disclaimer: disclaimed.
dedication: to the usual suspects: sid, jupiter, kauri. love y'all.
notes: i'm never going to escape this ship.
notes2: i got a new job and i'm too busy to write fanfiction but HERE WE ARE

chapter title: a perfect year
summary: There is a new Commander in Haven. — templar!au part ii; Alistair/Bethany.

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It is very strange to be back in Ferelden.

Haven's air bites cold against Bethany's cheeks. The Frostbacks are the spine of the world, pitiless eldritch spikes that run shatterglass into the sky. They are unlike any set of mountains that Bethany has ever seen, and looking at them takes her breath away.

They tear through the sky, reaching upwards for the Beyond.

And it's easier to stare at the mountains than it is to think about everything that brought them here. The mountains are ancient and endless, unaware of conflict, unaware of strife. They exist as they always have, since the very beginning of the world. Older than time, deeper than the sea; they're outside of the salt and rust that long ago she claimed as part of herself. They're colourless, flat grey veiled in white, and they don't remind her at all of the City of Chains.

Bethany Hawke misses Kirkwall.

She hadn't even thought she could.

A memory, coloured silver-shard sepia:

"Well," she exhales. "That's it, then. She's gone."

"…Are you alright?"

"I will be," Bethany Hawke murmurs, and wraps her arms around herself in the early morning sunlight pouring in through the window. She leans her forehead against her husband's collarbone. "I just—I just didn't think it was going to be this hard?"

"She is your sister," Alistair says.

"I know," she nods against him. "And she even said goodbye this time! She never says goodbye."

"You don't need to pretend not to be upset, Beth," he says, gentle as feathers. Alistair moves in closer, gathering her up and tucking her in and humming something quiet and careful in the back of his throat.

"That's the problem," Bethany tells his chest. Counts the beats of his heart. Breathes. "I'm not pretending."

Alistair sighs into her curls, a full-body exhalation. It's something that takes everything out of him, and it settles into all of Bethany's empty nooks and crannies. She lets it buoy her, just lets him hold her because they fit like this, together, and it feels nice.

"How were the Gallows?" she asks, eventually, when she finally feels a little more like a person and a little less like a cracked heart. "Are your recruits—"

"They're not my recruits," Alistair cuts in mildly, even though this is a lie and they both know it. Ser Cullen isn't much for running a religious order, as it turns out. He was half-drowned in paperwork the last time Bethany had seen him, and she doesn't think it's gotten better yet; Alistair trains the recruits. They are very, very young.

(Everyone, that is. So young, recruits and teachers, all at once.)

Bethany rolls her eyes so loudly that she's sure Alistair can hear it. "Are the recruits doing better?"

"Nope," Alistair says, cheerful. "I've never met a more useless group of people in my life!"

"Alistair, that's—!"

He laughs. It bubbles over her, and it's funny because Alistair stopped laughing about the Gallows a long time ago. He'd never laughed about the Gallows, actually, not really. But he laughs, now, here in the Hawke estate's foyer, and it's the most beautiful thing Bethany has ever heard. It shouldn't make her flush with affection all over, but it does.

"I know, I'm terrible," Alistair agrees sagely. He dips his head to grin into her cheekbone. "I never said I wasn't."

Bethany giggles a little helplessly. Her husband. Even when he's not a templar anymore, he's still a templar. At least he's got a sense of humour about it.

"What am I going to do with you?" she asks him.

"Survive despite me, I suppose," he hums. He follows the lines of her bones with an idle curiosity, fingers light. Over her nose, down her throat, hips, hands. Everywhere, everywhere.

Bethany shivers. "I suppose."

"I missed you," Alistair says. It sounds like he's talking to himself. "Why do I always miss you when I'm gone?"

"Because you love me," Bethany reminds him.

"That's true, I do," Alistair agrees. He brushes her curls out of her face, smiles just a very little bit as he rubs his thumb along her cheekbone. "You're still as pretty as you were that day in the Chantry. Prettier."

