Hellfire Ch. 12: The Collar Unseen | DA2 Fanfiction

Read the previous chapter. | Read it on AO3.
Approx. 2100 words (A to B minutes) | Rating: M | Dragon Age 2 Spoilers | Characters: Orsino, Garrett Hawke, Meredith Stannard, Carver Hawke

What with the ‘there is no escape’ angle from the day before, Hawke expected more Templar-themed disaster after patching things up with the Qunari on the Viscount’s orders. But instead of dragging Garrett off to the old cell again for a new round of aggressive silent treatment, his assigned Templar friends led Hawke to the dining hall for breakfast with his fellow mage prisoners. Not that anyone looked too pleased to see him after his latest vanishing spell, but was anyone ever happy in this place? Hawke didn’t see a reason to take that personally.

With Templars posted around the room between thin windows, it wasn’t the most relaxing place to eat. They had lanterns and wrought iron chandeliers to light the room at all hours, on account of its size and having no sunlight, and the gathered mages all ate with their heads down. A few spoke to each other softly, only barely looking up. Not seeming completely crushed on a spiritual level was an invitation for the Templars of the Circle to try harder. The Tranquil mages sat on their own, of course.

“Morning,” Hawke greeted a mage getting food from the Tranquil mage on serving duty, picking up a plate for himself. “Lucky us, we’re just in time for the stale bread.”

Alright, so it was a bit strange that the person he just spoke to walked away without a word, but he was willing to write that off as not being a morning person. The Gallows wasn’t a great place to start with, but imagine being woken up every day at your least favorite hour by people who probably wanted you dead or worse? Anyone’d be crabby. So, breakfast in hand, Hawke tried again with mages already sitting together. No one who sought out a crowd was in a bad mood, right?

“Hello there,” he said, catching the attention of some mages sitting at a table with room for at least one more. Gesturing to an open spot, he went for the polite approach just in case. His luck hadn’t exactly been in good shape lately. “Alright if I join you?”

They looked at each other, then at him. Not a fuzzy warm expression among them. “We were just leaving.”

And like that, they picked up their plates (with plenty of food still on them, he noticed) and sat at another table. Well, something was not right here. He usually had to do something first for people to avoid him so intently. Hawke wasn’t necessarily popular anywhere they lived, being a mage on the run and all, but he made friends pretty easily. Some people hated him because of his smart mouth or natural talent for ending up at the center of a big mess, and of course, the Templars hating him for his magic. But for the mages to join in on it? That was plain rude. Where was the section on that in Anders’ manifesto?

“Good morning, Hawke,” Orsino announced his presence like he was about to bring another awful errand to Garrett, having a seat with the same foreboding gravity. Seemed like having breakfast was the only thing that would go right for Hawke today. “Did you get any rest?”

Well, that phrasing was odd. Hawke gave Orsino a sideways look, smirking.

“I managed. And you, First Enchanter? I figure the perpetual accusations of world-shattering conspiracies make it hard to catch a good night’s sleep.”

He had no idea how old Orsino was, or how old elves could get, but the stress he was under all the time wasn’t doing Orsino any favors. The only people that haggard were apostates and former Templars left high and dry by the order. Not looking great for Orsino either way.

“You jest about the strangest things,” he answered, definitely not wrong, and sighed down at the table. No platter of breakfast for Orsino, just tea—or maybe he had a fancy First Enchanter’s breakfast earlier. That job had to come with more than office and the scorn of all Templars, or who would keep it? “But I am not the only one accused of deeds I did not do.”

“Oh?” He wanted help with something, Hawke assumed. It was unlikely he’d be able to do much, since Meredith was merrily taking up all his time with one-on-one torment, but Garrett would figure something out. Probably. “Who’s the unlucky bastard?”

His eyes softened as he settled for looking at Garrett, and boy, did that make him want to go back to his holding cell and lock the door himself. “You, I’m afraid.”

“That does sound like something that would happen to me before I’ve even finished breakfast.” Grabbing a piece of what passed as bread when you were magical and wrong, Garrett gestured toward Orsino with it. Wasn’t good for much else, though he’d try to eat it afterwards anyway. “Do I get to know my own juicy gossip?”

“I owe you that much.” He sipped at the cold, over-steeped tea that came with breakfast while Hawke tried to tear a piece off the bread with his teeth. Took a bit of effort, but he got it with a couple extra tugs thrown in. “Word has travelled of your connection to Knight Commander Meredith, and the mages in the Gallows were already wary of the implications.”

Right, so that was trouble. Hawke just figured everyone was shy or had the worst case of indigestion every day. No surprise with food like this, right? Should’ve figured it was actually all his fault instead, that really was a pattern going back for years.

“And then that got worse somehow, yeah?” Dipping the bread into the runny eggs in an attempt to soften it up a bit, Hawke shrugged.

Orsino had to work on that bad omen look of his, but for that, someone had to tell him. Hawke had enough going on for three people at the moment, and a positivity makeover was just one chore too many. Through a somber stare, the First Enchanter finished up the bad news (hopefully). “Once word had spread that she asked you to watch us on her behalf and report anyone suspicious, our people decided with near unanimity that you are not to be trusted.”

“Oh, let me guess,” he joked, letting the soaked bread drip dry for a second, “Telling them I’m not on her side would just confirm their deepest, darkest fears?”

“Regrettably, they have made up their minds.” Orsino just shook his head, the frown he was always sporting firmly in place. Maybe his face was just stuck that way. He loved this mess of a city-state, but Kirkwall could have that effect on someone on its own, never mind the Gallows. “I know you are not against us, Hawke, but even that is not enough to reassure them. Not with your long disappearances and freedom to come and go.”

What could he do to that but snort a laugh? And try to pull off another piece of yolk-sodden bread, that was important. Next to the other mages here, Hawke had to admit that he did have more liberties than they ever would. A scary thought, actually. Since he entered the Circle, he’d left a handful of times when most people held in the Circle didn’t have a single memory of life outside. They came in once, and they’d probably only leave when they were dead.

Not a bad escape plan, now that he thought of it. Maybe he’d pretend to be dead and make this easier on everyone (once they got done being mad that he faked his death with no warning, anyway).

“I could certainly do worse than having a friend in the First Enchanter.”

“I admit, I find your optimism reassuring. And to think I was worried you would be distraught.” He stood, looking down at Hawke with some sort of something, alright. Part forced smile, part pity, part crushing despair. He’d have to remember not to invite Orsino to Wicked Grace night before he sorted out his whole rain cloud of eternal despair bit. “I must return to my office, but please know that I am on your side even if our people cannot see why just yet.”

“You’re very sweet,” Garrett teased.

And with minimal fluster, Orsino dismissed himself so Hawke could finish his breakfast at the gradual pace advised by Aveline. Not much changed for him with the latest ugly news, really. He spent most of his time in one cell or the other under Templar watch. Any time he had out and about was usually cleaning up after someone in Kirkwall. It’s not like he had Circle friends beside Merrill, and he wasn’t going to stick around to make some either.

Hawke only barely decided to go to the library and read one of the books he was halfway to memorizing when Ser Alrik arrived with a different suggestion from Meredith. An order, actually. Leading Hawke down familiar halls and staircases in the irritable silence of a man who hadn’t ripped the soul out of any mages lately, Alrik dropped him off at the much-less-pleasant cell number two.

On the bright side, one thing had gone right so far: Hawke had a proper breakfast.


Mature content available on AO3 only.


Meredith put him back together when she ran out of patience or stamina, and Hawke let her go through the motions. Just enough done to cover her tracks for anyone to witness him. He had no idea how long it was before he heard Templars re-open the cell door, a radiating ache around the cut on his face making itself known as he lifted his head. Pointlessly, since the blindfold stayed on through it all.

“Alrik, my good friend,” he rasped.

“Not exactly,” Carver answered flatly. Hawke’s heart sank and the bile rose in his throat again.

No, not like this.

There were two sets of footsteps, so they weren’t alone together either. His little brother had to see him like this and pretend not to care while they undid the restraints—it had to be pretending, even Carver didn’t hate him that much, right?—and Garrett lowered his head back down. He really screwed this up now. How could he let Carver see this? There had to be a choice he could’ve made differently, something to learn for next time. Hawke should’ve fought off Alrik sooner or put up a fight right in the cafeteria. Whatever it was, Hawke had no one to blame for it but himself.

The other Templar grumbled through the process of lifting Hawke from the chair—so that wasn’t Cullen—and soon, Carver pulled Garrett’s arm over his shoulder. “Right, let’s get you on your feet.”

Carver didn’t have to hold Hawke’s hand once his arm was over his back and on the opposite side of his little brother’s neck. His wrist would have been just fine to support him, if he needed anything at all. Garrett closed his hand around his brother’s, hissing at the pain that ran down his arm. Must’ve been a bad angle for his shoulder while Meredith went about her business. Leaning forward to push himself up clued him in that his legs didn’t feel much better about it.

Standing sounded downright miserable. “Sounds fun,” he tried to joke. “Why not?”

The trip back to his room was a bit touch and go, but they made it, and Hawke was probably asleep before they even put him on the bed. If they passed anyone else, he didn’t remember them. And judging by the birds that woke him up, he slept through until dawn or close enough to it.

Stiffly and very aware of every sore spot, Garrett turned on his side and slipped his hand beneath the pillow for the illusion of fluff. Imagine his surprise when he found a half-crumpled, half-folded note there. Resting his back against the wall, Hawke read the message by the low flame in his other hand.

The others warned me about what happened in the tavern, but nothing as bad as this. We’re moving faster now. Hang in there.

At the bottom, another line had been scrawled on at a rushed angle.

I’m sorry.

Same as last time, he burned it up without a trace.

Slumped into the corner, Hawke dropped his hands to his lap and just sat there listening to birds. He was sorry too. Carver never should have had to see him in that state, half out of it with fresh injuries on his face and Maker knew what else. Hawke never wanted this weight on his younger brother’s shoulders. And next time, it’d be different.


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Always | FFXV Fanfiction

Word count: 1100 (2 to 9 minutes) | Rating: G | Final Fantasy XV Fanfiction | Characters: Ignis Scientia and Noctis Lucis Caelum


Visiting Noctis’ separate residence on occasion after Ignis had tended to his duties was simply habit. The crown prince expressly stated he wished to live alone for greater independence, but regular visits had revealed that very little self-reliance was taking place. Dishes accrued over Ignis’ absence and on more productive weeks, the clean laundry still sat wrinkling in the basket.

Inside, the lights were off today despite the hour—merely 6 o’clock, a more appropriate time for dinner than resting as Noctis no doubt was. His shoes were present by the entrance, after all. Ignis paused to straighten those after removing his own, walking deeper into the apartment by the light of his cellphone.

Noctis was not quite ready yet perhaps, but Ignis was there to support him. When he was prepared, Ignis was confident that the prince would step into his role as the heir to the Lucian throne. Until then, Ignis himself had duties to uphold and a dear friend to look after. With his spare key, he let himself into the apartment monitored at a respectful distance by the Crownsguard.

The main room was slightly cleaner and more orderly than usual, a sure sign that Prompto had visited recently. Noctis’ newest friend had made both Gladio and Ignis wary until they met the nervous blond in person and taken time to know him, whereupon they had no choice but to acknowledge that he was a good influence on Noct. Up until his friendship, Noctis had no peers that he considered even acquaintances. He went to school, to his part-time job if he had a shift, and traveled directly home only to repeat the process the next day.

Once Prompto reached out to him, Ignis was fortunate enough to see more of the young boy he first served start to return. On several visits, he would arrive to Prompto and Noctis laughing in an apartment not entirely covered in piled up garbage bags and empty bottles, takeout containers, haphazardly stacked books, and scattered clothes or papers. Noctis was recovering, and Ignis could only be grateful.

“Noct?” He whispered into the shadows, grocery bags in each hand. He knew better than to expect any usable ingredients to be in the prince’s fridge. At the silence, Ignis set the bags down on the counter and approached a familiar silhouette on the sofa. His eyes adjusted to distinguish the sight of Noctis asleep beside a history book he likely knew inside and out. At the very least, he grades suggested as much.

Despite the knowledge that Noctis was unlikely to wake easily, Ignis was careful to approach the linen closet quietly to retrieve a blanket. The addition of a pillow would awake even the prince, but surely the simple comfort of a blanket would be welcome when his nap was done with. The dishes would be cleaned, and any trash would be cleared away. His laundry would be complete and put away. All evidence of Ignis’ care and attention for Noctis, a young man he valued as his own family and as his king.

Unfolding the blanket and draping it over the teenager that would one day lead the nation, Ignis smiled to himself in the dark.

Gladio would have lectured him on coddling Noct, though he was just as aware as Ignis that the prince they both served could be resolutely obstinate when he wished to be. In a manner, Ignis supposed there was merit to his claims. But Gladio had not known Noct as long as Ignis had, did not play an integral role in raising him from his toddler years like Ignis—who was a boy himself at the time and yet that bond made all the difference.

Prepping the ingredients for meals designed to conceal vegetables, Ignis began to cook. He would later divide out lunches for easy portioning, but for now, Ignis permitted his mind to wander. Meal preparation came to him instinctively enough by that point that it hardly called for his undivided attention, and there was something of a comfort in reminiscing while still seeing to Noctis’ wellbeing.

Ignis would admit that Noctis was prone to despair and resignation at the most inopportune times, but it was no obligation to serve him in his darkest hours while he sought out the strength Ignis knew he had. When the weight of the crown and the impending passing of his father bore down on Noctis, there was always Ignis at his side. Noct did not need to say a word to communicate to Ignis, and rarely felt inclined to, but it was a given that he could at any time. As it had always been.

If Noctis was not yet ready to face the calling ahead of him, he had Ignis’ support. When he needed someone to listen, he had Ignis’ willing ear. When he required company and silence all at once, he had Ignis’ quiet presence. Whatever the burden or obstacle, Ignis was a safe haven and loyal aide to Noctis.

Perhaps he did enable his less-than-regal behavior from time to time, as Gladio accused him of doing, but there were so few people that a prince could entrust his truest self to. And to Ignis, he would always be the young child who, with a smile, silently took his hand in friendship from the moment he became the prince’s retainer.

