WARNING: This is not a pretty scene...there is blood and angst, so if you're not a fan of suffering, you may not want to read. But - underneath it all, it's something nice - honest. ^_~
"Anders…Anders where are you?"
Cortland Hawke tried not to wince at the embarrassingly girlish edge to his own voice as he stepped gingerly over the corpses of dragons and darkspawn littering the tunnel through which he walked. He was the Champion of Kirkwall, damn it all, not some weak-hearted…oh, Maker what did he just step in?
Pinching his lips together, Cortland scraped the bottom of his boot on a convenient patch of moss, gripped the handle of his dagger just a little tighter, and continued into the murky darkness.
Truth be told, he was getting anxious. Unlike the mage he was following, Cortland had no warden senses to tingle and alert him to darkspawn presence. Maybe coming in here alone hadn't been the wisest move, but he had been acting on reflex.
By the time they'd finally beaten down the main bulk of their enemy out on the coast's winding paths, the cavern that their healer had vanished into, pursued by a break-off group of darkspawn, had been heart-stoppingly quiet. Cortland couldn't make his mind up whether to feel relief or panic at that, so he had settled for anger as the easiest emotion to reach for. Leaving the others to report back, he had ventured into the rocky orifice; assuring them all that he'd give Anders a good beating for worrying them. And so here he was, treading in the occasional pile of goo and trying to swallow down the myriad fears plaguing his imagination.
Each body he found on the uneven ground lifted his spirits a little higher. One thing was pretty certain, and that was that their apostate had done them proud at least. He may be an idiot, but he was a bloody talented one.
"Anders? Where the bloody hell are you?"
Hawke continued to call out, his voice echoing disturbingly down the rocky passages.
It was as Hawke passed a sloping side passage that his rogue's ears pricked; hearing a whisper of a voice carrying through the tunnel.
Anders. It was Anders's voice alright. Feeling his pulse quickening, Hawke sheathed his dagger and forgot everything else as he dove for the side passage entrance. He caught himself just as the ground beneath him suddenly opened up into a steeper decline. Managing to stop himself from hurtling head-first, he scrabbled down the slope, hands braced against the narrow walls as his lips said 'Anders, Anders…' over and over like some kind of reassuring mantra. As he moved further down the passage he would occasionally hear his own name echoed back, each time a little louder, and the increasing volume allowed him to trace a path, but also to hear the undercurrents he had dreaded. Mentally he began preparing himself for what he'd find. In their relatively short time together, he'd seen his companions in various states of bloodied and broken, though normally it was Anders who knitted them all back together. Normally Anders wasn't the one in the broken and bloodied state. Cortland silently cursed his stubborn pride as, more and more, he began to acknowledge that he'd really been the one at fault here. A creeping guilt and something far worse slowly overcame him and replaced the anger entirely as he stumbled towards the rasping, broken voice that called him.
He and the mage had been engaged in some kind of insane and tormenting dance for months now. Flirting and teasing, but never quite taking things further in what felt like an infuriating power play. Cortland was used to being chased. He was not used to wanting to chase someone else. Being the chaser put him in a weaker position, and that wasn't somewhere he ever wanted to be. But Maker, Anders was good at this game and Hawke wanted him. In some kind of attempt to..what?...Ignore his rapidly growing feelings? Play hard to get?... Hawke had begun to skirt around the healer. He had purposely blanked the man, ignoring his pouty smile and honey eyes…and he hadn't been watching him as closely as his lusting parts wished he could. He hadn't been watching. He hadn't seen the number of darkspawn growing around the mage up there on the bluffs, targeting his tainted blood. He hadn't…damnit, damnit, damnit.
The voice was close now. Cortland turned a corner and suddenly all thoughts of dances and power plays were driven sharply from his mind; forced out by the overwhelming sight that confronted him.
He had found Anders. The mage was on the floor surrounded by loose rocks; his back against the cavern wall, his legs pinned down by a massive boulder. The hair that Hawke had long longed to stroke and tease was loose and sweat-soaked, the robes Hawke had dreamed of peeling back from that taunting body were bloodied…
And a vicious spike of rock jutted out from the mage's chest in a way that nearly forced a scream from Hawke's throat before his senses kicked in and told him that panicking would not help the ex-warden.
Even as he fumbled towards the man, his brain was piecing together what had happened. How Anders had managed to beat off his attackers, but then had stumbled down the sloped passage and fallen, his back hitting and being pierced by the angry wall as his movement dislodged loose stones and caused a miniature landslide. He stopped his brain and came close to where Anders slouched, crouching down and tentatively reaching out a hand to touch the pale, clammy face. Despite all their pretty words and glances, this was the first time he'd actually touched the mage. This wasn't how it should have been. This wasn't how it should have been…
Hardening his features so as not to allow his own fear to show, Cortland gave a half-hearted grin.