Bethany leans into it, closes her eyes. Alistair's skin is warm, and it's so good, so good because it's just the two of them, and there's nothing to ruin it.

Except everything, that is. Bethany takes a breath.

"…Did you talk to Ser Cullen, today?"

The line of Alistair's mouth dips into a frown, and hardens. "No."

Bethany just nods. She can't force a détente between them; she can't force Alistair to forgive Ser Cullen any more than she can force her mother to stop antagonizing the Divine, or any more than she could ever have stopped Marian from being Marian.

"You still think I should," he translates her silence. Alistair makes a little noise of frustration at the back of his throat, some cross of incredulous laughter and disbelieving snort. "Beth. Come on."

"You don't have to," Bethany says. Her voice is steady, despite herself. "I just think you should."

Alistair snorts again, louder this time. "Why? Why should I? He's had enough time to get his head on straight. It wasn't that hard, Beth, I managed it!"

"But you had me," Bethany says, so softly. She tilts her head to look him in the eye, his hand still cupped around her cheek. "You had me, Alistair, you had a reason—"

"It doesn't matter." Alistair doesn't raise his voice. He does not snap, he hardly ever gets truly angry He does not snap nor raise his voice nor get angry right now, either. But there is steel in his posture, slick and sharp in his shoulders, and all of those hard lines to his mouth get harder.

Bethany lets out a breath she didn't know she'd been holding. She slips her arms around him, presses her cheek to his chest. For a minute, she listens to the beat of his heart. The steady pound of it settles her down, helps her find the right words.

"You just seem so lonely," she whispers.

"And you're clearly feeling better," Alistair says, grinning, but there's still something shadowed in his eyes. This fight isn't over, for all that it's not really a fight. Friendship is hard. Trust is harder. Love is hardest of all. "See? We've got so many other things to worry about."

"Don't remind me," Bethany says. "But I—I do think you should talk to him."

"I know you do," Alistair says. "But I can't, Beth. Please don't ask me to."

She looks up at him for a long moment. The world passes away between them.

"Alright," Bethany says, at last. "I won't."

And it's not a lie. She won't ask him to, because there is nothing in the world that Alistair wouldn't do, not if she asked it of him. It twists all of her guts up, sometimes, the way that he's so willing to cut himself open for her. Bethany thinks of Lothering, and of the foundries, and of the Wounded Coast. She thinks of their children, and her sister, and the city in flames. She thinks of the slums, and of the Hanged Man, and of the Gallows.

She thinks of the templars.

No, Bethany decides, she won't ask.

Not yet.

There's snow this high up.

Bethany isn't sure why she's so surprised by it. The Frostbacks have their name for a reason, and they carry it with all the icy grace that Bethany herself never quite got the hang of. Liana and Carina have been running around the entire morning, trying to shove it down each other's collars every chance they chance.

They are going to be such a terror when they get older.

But for now, they've melted into the faceless gaggle of Haven's children, just two more open mouths on a many-headed monster. They shriek with laughter, the sound bouncing away into the clear blue sky. It's not a bad idea that they make friends while they can. And Malcolm—

Malcolm's got one fist in his mouth and the other twined into the sway of Bethany's skirt. Her son stares out at the world with dark, wild eyes. He doesn't stop watching for a second, but he never goes very far.

"Mama," he says.

"What is it, darling?"

"Auntie Sonny."

Bethany looks to where he's pointing. There indeed is her wayward cousin; Solona has her hair pulled back from her face, pale and bloodless in the cheeks. Her hair is a stark ink-coloured stain against the white of the landscape, so stock-still she might as well be a statue. She's staring up at the mountains, face wiped clean.

She looks so like Marian.

"Yes," Bethany agrees with him. "Auntie Sonny."

Malcolm nods very solemnly. He reaches up to take Bethany's hand, and tugs her imperiously forwards—she lets him lead her all the way to Solona's side, at which point he somehow manages to take Solona's hand, too. The rest of Haven's children are shrieking with glee down by the frozen lake, but Bethany's son seems content to stay here, and makes no move to dislodge himself, even when Solona blinks owlishly at them both.