Gladio was his Shield and inspired him to push to greater heights. Prompto was his friend and encouraged him to enjoy all the fond memories that a standard high school experience could offer, just as King Regis had hoped for his son.

Each of them was essential to the prince’s contentment, but one fact would never change: Noct could rely on Ignis in all matters. He would indulge his desire to nap while Ignis drove or delegate more tedious tasks to him so Noct might write to Lady Lunafreya or make plans with Prompto. Was that not the sort of unsung sacrifice Ignis was meant to make both as his retainer and his oldest friend?

Ignis did also take the time to remind Noct he would one day have to see to these tasks unaided, which was an equally valuable part of his service. Yet that time would come one day in the future, only when Prince Noctis was prepared to accept his responsibilities as royal heir. The privilege of witnessing Noct rise to all he could be was well worth the possibly lenient service to him now.


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Hellfire Ch. 11: Offered and Lost | DA2 Fanfiction

Read the previous chapter. | Read it on AO3.
Approx. 3900 words (9 to 30 minutes) | Rating: M | Dragon Age 2 Spoilers | Characters: Cullen Rutherford, Anders, Garrett Hawke, Varric Tethras, Meredith Stannard

That settled it, Circle life was every bit as awful as he’d heard it would be. Meredith kept her promise about the interrogation being extensive, but she didn’t make it clear how much waiting featured in her schemes. On the odd nights that he was actually in his room and not the interrogation cell, Hawke waited to fall asleep only to be woken up every couple hours by the guards posted outside.

That was his best guess for a timeline, at least. Not like he had any way to tell time when he was either in his room or in an even worse cell, bound to a chair and blindfolded in almost total silence. He could hear people outside the cell, others shuffling in the room above, whatever it was, and that was it. Didn’t seem like torture until he started imagining full-on conversations in his head to stave off the boredom.

He’d resorted to singing a couple times, one very inappropriate song and then a misremembered hymn. Both ended up with beatings, so Hawke could only assume that all his Lothering friends lied when they said he had a good singing voice.

Hawke chuckled to no one. Was it a bad sign to laugh at jokes made to yourself?

Guards also came to feed him once in a while, but not often enough—plus, it was pretty tricky to eat off a spoon you couldn’t see held by someone who didn’t like you very much. Other times, they were just there to wear him down.

Garrett underestimated just how smart they were about this; he’d have to admit that. The beatings were careful, and since he couldn’t see or move, there was no risk they’d hit him in a way they didn’t mean to. Any bruises that did turn up were planned out so they wouldn’t show if anyone did see him that shouldn’t. That hadn’t happened since this whole mess started, though. A few other mages saw him, but it was always on purpose so no one would report not seeing him and kicking off an inconvenient investigation.

Not that they had much love for Hawke anyway. Word traveled fast that he was in Meredith’s pocket as her favorite mage, so the other mages avoided him at pretty much any cost.

But there was no Orsino, no Cullen, and no Carver either. Basically, no one saw him who wouldn’t approve or might snitch.

Hawke was a tool of the Circle too, so they did have to be ready if he was called on by anyone who needed something done and wanted Hawke to do it.

Knowing Kirkwall like he did, he was sure that’d be any day now. It was just that kind of thinking that helped him keep quiet about the escape route. It was always just one more day, one more hour, one more beating, and he’d get a break. The Templars couldn’t go forever, but Hawke? Hawke could keep this up for as long as he had to. Would be a bit easier if he could stretch his legs, though.

The point was that if he gave up the escape route, it’d trap him here along with every other mage who didn’t want to be in the same spot. Whatever happened to these mages if Garrett ratted them out, it would be his fault. He had more than his share of guilt these days, thank you very much.

Besides, he was actually getting good at this not seeing thing.

The cell door slammed open with just a hair too much force, scraping against the stone floor, and armored footsteps got closer to him with intent precision. Only one person was that aggressive and obsessed.

“Meredith, I’ve missed you,” Hawke greeted, clearing his throat. Been a while since the last round of water. “I’m not much of a host at the moment, but—”

“Quiet.” She tore the blindfold off, not giving him even a moment to adjust before kicking the chair back and catching the front of his shirt to spare his head slamming into the stone ground. A bleeding skull was hard to hide.

Pulling him toward her, Meredith straddled the chair and scowled at him. Maker, how he must look up close… Worse, smell. He’d been rinsed off like cattle last night, but that was hardly a thorough bathing. Then again, a sponge bath by Templars would probably be worse somehow.

For a second, with her honey-gold hair and piercing glower taking up all he could see, Hawke swore his ears were ringing. That couldn’t be right. His smartass grin dropped to confusion, not that Meredith cared about the difference.

Hawke didn’t hit his head, and it hadn’t been that long without food or water. Long enough to be uncomfortable, not faint. Maybe the sudden falling back, but would that rush of dizziness typically sound like a distant orchestra…?

All this friendly questioning might be driving him insane.

“The Viscount calls for you again, mage.” One-handed, she hauled him and the chair upright, clattering to settle in place as she skulked off to circle behind him where, once again, he couldn’t see. Seemed she enjoyed denying him that. “And he won’t even explain what it’s for. Political matters, or so he claims.”

He felt her hand in his hair before he could react to her closing in, yanking his head back to meet her gaze one more time. The back of the chair pressed against the back of his neck as she examined him. For signs of treachery, blood magic, having opinions she didn’t like. Who even knew anymore?

Garrett wondered what her sister, Amelia, might’ve thought about all this. What Bethany might’ve. Proud and worried for him, maybe. Or maybe she’d think he was an idiot for coming up with this plan in to begin with. Well, who was she to point fingers about quick solutions involving major and irreversible sacrifice?

Hawke’s grimace had absolutely nothing to do with Meredith tugging sharply on his hair to get his attention.

“Do you have ties to him too? Are you and your blood mages corrupting every corner of this city?!”

“You know what,” he rasped, smirking at the thought of a certain Rivaini pirate who would enjoy this particular diversion far too much. “You have pretty eyes.”

“Your charms will not work on me,” she growled, tossing his head forward. He was an awkward mix of uneasy and very faintly flattered at that accusation. Or was it a compliment? A threat? Hostile flirting? He could never tell with Knight Commander Crazy.

“And though I must release you at his demand, his power can only exceed my own for a short time.” She undid his shackles, wrists and ankles, as her lecture wore on. “Then you will be back with me, where you belong. There is no escape from me, Hawke.”

By Andraste’s dirty socks, she resorted to his name. He really was in trouble.

“Even if there was, my darling Meredith,” he started, pushing himself up on the arms of the chair and stretching out carefully once he stood, “I don’t think I’d get far like this. You’re really holding up the Templars’ calling here; I feel very protected from the outside world.”

“Don’t even think of using this punishment as an excuse to slack off. You will serve this city as the Viscount commands,” she ordered as if she hadn’t just trash talked the man a moment ago. “And you will accept the fitting penalty for your crimes in the Circle when you return.”

Turning around to lead him out personally, he guessed, she tossed another nasty remark in for the fun of it. “You have no one to blame for this treatment but yourself. Had you been loyal and behaved, I could have made your time here worthwhile.”

Worthwhile… What could that mean in her twisted world? He’d be shackled no matter how he acted in this place. Probably literally. She was on a roll, though, and Maker, he really did not want to ask for details. Just following after her down the narrow halls and upward-sloping stairwells was enough of a chore.

“Never forget that the fault for this torment lies only with you.” Her voice echoed down the stairwell leading to civilization within the Circle. It was kind of mocking him when he thought about it.

“I hear that a lot,” he half-joked, knowing too well she’d never care enough to realize there was some truth to that. “Well, not that exactly. But it’s close enough that you’re probably right.”

Somehow, that kept her quiet all the way to meeting up with Cullen. He spared the Knight Captain a smile and got a look back that went straight through Hawke to see bruises and interrupted rest. Based on the positively lackadaisical pace he set for escorting Hawke to Aveline, it was possible that Cullen had finally figured out that mages were people like him after all.

Like all people everywhere, Hawke would just have to grin through the pain, make the most of the hand he was dealt this round, and hope that relative strangers like Cullen took it easy on him in the meantime. What else could either of them do?

Unless there was a city-wide uprising against Templars, both their hands were tied. Hawke was a mage in the Circle under suspicion, and that summed his situation up neatly. And if Cullen spoke up, he could be kicked out of the Order and cut off from lyrium, ending up begging on the streets like Samson. That would leave Hawke in the same bind but down one friendly face. The setup now wasn’t great, but it was much better than that disaster.

Once they’d finally met up with Aveline in the entrance to the Gallows, Cullen traded a farewell out for generic advice that didn’t quite fit the situation.

“Be careful, Sirrah Hawke.”


Nothing ever came easy in this place, Hawke swore. Why wouldn’t his first trip out of the Circle after intense questioning under duress with Meredith’s goons be a wild goose chase? A visit to Seneschal Bran turned up that this was about a missing Qunari delegation that the Viscount was trying to keep quiet, and that meant Hawke had to tell the Arishok himself straight away unless they wanted to piss him off. Aveline praised him for that judgment call, probably the first time in a year or maybe more, so that was a highlight.

And next came a visit to The Hanged Man, just like they all knew it would be. Seneschal Bran could pretend to be ignorant of the place all he wanted; everyone knew this would be the spot to start. So there he was again, in his favorite haunt from before the Circle with Anders, Aveline, and Varric as company this time. Really was too damned easy to pretend he didn’t have to go back when he was in this place.

“Think we can get food while we wait for—what was his name?”

“Orwald,” Aveline reminded him, quirking an eyebrow at him at the same time. “You hate the food here.”

“I said it tasted like a wet dog smells, not that I hated it,” Hawke corrected, falling right into old habits. Did him good, to be honest, seeing that the Circle wasn’t taking as much out of him as he thought it was. “I say that about the ale too, but it doesn’t stop me.”

“It really doesn’t,” Varric complimented him, setting his arms on the table with that roguish grin he did. “The real question is what’re they doing to you in there that you’d actually want the food in this place?”

“What? Nothing.” He dismissed the idea too quickly, Hawke could tell that just from their faces. Which said something if Varric couldn’t or didn’t bother hiding his concern. The piercing chill to his core threw him off, that was it. Varric was only joking and he didn’t realize it until he’d put his Circle-issued boot in his mouth.

“Nothing they don’t do to anyone else, anyway,” Garrett shrugged it off. And it was true, though that wasn’t really a comfort. “Hey, if I’m the only one that’s hungry, I’ll spring for it.”

“Spring for it with what?” Aveline smiled with her voice, not her face. There was something else lurking beneath the playful side to her that felt distinctly ‘big sister Aveline knows you’re up to something’-like, and he did not like where that was headed. “You don’t have money when you’re in the Circle.”

“You’re focused on the wrong part of that, Aveline,” Anders came in with his serious Manifesto tone, squinting at Hawke. Yeah, this was definitely not going how Hawke pictured it. He was only winding up on a speech, which Hawke usually could sift through for the truth among the enraged bitterness. As the subject of it? He wouldn’t bet on himself if this was a gambling thing.

“The things they do to anyone in the Gallows are horrific and inhumane, Hawke. If they are torturing you—”

And now Garrett knew, he hated being the center of his latest tirade.

“Right, so that’s a no from Anders. Varric, what’s a good friend have to do to eat around here?”

Varric chuckled, raising a hand to Corff across the bar to wordlessly summon some kind of food, and Hawke wasn’t about to question what he’d even asked for. Hardly mattered what it was. “Third time’s the charm.”

“Carver’s worried sick about you, you know,” Aveline pulled him right back on topic while Anders seemed to think if he just stared hard enough, he could read Hawke’s mind for answers. Actually, with Justice, maybe he could sneak into his dreams or something. Spirits never played fair and deflecting with humor usually went clear over their heads. “Last time we talked, he said he hadn’t seen you in a while.”

“Tell him not to worry about me,” Hawke dismissed, or tried to, but he eased up on that insistence just a hair too late. In Hawke’s defense, it was more important that Carver paid attention to watching his back than Garrett’s. He had a plan to get himself out (sort of), but Carver didn’t. “The suspicion will die down eventually, and I can handle whatever comes ‘til then. You’ve all seen it for yourselves, you know.”

“I’ve seen you grit your teeth and dig in your heels, if that’s what you mean,” Aveline answered drily, sounding suspiciously like she wasn’t going to let this drop. If Orwald could show himself in the group of people at the Hanged Man now to give her someone else to direct her mom stare to, Hawke would be very grateful for the distraction.

“You forgot making light of it, so no one pays attention,” Varric chimed in unhelpfully. Being on his home ground only made him more himself, but that was usually fun. Hawke would rather walk in on one of his exaggerated tales about him to the tavern’s regulars than keep running into this ‘truth’ thing.

“There he goes, pot calling the kettle black,” Anders said just what Hawke was thinking, and they shared a smirk over that line.

True, part of that smile was because the food was here, a platter of rather sad-looking sandwiches dropped between them before the waitress was off again in a blur. Still, Garrett was glad at least Anders was willing to toss him a bone.

“Now, now, this isn’t about my irresistibly secretive ways, Blondie.”

“Varric, you find secretiveness irresistible?” Plucking a soggy sandwich off the platter, Hawke cracked a grin at him. “I knew you had a thing for me.”

He barely tasted it, and what he did told him that was a rare spot of luck.

“And there you go,” Anders chastised, watching him reach for another sandwich. “However you’re being mistreated by Templars, we need to know.”

“He’s here,” Aveline interrupted, nodding to Orwald. Getting up from her seat at the table, she stopped on her way to the guy ordering a whole bottle of whatever to put a hand on Hawke’s shoulder. “Slow down, Hawke. If you eat too quickly on an empty stomach, you’ll make yourself sick.”

Then she was off, shoulders squared as she went to give her man the worst talking to he’s ever had. Varric had Aveline on that point—she could scare good behavior into anyone.

Meanwhile, Hawke swallowed his third sandwich past some tightness in his throat. Alright, he did make it obvious shoveling food in his face like that. He took the hint to slow down, not making eye contact with the two friends still at the table. The pitying look was very much not a thing Hawke wanted to see. Rather have the sexy, tortured look over that any day.

