No Place So Far

After the trip beneath The Gallows, and with Ser Alrik’s blood on his hands, Anders is falling apart. Tobias Hawke is a distraction… and yet a glimpse of light in the darkness. Can Anders convince himself—or perhaps Justice—that he deserves just one chance at happiness?


Rating: T
Word Count: ~6000


A/N: Just a little one shot from Anders’ point of view, falling after Chapter 28 of my rather large and unwieldy m!Hawke (mage)/Anders romance, Justice in Surrender, which you (probably) don’t need to have read for this to make sense. Other fics of mine that focus on Anders’ thought processes and the whole Anders/Justice/Vengeance triad are A Canticle of Arguments and Words in the Darkness (both complete), because apparently I can’t leave the poor man alone. 


 

Anders goes back to bed once Hawke has left. He doesn’t watch him go; it’s almost too painful to look at him at all. Anyway, he can’t trust himself, just the same way he can’t trust himself in the clinic.

He’d hoped it would be all right but, as soon as he goes across to look over the elderly patients still in their beds—there are only two left; the man with the bad chest died earlier in the week, and the old woman has gone home to be with her family—he starts to doubt himself. His hands are shaking, and no sooner than he reaches for the thin, frail wrist that lies upon the blankets, he is seeing other flesh before him. Other bodies. Blood. So much blood. It was too easy… far too easy to sink his fingers in, to tear open skin and muscle and splinter bodies like broken chairs. Too easy to use the magic that is meant to heal for darker purposes, to reach inside a person and tear them apart.

When he tries to take the old man’s pulse, he tastes blood on his lips, and he knows from the look in the patient’s eyes that his fear is showing. Saryha is at his elbow—he supposes Hawke must have told her to keep an eye on him, damn the bastard to the Void, because she’s barely left his side since he got up—and she asks if he’d like her to take over.

Anders nods vacantly, mutters a response, and backs away. He knows how he must look. He can see it in the old man’s face. It’s that flat mask of nervous worry, that anxiety that a person gets when they know a mage is touching them, and they’re afraid. It doesn’t really matter whether it’s the magic that scares them or the mage, or the thin line between the two, but they’re frightened because they don’t believe they’re safe. They don’t trust. They fear the—

Demons? There are no demons here. I am no demon….

Anders shakes his head as he backs away from the pallet and pretends that having Saryha do this for him is good for her training. Maybe it is. She does show promise as a healer, if only because she’s adapted so well to this rat-spit little life. You need to do that. To be open to change and to learning. It reminds him of the way he was thrown in at the deep end at the Vigil… but he doesn’t want to think about it, because the memories fragment even as they touch his mind. They spin out into one jumbled blotch of colour and shape, a kaleidoscope of chaotic reminiscence, and then he’s not thinking about Sigrun, or tankards of mead, or all the books in the library. He’s thinking about blood, and bodies, and the way a man’s throat feels when he closes his hand around it and tears the soft flesh asunder. The way Alrik’s throat felt.

He feels sick after that, and it won’t go away. The first few patients start arriving—just people who want ointments or syrups, or reassurance about odd-looking boils—but he’s afraid of them. His stomach churns, and everything tastes like copper and raw meat, and he can smell the templar’s bloody breath as it belches out of his mouth, red-streaked spittle matting in his neat little beard.

He deserved it. You know what he did.

Yes. And it was glorious vengeance. He enjoyed it.

Maker….

Anders hauls a hot kettle off the fire and makes himself a cup of tea spiced with a herb the country folk call Bitter Spite. It numbs pain, settles nausea and, in large enough doses, will slow the heart and dull the mind, although it also has other, unpleasant side-effects. In Ferelden, the country folk had a legend about it. Something to do with Maferath’s jealousy of Andraste… there was a rhyme about it, he recalls. Husband’s bitter spite doth all the body blight. Something like that.

He drinks the tea too fast. It burns his mouth and tastes like feet, and his hands won’t stop shaking unless he has the cup pressed tightly between them. Every single person in the clinic is staring at him—they’re not, but it feels like they are—and they’re all thinking the same thing. He’s mad. He’s not mad… he’s scared. Everything feels loose, disjointed. He feels the way he did when he ran back here, ran from the Gallows and the girl in the burned crater, and the bloody bodies on the stones.