"Well, the other guys looked worse."
Anders managed a small smile at that, which quickly morphed into a wince as he tried to laugh. He gave a few short and pained breaths and lifted his eyes to meet Hawke's. They looked tired, hurt and – worst of all – horribly, horribly sad.
"Tell me what to do, Anders." Hawke's eyes were darting from the boulder crushing the mage's legs to the dagger-like protrusion at his chest. "Tell me what to do."
Anders nodded slowly, every movement clearly causing him pain. His voice was weak and small as he found unexpected words with a half-smile.
Cortland froze, his heart pounding at the request, against all odds. The dance was over, and this was not the way either of them had planned on it ending, but there it was. Leaning forward and taking great care not to touch the mage's battered and bleeding body, Hawke pressed his lips to Anders's. This was not the hungry clashing and biting and groping that Hawke had dreamed of their first kiss being. This wasn't the passionate collision that the pair of them had been working towards for so long. When their lips met now, it was soft and sweet and sad all at the same time. Hawke's hand cradled the mage's face, lifting his head for him as their breath mingled. A pained groan from the man made Cortland pull his head back and look earnestly into Anders's eyes.
Anders returned his gaze intently; speaking slowly and surely.
"Now, you stand up. You turn around…and you walk away."
The cavern span around Hawke as his brain caught up with what his ears were hearing.
"Cortland, please. Go."
The fact that Anders had used his name for the first time was lost on him as he fought not to let his confident mask slip. This wasn't happening. Couldn't be happening.
"You're a healer, aren't you? Heal yourself!"
"Stop being an idiot and let's get out of here. I'm not leaving you here, least of all after that!"
He started pushing at the boulder that crushed the mage's legs; throwing his weight behind it and hoping the physical exertion might jolt his mood into something less desperate and more determined. Anders started to speak again, laboured breaths and small whimpers of pain punctuating each line.
"Cortland, please. I…I don't want you to see. I don't…" Anders's voice bubbled a little as the brave face he had been maintaining for this long started to crumble "...I don't want you to watch me die."
Hawke tried desperately not to notice the small trickle of blood escaping from a corner of the healer's mouth. He swallowed hard and set his jaw.
"I have no intention of watching you die, you bastard. We're getting out of here. Your magic will return before you know it and – "
A trembling hand touched his own. Anders winced and yelped a little at the pain of moving his arm, but defiantly held Cortland's hand in his as he mustered what courage he had left.
"Leave me. It's over. It will probably be better for everyone in the long run, trust me."
Hawke abandoned the boulder with a cry of frustration.
"Like hell it will! Anders, you're stronger than this. You're the strongest man I know. This rock will not beat you!"
Grasping the blond's face in his hands, Hawke was close enough to watch as that last vestige of courage ebbed away and Anders's face crumpled; tears now falling freely onto his cheeks and mingling with blood and sweat..
"I'm not strong…not strong enough for this. Maker, it hurts. It hurts so much. Cortland…please. Just let me go."
"Listen to me, listen! You beat the circle. You out-ran the templars. You walked away from the grey-bloody-wardens! You're stronger than even you realise. You…" His own tears began to stream as he dropped his head to touch brows with the trembling mage. "You conquered me. And, believe me, that's a tougher feat than any of those other things I just mentioned. You beat me, Anders. You've won me… And I'm not bloody letting you go now. So don't you let me go."
After a short silence Cortland felt the mage swallow and shudder beneath him. Anders's lashes fluttered on his cheeks as he licked blood from his lips and began taking slow and steady breaths as if in preparation for something. He offered just one word, but it was a word that made Hawke shoot upright, his heart starting to beat again.
Was the rasped command.
Letting go of Anders's face, Hawke fumbled in his packs, his hands sweating, until he found a bottle of the blessed blue liquid. Holding the bottle carefully to Anders's lips, he tipped and watched the other man's throat move as he swallowed. Each tiny movement caused Anders to whimper as the rock that impaled his poor body aggravated the wound around it, and for all Hawke's pretty words, both men knew what would have to be done if Anders stood any hope of leaving this place alive. Cortland felt sick to his stomach just thinking about it. He wanted to scream and cry and project them both forwards, to a time when they were past what needed doing, to a time when Anders was recovering and they could discuss their future...A painfully rasping intake of air brought Hawke back to the very real moment they were in. Anders was looking at him, seeming to say so much with those eyes. There was doubt, fear, regret...but also a dose of determination as the lyirium worked its way through his frame. And that was the part that Hawke chose to keep and use.