“You don’t deserve this,” Anders soothed, trying to catch Garrett’s eye. Maker’s breath, this was what he wanted to avoid: the worried glances, the desperate reworking of their hardly-a-plan-to-begin-with plan, all topped off with that sinking realization they could only watch for now.

He joked about everyone in Kirkwall going Hawke this, Hawke that, but that was his better than—this. They were counting on Garrett and he wouldn’t disappoint. He couldn’t, really. They were too far into it now, and the important step was already behind them. Merrill was the actual blood mage; she was the one in real danger until she got out. The aftermath of her freedom was Hawke’s to deal with. Once that was done, Anders would whip up a rescue for Hawke too. Why worry anyone else about how he took care of the messy middle part?

Anders, that stubborn harbinger of righteousness, just wouldn’t let it go.

“It’s bad enough that they’re hurting you for being a mage, you don’t have to do the work of hiding it for them too.”

“Come on, we knew when this started that they’d pick on me once Merrill got out.” Taking one bite from the sandwich, finally learning his lesson, Hawke talked around the food anyway. With Aveline’s track record, they didn’t have a lot of time before she was back with results, and manners would just have to wait. “I’m a big boy, so try not to worry or you’ll go grey. Just think, what will Varric use for your nickname after that?”

“I’d think of something,” Varric promised, waving that away with natural ease. “But in a rare moment of honesty for me, I have to tell you: I won’t be hiding this from Junior.”

“Hiding is such a nasty word for it.”

“Call it what you want, Hawke,” Anders refused to let the topic wander, but at least he’d dropped the sympathetic bit. “Your brother is the only one on your side in there with any power to help you. He needs to know what’s happening.”

So that’s how he saw it? Carver didn’t have any more power than either of them did, just better access to watching. It was their call if they wanted to know how bad the situation was when no one could change it, but Hawke’d like it if they’d leave his baby brother out of it.

The real pressing question Hawke had on his mind was whether either of them wanted that last sandwich. Tossing his glance between them staring at him, he was going to guess no, but Garrett was still on good(ish) behavior and pacing himself like Aveline instructed. Odds were, he already pushed it and scarfing that down now really would make him sick. Nothing new to the tables in this bar, but he’d just as soon not add to the stains.

Varric caught on to his train of thought, probably, because he nudged the platter Hawke’s way.

“All I’ve got now is speculation, and I am known to wildly embellish when a story is left to my imagination.” That dirty, caring blackmailing con artist with a heart of gold… Damn, his best friend was good. “How’s about it, Hawke? I went first, so now it’s your turn to tell the truth.”

Aveline came to save him, knowing it or not, resting a gauntlet on the table beside Anders. “I didn’t get a name, but they convinced Orwald to leave his post using The Grand Cleric’s seal.”

“And now we walk to the Chantry. Lucky me, I’ll get a grand tour of Kirkwall all in one day.” Hawke snagged the last sandwich, not leaving that behind if he was paid to, and stood up. Once they got moving, they could drop this ugly business in favor of helping people by killing people. Only until next time if the pattern Garrett was seeing in his friends meant anything.

“Don’t think you’re off the hook for whatever they asked you,” Aveline warned, falling in step with him and Anders as Hawke headed for the door. A clank of coin on the table behind him suggested Varric paid for the food. Living there like he did, he couldn’t exactly get away with stiffing them on a bill.

“You’re in trouble now,” Varric teased, not too far behind.

Looking over his shoulder with a grin, Hawke answered the only way he could. “When am I not?”

Beside him, Aveline heaved a sigh.


Night had fallen once Hawke buttoned up the last of the cleanup for the Viscount. The whole debacle packed every bit of something that could go wrong in Kirkwall, just like last time. Another heavy dose of nostalgia before the next crisis that only Hawke could solve, he figured.

Armed with self-righteous racism, Petrice denied any and all involvement with the Qunari incident, sending Hawke after Varnell to do her dirty work. She had that in common with the general population of Kirkwall, at least, what with being unable to muster having a heart, soul, or any common decency like the rest of everyone.

Mostly everyone.

Next, Hawke and his merry band alerted Grand Cleric Elthina to the abuse of her seal. That part went better than he thought, which should’ve warned him that things were about to get much, much worse. All that fighting to find the Qunari, and they were being tortured in the undercity. The Viscount didn’t mean anything by it when he suggested burning their bodies; he couldn’t have known Hawke was in the same position as them. Even if he found out, the man believed in Hawke enough to call on him for this. There was no chance he’d believe such an allegation or however fancy politicians denied reports on bad news. Hawke wasn’t fast enough to save the Qunari, but at least he convinced Viscount Dumar to let their bodies be returned as they were. They deserved that much.

Anders and Aveline were so proud of striking down Varnell as retribution for the Qunari, but that was something they could do. If any of his friends knew the gritty details of the bind he was in with Meredith, that wouldn’t change that they were powerless to stop it. He’d been in that spot before, and it was not pretty, so he kept quiet. They told the Arishok the truth, anyway. Surely one honest deed cancelled out the lie?

Back in the Circle and in his room for a change, Garrett fell asleep way too fast to spare any time thinking about the answer to that question.


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Hellfire Ch. 10: Blackpowder Courtesy | DA2 Fanfiction

Read the previous chapter.
Approx. 2300 words (5 to 26 minutes) | Rating: M | Dragon Age 2 Spoilers | Characters: Carver Hawke, Garrett Hawke, Varric Tethras, Fenris, Meredith Stannard

Waking up the morning following Merrill’s escape felt like any other, really. No one stormed his door, and the guards didn’t harass him any more than usual. Cullen was especially dour in the fleeting moment Hawke spotted him leaving the Gallows—that man could certainly move quickly in a full suit of armor—but he didn’t even look Hawke’s way, never mind lecture him.

It wasn’t until the end of breakfast that her escape came back to bite Garrett like he knew it would. Ser Alrik, the Templar with a frankly disturbing obsession for making mages Tranquil, came to personally collect him. Not a great way to start the day, but at least it wasn’t on an empty stomach. Alrik was rougher than he needed to be, and Hawke was snarkier back. Being on perfect good boy behavior now would just make him look more guilty anyway, from how the Templars saw it, and Garrett figured he was in hot water no matter what. Might as well have fun with it.

“Charming escort you’ve sent, Meredith,” Hawke teased the moment Alrik dragged him into Meredith’s office. “Threatened to make me Tranquil twice on the way over. Really, I can’t imagine why he doesn’t have any friends.”

Alrik answered that by smacking Hawke upside the head, sharp and harsh, but not enough to leave a mark. Got to be careful with the rich one, he guessed, but that was also way more sense than he thought Alrik was capable of.

“Leave us,” Meredith barked, not taking her stern glare off Hawke for even a second. “Close the door behind you.”

By Andraste’s holy knickers, not this again.

Meredith closed in on him like a rogue going into flanking formation, as natural and effortless as a dog barking. Hawke turned to her on instinct and she took that opportunity to press her hand on his throat. Nothing serious, but it could be, and the gauntleted hand with just a hair too much pressure on his neck got that message across just fine. Kind of rude, to be honest. Not very Blessed-be-the-Maker-like at all.

“I know you helped that elf mage escape,” she growled, searching him for even a glimpse of whatever it was power-crazed, paranoid Knight Commanders looked for in their captive victims. In her case, Garrett figured it was her sister and for a painful second, almost felt… bad. For her. While she held him in a chokehold and threatened him. Maker’s breath, Hawke really did have a soft spot for crazy.

“I will prove it, and you will pay for your crimes and hers.”

“Well, I probably should’ve guessed you’d be into punishment.” He could feel his windpipe against her palm, a bit uncomfortable, but nothing he couldn’t work through for the chance to shove his foot in his mouth. Probably, anyway. Hawke did have a talent for that. “I usually go on a date or something before it gets this far, but you don’t seem like a romantic type.”

She grunted, shoving him off as a way of letting go before skulking off behind her desk. Meredith scowled at the papers there like they were personally responsible for the existence of magic. Or of Hawke.

“But first, the Viscount has requested you. Demanded, actually, since he overpowers even the Chantry.” Well, she did not sound happy about that last part. The first part is what had Hawke.

“The Viscount?”

“Yes, I just said that,” she snapped, ready to jump on any chance to yell at him, apparently. “The Arishok mentioned you by name, evidently in connection to a portion of Kirkwall that the city guard has sealed off, and he refuses to speak to any save you.”

“Of course he does,” Hawke answered in a sarcastically chipper tone, as if that was the best news he’d gotten all day. Actually, it was. That did not bode well for the day because he really didn’t get fuzzy warm feelings being so admired by the Arishok. He wasn’t even really sure admiration was the right word, since it was more like he hated Hawke the least out of everyone else in Kirkwall.

“Don’t sound put out. You find your way to the center of everything, just as I know you were key to that blood mage’s breakout.”

Accusing anything that moves of being a blood mage like she does, Meredith had to be right eventually.

Leaning over her desk, pinning him down with a look like he was prized game, Meredith was thoughtful enough to give him one last threat to his health and happiness for the road. Couldn’t have him missing the sense of oppression and objectivation for too long.

“And when this job is done, you will be back in my Circle and I will uncover your involvement in this mess. You are mine.

If those words count leap over that desk and get to Hawke, he was sure he wouldn’t like what they might do. Lucky for Garrett, danger was more or less a constant presence in his life since running from Lothering, so this was just another day. The Arishok dragging him into some mess by order of the Viscount and when that was behind him, a mess at the Circle to mop up.

If Carver was still jealous, Garrett was open to trading places.

“Right, because that’s not unnerving at all.”

“It was not meant to comfort you, mage.” She pointed to the door, giving another order. “You are dismissed. The Templar posted outside will see you to the Viscount.”

“More quality time with Alrik?” Hawke stood, glad to leave but miserable at the thought of dealing with another tirade about how fun life as a husk would be. “I can hardly wait.”

Meredith smirked and sure, it wasn’t an awful look for her—but it definitely was for Hawke. Nothing good ever came from a happy Templar Knight Commander.

“Not quite. But you do know him.”

If Aveline wasn’t up to her eyes in damage control from the saar-qamek gas, she’d put her boot up their collective ass for dropping by The Hanged Man before going back to the Circle. But there was a deadly gas attack on Kirkwall, so the mice got a chance to play. Just a bit, since one mouse was as sourpuss: turned out, Carver was his Templar escort.

“So, she’s on to you already, Hawke?” Varric smiled over a dented tankard, fitting right in at the same time as standing out among drunk regulars and stained walls.

“What can I say? I am irresistibly charming.”

Fenris scoffed, taking a big drink to hide what might’ve been a smile.

“Brother, do you think you could be serious just once? I’m the one she suspects as your inside man.”

True, Hawke didn’t enjoy Carver being under suspicion like that. He had a way of saying just the wrong thing at the right time to make a complete disaster of a minor problem. Like agreeing to visit The Hanged Man only to talk about the reason Garrett needed a stiff drink in the first place.

His little brother was one of the Templars, but that only meant he was surrounded by enemies all the time. Hawke could always chat with a mage in the library or at mealtimes, or even the Circle Chantry if he got desperate, but it was all ‘magic is made to serve man, never to rule over him’ for Carver. With him actually being a mole, that had to get pretty dicey. Maybe it would’ve been better if Hawke had just taken Carver along to the Deep Roads… No going back on it now, though.

“You’re the one who suggested The Hanged Man, Carver,” he teased, nudging him to get the perfect eyeroll from Carver. “Should I look more dour while you shirk off your duties?”

He gave his best forlorn-mage-in-captivity pout, and that dragged a snort from Carver.

“Cut it out,” Carver chastised, scooting away from Garrett in a mock show of irritability. Or maybe it was a show for any Templars that might come through and remember anything after getting blackout drunk? That’d be the day, Carver thinking ahead. Not really a Hawke family trait.

“Come on, one drink before you go,” Varric interrupted, toasting to the untouched cup in front of Carver. “That’s why you’re here, isn’t it?”

There was just enough of a pause from Carver to suggest he was thinking about it, and not a second longer, before he pulled the tankard close. “Just one,” he insisted.

“You’re the best little brother,” Hawke praised, clanking his cup to Carver’s and grinning.

“Thank me by not drawing attention to yourself for once.”

“I can try, but I don’t think I’m very good at it.”

“How is it?” Fenris interrupted, watchful pale hazel eyes peeking out at him through messy white bangs. If Garrett didn’t know better, he’d think he was worried! Especially with him guarding his tankard by holding it close. Body language was a huge tell for Fenris, which was why the poor bastard barely ever won anything during Wicked Grace.

Hawke raised his cup and turned the conversation to a safe, reliable subject: alcohol. “As piss poor as ever, just how I remember it.”

“No. The Circle,” Fenris corrected. A bit impatiently, Garrett noticed.

Well, shit. Even when he wasn’t stored in his cell at the Gallows, there was no escaping the damn place. Hawke set his tankard down and shrugged.

“When did I give you the idea I have the run of the place? Carver sees more of it than I do, ask him.”

“Keeping secrets, Hawke?” Varric made light, but Garrett knew when he was being double-teamed. “Now I want to know the story more.”

“Sorry, Varric, you’ll have to get your next bestseller somewhere else. My life’s early curfews and rotating guards at my door for weeks.”

“Meredith is determined to prove you were behind this last stunt,” Carver added for their benefit more than Garrett’s, or that’d better be what he was thinking. Hawke knew exactly how determined she was to trap him in this scheme. Kind of hard to ignore the Knight Commander’s seething hatred when she half-choked him in her off time. “It will only get worse from here, Brother.”

“Should we break you out sooner?”

“Fenris, I’m honored!”

Fenris scowled, shaking his head. “You are not like other mages, Hawke. This is different.”

“Oh, it’s definitely different.” Varric leapt at the chance to joke with their beloved slayer of slavers, giving his best sage-like nod and sarcastic delivery. He didn’t lose sight of his intended target for long, though. “But I mean it, Hawke—the first sign of trouble, you tell us, and we’ll get you out of there. Whatever it takes.”