It was worth it. You know what they did. What they did to those mages. That girl… the women you saved. It was what needed to be done. I did what needed to be done.

I did.

It was him. That’s the thing. At the Vigil, he never remembered what he’d done to Stroud’s men until it was over. It was the act of waking, opening his eyes and finding blood on his face, his hands, that terrified him. Finding himself standing over their bodies, and not knowing what had happened.

At the Chantry, the night Karl died… he remembers that, more or less, but the memories come filtered through the rawness of feelings. It’s a matter of remembering the pain, the rage, the actual loss of control, more than the acts themselves. And it’s that loss that’s frightening. Feeling himself slip away, slipping beneath the searing white fire of Justice’s anger until it fills him up and erodes his sense of self, consumes him in the snarling beast of vengeance… and what if he never comes back?

The Gallows was like that, but worse. Worse than it’s ever been. It was like being awake through a nightmare, able to see, to smell and hear and touch, but not do a single damn thing, even though—in your dream-mind—you’re the one controlling the action. He watched himself do the things he did, and the parts of his mind that are so intertwined with the spirit knew that it was all righteous, that it was justified, that those bastards deserved it, but he had no way of pulling himself back from those impulses. He had no control. And what is a mage without control? He is the monster. He is the roaring, blood-spattered creature that prowled those corridors, with the fullness of the Fade burning in him, snarling at the people he was supposed to be there to help, to protect.

Anders clings to his cup as, inevitably, he thinks of the girl. Hawke says her name is Ella. She’s alive. Frightened, but alive. Hawke doesn’t believe Anders would have hurt her, because Hawke is a fool.

A naïve, beautiful, blind fool.

Hawke was all that stopped him. Holding onto him, right through the fire and the blood and the rage, and not letting go. Anders knows he hurt him: he saw the blisters on his hand. Stupidly, Hawke’s burned palm makes him feel nearly as bad as almost decapitating that girl, because it’s… well, it’s him.

And it always is, isn’t it?

He rubs his forehead, but it doesn’t ease the pressure there. His lips tingle a bit from the Bitter Spite, and he thinks fleetingly of the other herbs he has in the cupboards here, and the compounds he could mix up. It would be so easy, and yet he’s still afraid to die. After everything, after last night and all the other nights and all the terrible things he’s done… he’s frightened, and he wonders how weak this makes him.

Anders glances up, and sees a woman with a small child on her hip. She is looking at him, and the child is coughing, and she is probably here because of that, though she is very thin and worn herself and could most likely use healing. She has the same look on her face as the old man—that look of uncertainty and concern—and he knows he can’t be around her. He can’t be around any of them.

Saryha is trying to organise people into groups, or lines or something, and he thinks briefly—in his trailing, jumbled way—of the enforced exercise at the Tower, when all the good little apprentices would be herded out for walks near the edge of the lake, and healthy lungfuls of muddy air. Of course, he remembers Karl then, and the inky water of Lake Calenhad, and the curious mix of desperate, agonising terror and sheer elation that came with making for the shore. He remembers lying on his back in the mud, gasping like a dying fish, looking up at the black lacework of trees against the sky, and laughing hysterically at how horrible freedom felt. They caught him four days later, dragged him back… hungry, filthy, cold and dehydrated, but triumphant. Not even the pit could break that.

Saryha is trying to divide the patients into those who need potions, poultices, and ointments, and those who actually need healing, he realises. He wonders if she hates her freedom too. He doesn’t know. He doesn’t know anything anymore and, oh, Maker, he is so tired.

Anders slips away from the table, and slips behind the ragged curtain that marks his little scrape out from the rest of the clinic. He can’t be out there. If he’s out there, someone will want him to do something, and he can’t. He can’t touch them. He can’t heal them. Not now… maybe not ever again. He can’t trust himself.