He had a sudden realisation and reached back into his pack, retrieving a second bottle. This one was not blue. He'd almost forgotten about Sol's gift, but right now he said a silent thank you to the man as he necked the foul stuff. Feeling a tremendous rush of adrenaline, Hawke reluctantly left Anders's face and moved to his legs. With a grunt and a shout of pure will, Cortland pushed against the heavy rock with shoulders and hands alike. Every muscle strained in his frame and he couldn't stop the primal cry that he emitted as he channelled every ounce of strength he had into moving the cursed thing off of the healer's legs, but Maker be thanked, it moved. It moved and Anders gave a choked sob at the sensation, but bit down on his lip and suppressed his groans as he tried to keep still to minimise the pain.
Hawke didn't pause once the boulder had been rolled clear. Trying not to look too long at the damage it had caused, he moved quickly back to the apostate's upper body and the task that they couldn't put off any longer. Anders glanced briefly down at the foreign object that jutted out unnaturally from his own chest, and at the frightening levels of blood that it had helped spew out onto his robes. Then he closed his eyes and took a few panting breaths. Flexing the fingers of his right hand, he tested his flow of mana, and Hawke took some small pleasure in the sparks that crackled there. The cavern seemed to grow even more still and silent as both men took this moment to simply be. Then, Anders looked back into Hawke's eyes, almost imperceptibly giving a nod. Cortland braced his arms and body against the mage and prepared himself to pull and support, as Anders shifted his hands so that they sat, palms-down on the ground, forcing his arms to take his weight with a strangled cry. They paused, and the blond let his face harden to stone, ready. Cortland whispered "I love you" and, with that, Anders moved.
Cortland made himself focus on the slow movement of the body in his arms, on making sure that it moved smoothly forwards and away from the rock. He tried with all his might to ignore the screams and cries. Horrible, gut-wrenching sounds that started as grunts and groans and then grew and grew until it seemed like Anders's very life force was escaping him in sound. Occasionally they would reach a climax and the mage would bite down on the sound, gulp a few ragged breaths and start the cycle again. All the while, Hawke could feel the throb and pulse of magic, as the healer desperately tried to knit together his torn flesh even as the rock ripped it apart. The hands that Hawke had braced on Anders's back and stomach were now wet with blood, but ready for that moment when the blond's form was finally clear from the jutting rock.
As the last inches of the bloody spike finally revealed themselves behind Anders, Cortland tried hard not to think about how quiet the mage had suddenly become. With a huge measure of control, he carefully, carefully lowered the punctured and broken body in his arms so that it was lying on the floor of the cavern. Anders's eyes were closed, his lips parted, but the smallest flutter at his clavicle showed his pulse still beat, by some miracle. Blood was everywhere, in such great quantities that Hawke almost gave in to hopelessness. But something in him made him shake himself and slap the mage's cheeks, startling him back to painful consciousness.
"Anders! You can't rest yet. Not yet. Not until you're certain you won't bleed to death. Keep healing yourself."
As the mage groaned weakly in acceptance and flooded healing magic through his battered form a few more times, Hawke used his more rudimentary skills to tightly wrap a section he tore from Anders's robes around the ex-warden's chest in some effort to slow further bleeding. Soon, the only sounds Anders could make were soft gasps and panting breaths, as consciousness slipped away once more. Hawke made a careful appraisal of the body in front of him, decided it was enough, and carefully lifted the surprisingly light frame in his arms. Anders's pale, exhausted, blood-covered face lolled against Cortland's chest, shallow breaths from the man the only sign that he was even alive, but they were enough for Hawke. He leaned down and kissed the brow of the body that he cradled. Then, on shaking legs, he climbed back out of the tunnel, along the dark passages and out into the sun, bearing his burden as if it were the most precious of gems. He couldn't help but wonder, if their roles had been reversed, whether he'd have had the strength to do what Anders had done. The thought that his admission of feelings alone had given the mage that courage nearly undid him. As he walked, he kept talking to the apostate, knowing that his words may not even be heard, but needing to say them.
"Just a little longer. We'll get you to a healer. I swear, you're living through this. Thank you for being brave... for not leaving me before we've even begun. No more dances, I promise. I want you, Anders. I should have told you that a long time ago. I'm sorry."
His answer was a small hum, nothing more than sound applied to an outtake of breath, but it was there. Cortland Hawke held on even tighter to his precious cargo, and walked steadily towards the city. When Anders awoke, it would be somewhere safe, somewhere comfortable. And they would start whatever was destined to be between them again ...properly.