Walk Through the Fire (Rewrite)
"I touch the fire and it freezes me.
I look into it and it's black.
Why can't I feel?
My skin should crack and peel.
I want the fire back."
~Walk Through the Fire~
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
None of her companions had noticed that she had passed the point of exhaustion weeks ago. Numbness had replaced the gritty tension that Aiden Hawke had come to live with after she left Ferelden. Instead of catching a few hours here and there, she actively avoided sleep, taking on a never-ending stream of jobs to distract her, desperate to escape the nightmare that haunted her dreams.
It wasn't their fault they hadn't noticed her lack of rest; during the entire time any of them had known her, they quickly became accustomed to how rarely she seemed to sleep. More than once Hawke would be found squirreled away somewhere secluded with her mabari reading a tome thicker than the written Chant and burning candles to the nub.
Aiden frowned, staring at the flickering flames of the campfire. Her friends were asleep, drained from the day's toils; granted she had taken them up Sundermount, twice. Earlier, when they had made camp and the men had practically collapsed from fatigue, she had hoped to feel some sort of vindication, after all the three men had been following her almost nonstop for days and it was slowly driving her mad; but she hadn't. Instead she felt nothing.
Part of her wondered if the men had been trying to get a rise out of her on purpose. Between the dwarf's glib comments and Anders and Fenris' constant bickering, she had more than once yelled at them, trying, if anything, to get them to back off and leave her alone like the others in group of misfits had. Only her irritation with them seemed to fuel their desire to shadow her. Aiden had taken to purposefully going on the hardest jobs she could but nothing worked. It was like each of the three men had made some sort of agreement not to let her run off on her own.
Anders let out a particularly loud snort causing her hazel eyes to flicker to the mage. The blond rolled over but didn't wake. He rarely did.
Over the past year she had grown accustomed to the sleeping habits of her companions. Being one of the only of them willing to take watch consistently, Aiden had plenty of sleepless nights that left her with nothing to do but watch them.
Anders and Isabela oddly had similar sleeping habits; both frequently snorting the night away, oblivious to their surroundings so long as no one approached them. If anyone did the two were almost cat-like, pretending to be asleep while leisurely trying to figure out the best way to protect themselves. Though there were times that Anders would wake from nightmares with Justice bursting into life, protecting the blond mage from any threat, real or imaginary.
Varric always slept with one arm draped around his crossbow as though the weapon really was a lover in the night. The dwarf, like Anders and Isabela, would sleep soundless unless approached.
Aveline was the most comical, that woman approached sleep the same way she approached anything, like it was something that needed to be tackled out of the way. Once she set up to sleep she would lean against a tree, shut her eyes, and sleep until woken. Similarly once Merrill actually fell asleep the elf would rarely wake.
Fenris, Hawke's eyes absently drifted to the white-haired elf, he would often silently keep her company through the first part of the night. Fenris was a tense sleeper and seemed to have as many nightmares as she did.
The first time she had seen him restlessly tossing and turning, Aiden had attempted to wake him only to find herself pinned to the floor, cheek burning from where he had struck her, and desperately fighting to keep his glowing hand from plunging into her chest until he was wake enough to realize where he was. Since then she had done nothing when she saw him in the throes of a nightmare, she would wait until he would jerk awake and ignore his glower when he noticed her watching.
She had surprisingly grown used to his brooding company, even though the two of them rarely spoke to pass the hours. The company he offered even in silence always seemed to ease the ever present guilt that weighed on her. Though tonight he had fallen asleep rather quickly; leaning against a tree, his arms crossed defensively in front of him and that gigantic greatsword of his resting within reach.
Aiden looked back at the fire, blankly counting in her head how long it had been since she last slept. Ever since the Deep Roads expedition, sleep had become even more difficult for her. If her own guilt at her brother's death hadn't been bad enough, the accusatory looks her mother gave her tore at her heart.
Leandra had never come right out and said that she wished that Aiden had died in the Deep Roads rather than Carver but the woman didn't have to. Like when Bethany died, there were little things; pointed words, blame as though all the problems that their family had were because of Aiden, disapproving statements, condemning Aiden's actions no matter what they were. The looks were worse; long-suffering glances, lost and grief-stricken eyes, everything Leandra did seemed to add to the guilt that drowned Aiden.
