"I received a letter from her not long ago." Merrill leaned forward in her rickety chair, a cup of water gingerly offered to the Champion; its murky depths quivered. "It was…Well, I was happy to see she's all right." She gave a slight pause here, an invitation for the other to say something — anything at all — but was not indulged; the elf pressed on. "The penmanship was also very legible—I wonder if that was hard with a hook?" She cocked her head, curiosity plain. "Do you suppose she really does have a hook for a hand now?"
Gaile shrugged her shoulders, a smile on her lips and her eyes to a wall. "Anything's possible with that one."
"I do miss her." Merrill hurriedly clasped her mouth, as if the words themselves would become physical, piercing things. "That's the wrong thing to say, isn't it? Especially to you. Not with all that's happened. Between you and Isa—" Gaile grinned as the elf snapped her mouth shut a second time, looking very much apologetic as those big, green eyes of hers filled to the brim with sympathy. "Oh! I'm so sorry!"
The rogue chuckled. "Merrill: stop. If you become any more adorable, I might actually explode. Or giggle. Maker, I don't know which is worse…" Seeing that the other's expression had not brightened, she gave an indifferent gesture of her hand. "No harm done."
"Hawke… The letter. She…" her voice was soft; unsure, "mentioned you in it. I could…tell you what she said, if you like. Or, give you the letter. You could read it—I wouldn't mind."
"No." The elf visibly flinched from the abrupt response and—shift. Her tone swiftly adjusted. "The thorn's been plucked out, Merrill — why force it back in?"
"A 'thorn'? But…Well, Isa—she—didn't seem like it. A thorn would be painful, especially if stuck in one's foot." Merrill looked to her mostly bare feet, as if remembering the unfortunate incident… before slowly glancing upward. "The two of you together…You were always smiling or laughing when she was around. You seemed…" another break as she seemed to mull over which word would fit, "happy."
The rogue smiled here, but it didn't settle right; Gaile abandoned it, eyes to the wall, once more. "She was a fun thorn."
Merrill's brows knitted together, "I did it again, didn't I? Made you uncomfortable." The elf sighed. "I… Are you sure you're all right? I know you're the Champion now, and champions don't need to talk about these sorts of things in the stories—ever. But…I bet it's lonely keeping those things to yourself all the time." Their eyes met again. "Wearing that armor."
"I'm fine, Merrill." An inclined brow; a glance back, "And shouldn't you worry more about that shiny, magic mirror of yours?"
"Oh! Did it finally do something different?" The Dalish quickly looked behind herself only to frown when witnessing nothing had changed. "Hawke!"
Gaile grinned wryly as the other woman pouted. "Made you look."
"You should have expected this." Aveline paced the length of her office, the armor she vigilantly wore clanking in response with each furious step. "The whore — how could she know anything otherwise? And you." She turned her full attention to the Champion reclining in her chair — an act no other would survive to tell the tale. "You should have known better than to…cohort with her."
"'Her'?" Gaile lazily twirled the hardened nub of one of the quills, apprehended from the other's desk, between her gloved fingers. "Why, dear Captain: whomever could you be referring?"
"Don't." Her glare was immediate. "You know exactly who I'm talking about. And I know you too well for that grin of yours to work. You pulled the exact same act when Bethany and Leandra—"
"Aveline." The quill dropped soundlessly to the wooden desk. "I'm fine." Voice—expression, now somber. "It was a fling. The two of us weren't looking for forever."
"Oh?" A copper brow rose sharply. "Out with it then. What exactly were you looking for with that one?"
"A good time." The Grin resurfaced. "What else?"
Aveline's disapproval was all but palpable. "I told you this: it's never just sex. And I've seen the way you've regarded her." The woman crossed her gauntleted arms. "I don't like this. You've been far too quiet, lately. Avoiding the Hanged Man, staying out of trouble—"
"What's this? No glowing sense of accomplishment? You've gone and got the mighty 'Champion', whipped."
Her humor was not shared. "It isn't like you, Hawke. I'd be lying if I said I wouldn't like to see you restrain yourself every once in a while — more than that, even — but not like this. You're forcing it. Because of her." The last word came out harder than the others, as if the guard captain despised the very fact her 'pirate whore' held so much sway.
Gaile leaned back in the chair, arms angled as she placed both hands behind her head. "There's just not much to do, is all. Besides," the rogue pouted, "I'm still sore. And, aren't you the one who told me to 'take it easy' after defeating the big, bad Arishok?"
"For her honor. When it it couldn't be clearer she has none." The creases on the other's forehead only seemed to deepen. "Honestly, Hawke: fighting the leader of those Qunari for some bullheaded notion of bravado?" She scoffed. "Be glad your wounds are still fresh, or I'd give you a good smack for that stunt, here and now. Not that it would knock any sense in that head of yours…"
"I got a bit caught up in the moment, there, didn't I?" Gaile chuckled. "I don't know, the words just seemed so dashing at the time. A fight to the death so delightfully…cliché. I couldn't resist." She smiled. "At the very least, it's something nice for Varric to exaggerate when he retells the tale for his eager audiences. I'd honestly be shocked if I wasn't galloping in on some handsome black steed by now…."
