Rite of the Maleficarum: Book I

Thanking Anders

When Hawke awoke, it was night. Whether that meant still night or night again, she wasn't sure. After her companions had left, save Fenris, she found herself completely overwhelmed with the guilt of what they had been made to do. She didn't hear the entire story until then, Fenris agreeing to tell her only if she promised to try and get some sleep. She couldn't sleep though, she felt panicked beyond the ability to be reasoned with. However, Fenris had Orana draw her a bath, Bodahn make her a meal, and then lulled her into security by offering to hold her until she fell asleep.

It had worked, apparently. She felt his arms still secured tightly around her, and she felt quite safe. Sleep didn't change what her friends had done, though. She didn't hate them for it, of course not. She'd have done the same for any of them. But they weren't supposed to be on the ones having to do it. She protected them, not the other way around.

She stirred and turned to look up at Fenris, who smiled at her.

"You're awake?" she asked.

"I couldn't sleep… I kept wanting to make sure you were still… breathing," he admitted.

"Ah. Because of how I wasn't, and all that?" she asked.

"Right," he said quietly, then after a moment, "Where were you?"

In all the discussing they'd done the night before, they had never moved past the 'made my friends perform powerful blood magic rituals to save my life' thing.

"I don't know… it was peaceful. But wrong, in the end," she said.

"What do you mean?" he asked, tracing the line of her jaw with his fingers. Hawke found this very distracting, but managed to continue.

"There wasn't anything… visible. All I could do was think. So I figured, if I'm allowed to think, I need to use it somehow. And…" she was truly at a loss for how to describe it, "I kept thinking about you. And when I asked myself why, I had the answer, I guess. To leave that place, I had to want to stay alive."

"I love you, Hawke," he said suddenly, almost casually, as if it was a fact they'd discussed a thousand times before, "And I don't want you to think it's because you almost died in my arms the other night… I should have said it a long time ago. I felt it a long time ago."

"It didn't need said," she said, taking his hand in hers, "I love you too."

He kissed her deeply then let her nuzzle into his chest, kissing the top of her head as she did. She couldn't help but think of how different she felt. Not from having almost died… or actually died, it appeared… but from having her feelings for Fenris finally said. And, due to her intense need to tell Fenris immediately once she awoke, everyone else knew too. Convenient. As she ran her hand up Fenris's arm to pull him closer she felt a reminder of her guilt.

"Fenris," she said, looking at the bandages, "Why did they use your blood?"

"It's more powerful, apparently. Due to great innocence or tragedy. I'm guessing for me, it's the latter," he said.

"You could have died."

"It wouldn't have mattered. If I hadn't, and you'd died... it'd be over for me. I'd have died either way."

"Why didn't Anders heal you?" she asked, concerned the goings-on had caused them some kind of permanent separation.

"He spent it all on you, Aralynn. I'd almost not be surprised if he could never cast a spell again," Fenris said. She felt her heart sink out through her chest, down through Darktown and the undercity, and lodge itself deeply in the roots of the Vimmark Mountains.

"Sorry," he said, realizing how his statement sounded, "I don't mean that literally, Aralynn. He's fine, he'll be fine."

He ran his fingers along her creasing forehead and said, "He needs time to recover, but he'll be himself before you know it."

She nodded reluctantly. After a few moments of contented silence, she said, "Just to lay down some ground rules for the future – no offering your blood up as a sacrifice to save me anymore."

"I can't agree to these terms," he said resolutely.

"I wasn't done," she said, then felt his hands on her waist as he began to tickle her.

"No, you are done, actually," he said as she giggled and attempted retaliation. She felt her heart lurch as she saw him laughing. Who was this Fenris? The Hawke from four years ago wouldn't believe it for a second, and yet here he was, holding her in his arms, having confessed love for her. She smiled to herself now as she thought about how lonely she'd felt only a month before, sitting alone in the dining room. She'd only add one chair to her long, empty table, but it would be enough. Now at least, whatever else happened, it would be with him.

"But, truly, thank you, Fenris," she said, and he kissed her forehead.

And now, she thought, she had some other people to thank.

After consuming more food than was reasonable for any creature on Thedas, Hawke dressed in her leather armor, not feeling quite up to carrying her plate around. Fenris had more than voiced his opinion that she should continue to rest and visit them later, but Hawke had things to say she didn't feel could wait. Every moment mattered now, somehow more than it did before. Nothing like dying to make you appreciate living, Hawke thought, strapping her far less preferred short sword to a sheath on her hip. Hopefully the weapons and armor were a caution, it was only a walk to Darktown, after all.