The Fade had become an ever-present whisper in her life; soft temptations from the beyond; Bethany calling out to her for help, Carver yelling at her for always taking control, her father stating how disappointed he was that she failed to protect the family. The deaths of her family played over and over in her sleep, taunting her with the pain-ridden faces of her younger siblings; charging her with their deaths every time she shut her eyes.
Nothing kept the dreams away, not alcohol, not drugs, instead Aiden had attempted to push herself to the breaking point, hoping that the few hours of rest she could get when she literally passed out from exhaustion every other day or so would be enough and for a while it had worked. But that had been before Feynriel.
Going into the Fade to rescue the dream-wandering half elf had brought a whole new level of hell to her nightmares. Though it quickly became evident that no one but Aiden could see them, Bethany and Carver were there, standing like statues, following her wherever she went, accusing her the way they had done every night since their death.
When Varric and then Fenris had betrayed her in the Fade and she was forced to slay them, Aiden had nearly unraveled. If Anders, or more specifically Justice, hadn't pushed her to press on, she was certain she would still be there; trapped in the horrific thought that she might kill everyone she ever cared for.
The moment they had returned to their bodies, Aiden had been ill, her mind still reeling, the images of Varric and Fenris' dead bodies joining that of her siblings in the things that haunted her.
Her dreams had grown steadily worse since; leaving her desperate to avoid sleep. All Aiden could see any more were the deaths she was responsible for and worse, the deaths she would be responsible for. Like a marching army, her family paraded themselves in front of her, sometimes shouting at her, blaming her for their deaths and other times simply standing, mutely gazing at her with dead eyes. Her friends would follow each dead in some way because she couldn't protect them.
For two years she had lived with the guilt, first of her father, then Bethany, and now Carver; every night it gnawed at her and every day she would get up, and bury the guilt and raw ache beneath a mask of determination. Aiden dug her nails into her forearms, hating how her magic automatically responded to the physical pain by sending small tendrils of healing magic to spot. She knew the ache of her guilt, she understood it. It was her fault that Bethany was dead; that Carver lay buried in the Deep Roads. It was her fault that her family was in tatters.
As ridiculous as it sounded she longed to feel that ache. This numbness that had engulfed her would have terrifying if she could actually feel anything. The cold void within her had made her reckless, throwing herself into battle after battle, desperate to feel anything. Varric had nearly died on Sundermount when they had been ambushed and she couldn't even feel anything about that.
Shifting, Aiden added more twigs to the fire, coaxing the flames to burn brighter as she thought. If Anders hadn't been with them, Aiden was certain the dwarf would have died from the stab wound. Her own healing magic had refused to respond much more than a spark that was dimmer than Fenris' tattoos. Normally she would have been horrified, certain that she had once again killed someone she cared about but instead she felt nothing; which was worse.
Without realizing it, Aiden ran her fingers through the blaze of the campfire, hoping, almost praying that the physical pain would snap her out of the numbness only she didn't feel anything. Hovering her hand in the center she watched, waiting, seeing but not feeling the way the flames licked her hand.
Suddenly a hand wrapped around her wrist, yanking it out of the flames. Aiden found herself looking at a pair of startled green eyes. Tension was thick as they stared at each other.
Turning the palm up, Fenris searched her hand for injury; noting that it had turned red from the heat but lacked any other evidence that she had just stuck it in the fire. His gaze returned to her face with a frown, unnerved at the mask of indifference that was still affixed to her.
"Were you trying to injure yourself?" He asked quietly, careful not to alert the others.
She pulled her hand, trying to dislodge it from his grip. More on instinct than thought, Fenris held her there, refusing for once to let her avoid questions. Finally realizing he was not going to let her go, Aiden looked away.
"Hawke." Fenris' watched her swallow hard at the sound of his voice.
Instead of answering him, she glanced at the sky. "It is not your watch." Frustration bubbled in the elf. "You're no good to us sleep-deprived."
His grip on her wrist tightened slightly at the implication, uncertain why it bothered him that she only remained friendly with him because of his skill at a sword. "And you're no good to us if you're damaged." He retorted, allowing his bitterness at her words to push through.