That was half-advice and half-warning, and the rare serious edge to his words made it clear that ‘whatever it takes’ really meant they’d actually do anything. Honestly, that made Hawke want to tell them less. Reckless acts of heroism with unpredictable chances for success were his specialty, and they’d just have to get their own.

He leaned on the table and smiled over his tankard at Varric.

“And what should I do if I’m the troublemaker?”

Fenris sighed as a fight broke out at the bar by the entrance in classic Hanged Man style.

“Watch him,” he ordered Carver and downed the rest of his drink rather than going through the trouble of acknowledging Hawke directly.

“When I’m not being watched,” Carver agreed with a grimace, not happy about that particular limitation. Being a double agent in the Templar force was hard, especially when the Maker was always watching. And by the Maker, Hawke meant the particularly unstable Templar leadership spearheaded by a crazy woman.

The bottom of his tankard came too soon, and the farewells went by too quickly. The worst part? Hawke wasn’t even close to drunk enough for his little reunion with Meredith.

He expected Meredith to make good on her threats as soon as her schedule for tormenting mages had an opening, but not the same-night treatment he got. Before he was sent to his cell for an even earlier curfew than before Merrill’s disappearance, she had him report in at her office. As anyone could’ve guessed, she cared less about the dealings of the Arishok than every last scrap of what Hawke himself did that day.

Meredith pressed him for details and tested them time and again for any holes in his story, but that trap was nothing new to Hawke. Any apostate still living had to know how to lie to Templars. Like Varric would’ve said: always tell them a story. It’s more believable than the truth most of the time anyway.

Laying on his slab of a bed, Hawke went over one particularly menacing message she threw at him.

“This is not over, Hawke.” She’d glowered at him like she might choke him for real this time, but barely decided against it. Another not-good sign, like he needed more of those for his life in Kirkwall. “I will organize an extensive interrogation for you in the coming days, weeks, or however long it takes for you to crack and reveal her avenue of escape.”

He’d promised to leave his schedule open, just for her, but she didn’t appreciate his humor. Almost as much as he didn’t appreciate how awful these next weeks or months would turn out to be. With no word from Anders or Isabela yet on when his escape would be, Hawke would just have to figure something out with whatever he had on-hand. And isn’t that what he did best?


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You Will Live Ch. 2: Wonder | Ferdibert FE3H Fanfiction

Word count: 2920 (6 to 24 minutes) | Rating: T | Note: Fire Emblem: Three Houses Spoilers | Main Characters: Ferdinand, Hubert, and former Black Eagle students

Read the previous chapter.

The Kingdom and Alliance troops were celebrating their victory over the Empire. The somber work of collecting bodies and identifying them was likely left to Shamir and her agents while lackeys for the Church of Seiros searched for Rhea. Meanwhile, Hubert stood shackled in the great hall of the capital’s castle under the guard of Caspar and Ferdinand, waiting for anyone in power to remember he existed.

Until then, he removed himself from his grief. He could sense it behind the dam built up in his mind, bleak and roiling and vast. But Hubert would suffer endless torture before he gave the combined enemy armies the satisfaction of seeing him broken down in the castle where Her Majesty made her last stand. It was injury enough that several of the Black Eagles who turned on Lady Edelgard had witnessed the break in his armor.

To preoccupy him instead, Hubert had Her Majesty’s agenda to consider. The final step in her vision for Fódlan: to defeat Those Who Slither in the Dark once and for all. He would require substantially powerful allies to achieve that goal, though there were not many in the wake of such an extensive war. In fact, the only forces of that caliber were also his captors.

He examined the metal cuffs around his wrists, a thick chain dangling between them. Too short to be used for effective strangulation, and a sure sign that their distrust of him would be his greatest obstacle in joining with them against the final threat they weren’t even aware of.

But the fact that Ferdinand and Caspar were assigned to watch over him rather than someone impartial or even openly hostile suggested there was someone in a position of political clout who looked on him with compassion.

Whoever it was, they outranked Ferdinand as a general in the enemy forces, a fact that reduced the possibilities greatly. Perhaps subconsciously, Hubert’s gaze drifted to the very man beside him. Ferdinand stood watchful and resolute, but there was a tension in his posture that betrayed his mental state: he was thinking tirelessly on a matter that vexed him.

You and I both. A shame neither of us have someone to turn to.

Once, they may have turned to each other.

Hubert looked back to the cuffs with an especially foul grimace. His line of reasoning led him to believe his sympathizer was one of few people with enough power: Seteth, Byleth, Claude, or Dimitri. Seteth was a ridiculous prospect, considering that the Death Knight kidnapped Flayn on behalf of Those Who Slither in the Dark. That act guaranteed he would never view Hubert with any honest compassion.

Well-informed rumors had it that Byleth did believe the Flame Emperor about their lack of involvement in Remire Village and by indirect extension, the death of Jeralt, but that still only left her in neutral territory at best. Claude likely held moral quandaries with their methods combined with a healthy skepticism of Hubert that contributed to the restraints. But that perspective would certainly not have any role in allowing his former classmates who just saved his life to stand as his guards.

Lastly, there was Dimitri. Chivalrous Dimitri, who had become rather shrewd over his five years in exile, but remained a long-time friend of Edelgard’s in his sentiments (if nothing further). He had been forgotten in name alone as she treasured the dagger that he gifted to her and all it represented.

Dimitri’s meeting with her to discuss their options aside from warfare felt as removed as Hubert’s report to Her Majesty earlier that morning, but it did serve as confirmation that His Highness was the source of the perceived kindness extended to Hubert. If there was anyone he would speak to about the Agarthans, it had to be King Dimitri in order to improve his odds of successful negotiation. But in truth, His Highness’ most probable intentions in allowing Ferdinand and Caspar to guard their previous classmate was simply to provide some measure of comfort in an especially trying time.

Yet all three of them stood in a weighty silence. Even Caspar’s brow wrinkled with worry as he restlessly shifted weight from one leg to the other, crossing and uncrossing his arms without reason. It was almost as if thinking generated even more energy that forced Caspar to channel it into any motion whatsoever.

Hubert knew they were not responsible for Her Majesty’s death. She accepted that her chosen path could claim her life and made her peace with that before even first appearing as the Flame Emperor. In war, there were no murderers. If anyone was to blame, it would be the fool who swore to protect her with his life and failed.

Even so, standing beside two people he once considered friends, Hubert was completely without anything to say. He did not hate them or long to return to their time bickering in hallways or at the training grounds. Hubert felt nothing, in fact. He reached into the dark well of insidious disdain in his heart and came up empty. He would have settled for what they had previously referred to as his persistent nagging, but still, there was nothing.

In their absence, her voice rang clear with another final order for him as if the communication spell remained in an echo:

All I need from you now is to know that although I will fall here today, you will live your own life.

How? Hubert could not even muster a word to two people who knew him—well enough, he supposed. Better than most andamong the few who could claim to be anything of a friend to Hubert. The iron against his wrists faintly warmed from contact with his skin and grounded him in a manner that nothing else in the din of the great hall could.

Their new allies seemed to view them as invisible for standing beside Hubert. Every soldier and servant in the great hall moved past the three men as efficiently and indifferently as ants around a pebble. Supplies and the wounded had to be ferried into the castle before nightfall, beginning its repurposing into their fortress.

“So.”

Of course Caspar would yield first; it was in his nature to being completely unable to read the atmosphere. Pale blue eyes peered at him from the edge of his vision, his overthinking expression still very much the same despite having grown otherwise. Count Bergliez was a fearsome warrior that must be intimidating to be compared to, but Caspar was well on his way to standing on equal footing.

“I’m glad you made it, you know.”

“That would make one of us.” Hubert’s typical clipped delivery, dripping with venom, was apparently instinctive even as it came across somewhat hollow. He was not alone in noticing it lacked credibility, since Caspar appeared more concerned than offended. The conflicted, sorrowful gaze that had lingered on Petra and Shamir in his academy days now directed itself at Hubert. It made his skin crawl, forcing him to worry his fingers against his own palms in the hopes of ridding himself of the first sensation. To even consider Caspar might feel compelled to look after Hubert filled him with disgust at being so pitied.

Ferdinand’s sympathetic sigh failed to be a suitable diversion. His stern, tender look with those damned amber eyes threatened to crack the dam Hubert constructed. He must hold the despair back until he was alone, where no one could gain more emotional blackmail against him. Never mind that they had enough to go on already and never used it, not once; Hubert had to keep his guard up. That was a critical aspect of his sworn duty. “Hubert, you—”

“If you truly felt as much, would I be restrained?”

Whatever sentence he intended to say, it would end poorly for Hubert. Few could get under his skin and make him say more than he meant to like Ferdinand von Aegir. Better that he interrupted him and preserve what remained of his dignity.

“Hey,” Caspar stepped in, the ideal diversion where Ferdinand fell short. “If anybody saw you just standing around, they’d probably just attack you even with us here. You’re in no shape for that.”

Hubert chuckled, low and dark, and discovered he hit that familiar tone precisely. What else was there to say to that?

“The restraints will not be forever, Hubert.” Ferdinand appeared to have taken the hint or perhaps reconsidered his first remark to return to at another time. The latter was the far more probable of the two scenarios. He did try to look at Hubert directly, searching for—who knew what? But Hubert levelled his cold stare at a point somewhere beyond him as the noble continued. “I promise that we will sort this out properly once our forces are settled and the wounded have been treated.”

…And that pierced him as well as any blade. However quietly, Hubert’s next breath wavered. Easily dismissed as residual pain from the injury and that was the excuse Hubert chose to believe for himself as well. To complete the next task he assigned to himself in the name of Her Majesty, Hubert would need to deceive his own mind for as long as he was able.

Do not give me your promises and look at me with devotion, Ferdinand. I cannot bear it.

“Yes, I remember the fickle nature of your promises.” Still, Hubert could not draw on the full strength of his cutting words—he merely sounded exhausted to his own ears—but even a dull edge to his voice could land some damage and keep Ferdinand at a manageable distance. “They are easily broken when it serves you to do so.”

When Hubert became close to someone, he memorized the finer details about them. And so, when he grew closer to Ferdinand, he took great care to remember every important fact. His favorite tea. The name of his first beloved Aegir hound. The time of day he preferred to go on a leisurely ride on horseback. Which flowers he preferred over others. And of course, what every single expression written all over his face indicated for his state of mind. Because while Ferdinand did ever try to present a strong front, he had his vulnerabilities like anyone else.

He flinched back, a curled strand of hair falling forward with the motion, but the flicker of hurt feelings dissipated almost instantly into flaring, prideful indignance that turned those amber eyes into a fiery bronze. “I swore to serve the ideals that Edelgard said she would uphold, and when that was no longer the case—”

Too soon, the realization that he was bickering with Hubert while their Emperor lay cold in another room dawned on Ferdinand and like that, the fire was out. His shoulders dropped and he sighed once again.

And Hubert laughed, wordlessly urging him to finish the counterargument he had prepared.

“Are you pretending that holding back is another noble display of mercy?” That was closer to the right inflection, but still not quite. Hubert sneered down at Ferdinand regardless. Let this be like old times when he could provoke them with just a few short words, let Ferdinand hurt him in return, and it would make this so much easier to endure—or so he imagined. “First, you preserve my life so that I might have the privilege of living with Her Majesty’s death, and now you hope to conceal your obvious disdain for everything she stood for? I suppose it serves me right for expecting better of you, Ferdinand.”

“I understand you well, Hubert.” He kept calm, more certain now than when he first appeared on the battlefield. Hubert’s sneer fell to a heatless scowl that held more from habit than any true disdain. “And because I do, I will forgive what you have just said since I know you are only trying to keep me from coming to your aid now that you need it most. You never were one to accept support with any manner of ease, as you prefer to be in the role of providing rather than being cared for.”

Hubert scoffed and pried his attention away from the absurdity going on beside him. Naturally, Ferdinand continued undaunted while Caspar pretended badly with a half-stifled smirk not to notice Hubert’s discomfort. He, of course, could not know the reason as well Ferdinand claimed to.

‘When I see you at the monastery, studying with the others… It makes me wonder what kind of life you might’ve had without me.’

It was Edelgard’s idle thought, not his own, and from their first year at Garreg Mach. Hubert might pretend he had no notion as to why that memory came to him now, unbidden and fraught with conflicted sentiments, but he knew better than that. Attempting to deceive himself had been a fool’s errand. He was without her now and there were two former Black Eagle students with him at present. This was the foundation of the life she saw for Hubert that made her wonder what could have been.

“Truly, you ought to know better by now.” Ferdinand’s playful wit bled into his false chastising. “An exceptionally harsh critic once confirmed that my relentless optimism is my greatest attribute. Where others may become discouraged and abandon their path, I never yield. Ferdinand von Aegir is, indeed, unmatched in that particular quality.”

Assured pride practically radiated off Ferdinand as surely and powerfully as summer sunlight, all with him grinning and drawing himself up. Always so sure of his success on the grounds that he would never quit… But there was no time to form a response to Ferdinand quoting Hubert to himself, not when Catherine stormed over to their group and stopped short in front of Hubert. “Enough is enough. Where is Lady Rhea.”

He squared his shoulders, piercing her with an aloof smile. “I wondered when you would overcome your pride and seek my help.” Strategically, Hubert should seize this opportunity to prove that he can be trusted not to slight them, at least, and lead her to Rhea without delay. But while grief could be withheld, spite was another matter entirely. “She is here. Perhaps you simply aren’t looking hard enough. Would you like a hint?”

“You—” She scowled, closing the distance with a fist in his collar, yanking him down and pulling a sharp breath from him in the same motion. He endured worse pain than that in his initial resilience training as Her Majesty’s vassal. That reaction should be the last she saw from him.

“Enough,” Ferdinand implored, a firm hand on Catherine’s arm as the true warning that this was not a request but an order. “We are above resorting to aggression to have our way, Catherine.”

