You might remember how this journey started…Hawke and Anders, standing somewhere in the dark in each other's arms – reflecting back upon the lives that brought them to where they now stood. (Speaking of which, I have commissioned a lovely artist to bring that scene to life…I'll let you all know when it's done!)
And so it is with a heavy heart (albeit, a satisfied one) that I have come to the end of this story. I wrote much of this chapter months ago, and then put it off indefinitely. I really didn't want to give up on it, but to be honest, if I dragged it out with so many other chapters, it wouldn't have been as meaningful to me. Ultimately, I had planned to write another version of what would have happened after Family Matters, but I love this one so much that I just can't do it now. It would be way too painful!
Between Family Matters and Reflections, I have fallen in love with Anders all over again, and I hope that my readers have enjoyed it. I've appreciated all the comments, faves and alerts that you guys have given to me. I've been doing a lot more writing in the world of Skyrim these days, but Dragon Age will always be my first love, and I'll always come back to it.
Thanks again for sharing this journey with me…
The Tree at the End of the World
It took Anders several days to work up the courage to tell her. And she had been preparing to hear those words since she fell in love with him so many years ago.
It's time, my love…
Her eyes had filled with tears then, as she nodded in response. She knew it was so close – even without him telling her. They'd not had restful sleep for months. The nightmares that plagued Anders had finally begun to overwhelm him. The reprieve he'd experienced from them for many years had finally given way, and he could no longer deny the call.
"You will not leave me behind as you go," she told him. "I may not follow you into the Deep Roads, but I will make the journey there with you."
He hesitantly agreed. But how could he deny her request? After all, she'd spent half of her life defending him, almost to death. He also had to admit that it comforted him…knowing she'd be by his side at least as far as she should be able to go. Truth be told, he was terrified of what awaited him. He'd fought darkspawn before. He'd been injured by them. But death…death was something else. What would it feel like to experience his last breath as it released from his body? What kind of overwhelming sensations would he be subject to? He closed his eyes, not wanting to think about it.
Anders considered himself fortunate that he lived as long as he had. He could only suspect that he had Justice to thank for that. For so long, Justice had taken over his sleep; preventing him from his dreams and from hearing the call; the ever present song that every Grey Warden was subject to. The years in Kirkwall, when he had no agreement with Justice, he rarely heard the call. It only returned once Justice had subsided…settled into the back of his mind, allowing him to return to the Fade and his dreams more frequently. And it seemed to have given him more time. More time to live. More time to put off his calling to the Deep Roads. But now, that time had come to an end and he had to be ready to answer.
In the days that followed his recognition of what needed to happen, he spent every waking moment with his children, and with the woman he loved so deeply…so thoroughly that it hurt him to not look at her when she was near. He felt as though it would be an affront for his eyes not to be graced by her vision as much as possible in these last days.
Amelia and Gavin – now adults in their own right – were saddened by their father's decision. Yet, at the same time, fully understood what it meant. Their parents had taken years to prepare them for it – they knew exactly what to expect. And in fact, the eight years that had passed since they brought the twins to Kirkwall for the first time, had been full of discussion and the sharing of many experiences that served to bring them close as a family. They had even started to wonder if perhaps Anders was to be immune to the taint after all – but it was evident that this was no longer the case now. He would be leaving them. For good, this time.
In preparation for his departure, Anders sent correspondence to Orzammar in the hopes that they would advise him where best to head. They had made great strides in clearing the Deep Roads of darkspawn in the days since the blight – even opening up the great underground highway all the way from Orzammar to Kal-Hirol. He became nervous the longer it took for word from the dwarves, as the call was becoming more insistent. He'd soon have to leave and feared greatly that he'd wander aimlessly through the Roads without the darkspawn to encounter – waiting as the corruption became stronger and stronger.
When the messenger arrived with his reply, his relief was tangible, though it did nothing for his wife. Hawke was even more nervous and withdrawn as they both began their preparations. It was time – they would leave by the end of the week.
Hawke felt a little ill-prepared for the journey they were ready to take. It wasn't even that she wasn't ready to lose Anders to the darkspawn; she'd never be ready for that. But the years of travelling with him and the others at her side had given her a sense of what she needed for such a journey. It didn't feel like they had packed enough provisions to get them to their destination and back; or, at least for her to get back. Still, things felt off. Anders told her not to worry so much – that she was probably worrying needlessly because of the purpose of the journey. And he was right of course…why should anything about this feel right? Her life was about to be flipped on its end.