Aiden looked at him, heaviness to her gaze. Fenris felt his breath catch at the sight of her. Like always her face was schooled into a blank mask as though nothing mattered but for once it didn't reach her eyes. Her hazel eyes were filled with pain like somewhere inside she was screaming, begging for someone to pay attention, to help her. He was so stunned by the look he almost missed her whispered response.
"What would it matter to you?"
Fenris' grip slacken, a deep frown tugging on his lips.
"What's one less mage in the world, right?"
Aiden ducked her head, biting down on her lip to stop herself from continuing. Surprised at her words, the elf sat back on his heels, giving her an opening to pull her hand away. Before he had a chance to respond, she got to her feet and walked away from the camp.
Fenris didn't care about her, she knew that. She had known from the moment she met the white-haired elf that he would never feel the same spark she felt toward him. Fenris had an uncanny ability to get her to talk whether she wanted to or not; something she was thankful he hadn't yet realized. No matter what rogue feelings attempted to survive in her heart, Aiden could ignore them so long as he ignored her.
As she rounded the bend and approached the cliffside, she tried to let the roar of the waves as they crashed against the shore deafen her thoughts. Only the sound seemed to make her thoughts louder than ever.
Squeezing her eyes shut, she took in a deep breath of the salty air. Aiden, her name was carried by the wind, Bethany's voice teasing her from beyond. Aiden. The faint whisper was growing closer. It's not real, it's not there, she repeated what was quickly becoming her mantra. Aiden. She flinched.
The sound of rock shifting behind her caused her to whirl around. A bolt of lightning smashed into the ground next to a pair of half-armored feet. Her breaths were coming in short and shallow gasps as she looked at Fenris' alarmed face. Maker, she almost killed him! Aiden felt tears of shame and horror prickle in her eyes. What if she hadn't missed?
Fenris carefully moved toward her, watching the panic and blame fleet across her face, the first emotion he had seen there in weeks. For a moment, neither said a word, the only sound was the waves.
"Your aim needs work." Fenris stated more casually than he felt.
Uncertainty mixed with disbelief flickered across her face before she turned away giving him an opportunity to study her again. Her arms were crossed in front of her and her hands were clenched into fists; the position almost hid the fact that she was trembling.
He wasn't the only one of the group to notice that Hawke hadn't been sleeping the way she used to—not that she had slept all that much before. Ever since the Deep Roads she had been pushing herself harder and harder. No one ever mentioned their fears or concerns but they could all see it.
Aiden Hawke was unraveling at the seams.
"The camp is unguarded."
He arched his brow, a flicker of amusement passing through him that that would be her first concern. "I'm certain the dwarf can take care of himself."
The weighted hazel eyes shifted back to him. "And of course you care little for Anders, so be it if he dies in his sleep." There was no accusation, no scolding tone just a simple statement of fact.
Fenris shook his head, offering her one of his rare half-smiles in the odd hope that she might return it like she used to before the Deep Roads. "If the mage dies of anything it will be of how he sleeps." Something akin to disappointment settled on him, causing him to continue. "You can hear the racket he calls breathing from here."
Traitorously her heart ached in her chest, chasing the emptiness away for a split second; teasing her with the possibility that she could trade the emotionless void for the longing to be cared for just so long as she was near him. Staring out at the dark water, Aiden absently tangled her fingers in the red scarf that hung around her neck; the numbness hovered around her heart as though teasing her with the thought that the moment Fenris left she would return to feeling nothing again.
"Why are you here?"
The elf did not answer, though she could feel his eyes on her.
A haze of fog danced in the distance, shapes forming, edging guilt over her longing as her sister's voice beckoned from the swirling mist. Even at the distance, she could feel the tingle of the Fade as it prickled her skin, begging her to allow it in.
Turning to the only tangible thing she had, she looked at the elf, clinging desperately to the ache that came from her desire. "What are you doing here?"
"Call it concern," he said simply. "I awoke to you placing your hand in the fire. Understandably it worried me."