“I don’t have to.” She released his collar and shook off Ferdinand’s hand, stepping back. How unusual for a Knight of Seiros to pass down the chance to beat the defenseless… Her immediate aversion to using more force could have been due to Caspar’s presence, given how he so admired her. “Taunt us however you like, you sick bastard. Lady Rhea is alive, and we will find her.”

Ah. Another blow directly to the dam. To her, Hubert betrayed nothing of the sort. “I suppose with enough hours wasted, you will eventually have no choice but to succeed.” He trailed off into an exasperated sigh. “Truth be told, Rhea may not have that kind of time. Very well, I will show you the way.”

That had her attention and that of a few nearby soldiers for the Church as well. Traffic in the great hall had slowed marginally, but they were far from alone.

“You stay here. Tell me where I can find her.”

Hubert chuckled again, this time feeling it in his ribs more than he ought to. Evidently, Catherine didn’t need to beat him—merely shoving him would be enough to aggravate his recently healed wounds. “This isn’t a matter of turning in the correct direction at a conveniently placed statue. You are asking for a spoken guide to winding, secret passageways meant to mislead any who enter.”

“Caspar and I will accompany you, Catherine,” Ferdinand offered, moving his hand to rest on Hubert’s upper arm as if to guide him. Hubert glanced to his hand, then to Ferdinand, but he was fully a general at the moment and spared not even a glance to the prisoner. “Hubert will pose no threat.”

Ah, that was Hubert’s order. An easy one to follow considering he had to if he was to convince the victors of his reliability as an ally so soon after his defeat.

“Of course. I have no reason left to fight.” The tension returned at that remark more than Catherine’s mild display of force, and Hubert let it stand. Those who despised Hubert most, like the wielder of Thunderbrand, had to hear the literal words from his mouth that he would not harm them. One step further, he would help them. “More pressingly, I have valuable intel to secure the future of Fódlan. But first, we must attend to Rhea.

Her scowl softened to hopeful skepticism, a narrowed glare that suggested she was turning over his phrase in her mind. Catherine was as intelligent as she was capable—she would eventually piece together that he was leveraging a treaty of sorts. ”…Fine.” She nodded down to the other end of the great hall where the main passage to the undercroft waited. “Let’s go.”


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Hellfire Ch. 9: The Big Night | Dragon Age 2 Fanfiction

Read the previous chapter. | Read it on AO3.
Approx. 1500 words (3 to 9 minutes)

The days leading up to Merrill’s escape went by in a jarring combination of a thrilling blur—she would be free and safe any day now—and excruciatingly slow. Hawke had read all the worthwhile books in the Circle at least once, and now he was halfway through the history of parchment instead. Maker’s breath, if the Templars didn’t get you in this place, the boredom surely would. Sitting by and waiting while someone else did the dirty work was not Hawke’s usual either. If he strained, he could hear the Gallows market from the library to help fill the maddening silence of the place.

And he turned a page without even reading it. Why would he, when the weathered sheet of parchment did more to capture his attention than the words on it?

“Hello there, Hawke,” a familiar Dalish accent interrupted, her characteristic lilt brightening Garrett’s mood instantly. “Alright if I sit here?”

“I would be forever in your debt. You’ve saved me from this awful book,” he said, smirking and closing the dreadful thing. For good, he hoped. “The stuff of true heroics.”

“Oh, I do like heroics,” she played along and took a seat. The Templars would be suspicious of Hawke after her escape whether Merrill avoided him, sought him out, or had a row with him in the foyer, so—well, he would rather see her before she went. “Carver does too, you know. He’s not like the other guards here, he’s so nice to everyone. And still very good at swording. Swords? I don’t know, but he’s got talent.”

Oh, if Carver could hear all this… The rambling was a sure sign Merrill was nervous and Hawke knew he’d have to say something to put her at ease. But just listening to her talk, Garrett could pretend this was his house or something and they’d be back together tomorrow. Odd, how the little things gave you comfort in the Circle. His plants would be happy to have her back on the outside, at least. Anyone could water them, but no one talked to them like Merrill did.

“He always did like adventure books.” Bethany too, but Hawke was pointedly trying not to depress himself, thank you very much.

“I worry about him sometimes, but… It’s good, you know? That he’s found his path here.” She fidgeted in her seat, her normal boundless energy bubbling up. “In time, he’ll realize that what happened before, it wasn’t your fault.”

Knock the wind out of my lungs, why don’t you.

Hawke breathed a laugh, shaking his head at how this started out of nowhere like that. Merrill did always have an odd way of thinking, but it wasn’t typically so jarring. Or maybe it was and Hawke didn’t notice until now.

“Why bring that up all of a sudden?”

“He was just so angry with you, and I can’t stand to think that you—” She sighed, trying to find a good place for her hands to settle as she clasped and unclasped them, weaving her fingers together in new and interesting ways as if that would somehow clear the way to the rest of her sentence. “One day, he’ll see you were trying to protect him.”

“Merrill, I’m pretty sure that’s what offended him,” Garrett teased. That was the truth of it, though. Carver didn’t want to be protected by his big brother anymore, but Hawke wasn’t about to just stop looking out for him whether Carver liked it or not. Better alive and hating him than dead.

“He doesn’t show it very well, but he does love you.” Ah, Merrill. Ever the peacekeeper. She gestured off to her right as if he was standing there and not too grumpy, tired-looking Templars. Come to think of it, Hawke hadn’t caught a glimpse of Carver all day.

He was probably laying the groundwork for her escape with Anders’ plan and Isabela’s help. Someone had to ‘lose’ her phylactery and it couldn’t look like Carver did it, or they’d both go down for the escape.

“I think books had less to do with his need for heroics than his big brother.”

“Well, don’t let him know you told me that.” Garrett leaned in conspiratorially, which he would probably regret later since Templars could actually see him. Nothing he couldn’t fix later. “It’ll ruin his brooding image.”

“The poor boy.” She giggled, a smile lighting up in her eyes instead of the worried pout she’d started with. “I do mean it, though. That he’ll forgive you someday. I just know he will.”

“He’ll talk to me now, at least.” Not his favorite subject in the world, but Merrill wasn’t going to let anything go once she set her heart on it. Hawke shrugged, turning the book over for an excuse to keep himself busy. “Usually to boss me around, since he’s a Templar and I’m a mage, but I guess It’s a start.”

“See? No one can stay angry forever, not even Carver. Being here is hard, but,” she put her hand on his over the book, offering him a soft smile. “I do hope it will bring you closer to your brother.”

That was just like her. On the night that she’d make a daring escape, Merrill came by to make sure Hawke was alright and lift his spirits. Maker, that girl was too nice. When all he had for company was sour Templars, dusty old books, and whichever letters the Templars decided to let through, this moment would make a good reminder of what would come after his grand exit from the Circle.

“Thanks, Merrill.”

—-

And speaking of letters, he actually got one before curfew that night. Dinner was nothing noteworthy, but better than the rations they scraped by with in the Deep Roads. Hawke couldn’t forget those if he tried. All in all, a good day for where he was.

The envelope had been opened, of course, but the front had Mother’s neat handwriting. How unlucky for the Templar who read the letter; it was almost entirely town gossip and worried questions. How was he sleeping, was he making friends, did he remember to change his smallclothes, and so on.

When Hawke found another note inside with her letter, that changed things. The letters were rushed, feathered, and harsh, but he still recognized it as Carver’s:

We’re ready for tonight.

Thought you’d like to know.

Be safe.

Hawke chuckled. With eloquently abrupt prose like that, it definitely had to be Carver. Anybody else might let on they cared about more than his physical safety. Still, it looked like Merrill was on to something after all. With his back to the cell door and his newly posted guards, Hawke called a bit of fire into his hands to burn the note from his brother. Last thing they needed was two Hawkes locked up.


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A Note to Treasure: Promnis FFXV Fanfiction

Word count: 2900 (7 to 22 minutes) | Rating: G | Note: Prompto x Ignis (Promnis) | Characters: Prompto, ignis, Noctis, and Gladio


The haven campsite had to be tidied before they could finish packing to leave, and naturally, the task fell to Ignis with Prompto as his aid. Gladio and Noctis were off to bring the car a bit closer from the shoulder where it was originally parked, which was just as likely to be an excuse for them to spend time on the rowdier activities they found enjoyable. Gladio would keep him in check and safe, if nothing else.

Ignis did not have to worry, but part of him always would.

To Prompto’s credit, the jumpy blonde was eager to help and followed directions well, provided they were not too complex to remember. He managed organizing the outdoor supplies easily on his own. It was no small feat, either—Ignis would entrust his camping kitchen tools to just anyone.

The task of cleaning up after Noctis inside the tent was another matter entirely. Yesterday’s clothes sat in a heap, unfolded, and as Ignis spotted a tear in the sleeve of his jacket as he gathered them up. He sighed, shaking his head to the benefit of no one but himself. Gladio would lecture him for coddling, but Noct would surely forget to mend the sleeve for months if left to his own devices. Ignis would take care of it with the laundry.

As he stood to put the clothing with the rest of the dirty laundry, a poorly folded sheet of paper fell out, writing on display. Even as it fell, Ignis knew the handwriting was not Noctis’, but Prompto’s. Closer examination while he picked it up revealed that the message was incomplete—but the typical saccharine prose made its purpose all too apparent. Just as Ignis expected of a love letter from Prompto.

Parts were scratched out, even unreadable in some cases, but the ones he could read brought a fond smile to Ignis’ face. He did have a way of making any action endearing. Such as having Noctis, of all people, review a love note for any areas of improvement. Ignis’ devotion to Noctis had no limits, but he could be honest about the prince—he was not the kind of individual you would turn to for advice in matters of the heart.

And to think that Ignis suspected Prompto’s motives when he first entered Noctis’ life as the habitually nervous friend from school. Now, Ignis would entrust him with that very life.

“Prompto,” he called to his friend, who paused in folding up the camping chairs to wipe some sweat from his forehead onto his wristband.

“Sup?” If he realized he held the note as well as the clothes yet, he was incredibly calm about the matter.

Ignis strode over to him and held the note out. “You ought to be more careful with your correspondence.”

“Huh?”

His gaze fell on the note, and he flushed a soft pink. “O-oh, right. That’s, I was just—uh—sorry.” Prompto leaned over to get the paper, one foot firmly planted as he did, and crumpled the paper slightly in his rush to get it into his pocket.

“Do be cautious,” Ignis advised, almost saddened to see such affectionate words handled so indelicately. As if Prompto were ashamed. He had always struggled with self-confidence, but it was precisely that uncertainty that was his undoing in many cases. Not that he had much room to talk. Ignis was well aware that his feelings on Prompto were becoming deeper than mere friendship, but he had told not a soul. “The sentiment was rather sweet, and I’m sure the intended recipient would like to treasure the note.”

“What? You… you really think so?”

“I do indeed.” Ignis had said too much, perhaps. To pass that misstep off as a joke, he added in some light teasing so common among the four of them. ”If you can muster the strength to send it, of course.”

Based on the surprised, almost touched, wide-eyed expression from Prompto, Ignis nearly turned over his shoulder to see what might’ve caught his photographer’s interest. The sheepish smile that followed stopped him at the realization that something he himself had said led to Prompto’s response.

“Aw, shucks, Iggy. Just hearing that gives me courage.” Never one to be still for long, Prompto scuffed at the dirt with his boot and nodded to Ignis.

That appeared to have lifted the blonde’s spirits over his recent embarrassment. Perhaps he truly would send the note off and perhaps this time, he hadn’t set his sights on someone unattainable—such as Cindy, who focused on her work above all other matters. Ignis swore his taste in crushes was deliberately constructed at times. For Prompto’s sake, he hoped that was not the case with his most recent crush. It would be pleasant if he were to enter into a contented relationship, or so Ignis told himself as a vice gradually closed in on his heart.

He smiled, turning his attention to adding the clothes his hands to the dirty laundry already packed away for cleaning during their next hotel stay. “And who is the lucky lady?”

“Oh, uh. It’s not anyone like that, I mean,” he trailed into an awkward laugh, busying himself similarly with gathering the remaining camping supplies, “I dunno if I’d say lucky, dude.”

That lack of confidence returned swiftly, Ignis noted. Ah, it was likely that the object of his affections was out of his reach, then. Still, it could not hurt to encourage him to put himself out there more often. He could not succeed if he did not make the attempt, after all. And they would all be there to support him in their own ways should she turn him down. “I believe that would be up to her discretion. You ought to give her the chance to decide, Prompto.”

The hypocrisy of the statement was not lost on him. While Noctis was often too immersed in his own conflicted emotions to perceive the feelings of others, he had been giving hints to Ignis regarding Prompto over the past few weeks (though his sentiments on Prompto became more romantic in nature several months prior). It was only the occasional idle comment or hypothetical question on the gunman’s attractiveness or charming qualities, but the message was clear to Ignis, if no one else. And yet he had decided it was best not to act on his feelings for Prompto given their shared service to Noctis.

And in a way, Ignis had still gotten the note first. His petty side was appeased with that notion.

“Yeah?” There was a choked, wavering quality to his normally chipper voice that suggested he had not taken this reassurance to heart. “Guess you’re right. You always are!”

Prompto was consistent, at least: always ready to avoid a subject he did not wish to discuss by offering praise and a ready smile, however uncertain.


Noctis was off for an early morning run with Gladio in an uncharacteristic moment of initiative—before 11:00 am and something for his health, no less. Ignis had no pressing tasks to address in the next hour or so, since they had decided to have breakfast at the Crow’s Nest. A bit of a personal slight to Ignis’ cooking that he had the courtesy to keep to himself, since he knew that was not their intention (or it had best not be). Instead, he had settled down with a book of poetry he’d meant to catch up on for some time now to keep his mind preoccupied.

“Oh, uh, hey, Ignis.” Prompto trotted over and slipped one hand into his pocket, the other giving a restless wave. A lopsided smile suggested this was not a simple greeting but leading up to another matter. Ignis closed his poetry book and stood from his chair in anticipation of what required his assistance.

“Good morning, Prompto. Did you sleep well?”

“Nothing much.” Prompto answered with a shrug, the realization sinking in and drawing a nervous laugh from him. “I mean good. Wait, no, I meant yes.”

Ignis only chuckled, adjusting his glasses out of habit. “Glad to hear.”