She considered the previous few nights that she had spent alone with her love. They remained tangled in each other's arms, fighting sleep and trying desperately to extract every bit of the other that they could before the end. He loved her carefully and attentively…she loved him with renewed passion and vigour. She studied every bit of him – every scar, every muscle, ever newly developed wrinkle. The silver that had begun to set into his crown and the way even after so many years, his eyes still lit up as a small child receiving a gift when he looked at her as she lie with her head on the pillow across from him. She memorized the smell of him…and the way he tasted…and how he moved when she touched him in those secret spots that only she knew about.
When he was gone, she would never forget a detail. He would never be more than arm's length away from her when she closed her eyes.
This was the hardest day now – Amelia and Gavin, standing before him. What would he say? What could he say that could ever encompass the love that he felt for his grown children. For the family that gave him everything that he ever wanted.
He couldn't hold back his tears, and really, he had no desire to. He wanted the twins to know exactly how he felt about them.
"Father," Amelia began. She was always the one to broach such difficult subjects. "You have given us a life that knowing the alternative, could never have lived without your sacrifices." Her voice wavered…her eyes watered. "You will be forever thought of for the rest of my days. I will…miss you."
He took her into his arms and held her close. "I love you, Amelia. I could never ask for a more incredible young woman as my daughter. Look after yourself…and your mother."
She nodded, wiping away at the fresh tears. It was difficult for her to let go of him, but she reluctantly did so.
"And Gavin, my boy," he continued, clasping the young man on the shoulder. "All those years spent terrorizing your sister and I never thought you'd have become the man you are today. I love you."
Gavin pulled his father into a tight hug, squeezing his eyes shut to fight back tears of his own. "I love you too, father. We'll take care of mother…I promise you."
He pulled out of the embrace and looked at the two. "I'm so very proud of both of you. Continue your work with the clinic, but do not do so out of obligation to either of us. Live your lives. Find someone to spend them with. Nothing would have been worth living without your mother in my life. Find balance and happiness."
Hawke reached across to him, squeezing his hand and sharing a glance.
"It's time for us to go," he said somberly. Hawke nodded, just as unhappily.
She reached out for her children and hugged them together.
"Mother, are you sure you do not wish us to come with you?" Gavin asked, concern on his face.
She nodded, brushing away his worry. "Yes, yes. I will be fine. Don't worry about me. Just take care of the clinic and house while I'm away."
They pulled apart, Amelia lingering in her mother's embrace longer than she expected. She gave her daughter a kiss on the forehead and retrieved her pack. She looked carefully at the staff leaning against the wall that she intended to bring with her.
"It's been quite a while since I've used this," she said quietly.
Anders smiled at her. "Hopefully you won't have to use it, and it'll just be a lovely accessory for you."
She smirked at him then, and as he opened the door and motioned for her to step out first, he took one last look back at his children and smiled.
"I love you both. I'll always love you."
The journey to Orzammar was uneventful. It was long and tedious, but Ferelden had changed since the blight. Fewer bandits and raiders were on the roads, and most could be completely avoided if one knew how to travel off of the main roads. When Hawke and Anders could finally see the dwarven architecture amongst the Frostback Mountains, her throat tightened and never let up. She'd never been to Orzammar, and now regretted that fact, wishing it were a happier occasion.
At the gates, they were met with minimal opposition. The dwarves were often welcoming of Grey Wardens as they met with their final journey into the deep. As they walked through the great main hall, Hawke couldn't help but stare in awe at the tremendous statues of Paragons of dwarven history. Anders smiled at her, seeing her face covered in wonder.
They continued through the city, past the guards to the Deep Roads and into the labyrinthine pattern of paths themselves. Anders had obtained a map to bring him south to some of the less explored roads south of the Dead Trenches. It would be there he would make his final stand.
Their long journey had come to its completion. Their lifetime together was all but over.
One final night.
One final embrace.
One final kiss…
Night after night, she visited the Fade – torn between her desire to see her love once more and the recognition that if she did, his life in the mortal realm would have been ended. She would call out to Justice – knowing that the spirit would eventually answer, but the nights would pass. Her call went unanswered.
She always appeared in the Fade as her former self – young, agile, beautiful. The way she appeared to Anders when she first entered his clinic so many years ago. Despite the years that had passed, she could always recall that day. When she had entered with her brother, Varric and Aveline, the healer had been visibly shaken at the sight of what he could have only assumed were heavily-armed raiders. He demanded that they leave the sanctum, partially in fear of frightening his patients; partially in fear for his own life. But she surprised him that day, and he learned that she was more than just some raider come to threaten his life or steal his medicines; she was a mage. And she would become the woman he would love until the end of time.