"He wanted to come say hello," Bethany translates.

"Did he, now?" Solona asks, more to Mal than to Bethany.

Malcolm nods again but fast, this time, nod-nod-nod, like he's trying very hard to convince Solona to stay put. He knows how to talk, and Bethany knows that he knows how to talk, but she's beginning to think that Mal takes a very specific pleasure in forcing all the adults in his life to interpret his silences.

Solona goes soft all over.

There aren't a lot of things in the world that have the ability to turn Bethany's cousin into cloud-soft spun sugar, but her son is one of them. Solona kneels down in the snow, the crunch-crunch of it loud in the ears, but she looks Malcolm in the face when she talks to him.

"One day, you're going to have to tell me that yourself," Solona says.

"Do I gotta?" Mal asks, voice small. Bethany blinks down at him. Look at her son, answering questions of his own volition. The world is changing, isn't it.

"You have to ask for the things you want," Solona tells him. There's a strange lilt to her voice, something that says that these words come from personal experience. "If you don't, no one will know you want them."

Malcolm considers this for a long time, little face furrowed up. "What do you want, Aunt Sonny?"

"I don't know," says Solona.

"S'okay," Mal says. "Auntie Nerry's not gone forever."

Solona makes a tiny choked-off noise in the back of her throat, a sound that feels like pain, and Bethany aches in her chest. Andraste, but her son always does seem to see the things that people want to keep hidden from themselves. Worse, he's too little to know when the knots in someone's soul are there as protective netting and not little pearls to be shaken about. There are so many things about her cousin that her cousin keeps to herself, but her knots are netting to keep herself in one piece. Bethany knows that much.

Solona bends forward to kiss Malcolm on the top of his head. "I guess you're right."

Bethany's son nods very seriously, and waits graciously until Solona is standing again.

And then he tugs on Bethany's sleeve.

"Yes," Bethany answers the unspoken query. Well, there goes that. Still, it's progress. Some days, Mal won't even talk to her and Alistair. Some days, he won't even talk to the twins. Talking to Solona might have used up his quota for the day, and that's alright. "You can go find your sisters."

Malcolm hugs her leg and scampers, like she'll take the permission back. As though she would even if she could.

There are so many things in the world that Bethany would take back, but her children are not one of them.

And so Bethany surveys Haven, bright in the mid-morning sunlight. She inhales freezing air, the bite so sharp in her lungs that it stings, prickles all the way through, stuffs up her nose and has her shivering. The Conclave is tomorrow, but she wishes it were warmer. Standing out here in the cold doesn't help anyone. She looks at her cousin out of the corner of her eye, and wonders just where in the Maker name's her sister is.

"…Do you think this will work?" Bethany asks, at last.

"No," says Solona.

Bethany doesn't ask how Solona knows what she's on about, because of course her cousin knows. She watches the way Solona's hands shake, fist tight into her skirt, forced to stop the tremble even as her knuckles are clenched so hard they're white. Her cousin wouldn't expect the Conclave to come to anything, would she? What reason does she have to expect any different? In the end, it is still the Chantry.

"We have to try," Bethany reminds her cousin softly. "It's not like we have much choice."

And they don't. They have no choices, and especially no good choices at all. The Divine's Conclave is a chance for peace, and both Bethany and Alistair acknowledge this, which is why they're here in the first place. Beyond Seeker Pentaghast and Varric and Mother, they're here because there's no good choices, and what else is there to do?

"I know," Solona exhales. "But I wish—"

"That Nerry were here?"

"Yes."

But there is a very good reason that they're here in Haven alone. Neria Surana helped blow Kirkwall's Chantry to pieces, and she hasn't apologized yet. Bethany doesn't think she's going to, either. And for that matter, it's probably a moot point regardless: this isn't something that an apology can fix. And it's not because it was just the explosion itself.

The Mage-Templar War was coming whether they wanted it to or not.

A year and a half into the bloodshed, this Conclave is their only hope.

(It's a wish, and Bethany could really use a wish right now.)