His hands shake again as he starts attempting to unfasten his coat, so he gives up and leaves it on. The bloodstains don’t show since he cleaned it, except for the odd slightly damp-scrubbed patch, but he knows they’re there. There’s still a bowl on his bed with a bloody shirt soaking in it. He can’t face wringing it out, so he moves it to the floor at the foot of the pallet, and he stands there for a moment, staring at the space that—in the dark hours of the night, between the time they got back here and the dawn—Hawke had occupied.

For all that he remembers about the Gallows, and the horrible feeling of riding Vengeance’s fury like a tail of lightning, locked in violence and anger, Anders can’t remember getting back to the clinic.

He knows he ran. After what he almost did, he fled. Scattered. The others—Gethyn, Jarrod, Mina, Ranulf and the mages they’d rescued—he didn’t find them, didn’t try to help them. Didn’t try to help Hawke or Varric, either, or that poor girl he’d terrified. Just ran. So selfish. Maybe he thought he was trying to protect them… maybe he didn’t even think about it. He doesn’t know. Just blindly running through the tunnels, trying to get back to himself in a body that didn’t feel like his own, with a mind full of stars and fire and endless, enormous precipices, and every single moment burned him, as if the air was vitriol and his lungs were knives.

He remembers having made it back to Darktown… Maker knows how he did that in one piece… and being afraid to go to the clinic. He couldn’t. Saryha was here, and she didn’t deserve it—just as she doesn’t deserve him abandoning her out there now, but he’s a selfish shit and she’ll have to get used to it—and no one deserved what he might do. He didn’t deserve to be there. Didn’t deserve to still be breathing, and couldn’t work out why he was. Wanted not to be, but was scared of dying. Scared of himself. Scared of how, at first, he’d revelled in all that power, enjoyed wreaking his revenge on that sick bastard and his little friends—all of them sick, cruel shits, rapists and murderers and torturers and they deserved to die screaming, didn’t they?—and enjoyed the carnage because it was right. It was worth it. It was better than they deserved, and it told them that mages wouldn’t suffer any longer, they wouldn’t bow and scrape and shuffle and allow these abuses to continue… but then it was something else. It wasn’t power he was using, it was power that was using him, and Anders may not agree with most of the Circle’s teachings, but he knows that one is sensible. There is a distinction between those two things, and all mages need to know it.

He felt himself slipping and, just as a misplaced foot on scree or rock will send the heart thudding and the head spinning, the sensation of losing control made him panic. He’s panicking still.

The dark—the really dark parts of the tunnels, where the rocks have fallen in and there’s only mud and shadows—seemed the best place to be. He would have stayed there, entombed with his own panic and desperation, except….

Except for Hawke.

Anders exhales slowly as he sits down on his narrow little pallet. Of course Hawke found him. Hawke never leaves him alone. He’s always pushing, always picking. Saying the things he does. It isn’t fair. Anders wants to hate him, because it would probably be easier than this, and because he must know what he’s doing and how hard it makes everything, but he won’t bloody stop.

Hawke brought him back here, last night. Kept telling him he wasn’t a monster, that he was all right, that everything was all right… brought him home and put him to bed, and stayed. Slept crunched up on the floor in this little spot that Anders still finds himself staring at, as if echoes of the man might remain against the wooden wall. There are echoes, of course. He can still feel Hawke’s arms around him, still feel his warmth and the solidity of his body. He was so tired. He’d fought so hard. Done so much.

Anders suspects that it was because he was here that it was so easy to sleep.

He hadn’t wanted to; he’d been afraid of sleeping, of letting go, but it was all right. Hawke made it all right. He slept and, when he woke, he could stand and move and do all the things he had to, like change his clothes and clean the blood from his skin and hair… and he was still human. He wasn’t a boiling mass of flesh, a monster corrupted in skin and spirit. And Hawke was still there.

Anders breathes out again, the way Sigrun taught him to breathe, back at the Vigil. Those exercises that make you as still as the Stone. Breaths, and long counts, and concentration. He pulls his legs up onto the pallet, lies down, and turns over so he faces the wall, his back to the curtain and the clinic beyond it. He can hear them all. The people, and Saryha’s mild voice, growing terse and irritated as she tries to deal with them. It’ll be like herding cats, but he can’t help her. He can’t help anyone. He just stays still, and lets his gaze trace the grain of the woodwork.

