just fuck me up
Isabela shook her head fractionally, keeping the movement slight to avoid jostling Marian. “That Inquisition,” she clarified. “Didn’t the Chantry disown them? Popular cause, that one. Difficult to shut down. The Herald of Andraste and the Champion of Kirkwall working together. All we need is the Hero and we’ve got a full set…” Isabela chuckled lowly.
It was odd to think of Marian as anything other than Marian. Sure, her friend was remarkable, but Isabela had only once faltered in her vision of the rogue. For a time after Marian had earned her title, Isabela had felt like the odd one out. What did a Champion need for a vagabond pirate, anyway? Marian had quickly put a rest to her worries: they were friends, what else mattered? Since then, Isabela had only ever seen her friend, with seemingly permanent bruises and cheekbones that could cut as well as any dagger.
“Mmmm, always a compliment, sweet thing. You’re the most remarkable person I know.” She said it plainly, like the fact it was. “And it does. Should keep you out of trouble, and maybe away from giant spiders.” Isabela shivered and pulled the blankets closer around them. Kirkwall had had an endless supply of those vile things.
“That was one of my favourite days,” Isabela continued, snuggling up once she was content with her new nest. “As I recall, we finally put some color in your cheeks. Even if it was tomato red.” You could hear more than see Isabela’s wicked grin.
"Don’t say spiders,” Hawke whined as prickles ran up her arms and spine. Spiders were nasty, blasted things. They belonged in the ground, or better yet: back in the Void where she was sure they’d crawled out of along with hurlocks and tax collectors.
It was warm in the bed, Isabela’s familiar voice as comforting as a lullaby. It would have been so easy for Hawke to drift back to sleep, to forget Varric’s letter, to kiss Anders awake in the morning, to watch for mermaids with Cricket at dusk…
But she couldn’t.
She just couldn’t.
Because that isn’t what Malcolm Hawke would have done.
With an effort, Marian made herself sit up, ignoring the fresh chill to the air as she peeled the sea blankets from her shoulders. “Let’s have a drink,” she declared, pawing her way in the darkness for the decanter by the window. There was a quiet clunk, and then amber went sluicing into a pair of chipped glasses.
Hawke passed one to Isabela, then took up a lean against the edge of the desk where she could see the moon out the small window: high above the surf, running the shadows off.
She swirled the liquor in her grasp, thinking about running. It seemed like she was always sprinting toward problems instead of away from them like any normal person. Where did that end?
Maybe with Corypheus…
Eyes clearing, she raised her glass to her friend. “I’ve never been very good at toasts. Or speeches,” she paused and went on haltingly. “Or goodbyes."
"How about a raincheck?” Hawke asked as though making a sudden decision. She drew strength from the sight of Isabela, holding her drink as naturally as if they were back in the Hanged Man, chatting about secret coves between rounds of rigged card games. Yes. It was better like this. No swan song. Just in with the whiskey and out with the tide.
“Isabela’s youngest crewman, Cricket, and I have become quite close. I’ve been teaching the boy to read and he’s been teaching me to fish. A couple of weeks ago, a smuggling job we were running got…ugly.
While we were trying to get everyone out, a man took a swipe at his face with a knife. Caught him just above the nose. I killed the bastard and gave Cricket the dagger to keep.”
“It was little more than a scratch, really. Anders could fix it with a flex of his pinky, but the boy refuses. He told him he likes ‘matching Hawke’.”
Tonight, I repeat to myself, glancing up at the scattered stars overhead. Tonight will be the last of it.
My exhales wreath around me as I crunch across the snow into a tavern I’ve forgotten the name of by the time I’m ordering my ale. The keep, bald and squinting behind spectacles that seem too small for his face, hands the room key over like he’s just lost a bet. “You look familiar.”
I rub the scar on my nose, self conscious, and take three quick strides for the stairwell. “Famous cousin.”
Pine groans underfoot as I climb, higher and higher, away from the overlapping conversations of the other patrons. They fade like choir song on the wind.
The key between my fingers is warm from the barkeep’s pocket and I wonder how many hands it has passed through, and out of those hands, if any have shaken this badly when they turned it in the lock.
Another barren room greets me. No canopy bed, no fireplace, no keepsakes from Lothering here. There’s a shield-sized mirror by the washbasin though, and I stray toward it. In the glass I see a blue eye above a black bruise, a nose that isn’t as straight as it used to be, cheeks gone hollow from a lack of Orana’s cooking. I don’t see a hero anywhere.
For a challenge, I try a smile, feeling my jaw press my teeth together while watching little lines stretch white over the cerise of my lips. This used to be an easier expression. Now I look like a Tranquil, so I stop right away.
“Don’t fret darling,” I tell the mirror girl. Parting words are very important, I’ve learned over the years. These are mine to Marian Hawke: “You’ve done all the good you can do.”
Something makes me look to the window. There’s too much frost on the pane to see out so I curl my gloved hand into a fist and rub at the blur until I can see the moon above Hunter Fell. Below me, a few men stumble out of the inn, completely into their cups, hanging off eachother as they try to navigate the icy steps. One of the men lands on his rump with an invocation of Andraste and I remember leaving the Hanged Man with my friends, like this. Aveline muttering about having an early patrol, Anders about having a headache, Merrill turning the wrong way to get home, Isabela shouting at her to veer starboard, and Fenris swearing in Tevene as his legs carry him zigzagging precariously back to Hightown with me.