Bethany leans very slightly into Solona's space, just a brush of arm against arm. She doesn't move away even when her cousin startles, and for a moment, they're just two women at the end of the world, trying to pick up the pieces. It's harder without Marian between them, because even now, even after all this time, there is no one in the world who can force change the way Bethany's older sister can.

But maybe that's why they're here in the first place.

Trying to fill the hole.

When Solona exhales, there are a lot of unsaid things in the breath. She tucks her arm into Bethany's, hooks their elbows. Apologies don't always have to be said aloud, and this is one such thing. "Should we go find your husband?"

"Yes," Bethany says. "Let's."

A memory, coloured afternoon lavender:

"Oh, Creators, I don't think this is a good idea."

"Do you want to tell my mother she can't have the broken cursed mirror for her students to study?"

"No, not really," says Merrill, glancing the mirror over out of the corner of her eye. It stands perfectly motionless in the gloom of the back corner, and until five minutes ago, it had been covered in a sheet.

That was the way that Bethany had liked it. It gives her the creeps.

"Neither do I," says Bethany, grim. She can feel the Force magic glittering beneath her skin. She wonders where her children are, today. "But either one of does it, or do as we've been told and bring it to her."

"Must we?"

"It's your mirror, Merrill. I'm here to help."

"Mirror-frame," Merrill shakes a little as she stresses the word. "There's not much mirror left. You know that, you were there when I shattered it!"

"I know, but it's better than leaving it here," Bethany says, and determinedly doesn't look at the few remaining shards that cling to the mirror's frame. They never reflected anything worth seeing, anyway. She bumps Merrill's hip, in solidarity and in old friendship. The easy kind of thing that comes with knowledge that you've seen a person at their worst, and still come out of it the other side alright.

Merrill bites at her lip. her hands skittering over the twisted frame. "You're right, I know you're right," but there's something so awfully melancholy to the way she lingers. "I just—I spent so much time trying t'fix it, and then the Keeper…"

"I'll help you look for another, if you want. One that isn't…"

"Tainted?" Merrill supplies.

"I was going to say possessed," Bethany says, softly, like an apology.

But Tainted works, too. Bethany knows what this mirror means to Merrill, and she knows what it will cost her friend to give it up. But this shattered old thing keeps her tied to the past in the worst way. And this is Mother's doing, truly—Mother, more than anyone, thinks that Merrill needs to move on and find something else to live for.

(Mother doesn't know about Fenris, which may be part of it.)

And Bethany has no doubt that Merrill will find it eventually.

It just might take a while.

Because it's not as though Bethany doesn't understand. The elven ruins scattered across the world are many, and what's left of them speaks of a civilization so brilliant with magic that it likely used little else. And they've lost so much. There will be other mirrors, Bethany's sure; if this particular mirror hadn't been such a problem, and hadn't involved a demon and too much blood magic to bear thinking about, Bethany might have even helped.

That's what you do for friends, Bethany's learned. You help when you can, even if you don't particularly approve of the way they're going about it.

"I don't know if there's any more left," Merrill says, wistful. She touches the cold otherworld metal with gentle fingers. "The stories don't—they're not clear?"

"Merrill," Bethany says.

"Yes?"

"This one… your clan found it? In the middle of nowhere?"

"Tamlen and Lyna found it in the Brecilian forest," Merrill says. Bethany watches the way the words gut her friend. She'd not wanted to admit them. "And then—and then I took it."

Bethany knows how the rest of this particular story goes. The two elves had found it and then they'd both eventually died or disappeared; Lyna first, and then Tamlen later. Merrill had told her the story once, a long time ago, walking along the edge of the Waking Sea. It had been a very quiet story. A sad one, too, all the worse for being true.

"But that's where elven ruins are," Bethany says. It's hard to get at what she's trying to get at. Maybe she doesn't have the right words. Maybe Merrill does. "In the middle of nowhere."

"Old places," Merrill says, nods. "Wild places."

"Those places still exist, you know."