Oh, pull yourself together. It’s been bad before, but— No, not like this. Not bad like this. Never this bad.

It was merely justice. He deserved it.

Yes. But—

So much. So much blood, so much anger…

…righteous anger.

Maybe.

Maybe no anger is righteous. Maybe there aren’t any excuses for anything.

But… he’d never felt it like that before. Not the enormity of it. The sheer, wild breadth of the Fade, and the power, and it wasn’t his. He wasn’t himself, wasn’t in control… wasn’t me.

There are no words for how much this frightens him. Losing himself, and losing the ability to recognise it. What if it happens again? And what if it’s not righteous? What if it’s not templars and injustice and the things that are wrong and have always made him angry?

If Anders can’t control himself, who’s to say he can control Justice’s decisions? What stops the spirit from taking exception to anyone, the way he took exception to Ella, not for what she was but what she was like? She wasn’t a templar, wasn’t against them… but if Justice starts to equate Circle mages with their jailors, then where does it end?

Anders stifles a groan and wraps his arms around his head. The stiff, coarse fabric of his worn coat doesn’t do much to shut out the noise, because it’s mainly inside him, but if he squeezes hard enough he can muffle it. The sound of his blood and his heartbeat lap and tug at him like the echo of the ocean in a shell, and he grits his teeth while he waits for this little burst of panic to pass. It is only a little one, in the grand scheme of things. It might feel like every single second is one step closer to his skin bursting and the world ending, but it will pass. He just has to keep breathing.

It’s either that, or run away. That’s always been his thing, hasn’t it? Except he can’t escape this. Not this time. He can’t outrun trouble. He never has, not really, but now it’s that much closer, and there’s no place far enough away… not from his own head.

Please make it stop. Make it stop. Please….

People have often told him he’s the author of his own misfortune.

He supposes they are probably right.

Ser Rylock, on those long, creaking hours in the wagons, when she’d be carting him back to the Tower with his hands chained and his robes wet, muddy, and clinging to his skin in cold, slimy folds, she said that he was a fool. An idiot. He was asking for punishment, she said; sitting up and begging to be made an example of, and he would deserve nothing less.

Of course, he’d responded by blowing kisses at her, winking, and saying that he only kept escaping because he wanted her attention. He’d wind her up until she’d growl with frustration, shake her head, and turn her heavily plated shoulder on him, her hard, sharp profile glaring out at the country they passed. Silence would fall, filled only by the wagon’s creaking rhythm and the sound of the horses’ feet, and Anders would wonder why he did keep trying. Why, when he knew they’d catch up to him sooner or later?

He knew the answer, naturally. He’d always known. It was what he’d tried to explain to Karl. Being caught didn’t matter, as long as he’d got away to start with. It was the principle, the point of the thing… the few brief snatches of light and life and colour when he was free, even if he was running. That mattered. It has always mattered, though it never used to be about principle. It used to be about hedonism, he supposes: taking great gulps of life in the snatches he had at it—his first tavern, his first round-rumped, busty barmaid, his first time cooking his own food, or standing in the rain, or walking on a cobbled city street—and holding onto those for as long as he could, like taking a lungful of sweet air back with him, down under the weight of murky water.

Memories. They kept him going. Kept him sane (well, near enough) during his confinements, because his body might have been locked away but his mind wasn’t… his mind was free to go anywhere, to travel in hours and miles, reality and fantasy, and to idle in beautiful dreams that grew from the roots of precious remembrances. That made it important to make new memories, and so he scrabbled them up like pebbles every time he got the chance.

There was never a time when he truly believed any escape would be his last. He might have hoped, but… he always knew they’d catch him, sooner or later. Take him back. Take him back, screaming, into the dark.

It’s only now that Anders knows he’s finally left the spectre of that behind him. Only now, because now, if the templars find him, they’ll kill him. Either they’ll be Kirkwallers, and he’ll die before he lets them take him in, because he knows what Meredith lets her savage, sick, watchdogs do to people like him, or they’ll be on his trail from Amaranthine. If that is the case, then they will be acting with the blessing of Commander Caron, and Stroud, and they will have come for more than his blood. They will want a reckoning, a price for the men he killed and for his betrayals at the Vigil.