“Um. Here.” From his pocket came a note in a cream-colored envelope, neatly labelled in Prompto’s handwriting and a small smile drawn in the corner where it ought to be stamped. His thumb lightly creased it at the center where he held it a bit too tightly. “For you.”

“From?” The question left his mouth without as much thought as he would have normally given it, especially considering he knew the answer already. On the outside, he imagined he looked fairly level-headed, but that was not so in his mind. The very notion that Prompto had gone to the lengths of drafting a love note for him had interfered with his every mental faculty. Now his request that Noctis reviewed it made far more sense, since his taciturn nature made it easy work to conceal the matter from Ignis until Prompto was prepared. Beyond that connection, Ignis’ typically keen attentiveness felt incredibly dulled in the realization that this was indeed a note from Prompto for himself.

If not for the new blush spread across Prompto’s freckled face, Ignis may have rationalized it was just a fond note between friends. But there it was—the fresh rush of warmth to a familiar face, a blossoming red simply begging to be chased a tender touch (or a kiss, if he felt emboldened by such a truly adorable response).

“Ah. I see.” He took the envelope, turning it over to see a small, somewhat misshapen heart at the center where one was meant to open it.

A message in itself: I’m letting you into my heart with this note.

“Hey, I’m just gonna,” he trailed off, thumbing over his shoulder to nowhere in particular.

“I would rather you remain here.”

“Huh?” Crystalline blue eyes locked on his, wide and surprised. Yet trustful, ever so trustful. Ignis’ heart swelled with it. As much as his anxiousness drove him to bounce his foot in place since he could not retreat, likely to disappear for as long as he could get away with, Prompto remained. Because Ignis wanted him to. “Oh. Um. Okay.” His hands found their home back in the pockets, and he stared out over the woods beyond their haven as Ignis began to read.

Ignis,

I don’t know how to say it the way I want it to be, so here it is: I really, really like you. A lot. You’re a solid 11 and I’m more of a rounded-up 4, but what you said got me thinking you deserve to choose for yourself if I get to call you boyfriend.

I just love spending time with you, you know? You always give it everything you’ve got, and you never get tired of all that giving. So, I wanna try hard and be there for you too. I may not be much, but you’ll get my all every day. I promise.

The only approximation of a signature was a cartoon-ish drawing of a blushing chocobo at the bottom. In the end, the second draft of the note had very select elements in common with the first (but markedly fewer apologies). Ignis returned the note to its envelope carefully, tucking the message into his chest pocket and felt a brightness in his heart beneath. He did not believe in lucky charms, but if ever there was one, he was certain it belonged to him now.

“Prompto,” he said levelly. It would do no good to answer his nervousness with more of the same, after all.

“That’s me,” he answered weakly and faced Ignis once more.

And yet there was nothing weak about him. Prompto rarely spoke about his life or experiences, but it was clear in how he carried himself that every accomplishment he achieved was a battle hard won—and yet scarcely rewarded. To Prompto, he was never quite enough, and insecurity tinged under every interaction. Yet he persevered. Never once did his worries, so clear and tangible in his mind, ever stop him from rising to the occasion time and again. It weighed heavily on Ignis to see him shortchanged by his own hand so often when all praise, no matter how nonchalant, moved him so completely. The result was an endless temptation to offer praise too often to go unremarked.

To run a hand gently through his soft, styled blonde hair—rather rare in the Crown City and always a welcome sight because of who it had to be—as unspoken congratulations on a job well done. To take it one step further and kiss him whenever the opportunity arose, because few deserved love like Prompto Argentum and yet, he would never ask for it. One some level, perhaps he did not believe he should or could. Like any grievous misconception, Ignis wanted nothing more than to correct it.

“Kinda killing me here, dude.”

“Ah, I apologize. I was taking a moment to appreciate how far you have come.” He stepped closer to Prompto, hoping against reason that Gladio and Noctis had taken a long route. “Your feelings are returned, of course. I only hope you realize what this means for you.”

“Huh? Me?” A smile overtook Prompto’s expression regardless, nervousness dissolving into a palpable level of excitement that simply radiated off him. The anxiety would return, as it was wont to, but this time, Ignis would be there to chase it away again. It only took the thought to brighten Ignis’ smile in return.

“Indeed. I am not known for doing anything halfway, and my courtship of you will be no different.”

“C-courtship?” His voice broke, a darling squeak to it that Ignis fancied as a hopeful one.

“Of course. And with this love note finally delivered, I must catch up to your romantic gesture, in fact.” He reached for Prompto’s hand at his side, the bare skin of his thumb brushing over the open expanse of skin on the back of his hand. Fingers loosely intertwined as Ignis leaned in to press a kiss to his lips.

Soft, warm, and lightly scarred in some places where he may have bitten it anxiously in his younger days—every inch entirely his own, perfectly Prompto’s. By extension, the sensation of them was special, something to be treasured. Ignis dared not close his eyes and miss the opportunity to thoroughly examine his reaction to their first kiss. While Ignis was inarguably a practical individual, he was just as devoted as a romantic. And this memory was one he would want to endure for an eternity.

Prompto held still, the pink still high on his cheeks but the signature freckles of his face visible all the same. His eyes nearly fluttered shut, fine lashes over a deeper blue in his eyes cast by Ignis’ shadow. “Best be prepared.”

Noctis whistled, making Prompto jump at the interruption. Ignis was graced with his grin alongside Gladio’s when he did turn his attention to them.

“About damn time,” Gladio commented, sharing a knowing look with Noctis.

“I dunno. I might miss them dancing around each other.”

“Noct!” Prompto whined, finding his voice at what amounted to harmless teasing. Unfortunately for Noctis, he was not the only one with a quip at the ready. Ignis smirked before delivering his response as an added effect.

“Hm. On the subject of romance, Noct, how fares Lady Lunafreya? You seemed to be in particularly good spirits after her most recent message.”

“…Not fair, Specs.” It was his turn to blush, however faintly, and Noctis avoided the subject by pulling a water bottle from their stores and having a drink.

“Ha! Good one.” Prompto chimed in, patting Ignis on the back and flashing a bright grin. Interesting, how these little gestures took on new meaning on account of a single sheet of paper in his pocket.

“He got you there.” Gladio joined in the teasing of Noctis now with a gentle shove that nearly spilled water from the bottle down the front of his shirt.

“Whatever. Let’s pack up the car before we miss breakfast at the Crow’s Nest.” His previous plan having failed, Noctis set his sights on diverting them with the promise of food. Predictably, that was a successful strategy.

Before that was set into motion, Prompto rushed to get another kiss in, this one to Ignis’ cheek. Though the kiss was light as a breeze and over almost as soon as Ignis had noticed it was happening, it lingered as if an electric spell had recently dissipated in the shape of his lips on his skin. He would have to thank Noctis for being so careless with the first note when he reminded him once again to place his dirty laundry in the correct basket of his own accord.


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Ferdinand fighting Hubert in Enbarr

You Will Live Ch. 1: Enbarr | Ferdibert FE3H Fanfiction

Word count: 1900 (4 to 16 minutes) | Rating: T | Note: Fire Emblem: Three Houses Spoilers | Main Characters: Ferdinand, Hubert, and former Black Eagle students


Smoldering flame mixed with the tang of magic and turn of summer into autumn in the air. The city had been evacuated, of course, so the only dead within the walls were beasts and willing soldiers ready to defend Her Majesty’s cause no matter their odds. This was, for them, a matter of patriotism or principle in devotion to their Emperor. The soldiers still standing fought with as much spirit as they could muster even as their allies fell.

Hubert’s own magic reserves were dangerously depleted, but he would not yield. His post was the final line of defense between the invading forces and the Enbarr castle. He swallowed and his throat was dry, but he still smiled coldly at the soldiers from the church, Kingdom, and Alliance forcing their way towards the gates. Beyond him was Her Majesty and all the hopes she sacrificed so much for. Hubert would sooner die than relent here, of all places.

Your Majesty.

The calling spell only worked in a certain range, such as the Empire’s capital, at least for Hubert. That was all he needed in this moment.

How goes the battle, Hubert?

She counted on him not for good news, but accurate reports. This would hardly change now.

Poorly, I’m afraid. We will fight to the last.

The distant fizzle of silence was a telltale sign that Hubert was struggling to maintain the spell. The archers breaching the defensive line were taking up his focus instead, an act he knew Her Majesty would approve. It was only sensible.

Withdraw into the castle if you must, Hubert.

Of course, Your Majesty.

He dropped the connection on a lie. To retreat here would be to allow this filth into her castle to take her life. In this number, Hubert had to confess they would almost certainly succeed regardless of where he went. That did not dissuade him from the fight in the least.

He drew on the dark magic he refined in service to Lady Edelgard, bracing for the mounted units charging toward him. Most likely, he’d already been flanked by stealthier classes and this last stand would be over soon enough. But he would be sure they earned their invasion. Clouds of dark purple energy swirled around his arms, wisping away at the edges as the first soldier came through the archway.

In a sweeping gesture, several glowing spears of energy appeared above the soldier and the glyph flashed at Hubert’s feet as the spears pierced the enemy and left them slumped over on their horse. That was the last charge he had for Dark Spikes, and his advantage against cavalrymen was exhausted.

Naturally, it was in that state and when the wear of battle screamed in all of Hubert’s being that none other than Ferdinand himself rode over the hill. His alliance changed at the bridge of Myrddin and what letters he dared send to the Empire following that were swiftly destroyed by Hubert himself. To think he’d respected him, sat with him in the tea gardens like they were friends. Hubert made a fool of himself by going out of his way to purchase tea as a gift for the former Prime Minister, just as Ferdinand had been for purchasing an overpriced imported coffee during a time of war as a gift for Hubert.

He was a sight in battle all the same. Blood clung to the ends of his free-flowing hair, grown long in his adult years. After all this grueling combat, his posture on horseback was as pristine as in his regular training. Ferdinand von Aegir would gloat for ages if he only knew that Hubert would concede in his final moments that he was, in fact, the noblest of nobles in the most respectable sense no matter where his allegiance fell.

What a shame he would not get that insight even in Hubert’s final words.

“Running into you in the capital like this—I have to say, it’s almost sentimental.” How easily the teasing banter came, as if this was just another walk to the gardens or conference hall. For once, Ferdinand did not smile.

“Hubert. She must leave.”

Just who was he trying to convince with such a dry response? Hubert scoffed, the spell brewing in his palm at the ready. No different than Ferdinand’s javelin. He came prepared for the deed, it seemed.

“You really think you can make her?”

All those years trying to best Edelgard with the goal of providing her guidance if she went down the wrong path, and then it was Ferdinand who veered off course. Normally, Ferdinand could be made to realize he was mistaken. But it was far too late for that now. Barely able to stand and still holding the last defense to the castle, Hubert had to believe as much.

“It does not matter what I think. Those are my orders.”

Hubert’s spell was his answer, and the javelin glancing past him was the reply. The blur of spells and Ferdinand’s attacks were impossible to track after that. Hubert’s eyes throbbed with overexertion and he could taste coppery blood. He wouldn’t hold on much longer now. Even the mages stationed to his left had staggered towards his location at some point and collapsed, arrows buried in their backs.

Beyond their corpses, a familiar archer drew back on her bow. She came out of her room for this? Such progress.

“It’s over, Hubert.” Bernadetta kept her arrow trained on him, pointed and intense, but her eyes were soft. Pitying, perhaps. “Please just… Don’t make us hurt you.”

He chuckled and she shivered just a bit. Well, it would appear that her instinctive fear of him didn’t change. “Then surrender.”

“C’mon,” Caspar came up on the other flank, tense but still too relaxed for a battlefield. Was there nothing between shouting like a madman or talking casually for Caspar? It was a miracle that he survived this long. “You’re too smart for this. Beating you up now, it’s… kinda unfair.”

Hubert laughed again, or tried, but it came out as more of a wheeze. If they were going to join forces against him, he’d prefer it was in actual combat. To collapse and die from simple blood loss wasn’t how he imagined his end.

“Come to your senses, Hubert.” Ferdinand spoke from horseback, the tip of his spear red with Hubert’s blood. In fairness, he had his own injuries from the last of Hubert’s spells in turn. The duel had been far from one-sided. “Our forces are inside the castle. Stand down.”

That sentence ran through Hubert like a hot blade. Behind him, soldiers must have slid through the moat to escape Hubert’s attention during their fight. How could he have been so lax? The glyph of the communication spell lit up in his eyes, likely invisible to the others at this distance.

Your Majesty, the enemy

I am aware, Hubert.

I will be there shortly.

But he couldn’t and Her Majesty knew that as well as he did. The forces would not have made it inside if Hubert was at his full strength. Just sustaining this spell was depleting what little reserves he had left. If his former classmates saw the concern on his face, they had the decency not to insult him by saying it.

You will do no such thing. Stand down, Hubert.

Edelgard, no—

Not again. This would not be the same as her time in the Kingdom while he suffered in the Empire: it would be far worse. If he lost Lady Edelgard a second time with no way back from it, Hubert had no concept of what he might come next. Her victory was everything to him, but if she was ordering him to surrender, then…

Please, Hubert, follow this last order from me. You have walked this path with me and made it all that much brighter for it. All I need from you now is to know that although I will fall here today, you will live your own life.

If Edelgard made her mind unavailable for contact through the force of her considerable will or if the worst had already come to pass when the spell broke off, Hubert had no way of knowing. Not yet. The stone bridge almost certainly bruised him as he dropped to his knees, coughing blood up onto the pale surface.

“Uh, Linhardt!” Caspar’s voice strained, his inflection rising as it did whenever he was excited or stressed. How long had it been, but still Hubert could read them so clearly. As if they never left.

Hubert clenched his hands into fists against the bridge, scraping them on the stone enough to hurt through his gloves.

“What now?” Linhardt’s presence was impossible to pinpoint, even as unmistakable as his sighing tone was. The injuries Hubert sustained were too great for his body to maintain even that simple function.

Ferdinand dropped from his horse with a clank of armored greaves. “Hubert!”