"What's done is done. But, whether you like it or not, you're the Champion of Kirkwall now: everything you do will either bode well or ill for this city. Needless to say, you'll be the expected pillar that everybody leans on while it recovers."
"Well, that just sounds uncomfortable for everyone involved…"
Aveline shook her head, brows pinching in exasperation. "Why? Why can't you ever take any of this seriously?"
"Because you take everything too seriously. I'm your counterpoint, remember?" A wink. "You'd go crazy without me."
"I'm driven crazy with you."
"Then it's a win, win!" The look on the other woman's face spoke clearly she remained unconvinced; Gaile sighed. "Oh, Aveline: always so protective…"
"You've never been as clever as you think, Hawke. That…woman," she had the decency to not call her what she no doubt wished to, "meant something to you. Even I could see it — a blind man could." Aveline gave her that look. "Running from the issue solves nothing."
"Seemed to do the trick for her." The captain frowned, while Gaile shrugged, looking to the fallen quill. "She's moved on. So will I." The rogue picked it up and played with it once more… before meeting her best friend's gaze. "Really; I was only holding out until you broke things off with Donnic." A lopsided grin. "You must know you're the only woman for me."
"Hawke." Her tone was impatient; frustrated.
"What?" Gaile stood from the chair, grin only escalating. "I like redheads."
Fenris silently regarded the wine bottle, armored fingers charily clasping its delicate neck. "It is insufficient, but…when that woman blathered on as she did — on intimate matters while we traveled." He did not meet the Champion's gaze. "Never did she act on them."
Gaile wiped her mouth with her sleeve after a long, deep swig of the Tevinter wine. "Huh." She waved the bottle he'd offered to indicate its emptiness. "Got any more?"
Anders loosened the red brown bandages around the Champion's torso, carefully unwrapping one of the rather large injuries she received from the duel with the Arishok, before applying a thick salve. "That Isabela…" his voice came close to a growl, and the rogue could feel his glare on her back, "She…How could anyone–anyone–be so selfish? I could live a thousand years and never understand it."
Gaile winced, hissing her objection as he suddenly applied the salve a tad too roughly. "Here's a thought. How about we talk about something a bit more lighthearted while you're treating my wounds? Like your opinion on Meredith and her templars."
The mage sighed as his touch immediately lightened once more. "Forgive me, I just…get so infuriated when I think of it. The only reason you even have these damned injuries is because of her. That the entire city is in the state it's in, is her influence!" His fingers paused against her skin. "She lied to you, Hawke — from the start, she lied." A beat, "Tell me you hate her. You must."
"Calm, Anders," she turned slightly to show the whisper of a grin, "you'll start glowing." Gaile looked away, eyeing the splintered doors of the hovel clinic, "Life's too short for hatred." She laughed; winced. "I'm usually too busy avoiding all the sharp, pointy objects aimed at my neck."
"Most being from her influence! You could have died because of her precious relic—you nearly did!"
Gaile closed her eyes, unresponsive. It was an interesting thing, witnessing how others spoke to her of the pirate, and their…relationship, only when the other woman was already gone.
"Hawke. She abandoned you. You risked your life trying to save hers — to fix her damn mess — and she repaid you by running away." Anders scoffed, the sound bitter. "She didn't even stay long enough to see if you'd recover!"
"What would you have me do?" Snapped — and it felt wrong, all wrong; a weighty silence settled between them immediately afterward as once tense shoulders slumped forward. "She's gone. Leave it be."
A stiffening, before Anders' fingers resumed their practice. "You've lost weight."
"It's common, isn't it? In this sort of situation?"
"No. It shouldn't be this sudden." His brows furrowed, concerned. "Are you eating?"
"Yes, Anders…" Gaile droned, rolling her eyes. "When I have the appetite for it." A sigh. "I mostly try to sleep the days away. Helps with the restlessness and utter boredom that comes with my condition. That, and Aveline would likely have my head if it even appeared I breathed in Varric's direction — let alone, take a job."
"You should rest. Surprising as it may be, your body hasn't fully recovered from fighting all those Qunari." He grabbed for fresh bandages; another ointment. "This will sting a bit." She nodded, biting her lip as the burning liquid touched her broken flesh. "Done. I want to make sure this doesn't get infected."
Gaile scoffed, grunting in discomfort when she moved the wrong way and stretched the irritated gash. "Is that why you can't just heal the damn thing and be done with it?"
"Right. The wound would close, but with all the nasty bits still inside. Trust me: it would only make an injury like this worse." The mage clasped the jars he'd opened and began the process of re-bandaging. "But, seeing as you make a hobby of running into certain death situations, I'll say a couple more weeks of this, and you should be up and running again. Until you end up back here from your latest adventure, of course."
Gaile grinned. "Of course…"
"Well, well." Varric glanced up from a large map strewn across his regular table, placing his drink down with a grin. "If it isn't our glorious Champion, come to visit this lowly dwarf."
"There's a wonderful pun in that, somewhere…" making her way to her good friend, Gaile grabbed one of the chairs another table offered, and dragged it over, "And you just should feel honored. Do you know how hard it is to sneak around when everyone in this blasted city knows your name?"