Anders doesn’t relish either prospect, but knowing that, whatever happens, he will never be taken back into the fold of any Circle… that brings a certain sense of liberation. It’s frightening, and he can’t really say with conviction that it is in any meaningful way comforting, but it is liberating. Sort of.

Of course, it also brings a heavy burden. He is a fugitive, a man with a price on his head… on several of his heads, actually, given that it’s by no means certain the Kirkwall templars know he is the same mage that those in Amaranthine believe to be dead. The point is… he hurts people. He brings trouble. He always has, and it is only getting worse. And… and Justice… he, I, we, him, it, us… the things he has done, or the spirit has done, or they have done… these things have no names, and no real memories, but they are dark, terrible holes in his consciousness.

Oh, Maker… memories have always been so important. And now he’s losing them. He doesn’t remember all the things he does, or Justice does, or—

What we did. What we did in the Gallows.

No. Stop it.

He deserved it. That sick bastard. Raper, torturer… he committed crimes that must not go unpunished. They must all be punished. These atrocities will not stand….

Anders shuts his eyes tight, then opens them wide, but either way he can still see Ser Alrik in front of him. Cruel blue eyes are hard with violence, blood and sweat splashed across a pinkish face that is set into an expression of surprising blankness. Alrik is a man whetted to a fine edge; he is serene in the face of a fight. He is a pure, keenly driven blade, like a shard of a mirror as he says the word—snarls it between thin lips—and says you will die, abomination. His shortsword plunges at Anders’ midsection, but the blow is only glancing as he turns, pushing the templar off-balance with strength that is not human.

They can’t believe the cleanses aren’t hitting him. He can’t believe it. Before—the time he tried to hunt Alrik down, to kill him like a thief, to end him and make him die with Karl’s name on his lips—it was the cleanse that stopped him. It hit Justice hard. But now it doesn’t. He feels it pull at him with a dizzying, sucking nausea, but it doesn’t stop the spirit. He isn’t himself. He is Justice… Vengeance… the whole of the Fade burns in him, seeping out through his skin like he’s nothing more than a cheap string bag, the fabric of his body frayed and cracking as he struggles to hold it all in.

He remembers his hand on Alrik’s throat, and the moment the supercilious hatred in the man’s eyes halted, and became fear. That moment at which the templar understood, and at which Anders pressed just a little more, and the soft flesh of his neck began to give way.

Flesh shouldn’t tear like rotten fruit. It shouldn’t be so easy. It shouldn’t be as easy as it was to kill him, to pull the life from him and—as it happened, and the warmth of blood coursed and sprayed in salt-hot fire—it shouldn’t have felt like a blessing. It shouldn’t have felt so good.

It shouldn’t have felt like it was the answer.

It is. It will be. They must all pay. Every last one. They will die for their abuses.

Yes. He wants that, doesn’t he? Oh, the number of times in the Tower he fantasised about setting fire to all of them, inventing gruesome tortures and horrible deaths for the men who inflicted their petty torments on him. The ones who locked him up. The ones who took him away from his family, and left him on the cart in the dark that night, alone and frightened. The ones who made his life in the Tower uncomfortable in so many tiny ways, and the ones who arranged for his friends and lovers to be moved away, to Orlais, to Denerim… to Kirkwall… and taught him so very clearly that love was weakness, and he should never let himself care for anyone, because it was a danger and a vulnerability for them both.

Justice knows. Justice has seen into everything. Every memory—all those important, precious little pebbles that Anders holds so tightly to, clasps so desperately to what’s left of himself—and every fantasy, every last dreg of feeling and frustration and fear.

He knows, but he doesn’t always understand.

Slowly, Anders lowers his arms from his head. He goes back to the breathing exercises, and tries not to think about Hawke.