At least when he spoke then, it wasn’t with the empty distance from before. Ferdinand talking without some buoyant emotion was too foreign to tolerate for long. Hubert wouldn’t have much time left to wait either way, he supposed.

Then the cool dispersion of a Physic spell washed over him.

“No, leave me—” He reached up with a stained glove, trying to wave off their assistance. He wanted to fall with Edelgard. It was his purpose, the path he’d chosen. The healing spell did restore him to the point where the taste of blood was fading, but the strength to stand still escaped him. He could still end this with his devotion intact.

“We couldn’t do that to you.” Bernadetta’s timidity was back in full force as she stepped up beside him on the bridge.

Another wave of enemy soldiers rushed by, unstoppable as a flood and leaving him with a weight as heavy as being buried alive. Why did they show him mercy? Didn’t they realize this was the cruelest fate even Hubert could imagine? Another healing spell from Linhardt was joined by Bernadetta’s slender hand hovering on his shoulder. He didn’t have the venom to shirk her off in this state.

“Her Majesty, her victory—” The edge to his voice was less cutting and more desperate than he desired.

“I am sorry, Hubert.” Ferdinand had knelt in front of him at some point. His curling locks swam in Hubert’s vision, blending with the warm tones of his uniform. On the opposite shoulder from Bernadetta, he rested his hand and gave a reaffirming squeeze. How dare they do this to Hubert. How dare Ferdinand show him this compassion here, now. “I wish it hadn’t come to this.”

And yet, through the indignant spite, Hubert reached up to grab onto the front of the former Prime Minister’s shirt. Feebly, even according to his own account.

“Please—” He hoped they were satisfied to be the only ones to hear him beg for Her Majesty’s life. There was nothing they could do, no more than he himself could. Lady Edelgard and Hubert alike knew this end was always a possibility. But when it came, he expected he would meet his death before allowing anyone to even come close to Edelgard. He would sooner die; Hubert swore to himself. But with the actual moment here, Hubert instead held onto Ferdinand, felt the single trail of wetness on his own face, saw the pulsing darkness at the edges of his vision—

“What’s going on, Lin?”

“Oh, he’s passing out. But he’ll survi—”


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When the Past Won’t Stay: KH3 Fanfiction

Word count: 2900 (7 to 22 minutes) | Rating: G | Note: Kingdom Hearts Spoilers | Characters: Ienzo, Even, and Aeleus


Recompletion offered various benefits and drawbacks that Ienzo had mostly finished discovering and categorizing after the defeat of the Real Organization XIII. Adjusting to them was another matter.

As Zexion, he had been almost tireless in his studies and lab work, retiring only when he noticed a drop in his performance. Ienzo was far more affected by the whims of his recompleted heart. Some days, he matched his pace as Zexion perfectly. Those were rare. Fortunately, so were the days when everything slipped through his mind like sand in a sieve. Most of his days were like this one: punctuated by a need for breaks that he was reluctant to take. Ienzo could force his way through to the end without stepping back, but he often paid for it mentally—with interest.

To avoid that state, Ienzo left the labs for the faded halls of Radiant Garden’s castle that still managed to appear stately despite its worn condition. He noted proudly that he could find his way around with ease despite his long absence.

It was voices from the kitchen that gave him pause rather than being lost.

“Too much time has passed since the originating incident.” Even’s voice was familiar, holding more depth than his Nobody. There remained a considerable amount of tension between them since everything that had occurred beforehand, no matter how Ienzo tried to put the past behind him. Some deeds were simply hard to let go even when one sorely wanted to. Particularly when they were not necessarily in the past.

“An excuse.” Aeleus. Resolute, matter-of-fact, but never cruel. The remarkable aspect of him was that he seemed to change very little as a Nobody compared to his recompleted self. If anything, his determination to protect had only increased with the loss of his heart. It could be viewed as strength of character or too little, too late. Ienzo knew how he preferred to regard it and, in the end, what else mattered? Aeleus was like family to him, and he wouldn’t lose that over one mistake.

Why did that not work for Even?

“I beg your pardon—” The sharp inhale that prefaced Even’s indignant response drew Ienzo closer to the doorframe to conceal himself just around the corner.

He should not do this. If there was something he needed to hear that Even was ready to share, the proper choice was for Ienzo to have patience and wait for Even to be prepared to disclose it on his own. But he held his place out of view all the same.

This decision didn’t come with the steadying feeling of choosing to do something against your better judgment for a greater cause, but entrapment as horrifying as if Ienzo had lost control of his limbs. Could he choose not to do this, or was he compelled to stay out of selfish interest? Ienzo didn’t know for certain. A numb chill seeped into his core that had little to do with the subpar insulation of the castle.

Sometimes, Ienzo could swear there was more Zexion to him than his original self… And how could there not be? He developed psychologically into a young adult while he was a Nobody. Perhaps there truly was no chance for improving himself after all. At least he might know the truth of Even’s return after masquerading as a member of the Real Organization, however dubiously gained. And so, he listened in secret.

“It is, and you know it.” Aeleus insisted, level-headed as ever. Based on the way their voices carried, Even had his back to the door and Aeleus stood beyond him facing the entrance. In that case, only one of them could potentially realize his presence if he moved. How convenient for Ienzo’s new moral low.

Even huffed in enduring offense, but it was the true sign that he’d yielded on a point of disagreement. The telling habit was as close as Even would ever get to admitting he was in the wrong.

“My apprehensions aside, there is validity to Ienzo’s perspective. He was only a boy and I was entrusted with his care.”

Ah, of course. They were discussing their collective deaths again. Ienzo had come across the discussion before several times, but he never could stay through it or step in. The pulse-pounding need to be as far from the conversation as possible usually overpowered him and eventually left him panting in a far-off hall to work through his borderline panic alone. As it should be—there was enough on everyone else’s plate that handling this unassisted was the least he could do. Perhaps through exposure and the supposed healing power of time, Ienzo felt steadier in this instance. He took a quiet, controlled breath through his nose and focused on listening.

“By allowing my curiosity to get the better of me, I as much as formed this rift between us myself.”

Ah. Even had sensed it. And here Ienzo thought that with his own second recompletion to process, his adoptive father figure would be too preoccupied to notice the façade Ienzo leaned on when he found bitterness far closer to the surface than forgiveness.

In truth, the divide between them troubled Ienzo as well. He tried to focus on memories of Even’s concerned irritability in hunting him down when he was only a boy, wandering off as he so enjoyed doing. To escape the overwhelming indignance lurking in his heart, Ienzo would dive so deeply into their more familial memories as to distinctly recall how large Even’s hands were in relation to his own being gingerly held for emotional comfort as much as physical security. He could remember tracing the wandering, geometric pattern of his favorite blanket as Even read him a bedtime story of some book well above the average reading level for his age.

None of it warded away the feeling of betrayal, so Ienzo kept a civil distance when he had to and gave it no more thought than that.

Until that moment eavesdropping in the hall, of course.

“It’s not always there.” Of course Aeleus saw his emotions whether Ienzo meant him to or not. He could sense Ienzo’s mental state with the accuracy of a barometer. As irritating as that sometimes was, it did have its benefits for Even’s guidance as well as Ienzo’s, apparently.

“That much is true,” Even relented, though not with any confidence. How odd it was, to hear his voice without the characteristic certainty. “But I would attribute that to the boy’s better nature rather than—”

“The boy?” He spoke without a thought as to if he wanted to or should, the words tearing from him almost as an accusation. When had his hands clenched into fists? Relaxing them open, Ienzo stepped into the warm light of the kitchen and still felt the same chill. Aeleus turned to him with a patient, open expression. He neither smiled nor frowned, simply waited for Ienzo to decide what he wanted. The unreasonable voice of his inner thoughts rebelled at even that, but thankfully for everyone involved, Aeleus wasn’t who Ienzo was concentrated on.

Even’s green eyes widened, his mouth contorting into a nervous grimace of someone who’d been caught at the worst possible moment. The steaming tea pot in the center of the kitchen island suggested he’d just been making tea when Aeleus came across him, so this could very well be the second time today he was caught by surprise.

Good.

He drew his hands up, rolling into a gesture as if he was going to speak. To explain it all away. Ienzo didn’t give him that chance and felt a surge of ravenous satisfaction at cutting Even off.

“I’m not a child anymore.”

Aeleus and Ienzo were used to the silence that followed, but it had to be unbearable for Even. Strands of pale blond hair fell forward as he angled his head toward a far-off point in the kitchen wall. He wouldn’t be speechless for long, but Ienzo didn’t know what he hoped to hear. Maybe it was nothing. An apology? A reason for everything? His own mind didn’t make any sense to him and Ienzo resented that too.

“Ah. Ienzo.” An obvious remark to stall for time in his search for the words to make this situation disappear. Ienzo scoffed on instinct. This was off to a horrid start. He logically knew he should be easy on Even. The time had come to see past their mistakes and heal, moving into the future with a clean slate. Especially Even, who tried to level the scales when he put himself in harm’s way as a double agent within the Real Organization.

Without as much as a note, leaving them all to believe he’d turned his back on their family for his own scientific aspirations until he deigned to alert them of the truth. Secondhand.

“Even.” Aeleus, ever the mediator, cautioned Even to proceed honestly using his intonation more than anything else. The level cadence pitched down at the end to warn Even that Ienzo was coiled tight and ready to snap. Any attempt at evasion would end in hurt feelings for everyone and only serve to widen the fissure between them. All that remained was for Even to take the hint.

“What is that tone for?”

“To answer your question,” Ienzo spoke down to Even like he was the child here, taking pleasure in that insult as well. He did force Ienzo’s hand by making him voice the concern Even was still trying to avoid. Hardly the behavior of the adult in this situation. Then again, petty aggression wasn’t either. “I heard enough to understand you are making decisions for me yet again.”

Even’s hands went up again instantly, readying to speak with his hands as he tended to. “Ienzo, you must understand, I—”

“ I understand more than you believe me to, evidently.” A thin frown set on his face, Ienzo felt caught up in the flood of his own repressed anger. The very act of speaking out of irritation opened the way and now it was too late to stop. “Despite your concerted efforts to make key choices that will impact me without the courtesy of including me in your plans, I can actually evaluate situations for myself.”

Even winced, just slightly deepening his grimace, but it felt good to see it. And that concerned Ienzo. He was going too far and soon, he would be unable to hold back at all. This wasn’t how he wanted to act or who he wanted to be. This was the past—why wouldn’t it stay gone?

“If this is about my sudden departure to the true Organization, I assure you, I only did so to shield you from suspicion.” The shield, his weapon… Subconsciously, had Even been guilty all that time? On his own momentum, Even continued as Ienzo’s frown dissolved to neutrality. “Primarily, you would be forced to feign ignorance and concern, and with your recent recompletion, the last situation you needed was additional strain on your heart.”

His one dark, sharp laugh didn’t register as his own at first. This conversation was taking its toll on Ienzo and it had only just started. “What, did you think I could not feign emotion?”

The implication weighed heavily between them. How could illusion and manipulation work if he could not maintain intricate lies convincingly? It was a skill so intrinsic to Ienzo that becoming a Nobody manifested that as his power.

“No, I—”

“I would have preferred to know you chose to be over there for us, not against us.” The breathless twinge to his words was a warning to Ienzo if not the two men in front of him: it was a matter of time before his guard dropped completely. How were emotions this volatile?

“When I went to the Organization the first time,” he pushed on, saying it as if he’d had a choice about going, “I focused on how we were tied together. Without my heart, I still considered us a family. And when I returned, I was… Uncertain.”

Ienzo’s breaths came in uneven tremors, however faintly. Perhaps it was subconsciously that he smoothed a hand over his ascot while he attempted to steady his breathing. One insecurity to poorly conceal the other.

“And you abandoned us. That was all I knew.” Again, someone he respected and cared deeply for had vanished without notice. The time spent in the dark about Even’s true motives was nothing short of perpetual raw vulnerability buried under the diversion of the more pressing tasks at hand. He felt certain everyone he spoke with could see his fragility under the patient benevolence he expressed and the shared wisdom that was beyond his years.

He struggled more in that span of time than he ever had as a Nobody.

“Ienzo, I did not—” A reason or an explanation or even a half-hearted excuse, it didn’t matter. Ienzo didn’t want to hear it.

“If you were concerned with how I felt, you should have told me the truth.” The anger completely gave way to what was evidently the true heart of the matter: Ienzo was afraid and it hurt to know that fear came from Even’s actions. Like the winding maze a heart always was, those feelings that Ienzo suppressed simply found another way out to be expressed as irritability and keeping his distance. Pushing those off led him here, to a kitchen in the heart of the castle having an argument over something he couldn’t properly define.

Aeleus was the first to respond, approaching Ienzo to place a hand on his back. He didn’t dare look at Aeleus in such a precarious state as this. But his presence did help and Ienzo’s next breath felt more level than the last.

“I… I have no excuse for my behavior. All I can say is that after my initial error in judgment,” Even phrased it carefully, his pride still a barrier to saying the word ‘mistake’ even when he clearly knew it for what it was. Fortunately for him, Ienzo appreciated the unspoken nuance more than an upfront declaration—it was another trait he and Even had in common. It did him good to know there was someone he knew that would understand why saying something outright was not always an option.

“I have done all I can to protect you now, Ienzo. I am your guardian, however inadequately so in the past, and I am proud of being trusted with that honor after I failed to appreciate it properly.” Properly, like there was a procedure… Ienzo caught himself smiling by just a small margin.

“Beyond furthering my scientific studies or advancements, beyond even my own attempts to restore balance after the chaos I’ve caused—” For the second time, Even struggled to find words. His gaze caught Aeleus’ and perhaps finding an answer there, he continued while his hands worried over one another just the same. “I have a responsibility to you, Ienzo. As—a father.”

An uncertain glance from Even signaled that his defense had concluded, and now it was up to Ienzo to decide if the argument was sound or not. The smell of over-steeped tea filled the kitchen, warm and bitter, a quiet calm settling in with it while Ienzo reflected on what transpired between them. A soft rattle of the pipes in the walls the only sound, and that was a comfort in its own way. The castle hummed with energy that reminded Ienzo how precious the life in this restored world truly was.