"Can you blame them?" His grin grew. "You, Hawke, are a woman as beautiful as she is deadly—all while regularly enjoying the company of handsome dwarves. It would be a crime if people didn't talk about you."
"Why, Varric." A mockingly sweet tone, "For a second there, it almost sounded as if you hadn't been fanning the flames."
"I, madam, am merely a weaver of tales. I hold no claims to how people will react after hearing them. And, everyone loves a living legend; makes their own lives seem more important."
"Well, I'll blame you, regardless. Right after I faint from that silver tongue of yours."
Varric chuckled. "You'll get used to it soon enough. And let's not forget the perks that come with being a hero. Big, fancy title. Adoration from men and women alike." His hand caught the handle of his mug, tilting it toward his lips for a quick gulp before continuing. "I've even heard talk of a Hawke monument in the near future."
"I suppose the nobles have little else to do with their coin. The ransacked city will just have to wait its turn." She scoffed, "This whole 'Champion' business has given me nothing but a constant headache from day one. Too much responsibility. I can practically hear the nobles shouting for my assistance in every nuance of their lives, from here." The rogue sighed wistfully. "Why can't I go back to those wonderful nights of meaningless sex, drunken depravity, and—?"
"Isabela?" The dwarf didn't miss a beat.
Gaile closed her eyes, assigning two fingers to rub her suddenly throbbing temple. "Not you, Varric…"
He raised his hands. "Hey, now; I think I'm allowed a bit of innocent curiosity every now and then. And, the two of you had quite the spirited debate before Rivaini ran off." The lines of his face deepened with a new gravity, one she rarely ever saw. "She didn't take the time to say anything else after that duel to anyone but you."
Slender, furrowed brows; Gaile looked away, mind unconsciously bringing, back, the event:
Labored breaths; words with heat; piercing eyes—
"Brown eyes smoldering, the scorned Champion thought on her past lover…"
"It meant nothing." Her words answered questions left unasked.
"Even I couldn't spin that." Varric shook his head. "Look, Hawke…You know that I'm here, if you ever wanna talk about…well. Shit."
But she had had enough. "Varric, we both know each other well enough to realize we want to be drinking right now. The Hanged Man's as good as any other to get shitfaced. And with that, I mean it's the only place." Hawke waved a hand to catch the barmaid's attention—the Champion gaining it immediately; she held two fingers up before grinning back at her friend. "Because I'm such a kind and compassionate soul."
The dwarf smirked, rolling up the map he'd been looking over and presenting a deck of cards in its stead. "Well; if you're going to be logical about this…"
It had become effortless. Routine. Until the recovering rogue found herself simply going through the motions when alone:
A polite greeting from Bodahn.
A large smile from Sandal.
A happy bark from her mabari.
All of these events, necessary, before the Champion of Kirkwall would retire to her chambers to face the formidable 'Quiet', once more, each tread braved, surely, more arduous than the last.
She would not look to the banister.
Eyes straight, her pace remained solid, a constant reminder of what she refused to allow—even while in the process of being stripped bare as memories of duet ascents bludgeoned with their clarity.
Avoiding a straying gaze was key.
The master of the estate passed her late mother's room, before sharply heading toward her own.
The wooden door would shut and the outside defenses became unnecessary, each peeling away as cleanly as the pieces of her carefully removed armor. Slipping into her custom finery before securing a seat at her writing desk, the woman sifted through the bundle of sealed letters that made their way to her throughout the day:
Invitations; requests; missives of gratitude.
All work to keep one busy. Certainly nothing that would go so far as to aggravate her freshly received wounds.
And there would be a moment—two—where this life would appear bearable. A moment where her brain remained three steps ahead of her heart. Where her sole concern would be to think of something equal parts dry and clever to give in response to some nobleman looking to ultimately gain her suspended favor.
…Until unreasonable tendrils of pressure made their press against the back of her eyes, and the hot tears fell of their own accord—a wet descent as swift as it was unexpected. And then it became instinct: self-preservation as fingers darted wildly to her cheeks only to still not be quick enough.
She could not catch them — she could not—
"Dammit…" the parchment she had been using was now rendered useless, trembling hands driving her quill to produce sentences that quickly dwelled into the realm of incoherency, "Dammit…."
The tool was abandoned before she crumpled the tear stained vellum in a tight fist—hurled it at the wall in frustration, stinging moisture blurring her vision as her entire form shook with the unbidden release of a choked sob.
It was not supposed to be like this. It was not supposed to be this terrible silence — this hollowness in her life. There was supposed to be chaos; and meaningless words; and physical responses—until she could not think. A fleeting presence before a sure departure.
She was supposed to be here — to continue to provide that constant distraction from realties the Champion did not wish to face. Ones forced inactivity made glaringly clear; the gaping abyss that was the loss of everyone held dear…
And what had she been?
A preoccupation. A good time. Repose…when there had been nothing else — no one else, to distract her from realizing what she irrevocably was—
Abigaile curled into herself in the large chair, the in and out of her breaths now shallow as quivering lips parted to whisper only one name.