"I know, but…"

It won't be the same. It hangs in the air between them, blooming violet-purple as a bruise. What hasn't Merrill sacrificed for this mirror, Bethany wonders. What hasn't she given up, what hasn't she lost. Even Marian's gone and left Merrill alone.

And she's not wrong.

It won't be the same.

But maybe that's alright.

Together, Bethany and Merrill stare at the broken mirror for a long time, the air quiet between them. The world filters in from outside, salt and sweet and sour on the alienage breezes, all blue and pink and sickly yellow-green. Things colour up so well, out here.

"Do you regret it?"

"I'm s'posed to, I think?"

"But do you?"

"Oh," says Merrill. She leans her head against Bethany's shoulder, closes her eyes. It aches like a bruise; the awful way she inhales like she's chewing on broken glass. There's a lot of that going around, these days. Bethany takes her weight. "No. I don't."

The evening sun sinks beyond the mountain range to plunge the world into darkness.

Inside, Bethany lights a candle. And then she lights another, and then another and another, and another and another and another until the entire cabin is bathed in that contented golden glow. The twins have piled into the trundle in the corner with Mal tucked between. They tired themselves out today, running around, and Bethany catches herself smiling at them a little helplessly.

Andraste, she doesn't know what to do with how much she loves them.

But she tamps it down. Now isn't really the time to sort out what it means to be a parent. The Conclave begins tomorrow, and all of Haven is on edge with it. She can't be useful—only the leaders of the mage rebellion and the templar Knight-Commanders can do something, now, with the Divine to mediate—and so perhaps it's better to keep her family together while she can.

There's just no telling what's going to happen next. And Alistair—

Alistair blows in through the front door on a gust of cold winter air sprinkled through with snowflakes, and she forgets what she'd been on about.

"Hello there," Bethany rises from where she's been sitting at the table to smile at him. "Decided to come back, have you?"

He smells like leather and skin, and that peculiar scent that clings when it's frigid outside, bitter like old metal. It curls around her, the echoing ancient halls of her heart ringing with it. Here is her husband, for all that he's never really been away.

Bethany shivers.

Tilts her head up to be kissed.

"If I have to break up one more fight between two grown men who should know better, I'm going to quit," Alistair says, darkly, and has the gall to only kiss the top of her head. There's ice frozen in his scruff. "Seeker Pentaghast can find someone else to fight her war."

"She did ask Ser Cullen first," Bethany reminds him. "You do remember that, don't you? You told her no, Alistair."

(She takes his cloak from him before he has a chance to protest; the ram wool around the edges needs to dry by the fire. He'll catch his death if it doesn't, and then she'll have to break all sorts of holy laws to bring him back. Bethany hadn't been planning on necromancy, today. Or any day, really. The soft-headed idiot.)

"He's more useless than I am," Alistair grumbles. "He made a mess of the Gallows, I wasn't going to let him muck this up, too."

"Are you trying to convince me, or you?" Bethany asks him, softly, the corner of her mouth pulling up. "Because it doesn't really sound like you're talking to me."

Alistair huffs irritation. "Don't start, love, it was a very long day."

"Was it that bad?" she asks.

"…Never as bad as the Gallows," he amends. His jerkin comes off, and then the doublet, and then the undershirt and finally he's shed the outer layers of his clothes at last. Alistair comes over to put his arms around her in nothing but a threadbare shirt and breeches, and nips at her ear.

Bethany squirms away. "Quit it!"

"Nah, don't want to," he grins. "Someone's ticklish."

"I am not, I'm—!"

He nips again, and Bethany squeaks. "You're going to wake the twins up!"

"If you don't keep it down, technically you're the one who's going to wake them up—"

"You're being terrible again," she tells him frankly.

"Yes, I thought we'd been over this," Alistair says, and proceeds to rub his scruff over her entire face. He's grinning widely when he comes up for air, absolutely unrepentant. "I am entirely terrible when it comes to you."

"Because that's news to me," Bethany says. Sighs. This man. "Will you stop talking and kiss me already?"

"That's what I was trying to do, Beth."