A sharp pain stabbed through her at the dismissiveness of his tone as though—suddenly she shoved him, forcing him to step back in surprise. "Worried you?" she snarled. "The only worry you feel is that I won't be in perfect health to help you get your revenge." Aiden shook her head, the anger disappearing just as quickly as it had come. "If Danarius were dead, you would be long gone." She bowed her head, letting her brown hair fall into her face as she tried to walk away.
"Hawke," his deep voice caused a whole new ache to appear in her heart.
She stopped her back to him. "You would be gone, hunting apostates and killing them for daring to exist."
Blazing eyes hit him hard as she turned to look at him. "What has magic touched that is does not spoil?"
Fenris blinked, recalling the words he had spat on numerous occasions clearly.
"Will you kill me?" the question was posed but he could not believe it had been stated. Aiden was staring at him with an assessing gaze. "Not now, of course," there was a dry painful humor in her voice. "Once we've helped you kill Danarius," Fenris despised the way his heart tugged at the rueful look in her eye. "You'll have gotten all you want from me." A wry smile spread on her lips causing him to frown. That type of smile did not belong there. "And I am, after all, a mage,"
Extending her hand, he watched an orange-yellow flame erupt around it, bathing them in the shadows of the flickering flames. She was not looking at him any longer but at the fire in her palm. He could see the tears shining in her eyes.
"Hawke," he started causing her to sharply met his eyes, the blaze instantly disappearing sending them once more into the darkness of the night. She turned her back to him again, as though trying to shut him out.
"Just go," her voice broke with emotion.
"I cannot." Fenris confessed softly, unwilling—or unable to leave her alone; realizing for the first time that she was talking more with him now than he had ever heard her with anyone else. "Hawke," he hesitated. "Why did you put your hand in the fire?"
She looked at him, a world of emotion crashing in her eyes. "Anything."
To his amazement he saw a tear run down her cheek. Turning back to the water, she shivered. Fenris took a step forward, uncertain why he felt the desire to pull her into his arms and never let her go again.
"I see them," Aiden said quietly. "Father, Bethany, Carver, everyone I failed to save." she elaborated, never taking her eyes off the water. "Every time I lay to sleep, I see them; how they died."
Feeling something should be said, Fenris shifted. "I cannot imagine what it must be like to lose your family."
"Sometimes I envy you, Fenris." She whispered, hunching down, her hair falling into her face. "At least not knowing you ever had a family means you never have live with their blame."
Fenris felt his bitterness surge at the reminder of his lost past before surprise overwrote it. "Your brother's death was not your fault, Hawke."
"I brought him there."
"Would he have truly remained behind?"
"I am the eldest."
"And he, his own person."
Aiden peered up at him for a moment before looking back at the water. "Since we were little Carver was always the odd one out. Father would spend more time with Bethany and me due to our training and he would desperately try to get attention. He always felt nothing was ever good enough and he always had to outdo me."
The fog was moving closer.
"I could have made him stay, in the end he would have listened." Closing her eyes, the numbness spreading, she sighed. "He's dead because of me."
"Did you pour darkspawn blood upon his wound?" Fenris challenged. "Did you make him come with you?"
"We only went because of the Templars!" her revelation was near a shout. A look of fear flickered across her face as she swallowed hard. She clenched her hand into a fist trying to stop the shaking. "Without money or social ties, we were afraid I would be taken away." Comprehension dawned on him. "I would have been made Tranquil the moment I arrived in the Gallows. Too much of a rebel,"
Fenris' mind raced. Carver had never made a secret of his distaste for the constant running and often made it sound like he hated his sister. Even so, the jealous boy would fight beside her, defend her. Coupled with the possibility of personal glory, Carver, in the end, had gone to the Deep Roads to protect her.
"But what would you care about it," her pained voice brought him out of his thoughts. Something in him ached at the look on her face. "You see us as nothing but animals, too weak to control our own desires."
Fenris was surprised at how much her reiteration of his opinions bothered him. Was that truly what he believed? "Hawke—"
"You say that we need to be controlled, that people have good reason to fear us." The look she gave him was full of ache. "You fight for freedom for yourself. Blame every mage in sight for the actions of those that harmed you." Her hair fell over her shoulders as she moved closer to him. "Yet you use the markings that are burned so deeply into your skin they marred your soul."
Anger surged through him.