He wants him now. Right now, he wants him—misses him—worse than he ever has before. It’s visceral, agonising… and unexpected. Last night, Tobias bloody Hawke gave everything for the Underground. He was down there with them—under the Gallows, in the dark, and he is almost as afraid of that as Anders is himself—and he shed blood and killed men, and risked his life for the mages he has sworn to help. He was… magnificent, although Anders shies from thinking the word. He thinks it’s him that shies—his reluctance to feel this way, to admit to what he knows is true—and not Justice, but Justice does not approve of Hawke, or the effect he has on them. On Anders. I, we, it, him, us… me.

Justice doesn’t know what to do about the electric surges of lust Anders feels—crude, inappropriate, and somewhat dark though they are—when Hawke applies violence like a tool. He’s not a cruel man, but he knows how to be ruthless, and it took Anders a long time to feel comfortable with how attractive he finds that, and how badly he wants Hawke when they’re both spattered with blood and riding high on the thrill of surviving a fight.

But it wasn’t like that last night. There was no animalistic desire in the need that brought Hawke into the tunnels of Darktown. He chased Anders down, came running to find him and to take him home, and he stayed here, watching over him until dawn. Well… all right. Maybe not ‘watching over’. He was exhausted, and he slept on the floor, a crumpled mess of leather and muscle, and when Anders got up this morning Hawke was still curled up by the wall, snoring and smelling like a docker. But he was still a wonderful sight, and everything that he has ever done—every coin he gives to the Underground, every hour he spends in the clinic—seemed crystallised into the indisputable fact that he is a good man, far better than Anders could possibly deserve, and that it is becoming impossible to deny what draws them together.

He is a distraction. An obsession. A physical desire. It is nothing.

It isn’t. It isn’t nothing. It wasn’t nothing this morning, when Anders held him—hugged him tighter than any memory, because there weren’t words to say how incredibly grateful he is, or how much Tobias’ friendship has meant—and a kiss that never was ached between them.

He rolls onto his back as he remembers it. Memories aren’t always good to hold onto, but the bittersweet nature of this one stings like a bed of nettles.

Hawke smells like leather, from the dyed hide jerkin he wears, and this morning he also smelled of sweat and grime and old blood, but it didn’t matter. He was warm, solid, strong… real, in a way that nothing else in Anders’ life seems to be. He grits his teeth harder and groans in frustration, pressing the heels of his palms to his temples.

I don’t want to. I can’t. I can’t hurt him. And I will, won’t I? I already have. We mustn’t do that again.

I can’t need someone like that.

He all but threw Hawke out of the clinic. Made him leave. Made him go home, because it was too difficult to keep from wanting him, too hard not to kiss him… impossible not to need him.

You do not ‘need’. You want. It is selfishness, fixation… this desire of mortals for flesh and pleasure.

It isn’t. Well, it is… but it’s more than that. And Justice doesn’t understand. His kind don’t know love, and in the Fade desire is merely a destructive impulse, a tool that can be leveraged against the weak and unwary.

Maybe that’s all it is outside the Fade, too….

Anders squeezes his eyes shut. He doesn’t believe that. Not completely. It’s the way templars used to make him think. It’s the way Justice thinks, and he thinks, because they are the same, they are he, it, I, we, us, me and he can’t bear it. He can’t stand it any longer. Not without someone to hold his head above the water. Not without Hawke to sit slouched in the shadows and let him sleep.

He opens his eyes again and stares at the rough wooden walls and ceiling. Cobwebs waft in the air, and second-hand candlelight moves against the panels.

I miss you.

While he’s holding onto thoughts of Hawke—with his lop-sided smile and his hard green eyes, and the tenderness in his touch and his voice when says Anders is not a monster—it seems easier not to see the blood and the bodies flashing through his mind. They’re still there… everything is still there, because Justice’s kind have no concept of time or the linear order of memories, and everything the spirit touches is spilled out like a sack of potatoes rolling across the floor… but they hurt a little less.

Hawke could make everything hurt less, Anders is sure, and he wants more than anything to test this hypothesis. He wants him here, and he wants his arms and his voice and his mouth… and his love. He wants to be remade in it, to let Tobias take away the fear and the pain, and to make believe everything’s all right, the way it seems to be when he’s here.

It’s terrifying, this need. This want.

It is selfish. It is oppression. Consumption. It is… unhealthy.