Her jaw drops. "Liar, you were not trying to kiss me. You were trying to make me screech and wake half the village up!"

"Isn't that the same thing?"

"You—ugh!" She shakes her head at him, mouth open. She is not charmed. She is not charmed! This man! He is not charming! "One of these days you're going to get it, Alistair, did you know that?"

Alistair muffles his laughter into her lips, ducking down sweet and easy to finally, finally kiss her on the mouth. Bethany winds her hands into the neckline of his stupid threadbare shirt, keeps him close. Everything inside of her goes very still the way it always does when Alistair kisses her. And some forgotten drop of magic deep inside of her chest ripples and blooms, murmurs you're here and yes and mine.

"Happy, my lady?" Alistair asks when he pulls away, voice catching with faint breathlessness.

"No, not at all," Bethany says. Her hands tighten in his shirt. If he's breathless, she's not much better. "Do it again."

"Do I have a choice?"

"Do you need a choice?"

"She makes a decent point," Alistair says under his breath, more to himself than to her. His pupils swallow up the firelight, so wide that there's only a thin ring of honey-brown iris left, and his hands hover a hairsbreadth above her hips. "She makes a very decent point."

"Alistair," Bethany says.

"Yes, dear?"

"I'd like to be kissed, now."

Alistair laughs soft and low as bedroom eyes, and obliges her.

A memory, coloured arterial crimson:

Seeker Cassandra Pentaghast has no business in Kirkwall.

Or at least, she has no business in Kirkwall that could conceivably bring her to the ancestral halls of the Amell Estate, and certainly none as would have her sitting stiffly in Bethany's mother's solar, pointedly ignoring the pleasantries of a high tea. Bethany blinks, mystified. What on earth has her mother done to bring a Seeker down on their heads? Has she finally done something to offend the Divine's sensibilities so badly? No Exalted March with all the Circles in revolt, but instead a Seeker?

Honestly, Bethany can't decide which option is worse.

Currently, it's leaning towards this one.

"Mother? Is everything alright?"

"Oh, there you are, darling," Leandra Hawke says, so easily. She sits with her hands folded in her lap. Dressed in muted purples and heather greys, she looks for all the world like someone who hasn't ever threatened to fight the world's religious leader on a whim and a prayer. "We have a visitor!"

Bethany, however, knows better. I can see that, Mother, she doesn't say, even though she wants to.

"Good afternoon," Bethany says, instead. Caution threads its way through her voice, pickling up in Kirkwall's brine and rust. She's not her sister, and she's not her mother, and she has three very small children to think about. "I don't believe we've met?"

The Seeker clears her throat, straightens in her chair. She holds herself the way a warrior does, square, rooted to the spot so nothing could move her even if it tried. Aveline holds herself the same way, Bethany thinks.

"I am Seeker Cassandra Pentaghast, and I am here to speak to the Champion of Kirkwall."

"I… see," says Bethany. She takes a breath in, for fortification. "I'm sorry, but I don't think we can help you. My sister isn't here. She's been gone for weeks."

"What? Where?"

"I don't know," says Bethany. Her lips twist. "She hasn't told us."

"But you heard from her?" demands the Seeker. "I must speak with her, it cannot wait!"

Bethany can feel the thinning of her mother's lips. The Seeker does not bother with games; Bethany appreciates it, but she knows that her mother does not. This directness is not the way things are done, in Kirkwall.

But then, what does it matter, how things are done? Better, how things used to be done. The whole world has imploded, fallen to pieces, gone up in flames to nothing but smoke and ash on the breeze from a funeral pyre.

It's all so pointless.

Marian Hawke is gone.

"We haven't heard from her. Not since she left," says Bethany, and this isn't even a lie. One would think that the Cahmpion of Kirkwall would be less terrible at letter-writing, but Bethany also knows that her sister hates to leave even the smallest trail of crumbs to follow. Marian won't be found until she wants to be, and not a second before. "May I ask why you want to know?"

The Seeker makes a frustrated sound at the back of her throat. "I—cannot say."