"Do you remember the things you do when you use the lyrium or does it become a haze of raw emotion?" Aiden watched the change in his face; his body stiffened at the accusation. She knew she was hurting him but something in her stopped caring. "You hate what has been done to you, but can you honestly say that you did not want those markings?"
Like his name sake he growled, clenching his fists. "I did not ask for them." He ground out between clenched teeth.
"You have no memory before receiving them," She challenged. "Perhaps you were an eager to please slave and—"
His markings burst into blue, ire filling him. How could she say such a thing! Blind to his actions, Fenris reacted, backhanding her across the face. Hatred and anger overwhelmed him as he fought, backing the object of his ire against the stone wall. He never wanted the markings! It was not until he had pinned her did he realize what he had done.
A small trickle of blood was making its way down her lip. She had a swelling bruise on her cheek from a particularly hard hit. His body was pressed against her, holding her immobile against the rock face with one of his hands was wrapped around her. Aiden gripped his wrist lightly but did not fight him. In fact, Fenris realized as the ethereal glow dissipated, she had not tried to stop him at all.
Releasing her, Fenris took a step back, shocked at his actions.
"You're not going to kill me?" her voice was empty with the hints of disappointment in it. "I won't fight you, honest." There was deadness to her smile. She grabbed his hand and pressed it to her chest, her fingers cold against his skin. "Rip my heart out."
"Hawke," he tried to pull away.
Tears shone in her eyes. "Shall I encourage you by throwing some spells? Reminding you that I'm a mage and therefore evil,"
Fenris' eyes darted from hand to her face, his arm shaking. Why was she saying this?
"Why don't you kill me and get it over with?"
"I will not kill you Hawke." His voice was soft, almost surprised at how deeply he hated the idea of her death.
If he hadn't seen the desperation in her eyes he might have thought she was joking. "Do you wish to die?"
She released his hand, shrugging. "I suppose if I wished it that bad I could go become Tranquil, then I couldn't care about anything anymore."
Fenris jerked startled. "You're not serious."
"And if I am?"
"Hawke," Fenris watched her flinch slightly. "Aiden," her name fell from his lips; it sounded foreign to his ear. Her eyes shot to meet his making him wonder if anyone ever called her by it. "Why do you want to die?"
"Because at least then I wouldn't have to live with their deaths." She looked away from him again but not before he saw the tears begin to fall freely down her face. "Bethany, Carver, they depended on me. I should have protected them."
"You cannot save everyone, Hawke." He touched her arm lightly and was stunned when she turned into him, burying her face into his shoulder causing him to stiffen.
"I'm supposed to.
"Any who stated that has never fought a battle,"
She pulled back enough to look him in the eye. Part of him wanted to back away, the very contact of another making him wish to flee; but a larger part wanted nothing more than to pull her back to him, to feel her body against his, to tell her everything would be all right.
"Loses are a part of battle, you know this." Hesitating briefly, he reached forward and with his thumb wiped her tears away, thankful he had taken off his spiked gauntlets before retiring for the night. "The deaths are not always on the opposing side."
Aiden was shaking. "Why did it have to be them? To be Carver?"
"Because we left Anders behind." Fenris responded glibly and was rewarded with a half-hearted smile and laugh.
He sighed and tucked her hair behind her ear, relishing as she pressed her face into the contact, eyes closing. Her hand slid up and grasped just the edge of his palm, keeping it cupped against her cheek. They stood for a moment, savoring each other's touch.
"It's not your fault." he whispered.
Her eyes opened. She moved away from him. "All I feel is this ache inside of me," Aiden turned away. "It's like the light has gone out all around me, Fenris. Carver was the only thing keeping the dark away." She hugged her arms around her again, aware that he was directly behind her. "I know I'm alive but…" trailing off she drew in a deep breath. "I want to feel something," she turned back. "I feel so cold inside,"
Fenris mutely reached towards her face and gently wiped the blood from her chin. She swallowed hard.
"I touched the fire because I thought that even feeling something painful would be better than this hollowness." Aiden shivered. "But it wasn't warm," Her eyes drifted to her palm "Why can't I feel it?" she let a flame burst into life on her hand. "My skin should blister, but it doesn't." She clenched her hand together, snuffing the fire out. "One of the wonders of magic, I suppose." Her snort was scornful.
