mage sobbing in his lap blurred his vision. "Anders, I've been talking to Elthina. It has begun. We can do so much good, you and I."
"And we will. We will change everything. But our plan is not his plan."
Anders laughed and his grip on Sebastian's shoulders dropped as he let his arms fall casually to his sides, his face looking almost serene. Like he'd let go of something more than the Prince. "No, not Alistair's. Sebastian, thank you. You have opened my ears to words I would not have heard before. I'm..." His eyes lowered, lashes casting long shadows on his face in the flickering firelight "...I'm sorry, for what it's worth. I know you won't forgive me when the time comes. But...our roles have been set, yours and mine. We can only accept them."
Sebastian's eyes narrowed as his mind reeled. Something was wrong, so very, very wrong. But the mage held a quiet smile and the Prince couldn't help but feel elated at the lack of anger here. Anger he had expected and deserved for his betrayal of the man's trust. He wanted to accept this. He wanted to believe that everything was better now. His soul screamed that it was not.
"What will I need to forgive, Anders?"
For just a moment, just one brief moment, Sebastian was hit square in the face with an expression that chilled his core. A sorrow that penetrated and then was gone as soon as it came, replaced once more by that gentle smile. "Everything."
If Anders had been prepared to offer any more information, Sebastian would never learn it. All of a sudden, the poor front door was hurled open once again, this time by its owner. Hawke was followed by an exhausted looking Isabela, and his face was a picture of worry.
"Anders! Are you here? Anders! We tried the clinic and..."
Isabela gave a surprised glance towards Sebastian, the obvious question unspoken, but heard all the same.
"I'm here, Cortland." Anders turned his head to greet the rogue and Sebastian at once felt like an observer on this moment; a shadow in the room as Hawke walked slowly towards the mage, his eyes fixed on the blonde's face, his fingers stiff. Without a word or a glance anywhere else, he swept the taller man into his arms, crushing the apostate's frame in his arms. Anders let his eyes close and when he opened them, they were pained; traces of that bottomless sorrow remaining. He allowed this moment, even allowed his arms to circle the Champion in kind, but his expression betrayed the gesture, and the Prince could see it. A glance from Anders over Hawke's shoulder told the archer in no uncertain terms that he should go.
Sebastian backed away slowly, catching a hold of Isabela's arm as he passed her. She gave an affronted look. "What? But it just got good."
Sebastian gave a final glance to Hawke and his mage, a frown fixing his features. It seemed enough, and Isabela read his face as she nodded.
As the pair of them stepped out into High Town's quiet streets, Isabela hugged her arms.
"So, what exactly was the rush about? And the wild goose-chase you sent us on? Did you even think Anders would be at the clinic? You scared us out of our wits, bad boy. I've never seen Hawke so...sexy." Her tone did nothing to aid her attempted humor. She sounded shaken. Sebastian found it hard to answer. After a few moments, he realized that he was standing dumb, fists clenched. He shook himself and gave an apologetic look to Isabela.
"I'm sorry to worry you. I...I'm not sure myself. I need to think. I need," he raked a hand through his swept back hair "I need to see Elthina."
Isabela gave a smile, doing a good job at covering up any distress his all-too-obvious concern may be causing her. "You look like you need a drink."
Sebastian offered a chuckle at that. "The last drink I tried to accept today ended up on the floor."
"What a wastrel you are, Prince Vael. Look, why don't I buy you a drink with a lid, and then I'll walk with you to the chantry? I could do with some company myself, if you'll oblige a possibly paranoid pirate?"
Sebastian tried to shake the bad feelings in his head. He feared for Anders's life, he feared for his soul. But something bigger had been there behind those brown eyes. Justice screamed out from behind a placid smile. Sebastian had so many questions, but maybe they were for Anders, and not really for the Grand Cleric. What did he expect her to say, after all? He had always relied on her strength, but how did that make him any better than a ravaged city that expected her to make it all better with a word? His adding to her burdens would not help. Right now, Anders was with Hawke. Hawke could reach him. Hawke would fix this. He always did. Yet again, Sebastian felt like just a small part of something much larger; like somewhere wheels were turning far beyond his mortal reach. Disconcerting thoughts and a sense of foreboding pulled at his heart as he replayed Anders's words and, inside him, he felt the familiar yearning to call on the Maker for guidance. To ask for a sign. That need burned at him...Always laying the burden elsewhere, Sebastian? Always looking to someone else to make that call? No. If he was to lead, he had to learn to rely on his own strength.
Looking towards the sky, his lips formed around the only question that he could give voice to right now. "Isabela. You once said I was a good man
do you believe that?"
The pirate glanced up at him, cocking her head to one side. Moving to stand in front of him, she reached up her hands to cup his face gently, tenderly, making him tilt his features to look into hers.
"I believe it."