She stepped outside, the rising sun casting warm light on her face. The whole process had apparently only taken a day. Was it really only one night before that she laid dead on these very cobblestones? As she walked she made a point to keep in the sunlight, it made her feel alive, warming her still clammy skin, and she could feel it healing her soul. She kept trying to think of what she was going to say to Anders, but emotion overwhelmed her and she pushed the words back down. She had always been close with the mage, but from the sounds of it, he had gone entirely above and beyond extending himself for her.

She pushed the door open to Anders' clinic, and surprisingly she didn't see anyone inside, save the mage himself. He sat by the fire near the back of the room, lost in thought. She approached him slowly and went all but unnoticed as she sat down on the dirt next to him. They were silent for a long time. Dark patches of sleeplessness plagued the skin under his eyes, and his beard had grown thicker in neglect, pieces of loose blonde hair wisped in his face. He looked sickly, pale, ten years older. This reminded Hawke of her dream, how young they all looked. What was she doing to these people? That sense of guilt began to build up inside her again, though guilt was not a word worthy of the feeling. It was devastating and dire and painful.

She wondered, quite seriously, if they wouldn't all be better off if she just left without a word. She knew they would be upset, but maybe at least they would be able to get on with their lives while they still had a chance at them. She was dragging them down with her. And as she watched her dearest friend, looking like he had been the one who died, she couldn't help but feel that leaving was truly the right thing to do. She took his hand quietly, both still staring into the fire.

"We made the choice Hawke," Anders said suddenly, "This isn't on you."

He held her hand tighter and turned to look at her, "You can't believe I'd let you die, if I had any means with which to save you?"

"You've said it yourself, Anders. There are some fates worse than death. If saving me has corrupted all of your souls, you can't think it was worth it?" she implored.

"I'll be fine, Hawke. I am fine," he said turning back to the fire. She had to fix it, how could she fix it? Would things ever be like they were before? What would they all be doing now, if they'd never met her? Aveline would be better off, she thought. Likely still guard captain, but without the implications that she was fraternizing with a vigilante, unemployed noble. Would Bartrand and Varric have even made it to the Deep Roads? Varric would be without the memories of his brother gone mad, having to kill him with his own hands. He'd still have a family. Would Merrill have even come to Kirkwall? Without the encouragement of Hawke's protection, maybe she would have stayed with the Dalish and continued her path as a Keeper, instead of heading down whatever this dangerous road was she was on. Anders would still be right here, she knew. Healing the sick and dying, and helping the mage underground. But not sitting here alone, destitute, struggling with his inner demons and looking like he was on death's door.

"Where is everyone?" she asked, honestly curious.

"Apparently no wants to hang out if they're not getting healed out of the deal," he said, sounding a little deserted.

"I'm sorry," she said, and scooted closer to him, "Thank you for doing what you did, Anders. I don't mean it to come off like I'm not appreciative of your sacrifice."

He didn't say anything, so she continued.

"I only wish for you to think of yourself, sometimes as well. You help all these people and it's wonderful," she took his chin with her other hand and forced him to look at her, "You're a good man, Anders. Don't let this poison you."

He looked up at her now, so fierce and callous, yet his eyes filled with wetness. A life that could have been suddenly flashed before her eyes. A life with Anders. Was there more going on here than she realized? Was this Anders… heart broken?

She sat in silence and let the notion sink in. She figured she could see it, in hindsight, but she had always felt it a formidable friendship, and never questioned it beyond that. She loved him, she knew, but not that way. Not in the powerful, insatiable way she loved Fenris.

And the realization on her face must have been obvious, because he said, "If he hurts you, Hawke… I'll end him."

"You can trust him," she said intently. His head nodded almost imperceptibly, and though his resentment still showed, she could tell he agreed, however reluctantly. She didn't know exactly what had happened between the men while she was… sick… but they seemed somehow closer. Rivals, she was sure, but their shared experience seemed to have bonded them permanently.

"Will you stand by me through anything?" he asked suddenly.

"Yes. You know I will, Anders. I would have before, I will now, and I will in the inevitable future where we all have even more difficult problems to face," she said. He inclined his head in recognition, that he believed her. She wrapped her arms around his shoulders and pulled him into a hug, and he let her, resting his head on her shoulder in fatigue.

"I'm sorry for what you had to do, Anders. The kind of control you needed to muster… it must have been grueling," she said.

"One good thing came of it," he said fatefully, "Now I know what I'm capable of."

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