A sickly, sarcastic smile splinters across Anders’ face, and he lets his head loll to the side, staring once more at the wooden wall. It probably is. It is not a clean kind of love. It wouldn’t have been, even if he’d met Tobias years ago, well before all of this… and, oh, he wishes that were true. Wouldn’t it have been easier? Wouldn’t it have been wonderful?  

But it’s not true. They are here, in this mess, and he is lying in his bed in the middle of the day, feeling so small and alone and afraid, choking with self-pity. Anders hates himself for it. Hates this weakness, this fear, this indulgence.

He needs to get up. He needs to get on with things. He needs to stop this and, as he thinks these things, he feels Justice surge in agreement, and the wave of self-loathing hits. It makes his stomach curdle and his eyes water, and yet he smirks to himself as he sits up slowly in the bed. He, who has never hated himself, never felt the shame that so many people tried to thrust upon him for what he is, he feels it now. Hates his whining, whimpering weakness. Hates the way he feels, and hates that he cannot control it.

Anders wobbles a bit as he gets to his feet. It’s not easy. Nothing is easy.

He imagines Hawke will be furious with him. Maker knows, he’s denied that man so many times now it’s a wonder he’ll still speak to him. Maybe he won’t now. Maybe the desire—the affection—that Hawke feels for him is withering away right at this moment, burned out by so many refusals. He wouldn’t blame him, although Anders wonders if he knows how difficult it has been to keep pushing him away. Part of him hopes so—he wants Tobias to know that someone cares for him, after all, and that everything he’s done has meant so much—but, naturally, it’s better this way.

Is it?

Of course it is. It’s better that he doesn’t put Hawke at risk. Better that he protects others the same way he protects himself and… and if he’s no longer strong enough to do that, then Anders isn’t quite sure what happens next.

His fingers flex weakly on the ragged curtain that separates him from the clinic. He read once that the Fade is like a curtain across the world, and stepping into it is merely opening one’s eyes.

He blinks, and falters a little, and sits back down on the pallet.

Maybe just a moment more. Just a minute.

He should go out there, he knows. Try and do something. Even if he can’t heal, he can mix poultices and bathe sores. He can do something… but he’s been doing something for a long time now, and he’s tired. He hurts. He isn’t sure he can keep hold of the threads of control anymore, and just breathing seems to take more effort than it should.

I can’t go on like this.

But he doesn’t have much choice, does he? He can hardly give up, and he can’t get away. There’s no place so far away that he can escape himself. And these were his choices. Merging with Justice, coming to Kirkwall… they were his decisions. He has to live with that. And he has no right to ask for help from anyone, least of all Tobias Hawke.

With that thought in his fractured mind, Anders takes a deep breath and pushes back the curtain. There will be salves to be made, wounds to be cleaned and bandages to be washed and rolled. He can’t trust himself with magic, but he can do that.

Later, he’ll go and see Selby. Hawke said she was worrying, and maybe she’s right to be fearful for him, but it’s going to be all right. It has to be, doesn’t it? After all, it’s not like he has an alternative.

Anders steps into the clinic, and it’s all he can do to let the day slip over him, swallowing him up with its weight and its ceaseless minutiae. He collects himself, uses every last ounce of his control to hold himself tightly in hand, putting himself somewhere small and quiet inside his own mind, until the world turns hollow and vacant around him.

There is nothing to feel, nothing to think. He is just a succession of chores, catered to by calm, busy hands. He works like the Tranquil do, his gaze focused on the middle distance, and by the late afternoon he has managed to push from his mind the looks that people are giving him; the looks that say they know how strange and empty he has become.

He wants to believe it doesn’t show. He wants to think there won’t be stories about what happened to Ser Alrik, but of course there will. Maybe his name will even be put to the deed… though it will be the weight of suspicion and nothing more, unless one of the mages who was there turns tattler.

Maybe the templars will come here again. Maybe it will all end… and perhaps he won’t fear it when it comes. Anders doubts that, but he supposes he doesn’t know for certain. Nothing is certain anymore, except the fact that he can’t trust his own judgement.

He can’t do this alone.

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