She would sit under a tree in the same field every night. The twisted forms of the Fade were always different, except for the tree. It was that same fruiting tree she had first encountered Justice under those many years before. The same tree that her children played under; picking up apples and giggling wildly as they chased each other round and round it. The same tree that she and Anders spent so much time under throughout their life in Ferelden – he caressing her softly, whispering loving words into her ear; she stroking his hair as he rest his head lightly upon her lap. She had hoped the setting would be familiar enough for the spirit to come…and for Anders to find her when the time came.
Yet her persistent visits to the Face were still fruitless. She would often simply sit for hours under that tree as her eyes drifted lazily across the horizon, scanning for any sign of the man that she loved. And he still did not come.
In her waking hours, she would time and again sit in the large living area, looking out the front window of the home, as Gavin and Amelia busied themselves around. Amelia would often stand off to the side of the room, watching her mother with sad eyes. She could see the heartbreak over the loss of Anders from her life. She and her brother also missed their father dearly, but for them, their mother's loss was incomparable.
"Mother," Amelia said, her voice barely catching the woman's attention. "Can I get you anything to eat? Or some tea perhaps?"
The woman's eyes would gaze over to her daughter slowly. "No dear, I'm fine," was always the answer.
"But you haven't eaten today," her daughter would protest. "You must eat. Father wouldn't have wanted you to be like this."
The mention of Anders immediately brought tears to her eyes. She could not stop grieving over his departure, yet she knew he may not have yet passed on from their mortal realm – or if he had, he had not yet found his way to the Fade. She knew that she would become aware when his soul had arrived there – she was linked to him and he would find her there. One day…one day he would come. And until that day, she would sit and stare…and wait. Wait for the night to come so that she would once again go to be with her love when he arrived.
Amelia moved towards her mother, sitting on the arm of the large chair the woman sat in. She placed her arms gently around the woman, cradling her head towards her.
"I know you miss him, mother," she said.
The woman nodded. "He may still live, Amelia," she said. "I should have been there with him. I should have been fighting at his side."
"This is his fate, not yours," she insisted. "You were not meant to be there at the end with him. You knew this when you discovered he was a Warden."
"I know," she said, lowering her head sadly. Amelia looked at her mother's crimson hair, as it had begun to fade into a silvery mop. Her face was drawn and weathered. Both she and Anders had told their children the story of their life together when they were old enough to understand what the rebellion had meant. Now that they were grown, they could fully appreciate the sacrifices that both of their parents had made for the mages in Thedas, and were happy for them.
As the day turned to night once more, Hawke prepared herself for sleep. A wave of comfort tainted with apprehension washed over her as she settled into her bed. When her eyes closed, sleep overtook her easily. She found herself immediately drawn to the tree.
Hours had passed. It could have been days for all she knew. She would have sat there forever to wait for Anders. But every night eventually ended and she would be forced to wake once more…with no sign of him.
This night, however, was different. As she sat under the tree, she could see a figure in the distance. It approached her and she desperately hoped it was Anders. As it got closer, she could tell that she didn't know who it was. Though it wasn't…real. As much as nothing was truly real in the Fade, the being approaching was ethereal…transparent…a spirit? She did not know…but as it continued to make its way towards her, she could make out armour…boots and gauntlets and a helmet and chestplate…all of it, otherworldly. She stood up, peering into the slit in the helmet.
"You do not recognize me," he said.
He nodded. "I am…no longer with Anders."
Suddenly, a swirl of emotions overtook her. "Your presence here…it means that—." She could not finish, but she did not need to.
Justice nodded once more. "You are correct," he said. "His soul has left his body. Yet, it has taken us some time to enter the Fade. I suspect you have felt many days pass in your waking world. I trust that this is an effect of our joining. Though now that I am here, I believe Anders will follow soon after."
She collapsed to the ground, her face buried in her hands. Her body shook with sobs. Anders was dead. She would never look upon him again with waking eyes. All her preparations for this moment…so many years of waiting and praying that it would not come to pass in this way…only to find out that it was the only way things could have happened.
Hawke looked up when she felt a gauntleted hand upon her shoulder. It was surprisingly gentle. "For what it is worth, I am sorry for the loss of him."
She closed her eyes and nodded. "Justice…you…held up your end of the bargain. Thank you for not…"
He knew what she referred to when her words would no longer come forth. "My insistence to remain outside of the Fade was ill-advised. I belong here. This is my…home." He tried to wrap his mouth around the word home…but it didn't feel quite right. But saying the word and knowing what it meant were different things, and Justice knew that this was where he was meant to stay.
When she nodded, he stepped back. "I will stay with you should you need it," he suggested.
"I'm…not certain what I require, Justice," she replied. "But I think perhaps it best that I be alone."
"As you wish, Hawke," he said. "I will always be in the Fade. And we shall meet again."