I’m so busy staring out the window that I don’t hear the door behind me open, but I do hear it shut. I whirl around with dagger in my hand like my life is something I’m suddenly interested in defending. I didn’t order room service.
No one answers. Then I’m out in the hallway, craning my neck from left to right until I realize there’s something chafing under my boot.
I can’t even remember the last time I stayed anywhere long enough to get a letter. When I turn it over, my knees buckle. The way you picture Orlesian comtesses doing if their salad fork is placed on the wrong side.
I have to read the name on the envelope out loud just to make sure I’m not imagining it. The voice in my mind is deeper, though, and warmer than hearthfire.
Isabela only tittered at Marian’s protests. Of course it was serious. Everything with Marian was serious, especially her jokes. It was when Marian stopped making them that Isabela knew to take a step back and be a little less worried than usual, a little more of the naïve friend, particularly since they both knew better.
“I knew this was coming,” she sighed softly, eyes drooping but not quite slipping shut. “Any in particular you’d prefer? I’d suggest Kirkwall, but…” Isabela trailed off and found Marian’s head after some blind swatting, smoothing her hair and pulling her close. “Kirkwall’s not so nice this time of year,” Isabela finished.
“You’re going to join the rebellion, aren’t you?” she asked after a moment. “Someone like you can’t last long without a radical cause to support.”
Kirkwall, Marian reflected, letting herself be soothed by the embrace. It feels like a rock I can never quite shake from my boots.
Down the hall, her lover was alone in their cabin. Safe. And Hawke intended to keep him that way even if it meant hurting him now. He’d lied in what he had decided were her best interests once. If anyone should (no, had to) understand what was to come, it was Anders.
It was almost motherly the way Isabela’s rough fingers moved ceaselessly over Hawke’s short hair like it was long again. Hawke opened her eyes, wondering when she’d closed them. “You mean the rebellion I inadvertently started? Oh, I think it’s too late for that.”
Another letter from Varric had been waiting at the last port of call, placed into her palm by a hooded stranger who had vanished into the crowd before Hawke could catch a glimpse of their face. It never ceased to amaze her how far the spymaster’s web stretched. He always seemed to know where she was, even when she wasn’t sure herself. “Not certain I should take ‘someone like me’ as a compliment. If it makes you feel any better, I won’t be leading anyone this time,” Hawke made a sound caught between a chuckle and a sigh. “Remember when I took you all in circles around the Wounded Coast for an entire afternoon? I thought Aveline was going to arrest me for loitering.”
Anders was sitting in his room… hole, more like, space wasn’t the thing you had a lot of on a boat. The horrible green liquid sat in front him on a tiny table, rhythmically rocking back and forth with the rhythm of the waves. The sickness has been barely bothering him now, partly because no matter how disgusting that concoction was, the mage had to admit that it worked. On the other hand, his mind was way too busy thinking about Marian.
How long has he waited for that invitation, how long has he wanted to hear those words. But at the same time he dreaded them too. What if Justice disapproves? What if he wakes up during… what if he… kills Marian? But he promised himself, he promised he’ll let himself be happy, not knowing how long he got, he needs to be happy, even for a short time. But what if it’s a selfish happiness? One that can cost the life of the woman he loves.
He took the drink in hand and took a quick swig from it. The next minute his face was completely distorted from the grimace the taste forced on him. He glanced at the door, imagining himself walking out and casually strolling over to Marian’s cabin door. A short knock, and he would be there just with her and nothing else in the world would matter. But…
Always the drama… eh?
Next, his gaze found the wash basin in the corner and before Anders knew it, he was on his feet, splashing the cold water in his face.
Damned be all that drama… if this is the last thing I do in life, I will keep Justice at bay.
He dried his face with a cloth, his hair surrounding his face sticking wet to his skin, hand reaching for the handle and he was on the corridor. Both hands were against the boards as he tried to keep his balance, though Marian’s cabin was only a few feet away. His hand swung back to knock, but he stopped mid-air.
Carefully placed one palm on the door and leaned his forehead against it. No matter what happened before, beyond this door is what he’s been searching for all his life.
His hope and home.
Finally a soft knock could be heard on the door, and seconds later Anders entered, worry gone, smile anew.
“Marian? Would you like to see my graphs?”
Well, there certainly wasn’t a lot to entertain oneself with in here. While time stretched, Marian paced the confined length of her room, one of the largest on the ship but compared to her former mansion in Kirkwall it was for all intents and purposes: a linen cupboard.
Will Anders come? she wondered, crossing her arms as if suddenly cold in the warmth of the cabin. Or will he manage to talk himself out of it?
“Or with my luck maybe the ship will be sacked by eyeball-devouring monsters,” she muttered aloud. “While the sky flies apart…”
Footsteps in the hallway drew her notice and Hawke tensed, listening in the half-dark of the oil lamp. For long moments, there was only silence. Perhaps just a sailor stumbling past to the mess who needed to catch his breath.
A single knock stirred the air and within seconds, Anders was in her doorway, smiling like something out of a dream and she found that she was smiling too. “You’re here!”
“Would you like to see my graphs?”
Her eyes picked up the lamplight and narrowed with amusement. Closing the distance between them took seconds, sliding her arms over his shoulders even less so. She had been close to Anders before, in frigid tunnels and crowded taverns, but never with her hips flush to his like this, never murmuring carelessly into his mouth. “Absolutely not.”
Joan Bauer, Almost Home