"Then you should not be surprised that we are not forthcoming, Seeker," Mother says, before Bethany can even open her mouth. The Hawke matriarch watches the proceedings with cool blue eyes, face devoid of emotion except for a strange hard line at her mouth. "You may tell the Divine that I still do not concede my point."

"Most Holy—"

"Sent you," Mother cuts the Seeker off with very little ceremony. "I am aware."

"Madame Hawke—"

"I am also aware that Varric Tethras is currently enjoying the hospitality of the Viscount's dungeons, on your account. I would have you return him before I allow this any further, Seeker," Mother drawls. "If you cannot treat my daughter's friends with something approaching respect, why in the Maker's name would I tell you where she is?"

A horrible mottled flush crawls across the Seeker's face. The woman has the decency to look ashamed of herself.

Bethany swallows down horror.

It is true that she hasn't seen Varric in the last few days, but that's not unusual. He is very involved in the rebuilding efforts, or at the very least, he's very involved in avoiding the deshyrs involved in the rebuilding efforts. But Andraste's filthy knickers, how does her mother know these things? Who has she bribed this time?

And why didn't Bethany know about it?!

Mother's face has taken on that porcelain quality that it gets when she's about to verbally shred someone to pieces. She sits and waits patiently for the Seeker to stop gaping like a fish, hands still folded in her lap.

Bethany forgets that her mother can, in fact, take care of herself.

"He is not in the dungeon," the Seeker finally manages. And then quieter, under her breath, mutters, "anymore."

Mother simply waits.

(Marian was right. It is marvelous to see all that passive-aggressiveness directed at someone else. Bethany can appreciate it only because she knows that the likelihood of the Seeker holding this against her is small. The Seeker does not seem the kind of woman to hold someone else's sins against a person. Or, in this case, someone else's rudeness.)

After a very long moment, the Seeker gathers herself. "I will have the dwarf released. But please—" and here, she breaks for just the tiniest fraction of a second, a frantic fear leashed tight behind her teeth, "—I must speak to the Champion."

"My daughter told you the truth," Mother says. "Marian isn't here."

The Seeker slumps just a little bit. She's a sharp creature, the Seeker; sharp line of jaw and sharp line of mouth, sharp line where the weight of a sword and shield should be. She really is very much like Aveline, Bethany thinks, but less manipulative, if that's even possible.

Cassandra Pentaghast is a battering ram, but without hands to bear it, not even a battering ram has direction.

And Bethany thinks that her mother can see this, too.

"…Go to the Gallows, Seeker," Mother says. "Speak to Ser Cullen. You may find it illuminating. If the Divine is planning what I think she's is, you may be able to get some use out of him."

"What? Mother, no, he's—!"

"You know very well that he can't keep doing what he's doing, darling," Mother cuts Bethany off. She crooks a pale eyebrow, allows her gaze to sweep over the Seeker again, a measuring up and down. "That boy won't ever be happy in Kirkwall. He's not healthy, here. He doesn't know how to be."

"But Alistair—"

"Your husband will be fine," Mother says, dryly. "He does keep insisting that he's not bothered, doesn't he?"

"I—" and Bethany wants to say that no, it's not alright, and that Alistair won't be fine. Because she knows her husband, and until he's sorted out his issues with what happened the night of the explosion, he won't be able to come to terms with Ser Cullen.

Forgiveness is very hard.

Bethany knows that better than anyone.

And so she exhales, and lets the fight slip away. Mother isn't wrong. It would do Ser Cullen some good to be away from the City of Chains.

"That's what I thought," says Mother. She returns her attention to the Seeker. "Now that that's cleared up, Varric?"

"He must tell the Divine what has happened. He is the only one who—the only one who knows what truly happened, he must—"

"This is not a suggestion, Seeker," Mother says. "You will return Varric unharmed, and you will do it now. Today."

"…Yes, Madame Hawke."

"Lovely," says Mother. "You will be returning for supper?"

"I should not—"

"That was also not a suggestion, Seeker," Mother says, kind. "You will be returning for supper. And afterwards, you may go speak to Ser Cullen. Yes?"