"Magic does have its benefits." Fenris admitted.
Aiden looked at him and frowned. After a moment of silent contemplation she spoke, her voice full of distrust. "What are you doing here, Fenris?" he blinked, confused how they returned to that question. "Not here, talking with me, I mean here. With me, with all of us," she waved her arms around as if the others would spring up from the waves. "I'm a mage and you hate magic. I have two other mage companions, one a blood-mage and the other a border-line abomination—not exactly shining examples of what freedom for mages can bring about. Why are you here?"
"I don't know." He answered honestly. Stiffening slightly, she watched his face turn into an impassive mask. "Command me to leave and I shall."
Something in her shattered at his words. "Command you?" she repeated almost inaudibly. Bowing her had in an attempt to hide the pain at his words she shook her head. "I am not a magister, Fenris."
The white-haired elf hesitated. "But you are the leader of the group."
Angered the comparison to the slave-owning bastards in Tevinter, she shoved him. "The leave!" she exclaimed, hurt and tears shining in her eyes as she pushed him again. "I never asked to lead! I never asked for any of this!"
Gently he caught her wrists. "And yet you have it nonetheless." Her arms went limp, the fight draining out of her. "What is it you want, Hawke?"
There was a pained look in her eye as she pulled away. "Something I cannot have." Aiden wasn't certain if she was talking about him or the forgiveness for letting her siblings die; maybe she was talking about both.
"If it is forgiveness you are looking for, search in your own heart before seeking it in others."
Closing her eyes, a tear ran down her face. "What if I don't deserve it?"
Fenris frowned. "In the end I suppose only you could decide that,"
"Then what good is it?" she asked quietly looking at him. "I know it is my fault. I know that if I had just been…" Aiden floundered for the word. "Better," she settled on. "They would still be here," Another tear was making its way down her cheek.
Cupping her face in his palm, Fenris slowly wiped away the tear. "You cannot change the past," His voice was quiet. "No matter what you do, how many times you go over it in your head, you cannot change what happened."
Something broke inside her, tears falling down her cheeks. Burying her face into her hands, Aiden sobbed. If only she could go back, if only she could save them.
Fenris was right and it hurt her to admit it. She couldn't change what happened. Her siblings were dead, her mother blamed her. Nothing she did now could bring Carver and Bethany back, not grieving, not hating, not dying. If it had been any other moment she might have been surprised when she felt his arms wrap around him; if it had been any other moment she might have reveled in his arms and allowed herself to imagine what it would be like to have him want her the way she wanted him.
Slowly the tears subsided, dawn breaking over the water, Fenris holding her, offering what little comfort he could. "I hate that you're right," she muttered. He arched a brow at her that cursed amused smile on his face. "Stand up or lay down, fight or surrender, there is only two options," Aiden recited a phrase Aveline once told her.
"Know that you do not walk your path alone." Fenris said softly.
Aiden looked into his eyes, something within her stirring at the emotion in their depths. "I don't?" the words were shakier than she meant, her mind planting hidden meanings behind his statement.
"For whatever else, Hawke," He gave her a light smile. "I remain at your side,"
"For now," the bitter tint escaped out before she could stop it.
Fenris' gaze heated. "For however long you wish me to stay,"
Warmth spread through her. Aiden parted her lips, her heart hammering, her mind screaming at her to do nothing more than close the space between them and capture a kiss from his lips. As though he somehow could hear her thoughts, he was moving closer.
"OI!" there was a shout from the tree that caused them both to jerk. "THAT'S MY PACK YOU STUPID WOLF!" Anders' annoyance carried down.
She let out a light chuckle. "Either that's a really odd dream or he left food in his bag again," there was the sound of a yip as Anders apparently fended off the beast. "I should get back," Aiden muttered with a half shrug. "It is my watch."
Neither of them moved away from each other.
"BLONDIE YOU NEARLY HIT BIANCA!" roared Varric.
Sighing, Aiden stepped away with a shake of her head. The two of them made their way back to camp; she suddenly slowed just before it came into view as something occurred to her.
For the first time in weeks she no longer heard the whispers of the Fade…