“…I can’t forgive you right away. I can’t even promise that forgiving you will be painless.” Stepping away from Aeleus towards Even, Ienzo stopped within arm’s reach and offered a sincere smile—long overdue on many accounts. “But I do want to forgive you. What kind of family would I be if didn’t at least give it my best?”

“…You have always been such a smart boy.”

“Even.” Aeleus had apparently followed him, his voice a close reassurance.

Ienzo glanced back to Aeleus, his bangs swaying with his nod. “It’s alright. For now.”

Following the pleasant impulse his heart finally offered, Ienzo reached out to Even and drew himself into a hug. A faint trace of earthy cologne clung to him, and simply wearing it was the return of a habit from the old life. It carried memories of lessons from Even in the labs, being woken up in the study to a lecture of how he should be in bed if he’s going to sleep, and hard candy passed to Ienzo in secret before dinner as a gesture of apology for some slight mistake Even made earlier that day.

Even gently returned the hug, tilting his head ever so slightly to rest on Ienzo’s. With a barely audible shuffle, Aeleus stepped up behind him to wrap them both in his embrace as the first tears fell onto the white of Even’s lab coat.

“I love you beyond measure, my son,” Even whispered, tender or perhaps afraid to break the magic of the moment. Ienzo took in a shaky breath, more tears coming with the exhale. He tightened his grip on Even and bit his lip to maintain some manner of dignity. Even’s arm came away to bring his hand to brush through Ienzo’s hair. “It is alright.”


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Hellfire Ch. 8: Reporting In — Dragon Age 2 Fanfiction

Read the previous chapter. | Read it on AO3. | Read it on FanFiction.net
Approx. 2670 words (7 to 22 minutes)

Night had already fallen in Kirkwall, but Varric spoke at the same volume as always. He had to if he wanted to be heard over the street brawls and drunken songs that made up the city-state’s lullaby. When you couldn’t just step out into the streets whenever you wanted, it was strangely uplifting to be out in the city. That crawling sensation would settle into his very bones in the Gallows, but he’d gotten used to it. As natural as the stars above, which Hawke could make out more clearly than the piss puddles he had to avoid in the roads. But the idea of going back to the Circle when he walked between Varric and Aveline? Hawke buried the discomfort behind a smirk, letting his dwarven friend fill the silence.

“This whole fiasco is Kirkwall in a nutshell. Stolen money, Coterie infighting, wrongful accusations, killing someone to prove you didn’t kill someone, impulsive business deals,” Varric trailed off into a chuckle, gesturing to Hawke and flashing a grin. “All we’re missing is a political scandal.”

“It’s not too late,” Hawke taunted back, the banter like a balm. “I’m sure we can come across something disgraceful.”

“It could have ended much worse than it did. And those miners will be better off now with the raise Hawke promised.” A good deed lifted Aveline’s spirits as well as alcohol lifted Hawke’s and Varric’s. Not that Hawke didn’t notice her pace slowing as their path escorting Hawke back to the Circle and Templars reached its end.

So he laughed to keep their minds off that ugly business. “Oh, Hubert was not happy with that.”

“Frankly?” Ah, perfect, Aveline’s rare playful smile graced her face. “Hubert be damned.”

Varric put his hand to his chest in mock surprise, eyes glinting at Hawke mischievously for a second before focusing on Aveline. “Guard Captain Aveline, having fun? You really are magical, Hawke.”

“I am the only mage in Thedas that can be in the Circle and run a business.” Maker’s breath, that was a blunder. The time he lost strip poker to Isabela in the Hanged Man—for the third time—was less embarrassing. He’d be damned if he wouldn’t try to salvage it anyway. “What? There something on my face?”

“No, just—” Aveline sighed, marching ahead at a regular pace now. Hawke could sense Varric holding back on saying something like the metallic, weighty feeling that came before rain. “How are you doing at the Gallows?”

“With a name like that, it’s about what you’d expect.” He couldn’t go into it with her or Varric. Meredith kept him busy on errands and somehow, his outside life still managed to worm its way in. Like handling the business with Hubert, actually. Then there was Merrill’s escape that Anders coordinated for a few days from now. Yes, Garrett had enough to deal with already. The worried, pitying stares would just have to wait. Maybe they could perfect it in the meantime. Wouldn’t that be nice?

“Told you he wouldn’t give a straight answer.”

“Hawke—” Never missed a hint, that Aveline. It was rare that Varric and Aveline were teaming up against him, though, so maybe Hawke should feel special.

“Yes, mother?”

She leveled her best guard captain stare at him and added a dash of nurturing concern for good measure. Somewhere in a nearby alley, a stranger puked up tonight’s drink as their friend slurred through comforting them. “I know you, Hawke. You have to be careful in there in ways you aren’t out here. If ever. I’m right to be worried about you.”

“And she’s not alone.” Varric joined in with his own thoughtful stare and Garrett felt guilt like a stone hit the pit of his stomach. He knew he’d figure it out somehow or another, but the idea behind that was to get Merrill out and… Alright, there was no real plan for the part that saved his skin.

“Oh, you guys are so thoughtful! I’ll put in a good word for you in my letter to Mother tonight.”

Aveline sighed more heavily than all that armor she lugged around, shaking her head at him. In the corner of his eyes, he saw Varric’s trademark ‘you’re really in it now’ smile. “Can’t you take this seriously? Your life could be in danger. Again.”

“I couldn’t be safer, Aveline.” More accurately, he was unsafe as ever but in a different way, so at least Hawke could handle whatever came. Probably. ”I’m useful to the Circle, so Meredith isn’t any more suspicious of me than she already was.”

Right now, that was a win and good enough for Hawke. He led the way toward the Gallows to keep his friends moving and maybe spare himself a lengthy discussion about exactly what kind of idea this was. Not when it was too late to change course anyway. And it was a long ways better than outrunning darkspawn.

“Cullen’s backed me up as a good little mage and everything. I’m ready for the big event so I can keep suspicion off me—see? There’s a plan in all this.”

“That’s a pretty generous use of the word ‘plan’.” Varric kept his smirk up, but it was only partially a joke. At least he wasn’t trying to drag the walk on for more time to lecture him. Aveline.

Writers.”

“Just—” Aveline resigned herself with a sigh, catching up to their pace in a few strides. “Be careful, Hawke. I mean it.”

“Don’t do anything you wouldn’t invite us to,” Varric agreed, chuckling.

“I wouldn’t dream of it.”


“Another successful report.” Meredith set aside the physical report, or he assumed it was, and looked at him with an appraising smile over gauntleted hands. “Nicely done, Hawke.”

Andraste’s holy knickers, was that genuine praise from Knight Commander Meredith? He couldn’t decide what was more discomforting—that she could even mean it or that he was being given a once-over like a fine magical artifact worth purchasing. Or was it that he’d started to think of their one-on-one meetings like any other day instead of risky?

“But when I tell you that armor is flattering, it’s too much?” Hawke smirked, settling down into his usual chair. “Please, you’ll make me blush.”

“I’ve only just begun.” Wait. Garrett was still catching up to the first comment and—was that a threat? Or what, a promise for more flattery? Bad news no matter how he looked at it. Once Merrill was out, he doubted those warm, fuzzy feelings would last. “You are an example to other Circle mages, Hawke—and not in the way I first imagined.”

Wasn’t that barely audible laugh of hers just ominous as she stood and circled her desk. Templars going through his room almost daily while he wasn’t there, that rotating guard as promised, and the feeling of eyes always on him wherever he went… And there was more she’d imagined but not acted on. Maker’s breath. Meredith walked past him without a glance, and he heard the door to the office shut.

“If only they understood as well as you do how vital our work is here.”

Garrett knew very well what being backed into a corner looked like. The narrow escape from Lothering. Scraping together a plan to leave Ferelden. Persuading Mother to leave Bethany behind. Selling himself into servitude to buy his way into Kirkwall. Selling himself again to get into the Deep Roads, of all places. He thanked his luck for getting out every time, but somehow, Hawke just kept finding himself in corners of all shapes and sizes. This one just happened to be a worn armchair in the Templar Knight Commander’s office. And he did the same thing he did every time: put on a good show of having it all under control. The rest usually followed. Usually.

“That’s me. Templar sympathizer and model mage.”

“There is a great deal of work that must be done for the Circle and society at large that Templars themselves cannot do.” She found her way back to her desk without anything else weird happening, coming back into view on his right and taking a seat with that same steady expression. Hawke could feel the closed door behind him like it was charged with magic. He knew it wasn’t, but that didn’t change a damn thing. “With such a record for success and promising behavior, I would be negligent not to entrust more responsibilities to you.”

This had to be a test of some kind. A trick to burn him out and get him to rat out Merrill by mistake. Andraste’s ass, why was it always Hawke? Was it something he said or did? Perhaps that pumpkin he stole once from a farmer in Lothering. Or was it because he told that Chantry sister who spat at Bethany as a child that she had the face of a toad and a heart full of warts? Maybe the Maker just hated him that much? Damn it all, he really should’ve gone to the Chantry more.

“Oh, I don’t know about that.” He shrugged it off, propping one leg up on his knee like this was his den back at home. Just getting ready for a round of cards with Varric so he could part with coin on his terms. “I am still a mage. How much responsibility can I possibly handle?”

“Don’t play the fool.” That was an order if he’d ever heard one. She set one fist on the table, that smile dropping to her usual stern stonewall look. Somehow, that didn’t get rid of the tension. “I know you’ve seen the atrocities in the dark underbelly of the world that so many others shut out.”

That sentence alone was like a bucket of cold water, or—no, like a sheet of snow dropping on him unceremoniously from the trees of Ferelden. Even Carver laughed with Bethany at the yelp Garrett made, rushing to get his coat off as if that would make any difference then. They were just kids; he was barely in his teenage years. Father had died only a few years back, though they felt long and yet—like it had just happened. Their laughter was uncommon to hear those days and Hawke would do anything to make it continue.

But happiness never lasted.

The same feeling hit him when he saw Mother sobbing over Bethany’s body, begging her to get up against all reason. Even if her body wasn’t completely still and lifeless, she never would have been able to walk in that condition. Or ever again, most likely. Maker, the vacant look on her face still woke Hawke up with a choking gasp some nights.

After a lifetime as the family with no father and passing the silent desperation of other families with mages in them, seeing what they could be brought to when the Templars sometimes came for them… Yes, Hawke knew what life could do to a person. He just had the good sense not to talk about it to someone he had imprisoned and at his will.

Garrett felt the smile falter just a hair and no doubt, Meredith saw it too. The smile didn’t reach his eyes anymore, not even if he faked it like he often did. “And what would make you think that? Usually, I hear about my roguish good looks or clever wit.”

“It is your resilience in the face of hardship.” She sat back, keeping one hand palm down on the desk as if to keep it in place despite her relatively relaxed posture. “My older sister was a mage too. Amelia was gentle, a tender soul, and she was not ready for the rigorous standards that the Circle upholds.”

Garrett found his expression softening along with her tone. Whatever her opinion of mages or freedom or common human decency… The Meredith in front of him was a younger sister living with a mage in the family who saw her as sibling she didn’t want to lose.

“…You hid her.”

Meredith nodded sharply. “Not well. The Templars were called, and when they came, my sister entered a deal with a demon and became an abomination.” She said it with a level voice but the tension in the air gave away that this was still raw. And always would be, if Hawke’s own losses meant anything. “I watched as she cut my family down and before she was put to rest by the Templars, she had taken 70 other souls with her. I barely escaped with my life.”

Of course, Hawke had heard plenty of stories like this. Told tearfully or angrily, over tankards or corpses in rain-battered coastlines, hugging people he’d just met and would never see again, because it just felt like he had to. Nothing made him ready to hear it from Knight Commander Meredith, who turned a blind eye to the Templars under her that wanted to make mages Tranquil for the smallest suspicion and never let up on Orsino or any Circle mage.

“I can see it in your eyes even now. You understand where no one else does how important it is to protect mages from themselves.”

That wasn’t what he did. Sending Feynriel to the Dalish was because he needed guidance to understand his abilities. There was a damn good reason he never once considered sending him to the Circle to be shackled like an animal. The half-elf mage didn’t have the benefit of noble standing and something of a reputation to protect him. What Hawke wanted to shield him from was ignorant people, not himself. But how could a woman like Meredith understand? She saw the tragedy of magic as a child, and now it was the only thing she could see.

“Not all of them have your resolve, Hawke. Those that don’t will inevitably end up hurting others—or worse.”

Where was he supposed to begin? Hawke couldn’t talk about this, not with her. It didn’t matter that she was wrong, and most mages he knew about whose lives ended in tragedy only went that way because they felt trapped. All he could think of right then was how his entire family stayed on the move to keep Bethany and Garrett from being found out and taken away only to have Bethany die unburied. What did her freedom do for her when she died young anyway? Would she have been happier in the Circle, not like tender Amelia Stannard? Or would she have withered in there and met an early death in one of the grim, horrific ways that so many Circle mages did?

Neither side was right or wrong. The Templars shackled the mages and the Chantry collared the Templars. Like everything else Hawke just had to stick his nose in, it was a bloody mess. And he wasn’t here about that anyway. This was all for Merrill. Whatever he did to protect her, Hawke could manage.

“It’s a harsh truth. Never goes over well at parties.”

That seemed to do it for Meredith. Her analytical smile was back, and she leaned towards him over the desk.

“In the coming weeks, your tasks will be to watch over your fellow mages. Report anyone you find suspicious.” Oh, was that all? Hawke knew that if he came up empty, she’d start to suspect him. Just peachy. “And if work outside the Gallows needs a covert approach to track down dangerous mages, I will call on you. Be prepared.” He endured another assessing look, weighing him for Maker-knew-what. “You are dismissed.”

Led by the new watch of Templars to his cell, Garrett stared up at the ceiling that night as his mind whirled to think of answers. Well, Garrett, you got yourself here. Merrill would escape in just a couple days now, technically, and he couldn’t risk it all now. He could try to covertly talk to Orsino or contact Anders somehow to ask after which mages he should put under Meredith’s scrutiny, but… Well, shit. Now what?


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