He helped her back to her feet. "I'd like that." She embraced the spirit; despite his ghostly form, the mind made it feel real for her and she could feel the inflexibility of his heavy armour, could hear the inhaling and exhaling of his breath. She wasn't even certain if the spirit truly breathed.
When they pulled apart, he clasped both of his hands around one of hers and nodded considerately. He continued to hold on to her hand as he turned to walk away until he was no longer close enough to do so. As her hand fell to her side, her shoulders slumped and she slid back down to the ground, drawing her knees up under her.
Anders is dead…
So much of her wished to weep…to let out all the tears that she continued to have inside of her. But still, his death in Thedas meant he would be in the Fade…she shivered a little thinking of his arrival. She couldn't help but replay over and over exactly how she thought it would go.
But nothing could have truly prepared her for the moment. No matter what she intended to do or say…she knew it would all be different when he finally arrived.
And for what it was worth…she was right…
As Hawke watched the world that manifested itself in front of her, she neglected to keep an eye on the direction from which she came. She never knew where exactly Anders would have arrived, but for some reason, never considered that he'd come from their own home – the home she built in her mind's eye while she slept in the mortal realm.
She stayed on the ground under the tree for so many hours. She was so focused on the horizon, that the sound of softly padded footsteps approaching behind her never roused her. It wasn't until her dulled senses picked up a familiar scent…the scent of mana and elfroot…the scent that always reminded her of Anders…that she began to slowly turn around. She wasn't able to fully look behind her before she felt knees pushing against her lower back…felt arms wrapping around her waist…felt a chin resting upon her shoulder. She shuddered; the familiar feel of her husband overwhelmed her.
"Anders," she said breathlessly. "Anders, you're here…"
He smiled into her neck, kissing her gently. "Oh, my love. You waited here. I knew you would be waiting here."
She spun around to face him and surveyed his face. He looked exactly as he did the moment they embraced for a final time before he set off alone in the Deep Roads. Weary…tired…drawn…beautiful…
He brought a gentle hand up to her cheek, cupping it lightly and kissing her nose…her forehead. "Love," he began. "You need not project yourself this way."
She was confused for a moment, but then recalled how she'd returned to the Fade as her younger self repeatedly. When she was more attractive…more beautiful.
"I thought you'd like to—"
He put a finger to her lips. "You are the love of my life. You gave me two incredible children. You lived a lifetime of wonder with me, my beautiful wife. I want to look upon you as you are now." He closed his eyes briefly and when he reopened them, she kneeled before him – tarnished, fragile, weak. And it was all he could do to keep from crying at seeing her face again the way he wished more than even life itself.
He pressed his lips against hers with a gentle insistence. He wrapped his arms around her back and pulled her close. Her fingers weaved their way into his graying hair, still long and course as she remembered.
She moved her lips to his cheek, kissing across it until she buried her face into the crook of his neck.
"Anders, I love you. And you came for me…you came to me even after death."
"I'll never forget what I told you. I loved you until the day I died," he said softly as he held her. "And now that I have found you in the beyond, I will love you for eternity."
They continued to hold each other closely. Minutes passed. Hours…perhaps days. The Fade, of course, pays no mind to the passage of time.
The young man heard his sister's call and hurried to her side. "What is it, Amelia?"
"It's…mother," she replied. "I'm worried. She…won't wake up."
"She still breathes," he said.
"I know," Amelia said quietly. "But…something isn't right. I've tried to rouse her. Nothing is working."
"You don't suppose…"
He didn't have to finish his statement. She knew what he was suggesting. She nodded sadly.
"I…I don't know what to do," she said, a tear spilling down her cheek.
He hugged her tight and spoke into her ear. "Be happy for her, Meli. She's found father in the Fade. Look at her face. Look at how peaceful she is. It can't be anything else."
She did look. The woman on the bed was almost…smiling as she slept.
"What if she doesn't come back to us, Gav? What if she never wakes up?"
"Then we'll see her in our dreams, dear sister. We'll always have our dreams."
They watched her carefully, her breath causing her chest to rise and fall slowly.
And they watched her for the many days that followed. Until one day, that rising and falling of shallow breaths ceased to occur. She had breathed her last…her decision to remain in the arms of her love in the Fade being the only force that mattered.
Despite it all, her children understood. They knew the great love their parents shared. The love that changed the course of the world. It was powerful and everlasting. And the legacy that began one terrible night in Kirkwall would live on even beyond death.
The legacy that brought down the tyranny of the templars…that reinvented the teachings of the Chantry…that let mages in Thedas live free.
It was their gift to the world. The legacy of the Champion of Kirkwall and the Darktown Healer.
I will love you for eternity…