"Why, when I'm not even sure myself?"
"Because, sweet thing
only a truly good man ever asks that question of himself."
Sebastian closed his eyes and sank into those words, breathed them in and tried with all his might to believe them. With a sudden rush of decisiveness, he reached for the pirate's hand and squeezed.
"You know? I will join you for that drink. But I'll be buying."
The pair barely noticed the messenger walk past them to post a letter through Hawke's door. It bore the seal of the First Enchanter...and would change everything. They walked to the hanged man, neither one with any idea that the pirate had just saved the Prince's life.
"Cortland...let me go. Please."
As if it hurt him to do so, Cortland Hawke pulled reluctantly back from his mage and searched that face with questioning eyes. Now that everything seemed still, he felt slightly foolish for charging in here like a lovesick idiot. What was it about this man that could reduce him to a quivering wreck? When he and Isabela had failed to find Anders at the clinic, Hawke's imagination had run wild. He'd run to the mansion in a panic, in desperate hope of finding the healer there; every step taking too long. Without even knowing why Sebastian had been worried, he had acted like a madman. It only served to remind him again of just how frighteningly, powerfully, he was drawn to the mage. Since the day he'd first seen him, he'd wanted him. And even now, despite the coldness, the quiet times, the silences, he lived for those moments in between. Those briefest of smiles, those kisses stolen before Justice had a chance to intercede. Because he had to tell himself that it was Justice and not Anders himself who brought the shadows. There was a time when Anders had needed him in the same way; had trusted him. A time when he had faced the darkest of fears just to stay at Cortland's side. Now, all Hawke saw in front of him was a precious gem that he apparently couldn't afford.
"What's wrong? Sebastian was worried. What did the King say?"
Warmth covered his right hand suddenly as Anders took hold of it and brought it to his lips. Cortland allowed himself a shudder as he felt the feather touch of the mage's mouth on his skin, though all the while his heart felt like it was being strangled.
"Cortland, you have been the one, bright light in my life. You know that, right?"
Hawke swallowed and gulped out "...but?"
"But I cannot ask you to stay by my side any longer."
The rogue shivered, feeling the sturdy floor of the mansion opening up beneath him.
"I once told you I wasn't going to let you go. What makes you think I would do so now?"
"Because this time, I'll be the one letting go. You have done nothing wrong. I only ask that you let me leave, and that you try to forgive me for what will come. Remember the man I was."
Cortland couldn't stop his hands reaching out, entwining themselves in the front of Anders's robe, gripping the material there as if he feared it would vanish, along with the body wearing it.
"No. No...you don't mean that. You can't..."
"Cortland. Hawke. Please." The mage's expression cracked a little, his brow furrowing. He bit down hard on his lip and pried Hawke's hands away. Cortland could only gape, his mouth working with no sound as his wrists were held gently by the man he loved, adored, lived for. "Please don't make this harder."
Suddenly words came easily to Hawke. "Harder for who? Harder for who, you bastard? Tell me why. You owe me that at least."
Anders flinched at the angry tones. Good. He bloody well should. Cortland geared himself up to say as much, but before he could, his mouth was covered as the mage's lips collided with his own. All thoughts fled the rogue's mind as he let himself sink into the sensation, savouring the warmth, the comfort as lips parted and hot breath mingled. Crushing himself as close to his love as he could, he freed his hands and wrapped his arms around Anders's body as it in turn pushed against him with a hunger he had missed so much it hurt. He wasn't sure when the tears had started to fall, or when they had coursed with Anders's own. Somewhere along the line the kiss had become a good bye, he knew it, and he didn't want it to end. With a hurt and broken sigh, Anders finally pulled away, wiping at his tears roughly with a sleeve, steeling his features to see this through. One last kiss was placed upon Cortland's forehead, so tender that it forced a choked sob from the rogue as he closed his eyes.
"I love you. I love you. I'm sorry."
But Anders was gone.
Cortland Hawke wrapped his arms around his shaking frame, leaned his back to the wall and sank slowly down to his knees. His mouth opened and closed in silent grief, unable to voice his feelings. The trinket he had bought the mage that afternoon jabbed into his thigh from its position in his pocket, and Hawke relished the small pain. Anything to distract him from this. From the weak, fragile thing he had become. He was still there on the floor when Bodhan approached him with a letter in hand, his kindly face filled with concern.
"Messer? I'm so sorry, I am. Only this letter...it's quite urgent I think. It's from First Enchanter Orsino and..."
Hawke looked at the dwarf, his cheeks wet.
"And what, Bodhan?"
"Well, going by the shouts I just heard out in the street, this letter may already be too late."
Cortland stemmed his tears and used the wall behind him to stand. He fixed his expression and felt that click. The transition from Cortland to Champion. And, this time, he didn't only accept it...he was glad of it.