(Bethany really has to stop wondering why Marian is the way she is. Of course her sister is the way she is, look at where she came from! It'll be half a miracle if one of the twins doesn't end up exactly the same, or even worse, Malcolm. Andraste, please, no. One Marian is enough. Two Marians would be too many. Especially a Marian with magic. That's just asking for trouble.)

"Yes, Madame Hawke," sighs the Seeker. She doesn't look pleased about any of this. Cassandra Pentaghast is not the sort used to being bowled over by an old woman, especially not an old woman with no apparent weapons at her disposal.

Bethany can't say she blames her. The older Mother gets, the worse she seems to be.

Maker's breath, what a day.

And so while Mother chats Seeker Pentaghast into standing and then out the door to go retrieve Varric from whatever hidey-hole she has him bolted into, Bethany rushes to the kitchen to go make sure that her children haven't found a way to set the whole estate on fire. She'll keep an eye on them like that, just like that, all the way until Alistair comes home and then she'll hide in his chest, for a while.

A few more hours.

That's all she needs.

The next morning, Bethany sleepily kisses her husband goodbye. The sun's not quite above the Frostback's peaks, quite yet; it's still so early that the Maker himself isn't alive, never mind the rest of Thedas. The twins and Mal haven't even begun to stir, yet. The sky outside the window is faint pastel pink, not even the bare beginnings of the sunrise. False dawn. She wraps herself up in one of the less-scratchy wool blankets from their bed, and clumsily manages to get out of bed.

Her husband, already awake and dressed because he has responsibilities like real people do, has the gall to chuck her under the chin.

"Be good," Alistair says, gentle as goose feathers.

"I'm always good," Bethany says, as prim as anyone can be when they're mostly asleep.

Alistair chokes on his laughter. But he bends down and presses his mouth to her forehead like a habit, anyway. "That's true, you are. I won't be home 'til dark, alright? We're down in the valley, today, so just…"

"Keep safe?" Bethany finishes. "I'll try. Are you keeping people away from the Conclave?"

"Trying to, yeah," Alistair nods, and then his face turns grumpy. "One more Maker-forsaken fight, and I swear…"

"You'll be fine," she tells him. Bethany catches his fingers, studies his palms. She finds that it's easier to stifle her own anxiety about the day if she's not quite looking him in the eye. "If we're lucky, it'll be over soon."

"We're never lucky, Beth," he says. He brushes curls out of her face, cracks an ungainly sort of smile. It's wry all the way through, pulling his face up crooked. "Darkspawn, remember?"

"This won't be half so bad," Bethany says. "The Chantry has nothing on darkspawn."

"She says."

"Aren't you supposed to be somewhere?"

"Oh, probably," Alistair murmurs. He lingers in her space for a long moment like sunlight, settling softly in her hair, and he reaches up to cup his hand around her cheek. "But I'm going to kiss you, first."

"Good," says Bethany, smilingly, allows herself to be kissed.

And later, she won't remember much more about this day. She won't remember the awful shivery hush blanketing the whole village, nor will she remember the way that Malcolm keeps crying. She won't remember how the twins only make it so far as the doorway before they turn back to crawl into Bethany's lap. She won't remember how easy it is, to stay inside. She won't remember the sun streaming brilliant in through the window, or how much it felt like a fragile hope, dashed violent against rocks.

She'll remember worrying about Alistair. But she's always worrying about Alistair. It's hard to forget.

The day goes on. It's half-noon when a shock goes through the air, a low moaning groan that echoes through the very foundations. Bethany looks up from her reading, eyes wide, magic clenched tight in her fists. All her hair stands up on end, curls crick-crackling, inhaling fast and sharp. She puts herself between the outside world and her children, without even thinking about it.

The whole world is suddenly trembling.

Bethany only has time to open the door, and then—

(Oh, Andraste, no.)

With a horrible, end-of-the-world rumble, the sky tears open, and the Fade pours through.

.

.

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tbc.